The broad, sparse valley grows more familiar as the group rides further into it. This was definitely where the party came south from the glacier weeks ago. Somewhere far ahead is the scarred wasteland of an Orc army encampment and a trail to a mountain pass.
There are enough humanoid tracks here for everyone to examine. Elroy Wick, Magnus, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn, Kulich, and stout Dwarf Eberk agree that about eighty Orcs, give or take a dozen, passed here recently. The Orcs are headed north. The party follows.
Two hours later, around 4pm, Magnus cautions his group to halt. The Fighter has detected (Spot = 26) a concealed settlement on the valley slope, perhaps a half-mile away on the left. The group cuts east, toward the river in the center of the valley, and dismounts to lower their profile. They spy on the camouflaged base.
Nearly a hundred Orcs occupy the hidden camp, which has been hastily dug into the hillside to maximize concealment. Magnus and Eberk (Spot = 22, 21) observe that the disguised shelter is only a day or two old. Eberk (Wisdom check = 15) sees an ideal defensive configuration in its layout. The Orcs evidently expect trouble. Cleric Kulich and Magnus (Spot = 26, 23) don’t see any horses or Worgs.
After a few minutes, Elroy Wick (with a Natural 20 rolled for Spot for a total skill check of 25) points out a contingent of fifteen Orcs marching south from around a bend in the valley wall. These Orcs ascend the slope to the hidden base. Some time passes. Then, four other Orcs leave the camp, headed north. Almost immediately after these Orcs disappear around the bend, the entire Orc company begins to dismantle its disguised fortifications.
Eberk and his friends watch, puzzled, as the Orc camp folds up, marches down the slope and across the plain, and positions itself on the river bank. The Orcs broke cover in daylight, left a secure and defensible position, and resettled in an exposed lowland site. Elroy Wick would like to know why.
Magnus would like to know where the four Orcs were going. Riding slowly to avoid notice, the party returns to the foot of the western slope and turns north. Rounding the bend, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn (Survival = 27) picks up the four Orcs’ trail while Eberk (with a Natural 1 rolled for Survival for a total skill check of 7) sees evidence that weeds might grow here.
This trail does not last long before fading to obscurity. As the party stops to look for clues, they notice a small, square fort a few hundred yards away. Its low log walls are dotted with birds, the only sign of life. Some humanoid bodies lie within the perimeter – dead Orcs. No other details are visible from this distance.
Kulich and Druidbarian Øskur (Spot = 23, 24) pick out two Orcs hiding on the valley slope, overlooking the silent fortification. These look like the Orc scouts they were following. Elroy Wick immediately suspects that the other two Orcs of the squad are hidden up there as well.
The party has not been noticed. They retain an element of surprise. Bard Wick suggests he, Eberk, and Cleric Kulich hike to the fort and investigate it, pretending to be unaware of the Orcs watching from above. Magnus and Øskur, by far the most capable warriors in the group, can ascend and ambush the Orcs from higher ground.
The party leaves most of their gear on their horses, and splits up. The Fighter and Druidbarian stealthily make their way up the incline. The Bard, Cleric, and Dwarf Paragon set out on foot, looking for all the world like a trio of nonchalant explorers.
Eberk and his team ignore Magnus and Øskur, and the Orc scouts in their hidden perches. Halfway to the crude wooden fort, more details become apparent. There are roughly a dozen dead Orcs within the walls. They are still in armor. Their death is not recent; conflict killed them a couple days ago. Wick, Eberk, and Kulich converse openly about what they see, playing their part as a diversion.
Making progress on their hill climb, only Magnus (Spot = 27) catches sight of two Orcs sneaking upslope. One Orc still remains at the original spot. Exchanging hand signals, Øskur and Magnus agree to converge on the single Orc intently watching the fort. Moments later, Magnus loses sight of one of the two withdrawing Orcs. Øskur sees them both.
Wick, Kulich, and Eberk reach the fort. Thin, stripped tree trunks had been stacked to form defensive walls. These defenses and diggings within suggest the fort had been constructed and improved over months or years. There was obviously a serious fight here in the last two days. Discarded weapons and other evidence suggest there had been thirty Orc defenders. But only eight bodies remain.
Kulich looks over the gear littering the site – numerous daggers; a few polearms and battleaxes; and armor left on the corpses. Adopting a dagger of passable quality, Elroy Wick names it “Orckish Slumber Party”. Cleric Kulich knows (with a Natural 20 rolled for a total Wisdom check of 23) that the dead Orcs have been searched, but not searched by whatever killed them.
Elroy Wick (Heal = 23) examines the corpses and informs Eberk and Kulich that the Orcs died of slashing and bludgeoning damage – wounds consistent with extremely sharp, primitive stone axes. The missing corpses were all dragged off in the same direction. Following this path with their eyes, Eberk (with a Natural 20 rolled for Spot for a total skill check of 26) and Wick (Spot = 19) trace it back to a cave mouth, set halfway up the valley slope. Wick quickly checks the ground (Survival = 21) but finds no animal prints – only those of Medium-sized humanoids. Given all the evidence, it is clear that Grimlocks were involved.
Suddenly, Elroy Wick (Listen = 12) hears Magnus up on the valley slope, shouting something about that mysterious deity of his, “The Most Holy”.
The ambushers had become the ambushed. In a Surprise round, the two Orcs slinking away up-slope suddenly rained crossbow fire onto Magnus, hitting him twice. Having the initiative, they fired again with mixed results. It was then that Fighter Magnus drew his Heavy Pick and loudly invoked his undefined deity.
At the top of his lungs, Bard Wick hollers out a song suitable for the acoustics of this improvised amphitheatre (Perform : Sing = 20), with Inspire Courage. His great performance will reach the Druidbarian and the Fighter; some day their 3d10 silver will reach his pocket. Wick also unslings his crossbow. The fight on the hillside is a considerable distance away – about 300 feet, making for difficult shooting at this range.
“Difficult” will be a theme for this entire encounter. Well above the fort on the valley floor, Magnus and Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn find themselves easy marks for the remarkably skilled Orcs’ crossbows. Øskur beefs up with Bull’s Strength. The slope, rough terrain, and distance between actors make for a long and arduous fight. Magnus hurls javelins and advances cautiously while the Druidbarian goes into a Rage and scrambles to reach an Orc.
The three Orcs pincushion the two Humans with crossbow bolts. Down below, Kulich takes shelter as some Orckish bolts find their way into the camp as suppressing fire. Elroy Wick adds Inspirational Boost, cranking off shots at every opportunity, hitting an Orc every third or fourth try. Dwarf Eberk puts his stubby Dwarf legs to task and hurries to the slope and begins an ascent.
Magnus and Øskur are badly hurt before Magnus is able to slay an Orc. For several rounds, both Humans drink potions to recover the health that was quickly lost under fire. Even Eberk, hurrying as best he can despite his stature, takes a number of crossbow bolts from an Orc who finds the Dwarf’s slow, persistent sprint a completely hilarious sight.
Making matters worse, a fourth Orc appears. This Orc, their leader, is deadly-accurate with a crossbow. He hits Eberk, Wick, and Magnus with ease. For a while this leader contributes to the Orcs’ offense. Then, confident that his two surviving underlings can deal with these Humans and the Dwarf, the leader drinks a potion and vanishes.
The severe damage wrought by the Orcs’ bolts is being recovered through healing potions. Eberk has closed most of the distance up slope, followed close behind by Cleric Kulich – the Cleric quickly realized that his expert skill in healing was urgently needed on the front line. The Bard shouts his song from below, continuing to fire his crossbow at range. One of the two Orcs clashes with Øskur. After a couple rounds of trading blows, the Druidbarian prevails and defeats his opponent.
The last Orc has done well to keep Magnus and Eberk wounded, while only taking the occasional javelin from the Magnus. Seeing the Fighter now twenty-five feet away up-slope and the Dwarf now only ten feet away below him, the Orc thinks it best to withdraw. Øskur rushes in and attempts to Grapple; he fails and bleeds from an Attack of Opportunity. Still laughing at the Dwarf, the last Orc stumbles his way downhill toward a safe retreat.
Eberk is bloodied and welcomes Kulich’s healing. Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn is alive only because of his Rage. Wick has advanced a short distance but remains too far away, at the base of the hillside. Magnus decides that enough is enough; quickly pulling his composite longbow, the Fighter elegantly drops the bemused Orc with an unexpected and accurate shaft.
Cleric Kulich saves the Druidbarian, bestowing a full-strength Cure Moderate Wounds that ensures Øskur does not die when he calms down moments later. Eberk even deigns to drink Orckish Draughts to restore his life energy. Elroy Wick, stung by several unexpectedly-accurate crossbow bolts, restores himself to full with a Cure Moderate Wounds. He hurries to join his friends.
The last Orc is not dead. Magnus grimly pours an Orckish Draught into the Orc, and Øskur parts with a Cure Minor Wounds spell. The Orc is stable, but unconscious. It will be woken up later and interrogated.
A quick search of the bodies. Three Masterwork crossbow and 24 bolts; two low-quality daggers and three halberds of no use. Three Potions of Cure Moderate Wounds, one taken by Magnus, Øskur, and Eberk. A Potion of Cat’s Grace; empty vials of the same explain the Orcs’ unusual accuracy with crossbows. 140 gold, 17 silver, and eight gems of 50-gp value round out the take.
On the western slope of the valley, twilight has already set it. An Orc went invisible and took off in some direction, likely to go warn the Orc camp by the river. There is evidently a serious Grimlock threat in this immediate area. And the party has an Orc prisoner to question.
(end of the session)