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.