Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #35

The hobgoblins have an agenda and the events on their itinerary occur depending on certain criteria. Unfortunately, the party doesn’t know what this agenda is or what criteria drive it. For example: if the hobgoblins in Stonehell had been eradicated before a certain date, the party would have arrived upriver and found things to be quiet, the hobgoblins still in the midst of preparing their assault on the Kinan-M’Nath. But the party took too long looking for the Redoubt’s backdoor and events moved ahead without their knowledge. So instead of a peaceful frontier fort and a bevy of unsuspecting hobgoblins, the party discovered that war has come to the frontier—and they’re smack dab in the middle of it.

When it comes to having different possibilities available, I’m not ashamed to borrow from published source material. The session’s adventure was just such a case. Perhaps tellingly, the players noted that this game felt different from the rest, largely because part of it was lifted wholesale from a module. Those of you familiar with Night’s Dark Terror will undoubtedly recognize certain events in both this session and the next.

The Society returned to town and began preparations for the next day’s trip upriver. Supplies were purchased, a porter was hired, and an extra fighting man brought into their ranks to help in the upcoming raid. Cleopos the Porter learned that his employer, Grumble, assumed that he possessed some form of superhuman strength as he was gradually laden with more and more supplies until it became nearly impossible for him to move, thus providing a valuable lesson about encumbrance. Luckily, the dwarf took pity on his two-legged pony and redistributed the burden.

In regards to party composition, it was deemed more cost-effective to hire another fighter, a young swordsman named Fisk, than to pay for either the raising of Rondo Fleagle or to use the bloodgem to resurrect him from the grave. Due to certain time limits, this was likely to be the party’s last chance to rescue the slain dwarf’s shade from the grim lands—unless they reconsider using the gem to return him to life. It looks like a trip to the dwarven capitol to return Rondo’s corpse to his familial crypt will indeed be in order.

On the following morning, the party assembled at the river dock to meet Ayvok Sulg, owner and captain of the Otter, a merchant riverboat. Sulg and his crew were hired to take the party upriver to Fort Wolf’s Head, from which they would foray onto Hob’s Hill in search of the Citadel of Iron Might and Furious Devotion. The party was somewhat taken aback by Sulg’s first mate, a towering lizardfolk named Kryhiss, but nevertheless got settled aboard the cramped riverboat. As the last of the provisions were loaded, the Otter cast off and the crew went to work rowing the loaded vessel upriver.

The trip was quiet and pleasant despite the cramped conditions. As the party watched Blackpool fade in the distance, the land became wetter and stands of reeds and bulrushes began to appear. The water took a darker hue, becoming nearly ebony as the wetlands grew around them. Flocks of ducks soared overhead and the occasional twisted and stunted tree could be seen atop a hummock of dry land. The party began to nervously recall the tales of a giant turtle that was preying on boats and Kaldar took the opportunity to acquaint himself with the lizardfolk sailor to see what he could learn. He did gain some knowledge of Kryhiss’ homeland (“Murkmire,” the grey-green first mate said, sweeping a clawed finger across the rush-filled marsh around them) and that there was a turtle of enormous size attacking ships. But the scaly humanoid had a crew to direct and Kaldar wisely left him to his chores.

As night approached, Captain Sulg informed the party that they would be mooring for the night in a small swamp village with the unpleasant-sounding name of Scuttlehole. It was a necessary precaution since most sensible captains avoided traveling on the river after dark. The party had already observed one lumber drive passing them on the River Phol. These massive collections of stripped timber were poled downriver by the woodsmen of the Howling Wilderness, and Sulg had no desire to run into one of these drifting hazards in the dark of night.

Sulg suggested with much emphasis that the party remain onboard when the moored for the night. Scuttlehole was an unpleasant place, a rough swamp town which didn’t welcome unknown faces. In fact, Sulg explained, the local form of justice entailed the magistrate asking who was responsible for any crimes or disturbance. Whoever was implicated by the majority was summarily dragged to the woolly gator pit and tossed in with no trial or appeal.

As the Otter pulled into Scuttlehole’s “harbor” (nothing more than a collection of pilings driven into the riverbed), the adventurers got their first look at the place. Half the community was constructed on raised walkways that rose above both water and swamp. The buildings were green with mildew and moss, and the few trees along the bank were draped with hangman’s moss. A butcher was lethargically chopping the heads off of fish and casting the bodies into the river below, where the water frothed and roiled with blood. A pair of red lanterns dangled from a large two-story structure built over the river, and the laughter and commotion from within left little mystery as to what purpose it served. A few sputtering braziers produced a pungent smoke, keeping the worst of the mosquitoes and biting flies away. The party decided to give the settlement’s dubious accommodations a pass. Kryhiss and two other crewmen did depart on the Otter’s single skiff to visit town, however. The party posted a watch but other than the crewmembers returning around midnight, the evening passed without incident.

The next morning saw the Otter hoisting anchor and heading back upriver. Soon after the boat sailed out of sight of the swamp village, the Murkmire began to dry up and rolling hills and forest became visible along the banks of the river. The boat passed a ford in the river, easily crossing it with its 2’ draft. A walled town with the unsurprising name of Oldford stood on the eastern banks of the river near the crossing. Small children waved at the vessel as she passed while wagons, cattle and drovers paused partially submerged in the river at the ford to allow the boat right of way.

It was late afternoon when the River Phol widened and another lumber drive with its pole-men passed the Otter. Ahead was Snake Island, a long, narrow isle that sat almost 200’ from the eastern bank of the river. As was custom, Sulg turned the craft to pass through the channel that separated the island from shore in order best avoid any more lumber drives headed downriver. As they reached the midpoint of their trip through the channel, the Otter lurched suddenly and stopped, throwing its passengers and crew off-balance as it unexpectedly hit a submerged snag in the river. That obstacle was the least of their worries because a volley of arrows suddenly rained down on the boat from the eastern shore!

Emerging from the woods was a score of raiders. Some were stripped down to loincloths and bore wicked-looking knives in their teeth. Frothing at the mouth and with wild gleams in their eyes, these twelve dove into the river and began swimming towards the motionless boat. Eight more archers continued to rain arrows down on the ship, killing two crew members before the rest took cover amongst the crates and sacks strapped to the deck. The party bravely rose to their feet and began returning fire or to prepare to meet the boarders.

The party’s arrows were concentrated on a chainmail-clad figure who strode amongst the archers, encouraging them and ordering their fire. After thirty seconds of concentrated fire, this figure lay dead on the ground with six arrows piercing his body. The remaining archers looked uncertain for a moment, but continued their attack.

With most of the party’s attention on the archers and closing swimmers, one crewman almost went unnoticed as he rose to his feet and drew a curved dagger from his belt sash. Creeping towards where Baragkus and Kryhiss stood, he prepared to plunge the knife into the lizardman’s scaly back. Only the cry of a comrade alerted the first mate and the fighter to this treachery, allowing Kryhiss to escape the backstab with a mere grazing of the blade. Facing the angry Lizardman and the brawny Baragkus, the sinister sailor decided to throw himself overboard rather than risk their blades. Alas, he was prevented from fleeing by Baragkus and instead turned and ran towards the port side of the boat. As he prepared to dive over the side, Captain Sulg drew his own blade and killed the traitorous dog.

The last of the shoreline archers were laid low by the party, but not before Korlack suffered a grievous wound from one of their yard-long shafts. The magic-user fell into unconsciousness, leaving him defenseless as the mad-eyed swimmers reached the boat’s starboard side and began boarding. Lyrax ran forward to pour a healing elixir down his throat while Kaldar and the recently-hired Fisk stood on the gunwales and started beating back the borders. Closer to the stern, Baragkus, Kryhiss, Raijek, and Mars Markus held started cutting down boarders as the climbed from the water.
Raijek and BaragkusThe boarders, even in their mad rage, had no hope of winning the day and it wasn’t long before the last of their bloodied bodies splashed over the side of the boat to vanish beneath the river’s surface. The party stood victorious once again.

With the threat gone, the party took to examining the few corpses that remained aboard the Otter. The swimming mad men had nothing but knives and loincloths, but the traitorous sailor was another story. In addition to his well-made blade, a tattoo was discovered on his left forearm. Depicting either a crow or a raven, this piece of body art gave the Society the idea that what they had just battled was a Storm Crow ambush. Knowing that clandestine organization’s alliance with the hobgoblins, if the Crows were behind the attack, it could only be assumed that the hobgoblins knew they were coming. What this might mean to their planned assault remains to be seen.

Captain Sulg and his crew determined that the Otter had struck a series of strategically-placed logs hidden under the river’s surface. With night falling fast, the boat would be forced to wait until daylight to free itself and continue the trip upriver. The party took the opportunity to explore the riverbank and loot the slain ambushers. The chainmail-wearing leader was also found to have a bird tattoo, lending more evidence to their suspicions. In addition to the bodies, a trail was found that led to a small clearing that bore the signs of a recent campfire. Another trail led further north along the river, terminating at the water’s edge where three large canoes were concealed amongst the underbrush. This was obviously the way their attackers had arrived on the scene. And since the Otter move twice as fast as any canoe, their assailants must have been in place before they arrived. This led to some speculation as to what the crewmen who went ashore at Scuttlehole were doing…

The party returned with the canoes to find that Captain Sulg had established a camp on the shore of Snake Island, unloading some of the boat’s cargo to reduce its weight and lessen its draft. The party took the opportunity to explore part of Snake Island, a heavily overgrown and forested isle, but night came before they could venture too far from camp. They returned and spent a pensive but uneventful night on dry land.

The following morning saw the Otter freed and the trip continued upriver after the party stashed one of their newly-discovered canoes on Snake Island “just in case.” After another half day on the river, the Otter finally rounded a bend and the party caught their first glimpse of Hob’s Hill. This forested prominence rose above the western bank of the river, a good mile away from the other shore. The Otter pulled along the eastern bank to tie up to a piling near the shore and allow the Society to debark. Captain Sulg informed them that he’d likely be back this way in three or four days after he had concluded his business at one of the northern lumber camps. Giving the party instructions to follow a trail through the forest beyond the riverbank, he told them they’d reach Fort Wolf’s Head by sundown…if they hurried. With that, the Otter and her crew began to pull away and start upriver again.

The party paused to hide their two remaining canoes at the forest’s edge before heading down the trail. The forest was still, shadowy, and peaceful, and the party made good time along what was obviously a regularly traveled path. As night fell, the party heard the sound of a burbling stream ahead…and something less placid. Faintly, the sound of screams and clashing steel drifted through the still air and the woods to the east suddenly began to glow orange and red. Rushing down the path, the party broke through the trees to emerge in the midst of battle.
Goblin ambush prior to Sleep spell. The Otter deckplan is in foregroundOn the far side of a narrow river stood a frontier settlement ringed by a palisade of hewn trees and under attack by scores of orange- and green-skinned goblins. The settlement’s northern wall and barn were in flames and desperate defenders fired arrows down at their chanting attackers. From the underbrush around the party, ten goblins dressed in wolf pelts leaped to their feet and hurled spears at the new arrivals. Minor wounds were taken, but Korlack’s sleep spell quickly rendered the goblin attackers inert.Goblin ambush after sleep spellThe party pushed toward the wooden bridge that crossed the small river and terminated at a gatehouse. From atop the parapet of the wooden barbican came a warning cry. A man dressed in leathers pointed to the south and screamed for the party to get inside the wall. Looking down the riverbank, the party saw a dozen goblins riding the largest wolves they had ever seen. The goblin cavalry was headed their way with murder in their eyes.

The party dashed across the bridge and through the gate that opened to meet them. As a barrage of goblin spears slammed into the wooden walls of the gatehouse, the portal shut behind them, granting the weary travelers a moment of respite.

But it would soon become clear that they faced a long and dangerous night ahead…

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