Screams in Store

BACKGROUND:

Sir Garrett and his retinue have traveled through the northern wilderness called Northumbria, seeking the Winchester family estate that was lost a few generations earlier. After a brief stop at the tiny village of Lakesend and nearby Blackwater Keep, Sir Garrett offered his services to Lord Blackwater. Blackwater Keep was preparing for a goblyn siege so the garrison could not spare any men when the local guildsmen needed aid. It seems that they just lost all contact with the staff of their dry dock facility, located on a large island in Blackwater Lake. The PCs rowed to Wycliffe Island, crossed the island on foot, and finally came to the dry dock facility, which seemed abandoned. After some searching, they found many charred corpses and many tiny tracks of some kind. The PCs had never faced goblyns before, and their knowledge was limited to rumors (such as you might find in the Monster Manual). While looking around the dry dock compound, the PC thief slipped into one of the warehouse to investigate. The rest then heard screams from that direction. The following session began with everyone running toward the warehouse door.

FROM THE DM:

In this new campaign, we were seeking to recapture the nostalgia of AD&D (some hadn’t played in decades). Yet, I wanted to make the experience fresh as well. I decided to put a twist on regular goblins, making them as terrifying as possible. I made them less civilized—more like large gremlins. Taking some ideas from popular movies, I lured the PCs onto a terrible battlefield and then ambushed them. I tried to make the battlefield and the battle itself dynamic. I littered a three-dimensional battlefield with breakable objects and pitfalls. I also decided that the goblyns would try to trap the PCs inside and then set fire to the warehouse. Once the battle erupted, I put on some frenetic music for atmosphere and kept play moving quickly. The result was dramatic. The audio was “Race Against the Sunset” by Wojcieck Kilar from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). A link is here if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuB__U3bEUY

CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Sir Garrett of Winchester: Paladin, Head of House Winchester
Lady Alinachka: Magic user, Garrett’s widowed sister-in-law
Brother Rolf: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, Garrett’s younger brother
Cousin Modrak: Thief, Garrett’s distant cousin
Odo: Fighter, Garrett’s friend, ward of the Winchester family
Maggie: Fighter, Odo’s sister, ward of the Winchester family
Master Magnus: Illusionist, Garrett’s butler/steward
Yeoman Guilliman: Ranger, longtime servant of the family
Master Gimlet: Fighter, dwarven friend to Sir Garrett
Hugh the Porter: NPC, hireling to the party
Miles the Minstrel: NPC, bard who is seeking stories to tell

NARRATIVE:

Jogging toward the warehouse door, drawing their weapons as they ran, the party prepared to meet some horrible onrush of bandits or brigands. Much to their surprise, Modrak literally leaped out of the yawning doorway, breathing hard with his dagger drawn. The vanguard nearly collided with him as he flew from the entrance. Some of them drew up immediately, halting the advance. Others, sensing danger behind him, drove past him and slammed shut the reinforced oaken door. It closed with a thud.

All eyes turned to Modrak in tense anticipation. He gasped for air and doubled over. Finally, Sir Garrett barked, “What was it? Speak, cousin!”

In between gasps, Modrak murmured, “Lot of eyes. I saw a small misshapen head. It moved like a cat, blending with shadows. Hard to see. Sounds like rats.”

Seconds passed in silence, as Modrak breathed heavily. Odo could not contain himself, blurting out, “What? Make sense, man!”

Master Gimlet chimed in, “Did you see anything clearly, lad? How many creatures were there? What exactly…”
Yeoman Guilliman interrupted, “Were they men or no?”

Having regained his breath, Modrak stood upright, motioning with his dagger, and said, “I do not think they were human, and that was no rat that I saw. Something foul is in there.”

Odo and Master Gimlet had their shoulders to the door, just in case, while Yeoman Guilliman and Maggie kept their eyes on surrounding buildings. Sir Garrett, however, fell silent, his head bowed in concentration. His right hand slowly rose, as if he were feeling for something beyond the door. After a moment’s pause, those watching him noticed that he tensed up and balled his fists—his telltale sign that a fight was imminent. He nodded to Odo and whispered, “Open it”. Master Gimlet readied his hammer, and Guilliman drew back the string of his bow. All braced themselves for an expected onrush.
The door swung open, revealing a yawning blackness inside the warehouse. A few barrels and crates were visible near the door, but nothing seemed amiss. The lord of House Winchester advanced slowly, his shield raised, his sword held temporarily in his left hand, and his right arm extended toward the door. Then the hairs stood up on the back of his neck, and a wave of foulness washed over his mind. He tensed, ground his teeth together, and muttered, “There we go.” His voice rose a bit as he announced to the others, “Wickedness lies beyond. Ready yourselves!”

In silence, the retinue stood in anticipation for several moments. Time seemed to stand still. Nothing. After what seemed like a lifetime, the knight beckoned his sister-in-law forward. “Alinachka”, he said, “Can you give me light?” She did not respond, but she turned and moved silently and swiftly to Heward the porter. She took a torch from his overloaded pack and handed it to Guilliman. The yeoman understood immediately and fished out his tinderbox. As he worked on creating a flame, she bowed her head and muttered to herself. Her strange mellifluous eastern accent often fascinated many members of the retinue, and this time was no different. Many alternated glances between the black doorway and the eccentric Lady Winchester. Just after Guilliman’s flame ignited the torch, he let go of it with some surprise, yet it did not fall to the ground. Instead if floated forward, held aloft by an arcane force of some kind. The retinue, prepared for battle, formed a semi-circle near the doorway. Still, nothing stirred.

Sir Garrett eventually pushed forward, telling his sister-in-law to follow him. Into the doorway he stepped, the glow of the floating torch illuminating a small area of crates and casks. He did notice that the floor was made not of packed earth, as he expected, but of wooden floorboards, some of which were damaged. A gaping hole in the floorboards, about the size of a small chest, lay about 10 feet from the door. Members of the retinue followed the knight, pushing awkwardly through the narrow confines of the warehouse. A scurrying sound off to the left caused them to stop suddenly.

The noise was heard again, and then again. It was more than a rustling. Something was definitely moving—something larger than a rat or a cat, but smaller than a man. The noise was a scraping or a scratching of some kind. Magnus then worked his special brand of arcana, stepping aside so that four well-armed knights of unknown origin could push to the front. As these knights, clad in Frangian-style plate harness, moved past Sir Garrett, the lord of House Winchester could not help but stare. Though he had seen Magnus do this many times before, it never lost its mystery. Watching carefully, he noticed that one knight’s armored leg went clear through a wooden pallet without making a sound. Hopefully the illusion would spring whatever trap had been laid in the darkness ahead.

Then all hell erupted (cue the music).

A wooden bucket smashed into Sir Garrett’s head, splintering on his helm. From the darkness, a small cask struck Odo in the right shoulder. A stack of wooden crates, four high, tipped over and crashed down near the doorway, blocking much of the entrance. Barrels, stacked two high, fell over and sealed off the only avenue of escape. Something small and hard struck Brother Rolf on the back, and wooden debris of some sort rained down on Maggie.

The retinue tensed in the darkness, covering up while whirling about to scan for hidden enemies. Some shouted in surprise. And then they came.

From behind crates and huge wooden casks, snarling and growling, small humanoid figures with rust-colored skin sprang at them like cats. Their eyes were lifeless and black, like those of a shark. Their heads were bald and wrinkled, their ears pointed and large, like those of a bat. Their mouths seemed oversized, filled with sharp and protruding fangs. They wore no noticeable clothes, and most wielded small curved swords of blackened iron, though at the time most of these details were obscured by the shadows and the blur of battle. Sir Garrett found himself surrounded, deflecting shots from all directions. Many blows fell upon his shield, but some deflected off his breastplate and helm. He swung with wild abandon to drive them back, but others hurled themselves at Master Gimlet and Odo. One jumped down from a stack of crates to slash repeatedly at Maggie. All throughout the warehouse, there was a whirlwind of frenzied activity. Shouts, snarls, curses, howls, and grunts all mixed with the clash of steel and the smashing of wood. The deep shadows caused by the torches now danced wildly with the frenetic movement.

Sir Garrett drove forward, cleaving through one of the foul creatures. He had trouble crushing the others, however, for the hideous things were terribly nimble, flitting about and blending into the flickering shadows. Meanwhile, the illusory Frangian knights pressed forward, shields raised high and swords thrusting at all before them. Odo stumbled over some debris on the floor and found himself savagely attacked by two of the creatures. Their cruel black blades struck home repeatedly, though his armor stopped some of the blows. Like Sir Garrett, Odo grew frustrated at their agility. His powerful blows, left and right, smashed wooden crates and tore burlap sacks asunder, but seldom did they strike home.
Guilliman pushed further into the warehouse, arrow nocked, looking desperately for targets. He loosed one arrow and then another. One shot knocked a scurrying creature clear off the top of a stack of crates. With great speed, he nocked another arrow and took aim at a creature above Maggie. The arrow never left the bow, for a curved iron blade drove deep into his left arm. Blood spurted forth as he howled in pain, but he dropped his bow and drew his dagger in one smooth move, slashing at the form to his left. An inhuman scream came from the darkness, and a black ichor, smelling of raw sewage, sprayed across Guilliman’s face.

As members in the rear pushed forward to be of some help to their fellows, further chaos erupted in the center of the warehouse. A sack of moldy grain, either struck or thrown, exploded overhead, producing a cloud of yellow dust that limited vision. Sir Garrett and Odo drew away, blinking repeatedly, but the dust was already in their eyes.
Sensing that the battle might spiral out of their control, Sir Garrett yelled to his companions, “Keep that door open. Clear a path!”

Despite the din of battle, his words carried. Outside, Hugh the porter and Modrak began to haul some crates and barrels away from the door. Miles the minstrel, stunned by the violence within and frozen with fear, looked on in horror.
Unable to see or to dispatch the foe before him, Odo threw himself forward, driving the small creature backwards and slamming it into a wall of crates. With the foul thing stunned for a second, he smashed his quillons into its face. Bone crunched, a black pudding-like ichor spurted forth, and the blackened blade fell from its limp hand. The victory came at a price though, for he found himself in the heart of the yellow dust cloud, inhaling mold and coughing uncontrollably. Stumbling backwards over debris and crates, he fought desperately for air. Just then, an arrow embedded itself in his right shoulder.

Brother Rolf was also struck in the side with a small arrow. He cried out in pain, staring amazed at the small shaft that protruded from his flesh. Guilliman, stumbling backwards and still slashing about himself with his dagger, felt fire race through his left thigh as a small arrow struck there. Nearby, Maggie grimaced as another creature sliced her unprotected forearm from behind a crate, causing blood to sheet down her arm.

To the right of the door, Master Gimlet laid about himself with fury, his hammer demolishing the crates nearest him. Still the foul creature slashed and thrust at him. To his horror, it then threw its blade aside and raced at him on all fours, springing at him and landing full upon his chest. Though wide-eyed, the dwarf reacted instinctively, dropping his hammer and grabbing the thing with both hands as it leapt. He held it aloft for a split second, just as another emerged from behind a giant barrel. Gimlet hurled the writhing creature into the one that had just appeared, bowling it over. Before they could recover, he snatched up his hammer and lunged forward, crushing one’s skull.

Nearer the entrance, Maggie also witnessed this new blood-triggered fury. The goblyn that sliced her arm now scrambled like an insect over the crates and clawed its way up her shoulder and onto her back, wrapping itself around her tightly and biting at her neck. She screamed and tried to throw it off. Its putrid breath washed over her face, making her retch, and only adrenaline kept her on her feet. Just then, the thing spun about with surprising force and toppled limply from her shoulders, crumpling to the ground with one of Guilliman’s goose-feathered arrows protruding from its neck. The yeoman had recovered his bow.

Not far from Sir Garrett, illusionary knights began to fade into the shadows. Presumably, the foul things had attacked some of them in vain and, one by one, had discovered their nature.

Gritting his teeth in pain, Brother Rolf snapped off the arrow embedded in his side. He prayed aloud to St. Cuthbert, asking the Saint to rain his blessings down upon the retinue. His prayer was cut short as a goblyn leaped from a barrel above and landed full upon his head and shoulders. Snarling and writhing, it clung to his body as it scratched and clawed at his face. He wrestled with it, trying in vain to throw it off. Much to his horror, another latched onto his right leg, biting savagely into his right greave, denting the armor and slicing through the leather strap. Then a third slashed at his back and latched onto his left leg. He cried out in fear, but divine inspiration came to him instantly. Craning his neck to the left to look at the thing on his shoulder, he screamed “Die! By the power of St. Cuthbert, I command you to die!” The foul thing fell off his shoulder like a dead weight, and his heart leaped with hope. This elation vanished as one of the creatures, still wrapped around his knees, sank its fangs into his left calf.

Yeoman Guilliman was backing up, trying in vain to find a vantage from which to loose his arrows. He shouted a warning to Sir Garrett, who was still keeping three at bay. Two others appeared above the knight, ready to pounce. One arrow leaped off the bowstring, then another. However, the yeoman’s attention was wrenched away when a heavy crate smashed right through the wooden floorboards beside him and into the cellar below, leaving a gaping hole. Worse, two arrows then embedded themselves into the floorboards near his feet. His glance shot upwards, where he spotted creatures scurrying along the thick rafters above. He cried out, “They’re above us! Archers on the rafters!” As he yelled this, he and the others first caught the heavy scent of oil or pitch.

Sir Garrett drove his longsword through the chest of the creature before him. Its weight hung heavy on his sword, but he drew it back quickly, causing the foul thing to slide off, leaving his blade black as tar. As he attacked the other two, another creature fell from above him and crashed to the floor near his feet, impaled by one of Guilliman’s arrows. The knight had no time to acknowledge the yeoman, but he cut down another with his blade. Only one remained, he thought, but at that moment another leapt upon him from above. While Sir Garrett tried to hurl the creature off of him, it tore savagely at his throat, slicing through the chain aventail on his helm. Ripping aside the mail, it then sank its fangs into the base of the knight’s neck, drenching his gambeson in scarlet. Wincing in pain, he drove his cross guard into its head repeatedly until the thing fell from his shoulders. Just one remained, slashing at him ferociously from the shadows. In his periphery, in stark contrast to the dark shadows, he noticed a bloom of bright orange flame in the rear of the warehouse.
As Sir Garrett gasped for air, he noted that they were entirely defensive, being attacked from all sides and from above. “Get out!” he yelled. “Everyone out! Move, move, move! This place is a death trap!” he shouted. Realizing that he was furthest into the warehouse and that his companions would likely stay inside to aid him, he began a fighting retreat toward the door. Still one goblyn remained, slashing at him incessantly as he withdrew. Unable to come to grips with the bloodstained knight, the creature finally dropped to all fours and lunged at him, clawing its way up his chest like a jungle cat. The paladin whirled about, trying to shake it loose to no avail. Realizing that he was now blocking the only escape path and that Rolf was now behind him, Sir Garrett lunged forward, smashing the vile thing into a line of giant casks and pinning it there. Not knowing how long he could keep it there, he shouted again, “Get out! Everyone out!”

Brother Rolf, who was thrashing wildly at the things attached to his legs, then lunged past his brother, hauling both creatures with him. As he passed, the knight delivered a powerful down stroke that sheared the arm off one of the howling things. Brother Rolf then broke free. Covered in black ichor, he dragged the remaining one toward the sunlit entrance with all his might, yelling repeatedly, “Die! Die! Die! I command you to die!”

Odo’s armor and surcoat were stained crimson and black, and dusted with moldy grain. Having finally reached the doorway after several missteps, he looked back to see Sir Garrett and Brother Rolf still inside. Smoke now clouded the upper portions of the warehouse, and some curled its way out of the door. The place was quickly going up in flames. Adrenaline coursing through his veins, the burly fighter plowed back inside and raced past both the struggling cleric and the knight to keep any more creatures from attacking their rear.

While beating the screaming goblyn against the oaken casks, Sir Garrett saw Odo race behind him, further into the warehouse. The knight did a double take. “What… What are you doing?” he yelled as he began choking the writhing creature. Readjusting his grip, he yelled again, “Get out! The other way! Get out! The roof will soon collapse!”

Odo shot a glance at the ceiling, but dense acrid smoke now filled the air. Dust and grime still marred his vision, and now the black smoke made it worse. The wooden rafters groaned, and bits of flaming debris began to fall. The knight was right. They had minutes or even seconds. He turned about and raced back past the knight.

Dodging debris and holes in the floorboards, Maggie managed to throw herself out of the doorway. There she joined Hugh and Modrak in clearing the last of the crates blocking the entrance. Miles finally snapped out of his paralysis and jumped to help them. Seeing that the minstrel was finally helping, Modrak grabbed his bow from the dirt, nocked an arrow, and poked his head back inside, looking to aid his kinsmen.

Master Gimlet clambered over some crates, making his way toward the doorway. Moradin’s Hammer! Climbing over this stuff is tougher for short folk, he thought grimly. As he came to a gaping hole, he stepped left to avoid it, but from the dark abyss shot the barbed tip of a blackened halberd, which stabbed him in the leg as he passed. The dwarf delivered a backstroke with his hammer, smashing through floorboards but missing the owner of the halberd. He staggered in pain. “They are beneath us! They crawl beneath the floorboards!” he yelled. As he shouted, a creature landed square upon his back, clawing and tearing at his face and beard. Gimlet’s reflexes were matched by his strength, for his hand released his hammer and snatched the thing’s forearm. He then yanked it hard, flipping the screaming thing and smashing it to the ground. He placed his right knee on its chest and punched it repeatedly with his steel gauntlet, smashing fangs and bone alike. A black pudding-like substance bubbled from the creatures broken face, staining the dwarf’s gauntlets and spattering his beard. Covered in foul-smelling goo, Master Gimlet then grabbed his hammer and lurched forward to reach the door. As he turned to find Sir Garrett, he noticed a pillar of orange flame, now roaring in the back of the warehouse. A cloud of thick smoke blanketed the interior of the warehouse, obscuring anything taller than a dwarf.

Gagging on the oily smoke, Rolf single-mindedly struggled toward the door, a goblyn still clinging to his leg and slashing at him with its claws. As he neared the sunlit portal, he stumbled into a hole in the floorboards. The force of his fall finally dislodged the creature on his legs. Brother Rolf saw it spring up, ready to leap upon him again, but a sword tip seemed to sprout from its chest. As the twitching creature slid from the blade, the form of Sir Garrett appeared above him, and he hauled the cleric to his feet. “Come on, little brother”. The knight pushed him out the door and then turned to see if all were out. Through the smoke came Master Gimlet, coughing and covered in black grime. Three goblyns appeared just behind him, halberds poised to strike. Maggie, Modrak, and Guilliman were ready. Bowstrings snapped, and all three creatures stopped abruptly or spun around violently with arrows lodged in their flesh. All of the retinue was out, and just in time, for the building was now a conflagration. Burning debris fell in large chunks, and the groaning of the roof grew worse. Finally, the charred roof caved in, and flaming beams fell sideways into the adjacent warehouse.

Most of the retinue gasped and choked, resting on one knee or on all fours. His heart pounding from adrenaline, Modrak circled the building to see if anything was emerging to strike at them again. He saw nothing. They had not rested a minute before Guilliman suggested that they find a more a defensible position. Coughing and fighting for air, Sir Garrett nodded in agreement. He finally gasped, “Make for the entrance to this compound… Archers on the ramparts… Hold the gap in the wall.” Helping each other, the group staggered across the compound. As they crossed the muddy field, Brother Rolf looked up at the overcast sky and realized that is was noticeably darker than it had been in the morning. “If only the sun would come out from behind those clouds”.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.