Sunday, May 15, 2016

FR #8: Plundering the Orc-infested Ruins

16 Mirtul, darkmorning

The party elected to accompany Rumolt into the forest; as such, the PCs quickly bolstered their equipment in Port Llast before reconvening at dawn on a trampled field at the east edge of town, where Rumolt meandered among a spattering of horse-drawn supply carts and caravaners. Terms with the adventurer were set (a hundred gold and an equal share of treasure gained to each party member upon completion of the quest, with Rumolt retaining rights to anything belonging to his former companions), and a leather-wrapped coin roll was handed to Wren upon request as a gesture of legitimacy. Ere, the cluster of travelers departed the mustering grounds in unison (as was typical during the trade season); despite the onset of rain which dampened their march, the journey was uneventful and the party arrived at the hunting lodge near sunset.

The Slumbering Manticore was a three-story, timber frame cottage with a billowing stone chimney, surrounded by semi-permanent campsites sheltering various woodsmen and suppliers (even a dog breeder). Upon entry, they were registered by the inn's proprietor, a burly, brown-skinned man named Corbulet (one gold piece per head for nightly board and meals, tendered for all by Rumolt), and proffered food and flagon by his alewife. Once seated, the party was approached by a tall, wiry young man bearing a facial scar: Rictus, constable within the surrounds. They took their rest shortly thereafter, and in the morning, the party departed the Manticore, led by Rumolt east along the game trails.

Several hours of treading in isolation through the forest brought them to depths where the beaten path dwindled, and the party set camp with no fire. During the night, the snapping of a large branch (or possibly the trunk of a small tree) echoed from the north; no clear evidence of the noise's source could be determined at sunrise.

As the party delved deeper into Neverwinter Wood, the forest became difficult to navigate. Hourly or thereabouts, Rumolt took to halting for extended periods, reaching inside his tunic and lowering his eyes in repose, presumably the effect of a previously-mentioned wound suffered during the orc ambush. Notably, after these brief stoppages, Rumolt frequently adjusted the party's direction, though never drastically. As latefeast approached, the companions arrived at a shallow stream. Rumolt indicated that the orc lair, set in a defensible valley amid abandoned ruins, was near, and followed the stream's roll to the northeast.

Smoke lingering in the air preceded the sight of a bonfire as the adventurers crested a hill; scouting ahead, Wren counted a dozen humanoid forms around it; as she signaled to the others, two of the outlines jogged up from below, raising javelins and cudgels. Wren, Riwyn, and Rumolt fanned out with bows drawn, laying the things low as the rest of the party advanced to the sightline. A second band of a half-dozen orcs charged up the hill and the archers pushed eastward as they spotted more bodies scrambling out from behind fragments of structures that littered the low dale.

Arrows cut the dense, evening air with deadly accuracy, and a brutish orc waving a longsword and directing its fellows was struck by Wren's bowshot, and felled. The creatures on the hill clashed with Arendeth, who suffered a vicious hack from a cudgel while wielding a Tempus-endowed flame blade. Simultaneously, a rat swarm conjured by Berwyn engulfed the melee, assailing ally and enemy alike. The battle ended quickly: orcs were decimated in waves, and those that managed to avoid the party's slaughter fled to the north as the party descended on the valley and began to scour the ruins.

Five charred skeletons, held together by melted tendons, stared blankly from pikes near the bonfire. Swallowing his anguish, Rumolt noted that the longsword next to the impaled orc leader had belonged to one of his former allies; he bade the party to keep it, thrusting its blade squarely into the earth as he surveyed his companions' lethal work.

Most of the ruins amounted to crumbled walls and portions of roofless buildings, with the exception of a cylindrical fieldstone tower. Its topmost reaches collapsed, it harbored three intact levels: a ground floor, adorned with a bed of leaves and thatch along with piles of mostly-consumed bones, an upstairs, and a basement. While the upper floor was empty save for a caved-in stairwell, the underground level was stocked with crude provisions and treasure: a weathered, lidless chest filled with electrum and silver, a suit of human chain mail, and a bundle of vellum sheets protruding from a leather case. Rumolt indicated that the scrolls and mail were owned by his companions, but that the chest was not. Furthermore, he imparted that the party was free to utilize the scrolls as needed, but that he would assume possession at the completion of their journey. Identifying them as wizard scrolls, Berwyn tucked them into his pack.

Also in the basement level, Rumolt discovered a moveable brick that opened a secret passageway into a low-ceilinged catacomb. Lincoln and others traversed it two hundred feet, at which point chittering sounds could be heard from beyond. They aborted the effort, doubling back and resealing the secret door. The party decided to take refuge in the tower's second floor; watches were set.

During the night, Merlin the owl reported to Riwyn that several orcs were rummaging in the forest a half-mile north - presumably those that had fled the lair earlier in the evening. Later, a hulking ogre wandered into the ruins, chewing on the body of a lifeless orc. Not having exposed a light source in the tower, the party kept silent, and after several turns the ogre departed the grounds.

The next session will begin at dawn on Mirtul the Nineteenth. Berwyn has already expended a casting of read magic to discern the contents of the scrolls, which were provided to him in private.

DM's Commentary

Rumolt has drawn much suspicion ever since he first approached the party in Port Llast. That the players haven't reached a consensus on him is probably a sign that I'm running him well. I wrote this in a previous post during the Ravenloft campaign. I think it holds true even more in this campaign, where the absolute nature of good vs. evil is mostly secondary to personal goals, ambitions, and the need to survive and thrive in the game world:

Not every person or creature you meet in the game will be cookie-cutter good or evil. Sometimes bad things result from good intentions, and vice versa. Sometimes what's good in one person's eyes is malevolent in the eyes of another. Sometimes motivations are conflicting and blurred. Subjectivity is a remarkable thing.
I'm not going to award XP now, seeing that we're mid-adventure, but it's safe to say, assuming her survival, that Wren should gain a fighter level when I do. The orc battle was lucrative enough regardless of the system used; interestingly, by the Tao system, Arendeth gained the most of any party member from the battle. Arendeth was the only PC to sustain damage and the only PC not to deal damage himself, and the Tao system advocates that this accounts for the greater learning and advancement among the participants. It makes a lot of sense, but I'm still not ready to adopt the rules. The spreadsheet I've devised to track the details has worked well for me so far, but I still like the idea of dividing XP evenly. It removes any kind of bias from the distribution and ultimately is easier to keep track of. We'll see.

Scrolls

It's probably a good idea here to write a few notes about scrolls. Wizard scrolls are created primarily for quick casting; they serve to supplement a wizard's available spell slots beyond what he or she has memorized.
  • When a spell on a scroll is cast, it is permanently expended. Spells on scrolls are one-time use.
  • In order to copy a spell on a scroll into a wizard's permanent spellbook, the spell must be cast; thus the scroll is expended.
  • Attempting to cast a spell from a scroll imposes a chance of failure if the spell is of a higher level than the wizard can normally cast. The failure chance is 5% per caster level difference.
  • In the event that failure occurs, there is a subsequent chance that the spell could backfire in a way that negatively affects the wizard or his/her allies. (This chance is small.)
  • Any wizard desiring to know the contents of or cast a spell from a scroll must first cast read magic to read the scroll. (While Riwyn knows that Berwyn handed her a scroll with magic missile which he previously read, Riwyn cannot actually use the scroll without casting read magic herself.)
  • Read magic enables a wizard to read two scroll pages per caster level. In this session, Berwyn, as a 3rd-level wizard, was able to read six pages, the exact amount he needed to read all six scrolls.
  • Specialist wizards cannot cast spells from scrolls that are from prohibited schools (please let me know if anyone finds a contrary ruling on this).
There was a bit of tension at the table when Berwyn pocketed the scrolls and kept his findings to himself. If this is a problem for the other players (or characters), the best first step is to address it in-game. As DM, I expect a reasonable level of trust within the party and require that PCs not subvert their companions. That said, Berwyn's conduct strikes me as leaving a sour taste in the other players' mouths as opposed to warranting adjudication from the DM. That's not to say that this kind of non-teamwork couldn't inhibit the party's success in the current adventure and beyond, but for now I'm leaving it in the PCs' hands.

I really enjoyed gaming with everyone on Saturday and hope all the players had fun as well. It was great to finally have the full group together!

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