Our heroes started up the stairs but before they had got halfway, they heard the frightful sound of hounds baying. When Cafaror and Adthar reached the top they saw a large hall and tied up against one wall, six large dogs with red-brown fur, black teeth, glowing eyes and smoke drifting from their muzzles. The team fanned out into the room, wondering if the dogs were hostile or not. They soon got their answer as a hill giant came charging in and, rather than head for the party, used his stone axe to cut the dogs free.
Barking and snarling, the six hounds from hell (a hint as to their identity) came racing towards the party, taking damage from a hurled oil bomb and lit torch, while the hill giant swung his axe and moved in to slip past their flank. Elysia had come round behind her comrades but now saw the hill giant bearing down on her. Magic missiles darted from her fingers but moments later, a crushing blow left her crumpled on the floor.
Adthar and his trusty two-handed sword did some serious damage to the hell hounds (for such they were) but their savage bites and their flaming breath did some deadly damage to the party. One by one, our doughty heroes fell beneath the snarling onslaught – and to make matters worse, another hill giant, summoned by the baying and the shouting, came running in. Two hill giants and a pack of hell hounds were proving the team’s most dangerous opposition for quite some time.
While the party were trying to hold the line, Alurax and Zanurax hurried back to the sluices to see if they could find water which, they hoped, would give them some chance against the hell hounds’ fiery breath. They returned to find several of their comrades down and the dogs coming for them. Alurax missed with the water he had gathered in his helmet but Zanurax managed to give his attacker a wet mouthful and avoided the flaming breath that round. I had no idea whether this should work or not, but I was fair and allowed them to roll to hit and, if they made that roll, ruled that the water would douse the fiery breath for one round only.
Soon, only Galzor, Zanurax and Alurax were left standing. Relic the pseudo-dragon, who had been sent by Elysia to find Russet, his dragon friend, had been summoned back before she had been hit and now arrived to find his mistress prone on the floor. He now started darting around, hitting the hell hounds with his poison sting. Galzor was sandwiched between the two giants whilst Alurax, armed with his magic trident, was hitting one from behind, doing some heavy damage. Eventually, after downing Galzor, it fell to the ground. In his brief moment of respite, Alurax recalled that the party had found a potion of Super-Heroism in a previous adventure and seized his chance to drink it. This item was on the party's communal treasure list, so there was no indication as to who was actually carrying it. Not being in the business of being a mean DM, I allowed Alurax to grab it and drink it without having to search every fallen comrade in order to do so.
Fired up with energy and strength, he quickly finished off the remaining hill giant that had just floored Galzor and, leaving Zanurax to keep an eye on the recumbent members of the party, set off through the ruins of the castle to find any other hill giants, whilst his enhanced powers were still in operation.
He reached a set of doors that led down to the courtyard, where a hill giant was just coming up the steps. Alurax’s combat abilities were too much for his opponent who was swiftly despatched. As the giant hit the ground, dead, Alurax heard a bellow from the battlements above and looked up to see another hill giant on the walkway. He fired two arrows at it, hitting it once. The giant responded with a lump of masonry, ripped from the walls and hurled at the doughty fighter. The giant then fled inside the castle.
Alurax ran back into the large hall across which he had come in his search for the giants. He saw another corridor to his right which he investigated, finding it led to a set of stairs going up. As he started up it, a giant was coming down. There was a brief but vicious combat, the results of which were the same as the one in the courtyard. As Alurax stood over the body of his latest conquest, he heard thundering footsteps from the floor above. It had to be the giant from the battlements but he was not willing to hang around whilst unaware of how long his heroic powers were going to last. He headed back to the room where they had fought the hell hounds, which were now stung into submission by Relic. The giant came crashing in a few moments later and Alurax had to stand his ground and hope for the best. The damage he had done with his arrows made all the difference and despite being hit again by the giant, eventually brought it down.
Junior Grognard absolutely loved being 8th level if only for a short period of time. The kills he made netted him over 5K of XP, which will go a good way to getting him to next level.
Meanwhile, Zanurax had been investigating a narrow passage that led off the room in which the wounded members of the party now lay. He carefully edged along the corridor, checking as he went and managed to spot a suspicious flagstone and some holes in the brickwork on either side. (A very good roll on Find Traps which was rewarded). Stepping round the trap, he found an old and defaced shrine at the far end. There appeared to be some wear and damage on the neck of one of the figures on the shrine. (Another exceptionally good roll - the dice were kind to the thief today). Zanurax first tried to move it using the string of his bow but this had no effect and so he gripped the head of the statue and turned it. With a grinding sound, a door opened on either side of the passage and chests and sacks of coins were revealed, along with a shield, a potion flask and a cloth pouch, about a foot or so long. Inside it appeared to be some sort of thin object which, on closer inspection was revealed to be a wand.
Having slain the giants and found the treasure, the party considered that their job here was done. Resting up until they had recovered their strength and spells, they made their way through the castle to the courtyard where Alurax had killed one of the hill giants. The shattered and rotten gates were no obstacle at all and they set off down the winding path to the place where they had left their horses.
On their way there, Alurax and Cafaror noticed something off in the undergrowth and decide to investigate. They found something very large, overgrown by ivy and brambles, which they hacked off with their swords. By now, they had been joined by the rest of the party, who had reached the horses and ridden back to see what their comrades were up to.
Beneath the foliage, they found a massive statue of a seated lion, clearly many hundreds of years old, with writing on the plinth, faded to obscurity. The lion faced north-west but nobody could work out what it represented or why it was there.
There is a relevance to this, which may be revealed later, depending on what the party decide to do next.
The team loaded up their haul, then set off for the Moat House, where they intended to stay overnight and complete their journey to town the following day. Elysia was keen to find out what the wand was and to safely store their treasure.
The Moat House was much as they had left it; since having been cleared out, it had not attracted attention. The party were also looking into the possibility of repairing and refurbishing it, as had been previously mentioned. I had looked at the plans, checked the relevant pages in the DMG, scratched my head a few times and then picked a figure out of the air and settled on 4K GP for refurbishment and repair to what might be called habitable standard. Luxurious additions would of course cost extra. The party have that sort of cash now, but the difficult will come in getting the tradesmen and workers in to carry out the repairs.
The next day, feeling rested and refreshed, the party rode on down the river valley towards the town. About noon or thereabouts, they spotted ahead three hulking figures coming towards them – ogres, by the look of them. Adthar and Cafaror drew their swords and led the charge towards the brutes, while Elysia readied her stock of magic missiles and Alurax, Ferros, Zanurax and Galzor prepared to ride in support of the fighters.
The plan had to be adjusted when two more groups of ogres, each three-strong appeared from cover behind the party, on their left and right flanks. Alurax and Ferros took the left flank, Galzor and Zanurax the right. Elysia donned her cloak of Elvenkind and used its camouflaging properties to keep hidden from the ogres whilst firing magic missiles into their opponents. This was a prepared ambush by the ogres, set up to slow the party down whilst the flank attackers moved into position.
Keeping mobile on their horses, the party were out-manoeuvring the ogres but the hulking thugs were no mean shakes on the damage front themselves and started to whittle down the party’s strength. Alurax managed to send his trident straight through the head of one of the ogres (a double 20, which I usually rule means decapitation but as it's impossible to decapitate with a trident I ruled it went straight through his head - but of course would be wrenched out of the wielder's grasp as it was firmly stuck in a dead ogre). Alas, Alurax had little time to think about recovering his prized weapon as he was hit and brought down by another ogre on the same round.
Eventually, only Elysia was left to take on four ogres; after using a Sleep spell and finding it ineffective against an ogre (I rolled a d4 as per the PHB but got the result that said 0), she had but one spell remaining – Stinking Cloud. A cloud of billowing, nauseous vapours engulfed the remaining ogres. Two were incapacitated and two managed to stagger free of the cloud but were rendered helpless long enough for the brave magic user to slit the throats of three. One recovered and moved in on Elysia. She tried to dodge a blow from the monster but it caught her and threw her into the grass. She managed to get to her feet again and reviewed her options – limited as they were. She had only a dagger and a staff left – and a pseudo-dragon! Relic swooped in and stung with his barbed tail – and the ogre toppled to the ground, comatose, where he was swiftly finished off.
A seriously dangerous combat that had resulted from a random encounter roll. I mused later that had I rolled 10 rather than 9 for the number of ogres, the party could have faced a TPK. As it was, they were only 4hp away from one anyway. Such is the danger of wilderness adventures, which are of course rarely scaled for a particular party.
Elysia gathered the party together, tied them across their horses and led the battered convoy back towards town. They noted, with a sense of fear the sound of wolves howling from somewhere off in the distance. Clearly there was a pack of them in the area and that might be something to be attended to in the future.
Another random encounter roll, in the same area as the one they got on their previous return to town following the adventure on the moorlands. I concluded that the two encounters must either be the same pack or two in proximity and have pencilled "Wolves" in on the map.
For now, the safety of the town beckoned and the chance of a hot meal and a flagon of ale. Elysia cast a spell to identify the magic items, discovering that they had found a Wand of Illumination, a +2 shield and a potion of Extra-Healing, all of which would come in handy in future adventures.
She was also approached by the archivist of the Town Council who had found another version of the legend that she was researching; this was about two hundred years or so older than the one she had already discovered and told a rather different story.
(and as I mentioned earlier, I am now including this for your delectation and delight)
Many years ago, a great evil slept neath the mountains. Yet fools delved too deep and seeking gold disturbed the demons who lay there. In a great rush of wings and claws, came they rising up and cast fire and fear around them, with much death and wailing caused thereby. And for many years, the land was at war, but word came unto the king and he caused a host of knights to be assembled, charging them to repair with honour that which had been brought about by greed.
Forth they rode, hard fighters all, and came near to the lands where the demons had set all afire with their sorcerous ways. The knights rode into battle but their bravery availed them not, for they were forced back with grievous losses. Then they said “We shall fall this day, for the adversary is too strong for us, and our swords are not enough to prevail”
Then came the sound of hooves and into their midst arrived a knight with a mane of auburn hair and a handsome face so that all the warriors looked upon him and were emboldened once again. Then they made war again, and for a while, their efforts bore fruit, led by the new knight, who was the boldest and the greatest warrior.
Yet sorcery was the strength of the demons and they wielded it like the wind. Again, they hurled the knights back with their arcane fire and three times the flamehaired knight was struck by magic. Three times he rose again but on the third time his helmet had been lost and all saw that it was no knight but a woman, of exceeding beauty but a maiden nonetheless.
Amongst the knights, division had been sewn; some would not follow a woman, others praised her bravery and thought her the best way to win against the demons. While they argued, the demons attacked again and struck the lady down yet still she fought. Those who wanted to fight with her cut their way to her side, hewing demons asunder as they went, yet those who did not wish to fight with her saw the bravery of her and her knights and were humbled and sought to go to her but were stopped by fire and claw and savagery. Then there came more enemies and drove the knights back and they fled, seeking to save their own
Then when they had come to a safe place, they all gathered together, seeking to forget the disgrace that they had brought upon themselves by their cowardice, saying “We shall write the story anew, since we alone survived and have laid hands upon the molten truth; let us forge it to our own liking and say that this is what became of them, that they fell bravely and laid the darkness low”
But it came to pass that their shame haunted them and each sought to cleanse the stain upon their souls by seeking out fierce monsters and bringing them down to the dust, and one by one the knights who had shamed themselves fell in battle and were brought to their tombs warriors once more. The king valued their bravery and by their sacrifice was much land won and many great deeds achieved. Yet no man dared to plunder their tombs for it was said a great curse lay upon the blades of these knights as punishment for their time of shame.
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