Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"The Red Orcs of Zinnober", Chapter 24 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week, the party undergoes a change in membership, then they take on the Red Orcs that have plundered the village of Flinch.

Change is in the Air
Before we begin, I must announce a change in roster. Ser Valerius, Absolom, and Brown Tom have decided to end their association with the party citing philosophical differences. Ser Valerius felt he could not fulfill the duties or live by the standards required of him by the temple of Justica if he continued to adventure with a band of mercenary ruffians and roustabouts. His squire, Brown Tom, obviously followed suit, as did Absolom. They regretfully informed Princess Murti of Kalmath that their responsibilities to Justica would prevent them from escorting her across the mountain pass.

Luckily, Princess Murti had recruited the services of two new adventurers, who agreed to join Knott, Babu, Jilani, Thaddeus, Gwen, and Biscuit on their mission.

In addition, Babu hired a mercenary to replace Clench, who died in the spiked pit trap the week before. Babu made it known, "I have only so much memory, and I have to allocate that to my spells. Therefore, whatever your name is, as long as I pay you, you will be known as 'Clench II'".

Introducing:
Maori, otherworldly fighter/magic user

Maori, an Otherworldly* fighter/magic user. As a child of the Otherworld, Maori has alien features. In addition to a slight build, Maori has charcoal-grey skin, amber hair, and glassy black orbs for eyes.

Bombus, hillfolk thief
Bombus, a Hillfolk** thief. Bombus recently arrived in Swallow where he became a thief to survive. He has so far avoided the notice of Black Tom and the Path of Fear and Thunder.

*Otherworlders - The Elves of Agartha. They hail from the "Otherworld", a dimension of thought, magic, and energy. In their native world, they exist as formless beings of pure energy. They must take physical form in order to enter our world. That form often takes on random characteristics alien to humankind. Imagine the elves of Hellboy II.

**Hillfolk - The Halflings of Agartha. They are primitive pygmies with rough features and wild shaggy hair on their heads, arms, and feet. They live in small isolated arboreal villages in the deep forests of the foothills. Think of the Nelwyn from Willow but more primitive. Many Hillfolk seek their fortunes in the cities, where they are considered scruffy, uncouth, smelly, and backwards.

Our party now consists of:
Player Characters
  • Thaddeus, Stider of Swallow (Level 3 Human Ranger)
  • Jalani, Curate of Amun-Tor (Level 4 Human Cleric)
  • Biscuit, Footpad/Minor Trickster (Level 2 Gnome Thief/Illusionist)
  • Maori, Warrior/Evoker (Level 2 Elf Fighter/Magic User)
  • Bombus, Cutpurse (Level 3 Halfling Thief)
Henchmen
  • Babu the Conjurer (Level 3 Human Magic User)
  • Knott the Axeman (Level 3 Human Fighter)
Hirelings
  • Clench II (Human Mercenary Heavy Infantryman)
Other NPCs
  • Princess Murti of Kalmath (Human active NPC, 1-4 hit points, combat ability -1)
Lost Dog
After the defeat of the evil priests of Adhinatta at the Ruins of Leggach, most of the party spent the week poring over tomes of ancient lore in the library of Justica trying to identify the various artifacts they acquired. Thaddeus, however, travelled into the forest to find Wardog, who was missing. Wardog was quickly located and returned to Valerius. Gwen, Brown Tom, and Thaddeus then spent the week training under their respective mentors. 

Returning to the boarding house, the temporary headquarters of the party, Thaddeus informed the others of the departure of Valerius, Absolom, and Brown Tom from the party. It was then that Princess Murti introduced the two new adventurers, Maori and Bombus.

The new party supplied themselves for a journey up river to escort Princess Murti through the Defile of Castragon and ultimately to the city of Horek at the edge of the western wastes. Ahead of them, they knew that Red Orcs from Mount Zinnober had recently attacked the village of Flinch, an eight-hour hike up-river from Swallow. The town's fate was unknown since no one was willing to go near the village to investigate.

Sky-Whales
The day was cool and grey, the air filled with mist, when the party set out on their journey. The clouds were low and hung to the steep mountainous slopes on either side of the river. The dark shadows of sky-whales swam lazily in the misty clouds overhead, unseen by aerial predators such as griffins or sky-sharks. The old trade road, great stone slabs laid down by the Agarthan empire a millenium before, was overgrown with weeds and covered in wet mud. 

A few miles out from Flinch, Thaddeus led the party off the road up into the hills, following a hunting trail imperceptible to others. The party climbed a ridge until the trees dwindled to stunted saplings. At this altitude, above the trees of the forest, they could look down onto the village from above.

They could see the village, home to no more than 400 inhabitants normally. It seemed abandoned with a few wisps of smoke but nothing resembling the cooking fires of inhabitation. Overlooking the village from another ridge beyond a stream loomed the ruins of an ancient manor, long decrepit. Leaving Princess Murti behind with Biscuit to find shelter and build a camp, the rest of the party descended through the trees towards the village.

The party reached the treeline at the edge of the small cleared fields surrounding the village. The fields were separated by low fieldstone walls. From here they could clearly see the gate in the ancient stone wall surrounding the village. The gate was smashed and the village beyond lay in ruins. The decayed bodies of dozens of men lay rotting all along and around the village wall. Some were impaled, some were hanging from ropes, others were dismembered, their limbs and torsos hanging from chains and hooks like a gruesome butcher's market.

Red Orcs
Small groups of Red Orcs were still carrying plunder away from the village. A few orcs fought over possession of arm-fulls of everyday items. They seemed to be taking it up a muddy path to the manor at the top of the hill. One of the red orcs was moving a female human slave with a lasso at the end of a pole. At this sight, the party took action!

Archers opened fire on the red orcs. The red orcs dropped their plunder and charged the party at the treeline. Within two minutes, the red orcs were in melee with the party. After a fierce battle, the red orcs were defeated.

The prisoner was thankful to her saviors. When asked, she said the red orcs invaded two weeks ago. They came from nowhere, pouring out of the manor on the hill! The men of the village put up a valiant fight but those who weren't slain by the invaders were executed, their remains put on display. She informed the party that the women and children were taken to the manor to be used as slaves and breeding stock. She managed to escape but was recently recaptured. She described the manor as best she could, telling the party that there are several breaches in the compound wall.

The party then advanced into the village where they encountered another twelve red orcs. Judicious use of magic from Babu put six of the humanoids to sleep while the rest were dispatched in man-to-man combat.

After executing the sleeping orcs, the party discussed their options. The sky was darkening and night was coming. If they attacked now, they may face more orcs than if they waited for the morning. They decided to attack now.

By the time they reached the manor on the hill, the sky was completely dark and it was raining. The area around the manor had been cleared of trees for a hundred feet in all directions, leaving a forest of stumps. They snuck across the clearing to one of the breaches in the wall undetected. While climbing over the stone debris of the breach, several members of the party caused loose heavy stones to fall, making a loud racket. The orcs loiting at the entrance of the manor house heard the commotion. Two ran inside while two others ran to the stables.

The Manor Ruins
The party quickly made their way to the entrance of the ruined manor house, now nothing more than crumbling walls and collapsed ceilings. They just made it inside the entrance when a pack of eight dire wolves as large as lions descended upon them. One bore down on Clench II, biting his shoulder and dragging him away to eat. The rest crowded the entrance where the party set their defense. A magic spell from Babu put two dire wolves to sleep while Thaddeus, Maori, and Knott killed the remainder with support from ranged attackers. 

Before the wolves attacked, the party heard the slamming of a large wooden door, like plywood slapping a stone floor. After the battle, they explored the house searching for such a door. Finding none, they explored the rest of the house. In one room, Bombus found a closed box with no lock. Unable to open the box, Knott smashed it open. Within they found some gold coins and a gem.

When Maori searched a hall, he found a secret door hidden under rubble in a previously explored room. The party girded themselves and descended the stairs into the ancient cellar.

Welcome Committee
At the bottom of the stairs, they encountered a welcome committee of ten kobolds held on leashes by six red orcs taking cover behind a makeshift barricade of debris. The orcs called out, in orcish, "Kill the intruders and you will be set free!" At that, Babu cast another spell, sending all six orcs into magical slumber. The kobolds, impressed, laid down their arms. The party let them go free.

The party then faced two parallel corridors. They took the left passage. They soon found a niche containing an ancient rusty suit of armor on display. Convinced of the cursed nature of the armor, the fatalistic Maori donned the suit without hesitation. To his surprise, the rust on the armor sluffed off, revealing a suit of remarkable antiquity and craftsmanship. Thaddeus signed and shook his head in disbelief at the elf's luck.

Red Orc Ambush
Exploring a corridor to the west, the party encountered a group of four red orc crossbowmen. The party engaged in ranged combat and charged the crossbowmen. The red orcs fell back, taking cover behind an intersection at the end of the hallway. The party advanced cautiously through the ranged attacks, taking time to carefully check every door in the hallway along the way. To the left they found a bedchamber and a kitchen, to the right they found a hall filled with female human slaves. 

Once they were close enough to the intersection and the crossbowmen, the ambush was launched. Two groups of red orc warriors charged from around both corners while a third group charged from the rear of the party. The party was surrounded and facing over twenty red orcs!

Ambushed by Red Orcs!
A long and bloody battle ensued. Two orcs that had been invisibly trailing the party launched surprise attacks. It was then that Jilani discovered that the Bracers of Defense she was wearing were, in fact, cursed Bracers of Defenselessness! The party quickly assumed that all the treasures taken from the trapped niche in the Temple of Adhinatta (the chain mail armor, which was sold in Swallow before it was ever donned, and the Wand of Summoning carried by Babu) were likewise cursed and forbade their use! Jilani was quickly moved to the center of the formation and Maori took up her defense from the rear. 
Another view of the ambush
Eventually, the red orcs were reduced to two sub-commanders, both viscious and cunning opponents. Over time, even these deadly opponents fell to Knott and Thaddeus.

TO BE CONTINUED!

After Thoughts
Scott felt that a paladin was not a good fit for the kind of party in which he wanted to play. He was finding it difficult roleplaying a Lawful Good paladin with a gang of mercenary adventurers and he was finding it increasingly difficult to justify to himself his character being with this party. Instead of asking others to change to fit his character's restrictions, he decided to retire Valerius and play a less morally committed character.

Jeff followed suit. Partially because Absolom and Valerius were joined at the hip, but also partially because, I think, Jeff loves making and playing new characters. We kind of make fun of his character ADHD.

Likewise we felt that Valerius' squire, Brown Tom, would go where Valerius went.

This retirement fit in well with other events within the campaign, actually. Valerius had been engaged to wed the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Swallow. Her dowry would fund the construction of a modest villa outside of Wince. So off they go.

As for the adventure at hand, I am running one of the adventures included in the book Dark Folk, a Role-Aids supplement from Mayfair Games. It's was a nice short adventure focusing on Orcs, perfect for a side quest en-route to Horek.