The Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh #127 Love Will Tear Us Apart (Again).

Goonalan

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Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #056: Dread Blight Storm.

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
New Tricks (played by Bear) Male Tabaxi Warlock Lvl 7
Ramshambo (played by Kev) Male Half-Elf Rogue Lvl 7
Vincenzo (played by Haggis) Male Shifter (Wildhunt) Druid Lvl 7

NPCs
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7

Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 56, and it was another cracker, although there was a lot less fighting than in previous two or three sessions, but I got 'em again...

So, the Dark Squad have found out all there is to know, they think, about the Talos worshipping half-orcs that were ensconced in the ancient De La Crane manor out in the Dreadwood. They've also shooed off, or else murdered (mostly murdered) the gnolls that were in the Talos worshippers employ, and latterly they've been below- down Granny Frogwart's Well. Not the ancient alchemist's well, Granny- I mean Ethel, made this very clear last session. Granny's well was home to a clutch of prisoners, the poor fellows beaten and exhausted. After gentle treatment- and healing, and rest, the five now ex-prisoners awake in the forest, away from their former prison, and within the confines of Newt's Leomund's Tiny Hut. The Dark Squad explain (at length) who they are to the newly awoken and disorientated quintet, they make clear that they (the Dark Squad) have just saved them from certain death.

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"We're the Dark Squad, you're safe now."

Newt is remarkably polite, most odd, but also very insistent that the ex-prisoners understand that they owe their lives to the Dark Squad. That achieved and so therefore time for a little chat with the ex-prisoners. Although the little chat will be happening during the adventurer's return journey to Weston's Logging Camp. The reason for the retreat- to get the shattered prisoners back to safety, they're all heart the Dark Squad. But it's slow going because the ex-prisoners are still exhausted (Exhaustion 4). It helps that Vinnie conjures a few horses to make the journey easier, but the summoned beasts disappear after an hour.

Therefore it takes the best part of five hours to get the ex-prisoners safely back to the logging camp, however en route, as stated above, there's plenty of chatter- the Dark Squad have questions. The ex-prisoners take it in turns (initially) to tell the adventuers a little about who they are- where they work etc. and how they came to be captured.

Four of the ex-prisoners- Lucy Cockaleekee (a lady of easy virtue employed at The Pink Pussycat), Farley Chipsticks (a very young local farmhand), Stig Horsetosser (an ex-mercenary turned chef & now co-owner of The Burger Lord) & Corporal Frank Diddle (a soldier at the Eerie) are all residents of Burle.

Burle is a large-ish frontier town which the PCs have not visited as of yet. Although the Falcon's Nest is only a few miles from this place, and the PCs have been there- to see the Falcon. The four were all captured however away from the town, in the woods and countryside thereabouts, and from their descriptions of their attackers- they were captured by gnolls.

This in itself is odd, Vinnie lets his colleagues know, because gnolls are driven by 'the hunger', they live to kill, and kill to eat. The gnoll kidnappers however are likely in the employ, Vinnie figures, of the Talos worshippers hereabouts, and keep in mind the Dark Squad have been bumping into gnolls for quite a while now during their adventures. The subsequent chatter amongst the adventurers is about what comes next- the Talos worshippers they know are in the process of summoning Garthok, an avatar of Talos, they're certain. The adventurers therefore want to get the ex-prisoners dropped off quickly, and then get back on the lightning-flinging bastard's trail.

The four from Burle are further quizzed- why were they captured? The answer takes a while to emerge, and only comes after Vinnie has examined a few of the ex-prisoners, which necessitates stopping the journey for a short while. The druid (after a number of checks) is of the opinion that all of the ex-prisoners have been drugged during their stay in Granny's prison. Then after yet more chatter (lots of it this session) it transpires that all of the ex-prisoners have also been interrogated by Granny. Over the course of the next few hours Newt and Vinnie attempt to talk each of the ex-prisoners through their drug-addled memories. So the question is- what did Granny Frogwart want to know? What questions did she ask, and as importantly- how did the ex-prisoners answer?

As it happens (and after more great chatter, and better rolls) the pair (Vinnie & Newt) get the ex-prisoners talking about their experiences, and in precis Granny wanted know all about the Burle. The hag wanted to know about the citizens of Burle- and particularly any Lords & Ladies of the town, or else other authority figures, and in particular about Lord Arlan, the de facto ruler of Burle. The hag also wanted to know about the presence of the military in the frontier town- the number of guards in the Eerie (a keep in Burle), numbers in the militia, the presence of any magic users, or priests. In short Granny wanted a military-style report on Burle for the Talos worshippers. She also asked questions about the Falcon's Nest, but the four ex-prisoners know nothing of this place. They did however have plenty of answers to Granny's questions about Burle, all of the ex-prisoners it seemed were free and easy with their answers.

This new info adds to the Dark Squad's suspicions.

The final ex-prisoner is, of course, Big Al Kalhoon- who served for many years as the head of the Saltmarsh Watch, and as it turns out, well... the questions asked of the big man are very similar, but obviously in regard to Saltmarsh. Big Al was, he makes clear, captured in the gnoll attack on his farmstead- Butterskull Ranch, which the adventurers have, of course, visited. Big Al is also very upset to learn that his various farmhands/co-workers were killed and eaten by the gnolls, and further upset by the fact that he is certain that he told Granny everything that he knows about Saltmarsh.

There follows lots more chatter- and the PCs are now pretty certain- war, or else, an invasion- covert or else overt is coming (to Burle and/or Saltmarsh), or something very similar. There's more to the Talos mission than just the summoning of an avatar, the Dark Squad are going to be on the look out for further clues to this plot.

[Chatter with the ex-prisoners, new info 500 XP]

At which point, and without incident, the Dark Squad make it all the way back to Weston's Logging Camp, and all is well with the world here.

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Farewells at Weston's Logging Camp.

[Get the ex-prisoners safely back to the logging camp 350 XP]

So, back at the camp- and the chatter doesn't stop, and particularly because Tarbin Tul is calling an end to his adventuring career. Fighting blight creatures, hags, evil fey, gnolls and terrifying Talos worshippers in the Dreadwood is not the bard's wheelhouse, he's very much out of his depth. The Dark Squad however are remarkably complimentary, and are keen for Tarbin to reconsider, or at least to take a little longer to reconsider his decision. But Tarbin is certain, and so after lots more chatter the Dark Squad charge the bard to undertake a few more tasks for them-
  1. Wait here at the logging camp until the five ex-prisoners are better rested- three more days.
  2. Take the ex-prisoners if possible on the next logging train, for safety, back to Burle.
  3. Contact the authorities in Burle and pass on all the information that the Dark Squad (including Tarbin Tul) have uncovered, and very specifically all of the questions that Granny had been asking.
  4. Travel to Saltmarsh and meet with Eliander Fireborn, head of the Saltmarsh Watch, pass on the Dark Squad's regards and then tell him all that we have discovered.
Tarbin is happy to accept the job sheet, he'll get it all done.

[Goodbye to Tarbin Tul, and the Bard's list of jobs 400 XP]

Then, farewells, because the Dark Squad are not slowing down, the adventurers dive back into the Dreadwood and travelling quickly make it all the way back to the wreck of the ancient woodland manse, in just three hours.

A brief scout about- the place is as they left it, and then another Leomund's Tiny Hut in the woods, in as out of sight and out of the way place as they can find. Then rest... although with a watch rota.

[Get back to the woodland manse 200 XP]

The only incident worth reporting occurs on Vinnie's watch, the druid- spying the heavens, watches open mouthed as a large cluster of meteors streak noiselessly across the black night sky. There are in total twelve streaks of light in the array, the spectacle leaves Vincenzo less than happy- “it iz a sign! Merde, no gud will come ov ziss!” the druid mutters and shakes his head.

Later he shares this event with his companions, the trio are much less pessimistic, “...it may predict some future good, a boon- perhaps?”, Ram offers- cheerily, but Vinnie's really not convinced.

DM Interlude- the above event came courtesy of a roll on a Raging Swan random event table, that's not to say that I'm not going to make use of it. Love these little add-on tables available for Fantasy Grounds et al.

Then, rise and shine, and the Dark Squad are following the boar pack's route deeper into the Dreadwood, and a few miles down the trail and... CRACK, suddenly a hefty limb of a tree over-reaching the track, splinters- falls and shatters on the path only six feet ahead of Vinnie and Daktari, the trackers leading the way.

The shattered tree limb is burned black.

Further investigations, but cautiously done, reveal that the lower reaches of the tree from which the branch fell is also blackened, blasted and burned.

Alas the Dark Squad's close investigations have effect- the burnt-through and therefore much weakened lower section of the great oak tree shatters, the tree falls. Daktari and Newt manage to dodge away just in time, Vinnie alas cannot out-run the falling timber. The druid is knocked prone and hurt badly, but then swiftly rescued by a straining Daktari lifting up the tree while Ram drags Vinnie free.

But here's the thing- this was a trap, and possibly left for the Dark Squad- or else anyone following the boar pack. The adventurers determine that the base of the tree was deliberately weakened by repeated Lightning Bolt strikes.

[The blasted tree falls 300 XP]

Then, after a little healing for Vinnie, the Dark Squad move on- but the weather's getting bad, it was overcast this morning but suddenly the rain is coming down- at first only a light shower. The Dark Squad keep on the trail, keep following the boar pack- deeper into the Dreadwood.

Eventually to a very odd-looking clearing, the place is over a hundred feet across, but with a seventy foot across and twenty foot deep depression at its centre, a steep sided quarry. Although, at the bottom of the depression is... bloody hell, another nasty-looking tree.

5603.jpg

The strawmen figures are much nastier to look at, but pictures always help to get the story told.

The nasty looking tree is very quickly identified as (very probably) another Gulthias Tree, swinging from the plant's black-blasted spiny-snarling branches are a clutch (six) of large dark and twisted strawmen.

The Dark Squad take a moment, Newt and Ram spot (and then report back to their colleagues) that the straw effigies are pulsing, causing thm to swing on their branches like hanged-men. The Dark Squad last encountered one of these devices back at Weston's Logging Camp, the strawmen there had a beating boar's heart within it. More importantly the device, Vinnie and Newt think, drew the ankheg's to the logging camp.

The weather's getting worse, the rain is starting to really come down, and it's getting darker- there's a storm coming.

Newt loses patience and with a Belphegor blast destroys one of the hanging strawmen, the twisted twigs and viscera flies, but then in the blink of an eye later four snaring tree roots burst from the ground and attempt to grab, and then crush, at the various members of the Dark Squad.

5604.jpg

Gulthias Strangling Vines- very few hit points but amazingly difficult to kill.

Newt is caught, restrained, and crushed by a snaking root.

At which point a surge of scurrying twig blights come rushing out of the woods hereabouts, and begin clawing at the adventurers, but- again, they're only twig blights. However, fast forward about an hour (real world time) later and the twig blights and friends are kicking (a bit) the adventurer's backsides.

Well, how did that come about? The first thing to say is that this Gulthias Tree has pretty tough roots, they have only a few hit points each but they're immune (that's right- immune) to every form of damage the members of the Dark Squad try except for slashing damage. I have eight tree roots in play, and they're all very grabby, and they also inflict ongoing bludgeoning damage to those restrained.

5605.jpg

The initial rush, note the Dark Squad are surrounded- mission accomplished.

Then there's a semi-horde of blights, mostly twiggies, but also half-a-dozen or more needle blights who step out of the woods and just open fire on the adventurers. I also have a couple of vine blights, and both of these fellows manage to ambush the casters. At one point both Vinnie & Newt are being grappled and restrained, this towards the end of the fight after the pair have escaped the questing roots and then retreated away from the blights.

So, it's also tactically difficult for the Dark Squad, the twig blights just choke the melee, Vinnie eventually only escapes the onslaught by climbing down into the depression with the tree. Vinnie is in Cave Bear (wild-shaped) form when this happens.

5606.jpg

Fullscreen, I'm loving this view- great work Bear. You'll note Vincen C Bear has retreated into the quarry, Newt is repeatedly trying to get away, while Ram and Daktari are holding the line- the former is taking a beating. Note the weather is really bad here.

Also, as the fight progresses the weather is getting worse- much worse, a storm is coming on, more remarkably Vinnie and Newt figure out (inadvertently, maybe) what I am up to- I'm one turn in the combat away from unleashing my Lightning Storm (with its associated 4d10 lightning strikes) when the pair- who have been making various monster knowledge checks all the while put paid to the storm's threat. Vinnie at this point is directing his Lightning Storm to blast the five remaining strawmen hanging from the tree, then Newt fires up his Wall of Fire and they're all destroyed in an instant.

The overhead conditions, which have been getting darker, and the rain- which is now coming down in stair rods, are in seconds much lessened- returned to normal. The storm dissipates even before it truly gets started. The clever duo (Vinnie and Newt) even discern that this entire attack/event was a direct favour of Talos, the Storm Lord is in the mix.

5607.jpg

The strawmen have been destroyed by Newt's Wall of Fire, and the storm... well, it's gone. Damn them- my 4d10 lightning damage strikes were just about to start.

But, back to the fracas- Ram, played by my brother Kev, at the end of the fight was somewhat grumpy- not overly or unduly, you understand. With good reason, I've been through the chat window and in the course of the action the rogue received six incoming critical hits, keep in mind I made a lot of attack rolls against Ram, because he and Daktari were mostly surrounded, and with their backs to the depression/quarry, for the entire fracas.

5609.jpg

Ram, looking healthy.

So, somehow I managed to inflict a regular beating on the guys, all of them bloodied or worse- Ram is almost out of keoghtom's ointment (one dose left), but he needed it again to stay conscious. Vinnie has to roll through two wild-shape forms- Vincen C Bear (as stated above) and Vincen G Squeezy Snake, during the course of the melee. Newt, likewise, gets very bloodied, even Daktari is feeling it, the raging barbarian has fewer hit points at the end of this fight than he was in the giant fracas in the manse/well.

It was tough for a while.

But, of course, the Dark Squad win through, but that's all the action for this evening- we finished on time, it seemed a good place to call it.

[Blight storm 1625 XP]

Although, a last few words from (probably) the session's MVP (certainly for the fighting), Daktari-

Daktari: I am Daktari! I am Uthgardt! I am SKY PONY!

Daktari: I am Daktari! Look at my beautiful hair!

The barbarian, played by Jim/Haggis, kept up a cod-Russian commentary throughout the fracas, on his turn- every turn, narrating the action- and chivvying his comrades on, he loved the fight.

The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-
  1. Track the other half-orcs/boars.
  2. DESTROY (Garthok)!
  3. Back to the Falcon?
  4. Goblins in the Dreadwood.
  5. Nightshade in the Dreadwood.
  6. To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.
  7. Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.
  8. Locate/check-in with Tarbin Tul.
Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.
 

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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #057: Garthok the Thunder Boar Avatar of Talos, a Shambling Mound, the Moonboar and Newt's new Demon 'friend'.

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
New Tricks (played by Bear) Male Tabaxi Warlock Lvl 7
Ramshambo (played by Kev) Male Half-Elf Rogue Lvl 7
Vincenzo (played by Haggis) Male Shifter (Wildhunt) Druid Lvl 7

NPCs
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7

Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard RETIRED
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 57, and yet another cracker, and with yet more fighting, of course... the start of the finale, at least for this part of the adventure.

Oh, but here's a new thing-

The date is Eighth-day, 8th Mirtul, 1493 Year of the Purple Dragons
The time is 10:29 AM

I figure I start every session on Fantasy Grounds with the above (and a recap of the previous session), so- I may as well put it here too.

The Dark Squad are in pursuit of a pack of Talos worshipping half-orcs and their boar chums, they're heading at speed through the Dreadwood, which is looking very dark and foreboding at the moment, there's a storm brewing.

The adventurers are of the opinion that this particular storm signals the arrival of Garthok, avatar of Talos.

I appreciate the storm-thing is a tired trope but... they're Talos-worshippers, adherents of the Storm Lord etc. so, forgive me...

In the last session the PCs defeated another Talos style ambush- and another Gulthias Tree with a big bag of Blights for company, but the adventurers- as stated, put paid to the attack, or else the attempt to slow them down.

Therefore, after defeating the Blights the Dark Squad do a little further (cautious) investigating of the tree, and find a few more low level treasures- tributes left for the evil sentient plant, and then... well, Newt burns the ugly plant to the ground.

It's what he does, the other members of the Dark Squad try to ignore the fact that the cackling tabaxi capers and dances around the tree inferno, singing praise to his fire demon overlord- Belphegor.

Imagine the scene- Ram & Vinnie heads bowed pretending to exchange urgent exhortations, Daktari looks on, slightly bemused, or else confused- it's one of his go-to options. The barbarian is trying really hard to listen to his two articulate companions, and to nod along and grunt in all of the right places. But... in the background, behind the earnest adventuresome trio is the mad tabaxi- screaming and whirling like a dervish as the roiling inferno, like a twisting staircase of flame reaching up to the dark heavens, seethes and burns the latest Gulthias Tree to charcoal black.

He's a distraction, that Newt.

Warlock's and their patrons, whatchya gonna do? Laugh at them? Try to manufacture some sort of plausible deniability (this is Vinnie's game)? Or else just ignore the strutting mad peacock (Ram's practice)?

Still, it never gets dull.

[Burn the Gulthias Tree 300 XP]

Then, after securing the trail onwards, a short rest- the adventurers were pretty beat up after the last fight, Newt puts up another Leomund's Tiny Hut, and welcomes his colleagues in- all smiles.

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Newt welcomes his colleagues back into the Leomund's, he's made scones.

Like the previous crazy never happened.

Then onwards...

On the trail through the Dreadwood, and eventually a regular path is discovered, and once again it's Vinnie and Daktari that are leading the Squad through the darkening forest, the pair are by far the best trackers.

About two hours or so along the path and there's a large stone ahead, around which the trail bifurcates only to meet up again on the other side of the rocky erratic. Most odd, or at least... but, what's this. Vinnie spots a druid mark on the stone outcropping, but Ram cautions his comrade and checks the place out first- no traps, the rogue thinks.

The druid mark indicates that something is buried at this spot, and sure enough (after more cautious investigation) a bark-paper note is unearthed, again using druid sign the author has communicated-

“WARNING! GNOLLS AHEAD.”

[Gnoll warning 200 XP]

The Dark Squad take precautions as they move on, and ready themselves for another fight. What they don't do however (sigh) is wonder for a second who left this druid sign here for them to find... and remember we're in the Dreadwood. A place not known for its friendly faces.

Note, I may have left my own erratic (well-hidden) in the paragraph above, hopefully the Dark Squad can spot my subtle query.

Thirty or so minutes later and the gradient is increasing, the trail is heading deeper into the Dreadwood, and quite definitely uphill. Eventually it winds into a slew of verdant canyons, lots of re-checking from the trail-finders but the Dark Squad are still on course.

However, the warning message.

Eventually, after a little more chatter- including a brief spat between the druid and the warlock about who's familiar is the best-

“Well, Owly can see just as well during the day as the night, and he looks nicer!”

“Gerald, is just way cooler- and I get to ride him- no contest!”

You'll note Vinnie's peon to Owly (above) is not written in a French/Mediterranean accent, that's because it wasn't Vinnie saying the line, it was Jim (Vinnie) and Bear (Newt) playing Top Trumps with their respective animal companions.

[Top Trump Familiars 100 XP]

Anyway, it is decided that an aerial recon of the area ahead is needed, Owly & Gerald are sent aloft.

Twenty minutes later and Vinnie and Newt are certain that there are gnolls within the canyons through which they must travel... or do they have to go through the canyons? Vinnie is certain that the area ahead can be avoided- they can go around, it'll add a little time to their journey and they'll have to pick up the trail again, but... no threat.

Then an odd thing happens, although not so odd if you've been with this narrative for a while- everyone is in favour of avoiding this encounter, everyone- except Newt.

Newt, oddly/surprisingly, is of the opinion that the gnolls must burn, and that the Falcon specifically tasked them to kill these creatures, which is exactly what the Dark Squad should do- he thinks.

Note, just to add a little clarity- Belphegor has let Newt know that he needs to add more souls to the fire, he will receive favour from his fiery demon lord if he sends 100 fresh souls Belphegor's way. So, gnolls have souls...

There follows a swift-ish debate- Vinnie & Ram offer up cogent and reasoned arguments about why going around the gnolls would be the smart thing to do. Newt sticks to his guns, and repeats/rehashes his one dodgy argument- the Falcon said to kill gnolls.

Actually, gnolls were on the list of creatures for which the Falcon offered a bounty, she didn't however specifically tell the Dark Squad to kill gnolls- she did tell the adventurers to find and follow either the boars, or the gnolls, into the Dreadwood.

But that all happened a long time ago- about three days ago in game time, in Session 50a, that's seven weeks ago real world.

Ten minutes later and Vinnie and Ram are getting desperate, they're scratching around for fresh reasons why the Dark Squad should just avoid the gnoll encounter.

Newt however is steadfast, he has ignored everything that Vinnie and Ram have said so far, and just repeated his line.

“The Falcon said...”

Eventually, it is decided that Owly & Gerald should be sent aloft for another recon mission, this after I (your bemused DM) made all of the PCs make an Insight check to realise that the last aerial recon failed to reveal... a leader type. The Dark Squad know from hard earned experience that the gnolls must have a strong leader somewhere in their midst.

Also the DM was trying to get things moving.

The second aerial recon reveals, of course, that hidden within an ancient and partially collapsed primitive stone building atop one of the mesas is... another of the Talos worshipping half-orcs.

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The obligatory Talos-bothering Half-Orc is spotted, and thus the encounter gets a spot on the Dark Squad's to-do list.

[Double good recon and amusing chatter 400 XP]

Well, that does it.

All thoughts of going around the encounter are set aside- the Dark Squad are going in, but first a little Pass Without Trace from Vinnie in order for the PCs to creep back into an advantageous position.

Although, a word about climbing- the tabaxi, of course, has a climb speed- he is however terrible at athletics. So, when he wants to do a bit of climbing (because he has a climb speed) I (your kindly DM) usually say something like- “Yeah, no problems- make an athletics check, just don't roll real low”, or, “... just don't roll a '1'”. Real low in our game is an adjusted roll of '5' or lower.

Every time I say this to Newt, well... he rolls very low, more often than not- very, very low. This evening he tried climbing twice, he rolled a '2' and a '1'.

So, the PCs eventually get into position- this after Ram lowers a rope down to help the tabaxi (with a climb speed) to get up onto the particular mesa that they have selected for the starting point of their attack.

[Ram helps Newt (with a climb speed) up onto the mesa 40 XP]

There are about eight or so gnolls hidden in the canyons here, with the Talos half-orc up in an elevated position- a (formerly) well-hidden lookout, atop the next mesa across. But the Dark Squad are content to watch and wait until the Talos-worshipper is concentrating his search efforts elsewhere. At which point Ram and Daktari, with Vinnie's Pass Without Trace going until they move out of range, head forward. The pair leap ten feet from one mesa to another, and then creep up on the enemy leader.

Seconds later and the half-orc is screaming, and only just clutching onto life- Ram crits with his sneak attack, Daktari also doesn't miss, and now he's raging. This in the surprise round, and then the pair get initiative again, and just keep on hitting. The enemy boss goes from ninety hit points to fewer than ten in a matter of moments.

The gnolls hear the screams and come running, some attempting to jump from mesa to mesa, others having to climb up to help their leader.

Newt blasts one of the approaching gnolls- repeatedly, leaving it critically wounded, why is this interesting you ask yourself, well... remember this guy.

5703.jpg

That's the Gnoll, officer! Its not like I did it on purpose (have the Hexed Gnoll flee) I just figured that the critically injured fellow had seen enough.

Daktari and the rogue are hit by the Talos half-orc's Thunderwave, but that's the last attack it makes- Ram sticks his rapier through the creature's heart- dead.

At which point a few of the other gnolls have made it to the fracas, and they're rampaging- running screaming at the Dark Squad pair.

Ram and Daktari take a few hits, but they give far more than they get, as always.

Meantime Vinnie, safely ensconced on the next mesa over, has been throwing Produce Flame spells into the fracas-

Vincenzo: Lord Belphegor take zis soul! Zut alor! I did not mean zat!

That is until another gnoll climbs up onto the rocky outcropping to join him.

Oh, but do you remember the critically injured gnoll that Newt blasted, well this feller was also Hexed by the tabaxi warlock, and so... the gnoll flees, and is out of sight (and off the map) in seconds. Which gets a reaction.

“No, wait! My Hex spell- that lasts eight hours, if the gnoll doesn't die... I can't... But... No!”

Newt abandons the fight (and his comrades) and attempts to chase down the fleeing critically wounded gnoll. Which he does, eventually, but not before he has used an inspiration point, his feline agility, and... a scroll of expeditious retreat, all in an effort to get in range of fleet footed badly wounded (but Hexed) bastard.

I think the above nicely sums up Newt- single-minded to the point of obsession, prepared to sacrifice everything, and happy to abandon his colleagues in an instant.

Oh, and by the way some folk would read the above and think that the author was criticising the player, I'm not- great work Bear, loved that you started/insisted on the fight, and then abandoned it after maybe two turns of the action.

However, the encounter gets wrapped up quickly- particularly when Daktari grabs up the fallen body of the Talos half-orc and hoists it above his head. The barbarian screams cod-Russian obscenities for a short while, and then throws the corpse in the face of a gnoll climbing up to attack.

That's a sign.

A bunch of the gnolls immediately flee the scene- one or two stick around and get slaughtered, and the enemy harassing and attacking Vinnie is blasted to pieces by Newt, when he finally gets back to the fight.

Note, until Newt arrived back on the scene Vinnie was attacking the gnoll on him with his staff of birdsong shillelagh, if you remember he expends a charge every time he hits with his enhanced staff in order for the device to make various bird calls.

The druid's gnoll opponent is obviously very confused by this, every time he gets hit the pain is accompanied by a vociferous Cluck, a Caw!, or a Hoot.

The fight is over.

[Talos & Gnoll canyon ambush 1500 XP]

There's a short break for healing- Vinnie in particular took a beating, and then to search the fallen and grab a few mementoes of the fight- this to claim the Falcon's reward for slaying the evil humanoids.

Newt, as is his want, also takes the time to fill a few flasks he keeps about his person (for just such a purpose) with fresh blood- the warlock bleeds the gnolls corpses, and again his three companions make small talk while this goes on.

Here's the scene-

“Ze storm seems to be concentrating itz effurts in zat direction, up ze 'ill.” Vinnie notes, and points, while striking a thoughtful pose.

“Which means we'll be heading that way too, most likely.” Ram concludes with a smirk.

Daktari nods sagely in agreement, while all the while in the background Newt cuts gnoll throats and tries to get the bloody spurts in his flasks- and not on his clothes, talking to himself in his fiendish voice as he goes about his work.

“That's right, bleed for me you filthy bastards! BLEED!”

Plausible deniability my arse.

A little while later and Vinnie and Daktari are convinced, the trail leads up the hill, which is now crowned with black angry clouds- the way ahead is lashing rain, only illuminated every now and then by a fork of lightning, the storm's pace beaten on a thunderous drum.

“I sink Garthok is on 'iz way!” Vinnie captions.

5704.jpg

The Dark Squad press on- deeper into the Dreadwood, which is starting to look a bit spooky.

But it's hard going up the hill, and the Dark Squad are moving slowly now- very cautiously. Nearly two hours later, as they finally approach the summit- in driving rain, Vinnie adds another Pass Without Trace spell to the mix.

Oh, but Newt has also used his Rod of the Pact Keeper to get another warlock spell power back.

On the summit of the hill is a circle of standing stones, and within the circle a pair of capering Talos-worshipping half-orcs, and a half-dozen or so twirling twig blights, joining in the mad cap storm dance.

5705.jpg

Note the clouds and rain, and the line of sight, oh and the capering Talos worshipping lunatics within the stone circle. It's about to get flamey!

The ritual has started...

That's enough for Newt-

Newt: Belphegor is Lord- let the flame preserve.

The tabaxi drops a Fireball into the midst of his enemies, no time to make a plan- let's get on with this, and of course only the half-orcs survive the fiery conflagration.

But the Dark Squad are in a rush, and happy to burn inspiration points when needed.

The nearest half-orc survivor barely has time to blink when Ram gets to him-

Ramshambo: Time to die!

And then Daktari-

Daktari: I cut off your Hair/Moustache!

And-

Daktari: Daktari smash!

And, of course, the classic-

Daktari: You are my Little Pony!

The half-orc survives the sudden onslaught, but only just.

Now time for the fight back...

You'd think...

Newt gets into it again with a pair of Belphegor Fiery Blasts, the badly wounded Talos-worshipper doesn't survive.

Therefore deprived of their kill Ram and then Daktari race over to get into action against the remaining half-orc Talos-botherer.

Ramshambo: Tickles doesn't it?

Ram crits the bad guy, and already the fellow is heavily wounded (remember he's already survived a Fireball).

While,

Daktari: I cut off your Cock!

Just to note there's a random body part location table roller thing now attached to Daktari's random chat roller- at least for this response.

The last half-orc miraculously survives the ordeal (but he's on less than 10 HP, and he started with 90) and then tries to blast the Dark Squad attackers with a Thunderwave- which, alas, only causes a little hurt to the barbarian and the rogue.

Ram and Daktari grin at the walking corpse half-orc, they'll make him pay for that in a second.

But not just yet.

At which point however a third Talos-adherent half-orc emerges from nearby vegetation and hits the Lightning Bolt button, Ram evades all hurt- stylish, Daktari's rage however prevents none of the pain.

Vinnie in the meantime takes advantage of the storm- he Calls Lightning and begins blasting, but the storm is blasting right back, a bolt of lightning slams down into the druid.

Note, there's a random lightning strike on one PC every turn, it's only 1d10 lightning damage- save for half, but it'll get annoying before the end, and besides... the effect may serve another purpose.

Read on.

During the above action a bunch more twig blights emerge from the shrubbery and start clawing at our heroes.

There are about twelve twig blights in total in this encounter, although half of them were destroyed in the Fireball. I'm just using them to annoy folk by this point- particularly Ram.

However...

Ram kills the second very badly hurt half-orc Talos worshipper dead, another rapier through the heart.

Ramshambo: Sharp isn't it?

While Daktari chases the newly revealed Lightning Bolt throwing half-orc down, and starts cutting.

Daktari: I am Daktari! Look at my beautiful hair!

Now, at last, the fight back begins, no- really.

The storm conjures another lightning bolt (not one of Vinnie's) which slams into the ground just to the right of Daktari, and then tearing itself from the spot comes a massive, over a dozen feet tall and as wide, shambling mound.

The great beast towers over the gurning barbarian, and then flails impotently at Daktari.

Damn!

You know how it is, you unleash a big bad guy and his attack rolls, with advantage, are an adjusted '12' and '13', and that's four D20s, and +8 to hit.

5706.jpg

It's getting busy for Daktari & Ram, note Newt does a great job of staying clear of the terror.

The last remaining Talos-worshipping half-orc begins chanting and screaming, sending swirling ribbons of energy to boost the attacks of his comrades.

Moments later, in the ultimate of ironies, Vinnie Calls Lightning down onto the last of the Storm Lord's adherents, leaving the poor bugger staggering and critically wounded.

Another lightning bolt from the storm blasts Ram, but only a little.

Newt keeps on fiery blasting- mostly twig blights, remember he's always looking for a way to use his Dark Ones Reward to keep topping up his temporary hit points.

Newt: Burn BASTARD!

Ram catches up with the last half-orc Talos botherer and cuts the poor bugger's throat.

Just an aside, but worthy of note, Ram has finished off three of the four half-orc's Talos-fools slaughtered in this session.

Lightning bolts (half-a-dozen of them) blast the earth as Talos (perhaps) loses his cool, and suddenly standing out in the open, a little way down the hill, staring and snorting at Vinnie is the largest boar the druid is ever likely to see. Ever.

Garthok is twelve feet tall to his massive furred shoulders, his huge head larger than the druid is tall, the Storm Lord's avatar's tusks crackle and spit lightning.

The great boar puts its head down and charges.

Vinnie screams like a little girl.

5707.jpg

Garthok arrives, note Vinnie's token just to left of the huge boar. God help the druid, the skull and crossbones token on the screen is a dead Twig Blight, this puny creature survived for two whole turns against Vinnie and Newt. The Twig Blight had something like 6 HP, Garthok has got a few more...

Alas the druid's words/sounds are lost to the storm- although Newt spots that something is happening down the hill.

Back atop the rise, and oblivious to the arrival of Garthok, Daktari and Ram get in a tangle with the shambling mound (and keep in mind I gave this plant bastard a lot of hit points, 150+).

Daktari: I am Daktari! I am MVP!

Daktari: I am Daktari! I am riding you!

Daktari: I am Daktari! Look at my beautiful hair!

All the favourites, Daktari keeps on hitting but also keeps on rolling low for his damage.

The few remaining twig blights are also congregating towards this fight.

The shambling mound slams the barbarian repeatedly, and now Daktari's bloodied, and also entwined by the plant creature's snaking tendrils- that's not good.

Back down the hill...

Vinnie gets his naughty word together, and then hits the charging Garthok with a Blight spell, and for full effect, although the great boar just shrugs the pain away, and charges closer...

Vinnie gets back to screaming and turns tail and runs, diving into nearby vegetation and cleverly putting a massive tree between the avatar and himself, once situated he wildshapes (if only for the hit point buffer) into Vincen G Squeezy Snake (a huge creature, the same size as Garthok).

Moments later and the storm finds the druid/snake, and he's blasted by a lightning bolt- Garthok however is thwarted in his charge, the great boar has to readjust his aim and circumnavigate the tree, and the vegetation. The great beast is somewhat dismayed to discover that he's now facing a massive constrictor snake.

Back up the hill...

Ramshambo: Now that must have hurt?

Ram crits the shambling mound and then rolls spectacularly high for 47 points of damage with his magical rapier (including lots of sneak attack, of course).

Daktari joins in, the raging barbarian also crits the shambling plant.

Daktari: I cut off your Left Arm!

But the plant monster has the last laugh, it lurches forward and at the same time grabs up and plunges the grappled Daktari into its body- the barbarian is engulfed!

5709.jpg

"Hellooooo! Helloooooooooooo! I sink der bulb has gone! Anybody?" The inside of a Shambling Mound from Daktari's POV.

Thankfully Daktari takes a breath before he is engulfed, however he's effectively blinded, and grappled, and restrained and being crushed within the plant beast.

Suddenly Ram is all alone with the shambling mound and the remaining twig blights.

That's really not good.

Back down the hill...

Vincen G Squeezy curls around Garthog and begins constricting the giant boar Talos avatar.

Although, for just nine points of damage this turn.

WARNING! Look away if you are a PC.

Garthog has a big bag of hit points, and I most surely mean that- a real big bag of hit points, a suitcase full- if you like.

So, Squeezy doing his thing may not be enough, but read on- because the hits keep on coming.

Then, a squat orc demon, a Tanarukk- snarling in its abyssal tongue, suddenly appears behind Garthog, and starts hacking at the boar beast's furred arse with its wicked looking sword.

5708.jpg

WTF? Clue- see top right of picture, that's right- the tabaxi is grinning.

A little way back up the hill, Newt- newly encircled by gnoll's blood, completes the casting of his Summon Greater Demon spell.

The tabaxi grins, as his new hire gets to work.

Although there's still a lot of WTF from the other players.

Note the tanarukk gets to make a saving throw to escape Newt's control at the end of each of its turns- a Charisma DC 16 save, and the creature is -1 on its save.

On its first attempt it rolls... a '16', that's an adjusted '15' of course.

Phew!

A lightning bolt blasts down from the storm and into Garthok, healing the great boar.

Damn!

Back up the hill...

Twig blights attack Ram, the rogue is soon surrounded.

Back down the hill...

Garthok meantime, caught in the coils of the huge snake, fails to get free or else do harm to the wildshaped druid.

I mean... could they win this fight?

Halfway up the hill, between the two fights...

Newt, alas cannot see much of the fight between Squeezy and Garthok- it's all happening behind a tree and a bunch of vegetation. He can however see the shambling mound threatening Ram, and so he launches his unerringly accurate fiery blasts (confidence is everything) for a hit and a crit.

Newt: Too hot to handle?

Newt: Belphegor consumes thee!

Back up the hill...

Ram also keeps on stabbing, while on the inside of the plant beast Daktari keeps struggling, and cutting out with Shatterspike.

Daktari: I cut off your Body!

Daktari: Vinnie is my Little Pony!

Daktari: I am Daktari! Look at my beautiful hair!

Although the barbarian shouldn't be speaking- he's holding his breath in there.

The plant tyrant is beyond bloodied- there are holes in the great beast's body- and every now and then Shatterspike lances out of the beast.

However- seconds later and Ram too is bloodied, and staggering. The shambling mound repeatedly slams the rogue, and then ensnares the half-elf within its tendrils, he's going nowhere.

Back down the hill...

Garthok has a strong word with himself, the avatar of Talos gets his mojo back and sets to goring the massive Squeezy, who goes from just short of full hit points to very very bloodied in an instant. It's not just the great boar's tusks that tear- it's also the lightning blasts that frazzle.

Vinnie needs help fast...

The struggling mortally wounded Squeezy is suddenly spotlighted by a shaft of pure silver moonlight, the beam pierces the roiling black clouds, the hellish storm and the turmoil rain.

Help has arrived.

The druid experiences a moment of silence and absolute clarity as everything just stops for a second.

Then a female voice like a song.

“Blessings to thee silver champion,
The light of the moon mantle thee,
A goddess wishes you fare and good fortune.
Hammer the foe! Fight back!
Will you accept my shift and take to the task?”

Vinnie gulps and then nods- grinning.

Only this is all just happening in his head, of course.

In that moment, and in the glare of the silver moon, Squeezy is gone- and standing in the great snake's stead is a thickset boar-headed humanoid, with the shifter druid's features, and with a great two-handed maul in its hands.

The Moonboar tests the weight of its new weapon, and then grins and beckons the slightly flummoxed but now disentangled Garthok back to the fight!

5711.jpg

The Moonboar gets into it, ignore the Vinnie token- that shouldn't be visible. Oh, but note that Newt has drawn on his protective Gnoll blood magic circle. Everything is under control... nothing to worry about, well... we'll see.

The tanarukk keeps slicing at Garthok's rear, thankfully it's still under Newt's control.

We'll see how long that lasts, and remember the demon sticks around for 1d6 rounds if and when it breaks the warlock's control.

But that's all we have time for this evening, and we went well over time.

Just for info Ram is well beyond bloodied, he's also being grappled by the shambling mound, and is also surrounded by twig blights.

The massive shambling mound is also beyond bloodied.

Daktari is, of course, situated within the plant tyrant- the barbarian is blinded, restrained, grappled and being crushed- but he's still fighting.

Newt hasn't taken a hit, the tabaxi warlock is keeping out of the way- directing his new toy the tanarukk, while standing statue within a protective circle of gnoll's blood. Screw his colleagues, he's alright.

While Vinnie, well- the druid has somehow been transformed into the Moonboar. The druid however is still facing Garthok.

Garthok, the giant boar avatar of Talos is just barely wounded- for all of the druid's efforts so far.

It could go either way, although I've learned never to bet against the Dark Squad.

The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-

  1. Survive.
  2. DESTROY (Garthok)!
  3. Back to the Falcon?
  4. Goblins in the Dreadwood.
  5. Nightshade in the Dreadwood.
  6. To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.
  7. Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.
  8. Locate/check-in with Tarbin Tul.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.

PS For the players- I need a little chat at the start of the next session, if I forget then remind me, the subjects for discussion are-
  1. The addition of a sidekick NPC, for me to bot.
  2. A review of the to-do list.
 

carborundum

Adventurer
Wowzers! I stopped getting notifications and RL distracted me for...weeks. I've been catching up for, like, a whole wonderful hour.
Love the updates, love the npc names, especially down the well! Looking forward to seeing how this plays out, what the heck is going on with the Moonboar and how this demony addition to the stew will pan out!
 

Yikes! Excellent fight! I'm very much looking forward to the conclusion, and to (hopefully) revelations as to the nature of their helper.

By coincidence, I threw a shambling mound at my party a couple of weeks ago - admittedly only as a solo wandering monster. It managed to engulf the paladin, but inflicted pitifully little damage before she was cut free by the others.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #058a: Boaring.

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
New Tricks (played by Bear) Male Tabaxi Warlock Lvl 7
Ramshambo (played by Kev) Male Half-Elf Rogue Lvl 7
Vincenzo (played by Haggis) Male Shifter (Wildhunt) Druid Lvl 7

NPCs
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7
Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*
Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard RETIRED
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 58, and this one went beyond being 'a cracker', way beyond, you know how it is sometimes when things just go... swimmingly. But, to be honest- it was all down to luck, serendipity, and a little quick thinking- at least for the bit of this session that I most enjoyed.

There's a lot of this one however, so- this is just the first bit.

The date is Eighth-day, 8th Mirtul, 1493 Year of the Purple Dragons
The time is 18:08 PM

And we're in a finale, of sorts.

On a storm tossed hill in the Dreadwood, home to a bunch of Talos worshipping half-orcs (now deceased) that were in the process of summoning an avatar of the Storm Lord- Garthok the Thunder Boar.

And so...

On top of the hill, within a summoning circle of standing stones, Ramshambo tries in vain to keep a badly wounded but still terrifying (and enormous) shambling mound at bay- with his rapier and dagger. The rogue is also being pressed on all sides by twig blights- he's surrounded.

Oh and he's being grappled by the giant plant monster, and is already well beyond bloodied.

But where's his sidekick, the ever dependable Daktari? Well, the barbarian is fighting the good fight from inside the aforementioned shambling mound- he's also being grappled, and he's restrained, and is effectively fighting blind.

But that's hardly likely to stop the frenzied, reckless and raging Sky Pony Uthgardt barbarian.

Point of fact within the shambling mound has proven to be the safest place on the battlemap, Daktari has to make a constitution save to avoid a bunch of crushing/bludgeoning damage every turn. He's not failed this once, and he's been in there for the last three turns, as I say- safe as houses. Of course, the barbarian has to get out of the plant monstrosity before he runs out of breath.

But, he's Daktari.

Daktari: I cut off your Body!

That's right- he's special sauce.

The combatants here, of course, have no idea what's going on down the bottom of the hill, I mean- they can hear Vinnie screaming (just, above the clashing storm), but that's about all.

And so, down the bottom of the hill Vinnie, who has latterly turned into the Moonboar (see last session for not much of an explanation) is facing off against Garthok the Thunder Boar, avatar of Talos.

Garthok is a twelve foot tall at the shoulder boar, of immense proportions (obviously), the beast's tusks are bathed and crackle with lightning, its hooves when they crash into the earth send out thunderous shockwaves.

In truth the fight is a bit of a mismatch, a David versus Goliath, if you like.

My money's on the young contender, I've had my finger's burnt before- never bet against the Dark Squad, but here's the thing- Vinnie is bloodied, and the Moonboar is the second wildshape form that he has taken. Vincen G Squeezy Snake lasted maybe three turns.

Garthok has just short of 200 hit points left, he started with maybe 250, he's only just broken a sweat.

But, Vinnie has help, maybe... the help takes the form of a tanarukk demon summoned for the purpose by Newt.

Alas the new demonic hire is just about bloodied too, and Newt's continued mental control of the fiend depends on the creature failing a saving throw every turn.

He likes to roll the dice does Newt, although truth be told the tabaxi warlock is standing in a protective circle of gnoll's blood- if the demon runs amok, which he's very aware can happen, then- he's safe.

He's a team player is Newt.

Oh, last bit of the set up- Newt can see what's going on up the hill- with Ram and the shambling mound et al, but the Moonboar versus Garthok is mostly happening behind a stand of trees and thick vegetation.

We got through twelve turns of combat in the last session, here's the rest.

Newt keeps blasting the shambling mound.

Ram keeps on stabbing the shambling mound.

Daktaris keeps on struggling and slicing, from within, at... the shambling mound.

And... the huge plant monster eventually totters and falls- and scrambling his way free from the foetid plant stink and gunk is...

Daktari!

“How iz my hair? Do not lie to me, Ram.” Is, of course, barbarian's primary concern.

Meantime the twig blights keep on clawing at the rogue, the next one with a crit.

Down the hill Moonboar-Vinnie sets about Garthok with his maul, and then butts and bites at the huge beast with his tusks, and then... he turns tail and flees to hide behind a hefty rock.

5801.jpg

He's a smart lad is Vinnie, keep away from Garthok.

Garthok aids Moonboar-Vinnie's retreat by blasting/punting the druid with his lightning tusks, for 28 damage in total- blimey, that hurt.

Meantime the tanarukk keeps on hacking at Garthok's rear, although the demon- after his initial tough guy macho frenzy (last session)- is now questioning the wisdom of his current situation.

The demon is screaming at Newt.

“Release me master! Release me, the mighty beast (Garthok) is beyond my power! Help me, master?”

Alas 'master' Newt is having none of it- “You are serving your purpose. Shut up with your mewling and fight on!”

Ram deftly avoids (evasion) a lightning bolt that slams down from the Talos storm overhead, and then gets critted again by another twig blight- it's how the rogue rolls.

Ram's on approx. 10 hit points.

Back down the hill and Garthok the Thunder Boar, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, elects to ignore the hiding druid, and instead concentrate its efforts on destroying the demon that keeps stabbing it in the arse.

The great beast tusks (with added lightning strike) the tanarukk, the demon staggers from the hit- bloodied and beyond, it continues screaming at 'master' to release him.

That's not going to happen.

Garthok slams it thunderous hooves onto the tanarukk which has very suddenly got fewer hit points than Ram, although- miraculously, it somehow survives the onslaught.

It pleads some more with its 'master'.

But now 'master' is just getting angry, particularly about having to remind the recalcitrant demon to use its Unbridled Fury (reaction) to attack Garthok some more. The tanarukk crits the avatar of Talos, and then rolls high for its damage.

Garthok is suddenly on less than 100 hit points.

Note, at this point Newt has seen the Moonboar run away from Garthok- and has identified the beast as being Vinnie, the creature is after all wearing the druid's clothes. The warlock is also aware that his summoned greater demon, the tanarukk, is at death's door (as it were).

So, the tabaxi blasts a couple of the twig blights up the hill still hassling Ram and Daktari, and then screams to let the pair know what's going on down the hill-

“The avatar of Talos is here! It's a massive lightning spewing boar! It's down there!”

The tabaxi points, and then immediately dives into the nearest, and densest, swathe of concealing vegetation, this still could go south very quickly, he figures.

5802.jpg

Newt hides in a bush, Ram's heading straight to the action.

Ram and Daktari, no time for healing, cut through the last of the twig blights and then begin the charge down the hill.

They're not short of guts the pair.

Moonboar-Vinnie, from behind his rock, launches a Moonbeam down on Garthok, and then rolls one short of maximum damage.

Garthok shudders as the radiance hits, the great beast almost misses its step.

The tanarukk, while pleading with its master, continues to attack Garthok- and the demon's first strike is yet another crit.

The tanarukk for MVP?

Although, just to make clear Garthok has resistance against the tanarukk's attacks, so- only half damage.

Master Newt, doesn't bother replying to the demon's exhortations- he's staying quiet, and still- he's hidden in a bush.

It's worth mentioning that even Moonboar-Vinnie is pleading the demon's case with Newt, although- and again, Newt's keeping quiet.

“I av never felt zorry fur a de-mon be-for!” The druid offers.

The tanarukk fails his next saving throw to break free of Newt's control with a '1', that's an adjusted '0'.

The storm sends down another bolt of lightning to add to the mix.

It hits the tanarukk, of course.

“AAAaaaaaarrrggghhhh! MASTER! PLEASE, IT HURTS US- IT HURTS US REAL BAD! Maaaaassssssssssttttuuuurrrrr!!!!”

That kind of thing.

It's just not the tanarukk's day.

Remarkably the demon survives the lightning strike- on 3 hit points.

“MASSSSSSTTTERRRRR!!! PLEEEEEEEEASE!”

But too late.

Garthok the Thunder Boar skewers the tanarukk on one of its great tusks, and then shivers the demon full of lightning, until... well, the summoned fiend fades and is gone- screaming all the way back to Hellgate Keep.

The great boar however isn't finished, it trots forward- this after spotting Moonboar-Vinnie, the great beast manoeuvres to get a clear strike, and then launches a lighting bolt from between its sparking tusks.

Moonboar-Vinnie takes the full hit, and is heavily wounded in an instant.

Newt however can now see Garthok, the warlock (I told you he was a team player) rushes from his hiding place and fires a pair of Belphegor blasts into the giant beast.

5803.jpg

Newt carries on blasting, note Ram & Daktari are hidden from Newt's sight- behind the tree.

Then, Ram charges the rest of the way down the hill- using every bit of movement he has, and an inspiration point, to stick Deadend- his magical rapier, into the flank of the beast.

Daktari?

He does the same, and the hits keep on coming for Garthok.

Daktari: I am Daktari! I am Killing You!

But not yet, the avatar of Talos is bruised, bloodied and battered, and yet it still stands.

Then Moonboar-Vinnie steps out from behind his rock, swiftly shapechanges (not wildshapes) into boar form, paws the earth once or twice- mostly for effect, snorts, and then... charges.

Smashing into the staggering monstrosity as it too puts its head down ready to make it's own charge...

Garthok the Thunder Boar, Avatar of Talos- beloved of the Storm Lord- collapses and dies.

And is instantly consumed entirely (or else just gone) in the largest and loudest lightning strike that any of the members of the Dark Squad have ever seen.

Moonboar-Vinnie and Daktari are also badly flash burnt by the static burst.

The fight however, is over.

Daktari collapses- exhausted.

“I am sleep now!”

[Garthok and friends 7100 XP]

Ram sprawls, barely conscious, while Newt sets about preening and cleaning his fur- the warlock took four points of damage somewhere in that fight- shocking.

Moonboar-Vinnie however isn't done- he has questions, and so he shapechanges back into his hybrid form to ask them.

He also steps into the centre of his own Moonbeam spell (he's immune to radiant damage) and then shouts into the storm...

“Who are you? What has happened to me? What do you want of me?”

And a few other very similar questions, but you get the drift.

The answer comes back, in the same sing-song female voice in the druid's mind-

“You will find your answers at the Moon Pool, my hero.
But you should know my dear Vincenzo, you- above all others- have been chosen.
Yours is a difficult path, others have failed before you...
And yet you must succeed, else there will be nothing left to see, even in the dark.”

[Vinnie keeps asking questions- excellent work 300 XP]

Just to note, the Moonboar is statted, pretty much, as a Wereboar, and looks very similar. The Moonboar however is not a lycanthrope, and that's pretty much all that Vinnie knows.

But that's enough for the first part of this session, the next bit is the best bit- it'll be with you in a short while.

Stay safe and well.

The Dark Squad and goonalan.
 


Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Dark Squad in the Secrets of Saltmarsh

Session #058b: Eleven Months in Vinnie's Backpack.

Dark Squad (in alphabetical order, no egos here).
New Tricks (played by Bear) Male Tabaxi Warlock Lvl 7
Ramshambo (played by Kev) Male Half-Elf Rogue Lvl 7
Vincenzo (played by Haggis) Male Shifter (Wildhunt) Druid Lvl 7

NPCs
Daktari (played by Haggis) Male Human Uthgardt Sky Pony Barbarian Lvl 7
Garumn Male Mountain Dwarf Paladin of Moradin Lvl 5 RIP*

Tarbin Tul (played by goonalan) Male Human Bard RETIRED
*Trapped in the Land of the Bad Dead Ancestors.

Servants/Familiars
Gerald (Bat/Giant Bat) servant/mount of New Tricks
Owly (Owl) Vinnie’s familiar


This is session 58b, the second bit- the best bit.

Garthok the Thunder Boar, the Avatar of Talos has been sent packing- back to wherever the angry boar came from. The storm overhead is fast fading, soon after the Dreadwood- or at least this part of it, will know peace.

The Dark Squad, except for Newt, are however pretty beaten up.

Newt quickly finds a spot to erect a Leomund's Tiny Hut, and then invites his boon colleagues inside. Just to make clear in the preceding climactic fracas the tabaxi took just four points of damage, I think he cut his hand when the bottle of gnoll's blood he used to make his protective circle shattered.

Ram meantime is bleeding from hundreds of tiny cuts, and has been pummelled almost into unconsciousness by the shambling mound.

Daktari was down below a quarter of his hit points, and that's hard to do to a perma-raging barbarian, he has also just spent five turns inside the shambling mound- so he ain't that fresh smelling.

Vinnie is well beyond bloodied- now that he's back in shifter form, he also burned through one-and-a-half of his wildshape forms.

So, there's a bit of an atmosphere inside the Tiny Hut.

The chatter starts with questions for Vinnie, in summary- what's with the Moonboar, dude?

The druid reveals what little he knows, which is just what he was told by the strange female voice in his head, and then...

Newt, rather sensibly- at least I thought so at the time, counsels Vinnie about the foolishness of listening to the voices in your head. Particularly if said voices claim to be all-powerful (or similar) and are complimentary, and flatter the listener's ego. This strange woman who speaks to the druid could, Newt fears, attempt to lead him astray.

Nobody is sure how much of the above is irony, and Bear (playing Newt) isn't telling- however everyone was laughing at the time.

[Newt cautions Vinnie regarding his foolish behaviour 200 XP]

But then comes rest, and healing, and... well, lots more chatter, and the storm- well, that packs up its stuff and heads on home. By the time the Dark Squad emerge from their temporary abode the weather has changed for the much better. It's a lovely spring evening in the Dreadwood.

Although Vinnie is still not happy with the situation, the druid- as is his want, makes a short speech about the need to keep such ancient holy sites (the standing stones) free from the taint of Talos. Then, in a moment of genius, the druid grabs out the Quaal's Feather Token (Tree) that he has been carrying around in his backpack since the 17th of Kythorn last year.

Note, this item was given to the Dark Squad by Ysdrayal, the Kobold Queen, all the way back in the Sunless Citadel.

Vinnie drops the feather, the token curves and scuds its way down into the centre of the stone circle, and then... it disappears.

To be replaced by a green sprouting bud, which quickly grows into a thrusting seedling, then into a sapling, until finally in a surge of groaning and urgent nature a great sprawling oak tree occupies the spot.

5805.jpg

Vinnie pimps the standing stones. "Zere, zat is tres tres bet-er!"

Birdsong is heard just moments later.

Vinnie, grinning now, steps out of the circle- heading back to his smiling friends.

What a beautiful moment.

Although...

There's a thud behind the druid, and then another.

Footsteps.

Someone, or something, with huge feet.

Vinnie turns to stare at...

A treant.

The massive aged plant creature stretches its limbs and branches as if awaking from a particularly long sleep.

“This is nice, where am I? Who are you people?” The treant asks in its rumbling drawn-out brogue.

The Dark Squad are sore amazed.

Eventually, after a variety of questions get asked, and sometimes answered, introductions are at last made.

And the funniest thing, from my POV, is this next bit took fifteen or twenty minutes of chatter to get around to.

The treant's name is...

5806.jpg

Wildroot!

And if you remember any of the below, taken from the list of prophecies et al, written up in session 29 here on ENWorld-

SESSION 19- Belphegor’s words to Newt in the sinkhole of the Forge of Fury.

“Tell Wildroot that you wish to join the pact of the flame, resist the urge to burn the woodsman to the ground- he will set you to your task.”

“Discover the last ancestor, she that lives under the cover of darkness- the hag will have the answers.”

“When the hands move the end will have begun.”

“WAIT!”

“For the pale dwarf without a face to beg you- only then should you take the ghost home.”

So, here's Wildroot, he's been in Vinnie's backpack for going on eleven months now.

There follows a lot more questions, and the Dark Squad are truffling for plot and, at last, have got a grip- on something. The conversation goes on for a good long while, and the Dark Squad keep on coming back for more. They keep thinking of other things to ask Wildroot.

The Dark Squad however learn the following-
  1. Wildroot knows all about the Pact of the Flame, an ancient organisation that started in this region, its task to make safe 'the people' (Elves, specifically the wood elves in the region) from the depredations of their greatest enemy. The dragons. In particular large fire breathing dragons that sought to burn and destroy the forests and the lands (and, of course, the aforementioned wood elves).
  2. Just to make clear, the Pact of the Flame seeks to extinguish fires, rather than start them- Newt doesn't look happy when he learns this. He also gets Belphegor's joke now- “resist the urge to burn the woodsman to the ground.” Wildroot is a 'man' made of wood.
  3. The Pact of the Flame is properly ancient, it started when the elves were the first people, thousands of years before Dale Reckoning and the age of men.
  4. Wildroot needs to check in with his friends- he's been stuck in Vinnie's pocket and/or the Sunless Citadel for a while. Therefore, after he is done talking to the Dark Squad, he will be heading back to his home in Silverstand, a woods not so far away from here. He will get back to guarding the Moon Pool there.
  5. Vinnie is looking for a Moon Pool, the female voice in his head told him he would find his answers there. That fits.
  6. The Dark Squad therefore agree to come and visit Wildroot at the Moon Pool, when they have concluded their business with the Falcon.
  7. Wildroot will explain, later at the Silverstand Moon Pool, what tasks the Dark Squad will have to complete to join the Pact of the Flame. They will, the treant further explains, each have to 'enter' the Moon Pool, to prove their worth- or else to experience the power of the ancient artefact.
  8. The Dark Squad should also inform the Falcon that Wildroot is back in the game, she will help the adventurers, the treant further assures them.
That's pretty much it, although... well, lots of other stuff gets asked or said.

For instance...

Oddly, Wildroot thinks, at first, that the Dark Squad are The Eyes in the Night, a group of adventurers he remembers meeting, perhaps many years ago, he thinks- the treant is still a little out of sorts. After further chatter the treant remembers that The Eyes in the Night however very definitely had five members, including a crazy maniac wood elf with twin scimitars.

Buggles?

The above information causes a little consternation amongst the ranks- some of the PCs/Players think that they are The Eyes in the Night, and the Dark Squad. Although Vinnie is of the opinion that the Dark Squad are a reincarnation (in some way) of a group of adventurers called The Eyes in the Night.

Spitballing the druid goes on to suggest that the present threat/action (Ashardalon, the Time of Ash, etc.) has perhaps played out many times before, perhaps...

Have the Dark Squad, at last, found a corner piece of the puzzle?

But, there's more...

At some point during the chatter Vinnie shows Wildroot the small token that the Dark Squad were gifted by Daktari's people the Sky Pony Uthgardt barbarians, a coin sized object with a maze on one side- the other side blank.

2403 BUTTON.jpg

Remember this?

Wildroot is of the opinion that all of the members of The Eyes in the Night should have one of these items.

The Dark Squad are now certain, they're looking for more of these odd buttons- they're part of the puzzle somehow.

Wildroot however does not know what purpose the odd buttons serve, only that they are important in some way.

Later, Newt asks Wildroot about the story of the man and the crocodile, this is yet another of the prophecies the Dark Squad have been working on, a story they were told by the ghost dwarf mage all the way back in the forges. A story that was told to the ghost dwarf mage by Durgeddin the Black.

Newt, of late, has been asking more or less everyone and anyone (Granny Frogwart, the Falcon, several people in Saltmarsh etc.) about this tale- he keeps on trying to make sense of it.

Do you remember any of this-

SESSIONS 20 & 21- Arundil the Wizard's story of the Man & the Crocodile, delivered in the Forge of Fury-

“Ah, there you are- do you remember the story he told us about the man and the crocodile?”

“Man was sad because he had to cross the river which was full of crocodiles. Crocodile saw this and offered to safely transport man to the other side of his river kingdom.”

Long story short… Crocodile takes man safely to the far bank, although before ferrying him across he makes man promise to pay back the favour.

On the far bank crocodile immediately cashes in his favour, asking the man to reciprocate and carry him on his back across the kingdom of man.

Man tries to worm out of his obligation but caught in his promise has to return the favour.

Man puts crocodile on his back and carries him across the kingdom of man…

At which point the ghostly dwarf asks the Dark Squad about the story- what does it mean?

A variety of answers are explored, mostly in SESSION 21, however Durgeddin’s reason for telling the story is also made clear-

The Man with the Crocodile on his back would benefit from being able to work together, and their ability to see further.

It's all very odd.

However, the tabaxi has an inkling that Wildroot will know the answer.

And...

Wildroot has no idea what the tabaxi is talking about.

So, why did I tell you this? Well, keep reading.

[Chatting with Wildroot 1250 XP]

The Dark Squad are eventually out of questions, and they've done plenty of healing and are now keen to explore the area- basically, where's the phat loot.

5807.jpg

Enter here for phat loot. Oh, and the Dark Squad were chatting with Wildroot for hours- it's night time now, hence the darkvision view.

Wildroot watches over the Dark Squad as they discover, and then explore, three cave like lairs carved into the hill itself. Each cavern formerly home- they discover, to a (now dead) half-orc Talos adherent or two.

5808.jpg

The caverns beneath the hill, with lights on for easy viewing.

There's plenty of treasure to be found, all of it obviously taken from the cult's victims. The Dark Squad have got plenty of time, and so there's lots of Detect Magic and Identify in use during their treasure-hunting. There are no stand-out (magic or insanely valuable) items in the hoard, and yet there are few stand-out moments.

Well role-played all of them.

Daktari finds a very nice ink pen (worth a few gp), the barbarian believes the item to be some sort of dagger, only with a very small blade.

Several members of the Dark Squad, but mostly Newt (I think, from memory) attempt to impress upon the barbarian the fact that the pen, it is said, is mightier than the sword.

Daktari is not at all happy with this kind of loose talk, he starts waving Shatterspike around and inviting any of his colleagues to come at him with the pen, let's see how that works out.

In conclusion Daktari states- “It is naughty word weapon, not mighty, it go in bag!”

Note, the bag in question is a bag of holding with just over 200lbs of saleable stuff (treasure) in atm.

A little later...

Vinnie finds a painting depicting a bucolic countryside scene, set in a beautiful woods- a crystal clear pool situated within the sylvan arbour. Oddly, when Vinnie views the scene there are scantily clad elven (perhaps) ladies frolicking in the water. None of his comrades however can see this scene.

Furthermore the druid, thinks he recognises one of the ladies in the pool.

Vinnie, of course, takes the painting- for later private perusal, he explains.

And then, a little later...

Newt finds a crocodile mask- a real/authentic and slightly scary-looking crocodile mask. The item isn't particularly valuable, but it's travelled a long way to be here today.

All the way from Chult, the jungle continent, Vinnie (correctly) suspects.

The place that Newt's ancestor's escaped from.

Funny that, he was just asking Wildroot about the story of Man and the Crocodile.

He's a little obsessed with the tale.

I know you really can't be 'a little' obsessed, but you get me.

The warlock, obviously, lays claim to the item- this after spending a small age further investigating the thing, but that's all of the story.

It's just an ornamental mask, from Chult.

But the Dark Squad have plenty more items to sell when they get back to Saltmarsh.

[Searching for the Talos bods treasure 300 XP]

Then, after yet more chatter and Wildroot's departure, a night's rest. Undisturbed- that's nice.

Then, the next morning, the journey back to the logging camp, Tarbin Tul and the ex-prisoners of Granny Frogwart should still be there, as will the Dark Squad's horses (except for Newt's- RIP).

Note, Daktari still has one level of Exhaustion after all of his raging on the previous day, but the Dark Squad have a purpose, and again there are no untoward encounters, and the going is good through the Dreadwood.

5809.jpg

Heading out of the Dreadwood, oh and look Silverstand is just to the west of Burle and the Falcon's Nest.

That is until the adventurers are only an hour or two away from the logging camp, and it's mid afternoon, and all is well with the world- even in the Dreadwood.

And then there is music, a swaying perhaps slightly melancholy sound, but at the same time the tune is full of life, and also perhaps death- it's strange, haunting and alluring at the same time. The music comes from just a short way, perhaps, further into the trees.

The Dark Squad, of course, investigate.

They don't find the musicians, and yet the music seems to go on- perhaps. In a clearing are three beautiful, and dreamily clad, women- elven perhaps.

5810.jpg

Such nice music, and so very charming young ladies. The Dark Squad can't believe their luck.

Then Vinnie fails his nature check, and none of the other adventurers even try rolling theirs, the Dark Squad (most of them) therefore wander gawping into the encounter.

Although, Ram avoids the situation entirely, the rogue instead ducks into the shadows and watches his companions, completely hidden from sight (with a Stealth '20').

Within the clearing, several moments later, and the three beguiling ladies are now dancing, seductively around the three grinning adventurers.

Daktari is lost to the moment, entirely charmed by the young lady that slowly circles the barbarian.

“You am love!” He confidently pronounces.

Newt meantime is still talking to his beautiful partner, but the tabaxi has his lute in his hands and is joining in with the escapade.

Only Vinnie retains his full faculty, the druid has the insight to understand what is going on here, and he's bargaining hard with the beautiful maiden before him. Sotto voce he's attempting to convince the divine creature(s) to release the barbarian from their spell, and to allow the Dark Squad to be on with their very important business.

But the beautiful fey is equally keen to keep a hold of the barbarian, at least for a little while.

The whispered negotiations continue between the druid and the- well, sounds like 'druid'. The charming woodland maiden goes on to explain that she and her sisters have only just recovered from a close encounter with a sharp-tongued wild elf, oddly the ranger was accompanied by a surly armoured skeleton.

Buggles!

But the druid still needs to strike a deal- if he wants to keep Daktari, or else he wants to know more about the fey creature's interactions with the wandering wild elf, but that however is all we have time for this evening.

The Dark Squad’s to-do list reads a little like this-

  1. Back to the logging camp, then to the Falcon?
  2. To the Moon Pool.
  3. Goblins in the Dreadwood.
  4. Nightshade in the Dreadwood.
  5. To Blackedge, find the Goblin Stair.
  6. Return to Fallowstone Holy for answers- the Witch’s Tor & the Pact of the Flame.
Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers the Dark Squad and goonalan.
 
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