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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1061
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Mon Jul 17, 2023 8:04 am  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    One thing I forgot to ask in my previous post-how did the orcs' defending of the Steading against the returning giants turn out? Will we see that in a future post?

    Very unlikely. In the one private session we played, the giants took back the entry / cloak room of the Steading and, after inflicting some good wounds, the orcs retreated to the lower level, which is much more defensible. Things looked promising for the orcs but we simply didn't have time to finish. Since then the narrative of the campaign has moved forward enough that neither Leezar, nor the player, nor Graz'zt is that interested in the outcome. Time constraints being what they are, we are unlikely to come back to it, but it is possible.
    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: 1061
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 18, 2023 10:24 am  
    Post 282: Arrival in Headwater

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading, giants none the wiser
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger.
    Nosnra sets out with war party. Party taunts Nosnra, splits forces, and kills him.
    Party takes the Steading
    7 April: Troubles roll 0
    Strange Temple, party leaves the Steading
    8 April: Troubles roll -2 -1 = -3; Siege (Attack on Headwater)
    Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Troubles roll -2; Raid on Fort Dagger
    Party arrives in Headwater

    GM's note on sources: The descriptions of Headwater are my own. I picture it as divided in half, east-west, by the large Davish River. The east half of the city is further divided in half, north-south, by the smaller river flowing down from the Jotens, the one the party mostly followed up to and down from the Steading. Garuuuuumk took the southeast portion of the city, but his advance was stopped at both riverfronts.

    Post 282 - Arrival in Headwater
    9 April [14 Planting] - Headwater
    (low 74, high 99) - Raid on Fort Dagger

    (2am) The party finds a contingent of watchmen outside the gates of the city. It is a warm evening, to be sure, but long past midnight and it seems odd that there are watchmen about. The guards immediately challenge the party but quickly accept their story, which seems odd as well - or perhaps the party is just not used to being believed?

    As the watchmen walk around the full party, torches raised, one of them turns and mutters to another. Those in the party who care, attempt to listen in. [Thokk, oblivious. Babshapka, indifferent. Aurora Perception, with disadvantage from exhaustion, 2. Mathias Perception 5. Willa, with disadvantage from exhaustion, 9. Doro 15].

    Doro does overhear this bit of the conversation: Those are the guys alright, but what do we do about the orcs? They didn’t say anything about orcs.

    Damned if I know.

    A sergeant of the watch calls up to a tower, the gate is opened, and the entire party is hustled inside, along with about half of the soldiers who were on watch. The streets of the city beyond the gate are quiet and dark, and for a moment the watchmen just hold the party in the middle of the empty street. Then more guardsmen and guardswomen come out of a tower and surround the group. Thokk is beginning to understand the danger that his troops are in and cautions them in Orc to keep their heads down and hands away from their weapons for the time being. They are to focus their attention on Mighty Thokk, not meet the gaze of the soldiers, but be ready to attack at a moment’s notice when their leader does so. When they acknowledge their understanding, Thokk raises his head and bellows in Common at all those present. “Do not fear my warriors! They are Dripping Blade orcs, and sworn enemies of those attack your city. We wish only spill blood of your opponents, and make no problem for you.”

    This proclamation results in every reaction possible from among the soldiers present - some incredulous, some suspicious or even hateful, some surprised but hopeful, a few indifferent.

    “Sergeant Stoutley?” asks the ranking officer of the watch present, and, as exhausted as she is, Willa straightens herself up before nodding. “You’ll have to excuse my troops. The enemy captured about a quarter of the city earlier today. Many of my men lost comrades-in-arms, and the hurt is still fresh. I’m afraid such as them (he indicates the orcs and Thokk included) won’t find a warm reception on this side of the river.”

    “T’at be right unnerstandable,” Willa responds. “But it be true eno’ what ther green one says - all yon orcs be ‘ere ter fight agin’ yer enemies, no agin’ ye.”

    “These orcs are alright,” vouchsafes Mathis. “They fought giants at the Steading.” Babshapka immediately glares at him.

    “What’s the Steading?” asks one of the soldiers, but no one in the party answers.

    Godsdamnit, Mathias, mumbles Babshapka.

    The officer doesn’t argue the point or follow-up on his man’s question, and motions for a small squad to accompany him and the party, while the rest return to their posts. “I’ll take you to where you are going to be housed.”

    “Why can’t we go to the wall, now? We want to shoot some orcs,” objects Mathias.

    “You can take that up with Kerri,” the man says. “The fighting seems to be done for today - we’re just watching them across the river, and I’m not going to be the one that provokes them into another attack.”

    Mathias grouses that they are wasting time. Willa whispers to the party members that they need to be watching, surreptitiously, as they go through the streets, for anyone that takes an inordinate amount of interest in them. They still don’t know anything about the identity of the Countess’ spy.

    As they pass through the streets, Thokk is on the lookout for danger. He seems fully alert now to the possibility that the humans of the city may be as much of a threat as were the Vile Rune orc thralls of the giants (Perception 14). The soldiers about them are nervous and watchful, both those in their immediate escort and the ones that they pass on the street. There seems to be an unusual amount of activity on that front as well. It is, again, well after midnight, but they pass several squads on patrol through the dark streets.

    The first few blocks are empty and quiet except for the tromping of the watch’s boots, but suddenly they come upon a barrier in the street - two wagons placed sidewise, choking off the passage. In the gap in between the wagons are two soldiers forming a sort of checkpoint, but they give way at the approach of the watch accompanying the party. The transformation of the street scene on the other side of the barrier is as night and day. Here the city is filled with people, though few are moving. Rather, it appears they are squatting - sleeping or conversing in hushed tones on door stoops, in wagons, and especially in alleys, where ofttimes the party sees blankets hung on twine as if imitating the walls of a house. Some people sit in the street itself, but those of the watch with the party insist they ‘move along’ over their objections - keeping the streets clear seems to be part of their duties. It is not just people that are homeless and crowded into this part of the city - cows (haltered and on leads) and chickens (free or in bamboo cages), accompany all of the camps. The gutters are full of filth, babies cry, animals low and squawk, old people cough and hack, youths chase other youths who have handfuls of (pilfered?) food, and angry men yell at each other that they ‘are trying to sleep over here’.

    “Who are all these people?” Aurora asks, “Why is the city so crowded and squalid?” (Persuasion 17).

    “Refugees,” says the officer. “Their homes were in the east city - the part that got overrun. Today was a b**** - the giants breached the wall and the orcs and goblins flooded in.”

    “Then why are we just standing here?” asks Mathias (despite the fact that they are walking as quickly as the exhausted party members can manage). “You should be taking us to the wall!” The officer ignores him.

    “How did it happen?” asks Aurora, trying a tone as solicitous as Mathias’ is sharp. “How did so many of these people get out in time if the walls were breached just today?”

    “Oh, most of them were evacuated days ago,” the man says, “some of them a week or more.” The party notes that the amount of night soil that has accumulated in the gutters is much more than a day’s worth. “Keri knew we wouldn’t be able to hold the east city as soon as the giants showed up outside. She started moving out all the civilians the next day. When the attack came earlier tonight, the only ones left on that side of the river were soldiers and watch. We lost enough people as it was, but all of these small folk would have been killed had she not insisted they leave beforehand. Many of them objected at the time, but they should be thanking her for their lives now.”

    “Ther fight started in ther night?” asks Willa. “Dinnae ther giants be blind in ther dark?”

    “Oh, aye,” says the officer. “They charged the walls with eigers carrying barrels of pitch, then set them aflame. With the base of the walls alight, the giants threw rocks from beyond the range of our bows until they had opened a breach. Once just one wall was down the orcs and goblins filled the city. We engaged them, but just to slow them down. The plan was all along to retreat to the river and hold the bridges, and that we’ve done, alright. Paid enough for it in blood though, retreating in the dark and confusion block by block. No one broke and ran, godsbless’em. The watch held strong today, praise be to Pelor.” The guards walking with them murmur praise and look proud.

    They finally arrive at a narrow row house in a middle class neighborhood. The building has a stone first floor and two timber stories above. Two guardsmen doze on the steps, sitting with their backs against the wall and heads on their chests. The officer kicks at them as he ascends the stairs but doesn’t bother to berate them as they jump to their feet. Inside, the furnishings and decorations are those of a comfortable merchantman, but whoever the owner is, he (and his family and servants) are nowhere in sight. Instead, the front parlor is full of soldiers, all sleeping on the floor with the nice furniture pushed up against the walls and covered in sheets but the carpets trodden with dirt. The smells of cooking and sounds of eating come from the back of the house. “You have your own kit?” the officer asks hopefully and is visibly relieved when Willa answers that indeed they are carrying their own food and have no need of board.

    “Would your men have any longbow arrows?” Babshapka asks the officer, as he leads them upstairs, to the second and then the third story.

    “No, the watch all use crossbows,” he says. “Mayhap some of Kerri’s cavalry would - some of the mounted archers have longbows, especially elves like yourself.”

    The officer opens a bedroom door; it is a smallish room with a narrow bed, likely a servant’s room, but the lack of furnishings gives more space for sleeping on the floor, and there are currently two men on the bed and four more on the floor. The officer rouses them, though they complain loudly and ask where they are to go now. “Go on, go on,” he tells them, “you could take your turn on the wall if you don’t like it - every watchman in the city is pulling double-shifts. I told you when you took the room that you’d need to leave if Kerri’s guests came.” As they grab their gear and pass through the door it can be seen that they don’t wear the tabard of the city watch, but rather something else, most likely the colors of a local lord. “Lazy louts,” says the officer to their backs, just loud enough to be heard by them if they wish to, although they could easily pretend that they don’t.

    Once the soldiers are out of the room, the party starts to move in, but it is immediately obvious that there won’t be enough space for the sixteen of them. “Ahem,” says the officer, pretending to clear his throat. “There’s plenty of men below what bled and watched their brothers die at the hand of orcs this night. I think it would be safer for you and me both if we put them in the basement - it’s dark and damp, but there’s plenty of room down there.”

    Thokk can see where this is going. Before his one orc who can speak Common catches on, he flares his nostrils and wrinkles his face in revulsion. “Ugh, Babshapka,” he complains. “This room stinks of flower-blood now. You not used to marching like hearty orc, you sweat and stink so much! Thokk look for nice clean cave to house his Army.” He shoves the elf out of the way as he turns and pushes through the doorway and into the hall with his troops.

    “Thokk, you disgust me,” says Babshapka coldly to his back.

    The officer nods gratefully at Willa and points the orcs downstairs. “You said there were wounded below?” asks Doro, and he nods again.

    Babshapka fires off two cure wounds spells (12 points of healing to Doro) and settles into a corner, sitting cross-legged on the floor as he begins his trance. Doro begins to play an aura of vitality until there are no seriously wounded left among the party, then hurries downstairs to see if she can share her healing with the watch before the spell ends. Mathias follows more leisurely.

    Willa sighs and begins stripping off her armor. The room will still be crowded with her and Aurora sharing the bed, and the merchant, engineer, and Babshapka on the floor, and Mathias and Doro too if and when they return. The engineer and merchant are asleep almost immediately, but as tired as they are, the others still have things to do. Willa unpacks her lantern and they eat and drink by its light, clean gear, wash old wounds and check they have magically healed and have no more need of dressings. Aurora casts mage armor on herself, and on Doro once the bard returns (Aurora at 2/2/0/1). Doro explains that ‘Mathias went out, somewhere,’ and then plays them a song of rest (5 hp extra to short rest) to aid their natural healing.

    The orcs follow the officer to the kitchen, prompting the tired but rowdy men finally getting their supper at this late hour to cease their jocularity and stare. The officer yells at them, especially the cooks, to go about their duties. Eventually the serjeant in command of the house is woken up and brings the key to the basement. There is a large iron padlock on the door. Originally installed to keep the help out of the wine stores, likely the house owner never thought it would be used to secure an orc army in the basement. Thokk is the first down the stairs, shouting his appreciation in Orc, “Ah, this smells good down here, cool and free of the stench of elves. Thokk’s army can rest secure here in the safe dark, and the yoo-mans have even provided us with drink…” If he hears the click of the lock after the last of them has passed through the door, he does not mention it. The Keeper’s Axe will easily splinter the wood of the door in a single blow if it comes to that.

    On the first floor, Mathias begins to ask around for who can take him to see Kerri (Persuasion 12). A soldier whose superficial wound has just been miraculously healed by Doro volunteers. “I’m not saying I can get you to meet with her,” he offers, “but I can take you to her headquarters easy enough”. Mathias says that will be fine. The two leave the row house.

    In the bedroom upstairs, Aurora prepares a sending to the Countess, having to use her last fourth level slot since she is out of thirds. After conferring with Willa on the wording, she finally sends (Aurora at 2/2/0/0):

    In Headwater. Debriefing Griffage and Kerri soon. Trustworthy? Mole info? Orders? Questions? Giant races collaborating. Unknown figure leading giant alliance.
    Disagreement among Stone Giant participation.

    After a pause, she hears in reply:
    What's that, love?
    Wait, you're not the Earl!
    Oh, it's you.
    Make sure you are all asleep by dawn. I will contact you all then

    As Aurora raises her brows in perplexion, Willa asks her what the Countess said in reply. “Nothing...I mean, nothing intelligible. It was nonsense...I think I woke her.”

    “Well, ah carse ye woke ‘er! It be bloomin’ t’ree bells since midnight!”

    “Ok, Willa, I just didn’t know the spell worked like that. I thought maybe she’d be able compose a more coherent response if I woke her.” Willa snorts derisively. “I haven’t had the spell that long!” says Aurora hotly, “And, I had to learn it myself, I haven’t been taught the theory behind it, and…” Willa interrupts her excuses by snorting again.

    The messenger from the row house leads Mathias back the way they came for a bit before turning and crossing a heavily-fortified bridge over the Davish River - they are going to the east bank, but apparently not the occupied part, since it lies north of the smaller river the party followed down from the mountains. Still, the other side is deserted except for soldiers. Some time later they arrive at a large plaza where two main streets intersect. Before the siege this would have been a market square, but now the entire space is given over to a cavalry encampment, with tents large and small for the men and makeshift corrals for the horses.

    “Like I said, I don’t know if I can get you to see Kerri, but I’ll do what I can.”

    “That’s all I’m asking,” says Mathias.

    The messenger speaks with some guards and is admitted deeper into the encampment while Mathias stays at the picket line. He looks about. Most of the horses are unburdened, brushed, combed, and turned out, but there are a few near the street entrances that still have saddles and tack on - perhaps to be ready at a moment’s notice (Perception 14). Mathias idles over to where several of these ‘ready’ horses are tied. He spots one with a black leather quiver hanging from the saddle (luck roll +2), but he guesses from the size of the case that it holds shortbow arrows (History 20 with advantage). Still, arrows are arrows, and these are undoubtedly better than the goblin shafts Babshapka was forced to scavenge at the Steading. He comes up next to the horse, scratches its head reassuringly, and flips open the cover of the quiver (Stealth 5).

    “Hey! What are you doing there!” shouts a guard whose night vision is much better than Mathias gave him credit for.

    “Looking for arrows,” says Mathias innocently.

    “Arrows! Why?” demands the guard as he approaches, spear leveled at Mathias.

    Mathias’ tone is unconcerned. “I have a longbowman going up on the wall. He needs arrows to kill orcs and giants and such.”

    “You’re not a Sterishman.”

    “No, I’m not. The Earl sent the word out and I came. He put me to work for Kerri.”

    “You are under Kerri’s command? You’re one of those foreign heroes that came to help with the Troubles?”

    “Well, I work for Kerri, yeah. But you’re the real hero. These are your people you’re defending. We just want to do our part.” (Persuasion 25)

    In less than a minute the guard has gone from threatening to curious to in awe. “Gods, you come here from your foreign land and put your life on the line for us? Yeah, I can try to find you some longbow arrows, it’s the least I can do. You wait here.” The spearman goes to speak to the same guards that let the messenger through and is granted passage as well. Mathias takes out his stool and begins a cigarette.

    He has just flicked away the stub when a tall half-elf of regal bearing emerges from a tent flap and strides rapidly toward him. “The Wizard Mathias?” he asks. He has tall leather riding boots, a cavalry sabre, and an embroidered tabard over fine chain that is likely elven work. His long blonde hair is pulled back and braided. Mathias is unfamiliar with the rank insignia of Sterich but the man carries himself like an important officer.

    “That’s me,” says Mathias and stands.

    “I’m an Adjutant to Kerri. She and Griffage Terpin are busy in war council - you may have heard about the assault earlier this evening. I’m to communicate some things to your group until they have a chance to meet with them.”

    “What things?”

    “Things better spoken of in private. Shall we return to where they are housed?”

    “If that’s what it takes to hear your message.” Mathias packs up his chair. When he is done, the man hands over a quiver with ten longbow arrows.

    “I was told you required these.”

    “Babshapka, my teammate, an elf. But thank you.”

    [By the time Mathias and the Adjutant are back at the row house, the rest of the party has completed a short rest, which will also count as the first hour of their long rest. Thokk has spent 3HD to heal 25hp]

    Before the man even begins speaking to the party, he asks for the location of ‘the half-orc’. Told Thokk is securely in the basement, he asks who the two men asleep on the floor are, and is told that they were prisoners of the giants. The party is returning them - from the ‘place at the swordwraiths’ (they say). He pulls at the wisps of a beard and decides that the merchant and the engineer will be joining the orcs in the basement below, at least for the duration of the conversation. The engineer stumbles downstairs groggily without resistance, but the merchant wakes enough to bemoan his fate.

    Mathias hands the arrows over to Babshapka. They are of elven make and as well-crafted as they are appreciated.

    Mathias asks about the wood elf scout - who was also a prisoner. The Adjutant lights a candle in the hall, closes the door to leave the room in the dark, and speaks to the party softly, watching all the time the sliver of light beneath the crack under the door for the shadow of anyone who might be outside listening. He says that the elf was indeed a scout for Kerri, as he claimed. He arrived at the city mid-morning of today, and entered through the same gate at which the party arrived. It was because of him, the man says, that Kerri was expecting the party: she gave their descriptions to every gate captain and ordered that they be admitted and taken here without questioning them.

    He describes in more detail the fall of the southeast quarter of the city. He says that while it is true that Kerri and Griffage are both busy seeing to the defense of the city after the attacks last night, more importantly their war council is full of noblemen or their factors, and there is no way they could speak to the party without someone noting them. Once their meetings are done they will likely try to grab an hour or two of sleep, waken before dawn to make sure the enemy is not attacking at first light, and then meet with the party later in the morning in private. If Mathias can’t wait that long to be of service, he suggests, most of the city defenders are clustered around the bridges that cross from the occupied city to the other side of the river, and he is welcome to go to any of those. There is no active fighting for the moment, he explains, and while all the defenders are on alert, Kerri doubts that anything will happen until the next day.

    As far as the forces of the enemy, he relates, it is clear that the stone giant is in charge. He took a few days to establish control over all of the humanoid forces when he arrived, but eventually his hill giant retinue made it clear that he was the one in command and the various orc war chiefs and goblin bosses were cowed. The Adjutant thanks the party for having warned Kerri of him with their sending, and he says that Griffage’s scouts tracked the stone giant night and day with an elite response team ready to try to take him out, but he was never without at least a few hill giants and a dozen eigers on hand and Griffage didn’t see any chance of success.

    Other stone giants, and the female hill giants (which the party recognizes as the refugees they allowed to leave), arrived just this past afternoon and met with the stone giant in charge. The other stone giants all left before nightfall, but the giantesses and the young giant remained. Griffage’s scouts lost track of them after nightfall, and it is not known whether they have been moved into the occupied part of the city.

    As to the occupation, the Adjutant describes how the first enemy forces into the city tried to seize any watercraft along the docks, but found that they had been evacuated along with the civilians. According to Griffage’s scouts, the stone giant has spent the rest of the night ordering his part of the city, bringing in the besieging orc troops and setting up camps, laying out picket lines, and the like. Surprisingly, nothing has been burned. However, the goblins have been very methodically searching the occupied city. Any food or other valuables were already moved out, so it is not known what the goblins are searching for. The party asks for the current location of the stone giant, and the Adjutant says that they are working on it. This prompts Aurora to remember to recall Hedwig, who has spent the night surveying the watch fires, the barricaded bridges, and the enemy encampments inside the city and out. Her observations are found to match everything this man has been saying.

    When the party has exhausted their questions, the Adjutant says that he will be returning to Kerri’s command, but that he will leave orders in the house to keep a messenger on hand. If the party wakes before Kerri sends for them, they can use the messenger to contact her. He warns them not to let the engineer and merchant out of their sight, nor to allow them to speak to anyone. It is four in the morning when he takes his leave of them; many of them are asleep before he is out the front door, and all of them by the time he crosses the bridge on his way back to Kerri’s.
    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: 1061
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 25, 2023 2:39 pm  
    Post 283: A Dark New Night

    Post 283 - A dark new night
    9 April [14 Planting] - The Fallen Steading
    (low 74, high 99)

    After the party has left the Steading, the orcs huddle in their tribal groups.

    If they are to defend the Steading, there really is no need for Battalions - they will not be marching on anything - and if they do march, it will be the more militant tribes who are sent - Leezar said they should draw on the strengths of each group. And if each tribal group gets a seat on the council, and a shaman, it makes more sense not to have three Death Moon sub-commanders attempting to control the other tribes. Thus the battalions are reorganized into tribal groups.

    Old Evil Eye Battalion
    1 Sub-commander unbroken orc, converted by Thokk
    17 unbroken orcs only feigning loyalty to Thokk but opposed to him; 2 speak Common
    31 friendly but unconverted unbroken orcs; 6 speak common
    20 converted miners, 2 speak common
    7 friendly but unconverted mining thralls
    3 converted kitchen thralls

    The Unbroken Sub-Commander is convinced by Leezar’s speech (his Insight 12 against Leezar's Persuasion 14). He does, in fact, feel that the orc gods have abandoned them - or perhaps that they were misled by the shamen. The giants demanded that the orcs fight alongside orcs of other tribes in attacking the human city, and when the shamans of Gruumsh told the tribal leaders to refuse, they died quickly to the ogre and bugbear minions of the giants. The Evil Eye, their tribe, was supposed to have a divine mandate to rule other orcs, but they were instead enslaved and Gruumsh and his shamen did nothing about it. Half his current troops worked as miners alongside orcs of other tribes and the other half were held in cages and the gods did nothing about that, either. Mighty Thokk himself told them to listen to Leezar.
    Perhaps, the Sub-commander thinks, it is time to give this Elder Elemental God a chance to prove whether it can do better by the orcs.

    Still, not all of his tribemate orcs will feel this way - there are many who clung to the traditional religion in the depths of their duress, who refused to work with the orcs of other tribes, who were sycophantic lickspittles to the shamen when they were still alive. This resistance will need to be eliminated before the tribe can move on and choose their new shaman. The Sub-commander moves among those individuals he trusts, those he knows to be ready, and tells them not to say anything at the meeting that is about to be held. Then the Sub-commander commandeers the marshaling chamber for his group, telling the other tribes to leave. There is to be a grand debate, he says, with all the orcs discussing whether or not to take Leezar’s offer of a new god. At the meeting, he allows all those who are opposed to speak freely - and in doing so, to expose their views, while he cautions those who agree with him to stay silent. As more and more orcs come out against the offer, it encourages others to speak up and agree, all the while they are watched and marked by the Sub-commander. In the end, some 28 of the 79 Evil Eye orcs speak in opposition to the new god. Those are odds the Sub-commander can accept. When those who have spoken are done, confident that the majority of the orcs are opposed to the new god since only a few spoke in favor, the Sub-commander gives the signal and those in favor of the new god start the attack.

    The conflict is brief but bloody. All 28 of the orcs who spoke out against the new god are slain. One of their attackers is killed, three are between life and death but recover, and 29 are wounded. Some thirteen of the orcs who were on the fence (14 Insight vs. Leezar’s 14 Persuasion) stood by during the conflict, not taking a side. After it is over, they are convinced of the righteousness of the new cause, and now vow to support the Elder Elemental God.

    New Evil Eye Tribe
    31 unbroken orcs (One shaman, seven speak Common)
    17 mining thralls (one speaks Common)
    1 kitchen thrall

    Old Broken Bone Battalion
    1 Broken Bone Sub-commander, unbroken and converted by Thokk
    7 converted unbroken orcs
    6 friendly but unconverted unbroken orcs
    3 converted miners

    The Broken Bone Battalion Sub-Commander was not moved by Leezar’s appeal to the new god (Insight 19 vs. Leezar’s Persuasion 14). He takes his forces to the old prison cells of the bad behavior orcs. He rails at them that Bahgtru will desert them if they worship the new god, and that they will make themselves weak by allying with the orcs of the other tribes. He does his best to threaten and cajole those present (Intimidation 19). Four of the sixteen orcs were already on his side; he manages to bully another six into coming over for the time being, but that still only makes it ten to six, and the remainder hold fast with Thokk and Leezar and refuse to yield. He ponders having a great wrestling competition where his side can assert their dominance on the weaker ones, but that will only leave some of his followers with broken bones and then they will still have to face the other, more numerous groups. At best they would be allowed to depart the Steading while wounded. Rather than provoke an unwinnable conflict, he decides to take what warriors he can and leave now - the six remaining weaklings can fend for themselves.

    New Broken Bone Tribe
    5 unbroken orcs (1 shaman speaks Common)
    1 converted miner

    Old Vile Rune Battalion
    1 Death Moon Sub-commander unbroken orc, converted by Thokk
    2 Death Moon Officer, allied but unconverted unbroken orc
    1 Death Moon Officer, unbroken orcs feigning loyalty to Thokk but opposed
    2 unbroken orcs feigning loyalty
    7 allied but unconverted unbroken orcs

    The Death Moon Sub-Commander and his three officers abandon the former battalion and seek out other Death Moon Orcs to put together a tribe of their own. The remaining nine true Vile Rune orcs from the Battalion withdraw to the natural cave complex once occupied by the orc rebels. They all agree that in order to survive, they will need to find orc females - the only debate is whether they should remain here and do so, or leave the Steading and seek some out elsewhere. Without a clear leader at the moment, they each speak about their reaction to Leezar’s words. None of them want to cease worshiping the Cave Mother, but that doesn’t mean they need to immediately find a Vile Rune shaman or shamaness, or that they can’t also worship the Elder Elemental God. Each one talks about how much they trust, or don’t trust, Leezar. Five have a generally favorable view, with one wanting to be a shaman, one is noncommittal, while three don’t like the idea (Insights 1, 2, 5, 5, 6, 14, 15, 18, 20). The overall consensus is that they should stay for the time being and see what the new god has to offer (average Insight roll 10 vs. Leezar’s Persuasion 14).

    New Vile Rune Tribe
    9 unbroken orcs (including one Shaman and two who speak Common)

    Old Leprous Hand Battalion
    1 Death Moon Sub-commander converted by Thokk, unbroken orc
    1 Death Moon Officer, allied but unconverted unbroken orc
    1 Death Moon Officer, unbroken orc feigning loyalty to Thokk but opposed
    2 unbroken orcs feigning loyalty
    2 allied but unconverted unbroken orcs
    1 converted mining thrall, made Lt

    The three Death Moon officers remove themselves from this group as well, leaving just four orcs in the ‘tribe’. Of these, two are in favor of Leezar’s plan, and two opposed. They are joined by the Leprous Hand orc that was made a Lieutenant by Thokk and stationed in the Watchtower - since he is the most insistent that Thokk wants them to worship the Elder Elemental God - he will become their shaman.

    New Leprous Hand Tribe
    4 unbroken orcs
    1 converted mining thrall, Lt, speaks Common, Shaman

    The seven Death Moon Orcs gather together:
    1 Death Moon Sub-commander unbroken orc, converted by Thokk
    2 Death Moon Officer, allied but unconverted unbroken orc
    1 Death Moon Officer, unbroken orcs feigning loyalty to Thokk but opposed
    1 Death Moon Sub-commander converted by Thokk, unbroken orc
    1 Death Moon Officer, allied but unconverted unbroken orc
    1 Death Moon Officer, unbroken orc feigning loyalty to Thokk but opposed

    The two who were briefly sub-Commanders are ready for the new plan, believing that this ‘Elder Elemental God’ is yet another way that Shargaas will strike terror into their opponents. One of them is ready to become a shaman. Of the five remaining, only two are opposed to the idea, but they do not speak their opposition - once it becomes clear that the leaders are in favor, they know that revealing their opposition will mean their disappearance. One of them had already been pretending to follow Thokk anyway, this is just more of the same game.

    New Death Moon Tribe
    6 unbroken orcs (including two who speak Common one of whom is the Shaman)
    1 unbroken converted orc

    Summary of Current Forces in Steading
    New Evil Eye Tribe
    31 unbroken orcs (One shaman, seven speak Common)
    17 mining thralls (one speaks Common)
    1 converted kitchen thrall

    New Broken Bone Tribe
    5 unbroken orcs (1 shaman speaks Common)
    1 converted miner

    New Vile Rune Tribe
    9 unbroken orcs (including one Shaman and two who speak Common)

    New Leprous Hand Tribe
    4 unbroken orcs
    1 converted mining thrall, Lt, speaks Common, Shaman

    New Death Moon Tribe
    6 unbroken orcs (including two who speak common, one of whom is the Shaman)
    1 unbroken converted orc
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 01, 2023 4:35 pm  
    Post 284: The Dream of a Palace Garden

    Post 284 - The Dream of a Palace Garden
    9 April [14 Planting] - Headwater
    (low 74, high 99)

    As the first light of dawn falls on the row house, most of the soldiers rouse and move out to take their turn at the defense of the city, while others, tired from an all-night shift or longer, stumble in and find their own places to sleep. The party is oblivious to this, however, for all of them are deeply asleep except Babshapka, who is in trance.

    One by one, in dreams, each of them hears a voice calling their own name. Responding, they soon find themselves in a beautiful tropical garden, on a path. The luxuriant foliage is grown so high that they cannot see far beyond, but the verge of the path is meticulously cut grass and nothing is over-grown. The air is warm and scented with flowers; everywhere are green leaves and colorful flower blooms. Iridescent hummingbirds dart about.

    Thokk is confused, but a path is a path so he takes his with alacrity. Willa grins and enjoys the respite of the dream after their exhausting march the day and night previous. She smells the flowers and watches the birds as she wanders idly ahead. Babshapka is not there - in his trance, he never heard his name called, nor did Doro, deep in a dreamless sleep. Mathias is sleeping fitfully, in and out of consciousness as he tosses and turns in the room of the row house, but eventually he, too, finds himself in the garden [what only the player of Leezar knows is that his ring of mind shielding has protected him from automatically entering the Dream, and it is some time before he decides that he is willing to forgo the protection and enter]. Aurora, on her path, calls and calls for the others but receives no response. It is obvious that some magic is afoot here, so she begins a ritual of detect magic, hoping to gain some insight into what is happening. One by one, first Thokk, then Willa and Mathias, find their way to what appears to be the center of the garden. On a low rise is a pagoda, the wood painted a rich red color. Wind chimes tinkle brightly, and a woman patiently waits seated inside the structure.

    Approaching the pagoda, they recognize that the woman within is Countess Resbin Dren. She is relaxed on cushions and bids them enter, offering them a wonderfully aromatic tea while they “wait for your monk, Willow, who seems to be performing some sort of ritual.”

    Aurora, after her ten minute cast, has succeeded in detecting magic. She looks about and realizes that everything she is seeing is magical - and of the illusion school, what’s more. Finally satisfied, although unsure of what to do with the information, she starts down the path and eventually arrives at the pagoda.

    Recognizing the party, and then the Countess, she asks in an awed voice, “Where is this….?”

    “This?” the woman almost laughs, then gestures about them. “These are the palace gardens of Zahind, at least my memory of them from when I was a child. I find it easiest to maintain this spell if I have a strong, emotive memory to ground it in, and this was once my favorite place in the world.”

    “This is a spell? You are talking to us through a spell?”

    “But of course. We need a secure method of communicating, and unless someone is currently reading your thoughts, this is very private. I believe we need to have a much longer conversation than sending would allow.”

    “So you got my send...My-thias’ sending?”

    “Yes, I received the Wizard Mathias’ sending, though it was under the code name of Aurora, as you had warned me. My apologies for not giving the most coherent answer at the time - I was unfortunately rather asleep when it was received.” She makes no mention of the fact that it was some two and a half hours past midnight when Aurora sent to her; if she was offended, the honey in her voice makes it impossible to tell.

    “And when you replied, telling us to make sure we were asleep by dawn, that was a real thing?”

    “Yes, of course; this spell allows us to connect our dreams, to share our dreamspace as it were. That is why I was unable to invite your companion Babshapka, as elves do not sleep.”

    “What is this spell?”

    “It is called Dream,” she titters. “I know, how droll, yes? It is a simple bit of magic, just an illusion of the fifth degree in its base form. Of course, the standard casting of the spell would allow me to enter the dreams of just one of you. To have all of you together enter my own dream, that requires both skill and concentration, which is why I prefer to meet in one of my strongest memories. And it also means our time is somewhat limited, as I will eventually be unable to maintain all this. So, Willow, if I have answered your questions sufficiently, perhaps we might begin?”

    Aurora nods before Willa can jump in to chide her for having made them all wait ten minutes already.

    “Please relate to me now everything that you have learned since leaving Istivin. I did receive word from my man Griffage that he found you in the ruins of Ebenenberg and sent you up into the Jotun mountains based on his supposition of where those behind the attacks might be. Assume that I know nothing else of your travels and findings beyond what he told me.”

    In bits and pieces, by changing speakers and taking turns, with minor corrections to one another and major embellishments to the story as a whole, the party unreservedly tells their tale. The night before, they had resolved with one another to keep many of the details from Griffage and Kerri, but for whatever reason they have decided to trust the Countess implicitly and now in the moment tell her everything. [Nonetheless Aurora tries to gauge her reaction at critical junctures - is she toying with them by getting them to speak of things that she already knows, or things she is perhaps even behind? But Aurora finds she is out of her element - whether because this is Resbin’s own dream, or because the Countess has been trained at palace intrigue since childhood, Aurora gets no reading on her (Insight check 0).]

    They relate to her the ambush at the mill in Ebenenburg [Post 243], their meeting with Griffige [244], the road to Headwater [245], skirting the siege of the city and traveling up the valley into the mountains [246], their first foray in the Steading [249], sneaking inside and the discovery of the letter to Nosnra and the magical transport chain, seeing the stone giants and cloud giant at the feast, their partial return to Headwater but stopping upon seeing the fires of the Chief’s camp, Mathias’ emergency meeting with Kerri and Griffage [253], his taunting of Nosnra [254], the first ambush in which Nosnra was defeated [255], Nosnra’s interrogation with the silent image that revealed that the Frost and Fire giants were part of the alliance but that some even more malevolent but secret power was behind it all [256], the second ambush of more giants and eigers [257], their second foray into the Steading in which nearly all the giants were slain [259-261], the Stone Giants negotiating for safe passage for the Hill Giant women and children [262], facing the Fire Giants in the Understeading [264, 268], rescuing the prisoners (human, elf, and dwarf)[270], the abandoned Temple and strange tentacles from beyond space [274], the Spider Queen, and finally their forced march to return to Headwater in which even now the Stone Giant renegade has assumed command and taken a quarter of the city [278-282]. All along the way the Countess asks many clarifying questions and repeats parts to herself as if she is taking mental notes. For example, she wants to make sure that she understands them correctly that the Steading is a new structure, wooden and built to giant proportions, but that it was built on the stone ruins of something far more ancient, and sized for men. If this is really a dream, they can’t help but wonder how much of this conversation they will, or she will, remember upon waking!

    In the end, the Countess praises them lavishly for their service, skill, and discernment. She confides that she is relieved that she chose the correct band of ‘true adventurers’ as her heroes after planting all the false trails with many other adventuring groups to confuse the mole.

    Aurora asks whether she knows anything about the tentacles, and she says she does not, but will research it. Aurora persists, and says that she once found a map in ancient Suel, with a reference on it to something called the ‘Spidered Throne’. She wonders if…

    And here, even Aurora pauses mid-sentence, for the Countess has shuddered in dread. Eyes aghast, she has instinctually made arcane warding gestures.

    ...if that might be related to the spider queen or the tentacles.

    “This is a dream, and no one can hear, this is a dream, and no one can hear…” the Countess repeats several times with her eyes closed, as she slowly regains her composure. Finally, she turns to fully face Aurora. “It is only because this is a dream, and my dream at that, that I will allow you to speak that name in my presence,” she says. “You must never speak it while awake,” she insists. “I say this now only to dissuade you from pursuing this further. The One who sat the Sp...The One who sat the thing you mention, was a being of unspeakable power and evil from beyond this world. He existed thousands of years ago and has not been heard from in centuries. And yet, evil seeks out evil, and evil spoken can wake evil that slumbers. If the gods are good, that being has nothing to do with the current Troubles of my people and you can cease any inquiry or pursuit into that matter. If, however, that power is what is ultimately behind this alliance of giants, and in faithfully pursuing what I have asked you to unravel you become involved with that other, then,” (and the Countess shudders again), “then, I fear for the safety of all in Sterich and for my and your very souls.”

    The Countess’ vehemence in this regard leads to a long, awkward pause in which even Aurora is silent and contemplative. Finally, Willa asks how they can protect themselves from this entity.

    “Don’t speak that name again,” she responds without hesitation. “If you have the means, guard your thoughts from detection. Or better, correct your memories so that you have never heard the name.”

    The party asks the Countess what is next - should they use the magic chain to stop the Frost Giants?

    The Countess furrows her brow pensively, and answers with her own question. “You say that the letter was specifically addressed to Chief Nosnra? And that there were written instructions on how to use the chain as well? Please correct me if I am wrong, for you now have far more experience with Hill Giants than I, but do they even read? It was my, admittedly biased, perception that they are not bright enough for such things.”

    “You mean Nosnra was not really a Hill Giant?” asks Mathias, “That he was something smarter in a disguised form? That doesn’t make sense - he should have resumed his true form when we killed him, like a doppelganger.”

    Aurora goes over the interrogation scene again in her mind. “Nosnra was not all that clever,” she concludes. “He was certainly no genius. But he was Chief for a reason, and seemed to be above the intelligence of the other Hill Giants. I think it is possible that he could read after a fashion.”

    The Countess nods agreement but waves aside their reasoning. “I am not speaking about the abilities of the Chief himself, or his being a shapeshifter. I just find a letter to be an odd way of getting his attention - I think that what your Wizard Mathias did in speaking with him was more appropriate. So, you’ll have to excuse me if I think that your finding both letters to be a little too convenient.”

    “What are you saying?” asks Aurora.

    “I’m afraid you are being set up. To put it rather bluntly, I believe this ‘chain’ to be a trap, and the letters a bait to lure you in, placed in the Steading precisely so that you would find them. Perhaps the chain doesn’t go to the Hall of the Jarl at all. Or if it does, who’s to say it doesn’t land you all in a prison cell or worse? You have no idea what lies in wait for you on the other end of that one-way transport.”

    Again the party is silent. It is clear that they had not considered this possibility.

    “ dinnae wan’ us ter use ther chain?” asks Willa.

    “On the contrary. We have to stop the Frost Giants and this is our best lead and chance. Unless we learn more, I’m afraid I must ask you to go. But I want you to go in with your eyes open, and with the best chance of success. While this may be a trap, I don’t think it is a trap for you specifically - I don’t think it could have been laid so fast. More likely it is for whomever might have come after the Hill Giants. So, your advantage is that whomever is at the other end of the chain doesn’t know about you and your particulars. You are strong, and brave, and resourceful - perhaps you are more than they bargained for and we can turn this trap around on them! But I want you going through it only when you are fully prepared. Now, how much treasure did you manage to bring back from the Steading?”

    “Not much,” says Aurora.

    “Next to nothing,” agrees Mathias. “No magic, no treasure.”

    “Mmm? Well, that is disappointing. As much as the orcs and goblins have plundered from my people and lands, I was sure some of our wealth would have ended up there. Please take what little you did collect and decide what you might be willing to exchange for gear - mundane or magical. I will let Kerri know that she is to offer your goods to the merchant houses in Headwater and make sure you get a fair price for them. With that value, we can equip you for the frozen mountains, if that is indeed where the chain leads.”

    “We do be needin’ col’ weather gear, agin,” admits Willa.

    “You said magic?” asks Mathias.

    “Yes, Master Wizard. Of course, I have some small personal access to minor magic items. But more importantly, I know much of what is on hand among the wealthy and well-endowed of this land and can make further polite inquiries. There are some few as might be willing to exchange their magic for treasure; treasure they can then spend on guards for their lands in these Troubles or for men to plow and plant this spring if they have lost their own people to raids. Now that giants are inside the very walls of Headwater, that part of our enemy’s plan is revealed - they have no reason to hide that card any more. I can only expect that we will see more of these giants, raiding the length and breadth of the country, and not just in the Highlands. Once a fat noble has lost small folk or herds to giant raiders he may reconsider the relative worth of things and decide that his vaunted magic family heirloom is of more use with you defending the realm than sitting in a pretty case in his state room. I would like you to draw up a...what do the small folk call it...a ‘shopping list’? Yes, I want you to give Griffage a shopping list of what might be useful for when you jump through the chain. I can’t say that I will be able to get everything on your list, or even anything on your list, but I will do my best to see that you are as well-equipped as possible. You are our land’s best hope. Oh, and Master Mathias, as I recall when you were last in the capital I had Verbane and Lashton offer you some spells. I hope you found them useful in your work with the giants.”

    Phantom Steed” was alright,” admits Mathias.

    “And Mirror Image!” adds Aurora. It seems that even while pretending to be a monk she cannot resist commenting on arcana.

    “Good,” purrs the Countess. “In that case, Wizard Mathias, please consider what other, new, spells might be of use to you on the other end of the chain. I will have Verbane and Lashton make them available to you, if they know them. And, considering that you recovered so little of value from the Steading, please allow me to pay for some of the inks you might need to copy them. That much, at least, I can do for you heroes.”

    “So what should we do while we wait for these items to appear?” asks Mathias.

    “Defend Headwater?” suggests Willa.

    “Well, yes you could,” agrees the Countess, although her tone suggests otherwise. “I’m sure you could turn the tide there, and save perhaps thousands of my people. But that might be the end of your usefulness. You see, shortly after you left Istivin, one of the forts in the mountains above the city fell.”

    “We saw ther smoke,” agrees Willa.

    “By the time our relief forces got there, the enemy had vanished. Clearly whomever is really behind the Troubles has access to information at the highest levels of my husband’s council - they are always one move ahead of his forces.”

    “The mole,” says Aurora.

    “Your complete success in attacking the Steading leads me to believe that you are not yet a known quantity - I have a piece on the board they have not yet seen. I would keep it that way, which is why I am using this spell, after all. You could do a great service to the people of Headwater in attacking the giants and humanoids there, but in doing so you would clearly reveal yourselves. I fear that any of your plans after that would be known in advance. You would find the enemy disappearing into the mists just before you arrived, the same as all of my husband’s conventional factors, like the Sterrish Cavalry, have. It is your decision, of course - I am the one asking for your help, after all. But I think your unique talents have better uses.”

    “Such as?” asks Aurora.

    “What you have told me is that this Stone Giant, Garuuumk, leads the forces of the enemy, and that the scouts of Griffage have been unable to find him alone to eliminate him. Would you consider doing that? Going behind lines to the occupied part of the city and killing him, just him? That would be as great a service to the city as any bridge you might hold against a horde of foes, but no one would need see you do it.”

    “‘Twould take a special kind o’ fool ter do summit like t’at,” says Willa. “Sounds like us, true eno’”.

    The others talk amongst themselves and agree that they will consider the possibility. The Countess says that they will be able to rely on information from Griffage and Kerri in planning their assault. When the talk turns to them, the party remembers that they will likely be meeting with those two in the morning, when they wake. Several in the party want to know what they should tell them, how much they should know, and what they might leave out of their account. A few go so far as to ask the Countess directly whether they can be trusted.

    “Kerri and Griffage can and should be trusted with anything pertinent to their spheres of interest,” the Countess says firmly. “Beyond that, the less anyone knows, the better. The Earl has charged Kerri with the defense of the Highlands in general and Headwater specifically. Anything you have to tell her about, for example, the threat to the city from the Hill Giants is relevant. That they had an ancient temple with a tentacle wall is not. Griffage is my lord’s eyes and ears. He is our Master Scout. I had charged him with finding out as much as he could about who is truly behind the Troubles and communicating that to you. But now you have letters and chains - you have surpassed him and are following your own leads. I don’t think there is much you need tell him other than that he was correct about the giants and that you are working on it. However…” she reconsiders. “He knows of many more secrets in these lands than he has shared with me. You might show him that strange pendent you have. Perhaps he knows of other temples in ruins. But what it means or what you found in the temple is not necessary for him to know.”

    The Countess allows them a brief discussion of what they will and will not reveal on the ‘morrow before interjecting, her face betraying the first hints of strain. “I’m afraid my concentration wanes and our time here grows short,” she says. “I have one more thing I would ask of you. If you are able to kill this Garuuumk, please return his body to his people.”

    “What?” cries Mathias defiantly. None of the party were eager to go to the Stone Giants, but of them all he opposed the idea most fervently.

    “If you told me true everything you learned about this alliance of giants,” explains the Countess, “about half of what you learned happened in the kitchen, and was told to you quite willingly by the Stone Giants. What else remains you gleaned from Nosnra and the letters. Nosnra is dead and I suspect the letters are a trap. The Stone Giants are our only live lead right now until you are ready for the chain. And just as importantly, it appears that this Thane wants to talk to you. If he wants to talk, I want to hear what he has to say. A trip to the Fjell and back should be just enough time for me to look for any magic items you request. And the best way I can think of to make a good first impression and gain the trust of this Thane is by returning to him the body of his subject.”

    Put that way, several in the party seem to find the idea of a trip to the Fjell more reasonable. Some of them are beginning to suspect that the Countess generally has that effect on people - that whatever she asks them to do somehow seems more reasonable coming from her than if they had thought of it themselves.

    “The other option, of course, is to investigate what has happened to the Dwarves of Num-Theraz. But the danger there is that their sad fate is not connected to what we are trying to learn, or that they are already completely lost and cannot yield any information. At least the Thane is willing to speak to you, so that is what I would have you do first, if you would.”

    They agree that they will need to discuss it among themselves. Not to put the cart before the horse, though, they will first need to kill Garuuumk - and recover his body! With that understanding, then, the Countess carefully dismisses each of them to return to their own, private, dreams.

    Postscript from the DM: This is the third time I have run the Giants series. In the previous two, I had an interlude between two of the modules in which the characters visited the Stone Giants, competed against them in a series of friendly games, and won their trust and aid. Despite there being stone giants (spoilers)present in each of the lairs of G1, G2, and G3 , I never saw them as the party's enemies. Perhaps it was because they are of Neutral alignment. Perhaps it was because of what 'stone' connoted for me. But for whatever reason, the stone giants in my conception of the Giants arc are not on board with the Hill / Frost / Fire plan to conquer humanity. Thus I wanted to weave in this thread of dissenting giants, but had to work against the character of Mathias / Leezar who saw it as his character's goal to bring the party to the drow as quickly and directly as possible (and that character's player, who is often very vocal about why the party should do what he wants to do). This was not quite railroading, but I figured it would take a near-direct command from the Countess to get them to go to the Fjell over the objections of Mathias, and transporting the body of Garuuumk actually made it a pretty organic outcome of their own interests and actions, as well as tying into other dramatic elements I wanted to reveal later.

    Additionally, the party had only just leveled to 8th. They were in no way ready for the Frost Giants, even with their alien technology. Hill Giants are CR5 in 5e; for six characters of level 8 an encounter with one giant is considered trivial, and they would need to face five Hill Giants at once for it to have the potential to be deadly. Frost Giants, on the other hand, are a big step up to CR8 and while just one would still be trivial because of the 'action economy', even three at once could be a deadly encounter - and the Rift has many, many more than three giants...I wanted the party to have some side quests before using the chain to go to the Rift so that they would attain at least 9th level before the jump. Along the way, these side quests would also reveal more about the unfolding plot and what they would face in the future.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.

    Last edited by Kirt on Thu Aug 10, 2023 6:57 am; edited 6 times in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 08, 2023 9:54 am  
    Post 285: Battle Plans

    DM's note on sources:
    For the interior map of the Oerth Temple, I used

    For the map of the plaza, I used

    Post 285 - Battle Plans
    9 April [14 Planting] continued - Headwater
    (low 74, high 99)

    Babshapka wakes from his trance, having completed his long rest. [He has been able to remove a level of exhaustion, although he has one remaining.] He leaves the shared room and takes up a watch in the hallway outside.

    After another seven hours of sleep, everyone but Mathias has completed a long rest. They leave him and Babshapka alone in the room while they go down to the kitchen and let Thokk, his army, and the two humans out of the basement. The orcs slept blissfully in the cold and damp, but the merchant moans and the engineer tries not to complain. [Willa and 6 orcs have removed their single level of exhaustion, as has the merchant. The engineer did not successfully complete a long rest in the cold and damp and still has one level. Aurora, and one other orc, have removed one level of exhaustion, but still have one remaining.]

    The messenger comes into the upstairs room and asks whether he should tell Kerri that the party is ready to speak. They reply that they will need to eat and that Mathias is still resting. Together they go down to a parlor below and ask what news this morning, eating from meaty stew ship’s rations while he talks. There was no further action in the night, he says. Kerri has organized the defense of the city around the bridges that separate the occupied and free quarters. The ballistae that were removed from the parts of the city that fell have been set up in or near the towers on the near end of the bridges. Everyone is on edge and waiting for the next attack, but across the river the orcs, goblins, and eigers are avoiding the sun or engaging in idle looting. Still, the Stone Giant has his ends of the bridges defended as well, with both troops and improvised fortifications, and Kerri has not ordered any counter-attacks as of yet.

    As Willa scrapes the last of the meaty stew from her cave horn tray with her finger, she realizes that she pulled the rations from one of the packs in the room on her way down...the packs that went on…

    “Dandy!” she exclaims and jumps from her chair. Gods, she must have been exhausted the night before to be so foolish. She remembers Babshapka riding the mule into the city, then leading it from there...the orcs were carrying the packs into the row house...but what happened to the mule?

    Willa climbs the stairs two at a time and finds Babshapka still standing watch over sleeping Mathias. “Babs!” she hisses. “What did you do with Dandy?”

    The wood elf shrugs. “There were some horses across the street. I tied him to a post with them.”

    Willa bounds down the stairs and out the front door, her loud thumping drawing groans from the soldiers sleeping in the parlor. Sure enough, across the street in the mouth of an alley are two pack horses and Dandy, seeming content to stay in the shade on the hot morning. Near them a stable boy (well, a boy anyway, since there is no stable) guards a water bucket to keep them from drinking it all at once. Willa speaks to him and he explains that he takes care of the beasts the town watch has been using to help with the evacuations and supply of the soldiers; these two horses belong to some of the officers in the row house. He was given the mule the previous night by an elf whom he assumed was part of Kerri’s cavalry. Willa fishes for a coin but suddenly finds she is still in her night clothes - she asks the boy his name and tells him that she will recommend him to Kerri and he beams.

    [Mathias has completed a long rest.] As Mathias stirs, the cooks for the watch insist that Thokk get his orcs out of the kitchen so that they can get to work. The party prepares to go to Kerri’s headquarters, led by the messenger. Mathias grabs some jerky from his pack and eats on the way. Willa waves to the boy across the street and tosses him a silver, telling him to find Dandy some hay or oats or something.

    The route they take to the Headquarters is different and much shorter than what Mathias did the night before - apparently Kerri has moved her bivouac to the west side of the river. Thokk and his Army are stopped outside by the pickets, but the rest of the party, as well as the merchant and engineer, are admitted to a large tent where Griffage, Kerri, the Adjutant from the night before, and several junior officers stand around a trestle table with a rough model of the city showing the bridges, towers, and walls.

    After formal greetings are exchanged, Griffage immediately asks who the merchant and engineer are. “Former prisoners…” says Mathias. “...of the people we were with, before. They were neighbors of her scout,” he adds vaguely, indicating Kerri.

    Kerri nods and tells some of her men to take the two away for ‘debriefing’. Griffage whistles mournfully. “Those two won’t be seeing the light of day for a good while,” he says ruefully after they exit.

    Kerri’s eyes flash. “As loyal subjects of the Earl, they will recognize the sacrifices that need to be made in the name of security for the moment, and will be compensated when it is safe to do so.” She sets her face and turns to the party. “Now then, I see you have recovered from your journey. What do you have to tell us?”

    “A lot,” says Mathias. “You might want to debrief me personally,” he adds suggestively. Kerri arches an eyebrow but says nothing. One of her officers bites his tongue to keep from sniggering.

    “Actually,” interjects Aurora, “speaking of security, we were thinking that given the sensitive nature of the discussion, we might go somewhere less public, and somewhere I might be able to prepare first - safe from prying...(*cough* scrying *cough*)...eyes."

    Griffage looks dubious. “We received word from the Countess that you might be able to help us remove one particular member of the opposing forces. Planning such a thing would be easiest if we could refer to the map of the city,” he says, gesturing at the model on the table.

    Kerri shakes her head. “There is no need for a model when we have the real thing. The bell tower in the Temple of Rao has a fine view of all the city and is big enough for us all to meet comfortably.”

    “Have you been there recently?” asks Aurora suspiciously. She reasons that any place Kerri frequents will have spies or scrying sensors already in place.

    “The Temple, often enough,” replies Kerri. “The bell tower, not in a decade or more.”

    “Perfect!” Aurora exclaims.

    They gather the orcs on the way out of the bivouac and Kerri brings a few guards along, besides. There is little traffic on the main road south, paralleling the river, but along the way Kerri’s men do have to hustle squatters out of the road. The soldiers are stern and forceful, but not cruel or bullying. Kerri’s face shows a complex mix of emotions - pity for the refugees, frustration that they are stubbornly interfering with her best attempts to defend them, resolve to save as many of them as she can. Along the way, Aurora explains to Mathias what she had talked about with the others the night before, when he was not there. Mordenkainen’s private sanctum will allow her to ward a space from divination for them to talk safely. Specifically, she can make it so that scrying sensors will not be able to appear in the area, or follow them in. Once the sanctum is established, none of them inside will be able to be the targets of divination spells, and nothing will be able to teleport or plane shift in. The only gap in the defenses, she continues, is that it won’t remove a pre-existing scrying sensor in the area before the spell is cast, and that is why she suggested a place to which none of them have been, and which none of them would have considered before the suggestion was made; someplace unpredictable that could not have been prepared for them beforehand.

    Mathias listens and nods. At the end, he suggests something she apparently hasn’t considered. An invisible eavesdropper could approach the sanctum-warded area from the outside and simply walk through the barrier, then listen with normal senses, not divination, to the conversations inside. Aurora is piqued, but admits the possibility. They will simply have to guard access, she decides. In the future, perhaps some combination of her Sanctum and Doro’s Tiny Hut could be employed...

    Kerri’s authority is enough to get them an immediate audience with the Bishop of Rao, and she quickly secures them access to the bell tower. Gaining them a dispensation from the stricture that prohibits weapons on the church grounds takes longer, and some oaths from her to which the rest of them are not privy. Thokk is placed at the bottom of the tower stairs, glowering at any who dare approach, whether congregants or clergy. The eight orcs are placed at intervals up the stairs, with orders to smell out anything invisible that tries to slip by. Kerri’s two guards are positioned at the very end of the staircase, shoulder to shoulder to block all but the tiniest sneaks from entering the belfry. Aurora takes ten minutes to ward the area at the top of the stairs, being careful not to enter the belfry itself as she works so as to not carry in any scrying devices previously planted on her person (Aurora at 2/3/3/1).

    In the end, she protects the area from divination, teleport, planar travel, and sound crossing over its frontiers. The only ward she does not invoke from the spell is the one preventing vision, since they chose the area for its commanding view. Indeed, it looks across the waters of the Davish at all the occupied city.

    Both sides begin by reviewing their latest contact with the Countess, and the party announces that they are indeed considering a strike against the Stone Giant, but will need as much intelligence as Griffage and Kerri can provide them.

    The Stone Giant, Griffage says, seems to be holding the forces of the enemy together. It took him several days after he arrived outside the city to dominate the other leaders - goblin bosses, orc war chiefs, and the squabbling eigers. Before he arrived, the fractious besiegers had no hope of bringing down the wall, and did little besides sullenly watch the city, scour the countryside for food, and burn any settlements they found. Once the stone giant had assumed uncontested command of the enemy forces, however, it was clear the city was in dire straits. Enemy patrols and screens were more organized, food deliveries from the hinterlands more constant, and work on siege equipment began in earnest. Protected by mantlets and trenches, the besiegers crept ever closer to the walls. On the night of the attack, feints and false attacks were launched on the walls in five different locations besides the actual breach - defenders were spread thin. The attack occurred at night so as to blind the human defenders, but the giant engineered a way for his Hill Giant artillery to see the wall by means of the barrels of pitch. Once the attackers were inside the city, his first effort was attempting to secure anything that would allow his forces to cross the river. When it was clear that Kerri had already evacuated anything that could float, he consolidated his hold on his part of the city rather than pursue the defenders across the bridges and into the traps that had been laid for them in the best defensive spots. Most of the orc camps from outside the city he moved inside and organized, and set up defenses on his side of the bridges more than capable of repulsing anything but the strongest counter-assaults. Goblins searched the city all night. At first Griffage thought they were looking for food (which had been evacuated as well), while Kerri suspected he was looking for some previously unknown magic item. However, having been able to observe them now for six hours in daylight, it is clear what the goblins were bringing back - coal, sand, and barrels.

    “They’re making bombs,” concludes Mathias immediately.

    “Indeed,” answers Kerri, with a tone that indicates she is impressed. “By lighting the coals, smothering them in sand, placing them in barrels, and having his giants throw them from the riverside towers he controls, he should be able to land incendiary devices among us - when the barrels shatter and the sand disperses, the starved coals will burst into flame as they finally have air. Only a few of these barrels need to successfully cross the river to start fires in several parts of the town at once.”

    “And while the Watch is trying to save the city from the fires, he is certain to launch his attack,” adds Griffage. “So far, he has kept the orcs and goblins from burning what he already holds - but no doubt they relish the destruction of our side and he is making them savor it.”

    “When be ther attack?” asks Willa in alarm.

    “We believe it will begin at dusk,” says Kerri. “Perhaps just before sunset, so his giants can sight their targets across the river by the last light of the sun. Once the fires are raging and it is well and truly night, his forces will attempt to cross the river when our bridge defenders are depleted trying to put the fires out. At least, that is what we believe.”

    “So we hae some five hours are so,” says Willa, leaning out of an open tower window to judge the placement of the sun. Griffage and Kerri both nod in agreement.

    “Where is he?” asks Mathias plainly.

    “My scouts haven’t seen him since daybreak,” says Griffage, “and he was all over the city last night. However, there is a Temple, the Oerth Temple, in the kirk district. It has high enough ceilings to accommodate him, it is mostly underground, which might appeal to a giant of stone, and most importantly, it has seen a steady stream of messengers all day. Orcs, goblins, and eigers have all come and gone from the structure. We believe he is there.”

    Kerri opens a long leather tube and takes out a map, a sketch of the interior of a great building. “The priests provided this,” she says with satisfaction, “you can study it and plan. They said there are some secret hiding spots for treasures and such not indicated, but none large enough for an orc, let alone a giant, to hide in. If he is there, you should find him quick enough.”

    “Underground access? Secret tunnels?” asks Aurora hopefully.

    Kerri shakes her head. “One entrance, in and out, street level.”

    “Who be wit’ ‘im?”

    “He brought fourteen Hill Giants from upriver; they are quartered nearby - not in the temple, but close enough at hand he could easily call for them. He has a personal guard of some twenty eigers always about, and more that were already here besieging the city when he arrived. Lots of orcs come and go but we haven’t seen any stay long.”

    Someone asks Kerri whether she can create a diversion to give the party a chance to get across the occupied city to the temple; she says she can launch an attack on the closest bridge that should be able to draw all the nearby forces. Willa is shocked. “Won’ t’at mean a great loss o’ men fer ye?” she asks, sincere concern in her voice.

    Kerri’s response is not uncaring, just hard as steel. The giant, she explains, is holding the attackers together. If the party can beard him in his own lair, the attack will collapse and she can liberate the city. Whatever casualties there might be in such a diversionary attack, and there surely will be some, they will be insignificant compared to what she would lose trying to reclaim the city without the party’s help - and far smaller than the number of civilians that could die in fires this very night if the giant lives to see nightfall.

    With the stakes clear, the party considers several ways of sneaking them all to the temple. They have polymorph and invisibility - but those compete for caster concentration, so that is only two of them - although the invisibility could be upcast to target more of them. They could polymorph one or two of them into giants, and have those individuals carry the rest of them in bags! Until Aurora remembers that polymorphed creatures can only assume the forms of beasts, not giants. They haven’t seen any giant apes among the attackers, so that such forms would be immediately suspicious.

    Thokk and his orcs would fit right in - they wouldn’t need disguises. There is always the classic ruse of delivering prisoners? One of them could polymorph into a warhorse, another a mule or packhorse (with one or two of them hiding in the packs), and Willa could pretend to be a knight, captured or killed by Thokk’s orcs! Kerri says that during the diversionary assault on the bridge, she could convincingly make sure that a highly visible knight ‘fell’ in the combat. Thokk’s orcs could get into position beforehand, crossing the river on flotsam, then be on hand to ‘capture’ the knight. Babshapka reminds them that he and Aurora are still exhausted from the day’s previous march and they won’t be at their best at either hiding or deceiving [disadvantage on these ability checks]. Several other permutations are suggested that might succeed in getting them to the temple, but all of these plans falter when faced with the prospects of having to fight their way back out. Fly and dimension door can’t cover the whole party.

    “So don’t take the whole party,” concludes Mathias vehemently.


    “Stealth and overwhelming force are two different masters in this mission, and we can’t serve them both. We don’t need to fight our way out if we don’t fight. We fly in, invisible. We polymorph him into a slug and scoop him up. We fly back out. Me and Doro could do it with just ourselves - we’re the stealth. We drop him off somewhere on this side of the river. Once he is alone without his guards, the rest of you can pile on. You’re the force.”

    The rest of the party looks around at each other. It is an audacious idea - but one that seems more likely to work than anything they have come up with so far. Griffage and Kerri remain silent - since the party abandoned the ‘fallen knight’ idea, they haven’t been able to contribute much.

    “Doro, what do you have for spells?” asks Mathias.

    Fly and Invisibility,” says the bard readily. “But they are both concentration, so it is one or the other. Dimension Door for a quick escape and Polymorph for the deed itself. But that’s concentration, too.”

    “I can fly two of us in, and two of us out again, even if I need to re-cast,” says Mathias.

    “We’ll get just one shot at this,” says Aurora, apparently joining the plan.

    <We will?> mouths Babshapka silently.

    Aurora continues. “You can’t go in there with just a single polymorph spell - he could shrug it off, and if Doro needs to cast it again, then you have lost your dimension door escape plan. You’ll need me - or actually, my wand of polymorph. I don’t mind burning charges until one sticks and we can save our actual spells for getting in and out.”

    Babshapka starts to tell Aurora she can’t go unless they all do, but thinks better of it. “You know what,” he says, “fine! I’m in this now to save innocent people from giants. You do this if you want, but I’m not your bodyguard anymore. You’re on your own.”

    Aurora ignores him. “What we really need is someone to keep us invisible,” she says, “so that we can save our concentration for flying and polymorph.”

    “I have people,” offers Kerri.

    “You do?”

    “They are hardly war casters. But sit them in a quiet room for an hour and they can maintain concentration on a single invisibility spell.” She mentally goes through her command structure, counts who is in the city now and who is guarding supply and communication lines back to Blackbridge and Mittleberg. “I have three,” she concludes.

    “With three invisibilities, one each on Mathias, Doro, and myself,” Aurora figures, “spells we don’t have to concentrate on, I can cast a fly on myself at third level, while Mathias flies himself and Doro at fourth. That gets us there. Then I use my wand to polymorph the giant - that will drop my fly and my invisibility.”

    “But you’re not concentrating on the invisibility,” objects Mathias.

    “No, but I’m casting a spell, and that ends the invisibility no matter who is concentrating on it. Also, we have to cast the fly spells before Kerri’s mages cast invisibility on us. You’ll still be running fly on yourself and Doro after my polymorph - but Doro doesn’t have a concentration spell used yet, so she can give me a fly then.”

    “Then that drops her invisibility.”

    Aurora nods. “And mine is already down. On the way out, we can be seen. So we fly high and we fly fast. If we can’t immediately leave the temple after we bag the giant, Doro can use dimension door on herself and me to get us away far enough to where we can fly.”

    “Dimension door is for two people,” says Doro. “What about Mathias? And the polymorphed giant - even if he is a slug, I can’t bring him with my dimension door because that would count as another creature.”

    “Huh,” says Aurora, stumped for the moment. “What is the exact wording of the spell, as best you can express it in Common. Does a giant polymorphed into a beast count as a person?”

    Doro strums her samisen and says the magic words just slowly enough that the spell itself does not take effect. Aurora listens to the words of power and translates them into their mystic meanings.

    5e dimension door wrote:
    You can bring along objects as long as their weight doesn’t exceed what you can carry. You can also bring one willing creature of your size or smaller who is carrying gear up to its carrying capacity. The creature must be within 5 feet of you when you cast this spell.

    “A willing creature, huh?” she finally teases out. “Well the creature part is easy, we could take the giant regardless of the form we polymorph it into. But I had a whole course of study in what ‘willing’ means when I learned the Enchantment and Charm school. And I don’t know dimension door from experience, but I know fly and mage armor, and they both require a willing target. I’ve tried to cast mage armor on allies when they were unconscious (sleeping or knocked out) and it did not work. It seems like some sort of active assent or consent is required to allow the spell to target the creature - they have to somehow put the force of their will behind the action of the spell for it to connect. And even though I don’t have a written form of polymorph, I have used my wand enough to know that the target of that spell retains its personality and perspective, albeit constrained to the limitations of the new form - Thokk and I talked about what it was like for him when he was a giant ape. [Aurora estimates a garden slug would be Int 1 and Wis 3, and would likely retain enough awareness to not want to be handled, and thus, not be willing.] So the giant’s not going out through the dimension door. Mathias will have to carry him. Fortunately, he won’t have cast any spells, so he will still be invisible,” concludes Aurora. “He’ll get himself out alright.”

    “He won’t have cast any spells so long as everything goes according to the plan,” says Doro dubiously. Mathias waves aside her doubts and says it will be fine.

    The more Willa hears, the more she thinks the dead knight was a good idea, even if the others disagree. She is worried they won’t make it back and half the party will be lost. But she doesn't have a better idea, and the thought of the thousands of small folk in the city weighs heavily on her as well.

    After remarkably little more discussion, they all agree to the plan. Kerri says she will provide the diversion, and Willa asks her to protect her men as much as she can. Kerri considers. If the strike team is flying in, she replies, not sneaking, she doesn’t have to clear the streets of the enemy - just get their attention. She will make it look like she is preparing for an assault - bringing in troops from the rest of the city, making formations and moving in medical tents, bringing up more ballista teams and firing test shots to gauge the range. They don’t actually have to attack to draw the focus of the opposing bank. Willa agrees - the ideal diversion will deplete the area around the temple of officers and guards without the giant himself actually leaving to investigate.

    The party also presses Kerri for a drop zone - somewhere to return the slug to, so that when it is transformed back into a giant, her forces can be seen attacking it, rather than the party. Even though Mathias’ initial idea was for the rest of the party to kill the giant, they have since realized that for anything that happens on this side of the river they will need to keep a low profile, and Griffage nods sagely. Kerri says that there is a plaza nearby, they can pass it on the way to the riverbank. She can ring the plaza with hand-picked archers and knights - troops of quality, not quantity, so as not to distract from the force gathering at the bridge. Babshapka asks whether there is a high place overlooking the square which he can use as an archer’s nest, and Kerri says there is a kirk steeple, not nearly as high or large as this belfry, but with a good view of the plaza. Willa asks for a tabard of some sort so that she can blend in with the guardsmen and lend a hand if needed. Griffage says that he will work on that; Kerri has enough to do in the next hour and she hasn’t even called for her mages yet.

    The party agrees that Kerri has a lot to do to set this up, so with no further requests they thank her and Griffage and bid them well before they descend the stairs, taking her two guards with them. The party discusses matters amongst themselves for a few minutes until the pair can be seen leaving on the street below. Then Mathias says, “The Countess’ assurances aside, I already feel like we are walking into a trap going to this Fjell place and talking to all these stone giants. What if we make it worse by bringing back one we killed?”

    Willa agrees. “Aurora, Oooorm told ye ‘is name so ye could call on ‘im afore we arrived ter talk ter ther T’ane. Better ye ask ‘im ‘ow ther T’ane will react ter us killin’ yon Garuumk.”

    Aurora nods and dismisses the private sanctum. “Although,” she says, “we don’t have to admit that it was we who killed him. Better to just say he died in combat and ask permission to return something. The Countess said his body, but I’m thinking his thumb would be easier to transport.” She counts words on her fingers as she composes a sending and then casts (Aurora at 2/3/2/1):

    Garuumk leading assault. Humans eliminate to save Headwater - seek to avoid race war.
    Still welcome if Garuumk dies? We bring something of his to honor?

    The response comes swiftly to her:

    We tried to convince him and invoked Thane's command. He refused.
    His death is unfortunate but understandable. You honor him and his people to return.

    When Aurora relays the message Mathias scowls. “I still think it’s a trap,” he glowers.

    The party descends the bell tower and finds that Kerri’s two officers have remained with Thokk and his Army. One of them says that he is to show the party to the plaza that Kerri recommended. “We go fight giant now?” asks Thokk hopefully. The rest of them look at each other. He’s certainly not crossing the river - but neither would he, nor his orcs, be helpful in the plaza, at least if the goal is for the party to remain unnoticed.

    “Hmm, Thokk, each o’ us be a might busy areselves at ther moment, but nae wit’ glorious battle wha’ would innerest ye,” says Willa, sailing somewhere between truth and fancy. “Wha’ would ye be aboot ter do t’is affernoon?”

    “Ah!” Thokk beams, glad that his warband has found things to occupy themselves and that he, as leader, is no longer responsible for finding things for them to fight. “You no notice in walk here from elf tents, but we pass many women who want Mighty Thokk to sire sons for them! Thokk thinks perhaps they lost mates in fighting, and Thokk and his Army can console them.”

    Indeed, at the point the main road took them closest to the river, they had passed a red light district in which many women had called out to their group as they passed. The women paid particular attention to Thokk and his Army, although they were not exactly the objects of desire that Thokk remembers themselves being. One doxy had complained loudly to her companion, “Cor, an’ don’t these town guards get ooglier all the time, luv?”

    Now Willa is torn. Sending Thokk to drink or whore has become a pretty standard way to keep him out of trouble when they are in cities; it is the party’s go-to solution for managing him. But he has eight orcs with him now - for real, monstrous orcs, without even the benefit of a human mother as he had. What’s more, professional working women are one thing - Willa knows many a saucy bar wench that has had to handle worse than orcs at last call and would laugh about it after. But in that same district they passed, she saw huddled pockets of scared or shamed women, obvious newcomers who were selling themselves in desperation. No doubt some of them had lost husbands on the wall as Thokk alluded to. More likely others had tradesmen for husbands or lovers - men whose day labor was no longer needed or whose shops had been abandoned when the east city was evacuated and who now could not find work. The siege has made the price of food almost out of reach for those small folk lucky enough to still be employed - there are certain to be enough refugee women whose families are starving to push wives and daughters into the flesh trade for the first time. Willa’s stomach turns thinking of some such starved, scared girl having to lay with one of Thokk’s orcs. And while Willa could personally take charge of the situation, how many hundreds more of these people will suffer far worse if she doesn’t ignore Thokk’s bloody pastimes and concentrate on doing her own part to make sure they kill this stone giant bastard?

    Willa doesn’t hide her feelings. To Kerri’s guards, the revulsion in her face at Thokk’s words is obvious, but so is her determination to do her duty in defending the city. “I’ll go with them,” offers one of the guards, though it is clear that he finds the thought distasteful.

    “T’at’s more’an a kindness,” she thanks him. “Ye’ve nay idear. Bu’ see tha’ ‘he visits only perfessionals, an’ pays fair. ‘E’s got ther coin, right eno’.”

    With one guard, Thokk, and his Army off, the remaining guard leads the rest of the party to the plaza. Babshapka immediately sees the steeple Kerri mentioned and nods in satisfaction. To Aurora, he simply says, “Don’t be stupid,” and turns to walk across the plaza toward the kirk. Mathias takes him by the shoulder.

    “We three might get separated,” he says. “If the giant makes it back here with some of us, send a flaming arrow or something so that the others know it’s done.” Babshapka nods and is gone. The others find some shade and wait for Kerri.

    Some twenty minutes later, three riders canter up the main street and into the plaza. The guard hails them. None are Kerri, though all wear the uniform of the Sterish Cavalry. One is a human man, tan and wiry. He has high leather riding boots and a wide leather belt with several pouches, but no arms or armor. The more observant in the party note that his custom saddle has a book-shaped saddlebag with several stout buckles on one side and a small tube on the other that could hold a scroll or wand.

    There is a half-elven woman with sabre and shield, no different from any other light horseman except for her beauty when she removes her helm. The third is an elf of indeterminate sex (as many elves are), equipped as a mounted archer with just a long dirk for close combat. After the human man dismounts, he hands Willa a folded tabard. Opening it, she finds it bears the emblem of the Headwater Town Watch - she saw scores just like it in the row house this morning and last night.

    The three mages let the party know that they are ready. Mathias casts fly on himself and Doro. Aurora casts fly on herself (Aurora at 2/3/1/1). Kerri’s three mages give them one invisibility each. Mathias tells the other two to take his hands, one each so that they don’t get separated, and to follow his lead. Together they take to the sky and are soon high over the river. One of the mages shoots a shower of red sparks into the air over the plaza. Just a few seconds later, the ballistae under Kerri’s command begin firing shots at the far end of the bridge and across the water while archers and spearmen move into position. Willa pulls her tabard over her head, then looks for a tent at the side of the plaza from which she can emerge later. Already there are knights and archers assembling in the plaza square and some mantlets are being wheeled up the street toward them. The three mages collect their horses and retreat - hopefully to somewhere free of distractions, Willa thinks to herself. She spots a scrap of wood and grabs it, then pulls out a knife. Whittling will keep her hands busy and force her to focus on the sea creature in the wood and not the danger the others are in.
    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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    Tue Aug 15, 2023 3:55 pm  
    Post 286 - Slugfest

    DM's note on sources:
    For the interior map of the Oerth Temple, I used

    For the map of the plaza, I used

    Post 286 - Slugfest
    9 April [14 Planting] - Headwater
    (low 74, high 99)

    Doro has the best day-vision of the three of them, and she shades her eyes with one hand (Perception 14) while her other holds fast to Mathias. The far end of the bridge is crowded with enemy forces - mostly orcs in loose spear formations. Goblin archers peek out of every window in the civilian houses facing the bridge, and cluster on the rooftops besides. Down by the water's edge there are orcs armed with long, hooked poles, perhaps for snaring boats? Atop the stone towers are eiger ‘bolt throwers’ - huge brutes carrying something in between a heavy crossbow and a light ballista.

    As they soar overhead, Doro can see that the rest of the city is less densely occupied than the end of the bridge. There are humanoids everywhere, to be sure, hiding from the sun under awnings and in doorways, but not the masses there are by the shore. A ballista shot from Kerri’s crew skims across the water and almost makes it among the orcs on the wharf. Below them, squad bosses are shouting and troops are forming up. There is not a general alarm, no one is running, but activity near the bridge is picking up (Doro Insight 15) and individuals within the city are beginning to be drawn to the location.

    “I think we’re going too far left,” says Doro, as the wind rushes by the trio, flying at altitude.

    “We’re fine,” says Mathias, who is still leading them by the hand. “There’s the church up ahead, the one with all the trees and grass around it.”

    “No, that’s the Temple of Ulaa,” insists Doro. “The Oerth Temple is the small one just before the one with the double towers.”

    “Huh,” grunts Mathias, and begins to veer to the right.

    “We need to scout a landing spot for Dimension Door,” says Aurora, “some unoccupied courtyard within five hundred feet of the temple.”

    “On it,” says Mathias. Now that they are on the other side of the goblin archers defending the bridge, he feels better about losing altitude and dropping into bow range.

    As they get closer and lower, they can see a large orc encampment ahead, defended by a low, rough palisade recently built from scavenged lumber and building timbers. They estimate a good two to three hundred orcs are within. Now that they agree which structure is the Oerth Temple, a number of eigers can be seen loitering around it. To the southwest of the temple is a block of guildmember houses surrounding a commons. The fences partitioning the backyards have been flattened and a number of Hill Giants can be seen, idly stripping the leaves off of now-bare fruit trees.

    Mathias flies them over an interior courtyard that is easily within five hundred feet of the temple, but the block is busy with troop movements and there are obviously humanoids about the courtyard itself (Luck roll -1). The courtyard is walled off from a similar space just beyond, but this, too, has humanoids in it (Luck roll -2). At the far end of the same block is a small chapel house, with no one outside. If the interior were equally deserted it would be an ideal door destination, and they agree to return to look inside if they do not find another spot.

    To the south-west of the Oerth Temple is a small triangular block with a shared commons behind the houses. The fences have been knocked down, but they see no movement currently about (Luck roll 0). “That’s it!” declares Doro and she commits the place to her mind’s eye as they fly over it and toward the Temple. Eigers and orcs move about the temple, the orcs delivering messages and the eigers looking suspiciously about for enemies. Two eigers flank the doors of the temple, with a narrow space of some five or six feet between their heads, and much less of a gap between their broad shoulders, as they shift warily on their feet (Luck Roll -2). Each of them carries a great length of heavy chain.

    Mathias flies them over the rooftops above the small courtyard in front of the temple. The door guards look about but don’t move beyond shifting their weight from foot to foot. “Single file,” whispers Mathias. He takes Aurora’s hand and guides it to his ankle, then takes Doro’s hand, and guides it to Aurora’s ankle, so that they will be flying in a long, thin, line. “Ready?” he whispers.

    “Wait!” replies Doro. She begins to chant,
    “It's murda murda, you know it's murda murda,
    We scream it, we yell it, we livin' murda murda murd-a…”
    [She gives a Bardic Inspiration die to both Aurora and Mathias;]

    Bardic Inspiration wrote:
    You can inspire others through stirring words or music. To do so, you use a Bonus Action on Your Turn to choose one creature other than yourself within 60 feet of you who can hear you. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die.

    “Ok, ready,” she finally says.

    Mathias flies slowly over the courtyard, angling down. He passes between the heads of the eigers and makes sure to go a full fifteen feet straight ahead to get them all through before he angles up to the ceiling and pauses.

    [Aurora has the worst Stealth of the three of them (modifier 0), and she is rolling at disadvantage due to one level of exhaustion from the previous day’s forced march (Stealth 12 with disadvantage > Eiger Chain Brute Passive Perception 8 ).]

    The eigers feel nothing more than a gentle breeze as the three of them pass by.

    [Realistically, the team is both invisible and largely silent as they are flying. With a Passive Perception of 8, the eigers’ best chance is smelling them, but giving them disadvantage on this Perception so long as the trio are not seen or heard, Aurora will need a Stealth roll of 3 or less to be noticed]

    In front of them, a patchwork curtain completely blocks off the main hall of the temple, from floor to ceiling. The curtain looks like it is composed of hastily-sewn-together altar cloths, shrouds, and cassocks, and the cord from which it hangs has been wrapped around spikes that have been recently pounded into the stone walls, at odds with the carefully carved and polished grace of every other stone surface. Mathias slowly guides the train forward, to the right, and down, approaching an opening at the end of the entry hall.

    He immediately halts once he sees the contents of the room, however. Two eigers are inside, one squatting on the floor, the other alert with his weapon drawn and looking about on guard (Luck roll -2). As Mathias stops, Aurora’s momentum carries her to the left, and she brushes against the curtain (Stealth 4 with disadvantage, Common Eiger’s Passive Perception 8 ). The curtain visibly moves, but the eiger on guard is looking the other way (Luck roll 0). Aurora starts a cold sweat.

    Round 10
    Mathias makes a long, slow loop as he rises back up to the ceiling and crosses to the other side of the hall, then descends to just below the door frame. This room has two eigers as well, but one is sitting, back against the wall and eyes closed, while the other is engrossed with using its pinky finger to mine for nose goblins (Luck roll -1). Mathias slowly and carefully flies around him and the others do the same (Aurora Stealth 9 with disadvantage).

    An open doorway leads to a short flight of steps down, just as indicated on the temple plans Kerri showed them, but the room beyond has yet another pair of eiger guards! Mathias hugs the ceiling. He is almost out the doorway to the main temple when he feels Aurora’s tugging resistance increasing on his ankle, so he slows. In the morning, Aurora had switched from her heavy outdoor boots to more comfortable sandals given the heat of the day and the paved streets of the city, but now one sandal has come loose and is threatening to fall directly onto the head of the eiger below (Aurora Stealth with disadvantage, 6). Once Mathias stops, she is able to re-adjust it with her free hand. She squeezes his ankle twice when she is ready to go.

    Round 12
    They emerge into the temple proper. In the great open center of the nave stands a solitary Stone Giant, his back to them and to the curtain, bent over a large table illuminated by candlelight. The table is covered in papers, which the giant appears to be studying. On either end of the desk are small piles of stones, smooth and round and each the size of one of the team’s heads. Other similar piles are at the corners of the nave. No matter where the giant moves, he will have easy access to these throwing stones. No other occupants of the temple are in view, although the light from the candles makes the dark recesses of the temple that much harder to see.

    Round 13
    Mathias gains elevation and heads for the left balcony, seeking a place they can set down within polymorph range of the giant. As they pass in front of two alcoves with crypts, the team can see a pair of goblin archers in each, lounging on top of the carved funerary effigies. When Mathias crests the railing of the balcony, he finds the floor beyond full of goblins. A few appear on guard, watching the giant or the floor of the nave intently.

    Round 15
    Mathias crosses the nave to the other balcony. When he passes in front of the central stairs, he sees a bored-looking eiger bolt-thrower sitting on the steps, its huge launcher half wound back and sitting beside it. The other balcony is just as full of goblins as the first - there seems to be no place they can touch down and launch spells from cover.

    Round 17
    Mathias guides them to a corner of the nave. They hover in the air and whisper their new plan. Aurora whispers just a little too loudly (Stealth with disadvantage 3) and the nearest eiger perks up his ears, sticks his head out of a side room into the nave, and looks around. [Aurora uses her one bardic inspiration die and adds 7 to her Stealth roll for a total of 10] Not seeing anything or hearing anything further, the eiger guard returns to his room.

    Doro and Aurora settle lightly to the floor, while Mathias remains hovering a bit away from them. Aurora stands as close to a statue as she can, using it proactively to get partial cover from the goblin archers in the balcony and alcove. ‘Mind sliver’ whispers Doro, and Aurora responds ‘and then Polymorph’. Unbeknownst to them, Doro is standing about ten feet beyond the charm radius of the Stone Giant Dreamwalker.

    Round 20 - surprise round
    Mind Sliver has a verbal component, only. Doro says the word - she is heard and now she can be seen, as well, with her invisibility ended. The giant feels a sudden spiking pain in his mind (DC14 Int Save > 11; fails: the giant takes 9 points of psychic damage and is at -4 on his next saving throw). Immediately Aurora raises her wand, performing the motions of the Polymorph spell (-1 charge) while she says the words. She is also heard, now visible, and has lost her fly spell in order to concentrate on the polymorph. Instantly the form of the giant is wracked with changes (DC15 Wis Save, Giant gets 16 but -4 from mind sliver = 12; fails), collapsing down into a tiny garden slug. Mathias, still invisible, swoops down to snatch it up - but he has to try to locate the black slug against a deep brown carpet in the shadow of the candlelight from the table (Perception 14). He hesitates, then dives, sticks out his hand and grabs the soft, slimy creature.

    Round 21:
    Initiatives rolled; Doro 22, Eiger guards 18, Mathias 9, Aurora 7, Eiger Bolt Launcher 6, Goblins 4

    Doro says the word for dimension door and cups Aurora’s butt - the two of them are instantly whisked away to the courtyard that they had scouted from the sky on the way in (Doro at 4/3/2/1).

    Four eiger guards stumble into the nave. They definitely heard words this time, and human spell-casting words at that (Perception 17). They look toward the table for direction, but the Stone Giant is gone. “What’s going on?” one asks plaintively in Giant. Another adds “Where’s master?” while scratching his head.

    Round 22
    In the empty courtyard, Doro immediately casts invisibility on herself and Aurora while the wizard looks about for enemies (Doro casts at third level for two targets, now concentrating and at 4/3/1/1).

    In the temple, still-invisible Mathias flies up and towards the curtain, over the heads of the arriving but clueless eiger guards. [Now that they are alerted, Stealth will be rolled against their actual (undisadvantaged) Passive Perceptions - 8 for the eigers, 9 for the goblins] He hovers near the ceiling, looking for an opportunity (Mathias Stealth 9). The eigers are still looking about, confused, when one of the goblins points at the moving curtain and yells (13 shortbows prepare to shoot with disadvantage (unseen target) at Mathias; Mathias uses his single bardic inspiration die to add 5 to his Stealth roll for 14). Mathias swoops to the ground before they fire. A goblin boss hollers that it is just the wind, and they continue to hunt for targets.

    Round 23
    Seizing an opportunity, Mathias flies past the eigers in the nave (Stealth 17) and then moves along the ceiling past the other pair still in the side rooms (Stealth 18). He makes it to just inside the door, but the door guards have heard the commotion inside and are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, blocking the doorway. Stealth will not matter at this point - he will need to thread the needle to avoid touching one of them (Acrobatics DC12 required).

    Round 24
    Squaring up, Mathias aligns himself as horizontally as possible and tries to dart between the eiger heads, but his boot kicks one of them in the ear (Acrobatics check 6; Mathias uses an Inspiration Point to re-roll, but gets only a 7). “Oy!” shouts one of the eigers, realizing that an invisible foe has slipped past (Wisdom check 12). He raises his chain in a powerful underhanded flick designed to catch the tail end of whatever moved past him, but the chain misses Mathias and at the end of its arc smashes into the face of the other eiger (Attack roll with disadvantage for unseen opponent, 8 ). The other eiger, unaware of Mathias since he was not kicked, immediately takes offense and begins shoving and berating the first one.

    Round 25
    Out of the temple and reach of the eiger chains, Mathias gains altitude as swiftly as possible as he heads for the plaza on the other side of the river.

    In the courtyard, Aurora becomes aware of the sounds of goblins. They are not in the courtyard itself, but all the neighboring houses, and she can see them through open windows and doors. She freezes, then tries to silently maneuver Doro out from the center of the courtyard and up against a wall away from any windows or doors.

    Mathias crosses the occupied city, and then the river, as fast as he can fly. He lands in the center of the plaza, near some sort of platform likely used for speeches and public executions and such. The plaza is ringed by archers, knights, and footmen, but Babshapka and Willa are nowhere in sight. He shouts as loudly as he can, “The package is delivered” (Mathias Intimidation 10) and hopes they can hear him over the clatter of hooves on cobblestone.

    In the steeple, Babshapka hears Mathias call (Perception 17). He has collected a censor from the church and has been burning oil in it like a lamp. Now he lights an arrow over the flame and moves to the open window facing the river, draws back and fires. The arrow arcs over the town and drops toward the river (attack roll 16). Mathias easily sees the arrow (Perception 17), but Aurora is not so sure (Perception 11). “I think that was the signal,” she whispers to Doro as she shields her eyes from the sun and stares at the now empty sky, the arrow having since landed in the river. “I’m casting fly.” Aurora begins the spell on just herself, knowing that Doro still has it under Mathias’ concentration. But as she begins to concentrate on the new spell, she immediately feels her polymorph end and the giant resume his normal form. If Mathias is with or even near the now-giant, he could easily lose his concentration to a thrown rock - and that would end the fly on Doro. Aurora decides to empower her spell with a fourth level slot and cover both herself and Doro to be sure (Aurora at 2/3/1/0). She also becomes visible as begins casting.

    [Doro is now simultaneously under two different fly spells. Both are of equal potency (cast at 4th level), so the more recent one (Aurora’s) is in effect and the older one (Mathias’) is suppressed for the moment. Mathias and Aurora both sense and understand this (Mathias Arcana 19, Aurora 14)]

    Aurora takes Doro’s hand and the two of them leap into the sky. Already the goblins can see Aurora and are calling for archers. Doro begins to cast invisibility on Aurora again, but since she is casting a spell she will drop her own invisibility, so she recasts it at third level to target herself as well (Doro concentrating and at 4/3/0/1).

    [Doro now concentrating on invisibility on herself and Aurora.
    Aurora now concentrating on fly on herself (active) and Doro (active).
    Mathias now concentrating on fly on himself (active) and Doro (suppressed).
    One of Kerri’s mages still concentrating on invisibility on Mathias.]

    In the plaza, the slug grows and again becomes a Stone Giant Dreamwalker. Garuuumk gives a shout of surprise as he looks about and then is silent, filled with a cold rage. This is the work of hated human casters.

    [XP: Raid on the Oerth Temple
    The three mages of Kerri’s are CR2 each. All together that is CR6. Since the party is all Level 8 now, the mages are not considered to have contributed enough to the fight to receive a share of xp.

    Stone Giant Dreamwalker CR10, 5900xp
    Total 5900xp / 3 = 1967 each
    Babshapka 47,358 (no xp gained)
    Thokk 45,232 (no xp gained)
    Doro 39,808 + 1967 = 41,775
    Aurora 39,738 + 1967 = 41,705
    Mathias 38,238 + 1967 = 40,205
    Willa 39,629 (no xp gained)]

    The plaza has essentially five streets of note running into it. On the side of the kirk and steeple are three lanes, and in these Kerri has placed her chosen knights; four men in heavy armor astride warhorses with barding. They sit on their horses with loaded crossbows. The other two streets are now blocked off with mantlets. Behind these are seven of her best archers.

    Behind both the knights and the archers are distributed more than two dozen of the regular town watch with longspears, not hand-picked by her. They have been told to expect a giant. Unlike Kerri’s troops, who are filled with grim resolve, these guardsmen to a man they look like they have somewhere else they would rather be. Or perhaps anywhere else.

    Round One
    When Aurora begins her fly spell, the slug returns to its form as a Stone Giant, fully sixteen feet high and full of rage. As it looks around in confusion, Willa, wearing the tabard of the town watch, runs out from behind the market stall in which she was concealed. She dances around the giant’s feet, trying to simultaneously distract it and stay just out of reach (dodge action). “Who’s that?” say the actual watchmen to one another. “What does she think she’s doing?” So much for her blending in and not attracting notice.

    The air is filled with the thrum of bowstrings and hiss of arrows - four shafts pierce the giant’s stony skin (7 elite archers make 14 attacks; 4 hits do 37 damage; giant has taken 46 including the mind sliver from before). This is followed by the higher-pitched crossbow bolts from the knights (4 shots, all miss). The knights hand their crossbows down to their squires, draw their swords, and begin to urge their mounts forward.

    In the time the giant was resuming its form, Mathias flew to a nearby rooftop. Now he kneels on the roof and fires off blasts of force, losing his invisibility in the process. (Two attacks, one critical hit, 6 damage, total 52 to giant).

    Babshapka draws back his bow to its full extent and sinks his first shot deep into the giant’s back. As he is lining up his second, he smells smoke and feels heat - he has upset the bowl of oil! He has no idea where his second shot goes and he turns to smother the flames before they can start the kirk on fire. (One critical sharpshooter hit, one critical miss - 25 damage from hit to giant, total 77. The miss is rerolled as an attack on Willa - it misses her by two).

    Even as Willa dodges about the giant’s feet, she feels a sudden sympathy for him - alone and surrounded by enemies. Isn’t there some way they can talk this out, resolve their differences peacefully? (Willa Charisma Save against charm 1; fails.)

    Dreamwalker’s Charm wrote:
    An enemy that starts its turn within 30 feet of the giant must make a DC 13 Charisma saving throw, provided that the giant isn’t incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature is charmed by the giant. A creature charmed in this way can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. Once it succeeds on the saving throw, the creature is immune to this giant’s Dreamwalker’s Charm for 24 hours.

    Willa stops moving and looks up at the giant in awe and admiration. She can see the beneficence behind the pain in his deep, gray eyes. He reaches down, his hand resting on her shoulder. The touch makes her peaceful, still, heavy as stone…

    Petrifying Touch wrote:
    The giant touches one Medium or smaller creature within 10 feet of it that is charmed by it. The target must make a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the target becomes petrified, and the giant can adhere the target to its stony body. Greater restoration spells and other magic that can undo petrification have no effect on a petrified creature on the giant unless the giant is dead, in which case the magic works normally, freeing the petrified creature as well as ending the petrified condition on it.

    (Willa Con Save 18; success). The giant harrumphs, turns and strides off toward one of the mantlets. Willa finds she can still move her limbs, but for whatever reason just doesn’t take advantage of the giant’s turned back (no opportunity attack when the giant leaves her reach, since her charmed status forbids her from attacking).

    Round Two
    Willa ambles calmly behind the giant, knowing she needs to be near him for the party’s plan, but still not feeling any urge to attack him or distract him (Cha save 3; fails).

    The giant reaches the archers blocking off one street and grabs the mantlet in front of them. With one hand he lifts it easily into the air as he towers over them. None of the three of them feel the need to defend themselves (Cha saves 4, 11, 12 against his charm). The four archers on the opposite side of the plaza continue to fire (eight longbow shots, two hits; 15 damage, total 92).

    Mathias hits with one blast of force (3 damage; total 95).

    As the four knights clatter across the square toward the giant, he turns and wings the mantlet toward them. The heavy wood careens into a charging warhorse - the horse and rider topple to the hard stone ground (giant one missile attack, 18 points of damage (warhorse has 19 points). Knight dexterity save 3; fails, dismounted and prone). Undaunted, the other three knights complete their charge and circle around the giant, striking at his legs with their swords (six greatsword attacks, four hits; 40 damage, total 132).

    Babshapka draws forth two of the heavy ‘ordnance’ arrows he got specifically to use against giants, and summons his hunter’s mark, placing it on the giant. One of the arrows strikes true (17 damage plus 5 from mark is 22; total 154).

    While the nearby archers stand mesmerized at the giant’s feet, the town watch advances hesitatingly, spears forward. In response, the giant bellows at them, although perhaps not the most convincing display considering how wounded he is (Intimidation 9; watchmen Charisma saves 3, 7, 9, 9; four fails, 12, 16; two successes). Four watchmen immediately back away, while the remaining two throw their spears before retreating (one hit; 7 damage, total 161).

    Round Three
    Willa still refuses to engage the giant (Cha save 9; fails).

    Babshapka pulls his bow back to its fullest extent, despite the proximity of the giant on the other side of the square. His shot lands just under the shoulder blade, piercing the giant’s chest and entering his heart from behind (critical hit, 25 damage with hunter’s mark, total 186). The giant totters and then crashes to the ground, sending watchmen, archers, horses and knights scattering, and collapsing the mantlet on which he falls.

    Mathias flies over, lands near the body and checks it, but the giant is not carrying anything and is wearing only tanned animal hides. Soon after that Aurora and Doro arrive and land, though still invisible. By then, Willa has recovered her senses and she hustles the party members away from the gathering crowd of watchmen and civilians and into the kirk from which Babshapka was shooting. She reminds them that they are not supposed to be drawing attention to themselves as she removes her watch tabard.

    [XP: Plaza Ambush
    The twenty-seven town watchmen are CR1/8 each. All together that is CR3. Since the party is all Level 8, the watchmen are not considered to have contributed enough to the fight to receive a share of xp.

    The seven archers are CR3 each. Together all seven of them will receive a total of ‘two shares’ of the xp from the fight.

    The four knights are CR3 each, raised to 3.5 when including their warhorses. Together all four of them will receive one ‘share’ of xp from the fight.

    Thus, XP will be divided by six before awarding to Willa, Mathias, and Babshapka.

    Plaza Ambush XP
    Stone Giant Dreamwalker CR10, 5900xp
    Total 5900xp / 6 = 983 each

    Babshapka 47,358 + 983 = 48,341 (has leveled to 9th)
    Thokk 45,232 (no xp gained)
    Doro 41,775 (no xp gained)
    Aurora 41,705 (no xp gained)
    Mathias 40,205 + 983 = 41,188
    Willa 39,629 + 983 = 40,612]
    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

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
    Posts: 541
    From: Canada

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    Thu Aug 17, 2023 8:27 pm  

    Aww, now I feel bad for Thokk for missing out on the fight. I want to see his glorious army in action!

    It's a good thing you rolled so badly for the ogre guards...

    You talk about the "Oerth Temple." Are the elemental forces worshipped directly in your Greyhawk, or is that a temple to a god like Beory or Ulaa?

    I like it when NPC troops like these knights and archers help out, but don't overshadow, the players. Another good example was during the Whitestone arc of Critical Role's first campaign, where several of the beleagured townsfolk joined the party in fighting the BBEG's zombie giants. Matt Mercer rolled both for the giants and the townsfolk.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1061
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Thu Aug 17, 2023 11:56 pm  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:

    It's a good thing you rolled so badly for the ogre guards...

    Despite the 'ease' of the extraction, there were so many close rolls there it could have gone very bad very quickly.

    CruelSummerLord wrote:

    You talk about the "Oerth Temple." Are the elemental forces worshipped directly in your Greyhawk, or is that a temple to a god like Beory or Ulaa?

    Not elemental forces, no. Given the importance of mining in Sterich, and the fact that Headwater has humans, but also a sizable portion of dwarves and gnomes, there are separate, dedicated temples to Ulaa, Fortubo, and Moradin in the city. The Oerth Temple is a pantheonic building, dedicated to these three together, but also a number of lesser gods of the oerth, mines and mining, gems and metals, etc., who are not important enough to have their own temples.

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    I like it when NPC troops like these knights and archers help out, but don't overshadow, the players. Another good example was during the Whitestone arc of Critical Role's first campaign, where several of the beleagured townsfolk joined the party in fighting the BBEG's zombie giants. Matt Mercer rolled both for the giants and the townsfolk.

    And don't forget the invisibility spells from Kerri's casters. It's a balance - I want the players to feel like the city is supporting them to the extent it can, but that they are still the heroes. I haven't listened to Critical Role yet! Definitely on the list of things to do...
    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: 1061
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

    Send private message
    Tue Aug 22, 2023 9:13 pm  
    Post 287: Afterword

    DM's note on sources: As I noted in a postscript to Post 284, I had Plot Reasons for wanting the party to return the body of Garuuuuumk to the Fjell. The 'elven version' of the Reduce spell was my homebrew invention to make this possible. Many 5e spells have longer durations when cast with higher level slots, so it did not seem that unreasonable, but the 'elven version' bit was to explain why Aurora had not heard of it before, and also to emphasize the importance of their relationship with Kerri as a way to access knowledge.

    More about the importance of Thokk and his orcs balancing their blood humors by visiting local professionals can be found at:

    Post 287 - Afterword
    9 April [14 Planting] - Headwater
    (low 74, high 99)

    It is not long after the party has huddled out of the way in the kirk that Kerri arrives to take charge of the situation in the plaza. Once things there are under control, she comes to talk with the party and congratulate them. Hearing about Willa’s experience, she explains about the Dreamwalker’s charming (and petrification!) ability. She apologizes for not mentioning that earlier, but says that she had assumed Garuuumk was just a normal Stone Giant. Dreamwalkers are rare, she says, even more rare than normal shamen or priests among the giants, and they never involve themselves with affairs outside those of their own people, so she simply didn’t consider it a possibility.

    Now that it appears that the party is indeed going off to the Fjell, they consider a few more things that they might want the Countess to look for for them, and a few other things they might be willing to sell while they are gone. Willa reiterates the need to purchase cold weather gear for the party, out of party funds - and they agree that if Thokk wants to bring his orcs, he can pay for their gear from his own coin. Willa asks for potions (healing, greater healing, superior healing, supreme healing, invisibility) as well as dust of disappearance. Babshapka would like a magic longbow and a quiver that can hold more arrows than what one might normally be able to put in. Aurora would like a wand of the war mage. Thokk had originally responded that a true warrior does not purchase magic items, but takes them from the bodies of fallen foes. However, since Thokk is not here, Willa asks for Boots of Speed on his behalf. Doro has a long list of items, not that she expects to get any of them, she says, just that ‘it doesn’t hurt to ask’. Mathias asks to speak to Kerri alone about his sales and desired purchases and she consents to go to a far corner of the kirk; both of them come out of this private debriefing without either apparently having removed their briefs.

    “Ah, one mar t’ing,” says Willa. “If we be haulin’ yon gigant ter ther mountains, we be needin’ a wagon an’ a team o’ mules.”

    “No more mules!” explodes Mathias.

    Willa shrugs. “T’at’salright. Oxen’d be fine, too.”

    Aurora says, “Didn’t we agree,” (by which she means, wasn’t it her idea), “that we would just cut off his thumbs?”

    “There’s hardly a need for that,” avows Kerri. “It was my understanding that this was a diplomatic mission, after all. The Countess sent to me to make sure that your Wizard Mathias had the reduce spell to make the giant’s corpse manageable, and directed me to provide the spell to you if you did not.”

    Reduce?” says Aurora skeptically. “That has a duration of just one minute. That won’t be helpful at all.”

    “Perhaps not the human version of the spell,” agrees Kerri. “But the Countess was quite insistent that I show you the elven version if needed. This is my personal book,” she adds, as she takes out a small leather-bound volume. There are two sets of buckles, opening flaps that completely cover the heavy vellum pages from view when closed. She opens the book for Mathias to inspect and Aurora quickly moves to see it as well.

    5e Enlarge / Reduce wrote:
    Duration: Concentration, Up to 1 minute
    You cause a creature or an object you can see within range to grow larger or smaller for the duration. Choose either a creature or an object that is neither worn nor carried...
    Reduce. The target’s size is halved in all dimensions, and its weight is reduced to one-eighth of normal. This reduction decreases its size by one category—from Medium to Small, for example.

    Elven version wrote:
    At Higher Levels. When used on objects, only, higher level casting extends the duration of the spell, although Concentration is still required. Cast at 3rd level, an object is affected for up to 1 hour. At 4th level, the duration is 8 hours; at 5th level, 24 hours.

    A full comprehension of the spell is impossible at a glance, but Kerri guides Mathias through the sets of symbols calling for gestures and incantations that would vastly extend the duration of the spell and he nods along while Aurora looks over Kerri’s shoulder.

    Kerri closes the book securely and explains that since it is her personal book, she would feel most comfortable if Mathias could copy it at her headquarters rather than her simply loaning it to him. She mentions that the Countess has explained that she will be supplying the inks as well, so Mathias need not worry about that.

    “I do prefer to copy by myself,” says Mathias, “free of distractions.”

    “As do I,” replies Kerri. “I will see you have a private tent.”

    “And I would want our monk Shefak to assist me - I am accustomed to her sharpening quills and arranging ink bottles and such while I work.”

    “Of course. She seems very knowledgeable about spells for a monk, if I may say so.”

    Kerri turns to Willa. “I had a look at the giant outside. Even with the spell, I’d estimate he is still going to be about eight feet tall and weigh six or seven stone - fortunately those Dreamwalkers tend to be even more wiry than normal Stone Giants. I can provide you with a wagon and team if you want, but the Fjell is pretty rugged terrain and trackless. It might be easier to make a sort of coffin or platform and have you use your orcs as pallbearers.”

    “Aye, t’att’ll do nicely,” says Willa gratefully.

    Babshapka, Willa, and Doro return to the row house while Mathias and Aurora continue on to Kerri’s camp, where Aurora spends the next four hours deciphering the symbolic system used by Kerri and then transcribing the elven version of Enlarge / Reduce into Aurora’s spellbook using her own notation (2nd level spell = 4 hours copy time and 200gp in ink, provided by the Countess). Mathias tells Kerri that when they return from the Fjell, he would like access to the spells Dawn, Seeming, Wall of Stone, and Leomund’s Secret Chest if they are available from Verbane or Lashton and Kerri notes them to include in her next report to the throne.

    In the meantime, Griffage speaks with Willa and Babshapka in the party’s room at the row house. For getting to the Fjell, he says, the party will need to travel the road to the southwest of Headwater about thirty miles. There, the main road continues, but a side branch leads up into the mountains some fifteen miles to Fort Iron Axe. The fort itself was a royal garrison, but it was sacked and burned a fortnight ago (the same night that Headwater was first besieged), with nearly all of the defenders killed and just a few of the soldiers having survived by fleeing at the first opportunity. From the smouldering ruins of the fort, the party will need to go completely off the trail into the mountains some 20 or 30 miles northwest to get to where Griffage estimates the Stone Giants to be. When Willa asks whether it is advisable to be traveling in an area the enemy have already taken, Griffage says that so far, all of the goblinoid and giant activity has been raids for plunder and death only - it doesn’t look like they are trying to capture and hold territory, so they have likely long since moved on from the fallen fort. However, if the party does not wish to arrive by the ‘obvious’ route, they should continue along the road another 30 miles past the branch point, and then head 15 miles due north into the mountains to arrive at the Fjell. Griffage tells them that all of the route is on the west (safer) side of the river, and that the road is regularly patrolled from Headwater all the way down to the southernmost fort in the Highlands. It is only once they take the branches up into the mountains, either to Iron Axe or the road that leads to the dwarven city of Num-Theraz, that they will be in great danger.

    By the time Aurora and Mathias have returned to the row house, Thokk and his Army are back as well, all the latter relaxed and well-drained of their blood humors. The orcs eat lustily of meaty stews and then go to sleep in the basement.

    The party discusses their plans to leave the city on the morrow, filling in Aurora and Mathias on what Griffage said. Babshapka asks Aurora to identify the eleven arrows that were obtained from the Chief’s true treasure room in the Steading, and learns that they are all arrows +2 (will count as magic for damage, +2 to hit and damage, good for one hit only but may be recovered on a miss) (Aurora at 1/3/1/0).
    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 Aug 29, 2023 11:10 am  
    Post 288: Headwater to Fort Iron Axe

    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

    Fort Iron Axe is shown as a fortification on her maps, but its name and description are my own inventions. Most likely it is derived from the fort indicated on the Dungeon 117 map supplement (, which is a free download.

    Post 288: Headwater to Fort Iron Axe
    10 April [15 Planting] - Headwater
    (low 79, high 100)
    Skirmish at Fort Grenvu.
    Bickering in occupied Headwater, Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity
    [Wandering encounters - patrolled hills first day/night - none]

    The day dawns fair but hot, already over eighty and muggy by the time the party has broken their fast. Outside the row house, a large tent has been erected in the lot where the mounts and mule are kept. Inside the tent lies the body of the giant on a hastily-built bier, though the structure is too small by half and if lifted his legs would hang off and drag on the ground. Three stout cross beams are under the bier, allowing six men to together lift it.

    The corpse itself has no bloat and does not stink. No flies are gathered around it. Willa wonders if this is another gift from Kerri, some sort of freshening spell along the lines of gentle repose. She does not relish the thought of carrying this corpse for days in the direct sun and this late spring heat. She tells Babshapka that they are likely to draw crows and bustards, and that as many as he would like to shoot down, will be that many less ship’s rations they need to spend on Thokk’s orcs.

    Thokk arranges his army at all stations on the beams. One of them, a liberated mining thrall who has been with Thokk from the very beginning at the Steading, tells him that if the Mighty General wishes to ride on the platform like a palanquin, it would be the honor of his Army to carry him forth as well, reclining on the corpse of the vanquished giant.

    Aurora is eager to try her new spell, and she kneels by the giant’s head and lays her hand on his cool flesh. Speaking the words and waving her wand, he shrinks to half his size and an eighth his weight, now easily fitting on the bier. One of Kerri’s soldiers who has been guarding the tent since before dawn against anyone from the public entering, now spreads out a heavy butternut cloth over the body and bids the party well for the parts of Griffage and Kerri. The orcs lift the bier and off the party goes, walking the paved streets through Headwater with what is obviously a body, but not obviously a giant, until they emerge out the south gate.

    For the first ten miles the trail runs along the base of steep, upthrust mountains to the northwest but within easy sight of the river to the southeast, just a mile or two away, and they pass many small farming villages. The villages are intact, neither burned nor raided, though the small folk hide in barns or peer out through shuttered cottage windows at the party. Sometimes the party crests a ridge to look down on a village miles below and sees the fields full of men and women struggling to get the spring plowing done, but by the time they reach the thorps themselves everyone has made themselves scarce. Perhaps they wish to have nothing to do with a procession of orcs during these Troubles, or perhaps their villages, so near the besieged city, have already been ‘asked’ to supply food for the city’s relief so that there is little left to give and less desire to do so.

    By mid-morning the trail rises into the foothills. The mountains grow less steep and pull back further, and the river recedes as well and is eventually lost from sight beyond the hills. Now the villages they pass are pastoral communities of sheep and goat herders, but no less suspicious of the party’s intentions. Doro casts comprehend languages and listens carefully to the conversations among the orcs and between the orcs and Thokk.

    They take an hour’s rest at mid-day and drain their waterskins dry, counting on seeing the river again, or crossing a stream, before they make evening camp. It is easily a hundred degrees and they are all sweating freely on the cloudless day. [Aurora uses her arcane recovery to get back the 4th level slot she used on reduce in the morning, and is then prepared to cast it again in midafternoon when the first casting runs out after eight hours] On the other side of the river the snow-capped Jotens rise, a constant reminder that as hot as they are today, they will soon be on top of a glacier among frost giants in those forbidding, frozen mountains.

    After their rest they continue to climb into the hills, then finally start coming down in the late afternoon, shortly after Aurora has had to cast reduce on the body of the giant again. From their vantage at the highest point, they do not see any settlements on the downslope for miles and miles ahead, though to their great relief the river is again in sight. Babshapka picks out a spot on the trail some eight miles ahead, makes sure the orcs mark it well, and then sends the two not currently bearing the giant first to the river to fill all their skins and then to return to where he selected their campsite for the night. The orcs grumble and begrudge taking direction from an elf until Thokk casually remarks how thirsty he is, and then they take off with alacrity, eager to fill the skins of their great war leader.

    Dandy has found abundant spring grass and browsed contentedly at every rest they have taken, though keeping him in water has been harder. Willa and Babshapka go over him by the last light of day in camp and he does not seem terribly hungry. That is a good thing since they find they are out of grain, not having purchased any in Headwater both from the price and knowing that anything they bought would take food from the mouths of the besieged civilians. Since they plan on eating ship’s rations themselves for the entire journey to the Fjell, they decide it is time to try them on the mule. Willa carefully portions out a half-ration of ‘creamy porridge’. The mule eats it contentedly and seems well-disposed to bed down afterwards (No grain remaining; 11.5 rations of creamy porridge remaining).

    11 April [16 Planting] - Trail upriver from Headwater
    (low 61, high 84)
    Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity
    [Wandering encounters - patrolled hills second day/night - none]

    After a sweltering night with abundant mosquitos, the morning is blessedly cooler, with a pleasant breeze blowing up the Davish River valley. The gentle wind keeps the bugs and the temperatures down, though the party suspects rain will be coming soon. After a quick meal of ship’s rations, they pack camp, reduce the giant, and are on their way.

    They are only some three miles out of camp when they come to the obvious fork in the trail, with the right branch leading up and into the mountains and the left continuing up the valley parallel to the river. Babshapka moves ahead of the party and checks the tracks (Survival 8 ). The main road has the obvious hoof prints of shod horses, likely Sterish patrols, going both ways. The track to Fort Iron Axe, however, is bare - Babshapka estimates that a rain within the last few days has obscured everything, and the trail has not been traveled since then.

    The party takes the branch to the fort, sending both Phreeeee and Hedwig ahead of them up the trail. Babshapka scouts for cover as they go, prepared to hustle them off the trail and into hiding if the birds return with news of giants. He tries to convince Thokk to send his hawk all the way to the fort itself, but Thokk is (overly?) protective of the bird and counters that it better serves the warband to know what lies in their immediate path rather than so far ahead.

    They take their midday rest high on the hillslopes some two miles or so from the fort, with its walls and towers plainly visible above them on the highest local peak. There have been abundant local streams along the way and with the cooler temperatures, water has not been an issue.

    While the others relax in the shade, Babshapka searches the trail ahead for tracks (Survival 27). Although the rain has passed here too, it must have been lighter for he does indeed find abundant spoor. The trail holds the markings of soldiers’ boots, both coming and going. While most have the even wear of marching strides, Babshapka finds more than one with the deep toe and light heel that indicate running - and all of these he finds are moving away from the fort. Off the trail he discovers a great boot print that must be a giant’s, as well as a bit of fur caught on a bush - the heavy winter fur of some animal that would not be at this elevation at this time of year. Every Hill Giant at the Steading went barefoot, as did the six Stone Giants from there including the one whose body they now bear. What sort of giant wears a boot? Thokk’s fuzzy recollection of the blue-skinned giants he saw in the Yeomanry (Survival 16) supports Babshapka’s supposition that Frost Giants would likely use fur-trimmed soft leather boots.

    When they resume their march, Thokk and Aurora finally agree to send the birds ahead to the fort itself now that they are so close. The birds return, testifying that there are lots of dead humans about, but no living giants. They press on.

    Soon after, they come upon the first corpse. It has been torn apart by wolves or jackals and its gear strewn about, but it is obviously a human soldier. The closer they get to the fort, the more of these they find - some originally cut in two by giant cleaving blows, others crushed by rocks before being eaten by scavengers. Babshapka has no difficulty now in finding numerous instances of giant leather-and-fur boot prints.

    The fort is as deserted of life as the birds reported. The human bodies outside have been savaged by four-legged carrion animals; those inside more delicately picked apart by birds. The gate is intact and closed, but the battlements and tower tops have all been smashed by boulders and one wall is partly down. The party is able to climb up the rubble and inside with some difficulty, and then open the gate from within to admit the mule and the bier. Most of the party searches for clues inside the fort itself while Babshapka makes ever-widening circles outside.

    Inside there is little left - stone has been smashed, the wooden barracks burned. Wagons, ballistae, and such have been crushed like the toys of a petulant child. What was clearly a granary has had its walls torn down and only a few sacks of grain now remain; these have been torn open and scavenged by birds until little is left. There are abundant discarded arms and armor, starting to rust after two weeks in the elements, but nothing clearly better than even the orcs already have at this point. The one thing the fort is able to provide the party is a deep well with clear, cool water for which they are grateful, and shade for what remains of the hot afternoon.

    Outside, Babshapka is able to follow much of the battle (Survival 15) - he finds the mountain ledge where the giants gathered - at least five or six individuals - to look down on the fort and plan their assault. Their tracks lead to the ravine in which they approached to within a hundred yards or so of the fort, and then emerged in a rocky field to throw stones and take out the ballista towers one at a time before assaulting the walls. After, when a large group of defenders fled (whether through cowardice or following orders to bring back help cannot be read in the prints), he sees how the giants moved among them at will, cutting them down one at a time on the trail out. Then finally, how the giants simply climbed over the walls en masse and systematically killed the defenders, destroyed what was left of the fort, took what they wanted, and left. Babshapka follows their departing trail away from the fort - there is spilled blood aplenty, and many or all of the giants left wounded, but none appear to be seriously so or even limping. Their track is nearly due north, while the Fjell lies to the northwest, so there is some comfort there.

    What’s more, Babshapka notes, there is no evidence of non-humans among the dead or living. No corpses, no prints of orc boots or goblin feet, no poorly fletched arrows, no worg spoor. In contrast to the situation at Headwater, whatever giants did this, they did it alone.

    By the time the party has wrung all the secrets they can from the fort and surrounding land, it is late afternoon - they would have perhaps three hours left should they decide to strike for the Fjell. Turning the idea around, they decide not to arrive unannounced. Rather than spending her spell to again reduce the giant, Aurora is called upon to send to Ooooorm and gauge their welcome. “Of course he’ll say we are welcome,” scoffs Mathias, “that’s all part of their trap.” His words do little to improve the party’s trepidation.

    The rest of the party closes the gate of the fort and moves the remains of the soldiers away from where they plan to camp, near the well. Aurora sends

    We are at Fort Iron Axe. Headed toward your mountains.
    Please send an escort - frost giants about.
    We are respectfully transporting the body of Garuuumk.

    In reply, she receives,

    Frost Giants withdrew after slaughter at human fort.
    You will be safe with escort.
    The Thane is eager to speak with you all. There soon.

    “Escort, my a**,” snorts Mathias, when Aurora relays the message.

    Besides their normal night watch, Aurora places Hedwig on the walls of the fort, with instructions to wake her should anything approach.

    Dandy receives another half-ration of creamy porridge as his night feed (11 remaining).

    12 April [17 Planting] - Ruins of Fort Iron Axe
    (low 64, high 83; gale starts at mid-day)
    Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within the city
    [Wandering encounters - wilderness mountains first day/night, uncommon, Tiger]

    The morning starts with a stiff breeze that Babshapka says helps to blow away some of the stench of the orcs after two days of their sweating on the trail. He climbs as high as he can on one of the smashed towers and looks out all around and over the Davish River valley below. The wind is from the northeast, and is driving a great, dark bank of clouds before it - the clouds have already passed the turnoff to the fort and are slowly ascending the trail as if following the party (Survival 18). When he reports this, Willa climbs up as well, but does not know what to make of it (Survival 9). Were she on the coast, she would call it a spring squall or even a hurricane (which should properly be in the fall, not this time of year), but she does not know mountain weather. Whatever it is, she does not relish being caught out in it, and she hopes the giants arrive soon.

    The party has long since finished their breakfast and it is past mid-morning when Phreeeee, valiantly still on watch though increasingly buffeted by winds, signals the approach of two Stone Giants.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Posts: 1061
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    Tue Sep 05, 2023 8:59 pm  
    Post 289: Fort Iron Axe to the Fjell

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading, giants none the wiser
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger.
    Nosnra sets out with war party. Party taunts Nosnra, splits forces, and kills him. Party takes the Steading
    8 April: Attack on Headwater. Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Troubles roll -2; Raid on Fort Dagger. Party arrives in Headwater
    10 April: Troubles roll -1; skirmish at Fort Grenvu
    Party Leaves Headwater, traveling to Fort Iron Axe
    Bickering in occupied Headwater, Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity
    11 April: Troubles roll 2
    Party traveling to Fort Iron Axe
    Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity
    12 April Troubles roll 2 - 1 = 1
    Party leaves fort Iron Axe with Giants
    Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within
    13 April Troubles roll -2 - 2 = -4. Sack of Fort Grenvu
    Party and Giants arrive at Fjell
    Kerri conducts probes and skirmishes to look for weaknesses among enemies occupying the city

    DM's Note 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 location of the Fjell, and the character of Garuuuuumk are my inventions.

    Post 289: Fort Iron Axe to the Fjell

    12 April [17 Planting] - continued - Ruins of Fort Iron Axe
    (low 64, high 83; gale starts at mid-day)
    [Wandering encounters - wilderness mountains first day/night, uncommon, Tiger]

    The party has long since finished their breakfast and it is past mid-morning when Phreeeee, valiantly still on watch though increasingly buffeted by winds, signals the approach of two Stone Giants. Babshapka watches them from the wall - is it Ooooorm, and the other one from the Steading, whose name was never offered? (Insight 9) He can’t tell. Babshapka looks between them and Garuuumk - and finds that all of the Stone Giants look similar to him. With a grace and surety of step that belies their size, both giants spring up the collapsing rubble of the wall and stride confidently down into the fort. Only then does Babshapka see the faint scar on the shoulder of one, just above the collarbone, where he sank his shaft in the kitchen of the Steading.

    “Ooooorm,” he says, and offers a bow.

    “Elf,” the giant responds in the Giant tongue, but with no further pleasantries the two giants proceed to the side of their fallen companion. They kneel, one on each side, and say “Garuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumk,” as they lay their hands on his brow. After a moment more of silence, they stand and address the party.

    They thank the party for bearing the body this far, but say that it is best if they take it from here, and no one objects. They say it is less than a day’s travel to the Fjell, but with the party’s small legs, and the storm coming, they should plan on it taking two. The Thane is eager to speak with them, they say. “I’m sure he is,” says Mathias, who has spent the morning half-heartedly trying to convince the others that they should turn over the body and leave, their job done.

    The giants look about the ruins of the fort and find a large wagon with the wheels and tongue smashed but the bed intact. Elongating it with the wood of the bier the party brought and with a bit of bracing beneath, they make a wooden platform long enough for the full sixteen foot height of Garuuumk, so that even though he is not reduced his limbs don't hang off the ends. Willa is glad that Aurora hasn’t reduced the giant today, and that the giants don’t ask how the party got the body this far. The body itself still shows no signs of decomposition - no black pooling of rotting blood in the extremities, no internal buildup of gas. The giants do not seem surprised. As they position the body gently on the new platform, there does seem to be some stiffness in the limbs, but not even the locked rigor mortis that one would expect of a three-day old corpse.

    The giants quickly clear the rubble from the half-fallen wall and even more quickly open a breach just wide enough to carry their companion through, tossing aside huge blocks of stone as a man might throw a single brick. Without asking whether the party is ready, they start out down the hillside, though at a pace slow enough for everyone to follow. Willa finds herself satisfied that for most of the journey the giants will need to keep both their hands on the platform, rather than on their clubs, which they have laid at Garuuumk’s feet in the wagon bed.

    The wind continues to build as they travel, kicking dust, pebbles, and pine needles into the air so that it is difficult to see. The giants follow no trail, but do not hesitate as they go down the slope to the northwest of the fort, through light forests. Overland the party is traveling only half as fast as they came on the trail. In retrospect, on occasional clear rises, Babshapka is able to tell that the giants are deliberately choosing not the most direct route, but the easiest one, avoiding the steepest slopes and thickest forests as if they know the area well. At their mid-day rest they catch him looking backward, trying to puzzle out why they took a ‘long way’ around one low hill that should not have offered much resistance. Ooooorm points out the bamboo forests growing on the low slopes of that particular one and says it is the edge of the territory of a tigress, and they have no need to disturb her just to save an hour of travel.

    After their rest they find the banks of a small stream and begin to follow it back up again into the mountains, into an increasingly steep and narrow valley. Willa has to bite her tongue to keep from remarking in front of the giants what an excellent spot it would be for an ambush. Mathias just nods and shrugs as if to say ‘you see?’

    The deep valley shelters them from the worst of the wind, but they can see it building by watching the mountainsides all around them, in which the bamboo is nearly doubled over and stouter trees are beginning to snap. The stream they walk along has an increasing number of fallen branches floating by or trapped on rocks. Were it not for the storm, the valley would be beautiful, the deep green of the forest contrasting with the blue-gray of the upthrust mountain, and with more than one waterfall and crystalline pool along the way. Near the top of the pass, the giants pause inexplicably, set down their burden, and gaze for a full minute at a cave mouth set high on the mountainside. Asked whether that is the Fjell, they silently shake their heads, pick up their burden, and continue.

    When they reach the crest of the mountain, the peaks around them are lit with the fiery light of the setting sun. There the wind is strong enough to knock over any of them but the giants. Fortunately it is just wind, and the black clouds of the storm still lie miles behind them, even now threatening to engulf the fort far behind. After a number of them nearly fall down the sheer slope, the giants lead them to a large cave where they can pass the night out of the wind, though its howls echo all night long.

    Dandy receives another half-ration of creamy porridge as his night feed (10.5 remaining).

    13 April [18 Planting] - Mountain Cave en route to the Fjell
    (low 61, high 79; gale force winds all day, first full day)
    [Wandering encounters - wilderness mountains second day, none]

    In the morning, Willa finds that there are not enough ‘meaty stew’ rations to go around - after taking the last of the ones Thokk was carrying, they use all of Babshapka’s as well, and open some ‘creamy porridge’ besides, which is not a bad change for variety’s sake. Normally Willa is overly cautious when it comes to carrying rations. The combination of the dire food situation in Headwater and her misjudgment of just how much Thokk’s Army would be eating have left them with fewer supplies then she is comfortable with, though. While she considers admonishing Thokk, she is not about to air their dirty laundry in front of the giants, who clearly understand Common. She hopes that they understand guest-right as well and will be supplying food to the party upon their arrival. If not, they’ll have to see how far Thokk’s vaunted hunting prowess goes toward keeping his army fed. For his part, after his meal when he feels sated, Babshapka takes out his ioun stone so that he at least won’t tax their resources.

    The winds are just as strong this morning as they were last night and threaten all of them on their trek down the mountainside, but diminish somewhat as they travel away from the ridgecrest. Their eyes sting and it is hard to see, but in occasional moments of clarity they appear to be entering a great, grassy and lightly forested bowl several miles across. This, rumble the giants, is the Fjell, home to their people. Many of the open fields have sheep or goats in them, currently more interested in seeking shelter from the wind than in peacefully grazing. It may be a trick of perspective, but several in the party swear that these distant animals look giant as well, with some of them as large as a normal-sized horse.

    The grass and forest forms a ring around the bowl, but the very center is bare and rocky, with some animal pens but also with many upthrust crags, great pillars, and small bluffs. As they get closer, they begin to wonder whether these are natural or not, for every inch of their surfaces are covered in carvings. Are they natural formations carved until they look giant-made, or giant-made formations placed so as to appear natural?

    The two giants, bearing their kinsman, continue down and down into the very center of it all, a great natural depression or excavated canyon encircled by dozens of cave entrances. In the distance a great spire the size of ten cathedrals is surrounded by hundreds of tall, narrow pillars that (if they were underground) could be stalagmites of fifteen or twenty feet high. They arrive near mid-day.

    The party stands at the base of a stone formation carved with numerous giant faces, the wind whipping about them. They can feel the rhythm begin in their feet. With a slow pounding like a drumbeat, the ground pulses and jumps. One by one giants emerge from nearly all the cave mouths. The party is surrounded - some four or five dozen giants all told, in every direction. Mathias laughs bitterly but the sound is whisked away by the wind before any of them can hear it.

    High above them on the rock formation stands a great stone giant, a head and shoulders above all the others and quite possibly the Thane. Near him are one male and one female giant in long, gray woolen robes and with carved staves - priests? Shaman? At a more distant circle are numerous giants with great stone torques, and long spears in addition to their clubs. An honor guard? The rest of the population are dressed in tanned hides - simple, but well-made and cared for, not the ratty trappings of the Hill Giants. Not all of these adults carry clubs - but nearly every one of them stands next to a pile of large, loose rocks, Willa notes.

    “Garuuuuuuuuuumk has returned to the Fjell!” booms the largest giant, in Giant, and his voice is so basso and rumbling that the party can hear it, or feel it, even through the wind. Babshapka begins to translate, but Mathias flips on his translator, which had learned Giant in the Steading and now happily relays everything faster and with more nuance than Babshapka could hope to.

    One of the giants in the woolen robes picks his way down the rock face until he is standing next to the body. Oooooorm and the other giant bow their heads at his approach. He raises his staff, and then strikes the heel on the stone ground. A ripple in the air that appears like a blue cone emanates from his mouth. When he speaks, his voice is somehow magnified, but disproportionately, so that the most distant giants can hear him clearly, but the party does not hear him any louder than the giants do.

    “This is the Lay of Garuuuumk”, he begins, and now all of the giants except the Thane and his guard bow their heads.

    “Garuuuumk was the finest stoneshaper of his generation, and a great dreamwalker besides. Even while very young he trained with the artisans and shaman of the Fjell, and quickly surpassed most of them. Once he had been declared a Master, he wrought many things for the Fjell - guardian statues for the commons, many living spaces still used by those present at this moot, great rooms and altars for the temple, and special projects requested by the Thane. His knowledge and labor enriched the lives of us all.

    “When Garuuuumk was not working for the betterment of the Fjell, he would go deep and far in his dreamwalks, deeper and farther than most. The Oerth told him many things, many secrets, and he listened well. He brought back these learnings for the betterment of all.

    “After many years had passed, one spring a young giantess, Hjerte, graduated from the creche and began her ‘prenticeships with the Masters of the Fjell. She was skilled and attentive - she learned much and she learned quickly. When her knowledge and experience had grown to the point that she was ready to learn from the greatest of the Masters, she began to work with Garuuuumk. Her skill quickly attracted his attention, but when he looked closely, he found that her beauty entranced him even more.

    Garuuuumk was honorable, and did not let her know of his growing desire for her. Every day he worked with her, every lesson he taught her, it pained him to not declare his love, but he held his tongue and slowed his heart and taught her as a maat Master should. It seemed to him that she was growing to respect and care for him as more than just a teacher as well, so he kept his outside still even as hope grew within him. Because Hjerte’s abilities were great, he resolved to show her all that he knew, and thus she needed much time to learn and practice all that Garuuuuumk had to teach her. For years they labored together, and he never once betrayed his feelings for her.

    “Finally the day of her graduation arrived. Hjerte had long since been graduated by the Carving Master, which was the art she intended to practice, but Garuuuumk’s knowledge was so vast that she had remained on as a student of his long after she had been named a Master by all others. Garuuuuumk presented her to the Fjell in a grand final graduation ceremony attended by all. That night, after the feast, Garuuuumk came to her, and finally spoke, at last declaring his love for her. Then Hjerte’s tears fell, so large and so pure that when they hit the stone, they were taken up and colored it as blue as lapis lazuli.

    “Garuuuumk was confused, and asked Hjerte what could be wrong, and now he heard her own confession. For long had she loved him as well, she said, from their first meeting as ‘prentice and Master. But as the years had passed and he had offered her no hint of his feelings, she had relinquished hope. In time, she had found another, one willing to return her affections - none other than Garuuuumk’s younger brother, Sterkevaepne.

    “Sterkevaepne had not Garuuuumk’s ability with stone, but he was a warrior, strong and brave, and served with honor in the guard of the Thane. He had come to love Hjerte as well, though neither of them had declared their love to the Fjell, out of respect for her ‘prenticeship. After years of clandestine courtship, they intended to be betrothed the day after her graduation, on the morrow, before the Thane and all the Fjell. She sorrowed, she said, that she could no longer call Garuuuumk her love, but she was honored that soon she would be able to call him her brother.

    “Garuuuumk’s heart fell then, as a great underground cavern collapses in on itself when the oerth quakes. He could have begged her to delay. He could have challenged his brother’s claim. He could have gone to the Thane and asked him to forbid the union. But Garuuuumk was maat. He did none of these things. He congratulated Hjerte on her betrothal, he wished her and Sterkevaepne life, health and children, though his words tasted as bitter as slag in his mouth.

    “After the wedding, Garuuuumk took every opportunity to withdraw from the Fjell. His dreamwalks lasted days, even weeks. When he was fully in his body, he roamed over the mountains for months, studying the oerth, seeking out new stone, and new knowledge for the Fjell. He ceased taking on ‘prentices.

    “For some years, the Thane left Garuuuuumk alone with his grief. But when new life stirred in Hjerte and she came to carry her first child, then the Thane called Garuuuuumk back. For too long he had been away, the Thane said. It was not maat. He was not taking ‘prentices - he was not passing on his knowledge. He was leaving the next generation of Masters blind and in the dark. It was not maat. Garuuuuumk then confessed his grief to the Thane. He said that he could not bear to be around Hjerte and Sterkevaepne. He wished them well, he said, but if he had to live with them in the Fjell, he would turn brittle and fall apart, just as too-hot lava when it reaches the cold sky and cracks even as it hardens.

    “The wise Thane said that he understood. He would require Garuuuumk to return, he said, but he would send Hjerte and Sterkevaepne away. For, while Hjerte was a valued Master and teacher to the Fjell, she would no longer be taking ‘prentices during her confinement while she grew her child. And while Sterkeavaepne was brave, strong, and true, the times were peaceful, and the Thane would not miss just one warrior from his guard. Thus what Garuuuuumk would bring to the Fjell was worth far more than what it would lose from the temporary departure of Hjerte and Sterkevaepne.

    “Then Garuuuumk began his greatest work, the memorial to his skill. He resolved to shape the home-in-exile for Hjerte and Sterkevaepne. He would make for them the finest birthing chamber that giants had ever had. He already had the plans in his mind - he had dreamed them long ago when he had thought to make a wedding home for Hjerte and himself.

    “Garuuuuuumk went there, and dreamed deep into the oerth. He became the rock and found all its flaws and possibilities. Without blade he shaped the stone, making first, the birthing chamber, and then, the other rooms around it - hearth and kitchen, larder, workshop, study, playroom, and all the others. Each room had walls as smooth as the walls of the underground rivers. He opened windows, so that the home would have blissful views of the valley below, warmed by the setting sun but sheltered from any hint of rain. He connected the fissures within the oerth above, so that they all fed into a great cistern, and the home would have water without any need to fetch it, though high on the valley wall. Finally, he brought precious stones from far and near, inlaid them in every surface of the home seamlessly, so that every wall, floor, and ceiling bespoke of beauty and richness. When at last Garuuuumk was done, then Hjerte declared that she was ready to bear her child, and she and Sterkevaepne went thence to live.

    “Although Garuuuumk had labored to make the home he had dreamed of for Hjerte and himself, still he honored his brother. For the new home he placed at the edge of the Fjell, closest to the lands of the Sterishmen and along a route that would be used in any approach. Thus Sterkevaepne could, even in exile, serve the Thane with honor as a guard to the Fjell and protect his kinsmen. It was maat.

    “Garuuuuumk returned then to the Fjell and took up his duty again of teaching ‘prentices."

    Here the giant pauses, a look of sorrow and anguish on his face, as if to go on was too difficult. Silence falls over the assembly. Finally the shaman continues.

    “One night some months later, during a terrible storm, a group of humans sought refuge from the elements and found the cave home Garuuuumk had made, the home of Hjerte, and Sterkevaepne, and their then-born child. The humans entered without force - they entered as guests - but at some point in the night, they slew the three giants.

    “When Garuuuuumk learned of this, he felt the loss as he had when Hjerte had first told him of her love for Sterkevaepne, but ten times stronger. He went to the home, and dreamed deep into the stone. He found the mark of the humans, and the oerth told him where they had gone. He followed their footsteps on the oerth into the land of the Sterishmen, alone and without concern for his own safety.

    “Sterich, he had been told, was a land of law. He found the local lord, and asked for justice for his kinsfolk. The murderers, he said, were subjects of the Earl, and on the lord’s land, easily found lodging at a local inn. Though an unusual request, they were brought to trial before the lord. At the trial, the humans freely admitted that they had killed the three giants. At first, they said, they had just been seeking shelter from the storm, and the giants had let them into their home. However, once inside, they saw the richness of all the appointments - not only all of the precious stone that Garuuuuumk had set in place, but all of the fine carvings that Hjerte had made since she arrived. With the walls adorned with such wealth, they reasoned, the giants must have more portable treasure - gold, or gems, or jewelry. And while the giants gave them the full hospitality that guest-right demanded, there was one room sealed shut, into which they would not permit the humans. Being adventurers, they immediately assumed that was the giants’ treasury.

    “After a hurriedly whispered plan, the adventurers attacked their hosts. The giant, they said, proved difficult, and laid several of them low before they brought him down. The giantess was easier, but died fiercely defending the treasury room door. After dispatching her, they said, they opened the chamber to find that it was not a treasury, but a nursery, with the giants’ daughter within - a babe just beginning to walk. Her they slew out of mercy, for how could she grow without her parents? They looked high and low for treasure, but found nothing of value save the precious stone inlays, and these were so cunningly laid into the walls that they could not be removed without mining equipment. Thus, they departed empty-handed. It had been disappointing, they said, but at least it had been worth the ‘experience’.

    “With such an open admission of culpability, Garuuuumk thought that judgment would be swift and just. The defense granted that the adventurers had killed the giants, but pointed out that the humans were crown subjects, and the giants were not - they were quite literally outlaws, for they were outside the laws of Sterich, as citizens, but also in where they dwelled and where the killings had happened. The lord found that while the actions of the humans had been distasteful and unbecoming, they were not against any law of his realm, or of Sterich. After all - the giants were monsters, while the adventurers were men.

    “With this decision, Garuuuuumk returned to the Fjell, but now his loss was a hundred times greater than when he had first lost Hjerte to Sterkevaepne, for he realized that everything that had transpired had been his own doing. The home that he had built for them, he had put near the Sterish to honor his brother, but that had placed them in harm’s way. The stone that he had placed for them, to bring beauty to their home, but that had incited the greed of the humans, just as much as had the carving work of Hjerte, including what she had learned from him. His admission to the Thane that he would not be able to work with the two of them present had exiled them from the Fjell. Even his responsibility in not declaring his love for Hjerte while she was his ‘prentice had kept her from him. Every single good intention he had ever had, every single act of maat, had each one and all together sealed the doom of Hjerte, Sterkevaepne, and their child. It was all his own doing.

    “Over the next years, Garuuuuumk continued to teach as was his duty, but he pursued no new works of his own. He spent all of his free time dreamwalking. Whenever a moot was called to discuss a matter pertaining to Sterich, though, he spoke long and movingly of his hatred of humans. The Thane had great reservations in sending him as a diplomat to Chief Nosnra, knowing his beliefs, and would not have done so, had Nosnra not asked for Garuuuuumk by name.”

    “Whaaaat?” gasps Aurora. Willa hushes her, but silently agrees that they need to follow up on that.

    The priest pauses in his eulogy and looks up at the Thane. For a brief moment, Willa worries that this is because of Aurora’s outburst, but then the Thane nods as if granting the priest permission to continue.

    “Oooooorm and his fellow diplomat have told the Thane how Garuuuuumk, once at the Steading, encouraged Nosnra to make war on the humans, and how eager he was to lead the chief’s forces against their city, despite the Thane’s command that he not do so. In the end, Garuuuuumk dishonored himself by refusing a direct order of the Thane to return from the Steading to the Fjell.

    “Although, at the end of his life, Garuuuuumk refused the bonds of loyalty to the Fjell, still, for his great contributions to our people, and for the great tragedies that he bore like a true stone giant, the Thane has declared that his body may join the Ancestral Host and defend our lands. He will be so placed today.

    “Further, in his honor and memory, the Thane has declared this to be a time of Funerary Games. All who wish to compete in his memory may do so, including our honored guests who have done us the great service of returning his body to us.” The priest raises his staff again, strikes the ground, and the translucent blue cone disappears. He turns his gaze fully on the party, as if waiting for their response.

    “Whose idea was this?” says Mathias to the group.

    “Aurora,” says Willa. “She has all the ‘good’ ideas.”

    “It was the Countess!” protests Aurora. “And you all agreed!”

    “Great Thane of the Fjell!” shouts Babshapka in Giant above the howling wind and his bickering companions. “We would be honored to remain as your guests during these games.” Babshapka had been following the giants in keeping his head down during the priest’s oration. Now that he looks up (Perception 23), he sees even more giants than before - but these are youths, children, even toddlers. Of the four dozen or so adult giants surrounding them, more than half have a child of some age standing near them now. Also, having heard the priest speak of this ‘ancestral host’, Babshapka doesn’t have to work hard to convince himself that the pillars of rock surrounding the largest structure in the Fjell are somehow the petrified bodies of dead Stone Giants. It is in that direction that Ooooooorm and his companion now carry the body of Garuuuumk.

    Aurora talks to the others in the party. She doesn’t have to whisper, since speaking in a normal tone could hardly be heard over the wind. “That seems like an easy ask for the Countess - peace with these giants in return for a promise to protect them from adventurers.” The others nod agreement. “Great Thane!” she cups her hands and shouts shrilly. “Could we speak to you in private about matters of state?” (Persuasion 21)

    “This is a formal occasion, human, and a solemn day,” the Thane responds. “I would indeed speak with all of you, but only once the funerary games have finished.”

    “Well, now you’ve done it,” says Babshapka, although he takes from the Thane’s tone that Aurora’s breach of etiquette is forgiven by her ignorance. He reflects on everything that the priest said in the speech ‘about’ Garuuumk. What messages did it actually convey about Stone Giant Culture? (Insight 22). After some reflection, he tells the party, “It seems like more than anything, these giants value craftsmanship, mastery, and knowledge. If asking a question is admitting that you don’t know something that the other person does, that likely lowers your standing in the Ordn’ing. I’d say our best strategy here is to wait until they want to tell us something, rather than asking and admitting our ignorance.” Aurora frowns but doesn’t object.
    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;

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    Wed Sep 06, 2023 8:05 pm  

    That is an excellent example of stone giant culture. Thank you for that, Kirt. Smile

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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Sep 06, 2023 10:01 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    That is an excellent example of stone giant culture. Thank you for that, Kirt.

    You are welcome! I actually hadn't originally planned anything for Garuuumk beyond, "I need someone to lead the assault on Headwater even if the players kill Nosnra" so he began as a very one-dimensional character that I hadn't even named. His backstory grew out of me realizing that I needed some way to get the characters to the stone giants when Mathias was pushing them to go immediately to the frost giants after the fall of the Steading. I figured the Countess could order them to take the body back, but I wanted some emotional payout for them actually agreeing to do it instead of feeling forced into a side quest. Garuuuuumk's tragic arc became a way of adding depth to his character, justifying the trip to the Fjell, but also allowing me to do a lot of expository narrative on stone giant culture.

    After the death of the Mind Flayer in Post 204, CruelSummerLord said that I had "made a Lovecraftian horror into a sympathetic, tragic character." I hope that what began for the party as 'that wicked and stubborn stone giant helping Nosnra in his evil plan' has become another sympathetic, tragic villain now that his backstory has been revealed.

    Still to come though - how did Nosnra know his story, and know to specifically ask the Thane for him?
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.&nbsp;

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    Fri Sep 08, 2023 6:55 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    Still to come though - how did Nosnra know his story, and know to specifically ask the Thane for him?

    I assumed that was the doing of the drow/Eclavdra - more of their machinations. Will see if there is more to it than that.

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    Tue Sep 12, 2023 9:38 am  
    Post 290: The Trial of Endurance

    Post 290: The Trial of Endurance

    13 April [18 Planting] - continued - The Fjell[/i]
    (low 61, high 79; gale force winds all day, first full day of storm)

    “The first Trial,” the Thane booms over the wind, “is the Trial of Endurance. We are honored to have the Victor of the Trial of Endurance from our last Mid-Winter Coomarcation agree to Endure for the memory of Garuuuumk.” When he pauses, all the giants begin rocking side to side, coming down slow and heavy on each footfall, all in time with one another. The effect is something like applause, but more somber and more forceful - the party can hear the dull boom over the wind and feel the vibrations through the oerth.

    “Do any of our honored guests wish to participate in the Trial of Endurance?” the Thane asks.

    “I will!” shouts Mathias back so swiftly that the other party members have not even registered the question before his answer.

    The previous victor, a tall, almost gaunt, giant with taut muscles, strides to the center of the canyon, near the party, and the priest that spoke the eulogy of Garuuuuumk moves to meet him. In slow and unembarrassed motions the giant removes his hides and hands them to the priest, who carefully folds them, until he stands before them all completely naked. None of the assembled giants treat this as unusual; there are no titters even among the children.

    The party is another story. “So they don’t shave!” says Aurora, “He’s as hairless down under as up top!” Indeed, when the party saw that even the female Stone Giants were completely lacking in tresses, they began speculating whether the giants shave their heads or are naturally bald, but that riddle is now solved.

    “So t’at be what ‘’ung like a gigant’ means,” says Willa. “Good ter ken.”

    Mathias walks over to the naked giant’s side. He has undone only the first button at the collar of his leather jack when suddenly he is surrounded by a sphere of darkness. This prompts a reaction from the crowd, including a few gasps that would be audible were it not for the wind. One by one, articles of clothing are tossed out of the sphere, from his outer clothes down to the small clothes, landing in a rough pile on the ground. Finally Mathias’ manbag appears. Doro hesitates, then decides to run over and collect Mathias’ things before a giant has to, or worse the priest. The priest frowns, grips his staff tightly, and Doro sees his eyes take on a deep violet color as he peers into the darkness.

    He nods and calls out, “Let them be opened!”

    Two giants, a male and a female, come down to the canyon floor and walk to a wall along which are a series of huge boulders. Working together, they roll two of these boulders away from the wall, revealing tunnel mouths. The naked giant strides over to one of these and descends an almost vertical shaft. When he is completely inside, the priest raises his staff, and the two giants roll the boulder back into place, sealing him inside.

    The sphere of darkness pauses on the edge of the tunnel. Given the angle of the approach, Mathias doubts the solitary naked giant could lift the boulder out of the way - the tunnel is deeper than he is tall, and there would be nothing for him to push against. For Mathias, there would be no chance at all. The priest, in Common, says, “We will check on you at sunrise.” Mathias carefully climbs down into the tunnel, not used to his bare feet on the smooth cold stone. The boulder is rolled into place after him.

    At the bottom of the tunnel is a large chamber, cool and smooth-walled. Mathias judges by the size that it shares a common wall with a similar chamber for the other giant. He searches for any fissures that might connect them but doesn’t find any.

    This might be a while, he thinks to himself, and I didn’t bring my smokes.

    Once both the giant and Mathias are securely in their caves, the Thane announces that tomorrow will be the Trial of Struggle. With that, he dismisses the crowd.

    As the giants disperse, the party looks about at one another, uncertain what to do next, but hesitant to ask anyone, given what Babshapka has told them. Before they are worried enough to resort to a rash action, however, Ooooooorm returns to their side, and says that he will be showing them to the guest chamber.

    The guest chamber is a large cave, with the entrance set at the level of the floor of the canyon, which is good for Dandy. Most of the caves were midway along the cliff-faces - with some accessed by narrow carved stairs, and others only ladder-like hand- and foot-holds. The ground-level guest chamber has a large common area and several smaller private chambers set down short passageways. It is sized for Stone Giants, and has ample room for the now-five party members, the eight orcs, and the mule.

    After Oooooorm sees that the party is comfortable in their quarters, Aurora tries a different approach to gathering information, despite Babshapka clearing his throat and giving her the most pointed looks he can muster.

    “Oooooorm, we truly wish to be good guests, and honor our gracious hosts,” she begins, and the giant draws himself up to hear her inevitable question, “so could you tell us more about these games? Will we be seen as rude if we win? Will we be thought less of if we lose…” and here Oooooorm is on the point of turning away without answering, until Aurora says, “...of course we know, that like any great craftsman, we can be judged by our works, we just wonder what sort of work we are trying to create.”

    Ooooorm pauses at her reference to craftsmen (Persuasion 23). “Yes,” he says finally, “these games are meant to honor the memory of Garuuuuuumk, but our Thane is wise, and that is not their only purpose. The games are for you to come to know us, and us to come to know you, as you say, as one would know a craftsman by his works. In these games, we are to see one another at work, and witness what we are each capable of creating. But ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are not important - these outcomes do not matter. What matters is the knowledge we gain, whether we win or lose the trial. The Thane is eager to talk to you - but he wants to know who you are first, and these games will reveal that. If you were as wise as he, you would take the opportunity to learn about us, as well.”

    Aurora tries to thank him, but he turns and leaves before she finishes speaking.

    Shortly after, much younger giants show up with a mid-day meal for the party, with everything served from stone bowls and pitchers, smooth inside and exquisitely carved on the outside. There are fresh greens, abundant clear water, and a stew that is mostly wild tubers, shallots, and goat meat. The food is brought warm, but the party is not provided with fuel.

    After she is sure the giants have left and that there are none within easy hearing, Aurora prepares to send to the Countess, both to report their progress so far and seek guidance on what they are trying to do specifically. She sends:

    Stone Giants open to parley and truce. Possible source of information. Will investigate leader. Sterichmen killed stone giant and no penalty - sore point. Negotiation guidelines?

    Since it is now early afternoon, she receives an immediate and coherent response:

    Well done. Learn as much as possible. About giants and maybe alliance?
    Negotiation: make no promises but say you will convey reasonable requests to Earl.

    There is little activity outside, except that the wind grows even more intense, such that it would be difficult for any of them to walk, so they remain in the cave for the afternoon. At dusk, more giants appear to clear their servingware from the last meal and provide a new one - with similar greens and stew, but also some goat cheese and a bit of unleavened bread. This will be their standard fare over the next several days, with an occasional bit of honeycomb, and, once, the stew made spicy with peppers and cooked in ewe’s milk instead of water.

    That night, Dandy is given half a ration of creamy porridge (8 rations remaining), but the rest of them are satisfied with the food of the giants. Babshapka had kept his stone up during lunch, but by dinner he has become so curious as to the taste of the meal that he sets it away and eats with the rest of them for the remainder of their time in the Fjell.

    Meanwhile, in the hole, Mathias soon realizes that he is getting dangerously cold [below 60F] and he is naked. He could remain moving and exercise to stay warm - but given that he has neither food nor water with him he would not last long doing so. He explores the cave more, looking for seeps, sinks, or even moisture collecting on rocks (Survival 11), but it appears that the only source of moisture is his own breath.

    [At less than 60F, he will need a DC6 Con save every four hours, with failure gaining him a half level of exhaustion]

    Well, this may be cheating, Mathias thinks to himself, but if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying… He chooses the far wall, not the common wall he shares with the other giant, but the one opposite it. Concentrating, he makes a wall of fire erupt down the entire length of the wall, flames pointed away from him and toward the wall, baking and cracking the rock. He keeps the wall up for the entire minute of his concentration. After he lets it drop, he walks over and stands as close to the wall as he can, basking in the re-radiated heat. Over the next several days, he will go on to do this many more times.

    [At midnight, both Mathias and the giant have been a half-day without any water. They both need to make a DC16 Con save, or gain a level of exhaustion. Mathias, 16; success. The giant (who is apparently unaffected by the cold), 10; fails. At the end of the first day, the giant has one level of exhaustion, Mathias has none.]
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    Sat Sep 16, 2023 9:32 pm  

    Kirt wrote:

    You are welcome! I actually hadn't originally planned anything for Garuuumk beyond, "I need someone to lead the assault on Headwater even if the players kill Nosnra" so he began as a very one-dimensional character that I hadn't even named. His backstory grew out of me realizing that I needed some way to get the characters to the stone giants when Mathias was pushing them to go immediately to the frost giants after the fall of the Steading. I figured the Countess could order them to take the body back, but I wanted some emotional payout for them actually agreeing to do it instead of feeling forced into a side quest. Garuuuuumk's tragic arc became a way of adding depth to his character, justifying the trip to the Fjell, but also allowing me to do a lot of expository narrative on stone giant culture.

    After the death of the Mind Flayer in Post 204, CruelSummerLord said that I had "made a Lovecraftian horror into a sympathetic, tragic character." I hope that what began for the party as 'that wicked and stubborn stone giant helping Nosnra in his evil plan' has become another sympathetic, tragic villain now that his backstory has been revealed.

    Still to come though - how did Nosnra know his story, and know to specifically ask the Thane for him?

    The post about Garuumk's tragic past was a real gut punch, especially the absolutely brutal deconstruction you set up of D&D and the murderhobo tendencies some players have. In the Barrier Peaks, you deconstructed the space exploration of the era the module was written in, while here you deconstruct some of the basic elements of D&D itself.

    If you keep having to take bows like this, your back is going to give out. You might want to stop being so excellent at this...
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    Tue Sep 19, 2023 9:17 am  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:

    The post about Garuumk's tragic past was a real gut punch, especially the absolutely brutal deconstruction you set up of D&D and the murderhobo tendencies some players have.

    I try not to have long narrative reveals, but in this case it really worked. As the shaman slowly related Garuuuuumk's life, the players were feeling increasingly guilty about their role in his death. The line about 'at least it was worth the experience' really got to them. It also set Babshapka's player, who was invested in being a 'giantkiller ranger archetype', as firmly on the side of the Thane and wanting to help even the evil giants in spite of themselves.

    CruelSummerLord wrote:

    In the Barrier Peaks, you deconstructed the space exploration of the era the module was written in, while here you deconstruct some of the basic elements of D&D itself.

    If you keep having to take bows like this, your back is going to give out. You might want to stop being so excellent at this...

    Well, my back has been hurting recently, but I think that is more from the crappy chair I sit in when I have dorm duty. But I appreciate the praise and readership.

    Who will be the next sympathetic villain to be deconstructed? Is Jarl Grugner just a misunderstood paragon of noble warrior culture?
    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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    Tue Sep 19, 2023 9:37 am  
    Post 291: The Trial of Struggle

    Post 291: The Trial of Struggle

    14 April [19 Planting] - The Fjell
    (low 68, high 83; gale force winds all day, second full day of storm)
    [Sterish forces break the siege and retake the east bank of Headwater. The enemy are scattered; the hill giants begin their return to the Steading, the orcs return to their homes, the eigers disperse.]

    At dawn, a priestess and two assistants roll back the stones and enquire of the giant and Mathias whether they wish to persist with the Trial of Endurance. Fortunately, it is well in between the times when Mathias has used his wall of fire (Luck roll +1). If the priestess thinks the air of the hole smells a bit smoky or sulfurous, she does not comment on it, and there certainly is no visible sign of the fire. Both men say they wish to continue, and the priestess says that their persistence is a blessing upon the games. The stones are moved back into place.

    The wind has continued unabated all night, and the day is unchanged save for high, gray clouds that cast a pallor over everything, and make the gray giants seem like statues when they are not moving. Still, the party breaks their fast on goat curds, whey, and wild berries and braves the elements, following the giants to a great amphitheater carved from the bedrock of the Fjell.

    Willa counts twenty-two giants on the field, and most of the rest of the ones they saw the day before - men, women, and children - in the stands. The participants are in the main male, but more than one burly giantess is present as well. After a ceremonial opening of the Trial by the Thane and clergy, a priest walks around with a huge leather bag. The party watches the giant combatants each in turn pull something from the bag, but from the distance and with the wind, they cannot see what is drawn. Once everyone has pulled something, those on the field seem to be chatting, with all the giants mixing and speaking to one another. They start to form pairs, until the original twenty-two have formed eleven groups of two. At this point, there is a longer conversation among each of the pairs, and very little happening that the party understands. Finally the giants, each pair in turn when they finish talking, hold up their hands, and the priest passes by each one in turn again with the bag. There certainly doesn’t appear to be much in the way of ‘struggle’.

    [In fact, what has happened is that the bag is full of two copies of each rune-letter in the Giant language graven on stone. Once everyone has drawn, the giants must look for the person who has drawn the same rune as they have and thus has been selected by the gods as their partner for the first round of the trial. Having located that person, they then discuss the rules by which they wish to compete, whether it be boxing or wrestling, whether throws count or only pins, whether it is two falls out of three or some other victory condition, whether standing counts are allowed or only knockouts. The giants don’t consider it a fair competition unless both parties agree to the terms, and that can take quite some time.]

    Just as Thokk is about to give up on the whole process and return to the guest chamber to sleep, the actual bouts begin. All over the arena, giants engage in various boxing and wrestling matches even as the wind roars around the mountain. All manner of unarmed combat styles are present. Some giants win when their opponents are knocked out and carried off the field, but others surrender or are pinned. Now Thokk is interested, and eagerly watches all the matches simultaneously, especially the ones where the giants are landing strikes and blows against one another. With a keen warrior’s eye, he can tell that the lightest of blows exchanged would easily kill a common human, crushing their ribs or skull - but a trained warrior, one who could get inside the giants’ reach and move swiftly around and behind them, might stand a chance. The more he watches, the more excited he becomes, until finally he finds Babshapka and insists that the only member of his warband who speaks Giant enter him in the tournament. Reluctantly Babshapka takes to the field and tries to respectfully catch the attention of one of the priests, and when he does, to politely convey (Insight 11) that Thokk wishes to enter.

    “Of course he does,” replies the priest archly, “and as our guest, he will have the honor of fighting the one giant that emerges as the victor of all of these contests.”

    Babshapka returns to the stands to convey the news to Thokk, attempting to shout it over the wind. Thokk, who has learned of such entertainments among the rougher bars of Keoland, beams. “Babshapka makes sure Thokk gets title bout without having to prove self first so giants can’t study Thokk’s fighting style? Ha!” He turns to his army, and says in Orc, “Do you see the abundant wisdom of Mighty Thokk in allowing all kinds of folk in his warband? Not all elves are boiled-sweet-potato-for-brains.”

    The action is intense over the course of the next twenty minutes or so. Eventually from the twenty-two contestants, nine clear victors have emerged (in two of the eleven matches, the contestants simultaneously eliminated one another according to their agreed-upon rules). Thokk ardently analyzes each of the nine winners, and tells his orcs to remember them, one each - what fighting method they used, whether they led with their left or their right, any openings they had, etc. It is hard enough just telling many of the giants apart, so he will use his illiterate army as a living library and team of analysts.

    In the lull after the fights, Aurora huddles with Willa and Babshapka. “I don’t know, Thokk is tough when he is enraged, but those are giants. Do you think we should give him a little help?”

    “Like what?”

    “Well, that spell I learned can be used to enlarge as well as reduce. If nothing else, it would help him to have a little more reach on his strikes, and level the playing field, so to speak.”

    Willa snorts. Aurora with a new spell is like a child with a new toy - always in hand, regardless of whether it is an appropriate time for it or not. “Be we allowed ter use magic?” she asks. “Won’t ther gigants t’ink t’at be cheatin’?”

    Babshapka considers the question carefully (Insight check). “Ooooorm said that these games are not about winning and losing, but getting to know each other. And we have an ulterior point for this diplomatic mission - to impress upon these giants that they don’t want to have humans as their enemies - they will suffer as much in a war with Sterich as the humans will. So if the lesson they learn from us is that we have magic to make ourselves fight better...that might actually be a good thing, whether or not it is considered cheating.”

    Willa snorts again. She wouldn’t use such an underhanded way to gain advantage, but this is Thokk’s fight, and he can do what he wants - and it may be revealing to see how the giants react to the party's obvious use of magic.

    By this point, the priests are certifying the victories of the nine, and Babshapka is trying to hear what they are saying. Apparently there will be an hour intermission and then the next round of elimination will happen. Some of the giants remain in the stands, but many, especially the younger ones, drift off to other activities for the day. The party seeks shelter from the wind behind a large rock outcrop.

    [The nine contestants use the hour to take a short rest. All of them are wounded; they use HD to restore hp in preparation for their next bout.

    1) At 7hp, uses all 11hd to get to 112hp, matched with (5) for next bout
    2) At 14hp, uses 10hd to get to 112hp, matched with (4)
    3) At 21hp, uses 9hd to get to 108hp, matched with (7)
    4) At 21hp, uses 7hd to get to 122hp, matched with (2)
    5) At 21hp, uses 9hd to get to 107hp, matched with (1)
    6) At 28hp, uses 8hd to get to 126hp, matched with (9)
    7) At 35hp, uses 7hd to get to 107hp, matched with (3)
    8 ) At 63hp, uses 3hd to get to 108hp. Will get a bye when his runestone is unpaired
    9) At 63hp, uses 5hd to get to 109hp, matched with (6)]

    When the contests resume, the priests go around again with their bag and the pairs form. The conversations between partners take longer this time. This time there is one giant who does not have a partner - he takes a seat near the field, and watches the other combatants carefully.

    [Because there are an odd number of contestants, this individual pulled a rune from the bag that did not match any others - the gods have decided that he is allowed to sit out for this round of the competition]

    When the fighting begins, it is particularly intense, although the crowd that watches is smaller. All of the giants appear well-rested, and now they are all facing other victors, leading to some very close fights.

    [(1) eliminated, (5) left with 9hp / 2hd, uses both to get to 23hp.
    (2) eliminated, (4) left with 24hp / 4hd uses all to get to 55hp.
    (3) eliminated, (7) left with 23hp / 4hd uses all to get to 66hp.
    (6) eliminated, (9) left with 4hp / 6hd uses all to get to 64hp.]

    In the end, four giants are carried from the field unconscious, three from brute pummeling and one who was choked out in a full-contact wrestling match. The four remaining are left bruised and bloodied. The priests call for another break.

    When the remaining contestants take the field before mid-day, there is an obvious difference from before. The one who sat through the last round is again among them, and is hale and hearty - but the others remain wounded. They have used the intervening hour to rest, but all of them still sport purple bruises, swollen eyes, limps, and the like. Again the leather bag travels around with them, and when the fresh giant goes again to sit in the stands after speaking to the others there are gasps from the few lingering spectators, and then the curious stomping applause.

    [(5) matched with (9)
    (4) matched with (7)
    (8) gets a bye (again)
    Giant (8) has, by luck or the will of the gods, drawn an unmatched rune again. This obviously gives him a huge advantage, as the others have already used all of their HD and are starting this round wounded, while he is fresh. The giants interpret this as him having been selected by the gods to face Thokk in his top form, rather than as brutalized as the others.

    (5) eliminated, (9) left with 36hp / 0hd
    (7) eliminated, (4) left with 34hp / 0hd]

    The two matches run simultaneously and are brief but bloody. Tired now and slow, all four of the giants take massive blows until two no longer rise and have to be carried off the field. Thokk can barely contain his excitement. When the priests announce that they will be taking a three hour break so that the spectators can eat and attend to affairs of home and hearth he howls his disappointment, and his orcs immediately join his cries of injustice. Willa is glad for the wind, and hopes that the priests do not understand the insults that the orcs are hurling at them.

    When the three giants take the field in the afternoon, the stands are nearly as full as they were at the opening of the games in the morning. [Now down to just a few combatants, there is a return of those who before were only casually interested in the combats, and those giants who otherwise had chores to attend to for most of the morning are back, with their labors done.]

    When the priests pass the bag it takes only a minute for the pairs to form - one of the giants who has fought every round will face the one who sat out twice, while the other one gets to watch.

    [In the brief fight, (9) is eliminated, and (8) left with 52hp and 8hd. During the hour of rest, he uses 4 of these hd to get to 108hp.]

    Now the twice-favored giant faces his last competitor, the one who sat out once. He ends the fight quickly, taking only two blows himself before he puts the other down. The priests announce that one of the guests has agreed to face the giant champion, and that the final fight will start in an hour.

    [(4) eliminated, (8) left with 94hp and 4hd. In the next hour he uses 3hd to get to 126hp.]

    When at last the Thane calls on the priests to begin, it looks as though the entire Fjell is there, with even more giants than were assembled in the morning. Thokk takes the field with Aurora and Babshapka at his sides as if they were his seconds in a duel. He stands toe to toe with the giant, breathing heavily and craning to stare into the eyes of the giant who is easily ten feet taller than he.

    With just the two of them, there is no bag to be passed, but now they must agree on the terms of the fight. The opponent, in Giant, tells Thokk that as the honored guest of the Fjell, he may propose the terms, and Babshapka translates for him. Thokk sensibly chooses boxing until unconsciousness - no kicks, no grabs. With his great strength he can deal damage almost equal to the giant, and with his rage he can resist much of what the giant will do when it lands blows on him. Were it a wrestling match his height and weight would easily be overcome and his rage would help less. When his terms are translated, the giant agrees.

    When she thinks the bout is about to begin, Aurora touches Thokk and he grows to a full thirteen feet tall, looking like a young Stone Giant but much more heavily built and only a few feet shy of his opponent. The crowd gasps and gapes, but the priest does not bat an eye as he continues to bless the fight. And there Aurora has misjudged, for her spell lasts only a minute on a live target and the priest apparently has more to say before the fight begins. (Aurora Luck roll -1, she has wasted the first 30 seconds of the spell, and Thokk will have only 5 rounds enlarged).

    The priest holds his staff between the two pugilists, and the moment he raises it Thokk enrages and rushes forward.

    [In weaponless combat, the giant does 7 points per successful blow (1 point plus strength bonus to damage) but with Thokk’s rage, that is just 3 points per hit to Thokk. Thokk is dealing 6 points per hit (1 plus strength bonus), and for the first five rounds is getting a bonus d4 on the damage from enlarge, which will end up adding 15 more points during the fight before he loses it midway through the bout. The whole fight takes 11 rounds, the extent of Thokk’s rage plus one more, at which point he knocks out the giant. Fortunately he is not enraged when he deals the final blow, so that he freely chooses to knock the giant unconscious rather than killing him.]

    When the giant is felled by Thokk’s final blow the crowd is silent except for the wildly screaming orcs. Suddenly all the giants stand. Willa looks down and finds that somehow her hand has gone to the hilt of her greatsword. Then, in unison, the giants rock back and forth and stomp their feet in time, making the ground of the entire stadium vibrate. The priest raises Thokk’s hand and declares him the victor in the Trial of Struggle. Thokk leans his head back and joins the howls of his orc army. Willa is ready for dinner.

    Aurora lingers after the stomping and cheering have died and the crowd has started to disperse. She finds one of the priests, and says, “You see that our companion Thokk has been shaped for combat, like a mason shapes stone. When might we be able to speak to the Thane about such things as combat with the other giants, and how we might avoid such unfortunate circumstances?”

    The priest looks down at her disdainfully. “We ask that you respect our religious observance of the Funerary Days. Garuuuuuuuumk meant much to the Fjell, and we would honor his memory. The Thane has pledged to speak to you when the Games are over.”

    Babshapka drags Aurora from the field.

    [Funerary Games XP shares so far; Thokk and Aurora will split the defeat of one giant]
    Thokk - 0.5
    Aurora - 0.5
    Mathias - 0
    Doro - 0
    Willa - 0
    Babshapka - 0]

    Dandy the mule has hauled no loads today - he has just been in the cave, out of the wind. But neither has he had a chance to go outside and graze. Willa and Babshapka decide to give him an entire ration of creamy porridge for the day (7 remaining).

    [By that evening, both Mathias and the enduring giant have gone an entire day without water (in addition to the half-day previous). There is no check for this - an entire day without water adds a level of exhaustion automatically. But if one is already exhausted, a day without water adds two levels of exhaustion. Thus by the end of the day, Mathias has one level of exhaustion and the giant has three.]
    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 26, 2023 4:05 pm  
    Post 292: The Trial of Catching Stones

    DM's Note on Sources 5e has lots of support for skill challenges and contested skill rolls, but the specific rules for the Stone Giant Rock Catching are my own invention.

    Post 292: The Trial of Catching Stones

    15 April [20 Planting] - The Fjell
    (low 65, high 88; gale force winds in morning, decreasing all day, thunderstorms)

    The morning brings wind just as strong as the previous days, but now the sky is black with thunderheads, and lightning strikes at the peaks all around the bowl of the Fjell. The rain is light, but whipped into a stinging sidewise hiss by the gale-force winds.

    The priestess who calls for the Caves of Endurance to be opened has to shout down to Mathias and the giant to ask their will, and has to lower her head into each tunnel to hear their responses. They both say that they wish to continue.

    The giant youths who bring the party’s breakfast are so excited that they catch themselves several times talking in front of the guests about the Trial to come today - for the Thane has announced that today will be the Trial of Catching Stones!

    [Unbeknownst to the party, stone-catching is the most favored past-time and sport of the Stone Giants. They play it during any time of leisure, without having to have a winner or loser, but simply to enjoy the act. When there are formal competitions, these go on for days, for it is rare indeed for a giant to miss a catch or have a poor throw. They are simply too exceedingly good at it for it to end swiftly. Only on a day like today, when the rocks are slick with rain and the fierce wind makes it so that the competitors can hardly see, can any formal competition be concluded in a few hours, and thus it is the perfect weather to have this event become one of the Funerary Games.]

    The giants hold the competition in the canyon around which most of their domiciles are arranged, and the party sees as many giants out as there were on their day of arrival - there must be fully four dozen adults wanting to participate in the event. The mood is festive and jovial, and many of the giants are calling to each other in what Babshapka translates for the party as taunts or insults, and yet they are laughing and no one is exchanging blows. Even the youngest of the giants seem to be paying no notice to the winds and stinging rain. Although the priests, wool robes soaked and stuck to their skin, wander among the crowd, there are no bags in sight and when the Thane bellows ‘begin’ it seems utter chaos!

    [Unlike the previous game, where one’s partner was determined by the gods through rune-drawing, in this competition the contestants choose their own opponents through mutual agreement. It is a time to deepen bonds with friends, engage in trusting play with lovers, and settle scores with rivals. Challenges may be issued, friendly or serious, but they must be willingly accepted for a pair of opponents to meet.]

    Some groups of two form at once, but other giants wander the entire canyon, seeming to take forever in talking to one another before they finally pair off. It feels like at least an hour before everyone is finally accounted for, and the whole time the party is huddled in their cave entrance, trying to stay dry while they speculate on what the game actually is. All of the orcs but one are sleeping through the day in their cave, while the last has been assigned by mutual consent of the others to watch Thokk without fail, and to wake the rest immediately if the Mighty General takes to the field.

    Finally the game itself begins. All of the pairs separate from each other, face off, and begin throwing the rocks back and forth, each catching one and returning it in turn. Other than the whipping wind and rain, and the fact that the rocks could easily crush a horse let alone a man, all of this appears to be a simple game of catch!

    Back and forth, back and forth the rocks go, until one giant finally stumbles, his hands slipping on the slick rock as his toe catches the uneven ground, and the rock crashes down. Then “oooooooh!” call all the giants. Head hanging but chuckling, the giant that dropped the rock then walks off the field, while the one who threw it grins and finds a priest to stand next to. Then the giants return to throwing and catching, one by one slowly eliminating giants as rocks are dropped. A few times a giant throws a rock short, and the receiver does not catch it, but all those around the pair point at the rock or the thrower and say “aaaaaaah!” Then, for some reason, the thrower is ‘out’, not the one who failed to catch it.

    [If the throw is too far off, the thrower loses. There is no specific definition of ‘too far’, but roughly speaking, it needs to land within easy reach of the catcher, some 15 feet or so, to be considered a ‘fair throw’ (maat). It is perhaps revealing of the Stone Giant psyche that this is a collective decision by those present, and neither the thrower nor the catcher have a say in the result. If enough of those around say it was a foul throw, then it was - and it would be maug to dispute the decision of the community in this regard.]

    The party tries to find Oooooorm, but between the wind, rain, darkness, and similarity of the giants to one another, no one is confident that they see him. After talking with one another about their options, Babshapka braves the rain and finds a priest. He politely asks in Giant whether the party might be included in the game.

    “Little person,” says the priest with a tone of indulgence, as if talking to a child, “have you forgotten so quickly the lessons of yesterday? As our honored guests, one of you may face whomever is the champion from among the Fjell.”

    The game continues until one of each pair of giants has been eliminated and become spectators, while the winners have clustered around the priests waiting for the next round. When the last rock is finally dropped, the priests give the signal and the twenty-one victors begin to walk around and talk amongst themselves, eagerly looking for new partners. Haste is apparently not a virtue, for the giants take just as much time as they did before in choosing their competitors, but in the end there are three who haven’t chosen, and then the crowd laughs good-naturedly at them for being too slow or too picky. When the game resumes, these three have to make one group, with each one hoping to eliminate two others in order to make it to the next round.

    When the first rock falls to the ground in this round those giants nearby still call “ooooooooh!” but the giant who dropped it does not leave the field. This happens several times and all the giants keep playing, to the party’s confusion. Eventually when some giants are eliminated, the party realizes that in this round, a giant has lost only after they have fouled twice.

    The third round begins with ten giants who are eliminated after three fouls.

    The fourth round begins with five giants who are eliminated after four fouls.

    The fifth round has only two giants, and only after one has dropped the rock a full five times is she eliminated and the other giant recognized as the winner. This sets the entire crowd, all four or five score giants present, young and old, to their odd stomping applause. The sound is muffled by the wind and rain but even those of the party well inside their cave can feel the vibrations through the floor.

    Only then do the priests come to the party and ask whether one of them would like to challenge the champion. Babshapka says that he would, and he and Doro walk out onto the field. Those giants who were not at the Trial of the Struggle yesterday laugh, but those who were, wisely hold their tongues. Doro begins a spell (makes a Con save to complete it despite the wind and rain), and polymorphs Babshapka into a giant ape. Then all the giants gasp and even a few of the priests look concerned, for the ape is equally as tall as the giants, has just as long a reach, and is heavier-set.

    Babsh-ape-ka and the giant square off at one another, and a priestess says that as the guest, the ape may choose to how many drops they are playing, but the ape just stands there confused (in ape form, Babshapka has his own personality, but Intelligence 7 and is unable to speak). Doro answers “four?” for him, prompting puzzled looks from the crowd when the priest announces it. Then the priest asks whether the ape would like to throw first or catch first, and Doro answers more confidently, “Throw.”

    [Each throw and catch is an athletics skill roll, at which the ape is +9 and the giant +12.
    If there is a critical fail on the throw (1N), that is considered uncatchable and is a foul.
    If the throw is good, to catch it the catcher must get at least half the score of the throw. So, for example, if the giant rolled a 14,+12= 26 Athletics on the throw, then the ape would need at least a 4+9= 13 on the catch. Anything less would be a dropped rock and a foul]

    Babsh-ape-ka tosses the first rock, and the giant easily catches it. Throw-catch, throw-catch, throw…“aaaaaah!” says the crowd, as the rock soars over the ape’s head and crashes into the side of the canyon. The giant has scored a foul by a bad throw! The rock is returned to Babs-ape-ka.

    Throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw…..“oooooooh!” goes the crowd as the ape drops the rock, and they are at one foul each.

    Throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw…..“aaaaaah!” cries the crowd, as Babshapka throws a foul.

    Throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw...oooooooh!” yells the crowd as the ape drops the rock, and Babs-ape-ka is down three fouls to one.

    Throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-catch, throw-“OOOOOOOOOOOH!” exults the crowd as the ape drops the rock and loses the game. The giants jubilantly take up their stomping applause, and keep it going long after Babshapka has resumed elf form.

    [Despite the Thane saying that the games are not about winning or losing, the giants might have faced a crisis of conscience had they lost this one. Pugilism is one thing, and it’s great if you are into it, but most of the giants can take-it-or-leave it. Stone catching, however, is so central to their cultural identity that they might not have been able to accept losing to a non-giant. It would throw the whole Ord’ning into question.]

    Although the rain, lightning, and thunder continues all day, the wind dies down considerably. By mid-day it is merely a stiff breeze, and by sundown it barely blows at all.

    Willa and Babshapka give Dandy an entire ration of creamy porridge for the day (6 remaining).

    [That evening, both Mathias and the enduring giant have gone another entire day without water, adding two levels of exhaustion automatically as they both started already exhausted. Thus by the end of the day, Mathias has three levels of exhaustion and the giant has five.]
    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 03, 2023 9:01 am  
    Post 293: The Trial of the Warrior

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading, giants none the wiser
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Nosnra sets out with war party. Party takes the Steading.
    8 April: Attack on Headwater. Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Party arrives in Headwater
    10 April: Skirmish at Fort Grenvu. Bickering in occupied Headwater, Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    11 April: Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity
    12 April Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within the city
    13 April Sack of Fort Grenvu. Kerri probes and skirmishes to look for weaknesses among enemies occupying the city.
    14 April Sterish forces break siege of Headwater, retake east bank. The enemy are scattered; hill giants begin their return to the Steading, orcs return to their homes, eigers disperse.

    15 April Party at the Fjell. Troubles Roll 3 - 1 = 2.

    16 April Party at the Fjell. Troubles Roll 1 -2 = -1. Skirmish at Fort Saddle

    Post 293: The Trial of the Warrior
    16 April [21 Planting] - The Fjell
    (low 67, high 89; light rain 8am-8pm)
    Skirmish at Fort Saddle

    There is little wind in the morning at the Fjell but low, lingering clouds that threaten rain.

    The priestess calls for the Caves of Endurance to be opened. When she asks the will of Mathias and the giant, Mathias says he can continue. The giant asks to be checked on at sundown, rather than waiting until the next day.

    The Thane announces that today is the Trial of the Warrior. When the party follows the giants leaving the canyon, they find them assembling outside a large cave entrance just a few hundred yards from the communal area. There are a score of giant contestants, if that, and they far outnumber the spectators. Despite the mild weather, this is the least well-attended of any of the games so far. The contestants are heavily skewed toward male giants, and most of those wear the stone torqs that identify them as members of the Thane’s Guard.

    The giants draw runes to find their opponents as a light rain begins to fall. Once pairs have been formed they have a brief discussion, and one of them enters the cave. A minute or so later, the priests give the other one leave to enter. The other giants remain outside, as does the public; they cannot truly be called ‘spectators’, for apparently there is nothing they are permitted to see.

    [While the Games themselves are open to the public, the Stone Giants do not think it is appropriate for children to view bloodsport, and the warriors that fight are kinsmen to many in the group. Such serious affairs are better kept between the two contestants; their contest is for honor, not entertainment, and it would not be maat for the results to give rise to further conflict once the fight had concluded. And, on a purely practical matter, the craftiest of the warriors are loath to reveal their strategies. Once the gods have ordained who is to fight whom, the giants compare their ranking in the Ord’ning, and the one of better position is permitted to decide whether to enter the cave first or second. The one who enters first can obviously hide or prepare an ambush for the other.]

    After the fight, the combatants reemerge. If both are capable, they both walk out, with the victor appearing first. Sometimes the victor carries out an unconscious or wounded opponent. There seem to be no hard feelings and often genuine affection between the combatants.

    The twenty-one initial contestants are reduced to ten after the first round. One has a bye, and in one of the ten combats no one comes out - eventually priests enter and pull out two giants who had apparently struck one another down simultaneously. Or perhaps one was laid low and the other succumbed to his wounds before making it out of the cave. In any event, neither fulfilled the conditions for victory. There were thus nine initial victors plus the one who sat out.

    There is a pause of an hour while those continuing have a chance to recover. After the second round, the number still competing drops from ten to five and there is another hour pause. With one sitting out, two eliminate each other and a third is victorious over a fourth.

    An hour later the last two meet, and the champion of the Fjell is determined. When the priest asks the party whether someone would like to face him, Willa says that she will. Of course, Thokk considers himself the better warrior, but the others convince him that the giants will be that much more impressed if they are beaten by a member of his warband, since he already had a victory in the Trial of Struggle. Plus, with the contest being held in the cave, it would be a waste of his abilities if no one could see him fight.

    An hour later finds Willa and the giant champion outside the cave. The giant asks whether she would like to enter first or come after. Having never been in this cave, Willa is not eager to be ambushed. On the other hand, if she had to wait inside for a minute, Aurora’s enlarge spell would be wasted. Her position on whether such magic is ‘unnerhanded’ has evolved after seeing none of the giants object to Thokk being enlarged or Babshapka polymorphed, and she has decided that if she is going to face a battle-hardened Stone Giant warrior alone in actual combat, she will allow herself some spells. Thus she elects to remain outside, to the surprise of the giant.

    As soon as the giant enters the cave, she begins to light her lantern, and has this in one hand and her greatsword in the other. As soon as the priest gives her leave to enter, Aurora casts enlarge and she strides rapidly toward the cave mouth.

    Round One
    Willa knows she is likely to be hit by a rock as soon as she enters the cave mouth, so she pauses at the entrance and lifts her lantern high. The cavern beyond is enormous, with all kinds of rock formations - stalactites, stalagmites, natural pillars that go to a ceiling far higher than a giant’s head. Seeing a nearby rock formation that will shield her from anyone deeper within, she moves quickly from the mouth to cover.

    [Willa has 20 on Initiative, the giant 14. By the time he has a bead on her, she is in ¾ cover and 90’ away from him.]

    Round Two
    Willa sets down her lantern to where it will illuminate most of the open space. Interestingly, as soon as she lets go of it, it returns to its normal size. She dashes obliquely toward the giant, falling prone behind cover at the end. She has closed the distance to some thirty feet. She thinks she stands a chance if she can force him into melee, but not if he is allowed to hide and throw giant rocks at her. A rock crashes against the stone wall behind which she is hiding, sending shards into the air, but she is unharmed.

    Round Three
    [Willa has 21 on Initiative, the giant 4.] Willa breaks cover and runs at the giant, igniting her flaming greatsword as she goes. She slashes furiously at the giant, landing both blows [13 slashing, 6 fire, 3 enlarge = 22; 13 slashing, 7 fire, 1 enlarge = 21; total 43] and then darting between his legs to come up behind him and attack again [action surge, 15 slashing, 9 fire, 2 enlarge = 26; total 69, fourth attack misses].

    The giant responds by spinning and battering Willa with his club, but he is clearly taken aback at the ferocity of her attack.

    Round Four
    [Willa has 22 on Initiative, the giant 18.]
    Willa staggers back from the force of the giant’s blows, then inhales deeply [bonus action second wind heals 16 points] and charges him again. Her first strike goes wide; her second lands well enough but is turned aside by his stony skin [to hit 15, stone giant AC17]. She suffers his brutal return strikes that would stave in her armor were it not magical.

    Round Five
    The giant follows up on the force of his strikes, landing some more blows [giant initiative 20, Willa 13], and Willa responds with another hit [12 slashing, 9 fire, 2 enlarge = 23; total 92]. She is taking some terrible blows, but still giving worse than she is getting.

    Round Six
    Willa catches the giant off-guard, moving faster than he can follow [Willa Initiative 14, giant 9] and landing another blow [13 slashing, 6 fire, 1 enlarge = 20; total 112]. The giant hesitates for just a second [he is one blow away from going down; he considers disengaging and retreating to try to return to missile combat, but he cannot both disengage and dash, so there is no way he can escape from melee with Willa and she has won five of the last six initiatives. With no way out, he decides to put everything into what will likely be his last round of attacks] and then raises his great club high overhead, exposing his belly for a second but bringing the club down with incredible force. Willa crumples under the blow and lays on the floor of the cave, unmoving. Her sword sputters and the flame goes out. Bleeding freely and panting, the giant takes a moment to recover, then reverently, gingerly, drapes Willa’s body across his back, scoops up her greatsword and lantern, and staggers outside the cave.

    The few assembled giants, both the defeated contestants and the handful of public, greet the victor with their stomping applause. The giant carefully lays Willa in front of the party, then turns to the other members of the Thane’s Guard. He draws himself up and looks at them. “Just so you know,” he says in Giant, “she was tougher than any of you were.”

    At sundown the priestess calls upon the giants to open just one of the Caves of Endurance. The giant within wishes to come out, but at five levels of exhaustion he can barely move. The other giants have to climb in and carry him out. Had he stayed a few hours later he would have taken more exhaustion and died.

    Babshapka gives Dandy an entire ration of creamy porridge for the day (5 remaining).
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 10, 2023 3:17 pm  
    Post 294: The Trial of Throwing Stones

    Post 294: The Trial of Throwing Stones
    17 April [22 Planting] - The Fjell
    (low 64, high 87)

    The day dawns fair and clear - not a breath of wind in the canyon, and the clouds in the sky puffy and white. At dawn, the priestess causes the one boulder to be rolled away from the entrance to the cave of Mathias. She has to struggle to hear his hoarse whisper saying that he does want to come out - but he can barely stand, let alone climb. (Five levels of exhaustion, immobile).

    She is about to send one of her acolytes down to retrieve him, when Thokk appears, his wolf-skin blanket in hand. As Thokk scrambles down the tunnel, Mathias gestures weakly and is surrounded by darkness. Thokk chuckles and clucks as he gropes for Mathias in the darkness, and finding his body, wraps him gingerly in the blanket and slings him over his back. With just one hand free he climbs out of the cave as if Mathias weighs nothing.

    The priestess declares Mathias to be the victor in the trail of endurance, and those giants present give their stamping applause. No one can see into the darkness to note Mathias’ expression or reaction. Thokk carries Mathias back to the guest chamber and lays him down on his sleeping roll, near where Willa is still recovering from the beating she took the afternoon before.

    [Funerary Games XP so far; Mathias defeats one giant by himself]
    Thokk - 0.5
    Aurora - 0.5
    Mathias - 1
    Doro - 0
    Willa - 0
    Babshapka - 0]

    Soon giants begin to pass in front of the cave, all leaving the canyon in one direction, with most carrying some sort of bundle. The party makes to follow them, but Doro volunteers to remain behind and tend to Mathias, slowly giving him water and, when he is ready, food.

    The giants head up the slopes and out of the bowl of the Fjell to the west, opposite the direction the party entered several days ago. They pass through lightly-wooded fields on a well-worn trail, with a gentle breeze blowing warm through the grass and through many herds of both goats and giant goats. Willa, limping gamely along, and Babshapka note the abundant natural pasturage and resolve to turn Dandy out here rather than have him spend another day in the cave. Eventually they pass a stream that will be the perfect spot to leave him.

    After more than an hour’s hike, the party and giants alike arrive at a flat, open, pleasant meadow, with two sides forested and here and there a berry bush, and on one side a rocky drop-off marked by innumerable upthrust pillar-like rock formations and a large field of loose stone all about. There the giants begin to unpack their bundles, and it becomes obvious that they have all brought here supplies for a great picnic, and intend to stay at least through lunch if not longer. Young couples begin to take walks together, with woven baskets for berry-picking (for some, their literal activity, for others just a euphemism). Giant children begin to find all manner of sport and game with one another in the wide meadow. The day's actual competitors assemble near the pillars and begin collecting rounded rocks to throw.

    [Those interested in competing are a score and a half of giants, with equally as many females as males, for this is a competition of accuracy, not strength. With their missiles collected and assembled, they begin making the rounds offering and accepting challenges, much like in the previous game of stone-catching.]

    As the competitors mill about, the priests and priestesses have been collecting their own, flat-bottomed, rocks, and then setting them, carefully balanced, on all the pillars within sight.

    [The rocks are all AC10 at various distances, but at least 10 damage must be done to knock them off a pillar. The giants must roll to hit, but at close range (less than 60 feet) this is trivial and they will only miss on a critical miss / natural 1 and they will always do enough damage. At more than 60 feet they throw at disadvantage.]

    As the games start the party watches carefully, but the giant spectators themselves are more relaxed. It is soon apparent that this will be an all-day activity, like watching lawn-bowling on a Freeday on some town green in Ulek, thinks Aurora. The giants almost never miss, and then only at long range. There are ten targets to a match, but most matches go five and five and then make way for other pairs as the tied contestants decide on a rematch later. It appears that those who stay to watch are more interested in seeing perfect form, and there is a scattering of polite applause after each throw, or gasps on the rare missed shot. The applause itself is not the rocking stomps of other games, which would likely upset the targets. Instead, those watching simply clack two stones together with their hands, so for a few seconds it sounds as if the whole affair is taking place in a rock quarry. The spectators drift in and out, wandering off to eat, converse with other giants, nap in the woods, and so forth, before eventually returning.

    The party whiles away the afternoon, enjoying the pleasant weather and just being outside after days of wind, rain, and cave. Young giants continually present them with food. After Babshapka feels that he has a good grasp of the game, he goes berry-picking, and finds bushes heavy with blueberries - he returns handfuls to the party but keeps the twenty most-perfect ones to use for future goodberry spells [as a ranger, he cannot use an arcane focus, and so must have actual material components to cast].

    The sun is low on the horizon when the last giant match finishes and a giantess is recognized as the champion of the Fjell, having bested the winners of every other pair of challengers. With all targets now down, the assembled giants do their stomping applause to her name. All those still on picnic (for many returned to the canyon early) have gathered for the final match - by leaving soon, it may just be possible to arrive home after sunset but before the daylight fades completely.

    A priest asks the party if they wish to challenge the champion, and Babshapka agrees. As he walks up to the target line, he strings and flexes his bow. If there are murmurings in the crowd, neither his competitor nor the priests object that he is using arrows rather than throwing rocks [He will need to make a standard attack roll at AC10 but must also deal at least 10hp of damage to knock a rock off].

    The ranger is offered the chance to shoot first or second, and he elects second. The party immediately begins to yell at him to go first, and to knock off the closest targets first, so as to make the remaining shots harder for the giants. Babshapka stubbornly ignores them, confirms that he wishes to shoot second, and when it is his turn sets his sights on the most distant rock. While the armchair strategists among the party are trying to get him to win, his goal appears to be to perhaps impress the giants with his skill or honor or somesuch. He makes his first shot and his arrow has enough momentum to topple the rock from its perch, but when he misses a later shot the party groans and the giantess moves ahead in points. He tries to catch up by knocking one target into another close by and thus scoring two at once, but his arrow breaks on the stone and it wobbles but stays up. In the end he loses three targets to seven, and the giants stomp their applause for the homegrown champion.

    By evening, when everyone is back at the guest chamber, Mathias has spent the day in a long rest and recovered one level of exhaustion (now at 4 levels).

    Babshapka gives Dandy an entire ration of creamy porridge for the day (4 remaining) but tells him of the pasture that awaits him on the morrow.
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.&nbsp;

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    Tue Oct 10, 2023 6:27 pm  
    Re: Post 294: The Trial of Throwing Stones

    Kirt wrote:
    After Babshapka feels that he has a good grasp of the game, he goes berry-picking...

    Literally, or is that a euphemism? Smile

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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Fri Oct 13, 2023 9:25 pm  
    Re: Post 294: The Trial of Throwing Stones

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt wrote:
    After Babshapka feels that he has a good grasp of the game, he goes berry-picking...

    Literally, or is that a euphemism? Smile


    Either way, not nearly as much fun when you go by yourself.
    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 17, 2023 3:17 pm  
    Post 295: The Trial of Spirit and a meeting with the Thane

    Post 295: The Trial of Spirit and a meeting with the Thane

    18 April [23 Planting] - The Fjell
    (low 68, high 90 - Drizzle 10am - 3pm)

    At sunrise, Babshapka and Willa walk Dandy out to the stream they passed the day before and turn him loose. They watch him grazing contentedly for a while and then return to the canyon. The white clouds are growing larger, closer, and more gray all the way back.

    From midnight to eight am, Mathias has taken another long rest, and now is at 3 levels of exhaustion.

    By the time Babshapka and Willa have returned, most of the Fjell are in the arena, getting ready for the final Game, the Trial of Spirit. This has fewer competitors than any of the other Trials, just thirteen giants and all of them musicians - three soloists, two trios, and a quartet. As they ready themselves, it becomes apparent that this final Trial is going to be a ‘battle of the bands’.

    Some of the larger groups have flutists (their instruments cunningly carved from stone), or stringed bass instruments, but most are just some form of percussion and voice. Apparently these competitions are serious enough that the matchups are drawn from the bag held by a priest. A drizzle begins to fall, but the rain is light, the day is warm, and it does not seem to dampen any of the spectators' spirits.

    Doro immediately returns to the guest chamber to begin tuning her instruments and planning her set. [Had she been present when the other competitors played, Babshapka could have translated for her, and told her that the songs of the giants were mostly ballads, centered around themes of learning, accomplishment, and mastery, loyalty, and perseverance in the face of adversity. Over the course of the morning, more than one group plays a song employing the metaphor of ‘weathering the storm’.]

    Before the actual competition starts, though, the performers take turns warming up the crowd and themselves, playing for the enjoyment of all, offering standards and well-known tunes to get all of the giants singing along. Eventually the Thane arrives and speaks briefly about this being the last of the Funerary Games to honor Garuuuuumk. With that, the first pair of bands moves to the center of the arena. One band plays a song, and the response of the crowd is gauged by their standing stomps - both intensity and duration.

    [After one group plays (Performance roll), the priests assess the stomping of the crowd. The next group then plays, attempting to top the first. If it is clear that the song is better-received, then the first group can try to top that, and so on as long as they continue to outdo one another. If a group fails to outperform the previous competitor, they may try again with different material - in theory, as many times as they want. In practice, they eventually cede and drop out while their competitor passes to the next round of the competition.]

    The champions of the Fjell eventually emerge as a trio with a flutist, a percussionist who also sings in the deepest basso Doro has ever heard, and a giantess with a higher range but whose timbre passes between as clear as a mountain stream to positively husky for the emotional parts. When the final stomping applause for them dies down, a priestess asks the party if they wish to challenge, and Doro moves to the center of the arena. Asked about order, Doro says that the other group may play first.

    The champions play a song that appears to be well-known and liked by the crowd, with many singing along. They perform it very well (Performance 17), although they may be taking it easy on their guest as it would perhaps be too banal a choice for competition with other giants.

    Doro waits for all the stomping to completely die out before she even begins to tune her instruments, now adjusting for the drizzle and the acoustics of the vast open space. She plays a long song with a simple, repetitive chorus, knowing that many or most of the audience will not understand her Common but will eventually find the phrasing familiar if they hear it enough. Halfway through the song, when she sees heads nodding in recognition of the lines of the chorus, she casts a faerie fire spell on herself as she plays, outlining herself and her instrument in a green fire. While just providing dim highlights at first, she has the intensity of the flames build with each verse, until she is surrounded by blazing green licks of flame made more striking by the overcast day. Those giants who were previously nodding along with the song are dumbstruck and when she finishes the crowd remains in silence. As her last note fades (Performance 20+), the giants leap to their feat and give her thunderous stomps. The priests ask the giant band whether they wish to play again, but their answer is drowned out by the stomping feet of the crowd. Eventually they just shrug and shake their heads, beginning to pack up their instruments.

    The priestess approaches Doro to declare her the victor, but she says that she would first like to play an encore. The priestess is surprised, but agrees.

    Still glowing with green light, Doro begins the song on her drums, laying down a forceful percussive rhythm and performing a ballad that is the most similar piece in all her repertoire to those she heard the giants playing - it is a versatile piece with a driving beat that could be used as a drinking or marching song, and although they miss the words, the giants respond well to its forcefulness. Halfway through she causes her faerie light to go out just as she casts invisibility. The giants at first think they cannot see her because she is no longer casting light, but when she takes up her samisen, they realize they cannot see her at all. As she plays, she walks around the floor of the stadium, so that her disembodied sounds come at the crowd from many directions but without an apparent source. They begin to whisper to themselves in Giant, “Dreamwalker? Dreamwalker!” and the priests adopt a quizzical expression.

    Doro walks up the steps of the arena until she stands at the upper rim and then finally drops her invisibility, to the gasps of the crowd. Mere seconds later, when even those on the opposite side of the arena now have her in sight, she uses dimension door to suddenly appear on the far side of the stands, exactly opposite her former position, without dropping a beat of the song. There are now more gasps, and even some squeals and cries from among the younger giants.

    Doro continues to play, walking slowly down the steps until she stands at the rail, a full twenty feet above the floor of the arena. She climbs the low, thick wall, balancing precariously on the edge with all eyes on her as she strums furiously on her samisen, then turns and leaps into the air to a great collective gasp.

    She falls precipitously, but just before she hits the ground she somehow transforms into a brilliant, multicolored tropical bird (polymorph). Flying above the shouts and cheers, she circles the entire stadium once and then, wings beginning to dampen with the drizzle, spirals down to the floor of the stadium, landing just next to her drums, resumes her human form, and takes a bow.

    Now there is not a stomping applause, but loud and confused conversations among the giant spectators, but with many speaking one word until it becomes almost a chant as it coalesces - “Dreamwalker - dreamwalker - dreamwalker.” Scowling, the giant priestess again declares Doro the victor. A giant priest strides over to the rest of the party in the stands and says in Common, “The Thane will see you now!”

    [Final Funerary Games XP; Doro defeats a giant band by herself]
    Thokk - 0.5
    Aurora - 0.5
    Mathias - 1
    Doro - 1
    Willa - 0
    Babshapka - 0]

    Where 0.5 = 1450xp, 1 = 2900xp

    [XP: Funerary Games
    Babshapka 48,341 (has enough xp for 9th level)
    Thokk 45,232 + 1450 = 46,682
    Doro 41,775 + 2900 = 44,675
    Aurora 41,705 + 1450 = 43,155
    Mathias 40,205 + 2900 = 43,105
    Willa 40,612]

    The party follows the giant priest toward the great conical mountain at the end of the canyon. He is taking long strides and they struggle to keep up [especially Mathias, still at three levels of exhaustion and speed halved so that he has to dash]. By the time Doro has packed up her instruments and exited the stadium, having to push through the throngs of younger giants that reach out and touch her as she passes, the others are far ahead of her.

    The rest of the party pass through a great field surrounding the central mountain, filled with hundreds of pillars, each looking like a stalagmite carved in the rough form of a giant - or perhaps a giant body, slowly turning to stone, a great army of defenders surrounding the stone cathedral. A broad road leads up the side of the mountain to a huge entrance dwarfing even the giants, with carving work on the outside detailing a great arch. The slopes of the mountainside are honeycombed with holes, each carved without, but no paths lead to them - perhaps windows to allow light into the central chamber? The path the priest takes continues past the great entrance, though, and up the side of the mountain, a steep and sometimes vertical trail that passes many ledges, each with a pair of Thane’s Guard, standing at attention, a neat pile of throwing stones nearby. At the very top of the mountain is a broad ledge, nearly level with the top of the valley bowl, and looking out over all the canyon, stadium, and far beyond. It is there, before the final pair of guards, that the priest leaves the party, panting and puffing, and turns to begin his descent without a further word.

    Two guards stand blocking a cave entrance, but at the departure of the priest they move to the side, permitting the party entrance. Deep within the mountain, in a great chamber unlit except for odd shafts of light coming through holes no larger than a giant’s fist and passing through long and narrow tunnels to the outside, is the Throne Room of the Thane. The Thane sits his throne; his high priest, the giant who gave the Lay of Garuuuuumk, at his side.

    The party assembles before the Thane. He speaks slowly, and without pretense. “Honored guests of the Fjell...thank you for returning the body of Garuuuuumk, and participating in his Funerary Games. You have helped my people learn much about humans…but I am curious...what have you learned about us?”

    The party answers, each in turn.

    “You have a loving community that celebrates life.”

    “You value knowledge and skill, but also fun.”

    “You honor the legacy of Garuuuuumk for your people.”

    “You have welcomed us all as guests.”

    After listening to the party, the Thane nods. “Sometimes one must step outside one’s community to truly see it for what it is...It is gratifying to me...that what you say you have learned about what we also believe about ourselves, and what I would have had you know about us. It is my hope...that you are able to convey to the people of Sterich...why we should have peace between our people.”

    The party expresses their agreement with his sentiment.

    “Now I will tell you what I learned about you...and what still mystifies me.

    “In the Trial of Endurance, the one known as Mathias showed great modesty over his form… your clothes are made by men to project you from the elements, but are your bodies not made by your gods in their image, as ours were so fashioned? Is not the craftsmenship of the gods superior to that of any man? Why should you be embarrassed by your natural forms, and hide them from your own companions?

    “You were careful not to insult your hosts and you cared about being polite...and yet you had little regard for our nearly every competition you used magic to make yourselves more powerful, even when it was clear that we did not.

    “You entered every Trial and strove mightily to win each one...and yet you were gracious in defeat and never contested the results. You acted with honor...and always accepted the judgements of our priests and priestesses without dispute.”

    The Thane raises his great arms off his throne in an elaborate shrug, as if he is baffled by the motives and actions of the party.

    Aurora responds, “We must all play to our strengths.”

    Mathias adds, “We are fish out of the water here. We understand that it was not about winning...but we wanted to participate to show our respect. And this is how we participate, using what we know.”

    The Thane nods, but seems unconvinced. “What is most important, though, is that you revealed your me and especially to my people. It is clear that I would not want to fight you, with your ability and willingness to use magic to augment your power. And now it is clear to my people...that they should not want to fight the Sterishmen, regardless of the entreaties of our giant kin who argue for War. You have helped my people to understand that such a conflict...would bring great suffering to both sides. I tried to counsel this to Nosnra, but he would not listen. Now I believe that my people...will accept and trust my decision, knowing better the capabilities of the humans....I am grateful for your assistance.”

    “The world is richer with both our peoples in it,” declares Aurora, “and without a war between us.”

    “Yes…” agrees the Thane, “...and so we must work together to prevent this conflict to the extent of our abilities...starting with the mystery of who is really behind the rallying of the Hill Giants against the humans.”

    “Yes, yes - who is this mysterious master of the giants?” asks Aurora.

    “I was hoping...that you could tell me,” rumbles the Thane. “That is one of the reasons….I sought to have you come here.”

    Now there is silence in the Thane’s throne room as each side broods on their ignorance. Aurora begins again.

    “In the eulogy for Garuuuuumk…” she begins.

    “The Lay,” corrects the high priest, speaking for the first time since the party entered the throne room.

    “Yes, in the Lay, you said that Chief Nosnra asked for Garuuuuumk by name. Why was that?”

    “He did so,” agrees the Thane. “Nosnra sent us messengers, telling us in vague terms of his intentions to strike against the small folk. I sought to dissuade him, but he agreed only to accept my diplomats at his court, and that only on the condition that Garuuuuumk be among them. Of course, Garuuuumk was well-known among the Stone Giants as being a Master Craftsmen and skilled Dreamwalker. Equally well-known was his hatred for humans, for he had expressed such at many moots in the Fjell. But how news of either of these reached the ears of Nosnra, I do not know. Our Hill Giant kin do not have the love of craftsmanship that we do, and I think they would be hard pressed to name any of us. Nor are we bearers of tales, who would spread such information beyond the Fjell.”

    “So you don’t know what the connection is between Nosnra and Garuuuuumk?”

    “No. I suspect that they were both recruited by whatever malign power is behind this alliance of giantkind, but I was hoping you could tell me more about what you discovered in the Steading.” Aurora shakes her head in response.

    Mathias tries his hand. “Our only lead at the moment is knowing that Nosnra was in league with both the Frost and Fire giants. What can you tell us about them?”

    The Thane nods gravely. “Yes...of the Fire Giants I know little, as they are distant from here, but the Frost Giants...are certainly part of this plot. It was Frost Giants...who attacked the Sterish Fort Iron Axe, so close at hand to us. The lord of all the Frost Giants is Jarl Grugnur...He rules from his glacier, on top of the highest mountain peak...far to the south in what your people call...the Crystalmists. I fear for the Sterishmen when the full force...of the Frost Giants take to the field. They are fierce warriors.”

    “Why are they attacking?” Mathias persists. “What is their motivation?”

    “That I do not know...any more than I know what came over Chief Nosnra...I fear something powerful may be influencing or controlling them. As far as the common giants...they are attacking because Jarl Grugnur has ordered it. Theirs is a tyranny...and the word of the Jarl is law. The lands he claims as his own...are small, and do not border Sterich...but every Frost Giant in the Crystalmists, in the Jotens, and in the Stark Mounds besides is his subject...if he has told them to attack the humans...they must do so, or be called a coward and traitor and be cast out of the Ord’ning.”

    Aurora asks, “Is it the Frost Giants who are responsible for the lapse in communication with the dwarves? Have they attacked Num-Theraz?”

    “That neither do I know,” says the Thane. “There is little contact at the best of times between the dwarves and my people...that is a feud which goes back to before there were humans in this world...back to the time of the Making. We have seen nothing of giant activity to the west, though.”

    “Have you been contacted by anyone who might be behind this alliance?” Aurora continues.

    “No, just Chief Nosnra...nor have our priests or Dreamwalkers heard anything from beyond this world.” The high priest nods in affirmation of the Thane’s claim.

    “Who was the cloud giant we saw at the Steading? How are they involved?” persists Aurora.

    “The giantess was an ambassador from the Cloud Giant people to the Chief, much as I...sent diplomats to him. As to the involvement of those folk, I cannot say. Ooooorm said...that the cloud giantess counseled Chief Nosnra that his plans for attacking the human city were premature, but he did not know to what end she did this. The Cloud Giants...are as hard to predict as the wind...and wiser folk than I cannot guess their true goals...Was she seeking to delay the attack so as to help the humans? Or did she think that with more preparation it would have more chance to succeed? I do not know...on whose side the Cloud Giants are in this conflict, and they have not yet...revealed their hand or their allegiances.”

    “What do you think our next steps should be?” asks Mathias.

    “If you wish to stop this war, you must stop Jarl Grugnur,” replies the Thane. “Are you prepared to do this?”

    “That is our plan,” says Mathias.

    “Then you should know this: the Court of the Jarl lies far from Sterich, and the Frost Giants travel in small and independent bands...although all of them recognize the rule of the Jarl. You could fight them one group at a time in Sterich, but every other group would keep attacking. They are many...and you are just one band, though powerful. You could travel to the glacial halls of the Jarl and defeat him and his few retainers...but that would not stop the attacks...all the Frost Giants around Sterich would need to learn of his defeat...and then choose a new Jarl...before they would cease to enact Grugnur’s will. And even then...the new Jarl might want revenge more than peace.”

    This is a sobering thought for the party. They had planned to use the chain to ‘jump’ to the glacier and destroy the giants there as they did at the Steading, as well as try to learn who or what was behind the alliance. But if what the Thane says is true, even slaying all of the giants at the glacier and learning who is behind them won’t stop the attacks in Sterich itself, like the attack on Fort Iron Axe.

    “So what can we do?” asks Aurora, suspecting that the Thane is leading up to something.

    “It is clearly in your interest to stop the Frost Giant attacks,” says the Thane, “...just as it is in my interest to have as few giants slain in the process as possible. Because of this...and because you have proven yourselves so capable...I would offer you the use of our most sacred relic.”

    The high priest retreats as the party stands in surprised silence.

    When the wool-robed giant returns, he is reverently bearing a great curled ram’s horn, taken from a giant mountain goat and fashioned into an instrument.

    “Behold the Horn of Annam All-Father” say the priest and the Thane simultaneously, their joined voices rumbling and echoing through the hall.

    “One who winds the Horn may then speak a message or pronouncement to any and all creatures they know and choose, and the same message will be heard by them all simultaneously, regardless of distance,” says the Thane in an awed voice.

    “It is rather like a Mass Sending spell that one of your wizards might cast,” says the priest, “except that there is no return message granted.”

    “If the Jarl winds this Horn and then announces that the attacks on Sterich must cease, every Frost Giant loyal to him will hear and obey,” continues the Thane.

    “And why would he do that?” asks Mathias.

    “Because he has agreed to, as the condition upon losing a duel with you. The Frost Giants are an honorable people, and what they honor above the challenge of combat. If he accepts your challenge, and loses, he is bound by honor to follow through on the conditions he accepted.”

    “A duel?” says Aurora, alarmed. “You mean against only one of us? Can we use magic? Would it still be honorable?”

    “Honorable is whatever he agrees to,” replies the Thane. “When Frost Giants contest among themselves for honor, it is in individual duels, and it was through such conflicts that Grugnar became Jarl, by defeating all who would challenge his use of the title. But so long as he agrees to the conditions before you fight...and you keep to your terms as will be binding. Your challenge will not be in overcoming him...I have no doubt that together, all of you would be able to vanquish him...Your true challenge will be in getting him to agree to your terms before you fight.”

    “So how do we do that?” asks Aurora, perhaps rhetorically, for the Thane does not answer.

    Mathias thinks he knows. “We destroy his hall and kill his people one at a time until he has no choice but to face us on our terms.”

    The priest’s face darkens, and the Thane lowers his head before saying, “It may indeed come to that. And while I can hope...that you are able to resolve this without having to kill a single giant, whatever happens in the Halls of Jarl Grugnur will mean less suffering for giantkind than if you had to fight all of the Frost Giants...surrounding Sterich.”

    Mathias considers Willa’s near-victory over the Stone Giant champion. “Are Frost Giants tougher than Stone Giants in battle?”

    The Thane nods slowly. “They are both larger and stronger than we. And they live for battle. They have both...a skill and disposition for combat that we do not.”

    “Can you explain the Ord’ning?” asks Aurora. “How do we rank the giants?”

    “To adequately explain the Ord’ning would require more time than you have hear, and much of it would be incomprehensible to you. But for what use you might have in knowing it, the simple version is that the gods rank highest, and all others are below them, each in turn; the Titans, Storm Giants, Cloud Giants, Fire Giants, Frost Giants, Stone Giants, Hill Giants, the giant-kin, and last the ogres.” When Aurora inhales in preparation for another question, the Thane furrows his brow and waves his hand dismissively. “No more will I answer. You know enough now to challenge Jarl Grugnur. I will not give you the knowledge you desire to slay more of my kinsfolk.”

    Babshapka interjects before the mood can grow too dour, or the giants dwell on the menace of the party to their kin. Speaking for the first time in the conversation, and in Giant, he asks, “Your Dreamwalkers seem to have the means to obtain knowledge beyond their physical senses. Do any of them know what has happened to the dwarves of Num-Theraz?”

    “The loyal Dreamwalkers have not seen the dwarves in their travels,” says the priest, replying in Giant and being translated for the party by Mathias’ device, “but perhaps one who was disloyal did.”

    Before the party can ask what that means, the Thane presses them. “Are you willing to accept the Horn? If so, we can go to where you may find more answers.”

    The party briefly confers with one another and agrees that they will take this Horn. But before they actually accept it, Aurora says, “We have contacts in the Sterish court. All parties involved want to avoid war between your nation and theirs. We can send a message - what would you have them know?”

    The Thane does not hesitate in his reply. “You may tell the leaders of the Sterishmen that giant does not fight giant. That is not maat. If they are looking for allies to stand with them, they will not find them in the Fjell. But we are ready to do what is in our power to end this conflict with the least suffering for both of our peoples.”

    When Aurora tells them that she will deliver this message, and the party accepts the Horn, the priest asks them all to join hands. The party makes a circle facing one another, while the Thane rises from his throne, placing himself with the party between him and the priest. The priest holds his slender stone staff over the party with both hands, and the Thane grabs it as well, the slope of their arms easily overarching the party like the roof of a barn. As the priest begins to chant, the party feels themselves sinking together into the stone floor. “This is some kind of pass through rock…” begins Aurora excitedly, but her words are cut off when her mouth sinks below the floor.

    The party spends the next several minutes in claustrophobic darkness, feeling only one another’s hands and the cold rock somehow sliding by their forms as the chanting of the priest throbs in their frames, more felt than heard. When they finally emerge again into sunlight, they are outside, far from the Throne Room, on the other side of the canyon, on a lone peak nearly above the level of the great bowl of the Fjell. Before them is a simple cave entrance sized for a giant. Beyond the corner of the mountain they can barely see a bit of the canyon, and the movement of tiny figures whom they know to be giants.

    “This is the home of Garuuuuuuumk,” says the priest, “or was so, when he was in the Fjell. At the Thane’s command I searched it when we learned that he had defied the order of the Thane and marched on the human city, leading Nosnra’s army. I found almost nothing inside his home - just his tools and household items, no obvious sign of what might have led to his betrayal of the Fjell. This one thing I did find - a fissure in the back - a narrow crack in the stone wall with a space beyond. For one who worked stone as he did, an unacceptable imperfection. Far too small for a giant, even a youth, was this fissure. But one such as might be explored by small folk like yourselves.”

    “And you think that maybe we can find out what happened to him there?” asks Aurora, but she continues without waiting for an answer. “What about your Dreamwalkers? Have they...felt…?”

    “I have not asked them,” says the Thane. “No one else in the Fjell knows about this, which is why we traveled here clandestinely. I fear that whatever malign influence corrupted Garuuuuumk might have contacted him while he was dreamwalking here, and I would not expose my people to it, if not necessary. I would rather you explore the physical space first before I send others on a dreamwalk. If you agree.”

    The party says that they will see what they can find. The priest says that their mule could not pass beyond the fissure, even were it brought back from pasture, but offers to send them up anything from the guest chamber - Thokk’s orcs, or their gear although that would take at least an hour. Indeed, the party has only what they are wearing. As adventurers, they habitually carry all their arms and armor wherever they go, and the Thane’s Guards did not stop them from entering his Throne Room thusly as human guards surely would have. But all of them (well, perhaps not Thokk) know that you cannot enter the presence of a monarch wearing a backpack, so all their gear is back in the canyon. They tell the Thane that their exploration will not take long, and that sending the gear or the orcs will not be necessary.

    The priest looks the party over carefully. “You appear to still be worn from your Trial,” he says to Mathias, who indeed is still exhausted (level 3). “I can perhaps help you, if you would accept the ministrations of one who serves Skoraeus Stonebones.”

    Mathias agrees to accept his help, and the priest casts Greater Restoration (removes one level of exhaustion; Mathias at level 2, disadvantage on ability checks and half speed).

    The Thane and the priest thank the party, take their leave, and sink back into the solid rock of the mountainside.

    The party quickly searches the cave, concentrating on the low places that the priest might have missed, but it does indeed appear to be a simple stone-worker’s home, with many stone benches and worktables, abundant tools in different stones and metals, household goods mostly of carved stone, but nothing of interest. Deep in the back of the cave, however, in a small chamber off of the bedroom that might serve as a study or meditation room, there is indeed a fissure running entirely through the back wall, and opening to a small space beyond. Babshapka and Thokk examine it. There is no sign of tracks on the stone floor within the chamber, and the dust lies just as heavily on the floor of the room as it does in the fissure (Survival checks). Whenever it was that this feature appeared, it was likely before Garuuuuumk left the Fjell for the Steading and he would surely have known about it. No sign of worked edges, no mark of pick or adze is anywhere along the opening; it appears to be perfectly natural, although whatever chips and fragments were created when it formed have since been removed. Whether the fissure was already there when Garuuuuuumk made his cave, or appeared later during some Oerth-tremor, is unknown and likely unknowable.

    Babshapka agrees to lead the party into the fissure, largely because he does not want the other party members obscuring the trail. But first, however, he reaches out with his primeval awareness - and finds that an elemental is nearby, within a mile!

    “Elemental could be an oerth elemental,” says Mathias, “capable of making this fissure.” The rest of the party agrees.

    The crack in the wall is barely wide enough for the unarmored members of the party to slip through with care; it opens up into a space on the other side half the size of a broom closet. Thokk, with his large frame, has to squeeze and scrape, as does Willa, with her plate armor. Willa has to further endure the snide comments of Aurora about the size of her hips and her exercise regimen and such.

    The chamber beyond the gap goes up above the level of Garuuuumk’s cave, but dead-ends easily within sight. The bottom, however, goes down further than they can see. It is not a straight shaft, but a series of angled descents as the rock has broken and sheared along planes and lines of weakness. It will be easy-going on the way down, dropping in a series of short-falls to various ledges, so long as they don’t slip. Coming back up will be more difficult as there are few hand-holds, but they can rest on the ledges when the angles change direction, and at least so far as they can see there are no spaces so wide that the smallest of them will not be able to chimney up. The ledges themselves are dusty near the entrance, but less so the farther they drop from it. Conversely, after the first few drops there is abundant debris, loose pieces of rock and rubble that likely broke off when the fissure was formed.
    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 24, 2023 9:28 am  
    Post 296: The Tunnel

    DM's Note: Along with the Funerary Games, the party's adventures in this Tunnel have a dual purpose - to get them the xp needed for another level before they attempt G2 (the Frost Giants), and to expose more of the plot and unravel a bit more of what is behind this strange alliance of Giants. They had never fought a troll before (their characters had not, and the players hadn't yet under 5e rules) so they were refreshingly unsure about how one worked. Willa's greatsword quite accidentally meant they were not exposed to the trolls' fearsome regenerative powers without them realizing it.

    Post 296: The Tunnel

    18 April [23 Planting] - Under the Fjell
    (low 68, high 90 - Drizzle 10am - 3pm)

    They have descended some ten minutes, and the coolness of the high-mountain cave has slowly warmed to the constant temperature of the oerth. Most of the drops have been manageable falls of five to twenty feet, with a few larger ones that need to be chimneyed (the party lacking rope), as well as a few so short that they have to be negotiated feet first around claustrophobia-inducing corners. Thokk notes (Survival) that the air is fresh, and that a steady but slight breeze is drawing air up from below. He does not catch the scent of anything in this air, though. Doro is using light for her descent and Willa stays near her in their single-file order as they descend.

    They have been going down for some twenty minutes when Aurora decides to send Hedwig ahead of them. He can descend in a series of hops, wings spread wide to slow his fall. It will be impossible for him to fly up in return, however, as he cannot ascend vertically, but Aurora intends to recall him before too long to learn what lies ahead.

    Aurora brings the spirit-owl back just as Babshapka hisses up the shaft to Thokk to tell the others to stop descending. They are approaching a larger chamber. Hedwig has returned with a silver-white strand in his beak which Aurora at first takes to be a spider web. However, closer inspection reveals it to be a hair. Not the dull gray hair of an ancient, however, but a pearly strand almost shining and reflective - not even the platinum blonde of a pureblood Suel, but a brilliant white.

    Babshapka continues to descend as silently as he can, listening all the while. The natural fissure widens suddenly into a large natural chamber with flat, angled surfaces. Exiting both sides of the chamber are long, circular tunnels whose floors are level. The walls of the chamber are rough but climbable with care; most of the party are able to descend without issue, but Mathias slips and falls heavily to the floor (failed Acrobatics check with disadvantage from exhaustion; d6 damage). Aurora doesn’t even attempt it - she leaps from the fissure into the waiting arms of Thokk, who catches her neatly and sets her down gently on the floor.

    Aurora passes the hair around. “You know what kind of creature has long white hair?” asks Mathias.

    “Drow,” says Babshapka. Mathias nods in agreement, and asks Aurora for the hair.

    Willa looks all around the fissure (Survival) and finds a hand-print on a handhold that does not match any of the party’s - though the closest would be the slender, delicate fingers of Babshapka. Perhaps there were more prints present before the party’s descent along the same path obscured them.

    While the small chamber appears to be the natural result of a huge crack in the rock that led to the fissure above, the tunnels exiting it on opposite sides are perfectly circular, and not at all natural. They are clearly dug somehow from the hard igneous rock, but there are no tool marks, and no debris. “Wha’ could do t’is?” asks Willa in an awed voice.

    “A xorn, perhaps, or a purple worm?” suggests Aurora.

    “An oerth elemental,” says Mathias. Aurora looks surprised, but then agrees.

    On each side of the chamber, the tunnels continue perfectly straight as far as any of them can see, and yet they do not line up with one another. Rather, the chamber obscures a bend or kink in their directions. “Almost,” says Aurora, “like the diggers were making specifically for this chamber from somewhere else, but once they found it, they left in a different direction. I don’t think it was chance that this tunnel intersects the fissure, and I think we can safely assume that whoever made the tunnel did it to get to Garuuuumk.” The others find her suppositions reasonable.

    “But which way do the tunnels lead?” asks Aurora. “I mean, are they coming or going? It’s certainly curious that they are so clean; there is no debris - was it hauled out somehow? Thokk? Babshapka?” Between them, Aurora and Thokk find a few loose pieces of rock around the entrance of each tunnel to the chamber. Thokk claims these show which direction the tunnel was dug, with one entering the chamber and the other leaving (Survival 17). However, there is no way to know which cardinal direction the two tunnels go. Even those who kept a rough sense of direction when entering Garuuuuuk’s cave above have been turned around so many times in their corkscrew descent that they have no idea, and Larry is not with them. Babshapka has a compass in his cartographer’s kit - back in the guest chamber at the Fjell.

    For his part, Babshapka has been looking about the floor of the chamber while Thokk and Aurora were studying the entrances. In a corner near the fissure, in the barest hint of dust and rock chips tumbled down from above, he finds a narrow boot print of humanoid size.

    The party is all for exploring the tunnels, but which one first? Mathias says they should go back up the ‘from’ tunnel, to find the source of whatever made the tunnel. Aurora argues they should head up the ‘to’ tunnel, in the hopes of catching whatever it was that made it. Mathias counters that whatever made the tunnel is long gone, as it has been weeks since Garuuuumk was here. Aurora says that it is likely that the ‘to’ tunnel simply loops around and returns to the origin, perhaps in the wide turning radius that a purple worm might need. Mathias says oerth elementals don’t need a turning radius. After more back and forth most of those present decide to go ‘forward’. Mathias still disagrees, but he has said his piece and accepts the decision of the group.

    The tunnel is so wide, and the slope of the sides so gentle, that two people could walk abreast, but in practice it is easier to travel single file so as not to tire from constantly balancing against the slope. Hedwig flies some 500 feet in advance of the party, moving silently, landing and waiting until they catch up, then repeating. Thokk and Babshapka are next. Babshapka is checking carefully for any further tracks or signs of passage, but the hard stone surfaces do not yield much (Passive Survival 18). Aurora and Mathias are next, and last are Doro and Willa, with Doro’s light close enough to provide illumination for Willa but far enough back it does not spoil the darkvision of the others.

    After traveling several hundred feet, Thokk mentions that the passage is gently sloping down.

    Babshapka sees a break in the floor, and waits for Doro to approach with her light. The dug tunnel has bisected a natural bubble or large vug in the granite, and tiny chips of rock (debris from whatever was making the tunnel?) have fallen into it. There, in the cavity, a hard-heeled boot, wider than the one back in the chamber, has pushed aside the rock chips. As he stares at it, Mathias tries to catch his breath [he is still moving at half speed from exhaustion, and it is quite an effort for him to keep up with the party].

    “It’s not for nothing,” says Mathias, “but if these stone giants worship the oerth, won’t killing an oerth elemental piss them off? Are you sure we want to be going forward?”

    When they start up again, Babshapka keeps his eyes peeled for any other such cavities, as they are the only places likely to yield tracks. In the next one he finds a long rectangular mark resembling nothing so much as a cart track.

    When they have traveled roughly an hour, and gone by Babshapka’s estimation two miles with no end in sight, Willa calls for a halt. All of them have growling stomachs, for they are a good two hours past a mid-day meal. More importantly, Willa notes, none of them have had a drop to drink since breakfast, and they are working hard to keep up the pace.

    “I did find it odd,” remarks Doro, “that there were no drink vendors in the stadium this morning.”

    Mathias, steadying himself against the stone wall as his head swims, wheezes “Fie. I can go another four days without water down here, easy. I did it before.”

    Willa puts the question to them of whether it would be better to go back to the guest chamber, and return on the morrow with proper gear and supplies. At this point the walk from Garuuuumk’s cave back to the canyon is longer than the walk back to the fissure, and they all agree to keep going. It can’t be much further, can it?

    They walk for another hour. Mathias asks Babshapka whether he has seen any evidence of spiders and the elf shakes his head. Babshapka finds a print in a gravel-filled cavity, the mark of a large, bare, humanoid footprint. Thokk continues to note that the passage is sloping down, though so gently that the others cannot tell.

    They walk for a third hour. It must be late afternoon by now; if they turn around, they will not be making the surface before nightfall. Aurora has Hedwig fly a quarter mile ahead of them and then recalls her. She repeats this as they travel. Eventually she increases this to half a mile ahead. They must have walked more than ten miles in this monotonous tunnel.

    Aurora suddenly calls for a halt. Her face contorts with effort. “What’s wrong?” asks Mathias.

    “Hedwig,” she says. “I can’t recall him. He’s gone - something happened to him. He must have met something up ahead…” [In fact, the bird was spotted and killed by the Iron Shadow]

    “Let’s douse that light,” Mathias tells Doro. He moves back to take Doro’s hand to guide her, while Aurora helps Willa. Thokk and Babshapka move ahead as silently as they can manage.

    Suddenly Mathias sees a humanoid figure up ahead in the darkness, while Thokk appears not to have spotted it. Mathias messages Thokk and tells him to approach carefully.

    Round One
    Thokk moves rapidly forty feet ahead toward the figure. The air is abruptly filled with the sound of bowstrings and flying arrows. All six arrows miss Thokk (Dodge action). The shafts are long, straight and neatly fletched with black feathers. Babshapka can easily see that these are no shoddy goblin arrows.

    “Identify yourself!” Babshapka calls up the tunnel in Common. Both he and Thokk can now see the strange man (or woman?) with reddish skin, blocking the center of the hallway. The archers must be beyond, out of sight for the moment.

    Mathias fires off two blasts of force. He is sure that one would find its mark (hit roll 24), but both blasts go past the figure without it reacting.

    Round Two
    Mathias fires off another two blasts of force, one striking even more true than before (hit roll 25), but they seem to have no effect on the creature.

    Thokk charges, swinging his longsword, but the creature dodges out of the way (hit roll 21). Thokk does not understand and is confused. Finally, he shakes his head and moves toward the hobgoblin archers he can see further down the tunnel. The creature next to him does not react, or even take the obvious opportunity attack as he gives it his back. [It is, in fact, a silent image of an Iron Shadow cast by the actual hobgoblin, although she is not currently causing it to react to the attacks on it. This is why their attacks have been passing harmlessly through it]

    Babshapka moves quickly up behind Thokk. He ignores the unmoving figure as well, and prepares to follow Thokk into battle. Suddenly a steady stream of arrows flies at Babshapka and Thokk. The two hobgoblins closest to them stand across the tunnel, draw back longbows and shoot. They then fall against the walls, so that the next pair behind them can fire, then the next. In all, six pairs of archers send forth a dozen arrows. Most are broken on Thokk’s shield or impact Babshapka’s chain without penetrating. A few make it past them to the main party. “Hug the walls or hit the dirt!” yells Mathias.

    Once all the archers have shot, they return to the center of the tunnel and move rapidly away. Such discipline and coordination take great practice. Babshapka knows that hobgoblins have a very militaristic society, and are far more organized opponents than cowardly goblins. Even Thokk appreciates them as opponents - while not as fierce as orcs, they are incredibly organized.

    Doro has re-cast her light and now moves up the tunnel as fast as she can. Willa shakes off Aurora’s grasp and follows at the bard’s heels.

    Round Three
    Thokk charges at the retreating archers but finds his way blocked by another of the red-masked hobgoblins. He is about to ignore it as before when suddenly it pulls forth small metal darts from its belt and flings them at him as he approaches (four attacks; one hit for 6 piercing damage). Just as Thokk raises his sword to respond, the hobgoblin disappears, and immediately appears again thirty feet back up the tunnel. It continues to retreat.

    5e Iron Shadow wrote:
    Shadow Jaunt The hobgoblin magically teleports, along with any equipment it is wearing or carrying, up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space it can see. Both the space it is leaving and its destination must be in dim light or darkness.

    Thokk’s path is now open to a large four-wheeled cart that must have made the wagon tracks Babshakpa found. On the cart is a large, long metal device, while to the front is attached a pair of metal chains. The other end of the chains are fixed to a pair of large bipedal beasts standing as tall as eigers but being thin and scraggly. A huge hobgoblin shouts a command, which Babshapka understands as “Release the trolls!” A pair of hobgoblins bends over the cart and the chains clank free. The two green hulking figures turn and approach the party, slavering.

    From far down the hall, Mathias shoots more blasts of force - these explode against the hide of the oncoming green creatures and finally seem to do real damage (two hits, 19 points total to lead troll). Babshapka enters melee, drawing his broadsword and shortsword and using the large size of the creatures to block the tunnel but fight only one at a time (three hits, together 18 damage, total 37 to lead troll).

    When Doro hesitates, no longer willing to charge forward, Willa draws her greatsword and the blade erupts in flame. Now providing her own light, she moves up behind Babshapka. Doro looks beyond the trolls, to where the dozen archers are beginning to form ranks again and take aim at the party. The bard drops a hypnotic pattern in their midst, and they stare at it, entranced.

    Round Four
    Babshapka continues to engage the lead troll in melee (three hits, together 23 damage, total 60 points to lead troll), preparing to duck out of its way when it attacks (multi-attack defense) or to return the strike (giant killer). Willa skips forward, springing off the slanted tunnel wall to come down in front of Babshapka and beside the bestial green creature, while using her momentum to thrust her greatsword deep into its core (one miss, one hit; 11 slashing and 12 fire, together 23 to troll, total 83 points to lead troll and it has taken fire damage this turn).

    Seeing Willa nearly level his kill, Thokk enrages. He grabs Babshapka by his cloak, yanks him backwards with one hand, takes the elf’s place in front of the troll, and uses his other, sword hand to lop off the creature’s head (damage 16, total 93 points to lead troll and it has taken fire damage this turn). Thokk steps over its fallen body and hacks at the second troll (16 damage).

    The Iron Shadow moves up the tunnel to just within reach of Thokk, then shoots forth four of the metal darts at Aurora. Before Thokk can respond, she disappears again into the shadows behind the cart (shadow jaunt).

    Mathias assesses the red-masked hobgoblin, the score of archers - many mesmerized but those beyond them not and even now beginning to draw on the party, and a huge hobgoblin shouting orders. For a fraction of a second he considers dropping Ephi behind their lines, but then arrives at the conclusion that individual hobgoblins are not much of a threat, but their numbers argue for an area-of-effect spell. He gestures and shouts and suddenly flames erupt along the right-hand wall of the tunnel from just behind the troll all the way to the furthest back of the archers (wall of fire - the Iron Shadow and Hobgoblin Captain both make their saves, but all other hobgoblins will die on their turn regardless of whether or not they save).

    Round Five
    If the troll facing Thokk might have broken upon seeing his companion cut down by Willa’s flaming sword, there is no way it intends to flee down a tunnel still lined with roaring flame. As it squares off grimly against Thokk, Willa leaps over the slain troll and comes down nearby, slicing at it (one hit; 15 slashing and 9 fire, together 24, total 40).

    Babshapka runs halfway up the tunnel wall, leaps, and lands behind the troll. He hits it with his broadsword, summons a hunter’s mark on it, and hits it again (two hits; together 18 with mark, total 58). Mathias and Doro both send blasts of force at it (four attacks, two hits, together 12 damage, total 70; has taken fire damage this turn).

    The Hobgoblin Captain and the Iron Shadow abandon their men as the rest of the hobgoblins burn. They pull back, down the tunnel and out of range of the heat and flames. The rank and file soldiers ignite, scream, and fall to the ground, dead and aflame.

    Thokk pulls forth a javelin and throws it over Babshapka’s head at the retreating captain but it scrapes the ceiling on its arc and falls to the ground.

    Round Six
    The masked hobgoblin runs past the leader. As she does so, the leader splits into two identical warriors! One turns and faces the party, while the other runs after the masked caster. Mathias drops the wall of flame, and Thokk pushes down the tunnel past the cart, ignoring the illusionary warrior guarding the retreat of the other two. He reaches the real captain and strikes at him with his sword. From behind him the others yell, “Don’t kill him, we need him for information, Thokk!” The half orc’s first blow cuts deeply into the captain’s side (17 damage), but when he pulls it free, he elects to bash the hilt into the hobgoblin’s face, knocking him out rather than slaying him (14 damage but elects to have the captain unconscious, stable, and at 0hp).

    Mathias and Doro shoot at the fleeing Iron Shadow (three hits between them, total 21 damage).

    Willa strikes at the remaining troll until it lies dead on the tunnel floor next to the other one (two hits, together 45 damage, total 115; has taken fire damage this turn).

    Babshapka drops his swords on the tunnel floor, switches his hunter’s mark to the fleeing Iron Shadow, and fires off two longbow shots (19 damage with mark).

    Round Seven
    Aurora casts fly on Willa, smacks her on the a**, and says “go get ‘em!”

    Doro and Mathias, not trusting that the trolls are actually dead, fire blasts of force at their fallen bodies.

    The Iron Shadow, having seen the Captain go down, and perhaps having heard the party shout at Thokk that he was needed for questioning, pauses in her flight. She returns up the tunnel just enough to throw four darts at the Captain’s body in an attempt to silence him forever (unconscious is advantage to hit, but prone is disadvantage to hit from ranged attacks, flat rolls results in two hits while he is at zero hp, thus two automatic failed death saves), then uses her shadow jaunt to get ahead of where Thokk can charge in one round (he ends just ten feet from her - and could reach her easily and attack if he wins the next initiative).

    Round Eight
    Aurora races to the Captain’s side and staunches his dart wounds before he can bleed out (successful Medicine check - Captain is stable at 0hp again).

    With Thokk close at her heels, the Iron Shadow turns and moves up the tunnel with preternatural speed, far outpacing his ability to catch her. [Iron Shadow casts Expeditious Retreat as a bonus action, allowing her to Dash on her move, and then takes Dash as her regular action, resulting in a move of 120 feet and ending her turn some 130 feet from Thokk]. Throwing a javelin to her distance would be possible outside, but not in the tunnel with its low ceiling. The party decides to give up the chase and focus on extracting information from the prisoner - Willa might be able to fly down the masked hobgoblin, but it would be a question of whose magic ran out first, and might leave Willa alone hundreds of yards beyond the party. (By both flying and dashing, Willa can also move at 120 feet a round - but the Iron Shadow has both expeditious retreat and shadow jaunt) and none of the others in the party could even come close to keeping up).

    XP: Ballista Squad
    20 hobgoblins (CR1/2) 100 x 20 = 2000
    1 hobgoblin iron shadow (CR2) = 450
    1 hobgoblin captain (CR3) = 700
    2 trolls (CR5) = 1800 x 2 = 3600

    Total 6750 / 6 = 1125 each

    Babshapka 48,341 + 1125 = 49,466 (has enough for 9th level)
    Thokk 46,682 + 1125 = 47,807
    Doro 44,675 + 1125 = 45,800
    Aurora 43,155 + 1125 = 44,280
    Mathias 43,105 + 1125 = 44,230
    Willa 40,612 + 1125 = 41,737]

    Aurora concludes that the Captain will be out for a while, so the party begins to search the bodies, starting with him. Babshapka confirms the suspicions of some of the others that the two brutes were in fact trolls.

    “Don’t trolls regenerate?” asks Aurora, as she prods at one of the troll corpses. It looks quite dead, though.

    5e troll wrote:
    Regeneration. The troll regains 10 hit points at the start of its turn. If the troll takes acid or fire damage, this trait doesn't function at the start of the troll's next turn. The troll dies only if it starts its turn with 0 hit points and doesn't regenerate.

    Aurora checks the other bodies to make sure that they are all dead. “We haven’t fought hobgoblins before, have we?” asks Aurora. “These are hobgoblins, right?”

    Thokk and Babshapka both agree that yes, these are hobgoblins, even the strange masked female that got away and that no, the party has not met them before. Aurora asks for more information on them, and how they might be connected to the giant alliance. As they search the bodies, and over the next hour, Thokk and Babshapka relate the following:

    Hobgoblins organize themselves into militant tribal bands known as legions. In their martial society, every hobgoblin has a rank, from the powerful leaders and champions, to the rank-and-file foot soldiers. Every individual’s worth is tied to its contribution to the war effort. They measure virtue by physical strength and martial prowess, caring about nothing except the opportunity to demonstrate skill and cunning in battle. They do not raid or fight for the lusty thrill of battle, as orcs do, but engage only in deliberate and calculated operations designed to succeed. As long as they can achieve a tactical victory, they are not afraid to suffer individual losses, however. Hobgoblins don’t fear death, believing that when they die in battle, their spirits join the honored ranks of Maglubiyet’s army on the plane of Acheron. Maglubiyet is the Mighty One, the greater god of goblinoids and a terrifying figure.

    Hobgoblins of high military rank attain their positions by force, then hold those positions by imposing their authority through draconian measures. A legion is headed by a warlord with several captains serving under their command. A hobgoblin warlord is a ruthless tyrant more interested in strategy, victory, glory, reputation, and dominion than in personally leading troops into battle. These leaders avoid combat - but not because they fear battle, rather because they are aware that their own tactical abilities and experience are a rare resource for the legion and not to be wasted through unnecessary risk. There is one thing that will make any hobgoblin set aside its orders or plans, though, and that is the chance to kill an elf. A hobgoblin who has slain an elf at any point in its lifetime is accorded higher status after death by Maglubiyet, and doing so is seen as a divine mandate surpassing even their duty to the legion.

    When the party begins to discuss what information they want from the officer and how they will get him to talk, Babshapka shakes his head at their plans. As he strips the hobgoblin’s armor, he shows them how the body is covered in old scars. Public torture is considered highly instructive in the legion, and only one who was able to resist it well would be afforded a command such as this officer had - ceremonial torture is one prerequisite for promotion. Babshapka doubts that there is anything the party could do to the officer physically that he would not be more than prepared to resist. “But that’s why you specialized in the school of Enchantment,” Babshapka says wryly to Aurora, “so as to have access to spells that can charm secrets from the minds of the wary.” He knows full well that she does not, in fact, have any such spells, despite being nominally an enchantress.

    Willa tells the party to make sure to look for water on the bodies. It is now mid-afternoon and it will be at least a three-hour walk back to the fissure, a long climb up, and from there at least an hour more back to the canyon. None of them have had anything to drink since morning. The hobgoblins are found to have canteens made from dried gourds, but most are now cracked open and burnt from the wall of fire. If they weren’t empty before, they are now (Luck roll 0). Between four of the hobgoblins that were outside the effects of the wall, the party manages to collect a full day’s worth of water for one person - Willa says they will save this for whomever needs it [Babshapka is using his stone. Everyone else will need to make a Con save before returning to the surface for having gone more than half a day without water, with failure indicating they gain a level of exhaustion]. The hobgoblin leader is searched separately - he does not carry a canteen (Luck roll -2).

    The captain has half-plate armor, a great sword, and javelins. The four non-burned regular hobgoblins have chain armor, shields, longbows, and arrows. Babshapka collects forty of the well-made arrows for himself.

    From the burned hobgoblins, only their chain armor is salvageable. Everything else, including the leather straps on their shields, has been badly damaged by the fire. Under Thokk’s direction, they pick through the bodies until they find the seven least-damaged sets of chain (and Doro uses mending on these as necessary), with eight being the number of troops in Thokk’s army he intends to equip with chain and half-plate.

    Thokk dumps the metal ballista unceremoniously from the cart, turns the cart around, and wheels it back to the front of the group, pushing bodies out of the way as necessary. Once it is in position, he loads the cart with the captain’s half plate, seven sets of chain, the greatsword, javelins, four shields, four longswords, four longbows, and all the arrows Babshapka didn’t want. He removes the chains from the front of the cart - he will not pull it like a slave, but rather push it from behind.

    Willa says that the captain needs to be tied up before he comes to - but all of their rope is back at the Fjell. Thokk removes the thick ballista cord from the metal arc and binds the stripped hobgoblin’s hands and feet.

    “So, if we are not ‘making’ him talk, what is the interrogation plan?” asks Mathias.

    “We could torture him to death and he still wouldn’t tell us anything he didn’t want to,” repeats Babshapka. “So we have to make him think that what he is telling us will ultimately benefit his legion. We have to make him want to talk to us.”

    “We could tell him we are going to find and destroy the rest of his legion unless he tells us who he is working for,” suggests Aurora. Babshapka nods, agreeing that might work.

    “But we don’t know where he is from unless he tells us. That’s not a very credible threat,” objects Mathias. “If we sound like we are just fishing with vague threats, he will laugh at us.”

    “We can tell him that the other hobgoblins told us,” says Aurora. “We already know where it is. We just need a reason not to go there, by him providing us another target.”

    Mathias shakes his head. “He saw them all die, and they have been trained to withstand torture as well, according to Babshapka. He still won’t believe us.”

    “He saw the monk-lady get away,” says Aurora. “We tell, we show him that she told us. I can make a silent image and Babshapka can imitate her voice, like with Nosnra…”

    “NO!” interjects Mathias. “Look, we’ve been through this. Any time you are trying to deceive someone, you say as little as possible, remember, ‘monk named Shefak who people call Willow’? Each thing you say, especially the things you make up, is just another chance for them to catch on. And this guy has to be smarter than Nosnra. We have no idea what the monk’s voice sounds like, but he does. You can use the silent image idea if you think you got a good look at her, but she doesn’t talk. And you don’t just make s*** up. He’ll know.”

    After a few more iterations, it is decided that Aurora will create a silent image of the masked hobgoblin, bound and gagged nearby, and the party will tell the captain that if he does not answer their questions, the monk has already given up the location of his legion, so they will be going there to kill everyone and then ask them the same questions. When they are ready, they discuss how to wake him up [on his own, an unconscious but stable creature will regain 1hp and consciousness in d4 hours]. Aurora asks if Babshapka can use a goodberry, but the elf says he cannot. As a ranger, he needs material components for all his spells (an arcane focus like a wand won’t do), and while he picked plenty of blueberries two days ago expressly for that purpose, they are all back at the Fjell. If he had the spell, he would have cast it already to relieve them of their thirst. He does have cure wounds though; there is no material component for that.

    It is decided that having the captain regain a little more health than strictly necessary for conversation is preferable to waiting several more hours. Before Babshapka can cast cure wounds, though, Aurora begins a ritual of comprehend languages. As Babshapka moves in with his spell, Doro hard casts comprehend languages as well.

    Once Aurora is ready, she casts a silent image of the masked hobgoblin, bound and gagged, on the other side of the tunnel and up a bit from the captain. Willa stands between them to block his direct view and looks intimidating to support Babshapka. Thokk also looks intimidating, and stands close by on the other side.

    Babshapka lays his hand on the captain, imparting his spell (now at 1/3), and then backs up a step. The burly hobgoblin groans, eyes closed, but immediately begins testing his restraints. Only when he is sure that he cannot immediately get out of them do his eyes open. They swim a bit and finally focus on Babshapka, then his face twists in a scowl. Mathias flicks on his translator.

    “What are you doing down here?” Babshapka demands in Hobgoblin.
    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 31, 2023 9:56 am  
    Post 297: Oh Captain! My Captain!

    Post 297: Oh Captain! My Captain!

    18 April [23 Planting] - Under the Fjell
    (low 68, high 90 - Drizzle 10am - 3pm)

    The captain’s face betrays only momentary shock at hearing his own language coming from his captor. Then his face sets and he spits back “I curse the hobgoblin that taught an elf our tongue.”

    “That hobgoblin was your mother,” Babshapka replies easily, “in gratitude for my many nights with her. Where do these tunnels go?”

    The hobgoblin strains against his bindings again and then works to go from prostrate on the ground to sitting, legs bent beneath him. Babshapka waits until he has accommodated himself, and then says louder, “Where do these tunnels GO?”

    The hobgoblin springs up, trying to use his height to head-butt Babshapka as he falls down, but the elf steps lightly out of the way and the captain crashes to the tunnel floor, still restrained. He releases a string of vulgarities and curses at Babshapka.

    Not letting him up this time, Babshapka moves to the hobgoblin’s side, kneeling on his shoulder to pin him to the ground. “Who are you working for?”

    The hobgoblin just glowers silently back at Babshapka. The elf stands, relieving the pressure on his back. Looming over him, he says disappointedly, “You leave us no choice, then. My allies and I will attack the rest of your legion in its lair and eliminate it. Perhaps the last few women and children will answer our questions, if they even know the answers.”

    From the ground, the hobgoblin laughs dryly. “That’s an idle threat, flower blood (1). You have no idea where my glorious legion is encamped.”

    “Don’t we now?” replies Babshapka coldly. He nods at Willa, who steps out of the way, so that even on the ground the captain has a clear line of sight on the masked hobgoblin. Aurora wiggles a finger, and the illusory Iron Shadow nods morosely.

    “You told them?” shouts the hobgoblin. The masked monk’s shoulders slump and she looks even more dejected. “YOU MOTHERLESS DAUGHTER OF A WHORE!” he explodes. The captain rolls and crawls, inchworm style, trying desperately to reach the masked hobgoblin. Willa steps between them again and kicks the captain back.

    “Last chance,” offers Babshapka. “Answer my questions or we go to your legion and wipe out every last one of them. Your legion will simply cease to exist. There won't even be any survivors left to flee and join another legion as slaves.”

    The captain curses and hollers, rolling and throwing himself about the tunnel floor. As he turns, his eyes fall upon Thokk, standing silently with the Keeper’s axe resting between his legs. He stops screaming, just panting heavily for a moment as he tries to work out the implications. Then he speaks, but in Orc! “Rutter,” (2) he says with a mix of resignation and hope, “if I answer your questions, will you see that this flower blood doesn’t go after my legion...and will you kill me in battle?”

    It takes Thokk a moment to understand that the question is directed at him, and then a moment more to realize that most of the others did not understand it since it was spoken in Orc. “If you answer our questions, will we spare your legion, and kill you in battle?” he repeats in Common, trying to sound like he is pondering the question to himself when he is actually letting the others know what was offered. From her position behind the hobgoblin and out of his sight, Willa nods the affirmative at Thokk.

    Mathias sends Thokk a message; Tell him yes, but get him to keep speaking in hobgoblin. Thokk frowns at this. How is he to get him to speak in hobgoblin, when Thokk doesn’t speak it?

    “Conquered one,” Thokk begins, using his best Goblin and figuring the Hobgoblin tongue must be similar enough for the prisoner to understand, since Thokk was able to catch a few words from the Captain’s talk with Babshapka, “if you will answer the questions my warband puts to you, I will see that they don’t destroy your legion, and when I kill you myself, you will have a weapon in your hand.”

    The hobgoblin’s eyes widen when Thokk claims that the others are his warband - he had mistaken the burly half-orc for a common mercenary. He takes a moment to collect his thoughts and he works himself back into a kneeling position. Babshapka stands close by but doesn’t interfere. Finally the captain says in Hobgoblin, “Swear it. Swear it by the One-Eyed Tyrant! Swear that you will not let them attack my legion, that you will kill me in battle...and that you will make sure that she dies, but not in battle. The weak, traitorous b**** will never come to the halls of Maglubiyet.”

    Thokk lays down his axe and his shield on the tunnel floor and holds his open hands upward, daring the Orc god to strike him down. This oath requires him to speak in Orc, regardless of what the funny gaunt man wants. “I, Thokk of the Crystalmists, swear before Gruumsh All-Father, that if this conquered one speaks his answers true to the questions my warband puts to him, then I will see that his legion is spared the wrath of my warband, that he will die by my hand in honorable combat, and that that one (pointing at the image of the monk) does not die in battle. May the All-Father turn from me if I do not, and may White Hands himself drag me off to the halls of Those Who Do Not Speak.”

    Aurora and Doro, who comprehend what Thokk is saying thanks to their active spells, look on in stunned silence. Even the rest of the party, who do not understand the words, know that Thokk has just uttered a powerful religious oath.

    The captain grins wickedly, as if somehow he had just outmaneuvered Thokk in a battle of wits. “As to that one, first she will witness my death, and know that I go to the Mighty One’s side having served my legion well. Then you will cut her tongue out, so that she may no more betray her own people with her words. Then you will break her back and her arms and leave her here on the tunnel floor, surrounded by the honored dead, but herself undying. You will leave her there useless and unable to move, so that she slowly succumbs to thirst and cold and dies covered in her own piss.”

    By all the gods whispers Babshapka to himself, horror-struck at what this hobgoblin wishes upon his own legion-mate. What would he do to them if their positions were reversed?

    Thokk nods impatiently. “It is time for questions,” he says in Goblin. “I have sworn.”

    “Let the flower blood ask,” the captain says with satisfaction.

    “Where do these tunnels go?” demands Babshapka again in Hobgoblin.

    “Forward is the depository where we store the siege equipment for the war with the humans. Back is the dwarven city from which we take slaves to dig and haul.”

    “How far from here are the siege engines?”

    “Four days’ march.”

    “Who do you work for?”

    “I serve the Cheek Reapers Legion as a Captain. Now, orc, give me what you swore to. Let me fight you.”

    Keep him talking Mathias messages Thokk. Draw this out.

    “How many days is your unit supposed to be gone?” asks Babshapka.

    The captain answers without turning his head to acknowledge the elf. He keeps his eyes locked on Thokk. “It is five full marches from the dwarven city to the repository with an engine, and five marches back to pick up the next one. Fight me.”

    Thokk takes over the questioning, stammering in Goblin, “Who is behind the war on the humans? Who is leading this all?”

    “Does your oath mean nothing to you, Rutter? I don’t know who is behind this. The warlord of my legion made a deal with the fire giants. Fight me!”

    “What do you fight for?” asks Thokk. “Do the giants pay you…?”

    The hobgoblin spits. “Pay? Money is for the weak, those who fear battle. The soldiers of Maglubiyet are not paid in coin. We serve the giants for the chance to kill humans.” With considerable effort he rises to his feet and stands, carefully balanced though still bound hand and foot. “Now fight me, or are you a flowers-for-blood as well?”

    At this insult, Thokk waves off Mathias’ messages like an annoying fly. He strides over to the captain, shoving Babshapka roughly out of the way and then pushing the captain so that he topples to the ground again on his back, but then immediately flips him over face down, kneels and draws forth a knife, and cuts the cords on both his hands and feet. Sheathing his knife, Thokk then stands and turns his back on the freed hobgoblin. To everyone’s surprise but Thokk’s, the captain does not immediately spring at him from behind, but instead begins massaging the blood back into his arms and legs. Thokk walks over to the cart, picks out the captain’s greatsword, returns and tosses it next to him on the ground, then moves to the opposite side of the tunnel.

    Keep him talking! Mathias messages again.

    “We will begin the combat,” says Thokk in Goblin while grinning, “with a contest of insults.” He starts limbering up for battle, stretching as he tosses casual affronts to the honor, bravery, and parentage of the captain (Performance 5).

    The hobgoblin ignores Thokk’s taunts and refuses to reply in kind. He begins swinging his weapon as he starts singing his death-song to Maglubiyet. At least the song is in Hobgoblin, thinks Mathias, as he keeps the screened dish of the translator pointed at the captain.

    When the captain reaches the last bar of his song, he lunges suddenly at Thokk and the half-orc brings up his shield to block. Over and over he strikes, and Thokk keeps his shield between himself and the captain, only occasionally responding with a lazy axe blow that is easily avoided [Thokk repeatedly takes the dodge action]. All the while, Thokk is attempting to engage him in conversation and the captain is hurling increasingly wild, frustrated, and incoherent threats at Thokk.

    This is ridiculous, whispers Babshapka to Willa.

    “Stop taunting me, Rutter! Kill me now!” screams the captain in Hobgoblin.

    “Ping!” goes the translation device cheerfully, signifying that it has processed the Hobgoblin language and added it to its memory banks. The captain turns his head to gauge the source of the strange noise but raises his sword to block anything Thokk might throw in the fraction of a second he looks away. As he scans in that direction, the silent image of the Iron Shadow fades from view, its ten-minute duration expired.

    The captain whips around to face Thokk with a look of betrayal on his face. “WHAT THE…” he demands, as Thokk’s axe comes down overhand, crashes through his blocking guard, and sinks into his chest. The captain falls to the tunnel floor, the rest of his words drowned in gurgles as blood fills his lungs. He is unconscious long before he gets his final question out, and dead soon after.

    “Har, har,” says Thokk. “Mathias’ stick goes ping! We go now?” He takes the greatsword from the captain’s dead grasp and loads it back into the cart.

    Babshapka gets his stone back out and the party begins the long walk back. Another three hours makes it early evening.

    [DC15 Con save for everyone but Babshapka; they have gone half a day without water. Aurora and Willa would fail; they split the single day’s worth of water recovered from the hobgoblins and do not add a level of exhaustion. Mathias is still at two levels from before.]

    The fissure is as they left it. Tired and thirsty, they contemplate the ascent to come. It will be at least a half-hour climb, nearly straight up, all upper-body work. Lots of places that were controlled slides down before will now be chimneying up. [The DM informs the party that they will need to make Athletics checks or gain one level of exhaustion from the climb.] Aurora gives Thokk a fly spell. He chortles and loads himself up with three chain shirts. Mathias gives both himself and Doro a fly; they carry shirts and javelins. All of the armor and javelins are carried out - the rest of the gear in the cart is left in place. With the spells, all of the armor makes it to the surface. Aurora takes an hour to ascend by hand and makes it only with Babshapka’s help [and the acquisition of a level of exhaustion]. It is well after dark by the time they are all in Garuuuuumk’s cave and begin the long walk back down to the canyon.

    The orcs greet Thokk noisily when he returns - they have long since had their dinner, supplied by the giants. Someone must have been watching for the party’s return, for it is not long after they arrive that they are brought a very late, cold supper. Mathias asks for weed, but the giant serving youths just exchange blank looks at his request.

    After the youths have cleared the dinnerware and returned to their homes for the evening, the High Priest appears at the doorway, and asks to be updated. The party tells him what they found, which he finds intriguing, but less than helpful for resolving the mystery of who or what corrupted Garuuuuumk. He grants Mathias another Greater Restoration [exhaustion down to a single level] and asks Babshapka to return with him to the Temple. Babshapka tells Aurora not to leave the chamber and follows the priest off into the night.

    Babshapka and the priest walk back through the welter of pillars that surrounds the Temple mount. In the light of twin crescent moons, far softer than the sun, their rock faces appear not so angular, but smoother. More than one of the pillars appears to be a frozen giant out of the corner of Babshapka’s eye, though when he turns, he sees only stone columns. They pass through the massive entry arch into a huge colonnaded hall. Most of it lies in darkness but where the moonlight passes through a window and falls on a wall the intricate carving and inlay work is apparent. The priest leads Babshapka through a series of chambers into a one dominated by a huge granite statue of a giant, standing on a square pedestal. The giant appears stoic, in a pose that suggests perseverance.

    “Elf,” says the priest, “you know our language and much of our culture, besides. Do you know who that is?”

    “Skoraeus?” suggests Babshapka.

    “Yes, Skoraeus Stonebones, seen here in his aspect of He-Who-Endures. One of the things Skoraeus teaches us is how to withstand the violent forces of the world without losing our true selves. Walk around Him - tell me what you see.”

    As Babshapka circles the statue, he can read the Giant runes, one on each of the four sides, signifying the four elements. He circles again, more slowly - and sees that the statue appears different from each direction. Is it a trick of the light, cunning craftsmanship, divine magic?

    From the fire side the granite takes on the faintest reddish hue - the outline is hazy, as if seen through flame, and a single drop of sweat is on Skoraeus’ brow. When Babshapka reports this, the priest replies “Skoraeus teaches us to resist the flames of anger”.

    From the earth side the granite appears dull gray - the form is compressed, as if weighted down, and Skoraeus is slightly bent. “Skoraeus teaches us to endure the heavy burden of duty,” the priest says.

    From the water side the granite takes on the faintest bluish hue - the outline is indistinct, as if seen through water, and Skoraeus’ piercing eyes are less intense. “Skoraeus teaches us to resist the dissolution of complacency,” the priest says.

    From the air side the granite appears hard, bright gray - the posture is erect, almost leaning too far back. “Skoraeus teaches us to withstand the cold of indifference,” the priest says.

    Feeling that he ought to say something, Babshapka finally offers, “Your people are nothing like mine, and yet I find much of value here in the Fjell.”

    The priest bows his head and offers a silent prayer. “I had hoped you would. Elf, you go off to stop the Frost Giants, and on behalf of all my kin I ask you, in respect for what you have learned here, to spare those you can. That you will need to slay some we know, and it cannot be avoided. But I ask you to consider when it is necessary, and when it is not, and to keep your companions thinking on the difference.”

    Babshapka pauses. Is the priest expecting an oath like that given by Thokk? Finally he says simply, “I will try.”

    The priest nods gravely as if accepting a heavy response. “In recognition of your aid,” he says, “there is something I wish to teach you, Babshapka Giantslayer. It may help you and your companions on that frozen glacier or in the court of the Jarl.”

    The priest teaches Babshapka the Protection from Energy spell.

    In the meantime, while Babshapka is gone, Willa, Aurora, and Mathias confer. Having learned from the hobgoblin captain that one end of the tunnel goes to the siege weapon repository, and the other to the enslaved city, they consider who needs to know this information. Of course they should report to the Countess, but Willa also insists that the dwarves they freed from the Steading should know, too - in case they were planning on returning. To some extent, protecting them is altruistic, but Willa also makes it clear that should the party decide to investigate the city themselves, having dwarven guides with them might be very helpful.

    After they work out the wording, Aurora sends to the warrior leader of the dwarves:

    Warning -
    we have uncovered reliable intelligence that the city of Num-Theraz has fallen
    and its citizens are enslaved.
    Do not approach at present.
    -Your rescuers.

    In return, she immediately receives:

    Kinsfolk and I are safe in the Sterish Fort Stirrup for time being. If you would like a guide to Num-Theraz, look for me there.

    Once she has recounted this to those present and it has been discussed, Aurora sends to the Countess:

    Fire giants have hobgoblin minions, tunneling and hauling siege weapons to unknown location.
    One tunnel ends at Num-Theraz; fallen and enslaved. Stone giants potentially neutral.

    The reply is:

    Well done with Stone Giants. Frost Giants attacking throughout Sterich.
    Your decision, as to whether to discover location of siege equipment or stop Frost Giants.

    Now they debate - should they find this repository, liberate Num-Theraz, seek out the giants marauding through the countryside, or use the chain to jump immediately to the glacier? Recalling the ‘Ord’ning’ as described to them by the Thane, individual Frost Giants will be more powerful than Hill or Stone Giants, although not as powerful as Fire Giants. Still, they have fought Stone and Fire Giants so far only one or two at a time; any sizable lair of Frost Giants is a serious undertaking indeed. More than one of them favors cutting their teeth on a few isolated Frost Giants before they take on all the guards of the Jarl at once. Mathias, in particular, says that more time before they ‘jump’ means more of a chance that the Countess will be able to find some helpful magic items for them as well. Aurora decides that she will send again, trying to get the location of the Frost Giants in Sterich so that the party can get some practical experience with them. At the moment, however, she is out of higher-level spells. She decides to rest after dinner, use her arcane recovery, and try to get off one more sending before she turns in for the night.

    Aurora has not yet finished her rest when the High Priest returns Babshapka to the guest chamber. Aurora immediately asks the priest for them to meet with the Thane, tonight if possible, adding that they would like to discuss what they found underneath the cave. The priest says that the Thane does wish to hear their report, but as part of formally bidding them safe travels on their departure from the Fjell, now that the funerary games have concluded.

    A bit miffed at not being able to see the Thane yet, Aurora continues to work on the wording of the second sending to the Countess. When it is ready, and she has restored her power, she communicates:

    We will fight Frost Giants next.
    Where is the best location to help, close to the Stone Giants?
    Have you any message for the Thane?

    The response is:

    Tell Thane the Earl grateful for neutrality; we will work to protect both our peoples.
    Does distance to Jarl matter? You still have
    chain, correct?

    At this there is some consternation - apparently the Countess has confused their intent of attacking the Frost Giants that are even now raiding Sterich with their long-term plans for bearding the Jarl in his own court. Willa suggests that, in far-off Istivin, she may not be able to give them accurate details on where the Giants are currently in the Highlands - or perhaps, like they did at Fort Iron Axe, they raid and are gone the next day such that any intelligence she has on their whereabouts is already cold. Griffage might be a better source for recent and actionable information. But in any event, Aurora won’t be able to send again until the morrow.

    Before they bed down Doro uses her remaining spells to ensure that all of the party are at full health.

    DM Notes:
    (1) "Flower-blood" is a general humanoid term for elves, and is strongly insulting. It sounds worse in Hobgoblin.

    (2) "Rutter" is a mildly insulting hobgoblin term for orcs. It has to do with the hobgoblin disdain for how orcs mate indiscriminately rather than following the directives of their Legion's Breeding Officer. As such, any hobgoblin saying it likely intends it to be more offensive than an orc hearing it would actually take it.
    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 07, 2023 10:46 am  
    Post 298: From the Fjell to Num-Theraz

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Nosnra sets out with war party. Party takes the Steading.
    8 April: Attack on Headwater. Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Party arrives in Headwater
    10 April: Skirmish at Fort Grenvu. Bickering in occupied Headwater, Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    11 April: Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    12 April Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within the city.
    13 April Sack of Fort Grenvu. Kerri probes and skirmishes to look for weaknesses among enemies occupying the city.
    14 April Sterish forces break siege, retake east bank of Headwater. The enemy are scattered.
    16 April Party at the Fjell. Skirmish at Fort Saddle
    17 April Troubles roll 1
    18 April Troubles roll 2 - 1 = 1
    19 April Troubles roll 0 - 2 = = -2 (Raid). Raid on Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)

    Post 298: From the Fjell to Num-Theraz
    19 April [24 Planting] - The Fjell
    (low 68, high 86, light rain from 4am-10am)
    Humanoid raid on supply caravan to Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)

    After preparing her spells, Aurora uses her brazier and summoning materials to return Hedwig to her. The spirit-now-in-the-shape-of-an-owl confirms that he was noted and slain by the masked hobgoblin as he scouted the tunnel ahead of the party.

    In the morning most of the party readies to meet the Thane again. Thokk, however, remains behind. He will be seeing to the distribution of the armor and javelins among his Army, and after that, to their equipping. Willa has told him that the party is dangerously low on food, and that if he wants the orcs to continue to travel with them, he will need to feed them himself. Once his Army is equipped to his satisfaction, he wanders among the giant caves offering the residents gold for whatever fresh but easily transportable food that they have. He comes away with early spring berries, slabs of mutton, and great wheels of cheese.

    [45 personal gold removed from Aurora’s sheet, 11 from Thokk, total 56 to purchase 56 fresh rations, one week’s worth of food for eight orcs.]

    The party approaches the Temple Mount in a light rain that has been falling since before dawn. At the main entrance, they follow the steep path to the side that leads to the Throne Room of the Thane.

    First, the party debriefs the Thane on what they found below, and then there are clarifying questions.

    “The involvement of the hobgoblins is troubling...but could hardly be responsible for the corruption of Garuuuuumk.”

    “No, but recall that we did find a hair that we believe belongs to a subterranean race as well as a hand and boot print. We suspect the involvement of drow.”

    This gives the Thane pause, and it is some time before he answers. “Yes, the dark elves serve dark masters. It is possible that Garuuuuumk’s hatred of humanity could have been perverted by some such power.”

    “The hobgoblin we interrogated said that one end of the tunnel was the Dwarven city of Num-Theraz, that it had fallen and its dwarves were enslaved by the Fire Giants. The other end of the tunnel he said was a repository of siege weapons.”

    “Yes,” agrees the Thane. “The humans of Sterich cannot resist my kin in the open field, but behind great walls of their own...they stand a chance, as you saw in the city of Headwater. If the Giant Alliance seeks to overcome the great human cities of Sterich...they will need siege weapons - trebuchets, rams, ballistae, and such. To the Fire Giants, Annam All-Father gave the love of creation, much as he did us...but rather than work in stone they prefer metal, and rather than creating things of great beauty as we do, they desire only utility. For some of them this is expressed in machines of war. Their technology in that regard...equals or even surpasses that of humans.”

    Mathias takes note of this but continues. “The tunnel itself is very smooth and uniform, well-made and unvarying. Do you know what might have created it?”

    “Xorn, purple worms…”

    “Elementals?” asks Mathias.

    “Yes, elementals, greater elementals. It is rumored that some of the underoerth races, such as the dark elves, even worship the evil Elemental Princes. If the Fire Giants, or worse the dark elves, had a captive earth elemental...that would be a grave danger to the Fjell and my people.”

    “Captive, you say?”

    “Yes, the elementals are spirits of nature, neutral in outlook. They would not willingly involve themselves in such affairs in our world. But if one were captive, it could be dominated into...serving those ends against its simple desire to return to its home.”

    “How might one free a captive earth elemental?

    Here the Thane turns to his High Priest, and the two converse briefly in Giant. Then the Thane turns back to Mathias. “For your kind, the spells Banishment and Dispel Outsider would serve.”

    Dispel Outsider? I think you mean ‘Dispel Evil and Good”, interjects Aurora.

    “But he just said elementals are neutral,” objects Mathias.

    Now the priest speaks in Common. “I do not doubt it is called that in your human tongue. Yours is a strange language that often does not say what it means. The spell you call Chill Touch is not a touch spell, nor does it do cold damage. You have a most peculiar…”

    The Thane holds up his hand, and the High Priest ceases his critique of humans.

    Mathias talks smoothly, putting the possible insult behind them, unperturbed. “We have heard there have been more Frost Giant attacks on Sterich?”

    “Yes, our Frost Giant Kin move quickly through the mountains...all around the valley of the Sterishmen. At about the time you arrived in the Fjell, they overwhelmed a human fort in the Jotens, above Istivin...much as they did Iron Axe. There surely have been more attacks of which I am not aware. They will continue to look for weakness and...opportunity. These attacks will continue...until you can convince Jarl Grugnur to call for their end.”

    “Do you think you could tell us which direction the tunnels go? I mean, obviously you can’t fit down there, but perhaps one of your Dreamwalkers?”

    Again the Thane and priest confer in Giant. “If you are sure that there are no dark elves there now, and it is safe, one of our Dreamwalkers would be able to feel out the tunnels for you, yes.”

    Mathias nods. “That would be of great assistance as we make our decision on where to go next. Even if we do go further into one of the tunnels, though, there is still the other one. You would do well to post some sort of guard on them.”

    The Thane reflects soberly. “A guard would be wise, but a guard that attracted the interest of others of my people, of the curious and weak-willed, potential prey for the dark elves, would be foolish. Perhaps there is a shaman who can monitor the situation discreetly?”

    The High Priest agrees. “I have some candidates in mind, Your Sagacity. There is one who might watch the cave for us without attracting attention, and tell our guests of the tunnels.”

    “Let us call them to service then. And for yourselves, how will you be departing the Fjell?” asks the Thane.

    Mathias admits that is something that is still under discussion. Indeed, the party spent last night and this morning talking through the possibilities: (1) Traveling to Num-Theraz overland, and if so, (2) do they want dwarven guides? (3) Traveling to Num-Theraz through the strange tunnel - in which case dwarves would likely know as little as they do. (4) Stocking up on rations from the giants, and setting out to the repository instead - which the hobgoblins said would take at least four days through the Tunnel. (5) Trying to locate Frost Giant marauders above ground, back toward Headwater or farther north.

    To give context to their discussion, Mathias politely asks the Thane how far it is to the dwarven city, and learns that it would be two days or more overland. The tunnel, if it lies straight through the mountain, would likely be much faster.

    After more discussion, Aurora suggests trying to check in with Kerri for the location of Frost Giant raiders. After some wordsmithing, she eventually sends:

    Currently at the Stone Giants - diplomacy yielding results. Any raiding Frost Giants located between us? Have any items arrived from Istivin - descriptions? Situation in Headwater?

    Kerri’s reply is welcome news for the party:

    Headwater completely retaken - enemy routed. Frost Giant attacks common, elusive - forces chasing them, unable to corner. More raids to north. Arrived: potion, bag, wall, chest.

    This is helpful information. If Kerri’s mounted forces are not swift enough to bring to bear on the marauding giants, for the party to try to chase them down on foot would be a fool’s errand. And if there are some items already in Headwater, perhaps the Countess will be able to send more before they use the chain. It does not take long for the party to conclude that they should investigate Num-Theraz first, facing more hobgoblins and perhaps a Fire Giant or two as a warm-up to using the chain.

    Willa reminds the party of the various potions she asked for, and Aurora deduces that the Wall of Stone and Leomund’s Secret Chest spells she requested are now available. But they are both stumped at the reference to a ‘bag’. Mathias informs them that he asked Kerri in private for a Bag of Holding and they are amazed that one has been offered! Such a powerful magic item would be pricey, surely more than any one of their shares of the treasure they left in Headwater, but Aurora admits that it would serve even better than the spell (secret chest) she had asked for. She immediately says that they could use party money for it, use it in common, and simply reduce the amount of money they have to distribute. Mathias counters that he could get it himself and charge them rent for the space within it. The others are not sure whether he is being serious or not, although he claims he is. “The important thing, though, whatever we do, is that we use it to be free of those damn mules,” he says, and Willa immediately takes offense.

    The Thane’s patience with his strange guests has apparently worn thin. He reminds them that if they are to be using the tunnels, they should be setting out soon. The High Priest says that either he, or a shaman, or both will meet them at Garuuuuumk’s cave, and the party returns to the guest chamber. Willa goes through the mule packs one more time, handing off items to various people to put in their own packs, until what remains will be left behind, entrusted to the giants:

    2 bits, bridles, and pack saddles
    2 laser pistols, 6 needlers, and a paralyzation pistol (the party brings all their grenades and power discs)
    1 unidentified alien weapon
    50 feet of silk rope and a hammer
    10 flasks of oil, 10 torches, 10 pounds of mineral coal, and two tinderboxes
    4 of Aurora’s heavy books as well as a blank one, quills, and inks
    The pavilion tent and everyone’s bedroll but Babshapka
    Thokk’s hunting trap and wolf-fur blanket
    Mathias’ set of fine clothes
    Willa’s set of navigator’s tools
    Willa’s magic mace and potion of water breathing
    4 packets of creamy porridge alien rations

    The amount of gear they are still carrying, even after leaving everything above behind, is impressive, and now it will be without the benefit of the mule.
    However, once it is all distributed among Thokk’s Army, none of them are encumbered. With the orc baggage train they set out for Garuuuuumk’s cave in the gentle spring rain.

    They are met there by the High Priest and a giantess matron who the priest introduces as a shaman, dreamwalker, and discreet besides. She does not speak. The priest says that she has already explored the tunnels with her spirit - one heads west, in the direction of the dwarven city. The other is directed to the northeast, and descends.

    Willa thanks the priest for taking care of their things and Dandy.

    The priest tells Babshapka to think on what they spoke of the night before.

    The party enters the cave.

    Now with ropes, it is a bit faster and much more secure descent to the tunnel below [no athletics checks to descend]. The cart is where they had left it at the base of the shaft up - Thokk has his army pick through the remaining weapons. There are no fresh tracks around it.

    They set out along the other tunnel. Hedwig flies about half a mile in advance of the party, with Aurora returning her to receive reports at regular intervals. It is late enough in the morning that they need only march for a few hours before everyone is ready for a midday break and meal. Thokk remarks that the long, level path is actually gradually sloping down.

    As they eat, Babshapka tells the others of his conversation with the priest. It is worth thinking about, he says, which giants they need to kill and which they don’t. Thokk laughs once he understands the question. “We kill giants who fight us,” he says, “don’t chase ones who run away. That their choice and easy decision.”

    “We did let the women and children go from the Steading, once they surrendered,” agrees Aurora. “But if they have things we can use, they can turn them over, alive or dead. As Thokk says, that is their decision, not ours.”

    “Aye tek no joy in ther slaughter o’ bairns,” says Willa, “bu’ ther giants don’ seem ter agree, an would jess as soon kill ‘uman babes an’ eat t’em besides. Now, we larned t’at all gigants nay be ther same, an’ yon Stone Gigants be a whole ‘tother kettle o’ fish. Bu’ one way or atother, we need ter be convincin’ ther Jarl ter surrender as well. An’ wha’ever it takes ter make t’at ‘appen, is what we be doin’.”

    Doro keeps her thoughts to herself, as usual. But it is Mathias’ contribution to the discussion that is the more surprising. “These giants are just a distraction,” he says. “The attacks on Sterich won’t stop until we can confront who is actually behind them.”

    “The drow?” asks Aurora.

    Mathias shrugs. “The spider people. We are going after the Frost Giants, hopefully soon, because they are our best lead. But once we find out who is next up the ladder, any more time we spend on the glacier is time wasted, time we could be actually going after the source of all this. I’m not going to be going around blasting women and children, or even fighting males for that matter, as soon as we have a better lead.”

    After their brief rest they resume their march and have gone for another five hours or so without any change in the monotonous tunnel. Babshapka and Mathias are in the van, scouting ahead but within range of Aurora’s message. Mathias is practicing his Hobgoblin with Babshapka, focusing on curses, when they receive a message telling them to pause while Aurora hears Hedwig’s report.

    The owl spirit says up ahead the tunnel splits, with the main line continuing on directly, but a side branch turning off to the left. Aurora sends the owl back, telling him to check down each of the two tunnels in the time it takes the rest of the party to close the half-mile to the intersection. When they arrive ten minutes later he relays that both ways are deserted as far as he could observe.

    When the party finally arrives, Babshapka keeps them well back for nearly twenty minutes while he checks the hard stone floor for anything resembling tracks. The continuation of the tunnel is the same, uniform size - but the side branch is both wider and higher than what they have spent most of the day traveling. In that wider track most of the prints are of trolls, and some of carts. To the northwest are the bootprints of dwarves. All three types can be found in the tunnel from which they are arriving.

    Once Babshapka has learned as much as he can, the party advances to the intersection and Hedwig is sent on ahead. He has not even gone a quarter mile when he sees the red light of the tunnel mouth emerging into the surface, or perhaps a lit chamber. Outlined against it is a human-sized figure. He returns to the party.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 14, 2023 10:28 am  
    Post 299: At the Gates of the City

    DM's Note on sources: By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. Num-Theraz appears on her maps at 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 original source of Num-Theraz appears to be the Living Greyhawk Journals 2 and 3 (pp.30 in each).

    The description herein of the valley of Num-Theraz is my own invention.

    19 April [24 Planting] - Outside of Num-Theraz
    (low 68, high 86, light rain from 4am-10am)
    Humanoid raid on supply caravan to Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)

    Mathias and Babshapka lead, going as silently as they can, with the rest of the party behind at the range of message. However, just as the figure resolves for those behind, they seem to have been spotted as well - for it moves quickly and silently from the tunnel to outside. By the time they reach the tunnel mouth the figure, whatever it was, is gone. They are looking outside, into the red light of the setting sun in an alpine valley. A broad path leads down from the tunnel mouth to the valley floor. Nearly every rock surface of both mountainsides is carved with the faces of dwarves, male and female, but all much larger than life. Babshapka checks outside the cave for tracks, but the hard rock yields few clues.

    Shielding their eyes against the setting sun, the party can tell that the valley itself is heavily-grazed, with no trees or bushes but just last year’s close-cropped grass and, here and there, green new spring growth coming up. There are no animals in sight, however. At the valley bottom a well-paved road of stone leads toward a cliff face to the north. Thokk sends Phreeeee into the sky to scout the quiet valley from above.

    The party cautiously makes their way down the path into the valley. Thokk’s Army follows close behind. Phreeeee returns to Thokk’s shoulder - nothing larger than a field mouse is stirring in the valley. Both the party and the sun descend. Once they are out of its glare, they see that many of the dwarf-faces on the mountain slopes have open mouths, and these appear to be cave entrances. Well-maintained paths lead to each opening, but the party continues to make for a much larger entrance on the level of the valley floor.

    As they approach the north end of the valley, the road passes between two large, rocky mounds some fifteen or twenty feet high and then heads directly for the cliff face. The main entrance is dark in the gathering dusk, and is flanked by two enormous, full-body statues of dwarves, each larger than any giant.

    Surprise Round
    Just as the party is perfectly between the two mounds the air is filled with the vvvvvvp of arrows. Thokk and Doro suddenly spot arrow slits along the steepest rock faces of the mounds, each cunningly concealed so as to appear to be natural fissures.

    “Dwarves?” wonders Aurora aloud, as an arrow pierces her mage armor and robes.

    “No,” says Mathias, looking at the long, black-feathered shaft protruding from her loose robes. “Dwarves use crossbows. These look the same as the ones the hobgoblins used in the tunnel.” Thokk and Doro both take arrow hits as well.

    Round One
    Babshapka moves rapidly to the left, crouching beside a boulder and now seeing the arrow slits lining both sides of the trail. He points at the nearest ones and shouts, trying to alert the rest of the party.

    “What’s the plan?” yells Aurora, but before anyone can answer she has taken off, running up one of the more gradual slopes to the top of the western mound and diving to the ground for cover.

    Willa takes another arrow hit, and one of Thokk’s orcs does as well. Willa moves to the lower edge of the left mound and falls prone, seeing an arrow slit directly above her and three more nearby.

    “Look for entrances!” bellows Thokk in rage. Four orcs run up the western mound, searching for some way in. Three more go to the east. They find plenty of arrow slits, but no doors. The wounded one retreats back along the road they came in on, leaving the ‘valley of death’ between the two mounds. Thokk moves to the west and looks, himself.

    Mathias pulls a gold coin from a belt pouch, passes his hand over it, and enchants it with darkness. Suddenly he is enveloped in inky blackness. He moves closer to Willa, blocking her from the sight of archers within the far mound but not obstructing her own vision except in that direction.

    Willa slips her pack off her shoulders and pulls out a red grenade. She sets the timer for the smallest delay and moves quickly across the road to the eastern mound. The slit there is just wide enough to receive the grenade and she pushes it through. Two seconds later a red flash and the cries of hobgoblins come from several of the slits (two hobgoblins on fire).

    Round Two
    Babshapka peers through one of the slits closest to Willa. His darkvision is working well in the gathering dusk. There is a small, perhaps 15’ x 15’, stone room with three hobgoblins, bows at each of three arrow slits, including the one he is looking in. The room has two open doorways to the north. He doesn’t see any exits in the ceiling or floor. He shouts the most relevant information to the party.

    Thokk's orcs fan out and keep searching for entrances to the bunkers, but without success.

    Those still in between the mounds continue to take arrow fire, but the hobgoblins avoid shooting into the sphere of darkness when there are more visible targets.

    Round Three
    Willa continues to search for entrances, but finds only arrow slits.

    As more of the party continues to take arrows, one of the orcs goes down. Mathias moves to his side, attempting to stabilize him, but the orc spasms and dies [the orc had already failed a death save; Mathias critically failed a medicine check trying to stabilize him and gave him another failure, and he later took a third at the start of his turn].

    “Clear the room for me!” shrieks Aurora, and Babshapka dutifully pushes a stun grenade through the widest arrow slit he can find. It detonates, incapacitating the hobgoblins within. When he shouts “Clear!” Aurora comes off the top of the mound to Babshapka’s side, shoots a tendril of fire into a slit, and falls to the ground. A second later a huge fireball explodes inside the bunker, with flames shooting out every arrow slit, both those the party knew about and many they did not. The arrow fire from the western bunker ceases, but smoke and the smell of roasted flesh begin to emerge.

    Round Four
    Thokk approves of Aurora’s method of sussing out the cowardly hobgoblins. “At me, at me!” he yells in his rage and moves to the eastern mound, trying to draw more arrow fire on himself and open a space for Aurora.

    Babshapka leaves the smouldering bunker (and Aurora) behind and dashes forward halfway to the city entrance. He takes cover behind a boulder and watches for any sign of a counter-attack now that the party is making headway against the defenders.

    Willa moves back across to the eastern bunker, also attempting to draw fire for Aurora. She notes tendrils of smoke coming from the arrow slit through which she had previously forced the fire grenade.

    Aurora moves closer to the eastern bunker, but is not convinced that she won’t be fired upon as soon as she closes.

    Round Five
    “Now, fire woman!” shouts Thokk as a volley of arrows lodges in his shield and flesh. Aurora moves to his side and completes her spell, detonating a fireball within the eastern bunker to similar effect as before.

    Babshapka looks behind him briefly, noting with satisfaction the tendrils of smoke emerging from the arrow slits of both mounds. He turns back to the city entrance and nocks an arrow. Three orcs move up near him, taking cover but staying behind him. Another three move to Thokk’s side as he stands in front of the eastern mound. To the south, however, is a single orc who had retreated after being wounded by an arrow. Crouching behind cover, he nevertheless saw the explosion of fire shoot out of the arrow slits. What is more, he saw a pile of rocks on the southern slope of the mound shift - and cautiously approaching now, he smells smoke at it, although there are no slits in sight. He dashes to Thokk with the news.

    Thokk, no longer enraged, looks into some of the nearby slits. He sees a large open room, ceiling supported by pillars, hobgoblins dead where they fell. Near the west wall, a fire still burns fitfully on the floor, though it is unclear what it is consuming. Some open doorways to the east lead out of sight. There are no slits in the ceiling; Thokk leads his orcs up on top of the mound and gestures at the other members of his warband to join him.

    When the orc arrives to tell the Mighty General his news, Thokk calls for a crowbar and moves to investigate. Working together, Willa and Thokk clear fallen rocks from the face of the mound and find a long, narrow crack. Apparently the fireball blast damaged the secret door just enough to make it visible, although there is still no means of opening it from the outside. Working together, Thokk and Willa use the crowbar to burst first one interior hinge, then the other. When the heavy stone door is laid to the side, the party enters the smoky bunker.

    It does not take long to search the bunker, and the dozen dead hobgoblins offer no resistance. The main room is lined on three sides by arrow slits. The fire that still burns on the floor is from the sticky residue of Willa’s fire grenade. Two recessed stairs lead to bed chambers with simple wooden trunks - these hold woolen cloaks, extra socks, and the like - all sized for dwarves, not hobgoblins. A short tunnel leads to another secret door, also operable from the inside, only. Some food and ale was present in crates and casks in the main room, but these are now broken and spoiled. Whether this was from the hobgoblins or the fireball the party does not take the time to investigate.

    Satisfied that nothing in either bunker poses a threat, the party reforms on the road approaching the city. Babshapka scouts the huge stone statues - although he spots a few more arrow slits, even more cunningly concealed than the ones on the mounds, he is not fired upon and he sees nothing inside them but bare stone rooms. The party pauses briefly to discuss their next move. Between the figure they saw in the entrance of the tunnel, and the noise of battle including both fireball blasts, they cannot expect to have any element of surprise remaining. Several of them are wounded, but the wounds are mild and their complement of spells still strong. They elect to press ahead.

    Babshapka merges with the shadows and slips forward into the dwarven hall. Doro is more stealthy than he, he knows, but the human does not have the darkvision he does. The hallway goes in perhaps 50 feet, where it opens on a grand columned entry hall running perpendicular. Torchlight flickers across incredibly detailed stonework - every surface is intricately adorned - not with the organic patterns of the Stone Giants, but with rigid geometric forms, repeating unvaried as far as he can see. Behind each of the columns stands a single hobgoblin, head poking out just enough to watch the entrance. He can clearly hear the breathing of more of them, although none appear to have spotted him. More than one has the tip of a bow in sight as well. On the far side of the columned hall are two open exits next to one another, each sloping briefly down before entering an even larger common chamber beyond. Babshapka silently returns to the party and reports.

    With the hobgoblins armed, ready, and waiting, the party agrees there are few options other than a frontal assault. Hitting them fast and hard should do - they are just hobgoblins, after all, and two dozen of their comrades already lie dead in the smouldering bunkers behind the party.

    Willa carefully orders the team at the entrance of the hallway, as Thokk encourages Phreeeee to circle the valley in his absence. When she is satisfied with their order, Willa points her finger and the party rushes forward down the hall.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 22, 2023 12:05 am  
    Post 300: The Liberation of Num-Theraz

    DM's Note on sources: The original source of Num-Theraz appears to be the Living Greyhawk Journals 2 and 3 (pp.30 in each). The description of the interior of Num-Theraz is my own invention. I used Gabriel Pickard's "Save vs. Cave Dwarven Hold 1" for the interior maps of the city, including the battle site. See

    19 April [24 Planting] continued- Entrance of Num-Theraz
    (low 68, high 86, light rain from 4am-10am)
    Humanoid raid on supply caravan to Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)

    Surprise Round
    The spellcasters go first and provide covering fire for the others' approach - Aurora launches a firebolt that impacts on a stone pillar, and both Doro and Mathias shoot twin blasts of force, each wounding a defender (4 points and 3 points). The latter two immediately fall back and crouch against the walls of the entry hall, seeking cover.

    Babshapka moves just inside the hall and takes aim at the hobgoblins behind the pillars (they do not have cover against his sharpshooter). His arrows find their mark but fail to penetrate the heavy hobgoblin armor, breaking against a helmet and a pauldron.

    Thokk and Willa advance forward past Babshapka and look about the hall, but there is no one within their melee reach for the moment. Far to the left and right, at the ends of the hall, stairs rise into lit chambers. At the top of each stairway are twin braziers, burning brightly in the dim light of the hall. The hall has twelve great pillars, and there looks to be a hobgoblin emerging from behind each one, bow drawn.

    Round One
    Unmoving but now behind Thokk and Willa, Babshapka sends more arrows at the hobgoblins, but the stone pillars and their armor protect them. Doro and Mathias stand, move forward, shoot rapidly, then drop back and crouch again. One of Mathias’ blasts takes out the hobgoblin he had wounded previously (10 points). Aurora, still standing in the entrance, drops another with a huge ball of flame (firebolt for 15 damage).

    The hobgoblins behind the two closest pillars drop their bows, draw longswords, and charge forward to engage in melee. Immediately the hobgoblins behind all of the other pillars advance one pillar each, shooting at the party as they move. At the top of the stairs, right and left, two hobgoblins each appear, bows drawn. All of their actions are well-coordinated and without hesitation.

    Willa grins, and before the charging hobgoblin can swing his sword at her, her blade erupts in flame and she cuts him down (24 points). She turns and swings at the hobgoblin attacking Thokk, but that one evades her blow. Between the arrows outside and those she is taking now, she hopes this combat will be over soon (currently at 45/78 hp).

    “Army! Forward and attack!” bellows Thokk as he enrages. He runs past the hobgoblin that sought to fight him (opportunity attack misses) and instead seeks out the one behind the nearest column. The Keeper’s Axe cuts two clefts in the decorative stonework but the hobgoblin is unscathed. From behind Thokk, seven of his orcs swarm out of the tunnel. A few attack the hobgoblin Thokk did, but most, realizing they face a dozen hobgoblin archers out of their reach, advance evasively (dodge action).

    Round Two
    At the sound of the battle, an armored fire giant strides into view at the top of the stairs to the right. He scowls as he looks at the rapidly-spreading fight in the center of the hall, then scoops his hand down into one of the braziers and pulls out a red-hot iron shot. His appearance is noted and rapidly communicated among the party - especially after his initial salvo shatters the body of one of Thokk’s orcs (no death saves as damage is enough for an instant kill; second Dripping Blade orc dead).

    Willa cuts down the second hobgoblin to enter melee (26 points), then heads to a pillar across the hall, taking cover from the giant.

    Mathias emerges from the tunnel entrance just long enough to wound a hobgoblin with a blast of force (8 points), then drops back.

    The nearest hobgoblin bow troops drop their bows, draw swords, and charge. The other archers move up again, specifically targeting the party members engaged in melee. While they are distracted by one hobgoblin, they take arrow hits from the others at the most inopportune times.

    Martial Advantage wrote:
    Once per turn, the hobgoblin can deal an extra 7 (2d6) damage to a creature it hits
    with a weapon attack if that creature is within 5 ft. of an ally of the hobgoblin that isn't incapacitated.

    [Hobgoblins this round get in a longsword hit (6), a longbow critical hit (11 with martial advantage), a longbow critical hit (18 with martial advantage), and two longbow hits (total 26 with martial advantage) distributed among the various party members in the front; one of Thokk’s Dripping Blade orcs goes down but is not dead yet]

    Thokk bellows and tries to rally his orcs around him. His five followers take out two hobgoblins with their great axes (total two hits, 12 points each), while Thokk moves to place a pillar between himself and the fire giant. The previously downed orc holds on to life for the moment (one successful death save).

    Doro steps out, blasts two hobgoblins to the ground, and retreats (one hit for 8 to an already-wounded one, critical hit for 11 kills another).

    Babshapka drops his bow and presses the button on the chest mount that unfolds the trigger grip and the mirror of his blaster rifle. He steps out into the hall and sights the giant, moving just close enough so that he is sure to hit [within 50 feet is disadvantage on the giant’s save]. The blast of force takes the huge giant by surprise - he is knocked over backwards to the floor with a great crash, and the searing hot shot rolls from his hand across the stone [failed save, 43 points of damage, unconscious for two rounds]. The blaster rifle announces the end of the power disc with a cheery Ping! Babshapka falls back to where he dropped his bow.

    Aurora sees the fire giant go down, but knows he will be back up soon - it is time to clear the hobgoblins so that they can concentrate on the greater threat. Besides, her fireball would be useless against the giant. She moves out into the center of the hall, using Thokk’s army for cover, and launches her fireball (26 fire damage - even those of the five hobgoblins who make their saves are killed). The twin detonations of the blaster rifle and then the fireball echo far beyond this hall, deep into the dwarven city. [Dwarven scouts, ears to the stone behind secret and blocked-off passages, take note and word begins to spread of a battle at the front gate.]

    [At the end of the round eleven hobgoblins have been eliminated, one orc is dead outside, one in the hall, and another is making death saves]

    Round Three
    [Unseen by the party (Stealth 21), a hobgoblin Iron Shadow slips out of the room to the west, down the stairs, and advances on the party from behind the cover of the pillars. Her mission is to find whichever of them just launched that fireball and disrupt the party’s caster.]

    Babshapka takes up his bow again and sinks two ordinance arrows into the fallen giant (13 points; total 56), looking for gaps in the armor on its unmoving form. Despite the blaster shot, he knows the huge thing is far from dead. The two hobgoblins on the eastern stairs fire in response (readied actions to protect the giant) and Babshapka takes a shaft in trade (11 points).

    This time when Mathias emerges from the tunnel, he does not shoot bolts of force. He heard the cries of “fire giant!” among the party, the roar of Babshapka’s blaster rifle, and the great crash of the armored giant to the stone floor. This time when he steps out it is to complete a rather more complicated spell. Suddenly, a red Slaad is crouching on the fallen giant’s chest, slashing at its throat with long claws (advantage to hit unconscious and prone foe in melee, automatic criticals on unconscious foe in melee, two hits for 35 damage; total 91).

    Doro as well has changed her tactics to account for the giant. With the twang of a plucked samisen string, she outlines the fallen fire giant in faerie fire (automatic failure to Dex saves when unconscious). The green glowing light spills over and also surrounds the two hobgoblins on the stairs (both fail Dex saves), but she deliberately avoids targeting Ephi. As soon as she began casting, three hobgoblins behind pillars shot arrows at her but all three missed.

    Two orcs from Thokk’s Army attack hobgoblins, but the other three note how Thokk and the rest of the party are seeking cover from the giant, who even now is beginning to stir. The wiser orcs dodge among the pillars. The unconscious orc groans and takes one step closer to life.

    From the shadows of the eastern room, another fire giant strides into view! His naked sword cuts a huge gash into Ephi and knocks the Slaad off of the fallen giant’s body. Now astride his comrade, the giant’s second blow dematerializes Mathias’ summoned ally (total 54 points with two hits to Ephi).

    The appearance of the second giant just when the party was preparing for the first to awake is cause for general alarm. Thokk shouts in fury, hacks down a hobgoblin in his way (one hit of two, 15 damage), and begins to make his way to the eastern room. Willa knows she needs to join Thokk at the front - but not in her current, wounded state. She moves north to the entrance of the larger chamber, putting a solid wall between her and the giants, and tries to catch her breath as she roots in her backpack (second wind, heals 14). She pulls forth a can of alien healing spray, shakes it, and sprays it liberally on her arrow wounds (7 more points; Willa at 66/78 and two uses remaining in the can). Feeling a bit better, she leaves her pack where it lies and moves back out behind a pillar and alongside one of the Dripping Blade orcs.

    In the eastern room, a Hobgoblin Devastator clenches his staff tightly. So, the humans like fireball? Let’s see how they like his! He moves to the center of the opening at the top of the stairs, easily sighting Doro, as well as a hated elf and one of Thokk’s orcs. He doesn’t see the caster, but reasons that he must be nearby in the entry tunnel, so he centers his own blast right at the entrance. The resulting explosion does in fact reach Aurora, as well as enveloping Doro, Babshapka, Mathias, a standing orc, and the one that was unconscious on the floor. The Devastator eyes Willa, with her gleaming metal armor, as a possible lightning bolt target next, but moves out of sight to the south, behind the wall of the room and at the feet of the fire giant dreadnought, who is even now gathering up his shields and putting on his helmet.

    [Fireball 23 points damage, Dex save DC14. Babshapka 28, Doro 26; both save, 11 points each, Doro Con save to maintain Concentration on Faerie Fire, 19, saves. Mathias 13, Aurora 6, both fail and take the full 23 points. Unconscious orc automatically fails - 23 points is enough damage for an instant kill; four orcs down and four left.]

    In the entryway, robes smouldering, Aurora grips her wand tightly. So, the hobgoblins like responding to my fireball with a fireball? Let’s see how they like my higher level cast of fireball! She moves out into the hall until she can see the top of the stairs, and the devastator moving out of sight to the south. As soon as she begins her cast the hobgoblins on the stairs open fire (readied actions to defend the devastator), but both arrows miss and Aurora completes her spell, using a fourth level slot.

    [Fireball 28 points damage, Dex save DC16. Iron Shadow 21; saves and takes 14 damage. Devastator 6, fails and takes the full 28 damage. Two hobgoblin guards saves are irrelevant, as they are killed with even 14 points. Dreadnaught is immune to fire damage. Fifteen hobgoblins down; three soldiers, the Iron Shadow and the Devastator still up.]

    The fallen giant groans and stirs to consciousness, reaches for his aching throat and finds it slick and sticky with blood. The other giant is standing over him, sword drawn. What just happened? This is not maat!

    Round Four
    Mathias, reeling from the fireball blast, stumbles out of the entry tunnel and fires off blasts of force at the hobgoblin guards on the eastern stairs. With the aid of the faerie fire spell he hits twice and drops one (total 13 points damage, both attacks would have missed had they not had advantage from the spell).

    Thokk ignores the single remaining hobgoblin guard on the stairs and moves past him to get to the giant, who is struggling to stand [no opportunity attack possible from hobgoblin with longbow]. Thokk furiously strikes at the giant, trying to slay him before he can join the fight (two hits with advantage from prone and AC13 after blaster rifle hit, 32 damage; total 123).

    Hoping but not knowing whether her last fireball killed the hobgoblin spellcaster, but seeing giant-flung iron shots in the future, Aurora casts mirror image on herself and moves to the cover of a pillar in the center of the hall.

    Willa moves forward, weaving between the columns of the hall for cover. She spins the initiation dial on a black grenade she pulled from her pack when she took out the healing spray. The fire giant’s head is easily eighteen feet off the floor, and well outside the range of a stunning explosion if made at ground level - she will have to time this perfectly. The timer is set to three seconds, but she counts to two-and-a-quarter before she lobs it, underhand, up the stairs and between the two giants. It explodes at the standing giant’s waist height (attack roll 17), catching both him and the prone giant in the blast, which stops just short of Thokk. [10 damage, DC16 Con save; 30, 16, both giants succeed, both are stunned for 2 rounds]

    Ignoring Willa and her heavy armor, and indeed Thokk now behind him, the hobgoblin still on the stairs shoots at the multiple Auroras and strikes an image, dispelling it (two left). The sole remaining hobgoblin in the hall proper drops his bow, draws his longsword, and charges at the two approaching orcs but their new armor turns his blade.

    Babshapka moves to the east, ignoring Mathias’ glare of you’re going the wrong way as he passes the human. He continues to the base of the stairs, and when he catches a glimpse of the hobgoblin devastator, he uses his hunter’s mark and then fires off two arrows in rapid succession (23 points with mark). The spellcaster jerks with each hit, then collapses at the top of the stairs. Carry my greetings to Maglubiyet, thinks Babshapka grimly, but tell him you didn’t kill this elf, as he moves back inside the entry tunnel. There was some sort of great iron statue beyond the devastator, but he didn't get a good look at it.

    Rather than reveal herself to Babshapka, the Iron Shadow uses her shadow jaunt to pass him and appear next to the three remaining Auroras, throwing darts at each one. One by one she eliminates the images until only the real Aurora is left, and then she wounds the actual caster (4 points, no concentration spells running).

    The giants, one on the ground and one standing over him, blink their eyes furiously and try to cover their ringing ears (one less round of stun).

    Doro points with her fingers and fires off two blasts of force at the fallen giant (disadvantage from prone offset by advantage from faerie fire), hitting both times (total 11 damage including one critical hit; giant has now taken 139). Then she turns her back on the stairs and lays her hands on the strings of the samisen. A glowing gong mallet appears in the air next to the Iron Shadow, striking her (4 points).

    Two of the four remaining orcs return the attacks of the hobgoblin guard, but to little effect. The other two ascend the western stairs with the intention of making sure that the devastator is truly dead and seeing if there is anything left to fight in the chamber beyond, perhaps something less intimidating than the fire giants in the opposite chamber. When they reach the top of the stairs, however, they freeze in their tracks. They have stumbled upon a new giant - but one even larger and more heavily armored than the other two! He steps forward, and with a sickening crunch his iron boot treads uncaringly on the devastator - if the spellcaster hobgoblin wasn’t dead before he certainly is now. The giant carries no weapon, but his twin tower shields are bristling with long iron spikes and glow like hot coals. He casually bats aside the orcs as he moves to the top of the stairs.

    [Shield bash, 28 points in a mix of bludgeoning and fire to one orc, 29 to the other. Both are instantly killed by the total damage]

    Snorting like a bull, the fire giant jumps down the stairs, cracking the stone floor when he lands. He strides forward to the center of the hall.

    [End of fourth round; Two orcs and three hobgoblins remain up, as well as all three giants.]

    Round Five
    Babshapka, from the cover of the entryway, heard the squealing of the orcs as they were swatted away, and then felt the vibrations of the giant landing at the bottom of the stairs. He is not sure what is coming, but he knows what he needs to do to be ready for it. He pops open the power-disc compartment of the blaster rifle, plucks out and discards the old disc, and inserts a fresh one (main action). Peeking his head out, he is astounded by the size and armament of the dreadnought - but not so stunned that he can’t move his hunter’s mark from the now quite dead devastator to the giant (bonus action). He yells to Willa and Thokk to look behind them.

    Of the two remaining hobgoblin guards, one swings his sword at the orcs with whom he is already engaged. The one on the stairs drops his bow, draws his sword, and swings at Thokk. Both miss.

    Doro swings her spiritual mallet at the Iron Shadow and connects (8 damage). Using that as her distraction, she attempts to slip away to get within spell range of the dreadnought (hobgoblin misses opportunity attack). “You’re big…” she mumbles to herself, “but I bet you’re not too bright. PSYCHE!” The last word she speaks is magical, and delivers the mind sliver spell to the giant (Intelligence save 9; fails, 10 psychic damage and a -1 to the giant’s next saving throw).

    By now Willa has ascended the steps and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Thokk. She leaves the still-prone giant for him to kill, but takes advantage of the grenade’s stunning effect to attack with all her force the one still standing (action surge, four attacks with advantage to hit, her lowest hit roll is 20; total 57 damage, plus another 33 fire damage to which the giant is immune).

    Thokk has no compunction against attacking the fallen giant. He lands two blows on the now-thrashing foe (26 points, giant has taken 170).

    The Iron Shadow fires another brace of darts at Aurora, who has no images left. She brings up a magical shield in response (no hits, two would have hit without the AC boost from the reaction spell). Spitting a curse, the Shadow uses her jaunt to teleport thirty feet away and then begins running down the stairs to the north into the larger chamber. Mathias fires at her as she flees (two hits; 10 points of force damage).

    Through the slits in its heavy helmet, the dreadnought can see the puny humans up ahead in the hall - but still far off. It charges forward, having to hold its shields tight to its sides to fit through the colonnaded hall (dash). From the cover of a pillar Aurora fires her blaster rifle at close range (giant saves at disadvantage from range and -1 from mind sliver, Dex save 9 fails; unconscious for two rounds, 41 force damage, -5 AC). One of the giant’s great shields is disintegrated, along with half the metal plates of its armor on that side, and it crashes insensate to the ground.

    Round Six
    Thokk buries his sword up to the hilt in the glowing giant’s neck and its thrashing ceases (15 damage, giant has taken 185 and is unconscious). Taking it for dead, he pulls his sword out. He is in much better shape than Willa and enraged besides. He needs to distract the living giant and make it attack him, not her. He climbs atop the slain giant’s body (Athletics 26, with advantage from rage) and swings his sword. He hits the still-stunned giant’s armor with a resounding clang (miss).

    The hobgoblin on the stairs swung at Thokk’s departure (opportunity attack missed), and now proves equally ineffective at attacking Willa, who is still in his range. The other remaining hobgoblin misses the two Dripping Blade orcs.

    Mathias shoots a mind sliver at the fleeing Iron Shadow before she can get out of range (Int save 13 fails; 6 psychic damage and a -2 to her next saving throw).

    The fire giant in the east shakes the cobwebs from his head and roars at Thokk. He brings his sword up until its tip strikes the ceiling thirty feet overhead, then plunges it down on Thokk. The half-orc raises his shield and takes the force of the blow (28 points to Thokk; reduced to 14 with rage) without losing his footing on the slain giant’s body (Athletics 25, with advantage from rage). When the giant hacks down a second time, Thokk is ready and side-steps the blow (attack roll 16 misses), which slices into the body of his fallen comrade (hits, automatic critical for two failed death saves).

    Willa turns and strikes down the hobgoblin on the stairs (21 points), ending that annoyance, then moves forward and slashes at the giant distracted by Thokk (15 damage, total 77). She moves back behind Thokk and the body of the fallen giant for cover (no opportunity attack as she is still within the ten foot reach of the giant).

    With the Iron Shadow out of the range of her spiritual mallet, Doro turns it against the fallen dreadnought (hit with advantage from unconscious and prone, 9 force damage). The fleeing hobgoblin Iron Shadow is still within range of her spells, however, and she sends it a dissonant whispers (Wisdom save 4, -2 from mind sliver is 2; fails; takes 11 psychic damage and uses her reaction to run). The Iron Shadow hears creepy whispers about how the adventurers are coming for her after they wipe out the giants and speeds away even faster. Doro reflects that perhaps that particular spell was not the best selection against a foe that was already running away. As an afterthought, she ends her concentration on the faerie fire, since it appears that all its targets have been slain by Thokk and Willa.

    The two remaining Dripping Blade orcs move around the hobgoblin, looking for an opening and swinging their axes mostly at air. If nothing else, they are keeping it distracted while the rest of the party focuses on the giants.

    Babshapka moves out into the main hall, blaster rifle at the ready. The dreadnought is still down, but the fire giant towering over Thokk looks ready to strike again. As soon as the targeting screen gives him approval, he fires without hesitation (giant Dex save 22, succeeds; 22 force damage and stunned for four rounds), staggering the giant with a blast that hits it squarely in the head and shatters most of the armor around its upper body.

    “Now we have them!” exults Aurora, sending a firebolt vaguely in the direction of the last remaining hobgoblin.

    Round Seven
    Willa emerges from the cover of the fallen giant and strikes twice at the standing one (two hits, 25 damage without fire). Thokk, still on top of the fallen giant, sees the fire giant now stunned by Babshapka’s blaster. He drops his shield and begins to use his longsword with two hands (two hits, 22 damage). Seeing Mighty General Thokk holding off the living giant while atop the body of the slain one, the two remaining orcs rally and use their axes to hack at the sole remaining hobgoblin until it is dead, then turn and move toward the fallen dreadnought.

    Aurora yells at those around her that they have to kill the dreadnaught before it can awake. She sets the example by unloading a magic missile (upcast with a second level slot) at its unmoving body (14 damage; Aurora now at 0/1/0/1).

    Babshapka clicks the button that folds away the blaster rifle and nocks a heavy ordinance arrow to his bow. Firing at point-blank range, the first shaft breaks against the thick iron plate of the giant, but the second sinks deeply into its arm, having pierced the chain covering the articulated elbow (7 damage, 10 with automatic critical on attacks within five feet of an unconscious foe).

    There appears to be just a single enemy combatant remaining up on the field - the fire giant far to the east. Doro decides that it is time to help those who were wounded in the fight. She begins casting aura of vitality, dropping her concentration on the spiritual mallet. [Round 1; 10 points of healing to Thokk)

    Mathias shoots bolts of force at the fallen dreadnought (one hit; 8 damage).

    The fleeing Iron Shadow reaches the hobgoblin captain in the next chamber. “Oh my captain,” she pants, “Adventurers have killed the Devastator and are even now slaying the giants!” The captain’s men are already armed and ready, having been warned by another Iron Shadow guard since the party first ventured from the tunnel outside. He assigns one soldier to watch the shackled dwarven prisoners and leads the rest cautiously toward the entry hall.

    Round Eight
    Thokk bellows in bloodlust. He leaps from the fallen giant, throwing himself at the stunned one with all his considerable strength (two hits, one critical, total 36 damage).

    Willa fights by Thokk’s side, hitting the giant twice more (total 26 damage without fire).

    Doro directs her aura at Willa (second use; heals for 2), then blasts the downed dreadnought (two hits for 11).

    Mathias fires off blasts of force at the dreadnought (one hit for 1). As it stirs in response and sits up, he withdraws and crouches behind a pillar (prone). Babshapka draws back as well.

    The giant struggles to its feet, holding its one good shield in one hand and looking about for the disintegrated one. When it is not immediately present, he bashes the closest Dripping Blade Orc in frustration, smearing him across the face of the shield (bludgeoning plus fire, total 33 points damage, instantly dead). Sinking back on his heels, he looks about. The two closest smallfolk are another orc and a human woman in robes. Did she bewitch him, is that why he fell down and can’t find his shield? The giant takes a great stride toward Aurora, and as he turns his back on the Orc Lieutenant, Thokk’s loyal follower strikes at his departing calf (opportunity attack hits for 9).

    Curiously, the woman doesn’t move at the giant’s approach. He raises his shield high, preparing to bring it down vertically and cut her in half - but then her eyes light up and go all swirly and the giant feels strange (Aurora uses instinctive charm - giant Wis save, 7; fails!). He staggers back, roaring in frustration, and lashes out with his shield at the sole surviving orc of Thokk’s Army, lifting his body off the ground and impaling his skull on one of the spikes of the great shield (27 points bludgeoning and fire; instant death).

    “Get out of there!” yells Babshapka at Aurora, as he fires off more heavy ordinance (one hit, 6 damage including hunter’s mark) that mostly break against the giant’s remaining armor.

    Rather than fleeing, Aurora continues to stare at the giant. The swirling patterns in her eyes change color, though. As the giant turns to look back at her, it again raises its shield, towering over her, but slowly its arms droop as if the shield is too heavy. It stands listlessly, swaying on its feet (hypnotic gaze, Wisdom save 2; fails). Aurora raises her hand, fingers open, trying to get the party’s attention without startling the giant into action. “Don’t hit it,” she says in a calm but insistent voice, then points at the combat still going on in the chamber to the east, “until we are all here and ready.”

    Round Nine
    Mathias heeds Aurora’s words and moves closer to the eastern room, then shoots his force bolts at the fire giant (one hit, 8 damage). The hit is minor, but it appears enough to topple the heavily-wounded foe. Perhaps it is better that no more of Thokk’s Army remain to see Mathias steal the Mighty General’s kill. Mathias doesn’t pause to celebrate, though, but moves to the passageway to the north. “More hobgoblins incoming!” he shouts back at the party.

    With no one to attack for the moment, Doro sends her aura at Mathias (third use; heals for 9).

    Aurora concentrates on maintaining the giant hypnotized.

    Hearing Mathias warn of more foes, Thokk resolves to make sure these fallen giants do not recover. He chops his longsword down twice across the throat of the giant, with the second strike severing the spine, although a thin band of muscle holds the head on in the back (two hits, automatic criticals, total of four failed death saves ensures the kill). Splattered with gore but finally satisfied, he scoops up his shield and heads down the stairs towards the dreadnought and the rest of the party.

    Willa does not have Thokk’s bloodlust, but she considers his act a sensible precaution. She does not want to leave such foes at their rear. She strikes at the other fallen giant until she is sure that he, too, is dead, and then heads after Thokk.

    Babshapka moves closer to the passageway to the north. The hobgoblins are still out of range of his darkvision, but he can hear a half dozen booted feet approaching easily enough. “Finish the giant, now!” he calls, despite Aurora’s command to wait.

    Round Ten
    Even as Thokk and Willa pass him, Mathias continues to move east into the room with the fallen giants. Willa doesn’t hesitate - as soon as she reaches the hypnotized giant, she attacks, striking so hard at his leg that it buckles, and he sinks to one knee even as his eyes clear and he roars in pain (two hits, total 30 points without fire). Thokk has paused only long enough to slide his shield across his back before he lays into the giant as well (one hit, 12 points). Even as the giant struggles to stand, pushing off of its still-glowing shield like a crutch, Babshapka turns away from the northern hallway and fires ordinance arrows at the back of his head in the narrow gap between his helmet and gorget (one hit, 11 damage).

    With howls of pain, the giant lashes out wildly, but he is wounded and slow. When he turns to Doro, she shouts “Bass in your face!” and hits a low but resonant note on her samisen. The wave of force knocks his head back and he crashes to the ground, unmoving (one critical hit; 12 damage, the giant is unconscious). Doro changes her positioning on the strings and sends a more harmonious note toward Aurora (fourth use; heals for 8 ).

    The great crash of metal on stone echoes through the halls and the approaching booted feet slow and then stop. For a second the party thinks their defeat of the dreadnought has given the hobgoblins pause, but then they hear stone on stone, numerous sealed entrances opening, the sound of war-drums and the shouted voices of dwarves…

    Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!” come the shouts from dozens of throats. The hobgoblins turn and run away from the entry, away from the party, vanishing through hidden doors in the walls of the chamber to the north, even as the great chamber fills with dwarves. The dwarves look ragged and hungry, but their eyes are fierce as they rush forward, smashing at the chains that hold a dozen of their kinsfolk in bondage on the floor of the hall. Hobgoblin longbows begin to fly among them, but it is not a counter-offensive, merely cover for their retreat.

    The liberation of Num-Theraz has begun!

    Doro finishes the last six verses of her song of vitality and then begins another anew.

    The battle is not over - the dwarves are rooting the hobgoblins out from where they have fortified themselves in the mines and the upper levels of the city, which the party learns is extensive. But they are confident they can do this without the party’s help, despite their offers - it was the giants that had them hiding behind barricades in the lower levels of the city. Obviously the party could save the dwarves casualties, but they all understand dwarven pride.

    The dwarves are haggard but not exhausted, hungry but not starving. The city regularly goes months without food supply in the winters, and they have dug deeply into their stores but carefully rationed them. Their spirit is strong and they are eager to finally take their revenge on the hobgoblin invaders.

    The dwarves are surprised to find that among the dead on the party’s side are orcs. They are obviously uncomfortable, but formally required to ask whether the party would like these orcs entombed, as befitting those who died to free their city. The dwarves are quite obviously relieved when Thokk courteously replies that if they can provide him with coal enough to make a funeral pyre outside, that will be more than sufficient.

    Although the dwarves offer them quarters within the city, Willa strongly suspects that taking them, at least this evening, would result in displacing dwarven women and children, already crowded into refugee quarters with much of the upper city a deserted war zone. She says that they will camp just outside the entrance this first night while Thokk tends to his fires, and the dwarves are also visibly relieved to hear this. She does allow their hosts to supply the party with winter food stores as an evening meal, as some measure of satisfaction for their pride.

    Thokk carefully burns the bodies of all of his army until they are just hot ash, singing Orc war songs the whole time. Then he begins to gather, gut, and dress hobgoblins, carefully setting aside the choicest pieces of raw liver for Phreeeeee. The hobgoblins are not to be cremated - rather, Thokk begins to roast them! When Willa asks him what he is doing, he patiently explains that although he has lost his Army, all these hobgoblins will provide excellent smoked jerky rations for his warband. When everyone else in the party insists that they are not eating hobgoblin, Thokk petulantly replies that he meant the rations are for his next, even better, Army. He spends the rest of the evening roasting and smoking ten day’s worth of prime hobgoblin meat.

    As the evening progresses, the party speaks with various dwarven officers and city officials. They learn that the invasion started two months ago, at about the time the dwarves that were taken to the Steading were captured. Similar attacks eliminated or captured all the above-ground guards just prior to the invasion itself, so that the dwarves were blind to the approaching army and giants. The way that even veteran warriors were mysteriously captured seemed like magic, and while some of it could be explained by the numerous Iron Shadows among the hobgoblins, the dwarves suspect that there is perhaps an even more powerful and secretive force involved.

    Once the above-ground guards were eliminated, the hobgoblin army arrived, led by far more giants than the three here now. They first drove the dwarves belowground and then slowly pressed them, digging them out, killing them, and enslaving any they captured alive. The hobgoblins, and captured dwarves, worked to open passages big enough for the giants to enter, and then the giants would crush any dwarven opposition. Thus the enemy slowly occupied the city, one chamber or underground plaza at a time, until they held the entire upper city. Some of the enslaved dwarves, rather than being forced to breach the defenses of their own city, were used to haul off the siege equipment that kept arriving from parts unknown.

    The tunnels dug by the hobgoblins from the exterior mines to allow access to the city, and to avoid the strongest fortifications below ground, were efficient and precise. It is clear that they had access to city plans known to only a few dwarves, and these could not be explained simply by torturing them from the captured dwarves. Was there a traitor in the city? A spy? Magical scrying?

    The dwarves now intend to learn what they can from the hobgoblins, but not through torture and interrogation, which the hobgoblins are practiced in resisting. Rather, the dwarves will rely on their own priests to magically open the minds of the hobgoblins they capture over the next few days, and already they have begun to collect and imprison hobgoblin officers.

    Thus the party is faced with a quandary - the dwarves are happy to have them remain in the city and will provide them with all the intelligence gathered from the hobgoblins. But the longer they stay, the more likely news of this defeat will have reached the Frost Giants, and the less the factor of surprise the party will have in their favor.

    Before they decide on their next step, the party thinks it advisable to inform the Countess. Aurora prepares a sending (after a short rest and an arcane recovery, Aurora is at 1/1/1/1, but it is not yet so late at night that she is likely to wake their patron). Aurora sends:

    Freed Num-Theraz; defenses here are low. Returning to outfit ourselves at Headwater, then teleport to Frosts’. Is teleportation circle available? Other gear we sought available?

    Her reply:

    Freed city from whom? What of plot / alliance? Teleportation Circle not among books but am working on obtaining scroll. Circle keyed where? Sending longbow, drum.

    For it being the first time Aurora has requested the Teleportation Circle spell, the enchantress is impressed both that the Countess already knew that neither Lashton nor Verbane had it, and that she was willing to begin a search for a scroll containing the spell at once. Although it takes her last high-level slot, the Countess’ questions need to be answered, so she sends again:

    Freed from fire giants and hobgoblins - in league with frost. No information on overall leader. Attempting overturning of frost participation. Circle keyed to Istivin / Headwater.

    The response:

    Fire giant involvement noted. Keep digging on overall leader. Chain to frost giants imminent? Istivin location: Temple of Zilchus. Will ask Kerri about Headwater possibilities.

    While Aurora can keep her words themselves low in volume, and the Countess’ response is known only to her, the fact that she is using a spell to speak to someone is noted by the shrewd dwarves, and it is not long before the party faces questions about who they are and how they came to be here.

    Careful to keep their relationship with the Countess a secret from the ‘mole on the council’ but also seeing a chance to earn a reward, they reply that they are a motley bunch of adventuring mercenaries hired by Sterich to assist in the war effort. They report that things are bad everywhere, all over Sterich, which is why it took two months for help to arrive. They say that they happened across a hobgoblin band in an underground tunnel and followed them while looking for plunder, since their pay is so low and mostly is made by the rights to plunder. When they found the army camped on the city doorstep, they thought they could take them out in case any dwarves were left. However, they weren’t sent specifically to liberate the city and won’t be receiving a reward from Sterich for doing so. And they were wounded and used resources in the fight. So if there is a reasonable liberator's prize for their assistance, they would be quite grateful...

    Asking so pointedly about a reward has the added benefit of shutting down the conversation, so the party manages to avoid any awkward questions about who they are actually working for or what they have done so far. The ranking dwarf among those present simply says, “We’ll see wha’ we can do,'' gruffly, and the dwarves retire for the evening.

    [XP: Num-Theraz

    25 hobgoblins (outside) (CR1/2)
    19 hobgoblins (inside) (CR1/2) 100 x 44 = 4400
    1 hobgoblin iron shadow (CR2) = 450
    1 hobgoblin devastator (CR4) = 1100
    2 fire giants (CR9) 5000 x 2 = 10000
    1 fire giant dreadnought (CR14) 11500

    Total: 27450 / 6 = 4575 each

    Babshapka 49,466 + 4575 = 54,041
    Thokk 47,807 + 4575 = 52,382
    Doro 45,800 + 4575 = 50,375
    Aurora 44,280 + 4575 = 48,855
    Mathias 44,230 + 4575 = 48,805
    Willa 41,737 + 4575 = 46,312

    Since 48k is required for 9th level, everyone but Willa has now attained that.]

    Aurora passes Willa three blue and two black grenades.

    Remaining grenades currently carried by party:
    Thokk: 3 blue
    Willa: 4 red, 2 black
    Aurora: 2 blue, 3 red
    Babshapka: 1 black
    Doro: 2 red, 2 black
    Mathias: 2 red, 1 black
    Total: 0 green, 5 blue, 6 red, 11 black
    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: 1061
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    Tue Nov 28, 2023 10:04 am  
    Post 301: We used to call this "name level"

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Nosnra sets out with war party. Party takes the Steading.
    8 April: Attack on Headwater. Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Party arrives in Headwater
    10 April: Skirmish at Fort Grenvu. Bickering in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    11 April: Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    12 April Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within the city.
    13 April Sack of Fort Grenvu. Kerri probes and skirmishes to look for weaknesses among enemies occupying Headwater.
    14 April Sterish forces break siege, retake east bank of Headwater. The enemy are scattered.
    16 April Party at the Fjell. Skirmish at Fort Saddle
    19 April Raid on Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)
    20 April Troubles Roll = 0

    Post 301: We used to call this "name level"

    20 April [25 Planting] - Num-Theraz
    (Aboveground: low 65, high 85)

    [In the morning, rested and refreshed, the party finds that they are all level 9 - except Willa. Note that at 9th level, a 5e character's 'Proficiency Bonus' jumps from +3 to +4. This means they advance in every skill they are proficient at, in attack rolls with proficient weapons, and for casters, the DC for saving against their spells]

    New abilities and items since last level are indicated in bold

    Babshapka of the Silverwood (note, Babshapka actually leveled in Post 286 and learned his new spell in Post 297)
    Ninth 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), Hobgoblin (S), Giant (S/W)
    Hp. 69
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands, Temperate Hills)
    Features: Favored Enemy (Hobgoblins, Kobolds, and Giants), Natural Explorer (Woods and Hills), Primeval Awareness, Land's Stride
    Feat: Sharpshooter
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding, Extra Attack, Multiattack Defense
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, ioun stone (no food or drink required), shortsword, longbow, normal arrows, silvered arrows, 'giant' arrows [heads break off], 'ordinance' arrows [short range, more damage], 11 magic arrows+2, blaster pistol, blaster rifle, one stun grenade
    Spells: Knows six spells at (4/3/2)
    (1) Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark, Cure Wounds, Goodberry
    (2) Lesser Restoration
    (3) Protection from Energy

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Ninth Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 20 (+5) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 96
    Languages (all spoken only): Orc, Goblin, Common
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
    The Sunsword (Longsword+1, +3 vs. undead), The Keeper's Axe (battle-axe +2), Shield+2, two rings of protection +1, 5 javelins of lightning, Couatl Scale of Detect Thoughts, hand axes, waterskin of 'black wine'
    Fighting Style: Unarmored Defense, Extra Attack, Reckless Attack, Rage, Focused Rage, Relentless Endurance, Brutal Critical
    Features: Fast Movement (also while stealthy and tracking), Feral Instinct, Fighting Helps me Sleep

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Ninth level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 20 (+5) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 53
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Features: Hypnotic Gaze, Instinctive Charm, Master of Minor Mysteries (cantrips and first level spells)
    Bracers of defense, 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, healing cannister, Couatl Scale of Detect Evil and Good, Staff, two unidentified potions, 100' cave spider silk rope, teleportation circle gem chalks, wineskin of 'black wine'

    Spells: 4/3/3/3/1
    Cantrips: Prestidigitation, Fire Bolt, Mage Hand, Message
    First: Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Mage Armor, Feather Fall, Find Familiar, Magic Missile, Sleep, Silent Image, Unseen Servant, Shield, Identify
    Second: Magic Mouth, Mirror Image, Invisibility, Web, Knock, Blur, Rope Trick, Crown of Madness, Enlarge / Reduce
    Third: Animate Dead, Counterspell, Fireball, Fly, Phantom Steed, Sending, Slow
    Fourth: Greater Invisibility, Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum
    Fifth: Teleportation Circle, Wall of Stone - [has not learned these yet but will obtain them soon]

    Doro Doof
    Ninth Level Bard (College of Lore) / Human (Mixed race, Greyhawk City) (Criminal)
    Str. 8 (-1) Dex 16 (+3) Con 16 (+3) Int 10 (0) Wis 12 (+1) Cha 16 (+3)
    Hp. 74
    Languages: Common, Thieves Cant
    Skills: Acrobatics, Arcana, Deception, History, Investigation, Performance (Expertise), Persuasion, Stealth (Expertise), Also: Jill of All Trades applies to all other skills
    Features: Bardic Inspiration, Song of Rest, Cutting Words, Font of Inspiration, Countercharm, Additional Magic Secrets
    Feat: Magic Initiate (Warlock)
    Flametongue Rapier, Stun grenades, Incendiary Grenades, Samisen, 15 tiny silver fairy statues

    Spells Known: 3 cantrips (plus two from Magic Initiate); 12 spells, plus 1 from Magic Initiate and 2 from Additional Magic Secrets = 15 total
    Cantrips: Light, Mending, Vicious Mockery, Eldritch Blast (MI), Mind Sliver (MI)
    First: Dissonant Whispers, Faerie Fire, Healing Word, Hideous Laughter, Comprehend Languages (MI)
    Second: Heat Metal, Invisibility, Spiritual Weapon, dropped Hold Person
    Third: Hypnotic Pattern, Leomund's Tiny Hut, Aura of Vitality
    Fourth: Dimension Door, Polymorph
    Fifth: Animate Objects, Seeming

    "Mathias" (Leezar / Leezarius Angelicus Temtonio)
    Ninth Level Warlock (Pact of the Tome) / Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 10 (0) Dex 16 (+3) Con 13 (+1) Int 8 (-1) Wis 9 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp 52
    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

    Cantrips (3): Eldritch Blast, Mage Hand, Mind Sliver. Book of Shadows gives: Guidance, Message, Friends
    Invocations (5): One with Shadows, Fiend's Sight, Armor of Shadows, dropped Maddening Hex, added Far Scribe, Book of Ancient Secrets
    Otherworldly Patron Features (2): Dark One's Blessing, Dark One's Own Luck
    Spells (10; all cast at 5th level): Witch Bolt dropped, Armor of Agathys, Dispel Magic, Fly, Darkness, Scorching Ray, Summon Aberrant Spirit, Wall of Fire, Dimension Door, Teleportation Circle, Synaptic Static
    Equipment: Scimitar, Alien Translator, Laser Pistol, Blaster Pistol, Blaster Rifle, Power Discs, Couatl Scale of Detect Magic, Book of Shadows, Ring of Mind Shielding, Magic Mace (Willa's), Magic Spear (party's), wineskin of 'black wine', stun grenade, incendiary grenade

    The party is brought their breakfast by the dwarves - hot gruel with lots of salt and just a hint of cinnamon. The dwarves apologize gruffly - they should have been able to offer them butter or cream, but the hobgoblins have eaten or scared off all of the dwarves’ goats, and it will likely be years before they can build up their flocks again. At least there is ale to wash it down, and some of the best ale they have ever tasted, Willa voices loudly.

    As to the reward the party spoke of, the dwarves say that they are a prosperous city but not a wealthy one - they mine iron and coal, forge steel, and make tools, weapons, and armor for the humans of Sterrich. In return, they get food to feed their city, but not much gold. What little coin they have is going to the widows and orphans, the families who lost warriors after the giants and hobgoblins attacked. They recognize the party as the liberators of their city, pledge that the party will always have refuge and comfort there among them, but regret that they cannot offer a cash reward.

    However, their forges are at the service of the party - is there anything of metal that they would like crafted? Arms or armor or otherwise?

    Doro immediately says that she would like fifteen tiny silver statues of fairies. This prompts a lot of strange looks among the dwarves, and more than a few among the party, but the dwarves seem relieved that there is something they can do to pay their obligation. They respond that they will have their best craftsmen working on them at once.

    The party goes through their gear and remarks that they could use some more rope. Later in the day they are brought a 100’ coil of rope that the dwarves say has been woven from the silk of cave spiders. [It is as heavy as silk rope but will support twice as much weight].

    Aurora, hoping that the Countess will be able to provide them with a teleportation circle spell, asks to speak with an alchemist. Although most of their warriors are still fighting hobgoblin holdouts in the mines, apparently the silversmiths and alchemists are available. Aurora describes what she would like - powered gemstone mixed with chalk and pressed into chalk pieces - to create the material components of the spell. She remarks that since the gems are powdered, they can be flakes, chips, miscut, and so forth. By the end of the day she is brought two gem-infused chalks.

    At their evening meal, which the dwarves provide, the party is gifted 30 “iron rations” - jerky, hard cheese, and hard-baked bars of honey and oats. These will last indefinitely (unlike the fresh food from the giants). Because the rations have almost no water-weight, each iron ration weighs only a pound and a half (compared to the two pounds of a fresh ration). Thokk says that stinky cheese is no substitute for his hobgoblin jerky - one cannot compare food made by a warrior in battle with that fashioned by a milkmaid.

    Some silversmiths also bring Doro a few (Luck roll -1) roughed-out ideas for silver fairy statuettes. Doro expresses dismay that there are nowhere near fifteen, and the artisans explain that these are prototypes for her approval - they had envisioned fifteen completely-different, hand-carved statuettes in poses of her selection. Doro explains that they will be leaving soon - she chooses the one she likes best, asks them to make a lost wax mold and have fifteen identical ones cast as soon as they can. The craftsfolk range from disappointed to offended that they will not have a chance to display their individual artistry, but this is Doro’s reward, after all. They ask whether a steel core with a silver coating will be acceptable in order to speed the process and Doro agrees.

    The party eats with a tired military commander and a fervent-looking priestess. The commander tells them that they have retaken all of the city, and that pockets of hobgoblins are trapped in some of the mines but will soon be overcome. The priestess tells them that she has learned from hobgoblin officers, quite against their conscious will, that the tunnel going south of Num-Theraz descends rapidly, corkscrewing far below the Sterish river valley, and then heads south. It passes under the Crystalmists, through the lands from where most of the hobgoblins were recruited. The tunnel is hundreds of miles long, and ends in the Hellfurnaces, where the Fire Giants rule. The tunnels themselves have been inspected by dwarven engineers - and it is a mystery how they were dug. Certainly not by hand, possibly through some magical or elemental power. The party asks whether they are new, and the priestess relays that yes, they do not appear much older than the two months of the invasion.

    As dusk approaches, Phreeeee and Hedwig return. They spent the day circling the city and valley. They report pockets of hobgoblins, all withdrawing in orderly fashion - but no giants, whether frost, fire, or otherwise (Luck roll +1 for weather and environmental hazards).
    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

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
    Posts: 541
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    Fri Dec 01, 2023 11:06 pm  

    Boy, Thokk's Army wasn't much help, was it? Is he going to go back to the Steading to get some new recruits?

    If you won't play out what happened to the orcs back at the Steading, what would you eventually decide happen to them if you had to use DM fiat?

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Sat Dec 02, 2023 8:32 am  

    Actually, I'm surprised Thokk's orc army lasted this long. Unless Kirt is willing to allow the orcs to gain levels through experience points, those one-hit die orcs weren't going to be very useful as the party encounters higher-level opponents.

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    Adept Greytalker

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    Sun Dec 03, 2023 9:44 pm  

    If Kirt were playing AD&D, then sure, but this is 5E. We don't know exactly what kind of stats they had, unless Kirt decides to show them to us.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Dec 06, 2023 7:43 pm  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Boy, Thokk's Army wasn't much help, was it? Is he going to go back to the Steading to get some new recruits?

    If you won't play out what happened to the orcs back at the Steading, what would you eventually decide happen to them if you had to use DM fiat?

    No, they didn't last too long. They did serve their purpose of being sort of a Greek chorus telling Thokk how great he was. When the party was facing the bunkers outside of Num-Theraz, the wounded orc was the one that managed to find the secret door in - it might have taken the party much longer. And during the fight inside, they didn't do much offensively - but just being there as targets likely prevented Aurora from being squished by the Fire Giant Dreadnaught. So good job all around. Starting with Phreeeee, there is now somewhat of a running theme with Thokk adopting creatures and NPCs into his warband. Some of them make out ok, others not so much. I don't think they would have lasted long at the Frost Giants, or even the Repository before then.

    As far as leveling, whenever the PC's level, I allow them to pay an xp tax to promote their followers, if they choose. So the orcs wouldn't earn XP themselves, but when Thokk leveled to 9th, he could have spent his own xp to level the orcs, had they survived - as Mathias did to promote a few of them to shaman back at the Steading. They started as 'orc warriors' with the basic MM stats, but I would allow them to advance using the 5e 'sidekick' rules in terms of powers and abilities. In 5e, however, RAW sidekicks advance automatically and stay at the level of the PCs. In my syncretism, they could gain a level, when the PCs did, if their patron sponsored them with xp - but they would have stayed 7 levels behind Thokk.

    One night when not all the players could make our play session, Leezar's player and I started to play out the return of the Hill Giants, retreating from Headwater to the Steading. The orcs took some losses on the first level, but then withdrew down the barricaded stairs to the basement. I think they could have held the giants off but we never finished it.

    Left to themselves, eventually their religious factions would have torn them apart and any survivors would have been absorbed by other orc tribes. Had Leezar continued his patronage of them and his sponsorship of shaman, it could have been turned into an outpost of Graz'zt-worshipping orcs that might have grown to be a problem for 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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Dec 06, 2023 8:10 pm  
    Post 302: Num-Theraz to the Oestral Abyss

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Nosnra sets out with war party. Party takes the Steading.
    8 April: Attack on Headwater. Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Party arrives in Headwater
    10 April: Skirmish at Fort Grenvu. Bickering in occupied Headwater, Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    11 April: Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    12 April Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within the city.
    13 April Sack of Fort Grenvu. Kerri probes and skirmishes to look for weaknesses among enemies occupying the city.
    14 April Sterish forces break siege, retake east bank of Headwater. The enemy are scattered.
    16 April Party at the Fjell. Skirmish at Fort Saddle
    19 April Raid on Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)
    21 April Troubles Roll -3 - 1 = -4; Sack of Dagger Pass (Frost Giants)
    22 April Troubles Roll 0
    23 April Troubles Roll 1 - 1 = 0
    24 April Troubles Roll 1 - 2 = -1; Skirmish at Poignard (humanoids)
    25 April Troubles Roll -3; Siege of Velikar’s Fort (Frost Giants)

    Post 302: Num-Theraz to the Oestral Abyss

    21 April [26 Planting] - Num-Theraz
    (low 65, high 84 aboveground, high winds and driving rain from 4pm-midnight)
    Fall of the Fort at Dagger Pass (Frost Giants)

    In the morning Doro is brought the fifteen identical silver statuettes.

    Over breakfast, a dwarven priest discusses with the party the intelligence they were able to get from captured hobgoblins during the night:

    The Fire Giants are led by one King Snurre Ironbelly. He recruited the hobgoblins to join him in a war against the humans of Sterich. Using some sort of magical drilling machine, the giants have made a tunnel from their lands, through hundreds of miles of rock, to underneath the hobgoblin lands, from there to Num-Theraz, and from there to a place they call ‘the repository’. At the repository the hobgoblins are stockpiling siege engines made by the giants and shipped through the tunnels. From the fire giants to the dwarves a rail line has been built, like that used for mining carts, and the siege engines are carried hundreds of miles along this rail. Once at the dwarves, the rail ends, and the enslaved dwarves are forced to haul the engines by hand the rest of the way to the repository.

    The overall plan is for the Frost Giants to continue to conduct raids, eliminate outlying forts, and remove human villages in skirmishing actions. Once all the humans are cowering in the largest walled cities and towns for defense, and Sterish troops are entrenched and will be slow to respond, the fire giants will emerge from the tunnels with their siege engines to attack and capture cities.

    The party listens soberly to this report. In the end, they reason that any additional intelligence that might be gained by staying another day with the dwarves is not worth another day of delay in dealing with the giants. They decide that they will set out immediately for the repository, eliminate the stockpile of siege engines, travel to Headwater to receive the magic items the Countess has sent them, and then use the chain to finally make the jump to the frost giants. [Although there are some characters that feel ready to use the chain now, all the players agree at a meta-level that an attack on the repository is a good way to level Willa to 9th before they use the chain].

    The tunnel entrance, and the intersection of the tunnel to the Fjell with the tunnel south, is now guarded by squads of heavily armed and armored dwarves, as well as a few leather-clad messengers. When the party is finally en route back to the Fjell but beyond dwarven earshot, they send to the Countess:

    Learned plans. Phase (1) Hill. (2) Frost attack fringes and cluster humans. (3) Fire with crafted siege equipment against cities. En route to destroy siege equipment.

    She responds:

    If plan is phased, Frost Giants are your priority - but who knows whether you will return? You have your choice of targets. Strike the Enemy!

    The fact that the Countess is assessing goals and priorities based on the assumption that the party may very well not return from the Frost Giants is certainly level-headed and realistic - but not particularly encouraging.

    They return through the tunnel, and by the end of the day’s march they have reached the portion directly under the Fjell. The cart they left with what remains of the hobgoblin gear is untouched and marks the crevasse leading to the surface. They consider ascending to report to the Thane, but in the end decide that the multi-hour detour is unnecessary, and that the Thane doesn’t really need to know much more than he already does. Aurora requests via sending to Ooooooorm that their things be taken care of:

    Hey, stony. We are still exploring the tunnel. Could you care for the mule?
    And see that no one touches the gear we left, please.

    After a somewhat longer pause than they are accustomed to from the Countess, Oooooorm replies:

    Your things are safe with us.
    The mule has been adopted by a goat herd and has abundant fresh pasturage.
    It will be fine here.

    They make camp in the tunnel, on the stone ground but protected from the wild rainstorm raging aboveground, to which they are oblivious.

    Two meals times four people is 3 less fresh giant rations (to 50).
    Babshapka uses his stone.
    Thokk goes from 10 to 9 hobgoblin jerky rations.

    22 April [27 Planting] - Siege Tunnel Below the Fjell

    It is only a few miles after the Fjell that the party comes upon the site of their battle with the hobgoblins. The bodies are as they left them, although bloated with corpse gas and detectable for a mile by their smell in the small and unvented tunnel. Even the trolls remain where they fell, their fabled power to ‘regenerate’ for some reason having not functioned. The party, most of them trying to keep from retching, does not linger.

    After the party has gone some thirty miles forward (with Thokk noting that the grade is gently sloping down the whole way), there is still no sign of the ‘repository.’ They press on, certain that the end must be near. After an hour of forced march, Babshapka succumbs to exhaustion, and Aurora creates a phantom steed for him to ride while he rests. (DC10 Constitution saves 19 (Mathias), 18 (Thokk), 16 (Aurora), 15 (Willa), 10 (Doro), 6 (Babshapka - fails - one level of exhaustion)).

    After the second hour of forced march, Aurora, too, is exhausted (DC11 Con saves 15 (Mathias), 14 (Willa), 12 (Thokk), 12 (Doro), 3 (Aurora - fails - one level of exhaustion). With 36 miles under their belt for the day and no end in sight to the perfectly straight tunnel, Willa calls for a halt before any more of them founder.

    As they make camp, Babshapka searches for the elemental he felt before with his primeval awareness, but does not sense it nearby. As an added precaution while they sleep, Doro uses her (new from 9th level) seeming spell just before she beds down. If they are chanced upon in the next eight hours, they will appear to be a squad of hobgoblins!

    Four less fresh giant rations (to 46)
    Babshapka uses his stone.
    Thokk from 9 to 8 hobgoblin jerky rations

    23 April [28 Planting] - Siege Tunnel Below the Crystalmists near Fort Saddle

    Willa has been having them carefully ration their water since entering the tunnel. Nonetheless, after they break their fast in the morning, all their skins are dry and they have no water left. She insists there must be some source about - the canteens the hobgoblins carried were neither large nor numerous, and, when asked, Thokk vociferously agrees that hobgoblins have no special ability to conserve water like camels (although he doesn’t actually know what a camel is).

    They take a more leisurely pace to start the day, both to stave off thirst and to allow Babshapka more time to study what few tracks there are in the tunnel. The most obvious thing he finds is that although the tracks go both ways, more of them are pointed in the direction the party is traveling than do return - there may be an accumulation of hobgoblins, dwarves, and trolls waiting for them at the end (Babshapka Survival 20, Thokk 9).

    While the tunnel itself is smooth and perfectly excavated, it does pass through or intersect cracks and fissures in the natural bedrock, often at the gaps between rock layers of different types. Now that he is explicitly watching for tracks, Babshapka finds that these cracks invariably have a cluster of prints around them. On the second one he investigates, he learns why - apparently water trickles along such gaps and can occasionally collect in small crevasses when they are shaped into natural bowls or basins. The water accumulated in any given one is small, but they are numerous and continually replenished, so that by stopping at each one in turn, the party can, over the course of the day, eventually fill all their skins even as they continue to drink from them - as apparently the hobgoblins did with their canteens. A group any larger than the company of twenty hobgoblins they fought would go thirsty, but at the party’s small size it can keep itself in water indefinitely (Babshapka Survival 21).

    They have plenty of food, and the temperature in the tunnel is constant and comfortable. Now that they have water as well, Willa is more confident in their march and less anxious about each step taking them farther from their only known way out.

    They press on again, forcing themselves to march farther at the end of the day, though not as far as the day previous (33 miles covered, total 69 miles from the Fjell, DC10 Con saves: 29 (Thokk), 19 (Willa), 18 (Mathias) 13 (Babshapka), 6 (Doro - fails - one level of exhaustion), 3 (Aurora - fails - one level of exhaustion).

    Four less fresh giant rations (to 42)
    Babshapka uses his stone
    Thokk from 8 to 7 hobgoblin jerky rations
    [The party camps far beneath the Fort of Dagger Pass - which fell to Frost Giants two days ago.]

    24 April [1 Flocktime] - Siege Tunnel Below Dagger Pass
    Skirmish at Poignard (humanoids)

    The party continues the interminable march down the seemingly everlasting tunnel. They push further in the evening until they begin to fall from exhaustion (33 miles covered, total 102 miles from the Fjell, DC10 Con save 23 (Thokk), 15 (Doro), 15 (Babshapka), 9 (Mathias - fail - one level of exhaustion), 7 (Willa - fail - one level of exhaustion), 6 (Aurora - fail - one level of exhaustion).

    Four less fresh giant rations (to 38)
    Babshapka uses his stone
    Thokk from 7 to 6 hobgoblin jerky rations
    [The party camps far beneath Poignard - where even now there is fighting with the Sterish defending against orcs and goblins]

    25 April [2 Flocktime] - Siege Tunnel Below Poignard-Mittelberg
    Velikar’s Fort Under siege - humanoids and Frost Giants

    The party sets out for another day’s march. Willa and Babshapka have been talking about pace, distance, and direction. They agree that by now they must be past Mittleberg, and approaching Istivin. If the siege engines have a destination, Istivin seems logical. Where else would be a target worthy of the fire giants? They must mean to capture the capital and force the capitulation of the Earl.

    With them increasingly feeling that they must be ‘getting close’, Doro casts seeming on them during their midday pause. In the afternoon, however, the apparent squad of hobgoblins continues down nothing more than the unchanging, monotonous tunnel. At day’s end, Willa refuses to stop - they will force march yet again. (33 miles covered, total 135 miles from the Fjell - DC10 Con save 21 (Willa), 20 (Mathias), 19 (Thokk), 17 (Doro), 10 (Aurora), 3 (Babshapka - fail - one level of exhaustion).

    With only Babshapka struggling, they pause at the end of the hour just long enough for Aurora to hardcast summon a phantom steed for the elf, then continue another hour. (36 miles covered, total 138 miles from the Fjell - DC11 Con Save 24 (Willa), 23 (Thokk), 22 (Doro), 15 (Mathias), 2 (Aurora - fail - one level of exhaustion).

    Babshapka drops from the saddle of his rapidly-disappearing steed. “There’s something different here…” he says vaguely, then, “The air, it’s fresher - I think there may be something up ahead - perhaps a route to the surface.”

    “Pffff, well that’s something to check out tomorrow,” sighs Aurora, using the pause to slip off her backpack.

    Thokk and Babshapka move as silently as they can down the tunnel from the party (Thokk passive stealth 12, Babshapka 18 but 13 with exhaustion. Thokk passive perception 15, Babshapka 15 but 10 with exhaustion). They have not gone very far when they agree that something ahead is blocking off the tunnel, and they can hear soft, echoing noises. They return to the party.

    There is a quick, hushed discussion among the party. On the one hand both Aurora and Babshapka are exhausted. On the other, they are all at full health and spells, and have about an hour left on Doro’s seeming. Striking now with surprise may be safer than waiting the night and being discovered by scouts or patrols.

    Willa arranges the party into battle order while Mathias slowly approaches the obstacle. He pauses every few feet, disappearing in the darkness, only becoming visible again when he moves. As he gets closer, he can see that the tunnel ahead is completely blocked off by a set of sturdy-looking metal bars (Perception 13). There are moving figures behind them.

    Mathias gets a little too close and kicks a stone, which bounces off the bars with a metallic clang (Stealth 5). He moves against the wall of the tunnel and freezes, disappearing. Hobgoblins appear at the bars - they look alert but not alarmed, watching through the bars down the tunnel and speaking softly to one another. Mathias messages the party, describing how there are two enemies at the bars and at least eight in the large chamber beyond. The bars look solid.

    Trusting in their seeming appearance as hobgoblins, the party approaches in an orderly fashion, with Babshapka in the lead. In his best hobgoblin, he calls out, “Oy, open the gate!”

    The closest hobgoblin responds, “Right, and who are you, now?”
    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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    Wed Dec 13, 2023 2:15 pm  
    Post 303: Repository I

    DM's Note on sources: The original source of the Oestral Abyss is Dungeon 119, which explains that it is the result of a sinkhole that swallowed a Sterish noble manor, but is now an entrance to the Underdark guarded by drow. I didn't want to tip my hand to the party as to the drow just yet, as I was still leaving clues, but I liked the setting and the proximity to Istivin. In my game, as discovered by the dwarves of Num-Theraz, the fire giants had been stockpiling siege engines at the bottom of the Oestral Abyss, guarded by trolls and hobgoblins, to be used against the human capital at the culmination of the plans of the giant alliance. The general layout I took from Dungeon, but the actual battle map was of my own invention.

    This was a difficult fight for the party, as an assault on a fortified position with plenty of archers (hobgoblins) and shock troops (trolls) and considerable environmental disadvantage (I tried to have the hobgoblin ballistae fire on the illuminated party from out of the range of their perception in the dark, and lots of sections of rubble were difficult terrain). In addition to the party unraveling more of the plot, I wanted to test them against the sheer number of trolls that would be present in the original G3 and make sure that Willa earned enough xp to get to 9th level before they set out for G2.

    Post 303 - Repository I
    25 April [2 Flocktime] continued - Tunnel Entrance of The Oestral Abyss

    Trusting in their seeming appearance as hobgoblins, the party approaches in an orderly fashion, with Babshapka in the lead. In his best hobgoblin, he calls out, “Oy, open the gate!”

    The closest hobgoblin responds, “Right, and who are you, now?”

    Babshapka tries to bluff his way in, aided by a bit of magic from Mathias. “What the f***! Just open the d*** gate!” (Performance 16, but 14 with disadvantage from exhaustion, +3 from guidance, total 17. Hobgoblin Insight 20, but Doro uses cutting words to drop it to 18; still better than his Performance).

    A discussion breaks out among the hobgoblins, pitting those who can see that they obviously have legionmates outside and those that are more strict about security protocol.

    “Just open the gate for them, already.”

    “Wait, that’s not procedure. They haven’t even given the password yet.”

    The captain on gate detail grabs an Iron Shadow and points her at the gate. She uses her shadow jaunt to jump past the closed bars into the middle of the party and assess the situation.

    Babshapka realizes that he is not going to stand up to the guards’ verbal questioning, or the party to the scrutiny of the Iron Shadow. He needs to increase the urgency of the situation and hope that one of them makes a rash decision.

    “S***! Did you see that?” he says, trying to sound afraid as he whips his head back and forth. “Open the gate, hurry!” (Persuasion 2 with disadvantage + 4 guidance = 6)

    The hobgoblins remain skeptical (guard Insight 8, Iron Shadow 15). “See what?” they demand.

    Aurora-hobgoblin edges forward, trying to estimate the space beyond the gate for placement of a fireball. She messages Babshapka. You could say the officer with the password was killed, she suggests.

    Mathias doesn’t understand hobgoblin, but he can hear the tone of urgency in Babshapka’s voice, can see him turning his head behind them nervously. If that is the plan, he can help with that. With a few gestures, Mathias-hobgoblin is visible and so is a great red Slaad, but behind the party and just at the limit of the Iron Shadow’s darkvision.

    When the Iron Shadow gasps, Babshapka turns and sees Ephi as well. “I don’t have the password!” he says desperately. “Our captain was killed by that thing - I’ve only been leader for the last day, but it has been chasing us - let us in or we’ll all be killed!”

    Aurora grins and messages Thokk, pretend to hold Ephi off.

    Round One
    The largest hobgoblin in the party bravely draws his sword and moves to block the Slaad’s way. He gestures for the others to save themselves.

    “S***, here it comes!” says Babshapka desperately, his voice breaking. [At this point, the party’s pantomime has offset the disadvantage from Babshapka’s exhaustion. He gets a flat Persuasion roll; 8. The hobgoblin at the gate makes an Insight of 6.]

    “Open the gate!” yells the hobgoblin inside. “Hold to close on my command! Code red attack!”

    To Babshapka’s great surprise the gate slides laterally into the wall next to him, disappearing from view. Good thing the party didn’t try to lift it!

    Ephi slashes at Thokk, but the hobgoblin barbarian takes the blow on his shield (Ephi is making an honest attempt to hit, but with only one attack, as directed by Mathias. Thokk is dodging; with disadvantage, Ephi misses). Keep attacking until we are all inside, Mathias messages Ephi as he moves past the gate and into the chamber beyond. Then make a break for it and get in before the gate closes.

    Babshapka moves into the guard chamber and looks about for the opening mechanism of the gate, but sees nothing (Perception 15). Doro follows but continues on to where the guard chamber opens to an even larger space - at the edge of her vision she can see siege engines!

    Willa is still in the tunnel, with the Iron Shadow standing next to her. The hobgoblin begins speaking. Willa nods emphatically, but understands nothing of the words. From the chamber beyond, Babshapka just catches “......the gate.” (Intelligence check 16, with advantage for favored enemy, on knowledge of Hobgoblin language).

    Suddenly a second Iron Shadow appears next to the first (silent image); the first withdraws and re-enters the guard chamber. Willa follows.

    Round Two
    With Willa-hobgoblin and the (real) Iron Shadow now back behind the gate, a guard calls for the gate to be closed. As soon as he hears the ringing metal sound, Thokk disengages, then turns and sprints, trying to make it through the narrowing gap. The demon pursues him. [Thokk needs an Athletics 15 to make it through in time; rolls a 21. Ephi needs a 20; rolls a 23!] Thokk makes it through with time to spare, but the demon dives through, sprawling on the floor just as the gate clangs solidly into place behind it.

    Ephi staggers to his feet, swiping his claws at the nearest actual hobgoblin and slicing through his fleshy neck above his heavy armor. The hobgoblin fountains blood as he falls to the stone floor (one hit, 16 points slashing).

    The Iron Shadow pulls forth a small ceramic flask and lobs it at Ephi - the frog-thing sidesteps and the flask smashes against the stone wall, spraying a bright yellow liquid that slowly oozes down the wall. It is thick, sticky, and viscous - and in the dim light, it is glowing! (Iron Shadow attack roll 15, Ephi summoned with a 5th level spell slot, AC16).

    From behind the Shadow, at the entrance to the larger chamber, Doro-hobgoblin whispers in a creepy voice - the Shadow turns pale and flees (dissonant whispers, Wisdom save 9; fails, 12 psychic damage).

    Babshapka looks quickly about - the gate is closed, but all the party is inside - it is time to reveal themselves. He draws twin blades and turns on the nearest gate guard, slashing him with his broadsword. The guard brings his shield up to block his next swing, but is not quick enough to counter the shortsword in Babshapka’s left hand (two hits, total 18 damage) and the thrust drops the guard to the ground.

    Willa quickly appraises the situation. The three hobgoblins next to her, nearest the gate, have sword and shield. Two others are on the ground, bleeding out from Ephi and Babshapka’s attacks. Another half-dozen are spaced throughout the chamber, shields on backs and longbows drawn. Their sights had been fixed on Ephi, but with Babshapka’s attacks their bows are momentarily lowered in confusion of who or what should be their target. A hobgoblin officer, at the far entrance near Doro, barks something she doesn’t understand.

    “Now!” shouts Willa in Common, and suddenly there is a hobgoblin in the guardroom with a flaming sword. A less-disciplined foe facing both her and the demon would have surely dropped their weapons and run, but the two guards next to her hold their ground, and her powerful cuts are turned aside by the practiced placement of their heavy shields.

    Aurora shoots a firebolt that takes out one of the archers as she scoots across the room to stand next to Mathias-hobgoblin.

    Round Three
    Thokk enrages, then moves closer to Willa. His attacks don’t penetrate the heavy armor of the hobgoblins, but his presence forces them to break position and will later help his comrades (rage gives advantage to teammates).

    Mathias uses bolts of force to drop one archer (two hits, 13 damage) and then takes cover from the remaining one.

    Ephi slashes through one of the remaining guards in melee (two hits, 22 points) and now there is just one left. Mathias directs the Slaad to disrupt the archers, and the last hobgoblin at the gate swings as he departs (opportunity attack misses). Babshapka continues to work on the guards (first broadsword hit for 11 drops one guard, moves to attack an archer and hits for 6).

    Aurora wounds an archer with her firebolt (6 points).

    From the larger chamber beyond, a troll approaches. It has caught the scent of humans and elves. As it approaches Doro, Mathias, and Aurora it inhales deeply, seeking a target among those who look like hobgoblins - until Doro uses magic to confuse it and it moves on! (Troll Perception, with advantage for checks based on smell, 19. Doro uses cutting words to drop its Perception check to a 10!)

    Ignoring the guard she was next to, Willa moves to intercept the troll before it can figure out that the bard and mages are not hobgoblins (opportunity attack critical hit, Willa takes 10). Her blows are clumsy, but the troll is off balance from Thokk’s feints, allowing her to connect anyway. The troll screams in agony as her flaming blade cuts and sears it (two hits but both only hit with the advantage provided by Thokk’s rage; slashing and fire damage totals 38).

    The hobgoblin officer yells out into the greater chamber, and Babshapka catches his words (Intelligence 14 with advantage for favored enemy) - “Infiltrators! Maroon protocol!” Babshapka translates the words for the party. Doro has, with her seeming, chosen their armor to be different enough from that of the hobgoblins so that the party can tell friend from foe as long as they are nearby. Now that the hobgoblins have been warned, they will be able to do so as well, at least at close range. The officer then throws a javelin at Willa, telling her apart by her flaming sword, but misses.

    There remains of the original gate detail a single guardsman with sword and shield, and three archers, although one of the archers is being menaced by Babshapka and he drops his bow, draws his sword, and attacks two-handed (hits for 5). The two archers remaining also focus fire on Babshapka, using his defense against their comrade to their advantage (two hits for 8, plus martial advantage for 11 more).

    Doro assesses the hobgoblin officer - he looks more rugged than the others by far. She decides to even the odds with a spell - heat metal on his half plate. Good thing seeming doesn’t require her concentration! In a few seconds his armor is blazing hot and his skin is sizzling! (Captain takes 9 points of damage this round).

    The Iron Shadow has been studying the movements of the ‘hobgoblin’ infiltrators and decides that the one throwing firebolts is a mage. She lobs a flask of the glowing ooze at Aurora, but the enchantress blocks the projectile with an arcane shield (attack roll 16 would hit, but not against an AC20).

    Round Four
    The captain is not about to take off his plate armor in the middle of the battle. He clenches his jaw and takes another 9 points of fire damage. Doro shoots a mind sliver at the Iron Shadow that just attacked Aurora, but she makes her save (Int 20).

    Mathias fires his bolts of force at the Iron Shadow (one hit, 10 damage), and then directs Ephi to attack the hobgoblin captain. The slaad slashes him (one hit, 16 points).

    The Iron Shadow attempts to save the hobgoblin captain by shooting four of the strange iron star-like darts at Doro, but fails to break the heat metal spell (two hits, 13 damage, but Doro makes both concentration saves 18, 22). The Shadow disappears (shadow jaunt away from the party’s current line of sight), leaving the captain to his fate.

    The hobgoblin captain swings ineffectually at Willa (misses with disadvantage due to heat metal). The wounded troll (no regeneration - Willa hit it last round with fire) stays in combat despite its injuries and the presence of the flaming sword (Wisdom check 8 ), but it has finally sussed out where the human smell is coming from (Perception with advantage 19). It lunges at Willa, raking her with a claw (6 points). From the larger chamber beyond, a second troll dashes forward, arriving at the party but unable to attack yet.

    Babshapka cuts down the hobgoblin guard facing him (two hits, 16 damage) and moves to disrupt the fire of another archer.

    Thokk attacks the first troll with savage blows and it falls under his assault (two hits, one critical, total 34 damage - kills it, no regen).

    Aurora shoots the captain with a firebolt (15 points), permanently decommissioning him.

    Willa devastates the newly-arriving troll with her flaming greatsword (two hits, one only because of advantage from Thokk, total 47 damage including fire).

    The sole remaining gate guard, the archer facing Babshapka, drops his bow and draws his sword, managing to slice Babshapka across his hand (2 points). Babshapka grins and shouts at him in hobgoblin, “My grandmother hits harder than that, and she’s an elf!” The guard’s eyes narrow with hatred.

    Those fighting the trolls have by now spilled out of the guardroom into the larger chamber. By the light of Willa’s sword, they can see that it is huge - its full expanse across reaching beyond their light. Even its ceiling remains out of view, more than eighty feet overhead. The general shape is of a huge cylinder, with gently curving walls. Unlike the dug tunnel (most of which was through granite), this appears more like a natural chamber in the limestone bedrock. While the edges of the chamber have a rough, if natural, cave floor, in the center are heaped piles of debris - all constructed by hand! As Willa’s flame dances among her foes, the party can see illuminated great stone walls, parts of buildings, enormous columns, fallen marble statues, and other objects that have no business being in a subterranean chamber. In between all the great and intact stoneworks are countless rough blocks and smashed rubble.

    From around the corner of a standing wall a squad of hobgoblin bowmen advances. Upon sighting the party they immediately adopt an open formation and draw. Soon arrows are whistling among the party and Thokk and Mathias are hit (Thokk, critical hit for 10, 5 after rage; Mathias 6, Constitution save 11; maintains concentration on Ephi).

    Round Five
    To the party’s right, between the cavern wall and the ruined buildings, they can see numerous siege engines in neat, ordered rows. There are a few massive trebuchets, and any number of scorpions, onagers, and ballistae. Surprisingly, there is very little wood among them. Rather, they all appear to be constructed of iron, steel, and brass.

    Suddenly an Iron Shadow appears next to the party (Stealth 20) - the same one that disappeared a moment ago, or a different one? Doro tries to hit her with a mind sliver but she resists (Intelligence Save 17). Either she is a new combatant or has lost track of who is who among the false hobgoblins - rather than direct all of her attacks against Aurora as before, she throws one dart each at Mathias, Aurora, Thokk, and Willa. The last dart bounces off Willa’s magic plate, but all the others penerate (7 points each to the three hit, Thokk’s rage reduces his to 3; Mathias Constitution save 16; maintains concentration on Ephi).

    Thokk finishes off the second troll (one hit, 13 damage, no regeneration since Willa hit it with fire last turn), so that no more foes are within melee range of the party.

    The five hobgoblin archers that fired on the party before continue to do so (two hits, both critical, 13 and 16 damage). Then more arrow shots arrive from a different direction - the party is in crossfire! Thokk looks about for the source of the new threat (Perception 25). Ahead and to the right of the party is a large, mostly intact wall with battlements atop it. Three more hobgoblin archers are firing from the battlements as if defending a castle. What is that wall doing here underground? Thokk recognizes the cavern to be a natural limestone formation...a sinkhole? Yes! All of this must be from a former human fortification on the surface that tumbled down here as a sinkhole when the limestone cave beneath collapsed. The blackness above them may be night - he would not be surprised if the hole of the cavern went all the way up to the surface!

    Back in the guard chamber, Babshapka kills the last remaining hobgoblin guard (two hits, 15 points). He drops his twin blades on the spot and pulls out his bow even as he is running to finally join the others in the larger cavern, moving between Aurora and the first line of archers. “Get down, woman!” he hisses at her as he nocks an arrow.

    More hobgoblins appear, running through the rubble to the right and left of the party, a squad of seven all setting up at the base of the battlemented walls. As they begin to draw bows, Mathias turns to face them. “Oh, no you don’t,” he says and begins an incantation. The party is already under fire from eight archers; they don’t need another seven added. Suddenly the base of the stone wall erupts in flame - Mathias’ wall of fire mostly parallels the wall itself, but juts out to deliberately pass near an approaching third troll. As Mathais’ concentration shifts to the wall, Ephi fades from the field. (20 points of fire damage; four hobgoblins fail their Dex save and die immediately, another three succeed and take 10 points. The troll fails and takes all 20, as does a hidden Iron Shadow that Mathias did not even know was present.)

    Screaming in pain and rage, the troll (no regeneration, just took wall of fire damage) lunges forward away from the flaming wall and barrels into Thokk. A bite and claw misses the barbarian, but a second claw attack sinks into his bare shoulder (15 points, Thokk takes 7 after rage). Aurora tries to help with a firebolt at the troll, but the flame comes closer to Thokk than his opponent (critical miss; attack re-rolled on Thokk but also misses).

    Willa charges at the troll, but suddenly, from above and out of the darkness, comes a ballista bolt, skewering the ground in front of her! Willa and Aurora look around, but cannot see the source (Wisdom checks 2, 5). Mathias can’t either - how can the ballista be shooting at them if they can’t even see it? (Wisdom check 16) He reasons that the ballista crew is out there somewhere in the dark, using the light of Willa’s flaming sword to firr from long range. Undeterred, Willa reaches the troll’s side, and cleaves it deeply (critical hit, total 42 points slashing and fire damage).

    Round Six
    With the captain down, Doro has no need to maintain concentration on her heat metal. She decides to target the Iron Shadow with a faerie fire before she can get away - and just to use the maximum area of her spell, she includes one of the archers up on the fallen wall as well (Iron Shadow Dex save 15; saves, archer 7; fails). Unfortunately, only the archer is outlined in the glowing green.

    Thokk responds to the attack from the troll that charged him (one hit, 16 points), and then Willa drops it (one hit, 24 points including fire - no regeneration).

    “Up there!” calls Aurora, speaking of a ballista nest - she hasn’t actually seen it, but is confident her analysis of the flight path of the last bolt has determined its location, to the right of the party and more than a hundred feet up the cavern wall. “I’ll get you there!” she calls to Willa. Willa moves to her side, trying to block her from the sight of the archers.

    Babshapka casts his hunter’s mark and targets the Iron Shadow - if not faerie fire, well, the party has more than one way to pin it down. He shoots twice and one arrow finds it (5 points, total 11 with mark). Now that he is on the scene he can see the dozen archers or more firing upon them, as well as more trolls approaching through the rubble. “Get back in cover!” he commands Aurora, then shows her by withdrawing among the stored siege engines so that much of his body is blocked by the main beam of a trebuchet.

    The Iron Shadow moves forward closer to the party and lobs a flask at Thokk. The orc brings his shield up instinctively. He takes no damage, but now the glowing yellow sap is stuck to his shield. The Shadow begins to withdraw, but she is not out of sight before Mathias drops her with a bolt of force (one hit, 5 damage). Mathias retreats to the siege engines and moves out of sight.

    Almost as soon as Thokk’s shield lights up, the three hobgoblins among the battlements fire on him, but his glowing shield proves its worth against their shafts. However, from the darkness comes a ballista shot, the huge head ripping across Thokk’s midsection (Hobgoblin ballista crew Perception 20 to sight him, 23 piercing damage is 11 points after rage). A second ballista crew mis-identifies its target, and fires on the hobgoblin currently under the influence of Doro’s fairie fire (Perception 7; 8 damage). “Seeming!” Doro grins. “We’re all hobgoblins…” The others, realizing that they are now under fire from two ballistae, don’t share her enthusiasm - except for Aurora, who is confident now about where at least one of the shots came from.

    With the ground trolls near the party all dead, the Iron Shadow driven back, Thokk’s shield marked, and the party taking ballista fire, the hobgoblin archers who are not protected on the battlements drop back into the darkness for the moment until more of their forces can arrive.

    Aurora touches Willa and incants the words for the fly spell. She points off into the darkness, at least for Willa, who cannot see beyond the range of her sword light. “Straight to the cavern wall like forty feet ahead,” she says, making sure Willa sees her pointing, “Then up a hundred, maybe a hundred fifty feet. Go get ‘em, tiger!” (Aurora at 3/0/2/3/1)

    Round Seven
    Another (fourth) troll comes forward, crawling over the rubble and then loping at Thokk. Thokk wards off its bite, but one claw slashes through his defenses (critical hit, 19 points, 10 after rage).

    Willa flies up to the battlements and cuts down one of the archers (19 points including fire). Another two are out of her reach for the moment. Doro tries shooting at one with her blasts of bass, but between the stone and their armor they are hard to hit. Seeing trolls and more archers approaching on the ground, Doro drops back to the entrance of the guard chamber. Mathias clips a hobgoblin approaching Babshapka through the tangle of siege engines (one hit, 1 point). Aurora uses a firebolt to kill another hobgoblin attempting to close to melee on the ground.

    [The hobgoblins are using the tactic of sending a sacrificial melee fighter in to draw the party’s attention, and then having the remainder of their archers fire with martial advantage due to their ally.]

    The hobgoblin nearest Willa on the battlements drops his bow, draws and swings his longsword at her two-handed. The blow lacks the force to penetrate her magic armor. An arrow from the other one whizzes past her as well. On the battlements, above most of the rubble and shattered shells of tumbled-down buildings, Willa has become visible to a third ballista crew. How many of these are there? An iron-tipped bolt impacts her side heavily, severely bruising her ribs before dropping to the ground (20 points damage). A second bolt misses both Thokk’s still-glowing shield and the troll clawing at it. A third impales the hobgoblin still marked by faerie fire, entering one side of his chest and exiting the other - he drops to the ground but the shaft keeps him curiously propped up, even in death (11 points to already wounded hobgoblin).

    Babshapka tries to free Thokk from the troll before the barbarian gets hit by another ballista shaft. He manages one arrow hit (10 points to the troll, plus another six from hunter’s mark), but the second shaft misses the troll (critical miss) and breaks on Thokk’s shield. If Thokk notices, he does not complain, but focuses his rage on the troll (one hit, 16 points). Aurora carefully studies the troll’s wounds, trying to discern whether it is recovering or not. (Nature 19: she learns

    Regeneration wrote:
    The troll regains 10 hit points at the start of its turn. If the troll takes acid or fire damage, this trait doesn't function at the start of the troll's next turn. The troll dies only if it starts its turn with 0 hit points and doesn't regenerate.

    Round Eight
    From the chamber entrance, Doro hits one of the hobgoblins on the battlements with a note of force (8 points).

    Babshapka continues to fire at the troll attacking Thokk (two hits, total 22 damage with two uses of hunter’s mark). Aurora’s firebolt singes, but does not penetrate its thick hide.

    Willa cuts down both of the archers on the battlements (critical hit for 34 to one, hit for 18 to the other), shouts encouragement down to the party, then runs and launches herself in the air to the east. Rather than fly at an angular ascent, directly to the nest, she approaches the ballista as if she was boarding a ship from a jollyboat - she intends to fly as low as possible to avoid fire from the ballista itself until she reaches the hull (cavern wall), and then climb straight up to the deck (platform). Indeed, once she is halfway there from the battlements the ballista for which she is headed can no longer fire at her since it cannot be maneuvered to point so low. That doesn’t stop the three-hobgoblin crew from moving to the edge of their platform and shooting at her with their longbows, though all of them miss. Unfortunately, neither does it stop the other four ballistae spaced around the walls of the cavern from firing on her either, and Willa takes a direct hit that nearly grounds her (critical hit, 45 piercing damage).

    The troll slashes Thokk with a claw (11 points, reduced to 5 from rage). [It also regenerates 10hp - Aurora’s shot missed and Willa is not there so it has taken no fire damage since its last turn]

    Five hobgoblin archers move into view on the party’s left flank (the ones that withdrew before? new ones?) They shoot longbows at Thokk and his glowing shield (one critical hit for 13; 6 after rage). Thokk howls and takes out his anger on the troll (two hits, 33 damage; troll drops to 0 and is unconscious but not dead as it still hasn’t taken fire damage). From the cover of the siege weapons, Mathias assists with bolts of force on the troll (14 damage).

    [This was by no means the end of the battle, but it was the end of our play session for the night]
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 19, 2023 11:06 pm  
    Post 304: Repository II

    Picture a great subterranean chamber, roughly circular but hundreds of feet deep. At a half dozen locations along the walls are platforms with ballista crews, each at a different height above the floor. Behind the walls a corkscrewing tunnel connects all the platforms, but one would need to circle the chamber more than once to move from nest to nest through the tunnel. In the center of the chamber are the tumbled-down stone remains of a nobleman's castle from the surface, such that some bits of walls have actually fallen into positions where they can still be used as fortifications, but most are now just rubble. The whole place is crawling with hobgoblins and trolls. This is the Oestral Abyss, current scene of the party's struggle...

    Post 304 - Repository II
    25 April [2 Flocktime] continued - At the bottom of the Oestral Abyss

    Round Nine
    Willa continues her flight until she is at the base of the wall, then extinguishes her sword and heads straight up. She cannot see in the dark, but more importantly, she is no longer a target for the ballistae. Keeping a gauntleted hand in front of her and lightly brushing the wall as she goes, she guides herself up, although she is scratched by an unexpectedly protruding rock (dashing for 120 feet of flying movement, 20 feet to the wall then 100 feet up, Acrobatics check 7 (fail); 1 point of damage).

    From cover, Mathias shoots at the hobgoblin bowmen, but his blasts of force bounce off their heavy armor. A new (fifth) troll lurches forward towards Thokk. His first sword swing is wild, but his second is well-placed. Still, the troll seems completely unwounded. Knowing the Iron Shadow is about, Thokk ignores the evidence of his eyes and inhales deeply - no, this apparition does not smell of troll at all (Investigation 14)! It is, in fact, a silent image. Three ballista bolts impact the stone floor around Thokk and his glowing shield, but none come close enough to hit him.

    A fifth troll, this one real, is approaching from the party’s right flank. Babshapka is on it, switching his hunter’s mark and firing off arrows (one hit, 11 points with mark) from the partial cover of the siege engines.

    Two hobgoblins drop their bows and charge Thokk, keeping their shields up and attacking one-handed. One catches the barbarian unprepared (one hit, 9 points becomes 13 with martial advantage, but 6 after rage). Another six hobgoblins hang back as archers, four to the left of the party and two in front of them (standing in the gap between the battlemented wall and a free-standing wall). Five of the shafts miss, but the sixth actually hits one of the hobgoblins in melee who was supposed to be providing a distraction, and kills him with friendly fire! (critical miss, re-rolled as a hit on his own side, 14 points of damage with martial advantage)

    Who knows how many waves of hobgoblins and trolls remain? Determined to help the party hold their position, Doro begins a song of vitality - she can just reach Thokk with it from the cover of the chamber entrance, and despite his rage, he clearly looks the worst off among the party (first round of healing - 6 points to Thokk). At the beginning of the song, the area lit by her faerie fire goes dark, since her Concentration has shifted.

    The troll that has spotted Babshapka begins climbing over and among the arms and platforms of the siege engines, slashing at the elf (claw misses by one) as it pursues him. Babshapka retreats a few feet and fires an arrow in response (giant killer - hits for 10 points including mark). He tries to elude the troll's other attacks (multi-attack defense), but the troll is too fast (critical hit with claw, 21 slashing damage, Concentration save 14 on hunter’s mark ,succeeds).

    The troll that Thokk struck down just seconds before comes to life again (10 points regeneration). It skulks away from Thokk (disengage action), skulking in the darkness between the two walls until it can recover more.

    With the current state of Thokk, the absence of Willa, and now the troll rolling up the party’s right flank, Aurora does not share Doro’s optimism about the party holding their position for long. She decides to buy them some time, and launches a fireball between the two walls where the troll retreated. She places the detonation point just right (Arcana 24); hemmed in by the two stone walls, the compressed explosion shoots flames out toward the party, and for a second the air in between Thokk and Babshapka is filled with fire, but neither one of them is engulfed! The resulting damage (22 points) is enough to kill the regenerating troll, the two hobgoblin archers, and even the unseen Iron Shadow (Dex save 15; fails) that had taken refuge in the darkness. Aurora’s only regret is that Willa was not on hand to witness her achievement (Aurora at 3/0/1/3/1).

    Round Ten
    When Willa’s outstretched hand feels only empty air, she ignites her sword. By its light she can see the entire platform - a compact metal ballista like the one they overtook in the tunnel but mounted on a swivel post, three armored hobgoblins with longbows standing at the edge of the platform who were a second ago scanning for her in the darkness, the back of the platform with a narrow opening to a larger tunnel, but no other way off. The whole thing is set some 150’ above the main chamber floor and would command an excellent view of the chamber, were it lit. As it now stands she cannot even see the floor of the chamber by the light from her sword; just the small area illuminated by the wall of fire, and the tiny glowing dot of Thokk’s shield far below.

    Willa easily cuts down the first two hobgoblins, knocking one of them off the platform, though he is dead long before he hits the ground (critical hit for 42 on one, hit for 20 on the other). She pushes her attack on the third (action surge), but ends up just chasing him around and around the ballistae (two misses). She is sure the other ballistae have a bead on her by now, so she flies into the tunnel for cover while keeping her sword lit (hobgoblin opportunity attack misses). The passageway beyond seems to circle the entire large chamber, sloping strongly down in the sunwise direction and curving beyond her sight in both directions. There are no other openings apparent besides the one she entered. Unlike the tunnel they arrived through, all exposed surfaces here have the rough edges that would indicate it was hand-dug.

    Mathias pops up from behind the engines, wounds the troll attacking Babshapka with a blast of force (6 points), and returns to his cover.

    The hobgoblins facing Thokk are now down to three archers, a swordsman, and a captain. Nevertheless, the captain can see how wounded Thokk is and bellows an order to press the attack.

    Leadership wrote:
    For 1 minute, the hobgoblin can utter a special command or warning whenever a nonhostile creature that it can see within 30 feet of it makes an attack roll or a saving throw. The creature can add a d4 to its roll provided it can hear and understand the hobgoblin. A creature can benefit from only one Leadership die at a time. This effect ends if the hobgoblin is incapacitated.

    One of the archers drops his bow and charges in with his sword in both hands, but misses, as does the already present swordsman with sword and shield, and one of the archers. Steadied by the captain’s command, though, the final archer strikes true (attack roll 17 + 4 from leadership d4 = 21, hits Thokk for 7 plus 8 from martial advantage is 15, Thokk takes 7 after rage). The captain grunts in approbation and hits Thokk with a thrown javelin (2 points plus 10 from martial advantage is 12, after rage, 6 to Thokk).

    Aurora sends a firebolt that wounds the captain (5 points).

    Thokk cuts down the two hobgoblin swordsmen (two hits, 14 points; 12 points), and moves to threaten an archer, but almost immediately he is staggered by a ballista shaft whistling through the darkness (one hit, 21 points, 10 after rage).

    Doro directs her song at Thokk again (second round of healing for 6 points), but her blasts of bass at the hobgoblins are less effective (two misses).

    Babshapka keeps firing at the troll (two hits for 23 with hunter’s mark; miss on the giant killer response to the troll’s attack). The troll continues to climb through the siege engines and menace the ranger (troll regenerates 10, bite hits Babshapka for 6, Concentration save on hunter’s mark, 17 succeeds).

    Round Eleven
    Aurora’s firebolt misses the troll, but also misses Babshapka (critical miss on both of them!). “Uh, guys,” she calls out, “Babs could use some help! Maybe we should pull back to the entrance until Willa gets back? It would be easier to defend…”

    “He’s fine!” yells Mathias, as he pops up from behind a siege engine and throws two bolts of force (one hit on troll for 9 points). “We’re fine!” he says, and then ducks back down out of view.

    The former ballista crewman pursues Willa into the tunnel. He has dropped his bow on the ledge and drawn his sword, which he swings at her with both hands. She nimbly dodges him while flying, swings once and misses but then catches him on the backstroke (one critical hit; hobgoblin is very dead). She bets the tunnel will lead to the other ballista nests, but is unsure she wants to face them without knowing how the party is faring. She flies back out to the ballista ledge and uses her flaming sword to disable the ballista by cutting the fine-braided metal cable of the engine. The bow extends, losing all tension as she extinguishes her sword before she can become a target.

    Thokk finishes off the last hobgoblin archer with two swings (one hit, 13 damage). The captain is not far off, but as Thokk looks around, he can see Aurora gesturing at the cavern entrance and hear Doro’s soothing music coming from there. He has lost a lot of blood [and is nearing the end of his rage] - it might be good to strategically withdraw, catch his breath, and maybe get someone to pull that ballista shaft out of his back. He makes for Doro, and the captain swings ineffectually at his retreat (missed opportunity attack). After Thokk is gone, the captain turns and retreats into the darkness. Doro fires off shots of bass at the retreating captain but misses. She is more effective at healing Thokk (third round, 8 points).

    Babshapka continues to move nimbly through the tangle of siege equipment, but the troll is on him like a terrier on a rat, and slashes him with a claw (10 points damage, Babshapka now at 32/69, Concentration save on hunter’s mark, 12 succeeds). He responds with an arrow shot (giant killer reaction attack misses), but the troll is healing itself almost as fast as he can damage it (10 points regeneration). He manages to evade another claw, as well as the troll’s bite (the latter only by virtue of his multiattack defense), and grimly follows up with more arrows (one hit, one critical hit, total 24 damage with critical and two hunter’s marks).

    Round Twelve
    Willa jumps off of the ballista platform and flies through the darkness, aiming for the smudge of yellow light that is Thokk’s shield and angling to avoid the wall of fire. She knows she is more than a hundred feet off the ground, but can’t see anything immediately around her. She tries not to think about the fact that her flight could be ended immediately if Aurora loses Concentration.

    Doro notes that Thokk is now out of combat, and under the ceiling of the guard chamber, hopefully out of view of the ballistae. She moves forward a bit more into the chamber, until she thinks her healing aura can reach Babshapka (fourth round, heals 2 points) and her blasts of bass can reach the troll (one hit, 6 points).

    The troll snaps at Babshapka with its maw but misses, providing him another opportunity to shoot (giant killer) and hit (12 damage with hunter’s mark, troll regenerates 10 points). A second troll scrambles out of the rubble to the party’s right and joins the first in attacking Babshapka, and its bite crushes Babshapka’s upper arm under his chain before he twists away (critical hit, 11 damage, Babshapka to 23/69). The four remaining claw attacks miss (two miss only because of multiattack defense). A third troll begins to approach from the front. Babshapka continues to shoot at his original attacker, desperately trying to remove at least one of the trolls from the field (one critical miss, then a hit for 12 including hunter’s mark).

    “I’m getting behind Thokk!” yells Aurora before she is overrun (disengage to move out of and through the reach of the three trolls between her and to the chamber entrance).

    “Get behind mighty Thokk!” the barbarian roars to his warband in general as he moves forward to intercept the new troll before it can join the other two attacking Babshapka (second use of rage in the combat). His six seconds of respite have given him new fury and he hits it savagely (two hits, one critical, total 46 damage to the unwounded troll).

    Mathias sends blots of force at the trolls (two hits, total 9 damage).

    Round Thirteen
    Perhaps winded already, Thokk’s next two attacks miss. The troll responds by nipping at him when he overextends one strike (bite for 6 damage, 3 after rage). With Thokk and his glowing shield again on the field, a ballista bolt comes close to him but misses.

    Babshapka hears Thokk’s admonition to get behind him, but is unable to extract himself from the siege engines without affording the trolls more opportunities to attack. His comrades are nearby and will soon be at his side, he trusts, so he continues his attacks resolutely, firing at the trolls as they press him (giant killer attack reaction, critical hit, 13 with hunter’s mark). They finally corner him, though, and fall upon him from both sides, rending him until he collapses (four claw hits and a critical hit from a bite for a total of 56 points - Babshapka is unconscious at 0, but still a good 40 points away from instant death. Hunter’s mark ends with his unconsciousness. The wounded troll regenerates 10hp).

    Doro devotes her healing magic to Babshapka, but speaks softly in the hopes that the trolls don’t pick up her location (fifth round for 8 points; Babshapka now conscious at 8hp but still prone with the trolls looming over him). She hits one troll with a bass note (3 points) and then ducks behind cover. Mathias blasts twice, with one bolt of force knocking the troll’s head back as it stoops to finish off Babshapka (two hits, one critical, total 6 damage). Seizing his chance, Babshapka rolls to his belly, crawls under a catapult platform, out the other side, stands, and moves off into the darkness (disengage). He can hear someone shouting from the north, but does not recognize what they are saying (Perception 10).

    From the entrance to the guard chamber, Aurora shoots a firebolt at the troll attacking Thokk (5 damage, troll has taken fire damage).

    Like a fiery angel of vengeance, Willa ignites her sword and lands next to the two trolls that are now snuffling about for Babshapka’s trail. With a single stroke of her greatsword she strikes down the wounded troll (22 points of damage takes it to 0; fire damage makes sure it stays down and dies). Her second stroke wounds but does not kill the other one (20 points; troll has taken fire damage). Rather than stay in view of the ballistae with her sword lit, Willa turns, allowing the troll to swipe at her (opportunity attack hits, 9 slashing damage), and flies to the cover of the free-standing wall, out of sight from above.

    End of round hp totals:
    Aurora 43/53
    Thokk 38/86 and under second rage
    Willa 33/78
    Babshapka 8/69

    Round Fourteen
    Thokk hacks apart the troll attacking him (two hits, 30 damage, troll taken to 0 and dies there since it took firebolt damage last round), and then pulls back to the guard chamber before the ballista can fire again. Willa extinguishes her sword and uses the light of Thokk’s shield to follow him in.

    Mathias fires at the troll still in the tangle of siege engines (one hit, 10 points) and then falls back to the guard chamber, moving completely around the corner so that he is next to Aurora and out of sight from the main chamber. The wall of fire slowly burns out, its duration spent without Mathias having ever lost his concentration. The greater chamber is darkening as the wall fades.

    Doro heals Babshapka (sixth round - 8 points, Babs to 16/69) as he approaches. By the last light of Mathias’ wall, she fires bass notes at the sole remaining troll, dropping it as it emerges from the engines (two hits, 7 damage, takes it to 0 and kills it since it took damage last round from Willa’s flametongue). The bard retreats to the guard chamber, now dimly lit by both Thokk’s shield and the ooze still stuck to the wall near the open gate. Babshapka pauses in the entryway, then stoops and retrieves his two swords from where he previously dropped them.

    Aurora peeks out of the entrance and firebolts the body of the nearest troll, just to be sure.

    Round Fifteen
    “Thar war tunnels behin’ ther ballista nest,” Willa tells the others. “I t’ink ther lot o’ ‘em all be connected.” She slaps her sword against the side of her armor so that the steel rings out, and then grunts loudly, hoping that the sounds of ‘battle’ will draw more trolls and hobgoblins into range a few at a time before they can effectively organize their defense. Two hobgoblin longbowmen oblige her by sending shafts at Thokk, but the missiles break against his glowing shield.

    Doro responds to the arrows by hitting one of the archers with a bass note (5 points). She directs her healing at Babshapka again (seventh round, 10 points). Babshapka sends forth his own arrow fire at the archers, but misses and retreats fully inside the guard chamber. Mathias also returns their fire with his own bolts of force (two hits, 5 damage). Willa calls for grenades to use on the trolls and Aurora passes her two red ones.

    Round Sixteen
    In addition to the two archers already present, a squad of five more moves into range, training their bows on the entrance to the guard chamber, which all of the party now defends. Mathias drops the one already wounded (one hit, 10 points), and the remaining six return fire at Thokk and his shield (one hit, 4 damage, 2 after rage).

    Babshapka seeks to goad them into attacking in melee, where the party can finish them off more quickly. As he sets another arrow to his bow, he calls out in hobgoblin, “Maglubiyet f**** the mother of all orcs, you filthy stinking cowards!” He casts a new hunter’s mark on one of them, dropping it with one shot (one hit, 16 points with mark).

    From the entrance, Willa yells taunts at the enemy in Common and dodges their arrows.

    Doro continues to direct her healing at Babshapka (eighth round, 11 points), but her blasts of magical music go wide.

    Thokk spots a troll approaching. He darts out of the entrance, moving to line up the troll squarely in front of a hobgoblin, then launches one of his javelins of lightning. The javelin turns into a lightning bolt that ultimately misses the hobgoblin (Thokk attack roll 15) but which wounds the troll (11 points lightning damage; DC13 Dex save; 17 succeeds, 5 points). Aurora quickly follows with a firebolt to make sure the damage stays on it (10 points fire damage).

    Round Seventeen
    Doro heals Thokk (ninth round, 10 points), and directs her powerful bass notes at the troll (two hits, 10 points).

    In the darkness, an Iron Shadow hisses commands at the trolls, both the one fighting Thokk (no regeneration; hit by firebolt last round), as well as two unwounded ones. So long as the party remains in the entrance of the guard cave, the hobgoblin archers can fire on them, but the ballistae can't. She tells the trolls to grab the false hobgoblins and drag them out into the larger chamber in view of the ballista nests. The two new trolls move forward. The one already on Thokk leads with a bite (misses) and then tries to grab him, but Thokk easily fights his way out of its grasp (two claw attacks turned into grapples; Strength check 9 countered by Athletics check 16 with advantage from rage, Strength 8 countered by Athletics 22 with advantage from rage).

    The second and third trolls try the same tactic on Aurora, but cooperate to grab and drag off the mage (one bite misses; Strength check with advantage from Help 10, countered by Athletics 18; Strength check with advantage from Help 23, Aurora athletics 13 fails to counter: Aurora is grappled). The trolls begin to drag her out into the open chamber!

    Moving a Grappled Creature wrote:
    When you move, you can drag or carry the Grappled creature with you, but your speed is halved, unless the creature is two or more sizes smaller than you.

    The Iron Shadow hisses and directs all the archers to target Aurora as she is pulled into view (five attacks, two hits, one critical, total 12 damage plus 16 from [i]martial advantage[/i] is 28 to Aurora). Suddenly Willa drops from where she had been hovering a foot above the cavern floor (Aurora two Concentration saves 16, 4; one fails, fly spell ended), but keeps her balance all the same (Dexterity save 15). Babshapka shoots arrows at the troll dragging off Aurora but can’t stop it (one hit, 10 points with hunter’s mark).

    Her concentration on the fly broken by force, Aurora tries another tactic - as the troll drags her off she chants words of power - and grows in size. As the seeming appearance of the hobgoblin distorts and then falls away, she polymorphs into a giant ape! As she grows to huge size, the trolls lose control and are forced to let her go.

    The rest of the party attacks the confused trolls. Mathias fires bolts of force (two hits, damage 12), Willa slashes with her greatsword (one hit, 20 points, including flame, troll has taken fire damage), and Thokk viciously chops all those around him (two hits, one critical, total 42 points). One of the trolls goes down (dead, no regeneration after Willa’s fire damage), but two remain.

    Round Eighteen
    Doro heals Thokk (tenth and final round, 8 points), and directs her bass notes at the trolls (two hits, 3 points).

    Giving up on the giant ape, the two trolls work together to try to grab Thokk, but he fends them off (Strength check with advantage from Help 23, countered by Athletics with advantage from rage 23; Strength check with advantage from Help 23, countered by Athletics with advantage from rage 25) and he strikes back with his sword (one hit, 16 damage).

    Having seen the false hobgoblin Aurora polymorph herself into the giant ape, the Iron Shadow knows what she needs to do. Running forward to close range, she hurls a succession of spinning darts at the ape (four attacks, one hits, 6 damage, Aurora Concentration save 8, fails). The ape’s form shimmers and then shrinks down, appearing as Aurora herself for the briefest instant before she again seems like a hobgoblin. The Iron Shadow turns and disappears (shadow jaunt). Aurora didn't even get to attack once as an ape! (and all those wasted hp...)

    All the while the Iron Shadow was attacking, one of the trolls next to Thokk was curiously still. Only now that the hobgoblin monk has retreated, has the troll resumed its motion. “Fool me once…” mutters Willa and squints at it (Wisdom check 16) - she thinks she can see through it. Pointing at it with her sword, she alerts the others to the presence of the silent image, then attacks the second, real, troll (one critical hit, 32 damage including fire).

    Three of the five hobgoblin archers have mounted the wall with battlements and are now firing from cover. Mathias returns their fire, and his bolts of force drop one (two hits, 14 damage). Babshapka ends the other two (two hits, 11 damage on one, 14 on the other with hunter’s mark, cover does not protect them from sharpshooter). The two remaining archers, from the ground, fire on Thokk (one hit, 10 points, reduced to 5 from rage).

    Round Nineteen
    Doro and Mattias continue to work on the hobgoblin archers and finish off the last two (three hits between them, total 20 damage).

    Thokk presses the attack on the real troll (two hits, 30 damage), but also notes the arrival of another troll of undetermined veracity. As he advanced, he has strayed away from the entrance to the cavern and into the field of fire of two of the ballistae, and now one massive bolt breaks against his shield and knocks him sideways (one hit, 25 damage, 12 after rage). The trolls tear at him as well (two hits, 15 damage, 7 after rage).

    Babshapka shields his eyes from the light of Willa’s sword and peers into the darkness, searching for the Iron Shadow (Perception 7). He doesn’t see it in the space between the battlemented and the free-standing wall, so he unloads on the trolls and brings one down (two hits, 26 points with hunter’s mark, but the troll has not taken fire damage this round; it is at 0 but regenerating).

    Willa moves out into the chamber and strikes down the other troll (two hits, 41 points with fire damage; troll stays dead) just as the Iron Shadow makes a break for the other side of the wall (Stealth 6, Willa Passive Perception 12). “She’s ‘eaded t’at way!” Willa yells, points with her sword, and then moves back under the cover of the entrance before the ballistae can fire on her.

    “I’ve got her,” says Aurora, and sends a massive firebolt into the dark. Even those without darkvision see the brief silhouette of the Shadow outlined as the bolt slams into it (critical hit, 19 damage).

    Round Twenty
    “Maybe you all could try not getting hit for a while?” suggests Doro, as she begins a second song of vitality (first round heals 6 points to Thokk).

    Willa moves out to where Thokk faces yet more trolls crawling at him through the rubble and at least one starting to rise from among those previously struck down. Using the distractions provided by Thokk’s rage, Willa cuts through them (two hits with advantage, 40 damage), and Babshapka follows up with arrows - both miss, but one is closer to Thokk than the troll (critical miss, misses Thokk as well). Thokk’s attacks bring the trolls down (two hits, 30 points), but he is again fired upon by the ballistae (both misses).

    The Iron Shadow withdraws further into the darkness (Stealth 21), moving around the chamber deosil.

    Mathias moves out into the greater chamber, but disappears when he freezes next to the wall.

    Round Twenty-one
    Doro sends her healing song to Aurora (second round, six points).

    Facing no immediate opposition in the main chamber, Mathias and Doro move deosil along the left-hand wall. Doro moves stealthily (Stealth 21), but slowly as she can only see by the light of Willa’s sword. Mathias is visible while moving but disappears again every time he pauses.

    Thokk moves forward and into the cover of a wall, dragging the body of a troll along with him. He vigorously scrubs his shield along the hide and hair of the troll until only the faintest of glowing dots remain (did not attack or take damage since last turn - loses rage).

    Willa moves up along the wall and Aurora dashes to her side.

    Babshapka continues to scout for hidden Iron Shadows but has not spotted any (Perception 15).

    For the moment, the ballistae are not firing, nor are any trolls and hobgoblins advancing into view.

    Round Twenty-two
    The party continues to advance along the narrow space between the cavern wall and the huge mounds of rubble and fallen buildings in the center of the chamber. Up ahead they can see a shape looming, some ten feet high and twenty feet long, but are not close enough to discern what it is.

    As Willa moves, two ballistae fire, and one bolt breaks on her armor (one hit, 19 points). She curses, extinguishes her sword, and has Aurora lead her forward through the sudden darkness.

    Without Willa providing light, Doro now cannot see practically anything. She extends her healing to Mathias (third round, 10 points), and he guides her along the cavern wall (Mathias unseen when not moving, Doro Stealth 30).

    Round Twenty-three
    Thokk approaches the looming shape - it appears to be some sort of metal vehicle. Its form is that of a giant cylinder, but the front has a huge drill composed of overlapping cones of different sizes. Underneath are massive treads which look like they might make it move, but it is currently quite still. There is no obvious way inside the machine. Thokk moves in front of it to see its width - and takes it to be exactly the same size as the cut tunnel!

    Suddenly there is a rush of air behind him. Thokk instinctively turns and raises his shield, blocking the ceramic vessel thrown by the Iron Shadow who was hiding nearby. As the vessel breaks, Thokk’s shield is again covered in sticky, glowing ooze. The Shadow follows this up with three dart attacks (one hit, 7 damage), and then disappears (shadow jaunt).

    As Thokk growls in frustration, the darkness is pierced by two ballista bolts centered on his now glowing shield (one hit, 11 points).

    Doro approaches as close to Thokk as she dares, to send him healing magic (fourth round, 9 points), and then hides between the great drill and the cavern wall (Stealth 24).

    Round Twenty-four
    Doro sends Thokk more healing magic (fifth round, 3 points).

    “We’re not in combat, you’re just attracting bolts, put down your shield, you big fool!” yells Babshapka at Thokk. The elf runs to Thokk’s side, and slaps him roughly while chanting (cure wounds for 11 points of healing at 3rd level, Babshapka at 2/3/1). He then tugs Thokk’s shield from his grasp and begins to carry it away, planning on laying it between the drilling machine and the wall of the cavern and out of sight of the ballista nests. But no sooner has Babshapka taken two steps away from Thokk when the ballistae fire on the shield in his hands. One shaft pierces Babshapka’s unarmored leg, and he collapses on the floor of the cavern in unconscious shock (one hit, 23 damage, Babshapka at 0 and bleeding out). The shield clatters to the stone floor of the cavern.

    “We have to take out those ballistae, now!” squeals Aurora, and tries to grab Willa so as to cast a fly spell. But Willa pushes the wizard’s hand roughly away without explanation and uses the ongoing light from the shield to run to Babshapka and drape herself over his body, should any more shafts be fired. Willa listens carefully for any sounds of combat and tries to catch her breath (second wind, 15 hp of healing)

    The Iron Shadow withdraws at the sudden approach of so many party members together. Her feet crunch over the rubble (Stealth 10), but no one is pursuing her.

    Thokk finally realizes what is going on, bends over and shoves Willa off of Babshapka, despite her curses. He drags the body of the elf underneath the nose cone of the drill, where he has to crouch but they both have cover from above. He pushes the ballista shaft the rest of the way through the elf’s leg and out the other side and then clamps his huge hands over both the exit and entry wounds, but Babshapka continues to lose blood (Thokk Medicine check 7; fails).

    Aurora moves under the drill with Thokk and Babshapka and pulls the alien ship healing spray can out of her pack. She sprays it around both wounds on Babshapka’s leg. Almost instantly the skin knits itself back together and his bleeding stops (19 points of healing, fourth use of six charges in healing cannister).

    Round Twenty-five
    Babshapka groans and reaches down to his leg, murmuring as he heals it himself (cure wounds for 12 points at third level, Babshapka to 2/3/0).

    Aurora casts fly at fourth level so that she can target both Thokk and Willa. They join hands and begin to ascend. Both nearby ballistae fire - Willa takes a hit (19 points). Thokk enrages for the third time since they entered the chamber. Thokk hasn’t taken his glowing shield with him, but apparently the sound of Aurora’s spell casting was indicator enough of their location in the absence of the active sounds of combat.

    Doro and Mathias move to the drill (Stealth 28), with Doro continuing her song of healing for Babshapka (sixth round, 7 points).

    Round Twenty-six
    On the far side of the drill, Mathias spots a hatch. He listens at it (Perception 20) but does not hear anything inside while Doro continues to heal Babshapka (seventh round, 7 points). Babshapka finds the hatch unlocked and opens it, sword drawn.

    Aurora shoots a firebolt in the vicinity of the ballista nest overhead. It is actually out of her view, but she is trying to draw their fire and buy Thokk and Willa more time. As soon as she shoots the bolt, she moves under the cover of the drill.

    Thokk and Willa approach the first nest, with Thokk using his focused rage to maintain his fighting fury (end of first round).

    Round Twenty-seven
    Aurora moves out from the drill and shoots another bolt at where she guesses one of the ballista nests is (not the one that Thokk and Willa are approaching). By a stroke of luck she actually hits one of the hobgoblin crew and he staggers back, then collapses, dead! (Attack roll with disadvantage for not seeing target, 20; damage 12).

    “Now, evil advisor!” bellows Thokk as they crest the lip of the platform, and Willa ignites her sword, suddenly illuminating the three hobgoblins, one on the trigger and the other two looking out into the erstwhile darkness for targets. Thokk strikes one down (hit for 14) and a second one dodges Willa’s initial blow (miss with advantage from Thokk’s rage - second round), but cannot escape her return strike (hit for 18 including fire). Thokk takes out the third hobgoblin (hit for 11), and the second ballista nest is out of commission. This is the highest platform, a full 250 feet above the floor of the chamber, and laterally the closest one to the guard chamber entrance. Without stopping to destroy the engine, Thokk and Willa continue their flight into the tunnel opening in the cavern wall. To their right, the tunnel slopes steeply down, but from their left come the sounds of metal on stone (Thokk Perception 16).

    A crew of four dwarves with picks are laboring at the end of the tunnel, slowly carving the tunnel from the rock itself. Their legs are shackled together, but there are no hobgoblin drivers in sight. In the ruddy light of Willa’s sword, the fresh, red welts along their bare, sweaty backs stand out sharply. They have bare feet and their breeches are in rags.

    Mathias, Babshapka, and Doro climb into the drill, with Doro still producing magical healing (eighth round, 8hp to Aurora, who is close behind them). The back of the drill, on which the hatch opens, is largely empty, although there are handholds on the walls perhaps indicating that it is passenger space. The middle section has coal bins, a water tank, and a furnace, with a tangled set of valves and pipes leading to the front section. In the front are a pair of chairs seated behind a complicated control panel. Obviously this is a steam-powered drill, but its operation is beyond the mechanical aptitude of any of them (Doro History 8 ). Mathias, however, notes a strange set of four rods in the very front, just inside the nose of the drill. The rods themselves are steel but they are tipped with a strange blue metal engraved with glyphs. This is not mechanical; it is magic! (Mathias Arcana 17).

    Round Twenty-eight
    Aurora sticks her head in the machine - it is already crowded with her three teammates. She remains outside and fires off another firebolt at the nearest ballista nest, or at least her estimation of where it is (miss with disadvantage).

    Babshapka is satisfied just knowing that there are no enemies inside the machine and that its furnace is cold. He exits and makes his way back to the low but freestanding wall, then shimmies up a huge statue that has fallen across it, until he can see the other side. He spots a path through the rubble and handholds that would allow one to climb to the top of the battlemented wall (Perception 16).

    Mathias points out the glyphs to Doro as she absent-mindedly strums her samisen (heals ninth round, 12 points to Mathias). She recognizes the glyphs (Arcana 23) - they are negative energy symbols. The rods are mounted into a kind of movable harness that can send them forward or back in the nose of the drill, along a trough into which the loose stone or earth might feed. Working the levers, it looks like they can even project just beyond the tip of the furthest part of the nose. All the rods move in tandem but come together as if they could hold a sphere of about two feet across when locked into place. Doro suspects that whatever the rods hold, it too is composed of negative energy, with the glyphs holding it in position by all repulsing it equally without actually touching it.

    As Doro explains this, Mathias nods. “Snake me,” he says, and Doro polymorphs him into a giant, black constrictor snake (Doro at 3/2/1/2). Since this changes his basic shape, the seeming spell is suppressed. The snake immediately wraps around the levers and squeezes, quickly bending them irreparably out of shape. (Doro is now concentrating on the polymorph, and loses the final round of the aura of vitality, but those within range are mostly healed at this point and the more wounded party members are out of her range).

    Ignoring the dwarves for the moment, Thokk and Willa speed down the sloping passageway (flying and dashing). When they get to where the second ballista nest should be, there is just bare wall. Thokk (Survival 6) suspects an illusion, and begins to examine the wall critically. Willa, however, realizes that despite the steep slope of the tunnel, they are still a good 150’ above the other ballista nest, even if this is where it is laterally (Survival 21). If this tunnel corkscrews around the entire cavern, they will need two or three more complete circuits before getting to the nest that was firing on them a moment ago. Thokk uses his focused rage to maintain his fighting fury (third round).

    [This was not the end of the battle, but it was the end of our play session for the night]
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.&nbsp;

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    Thu Dec 21, 2023 6:54 pm  
    Re: Post 304: Repository II

    Kirt wrote:
    Facing no immediate opposition in the main chamber, Mathias and Doro move deosil along the left-hand wall.

    Awesome! I learned a couple of new words. Smile Deosil (and widdershins) are highly appropriate words in this setting. I'll remember them for my own, future, use.

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    Last edited by SirXaris on Mon Jan 01, 2024 2:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Thu Dec 21, 2023 10:12 pm  
    Re: Post 304: Repository II

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt wrote:
    Facing no immediate opposition in the main chamber, Mathias and Doro move deosil along the left-hand wall.

    Awesome! I learned a couple of new words. Smile Deosil (and widershins) are highly appropriate words in this setting. I'll remember them for my own, future, use.


    Yeah, 'sunwise' is good, too. Whenever my players say 'clockwise' I just ask them, "What's that mean? What do I look like, a tinker gnome?"
    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 Dec 26, 2023 1:15 pm  
    Post 305: Repository III

    DM's Note: A 'typical' 5e combat is assumed to take three rounds, with 6-8 combats in a day (the most-used formula is: combat, combat, short rest, combat, combat, short rest, combat, combat, long rest). Not that I pay attention to that formula in this campaign. Sometimes you just need epic forty-seven round battles, and this was certainly one of the more memorable ones so far, with so many surprises and reversals of fortune that it was a nail-biter for the players all the way through. If a 'typical' 5e combat lasts three rounds, how often does the barbarian go through three uses of his 10-round rage ability in the same fight?

    Post 305 - Repository III
    25 April [2 Flocktime] continued'ed - At the bottom of the Oestral Abyss

    Round Twenty-nine
    In the tunnels above, Willa and Thokk turn around and reach the dwarves, this time approaching close enough to hail them (Thokk uses focused rage to maintain his fighting fury (fourth round).

    Atop the standing battlemented wall in the cavern below, Babshapka maintains his position, ready to fire on any targets which present themselves.

    On the cavern floor, Aurora casts prestidigitation from a distance on the tip of the drill machine’s nose, creating a glowing green light like the ooze on Thokk’s shield, and a second later the closest ballista fires on it. Aurora giggles giddily.

    Inside the drilling machine, Doro and the giant constrictor snake, having wrecked the controls, slip out and begin to cross the open rubble field toward the accumulation of fallen buildings in the center of the chamber (Stealth 16, 17).

    Round Thirty
    “Och”, says one of the dwarves, as they all cease their labors. “When we hard tha soond o’ ‘spolsions an’ steel on steel, we ‘ad ‘ooped thar be a fiight below!”

    “An’ we still be in yon fight,” responds Willa. “Can ye free yerselves?”

    “Aye, lassie, don’ tarrry oon are accoont! Tak ewer fight to those damn’d hojebli!”

    Willa gives an offhand salute, and she and Thokk turn and fly for the tunnel to the great chamber, exiting at the same ballista nest they came in high on the wall. Willa extinguishes her sword before they exit the tunnel. Thokk uses his focused rage to maintain his fighting fury (fifth round). They begin to cross the open expanse to the next ballista nest over, far below them. That crew fires, but misses (first attack roll 25 but disadvantage from not seeing them directly and misses with second roll).

    Doro runs out to where Babshapka dropped Thokk’s shield. She lifts it off the ground, then immediately begins evasive maneuvers (dodge). A ballista bolt from further along the cavern wall fires on the moving shield but misses her. She runs back under the nose of the drill.

    Aurora shoots a firebolt in the direction of the nest that Willa and Thokk are even now approaching, but she sends it intentionally low to confuse the angle of her attack from the crew.

    Mathias, using the blindsight of his snake form, slithers forward across the rubble field toward another intact wall.

    Round Thirty-one
    Doro stows Thokk's glowing shield light-side-down under the nose of the drill. She asks Aurora to message the others and tell them that Mathias is currently wearing the form of a Big Black Snake, so they should not attack that.

    Aurora calls out Doro’s warning to Babshapka, who is still perched on the fallen statue and ready to fire. She does so out loud rather than by spell, though, and a second later a longbow arrow whizzes in her direction. “I said message them,” whispers Doro.

    [Unbeknownst to the party, the last of the hobgoblins on the cavern floor have taken shelter in the room of a fallen building where the dwarven mining slaves are kept chained. Their last-ditch defense revolves around using their darkvision to snipe at party members, while sending out the few remaining trolls so that the hobgoblin archers can get martial advantage damage bonuses when they engage the party. The trolls have been told to use hiding, emerge to harass the party briefly, retreat to heal up, and repeat. All the while these skirmishes are playing out, the party will be subjected to more ballista bolts. It is clear to the remaining hobgoblin captain that his remaining forces cannot overwhelm the party, but with a well-coordinated defense he may be able to wear them down and force their withdrawal. So when Aurora calls out to Babshapka, there are already longbowmen who can hear and fire on her voice; one of four archers makes his Perception check to locate her well enough to make an attack with disadvantage for not being able to see; misses.]

    Aurora has darkvision to sixty feet - she responds to the sudden arrow by bringing Hedwig out of his pocket dimension and having him perch on the nose of the drilling machine. She looks briefly out of his eyes (darkvision to 120 feet), and then tells him to screech if he sees any Iron Shadows approaching.

    Babshapka heard the thrum of the bowstring when it fired on Aurora. He drops to the other side of the wall he was on top of, and advances through the rubble toward the building where the archers have taken cover. He spots one hobgoblin (Perception 19) through the gap in the open doorway, but the hobgoblin has not yet seen him (Perception 13).

    Mathias the snake slowly advances along the wall toward the building, moving stealthily in the dark.

    Thokk and Willa fly to the halfway point between the ballista nests, in the dark. Thokk maintains his focused rage (sixth round).

    Round Thirty-two
    Babshapka fires on the hobgoblin archer, aiming for the gaps in his armor, but misses (two sharpshooter misses). He ducks back around a standing wall before the hobgoblin can return fire.

    Two trolls attempt to skulk across the rubble field toward the drill where they heard Aurora call out, but are not very well hidden (Stealth 7). The advancing Mathias-snake can hear them in the rubble but they are beyond the range of his blindsight.

    Doro, now without even the light of the shield, is in complete darkness. She moves toward where she thinks Babshapka is, but she is about ninety degrees off course and ends up going south rather than east (Survival 6). While lost, she is at least silent (Stealth 25).

    Thokk (who can see) guides Willa (who cannot) to just above the ballista nest and then releases her hand. She lights her sword and continues the rest of the way herself (dash, no attack). “S’rprise!” she yells at the flustered hobgoblins as they move away from the ballista and struggle to draw their swords. Thokk remains at a distance, but throws his second lightning javelin. This kills the target hobgoblin directly, while the lightning arcs to a nearby one and nearly kills it as well (16 damage to hobgoblin, second one fails Dex save and takes 10 lightning damage, 1 point remaining, his attack maintains his seventh round of rage). The fourth and fifth ballista nests fire on Willa’s light, but miss (long range disadvantage), and the remaining wounded defender misses Willa with his longsword.

    Hedwig peers into the darkness but doesn’t see anything (Perception 11).

    The hobgoblins defending their command bunker noted the directions of Babshapka’s arrows. Like a well-coordinated drill, they each emerge in turn from the doorway, fire on his position, then retreat inside. He is too protected by the wall for them to hit (best attack roll is 19, Babshapka AC with cover is 22).

    Round Thirty-three
    With a single slash of her greatsword, Willa dispatches the last hobgoblin, and now three ballista nests have been cleared. She immediately turns and enters the tunnel in the wall behind the nest, flying as far down it as she can go by the light of her sword.

    Aurora sends a firebolt in the direction from which the arrow shot at her came, hoping to signal Thokk that he is needed down on the cavern floor. Thokk flies down to the now-dark ballista platform that Willa vacated, retrieves his javelin from the body of the hobgoblin, and continues toward the building he saw illuminated by Aurora’s firebolt (Perception 20), although he is still a hundred feet above the floor of the cavern (his focus maintains his eighth round of rage.)

    Babshapka darts back around the wall and sees a troll approaching him. He fires on it, hitting twice (15 points to unwounded troll, but no fire damage) and then ducking back behind the cover of the wall as it drops to the ground. The troll is quickly upon him, and its fangs close about his leg (9 points) as it comes around the wall on all fours. Babshapka fires a final shot at its head (giantkiller, 10 points) before dropping his bow and drawing his broadsword. The troll releases his leg, then stands and slashes him with a claw (9 points, Babshapka to 16/69 - troll regenerates 10 of the total 25 points Babshapka did to it). The four hobgoblin archers move forward out of the building until they can see both the troll and Babshapka and open fire on the hated elf (one critical hit for 10, to 15 with martial advantage, Babshapka at 1/69).

    Mathias as a snake moves across the rubble field, ready to attack anyone that comes close enough.

    Doro uses Aurora’s firebolt to re-orient herself (Perception 19) and tries to get closer to its terminus, but again loses her way in the dark (Survival 7). She is still unnoticed by the troll and hobgoblins, though (Stealth 31).

    Round Thirty-four
    An Iron Shadow begins to approach the drill, and her target, Aurora. She passes within ten feet of Mathias-as-snake, but he does not sense her (Stealth 21, Perception 7).

    Willa moves deosil along the downward sloping tunnel as fast as she can fly while (dashing), but doesn’t find any other openings so far.

    Doro hears the snarls of the troll and the groans of Babshapka as he is being clawed and pierced by hobgoblin shafts (Perception 23). She gives up on trying to keep her sense of direction in the dark and just follows her ears to the elf. As she reaches his side, she can see a faint light coming from the doorway of the intact building ahead - but that is hardly a place to evacuate him to. As she begins her dimension door spell, she looks over her shoulder and can see the faintest of glows along the cavern floor where Thokk’s shield is face-down under the drill. That’ll do. She grabs Babshapka and instantly transports with him next to the shield before the troll can strike again (Doro at 3/2/1/1). “Lay down!” she whispers to him. Babshapka heeds her advice and goes prone under the nose of the drill, then works on repairing the damage from the troll (cure wounds on himself at 2nd level, 11 points, Babshapka to 12/69 and 2/2/0).

    Thokk caught the sound of Doro’s spell (Perception 25) and veers in his flight path until he can see the troll, now by itself. Landing next to it, he begins to mercilessly hack it apart (two hits, 39 damage). Aurora makes sure the damage sticks by hurling a firebolt from the cover of the drill (13 points, troll hit with fire this round and can’t regenerate). She can’t see the fight herself, but Hedwig is providing her with a mental map. The troll responds with its own mauling of a shieldless Thokk (critical hit with claw, 23 points, Thokk takes 11 on his ninth round of rage). The hobgoblin archers who had been firing upon Babshapka switch to Thokk as their target (two hits, one critical, total 25 damage with martial advantage, Thokk takes 12 with rage).

    Round Thirty-five
    Doro hopes that wherever Mathias is, he doesn’t need his snake form. She begins a song of vitality, ending her Concentration on the polymorph (Doro at 3/2/0/1). Mathias resumes his human form while crossing the rubble field. Doro sends the healing energy of her song out to Thokk, who is still battling the troll (first round, 6 points). With two more strikes, Thokk finishes the troll (26 points) and moves completely behind a wall so as to deny the hobgoblin archers a target (Thokk’s third and final use of rage is now completely spent). Aurora makes sure the troll stays down (19 points from firebolt - can’t regenerate next round and will die).

    Willa emerges from the long corkscrew tunnel into a ballista nest some 50 feet off the cavern floor and nearly opposite the guard chamber through which the party entered the complex, fully across the cavern (dash, no attacks). She is now in one of the two last functional nests, and the other sees her sword light and fires on her, but misses. In addition to the 3-man ballista crew she now faces, there is an Iron Shadow in this nest as well, and she now assesses Willa carefully. A heavily-armored fighter with a flaming sword, flying, trusted to fight alone while the rest of the attackers cluster together? The Iron Shadow reasons that there is likely a tactical advantage in simply stalling Willa, even if the hobgoblins of this nest can’t actually overcome her by themselves. “Now hold on there,” says the Shadow in accented Common, as she displays her empty hands. “You have obviously beaten us - let us discuss the terms of our surrender.”

    As she speaks, the Iron Shadow works in a Charm Person spell (Willa attempts a Wisdom save; 0, fails. She uses an Inspiration Point for a reroll; 1, fails). “Aye,” Willa agrees, “t’at’s reason’ble - let us be discussion’ yer complete surrender.” The Iron Shadow nods and motions to the other hobgoblins - they lower their weapons.

    Two more trolls are making their way across the rubble field. Babshapka casts Hunter’s Mark (now at 1/2/0) on one and begins to run across the rubble field back to where he dropped his bow before Doro evacuated him. When he reaches the trolls, he attacks the marked one with his swords (14 damage; 22 with mark).

    Round Thirty-six
    Doro again directs her healing at Thokk (second round of vitality, 9 points) and sends dissonant whispers at one of the trolls facing Babshapka, but it resists (successful Wis save, Doro at 2/2/0/1). The pair of trolls have been told to draw more of the party out into the open rubble field where the hobgoblins can fire on them, so they alternately menace the party and then withdraw (dodge action).

    Babshapka reaches the spot where he dropped his bow before; he now drops his swords, picks up his bow, and fires on the retreating trolls but misses twice. Mathias, feeling exposed in his human form with the trolls nearby, begins to fall back to the drill but can’t get far (difficult terrain; half speed). He covers his retreat by sending a mind sliver at the closest troll (Int Save 0; fails, 5 psychic damage and -1 to the next save).

    Suddenly Hedwig screeches - he has spotted an Iron Shadow creeping closer! (Shadow Stealth 11, Hedwig Perception 14 with advantage). The Shadow jumps at the sound and fires off four darts but the owl is unharmed! (Shadow’s highest attack roll is 8!) Spooked by the bird, the hobgoblin monk uses its shadow jaunt to retreat. Aurora laughs at its failure and confidently prepares to fireball the trolls, despite not having the best sense of how far away they are across the rubble field. Her lack of knowledge notwithstanding, she places the explosion perfectly (Arcana 15 with disadvantage from one level of exhaustion; 30 points damage), even though they take cover behind rocks as it speeds toward them (dodge action grants advantage on Dex saves, trolls get 20 and 18, even the -1 from mind sliver still means both of them save, 15 points fire damage to each one). Aurora whoops, grabs Thokk’s shield, and heads for Doro, who is still struggling to see as she tries to stay close enough to a moving Thokk to continue to heal him.

    Thokk yells in triumph as he sees the fireball engulf the trolls. Finally his explosion-woman is doing her job! He runs out of the cover he was in and strikes at the trolls with the Keeper’s axe (he is still using it one-handed though, and seems to have forgotten that he could switch to two-handed now that he is free of his shield). He kills one of the trolls (18 damage, no regeneration since it took fire damage this round) and staggers the other one (12 damage), but then takes more arrow fire from the four hobgoblin archers (one critical hit, 7 damage and no rage) before they retreat inside the building.

    On the ballista platform, another bolt from the other nest crashes near Willa. “My comrades do not yet know that we have surrendered,” says the Iron Shadow soothingly to her. “Let us move into the tunnel until they learn.” Although the other hobgoblins have sheathed their weapons, they now train their own ballista on Willa’s back, waiting for the signal from the Iron Shadow.

    “Aye,” says Willa, following the monk. “Ye be needin’ ter let all ther dwarves go, an’ tell me wha’ be ther nature o’ yer agreement wit’ ther fire gigants.”

    “Of course, of course,” the Iron Shadow agrees pleasantly. “You have us right where you want us.”

    Round Thirty-seven
    Babshapka moves his hunter’s mark to the remaining troll on the field and then finishes it with a bow shot (14 damage including mark, troll took fire damage the last turn and so will die rather than regenerate when its turn comes up). With the hobgoblin archers currently in their bunker, he looks across the cavern at where the ballista nest is still illuminated by the light from Willa’s sword, even though she and her sword are now in the tunnel beyond. He sees the outline of hobgoblin silhouettes against the light. Why isn’t Willa attacking? He takes his second shot on one of the crew (sharpshooter: no range penalty). The hobgoblin is knocked off the ballista platform, but is dead (12 points) even before it falls fifty feet to the cavern floor. Babshapka ducks back into cover before the nearby archers can emerge from their building. The two remaining ballista crew at the nest leave the siege engine behind and follow Willa and the Iron Shadow into the tunnel and away from Babshapka’s bow.

    When Babshapka drops the last troll, Thokk grins and charges the open doorway of the command structure. Bursting into the single room, he sees not only half-a-dozen hobgoblin warriors, but as many or more dwarves chained together and cowering on the floor, a cage with a number of giant insects, and two more open doorways, one in front of him and one on his left. He drops the closest warrior with his axe (one hit, 15 points).

    Doro moves as quickly as she can across the rubble, guided by the light from the open doorway. She tries to keep up with Thokk’s silhouette while remaining unseen (Stealth 23), but he passes out of range so she sends healing to Babshapka instead (third round, 2 points). Mathias also advances on the building, close enough that he can fire at the hobgoblins he can barely make out just beyond Thokk (one hit, 7 damage).

    Thokk is now facing six hobgoblins on his own, is covered in abundant wounds, and is not raging. This is the last of the hobgoblins, though. This is his chance to finish this fight. Who will break first? The hobgoblin captain exhorts his men to make their final attack, and they pile on.

    Leadership wrote:
    For 1 minute, the hobgoblin can utter a special command or warning whenever a non hostile creature that it can see within 30 feet of it makes an attack roll or a saving throw. The creature can add a d4 to its roll provided it can hear and understand the hobgoblin.

    (Five attacks, only one hit even with leadership, 9 points plus martial advantage is a total of 17 to Thokk with no rage to soak it).

    Through the doorway, Aurora can see Thokk struggling against the tide of foes. What can she do to help? She sends a slow spell into the room and hopes that he is sensible enough to retreat until the rest of his warband arrives. Where in the Hells is Willa? (All six of the hobgoblins, including the captain, fail their Wis saves against the slow!)

    Slow wrote:
    An affected target’s speed is halved, it takes a −2 penalty to AC and Dexterity saving throws, and it can’t use reactions [for example on opportunity attacks if Thokk withdraws]

    Thokk smiles grimly. He may have underestimated the number of enemies in the room, but he can already see them slowing from exhaustion. This fight has gone on unduly long, and they don’t have Thokk’s peerless endurance!

    Willa, who had been hovering a foot off the floor of the tunnel, drops to the floor as Aurora switches her concentration to the slow spell (Aurora hadn’t even considered whether Willa might at that moment be in midair a hundred feet over the cavern floor, but luckily she is not). She continues to issue demands to the Iron Shadow, “An ye’ll be tarnin’ over all yer treasure an’ magic ter us…”.

    “Yes, yes,” agrees the Iron Shadow. “We have no way to oppose you now, you have clearly won.”

    Hedwig keeps track of the other Iron Shadow, somewhere out there in the dark, prepared to warn Aurora if it approaches again (Perception with advantage 22).

    Round Thirty-eight
    Doro hurries across the rubble field while bearing Thokk’s shield. A ballista bolt (sighting on the shield) wings her way, but it is not even close (critical miss). She gulps and sends more healing to Babshapka (fourth round, 8 points).

    Thokk strikes down another hobgoblin (one hit, 15 points), making it five-to-one inside the building. He knows he won’t last long at those odds. He makes his way to the door, then moves out into the rubble field, faster than the hobgoblins can follow (no opportunity attack due to slow) - in his mind, it is because he is so fast, not that they are slowed. Babshapka watches him exit, then shifts his hunter’s mark to the first hobgoblin to follow him out (one hit, 15 points with mark), which is the captain. His second shaft breaks on the stone wall of the building. Babshapka moves out into the rubble to better defend Thokk (land’s stride - not slowed by non-magical difficult terrain).

    Mathias fires bolts of force at the captain still in pursuit of Thokk (two hits, 5 points). The huge hobgoblin is struggling to reach Thokk but between the rubble (difficult terrain) and slow spell is making little headway. He launches a javelin, but misses.

    Aurora grins as she sees the result of her slow spell, then jumps as Hedwig screeches a warning. The Iron Shadow, now anticipating the owl, sends her first dart at the bird and it disappears in an explosion of feathers. Three more darts immediately come at Aurora, with one slicing across her upper arm (5 piercing; Con Save 5, fails and loses concentration). Aurora suddenly feels keenly both the death of Hedwig and the loss of her slow spell on all of the hobgoblins. The Iron Shadow gloats and then moves around the great machine. “She’s going behind the drill! Get that b****!” yells Aurora as her concern for Thokk evaporates and she gives pursuit. Rounding a corner, she sends a firebolt after the fleeing monk (hit for 5 damage).

    The other Iron Shadow, in the tunnel with Willa and two hobgoblins, has seen her suddenly drop to the floor and reasons that her fly spell has ended (Arcana 15). In Hobgoblin, she says to the crew, “Run her off the cliff.”

    “Wha’s t’at?” asks Willa, not comprehending the tongue. Suddenly one of the hobgoblins slams into her side, lifts her up, and begins driving for the edge of the nest. She tries to break his grasp but is unsuccessful (Shove attack, Strength check 18 > Willa Athletics 13) until he is already launching her into the air. The sudden attack has broken Willa’s charm, but that is small consolation as she plummets 50 feet to the stone floor of the cavern (5d6 = 16 points bludgeoning damage). She lies stunned and prone, thanking the gentle Sea Cow that this was the lowest of the five ballista platforms. Above her, the Iron Shadow calls out tauntingly that she has reconsidered their offer of surrender and decided to rescind it.

    Round Thirty-nine
    The Iron Shadow looks down from the edge of the ballista platform and sees Willa beginning to move. She orders the two crewmen to open fire with their longbows, but they miss (disadvantage as Willa is prone). Willa struggles to her feet, throws an obscene gesture at the Iron Shadow, extinguishes her sword, and runs toward the light coming from the open back doorway of the command building (dash). The Iron Shadow moves to the other side of the platform, jumps off and falls, then a second later uses her shadow jaunt to land safely on the ground (she had to allow herself to fall the first 20 feet so that she would be within 30 feet of the floor when she used her jaunt). Now that the human warrior has extinguished her sword, the Iron Shadow follows her in the darkness.

    Free of the slow spell, two of the hobgoblin warriors overtake Thokk and strike at him with their swords, but he evades their blows and then kills them both! (two hits, 12 and 13 damage). He turns and runs further from the building, snatching his shield back from Doro as he passes her, and then diving on top of it as he takes cover behind a large hunk of fallen building in the rubble field (prone). The barest hint of light from the shield comes out the sides, but should not be visible to the ballistae far above.

    Babshapka fires on the hobgoblin captain but misses twice, then drops behind cover himself. Mathias does the same, but he hits (twice for 8 damage) before he moves out of view.

    The hobgoblin captain advances through the rubble field until he sees Thokk prostrate on the ground. He frees a flask from his belt and holds it to his chest as he calls out in hobgoblin, “Maglubiyet, I am coming! Prepare a place for me in your army!” He then runs at Thokk full bore and launches himself in the air. As he crashes down, his chest to Thokk’s back, the flask is crushed between them and both of them are covered in the sticky, glowing goo. Almost immediately two ballistae bolts impact on the rocks around them (both misses).

    Thokk has run out of Doro’s healing range and now she hastens closer, then sends him some salving notes (fifth round, 6 points). She squints and looks closely at the glowing goo, then reproduces its exact color and intensity with a light spell cast on a nearby hunk of loose rock (Performance 31). She tosses the rock away from herself and Thokk, hoping to draw ballista fire its way.

    Aurora runs around the drill. The Iron Shadow spins on her, reveling in the fact that she has lured the soft party caster away from her tougher allies. She should make short work of her alone… “Look at me!” commands Aurora suddenly, her eyes flashing with mystic light (hypnotic gaze Wis save 16; fails). The Iron Shadow remains standing but goes limp, her own eyes beneath her mask mirroring the light in Aurora’s.

    Round Forty
    Leaving his shield on the ground, Thokk wriggles out from beneath the hobgoblin captain, stands, and brings down his axe twice before the captain can respond (two hits, 29 damage). The captain is slain. Thokk grunts in satisfaction, and finds a larger piece of stone debris, and crouches behind it before the ballistae can fire again (prone).

    Doro sends Thokk more healing (sixth round, 6 points). She picks up another rock and fills it with goo-colored light (Performance 30). The first light winks out as she tosses the second one across the rubble field.

    With only two ballista nests left, Mathias thinks he has located the one Willa is not at by the trajectory of the shots. He aims his bolts of force into the dark, even though he cannot see the hobgoblins currently winching back the siege weapon. His first shot goes wide, but his second actually wounds one of the hobgoblins (two shots with disadvantage, one hit, 5 points).

    Willa approaches the open back doorway of the command structure. Just as she is about to enter, a troll suddenly appears from within, blocking her path. The troll is strangely glowing yellow though, as if it was covered head-to-talon in the glow goo. Willa ignites her sword and moves in to attack. Behind her in the darkness, the Iron Shadow controls her silent image of the glowing troll, counting on the other ballista nest to take the signal to fire on the human warrior. Her own crew is down to two hobgoblins, and she left them training their longbows on the human in case she retreated from the troll. By the time the other crew is ready to fire, though, the human warrior has already struck once through the image, recognized it as false, and moved into the building out of sight. The Iron Shadow curses and allows the image to fade, and the other ballista ends up firing on the latest glowing rock created by Doro.

    Once inside the building, Willa sees the same chained dwarves as Thokk did. She looks about for enemies (Investigation 11), but all the hobgoblins inside lie dead on the floor. A number of giant fire beetles fill a cage, feeding on filth at the bottom and lighting the interior of the structure. Nearby is a crude processing table, where beetle larvae are squeezed to fill ceramic flasks with the glowing goo.

    Aurora maintains the Iron Shadow hypnotized behind the drill, but calls loudly for back-up. Thokk moves closer, ready to strike on her signal, and Babshapka gathers his swords from the ground and begins to make his way across the rubble field toward the drill.

    Round Forty-one
    With two strikes of her flaming greatsword, Willa frees two of the dwarves from their chains. Outside the command building in the darkness, the Iron Shadow who is following her now casts expeditious retreat and then dashes around to the other open doorway (neither the one Willa entered, nor the one Thokk left). From the third doorway the Shadow launches four darts at Willa (one hit, 4 damage) and then shadow jaunts away back into the darkness and out of sight.

    Doro moves to the drill and heals Thokk (seventh round, 3 points). Babshapka arrives as well, so that four of the party now surround the mesmerized Iron Shadow. Mathias scrutinizes the darkness, trying to locate the active ballista nest.

    Round Forty-two
    With two more strikes, Willa frees two more dwarves. “Arm yerselves,” she says, indicating the swords on the fallen hobgoblins, and the dwarves eagerly grab the weapons. Willa has a feeling the Iron Shadow isn’t done with her. Outside the command building, the Iron Shadow prepares to ambush the human warrior should she emerge (Stealth 20).

    Seeing the rest of the party gathered around her, Aurora squeals “Now!” and launches a firebolt at the Iron Shadow (13 points). Thokk unloads on the suddenly-lucid hobgoblin (one hit, 12 damage), who begins to desperately avoid the blows. As Aurora steps back, Babshapka sends two arrows into the hobgoblin (two hits, 23 damage), and she crumples to the ground, mask askew and bleeding out.

    Doro heals Thokk (eighth round, 3 points).

    Mathias, firing from intuition, manages to wound another ballista crewmember (one hit with disadvantage, 3 points).

    Round Forty-three
    Mathias continues to pelt the dark with bolts of force, but they strike only the cavern wall.

    The dwarves rally around Willa, who is waiting by one of the doors - and the Iron Shadow slips inside the other, her first attack unseen (advantage) and quickly followed by another three darts. One of the darts hits Willa (5 points), and the monk disappears (shadow jaunt) before Willa or any of the dwarves can react. Willa curses and frees two more dwarves.

    Thokk retrieves his shield and returns to where Aurora is casting a spell - fly, at 5th level, to affect three targets: Thokk, Babshapka, and herself (Aurora at 3/0/0/2/0). Doro heals (ninth round - 4 points), and then casts light on one of Babshapka’s arrows, and he quickly hides it in his quiver. The trio take off, flying in the direction of the ballista nests, but close to the ground and using the cover of the fallen buildings.

    Round Forty-four
    Doro heals (tenth and final round - 6 points) and then begins heading for where she can hear Mathias blasting at the ballista nest).

    Thokk dashes toward the nearer ballista nest, still using the taller walls for cover. He is currently 25 feet off the ground. Babshapka and Aurora fly more slowly toward the farther nest at thirty feet off the ground. Babshapka shoots the arrow with light - it strikes the cavern wall and breaks beneath the nest (miss with disadvantage), but for a brief moment it lights the nest up and makes it clear where it is. His second arrow, fired in the dark, hits and kills a wounded hobgoblin (hits with disadvantage, 10 damage - now one crew left).

    Mathias continues to fire from below but his blasts don’t connect.

    Inside the command building, all of the dwarves are now free. “Watch ther doorways,” commands Willa. “Attack ther ‘obgobin if she enter - bu’ dinnae foller ‘er out, an’ watch out fer ther ballistas. An’ if I leave, dinnae foller me, neither.” Outside the command building, the Iron Shadow hides in the dark and prepares for her next foray (Stealth 16).

    Round Forty-five
    Thokk flies at the ballista nest - from this point closer, there will be no cover. The two remaining crewmen fire off a bolt, and it breaks on his shield (attack roll 19), knocking him off course only briefly. Babshapka flies over the command building and shoots at the ballista nest - one arrow wounds one of the hobgoblins (5 points). Aurora flies straight up (dash), reaching 150’ above the floor of the cavern but in darkness and hopefully not visible to either ballista.

    The last Iron Shadow creeps to the doorway of the command building and fires off four darts in rapid succession at Willa (first attack with advantage from Stealth, critical hit for 9 damage), then withdraws into darkness and uses shadow jaunt and expeditious retreat to get even further away. Willa charges through the doorway (dash) but is not able to reach the Iron Shadow yet. A number of dwarves, scavenged swords in hand, follow her out. The lower ballista nest was holding their fire in case the Shadow was able to draw Willa out - now they fire (readied action) but are too late to get her - the bolt instead impales one of the unarmored dwarves behind her.

    Mathias is close enough to spot the Shadow running in the darkness, and he switches to her as the target of his blasts (two hits for 12 damage). Now the Shadow is caught between Mathias and Willa on the ground, with Babshapka close at hand in the air above. Doro is sprinting to get closer to Mathias.

    Round Forty-six
    Babshapka moves his hunter’s mark to the Iron Shadow and shoots at her from above (one hit, 13 damage with mark). Aurora swoops down to get within range and firebolts the Shadow (17 damage), knocking her to the cavern floor. She does not get up. Willa reaches her side and with a single flaming stroke decapitates her. Her mask is dislodged as her head rolls away.

    Thokk arrives at the ballista nest and finishes off the two remaining crew with his axe (two hits, 12 and 10 points, both dead).

    Mathias shoots at the hobgoblins in the lower nest, killing a wounded one (one hit, four points). The last remaining hobgoblin in the fight moves to the edge of the platform and shoots his longbow at the party gathering around the body of the Iron Shadow, but misses. It would take too long to winch the ballista back for another shot by himself - the flying ones will be on him soon.

    Round Forty-seven
    Mathias shoots again, just clipping the hobgoblin (one hit, 1 point). He returns fire by arrow, but misses. Babshapka moves the hunter’s mark to him, then fires - the shot drops the hobgoblin at the edge of the platform (one hit, 9 points with mark). He teeters, and then his death throws take him over the edge and plunge him fifty feet to the stone floor.

    Willa returns to the side of the dwarf who just took the ballista bolt, to see if there is anything she can do - but he is already dead (Medicine check 13). [End of combat]

    [Repository XP
    53 hobgoblins (CR1/2) 53 x 100 = 5300
    5 hobgoblin iron shadows (CR2) 5 x 450 = 2250
    2 hobgoblin captains (CR3) 2 x 700 = 1400
    11 trolls (CR5) 1800 x 5 = 9000

    Total: 17950 / 6 = 2992 each

    Babshapka 54,041 + 2992 = 57,033
    Thokk 52,382 + 2992 = 55,374
    Doro 50,375 + 2992 = 53,367
    Aurora 48,855 + 2992 = 51,847
    Mathias 48,805 + 2992 = 51,997
    Willa 46,312 + 2992 = 49,304 (has made 9th level)]

    [DM's notes: Willa had been charmed before, by Strahd, but most of the party was charmed by Strahd at some point. This was the first point she had been charmed alone, with the foe specifically targeting her, and it turns out that is a great strategy. Willa has a low Wisdom score to begin with, and fighters don't get proficiency on Wisdom saving throws, so there is her Achille's Heel. She has a great AC, hp, and is far and away the best damage-dealer in the party, but she is acutely vulnerable to charm. It was very appropriate that she leveled to 9th in this fight, and that her new ability is Indomitable, which allows her to reroll one failed save per long rest. Despite this new feature, she still would be charmed in the future, and every time she is, her player is given inordinate amounts of grief by the player of Mathias.]
    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

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
    Posts: 541
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    Mon Jan 01, 2024 1:34 pm  

    Wow, that was the most epic fight our intrepid band of heroes have gone through to date! Your players have really come into their own.

    I'm a bit surprised that Willa is the party's best damage dealer. I'd have assumed that would've been Thokk.

    I feel so bad for that poor dwarf who got skewered by the ballista bolt. Hopefully his kin will get the chance to avenge him...
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Mon Jan 01, 2024 2:57 pm  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Wow, that was the most epic fight our intrepid band of heroes have gone through to date!

    Yeah, that was a big one - it took three gaming sessions to play out! Nice environmental set piece, too, with the three dimensional aspect, light/dark choices, and areas of difficult terrain.

    CruelSummerLord wrote:

    I'm a bit surprised that Willa is the party's best damage dealer. I'd have assumed that would've been Thokk.

    Some of this is 5e design, some of it is player choices.

    Fighters are set up to be damage-dealers, and barbarians to be damage-takers (sponges to protect the rest of the party). They have the same base weapon proficiencies, but because Fighters can use heavy armor, they don't have to invest in Dex score or carry a shield, meaning they can both focus on maxing out their Str and using two-handed weapons. Barbarians have their AC tied to Dex but their melee attacks tied to Str so there is a trade-off in advancing their ability scores. Thokk has chosen to keep his magic shield, which means he usually attacks one-handed.

    Then, at third level, they selected subclass. Willa chose to be a Champion, even more narrowly focused on melee, while Thokk chose Wolf Totem, which provides advantage to those fighting alongside him, but not him. He is leaning into the support role of helping the other characters do better.

    Willa chose 'Great Weapon Fighter' as her fighting style (barbarians don't get a fighting style). This lets her reroll damage dice if she gets a 1 or 2. This ability is most useful with a weapon that has many small dice as opposed to one big die. Willa's greatsword is 2d6, whereas Thokk's greataxe, when he uses it two-handed, is d12. The greatsword is just 0.5 points better on average, but when you factor in Willa's fighting style, a third of the dice will be rerolled for better damage whereas only a sixth of Thokk's rolls would be affected by that, if he had it.

    Finally, when they found the flaming greatsword, Willa took it instead of Thokk, and this adds an extra 2d6 fire damage. So Willa is rolling 4d6+Str for damage, rerolling 1's and 2's on any of the four dice, and frequently getting advantage from being near Thokk. Thokk is usually rolling d8+2+Str for damage, without a reliable source of advantage.

    This dynamic will be reinforced when they get to 11th level. Willa will get a third attack per turn. Thokk will get the ability to keep fighting even when he is at 0hp. Damage dealer, damage taker.

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    I feel so bad for that poor dwarf who got skewered by the ballista bolt. Hopefully his kin will get the chance to avenge him...

    Yeah, the death of sympathetic civilians is tragic, but it also serves to highlight 'this is why we fight' for the party. They are not traveling remote wilderness to plunder out-of-the way monster lairs. They are fighting a threat that will skewer many more dwarves if they lose.
    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 Jan 02, 2024 10:09 am  
    Post 306: A Mid-Spring Night's Dream

    DM's note: What spell effects can and cannot target the occupants of a tiny hut are a source of much contention among 5e rules theorists.

    Post 306 - The Dream of a Mid-Spring Night
    25 April [2 Flocktime] continued - At the bottom of the Oestral Abyss

    While the rest of the party makes sure that the area is secure, Aurora and Thokk fly straight up, trying to find the ceiling of the cavern or the source of the tumbled-down buildings and walls. Eventually, just above the highest ballista nest, they pass through an area of magical darkness, and then emerge into the open sky on a warm, clear, night. Luna, the large moon, is rising and nearly full, and she illuminates the green fields around them, where grass grows between the ruins of even more great gray stone walls and tumbled-down buildings. High mountains lie to the northwest and southeast, but close about the ruins are rolling hills of heather. After a quick circling of the area does not reveal any hobgoblin camps or other enemies, Aurora returns to the party while Thokk does an entire circuit of the spiraling tunnels belowground, from the cutting edge of the rock wall where the dwarves have now freed themselves of their chains, to the very bottom where it enters the floor of the chamber near the guard station. He confirms that there are neither more prisoners nor more combatants about.

    Once the dwarves who were actively laboring are rejoined with the ones formerly held in the command building, the party interviews them collectively. The dwarves are happy to speak with their liberators after they have been permitted water (the party finds cisterns which apparently trap rainwater from above; they fill their own skins and share with the prisoners). The dwarves were all present for the first days of the fall of Num-Theraz, and were captured early in the fighting, in which there were far more fire giants on the field than the three slain by the party. They were marched here up the straight tunnel the party used, forced to drag siege engines, under threat of the lash or being fed to the trolls, and have been here ever since, digging the corkscrew tunnel up and shaping the ballista nests. They did not dig the straight tunnel here - that was made by the mechanical digging machine before their capture. The machine, however, can dig only at a slight angle, just a few degrees off the placement of its treads. Thus, to reach the surface over a short distance (the hobgoblins’ goal), the dwarves were forced to dig by hand to make the steep and spiraling ramp.

    Besides the hobgoblins and trolls, the dwarves report that at times they saw cloaked figures here. Tall and thin, the figures carried light weapons, spoke in Hobgoblin to the soldiers but in whispers to one another, and never pulled back their hoods to reveal their faces. Asked whether the whispering ‘could have been in elven’, the dwarves admit that it could have - but then, it could have been anything but Dwarven or Gnome. The ‘cloaked ones’ were obviously in command of the digging machine and gave orders to the hobgoblins. There was some sort of “black sphere” in the digging machine into which all the rock it mined disappeared - the cloaked figures removed this mystical object from the machine and took it away shortly after the dwarves arrived, but they themselves checked in on the repository occasionally. There were never more than one or two of them at a time, but it was unclear whether they were the same pair seen on multiple occasions or different individuals.

    Siege engines arrived at about one a day while the dwarves labored - crews of hobgoblins and trolls made the five-day journey to Num-Theraz, picked up an engine, and returned to the repository before sitting out of rotation for a day or more. The dwarves surmised that all of the engines stored here would be moved to the surface once the tunnel there was complete - which the dwarves estimate would have been in a week or so, assuming no losses among the laborers. The hobgoblins seemed to be experts at working the dwarves almost, but not quite, to death, and they had only a few losses among those captured.

    Asked about the fallen ruins themselves, the dwarves are confident that they are the remains of a human temple or palace or something, and are between three and four hundred years old, from the surface. They explain that unlike most of the tunnel from Num-Theraz, which was dug through stable basalt, the entire repository cavern sits in limestone, which they say makes a terrible foundation, as it has both large naturally-occurring caverns and is easily dissolved by groundwater. The foolish, shortsighted humans must have built a large complex on the surface over this cavern when its roof was intact, and then had the ground beneath their buildings collapse, depositing all of these walls and statues here on the cavern floor (Aurora and Doro try to recall any stories they know of such things, but it may be a provincial Sterrish matter they never learned; respective History checks 12 and 16; both fail).

    The party prepares for an overnight rest, while the dwarves prepare to leave at once, for despite their exhaustion they say they cannot bear to sleep in the place of their bondage now that they know that Num-Theraz is free. They strip boots and canteens from the hobgoblins, and take what dried fungus they can find that was used as feed for the fire beetles - they don’t trust the abundant dried meat rations of the hobgoblins, since they could very well be former kinsmen of theirs.

    After he casts cure wounds twice at second level during this conversation (13 points each time), Babshapka uses his last remaining spell slot to prepare goodberries, and he gives these to the dwarves before their departure, telling them to use them on the journey but within a day. The party sets aside fresh food from the giants for their own dinner (now 34 rations left). Tonight marks the seventh day from when they purchased this food at the Fjell, and some of the fruits and especially greens are showing signs of spoil. Given that they have not yet opened the preserved dwarven rations from Num-Theraz, the party donates what remains of the fresh food as well to the dwarves.

    Four less fresh rations (to 34, then to 0)
    Thokk from 6 to 5 hobgoblin rations
    Still have 30 dwarven iron rations

    This has been one of the longest continual battles the party has been in, and all of them are wounded, many severely so. They take quite some time to carefully dress and bind their wounds. Doro casts another aura of vitality (now at 2/2/0/0/0).

    Short rest:
    Aurora spends 4HD to recover 14hp
    Mathias spends 3HD to recover 16hp
    Babshapka spends 4HD to recover 23hp
    Willa spends 3HD to recover 27hp
    Thokk spends 5HD to recover 47hp

    Though well after dark, it is still before midnight. Before it gets much later, Aurora and Willa discuss the wording of a sending spell. They wish to let the Countess know of their success, especially as they estimate that they are now close to Istivin. Once they agree on the content, Aurora sends

    We followed tunnel to siege weapons - sinkhole'd city close to Istivin. Location?
    Killed hobgoblins, trolls, iron shadows - freed dwarves.
    Possible Drow involvement. Will destroy machines.

    After a slight pause, they receive the response:

    Sounds like Oestral Abyss - fallen manor house. If so, you are close.
    Should send third set of items to Headwater or hold for you here?

    They discuss whether they wish to continue on to Istivin in the morning and how they want to respond to the Countess, but Aurora has only a single remaining 4th level spell left (and no 3rds or 5ths) and decides not to respond to their patron for the time being.

    Aurora does cast private sanctum (now at 3/0/0/0/0), however, protecting the command building from divinations, teleportations, and planar travel. She leaves the area open to sound and sight for the benefit of those on watch. While the others eat and rest, Aurora spends more than an hour and several blocks of incense ritually re-summoning Hedwig. Finally, when the wizard is done with her casting, Doro ritually creates a tiny hut within the area already interdicted by the sanctum. There will be no reprisals against them tonight!

    Several hours later, when they are asleep, most of them find themselves in a familiar beautiful tropical palace garden (Babshapka is currently awake and on watch, but is not affected by the Dream spell in any event; Doro is not known to the Countess yet and is not included, like the last time). They follow the trails surrounded by green plants and colorful fruit and birds and eventually find the Countess seated on cushions in the pagoda. This time she is prepared to serve them honeyed dates rather than tea, but Aurora has been stewing on a question during her short walk to the pagoda and wants this addressed first.

    “I cast...I mean, I asked Mathias to cast private sanctum on our rest spot,” she says. “I am glad we can meet with you, but shouldn’t that have protected us from spells like this?”

    “I am pleased to see you as well, Master Willow,” replies the Countess politely, although Aurora used no such pleasantries or greetings. “When your Wizard Mathias did not answer my own question with a second sending, I thought it meet to contact you all thusly. As to your objection, the private sanctum spell specifically protects against divination effects that would let you be scried upon, and conjuration and transmutation spells that permit things to physically change location. However, Dream belongs to the school of illusion, and private sanctum does not ward against it.”

    “Illusion?” repeats Aurora. She learned as much the last time the Countess communicated with them by means of the spell, when they had just entered Headwater for the first time, but she was not then preoccupied by the fact that the spell had not been blocked by sanctum. Even now she is pondering how and why it might protect against one school of magic but not another, and how she might use that information on their enemies - or vice versa. “But illusion is about tricks and fooling the senses - do you mean to say we are not really having a conversation, that we are imagining all this - or that you are causing us to imagine this? None of this is real?”

    “Real?” asks the Countess demurely, “what is real? Perhaps you know the parable of the butterfly, from the Celestial Imperium. ‘Chuang Tzu was a philosopher who, one night, went to sleep and dreamed that he was a butterfly. He dreamt that he was flying around from flower to flower and while he was dreaming he felt free, blown about by the breeze hither and thither. He was quite sure that he was a butterfly. But when he awoke he realized that he had just been dreaming, and that he was really Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly. But then Chuang Tzu asked himself the following question: "Was I Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly or am I now really a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu?'""

    Aurora scowls and the Countess raises her hand politely to hide a smile. “Ah yes, perhaps your monastic order does not approve of such poetic sophistry? If you prefer a more practical answer, your Wizard Mathias surely can explain how the more powerful illusion spells can create effects that seem real, even if they are powered by the imagination of their casters. As I mentioned the last time we met, Dream is a spell of the fifth level of power, and I have as before cast it higher than that in order to affect more than one of you.”

    But Aurora persists. “We are also currently sleeping inside a tiny hut. Our new bard assured us that the hut would block spells - so how can you have contacted us?”

    Here the Countess nods more thoughtfully. “As Mathias can tell you, what we know of the ‘rules’ of magic are not rules at all, but merely our attempts to organize our understanding. I believe the hut is typically described as ‘Spells and other magical effects can’t extend through the dome or be cast through it.’ In this case, I am not casting the spell through the dome - I am casting it on myself, far away from your dome.”

    “But surely the effects of the spell extend through the dome, if you are able to reach us,” protests Aurora.

    “I believe ‘extends’ is best understood in a physical sense; the way the dome would block a lightning bolt from passing through it,” the Countess responds. “In this case, the Dream spell exists in my mind, and it exists in your minds, but there is no physical connection; it has not physically passed through the dome itself.” She gestures at the garden all around them. “This is an illusion after all - it has passed through the dome no more than if you had thought of me yourselves and then had a dream of me in your minds.”

    “Thokk dream of you in hut before,” the barbarian interjects, surprising everyone in that he has actually been following the conversation. “Thokk’s son by you sit on throne of Sterich!”

    The Countess looks down, averting her gaze from Thokk and a blush rising in her caramel-colored cheeks, but a coy smile is on her face.

    “Thokk kill many giants for you,” he adds, not specifying whether he is speaking of the actual Steading in the past or his aforementioned dream, or perhaps a vision of the future.

    After an intense pause in which the Countess arranges the folds of her silk dress with slight movements of her delicate hands, she raises her gaze at Aurora. “Perhaps in some sense our minds are connected by this spell, but in a realm that is not physical but is wherever dreams exist - the astral plane, mayhap, or the feywild? I don’t pretend to know or understand this beyond the indisputable fact that it does indeed work.”

    When Aurora gives every indication that she is about to continue her questioning, it is Willa’s turn to object. “Enough, lass. Ther Countess hae called us ‘ere ter report ter ‘er, an’ we hain’t told ‘er nae twa bits yet! Leave it be!”

    “Thank you, Serjeant Stoutley, I do wish to learn as much as I can from you in the time we have tonight,” agrees the Countess. “But do not judge your naturally curious monk too harshly. We still do not know who are the genii behind the giants, and we certainly do not want them as privy to your conversations as they are to the deliberations of my husband’s Council. Knowing to what extent your wizard’s spells can protect you - and to what they cannot - is important.”

    Yeah, Willa,” rejoins Aurora.

    Willa considers a choice retort but opts not to use such language in front of the Countess. When no one says anything immediately, their patron speaks again. “The last I heard from you, you had just entered Headwater after precipitating the fall of Chief Nosnra and bringing destruction to the Hill Giant Steading,” she reminds them. “I had tasked you with eliminating the Stone Giant engineer orchestrating the siege and taking his body to the Thane. I know what happened in Headwater from the reports of Griffage and Kerri, so you needn’t cover that unless there is something important you think they wouldn’t know. We have had a few sendings along the way, but I am interested in everything that you have done since you left Headwater for the Fjell.”

    As their designated speaker (and the one more often than not whispering ‘don’t tell her that’), it falls to Mathias to summarize their tale. He takes the Countess quickly out of Headwater to their search of Fort Iron Axe and the evidence of the Frost Giant attack, and then to the Fjell. He covers the tale of Garuuuuumk with some sympathy, and their conclusion that the giant’s animosity toward humankind was in part due to the policies of Sterich, or at least those of the local lord who refused him justice. The Countess nods in comprehension - which is not a promise to look into the matter, but at least the party is convinced that she now understands the position of the Giants and recognizes her own responsibility in the affair.

    Mathias relates what happened at the funerary games, and the success of the party in their diplomacy with the Stone Giants - that the Stone Giants are not like the other giants, and that they don’t want a war with humans, that they are not joining the Giant Alliance, but that neither will they take up arms against their fellow giants as that would be against the Ord’ning. Still, Mathias relates, they have been of great assistance in opposing the alliance indirectly, and have even entrusted the party with their most sacred relic, the Horn of Annam. When the Countess learns of the power of this artifact, and how the party intends to use it to stop the attacks on Sterich by the Frost Giants, she is effusive in her praise of them - they have managed to find a way to remove all of the Frost Giants from the field at once, in a manner that mere force of arms and defeating each of the numerous scattered bands of giants could never do. Truly, the Countess says, she chose this group of heroes well, but even so they have exceeded her expectations and may yet prove to be the saviors of Sterich. She does not remark upon, and the party does not mention, that this diplomatic success was built upon the trust engendered by the return of Garuuuumk’s body to the Thane, which was her idea and which many in the party initially opposed.

    Next Mathias describes what they found beneath Garuuuuumk’s cave - the silver-white hair and the boot prints - and why they suspect the involvement of the dark elves in the alliance. Mathias mentions that the abandoned temple in the Steading had some connection to spider-people, Aurora repeats the implied connection to the Spidered Throne (although it makes the Countess wince), and they wonder aloud about how these may be linked to the dark elves.

    Mathias then relates their journey to Num-Theraz, what they found there, and how they liberated the city, followed by their long journey to the siege engine repository, where he says that they are now, and their destruction of the hobgoblin encampment with its numerous troll guards. He describes the giant plan as they currently understand it - the Hill Giants were to burn the villages and raid the fields and flocks of Sterich, depriving the humans of food, the Frost Giants were to attack outlying forts and force the soldiers and populace into cities, and then the Fire Giants were to use their war machines to crush the cities and destroy the nation. Here again the Countess is effusive in her praise of the party, for they appear to have ended the threat of the Hill Giants and crippled the ability of the Fire Giants to besiege the capital; or at least they will do so once they have destroyed the war machines, for, she reminds them, it will do them no good to have killed these hobgoblins but leave the siege engines intact so that they might be recaptured later. Willa assures her that they have already wrecked the tunneling machine and that dismantling the siege engines will be their first priority on the morrow. The Countess asks for more detail on the tunneling machine and when she is told that the ‘cloaked ones’ control a black hole that can incessantly swallow rock, she says that it sounds like a sphere of annihilation, and it is certainly not welcome news that the Enemy has one under their control. As Mathias describes the cavern of the Repository itself, with the fallen buildings open to the sky, the Countess says that she believes that it is in fact the Oestral Abyss - which lies only one day’s travel from Istivin.

    The noble house of Oester, she relates, was one of the oldest noble families in Sterich, dating back long before the nation was independent of Keoland. Their seat was where these ruins are now, close to Istivin. Nearly four centuries ago a great rift opened in the oerth, swallowing their palatial estate and many of their members and retainers. The estate was abandoned by the survivors of the house and the seat of their power moved elsewhere. In the absence of the nobles, the villages surrounding it slowly lost their population to better-defended settlements, so that now the local region is semi-wilderness. There are all kinds of tales as to why the palace was swallowed up, but the Countess regards them as centuries-old folklore and inherently unreliable.

    Willa asks about the darkness that hides the mouth of the hole and the Countess says that while she has not been there personally, that was not in any account of the place she has heard - indeed, supposedly when the sun is high overhead one can see the ruined buildings at the bottom of the Abyss, which is something of an adventurous destination for the bolder young nobles. Assuming the darkness is recent then, Willa wonders at its purpose. ‘To hide the siege engines’ reasons Mathias, but someone in the party adds, ‘to protect the drow from the sun’.

    When the Countess is satisfied that she understands what the party has done, they talk about next steps and agree that they will use the chain. The Frost Giants are still threatening Sterich, and they must be dealt with. Indeed, the Countess says, Velikar’s Fort, in the mountains above Istivin, is currently under siege by Frost Giants. However, the Countess is still convinced that while the chain is their best lead for arriving quickly at the Frost Giants, it is also still likely to be a trap and that they need to be prepared to turn the trap on the trappers by arriving more heavily armed than the giants are prepared for. To that end, the discussion turns to what magic items she has been able to secure for them.

    The Countess reports that Mathias’ Bag of Holding, Willa’s healing potions, a scroll of Seeming (for ‘Mathias’), a spellbook with a copy of Wall of Stone (for ‘Mathias’), a spellbook with a copy of Leomund’s Secret Chest (for ‘Mathias’), Doro’s Rhythm-maker’s Drum +2, and Babshapka’s Longbow +1 are all either on their way to Headwater or already there. On the other hand, there are three items that she currently holds in Istivin - Mathias’ Wand of Web and Ioun Stone of Protection, and Doro’s Hat of Disguise. She has been sending their items to Headwater in batches under heavy guard, and was holding on to these last three until there were more to send at once. However, given the apparent proximity of the party to the capital, would they prefer to come and pick them up themselves?

    Willa agrees that they are likely one day from Istivin, but four or five days from the Fjell via the tunnel, and multiple days from there back to Headwater. If they want the items already sent before they use the chain (and they do), getting them to Headwater swiftly seems more of a problem then picking up themselves the remaining three items the Countess currently holds. The party discusses Phantom Steeds, which would let them move faster, but casting them all day for such a large group is not efficient. They ask the Countess whether she can supply the party with actual horses in Istivin. If they are that pressed for time, she replies, she can send the horses with the three items to the party, and they can ride them the rest of the way to Headwater. To coordinate them finding one another, she says, she will locate the Oestral Abyss on a map, and then send six horses, items, and a cavalry squad of guards to the place where the Highlands Road is closest to the Davish River in the vicinity of the Abyss (the road is on the far side of the river from the party, she says, so they will need to find some means to cross the Davish themselves). However, she cautions, the guards will not accompany the party all the way to Headwater - they are needed in Istivin, with the forces of the Enemy so close at hand. That means the party will have to accept responsibility for the magic items immediately upon their receipt. If they use them or lose them in transit, they will need to pay for them (the items waiting for them in Headwater could still be refused by the party if they decide the asking price is too high, since they are held securely there). The party agrees to this condition.

    Willa considers the various abilities of the party to ride. Aurora, and apparently Mathias, have ridden since youth and can handle something spirited and swift, but the others are less experienced. Doro and Willa herself are passing familiar with mounts but not strong seats. Thokk has never been on anything but a Phantom Steed, which is docile, compliant, and magically stable. Babshapka, as he has more than once mentioned to the party, does not believe in ‘animal enslavement’ and has never ridden an actual horse. Considering all this, Willa asks the Countess to send mounts that are sturdy but well-behaved; neither nags nor her swiftest coursers.

    Once they have a plan to get them and their new gear to Headwater, the Countess says there is one more thing they need to know. With the siege of Headwater sundered and the Enemy in retreat, Kerri has been recalled north to help defend Istivin. Griffage is in parts unknown, scouting for the Earl. She gives them the name of a man who is a Merchant Master and Guild Head in Headwater. He will be acting as her factor, she says, and is currently holding both the magic items that are already there, and the funds from what the party left behind to be sold on their behalf. They should see him upon their arrival.

    With more words of praise to the party, the Countess Resbin Dren Emandov bids them well and the party leaves the garden and returns to 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

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 1061
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jan 09, 2024 9:30 am  
    Post 307: Reemergence

    New abilities in bold.

    Special Agent Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Ninth Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 20 (+5), Dex 17 (+3), Con 14 (+2), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
    HP. 86
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting, Improved Critical, Extra Attack.
    Features: Action Surge, Second Wind, Remarkable Athlete, Inured to Hardship, Indomitable: Beginning at 9th level, you can reroll a saving throw that you fail. If you do so, you must use the new roll, and you can't use this feature again until you finish a Long Rest
    Plate armor +2, greatsword with flametongue, dagger, mace+2, ioun stone (no air required)
    Potions of neutralize poison, cure disease, healing cannister, ampules of cure disease, cure poison, radiation antidote, incendiary grenades, sleep grenades, stun grenades, paralyzation pistol, blaster pistol, power discs, Couatl Scale of Lesser Restoration

    Post 307: Reemergence
    26 April [3 Flocktime] - Siege Tunnel Below Oestral Abyss
    (low 80, high 106)

    Over breakfast, Willa engages the others in travel plans. She talks about whether they need to return to the Fjell, where they still have some gear. They do an inventory of all their alien technology, what they have on them and what is stored with the Stone Giants, what might be useful against the Frost Giants and what not, and in the end conclude that they can make the jump with the chain without needing to get anything first from the Fjell (although Willa leaves open the possibility that if they end up waiting in Headwater for gear, someone could make a side trip there and back). Aurora asks Mathias how he is for power discs, and he says that he has ‘enough for the translator’. She gives him some of hers.

    They also talk about the best way to destroy the siege engines, of which there are dozens - a few huge trebuchet, as well as plenty of ballistae and scorpions, and many onagers. This is harder than it might seem, for there are no wooden arms to break or burn. Rather, virtually all of the machinery is iron, steel, and brass - Willa mutters that they were likely forged by Fire Giants - or even enslaved dwarves. The complicated spring release triggers are delicate and easily broken, but could be almost as easily replaced by spare parts. The braided wire cords would be hard to cut. The cords could be removed, but they could quickly be replaced as well. Only the great steel arms could not be quickly restored, but the effort required to bend these out of shape would take them a day or more given the number of engines. Doro considers her heat metal spell, but one spell would be required for each object, and she does not have enough experience with the spell to know whether the arms would heat enough so that they could be misshaped, whether those changes would outlast the end of the spell, or whether the party could more easily bend them while they were heated.

    Willa lights her sword, cranes her neck, and looks up at the highest ballistae nest she can see - itself only less than half the height of the furthest one up. A drop from the highest one, 250 feet onto the stone cavern floor, would surely break the siege equipment: if not the individual arms, then certainly the welds joining the arms to the bodies. But how to haul it all up there quickly? Doro volunteers to polymorph Thokk into a giant ape - anything he couldn’t easily smash himself by dashing it against the broken rocks nearby he could drag up to the highest nest and pitch it from there - the spell will last an hour, giving him plenty of time to move all the engines necessary. It is agreed.

    While Doro directs Thokk in destroying the siege engines, Aurora and Mathias travel to the highest nest to investigate the darkness that covers the hole to the surface. Aurora performs a ritual cast of detect magic and carefully considers the sensory feedback she receives (Arcana 26, +1 from guidance by Mathias = 27). A normal darkness spell lasts only ten minutes, and is a concentration spell besides. Aurora tries to sense whether this effect has been made permanent, but does not feel any of the powerful sustaining magic that would be required. Rather, she does feel that the darkness is decaying, only very slowly. She concludes that this is some variant of the darkness spell, one where upcasting it extends the duration - much as Kerri’s mage had a version of enlarge / reduce which permitted upcasting for extended duration. This would seem to imply that the caster or casters (drow?) return at regular intervals to renew the spell. The dwarves did not mention anything like that, but it would be unlikely for them to notice it besides the occasional presence of the ‘cloaked ones’ they already reported. Aurora tries to sense at what level the spell itself would be cast, but she succeeds only in determining that it is a higher level slot than she is herself currently capable of.

    Aurora explains all of this to Mathias. When he has digested it, he begins his dispel magic casting it as high as he can, at fifth level.

    Dispel Magic wrote:
    Choose one creature, object, or magical effect within range. Any spell of 3rd level or lower on the target ends. For each spell of 4th level or higher on the target, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell’s level. On a successful check, the spell ends. At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you automatically end the effects of a spell on the target if the spell's level is equal to or less than the level of the spell slot you used.

    Mathias can sense the resistance from the spell as he struggles to impose his will over the sphere of darkness - as Aurora sensed, this spell was cast by someone of higher ability than either of them. [Leezar attempts to dispel magic on the darkness, but makes his Charisma check of 11, which would only work on a spell of up to level 3. He uses his dark one’s own luck for a +5 to get a Charisma check of 16, allowing him to dispel a spell effect cast at 6th level - which is just enough to remove the darkness, cast at four levels above what a normal darkness would require] He strains, and suddenly there is a sound like fabric tearing. The darkness is shattered into a million fragments that drift down like ash, disappearing before they hit the cavern floor as the entire shaft fills with bright morning light.

    While Aurora and Mathias are above, and Thokk and Doro are hauling and pitching engines, Willa and Babshapka explore the hobgoblin command structure and then the greater camp. Willa argues that no small company of hobgoblins was quartered here - they have to have food somewhere. In short order (Perception 14) she begins to find caches of rations - bags and boxes concealed within the fallen rubble around the command building. Almost all of it is jerky, both from dried mushrooms and meat of unknown origin. When Doro finally returns from her labors, she examines the meat (Medicine 18). There are precious few strips of fat in it. The lean meat has a strong, gamey smell and flavor - she guesses horse or deer, but isn’t really certain - although she is reasonably sure it is not dwarf. Mathias doesn’t trust it - once Willa has separated out the portion that they will be bringing with them, he casts purify food on it.

    Once they have packed and broken camp, Aurora casts fly (at 5th level) on Thokk, Willa, and Mathias, and the three of them carry Babshapka, Aurora, and Doro up through the hole and into the high grass and blessed sunlight. Shielding his eyes against the sun, Babshapka can easily see the lowest spot in the valley, if not the river itself - what will be harder is finding the spot where the river is closest to the Highlands road, where they are to meet the Countess’ horsemen.

    They set out overland, with Babshapka choosing a route that will get them quickly to the river but also avoid easy detection (Survival 17, Stealth 14). Over the next three hours they pass by many peasant villages which were abandoned centuries ago. The fields are so overgrown as to be largely unrecognizable as having once been tilled, but they continue to spot stone walls around former sheep folds and the occasional ruins of a stone tower, bridge, or mill house. Soon enough the Davish River itself comes into view, and when they approach its banks, they can see the road on the other side of it.

    Knowing that the orcs, goblins, dire wolves, eigers, and giants have all been encountered on the far side of the river, they elect to rest on the near side, wait, and watch (short rest). Some ninety minutes after making their lunch camp Babshapka spots a dozen mounted men moving south towards them along the Highlands road.

    Thokk swims easily across the swift, rushing river (Athletics 29) and Willa follows, although she has been carried considerably further downstream by the time she reaches the far side (Athletics 13). Babshapka uses his cloak of the manta ray to swim rapidly across and emerges barely wet. Aurora casts fly on herself and Mathias (4th level), and between the two of them they carry Doro across the river.

    By the time Willa has jogged back along the riverbank to where the rest of the party waits, they can see that the ‘dozen riders’ are in fact five men on horseback bringing another seven riderless steeds on long leads. As they get even closer it becomes clear that six of the riderless horses nonetheless have riding saddles, while the seventh has a pack harness supporting a wooden trunk.

    After they establish their identities, the leader of the squad gives Willa a folded sheet of parchment smelling slightly of cinnamon and tells her to open it when she is alone. They exchange a few words with the rest of the party - gratitude for the party’s help with the Troubles, in whatever capacity they are working. They have been told that the party is to escort the box to Headwater but other than that they don’t know of the party’s actual activities. They hope that the party can return to Istivin, as the Frost Giant activity in the mountains above the city threatens thousands of lives, and they would appreciate any additional defenders. Once the party has their new horses in hand, the cavalry squad mounts and rides rapidly back north along the road.

    When the riders are out of sight to everyone but Babshapka, Willa walks away from the party and opens the letter. This triggers the magic mouth spell [which was told to 'speak when Serjeant Stoutley unfolds the parchment and no others are within hearing'] and she can hear the soft voice of the Countess. “The box has a powerful glyph of warding which will discharge electricity on anyone attempting to open it. Lay your hand on the box and speak the password ‘cloves’. This will dispel the glyph and allow you to open the box safely and remove its contents.”

    Willa refolds the parchment and returns to the party, telling them to take the box off the pack horse but to be careful not to open it. Once it is securely on the ground, she places her hand on top and says ‘cloves’. For a brief moment she and the others can see that the entire box is covered with a network of electric blue lines, converging in an arcane symbol over the latch - then these lines fade from view. Aurora carefully undoes the latch with mage hand, but the box opens easily, without any explosions. The interior is padded, and inside, packed in fresh straw, are two wooden wands, a soft felt hat, a large gemstone, and five potion flasks. The party briefly examines the items, but decides to attune to them later, at their evening camp. They repack the box on the pack horse, and add to its burden a number of items from their own packs and the hobgoblin rations, each select their mount, and start off south along the road.

    [The DM offers the party the chance of going 50 miles before nightfall at an easy pace with no handling checks, or 60 miles before nightfall but each of them having to make a DC10 Animal Handling check, the party chooses the more aggressive pace. Babshapka 23, Doro 18, Mathias 17, Willa 15, Aurora 12, Thokk 10; all succeed]

    They proceed at a brisk pace along the road, soon passing the turnoff to the ruins of Ebenenberg. It is only late afternoon when they ride through the streets of Mittelberg - they are making such good progress that Willa squashes any talk of getting an inn for the night. Finally, as the sun sets beyond the mountains to the west but the sky is still lit, Babshapka selects a campsite near the road, some five miles beyond the turnoff for Fort Falke.

    Once camp is made, Aurora dis-attunes from her crystal ball and attunes to the Wand of the War Mage +2 [This will give her a +2 to hit with her spell attacks, which for her is only her firebolt spell. None of her other combat spells make attack rolls; rather, they all hit automatically (magic missile) or have saving throws (crown of madness, reduce, web, fireball, slow), so it was a curious request for a magic item considering the cost. The player simply requested the item without much evaluation; the character rationalizes her choice by saying that she will soon obtain more spells that use attack rolls].

    Doro attunes to the Hat of Disguise after she has ritually cast Leomund’s Tiny Hut.

    Mathias attunes to the Ioun Stone of Protection, and later to the Wand of Web.

    For dinner, Thokk eats from the roasted hobgoblins (5 to 4) he prepared in Num-Theraz. The rest of the party opens the dwarven iron rations they got from the city (30 to 26), except for Babshapka, who is being sustained by his stone. The war rations they captured from the hobgoblin camp are left untouched for now, despite Mathias having purified them.

    It is a warm night, and Willa sees no need to crowd inside the hut with the others now that they are not under imminent threat of a hobgoblin ambush in the night - she prefers the smell of grass and horses to that of her unwashed companions. She sleeps outside the hut but nearby, and watches the horses as well. Those on watch leave the hut for their shift and then return inside to wake the next in line.
    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: 1061
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jan 16, 2024 11:51 am  
    Post 308: Free Enterprise

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Nosnra sets out with war party. Party takes the Steading.
    8 April: Attack on Headwater. Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Party arrives in Headwater
    10 April: Skirmish at Fort Grenvu. Bickering in occupied Headwater, Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    11 April: Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    12 April Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within the city.
    13 April Sack of Fort Grenvu. Kerri probes and skirmishes to look for weaknesses among enemies occupying the city.
    14 April Sterish forces break siege, retake east bank of Headwater. The enemy are scattered.
    16 April Party at the Fjell. Skirmish at Fort Saddle
    19 April Raid on Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)
    21 April Sack of Dagger Pass (Frost Giants)
    24 April Skirmish at Poignard (humanoids)
    25 April Siege of Velikar’s Fort (Frost Giants)
    26 April Troubles Roll 0
    27 April Troubles Roll -4 = Sack. Fall of Velikar's Fort (Frost Giants)

    DM's note: Animal Handling Mechanic
    As noted in the previous day's post, none of the party are particularly accomplished riders, yet they wanted to make good time with these horses. To my knowledge, 5e doesn't have rules for 'riding mishaps' for when you want to get more speed from your mount. This is what I devised:

    For each half day of travel, the party was offered a 'safe' pace (no checks required) or a 'fast' pace, at which they would each need to make a DC10 Animal Handling check (with a +2 to DC for each time they did this again without a long rest for the horses in between). Failing this check would then necessitate a DC15 save, targeted at a randomly-chosen Ability score (d6). Failure on this Save would then have consequences as determined by me in what seemed appropriate to the situation and narrative.

    Post 308: Free Enterprise
    27 April [4 Flocktime] - The Highlands Trail
    (low 81, high 105)
    Fall of Velikar’s Fort (to Frost Giants). Wandering encounter: Lamassu

    [Offered the chance of going 50 miles at an easy pace with no handling checks, the party elects a more aggressive pace that will take them 60 miles in a half-day’s travel before their midday rest but require a DC10 Animal Handling check. Mathias 19, Babshapka 15, Doro 10, Willa 10, Thokk 10; Aurora 1; fails]

    The hot morning speeds along, with the party grateful for the breeze from their swiftly-moving mounts. Aurora was fond enough of her horse the day before, when it was already tired from the half-day’s journey from Istivin. This morning, however, it is rested and a little too spirited for her, and nowhere near as easy to control as her childhood pony Buttercup. When she tries to ride it alongside the others to chat (or rather, for her to talk at them), it becomes competitive and even harder to control, and one sudden bolt of speed finds her slipping from the saddle (d6 for targeted ability = Dexterity, Dex Save 12; fail). She takes a few points from the fall onto the hard-packed road but most of the damage is to her pride, and the others have soon rounded up the horse. The party is quickly back on their way.

    Before Willa has called time for their midday rest, they have reached the fork where they must decide between heading for Fort Blackbridge or for Blackbridge Town, and she chooses the latter, to cover the now-familiar ground they did on their last journey south. Some four miles later they find a small stream to water the horses and fill their skins, and Willa calls for their rest.

    Starting up again later, they reach Blackbridge Town by midafternoon, with many hours of light left to continue. Willa leads them to the center of town, where they refill their skins from a public well and pour buckets into nearby troughs. In the brief time in which they are watering the horses, Willa engages the locals and tries to catch up on the news of the Highlands. She learns that a week ago, Fort Dagger Pass, just to the north of Blackbridge Town, fell to a combination of Frost Giants and humanoids. The fort guarded the trail to the town of Poignard, and trade between the two towns has since been cut off, or at least forced the long way ‘round through Mittleberg. As Willa gathers more information, she realizes that the party was likely in the Tunnel, deep beneath the actual fort, at the exact time of its fall.

    Sticking to the trail they know, the party exits Blackbridge Town via the south gate, and continues along the east bank of the Davish River. They aim to reach Fort Stirrup, and possibly even Headwater, before nightfall.

    [Offered the chance of going 50 miles at an easy pace with no handling checks, the party elects a more aggressive pace that will take them 60 miles in a half-day’s travel before their midday rest but require a DC12 Animal Handling check. Aurora 18, Mathias 12, Doro 11 (fails), Thokk 10 (fails), Babshapka 10 (fails), Willa 8 (fails)]

    Throughout the afternoon there are a series of minor mishaps with the horses. Babshapka (Intelligence save 12, fails) has been hesitant about giving his horse too much water at once and overburdening its stomach. He misjudges the amount of water his horse needs and by the end of the day it is dehydrated and has acquired a level of exhaustion. Willa (Constitution save 10, fails) exceeds her own ability as a rider in heavy armor and ends the day exhausted herself. Thokk (Charisma save 7, fails) finds his horse increasingly ornery as the afternoon progresses, unwilling or unable to follow his lead. By the end of the day he strongly considers killing and eating the horse for its impertinence, but eventually decides not to (follow-up Wisdom save 13). Instead, he complains to Willa that he will not be riding that horse again, and insists that she find him a new one for the 'morrow. Doro’s mount shies unexpectedly once, but she manages to keep her seat (Dexterity save 19).

    As the daylight fades Willa assesses their progress at end-of-day. They are some six miles beyond Fort Stirrup and should be able to reach Headwater with just an hour or two more of travel - they could easily get there without their mounts foundering tonight, but given the number of problems they have already had with the horses today, she is unwilling for the party to travel in the dark. No one gainsays her decision, so they make camp.

    For dinner, Thokk eats from the roasted hobgoblins (4 to 3) he prepared in Num-Theraz. The rest of the party has the dwarven iron rations they got from the city (26 to 22), except for Babshapka, who is being sustained by his stone. The war rations they captured from the hobgoblin camp are left untouched for now.

    As they had the previous night, Doro and the chest from the Countess remain in the hut all night while the others move out when it is their turn on watch and then return ‘inside’. Willa stays outside even to sleep.

    Willa is sleeping, and Babshapka on watch, when a huge leonine form swoops from the sky and settles on the grass silently. Babshapka stiffens and his hands go to his weapons, but something about the benevolence of the woman’s head on the lion’s body, something about the purity in appearance of the huge golden wings, keeps him from charging and immediately raising the alarm. The creature pads softly across the grass toward him, ignoring the sleeping form of Willa. It reminds him of the Shedu from the ship, albeit they were bull-men and this is a lion-woman. The wings are superficially similar, but the real resemblance is in the regalness of their features. The woman and Babshapka have a hushed conversation and Willa never wakes. The lion-woman walks away from the camp before powerful beats of her wings carry her into the night sky - the high grass about her is bent over by the force of her wings, but no sound of wind is raised.

    28 April [5 Flocktime] - The Highlands Trail
    [no encounter checks for today]
    (low 82, high 102)

    In the morning, Babshapka tells the others of his encounter with the lion woman the previous night. He says that she said that she and her sisters are guardians of the valley of Sterich.

    Mathias retorts, “If you see her again, you can tell her they are doing a s****** job of it.”

    As Babshapka glares at him, Mathias continues, “Look at how f***** up everything is here, with the giant invasion and humanoids and all. People are dying. What are these ‘sisters’ doing about it? Squat!”

    As they break camp and mount up, Willa offers to exchange horses with Thokk. He is dubious - is she sure that her horse is more respectful of him than his was? He suggests instead that he kill his horse as a lesson to the others and then take Willa’s horse. Willa can then take Aurora’s horse, and the wizard can make her own transparent horse. All of the horses will thus learn what the chain of command is in his warband.

    Willa insists that all the horses have already learned their lesson and that her horse will be properly respectful of him - and she will teach Thokk’s horse to be better behaved when she rides it today. Thokk is mollified (Willa Persuasion 11 > Thokk Insight 5) and finally agrees to the exchange.

    They don’t push the horses at all [no checks required] since they are so close to Headwater, and indeed they arrive at the city well before mid-day. True to what the Countess told them, the city is liberated and there is no sign of the Enemy besides the lingering effects on those dispossessed of houses, those maimed, widowed, or orphaned in the fighting, etc. The streets are clear of the refugee squatters that crowded them before, as everyone able to do so has moved back into the formerly occupied parts of the city and many of those now lacking homes have gone out into the countryside to help with the overdue plowing and planting, with looking for escaped livestock, and with other jobs crucial to ensuring the food supply come winter. The atmosphere is celebratory but not at all lax - there is still much work to do and Sterich is still at war, even if the front lines have moved from the Highlands to the mountains above Istivin.

    It does not take them long to find the Merchant Master who the Countess recommended to them, but it is well past noon by the time they are allowed to see him (although their horses are stabled and they are provided a luncheon while they wait). They are finally permitted to go in and they find a well-dressed man in an equally well-appointed study. He apologizes to them for the delay, explaining that among his other duties is that of adjudicating claims for everyone that had Guild Insurance on property that was lost or destroyed in the fighting - he indicates a thick stack of papers and other documents that even now a secretary is reading and annotating on a side table. Currently on his own beautifully-carved mahogany desk, however, are just a few papers. These list all the items the party had left with Griffage and Keri, the value that the items received in sale, and the items that the Countess had already sent to Headwater for the party’s consideration, as well as their asking price and current owner (when publicly known, as several of them are not).

    The Merchant Master begins by explaining to the party that the credit that they already have - all the treasure and valuable items they left in Headwater to sell - has either already been sold, or placed on consignment, and they have a total credit of 13,613gp with his merchant house. If they wish to purchase magic items through the Countess, he can make sure the owners are properly paid with the funds the party already has on record. In addition to this party fund, Willa also has a credit of 7.5gp (for the sale of her normal longsword), Thokk has 100gp (for a gem), and Aurora 200gp (for two gems).

    He then enumerates the items that the Countess has already managed to procure for them off of their ‘shopping list’ (and the party adds to this the items they themselves bear from the latest shipment); a longbow+1, 10 potions of healing, a wand of the war caster+2, a bag of holding, a hat of disguise, a wand of web, an ioun stone of protection, a rhythm-maker’s drum+2, and some version of the spells seeming, wall of stone, secret chest, and teleportation circle.

    The party asks him whether they can have their credit kept in separate, individual ‘accounts’ for each of them and he assures them that would be an accounting trifle; his secretary has soon worked out that the 13,613gp is about 2269gp for each of the six of them, with the additional monies previously mentioned added to the accounts of Willa, Thokk, and Aurora.

    Babshapka says that he will take the magical longbow. This has a price of 1050 gp, which leaves the elf with 1218.83 gp in credit with the merchant master. Babshapka is satisfied.

    Willa purchases all ten of the potions of healing for 500gp. This leaves her with 1768.83gp in credit.

    Aurora asks about the price of the wand of the war mage - to which she has already attuned. When she learns that it is 4800gp - more than twice her share of the treasure from the Steading - she is momentarily flustered. It does not take her long to turn to Thokk, however, and begin to explain to him how the wand will help her produce even larger and more accurate explosions. For his part, Thokk has little use for money and no interest in the magic items available. If it will speed up this dull meeting with this soft man and give Thokk more time to explore bars and brothels in Headwater, Thokk says that he is happy to turn over his entire share of treasure to Aurora for the wand. Willa rolls her eyes as Aurora tries not to look triumphant - but the merchant reminds her that even with Thokk’s share, she is still short. “Willa,” Aurora then says carefully, “with your level head you know the tactical value of having my spells be more accurate…”

    “Stow it!” interjects Willa. “Aye dinnae need yer song an’ dance.” She tells the merchant to move 500gp from her credit to that of Aurora, but adds, “T’at be a loan, wizard, nay a donation.”

    “Oh, of course,” agrees Aurora smoothly. “I’m sure we will find enough treasure among the Frost Giants for me to pay you back as soon as we return to Headwater.”

    “Among them as well as our many other enemies, such as our imminent return to the Stone Giants,” says Mathias quickly. His eyes make arrows at Aurora until she realizes that this merchant might not know about the chain or what they plan to do with it, and it is likely not in their interest to alert half of Headwater that they plan to go fight Frost Giants next.

    Aurora now has a total of 5037.67 gp credit with the merchant. With her signature and a few strokes of a pen that is changed to just 237.67gp and she is the legal owner of the wand.

    While she has the merchant’s attention, Aurora asks for the various spells on offer. Here the merchant leafs through the papers on his desk and finds one written in a delicate hand - it is a note to him from the Countess, providing instructions on what to tell Mathias (not 'Willow') about the spells he asked for. “Her Magnitude regrets to inform you,” he reads, “that she was unable to locate a copy of the Dawn spell for which you asked - neither good Masters Verbane nor Lashton have it, and she has so far been unable to locate a scroll.”

    Aurora nods as if the note were addressed to her rather than Mathias. The merchant continues to read. “Nor did either worthy Master have Teleportation Circle or Seeming in their books, but Her Magnitude was able to find both of these on scrolls." [DM's note: None of three previous spells turned up on a luck roll, but the player of Aurora had indicated the latter two as those she wanted to count for her 'automatic success' at 8th level] "Because the conjuration spell may be essential to your safe return from your next service on her behalf, she is pleased to have purchased the scroll for you, but entreats you to be careful in transferring it to your book, as it is the only copy she was able to find, and trusts that you will have on hand the inks required to do so. In addition, she has also provided you with the chalks required for the inscription of a single Circle, but understands that you may wish to have more, so she has instructed her humble servant," (and here the merchant gestures to himself and bows his head) "to procure these for you locally. In this regard, she will be providing you with the sigils of two permanent circles, that of the Temple of Zilchus in Istivin should you need to attend Her Magnitude, and that of the Oerth Temple in Headwater if this should be your destination.”

    When the merchant ends his reading, he holds forth two other sheets of paper. The first paper is filled with a large circle penned with a thick ink-brush. Inside the circle, in thin lines, are traced a bewildering number of mystical symbols, so many and so complicated that one’s eyes swim just beholding it. In the bottom corner of the sheet is written in neat block letters a caution that the Temple of Zilchus’ Circle is a “paid portal” and those who use it are subject to inspection and fee assessment. The exact fees vary according to the nature of use and are subject to change over time, but a full and current description can be provided at any Temple of Zilchus.

    The second paper has the four corners folded into the center to make a smaller square, and held in place by a wax seal with an obvious arcane symbol. On the outside is written, in the same flowery hand as the merchant’s note, “Mathias - while the sigil of Zilchus is public knowledge, that of the Oerth Temple is a guarded secret, and it was only by the permission of the temple elders that I was able to share it with you. I entreat you to destroy this paper after you have committed the sigil to your spellbook. To prevent unauthorized use, I have warded this paper with a minor fire glyph that will activate should anyone but you break the seal. It is not dangerous, but the flame should be enough to consume the paper before the sigil may be read.” Mathias accepts the paper, breaks the wax seal - and when the merchant is again sorting through his papers and not looking up, hands it to Aurora. By this point the arcane glyph impressed into the wax has vanished.

    “So, about those chalks and inks…” begins Aurora, but the merchant anticipates her.

    “Her Magnitude instructed me that you might be requiring them. I have the necessary inks in supply, but you will need to pay for them or have them taken off your credit.” He smiles faintly.

    Aurora pulls forth gold coins from her private purse and counts out a hundred of them on the man's desk, asking for extra Teleportation chalks. In return, the merchant produces a small key, unlocks a drawer of his desk, and takes out three tiny lacquer boxes, each with a row of multi-colored, gem-flecked chalks within.

    “I don’t think we will need that Seeming scroll at this time,” Aurora says (having learned, since requesting it, that Doro already knows the spell). “The inks to copy the Teleportation Circle will have to use the credit that remains,” she decides. The merchant nods, but his secretary comments dryly that Aurora does not have quite enough to cover the 250 gold lions in conjuration inks. “Uh, Willa…” begins Aurora hesitantly.

    Willa sighs. “Tway hunnard mar,” she says gruffly,” motioning to the secretary as if moving the beads of an abacus in the air. “T’at’s seven hunnard ye be owin’ me,” she tells Aurora, “an’ it be eno’ fer now.” The merchant pulls out five small ink bottles from the desk drawer, each labeled “Conjuration (teleportation circle)”.

    “Of course, of course,” smiles Aurora at Willa, and then turns back to the merchant. “And the other two spells?” Willa’s eyes go wide in disbelief. The merchant simply returns to the paper he was reading from.

    “Master Lashton has provided a copy of Leomund’s Secret Chest for you - this is not a scroll, but an actual spell book copy, although written on a single page. As she did not have to purchase a scroll, Her Magnitude will in this case be providing Mathias the inks he requires to copy the spell to his own book.” [DM's Note: This also did not come up on the luck roll, but it is the first of two that Aurora's player asked for at 9th level]

    “Wonderful!” exclaims Aurora. “If the spell is free to copy, we will need only the five thousand lions for the crafting of the chest itself!”

    “WHA’!” Willa explodes.

    “NO!” says Mathias forcefully. When the others turn to look at him, he continues, in a lower voice. “I will not require that spell. Not knowing whether the spell would be available, I also asked the Countess for a bag of holding, and it appears that she was able to find one.” The merchant confirms this with a nod. “That is far more convenient and likely less expensive as well.”

    “The seller is asking four thousand gold lions for the bag,” comments the secretary.

    “I guess that is better,” admits Aurora begrudgingly, still reluctant to let the opportunity to learn another spell escape, with inks paid besides. “The bag will certainly benefit us all, so it seems reasonable for the whole party to contribute toward it,” she concludes brightly.

    Mathias disagrees. “The bag is mine, as I will purchase it - just like you did the wand and Babshapka his bow. You are welcome to rent space in it for your things.”

    “Rent?” Willa frowns, uncertain whether Mathias is joking. “Far t’ousand be mar t’en yer share o’ are booty. ‘Ow be ye payin’ fer…”

    “Like the rest of you, I sold some personal items. I have it covered. The point is, I am getting the bag and we don’t need that spell.”

    The merchant clears his throat uncomfortably. When no one speaks immediately, he continues reading the note from the Countess.

    “As to the final spell Mathias requested, Master Verbane has wall of stone in one of his back-up spell books." [DM's Note: Aurora's second guaranteed spell at 9th level] "Her Magnitude will be providing the inks for this as well. However, she asks that you be particularly careful with the book, as it contains other spells as well, and you will need to assume responsibility should something happen to it.”

    “Other spells?” asks Aurora eagerly, as the merchant retrieves a small volume from the same formerly locked drawer from which he took the chalks and inks. The merchant slides it across the desk and Aurora moves forward to examine it, with Mathias just behind her. She reverently flips through the pages, frowning and knotting her brow until she can make out each one. When she does so, she speaks the name in a hushed tone, and Mathias nods in 'confirmation' of her diagnoses.

    Enlarge / Reduce (but the standard human version), Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound, Wall of Stone (there it is!), Scrying, Arcane Gate, Contingency (by Boccab’s blessed balls!)" she exclaims, impressed by the power of the spell.

    While she looks through the book, the merchant removes more vials of ink for the wall of stone spell from the drawer and sets them on his desk.

    “You know…” says Aurora, “that Faithful Hound spell lasts eight hours on a single could be useful to have in camp.”

    The merchant looks embarrassed as he shuffles through the papers in front of him. “I’m afraid Her Magnitude did not advise me on whether you would be allowed to copy other spells from Master Verbane’s book…”

    Mathias laughs casually. “She did say we were responsible for the book, right?”

    “Well, yes, I mean…”

    “So let us be responsible for it.”

    “ do not have the proper inks on hand for you to copy that spell.”

    “Then see that we do, as soon as possible,” says Mathias, with just a hint of command in his tone.

    “And Mistress Willow does not have enough remaining in credit to pay for them,” adds his secretary.

    Aurora sighs and counts out another hundred gold coins from her purse onto the merchant's desk.

    “Be we done ‘ere?” demands Willa. “We still need ter find an inn, an’ t’en look fer gear, an’ mules ter ‘aul ther gear…”

    “Might I suggest The Wooly Mantle?” asks the merchant. “They will have little custom there until the trade routes resume, and I believe Her Magnitude would pay for your stay, as it will provide you with a certain...discretion…another establishment might not.”

    The party looks around at one another and no one objects. Willa nods at the man, who looks relieved. “Splendid - I will have the inks sent there as soon as they are available. The innkeep, Rolf, should be able to help you find any gear you might need within the city.” The merchant smiles broadly. What he has not told the party is that he is actually the owner of the inn in question, and he will indeed be writing to the Countess to ask for his personal reimbursement for their stay there.

    “I’d like some coin for the city,” says Babshapka, “say 250 lions, drawn on my credit?”

    The merchant nods and removes another fifty gold coins from his desk, adding it to the pile of two hundred gold left there by Aurora. Babshapka moves all of it to his purse and the secretary notes it on his papers. Willa decides that this is sensible and asks for 500 lions of her own. At this, the secretary leaves the room and the merchant says that they can meet with him downstairs on their way out. This all gets Willa thinking about the amount they have left on credit, since they are done purchasing magic items for now. She asks the merchant to move what remains into gold and gems for them, the better to purchase any new items the Countess might find for them in the future, or, failing that, to take with them when they depart Headwater once and for all at the end of the Troubles. The merchant is only too willing to do so, and tells them that he will attend to all the details. Inside he is beaming. None of them have mentioned next-of-kin. If they return safe and sound from wherever the Countess is sending them, that will mean the Troubles are over and normal trade will be resuming, thank the gods. If they don’t return, well, that will mean dire times ahead for all - but his personal lot will surely be improved by assuming the value of the treasure they have left behind without stipulating heirs.

    Mathias walks Aurora, Thokk, and Willa to the door, but stays in the room. “Ye nay be comin’?” asks Willa.

    “We’ll catch up to you at the inn tonight - Doro and I have a few more items to discuss and I don’t want to hold up your shopping. And Willa…” says Mathias, his expression looking pained. “You won’t have to rent out space in my bag...just don’t get any damned mules, please, we won’t need them.”

    Willa looks at him quizzically but nods.

    Current Tally of Credit in Headwater
    Thokk - none
    Aurora - 37.67 credit [note: owes Willa 700gp]
    Willa - 568.83 credit [note: owed 700gp by Aurora]
    Babshapka - 968.83 credit

    [DM's Note: The conversation which follows is known only to the player of 'Mathias' and Doro.]
    Mathias waits for the bulk of the party to depart, leaving just him and Doro with the Master Merchant. He tells the bard to do her business first, so that she can still catch the party downstairs.

    “I’ve sold your basset and drum for 5 lions,” says the Merchant Master. “I’m told they were good quality, but obviously used. My notes from Her Magnitude say that you are interested in the drum and the hat?”

    Doro agrees enthusiastically.

    “The respective owners are asking 5000 gold lions for each.”

    There is a long pause. Mathias encourages Doro to speak her mind freely. “I would like both, of course,” she says. “But my share of the treasure isn’t even half of one.” The merchant nods his agreement with her assessment.

    “Don’t worry about it,” Mathias says. “I’ll make up the difference. It’s a loan. You seem to be working out with our group; I can imagine you will be with us a while and will soon be able to pay these off.”

    Doro frowns and looks at Mathias carefully, her desire for the items conflicting with what she knows about ‘loans’ from working with the Greyhawk City Thieves Guild.

    Mathias recognizes her apprehension. “No interest on the loan. It is my investment in you. Your healing spells are useful, I have the money, the items will help you keep me alive. It’s that simple.”

    “But how do you have that much money?” she asks. “And if you do, why are you still adventuring?”

    He smiles and waves aside her objections. “Of course, collateral will be expected. I can hold on to your flaming rapier until you can pay me off. I’ll keep it in the bag; we’ll have it on hand if you really need it.”

    Curiously, the mention of collateral seems to actually help Doro warm to the offer. His motivations seem less suspicious, or at least she can convince herself that they are. She is about to accept, when she thinks better of it and says, “But the party gave me that blade because I was the best one to use it, not so I could hock it to get other things. What will they say when they…”

    “So don’t say anything,” says Mathias smoothly. “They don’t need to know about our deal. As I said, I will keep the rapier on hand if we truly need it.” When she still doesn’t answer, he says, “They are waiting for you downstairs.”

    “Fine!” she bursts out excitedly. “I would like all my credit transferred to Mathias.” The merchant nods. “I owe you the rest, and will pay you my share of party treasure until they are both paid off, at the prices he said, no interest no matter how long.” She moves to shake hands with Mathias, and he doubles one finger over in the gesture used by the Greyhawk Thieves Guild when sealing a deal. She arches an eyebrow and then does the same.

    Doro already has the Hat of Disguise, having received it a few days ago on the road. The merchant hands her over the Rhythm-maker’s Drum +2 and she dashes out of the office.

    Doro now has no credit with the Merchant Master.

    She gives her share of treasure to Mathias.
    Mathias now has 4538gp credit with the Merchant (his plus Doro’s)

    She has paid 2269gp to Mathias.
    She owes Mathias (5000 + 5000 - 2269) = 7731gp.
    The flaming rapier collateral is worth 3000gp.

    [DM's Note: What follows is known only to the player of Leezar.]
    Leezar waits until the sound of Doro jogging down the hall recedes, then turns to the merchant master.

    “You’re not high born,” he says.

    “I’m freeborn, but not a nobleman,” the merchant agrees.

    “So you became a merchant Master based on your own ability, not an inheritance or an indulgent relative.”

    “I would like to believe my position is due to my abilities, yes,” he replies, a touch of curiosity in his voice.

    Leezar nods. “As an intelligent man of business, you recognize the value in privacy, sometimes even among business partners.”

    Believing that he now knows where this is going, the merchant nods, then suggests, “You do not wish your adventuring companions to know much about what you have sold through me, or what magic items you are purchasing.”

    “They will see my purchased items on the battlefield. They do not need to know what I have sold, or the money that I have received for it. You are keeping the Countess completely informed of our dealings, and your duty is to her, only, not to my companions.”

    The merchant takes a long look at Leezar, and finally says, “Agreed.”

    “In that case, before I purchase anything, tell me what you have been able to sell for me.”

    “I have been able to sell some things, and some things I have not sold yet but expect to. Her Magnitude made it quite clear that I was to assess the value of anything that would sell, and make those monies available to you immediately for the purchase of the magic items she has been able to offer. When the remainder of your things do sell, I am to reimburse myself for what I have advanced to you.”

    “Understood - you do not have the monies yet, but I may purchase as if I do. Continue.”

    “Your share, including that musician’s share just placed with you, of all the items sold by your group is 4538gp. In addition, you have:”

    1 jewelry - 400gp [Spaceship dining area - was not shared with party]
    1 jewelry - 100gp [Spaceship dining area - was not shared with party]
    1 used, normal scimitar - 12.5gp
    3 gems @10gp - 30gp [from bugbear chief in Steading - was not shared with party]
    1 used, normal but fine quality, great sword scabbard - 1.5gp
    5 gems @1gp - 5gp [from Chief Nosnra’s false treasure - was not shared with party]
    1 black canvas curtain - 0.1gp”

    “This brings your total credit with me to,” and the merchant looks down at a paper, “5087gp. However, I have a note from Marshall Velthundel that you wished to purchase one of the gems your group wanted sold.”

    “Marshall who?”

    “Kerri Velthundel, Marshall of the Sterish Cavalry.”

    “Oh, Kerri, yes. The officer’s medal.”

    The merchant produces the medal from the Starship Security Officer’s uniform and hands it to Leezar. “That was assessed at 300gp, meaning your credit is actually 4787gp.”

    “So, less than even one of the magic items that the bard or I want.”


    “Well then, what of the technology?”

    “Now that is where things get...complicated. I have indeed located a buyer for these strange items, one willing to pay, for this ‘blaster rifle’ and other weapons, 2500gp per ‘charge’ of the ‘power discs’.”

    “Excellent - I have more than eight discs, six charges each, hundred twenty thousand gold lions?”

    Ahem. I did say it was complicated. First, because that amount is more than the entire royal treasury of Sterich holds at once, more than any one person in the land has in coin. Second, because even if the purchaser had that much in available funds, they believe that if you received it, you would have no further incentive to risk your life for Sterich and would simply take the coin and disappear.”

    Leezar considers this. “Untrue, but not an unreasonable assumption. So how much is this person willing to buy?”

    “You must understand that this anonymous purchaser is someone who has invested a great deal in the stability of Sterich. They wish that your work for the Countess continues, and that it has as much chance of success as possible. Thus, they are willing to purchase these weapons from you only to the extent necessary for you to have all of the available resources you need to continue your efforts, but not that you are simply enriching yourself. That is, they have less interest in the weapons for themselves than they do in helping make sure you win against our many enemies.”

    “Are you saying that this person will not buy the disks up front, but that any time the Countess has a magic item that I want, I can have it, and this person will then pay for the item for me and I will owe them more discs?”

    “That is the offer they are proposing, yes.”

    “Then I accept. I will be taking:

    1200 Ioun Stone of Protection (Leezar)
    4000 Bag of Holding (Leezar)
    5000 Hat of Disguise (Doro)
    5000 Drum of the Rhythm-Maker +2 (Doro)
    8000 Wand of Web (Leezar)”

    Total in magic items: 23,200gp

    (23,200 - 4787 credit = 18,413 gp owed)

    The blaster rifle, blaster pistol, and one full disc is 15000gp
    The blaster rifle, blaster pistol, one full disc, and two charges more is 20000gp

    “I can’t very well sell two charges off a disc - either this person pays for a full disc or not.”

    The blaster rifle, blaster pistol, and two full discs is 30000gp

    Leezar has:
    23,200gp in magic items from the Countess
    4787gp in credit with the Merchant
    Total 18,413gp still owed
    He has agreed to sell a blaster rifle, blaster pistol, and two full discs for 30000gp.

    “I will also be requiring some magical reagents, such as you supplied to…" (Leezar sighs, trying and failing to remember what name and profession Aurora used with the merchant)..."such as you already supplied.”

    “Name them.”

    “Some eight levels worth of spell inks. Six blocks of incense, each of sufficient quality for the find familiar spell. Chalks for four uses of teleportation circle.”

    400gp spell inks
    60gp incense
    200gp chalks

    Total: 660gp. Leezar’s credit 4787 - 660 = 4127gp

    Leezar has:
    23,200gp in magic items from the Countess
    4127gp in credit with the merchant
    8 spell levels of inks
    6 x find familiar materials
    4 x teleportation circle materials
    Total 19,073gp owed the merchant
    Has agreed to sell a blaster rifle, blaster pistol, and two full discs for 30000gp.

    [DM's Note: Here the post returns to what is known by all the players]
    The party waits for the secretary in a foyer downstairs. By the time he appears, Doro has joined them as well. The secretary has the 500gp Willa requested - in the form of five small bars of platinum, each impressed with the seal of the merchant house. Willa reminds the secretary of the borrowed horses currently stabled with the house, and the man says that he will see that they are returned to the Earl’s forces.

    Their first stop is at the Wooly Mantle, where they meet the innkeep, order dinner, and drop off the bulkier of their equipment, as well as Doro to watch it. Aurora also remains at the inn; she has hours of spell work in front of her.

    It is always a hard decision on whether to take Thokk with them shopping or leave him unattended at the inn, since either choice presents its own risks. Willa is wagering that the public battle with the Stone Giant Dreamwalker is recent enough in memory that there is still some goodwill remaining for him in the city, half-orc or not. From what she has seen so far, at least the streets are not still crowded with refugee girls forced into prostitution, so if Thokk is solicited, she can entrust him to the professional care of whatever experienced hand has called him out.

    Thokk, Willa, and Babshapka set out and spend the rest of the afternoon acquiring the following equipment in anticipation of their trip to the glacial mountains of the Frost Giants:

    Extreme cold weather gear individually sized for each party member - 120gp from the party fund
    Snowshoes sized for each party member - 12gp from the party fund
    Crampons sized for each party member - 12gp from the party fund
    Waterskins for each party member - 1.2gp from the party fund
    50’ of silk rope - 10gp from Willa’s personal fund

    Willa sells Andy’s bit, bridle, and pack for 3.5gp and adds it to the party fund, which now has 58.3gp remaining.

    Just before the produce markets close, Babshapka also buys 20 fresh gooseberries for his goodberry spell.

    By dinner, everyone, including Mathias, is reunited at the inn, which is a posh affair catering to traveling merchants but is also quite empty at the moment. Aurora has been given over a small private dining room on the first floor to act as a scriptorium for her to copy spells.

    At 1pm Aurora begins to copy Teleportation Circle into her spellbook. Since she is doing this from a scroll, it must be done all at once - the scroll is slowly fading as she works, and if she can’t keep up, it will be lost. As it is a fifth-level spell, it will take ten hours of uninterrupted scribing. Aurora completes her work at 11pm and judges it to have been successful (DC15 Arcana check; 22, success).

    [Lunch was provided by the merchant house, dinner by the inn. Only the party’s breakfast has come from the dwarven iron rations, from 22 to 20. There are still 3 rations of roasted hobgoblin meat Thokk prepared in Num-Theraz and the untouched war rations they captured from the hobgoblin camp and then purified.]

    Eager to continue adding to her personal power, after a short break, Aurora decides to continue copying. Wall of Stone will also take her ten hours, but since this is from a book she does not have to finish it all at one sitting - a good thing, since she is unlikely to have the endurance to complete such a marathon.

    [The DM adapts the “forced march” rules to Aurora’s attempt to copy spells beyond ten hours. From 11pm to 12am, DC11 Intelligence save to maintain focus and not make a mistake; 24, success]
    [From 12am to 1am, DC12 Intelligence save; 22, success]
    [From 1am to 2am, DC13 Intelligence save; 21, success]

    By the time the priests of Pelor are singing matins, Aurora is rubbing her eyes. Satisfied with her work for the day, she carefully puts away her inks and tells Hedwig to watch over the open, drying book while she sleeps.
    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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    Fri Jan 26, 2024 10:03 pm  
    Post 309: Chain, chain, chain...chain of fools?

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers to module G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl

    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: Party Sneaks into the Steading
    5 April: Retreat from Steading
    6 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Nosnra sets out with war party. Party takes the Steading.
    8 April: Attack on Headwater. Party battles at the ford and along the river
    9 April: Raid on Fort Dagger. Party arrives in Headwater
    10 April: Skirmish at Fort Grenvu. Bickering in occupied Headwater, Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    11 April: Disorder in occupied Headwater; Kerri makes tactical raids on targets of opportunity.
    12 April Goblins have abandoned Headwater; orcs and eigers have consolidated at defensible locations within the city.
    13 April Sack of Fort Grenvu. Kerri probes and skirmishes to look for weaknesses among enemies occupying the city.
    14 April Sterish forces break siege, retake east bank of Headwater. The enemy are scattered.
    16 April Party at the Fjell. Skirmish at Fort Saddle
    19 April Raid on Fort Dagger Pass (between Blackbridge town and Poignard)
    21 April Sack of Dagger Pass (Frost Giants)
    24 April Skirmish at Poignard (humanoids)
    25 April Siege of Velikar’s Fort (Frost Giants)
    27 April Fall of Velikar's Fort (Frost Giants)
    28 April Troubles Roll +2
    29 April Troubles Roll -2; Raid, d25 = 23. Raid on Fort Southwatch (orcs).
    30 April Troubles Roll +1

    Post 309: Chain, chain, chain...chain of fools?

    29 April [6 Flocktime] - Headwater
    (low 78, high 107)
    Raid on Fort Southwatch

    Aurora sleeps in long after the others are up and about. Their gear purchased, the party still has several things they wish to do in the city. In the morning, Willa and Babshapka make a tour of the religious edifices of the city - there are great temples and cathedrals to Pelor, Berei, and Zilchus, and lesser chapels and shrines to Hieroneous, Ehlonna, and Fharlanghn. There is the great pantheonic building of the Old Kirk, as well as smaller separate churches for some of its members - Beory, Allitur, Rao, and Boccob. There is the Oerth Temple, where many deities of humans, dwarves, and gnomes alike are revered collectively, and individual buildings for some of them as well - Ulaa, Fortubo, and Moradin. Willa searches for anything resembling the gods of Saltmarsh, but no sea gods are present; Xerbo, Procan, and Osprem (whether in her guise as the Gentle Sea Cow or not), have no representation in the city. Neither does Phaulkon of the Airs and Breezes have a structure dedicated to him. Zilchus, of course, she recognizes, but his clergy hardly suit her purposes, and Pelor she knows from Tyrius’ time with the party. Having found few familiar faces among the gods, she does notice one thing - everywhere the clergy of Pelor, Rao, and Zodal are out in the streets and not in their temples. Most of them are working with the poor and displaced - handing out food, and organizing the rebuilding efforts. Others are recruiting people to work on planting in the countryside, still others on soliciting donations so that all this work can continue. The brown-robed priests and priestesses of Zodal seem to be the most active, far in disproportion to their numbers and not one of them is to be found inside the walls of a hallowed building. Eventually Willa decides to give her own five platinum bars, one to each she encounters, to the shepherds of this sect with entreaties for them to use the money to ease the suffering and help the folk of the city recover.

    For his part, Babshapka has been looking for someone who might be able to tell him more of the ancient history of the Sterish land; in particular something about the leonine guardian he encountered. He quickly decides that the servants of the Old Kirk are who he needs to seek out. The holy men and women there agree that the High Priest of Allitur may have answers, for that individual knows more than anyone else in the city about such things. Unfortunately this venerable one is unavailable (Luck roll -1), but perhaps later in the week? Babshapka leaves 250 gp in coin for him and his sect and requests that they meet later if and when he manages to return to Headwater.

    Aurora awakens before lunch (11am) to continue her work on Wall of Stone.

    As the steadily increasing heat and her empty stomach warn Willa that it is approaching mid-day, she looks for an eatery whose clientele might be able to relate experience in fighting frost giants. She finds a pot shop frequented by soldiers, and among them are some who claim to have been present at the fall of Fort Iron Axe, which is perfect for her purpose.

    After buying a few rounds of ale, Willa has no difficulty in having her questions answered:

    Can the Frost Giants see in the dark?
    Most assuredly - in fact, they have piercing blue eyes that glow in the utter blackness of night.
    [DM's Note: This is in fact false. The Frost Giants do not have Darkvision]

    What is their weapon of choice?
    Most wield large double-bladed axes that a human could not even hope to lift, and fight with them in both hands.

    Do they have spell-casters among them?
    Yes, in fact, there was one who summoned a great blizzard to cover their approach to the fort.
    [DM's Note: This is in fact false. While there are, very rarely, casters among the Frost Giants, none of them were involved in the fall of Fort Iron Axe.]

    Do they fight in formation?
    No, nor do they evince much in the way of units or banners. Rather, they fight as skirmishers or heroes, each running about seeking challenges and cutting apart any human defenders that dare to stand against them.

    How big are they? (relative to Willa’s known benchmarks of Hill (16’), Stone (18’), and Fire (19’) giants
    The men assure her that the frost giants are well over twenty feet tall - some of them claim they are as big as thirty feet!
    [DM's Note: Twenty feet is accurate]

    After lunch, Willa and Babshapka pass by the inn and collect Mathias. The three of them go together to the Oerth Temple, for a private conversation with the elders. They begin by thanking them for the sigil they provided the Countess, and the elders respond by thanking the party for slaying the Dreamwalker and liberating their temple in particular and Headwater in general. Willa carries with her in her pack the great chain, and she shows this to them, explaining that they will use it to travel to ‘the giants’, but that they suspect the chain will not go with them. She asks the elders whether they will be able to guard the chain in secret until their return, and they agree. Babshapka asks whether any of them have heard tales of spirits that guard the valley, and they offer up a number of local legends and folktales, but the creatures in them are nothing like what he says he experienced. The trio thank the elders and return to the inn.

    The day previous, Aurora got three hours of the ten she needed on the wall of stone. From 11am to 6pm she does the rest, finally completing the copy in her own spellbook.

    Over dinner Aurora speaks with Mathias, who has asked her about what rituals she has, and said that he might be interested in copying some of those into his book before they venture out. Aurora responds that he is welcome to whatever she has that might prove useful, and just asks the same in return. Mathias suggests that she might be interested in his Purify Food and Drink spell, and she agrees enthusiastically - until she realizes that she does not have inks for it. Mathias laughs smoothly, says that he has extra inks, and he is fine with her owing him. For his part, he would be interested in copying her Find Familiar and Phantom Steed spells, to which she readily agrees. Also during dinner, the party receives a hand-delivered note from the master merchant. He wishes to inform them that news has just reached him that Velikar’s Fort fell to Frost Giants two nights previous. The mountains above Istivin are now entirely controlled by the forces of the giants, which are poised to strike at the capital.

    From 7pm to 9pm, Aurora copies Purify Food and Drink while Mathias copies Find Familiar.

    From 9pm to 3am, Aurora begins to copy Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound while Mathias copies Phantom Steed.

    From 3am to 5am, Aurora finishes copying Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound.

    The party has told the innkeeper that they will be departing in the morning, and he is up and ready for them. Aurora leaves Verbane’s back-up spell book with the innkeeper, with instructions to return it to the master merchant. Willa has the gear packed and distributed into what they can easily carry with their own bags, and additional items in the bag of holding.

    They move quickly through the dark streets to the Oerth Temple, and assemble the chain in a great figure eight on the floor.

    Current Tally of Credit in Headwater
    Thokk - none
    Aurora - 37.67 credit [note: owes Willa 700gp, owes Mathias 50gp]
    Willa - 568.83 credit [note: owed 700gp by Aurora]
    Babshapka - 968.83 credit

    [Breakfast, lunch for most of them, and dinner was provided by the inn. The dwarven iron rations remain at 20. There are still 3 rations of roasted hobgoblin meat Thokk prepared in Num-Theraz and the war rations they captured from the hobgoblin camp and then purified.]

    30 April [7 Flocktime] - Headwater (Oerth Temple)
    (low 81, high 105)

    On the floor of the Oerth Temple, the party arranges the chaininto a great figure eight as described on the map they found in the Steading. Each loop of the chain could comfortably fit four of them standing - or one adult giant. Willa, Aurora, and Mathias are in one loop, Doro and Thokk in the other, with Phreeeee perched on his shoulder, talons digging into the flesh that has become criss-crossed with scars over the last month. As the map explained, the magic of the chain is activated when the one holding the map itself steps in, so Babshapka is careful to wait until everyone is prepared. Grasping the rolled-up map in one hand, he gingerly steps one foot into the ring - and nothing happens. As soon as he lifts his other foot off the floor, however, there is a great flash of blue light, and the party disappears. The elders carefully gather up the chain and store it in a secret vault.

    After the flash, the party is immediately plunged into a howling darkness not unlike some parts of the Abyss itself. Freezing, biting, fifty-mile an hour winds instantly wrench Phreeee from Thokk’s shoulder and whisk him away into the darkness, his piercing shriek swallowed by the howl of the gale (Strength save 8; fails). The heavy skin map is nearly torn from Babshapka’s grasp and even as he clenches it instinctively it whips and snaps in the wind (Strength save 13; success).

    [Atop the glacier (22,000 feet elevation) it is currently 24F with winds of 52mph and an effective wind chill of 3F. Unprotected, the party will need to begin making exhaustion saves within an hour or so]

    Willa immediately drops her pack, opens it, and begins to put on her cold weather gear. Babshapka does the same, pausing only to first fold and securely stow the map. The others take longer - Doro can’t see at all and is grasping about and trying to shout at the others. Thokk has already trotted off a short distance from the party and is howling Phreeee’s name. Aurora is crouched on the bare rock, shivering, trying to shade her eyes from the biting ice crystals in the wind and examine the surface on which they stand. Mathias is squinting and staring off into the darkness to all sides, looking for foes.

    Eventually Willa convinces Thokk to return to the group and the others to put on their cold weather gear (before anyone needs to make an exhaustion save). She pulls out a hundred foot rope, loops one end around Thokk, and tells him he has that far and no more to look for the bird. Concern for his companion has so overtaken Thokk that he does not even question that Willa is commanding him rather than the reverse. He struggles off directly downwind but uphill, nearly crawling as he climbs and the wind tries to dash him against sharp rocks. At some eighty feet away he finds the bird, limp and pressed up by the wind against a flat vertical expanse of rock. He grabs the falcon, but it does not move in response - it appears dead, either broken by the impact, already frozen, or both (Con save 4; failed). Thokk cradles it in his arms and begins a slow climb back down to the party. The tears freeze quickly on his cheeks and the wind whips the salty ice crystals away.

    Willa knows there is no hope of lighting her lantern in this gale, nor does she want to give their position away. She asks Mathias for a description of their location. He relates that they are on a small, flat area of rock, barely bigger than the area that was covered by the chain itself. It is a ledge on the side of a mountain slope - the rushing wind they feel is coming from lower down the mountainside and continuing up. Although the air is full of stinging ice and snow crystals, nearly all of the terrain around them is bare rock, with only the deepest crevasses filled with ice. Some twenty or thirty yards away laterally is another flat ledge, barely big enough to put up the tiny hut. Willa has suggested that they take shelter until it is light, but she doesn’t want to rest on their arrival spot itself in case it is being watched. She would prefer to get even farther away, but in the dark and wind any one of them could easily slip and fall down the mountainside.

    Doro struggles to focus against the biting winds and in eleven minutes she has the hut erected. Mathias has described to her the mottled charcoal-and-salt color of the bare rocks and she has made the hut to match. Inside it is dimly lit, comfortably warm, and with no trace of wind except the muted howling and whistling coming from outside. All of them huddle within, leaving no watch in the darkness outside.

    Once out of the wind, Thokk carefully examines Phreeee. One of his wings is broken, for certain, and the bird is in shock - but alive! (Medicine check 17). Babshapka casts goodberry on ten of the gooseberries he got at market two days ago (Babshapka now at 3/3/2). Thokk force-feeds a berry to the falcon while holding his wing in approximately the right position - and the bones knit together. The bird struggles against his grip and mews weakly. Thokk carefully folds up his wings and places him within his thick leather jerkin, where the bird ceases his struggles and seems content to remain nestled. Babshapka passes five berries out among the party and keeps the remaining four for himself.

    In fifteen minutes the party is sweltering in their cold weather gear and is forced to remove it. Mathias lights a small incense burner and places coal and herbs in it in a manner the party has seen Aurora do with her brazier many times before while the rest of the party eats their breakfast. Mathias blows on it and chants for more than an hour, until the outside of the hut glows a rosy color in the east. In the end, a white weasel (perhaps an ermine) appears and scurries about his feet. Mathias announces that his name is Dweezil.

    [Babshapka uses his stone. Thokk eats hobgoblin jerky (3 to 2.6). The other four have dwarven iron rations (20 to 18.6). There are still the war rations they captured from the hobgoblin camp and then purified.]

    As the rose color spreads to more of the dome, Thokk and Babshapka leave the hut and try to get their bearings. The party has camped on one side of a mountain slope, with another slope far away to the north. In the valley between the two lies a huge ice field. There are no giants or any other sign of life in sight, but vision is a hundred feet or so at best. Beyond that anything as small as a giant is covered by the whiteout conditions, and even the mountains can only be seen every few minutes when there is a lull in the gusty winds.

    A great rent or fissure splits the center of the ice - a rift which matches the party’s map, when it is oriented correctly.

    (Babshapka and Thokk Survival 12, 11) The rift lies perhaps half a mile to the north, with the wind still whipping up the mountain face, coming from the east and moving west up and over. To reach the rift, the party will have to descend the rocky mountain slope and then cross the ice field. The air is filled with ice and snow but these are moving laterally, not accumulating. Only the largest boulders and crags have any drifts or build-up on their leeward sides. The ice field itself is smooth and polished by the wind, and it slopes down toward the fissure - it will be treacherous footing to approach, especially while they are being buffeted by the winds, and a fall could easily see someone sliding toward the ravine and perhaps even over the edge.

    [At 7am it is now 27F but with a wind speed of 52 mph, the effective wind chill is 7F. Unprotected, they would each need an exhaustion save every ninety minutes or so, but their cold weather gear should protect them indefinitely. With winds of 50+ mph, all ground movement is at 1/2 normal speed (except for movement directly downwind while wearing crampons), no flying movement is possible for creatures of size Medium and smaller, missile weapons are at -3 to hit and 1/4 range, daylight visibility is limited to 150 feet, and Perception checks at greater than 50 feet are at disadvantage.]

    Doro calls the two lookouts back to the inside of the hut and has everyone sit in a circle about her, with their cold weather gear draped over them even if not worn. She weaves a powerful seeming illusion as she sings and moves her hands, until all of them appear to be wearing their gear, but re-colored. In place of the brown and dun of the furs, their jerkins, boots, leggings, and cloaks all have the white-blue color of the ice field. They all seem to be exactly themselves - but in gear that will give them the perfect camouflage of color against the ice.

    Once Doro’s spell is done, they pack up their things, dress in their cold weather gear, and strap on their crampons. When Doro leaves the hut, last, it collapses and then disappears. They make the short walk back to the ‘landing platform’, now obvious in the daylight. Aurora begins a ritual cast of detect magic on the site (Arcana 11) while Babshapka and Thokk guard her, Mathias goes over the area as well, and Willa begins picking out a descent route down the side of the mountain.

    Aurora finds that the landing spot has weak magic - transmutation - but wonders if it is permanently weak, or is just leftover residue from the obviously powerful teleportation effect of the chain. Mathias hasn’t found anything at all in his investigation of the site (Arcana 1), but he does mention that the teleportation circle spell can be made permanent if it is cast every day for a year in the same spot, so it stands to reason that it would leave some sort of mystical framework or scaffolding behind.

    Mathias’ mention of teleportation circle has got Aurora thinking of the spell and looking out over the vast ice field. She tries to recall the descriptions that she has read - “As you cast the spell, you draw a 10-foot-diameter circle on the ground inscribed with sigils”. She takes some of the circle chalks from her pack and makes some test lines on loose rocks, on what she thinks is bedrock, and on the ice, all while checking to see whether the chalks are ‘magically sticking’ the way they should and building up a matrix that could be used to open the portal. She is confident (Arcana 16) that the spell works on bedrock, even the near-vertical faces of the mountain slope! She is equally confident that it does not work on ice. As far as the loose rock, she is not sure - the magic appears to be sticking somewhat, but also leaking…

    Thokk and Babshapka have still not seen giants, or anyone else besides themselves out and about. Willa says they should get moving, and they carefully descend the rocky slope, each trying not to be knocked over by the wind. By the time the first few of them venture out onto the ice field, it is clear that they will be moving slowly. The crampons help them keep their footing, but they must set each step firmly into place before taking the next one. They confer - on foot, it will be a long trek to the edge of the Rift, with plenty of opportunity to be seen - and no way to leave quickly if they are spotted. Mathias suggests phantom steeds and Willa approves. Mathias and Aurora spend the next 33 minutes doing ritual casts and in the end have a total of six steeds available for the party, each mount also the white-blue color of the ice with a silvery mane.

    Thokk takes the lead mount and rides out free and in advance of the others. They follow in single file and are tethered together by two fifty foot ropes - Babshapka, then Aurora, Mathias, Doro, and finally Willa. Thokk carefully examines the changing terrain as he moves (Survival 25). It appears to him that this time of year the temperature will likely get above freezing for a few hours in the afternoon, melting the ice field or at least forming a thin layer of water on it. As this meltwater freezes later in the day, the relentless wind will polish it as smooth as glass. His phantom steed is reasonably sure-footed on the ice, slower than a horse over firm ground, but faster than any of them could travel on foot. He tries it on surfaces of increasing slope, until he finds the angle at which its spectral feet will slide uncontrollably, and then avoids such places as he makes his way to the edge of the rift. The ice continues to slope down as they go, and when he is a few hundred feet from the edge he holds up his hand and signals the others to stay where they are. He then advances not quite to the edge, but until he can begin to see down inside (Perception 25).

    Thokk cannot see all the way to the bottom of the rift - the shape of the larger valley floor seems to funnel the winds directly over the rift, and they appear even fiercer down there than they are here at the surface. What’s more, the steep walls of the ravine collect and trap the heavier particles of ice and snow, so that they eddy about down below in a permanent blizzard even thicker than what they are trying to see through here above. Along the sheer walls of the rift he can see ledges and cave mouths, but is unsure of how to access them.

    Thokk carefully looks about. The southern edge of the rift has great, jagged rocks sticking up through the ice. It appears that the huge sheet of ice, nearly a mile long and several hundred feet wide, has slid down the valley between the two rock mountains, gotten stuck when it hit the high rocks at its southern end, and then fractured and sheared from the pressure of the ice pushing it from behind. The rift, Thokk thinks, is a massive fissure in an even larger living glacier which has been kept from sliding down the mountainside by this obstruction which is even now slowly cutting it in half.

    Thokk pulls his steed back from the edge of the rift, then turns it and works his way along it, at which point the party resumes following him. Close to the eastern edge, ending between the jagged spires against which the glacier is pressing and straining, there is a path in the ice - a trail several inches lower than the ice field around it, obviously worn from use. The path, as it approaches the sheer face of the thick slab of ice, rapidly descends and enters between the two cliff walls. There is a narrow gap, perhaps only ten feet across, that is the start of the rift between the halves of the glacier.

    Thokk dismounts and studies the trail (Survival 14). There are footprints of giants worn in the ice, sure enough. But they are blurry around the edges from the constant wind, coarse with stinging ice crystals. There are smaller prints, but they are so worn away that he cannot tell what they are - hobgoblins, perhaps? The wind, at least, appears to diminish as the path enters the steep-walled canyon, and visibility markedly improves.

    Thokk beckons the party over, and they all dismount, untether themselves, and take their steeds in hand by their spectral bridles. Words would be lost in the howling wind, so with gestures they agree that their approach through the gap will be stealthful. Once they are in the chasm itself, Thokk moves to the rear and Doro to the fore, with Babshapka managing both his own steed and hers.

    The ice walls climb some fifty feet above them as they cautiously advance. Snow, unable to escape the high walls, crunches under foot. Willa swallows dryly. Fighting giants, in front of them - they will have the advantage as surely only one giant will fit through the narrow gap at a time, while the party can muster two abreast in melee and everyone in the back ranks with spells and missiles. But should they have giants in front of and behind them in this narrow draw...they will be neatly caught, with no way out but straight up.

    The open ‘sky’ (a grey-white blur) is visible as only a sliver overhead, but the chasm is not dark like a slot canyon would be. Rather, the light seems to be filtering through the vast thicknesses of clear ice and emerging all around them, giving them all a blue cast as if they were underwater.

    After some two hundred feet or so the narrow chasm splits in two. On both sides the walls now show vague images and motion - as if they are blurrily seeing into caves within the ice itself, or parallel passages, or even reflections of themselves. Doro hesitates, then takes the right passage, sneaking ahead (Stealth 15) while the party remains at the intersection.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jan 30, 2024 10:13 am  
    Post 310: Snow Demon Bears

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers to module G2:The The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl

    Locations keyed in the module are indicated in [blue].

    Post 310: Snow Demon Bears
    30 April [7 Flocktime] - Entrance to the Glacial Rift

    As Doro advances, Babshapka examines the floor and walls (Survival 22). The path to the left has giant-sized impressions of fur boots, easy to see in the soft snow. To the right, most of the prints And large, but not the huge size of giants. Eigers? Bugbears?

    By the time Doro has advanced some fifty feet ahead, the narrow chasm walls have opened up into the great rift proper. Here the wind picks up again and she has to shield her eyes against the blowing ice as she clings to the cliff wall. She is on a narrow ledge some fifteen feet wide. To her right, the ice cliffs climb fifty feet to the top of the glacier, but to her left they plunge down to the bottom of the rift - farther than she can see in the blowing snow [but actually 250 feet to the bottom].

    The ledge continues along the side of the glacier wall; there is a wide cave mouth at hand, and possibly others along the long ledge. Some seventy-feet to her left is another ledge along the left side of the rift, with its own cave mouths, including the closest one which she bets is where the left branch of the fork where the party waits will emerge. The other ledge is lower than the one she stands on, some twenty or thirty feet below hers.

    Doro gingerly tests her footing on the ledge - it seems solid enough and presumably supports the weight of giants. Her crampons keep her from slipping, even when gusts of wind threaten to carry her over the edge and into the white abyss below. She eases forward to the cave mouth (Stealth 26; yeti Passive Perception 13, but 18 when they can use smell). Inside the cave mouth are several creatures - each large, with thick, shaggy white fur. They walk upright and have large horns, but Doro can’t get a good look without entering and exposing herself (Perception 8 ).

    Doro returns to the party. Within the confines of the high chasm walls, the roaring of the wind is muted enough so that speaking is possible, and she describes the creatures she saw. “Snow demons,” concludes Willa. In order to pass them, the party would have to walk just a few feet in front of their cave mouth. They elect to have Doro scout the other branch of the chasm. Just as she is about to set out, the first two party steeds shimmer and dissolve - it has now been an hour since they were made. The others have more time left, but the party releases them and sends them back out the entry chasm - if they can't all get away fast, they are better off sticking together, and if they are entering the chasm, it won't do to have giants discover their steeds waiting outside.

    The chasm to the left slopes gently down and is perhaps twice as long as the one to the right was. Eventually Doro emerges on the lower ledge she saw from across the rift. This ledge is narrower still. There is a nearby cave mouth but the ledge continues beyond her sight in the white-out conditions.

    Trusting in her seeming camouflage, Doro makes her way to the cave mouth along the ice wall (Stealth 27). This cave mouth is empty, at least immediately, but after it goes in some forty feet it splits a number of different directions. Doro returns to the party, who move up to the edge of the exposed ledge. A plan is hatched - Mathias will cross to the (first?) cave mouth, and then the party will come over one at a time to avoid detection. Mathias will be messaging the party, and he will let them know when each person is safely in the cave next to him and it is time to send the next person so that only one of them is in view at a time. Watching for a reaction, he will also make sure that the last one of them has not been seen before they proceed deeper into the cave.

    As Mathias crosses the ledge, a gust of wind threatens to pitch him over the edge and he waves his arms frantically and swears involuntarily (Stealth 7), but there is no sign that anyone has noticed. He waits several minutes inside the cave mouth before messaging Babshapka to cross. One by one they each move along the exposed ledge and take shelter in the cave mouth out of sight from outside (Babshapka Stealth 13, Willa 14 with disadvantage, Thokk 22, Aurora 19, Doro 25).

    [Unbeknownst to the party, the frost giants are confident of both their power and of the remoteness of their stronghold. They see no reason to post guards out in the stinging ice wind of the open rift. There is no one who could see or hear the party at this point regardless of their Stealth rolls.]

    While the party takes up a defensive guard in the hall, Doro advances to the first intersection, which splits three ways. She takes the passage to the left. After a kink it opens into a large ice chamber [1] some eighty feet deep, a hundred feet wide, and forty feet high. The room contains piles of hides, a giant sack, and a pile of rocks and large ice chunks for hurling. A solitary frost giant guard (Passive Perception 13 < Doro Stealth 29) blocks the way to a tunnel going deeper into the glacier. There are no torches or lamps, but the whole area is oddly lit from above, from the wan light of the sun passing through first the blizzard outside and then some fifty feet thick of the glacial ice overhead before entering the room itself. The hue of the light emphasizes even further the light blue skin of the frost giant, turning it a deep cerulean. He is alert, and while she might be able to slip by unnoticed at an opportune moment, there would be no way the entire party could do so.

    Doro returns to the party, shushing them when she arrives as she could hear their hushed conversation on her way back. She reports the presence of the nearby guard and admonishes them again to be quiet. She then tries the tunnel ahead - this soon splits in two, but both passageways seem to narrow and then dead-end. She is confused about what these tunnels and caves are - natural breaks in the glacier, or dug out? Or both? The dead ends could be natural fissures, while the cavern-rooms seem too rounded and deliberate to be natural. She sets this aside and tries the passage to the right.

    The tunnel curves, and even closer to where the party was just whispering there is another guardroom [2], perhaps half the size of the last, with another frost giant guard! This room, however, has no exit, just the entrance in which Doro currently lurks (Stealth 18). This guard appears less alert as well, resting leisurely on a huge pile of skins on the floor, but clearly still awake. There are at least two large bags in view and carefully piled and accessible mounds of throwing rocks and ice chunks. She withdraws again.

    Cautioning the party that they are between two giant guards, each easily within earshot of a shout from the other, she tells them that she is going back outside to proceed forward along the ledge.

    Doro works her way some hundred and fifty feet along the ledge, the wind still tugging at her (Stealth 31). Just before the ledge ends there is another cave mouth. There is then a gap of sixty feet or so of air below and the sheer ice wall of the rift to the left, and then a lower ledge, but she has no idea how to reach it. She enters the cave mouth. There is an initial large chamber [3] with two exits. This area must be natural, she reasons, for the walls are full of cracks and fissures and the ceiling is a jagged tangle of ice-stalactites and oddly angled sheets. She slips into the opening to her right, passes by a blind fissure, and enters a large but dead-end chamber [5]. Dead-end is even more accurate than she thought at first, for along the walls are fully eight corpses, each upright and preserved in a block of ice!

    Doro checks the walls and especially the floor carefully for any magic traps or mystical symbols (Arcana 18). Only when she is sure that no glyphs are in sight does she advance. Looking at the eight bodies in turn she finds that they are an elf, a half-elf, two dwarves, and four humans. All of them have some type of armor or weapons, and appear like adventuring types. All of them also apparently died in combat (and not from being frozen), as they have obvious traumatic wounds. Doro retreats, returns to the party, and tells them that there is nothing to see ahead and no way to get further into the glacier on this side unless they want to confront the frost giant guard. They elect to return to the side with the snow demons.

    As before, they cross the ledge in the open from the cave mouth to the chasm entrance one at a time (Mathias Stealth 17, Willa 15 with disadvantage, Babshapka 27, Thokk 8, Aurora 7, Doro 21).

    The party is confident that any fight with the demon snow bears will not be heard over the roaring of the wind by the giant guards on the other side of the rift. But perhaps there are other guards on the same side closer at hand. They decide that Doro will scout ahead before they face the cave of shaggy foes. She slips past the cave mouth without raising an alarm. The further she travels, the wider the ledge grows until it is nearly a hundred feet across and sloping down toward the back of the glacier. The outermost part slopes more steeply and what starts as a small rill between the two surfaces grows to its own cliff face as it progresses.

    Doro stays close to the inner ice wall and approaches the next cave entrance, looking inside (Perception 16). She sees little, as it is filled with a damp fog that obscures everything within [14]. The fog is cold, though still warmer than the open rift (currently 37F but 21F with wind chill). She does not hear anything, so she moves on to the next cave [15]. This one is not at all foggy and she can see well with the light from above passing through the ice. There is a long and narrow entrance neck down which she passes, but she pauses at the entrance to the chamber itself, looking and listening (Perception 5). It appears empty, so she retreats. [What she did not see was the pair of snow leopards on a narrow ledge just above the entrance, tails twitching and waiting to pounce should she have entered their den. They had Passive Perception 18 and were well aware of her presence].

    While half the party waits within the walls of the chasm, Mathias and Babshapka advance to just outside the cave of the demon bears. Thokk taps his axe on the ice wall to test the noise level. Babshapka can hear it - but the crack and splinter of ice is a common background noise on the glacier. The ‘ting’ of metal on metal would be more noticeable, if these bears had armor.

    Mathias messages Doro and asks for a report. She replies that the first cave beyond the demons is filled with fog but no foes, while the second is empty of both. She says that they should attempt to slip by the demons if they can, but if they are detected and a fight ensues it is likely that no one else will hear. Doro explains that the outside portion of the ledge, from where she is now, looks like it has giant-sized steps cut into its steep descent, and it may go all the way to the bottom of the rift. Mathias tells her she can start down it, but to not get too far ahead - that is, she should stay within range of his message ability.

    Round One
    The party begins to move in front of the cave, starting with Mathias (> Yeti Passive Perception 18 with smell), and then Babshapka (Stealth 15) and Thokk (10). Somehow the demon bears detect the presence of the party passing outside and begin to emerge - just a pair at first, but with more behind them. The first one fixes Thokk in a baleful, icy glare, and Thokk feels his blood run cold.

    5e Chilling Gaze wrote:
    The yeti targets one creature it can see within 30 feet of it. If the target can see the yeti, the target must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw against this magic or take 10 (3d6) cold damage and then be paralyzed for 1 minute, unless it is immune to cold damage. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If the target’s saving throw is successful, or if the effect ends on it, the target is immune to the Chilling Gaze of all yetis, but not abominable yetis, for 1 hour.

    Thokk quavers for just a moment at the unknown menace (Nature 5) and then erupts with a battle cry (Con Save 25; success). Anger overcomes his fear as he enrages.

    At the emergence of the snow demons from the cave mouth, Babshapka immediately drops back to the cover of the chasm and draws his bow. One shot goes wide and is lost to the wind, but the second sinks deep into the hide of the beast (critical hit; 14 points).

    Aurora hangs back as well, and shoots a firebolt (hits for 11; yeti has taken 25). She tries to see whether the party’s attacks are having any effect, but she is unsure (Insight 4).

    Willa draws her greatsword and shouts into the wind to ignite it. She charges forward and slashes at the bear (hits for 15 slashing and 10 fire; yeti has taken 50). Assessing it as she moves to attack again (Insight 21), she finds that it is both nearly dead [7 hp left] and cowering back from the flame of her sword.

    Fear Of Fire wrote:
    If the yeti takes fire damage, it has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks until the end of its next turn.

    Leaving that one for the others behind her, Willa advances past it and strikes at the next demon bear emerging from the cave, putting the fear of the party’s fire in it as well (total 23 damage including fire).

    Thokk’s path across the ledge is blocked by the first bear, so he cuts it down (one hit, 17 points, has taken 67 and is dead), then leaps over its fallen body to advance on another, hitting it as well (not the one wounded by Willa, one hit, 17 points).

    Mathias, who had already successfully crossed in front of the cave without drawing notice, turns around and pulls out his new wand of web. He fills the area of the cave mouth with sticky strands, catching the two wounded demon bears in his webs and blocking off the exit of the others. The charge he uses will be refreshed the next morning.

    Round Two
    Using the distraction of Thokk’s rage, Willa strikes at each of the two demons caught in Mathias’ web. The flames from her sword burn away at the webs, freeing them, but doing even more damage (hits one yeti for 14 slashing, 7 fire, and another 3 fire from web, total 24, has taken 41; hits the second yeti for 16 slashing, 7 fire, and another 5 from web, total 28, has taken 51 and is dead). By killing the second demon, her way is now clear to the others except for the webs themselves, so she leaps through them - but immediately gets stuck in the strands (Dexterity save 4; fail, Willa is restrained).

    Thokk attacks the single demon remaining in the webs (hits for 17, has taken 58, kills it), then nimbly moves in front of Willa to protect her from the advancing demons (Dex save 21, with advantage from danger sense, may move through the webs as difficult terrain), and swings at the closest one (hits for 13).

    With the two demons that were in the webs now dead, Mathias drops his concentration and the flaming tatters of the strands fade away, freeing Willa. He messages Doro that they are in combat and tells her to watch for anything being attracted by the noise. What noise? She responds, for indeed she cannot hear anything above the howling wind and certainly has not heard their fight.

    Aurora advances to the cave mouth and shoots a firebolt at the demons within (hits for 14 damage; has taken 27).

    From the back of the pack of three bears the leader emerges, bearing a longsword along which tongues of blue flame play. He fixes Willa in his icy glare, but she resists (Con save 14; success). He swings his sword at her - she feels its chill, but his blows do not penetrate her magic armor (two misses). These intruders are more than he bargained for - and there are more outside the cave! The leader withdraws deeper into his cave, providing Willa and Thokk the ability to strike again (opportunity attack from Thokk hits, 15 damage to leader; Willa hits, 23 damage, has taken 38 including fire).

    Babshapka moves up to the cave mouth, firing arrows confidently past and around his companions to hit a wounded demon (two hits, 17 points; has taken 44).

    Round Three
    Babshapka fires again (two hits, 14 points; has taken 58, dead), killing the demon immediately blocking the party’s pursuit of the one with the sword.

    Thokk surges forward, electing to run the long way around the cave and take the leader from behind. This end run allows the demon with the sword to strike at him as he moves (opportunity attack hits, Thokk takes 14 slashing, reduced to 7 from rage, and 5 cold; total 12). However, as the demon is forced to turn to keep up with him, he is presenting his back to the rest of the party. Realizing this, he tries to edge closer to the wall, but Thokk anticipates his move and delivers a devastating blow (critical hit for 22; has taken 60, killed) that slays him. The blue-flamed sword drops to the cave floor.

    Mathias ducks into the cave entrance but then turns around and looks about the open rift for any sign of giants (Perception 9).

    Willa advances on the sole remaining demon. It is unwounded, but not for long. She slays it with two great blows (critical hit for 22 slashing and 12 fire, hit for 13 slashing and 8 fire, total 55; killed).

    Yeti XP
    Yeti (CR3) = 6 x 700 = 4200xp
    Total: 4200 / 5 = 840 each (no xp for Doro)

    Their breath making great gouts of vapor, the party grabs the obviously magical sword and debates what to do with the bodies. There are piles of snow inside the cave that look like they might be beds, but maybe not enough for all the bodies, which are even now bleeding out, bright red stains spreading across the ice, including that of the ledge outside the cave.

    Several of them remark that the bottom of the rift cannot even be seen from the ledge, so thick are the white-out conditions. It is rapidly agreed that they will dump the six bodies over the edge. With two or three of them per demon, they should be able to move them quickly. Pushing and dragging them proves easy enough on the slick ice, but what they quickly find is that they are buffeted by winds such that even within five feet of the edge they are themselves in danger of being carried over by a gust. It is decided that Willa and Thokk alone will do the dumping, each tethered with a rope held by the other three (Thokk Acrobatics rolls to not be blown over the edge: 21, 20, 15. Willa 18, 14, 10 - with this last one requiring her to be saved by the rope).

    By the time they are done, the ledge is streaked with crimson blood trails. Willa ignites her sword again and holds it as close to the ice as she can. The flames soon turn the blood to a brown powder, and the melting ice carries it away in rivulets. In ten minutes there is no trace of the fight, at least outside the demon bear cave. Inside the frozen blood still stains the ground.

    Willa asks Mathias to store the cold flame sword in the bag of holding. Thokk quickly looks around the cave of the demons - it is clear that it, unlike the chasms, has been deliberately carved out of the glacier (Survival 22). The party is ready to explore deeper. They recall Doro from the staircase.

    No one has asked for healing; the fight lasted some twenty seconds. “All too easy,” says Mathias. “If this was their guards, the giants themselves cannot be that tough. We need to find the Jarl and issue him the challenge.”

    [Unbeknownst to the party, the yeti were not used as door guards by the giants, for indeed they are considered weak by them as well. Rather, they were scouts and hunting beasts. With great Perception and camouflage, their role was to track down and flush large game for the giants to hunt, or bring back small game themselves. Should the party have made a strike on the rift and then retired to heal, the yeti would have been called out to track them back to their hiding spot]

    With Doro avowing that the next two caves are empty, the party resolves to pass quickly across the sloping ledge and into the third cave mouth. (Stealth: Doro 21, Willa 16 with disadvantage, Thokk 15, Babshapka 12, Matthias 7, Aurora 4. Some of these Stealth rolls could have been disastrous - had there been anyone watching or listening.)

    Doro slips into the next cave that she has not explored, looking and listening around the entrance. She doesn’t hear anything but can see that the cave goes well back and is large with several sub-chambers (Perception 4). While she listens, Thokk checks around the cave itself for tracks (Survival 8 ). Signs of giants are obvious, but how many or how recently elude him. Doro pushes in further (Stealth 28), until she can actually see great forms moving about the place, and then retreats.

    [end of first rift session]
    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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    Thu Feb 08, 2024 10:46 am  
    Post 311: Blue Eyes / White Out

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers to module G2:The The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl

    Locations keyed in the module are indicated in [blue].

    Post Post 311: Blue Eyes / White Out
    30 April [7 Flocktime] - Glacial Rift, Western Ice Ledges

    The party confers. They may not have the strength to beat every guard post separately, let along collectively if an alarm is raised. It will be better to confront the Jarl himself, and as soon as possible. So where would he be? Several of them suggest the floor of the rift. Aurora says that if she was a frost giant Jarl, she would definitely want her throne to be in the heart of the maelstrom of ice and wind - or at least use that to guard the entrance of her throne room. Presumably the giants can see in the blizzard conditions and their foes cannot. It is decided that they will proceed down the stairs.

    Willa gets out her cave spider silk rope and five of them tie off, with intervals of twenty feet between them. Doro, unroped, will scout ahead, and be messaging with Mathias. Babshapka will be the first of the roped ones, and will be checking for glyphs, wards, or other magic traps as he descends.

    The party is perhaps a third of the way down the stairs, with the actual ice floor of the rift just coming into view some one hundred and twenty feet below, when they are buffeted by a particularly strong gust of wind, and physically lifted up into the air. (DC10 Acrobatics saves: Thokk 22, Willa 17, Babshapka 15, Mathias 7 (fails), Aurora 3 (fails). When they come down again, Mathias and Aurora have gone over the edge (Mathias Luck Roll -2, Aurora -2), with only the rope keeping them from plummeting more than a hundred feet to the rift floor below. They struggle to grab the ice ledge and pull themselves back up as the others try not to get pulled down with them. Straining, Thokk plants his feet and hauls them back up (Athletics 26).

    They make it the rest of the way to the bottom without incident.

    The bottom of the rift is even more windy, and great eddies of snow and ice are hurling through the air. Visibility is thirty feet at best, and the floor of the rift is a maze of snow and ice hillocks and mounds, with peaks of ice and rock thrusting up here and there like fangs - the pinnacles of the mountainside over which the glacier is torturously sliding. All their movement will be hampered by this difficult terrain. Due to the wind force and the eddying currents, attempts at levitation or flying would be foolish. The party elects to remain roped together. Doro will move forward cautiously and slowly (half speed for active Stealth and Perception checks).

    [[27]: Unbeknownst to the party, they are descending into the hunting grounds of a pack of winter wolves, who are intent on using the conditions of limited visibility to separate off one of the party members and then attack.]

    Doro advances cautiously into the blizzard - with her seeming camouflage, she is soon lost to the sight of the others (Stealth 22), nor do the wolves immediately pick up on her (Passive Perception 20 when they can use smell). However, she is having trouble making out anything besides the wall of the rift and the largest of the ice and rock pillars (Perception 7; Wolf Passive Stealth 14).

    Doro continues along the base of the wall of the rift. By the time the rest of the party has descended to the floor of the rift, the wolves have picked up their scent, and begun actively searching. At least one of the wolves is able to pick out Doro (Perception 23 > Doro’s Stealth 22 > other Perceptions 20, 17, 15). It nuzzles its companion, and two of them begin creeping forward toward her (Stealth with advantage 21 > Doro’s Perception 18). Two more move to the rest of the party (Stealth with advantage 18), and are unseen by everyone except Babshapka. The wood elf suddenly recognizes the shapes of two white wolves emerging from the storm, the size of dire wolves but with piercing blue eyes.

    Round One
    The two lead wolves charge Doro, the first one bowling her over, the second savaging her once she is on the ground (first wolf hits for 13 piercing; Doro needs a DC14 strength save to stay on her feet; 0 (fail) - Doro is knocked prone. Second wolf critical hit with advantage from prone and pack tactics, 15 piercing).

    Doro flips over onto her stomach. Kicking her boots into the muzzle of one wolf, she propels herself underneath the belly of the other one and out the other side, then stands and runs for a pile of ice-covered rocks at the edge of the rift wall, moving to place it between her and the wolves (disengage, stand from prone for half movement, remainder of move to a location with half cover).

    Babshapka pauses and crouches, letting the rope build slack as the others advance, then springs forward as the wolves approach, drawing both his blades and swinging. He slashes at the lead wolf (two broadsword and one shortsword hit, total 25 damage), and then slices through the spider silk rope connecting him to Willa (free object interaction). The wolves close in on him, with one staggering him back, but he keeps his feet (two attacks with advantage from pack tactics; one hit for 10 points, Babshapka Strength save 19; success, not knocked down). [Unfortunately for him neither the DM nor player realize that winter wolves are size Large and should allow Babshapka to use his Giantslayer for an extra attack when they attack him]

    Aurora shrieks in alarm, but her cry is lost in the wind. Her firebolt, however, hits one of the wolves (15 points).

    Thokk slices the rope between himself and Mathias. With one end free, Mathias slips out of the loop of his rope and moves away from the wolves, firing as he goes (two hits, 9 force damage). Willa unties the rope connecting her to Thokk and draws her greatsword. [The DM gave the players the choice of cutting the rope and making an attack, or untying the rope and forgoing their attack this round. Mathias’ bolts of force would not sever the rope]

    Round Two
    Willa has a clear path to the wolves, and her greatsword now in her hands - but she does not ignite it. If the party is correct, and the Jarl is down here, she does not want to give him the advantage of seeing them coming. The sounds of battle will be carried away by the wind, but the flare of her sword will likely be seen at a distance even through the blizzard. She strides forward, swinging at the wolves (one hit for 17).

    Babshapka continues to dance around the wolf he is fighting, slashing it whenever it comes close (three hits for 19 damage; has taken 44 from him).

    Aurora sends another firebolt (hits for 15).

    From her spot behind the rocks, Doro sends out blasts of percussive force, but they are swallowed up by the howling wind.

    Some of the four wolves are wounded, but all are still up. The one fighting Babshapka moves to where Willa, Babshapka, and Doro (with cover) are all within a 15’ cone in front of it, then opens its maw wide. Suddenly a great white blast of frost and ice streams forth, catching all three of the party members as they dive out of the way (Doro Dex save 29, Babshapka 25, Willa 17; all succeed - 22 damage becomes 11 each).

    Cold Breath wrote:
    The wolf exhales a blast of freezing wind in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 18 (4d8) cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

    Two other wolves attack Thokk and Mathias - Thokk is bitten, but not knocked over (13 points, Thokk Strength Save 29). The fourth wolf unleashes its breath on Aurora (Dex Save 10; fails, 11 points of damage).

    Thokk bellows and returns blows to the wolf who dared bite him, the Pack Master (two hits, 24 damage)!

    Mathias avoids the one snapping at him, reaches into his man bag, and suddenly Ephi is standing between him and the wolf. The Slaad, bright red against the snow, slashes viciously with its long claws (one hit, 17 points).

    Round Three
    Doro moves back, along the ice wall and out of range of the cold breath of the wolf, then fires bass notes back at it (one hit for 4).

    With Ephi protecting him, Mathias backs up as well and fires (two hits, one critical, total 24 force damage). Ephi continues to engage the wolf (two hits, 32 damage).

    The wolf attacking the trio of party members repositions itself and finds that even Doro is again in range. The icy blast builds in its throat (recharge = 5; success) and then erupts. Although its release hits all three again, it is not as powerful as before (14 points - Babshapka Dex Save 22, Doro 20, Willa 13; all success, 7 points each).

    The wolf that had been attacking Thokk thinks better of it and slinks off into the blizzard, disappearing completely (disengage). The one that had been attacking Mathias decides Thokk is a better target than Ephi and snaps at him but catches only the corner of his shield. The one that had breathed on Aurora could breathe again (recharge = 5), but decides to bite instead. Prey are supposed to break and flee, so that the pack can converge on one, but these small ones haven’t broken yet. It may need its breath for when more of them clump together. It grabs Aurora’s arm in its fangs (11 piercing), then tosses its head and throws her to the ground (Strength save 11; fails, Aurora prone).

    Babshapka launches himself at the wolf which has breathed twice (three hits, 19 damage), and Willa finally finishes it off (one hit for 12). The great body of the beast crumbles to the ground and the light in its piercing blue eyes slowly fades.

    Thokk levels a massive blow at the wolf engaged with him (critical hit, 26 points), and then follows up with a quick stab before the beast can recover (16 points). The wolf is not down, but Thokk’s fire mage is - he turns and the wolf snaps at his heels (opportunity attack misses) as he strides over to stand above Aurora and defend her. Aurora climbs to her feet and fires undeterred (firebolt hits for 13).

    Round Four
    Doro shoots blasts of magic music at one of the pair remaining (13 points), and a concussive blast from Mathias takes it down (one hit, 6). Willa moves to Aurora and Thokk and slays the third (two hits, 22 points).

    For several moments the party stares tensely into the whiteness, but the wolf which slunk off does not return. They tie off the ends of the spider-silk rope Thokk cut - it is now two lengths of rope, 20’ and 25’ rather than one 50’ strand, but should function. The five foot section cut by Babshapka are not of much use, but are coiled and packed nonetheless.

    Winter Wolf XP
    Winter Wolves (CR3) = 4 x 700 = 2800xp
    Total 2800 / 6 = 583 each

    The party decides to proceed without being roped together. The gusts at the bottom of the rift still threaten to bowl them over, but the farthest they can fall now is to the frozen ground at their feet, not off an ice ledge. Four of the party hang together, while Doro and Babshapka scout ahead, hugging the ice wall. Ephi guards their rear, instructed to fall upon any wolf following their scent trail.

    The farther they proceed, the more the rift narrows, until even the far cliff face is visible from the base of the near one - except that is not the far cliff, but rather a tall dome of solid ice that rises up from the floor of the rift [28].

    Babshapka and Doro, trying to remain hidden, soon lose sight of one another (Doro Perception 10 < Babshapka Stealth 15). While Doro sees nothing but snow, ice, and rock, Babshapka sees a cave mouth in the side of the ice mound, and a curiously rough terrain outside it (Perception 24). Unable to find Doro (who is still advancing, hidden by the blowing snow, Stealth 20 but out of Babshapka’s visual range), Babshapka falls back to Mathias and tells him to message the bard.

    Still hidden (Doro Stealth 15, Babshapka 18), both scouts approach the cave mouth. Little mounds of snow cover the floor of the entrance, and as far as they can see inside. Indeed, once inside the cave, the entirety of the dome is hollow, the walls of the greater mound only some five or ten feet thick, and likely would be transparent were the light direct rather than diffuse and the air not full of ice and wind.

    Babshapka and Doro examine the mounds - and immediately find them to be frozen bodies! They are largely bipedal, from medium sized orcs or hobgoblins to things as large as eigers and yeti, though nothing as large as a giant. Some have bits of rent armor and broken weapons, and all are frozen solid, at least what remains of them, for nearly all have been partially eaten. Thinking that this is the lair of the winter wolves, Doro and Babshapka look for scat or hair but find none (Doro Perception 18, Babshapka 21). However, both of them find charring on the exposed bone of the corpses, hair singed off, and underneath the layers of ice on the weapons, soot and carbon scoring. Somehow these bodies were burned to death, then half eaten, then frozen? What is going on here? A midden pile for the giants?

    Doro tries to enter the cave without stepping on any bodies (Acrobatics 9), but there are more than she can see beneath the snow, her footing is unstable, and she turns her ankle on several. She does manage to see that while the entrance is crowded with them, they grow sparse in the rear of the cave, where a large drift of loose snow has accumulated in the absence of the wind. She backs out.

    Aurora comes forward, just far enough that the wind has begun to drop, and calls forth Hedwig from his extradimensional space. The snowy white owl struggles mightily against the gale at the entrance, but by the time he is completely inside the cave he is flying about easily, casting a careful look at every surface (Perception 14 with advantage). Seeing nothing on his flyby, the bird settles on top of the snow mound in the rear - and feels something under the snow move and shift beneath him (Perception 21)!
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Feb 13, 2024 10:08 am  
    Post 312: Sweeping the Floor of the Rift

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers to module G2:The The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl

    Locations keyed in the module are indicated in [blue].

    Post Post 312: Sweeping the Floor of the Rift
    30 April [7 Flocktime] - Glacial Rift, Floor

    Aurora tells the party that there is something beneath the snow, and Thokk draws his axe and begins walking in, making no effort to not walk on the bodies. Babshapka grabs his shoulder and tells him to wait, but Thokk brushes away the elf’s hand. Babshapka grabs him again, but only just long enough to cast Protection from Energy (Fire) before the barbarian again shrugs him off and proceeds inside.

    Round One
    Thokk is about halfway to the mound when it shifts, quivers, and then explodes. Hedwig flies directly toward the cave exit. From beneath the snow and ice bursts a great insect monstrosity in a cloud of steam, its body pulsing with internal fire. Winglike fins flare from the back of the creature’s head, and its wide mouth brims with jagged teeth. It is somewhat like a centipede in proportions, but at least fifteen feet long.

    Mathias is the first to respond, shooting a mind sliver right between the bug eyes of the terrible thing (Remorhaz Intelligence Save 0; fails, 7 psychic damage and -4 to next saving throw).

    Thokk charges, his axe slicing through the chitin along the sides of the beast (two hits, 15 points each, has taken 37 total) even while he is blasted with the heat rolling off its back (10 points; halved to 5 with Babshapka’s spell).

    Heated Body wrote:
    A creature that touches the remorhaz or hits it with a melee attack while within 5 feet of it takes 10 (3d6) fire damage.

    Willa and Ephi move into the cave mouth but do not reach the creature in melee.

    From the edge of her spell range, Doro lights up the area just around the huge creature with a faerie fire, and the green flames spread quickly to the beast (Dexterity Save 6 including mind sliver; fails). Babshapka takes advantage of the lighting to shoot off arrows even while he curses Thokk’s impetuousness (two hits with advantage, 23 points; total 60). Aurora shoots a firebolt, but the creature is now rapidly moving forward and the bolt hits the ice wall instead.

    The great creature twists and turns in the face of so many targets and finally darts forward, opening its great jaws as it shoots out its neck at Thokk. The barbarian leaps aside and laughs, but the beast could have easily swallowed him whole!

    Round Two
    Mathias sends blasts of force at the creature’s great head (one hit, 1 point; total 61) as he waves Ephi forward. The frog-thing runs up to its side, rending great slashes on its long insect-like legs (two hits with advantage, 35 damage; 96 total) but immediately being scalded by his proximity to its boiling blood (Ephi takes 10 points fire damage).

    Babshapka continues to shoot arrows from a distance (two hits with advantage, 24 points; total 120) while Doro attacks with music from his side (one hit with advantage, 5; total 125).

    The creature continues to harry Thokk, but misses with another strike. Thokk laughs again, and strikes at its face when it darts in to attack (two hits with advantage, one critical, 35 damage; total 160), opening up huge gashes. The dark blue blood that spurts forth steams and melts the snow and ice where it falls and raises welts on Thokk’s skin (9 points fire damage reduced to 5 with protection). Willa rushes forward, igniting her sword now that she is within the confines of this ice cave and out of sight of the rest of the rift. She darts under its head and attacks the base of its neck (two hits with advantage, one critical, 34 slashing and 25 fire damage, but remorhaz has immunity to fire damage; total 194). Gouts of boiling blood splash on her (Willa takes 9 fire damage) and the great creature shudders violently, its long tail spasming. Aurora shoots it in the face with a firebolt that should be easily enough to finish it - were it not immune to fire damage (hit with advantage, 13 points ignored).

    Round Three
    Temporarily blinded by the boiling blood, Willa staggers forward and plunges her greatsword into its throat, burying the magical blade up to the hilt (one hit, 14 damage slashing and fire damage immune; total 208). The huge monstrosity collapses on its side, rapidly melting a trough for itself as its body sinks into the icy floor of the cave.

    Remorhaz XP
    Remorhaz (CR11) = 7200xp
    Total 7200 / 6 = 1200 each

    The party works quickly, with the more nimble members digging through the piles of snow in search of treasure. Mathias in particular is convinced that there must be something of value in the ice tunnels from which it emerged but eventually even he admits defeat. Those who are stronger, including Ephi, are sent to drag the bodies of the three slain winter wolves outside to here, inside the dome, so as to not be so obvious on the floor of the rift. Already the wind has eroded the blood that had frozen on the ice around them so even though they leave a trail of gore as they go they are unconcerned.

    Once the wolf corpses are inside, the party takes advantage of the lack of wind in the cave to discuss their next move while Ephi devours one of the wolves. If this fearsome ice wyrm creature has kept away even giants, perhaps they can use the dome as a base of operations. Ultimately the decision is made to not camp yet, but they agree it is certainly a place to which they could return. As they talk, Doro plays and uses her music to magically restore the health of those who were wounded in the fights against this ice wyrm, the giant wolves, and the snow demons (aura of vitality).

    The party emerges from the ice cave and back into the blizzard, with Babshapka and Doro again scouting. They haven’t gone much further than a hundred feet beyond the mouth of the ice cave, however, when they reach the ‘end’ of the rift - both walls come together and the great cleft becomes a single solid wall at which the wind blows up nearly vertically some 300 feet to the top of the ice plain above. The accumulated snow and ice crystals from the floor of the rift ascend as well, but then tumble back down, such that there seems to be a continuous snow shower in the area though with little accumulation. Three other features of interest are the two huge ice ledges to the left and right, both over a hundred feet from the floor, and a great ice chute nearly at the end of the rift.

    Babshapka examines the chute carefully (Survival 16), but it appears to be a natural feature, and not a means of accessing an even lower level of the rift. There are no tracks around it, and in approaching the crumbling edge he needs to be careful not to tumble in (Acrobatics 12).

    Now there is a shouted conversation, with each of them struggling to be heard over the wind. Thokk says that they should climb the ice walls to the ledges to see where they go, and offers to lead the climb. Babshapka says it is obvious that the floor of the rift is not leading them to anything like the Jarl’s Hall, and they should return the way they came to the stairs and ascend. Mathias says that they may yet have need of escaping to the floor here, so they should take this opportunity to clear it by using the cover of the storm to kill anything hostile. He proposes they continue back, but now work their way along the other wall, widdershiddens around the rift itself. Ultimately his view wins out, and they move through the narrow gap between the far wall of the ice cave and the wall of the rift itself, then out onto the broader floor.

    Babshapka, scouting, guides the party along the wall, scanning for the wounded wolf or other dangers. Despite his attentiveness (Perception 12), he passes within a few feet [29] of a large white pudding lying in wait on the rift floor. Its coloration gives it perfect camouflage in these icy conditions; while the white pudding remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a mound of snow. Most of the party follows more or less in Babshapka’s steps, coming within a few feet of the ooze creature. Mathias is walking only a few feet farther from the wall, but steps squarely on the edge of it. Feeling his footing slide, he at first thinks there is a layer of slush beneath the snow, but soon realizes his mistake when the creature gathers itself up into a tower of nearly his height!

    Surprise round (only Mathias and the pudding may act)
    Mathias commands Ephi, already at his side, to attack, and the frog-monster slices through the gathered pudding. Its quivering form shakes and splits in two! [Ephi’s first hit for 17 damage, takes single Huge pudding from 85 to 68. The pudding then becomes two size Large puddings with 34 hp each.]

    Split wrote:
    When a pudding that is Medium or larger is subjected to lightning or slashing damage, it splits into two new puddings if it has at least 10 hit points. Each new pudding has hit points equal to half the original pudding's, rounded down. New puddings are one size smaller than the original pudding.

    Ephi presses his attack, slicing again and now there are three puddings! [Ephi hits for 13 damage, takes one Large pudding from 34 to 21. That pudding then becomes two size Medium puddings with 10 hp each in addition to the Large pudding at 38.] With each slice, however, the fluid interior of the pudding sprays out and coats Ephi’s skin, sizzling and pitting it (13 points acid damage)!

    Corrosive Form wrote:
    A creature that touches the pudding or hits it with a melee attack while within 5 feet of it takes 4 (1d8) acid damage.

    Each of the three puddings now launches pseudopods, bludgeoning Ephi with acid-soaked pudding clubs (three attacks, one critical hit, 10 bludgeoning plus 25 acid). The frog staggers and then drops, its other-planar flesh rapidly being stripped to the bone.

    Round One
    Seeing the speed with which Ephi went down, Willa decides this fight needs to be brief, regardless of who might see her sword. She ignites it and runs forward, targeting the two medium puddings (first hit 12 slashing and 6 fire, kills one 10hp pudding; second hit 12 slashing and 6 fire, kills another 10hp pudding), which splash her even as she hacks them apart (Willa takes 12 acid damage).

    Doro, still within pseudopod range of the remaining Large pudding, backs carefully away (disengage). That leaves Mathias and Thokk within striking distance, and the white pudding lashes out at the barbarian, completely engulfing him (critical hit, 11 bludgeoning and 47 acid, total 58 damage - Thokk’s extreme cold weather gear is partially dissolved, with all the soft fur eaten away and just the thickest leather remaining - it will now function as only cold weather gear).

    Pseudopod wrote:
    Nonmagical armor worn by the target is partly dissolved and takes a permanent and cumulative -1 penalty to the AC it offers. The armor is destroyed if the penalty reduces its AC to 10

    Suddenly a second huge pudding, just as large as the first one was at the beginning of the fight, rears up out of the snow. Its pseudopod swings at Mathias, but misses him as he darts away (disengage).

    Aurora doesn’t see anything to be gained from fighting these acid horrors, and who knows how many more lurk under the treacherous snow? She decides to end this now, and calls forth a great wall of stone to make an airtight box around the two puddings, using her one and only only fifth level spell slot. The hard part is that the wall itself must begin in contact with actual stone, and most of what they stand on is solid ice. Fortunately there is a spire of rock upthrust through the glacier and close enough at hand for her to build from.

    Wall of Stone wrote:
    If a creature would be surrounded on all sides by the wall (or the wall and another solid surface), that creature can make a Dexterity saving throw. On a success, it can use its reaction to move up to its speed so that it is no longer enclosed by the wall. The wall can have any shape you desire, though it can’t occupy the same space as a creature or object. The wall doesn’t need to be vertical or rest on any firm foundation. It must, however, merge with and be solidly supported by existing stone.

    The puddings are not fast enough to escape - at least not for now (Dexterity saves 8, 3; both fail). The wall will last only ten minutes - so Aurora tells the others that they need to be long gone by then (Aurora at 2/3/3/3/0). Given how much damage Thokk and the others just took, Doro begins another aura of vitality, using her new drum, as she can’t strum her samisen with mittened hands in this weather (Doro at 3/3/1/2/0).

    Pudding XP
    White Pudding (CR4) = 2 x 1100 = 2200
    Total 2200 / 6 = 367 each
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    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue Feb 13, 2024 10:27 pm  

    Arrgghh, I hate puddings!

    Looking them up in the classic AD&D Monster Manual II, I saw that white puddings don't affect metal like their black counterparts do. Does that apply in 5E too?
    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Feb 15, 2024 10:25 am  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Arrgghh, I hate puddings!

    IKR? I have heard that one way to avoid them is not eating your meat.

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Looking them up in the classic AD&D Monster Manual II, I saw that white puddings don't affect metal like their black counterparts do. Does that apply in 5E too?

    I didn't remember that - and I can't recall whether the two parties I took through G2 back in the day encountered them or not (one 1e, one Becmi). I know that at least one of them fought the Remorhaz. The player that plays Mathias / Leezar, BTW, was in the second group to go through G2. Mathias' insistence on searching for its treasure came because the player remembered that when he went through G2, some thirty years previous, his group had found a ring of wishes in the remorhaz lair.

    In any event, there is no official 5e stat block for a white pudding, and it is not on the D&D Beyond list of monsters. A line of text at that encounter in Tales from the Yawning Portal reads:

    "A white pudding uses the statistics for a black pudding, and its coloration gives it perfect camouflage in these icy conditions. While a white pudding remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a mound of snow."

    So, presumably, the 5e version would have a corrosive form feature identical to the black pudding, including "The pudding can eat through 2-inch-thick, nonmagical wood or metal in 1 round."
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    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed Feb 21, 2024 7:47 am  

    Kirt wrote:

    I didn't remember that - and I can't recall whether the two parties I took through G2 back in the day encountered them or not (one 1e, one Becmi). I know that at least one of them fought the Remorhaz. The player that plays Mathias / Leezar, BTW, was in the second group to go through G2. Mathias' insistence on searching for its treasure came because the player remembered that when he went through G2, some thirty years previous, his group had found a ring of wishes in the remorhaz lair.

    In any event, there is no official 5e stat block for a white pudding, and it is not on the D&D Beyond list of monsters. A line of text at that encounter in Tales from the Yawning Portal reads:

    "A white pudding uses the statistics for a black pudding, and its coloration gives it perfect camouflage in these icy conditions. While a white pudding remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a mound of snow."

    So, presumably, the 5e version would have a corrosive form feature identical to the black pudding, including "The pudding can eat through 2-inch-thick, nonmagical wood or metal in 1 round."

    Well, this might be some nice punishment on your part for Leezar's player's metagaming. And I'm pretty sure G2, which was published before the Monster Manual II, described the white puddings as simply being a palette swap (video game term for monsters that have the same design but different color schemes from each other) of the black ones. Yawning Portal's throwback is pretty cool...
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Feb 21, 2024 3:08 pm  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    I'm pretty sure G2, which was published before the Monster Manual II, described the white puddings as simply being a palette swap (video game term for monsters that have the same design but different color schemes from each other) of the black ones.

    I hadn't considered that about the publication dates. This is from my stand-alone G2 (1978):
    "WHITE PUDDING: Note that there are 2 of these monsters, 1 at each place 29 is shown on the map. They are simply white colored variants of the usual black pudding. 1 has 77 hit points, the other 66."
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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Feb 21, 2024 8:12 pm  
    Post 313: Take me to your leader!

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers to module G2:The The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl

    Locations keyed in the module are indicated in [blue].

    Post 313: Take me to your leader!
    30 April [7 Flocktime] - Glacial Rift, Floor

    The party continues along the ice wall, moving much slower now, with Babshapka spending as much time cautiously scanning the ground as he does looking out into the blowing snow, and the others carefully filling in his tracks, stepping only where the person ahead of them has stepped. They pass the widest part of the rift, where they cannot hope to see the other cliff face but when the wind pauses for a moment strange, twisted ice and rock formations suddenly loom out of the blowing ice. Eventually the rift narrows until the other wall grows close enough to see again, somewhere around where Babshapka estimates the head of the great staircase was. From this point forward the wind drops and it appears to be snowing, as the entire three hundred foot thickness of the rift is acting as a wind block and they are on the leeward side. As visibility increases they can clearly see both walls growing closer as they continue. Eventually the valley pinches to a close along a huge fault line that travels up further than he can see. To their left are some strange-looking snow drifts, so Babshapka gets closer (Perception 20). Suddenly, with a turn of his stomach, he realizes what he is seeing. Six of the furry white bear demon bodies, broken from their falls, lie at the bottom of the cliff. They are covered by a thin layer of the white goo that is at least two puddings, both huge and slowly growing larger. Hair and bone, muscle and hide, all is being gradually dissolved and converted into pudding. Well, Babshapka supposes, they don’t have to worry about the giants finding their door guardians.

    The ranger turns around and tells the others to go no further. Instead, he guides them to the wall to the left and then back to the stairs, with the wind picking up again as they move out of the shelter of the leading edge of the glacier.

    The north wall of the rift is much more winding than the south wall, and it is some time before they find themselves back at the foot of the stairs, having traversed the entire floor of the rift along its walls. At its widest spots, there were certainly places in the center they couldn’t see from the sides, ice mounds and rock projections they did not investigate besides, but they are now convinced that there is nothing more to be learned down here. Self-respecting Jarls would not hide their throne rooms in a place crawled by those vile puddings, they agree. It is time to ascend and continue their exploration of the caves above from where they left off. They re-tie themselves with ropes, but fortunately there are no great gusts while they are on the stairs. The stairs themselves, carved into the living ice for giant strides, must be climbed rather than walked. They prove more tiring to ascend in the thin, biting air than they were to come down and the party is glad of their crampons. Finally they all stand again on the high ice ledge above the rift, with Babshapka assuring them that there are still no creatures nearby in the blizzard (Perception 24).

    [Temperature 34F, winds of 66 mph, wind chill 15F out of doors]
    With the party at the top of the stairs, Babshapka has them move from the edge of the ledge to alongside the rift wall. He then begins moving forward, taking his time, going slowly and cautiously (Stealth 25) while Mathias stays in touch with message - “What’s up ahead, Babs?”

    He slips into an open cave mouth and finds a well-worn passage, the ice trod by multiple giants. Mathias continues to pester him - “Do you see something? My feet are cold. Hurry up! Can you still hear me?”

    The passage splits, so Babshapka calls for Doro to come up and help scout. Whether it is the distraction from Mathias’ mental barrage, the howling of the wind outside, or exhaustion and the sudden warmth of being out of the direct icy blast, neither of them hear the approaching giant guards (Babshapka Perception 6, Doro 4, both critical fails).

    Suddenly, a great voice booms forth, echoing down the ice tunnels, “Hva gjør du her, slemme menneske?” Doro has been spotted by a frost giant guard (Doro Stealth 13 = Giant Passive Perception 13)!

    Babshapka, still unseen, whispers to Doro in Common, translating for her, “What are you doing here, puny human?”

    Without the slightest pause, Doro shouts back in Common, “I’m scouting! We are looking for the Jarl!”

    Babshapka can almost hear the giant scratching his chin through his thick beard as he works to decipher the human’s tongue. He can now also see a second giant in his tunnel, and hear the breathing of others nearby. He swallows. In for a copper, in for a crown, as the humans say.

    Babshapka steps out in the middle of the hall, cups his hands, and shouts in Giant. “We are scouting. Where is Jarl Grugner?”

    The giants seem taken aback.

    They do not immediately attack, but stare down at Doro and Babshapka, with their arms on their hips, not their weapons. Babshapka continues in Giant. “We have come to speak with him about the attacks on the human forts in the mountains above Istivin.”

    There is a moment of surprised silence from the giants, and then one of them replies to Babshapka, “And when the Mighty Jarl Grugner asks who wishes to speak with him, what should we say?”

    “You can tell your Jarl that we are envoys from Istivin.”

    At this, the giant laughs heartily, and soon the other giants are laughing with him, until the ice caves echo with peals of their thunderous mirth. At last he says, “You are from Istivin? Then no doubt you have come here to surrender your city to the Jarl!”

    “Our message is to the Jarl himself,” says Babshapka firmly. “Will you take us to him?”

    “I will tell him you are here,” acquiesces the giant. “The Mighty Jarl will himself decide your fate.”

    With this, Doro is forced back alongside Babshapka as the frost giant squeezes through a narrow passage and past where she was standing. He exits the tunnel to the rift, looking carefully at the other members of the party clustered along the wall as he walks by them. Willa notes that he makes his way to the southernmost edge of the ledge on which they stand, directly above the foot of the stairs on the floor of the rift, and then ducks inside a cave mouth.

    From somewhere in the cave one giant remarks to the other, “How did they get past the yetis? Lazy louts.”

    Babshapka, hearing this, bets his whole hand on what he knows about frost giants. A warrior culture, they respect courage and fighting ability. “We traveled here from Istivin,” he says loudly, “a few yeti cannot stop us from our diplomatic mission to speak to the Jarl.”

    Another giant (Wisdom check 19), near the first one, says in a hushed tone but still audible, “Jann, they speak Giant. Watch your tongue!” Then, in perfect Common (Intelligence check 19), he addresses the party. “Honored envoys, come in out of the wind. All of you. You may rest here on furs while you await the word of the Jarl.”

    The party is ushered into an ice chamber [16] with three exits, but only one leading back outside to the rift. There is a pile of hides for sleeping, with a giant blanket of stitched-together furs on the floor, large enough for a single frost giant. In addition, there are a table and stools and a few extra giant-sized weapons around. The giants themselves each carry great double-bladed axes and a bag at their belt bulging with throwing rocks. They have little armor to speak of, just a few metal and bone pieces over rough hides, and the occasional fur accent, but also sport large areas of exposed pale blue flesh, as if the freezing temperatures do not bother them in the least.

    “Thank you for your hospitality,” says Mathias graciously as he sits down cross-legged on the pile of hides.

    As soon as all of the party are in the chamber, three giants move to block the exits, but do not advance. A fourth one says, “I will bring you food - meat and mead - as you are our guests, at least until the Jarl decides otherwise.” He leaves the cavern complex as well, so that there are now just three giants on hand. Better three than five, thinks Willa to herself, but by now the whole Rift knows we are here. Was this really the plan?

    Willa takes off her pack and sets it down on a corner of the pile of hides, then makes a show of going through it. She finds all the grenades, and makes sure they are available at the very top of the pack before closing the lid without lacing it.

    Aurora looks from one giant to another, trying to determine which was the one that spoke to them in Common. “So, uh, how is it that Grugner is Jarl? I mean, how do your people choose their Jarl - is it by royal birth or is there some kind of trial…?”

    One of the giants speaks disdainfully. “The Jarl is chosen through a contest of combat. Anyone is free to challenge for the Jarlship, and only the mightiest warrior can become Jarl. We Frost Giants are a proud and independent folk, and will not take a knee to any ruler but those which have proven they are our superiors. Glory in combat is the only measure of a true leader, for only those that could best us in combat merit our obedience.”

    “That is indeed the sign of a Great People,” agrees Mathias loudly.

    “Anyone may challenge for leadership?” asks Aurora pointedly. “So, Grugner has faced many challengers during his reign?” (Aurora Persuasion 19 > Frost Giant Insight 14)

    “Jarl Grugner has ruled for decades,” the giant replies, “and has faced dozens of challengers. He has never been defeated. He is the mightiest of us all, and that is why all Frost Giants, from the Jotens to the Crystalmists, owe him fealty.”

    “How is a challenge made?” continues Aurora. “Could, say, one of us…”

    The giant scoffs loudly. “Only a legitimate challenge need be considered,” he says. “A true warrior, part of the Ord’ning, will present his challenge to the Jarl. The Jarl can then decide to accept the challenge or not, though of course he would accept, for refusing to accept a legitimate challenge is a grave dishonor and soon others would challenge his leadership if he did. Once the challenge is accepted, the two giants go before a shaman of Thrym and according to our ancient traditions decide on the terms of their duel.”

    “That makes a lot of sense,” agrees Mathias admiringly.

    “Tell us about the last challenge,” asks Aurora. “What was it like? How was it fought?”

    “Well,” begins one giant, but…

    “Enough!” says another (Wisdom check 19). “Helman, you have said enough already. These puny folk are too small to know our sacred ways - it is a blasphemy to tell such tales to those not of the Ord’ning. Besides,” he says, turning from his fellow giant to the party, and his tone turning from anger to pride, “Such a tale cannot be meaningfully expressed in the pitiful mewling that is your language. Only the Giant tongue is capable of expressing the poetry of this battle, the glory of the combat, the explosions of ice that shook the rift itself! Just as we have dozens of words for what you pitifully call ‘ice’ or ‘snow’, we have dozens of dozens of words for the magnificent details of a combat.”

    Willa hisses to Aurora that she, too, has said enough for now. The next twenty minutes or so go by in silence, the unwavering giants blocking the exits and watching the party, the party trying to look relaxed, confident, and oblivious to the threat of the giants.

    Finally, the two guards who left earlier return. “The Jarl will meet with you in one hour,” says one simply.

    “That is great news!” exclaims Mathias.

    “I have brought a lunch,” says the other, bearing a giant-sized horn flagon and a tray full of meats.

    “That better news!” announces Thokk contentedly. He will need his strength up if he is to challenge this ‘Jarl’ soon.

    [Babshapka stows his stone to try the food, then resumes it spinning about him. The others eat - this is lunch. They have remaining hobgoblin jerky (2.6), dwarven iron rations (18.6) and the war rations they captured from the hobgoblin camp and then purified.]

    [end of second G2 play session]

    [DM's Note:The second session, from descending to the bottom of the rift to the confrontation with the giant guards, was short, and we had lots of scheduled playtime left - but I called it for the evening as I was simply unprepared to continue. The first two times I had DM'd G2, it was a pretty standard old school adventure like the modules are designed for: the party has a hidden base, they make forays to completely wipe out the giants, and have to make tactical decisions about how far to press on each foray, because if they retreat to rest too often, the giants may find their resting place. But the goal is unambiguously killing all of the giants. Now, I had introduced the idea of the Horn of Annam, and I knew that this wasn't going to be a simple 'kill all the giants' adventure, but one in which the party has to force the Jarl to wind the horn and call off his attacks. But I had assumed that they were going to issue a threat and ultimatum, and then fight giants room-to-room until the Jarl had no other choice but to concede.

    When Doro came out with, "Take us to see the Jarl!" I was floored, and completely unprepared for this to become a social interaction adventure instead. I didn't mind the new direction (I try to give my players options), but I was unprepared to continue the session without a completely different kind of prep work. I now needed to figure out the psychology and motivations of the Jarl, Jarlinde, and the three Carls. What were the factions, what were their issues? What would happen when the party walked into the throne room and demanded that the Jarl cease the attacks? As a cunning leader, the Jarl would try to use this obviously powerful party to his advantage, but how? And how would those who were not the Jarl try to use them for their own ends? And how did all of this fit in to the ultimate reveal about the involvement of the Drow? I had a lot to think about.]
    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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    Tue Feb 27, 2024 11:11 am  
    Post 314: The Jarl's Opening Move

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers to module G2:The The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl

    Locations keyed in the module are indicated in [blue].

    Enough swords and sorcery. Let's play a political drama set in the Jarl's court instead!

    Post 314: The Jarl's Opening Move
    30 April [7 Flocktime] - Glacial Rift, Jarl's Private Chamber / Outer Guardpost

    [First Interlude with the Jarl - In his private chambers with Lady Estia, Jarl Grugner receives with some concern the news of the party’s arrival. He has heard rumors of the fall of the Steading and the death of Chief Nosnra, but so far they have been only rumors, not confirmed. Could these humans be the same adventurers that overcame that pitiful brute Nosnra? Or are they actually, as they say, emissaries from Istivin? His forces have just within the last few days taken a third human fort in the mountains above the city, and it would stand to reason that the humans would want to sue for peace or discuss the terms of their surrender knowing that he could fall upon the city at any moment and kill hundreds, if not thousands, of them. Are these visitors a threat to his plans? He could, of course, move all of his guards into position and attack the humans all at once - he could wipe out these smallfolk visitors here and now, no matter what they might have done at the Steading, no matter how powerful they are. But if they are indeed emissaries, meeting with them now might allow him to take Istivin sooner than he expected. If the city is suing for peace, and he could accept its surrender through these intermediaries, he could take the greatest prize in Sterich without losses and especially without the help of the Fire Giants. The possibility of that is worth keeping these humans alive, for now.

    But how did they get here, and so fast? It is 50 leagues from Istivin to the Steading, and then another 35 to the Rift, as the stormcrow flies, and humans are not made for crossing mountains. They would have to have left the city at least two weeks ago - which was about the time the second human fort fell to his forces, so that might be a reasonable time scale and motivation for their mission. But if they left so long ago, would they know about the supposed fall of the Steading and the sundering of the siege of Headwater? How will that affect the negotiation?

    What if they had the chain? And here, realizing this, Grugner snorts and chokes on his pipe, and his winter wolf growls and snaps at Estia’s wolf. Yes, the chain. The drow entrusted the chain to Nosnra. Grugner told Nosnra to use the chain only to report the fall of Headwater, just as Grugner was to use the magical lever of the drow to tell King Snurre when the time was right to attack Istivin. But the drow also told Grugner that the coward Nosnra would likely use the chain to save his own miserable skin if any humans breached the Steading, and the Storm Giantess Lyn had told Grugner that such a human reprisal was sure to happen. For this reason, Grugner had made Nosnra swear to hide the chain well, and to keep the map that was the key to using it hidden separately from the chain itself. Of course, the hill giant Chief was an oaf, a dolt, and could not be trusted with such things - of course adventurers might have found both magic items. If so, that made the Rift vulnerable, being immediately accessible to the humans with no warning to Grugner of their arrival.

    That the Steading may have fallen, if true, was not unexpected. The stupid Hill Giants and their puny goblin minions were always expendable in the grand scheme of things, a diversion to keep the humans busy while Grugner’s Frost Giants moved into position to seize the mountain forts and Snurre’s Fire Giants built tunnels to move siege equipment outside their cities unseen but ready, starting with Istivin. It would be more than helpful to know if the Steading indeed had fallen - and whether these particular humans were the cause.

    Grugner takes a long pull of his pipe as he considers what he wants. He wants to know who the humans actually are, and what they are capable of - in particular, to see a display of their ability to fight giants, and whether or not they know about the chain. He wants to know what they know about the Steading, and Headwater, and whether they can confirm what he has heard. If they have the map, he most assuredly wants it back so that his fortress cannot again be taken by surprise. If they are emissaries, he wants to know whether they can deliver him the city without a fight. That will mean giving them guest-right and treating them honorably up until the time the city is his, but then still being able to eliminate them afterwards without any repercussions from among his own people. Thus, it would be useful if he could make sure they committed some unpardonable breach of etiquette so that he can negotiate with them now, but later move against them without besmirching his own honor.

    His brow furrows. Now, knowing what he wants, he has only to devise a plan to obtain all of these things at once. As he works slowly on his pipe, the plan takes shape in his mind. When it is fully formed, he grins wickedly and tells Estia to dress for a formal audience. Then he bellows for the chamber guard, and when his man opens the boulder door, he tells the other guardsman, the one who has seen the humans and has been waiting outside since, to tell the humans that he will meet with them in one hour. He tells him to guard them well on the way in, to leave only one guard at the rallying room, and to put off for now the plans for the raid on the morrow. After that outer guardsman is long gone, he tells his chamber guard to send word to the Hill Giant guests that they are to assemble in the Throne Room for an audience with the Jarl. Then, he turns back to his chamber, cleans his pipe, and begins to dress himself.]

    [start of third Glacial Rift session]

    While the party waits in the ice cave, they take the opportunity for a short rest, for many of them are wounded beyond what Doro’s two spells have been able to heal.

    Thokk spends 1HD to heal 5 points
    Doro spends 1HD to heal 9 points
    Babshapka spends 2HD to heal 17 points
    Aurora spends 4HD to heal 15 points
    Willa spends 4HD to heal 32 points

    After the guards have returned, and the party has eaten heartily of the meat and, under Willa’s watchful eye, drunk sparingly of the mead and drunk more water from their own skins, Aurora begins to question the Frost Giants again.

    “Before, you said that one of us would not be a legitimate challenger for the Jarl. How many humans do you suppose a strong giant like yourself would be able to face, before it would actually be a challenge?”

    Some of the giants immediately snort derisively, and Aurora tries to keep track of which ones understand Common. One giant offers - “That depends on the kind of human. Those that, among you small folk, pass for warriors, or the pitiful sheep who do nothing more than dig in the dirt?”

    “Let’s say a typical human soldier.”

    “Well, many dozens of them at least. If we speak of what is challenging, as opposed to what is honorable, a few dozen bowmen would be a challenge.”

    “Fahh!” spits another. “Bowmen are cowards. That is maug.”

    “But you throw rocks…?” asks Aurora innocently.

    “That is different,” huffs the giant. “As different as summer and winter. An honorable warrior may throw a heavy rock far to display his great strength, and as a warning before true combat is begun. Or he may throw a rock simply because he cannot close with his opponent and he is eager for battle to begin. But a bow - to use missile weapons exclusively and refuse to close to real combat - ” and here he looks down his nose at Babshapka’s prominent longbow, “is cowardice. It is maug.”

    “If you would need to face dozens of humans for it to be a challenge, I take it you don’t find just the six of us threatening,” concludes Aurora.

    “We are not fools,” grumbles a giant. “You made it here, to these mountains. You made it past our yeti, and more than likely you killed them. And, what is more, you reek of ruga. You are not six typical humans. There is a reason Istivin chose you as emissaries. Who is to say that the six of you would not be a challenge for one of us?”

    Mathias messages Aurora, Good lead in - now ask directly, would the Jarl accept a challenge from us?

    Aurora asks the question as if it was her own.

    This seems to surprise the giants. They begin to converse among themselves. Babshapka strains to pick up as much of the fast-moving Giant speech as he can. The tone is serious, but also admiring - apparently the guards are impressed with the audacity of the party in asking about challenging the Jarl. He picks up phrases like “we don’t know them, we don’t know their abilities”, “the Jarl is too wise to accept such a challenge,” and “perhaps he would have his henchman accept in his stead”.

    Finally the guards conclude their talk, and one of them addresses the party. “Of course, you could not challenge the Mighty Grugner for the Jarldom - we have already explained that you are not members of the Ord’ning and have no right to rule. But if you insulted his honor, if there was a dispute of some sort, then a challenge might be used to settle that matter.”

    “Indeed,” agrees Mathias.

    “That is both fair and reasonable,” complements Aurora. “Though we may be adversaries, I am happy that we are able to correspond with such honorable opponents.”

    “Your recognition of our honor and magnificence is right and fitting for you,” says one giant casually, “but it does nothing for us. We do not need or seek compliments from you small folk. You are pitiful creatures who wallow in the dirt of the Oerth. Recognizing our greatness is like recognizing that the sun is warm - it affirms that the speaker has common sense but does nothing for the sun.”

    Undeterred, Aurora continues trying to compliment the giants. “Of course, of course, it is only that…” She goes on to extol how wonderful it is to see that the Frost Giant culture is based on courage and honor. Although they are not so foolish as to fall for direct and obvious flattery, her words do eventually win some of them over (Aurora Persuasion 14 > Giant Insight 10). When she feels that she has them again, she carefully asks how, if the Jarl is chosen through combat, they can be sure that he acts honorably according to all the rules of the Ord’ning, all the social mores and not just those governing battle? What would prevent a skilled but dishonorable warrior from taking the throne through challenge?

    The giants patiently explain that they are a proud people, and would not tolerate a tyrant, or one who did not respect their customs and traditions. If someone abused his power as Jarl, many giants would challenge him in quick succession. He might prevail over the first ones, but if the challenges came fast and steady, he would not be able to heal sufficiently between them, and eventually he would fall, even if only through the honorable sacrifices of those willing to face him first. Or, perhaps, an entire clan or kinsgroup of giants would together challenge his rule - then he could meet the challenge with an equal number of his own supporters, but if his rule as a tyrant had made his allies desert him, if there were not enough giants to stand with him, he would lose that challenge as well. Of course, he could refuse any of these challenges - but a Jarl who refused challenges would be seen as no fit Jarl at all, and this would only embolden more and more of his discontented subjects to challenge him. While suspicious of Aurora at first, the giants warm to the talking, and particularly enjoy explaining to the humans how superior their giant culture is over that of the small folk and how carefully ordained it is by the gods, speaking in the manner of a schoolmaster who delights in telling his pupils how ignorant they are.

    During all of this Doro begins a comprehend languages spell. The giants immediately notice her casting and give her wary looks, their hands at their axes, but when she completes the spell with nothing obviously happening they again relax and return to ‘schooling’ the party.

    “This is all fascinating,” gushes Aurora. “I had no idea that the Ord’ning was so complex, or so well thought out. Our only experience with giants has been with Hill Giants, and they did not seem to have the sophisticated understanding of honor that you all do.”

    At this the giants laugh, and one of them appears to be starting to make an insulting joke about Hill Giants, but he is immediately stopped by the guard who seems to have the most authority. “You forget your company,” he says sharply, and the other giant holds his tongue.

    The more dominant giant collects his thoughts and says carefully, as if modeling behavior for the others, “It is not maat to speak ill of other giants in front of small folk. It is sufficient to say that Hill Giants rank below us in the Ord’ning, and that there is good reason for that.”

    “But,” says Aurora, “and please excuse my ignorance, but why do they rank below you? How is this determined?”

    Here all the giants speak at once, offering many ideas of how and why Hill Giants are inferior, but the leader or officer again reminds them of decorum and they quiet down. “The Ord’ning was established by Annam All-Father to guide giants. Annam possessed all worthy virtues and wished his children to have them as well. The Frost Giants,” and here he speaks clearly and pointedly, “guided by our shamen, understand and appreciate these virtues, and are the best representation of the wishes of the All-Father. The other giant races try to follow Annam’s wishes, but they simply misunderstand and misinterpret them. For example, it is a virtue to live off the land, a virtue to procreate, and it is fitting and proper that the lesser races, those who are not giants, should provide sustenance for giantkind, either in tribute or, if they refuse, in becoming food themselves. This is the will of the All-Father. But the Hill Giants misunderstand this - they think that the more they eat, and the more they procreate, the more virtuous they are, and that the only reason to conquer the small folk is to have them provide food to their conquerors. While all Hill Giants rank below any Frost Giant in the Ord’ning, among themselves they assign rank based solely on size and amount eaten! They have become so obsessed with this one aspect of the All-Father’s will that they have lost its true intent, and lost sight of all the other teachings.”

    Here the other giants nod agreement. Babshapka, and now Doro, hear the others expressing in Giant their admiration for this one’s true words, with some going so far as to say that he is the wisest among them, no doubt owing to his noble blood.

    Aurora, oblivious to the murmurs of the other giants, asks directly about Fire Giants and their place in the Ord’ning. Here the giant pauses and sighs and again carefully collects his words. “The Fire Giants rank above Frost Giants, and rightly so, for most any of them could beat most any of us in a fair combat. But, sadly, they too have crucial misunderstandings of the will of the All-Father. They correctly understand the importance of battle, and the value of warriorship. They understand, as we do, that Annam also wishes us to be skilled craftspeople and canny creators of things. It is a blessing to the All-Father that we have among us smiths who can make such fine weapons as these,” he says, holding aloft his own axe with sincere admiration. “But the Fire Giants confuse these two virtues, warriorship and craftsmanship, and take them for one thing rather than two different things. They use their craftsmanship to encase themselves in armor or construct siege engines, so that there is no valor or glory in their fights. Look!” he commands, and gestures at the series of scars, many old, some fresh, that cover the exposed skin of his arms and legs. “Each of these is a mark of distinction, a sign of courage that I carry with me, so that others may immediately see that I am no coward, that I face my foes with honor and valor. But to fight completely encased in iron? There is no glory in that, there is no courage. There are those among us who call the Fire Giants ‘baby-skins’ for their lack of scars, though that is an insult and unbecoming of us as fellow giants. The Fire Giants are capable warriors and perhaps even superior to us - but they use their craft skill to seek uneven advantages in combat. The tragedy is in their fundamental failure to understand that the All-Father demands us to risk everything, every time we take up a weapon. It is our willingness to embrace the danger of battle itself that shows we know the true virtue of bravery.”

    “Yeah, Willa,” says Mathias, as he claps his palm across her heavy pauldron, then whispers “baby-skin” to her accusingly.

    The other giants, however, appear moved by the words of their comrade, and have fallen silent. Neither does he wish to speak more, and simply waves away Aurora’s attempts at further questions until Willa hisses at her that “T’at be eno!”

    After this the party sits, or stands, or paces in silence until the giants judge that an hour has passed and it is time for them to be received by the Jarl. The party gets ready to follow them.

    Of the five guards, one remains behind, but he moves outside their cave complex, looking around at the rift itself. Of the other four, two walk in front of the party and two behind. This is no casual escort, despite the courtesy of their hospitality, but is quite clearly designed to contain them. They walk along the ice ledge, gradually sloping down, and enter a cave mouth. Just inside this ice tunnel, a smaller passage branches off to their right. Babshapka notes that the floor of the side passage is much less worn by giant-treads (Perception 11), and the way forward is so narrow that an adult giant would need to squeeze through with difficulty. This might slow pursuit, should it come to that. He resolves to make a mental map as they travel.

    The tunnel continues forward, passing a side chamber that houses two guards [22]. The first guard watches them attentively as they pass and exchanges formalities with their escorts. The second giant lounges on a pile of skins deeper back in the chamber, and is perhaps even asleep as they pass. Soon after they pass the chamber, they exit a cave mouth and are back at the edge of the rift, although on a ledge that is disconnected from the previous one, lower and most certainly narrower. They are again glad of their crampons as the winds of the rift buffet them and threaten to snatch them from the ledge. Willa would suggest they rope themselves together again, were they not in front of the giants and their plan reliant on convincing them that they are worthy challengers to the Jarl. Babshapka estimates that they are now directly above the portion of the rift floor where they fought the winter wolves. Willa notes to herself that besides their escort, there are now three giants between them and either the head of the stairs (if they need to flee to the domed ice cave of the slain insect wyrm) or the outside of the rift (if they need to flee to the ice field beyond). This ledge itself has a number of cave mouths along it, but they enter the very first one and are again out of the wind.

    The next tunnel is considerably longer and takes them deep inside the glacier rather than along the edge of the rift. They are some two hundred feet inside, with the light that passes through the ice growing ever more wan and the hues more blue, when the tunnel branches. The two giants in front of them take the right fork without hesitation but Babshapka pauses at the left (Perception 18). The branch not taken feels considerably warmer; he hears a crackling fire and smells smoke. He is also gaining a feel for the meandering tunnels of the glacier itself. All throughout its interior the ice is cracked along planes from the shear stresses of its movement over the mountain, the force of the ice behind it and the resistance of the rocks in front of and beneath it. Those strain cracks that occur in ‘useful’ directions have been expanded into tunnels and chambers, while those opposed to the desired directions have been left as simple cracks in the ice.

    Ahead the tunnel taken opens into another guard chamber [23], and now the party has to pass between two guards, alert and attentive, staring down at them as they walk by. Thokk, in the lead, is cheerily unconcerned, excited as he is to meet and hopefully fight the Jarl. Willa, in the rear, frowns as she passes between the two guards. “Tha’ be five,” she mutters to herself, still counting the number of giants between themselves and the outside.

    What follows is several hundred feet more of ice tunnel, and then an abrupt right angle turn to another tunnel sloping down, while the tunnel they are on continues ahead. The guards in the lead take the turn, but Aurora points Thokk toward the passageway in front of them. The pair are halfway to another turn and can hear giant voices ahead before the two rear guards testily call for them to return to the group. Aurora feigns ignorance and mumbles that she was confused and lost in the great glacial hall.

    The sloping passage continues steeply down. They are now deep within the glacier, with only the faintest of natural light passing through the thick ice above them and making it look almost like a twilit sky. Eventually they reach bedrock, separated from the ice above by a thick layer of ground up rock, gravel, and cobblestones, as well as meltwater that has instantly frozen upon dripping into the tunnel. The tunnel continues to slope down, but is now carved from the rock of the mountainside.

    Finally their guards enter a great chamber, and converse in hushed tones with another giant who stands close by one wall. With no light from outside, torches burn at intervals along the length of the cavern and there is a passageway close at hand to their entrance, and another two across the great chamber from them. The whole area is obviously meant to be impressive, as its walls bear carvings of battle and hunting scenes in bas-relief. These carved scenes show giants slaying enemies, hunting dragons and other fearsome monsters, and engaged in similar activities. Obviously the giant lair has been here for quite some time, perhaps even before the ice overhead slid into its current position.

    When their rear guards have finally emerged from the tunnel behind them into the chamber, the chamber guard gives a curt nod to the other giants, turns to the wall, and strains as he wrestles with the wall itself. Suddenly outlines appear and they realize it is actually a huge boulder being used to block a perfectly-sized gap in the rock wall. Had they not seen him move it, they would not have known it was there! The giant wraps his hands around the edges, strains, lifts [DC20 Strength check], turns, and sets it to one side, revealing a tunnel through the rock. He stands aside and gestures at them to enter. The lead guards do so, though they have to duck their heads to fit.

    The ‘tunnel’ actually opens immediately to another large chamber [second level - 5], although not carved and decorated like the previous one. There is a single frost giant guard, but he stands in the center of the chamber next to a great iron horn suspended from the stone ceiling on iron chains. He looks down on the party as they pass by on their way to the exit at the far side.

    A horn...thinks Babshapka to himself, then reaches back to try to feel the familiar bulge in his pack - but it isn’t there. Where’s the horn? he hisses at the others.

    “It’s okay,” replies Doro in a soothing tone. “It’s hidden under my cloak, in case we need to wind it, remember?” Babshapka does remember, now. His nerves are getting the better of him.

    “Fine,” he says, trying to lessen the tension in his voice. “Everyone, remember you have a goodberry - if anyone goes down, you can get them up.”

    With a grating sound, the chamber guard replaces the boulder in the wall behind them, sealing off the exit as they walk forward. “Seven gigants behin' us, an’ a boulder t’at we p’raps cain’t move,” says Willa. The anxiousness in her stomach is turning to dread.

    Once beyond the chamber of the horn, the passageway widens and splits into any number of passages, or perhaps galleries since some of them seem supported by thick pillars of rock rather than divided by walls. On their left they pass a large chamber full of eigers [2-9], casually lounging on hides, playing at knucklebones, or picking their noses. Babshapka tries to see their number and how they are armed, but he is forced to walk past the opening too quickly (Perception 8 ).

    Of the numerous side-branches, the forward guards lead them to the farthest on the left and through another large, guarded chamber [2-10]. “Eight” says Willa glumly as she counts the guard in passing.

    The two guards in the lead pause at the entrance to the next chamber, looking in and then turning back to the party. “Mighty Jarl Grugner sits his throne,” says one.

    “Prepare to show proper respect,” adds the other.

    They enter the throne room, a huge cavern more than three hundred feet deep and with a ceiling over sixty feet high, far beyond even the giants. There are a few support columns, but seemingly too few for the vast open space. Although giants can be heard at the far end, the throne itself cannot be seen beyond the backs of their advancing guards. Rather, they immediately notice what is near at hand - the entrance to the kitchens [2-14].

    A roaring open fire blasts light and heat from the twin entrances of the kitchen chamber. Over the flame a pair of eigers work to turn an entire horse on a spit, while another eiger leans in precariously close and drips some sort of basting juice on the beast. The party catches glimpses (Perception 17) of two fire giants in the kitchen. Contrary to what the frost giant guards said, these individuals are neither encased in iron, nor likely to be superior warriors - rather they are in hide and cloth and are considerably smaller than the ones the party fought at Num-Theraz. Although the eigers are sweating profusely in front of the open fire, these giants are calmly going about chopping things and moving food from one container to another, with the heat not appearing to discomfort them in the least. Far in the back of the cave, the firelight illuminates a cage in which there are four humans! Each is dressed in tattered rags and they have a despairing look about them.

    The party continues forward into the great hall [2-11]. Stone steps have been carved into both long walls, leading up to platforms thirty feet above the floor and shrouded in darkness, although Willa thinks it is not just her nerves that intuit movement on them. The hall itself is lit by numerous thin-barred iron cages in which there are giant fire beetles, though all of these are set lower on the walls, just above the height of an adult frost giant. Various tables and benches line the walls, pushed out of the way for now until they are apparently needed for great feats.

    Two of the party’s accompanying frost giant guard remain behind, blocking the exits of the hall. The other two move forward until they stand facing the throne. The party, either sincerely confident or feigning it, continues forward until they stand in between the guards and within full view of the throne [2-12].

    A stone outcrop, upthrust from the floor and continuing at least into the shadows above if not the ceiling, provides a backdrop for two large and ornate seats although the cavern itself continues behind it. The partially enclosed area contains an enormous ivory and bone throne, decorated with skulls, silver, and gems. Seated on the throne is an equally enormous frost giant, larger and more muscled than any the party has seen thus far; obviously the Jarl, although he wears no crown and has no other symbol of office besides the throne itself.

    To his left side, in a smaller stone chair that is not decorated with gems but which is exquisitely carved, is a frost giantess. Apart from her huge size, she is comely by even human standards, with her golden hair in intricate plaits and her soft hides adorned with furs and jewelry. She wears a long cloak of a huge sabre-toothed tiger. Her beauty is fierce, and Thokk finds himself distracted from his thoughts of impending battle and increasingly staring at the giant-sized endowments that press against her thin hides.

    Behind the throne and chair, hung on the rock wall, is a huge white dragon hide. Before the throne on the floor is the skin of a huge alpine bear. At the feet of the Jarl and Jarlinde are a pair of living winter wolves, as large as any the party fought on the floor of the rift. Three ivory stools are off to one side of the throne; these are the seats of the Jarl's lieutenants, although they are currently unoccupied. To the right of the throne stands an old frost giant, wearing a horned helm and with a towering great spear, but he stands well back in the shadows, and his face cannot be seen.

    When the party has approached just a few paces beyond the frost giant guards, the fur of the winter wolves begins to bristle and one rises to its haunches. Mathias, in the lead, takes a step back and sinks to one knee. Doro follows suit and eventually all of the party kneel. The Jarlinde bends down to calm her wolf and Thokk nearly swoons at the view this suddenly provides.

    “Arise!” booms the thunderous voice of the Jarl. Those in the party stand.

    “Have you come to sue for peace on behalf of your city of Istivin?” asks the Jarl regally.

    “Actually, great Jarl,” replies Mathias smoothly, “We are here to offer your people safety.” His tone is neutral, oddly flat for someone delivering a threat. “Our visit is for their benefit, not ours.”

    The Jarl looks stunned, and then begins to laugh, building in volume until the entire huge cavern rings with it. His lady grins wickedly by his side and the guards join loudly in his mirth. “Puny man,” he finally says, though still chuckling, “how are you going to assure the safety of my people?”

    “I take it you do not see us as a threat?” Mathias’ hand casually gestures at the five party members behind him.

    “A threat? Small one, I am the greatest warrior of my people. Even were I an aging dotard or untried youth such as you humans are wont to put on your thrones, I have my axe at my right side and my lady on my left. I have my loyal guardsmen all about this hall. What could you possibly do that would threaten me?”

    “We are here to challenge you to honorable combat,” says Mathias matter-of-factly. “For this we have made the long journey to your great Glacial Rift.”

    “Ho ho, you seek to challenge me, the Mighty Jarl Grugner? What have you done to deserve the honor of facing me on a field of challenge?”

    Mathias raises his voice so that it fills the hall, but does not change his calm tone. “We know your plans. We have faced the many Hill Giants and overthrown the Steading. We have killed Stone Giants and sundered the siege of Headwater. We have freed the land of Sterich. We have killed Fire Giants and liberated the dwarven city of Num-Theraz. We have destroyed the secret cache of siege weapons meant for Istivin. All your plans are laid bare and frustrated. We have entered your jarldom and walked into your very throne room without meeting resistance.”

    Willa rests her hand on the hilt of her greatsword and stands a little taller. She appears to be turning her head back and forth between the Jarl and Jarlinde, but in reality she is using her peripheral vision to scan the platforms above and to the sides of the party. Babshapka watches the guards standing on their flanks. Their faces show not fear, but certainly surprise, even astonishment.

    Doro, now at the tail end of her comprehend languages spell, concentrates on the murmurs between guards (Perception 21). “Is it true? Headwater still stands, but the Steading has fallen? Is chief Nosnra dead?” Their tone has a hint of worry creeping into it.

    Mathias’ voice takes on a harder edge. “Agree to our challenge. Face us in honorable combat. This will ensure the safety of your people.”

    The Jarl is no longer laughing. He looks pensive, and strokes his long white beard. Finally, to a guard, he says “Bring me the small ones.” To Mathias, he says, “Your claims are interesting, if they be true. Perhaps you are worthy of challenging me. There will be a short wait - please seat yourselves - you are guests in my hall, and welcome to food and drink.”

    “We have already enjoyed your hospitality, mighty Jarl. We will wait.”

    The party retreats from the throne and sits at the smallest, lowest table in the hall - perhaps it is used for frost giant children? They have a quick, hushed conversation among themselves. “Who do you think the small ones are?” “I don’t know, do you think there are drow in his court?” “Could be, but if not maybe we shouldn’t show our hand.” “What if he agrees to the challenge, what do we say?” “We say, ‘the forces of humankind are rallying against the frost, fire, and hill giants - the alliances you thought you had with the other giants are no more - you can save your people by blowing the horn and pointing us to the real power behind your plans. We will move on and leave you in peace’. We make sure all the guards hear this, not just the Jarl.” “Should we give them the evidence we have?” “We can provide details about the Steading, and Headwater, and Num-Theraz. We don’t say anything about the chain or the white hair we found or anything like that.” “Agreed.” “Agreed.”

    As the conversation slows, many at the table find that they are craning their necks to try to see what the giants are doing while they talk (Willa Perception 7). Willa remains at the table, trying to look relaxed but with her eyes on the entrance to the hall opposite the throne, and their way out. The others return in front of the throne, as close as the wolves will let them approach. Babshapka watches the platforms, trying to see who or what are on them. Thokk leers greedily at the Jarlinde. Aurora watches the frost giant guards flanking them.

    Mathias speaks. “Who are these small ones you have sent for?”

    “They are folk who will be interested in the information you bring. You will meet them soon enough.”

    “Would they happen to be drow?

    The murmur of the guards ceases and suddenly the room is quiet, except for the distant sounds from the kitchen. The party tries to judge the giants’ reaction to Mathias’ remark.

    Thokk looks at the Jarlinde - she appears honestly surprised, as if such a mention was completely unexpected [Thokk Insight 10 < Estia Deception 15: Lady Estia actually knows about the drow, but is pretending that she doesn’t, and Thokk falls for her pretense].

    The guards furrow their brows, trying to make out where this wild accusation is coming from. They don’t understand [Aurora Insight 6 < Frost Giants Persuasion 18. The guards actually do not know about the drow, and are honestly surprised - Aurora fails her check, but since what they are communicating is honest, her belief in them is not misplaced].

    The Jarl’s face is as cold and featureless as the great glacier above.

    Mathias continues. “Chief Nosnra spilled the beans on your whole plan before he died. We know about your involvement with the dark elves, too.”

    The Jarl shakes his head quizzically. “I do not know of what you speak, human. Perhaps these small ones do.” He raises his hand, and gestures to the guard at the back of the hall to allow a group of giants in. There are two adult hill giants and three youths, each bundled in heavy but soiled hides and ratty furs. They have on thick boots - which is odd, since the party remembers that all the hill giants of the Steading went barefoot.

    The hill giants stride forward to the throne, shying away from the frost giant guards, but setting a course that will take them directly through the party if they do not give way. Willa watches carefully from her table, with her sword in her lap. She does not recognize these giants - these are not the refugees from the Steading that were spared by the party, she is sure - but the adults might have been in Nosnra’s war band, the ones that headed for the city when the party was going to the Steading the second time. The tallest giant, in the lead, makes straight for Babshapka as if he does not even see him - in a second the wood elf will be crushed. Babshapka spins, and the giant’s great foot comes down five feet from him. His other foot is lifting into the air above Babshapka’s head when the elf leaps up, then comes down with both his hard-soled boots together on the toe of the soft hide boot of the giant (Hill Giant Athletics 13 < Babshapka Acrobatics 18). The giant hollers and throws his arms up, nearly knocking over the other adult behind him, who is shorter but considerably broader. The three youths scramble to avoid the party and Babshapka watches smugly as the taller adult hobbles in front of the throne. The Jarl sighs as if embarrassed by the spectacle.

    When the hill giants have finally settled down and made their clumsy bows and scrapes to the Jarl and Jarlinde, Grugner begins. “Small ones, remind me of why you are here in my halls?”

    “We are mighty Chief Nosnra’s emissaries to you, and are your honored guests,” says one of the giants brightly.

    “Yes, that’s right,” says the other. “And as his half-brothers, we are hostages for Chief Nosnra’s good behavior and his promise to follow the plan.”

    The first giant turns to the second and yells, “Shut up, Lou! You always mess up everything!”

    “No, you do!” insists the second one defiantly.

    “Yes, yes,” agrees the Jarl patiently, “so you are, emissaries and hostages both. And Chief Nosnra was told many times to send a messenger here when his conquest of the human city of Headwater was complete. And yet, no messenger has come. Why is that?”

    The hill giants frown and stammer. Finally, the first one says, “I am sure His Gluttonousness Chief Nosnra will send a message soon. Any day now the human city will fall, and you will know immediately.”

    “That’s right,” agrees the second one, “the city will fall soon and I am sure the delay has nothing to do with any resistance the humans have mounted or any unforeseen complications to Nosnra’s plans.”

    “Shut up, Lou! You always mess up everything!”

    “No, Bud, you do!” insists the second one. Babshapka loosens his broadsword in its sheath.

    The Jarl gestures behind the giants to where the party still stands. “These humans say that Nosnra is dead and Headwater is lost to us. They even say that the Steading itself has fallen, all by their own hands.”

    “That is a dirty human lie, Jarl Grugnur. You should not believe it! And you should punish these impertinent humans for daring to lie to you!”