Saturday, July 9, 2022

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #36

Against the Giants: prologue

The party is relaxing in Iseiquerr, enjoying being treated like royals, when a panicked rider stumbles into court. Arkoommeamn is under attack by goblins! The queen is sending the party as they are all she has to send. They must delay the monsters until help – in the form of the Queen’s army and the Helm of Fire - can arrive in 12 days.

The party has a brief discussion about whether they should ask for payment for this task, but a consultation with the local legal experts reminds them that the noble right to bear arms is also a duty; the local landlord can deputize any noble to defend the realm when it is attacked. As the acknowledged overlord of Arkoommeamn, Queen Rian can command them to the defense. Also, there is the small matter of morality, as the nation is without noble protection because of the party.

However, the lawyer makes an equally compelling point: it would foolish to leave Iseiquerr equally undefended. He persuades the party to leave two of its members behind, the Druid and the Bard (those players couldn’t make this session).

Facing a journey of 130 miles overland, the party realizes the fastest way they can travel is simply walking. Given their magic rings, they need no food or water and only two hours of sleep a day. Even horses cannot travel so consistently. Just like the scene in Lord of the Rings, when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli pick up their packs and start running after an entire orc army, the party pulls on their boots and starts walking.

There is nothing in these woods that can challenge the party, so after a long day and a half of walking through forests and plains, they enter civilized lands without incident.

They stop in a tavern in the county of Edalt for refreshments (even if they don’t have to drink, they still like to) and to listen in on the local gossip. They pass unrecognized, but recognize themselves in the talk around the bar as the patrons discuss the terrible news from the west.

“This happened because of those murder hobos,” one asserts. “If the King were still alive, the goblins would never dare raid our borders so brazenly.”

“I heard it be a wee bit more than a raid,” says another. “We might be next.”

“Bah,” answers the bartender. “If the gobbos brought an army, the dragon will eat them soon enough. The only thing we need to worry about is how you’re going to pay your bar tab.”

The party decides not to correct this bit of local lore, and moves on. Next they pass through the tiny county of Eimaeroud, where they are at least identified as adventurers. Lord Oscar offers them horses and supplies if they will ride to the realm’s defense. He, however, prefers to stay at home.

“I have too few troops to make a difference,” he explains, “and should I step over the border, I would have to choose sides between the two contenders for the throne. And I would not willingly do that, as I think both of them are unworthy.”

Refreshed by free wine, cheese, and bread, the party rides across the land to the capital. At last they come to familiar territory, passing over the bridge where they laid ambush to Malgorzata and her escort. As the sun sinks they arrive at the city gates, where they are finally recognized in all their glory. The gate guards take one look at them, shriek in terror, and flee.

The party rides unopposed through the town, only slightly concerned by the signs of disorder. They decide to complete their tavern crawl by checking into Gizela’s famous Golden Wing Inn. She is thrilled to see them. “You’ve come to help! I knew it!” Before they can clarify, she drags them out of the inn and down the road to a most unlikely sight: a keep besieged.

Besieged by the common troops formerly of the king and now serving Gizela. This is the headquarters of the Order of the Lance, a noble guild with as much military power as smaller counties. The commander, Baron Anatol, has holed up with thirty knights and enough supplies to last a season.

Gizela grins in excitement. “This is what you do, right? Clean out castles infested with rotten nobles. Well, hop to it, boys!”

The Ranger tries to talk sense into her. “Aren’t the goblins the real enemy? Shouldn’t we take these soldiers and march west to the border?”

She is unmoved. “A divided realm cannot defend against outside threats. Anatol will kill me the moment he leaves that keep, and lose the commoners in the process. But if you wipe out that traitorous pig, you can enrich yourselves and stabilize the kingdom at the same time. Then we’ll go deal with this goblin raid or whatever.”

The Cleric suggests, “We heard it was a wee bit more than a raid.”

“Pfft,” Gizela responds. “Peasants will say anything to get sympathy. I’m sure it’s nothing out of the ordinary. First problems first – end the threat of these murderous nobles, and then I’ll risk my life against goblins if you like. Wait – I get it – of course.” She considers, eyeing the party appraisingly. “I can do… 4,000? No, wait – 5,000 gold.”

“Gobins,” says the Ranger with annoyance.

“Of course,” she replies. “You drive a hard bargin. 10,000 is my final offer.”

Annoyed, and lacking the persuasive power of their own bard, the party decides to scout out the situation to the west for themselves. They ride halfway to the border, set their borrowed horses free, and begin stalking through the countryside.

Stumbling over a group of refugees yields their first evidence that the situation is truly dire. Despite the reports from the mixed group of peasants and craftsmen, the Ranger feels the party needs a closer look. They continue until they can see the burnt-out husk of the town. Again the Ranger drives them on for a closer look. Just beyond the town they discover a crude dirt fort with goblins patrolling the walls. The Ranger, still gripped by the need to see for himself, sneaks forward to peak over the dirt walls, and finds a treasure trove of goblinoid forces.

Mostly common archers, of course, but the amount of heavy iron in the form of bugbear knights, ogres, and trolls is surprising. Worse is the twelve-foot-tall armor-plated giant in the middle of the camp. Even worse is the bugbear patrol that is issuing out of the gates.

The Ranger proves his worth, though, by sneaking away again undetected. (Apparently he can roll dice for anything but combat.) The party decides to ambush the patrol to soften up the battle to come. The knights go down fairly easily, and the party decides to wait for the second round. After a couple of hours the goblin fort notices their patrol isn’t returning and sends out a stronger force.

This time the squad of knights are accompanied by two ogres. The Wizard decides that giving away their position is a necessary evil and casts a fireball. This has immediate and catastrophic effects, mostly for the Wizard who becomes the principal target of all enemy attention. He starts blinding bugbears, but their horses are almost as dangerous, and at one point the Wizard is engaged in a fist-fight with a goblinoid warhorse, which he only wins due to a well-placed Vampiric Touch. The additional vitality saves his life as the next round finds him on the receiving end of a bugbear mace that would have killed him outright without the boost. As it is, the Wizard is unconscious on the ground while the party finishes off the ogres.

After this the party decides to beat a retreat. They are soon spotted by yet another bugbear patrol, but this one chooses to shadow them rather than attack. After several hours of travel the party realizes the patrol has shrunk by one; individual members are obviously reporting back to the main goblin army on the party’s whereabouts. They decide this needs to stop.

Once again the Ranger proves his mettle, hiding in the grass while the party continues to retreat. The bugbear patrol passes him unnoticed, and now the party can turn and attack from both sides. The bugbears try to flee to either side, but archery and magic cut them down. The party then hastens onward.

When they finally return to Gizeal at the besieged keep they find nothing has changed. Gizela takes them at their word that the neighboring town of Udriem has burned, but she reckons it’s worth her life to release the knights inside.

The Cleric tries reason again. “Suppose we convince Anatole to leave off killing you long enough to fight the goblins. Afterwards we will sort out this line of succession. Let us go in and talk to him.”

Gizella agrees excitedly. “An excellent plan! Once you’re inside, you can murder them all.” She shouts up at the castle. “Hey, you. Tell your arrogant lord that we want to send in a negotiator.”

The knight shouts a string of obscenities back, but eventually the drawbridge is lowered. A knight standing behind the portcullis points at the Barbarian and says, “not him.” The other three advance to the gate, which opens to admit them into the castle.

Baron Anatole is no more amenable than Gizela. When the party implores him to sign a truce and ride out to face the goblins, he readily agrees. “Yes! Let’s put those traitors in the ground, and then we can go west to Udriem and kill the green ones.”

When the party protests, he reacts with shock. “Don’t you know that witch is working for the goblins? She summoned them to crush Udriem because Baron Dobro wouldn’t support her claim to the throne. Fighting her is fighting the goblins.”

The party finds this disconcertingly possible. The Cleric decides that diplomacy is just a fancy word for deceit, and suggests conducting further investigation under a Zone of Truth.

Anatol readily agrees, assuring them that Gizela’s treachery will be easily uncovered. When they return to the drawbridge they are surprised to see Gizela quickly accept, provided she gets to question Anatole in return.

Now both factions stand on either side of the drawbridge, with the party in the middle. The Cleric casts his spell, and Anatol pounces.

“Are you working for the goblins?” he demands.

“What? Of course not.” Gizela seems genuinely surprised by the question.

Anatol is a man of swords and action, not word games. He fumes silently until the party takes over the interrogation.

The Ranger speaks from the interests closest to his hear. “Did you take any money from the goblins?”

“No,” Gizela replies triumphantly, “not so much as a single copper coin.”

The Cleric tries a different tack. “Why do you think Anatole wants to kill you?”

“Isn’t it obvious? He thinks he should take over the realm, and I am the only one who can challenge him.” All of Gizela’s answers have come easily, without hesitation, indicating that she is telling the truth (or has somehow evaded the power of the spell).

“Now it’s my turn,” she says, and addresses her questions to Anatole. “Did you swear to your knights that you would kill me the first chance you got?”

“A thousand times yes, you miserable harlot,” is Anatole’s immediate response.

Gizela smiles sweetly. “Did you also swear to kill the adventurers who slew your lord in his castle?” she asks as she points at the party.

Anatole glowers. “I did so swear,” he admits.

Now the bardess grins with anticipated victory. “Have you taken any money from the goblins?”

Anatole opens his mouth to deny it, but no sound comes out! The spell blocks him from speaking a lie.

“You see!” cries Gizela. “Kill him now! He works against us all!”

The Cleric, however, is not so easily swayed. He orders everyone to stand down until a red-faced Anatole manages an answer. “I take their money and their tael after I kill them,” the Baron finally spits out. “Like I have always done.”

“That’s enough,” says the Ranger. “None of you are going to rule the realm if you don’t do something about those goblins. We’re riding out to battle tomorrow, with one of you on the left side and the other on the right side. Whoever doesn’t come automatically loses their right to the throne. Whoever kills the most goblins wins our support for the throne.”

This edict pleases neither faction. Both Anatole and Gizela appear to be considering their chances of simply destroying the party, since at the moment they are significantly reduced in number and possibly still light on spells after fighting the goblins. Until a pair of horses thunder up to the keep.

The Druid and Bard, having wiggled out of their duties back in Isiequerr, bringing with them the fruits of their labors: a handful of magic wands.