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Dramatis Personæ

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Wherein a Battle is Fought .. and Won..

Leaving behind the fallen orcs, the adventurers press on despite having already marched through the night. Rather than press their luck and attempt to ford the swamp once more, it is decided that they will swing west around it; this will add, at the minimum, a half day of travel, but all agree that it is likely necessary. By the time night begins to fall, they are all thoroughly exhausted and camp is set with an eye toward concealment while maximizing comfort. That night, the keen-eyed among them can see distant torches to the east, likely on the other side of the swamp. The orc raiding party is on the march.

The next two days are uneventful if exhausting, with surprisingly good weather, but on the third evening, after the adventurers have managed to get around the swamp, Finn realizes that the torches of the orcs have drawn closer. He realizes immediately that this raiding party appears to be continuing through the night! After a moment of consideration, he wakes everyone else – they have to press on now if they mean to beat the orcs. Zistral is sent on ahead to warn Defiant as he’s the fastest of them all; for him, the castle is a mere three hours away.

He reaches Defiant without difficulty where he promptly notes that the nearby Galentown appears abandoned; upon entry into the castle, though, he realizes why: all of the commoners are inside the walls. While reporting to the officer of the watch, Zistral also notes a dark mood hanging over the castle and learns of Ser Dane’s death as well concerns about a missing family. The Delaneys, who consist of three adults and two children, vanished the same day that Ser Dane and the soldier Morgan were slain by vile necromancy. While Zistral greatly wishes to investigate the missing family personally, he is too exhausted by his long run so instead, he finds somewhere to rest.

Several hours later, the rest of the adventurers reach Defiant. During their forced march, they noted that the orcs appear to have split into two groups, though there is no immediate tactical benefit to this that Finn can discern. By the time of their arrival, all are filthy, sweaty and want nothing more than to find a bed. Unfortunately, as they enter, there is a great clamor and shouts of excitement. Finn initially thinks nothing of this and begins reporting to Ser Malfoy about the approaching orcs, and the knight listens with a strange expression on his face before asking to speak with young Sardock privately. His use of ‘milord’ should have been a hint of what is about to related, but Finn is exhausted and thinks nothing of it … until Malfoy draws his apart and reveals that Ser Dane is dead. Finn is visibly affected by this – and everyone who is looking at him can see this – but he wrestles his emotions under control. There is no time for grief, he says. They must focus on the orcs for now.

As he attempts to focus on planning for the attack, Finn notes how concerned the soldiers are when they glance in his direction, which is no surprise as he’s always been bad at hiding what he is thinking or feeling. Realizing he must assuage their worries or the coming battle will go ill, he finds an elevated place and makes a speech: “Men of Defiant, harken to me! I know your fears. There are many of them and few of us. Our greatest war captain is slain by treachery and only his son, the least of the Sardocks, stands in his place. Has the blood of Caithness bred so thin that a mere fist of orcs frighten us? We, who are descended from greatness, from the heroes who threw off the yoke of tyranny from the greatest empire known to man, from the crusaders who threw back the Vasar in their places of power before marching from those very battlefields to once more hold firm against those who would force them to bend knee once more. This is our home now. We run from no one. This is Defiant. We are Defiant. And here. We. Stand.

The speech goes over well and soon, the soldiers and commoners alike are calling out his name: Sardock! Finn tries not to think about his father and instead, buries himself in work as a distraction. He coordinates with Ser Malfoy regarding the defensive plan, urges everyone to get some rest, and in general, tries to be the best war-time commander he can be.

As most of his fellow adventurers find places to bed down to recover from their forced march, Zistral, with “Lord” Finn’s permission, exists the castle and ventures to to the Delaney house where he looks around. Though it takes some time, his search turns up the barest hints of orc tracks. This bodes ill for the family and he returns to inform the war council of his findings. Meanwhile, the deployed scouts have returned with word that the first group of orcs has arrived and are setting up a camp some distance away. At first, everyone worries that the attack will come immediately, but eventually, it occurs to most that the orcs also conducted a forced march and are likely resting to recover. With nothing else to do, Finn finally retires for the evening.

Upon the following morning, the orc warband appears. The second group has rejoined the first, bringing with it a pair of giants which is bad enough, but the sight of the still alive Delaneys strapped to wide shields under which a detachment crouches is far, far worse. Ilanna is the first to realize that the orcs are literally using human shields but word quickly spreads. Only the shield-bearers close toward the walls, marching in a disciplined manner that is far from standard with orcs and their intent is ruthlessly logical: none of the Defiant archers are willing to loose arrows at the orcs for fear of striking the Delaneys! Horrified at the thought that she might have to shoot an innocent, Ilanna instead looses a shaft at the nearest of the giants and her aim is true; the arrow strikes him in the eye and he topples backward, unconscious or dead no one can tell. A great cheer goes up from the Defiant defenders, but then, the battle is on.

The orcs skirmish forward, relying on range and cover to protect them, and thanks to their living human shields, they inflict some casualties upon the defenders. Seeing that the orcs are using flags to issue commands, Zistral exits the castle through a sally port, then flanks wide and runs down the flag-bearers. His speed and the surprise of his attack results in him emerging unscathed, though he is chased back into the woods by a salvo of arrows. Thorn, while upon the ramparts and covering with a bow, ensures that several orcs who were about to strike the centaur instead take arrow shafts themselves.

Suddenly, the orcish commander blows a horn and the gates of Defiant begin to open which results in the entire enemy force charge forward madly! Finn realizes that there are invisible foes inside the gates and calls out a warning in his ringing voice, and Arn reacts immediately by hurling a powerful and explosive fireball at the gates, which hurls one of the saboteurs outside. As one of the invisible orcs is pincushioned by Defiant archers, the other staggers to his feet just in time to get walloped by Haruki who is rushing to slam the gates closed. The gigantic Sahudi rōnin is able to easily slam the gates shut and bar it again moments before the orcs strike. Not expecting the gates to be closed, the orcs slam into it, their momentum abruptly arrested.

In the mad melee, Zistral (who is still outside the walls) lunges forward to free the Delaneys and get them to safety, which is a great moral victory. Thorn, looses an arrow at the giant, striking him in the elbow so he drops the boulder he was about to hurl, and then, Haruki, seeing a momentary opportunity as the giant’s follow-up charge causes a gap in the gates, thrusts his spear forward and up, blinding the creature in one of it’s eyes. As the orcs clamber up the walls, Lily Ballyhithe (who is possibly pregnant with his child) races up the ramparts for … reasons; he seizes her, gives her a deep, swooning kiss, then hurls her back off the wall and into a convenient wagon of hay before spinning to stab a climbing orc in the face. Arn simply hurls additional explosive fireballs that hurl burning orcs backward.

Seeing that the crippling failure of the orc charge as well as the stout defense and the significant actions of the heroes has put the attackers’ in a bad position, the orc commander sounds the retreat. As they fall back, Finn initially wants to charge forward in an all-out attack, but Ser Malfoy wisely points out that this is a bad idea as not only will it mean abandoning the walls and leave them open to a counter-attack once the orcs have gotten clear, but this might be something of a feint. Noting the wisdom in this, Finn orders the defenders to hold and continue using their ranged weapons upon the retreating orcs. As the attackers withdraw, the scarred orc commander thrusts his spear into the air, though it is unclear whether this is intended as a salute to a worthy foe or a threat. Finn returns the gesture with his naginata, but his is clearly meant to be a warning, especially as he bellows, Here we stand!

The defenders of Defiant cheer their victory, though two of the soldiers have been slain and no one else has escaped injury. Someone – probably Thorn – starts up a chant: Sardock! Sardock! Sardock! And soon everyone within the castle has taken it up. For Finn, it is a heady moment – he has led men to victory against terrible odds … just like his father – tinged by deep regret that Ser Dane is gone. For the moment, he buries these thoughts and instead focuses on interacting with the survivors, congratulating them for their personal heroism and great deeds.

Some hours later, as the warriors and citizens of Defiant finally begin to relax since it appears that the orcs have truly retreated, Ser Toby Kname returns, accompanied by Sloth and a handful of elves. Finn takes Thorn out to greet them, gesturing to the many orc bodies and informing them that they’d missed the excitement. The elf, who identifies himself as Nialdor, reveals that his liege has instructed him to reside in Defiant for a time to determine the feasibility of an actual alliance. Finn offers his hand and welcomes Nialdor to Defiant.

In the wake of the battle, Haruki seeks out Finn and asks to serve the younger Sardock, effectively requesting that Finn become his master so Nakasato would no longer be rōnin. Not quite understanding what Haruki is asking (since he doesn’t quite understand Sahudese culture), Finn accepts.

Player Notes:

  • We’ve started Live Streaming our gaming sessions. If you’re interested in watching during gametime, that’s on Saturdays, 6:00 PM Eastern on Ronnke’s Twitch channel. This stream is also on YouTube, although that doesn’t go up until some time later.
  • This marks the end of this particular run of Banestorm and it goes on hiatus. We’ll pick it up again … sometime.
  • The actual battle for Defiant was, as expected, a Mass Combat, but we really noticed how badly those super abstract rules gimp combat monsters. Case in point: both Haruki and Zistral were drastically less effective using the Mass Combat rules than they would be if we’d used normal tactical combat. I’m not sure how to actually resolve this sort of thing in the future apart from maybe running a tactical combat during it to reflect a “Significant Action” but that could definitely be problematic as well.
  • Once again, we’ve discovered that the placement of Significant Actions in Mass Combat really needs to come after the Choose Battle Strategy, because otherwise it just doesn’t make any sense. If you declare that your PC is charging a flag-bearer and killing him with a single, mighty blow, but then, the battle strategy chosen by your allied commander is Full Retreat which inflicts no casualties at all on the enemy, this doesn’t make sense. I think, in the future, when I run a Mass Combat, I’m going to swap those around so battle strategy comes before significant actions.
  • I think, in light of the above issues where some PCs are less effective in mass combat, I would have considered doing this battle differently. Using the Battle of Helm’s Deep from “The Two Towers” movie, if I’d been the GM, I’d have had the orcs have beaten the PCs back to the castle and the attack already be underway, so the PCs could be cast in the Gandalf and Eomer roles, arriving to smash into the flanks of the orcish attackers and hit their vulnerable (and hopefully surprised) commander. In fact, I’d actually planned on doing something very much like that in my final Casus Belli run, but the PCs decided to take a completely different approach, which forced me to throw that plan out the window.
  • As a result of these events, Finn is basically “in charge” of the barony now (so he’s sort of a stand-in “Lord Defiant”) though we’ll see how long that lasts. I’ve already stated that he is going to constantly be reminding everyone that Lord Kerin is the actual liege of Defiant, but I think it’d be amusing if no one pays attention to that which could lead to … interesting times when/if Kerin actually joins us down the road.

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein Prisoners are Freed, a Tiger is Loosed, and More Orcs are Felled…

After some quick discussion, Thorondil’s need to sneak into the camp to discover Erandil’s fate matches with Finn’s need for additional intelligence about the capabilities of the orcs and the two put their heads together to bash out a quick plan. First, Finn weaves a few spells to enhance his elven comrade’s stealth as well as allowing them to maintain telepathic communication. While the rest of the group (along with Finn) maintains an overwatch, the elf intends to sneak past the guards. Everyone braces themselves for the worst.

Penetrating the camp turns out to be relatively easy for Thorn and he expertly skirts around the patrols. He briefly pauses at a rudimentary stable and discreetly unlocks the paddock before pressing on. The guard watching over the horses inside never even sees him.

At the center of the camp, he discovers a large construction wrought of wooden slats and poor quality chains that serves as a sort of prison. Inside is an elf, a dwarf, and almost a dozen beaten-looking orcs. None of them truly react to his appearance, though Thorn pauses to gesture for them to remain silent. He then continues to stealth toward the large, central structure that he suspects to be the chief’s hut.

Inside this hut, he is startled to discover a sleeping tiger who is leashed via a great chain. After briefly conversing with Finn via their magical telepathy, Thorn seeks out a lamp to grease up the stake that the great cat is secured to while Finn weaves a summoning spell intended to pull the tiger toward him. It is the young Sardock’s intent to cancel the spell once the tiger is free though he is hopeful that the great cat running through the camp will cause sufficient distraction to allow Thorn to sneak out. The cat jerks awake, then bolts out, dragging his now freed chain. Finn also asks the elf to seize any potential intelligence – maps, documents, etc. – available which Thorn does … right before he tosses the lamp against the cloth side of the tent where it quickly catches.

Pausing at the large cage, Thorn picks the rudimentary lock as the armcry is raised, both at the sudden appearance of the great cat and the unexpected fire at the chief’s tent. Only the dwarf and the elf accept the offer to make an escape attempt – the captured orcs appear to have all been thoroughly broken by their captors and do not stir even a little bit. Thorn and his two new companions race back the way he came but are noticed as they near the paddock. The dwarf and the elf hurl themselves at the orc there, managing to down him in a furious melee that lasts only seconds; while they do this, Thorn frees the horses and slaps them on their hindquarters, ensuring that they will flee deeper into the camp and cause even more chaos. The three then continue their mad sprint, dodging and eluding confused orcs turning to the noises. Along the way, the two escaped prisoners take injuries but do not let this stop them.

Warned by Finn, the rest of the adventurers break from their hiding place and sweep wide so as to reunite with Thorn and his two allies. Knowing that a group of orcs are now in pursuit, the group marches through the night, exhausting though it is. Near dawn, Finn decides that they will ambush their pursuers and they find a likely spot where everyone finds a good place to hide for the moment.

The orcs are caught completely by surprise and, though they do mount a valiant defense, they are soon felled. Recognizing that none can escape, the few that break and run when the skirmish turns against them are run down. Once again, Zistral’s great speed allows him to easily catch up to even the unwounded orcs and, in less than a minute, ten of the creatures are slain with no actual casualties on the adventurer’s side (though Thorn did manage to briefly throw out his shoulder.)

Back on the road they go, this time intending on pursuing the raiding party dispatched toward Defiant. Along the way, the dwarf and elf discuss how they came to be prisoners and Thorn learns that Erandil is likely at ‘The Crater,” which is Bulgaren’s headquarters. Even worse, the elf says that Erandil is being experimented on by the foul dwarf exile. At the same time, Haruki chats with the rescued dwarf and offers to see to it that they reach Defiant safely; at first, both the dwarf and the elf are concerned that they have no choice in the destination, but it is quickly made clear to them that they are not prisoners and may go wherever they would like. Both agree to continue on to Defiant so as to debrief Finn’s father, Ser Dane.

But first, they have to get to Defiant intact…

Player Notes:

  • I think we were expecting some players to be out this week, but nobody missed. No game this week even though only one player (me) will be out; since Finn has become a fairly integral part of the narrative, my long planned Memorial Day weekend vacation has thrown a wrench into the GM’s plans.
  • This session went really long. In addition to Thorn’s misadventure in the orc camp, the GM kept having to break away from the game due to familial obligations and was, for a while, using TeamSpeak while in his car. And then, the ambush fight took a lot longer than expected.
  • Due to the above-mentioned misadventure for Thorn, he dominated most of this session, though not on purpose. As was normal for Gigermann, the dice were not kind so he ended up having to burn all three of his Plot Points while in the camp. In retrospect, if I’d been the GM, I think I would have had the other players run the imprisoned orcs who would rush forward and attack their captors, thus causing a major distraction that would let Thorn escape without too much notice.
  • I don’t think the GM actually named either the dwarf or the elf that Thorn freed. We jokingly took to calling them “Gimly” and “Legulas” and intentionally misspelled the names.
  • By my count, we’ve killed at least twenty orcs in the last two days (in-game) which is two full Mass Combat units. Go, Us!

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein a Swamp is Crossed and an Ambush is Sprung…

From Defiant, the small team of adventurers press north, hot on the trail of the orcs led by the dwarf, Bulgaren. Despite their best efforts, though, by dusk it is clear that these orcs are making much better time. Rather than push on into the night, Finn decides they should camp and strike out at dawn. It is a difficult, tense and very uncomfortable night, but is thankfully uneventful.

Around mid-morning on the second day, they encounter a campsite that, to their surprise, contains four orcish corpses. A quick investigation transpires and Arn is able to deduce that these orcs were ritually sacrificed for some sort of necromantic reason, though the purpose behind such deaths eludes him. Even more troublesome is that these orcs do not appear to have been restrained in any way; as far as Arn can tell, they willingly allowed themselves to be murdered! It is a disconcerting discovery but, with their avenues of investigation exhausted, Finn orders them to strike out once more.

Again, the day passes with no sign that the orcs are slowing. In fact, it appears that the adventurers are falling behind somewhat as Bulgaren’s group appear to be making excellent time. Near midday, the adventurers reach the Acid Swamps of Solfor where they debate their next course of action as the trail clearly goes through; as going around the swamp would add more than half a day to travel and there is no indication that the orcs destination isn’t in the swamp, it is decided that they will pursue. Thankfully, Finn recalls a story of a similar situation from the Huallapan Crusade so they spend time seeking out plants native to this swamp to wrap around their feet.

The trek through the acid swamp is frustrating and disgusting, with the adventurers struggling to keep their footing and to avoid the more dangerous spots. Midway through this crossing, a vicious caustigus attempts to snatch Ilanna and drag her into a dank pool, but she springs back out of the way and Zistral rams his spear deeply into the beast, forcing it to retreat. Rather than delay on an unnecessary encounter, the adventurers press on … though Arn does hurl a fireball at the creature when it pokes its head back out of the pool.

Once out of the swamp, the adventurers continue following the orc trail until dusk when they opt to make camp and rest to recover from the trek. When dawn arrives, they once more set out and reach a massive encampment in the mid-afternoon. There are far too many orcs present for them to simply charge forward so they spend some hours maneuvering to avoid patrols while conduction visual recon. This observation allows them to estimate that there are at least two hundred warriors present, an overwhelming number that the score of Defiant defenders would be hard-pressed to hold against. Finn, who has the most strategic mind, notes that the orcs have not even started preparing for a march which he takes to mean they are likely to simply send a large raiding party instead of the full force.

While relocating to avoid an orc patrol, Haruki accidentally knocks down a rotten tree while trying to hide but that is not what draws the orcs’ attention; instead, they discover Finn’s notes on the encampment which have unluckily fallen from his pack when they relocated. Upon seeing the patrol commander apparently issue instructions to send word back to the encampment, Finn orders an assault: they cannot allow these orcs to survive and alert the others! Zistral charges forward, being the swiftest, intent on bringing down the scouts sent back, while Ilanna and Thorondil loose arrows at the rest and Arn hurls a small fireball. Finn, Haruki and Yusuf race forward on foot (though Finn quickly falls behind his faster companions) to engage the orcs. The skirmish is over in a matter of seconds with none of the adventurers taking injury.

After concealing the bodies of the orcs and searching them for intel, the party relocates once more in an attempt to get a better look at the encampment, with Thorondil especially eager to sneak forward in order to determine whether Erandil is imprisoned within. As night sets in, they can see the dwarf, Bulgaren, conversing with an orc before heading north with a party of thirty or so; the orc then gives an apparently rousing speech which none of the adventurers can understand (or really hear due to their distance away) which results in much cheering. A large number of the orcs then begin to gather arms and gear; it seems clear that the raiding party is finally assembling.

Time is running out.

Player Notes:

  • Arn was present after all so we sent Ser Toby Kname to elves instead.
  • The Players are (logically) presuming that the sacrificed orcs led to the Dementor things in the stinger for the previous session that claimed Ser Dane’s life, but the characters are ignorant of that and have no real knowledge of necromancy so this remains an ominous mystery to them.
  • The orc ambush on our part kicked off a debate regarding the nature of Pacifism (Cannot Harm Innocents) that was never actually settled.
  • Two players will definitely be out next week so … I actually don’t know what we’re doing. Gigermann (Thorondil) wants to conduct a stealth operation into the encampment to possibly rescue Erandil which we may handle?

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein an Oncoming Storm Arrives and a Legend is Lost…

Three weeks have passed.

In that time, the young adventurers have been busy with their respective duties. Finn, as befits the son of Lord Dane, is extraordinarily busy and spends most of this time handling the administrative parts of his father’s job that Dane has no desire to do himself. Most of his comrades are busy with their own duties as soldiers, but spend their respective free time in various capacities. Arn, to no one’s surprise, spends a great deal of time studying books of Magick, intent on learning new ways to increasing his arcane might. Haruki explores the surrounding area, discovering a peaceful spring that he makes a note to return to; simultaneously, Thorondil, who is doing the same sort of survey of the region, finds a mine but decides against further exploration without assistance. Ilanna is also learning the lay of the land, though she is actively seeking out signs of the magical hawks she has heard tales of. Obsessed with furthering his martial skills, Yusuf spends many hours training against any of the other soldiers who are willing to test against him, though he does concentrate almost exclusively upon the shield. Like many of the others, Zistral spends nearly this entire team ranging around the area mostly to get a feel for the land.

Alarms sound, summoning the adventurers present to their duty stations; only Arn and Finn are in the Castle when this transpires, and both rush to the wall where they discover Lord Dane and Ser Malfoy already present. The source of the alarm becomes quite apparent: a small group of orcs led by a fierce-looking dwarf are approaching. When the dwarf holds aloft a spear with a white flag indicating parley and advances with a single orc, a quick discussion is held: who should meet him? Finn suggests that he and Arn do so since Ser Malfoy and Lord Dane are less expendable; his words are convincing though his father dislikes this, and the two wizardly types stride out to meet the dwarf with Finn having tied a white cloth to his naginata.


The dwarf immediately scoffs at the two, mocking them for their youth and implying that Caithness is a failed state if all they can send forth are boys. Finn is having none of this, however, and instructs the dwarf to say his piece and to do so quickly. Identifying himself as Bulgaren, the dwarf again calls out insults to the castle and, more specifically, the leader of this expedition; upon the castle walls, Lord Dane visibly reacts, and the dwarf, seemingly satisfied, turns his attention to Finn where he declares that they have a week to abandon Defiant less Bulgaren and his orcs kill them all. Finn counters by declaring they will accept the orcish surrender without bloodshed, but the dwarf leans forward, intent on intimidation. Arn tenses but Finn merely smiles, expertly managing to hide his own fear. Bulgaren turns away, calling out once more that they have one week, before rejoining the other orcs; his orcish bodyguard snarls at Arn and Finn before joining him, and later, Finn will realize that the orc has a war horn that looks very much like the Horn of Roland. He also suspects that the entire point of Bulgaren’s mocking was to identify the true leader of Defiant.

Thorondil, who has been rushing back to the castle from his recently discovered mine, chooses to discreetly trail the orcs in order to gain additional information on them. He is about half a mile away from the castle when, suddenly, a pair of hidden orcs lunge out of hiding and attack him! A fierce but short battle ensues, with Thorn’dil managing to stay mobile and end up dropping both of the creatures. Rather than continuing forward, he retreats after binding his wounds.

At the castle, a hurried council of war is declared about their next course of action. Lord Dane declares his intent to make a stand – this is to be his last great service to Caithness and by God, he will not let this expedition go to waste. Finn promptly agrees – “Retreat, hell! We just got here! – and everyone else lends their support to holding the line which clearly moves Lord Dane. It is decided that they will redouble their efforts to shore up the defenses of the castle while preparing the populace for emergency evacuation. Arn is to take one or two others with him and attempt to deliver a missive to the elves, advising them of the orc incursion and invite them to join in and kill as many of the creatures as they desire. Rather than be completely reactive, it is also decided that Finn will lead a team (comprised of his fellow PCs, of course) to do a recon in force so as to determine the size and composition of Bulgaren’s forces. And hey, if they manage to kill the dwarf along the way, well, so much the better. After some debate with his fellows, Finn decides to strike out immediately rather than waiting until dark; this decision will later come back to haunt him…

Hours later, after the adventurers have departed and are long gone from Defiant, two men are slain in the castle by a trio of summoned necromantic creatures. One is a soldier whose scream alerts the rest of the castle and the other … the other is Lord Dane Sardock.

Player Notes:

  • We actually didn’t get a whole lot done this session. Thorn’s solo fight took a lot longer than the GM expected, though that’s probably ‘cause CommJunkee was running the bad guys. He and Gigermann have been doing a lot of one-on-one fights to test various rules and maneuvers so CommJunkee probably knows Thorn’s character as well as Giger.
  • Arn, Finn, and Zistral all rolled successfully on the Destiny Item thing. Arn will find his with the elves next week, Finn noticed the horn at the side of the one-handed orc accompanying Bulgaren, and Zistral had a nifty description of how he found his spear but the GM declared that he had a different idea (which will presumably show up next week.)
  • Probably no Andricus next week, which is why we sent Arn to the elves.
  • Per the GM, next week may end up being the end point for this current run of Banestorm, though we may end up having to go one more week.

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein Arn Dreams, Orcs Raid and Elves Are Treated With.

Arn Rainaldsson is wandering the forest. He isn’t quite sure how he got here or, for that matter, where here actually is. Far more troublesome to him, though, is that this particular region appears to be a no-mana zone! Picking a direction, he starts walking, hoping to get clear of either the forest or the magical dead zone.

He walks for an unspecified amount of time but appears to make no headway. The sound of someone approaching him causes him to momentarily hope his friends have found him but instead, he finds a sinister-looking figure in a black robe with the hood up striding toward him. This figure clutches a staff and does not answer when Arn calls out to him nor does he respond when issued a warning. Believing himself in danger, Arn attacks with his spear and the two exchange a flurry of blows … but the stranger is far better and Arn finds himself thrown to the ground. Looming over him, the mysterious stranger thrusts his fanged staff at Arn’s throat so the fangs are on either side of his neck and then growls out in a guttural voice, “Arn. I know who you are … but you do not. Seek me out. Remember me!” The stranger withdraws and flees into the forest. Moments later, Arn realizes that Zistral comes thundering into view.

And then, Arn wakes up. He is still in his bed in Defiant and has been evidently screaming in his sleep which caused by Haruki and Zistral to investigate, thinking something truly dire is happening. Convinced that magic has been involved, Arn seeks out Finn – who is very cross at having been woken due to a bad dream – and then will later seek out the local priests to get a sketch of the fanged staff.

Two weeks have passed since Defiant was retaken and, in that time, everyone has been very busy, especially poor Finn as his father, Ser Dane, has consistently tasked to handle pretty much all of the leadership matters (which makes everyone wonder whether Lord Sardock is ill or simply lazy.) Reconstruction of Defiant continues, with the sound of hammering and sawing and similar noises commonplace. There are no idle hands allowed.

An alarm is sounded and the armcry is taken up: a fire on the horizon! Finn rushes to the wall to get a better look and finds himself alongside Ser Malfoy; upon seeing that both Haruki and Ilanna mean to investigate impulsively, Finn calls out an order for them to hold before instructing the others of his usual group – Arn, Thorn, Yusuf and Zistral – to ready themselves. He then tells Ser Malfoy that he will take a team to the farm to determine the nature of this fire, especially since this might simply be a diversionary tactic for a much larger assault. Malfoy agrees and sends the well-meaning but simple-minded Sloth with them.

The farm is well ablaze by the time the adventurers reach it though there is no sign of who is responsible; Zistral and Arn notice movement in the smoke and, upon being advised of this, Finn quickly splits the group to flank the motion. As they sweep around the area, Jakob Marsyas, the farmer whose small house this is, stumbles forward, half-blinded by smoke and blood on his face, where he wildly attacks Thorn with a hoe; Thorn easily dances back out of the way and Jakob immediately realizes his error before begging that the adventurers retrieve his wife, Annette. Orcs raided and took her! Finn promptly instructs Ilanna and Zistral to start looking for tracks, then, upon seeing Jakob’s two children stumbling out of the barn, instructs Sloth to escort the family back to the castle. The well-meaning but slow-minded Sloth eagerly agrees.

Into the woods they go in hot pursuit of the orcs. As they draw closer, they hear the sound of a woman sobbing followed by some guttural grunts and the sound of a pimp slap. Finn decides that the team will approach via stealth and attempt to counter-ambush the orcs, but Yusuf opts instead to break away from the group and charge forward by himself to draw all eyes away from the sneaking party. This is done without first clearing it with Finn, a fact that will infuriate the younger man, but the team decide to use this distraction anyway and begin their wide approach.

As Yusuf approaches, banging his sword against his shield, the orcish sounds disappear and moments later, a trio of crossbow bolts flash out of the woods toward him, inflicting only flesh wounds. Recognizing that he is terribly exposed, Yusuf rushes to cover, bounding from tree to tree, all the while calling out threats and challenges to the hidden orcs. He experiences a second salvo of bolts, taken even more flesh wounds, but continues to advance. Upon realizing that this isn’t working, Yusuf opts to charge in an oblique angle, away from the direction in which the other adventurers are approaching; while attempting to be especially acrobatic, he ends up briefly falling to the ground but scrambles back up and continues to press forward. In the process, he stumbles upon an orc who abandons attempts to reload his crossbow and stands, readying an axe. They exchange blows and then, a second orc springs forward to attack. Yusuf scrambles away, now badly wounded, but is hotly pursued; his luck appears to be running out!

Seeing that Yusuf’s mad charge has put him in dire circumstances, Finn quietly instructs Zistral to flank wide and use his superior speed to cover the ground; the centaur scout eagerly does so, then, like Yusuf, begins calling out challenges to draw all eyes. At the same time, the rest of the group continues creeping forward, noting the positions of orcs as they abandon their hiding places; Finn points out targets for Haruki, Ilanna and Thorn, and once Ilanna looses her shot, he gives them the go signal. As one orc reels from an unexpected arrow to the back, another is dropped by Thorn’s sword blow to the head and the others react with surprise at this sudden attack. In a handful of seconds, there are more orcs on the ground than are upright, though by then, Yusuf has been overcome by his injuries and has passed out. Two of the orcs, upon seeing Haruki splatter the head of one of their fellows, turn and flee. Finn, seeing that Yusuf is down and the battle effectively won, abandons his overwatch position and sprints forward to his unconscious ally where he weaves a mild healing spell.

Without warning, elves appear out of nowhere, bows at the ready. Surrounded and caught with their metaphorical pants down, the adventurers all show their willingness to cooperate and Thorn calls out in elvish that they are friendly. The leader of these elves coolly slits the throats of any downed orcs and then approaches the unconscious one at Thorn’s feet. Despite not being particularly good at diplomacy, Thorondil asks the elf to not kill the orc as they wish to interrogate him; the elf considers it, then turns away. He stops when Thorn introduces himself and mentions being Caithnessers who have retaken Defiant; the elf responds coldly that these are not their lands and they have come here uninvited so they should leave. Thorn persists by pointing out that they have to look to the defense of their people; to this, the elf half turns to face him and responds that their presence will cause problems. The orcs and Bulgaren will come seeking vengeance. Finn recognizes this name as that of a dwarf banished from the Bronze Mountains who rallied the orcs against Defiant and relays this information to his friend in his broken Elvish. Quickly shifting approaches, Thorn then inquires if this stranger knows an elf named Erandil who was said to have come to these parts. At the utterance of this name, the stranger turns to face Thorn and approaches, demanding to know what he knows of Erandil. Once Thorn has explained his relationship and his quest, the elf relays that Erandil is likely dead as he was captured by Bulgaren many years ago. Finn attempts to get the elf’s name but he does not respond except to Thorn, identifying himself as Nildor. The elves depart.

Finn wakes the knocked out Annette Marsyas who initially struggles, then clings to him as she sobs in relief at being rescued. With Haruki carrying the unconscious Yusuf while Zistral carries their equally insensate orcish prisoner, the team (plus Annette) return to Defiant where they all are pleased to witness the Marsyas family reunion.

Player Notes:

  • No game next week. Four of the Players are definitely out, one is likely out, and two were going to be late so we’re having a bye week.
  • We joked that the hooded stranger Arn was fighting was actually Future Evil Arn which the GM declared was cooler than his original idea … so this may come to pass. Probably not, though.
  • Sloth is an actual statted out NPC based on the character from The Goonies. Creating him was the GM’s idea, originally to serve as a temp PC.
  • Yusuf’s decision to charge off by himself and be a distraction is going to result in Finn having some words with him for doing so. Frankly, he’s lucky that he’s only in the negative HPs instead of dead; without benefit of the Plot Point mechanic (in this case, thing Impulse Buy for injuries to become Flesh Wounds), he would probably have been killed since the orcs were shooting from ambush and he had no idea where they were at first. Nearly all of the time we spent in the fight was basically him getting shot at and trying to find the shooters while the rest of us snuck around. In retrospect, the GM probably should have had the other players take over the orcs as once Finn gave the ‘go’ signal, the fight ended within three rounds..
  • As Finn’s player, I have had to start re-evaluating how to play him. With Arn’s introduction, the combat magic aspect is handled (which is good since I’m using RPM and my skills are still too low to really be effective with it yet) so I’m now concentrating on him trying to be ‘the captain’ (in the whole “Call it, Captain” frame of mind) who happens to have some magical capabilities. This was the first actual fight where he intentionally held back from rushing forward to engage hostiles and instead hung back to direct traffic.
  • All PCs were asked by the GM to have a ‘Personal Plot’ and Thorn’s involved him being asked to carry a letter to Erandil from his family; Erandil was one of Thorn’s old instructors who came to the Defiant area to ‘hunt orcs.’

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein Castle Defiant is Officially Reclaimed…

Thorn’dil’s imbued light goes out, leaving him and Yusuf in darkness an instant after having witnessed the Elder Thing. Arn approaches them, however, armed with a stone he has cast continual light upon, but they discover that the abomination has vanished! The other explorers join them, have a very brief discussion regarding their next actions, and set out to hunt the Elder Thing down.

A tense cat-and-mouse game ensues, with the explorers attempting to maximize their fields of awareness – no easy task given the level of damage done to the castle – while the abomination sneaks about and utilizes its far superior mobility to strike from ambush. Dropping down from a hole in the roof from with lightning speed, the Elder Thing snatches at Arn who manages to blink away, then the abomination vanishes back up through the hole. Finn weaves a spell upon a rock so it emits light, then hurls it upstairs, hoping to illuminate the creature, but it is already gone; his weave is not entirely solid and the light pulses on and off rather than simply illuminating. Thorn creeps up the stairs until he can no longer see anything although he can certainly hear something up here; he retreats back down the stairs. Haruki shifts position and then, locks eyes with the Elder Thing through another hole in the ceiling, though it promptly shifts out of sight once more. Again, the explorers argue over the best way to deal with this creature.

Haruki, frustrated at this inaction, opts for the direct approach and charges up the stairs where he promptly trips and falls prone; the torch he was carrying skitters from his hands and slides across the floor to illuminate the Elder Thing which hisses and charges him! A fierce fight ensues, the noise of which draws the other explorers up the stairs – Thorn is the closest and uses Haruki’s great mass as cover to stab and thrust at the Elder Thing, though he quickly finds that his best efforts are barely penetrating the abomination’s thick hide. Yusuf joins the fray and attempts to dazzle the abomination with his cloak to no avail, and Ilanna quickly discovers that her bow is nearly useless against it. Zistral squeezes through the tight spaces of the stairwell and thrusts his spear into the creature but soon learns that it has an unnatural anatomy. When Arn and Finn enter the fray, they are forced to concentrate on the sudden appearance of three young trolls and thus, never even engage the Elder Thing. In the end, it is mostly Haruki who deals the killing blow despite being grappled by the abomination’s tentacles; with a Herculean effort, the Sahudi warrior thrusts his tetsubo into the creature’s beak, clearly breaking something which is too much for it as it passes out from pain. Haruki then breaks free and smashes the Elder Thing’s unconscious body into paste. As for the trolls, well, they don’t make good showings of themselves and are easily dispatched.

With the threat removed, the explorers spend some a little time regaining their breath, then search the Elder Thing’s would-be lair where they discover several valuable (and magical) items that will be put to good use in the near future. Having taken the time to clear out the upper levels of the castle, the explorers then turn toward what appears to be a basement which once had stairs but now has rubble. Climbing down is no fun for some of them – especially Zistral – but the moment they are down, skeletons begin standing up and charge them!

Another fierce battle ensues, with the living fighting the swarm of undead that seem to come out of nowhere. Finn and Yusuf are both badly injured but managed to struggle on while the others hold their own quite well. An ominous moan that sounds like thousands of plaintive souls crying out in misery echoes from the nearby room which intensifies the aggression of the skeletons still upright; on the bright side, it also means they attack with wild abandon, leaving themselves wide open for brutal counter-attacks which the explorers take great advantage of. Haruki especially is smashing apart his foes with mighty blows, though Ilanna is discovering that her newfound magical bow is quite deadly against armor.

With the first wave of undead downed, the explorers re-orient themselves to face the impending second wave and a zombie encased in heavy mail emerges from the nearby room – at his appearance, Ilanna looses a readied shot which punches through the undead creature’s shield and nails him in the head … though this does not seem to slow him too terribly. Two additional skeletons lurch out of the room behind the zombie and flank it in a shield wall. They display a surprising level of tactical competence in this, no doubt due to the zombie’s presence. Finn, having memorized all of his father’s stories about Castle Defiant as well as having learned a great deal from his primary martial instructor who was also from this place, recognizes that the zombie can only be Captain Ethrin, one of the last defenders of the castle who led a last-stand against the attackers.

The ensuing melee is fierce and fast, with the living explorers maneuvering for better position while the undead creatures strike quickly but seek to maintain their shield wall. Arn and Finn both hurl blasts of flame at the zombie captain, though the latter misses entirely and the former’s ball of fire is blocked by the undead creature’s shield. Arn, Thorn and Yusuf concentrate on one wing of the shield wall, eventually dropping that skeleton, while Haruki concentrates on trying to draw the zombie out of position so Zistral can get a clear shot at him. Eventually, this tactic sort of works – with a mighty blow, Haruki strikes the zombie so hard he is knocked forward and prone which gives the centaur an opportunity to drive his spear through the captain’s skull, ending his Unlife forever. The last skeleton is felled almost at the same time when Finn hurls his last prepared sunbolt to engulf it in flames and Haruki smashes it into pieces with another mighty blow from behind. The battle is over…

Following the battle, the explorers spend several long minutes simply recovering. Finn weaves a quick minor healing on Yusuf, then re-assembles the collapsed stairwell long enough for him and his allies to climb back into the castle’s courtyard. Having completed their mission, they exit the castle environs where they meet Ser Malfoy and his men who have completed their own sweep of the surrounding area. He listens to Finn’s brief description of the threats faced within the castle with a surprised (and perhaps briefly impressed) expression, then escorts them back to the caravan camp where they report to Ser Dane.

That evening, for the first time in forty-one years, a Caithness flag flies over Castle Defiant once more…

Player Notes:

  • This recap covers two sessions since both were basically two big fights. 1.05 was mostly just the fight with the madness sphere, while 1.06 was entirely the skeleton & zombie fight. Both fights were a lot more tense than my shoddy recap implies – Haruki was a few bad rolls away from getting his brains eaten by the Elder Thing in 1.05, and both Finn & Yusuf were very close to being dropped in 1.06 due to injuries taken; the former was down to 4 HP at one point and the latter ended the fight at 2 HP. Interestingly, the skeletons were more of a big threat in 1.06 than the badass zombie.
  • In the wake of the big fight in 1.05, the GM had us roll Search checks for loots and the four successful rolls then used Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables to determine what we found. Three of these rolled really, really well – a scroll with a couple of spells on it; a dwarven light shield that has dancing shield on it; and a dwarven bow that has Armor Penetration (10) on arrows loosed – and the last roll ended up with a crowbar.
  • Haruki’s fall on the stairs in 1.05 was entirely the player’s decision since the character is Impulsive and a Klutz.
  • Fantasy Grounds was especially erratic with regards to dice rolling during 1.06 – the GM could not miss and, if the players connected with an attack, they did minimum damage more often than not.

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein the Expedition Begins a Campaign to Retake Castle Defiant…

After many difficult days of travel, the grand expedition now stands before the ruins of Castle Defiant. The celebratory mood of the smallfolk wanes somewhat when they are not allowed to rush forward to these ruins, but are rather redirected to the crumbling remains of Galentown where they are instructed to raise tents while the soldiers work on scouting out the environs and erect defensive fortifications. These are the Orclands, after all.

While this transpires, Finn will lead a small team of explorers (also known as his fellow PCs) to scout out the castle ruins to ensure that there are no troubles or foul beasts waiting in ambush. Only after he gives the all clear will the expedition look toward entering the castle and working on rebuilding it. Eager to prove himself, Finn accepts this task.

The explorers first do a wide sweep of the ruined castle with an eye toward verifying that there isn’t an inconveniently placed tribe of orcs on the other side, although both Haruki and Ilanna are barely able to conceal their impatience and desire to just get on with the poking around in the ruins. Zistral notes many tracks in the area, many of which he is unable to identify but appear to be large and relatively humanoid. Thankfully, there do not appear to be any lurking orcs waiting in ambush – or, if there are, the explorers failed to notice them – so they press on into the castle ruins themselves.

As expected, they find the interior of the castle to be a complete mess. Weeds from a once pristine garden have overgrown everything and it is clear that nature has started to reclaim this place. There are skeletal remains of fallen defenders everywhere, including within the castle’s well. While looking around, Arn notices movement on the upper levels and discreetly advises Finn who then passes word to the others. They look around for a way to reach these levels. Despite finding two sets of stairs, several of the explorers – Ilanna, Thorondil, and Yusuf – opt the climb up a broken wall while the rest plan to ascend stairs (particularly since Zistral is a Centaur and they suck at climbing.)

Haruki and Zistral head up the stairs first, but as they do, they disturb some sort of strange-looking slimy moss that begins to crawl toward Haruki’s legs and up his boot which the centaur notices. The two promptly retreat back down the stairs upon noting just how extensive this slime is, coughing as spores are kicked up. Above them, Ilanna and Thorondil investigate the very loud noises of the two moving down the stairs, and Ilanna recognizes the moss as ‘slime mold,’ a dangerous flesh-eating thing that puts its victims to sleep via the spores. The elves usually burn it out. Rather than risk this at the moment, the four on the lower level decide to take the other set of stairs up, despite them being much narrower which makes for more difficult going for the larger members of the team.

Upstairs, the two groups begin to converge with Ilanna in the vanguard. They enter a large room where several of them sense another presence but press forward. As Ilanna rounds a corner, she surprises a waiting creature she recognizes as a troll and springs back out of its reach; the beast pursues and strikes, but Ilanna dodges so well that the creatures lumbers past her. She then wheels around and shoots the troll squarely in the back of the head; her arrow strikes the beast’s brain and it falls. Thorn’dil has had a ringside seat to this and the others scramble to investigate the noise but find Ilanna leaning upon her bow and looking thoroughly pleased with herself. She calmly advises them that the creature will regenerate and will need to be decapitated, which Thorn’dil starts doing.

And then, another troll rushes from concealment and charges Yusuf! A fierce melee ensues with the three heavy fighters of the group – Haruki, Yusuf and Zistral – bashing away at the troll. Badly injured, the troll begins to retreat but the three pursue and Haruki finally lunges forward to smash its head to paste with his tetsubo.

While investigating this upper level, the great size of both Haruki and Zistral results in them falling through the already weakened floor; at first, it seems as though Haruki might be able to hold on and Zistral might be able to escape this fate, but the centaur’s attempts to help his ally results in both tumbling down. While looking for a way to aid them, Ilanna briefly catches sight of a bizarre-looking thing near where the two are and recognizes it as an Elder Thing, a sphere of madness. She advises Finn who hesitates for a moment – the logical course of action is for those on the upper level to head for the stairs and navigate down – and in this moment of hesitation, both Thorn’dil and Yusuf chose to begin climbing down. Thus, the decision is made and the three remaining upstairs – Arn, Finn and Ilanna – must climb down. Finn, being a terrible climber, takes an extraordinarily long amount of time to get down and is very pleased that he managed to do so … until Arn slips and falls on top of his fellow mage. Ilanna gets down with no trouble.

In a darkened room slightly apart from the others, Thorn’dil and Yusuf look around. The elf briefly imbues his sword with fire and, in that brief moment, both see the madness sphere lurking nearby.

And then, the fire goes out, leaving them alone in the dark…

Player Notes:

  • Per GM, the original plan was not for a “dungeon crawl” but we all had so much fun with this that he adjusted his plan on the fly and now we’re crawling the dungeon. And ending the session right before the madness sphere attacked was perfect timing…
  • Finn has Unluckiness and Haruki is a Klutz, so having Finn climb down with Haruki helping him was a recipe for disaster. Still, Finn made his Climb check by 0 (after taking 30x normal to get the +5 for this) … so of course, Arn failed his roll. As Finn’s player, I thought it was appropriate to invoke Unluckiness here and have Arn fall onto Finn … and the GM agreed.
  • Ilanna gained the bonus CP for this session after her awesome crit to the brain of the first troll. She dropped it in a single 1-second round while the three heavy fighters – Haruki, Yusuf, Zistral – took forever (like 5 or 6 seconds) to beat down the second troll.

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein a Great River is Crossed and a Fierce Beast is Fought…

Having crossed the desert, the great caravan now faces their next obstacle: crossing the River Kashk, which is very high due to the melting snows from winter. While the engineers debate over whether a ferry or a bridge is best, scouts are sent out to ensure the camp’s safety, especially considering the discovery of the Vasar corpses some days earlier. Zistral opts to swim the river and reconnoiter the western bank where he soon comes across a long-abandoned elvish camp but finds little else of note. To the north goes Ilanna, where she finds old game trails and what seems to be orc spoor, also long abandoned, while Thor’ndil heads south, finding little of note save signs of beasts.

At the campsite, the engineers continue their dispute regarding the river crossing but it is eventually decided that a bridge is the best option and work is promptly begun. As work progresses, Yusuf finds time to romance a young woman in the caravan at the expense of his actual duties, but is discovered doing so by a furious Ser Malfoy who drags him before Finn and demands punishment. The knight wishes five lashes at first, then increases this to ten when Yusuf mouths off to him, but Finn prevaricates and suggests a permanent latrine duty for Yusuf as well as promising to address this personally; Malfoy is displeased at the decision, no doubt thinking that Finn is being too lenient, but accepts the judgment. When he storms away, Finn then gives Yusuf a very stern talking to about duty and responsibility, two things that the gladiator has not had much experience in.

The construction of the bridge is fraught with delays and issues, with the various engineers continuing to bicker and dispute how things should progress (which definitely does not bode well for the rebuilding of Castle Defiant!) As it turned out, the bridge was not seated correctly and, as a result, was constantly being flooded once the first of the wagons began to cross. Several days pass before the convoy begins crossing and, as a precaution, a rope line is stretched across the river some distance down from the bridge for anyone unfortunate enough to be swept off into the water.

As the last of the wagons are crossing, the bridge suddenly shivers and shimmies – Finn, who is in the middle of the bridge and trying to keep everyone moving, shouts for an engineer to explain what just happened, but the would-be builder – Paedrag Parcell – has barely had time to reach the younger Sardock’s side to reassure him about the bridge’s structural integrity when a great beast erupts from the water and seizes the poor man! Mayhem ensues as the many tentacled beast begins laying about wildly, smashing apart wood pylons and trying to seize more tasty, tasty long pig.

Panic erupts among the three wagons still on the bridge with horses suddenly insane with terror and thus incapable of forward momentum. Finn, being an unlucky sort, scrambles out of the way of an immediate tentacle attack, while several of his companions – Arn, Ilanna and Zistral – are momentarily stunned by fright, while the others charge toward the danger. A fierce skirmish takes place with the beast flailing about while the more martial of the adventurers lay about with their weapons, intent on severing or crippling any tentacles they can reach. Thor’ndil gets one wagon clear of the bridge while Ilanna, who is on the opposite side of the bridge, moves to relocate to get a clear shot. In this chaos, the beast submerges for a brief time, giving the adventures long seconds to rush others of the smallfolk to safety.

When the beast reappears, it does so squarely under the now rickety bridge and the fight continues with half of the adventurers attacking and the other half desperately trying to get people to safety. One of the wagons is lost, with its pair of horses so panicked that they go over the side into the water, but no more civilians are lost as they are hurried away from the source of conflict. Finn abandons his attempts to calm the horses and shouts for the driver to abandon his wagon and flee, then stays alongside the man to protect him; Haruki simply seizes the man’s terrified wife who is clinging to the back of a wagon and forcibly carries her to safety. Seeing that Finn has not succeeded in calming the horses, Ilanna races forward and springs atop a panicking horse which she spurs forward, directing it and its partner (plus the attached wagon) across to safety. Noting that Arn still seems stunned from fear, Yusuf charges toward him and bellows at him to snap out of it.

Again, the beast emerges from the water and the fight resumes with Yusuf and Zistral attacking first and often. Finn also pitches in with his naginata as he retreats alongside Mister Thatcher who he is escorting to safety. Arn, now recovered, hurls a fireball at the beast. Meanwhile, Haruki is still evacuating children from the last wagon as he’s faster than their mother. Having sustained severe damage, the river beast sinks back beneath the water and moves again … but Zistral is having none of that and springs off the bridge to drive his spear deep into the creature. Both vanish in the river and all goes silent for a long time. Those on the now badly swaying bridge hurry to get the last of the civilians (and wagons) to the other side while trying to brace for another attack. Long moments pass and, just as Zistral is presumed lost, he emerges from from the river, gasping and swearing that the creature is not dead. Unwilling to stay this close to the river, Ser Dane orders the caravan to move away and conveniently, Zistral knows of a nearby elven camp. As the caravan sets out, behind them, the damaged bridge collapses entirely.

On the caravan presses,with Ilanna and Zistral leading the way.Throughout this time, they feel as if they are being carefully watched and followed, though they find no one. Some days before they reach Defiant, as they are traveling across the plains, Ilanna and Zistral observe an orc scouting party in the far distance that retreats as soon as the pair are sighted. They do not necessarily feel that these orcs are related to the sensation of being watched earlier.

The expedition reaches Castle Defiant without further incident and there is a great celebration as they stand there, looking at the ruins that are intended to be their home.

In a postscript “after credits” cutscene, the pale-skinned orc who was leading the scouting party enters a barbaric-looking hut wrought of wood and pelts and announces to his shadowy, hooded master that “fires burn at Castle Defiant.” The ‘camera’ sort of zooms in on the shadowy figure and reveals only his sinister eyes…

Player Notes:

  • Viewed dispassionately, we actually didn’t get a whole lot accomplished this session. There was some pre-bridge scouting along with bridge setup/construction and then the bridge fight which really ate up most of the actual session. Well, that and the GM getting it set up because it was a spur-of-the-moment change to his original plan.
  • Second session in a row where the technical difficulties were minor enough to be counted as insignificant. We did have a big period of dead time (~:27 minutes) where the GM spun up the improv bridge encounter, but that doesn’t count.
  • The GM had one of the players – Herodian – make a roll for the bridge construction and the result was an 18. This led the GM to rejiggering his plan in the middle of the session – evidently, he’d intended for us to fight some elves but thought better of it – which led to the “river kraken” fight. There was some confusion about the nature of that die roll: Herodian thought it was a ”universe reaction roll”” where the GM was thinking a skill check for the engineers.
  • Feste, Yusuf’s player, used the stern talking to by Finn as a reason to start buying off Selfish. As Finn’s player, I was totally unprepared for the bit with Malfoy – in my gaming experience, I’ve never seen one PC be responsible for the whipping of another and figured that Finn is still wide-eyed and naive enough to seek alternate options. If we were playing in 1700s on a ship, a flogging would have been his first option though. Still, I am interested to see if this situation recurs because if it does, Finn will likely have no choice but to order the flogging … how will Yusuf react to that, I wonder…
  • Herodian earned a bonus CP at the conclusion of the session for Zistral’s dive into the water. Some of us halfway suspected he wasn’t going to make it considering how rough the “water kraken” was.

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein Blood is Shed at an Oasis…

Ilanna Hawkeye and Zistral stand their ground in the face of the lizardmen who back off, before then flanking wide to get a proper visual of the main caravan. Realizing that there’s not much they can do to stop the lizardmen short of engaging them, the two scouts return to the main group to advise Ser Dane of this situation. At Finn’s recommendation, word is quickly passed along the ranks of the convoy with further instructions to close up the formation; he also suggests (which his father charges him with overseeing) that the children of the convoy be moved to the center of the caravan where they can be more easily defended should an attack take place. Within minutes, the entire convoy can see the four lizardmen ranging along the caravan’s sides which naturally causes some panic amongst those not armed; Arn is forced to calm down many of the smallfolk in his area (facing the lizardmen) who react fearfully at the sight of the dreaded creatures but he is rather successful at this. The lizardmen follow the column for some time, then break away to the south. That evening when camp is set up, it is done so to maximize line-of-sight to limit any potential lizard ninja attacks and, as a result, few of the expedition rest well for the night. Some, like Haruki, get no sleep at all because they remained awake the entire time. Campfires are noted in the distance as well, which is troubling.

Upon setting out in the morning, it is quickly noted that the same four lizardmen are following the column once more which the expert desert-men among the formation admit is a very bad sign. These lizardmen will trail behind them each of the remaining days, staying just out of engagement range, and with camps set up in the evening.

Some miserably long and hot days later, they reach the oasis but again, Finn urges restraint rather than everyone just rushing forward and leads a small group consisting of Arn, Haruki, Thor’ndil, and Yusuf to ensure that there is not a trap waiting for them. What they find instead is even worse: the water is spoiled! There are a handful of dead creatures scattered around which Arn and Yusuf notice first, and Finn utilizes a flow of Water and Spirit to determine that, as feared, drinking from the spring could be potentially lethal. The team discuss their options and Finn makes the decision to relate this newfound information to his father, along with a suggestion that he (Finn) utilize his spell-weaving to purify any of the water they do get. It is further decided that they wil replenish their water here and, once Finn purifies what is obtained, only the animals will drink of the cleansed water with the remaining water spread out among the people. Finn later addresses the convoy to advise them of the situation – as someone not particularly comfortable with addressing large groups of people, he doesn’t do too terribly though it definitely does not go over as well as he would like.

Late that evening, Arn is on duty and notes that the lizardmen campfires have been extinguished! Realizing that this might hint at an impending attack, he seeks out Finn to wake him; the younger Sardock listens, then goes immediately to advise his father and Ser Rodham who listen without expression. The elder Sardock does not allow Rodham to immediately begin issuing orders and instead asks Finn what he would recommend as a training tool. Finn awkwardly makes his suggestions and is pleased when Ser Rodham agrees on all points before offering a few minor adjustments. All of the warriors are alerted and instructed to get kitted up for a potential fight.

Several hours later, Thor’ndil notices strange movement near the herd animals and alerts Haruki before stealthing forward to investigate; the big Sahudi then informs Arn, Finn and Yusuf before following. Just as Thor’ndil sneaks forward, he catches sight of lizardmen ninjas who simultaneously detect him. This group of ninjas are moving in a pretty professional manner and, as the five adventurers draw closer, there is a sudden cry of alarm on the other side of the camp. Finn realizes immediately that the other attack is likely a distraction while this is the main thrust but by then, the fight is on! Haruki and Thor’ndil engage first, with the former smashing about with his great tetsubo, smashing bones when he connects, while the latter dances about in a very elfy manner that is quite effective. Unaware of exactly what’s going on due to the darkness, Yusuf charges toward the noises, then locates some lizardmen and rushes to engage them while Arn and Finn, who is greatly frustrated at the lack of team cooperation, pursue. During the fight, Yusuf is badly injured but stays upright which is more than can be said for most of the lizardmen as five of the seven are felled with two escaping.

In the immediate wake of the battle, Finn finds a place to throw up, as this was his very first ‘life-or-death’ fight; Haruki commisserates and is reminded of his first fight as well. Finn will then utilize a minor healing weave on Yusuf, though the former gladiator is still quite badly injured.

This victory is big as the lizardmen were considered something of a boogeyman and seeing so many of them felled with no resulting allied deaths results in a great morale boost among the convoy. Ser Rodham does not hesitate to execute the captured lizardmen which momentarily surprises Finn, even as he acknowledges the mercy in doing so. Scouts follow the fleeing survivors and determine that they are unlikely to make a second attempt; this strike clearly cost them more than they were expecting them to.

Many days pass as the convoy continues its westward march under the unrelenting sun. Ancient abandoned elves ruins are passed, leaving the more adventuresome among the caravan wishing they had more time (and water) to explore. Sandstorms strike and no one likes them at all but there are no losses and the terrain gradually transforms into plains as they emerge from the desert which pleases everyone. To Arn’s relief, mana begins to reappear, sporadically at first but then normally (which to someone from Caithness feels intensely powerful.) Behind them, strung along the route of their convoy are the corpses of livestock that fell and were left behind because Ser Dane was more focussed on getting the suffering smallfolk out of the desert than saving the animals. After so many days of unrelenting sand, seeing green grass and trees is a wonderful thing. Onward they push for several more days until they reach the banks of the River Kashk to everyone’s great relief.

But not all of the news is good as a small, long abandoned campsite is found that holds the corpses of feral Vasar…

Player Notes:

  • Missing Herodian and Melissa for this session so we discovered that the GM and those two resolved exactly what happened to their characters after the rest of us logged out the previous session.
  • Surprisingly free of technical issues for a change.
  • Fantasy Grounds was being particularly insane for this session. We saw, by my count, at least six natural 18s, three of which were rolled by one player (me!) in a short span of time.
  • Speaking of those crit fails, it’s a good thing we have “Plot Points” in this game, otherwise Finn would died early on due to a critical failure on a Path of Energy roll. According to RPM rules, a crit fail using that Path results in 4d burn damage, which put him at negative hp … and on fire, then he passed out attempting to ‘stop drop and roll’ and took additional “OMFG, I’m on fire” damage (think it was 3d-3?) while the other PCs were failing on DX checks to try and put him out (which brought to mind the Three Stooges – “I throw this water on him to stop the fire!” “Well, it turns out to be lamp oil so …”), which took Finn past his first death check threshold … which I promptly failed by 1. Needless to say, I was very irked – this wasn’t even in combat! – until I was reminded that we had Plot Points. So I burned all of mine (see what I did there?) to reroll that PoE check and not suddenly explode into fire. Am already looking into possible options about how to avoid doing that again …
  • As was to be expected, the darkness penalties really played havoc with us and made the fight drag out for a long time.

Dramatis Personæ

Wherein A Grand Expedition Sets Out From Caithness…

It is spring, 2035, and an expedition to reclaim Castle Defiant has been organized. This expedition will be led by Ser Dane Sardock and must first cross the Great Desert, which is no easy task thanks to both the harsh climate and the presence of many aggressive tribes of lizardmen. His intended plan is to strike out from Bordertown, then cut across the narrowest portion of the Desert as he knows many of the smallfolk who are simply unprepared for the difficulty inherent in a desert crossing. To serve as his war captain, he has enlisted the aid of his close friend, Ser Rodham Malfoy, who will command the seventeen soldiers who are to help protect the smallfolk. He shall also be taking his second son, Finn, while leaving his firstborn and heir to rule over his lands while he is away.

From Wallace, the expedition heads south to Bordertown where they gather and prepare for the arduous journey upon the morrow. To the frustration of the expedition leadership, they do not set out until near midday. The centaur, Zistral, is declared to be the head scout and, along with the archer, Ilanna Hawkeye, he will be setting the route. Based mostly on Zistral’s recommendation, they will move during the day – this he believes poses the least threat, despite the high chance of lizardmen encounter. Strict water rationing is to be put into place but no one expects the smallfolk to really listen, at least on the first day. Upon breaking up this first meeting, Ser Dane takes his son, Finn, to a dinner with the Bordertown mayor; this quickly becomes excruciatingly uncomfortable for poor Finn when the mayor introduces his daughter and then starts hinting at a possible marriage. It does not help that Ser Dane seems to enjoy his son’s discomfort and plays along. Nothing is decided, of course, and Finn remains fairly noncommittal throughout.

Upon the morrow, the expedition sets out from Bordertown after a brief announcement from Ser Rodham to the smallfolk; in this short speech, he announces the strict water rationing and warns them harshly that attempts to replenish their water ahead of schedule will be flatly refused. Their first destination will be the salt mine that serves as the primary source of income for Bordertown; the road to this mine is patrolled fairly frequently and is thus expected to be safe. Unlike the previous day, the expedition mostly sets out on time.

It is very hot and many of the expedition are simply unprepared for just how hot. Finn utilizes a weave that drastically improves his temperature tolerance, but that does not help with regards to water so he begins making mental plans to obtain more water via magic; he makes sure to tease Arn for being able to actually weave his spells in the no mana zone. Arn and Thorondil have been tasked to walk with the water wagons and are forced to turn back several smallfolk during the day who have already finished their water rations for the day. Ser Rodham intervenes briefly when Thorondil is not quite as convincing as he would like and the hulking knight’s simple presence makes the smallfolk glumly back down. Throughout the trip, Haruki also spends time moving through the convoy and does what he can to make the children present smile and laugh despite the difficult trip.

The expedition arrives at the salt mine and discover it to be even more inhospitable than the part of the desert they’ve already travelled through; the terrain appears almost white from all of the salt dust. Ser Dane orders camp to be set up as far from the actual mine as possible as many of the miners are known to be prisoners and he does want to mix the groups. Once camp is set up, the second half of water rations are handed out. Arn and Thorondil note that the married soldiers tend to sneak bits of their water rations to their families, which is against Ser Rodham’s instructions; neither of the men reveal this, though Arn is torn between his sense of honesty and his code of honor. During the water replenishment, Finn gets permission from his father to utilize his spell-weaving to refill at least one of the now empty water barrels; it isn’t much, only about 40 gallons, and it takes an hour to do this, but it is something. That evening, another ‘brain trust’ gathering takes place in which it is debated whether they should instead move during the night as opposed to the day, but it is decided to continue moving during the day because the benefits outweigh the difficulties. Also, late that evening, Thorondil seeks out the salt mine’s water tower to climb.

In the morning, the various characters get up to carry out their assigned tasks. Arn and Thorondil are still on water protection/hand out detail, while Haruki and Yusuf circle amongst the camp, hoping to encourage the smallfolk to pick up the pace. One such family is definitely lagging behind so, while Haruki attempts to talk sense into the irritated and unenthusiastic children, Yusuf bellows an order for the family to pick up the damned pace! The family jump to obey but are not particularly happy with the former gladiator for being singled out as lagging behind. During this, Finn moves through the camp, offering suggestions and recommendations and instructions about how to pick up the pace; demonstrating some clear leadership in this, he draws an approving look from his father but, being a delusional sort, probably misinterprets this.

Into the deeper desert the expedition goes where they find the terrain is even more unforgiving. The heat is unrelenting and there is no longer a road to follow. Ilanna and Zistral are at the vanguard of the convoy as befitting scouts and, around midday, catch sight of a quartet of armed lizardmen atop strange-looking beasts of burden. There is a tense stand-off as the two groups stare at one another, with Zistral side-stepping as appropriate to ensure that the lizardmen never quite have a clear route to the convoy. After some time, the lizardmen clearly grow frustrated with this and instead, begin advancing on the two scouts which Zistral knows is a very bad sign…

Player Notes:

  • Recap by Rigil Kent.
  • Spent a long, long time just trying to iron out Feste’s Fantasy Grounds and TeamSpeak problems. Computers very clearly hate him – I’d be willing to bet that in the sessions he’s played with us, easily 75% or more of them have included him having some sort of technical difficulty.
  • Looking at things objectively, we actually didn’t get a lot done, but that’s almost to be expected when you start a brand new campaign with brand new characters, not to mention doing a long desert crossing.
  • Four of the seven players represent the children of five of the previous Banestorm characters. Not bad for a ‘Next Generation’ thing – could be five of the seven if I (Rigil) can talk the GM into revealing a Secret that Ser Dane is actually Ilanna’s dad. 😛
  • Yes, I know that “Ser” is the wrong way to spell it but that’s how it was done in the Game of Thrones books and I rather liked that affection, so I went with it.
  • Herodian and Melissa are scheduled to be absent next week, which is ironic considering where we left off.