The next day, our gallant band held a debate about which way they should go on their hunting journey into the wilderness. They knew what lay south and northward lay the ruined castle in which they had taken on and defeated the hill giants. West across the river was another story – nobody knew what was out there. The party resolved to try that direction and crossed to the other bank with little difficulty. Shaking the water from their boots and bridles, they rode off into the forest.
Pretty soon, there were unmistakable signs that they were not alone in the woods. Broken branches, tracks in mud, here and there a scrap of cloth on brambles. They started to become more cautious in their progress but nevertheless were taken by surprise when arrows started shooting out of the undergrowth on both sides of them. They rode forward to get out of the ambush but goblins raced out to block the track ahead and behind them.
It's hardly worth the XP, is it?
Whilst the fighters dealt manfully (and elf-fully – sorry, Cafaror) with the goblins on the track, Elysia slept the archers on the right, then slipped into the undergrowth with her dagger to finish them off. There were seven of them.
Alurax plunged into the bushes on the left and took on two goblin archers with his Trident of Doom. Elysia emerged from the undergrowth with brambles in her hair and blood on her knife blade, then promptly slept the remaining archers; she and Alurax shared the spoils from that.
It was not long before the rest of the party managed to finish off the goblins. Twenty-two lay dead, a fair-sized band this deep into the forest. The party left the bodies for the woodland scavengers and set off west again. Some hours later, as the sun reached its zenith, the party began to move out of the forest and into rougher terrain; far fewer trees, more rocky gullies, cliffs, outcrops and the like. It was one from these that, as they were riding past, two large spears came hurtling down. They just missed Alagon and Ferros and the party scattered to take up defensive positions. Nobody could be seen atop the outcrop but it was from there that the spears came.
"We'll just ride up this vertical rock face...or on second thoughts, we dismount"
Alurax, Ferros, Alagon, Cafaror and Olaf started to climb the steep sides but Cafaror and Olaf slipped and fell to the foot of the slope. They tried again but Olaf ended up at the bottom once more. The less than dexterous dwarf resolved to stay at ground level whilst the elf finally made it to the top.
Alurax and Ferros, quickly joined by Alagon, found themselves confronted by two ogres, who were very intent on defending their little eyrie. Their determination came to nought as Alagon swung in with his sword and decapitated an ogre with one blow. The other ogre was swiftly finished off and then the rest of the party were brought up on ropes to begin the search. Eventually, Elysia found an area of trampled grass and bushes which concealed a slab of stone under which they found the ogres’ stash. There were sacks and chests of coin, a suit of studded leather armour that gave off a tingling aura and two potion bottles, contents as yet unknown. There was also a small leather pouch that held four gems, a piece of jade, sardonyx, a spinel and an onyx. Elysia resolved to have them valued when she got back to town. This reminded me that I need to get some gem values and types pre-rolled because rolling each one individually at the table takes forever, even though it adds flavour to the game.
A cracking fight that led to a great morale boost for the party, particularly for Alagon's player; it was only his second session and now he'd killed his first ogre with a double 20 - instant decapitation in my house rules.
The outcrop was a high point for some distance around, and whilst they were searching, several of the party had spotted, some way off to the west what appeared to be a ruined tower. The keen eyes of Cafaror spotted that there seemed to be a ribbon of smoke rising from it. Eager for adventure, the party set off again, riding through the rough terrain towards their target.
When they arrived, the shadows were lengthening. Standing guard at the steps leading up to the gate were two bugbears and the heads of two more bugbears and a troll could be seen atop the crumbling battlements. None of the party had ever seen a troll before and they had no idea what they were about to face.
Who am I? You'll find out soon enough...
Using both the cover of evening and the Cloak of Elvenkind, Elysia proposed scouting around the periphery of the tower to see if there was another way in. The memory of the Hill Giant castle was obviously strong in her mind. Alurax, on the other hand, keen for fighting and glory, declared that he would attack from the front! He strong-armed Thorgrim the dwarf (the bodyguard of the big-game hunter who had, you will recall, originally bankrolled the expedition) and they headed straight for the two bugbear sentries. Drawing their weapons, they charged in and battle was joined.
What happened next was the start of one of the biggest battles that the party had ever been involved in. Alurax’s Trident of Doom (a very handy weapon which allows him to punch above his weight in melee) put paid to two bugbears straight away but then two more arrived and a troll, who charged straight for the doughty fighter. Battle was joined and soon two more bugbears and a second troll turned up from inside the tower, as did the rest of the party who had circumnavigated the perimeter of the tower and found no other way in. Keen to share the action, everybody piled in and confusion reigned. Ferros scored what must have been the victory of the day, downing a troll with one very lucky blow of his mace (the d30 proving its worth again). Thorgrim was ground down by the attacks of two bugbears and finally fell. Alurax managed to reduce the troll that he was facing to virtual collapse, but it seemed somehow to be getting stronger the more he fought it. Then he took horrific damage from two rending attacks and a savage bite. Elysia used her magic missiles and Alagon shot at the troll with his bow until it finally fell. If the party thought that this was the end of the battle, they were wrong because the troll that Ferros had killed promptly got up again and pressed its attack home.
Well yes, I was dead but that was three rounds ago...
That had come as a nasty shock; two of the players knew what to do to keep trolls down but as their characters did not have that advantage, I ruled against any attempt at metagaming and backed up my ruling with dark looks and muttered threats of "losing a level".
Alagon managed to put it down and this time, Elysia sawed off its head with her knife, hoping that this would kill it once and for all. The troll that had been fighting Alurax also made a spectacular comeback before being downed again and similarly decapitated.
Pausing only temporarily to cast their healing magic (and in the case of Alagon to use his laying on of hands power) the party pressed on through the gate and into the tower itself, from where they had heard noises which told them that they had not finished off the entire defence force. Before them lay a room with three possible exits – ahead, right and left. The latter led them to a dingy room in which was a filthy pile of straw and some gnawed and bloody bones. To the right was a long vaulted hall at the end of which was an archway through which the party saw two more bugbears coming to investigate the noise of intruders. The bugbears hung back, enticing the party to come to them. Unfortunately, Ferros charged straight through the arch without stopping to wonder why and triggered a flame trap which incinerated the doughty cleric. He had lost a lot of hit points in the battle and was still not up to full; he also failed a save vs Breath and took 4d6 of damage, which reduced him to below -10. That, by my house rules, is permanently Dead.
Elysia cast Stinking Cloud on the bugbears, who collapsed to the floor choking with nausea. Alurax and Alagon went through the arch, avoiding the trap trigger and put the bugbears to the sword, having of course covered their noses and mouths to avoid the noxious vapours.
Even as the party was pondering its next move, the choice was made for them as another troll appeared at the end of the vaulted hall. Alurax fired an arrow at it and it started to retreat, perhaps reluctant to meet them on advantageous ground. They poured back into the hall and deployed to attack. Elysia used her Wand of Illumination to cast Sunburst but even though she used it twice, the troll was undaunted and pressed home its attack.
Witness the might of light...having no effect whatsoever
Olaf, Cafaror and Alurax faced it, with Alagon towards the end of the hall, using his bow to launch ranged attacks. The troll proved a tough opponent but although it floored Olaf, it was eventually backed against the wall, brought down and its head cut off by Cafaror.
There was nothing that could be done for Ferros at present. The party was now without a cleric and Elysia was out of spells. They explored the rest of the ground floor and located the stairs to the battlements and a room at the rear of the tower where a solitary bugbear was stationed. He at once surrendered to the party and told them in halting common that there was treasure in an antechamber and that a flight of stairs going down was “very bad” and that “troll pet” awaited them. Alurax bound the captive and got him to open the door of the treasure room in case it was trapped. It was not, and they found within a very substantial haul of coins, a suit of plate mail, a magic dagger, some magic arrows and another potion bottle. While the rest of the party was counting this out, Alurax crept down the stairs and peered into the chamber he found, where he saw a huge owlbear tied to an iron ring in the wall. There were three doors opening off the chamber but in their weakened state, the party did not feel like investigating any of them. Licking their wounds, they decided to call it a day but little did they know that there was something that they had not counted on; they would find out what it was very soon.
I'd prepared the dungeon some weeks in advance and placed it in that hex, thinking that the party might one day stumble across it; I'd used one of Dyson Logos' maps, found here, stocked it up and left it. There are a couple of other hexes with dungeons waiting to be found but I really need to get on and do some more so that if the party decide to head off in another direction, I've got something for them to find. It just goes to show that dungeons don't have to be massive to be fun.
On a sad note, I learned this weekend that the player who ran Adthar and then Olaf is pulling out of the group. He's nearly 14 now and academic pressures are mounting so there just wasn't enough time for him to give a full Saturday to the group. We wished him well and I offered any materials or support he needed if he was interested in setting up a gaming group amongst his contemporaries.
Hexcrawling a City, an early look - One thing I've been slowly working on for the last year is another fantasy sandbox campaign. My prior one was generally map-based, although a city feature...
8 hours ago