Shorn Cloaks and Tattered Shields

Session 9: Back to the Manor

Session 9: Back to the Manor

11th to 15th Flaurmont

Leaving the next morning, the PC’s accompany Sir Retameron to his home, a tower house on the outskirts of the Verge. Along the way, Hans keeps his eyes peeled for any reaction to his presence from the villagers of Verge, but, in keeping with the tradition of the Shearing, all the villagers act as though he is a stranger. To his great regret, he does not catch a glimpse of his young sister on this occasion, though he leave a split twig entwined with another outside the door of his parents house as a sign that he still lives.

Retameron and his wife, both successful adventurers (in that they both lived to retire though all their former companions are dead) entertain the party, wining them and dining them, offering advice on how to defeat various monsters and sharing a number of amusing adventuring anecdotes. The only other dinner guest that evening is a young illusionist named Memnon, who, taking pity on the ragged state of the two dwarves, casts Phantasmal Armour on each of them (one at night, the other in the morning) to help them survive the trials they can expect beneath Caldwell Manor. As Memnon explains, a seasoned band of adventurers went down below the Manor House two weeks ago and has not been seen or heard from since.

The next days dawns rainy and grey. The Shorn arrive in Threshold in late afternoon and make an immediate bee-line for the home of Artax. A very miffed and unhappy Apple Merryweather “greets” them and sends them upstairs to the office of the sage. Artax seems completely oblivious to a number of things, but most especially to the fact the party is two weeks late. The old sage explains that his initials findings were incorrect and that the Holy Symbol in, in fact, an old symbol of the destructive and hateful god Thanatos. He returns the amulet to them and further explains that the parchment they found was a coded item of correspondence from someone called Elwyn. It contained little of significance to the party, being mostly small talk and the exchange of news, save for one small passage in which this Elwyn extorts the unnamed recipient to “ward the entrance to the hidden temple most closely”.

Elra asks who Elwyn is and receives an admonishment from Artax that he is not a source of free gossip (and another admonishment from the DM that he isn’t writing up these adventure reports for fun -and that if the players can’t keep decent notes that’s their problem). Contrite, the party leave and make their way out of town towards the Manor. Realising that by the time they reach their destination, it will have become quite late, they decide not to exasperate Caldwell any farther by turning up at his door expecting a bed for the night. Instead, the camp in the ruined hamlet just south of the Manor house, in the very same hut that they slept in just a few weeks before.

Shortly after dawn breaks, they present themselves at the Manor House, where a rather nonplussed servant informs that they the master will not see them, but that should they wish to finish the job they were contracted to perform, they may enter the lower level of the Manor -but will receive only half pay. Content with this, the Shorn follow the servant to the formerly mage-locked door. Inside the warded room, they find a band of wary mercenaries surrounding a heavily chained trapdoor. The mercenaries explain the coded knocking system to the characters and them permit them to descend down into the darkness.

The trap-door shuts behind them with a rather final-sounding clunk. Moments later, a black leather-clad woman bearing a remarkable resemblance to Klara comes rushing into the room. She explains that her companions and her have everything under control and demand the Shorn return upstairs. Suspicious, Hans invites her to knock the code. Exasperated, the woman replies that she’s been down here for nearly two weeks and the code has probably changed. Hans cleverly asks about the womans companions. He learns that her leader, a black-leather clad dwarf (a description matching that of the leader of the other adventuring company given them by Retameron). Hans then insists that the woman take the group to meet the dwarf but the woman refuses to interrupt his experiments in the laboratory. She insists that she will not allow another group of adventurers to go traipsing through “their’ dungeon and promises to bring her leader to the group if they will wait in this room. The Shorn agree. The woman leaves and locks the only exit behind her.

Conferring among themselves quietly, the Shorn agree that there’s something not quite right about the woman or her story. They decide to speak to the guards for to obtain a better description (and names) for the other adventuring party that came down before them. No sooner is the trapdoor opened however (a lengthy and noisy process) than a black-clad dwarf wearing armour identical to the woman’s (and a good few sizes to big) leaps through the suddenly open door, shouts about monsters having stolen the shape of his companions, and bolts up the stairs, yelling for the guards to the shut the trapdoor behind him. The flabbergasted Shorn are too slow to prevent the trapdoor being slammed shut in their faces and nothing they can do, not all of their pounding and shouting, can persuade the guards to open up again.

Clearly, they are trapped.

With nothing else for it, they begin to explore, grateful that the “dwarf” left the key in the lock at least. In their very first room they encounter two clearly mad young wizards, who make frequent comments about how “fresh” and “plump” the Shorn look. In moments, as Hans stands watch outside, his companions slump unconscious to the floor, the victims of a sleep spell. Hans charges into action, standing astride the fallen forms of his friends. Though he takes several dagger blows and a solid magic missile hit to the chest, he manages to slay one mage and disarm the other. The second immediately offers to ’split the fallen ones down the middle”. Hans, in something of a quandary as to whether he should simply kill the clearly deranged fool or tie him up for interrogation and (hopefully) a cure, dithers too long and his torch gutters out. The second mage immediately retrieves his dagger and attacks, again striking Hans while the fighter tries to light a torch. In the end though, the human warrior is victorious and the magic-user goes down. He quickly revives his friends, receives a cure spell for his troubles, and then joins his companions in looting the room.

Having a bad feeling about those two mages, Boindil suggests cutting off their heads. The party seem puzzled but have been sufficiently freaked by their brief encounter with the mad wizards to agree to the suggestion. Cleverly (and somewhat accidentally) preventing the two cannibals from reviving as ghouls later on that night.

The next room they explore is eighty foot wide and only partially carved out from the earth. All the Shorn hear a persistent buzzing noise but, rather than trust their instincts and bail out while they can, Hans insists on poking a torch into every shadow. It is matter of mere moments thereafter, before he is down and bleeding from a split skull under the onslaught of four very annoyed, very insistent giant flies.

With their main muscle down and plenty of supplies in their possession, The Shorn retreat back to the first room, locking it behind them. They rest for three days to allows Hans to recover from his injuries and prepare to set out into the dungeon once more.

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Sessions 7 and 8: The Shorn Triumphant

4th to 10th Flaurmont

Leaving with Stefan the next morning, the party spends a a miserable three rainy days travelling downriver by boat back towards Kelvin. Perhaps it is the rain, or else the poignant reminders of their two missing comrades, but regardless of the cause The Shorn are considerably more subdued in this latter journey. Stefan tries without great success to bolster their spirits by regaling the youths with tales of heroic triumph in the face of adversity.

On the evening of the third day, the riverboat makes port at the quays of Kelvin. Stefan leaves the group there, informing them that he will be staying at the Merchants Weigh Inn for the next few days should they decide to accompany him back to the family farm. Keen to keep a tight grasp on the party purse strings, Hans refuses to allocate funds to staying at the Merchants Weigh and so the party spend much of the night searching the dock and trade quarters for a decent but reasonably priced place to stay. At one point, they hear sounds of a scuffle in a nearby ally, including a few pleading calls for help. The dwarves are eager to assist but, after a stern admonition from Hans that they are no state to do other than mind their own business, the dis-spirited party carry on.

Eventually the find rest in the Duke’s Arms, little more than a working man’s tavern with a few beds set aside on the top floor for patrons who have imbibed a little too much to be trusted to safely make it home. There, in the tap room, they hear more rumours about the brigand Skarda and his raiders. It seems yet another village in the neighbouring kingdom of five shires had been burned and looted, it’s inhabitants carried away to who-knows-what-end by the evil raider and his mysteriously vanishing warriors. Perhaps wisely, the Shorn realised that this particular foe was not for them, at least not until they were older and wiser. More promising news surfaced in the form of the main topic of gossip in the tap-room that night: The Shorn festival would begin on the tenth, with games , music and feasting galore. Not to mention the highlight of the event: The Trial of Champions, in which teams of the newly Shorn would demonstrate their worth and ingenuity in overcoming a series of ten perilous tests. Intrigued, the party decided to make their way to the Caravan fields on the morrow to learn more about the upcoming trials.

So it was that they took to their beds early, thankfully to soon to overhear talk turn to tales of a merchant from up North named Caldwell who’d been telling all and sundry about the “terrible betrayal” of an adventurous band of Shorn who had taken up his offer of employment only to leave for distant parts without bothering to finish the job. That lot, it was generally agreed by the locals, would not likely do well in the trials at all.

That dawn, the party made their way to to the Caravan fields to register for the trials. They learned that they would be required to enter the arena (actually a winding series of tents containing a number of unbeknownst to the characters illusionary chambers with hidden gantries from which the crowds may watch) clad only in normal clothing and without weapons. Spell casters were warned that they would be permitted to cast no prayers or spells save read magic and that they should therefore prepare their spell selection accordingly. The master of the trials assured the party that any weapons they would require would be provided for them. The last admonition was that any team found to enter the Arena under the influence of any magical effects or carrying any magical items whatsoever would be disqualified. Now, they had only to determine a team name for themselves and await the day of the trials: the tenth.

On the way back to the Inn, they learned that a prominent city merchant had been murdered the night before, presumably by a love rival; that the suspected murderer had fled the town and that both families were now likely making preparations for a covert war of murder and assassination.

If any of the Shorn felt guilty at the news, they passed no comment.

The day of the trials dawned clear and bright, and the Shorn made their way through already packed crowds to the starting pavilion where they were met by the master of trials and announced their new team name (“The Dragons”). There, they were mocked by a particularly disreputable seeming band (more brigandly than adventurous in appearance) led by a particularly noxious dwarf by the name of Dolgrim, seemingly the leader of a band calling itself the Skull Legion. The party denies the dwarf his offer of a friendly wager and settle down to wait their turn.

The party, when called, overcome nearly every challenge with a perfect score, dropping a total of only twenty points throughout the course of the competition and even coming up with several novel solutions (other than those devised by the Master-of-Trials) including:

  • Making their way past a pair of Iron Cobra guards equipped only with Dust of Invisibility and Dust of sneezing -and not knowing which dust is in which pouch.
  • Retrieving a prize from within the gullet of purple worm.
  • Safely crossing a river infested with man-eating piranhas.
  • Successfully crossing 30ft of green slime to open a locked door
  • Successfully crossing a wide pit at the bottom of which slumbers a deadly dragon.
  • Scaling a sheer cliff equipped with nothing more than a scroll of rope trick and a rope that’s too short.
  • Successfully and safely travelling down a corridor filled with lava and warded by a pwerful fire serpent.
  • Boindil single-handedly rescuing the rest of the party from a castle dungeon (despite sending his animal messenger down to the bound and gagged prisoners to ask the self-same gagged prisoners (did I mention the prisoners were gagged) if they had any ideas.
  • Sneaking past a bear guardian blocking a tunnel without actually harming it.
    Solving a magical-door puzzle using the prizes obtained through earlier trials.

The party emerged victorious, scoring higher than any other group and placing three members on the podium for the individual “class” competition as well. Boindil, despite his slight error in the dungeon rescue scenarion, managed to win the cleric even, with Elra coming third in the wizards even and Hans coming second in the fighter category. Medals and trophies were awarded by Baron Desmond Kelvin (including a generous cash prize which the dwarves immediately tried to claim as “gear money” only to be shouted down by the three companions who wanted to pay Artax the Sage the remainder of the funds they owed him).

During the festivities, much to his awe and surprise, Hans was approached by the famous adventurer and Lord Knight of Verge, Ser Retameron Antonic. Retameron, Knight and Lord of Han’s home village and a former student of the knights sword-master father, Teranon. The famed adventurer commented that the group had done much to redeem their “frankly appalling” reputation by winning the Trial of Champions but suggested that they fetch themselves back to Threshold to fulfil their obligations and pay their debts right quick, before the “shine of this latest and (so far only) notable achievement loses it’s luster). The party agree to return North with him tomorrow and further agree to spend the next night as guests in Verge before continuing on to Threshold. However, the seasoned adventurer warns the party that a second party hired by Caldwell has already ventured down in the second level of Castle Caldwell in their absence, and has so far failed to return.

With that dismal thought, the suddenly sober Shorn once more make their way to bed,puasing only to send Stefan a messenger explaining that they will not be accompanying him to his farm after all.

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Session 6: Humiliation and Rejection in Castellan Keep

h1. 26th Thaumont – 3rd Flaurmont

With most of the party remnants reunited in the outer bailey of Castellan Keep the first order of business lay in finding the dwarves some new clothing and armaments. With Hans now the de facto custodian of the party treasury, any hopes the dwarves had of blowing the remaining party funds to equip them in a matter befitting that they were accustomed too were dashed. Leading the two half-naked (and deeply shamed) dwarves back through the tap room of the Orc’s Head past the leering mercenaries proved to be a humbling experience for the two proud warriors. All the more so when the inn-keeper, when begged for spare clothing, had to turn them away.

In the end, the dwarves were forced to accept charity from the Keep’s chaplain, who provided the pair with soiled rags left behind by fallen members of the castle garrison. It was in this bedraggled state that, after purchasing some leather armour, shields and a spear each from the party funds, that Hans once more led his two bedraggled companions back to the waiting Klara and Elra in their rooms at the Inn.

Counting out their remaining coins and calculating the inn fee’s for the week it would take Elra to recover (once again) from her near-mortal wounds, Hans frugally allowed the group a little stew and some small beer. This Klara took to Elra in her room. It was while the three male Shorn were sat in the taproom discussing the dire straits in which they found themselves that the gnome money-lender and a much younger, more attractive female gnome in good quality armour and priestly vestments entered the room. The gnomish pair made a beeline for the seated group of mercenaries, whereupon the money-lender began to negotiate a contract for the mercenary band to escort his daughter to her new diocese in Kelvin.

Ever the optimist and never one to miss an opportunity Boindil leapt to his feat, butting into the negotiations and offered the services of his group as a cheaper alternative – much to the ire of the mercenaries and money-lender and the contempt-ridden bemusement of the priestess. Looking the bedraggled, beggarly dwarf up and down she scathingly asked, “Why on earth should I lower myself to travel with the likes of you? I should rather have proper fighting men to escort me, should I not?”

With the humiliating laughter of the mercenaries in his ears, Boindil returned to his table and the flabbergasted, vaguely annoyed Hans. Hans wasted little time in expressing his annoyance that his companion had so quickly ruined any chance of travelling in the company of so experienced a group. Even more by the dwarf’s bumbling attempts to steal a contract from another group in their very presence. Especially in light of his presently somewhat pathetic appearance. Demoralised, hungry and in a foul mood, the three Shorn retired for the night.

They were awoken the next day by the blaring of horns. Rushing to garb themselves in case some threat approached the Keep, the four battle-worthy Shorn rushed outside. There the found the Keep in a commotion, but not the kind associated with panic or alarm, but rather celebration. They did not have long to wait before learning why. With the trump of marching feet echoing through the hills like the roar of a dragon, the three expeditionary companies of the Keep’s garrison marched homewards into the keep. As they drew in through the gates, the Shorn noticed that the vast majority of the soldiers bore wounds of some sort, though most were minor, and that the helms that had seemed so shiny at a distance were in fact battered and scored. The wagons in the rear carried not just plunder or trophies in the forms of giant heads, but also a large number of groaning wounded. (The party cleric missed a chance to ingratiate himself with the garrison here by offering his services, but such is life).

With the column formed into ranks along three sides of the courtyard, the Keep’s Guard Captain and the returning Castellan performed a brief handover ceremony. There-after the Keep’s woman folks broke from their places at the edge of the bailley to search franticaly amoung the returning men for their loved ones. Not a few wails and keening screams rent the crisp morning air. The Shorn were left with the faint impression that this was not as triumphant a return for the garrison as it might be.

Feeling strangely subdued, the Shorn returned to their rooms until shortly after mid-afternoon when a knock at their door led to a summons to speak before the Castellan in his war-room. Escorted by a pair of spear-men from the garrison, The Shorn entered the Inner Bailey of the Keep for the first time. There, they were left by their guards in the presence of the Castellan, a tall, worn-looking man whose fine clothing and armour still bore the stains of the road. After introducing himself as Captain Pytro Trannic, he insists that the party explain the strange goings-on over the last few weeks. The Castellan concedes that the Keep’s Chaplain had expressed some concerns over the strange behaviour of the false-priests residing at the castle and promises to hunt down the surviving brigands as soon as resources become available. Captain Trannic commiserates with the party over the loss, conceding that not everyone is cut out for a life of adventure and dropping hints that the Keep always has an opening for brave Karameikans who can handle a blade. The Shorn adeptly deflect the Captain away from this line of conversation and take their leave. Not before learning, however, that the Duke’s youngest son, Valen Karameikos, has gone missing from the Palace in Specularum. The Captain warns them to keep an eye out for the lad in their travels, and to report anything suspicious to the nearest garrison or noble of the realm.

Finally, later that night, with money and funds running low, The Shorn are perhaps forced to reconsider their options. Lamenting their decision to abandon their obligations to Caldwell, there is some talk of packing in the adventuring life altogether. Salvation comes in the form of their erstwhile travelling companion, Stefan. After knocking on their door he announces he has completed his business with the Castellan and will be travelling to Kelvin shortly. He offers to hire them on as an escort on the return journey (as he is now somewhat laden with gold and a fresh order of horses for the garrison). Afterwords, he adds, if the party has still not found a new avenue for adventure, he offers them a place as farm-hands at his family ranch in the Dymrak Forest. He allows that he will rest for a few days before leaving, giving Elra time to recover from her wounds.

Gratefully, somewhat cheered by the offer and the timely reminder that they have at least one friend in this world, the party accepts. They gather by the main-gate on the morning of the third, ready to resume the journey into adventure.

Thoughts:

I made a particular (and cruel) effort to make the players (and characters) feel like miserable failures this session. I wanted to hammer home the loss of confidence and bravado that stems from such a humbling experience as seeing two companions fall and another two in need of ransom. Then, when I felt I couldn’t push them any more, I decided to give them a glimmer of hope by having Stefan turn up and offer them an opportunity to resume their adventuring careers at a time when it seemed they would have to pack the whole thing in altogether. All in all it worked well I think, and the session ended on a real note of optimism for the future – both for the players, and the campaign.

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Session 5: Blood in the Snow
21st-25th Thaumont

21st-25th Thaumont.

With Elra still abed recovering from injuries sustained on the road, the party spent the majority of the next day holed up in the Orc’s Head, a Tavern within the walls of Castellan Keep’s Outer Bailey. They found themselves sharing the tavern with two other groups – a band of four armed men, clearly not members of the garrison, with the mercenary look about them and a party of three Priests. The Priests were marked out as belonging to the faith of young Boindil by their robes, and so, in time, Boindil decided to head across to share a few words with his Brothers from the Church of Karameikos.

He soon learned that the trio were a battle-scarred, shaven-headed Bishop and his aides, a diplomatic embassy from the High Patriarch to the Emir of Ylaraum. Between the winter snows and the roads being unsafe due to a mixture of problems with Frost Giants and humanoid raids, they had been stranded at the Keep for the last six months. Unable to go on and unwilling tio simply go back and abandon their mission, they had settled for staying at the Keep. Why not go by sea? Because, the Bishop confessed, a trifle reluctantly, he suffered from terrible sea-sickness, and in any case his mission was not urgent.

The young dwarf soon made his way across to the mercenaries, where he was invited to join in their dice game, which he did, and promptly lost a great deal of small change from his wallet. Again, he learned that these mercenaries had been waiting a great deal of time at the Keep. Having served all across Karameikos for the last year as caravan guards and brigand hunters, they were accompanying the Jeweller the party heard about from the Gate Corporal on his way home to the Emirate. They hoped this would be their last stint -they’d lost many companions over the last year, and fancied chipping in to buy themselves a tavern back in Ostland. Boindil thanked them for their hospitality and set off to the bar to buy a round of drinks.

There, he quizzed the barman, a one-armed old veteran, about the “goblins” in the mountains. The veteran laughed and told the young dwarf that there were more than goblins in the lands about. He seemed to take great pleasure in regaling the dwarf with his own extensive knowledge of the local humanoids tribes – 2 of orcs, 1 of kobolds, 1 of goblins, 1 of bugbears, 1 of gnolls and a bunch of particularly nasty and well organised hobgoblins. He further went on to explain that if Boindil was looking for trouble, he’d find plenty of it up by the Caves of Chaos – a combined series of Holy Caves and various patches of neutral ground where the tribes met for trade, intrigue and religious observances. But, as the veteran pointed out, “You’ll need a lot more men than what you have here to tackle them caves.”

The dwarf thanked the tavern keeper for his time, wandered back to the mercenaries at their table, and made enquiries as to their rates of employment. He learned that each would expect a retainer of 60gp each and a flat payment of 40 silver peices each, per day of employment. When the young dwarf balked, the four men laughed at how wet behind the ears he was. One, their leader, explained that the 60 gold was a one off “hiring fee” to pay for any wear and tear sustained by the gears (and to buy replacement weapons, if required) over the course of their service. It also acted as a kind of “death benefits” to be taken home to the man’s family by his colleagues in the event of his death.

[This is a House Rule of mine. I’ve never understood why mercenaries in D&D wander from place to place without gear, relying in each employer to buy their equipment for them. It doesn’t make sense. For one thing, a mercenary has enemies. it’s not safe to travel unarmed. For another, how else does a mercenary advertise his trade and worth if not by the quality and style of his weapons?]

Boindil thanked the man, made no further commitments at the time, and went back to the others to explain what he’d learned. This news concerning the Caves of Chaos had the party in something of a tither. Hans was all for packing up and going home. Vaslav was outraged -they hadn’t come all this way, abandoned their first paying employer and risked death at the hands of wolves just to turn back now. He firmly stated that the others could leave if they liked -he and Uric would be staying. And besides, there were other capable looking warriors in the tavern who had been stranded for months and would no doubt be desperate for a crack at the same humanoids who had boxed them in. further discussion ruled out hiring the four mercenaries (though the party had plenty of cash in the form of party funds, they decided it was too expensive) and approached the clerics instead.

Upon learning their destination, the Bishop seemed most interested in accompanying the room, and agreed to meet them on the morrow outside the Inn. Satisfied with their day’s negotiations and rumour-mongering, The Shorn turned in for an early night.

The next morning the expanded party (now ten strong) set out for the Caves, content to allow the Bishop (who claimed to know the way) take the lead. Pausing only for a brief religious ceremony conducted by the Bishop (and for party to drop off the party funds in the form of a promissory note with the Jeweller and leave their mule in the capable hands of the Stablemaster) they departed in high spirits. The first days travel northward was uneventful, though the three clerics kept to themselves. If Boindil thought it strange that they were heading north when the tavern keeper indicated the Caves lay to the North East he gave no sign.

That night, the Bishops two companions volunteered to take second watch. A little too trusting of their new companions, none of The Shorn elected to share that watch with them. A few failed Detect Noise and Listen checks from the slumbering party later, and a shifty looking young cleric promptly snuck out of camp for an hour or so during his watch. Likewise, no one heard him sneaking back later. If any of the PC’s noted this youths rather haggard expressions the next morning (and they did) no one thought to make anything of it.

The next morning say the group again heading north. Though as the day wore on, the Bishop began to fall further and further towards the rear of the party (he blamed old age and advancing wounds) causing the two acolytes with him to fall back and offer their support. At this, Klara finally began to grow a little suspicious, and made sure to keep the three clerics between her and the rest of the party, where she could keep an eye on them. Alas, it would prove to be too little to late. The party blithely followed the Bishops directions into a narrow gully, rather than simply going round as a more experienced (and cautious) party would have done. Therefore, they were in a very bad spot indeed when the arrows began to fly.

12 brigands, five armed with bows, five with spears and the two leaders with double-handed war-axes, appeared at the other end of the gully. Even as they did so, the Bishop began his prayers. Beside him the two acolyte turned, leering at Klara. “can’t let you near the Caves little missy” the shifty one hissed, before the two drew their weapons and attacked.

Tungdil, scouting in the lead with his crossbow ready, fell immediately, peppered with arrows then charged by the two leaders. The one bright spot in all this being that one of the axe-men drew back his arms for a strike a little too vigorously and sent it flying from his hands. Uric, Vaslav and Boindil hurled themselves forward into the fray, Vaslav saving the dwarf fighter-thief’s life with a well timed cure spell, while Elra let loose with her sleep spell. Alas, warned the night before that one of the party might be a mage, they had spread themselves thin and so only four spearmen succumbed to the spell. Meanwhile, Hans could not prevent the Bishop from completing his bless spell but Klara, demonstrating admirable agility, managed to keep his two subordinates busy and herself unwounded for the greater part of the fight.

Right from the start, things looked bad for the party. Boindil‘s morale (both the players and the characters) was shot down in flames by his brother Tungdil’s fall. The resultant player (and character) apathy severely affected his normally quite creative thinking. When Vaslav went down at the beginning of round two, even some of the other players began to think it was all over, but in terms of foes downed the party were as yet more than holding their own. Yet the dice gods were cruel: Uric quickly followed his brother into the dust, but not before taking a few of the foemen with him. That left Elra and Boindil at the north end of the gully, facing five brigands (with four more asleep at their feet).

Meanwhile, just behind them, Hans dropped the Bishop to 0hp with a well armed thrust between the plates of the mans armour. Unwilling to risk the Bishop climbing once more to his feet thanks to a spell from his two clerical companions, he then spent a round finishing the Bishop off.

Meanwhile, the still unwounded Elra did a fine job of holding off her foes. But as she dropped another opponent to the ground, she saw too, that Boindil had fallen, and lay across the prostrate form of his brother. She now faced five foes alone. The men glared at her, putting up their arms. “Surrender bitch. You’ve lost.”

Behind her, unseen by his isolated companion, Hans closed with one of the two clerics facing Klara. When the man turned to face this new threat, the assassin seized her chance, plunging her dagger deep into the mans neck and triggering a new morale check for the enemy just as the very moment the party needed it most. The brigands failed their morale check, but, as the northern group had such a clear advantage, I ruled that rather than fleeing, they would be up for negotiation. Meanwhile, the last cleric turned to flee, took a 1hp wound from Klara in the process and, due to the failed check, threw up his arms in surrender.

During the resultant stand-off, unknown to the players, I timed the negotiations. Uric and Vaslav both bled out at around the time the prisoners were exchanged. As the six brigands still standing (including the wounded cleric) began moving off, leaving the party in possession of the field, the outlook for the remaining Shorn seemed to brighten. They had possession of the field, and resultant high yield of loot (though they didn’t know it yet) – the Bishop alone had +1 plate, a +1 shield, and +1 mace and pair of clerical scrolls. If they’d just kept their mouths shut till the foe was out of sight, things would have been rosy. There was still a chance the sleeping brigands would stay that way for a while yet. Alas, as Klara glanced meaningfully at the stirring men at her feet, Elra caught her eye. Exhausted, tired, and far too naive for her own good (and with a player who’d maybe had just a tad too much mulled wine) called out cheerfully to the retreating Brigands.

“Ho there! These four are only sleeping by the way.”

The Brigands turned to regard the battered trio, the lead one with a fierce grin upon his face. “Oh are they?” he remarked. Then he and his men proceeded to fill the air (or rather Elra) with a volley of arrows. Not one failed to hit. The half-elf fell to the ground, critically injured. Even as the brigands charged back across the field, the four ensorcelled members of their band roused themselves, blinking back sleep as they did so. Howling in frustration (the players I mean, not just the characters) Hans and Klara did all they could.

They grabbed Elra and ran.

Three days later, back at the Keep, the familiar face of the Brigand leader walked into the Orc’s Head, holding a white handkerchief which her flourished slyly before taking a long, fake blow-out into the fabric. With Elra abed (again) recovering from her severe injuries, Hans and Klara were alone in the taproom. Respecting the “flag”, they agreed to talk. The Brigand chief explained that two of their companions had survived the battle. (Tungdil had been stabilised by Vaslav‘s cure spell and I had Boindil make a system shock to see if her survived the shoddy “medical care” he received at the hands of his captors). The Brigands proposed to ransom them back for three hundred gold pieces. Hans quite rightly pointed out that they had no proof that either was alive, so the Brigand happily led them outside to a spot in the courtyard where they could just make a party of men (and two semi-naked dwarfs) on the slope a nearby mountain. After haggling out the terms it was agreed that the ransom would be lodged with the Keep’s Bailiff in the presence of the bandit leader. After that, the signal would be given for the rest of the band to approach. Once the dwarfs (with their clothes returned to avoid raising the suspicions of the garrison) entered the Gate House, the brigand would cash the promissory note the party had given him and ride off like hell itself was chasing him.

However, the Brigand warned, st the first sign of trouble (or too much interest from the Guards) the Brigand would give a different signal, and the dwarfs would die. Satisfied (if not entirely happy) Hans and Klara agreed to the deal and, after a brief consultation with the wounded Elra, who also agreed, the prisoner swap went ahead. All without a hitch. And apparently all under the collective noses of the Castle garrison.

And so we left it there, with two bedraggled, haggard looking dwarfs gazing sheepishly at their rescuers. No kit, no weapons, no gear, no money. It’s hard being an adventurer.

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Session 4: Journey to Castellan Keep
13th-2oth Thaumont 1000AC

Gathering once again at the Inn, The Shorn reviewed their options for further adventure. With no idea how long it would take for Caldwell to track down his spellcaster and lacking the patience to wait five days for the findings of Artax the Sage, they elected to travel east to Fort Castellan. They had little trouble tracking down the source of the rumours regarding humanoid raids on trade caravans given that he presently had rooms at the Inn. Stefan, it transpired, was a horse trader who had been stranded in the town during the long winter after delivering new stock to the Patriarch and his household (suggesting the news from the East was months old, though no one in the party seemed to pick up on this at the time).

Stefan agreed to act as a guide, quickly gathering his belongings and arranging to meet the party outside after breakfast. As the party gathered, it occured to them that they had best let Caldwell know where they were going. After first having no luck finding him or any of his senior retainers at the merchants townhouse (where wagon loads of his goods were being carted out and wagon loads belonging to the new tenants were being carted in) they elected to speak with him at his new Manor. This was no hardship, for the manor was on the road to the west -a road they must take, for no roads lead east from Threshold, and they must first travel south to Kelvin to find passage on a river boat to the Fort.

Tungdil elected to play the part of errand boy, though he found the Manor’s new master not at home. Instead he left word with the Merchant’s Steward. It was an encounter that did not go well. Firstly, Tungdil found the man busily directing workmen unloading furniture from carts. Then the news that they were simply riding (more accurately, walking) off eastwards on what would be at least a two-week round trip had him all but accusing them of abandoning their contract (which, frankly, they were). Tungdil‘s attempt to tip the man with a gold piece only made matters worse, the steward (correctly) assuming the offered tip was little more than a heavy handed attempt at a bribe -with his subordinate workers present no less! The Steward all but chased the young dwarf from his master’s lands, promising that the party had not heard the end of this.

Tungdil relayed this news to his companions, who did not seem overly concerned by the reminder that they were breaking their contract with the merchant (nor did they note how much this evidently displeased Stefan, who was himself a merchant only just entered into a contract with them). Nor, for that matter, did any of them recall that they owed a certain sage 400gp for the work he was doing while they intended to be travelling. Stefan could not help but think that the group should be more mindful of their reputation, but the horse-trader turned guide held his peace.

The party passed through Hans’ home village, the settlement of Verge, at around midday where (in accordance with tradition) the newly-shorn youngster was ignored by his family – all except a certain younger lass who looked at him askew as he passed and muttered that he wasn’t taking care of himself properly. Just after dusk, they passed near the eaves of the Radlebb Forest, on their road to the village of Rifllian. They arrived just as the human-owned bussiness’ were closing down for the night (or else handing over to their elven staff). Weary human residents bid the travellers good night while they trudged home for dinner, even as the settlement’s elves and half-elves geared up for a busy night. They managed to meet the human inn-keep of the Tree-Bough Inn just as he was leaving, yet even so he graciously persuaded them that sleeping on the common room floor would be ill-advised given that his elven customers would be coming in from the fields soon and elves need no sleep. Sure enough, even in the rooms above the party could make out the sounds of revelry from below, but the many layers of fresh leaves cast about the floor of the rooms drowned out the greater part of the noise.

The next morning, the fourteenth, they set out eastwards for Kelvin. They arrived at mid-day, just as Stefen had led them to expect, passing a merchant caravan heading north along the way. It came as no surprise that any boats leaving the docks that day had already taken their leave of the city this late in the day. On Stefan‘s recommendation The Shorn decided to shop, finding themselves impressed with the town and it’s markets, easily twice the size of Threshold and more. Vaslav and Urich left the others to visit the town’s famous shrines and temples. As they departed, Elra offered to pick up any supplies the two needed. Uric thought long and hard for a moment before declaring he wanted a puppy. This set off a gentle argument between the brothers when they left on their errands, the one insisting he was responsible enough to look after a puppy on his own, the other bitterly complaining that he would end up being the one to look after it, train it, feed it etc. “And anyway,” Vaslav added, sealing the argument, “It’s not as though we can take a puppy down a dungeon can we?”

Though impressed by the city’s markets and the variety of specialist craftsmen available (armourers, helm-makers, gauntlet makers, sword smiths, weapon smiths and so forth) the rest of the group bought only essential supplies. Tungdil and Boindil tried to save the group a little cash, first by visiting a shady looking inn called the “”/campaign/shorn-cloaks-and-tattered-shields/wikis/Diamond%20Spider/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Diamond Spider" populated solely by “dancing girls” and men with numerous facial scars and then by trying to hire out space in a stables. Eventually, one of the stable-men stopped laughing long enough to explain to the pair of “dwarf bumpkins” how things worked in the “cities” of Karemeikos. The Guilds regulated prices and determined who offered which services. Anyone who tried to take business away from another guild (say, the Hostelers and Tavern Keepers guild, for example) could look forward to having their business burned down by a mob of angry apprentices. Chagrined, the dwarfs took their leave and admitted it looked like they would be staying in the “”/campaign/shorn-cloaks-and-tattered-shields/wikis/Merchant%27s%20Weigh%20Inn/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Merchant’s Weigh Inn" after all.

[Personally, I thought this was a cracking name for an Inn catering to Merchants and travellers, but nobody else seemed to get the joke].

The next day (the 15th) Stefan found them a place on a riverboat heading north east up the river, known variously as the Volaga or the Highreach, depending on whether the speaker was Traladaran or Thyatian. Though they journey required frequent stops for the boat to be unloaded and carried past various rapids, the “”/campaign/shorn-cloaks-and-tattered-shields/wikis/Spirit%20of%20Halav/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Spirit of Halav" made good time. On the evening of the first night, they camped not far from the confluence of the Volaga and the Castellan rivers. The campsite was a good spot for a future inn, Vaslav noted, given how many ships had stopped their for the evening. A party atmosphere persisted for several hours while the various crews drank and swapped tall tales but eventually the tired oarsmen bedded down for the night. The Shorn, as paying passengers, were not required to stand a watch that night but were woken by the baying of wolves. In a desperate defence of the party mule, both Elra and Tungdil went down, savaged by wolves. Yet while Tungdil] was merely knocked senseless by a collision with a rock while falling, Elra was badly torn up. Over the course of the river journey, the spells of Vaslav and Bogdin ensured that all the groups wounds were quickly healed. Yet the fatigue of her near death left Elra feeling weak and sickly for the remainder of the journey. Even the sight of Fort Castellan’s mighty walls, rising up from the hills above the river, on the morning of the 20th did little to cheer her.

An hour before dusk, Stefan presented the group to the Corporal of the Guard who, upon asking their business, confirmed that the garrison had been concentrating on their campaign against the local giants and had not had men to spare patrolling the mountain roads last year. He seemed surprised that the party were expecting to meet merchants who would pay for the humanoids to be “cleaned out” (as, for that matter, was Stefen, who’d made no mention of any such thing while talking to the party a week before). The Corporal did allow that a Jeweller and his wife had been trapped in the Fort by the snows last winter and MIGHT be interested in paying to have the route cleared (or else pay for an escort across the mountains) but could make no promises. He did add that the party should feel free to scout for trouble and could keep any loot lifted from dead foes, but reminded them to list all their goods with the Bailiff and his clerk each time they entered or left the Fort. He went on to explain that any goods other than those in their possession upon leaving the Fort would be taxed on their return.

The Bailiff and his scribe thereafter made a careful record of their goods and possessions (a procedure which lasted well past nightfall) before providing directions to both the Guild House (rooms set aside for any Guilded Merchants passing through) and to the Orc’s Head Inn and Tavern, where caravan guards and drovers normally took lodging. They left Stefan at the door to the Inn (as a Guilded Merchant, Stefan was himself entitled to free lodging at the Guild House) and bedded down for the night.

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Session 3: Foul Foes and Bleeding Gums
10th-12th Thaumont 1000AC

A week after their return from Caldwell Manor, The Shorn were summoned to a meeting with a rather irate Caldwell, unhappy that his money hadn’t purchased him better (i.e: faster) results. The party attempted to explain some of the difficulties they had encountered but the merchant clearly wasn’t interested in their excuses. He wanted results now.

And so, pausing only long enough for Vaslav to hire a pair of thuggish townsfolk and equip with them leather armour and stout clubs, they departed for the manor once more. Leaving the mule and it’s two hired guardians in the ruins of the village, they approached the Manor house with some caution -all too aware that the current occupants had been afforded a full week to obtain reinforcements and bolster the defences. Tungdil approached the entrance stealthily and alone, to find that the doors (with the hinges shattered by Ulic during the retreat from their last excursion) had been crudely repaired and a barricade erected behind. Indeed, the doors had been left just barely ajar, with room enough for but one person to squeeze through the narrow gap at a time. Tungdil drew his longsword and climbed carefully over the barrier, pausing atop the barricade to let his eyes adjust from normal vision to infravision, listening all the while. Sure enough, he heard the snoring of a guard propped up in a sitting position behind one of the doors, whom he quickly dispatched. On the corpse, bq). Tungdilfound a strange amulet on a platinum chain, with a dagger-clenching fist carved from jet. It had the look of a religious symbol of some kind, but none that any in the party could identify.

Joined by the others, the group quickly made for the Talking Statue, who repeated it’s previous greeting as Klara,Elra, Boindil, and Tungdil entered, studiously ignoring everyone else. Through some less open ended questions than previously, they learned that there were three “evil” beings still on the first floor of the keep who wished the party ill. The party made the obvious deduction that this meant the Manor had additional floors they were unaware off. Further questioning obtained the knowledge that the party could not access the cellar by “Any means they now possess.”

Moving quickly, the party began scouring the rooms of the eastern hall, insuring that none had been reoccupied since their last expedition. They found the rooms largely unchanged, save that one room had been piled high with corpses and that most furniture had long since been removed (and presumably added to the barricade). Wisely, they checked all the previously explored rooms as they advanced up the corner towards the single room they had not explored in the hallway last time. Alas, they did not think to check the corridors for traps. Hans, in the lead with Tungdil, had the misfortune to trigger a trip wire, and received a crossbow bolt to the cheek for his troubles. The others paused to dress the wound, but though messy, it was not injurious enough to warrant magical healing, and so the group pressed on.

Outside the door to the last room in the corridor, Tungdil and Klara both searched for traps, disarming a poison needle trap above the lock with some judicious application of candle wax. Alas, they did not detect the trap behind the door when they opened it however. Tungdilwas very nearly hit by a second crossbow trap, though luckily the bolt impacted harmlessly into the door.

Inside, they found a desecrated chapel to the Patron Gods of Karameikos and disturbed the prayers of a huge, disturbingly handsome plate armoured man. Rising immediately, the man began chanting in a foul language that offended the ears of the party, a piercing, unnatural sound that caused them physical pain and the plate-armoured mans mouth and nose to bleed even as he pronounced the words of this foul language. The strangers chant was interrupted by the charge of Hans, who drove his short sword deep between the armoured plates protecting the mans upper legs. This seemed to affect the strangers concentration, for he broke of his chant even as Vaslav began one of his own, calling down a Blessing on the party. Urich and Boindil likewise charged the armoured figure, but could not penetrate the thick plates of his armour. Casually, the figure pronounced a curse on Hans, causing his joints to lock and his movement to cease. His companion held, Uric attacked with greater fury and Vaslav moved up to take Hans place in the melee. With the figure hemmed in against the alter, there was little the others could do as first Uric, then Boindil fell to blows from the strangers brutal looking morning star (2 natural 20’s on after the other -and each reducing the target to exactly 0 hp). While Vaslav desperately began casting a cure spell, the stranger turned to address Hans with a coup d’grace. Fortunately, Elra picked this segment to finish casting her Sleep spell, dropping Vaslav mid-prayer and sending both the paralysed Hans and the Stranger into a deep slumber. At that Tungdil charged the slumbering figure and, enraged by his brothers harsh treatment at the strangers hands, proceeded to splatter the man’s brains across the floor. No-one seemed particularly bothered by his fate -despite the loss of a potential prisoner.

Vaslav was roused first. The young cleric used his last prayer of the day to heal and awaken Boindil, who then proceeded to heal and awaken Uric. Fortunately both the party clerics recognised that Hans was under the effects of a Hold Person spell. Uric put some spikes through the door and the party holed up in the chapel for an hour or so until Hans recovered. In the meantime, the room was thoroughly searched (uncovering two blue vials hidden under the alter) and a small wooden lock box containing a writing kit and a letter in a strange language. The plate armour was duly appropriated and promised to Hans (although it would take several days at least for a smith for re-work the suit to fit the much smaller fighter). They also found strange amulet similar to that worn by the sentry around the Strangers neck.

The party proceeded to explore the remainder of the level, checking all rooms previously explored. In the of the few rooms they had not yet explored Tungdil very nearly succumbed to poison twice. Once from an acidic gas released from a chest and once from a spider-bite. On each occasion the threats concerned had been found behind a door marked with a red smear of paint. Eventually they approached the room Uric had sealed the two cowering kobolds in, only to find the door slightly ajar. Tungdil sneaked into the room without bothering to check for traps and for the second time ended up with a bucket-full of shit smeared all over him. A parting gift from the kobolds. The party found no sign of the other two “evil creatures that wished them ill”, and surmised that the statue had probably been referring to the two kobolds who had (apparently) fled.

In time, they found (at the entrance to the very last room) a door with no lock, no handle, and no visible means of opening. The party (or rather Boindil) broke two of their three axes (yes, they had learned they value of axes) and a halberd trying to batter it open before the stubborn dwarf finally got the message (much to the exasperation of his companions). Then the dwarf tried throwing one of the vials of blue liquid at the door, smashing the vial and otherwise having no effect on the door. Finally satisfied that the statue had been telling the truth about their ability to open the door, they retired for the evening in a securely locked room. They next morning they interrogated the Talking Statue as to the nature of the magic door (learning it was wizard-locked) and, leaving a guard at the Keep, returned to Threshold and the house of Caldwell.

The merchant was relieved to find that the ground floor at least had been cleared, and took news of the magical door rather well, though he refused to pay over the balance of their fee until after the door had been opened and whatever lay beyond explored and cleared. He did however, express his intention to move in regardless. He dispatched a band of hired men to take over the guard of the Manor.

That accomplished, the party split up, some to sell their latest treasures, others to visit Artax, the local sage. At the sages home they were greeted by a bespectacled halfing, wearing fingerless gloves that proudly displayed his ink-stained hands. The halfing was offended by their (correct) assumption that he was merely a servant or scribe and accused the party of racism. (“What, a halfling can’t be a sage? You heightist bastard.”). Only the intervention of the sage himself gained the delegation an audience. They hired him for up to five days at a 100gp a day, for the purposes of identifying the strange amulter and deciphering the writing on the letter. Almost immediately the Sage identified the amulet as belonging to a dreadful, ancient Immortal and the writing as a particularly obscure form of ancient Alphatian. He could, however, tell them no more at this time but promised to obtain the answers they sought as soon as humanly possible. The sage promised to have the halfing, Apple Merryweather (“The weathers lousy, I hate Apple’s and I’m certainly not bloody merry!”) come and fetch them at the Grey Minstrel Inn when he knew more.

Quite satisfied with their efforts, the party took care of a little shopping before returning to the Inn for an early night.

At the end of the session, I recounted the Rumours they had heard recently:

  • Caldwell the merchant has purchased Antilles Manor and it’s surrounding estates. He’s looking for a band willing to risk a little blood shed to clear the place of certain “undesirables”. Likely, he fancies himself a candidate for a noble title some day. I gather he’s found some youngsters to so his dirty work, but hasn’t been too pleased by their progress.
  • The infamous renegade cleric, Elwyn the Apostate, is believed to have a lair to the East of Town. The Patriarch can’t spare enough men to scour the land and is looking to hire mercenaries for the task.
  • Sindar, an elf merchant, needs a package delivered to his home in Selenica. Something about a wedding….
  • The Black Eagle Baron is up to his old tricks again. Goblins are raiding the lands around the town of Lensh. He denies his involvement of course? What will it take before the Grand Duke realises his cousin is a snake?
  • Some merchant is looking to hire guards to help him find some sort of rock. Sounds like a waste of time to me.
  • It seems that foreign noble killed down in Specularum wasn’t killed by the Iron Ring slavers after all. The Duke’s men are blaming it on the Veiled Society instead.
  • Gnomes are smuggling gems down the river in hollow logs
  • Two days ago, some foreign warrior staggered into town, delirious and dying. he claimed to have found the legendary lost stronghold of the adventurers Rogahn and Zellicor, the “”/campaign/shorn-cloaks-and-tattered-shields/wikis/Caverns%20of%20Questueqon/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Caverns of Questueqon". The folk who find that stronghold could be on to the mother lode. Now, I dont normally listen to rumours see, but I heard the dead guy had some sort of map on ’im. Too good to pass up like.
  • You’re talking nonsense. Everyone knows Rogahn is alive and well and working for the Black Baron. If them caverns exist anywhere, its out east. I’m telling yah.
  • Fort Castellan has been having problems with Giant attacks again. Merchants from Darokin and Ylaruam are complaining that no-one is patrolling the roads. Goblins and worse are playing havoc with the trade routes while the garrison are preoccupied with the giants.

*Notes: *
The players seemed quite keen on investigating the caverns lead, but don’t really feel their up to what sounds (to them) to be a difficult challenge. Instead, they decided to wait for Artax to send them word. They’ll decide what to do after that. Sensible.

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Session 2: Like Talking to Stone
2nd-10th Thaumont 1000AC

After gathering up the hard-earned cash left behind by the fleeing kobold cooks, The Shorn proceeded northward into a corridor mirroring the east-west hallway by the en trace. In this corridor however, there are no double doors leading outside. Instead, there are simply two more normal wooden doors for a total of seven in the hallway (including the one leading to the kitchen). Almost immediately they heard the rattling of metal bars and the shouts of a young man. A dirty, wan-looking human face peeked out from the barred hatch of his cell door, calling out to The Shorn to save him. The party took a good look at him, careful not to allow an infiltrator into their mists, and only after a long (and loud) discussion did they release the man. The prisoner turned out to be an eighteen year old Thyatian from the nearby village of Verge. Recently Shorn just like his erstwhile rescuers, Hans had been travelling to the “big city” (Threshold) when he was waylaid and robbed by a brigandous band of goblins.

While the conversation continued, Vaslav and Uric kept a wary eye out for trouble, but not even they expected to hear an angry fist thudding against a nearby door and a furious voice call out for them to “Keep the bloody noise down.” First Boindil, then Elra and then (finally) the more charismatic Klara tried to persuade the occupants to open up. However, the “men” behind the door (who described themselves as “paying guests”) quickly realised that they were speaking, not to the castle “staff”, but the interlopers who had killed some of the residents earlier that day. The rooms occupants promised to stay in their room, but warned that any fool trying to gain entry would get a crossbow in the face. They then proceeded to put a bolt through the door at close range, just to prove their point (and the sheer power of their weapon). There was some talk of using the torture rack in Hans’ old room as a battering ram, but that plan fell apart when it was realised that the table was wider than the door and that the party wsa somewhat lacking in the axe department (I know! And with two dwarves in the group too). Vaslav persuaded the others to agree to the “guest’s” demands, and stood guard while his brother hammered a few iron spikes into the door-post “just in case.”

They then proceeded west, to investigate a side corridor leading to one of the faux “tower” rooms. Inside they discovered the remnants of many make-shift beds, which clearly had not been used in some time. Boindil entered, and, while he had the sense to probe the walls, ceiling and rafters with his ten foot pole, he did not think to probe the floor until after he stood on something which took a disliking to him. A foot long centipede reared up from under a blanket, chomping down on the dwarf’s leg. The dwarf felt the creatures poison flood through his bloodstream, but a combination of his dwarven constitution and the good health granted to clerics by the Immortals allowed him to fight off this deadly infusion. Before the dwarf could react, his new companion [Hans] (armed with a sword borrowed from Uric and wearing Elra‘s old studded leather armour) leapt forward and split the thing right down the middle with a well-aimed blow. Boindil was most grateful for this swift action and, learning his lesson, set about lifting up other furs and blankets with his pole. It was while so doing that they found the reason the room had been so recently abandoned – a dead kobold. Pausing only to rob it’s belt pouch, the party closed the door behind them and returned eastward.

Boindil was in the process of wondering why the door he was searching for traps had been smeared with a streak of red paint when an almighty noise from behind caught his (and everyone else’s) attention. With the now-sealed door of the “paying guests” rattling in it’s hinges The Shorn hurried back down the corridor. Alas, seven armed and armoured young humans (and demi-humans) in a hurry make a great deal of noise, and the banging quickly stopped. It was while the seven young adventurers waited patiently (and quietly) outside the door that they were disturbed by the return of the kobold cooks – and this time they had brought some friends.

The first hint the party had of the new arrivals were the three arrows that variously whizzed by Uric‘s ear or found lodging in the chain links of his armour. The Shorn reacted quickly, Hans again reacting most swiftly, and so Hans,Boindil and Tungdil charged down the corridor (the two human fighters in the lead) while Vaslav and the girls stood watch at the door of the “paying guests”. Sure enough, upon hearing the sounds of combat, the door once again began to shake in it’s frame, convincing all present that “they must have a bloody great battering ram in there with them”. Hans had taken note of the smell of manure wafting from the room in question and had his own suspicions, but said nothing. Although Uric took a nasty wound, he and Hans soon had three of the six kobolds down. Just as they were about to slay another, the door erupted from its frame behind them, crashing against the opposite wall, while three man-sized, angry, orange-skinned beings charged out from behind their “battering ram”, the hind end (and hooves) or a heavily laden mule.

Klara, hidden behind the door, took this opportunity to demonstrate her skills as an assassin by slaying the first hobgoblin (wielding an impressive looking halberd) as it barrelled out the door. Elra was all set to engage another when an eager Vaslav, perhaps looking to shine in front of the girls (or else chivalrously and chauvinistically protect them from harm) nudged her to one side and blocked the door way himself.

Slightly to the east, Hans slew another kobold, finally convincing the remaining two to turn and run back into the tower room from whence they came. Hans and Uric raced off in pursuit, Hans reaching the tower room first. What he saw there melted his heart and stayed his hand. Of the kobolds there was no sign – save for two quivering blankets huddled in the corner, with the tip of a trembling tail the only clue as to why these blankets were behaving so oddly. Hans couldn’t face slaying the pitiful creatures himself and could only hope that Uric had a harder heart than he. But when Uric came up, he too, spotted the pitifully quivering blankets and allowed himself a sympathetic sigh. Likewise feeling sorry for the pathetic, cowering creatures before him he produced his hammer and nail-bag once again and, withholding comment, preceded to seal the terrified little creatures in their room.

Meanwhile, the two dwarves were becoming frustrated with their lack of reach. To the east, Uric and Hans had routed six kobolds without allowing the brothers room to swing a single blow. To the west, Vaslav was blocking the only way into the “guests” room trading blow for blow. So, they did something stupid. They opened another door. Almost immediately Boindil took a nasty blow to the head from a flail-wielding skeleton. He quickly recovered and produced his holy symbol but, trembling in his haste, managed to drop it. Hans returned at this point Uric was still hammering) and, seeing the dwarf empty handed and gape-mouthed before yet another foe, shoved the dwarf aside without so much as a by your leave and stabbed at the skeleton in question. Too late, he realised that a short sword might not be the best weapon for fighting skeletons, and resolutely wished he’d had the forethought to bring a club with him.

Luckily, the skeleton managed to fluff its next blow entirely, the flail flying from its hands to land at the human fighters feet. While Vaslav continued to trade blows with the remaining two hobgoblins and Boindil reached down to collect his fallen Holy Symbol, Hans grabbed for the flail. He got a skeletal fist to the back of his head for the trouble, but he quickly snatched up the flail and shattered the skeleton with a single aimed blow. The two behind that first one did not seem impressed.

Vaslav finally felled another hobgoblin and stepped into the guest-room at about the same time that Boindil finally succeeded in a Turn attempt. When the two skeletons turned to flee, Hans smashed one down. The second hobgoblin died thereafter, followed moments later by the final skeleton. Uric, Hans and Vaslav stood guard while the rest of the party caught their breath, cast some curative spells and looted the bodies. Quite content with their haul (and all too aware of the late hour and that their casters were all out of spells) they withdrew without incident (with the mule) to the ruined village just outside the Manor. There they rested, counted their loot and cleaned their weapons.

3rd Thaumont:
Rather than risk taking the mule back into the Dungeon, the still somewhat injured [Uric volunteered to remain behind and guard the camp (and the loot). Therefore, six of The Shorn returned to the Dungeon the next morning. Rather than continue their exploration of the Northern Corridor (which still had two rooms unexplored) they proceeded to the Eastern north-south corridor. Some good door clearance drills saw the party evade a nasty blow from loose stones but the most notable early event of their explorations was the discovery in an old store room of a strange statue. This statue, in the shape of a shepperd, made no reaction at all when the doughty Hans stepped into the room, but upon the entrance of Klara it’s head swivelled round to address her in a gravelly voice.

“Greetings young madam. How may I assist you?”

Klara immediately responded with an expletive statement of surprise, to which the stature replied:

“I am sorry. For assistance you must state your request in the form of a question.”

Klara then asked three questions one after the other and receiving a simple “yes” answer each time: “Are there any evil beings in this castle; Are there any evil creatures in this wing of the castle, Can you tell us where they are?”

When she finally (on the fourth question) asked something specific that required more than a yes or no answer, the statue replied:

“I am sorry. You have had your three questions for today. I can answer no more questions. Please return tomorrow.”

While Klara had a hissy fit, they rest of the party tried their luck with the statue. It ignored most of the others, only acknowledging the presence of the two dwarves with a simple greeting. When they themselves asked the statue a question, they got the “Please return tomorrow” response themselves. Now Boindil, not being the brightest spark in the party, got rather upset since he hadn’t actually asked any questions at all and immediately set about bashing the statue with his flail, knocking an ear off. Vaslav very sensibly pointed out that three questions had been asked, just not by the dwarf, and that destroying a valuable asset they could use again tomorrow was, frankly, unwise. Boindil, still enraged, failed to listen. And then Vaslav started the “guilt trip”.

How horrified would Boindil‘s parents be, Vaslav reasoned, were they to find that one of their son’s first acts upon entering the wider world after his Shearing, was to vandalise a beautiful, unique and magical work-of-art. Why, might they not be so upset by this one, ill-considered act that he might never be welcomed back into the family. Boindil, grumbling, decided the statue had been punished enough at that point and wondered out back into the hall. Meanwhile, Vaslav aimed a wink at Hans and Klara, his fellow humans, who simply smiled and shook their heads in bemusement.

Disaster struck at the last door but one in the corridor. This door also had a read paint smear to mar its wood and when Hans opened the door he saw three humming-bird like creatures with a mosquito like proboscis swoop towards him. Acting swiftly, he shut the door, being rewarded by a “splat” noise when the closest of the three stirges smashed itself against the door. A brief discussion ensued regarding whether it would be most prudent to spike the door closed when Elra sensibly pointed out that they had been hired to “evict” the monsters. Not lock them in. So once again the door was opened. Almost immediately, Hans was impaled in the neck by one of the swooping creatures, only to be harmed further by Klara’s efforts to dislodge the beast with her sword. Loosing a great deal of blood to the ravenous little beastie, the young fighter keeled over, unconscious. Vaslav, in his haste to bash the stirge sucking their companion dry, neglected his own defences and soon succumbed in turn to the surviving beast. After many fumbled attempts, Klara and Tungdil each splatted one of the blood-sucking beasties in quick succession and immediately set about stabalising their friends.

All too aware that it would take their companions many days to recover from their wounds, the party fled the dungeon without further incident, collected Uric, the mule and their loot from the campsite; and returned to Threshold. There Boindil had a quick bout with filth fever following his dunking in the shit-bucket but quickly fought it off. While Vaslav and Hans spent a week recovering, the others were gracious enough to do their shopping for them. Having learned from their experiences in the Dungeon, they set about buying some vital supplies (such as an axe) and obtaining some better armour and weapons for Hans. Speaking of this young worthy, his first act on getting back on his feet was to thank the dwarves for looking after him by presenting each with a waterskin full of fine ale. He thereafter thanked the lassies by presenting each with a bouquet of flowers. The charmer.

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Journey to Castle Caldwell
1st-2nd Thaumont 1000AC

The party, informally calling themselves “The Shorn” grew up together in the town of Threshold in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Like all those who grow up in this land, they have recently undergone the ritual of “Shearing”, where their cloaks are raggedly cut with shears in the hands of their closest family members. The “Shorn” are formally cast-out from their homes and families, to make their own way in the world for a few years until such time as they have proven themselves worthy to become adult members of the family. It’s a rite of passage that has been practiced for hundreds of years. Now, it’s the PC’s turn to set out into the wider word, much as their parents did before them.

The characters:

Boindil: Dwarf male Fighter/Cleric of Karameikos 1/1 Bogdin has shocked his tradition-minded dwarven family by embracing the worship of human Gods. It is his parent’s hope that in his travels he will come to understand and embrace the importance of traditional dwarven values.

Elra: 1/2 Elf Female Fighter/Magic User 1/1. Elra is no-one’s idea of the stereotypical half-elven elven beauty. Her social skills, due to her solitary upbringing, leave a lot to be desired.

Klara: Human Female Assassin 1. Klara has some disturbing skills that have alarmed her colleagues. She excuses her “exotic” knowledge of certain matters by explaining that she has always listened raptly to the tales of the one-armed old men in the taverns of Threshold.

Tungdil: Dwarf male Fighter/Thief 1/1. Tungdil and his brother Bogdin belong to the only dwarf family in Threshold. Unlike his more scholarly brother, Tungdil has embraced family tradition and trained as a locksmith. That said, it was his petty childhood pilfering that got the fmaily exiled from Rockholme in the first place.

Uric: Human male Fighter 1. As the saying goes: “As big as an ox with brains not much better.” Uric looks to his smarter, shorter fraternal twin (Vaslav) to make all the big decisions. A double-specialist in the longsword, he’s a good man to have beside you in a scrap.

Vaslav: Human male Cleric (Church of Traladara) 1. Vaslav is a young man of handsome looks, considerable common sense and little patience. He has open ambitions to one day become a Patriach of the faith and founder of it’s first Fighting Order.

Session One: 1st & 2nd Thaumont, 1000AC.

Having arranged to be Shorn by their parents within a few days of one another, the (now) homeless and jobless PC’s rendezvous in the tap-room of Threshold’s Grey Minstrel Inn. There they meet and exchange rumours, having decided upon a life of mercenary adventure and discuss the likely possibilities for adventure. Though they learn that the Black Eagle Baron is once again raiding his neighbours, that a foreign merchant wishes to find a “rock” in the wilderness, the Patriarch has need of men to track down a rogue cleric and that an elf traveller has need of messengers to travel north, they settle on a job much closer to home. Thus, in the early evening, they make their way to the home of a local social-climbing merchant by the name of Caldwell, who apparently has need of “eviction specialists”.

Within the opulent surroundings of his fine home, they learn that Caldwell recently completed the purchase of an old, abandoned manor house and it’s surrounding lands just five miles west of town. Yet, upon travelling to make his claim on the house, he was abused and chased off by a beautiful woman who threatened to “brain” him with her mace should she return. He offers them 100 gold each if they will rid his new home of this (and any other) intruder, half up front, half in advance. The Shorn seem to consider this a fair price, and accept the offer without haggling. They also accept the merchants offer of a bed for the night and some hurry through the streets to make a few last minute purchases from craftsmen before their workshops close for the night.

They leave with the dawn, passing through the Town gate to the well wishes of the Sergeant on duty. He drinks a toast to each of the newly Shorn in turn, wishing them good luck on their travels. The journey takes only two and half hours, and, shortly, they find themselves outside the Manor described by Caldwell the night before. To all intents and purposes, it resembles a single story roofed Keep, with no crenelations. Even the short towers (a mere 15ft tall) are roofed and lacking in ramparts. The place has far too many skylights (actually little more than open roof-hatches) and narrow windows to be truly defensible. This is a home, not a fortification. One that might keep out a roving band of brigands perhaps, but which would fall quickly to a determined assault by even a small company of determined soldiers.

Brazenly, they advance upon the south-facing entry doors and give them a tug. To their surprise and pleasure, the doors open at once, unlocked and unbarred, granting admittance. The first room they try turns out to be a dining room, recently used by a band of messy eaters. They close the door before investigating the room opposite, interrupting an argument between four goblins sorting through two piles of coins on the floor. The ensuing combat is swift and brutal. Uric takes two nasty wounds, being healed by Vaslav, his brother almost as quickly as he is injured and slaying three of the goblins while Vaslav claims the fourth. Meanwhile, Klara and Elra stand guard at a nearby intersection. It is well they did for no sooner has the last goblin fallen than three men exit three rooms by the intersection. Another scuffle ensues, though the three humans are quickly slain. An elated Elra quickly claiming one fallen man’s chainmail.

While Klara and Boindil keep watch and Vaslav ensures no-one pockets their hard-earned cash, all six of the party’s backpacks are quickly filled with about 2000 silver pieces. Feeling quite pleased with themselves, the group retires back to Threshold but not before dragging all the corpses into the dining chamber. They have spent perhaps half an hour in total at the adventure site.

The rather surprised looking gate Sergeant welcomes them back with an exclamation about not having expected their return so soon. They proceed quickly to the house of Fiddlegulph, the gnomish money-changer, where they learn a valuable lesson concerning effort vs reward. By the time the group sets aside a third of their gains for the group fund, pays a 10% holding fee, another 10% fee to exchange silver coins for gold and a third 10% for the evaluation of a gem stone they discovered, each party member emerges with a grand total of 27 gold pieces (and a mere 27xp). The six Shorn mutter and grumble about how this was hardly worth the trip back before they quickly set off for the manor once again.

They arrive at about 2 in the afternoon, and are actually surprised to discover that the doors will not budge when they attempt to open them once again. Peering into the dining room through a narrow arrow-slit, they are dismayed to find the bodies they left within have vanished. Perhaps they shouldn’t have left those bodies lying in the dining room? After all, lunchtime was nearly two hours ago! Unperturbed, Boindil tries knocking on the door and has a small fusillade of arrows aimed at him from the “tower” windows for his trouble.

Beating a hasty retreat with only minor wounds, the party retires a few hundred yards south to the remnants of Caldwell Manor‘s village. There in a drafty, roofless, wattle-and-daub hut they settle down to rest until nightfall and recover their spells. While Boindil rests, his brother Tungdil keeps himself busy (much to the other’s bemusement) by hacking apart another hut and using the wattle to barricade the door to their hut. Despite all his hard work, it’s a rather flimsy and pathetic looking barricade that impresses no-one, least of all his brother.

That night, as dusk falls, they return to the south door, arriving just in time to meet a force of 13 goblins and a pair of “sniffer” wolves as they exit the Manor. In the resulting combat, Boindil is nearly killed by a wolf while Vaslav takes some minor wounds from the second. In the meantime, seven goblin archers pelt the party with missiles (careless of hitting their own wolves) while the remaining six form a defensive line in front of the archers. After several rounds the party finally manages to finish off the wolves and advances on the goblins. A perfectly timed Sleep spell from Elra sends five goblins to the land of nod just as the rest of the party enters charge range. A few moments later, four goblins are murdered in their sleep and the remainder charge home against the heroes. The ensuing fight is bloody but brief. None of the characters (thanks to some inspired teamwork) come close to expiring, though a few more minor wounds are suffered. The last four goblins turn to flee but are cut down before they can reach the safety of the Manor. The heroes run into the Manor before anyone inside can think to close the doors and catch a breather. Although disappointed by the lack of treasure on the corpses of their foes, they console themselves with the knowledge that any treasure these goblins once possessed likely lies unguarded in rooms throughout the manor.

They begin to explore once again. They finally examine the three bedrooms the humans emerged from, only to find that one has another exit leading into a courtyard (they do not take the time to search these rooms, however). The courtyard seems to have once served as a sort of arboretum or garden, but it is now overgrown with weeds. It reeks of wolf shit and urine. Seven freshly dug graves fill the centre of the garden. The Shorn correctly surmise that this is where the bodies of their first victims wound up. The four doors leading away from the courtyard lead to other bedrooms. After being clunked on the head by a shit-filled bucket left perched upon one door lintel by a goblin prankster, Tungdil finally realises that, as the party “locksmith” he should be examining all these doors for traps before opening them. The party find several treasure stashes in these rooms, all hidden by their (apparently) goblin occupants prior to leaving the Manor to pursue the heroes.

In the final room of the session, they come across two small beings, resembling mangy terriers that walk upright, hunched over a cooking fire toasting bed and heating soup for about twenty man -sized beings. A third sits on it’s haunches by a chopping board, where it is busily carving a wheel of cheese into portions. The Shorn stand gaping at the three for a moment (perhaps thinking the Manor empty and theirs for the plundering) while the three kobolds seem equally surprised. As soon as they can react, the three creatures toss their spears to the floor and emit panicked sounding yelps. Unwisely, Tungdil assumes that that the creatures do not understand Thyatian (Common) and advises the others that it would be best to kill these kobolds lest they slit the group’s throats in their sleep. The three creatures immediately make a break for it out the opposite door and, while the party bicker about whether or not it would be wise to pursue, the trio quickly make their escape. The Shorn are consoled somewhat when Klara (poking about with the ten foot pole) quickly realises that one of the unused pots is heavier than it should be. She is delighted to find out that the pot has been filled with gold and silver coins and a pair of gold rings. No prizes for guessing who ransacked the rooms of the three dead humans then?

Thoughts:

The players have clearly forgotten a few lessons they learned the hard way while playing the “Secret of Lion Castle” a few weeks ago. Hardly surprising considering this was only their second experience of a D&D dungeon bash (let alone an Old School style one). Hence the shit-bucket trap which was (by my standards) an uncharacteristically generous reminder of what they should be doing. Sure enough, out came the ten foot pole and within moments the players were their old paranoid, cautious selves again.

My one complaint about the module as written is the lack of monsters for comparatively huge monetary rewards. The four goblins in the second room had a horde more appropriate for an entire tribe let alone the only four goblins (not including the six wandering monster goblins) actaully appearing in the whole dungeon (before I added more). I cut down the size of the hoard considerably. Even so, the party wasted a great deal of time and effort carting all these low denomination coins back to civilisation, just to see their cut eroded down to nearly nothing by the money-lending equivilent of “bank charges”. They are now determined only to grab gold coins in future -and to buy a few large sacks to complement their backpack coin-capacity. I’ve told them that a blanket rule like this is unwise as an occasional sack of silver coinage has it’s uses, but I’m not about to come right out and tell them what those uses are yet. There are links to two perfectly good 1st ed Campaign Journals on my blog. Links I’ve already suggested they look at and read very closely.

Despite the lack of treasure acquired in this first session, the players seem very happy with their efforts so far. The have (rightly) assumed that the death of 13 goblins and two wolves constitutes a large dent in the monster population, and that they will have a much easier time acquiring treasure from the now relatively unguarded manor. The encounter with the kobolds seemed to shake them out of their complacency regarding the presence of more monsters however, which can only be a good thing for their survival chances. As can be seen by their failure to search for traps or even listen at doors, they were getting a little too cocky. I wonder if any of them have even realised that the mace-armed human female described by Caldwell has yet to make an appearance?

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