Up the river without a paddle...
Session 17, Highreach River
“We should buy some equipment, and open some of the un-looted barrows…” Belgarath licked his lips. The Mage always seemed a bit… unseemly… when he was discussing money.
“Yes, yes…” the Mage retorted, “Fine, fine! We can buy the equipment now, and then examine the tombs as soon as we get back with the horses.”
“Should we really be carting all that heavy gear around on the boat?” Caasi asked. The rest of the party turned to her in surprise, “I mean… we’re going to hire a boat, right? Since you lot took the time to go out to the Barrowmaze. Do we really want to haul equipment upriver and overland?”
Kalasandr cleared his throat, “Um… no. You know, that’s a really good point. We can buy the gear when we get back, now, can’t we?”
Caasi shrugged, “I’m just saying…”
Belgarath blushed, mumbling something under his breath about easy money, before petulantly declaring, “Oh, fine!” with visions of grave goods still dancing in his head.
22nd to 23rd Fyrmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath, Stikini (Belgarath’s Owl Familiar), Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), 3 Wardogs belonging to Belgarath, Caasi, Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman), Endithas Wolfram, Erasmus (Endithas’ Henchman), Kalasandr, Waevryn and Solla (Kalasandr’s Henchmen)
Mortal Wounds: Solla was punctured by arrows (twice!) and fell to the deck, slamming her head into the hull of the boat, suffering minor brain trauma (-2 on magical research and proficiency throws, -10% penalty on earned XP). Waevryn was felled by arrows and had her genitals destroyed by an arrow, a secret she would prefer to keep.
The party decided against stocking up on shovels, crowbars, hammers, and chisels in advance of an overland journey, and decided they could purchase such tools upon their return. Instead, they headed to the nearby pier on the Highreach River, looking for transport upstream, closer to Sukiskyn. They found an able boatman, one Kelanos, who was ferrying cargo upriver to several of the lumber camps along the edge of the Dymrak Forest. An argument broke out between Belgarath and Kelanos, as the man known by his companions as The Miser haggled until satisfied the fare would come no lower.
The group left and returned to the pier at noon to see Kelanos and his crew finish loading the boat with cargo. As the eight oarsmen took their places, the party clambered aboard with their gear. All of them removed their heavy armor, wary that any fall into the water would prove fatal while so encumbered…
I started the session discussing the hiring of a boat to shave time off their trip, and warned them that falling overboard in heavy armour meant death by drowning.
…the boat launched around the noon hour, with Kelanos assuring his passengers that they would reach the ferry site to disembark before late afternoon.
The first couple hours passed in peaceful conversation. Belgarath, dwelling on the many visions his Familiar has endured, questioned Kelanos sharply about slavers in the area. Kelanos had heard no such rumours, and scoffed at the notion; Guido’s Fort and its problems were far away, and of no concern to him.
As Belgarath turned to discuss the matter with his companions, the boat lurched violently, a grinding noise coming from below the water. The party members stumbled and fell, and Kelanos let out a shout, confused. The boat was in the middle of the river, and he knew these waters well enough to know that no rocks should bar their way.
The clatter and clack of arrows rang out, as a surprise volley from the southern shore landed amongst the passengers. Endithas let out a grunt as an arrow pierced his thigh. They were under attack, ambushed from the shore! As the party looked to the south and attempted to recover their footing, a dozen figures leapt from the bank, splashing into the water, and began swimming towards the boat. Boarders!
Another volley of arrows was loosed against them, as Belgarath moved towards the front of the boat to see what they had struck. Several of the group suffered minor wounds. Worse, the oarsmen had released their oars, and were cowering behind the gunwales, leaving the boat to begin slowly drifting downstream. Below the prow Belgarath spotted the iron links of a chain, strung across the river. They were not going to be able to pass without removing it.
Caasi and Fodora began to move along either side of the boat, frantically trying to get the rowers back to the oars. As they struggled towards the bow, one of the oarsmen leapt up and attempted to stab Caasi with a large knife drawn from his belt! At the last second Caasi spotted her assailant, knocking his blow aside with her arm. The man was then on her, slashing wildly with his blade as Caasi gave ground.
Belgarath turned to the southern shore, and with a few arcane words and gestures, cast Light on the eyes of one of the archers. The man dropped his bow and began clawing at his face, blinded. The remaining archers loosed another volley, and as the arrows rained down amongst them, Solla was felled by an arrow through the shoulder, just below her neck.
The remaining party members finally regained their footing and grabbed their weapons, returning fire. One of the approaching swimmers was struck, slipping below the water, and an archer on shore was killed while knocking an arrow.
Back on the boat, Caasi defended herself from her assailant, but was unable to land a blow in return. Fortunately, Belgarath loosed his hounds with the command to, “Attack!” and his vicious Wardogs charged the traitor, the larger of the two clamping its heavy jaws on his genitals. The man let out an ear-piercing shriek as the two mastiffs bore him to the deck and tore him to pieces.
Arrows continued to fall, and Fodora was struck down, and another archer and two more swimmers were killed by the party’s increasingly accurate return fire. Belgarath screamed instructions at the oarsmen, and Kelanos finally got them back to work, one side rowing forwards, the other backwards. Ever so slowly, the boat moved to present its stern to the archers.
Caasi rushed to tend to her servant, Fodora, while Kalasandr lowered his bow to check on Solla. Upon examination , it appeared Fodora was merely stunned, but Solla had taken an arrow to her helmet and was knocked out.
While the Henchmen were tended to, the rain of arrows paused as the first of the boarders finally began clambering over the rail. Belgarath dispatched the first of these with a Magic Missile, the man’s corpse tumbling back into the river. The others reached the deck and attacked with knives, only to be killed by the party’s counter attack. Moments after the dogs pulled down the last of them, the remainder of the swimmers reached the side of the boat and began boarding. More of the second group were already injured, struck glancing blows by arrows during their swim, and they, too, were quickly dispatched.
As Kalasandr slashed the last of the boarders, severing the fingers of his right hand, the man threw himself overboard to escape, and another volley of arrows fell upon them. Solla, already mortally wounded, was struck by another arrow and fell to the deck again, Caasi immediately rushing to her aid. Waevryn took an arrow to the groin, and waited screaming on the deck until Caasi could leave Solla to attend to her.
Kelanos, having regained command of the situation, had the oarsmen pulling hard for the opposite shore. The boat quickly moved beyond effective bowshot, and the ambushers on the south shore melted into the underbrush. The boat was brought into the shallows, and Kalasandr disembarked to deal with the chain, while Belgarath and Caasi began examining the bodies of the boarders, discovering scars on their wrists and ankles, and a now familiar tattoo of two manacles connected by a chain on their forearms. The slain men appeared to carry nothing else of value.
Once the chain was released and the wounded cared for, the boat pushed off and continued on its way for another hour-and-a-half to Misha’s Ferry. As they approached the small dock and began to unload their gear and an unconscious Solla, Kelanos called out for Misha herself, but received no reply.
“Have no fear, my friends…” Kelanos said, “She often goes out hunting with that mangy bear of hers, but she’ll doubtless return before nightfall. Make yourselves comfortable by the fire in her cabin; I can assure you she will not mind!” As he pushed the boat off from the dock, he turned to speak to the party, “Again, my sincere thanks for dealing with the bandits on the river. We would have been in serious trouble without you. Take care, and swift travels!” and with that, the oarsmen began pulling them on their way upstream.
Taking a few minutes to explore their surroundings, the party quickly determined that the door to the cabin was unlocked, and that there was, indeed, no one around. Belgarath had Stikini scout the area from high in the air, but no one and nothing could be seen, save the green, rolling expanse of the Dymrak Forest stretching away to the south. Satisfied that they were safe for the moment, the party began to settle in to await the arrival of Misha: the Mage managed to catch a rabbit for the soup pot, Endithas started a fire, and Kalasandr chopped wood to replace what they would doubtless burn through the night.
As he worked, the Thief heard a rustling in the undergrowth, and looked up in time to see an enormous bear, easily five times his size, wander out of the underbrush on the other side of the cottage clearing. The bear raised its head, sniffing the air, before catching site of the Thief and, with a grunt, charging! Kalasandr dropped his hatchet and ran for the cabin, barely outpacing the huge animal. He managed to bar the door just before its enormous bulk slammed into the portal, the entire cottage shivering with the impact.
After a moment’s consideration, Belgarath decided to try and appease the animal, offering rabbit carcass out the windows. The bear attempted to rip his arm off for his trouble, but during the process, Belgarath noticed that the bear appeared injured, with numerous small slashes on its back and the top of its head. The bear eventually calmed enough to give up, and wandered off into the woods. Rather unnerved, the party secured the cabin and bedded down for the night, the only disturbance of their slumber the howling of many wolves.
Come the morning, Misha still hadn’t returned, and the group began theorizing wildly, speculating that the bear and Misha were actually one in the same. Belgarath sent his owl Familiar, Stikini, to track the bear. The owl noted that the bear headed off to the north, but his sharp eyes picked out a profusion of other tracks in the vicinity of the cabin: the bear’s erratic tracks from at least two days before, flecked with blood, as if it had lashed about randomly. Even stranger, no tracks of any assailant were found. A similarly erratic set of tracks, perhaps those of Misha, were seen to exit the cabin, move to the dock, and disappear. Once again, no tracks of any attackers were found.
Giving up on the mystery for the moment, the party found the well-marked trail and set out for the hike to Sukiskyn. Strangely, they only decided to heal the most wounded of their number, Solla (who was unconscious), leaving several other party members badly hurt. They made good time on the broad, clear trail, and arrived in the vicinity of Sukisyn that evening in the gloaming. The smell of a fire made their stomachs rumble, but as they continued, the smell grew stronger. Presently, rising smoke could be seen above the trees, with the cries of combat reaching their ears. They began to hustle forward, but as they broke from the trees near a wooden bridge, Goblins adorned with wolf-pelts leapt from the underbrush in ambush, with Mearl and Endithas Wolfram in front, and Erasmus and Waevryn in the second rank being attacked.
The fight was short and vicious, with the already injured Endithas nearly being felled but for a draught of honeyed healing potion, the timely casting of Cure Light Wounds by Caasi, and a well-timed Magic Missile from Belgarath slaying a Goblin. As the party gathered their bearings after the fight, they could see they were at the foot of a wooden bridge across a small river, and that what must surely be the Sukiskyn homestead sat on the far side. The wooden palisade and barn of the homestead were the source of the smoke, with fire spreading up the near side of the building.
“COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!” shouted a voice from across the river. A woman stood atop the wooden gatehouse on the far side of the river, waving frantically in the party’s direction. The party began to move, then broke into a run as they spotted a troupe of Goblins astride the backs of enormous wolves loping along the far bank. They would be cut off from the homestead’s gate!
It was a near thing with their wounded, but the party managed to make it through the gate ahead of the wolves, as a second person slammed and barred the gate behind them. A cacophony of howling and snarling erupted from outside the palisade, as the frustrated animals vented their anger at being denied fresh prey.
“This way!” shouted the party's saviours, running towards a central stone building. The barn to their left was burning, and fire was starting to spread to the adjoining palisade. The screams of horses could be heard off to the right, and as the party began to follow their new found friends, there was a “Crash!” as the gate on the far side of the courtyard was smashed in. Another groups of Goblins, these ones carrying crude, red-daubed weapons, pushed their way through.
“We’ll handle this…” Kalasandr deadpanned.
“We’ll take the long way…” proclaimed the woman, as she and her companion moved behind the party and around towards the stone building.
The Goblins snarled a challenge, brandishing their bloody-looking weapons over their heads, but were almost immediately cut down to a man (Goblin?) by missile fire. The threat dispatched, Caasi moved to the shattered gate to block the way, discovering a crude battering ram that had been used to smash through. Kalasandr and Endithas liberated one of the doors from the now burning barn, hauling it over, and the three of them placed the door to block the breach, bracing it with the Goblins’ own discarded ram. In the meantime, Belgarath pulled a bucket from the barn, climbed the gatehouse, tossing the bucket over the palisade near the burning side of the barn. He then cast Unseen Servant outside the palisade, and had his invisible minion begin hauling buckets of water from the river to dump them on the spreading fire. The Unseen Servant quickly doused the palisade, but the invisible minion could not throw water very high, and was unable to reach the worst of the flames on the barn itself.
Kalasandr bravely (foolishly?) dodged into the burning barn, seeking a ladder, which he found while losing his eyebrows. He returned to the gatehouse, and passed the ladder up to Belgarath, the Mage pushing it over the wall for his Unseen Servant. Now able to reach the flames on the barn, the Unseen Servant managed to considerably slow the spread of the fire. Nevertheless, it was clear it was only a matter of time before the barn would be consumed, and the magical bucket brigade was only delaying the inevitable.
With the most immediate threats contained, Endithas Wolfram, Erasmus, and Mearl headed behind the stone building to the far side of the compound. Here they found a stable, a smithy, stalls and paddocks; all were empty, the horses gone, and the gate at the back of the pens had been smashed. They also discovered the bodies of two humans, clearly the victims of Goblin violence, presumably killed defending the horses. Moving inside to the second floor of the stone smithy, Endithas spotted the red eyes of Goblins across the river, reflecting the light of the burning barn. He and the Henchmen took a few shots, but the darkness and cover of the forest left them uncertain as to whether or not they had hit anything.
With the burning of the barn slowed, the horses gone, and ominous chanting and drums in the woods, the party (save Belgarath, who had to remain close to his Unseen Servant) regrouped in the main stone building to decide what to do next…
And with that, we broke for the evening, with the time well past midnight. This was one of the more intense sessions we’ve had since this campaign began, and one of the first times the party’s total resources have really been tested, largely due to being unable to return to a friendly port in a storm (e.g. Guido’s Fort). This was also the first time the party ever ended a session unable to return to safety (i.e. trapped in Sukiskyn, surrounded by Goblins). The situation presents new complications, as I have thus far been unwilling to parachute characters in and out of adventures. I’m going to do my best to wait until the same players are available before picking up where this session left off.
Another big highlight of this session for me, personally, was finally (after 25 years!) being able to pull out B10: Night’s Dark Terror, place down the map, and use the included counters to give the party a clear sense of what was happening. I joked about immediately devaluing the module as I punched the counters, but the truth was that I was massively excited to finally use the thing in actual play. It didn’t disappoint!