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.