This is the debut article in a series of memorable and entertaining roleplaying sessions from the CGG membership. Michael Garcia kicks things off with a session from his Exploration of Isenwald campaign.
The party members are southerners that have traveled north for many weeks to foster a business relationship with their employer’s good friend. As a favor to the local baron, they went by horseback to inspect a silver mine. On the road, they stumbled upon a battle in the fog. Mysterious beast-men, whom locals called Eaters-of-the-Dead, were attacking dozens of pilgrims. The party rode to their rescue, and in the process made allies of the soldier-monks of Moragiel, who patrol the roads to protect pilgrims. After the battle, the party and the knights were escorting the pilgrims north to the royal fortress of Grenzenburg.
FROM THE DM:
This turned out to be an interesting session because it was different. The PCs were racing against time to rescue a wounded kidnapping victim. With daylight dying, they had to track the Eaters-of-the-Dead, catch up to them, and somehow save the victim. I designed the trail to end up high up in the hills, on a narrow rocky road that winds along a cliff face. After many dangerous skill checks, the Eaters-of-the-Dead had a small ambush for the would-be heroes. The rescue party was small because speed was important for the PCs. Thus, the dangers seemed greater than normal.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Diego de Vargas: Fighter and party leader
Simi Longblade: Fighter, Diego’s right-hand man
Fr. Terjon: Cleric of Jodon, Diego’s chaplain
Fr. Pepin: A local knight-commander of the Order of Moragiel
Fr. Frederick: A knight-brother of Moragiel
Fr. Adelar: A sergeant-brother of Moragiel
After an uneventful day and a half, the column stopped when a sergeant of the rearguard sounded an alarm horn. You learned that his partner in the rearguard, Fr. Adelar, was missing. His horse was riderless. His brother said that he saw him only two minutes ago, and he did not hear any great struggle.
Fr. Pepin, the knight commander of the soldier-monks, ordered the column to halt while sergeant-brothers doubled back to search for any trace of their comrade. After a few minutes, one discovered Fr. Adelar’s secondary weapon, a heavy mace. Some diligent searching also revealed two blood splatters, which indicated that he went off into the woods, or was taken there.
Pepin faced a serious dilemma—abandon a brother on the field and get to the safety of Grenzenburg, or leave the entire band of pilgrims in harm’s way while they searched for his body. Fr. Frederick, a tall Strakannian knight-brother commanding the rearguard, volunteered to search for Adelar on his own, for he had a hint of tracking ability and was the sergeant’s direct superior. He urged Pepin to take all the remaining brothers and the pilgrims north to Grenzenburg with all possible speed. The 40-year old veteran knight, with his thick accent, noted that Pepin would need all the remaining brothers if those beast-men, called Eaters-of-the-Dead by the pilgrims, attacked the column again. Pepin agreed.
Diego, Simi, and Terjon volunteered to go as well, and Fr. Frederick was happy for their company. Judging by the darkening slate-gray sky, Frederick guessed that they had three hours of light remaining. “When we lose the light, we lose the trail, and we will then have to assume that my brother is lost. Let us hurry!”
With Frederick and Terjon in the lead, the foursome rode into the thick wall of towering conifers. The lower branches stood some 9-10 feet off the ground, allowing the group to pass beneath them easily. A blanket of pine needles littered the ground, making tracking easier. However, rocky patches with little soil presented challenges, as did a light mist that wove its way through the trunks. After about 10 minutes, Terjon found the first of many clues—a footprint, not entirely human and not entirely animal. Over the course of two hours, they discovered additional footprints, blood splatter, a piece of ripped clothing, broken branches, and scuff marks on tree trunks. Though they were confident that they were gaining, the dark color of the blood indicated that Fr. Adelar’s wounds were serious. They eventually assumed that he was dead, until they discovered a spot where he must have been dropped on the ground for bit. There they found a simple symbol scratched into the dirt; it appeared to be the order’s coat of arms, hastily scrawled with a finger. Then they spotted something, above the tree line in the distance. The hills rose sharply, and the group spotted what appeared to be dark figures moving away from them on a rocky path, along the crest of a rising hill. The PCs mounted and galloped towards the figures with great haste. The terrain rose sharply, and soon they discovered a natural rocky path. On the left of the path was a steep cliff face going up the hillside. On the right was a sheer drop that eventually fell about 100 feet to the tree tops below.
A deep rumble from the path ahead caused all to rear up their mounts in anticipation. Then Diego spotted a cloud of rising dust, perhaps 30 yards down the path, hidden around a bend. Advancing cautiously, they found a large boulder, perhaps 4 feet high, and a great amount of rubble lying across the path. They quickly deduced that either there were more than two Eaters-of-the-Dead or that one had somehow climbed the cliff face and caused the landslide. Fr. Frederick spurred his mount and leaped the boulder smoothly. He asked whether the PCs needed help negotiating their mounts around the blockage, for one false step meant falling off the cliff to certain death. Simi, Terjon, and Diego refused, each spurring their mounts and leaping the boulder in turn. They continued to push onward, gaining on their adversaries.
Fr. Frederick spurred his horse into the lead, inadvertently kicking pebbles over the side. They drifted down to the treetops, some 100 feet below. As he turned a bend, his warhorse was struck with immense force by a humanoid figure that seemed to be covered in black fur. The horse screeched and reared, and then sprawled to the ground, effectively blocking the path. The brother-knight leaped from the saddle of the falling mount, but landed on the steep slope. Dust and gravel gave way beneath his feet, and he slid helplessly towards the edge of the slope, no trees or bushes to block his way or break his fall. Finally, he found a handhold and slowed his descent into the abyss, his feet dangling over the edge. Meanwhile, on the path, Diego spurred his horse alongside the man-beast, striking with his cruciform longsword. Terjon reigned in his horse and began to pray aloud, causing Simi to growl in frustration, for he was too far to the rear to join the battle. Once Frederick’s mount regained its feet and bolted, Simi was able to push past the ambush, where he found the prone body of Fr. Adelar. Diego was then attacked by a second man-beast, also hiding behind an outcropping of rock. The melee began.
The Eaters-of-the-Dead smelled of urine, sweat, blood, and damp fur. Their greasy fur-covered limbs held powerful claws and some form of crude iron-toothed club, or so it appeared. With these weapons and their great strength, they tore and rent armor and flesh. Diego and Terjon traded blows with them, Diego using Master Alfono’s advanced blade techniques to great effect. He delivered numerous thrusts between its ribs, but still it did not fall. Diego was certain that the beast before him was no man, for any one of his many blows would have dropped a healthy man. Soon after the battle begun, Terjon and Diego glimpsed a terrifying but subtle sight. Their opponents seemed to shiver, bristle, and convulse, if only momentarily. Their amber eyes turned pitch black, as if they had no irises. The battle continued.
Fr. Frederick pulled himself to the edge, and scrambled to his feet. He drew his sword and grasped it with both hands, his shield having tumbled down the face of the cliff. Just as he raised his weapon, one of the beast-men charged him, knocking him full in the chest, lifting him from his feet, and hurling him over the side of the cliff. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, and the horrified PCs watched the large Strakannian knight writhe in mid-air, clawing helplessly at the sky. His form vanished into the treetops below. Then the other beast-man charged Diego in a like manner, but not before he thrust the blade between its ribs. He retracted the blade quickly, trying to break free of its onrush, but the Eater of the Dead knocked him off his feet. Both tumbled over the edge. The Eater of the Dead plummeted. Chance or Providence saved Diego from a similar fate, for as he hit the sloping ground hard and began to cascade down the slope, he tumbled into a large bush. Diego grasped desperately for the trunk. He shrugged off his clumsy shield, but managed to retain his blade. Once he regained his balance, he began to crawl his way back up.
By this point, Simi managed to throw Adelar upon his horse and climb up behind him. He failed to catch Frederick’s horse, but then spurred his mount back down the path whence they came. He cried aloud to the others, urging them to withdraw, for they had caught their quarry. He galloped away about 40 feet until he realized that no one was following. Looking back, he spotted Terjon still trading blows with the beast-man. Just then, it dealt the chaplain a savage blow to the chest, knocking the wind and half of the life from Terjon. His body crumpled against the rock wall. In the dying light of an overcast sky, the situation looked grim indeed. Simi spurred his mount to a charge, pulling on the reigns just as his mount reached the beast-man. The steed swung its bulk around and drove sideways into the monster, threatening to knock it off the cliff, but it hurled the horse and its rider away. Simi, spurred its flanks and wheeled in the saddle. He prepared to try again. Just then, Diego’s hands appeared on the path, for he had clawed his way back up after sliding back down numerous times.
Simi charged. The monster dropped down into a crouch and wailed. Simi again reigned in the horse and wheeled it around, knocking into the beast. This time the horse’s flank was too much. The beast was hurled backwards, its heels sliding in the gravel. It slipped, fell, and was gone. Simi and Diego rushed to Terjon and clumsily attempted first aid. After some initial mistakes, they stabilized the dying chaplain, realizing only then that he was on the threshold of death. Fr. Adelar was also in poor shape. Diego realized that both were too fragile to move that night. In fact, even with the Jodon’s blessings, their recovery would probably take a week or more. Simi procured dozens of tree branches as cover, providing both camouflage and shelter against the bitter wind. The cold air stung, for the warmth of Spring was still not present. With any luck, they could move Fr. Adelar and Fr. Terjon safely at noon.
While most of the party, the troop of soldier-monks, and a large band of pilgrims reached the fortress by nightfall, recounting tales of strange beast men that attacked them on the road, three party members and one bloodied sergeant-brother of Moragiel spent an uncomfortable night in the hills, healing and hiding from predators.