Chronicles of the Grim Fist, part II

Starting a new thread for this, because the old one was getting long in the tooth … and I don’t think they’ll be going back to the Maze du Châtel anymore. Plus, they got their party affiliation rings, so “Chronicles of the Grim Fist” seemed more fitting.

Lanthechilde’s player’s wife has been pregnant for a while, so we’re losing the player. Exactly how soon is unknown but he’s expecting to be unavailable within the week, so we played two sessions this week (Sat and Sun), and he dropped out, effective today. Joyous occasion! But alas, player down.

I’m also changing the format a bit. It’s too laborious to transfer my Excel spreadsheet of party + henches to a forum-friendly method, and I’ve started off-loading some of the tracking to the players anyway, so I won’t be posting stats anymore.

With all of that said, let us move on to the chronicle itself …

Session 10

Month 6, Weeks 3 and 4
The party takes two weeks to “do their own things.”

Galswintha + henches add to their repertoire. The Grim Fist party rings arrive, and Galswintha’s foresight becomes evident - she ordered extras, and the extras are needed.

Vulfelind pays for combat training for Almalinda; commissions exceptional armor for her henches; ; and re-interviews her henches to find out what they want in life (which the Judge kind of, ah, stumbles through).

Lanthechilde hires a sage of history, and gets a map of the old dwarven highways, and cross-references the party’s notes. “Pegasus Peak” (Galswintha named it, it stuck) turns out to be a dwarven mountain fastness, long since lost. The sage has a pet theory that a wizard (long after the dwarves left) cross-bred hill giants and apes for slaves … and that this is what collapsed civilization in that entire area.

Chlodomer pays Amarante as a sage to study the stars for the party; sends Grizzba and Grace to study at their “guild”; pays for Galagunde and Agalinda to register and study at the Illusionist’s Guild; and sits down with Haramer to plan out a small mercenary company for long-term employment. After further discussion, Chlodomer and Haramer decide to hire them as henches - four fighter-1 squad leaders as Haramer’s henches, each with four heavy infantry mercenaries as their henches. They start by looking for mercenaries and fighters, and then offer them longterm hench employment (with the usual mercenary pay + treasure shares). When they have their small force, Chlodomer Chlodomer upgrades their gear to plate and two quality spears (+1 to hit), and has colored livery and a banner made. At Galswintha’s insistence, he also gets them expensive, quality boots.

Month 7
Galswintha points at the ancient dwarven keep, “Pegasus!” Lanthechilde points at the wilderness between, “Ogres!”

The debate is never really in question, but Lanthechilde does manage to hold out for Galswintha filling out her entire available repertoire first.

That takes a month, during which the party adds one more wagon, 20 crossbowmen, 20 light infantry, and 10 medium cavalry; mirrors and military oil for everyone; and maps and other gear. Chlodomer’s heavy infantry are de facto in charge.

They set aside funds for six months, just in case.

Month 8, Week 1
Their first encounter is almost immediate: adventurers from Atanung (along with a large retinue of suspicious-looking mercenaries) who suspect the highway is clear, and are following the Grim Fist’s trail to Orléans to make sure … and they’re almost there!

Our heroes don’t really mind - no harm in some mercantile competition, after all - when Amarante makes her Theology roll and asks the other adventurers why they’re all wearing Belial’s Blessing (a Chaotic religious symbol).

Wrong question! Four adventurers, six bands of brigands, and their brigand leaders attack.

Chlodomer charges the front rank, ignores a dozen spear thrusts, and slaughters everyone within reach in a single pass. Then Haramer’s heavy infantry march through the hole and start laying about them … and crossbows pepper the back rank. Brigands begin fleeing almost immediately. The two enemy fighters close in on Chlodomer, Thorismund and Ingunde flank and support him, and he slaughters them in short order as well.

The enemy mage manages to sleep some infantry before Grizzba, Vulfelind, and Lanthechilde descend upon him and stab him to pieces. The priest doesn’t even get that much - Team Cleric stomps him into the dirt before he can draw breath.

Then everyone switches to ranged weapons for the stragglers. And then it is over.

They find the usual coins and gems upon the enemy, but they also luck out on the NPC party’s gear!

With Amarante’s help, they suss out two rings of protection +1 (Vulfelind and Lanthechilde), a quarter-moon shield +3 (twin to Chlodomer’s, goes to Shadagrunde), bracers of mastadon hide (AC 6, Galswintha), an elven sword +1 (Lanthechilde, who lends her short sword +1 to Harberic), and a war hammer +2 (unknown providence, Shadagrunde).

A ring with a ruby eye sigil, a potion (also tasted by the alchemists, and still unknown), and a set of leather armor remain unknown, and go into the party bag.

The next day, they spot the same giant hawk from their previous trip, and Veneranda casts speak with animals to call to it. They chat for a while, and the hawk decides it really likes Veneranda … and that’s that.

They miraculously avoid a nest of pit vipers, say hi to their grizzly bear friend again, reach the point where they can see what Galswintha is calling Pegasus Peak, and turn off the highway. They make it roughly a mile into the forest when they come across a tall hill. A small stream runs nearby, and there is an easy path around the hill, but …

Three wyverns are crowded around a pegasus corpse at the top of the hill.

Shadagrunde starts to suggest going around. Galswintha and Vulfelind declare their attack, loud, clear, and in stereo.

The rest of the party starts to argue with them, a bit excessively, and lose their round - the wyverns are surprised, so the first round ends up being Galswintha, Vulfelind, and their henches alone.

A bless precedes a fireball and three concerted magic missiles, and the first wyvern dies before it can blink. Vulfelind and her fighters drop arrows into the second fireball victim, dropping it. And then Baldaswind, her tigers, the war dogs, and a giant hawk descend like the Lady’s Fist upon the last.

There is a moment or two of respectful silence.

Chlodomer finally clears his throat, “Right. Don’t hurt the pegasus. I think we’re clear on that, now.”

Close by, they find the wyvern’s nest, surrounded by a litter of broken shells, and decorated with a small handful of gems, fur capes, and jewelry, and a bright, eye-catching dagger.

Amarante identifies the dagger, a curved slashing blade from a distant kingdom and marked with a pair of goblinoid faces in gold and silver, as a dagger +2, +3 versus beastmen (Galswintha).

Careful examination reveals the relatively tiny hoard to be easily worth 30,000 gold or more … of which a third is a single, facet-cut, flawless blue diamond.

Day 8
The party and their small army avoids two bands of roving ogres, and sees signs of more, before getting close enough to Pegasus Peak to just make out the vast, shattered iron doors into the mountain fortress, as the sun is setting, and decide to make camp.

Night falls as the first watch takes over …

Session End Notes
The wyvern fight was the most focused I’ve seen Galswintha’s player during a combat scene - she usually tolerates the combats so that she can get to talking to Grizzba or buying fantasy footwear. Someone murdered a cute animal, though? She played that fight to win.

It helped that this was the first session she had fireball in, of course!

Current XP total awaiting return to civilization: 37,800 (includes gold, which has already been split). Not as much as it looks like, when the henches are accounted for.

Session 11
Day 9
The party deploys scouts to spot and help avoid roving ogres, steering clear by miles where possible, holding still and praying when not. Surprisingly, they make it to the base of the mountain without incident, and Galswintha spots at least one pegasus nest, set into a nook in a sheer rock face near the top of the mountain.

And perhaps owing to a bit of overconfidence, when a path up the mountain is available, take it.

… and walk straight into a lair.

Here, granite has been carved away to form a defensible hollow, and a surprisingly well-crafted càrn marks the center. Seated in a semicircle near the back of the lair, three female giants (14 feet tall) look up from their sculpting, angry at the interruption.

They have skin like polished malachite, eyes of rust-brown, and straight, incredibly long blue-black hair woven into complex braids. They are each dressed differently: one (Gebede) wears a shawl and wrap of ermine cloaks, pinned with a cryselephantine hairpine; another (Dagunde) wears awkwardly stitched-together mail armor over bear skin, and heavy fur shoes of whole bear hide; and the last (Clothilde) wears a silk tapestry depicting a saintess calming a bear by a meadow stream as a grecian robe. Two bears sleep at the feet of the last.

Gebede remains seated; the other two stand up and Dagunde steps in front, drawing a dwarven-looking shortsword which she wields as a knife. Clothilde says something sharp in her own language, and the bears shamble to their feet … and two more come padding in from another room in the hollow.

Chlodomer is fast to apologize for the intrusion. Unfortunately, they do not appear to understand his crude, Frankish language, although they do pause long enough to listen. The one armed with a human shortsword finally shakes her head impatiently and spits something out … and Galswintha recognizes a hint of Greek and pounces, repeating Chlodomer’s apology in the older tongue.

Galswintha lacks Chlodomer’s natural diplomacy, good cheer, quiet confidence, aura of likeability, charm, wit, people-savvy, and absolutely astonishing good looks … but does manage to persuade the immense beings that neither she nor her friends intend them ill will, and that a fight would go poorly for all parties.

Clothilde finally puts a hand on Dagunde’s arm, and then gives Galswintha directions up the mountain that do not require stomping through the giantess’ home. The party retreats and make their way around.

Near the end of the day (with one actual fight with a lone ogre, but hardly worth noting), they find themselves at the base of the sheer rock face where Galswintha’s pegasi are.

She failed to mention how high it was, or how sheer.

Grumbling, the party sets up camp and beds down at the base of the rock.

Night 9
At midnight, a warband of 13 ogres attack … and fail to get surprise on those awake (one squad of heavy infantry, 5 crossbowmen, 5 light infantry, Lanthechilde, Harberic, Merideth, Thorismund and Ingunde, Merovia, Galagunde, and Agalinda - you know, a freaking quarter of the party).

Still, a baker’s dozen of ogres, all at once, with no traps set and no surprise, and not from a direction chosen by the party, remains a scary thing.

The fight takes four rounds, in all; and only the latter two have the whole party involved. Healing is substantially improved with the party’s large cleric contingent, but there are still some scars.

They find, among the ogre’s traditional gold, a crude twig figure of a person wrapped in a bit of white cloth and a golden necklace, and spattered with blood. Chlodomer is beside himself - “WHO IS TELLING ALL OF THESE OGRES I’M THEIR DEVIL?”

The Judge just grins.

Day 10
In the pre-dawn, the party tracks the ogres back to confirm a suspicion, and sure enough, the ogres were following the Grim Fist’s trail … the campfires of a few more warbands are visible in the distance.

Galswintha insists on warning the giantesses, who look saddened, and begin packing up their sculptures and gear. Gebede explains, “We fought the ogres off once, and earned sufficient respect for them to leave us alone … but it cost us the lives of our husbands. We will not survive another fight, so we must leave. Thank you for the warning. If you wish, this hollow is defensible, and you may use it once we leave.”

While the giantesses pack, Lanthechilde and her henches head out to scout the ogres; Shadagrunde and his henches pray; and Galswintha, a gleam in her eyes, confers with Chlodomer and Vulfelind. When Lanthechilde returns with numbers and positions, the party tactics session goes into full swing, and finally, Chlodomer writes a message down for Galswintha, which she memorizes …

And as the giantesses start to walk out of the hollow, Galswintha tugs at the hem of Dagunde’s mail skirt, “Please accept my apologies for this delay, but we have fought ogres before, in greater numbers, and seen victory at the other end. If you fought alongside us this once, I believe we could crush the warbands in the wood below with sufficient force to give them a generation of pause before they thought to take this mountain again.”

They are persuaded, if just.

There is no time to dig pits, no space or time to divide and conquer, and precious little cover, but the Grim Fist has the high ground, and a hollow of stone that can reduce the number of ogres able to attack simultaneously … as long as they can hold the entrance. They pour the party’s entire supply of military oil in a line 100 feet downhill.

An hour after dawn, four ogre warbands begin charging up the mountain.

At 300 feet distance, the giantesses throw three rocks, all aiming for the sub-chieftain in the lead … and killing him! At 180 feet, archers and slingers loose, preferentially targeting boars, and most of the ogre leadership falls to the ground. The charge falters, as the ogres wait a beat for the ogres to get to their feet to continue the charge (save for a few gangs whose leader remain mounted and continue charging alone). Another round of arrows and stones fall, and another sub-chieftain dies.

And then they reach the line of naptha and Galswintha’s fireball hits them, killing several ogres outright, and igniting the military oil, searing the vast majority of ogres just a little more.

The giantesses retreat behind the party and re-arm. Archers pull behind the front line. And Chlodomer, clad in his best whites, stands guard at the entrance, flanked by Baldaswind and her tigers, and Thorismund and Ingunde, and two spiritual weapons. Behind him, heavy infantry with spears. And behind them, archers and casters and giants.

The ogres, most of them still alive, decide to chance it and find that they have reached a point of no return. Assault ends in death, and retreat back down the mountain takes too long in the open, and ends in death. With no escape and no hope, the last remaining sub-chieftain falls to his knees and shouts a plea for mercy.

It falls on deaf ears (fun fact: the word “mercy” isn’t in the ACKS core book), but they do spare one ogre to send back with the story.

There is then a lengthy out-of-character discussion about stone giants, and what the PCs know about them - especially since some of the old-school players in my group were expecting gray-skinned bald men for some reason ;-).

After the diversion, Galswintha talks to the giantesses, with Chlodomer coaching her, and establishes a mutually beneficial arrangement:

  • The Grim Fist can use an unused portion of the hollow as a temporary base.
  • Chlodomer's armorer will link together mail from the giantesses' creates of armor to provide all of them with reasonably attractive tunics.
  • The party will set aside a day or two each week to hunt for the giantesses, and perform a few other chores difficult for fourteen-foot-tall humanoids.
  • Both sides will provide mutual protection against the ogres.

Days 11 through 14
The next three days are fairly humdrum. Hunting goes well (added to the ogre’s boar mounts, day 12 involves a feast of epic proportions), but Vulfelind and Lanthechilde’s initial explorations for a path up to the pegasus nest meet with failure (Galswintha can fly … but no one wants her to be up there alone).

On the fourth day, however, a lone ogre is visible down-mountain, waving a cobbled together truce flag just outside of range.

He has an eye patch and is kind of runty-looking.

Chlodomer beckons him up and promises safety for “the duration of parley,” and the ogre cautiously makes his way up the mountain. The discussion does not go well - the runt appears convinced that Chlodomer is going to kill him at any second. Chlodomer, when he saw the runt, became convinced that the runt was the one going around inciting ogre wrath against “the monster in white.”

(That latter is true, actually, but the runt denies everything and begs for mercy and denies everything again. It’s almost convincing.)

And then Vulfelind makes an impassioned speech about what it’s like to be the smallest, and how Chlodomer needs to be less of a bully … which leads to a rather loud argument about ethics and alignment and ogres and thieves and everything under the sun between the whole party.

The Judge lost track of who was on whose side and made what statements, so I will just summarize as: feelings were had.

Shadagrunde managed to calm everyone down. Chlodomer and Vulfelind were sent to separate corners of the hollow, while the other party members interviewed the runt, whose named turned out to be Ughunt.

Galswintha goes to talk to Vulfelind, but instead of chatting, casts ESP out of sight, and then returns.

Ughunt had been inciting the ogres to war. One of the ogres Chlodomer had killed was Ughunt’s bigger brother … and the only real protection Ughunt had had in his old tribe. When one village of ogres failed, he went to another and started the process up again, and had been trailing the PCs for half a year now.

The current village, however, knew a raw deal when they lost a limb to it. Having lost seven of nine warbands to the White Monster, they decided that was plenty sufficient indication, and dragged Ughunt to the edge of the mountain and left him there as a sacrifice to appease Chlodomer’s army.

And then Shadagrunde asks Ughunt what he would do if they escorted him out of the ogre territory and let him go. A hopeful look on his face, he replies, “Oh, I would flee and flee and flee. You would never see me again. Oh please please please, yes!”

In his mind, however, Galswintha heard the truth. That he would murder Chlodomer at first opportunity … and that he would find something other than an ogre village to throw at them, if he couldn’t manage that … and that first fall of night he would be looking for ways to slit throats and poison supplies and on and on and on.

Galswintha leaves, talks to Vulfelind about what she’d overheard in the ogre’s mind, and suggests that not all small people were also kind, and that it might be better to let this one die.

And when Vulfelind finally agrees, the party kills the runt and dump him down the mountainside with a little stick figure dressed in white tied around his neck.

The session ends on a somber note, and plans to discuss a new approach to finding a way to talk to the pegasuses.

Session End
Current XP total awaiting return to civilization: 69,000 (includes gold, which has already been split).

Stone Giants: stone giants are Neutral, but lack the fine-fingered finesse required to support industry or most technologies, and are too large to live on agriculture of their own doing, which largely keeps them at the hunter/gatherer level with mostly skins or borrowed gear. They do admire certain aspects of “small” culture, and some stone giants are deeply envious of the beautiful craftsmanship of the smaller races, which has led to altercations. These giantesses dressed themselves according to what they had available - i.e., treasure type N - which included tapestries, mail armor, fine fur cloaks, and the like.

Amazing stuff! I love the epic battles between heroic bands and bands of enemies.

An inspiring read. I’m curious; how do you handle XP shares for henchmen of henchmen? Quarter share, or half? Some of our party’s henchmen have been looking at hiring their own, but we’ve put it off because we’re not sure how to adjudicate the shares.

@Alex: Thank you! It’s getting a little ridiculous, though. I am really on pins and needles until the DAW rules are released :-).

@Jedavis: Hench: 0.5. Hench of hench: 0.25. Hench of hench of hench: 0.125.

Any other way would make hench of hench level too fast for hench to keep up.

Session 12
Lanthechilde continues to stay with the party, but has been put in the “notable NPCs” category, and will mostly be treating with the mercenaries - at next civilized stop, Lanthechilde will be going off to pursue her own thing. Her “party items” are pre-emptively split: her ring of protection going to Gurund, her sword +1 going to Haramer, and her shortsword +1 going into the party pot for later.

Day 15
The party has come to an agreement: Galswintha wants a pegasus. Chlodomer wants the dwarven fortress. Shadagrunde wants to cleanse the land of Chaotic ogres.

And Vulfelind wants to kick as much ass as possible.

Achieving most of these things will require bringing in laborers and crafters and animal trainers of unusual specialties … which isn’t going to happen so long as the region is as dangerous as it is. So step one to getting a pegasus, is to clean house.

After some discussion, it is decided that the dwarven fortress should be checked and cleared first, since it would make a good base of operations and will fund the next step: driving out the ogre villages.

The fact that this will coincide nicely with the party’s entrance to higher levels is also good ;-).

The Grim Fist spends most of the remainder of the day carefully examining the entrance and external walls of the dwarven fortress. They don’t find much, and don’t expect to, but it does let them set some boundaries along parts of the map.
Day 16
Haramer, Gurund, Thorismund and Ingunde, and Lanthechilde (and their respective henches) remain with the giantesses, along with the mercenaries, to establish protection while the Grim Fist dungeon delves.

The remainder cautiously make their way into the upper levels of the fortress … and wipe out, in short order, two kobold warbands, three kobold gangs, and several giant fire beetles before finding an entrance down. None of those fights take long, but they decide to back off for the day.
Day 17
The party does a quick confirmation that the top level is cleared, and makes sure that they haven’t missed any secret doors … or at least some reasonable probability thereof.

Since the entrance level of the dwarven keep is fairly simple, this is similarly easy.

Then they go down the stairs to the keep proper, and run into the kobold’s den, where several warbands are in the middle of losing control over a giant boar they were intending to feast on. In the chaos, the party fireballs and then mops up kobolds and boar alike.

Among the treasures is a suit of leather armor +2 … which isn’t as good-looking as Vulfelind’s black widow armor, so she passes it to Grizzba; a shield +1, which goes to Haramer; a dagger +1, which goes to Gurund; and two potions (heroism and invulnerability), which go with Haramer (who gives it to one of his heavy infantry squad-leaders).
Days 18-21
The GM keys up some “test” encounters representative of the difficulty of the dungeon’s level 2 and 3, and adjudicates “how well” the Grim Fist clears out those dungeon layers based on those tests - it’s a bit of a cheat and a shortcut, but aside from bad luck, it simply isn’t likely that anything below the fourth level is going to be an interesting challenge.

… and that’s pretty much how it plays out. Six giant scorpions represent the worst threat the party faces … and even then, no one dies, thanks to two very good saves.

The Grim Fist’s map is updated, and they briefly - very briefly! - think they’ve emptied the keep. And then Galswintha notices that the architecture is different along the back of the keep.

Hastily bricked and plastered, there remain signs of a series of entrances. Toothy grins all around, the party tries to decide whether to go the noisy route or the slow route …

Galswintha pulls out one of the scrolls the party found, “Would a summoned earth elemental do?”

Galswintha first casts clairvoyance to check out the other side … and receives a very odd viewpoint, staring alongside the other side of the wall through a fisheye lens. She waits, and eventually catches sight of a hand - and figures out that there is a person on the other side of the wall, listening carefully! The room seems small and weird through the fisheye lens, but she finally decides to stop worrying about it.

She summons the earth elemental and it breaks open the wall.

A cyclops(!), against all odds, manages to get surprise, ducks under the entrance ceiling and steps around the earth elemental, curses Chlodomer (the one standing guard), then gets initiative and clobbers Chlodomer with a club.

The priests bless those not yet in melee and curse the cyclops; Galagunde manages to blind the cyclops; Vulfelind dives past the cyclops into the next room; Galswintha focuses on directing the earth elemental to attack; and everyone tries to beat on the cyclops.

Cyclops are pretty damned tough, however. Chlodomer stands and gapes, and the cyclops hits him again despite being blind.

Vulfelind hides in the next room, and another round of beating … this time, the earth elemental connects, dealing a grievous injury to the monster. Grizzba tries following suit, hiding on the far side of the cyclops.

And then the cyclops connects with Chlodomer a final time, dropping the white-clad hero with an eye-splattering blow to the face. Vulfelind backstabs the cyclops, the earth elemental hits again, and everyone piles on … and the cyclops continues to stand.

Picking his next target, the cyclops targets the concentrating mage … Galswintha. Who loses concentration and goes down with gruesome scarring, releasing the earth elemental from her control.

And then Grizzba ends the cyclopian tour of life with a high-damage backstab.

Unfortunately, the earth elemental is still loose. Shadagrunde discovers why Galswintha always carried certain scrolls in hand, even though that prevented carrying a weapon easily, and goes diving into his pack for the party’s only scroll of dispel magic.

While he does that, the earth elemental proceeds to clean the party’s collective clocks, an immense, berserk avalanche of destruction. Vulfelind and Grizzba are both killed!

It almost looks on the ropes, staggering past the bodies of the fallen, when Shadagrunde dispels it from this plane, and silence settles into the dimly lit keep storehouse.

What healing can be done, is done; Shadagrunde’s most valuable scroll (two restore life and limb spells) is expended on the thieves; and the party staggers back to the surface.
Month 8, Weeks 3-4, and Month 9
Chlodomer requires a month of rest … and is blind. Galswintha is disfigured. Various henches have also suffered, and civilization is quite a long ways away.

On the plus side, the cyclop’s treasure hoard is useful. A bowl of water elemental commanding and a bag of holding provide the means to thoroughly clean and ransack the top three levels of the keep.

With that done, the party decides to return to civilization long enough for restores, and then back out to the dwarven keep.

It takes two weeks to get back; blindness and disabilities slow the party down substantially. But no serious threats manage to show up.

We end in Orléans.

Session End
The party actually had two restore scroll spells, and would have done okay with just the cyclops … but the earth elemental resulted in two actual corpses, which received higher restore priority.

Not Galswintha’s finest hour.

They almost refused to use the bowl, until I pointed out that a bowl-commanded water elemental would be much, much weaker than a spell-summoned earth elemental. I never thought that would be a feature!

There was a fair amount of leveling, though, and everyone eventually achieved normal status again …

Vulfelind now glows like a candle to undead. Grizzba suffered no side effects.

Month 10
The party spends a month in Orléans, getting everyone restored who needs it. They also restock the wagons, continue to pay the mercenaries (who have, at this point, decided that the Grim Fist is a cash cow), and make the mages fill their repertoires again.

Chlodomer and Vulfelind swap henches with some difficulty … Thorismund and Ingunde have been working almost exclusively with Chlodomer, but get their paycheck from Vulfelind; and Grizzba works almost exclusively with Vulfelind, but has been getting her paycheck from Chlodomer. And in all three cases, the henches are fanatically loyal to their current employer.

Still, they work it out.

Chlodomer finds and recruits two level-4 fighters, Adela and Genofeva. Adela is a cataphract archer of uncommon wit and charm (and a sergeant); Genofeva is a swordswoman with an aristocratic background and amazing conversational skills.

Galswintha acquires a falcon familiar named Petite, and then … shops for the giantesses. And discovers that the shopkeepers remember her, which pleases her no end, and she ends up spending more than she had intended.

Vulfelind, Grizzba, and Grace test out the hijinks rules, focusing on Spying … and only Vulfelind finds anything worthwhile (but that’s worth 10,200 gold and decent XP). However, after a more careful reading of the horrible things that could happen to her henches if they get caught … she decides that the once is enough until she can get her hooks into a local economy for bribery and special pleading bonuses.

Shadagrunde spends the month at the Lady’s temple in Orléans, successfully producing a potion of neutralize poison. He also supervises his henches, Merideth, Grimaric, and Aggulita on the same formula, but only Merideth manages one. Still, two potions make their way into the party larder.

Month 11, Weeks 1 and 2
The party refills their expedition fund to six months, and heads out. No wilderness encounters really stand out - although a wing of manticores survived and fled (flight helps a lot with that), and the party added the manticores to the list of “cleaning projects” for the area.

When they reach the stone giant càrn and hollow, Galswintha presents the giantesses with eastern silk brocades, tapestries, rugs, silver bangles, earrings, massive yet stylish sandals, ceramic dishes, and 20-gallon vases decorated with scenes of mountains, streams, and bears. The giantesses are appropriately bewildered.

On to the keep!

A new sweep of the upper levels to ensure they are clear, and then back to the cyclop’s home. Here they tread very, very cautiously.

And when six muscular, obese men with sparse facial hair and creepy smiles greet them casually and invite the men into a poker game, the party refuses to play along, staying well out of reach.

The poker invitations get strident. Some of the men leer at the the women. Chlodomer finally outright refuses and draws his sword.

… and six wereboars angrily transform and attack.

Chlodomer attacks the smallest one first, decapitates it, and carries the stroke through into a brutal strike on the next one. Sadly, this does not engender any apparent terror in his opponents.

A second wereboar also goes down to a collective stabbing, and Galswintha wizard locks the only entrance to the room to prevent boar reinforcements from arriving.

Moments later the heavy oaken door bears up under a sudden battering, and her foresight is rewarded.

Another two wereboars go down. Chlodomer takes a substantial hit and is almost instantly healed. The door shatters inward, and a giant boar, two normal boars, and an immense boar with glowing red eyes bursts into the room.

Shadagrunde immediately drops sustained protection from evil on the central knot of the Grim Fist, and Veneranda, Merideth, Grimaric, and Aggulita begin concentrating on protection from evil to cover the remainder of the party.

The demon boar’s attempt at charm fails, and then everyone who can reach the monster takes a swing, but it remains standing, and more boars and giant boars pour into the room.

A prayer later, however, and the demon boar dies … and shortly thereafter, so do the wereboars, the boars, and the giant boars.

Wounds are patched. Disease is cured for those who were severely wounded. Poker cards are checked, and sure enough, all six were cheating.

During the retreat back to the top levels of the fortress, the party is attacked twice more: once by another wereboar and two giant boars; and once by a squad of rhagodessa.

They prevail, if just, and end up relying on the cárn-guarding henches to cover watch for the night.

Day 15
In the morning, they perform a fast and furious raid of the wereboar lair, making off with some impressive-looking gear that Amarante is unable to identify: elven-looking mail, a dwarven quarter-moon shield, and two greatswords.

The party seriously considers bricking up the wall again. Finally, they decide to troop almost everyone down for a dedicated clearing effort. The giantesses decline, and Haramer and the mercenaries remain with the giantesses.

They push on … and encounter undead. The first waves are easy enough with the party’s cleric contingent. Skeletons, zombies, wights, and wraiths are all dispatched. Between five clerics of level 4-6, a preponderance of magical weaponry, and basic good sense, the undead prove to be scary, but not SCARY.

That’s okay, though. Because the next door has a vast, evil-shadowed hall beyond, with a central altar to dark gods, a spectre who was obviously a mad king in life, three mummy advisors, wraiths, wights, zombies, and skeletons by the bucketful.

The party gets surprise … but mummy permanent-paralysis-on-sight times three is nasty. Agalinda, apprentice to Galagunde, illusionist servant of Chlodomer, is one of the few who isn’t paralyzed. She bravely runs as close to the undead army as she can … and casts Darkness Globe over the mummies, breaking line of sight and letting the party act.

Hastes, blesses, curses, turning, and an illusory wall of fire to hem in the undead, but everyone knows that as soon as the mummies move, paralysis is going to return.

So Chlodomer and Vulfelind, hasted, charge into the globe of darkness to keep the mummies tied up while the party cleans out the rest of the undead.

They kill two mummies in the first round. I’m glad haste ages people.

The remaining mummy and some wights attacks the one thing they can see clearly: Vulfelind. The spectre attacks Chlodomer, on the premise that he’s actually the more dangerous of the two.

Outside the globe of darkness, wights, wraiths, and a few last zombies die, and the party shouts for Chlodomer and Vulfelind to retreat.

They retreat, but the spectre finally hits Chlodomer’s absurd AC, aging him 20 years, and the mummy finally steps out, paralyzing a number of henches and Vulfelind.

And then all of the non-paralyzed people mop up.

Vulfelind has one hit point and mummy rot, and the clerics are tapped out, so the party loots what they can see quickly and retreats.

Excellent use of Darkness Globe!

Also I’ve been meaning to ask - where do you get your character names? They’re rather evocative.

The names are almost all Frankish roots. I have a list of a few hundred male and female Frankish names from which the players choose, and from which I draw NPCs; and I also allow remixing root and suffix to get a particular mix (Vulfelind was modified from Vulfegrunde and -lind/-linde, for example).

Of course, in play things sometimes get shortened to “clod,” “vulf,” “gal,” and “shad.” I try to not stomp too hard on their necks regarding theme and feel of the setting.

Some example male: Abbo, Abelard, Adalbert, Adaldag, Adalhard, Adelard, Adhémar, Aega, Ageric, Agilbert, Agiulf, Agobard, Aigulf, Alaric, Alberic, Aldgisl, Aleaume, Allowin, Amalaric, Amalricus, Amand, Amator, Amiel, Amils, etc.

Some example female: Aaliz, Adaliz, Adallinda, Adaltrude, Adelheid, Adeline, Aelis, Aicelina, Aiglante, Alais, Alazaïs, Albofleda, Alesta, Algaia, Alissende, Aliz, Allemande, Alpaida, Alpais, Amalasuntha, Amalone, Ameline, Andreva, etc.

Session 14
Day 16 and 17
Most of day 16, Vulfelind spends in recovery, and then heals all around.

The following day, the party heads back down, armed for bear, and discover that a few undead have already moved back in. The party re-clears the room, loots, destroys, blesses, burns … and then checks for secret doors, destroys, blesses, burns, and then piles everything in the middle of the room and blesses and burns it all one more time to be sure.

Among other things, they find scrolls of ward vs. undead, potions of undead control, Chaotic holy symbols, the altar itself, and other gear implying a necromancer … but all of it looks old and covered in dust.

The three mummies turn out to have been wielding matching, silver-edged scimitars +1 (two-handed swords) and chain mail +2; and two magical shortswords of unknown providence are found. After some squicky mummy-stripping, these are piled into the party hoard and split up.

They also find a pair of magical lenses which are unidentified (stored carefully and not tried), a ring of fire resistance, a covered mirror (they leave it covered), and a treasure map that seems to imply a secondary dungeon near the dwarven keep.

Day 18
After resting up, they tackle the secondary dungeon with full crew. Following the instructions on the map, they find a secret door in the side of the mountain which leads down a straight, diagonal path to the heart of the mountain (pyramid-style), full of traps.

The thieves earn their share of the XP, for certain.

After carefully disabling an unmentionable number of traps, they come into a large, hemispherical chamber with a lake of magma. Pillars of stone rise 10-30’ out of the magma, and in the center of the lake, a small round tower squats on a wider-than-normal pillar of stone.

This is all they have time to take in before the trap they missed goes off: an immense slab of rock falls into place, sealing the exit, and four tiger-shaped golems of petrified sap begin jumping from pillar to pillar toward the party.

Galswintha and one of her henches possess web, and they - with careful timing, manage to catch three of the amber golems mid-leap. The webs catch fire immediately … exactly as Galswintha intended. Those golems will be stuck for two rounds, then be free to fall straight down into the magma.

The remaining golem arrives alone, and promptly takes a severe thrashing from the party. It tears into Chlodomer for a round, and is then shoved backward into the lake of fire.

At about that time, the other three fall into magma themselves. Amazingly, they begin swimming out … so Galswintha and Gurund web them all in place for another two rounds in the magma. Meanwhile, closer to home, the polearm wielders all have a go at shoving the amber golem back in.

In all, what was intended as a terrifying encounter turns into a game of pushing the golem back into the fire. With the webs gone, the final three golems finally make it to the party as the first one expires, and are summarily beaten down from what few hit points they had left.

They begin slowly making their way across the lake of fire. Vulfelind gets curious about the “splashing” sounds as they land on a pillar, and dares to climb down for a lower point of view … and spots a lignemaid, staring curiously at the humans from behind the pillar. The lignemaid spots Vulfelind spotting her, looks surprised, and dives under the magma. With the same splashing sound.

Lignemaid are designed as mermaids/mermen, but with the ability to spit a glob of magma and immunity to fire damage. They are also said to be enchanting singers and avid wrestlers, and their kiss is said to bestow temporary fire resistance. Of course, that assumes they don't just grapple you and drag you under.

They start jumping very cautiously.

At the small roundtower, there is no door, but there is a massive, bronze golem set into the wall. As they near, it looks down at them, but takes no action. They creep closer. It looks down again, but takes no action.

They creep closer. A magic mouth appears, and gives a message in dwarf which no one gets. And then the golem steps out of the wall and lifts a tree-trunk-sized bronze mace to attack.

Shadagrunde whips out a scroll and casts dispel evil, and the golem’s center shatters, spraying molten metal outward, and burning the slower members of the party.

The hole left by the golem is effectively a door, and the party troops into the tower.

… which (aside from a substantial library written in dwarf, long-since-rotting spell components and laboratory liquids, and what looks like a partially-carved sculpture of white marble) is mostly empty. The party whips out the treasure map again and glares at it, but it provides no further information.

Vulfelind, clever girl, looks at all of the magma around the place … and puts her torch under the map. As it browns, more words show through!

“Among the maids, beneath the flame, ask the way, hope they’re tame.”
“When bronze steps forth, speak ‘galanato mor amas’ and pass.”
“To gold and flame, an offering of same, ends the hunt and stills the game.”
“A golden ring, a demon bound, ‘pax amas’ does sting, beneath the ground.”

Chlodomer stomps out of the room and leans over the edge of the vast stone pillar, catching a lignemaid by surprise … and smiling gently at her, “I hope you speak Frankish?”

She dives under the lava, then peeks shyly out a few rounds later … along with five others.

Shadagrunde decides it’s time for tongues and has a conversation with the lignemaids. Then he sighs and turns to Chlodomer, “They’ll take you to the door beneath the magma. They say they’re scared of taking too many people who might attack them.”

The party argues: everyone except Chlodomer is pretty sure it’s a trap. They argue long enough that Shadagrunde’s time almost runs out, and he finally has Chlodomer decide, then communicates to the lignemaids that Chlodomer is willing.

Chlodomer hands his prized shield and sword to Haramer to keep safe for the party, and climbs down, then he and one of the lignemaids disappears beneath the magma.

After an hour, lignemaids begin lifting up mithril chests sealed with dwarven runes to the party. Twenty six chests in all … and then Chlodomer’s head bobs up, and he explains that he’s been challenged to a duel by one of the lignemen fighters, and they won’t let him out until it’s done, but that should be by morning.

“And by then, maybe Shadagrunde can communicate with them again and get the details?”

Then he disappears back beneath the lava.

The party shrugs and starts pawing through the chests … and find a golden ring with a single dwarven rune.

Session 15
Day 19
The party camps in the tower.

At midnight, a ghostly dwarf briefly appears, says something in dwarvish (which Galswintha writes down phonetically), then disappears.

At dawn, no lignemaids appear. Vulfelind asks “Are we waiting to see if he lived, or if human goes best with red or white wine?”

A lignemaid finally shows up, and explains to Shadagrunde that Chlodomer decided to stay with them “for obvious reasons,” then tries to invite another party member to come down to talk to Chlodomer.

Upon translation, Vulfelind snorts, “He’s so dead. She wants another free meal; Shad, translate?”

The lignemaid knows what the two figs gesture means, though, and spits a globule of magma, just missing. More lignemaids and lignemen pop up from the depths of the lava to fight … and Galswintha drops the whole batch with a sleep spell.

Polearms are engaged to haul lignemen out of the magma. Shadagrunde questions the lignemaid, then demands she bring Chlodomer to the surface, “And if he’s dead, bring the corpse and his clothes. He would want a proper funeral, and we can use his body … or the bodies of your sleeping friends there.”

She returns with his skeleton and clothing, and Shadagrunde honors the implied bargain, but gives the lignemen a meaningful glare as they leave.

With no amber golems breathing down their necks, Vulfelind and Grizzba manage to find the mechanism for operating the trap stone and trigger it. It opens, they breathe fresh air for the first time in a day, and march to the surface. Calculations are done regarding restoration … and then the party heads out for Orléans.

Days 20 and 21, Week 4
There are no notable encounters on the way back.

Chlodomer is restored … but the body warps slightly in the casting, and Chlodomer discovers that his shins and feet are the white-maned, silvery hooves of a unicorn (-4 on human reactions, but grant a 1d8 kick attack with no STR bonus). That doesn’t matter too much at the moment, however, because he needs an entire month of bed rest.

(OOC: He refuses to explain how he died, and gets a lot of ribbing for letting his libido lead him into the lava.)

Shadagrunde gets all of the unidentified items identified. The eyes of petrification are given to the higher members of the Church to dispose of; the mirror of life trapping and ring of efreeti calling he retains for the party … which the head priest isn’t too happy about, for some reason.

After a long discussion (a long discussion), the party decides on a course of action regarding the efreeti.

Galswintha puts on the ring and says “pax amas” … and at first, nothing happens. Then the air and ground vibrate faintly and a wall of fire springs up around Galswintha, searing her slightly and roaring with heat. She holds the ring up again, “PAX AMAS! PAX AMAS! PAX AMAS!”

The fires die down, and a ten-foot, demonic-looking humanoid appears where the flames were, kneeling, “As you wish, mistress.”

The barely concealed malice in his eyes says otherwise, however.

What followed was a conversation between Galswintha and the Efreet. The GM tried to maintain a kind of mystical, arabian aura. Chlodomer took dialogue notes (his character’s convalescence gave him little else to do). Below is a slight rewrite with the highlights of the conversation:

Galswintha holds the ring in front of the efreet, "What do I call you?" "Pax, if you call me anything." "I am told you don't like wishes." "I do not." "I am told that you don't like to serve." "Not humans, no." "But the ring compels you?" "A deal was struck." "For 101 days?" "It is so." "Will you serve me with loyalty?" "You are a human." "Does that mean no?" "It is so." "Then your service is worthless." "You insult me!" "What is your service worth then? Tell me." "Kings would kill for my service!" "Smart kings don't like to be stabbed in the back." "I could tear out that tongue and use it as a dagger!" "I could hire an imp, and get the same service with less noise!" "... ARE YOU MAD? I AM THE MAJESTIC EFREET!" "YOU ARE AN UNFAITHFUL WHINER WHO CAN'T BE TRUSTED TO STEP AND FETCH!" "..."

As the efreet gathered his thoughts, Galswintha presses on, “If I could be safely rid of you, I would in an instant. Whoever struck a deal with you was a fool.”

The efreet bowed low, and this time it seemed almost authentic, “Forgive me. I cannot break my word, or I would leave. And I cannot give my word lightly, for I will answer for it when I return home.”

“I do not give my word lightly either.” (GM note: this is not really true; Galswintha pinky swears at the drop of a hat - it would have been more true to say that she keeps her word religiously.)

“Humans … humans break their word. They are unworthy masters. A wish … is an act of giving the word of my brethren by proxy, and they are even less worthy of that.”

“What if … I used the first wish to cast quest on the two of us: to not break our word until your service to me was completed?”

“… I would want to see the wording of that wish.”

A bit later, the wording hammered out to the satisfaction of all parties, the efreet and the enchantress trade oaths of temporary fealty.

Her second wish is to heal all calamities suffered by the Grim Fist, including henchmen and hirelings.

In two specific cases, the GM makes a special ruling: the effects of tampering with mortality cannot be annulled with a wish, but they can be altered (call it the “fairy godmother rule”).

Vulfelind still glows like a beacon to the undead, but gains the ability to turn undead as a cleric of her level.

Chlodomer retains his white-furred hooves, but they gain an aura of respectability, eliminating the reaction penalty.

She keeps the third wish in reserve, and then, “Well, since we’re in Orléans, we should take a day or two to shop, right?” and promptly sets out to dress the efreet in clothing fit to be seen near her.

Month 12, Week 1
Galswintha shopped, and has her henchwoman Deuteria study dispel magic.

Vulfelind partied.

Chlodomer gets his armor and clothing adjusted … and buys fitted silvered horseshoes.

Shadagrunde consults with the mirror of life trapping to determine who is trapped in it:

  • A greek-speaking nymph.
  • Two dwarves who babble incomprehensibly in dwarven and look like brothers.
  • One dwarf who tries several languages, of which dwarven and greek are recognizable.
  • A stunningly good-looking man who claims to be a prince in Frankish ... but whose grasp of political geography is at best sketchy.

Shadagrunde dutifully takes notes on all of them, including appearance and mannerisms, and finds and hires a sage to research their true identities … and pays the sage for a year of research up front (“If you find the information sooner, think of it as a patronage for the remainder of the year”).

Week 2
The party treks back to Pegasus Mountain, and largely avoids encounters, with the exception of an organized force of unknown providence:

A brown-eyed woman (dressed in an Assyrian-style burqa of black silk, gold lace and thread, and jet cuffs and buttons; armed with obviously magical khopesh and shield; and riding a jet black heavy warhorse) with two lieutenants (a slender elf-blooded gentleman of dryadic mien and somber black robes; and a substantially larger woman dressed in a similar burqa, and armed with a great, two-handed khopesh) and a small army as a retinue.

Shadagrunde takes notes on the woman’s standard for later research:

ovalis: Sable, a serpent voided nowed sinister Argent wearing a crown Or, within a double tressure Or. Chief: Falcon sinister Or, perched on the double tressure with wings addorsed and elevated. Base: Motto, "IO KATHAROS".

In english: A solid black, oval-shaped shield, with two thin, golden lines forming an inset border around the edge. Perched on top of the outer golden line is a gold-colored falcon facing right with its wings spread up as if to take flight. Inside the border is a white outline of a knotted serpent with its head facing right and wearing a crown. At the bottom of the shield is a motto scroll with the phrase “IO KATHAROS” written on it.

The two armies regard one another briefly, the woman touching the hilt of her sword and staring at Chlodomer … then the woman speaks with a voice like honeyed cream, “Aella Sappheiros. You are franks?”

The party introduces themselves, then Chlodomer asks Aella what kingdom she is from … and it turns out to be Iamanu (although she pronounces it “Ionia, known as Iamanu in the new world”) - a mythical country of a distant past age, said to have fought against the dwarves (and lost!), and to be ruled by a dragon.

Shadagrunde consults his copied maps of the dwarven territories, determines that she was coming from the south … and the claim suddenly seems more plausible.

However, she will not say why she is heading north, any more than the Grim Fist will say why they are heading west, although she does say “I would tell you, but even among the Lawful, evil seeds can take root, and I would avoid endangering you with information you do not need.”

In all, no one hates each other, and the two armies eventually go their separate ways, after Shadagrunde updates his maps with a description of where Iamanu is currently located.

Day 15
The party confirms that the crypt is still quiescent, and pushes on, only to discover more undead, although not as bad as those near the Chaotic altar.

They begin to suspect that the Chaotic altar was built on a natural sinkhole of evil, and regroup at the giant’s lair to discuss.

As evening falls, however, something else acquires their attention: the black-clad lady and her retinue have arrived at the base of the mountain and are working their way up.

Amazing stuff! What's the average level of the group now, after 15 sessions?

6.25. Leveling slowed to a crawl, because:

  1. Party priorities have not focused on the XP-laden stuff recently. Hiring henchmen, shopping, and mapping do not, in and of themselves, given anything.

  2. They have 16.75 XP shares to divide all credit between. That means I can throw bigger threats at them, but it also means fights take longer, so the XP per session has slowed significantly. Chlodomer is to blame for that, I think ;-).

  3. They’ve been getting really good at dodging wilderness encounters. So the XP per month has also slowed down. This is also partly because I didn’t make the encounters-per-hex dense enough, and they’ve figured out a good route for minimal encounters. I’m working on fixing that in a “natural-seeming” way, though :-).

  4. I haven’t been crediting them with parley XP. That one is my fault: I’ve been combing through the campaign journal to get a list of monsters they “defeated” by non-combat means, so I can give them a bonus in the next session. My rough estimate is that this will bring the average up to 7.

Session 16
This summary was written by Vulfelind’s player and (lightly) edited by the Judge.

My name is Vulfelind de Saubruic, and I am a practical woman. I am keeping this journal because when I am famous, there will be those who will desire to know: how can I be like her?

Answer: Be practical. Kick a LOT of butt. And buy this journal (only 100 gold! a steal!).

(OOC: C. asked us if one of us would write a session summary. He didn’t EXACTLY stare at me when he asked, but P. keeps the field cyclopedia, Q. keeps the accounting details and E. keeps the NPC details and I usually just sit like a bump on a log, so I said I’d do it. I’m not the best writer, I kind of write like I talk, but hopefully it gets the story across. Reading back through it, I re-arranged it a bit to be in chronological order, and C. said he’d edit it for accuracy, so there you go. Hope you enjoy.)

Vulfelind’s Journal: Day 15 of Month 12
WOMAN IN BLACK arrived this evening, and we offered to help set up camp.

She found this suspicious (smart!), but Gal has been insisting on nothing but the best rations for our army for months, so as soon as the bacon, pickles, waybread, cheeses, and wines got broken out, everything was smiles.

Damn right, Grim Fist brings the party.

Chlod plays nice-nice for a while and finally asks WOMAN IN BLACK what she’s doing here. REALLY LONG BORING STORY.

Shad likes to keep copious notes, this whole long, detailed story made him super-happy, and if you need the details, I’m sure you can get a copy of his journal from a nearby library as well.

Here are my more practical notes: The chaos altar we destroyed had a spell that hid a mirror. Mirror is ANCIENT EVIL, Iamanu sensed it, sent WOMAN IN BLACK to look for it.

(Note: ANCIENT EVIL is dark-haired male model in the mirror, actually a Chaos Dragon.)

Hahaha, oops.

Anyway, WOMAN IN BLACK’s been straight with us, didn’t sneak us, blah blah blah, so Shad spills the beans.

Small Problem: There are other people in the mirror, and it’s not possible to free them without breaking the mirror. Breaking the mirror will release ANCIENT EVIL.

(Gal says, “We’ll see about that,” under her breath, because she’s a god among mages, and mages get real competitive when you tell them it can’t be done.)

Second Problem: We’re still not entirely certain we can trust WOMAN IN BLACK with mirror.

But. We trust WOMAN IN BLACK, sort of, she trusts us, sort of. So everyone camps, but extra watches in case sneaking occurs.

Griz and I occur some sneaking and eavesdropping :-).

Bottom line: We can probably trust her. She has a discussion with her lieutenants. She’s worried about us, but relieved that the mirror isn’t in the hands of someone worse. Yeah, thanks, lady - I was gonna talk the others into giving you the mirror, now I’m gonna make Chlod sweet-talk some cash out of you first.

Vulfelind’s Journal: Morning of Day 16 of Months 12
Pre-dawn watch. Got antsy (NOTE: this was not the most practical thing, but sometimes you have to listen to your inner impulse gnome to get things done), snuck back into WOMAN IN BLACK’s camp, just to poke around, and got caught.

I really need to find one of those invisibility rings.

Anyway, that’s not important: I talked my way out of it, pointed out that I had already been through half the camp and hadn’t stolen anything and wasn’t going to, and we had good reason to be suspicious. WOMAN IN BLACK just sighed and agreed that we did, but that she couldn’t let the mirror go, blah blah blah.

Anyway, like I said: not important.

What was important: WOMAN IN BLACK has xxx SNAKES for her xxx HAIR.

I didn’t let on that I’d seen, but I high-tailed it back to camp and discussed it with Gal. She nodded like she’d known all along (hint: she didn’t). Then we broke it to Shad and Chlod.

They lost it.

Okay: yes, she’s a medusa. She hasn’t stoned anyone - she probably wears that getup so she doesn’t accidentally do someone in. She seems nice enough. And we did the whole detect evil intentions thing and it didn’t even squeak. And c’mon, we have a Lawful goblin working for us. Can we have a LITTLE less prejudice, maybe?

Look, I’ll be the first to say that some types of creature or humanoid, you gotta assume they’ll gank you on sight. You gotta be cautious. But if they’re willing to talk, talk. You might find a Grizzba or Baldaswind or an ogre with a heart of gold who just wants to be a pastry chef.

Anyway, lots of drama. No practical purpose. And what do we do in the end? Exactly what I was suggesting at the beginning: We talk to WOMAN IN BLACK about it. Well, Chlod does. I’m the practical one; he’s the pretty one.

He lets her know the gig is up. She just looks sad, and nods and looks away, “Yes, I am one of the cursed.”


After that, everything is smiles. Well, except that I had to work hard to get Chlod to get cash out of her for the mirror - her sad little cursed girl in the wilderness thing, he forgot she’s a highly capable warrior sent out on quest by Iamanu with a small army at her back.

I mean, her kingdom’s paying HER for the quest WE just basically finished for her. And if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have even known the quest needed doing.

Say what you want about my motivations, but first pass the cash.

Actually, we get two things:

  1. Cash (50K, yum).

  2. An offer of vassalage if we finish clearing the mountain, since Iamanu technically owns this region, but isn’t doing anything with it.

Technically, that translates to “won’t kick us out.” But it’s STILL better than the half-baked ideas we were floating to keep Orléans or Atanung from taking the mountain from us once we do all the hard work of clearing it out.

So I count it as a win.

Vulfelind’s Journal: Afternoon of Day 16 of Months 12
After WOMAN IN BLACK left with the mirror, with renewed vigor: we attacked the ancient dwarven citadel of ancient dwarven doom.

We found two interesting things:

  1. We found a second Altar of Chaos. It has mummies, too (imagine dance of joy here).

  2. We found a mass grave - a cave-in with dwarf corpses all through.

Shad’s map and notes imply, short version, that there are THREE altars forming a ring around the mass grave. Near the center? Pit of hell. Corbus only wishes he could build a dungeon like this.

Geometrycally speaking, though, the map also gave us a new plan. An awesome plan. A kind of evil plan.

What I would call… a practical plan.

We cut a deal with the magma mermaids who thought Chlod was so tasty:

  1. We won’t use our efreet to redirect a river into their home.

  2. They provide us with the ability to work in the magma for the next little while, so we can dig a twelve-foot tunnel down to right on top of the third altar.

Hahahaha, oops. Was that YOUR altar?

Vulfelind’s Journal: Weeks 3-4 of Month 12
The hole ended up being 15 feet, and 10-foot-square. Shad’s map was pretty good, but not perfect.

Most of us had to stand guard, which wasn’t efficient, but, you know, MAGMA MERMAIDS WHO LIKE TO EAT PEOPLE.

The mummies probably heard the noise through the rock all week and wondered what it was before thousands of gallson of steaming magma suddenly started pouring down on their heads. And then we come swimming through it, cutting them into bits.

It was, and I say this most humbly, our most glorious battle to date.

Of course, we missed some things:

  1. The lava didn’t stop just because the fight was done.

  2. We didn’t actually work out how much of the complex was going to get magma-filled.

  3. The undead horde at the SECOND altar heard the noise and came running, AFTER the lava had slowed to trickle speed, at which point we were at a significant disadvantage. There were a lot of Heal throws after that.

Still: Winner writes history, so I am writing this down: Huge success.

Then we’re all about the grab grab grab, break the altars, grab grab grab, retreat.

Then we mourned the loss of the keep - most of the interior will be under lava or rock by the end of the day.

We do have one last chat with the magma people: basically, we promised to not drop a river on them, and we’ll keep that promise. But we’re GOING to rule this mountain in the near future, which will only be a problem if the magma people MAKE it a problem.

They agree that they really don’t want to make it a problem for us.

Everything is smiles, just in time for the New Year!

Vulfelind’s Journal: Month 1 of Year 2
We make one quick sweep of the few portions of the keep that remain above lava. Gal breaks out the REALLY nice food and we have a small party.

And then we talk to the giantesses, and specifically to Clothilde - the one who trains the bears and seems to make the major decisions for them. We want them to stay. They’re worried they won’t have a way to fit in (and they don’t want to be warriors).

Gal points out what we missed: they are fantastic architects and stone workers. So non-combat work will SO not be a problem. She went on a bit of a rant about it, actually.

We also got some intel on the rest of the mountain:

Probable lairs: Clothilde and friends, family of cave bears (NOT friendly to the giants), band of white apes (NOT friendly to anyone at all), a whole mess of giant rattlesnakes, and the pegasus nest way up the cliffside Gal’s been obsessing over.

That settled: we set out for Orléans to re-equip and level.

Session End - Vulfelind’s section ends here
Party notes for the curious: Almost everyone leveled, especially after the “parley XP.”

  • Chlodomer d'Antioch - fighter 7
    • Galagunde d'Orléans - illusionist 5
      • Eldremer the Bold - familiar
      • Agalinda d'Orléans - illusionist 3
        • Boromer the Brown - familiar
    • Amarante le Certaine - mage 5
      • Leoncito - familiar
    • Haramer d'Orléans - fighter 5
      • four squads, each with four fighter-2 soldiers and a fighter-4 leader.
  • Adela d'Orléans - fighter 5
  • Genofeva de Paris - fighter 5
  • Thorismund du Châtel - fighter 6
  • Ingunde du Châtel - fighter 6
    • Louis d'Orléans - fighter 4
  • Galswintha d'Antioch - mage 6
    • Petite - familiar
    • Gurund d'Orléans - mage 5
      • Geofferic d'Orléans - fighter 4
    • Deuteria du Châtel - mage 5
    • Merovia d'Orléans - mage 5
  • Vulfelind de Saubruic - thief 7
    • Grizzba the Goblin - thief 6
      • Grace d'Antioch - thief 5
    • Veneranda le Vulin - cleric 6
      • Shadow - war dog 4
      • Silver - war dog 4
      • Sable - war dog 4
      • Fierce on the Wind - giant hawk 4
    • Baldaswind de Calais - weretiger 6
      • Garal - tiger 6
      • Salha - tiger 6
    • Almalinda d'Orléans - fighter 5
  • Shadagrunde d'Atanung - cleric 7
    • Merideth le Chocolat - cleric 5
    • Grimaric d'Orléans - cleric 5
    • Aggulita the Goblin - cleric 5
      • Gore - dire wolf 4
  • I’ve enjoyed these recountings so immensely. Thank your player for writing that last one, as well. A few questions and an observation:

    1. How do you find combats working out for you with so many? They getting clunky at all?
    2. Do you use a battlemat? Miniatures? If you run these huge combats theater of the mind, any tips on not getting the fictional positioning of the tens of combatants confused?

    Observation: My players are so greedy compared to yours. They don’t like to hire henchmen at all, because they feel like Henchmen are stealing all their precious XP. Hilarious, truly, when compared to what your players have established. I should direct them to this thread (and the previous!) for an example on How To Get Things Done. Your players + party are starting to look like Achilles & His Myrmidons or Jason + Argonauts. They’re truly a party of heroes. There are quite a few armies that could attack the peak your heroes defend and die trying. Your swarm of Ftr4+ alone can decimate front lines via cleaving.

    1. The combats are getting a bit clunky. Sometimes we just assume average results, or throw a fistful of d20s for the lower-level henches to see who hit. However, ACKS overall doesn’t require much - unless a special maneuver is involved, 1d20+1d6 is most of a character’s round of combat. The main bugaboo is making sure everyone keeps track of their stats: Chlodomer has trouble keeping his hench attack modifiers straight, and Galswintha, her hench spell lists.

    Still, we manage, and we’re getting better at it. Last week, I remembered a trick I used to do back when I was playing regularly, and had everyone put the most commonly-used stats for each hench on an index card. If they need a stat that they didn’t have, they write it in on the back. At the end of the game session, we re-do the index cards to match an XP upgrades.

    1. Theater of the mind, with the occasional sketched diagram. For fictional positioning, the best advice I can give is “have defaults.” All of Chlodomer’s henches default to as close to him as they can be, without being in front; with Haramer and his sub-hench army flanking; and the spellcasters tucked behind Haramer. When one of them does something different, then, I can write a short note on that character’s Initiative list entry (Thorismund is sometimes “front of Chlodomer to shield” until Chlodomer gets a heal).

    It gets whackier when the party splits. I’m still figuring that out, so no advice, sorry.

    I would actually prefer to do it with minis (I have a ton of minis!), but it was really hard to get Galswintha’s player interested in combat, and bringing out the minis made it even worse. She’s been getting drawn in slowly, though, as she figures out just how many opportunities there are in combat to “look awesome,” so maybe someday before I get a brain meltdown, we can start using minis again.

    Greedy. Chlodomer is a large part of that. He’s a veteran grognard with some strong opinions about the utility of Charisma and henches, and he’s taught the rest of the group quite a bit in that regard. Me, too, for that matter.

    And at this point … I think if the party was less cautious and more willing to throw away some lives, they could beat an entire ogre village in one go. Not that I recommend that - I think their guerrilla tactics, use of military oil, and careful use of one-time resources for maximum effect is a much better way to take on an ogre village. But they could.

    It’s also worth noting that all of the players except Galswintha have, at this point, decided to emulate Chlodomer’s swarm of fighters, at least in spirit (Vulfelind is planning more of an animal menagerie, it seems).

    Galswintha is planning … I don’t actually know what she’s planning. She spent a lot of last week asking me about mage demographics - whether the number of leveled characters in Orléans was set in stone, or if “enough” money would sweeten some otherwise unavailable mages out of hiding, for example.


    Session 17
    (OOC: Re-reading the “diary” entry from last week, the last time period should have been Day 1 of Month 1 of Year 2; and apparently the fresh snow of the new year didn’t make an impression on my players, ah well.)

    Month 1
    For the first time, the party splits - there’s still some distrust for Aella (WOMAN IN BLACK) and her army, so someone has to stay.

    Chlodomer leaves all of his henchmen, the draft horses, crossbowmen, light infantry, medium cavalry, and wagons under the command of Haramer, with a few exceptions:

    Agalinda, apprentice to Galagunde (hench to Chlodomer) now has 2nd level spells, so she is sent back to study. Amarante, hench and personal astrologer for Chlodomer, just acquired 3rd level spells, so she is sent back as well.

    And each other party member leaves a loyal hench to keep an eye on things: Galswintha leaves Gurund (and his hench, Geofferic the hero); Vulfelind leaves Veneranda and her leveled war dogs and war hawk; and Shadagrunde trusts Aggulita and his now-fully-trained dire wolf mount.

    The party, stripped to minimum load and rations, force-marches back to Orléans, utterly murdering a warband of orcs who happened to be traveling through.

    Once in Orléans:

    Those mages with new spell levels work on their repertoire. Everyone gives to the local temple of the Lady for luck (and gets to see their names and the Grim Fist ring symbol carved into the marble foundation listing Important Personages Who Gave A Lot Of Money To Our Most Holy Mission).

    Chlodomer manages to find a mage of 9th level willing to put aside some time to enchant a suit of plate armor. Chlodomer puts Amarante in charge of managing the funds for the mage, and buys a small building in town as the Grim Fist’s base of operations in Orléans, where she (and they) can work from.

    That done, Chlodomer looks at his suddenly shrunk cash supply and holds off on any further rash purchases (beyond the usual 2,000 gold for a champion living high on the hog in a city for a month).

    Galswintha makes arrangements to have the extensive wardrobe she left in Châtel transported to Orléans - her henchwoman Merovia leaves with a squad of heavy cavalry and wagons to take care of that, and manages to return with the clothing by the end of the month. She also discusses the last efreet wish with the party.

    … and then she discusses it with the efreet, because she wants to make sure that it will not cause him distress. He laughs. “Your first wish was to ensure that I would be treated well. That story alone will earn me respect. Make your wish.”

    She wishes that, should the party successfully clear and claim the Pegasus Mountain domain, the land and domain will be blessed.

    (OOC: Vague wording? Well, yes. On the other hand, we had already established that the efreet wasn’t going to screw them on the wishes, so long as they treated the efreet correctly … and they very much did treat the efreet correctly. So I decided to treat this as a 9th-level variant on Harvest, especially since they will still have to EARN the domain - but if they do, the assessed Land Value will be +2 higher and Domain Morale will be +1; and whichever six-mile hex Galswintha builds her sanctum in, the animals will be friendly to Galswintha as if it were an elven fastness. This will be essentially a permanent blessing; it can be countered with a reversed wish, and will end when no member of the Grim Fist rules.)

    Then Galswintha spends the remainder of the month researching a new spell, swapping out wizard lock for speak equis.

    Vulfelind buys two tigers for Baldaswind to train and work with, and has her hench Almalinda make a study in pegasus rearing and training. And then she goes recruiting, adding to the menagerie: two new thieves. Chadalinda d’Orléans is technically a lawyer, skilled in both the licit and illicit aspects of getting clients off the hook; Ustitia l’Hivernal is a belly dancer and fencer. This maxes Vulfelind’s henches out.

    Shadagrunde does what Chlodomer did: starts with one exceptional leader type and then works down the levels to build out a small army of henches. His hench Merideth le Chocolat forms the central figure. He also hires Rinogand d’Orléans, a stout priest and sage of draconic history, and 19 light infantry henches for Merideth to whip into shape.

    They then look at the heavy snow that has fallen and … decide to march back to Pegasus Mountain anyway. More wagons are purchased, and back they trudge.

    On the way back, they encounter a lost merchant caravan trying to make it to Atanung. Shadagrunde fixes their maps and explains the ancient dwarven highway markers, then, when their guide still seems a bit lost, takes an extra day to accompany them to the closest marker.

    The merchants are thankful, but puzzled at the lack of a toll: Chlodomer jumps on that, saying “We’re still clearing things out - we’re not going to charge a toll on our highway until we can be certain it’s safe.”

    The party agrees after the fact that this was the correct thing to say … even if the highway isn’t technically theirs yet. It certainly satisfied the merchants and made them feel special, like they were getting a deal for being early adopters.

    Month 1, alternate
    Meanwhile, at Pegasus Mountain, winter has come, and the ogres have not been idle. Gathering unto themselves a small army of other Chaotic humanoids and beasts, and noting that a large force left the mountain, they plan a careful, stealthy approach up the mountain and then attack as night falls.

    Ogres. Trolls. Hill giants. Goblins. Dire wolves.

    And one powerful necromancer (plus his undead minions), who is pleased as punch that someone poured lava down his sanctum.

    (OOC: I allowed the players to play their henches for this battle.)

    Veneranda’s war dogs scent the trolls early on the chill breeze, and the war hawk flies out and spots them against the snow before being forced to retreat by a hail of goblin arrows. With little or no preparation to hold off the lower pass, the army and giantesses retreats. Gurund’s dispel magic reveals an invisible wizard, and Haramer’s spearmen expend one spear each to hit him - he falls, and chaos erupts among the ogre’s ranks as undead cease to be controlled!

    A web is then thrown to cut off part of the force, and the hench army descends like the Lady’s Fist on an unbeliever, with Haramer taking a moment to light the web on fire.

    The fight very rapidly simplifies down to one troll and two hill giants … against a phalanx of spearmen and clerics. Casualties are rough, but once the hill giants are down, everyone piles onto the troll, grapples it, and then drags it up the mountain, down the tunnel, and tosses it bodily into the magma, where Gurund webs it into place.

    No one dies, but there are some harsh Mortal Wounds results, and some henches mutter and grumble about being left to fend for themselves in dangerous countryside. (Although Haramer points out: “When has the Grim Fist ever let one of us remain injured?”, which squelches the last of the serious protest.)

    The giantesses also confer with Gurund about Galswintha and, as a thank-you gift for the clothing, vases, and numerous “giant-sized nice things” she brought them from human civilization, they spend the remainder of the month carving the rough outline of an embedded staircase up the side of the cliff toward the pegasi, although being careful to not get too close to the nest.

    Month 2, Day 1
    The Grim Fist returns and receives ragged cheers … and discovers the serious bodily trauma some of their henches suffered from the ogres.

    Shadagrunde restores the worst case (broken spine at the neck!) and promises to restore another person each day until everyone is whole again.

    Galswintha loses her mind over the staircase.

    Chlodomer sits down with Haramer to plan a full-bore assault on what remains of the ogres, “They’ve proven we can’t leave them for later.”

    Vulfelind uses tracking and manages to find the spot where the necromancer met with the ogres … and then tracks backward to find the portion of the lair where he holed up.

    Ah, loot never gets old.

    Especially when they discover that one of the necromancer’s items is a sentient shortsword of luck … that doesn’t like anyone and refuses to grant wishes, because “once I’m out of wishes, who would want an old, washed up shortsword? No, I gotta make these wishes count. Saving the world kinda stuff. Don’t even ask me for bigger muscles, it’s gotta be awesome or nothing.”

    After some discussion of who has failed saves the most often, Vulfelind ends up with the sword, giving her more ordinary magical sword to Chlodomer, who passes it to Haramer, who gives it to the leader of Squad B for heroism in the line of duty.

    There is also a powerful lady’s cane (mace +2, can cure disease once per day) which goes to Shadagrunde, who passes it on to Merideth.

    The ring of fire resistance goes to Chlodomer, half as a joke.

    Week 1
    There is some discussion about longterm plans, and the potential Domain represented by Pegasus Mountain. It is revealed that Pegasus Mountain itself takes up almost exactly one six-mile hex; and that almost everything for two hexes in all directions is Hills and Woods, with areas of River scattered throughout, all heading away from the mountain.

    A few very quick fights clear out the remaining known “bad” lairs on the mountain itself. One additional fight finally wipes the ogre village out.

    Veneranda’s giant hawk is sent on some high-flying scouting missions, and establishes a list of probable monsters in a 12-mile radius. (OOC: We also talk about the numbers involved: an expected average of 90 encounters across 500 square miles.)

    And the party makes their way up the stairs to guard Galswintha while she talks to the pegasi. That goes surprisingly well, although the pegasi are unnerved by the stairway (Galswintha does tell them that the Grim Fist now guards it).

    Months 2, 3, and 4, partial
    Using these guidelines, I ended up with 85 encounters. I used a LibreOffice Calc random function to get a bunch of d8,d12 rolls done. And then I started laying out lairs, rolling warband numbers, etc. Yowch.

    The Grim Fist better like this spot, because I don’t want to do this again anytime soon.

    I also decided that, basically, the Grim Fist can scout from the air, has detection spells up the wazoo, thieves packed in like a clown car, Tracking and other wilderness proficiencies all accounted for … given time, they will find every lair in a hex. So rather than spend the next two to three months of face-time plotting out where they travel each day, I’m letting the Grim Fist spend one season (approx. 1 day per six square miles) to guarantee all lairs are found.

    We then did some simplified dicing (no real strategy, just reaction, then hits-and-damage rolls) for all of the easy ones, and then take the harder ones in order. The easy ones, I just did the rolling for and we handled what little party decisions were needed via email:

    Around 50 antelope are spotted and noted, but left alone.

    Bat swarms: A hollow tree; an ancient, shattered bridge across a dry riverbed; an abandoned, moss-covered tower; and a small cave. The party left the bats alone (“bat guano mining was a valuable industry, why would we destroy that?”).

    The cave of bats also had five giant black widow spiders - those, they killed. Vulfelind intends to deck out her troupe with black widow armor like her own.

    The Beast Friendship Lairs: two cave bear dens, a mountain lion, a boar, nine giant hawks, ten giant bats, and a giant owl. No one kills rabbits for XP in this party. There has been some talk of bringing the cave bears to Clothilde for training.

    The party also encountered three dire wolves, whom Aggulita turned into henches. Aggulita now has four dire wolves: Gore, Fang, Guts, and Liver. Gore is Aggulita’s mount; the others are being trained as mounts, and Liver is likely to be assigned/loaned to Grizzba once training is completed.

    Dead: 7 pit vipers, 3 giant pythons, 6 wyverns, 2 griffons (who would have lived if they hadn’t tried to eat the horses), 2 herds of hippogriffs (who would have lived if they weren’t the sworn enemies of pegasi and therefore target practice for Galswintha), 10 cockatrices (nets, 10-foot poles, and polearms were handy), 3 nests of stirges, a rhagodessa, 2 giant scorpions, 5 lesser hellhounds, 5 greater hellhounds, and 2 phase tigers.

    My monster graveyard is starting to get ridiculous ;-).

    That’s an awesome wish from the efreet. My players just wished for great heaping piles of platinum pieces… which turned out to be stolen from various royal treasuries across the continent.