The crackle of flames could be heard outside, as well as the intermittent hiss of water on a bonfire.
They were trapped.
“My apologies for the warmth of your welcome!” the man before them said with a wan smile. He was clearly trying to cheer the spirits of those around him. A beautiful, young blond girl sat on the floor behind him, weeping pitifully, a baby cradled in her arms. To the man’s left stood a handsome woman with long, black hair. She wore leather armour over a green dress, and hovered with a protective air at the man’s side. Beside her stood a young boy, wide-eyed, frightened, with more than a passing resemblance to their host – his son perhaps? On the far side of the room stooped an older man, plump and tired-looking, missing his left arm from some terrible wound long ago.
“This is it? Where’s everybody else?” Kalasandr asked.
The man gestured behind the party, “My son, Taras, and his wife, Alfana, you have already met, I think…”
“We found them battling Goblins across the bridge,” the woman, Alfana, began, “nearly cut off by Goblins riding massive wolves! We thought it best we let them in.”
“Thank you for that!” Caasi said, real warmth in her voice, “We were hard pressed.”
The big man, Pyotr, let out a great sigh, “And now, it would seem, your fates are tied to ours.”
“There are more of us…” Kalasandr interjected, “…a mage – he’s trying to put out the fire -” the pause was punctuated by the hissing sound of water poured onto open flame from outside, “Endithas is ’round the back with Erasmus and Mearl, looking for more Goblins.”
“There are many more to be found!” Taras said, spitting on the floor beside him, “Father, I count Wolf-skulls and Red-blades in the woods and around the palisade. Of the Vipers there is no sign, and I no longer hear the horses…” the young man seemed to be near tears at this.
Pyotr glowered, “The Vipers are a cowardly lot, but they seem to have stolen our horses. Novannes and Hakos tried to stop them…” the man stopped himself, visibly upset. The weeping of the girl on the floor grew louder, nearly hysterical, and the woman at Pyotr’s side moved to her, “Shh… come my dear, we must find our strength…”
Pyotr composed himself before continuing, “Her husband and father-in-law were at the stables when the Goblins broke in. I have sent my mother and daughter to the tower,” Pyotr pointed to the north-east, “where there are no doors on the first floor, for defense. We would fall back there if the worst occurs.”
Everyone jumped as a heavy pounding sounded on the wooden door the party had entered through, “It’s a touch warm out here, if you don’t mind!” came Endithas’ rough bellow. The door was opened, and Endithas, Belgarath, and their Henchmen piled through.
“The barn is lost,” the Mage stated flatly, “Though it will take some time to finish burning.” It was another hammer-blow to the morale of the homesteaders.
“Come, then!” Endithas brought his hands together abruptly, the sound filling the space, “Let us prepare our defenses. We will make certain these Goblins pay for their efforts with blood,” the big man’s hard-edged smile held no humour, “theirs!”
The night of the 23rd to the 24th of Fyrmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), 2 War Dogs belonging to Belgarath, Caasi, Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman), Endithas Wolfram, Erasmus (Endithas’ Henchman), Kalasandr, Waevryn and Solla (Kalasandr’s Henchmen)
Mortal Wounds: Belgarath lost an eye to a giant vampire bat, and Waevryn was permanently blinded by a Goblin sling stone
Deaths: Poor, poor Matvey and Kuzma
The party found themselves trapped in the Sukiskyn homestead with it’s inhabitants. Around them, Goblin war drums and chanting filled the woods, and the glow of red eyes could occasionally be seen amongst the undergrowth. The party surveyed the homestead, and began to plan for its defense. The main building, housing the kitchen and stores, and a nearby tower were built of stone, connected by the main hall, which was constructed of wood. The tower had no entrances on the first floor, and it was here that Pyotr had planned to retreat if things went badly. None of the main buildings had windows on the ground floor, and the doors were solid, and made of oak.
A plan was quickly concocted, with crude furniture barricades being thrown against the doors, and every able archer moving to the second floor. Windows on the second floor, overlooking the breached courtyard and burning barn, would allow a crossfire, turning the area into a deathtrap. Those who could not fight were moved into the tower, with Belgarath and his owl Familiar, Stikini, assuming lookout on the battlements at the top.
The party didn’t have to wait long, as shortly after they settled into their positions the gate previously blocked with a barn door and battering ram was again smashed in, a small war-party of Red-blade Goblins whooping and hollering as they loped into the courtyard. They were met with swift death from above, Endithas killing three of them, and Fodora another, before the last realised he had forgotten something in the woods, and quickly headed off to retrieve it.
The drums and chanting began again, filling the woods surrounding the homestead. Over the next few hours, the sounds would intermittently stop, the interminable silence much worse. Tension wore at the nerves of the besieged. Kalasandr took the opportunity to climb out a second-floor window (I didn’t bother with a roll, as it was child’s play for the thief), run across to the broken gate at the back of the horse pens, and lay his recently acquired caltrops. This done, Kalasandr slipped back inside the way he had come.
The fire had mostly burnt itself out, the remains of the barn and gatehouse smouldering fitfully, when the drums and chanting again fell silent. Once again, the party moved to the second-floor windows, eyes straining in the moonlight, looking for any sign of attackers. It was then that a great howling and snarling erupted across the bridge the party had used to enter the compound. Two enormous wolves, large Goblins clutching to their backs, charged across the bridge, with nearly a dozen Goblins on foot racing behind. At the same time, furtive figures could be seen scurrying around the remains of the barn from the north.
(In truth, the barn ruins were probably still far too hot for this, particularly considering how long Belgarath managed to delay them burning down with his Unseen Servant, but I didn’t give this enough thought at the time, and none of my players, not even the one with training as a volunteer smoke-sniffer, noticed.)
The Goblins’ plan quickly became clear, as the two wolf-mounted champions charged the door to the main stone building, and lay into it with two-handed axes! The party and the locals moved to the windows to stop the assault with missile fire, but as they did so, a hail of sling stones was loosed from the score of Goblins skulking in the ruins of the barn. The cover of the homestead's windows was enough, however, and none of them were injured, but the risk of being exposed enough to fire on the group assaulting the door meant risking the slings-stones of their kin. Worse, the axe-wielding Goblin champions took cover behind their wolves as they worked, the snarling beasts shrugging off arrows that would have doubtless felled their masters.
“Oil, get the oil!” Mearl shouted above the din. (Belgarath’s player was mostly playing his Henchman, with his primary character out of spells, a terrible shot at -2 to Attack Throws for 5 Dexterity, and stuck on the roof of the tower. The party had discussed heating oil in a pot in the kitchen in the main stone building, but for some inexplicable reason had thought it best to wait until under attack to heat it!) Caasi raced down to the kitchen, her sling unusable at the available openings (I ruled a sling couldn’t be used at the arrowslits in the tower). She ran into the kitchen, where several of the weaker members of the Sukiskyn household clustered near the hearth, but no oil was yet cooking! There was a heavy splintering sound as part of the door gave way, the huge maw of a wolf briefly trying to force its way through before withdrawing. The axe fell again…
“Out! Out! Everyone, upstairs!” Caasi shouted above the din, ushering them through to the great hall and up to the second floor. She then set about barricading the stairs, hoping to slow down whoever – or whatever – came through the door when it gave way.
The party and their allies on the second floor tried, at risk to themselves, to keep the Goblins from getting in. Under the pelting fire of sling stones, Pyotr was struck several times, stoically ignoring his injuries to return fire. Waevryn was also struck, and took a sling stone to face, collapsing in a froth of blood from her nose. Another volley of arrows from the defenders felled a Goblin Champion, and one of the Dire Wolves. Though injured, the other large Goblin continued hacking, the door and barricade gradually collapsing under the blows of his axe.
With a crash, the door gave way, and one of the Dire Wolves leapt into the building, snarling! The look of triumph on the Goblin Champion’s face was short lived, however, as Erasmus planted an arrow between his shoulder blades, killing him. At the same time, Mearl threw a flask of military oil in front of the door, the flames killing several Goblins and blocking the entrance. The remaining Goblins, seeing their champions and mighty wolves killed, wavered and broke. Those skulking in the burnt out barn withdrew north towards the woods, and those intending to assault the building split and ran in two different directions. The larger group milled about in the courtyard too long, and were cut down by arrow fire. A smaller group of three ran out of sight around the stone building, headed out through the horse pens. Much to their surprise, they ran full tilt over Kalasandr’s caltrops, and were all left injured and hobbling. They still managed to make their way (slowly!) back ’round the building, and slipped out across the bridge, unnoticed.
Screams and cries rang out in the great hall as the massive wolf bounded across the room and began clambering over the makeshift barricade Caasi had set on the stairs. As the huge wolf came over the barricade, it let out a rumbling growl that elicited more screams from Pyotr’s family. Caasi stepped forward, a look of grim determination on her face, raised her ebon mace aloft, and shouted, “You…SHALL NOT…PASS!” bringing her mace down on the beast’s muzzle as it prepared to leap, crushing it’s skull. The massive wolf fell dead at her feet.
(After a depressingly long streak of poor rolls that wouldn’t hit the broad side of a burning barn, Caasi’s player finally turned in a solid Attack Throw and maximum damage, killing the injured wolf. The table erupted in cheers! Unfortunately, this did nothing for her Initiative Rolls for the rest of the night, and she still averaged about a 1.1 on a D6, perpetually going last each round.)
An eerie quiet descended on the household, broken only as the drumming and chanting in the woods resumed. Kalasandr and Caasi tended to Waevryn, who was very badly injured: she had been blinded by the sling stone that had struck her down, and was badly concussed. She would need several weeks of bed rest before she would be up and moving, but even that would not restore her sight.
Endithas and Erasmus checked the bodies of the Goblins, finding a few coins, and then proceeded to pile their corpses in the doorway to bar the shattered portal. A fire was started in the kitchen, tended to by the one-eyed manservant, Stelios, and oil heated in a cauldron. With the realisation that the ground floor likely could not be held against another, more determined assault, the remaining vulnerable members of the group were sent to the top of the tower with Belgarath.
Then the waiting began again, the incessant drumming and chanting wearing on the defenders once more. All seemed calm until midnight approached, when the chanting and drumming again fell silent. As the party tensed, the silence was abruptly broken by screaming. Several members of the group moved to the east-facing windows. Before them in the eastern clearing they could see the Goblins dragging a prisoner, what appeared to be a woman in a yellow dress, along the edge of the treeline.
“No!” shouted Darya, pushing past the others, “Katarina has such a dress… if the Goblins have already attacked the Cherkass homestead…”
“We must not throw off caution…” Pyotr began, laying his hand on her shoulder, but his wife shook it off and turned to the party, nearly sobbing, “PLEASE! You cannot leave her in the hands of those creatures! I BEG YOU!”
Caasi was moved by the woman’s pleas, and with Fodora and Mearl in tow, she moved out to attempt to rescue the woman. As the trio headed across the field, the Goblins holding the woman drew their blades, as if threatening the woman’s demise. With the helpless woman so close and yet so far, Mearl’s temper snapped – he raised his arbalest to his shoulder, and in spite of meagre moonlight, underbrush, and the range, fired a bolt at one of the two despicable Goblins restraining the woman. He had already jammed his foot in the stirrup of the arbalest to recock the bow when the first bolt struck home, piercing the Goblin’s left eye and slaying him instantly! A second bolt followed, and the other Goblin stood, mouth agape, as it arced through air to embed itself in his throat. With confused gurgle, he released the figure in the yellow dress, and collapsed.
(Mearl nailed it, with an Attack Throw of 20, followed by maximum damage! Realising he’d dropped the first Goblin, he rolled to Cleave, following up with an Attack Throw of 17, and nearly maximum damage again! Belgarath’s player, who tends to complain about his Mage a lot, lamented the fact that his main Character could “never do something so useful.” I had to point out that two Magic Missiles would’ve likely done the same without even requiring an Attack Throw, and from the safety of the building. The grass is always greener...)
The trio began shouting as they hustled forward, urging Katarina to come with them. Alas, they were brought up short as “Katarina” looked up from the dead Goblins to stare at them. The leering face of a Hobgoblin looked out at them from beneath a crude wig. Somewhere off to the left, they could still hear what almost sounded like a woman’s screams…
Goblins ran forward from the trees, and the party came under fire from Goblin slingers in the woods. In frustration, Mearl and Fodora fired shots as they began to run, and at least had the satisfaction of seeing the Hobgoblin in the yellow dress fall, a bolt and an arrow in his back. As they began to run in earnest, trying to outdistance the rain of sling stones, arrows flew over their heads back towards the Goblins, Endithas slaying enough of them to discourage pursuit. The three made it back inside, largely unscathed, and the doors were barricaded anew.The defenders grew quiet, realising how easily they’d been duped, and waited for whatever new scheme the Goblins would attempt to end the siege.
A few hours had passed, with the time well past midnight, when the chanting and drumming suddenly reached a fever pitch, and fell silent once more. Again, the party strained at the windows, watching for which direction an attack might come…
(Sadly, Belgarath flubbed his Surprise Roll.)
…but that direction was most unexpected! The beat of leathery wings was their only warning, as five dark shapes swung down before the full moon and fell upon the helpless and vulnerable at the top of the tower. Belgarath was slashed by a great bat’s fangs, and fell to floor, limp and unmoving. (Giant vampire bats, and poor Belgarath failed his Save versus Paralysis.) The vile thing draped its leathery wings across the Mage and began to feed! Pyotr’s mother and son also fell beneath these nightmares given form, but weeping Masha, who had already lost both her husband and father to the Goblins, managed to dodge the foul creatures, and ran screaming down the tower stairs, babe in arms, with two of the great bats at her heels.
Warned they were being attacked from a new direction by Marsha’s screams, Endithas Wolfram ran for the tower stairs. Kalasandr, on the opposite side of the homestead, instead decided on a more… direct route; the Thief once again slipped out a window and clambered onto the roof. Nimbly hopping to his feet, he ran across the roof, and began scaling the outside of the tower! Mearl, knowing his master was in danger, loosed the hounds, who bolted towards the tower faster than any could follow.
Masha managed to stay ahead of the bats, running down to the ground floor of the tower, passing Endithas on her way. The big man blocked the stairwell, arresting the bat’s pursuit, but he then faced the flying horrors and their paralyzing bite alone. As he tried to kill the flying things, Belgarath’s faithful hounds raced past, slipping by on the narrow stair. Fortunately, Endithas’ sturdy armour (and a successful Saving Throw) saw him through (after many rounds of missing). With the bats slain, Endithas charged up the stairs with several other party members close behind.
They burst through the door to the battlements to be greeted by a grisly scene: the bloodsucking fiends had drained the very lifeblood from Kuzma and Matvey, leaving them pale and lifeless. One of them, formerly draped across Belgarath, had been torn apart by the War Dogs. The remaining creatures took to wing as the party charged them, escaping over the battlements towards the main building, and above the defenseless Thief still climbing the side of the tower (“You dick!” were the Player’s exact words to me, but the bats weren’t headed for him…).
The bats flew down and squirmed through one of the second floor open windows, paralysing another party member before they were finally destroyed by Pyotr and Mearl. The party had once again defended the homestead, but at great cost. The bodies of Kuzma and Matvey were moved with the remainder of the non-combatants to the ground floor of the tower. The party neglected to tell victims' family about it, as they were still needed in defense of the homestead. The party could ill afford them being rendered useless by grief.
Another long, slow period of ceaseless drumming and chanting followed. However, as the sky first began to brighten in the east, the sound changed. Much of the drumming and chanting fell away, as if many of the Goblins had given it up. What remained changed entirely, with no drumming, and only a droning, slow chant coming across the eastern clearing. The party braced to hold until dawn. Then shouts went up from both sides of the homestead: from the west, across the bridge and through the burnt out gatehouse, came three of the largest Goblins the party had yet seen. They charged the door and the mound of bodies blocking the way. Far more terrifying, from the semi-dark to the east, a great host of Goblins, perhaps forty or more, boiled forth bearing crude siege ladders…
Endithas, Erasmus, Mearl, and Pyotr fired volley after volley into the great Goblins, as the all others moved to defend the eastern windows. The Goblin leaders were soon slain by the withering hail of missiles, but not before the horde on the other side of th building had thrown up ladders and begun to scale the wall!
Grim determination gripped the party, and they threw all they had at the besieging Red-blades: flaming military oil, arrows, bolts, and boiling cooking oil from the kitchen hearth. Still the Goblins came on, hacking and slashing as they tried to force their way through the windows. With a mighty heave of his rippling muscles, Endithas threw over one of the siege ladders (not having Domains at War handy, I decided a standard Open Doors Throw would do, and Endithas Wolfram gets a +8 due to his 17 Strength!), its occupants falling on their fellows below and crushing them. Caasi cooked dozens more with flaming oil, torching another ladder in the process.
With the assault faltering, the party began loosing missiles into the Goblins below, and their Morale finally broke, the pitiful remains of the Red-blades finally scattering into the pre-dawn light.
True silence descended on Sukiskyn at last! No chanting, no drums, and no cries of battle. As the sun rose, the party surveyed the carnage around the homestead; they were victorious!
Bodies were looted, and costs tallied, as Pyotr and Darya were informed of their great tragedy. The party had defended the homestead, but what had brought on the assault? And why had at least three tribes of Goblins united in such an endeavour?
What an unbelievably epic session! I previously joked about devaluing my module to run this, but even if I’d had to burn it to play it would have been worth it. Everybody had an awesome time (I think), and we went over our usual midnight stop time. Still, I can’t imagine fitting that many crazy-huge battles into a single 5-hour session of 3.x or 4E era D&D. Long live ACKS!
I’ve also realised that, as much as I like writing these session reports, I can’t keep writing epics like this! They just take way too much time (and who knows whether or not anyone reads them), even more so because I have to write them in tiny snippets due to my lack of available time to begin with. Let’s see if I can trim the next one down considerably…