The characters made it back to the safety of the Keep before the sun fell below the horizon. They found the nearest guard and demanded to speak with the Prefect of the fort. The guard chewed his cud for a second or two and then asked why.
“Because an army of undead is headed this way to tear this fort down to dust!” Long Tom blurted out.
He’s an excitable sort our Long Tom.
The guard told them to wait while he want and grabbed the Captain of the Guard, Lysander (no relation) Kegan. Captain Kegan was a tall, broad man of handsome face and thick arms, dressed in expensive centurion armor far beyond the likes of any of the other keep guardians. He acknowledged the party and indicated that he knew them by reputation and then took them into the inner bailey of the fort where they could speak with only soldier’s ears to overhear them.
Long Tom relayed the story of what they’d done and what they’d seen. Captain Kegan nodded, listening intently, and took stock of their many injuries. Finally, their story finished, he clapped Long Tom on the shoulder, “You’ve done the keep a fine service. I will get you an audience with the Prefect.”
As the Captain went to talk to the guards outside of the fort castle, the party huddled to discuss what their next plan of action was. Alfric was all for warning them taking off, while Long Tom wanted to stay and help. Along the way, the idea was postulated (I forget by whom) that if the army were out attacking the keep or the countryside, then maybe they could slip back into Bone Shaker’s cave. If he wasn’t there, they could loot the place and, they reasoned, if there was some arcane apparatus such as they’d encountered in the Lichway, they could destroy it and maybe wipe out the undead. Not being necromancers, they weren’t really certain how this undead thing worked, but they knew in the Lichway, a great deal of effort had gone into creating the army so maybe they could sort out a way to fix it.
Nice idea, unfortunately wrong. Anika cautioned that she did not believe that was bow this would work, that the undead would continue to follow whatever Bone Shaker’s final command was until they were destroyed. So then they realized they needed to capture Bone Shaker and make him give a cease and desist order before they killed him.
‘Plan’ assembled, they waited to meet the Prefect. When Captain Kegan took them into the fort, they saw plate armored guards and a much higher caliber of soldier then they’d seen in the outer bailey. That made them feel a bit more secure.
Prefect Adronius Mellacus sat in his lush, expensive office when they arrived. There was no question on their minds that this was a military lifer. Though dressed in expensive clothing, they obviously ill suited him. He sat straight as a board, and was a broad, powerful looking man. In his fifties and graying, he still radiated command and I described him as late Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood (though Unforgiven era would probably be a better description). Above his lavish desk was a display case with a single orcish arrow.
He listened to their story, as Kegan had done, only this time asking some questions. The players postulated that the army was headed for the fort, but he mused that Bone Shaker would not waste his soldiers on the fort but attack the farmlands. He would be forced to leave the keep to defend them and be forced into fighting their army at night, when they held the advantage. “It’s what I would do if I were in his position,” the Prefect said.
He asked what their future intentions were, to which Long Tom said it was to go and murder the hell out of Bone Shaker.
Nodding, the Prelate said, “I cannot order you, as you are not my soldiers to command. If you choose to stay and help us, I will see to it that you are recompensed. You all look weary, take rooms and I will see to their cost.” He pulled a bag of coins out of his desk and tossed it towards them. “Resupply yourselves as you see fit. And if you head to the caves again, I will request Curate Illerend seeks Dakanan’s blessing on your outing.” He then dismissed them with a curt nod and turned to speak to the Captain.
While Alfric and Long Tom argued about the bag of gold, the two elves started to whisper to each other.
“Should we tell him about our plan to attack the caves while the army was away?” Lairn asked Lucian in Tryshallan.
Lucian nodded and they launched into telling him about their plan to sneak into the camp while the army was away. The Prefect seemed pleased to hear this, well, what passed for a smile flickered across his lips. “That is a bold move that might end all our problems in a single stroke. Should you choose to do this, I will do my best to keep the army’s attention for as long as possible.
So the characters went and bought some gear with the 100 gold he gave them (Long Tom’s perceptions of the value of money have become truly warped by his experiences as an adventurer and he looked down at the 100 gold as a joke). They bought some more gear, bought healing for their wounded, and then went to rest.
Around midnight, bells began to ring and guards shouted as a fire could be seen burning in the west. The party rose, groggy and weary, but rested enough to recover spells (I don’t know if this is really right, but I let them have them back, I probably wouldn’t do it again in the same day, nor will they get them back again for another 24 hours). They watched the cavalry mounting up and getting ready to speed out to the farmland.. They ran to the Curate and told him what they were about to do. He put a blessing upon them, well all of them but Lairn. Lairn’s demon whispered that the spell was a trick and it would sap his strength when he needed it most. The young elf had no recourse but to believe his demonic companion and so stayed away while the others received a bless. I gave the player 100 xp for good roleplay. When the cavalry sallied forth, the party took the opportunity to sneak out and headed to the northeast.
My players joked about wilderness encounters in Old School games, that stepping out of your village might spawn d3 hydras. And of course, I rolled a random encounter. And of course, I rolled a Dragon.
Now, there is a dragon in the area, I’ve described it and foreshadowed it for the last several months. The chaos cults are aligned with a dragon and it has occasionally attacked the borderlands. So, I decided of course that this was that dragon. Bone Shaker had made a deal with it/begged it to assist and so it’s going to attack the fort while the players are absent.
Upon hearing the lightning crack of leathery wings, the players looked out of the woods and the elves and dwarf saw the horrible, serpentine shape of a dragon, flying overhead. They ‘made like a tree’, except for Alfric who was convinced ‘we can take it!’. No one else wanted to test that hypothesis and they let it fly west without revealing themselves.
“Maybe it’s good we decided to sneak into the underground undead hellhole,” Long Tom said after the dragon was out of their view.
The characters had no additional encounters and approached the ravine from the north, leading them to the top of the cliff. Anara and Lucian snuck up on their bellies because everyone could hear the drumming and screaming of the beast tribes who apparently had come out to party. Looking down, they saw around 40 beastmen, all chanting and dancing and eating…things. The rogues snuck back and described what they saw and the party began to discuss what they might do.
They could sneak down to the priest’s cave and, barring incident, get in without being spotted.
But of course, they choose to rain sleep spells on these tribes and murder them. Because hey, 40 less beastmen is 40 less beastman the keep needs to worry about.
So the party belly crawled down the side of the ravine, hoping to get within bow shot. Unfortunately, Alfric dislodged a stone that then tumbled down the hill, picking up other rocks and creating a small rock slide. The goblins and orcs on the outside of the swirling mass of creatures looked up, confused, but unable to see the characters thanks to being near the fires.
Lucian, Lairn, and Anika stood up and threw their sleep spells. Within moments, 27 beastmen fell to the ground, slumbering. Anara fired an arrow at one of the bigger orcs but missed, so a group of orcs charged up the hill just in time to get hit by the last spell and all but a subchieftan dropped. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t realize he was now charging up the hill by himself.
Long Tom rushed forward and met the subchief and split him with his halberd. The gnolls were taken out by a second sleep from Lucian, leaving only the orc chief. Watching as more humans poured down the hill and into the ravine, he turned and ran for the nearest cave.
Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t his cave.
The characters in the ravine heard him running, screaming for help in orcish, and then screaming and a crash. A moment later there was a groggy moaning, a tittering, and then a mixture of delighted squeals mixed with the orc’s screams. After a moment or two, there was a tittering ‘thanks for the food’ from the cave in kobold.
Alfric, who spoke kobold, struck up a conversation with the creatures, offering to share more food if they gave the party shinies or information.
“You going to eat all that?” the tiny sillouette of a kobold asked, indicating the pile of corpses strewn about the field. During their conversation, the rest of the party set about the grim task of slitting throats and bashing skulls.
“We’ll bring you live ones,” the dwarf said with a smile.
Pause. Then, “I be back. I go talk with Deecan. He say what to do.” And then the sound of little claws clicking across the stone.
The party secured several orcs and the gnolls and then began the process of interrogating them. This started with Alfric killing one of the orcs before asking the rest of them questions. The next one wouldn’t be intimidated, even when Lairn started revealing his possession (the player rolled really poorly), but Alfric killed him and just moved to the third. It was as this point that everyone reminded Alfric that Lairn was attempting to read their minds, so all of this was unnecessary.
The last couple of orcs gave up the location of Bone Shaker (his original cave). They also revealed which cave was their cave and how many orcs were left inside it. Since they treated him fairly, Alfric gave them a ‘fighting chance’ by throwing them (still tied up of course) into the mouth of the kobold cave (where upon a great deal of screaming and tittering laughter was heard).
The kobolds were willing to answer the questions the party had. They told them the cave that belonged to Bone Shaker as well. When asked if he had any weakness, the kobolds told them of the champion, a massive orc grown giant with the gifts of chaos. He was now a horned monstrosity that was the only equal to the priest. He was fed living humans, and when humans weren’t around, goblins and kobolds were thrown his way, so the kobolds hated him.
The players asked what the deal was with kobolds in my world, and I’d been thinking of that for awhile, so I said that when a dragon’s egg went unfertilized by another dragon (which was often the case if a mate was nearby), then it might hatch a litter of kobolds. The kobolds could then go on to mate and birth more of their own kind. Like dragons, they were not innately Chaotic or Lawful, but like lizards and dragons, had little problem being cruel and self-interested. Their general weakness led to a hostility towards larger, stronger races, but they weren’t incapable of making deals and alliances. So I suppose Unaligned (Self-Interested) suits them.
We had to end the session there because there was not enough time to launch an attack on the temple. It was a really good session. One of the things that I really liked about it was that I have Bone Shaker’s next couple of days worth of plans plotted out. Meanwhile, the players are doing their own thing. Their willingness to come back and attack him is going to seriously screw up his plans. But of course they don’t know that, so they don’t know that they are working on a clock and the lives of their stoned hirelings is literally on a clock. I expected one or both of them to be dead by the time the party got to them, but this will change that. It was also fun because of the dragon’s appearance. That’s actually going to lead quite nicely to the next major dungeon area (if they decide to go after it), so that was a fortuitous accident.