The Company of Glorious Destiny
The lure of the city lights proves too strong for some - the Wizard disappears into the bowels of the Golden Library with a sack of gold, hoping to be inducted into the secret mysteries. Meanwhile the rest of the party wanders the docks, trying to appear as merely some of the many travelers from distant lands.
Laying low is hard, though, when your tour guide is a border-line sociopath. Z, the sole remaining member of the Brotherhood of the Golden Arrow and now reluctant (on both sides) party minion, is bumped into by a distracted townsmen hurrying to an appointment. Z reacts with immediate offense, back-handing the poor man and absentmindedly including a Cause Wounds spell along with it. The man's face turns grey and rots instantly as he collapses to the ground, dead.
A cry goes up for the watch as Z, belatedly realizing what he's done, bolts for the alleyway. The party decides that the man knows far too much to fall into the hands of the authorities, in addition to being a cold-blooded murderer. They give chase and a very brief battle ensues. The Cleric and Druid keep guard in mouth of the alley, trying to keep their hands clean or least keep the blood off of their boots. Just as Z goes down two local guardsmen come around the corner. One of the party (we can't say who) discreetly shivs the unconscious Z, ensuring he's beyond healing.
The guardsmen recognize that these are adventurers, aka nobles, and thus out of their league. They do claim the body and its tael for the family of the slain. The party chips in a few gold, too, out of "charity," and get off with no more than an admonition to not leave town for a few days.
Later that night they are hanging out in a seedy tavern, as adventurers are wont to do, mostly because reputable establishments would rather have nothing to do with them, when they get a visit from the cool-as-a-cucumber and obviously well-fed Erligil the Dealer. Nobody knows what he deals in but it's clear he makes deals. In fact, after he leaves the bartender pretends not to have seen him, despite having served him a mug of ale.
Erligil chats them up and establishes that they are available for hire. He lets them know he'll get back to them later with a job. It won't be pretty or clean but then, neither are they. He also helpfully suggests a few tourist attractions - for instance, there will be an open training session of the Varsoulou cavalry the next day. The townspeople love to watch a few friendly jousting matches in the same way townspeople love to watch young men batter their heads together while chasing a leather ball. Even better, one of the vaunted members of the Hammer of the Desert will be there. This is a troop of ten knights, all of whom are Baronets or higher, and all clad in the best armor money can buy.
The party is justifiably impressed when the knights take to the lists. They may be third ranked heroes but just one of those lance charges could kill them immediately. The desert knights ride fast, nimble coursers instead of the huge plodding destriers of Edersarr but that doesn't seem to lessen their effectiveness. Erligil meets them in the crowd, appraising their appraisal of the military prowess of Varsoulou.
He takes them back to a tavern and fills them in on the job he's lined up for them. The Castle (meaning the national government), he says, has gotten word of Edersarrian spies hanging around the city, evaluating the defenses, and otherwise scoping out the lay of the land. Given that Varsoulou is still technically at war with Edersarr, this is obviously a problem. Erligil suggests that if the party could round up these spies before the Castle does, they could sell them to the Castle for a pretty penny.
Now this is a sticky wicket for our team! Much to my surprise, they go for it. The Ranger convinces the Bard to eavesdrop around town, looking for the kind of Edersarrian give-a ways that only an Edersarrian would catch. (DM's note: I had not actually intended for there to be another group of Edersarrians - Erligil was clearly just messing with them. But when they readily agreed I changed plans and whipped out one of my pre-generated adventuring parties from Edersarr to play the role - that is, the aforementioned Company of Glorious Destiny.) And lo and behold, after a few days they come across hints of a man who likes pickles with his breakfast - a uniquely Edersarrian preference.
They track the rumors down to an inn and confront the fellow at his table. He's accompanied by a sturdy warrior in heavy armor, and since he is a bard of rank himself he quickly realizes that he is dealing with fellow countrymen. "Not so loud," he says, "You'll give us all away. Why did you even try to make contact? Do you have new orders?"
The Druid, who doesn't like being indoors in the best of times and is also the only party member who is appropriately paranoid, goes outside to see if they are being followed, only to discover an entire squad of knights just hanging around on the other side of the street. In full armor. Quickly he passes back through the building, past the deep discussion in the corner of the room, and out the back, only to find an entire company of halberdiers slowly filling up the back garden.
He returns to the barroom and warns the others. "We're surrounded!" Now the party faces a difficult choice: fight their way out past the ranked knights in front, the common but numerous soldiers out back, or find some way to slip out the side unnoticed. The warrior, Branford, charges out the back to check it out, followed by the Barbarian who recognizes a fellow hot-head.
The Ranger, thinking well outside of the box, decides they are in the soup and they have no choice but to fulfill their commission. He attacks the leader of the other group (Dacey, though I'm not sure anyone bothered to learn his name). A confused fight follows, during which many members of the party are not entirely sure which side they are on. The Druid is holding the front door against the knights hammering on it, the Barbarian is out back mixing it up with the halberdiers along with Branford, and the Ranger and Bard are trying to murderize Dacey. The enemy bard cries out for help; Branford comes charging back in, laying waste with his massive two-handed sword, forcing the Cleric to get involved before his people start dying. In the middle of the fight the enemy party's servant turns out to be a master assassin and almost brings down the Ranger with a surprise double-knife attack. The Barbarian abandons the losing battle out back and rejoins the party just in time to watch the Bard chop Branford to the ground.
Then the knights force open the door and the fighting stops as Varsoulouean soldiers swarm the room from fore and aft. The last one in the room is Erligil, and the party has the pleasure of discovering that first, he is in fact the Queen's Minister of Coin (a position that traditionally encompasses spy-master and head torturer, among other duties), and second, that they have managed to surprise and disappoint him at the same time. He reveals that he knew they were Edersarrian all along, of course; he just wanted to see what color of cloth they wore. Now that he knows, he's not particularly happy (since they're clearly willing to be traitors) but at the same time he's got an even bigger job for them.
This is no penny-ante step-and-fetch it quest; this is the real deal. Erligil knows there is a faction in Edersarr agitating for restarting the war. He wants the party to terminate their influence with extreme prejudice. The Order of the Tower is a small knightly order on the edge of Edersarr (with, of course, their own tower). Their commander, Godard, is a Viscount but most of them are only first rank knights, If the party can kill Godard, either by assassination, siege, or duel, they can keep his tael and Erligil will pay them 10,000 gold pieces. Each. Whatever other members of the Order they kill are just a bonus.
The Ranger readily agrees to the deal. The rest of the party is perhaps less enthusiastic but once Erligil throws open the Castle armory and outfits the Barbarian in full plate armor he's won over the swords, and the spell-casters come along for the ride. After only a few more days they set off again, this time heading west. The Ranger decides to lead them on a different path than the one they've already cleared, just for the sake of adventure.
The Black Knight
Only three days into the wilderness they discover a bridge, a ferry, and a challenge. A knight has a small wooden keep (really more of a manor house) with a working village. He is a foreigner from far away who had come to fight in the Edersarr-Varsoulou war, only to discover it had effectively ended. Annoyed, he set up his own domain and intends to become a new state, profiting as a power-broker between the two nations.
In the meantime he challenges passer-byes to jousting tournaments, both for excitement and to relieve them of the excess coin in their pockets.
The Barbarian almost goes for it, especially once the Knight offers to lend him a horse and lance. But wiser heads (i.e. the Druid) prevail and they convince the Barbarian that it's obviously a trap. More to the point, a potentially fatal trap despite his fancy new armor, as they have already seen how deadly lances can be. (DM's note: they were right.) The Knight won't take no for an answer, though, and summons his company of glaivemen to a general attack.
The Druid launches the cursed Entangle spell followed up by the horrifying Swarm spell, thus condemning half the common men to a screaming death as they are pinned to the ground while their flesh is slowly ripped away by thousands of vicious insects. He also calms the Knight's horse, taking it out of the battle. The Knight is nonetheless a fearsome foe and he drives the Barbarian back with furious sword fighting from atop his immobile but still advantageous mount. The rest of the party is engaged with the remaining soldiers which is going pretty well for them. Until the Black Knight swaps horses, mounting the spare he'd brought out to lend to his challenger. One sword-charge later the Barbarian is looking death in the face close at hand.
The Druid shuts down the new horse, and worse, the Bard shuts down the Knight with a magically induced laughing fit. Even so the man is hard to kill, having plenty of HP and good armor. As he crawls across the ground trying to avoid the blows the Cleric summons an acid beetle. The Knight cleverly provokes the beetle into spraying acid on him... and splashing his horse.
The attack breaks the spell and beast reacts with fury, stomping the beetle into paste. It then proceeds to put the fear of hooves into the party, dishing out plenty of damage. It buys the Knight enough time to get to his feet; but before he can start killing people, the Bard chases the horse off with a Fear spell and Barbarian and Ranger cut the Knight into pieces.
Somehow during the battle literally every other common soldier was also killed. This leaves the small village with only women and children, since the soldiers were also the farmers. The party takes possession of the keep and spend a few days recovering from their battle. They also loot the vault, collecting a thousand gold pieces of treasure, and doling out a handful of gold to each woman to sustain the village until they return. Then they set off to the west again on their murderous quest, promising to return in due time to protect their new holdings. The women of the village are oddly eager to see them go, even though it leaves them alone and undefended in the wilderness. Perhaps they did not consider a pack of sixteen-year-old bravos to be a suitable replacement for the men they had lost.
(DM's note: The Black Knight can be found in Brigands of the Stinging Sea at DriveThruRPG. It's on sale for 99 cents right now, mostly because I know my players are too cheap to cheat even at that low price. I'll make it free once they've dealt with or out-leveled all the encounters in that book.)