Sunday, August 7, 2022

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #37

 Against the Giants: epilogue

Gizela successfully convinces the party of the wisdom of restraint, or perhaps they just get tired of arguing with her. They ride back to face the goblins with only a portion of her army: a troop of noble knights, three troops of common lancers, and a crossbow troop. The other half of their army is Baron Anatole and his three troops of knights, with their mounted Red priestesses scowling at the party over their glaives.

Once on the road, Anatole urges the horsemen to ride ahead and scout. The party is keen to lure the goblin forces into a trap, so they split their army: the ranked will ride ahead, and the common men will follow. The idea is that the noble horsemen will engage the enemy and then lead them back to where the commoners have prepared an ambush. However, this plan is doomed to fail for the same reason so many other medieval battle strategies failed: lack of communication and misjudgement of noble pride.

At first the party is worried that Anatole will be difficult, but he is the opposite. He welcomes Gizela’s knights with hearty smiles. These are free knights from the town, many of whom had either tried to enlist or thought about trying to enlist with the Order of the Lance at some point in the past. When the cavalry column stops for the night, Anatole shares his ale and food with the free knights. Many stories of valor and adventure are told around the fire; Anatole makes it clear that these men’s attendance on this glorious mission is causing him to re-evaluate their worthiness for the Order.

In the morning Anatole is eager to press ahead. Despite not having contact with the van of their army for over eighteen hours, the party agrees, perhaps just as eager for the clash of arms.

Very quickly they encounter bugbear patrols, which fall back in the face of so much steel. The party pursues, hoping to catch them before they reach the safety of their fort. But this is not to be; instead, the party suddenly finds the entire goblin army in front of them. It is the goblins who have led their foes to a prepared battlefield.

The sight of so many monsters does not deter Anatole, and perhaps inspired by his example, the party decides to attack. The Ranger orders a general charge against the enemy’s right flank, hoping to smash those forces before the left half of the army can engage. The goblins are mostly infantry, after all; the knights will use their mobility to overwhelm each troop in detail.

Bugbear knights fan out, seeking to flank the charging cavalry. The Wizard begins shelling them with fireballs, confident that the army of knights between him and the bugbears will keep him alive. However, the bugbears are hardier than that; they largely shrug off the fireballs and stick to their mission. Piqued, the Wizard turns his arcane fury on the crossbow troops and murders several of them as they are trying to march into effective range.

Anatole’s knights smash the goblin infantry. These men are ranked and hence a few crossbow quarrels are not enough to bring them down. When the ogres and trolls plow through the crossbow troops to get at the knights, Anatole cleverly retreats, wheels around, and charges again. Lances tear the big monsters apart, with significant help from the Ranger and the Barbarian in the front lines.

The casters, in danger of being engaged by bugbears, throw around Entangle spells with abandon. Soon half the battlefield is snarling grass, their profligate magic enabled by the wands the Bard and Wizard brought. Nonetheless a few bugbears manage to close, only to be frightened off by magic.

Everything seems to be going our heroes’ way until the giant finally makes contact with a knight troop. Swinging a triple-headed flail in a wicked circle, he lays waste to the entire unit, killing them in a single devastating attack.

The knights respond with more lance charges while the party throws spells. The giant destroys another knight troop and then knocks the stuffing out of the Barbarian. The Bard sings a song of terror, and it works – the giant begins to retreat! But the monster only takes a few steps before shrugging off the magic and returning to battle.

The Druid is calling down lightning, the Wizard is reduced to arcane missiles, and the Bard is playing hide and seek to stay alive. The giant manages to destroy the troop of free knights before the combined assault of magic and arms brings him down. The Barbarian, returned to battle by the Cleric’s magic, strikes the killing blow. The party is horrified at how difficult it was to damage the monster through its many layers of iron and stony hide; they shudder to think of facing two of the things at once. Crushed men and broken horses are scattered around, mixed with the riven and burnt corpses of goblinoids.

From across the field, where he had been preparing another lance charge at the giant with his last troop of knights, Anatole congratulates them.

“Our mutual association has been profitable. Alas, it is now at an end; the terms of our agreement are concluded.” With that, he and his men couch lances, and charge.

The Barbarian is caught in the field. Several lances pin him to the ground; only the immediate efforts of the Cleric keep him from dying on the spot. The Druid turns his lightning storm on the Baron and turns himself into a bear. Before the knights can withdraw and charge again, the bear and the Cleric’s army of divine ghostly hammers destroy the Baron and his troop.

The battlefield yields a huge prize, and the party are the only ones left alive to claim it. Yet the cost weighs heavily on their souls, as does the knowledge that absent these men’s sacrifices, the giant would have made paste out of even the Barbarian.

They hastily ride for home, encountering the remainder of their common army on the way. The soldiers are confused to see that no monsters are pursing the party, and even more confused to see that no knights are with them. The Ranger tersely explains.

“Anatole was not to be trusted; he turned on us after the battle. Nothing behind us remains alive, so stop looking.”

It is a subdued group that returns to the city, despite their victory. Gisela is happy to see them back, and ecstatic to see them unaccompanied by any knights. She has eliminated her competition for the small cost of a handful of mercenary knights of dubious loyalty. The Ranger crudely demands payment, but Gisela is not dismayed. She smiles as she hands over 5,000 gold pieces.

“You will recommend us to the Queen, yes, lads? Since we are the only game in town now.” Her odious retinue swells with anticipation; one can almost see them licking their chops.

The party is non-committal, telling Gisela to make her case to the Queen personally, since she will be arriving with her army in a few days. As the sun sinks on a loud and raucous victory celebration the party stands in the shadows, considering.

The Druid is uncomfortable; he fears for their alignment. They have done more than kill monsters; they have destroyed entire civilizations. The Cleric notes that their profits have been purchased with barrels of human blood, too; the tael from Baron Anatole and his men is mixed in with all the rest, indistinguishable from honest loot once it is harvested. The Ranger cannot help but feel that while they have always made their own decisions, they somehow seem to have always served Queen Rian’s interests.

The prospect of being mulched by giants under the eye of an unpredictable dragon while allied with a manipulative sorceress has lost its appeal. The party wants to settle down and build a castle… but not here, on this gold-accursed coast. The fratricide of Yellow on Yellow threatens to drag them down into Yellow with it.

Quietly they slip away. A small party of adventurers led by a highly skilled Ranger has no trouble avoiding the advancing army, slipping past the border patrols, and rousting their crew from the bars and inns the men have been carousing in for the last few months. In the dead of night the party takes its leave, turning their sails to familiar home. Green Edersarr! Eagerly they wonder how far their keep rebuilding project has progressed in their absence, and what demonic foes they can save the kingdom from without squelching through rivers of human blood.

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