Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Giant Gift

My players are generous, engaging in acts that, although appreciated by me, might come back to haunt them. Case in point: The FLGS where we play each week has a display case filled with plastic minis. These figurines came from various miniature sets that have been broken down and sold individually so that the buyer can actually see what he or she is purchasing. In the last week, the store got a prodigious amount of Mage Knight sets in and the miniatures case has become flooded with odd, yet strangely intriguing pieces. Before last Sunday’s game, me and a few of the early arrivals were taking a look at these pieces and I commented that, although several of them, such as the steam-powered dwarven tank, would make excellent set piece encounters in the campaign, the $15-$20 price tags on the big models just weren't worth the one-time use I’d get out of them.

Despite my reservations, the guys really took a liking to one particular model—an “Iron Rain Hill Giant.” Standing a scale 20’ tall, the brute bears a giant axe as a weapon, but also has a boiler hanging on his back. A pair of helmeted dwarves ride on chairs strapped to the giant’s shoulders and are armed with what appear to be flamethrowers aimed outwards to guard the giant’s flanks. A third dwarf with horned helmet rides on the giant’s neck and seems to be steering him with a series of chain reins hooked through the brute’s eyebrows. It’s all very dangerous looking.

For reasons I’m still uncertain of, the guys took up a collection and bought it for me. They now want me to stat it up for Labyrinth Lord with the implication that they’ll fight it one day. As I said, they’re generous to a fault.

I certainly do appreciate the gesture. It tells me that they enjoy our weekly sessions together and all the hard work I put into making each game seem effortless. I just hope they still enjoy it when the Tijuana flamethrower-armed giant is making mincemeat of them someday…

Thanks, guys.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #40

The party freed the captive dwarf from his ball and chain restraints as he introduced himself: Gareth Ironhead, slave to the hobgoblins’ forges for almost a year. He was very excited and grateful to be released and readily agreed to accompany the party on their assault against the hobgoblin high command. Gareth was able to provide some intelligence regarding the dungeon around them. He had heard that the hobgoblins had captured a new prisoner and were holding him somewhere to the north. Gareth also knew that an evil human priest also dwelt amongst the hobgoblins and that fellow had quarters to the east. The hobgoblins themselves lived in the passages to the south.

The party, looking to gather more allies, left the smithy and backtracked north. One unexplored passage led to a filthy but unoccupied lounge. Past it, they discovered what appeared to be a prison wing. One door led to an empty cell, while another stout portal was found to be locked. Grumble, perhaps enraged by the indignities inflicted on his fellow dwarf, proceeded to try and bash the door in with his steel-toed wrestling boot—only to have his blow rebound ineffectively.

From beyond the door, the sound of snorting and grumbling was detected. A voice, speaking in a gruff, unknown tongue shouted something out. Baragkus’ magic helm deciphered the phrase to be, “Idiot! Use yer key!” The party banged on the door in response and the grumbling continued, getting louder as the speaker approached the door. “What? ‘Cho loose it agan?” came another inquiry as the door swung open.

The surprised bugbear opening the door was greeted with an axe to the chest and a sword through the gut. Another of his kind, obviously just awakened and rising from bed, rushed for his battle axe but was cut down as he lifted it above his head. In moments, the party had overcome the prison’s guards. In a locked chest, the party found a suit of leather armor, some weapons, and an obvious set of thieves’ tools. Undersized for bugbears, these must belong to another denizen of the prison wing and the band moved along down the hall in search of that person.

A third door was encountered just as they heard the sound of the lounge door behind them swinging open. They spun about to see a quartet of silhouettes emerging from the dimly lit room beyond. Hobgoblins! As the two forces rushed one another, a hail of arrows brought down three of the orange-skinned bastards before the party’s fighting men clashed with the sole survivor. With two-to-one odds, the hobgoblin found a quick if not painless death.

The party opened the door they had been interrupted at to find a morose-looking human male imprisoned within. He too was relieved to see human and demihumans faces and introduced himself as Cullen, a “freelance procurer” who had run across a hobgoblin patrol on his way to Fort Wolf’s Head. Cullen was agreeable to help out the party in return for a cut of any loot found and the party returned to him his equipment, arms, and tools of the trade.

With now two more members and only a seemingly empty cave where water was collected remaining in the north wing, the party headed back the way they came and decided to see if they could find the evil priest’s quarters. Many of their number were still injured and the prospect of liberating some healing potions or curative scrolls was an alluring one. In fact, wounds had gotten so bad that Mars Markus graciously offered his sole remaining potion of healing to Grumble provided he replace it once they returned to civilization (hee hee).

The party headed east and found a long corridor that eventually turned south and passed several doors. The first portal, located down a short side passage was bypassed, but the next two were cautiously examined. Both were locked and beyond the ability of Cullen to pick, so Baragkus and Grumble went to work with their crowbars.

As the party worked to pry one door open, they suddenly found themselves under fire. A patrol of goblins had been shadowing them and took the opportunity to rain arrows down on Korlack and Mars, the party’s lantern-bearers. Korlack took a grim wound, but the missiles bounced off Mars’ seemingly impenetrable plate mail. Baragkus and Gareth charged into battle, sending the goblins scurrying and dying. As they chased their quarry around a corner, they encountered more of the green-skinned guards and the battle continued in a surprisingly simultaneously manner (The party and I tied initiative rolls consecutively for three or four rounds. No lie.). Ultimately, the goblins were slain and the door was pried open.

The room beyond contained an office. Comfortable benches lined the walls and a large desk stood in one corner. A small pumice statue depicting the sloth-bat thing the party had encountered in various places around Hob’s Hill sat atop the desk. Korlack swiftly collected this ornament as Grumble opened the first of the desk’s two drawers. After being reminded of traps, Grumble looked down to find only a sheaf of plain parchment, quills, and stoppered ink. Now, more cautiously, he called Cullen over and had the “guy who knows a guy” inspect the second drawer. No trap was found, but it was locked—a lock which Cullen quickly dismantled…triggering the poison needle trap in the process. Luckily, Cullen made his saving throw and the party was able to collect a pouch full of small, badly cut pieces of amber and a scroll of cure light wounds.

Feeling emboldened by this discovery, the party attacked the second door in the hallway and again demonstrated that brute force and a crowbar beat any thief in the business. Behind the portal lay a cozy salon. Niches holding beeswax candles lined the walls and a low table stood in the corner flanked by four chairs. A shelf hung on one wall and held four fine crystal goblets and two cut glass decanters of purple-black wine. Baragkus and Korlack availed themselves to the vino while Grumble, his suspicions raised by the party’s mapping efforts, began to inspect the walls. A secret portal was found in the west wall.

The party ventured down the occulted corridor and found the secret chambers of the evil priest. Interrupting him as he wrote his homily of evil for his next service, the evil priest didn’t have time to complete his invocation of “Tsathoggua, aid me!” before he took an arrow in the face. Moving into melee distance, Baragkus cut him down while Grumble rolled around on the floor…or at least that’s what it looked like. The dwarf’s attempt to slide under the priest’s worktable and attack were less than effective.

With the priest dead, the party rifled the room. Korlack collected the priest’s papers, which appeared to be written in the Black Speech, the tongue of Chaos. Under the bed, a long, narrow chest was discovered and it contained coins, a vial of clear liquid, and a grey-green cloak. Risking the wrath of whatever evil god the dead priest paid homage to, Korlack took the initiative to don the garment...and become dim. It must be a legendary elvish cloak! Baragkus, his magical helm perched atop his head, discovered that priest’s mace bore runes that could be read as “Tergel” when glimpsed with the helm and collected the weapon as his own.

Finding no other means of egress, the party returned to the secret passage and found another concealed portal that led the back to the main corridor. They paused to investigate the door they had passed, but it led to an empty albeit well-used torture chamber.

Heading into now unexplored territory, the party took a southbound corridor at their first intersection and came across an array of doors. The first, again pried open with much grunting and swearing, revealed a sizeable cache of supplies. There were enough torches, cloaks, rations, and other supplies to meet the needs of two hundred hobgoblin warriors.

The next door was locked, but a pair of sizeable double doors across the hall from them proved unlocked and the party ventured inside. Several of the adventurers felt an unnerving chill crawl down their spine as the passed over the threshold. In the dim light of their torches, the party saw a row of rough-hewn wooden benches marching towards a towing statue of pumice. The carving again depicted the bat-sloth deity, and the glint of gems was detected in the effigy’s eye sockets. However, the statue’s prodigious pot belly would make scaling the sculpture difficult, so Grumble and Baragkus headed back to the storeroom to loot some useful deity-climbing tools.

Outside in the hallway, the two fighters walked right into a trio of skulking bugbears and battle commenced.

Unfortunately, unlike the first duel with the bugbears, these three proved to be formidable opponents. As the two fighting men stood their ground, each suffered horrible wounds and their cries for aid roused the rest of the party to come charging to their assistance. As Baragkus tried to disengage from combat, Gareth rushed to his side. He traded blows once before he found himself facing two of the beasts and was swiftly dropped into unconsciousness by their attacks. Meanwhile, Grumble also found himself in dire circumstances and tried to move into a position where others could aid him. This left Cullen exposed to the brawny goblinoids blows and the thief, demonstrating the battle sense of his chosen profession, said “Skut this!” and scampered away in retreat.

Korlack, ignored by the bugbears thanks to his newly acquired magical cloak, was able to move into position and dropped two of the creatures into magical slumber. The last bugbear, enraged, charged into the midst of the party and began to assail Mars Markus with his broadsword. The Spider God, perhaps taking pity on the fact that Mars’ player was absent from the session, intervened and allowed the cleric’s proxy dice-roller to generate a natural 20, slaying the bugbear before he could breach the priest’s armor.

Although no lives were lost, the party was badly beaten and without spells. A suggestion was made to secure themselves in the chamber with the statue, reinforcing the doors with the benches. However, an alternate suggestion was fielded: Return to the priest’s secret chamber and take refuge there. This was decided to be the wiser course of action and the Society of Planewalkers slinked back down to the hidden quarters and prepared to get some rest…

We’re off again this coming weekend. Recaps will return after April 3rd.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #39

With inert Baragkus hoisted up on Mars and Grumble’s shoulders, the party left the cemetery behind them, keeping to the edge of the woods to avoid being seen in the light of the waxing moon. With Kaldar leading the way, the party moved cautiously towards the southern edge of the large clearing, hoping to make it undetected by both ghoul and hobgoblin to the trail head that lay over a thousand yards away.

They had only been on the move for ten minutes before Baragkus began to stir and the party welcomed the brawny swordsman’s presence amongst their fighting-capable ranks once again. Mere moments after his revival, Kaldar distinctly heard motion coming from the trail that led back to the oh-so-recently fled hobgoblin citadel. With a slash of his hand, the party disappeared into the forest verge and hunkered down behind whatever cover they could find.

It was near impossible to see in the gloom, but the Society got the impression that a group of unidentified creatures was moving down the center of the clearing, headed for the same trail they were bound for. Although impossible to tell numbers or identities, the moon shed enough light for the party to guess that the patrol was composed of a half-score of creatures of two distinct types, one larger than the other. The party stood stock still in the woods and waited for these beings to pass.

Once the unidentified beings has moved along, the party carefully emerged from the woods after allowing the patrol plenty of time to develop a comfortable lead. Their plan was to try and reach the cave where they had spent the previous night, recoup, heal, and memorize spells before determining their best course of action. Slinking through the night, quiet and alert, the party reached the trail head an hour after the patrol had passed them by. It took another two or three hours to follow the path back to the cliff waterfall they had descended to reach their current location.

The band reached the cliff without incident, but were distressed to find that the ropes they had left behind to assist their climb had vanished, likely carried off by the creatures they were following. Fisk looked around at the soft, damp ground and was able to locate several tracks in the area. These footprints were a mix of large and small feet, and based on their experiences at the citadel, the party concluded that they had been preceded by a group of hobgoblins and goblins.

The party checked their packs and discovered they had enough rope to climb the cliff, but no means to attach it to the top. After some discussion, Mars produced a vial of silver-blue liquid, a gift that had been given to him by his order upon induction into the first circle of mysteries of the church of Mog. Wrapping the end of the rope about his waist, he gulped down the potion and began to scale the rocky cliff face with the skill of a spider. As he ascended, Korlack and Fisk discovered a small trail leading away from the base of the waterfall and off into the woods. Marred by goblinoid tracks, it appeared as if the patrol had ventured this way rather than take the long climb up. They made note of the trail’s location and rejoined the party in time to witness Mars clamber cautiously over the top of the cliff.

After solving the problem of the rope sticking to his hands, Mars let down the hemp line and the party climbed up the cliff with swift care. Regrouped once again, the Society headed across the stream and down the path that would take them to the cave. A brief encounter with aged skeletons rife with moss and vine growth was quickly settled by the power of Mog’s divine presence and the party reached the cave clearing an hour or so later.

They had just reached the middle of the clearing en route to the shelter of the cave when a small band of goblins emerged from the woods, ready for battle. Led by a wolf-riding commander, the patrol rushed towards the party, bared blades in hand. As they crossed the meadow, the party unleashed a hail of missiles at the worg, injuring it greatly and giving the beast pause. While its rider tried to regain control, the other three infantry goblins also lost heart. With a yipe, the wolf threw off its burden and fled for the woods. Now dismounted, the goblin leader tried to rally his troops into continuing the charge, but was cut down by an arrow. This was the first missile fired in a astonishingly accurate volley by man-at-arms, Fisk, who promptly dispatched three of the goblins before his bowstring, grown hot by rapid fire, broke under his fingers. The last goblin turned to run, but was cut down before taking more than three steps towards the woods.

The party headed to the cave, leaving the goblin corpses as a warning to any who might come that way—a decision that would cause trouble for them soon. At the cave mouth, there were more signs of hobgoblins and goblins, but the tracks entered and then departed, making it appear that the patrol had searched the cave, found it empty, and move on to continue their search elsewhere. The party entered and took up position once again near the dirty pool of water within.

The party rested and awoke without incident several hours later. Healing spells were cast, wine was consumed, and Korlack prepared his sleep spell. Feeling better but not yet completely recovered, the party decided that they would remain one more night in the cave in hope of reaching optimum fighting capacity. Once they were again at full strength, they planned to return to the citadel and complete their mission.

Several hours later, the party’s rest was interrupted by a hobgoblin patrol. The orange-skinned goblins had discovered their dead, green-skinned kin in the clearing and promptly decided to search the cave. Kaldar heard the patrol enter the cave and the party had little trouble defeating them, although Grumble, as is his wont, was reinjured in the skirmish.

The party returned to the small side cave they were resting in and Mars decided to choke the entrance to that grotto with his web spell. After being thoroughly disappointed with the result (he had envisioned a larger area of effect that then 10’ cube the spell produced), the party settled down to wait once again.

Barely two more hours had passed when ANOTHER hobgoblin patrol, now missing their comrades and finding their tracks and dead goblins in the clearing, decided to (guess what) investigate the cave! The party heard them enter and waited for them behind their wall of webs.

“What in the six hells' that?” one hobgoblin trooper wondered upon seeing the web.

“I don’t know, but there’s someone behind it! Grotus, go tell the camp we found our fugitives!” another soldier replied as a third headed out of the cave.

Seeing their plan was less effective than they had hoped, the party set their own web alight and prepared to meet the hobgoblins in battle. Running out of the burning webs, the Society quickly cut down the four soldiers inside the cave before rushing out to try and stop the one headed towards camp.

As they emerged from their rocky shelter, they discovered that night had fallen and they could barely make out the silhouette of the hobgoblin fleeing towards the trees. The band gave pursuit, but the solider quickly outdistanced them, and when the party failed to reach the hobgoblin camp he was supposedly headed towards after several minutes of pursuit, they decided to turn their attentions elsewhere.

Although still not completely healed, the party decided to make one final foray into the citadel, hoping that hobgoblin patrols would be occupied searching the hill for them as they snuck back to the high command’s lair. Wasting no time, they marched in darkness back down the trail to the waterfall. Arriving at the cataract without encountering any patrols, they swiftly descended to the lower trail and headed straight back to the Citadel of Iron Might and Furious Devotion.

Chance was once again their bitch and the band arrived back at the ancient monastery without trouble. They breached the front doors straightaway and retraced their steps back to the barracks they had recently fled. Grumble kicked in the door without delay and the seven hobgoblins guards inside were caught unawares. Kaldar threw a slumber enchantment over the entire cadre of guards and they all fell asleep before they could respond to the party’ sudden entrance. All in all, a much different resolution than their first time entering the barracks.

The party slit several throats but took one hobgoblin prisoner. There was some difficulty in making themselves understood, but Kaldar suddenly remembered he spoke fluent hobgoblin and took over the interrogation of the captive (my bad!). The party learned that only twenty or thirty hobgoblins remained on the hill, although the captive warned (maybe lying) that there were “dozen of ogres” about too. The party, having acquired this intelligence, debated on what to do with their captive. Bringing him along would mean that someone would have to constantly watch him and the threat of him alerting the rest of the garrison was a very real possibility. They were likewise loath to leave him behind. Kaldar suggested that he would take the captive out to the overgrown garden and keep him there. If the party didn’t return in 24 hours, he would head back to the river and Fort Wolf’s Head and try to raise reinforcements or a rescue mission. The party agreed and Kaldar exited the scene, thus taking him off my hands until his player returns to the game from a leave of absence.

The band found the stairs to the lower level behind a locked door in the barracks and descended quickly, looking to strike hard and fast. Several options for travel met them at the bottom of the steps and they found themselves outside a busy smithy before they ventured too far from the entrance.

Inside, lit by the massive forges against the far wall, were four hobgoblins and a large bugbear overseer. Two of the hobgoblins stood watch over the room, their backs turned away from the entrance, while the other two worked steel into spearheads and sword blades. In the far corner of the room, a dirty, unkempt dwarf, his foot restrained by a ball and chain, worked at another anvil: A prisoner in need of rescue!

The party’s arrows cut down the two distracted guards and the fighting men charged into the room immediately thereafter to confront the remaining goblinoids. Seeing his captors distracted, the dwarf threw his hammer at the bugbear’s head, creasing its skull as Baragkus engaged him in battle. Mars challenged one of the remaining hobgoblins and Grumble raced towards the other. Korlack and Cleopos kept watch down the halls outside.

The bugbears, although formidable, was no match for Baragkus, and even Mars Markus took down his own foe in short order. As Grumble distracted his own opponent, the dwarf captive picked up another hammer and bashed the guard’s helmet with a mighty blow, sending the hobgoblin staggering. Another blow dropped him to the ground, stone cold dead. The party was again victorious without suffering wounds in return!

The dwarf prisoner looked at his rescuers with a broad grin. “Boy, ar yoo a sight fur soor ees!” he said with joy, and the party began to converse with their newfound friend…

Next we’re doing something different, but recaps will resume in a week or two. See you then!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Evaluation of Watchfires & Thrones: Year One

Please forgive the cross-posting as this article appears on both Archive of the Rotten Moon and The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. It appears on the former since it concerns the Watchfires & Thrones campaign and has been repeated on the latter as it deals with old school roleplaying campaigns in general and may be instructive to those thinking of starting or at the beginning of a classic D&D game.

This Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of our Labyrinth Lord campaign. In the past twelve months, we’ve met thirty-nine times for a rough total of 150+ hours of gaming. The original intent was to have a game schedule of three weeks on/one week off, making for forty meetings a year. As you can see, we came very close to hitting that mark.

The Hard Numbers and Mechanics of the Campaign

When the campaign began, each player created two characters to help them survive the very lethal first two levels of campaigning. Many of those characters have come and gone, and with the exception of one player, no one has an original PC left on their roster. The largest experience point total for a single character is 14,848; the lowest is 2,500. We’ve had two players leave the group due to real life issues and a third player who had to take two extended leaves of absence for the same reason. Of the original three players from the first session, two remain active.

Player character deaths were rife in the early months of the campaign, but stabilized as the survivors advanced in level, a change was made to the critical hit house rule, and the players themselves learned from the mistakes of the past. There have been a total of twenty-two PC deaths (two of which were later raised from the dead) and three NPC deaths (including two dogs). The most PCs lost by a single player is nine.

The campaign itself has spanned two worlds: the original pulp sword & sorcery venue largely centered in and around the city of Rhuun and my traditional D&D campaign world of R’Nis. Between those two worlds the party has explored a dead sorcerer’s tomb, a temple dedicated to the Black Goat, a megadungeon that was built by aliens, Stonehell Dungeon, the ruined cellars of a wizard, a series of insect-infested caves, a ruined monastery holding the blood of a goddess, and (tentatively) a crumbling temple inhabited by hobgoblins. They’ve also participated in a street fair gone amok and defended a frontier homestead against an army of goblin raiders. Although many of the adventures have been homebrewed, other material has come from “The Ruined Monastery” by James Maliszewski, Night’s Dark Terror by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher, The Horror on the Hill by Douglas Niles, Temple of the Ghoul by H. John Martin, The Veiled Society by David “Zeb” Cook, and “The Pits of Bendal Dolum” by Doug Lyons.

There have been many rule selections and changes over the past year, and some have worked better than others. The campaign began using the Original Edition Characters rules for Labyrinth Lord, but changed to straight Labyrinth Lord minus thieves after two sessions, mostly due to the fact that I wanted to have monsters with variable damage dice. Character generation was 3d6 in order and two rolls allowed for starting hit points. Once the PCs left the pulp campaign world, Advanced Edition Companion rules were added to the game and starting attributes changed to 4d6 arranged where desired. Thieves also became available to players at that time. Critical hits were initially handled as a “20” results in double damage. This rule changed around the middle of the campaign to a roll of “20” meaning full damage. This resulted in less PC casualties. Clerics cannot cast spells at 1st level and must wait until reaching 2nd level to access their first daily prayer.

My intention was to run an open sandbox campaign where the players could choose what adventure seeds to pursue against a backdrop of a vibrant, constantly changing, living world. The plan was that the PCs would build their fame and fortune and eventually acquire or build a stronghold of their own. This endgame would effectively bring this portion of the campaign to a close.

Evaluation of the Campaign and its Progress

In my eyes, the Watchfires & Thrones campaign has been a successful one. I approached the game with an equal mixture of excitement and trepidation. This was to be my first time in the referee’s chair for more than session or two in almost a decade. I was confident with my decision to use Labyrinth Lord as the ruleset, but simply knowing the rules cold is by no means a guarantee of success. There are too many X factors that can scuttle a campaign before it hits its stride and I was out of practice in how to handle them. To my relief, the rust came off quickly and I’ve been able to handle most of the in and out of game issues with aplomb.

It is the rare campaign that is 100% successful, however, and Watchfires & Thrones is no exception. Looking back on the past year, I can see several missteps that I wish I had avoided and paths I should have taken. These might not have always been noticeable to my players, but they were glaringly apparent to me.

My first mistake was succumbing to gamer A.D.D. on the cusp of the campaign’s start date. Although I had been preparing to run things in my longtime campaign world of R’Nis, I decided at the last minute to switch gears and do a more hardcore pulp swords & sorcery setting instead. This meant that I effectively put myself back to square one in regards to prep work, which would continue to haunt me during the early sessions. I felt that the setting never really came to life for the players as I myself had no clear understanding of the campaign world outside of a handful of idle thoughts stung together on the flimsiest of frameworks. I was constantly trying to do work on the campaign world and was barely a step ahead of the players at any given time, which if you’re trying to use your roleplaying game as a recreational escape is not the best route to take.

That constant scramble led to my making the decision to transport the entire party to my regular campaign world via a magical portal. This allowed me to keep the campaign moving with the established characters while giving me access to all the work I had already done. But there were unforeseen, long-lasting ramifications to that decision.

The swapping of campaign worlds also occurred not long after the release of Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord. Since the world of R’Nis had been forged in my days of playing AD&D and its inhabitants skewed in the direction of those rules, I threw open the floodgates of character generation for all subsequent PCs starting play in the new world. This meant that formerly verboten classes like thief, assassin, monk, and others were now playable. It also affected the manner in which attributes were rolled. Rather than using the 3d6 in a row method, I allowed “roll 4d6, drop one and arrange.”

While this decision didn’t result in a gross unbalancing of the game, I personally feel that it didn’t add anything to the campaign either. I had been concerned that the campaign was missing something by reducing the probability of someone rolling scores good enough to play a ranger or paladin and I wanted to allow those classes to be played. But after representatives of those classes entered the game, I discovered that they really don’t bring all that much to the table and, like I discovered with thieves, a campaign can roll merrily along without their presence. After having seen both methods of character generation in play to compare and contrast, I’ve come to the conclusion that 3d6 in order is the superior method for classic style play and I will likely be sticking to that system of character creation from now on. I’ll also be limiting other material from AEC in future games as well, preferring to rely on homebrewed materials that make the campaign world more uniquely my own over “stock fantasy D&D.”

My other major issue was my failure to take the desires of the players into account when working on the campaign. I should have questioned the players more often and earlier to better determine what they wanted out of the campaign. The problem, to my eyes anyway, was that I had anticipated running this wide-open sandbox world, one where the players would be free to chose from any number of adventure seeds. I did a lot of preparation to allow for this once we swapped worlds, only to discover that the group was pretty enamored with Stonehell and would happily continue delving there until they reached name level, uncovered all its secrets, or the campaign collapsed—depending on which came first. As the old line states: “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight…and don’t bring the whole sandbox when the guys just want to play in a hole in the ground.” It’s not a game-breaking issue by any means, but it does mean that I could have used my energies in a more productive manner by concentrating on my campaign tent-pole instead of the surrounding, never-to-be-visited locales.

There were (and remain) a few minor quibbles and reevaluations, but since this campaign was intended to get me back up to fighting weight, referee-wise, I’ve looked at these as lessons rather than problems. Amongst them are whether I will have future starting players roll up two characters and run them off and on. There are benefits to this, especially at starting level, but the dividing of experience amongst multiple characters makes for a slower level progression, which in turn limits me in regards to what fun monsters and magic I can throw at the party. I may allow a player to run multiple PCs in the future, but this would be by player choice rather than campaign design.

Somewhat connected to this issue is the use of training to advance in level, resulting in a time and money cost. I’m currently using training in my game, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is baggage from AD&D that doesn’t have a place in original or basic D&D and their retro-clones. I’ve got a simpler system in mind, one that allows for more player choice when it comes to advancement, and I think my next and subsequent campaigns will do away with training completely if this other system works as intended.

One final problem bears mentioning as it is something every referee who runs a game long enough encounters: burnout. A few weeks ago, I was feeling this to great effect. My energy levels were running low and there was even one session that I really didn’t feel like having because I was at the end of my creative tether. I thought the campaign might be overdue for a temporary sabbatical as I recouped and regained my energy. However, I’ve continued to push through these feelings and it seems that I’m getting back into the groove of the game. The last two sessions have done wonders for my attitude, and although other real-life concerns remain to plague me and I have a tendency to want to do anything but sit inside and play once spring arrives, I’m hopeful that by continuing to work through the slack times the campaign will continue until it reaches its natural ending. My advice to other struggling referees: Keep pushing until you break on through the wall. It’s worth it.

Despite all these concerns, which may be more apparent to myself than my players, the Watchfires & Thrones campaign has been a great source of fun for the guys who come to the table each week. Some have stated on more than one occasion that this campaign is simply the best one they’ve ever played in. I’m prone to be modest in the face of such praise, but so long as everyone else is having a good time and keeps coming back for more, I’ll accept those compliments as intended.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cleopos the Porter

Zero Level Human

STR: 13 (+1 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 13 (-1 AC, +1 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 13 (+1 hp)
INT: 10 (literate)
WIS: 8 (-1 save vs. spells)
CHA: 9

Hit Points: 6
Armor Class: 8
Loyalty (estimated): 9

Employer: Grumble Brokenaxe (+1 Inspire Loyalty bonus)
Terms of Employment: 2 gold marks per week plus an additional +1 gold piece per day in hazardous conditions (as determined by employer)

Languages: Common

Carries: Backpack, 2 waterskin, 1 wineskin, 10 days trail rations, hand axe, bedroll, old non-magic shield, silver candelabra, 2 crystal decanters, 4 crystal glasses.
Encumbrance: @42 lbs.

Objects of questionable value: None

Fisk Laughingfool

Level 2 Human Fighter

STR: 14 (+1 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 16 (-2 AC, +2 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 14 (+1 hp)
INT: 12 (literate)
WIS: 14 (+1 save vs. spells)
CHA: 13 (-1 reaction)

Hit Points: 12
Armor Class: 2 (4 surprised)

Special Traits/Abilities: Carpenter

Languages: Common

Weapons: Longsword, dagger, longbow
Armor: Chainmail & shield
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: None

Experience: 5,176 (+5%)
Last Update: 04/09/11

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #38

The Society approached the vine-covered and crumbling masonry walls that protruded from the forest greenery like the bones of an old corpse. Beyond the largest space in the barrier they could see a vast overgrown courtyard, its former well-manicured grounds now being recovered by the forest. Their eyes detected a steaming crevasse amongst the undergrowth, a crack in the earth that emitted wisps of steam and humid air. Beyond it stood weatherworn pairs of pillars leading to block-like building. A large decorative pool lay to their right, its waters thick with green algae and disturbed by the motions of fish or other wildlife. A low bunkhouse of stone stood beside the waters, showing no sign of recent use or occupancy. To their left, a wild, overgrown garden lay. Thickets of trees, bushes, and vines turned the area into a tangle of leaves and brush. Facing the former garden was a large stone structure, obviously a temple or abbey. A well-used trail bearing the marks of hobnailed boots led from the break in the wall directly to that foreboding building.

Deducing that the temple-like structure housed the hobgoblin command, the party wasted no time in further explorations and headed directly towards the building. Baragkus and Grumble took the lead, traveling slightly ahead of the rest of the party in hopes that Baragkus’ crude disguise might allow them to pass by any unseen sentries without being challenged. As the duo approached the massive stone doors that provided entrance to the temple, a rustle in the overgrown garden caught Grumble’s ear. Emerging from the hive of vines were three goblins, spears in hand and arms cocked back to throw!

Grumble shouted an alarm and charged the trio, spears already in the air as he ran. Two struck home, glancing off both he and Baragkus’ mail with little injury. Grumble fell upon the goblins, his axe whistling in the air as he battered against their crude armor. Baragkus and the rest of the party, now recovered from the shock of the sudden attack, rushed forward to assist.

As they closed the distance, their eyes caught sight of another six goblins exiting the network of paths that wound through the overgrown garden. The two groups of three also bore spears and swords and wasted no time in lobbing their missiles at the band. Kaldar and Lyrax began returning fire with their bows as Mars, Korlack, and Fisk charged in to aid Grumble and Baragkus.

The two groups met with a clash of steel and it was obvious that most of the goblins were outclassed from the first. One was rendered unconscious by the flat of Grumble’s axe and the others were quickly vanquished. A particularly large specimen of the goblin race, armed with a shield in addition to his blade, stood the longest against the party, even avoiding a blow that Grumble was convinced should have struck home. His resistance was finally overcome by Baragkus’ attack from behind, which caused the goblin brute to collapse into unconsciousness.

The party dragged their two captive up against the temple’s wall, positioning themselves in a corner they hoped was unobserved. After tying them up, Grumble shook them awake and began to interrogate them in his overzealous command of Gobbledy. It took a moment for the goblin leader to decipher the dwarf’s, um, “unique” command of the goblinoid language, but once accomplished he proved to be more than willing to answer all the party’s questions with the provision that he and his brother-in-law be let go and be allowed to leave, never to return.

The goblin confirmed that the hobgoblins did live inside the big temple, dwelling beneath the structure in the dungeon below. As he and the rest of the garden goblins were not allowed entrance into the building, he couldn’t provide a detailed layout, but assured them that the party’s quarry was indeed inside. He also revealed that a party of humans, four in robes and two in armor, had arrived the day before yesterday, entering the temple but not seen leaving. The party thanked him and, true to their word, allowed the duo to leave unharmed, their possessions (including the magic shield that had rendered the leader so difficult to strike and whose existence is now revealed) returned to them.

The band approached the massive temple doors and gaped at the bizarre relief that adorned them: a pot-bellied, humanoid creature that seemed to bear the aspects of both bat and sloth in one unwholesome combination. The decoration peered back at its observers with a laconic expression, almost as if it knew the fate of any who dared enter the temple was grim, yet it was beyond caring of such mortal concerns. Baragkus placed an ear against the door and heard only silence beyond.

The doors were pushed open to reveal a large, high-ceiling room, its flat roof held aloft by five 20’ tall statues depicting the same entity that graced the portals. The room was lit by a dying sun allowed entrance through the now open doors and it was plain to see that the room was unoccupied, clean, and bore no visible exits. Yet the goblins had assured the Society that entrance to the hobgoblins’ lair lay within. The party carefully entered.

As Baragkus and Fisk stood watch, Kaldar and Korlack checked the walls for secret doors while Mars and Grumble investigated the statures and floor. After an hour of poking, prodding, and even attempting to disbelieve illusions, the party failed to find any concealed exits to the room. Stumped, they sat down to wait, hoping that time would reveal any hidden egresses from the chamber. (DM’s Hint of the Day: You should always have another explorer check your work when searching for secret doors and other compartments.)

An hour had passed when a section of the wall closest to Mars and Grumble swung open with a click. A bored-looking hobgoblin stood behind the secret door, his eyes widening suddenly when he noticed the unexpected visitors in the area beyond. He frantically struggled to close the door as Grumble launched himself like a missile at both the portal and the hobgoblin sentry. Grumble had apparently decided to revel in his wrestling background in this session, which would produce comical (to me) results later on.

The dwarf collided with the door, falling to the ground with a crash as his body sprawled across the secret door’s threshold, preventing the sentry from shutting it. Mars charged at the guard, swinging his sword at the orange-skinned goblin’s head. His short blade clanged against the stone without effect. The guard, muttering curses, ran Grumble through with his spear, scoring the first of several critical hits against the dwarf that session. Grumble shrugged off the wound and tried to trip the guard without success.

The rest of the party scrambled to their feet and raced across the chamber as the dwarf and cleric continued to battle the guard without success. Lyrax shot an arrow across the room and opened a wound along the hobgoblin’s arm, which convinced the sentry to flee and seek reinforcements. From his vantage point on the floor, Grumble watched the hobgoblin run a short distance down the corridor beyond the secret portal and pass through a door to the north. The party swiftly reassembled itself and set off in pursuit of the creature.

The corridor beyond the secret door ran straight for 60’ before ending. A much narrow corridor met the passage just beyond the secret door and the portal through which the hobgoblin fled lay 10’ beyond the side corridor. The party assembled themselves outside the door and attempted to open it. The door was secured, however, and it took several moments and a crowbar before they were able to pry to door open…and they immediately found themselves under attack.

The room beyond was obviously a barracks, one occupied by six goblins and a half-dozen hobgoblins. The goblins stood closest to the door and they rained their spears down on the party as soon as they sought to enter the room. At the far end of the chamber were the hobgoblins, three of whom sported drawn short bows and scanned the battlefield for targets of opportunity. The party began to try and fight their way into the room and a long, pitched battle commenced—one that would take up a great deal of the game session.

Allow me to digress and break the narrative here. One of the aspects of classic D&D that I find superior to later editions is the round-by-round initiative system. While many prefer the simplicity of rolling once at the start of a battle and then repeating that order again and again, I find that having the uncertainty of resolving initiative each round not only makes battle flow faster (strangely enough) but gives it a greater sense of urgency. You never know if you’ll get that spell off before you get perforated with arrows or cut down your opponent before his can finish you off. That’s great, tension building stuff. Of course, the downside is that when you have a session where the dice start to go against you constantly, even the simplest of fights can turn into battles whose events are remembered far and wide.

Over the course of the next hour or so of real time, the players found themselves pitted more against their own rolls than the enemy. Low “to hit” rolls plagued everyone and a disproportionate amount of those rolls were “1”s; luckily not fumbles, but it was still odd how often that single digit glare balefully up from the guys’ dice. The referee, on the other hand, was on a hot streak, and the party felt the pain.

As the Society boldly battled to cut down the goblins that stood in their way, the small humanoids avoided blow after blow, landing more than a few in return. The hobgoblin archers at the rear of the chamber fired through the doorway to strike party members in the hallway with great accuracy. Kaldar, his body clad in plate mail and his preternatural dexterity protecting him was pushed to the forefront to drop a sleep spell upon the massed goblinoids. As he did so, the archers took aim and fired, albeit with little chance of striking his AC of 0. The dice clattered: 6, 19, 20! A single arrow sailed past the massed fighters to strike the elf just before he could complete his incantation, ruining his daily spell and injuring him greatly to boot.

From this point on it was a grind. Mars managed to hold a single hobgoblin with a prayer to Mog, but the majority of the fight was an old fashioned slobber-knocker. Korlack did slip in and drop a successful sleep spell on the hobgoblins near the end of the battle, which finally freed the party from suffering through missile fire each round, but it was almost too little, too late. The party was badly beaten by the time the fight ended, but the battle ended with a hobgoblin prisoner who was both asleep and held by magic.

And that’s when the ogres showed up.

Unbeknownst to the party, a pair of ogres had quarters just down the hall from the barracks. As the battle raged, I made a check every few rounds to see if they heard the scuffle and came to investigate. They only heard the sounds of battle just as the melee came to a close, which was lucky (when looked at in a certain way) because the party would have otherwise found themselves in a pitched, two front battle with nowhere to run to had the brutes arrived earlier.

There were a few half-hearted chuckles when I dropped the ogre miniatures in the hallway as the players hoped I was joking. They had taken a lot of lumps in the fight and were not up to dealing with two ogres now but they had little choice. The fighters (and Mars) stepped up to the door to try and hold them back, but Baragkus took a door to the face when the lead ogre bashed it off its already weakened hinges with his club. To complicate matter, Grumble decided to employ his special wrestling “piggy back attack” maneuver against the brutes and leapt upon Baragkus’ back without warning. This both negated Baragkus’ dexterity bonuses and allowed the ogres to hit two targets with a single blow. The sole thing going for the party was that only a single ogre could attack at a time through the doorway.

The ogres landed a few blows, one of which would have killed Grumble outright had he not chosen that moment to cash in his “protection from death” card. Baragkus quaffed a healing potion which likely saved his own skin. Finally, the first ogre fell, allowing the party to concentrate their efforts on a single opponent and the second ogre fell seconds later.

The band had determined that there was a single locked door at the rear of the chamber during the brief interlude between battles, but decided to run for the hills before the hobgoblins could rally more reinforcements. To the party’s mind, their excursion had been a failure. The hobgoblins obviously outnumbered them and they had no hope of battling their way into the dungeon below and slaying the hobgoblin command. They gave up, utterly and completely, and I’m sure that decision will have absolutely no ramifications on the rest of the campaign.

Fleeing into the night, the party decided to lay low and nurse their wounds before heading back to the cave they had used the night before. They wanted to see if they could extract some information from their hobgoblin captive and possibly go through the pouches they had lifted from the dead goblinoids. As they reached the barren clearing at the end of the trail, they looked about for a place to hide…

How about the abandoned cemetery? Sure! Let’s go hide there.

That sound you just heard was my hand colliding with my forehead.

The party reached the thorn-filled, overgrown cemetery with dreams of taking shelter in a mausoleum so that only one worg at a time could attack them. Not long after arriving, they detected the sound of something coming their way from both the south and the northwest. In the flickering gloom of their single lantern, the party saw four lithe, leonine forms streaking out of the shadows, their long, filth-encrusted talons and slavering mouths leading the way. A quartet of ghouls!These undead, having the benefit of open ground, attacked from two directions, making it impossible for Mars Markus to turn all four at once. To make matters worse, the ghouls won initiative and closed on the party before they could react. In the first round, Baragkus, Fisk, Lyrax, and Cleopos the porter were all struck and paralyzed, leaving only Grumble, Mars, Korlack, and Kaldar standing. Of those four, only Kaldar the elf would be safe from the ghouls’ incapacitating touch.

The players stared at the carnage, fully anticipating a TPK to end the session. Luckily, Mars was able to turn two of the ghouls and Grumble, with the dice finally on his side, cut down one ghoul and then the next with his bonus attack. Mars reached into his pouch and pulled out a scroll that would ward of the undead for an undetermined amount of time and read the words swiftly. A barrier of blue fire erupted in a 30’ diameter and the party closed ranks. With four people mobile, some hard decisions were about to be made in regard to who was dragged to safety and who remained behind as ghoul chow. The captive hobgoblin was slain outright and the fate of Cleopos was in the balance when he began to stir. One by one, the paralyzed party members started to regain motion as the protective barrier collapsed. With only Baragkus still inert, the party slung him between them and departed the cemetery in the dead of night, hoping to make it back to their cave shelter and avoid any hobgoblin patrols…

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #37

Having driven off or slain the remaining goblins, the party collapsed in an exhausted heap. Most looked forward to a long rest after having been awake, travelling, and battling for their lives for twenty-four hours straight. There remained a question of what to do with the residents of Fort Wolf’s Head who were now living in a compromised fortification and had suffered the loss of their patriarch.

The party debated several options, including packing the survivors off and sending them either downriver or to another settlement. Tars, the eldest son of the slain leader, Pidar, was not about to abandon the homestead his farther build—no matter how tentative its future seemed.

Fortunately for all, the decision was resolved when a party of fifteen woodsmen arrived at the settlement. Hailing from one of the few nearby homesteads, these men had caught sight of the flames in the night and marched through the darkness to come to the aid of their fellow settlers. With their help, the family of Fort Wolf’s Head would be able to begin rebuilding and bolster their numbers enough to feel safe should the goblins try and mount another attack. The party was now free to continue with their mission. If their mission was still attainable, that is.

According to the party’s intelligence, the traitorous Storm Crow agent was due to meet with the hobgoblin command on the 25th of The Bloom—that very day. Exhausted, with no idea where the hobgoblin citadel lay, and a good half-day or more of travel ahead of them, it was obvious that the party would miss the arrival of the agent. Not knowing how long he intended to remain at the Citadel, the band could only hope that he dallied long enough that they might find him in residence when they finally located the goblin stronghold.

After a brief excursion outside the partially destroyed walls of the homestead, the adventurers determined that the goblins had fled east, away from their intended goal. Some discussion was made about tracking them down, but time limits, fatigue, and the encroaching darkness sent the party back inside to rest.

The party spent the rest of the day and the following evening at Fort Wolf’s Head, resting, healing, and memorizing spells for their journey out to Hob’s Hill. On the morning of the 26th of the Bloom, the band departed the homestead and journeyed west, encountering signs of the wolf-mounted goblins, but these quickly disappeared as they got closer to the river. Luckily, their recently-acquired canoes remained hidden in the underbrush and they crossed the river without incident to arrive at the base of Hob’s Hill.

They landed on the shore of a peaceful meadow strewn with wildflowers and watered by a gurgling waterfall that cascaded down the slope of the hill. A brief search uncovered an animal trail that led into the thick forest that covered the mound, winding its way slowly up towards the crown of the rise. The party ventured into the cool forest shadows, eyes peeled for danger.

After an hour of travel and picking branches at random, the party found themselves under attack by stirges, but were able to quickly dispatch these with only minor injuries. They would not be so lucky later in the day when they chanced upon a pair of giant, droning bees, flittering about the woods in search of nectar. The majority of the group stood stock still or dove for cover behind the bole of a tree. Raijek the monk, however, decided to engage the buzzing apoidea and charged towards them with his claymore ready. Having caught their attention, he then fled back to the band and took cover behind his comrades. The bees were having none of it and remained fixated on the unarmored martial artist. A sting later saw one bee dead and the monk writhing on the ground, bloody froth sputtering from his lips. The other bee buzzed away, disinterested.

Having seen the signs of fatal poison once before, the party did their best to lave his wounds and draw out the poison. A healing potion was forced down his throat to no avail and a “Hail Chance” attempt to save him by giving the dying monk an unidentified potion revealed it to be a potion of giant strength—which did nothing to save Raijek. He then expired on the forest floor, the first party casualty in weeks.

The party took a moment of silence before Grumble and Mars slung the dead monk in between them and the party traveled on. The light was failing and they had yet to discover any sign of hobgoblins. They were not looking forward to a night spent in the dark woods with who-knew-what lurking around them.

The trail ahead seemed to enter a clearing and Korlack was sent down the path to see what lay ahead. The animal trail did indeed terminate in a rocky clearing that ran up the slope of the hill. At the base of the open area stood a cave mouth surrounded by tumbled boulders and brush; at the top stood a tall humanoid-shaped statue, much worn by weather and time. The magic-user returned to collect the rest of the party and they creeped along the edge of the forest before dashing towards the cave and into its dark mouth.

Relieved at finding shelter just as the sun went down, the Society did a quick, incomplete recon of the grotto, finding much tumbled stone and a pool of stagnant water. Bedding down for the night next to the pool, the party set up watches and awaited the coming of dawn. An hour before daybreak, their rest was interrupted by the five giant bats who made the cave their home returning from their nocturnal hunt. Angered at finding intruders in their lair, the five fluttering fledermaus laid into the party. With half the band stripped of their armor, the combat was more brutal than expected and poor Kaldar nearly died in the struggle. Most of the other party members suffered some damage before the bats were overcome.

The party took a long breakfast to heal up before resuming their trek. Outside the cave they headed up the hill to examine the statue in greater detail. The granite form stood 8’ tall and seemed to have once depicted a pit-bellied humanoid form with a languid expression. Two empty eye sockets showed signs of tool marks around the edges of the eyes, leading the Society to believe that the sculpture once held jewels in its visage. Cursing their luck at arriving several centuries too late to loot the statue, the party chose one of the four trails leading out of the clearing at random and began their search anew.

Their trail led them on a winding journey that eventually reached a rocky promontory bare of forest cover. From that lofty post, the party was able to get their bearings and they determined that they now knew their position on the map they had been provided with. They assumed their target lay further to the northwest and returned to the trail with hopes of finding a path that headed in that direction.

Their trek was interrupted less than an hour later by the sudden cry of Lyrax’s dog. Trailing the party, the hound had walked beneath a giant horned chameleon perched atop a branch in ambush. Its tongue had snatched the poor dog off the ground and into its gaping maw. The party whirled about the see the dog hanging halfway from the now-revealed lizard’s mouth. As they watched it horror, the chameleon slurped the rest of the dog down its throat and sighed contently. Unwilling to allow the wanton murder of a party member—even a less than reliable war dog—pass without address, the Society unleashed a hail of missile fire on the beast, slaying it as it descended to do battle.

A dog down in membership, the band continued down the trail to find that it terminated at a river. The freshet continued a short distance before plunging down an embankment to a small pool 80’ below. At the edge of the pool, another trail began, running deeper into the woods to the west. As it seemed to lead in the direction they wished to travel, the party carefully descended the slope via ropes and redundant safety lines. A length of hemp cordage was left behind to assist a sudden retreat back up the hill if they encountered danger ahead.

The trail led deep, deep into the forest. The party followed the winding path for nearly two hours and they began to suspect that they might be on the wrong leg. Just as they were preparing to double back and see if they had missed a turn-off, the sound of heavy footfalls and a baritone humming was detected heading in their direction. The party scattered into the woods and dove for cover.

They had just ducked out of sight when a hulking figure dragging a tree limb behind it stomped down the trail. The swarm of flies buzzing about its head and the jagged tusks protruding from its mouth marked it as an ogre, one of prodigious size. The massive beast continued down the path, obliviously caught up in its own meager thoughts. However, just as it passed the band's position, it stopped abruptly and began to sniff the air.

The party waited tensely, hands wrapped around the weapons and preparing for the worse. After a moment’s pause, they were relieved to see the ogre start up its journey once again. At that moment, Baragkus, tired of wandering aimlessly about on the hill, stepped out and hailed the brute with confidence that his recently identified magical helm would allow communication between the two.

Things might have turned bad for the valiant man-at-arms when he discovered that the enchanted helmet only allowed him to understand unknown spoken speech, not speak it himself. Luckily, the ogre had enough command of the common trade patois to understand Baragkus’ words of greeting. The two began a protracted exchange with the fighting man hoping to discover the location of the hobgoblin citadel and the ogre attempting to wheedle as much coin out of the lost traveler as possible. Offers were made and counter-offers proposed, and eventually the ogre revealed that the trail they currently stood upon led to the hobgoblin lair and departed with an extra hundred gold coins in his pouch. Armed with this new information, the rest of the party emerged from the trees and their westward journey recommenced.

Another two hours on the trail brought the party to the southern edge of a massive clearing. The ground here was rocky and only tuffs of scraggly grass poked its spear-like blades from the gray earth. The party began to skirt the barren meadow, keeping to the woods as they journeyed northward. The woods were quiet and an almost preternatural hush hung in the stifling air.

The band had almost reached the edge of the meadow when they detected two features previously obscured by the thick trees. In the northwest corner of the meadow, several white, featureless stones protruded from the ground. Cloaked in thick, thorny underbrush, these monuments hinted at being a long-forgotten cemetery, one untended for centuries. Directly ahead of the party, a thin trail exited the woods into the clearing and the sound of jingling mail and clanking steel indicated that someone was headed down it!

The party hunkered down and prepared to meet the unseen forces with steel. Through a break in the trees, they saw the orange skin and red uniforms of hobgoblins—a small patrol obviously on their rounds. For once, the party was to be the ambushers and not the victims of a trap. A volley of arrows rained out of the trees upon the patrol as the band’s melee men ran amongst the boles to meet the enemy. Half of the patrol dropped, yard-long shafts riddling their bodies, before the fighting men burst from the woods to cut down the remaining goblinoid soldiers. In less than a minute, the hobgoblins lay dead.

Cocking their ears to listen for possible reinforcements, the band seemed pleased to find their attack was undetected by any other hobgoblin forces and riffled through the dead soldiers’ pouches for coin and intelligence. A mere handful of the former and none of the later was found, but Baragkus, seeing his brawny physique was comparable to that of a hobgoblin, liberated one of the dead creature’s helmets and placed it atop his head, hoping to be mistaken for one of the massive goblins if observed by the enemy at a distance.

The trail the hobgoblins had been traveling ran east and up a slope, and the party suspect that their objective lay in that direction. With caution, they moved back the way the patrol had come and was rewarded with the sight of ancient, vine-covered walls in the trees ahead. The Hobgoblin Citadel had been found. Now all that remained was to infiltrate it and disrupt the threat to the Kinan-M’Nath. What could possibly go wrong?