In which new friends are met and our stalwarts jump in over their heads.
After a thorough examination of their funds resulted in enough wealth to join the Order of Adventurers, Explorers, and Treasure-Seekers, the majority of the party sought out various mentors and masters to update their skills. This left Anwar and Morg twiddling their thumbs, as neither possessed enough acumen to advance in class renown. With time on their hands, the duo decided to probe more deeply into the possibility of getting Kyrinn raised from the dead. The good news was that the Order did have a prayer-monger of the King of Cargos (Chadem, the god of wealth and trade) on retainer that could provide the necessary restorative prayers to summon the deceased fighter’s spirit back from the Shadow. The bad news was that it was 6,000 gold marks to do so—and the priests of Chadem look upon discounts as blasphemy. They also had less than ten days to perform the needed rite. Otherwise, Kyrinn’s shade would be lost forever.
With just over a week to collect more money than they ever saw in one place, Morg and Anwar cast about for employment opportunities. Word quickly reached them that a bounty was being offered on the Ghost Beggar bandits, a fact which made them regret letting Sfroat go. Anyone interested in the bounty needed to report to Azix Tsam, a notorious “gray man” or merchant whose business is not entirely above the board, at the Dead Dragon Inn.
Arriving at the inn just in time for their flapjack special (“All the fry cakes you can eat for five copper benders!”), the duo settled down to eat and asked to meet with Tsam. Their inquiries where overheard by another individual who stood out amongst the miner, lumberjack, and mountain man breakfast crowd. This hearty was Immeral the White, an elven martial cleric of Hyrn the Horned Lord recently arrived in Blackpool on pilgrimage to the shrine at the Stag’s Rock. Looking to complete his devotional period to the god of the hunt, Immeral has also heard of the bounty being offered and invited himself to Morg and Anwar’s table.
Before the now trio of adventurers could stuff themselves on flapjacks, a short bulldog of a man appeared to usher them upstairs to meet Tsam. In his lofty penthouse quarters, the tall, well-dressed but gruff merchant explained the deal: 25 gold marks for any of the bastards brought back alive, 10 marks for every one brought in dead. Enough was enough. The party was surprised to learn that Tsam had no idea where to find the Beggars, which was something that both Anwar and Morg believed they knew. Since they couldn’t prove this information, they kept silent for the nonce, hoping to possibly parley this into a larger reward once they had tangible proof.
The party headed straight out of town after this meeting. The day was already well underway and Kyrinn wasn’t getting any less dead after all. Striking out for the mountains to the northwest of Blackpool, they found themselves back at the gatehouse that stretched across the entrance way to the vale of Stonehell a little less than four hours later. The gatehouse would be the first place to search, for it seemed to be a possible bandit watch post and Fanta had detected something spying upon the party from the building on the last occasion they traveled the canyon.
Approaching the gatehouse, the party spotted a large section of the exterior wall marred by graffiti. Immeral was able to decipher the cryptic remark, “Wine kills green slime,” which they tucked away for later use should they encounter the stuff. Edging around the northern side of the fortification, they saw several other entrances in the rocky walls of the canyon, ones they had missed in their nocturnal trip across the vale. The nearest entrance to the gatehouse stood open, its door long since carried off, and the trio entered cautiously.
The scent of cooking meat was detected as they explored the long hallway and guardroom within. When one door proved difficult to open, their investigations were cut short by the sound of whispering from a room behind them. Quickly rearranging themselves for battle in the narrow hall, they spotted a flat-faced, orange hued creature of small stature with a leather cap pulled comically low upon his brow peering at them from a nearby door. When spotted, the creature slammed the door shut with a cry.
Demonstrating that they’ve learned much since the first session of Watchfires & Thrones, the party approached the door and began to parley with the creature(s) within. Calling out in a respectable Hobgobbledygook and enticing the creature with an offer of cash for information, they were able to lure the small humanoid out into the hallway (assisted by his comrades giving him a shove out the door). The party learned that the creature was “Schnot,” a goblin who had been driven out of his lair by the orcs of Stonehell. He could lead them to where the bandits lived and “stole big mushrooms,” but he had a counter-offer: his boss would like to see the adventurers with a business proposition. The party agreed to meet with the goblin gang leader and off they went to the dungeon proper.
Returning to the first level, Anwar was pleased to see that the goblin seemed to be sticking to the corridor he had already mapped out. There were cries of alarm when Schnot dashed across the pit trap the dwarves had warned them about, followed by much scratching of the head when the goblin failed to activate the trap. Careful experimentation revealed that the party could also cross the pit without it springing open. “You mean it doesn’t always go off?” inquired Morg. “How many other traps have we walked through that we don’t know about?!” Indeed.
As they party approached the goblin lair, they caught the sounds of orc voices approaching and prepared to spring a trap on their porcine adversaries. Unfortunately, their lit lantern and a blatant shadow cast upon the wall spoiled their ambush so combat broke out immediately. Largely due to the orcs’ initial trepidation, the three adventurers were able to overcome more than twice their number in orc hunters, which likely set the stage for their brashness to come. Even the sudden arrival of a trio of hunting cobras to the site (love those wandering monsters) could not dampen their feelings of combat superiority, for the snakes seemed more intent on tacking down smaller prey and the party let them slither by.
A short journey down a previously unexplored hallway took the adventurers into a octagonal room that bore both a desert decorative motif and the statue of a sphinx, but Schnot left them little time to explore. Instead the small creature indicated they needed to bypass a dropped portcullis, one which he tried to surreptitiously manipulate in some manner. Morg and Anwar caught his antics, but Schnot pressed them forward without answering.
The secret knock at a closed valve allowed the adventurers to enter the lair of the surviving goblins. A filthy, smoke-choked chamber filled with stinking goblins, mangy wolves, and a goblin latrine (“It appears they crap in their hands and then throw it in that corner over there.”). Covered by goblin crossbows, the party was escorted before the leader of the Wolf Gang goblins.
In short order, an unholy alliance was struck. The party would help kill or drive off the orcs from lair and the goblins would then lead them to the bandits’ den and help kill or capture them in return. After receiving all the troops the goblins could spare (six goblins, a wolf, and Schnot), the party quickly double-timed their war band to the entrance of the orc lair. Luckily, they had previously been through part of the area and were able to determine the layout of the lair’s main corridor. Unfortunately, despite this intelligence, they chose a simple “Get ‘em!” plan of attack.
That attack ran into difficulties from the very start when the first orc they encountered dropped both a goblin and their wolf with a pair of natural 20s. Although the orcs in the first guardroom were overcome, this was to be a portent for the rest of the assault.
Moving deeper into the lair, Anwar used his first spell in thirteen meetings of the campaign, casting a hold portal upon a door that lead to an unknown chamber so the party could concentrate on the seven orcs that were assembling in an open guardroom. This chamber would become the primary battlefield, with orcs and goblins dropping to the blood-slick flagstones. An orcish arrow gravely injured Morg, dropping him into unconsciousness and providing the goblins with a step-stool to reach their taller adversaries. Luckily, one of the orc archers brought down one of his own with an ill-planned arrow launched into battle (“Joe, you idiot!”), proving once again that every house rule I afflict the players with also affects the monsters.
With Morg the fighting man down and more orcs streaming out of an adjoining barracks, the outcome of the fight was obvious. Anwar grabbed the downed fighter and began dragging his form towards the entrance while Immeral and the goblins continued to fight. Then Schnot fell under an orcish axe, the goblins’ morale broke, and it was every being for themselves. As the party ran for their lives, Morg’s body slung between them, they caught sight of the goblin lieutenant, Gnort, outrunning his orcish pursuers to the south while they headed north towards the exit.
Battered, injured, and down a man, Anwar and Immeral limped towards the exit. As they approached the dwarven-carved chamber so close to the “H-Room,” the sound of human voices and torchlight was detected ahead of them. “Sounds like something’s going on to the south. Let’s check it out,” a gruff voice spoke. The torchlight began to increase in brightness, indicating that someone was coming their way. Several someone by the sound of it. Uh-oh!
Hooding their lantern and letting Immeral’s elven sight guide them, the party retreated back as swiftly as they could travel and still remain quiet. At the first intersection, with the torchlight and voices gaining on them, they dodged quickly to the east, hoping to find a hiding spot. As Immeral turned the corner, however, his eyes detected numerous heat sources scurrying about in the room before them. A quick about-face had them dashing across the corridor into the opposite room. There, they threw themselves against the wall and waited to see if the unknown men behind them caught sight of their last second dive for cover…