pogre's Trailblazer Campaign - Update 2/20/2011

pogre

Legend
Episode 1

The four-horse coach careened down the road directly at them. The steeds were covered in foamy sweat and the coach bumped along wildly – sometimes on three wheels, occasionally on two, but rarely on all four. A small noblewoman in expensive clothes and an outrageously large plumed hat was flogging the horse team unmercifully and pulling wildly with her other hand on the reins.

“God's Teeth!” Graxxus shouted, “take cover!”

At once the group scattered off the road and saw the coach tear past them. The driver was in fact not a small female, but a foul goblin. The goblin was grinning broadly and shouting. The ill-fitting noble woman's clothes were haphazardly whipping around the goblin. The outrageous plumed hat was pulled down so tightly it bent his ear tips and nearly obscured his beady red eyes. The goblin paused at lashing the horses for a moment to make an obscene gesture at the group with a wide, toothy, leering grin.

The astonished group looked at each other for a moment and then took off running down the road after the coach. They had only traveled a few feet when they heard the tell-tale signs of a bone-jarring crash. Rounding a short bend in the road they saw the coach was on its side and one of the wheels was still turning. The goblin was on the side of the road vigorously dusting off his over-sized dress. One of the horses was down with an obviously broken leg. The poor animal was kicking its other legs and was making a loud, whinnying, trumpet sound . The other steeds were standing, but the harnesses and reins were a tangled web.

Deadsmell and Graxxus took off towards the goblin. They were passed by a sprinting, greenish blur. Skullcrusher went flying past them with his mighty axe. The half-orc jumped high in the air and brought his huge axe chopping down. The blade sliced through collar bone, chest cavity, stomach, and hip socket leaving the goblin in two halves save for a few scraps of skin and sinew.*

Graxxus slowed to a trot and then stopped. “So much for a parlay I guess, old boy.”

“You do what ye' want to 'em,” Skullcrusher replied. “I don't eat gobbo.”

Skullcrusher was an impressive specimen physically. Well over six-feet tall, the half-orc could easily pass for a full-blooded orc. A stringy mustache that curled down the sides of his mouth, culminating in tiny knots, was one of the few signs that betrayed his human heritage. When he was introduced to the group a few weeks prior. he gave them some unpronounceable orc name, which he roughly translated to Skullcrusher.

“Nice work that, Skully,” Deadsmell commented as he kicked the goblin completely apart.

Deadsmell was a lean, vicious-looking man. He always reminded Wolfclaw of a rabid weasel. Deadsmell was given his moniker by Skullcrusher, and that was all anyone in the group knew him by. Wolfclaw had gathered from campfire conversation that Deadsmell was once a grave digger by profession, however, Wolfclaw suspected the nasty-looking human was more likely a grave robber.

Wolfclaw arrived on the scene and immediately went to the horse. The nature-priest soothed the panicked, injured animal. Wolfclaw was so distracted by his work that he had not noticed the approach of Skullbasher.

“Get yer' own,” Skullcrusher barked out.

“What?” Wolfclaw replied.

“Get yer' own, ye' squirrel-chasin' scaredy pants. This 'un be mine.”

“Yours?” Wolfclaw replied with genuine confusion.

“Ya' mine,” Skullcrusher replied and rapidly brought his goblin blood stained axe on the horse's neck breaking its neck and nearly decapitating it.

Wolfclaw rose indignantly, words of protest forming in his mouth when he was grabbed from behind by Goldie. Goldie was a female dwarf warrioress. Goldie whispered up to Wolfclaw, “Let it go, at least it was quick.”

“I could have saved him,” Wolfclaw protested. Wolfclaw and Goldie watched in horrid fascination as Skullcrusher sunk his blade deep in the horse's chest with a precise blow. He moved the axe's haft back and forth to pry the horse's chest cavity open and began eating select pieces of its organs, including the heart raw. “By the gods!” a Horrified Wolfclaw protested.

“Mmmm, still warm,” a satisfied Skullcrusher said. The half-orc smiled with bloody teeth as rivulets of gore ran down his chin. Wolfclaw quickly turned away.

“Hey Elf, have a look at this,” Goldie called to Wolfclaw.

“I do have a name,” Wolfclaw began.

“Yeah, yeah,” Goldie waved a dismissive hand at Wolfclaw's protests. Goldie was a stout lass, with good proportions, a friendly demeanor, and was a fairly attractive female dwarf. Of course, fairly attractive to male dwarfs meant she was a female and breathing, but Goldie was not unpleasant in appearance even to the other races. Despite their racial differences, Wolfclaw respected Goldie's deep faith and allegiance to her deity. She seemed fond of him as well.

“Have a look at this,” Goldie pointed to a stylized sign on the side of the coach. “The Embassy Coaching Line.”

Graxxus and Deadsmell moved up to inspect the coach. “That's gotta' be worth some coin,” Deadsmell muttered.

“We should return it to the rightful owner,” Graxxus commented.

Deadsmell frowned, but lightened up quickly saying, “There's prolly a reward.”

The group righted the coach, re-ordered the reins and tackle, pulled Skullcrusher off the horse corpse and made their way toward Goldcreek.

*****

The group made their way back up the road and found the scene of the goblin ambush.

Numerous corpses of humans and goblins alike were strewn about the roadside. Scraps of fabric waved in the wind in the undergrowth around the road. Black fletched arrows protruded from most of the humans. There were seven human corpses total. Three of the corpses were female. The goblins had all manners of wounds, from massive gashes to blunt head trauma. The human and goblin corpses were very nearly stripped naked.

The trail away from the ambush scene was obvious, but after a brief debate, the group decided taking the coach back to Goldcreek was a priority.

*****

“If you fools would shuddup yer holes and get outta' the way we would get this in to the owner's,” Deadsmell said to the Goldcreek gate guards. Some more terse words followed, but eventually the guards allowed the group in. They were escorted to the temple of Gravitas Morte, deity of restful repose. The bodies from the coach were unloaded and placed on slabs in the temple under the watchful eye of the temple priest.

“Will you contribute to the internment of these souls?” the priest asked.

“Charge it to the Embassy Coaching Line,” Deadsmell replied. “They got 'em killed.”

The priest frowned and turned back into the temple.

“He eat 'em or burn 'em?” Skullcrusher asked Graxxus.

“Errr, no, he will have them buried in the ground,” Graxxus replied.

“Save 'em for later?” Skullcrusher asked.

“No, no, you see it is the belief of these people that the souls of people must be ritually...” Graxxus began. The cleric could see none of his explanation was registering with the half-orc. “Uh, nevermind.”

Skullcrusher shook his head and followed the rest of the group as they headed toward the Embassy Coaching Line Inn.

*****

Saul Courtier was a big man with a big belly and an impressive walrus moustache. He welcomed the adventurers warmly inviting them to sup in the Inn and giving them a tidy reward for their efforts for returning the coach. After he listened to the story of how the adventurers discovered the coach and the ambush site Saul exclaimed, “By the Saints! These goblins do not know how to properly rob a coach. This is a bad business. A very bad business indeed. I wonder if I might entice you with a business proposition?”

The adventurers readily agreed to hunt down the goblins for the coaching line. They had planned to do so anyway, but the reward gave them extra incentive. Saul explained that the goblins may have kidnapped some wealthy passengers, and rescuing those passengers might bring an even greater reward.

The group made the decision to set off at once.

*****

Following the trail from the ambush in the twilight of dusk the group found a small clearing. A pair of crude skin tents were set up in the clearing. There were four smoky fires guttering in the midst of the clearing. A pair of carcases on spits were suspended over a couple of the fires. The smoke from the fires created a haze over the entire clearing. There were some signs of movement in the camp near the tents.

“Any ideas on our approach plan?” Graxxus asked.

“Charge!” Skullcrusher said.

“Noted. Other input?” Graxxus replied.

“Charge!” Skullcrusher exclaimed again.

“Yes, well, we have your plan on the table old boy. I was seeking alternatives,” Graxxus said.

“Maybe Deadsmell could sneak down there to see what were facing,” Goldie suggested.

“They goblins. We charge,” Skullcrusher said.

“I could go down and at least figure out how many of the rascals we gotta' off,” Deadsmell volunteered.

“So we could send the orc screaming down into the camp or have Deadsmell skulk around a bit. Other plan suggestions?” Graxxus asked.

“I could summon a small bird and...” Wolfclaw began.

“We charge!” Skullcrusher said impatiently.

“and have it look about,” Wolfclaw finished.

“Save yer' magic, I'll sneak a bit,” Deadsmell responded.

“Alright, have a look and then signal us...” Graxxus began, but Deadsmell was already gone.

*****

As the rest of the group watched, Deadsmell appeared at the far side of the clearing. Suddenly, an obese goblin waddled out of one of the tents. Deadsmell froze, but the goblin waddled over to the fires, not noticing him. The goblin inspected the carcuses over the fires, and apparently satisfied, he wandered back to his tent.

Deadsmell waited for a moment and then continued sneaking around the camp. He looked in the tent the goblin had emerged from and held up two fingers.

“Two goblins in that tent,” Graxxus whispered.

Deadsmell made his way over to the other tent. He peered in and held up his hand and then made a throat slit signal with his finger.

“I wonder what he means by that?” Goldie wondered.

“It mean charge!” Skullcrusher screamed running from cover towards the camp.

“Curses!” Graxxus said and the entire group broke cover and ran towards the camp. They trailed the half-orc and Deadsmell watched as the barbarian launched himself into the air and landed square atop the second tent, bringing it tumbling down.

The goblins emerged from their tents confused and panicked. The ensuing combat was quick and bloody. The first goblin to emerge was greeted with Deadsmell's cold steel skewering straight through his chest. His cry of warning died bubbling in blood on his lips. The next goblin tripped over his slain brethern and was mauled by a wolf Wolfclaw had summoned. Graxxus and Goldie killed the two obese goblins in quick order. Skullcrusher's axe was a steel storm of death – eviscerating, slashing, cleaving, and pulping the remaining trio of goblins.**

The group leaned on their weapons resting and looking at each other in satisfied exhaustion. Skullcrusher smiled broadly through a blood-splattered face. “This not main camp. This just cook camp. Come.” The half-orc began walking north along a path leading away from the clearing.

*****

The group quickly overcame a goblin guardpost and continued up the path until it terminated in a dark box canyon. Ahead the party saw a yawning cavern entrance.



*This was my first indication the party, especially Skullcrusher's player, would not be shy about spending Action Points. The Half-Orc barbarian spent one so that he could charge and beat the others to the kill. It was obvious from the very first swing of combat in the campaign that this PC could dish out some heavy duty damage!

**This was supposed to be a decent challenge for the party. Once again, I underestimated the power of Trailblazer PCs. They literally had this combat over in the blink of an eye.
 
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pogre

Legend
This is my first Trailblazer campaign and I will be posting my reflections, rules questions, and criticisms over on this thread in the Badaxe Games forum. Feel free to pipe in with your own questions and observations about the rules too.

2nd - Old time story hour folks will remember I used to post lots of pictures of my miniatures and terrain along with my old story hour. I may do a little of this in the future, but I was not organized enough to do it for the first few sessions.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Spiffy. A shiny new story hour. Shady characters and an impressive walrus mustache. What's not to love?

I particularly like Skullcrusher's direct approach to strategy. "Charge." Pretty much says it all.
 


pogre

Legend
I do so love starting a campaign with a crossdressing goblin whipping horses!

Here's the conclusion of our first adventure:

Episode One Conclusion

“Well, I need a torch or lamp lit if I'm going in there,” Deadsmell protested.

“A light will tip the goblins off we're coming,” Goldie the Dwarf warrioress replied.

“So will me tripping over myself due to being frakin' BLIND!” Deadsmell exclaimed.

“Calm yourself,” Graxxus said. “Perhaps Goldie and Skullcrusher could take a look into the cavern as they both have the ability to see in the dark.”

“I can do it alone,” Goldie said, looking uneasily at the mammoth half-orc. She set off towards the cave and almost slipped on some scree leading to its entrance. Slowly it dawned on her she was being followed. She turned and saw that Skullcrusher was following her closely. “I said I would do it alone.”

“Yeah, I know, I'm just going to help,” Skullcrusher replied.

Goldie shrugged unsure if the Half-Orc was stupid or defiant or both. Together they peered into the cave mouth. Beyond the shadowy illumination of the entrance they could see streamlets of water coalescing and running doen a slight incline into a cavern beyond. The odor emanating from the cavern was well nigh unbearable, sweat, feces, burnt flesh, and rot made a sharp acrid sense that burned the nostrils. The cavern beyond had a large pit in the center and in the periphery of this pit numeroud goblins were milling about. The gutteral language of the goblins echoed through the stoneway back to the adventurers.

*****

“Well?” Wolfclaw asked.

“Lots o' gobbos,” Skullcrusher replied.

“How many?” Deadsmell asked. Skullcrusher flashed his open palms with fingers splayed out twice in rapid succession. “20?” Deadsmell asked. Skull crusher nodded. Deadsmell gave a low whistle.

“What's the cavern look like?” Graxxus asked.

“Lots o' gobbos. We charge,” Skullcrusher replied.

“I was asking our dwarven lass here ole' boy, but I do so appreciate your usual insightful tactical suggestions,” Graxxus said.

“I would say it is natural, probably limestone. There was quite a bit of run-off coming down through the rock and into a channel culminating in a pit in the chamber. There was a curious lack of stalagtites, but I chalk that up to the goblins destroying them. The footing on the floor could be treacherous, it is fairly wet. I assume there is only this single egress. There are probably cracks and narrow fissures leading into the cavern, but nothing we could use. These sort of caverns rarely have natural chimneys. The cave was formerly home to a good sized colony of bats, I could still smell the guano residue. The presence of the goblins probably forced them to move. Caverns like these rarely have any valuable ores and I doubt the goblins have been mining. There is a central pit in the middle of the cavern chamber, as I said earlier, where the runoff water goes. I would doubt it is overly deep, but you never know. The pit dominates the center of the cavern, which means the goblins could set up a very defensible position. I could not see the entire cavern, but I did not see anything but goblins.” Goldie paused for a breath after giving her report.

“Frakin' fire! We're not looking to set up a mining company,” Deadsmell commented.

Goldie cast a withering glare at Deadsmell.

“Ignore him Goldie. I very much appreciate the information,” Graxxus said.

“The floor sounds treacherous and we're going to have to use a light source. This could be pretty tricky,” Wolfclaw stated.

“True, but we are still going to need to make speed and push through to bring our full force to bear,” Graxxus said.

“Make speed,” Skullcrusher repeated with a smile. He looked at the rest of the group and rushed towards the cave.

“I'm tempted to let that stinking orc go it alone,” Graxxus complained. The rest of the group sighed collectively and trotted in pursuit after Skullcrusher.

*****

The adventurers half fell and slipped down the wet surface into the cavern. Graxxus barely was able to maintain his grip on his light source. Skullcrusher was already deep in a group of goblins. His giant axe whirred around in large arcs sending black goblin blood flying. The rest of the group spread out to take on the goblins in twos and threes.

Curious that the goblins have made no effort to set up a defensive line, Graxxus thought.

Graxxus's curiosity was sated in moments as two nasty tentacles with a complement of barbed suckers came flowing out of the pit. One lashed Skullcrusher, but failed to achieve a grip on him.

“Keep wide of that pit!” Graxxus shouted.

Wolfclaw summoned a wolf to harass some nearby goblins and then launched an arrow at the strange beast in the pit. The arrow struck home, but the creature kept lashing out at the periphery of the pit. One of the tentacles again raked Skullcrusher, causing the half-orc to bellow in pain. Skullcrusher had built himself up into a mighty frenzy and fearlessly he launched himself at the very large creature in the pit. A defiant roar filled the cavern as Skullcrusher sank his axe deep into the creature. Foul smelling ichor and innards sprayed out from the creature as it twitched madly in pain for a brief second and then fell over dead.*

With Skullcrusher distracted, a group of goblins had swarmed all over Goldie. Quickly, the dwarven warrioress found herself bleeding from several small cuts. A goblin shaman cast a spell at the dwarf, which she shrugged off.

Deadsmell rushed to Goldie's aid, while Graxxus and Skullcrusher continued working around the other side of the pit. Working together, providing multiple fronts for the goblins, they quickly pushed the goblins back.

The goblin shaman cast a spell to make the ground before the adventurers even more slippery, but they still managed to force their way forward. The adventurers faced down a larger goblin chief, leaving the goblin shaman to fend for himself. The shaman dropped his totem and a pool of urine appeared at his feet.

“Surrender now!” Wolfclaw shouted. The goblin looked up at the druid, and the elf was the last thing the creature ever saw. Skullcrusher's axe sliced through his neck and knocked his decapitated head against the cavern wall. The shaman's headless bodied quivered upright for a moment and then toppled forward spilling a torrent of black blood that flowed down into the pit.

“Are you happy? You ignorant fool?” Wolfclaw said indignantly.

“Yeah, good fight!” Skullcrusher replied enthusiastically.

Wolfclaw could only shake his head.

“No signs of any prisoners,” Graxxus observed.

“Probably some remains in the pit,” Deadsmell replied.

“By the great hammer, I'm not going down there,” Goldie said.

“Time to earn my moniker I reckon,” Deadsmell said. He climbed down into the pit and sifting through the waste he found a tabard with the heraldry of the missing noble. “I think that's all that is left of our Lord Fop and his merry man.” Deadsmell threw the clothing up out of the pit and scaled back up. He smelled dreadfull, but showed no sign of concern.

Skullcrusher gathered some goblin ears and the entire head of the goblin chief into crude sacks and looped the sacks onto his belt.

The party began the long walk back to Goldcreek.


*This was an Otyugh felled with a mighty crit by the barbarian. I had assumed the PCs would avoid the Otyugh's pit making it a hostile terrain feature. I did not expect them to kill it! Skullcrusher's impressive damage undid that plan in a round!
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 2

The pan miner's hand shook as he brought the ale up to his lips. Gart Prillason's gaunt face was framed by a straggly beard with streaks of gray running through it. His long hair was topped by a peasant bonnet and his hands were filthy and scabbed. Despite his disheveled appearance, Gart Prillason was a fairly wealthy man. He was different than most pan miners in the Goldcreek area, he had found ore. His claim south of town was paid for and according to the innkeeper, Saul Courtier, Gart came to town about once a month with a sizable amount of gold.

Gart sleeved away the ale's froth from his upper lip and resumed his proposal to the adventurers, “There's some ruins on my claim. Opposite side of the river from my camp. I set-up on the south side of the river because the ruins always spooked me. Probably wouldn't have kept there, but my claims good. It's good isn't it Saul?”

The large innkeeper nodded encouragingly.

Gart took a breath as though steeling himself for the rest of his tale. “A few days ago I began hearing sounds. Day and night these wails start drifting through the place. Now, it did not take long for ole' Gart to figure out this racket was a coming from the ruins. That's when I flew. It spooked me good.”

“What did it sound like?” Graxxus asked.

The pan miner seemed to shiver as he remembered. “It sounded like a keening wail. Like a distraught woman at a funeral. Except it sounded like it was from another world, nothing natural, of that I was sure.”

“You want us to go to these ruins and stop the sound?” Deadsmell asked.

“Aye that's the bargain I'm seeking. I'll pay you well,” Gart replied. “Saul, said you folk might be able to help me out.”

“If you're paying us well, I think we can reach such an accord,” Deadsmell replied.

The parties hashed out a contract and the adventurers prepared to set out the next day. The only part of the agreement Gart did not like was that he was to lead them to the campsite.

*****

Gart scrambled down the bank leading the adventurers to his camp. The camp was not much to look at – a hut, a fire pit, and a leanto for firewood. It was clear Gart's work had all gone into the numerous troughs and screens set up in the river. The pan miner quickly ducked into his hut while the adventurers looked around.

Suddenly, a screeching wail drifted down through the camp. Gart quickly emerged from his cabin with a pair of bags, the color had left his face. He quickly blurted, “That's what you are here for.” He quickly scrambled up the embankment away from the camp, leaving a cloud of dust and tumbling gravel behind him.

Skullcrusher, the massive half-orc, laughed at the pan miner's rapid exit.

Wolfclaw pointed across the river to the far bank. “I see some worked stone higher up on that bank. That must be the ruins.”

“Shall we?” Graxxus asked and began wading across the shallow river. The rest of the group followed suit with Skullcrusher carrying the Dwarfess Goldie across the deeper channel of the river.

*****

The finished stones at the summit of the bank were grown over and heavily eroded.

“This is not dwarven work,” Goldie announced.

“Hey look at this,” Graxxus called. As the others approached they could see clear signs of a recent camp. The group quickly found remnants of a blanket roll, water flask, some sacks, torches, and a section of rope. Further exploration led them to discover a pair of large mounds of freshly dug earth. Cautiously approaching the mounds the group discovered a stone staircase that descended into the ground.

Just as the usual debates about who was going to carry a light source into the darkness began, an unearthly screech issued forth from beyond the stairway. The sound was much louder than what they had heard at Gart's campsite. “I'm starting to understand why Gart was so spooked,” Wolfclaw commented.

“You spooked all the time scaredy elf,” Skullcrusher chortled.

“There is a fine line between courage and utter stupidity,” Wolfclaw replied.

Skullcrusher looked at the elf with a raised eyebrow and a quizzical look on his face.

“We at least know we're headed the right direction,” Graxxus stated trying to divert Skullcrusher's attention from Wolfclaw's insult. “Goldie, do you think it looks stable?”

“Stable enough,” she replied.

The group descended in the darkness.

“I smell the dead,” Deadsmell murmured as they descended.

“Smell the dead?” Graxxus asked. “Like rotting bodies?”

“No, the long, long dead,” Deadsmell replied.

“I don't smell nothing,” Skullcrusher said.

“Believe me, my greenish friend, it's a smell I know,” Deadsmell countered while pointing to his nose.

Graxxus and Goldie both pulled out their holy symbols and the group continued its descent.

*****
The stairs descended into on octagonal chamber with three more exits. The floor was littered with bits of plaster, stonework, rags, pottery shards, bits of rusted metal, but nothing of real interest.

“Uh folks, we have company,” Goldie called out. Skeletal forms appeared in all three of the exits leading deeper into the complex.

Graxxus scrambled to pull up his holy symbol. Skullcrusher and Goldie raced to attack different groups of the skeletons. Deadsmell rushed the last group. Graxxus shrugged, put his holy symbol away, and rushed to support Deadsmell's efforts. Wolfclaw hung back and peppered arrows where targets appeared.

The skeletons quickly collapsed into so much dust after a quick melee.

“Clicky – clacky,” Skullcrusher spat in disgust.

“What's with him?” Graxxus asked Deadsmell.

“I think he's disappointed,” Deadsmell replied.

“Why in the world would he be disappointed?” Wolfclaw asked.

“Clicky – clacky,” Skullcrusher replied.

“Neh blut?” Deadsmell asked Skullcrusher.

“Neh blut,” Skullcrusher affirmed.

“What did he say?” Graxxus asked.

“No blood,” Deadsmell replied. “No blood means an unworthy battle in Skully's book.”

“Is that right ole' boy?” Graxxus asked the half-orc.

“Just so soul,” Skullcrusher replied.

“It's a bad fight if he is not covered in blood? That's disgusting,” Wolfclaw commented.

“Blut is vita – vita is blut!” Skullcrusher yelled at Wolfclaw.

Just as Graxxus prepared to intervene between the elf and half-orc yet again he was cut short by a high-pitched, eerie wailing coming from the western corridor. The adventurers looked at one another and began heading down the western corridor.

*****

The two complete sets of platemail flanked an archway in a widened part of the hallway ahead.

“I could use that armor,” Graxxus commented.

“Yer' not getting it,” Deadsmell stated flatly.

“And why not, ole' boy?” Graxxus asked.

“It's a trap,” Deadsmell replied.

“How could you possibly know that from 10 yards away?” Goldie asked.

“Two things lass – one, were in a tomb of some sort. Two, look around us.” Deadsmell motioned his hand around the area.

“I'm not following you,” Goldie replied.

“Look lass, everything – the walls, the floor, and even the roof are covered in dust and broken bits of plaster,” Deadsmell replied.

“Yes, shoddy workmanship, most likely your race,” Goldie stated.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever – now take a look at that platemail,” Deadsmell pointed down the hall at the twin sets of armor.

“No dust,” Goldie replied.

“Yep,” Deadsmell folded his arms with a satisfied smirk on his lean features.

“How trapped?” Skullcrusher asked.

“How would I know Skully? Were ten frakin' yards away from 'em,” Deadsmell replied.

“Any guesses?” Graxxus asked.

“Prolly' animated judgin' by our bony friends from the other place, or mebbe' somethin' worse,” Deadsmell replied.

“Clicky-clacky?” Skullcrusher asked.

Deadsmell shrugged. A dark countenance went over the half-orc's features and he charged down the corridor. Skullcrusher's huge axe went in wide arc smashing with a great clang on one of the suits of armor. As Deadsmell predicted the suits of armor animated and began attacking.

“Whoever made this tomb has no frakin' imagination!” Deadsmell sighed and took off the corridor after Skullcrusher.* The rest of the group followed suit.

Skullcrusher's axe crashed again and again down on the armor. Still the animated plate kept fighting and soon Skullcrusher was bleeding from a number of wounds, including a substantial gash across his left shoulder. The others were similarly having little luck slowing the other suit of platemail down. Deadsmell slipped past the animated suits through the archway.

“Just dodge 'em and come this way,” Deadsmell shouted above the din of the melee. Quickly, Wolfclaw, Graxxus, and finally Goldie did the same. Skullcrusher kept hacking at his seemingly impervious foe.

“Come on Skully,” Goldie implored. “It's no use. Just run this way.”

Skullcrusher roared in rage and redoubled his efforts. The half-orc was now flanked by the suits and was taking a beating, but his blows were starting to tell with rends and dents in the first suit of armor.

“Dang it!” Goldie shouted and ran back through the archway. Just as she emerged through, the first animated suit fell to the ground in a pile of dust. She could see Skullcrusher had lost a lot of blood and was staggering slightly as he turned his attention to his other attacker. Goldie came up behind him and put her hands on him, sealing some of his wounds. The rest of the group emerged through the archway and with a concerted group effort the other suit of platemail was dissolved into dust as well.

“Maybe we should rest?” Goldie offered.

Before anyone could respond to her suggestion a bone-chilling screech issued forth from beyond the archway.

“Maybe not,” Goldie said, countering her own suggestion.

The group pushed deeper into the complex.

*****

The passage widened considerably and terminated in a barred gate. The gate had a huge lock about five feet off the ground, no other hinge, or other mechanism of opening was visible. Several of the bars in the upper section of the huge gate were fashioned to look like leering gargoyles. The group approached cautiously and looked through the gate. As far as they could see there were piles of broken stone, overturned sarcophagi, and grave markers in a huge cavern that stretched beyond even the dwarf's vision.

“God's teeth, it's a necropolis,” Graxxus said.

“Yes, yes it is,” Deadsmell said with a wide smile.

Skullbasher held Deadsmell up while Deadsmell made quick work of the lock and the gates swung open. Deadsmell jumped down and went into the cavern as eager as a beggar at a banquet. Everyone else followed his lead and the cavern beyond was penetrated by a piercing horrible screech. Two disembodied, floating skulls emerged from the niches, and a half dozen skeletons scrambled to the attack.

The shriek was bone chilling, but all of the adventurers shrugged off its effects and leaped into the battle.** Graxxus and Goldie dispatched the two screaming skulls rapidly and the rest of the group quickly put the skeletons down for their final rest.

“Clicky-clacky,” Skullcrusher said in disgust and spat on the pile of dust that had been his last foe seconds earlier.

“Let's have a look around.” Deadsmell suggested.

“I don't like the idea of disturbing the dead,” Graxxus said.

“I think we are well past the point of concern about these dead being disturbed,” Deadsmell replied.

“Fair point, but let's be at least somewhat respectful,” Graxxus said.

“Oh, of course, of course,” Deadsmell replied. He then gleefully went forward looting the necropolis for the better part of an hour. He found a few ancient coins, but was disappointed in the haul. It was only after the pleading of his companions that Deadsmell halted his searching and looting and returned to the surface with them.

*****

Gart Prillason gratefully paid the adventurers and even threw in a small bag of gold dust in addition to the agreed reward. Gart then gathered his supplies and said farewell to Saul Courtier.

“Take care Gart, and watch out for the gnolls,” Saul replied.

“What gnolls?” Goldie asked.

“Oh, I guess you did not hear,” Saul began. “There is a band of gnoll raiders going after the local farmsteads. The Captain of the guard, Fel Rightforth, is offering a big reward for anybody who can track the gnolls down and eliminate them.”

Deadsmell shot a glance at Skullcrusher. “Can I at least have a beer and a woman tonight?”

“Blut,” Skullcrusher replied.

“I take it Skullcrusher is interested in pursuing this,” Graxxus stated.

“Of course, he is, gnolls are living things that bleed after all,” Wolfclaw interjected in a mocking tone.

“Blut is vita,” Skullcrusher replied with a big toothy grin.

“Alright, alright, tomorrow Skully, tomorrow,” Deadsmell said resignedly.



*Yeah, yeah, everybody knew the suits of armor were going to animate. Water is wet, the sky's blue, and gobbos are made for killing and all that.

**Behold the power of action points!
 
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pogre

Legend
Episode 3

Episode 3

The sergeant of the town guard, Fel Rightforth, was not a large man, but he was an intimidating presence nonetheless. Weighing perhaps only seven stones he had a hard look about him and a chiseled face with a short cropped beard and a quick business like manner. As the adventures came into his office he offered neither a greeting nor small talk. Once he learned the group was there about the gnoll raiders, he quickly announced that Goldcreek was offering a reward of 10 gold pieces per pair of gnoll ears and 75 gold pieces for the head of the gnoll chieftain.

Graxxus asked if there was a specific region where the gnolls had concentrated their raids.

Rightforth replied, “The raids have come in a number of areas in the outskirts of town. The raiders leave no survivors and seem to concentrate on farmsteads. The latest was at the Plowsmith's farm about eight miles south-southeast of Goldcreek. The raid just occurred the other day and perhaps you might pick up the gnolls' trail from there.”

“Has anybody else been after the gnolls?” Deadsmell asked.

“We have limited manpower in the town guard, but the reward is public knowledge. I will give money to any man that shows up with a pair of gnoll ears," the sergeant replied.

Rightforth then gave a curt nod and indicated with a sweep of his hand that the meeting was at an end.

*****

"Well, he wasn't a very friendly fellow,” Goldie said.

"I like him," Deadsmell began, "got right down to business".

"The only reason you like the man is because he is offering us gold," Wolfclaw said.

"What can I say, the man is talking my language," Deadsmell replied..

"I'll ask around to see what I can find out about these gnolls. We will have breakfast at the inn in the morning and then take off tomorrow morning," Graxxus said.

"Ale time," Skullcrusher said.

"I'm with you there old Skully," Deadsmell agreed.

*****

The following morning the group set down for breakfast at one of the inn's tables. Deadsmell did not eat much, and put his head down on the table and moaned for much of the meal.

"Too much ale last night old boy?" Graxxus asked.

Skullcrusher gave a loud laugh, which only caused Deadsmell to moan even louder.

The only thing dumber than getting in a drinking contest with a dwarf is getting in a drinking contest with a half-orc," Goldie said.

"Shut up," Deadsmell said.

*****

As the adventurers approached the Plowsmiths' farmstead husks of a barn and a simple cottage jutted up from the land. The simple stone foundations remained, but feeble charred beams rose up only suggesting the buildings' former shape. The rotting carcass of a cow lay in an abandoned yard. The innards and the meat of the animal long since stripped. A simple stone wall fence surrounding the property was in ruins. There was an odor of decay and death.

Wolfclaw and Deadsmell began scouting around the farmstead and found a few metal tools in the ashes and miscellaneous remnants of the Plowsmiths' possessions. They also discovered a few broken black fletched arrows.

Graxxus quickly found a trail leading away from the farm. "Whoever it was they were not concerned about leaving a trail," Graxxus said.

The adventures began following the trail. A couple of miles into the trail they heard a whimpering, animal noise a short way into the woods. Quickly, Wolfclaw saw a small domestic cat that appeared to have a pair of broken legs. The cat was hidden in undergrowth, but its pitiful meowing gave its position away. Surveying the area Wolfclaw could see that two large trees had been splintered and the remnants of a beehive lay scattered and broken on the ground.

“Be careful, it could be a trap," Deadsmell cautioned.

Wolfclaw did not hesitate. He went straight to the cat and began to calm it with a soothing voice. He then cast a spell which instantly healed and mended the cat's broken legs.

"That was very nice of you," a squeaky voice called.

Everyone in the group surveyed the area quickly trying to find the source of the voice. "Who was that?" Wolfclaw asked in a whispering voice.

"Reveal yourself friend, you have us at a disadvantage," Graxxus said.

"I had to make sure that you were not allied with them," the tiny voice said. "I am here above you."

The group as one crane their necks upwards, but did not see anything.

"Perhaps you could make your location more obvious," Graxxus said.

"I am right here," the voice answered.

"Oh, I see him," Wolfclaw said. "Look, right above the broken branch, there is our little friend. Hello friend, my name is Wolfclaw, friend of the forest."

“More like Wolfclaw, tree-huggin', scaredy pants elfy,” Skullcrusher muttered.

"I am Noom,” the tiny sprite replied.

"What happened here Noom?" Wolfclaw asked.

“A band of Gnolls came crashing through these woods in a bloody fury. They broke the cat's legs, destroyed the beehive, killed all of my band. They even destroyed my fiddle. I barely escaped the carnage." The sprite's voice was full of sorrow.

"Why did they come after you?" Goldie asked.

"I have no idea. The gnolls are never very nice, but they do not usually go out of their way to be so destructive. The Fey don't necessarily have good relations with the gnolls, but it has never been openly hostile either," the sprite replied.

“How did they break the cat's legs?” Skullcrusher asked. Wolfclaw winced at the odd question and thought about how he never ceased to be amazed by what interested the half-orc.

“They brought the poor thing with them. They started throwing the cat at the beehive. The bees swarmed out and stung the feline making it yowl terribly. The gnolls kept doing it until the cat could not move anymore,” Noom replied.

Wolfclaw petted the cat protectively.

Deadsmell stiffled a giggle as he whispered to Skullcrusher, “At least they are creative, violent gnolls.”

"How many?" Skullcrusher asked Noom.

"At least a dozen, they also had a young human child they were dragging with them," the sprite replied.

"120 gold," Deadsmell said with a smile.

"Lots of blood," Skullcrusher added.

“How old was the child?” Graxxus asked.

“She was young, not even as tall as your dwarf friend,” Noom answered.

"Is there anything we can do for you now?" Wolfclaw asked.

"Sadly, no. The gnolls came through about a day in the half ago and I have been hiding ever since. I think I shall warn the other Fey in the forest of the gnolls' hostility," Noom said.

“May the Old Mother watch over you,” Wolfclaw said.

The rest of the group exchange goodbyes to Noom and the sprite flew off into the forest.

"We should have asked him which way the gnolls went," Goldie said.

"I don't think that's a problem," Graxxus replied. "They did not exactly try to cover their trail." Graxxus pointed to a wide swath that had been cut through the forest.

*****

"Ambush," Skullcrusher whispered, halting the group.

"What?" Graxxus asked in a low voice.

"There, behind that large tree," Skullcrusher replied. The rest of the group look closely at the foliage ahead. They could see a cleverly disguised humanoid with a bow pointed in their direction. After a quick, muttered conversation about tactics, they charged.

The gnoll let loose with an arrow that grazed Skullcrusher's shoulder. The half orc barbarian ignored the wound and rapidly closed the distance. Skullcrusher engaged the gnoll in combat with his huge axe. Deadsmell moved deftly around the gnoll and sank his two blades deep into the gnoll's torso. Goldie and Graxxus flicked their blades into the gnoll as well. The gnoll collapsed and died as its lifeblood spilled onto the forest floor. Skullcrusher hacked off the gnoll's ears and placed them into a small pouch.

Wolfclaw picked up the gnoll's curved bow and a very fancy quiver full of black-fletched arrows. He was delighted to discover the quiver was magical with a space that held an amazing amount of arrows in an extra-dimensional space. The bow was magical as well.

“At least we know we are headed the right direction,” Deadsmell commented.

*****

The group saw three skin tents surrounding a roaring fire. Two gnolls were standing near the fire roasting a deer. There was a murder of crows pecking at a pile of debris at the edge of the camp clearing. Following a quick conference, the group decided that they would sneak around to the rear of the clearing to attack the gnolls. As they made their way around the clearing, Goldie tripped on a branch and sent the murder of crows cawing upwards into the forest's canopy.

The gnolls emerge quickly from the tents and went out into the forest. One unfortunate gnoll stumbled into Skullcrusher. The barbarian let out a roar and decapitated the gnoll with his great axe. The scene quickly devolved into a confused melee in the forest. A short time later, Skullcrusher was hacking the ears off a half-dozen gnolls.

The group searched the camp area, but found no signs of a young child. They did find a few coins and on one of the larger gnolls a strange medallion. The medallion was made of hammered copper and depicted a round sign with seven points flaring out from it. After surveying the perimeter of the camp, Graxxus discovered another trail leading away into the forest.

*****

The group came across an unusually large growth of thickets and brambles. The trail led to a five-foot wide opening into the circle of thickets. The thickets and brambles rose from the forest floor about 12 feet up into the canopy of trees above. The trees appeared to be all thorny, hawthorn trees.

"I don't like the looks of this," Deadsmell said.

"I agree," Graxxus replied. "Let's see if there is a different way into this thicket."

The group work their way around the perimeter of the thicket and found no other obvious entrances. Skullcrusher suggested cutting their way in and used his axe to hack at the thicket growth. The entire thicket shook with his first blow, sending a ripple through the entire thicket and bramble wall.

"That seems worse than going through the front door," Deadsmell said.

The group quietly discussed their options, and as usual, they settled on a frontal assault.

*****

Skullcrusher insisted on leading the way, and the rest of the group was more than willing to let the half orc barbarian do so. Skullcrusher sprinted into the entrance and tripped over a wire. Immediately, a branch with thick thorns slammed into the half-orc's thigh. Skullcrusher howled in pain and stumbled into a 25 foot wide clearing.

The clearing contained two buildings. One was some sort of open air temple. The temple had crudely painted symbols that seemed obscene and evil. The other building was a crude hut made of brambles, skins, and living trees. Gnolls quickly took up arms at the sight of the intruders and a strangely dressed gnoll emerged from the crude hut. The oddly dressed gnoll performed an incantation and Skullcrusher found himself frozen on the spot.

The rest of the group pushed past Skullcrusher. Except Wolfclaw, who paused and slapped the half orc on the face. Skullcrusher still could not move, but his eyes betrayed a burning anger at the elf's action.

The group plowed into the trio of gnolls guarding the shaman. These gnoll warriors were much tougher than others the group had faced and the fight was a difficult one. Goldie was wounded almost immediately and Graxxus had a difficult time hitting his opponent. Deadsmell was more successful. He maneuvered his way to a flanking position on one of the gnolls and his twin blades struck out skewering the gnoll.

The shaman cast another spell attempting to hold Deadsmell in place. Deadsmell managed to shrug off the spell and turned his attention to the shaman. Although weakened, Goldie managed to hack down her opponent, and just at that moment Skullcrusher shook off the effects of the spell holding him in place. The barbarian roared in rage, and with his axe twirling in a death spiral, decapitated the remaining gnoll guardian.

Deadsmell began carving into the shaman's flesh. The shaman lashed back and staggered Deadsmell with a vicious blow. The shaman was quickly in trouble. The rest of the group closed in on him and a wolf summoned by Wolfclaw harassed the shaman biting and tripping the spellcaster. The gnoll shaman would never rise again. Blades hacked down on the shaman cutting him to ribbons on the ground where he lay.

The adventures searched through the camp and destroyed the evil temple they had found. They also found a small, female, human child bound in ropes in the shaman's hut. They freed her and she immediately began clinging to Graxxus. They found a few pieces of jewelry and another distinctive medallion on the shaman's neck similar to the one they found on the greater gnoll in the previous camp. The medallion was made of hammered copper and resembled a sun with seven rays jutting out from its circular center.

Skullcrusher joyfully decapitated the dead shaman and stuffed the head into a larger sack. The barbarian also gathered ears from the other gnolls and put them into smaller pouches.

Graxxus tried to communicate with the young human child but she would say nothing. Her eyes showed great fright even as the adventures tried to reassure her that she was safe now. Graxxus had discovered some scrolls that mentioned the name Harakhan. Thinking back on the religious and history texts he had read as a younger man, he vaguely recalled the name: Harakhan was, a great ,evil demon venerated by some dark cults in the old Empire. Graxxus then destroyed the scrolls and set fire to the hut.

*****

Fel Rightforth counted out the last of the gold coins owed to the adventurers.

“What about the girl?” Graxxus asked.

“What about her?” the sargeant replied without looking up.

“What do we do with her?” Graxxus asked.

“Don't know, don't care,” Rightforth answered bluntly.

“Is there an orphanage or a temple or a family that might adopt her?” Graxxus asked.

“She's just another mouth to feed in this wilderness. I doubt you will find a family to take on a young girl. The temples are just getting started out here and you sure as creation don't want the temple of Gravitas Morte to take her in,” Rightforth smiled at his own joke about the death cult.

Graxxus gave the sergeant a bewildered, pleading look.

“I'm sorry friend, you found her, and now she's your problem,” the sergeant’s tone made it clear he was not the least bit sympathetic or caring about the situation.

Graxxus snatched up the proffered gold. “Good to know the protectors of Goldcreek are good for something.” Graxxus stormed out of the guard tower.

*****

Graxxus made arrangements for the girl to stay at the Embassy Coaching Line Inn and put up extra gold for Saul to hire on help to watch the girl. Following the discussion on accommodations for the girl, Saul wiped his brow and said, “Gart Prillason has gone missing.”

“The pan miner? How?” Goldie asked.

“Don't know, but his brother's been looking everywhere for him. Ole' Gart has not been to town once this season neither.” Saul began using a cloth to polish a mug. “His brother will probably be in tonight again looking for somebody to help find Gart.”

“That's a job we can pass on,” Deadsmell stated.

“He's offering quite a reward,” Saul replied.

“Perhaps I was bit hasty, what with Gart being an old friend and all...” Deadsmell said.

Goldie and Wolfclaw simultaneously rolled their eyes.
 
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BSF

Explorer
Another story hour from pogre! Yay! I notice that the setup for the next one has Gart missing for as much as a season, how much time is passing between episodes?
 

pogre

Legend
Another story hour from pogre! Yay! I notice that the setup for the next one has Gart missing for as much as a season, how much time is passing between episodes?

Hey man - great to see (errr...read) you on here again!

The name of the campaign is Seasons. Each adventure represents one Season, with the PCs usually taking the winter off. The PCs advance a level at the successful completion of each adventure.

It's an experiment in two ways:

1. Accelerated advancement: My theory was everybody loves gaining a level. What happens when they get a level every time they "win"? The jury is still out on the approach quite honestly, but we will see. It definitely has kept the game fresh.

If or when the PCs do not successfully complete an adventure they won't get a level. Their reaction should be interesting. Particularly my son, who may hit me all the way home from the gaming session!

2. Run some Trailblazer: Our group playtested 4th edition. We totally bought in with the exception of one player, and he was open to it. We ran a campaign that lasted just over a year. It's a fine game, just not for us. We switched to WFRP 2e for a while (our group playtested it as well). We tried third edition WFRP, again, fine game - just not for us. I wanted to get back into D&D this time and our friend Ben Durbin had revised the 3.5 rules with Trailblazer. So I decided to kick the tires and see how it goes.

In fairness to Trailblazer we are significantly undermining some major assumptions in the game. Just one major example is that Trailblazer advocates slower advancement. Clearly, I threw that assumption out the window this campaign. ;)
 

BSF

Explorer
Nifty! One group I play with is still using 3.5. Of course, that game started shortly after 3.0 was released. My other group is going Pathfinder right now. I may need to check out Trailblazer just to get more insight/ideas on the system.

I like your idea of levelling at the successful completion of each adventure. I may yoink that for the game I run. :)

Back on topic - more story!
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 4

Episode Four

"His camp does not look that different," Goldie observed. She began slowly walking around the perimeter of Gart Prillason's mining camp.

"Look at the water trough," Deadsmell remarked. The water trough was twisted and askew in the stream.

Graxxus ducked inside Gart Prillason's hut. There he found a mess. Graxxus put his head out of the hut's portal and called, "It looks like a twisting tempest came through here."

Deadsmell hustled over to the hut with Skullcrusher. As Deadsmell entered he gave a low whistle. "Big fight," Skullcrusher commented.

"You got that right Skully," Deadsmell responded. "Gart did not go quietly into the night."

"No blood," Skullcrusher noted.

"Whoever it was they did not bother clean up. They must have taken him alive," Graxxus said.

"Aye, screaming and kicking," Deadsmell remarked. Deadsmell removed a piece of floorboard and retrieved a bag. He quickly peered inside. "There's got to be a couple hundred worth of gold in here!"

"Well, at least we know they were not after gold," Graxxus stated.

"What kind of crazed, dirt-worshipping heathens are we dealing with!" Deadsmell exclaimed.

Goldie entered the hut and said she had found a trail with heel drag marks leading away from the camp.

"I better keep this with me," Deadsmell said patting the bag of gold.

"Let us make sure that is returned to its rightful owner," Graxxus said.

"Of course governor, my thoughts are only with Gart," Deadsmell said with a close-mouthed grin.

*****

The group followed the trail until it led into a clearing. A heavy rain broke through the trees as they entered the spot.

"This camp has not been abandoned long," Goldie said as she kicked a live coal out of a pile of ashes. "The trail seems to end here though."

"This rain is not helping us find a trail,” Graxxus complained.

Wolfclaw was looking over a tree near the center of the camp carefully. He called out to the others, “Does anyone know what tuft means?”

“Like a tuft of hair or grass?” Graxxus asked.

“Yeah, I guess, but I do not think that's what this means,” Wolfclaw replied. As the rest of the adventurers moved towards the tree the elven druid was inspecting, he pointed out some scratching in the tree bark that spelled out TUFT. There was also a circle around the base of the tree where the bark had been worn off in a shallow rut.

“I think there is a trader back in Goldcreek by that name,” Goldie offered.

“They tied him up here and he probably scratched this out hoping someone would find it,” Wolfclaw noted.

“The tree tell you that?” Deadsmell asked with a grin.

“No, I used my brain,” Wolfclaw snarled back. “You should try it some time.”

Graxxus held up his palms as if to ward off a further conflict and said, “I think we should head back to Goldcreek to pay Mr. Tuft a visit.”

*****

Tuft's Trading Post was a relatively new fur trading post in Goldcreek. A sign on the door of Tuft's read – Not Buying. Closed for Inventory.

When Deadsmell knocked loudly on the door a man in an apron answered and quickly informed them the place was closed and not buying furs. Deadsmell slid his foot into the door frame to prevent the man from closing it, “We don't want to sell some furs. We want to buy some. A LOT of furs.”

“We're closed!” the man shouted. He shoved Deadsmell back and slammed the door shut.

“Alright Skully, you and me have a problem here,” Deadsmell said.

“And I have the ANSWER!” Skully bellowed shaking his huge axe. Skully hefted the weapon in a wide arc, readying to deliver a blow to the door.

“Hold!” Graxxus shouted. “This will only get us in trouble with the watch. We need to think this problem through a bit.”

“This,” Skully roared, brandishing his axe, “is the ANSWER!”

“I thought only your people named their weapons,” Wolfclaw said to Goldie. Goldie responded with a playful slap. “He thinks that axe is the answer to every problem.”

“Answer,” Skully repeated patting the blade of his massive axe.

“Put your ANSWER away,” Graxxus replied. “We need to keep an eye on this place. There are only a couple of entrances. We could post a watch to see both.”

“Unless there is an underground entrance,” Deadsmell pointed out.

“True,” Graxxus admitted. “Goldie, do you think that is a concern.”

“Not likely,” the dwarf templar responded. “The proximity of the river would make tunneling here problematic.”

“Excellent, let us set up a watch then,” Graxxus suggested.

“Right, I'll take 3rd watch. I'm off to get a mug of Goldcreek's finest,” Deadsmell said.

“Skullcrusher and Answer like that idea,” Skullcrusher added.

“No, we need too all stay close in case something happens,” Graxxus said. Skullcrusher and Deadsmell responded with despondent groans.

“Did he just refer to himself and his axe in the third person,” Wolfclaw asked Goldie.

“Yes, but I will say I would not want to go into battle without either one of them!” Goldie replied.

*****

“Wakey, wakey,” Skullcrusher said in a horse whisper as he nudged Goldie awake.

“What is it?” the dwarfess asked, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

“Company,” Deadsmell hissed, pointing toward the door of Tuft's. “I'm going around to tell the others.”

Goldie just managed to catch a glimpse of a hulking figure in a cowled cape duck inside Tuft's after a brief greeting from someone within. The figure had to duck to enter the building. “He's a big one,” she whispered.

“Be low one soon,” Skullcrusher replied patting his axe.

The rest of the group scrambled back around the building to Skullcrusher and Goldie's position. “How long has he been in there?” Graxxus asked.

“Not long, maybe twenty minutes,” Goldie replied.

Graxxus was about to say something else when the door opened again. The large figure under the cowl emerged and behind him was a rather rotund man wearing a fur cloak and hat. The pair hustled off down the alleyway towards the town gate and river bridge.

Wordlessly, the adventurers followed at a safe distance.

*****

The long trek through the wilderness ended. Cresting a wooded, low hill they spied a clearing in a valley. A large, circular, stone dais had seven men stripped to the waist and chained down to it. Obscene runes were engraved into the white surface of the dais. The runes almost seemed to glow beneath the stark firelight of dozens of freestanding torches surrounding the dais. A half dozen Bugbears surrounded the dais looking out into the darkness. Barely visible, in the half-shadows of the flickering light of the clearing was a number of crude wooden cages. There were three large skin tents on the other side of the clearing. The cowled figure stopped to talk to the Bugbears, while the fat man disappeared into one of the tents.

“Charge?” Skullcrasher asked hopefully.

“No,” the entire group answered in a whispered chorus.

“I think I see our man Gart,” Deadsmell whispered.

“Where?” Goldie asked.

“He's the one moon-bathing on the left side of the dais,” Deadsmell answered.

“Oh my, he looks terrible,” Goldie said.

“Getting strapped to an evil altar for a ritual sacrifice does that to a person,” Deadsmell replied.

“I think we should work our way around the clearing and approach from behind the tents,” Wolfclaw suggested.

“Good idea,” Skullcrusher replied.

Wolfclaw arched an eyebrow questioningly in response.

“Get us closer for charge,” Skullcrusher said.

The group crept through the woods around the clearing and as they were about to emerge they saw the fat man come out of one of the tents. He had changed clothes into dark robes, he was carrying a large scroll, and held a long black-bladed dagger in his opposite hand. The fat man ascended the dais and began reading the scroll in a chanting rhythm. The bugbears surrounding the dais answered in chants, accompanied by the occasional moan from the men chained to the dais.

“What is he saying?” Goldie asked.

“It is not good,” Graxxus replied.

“I think we can rule out a fertility rite or good harvest prayer,” Deadsmell answered.

“Right, we need to distract the scroll reader,” Graxxus began.

Wolfclaw began invoking a prayer to the woods and a short time later two wolves appeared. He then unslung his bow and nodded to Skullcrusher. Skullcrusher burst from the woods with a mighty war cry and charged towards the dais.

“I really wish someone let me in on these plans before they go into action!” Graxxus protested.

The rest of the group charged after Skullcrusher as Wolfclaw's arrow struck home on the scrollbearer. The fat man yelped in pain at the arrow's impact. The confused bugbears turned to look at their master and quickly realized they were under attack. Four of the bugbears rushed forward to meet the adventurers' charge, The remainder formed a guard around the fat man.

The fat man turned and invoked a spell of magical lightning that shot out from his outstretched palms. The bolt lit up the night air and struck home on Goldie and Graxxus. Skullcrusher had managed to leap aside and continue his charge. Graxxus and Goldie were stunned by the electrical discharge, but got their respective guards up in time to stop the bugbear weapons bearing down on them. Skullcrusher jumped, spinning high in the air, and came down like a whirlwind of death on one of the bugbears. The bugbear stumbled barely able to hold his ground after the onslaught.

The fat man invoked another spell. This time burning orbs came flying from his fingertips and struck home on Skullcrusher. The half-orc bellowed in pain as the night air was filled with the odor of scorched flesh. Deadsmell made his way around the back of one of the bugbear's flanks and buried his twin blades in the creatures torso making its knees buckle. Goldie finished the bugbear off with a slice through its jugular with her blade.

Twin wolves tore at another bugbear. Wolfclaw shot his bow repeatedly at the humanoid and finally, summoned a wolverine to finish the bugbear. The druid could see the fat man rising off the ground in his peripheral vision. As the bugbear fell, be quickly refocused on the enemy spellcaster. The dark-robed man was now thirty feet off the ground and began flying away from the clearing. The druid drew his bowstring back and fired.

Graxxus was staggered under the blows from the fierce bugbear pummeling him. He was bleeding from a couple of cuts and even blocking the bugbear's attacks was causing him to strain every muscle. Realizing a straight up fight might be his doom, Graxxus scooped up a handful of dust and flung it into the bugbear's eyes. The creature instinctively raise its arms to its face and Graxxus planted his blade deep underneath its breastbone. The bugbear's arms flailed wildly and dark lifeblood bubbled from its lips. The bugbear slowly rocked and fell back dead. Graxxus stood atop the creature and pulled his bloody blade free by leveraging his foot against the bugbear's face.

Graxxus slumped his shoulders trying to catch his breath as a pair of magical bolts lit up the sky. The bolts traveled down and impacted Skullcrusher. Graxxus realized the half-orc was in desperate trouble despite the three dead bugbears that lay at his feet. He also could see that the fat man had abandoned the dais and was now floating at least 30 feet up in the air.

Skullcrusher stumbled back from the last bugbear. Blood was streaming down in his eyes and he had to squint to even make out the bare outline of the creature. His lungs felt like they were going to burst. His rasping breaths came through his mouth as his nose had been broken at some point during the melee. He roared in rage. To his amazement, the bugbear turned and fled. Skullcrusher rocked back on his heels and passed out.

*****

Rowin Tuft viewed the battle from on high. His bugbear minions were defeated. His chance at the ritual was destroyed. Much of his magical energy was spent. He knew he had an obligation to his dark lord to live on to fight another day. As a speeding arrow missed him by the narrowest of margins he began his flight away from his sacred area. He did not leave before he burned the images of those interlopers in his mind. Someday, he would exact his revenge. He then flew swiftly away from the clearing across the canopy of treetops.

*****

The grateful woodsmen, fur trappers, and miners were unbound from the dais. The crude temples and tents were burned along with the bodies of the dead bugbears. Skullcrusher's and others wounds were administered to and healed. Deadsmell held up a large scroll on the dais and called out, “Hey look, the fat boy left us a present!” He took the scroll over to Graxxus. “Can you read it?”

“It is in the dark tongue. I cannot read it thankfully. However, it appears to be some sort of demonic calling ritual. Apparently, it calls an avatar of Harakhan the demon.”

“This Harakhan fellow has just earned a spot on my litany of grudges,” Goldie swore.

“Let's kill him!” Skullcrusher shouted.

“Eh, let's go get our reward and get drunk,” Deadsmell countered.

“Let's get drunk!” Skullcrusher shouted with equal enthusiasm.

Graxxus shook his head and set the scroll afire.
 

pogre

Legend
Episode Five - Part One

Lepidus Slatebearer was ancient even by dwarven standards. His long, braided, gray beard reached nearly to the floor. His back was crooked and humped from long years of being bent over desks and tables reading the ancient manuscripts and tomes of his people. His eyes were deep set in his wrinkled face, but a spark of vigor and intelligence was reflected in those steel blue orbs. Lepidus Slatebearer, loremaster, and one time adviser to his highness, King Grudgehammer, was now a bit of an outcast. His quest to recover many of the ancient artifacts of his people was dismissed out of hand by those in power. This was a particularly bitter pill for Lepidus to swallow now, as he felt he was on the edge of recovering one of the great dwarven weapons of any age.

Just a few hundred years ago there had been eight dwarven kingdoms, where now there were a mere four. One of those eight kingdoms was the Southern Sky Kingdom ruled by King Graybeard Longiron. Even in those great days the Southern Sky Kingdom was under constant threat. King Longiron journeyed to the Council of Thrones to seek help in his struggle against the humanoids in his kingdom. He received no official offers of direct help, but the other monarchs assented to hiring those dwarves who wished to fight as mercenaries. King Longiron went to the ancient dwarven treasury and took a powerful artifact called Ironheart. King Longiron had not received direct permission from the Council of Thrones to take the powerful axe, but Longiron viewed it as his prerogative as a monarch to acquisition aid to save his kingdom.

Sadly, the Southern Sky Kingdom was the first kingdom to fall of the eight. Ironheart was lost to the dwarven people. But Lepidus Slatebearer believed that he had found the trail of the ancient artifact. A powerful weapon such as this could turn the tide in the Goblin War his people were fighting. Yet the new king, King Hargold, refused to help Lepidus. The new king dismissed Lepidus as senile and his advisers constantly reminded the young king that Lepidus was from another age.

Lepidus thought the new king a fool. He knew Ironheart could be the key to saving the kingdom and he also knew he was in a race with an ancient evil to obtain the artifact.

*****

“Brother, I'll admit I know very little about your hold or its king, but why would you hire outsiders such as us to recover such a thing as this journal?” Goldie asked.

“Normally, I would not,” Lepidus Slatebearer admitted. “However, as you may be aware lass, my hold is fighting the Goblin War. Sparing warriors in as far flung a place such as this is not the highest priority for my new king. I cannot spare more time in pursuit of this. I need help now.”

“Why is this Journal of King Longiron important?” Graxxus asked.

“It has historical significance, but more importantly I think it may contain important clues to the whereabouts of Ironheart the Rune Axe of the ancients. The recovery of such a weapon may be enough to save my people.” Lepidus Slatebearer's voice rose in volume as he spoke and the dwarven loremaster's excitement about the possibility of recovering Ironheart was palpable.

“Where's the book? How much you paying? What's the hurry?” Deadsmell rattled off the questions in quick succession.

“I believe the Journal of Longiron is in a place called Trajan Tower. We can discuss terms once you agree. I have several reasons for haste, including that I think an ancient evil cult is also after this weapon,” Lepidus replied.

“I'm sure were going, so how much?” Deadsmell asked again.

“Fifty gold each if the tome is recovered,” Lepidus offered.

“Whoa, I was sure we were going until you said that,” Deadsmell replied. “For that price I'll assume Trajan Tower is the name of a bakery here in town and the book is sitting on a shelf next to some recipe books. If not, you are way out of line with that offer old timer,” Deadsmell replied.

“Hold your tongue and show some respect!” Goldie said crossly to Deadsmell. Deadsmell shrugged and immediately backed off, he had never seen the Dwarf warrioress angry outside of battle before.

“Just trying to bargain a bit,” Deadsmell said sheepishly.

“How far is Trajan Tower from here?” Graxxus asked.

“I estimate it will take us eight days to get to the site of Trajan Tower,” Lepidus replied.

“You're coming venerated one?” Goldie asked.

“Yes, I will not slow you much I promise,” Lepidus replied.

“With all due respect, despite his incredible lack of tact, I think Deadsmell was right about your proposed fee,” Graxxus stated.

“I await your counter,” Lepidus replied with his arms folded across his chest.

“At least double, and 50 gold whether we find the book or not,” Deadsmell interjected.

Lepidus hesitated. The loremaster stroked his beard for a time and finally said, “We have an accord. One hundred gold each if the journal is recovered, 50 gold if we fail. Prepare yourselves this evening, we leave at first light on the morrow.”

*****

The first day of travel went quickly enough and Lepidus seemed to be keeping up with the group. Camp was quickly made as dusk fell and soon the adventurers were gathered around a fire telling stories and listening to Lepidus discuss the history of the area. Lepidus recounted the lost Dwarven kingdom, but mentioned that there was a great empire that had risen and disappeared before the dwarves had even arrived.

“Maybe Goldcreek is the start of a third empire?” Graxxus offered.

Lepidus smiled at Graxxus's suggestion. He clearly did not think that was likely.

“What I don't get is how there is still gold around here if there was a dwarven kingdom? Seems to me your people are pretty good at sniffing that stuff out,” Deadsmell added.

“Panning is mostly a human endeavor. A miner is never going to find a big lode of ore until they dig. I suspect Goldcreek's gold rush will falter in the near future. Consider how many claims are truly successful and you will see what I mean,” Lepidus replied.

“Someone is coming,” Skullcrusher called out of the darkness.

“What is it?” Graxxus called back.

“Man on horse,” Skullcrusher replied quickly.

“Hail and well met fellows,” a baritone voice called out. “May I approach your fire?”

“Come into the light so we can get a look at you,” Graxxus replied.

A man appeared astride a fine destrier in the flickering flame-light. The man was wearing fine clothes and attired in heavy armor. A lance was posited on the side of the horse. The man removed his riding gloves and said, “Sir Gerald Lykins at your service.” He bowed deeply to the adventurers.

“Something tells me you are a long way from home,” Deadsmell said.

“I am from Upper Gallorum,” Sir Lykins replied. “Have you eaten? I snared some fine foul I would like to roast and would enjoy company for the meal.”

“We ate, but a second supper is always welcome. Right Skully?” Deadsmell called. The half-orc came out of the darkness and grunted his assent. To his credit, Sir Lykins revealed no apprehension at the sudden appearance of the massive half-orc. Sir Lykins went over and fetched a number of birds from saddle bags and then removed the tack and harness from his mount. He made his way back to the fire and began cleaning the birds.

“Upper Gallorum is a long way from here, what brings you to Goldcreek?” Graxxus asked.

“I am a vassal to his grace Duke Lindenhood. I am tasked with finding a possible location for a new minor house for my Lord Duke in this wilderness,” Sir Lykins replied.

The knight finished roasting the birds and pulled them gingerly off the spits he had tended. He went to his bags and pulled forth a bottle of wine and two loaves of white bread. Sir Lykins passed the food and wine around the group. He even took a long pull at the bottle of wine after Skullcrusher had a drink.

“Lykins, why are you really out here?” Deadsmell asked.

“I have been honest, my Lord Duke requires a new property,” Sir Lykins replied.

“But why here man? Why not closer to the rest of his dukedom?” Graxxus asked.

“His Grace is in a bit of trouble with the Royal House at the present. He requires a place to remove him from royal intrigue for a while,” Sir Lykins admitted.

“Now we're getting somewhere,” Deadsmell smiled. “What did he do?”

“Does he always address his betters this way?” Sir Lykins asked Graxxus.

“I'm afraid so Lykins. No sense of place at all,” Graxxus replied.

“Well, old boy, his Grace is said to have taken certain indiscretions with the Queen,” Sir Lykins stated.

“The Duke took advantage of the Queen?” Goldie asked.

“Ah, well my lady, I don't think any advantage was taken, rather it was offered,” Sir Lykins replied. This brought laughter from the group and they continued talking into the night. Sir Lykins even pulled another bottle of wine out of his bags. They finally fell to sleep on their rolls.

In the morning Sir Lykins shared some of his white bread and hard cheese with the adventurers. He wished them well and trotted off on his horse.

“He seemed like a decent enough fellow for a snobby, foppish type,” Deadsmell commented.

“I'm not so sure,” Graxxus countered. “He's a dangerous man who represents one who is even more dangerous.”

*****

The group was traveling through some rough low hill country. The sun was starting to set and Lepidus had mentioned several times that they should keep an eye out for a likely place to set up a camp. A small wooded vale just down from the low hill they were cresting looked inviting to the group. As they sauntered down the hill they heard a strangely beautiful song.

Skullcrusher stood transfixed by the beautiful voice, letting his axe drop to his side. Wolfclaw, however, jumped into action, transforming into a dire weasel. The source of the song quickly came into view as a winged creature with the body of a female human dove towards the group.

"Harpy!" Lepidus yelled.

The harpy descended upon the old dwarf and attacked him with a club and claws. Lepidus was nearly bowled over by the Harpy's attack. The Harpy's claws tore great rents out of the old dwarf's clothing. Wolfclaw rushed to help Lepidus. The Druid sank his fangs deep into the beast and began sucking its blood. Graxxus shook off the effects of the Harpy's song and rushed to help Lepidus. The Harpy again attacked the loremaster and it was clear that Lepidus would not survive another attack.

The harpy, however, had its own problems. Wolfclaw had his fangs sunk deep into the creature's flesh. Blood was draining from the harpy with rapidity. The beast had no choice but to switch attacks to the clinging dire weasel. It began to club Wolfclaw, trying to remove him. While the harpy was momentarily distracted, Graxxus ran over and cast a healing prayer over Lepidus.

Finally, Skullcrusher and Deadsmell emerged from their catatonia the harpy's song had created. They charged over to the location of Lepidus to lend what aid they could. The harpy continued to beat at the dire weasel, that was Wolfclaw, hanging from its flesh. Skullcrusher gave a loud yell and charged. As the half orc neared the harpy he screamed,"Come taste the Answer!"

Wolfclaw had sustained a terrible beating from the harpy's club. It left him no choice but to release his bite and back away from the horrid creature. A final gush of blood spilled from the harpy as Wolfclaw released his hold. Graxxus stepped in to protect the druid's retreat. Skullcrusher arrived at the end of his charge with a swing of his axe, barely missing the harpy. The harpy had had enough. She was preparing to take flight when the twin blades of Deadsmell lanced into her back. The harpy's wings dropped, her arms folded, and she fell to the ground in a pool of her own blood.

Graxxus stooped over the creature and pulled a medallion from its neck. The simple chain had a hammered copper amulet attached to it. The amulet appeared as a sun with seven rays radiating out from its center.

Goldie finally freed from the captivating song worked her way over to the rest of the group. She looked at the amulet that Graxxus was holding aloft. "Harakhan?" she asked.

"It would appear so," Graxxus replied.

*****

Lepidus pointed at the craggy hill ahead. “This rise is where Trajan Tower was built.” The hill was covered in scree and boulder fields, but no tower was visible from the group's vantage point. “If we push further we can make it to the summit while there is still light.”

There was no trail and Wolfclaw commented on the lack of wildlife in the area. As the group struggled through yet another boulder field, Wolfclaw put up a hand indicating they should stop. “There is something moving ahead,” the druid signaled. The rest of the group began to spread out taking cover behind the scattered large rocks.

Graxxus spied it first. A mottled lizard creature with eight legs and deep set, burning eyes. He charged across the field leaping over stones and skidding on scree. The creature lifted its head and stared at the approaching man. Graxxus felt a slight shock tremor through his body as he shook off the effects of the creature's gaze. “A basilisk,” he cried out. Despite his own warning, Graxxus pushed on and sank his blade into the beast. He then began a defensive dance averting his eyes from the creature's dreaded gaze.

Skullcrusher charged across the boulder field, weaving in and out of rocks. The half-orc felt a shock go through his body as the basilisk looked up at him. He shook off the effects of the gaze and continued his charge. He brought his axe home to the midsection of the beast and black ichor spewed from the wound. The creature responded with a savage biting strike that tore into Skullcrusher's flesh.

Wolfclaw summoned a wolf to attack the basilisk. As the wolf loped in to confront the basilisk, it fell victim to the creature's gaze ossifying mid-gait. A short time later the stone wolf blinked out of existence.

Graxxus made a couple of attacks against the basilisk, but both went wide as he avoided directly looking at the monster. Skullcrusher refused to take any precautions and his attacks were met with a satisfying thud and crunch as his axe tore hunks of flesh from the beast. Twice more the half-orc was forced to shake off the creature's gaze. Goldie fired arrows at the basilisk from a safe distance, but was ineffectual. Deadsmell began circling around to the rear of the basilisk, but his efforts were delayed by the rough terrain.

Graxxus risked a momentary glance at the creature and nearly missed his strike as a shudder ran the length of his body. His risk paid dividends though as he buried his blade in the basilisk's plated head and the creature slumped to the ground, dead.

After catching their collective breath and wits, the group resumed their climb.

*****

Trajan Tower stood atop the hill largely as a pile of ruins. Only the first floor remained partially standing. The rest of the tower lay in a large pile of stones to one side, as though it had been pulled down in some ancient battle. As the group approached the ruin, they could see there was no longer a door and beyond was a sunlit room with a dilapidated spiral staircase in the center.

Led by Skullcrusher, the group carefully edged its way into the tower. The first floor of the tower had almost know roof remaining and there was a collection of debris on the floor. The spiral staircase climbed 13 feet in the air and abruptly stopped. The staircase did descend, however.

“Isn't it odd there are no birds in here,” Wolfclaw commented.

No sooner had Wolfclaw spoken than the tower's stonework seemed to leap to life. A pair of heinous creatures with bat-like wings and leering faces pounced to the attack. The gargoyles launched a flurry of attacks versus Graxxus and Skullcrasher. Fortunately, none of the attacks were effective and the adventurers were able to regain their senses after the ambush.

Graxxus's weapon sparked like steel on flint and bounced off one of the gargoyles. Skullcrusher's attacks were slightly more effective, but even his mighty axe swings were blunted by the gargoyles' stony skin. The gargoyles continued to attack fiercely, but they had yet to wound the adventurers. The battle seemed to last for an eternity, but bit-by-bit the gargoyles were worn down and finally killed.

“That was tedious,” Deadsmell said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“Looks like down is our only real option,” Graxxus observed.

“I'll take the lead then,” Goldie said and began descending the stairs.

*****

The staircase descended around forty feet. There was a shallow puddle of rainwater at the base of the stairs, but barely any of the sunlight from above trickled down to this depth. Graxxus lit up a torch.

The group was in a massive, finished, round chamber. The walls of the chamber were covered in mold. Even with the fungi covering the surface the beauty of the finished room stood out. The chamber was 60 feet across and arched twenty-five feet above in a domed ceiling with a hole at the top where the spiral staircase entered.

Several niches lined the walls, each of which contained a statue. Dwarven motifs were carved along the walls and stone benches were spaced at even intervals on the edges.

“The Hall of Heroes,” Lepidus said reverently.

“You know of this place?” Graxxus asked.

“Yes, we must be very close to King Longiron's secret library,” Lepidus replied.

“Funny, I don't see any doors,” Deadsmell commented.

“Start searching,” Graxxus said. “There has to be a secret exit around here.”

“Be careful, it is likely warded,” Lepidus warned.

Skullcrusher grunted and began to pivot one of the stone benches. “Wait!” Lepidus howled.

The loremaster's warning came to late. A large shape began to come up through the ground of the chamber. An entity of stone rose up and launched an attack against the adventurers. The towering stone creature crashed a rocky fist on Skullcrusher's head. The blow shook down the half-orc's entire spine and he shook his head to attempt to clear the stars before his eyes.

The rest of the adventurers sprang into action. They collectively reigned blows down on the earth monster. The elemental seemed utterly single-minded and again slammed down on Skullcrusher. The barbarian's knees buckled and he sank, kneeling. His eyes glazed over and began to roll back. The desperate blows from the rest of the group could not distract or dissuade the elemental. With machine-like movement the creature of rock and stone drew back its massive fists for a killing blow.

Something broke deep within Skullcrusher. As if in a dreamworld he heard his late father's voice, “Get up you stinking half-breed weakling. Get up and fight like an Orc!” The knuckles on his hand gripping his massive axe turned white. Rage boiled through his body. The anger cleared his mind and brought strength to his frame. Skullcrusher jumped up and brought his axe flying up at the earth elemental. The blade struck thunderously into the elemental. A hairline crack began racing up the thing's body and it spread quickly like a spiderweb. There was a pause, and then, like a dropped crystal goblet, the elemental shattered in a cascade of rock and earth. Skullcrusher smiled wanly and then sat down heavily on the stone bench he had tried to move.

“That is one tough orc,” Lepidus exclaimed.

“If you're going to be dumb, you better be tough,” Wolfclaw said.

Skullcrusher merely smiled at their comments while Graxxus saw to his wounds. Following a rest and much restorative magic being used on Skullcrusher the group entered a debate.

“Clearly, the bench is a trigger for a secret portal,” Lepidus began.

“What if it calls another of those earth elementals?” Deadsmell objected.

“I'm with Lepidus,” Goldie said. “Skullcrusher has defeated the portal's guardian. We should move the bench.”

“I don't know,” Graxxus wavered.

“We cannot give up now,” Wolfclaw objected.

“What do you say Skully? What's your vote?” Deadsmell asked.

Skullcrusher stood and with a mighty heave pulled on the stone bench.

*****

With a puff of mold spores a secret door slowly opened in the northern part of the chamber's wall. Beyond they could see a short five-foot wide passageway terminating in a room with a desk and some bookshelves.

Lepidus excitedly remarked, “By stone and steel, this has to be the home to Longiron's journal!”
 


pogre

Legend
Nifty! Is each post a single session, or multiple sessions?

For the most part - my group has always gone through combats quickly. This is the conclusion of this session:

Episode 5 Conclusion

Lepidus led the way through the secret door. “Wait!” Graxxus called behind the old dwarf. Lepidus paid him no notice and practically ran into the chamber. The adventurers quickly followed. Lepidus reached for an ancient tome spread out on an ornate desk in the small room. Suddenly, a large hand appeared and grabbed him by the neck. Lepidus was quickly dangling off the floor making gagging noises.

“The fool!” Graxxus exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Wolfclaw had transformed into a dire weasel and rushed to the dwarf's aid. The druid leaped at the golem that was squeezing the life out of Lepidus. Wolfclaw's quick action made the golem drop Lepidus and with a casual swat it knocked the weasel across the chamber. Skullcrusher roared and ran headlong into the chamber. The golem's mighty fist smashed into the half-orc's face.

Skullcrusher spit out a pair of teeth. “Your going to pay for that,” he snarled. His axe whirled and crashed into the golem. To the barbarian's amazement, the axe seemed to have almost no effect on the construct. Graxxus stepped into the chamber and brought his weapon to bear with minimal effect as well. Wolfclaw, in weasel form, sprang at the golem again and another casual swat from the monster sent him spiraling into a bookshelf.

The chamber was so cramped with the mad melee Deadsmell and Goldie could find no way to enter the fray. The low ceiling and tight quarters was hampering Skullcrusher's efforts as well. His axe scraped the ceiling, smashed bookshelves, nicked the desk, and otherwise was obstructed by the tight room and its furnishings. The golem, however, jabbed and slammed with its massive fists with deadly efficiency. Graxxus continued to chip away with his weapon. Skullcrusher was taking the brunt of the golem's attacks and was clearly dazed and hurt.

Wolfclaw shook the stars from his eyes and struggled up. The druid was badly hurt. He could not dare another attack. Wolfclaw could see Skullcrusher was in deep trouble too. He quickly cast a prayer of healing on Skullcrusher. The spell seemed to reinvigorate the barbarian. Like a second wind, Skullcrusher became a tempest of pain and whirling death! Adjusting to the close confines of the room he brought numerous blows down on the golem. For the first time the construct actually seemed to waiver.

Graxxus continued his probing attacks and discovering a weak spot in the golem and brought the full force of his might to bear. The golem ceased moving and then crumbled to dust. The adventurers stood still panting from exertion and looked down on the unmoving form of Lepidus. Wolfclaw went to administer to the loremaster and found him still breathing. He called a healing prayer onto the dwarf and slowly, Lepidus opened his eyes. “The journal?” he asked.

“Here,” Graxxus announced and held the book up. “It appears to be intact.”

“Excellent,” Lepidus replied and held out his hand. Graxxus gave him the journal from the desk. Lepidus opened the book and said, “Of course, of course, I should have guessed.”

“What is it?” Graxxus asked.

“The journal is written in the old rune tongue and has some sort of code,” Lepidus replied. “It will take some time to decipher it.”

“Let's get you home and get our gold first,” Deadsmell suggested.

“Yes, a wise suggestion,” Lepidus said. The old dwarf gingerly stood and dusted the fragments from the destroyed golem from his cloak.

*****

“How long will it take you to translate the book?” Graxxus asked.

“I should not think very long,” Lepidus replied. “I think I have the basic code deciphered already. Perhaps a couple more weeks.” Lepidus called the barkeep over. “Another round of drinks for my friends.”

“If this journal contains what you think it does, what then?” Deadsmell asked.

“How do you feel about going on another mission?” Lepidus asked with a smile.

“How do you feel about playing a real wage?” Deadsmell answered.

Lepidus laughed loudly. “Tonight, let us drink. There will be time for haggling another day.”
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 6

Space reserved for Episode 6 when I get my lazy backside around to writing it.

Go to episode 11 for the latest update.
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 7

Space reserved for Episode 7 when I get my lazy backside around to writing it.

Go to episode 11 for the latest update.
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 8

Space reserved for Episode 8 when I get my lazy backside around to writing it.

Go to episode 11 for the latest update.
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 9

Space reserved for Episode 9 when I get my lazy backside around to writing it.

Go to episode 11 for the latest update.
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 10

Space reserved for Episode 10 when I get my lazy backside around to writing it.

Go to episode 11 for the latest update.
 

pogre

Legend
Episode 11

Episode 11

"Help, by the gods, please someone help!" a female voice rang out from the street.

Graxxus jumped up from the table in the Embassy Coaching Inn and grabbed his weapon. Wolfclaw, the Elven druid, was already sprinting across the common room floor. Goldie, the Dwarven templar, marched towards the door in Wolfclaw's wake.

Skullcrusher chugged his ale in a superhuman gulp and rose from his chair and grabbed his massive axe.

"Oh, not you too," Deadsmell muttered.

Skullcrusher looked at the former gravedigger expectantly and said, "Blut!"

"Blood, blood, blood, it's all about..." Deadsmell began to complain, but the Half-Orc had already left. Deadsmell watched with amusement as Skullcrusher vaulted over a couple of tables to overtake Goldie and catch up with Wolfclaw. The rogue took a sip of his frothy ale and reluctantly stood and took up his weapon. He walked towards the Inn door.

Deadsmell emerged from the inn into the bright sunlight. He saw a woman shielding two children poking a hideous beast with a long stick. The creature had blood red skin, yellowed incisors protruding from its snarling mouth, and a blackened scar on its forehead. The creature appeared ready to pounce on the woman and her children.

Graxxus bolted toward the beast smacking it hard with his weapon. Skullcrusher charged the creature and with a wide-arcing swing of his mighty axe cut the creature in twain. A wide spray of dark blood and entrails gouted from the creature's bisected torso.

"Well, that's taken care of - how about we head in for a drink?" Deadsmell suggested.

"It wears the remnants of peasant's clothes. What would transform a fellow into such a demon?" Graxxus wondered aloud.

"I would just like to point out this is none of our business and an extremely unprofitable expenditure of our efforts," Deadsmell said.
"It was some sort of demon! An unnatural creature of the Abyss!" Goldie stated. "I sensed the deep evil in the creature, and a greater pall of evil in the atmosphere."

"That's Skully," Deadsmell replied. "I keep telling him he needs to take a bath."

"Look at the scar on its forehead!" Graxxus exclaimed. "It bears the mark of the ancient demon Harakhan."

Skullcrusher began loping up the street.

"Where are you going?" Wolfclaw called after the Barbarian.

"Blut!" Skullcrusher called back.

"I hear a clash of arms!" Goldie announced and commenced trotting after the Half-orc. The rest of the group followed.

They came upon the combat quickly. Three town guards were in a desperate struggle against two beasts identical to the one Skullcrusher had just slain. A corpse lay to one side of the street in a pool of blood.

The adventurers charged in mass. The creatures held their ground, clawing out with blood encrusted talons. Two of the attacks tore at the flesh of Graxxus and Deadsmell.

Goldie quickly hamstrung one of the monsters and Graxxus smashed the fell creature's skull in. Skullcrusher swiped at the other creature with his huge axe, but it proved to be a glancing blow. Deadsmell, disgusted that he was out in the town fighting instead of at the Inn drinking, buried twin blades in the monster's back. As Deadsmell twisted the blades brutally, the creature tumbled lifeless to the street.

Although the wounds taken from the demons were not particularly deep, they continued to bleed profusely. Goldie went to both Graxxus and Deadsmell and performed the Healing Spirit Touch of Delgrod's Temple. The healing touch stopped the bleeding and Graxxus further healed their injuries with earnest supplications. Graxxus found in casting the divine spells he had overcome to a foul aura.

The amazed, wide-eyed town guards stood gaping at the group. Finally, one of the guards managed to softly say, “Thanks."

"What's happening?" Graxxus asked

"No idea," one of the guards began. "We just fought one of those creatures and next we know Sarge and Davis are transforming into these...these things!"

Goldie was looking over the guards' corpses. "Same marks on their foreheads," she noted. "Harakhan."

"What were you doing just before they spawned into these creatures?" Wolfclaw asked.

"Heading to man the gate," one of the guards replied.

"We had just got underway again since Sarge and Davis had healed a bit," another guard volunteered.

"Wait, the two that transformed had been wounded?" Wolfclaw asked.

"Yeah, in the fight with the first creature," the guard confirmed.

Graxxus and Deadsmell looked at each other. "You have a way to detect poison?" Graxxus asked Wolfclaw.

"Not now, if we rested..." the Druid replied.

"No time," Graxxus said. "You men head on towards the gate."

"Thanks to the Saints for our delivery and speed of the Blessed to your path," the guard replied.

"We saved your bacon, not the Saints, choirboy," Deadsmell replied.

"Speed of the Blessed to you brothers," Graxxus replied quickly in an attempt to gloss over Deadsmell's comment.

"Where now?" Goldie asked as the guards left.

"I'm not sure," Graxxus admitted.

"I know where we should go," Deadsmell volunteered, holding his fist to his mouth and tipping it like a tankard.

Skullcrusher's cocked his head to one side as though straining to hear something. The Half-orc sniffed the air and began moving. The group followed and then they heard the strange retching sound too.

A man was on all fours retching loudly and uncontrollably in the street. His back was arched unnaturally. His skin seemed to be boiling. He reared back with his chest up and roared at the sky. His clothes were torn and a wound wept blood from his forehead. He jumped up to two feet, while glaring at the party with baleful, glowing, red eyes. The creature clutched at something on his neck and ripped away, tossing it to the side of the street.

The creature rushed towards the adventurers and raked Skullcrusher with its filthy claws. The barbarian roared and swung his axe. The slicing blade severed the creature’s claw from its forearm. The demon paused for a moment to look at its stump that was gushing blood. Deadsmell took advantage of the creature’s lapse and drove a pair of blades home through its neck. The demon collapsed as its blood pumped wildly from the wounds. In a matter of seconds the creature ceased twitching on the ground.

Goldie found an amulet the creature had torn from its neck and tossed aside. “It is a holy symbol from the Temple of the Saints,” she announced.

“Let’s head there,” Graxxus suggested.

In their mad dash across Goldcreek to the temple the group fought off a number of small groups of demons. Some wore the remnants of clothes from laborers, merchants, and even fur trappers.

*****

The scene outside the Temple of the Saints was of twisted bodies, blood, and the largest group of the horrid demon creatures the group had yet seen. The creatures were feasting on flesh and entrails and occasionally drinking from an ornate cistern in the temple courtyard. A larger creature wearing a biretta and robes stood in the open, arched doorway of the temple laughing maniacally.

The group charged into this scene of horrifying debauchery catching the demons off guard. The combat was short, brutal, and bloody with the demons falling failing to significantly injure any of the adventurers.

The adventurers were hesitant to immediately enter the temple and began to look at the cistern in the courtyard instead. Water flowed into the cistern through a molded bas-relief carving on one end. This was fed by a concealed pipe that went into the ground. Skullcrusher began to dig to ascertain the direction the pipe led into the cistern. The rest of the group stood watch as the half-orc worked. The group fought off a pair of demons that stumbled into the temple courtyard and Skullcrusher was able to determine the pipe led into the temple.

*****

The columned interior of the Temple of the Saints was hauntingly empty and peaceful. “I sense a great evil coming from the holy font,” Goldie announced. A smaller font was placed in front of a dais that supported a pulpit and three priest thrones. Goldie moved toward the font and invoked a pair of prayers to remove the evil from the font. “This is not working,” Goldie stated.

“What’s the problem?” Graxxus asked.

“The prayers affect the water and then it gets swept away by new water that is corrupted,” she replied. Looking over the font she continued, “I feel certain the font is fed by a spring and discharges to the pipes leading out to the courtyard cistern.”

“There’s a closed door back here,” Wolfclaw called out. Wolfclaw pulled back a tapestry to reveal the door behind the pulpit. Wolfclaw knocked hard on the door. “There’s no lock visible, I think it must be barred from the other side.”

“Fortunately, I brought a lock pick for just such a door,” Deadsmell said. “Hey Skully, come over here.”

Skullcrusher smashed through the door in an explosion of splinters revealing a small dressing room and a man huddled in cowled robes. The half-orc growled fiercely at the quivering man.

“Who are you?” the man stuttered.

“See the greenish fellow with the axe? That means I get to ask the questions,” Deadsmell replied. “Now, who are you?”

The man stood and replied with a quivering voice, “I am Thomas, Adept of the most holy Temple of the Saints.”

“What you doing back here Tom?” Deadsmell asked.

“I saw the high priest of our most holy temple transform into a terrible beast. I ran and hid here.”

“Where does the water in that font come from?”

“The most holy font of the Temple of the Saints is fed by an underground stream.”

“How do we get there Tom?”

“I have no idea,” the adept replied.

“I guess you better start digging Skully,” Deadsmell said.

“Wait,” Graxxus said as he squeezed into the room. “No access was cut to the stream from the structure during construction?”

“That was before my time here. I do recall the High Priest of our most holy temple asking about the stability of the temple due to its placement atop a cavern.”

“That was a wise question to ask after the whole thing is built,” Goldie said, rolling her eyes in disgust.

“How do we get to this cavern?” Graxxus asked.

“I have no idea,” Thomas replied. The Adept had calmed somewhat after seeing Graxxus’s prominent holy symbol and the templar of Delgrod, the Dwarven god.

“I bet local miners might have an idea,” Deadsmell suggested.

“Listen Tommy, I’m assuming you do not want to accompany us down to this cavern. Am I right?” Deadsmell asked.

“Yes, sir,” Thomas replied.

“You just hole up here then and keep quiet,” Deadsmell instructed.

“And do not go near that water under any circumstances,” Goldie added.

“Yet another benefit of the copious consumption of ale,” Deadsmell said.

*****

“The cavern entrance is up on the valley wall. You can barely see it from here,” Wolfclaw reported. The druid had just transformed back to his original form after taking on the body of a bird of prey. “There is an orc guard with a large bow near the entrance.”

“Alright, I’m on it,” Deadsmell said. Deadsmell scaled the hilly terrain to take up a position just outside the cavern mouth. He saw a large orc with a compound bow peering out of the cavern. The orc was very nonchalant, apparently bored with his duties. Deadsmell dropped down on the orc and buried his blades in the orc’s tough hide. Scissoring the blades at the creature’s spine, the orc fell without a sound, gurgling through a stream of blood leaving its mouth. Deadsmell gave a silent signal for the rest of the group to ascend to the cavern.

The group looked over the orc’s weapons, which included a compound bow, a great axe, and a long sword. All were radiating a magical aura. Skullcrusher discarded his axe and picked up the orc’s weapon.

“What about The Answer?” Goldie asked.

Skullcrusher held up the massive weapon with one hand and said, “Better Answer!”

*****

The adventurers headed down into the cavern and saw the flickering aura of torchlight from ahead. Emerging quickly into a chamber the adventurers saw three orcs standing guard over a half-dozen humans in filthy robes walking and chanting in a circle around a pentagram.

Skullcrusher tested his new weapon by slicing the three orc guardians in half with one swing. The rest of the group piled into the humans, killing them all quickly as well. As the last human fell, they heard a door open. A strong male voice call out sternly, “Why have you stopped…oh, oh!” The door slammed shut.

Without a word the entire group went bounding towards the door. Deadsmell was first through into a torchlit room. He took two bounds and buried his blade into the tall man with ornate robes. His target moaned in pain, and took a step back.

The man with the long mustache and graying hair began an incantation.

“This is going to hurt…” Deadsmell muttered.

A dark ray of magical energy burst from the man’s palms and buried into Deadsmell. Deadsmell could feel his very heart and soul getting ripped to pieces by the dark tendril of energy. Finally, the energy stopped and Deadsmell managed to stand upright.

Goldie ran in and smashed the spell caster, which wobbled him noticeably. She was followed by Wolfclaw in the form of a dire tiger. The great cat form pounced on the man, clawing and raking him to ribbons.

The adventurers paused to catch their breath and look around the room. They found various magical gew-gaws and tomes written in an evil language. They also found a letter. The letter insisted that the ritual be completed on time and that the forces would strike the town on the night of the new moon.

“That’s tonight!” Wolfclaw exclaimed.

“We have to warn the town guard!” Goldie replied.

“What’s left of ‘em,” Deadsmell muttered.

“First, we need to find this stream,” Graxxus directed. After a quick conversation the group agreed.

The cavern recessed back hundreds of feet before terminating in a small, low-ceilinged, chamber with a stream running through it. A figure surrounded by evil runes and symbols lay half in the stream oozing a dark green into the rapid waters.

“Those runes look pretty nasty,” Goldie commented.

Graxxus said a prayer and concentrated deeply. “They are magical and protective in nature.”

“How do we get passed them?” Deadsmell asked.

Skullcrusher tossed some small boulders on the runes that exploded loudly.

“That works,” Graxxus stated with a smile.

Deadsmell approached the body and after a careful search, smudged out the evil symbols around it. The reclining body had a human appearance, but was pasty white with a symbol of the Demon Lord Harakhan burned into the forehead. Deadsmell took a long pole and tried to lever the body away from the stream. The flesh fell from the corpse like an overcooked foul.

Goldie approached and concentrated on the water. “The evil has dissipated from the water.”

“Let’s get back to town tout sweet!” Goldie exclaimed.

“Huh?” Skullcrusher grunted.

“Don’t ask,” Deadsmell whispered. “It’s some cheese-eatin’ Dwarven cant.”

*****

Goldie had pleaded for help from the guards and citizens to help man the south walls. However, the town was still facing demons on the loose and the Lord Mayor’s manor gates were closed and locked and his manor guards refused to leave their posts. A frustrated Goldie returned to the south wall with 18 guards and citizens willing to fight.

The guards were posted on the wall and most of the adventurers took up positions behind the gate. Wolfclaw changed form and took flight in the night air as a great eagle. Eventually, the druid returned to the group’s position.

“They have a good-sized orc mob with a warlord and a shaman,” Wolfclaw reported.

“That’s not too bad,” Graxxus said.

“And they have a Type II Demon,” Wolfclaw added.

“Type II?” Deadsmell asked.

“Hezrou,” Goldie replied. “Wolfclaw is using the old nomenclature. Still, a pretty nasty demon.”

“Anything else?” Graxxus asked.

“Not that I could see,” Wolfclaw replied. “The force will be here within the hour.” Wolfclaw changed form into a great bird again and took flight.

*****

"What's happening?" Goldie asked.

"There's a bunch of orcs and a big floating toady-demon thing," Deadsmell responded.

"Where's Wolfclaw?"

"He's dive-bombing the orcs and he just summoned an elephant," Deadsmell replied.

"An elephant?" Graxxus asked.

"Yeah, and it's running amok through the orcs!" Deadsmell replied.

Deadsmell jumped down from his perch. "Get ready, the orcs are almost here."

*****

Wolfclaw cursed. He watched the demon dismiss yet another of his summoned creatures. He swooped down and summoned another elephant and then cast windwalk on the elephant and pointed it at the demon. The demon flew directly at the druid.

A dark aura surrounded the demon and overwhelmed Wolfclaw. He glimpsed into the dark Abyss and his senses were shaken to the core. Wolfclaw was vaguely aware the demon was attacking him and tried to defend himself.

*****

The town guards launched their javelins from atop the wall. "The orcs are at the gate!" the Sergeant yelled down.

"Get ready!" Graxxus yelled.

"It will take them a while to get through that gate," Goldie stated.

Suddenly, the gate and the middle section of the wall disappeared in a puff of acrid smoke.

"So much for that theory," Deadsmell yelled.

Skullcrusher launched at the orcs like an uncoiled spring. His new axe hewed through the orcs like he was cutting through water. Limbs, heads, entrails, and flesh flew from his whirlwind of death. Graxxus followed in the half-orc's wake of blood and death. Graxxus brought his not inconsiderable combat skills to the fight and mowed down even more orcs.

Within six seconds of the gate disappearing, half of the orcs were dead. The orc warlord and shaman had seen enough and began fleeing.

*****

Wolfclaw shook off the vision. He could see he was still aloft with a few wounds, but he was still intact. The demon was gone from his immediate vicinity. He spied the orc warlord and the shaman fleeing the battle. He began summoning lightning from the sky and flying towards the cowardly orcs.

*****

Deadsmell and Goldie joined the combat as the city guards continued to bring javelins down on the orcs. The orc horde was decimated. Three dozen orcs lay dead in the gateway.

The enraged demon charged into Goldie. The dwarf held her ground, but the demon's attack took its toll. The orc threat over, the rest of the group joined in the battle against the demon. The combined assault was too much for the demon and it prepared to teleport away. Graxxus was too quick for the demon though and with a massive blow fell the monster.

For a moment there was a stunned silence and then a raucous cheer erupted from the citizens on the wall. The cheer was punctuated by a pair of thunderclaps as the retreating orcs were vaporised by Wolfclaw's called lightning bolts.

*****

"What's that?" Deadsmell asked.

A grin had spread across Graxxus's face as he read the letter. "It would seem the Lord Mayor has invited us to a feast in our honor."

"The same Lord Mayor who hid in his manor behind locked gates during the attack?" Goldie asked.

"The same," Graxxus replied.

"This should be interesting," Deadsmell stated.
 
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