Beyond the Karameikan Frontier

Alternately titled: ACKStually, I DON’T have a character rolled up.

…or, Why I’ll never stay up that late again…honest!

We kicked off a new open table campaign with three players coming out. After the first two had arrived, it became readily apparent that one of them hadn’t yet rolled up a character. In fact, as we got into the process of doing so, it became clear that he really hadn’t read much of anything I’d sent up to that point. The other player volunteered a form-fillable character sheet he’d spent a few days building in Numbers for the iPad, and it took some time to get the file moved over due to the limitations of the iPad. Once that was sorted, off we went into character creation. Analysis paralysis quickly set in as the first player grilled me on how I might hypothetically rule on various proficiencies…

Two hours later, just as we were wrapping up on Belgarath the Mage for the first player, a third player showed up (we had known he would be late due to prior commitments). He, too, arrived sans character, so we started the agonizing process all over again: transfer Numbers character sheet to iPad, buy and download Numbers app, roll 5 sets of attributes with online dice roller, decide on class… and here is where we hit another slight snag, as this player decided he wouldn’t play any of the basic classes I’d offered. Fortunately, after browsing the Player’s Companion, he quickly settled on an Elven Ranger, and was more than happy to use one of the templates provided for the class (Woodland Stalker). We were finally ready to go!

Of course, by this point, it was 11:30pm. Our original quit time was 11:45pm. For some unfathomable reason, I decided to start playing anyway, reasoning that I’d at least get their characters settled into home base…

4th of Yarthmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath (Mage), Kalasandr (Thief), and Kane (Elven Ranger)
Mortal Wounds: none
Deaths: none
Treasure: none

The trio arrived at Guido’s Fort mid-morning on a cool spring day. They quickly found their way to the Lion’s Den where, after ordering breakfast, they tried to get the lay-of-the-land from the Publican. They were told that Guido’s Fort was the main rest-stop on this part of the Duke’s Road, and that the bulk across the river was known simply as “The Hill”, and that it was topped by a ruined monastery. They also learned that a sizeable portion of the local garrison had left to deal with some kind of trouble north up the Duke’s Road. Kalasandr tried to get more information from the handful of patrons with little success. That is, until he bought an ale for an individual known simply as The Old Timer. This ancient drunk informed the party that an army of orcs was encamped upon the Hill, waiting to attack, likely at the direction of an evil witch purported to live there, too. For her part, it was said the witch captured the souls of the unwary, and tortured them in her mansion that appeared to be a hovel from the outside.

Deciding there was little more to be gained in the tavern, the party headed over to the manor house of the local lord, Guido, the Explorer. There they were met by the lord’s reeve, Ivana. The reeve informed them the there had been some trouble in the vicinity of the fort of late, and that a number of homesteads had lost livestock, presumably to bandits. The most troubling development was that the latest raid two days prior had resulted not just in lost livestock, but the disappearance of the entire family from the Dmitros homestead. Wild rumours had started circulating about ogre slavers, but the reeve put little stock in these. She happily provided the party with directions to the Dmitros homestead, and informed them that there would no doubt be a reward if they could discover what had happened.

Smelling coin, the party immediately made the hour-long walk to the now deserted homestead. Upon arrival, Kane discovered the tracks of as many as half-a-dozen booted feet, as well as the tracks of something much larger than a man. The others checked the one-room farmhouse, discovering that its door had been smashed from the frame, and the interior had been ransacked in some sort of struggle. Of the Dmitros family and their livestock there was no sign, but the booted tracks did appear to lead back in the direction of both the fort, and the river.

Electing to follow the tracks, they eventually reached the mighty Shutterga River, very near Guido’s Fort. The Hill loomed on the far side. Seeing the ramshackle collection of jetties and docks that served the tiny fishing community which had sprung up near the fort, the party decided to barter with the fishermen for passage across the water. After some negotiation by Belgarath the spendthrift Mage (and most of the party’s remaining gold), a trip over the river was secured. Their pilot, Boris, seemed to find the idea that he would ever collect the 15 gold for the return trip inexplicably funny.

The boat ride took most of an hour, and by halfway across it was apparent that there were two main clearings where they could land. The northernmost was smaller, and appeared to be behind a shallower, marshy stretch of shore. The southernmost was much larger, and had a large waterfall at its furthest extent, with the stream issuing from the falls dividing the clearing. The party elected to head for the northernmost clearing, and waded ashore through mucky shallows as Boris left.

The clearing appeared to have two clear paths leading from it, and it was decided that sticking to the paths was the better option, as the rest of the area was heavily forested, and covered with thick undergrowth. The northern path appeared to head north along the shore of the Shutterga River, while the other path headed south-west up the Hill itself.

Wanting to move to higher ground, the party headed for the second path, and after the better part of an hour they emerged, sweating, into another large clearing. With two more paths as options, the group pushed on through the clearing in the direction they had been headed. Within another half-an-hour, a branching path met theirs, heading off to the west. Ignoring this, they continued, but were presently interrupted by the sound of flapping. Half-a-dozen strange creatures, looking like a cross between a bat and a mosquito, flew up the path from the trail they had just passed. As soon as the creatures’ approach was noticed, Belgarath stepped clumsily into a bush, Kane vanished into the undergrowth, and Kalasandr dropped to the ground under his cloak. Belgarath’s faithful wardog, Argos, was left on the trail, panting and wondering why his master was standing in a bush.

With a flutter of leathery wings, the creatures swarmed the wardog, one of them latching on to its side and piercing the hound with its fleshy proboscis. The rest of the group took advantage of the distraction the dog provided, and leapt to the attack: Kane fumbled his net, before recovering and snaring four of the things from the air; Belgarath blasted apart the one latched to his wardog with a magic missile spell; and Kalasandr smashed and stabbed several more. Within a few moments, the fight was over, with the last couple creatures fluttering away in search of an easier meal. Better still, the only injuries seemed to be to faithful Argos. Belgarath, husband of animals, tended briefly to the hound before the group moved on.

After another hour or so, a new trail split off downhill to the south, and the party decided to head this way in hopes that it would lead them back to the clearing with a waterfall that they had seen from the river. Their guess proved correct, and they soon found themselves at the opening to another large clearing that fronted onto the river. This time, however, they were not alone, and a couple hundred yards away were several armed and armoured humanoids, peering across the river towards the fort and making markings on the ground at their feet. The party watched them, unnoticed, trying to figure out what to do. Belgarath snuck over to explore the waterfall for anything of interest. Kane and Kalasandr began preparing an ambush; sunset was not many hours away, and they had no desire to be stranded on The Hill overnight. After numerous plans were made and discarded, the humanoids eventually finished whatever they were doing and left, exiting the clearing without spotting the party. The players quickly sent Belgarath’s familiar off to deliver their message to their ferryman, Boris, and then anxiously awaited his arrival.

Just as the light started to fade, Boris rowed up to the shore. The party quickly embarked, thankful to be off The Hill before dark. They returned to Guido’s Fort without incident, and headed to the manor to inform the reeve that the fort was in imminent danger of attack! Unfortunately, their proof amounted to nothing more than unsubstantiated claims of seeing three unidentified humanoids scratching in the dirt; hardly the most threatening report the fort had ever received. Ivana agreed that more investigation might be prudent, and asked the group to return to her when they were ready.

…and so the session ended…at 3:30am! After hastily agreeing to never run such a late session again, the players were booted out for the night.

Quit bugging me!

…unless you want to bee my honey?

Session 2, the Hill

We started late again, with the last of the players arriving after 8pm. We then took a while to get the standard jokes and greetings out of the way, and didn’t begin playing until nearly 9pm. We quickly dispensed with an attempt to purchase another wardog (none were available, as Guido’s Fort is only a hamlet at the stronghold itself, Class VI), before we got into the meat of the adventure…

6th of Yarthmont, AC 999
Characters: Endithas (Fighter 1), Belgarath (Mage 1), Caasi (Cleric 1), and Kalasandr (Thief 1)
Deaths: none
Mortal Wounds: Caasi (left arm disabled: can’t use a shield, 2nd weapon, or climb)

We kicked off play in our second session with the party trying to enact a bold plan of fraud: they would attempt to convince the residents of Guido’s Fort that destruction at the hands of the Army of Orcs was imminent, and only the PCs could save them – assuming, of course, that the locals ponied up and financed further expeditions across the water. The party put out the word of a community meeting at the public house, with all invited to discuss the future of the fort.

A good crowd showed up, as the meeting was the most interesting thing to happen in the area since the Dmitros family disappeared amidst rumours of ogre slavers on the loose. While the party had the fact that they seemed to be the only ones who’d returned from a trip to The Hill on their side (corroborated by Boris), Guido’s Reeve seemed less impressed with their attempts at extortion. The whole town meeting at the Lion’s Den wound down with the party buying a round of drinks, and the locals enthusiastically cheering them on to greater exploits (or death, whichever came first).

After the townsfolk began dispersing, Ivana discussed arrangements with the party, agreeing to finance the purchase of basic supplies and provisions, as well as arranging transport across the river, in return for any information on the movements or plans of the supposed Army of Orcs. Not entirely unreasonable, and it gave the new players a chance to pick up a few things they hadn’t had the money for.

The next morning, the party headed down to the river to be greeted by Boris, ever eager to ferry the group to the far shore (especially if it meant a break on his taxes). They landed in the same northern clearing as on the previous foray, once again wading ashore through the marshy shallows. The air was quite warm, and a few buzzing insects flitted about. The clearing was otherwise quiet. Following their previous map the party headed uphill to the south-west, through another quiet clearing (they listened and heard nothing), and on an unexplored path leading to the north. This path eventually opened into a much larger meadow, covered in chest high flowers and grass.

As the party stood on the edge of the meadow considering their options, several PCs noticed a distinct droning sound at the edge of hearing. As everyone stood and listened more carefully, the noise increased in volume, as if approaching, and Belgarath’s dog, Argus, began a low, rumbling growl in his chest. A moment later, a looping, dark blot rose into the sky above the grass nearby, humming incessantly, and flew towards the group in a meandering fashion…

…landing on Endithas, much to the warrior’s surprise. A stinger the size of a dagger jammed into his throat just above his chest plate, and Endithas immediately felt the burn of venom coursing through the wound. The giant insect fell twitching to the ground, it’s abdomen tearing free of the embedded stinger with a sucking, crunching sound. Caasi quickly used her Healing Proficiency and ability to Lay on Hands to remove the stinger and tend to the wound, and the Fighter made his Save vs. Poison.

With the droning sounds of more of the giant insects approaching, the party leapt into action! Unfortunately, that meant leaping in different directions. Endithas lunged forward into the clearing, crouching low in the waving grasses in an attempt to remain out of sight of the giant bees. Caasi immediately withdrew out of the clearing, back to the apparent safety of the treeline, and Belgarath dragged a growling Argus to join her, the fragile mage not wanting to be left to face the flying horrors alone. Kalasandr, whose lightning reflexes usually meant he would react first (I’m not sure his player has rolled less than a 4 for Initiative up to this point, plus his bonus), hesitated – the cover of the trees? Or the long grass of the clearing? Deciding he didn’t wish to completely abandon his wounded comrade, he bravely lunged after Endithas. And with that, the party was split. Which usually ends well.

Unable to communicate with each other, the two pairs of PCs began acting independently. Kalasandr and Endithas duck-walked across the large clearing, mindful to stay as hidden as possible in the long grass. Belgarath and Caasi dithered amongst the trees. The former pair soon reached the far side of the clearing (passing a fierce buzzing that may have been the bees’ hive) and discovered another path leading out of the area. They hustled across the relatively open ground as the grass gave way to trees and undergrowth, waiting for the droning sound of death from behind (or above). It never came.

Realising the others had now been gone for a long time, and seeing no sign of them beeing attacked (see what I did there?), Belgarath decided to attempt to move through the clearing under cover as the other two had apparently done. Grasping the collar of Argus tightly, he pulled the growling hound down on to his haunches and moved out. Caasi, finding herself alone, decided the patron Immortals of the Church of Karameikos would protect her! She held her shield and mace high, and advanced into the clearing in a defiant march. The bees, deciding they didn’t like her haughty demeanour (okay, not really – they’re bees!), quickly descended on her.

Caasi, realising that Immortals might be more interested in helping those who help themselves, assumed the foetal position on the ground, her shield covering as much of her as possible in an attempt to avoid the lethal stingers. As bees the size of small dogs rained down on her shield, she blindly lashed out around her shield at them.

DM’s aside: In the event, I decided to rule that she would gain a bonus to AC (which was already 7!), but suffer the attack penalty as for being blind.

She managed to squash a bee or two, before finally beeing (HA!) stung, then failed her Save vs. Poison; and here is where the (once again) late hour took its toll on me: paranoid after forgetting to allow Kane to Cleave in the previous session (these players were all new to ACKS, and I was having to remember everything), I convinced myself that I had forgotten to let her Cleave. I hadn’t, of course, as a 1st level Cleric can’t Cleave, but as recompense, I decide to allow a throw on the Mortal Wounds table if and when the other party members reached her.

Realising the bees swarming in the midst of the clearing must be attacking their friend, the now reunited Belgarath, Endithas, and Kalasandr quickly split up again, the latter two lunging back into the grass to help their companion they assumed was being attacked. As they neared the center of the clearing, a pair of the giant bees rose from the now dying Caasi and flew towards them. A few spectacular attacks later, and those bees had been dealt with, allowing the pair to reach the unconscious Cleric.

Meanwhile, finding himself once again alone, Belgarath moved somewhat more cautiously into the clearing, sending his faithful hound Argus ahead to hunt giant bees. The hound quickly attacked some bees, but came off the worst in the encounter, taking an envenomed stinger through the eye. As revenge, Belgarath obliterated the final threatening bee with a magic missile.

Caasi was revived, with her left arm reduced to a useless, blackened flipper by the bee’s venom. She downed a Potion of Healing (from the 3 generously gifted by The Old Timer), at least allowing her to move (sans shield). The party then moved on through the bee clearing, and while a faint droning could still be heard from the north-east, no further bees attacked the group.

Moving along the twisted network of trails, the party attempted to ascend towards one of the Hill’s summits, eventually finding themselves in another clearing. Here, the rocky granite spine of The Hill was exposed. Boulders lay about the clearing, and multiple trails led out of it, both uphill and down. Near the uphill end of the clearing, a squat, goat-legged stone statue sat on a plinth. A cave was also discovered, it’s entrance choked with underbrush. Leaving off the cave for later exploration (it was well past midnight in the real world), they looked a little more carefully at the statue, and discovered that it had glinting, purple gemstones for eyes.

Quickly deciding the trip wouldn’t be in vain, the party prised the gemstones from the statue’s eye sockets, then beat a hasty retreat back the way they had come, crossing to the safety of Guido’s Fort, bruised, battered, and no longer broke, but determined to make another attempt…

Great write-ups! The bee’s knees, you might say.

I feel quite bad for the poor cleric whose arm was reduced to a hideous black flipper, though.

Don’t feel too bad, we got a lot of comedic mileage out of it, which will become apparent as I post further write-ups.

There is a long and (ig)noble tradition in our group known as “the Richard Recap”…

Long before the intertubes, at the start of each session, we would summarize what had gone before so that everyone present would be on-board with where the adventure was at, so to speak. One of our players, in particular (I’ll leave you to work out which one), relished these opportunities to regale his friends with his recollection of our exploits. The hilarious part was that his version of events was almost unrecognizable to everyone else who had been present for the session being recounted. We eventually formalized the process as the Richard Recap, and used it to get everyone in the right frame of mind (i.e. laughing uncontrollably) before we began play.

I still play with this individual, as he is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Hopefully he remains so after this post.

Below I present the first of his Richard Recaps for the current campaign, with very minor edits by me. I believe it’s fair to say his grasp of events is much improved:

Belgarath the Mage said: We met up on the road to Guedo’s Fort. After talking to some folks in town we learned that there was a family abducted from their farm. Our investigation led us across the river to a suspected orc encampment. After a pitched battle with some birds (scary birds) - which we won - we observed some orcs drawing a battle plan in the sand. After they had left we discovered that the plan was to attack the fort. We returned to the fort and warned them. They are going to finance a larger group to go back and get more intel on the orcs.

Oh, and there is a witch with scary monsters. Probably a myth, rumor, scary story for kids…

Oh, and half the town’s garrison is away tending to some disturbance up the road… but the town’s not vulnerable to attack, they have us!

Annoyingly, I don’t seem to be able to reply to my own post, so the previous Richard Recap is out of order, and I can’t inset them. Nevertheless, here’s…

The Richard Recap Session 2

Death from above (again) RIP Argus

Belgarath said: It is with GREAT regret that I have to announce the passing of Argus, the best dog ever. Here are the details of his demise:

We prepared to bring the town together at the inn and raise some money to get another dog for our perilous journey across the river. Unfortunately, no one had a dog… and no one had any money, either. They were, however, happy to drink our free ale, and get really worried about the situation. We raised 0 gold, but we did manage to get a line of credit at the general store and free ferry rides across the river. I would call that a huge success.

Once on the other side of the river, we followed the path we didn’t follow last time which led to another clearing with more terror from the sky. This time in the form of giant bees. Argus’s barks rang out in bravery as the entire group split up in fear and panic, giving the bees a huge advantage. Its a wonder we were not all killed. In the end, Argus bravely defended his master, and with his last pant paid the ultimate price. I imagine him now in the afterlife sniffing another dogs butt, humping someone’s leg at the tavern, or licking his genitals in public (his favorite pastimes), free from his duties as our fearless war dog. Donations can be made for another dog to Belgarath the Wizard, friend of dogs everywhere.

Oh, and we found a giant statue with gem eyes (which we liberated), and a cave.

Trying to Get a Head

…why don’t you come on ogre?

Session 3, the Hill

The adventurers gathered in the Lion’s Den, planning their next attempt on The Hill. They leaned over one of the wooden tables, studying the map carved into it’s surface. The simple woodcutting represented all that they had discovered on their previous treks. They had determined that The Hill’s reputation as dangerous was well deserved, and knew that their meager band of a Mage, a Cleric, and a Thief wouldn’t stand a chance unaided.

“We have money from the gems I sold…” stated Belgarath the Miser, “I sold the two amethyst gems from that statue we found…” a faraway look entered Belgarath’s eyes, his voice dropping to a more conspiratorial tone, “She only wanted to give us two-hundred gold, but I drive a hard bargain!” he clenched his fist before him as he thought of the sale of the gems to Ivanna, reeve to the local lord. The others rolled their eyes as Belgarath turned triumphal, “…but remember, you all owe me 20 gold!”

“I’d really like to find a pet!” blurted the Elven Ranger, Kane. It was strange…he didn’t normally say much, but the last few days he had seemed obsessed with finding an animal… of some sort.

“Uh…” Caasi began, “I thought you had some elven festival, ‘Flight of the Lear’ or something, you had to be at?”

Kane looked at her darkly, “I’d really like to find a pet!” he repeated, before easing back into a shadowed corner of the room. He never seemed to be around when anyone was looking for him…

“Alright…” Kalasandr began, “…I can see, maybe, getting another wardog. But I think we need more muscle. Maybe we can find some prospective adventurers in Kelvin?”

“I’d like to visit the Church in Kelvin!” exclaimed Caasi, the useless flipper that was what remained of her left hand flopping as she spoke excitedly.

There was a moment of awkward silence as the others watched the grotesque spectacle, before studiously returning their gazes to the carved map of The Hill before them.

8th of Yarthmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath (Mage), Stikini (Owl Familiar), Cerberus and Bob (Belgarath’s War Dogs), Caasi (Cleric), and Kalasandr (Thief), plus Belgarath’s Henchmen Dara (NM), Earl (NM), and Mearl (NM)
Deaths: none
Mortal Wounds: Mearl suffered notable scarring to his face when it was ripped open by an Ogre’s club (-2 to impersonate another)
Levelled: Dara (Fighter Level 1), Earl (Fighter Level 1), and Mearl (Fighter Level 1)

The third session found the party unable to agree on actions outside of the game (over the forum) in time for us to deal with them online. As such, we began the session with the party heading south to the city of Kelvin in search of dogs and able-bodied adventuring hopefuls.

The trip was entirely uneventful, as the party followed the well-patrolled Duke’s Road, with only the first dozen miles or so being through the borderlands near Guido’s Fort; thereafter, the signs of civilization near Kelvin were clear, with small hamlets and tended fields along the road. Reaching the city itself early the next morning, the group spent the next week buying a pair of wardogs named Cerberus and Bob, as well as recruiting Henchmen, with Dara, and her brothers Earl and Mearl being the result. Belgarath had convinced them he was a powerful wizard through the use of a simple Ventriloquism spell, and they were happy to have signed on with such a “potent” employer, as the riches ahead would undoubtedly beat farm work.

Returning to Guido’s Fort early on the 14th of Yarthmont, Kalasandr quickly found The Old Timer at the public house. He showed the old drunk a hand-drawn sketch of the statue they had encountered, and the man visibly blanched. After some direct questioning (and a lip-loosening libation), The Old Timer explained that he recognised the goat-legged figure as Orcus, an Immortal of Entropy who had been secretly worshipped when The Old Timer was a young man. Yet how did the The Old Timer know that if it was done in secret?

Unable to prise any more information from the ancient alcoholic, Kalasandr quickly joined the others at the dilapidated jetties lining the shore near the fort. The local fisherman, Boris, and his young son, Drajan, met the party and ferried them across the water.

Disembarking at the now familiar marshy northern landing, the party quickly moved inland to the clearing where they had faced the giant bees. Keeping low, the group moved through the clearing hidden in the tall grass. Faint buzzing was heard from the northeast of the clearing, but no further bees were encountered. The party exited the far side and made the arduous hike along the trails back to where they had previously discovered the cave and the statue.

Everything was as they had left it, with Belgarath’s owl familiar unable to find any recent tracks, either around the clearing, or in the entrance to the cave. Eager to finally discover a dungeon (or cave) to plunder, the party quickly ignited a lantern and pushed through the heavy, waist-high underbrush choking the cave entrance.

As the gloom of the cave descended on them, the party listened intently for any sound. Only the echoes of the wind outside came back to them from within. Cautiously moving forward, the party saw the cave expand and begin branching, with three main paths ahead: left, ahead, or back to the right.

“Which way?” whispered Kalasandr.

“Left! Always to the left!” said Caasi, emphatically. The others studied their boots, and generally tried to avoid looking at her ruined arm. Choosing to explore the branch to the left, the passage soon came to an end in an ever-tightening mass of stalactites and stalagmites.

Doubling back, the party took the branch that went back and to the right. This tunnel wound for a few dozen feet before opening into a small chamber dominated by a small pool. The water was opaque and brown, apparently containing minerals from a large stalactite that hung from the roof of the cave above the water. Terrified by the little pool of water, Kalasandr pulled a 10’ pole from beneath his cloak (“It’s so big!” the others remarked), and cautiously stuck his pole in the dirty wet hole, fearing swift death. His pole struck bottom a few inches below the surface. Nothing else happened.

Greatly relieved, the party moved back to the largest branch of the cave, which continued on more-or-less straight from the entrance and further split into left- and right-hand branches.

“Which way?” Belgarath asked.

“I told you!” replied Caasi, “Always to the left.”

Kalasandr tried hard to keep his eyes on her face. Anywhere but the flipper, really, “Ahh…right. I mean, okay. I’ll scout ahead.”

Relieved of the struggle to avoid looking at the Cleric’s injury, Kalasandr pressed ahead. Moving silently into the shadows, the thief took the left-hand branch. Already at the limit of the lantern light, the ceiling soared into darkness as the passage opened into an enormous chamber.

Kalasandr waited for the rest of the party to catch up, and they all stood, listening. A faint sound reached their ears… a rustling, rubbing sound, just as a low, unpleasant smell became apparent. Taking a step forward, the thief’s boot sunk into a sticky pile of… something. As the lantern moved up, the ceiling of the cavern became faintly visible, with a mass of dog-sized, furry lumps undulating in the middle of the enormous cavern’s roof.

With an explosion of leathery wings, a flock of enormous bats dropped from the cave-roof and descended on the party! Kalasandr was struck in the head by one of the huge bats, and nearly nocked from his feet, blood sheeting down his face. Dara and Kalasandr fired arrows and bolts at monstrous bats, with the Thief scoring a spectacular hit in the shadowed, stalactite-ridden gloom (natural 20!). Unfortunately, even such a precise shot (max damage!) failed to kill the bat.

The party began to panic as they realised they had once again bitten off more than they could chew, and within moments decided that they needed to withdraw. Unlike their last attempt at a strategic withdrawal ( where the party ran screaming in all different directions), this one was conducted with a modicum of organisation, and they were able to withdraw from the cave in good order, the bright sunlight forcing the bats to retreat back to their roost. Through some minor miracle, none of the party members, other than Kalasandr, were even injured during the entire encounter.

After Caasi Layed on Hands (Hand, actually) to cure Kalasandr of injury, a plan was quickly developed: the party would re-enter the cave, but would secretly camp at the end of the stalactite and stalagmite choked passage until the bats left. They re-entered without incident, and encamped themselves in the cold dark at the end the passage. Sure enough, as night fell, the bats left the cave to hunt, and the party was able explore unhindered. There was only a single unexplored passage, and that led to a cave-in. The small pool was re-examined, and all manner of objects inserted into it, but it appeared harmless. Lastly, the group thoroughly searched the bats’ roost, and there, under a stinking pile of guano, Belgarath discovered a heavy, wrought-silver chain necklace. Triumphant and smeared with poop, the party bedded back down in the side passage for the night, only rousing some time after the giant bats had returned to their roost in the morning.

Setting out from the cave, the party headed south out of the clearing, then eventually took a cross-trail headed to the west. This trail eventually emptied into a fair size clearing set between two large bluffs of the Hill. Nestled in the middle of the clearing was a small, attractive, whitewashed cottage with green shutters, surrounded by well-tended gardens. Terrified that they had discovered the horrible witch rumoured to live on the Hill, the group spent the next twenty minutes skirting the clearing and trying to assess the situation. Belgarath’s owl familiar, Stikini, scouted the clearing, and returned to explain that two elderly women were weeding a small vegetable patch just north of the cottage. Kalasandr bravely volunteered to make contact, and walked alone across the clearing to speak with the elderly women.

As it turned out, the old gals greeted Kalasandr kindly, and were all too happy to trade some refreshing mint tea for a chat. The rest of the group was soon waved over, and more mint tea was served. The women seemed impervious to conversation about the horrors on the Hill, and it had begun to seem as if little would result from the exchange. Suddenly, the idea of a trade came up, and the two old women abruptly changed their tone; gone was the light-hearted hospitality, and in its place was a barely concealed excitement that a deal might be made. The party eventually agreed to perform a service for the women, in exchange for healing if and when the party might drop by in the future. Now all they needed to do was return to the old women bearing the head of the largest, meanest ogre on the Hill.

Deciding the deal seemed worthwhile, the party agreed and were pointed in the right direction, finding themselves some time later at the end of the trail, overlooking a precipitous drop. They quickly negotiated their way down, and discovered two cave entrances in the base of the cliff: the southern-most leading to an enormous wooden door, the northernmost leading into darkness.

Opting for the uncertainty of darkness, the party first explored the northernmost cave. The walls, floors, and roof of this cave were all exceedingly smooth, with an almost polished, wet look to them. The only inhabitants of note were small, firefly-like insects that swarmed around people (and animals! Poor Bob the Dog…) and burned them with the heat of their fiery bodies. These were quickly doused with the water from a very warm standing pool (or stream). That threat eliminated, the party’s ears were soon assaulted by the sound of a tremendous gurgling from the back of the cave, which built in volume and intensity for a few moments. Then, terrible, roiling clouds of super-heated steam erupted from somewhere past the standing water, and the group was forced to flee for their lives before the intense blast. All managed to escape, but Caasi suffered burns to her back and neck.

Realising that an ogre sized door probably meant ogres, the party moved the southern-most cave entrance. A quick listen revealed raucous sounds resembling combat or intense merriment coming from within. For only the second time since we began this campaign, the party formulated a plan…

Under the cover of the noise from within, iron spikes would be hammered into crevices on either side of the oversized, wooden door; the rope would anchored across the passage to the door at ogre-ankle height, and held secure by Earl and his brother Mearl; Kalasandr would hide in what would become the space behind the door when it was opened; Caasi would stand back from the door with the wardogs; and Belgarath would stand at the cave entrance with Dara, who would be ready with her bow.

Kalasandr rapped on the door with the butt of his sword, and the party waited…

The huge door opened, and an ugly beastman, like a cross between a 7’ man and an ape, stood in the doorway, blinking in the light and looking dumbfounded. But not moving.

Caasi shouted a challenge, and Dara fired an arrow that shattered on the cave wall… and the beast howled and charged!

…only to trip on the taut rope and fall flat on his face. Kalasandr lunged from behind the door onto the back of the beast, and plunged the length of his blade into the small of the foul thing’s back. The beastman arched back, then slumped forward, unmoving.

The party froze in shock. It had worked! IT HAD WORKED!

A loud grumbling came from within the room beyond the door, and everyone realised their task wasn’t complete.

“Places!” hissed Kalasandr, and everyone returned to their positions.

A second, similar-sized beastman moved into the doorway, and howled at the sight of his kin. The thing charged into the passage, neatly hopping the trip-rope (made his Save versus Paralysis)! The party swarmed him, stabbing, biting, and slashing him until he collapsed in a heap atop the first ogre.


A heavy bellowing emanated form deeper within the ogre dwelling, followed by the sound of heavy footfalls approaching.

“Reset! Reset!” shouted Belgarath, and the party resumed their positions.

A moment later, the biggest, ugliest, meanest looking ogre on the entire Hill burst from the doorway… and tore the rope from the grasp of the Henchmen! Belgarath responded by blinding the thing with a Light spell, and the party once again swarmed the beast. Caasi and Kalasandr narrowly avoided death at the end of its massive club, but the massive brute eventually collapsed under the weight of their assault.

Without waiting for anything else to happen, Belgarath, Caasi, and Kalasandr all shouted, “Places!” and the party returned to their ambush… and waited… and waited… and waited… until, eventually, the Ogre’s wife (who was quite possibly uglier than her husband) came searching for her mate, only to discover that the murder hob-I mean, PCs - had slaughtered her family.

She tore through the trip rope and lashed out at the party, smashing Mearl flat with a single blow. For all the good it did her. The party again surrounded their prey, and within a few moments the terrible ogress collapsed, bleeding out from a score of wounds.

This time, a cheer went up, and the party separated the “daddy” ogre’s ugly head from his ugly body. Mearl was revived and healed by Caasi, the poor Henchman in severe shock, but with nothing more than some distinctive scars to show for his near-death experience. They then searched the den, discovering some diminutive slaves, and several chests. One of the chests was padlocked, which Kalasandr managed to pick. Inside they found the ogre’s treasure stash of hundreds of gold and silver coins, along with a handful of gems. The party appropriated the treasure, released the slaves, and then headed back to the elderly women with the gruesome ogre’s head in hand.

Their bargain fulfilled, the adventurers received healing before heading back to Guido’s Fort, knowing they now have a seemingly safe stop where they can secure aid while on the Hill itself.

Once back amongst civilization, Dara and Earl decided that adventuring was both lucrative, and easy, and left Belgarath’s employ to strike out on their own. As much as they pleaded, their brother, Mearl, refused. He was a changed man after his near-death experience, and he swore undying loyalty to Belgarath.

Good times! I love the success of their plan versus the Ogres. Bummer about the loss of two of their three henchmen, though.

Are the PCs close to leveling?

As of this point, no, they weren’t. We’re about to play our 25th session this Friday, though, so a few things have happened in the interim.

The Richard Recap Session 3

Planning actually works

Belgarath said: Abandoned by our fellow men Endithas and Kane, our small group of 3 were left to fend for ourselves. We set out to the big city to recruit some help. We were valiant, strong, shiny, beautiful, skilled adventurers whose very scent (tanned leather, oiled steel and week old BO) inspired dreams of heroic battle, treasure, and fame. Who wouldn’t want to join us? We planned to spend the day interviewing the throngs of applicants, picking only the best skilled and equipped. However, the big city is a harsh world, and we managed to round up 2 farm boys and their sister. Earl, big brother Meal, and Dara. The church looked at Cassi and agreed that her arm/flipper looked and smelled terribly awful, and then said, if she wanted it healed, SHOW US THE MONEY. We also managed to acquire two extra war dogs, Cerbrus (great name), and Bill, or Bob, or something (terrible name, can’t even remember it). So our new group of heroic adventurers, farmers, and dogs set out into the sunset to vanquish the evil that our former companions had not the courage for. We headed back across the river to the dangers that awaited. We followed the trails up to the cave and ventured in. DUH DUH DAAAH !!!

The cave

Belgarath said: Once inside we explored and explored and ran into a colony of bats the size of flying pigs (death from above, again!). Kalasandr bravely took the first hit, and bled all over the place. It was starting to look like we weren’t going to make it, but then we had a novel idea: Run away! It worked, and we survived! We hid in a another part of the cave and waited until after dark when the horde of death went out to feed on insects or silly adventures that wander in the wilderness at night. We snuck back into their unguarded bat cave where Belgarath proceed to root through arm deep piles of rich, sticky, extra-potent bat guano that would put fear and nausea into any lesser man. Belgarath, risking his life, pushed back his fear (and breakfast), and bravely dug deeper and deeper until discovering a silver necklace. Thank the Immortals Belgarath was there to help the party when no one else could (rumours of a scat fetish are greatly exaggerated).

We left the cave and followed some trails and happened upon a cabin in a clearing in the woods.

The cabin

Belgarath said: Two old ladies tended to a quaint little garden behind the cabin in the middle of nowhere! It all seemed too perfect, too strange. How could they live here with all these dangers? The only sensible conclusion: they were witches? We approached with extreme caution, we strategized, quibbled, and thought of everything (we had learned our lesson with the bees). After a perfectly executed plan with a contingency for anything … the little old ladies offered us mint tea. After talking to the nice old ladies they offered us a mission to bring them the head of the eldest male ogre from a cave nearby in exchange for free Medicare upon future visits.

The Ogre lair

Belgarath said: People will do anything for free Medicare.

We found a cave with a ten foot door at the back of it. We surmised it was the ogres front door because it was TEN FRIGGIN’ FEET TALL! Again reflecting on our lessons (read: beatings) from before, we devised the perfect Ogre killing trap. With Earl and Mearl stringing a rope across the doorway, Kalasandr hiding behind the door, Belgerath ready to unleash the awesome power of the maji, Dara providing bow support, and Cassi standing in plain view as the bait.

Knock Knock… Who’s there? Ogre killers. Ogre killers who? The best, most organized frickin’ ogre killers in the land! That’s who!

As a younger looking Ogre opened the door, Dara showed we meant business by firing an arrow and completely missing him, but he still took the bait. Charging forward and tripping slightly on the rope, he never know what hit him; Kalasandr snuck forward the buried his short sword up to the hilt into the ogre’s kidney. He fell dead. WOOO HOO!!! We got him!

Oh, not the oldest ogre, wrong one! Belgarath bravely got everyone back to their starting places, just in time for the brother of the dead Ogre to come running through the door. The trap worked perfectly again, with the dogs ripping off his arms.

Oh, not the oldest ogre, wrong one!

A massive roar from inside the cave indicated that the next Ogre was the right one. Places everyone! We reset. Belgarath unleashed the most powerful of his spells (Judge: the mighty Light spell), rendering the massive behemoth blind. Unfortunately, not before Earl - or maybe it was Mearl? - met the ogre’s club which mashed him into goo. But we still prevailed, and the ogre fell. Whew…safe at last…

Cassi scraped Earl (or was it Mearl?) off the floor, and miraculously made him into a farm boy again.

Just then a mighty WWWWAAAGGGHHH!!! Came from inside the cave.

Places everyone! Mom is coming.

The trap worked perfectly again. Mom didn’t have a chance. After killing an entire family of Ogres in cold blood, we happily looted their home/cave, evicted some goblin slaves, and joyfully headed back to the quaint little old ladies (witches!) and handed over the Ogre’s head. They offered us more information about the area for money, but we declined.

All in all, we are awesome and great. And by the way, we are now rich!

Hobbling some Hobgoblins

…or, getting your gob hobbled!

(yes, I was really reaching when I titled this session)

Session 4, the Hill

The stalwart group of adventurers once again gathered around the map carved into the table in the common room of the Lion’s Den public house. Their prior exploration had yielded hints that danger lurked on The Hill, but they had found little solid evidence. They would need another expedition to find something concrete, but with Belgarath the Miser declining to join another expedition and taking his loyal man, Mearl, with him, they were notably understrength.

“Kelvin. We need to head to Kelvin, see if we can hire some more meatshie-I mean, Henchmen!” said Kalasandr, casting an embarrassed, sidelong glance at his hired man, Luka. The boy didn’t seem to have noticed, as he often tuned out when others spoke quickly.

“Hey, there… over here!” said Caasi, waving the flipper that was what remained of her poisoned arm. The others all seemed to find somewhere else to look, uncomfortable with the grotesque spectacle, “Now that we have some money, I need to go to the Church of Karameikos in Kelvin to see if they can help with this…” the flipper appeared to be waving goodbye.

“I’d really like to find a pet!”

Everyone started at that, turning to see Kane standing at the back of the group. Where had he come from? And why hadn’t they been able to find him earlier?

“What, like, a cat?” asked Kalasandr, somewhat confused. Kane’s elven eyes narrowed as he looked at the rogue. He then moved back into a shadowed corner of the common room without saying a word.

“Anyway…” Kalasandr continued, turning back to the carved map he’d been whittling, “…head to Kelvin, maybe some dogs, maybe some henchmen… what do you think?” he asked, turning expectantly to Endithas. The big man seemed to have joined them for their latest foray (though he’d never actually agreed to anything, remaining suspiciously mute). Endithas stared back at him, silently shrugging his shoulders.

Kalasandr sighed heavily, staring down at his latest additions carved into the table; how had he gotten involved with these people? Surely there were easier ways to make money? Like, say, robbing the Ducal Palace in Specularum…

16th of Yarthmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi (Cleric 1), Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman, NM), Endithas Wolfram (Fighter 1), Erasmus (Endithas’ Henchman, NM), Kalasandr (Thief 1), Luka and Waevryn (Kalasandr’s Henchmen, NM), Kane (Elven Ranger 1), 3 hunting dogs (belonging to Kane), and a partridge in a pear-tree.
Deaths: Luka skewered by Hobgoblins, along with Kane’s pack of hunting dogs
Mortal Wounds: Erasmus was rendered a quadriplegic by an unlucky whack from the butt of a Hobgoblin’s spear, and the tendons in Waevryn’s legs were slashed, leaving her barely able to walk.
Levelled: Kalasandr (Thief 2)

The party left Guido’s Fort in the drizzling rain, the trip to Kelvin being a cold, damp, and generally miserable affair. Muddy stretches of the road meant that they arrived at the Campgrounds (merchants’ palisade outside the city walls) on the evening of the 17th of Yarthmont. Caasi set out first thing in the morning to the Church of Karameikos, and had the Patriarch cast Restore Life & Limb on her flipper. Her arm was restored, although her close contact with Immortal power left her a changed person, ever-after muttering to herself incessantly.

On the second night in Kelvin, the party began to fan out through the Campgrounds and local watering holes, looking for unfortunates crazy enough to risk a life of adventure for meagre coin. Fortunately, over the next several days, they found a handful of such individuals, Caasi even turning down some who had fallen under the spell of her eating a banana. The party finally left the city on the 25th, three new Henchmen in tow, outfitted with the best gear their employers could afford (which meant Luka and Waevryn were given chain armor, and Erasmus received a shiny, new mace with Endithas’ initials scribed into it).

Returning to the fort on the morning of the 26th, the party discovered from Ivana that another family had been abducted from the surrounding region. They traveled out and investigated the farmstead, finding it in a state much like the first: the home ransacked, and the animals (pigs, in this case) and people missing. They also discovered a crude, iron arrowhead embedded in the outside of the home’s front door, though the rest of the shaft was nowhere to be found.

Kane spent some time scouring the farm, and discovered a large number of tracks similar to what they had found around the Dmitros’ homestead: half-a-dozen booted feet, and a far larger set of prints much bigger than those of a man. They followed these tracks back towards the river and the fort, with the tracks once again vanishing by the water, nearly within sight of the fort’s palisade.

Deciding time was of the essence, the party quickly secured transport across the river with Boris and his son, landing this time in the larger, southern clearing, split by a waterfall and small stream. Moving up to the only known trailhead to lead from the clearing, Kane searched and discovered tracks, although these appeared to be different from those at the farmstead, and smaller than those of a man.

After a short debate, it was decided to follow these tracks back to their source; a marching order was established, and Kane scouted some distance ahead of the group. When he reached the first cross-trail, he spent some time re-acquiring the tracks, then waited for the others. He let them know what he had found, then headed out in front again along the trail to the south, a path the characters had not previously taken. Half-an-hour later, the trail split, with a branch heading west, and another continuing to the south. Kane once again spent several minutes examining the tracks, determining that they continued south.

With the rest of the party updated, Kane once again moved out in front. A short time later, after crossing a creek and traversing the flank of a small ridge, Kane spotted movement on the trail ahead. He quickly determined it was an enormous Ogre marching towards him. The beast had not yet spotted him, so Kane doubled-back at a sprint towards the party. Once there, a plan was hatched (after much arguing, and nearly taking too long) to ambush the Ogre, with the party hiding just off the trail. Kane and Fodora would be at the farthest spot with bows, followed by Endithas Wolfram and Erasmus, then Caasi, Luka, Kalasandr, and Waevryn nearest the Ogre’s approach.

Several minutes passed, the party waiting with baited breath… then, the thud of heavy footfalls neared, and the oblivious Ogre marched past the party. Kane waited until the Ogre was between the first and second group, then he and Fodora let loose with arrows. The beast’s first warning of danger was when an arrow from Kane’s bow sprouted from his chest!

With a deafening roar, the beast raised its club and charged up the path. Two more arrows flew past it, and then two new foes leapt from cover and blocked the Ogre’s advance towards the archers, one of them bashing the brute, the other (Endithas) tangling his two-handed sword in a shrubbery. Attempting to crush these two new, puny foes, the Ogre brought its club down, narrowly missing a blow that would’ve turned Endithas to jelly. The rest of the party charged up towards the Ogre’s back, Kalasandr in the lead, hoping to repeat his ogre-slaying performance from a previous foray. It was not to be, however, as another of Kane’s arrows sprouted from the Ogre’s throat, and the monstrous thing collapsed in a heap with barely a gurgle.

After a brief victory dance, the party looted the corpse, shoving their hands into the Ogre’s dirty sack, looking for his jewels. They instead discovered hundreds of gold, which they pocketed. Kane also cut off one of the beast’s massive, wax-filled ears as a trophy leaving the rest of the party gagging at the sight. They then dragged the foul-smelling corpse 100 yards into the woods, and covered the signs of battle as best they could, washing themselves in the creek they had passed.

Continuing warily along the southbound trail, the party crossed the ridgeline and began descending the far side. Within another half-an-hour, the surrounding forest had become boggy, and as the trail turned westward, the party broke into a large clearing that dropped away to the south and became marshland. Terrified of another Ogre encounter in open terrain, the party skirted the northern end of the clearing amongst the trees. In spite of catching sight of some sort of built earthen structure to the south where the forest turned to swamp, they remained hidden, reaching the trail on the opposite side of the clearing. The group continued westward.

The trail slowly turned northward, rising as it went, and eventually intersected another trail running east to west. Kalasandr, with his Mapping Proficiency, immediately recognized the intersection as someplace he had previously been, and, after a brief discussion, it was decided to turn westward towards the mysterious cottage, with the goal of investigating another branch of the path they had seen running north.

A short time later, as the party advanced up this branch, a shout was heard from the path ahead, and several figures were seen running away from the party. Kane made out shouts in hobgoblin of, “Intruders!” and the party realised they had been spotted by sentries. Itching for action, the group broke into run, pursuing the fleeing Hobgoblins. They didn’t have to go far…

The trail soon emptied into a long open area beside a small lake that ran north-to-south. At the far northern end of the clearing was a series of huts and tents, and out of these boiled a dozen Hobgoblin warriors, armed and armoured for battle! Here the party made their first mistake, dithering as they discussed whether to withdraw or fight, and if fight, whether here, or on the trail. Their hesitation gave their foes time to finish donning weapons and armor, before forming rank and charging down the muddy shore of the lake towards the waiting party.

Then the PCs arguably made their second mistake, electing to remain in the clearing to fight the Hobgoblins, instead of withdrawing to the trail, which would have limited the Hobgoblins’ ability to take advantage of their superior numbers.

The archers of the party began loosing shots as the Hobgoblins closed the distance, but the initial volley went completely wide due to the extreme range. The second volley was equally ineffective, with the Hobgoblins now near to closing the gap. Thinking quickly, Kane sent his three hunting dogs charging towards their foes. While he would be unable to effectively control them, they would present no risk to the party, and had the desired effect of stalling the Hobgoblins’ charge. Caught in the open, they again weathered a volley of missile fire from the party without ill effect, before turning to the annoying hunting dogs, and skewering them on their spears. Realising they would need to engage the creatures in mêlée, party members began charging forward, with Endithas Wolfram leading the way. Several Hobgoblins hurled their spears at the charging party members, but only Endithas was injured, a mere scrape across his thigh.

A swirling and chaotic fight began, with the Hobgoblins surrounding the PCs and their Henchmen. Luka was able to drop one the creatures, but was then impaled on a pair of spears. Endithas cut down several of the things, including their champion (splitting him head to toe), but was grievously injured in turn, barely staying on his feet. Erasmus fell next, a spear butt catching him beneath the back of his helm. He crumpled in a heap, unable to move his limbs. Waevryn was able to injure several of her foes before she, too, was cut down, with Caasi being felled atop her.

Just as all hope seemed lost, and a TPK seemed imminent (Kalasandr’s player belatedly observed that they were, in fact, outnumbered by foes that had, on average, more hit points and better Attack Throws), Kane’s deadeye archery finally began to take its toll. Able to shoot into mêlée, and dropping a pair of Hobgoblins several rounds in a row, Kane turned the tide of the battle. Amazingly, the Hobgoblins’ morale held to the bitter end, with Kane using his net to capture the last remaining runt of a Hobgoblin before it could flee.

Those characters left standing moved to render aid to their fallen comrades, with Caasi being the priority due to her ability to heal others. A Potion of Healing was poured down her throat and her wounds were bound. As she came to, it became clear that a Hobgoblin spear had pierced her left forearm, slicing the tendons and rendering it useless; at least this time it wasn’t a flipper! She would need time to recuperate. Endithas, Kane, and Kalasandr quickly set about helping the others. Unfortunately, none fared as well as she had…

Luka’s body had been pierced by so many spears that there was no hope for him. Erasmus had had his spine broken at the neck, and he was unable to move his limbs. Waevryn had suffered so many wounds to her legs that she would never walk the same again. Doing what they could, everyone (except poor Luka and the paralyzed Erasmus) was helped to their feet, and the party then moved down to the far end of the clearing to search the monsters’ encampment. They found a paltry sum of gold, a number of wineskins filled with cheap wine, broken weapons and armor, and several roasted pigs. Could these have come from the Sergeyev farm?

The sun was getting low in the sky, so the party decided they would make a quick detour to see the strange old women whose cottage was nearby, then head back to the fort. On the way out of the clearing, Endithas retrieved the strange, black scimitar from the body of the Hobgoblin leader.

Unfortunately, neither of the sisters, Rosabella and Rosalinda, could aid those suffering Mortal Wounds beyond basic healing. They instead invited the party to spend the night in their cottage, as the sun was now setting. Everyone agreed, and they were led inside the little cottage, only to discover a vastly different space on the inside: a huge entry hall led to a spiral staircase up to a second floor that didn’t appear to exist from the outside, down a long hall much bigger than the cottage itself, off of which were a number of sumptuously appointed bedrooms. Everywhere they looked in the house, beautiful knick-knacks, curios, and artwork lined shelves, hung from walls, and sat in corners. The total value of these things was no doubt enormous!

The PCs and their Henchmen were each assigned one of the luxurious bedrooms, and spent the night in comfort far better than the common sleeping room at the Lion’s Den. On the morning of the 27th, they said their goodbyes and made their way back to the southern clearing on the river, crossing back to the fort. Several jokes were made about pushing the now-paralyzed Erasmus overboard (party members who don’t survive don’t take a share of XP), but the horrified stares of Boris and their other Henchmen quickly ended such talk, and the rest of the trip was made in awkward silence.

Brutal! What happened to Belgerath, by the way? Was this a new group? Change of players?

Yeah, it was a rough session. Amazing that none of the party died (it was close). I’ve made a habit of rolling everything I can (i.e. rolls not containing hidden information) in the open, so they know it’s all on them. I am a cruel, but fair, Overlord. Actually, it’s been really fascinating watching them, in effect, learn to play again! Several of these players are people I played with back in the 80s, so I know they were once used to the unforgiving nature of AD&D and BECMI (we still tell stories about particular TPKs), but a lot of that got lost through the 2000s.

This was the same group. It’s an open table, so players show up for sessions, or not, as they’re able. Belgarath had to work (his player and Kane’s player are both pilots, with highly irregular schedules). I do my best to keep the sessions self-contained, so there’s rarely a problem with a player being present for a session, then not showing up for a few weeks. There’ve even been some sessions with people using secondary characters to run with new players at different in-game locations. I expect more of that if I manage to grow the player-base; we’re at 7 players now (all new converts to ACKS, I might add), with an eighth player contingent on him finishing his PhD.

Oh, not sure if you caught it, but there was also the highly amusing fact that Caasi went down again, and got the same result on the Mortal Wounds Table that she had just paid 500gp to have removed. She took it surprisingly well.

In Search of the Ruined Monastery

…on Hill, you not have bone to pick, bone picks you!

Session 5, the Hill

We handled the first part on our forum in order to get a few things out of the way before the main session… in fact, the story-style intros to these sessions are generally me trying to weave the ridiculous interactions on our forum (Kalasandr’s player insisting he wanted “throwing daggers”, not “regular daggers”, because one of the ACKS Class Templates had them), and in-person banter before the session (Endithas’ player proudly informing us he’d figured out the internet and finally started posting to the forum) into something in-character and funny. I’m not sure how they read to anyone else, but to the people who were there, they’re usually at least amusing. What can I say? In jokes.

Reading this now, I’ve also noticed that some these had a tremendous amount of travel description. I had all this in here originally so that the party could re-trace their steps by looking at their maps and a session report, but I realise it’s probably a little dull to wade through now. As I don’t have the time to re-write it all, I’ll just apologise in advance.

Your meeting takes place in the parlour of Guido’s manor house, and Ivana receives you with great interest. You tell her your tale, and she occasionally stops you for further questioning. She then spends several minutes questioning the unfortunate Hobgoblin, Neepo. As she becomes more forceful, he provides much the same information he gave to you: there is a Hobgoblin King, his clan lives on The Hill… yet Neepo seems hopelessly evasive around what their intentions are. After a few more moments of fruitless questioning, Ivana draws forth her sword in a single, smooth motion; the blade decapitates the Hobgoblin prisoner.

Ivana seems deeply troubled by what you’ve brought to her, “We knew the rumours about the monastery, of course, but believed it surely abandoned. We’ve had no actual trouble from anything beyond the river in many years, not since the early days of my Lord establishing the fort!” She sighs heavily, “You’ve brought me enough to be concerned. This is solid evidence of a threat, and I will be true to my word…” she turns, heading to the far side of the room, and retrieves a small coin purse from a table, stepping over the Hobgoblin corpse to hand it to you, “Here. The promised bounty of 250 gold.”

As you reach for the gold, she speaks, “However… there is more I would ask of you… if you’re interested. Such a threat must be dealt with. My Lord, Guido, has been summoned to Kelvin over the banditry plaguing the caravans to the north, and I am needed here.”

She looks the lot of you over and raises an eyebrow, “…but you? No doubt you have no obligations beyond coin. I need someone to eliminate this threat.” Ivana raises a hand, forestalling any protest, “I understand… you worry about insufficient strength. I might be able to help you there…. while I cannot spare many men or women from the garrison, I would be willing to let you hire a few. They would be volunteers, and as long as you pay them the equivalent of their monthly pay, I believe you would have enough to bolster your strength. What say you?”

Soon after, Belgarath, Caasi, Endithas, and Kalasandr gathered in the common room of Lion’s Den. Their last foray to The Hill had been a success, at least in as much as everyone had survived, but some of the injuries had been grievous. Erasmus had his neck broken, and could not move his limbs. Waevryn’s legs had been mauled, and she could barely walk. While the henchmen had been healed in Kelvin during the previous week, (at considerable expense), even Caasi had been badly injured, and her left arm was once again useless. At least this time it still looked normal, hanging across her chest in a sling. The others still hadn’t managed to get the image of her flipper out of their heads…

They had gone to Ivana Boritsa with their concerns and their hobgoblin prisoner, and she had finally believed that there was indeed a threat to the fort. The party was given leave to hire volunteer guardsmen from the garrison, and use them in an attempt to eliminate the threat posed by the Hobgoblin King and his minions. The party canvassed for volunteers, and seven bowmen and five infantrymen decided the additional pay was worth the risks of employment by the likes of the PCs.

Kalasandr fingered the black-bladed hobgoblin scimitar that now hung at his belt; he had been unable to find throwing daggers, and had received the strangest looks when he had turned down the obviously inferior non-throwing daggers every merchant had tried to saddle him with. On the other hand, Endithas had actually begun speaking to everyone, so that was a positive.

Belgarath would send his owl familiar, Stikini (though everyone called the poor bird “Stinky”) to scout The Hill ahead of the main group, and the rest would follow. They would search the north side of The Hill for the demesne of the rumoured King of the Hobgoblins…

2nd of Klarmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath (Mage 1), Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), 2 War Dogs belonging to Belgarath, Caasi (Cleric 1), Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman), Endithas Wolfram (Fighter 1), Erasmus (Endithas’ Henchman), Kalasandr (Thief 2), and Waevryn (Kalasandr’s Henchman)
Deaths: None!
Mortal Wounds: One of the infantrymen had his two front teeth knocked out by a Skeleton
Leveled: Erasmus, Fodora, and Waevryn all reached Level 1

The day dawned mild, with a light breeze and drizzle as the party herded their large complement of mercenaries into the small boats by the water. It would take them several trips for the entire group to travel across the river, and it was mid-morning by the time all had gathered on the far bank.

As planned, Belgarath sent his owl familiar, Stikini, ahead of the main group as a scout. The heavy tree cover meant the bird would need to fly close to the ground to get a good look at the trails. Within an hour, Stikini reached the clearing of the statue over clear trails. Unfortunately, he was attacked by a swarm of roosting Stirges, and narrowly escaped back to the safety of the group. By the time the party and their hired army reached the statue, the Stirges had fled.

Consulting their map, and keenly aware of their vulnerability while moving single-file, the group tried to navigate around any known threats. As they moved off the far north-western edge of their mapping, Kalasandr began scouting ahead, eventually reaching a dead-end in the trail at the top of a cliff. The scarp Kalasandr stood on overlooked the northern flank of The Hill, with a small, narrow lake at its base less than a hundred yards to the west. Far to the east, he could make out a clearing amongst the trees. Similarly, far off to the west, between a pair of high ridges, part of another clearing could be seen. Kalasandr doubled back towards the rest of the group, and after some brief discussion they headed on a branch of the trail to the south-west, with the thief once again scouting ahead.

Within the hour the trail curved ‘round to the west, and ran along a steep incline, the bulk of The Hill rising sharply on Kalasandr’s left and looming above the trail, with a veritable cliff dropping away from the trail on Kalasandr’s right. Presently, the vegetation thinned as the trail opened into a small clearing, bare to the granite of the Hill. A small stream cut across the clearing and tumbled over the cliff Kalasandr had been following on his right. On the far side of the clearing was what appeared to be a lone hobgoblin sentry, disinterestedly leaning against its spear.

Once again, Kalasandr doubled back to the main group, taking the bowmen forward to ambush the hobgoblin sentry. The sentry was caught completely unaware, and fell pierced by many arrows before it even knew it was under attack. The clearing was quickly scouted, with the stream appearing to flow from a small lake in the woods, before flowing across the clearing, over the edge and connecting to a long, narrow lake near the base of the cliff. The party forded the stream and continued following the trail.

After another hour or so, the trail passed between two high ridges to the north and south, some of the highest peaks of the Hill, and finally opened into the largest clearing the party had yet seen on The Hill. This new clearing was enormous, and unlike any others they had seen; the vegetation here was dead or dying, with bare trees reaching like claws towards the sky, and sparse clumps of brown grass clinging to the dusty soil. The group formed proper ranks and headed around the eastern edge of the clearing towards the far end. The eerie silence, and strange lack of living things set the mercenaries on edge, and it was clear that their morale was suffering. Doing their best to keep the men calm, the group forged ahead, discovering another trail leading from the clearing at the north-east end.

Switching back to single file, with Kalasandr scouting ahead, the PCs headed uphill to the east. The trees and underbrush surrounding this new path were no better off than in the clearing they had just left, with mostly bare plants, as if the entire forest here was dead. Within twenty minutes, the dead forest cover thinned, and Kalasandr realised that what he had assumed was a scrub-covered ridge ahead, was, in fact, the remains of a low, stone wall. Moving closer, he could see that it was indeed man-made, and had once been the height of a man, but was now badly crumbled and overgrown, with some sections entirely collapsed. Kalasandr cautiously waited for the rest of the party to arrive.

After the party regrouped, they began to scout the perimeter, finding several breaches in the west side of the rectangular wall, and some small buildings rising above it in the south-west corner. Carefully climbing over the wall near the low buildings, they could see across a large expanse of what must have once been the monastery grounds. An enormous pool a few hundred feet across, filled with scummy, green water, dominated an open area half-a-dozen acres in size enclosed by the wall. To the north-west was an area heavily overgrown with thorn bushes. To the east of the pool, the remains of a collapsed building. At the north end of the compound, a larger building squatted against the wall, and in the middle, a tall, rectangular building with no windows stood brooding, a line of toppled columns flanking a path leading to it. Everywhere were the signs of long abandonment, cobbles broken and overturned by vegetation, trees sprouting from paths, and vines covering the face of every building.

The group moved to scout the nearby small buildings, leaving several archers to keep watch on the low wall. Suddenly, Stikini let out a harsh cry! The familiar had spotted several figures hustling away from the compound, headed back along the path to the west. A pursuit was quickly organised, with Endithas and Kalasandr leading several of the infantry men in pursuit. They managed to follow their quarry back to the enormous, dead clearing, but it quickly became apparent that the lead was too great, and they decided to return to the main group at the monastery.

Meanwhile, as mercenaries kept watch, Caasi battered her way into the low building and began exploring. It appeared as nothing more than a barracks, with an attached eating hall and kitchen. Everything had fallen into decay, and the place appeared to have been looted some time in the long distant past. With no apparent danger present, it was decided that it could be used as a base for exploring the monastery.

The pursuit party returned, and the group began to explore the rest of the compound, once again leaving archers positioned well back from the main group. As they moved around between the ruined building and the large pool, a clattering sound came from the collapsed structure. The sound of tumbling stone increased, and group of giant centipedes came streaming out of the rubble, catching the PCs off guard. Battle was soon joined, with Endithas Wolfram and his man, Erasmus, in the thick of things. Both of them were bitten by the foul insects, and both succumbed to violent retching and nausea as the centipedes’ poison took effect. The dozen insects were eventually dispatched without further injury, but Endithas and his henchman were now both incapacitated, able to do little more than walk. The party withdrew back to the barracks and settled in to spend the night, hoping for relief from the poison by the morning.

During the watches of the night, something large came snuffling and scrabbling at the doors to the barracks, but the group remained silent, and the creature, whatever it was, eventually lost interest and left.

Morning dawned cool and misty, with the party members suffering from poison showing no signs of improvement. A decision was made to continue exploring.

(Endithas’ player took over Mearl for the rest of the session)

Moving along the same route as the prior day, past the pool and collapsed bathhouse, the party came to a large, brooding building with no windows, and a high roof tiled with slate. They moved around the building, finding nothing but a set of wooden double doors carved with the leering face they had seen on a lonely statue elsewhere on The Hill. After exploring the perimeter, Kalasandr climbed up onto the roof. Here again, there were no openings, and the roof itself looked sound. The thief climbed back down, and checked the double doors for traps. Finding nothing, they tried to open the doors, but discovered that they appeared to be locked. Listening at the door, they heard nothing. Throwing caution to the wind, they pounded on the door, and arrayed themselves to attack whatever came out. After a few minutes of tension, the party relaxed, and tried to decide how to get the door open. Kalasandr immediately got out his lock picks and set to work. Unfortunately, the party’s attention was brought back to the door ten minutes later by a sharp “ping”!

(Judges note: I’ve been allowing multiple Open Locks attempts, with each one taking a Turn. A roll of 1 on the Throw results in broken picks)

A small shaft of metal tumbled away through the air, as Kalasandr had managed to break his picks inside the lock. There was nothing for it but to hack the door down, and Waevryn set to with her axes while Kalasandr went off the check the large building or buildings in the north-east corner of the compound (and hide his shame).

The large building had four doors on its south wall, all shut, and no signs of activity. The thief headed back to join the rest of the party as they managed to hack open the doors and enter the strange building. Inside was a large, high-ceilinged chamber, dominated by a carved statue like the one they had seen in a clearing previously. This one was much larger, towering some 12 feet above the floor of the room, and had purple gemstones in its eye-sockets. Arrayed around the perimeter of the room were twelve wooden doors, all shut. The party spread out to examine the place, and as Caasi moved to listen at one of the doors, Kalasandr began to climb the statue to relieve it of its precious eyes.

As Kalasandr touched the statue, every one of the dozen doors inside the room slammed open with a “boom!” and a dozen Skeletons rushed forward to attack the shocked party! After getting over their initial shock, the party regrouped and went on the attack: Caasi called on the power of her church to turn back the undead abominations, but her efforts resulted in only two of them turning and cowering inside the small chamber from which they’d come. Mearl (played by Endithas’ player) and Argus leapt to the defence of their master, Belgarath, while the heavy infantry mercenaries closed ranks and began smashing bones. Slowly, inexorably, the part wore the undead down. When the room finally fell silent, all the undead were destroyed, and the party stood victorious (one of the mercenaries was knocked down, his two front teeth smashed out). A thorough search of the “tomb” revealed a dark dagger that Kalasandr tucked into his belt, and the two fist-sized amethyst gems from the statue’s eye-sockets.

Deciding they were understrength and would need to get treatment for their poisoned comrades, the party built makeshift litters and left the grounds of the Ruined Monastery. However, instead of heading directly back to the river, Belgarath sent Stikini to notify their ferryman, sending the mercenaries, led by Kalasandr, back across the river while the rest of the party visited the two mysterious old women. The mercenaries were attacked by a small flock of Stirges on the trip, but handily defeated them, crossing the river without further incident.

Back at the quaint cottage, the dark dagger was identified as being enchanted, with some sort of necromantic past, and Endithas Wolfram and Erasmus were given herbal tea that seemed to cure the wracking nausea they were afflicted with. Belgarath offered to trade centipede poison with the two women, and they agreed to consider a deal once he returned with the poison in hand. With that, the remainder of the group made the uneventful journey back to Guido’s Fort

Roast Goblin with All the Trimmings

Session 6, The Hill

Sitting around the Lion’s Den, several PCs discussed their next attempt on The Hill. They had discovered the location of the Ruined Monastery, and believed that the local Hobgoblins and Goblins were using it as a base of operations.

“I managed to find some military oil in Kelvin…” Kalasandr began, his pack stuffed and festooned with flasks presumably containing the flammable liquid. Kane’s eyes narrowed, and he and Caasi shuffled away around the table as Kalasandr leaned in to study the map by the light of a burning candle.

“…and I think we should hit the monastery again!” Kalasandr finished, seemingly oblivious to the others’ discomfort with his proximity to open flame.

“I believe we should move in to the Monastery…” Belgarath stated in a matter-of-fact tone.

“We need to secure the area first!” Kane interjected; it was the first time the others had heard him discuss anything other than finding an animal, though none of them were quite sure what he wanted an animal for…

“…but…it’s free!” opined Belgarath.

“I agree with Belgarath, actually…” ventured Kalasandr, somewhat apologetically, “It’s long term, but there’s already a structure, and it’s close to the witches, who’ve been good to us.”

Kane glowered, “And I suppose you want to call it Castle Anthrax, too…?”

“There’s something else I should tell you…” Belgarath interrupted, “My familiar, Stikini, has had a vision!”

“What, your owl? Your owl had a daydream?” Caasi asked, incredulous.

“No!” shouted Belgarath, “He has had a premonition! In his dreams, he saw-”

“So, it was a dream?” Caasi shot back.

Belgarath glared at her before continuing, “He saw a legion of men, women, and children, naked, bound in chains, being led on an endless march!” he finished, dramatically. An awkward silence followed.

Caasi was the one to break the silence, “So… he dreams of naked people?”

Belgarath grimaced, then let out an exasperated breath, “It is a sign. Obviously, those chained are slaves, and we must discover what is being done with them.” The rest of the group exchanged slightly puzzled looks…

“Ooookayy…if that’s what you say, sure!” Caasi attempted a more conciliatory tone, “Look, you can keep your eyes open for them.”

Belgarath was the one to suddenly look uncomfortable, “Well…uhhh…I will… I mean, I would, but…uhhh…I’m…uhhh…not coming.”

“What?!” the others shouted in unison.

“Well, I’ve bought a house, and I really need to clean up the place, plus I have some dead centipedes I’ve been working on, and I just started an animal husbandry business…” Belgarath trailed off, the rest of the party staring at him, non-plussed. Belgarath cleared his throat, “See you soon?”

11th of Klarmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi (Cleric 1), Fodora (Caasi’s henchman), Kalasandr (Thief 2), Waevryn (Kalasandr’s henchman), Kane (Elven Ranger 1), 3 hunting dogs (belonging to Kane), 5 Heavy Infantry and 7 Bowmen employed as Mercenaries by the party for a term of 1 month
Deaths: None!
Mortal Wounds: One of the bowmen suffered a damaged knee due to a Hobgoblin spear, and Waevryn had her legs slashed again, necessitating the use of crutches
Leveled: None!

The party set out from Guido’s Fort, taking several hours to make the multiple crossings necessary to ferry their veritable army to The Hill, landing at the southern clearing. Kane scouted ahead as they made their way, single file, to the far waterfall by the cliff, while avoiding the giant-bee hive.

As they approached the waterfall, Kane moved well ahead of the main group, and stealthily approached the clearing. Two figures stood watch, and one of them spotted the furtive elf. As the figures turned and fled, Kane loosed an arrow, attempting to prevent them from escaping, but missed. He quickly moved back and retrieved the rest of the party.

The PCs’ group filed into the clearing, and set up a battle line, with the heavy infantry at the front, and a line of archers, including Kane and Fodora, behind their makeshift mantlets (crudely built between forays, neither as good, nor as portable as the real thing) near the waterfall. The party had barely set themselves when a horde of Goblins and Hobgoblins charged into the clearing from the treeline opposite the waterfall! As the humanoids sprinted across the open area, the party’s archery took its toll, with many of them never reaching mêlée. Several Goblins broke off and charged the archers, while the remanding Hobgoblins attacked the main line. One of the bowmen was hacked down, as were Waevryn (whose legs were slashed, again) and Caasi (who, thankfully, was knocked down without serious injury). As before, Kane’s archery and the weight of the heavy infantry took its toll, and the humanoids’ Morale held, only for them to be cut down to a man (goblin?) after a few moments more.

The party tended to their wounded but realised that, while no one had been killed, they had suffered a number of injuries, and undoubtedly needed healing. The question now was whether or not to press on and rest in the outbuildings of the monastery where they had stayed previously, or to double-back and spend the night with the “witches” where they could receive more extensive healing. Their slow movement due to hauling their mantlets meant that, either way, they would not reach their destination before nightfall. (At this point the PCs had not yet discovered the waterfall connected to the Hobgoblin Camp via a short stroll through the trees, which was less than an hour from the quaint cottage of the witches.)

Setting off on the more circuitous route, the party spent the next several hours racing the setting sun. They lost the race a mere hour from their destination, but as full darkness settled on them, the infantry near the front of the line heard the sound of something large moving through the undergrowth in the pitch blackness beyond the light of their torches. They were followed in this fashion for a few moments before a vaguely humanoid shape came hissing out of the darkness near the front of the line. The heavy infantry set to, but one of them was felled almost immediately, as one scratch from the thing’s claws sent the man tumbling to the ground in a heap, paralyzed or dead, but, either way, unable to move or fight. The men now fought desperately, but within seconds, two more of the heavy infantry lay sprawled in the dirt, unmoving. Worse still, the wounds inflicted on the creature closed before the party’s eyes.

The PCs began to panic as their meatshield began to dissolve. Kalasandr shouted for military oil, and one of the archers came forward while the heavy infantry pushed the thing back on the point of their spears. The flaming oil was directly on target, and the thing in the dark let out a horrifying shriek as it went up. Unsure of how tough it might be, another flask of oil was thrown, and in the end the creature was reduced to ash.

“Must’ve been a ghoul…” Kane remarked, seemingly unperturbed by the horrifying spectacle.

The infantry were tended to, and it was discovered that they were merely paralyzed. Crude litters were made from branches, and the group made the best possible time to the cottage. When they arrived, the sisters took them in, providing them rooms for the night, as well as healing. The next day, the party decided to purchase information from the strange women, negotiating a price of 60 gp, down from 100 gp. They were told that The Hobgoblin King resided below the monastery in its dungeons, and that the Goblins in his service laired in the overgrown remains of what were once the monastery’s gardens. They were also told to avoid the cemetery at the north end of the Blighted Clearing, as it was unhallowed ground, and home to the hungry dead.

At this point the sisters made another, far more tempting offer: they would provide potions of Healing and Invisibility, as well as both a Clerical and Mage scroll to the party. Their price was the first pick of whatever the party recovered from the dungeons below the monastery. After much debate, the deal was agreed to, and the group left to head for the monastery.

After a quick debate over timing, it was decided that the party couldn’t afford to leave potential enemies behind them as they headed for the monastery, and a detour was made to the Hobgoblin Camp to make sure it hadn’t been re-manned. As it turned out, the camp was deserted, but had obviously been re-occupied since the party had last cleared it, perhaps quite recently. Kane noted that many tracks led out the far end of the clearing along the shore of the lake, and it was decided that the party would follow them and attempt and to ambush the humanoids from the rear.

The party headed into the woods where a small stream emptied from the far end of the lake. A few dozen yards further and they discovered themselves in another, now-familiar clearing: the site of their battle by the waterfall from the previous day! Realising it was actually the garrison of the Hobgoblin Camp that they had defeated the day before, they immediately set out for the Monastery. The new shortcut they had discovered would save them several hours travel during future forays on The Hill.

The remaining trek to the Monastery was uneventful, and the group carefully approached the ruined walls of the Monastery unobserved. Manoeuvring to the northern-most breach in the compound’s western wall, the archers were positioned behind their makeshift mantlets, covering the approach from within the Monastery grounds. The infantry were kept slightly back in reserve, with the party largely stationed between the two groups of mercenaries. Moving slightly farther north along the compound’s overgrown outer wall, the group began hurling lit flasks of military oil over the wall into the tangled brambles they had been told by the sisters were the lair of the Goblins loyal to the Hobgoblin King. The dry growth immediately leapt into flame, and within moments Goblins began coming out of the far end of the bramble patch, looking for the source of the blaze. The party’s archers immediately began raining arrows down on the stunned humanoids, the first few quickly falling. The party’s crude mantlets meant the Goblins’ own sporadic missile file had virtually no chance of striking the archers in return, and for a moment the party was sure the fight would be a slaughter.

As more and more Goblins poured from their lair, the party’s mercenaries came under more fire. At the same time, many of the Goblins turned and fled towards the main buildings of the Monastery, entering the large set of carved double-doors in the western end of the buildings. Realising their quarry was escaping, Kane led the infantry around the northern side of the Monastery compound, and had the men mount the crumbled and overgrown wall to throw flaming oil into the exits the Goblins were using to flee their lair. With fire raging on the western end of the bramble patch, and new flames now blocking the exits to the east, terrible inhuman screams were soon heard from within the briars, as the remaining Goblins realised they were trapped.

With their remaining fellows trapped and burning alive, and human mercenaries advancing behind mantlets into the Monastery grounds, the remaining Goblins finally broke and headed en-masse through the double-doors guarding the entrance. After the last of them had fled, Caasi bravely followed. The doors themselves were heavy oak, and carved with images of the pagan deity they had now seen depicted numerous times around The Hill. Inside the building was a huge hall, unlit, with a high ceiling supported by five enormous columns, each carved into a likeness of Orcus, supporting the roof on upraised arms. The hall was otherwise empty, with no sign of either the fleeing Goblins, or any exits they might have used to escape. Caasi turned and headed back outside to inform the rest of the group.

With so many of their enemies unaccounted for, as well as presumably the Hobgoblins themselves, the group decided their foray was a success, and that it was time to withdraw before a counter-attack could be launched. With smoke and the lingering scent of cooked meat in the air, the party headed back to Guido’s Fort. They had cleared the Hobgoblin Camp that protected the route to the Ruined Monastery and smashed the Goblins’ lair, all without suffering a single casualty!

Belgarath and Caasi’s conversation could have arisen from my own players. Awesome. Particularly the grim prophecy followed by the announcement that he wouldn’t be going.

Those two are actually hilarious when they get at each other in person.

I think my favorite moment in this session was when the light bulb went on that the waterfall was like 150 yards from the hobgoblin encampment (working this out cut hours from several of their regular treks). I’ve been using an electronic tool to run my sessions recently, and you just don’t get these kinds of moments if you don’t have someone manually mapping.

Mage 1

Str 9
Int 18
Wis 11
Dex 5
Con 15
Cha 12

AC -2 (Dex)
hp 5

Darts, dagger

Repertoire: Hold Portal, Light, Magic Missile, Ventriloquism

Proficiencies: Animal Husbandry 3, Bargaining, Familiar

Stikini, owl familiar (Collegiate Wizardry, Lip Reading, Navigation, Tracking)

2 War Dogs

Cleric 1

Str 11
Int 11
Wis 16
Dex 9
Con 7
Cha 6

AC 7 (shield and plate)
hp 5

Mace, sling

Proficiencies: Healing, Lay on Hands

Endithas Wolfram
Fighter 1

Str 17
Int 9
Wis 9
Dex 13
Con 13
Cha 12

AC 6 (Dex, banded plate)
hp 9

Two-handed sword, longbow

Proficiencies: Riding, Weapon Focus (Two-handed Sword)

Thief 2

Str 11
Int 9
Wis 9
Dex 13
Con 11
Cha 12

AC 3 (Dex, leather)
hp 8

Black Scimitar +1 & dagger, crossbow

Proficiencies: Mapping, Trapfinding

Elven Ranger 1

Str 13
Int 9
Wis 9
Dex 17
Con 9
Cha 9

AC 6 (Dex, chainmail)
hp 6

Composite bow, spear or spear & dagger, net

Proficiencies: Ambush, Tracking

Hunting the Hobgoblin King

Assault on Precin-I mean, the Ruined Monastery!

Session 7, The Hill

“It seems we are alone…” Belgarath said speaking to Kane, the only other full party-member present.

Belgarath and Kane stood in the common room of the Lion’s Den, considering their options… the group had returned yesterday from their previous foray, and felt they had struck a serious blow against the humanoids. The lair of the Goblins on The Hill had been destroyed in a conflagration of flame, with many of their number falling to the arrows of the party’s mercenaries. The group had withdrawn before they could be counter-attacked, and hadn’t suffered a single casualty, or even any injuries. While all had agreed to make another foray immediately, only the two of them had arrived to make the trip. Even Kalasandr, who had seemed hellbent on hunting down the Hobgoblin King, had not arrived. If they were to cross the river this day, they would need to leave soon.

After a few moments, Belgarath spoke, “We assault the Monastery!” his mien was firm, brooking no argument. Kane offered none, his steady gaze locked on the mage, though he spoke not a word. Belgarath’s loyal man, Mearl, stood at his shoulder, and broke the awkward silence, “Will Ivana’s guardsmen be accompanying us?”

“Yes!” Belgarath said, thinking of the gold that had been spent on the mercenaries, and how many animals he would have to husband to cover another month…the men were employed for another fortnight, at least, “…we haven’t the numbers, otherwise,” he finished.

Kane silently nodded his acceptance, then finally spoke from beneath the hood of his cloak, “At last we will reveal ourselves to the Hobgoblins. At last we will have our revenge!”

Belgarath wondered, and not for the first time, what drove this weird, laconic elf. Why couldn’t he just be happy with a little profit, like regular folk?

12th of Klarmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath (Mage 1), Mearl (Belgarath’s henchman), Argus and Cerberus (Belgarath’s wardogs), Kane (Elven Ranger 1), 3 hunting dogs and 1 unnamed wardog (belonging to Kane), 5 Heavy Infantry and 7 Bowmen employed as Mercenaries by the party for a term of 1 month, and, slightly later, Kalasandr (Thief 2).
Mortal Wounds: 1 Bowman lost an eye down a Giant Rat’s gullet, another was slashed across the eyes, and an Infantryman suffered several sucking chest wounds at the point of a Hobgoblin’s sword; Mearl was smashed flat by an Ogre, and suffered damage to his hips and back, which now ache incessantly.
Deaths: None!
Levelled: None!

The trip across The Hill to the Ruined Monastery was uneventful, with the large group arriving past mid-day. Belgarath’s owl familiar, Stikini, scouted the site from the air, informing her master that a number of small humanoids, presumably Goblins, were guarding the breaches in the remains of the low wall that surrounded the monastery grounds. None of the humanoids were visible from where the party stood on the edge of the dead forest, suggesting they hoped to ambush the group.

The party began scouting around the perimeter of the ruined wall, trying to remain out of sight amongst the trees. As they passed around to the western side of the Monastery, they saw there was a previously unnoticed breach. The hole appeared to be not just through the outer wall, but the wall of the buildings in the north-west corner of the grounds. They had not previously explored these, and Stikini was again sent forward as a scout. She returned to report that all she had seen was a tasty looking, if rather large, rat, perched upon the rubble near the opening.

Kane crept forward and slipped through the breach. The room beyond was the ruined remains of a large kitchen. A scuttling and squeaking commotion drew the elven ranger’s attention back to the opening, and he found himself faced with a rat the size of a small dog. The vermin stood on its haunches and hissed at him, before the elf unceremoniously slashed its throat with his dagger. Assuming the large, nest-like mound of debris near the hole meant that there were more rats about, Kane withdrew back to the treeline.

Rations were plundered, and a wheel of cheese was tossed into the rubble near the breach in the wall. The party didn’t have to wait long before half-a-dozen of the enormous rats came to investigate the pungent smell. Several of them hissed and nipped at each other, trying to drive each other away from the delicious-smelling prize. A volley of arrows and bolts from the party made short work of the rats, and their bodies were hidden in the brush out of sight of the walls. The group then advanced through the crumbling hole into the Monastery.

Judge’s note: I hemmed and hawed for some time about this, but in the end I decided the mercenaries would accompany the party into the surface buildings of the Ruined Monastery (not that different from clearing buildings or plundering a city) with a little cajoling, but their Morale would be reduced. Under no circumstances would they accompany the party below ground.

As the group examined the detritus in the room, more rats burst from their nest and attacked the intruders in their lair. The fight was a close-fought affair, with a Bowman being borne down under several rats. By the time the last of the huge rodents were killed and pulled off the poor man, one of his eyes was missing, swallowed down one of the rats gullets.

In the meantime, outside the building, Kalasandr spotted the bodies of huge rats, pierced by arrows, amongst the trees. He had pursued the party, not more than an hour behind them, all the way to the Monastery. Seeing the fletching of his companions’ arrows, he slipped across the open ground between the dead trees and the monastery walls, then cautiously picked his way over the rubble and through the breach in the wall…

The party was startled to see a human climb through the hole in the wall, but, to their relief, immediately recognized the man as one of their own.

“Better late than never, I suppose…” Belgarath admonished him.

“Yes. And now we find the Hobgoblin King and destroy him!” Kalasandr said, puffing slightly. He was out of breath, having run to catch the others. It was a bit unusual for the rogue to be so hellbent on a fight, but they had been hunting the lair of the Hobgoblin King across The Hill for weeks.

Turning to Belgarath, Kane asked, “Are you going to go through that?” referring to the pile of rotten garbage and cucumber-sized rat droppings that appeared to be the nest of the Giant Rats.

“What?!” said Belgarath, horrified.

“You shoved your hands in bat dung… what is the difference?” Kane retorted. The mage turned decidedly green, so Kane performed the foul deed, discovering a handful of coins, gems, and a beautifully crafted arrow.

Kane then pressed his ear to the only door leading from the room and heard nothing. Kalasandr followed suit with no more success than the elf. They tried the door, only to find it stuck. One of the infantrymen threw his shoulder into it, and the door whipped open with a loud “boom!” as it struck the wall at the end of its travel.

“I wonder if anyone heard that…” Kane asked without a hint of sarcasm.

The party moved into the darkened room beyond, lighting torches and a lantern. The room contained ancient tables and benches, all now covered in a thick layer of mold. The ceiling here had clearly begun to leak long ago, and plaster had crumbled from the ceiling and littered the floor.

While the water might have been the source of the ordinary-seeming mold, everyone studiously avoided touching the stuff, and moved to a door in the northern end of the room. After hearing nothing, the party attempted to open the door, and discovered it was both stuck, and opened in the opposite direction, meaning it couldn’t be battered open.

A scheme involving ropes under the door was quickly devised, and the door hauled open, although it was slower and no less noisy than simply hacking through the door with an axe. The room beyond was circumscribed by wall shelves, and Belgarath virtually stumbled over the others in his haste to search the shelves for forgotten lore. Unfortunately, the ceiling here had also leaked, and whatever wealth of books the former library had once held crumbled to dirt beneath his fingers. Kalasandr moved past the hyperventilating mage to search the far end of the room while Kane listened at the only other door, hearing running water.

“Hunh. What’s this?” Kalasandr asked from the far end of the room, holding an ornate, ivory scroll case aloft.

“What?!” Belgarath nearly shouted, the crumbling remains of ancient books sifting through his fingers. The despair in his expression was impossible to miss.

The case was opened and passed around for examination, with neither the thief nor the mage able to identify the writing. Kalasandr pocketed the case as they turned to the only apparent exit from the library. Opening the door carefully, they discovered an open air courtyard, with a fountain and pool the source of the sound of running water. The last rays of the sun dimly lit the sky, and a gentle breeze rustled the leaves of a handful of ancient birch trees overhanging the pool. A quick search revealed no other exits, and nothing extraordinary about the fountain or the pool. As they stood by the door discussing their next move, the sharp, elven eyes of Kane noted a thin, rectangular gap in the stonework next to the only door. After poking and prodding about, a pivoting secret door was discovered, with a darkened hall beyond.

Closing the secret door, the party decided to rest in the courtyard, as one entrance was secret, and the other led to now-empty rooms. They kept watch and burned no fire, and the night passed uneventfully. Gathering themselves the next morning, the party made ready to head through the secret door.

A short way beyond the darkened doorway, a door stood on the right. A quick listen revealed voices speaking a dark tongue that Kane knew all to well from the Dymrak: Hobgoblins! Kalasandr quickly scouted along the passage, which branched ahead, and found no other immediate threats. The group set for battle, with a plan to draw the Hobgoblins out of the room into the arrows and flaming oil of the party. They readied two battle lines, one at the nearby T-junction, the other near the secret entrance to the hallway. A lantern was on the floor outside the door from which the voices came.

When all was ready, Kalasandr pounded on the door with the hilt of his sword, then sprinted back to join the others. A Hobgoblin opened the door, and with a shout behind to his compatriots, warily approached the lantern sitting on the floor… as the party sprung their ambush! Arrows and bolts flew from the darkness, with the first Hobgoblin to exit the room badly injured. Goblins and Hobgoblins began pouring from the guardroom, turning to defend themselves from their attackers. A savage mêlée ensued, the Hobgoblins cutting down one of the Infantry, and screeching Goblins dragging down one of the Bowmen. Flaming oil was used to block the guardroom door, spreading out the humanoid attackers. Kane’s hideously accurate archery once again began to take its toll, as the recently reequipped Mearl proved nearly untouchable to the humanoids’ weapons. The Goblins managed to fell another Bowman before being skewered on the point of Mearl’s spear, and the last of the foul Goblins died defending the guardroom (with a Morale check of 12!).

The battle over, the party took stock of the wounded, discovering one Bowman blinded in one eye and in poor shape from a head wound, but the other merely in shock. The Infantryman was more seriously injured, unable to walk, and with a punctured lung that rendered him useless. The Mercenaries were demoralized, and took convincing to keep them from leaving for the dubious safety beyond the Monastery’s walls. The guardroom was searched, yielding a few coins and two keys held by the largest Hobgoblin, a champion of his kind, along with a door leading to the landing of a staircase descending deep beneath the earth. It became clear that none of the Mercenaries would have any part of descending into the unknown, and it was decided that clearing the surface buildings of enemies while they still had the Mercenaries’ support was the best course of action. Before leaving the guardroom, the handle of the door to the stairs was trapped, a sharpened burr filed into the handle by Kalasandr, and laced with the centipede poison Belgarath had extracted.

Moving more cautiously now, the party headed back to the nearby T-junction, discovering another secret entrance, this one leading into the enormous chamber supported by pillars carved in the shape of Orcus that they had found their way into after torching the Goblins’ lair in the courtyard. Finding it empty, they returned to the T-junction and took the other branch, passing a corridor to the left before arriving at a dead end. A search for secret doors yielded nothing, and the group doubled back to the corridor they had passed. This ended in a pair of doors, and Kalasandr and Kane could hear raucous, deep voices in an inhuman tongue on the other side of the one at the end of the hall.

Once again the party prepared an ambush at another nearby T-junction, military oil spread in the corridor between them and the door. Kalasandr bravely cracked the door and peeked inside. Occupying the room were two of the largest, ugliest Ogres to inhabit The Hill, oblivious to Kalasandr’s eavesdropping. Gaining his courage, the thief drew his bow and fired a shot at the nearest Ogre! He cursed as he realised he had missed, the arrow shattering against the far wall. The Ogres looked up from their drinking and arguing, but, seeing nothing, returned to their gambling. Once again, Kalasandr quietly pushed the door just wide enough to fire an arrow, again missing! This time the Ogres stood from their revelry, searching for the source of the cracking noise. As the larger of the two lifted the broken remains of Kalasandr’s arrow, the thief attempted a final shot, burying an arrow in the back of the smaller Ogre!

Roaring in pain to his companion, the Ogre turned in time to see Kalasandr ducking out of the door. The hall behind the thief shook as the two beasts charged after him – straight into the missile fire of the party and their Mercenaries. The first Ogre was felled by the party’s concentrated attacks and flaming oil, but the second, larger brute charged up the corridor. The wardogs were loosed against the thing, as Mearl moved forward to hold the hallway. He managed to stab the beast with his spear, but then, howling in rage at the dogs’ attacks, the mighty Ogre brought his club down on Mearl’s head, smashing Belgarath’s loyal manservant flat with a single blow! The brutal attack was its last, as the wardogs lunged in and bore the beast down beneath their slavering jaws.

With the Ogres dead, the relieved party quickly searched the room, discovering a stash of coins, and an old, flea-infested sack they tossed aside. It was then that they heard noises from the only other door. Bracing for further battle, the party unbarred and opened the door, only to discover four unarmed and primitive hominids. It was quickly ascertained that no language was shared between the party and these beings, and a few tense moments were spent creating inventive gestures and pantomime before it was decided they were friend, or at least not hostile. The Neanderthals were grateful for their release from their Ogre captors, and left with the party.

The remaining room near this end of the buildings was searched and found empty, so the party headed back to the far side of the complex to the unexplored branch of the first T-junction they had come to after entering via the secret door. They moved along the corridor to the end, assuming (incorrectly) that all the doors on their left led to the outside (they had previously noted multiple doors in the exterior southern wall of the main monastery buildings). The door at the end of the corridor was locked, and the party discovered it opened with the key they had taken from Hobgoblin champion killed in the guardroom. The room beyond was unexpected, both in its contents and shape. Filled with supplies, including food, weapons, and armour, and extending past where the party believed the outside of the monastery to be. The supplies were enough for an army, and they looted what they thought were the most valuable items, and equipped the Neanderthals with leather armour and spears.

Re-locking the storeroom behind them (and leaving the supplies to the Hobgoblin army), they began checking the remaining doors in the corridor, knowing from the dimensions of the storeroom they did not lead to the outside.

The first of these was stuck, and, when battered open, led to an unused chamber. The second led to a shrine to Orcus, and the entire party felt immediately uncomfortable upon entering the room, with air temperature noticeably colder than the hallway. The dogs began to whine and pace, with the Mercenaries and Neanderthals become restive and unwilling to wait in the chamber. A massive statue to He Who Shall Not Be Named dominated the room, with a shallow trough the size of body built in to the floor before it. Old stains marked the floor of the trough, and the party waited in uneasy silence as Kalasandr climbed the statue and removed the large amethyst gems set into its eye sockets. A collective sigh of relief echoed through the chamber when the thief prised the gems free without incident, and the entire group moved back to the hallway.

With no apparent areas missed on their map, the party finally decided to retreat from the Monastery, and made their way to the home of the elderly sisters. The rescued Neanderthals headed off through the far end of the clearing, presumably to rejoin their own kind. The party spent the night, healing and resting, and in the morning received Rosalinda’s aid in identifying the nature the shield they had taken from the Hobgoblin champion: an enchanted, round, wooden shield +1 emblazoned with the symbol of the Callarii elves. Saying their goodbyes to the sisters, they made the uneventful trip back across the river to Guido’s Fort…