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.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #30

After the War Began

The losses from the war are light; only 58 men are dead, due largely to the considerable amount of healing power in the army. The next day the common and low-ranked bowmen rush out to the woods to hunt hobgoblins while the high lords convene to talk strategy.

A pair of knights ride into camp. The queen has sent couriers to bring back a report from the front. The knights are pleased to see that all is well. Before they depart they drop off a welcome addition: the party’s Wizard, keen to rejoin his comrades in the field.

The party decides to send out scouts to the west and south, looking to get a lay of the land. After four days the scouts from the south return to report nothing of interest; hobgoblin villages stretch on for another ten miles but after that is only wilderness.

The scouts from the west, however, report nothing, because they do not return.

The party considers sending Count Garth to scout, but decide that they should go themselves. They follow the river west a single day before encountering goblin forces in the form of four ogres and two trolls.

The party opens with the usual Entangle, immobilizing half the enemy. One troll charges up to the Barbarian and lays into him with a full attack. Another crawls out of the entangle and tries to close, along with one of the ogres.

The Ranger finds himself fencing with a troll, not losing but not winning either. The Wizard sends a swarm against an entangled ogre… only to see it foiled by magical protection. The Druid summons lighting, the Bard begins to sing, and the Cleric calls forth a spiritual hammer.

All of this is wholly inadequate preparation for the fight to come. As the monsters close, the Wizard ups his game, fireballing a troll, an ogre, and the rogue swarm that is now seeking something it can feed on. The Ranger tries another entangle, trapping one ogre that had gotten free, but leaving him still facing a troll. The others make largely ineffective attacks, though a lightening bolt finishes off an ogre.

Meanwhile, hidden assassins keep shooting heavy crossbow bolts. While the damage isn’t terribly threatening, the constant saves vs. poison are beginning to be a problem.

Then the troll tears into the Barbarian with both claws, leaping into the air to rake with his rear claws again. The Barbarian goes down hard. A single point more and he would be dead! The Bard, the only one close enough, dashes in to heal the Barbarian with potions. The troll batters at him but somehow only lands a lame bite. The Bard uses another potion to bring the Barbarian back to consciousness (though he wisely pretends to still be incapacitated), but then the troll lands a brutal claw and tears his throat out. The Bard is dead!

The Druid has turned into a bear; the troll leaves its fallen foes and rushes to attack something worthy of its claws. The Bard, no longer the direct target of the fearsome beast, stops playing dead and protects himself with mirror images. (I made all the other players make a Will save, and when they all failed, told them the Bard was dead. A few of them were even fooled briefly.)

The Bear-ized Druid and the troll are a fair match for each other. Meanwhile the Ranger is still fighting his troll. The Wizard pauses to detect magic, having realized that the creatures are protected from both summons and fire. The Cleric dispels all of the spells on one of the assassins and gets shot for his trouble. He decides to deal with the poison before it leaves him paralysed.

The Wizard then dispels the troll’s protections, allowing the Cleric to summon a celestial hippogriff to finish it off. The Druid-bear charges to engage the remaining troll and ogre and engages them in battle. The two goblin assassins, seeing how the fight must end, order the last ogre to cover their retreat and disappear into the wilderness.

This was an epic battle, with everyone damaged and over half the party in single-digit hit-points. The trolls in particular were very dynamic, either doing minimal bite damage or landing massive amounts of claw and rend damage. And of course the Barbarian’s Greek Fire grenades were desperately necessary to keep the trolls down. The ogres were so heavily armored that magic was almost the only effective way to deal with them.

Battered, bruised, and spell-less, the party cuts their recon short and return to the army. Their sorry state causes some concern, and they decide to end the mission. But in the morning the Druid notes that only four more days of hobgoblin hunting will see yet another member of their party gaining a rank (three have already gone up from the previous battle), so they choose to stay.

It is a fateful decision, because the goblin assault lands on the 8th day. Over four hundred goblins besiege the keep. The humans decide that time is not on their side, and immediately try to break through. The party, along with the free companies, takes the lead, while the Vicar Neve and her royals are in the van, with the other land-holders bringing up the rear. (This was mostly so we could reduce the battle to just a few units, since we were back on Roll20 instead of staring over a huge map in person.)

The battle is lopsided, though. The Wizard ignores the threat of arrows and fireballs the goblin archer units into oblivion. After he kills each one, the others manage to drop him with long-range indirect fire, only to see the Cleric patch him up again so he can kill the next company.

The bugbear knights prove rather hardier, and once they engage the free companies in melee begin to do serious damage. The free companies are all archer units and are heavily outclassed by heavy cavalry. Meanwhile, the bugbears prove they can even pound the Barbarian into negative hit-points. It begins to look almost like a fight, but the Cleric’s healing pulls the Arrow Free company out of a steep dive and the dice finally break our hero’s way. Entangle and spiky roots dominate the battlefield, preventing the hobgoblin hordes from being a threat.

They continue their retreat to the capital, not desiring to see if the goblins have any more attacks planned. But the further the army gets from the battlefield, the less they fear retribution and the more they desire another victorious slaughter. By the time the army presents itself to the Queen, it is already eager to return to the field.

The Queen reminds the party of their promise. She points out that sacking goblin cities would be a lot easier with a Helm of Brilliance on their side. She also notes that there are three goblin kingdoms, just like there are three human ones; if the human realm could unite under a single throne then they could strike with the force of three against each of the goblins in turn. And if Queen Rian gained the helm, along with her sister’s apparent command of the dragon, it would not be long before every human knee was bent to her.

The party must now decide if they want to pursue diplomacy and intrigue, or return to the bloody battlefield. They could also choose a stealthy strike mission into goblin lands, as the rogue Eslyt’s offer to sneak them into a goblin court still stands.

While the Druid surprisingly has had enough of blood for the moment, the party can’t help but notice that however unwieldy, expensive, and time-consuming armies are, their actions yield staggering amounts of tael. All but one of them has reached 6th rank from this war, and it has only begun. Even if they decide to pursue the helm, it will only be a stepping stone to more war.