Humble Beginnings (Continued)
The party decides to deal with the hobgoblins first, as a stepping stone to the rank necessary to take on the Wild Lord. They track the horde through the grass while the trail is still (relatively) fresh and find a dilapidated village, taking their new bestest buddy Par the Archer with them because they don't trust leaving him behind with the mules and the food. And this despite the fact the ghost Tyvek now heals Par. If that's not a stamp of approval/alignment change, what is?
Hiding in the grass on a rise about 500 yards away, they spend an inordinate amount of time discussing tactics, torn between a full frontal assault during the day while the hobbos are Dazzled, or waiting to ambush their hunting parties at night. Finally they decide on the latter, or perhaps they just argue so long the sun goes down and they don't have a choice.
And thus we see a D&D trope seamlessly blended into the narrative. The Side Quest is a staple of the DM's art, but in this case the players chose it themselves. Making XP a concrete quantity that the players control puts them in charge of the pacing.
The party is a bit disconcerted to discover that the hobgoblins, who sleep during the day and hunt during the night, use no light. It's hard to spy on a village at 500 yards at night when the village doesn't so much as strike a match. Still, they hold their course, and eventually a hunting group wanders out to their position.
The ranger and barbarian move to flank; the ranger (who has the worst luck with the dice) totally gives away their position. Par stands up and shoots a hobbo with his longbow, the group's only missile weapon. Most everybody else throws rocks and javelins, save for the wizard who lights a couple of torches. As usual, the bard is the only one who inflicts any real damage, killing another hobbo with a rock. Why does this guy even want a weapon?
The hobgoblins respond with a shower of javelins, knocking Par out of the fight. Melee is joined; the hobbos lose, of course, but give a good accounting of themselves. After three or four rounds it's all over, and the party belatedly realizes that lighting torches in the plains in the middle of the night gives your location away to everything within ten miles. They snuff the torches, and after only a lengthy discussion, decide to retreat.
The next day they head back to the village, simultaneously emboldened by their victory and worried over how much damage they had suffered. They notice that the central fire pit of the village contains a large chunk of roasted meat. While trying to get close enough to determine what it is, they are discovered; the hobbos marshal for war, forming into four squads, and advance at a measured pace.
The party falls back slowly, letting Par fire into the oncoming formations. Because the hobbos move slower than the party, the archer gets off all 19 remaining arrows, killing ten hobbos. The rest charge through the party's final javelin assault (again, only the bard does any real damage) and melee is joined.
My squad rules makes the hobbos less dangerous, in that I don't have to roll thirty attacks per turn, but also frustrates the players a bit as the hobbo squads are harder to hit now that they are helping each other out. A classic battle line is formed, with the players strategically retreating their wounded to prevent fatalities, but then the wounded step back up, realizing that if they get knocked out the party can probably save them with a Cure Minor Wounds spell - but only if the party wins. Things could have gone either way, but the party is sporting several short-swords now, and Par's arrows hurt a lot more than I realized. One of the hobbo squads is reduced to two figures; they break out of squad formation and attack as individuals, only to get immediately murderized, and the party rolls up the hobbo line from the flank in true battlefield style.
To their credit the party had carried on a long discussion of whether or not to murder the hobgoblin's children. To their relief, there are none; the village had fallen on hard times and was not capable of spawning (goblins lay eggs, which they treat more as commodities than as children, not that the party knows that). The village yields little treasure, just ten rabbit skins and a wicker basket full of throwing rocks. The meat on the spit turns out to be the remains of the hobgoblins they killed the night before. Meat is definitely not back on the menu.
The next day they are lounging around outside their cave when three bandits come out of the woods, shouting for Par. They have been sent to rescue Par and his fellow, who had been sent out hunting a few days ago. Par suggests turning the men to their side; the bard comes up with the perfect line to open negotiations: "Are you hungry, boys?" An easy die roll later, three more hirelings are stuffing their faces with salted pork and porridge, made extra delicious by a Prestidigitation spell.
Now they have more information about their foe. Boros is down to a few days of supplies; he will soon lead a raid on a village for more. Some members of the party (you know who you are!) think this is an excellent opportunity; they'll wait for Boros to leave, occupy the keep, and surprise him on his return. Other members note that this will allow innocent villagers to suffer, which is not really acceptable for Team Good. The druid appropriates the wicker basket of rocks, turning it into a rattan shield with his Survival skills, and then gives it to the barbarian. Hey, it's a +1 to AC, so you know, that's something.
They give it another day to see if they can catch anymore of Boros' men out of the keep. My module calls for the remaining five to show up in force, which seemed like a good idea when I wrote it, but doesn't work out now. All five come marching through the woods; they are met by the entire party plus their bandit turncoats armed with pork sandwiches; and now the entire enemy team (save the one unfortunate slain by Tyvek) is working for the party.
They take their new lads back to the cave, feed and rest them, and return the next day to beard the Wild Lord in his den. Boros is not completely stupid; he tries to make use of his fortifications, but most of the party goes around behind the keep to climb in the back window while the bard, the druid, and bandits hang out in front. Boros then makes an extremely poor choice: he charges out to fight.
The bandits are fighting in squads, Par can't get a clear shot, and the rest of the party is still in back of the keep. Things look decent for a whole round. Boros targets his turncoats first, because he's mad at them, and besides they're the ones who look dangerous (some of the party is still fighting with stone weapons). The bandits do some pathetic stabbing, Boros kills one of them, and then everything goes south.
Boros, scourge of the Wild, muffs his rather easy Will save against the druid's Daze spell. He loses a round while the party flanks him. Suddenly the party has figured out how to roll dice; they are flanking, aiding each other, and throwing sixteens all over the place. Boros gets hit hard by the barbarian, among a few other successful attacks.
Next round Boros hits the barbarian, rolls a bit low, and leaves him with one hit point. Then he muffs another easy Will save. More important than the unanswered attacks is the fact that Boros keeps losing his chance to retreat to the keep, where he can at least be protected from flankers.
Combat continues; Boris swings again at the person who hurt him the most, the barbarian, and misses by exactly one. The rattan shield saves the barbarian's life! The party responds with a flurry of attacks and Boros goes down, another BBEG brought low by the action economy.
They cut off his head rather quickly, concerned that he might spring back up again. The tales of how dangerous he was seemed to have stuck with them, despite his poor showing at the end. They are now wealthy beyond their dreams, with enough tael to get everyone to first rank. Much to my surprise, they spend a lot of time talking about how much to share with their new bandit army, even though this would leave one of them below first rank. Unfortunately, they do this out of the hearing of said bandit army, having sent them with Par back to the cave to fetch the mules and supplies to their new headquarters, the keep.
The bandits are not at all impressed with Par's new-found outlook on life. Once at the cave, surrounded by food, and free of any influence by the party, they murder Par, steal everything (except the sword, assuming its curse is what messed up their ex-buddy's head), and run for their lives. The party comes looking for them the next morning, only to find Par's stripped corpse.
Now they face a moral decision: chase the bandits, or go back and take care of the handful of women that Boros had kept imprisoned in the keep to do the bandit's laundry (hey now, we have a pre-teen in our player group). Ultimately they choose justice over mercy and set out after the murderers. The druid's hawk does invaluable service here, telling the party which way to go. The bandits, realizing they are being tracked and that they have no Animal Handling skill, abandon the mules so they can move faster.
The trick works; the party, retrieving their valuable mules and supplies, suddenly loses the appetite for justice (funny how that works). They return to the keep and the prisoners. Old Bob, the crazy hermit who sewed up the bandit's clothes and wounds, says he'll stay in the keep and take his chances in the wild. The three women are escorted to the nearest village on the edge of the county of Edersarr and released with a gold piece each to find their way back to their homes. Not exactly the triumphant return of paladins, but the party is trying to lay low at the moment, still adapting to their new-found identities as nobles.
They spend the night in the local inn, living it up. A whole gold piece for food, drink, and board! This is the high life, at least as peasants conceive it. While they're partying, the bard ferrets out an interesting story about a
lake monster snatching a young couple out of the very room they will be
You know you've succeeded when a roast chicken and several pints of cheap ale excites your players.
Despite being ennobled, they are still quite poor, down to their last three gold pieces. They sell off the mules and spend the money on shields, staves, and a spear and a warhammer. Only the barbarian looks the part, wearing the chainmail and masterwork longsword they looted from Boros. Now they're trying to figure out how to make money for equipment, and their finely tuned senses smell an adventure opportunity in the lake. Tune in next time, when we discover that only the barbarian thought to take Swimming as a skill.