Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Terrinoth #12 - The Darkness Before Dawn

The party escorts Mama Clay to Maiden's Vale


Campaign Diary

In the month of Herbist Giso Meyer and Tom Kellosson, priests of Kellos, were tasked by their superior to escort Mama Clay, an experienced (and elderly) postpartum nurse, to Maiden's Vale, a village on the edge of Blackwing Swamp that was held by the church. The wife of the reeve of the village was due to deliver, and the church wanted to reward his loyal services by sending the best nurse they could find.

Acting as guide for the party was Whisper Blackmane, newly returned to Tamalir after attending her father's funeral in the Aymhelin Forest.

(Click here for PC profiles)

It was a short two-day journey from Tamalir to Maiden's Vale, but the incessant autumn rains and even more persistent complaining from Mama Clay about the effects of the cold weather and rough roads on her geriatric frame made the trip seem longer.

On the evening of the second day the party arrived at Maiden's Vale to find it curiously quiet. As they passed through the wooden palisade that surrounded the village, they saw a thin man being locked in the stocks in the village square. As they party got closer to the stocks Mama Clay recognised the man as Solly, a servant in the reeve's household.

The party soon learned that Sir Olvar the reeve had ventured into Blackwing Swamp soon after the birth of his son, on account of the local legend, and that his cousin, one Sir Klock, had soon afterwards with the help of ten thugs who had just arrived in the village thrown his wife and newborn child out of the manor house; when Solly protested, he was beaten by the thugs and locked up in the stocks as a example to the other villagers who might dare challenge his authourity.

Our heroes, incensed by this treachery, wanted to release Solly and then march straight to the manor house and eject the usurper, but Solly and Mama Clay argued that it would be foolhardy to do so, and that their first task should be to find Lady Angela, Sir Olvar's wife, and her child.

While the adventurers considered their words, a pine cone struck Solly on the head. It had been thrown by a kobold hiding in a nearby tree. The kobold ran off before Tom and Whisper could catch it and disappeared into the darkness, cackling as it did so.

The party decided that for the present discretion would be the better part of valour, and made for the unnamed public house in the village, where they found some villagers huddled around a table, speaking in whispers. After ascertaining that the new arrivals were not more thugs come here to reinforce Sir Klock, the innkeeper brought them food and drink, and told them of the local legend.

It was said that a long time ago, the villagers of Maiden's Vale offended a witch who lived in Blackwing Swamp, and in revenge she had laid a curse on the village, such that every child born in the three days before a full moon would die upon the midnight of the full moon; Sir Olvar's child had unfortunately been born three days ago, and tonight was the night of full moon. On the same day that the child was born, Sir Olvar had ventured into the swamp, seeking to beg the witch to spare his child, or die fighting her if she refused to do so. Sadly, the legend also told that all those who tried to do so had never returned from the swamp.

The party also learned that Lady Angela had taken refuge at the miller's home, outside the palisade, and under the cover of darkness the innkeeper led our heroes and Mama Clay to the place. There the found mother and child safe, at least for now. Speaking to the miller, they learned that he too had a child born close to the full moon a few years ago, and that he too ventured into the swamp the evening when his child was born, hoping to find the witch. He followed a trail into the swamp until he scaled a cliff and saw a green light in the distance. Following the green light, he eventually came to a hill overlooking a clearing, in the middle which stood a hut. Here he was overcomed with fear, and could not continue, and so returned to the village, and his child died at midnight on the night of the full moon as predicted. Now, seeing another child in danger, he volunteered to lead the adventurers into the swamp.

Leaving Mama Clay to care for Lady Angela and her child, the party traveled towards the swamp - it was now just five hours away from midnight, and they needed haste.

The rain stopped as they entered the swamp, and by the moonlight Whisper found fresh footprints in the path before them. Scouting ahead, Whisper and Tom found three armed men hiding in ambush ahead on them. They launched a surprise attack on the three, and in less than a minute one of the ambushers were dead, and the other two subdued. Interrogating the two survivors, they learned that they were among the thugs hired by Sir Klock to take over his cousin's manor. Sir Klock had predicted that his cousin would go into the swamp to try to save his child, and had in fact encouraged him to do so, but secretly, he had hired mercenaries from outside to help him take over the manor house, in the belief that Sir Olvar would not return - possession being nine tenths of the law, he hoped that the church would make him the new reeve of the village once they had learned of Sir Olvar's fate. His plan looked to be working well, until a villager arrived earlier in the evening with news of the adventurers' arrival, and the three thugs were sent to ambush the party in the event that they ventured into the swamp in an attempt to bring Sir Olvar back.

Our heroes stripped and tied the two thugs up, and sent the miller back to the village to summon help in bringing the thugs back, and continued deeper into the swamp. Soon they came upon the cliff which the miller told them about. Whisper deftly climbed to the top, but the cliff wall, wet with rain, caused her to be covered in mud. From here, she saw an eerie green light in the distance. Giso and Tom climbed to the top with the help of a rope lowered by Whisper, but while walking down the slope on the other side of the cliff they slipped and fell, covering themselves in mud too.

The party trekked in the direction of the green light, which seemed to be at the same distance ahead of them regardless of how far they have walked. After struggling for another hour through the swampy ground, the party ascended a low hill to find a clearing at its top. In the middle of the clearing was a tree stump. Here, someone had piled tree branches and bark on the stump, making a sort of a puppet booth. As they watched the bark curtains of the booth parted, and a candle was lit. A wooden figurine, with white hair made from moss, was mimed climbing a cliff represented by a piece of tree bark - the puppeteer then smeared the front of the figurine in mud, cackling to itself as it did so. Then two more figurines, each made to resemble Giso and Tom, were shown walking down a slope and tumbling, before they too were smeared with mud, all accompanied by the shrill cackle of the puppeteer.

The party recognised the laughter as that of the kobold that had taunted Solly earlier, and rushed forward to try to catch it. When it narrowly slipped Tom's grasp, Whisper nocked an arrow and shot it through its leg. The kobold fell to the ground, howling in pain. The adventurers tied the creature up, and healed its wound. Questioning it, they learned that it called itself Erkiss, and that it had been acting as a scout for "the mistress" who lived in the hut at the bottom of the hill. It also revealed that a man matching the description of Sir Olvar had come this way two days ago, and had come under her spell.

Leaving Erkiss by the tree stump, our adventurers walked to the far side of the hill. Here they could see a hut in a clearing at the base of the hill. Green light glowed through the windows of the hut. Standing before the door of the hut were four human forms. As they got closer they saw that them seemed to be in a trance, standing still with weapons in their hands, their eyes glazed over and staring into the distance. Three of them looked disheveled, as if they had been here for ages, while the fourth looked liked he had recently arrived - Sir Olvar.

Tom walked forward and tried the door - it was unlocked. He slowly opened the door to find the interior lit in the orange light coming from a fireplace in the far corner. A long-haired woman was seated on a chair before the fire, her back towards him; in her arms she seemed to be holding a baby, but neither the woman nor the baby made a sound. Whisper joined Tom in the small room, while Giso kept close to the entranced men outside. When their attempts at starting a conversation was met with silence, Tom and Whisper moved closer to the woman. Each approaching the woman on one side, they found her face covered with her long hair, but even as the edged closer towards her, they could not catch a glimpse of her face...

Then suddenly, the woman, child, and chair vanished. And just as suddenly, another figure, this one of an old woman with cruel features, clawed fingers and ragged clothes appeared out of thin air behind Tom and leapt at him, tearing a great wound in the back of his neck. At the same time, the four entranced men raised their weapons and started attacking Giso. Giso raised the golden hammer he had won on his last adventure and fought back, trying not to hurt his attackers more than he had to, but when Sir Olvar struck him, he was filled with a blind rage, and found that he could not stop himself from striking back.

Whisper joined Tom in fighting the witch, and soon forced her into a corner in the hut. She fought back in a frenzy. Tom called down the fury of Kellos and cast flames from his hands, scorching the witch and setting the wall of the hut on fire. Maddened by the fire, the witch struck Tom a mighty blow, knocking him to the ground. Whisper called upon the aid of the elven gods, and rained a flurry of blows upon the witch, throwing her against the burning walls, which collapsed from the force of the impact.

Now the roof of the hut was also burning, and the hut itself started to sink into the swampy ground. As flaming debris rained on her, Whisper helped Tom to his feet, and together they exited the hut just as the roof collapsed. Outside, the four entranced men had stopped fighting, and came back to their senses - they were all fathers who had come seeking to save their children from the witch's curse in the years past, and had come under her enchantment until now. Giso felt his rage ebb. Now they all watched, as the witch lay writhing on the ground as fire consumed her. Soon she stopped moving, and the fire began to die down. Whisper saw a green glow inside the witch's charred body, and reached to recover it. As her hand closed around the glowing object she felt a sudden chill in her arm, as if she had plunged it into a frozen lake - but the feeling soon passed, and she found a green cats's eye gem the size and shape of a cuckoo's egg.

Our party of seven limped and staggered its way back to the village even as the full moon climbed steadily into the night sky. Erkiss the kobold had freed itself from his bonds and was nowhere in sight when they passed the tree stump. They arrived at the base of the cliff to find that several villagers have joined the miller. By the time the enlarged group returned to village it was past midnight, but even before they reached the door of the miller's house they were greeted by a happy noise - the sound of a crying baby. Sir Olvar rushed through the door and hugged his wife and child in a tearful reunion.

The innkeeper arrived soon after, bearing food and drink for everyone. As our heroes rested, they noted that despite the lateness of the hour, slowly, more and more villagers have joined them. Encouraged, Sir Olvar decided to launch an attack on the manor house to catch his treacherous cousin by surprise. While Giso was eager to join him, Whisper and Tom persuaded everyone to let them scout ahead in case there was an ambush. The crowd agreed with their proposal, and sure enough, Whisper and Tom found the manor house abandoned, apparently in a hurry, with its treasures gone - it seemed that once again, someone had tipped Sir Klock off.

Prepping and Running the Game

Due to a miscommunication, I could not run an A Team game as I had planned, but fortunately a B Team player stepped up and we ended up playing a B Team game for the evening instead.

I had a hour to come up with a scenario, and instead of learning a new one I decided to re-use the one from the 2008 edition of Dragon Warriors, which I ran for my family in April this year. The game as it was written was a good introduction to gritty, low magic feel of the Dragon Warriors world, but in my view the ending was too contrived. Still, the pdf of the whole book is available for free on RPGNow, so I encourage you to download it and have a read.

I ran the first part of the game pretty much as is, substituting a kobold for a goblin for Erkiss. The players were unnecessarily harsh towards Erkiss, I felt, so I plan to bring him back as a recurring foil, or maybe even an unlikely ally in the future.

I used the name Mama Clay, forgetting that I had used it (and the same voice) for a herbalist in an earlier A Team game - apparently she made enough of an impression to make the player remember her name! I decided that she has many sisters living all over Terrinoth, so Mama Clays will now make appearances in my future Terrinoth games.

For the villain of the scenario I used a hag instead of the 'White Lady', which I also did for my previous game. The hag in the hut in the swamp is an old trope, but there is a reason why it is a trope. In my rush to start the game I had not decided on any loot for the session, and it was only after the fight was over and the hut was sinking into the swamp that I remembered to come up with something. I went with the theme of the green glow, and told the players that I will tell them what it was they found once I have thought it over. My current plan is to make it a hag's eye, and to make the hag who was killed one of a coven of hags; with the hag's eye in the possession of a PC, the other two hags can learn of where the PC is, and will most likely want to recover the artefact, which gives me hook for future adventures.

Over all it was a fun session, which while low in combat had many opportunities for role-playing. I guess one lesson for me from this session is that I should always have an additional scenario ready for contingencies just like this.

1 comment:

Stephen Holmes said...

An excellent tale, with adventurers behaving with honour and doing the right thing.

I recall a cheesy like from a school play many years ago:
"Brute force it too much of a risk when lives are at stake".

It was therefore good to see the combats come sparingly.
Perhaps a big surprise that the inevitable final "Boss battle" didn't occur.