This session ended up being the first one without Rage Claw and Lilith, as their last session was the previous one (the player’s wife had a baby so that was that). The two took their share of the treasure and built a house in the pale outside of Threshold. They may come back, we’ll see.
After spending some downtime in his new home, Long Tom decided to return to the borderlands to see what he could find out about the situation with the Caves and their amassing armies. Otho’s journal gave him pause and he wanted to investigate what kind of threat the Caves currently represented.
Meanwhile, at Restwell, a strange pair of figures arrived. Two Tryshallan walked up to the gate of the keep, and when challenged to state their business by the keep guard, they gave a most curious response.
“Ah, yes, I’ve come because I’ve heard about these beast….men that are threatening these lands. I come to vanquish them, and bring honor and safety to the people of this place,” the Tryshallan in the lead said.
The guards scratched their head at his odd manner of speaking. “You be one o’ them adventuring types then?” one of them asked.
The Tryshallan’s face lit up. “Yes, I want to be one of those… adventurers I think you call them?”
Shaking their heads in dismay, the guards warned the strangers that the Castellan would look very harshly on anyone who broke his peace while within the walls of the keep. They then raised the portcullis and let them in.
With looks of wonder upon their faces, the two new arrivals wandered into the keep. They muttered to each other, wondering why everything was so…brown here. As with everyone new, the inhabitants of the keep watched them make their entrance. Among the watchers, two other Tryshallans observed the new-comers. Lucian and Nethril (Lucian’s elven hireling) did not know what to make of these strange bumpkins, so they decided to have a word with them. As the dark, brooding elf made his way across the muddy ground of the keep, the new arrivals started walking in the opposite direction. Lucian called out to them, to get them to stop.
The four elves met in the field and had a brief discussion in which Lucian learned that the strangers were indeed that…very strange. But Lucian was raised among humans, so what did he know about whether their behavior was normal or not. Nethril, on the other hand, was quite confused, never even having heard of the land they were from. The group wandered into the tavern to have a more quiet, less public conversation.
Shortly after this, Long Tom and Kenan-Tal arrived in the keep and Tom made a beeline for the tavern, while Tal headed to speak to the priest. The adventurers greeted each other happily because it had been a few weeks since they’d seen each other. Long Tom launched into the story of the Lichway and what they discovered there, disregarding the two strangers sitting at the table with them (or rather treating them as though they were new hirelings for Lucian instead of full adventurers). Anika corrected him at one point, for the benefit of the ‘complete stranger we’ve just met.’ Long Tom, however, continued to be impervious to all subtlety, so the wizard just rolled her eyes and let him ramble.
When the party finally finished recounting what Lucian had missed, they compared notes on what they had learned about the dangers in the east. Lucian, who had been based in Restwell, knew well that the hoards of beastmen had been building up in the east and that something was calling more and more of them. The farmlands around the keep were under constant threat and most of the farmers had been killed, captured, or driven off. The guards on the walls had seen a dragon several times, from a distance, and some of the homesteads have been found melted and the ground blackened and dead.
None of these famers, their families, or livestock were seen again.
After some discussion, the group decided that they wanted to return to the Caves and see what was happening, as well as potentially murder everything they found.
You know, the usual.
The new comers introduced themselves as Lairn, the leader, and Alren, who close up they realized was not a full Tryshallan, but instead a half-Tryshallan, half-human. When Lairn asked what it was he did, that would help as an adventurer, he said, “I manipulate reality to my whim.”
So, wizard then. And your friend? “Alren, sadly, lack the capacity to use magic and was denied training by my order. He serves as one of our few sword brothers.”
The group bought a bit of equipment (torches mostly) and head into the woods back towards the caves.
Along the way, they encountered a hobgoblin warband, set to ambush travelers near the Caves. Unfortunately for the ambushers, their lack of discipline led to their downfall. They were distracted as the party approached and both sides were surprised…except for the elves and a few characters who have Alertness or Combat Reflexes. Lucian dropped two with his bow from the top of the armored wagon. Lairn slammed his staff into the bottom of the wagon, called up a massive dark raven of smoke and hate and directed it to fly over the hobgoblins and steal their consciousness.
I love spell signatures in ACKS…way cooler than just saying, “I cast sleep”.
The players went about slitting throats and disposing of the hobgoblins, until Lairn offered to interrogate one.
“Do you speak goblin?” one of the humans asked.
Shrug. The hirelings tied up the biggest and stood nearby, while the rest of the party finished executing the prisoners. They woke the hobgoblin and Lairn began asking it questions. As far as everyone could see, the creature just snarled and growled a guttural abuse of the Tryshallan language, while Lairn calmly asked it questions. The elves who could understand the exchange were confused by the fact that Lairn would simply ask a question and then drop the line of discussion after the hobgoblin growled and spit out an insult. After a few rounds of questions, Lairn returned and began giving the party the details the hobgoblin revealed…even though no one had heard him reveal anything at all.
“You must be an expert at reading goblins,” Long Tom said.
“Something like that,” Lairn agreed, failing to mention that he wore a medallion that allowed him to read surface thoughts.
A few more questions left Lairn with everything he needed to know. The hobgoblin tribes had been called by many great warbosses with promises of blood and treasure. A man (not a goblin or hobgoblin) dressed in bones, who the hobgoblin knew as ‘Boneshaker’, led the various tribes gathered at the Caves of Chaos. Tribute flowed to Boneshaker, and the numbers in the caves swelled daily with their successes. Boneshaker served some other force that the hobgoblin did not know. So with nothing left to learn, the party stabbed up the hobgoblin leader. The warband had a small amount of treasure and jewelry, but nothing worth turning around.
When they cut and hacked their way through the twisted vegetation, they found their way back to the ravine of cave mouths. But now, a forest of spikes stood at its entrance, all adorned by the impaled bodies of an adventuring group and some people that looked like peasants. As the party stood silently under the grisly warning, Anika stepped up behind Lairn and asked, “So, is being an adventurer living up to your expectations?” The elf had nothing to say to that.
The party debated cutting the bodies down and burying them, but Bruna quickly pointed out they were in the heart of enemy territory and did not have time to waste on mercy. Long Tom quieted Kenan-Tal’s disquiet saying that they would come back after they’d cleansed this place and give them a proper burial then.
Lairn could point out the cave at the very back, where he’d seen the hobgoblin’s tribute go in. He also pointed out another nearby cave that housed a massive hobgoblin ‘gifted’ by the dark forces of chaos, a creature the hobgoblin was terrified of but who he hoped would crush the ‘pointed ear’.
Inside the cave, the air itself was dark and oppressive, even more so than the ravine outside. The walls of this tunnel were polished and well used. The stonework was worn from untold footfalls and centuries of use. Sounds echoed strangely, and the torches just didn’t seem to cast their light as far as they should.
The party entered the tunnel and slowly advanced, tensed by how much their steps echoed in the wide corridor. A short time later, they found a rubble blocked passage. This was no cave in, the roof looked undamaged.
Past that tunnel, they discovered a large chamber with a dais at the opposite end. Two rows of skeletons lined both eastern and western wall, but they did not move or react, nor did they radiate magic. The dais had several mouth wateringly large jewels on it. After some experimentation and prodding with a 10’ pole, the party decided that someone would attempt to pry the gems loose and the rest would hang back. Somehow, this ended up being Long Tom doing the risky task, while the remainder of the party stood at the opposite end of the room.
Long Tom stuck his knife into the join between the first gem and the dais. After a minute of effort, it popped out.
And a wave of necromantic energy swept the room, animating the skeletons. The bony creatures raised their weapons and advanced; half moved towards the party while the other half moved towards Long Tom.
Like a surge from a zombie film, Long Tom immediately disappeared from view beneath the wave of skeletons and their hacking, rusty blades.
The other half moved in and started attacking the party, though several of them fell to arrows and weapon blows. They wounded a few party members in return. Then Kenan-Tal began to shine with the ruby light of his goddess, and the skeletons fell back, their dark animus recoiling from her ultimate compassion, though he found that his power was being actively resisted by the Chaos in this place.
Meanwhile, though Long Tom danced and dodged through their blades, each moment brought them closer and closer to striking him down. His pole-arm whirled amongst them and he shattered several of them, but he was still getting swamped.
“How did I end up alone on one side of the room?” he asked the skeletons as he bobbed and weaved around their blades. The skeletons seemed to shrug and continued to try to kill him.
By the time the remainder of the party fought their way to Long Tom’s side of the room, he’d taken several hits by this point. Still, they were able to clear the creatures out and free him from the mob.
Long Tom decided after the dust settled that this wasn’t going to happen again. He was not going to be the trap tester anymore. One more ‘not touching it first’ person in the party. I wonder how long it’ll be until no one is willing to touch anything.
At this point, we called the game.
Thanks to the party’s use of the ESP, they found the ‘boss cave’. So, they may well be able to cut the proverbial head off the snake. This will stall out the advancing army, for certain, and might point them towards the main base of the enemies. This could be interesting.