Tag: D&D

The Investigation Falters

Another Beckett Family adventure in the Northumbrian frontier. These events occur during the down-time between the family’s investigations into the ruined Temple of Pholtus.  


Background

Lord Balin had tasked the Becketts with learning the whereabouts of his missing provost. They interviewed various people in the village of Lakesend while some of their number were healing and training.

Cast of Characters

Most of the party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers

Granny Beckett: Witch. Eccentric matriarch of the family.
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger. New family head.
Sir Raynard Beckett: Cavalier. Handsome and witty.
Daniel Beckett: Assassin. Passionate and protective.
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert. Erratic but insightful.
Raymond Beckett: Fighter. Stoic and responsible. (NPC)
Rayner Beckett: Thief. Bastard half-brother to Raymond.
Marin: Young scout and skiff pilot. Recently taken in by Granny.

Narrative

Lord Roger pressed upon his kin the need to complete the task that Lord Balin had given them: To find his missing provost, Master Kevan.  With the Keep preparing for siege, the man was sorely missed. Over dinner, the family reviewed what they had found thus far.

Master Kevan is not the only villager that has gone missing. Jehan the shepherd had disappeared first, and Hammond the shepherd later disappeared (the family was currently occupying their cottages and watching their flocks on the hillside).  There was no trace of these two men.

Gunnar the smith had his two apprentices, Tormad and Arn, go missing, and while some villagers whispered that he murdered them or that the teens had drunk too much and drowned, the smith swore that the two were doing late night chores out back when they vanished.

Though it may not have been related, a week or so earlier, several villagers reported seeing a large man-sized creature with bat wings flying over the village. No one could give a good description, saying that they caught a quick glimpse through the trees as it flew in front of the moon. Conclusions varied wildly, but most suspected that a vampire was kidnapping and feeding on the villagers.

One man, named Egil, who once lived on the cliffs overlooking the swamp, claimed that some mysterious group had seized his son, Erland.  In a panic, he fled to the village, where he sought passage on a ship heading south to Yarrvick.  He claimed that this secretive group had infiltrated the village, and, fearing to be seen, he did not feel safe in booking passage.  Instead he hid, with the aid of the baronial falconer, Frederick.  The falconer had allowed him to stay in an unused shack of his in the poorest part of the village.  Unfortunately, that shack burned to the ground in the middle of the night a few weeks ago.  Roger had sifted through the ashes the following morning and found a hastily scrawled letter that the man presumably buried.  In it, he claimed that the secretive group had found him and was coming for him.  He mentioned markings on their faces.  Apparently his attempt to use fire to keep them away caused his own immolation.  Either that or he was insane.

I write this only to calm my nerves. It has been seven days since I left home. When they dragged away Erland, all light went out of my soul. I wanted to die, but panic took hold of me. Unfortunately, panic drives away reason, and I fled without significant coin. I must book passage southwards, away from this nightmare-infested land, but I have little coin or even shelter.

Frederick took pity on me, kindly soul. He remembered visiting my homestead on the cliffs, years earlier, where he used to train his birds. He arranged to let me stay in this tiny cottage for the next few days, rent-free. That should be long enough to book passage. They won’t think to look for me in this tiny, dusty hovel.

Terrors in the night! I am not safe, even here. I do not think they saw me, for if they had I would certainly share my son’s fate. There are more than I suspected though, even here in the village. They move about by night.

I made a try for the docks today, hoping to sell my services to a guildsman, but I know now that I am trapped! Twice along the way did I see villagers with those telltale marks. They know I am here! I see it in their eyes! I fled back to this dark hovel. The docks are being watched. I know it now. How to book ship with no coin and also avoid detection? Without Erland to provide for me, I shall perish alone in this dirty hut. I fear to go about by day lest I be discovered, but the night brings its own horrors. Damnable misery!

I awoke with a start. They are creeping about outside…

I can hear them whispering in the dark… Lighting the lamp was probably a mistake, but fear has taken the reins. Perhaps fire will drive them off! Need more than an oil lamp though. An old bulls-eye lantern may do! Celestian’s mercy—the previous occupant left one, along with plenty of oil. If they come for me, I shall show them such a blaze that they will slink back to the shadows!

Adela Farmer, the village gossip, mentioned that several villagers had changed their ways recently and without explanation, though the expected siege may well explain everything.  She mentioned that several villagers no longer went out by day, staying in their homes with shutters and doors locked.  She mentioned Felden the tailor, Hurlen the farmer, Ulfias the farmer, and Torstein the old pilot as examples.  She was also leery of two men that seemed to be squatting in the newly constructed village hall.  Another village gossip, Emma Mason, confirmed what Adela said and added that William Wainwright and his family never come outdoors anymore. She also mentioned that William Wainwright and Felden Tailor had come down with some sort of disfiguring skin malady.

Rayner had spied on the two men in the village hall one evening, a few weeks ago, but his attempt to follow them failed.  In a conversation with Lord Melias, he seemed to dismiss them as potential problems.  He did share, however, that he feared that a secret group existed within the village.  He was worried that such a group might serve as a fifth column during a siege, and he wished to root it out.  He suspected Felden the tailor, the two merchants at the village trading post (Dagonet and Arnauld), two newcomers staying at the Welcome Wench, a wandering ‘peddler’ at the Welcome Wench, and the entire band of Pholtan pilgrims that had recently arrived in the village.  He shared that the pilgrims had been seen poring over a map in the Welcome Wench, making secret plans, often in the reserved room in the back, presumably to keep away from prying eyes.

As for Torstein the pilot, Brother Lewie learned that this old man, who had ferried people up and down the length of the lake for decades, had stopped working just months prior.  His young daughter, Marin, was trying to keep the business alive.  Brother Lewie found her near the docks, and she shared that her father was very ill.  She mentioned that he had come down with some ailment in recent months and could no longer work.  Granny paid him a visit, going to his small cabin on a small island in the lake.  She found him rather delirious, short of breath, and sweating profusely.  His face was marked with grayish patches and blisters.  At first she feared plague, but she eventually ruled this out.  Granny questioned Marin at length, and eventually she noted that her father became ill soon after he stopped attending the gatherings on the hillside.  Apparently, he had been one of a small group of devotees to Celestian.  His small group of astrologers, mystics, navigators, and pilots had met occasionally over the years, especially on days of the new moon or during lunar eclipses.  However, Marin shared that her father grew disenchanted with the group when eastern astrologers began to join the group in growing numbers, changing the group’s traditions and exerting control over its members.  He eventually left the group after having words with such men.  Granny spoke with the old man briefly, giving him herbs to restore him a bit.  He seemed to have trouble answering any questions about that group or the eastern astrologers that came to dominate it.  On two later occasions, Granny tried other herbs, but nothing seemed to restore his vitality.  He died during her last visit, and Marin—destitute and in danger of starving—had taken service with the Becketts soon after.

Wymund the weaver reported that he heard and saw things scurrying around in the darkness around his house at night—things larger than animals and perhaps men, though he could not be sure.  He asked Reince the woodcutter to clear the trees from around his home, but the woodcutter never showed up to do the work so he eventually did it himself.  This seemed to do the trick, for he thereafter had a clear view of anything that approached his home, and the sightings and sounds ceased.  In the course of conversation, he mentioned that other folk in the village seemed strange of late, and Felden the tailor’s name came up again, as did Hurlen the farmer and Ulfius the farmer.  He also noted that Galiena the spinster had grown ill with some strange ailment.

Sir Raynard, Granny and Brother Lewie visited Galiena and found her in a terrible state, sweating profusely and writhing in pain.  Sir Raynard pointed out that her skin was marred with small pustules, blisters, and gray patches.  Her face and neck were a patchwork of scars and bleeding cuts.  Brother Lewie did his best to revive her and ease her pain, and for few minutes she seemed more lucid.  In response to their questions, she mentioned that ‘terrible things had arrived in the village about a year ago’ to control them through pain.  She screamed that things were alive and crawling about inside her head, and she clawed at her skin repeatedly.  They noticed her bloody knitting needles by the bed.  As she spoke, she seemed to convulse in pain whenever she tried to give answers that related the recent events.  After several agonizing minutes, despite the efforts of Brother Lewie, the spinster died before their eyes.  Before she left, Granny noticed that the wooden shutters on one window had been knocked off their hinges.

Father Godfrey sent an acolyte to Lord Roger to report on his investigation of the body of the unknown wounded man that had died on the hillside, perhaps coming from the ruined temple of Pholtus.  He and his assistants had discovered thousands of tiny worms in the corpse. They found these almost imperceptible worms in almost every piece of tissue that they cut from his body, whether it was near a wound or not.  They saved a few tissue samples and then burned the corpse for fear of some new plague.

There was much discussion on how all this might connect, but there was no sign of the provost.  Like the two shepherds and the smiths’ two apprentices, he was gone without a trace.  The fat, jovial and ever-sweating merchant, Master Arnauld, advised Sir Raynard that he should stay indoors at night, as everything nefarious or mysterious seemed to transpire after dark.

Unsure of how to continue, the family eventually decided to speak with the woodcutter, whom the weaver described as acting strangely.  Reyner, Roger, and Sir Raynard walked through the muddy streets of the village, crossing the algae covered wooden span of the west bridge.  Two Baronial guardsman and a tax collector talked quietly under a large willow tree nearby.  Not far beyond the bridge, they spied the woodcutter’s home.  It sat far back off the road, partially obscured by several large trees and many lush green bushes.  They knocked on the door to no avail, and Reyner noted that he heard noises inside.  Eventually, they heard a moan, as if someone were in agony.  Questioning the legality of what they were about to do, they nonetheless pushed to open the door.  It was locked, and Reyner went around back, only to find that door locked too.  Eventually Raynard put his shoulder to the front door and knocked it off its hinges.  Inside they found several children lying on the floor, semi-conscious and writhing in pain.  In a bedroom, they found a disheveled woman writhing and groaning on the stuffed mattress.  They sought to aid her, but she was delirious.  Realizing that they needed help, they sent Reyner running back to fetch Brother Lewie or any of the clerics.

The young man sprinted out of the house and down the path.  Only seconds later, without quite knowing why, he slid to a halt.  Just then, a burly woodsman lunged at him from behind a broad oak tree, wielding a long axe.  The bearded woodsman rushed him, but Reyner had the wherewithal to slip away, running back to the house screaming for help.  Twenty yards away, Sir Raynald drew his sword and rushed out to meet the oncoming woodsman.  When the woodcutter ignored all shouts and pleas, the knight struck him with the pommel of his sword, stunning him for a second, but the crazed man suddenly struck back and hit Sir Raynard in the ribs with the axe.  Furious, the Frangian knight grabbed the muscular woodcutter and threw him to the ground, wrenching his arm behind his back and driving it into the ground.  Reyner heard an audible snap, and the man wailed.  The young Beckett jumped in and wrapped himself around the man’s ankles so that he could not rise.  Roger, with bow drawn and arrow nocked, shouted for the Baronial guardsmen about a hundred yards away, near the wooden bridge that leads into the village.

One guardsman came running and helped to secure the scene, allowing Reyner to go to the Shrine to get Father Godfrey.  Though the vicar seemed busy, he and a few of his novices came immediately.  It took more than half of an hour to fetch them and to return, but the vicar wasted no time once he arrived.  He and his men checked on the woman and children.  The guardsman followed Father Godfrey’s lead, and the PCs and the acolytes of Cuthbert took the family to the Keep by means of a wagon.

As they left the Keep, Roger muttered under his breath to Raynard, “You did not have to break the man’s arm”.

“Easy for you to say”, the knight snapped.  “Your every breath does not feel like a dagger in your side, ” he continued, holding his ribs.

Roger grinned widely, continuing to chide, “I just point out that he was already restrained…”

“Well what if he broke loose?” replied Raynard flatly, glaring at his brother as they walked.

Roger laughed again and smacked his brother on the back.

“Bloody bastard!  That hurts!” yelled Raynard.  “Get away from me!,” he muttered, still wincing.

Laughing, Roger then dispatched Rayner to the temple of Saint Cuthbert, situated up on the hillside above the village.  “Cousin, fetch me Brother Lewie.  We need to heal my delicate younger brother,” laughed the ranger.  Rayner nodded and ran off.  In the temple, he found Lewie and asked him to return, noting that Raynard was still in great pain.

Brother Lewie eventually found his older brother, kneeling by the shepherd’s cottage.  Raynard gritted his teeth and Lewie inspected the wound.  “I think that lunatic cracked a rib,” wheezed the knight.

The young cleric was sympathetic as he dressed the wound, saying, “I would wager that you were not expecting to be attacked, especially after you knocked him senseless with the pommel of your sword.  We should all learn a lesson from this.  As for your wound, my friend, there is no cut.  The damage is internal.  I shall ask the Saint to heal you, lest you be laid up for a week or more.  Pray with me, cousin.”  Raynard joined the young priest in ritual prayer, and moments later, a flood of warmth flooded through the muscles along his rib cage.  The sharp pain subsided much.

“I owe you one, cousin”, quipped the knight.

“Nonsense”, the cleric replied.  “You owe the Old Man in the Crumpled Hat.  Make a donation at the temple,” he continued, looking up toward the limestone structure that dominated the hillside.

Back at the cottages, Roger mused aloud to Daniel, “Well, Raynard is not dead. We can be thankful for that. Yet, did we gain anything from that bizarre encounter?”

Daniel mindlessly flipped his dagger by the handle, catching it and throwing it again repeatedly. His eyes were not on his blade though, for he was starting blankly at the ground, pondering his older brother’s question. He finally offered, “Today we learned that whatever is afflicting this place has spread further than we thought… and we still have no clue as to its cause. Small comfort.”

Village of Lakesend

Part three of the Compendium of Lands Around Blackwater Lake, the gazetteer for the Northumbria campaign. These are being published out of order because the next Beckett family adventure takes place in the village. Part two, describing the keep, is coming later this month.


Agents of the Frangian Crown supposedly founded the village of Lakesend about the same time that they laid the foundations of the nearby keep, about one century ago. From a military standpoint, the sites seem odd in that they are located over one mile apart. Considered separately though, each site makes sense. The keep sits on the shore of the Blackwater Lake to control the Narrows, a narrow body of water at the southern tip of the lake. Ships going northwards or southwards any significant distance must pass through the Narrows, and a garrison there can control the river trade. Meanwhile, the village sits astride a small river that comes down from the hills and then splits, one part running northward into the Narrows and the other part running southwards to form the headwaters of the mighty Blackwater River. Considering the distance between the two settlements, one can see a weakness in the arrangement, for an enemy can isolate both settlements rather easily.

Why is this a problem? On the outskirts of the village are fertile fields, now the site of several small farms. It seems that the village provides most of the Keep’s agricultural stores. Though the Keep sits on the shore of the lake, its garrison may have difficulty feeding itself on fish alone, especially in times of war. In addition, flocks of sheep and goats graze on the nearby hills, providing additional food stores for the Keep in times of war. Loss of the village could be catastrophic to the Keep. Baron Blackwater should remedy this strategic weakness before an enemy army attacks either settlement. Read more

Compendium of the Lands Surrounding Blackwater Lake

Compiled for Lord Beckett

by Talvion Tulossa

of Clan Cormallen

in the Year 614

by Frangian Reckoning


Preface

The enclosed notes are for the use of Lord Winchester and his kin. The author hopes that they may provide some aid in his quest to locate his family’s ancestral lands, to reestablish the Winchester family, and to restore it to prosperity.

Introduction

Blackwater Lake and its environs lie within a vast region that most people simply call Northumbria. This region, which stretches for hundreds of miles, is comprised mainly of forested hills and mountains, brimming with mineral resources, towering trees, and wildlife. The primary inhabitants of this rugged land seem to be either primitive human savages that dominate the lowlands, or wicked goblyn tribes that swarm over and under the hills and mountains. However, just over a century ago, explorers and adventurers arrived from the Kingdom of Frangia, perhaps the most powerful kingdom across the Great Sea. The Crown first established an agricultural colony called Southumbria, and, a few years later, it explored and claimed the vast tract of virgin wilderness to the north.

The Frangian Crown’s claim to ownership of Northumbria seemed ludicrous at first—and still does—given the sheer size of the region and the scarcity of royal settlers here. Settlement has been steady, but it will take decades before any semblance of control is established. Perhaps because of this uncertainty, daring Frangian settlers and freebooters have flocked northward, seeking opportunity and adventure. Read more

Terror in the Tower, part 2

The Beckett family ventures into the Temple of Pholtus described in part 1 of this adventure narrative.


Background

The session began with the PCs at a ruined temple of Pholtus, not far from the western shores of Blackwater Lake. They had already explored one outbuilding, where they found some hidden valuables in a buried stone vault. One such bauble was a silver decanter that slowly filled with fresh water. Daniel discovered this the hard way when it leaked through his backpack and breeches, giving the group a laugh.

Cast of Characters

Most party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers. Characters in gray text were not present during this encounter.

Granny Beckett: Witch, eccentric matriarch of the family
Jade Cormallen: Half-elf ranger, distant relative to most
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger, new family head
Acolyte Denston Beckett: Cleric of Pholtus, grumpy and dour
Daniel Beckett: Assassin, passionate and protective
Sir Callum Beckett: Cavalier, burly and jovial
Sir William Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, erratic but insightful
Sven Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Bjorn’s twin
Bjorn Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Sven’s twin
Brother Liam: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, comrade of Brother Lewie
Sir Raynard: Cavalier, handsome and witty
Raymond: NPC (Fighter 1), stoic and responsible
Owen: NPC (Ranger 1), introverted and self-sufficient
Kieran: NPC (Magic User 1), gentle and intelligent
Sergeant Blaine: NPC Fighter, porter to the Beckett family
Dagis: NPC (Fighter 0), new squire to Sir Callum

Read more

Terror in the Tower, part 1

Another tale of the Beckett Family’s adventures in Northumbria.


Background

The session began with the PCs in the small village of Lakesend, where they have been helping the local Lord Balin in finding a missing provost.

Cast of Characters:

Most party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers.

Granny Beckett: Witch, eccentric matriarch of the family
Jade Cormallen: Half-elf ranger, distant relative to most
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger, new family head
Acolyte Denston Beckett: Cleric of Pholtus, grumpy and dour
Daniel Beckett: Assassin, passionate and protective
Sir Callum Beckett: Cavalier, burly and jovial
Sir William Beckett: Cavalier, sarcastic and brave
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, erratic but insightful
Sven Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Bjorn’s twin
Bjorn Ragnarsson: Barbarian, bastard of Granny, Sven’s twin
Brother Liam: Cleric of St. Cuthbert, comrade of Brother Lewie
Sir Raynard: Cavalier, handsome and witty
Raymond: NPC (Fighter 1), stoic and responsible
Owen: NPC (Ranger 1), introverted and self-sufficient
Kieran: NPC (Magic User 1), gentle and intelligent
Sergeant Blaine: NPC Fighter, porter to the Beckett family
Dagis: NPC (Fighter 0), new squire to Sir Callum

Narrative:

Day 22, Eighth Moon 

The night passed without incident.  The family was now residing in the two abandoned shepherds’ cottages and that of the missing provost.  Most were up and about, eating breakfast outside Jehan’s cottage.  Roger had started a small cooking fire, and the smell of roasted trout and charred wood filled morning the air.  The peaceful scene vanished when Elwood, disheveled and clutching his gnarled wooden staff, came running down from the hillside.  Excited and gasping for breath, he eventually yelled something about a dead man.  Several family members grabbed their weapons and followed him back to the hillside at a brisk pace.  Along the way, Elwood, flustered and still short of breath, provided the others with more information.

“I was gathering worms for my fishing chores later on,” the young druid gasped, “when I heard the sound of something big crashing through the brush, coming toward me.  The sheep started to scurry away, and I picked up my staff, unsure of what was coming.  Then I heard it stop.  I couldn’t see anything, for whatever it was still lay inside the treeline.  I crept up and saw a man lying in the weeds, groaning in pain.  He was wounded, though I could not see exactly how.  It became obvious that he was no threat so I tried to help him, but he only moaned two words and then stopped breathing.  He said, ‘Pholtus’ and ‘Kieran.'” Read more

Cultures of Northumbria: Elves

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 


The Elves are undoubtedly the oldest known race in the world. Their culture is ancient and largely unchanged, despite the millennia that have passed.

Typical Appearance

Elves are generally slender and graceful people, with long straight blonde or dirty-blonde hair. Eye color tends to be amber and bluish-green though violet is not uncommon. They do not grow facial hair.

Concerning fashion, elves favor elegant displays of great workmanship. Colors are usually rich, while patterns tend to be both intricate and subtle. Nature motifs are very common.

Elves favor tight-fitting hosen or breeches, along with tight-fitting tunics. They also prefer loose-fitting, ornate robes, made of very light material. Narrow shoes and boots are typical. Their cloaks, though lightweight, are usually long and flowing.

Language

It is common in many cultures for people to call themselves ‘the people’ or ‘the speakers’, but elves recognize that humans, elves, dwarves, and gnomes are all sentient beings that fit such a bill. Therefore, they call all these races ‘the singers’ (laulajia). Their specific words for elf/elves are keijukainen/keijut.

The elven base word for any language is the same as for ‘song’ (laulu/laulut). As the elves are the eldest race, they call their own language the ‘ancient song’ (vanha laulu).

The elves use a sound-based system of runes, which later became the inspiration for other runic systems, such as that of the dwarves and that of the Varangians (a northern group of humans). They actually have two sets of runes, one used for common writing (sanat, meaning ‘words’) and another (voimat, meaning ‘powers’) used for important concepts like magic and law.  All elves know the former, and all elders know the latter as well. Read more

Bandits Rock

We return to the Winchester Family’s adventures in Northumbria!


Background:

Sir Garrett of House Winchester and his retinue are in the small village of Lakesend at the southern tip of Blackwater Lake.  Having recently explored Wycliffe Island twice, they fought a number of desperate battles against creatures that they called goblyns, but these looked little like the creatures of myth that they were expecting. The nearby keep, under the command of Lord Balin Blackwater, is preparing for a massive goblyn assault, though the enemy army keeps vanishing in the rugged hills. For the moment, the Winchester retinue has decided to rest and refit for a number of days, and some members are also training. Ninth Moon is ending, with autumn hard on its heels. At the end of our last session, the companions were outside the Welcome Wench Inn at night, talking cheerfully when someone spotted what seemed like a human silhouette, peering at them from behind a copse of trees.

From the DM:

This was the session that almost wasn’t. Everyone has probably had a time when half the group is missing and you have to decide whether or not to play. We eventually decided to play, and it was a good time. The three players are strong role-players, which helped. Yet, I knew we needed some action (the last two sessions had been pretty cerebral). The players threw me a curve ball by deciding to investigate an area that I had not yet fleshed out. I had to come up with something quickly. We were glad to have played for another reason too. Two of our players were moving out west for college so this would be our last session with them until they return. I had to come up with a satisfying way for their characters to leave. Read more

Treasure Identification

 This piece follows ‘Ants in the Darkness,’ a Beckett adventure of the Northumbria Campaign. 


BACKGROUND:

The session began with the PCs in an underground tunnel on Wycliffe Island, located on Blackwater Lake. After stumbling into a nest of giant ants, the party desperately fought its way out. A few caverns away, as they recovered, they had a stroke of luck and found a calcified chest containing many gems. Exhausted and wounded, they returned to the surface and sailed back to the small village of Lakesend. There they planned to rest, heal, and divide their loot.

FROM THE DM:

I found this session, which lacked any real combat, memorable because of the role-playing and the dialogue between players. You know that you have a good group when they can find great amusement and engagement without rolling dice. I just sat back and watched the how, taking notes. In addition, I had recently asked each player to cast his character with some famous person or Hollywood actor. I think this helped each player really visualize his character, and the dialogue seemed to come easy. This session also served one additional purpose for me as DM. The party had been unwittingly abusing the identify spell, forgetting that it requires a pearl each time. The write up helped to make this clear. Read more

Battle on the Beach

Editor’s note: Gamemaster Michael Garcia runs two groups in the same Northumbria campaign on different nights. The Editor has no idea how he keeps things straight in his head. This narrative returns to the Winchester family, last seen in “Screams in Store.”


Background:

Sir Garrett of House Winchester and his retinue were on Wycliffe Island in the middle of Blackwater Lake.  Having come to the island at the behest of the local Guild to investigate a dry dock facility, they had found it overrun and burned, most of its personnel dead.  Having already rescued four surviving guildsmen from a pack of wild worgs, the retinue began tracking a band of robber knights in an attempt to save a fifth surviving guildsman, named Marcel of St.-Martin.  With the four guildsmen guiding them, the retinue was racing through the forest, atop the rocky plateau that runs the length of the island.  Their hope was to reach the western ridge, descend the steep slope, and find the robber knights’ boat before they could leave the island with their hostage.

Bone-tired, Sir Garrett and his retinue knew that they had little fight left, yet Sir Garrett would not abandon the captive to an uncertain fate, nor allow the robber knights to go unpunished.  The group pushed on, though they knew that they were racing against the sunset.  It had been overcast for much of the day, and gray clouds still covered the sky like a leaden sheet.  Even under the canopy of trees, though, the retinue could tell that the sun was setting.  Everything was beginning to take on shades of gray.

In its hasty flight, the retinue had already stumbled upon a band of goblyns which gave chase.  In a running battle, the retinue fought off the leading element.  The party, while continuing to barrel through the forest, had then spotted the robber knights in the distance across a ravine. The knights had not seen them.  Rounding a bend in the rocky terrain, they ran into another element of the goblyn war band and fought them off in another desperate, running battle.  The retinue had just come to the western ridge, where the rocky slopes begin their descent to the beach, far below.  The many trees obscured their sight so they could not spot the robber knights again.  Hearing wolves and goblyn horns behind them, the group began a hasty descent, while trying not to tumble headlong some eight hundred feet down the slope.

From the DM:

Another session that almost ended in a TPK, this one was not due to player foolishness. Each PC played his role well, but the group had very few hit points left. The encounter did give the group a bitter foe for future sessions.

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:

Despite a few slips and frightful slides, Sir Garrett and his retinue made the descent safely.  Cousin Modrak reached the bottom first, as he was lightly clad and relatively unharmed.  Upon reaching level ground, he noticed that the thick forest began to thin as it neared the sea.  A stretch of rocky ground, about 50 feet in length and littered with smaller trees, lay between the foot of the slope and the pebble beach.  Moving forward to the end of the tree line, cautiously but quickly, he spotted the beach, measuring only about 30 feet between the trees and the lake.  Small waves of black water gently washed over the rocks and some gray driftwood.  To his left, Modrak heard voices, though he saw nothing from where he sat crouched behind a tree.  Creeping to his left, moving parallel to the shoreline, he soon spotted a large object of curious shape.  He realized it to be a small boat, perhaps 30 feet long, covered with a pile of tree branches.  The voices came from a short distance beyond it.

Signaling up to the rest of the group, which had almost reached the bottom of the slope, Modrak pushed through the low vegetation, trying to stay out of sight.  The lapping sound of the waves helped to mask his movements, but the thinning trees hindered his ability to hide.  He made for the boat.  There was no one there, and it seemed intact. Seeing a gap in the pile of cut branches that covered the craft, Modrak slid his bow and quiver inside and then pulled himself over the side.  Meanwhile, Yeoman Guilliman had seen Modrak’s signal and broke to the left, staying inside a belt of wide, silver maple trees.  From his vantage point, he spotted the quarry.  A second boat, maybe 30 yards to the left of the first, lay uncovered on the pebbles at the edge of the surf.  About a dozen men in various forms of armor, bearing mainly longbows, halberds, and spears, surrounded the craft.  A few looked to be readying it for sailing.  Two of the men wore full plate harnesses.  His mind raced:  They have two boats.  At that moment, five of the other men-at-arms began to walk away from the rest, moving slowly to the right, toward Modrak and the concealed boat, bantering to each other about something.  The cool wind off the lake, carrying a strong odor of humidity with it, made their comments inaudible.  Looking up the slope at his companions, Guilliman whistled sharply and gesticulated rapidly before grasping his axe.

Hearing the whistle and stumbling down the rocky slope, Master Gimlet muttered under his breath, “Great.  We run, then we fight, then we run while fighting, then we fight while running, then we stumble down a hill, now we fight some more.  What’s next, swimming?”  Maggie, Odo, and Sir Garrett, already crouching behind the concealed boat, silently slid their swords from their scabbards.  A second group came straight down the slope, finding themselves to the right of the concealed boat and somewhat out of harm’s way.  In this group, Brother Rolf, Hugh Redoak, and Miles the minstrel helped along the four, wounded guildsmen, Lady Alinachka, and the exhausted Master Magnus.  Hearing voices drawing nearer, this group ducked into a shoulder high thicket of butterfly weed, bristling with small orange blossoms.

Four of the five armed men reached the edge of the concealed boat, oblivious to any danger, but the fifth, carrying a spear, stopped abruptly and looked up to his right. Yeoman Guilliman cursed under his breath, seeing that they had only seconds.  As he jumped to his feet and charged down the slope, all hell broke loose.

From behind the boat, sprang Sir Garrett, Odo, Maggie, and Master Gimlet.  With a single deadly stroke, each crushed or cut the life from one of the four men-at-arms.  Two crumpled almost soundlessly, gurgling as blood erupted into their throats, but two others screamed as they fell, mortally wounded.  The spearman in the rear turned and bolted immediately.  Sir Garrett led a charge across the pebble beach, shouting, “To the boats!”  Emerging suddenly from the thicket of butterfly weed, some twenty yards behind, Brother Rolf also charged headlong to support his older brother, flail raised high.  Meanwhile, bow in hand and arrow already nocked, Modrak stood upright in the bow of the concealed boat, knocking aside many tree branches.  He proceeded to loose a steady stream of arrows toward the robber knights’ other boat.  Charging down the slope on a diagonal, knocking aside branches and trampling the underbrush, came Yeoman Guilliman, battleaxe raised high.

The sudden flurry of activity, along with shouts, screams, and the staccato clanking of armor, produced an instant reaction among the robber knights.  One man in full harness barked orders and grabbed for his longsword, though the blustery wind off the water drowned out most of his words.  A taller man in a plate harness casually let his battleaxe fall to the pebbles at his feet, opened a pouch on his belt, and drank from a small vial.  He then picked his great helm off the ground and placed it on his head.  Meanwhile, half of the men-at-arms, mainly archers, jumped aboard the small boat and pushed it into the lapping surf, grabbing for oars once inside.  The other half, mainly spearmen and halberdiers, lowered their weapons to stop the charge that bore down on them.

The clash was sudden and violent.  Yeoman Guilliman, rushing down toward the beach on an angle, bypassed the waiting spear points and thundered right into the knee-high surf.  In one graceful move, he swept aside a man’s longbow with his battleaxe and threw himself over the side of the boat, landing on his side with a thud and causing a host of screams from those inside the boat.  Following right behind him was Maggie, who leaped into the boat with surprising agility, landing squarely on top of a surprised man-at-arms.  Both lost their footing and toppled to the algae-lined floor of the boat.  As for Sir Garrett, Master Gimlet, and Odo, they smashed into the waiting line of spearmen, driving through them and scattering them.  Their victory evaporated immediately, for a knight in plate harness, wielding a longsword and heater shield, unleashed a violent series of attacks against both Odo and Master Gimlet.  The other taller knight squared off with Sir Garrett, and the two made numerous passes at each other.  The tall knight’s battleaxe bit deeply into Sir Garrett’s shield, sending splinters of wood flying and slicing off part of the leather edging.  The Lord of House Winchester returned the blow with fury, not once, but twice.  Yet, twice did the tall knight deflect the blow.  Just to Sir Garrett’s right, Odo and Gimlet were reeling under the attacks of the shorter knight. However, Brother Rolf finally arrived at a full charge, throwing himself into the mix and pushing the knight back onto his heels.  Screams, shouts, and grunts mingled with the splashing surf, clashing steel, and the loud rustle of the wind off the water.

Some thirty yards down the beach, Hugh Redoak led the other non-combatants in uncovering the concealed boat.  From all sides, branches flew off the weather-beaten, algae-stained boat.  Modrak continued to loose arrows from its bow, until the others yelled for him to get off.  He leaped down with agility and continued to let arrows fly.  Two archers in the distant boat already had his goose-feather shafts protruding from their torsos.  With the branches finally cleared off, Hugh and the others began pushing the boat toward the shore.  They were about 20 yards away when they heard a horrible sound from the rocky slopes above.  A triple blast of a throaty signal horn carried on the wind above the beach.  Hugh and the others looked up in despair to see a wave of goblyns descending the dark slope like an avalanche coming through the trees.  There had to be dozens of them, if not scores.  Mingled with the rustling of the bushes was an odd clicking or scuttling noise, almost like that made by insects.  Master Magnus, exhausted and ready to faint, found a new source of strength—fear.  He screamed, “Push!  The whole damn lot of you!  Get this thing in the water!”  Crude arrows with wicked, blackened, iron heads began to pepper the area around the boat.  Four shafts sank into the bow, some skipped off the pebbles by Hugh’s feet, one pierced Alinachka’s leather backpack, and another two struck a pair of guildsmen.

Inside the robber knights’ lead boat, Maggie tried to get to her feet, surrounded by shouting enemies.  Two men rained blows on her, but she blocked them all with the forte of her longsword.  Unfortunately, she lost her footing and again dropped to the floor of the boat.  At the bow, Yeoman Guilliman went for the captive guildsman, who was trussed up with ropes behind his back.  A longbowman stepped directly into his path with an arrow nocked at pointblank range.  Without thinking, the ranger instinctively dropped to a knee as the man let the arrow fly.  Like a lightning bolt, the shaft whistled past his scalp and sank into the shoulder of a spearman in the rear of the boat.  Without hesitation, Guilliman threw his weight against the surprised archer, hurling him over the side and into the surf.  Maggie got to her feet again, only to have a halberdier try to hurl her from the boat.  She dropped to her knees and covered up as best she could, and instead of throwing her overboard, the halberdier almost went head over heels.  Only by wrapping his left arm around her neck did her stay in the boat.  They continued to grapple.  Unable to throw Maggie from the boat, the frustrated halberdier settled for smashing her head against the rail.  With the coppery taste of blood filling her mouth, Maggie hauled back and punched him in the neck with her mailed fist.  Coughing and gurgling, his hands shot to his throat, releasing her.  With all of her strength, she continued to punch.

The robber knights fought with disturbing poise.  Sir Garrett and the taller knight were locked up, elbow to elbow, with their weapons above their heads.  Seeing the goblyns streaming down the slopes, Sir Garrett made one logical plea to his adversary, “We have to get off this beach now, or we shall all surely die!”  Unmoved, the taller knight gave Lord Winchester only a look of disgust before trying again to brain him.  Garrett then saw his opening.  Drawing back with all of his strength, he feinted and then delivered a terrible stroke to his enemy’s great helm.  The sword struck with tremendous force, cutting deep into the temple of the helm and twisting it on the man’s head.  Lord Winchester was certain that his enemy would crumple, for never had he hit an opponent harder or more cleanly.  To his horror, the tall knight merely jerked his neck, causing the helm to spin back into place.  He was unmoved and seemingly unfazed.  That clarified things for the Winchester knight.  He shouted to his companions, “Get out of here! Get to the other boat! Move! This is fruitless!”

Sensing that they had momentum, both robber knights pushed forward to finish their enemies.  The shorter knight seemed to attack Odo, Brother Rolf, and Gimlet at once.  Though they almost surrounded him, they fell back under the weight of his attack.  He saw only a blur of dark fur out of the corner of his eye before a large growling hulk leaped upon him and brought him violently to the ground.  Alinachka had unleashed Booj, who seemed twice his normal size as he tore at the knight’s throat.  The knight’s aventail fell aside as he landed, and the hound ripped and tore the flesh beneath it.  The man flailed, writhed, and groaned, as crimson splattered and stained the pebble beach.  Lord Winchester, still yelling for his companions to withdraw, did his best to tie up the taller knight.

Hugh and the non-combatants, using their last ounces of strength, managed to get their boat to the waterline, but it seemed that they were too late.  Hugh was shot twice, and both arrows protruded grotesquely from his back.  Magnus fell face-first into the boat.  Two guildsmen managed to get in and were fumbling with the oars, but another two were shot a second time by goblyn arrows.  One tumbled face-first into the surf.  Miles the minstrel, of all people, wide-eyed and manic, grabbed the downed guildsman by the tunic and lifted him like a sack of turnips over the side of the boat.  A goblyn arrow then sliced his arm, leaving a red gash.  Alinachka, her gray robe drenched from the surf and heavy, threw herself into the boat and fumbled for an oar.  It was then that the first goblyns reached the boat.  Hugh swung an oar in a wild arc, striking the foul creature in the temple and knocking it loose.  He struck another as he screamed, “Row!  For the love of St. Cuthbert, row!”

On the robber knights’ boat, time seemed to slow for Guilliman.  He was exhausted and growing weary. He knew that unconsciousness was not far off.  Though only feet from the captive guildsman, he now had three men-at-arms closing on him.  He also heard Lord Garrett yelling for everyone to withdraw.  His mind raced.  If I get the captive, everything changes. Yet, I cannot get him out of the boat and untied before they hit me at least once.  One hit and I am dead.  If he is still tied, he drowns.  I can do no good here.  At that moment, his eyes gazed down the beach and spotted a horde of goblyns closing on the other boat, containing his friends.  A primal anger swelled in him.  A fraction of a second later, Maggie also realized that the situation was lost, and she threw herself overboard before an angry halberdier could cut her throat with his drawn dagger.  Yeoman Guilliman then leaped into the knee-high surf, scrambling back toward his friends.  A longbowman grabbed for his bow to finish the badly wounded ranger, but his companion screamed at him, “Row, you fool.  He’s dead anyway!”

Sir Garrett saw his friends falling back.  He waited for a few seconds, blocking another deadly blow of the knight’s battleaxe, until he saw Maggie’s head pop up out of the surf.  She too was on her way towards the other boat.  Lord Winchester then withdrew, cursing under his breath.  The tall knight, clad in black, lowered his axe for a second and glanced at the now-motionless body of his fellow knight.  The surf began to lap at the fallen man’s legs, but the large pool of crimson around his head remained.  His neck looked like entrails at a butcher shop.  For a second, Sir Garrett groaned and thought:  Where is Booj?  However, he spotted the hound in the surf, headed towards the boat containing Alinachka.  He then noted that they were still in dire trouble.

Hugh Redoak upended another of the foul creatures that had climbed over the side of the boat.  Two more arrows now protruded from Alinachka’s leather backpack, making a total of three.  The stern of the small craft was riddled with arrow shafts.  Modrak screamed in distress as three goblyns, up to their waists in the surf, latched on to the rear of the boat and were trying to pull it back to shore.  Then Yeoman Guilliman arrived, swinging his battleaxe with wild abandon.  He cleaved one from head to hip, sending a geyser of black ichor into the air.  The smell of raw sewage wafted over him and made him gag, but he battered another creature with the haft of his axe, smashing out its pointed teeth and causing it to slip beneath the waves.  He turned to the third, only to see a scimitar descending towards his face.  He knew that he could never block or move in time.  The blow never landed.  Instead, a goose-feather shaft seemed to sprout from the creature’s neck, and it toppled backwards into the dark surf.  Modrak, bow in hand once again, shouted, “Get in!  Get in!”  Now on his knees in the back of the boat, Hugh hung his right arm over the stern and grabbed the bloodied ranger.  With difficulty, he hauled him over the rail.

In the dying light, it became difficult see to see any detail.  The whole lake area—water, surf, shore, and forest—seemed to be a blurred mosaic of gray.  Moreover, a light haze or mist seemed to settle on the water.  Alinachka, largely unharmed, directed the rowers to veer left, parallel to the shore.  As arrows continued to whistle overhead, her companions finally saw three figures through the gloom.  The sight caused shouts of distress from everyone.  Sir Garrett was waist-deep in his plate harness, wading out to the boat.  Floating face down was Odo, who had three arrows embedded in his chain hauberk.  Just reaching his side was Master Gimlet, whose head was barely above water.  Then the companions in the boat saw a fourth figure.  Brother Rolf appeared behind the dwarf, lifting him up and into the boat.  Arrows ricocheting off Lord Winchester’s harness sounded like raindrops pelting a window.  Together, the two Winchester brothers lifted Odo’s motionless form into the boat.  At that point, Maggie reached the front of the boat and climbed in with great difficulty.  Brother Rolf fell into the boat with all the grace of an anvil, but he immediately went to work, tending to Odo.  Lord Winchester, up to his chest in the black water and now unable to see the trees on the shore or the robber knights’ boat, counted heads.  Only when he saw everyone did he throw his longsword and shield into the boat and allow himself to be hauled in.

The arrows continued for another minute or two, but they grew less frequent.  Everyone was breathing hard, and many were coughing up water and phlegm.  Brother Rolf, exhausted, continued to tend to Odo, who finally coughed up a tankard-full of lake water.  Maggie was spitting blood, and Guilliman finally collapsed.  Magnus, though his eyes were alert, lacked the strength to sit up.  Miles, the minstrel, still wide-eyed and manic, was paddling strenuously with his oar.  Hugh, arrows still protruding from his hauberk, had to yell for him to stop, as all others had stopped rowing once the boat seemed far enough away from the shore, and Miles’ paddling was just sending the boat in circles.  In the gloom, the retinue could not see the robber knights’ boat, but faint hints of splashing water in the distance did give away its general direction.  Modrak was the first to speak, “Cousin, if we are to overtake them, we need to start rowing now, but it think it safe to say that we are less than combat effective.”  As if to punctuate the statement, Odo vomited in the back of the boat.  Gazing off into the gloom, Master Gimlet said matter-of-factly, “I saw this day going differently.”

Ants in the Darkness

Another memorable play session from Michael Garcia, this one from his more recent Northumbria campaign. Mike is running two groups in the same campaign. “Screams in Store” followed the Winchester family; this story is about the Becketts. 


Background:

The session began with the PCs in a narrow tunnel, which is part of a series of natural limestone caverns that run throughout Wycliffe Island, located in Blackwater Lake. The party had stumbled upon a secret door inside an unmarked crypt on the island, and they started to explore the tunnel beneath it. The group is rather large and the tunnel very tight so they were in a long line, strung out.

From the DM:

Sometimes your players do innovative and bold things at the table, reflecting years of gaming experience. Other times, they shock you by doing silly things or NOT doing the obvious. The following game session began with a casual moment of stupidity that almost killed the entire party, but there were some heroics too. The monsters were not terribly interesting, but stock monsters can sometimes prove surprisingly tough when one small detail escapes your notice at first. In this case, the party (second level on average) ended up slugging it out with over sixty-three HD2 monsters that effectively had platemail! When I realized their plight, just before the battle began, I gave them a short piece of advice: “It’s time to get creative and pull out the heavy artillery or become food!” Read more