Friday, May 10, 2019

Staying awake

During the events that went down in the mine, I found myself asking how long a character might remain awake and competent under strenuous activity in the face of exhaustion from lack of sleep? I haven't found any official rules on this yet, though it's possible that something already exists. In lieu of that, I've devised a quick system to employ if the situation ever comes up again. I don't expect this to be at all commonplace, though it seems like when it happens, it's likely very important.

  • A character or NPC can stay awake at full capabilities for a number of hours equal to 12 + Con score + 1d6.
  • After this point, each of the individual's six ability scores are temporarily halved (rounding down, hit points unaffected) every hour. Whenever any score reaches zero (0), the individual passes out.
  • A person passed out from exhaustion cannot be wakened for 1d8+8 hours, at which point they rise with scores restored to their normal values.

This all feels reasonable to me. Adrenaline lets you go as hard as you can for as long as you can, but at some point you hit the wall. When that happens, your ability to function drops off quickly. You can still manage to push for up to a few hours longer, but eventually either your mind or body gives out.

Mirabarran fire arrows

This week, as the players deliberated how to deal with the undead minions inside the cave blocked by the bonfire they'd constructed, I had to determine in my own mind what steps the mining company would take to combat the situation. After all, while from a DMing perspective it was important to give the PCs first crack at solving the problem, the score of individuals present beyond the party itself would still have to bear this burden in the party's absence, or failure.

The most pragmatic solution I could come up with was the use of fire arrows by the soldiers to fell the creatures from the cavern floor. This approach required the NPCs to either know or suspect that natural fire would still harm the undead, even though they'd already proved immune to “normal” weapons. I felt this was reasonable enough, particularly with the arrowheads also being doused in holy water.

Before allowing such a course, however, I wanted to make sure that it was actually feasible, and get an idea of how well it was likely to work. I ended up finding and reading the following four posts from a blog explicitly dedicated to warbow archery:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

This was pretty interesting, so thought I'd share. In the end, the fact that it was a short-range situation and the arrows would be shot through an actual raging fire gave me confidence that it should work, provided a reasonable amount of time to ready the ammunition beforehand. I also reduced the ROF (rate of fire) for these arrows to one/round, given the effort needed to ignite them, which felt similar to loading a bolt into a crossbow.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

XP awards for session 23

Through a slog of comments over the past several days (the most we've ever had on a post), the party finally reconciled the situation of the crypt uncovered within the mine. Whether or not any future consequences of this are brought to bear, I'm issuing a story award here and now of 2,000 XP each to Zeb and Audric, and 1,000 XP to Selben. Of note, Audric was energy drained earlier in the session, reducing his XP total to halfway between the minimum needed for 3rd and 4th levels (5,400, based on our rules for the Crusader).

New party totals, following the session:

  • Audric - 7,400
  • Zeb - 3,000/29,395
  • Selben (h) - 5,600

This award inches Audric back over the threshold for 4th level, so upon training for four days he can regain some of the abilities lost in addition to adding another hit die to his hit point total. Incidentally, the dividends also propels Selben to level 3 as a mage.

Training can be assumed to happen in Xantharl's Keep at the start of the next session.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

#23: A Fate Worse Than Death

It’s hard to reconcile our current surroundings with what we remember of Xantharl’s Keep.  Starting in the fall, a mining operation financed by Mirabar took up occupation in the village, a result of a deposit of electrum, a valuable metal, found within a hole in the earth in the Lurkwood.  Since then, the miners have moved in with their tents, and the presence of Mirabarran soldiers has been a constant nuisance and drain on the village’s food stores for the winter.  While some aid has been shipped in from Mirabar, it has not been enough to offset the resources that have been used up by the soldiers.

The current lord of Xantharl’s Keep, Arvnsen Greywind, is a retired Mirabarran soldier himself, according to a local produce seller with a wagging tongue.  Despite the obvious suffering of his residents, Greywind seems to favor the Mirabarran soldiers, a fact that is not lost on the residents of Xantharl’s Keep.

There is an inn within the village walls, though it’s not the same that we remember.  Out of curiosity, I inquire as to the price of a room as well as a warm meal, trying to gauge just how dire the situation may be.  Rooms are available—the soldiers and miners keep to their own camps—the rate is reasonable, a single gold piece per room per night.  I’m surprised to find that the rate also includes a meal, though the innkeeper warns us that it might not be the quality we would normally expect.  While conducting this business, I also purchase a sling and a handful of bullets for Selben, as well as a handful of dried meat, in the case that my canine friend is still around.  The price for this last item comes as a shock, though perhaps it shouldn’t—I part with a pair of gold pieces for the bounty.

As we meander around town, we find ourselves at the outskirts of the eastern edge of the village near the miners’ tents.  In a silent moment, we hear a lilting voice drifting on the air:
O’er pastures borne
o’ fields of green
The river I follow,
its waters clean
With the flow, I ride,
‘til my heart doth cling
To pastures borne
o’ fields of green
Nearby is a well, and at it is a woman drawing water and singing to herself.  Beneath her winter cloak, we spy a red dress and scarf—together with the way her hair is bound, we instantly recall the garb of Kezia.  I leave my Carcerus mantle with Selben, and approach slowly, trying to seem as nonthreatening as possible.

“Excuse me,” I say hesitantly, then feign surprise.  “Your clothes…for a moment, I thought you were someone I knew.  Are you from Xantharl’s Keep?”  The woman responds hesitantly, explaining that she and her husband are from Mirabar.  Her husband is one of the miners.  I explain that I knew a woman, Kezia, and that she dressed in a very distinctive way, and that I have not seen anyone dressed the same way since.  She reveals that she is from the river valley.

Awkwardly, I ask her if she and her husband would be willing to join us for dinner, explaining that we have acquaintances in the valley and that we intend to travel there, and that we’d like to talk about what we might expect along the way.  “Why don’t we visit the camp this evening?”  I assent, and when asked her name, she replies “Odesia.”

We pass the rest of the afternoon until the appointed time, then we head to the direction of the mining camps.  Lit by bonfires, we’re able ascertain that there are perhaps two dozen soldiers, and the same number of miners and laborers.  We find Odesia sitting with a man that we assume to be her husband.  He’s a miner and seems amenable to our introduction—his name is Laerch Strolgam.  Laerch is from Mirabar, but Odesia was raised by her people in the valley.  Knowing no other way to break the ice, I pull out my deck of crude cards and ask Odesia if she’s ever seen anything like this before.

“You would not have an easy time finding them—strangers don’t generally intermingle with my people freely.”  Going for broke, I ask their patience to listen to a short story, and they agree.  I share an abbreviated account of our history in the Khedrun Valley, leaving out some of the details that aren’t critical to the telling, but this time include our encounter with Kezia—something that we usually exclude, due to the holes our meeting with her pokes into everything.

“Do they have a name?” I ask, referring to the cards.

“In my language they are called Tarokka,” she explains, though says she is not a user of them herself, that she lacks the gift.  She left her family over a year ago to marry Laerch, who she met when he and his brothers were fishing upriver.  They fell in love, and she made the decision that she would leave her family to live with her husband in Mirabar.

Feeling the need to fully explain myself, I share the first part of the reading, pointing out who each card represents, laying out the cards as I come to each layer of the reading.

“While I do not bear the gift, I do bear some knowledge of the talent.  I feel a very ill omen about the mine.  If you will see to the safety of my husband and these miners, then we will take you to the valley when the weather breaks and the river can be traveled once again.”

Odesia explains that the miners have been trying to break through a wall for weeks, and as that has progressed, she has grown more and more wary of what may lay beyond that wall.  Her husband, Laerch, says that “When you marry a river maiden, you learn to listen to what she has to say in such matters.”  When asked what her people collectively call themselves, she responds “Keravela.”  It’s not a word I know, nor a language I understand.

Odesia explains that she’s not confident in the soldiers’ abilities to protect the miners and asks if we will investigate the cave ourselves.  I ask if we might have the evening to convene privately on the matter, explaining that it’s a decision that affects my comrades, and that I can’t make it alone. 

After some deliberation, Laerch points us to the captain’s tent, and we approach to greet the man.  He is flanked by guards, and they stand to return the greeting.  The captain’s name is Rale Cotchen, cousin to Laerch, and he explains that he’s overseer of the mining operation.  When asked how it fares, he explains that it’s progressing well, and that he hopes to be through the rock barrier in the next day or two.  His tone seems to question our purpose, which leaves me unsure how to proceed.

When Audric asks what he hopes might be beyond the wall, Rale smiles and answers “Great riches, we hope.”  Rale questions our purpose directly, and when we reply with vague indications of dangers beyond the wall, he smirks.

“You’ve been talking to the river maiden,” he replies.  “What share did she offer you?”

Taken by surprise by the question, not having any clue what he’s talking about, I react the only way I know how—violently.  I draw out a knife and throw it into the dirt at his feet, growling at him when he questions my motivations.  I explain through gritted teeth that we seek not riches, but that it’s part of a deal with made with Laerch and his wife, a deal that has nothing to do with the captain, his soldiers, or the damned mine.

“Well, if there are other things you seek from the girl, I would tread carefully there as well.  There are rumors that the child that she carries is not her husband’s.”  Ignoring the jab, I continue to stare the captain down, and he grins, seemingly with approval.

“Very well, then,” he says smiling.  Rale is planning on visiting the mine in the morning to check progress and welcomes us to accompany him as his personal guests.

“Done,” I reply sternly, grabbing my knife and slamming it back into its sheath.

We arrive at the appointed time near the eastern gate to the village, meeting a group of a dozen or so soldiers and miners in the company of the captain, as well as a guide from the village.  We march through the forest a fair distance until finally coming to a great hole in the earth surrounded by tents and many men doing work.  The hole appears to be a natural sinkhole which drops into darkness.  A soldier approaches to report to Captain Rale.  “There’s been an incident,” the soldier says grimly.  He points past the mine entrance to the tents beyond, where men look to be treating the corpse of a fallen miner.

“Only a couple hours ago, the miners broke through the rock wall, exposing the cavern beyond.  We were immediately assaulted by a putrid odor, that of death itself.  One of the miners climbed through with a torch to see what lay beyond, but as soon as he did, he began screaming.  The torch went out, and when we pulled him back his face and chest were bloodied, and the man was dead.  Three men quickly hoisted a boulder into place to reseal the opening.

When asked, the captain gathers the miners that were in the tunnel so that they might be questioned for more details.  For the most part, it’s more of the same.  One man, however, grimly states that he saw something.  “I was one of the men that pulled him out.  When we lifted the boulder back up and put it into place, I saw a hand reach from beyond the darkness, just for an instant before we covered the opening.”

Rale looks at us expectantly, indicating that this is the reason we’re here, and asks us how we intend to proceed.  The cavern below is wide enough for two to stand abreast, the rock wall in a tunnel perhaps 50 yards from the entrance.  I inform the captain that we require four men—two with lanterns, two with torches, and he mimics my response from the previous night.  “Done,” he replies, perhaps too quickly.

The scree of broken stone amid the ropes descending into the tunnel makes it difficult enough to traverse going down, but very difficult if we find ourselves in a position to flee quickly.  When we finally arrive at the boulder we are nearly overpowered by the stench of death.  Audric uses his familiar to peer through openings in the imperfect seal, and it is able to empathetically represent that there are multiple creatures beyond, dangerous and terrifying to the small animal.  Audric draws upon Mystra’s blessing to try and discern the nature of the threat beyond the hole, and his powers reveal a strong, malignant evil within.

Conjuring forth my most powerful abjurations, we instruct the guards to pry loose the boulder so that we can reveal what lies beyond.  Knowing the threat to be dangerous, Audric summons a pair of hobgoblins into the dark chamber, and the sounds of conflict are immediate, with screams piercing the darkness.  With a brief incantation, I bring forth a small magical light which illuminates the cavern and Audric begins to clamber through the opening.  We see the hobgoblins being mauled by a half-dozen creatures that, at first glance, I mistake for those from Shadfeld.  Upon further inspection, however, they appear to be true undead, with bulging, glowing yellow eyes and thin, wiry hair.  Fearful of our ability to effectively combat such a large number of foes, we pull Audric back through the hole.  Defending the opening should be easier than a pitched combat in an open chamber.

Our foes move quickly, and our tactics prove to be insufficient, as a pair of the creatures are immediately through the opening and upon us.  The soldiers and Bonie support us with bolt and arrow, but the missiles prove ineffective.  I conjure forth a shimmering, floating hammer adorned with fetishes of the Beastlord, as well as a blade of flame that extends from my palm.  Despite this, however, Audric and I are driven back by the creatures, one of them striking Audric, who is nearly overcome by a deep weakness and emptiness that saps his strength.  A soldier at his side falls as well, and we are nearly overtaken, with a third creature clambering through the hole to join the fray.

In desperation, I instruct Selben to use his powers to attempt to magically enlarge the creature climbing through the opening, hoping that it may stall its advance and buy us time.  Audric cries out for us all to flee, the warrior stepping into melee again to stymie the undead advance.  Unwilling to let Audric sacrifice himself, I stand at his side and echo his order to the others, and we are both assaulted by the creatures, another clawing at Audric again, draining the warrior of yet more will and strength.

Behind us, Bonie is the first to reach the opening to the mine and scrambles to the top, helping draw others up to safety.  We hear her cries for us to join the flight, and Audric and I withdraw, battling back the undead as we stumble to the mine opening.  Fortunately, the creatures do not pursue us into the daylight, and Bonie and the others help us climb out of the pit.

Bearing few wounds but spiritually broken, we stare down at the creatures below.  They hover in the darkness just beyond the reach of the sunlight, mocking our failure.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Read this!

This was a great read, especially in light of the dragon, and now, Audric getting energy drained. It summarizes well how I feel as DM (though not at all how you guys behave as players, thankfully!).

Thursday, April 25, 2019

XP awards for sessions 19-22

XP for the last four sessions is as follows, after accounting for NPC involvement:

  • Aiding the Kromlor family - 1,000
  • Deterring and escaping Niohoggr (the dragon) - 2,000
  • Delivering the tribe to Griffon's Nest and slaying a hill giant - 6,500
  • Foiling the thieves in the stable house - 1,000

These amounts sum to 10,500. Note that, while the above items are the main drivers for the corresponding values, awards should be considered dividends for the entirety of each session. PCs each receive 4,200, and Selben, with henchman status, receives 2,100. As always, Zeb receives a 10% bonus, bringing updated party totals to:

  • Audric - 30,200
  • Zeb - 3,000/27,195
  • Selben (h) - 4,600

Selben inches near to 3rd level, but isn't quite there. At current rates, Audric is set to attain 6th level before Zeb, but neither is particularly close. Sean was able to remind me that Zeb's total is less than Audric's, even with Zeb's bonus, due to having used clerical powers during the encounter with Carcerus.

All for now!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

#22: From the Ashes

Settled in for the night, uncomfortable though our accommodations may be, we set watches.  It’s most important that Audric complete his rest so that he may recover his spells.  Bonie hovers on the edge of unconsciousness, having nearly lost her life in the magical duel—much of our time tomorrow will be spent guarding over her until she can be restored by Audric’s magic.

Selben and I watch the entrance to the stables in silence, listening as the revelers outside continue in their celebration.  With our watch nearly expired, we hear a light thud from a nearby stable, and the horse within stamps restlessly.  I send Selben to investigate, but before he can move very far, we hear a male’s rough voice.  “Give me all ye have, toss it over the wall.”  Someone has snuck into the stable stall next to ours and reached through the slats, holding a dagger to Bonie’s neck.

I try my best to calm the man, pulling my heavy purse of coin from my belt and tossing it deep into his stall.  As soon as he moves to retrieve it I order Selben to attack the intruder while I summon forth a magical light to illuminate the stable house.  “Get him,” I call out, hoping to awaken Audric, and Selben rushes forward to tackle the man. As the magical light appears, we see a shadowy figure—a human male—scrambling in the straw for the purse.

Selben tangles in a melee with the man, both armed with knives.  Selben dodges a thrust, and we see a second figure step forward, this one armed with a crossbow.  He snaps off a shot at us but misses, and I paralyze the man engaged with Selben, drawing forth the power of Malar.  Selben puts a knife to the man’s throat as we try to determine whether the crossbowman is friend or foe.

Audric, roused to anger, charges the man, who throws his crossbow at Audric and flees, out of my sight.  I trust Audric to make the right decision as I toss my rope to Selben, stooping to make sure that Bonie is unharmed, then recover my purse.  We check the remaining stalls and find no one else.  Outside the stable is the man’s discarded crossbow along with a second loaded crossbow—I have Selben bring both weapons inside and guard the entrance until our new friend revives.

“Let me go—I didn’t hurt anyone, I don’t have anything of yours any longer.”  I ask his name—he indicates that it’s Tannor Brin.  I inform him that he and his friend made a poor decision tonight, tapping him on the forehead with the flat of my blade.  “My companion ran off to deal with your friend.  If he comes back, we’ll discuss what to do with you.  If he doesn’t, I’ll hang you right here in this stall and gut you.”  Together with Selben, we toss a rope over a nearby rafter and drag the man up so that he hangs a few feet from the ground.

“While we’re in Longsaddle, is there anything else we should do now that the celebration’s over?” I ask sardonically, killing time while continuing to tap him on the head with the point of my knife.  “There is one thing,” he says.  “Untie me.”  A few long minutes pass and I start to worry, then from somewhere deeper into town I hear signs of commotion.

I leave the stable and walk out a few dozen yards, heading towards the shouting.  When I get close, it’s clear that a congregation of people have gathered around something…or someone.  Two men outfitted as guards are leading a bound Audric towards the center of the hamlet, as the crowd around him yells “Murderer!”  One of the guards carries his axe.  I head towards the group, calling out over the crowd that there has been a misunderstanding.  I explain the situation, and at mention of Tannor Brin, the crowd seems to turn, with many of them calling him out as a thief, bolstering our story.

My eyes are drawn to a woman wearing a white robe atop a white stallion, her hair red and flowing behind her.  She has a sheathed sword strapped to her horse, and she approaches the guard and asks what’s going on.

The woman makes motions—obviously casting a spell—and approaches Audric.  I catch a better view of her, and her telltale pointed ears reveal her elven heritage.  She speaks a few quiet words to Audric, which I am unable to hear.  Outnumbered, in a foreign environment and overwhelmed by the situation, I stand there silent, unable to intercede in any meaningful way.

Unsure of what they shared or the result, the elven woman rides towards me, ordering me to take her to the stable.  I call out to Selben, letting him know that I’ve returned and to drop the crossbows.  Thankfully, he answers that it’s done, and we enter.  The guards cut down Tannor Brin at her order, and the elf bids the three of us to accompany her.

“Four of us, actually.  Our friend is in the stall nearby, unconscious, and I’m not leaving her.”  We answer a few questions about her injuries, and she calls forth a large man in chainmail.  The elf indicates that she intends to take us someplace where Bonie can be cared for better than the stable.  “Can we trust you?” I ask bluntly.

“You have my word.  I am Soliania, caretaker of Longsaddle and its master,” she shares, ushering the large man forward to lift Bonie from the ground.

“And who would its master be?” I ask, as politely as possible, given the circumstances.

“Master Brehan,” she answers, and we gather our belongings to follow.  Soliania, the large man, and a small retinue of guards escort us back to the Ivy Mansion.  We’re led to a series of rooms down unfamiliar corridors, and Soliania says that we can rest here, undisturbed.  With a truly genuine sigh of relief, I thank her, and we are left alone for the night.

When we finally awaken, we find that many hours have passed, the travails of the previous day and night seeming to have caught up with us.  We study and pray for our spells, ready to attack the day and learn more about the situation we’ve landed ourselves in.  Bonie stirs to wakefulness, which is a welcome relief, and while still weakened, she is coherent once again and we catch her up on events. 

The large man from the previous night enters our room after some time, indicating that his name is Drakkor, and that Soliania is out for the morning.  We are served a bountiful breakfast, and in a quiet moment, I share a few words with Selben.  I congratulate Selben on his composure the previous evening, letting him know that he handled himself well, protecting Bonie and watching over the thief.  Sheepishly, he lets us know that he has something to tell us.

Selben admits that he’s started to have some recollection of the time when his memory was lost—he wanted to speak of it before, but there was never a good time.  He doesn’t remember everything, but he remembers that he was kidnapped from Three Streams.  He was investigating a cave, captured by someone, and held in chains in an unknown dungeon.

The red-eyed creatures were present in the dungeon, but other details elude him for now, except that he was being starved, perhaps tortured, and one other fact—that he saw a woman with auburn hair, like that of Aibreann, and eyes of yellow fire.  He slipped his manacles and escaped, eventually ending up in the forest and found his way to Carrock.  The details are unclear.

We encourage Selben to share his experiences and memories, letting him know that his history could very well be an important part of the puzzle we’re all in.  Good or bad, we’ve all done impulsive or morally questionable things (Audric choked a man to death, and I nearly eviscerated Tannor Brin), and he shouldn’t be afraid to share his feelings and memories, especially the dark ones.

Some amount of time passes and a small boy appears, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, along with Soliania who lets us know that we look much recovered, but that she has many questions for us.

“We’re literally a captive audience,” I tell her, and she asks her questions, starting with how we came to be in the stable, and how that led to us slaying a man.

Audric answers her question with one of her own.  “Are you a practitioner of the arcane arts?” he asks her, indicating that things may make more sense if she was.  She nods, and Audric begins to explain the story of the ring, including all the gory details.  “That was in this house 100 years in the future,” Audric ends, and Soliania’s eyes widen.

The boy speaks then, brash and impudent, stating that “That kind of magic isn’t possible.”

Audric responds by calling the boy “Malchor” and lets him know that he’ll understand more in 100 years.  Soliania explains that the boy is Brehan Harpell, heir to the Ivy Mansion, and that they know of no person named Malchor.

“That’s because he does not yet live,” Audric counters, disappointed that his hunch was not correct.

“Such a story would not be easily believed by anyone,” Soliania explains, and Audric offers to submit to any magical or divine truth-seeking.  Before rational conversation can occur, young Master Brehan begins calling out insults.

“What do we stand to gain by making up such a story?  Wouldn’t it make sense to make up something more believable?” Audric asks.

“I do not believe that there is true darkness in your hearts,” Soliania says finally, looking towards me, “despite your fealty.”  Her statement disrupts the argument that was beginning to form.

“The Beastlord and I have an understanding,” I explain sarcastically.

When asked of our intentions in Longsaddle, we answer that research into the ritual is our primary concern, and I tell her that, barring that, we have a meeting with a mortem disfidare from the past with whom we are acquainted.  She seems stoic, granting us leave to remain for the day, though she bars us from the library.  I get the sense that she may wish to see us before we leave—otherwise she would have expelled us from the Ivy Mansion outright, so we return to our chambers.

Before the sun sets, Soliania does indeed come to meet us.  She seems to believe us, regarding our encounter with the thieves the previous night, and lets us know that we will not be punished with murder.  She does think it would be best if we leave Longsaddle, however, for “everyone’s safety.”

“Young Master Harpell wants us out that bad, huh?”  I can’t help but ask.

“I wish you well on your journey,” she says coldly, and turns to walk away.

Audric stops her before she goes, asking for our weapons now, so that we might properly prepare for the journey.  She promises that our items will be restored, but when pressed by Audric, she responds angrily that his mistrust is ill-placed, and that we should not defy her. It is clear from her tone that the conversation is over.

The night passes, though despite the comfortable surroundings I can’t help but feel caged.  The next day dawns, and our gear is returned to us by Drakkor, who informs us that we’re to depart Longsaddle under his supervision.  Before he leaves, I ask if he’ll deliver a message to Soliania, and the large man assents.

“If Soliania believes us—if she thinks that there’s even a chance that we’re telling the truth, whether she believes it possible or not—we are in need of magical direction and aid.  That the ring is nonmagical now does not preclude its creation again, and there’s no telling whether the future will play out the same way.  If she cares for the well-being of the Harpell family—indeed, if she cares for the potential integrity of Mystra’s Weave at all—then we are headed for Mirabar, and beyond that, likely the Khedrun Valley.”

With little choice left to us, we conjure forth mounts for the group and begin our trek north.  Our travel is undisturbed until midday when we break for a meal, at which point we catch notice of what appears to be a lone wolf or dog.  Concerned that it might be in fact a pack of such creatures, I call for Selben to join me and investigate.

It’s difficult to make out details, but the dog appears malnourished.  It’s some manner of husky breed, grey and white, and after a few minutes I toss it a bit of dried meat from my rations.  It takes it and stands there looking at me but does not run away.  Not knowing if it’s a sign from the Beastlord or just a random mongrel, I tell it “You watch our backs, I’ll watch yours” and return with Selben to the others.  For a short while it appears that the cur may be following us, which is fine by me.

We finish travel for the day without finding a settlement.  Unsure whether Xantharl’s Keep exists in this time, or how close we may be, we decide to break for the night, leaving enough time to gather materials for a sizable fire.  We settle in for a cold eve, splitting up into three watches.  During the third watch, mine, the dog appears once again.

“You must have had a hard day’s travel, keeping up with a team of magical horses.”  I dig out a few more handfuls of dried meat and toss it the dog’s way.  “I don’t suppose there’s anything we should watch for in the woods tonight?”  No response, but it cocks it head in curiosity.  “Any chance there’s a town nearby?”  No response, but it cocks its head again, seeming to appreciate the conversation.  With nothing else to do, I continue speaking to it.  Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t have a remedy for being time-shifted 100 years into the past, and my watch concludes otherwise uneventfully.

Midway through the next day we approach a settlement.  It might be Xantharl’s Keep—there are similarities—or it could be another settlement entirely.  We decide to head into the village and investigate.  Pleasantly surprised, the dog returns again, and I toss it my last handful of rations, letting it know that we’ll be back in a little while.

The village is clearly smaller than Xantharl’s Keep, but there are many structures that are too familiar to be coincidence.  The village has a wooden palisade, patrolled by a few armed soldiers.  One wears a tabard with the insignia of Mirabar.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Into the unknown?

I don't usually provide this much of a window into my DMing black box, but I was reading through old content and remembered something from early on. Below is a snippet of my “crib notes” from session #2:

The night they return, the village is ablaze; Malar cultists have pillaged everything. A wolf-beast stalks about the fires, destroying everything it crosses.
  • Malar cultists (4): THAC0 19; AC 16 (hide); HD 1+1 (hp 11, 10, 6, 5); #AT 3/2 (spiked flail); Dmg 1d6+1, armed with flaming torches
  • Korvich (Malar Clr3, NE, many scars, Zeb’s mentor): THAC0 18, AC 16 (hide); HD 3 (17 hp); #AT 1 (cudgel); Dmg 1d6+1
    • Spells: cause light wounds, cure light wounds (2), command, invisibility to animals, charm person or mammal, hold person
  • Carcerus, “The Black Devil” (wolfwere, CE): THAC0 15, AC 3; HD 5+1 (20 hp); #AT 2 (bite, wpn); Dmg 2d6, 1d8+1 (axe +1); iron or +1 weapons to hit; MV 15, MR 10%, XP 2,000; Int 16; 1 round to transform
Smoke envelops the party. If Zeb admits his allegiance, Tussugar and the woodsman turn on him. The smoke clears, revealing the ashen husks of cottages, whose remains smell only faintly of fire. In physical terms, a year or more has passed.

The sound of large forms shuffling around them awaken the party’s senses. The remaining cultists flee into the night.

A lone trail stretches to the east. In all other directions, the hills are forlorn.

Of particular note is the final sentence, “A lone trail stretches to the east. In all other directions, the hills are forlorn.” At this point, I still had an idea of potentially taking the campaign into Ravenloft, and the end of this session was going to be where that happened. As mentioned recently, despite wanting to keep this an open-ended campaign at most junctures, there have been points where I've executed a linear path to achieve a specific atmosphere. It's not been the easiest line to walk, though I think the results have overall been positive.

In the end, Ravenloft was obviously eschewed for staying in Forgotten Realms, while still incorporating Gothic elements for a “not quite traditional D&D” feel. But, prior to that decision, I'd drawn up an alternate path to follow the razing of Shadfeld, wherein the PCs would still meet a bound prisoner along the trail east, but in a much different context, one that would embark the party on a path into the Demiplane of Dread. I don't really want to get into more details than that, but it was something I'd not thought about for a year and felt like sharing...

(By the way, Sean is the one to thank for me not taking the campaign that direction. I knew Jason wanted Ravenloft, but I was fairly sure Sean didn't, and I was unwilling to go down a path that one player may really have not enjoyed.)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

#21 (Part Two): Parting the Veil

Our business in Griffon’s Nest concluded and our escort arranged, we depart before our welcome is overstayed.  Our journey back to the plains is uncontested, the corpse of the hill giant slain days before mostly undisturbed—the second giant is nowhere to be seen.  We are escorted back to the skull, and we camp in the shadow of the hills beyond, our last night spent in silence with the warriors of the Anaithnid.

The following morning, Audric, Selben and I summon mounts to expedite our travel across the plains.  Keeping the hills to our side, we ride west into the cold wind, occasional gusts and the first snowfalls obscuring our vision and complicating our journey.  We knew winter to be an imminent threat, and the desolate tundra provides no cover and little in the way of deadfall to create a fire.  The first night is cold, uncomfortable and our rest fitful, but we are not disturbed, and the next day Audric calls upon Mystra to insulate us against the weather with a blessing.

The second day of travel provides a break in the weather, a welcome relief.  Thanks to the expertise of Wyardt, we manage to find the road without trouble.  We ride out our conjured mounts towards Longsaddle, glad to be back in known territory, and early in the next day we arrive there safely.

We decide to settle in and wait for Malchor’s return, who is not yet due until the new year.  Wyardt has expressed a desire to eventually return to Xantharl’s Keep, Bonie seems satisfied to remain in our company, so we purchase rooms for all for the week, and pass our time in various ways.  We spend a little time researching the reversal of petrification at the Ivy Mansion, and after a few days of rest, we receive a summons via Cartisan to meet at noon the next day, with the intriguing side note to “be ready, body and mind.” 

The next morning, Audric and I depart.  Longsaddle seems to be in preparation for the new year, which is to be called “The Year of the Harp.”  As such, the streets and rows are adorned with harps both mundane and magical.  Though we had meant to confront Malchor alone, Selben and Bonie (each in their own way) express their desire to accompany us.  With no reason to deny such faithful companions, we agree, and together we approach the Ivy Mansion to learn what awaits us.  Cartisan casts an inquiring look at Bonie, but upon being informed that to “have a problem with her is to have a problem with us,” we are escorted into the depths of the mansion.

This time, we are taken deeper than we had been allowed previously, eventually ascending a tower with windows that look out over the hamlet.  Malchor presents the ring, explaining that he has pored over tomes for nearly a month, utilizing resources mundane and arcane to divine its purpose.  “I have learned a great deal, but also very little at the same time…but what I do know troubles me.”

He believes that the ring was forged somewhere in the Spine of the World, home to tribes of orcs and the deep homes of dwarves.  He thinks it the creation of a venerable archmagi but refuses to share his speculations on the matter.  Instead, he explains that he is confident that it was imbued with the power and possibly even the spirit of its creator—who sought to use it permeate the Mystran “veil.”

The veil, he explains, is the “eye through which we experience and study the essence of Mystra, magic.”  To explain the meaning, he draws a sketch, illustrating a wizard with outstretched hands, standing before a portal.  “This is the veil—as warlocks, we leverage the Weave to communicate with Mystra.  If you were to remove the veil, you would be all-knowing, you would see all realities at once.”

“Could this destroy the Weave?” Audric asks.  Malchor shrugs, unsure how to answer.  “To part the veil is to see the world through Mystra’s eyes, to wield her power.  This ring may be the key to such power.”

“In Shadfeld, you experienced a distortion.”  He explains that the Kezia we met could not possibly have existed in that reality, which also explains in small part the temporal phenomena of the destruction of the village.  “It’s fitting that one of the Mystran faith be the one to exorcise this power, and I have a great deal to ask of you.”  Gravely, he asks if Audric is willing to help him.  The warrior replies solemnly, “My life’s work is making sure artifacts like this don’t fall into the wrong hands, I’m willing to give my life to pursue this task.”

Taking our hands, Malchor escorts us to a table on which sits a large mortar and pestle.  Inside is a fine red powder, and he explains he’s going to cast incantation that may take a few minutes, one that exceeds by great measure my own ability to comprehend such magic.  He asks the four of us permission to “bestow Mystra’s protection upon us for safety.”  When confronted about any possible conflicts with my faith in Malar, he shrugs, believing it to be inconsequential.

Reaching into the pestle, he coats his fingers with the red paste, and begins to paint my face with it.  Malchor takes several minutes, marking Selben, Bonie and Audric in turn, though does not mark himself, claiming that he cannot participate for the ritual to function properly.  He gestures for us to spread out in the chamber, handing Audric the ring, asking him to don it.  The Mystran warrior consents.  At Malchor’s instruction, Audric withdraws his magical axe.  Malchor withdraws a longsword and wields it awkwardly, explaining that he and Audric must confront one another in battle, Audric wielding the power of the ring.  Malchor asks us not to intervene except to protect Audric, no matter what fate befalls Malchor himself, and we nod agreement.

Malchor launches an attack, clearly not holding back, but Audric sidesteps the strike and slaps it aside with his axe.  Audric’s return strike hits, but the force behind the blade itself pales when compared to the magical force released by the ring.  A swarm of bats appears above Malchor, attacking him.  Malchor steps out of the swarm and swings wildly, striking Audric and drawing blood, and Mystra’s chosen returns the favor.  This time, a stone wall emerges in the center of the chamber, separating Audric from Malchor, who races around the edge of the wall, attacking again.

Malchor seems to have a death wish, drawing another thin line of blood across Audric’s torso.  Blows are exchanged and parried, Audric eventually coming out ahead.  Magic bleeds from the axe but its effect this time isn’t obvious—Malchor swings again, crazed, missing Audric, who is forced to defend himself.  As the axe is pulled out of the wound, a ghostly hand materializes in front of Audric.   The hand obeys Audric’s command, bolstering the strike, then suddenly the room erupts in a gust of wind, forming a swirling cyclone.  Bonie is picked up and slammed against the wall, blood flowing from cuts on her head.  While Malchor and Audric continue their melee, I rush to Bonie’s side, but can’t get there before she is picked up by the tornado again and crushed against another wall, this time causing her to collapse in a heap.

Malchor mutters an incantation that seems to dispel the cyclone, and I administer healing to Bonie, forced to choose between protecting her against the foolishness of this display of reckless magic with my own, or intervening to put a stop to Malchor’s madness.  I stabilize her, bringing her back from unconsciousness.  Malchor’s warning, to be strong of mind and body, is the only thing preventing me from outright murdering the wizard. 

Fortunately, Audric is there to complete the task.  His blade bites deep into Malchor’s shoulder, a killing strike, and our world erupts in a storm of thoughts, a psionic assault of unknown origin.  Suddenly, we experience an overwhelming sense of weightlessness, followed by a crushing pain, as if we have fallen from a great distance.  Though we have not moved at all, the sensation and the accompanying pain seems very real.  When we finally come to, Bonie is barely conscious.  Selben seems shaken but coherent, and Malchor is absent, as is the conjured wall of stone.  There are no signs of blood, no sign of Malchor’s death, no other sign that the encounter took place at all, except for the ring, which still rests on Audric’s finger.

Audric halts our exit from the room, though I’m nearly furious.  Having been reminded that this was part of our agreement, I give him a moment to explain.  The ring, it seems, has lost its magic.  Looking out the windows, we recognize that it’s now darkening outside, and that fires are burning.  The harp decorations are absent, and the beating of drums overwhelms our senses.  At the end of his patience, I explain that we need to leave this chamber, leave the mansion, and once outside, we see people, and decide to investigate.  The decorations for the coming year, the harps, are again absent.

We traverse the road, disoriented, to the inn and find it different than before.  “The Red Rose” is inscribed upon the door, and entering we see inebriated patrons.   The layout of the interior is different, the former innkeeper and servants aren’t anyone that we recognize, and Audric steps forth to inquire of Alastra.  The man is clearly drunk, and answers that he has no idea what Audric is talking about, pointing out our red face paint.  “What is the occasion, why the celebration?” Audric asks.  “Hail the Year of the Raging Flame!” he shouts, to a chorus of cheers from all those gathered.

Audric decides to return to the Ivy Mansion before I start stabbing people, clearly feeling backed into a corner by the sudden change of environments.  Were it not for Bonie and the presence of Selben, it likely would have happened already.  Our way is barred, however, by armed guards, and at mention of Malchor, the guards take us for drunk revelers, informing us that “Master Brehan isn’t taking guests right now.”

Pressing the guards about the current year, feigning drunkenness, their answer is shocking.  “The Year of the Raging Flame will be upon us in only a few hours,” one guard explains.  When pressed about the numeric year, they sigh.  “Twelve-hundred and fifty-five,” they spit back, and my spirit crumbles.  That’s 100 years in the past!

Assaulted by the sudden and unforeseen distortion of time, we retreat to The Red Rose seeking rooms, a place to gather our wits and start to lay out a plan.  On the eve of a new year, however, the inn is unsurprisingly full, and we are forced to overpay for a place in the stable, as the innkeeper clearly thinks that we are drunk and desperate.  Unfortunately, only one such word describes our current plight, so we pay the coin and take sanctuary among the beasts of burden, our attitudes reflecting the miserable state of our accommodations.

#21 (Part One): Deliverance

With the Lurkwood behind us, unknown hills ahead, and open plains to either side, we make our preparations to seek out Griffon’s Nest.  Heeding Omgrath’s advice regarding the terrain and its inhabitants, we survey the serene landscape and decide which direction to attempt first.  Knowing that Griffon’s Nest lies somewhere to the south, but not sure whether it’s more to the east or west, we trek to the hills to see what we discover.

With the open plains ahead, Bonie and Elseba can cover a lot of ground and hopefully protect the group against any threats while we’re vulnerable.  We work out a few signs—caution, flee, come, and another for ready defense—and cautiously push ahead.  Several hours pass and the hills draw close.  Not wanting to risk the hills in the dark or potentially miss any signs, we decide to camp, creating a bonfire and setting watches.

In the middle of the night, we are awakened by sounds to the south, animal growls and cries, almost as if an animal is being slaughtered.  With no discernible threat, we sleep through the disturbance, and awaken in the morning.  After some deliberation, Bonie, Selben, Nazag and I head to the hills to find a vantage point—given the option of sacrificing time to get our bearings or leaving it to chance, we decide that any knowledge is worth the risk.  

We choose a hill and summit it easily, peering onto the horizon in both directions.  To the very extent of our vision to the east, we see signs of a river—to the west, nothing.  Though Nazag doesn’t have any knowledge to impart one way or another, we decide that the river is the correct decision, and return to the camp.

The river flows to the north, its origin somewhere in the hills.  The water is frigid, the river nearly 50 feet across.  Though it doesn’t flow rapidly, none of us relish the idea of crossing, so we stick to the river bank and begin our trek into the hills.  After some time, we come to an obvious crossing, and send Wyardt and Nazag to investigate the ford to look for prints or any other sign of creature passage.  They find humanoid footprints, as well as a disembodied stag’s head impaled on a pole at the far bank.  The tribesmen seem interested in investigating it to see if the origin is Anaithnid, and they attempt a crossing.

Nazag and Omgrath communicate across the river, apparently concluding that the far bank is the safer route—trusting in the tribe’s instinct, we make what preparations we can and assist the tribe’s crossing.  In the stag’s mouth, Nazag shows us a single white flower—what significance this has we’re not sure, but the tribe seems cautious but optimistic.  After a few minutes, and after the rest of the tribe has had a chance to investigate the signal, they begin a low chant, their spirits high—and we settle on the conclusion that we have made the right decision.

We press into the late afternoon, navigating the trail carefully.  There are a few dangerous ascents and ridges, but nothing to bar our passage, and as the sun sets we begin to search for a campsite.  We decide on a high ridge with good visibility to camp and begin our preparations.  Malar is with us this night as well, and we awaken well rested and ready for the journey ahead.

Our group travels into the late morning, and we reach a subtle but extended incline of a couple hundred yards.  In the distance, perhaps 100 yards, we see the rock wall begin to…move…and realize that there is a creature ahead.  More than twice the height of a man, it’s obvious that it has seen us, and it stoops to gather up large piles of rubble.

The tribesmen and Wyardt loose a volley of arrows, with one of them finding purchase.  It seems little more than a distraction, however, and it launches a boulder as Bonie fires an arrow of her own.  As Audric and I prepare spells, a boulder comes crashing into our midst and strikes Nurué.  No time can be spared for her as the tribe roars in opposition to the creature.  Some of the noncombatants rush to her aid against Selben’s cries to keep to cover—meanwhile, the archers loose more volleys.

As Audric begins to summon creatures to aid in our assault, I rush forward to draw its attention from the tribe.  I succeed in that much, at least, as a boulder crashes into me, nearly staggering me and disintegrating the magical defense provided by Audric.  Fortunately, my friend is not idle, as a gang of furious hobgoblins answer Mystra’s call and materialize around me.  Meanwhile, the archers are taking a deadly toll on the giant.

I take cover behind Audric’s conjurations as yet another volley of arrows flies overhead, and as I pass through the hobgoblins they begin to charge the giant.  One of the hobgoblins is brutalized by a boulder, and they meet the creature in a terrible melee.  The hobgoblins strike minor wounds against the giant while it works its way through the fearless creatures, annihilating one of them.  Audric tends to Nurué, saving her from death—as the battle rages more arrows fly, until the giant is finally felled by an arrow from Omgrath.

Before we have a chance to celebrate, however, Audric sends the hobgoblins ahead; almost immediately, they encounter something—or something encounters them—but we have little time to determine the nature of that encounter before we spot another giant, this one crossing the river towards us.  I pick up Nurué, and with Selben’s help, start to usher the noncombatants up the ascent and away from the second giant.

Ahead, we see three men brandishing arms, one of them with red hair that towers above the tallest among us…Kezia’s brother???  Before we have a chance to communicate, another boulder is launched at our group, this time striking Bonie in the shoulder.  In a testament to her strength it does not stagger her, and instead of taking cover she stands and looses an arrow at the giant, striking it in retaliation.  Another boulder strikes her before she can retreat, this one nearly driving her to her knees.

The red-haired warrior picks up Nurué as I gently place her upon the ground, Audric and I readying spells and arrows in Bonie’s defense.  She and Wyardt finally reach the top of the rise and we usher them ahead to safety, Selben and I bringing up the rear.  I owe a sacrifice to the Beastlord, for as we retreat a final boulder is hurled towards us, this one striking me—but only a glancing blow. 

After a few tense minutes of retreat, we eventually stop and take stock of the situation.  Eyadrin—the apparent leader, now confirmed to be Kezia’s brother, is informed that we left no one behind.  He seems shocked that our numbers are so low, and when informed of Kezia’s death by Omgrath and Nazag, he goes into a blind rage, striking at a wall of stone with his great two-handed sword.  He eventually calms, and after more explanation of the tribe’s situation, we even catch a glimmer of approval at mention of Crahdorn’s slaying.  Later, he stops to explain, “I am Eyadrin, brother of Kezia.  I know little of you yet, but from what little these men have told me, you are to be trusted and I owe you my gratitude.” 

We take an awkward moment to discuss transition of leadership of the tribe back to Eyadrin, and the warrior stops, unsheathing his sword.  “There is only one way.”  There’s a tense moment while I consider the ramifications of our decision to murder Crahdorn, but fortunately Eyadrin smiles, dissolving the tension.  “I will take over leadership of the tribe,” he says with an approving grin.

“Good,” I mutter, “because I was about to slit your throat.”  My humor is not ill spent, and it seems like Eyadrin is a man that I could soon call friend.  We are escorted into Griffon’s Nest, the tribe filtering seamlessly once again into their people, and for the first time in several hard days of travel, we are at peace.

Planning to spend a few days with the tribe recuperating and preparing for our departure, we spend a little time getting to know the residents of Griffon’s Nest.  Eventually we track down Eyadrin and discuss a few matters of business.  With no apparent need for them, I gift the salves from Yishma to Eyadrin and the tribe, in the case that the rotting disease rears its head again. 

Cautiously, I broach the subject of mortem disfidare with Eyadrin, asking if any other of the tribe share her gift.  The siblings share only one parent, their father, having grown up in Grunwald until adolescence—when their father died, superstitious barbarians tried to kill Kezia, as she had become associated with the idea of soul transference.  Kezia and Eyadrin aren’t native to the Anaithnid tribe; he ascended to its leadership by strength of arms and personality.

Eyadrin doesn’t share Kezia’s gift, and doesn’t know much about her extended family, which puts my search for more meaning behind the reading, the encounter with the original Kezia, or any of the Anaithnid Kezia’s curious comments to rest.  Our time with the Anaithnid, and our involvement with matters of the tribe, is now finished.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Death's door for NPCs and monsters

I posted a poll here on this topic after we discussed it following the last session, if anyone's interested in reading the responses.

For context, here's the official text of the [optional] 2e rule for “hovering on death's door” (DMG p. 75):

You may find that your campaign has become particularly deadly. Too many player characters are dying. If this happens, you may want to allow characters to survive for short periods of time even after their hit points reach or drop below 0.
When this rule is in use, a character can remain alive until his hit points reach -10. However, as soon as the character reaches 0 hit points, he falls to the ground unconscious.
Thereafter, he automatically loses one hit point each round. His survival from this point on depends on the quick thinking of his companions. If they reach the character before his hit points reach -10 and spend at least one round tending to his wounds (stanching the flow of blood, etc.), the character does not die immediately.
If the only action is to bind his wounds, the injured character no longer loses one hit point each round, but neither does he gain any. He remains unconscious and vulnerable to damage from further attacks.
If a cure spell of some type is cast upon him, the character is immediately restored to 1 hit point--no more. Further cures do the character no good until he has had at least one day of rest. Until such time, he is weak and feeble, unable to fight and barely able to move. He must stop and rest often, can't cast spells (the shock of near death has wiped them from his mind), and is generally confused and feverish. He is able to move and can hold somewhat disjointed conversations, and that's it.
If a heal spell is cast on the character, his hit points are restored as per the spell, and he has full vitality and wits. Any spells he may have known are still wiped from his memory, however. (Even this powerful spell does not negate the shock of the experience.)

Friday, March 15, 2019


By all reasonable accounts, Zeb probably should be dead. It wasn't a miracle of the dice that stayed him, but weak judgment on my part. At the last minute (after a failed save had been rolled), I called into question whether a blinded dragon could reliably direct its breath weapon at unseen opponents, even with their last known location unchanged. In the moment, I decided this was too contentious to stake a character's life on, so I allowed Zeb to avoid the cloud, even though the full breath weapon damage would have killed him instantly. Erring on the side of the PCs isn't the worst thing in the world, but I probably leaned too far this time. Zeb can rightly acknowledge this as Malar having spared his meager life.

In light of the above, I've given much thought to the prospect of characters dying and what a tragic event like the loss of Zeb would mean for the campaign. If I felt like allowing a PC to die would spell the end of the game, that would severely burden my judgment when it comes to adjudicating deadly situations.

Fortunately, I think we're all on the same page that the campaign can continue, even under the most dire of circumstances. For the benefit of everyone, here are some points to live by going forward. This is effectively a charter as to my long-term vision for the game.

  • If a PC dies based on dice rolls, I'm not going to intervene. It's hard, as DM, not to pull strings at times, but doing so deprives the players of a fairly run game and the experience of overcoming the death of a character.

  • I don't expect (nor should anyone else expect) the campaign to end if a character gets killed. Obviously a TPK may result in a break in continuity at the very least, but either way, life in the game world goes on, just like in the real world. I see our campaign as being greater than any individual character; there's no critical plot artery that hinges on the survival of Zeb, Audric, or anyone else. We're full-on Game of Thrones, here.

  • A player can either create a new character to replace a perished (or retired) one, or elect to take on a henchman as a full-fledged PC. New characters begin with the same starting XP as the original PCs and are expected to advance in level through play. This may mean that a new PC needs to be shielded from harm at times by the rest of the party in order to stay alive.

  • Despite entering the game at a lower XP total, a new PC can normalize in level over time thanks to the AD&D experience tables. For example, a 1st-level, 0 XP Fighter and a 5th-level, 16,000 XP Fighter will both be 6th level, 40,000 XP later. (It's also reasonable to expect that a low-level PC will advance more quickly in a high-level party, since the party's XP awards will naturally be larger.)

  • In the meantime, it's possible that other, established PCs will die/retire, or new players/henchmen cycle into the game. The original “new PC” may become a veteran before long.

  • Under this system, the total power level of the party is likely to fluctuate over time. Many of us are used to games where the party only ascends in level and ability as the game progresses, up until the point that everyone retires and the campaign ends. In my model, we could look back six months from now and recognize this point in time as the peak power level of the campaign. This allows for organic continuity across years of gaming, with the ability to re-experience the early and mid levels again and again. A high-level character that sustains through it all is truly something to be valued.

I could probably write a book on this stuff, but these feel like the most important points, so I'll leave it here for now. Happy to discuss further in the comments.

#20: By the Skin of Their Teeth

With Wyardt due to meet us in Grunwald, we depart Longsaddle with the knowledge that we’ll arrive a day or two in advance of our guide, assuming safe travels.  Though the tribe has expressed no love for the folk of Grunwald, we’d rather arrive early than potentially miss our window to meet Wyardt should something happen.  Oreiron consents to accompany us to Grunwald, if no further—he has business in Mirabar.

Oreiron is hungover and costs us the better part of an hour in delays, but we eventually depart back north along the road heading towards Grunwald.  The skies are grey, the air cold—a herald of wintry weather to come.  After some time, we discover that we were followed out of Longsaddle by a horse-drawn wagon, which clops towards us from the south.  Its riders are three men, and the wagon appears laden with supplies.  We decide to make way for them, and besides a cordial greeting, they depart with no other words, and they eventually disappear in the hills to the north.  The rest of the day’s travel is uneventful.

Oreiron explains that Grunwald can be wary of outsiders, and with it being in the Lurkwood and somewhat difficult to find, we decide to camp for the night.  The watches are uneventful, serene and cold, and we awaken the next morning refreshed and ready to head into Grunwald.  In the daylight, Oreiron easily guides us on the right path, and before highsun, we arrive.

The village is completely surrounded by forest, its homes resembling mounds or barrows constructed of large stones, covered in mud, the larger part of each residence resting below ground.  Thin plumes of smoke rise from chimneys atop the mounds.  Open fires are visible in front of many of the residences, and we see villagers walking about.  We spot the wagon that passed us the previous day.  Based on the warnings of Oreiron, the tribe’s admitted distaste for the folk of Grunwald, and the looks our ragtag band gets from the villagers we’ve encountered thus far, we decide to have the Anaithnid camp outside the village with Selben while we investigate.

The folk of Grunwald are barbaric, for lack of a better word, their languages a mix of various local dialects interspersed with the common tongue.  We assume, and Oreiron confirms, that the leader of the village is usually a warrior chieftain, though he doesn’t know who the specific leader is at present.  Fortunately, we don’t have to investigate long before we find Wyardt, who greets us in good spirits, having arrived yesterday.  Oreiron chooses to part ways, and we head back to the tribe camp.

Wyardt intended on arriving early, having come to the realization that it wouldn’t be easy for our group to find much comfort in Grunwald.  He also came into possession of a trail map of the area, having purchased it off a down-and-out local trapper, and lays out the next couple legs of the journey.  He anticipates two days of travel through the Lurkwood, then another day in the rocky hills and wilderness leading to Griffon’s Nest.  The map only covers the Lurkwood paths, however, so Wyardt says we must rely upon signs of other travelers and perhaps the guidance of the tribe to find Griffon’s Nest itself.

Imaginations run wild...
There is, however, an issue.  The trapper that Wyardt encountered explained that the hunting around Grunwald is currently suffering from the predations of some other creature or band of creatures.  Deer, bugbears, and even large animals such as bears have been found mauled in the wood, which seems to indicate the presence of some manner of apex predator.  The locals have personified it as a demon and refer to the predator as “Niohoggr.”

Audric asks if the flayed men we found in the woods outside Xantharl’s Keep might be related to this demon, and Wyardt doesn’t think so.  He spoke with Helder after our departure, who seemed to think that a barbarian from Grunwald may have done the deed, placing the flayed men as a sign of some settled dispute.

Revelation of the violent nature of the folk of Grunwald leads us to the decision to leave immediately and seek to put some time between us and the village.  There is risk of whatever the mysterious predator may be, but we decide to take that possible risk against the seemingly probably risk faced by staying too close to Grunwald and its barbarians.

We depart in the afternoon, hoping to strike upon a trail and put a few hours distance between us and the village before breaking for camp.  Wyardt’s map proves to be extremely helpful, which is fortunate as darkness begins to set in rather early in the day.  We don’t encounter any signs of threat, so find the most defensible place to set up a camp.  We find a small hill topped with trees and set a bonfire with several large branches that can be used as torches or burning brands.  We set watches, but the night passes uneventfully.  Before breaking camp, I make a quick scout of the camp perimeter for signs of anything, but find nothing.

With a difficult day of travel through the Lurkwood ahead of us, we prepare hastily and depart.  Not long into the morning, we see signs of a large, furry and very dead creature in the woods ahead, and I veer off from the group to investigate.  It appears to have been a bear, perhaps even a feral breed of dire bear, but it’s difficult to judge as the creature has had its upper body removed.  There are signs of blood around the slaughter, but oddly no tracks or anything else that stands out.  It’s as if there was not a struggle at all, as if something deposited the carcass in the wood from the sky.  We leave in haste, not wanting to encounter whatever it was that killed the beast.

The terrain begins to become difficult the further out from Grunwald we travel, as the lands turn truly wild.  Fortunately, the fallen leaves provide good visibility, and combined with the map and Wyardt’s efforts, we seem to have a good hold on our bearings.  While scrambling down a ravine, we hear the sounds of crashing trees in the woods nearby.  We decide to continue into the lowlands as quickly and quietly as possible, hoping that we can avoid any encounter, when suddenly the sky darkens as if a cloud passed quickly over the sun.  My fears about a predator in the sky, while not yet confirmed, force us to the cover of trees.  There are several loud crashes from the wood behind us, and we quake in terror as an extremely large winged reptile, perhaps 50 to 60 feet in length, hammers through the trees.  Niohoggr is upon us!

With defense in mind, my first instinct is to summon a cloud of fog between us and the creature, in the hopes that it will pass us by.  Unfortunately, it is faster than I give it credit for, and while the fog does seem to help, it is in our midst before I’m able to ready any other defenses.  Its body, huge and covered in emerald green scales, lunges into the sky, where it turns and begins to dive towards us.

Before making perhaps one of the rashest decisions of my career, I command Selben to gather Wyardt and the Anaithnid, and run.  There is no time to discuss a plan, and I draw upon the powers of Malar to taunt the mighty Niohoggr, in the hopes that it will focus on me and allow the others to escape.  As I cast, I step into the fog, hoping to draw it in.  The dragon swoops towards me, clawing at Audric as it passes, but fortunately the warrior is able to dodge out of harm’s way.  Niohoggr dives into the fog and attacks, its maw wrapping around my shoulder, teeth tearing at muscle and rending flesh.  Whether I’m thrown or it drops me, I’m tossed several yards away into the fog.

Audric brings his own magic to bear, summoning forth a glimmering cloud to blind the creature, and it launches itself into the sky once again.  The dragon shakes its head back and forth as if trying to shake off the effects, turning towards us to spew forth a stream of toxic gas.  Effectively blinded, its breath weapon misses us both—the gods must have been looking upon us then, for to be caught in its path would surely have meant death.

I begin to layer on protective magics as Audric summons a band of goblins, intending to use the creatures as a distraction to provide a chance to escape.  Turning our backs to the great creature, we run after the others, leaving the goblins to leap and howl to distract Niohoggr’s attention.  In another turn of good luck, we catch up with the group, take a minute to catch our breath, then continue on as hastily and quietly as possible, hoping the distraction worked. 

We don’t get far, however, before we see the shadow overhead again, and it disappears into the clouds ahead of us.  I summon a ward to prevent the attack that I know is coming, hoping to protect us, but the dragon dives in again and ravages Omgrath, sweeping him aside.  Niohoggr mauls Audric, its great maw closing over his torso, nearly rending and crushing the life from Mystra’s warrior.  Somehow, both Omgrath and Audric survive.

With few other resources at our disposal to assault such a threat, Audric & I throw our magical beads at the creature, each of us with a prayer to our respective gods upon our lips.  Malar was listening this day, as was Mystra, and both of our beads strike the creature, exploding in flame and driving it off back into the sky.  Flight is our only hope, and we flee onto the path ahead, scanning the skies for any sign of Niohoggr’s shadow.

A few hours pass without incident, and we stumble upon a cave.  We decide that having cover, such that we can have a fire not visible from overhead, outweighs the time lost, so we decide to camp for the night and tend our various wounds.  The night passes in near silence, as if no one is quite willing to speak about the encounter with Niohoggr just yet, and while we find little rest, the night passes without any further encounter.

Pressing on in the morning, we emerge from the Lurkwood and into the plains beyond, knowing that we have another day or two of travel to Griffon’s Nest through open tundra, then rocky hills.  As Wyardt’s map no longer of any use, we scan the plains for landmarks, hoping that the Anaithnid can help guide us through this part of the journey.