Friday, June 26, 2009

The First Step South

From Aronin's Journal

Spent the morning walking past shit farmers and corn. As I walked, the grimy hovels became more frequent, and I had the funny feeling that I was approaching some manner of shit spawning pool, a central reservoir from which the country drew its filth. And sure enough, before long I had arrived. It was a fort, with wooden spiked walls. Given the direction of the spikes, I was almost tempted to think that there was something within that was worth protecting. But then I saw the sleeping guards and realized that, no, the walls were a remnant of another time. This town was every bit as worthless as I expected. The buildings threatened to collapse of their own accord, and the only well-kept place in the town was the goddamn guard house. Which was nearly empty.

I seriously considered leaving. I really did. Even possible hanging at the hands of the guard was preferable to this. At least in the city, my surroundings wouldn't be so soul-crushingly boring. But, against my better judgment, I instead stepped into the inn, woke the bartender and demanded a room. From our conversation, I learned two things: 1) the town is every bit as boring and hopeless as it looks--the most interesting recent event was the disappearance of a local frog catcher, and 2) oddly, people ("suicides" he called them) tend to show up at the tavern in groups of 4 before going off into the woods to kill things. I was, I admit, extremely skeptical of this second fact, but within the hour, I had been joined at the bar by 3 others. A dwarf, a man, and a lunatic. The dwarf bothered me at first, but after a few hours with the other two, he was almost welcome company. The human was mercifully quiet, but whenever he spoke, I wanted to stab him until he cheered up. Or died. Either way. And then, of course, there was the massive dragonborne who believed himself to be a tree. He tried to eat absorb his gruel through his "roots" (fingers), and stymied, went on to opine about his relationship with the wilds. Barmy as a fucking loon.

Less than an hour with them and I was suddenly seized by a powerful urge to murder something. And true to the idiot bartender's words, I found myself accompanied by the rest of the bar patrons. A group of 4. I can't chaulk it up to coincidence. Hrm. More investigation required.

We decided to find the hovel of the frog catcher (see? look how bored I was. Tragic.), and set off into the swamp. Before long, we saw a large rock rising out of the marshes. At its front was a cave entrance. I snuck around the back of the rock, quickly dealt with a lizard man I found there, and then signaled the rest of the party closer. It appeared that the dead lizardman had been a lookout for some others that were entering the cave. It was then that I heard the struggle inside the cave. It sounded like an enraged giant bird attacking something. Something that could scream. I suddenly remembered something I'd heard at the edge of town--the swamp had cockatrices in it. At that moment, two enormous birds came storming out of the cave, chasing a watermelon-sized egg that rolled into the marsh. My companion hid it before we entered melee with the beasts. They were fast as hell, and with every bite from their massive beaks, I could feel my legs becoming heavier. I couldn't seem to land a blow on the things, but the dragonborne and the dwarf eventually managed to put it down. While we attempted to hit the things with weapons (good plan), the human chanted, waved around a piece of wood, and lowered the air temperature a few degrees (bad plan). Also, he summoned a great, glowing badger. The stupid rodent drunkenly stumbled around the battlefield, ignoring the enemies. What the hell is the point of summoning a creature that doesn't actually help you? Moral support?

Eventually, the cockatrices were dead. No one in the party was dead (to my dismay), and we were left to investigate the nest. It was (unsurprisingly) surrounded by stone statues of lizardmen. Which left me to wonder: what sort of ecology could the cockatrice possibly have? Did it eat rocks? Probably not, given that it has a beak rather than crushing or grinding molars. But presumably, everything it bit turned to stone. So, um, how did it eat? My lunatic dragonborne friend (who claimed to know something about nature) had no answers for me, as all his attention was centered on the eggs in the center of the room. The dwarf and I were in immediate agreement. We'd sell them as exotic curios. Some batshit mage would pay hundreds for one, and we had several. The tree, on the other hand, thought that we should give them to a good home. We reached an accord (I think) when we said we'd sell it to a good home. Then, it was down to business. I boiled up a poultice of the cockatrice feathers and unfroze a halfling statue that we found within the cave. We helped him outside, and then sent him on his way. The dwarf and I had been talking, and came to the conclusion that the cockatrice must have a specific poison sac somewhere in its body. Unlike medusas and basilisks, the cockatrice had to bite you to turn you to stone. So it was simple--all we had to do was dissect the cockatrices until we found what we were looking for.

Of course, there was no way to tell which organ was which without testing. So, first and foremost, we sent the tree off by himself to unfreeze a lizardman outside the cave. From the distant screams (which sounded suspiciously like a lizardman being sexually assaulted), I assumed that he was keeping busy. Inside the cave, the dwarf and I systematically unfroze the lizardmen with the poultice and then stabbed them with a dagger coated in the juices of a given organ. After many screams, slit throats, and trial and error, we finally found the poison pouch, and saved it for later. A few lies to the lunatic and we were on our way again.

We were accosted by some large toad-things as we progressed further into the swamp. We handily dispatched them, and despite taking an unfortunate javelin blow to my gut, the fight was pretty easy.

We finally came to a small cottage. From the candied frogs lying around, I had to assume it belonged to frog catcher we were looking for. Lying on the floor of the cottage was a woman and a child, both dead. Their throats had been slit. After some discussion, it was decided that it didn't matter what had happened. Either the frog catcher's family killed themselves to escape poverty, they were killed by wild beasts, or they were killed by the frog catcher himself. In each case, the only outcome we could imagine was that the frog catcher had run off into the swamp crazy as hell. So short of systematically sweeping the swamp, we weren't likely to find him. So, we trudged back to town. I would like to say that it looked welcoming after the swamp, but it didn't.

I'm going to have this shithole demolished someday.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

On the Subject of Undead

A missive from Solomon Resni to the Fort Balasar guard and fellow adventurers:

Friends, the honorable Lord Balasar has requested that I share with you the information Hagen and I have gained on our recent, ill-starred expedition to the monastery of Pelor. It is my hope that this may help you in your future battles against the walking dead, and allow you to avoid taking losses as grievous as ours. In addition to various vicious wildlife, our group encountered two varieties of undead, both made from the risen corpses of humans.

Ghouls: are strong and fast, and by consequence very difficult to hit in battle. Their claws can immobilize a target, but do not hinder its ability to attack or cast spells. Once they have immobilized their prey, they proceed to bite it, dealing grievous injuries and fully paralyzing the victim. Approach with extreme caution; were it not for the heroic actions of my companion Hagen, I would be currently residing in a ghoul's gullet, and would not be able to convey this information to you.

Wights: are less dangerous than ghouls, but still more than a match for a young adventurer. They can dart in and out of combat, dealing no direct harm, but seizing tactical advantage wherever they may find it. Their life-stealing touch deals relatively little direct damage, but consumes one of the target's healing surges.

Both types of monster are fully vulnerable to divine powers of turning and abjuration, and I recommend that any group that sets out to face such horrors bring along a priest, holy knight, or the like. Moreover, because both wights and ghouls are surprisingly quick and maneuverable for shambling corpses, it is advisable to fight them on open terrain. Cover can be useful against them, but only if it is not cover that they can use against you when they draw in close. Finally, both are unable to harm from a distance, and so if one can get into a tower, up a cliff, or otherwise put impassable terrain between themselves and their undead foes, one should remain safe.

Yours, Solomon Resni

The Expedition to the Lost Temple of Pelor

(From the copy added to the file on "The Problem of Undead in Caston Vale" in the archives of the Temple of Erathis in Fort Balasar.)

On the morning of the 28th, I, Alethea Eveningstar, Solomon Resni, and Schepo Cheerfisk planned to investigate the rumors we'd heard of the lost temple of Pelor to the west. I knew Schepo to be a reliable enough gnome, as I'd ventured out with him before, and though I'd just met Alethea and Solomon, they seemed to be competent enough.

We made it to the temple just as we planned. Well, we had to play dice with a satyr, run away from some giant bats, climb across giant logs with colonies of giant insects, fight off a nest of giant rats, and so on, but we managed to incorporate those incidents into the plan.

We entered the temple late in the afternoon. Oddly, the inscription on the entrance arch was in draconic. Still, it was true to Pelorian dogma, and wished us safe entry. If only.

The monastery was completely abandoned and in a state of disrepair. Our first sign that something was amiss, aside from the number of letters I had previously dug up saying something about undead, was a huge streak of old blood across the main hall. Our second clue was the pantry, which had been used to store piles of gnawed human bones. The one intact skeleton we found had its rib cage torn apart. We moved onward, and found the source of the blood - a cell used for meditation, with a secret door left open. An adjacent cell held a skeleton which appeared to be trying to force its way through the bars at the moment of its death... but I would like to concentrate on the important details.

Behind the door lay a passage to one of the two intact towers of the campus, which held the records of Brother Lucien, the man in charge of the temple. An unfinished letter lying on top of his other scattered papers was very interesting. Apparently, the priests of Pelor had just finished repairing the border of the "Fell Wood," despite the attacks of the walking dead. Though it's not clear what exactly the "Fell Wood" is, he might have been referring to the wards on the temple itself, which appeared to be protected with an abjuration against the undead which may have been roaming Caston Vale. Then again, it may have been a reference to some "pylons" to the southwest, which we found on a map among his papers. The arc of the pylons seems to describe a specific section of the woods, which may have been the original source of the undead.

One other thing that the letter mentioned was sightings of the undead at night. Since it was already getting late, we decided to use the tower as a safe haven, closing the secret door and pulling up the ladder after us. It was cramped enough, but it was safe.

Safe enough. Still... hearing the shrieks of the bats outside, surely the same ones which had almost ripped us apart earlier, was unnerving. If we hadn't made it to the river, they would have finished the job. Without doubt. Devouring us would have been easier than carrying off one of those twenty-foot-tall deer that roam Caston Vale. But worse than that... Schepo had tried to tell us that he heard something earlier that evening, some movement in the darkness at the end of the main hall. We hadn't gone that way, but I had a look, and there was nothing there. At the time, I thought he was just bored and overimaginative. That night, though, there was a terrible sound from below. The sound of fingernails on stone, frantically trying to dig through. For hours. They only let up at sunrise.

On our way back, things had changed. Back in the room with the cells, everything had been torn apart. The secret door was worn with claw marks, and a rat we had come across earlier, well, had been devoured. Still, we decided to press on, and since the sun had just come out, we were in high spirits. Higher, anyhow.

There were a few more things of interest that we came across that morning - the most important of which may have been a hidden trapdoor in the southeast complex of cells. It was too heavy for any of us to move, but a more physically powerful group might have been able to. We didn't find anything else, and the last place left to investigate was the chapel.

The chapel was as abused and torn up as any other place in the monastery. The huge statue of Pelor that rested next to the altar on the dais at the front of the chapel had been broken into pieces. While most of the body remained intact, everything above the chest had been smashed apart. The arms, holding the sun, had been stripped off the torso and thrown to the ground, the sun itself had been pulverized and cracked in dozens of places, and Pelor's head was lying some ten feet away in a corner, barely recognizable. Most of the pews had been upended and smashed, while the few that remained untouched looked painfully out of place. The morning light pouring through the dusty stained glass windows at the front of the huge room, normally a tribute to the power of the sun to illuminate and warm the world, felt unreal. The bright blues and yellows contrasted sharply with the dull bloodstains all over the floor and the filth rubbed into the walls.

Nothing else of importance seemed to lie in the chapel, except for a strange hole in the stones of the dais. Judging from the pattern of damage, something had erupted from beneath the stage. On a plaque nearby, we found another inscription in draconic, listing the names of honorable deceased, next to depictions of dragonborn outfitted with gleaming armor and arms. It was clearly not of the same generation as the rest of the temple - in Lucien's writings, a "renovation" of the temple is mentioned several times, but the initial construction was never referenced.

Looking down the hole, we could see nothing save a few assorted shelves in the darkness. Alethea cast light on a stone, which she threw down, but given the angle we were looking at, it wasn't possible to make out any other shapes or information. Schepo, ever the daring sort, decided to jump down and see what was up. He didn't see anything immediately, but he was able to make out what was on the shelves in the room below: mummified dragonborn, piled up on a huge number of racks in a 40 by 50 foot mausoleum. The rest of us clambered down after him, to make sure he didn't get in too much trouble. Suddenly, something darted past me - I tried to corner it between me and Smiley, but it suddenly leapt out of nowhere - I dodged, but the shock of it stunned me for half a moment. This was no lurching zombie. With its pale skin, long white hair, and gaunt stature, the emaciated human shell in front of me was obviously a wight, fitting all the descriptions I'd read. The only aspect of its being I was not prepared for was its stench. The bodies of the dragonborn piled around us in the shadows at least were well preserved; had I been using my nose, and not my eyes, I would have had no difficulty tracking the cannibal from the putrid miasma hanging around it.

The wight would have been easy enough for us to dispatch had it not been for the other creatures lurking in the shadows. Seconds after that corpse's apparition, the shocked yells of my companions signaled the emergence of other undead from all around us. Though at the time, I had no idea what was going on, I think I've reconstructed what happened over the next few seconds. I heard Schepo swearing behind a rack of mummies, but at this point, it was out of frustration and not pain. As I was to learn, these creatures were shockingly nimble, and he must have missed his target. Alethea and Solomon both climbed on top of one of the racks next to the hole we had climbed down, and a second later were throwing spells in two different directions. I, meanwhile, tried to defend myself against the wight which had sprung out at me.

A second later, I heard the Solomon's incantations, and a sudden burst of divine energy swept over half the room. The creature next to me was struck by a huge spike of blue lightning, and flew through one of the shelves of bodies, sending mummified dragonborn corpses everywhere. The following blur is hard to untangle, but I remember channeling Ioun's presence through me, and for a moment I felt that I was the Goddess, scattering these undead monstrosities with Her brilliance. That epiphany was short-lived, as only moments later a ghoul leapt onto the shelf of bodies I had been using as cover; its clumsy gait toppled them and me with them. I dug myself out as quickly as possible from under the corpses, trying to get away from my assailant, but it was no use.

We were surrounded by these beasts - four of them, each more than the equal of every one of us. Like shepherding dogs, they had rushed around us, forcing us all to huddle together, while they flayed us apart at their leisure. I had managed to avoid their claws for the beginning of the battle, but my resolve and agility both began to ran out. Their claws sapped my strength, and at that moment I felt the weakest I ever have in my life - the mercury fevers that I'd suffered through as a child back in Sturluson's pass were nothing compared to the wounds inflicted by these unholy creatures. Suddenly, the entire battle exploded again. Alethea somehow stepped through the Feywild to combat two wights off to the side, Schepo managed to evade the ghouls and climb on top of the racks of corpses, and Solomon led the two ghouls over to the wall. I couldn't help any of them. They were too fast - every time I tried to channel the anger of Ioun against them, they almost gracefully evaded my avenging lightning. It was then that I saw it all happen - one of the ghouls had managed to immobilize Solomon, and then sank its teeth into his arm, almost ripping all of the meat from the bone. He would have passed out from the blood loss right there, if I hadn't quickly woven a protecting sigil of Ioun around him. That was the only aid I could provide to anyone at that point - I had almost collapsed myself, and Schepo and Alethea were both looking grimmer and grimmer.

What transpired over the next ten seconds is... not easy to record. From between the scattered bodies of dusty dead dragonborn, I saw Solomon fall, with two slavering ghouls ripping into him with their bare hands, smacking their bloody mouths with relish, the most human emotion I had seen them display so far. Schepo had climbed onto the racks of the departed, trying to gain some advantage, but one of the ghouls swatted him aside, digging its tainted talons into his flesh - he might as well have seen a medusa, given the rictus that came over him then. My agile companion had finally been stopped in his tracks, his every muscle locked in place. Though I might have been happy for him to contract a bit of lockjaw just an hour earlier, I cannot imagine the pain he must have felt. The ghouls then turned away from Solomon's prostrate body, and fell on Schepo's motionless body, locked standing in place.

At that moment, I heard a scream from twenty feet away. Alethea, who had managed to distract the wights with her storms of ice, had finally been overcome. I didn't see her fall, but from the sounds... oh, by Ioun... (the writing here becomes indistinct)

I had no idea what to do. I climbed up the pile of corpses next to me, their immaculately tied bandages now stained with fresh blood, and then hesitated. I was next to the hole leading to the outside world, my only chance for escape, and I'm still amazed that I did not take the opportunity when I did. But something made me stop and look around. My new perch afforded me a view I would not wish on my worst enemies. I wished I had a human's eyes at that moment, and that the shadows could mercifully have shielded my view. But that moment, however scarring, was my salvation. I saw Solomon's chest rise, ever so slightly. At the time, I /knew/ that doing anything but climb up that hole would lead to my immediate death. Ioun knew better. All I know is that I relinquished my body for what happened next, and that the Goddess drove out all weakness from that husk. My morningstar was in the ghoul's head. Then I was carrying Solomon. The ghoul was on the ground, and Schepo was on the ground, and the other ghoul was staring at me with its mouth full. Then I was climbing, and then my eyes were burning.

As soon as I was out of that hive, I knew what I needed to do. I gripped what remained of the statue to Pelor, and slowly - so slowly - slid it over to the gaping hole. I could still hear the remaining ghoul and the wights, chewing and scrabbling against the stone, but they didn't budge the statue. I tried to remember what I'd read about healing the gravely wounded, and apparently, my memory was better than I remember. I somehow managed to stabilize Solomon. While I was trying to see if he had any broken ribs, I felt something in his pocket - a healing draught we had taken from Lucien's study. I managed to get him to drink it, and a few seconds later, he was sitting up, calling on Bahamut to mend our injuries. A few seconds later, and with renewed strength, we ran out of the monastery, back into the light of day. We were almost out to the forest, until Solomon had an idea. A few seconds later, we were back on the threshold, and the chapel was burning behind us.

When we had gotten back to our lodgings in the One-Eyed Hag, it was suppertime. Artie had a special that night - some farmers had managed to bring down a baby boar out north, and sold it to the tavern to roast. The appetite of his patrons that night made me vomit twice. Solomon paid for the drinks. I don't remember much after that.

Smiley's Story

The following is a story Smiley told his friends, during the party's stay the haunted monastery of Pelor. It was preserved in writing by Hagen Foltner, gatekeeper and scribe.

Looking down at the dire rat as it struggled to maneuver its way through the monastery gate, Smiley quietly maneuvered along the ledge of the monastery's wall. When he had positioned himself directly above the rat, he spun his hand crossbow in his hand, grinning as he passed the spinning crossbow from one hand to the other, until the crossbow suddenly stopped moving as Smiley took his shot.

The bolt plunged into the rat's head and pushed out the other side into the ground, sticking the rat's head onto the ground as if it were upon a tiny pike. Smiley's grin grew wider, and he gave a little fist pump of victory, but at that moment his mood darkened for a moment as he was reminded of another kill he'd made, months ago.

Smiley looked down through the holes in the wood floor at his mother, Nisse, busying herself in the kitchen. Nisse called out, "Smiley! Smiley! Come out, I know you're here!" She sighed heavily and said softly to herself, "I wonder what kind of trouble he's getting himself into now. City life just isn?t good for him, I?m sure of it, but we can sell more hides here renting a space for a little while than we can by pitching tents in the wilderness."

Her mood brightened as Hod stepped into the room, his movement shaking the little apartment just slightly as he carried in a newly tanned deer hide. "Oh, Hod!" she exclaimed as she looked up at him lovingly, "It looks wonderful! We should fetch a pretty penny for that one, dear!" Nisse beamed at her adopted son, and Hod blushed, "Oh. It is nothing. Father would have done better job but he is busy with the rest."

Nisse didn't stop her praise, however. "I just wish your brother was as hard-working as you are, Hod. Wherever we go, whatever city we end up in, Smiley always finds the nastiest crowd to fall in with. He needs to learn that not every problem can be solved by running away and hiding from it!"

Hod stopped her gently, "Smiley helps family, he helps sell the hides." He tried to defend his brother, but even he knew that Smiley was often more of a detriment to the family's livelihood.

Smiley had heard it all before; because he spent so much time hiding and watching, he knew what his family thought of him. But he also knew that he couldn't change who he was. Hard work and meeting problems head on just didn't come naturally to him. He preferred to win favor with a smile, and barring that, he could always just walk away.

But Smiley still couldn't help but feel ashamed. He wanted to be good to his family, he wanted to help out and he knew that they were poor. But the kind of person that paid for Smiley?s particular expertise just wasn't the kind of person that Smiley's family wanted to deal with.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Nesse went to the door and opened it, and to her surprise she saw a tall male human, wiry and covered with a long, dark cloak. His skin was pale, and he spoke with a raspy voice, "Greetings. My name is Roth. I would like to speak to a Mr. Smiley, and I have been informed that he resides here."

Nesse knew enough to be suspicious of this strange tall one standing at her door. "What do you want from him?" Hod moved closer to the door as he attempted to situate himself between his mother and the stranger at the door.

Roth, noticing the half-orc's intimidating movement, wasted no time, and he swiftly pulled a dagger from his cloak and pressed it against Nesse's throat.

"Now, I'm going to ask you again. Where is that rat, Smiley?" he said as he shuffled inside the kitchen and closed the door, holding the knife to Nesse's throat.

Hod yelled at the man, "What you doing with my mother?!" as he grew angrier and angrier, stepping back so that he could get closer to his hammer in the back room.

"Don't move, you disgusting creature!" Roth snarled, a little blood trickling down Nesse?s throat from the knife. "Smiley is a person of interest for me and my superiors, and I must know where he is. He owes quite a bit of money, and quite a bit of blood."

Nesse cried out, "I don't know! I don't know! I don't know what he does in this godforsaken city, getting involved with scoundrels like you!"

"Well, I could always take back some of that debt from you, couldn't I?" he whispered, grinning as he maneuvered her around the table closer to the back room. "Where do you keep your gold in this dump, anyway?"

Smiley pulled out his hand crossbow and searched quietly for an opening, his hands trembling as he desperately tried to keep his breath steady and quiet.

Suddenly, he saw an opening. Two feet away from him saw a large hole in the wood floor of the attic, and he quickly rolled over to it. The sound confused Roth, and he looked up suddenly, right into Smiley's eyes as Smiley's hand crossbow let out a tiny twang.

The bolt plunged into Roth's eye, pushing through his skull and out the other side to the wall next to him. The bolt stuck into the wall with a loud thud, and blood poured all over Smiley's mother. Nesse quickly stumbled away from the dead man, but Hod?s rage demanded blood. Hod swiftly stepped into the other room, grabbing his hammer and smashing it into Roth's face again and again and again, with each swing crying out, "Nobody! Hurts! My! Mom!"

Smiley was relieved and felt lucky as hell. But before Smiley could celebrate, Nesse shrieked up at him, "What have you done! What have you done! Why did you bring this upon our family! We're in danger because of you! You!"

"I can't live with you anymore, with this, I just can't take it anymore," she sobbed, holding her hand against the shallow cut on her neck. Hod began to bandage it up, as Smiley snuck out of the attic and jumped out the window of the small apartment, off to discover who was behind this, and to exact his revenge. He would deal with his family later; there were some very mean people he needed to talk to, first.

A Missive! A Missive!

A discovery made by Hagen, while examining the records of the local temple of Erathis.

Over the last few days you've been digging through the scroll and records room in the back of the Temple of Erathis with Edward Biggins. The majority of them have been terribly dry records of the goings-on in town over the last hundred years. However, it was just last night, on the 26th of Summer, that you found something before you intended to retire.

An old piece of paper, carelessly discarded below one of the racks, reads:

"Brother Arthur,

I am glad that the city serves you well. It has been some time since I have seen the dirt and swell of civilization, and I should like soon to visit you and perhaps the rest of the Empire as well. I should certainly love to know again the bustle of a city, the clanging of the blacksmith, and the warm embrace of a woman. My time at the monastery has been enlightening, but I would like to leave it and this forest behind.

Unfortunately, I fear that such a time does not draw close. The creatures of the forest make greater incursion on our monastery, and we have had to spent so much time exorcising the rats and wolves from our grounds that there is little time for Pelor. Our rituals consume much of our time, and I have long since stopped attempting to translate everything we have unearthed from this place.

We have even recently sighted the lifeless undead in the area! The other day Brother Milan struck down one walking corpse while on his morning stroll. We must see to those obelisks surrounding the Fell Wood; it appears that some of the borders may be failing. We may require your assistance over the coming weeks, should the incursion grow stronger.

Beloved brother, may the light of Pelor shine down on you and keep you safe. I sincerely hope that all is well at the Fort, and that we will see each other soon. I look forward to your prompt reply.

By Pelor's Light,
Brother Lucian"

Further Adventures North: Sirocco's Story

Hauk and I arrived at this downtrodden fort this morning. We decided it would be a good idea not to dilly-dally, so we headed straight for the bar at the One-Eyed Hag, the inn in town. Once we had roused the barman, we started playing cards and going pint for pint. Needless to say, I got a little sloshed. Dwarves are small, but they sure can hold their liquor. We were joined by two others a bit later: Phinneas and Perrin. Phinneas, an Eladrin cleric, who made it abundantly clear that he had just arrived from the Feywild, seemed hesitant to join our party at first, but eventually he decided to tag along. Hauk tends to get a little headstrong, and I knew the healing words of a cleric would not go unutilized, so we were glad to have him along. The Halfling, Perrin, was much more excited to venture with us, and we figured that such a little guy could only cause a little trouble, so we allowed it.

We headed out early in the morning to the Northwest, looking for the abandoned fort Balthasar had told us about. We quickly found ourselves outnumbered by goblins (a trend?), and we were still getting the sand out of our eyes as we first tried to strike them. We had all missed, and Hauk was the focus of their counterattack. A couple of healing words from Phinneas and a few sneak-attack liver-shots from my sword, and they were quickly vanquished.

We ran into three dragon-like beasts next, and we decided to make a run for it. We escaped easily when we remembered that Perrin was still holding onto a deer hide that he had slain with his longbow. The fresh meat was a good diversion.

We circled around North again, crossed the good bridge over the Red River, and we spotted the gnarled tree, and heard the ominous wailing. We also found the same outpost that the previous party had found. We decided to see what was up with the tree, and on our way we saw some kobolds with their mounts who were investigating the remains of a kobold-goblin battle. We tried to sneak up on them, but we were found out. Their mounts, drakes, had bites to match their barks. We made short work of them, though.

We finally got to the gnarled tree just before nightfall, and it turned out there was a cave leading back into the rocks. The womanly screams were clearly coming from the cave. A boar appeared out of nowhere, and we waited to see what would happen. The woman appeared, old and in ragged clothes, surrounded by wolves. They made their attack on the boar, and we took that opportunity to make our escape.

We made it back home without further incident, and immediately took our rest.

Sirocco Woodbone

Further Adventures North: Perrin's Account

So I headed out with a few guys the day after I got into town. Two high elves and dwarf... Hauk was the dwarf, damned if I remember them elve's names, I hardly even saw their faces, them being so tall and all. Anyways, we headed out north, made it seven, eight miles before we got set on by seven goblins. It didn't look so good for a while, but we sorted them out. Nothing notable, but they were carrying some imperial armor and weapons, which wasn't great. As we rested I shot and killed a deer. I got a hide out of it and we had some venison for lunch.

While eating we heard some noises off west and went to investigate - we ended up having to run from three rage drakes, but they were distracted by the deer hide after I dropped it. We made it to the river without further incident, and crossed via the bridge that the barkeep told us about. From there we chose to set off towards a large, dead tree to the north-northwest. On the way we ran into the aftermath of a kobold-goblin battle, and fought off a couple of kobolds with drakes, taking some damage, but surviving whole. We continued to the tree.

Near to it we found a field of forest creatures mangled and impaled on stakes. These surround the entrance to a cave inhabited by a wild woman who lives with at least four large wolves, who hunt with her (we witnessed the hunt of a boar). Because the day was late and we were tired, we chose not to confront the woman and returned to town without further incident.

Perrin Blacktorrent

Further Adventures North: Hauk's Letter

To: Abbot Touchsteel, High Heart of Holy Hill

Revered Father-- I arrived here today at Fort Balasar with my companion Sirocco (Yes, I know you think him a scoundrel, but I also know that you hold the same grudging fondness in your heart for him as do I.)

As you had feared, what was once the shield of the empire has fallen into total disgrace. Your old comrade General Balasar appears, I am sorry to have to report, to have surrendered to senility and boredom. His men have taken advantage of his abandonment of discipline, and those who have not deserted are slack and unprepared. I welcome the humility of privation, but the 'inn' here could make a prison look homey. Last, the folk of the town are downtrodden not by some baron or robber-prince but by their own lack of hope. The promise of the West has been lost to them since the steel of Fort Balasar was undermined by the heedless east. If, as you hope, we can once again push the borders of the empire West of the old ruins of [censored] we will need new settlers even-- to be found, perhaps, in the surplus sons of the nobility and the upstarts of the wharves and alleys.

A half-day's travel north of the village found myself, 'Rocco, and some other adventurous companions outside of any control exerted by Balasar in the last fifteen or so years, by the looks of it. A watchtower, once constantly manned, lies abandoned miles from town and past that is chaos-- but at least the chaos is keeping control over itself. By this I mean that we have found no signs of a unified Eastern push-- we ran across the evidence of a kobold-goblin war, cleaning up several scattered bands of scouts and hearing a larger force on the move in the distance. We avoided them. The goblins appear to have armed themselves with Empire equipment from their invasion battles over the last centuries, but the kobold had no such armaments. Instead, they bore peculiar relics from an older time, and I fear that they may signal an influx from farther west that is pushing the goblins onto Balasar's outskirts in return. What will follow the dirty scale-monkeys, only the gods know.

The general lawlessness of the area has allowed dangerous creatures to roam within hours of Empire farmhouses. We avoided the stalkings of three Rage Drakes of a size I have not seen since the early days of the Southern campaign. Most worrisome, we scouted the mouth of a den of evil of a magnitude that I fear I cannot yet face, even with the strength of Moradin and my companions. Under a black tree lives a gnarled, haggard woman who consorts with wolves and stakes the corpses of the dead outside her filthy abode. We witnessed her flay a forest boar in under a minute, thankfully distracting her as we made our narrow escape. If you have any advice, Holy Father, please send a message back to us at the One-Eyed Hag in Fort Balasar. A company of archers would be almost as much a relief as your blessing.

Honor, Brother Hauk

The First Venture into the Boar Woods and Beyond: Tornir's Version

Death has yet again eluded me. After arriving in Fort Balasar, I met another Dwarf, a Keeper of Ioun named Hagen, as well as a Half-Orc named Hod and his Gnome "brother", Smiley. Hagen had aquired some information about a site known only as the Gnarled Tree. He proposed an expedition and I agreed to accompany them. We marched north, towards the river, and encountered a pair of boars. They proved unworthy. When we finally reached the river, we discovered a broken bridge, clearly of Dwarven make. I must investigate the Dwarven influence on the area further. Across the river, we were attacked by a small party of goblins. They, too, proved unworthy. We captured one of the creatures, but found ourselves unable to communicate with it. After spending the night in an abandoned watchtower, we returned to the Fort. I wait, ready for the next expedition. I will find a worthy foe somewhere in this damned wilderness. May Kord guide my hand and the Raven Queen watch over my soul.

Tornir Trollslayer

The First Venture into the Boar Woods and Beyond: Hod's Version

My brother and I have been traveling far past where our family usually goes for some time now, but apparently there aren't any more towns after this one, so we've stopped here for a while. There haven't been many travelers around here for some time, and the Empire hasn't paid any attention to this outpost for some.

Anyways, we went out for a walk with some other people, Hagen and Tornir, and wandered into the Boar Woods, 'cause we were looking for the Tree an old traveler had left marked on the map for us. Hagen stepped in some boar shit, and then I saw two boars rooting around in a small clearing. They charged us after Tornir yelled at them, and we killed them dead. Then I skinned one of them and left the other for later. We kept going, and found a pair of bridges, with an old broken one and a newer not-broken one. Crossing the not-broken one, we were attacked by some Goblins. We killed them, and I chased down the one that tried to run away.

We carried it back to town with us after spending the night in the abandoned watchtower on the North side of the river. We hoped that maybe someone spoke goblin, so that we could interrogate it, but when we showed it to him, Balasar killed it instead. I gave one of the boar skins to Arty Bartford, and now it is up on his wall.

Hod Facehammer

The First Venture into the Boar Woods and Beyond: Smiley's Version

So, we all met up at this tavern, the One Eyed Hag (what a dump), and I was like, guys we should totally go find something more interesting to do than hang out in this town. But everyone was all, no, let's go talk to some random people in the town. So we talked to some guy named Balasar, and some cleric or something. Finally after we spent the night chilling in the boring town, everyone finally listened to me and we headed out north. For some reason we decided to hang out with these two stuffy dwarves -- I don't really know why that happened but whatever. We were kind of walking, until we came upon some huge boars. I mean they were HUGE we are talking FUMONGOUS. Fortunately, I slayed them with my short sword and a few sharp words. After I had dispatched them (with a little bit of Hod's help), Hod skinned them and we kept walking.

We crossed the river and we were attacked by some stupid smelly goblins. One of them even hit me!!! He! hit! me! Twice! The fucker! So I killed all of them, some of them with my amazing powers and others with my brutal violent force. After that we were all "whine whine whine" because Hod had captured one of them (the goblin ran away before I could catch it) and we couldn't speak Goblin in order to interrogate it. So everyone was all "omgz moral dilemma" and I was like "We should just kill it" and they were all "omgz but he's innocent." So we ended up taking the goblin back to town, even though there was pretty much no chance that anyone at town would speak Goblin, but whaaaatever. Fortunately, when we talked to Balasar he just saw the tied up goblin and killed it. That solved that dilemma.

So basically today we went adventuring and I kicked everyone's ass while everyone else sort of stood around and looked pretty. Except Hod. He helped a little.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The First Venture into the Boar Woods and Beyond: Hagen's Version

I, Tornir Trollslayer, Schepo Cheerfisk, and Hod Facehammer ventured to the north in our first expedition. We were the first adventurers to arrive in Fort Balasar, but we seem to have gained some amount of trust from the locals. We were inspired to go north by a story of Artie's about Galden Mart's exploration of the area, and an old scrap of paper detailing the location of some "gnarled tree."

The first encounter we had was with some of the more brutish inhabitants of the northern plains, two huge boars. The townspeople were right - the animals here are large and vicious. Our group managed to outwit them easily, trapping them both between some trees and pummeling them with hammers and the searing light of Ioun's brilliance until they fell. We had encountered them around six miles out from Fort Balasar, and we finally got to the eastern branch of the Red River after a total of 18 miles of walking. Two bridges cross it: one which has fallen into disrepair, and another of good make a mile upriver from its brother.

As soon as we had crossed the latter bridge, we were ambushed by a band of goblins. Though they outnumbered us two to one, we easily overpowered them, and we managed to capture one. Interestingly enough, they appeared to have scavenged Imperial goods, judging from the white crowns on their armor. We decided to return to the Fort and deliver our captive to Balasar along with the looted armor after spending the night in an old imperial watchtower near the bridge.

Something that bears inspection: during the night, I heard a wail, or some sort of howl. Though nothing came of it, the area may be home to restless spirits. Our journey back was uneventful, and it was simple enough to deliver our friend to Balasar for interrogation. However, he was not quite as eager as us to treat him with mercy, and immediately slit his throat. Our initial foray complete, we spent the night in the One Eyed Hag, ready for another excursion in the near future.

Hagen Foltner

An Introduction

Welcome! This is the blog that will be used to publish the adventure summaries posted by players in the Reed College summer 2009 West Marches campaign. This is a DnD 4e campaign modeled on Ben Robbins' post on his blog, ars ludi.

Essentially, each session/adventure is one parties' venture into the wilderness surrounding Fort Balasar, the edge of civilization. The posts I will be publishing here are the character's own exaggerated story told to the others in the bar, The One-Eyed Hag. There is no constant party, but instead a large pool of players that band together as they attempt to make the wilderness safe for civilization.

Each of these stories is a treasure; it not only encapsulates the adventure, but also the character's perspective. In the process of writing these, the players create a personal voice for their character, making them real. Eventually, I would hope that this blog comes to include the personal stories the characters tell, in addition to those of their exploits.

Enjoy them; I have certainly loved making them possible.