Tales of the Vorpal Vanguard

Campaign setting

The campaign is set in a custom version of the Auran Empire setting. The action centres on the Kingdom of Marchest, an offshoot of Rorn that was carved out of the wilderness by adventurers a century before the campaign begins.

Years ago Marchest suffered badly due to a massive invasion of beastmen and undead, led by a mysterious human named “The Skullman”. The Skullman disappeared shortly after Fort Melton was sacked, leading the beastman army to fall apart to infighting.

Thirty years later, Marchest is recovering, but it has lost much of its territory. Bandits and beastmen thrive on what was once villages and farmland.

Dreams of settling the Eastern and Southern parts of Marchest have been discarded. None of the lords have the means to clear out the beasts and rogues that infest the wilderness.

Into this, step the player characters…

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief Sylvie, an antiquarian witch
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer Tacita, a fighter
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade (Ashley)
  • Amyntas, a paladin Bjorn, a barbarian
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock (Turei)
  • Ferric, a dwarven vaultguard Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage Garric, a dwarven craftpriest

Session 1: 7 June 2015

The Vorpal Vanguard formed in a run-down tavern in Shieldhaven in the backwater of Marchest, on the borders of Rorn – a rural outpost of the once mighty Auran Empire. Five smaller groups of would-be adventurers each heard the same tale of a merchant’s caravan raided by orcs two days’ ride to the south. Knowing both the dangers of travel on Marchest roads, and that orcs raid in packs, they agreed to join together to form a larger enterprise.

The Vanguard’s journey south was unremarkable. With less than a handful of horses between them, the trip was several days’ hard march on foot. The site of the caravan raid was obvious even to the untrained eye. Burned out wagons, partially eaten remains of caravan guards, and the hobnailed bootprints of an orcish raiding party were spread across the roadside.

Doyle and Eoman set to work, quickly identifying that the raid was conducted by a sizeable force of 20-50 orcs. As daylight waned, the elves pointed out that orcs were nocturnal. The Vanguard decided to camp in the relative safety of the road, and leave pursuing the orcs for the next day.

The next morning, Doyle and Eoman followed the orcs’ trail to a cave entrance a few miles from the road. Lighting Cato’s lantern, the Vanguard entered the caves in combat formation: a wall of shielded fighters, a line of spearmen, archers and casters, pack mules, then Heimgyr and Bjorn bringing up the rear.

The path soon split. Following the old adage “adventurers always go left”, the Vanguard took the leftmost path. The path ended at a small cavern, cut in half by a caged wall with an iron gate. Beyond the wall was a series of crates – no doubt filled with goods purloined from the merchant’s caravan. In front of the Vanguard was a hissing, buzzing flock of stirges.

Combat was fast and furious. A hail of arrows, bolts, throwing axes, and darts preceded the stirges’ charge. The few which made it through fell quickly to sword and spear. After much careful checking for tripwires, poking with 10’ poles, and general manifestations of their paranoia, Evie, Doyle, and Garric pronounced the cage free of traps. The crates were loaded onto mules, and the Vanguard returned to the entrance.

The next few caves proved less lucrative. A series of empty caves, littered with the worthless debris of orcish life, greeted the Vanguard. Finally they booted open a door, only to come face-to-face with a group of orcs. The orcs paused, their bestial nature conflicting with a strange sense of calm and hope they felt gazing upon Cato’s wondrous visage. [Mystic aura strikes again.]

That momentary pause was all that was needed for the Vangaurd to unleash a flurry of missiles and spear thrusts. The orc warriors fell quickly, but the orcish women proved more dangerous than their men. Though the Vanguard eventually prevailed, many a wound was suffered by the line of shield-bearing warriors.

Cato and Sylvie slathered healing herbs on wounded. Amyntas flicked through her holy texts trying to remember what stance her paladin order took on the young of invariably chaotic creatures. Gjallahorn pre-empted Amyntas’ moral dilemma by slaughtering them all. [The party was somewhat taken aback, and a lengthy out of character discussion followed about the nature of law/chaos, what constituted “good” actions, and concepts of heroism in antiquity.]

Several more rooms of orcs followed, interspersed by orcish patrols. Each time, the Vanguard took the orc warriors down before they could inflict any damage, the orc women extracted a modicum of revenge, and any runners were caught before they could warn the rest of the orcs.

While resting following an orcish encounter, the Vanguard encountered a small band of adventurers. Cato flashed his winning smile, but the newcomers seemed unmoved. Garric and Heimgyr scanned the opposing adventurers for symbols of evil deities, or some other justification for killing them to take their plate armour. None was found. Following some quick negotiations, it was agreed that the adventurers would leave the orcish caverns and find their fortune elsewhere.

The session finished with the Vanguard still in the orcish caves.

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief Sylvi, an antiquarian witch
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer Tacita, a fighter
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade (Ashley)
  • Amyntas, a paladin Bjorn, a barbarian
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock (Turei)
  • Ferric, a dwarven vaultguard Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage Garric, a dwarven craftpriest

Session 2: 14 June 2015

The adventures of the Vorpal Vanguard were picked up where we left off – deep in the caves from which orcs were raiding merchant caravans. While stripping weapons from the latest gang of orcs, the party was ambushed by a group of skeletons who marched around the corner.

Outside the safe structure of their usual combat formation, things looked grim for the Vanguard. However, they reacted quickly to this surprise, won the initiative, and handily took down the skeletons while suffering barely a scratch.

The next orcish lair did not go so well for the Vanguard. Continuing a now well-established tradition, the Vanguard quickly eliminated the orcish warriors. The orcish women responded with a furious onslaught, breaking through the Vanguard’s shieldwall for the first time. A flash of a rusty knife and Ferric fell to the ground, his banded mail not proving up to the task of stopping orcish knives. Sylvi rushed to his side, administering healing herbs and divine power.

As the last of the orcs fell, Ferric clambered back to his feet, a bloody grin on his face and a handful of his teeth on the ground. The Vanguard reworked the combat formation to place Ferric in a protected spot – back with the mules. Tacita handed her spear to Bjorn, and stepped forward into the front rank.

Having explored most of the cave system, the Vanguard found themselves at a solid oak door. Listening carefully while checking for traps, Evie, Doyle, and Ferric could hear the sounds of raucous orc feasting on the other side of the door. Debate about how to take on the presumed sizable force of orcs from a narrow corridor without lines of fire followed. After consulting Evie’s map, the Vangaurd decided to check out an unexplored passage which they considered may provide an additional entrance into the oak doored room.

As the Vanguard travelled to the unexplored corridor, they came across a second band of three adventurers poking around the corpses of orcs the Vanguard had killed earlier. After an awkward moment, the heavily armoured dwarf leading this small band spoke up. “Oh, I see there’s quite a few of you…I take it this is your doing…we might just be leaving. Clearly there’s nothing for us here – no sir-ee.” Much like the previous party the Vanguard encountered, it was agreed that this band of adventurers could find their fortune elsewhere.

The Vanguard followed the corridor back around as it gently sloped upwards. Eventually it came to an end, on a ledge overlooking a well-lit feasting hall. Cato doused his lantern, and the Vanguard slowly crept forward. The ledge was ten feet above the floor of the feast-hall, within which two long trestle tables sat a dozen orcs. On a makeshift throne at the far end of the hall, the orcish chieftain presided over the festivities.

After much planning including discussion of how to use military oil, archers, and ropes for fighters to rappel down, a simpler plan was put into action. Cato and Gjallahorn crept forward preparing to cast summon beserkers to establish a beachhead behind which the rest of the Vanguard could safely make it down to ground level. Evie and Doyle went alongside them, slinking further forward while attempting to hide in shadows. Doyle slipped slightly, sending a small avalanche of pebbles down into the room below.

The two closest orcs turned their heads, eyes widening as they spotted the front ranks of the Vanguard crouched upon the ledge. As they opened their mouths to shout a warning, twin arrows fired from Eoman’s bow dropped them. In the moment of shock that followed, several more orcs fell to the Vanguard’s arrows and Cato and Gjallahorn finished their spells.

A horde of screaming berserkers appeared, charging forward and dropping orc after orc in an onslaught of violence. The chieftain and his bodyguards charged forward, only to be met by a wall of summoned berserkers who blocked their progress. In short order, the berserkers dropped every orc but the chieftain, and soon he too fell under their relentless blows.

The Vanguard rested and looted the chieftain’s meagre horde of bone fetishes and copper trinkets, while the berserkers stood guard. A pair of brigands stepped through the oak door. Cato and Gjallahorn yelled “get them”. The brigands ran. The berserkers followed. The Vanguard finished resting, then headed back towards the entrance at a leisurely pace. Along the way they found the berserkers huddled over the bodies of the brigands, who had tripped on a set of orcish tripwires which the Vanguard bypassed without disabling earlier.

The Vanguard returned to Shieldhaven (class IV town), selling their hard won treasure and buying up all the plate armour and horses in town. They travelled north-west to Eastmarch (class III city), intending to purchase plate and horses for the remaining people who needed them.

On the way to Eastmarch, the Vanguard encountered a mysterious group of soldiers. A mounted man with an oily smile led a band of heavily armoured soldiers, wrapped in cloth to hide their faces. The Vanguard broke bread with the soliders’ leader, discussing the road ahead and sharing rumours. None of the cloth-wrapped soldiers ate – a fact which their leader attributed to religious reasons. Garric, who considers himself somewhat of an expert on religious matters, had never heard of such a practice. The Vanguard decided not to press the matter and went on their way. [Afterwards, the Judge gave a sinister laugh, and said “it’s probably for the best that you didn’t mess with him”.]

Arriving in Eastmarch, platemail and horses were purchased. After a quick inventory of their 15 horses and the amount of gear they planned to leave on them, the Vanguard realised they probably needed someone to guard their horses while they were dungeon delving. Unwilling to give up their newfound speed of 36 miles per day (54 miles on roads!), the Vanguard sent Cato to market to hire a mercenary cavalry force.

Flashing coin, ale, and his aura of awesome, Cato succeeded in hiring a sizeable mercenary contingent: four cataphract cavalry (one is a veteran), two heavy cavalry, and nine horse archers (two are veterans). The cataphracts and horse archers agreed to Cato’s terms immediately, but the heavy cavalry required a week’s wages as a signing bonus to convince them. All mercenaries were to be paid a standard monthly wage, plus a henchman’s share of any treasure found in the wilderness (outside dungeons).

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief Sylvi, an antiquarian witch
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer Tacita, a fighter
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade (Ashley)
  • Amyntas, a paladin Bjorn, a barbarian
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock (Turei)
  • Ferric, a dwarven vaultguard Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage Garric, a dwarven craftpriest

Session 3: 21 June 2015

Flush from their recent success in the orcish caves, the Vorpal Vanguard asked around town for further rumours. Recovering from a week-long bender in the taverns of Eastmarch, the Vanguard’s henchmen related a common tale of morlocks raiding hamlets near Shieldhaven. The Vanguard rode south-east towards Shieldhaven , their journey interrupted only by catching sight of a herd of wild horses in the distance, and a herd of elephants nearer the road. After much speculation about what elephants were doing here, the Vanguard decided their lack of animal husbandry skills made such a question largely academic.

Searching the hills near Shieldhaven, the Vanguard evaded a group of brigands and discovered the entrance to a dungeon at the bottom of a sunken well. Confident in their newly purchased plate mail, the Vanguard arrayed themselves in combat formation and entered the morlock dungeon.

Entering from the west, the initial room had three exits. Thick dust carpeted the floor, making it clear that heavy foot traffic led south, several heavy things had been dragged east, and the northern door was undisturbed. The Vanguard decided heavy things meant treasure or wounded morlocks – either way, a better choice than living ones.

Entering the eastern room, it quickly became apparent what had been dragged here. Corpses stripped of valuables were piled in the corners of this room. Fearing the beginnings of a sinkhole of evil, the Vanguard doused the bodies in military oil and set them alight. In doing so, they were interrupted by an orcish patrol. Quickly slaying the orcs, the Vanguard tossed their bodies on the fires, then proceeded to argue about whether the purported morlocks were in fact orcs.

The Vanguard continued onwards through a series of winding corridors, and interconnected rooms. Stuck doors and a heavy carpet of dust indicated little morlock activity, and the few enemies encountered were animals such as giant weasels and bats. Eventually this series of rooms linked back onto the northern doorway in the entry room.

As the Vanguard travelled these long-forgotten halls, the elves spotted a secret door in a northern wall. A series of passages and secret doors followed, until they opened out into an hourglass shaped room, in the centre of which was a chest resting on a plinth.

Suspicious, Evie, Doyle, and Ferric made their way slowly forward, checking for traps. None were found. Nevertheless, it was decided that Saorise would cast magic rope, from the corridor, sending the rope to lasso the chest, drag it off the plinth, and pull it back to the Vanguard while they remained outside the room.

This plan went off without a hitch, but Evie proved unable to defeat the chest’s lock. It was loaded up on Pyr the mule (so named for the vast amount of flammables he carried - oil, military oil, torches, rope, and arrows) for later inspection.

A further secret door in the eastern wall revealed a second hourglass-shaped room with a chest in the centre on a plinth. The previous plan was repeated – this time with mundane lassoing, as the Vanguard was out of magic ropes. This time things did not go so well.

Rather than being dragged off the plinth, the chest tipped over and activated a trap. A false panel in the ceiling fell away, and half a dozen snakes dropped onto the chest. Initially unconcerned, the Vanguard readied themselves for the usual hail of missile and melee attacks as enemies advance. Then the snakes started spitting venom.

Amyntas was hit in the eyes, the poison blinding her instantly. Sylvie and Cato’s ministrations failed, and Amyntas collapsed to the ground bewailing her misfortune.

Realising their usual tactic was potentially fatal against such foes, the Vanguard broke formation and surged forward. The snakes were quickly struck down, much to the Vanguard’s relief. Amyntas moved back in the formation, shuffling forward with her hand on a mule to guide her.

The Vanguard found another secret door, which led into a great hall. In the darkness ahead, beyond the reach of Cato’s lantern, they could see glowing eyes. Weapons were readied, and the morlocks attacked from the darkness. After the terror of the snake battle, the morlocks proved a simple foe. They were quickly cut down with only a few scratches to show for it.

A morlock ambush in the next room was negated by the Vanguard attacking them from behind. The morlock chieftain and his men fell easily, and the Vanguard gathered the cases of fine wine which the morlocks had stolen.

[The morlocks’ treasure was largely made up of high quality trade goods – expensive tea and fine wines. It quickly became a running joke that morlocks are actually quite refined (despite the cannibalism).]

A second encounter with giant ferrets left Saorise injured but not maimed. Silvi’s quick work meant he needed only a night’s rest to recover. A bad back was a small price to pay for avoiding a gruesome death.

Although their quest was completed and their resources depleted, the Vanguard’s adventurer OCD set in. There was one room on Evie’s map yet to be explored. This could not stand.

Soon enough, the door was booted, and a dozen skeletons revealed. In the frantic melee which followed, Ferric was cut down – his low Dexterity meaning a blow which would have failed against any of the other plate wearers struck true.

Despite Sylvie’s best efforts, Ferric was grievously injured. While she managed to prevent him bleeding to death, his left arm was ruined by the blow.

The remaining skeletons were turned by Heimgyr, then struck down one by one in a concerted effort. The Vanguard retreated to their base camp, resting the night to allow Saorise (who had been felled by a giant ferret) to recover. Their return to Shieldhaven was uneventful.

In Shieldhaven, the treasure was divided and Doyle hired a cleric of Ammonar to cure Amyntas’ blindness. Ferric decided the adventuring life was not for him, and left the Vanguard.

Entertaining stuff. Looking forward to hearing more.

Afterwards, the Judge gave a sinister laugh, and said “it’s probably for the best that you didn’t mess with him”.

Believe me, they have no idea.

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief Sylvie, an antiquarian witch
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer Tacita, a fighter
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade (Ashley)
  • Amyntas, a paladin Bjorn, a barbarian
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock (Turei)
  • Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage Garric, a dwarven craftpriest

Session 4: 28 June 2015

The Vorpal Vanguard spent several days in Shieldhaven’s finest taverns, commiserating with Ferric on his decision to retire from the adventuring life.

Fearing undead or demonic attack, the Vanguard decided to purchase silvered weapons for all front liners and archers. The supply of silvered spears, axes, maces, and arrows in Shieldhaven (class 4 town) was soon exhausted. A day’s ride to the north-west found the Vanguard in Eastmarch (class 3 city) where they purchased the necessary silvered spears, arrows, and bolts

While the leaders of the Vanguard (Aurelius, Cato, Doyle, Gjallahorn, and Saorise) combed Eastmarch’s stores for silvered weapons, their henchmen hit the taverns hard. No rumours were forthcoming, as Eastmarch is too far into civilised lands to have many opportunities for adventurers.

The Vanguard rode east to the borderlands town of Fort Martindale. Repeating their tour of Eastmarch’s taverns in the village surrounding the fort, the henchmen encountered an adventurer too drunk to keep his mouth shut about his latest find.

The drunken adventurer spoke of a battle between orcs and lizardmen to the south-east, noting that there may be fine pickings from such a battlefield.

The Vanguard set off at once, before the drunken adventurer could gather his comrades and return to the site of the battle. Despite heading a day’s ride into the wilderness, the journey proved largely uneventful. A pair of purple worms was spotted in the distance, but they headed in the opposite direction and the Vanguard easily avoided them.

Upon reaching the hills the drunken adventurer had spoken of, Doyle and Eoman quickly found two sets of lizardmen tracks. The Vanguard followed the larger set of tracks, assuming this would lead to the site of the battle.

Eventually the tracks led to a cave – presumably inhabited by the orcs. The Vanguard formed up in its usual phalanx formation and headed in.

Soon they came across a lizardman who tried to extort money from them, threatening that his hidden comrades would attack and slay them. Gjallahorn took the threat poorly, and combat ensued. It was quickly revealed that the lizardman had been bluffing.

[We realised immediately afterwards that we’d missed a pretty obvious opportunity to get a temporary ally against the orcs here. Unfortunately everyone was too tired/hung over/bloodthirsty to try the obvious.]

To the north of the lizardman’s dead-end cave, the Vanguard encountered the aftermath of a clash between lizardmen and orcs. Bodies were strewn across a small cavern – clearly the orcs had decided to use this natural choke point to make a stand.

While searching the bodies for valuables, several of the vanguard were ambushed by rot grubs. The hideous slugs managed to burrow into Evie’s leg and Garric and Heimgyr’s arms. Silvie realised the grubs needed to be burned out before they managed to burrow to the afflicted people’s vital organs. Working in tandem, Silvie splashed lamp oil across the affected areas while Cato used his lantern to set the oil alight.

The rot grubs were successfully destroyed, but the cure proved almost as dangerous as the affliction. Garric and Heimgyr gritted their teeth in the face of bad burns, but Evie fell unconscious from the pain. Awakened by Silvie, Evie clambered to her feet but her leg was severely injured. Even after a week of bed rest, she would find her endurance severely affected.

[Evie now has a heavily scarred leg – she can’t force march, and her carrying capacity has been reduced by 6 stone.]

Continuing through the orcish tunnels, the Vanguard found a room dominated by a murky pool and several large, lichen covered rocks.

Heimgyr used his sling to skim a rock across the pool. No response.

Tacita and Aurelius checked the water’s depth with their spears – knee height water. No response.

Heimgyr sent his hunting dog across the pool. No response.

The Vanguard moved cautiously across the pool. Two of the rocks unfurled, revealing themselves as giant frogs.

Most of the party was surprised, but Bjorn, Eogan, and Tacita were not. They reacted swiftly, dropping one of the giant frogs before it could strike. The remaining frog’s tongue was deflected by Garric’s armour, before falling under a hail of blows.

The Vanguard continued through the orcish caves, passing several intersections and eventually turning into a long narrow cave filled with the gleaming eyes of a horde of giant rats. After their experience with the spitting cobras, the Vanguard weren’t about to underestimate animals. Missiles were flung, Cato cast sleep, and the unconscious rats were slaughtered.

A substantial haul of silver and shiny jewellery was found in the rats’ nests. Of particular note was a silver ring engraved with a wave-like pattern. Garric identified it as likely being a ring of water-walking. [We later confirmed this through experimentation.]

The easternmost edge of the rat cave comprised a sheer cliff, with a ledge twenty feet above. Saorise cast magic rope, attaching his rope to a handy boulder on the ledge above.

Doyle silently clambered up the rope. He found a cavern filled with crates and chests, and with a curtain on the far wall. From beyond the curtain, the sounds of orcs feasting could be heard.

The rest of the Vanguard clambered up the rope, and slowly lowered the orcs’ hoard down to be loaded on Pyr and the other mule. Assuming that they had claimed the majority of the orcs’ treasure, and unwilling to take on unnecessary risk, the Vanguard prepared to leave the caves.

A group of five brigands surprised the Vanguard as they rested in the rat cavern. The bandits cleaved through the front line while the Vanguard tripped over themselves in a frightening display of ineptitude.

First Amyntas fell, peppered with arrows. Then Aurelius dropped to a bandit’s blade. Saorise followed close behind. While Silvie and Cato tended to their wounded companions, the spear rank finished off the last few bandits.

Although three of the Vanguard had fallen, none had taken serious injuries. They fled the dungeon, resting for a day nearby to allow Amyntas, Aurelius, and Saorise to recover. Once they could travel, the Vanguard returned to Fort Martindale.

Having suffered a second catastrophe in as many excursions, Amyntas left the Vanguard. Now down two frontliners, the Vanguard decided to head to Eastmarch to hire replacements. While Evie rested and recovered, and Cato plied his services as a healer, the rest of the Vanguard put up fliers around town.

Over the course of two weeks, fifteen applicants appeared. A series of interviews, obstacle courses, riding tests, and weightlifting attempts followed. By the end of the two weeks, the field had been narrowed down to two applicants who met the Vanguard’s exacting standards.

Gjallahorn extended an offer of employment to Bertie – a young woman who was a skilled rider, with exceptional agility and high endurance. After Gjallahorn upped his offer to include a month’s wages as a signing bonus, Bertie accepted.

Doyle made an offer to Gertrude (Gertie) – a charismatic former seneschal, who wanted to make use of her exceptional strength and high agility in the adventuring life. Gertie refused Doyle’s offer, but happily signed on with Cato.

Cato and Gjallahorn purchased an array of equipment for their new henchmen – plate, shield, spear, sword, composite bow, and riding horse with full tack.

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief Sylvie, an antiquarian witch
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer Tacita, a fighter Gertie, a zero-level fighter
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade (Ashley)
  • Amyntas, a paladin Bjorn, a barbarian
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock (Turei)
  • Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur Bertie, a zero-level fighter
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage Garric, a dwarven craftpriest

The Vanguard discussed their next move at a tavern in Eastmarch. Gjallahorn and Saorise expressed an interest in heading south-east to the Dwarven stronghold of Arnadon. Cato suggested basing the Vanguard in Fort Licing, the town a couple of days’ ride northwest of Arnadon.

In Fort Licing, the Vanguard heard tale of goblin raiders operating out of a ruined keep east of a nearby lake. The Vanguard soon found the keep, and descended into the dungeon.

The phalanx moved through the goblin dungeon, slaying them easily. Goblins proved a far less dangerous foe than orcs, although their tactics were worrying.

Rather than the all-out attack which orcs launched against the Vanguard’s front line, goblins tried to send runners to nearby forces for help. Archers such as Eoman and Doyle quickly began to prioritise these runners.

After several rooms were cleared of goblins, the Vanguard booted the door to a room in which an obese but heavily armed goblin sat on a ramshackle throne. After many jokes about David Bowie having let himself go, the Goblin King and his lackeys were slain. New hirelings Bertie and Gertie proved their mettle by dodging and blocking all his attacks.

In the process of defeating the Goblin King, however, Evie was dropped by a stray stone from a goblin sling. Luckily she recovered quickly, suffering only minor scarring. Once again she was relegated to walking with the mules.

[We finished up there, mid-dungeon. We’ve got a week off, but expect to have another session in two weeks’ time.]

Just a quick update. We had a last minute cancellation, so missed last week’s session. We’re expecting to play this Sunday, so I should have a substantive update soon.

Tales of the Vorpal Vanguard: Session 5 (19 July 2015)

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief Sylvie, an antiquarian witch
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer Tacita, a fighter Gertie, a zero-level fighter
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade (Ashley)
  • Bjorn, a barbarian
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock (Turei)
  • Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur Bertie, a zero-level fighter
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage Garric, a dwarven craftpriest

The Vanguard continued through the goblin dungeon, although the goblins themselves had been wiped out or driven away. An abandoned area of the dungeon, guarded by a series of traps protected a room which it was assumed would be filled with treasure.

Opening the door, a group of spitting cobras was spotted. The Vanguard having encountered cobras’ blinding venom before, a sleep spell was quickly thrown at them and the cobras slaughtered. The treasure haul proved depressingly meagre.

Two doors to the south of the complex remained to be explored. As the Vanguard travelled through then entry room towards them however, a band of adventurers came down the stairs. The brief spoken exchange which followed ended with Gjallahorn casting sleep and the Vanguard stripping the rival adventurers of their equipment and leaving a note about who had done it.

Having provided the referee a convenient set of rivals to focus on, the Vanguard abandoned the southern wing, and headed back to town. Gertie and Bertie became 1st level fighters, although their HP re-rolls only generated total HP of 5 and 4 respectively.

The sleeping adventurers had been carrying a map – hopefully one which would lead to treasure. The Vanguard followed the map to a cave in scrublands to the north-east of Eastmarch. Within it were two giant weasals.

The fight that followed was brutal. In the space of one particularly unlucky round, the entire front line fell. First Bertie dropped [remember she has AC 9!], then Garric, then Gertie [AC 8!]. Eventually Tacita managed to drop the final weasel.

Sylvie, Cato, and Heimgyr had gotten to their injured comrades quickly. Garric came away without a scratch [this is turning into a bit of a trend], but Bertie lost her left hand, and Gertie had her arm shredded. On the other hand, the Vanguard gathered a vast haul of treasure – including over 9,000 gp in coins.

The Vanguard headed back towards Eastmarch, hoping to have restore life and limb cast on Bertie and Gertie. On the way, however, a passing explorer took an instant overwhelming dislike to the Vanguard and started firing arrows.

The mercenaries finally earned their pay, having previously done little more than ride around and guard horses. While they required 18s to hit the (obviously high level) explorer, the sheer volume of arrows they peppered him with ate through his HP quickly. Saorise got in a final arrow and Maliked the kill.

[When someone takes down an enemy who others did all the work on we refer to in as “Maliking”, in honour of one of Ashley’s former characters who did this an almost ludicrous amount of the time]

The explorer had a pair of magic items – some lenses of charming and a pair of boots of elvenkind – as well as a pouch of gems.

Back in Eastmarch, the Vanguard sold off their treasure haul. With over 1,000 EXP per main character, Aurelius, Evie, Doyle, and Gjallahorn hit level two!

Cato and Gjallahorn paid for restore life and limb to be cast on Gertie and Bertie. They both recovered, but Bertie gained the unpleasant stench of death, and Gertie’s mangled arm came back as that of an orangutan.

We broke for the week, in the midst of discussing plans to purchase a townhouse – and for those PCs who hit level two to think about getting more henchmen.

[A question for forum readers. How do you handle magical effects like charm person going off during a cavalry charge? We had the situation in this session where one person being charmed stalled several others mid-charge (engaging them, and therefore locking them in place). It seems pretty counterintuitive, but we couldn’t see an obvious alternative for how to handle it.]

Tales of the Vorpal Vanguard: Session 6 (26 July 2015)

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter 2 (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief 2 Sylvie, an antiquarian witch 1
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker 1 (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer 1 Tacita, a fighter 1 Gertie, a fighter 1
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade 2 (Ashley)
  • Bjorn, a barbarian 1
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock 2 (Turei)
  • Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur 1 Bertie, a fighter 1
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword 1 (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage 1 Garric, a dwarven craftpriest 1

The Vanguard decided to use some of their recent windfall to open a tavern in Eastmarch to act as their base of operations. Gjallahorn planned it out, with rooms for the Vanguard on the 2nd floor and an underground vault (with entry hidden behind a secret door in the wine rack).

Doyle put out word for henchmen. A mystic and cleric were the only two likely candidates, but he wasn’t particularly interested in either of them.

Doyle and Gjallahorn were interested in getting dwarven henchmen, so the Vanguard decided to head to the dwarven settlement of Arnadon in the southern mountains. The journey south proved uneventful.

When the Vanguard arrived in Arnadon, they heard that Craftlady Lari had put out a call for adventurers. Dwarven religious artifacts had been lost in a mine during the dwarven retreat, requiring adventurers to retrieve them from what was now a dungeon in the mountains to the west. The Vanguard agreed to retrieve the artifacts – for a price.

Journeying to the abandoned mine, the Vanguard encountered a pack of phase tigers. Both sides kept their distance, and nothing eventuated.

The Vanguard arrived at the abandoned mine, which turned out to be partially flooded. The water was knee deep (waist deep for Garric), meaning the pack mules and Gjallahorn’s war hound had to be left with the mercenaries guarding the horses. Loaded up with the rope and lamp oil which the pack mules usually carried, the Vanguard headed in.

Emerging from the entry corridor, Doyle and Evie spotted a series of tripwires in the knee-deep water. As they move to cut the tripwires, a band of kobolds sprung their ambush from behind nearby boulders. The ambush failed spectacularly.

The Vanguard struck down the kobolds easily enough, although a few managed to escape. They ran deeper into the mines, as a hail of errant missiles smacked the wall behind them.

Heading deeper into the mines, the Vanguard found a four way intersection.

Turning to the east, they entered a cavern inhabited by a giant scorpion. The Vanguard’s initial barrage of arrows and darts failed to drop the scorpion, which charged into the front line.

The scorpion’s tough hide proved difficult to pierce, but the Vanguard slowly whittled away at it.

After a series of bad rolls, however, things took a nasty turn. Bertie was struck by a lucky claw swipe, dropping her unconscious. The scorpion cleaved onwards, dropping Gertie with a second lucky swipe.

The Vanguard scrambled to heal the two fighters, but were attacked from behind by kobolds.

Doyle and Heimgyr held the kobolds off long enough for Favius to get off a sleep spell.

Tacita and Aurelius managed to drop the scorpion at the same time as Bjorn cleaved through the last kobolds standing.

Bertie bled out, too grievously wounded for the Vanguard to save her. Gertie had taken a nasty wound to her leg, slowing her speed to a crawl. The Vanguard carried the injured Gertie back to the entrance, leaving her with the mercenaries and returning to the intersection.

Delving deeper into the mines, the Vanguard headed southeast, towards where the dwarves had told them the stairs were. An encounter with giant rats was short-lived, with Gjallahorn casting sleep and the Vanguard slaughtering them.

Across a series of crudely made bridges and underground islands, the Vanguard encountered a large group of morlocks and their white ape minions. Both sides were wary, but unaggressive. The Vanguard continued southwards, away from the area the morlocks appeared to be guarding.

The area where the stairs to the abandoned temple were was fully flooded. Doyle and Evie swam through to the temple, finding it dust-covered and empty. They gathered the dwarven artifacts into water-proofed sacks, and brought them back.

Having found little treasure, beyond the dwarven artifacts, the Vanguard decided to continue onwards. Heading west, the Vanguard found stairs leading down – presumably to a second level of the dungeon. Unwilling to take on such a challenge in their weakened state, the Vanguard returned to the four way intersection.

Exploring the western corridor, the Vanguard encountered the remaining kobolds and their chieftain. The Vanguard’s final sleep spell made it a short encounter, and what little treasure the kobolds had was claimed. The Vanguard headed back outside, resting overnight to regain spells and heal the injured.

The next morning, the Vanguard headed back into the dwarven mines, intending to explore the second level. On their way to the stairs, they ran into a small band of goblins. Neither side was interested in engaging in battle. The Vanguard allowed the goblins to pass them by.

On the second level, flooded natural caverns gave way to dry rooms of worked stone. The stairs opened into a large, torch-lit room with a single exit and an upside-down crate to one side.

Lifting the crate, the Vanguard encountered a shrieker, which they slaughtered – but not before it let loose a high pitched scream. They also found a pouch of gems, a set of silver chain mail (+3 chain mail), and a shield with the symbol of Ammonar painted on it (+2 shield).

The magic items were quickly equipped by the frontline fighters. Aurelius donned the magical chain mail (+1 better AC than his plate, and 5 stone lighter!), while Garric picked up the magical shield.

This armour was put to good use in the next room, when the party was ambushed by troglodytes.

Doyle’s sleep spell proved largely ineffective, affecting only one troglodyte.

The Vanguard slowly eliminated the troglodytes, but in the process a hail of darts dropped both Eoman and Evie. Luckily both suffered only minor scarring. The Vanguard retreated from the mines, this time heading back to Arnadon to return the dwarven artifacts and claim their reward.

Craftlady Lari was extremely grateful, and as part of the reward offered the Vanguard dwarven rates for healing magic. Cato finally hit level two, leaving Saorise as the only 1st level main character [spellswords take so long to level!]. Cato also paid for restore life and limb to be cast on Gertie, and her leg was healed with only minor scarring.

Evie needed two weeks bed rest, so the Vanguard settled in. Cato offered healing services to the dwarves, while Doyle and Gjallahorn searched for new henchmen. The only ones to show up in the two weeks spent there were a dwarven fury (who was chaotic), and an explorer (who was 5th level).

Hoping there would be more henchmen available in a larger market, the Vanguard headed north to return to Eastmarch. Two weeks searching for henchmen there proved largely fruitless, until Doyle managed to find a young man with great potential.

Aethelwulf had been training to be a paladin, but hadn’t proved charismatic enough to join an order fully. Nevertheless he had strength matched only by Aurelius’, no weaknesses, and was trained in riding, military strategy, diplomacy, and theology. The only downside? One hit point.

Doyle continued his spectacular run of recruitment, being turned down by yet another prospective henchmen. Gjallahorn swept in, recruiting Aethelwulf in his place.

Gjallahorn armoured his new hireling up, and crossed his fingers Aethelwulf would survive long enough to become a first level fighter (and roll well on his hit points).

[We finished up there. The plan for next week is to return to the goblin dungeon to get Aethelwulf some quick experience and explore the southern wing we previously abandoned. If that goes well, we’re looking at returning to face the troglodytes on level 2 of the dwarven mines.]

Great stuff! I love watching that deliberation amongst players: just a little further? So much for the 15-minute adventuring day…

The Vorpal Vanguard have quite a hefty henchman and mercenary bill for their level, which makes sure they don’t spend too much time waiting around.

Tales of the Vorpal Vanguard: Session 7 (4 August 2015)

Vorpal Vanguard: current shareholders

  • Aurelius, a fighter 2 (Claire)
  • Evie, a thief 2 Sylvie, an antiquarian witch 1
  • Cato, a nobiran wonderworker 2 (Mike)
  • Eoman, an explorer 1 Gertie, a fighter 1 Tacita, a fighter 1
  • Doyle, an elven nightblade 2 (Ashley)
  • Bjorn, a barbarian 1
  • Gjallahorn, a warlock 2 (Turei)
  • Aethulwulf, a fighter 0 Heimgyr, a cleric of Hastur 2
  • Saorise, an elven spellsword 1 (Chris)
  • Favius, a mage 1 Garric, a dwarven craftpriest 1

The Vanguard headed south-east from the city of Eastmarch with a clear plan – to battle-test Gjallahorn’s new hireling Aethulwulf in the dungeon below the ruined fort. They had partially explored this dungeon a couple of months earlier, clearing out a goblin warband and robbing/embarrassing another band of adventurers.

The journey through Fort Licing and around the lake to the ruined keep proved uneventful. The Vanguard descended into the dungeon once more, heading through the previously unexplored southern door in the entry room.

The room which the Vanguard entered was a pretty standard 30ft square room. Strangely, however, each wall had three doors inset. The Vanguard’s standard process for opening doors until this point had been to check for traps and listen before opening. It was clear this would be a time consuming room to progress through.

After ascertaining that the first door was un-trapped and nothing seemed to be behind it, Aurelius booted it open. Behind the door was a 10ft pit. Unable to stop himself, Aurelius tumbled into it. Sylvie bound his wounds with a comfrey poultice. In light of Aurelius’ fall, the door-opening procedure shifted from booting them open to using a crowbar.

Several doors later, Aurelius levered open one of the doors in the southern wall revealing an abandoned room with a large hole in the floor where the flagstones had been torn up. The Vanguard formed up again, and headed into the room.

As the front rank entered the room, a giant scorpion exploded up from between the torn flagstones. The Vanguard unleashed a hail of missiles, while the front ranks charged the scorpion. It fell quickly, having inflicted no more than a few scratches on the front line fighters.

Following a dusty corridor south then to the east, the Vanguard eventually came to a blank wall. Doyle and Saorise’s keen elven eyes spotted a secret door in the wall. Sliding it aside, the Vanguard found a tapestry blocking their way. Beyond the tapestry could be heard the sounds of raucous feasting, and loud arguments in hobgoblin.

After some whispered strategising, Cato, Doyle, and Favius moved forward, readying themselves to cast sleep. Garric pulled the tapestry aside, and the frontline fighters rushed in to establish a beachhead in the room. Three castings of sleep went off, dropping the majority of the twenty plus hobgoblins in the room. Eoman and the other ranged characters dashed in behind the frontline, dropping the remainder of the hobgoblins.

By the time the Vanguard’s surprise round ended the hobgoblin chieftain was standing alone, surrounded by the bodies of his allies. With a roar, he charged. The chieftain impaled Saorise’s leg with his spear, the snap of tendons audible as Saorise crumpled to the ground. Cleaving onwards, the chieftain lunged at Tacita’s face. While Tacita pulled her head back in time to avoid instant death, the spear slashed across her eye. The chieftain’s rampage ended as Garric blocked his blow, then kneecapped him in return. The rest of the Vanguard piled in, finishing the chieftain off while Sylvie and Cato rushed to heal Saorise and Tacita.

Doyle catalogued the chieftain’s treasure and supervised its loading onto the mules. Saorise’s leg was mangled, and Tacita had lost an eye, but both were alive. The Vanguard formed up and prepared to explore the last section of the keep’s dungeon.

From the hobgoblin feasting hall, the Vanguard headed northwards. Opening a door to the west, they encountered what was clearly a hobgoblin guardroom. Bewitched by Cato’s enchanting visage, the hobgoblin champion and his men paused. Cato stepped forward, a welcoming smile on his face, and with his lenses of charming flickering. Five failed saving throws later, the hobgoblin champion was happily informing his newfound friend about the layout of the dungeon and where the rest of the hobgoblin forces could be found.

Crossing the corridor to another door, Cato’s new evangelists invited the other hobgoblins to come and meet their wonderful new friend. Cato’s lenses of charming flickered again, and his small army grew. The other group’s champion made his saving throw and lashed out at Cato, but was quickly struck down by his erstwhile allies.

The hobgoblins formed a phalanx ahead of the Vanguard, and swept the remainder of the dungeon. Returning to the many-doored room, the hobgoblin champion informed Cato that the chieftain was said to have hidden a great treasure here. The hobgoblins explored the remaining doors and discovered a small room with a stone chest protected by skeletons. Charging en mass, the hobgoblin phalanx dropped the skeletons with ease. Collecting the chieftain’s stash of rare perfumes from the stone chest, the Vanguard prepared to leave.

Cato turned to the hobgoblin champion, and informed him that the chieftain had been killed in battle. As the highest ranking hobgoblin remaining in the tribe, he was clearly the new chieftain. The champion’s eyes lit up with greed and delight. Cato encouraged him to take his men and re-establish the tribe to the south. The Vanguard left the dungeon and headed back to Arnadon.

Selling off treasure and paying their henchmen and mercenary bill, the Vanguard settled in for two weeks while Saorise and Tacita recovered from their wounds. Luckily the Craftlady’s priest was still in Arnadon, and the Vanguard had no problems procuring two castings of restore life and limb. Saorise was wholly restored, but Tacita was touched by darkness – from now on she would be affected by holy water and turning (counting as a wight).

Aethulwulf gained sufficient experience to become a level 1 fighter. Gjallahorn’s player re-rolled his pitiful 1 hit point…and got an 8!

Eager to return to level two of the abandoned dwarven mines, the Vanguard set off once more. Returning to the room where they first encountered troglodytes, the Vanguard were beset by a gang of ghouls. A hail of missiles and spear thrusts quickly dropped these attackers without mishap.

Down the corridor and beyond the next door, the Vanguard ran into more troglodytes. Neither side was immediately aggressive, so Cato stepped forward flashing his smile and activating his lenses of charming. The troglodyte champion fell under Cato’s sway, and his troops quickly followed suit.

With Cato’s troglodytes walking far enough ahead to minimise their stench’s effect, the Vanguard proceeded through the dungeon. In each troglodyte guard room, Cato’s converts entreated their comrades to meet their wonderful new friend. Cato’s gaze pulled a growing mob of troglodytes under his command, and those against whom it failed were quickly cut down by his converts. This process repeated through several more caverns the troglodytes had converted into guard rooms and living quarters.

Eventually the Vanguard reached the troglodyte chieftain’s filthy shambolic throne room. The chieftain roader in anger before Cato could work his charming magic, and a battle between Cato’s troglodytes and those loyal to the chieftain ensued.

With Cato’s troglodytes forming a front rank, the Vanguard’s fighters attacking from behind with spears, and a barrage of sleep spells and missile supporting the melee troops, the Vanguard proved victorious. Cato lost almost half his troglodytes in the process, but the Vanguard had emerged from a major battle entirely unscathed.

The troglodytes’ substantial treasure hoard was loaded onto the mules. Having expended fewer than half their resources, the Vanguard prepared to continue deeper into the dungeon.

[We ran out of time there, so stopped mid-dungeon. Next Sunday we expect to continue to explore the second level of the dwarven mines.]

[The lenses of charming have proven incredibly powerful at this point in the campaign. With Cato’s high charisma and mystic aura, most humanoids who aren’t immediately hostile are willing to initiate discussions with him. That allows him to use the lenses, and slowly build a buffer for the Vanguard.]

[We’re expecting it to self-balance pretty soon though. While the lenses are great on low-level humanoid foes in small numbers, they’re ineffective on larger monsters and groups big enough that Cato can’t charm everyone quickly enough to take control before someone gets suspicious. Both those situations will become more common as we take on more dangerous foes.]