The Crossing Inn. A stop-over for travellers heading in and out of Phlan. However, with Phlan currently under the control of the Green Dragon Vorgansharax, the inn hasn’t seen nearly as many travels of late. Add to that the unseasonable cold and the lingering fog and it’s no wonder the inn has fallen on tough times.
As the five factions mount a heroic effort to reclaim Phlan, the PCs were asked to visit the Crossing Inn and gather intel while awaiting further instructions. When they reached the inn they discovered that a family of nomadic travellers who’d been staying in the area had tricked the locals, stolen some good, and fled the inn the night before. The heroes, all looking to make names for themselves, volunteered to track down the thieves, recover the stolen goods, and bring the perpetrators back to the inn to face justice.
In the last write-up we covered the introduction including who these thieves were and what was taken. We also followed the PCs’ adventures as they undertook the first mission called COINS. In that one they recovered a box of stolen gems for a visiting merchant. This week the PCs undertook two more missions called SWORDS and STARS as they tried to recover two more stolen items: a wagon full of weapons and a magic wand.
The PCs had no trouble following the wagon’s trail as it headed toward Xûl?Jarak, the abandoned Orc fortress in Thar. The persistent fog made it difficult to see too far ahead as they traveled up the mountainous trail. Eventually the fog broke and the PCs could see the abandoned fortress in the distance. They could also make out (barely) four Orcs leading a wagon into the fortress. One Orc carried a limp body over his shoulder. It looked like Kehkim was captured.
The PCs quickened their pace hoping to get to Kehkim before he was thrown in the Orc’s stew pot. As the party moved ahead they were ambushed by Goblins. The sneaky buggers had set traps, but observant PCs noticed the traps and managed to avoid getting tangled up. In the three times I ran this encounter only one PC was ever caught in the trap. In that instance the clever Goblins surrounded the spot where they knew he’d fall, while one of them cut the rope, and when he fell the others attacked the prone and restrained PC with advantage. It was ugly.
In the other instances the PCs made short work of the Goblins. In all cases I ramped up the difficulty of this encounter by providing lots of places for the Goblins to hide, and I increased the number of monsters to provide a real challenge for the party. Everyone who played enjoyed the combat, and all felt there was danger, but all knew that in the end they’d survive. After all these were just Goblins.
All of the parties kept some Goblins alive to try and interrogate them. However, two of the groups couldn’t get anything from the monsters – once because no one spoke Goblin, and the other because they failed their Charisma skills. In both cases they murdered the prisoners (despite a reminder from me that this was an unlawful act). The third group managed to coax some info from their prisoner including pass phrases that would allow them to get into the keep without being attacked. The parties that killed the prisoners found a crumpled paper with the pass phrases spelled out phonetically, but they had no idea what the words meant. All parties found a magnifying glass on one of the Goblins. Once cleaned up, the trinket was worth 125 gp.
At this point two of the three groups I ran through this part wanted to take a short rest while others felt time was of the essence and they needed to move ahead quickly. Since I beefed up the Goblin fight I allowed groups who wanted to take the rest to do so, but I adjusted the next part accordingly.
In all three cases this next part played out exactly the same way. I described the keep using the read-aloud text provide. Then I mentioned a lone raven circling the keep. When the raven changed its flight path and headed towards the PCs I had everyone roll initiative. I didn’t say that the raven was attacking or even posing any significant danger to the party, I just wanted to create some tension and see how they’d react to the unknown. Each time the raven rolled poorly in the initiative and went after most party members. And in each case the PCs chose to attack the poor raven before it could get close to them. In fact, two of the three parties killed the 1 hp raven with a crit. Little did they know that the raven was actually a Wizard’s familiar and was trying to provide intel and other assistance. Oh well.
Each party advanced slowly and quietly, some sending scouts, others advancing as a group. All Stealth checks were good enough to approach undetected. No one remembered to use the pass phrases, but it wasn’t necessary in any of the scenarios I ran.
Once inside the courtyard, the PCs spotted the wagon. The horse was still attached but resting comfortably. In the back of the wagon two Orcs sorted the weapons looking for the very best ones to keep for themselves. Not far from the wagon a man was locked in a cage. He matched the description of Kehkim they’d been given. He was alive but had been badly beaten.
The PCs took advantage of the Orc’s singular focus on the shiny weapons and attacked them. The Orcs called out for help and the fight was on. I had at least two more Orcs emerge from the crumbled buildings in the subsequent rounds. For the parties that rested and were back to full hit points I also had an Ogre make an appearance.
The combat was grueling and difficult, but the PCs always had a slight edge over the monsters. During the combat I had some PCs make Perception checks. They heard the sounds of movement and monstrous voices emanating from the lower sections of the keep. There were clearly more monsters nearby, but not close enough to join the fight yet. This emphasized the urgency to finish quickly and escape. During two sessions a PC rushed to free Kehkim, in the third they waited until all immediate monsters were killed before doing so.
Kehkim was weak but awake. He thanked the party and asked them to take the wagon with the weapons back to the inn. Since the Orcs did not honour their deal to protect his family he didn’t want them to have these weapons. He apologized for his actions and promised to try and make it up to the people he wronged.
The heroes managed to get the wagon turned around and back on the path before anyone emerged from the bowels of the fort. The trip back to the inn was uneventful. Kehkim offered the party a pair of earrings that he still wore as a reward for saving him. The party accepted his payment and returned him to the inn before they undertook their next mission.
Both times I ran this session I decided to do so without using a full on map with the 1-inch grids or minis. The results were very positive and it allowed us to complete this mission in about 30-40 minutes of real time. Considering how long it took to complete COINS and SWORDS, I needed to do something to quicken the pace and complete the missions in under an hour. Foregoing the map was the ideal solution.
The heroes were able to pick up the tracks of Hricu, the child who stole the wand. A local farmer confirmed they were heading in the right direction when he told them about the child he spotted running through his field a few nights earlier, lights flashing in his wake. The trail lead to the Vanishing Hills and up the relatively steep incline.
While the PCs decided how best to traverse the steep cliffs they noticed a strange flower that was growing wildly up the slope. Given the cold weather it was unusual to see a plant with such vibrant red colouring growing so abundantly. No one made a high enough Nature check to identify the plants so they proceeded without further delay.
As the group progressed onward and upward they needed to make Athletic checks to keep their footing on the steep and slippery terrain. It didn’t take long for more than a few PCs to slip and slide down the mountainside. The journey might have been fun if it wasn’t for the explosions. The red flowers were so plentiful that any PC who slid was unable to avoid going through a patch of the plants. A few seconds after the plants were touched (or picked) they exploded. It caused more than one PC to sustain a few points of damage.
With the new danger apparent, the climbing proceeded in a much more cautious manner. Eventually the whole party made it to a plateau where there was a path a few caves. Before the PCs could decide what direction to head next they were beset upon by hungry cougars (the big cats, not sexually aggressive soccer moms). The cats looked malnourished and the party realized they may avoid combat if they presented easier prey.
While the well armored PCs fought off the beasts, the spell casters pulled rations from their packs and threw the food off to the side. A few cougars pounced on the free food, but the party was forced to kill a few others. Once two cougars were killed the other cats moved in to feed on the remains. The party slipped away without having to kill the remaining cats.
The wand thief’s tracks were easily spotted in the dirt, heading into a nearby cave. The PCs with darkvision proceeded while those without darkvision stopped to light torches. The PCs in the lead turned the corner and started down a slippery slope. They saw brief flashes of light at the bottom so they rushed onward. Unfortunately huge icicles fell from the ceiling and pierced them as they made their way down. They didn’t stop to caution the rest of the party once they reached the bottom and took in the scene.
When the rest of the party got to the slope they had enough sense to look around. When they saw the icicles they used magic to destroy them, eliminating any chance of getting pierced. They then proceeded down the slope slowly and carefully.
At the bottom of the slope was a large rounded chamber. At the far end was a small child surrounded by giant bats. As the bats tried to bite and scratch the child, small bursts of fire shot out from the sticks he was holding in each hand. When he saw the PCs he called out for aid. The bruisers who rushed down the slope charged the bats and started slashing left and right.
What proceeded was a combat between grounded PCs and flying giant bats. The character with ranged attacks (bows and spells) targeted the bats in the air, while the melee combatants readied actions to slash at bats that swooped in. These weren’t just Giant Bats, but were in fact Fire Bats. When they got close to the PCs the bats emitted a fire burst. The first few attacks got multiple PCs in the burst, but as the heroes realized the potency of this power, they spread out.
With few hit points left, the PCs finally managed to defeat all the bats. Hricu began to ramble on at incredible speed the purpose for his theft and journey here. It included a meeting with a Dragon whom he was supposed to give the wand as a gift in exchange for protection for his family. But he accidentally broke the wand fending off the Fire Bats so he’s unsure what to do now. Upon hearing “Dragon” the PCs grabbed the boy and ran out of the cave and back down the mountainside. But before they did the sneakier PCs searched the Dragon’s Lair and found among some half-eaten bodies, a pouch with 2 fire opals and 2 healing potions.
The journey back to the Crossing Inn was painful as the child didn’t stop talking the whole way. The PCs were happy to be rid of him when the eventually arrived at their destination. They returned the wand to Aya, the Wizard. She was angry that the wand was destroyed, more because of its sentimental value to her than any actual magic it possessed. The boy offered to repair the wand or even carve the Wizard a new one. His youth revealed his naivety about how magic items are crafted. The Wizard scolded the boy, but eventually forgave him.
Be sure to visit Dungeon’s Master next week when we recap the fourth mission and the big finale that ends with a trip through the mists.
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