We started our side mission for the new and lower-point characters. We also welcomed a new player for a tryout, and welcomed back a player who hadn't played with us for about five years.
Characters (in Swampsedge): (approximate net point total)
Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (270 points)
Koric, human guard (~70 points)
Orrie, human guard (~70 points)
Bjorn Felmanson, human barbarian (250 points)
El Murik, dwarven cleric (250 points)
Hannibal the Flammable, human wizard (250 points)
Rahtnar the Vegan, dwarven martial artist (250 points)
Still in town (Stericksburg):
Bern Brambleberry, gnome artificer (265 points)
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (395 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (372 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (468 points)
We started with the group assembled in the "town" of Swampsedge, east of Stericksburg along the Silver River, where it disgorges into the Cold Fens, in the County Eorna. Further east of the Cold Fens - which stretch a couple hundred miles or so - is the troll-plagued city of Molotov.
When we last left Asher, he was dead and his guts had been eaten by trolls. The group couldn't afford to a Resurrection for him, but the church did it themselves. They also re-equipped Asher, to the tune of a further 2,000 sp, and introduced him to El, newly arrived in town.
They were told:
- There are bandits raiding the river traffic and road traffic near the Cold Fens.
- The bandits raided the nearby village of Swampsedge and burned parts of it down.
- These bandits were pursued by a troop of soldiers from the local lord, who never returned.
- The local lord has requested assistance dealing with the bandits. The church volunteered their services (implied – in exchange for a large donation.)
- The church has found there is a source of evil somewhere in the swamp, but cannot detect exactly where.
- Asher and El are to destroy the source of this evil at whatever cost to himself and any companions they brings along.
- Asher and El and their companions are welcome to any treasures found, but Asher must pay back the 17,000 sp for his resurrection and re-equipping before he is welcome back in Stericksburg and the good graces of the church.
Koric and Orrie, first rescued from the Caves of Chaos years back, work in Stericksburg as guards. Vryce recommended them to Asher, who persuaded them to follow him and El Murik to Swampsedge to deal with this bandit problem. They also picked up some other adventurers who came recommended as friends of friends either along the way or arranged to be met at Swampsedge.
Long story short, the townsfolk and other locals were busy putting up a wall of stone and wood (mostly wood) around Swampsedge. The local militia was being reorganized and was bolstered by another dozen of the Count of Eorna's personal troops led by a solid but cautious commander.
The party found out nine men - all military-aged able-bodied men - had been hauled off by the bandits. They also killed a lot of other military-aged able-bodied men (amongst others). The thirteen men (12 hand-picked men under Sir Balzar) arrived soon after, took a local guide with them, and went off in pursuit of the bandits. They were not heard from again. The locals suggested that Old Crazy William, though, who lived on the edge of the swamp, could guide the PCs.
They also gathered rumors - that the dead don't always stay dead in the Cold Fens, that some parts of it are blind to the sight of the Good God, others dead to mana, warnings of berserk lizard men, and other cheery details like that.
Old Crazy William entertained the party with his talk of snakes, red-eyed giant lizards that walk or crawl, and other possible nonsense, but that he could take them to the island where the old temple was where the bandits came from for 1000 gp each, on Sally, his raft. After a few minutes of crazy, El Murik cast Relieve Madness on him. It shocked poor William badly when he was sane enough to realize he'd been in the grip of madness for a few years. He told them he'd guide them, no charge. He told them a few years back a bad storm got drove him to shelter on an island in the middle he'd been told to avoid since he was a kid. He didn't remember anything after that, but that he'd been told - no idea who - to take anyone who asked to the island. He helped guide the soldiers, and left them on the island.
Once he went crazy again, they made him a spear and got on Sally and his spare, smaller raft. They set out.
It wasn't as straightforward as they tought - poling through the tangled waterway, ducking overhead vines and clumped roots and so on was tough. With only one person with Boating, even knowing the right way to go wasn't enough to make good speed. Add in biting flies brought up by the March thaws and the PCs were constantly hassled and couldn't make much progress. They only made a little more than 3 miles the first day's poling and had to spend the night on the rafts pulled up to some semi-solid ground. They also encountered a giant swimming constrictor snake - but Hannibal blew a chunk off of it with a fireball and then Bjorn put an arrow into it, before Asher chopped the poor burned and stunned snake's head off with a few sword strokes.
The next day they burned through most of their rations (no one thought to ask OCW how long to the temple island) and dealt with many more biting insects, chittering bats (which OCW muttered about), a few tangles, and even more difficulty with the rafts. They also had to pull aside for almost an hour and wait out a dragon flying lazy figure eights in a north-south pattern, as if hunting for prey. Green or black, they asked? Unclear. Dark, though.
They spent a more comfortable night in a safer spot, and then headed out. The third day they got their boating in order and William rolled a critical, and they managed to reach the island by nightfall. It was a fog-shrouded island, and the fog was especially creepy, seeming to coalesce into threatening shapes just at the edges of vision before dissipating when looked at.
They checked the place out - it was a flat stone, pillared rectangular area atop a muddy island, reached by three steep steps. Six skiffs were pulled up, two tied apiece to a pair of posts and one to a spike driven into the steps. The island, according to William, was a few miles long (they de-crazied him and then asked), and mostly tangles and mud with no other place to pull up. They decided they couldn't camp this close, and had to go in, tired or not. So they poled up and tied off.
The spike was recent - days? Weeks? Maybe from the soldiers?
The pillared platform ended in a rough wall of seashells, edged on either side with a pillar and topped with a thin stone "beam."
As the PCs spread out and moved onto the platform, there was a clicking noise and quarrels came flying out at them. One of them slammed into William, hitting him in the vitals for max damage (0 DR, 1d6+4, rolled a 17 on location and 6 on damage) and he dropped, mortally wounded. The party split up and took cover behind the pillars, El dragging OCW with him.
Half the group moved up pillar by pillar along the left, towards the shell wall. Asher took a crossbow bolt in the groin but stumbled to safety. As they got a little closer. Hannibal tossed a fireball into the wall and blew a hole in it. It turned out to be a dry seashell curtain. Around this time, El cast Stop Bleeding on OCW, stabilizing him.
The PCs closed in and then Hannibal blew a large hole in the middle for them to rush through. They did. There were 10 skeletons behind the curtain, along with a real wall behind three 20' pools of algae-choked water and a bloodstained altar. They engaged the PCs, but it ended quickly. Bjorn shield rushed them and didn't slow down as he bashed each to pieces. Others shot with crossbows but several of the crossbows broke or jammed. Rahtnar and Orrie chopping down one that was bypassed by Bjorn. Even as the skeletons went down, though, although they got off a few shots on the way down, and a beautiful watery nymph emerged from a pool next to Bjorn and tried to grab him. He fended it off with his shield - all the while ogling her beautiful naked form. He whacked her with his axe but it was like cutting a stream with a sword and only a tiny WHICK of water flicked off.
The PCs near the next pool were attacked by another one of the nymphs, and Rahtnar was grabbed and paralyzed. The watery woman dragged him into the pool and pushed his face under the water. Unable to breath, he started to drown.
Hannibal shouted out suggestively even as he fireballed the nypmph. Steam rose off of her, but he didn't seem to do all that much damage. Orrie, Asher (who jumped into the pool), and Bjorn grabbed Rahntar and wrestled him away from the nymph. As soon as he was clear, Hannibal covered the entire pool with a Rain of Fire and the nymph ducked away.
The PCs backed off to heal and rest. Once they did so, they made a plan to get behind the three pools (arranged in a triangle.) They moved up, put a Rain of Fire on the center pool, and they ran closely around it.
Behind the pool they found:
- a trap door in the floor, made of stone with no clear way to open or close it.
- a bas-relief of a demon on the back wall.
- a blood-stained altar made of flat stones arranged into a table-like arrangement. The blood wasn't that old, but not new, either.
They did their best to pry up the trap door, but it was very difficult to get around the edge. Once they did with El's pick, Bjorn tried to lift it but felt it pull against a latch.
Meanwhile Hannibal examined the demon bas relief (which El had pronounced a "standard type" demon, after a failed Hidden Lore roll) and found a small coin-sized slot in its mouth.
Bjorn checked the slot and saw it went in and down. He put his very last silver piece in there, as Asher approvingly noted its singular nature provided special value for such purposes. It clunked down and rattled away, and the trap door clicked and opened up slightly. There were able to pull it open, giving the (now three) beautiful watery murder nymphs a last longing glance and went down.
There were stairs down, ending in a door. They heard nothing at the door, and opened it easily, pushing it in. Beyond it was a narrow room with double doors to the right, and a table with a pair of chairs and a bottle of wine. Quick examination showed the wine was not old, and nothing was dusty. They listened at the door, and heard nothing.
So they opened the doors and moved in. There was a large room beyond, large enough they couldn't see the right or far walls. They moved in a little, and tossed a lightstone forward.
As they did, six arrows flew out of the darkness to the right and thumped into El and Orrie. They were wounded, and the party sprang into action. Bjorn and Rahtnar rushed to the right, only to have Bjorn to find a wall. Bjorn and Rahtnar could hear the rattle of armoured men and footsteps, and Bjorn whacked the wall to see if it was real or illusionary - real. What the?
More arrows flew out of the darkness, as Bjorn and Rahtnar heard someone clearly say "loose at the fire mage!" and arrows flew out. One hit El, two slammed into Hannibal, one inflicting max damage - he used Luck to re-roll it (it being too late to re-roll the hit.) Luckily it wasn't as bad as he thought. El shot a Sunbolt randomly into the dark.
Asher threw a light stone and it came to rest amidst a ranked bunch of armed men - six swordsmen, six spearmen behind them interspersed with six halberdiers, and six archers, plus a plate-armoured leader-looking guy. Hannibal still had a Fireball in hand and threw it and nailed the nearest swordsman, but he blocked it with his shield. The group immediately started to retreat, holding the door.
At this point, they realized they were inside a Wall of Silence looked around the door, effectively allowing the bandits to organize in verbally while watching the PCs via the PC's own lights.
As the formation began to move forward, Hannibal sprang into action. He quickly put up a 4-area Smoke spell to block the line of sight of the archers and the direct advance of the enemy.
The swordsman and spearman ran one way, trying to flying the PCs on their right. The archers and halberdiers advanced around the PC's left. Meanwhile, their plate-armoured sworsman flew wide to the right, and then right into them - way too fast, and too clearly under Great Haste. He got right behind them.
The swordsman held the door, swinging at everyone he could to get them to back off into the room. He fended off a few attacks, but then Asher grabbed his legs from behind and Bjorn checked him with his shield, doing little past his plate armor. He sliced down at Asher who let go to Dodge. Bjorn swung and rolled a 3 - crit, max damage. He inflicted a horrible injury on the man. Unluckily for them, I rolled a 3 for his consciousness check, and by long standing rules that meant I could stop rolling until he was hurt again. He knew he was in trouble, and flew back into the room. Even then, the halberdiers could up. The group still backed off.
Meanwhile, Hannibal put up another large Smoke spell to completely seal off a flank from anyone not brave enough to run through, basically, opaque tear gas.
El put an axe into one halberdier and knocked him down but not out. Hannibal torched one with a fireball. Korric and Orrie (who'd been healed earlier by El) fenced with the other polearmsmen. Rahtnar engaged as well, eventually crippling one's leg. Bjorn one-upped him seconds later as the group piled out of the room, and he lopped the leg off one of the pursuers.
They kept running, and the archers caught up as they were piling up the stairs. Bjorn took an arrow (after an 18 on a Block) as the PCs climbed out of the trap door. As he pulled himself up, Hannibal tossed down an Alchemist's Fire and lit the place up. They closed the trap door, blasted the nearby pool with Rain of Fire, and had Bjorn shove over the altar. He pulled a muscle doing it, taking 1 HP of (lasting) injury, but managed to tilt it over on the trap door.
The PCs made it back to the skiffs. They pushed off quickly, towing the skiffs behind them. Once somewhat safely away, they stopped. They could hear stone clinking in the distance, as the bandits tried to get out. They paused to put Great Heal on OCW and then poled away.
Long story short, three hungry days later they managed to make it back to OCW's shack and ate everything he had stockpiled before heading to town.
They sold the broken crossbow metal bits for scrap, sold the rusted morningstar for not much better, and collected a reward of 100sp each for return of the six skiffs (so, 600 sp). Not a profit, but not a total loss, either, and everyone received 4 xp.
Tough first session, but I warned people:
- the was a tough mission.
- Survival (Swampland) was a good idea, and people could take it (especially knowing it was a wet swamp ahead.)
- Boating was a good idea.
No one took me up on #2 and #3 until the end of session 1. Bjorn picked up Boating and Survival (Swampland) since that gives a much better return now than increasing his (Mountains) to pick up an improved default. Rahtnar also learned Boating, making him the expert thanks to his DX 16.
The PCs destroyed 10 skeletons, crippled one fighter, terribly wounded another, and maimed another (his leg being lopped off.) Assuming they have access to healing, call that 1-2 bandits down, only one permanently. They suffered no losses, though, except for expended material possessions.
I was pretty generous at the end with starving, because I realized people had misunderstood how to count rations and thought they were much better prepared. They did groan about how they had no idea the island was so far away, but I noted that no one asked even once and OCW could have told them.
MVP was Bjorn, for his timely fight-turning 3, slamming bunches of skeletons, holding the rear, and more. A good first session. I was personally very impressed with all of the spells Hannibal cast - all timely, well placed, and well chosen. Since I can't even remember if that player had run a wizard before, it seemed like he hit the ground running.
Amusingly, El uses a Dwarven Whetstone as a Power Item.
We had a brief suggestion of using Wait to interrupt Great Haste. I quickly pointed out that for our DF game we'd ruled you couldn't interrupt ATR, and Great Haste is ATR. I also noted that we could change it back so you could Wait and nail people who used Great Haste to All-Out Attack. I also noted that the PCs are the main users of Great Haste, so changing to so they could ace this NPC meant they'd nerf the favorite buff. No one went for that.
Flying and slams - this comes up a lot - shouldn't flying or levitating people be easier to knock back with slams? No. Flight and Levitation don't change anything except they give you the ability to fly. It makes for some odd mental images, but it neatly avoids making entirely new rules for fighting based on having no ground to push off of, or dealing with being easier to move around but somehow still able to strike with full muscular power or needing to factor Move into all combat.
Can't the church raise people for free, if they want to? No, not really. Even using their church as a Power Item for the casting, the power to charge it has to come from somewhere, and that has costs.
Shields and Martial Artists - Rahtnar wears scale and leather, a pot helm, carries a shield, and so on. Dwarven martial artists are odd. I did allow him an exception of taking Thrown Weapon (Axe), though, as it fits dwarves too well and shuriken and knives don't do so well.
Seashells in a northern swamp? Yep. It's a clue, although not a game-breaking clue to anything. But it's unusual and worth investigating.
Wall of Silence is a fun spell, not terribly expensive (2/1) and pretty effective in the right circumstances. It's rarely useful to let no sound out but also none in, but this was one of those times.
The PCs decided, but forget to check, that maybe some of the missing guys are a) charmed and b) amongst the bandits they fought. They'll follow up on that next time. They're also a bit concerned that they showed a lot of what they've got and saw little of what the enemy had.