Twilight is setting in. Were it not for overcast skies, Elroy Wick knows there would be a crescent moon tonight. The Bard and Fighter Magnus observe from a ridge as the encampment of roughly forty Orcs packs up and sets off into the growing dim.
Wick and Magnus ride carefully along the ridge, keeping the unsuspecting Orcs in sight. After twenty-five minutes of shadowing, the two men are forced to stop – the ridge curves to the north, away from the Orcs’ track. Magnus advises they wait, and then descend to the trail. Fifteen minutes go by, and the Orc company disappears behind some low hills. Leading their horses on foot, Magnus and Wick begin a careful descent down the ridge slope. Along the way, Wick (Search = 9) looks for a flat terrace on which to camp. No luck.
Footing is tricky in the fading light. Magnus (Ride = 22) guides his horse with care. Elroy Wick (Ride = 8) leads his horse across loose rock; the mount slips but the Bard (Ride = 19) calms the beast and the horse does not fall. Its missteps incite a noisy rockslide. When the commotion ceases, neither Elroy (Listen = 14) nor Magnus (Listen = 5) hear any unnatural follow-up from below.
In the twenty minutes of their descent, the daylight has given way to dark. Elroy Wick and Magnus have reached the base of the ridge. Scouting around turns up a narrow opening into a sheltered hollow in the slope. Many years of intermittent flash-flooding have scoured out an open-air cave, free of brush and debris. It is a tactically sound spot to camp.
Wick and Magnus will forgo a fire – its warmth would be welcome but its light sure to attract unwanted attention. The horses are secured for the night and bedrolls laid out. Shortly thereafter, the Bard (Listen = 17) and the Fighter (Listen = 21) notice some rustling sounds from the weedy shrubs outside their den.
The travelers wordlessly slip over to opposite sides of their camp’s entrance, pressing up against the rock walls for cover. Elroy strains his eyes (Spot = 15) but sees only darkness. Magnus (Listen = 20) hears the rustling sounds again, closer this time. Wick won’t wait to be jumped. Drawing his dagger “Orc Scout Killah”, the Bard casts Light on the weapon and flings it out into the darkness. The light exposes five Orcs, creeping up on their shelter !
Elroy Wick is first to act. He pulls “Homestead Avenger” and premieres a new composition (with a Natural 20 rolled for Perform : Oratory for a total skill check of 35). This speech Inspires Courage in Magnus, emboldened by Wick’s tale of two men standing against insurmountable odds and winning the day. It inspires generosity as well – a full 18-gp owed the Bard. And Wick’s speech attracts the attention of the Higher Planes; magnificent beings beyond the Material Plane must be weeping with joy at Elroy’s passionate storytelling.
These Orcs are the most disheveled of their kind that either the Fighter or the Bard have yet encountered. From the state of their appearance and low quality of their weapons and armor, by the light of Wick’s dagger the Humans almost guess these a sub-species of Orc, perhaps one crossed with Troll or Beholder.
A lumpy Orc shambles over to Wick and misses with his battleaxe. Magnus’s foe also cuts air, but two of his companions crowd and hit the Fighter. An indecisive Orc moves between the two melee bouts, uncertain where to lend a hand.
Wick gets to the part of his speech where Inspirational Boost plays a critical role in the plot. Thrusting elegantly, the Bard’s short sword stabs the lumpy Orc. Magnus improves the five-on-two odds to four-on-two; he kills his first opponent but fails to Cleave another.
The indecisive Orc makes up his mind – the Fighter is the better target. Of the three Orcs now pressing Magnus, only one sees through the Fighter’s defenses to land a strike. Elroy Wick easy evades his enemy. In reply, Wick cuts deep (with a Natural 20 confirmed with a 17) and his Critical Hit sends the Orc to the dirt. Magnus mis-steps and Critically Misses the grimy Orc who hit him moments ago. But this Critical Miss is a normal miss and not an invitation left open for attack.
The lumpy Orc, himself now a lump on the ground, is not dead. Teetering on unconsciousness, the Orc lashes out with a dying strike against unsuspecting Elroy Wick. Of the three Orcs on Magnus, the twitchy Orc is the only one to bypass the Fighter’s faltering defenses.
Wick decides to end his speech as a cliffhanger, ending the oration to cast Cure Moderate Wounds on himself and guarantee his story will be renewed next season. Magnus crunches the grimy Orc with a big hit, right when it was needed. The indecisive Orc decisively chops Magnus while his other two companions swing wide. The Fighter is looking the worse for wear.
Elroy Wick is happy to step in and help his friend. The Bard moves to flank the indecisive Orc, stabbing him in the back. Magnus tries for the grimy Orc again but the unsightly creature evades. The indecisive Orc changes his mind, breaks his flanking situation with a quick step to the side, and hacks Wick.
The twitchy Orc likely intended to cause Magnus grave harm – but does nothing of the sort (with a Critical Miss of a Natural 1 confirmed by another Natural 1). Open to an Attack of Opportunity, the twitchy Orc is slain by Magnus in spectacular fashion. Bringing his Heavy Pick around to Cleave the grimy Orc, the Fighter scores a kill just as the grimy Orc wallops Magnus with a Critical Hit. To Wick’s amazement and horror, both his Fighter friend and the Orc enemy simultaneously drop.
Now it is only the indecisive Orc and Elroy Wick. Wick makes a frantic stab, catching the indecisive Orc in a weak spot and ending his threat permanently.
Five Orcs lay dead; possibly Magnus, too. Wick spares no time, casting Cure Light Wounds on Magnus. It is enough to bring the Fighter to a wakeful, woozy state. The Bard carefully administers a Potion of Cure Light Wounds from his own supply. Magnus recovers enough to move under his own power. Elroy gives his friend three Orckish Draught potions, all of which Magnus slams back. He feels halfway back to normal.
Wick steals out away from the shelter of the hollow and recovers his radiant dagger. By its light, the two men check the dead Orcs for valuables, before hauling the corpses into the narrow defile at the back of their cavern and stacking them there. By and large, the Orcs’ equipment is complete garbage. Two Masterwork battleaxes are the best they find. The scale-mail armor, heavy wooden shields, and other weapons are functionally worthless.
Elroy Wick does find two gems, but his skill at assessing them (Appraise = 10, 11) leads him to over-estimate their value by several thousand gold. There are 35 gold coins, 39 silver pieces, and a lot of empty potions. Bloated from all the potions he just consumed, Magnus re-fills the Orcs’ potion vials with his own kidney-brewed “Potion of Drained Lizard”. Tucked back into the Orcs’ possession, Magnus is hopeful that future Orc scavengers in need of a boost will drink these unfortunate yellow concoctions.
The night will be brief but certainly not free of hazards. Magnus takes first watch. As Wick sleeps, Magnus succeeds (Fortitude save = 12) in staying awake until dawn and the start of Elroy’s watch. The Bard stands guard until mid-morning.
After the Fighter takes his share of shut-eye, the two men load their gear and leave, riding back to the main company of Orcs’ path. Magnus (Survival = 18) identifies where five Orcs left the main trail. Timing suggests the attackers last night were a separate group, trailing behind the main company and not a part of it.
The main company of Orcs is not presently visible. Riding two miles east to cross a valley opening, the men look for tracks. Wick’s encouraging words to Inspire Competence aid Magnus in his attempt but it is actually the Bard himself (Survival = 21) who spies the trail.
Holding a moderate pace, Wick and Magnus ride the trail left by the Orcs. Magnus (Spot = 19) locates another spur line of footprints, coming from the forest and joining the main group. Elroy’s Inspire Competence gives Magnus confidence (Survival = 19) to state that six more Orcs joined the path, though exactly when relative to the horde’s passage is unclear.
A short time later, Magnus (Spot = 22) locates the same indications. Over and over, more small groups of Orcs have joined the horde. So far today, the Humans have not sighted the Orc battalion heading east, but their tracks never disappear. Magnus (Survival = 17), aided by Inspire Competence, is certain the group they follow is very big, perhaps doubled in size since yesterday. For the rest of the day, Magnus and Wick follow the trail.
Late in the afternoon, Magnus wants to find a camp site. Turning off the trail, Elroy Wick (Search = 22) immediately finds a hollow like last night’s. Magnus thinks they are too close to the trail. Riding a half-hour north, following a ridge slope, the men find an even better open cavern, hidden away and relatively far from the Orcs’ route of transit. Here they pass the night uneventfully.
By mid-day the following day, Elroy Wick and Magnus ride to a point where the ridges curve sharply to the north, exposing a wide valley before them. It takes a few minutes before the Fighter or the Bard realize that this is the same valley their party followed down from the glacier, seemingly so long ago.
The Orcs’ trail turns north, leading toward tall mountains and chilly passes. Elroy Wick (Survival = 22) reads the hard-packed, rocky ground. Sixty to eighty Orcs recently traversed this area. The Bard and the Fighter feel they are getting close to finding the Orcs’ home base.
(end of the session)