Monday, April 25, 2022

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #33 & #34

(Lazy DM forgot to write up the last two adventures. I can't recall all the details of the battles - rest assured they were glorious - but I do want to record the plot advancement.)

Second Invasion of Drield 

The bard has risen to the ranks of the silver-tongued; he is positively glib these days. He talks Queen Rian into a diversion: an assault on the goblins to demonstrate the power of the helm is Rian's to command. In truth the party is afraid of confronting King Sylwester and seeks more rank before taking on a mission of such magnitude.

Malgorzata objects, but Vicar Neve sides with the bard, perhaps eager for the glory that has so long eluded her as the lesser power of the sister's triumvirate. Half the Royal army marchers out, accompanied only those peers whose stature and prior attendance entitle them to a place in the expedition: Vicar Irwen, Count Gareth, and the Order of the Hound. And, of course, the party's troops of Yeoman and Marksmen. The queen also sends her personal guard of cataphracti to protect Neve. While these men are unranked, they are well-equipped and as fanatically loyal as gold and magic can make them.

The week-long approach (remember that on Prime, a week is ten days) is unmarred by incident or dragon. The assault on the keep of Eichouboomnea is a foregone conclusion, though the surprise deployment of ballistae discomfort the cleric to a considerable degree. More concerning is the liberal use of poison and the horde of bugbear knights. Nonetheless, the battle is won and the ranked nobles force their way into the throne room... only to find it deserted. The Flefliequelpians are well-versed in goblin trickery and sweep the keep for traps before establishing a temporary headquarters for the army.

Over the next few days the army leaves at morning's light to harvest hobgoblins while the noble leaders plot their next move. This is the second goblin keep to fall, and the tally of the dead implies the remaining goblin districts have been seriously bled as well. A final thrust on the capital should break the organized resistance of the nation. However, time is an issue, as the goblin lands are too depleted to provide game for the human army, and absolutely no one is prepared to live off of goblin food. The ten days of supplies the army carries is the limit of their stay. The question is whether that time should be spent profiting off of the hobgoblin hunt or marching on the capital.

Before a decision can be reached, the goblins force the issue. On the second day reports come of significant goblin forces engaging the army in the field. Vicar Neve rushes off to the front, where her magic will render fatal wounds into mere inconveniences for her soldiers. Malgorzata, whose participation so far has been a few fireballs on the battlefield, is not worth risking for a minor engagement. When the party decides to stay at the keep to guard Mal, Vicar Irwen and Count Gareth accompany Neve to battle.

As evening falls, the party sits down to a meal in the heart of the keep. Malgorzata's ceaseless complaints that all of this is a waste of time while her family remains in danger are suddenly cut off when she turns white and falls to the floor, dropping the glass of wine she had just been poured. The servant drops the wine bottle and its disguise at the same time, producing a pair of daggers and stabbing at the nearest party member. Meanwhile, the rest of the goblin assassins break their invisibility spell with a collection of ranged attacks.

The goblin nobles of this nation are high level rogues, and in past encounters they have seriously under-performed. This time, working in a large group inside a building against high-value targets, they finally show their worth. Both the barbarian and the ranger are left bleeding on the floor before the battle finishes. Absent the wizard's spells, this might have gone quite badly; as it is, the druid only barely prevents the last goblin from escaping with the incapacitated Mal. No one is quite certain why the goblins wanted to capture Mal rather than simply murder her, but everyone agrees that outcome would have been disastrous. The cleric's spells manage to keep Mal alive, but absent an antidote the woman will soon perish.

When Neve returns in the morning from the diversionary attack on the army, her magic restores the party and Mal back to health. Now it is agreed that the capital is the next and immediate target, as the rank of the slain goblin assassins indicate there might not be any nobles left at all. However, once again fate intervenes: a message from the Queen arrives.

Rescuing Witches

King Sylwester has descended to the basest level; he has hung a witch from his castle battlement and promised to hang one a week until Malgorzata returns. The rest of her female kin are interred in his dungeon, robbed of their spells and denied the ability to regenerate them. For good measure, Mal's husband - formerly the King's Master of Foot - is in chains with them.

Mal goes ballistic. There is no longer any possibility of delay; the witch will turn the Helm on the party if they so much as suggest it. Reluctantly they saddle up for a solitary journey into danger. None of the other nobility can accompany them without a formal declaration of war, and while Mal is eager to ride to her kin's rescue, the queen's soldiers will not allow the witch to return to her homeland where, after all, she could easily have a change of heart and return to Sylwester's service to save her family.

Nor could any common men keep pace with our heroes, who no longer require sleep or food due to the magic they wield. At least they have brought everyone up to sixth rank. Thanks to their number they are now as pussiant as most royal courts. Which is well, as they are about to single-handedly assault a royal court in its own castle.

They ride directly to Arkoommeamn, as it is closer from their current position than returning to Flef and sailing out. The queen's messenger assures them their boat has already been dispatched with instructions to meet them at the same location as before, ready to transport the rescued women back to the safety of Rian's court.

No one challenges them in the wilderness, the fields, or even the city gates. They stop by Gizela's inn to quench their thirst before the big battle. She is slightly apoplectic to see them so brazenly implicate her in their coup, but now that they are here, she takes advantage of the situation, extracting a very large sack of gold from the party in exchange for a promise to turn the king's lancers.

Only at the castle do they encounter resistance, and it is everything the king has. A square of pikemen guard the gate, backed by companies of crossbowmen on the walls, and troops of lancers waiting to charge the party from either side.

As promised, the lancers suddenly turn and flee. The remaining common soldiers are almost useless; the druid and bard's swarms of toxic vermin drive off the square of pikemen, who are keenly aware that the barbarian would likely slaughter them all if they did try to stand. The crossbowmen are more effective than they should be, raining down hordes of bolts and trusting to luck (i.e. crit-fishing) to score a hit. The ranger and barbarian engage in an archery duel that numbers ensure they cannot win, until the cleric shuts it down with a wall of mist.

This gets them into the gatehouse. In the courtyard beyond they face two squares of pikes and more crossbowmen on the roof of the keep itself. The bard attempts to open the keep door while the barbarian tries to force it; both fail until the druid warps the wood in the door to weaken it. He is, after all, the one with the record of building kills. More swarms dispense with the pikemen, and the party escapes the hail of bolts by entering the keep.

In the great hall on the first floor they are met by fifty first-rank knights. These men would be far more dangerous on horseback, but the battle is here, inside, and they are true to their oaths. The barbarian is humbled by the immense amount of damage these men manage to inflict on him before magic and his whirling greatsword demolishes the knights.

On the second floor they face the officers of the realm. A score of captains and a squad of baronets fight with more dispatch and hardiness than the first-ranks, but the barbarian is slightly more circumspect and the battle eventually concludes without any crippling damage.

On the third floor Slywester and his court await them. This is a true battle, and the party is already seriously depleted from the previous engagements. The king's wizard summons a fire-breathing hound from hell and disappears, his contribution to the battle already concluded in the preparatory spells he as cast on the rest of the retinue. The King is indeed formidable, dealing out terrible damage and surprisingly hard to hurt. Only the Master of Horse and the hell hound are easy prey; the others acquit themselves well. The Minister of Coin/Royal Assassin springs out of hiding from a corner and inflicts terrible damage on the bear (the druid, having run out of spells, resorted to melee combat in the last battle). The king manages to reduce half the party to negative hit-points, while the cleric desperately patches them up and sends them back into battle. Finally he falls, leaving only his paladin standing; she spends her last action trying to heal her liege before the ranger strikes her down.

At this point any more serious resistance would probably be fatal, but there is no one left to resist. The wizard is gone, the soldiers are dead, and the witches are quickly freed. No one opposes their departure from the castle or the city or the realm; they reach their boat without difficulty, and return by sea to the court of Queen Rian once again.

If they thought to find respite from their labors, they are mistaken. The queen can see her new throne as Empress of the Human Realm in the Gold Coast just waiting for her. Only one obstacle stands in her way; the royal court of Iesiequerr. A formal war of succession is not in her interests; she wants to amalgamate three kingdoms into one, not annex a devastated nation into her own war-torn country. The queen asks the party to resolve the issue, though like all royal requests it is not conceivable to refuse. In exchange she pays them 12,000 gp of magic... in advance.

The cleric is dubious about this murder-for-hire arrangement, but the queen's personal guard of cataphracti - all mercenaries from Iesiequerr - testify to the corruption and degradation of their former royal court. In their unbiased opinion their home country would be liberated to serve under the wise and powerful Queen Rian, who, it must be said, is the only force in the domain the party is still afraid of save for the dragon itself.

The iron law of landrule is that the ruler who cannot defend their land is not entitled to it. The party will now put that strength to the test, as it is done again and again across the face of Prime. The blade of the thresher spins, separating the common from the noble.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #32

The Heist: part II

Malgorzata puts her feelings into action and launches a fireball against the Bard, incidentally catching the Barbarian in the blast. The Bard, given the option of hiding the behind the stolen box (for a +2 to his save), does so; the box takes the brunt of the blast and is destroyed, spilling molten gold and cracked glass at his feet. The helm in the box was clearly fake!

The Druid decides that’s enough of that and drops a fog cloud over the witch. The Barbarian turns to deal with the three charging knights, taking a defensive stance as they charge. It mostly works; he only gets hit by one lance, and then dashes behind them and cleaves two from the saddles.

The Baronet has realized he cannot outrun the Ranger, so he turns to fight, lowering his lance and charging back up the road. The Ranger draws his bow, doing serious damage as the Baronet closes.

The Wizard mysteriously appears, having been practicing his Invisibility spell for the last week (i.e. he missed the last session), and summons a swarm of bats against the entangled knights. But these men are ranked and do not fall easily to such attacks. Then the swarm dies, caught in a burst of flame: the fire-witch is burning a path through the entangling grass. Her men and horses suffer from the flames but their rank keeps them in the battle.

Soon men, horses, and an angry fire-witch are pouring out of the entangle. The Bard then turns the tide of the entire battle with a single spell; he blinds the witch with a well-turned curse. The lady cannot see to target her foes with her deadly fire magic now. The Bard and Cleric move into capture her while the Barbarian battles more knights, the Druid transforms into a great bear, and the Wizard summons another swarm.

But Malgorzata is not out of tricks yet. Sensing the approach of her enemies she targets the only thing she can with her next fireball – herself! The blast knocks the Cleric and Bard to the ground, unconscious and close to death, and kills Malgorzata’s horse. It does her no harm, though, as she has already cast a defensive spell.

The Ranger engages in a protracted duel with his Baronet, slowly losing to the man’s inferior swordsmanship despite needing only one more solid blow to end the fight. The Barbarian finds himself surrounded by knights and the Captain raining down blows on his head. One knight makes it to the Wizard and stabs him badly. The Wizard risks a spell, getting stabbed again for his efforts, and manages to put the knight into a magical slumber just in time, as the next blow would have seen his death.

The battle seems to be going in the knight’s favour, until the dire bear joins in. The great beast tears through the knights like paper. Even two lance charges are not enough to stop the monster. A knight breaks free and scoops up his mistress to carry her to safety, but the bear gets him too. The Wizard is trying to revive his companions with healing potions when the Barbarian goes down to the combined assault of the Captain, a knight, and their warhorses. The bear turns its attention to the witch, grappling her to stop a repeat explosion. He smothers her but the woman is surprisingly sturdy, stabbing at him with her dagger. The Wizard shoots her with a magic missile, ending her resistance. The bear immediately turns to engage another pair of knights.

The Ranger has finally dispatched his foe and gallops back to the main battle. Half the party is on the ground and even the bear is looking the worse for wear when the Captain gallops through the battle, snatching the unconscious witch from the ground in an epic feat of horsemanship. For a moment his way is clear, and then more magic missiles bring him to the ground.

The fight is over but not without cost. Over a dozen knights and two Baronets are dead; the lady’s maids are long gone, fleeing back the way they came; and the party is almost out of spells and badly injured. Once everyone is at least restored to consciousness they search the bodies carefully, but the only items of value are on the witch: a few magic trinkets (including a Cloak of Charisma that the Bard greedily appropriates) and an iron key. But no helm.

The party is at a loss. They bind the witch and toss her in the cart, heading back towards the city. Eventually Malgorzata wakes up. Blind, stripped of armour and finery, with hands bound behind her back, she still retains her spirit.

“You are all dead men,” she tells them. “King Sylwester will see to that.”

The Bard earnestly explains that they mean her no harm; indeed, they are here to rescue her and offer her refuge in far-away Flefiquielp.

“All that will gain me is the assassin’s blade,” she spits. “Sylwester will see me a corpse before the season’s end and give the helm to one of my cousins.”

When the Bard argues that they intend to get the helm as well, she scoffs at them. “You have done it in rather the wrong order, don’t you think?”

Nonetheless, realizing the precariousness of her situation, she grudgingly concedes that if they can gain the helm, she will still be of value. To that end she gives them the bare minimum necessary: the location of a secret gate into the castle. If they succeed, she will be a valuable prize to deliver to Queen Rian; if they fail, then she will be free to return to Sylwester.

The Bard easily bluffs their way back into the city and the Golden Wing Inn, with no one the wiser about the witch hidden in their cart. Shortly after midnight they sneak out of their rooms, fully healed and spelled, and are off to the castle.

The first obstacle is a simple moat. The Ranger leaps it easily, opens the secret door, and slides out a handy beam obviously meant for crossing it. Uncertain of their ability, most of the party consumes Spider Climb potions and thus traverse the beam easily. The Barbarian trusts to his own skill and fails badly, falling into the moat with a splash. He crawls up the other side, soaking wet but otherwise unharmed.

Now the party strolls through a castle in the middle of the night, looking for passage to the dungeons. They encounter a pair of washerwomen who step aside to let them pass without comment… until the Barbarian squelches past. Immediately they open their mouths to scream, stopped only by a timely sleep spell from the Wizard.

Deeper they go, encountering a pair of guards that are also alerted by the Barbarian’s bedraggled state. This time the Bard sleeps them, forestalling the Barbarian’s murderous impulse. They evade several other encounters, until finally they reach their destination.

Four knights stand guard in front of an iron portcullis. The Wizard casts sleep; two fall to the ground. The Bard casts as well, and a third falls. The fourth, however, draws breath to raise the alarm. The Barbarian charges forward and cuts the man down.

A careful inspection reveals that the gate is magically trapped. The Cleric tries to dispel the magic but fails; the Bard, in an astounding feat of intuition, guesses the magical password and puts key to lock to open the gate.

Now they face a small room with eight iron-bound chests and one silver-lidded pedestal. A small metal panel labelled “Emergency Procedure” hangs on the back wall.

The Druid begins dismantling the chests via magic, and gold coins spill across the floor. The Barbarian, realizing that time is running out, steps forward and snatches up the silver lid, shrugging off the effect of its cursed defence. Underneath is a golden pillow with the indent where a helm used to rest… but no helm.

He turns to the metal panel and opens it, but cannot read the instructions held within. The Bard steps forward and reads, “In case of emergency… explode.” This triggers the Explosive Runes spell, almost killing the Bard and injuring the Barbarian. As they stagger back the Ranger enters and makes a careful search of the room, discovering a false panel in the wall which opens to reveal, finally, the Helm of Brilliance. He snatches it, only to involuntarily yelp out, “I am a thief!” But the fit passes, and he strides from the room with the prize in his hands.

The rest of the party stops scooping loose gold coins into bags and they all head back upstairs. They almost reach the postern gate without incident, but then encounter another pair of guards. These men pass the now-dried off Barbarian without comment, but when they come abreast of the Ranger, he suddenly shouts, “I am a thief!” It appears the Confessional Curse has stuck.

A brief round of fist-fighting ensues before the party can flee out of the gate and back across the moat. Realizing they have at most minutes before the sleeping guards awake and raise the alarm, they find a deserted stretch of city wall. The Ranger and Barbarian now put their own Spider Climb potions to good use, scaling the wall and tossing down a rope to haul the others over.

Walking back to their boat, Malgorzata finally surrenders. “Put me down,” she says, as the Barbarian has been carrying her over his shoulder, “and show me the helm.” They let her touch it, and she sighs. “Very well, then.”

A patrol of knights catches up to them shortly after sunrise, galloping down on them before they can react. The Barbarian takes up a defensive stance and invites their charge. He appears to have learned from the previous encounter, as this time every single lance is turned aside by his shield and armor. Now the party has a crowd of horsemen upon them, but the Wizard simply drops a fireball on the knot of horsemen with the Barbarian at the center. The spell only singes him, but it means death for the low-ranked knights, and the two remaining knights are easily dispatched. This time the party is merciful; they loot the dead, but leave the merely injured to recover on their own. Then it’s on the boat and out to the safety of the sea, where the Cleric restores Malgorzata's sight and frees the Ranger from the Confessional Curse. The Barbarian passes the time by intimidating the fire-witch, assuming she won’t blast him on a wooden boat in the middle of the ocean.

At Queen Rian’s court they receive a royal welcome. The Queen is honey and sugar to Countess Malgorzata, explaining that it is time for the three human kingdoms to unite under a single ruler, and that ruler is Queen Rian. With the aid of Malgorzata’s helm, none can stand against them; and then once united, the full force of the human realms can be hurled against the splintered goblin kingdoms.

Malgorzata is dubious… until Vicar Neve assures her that yes, she can in fact repel the dragon. This confirms the new international order. When Rian asks for a final time what Malgorzata wants to become a willing ally, she answers.

“First, I want this man“– she points at the Barbarian – “whipped until he cannot walk. Then I want my daughter, my sister, my cousins, and my husband brought out.”

As a crowd of knights springs on the Barbarian to carry out the punishment, Rian turns to the rest of the party. “You have fairly earned your reward, though perhaps not as cleanly as could be hoped. But now I have another favour to ask. Return to Arkoommeamn and bring out the Countess’s kin. This time, however, feel no need to spare your swords. Should you slay King Slywester himself I would count it a boon.”

Sunday, November 7, 2021

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #31

 The Heist: Part 1

The party considers their new mission with trepidation: steal a magic item without killing anyone. This is far outside their normal operating method. However, they are all ready for a respite from the chaos of the battlefield. Well, perhaps not all; the Barbarian asks if maybe they can just kill a little bit.

After considerable discussion, the party decides to disguise themselves as merchants. They spend 2,000 gp on silk (Eslyt arranges the purchase in her name and has the crates transported to their boat in the dark of night, to foil any Arkooian spies). The Druid recommends investing in a few other trinkets like a merchant’s scale and yardstick, and they all get enough training from a local merchant to be able to pass at least a cursory question or two. They spend another 2,000 gp on healing potions and spider climb potions, apparently expecting to drop down from the ceiling like a heist movie.

The voyage is calm and undisturbed (the GM didn’t want to roll for random encounters) and after a week they hail around the coast and land on Arkoommeamn soil. The Bard easily talks his way past the port authorities, presenting the party as simple merchants. The fact that they are heavily armed is not at all surprising, since the merchant trade is perilously close to adventuring.

After hiring a cart and loading up their crates of silk, they travel through a small county and into the capital. The city is well patrolled; the guards on the gatehouse in the stone wall look in their crates and hand them a small card with the local rules printed on it: no nudity, no pearls on commoners, and trial by combat is a legal right.  The town has wide roads, fit for horsemen, and a solid castle in the center. The party trundles right up to the drawbridge, past a troop of pikemen, and attempts to talk their way through the knights on gate duty.

“Do you have a trading license?” a knight asks.

The Bard notes that this is not on the rules card.

“It’s not a bloody law book, is it?” the knight answers. “Come back on market day and maybe you’ll have a better chance.”

After learning that market day is four days off, they search out accommodations and are quickly referred to the Golden Wing Inn. The inn specializes in a chicken dish that is drenched in saffron to give it a unique golden color. The effect on the flavor is not entirely felicitous but the dish remains a staple of local culture.

The proprietoress, Gizela, is also a bard of some skill. She takes an interest in her latest customers and their foreign accents. A brief bard-off ensues, where the Bard totally gets the better of the innkeeper, and the information only flows one way. The party sells their cover as merchants while discovering that the only person in the castle who would be interested in their silks is… the Countess Malgorzata.

Gizela goes so far as to suggest she will introduce them to the local merchant house where they can acquire a trading license. She buys them a round and the party relaxes a bit. Meanwhile she flirts with the Barbarian, and soon sends him up to his room to fetch a trophy from one of his many adventures. Upon entering he discovers a burglar rifling through their things.

“Excuse me,” he says, “but that’s mine.”

“Oh, sorry,” says the burglar. “Here you go,” and grabbing a random weapon out of the Barbarian’s sack, stabs him with it.

The weapon is +1 rapier. The Barbarian is sixth rank. The stab barely annoys him; he pummels the burglar into unconsciousness in a single round, then grabs his bag in one hand and the burglar in another, and drags the man down the stairs. By the time they reach the ground floor the burglar is a bad way; the Druid crouches at his side and begins to tend his wounds while Gizela apologizes profusely.

It is terribly embarrassing for an innkeeper to have her guests burgled. “I put out traps and everything,” she says, “but you know how it is.” In recompense she comps them their rooms and meals, and then asks… “So what are you going to do with him?”

“What do you normally do with burglars?” the Cleric asks.

“We stab them,” she answers. The Barbarian perks up at this and starts searching his bag for a knife. Meanwhile the Druid has restored the wounded man to consciousness and is helping him to the door. “Although usually, we stab them while they’re actually in the act, not five minutes later in a different room on a different floor,” Gizela continues, frowning at the Druid.

“Can I demand trial-by-combat?” the Barbarian asks.

“You could,” she replies, “although that seems a bit predictable.” Then she is hit with an idea. “How many times did you hit him?”

“Well, twice,” the Barbarian admits.

She runs a hand across his rippling muscles. “That means he must be ranked; no common man could stand a single blow from such an arm. So… you could duel him!” Gizela makes a compelling case, and soon the Barbarian has agreed to a duel under unusual terms: the Barbarian will be unarmed and unarmoured, while the burglar will have the purloined rapier. The duel will be fought the next night, on the inn stage, as an entertainment.

Gizela has her men throw the burglar into a room to heal up, and begins plying the Barbarian with alcohol and compliments. She keeps him up all night, and starts in again the very next morning, clearly intending to send the Barbarian into the ring exhausted and drunk. This is, after all, the only way to make the fight even remotely interesting.

The rest of the party shakes their head but decides to use the event as cover while they snoop around town. The Bard trawls through town looking for rumors and eventually discovers that the Countess Malgorzata will be traveling out of town just after market day, to visit her sister in another county. He also arranges for a trading license from House Staszewski, but rather than pay the 100 gp fee offers a bit of betting advice: the Barbarian, regardless of odds. The merchant brothers Fortunat and Eryk are men of swords and action themselves, so they agree to terms. They will attend the fight and bet on the Barbarian. If he wins, the party gets their trading license for free; if he loses, they will pay double.

That night a drunk and staggered Barbarian takes the stage with a healed and clearly hopped up on alchemy burglar. The rogue wins initiative, stabbing the Barbarian for what would be serious damage to an ordinary man but is barely a scratch for him. The Barbarian responds with a flurry of fists, but his impaired state means he misses half the time.

The next round the poison kicks in. The Barbarian for once fails to shrug it off and suffers the maximum penalty, losing 6 points of DEX. Another result like that will see him paralysed! He flies into a rage, knowing that in his weakened state he will simply collapse into unconsciousness when the rage ends. The fight lasts all of five rounds before the Barbarian beats down the rogue, taking only minimal damage as the rogue fails to land any critical hits or sneak attack damage.

At the conclusion of the fight, surrounded by a madly cheering crowd, drunk, exhausted, and poisoned, the Barbarian gives into his rage and beats the rogue to death before passing out.

While this violence disturbs the party, it wins Gizela’s approval. She takes the rest of the party aside and makes them an astounding offer: a huge bounty of gold for every witch they slay. The astounding part is that it is exactly the same offer the shadowy rogue Esyllt made them back in Flefliequelp.

The Druid had already been forced to sell a little tael for pocket money, and had discovered that tael also sold for more than normal here as well. This cannot be a coincidence. Something odd is going on throughout the entire domain.

Gizela’s motive is clear enough; she wants to weaken the local government so she can take its place. But who could want the helm neutralized through such violent means and with such a wealth to pay for it? The party can tell Gizela does not have the money just lying around, though she adamantly will not reveal where it might come from.

Somewhat disconcertingly, the allegedly Team Good party spends a considerable time considering the murder-for-hire proposition. But on market day they take their silk to the castle and are reminded of their real quest.

Their trading license gets them onto the castle grounds, and soon the Countess comes down to inspect their wares. She is accompanied by four knights, a baronet, and two lady’s maids. The cleric notices that one of the guards is carrying a finely made wooden box, but astonishingly fails to draw the obvious inference. Fortunately the bard picks up the thread; while haggling over the price of their silk he asks the lady if she might have other rare goods to trade instead of coin, a perfectly legitimate question coming from a merchant. She laughs and answers, “Well, yes, and also no,” with a glance towards the box. The rest of the party notices that said box is exactly large enough to hold a helmet.

In a fit of inspiration the bard trades their 2,000 gp of silk for 1,000 gp and an invitation to dinner at the court, allegedly in the hopes of making a good impression on the king for the sake of future business.

That night they return to the castle for a sumptuous meal. The King is friendly enough, asking them about their travels, and is taken by the Bard’s recounting of their adventures in the City of Tomorrow, though he clearly doesn’t believe it. Meanwhile the Ranger has been trying to get the guard holding the box drunk, the Druid is trying to talk finance with the Master of Coin, and the Barbarian has challenged the King to an arm-wrestling match (which, much to his surprise, the Barbarian loses).

The Bard takes this opportunity to fascinate the rest of the King’s retinue, Master Rafal, Countess Fabolia, and Malgorzata. Only the witch fails her save and sits enraptured with his music, but this is good enough: he works in a suggestion that she should show them the Helm, as he greatly desires to look on an object of such beauty and power.

The wizard Rafal perhaps notices this use of spell power, but as it is so mundane in its request he cannot be certain. Malgorzata smiles and casually reaches out to the guard standing behind her with the box; he tries to stop her but has the box in one hand and the Ranger’s mug of ale in the other. She opens the box and pulls out the Helm and places it on her head.

The entire room pauses in appreciation; the Helm is indeed beautiful, studded with diamonds and rubies and opals in a frame of red and yellow gold. But is the sheer staggering power it represents that takes the breath away.

The Cleric, who had been observing quietly in the background, makes a holy gesture in appreciation and smoothly works in a Detect Magic spell. He discovers the Helm indeed is magical, and also that the box all but screams “trapped!”

This is enough for the party; they have found what they came to find. They retire for the night and immediately begin making plans to carjack the Countess on the road. They watch her ride out with a troop of knights and know that they have six days to plan an ambush. The party follows her road until they find a spot far from any village or other habitation.

The Druid, upon discovering the sorry state of the local vegetation (the GM’s attempt to weaken the overpowering Entangle spell), spends his time casting Plant Growth until he has a battlefield full of weeds. He also turns the hard packed dirt road into a soggy mud pit. The Barbarian kicks a wheel off their cart and the Bard makes camp a short distance away. Then they wait.

The column of horses eventually returns, but stops a distance off. Three men ride forward and their leader, a Baronet, issues a command. “Get that cart off the road or lose it.”

“We’re working as fast as we can,” says the Ranger.

The Bard ventures a question. “Is the Countess Malgorzata in your train?”

“Why would you ask,” the Baronet replies, “and why would I answer?” He reaches for his sword.

“We’re friends of hers,” the Bard hastily explains with enough grace that the Baronet pauses.

“Your name,” he demands, and when supplied, shouts it back to the column.

“Yes, I know the man,” comes the Countess’ reply.

The Baronet decides not to murder the Bard and instead sends five of his men to dismount and help move the cart. This turns out to be surprisingly difficult as the party is actually trying to keep the cart on the road while the knights are trying to push it off.

Meanwhile the Bard slips back to where he can see the lady. “I apologize for the delay,” he says, “would you like a cup of tea while we wait?”

The Countess seems willing but the Captain at her side grunts, “No, she would not.”

“Well,” the Bard says, “might I counsel you to ride around? The road has gone to mud and I would not see your clothing stained.”

Again the Countess starts to agree, but her keeper grows even surlier. “No.”

The cart is almost clear; in desperation the Bard asks, “Then may I play you off, as a token of gratitude for your help?”

This time the Countess answers before her guard can. “That would nice.”

Once armed with song, the Bard quickly enraptures the Captain, the Countess, and the knight holding the box. He works in a suggestion: “Perhaps you would spare your horses the danger of an uneven road.” This time it works; the Captain nods absently while staring at his horse. Just as the knights remount after moving the cart, the Captain waves them all off the road and around it.

Of course it is a trap. As the column rides past the Bard he snatches the box from the still-befuddled knight, and the Druid and Ranger entangle the mounted column in writhing over-grown weeds.

The Baronet breaks free, as do four other knights down the column. The Cleric and Barbarian race to their horses and mount, leading the other’s horses back to where the Druid and Ranger are casting spells. The Druid casts another entangle, trapping one of the free knights, but the other three break free again although now they are quite a distance away.

The Baronet looks over his shoulder at the disaster and… spurs his horse to the west, in full flight. “A message for the King!” he shouts as he flees. The Ranger leaps into the saddle and gives chase, his lighter and faster horse hopefully a match for the Baronet’s heavy destrier. The Druid and Bard reach their horses and mount up, but can see the three knights coming back at them with lowered lances. Meanwhile the rest of the column has dismounted and is cutting their way out of the grass, a slow but steady process.

And the Countess Malgorzata stands in her stirrups and cries out. “I counted you friends!” Her red hair billows out around her, charged with magic. She may not have the Helm but she is still a pyromancer of not inconsiderable power.

The party is in the soup: split, flanked, and in the crosshairs of a fire-witch. Not a good situation, but not exactly a new one either.