The party convenes a morning meeting at their usual tavern. Dwarf Eberk, still weak from the Raise Dead yesterday, has an appetite somehow greater than usual. He slaps down a small fistful of coins and waves over mugs and meat platters.
Rogue Goa Finnbjorn admires Magnus’s new Winter Wolf cloak, as the Fighter shows it off and recounts how he won it. Goa half-listens; inspired by her Halfling chef mentor, she composes a list of must-have foods and spices for the coming voyage back to North Point.
Corun Dum’man silently obsesses over lodestone. In his search of Tannis, the Wizard has not come across any. Soon he will need a supply for his ritualistic self-transformation on the path of a Green Star Adept. Elroy Wick is also quiet, but his reluctance to join the conversation stems from ongoing ennui. His thoughts dwell on his purpose in life. The Bard is dressed in a more subdued fashion today, a reflection of his inner turmoil.
Conversation inevitably comes around to what to do. The group does not wish to sit and wait for Captain Martin to return. That seems a waste of fine weather. The trade route to Tannis remains threatened by Orc brigands; Magnus, Eberk, and Wick’s disastrous foray came nowhere close to resolving it. With stronger numbers the party will try again.
This time they devise a new plan. Obtaining horses and carriages (“carriages” just a fancy way of saying “covered wagons”), the party and a few of their hired mercenary crew will depart Tannis disguised as a merchant convoy. Corun thinks drawing the raiders out of the forest may be easier than trying to hunt them down within it. Concealing their strength, the caravan should look like an easy target to the Orcs.
Goa and her associates seek out Gnome traders in the market district. Wick makes a good impression (Diplomacy = 27) but his read on the canny merchants (Sense Motive = 18) doesn’t get him anywhere on persuading them to lend the conveyances for free. Corun Dum’man takes over, and in a series of perplexing and superfluous agreements and sub-clauses, the Wizard manages to save the party 45 gold on purchasing three carriages, while at the same time assuring the Gnomes a 2% cut of the total sale value of all treasure recovered from the Orcs as well as favorable rates (to the Gnomes, not to the party) on the value of said treasure. By the end of Corun’s negotiation, everyone in the party is pretty sure they have agreed to a net loss in the deal.
Carriages purchased, now they need six horses. Wick (Handle Animal = 15, 29, 18, 22, 15, 14) inspects the offerings at the stables. He is unsure on the quality of three of the beasts, but they will suffice for the purpose. Magnus locates four mercenaries that Captain Martin had recruited in Tannis. Two shortbow-archers and two heavy-infantry fighters agree to this side job. Then Magnus purchases studded-leather barding for his warhorse.
All this takes the better part of the day. Wick and Eberk need to heal more before they set out, so the expedition will leave tomorrow.
They depart on time the next morning. The first day of travel sees decent weather. Three carriages, each pulled by two horses, follow the diminished trade route. Magnus rides in the lead. Two of the four mercenaries are always on foot on the flanks of the line of carts. Halfling Goa hides out in one of the covered wagons and snoozes. Corun Dum’man keeps a low profile. It disappoints Eberk to have to keep his gleaming Dwarven Waraxe hidden from sight. He watches the forest through a gap in the carriage covering.
Elroy Wick, disguised as a damsel, rides up front in plain view, adding to the cliché of the naïve caravan. He strums out a memorable performance on his lute (Perform : Stringed = 28) as the carriages sway forward on the hard-packed dirt road. Despite his fanciful attire, Wick remains pensive. He does not even tack 1d6 gold onto the tab owed him by the party for this and his many other brilliant artistic performances.
The procession stops for the night. All hands set up camp, establish clandestine defenses, and maintain vigilant watches. They greet dawn without incident. That next day, their caravan passes the burned-out village.
Corun Dum’man staves off boredom by keeping watch for interesting rocks by the wayside. He finds none, though he does notice a couple instances of a symbol carved into boulders or the bark of trees. The marking is circular, with a slightly curved bisection and a small crescent rising over the center. Shown to Wick, the Bard identifies it as the symbol of Fharlanghn, the God of Roads.
These markings indicate luck and well-wishes to travelers, and serve as simple shrines or guides to safe places hidden off the path. His friends lose interest but Elroy, plucking out musical scales in quiet harmony with his surroundings, keeps an eye out for more of them. They get him thinking.
Late afternoon. Goa has dismounted the carriage to ride Lörydyr ahead to forage. When the party catches up, they find her fairly swimming in a patch of sumptuous, edible mushrooms. The Halfling insists they make camp here, even though there is an hour of useful daylight left in the sky. The pickings are just too good to rush through.
The party agrees. The stew Goa makes that night for dinner, with special seasonings and six varieties of fungi, confirms this the absolute right decision. Eberk thinks this a meal that would elevate his Halfling friend to high status among the Dwarves of Gold Mountain.
Another night of high tension and strict vigilance comes to naught. The mercenaries have no complaints; they are being paid to eat, walk, and enjoy Wick’s skill on the lute – though Elroy is off tempo when they set out the next day, generating only a memorable (with a Natural 1 rolled for Perform : Stringed for a total skill check of 21) performance. Above them, clouds have gathered in the September sky.
A few hours into the day’s travel, a Spot check. Goa (Spot = 32) notices something unusual. To the north, past thin forest and up on the hillside, she sees shapes that look decidedly out of place. They are not rocks or logs. She quietly mentions this to Corun, who rides his horse beside Goa’s carriage. The Wizard gets word around to the others without being obvious about it.
Another Spot check. Now Magnus and Eberk see the dozen or so shapes on the hillside. Very likely humanoids, and arranged as if waiting in ambush or camped under cover against the daylight. Corun does not see them until a few seconds later, when a scattering of movement suggests concealed forms being roused. A Listen check; the Rogue, Bard, and Dwarf Paragon hear yelling in Orckish, urging attack.
A normal caravan might have panicked and attempted to flee, but Eberk’s group has a trap to spring. A mass of Orcs rush from sheltering camouflage and charge down the slope. Goa notices (Spot = 31) two Orcs simply vanish into thin air; this is something she will have to mention to the others once the visible Orcs are dealt with. The Halfling Rogue halts her carriage, hops down off the side, and ducks out of sight (Hide = 30).
The party’s archer mercenaries drop out the back of their respective carriages and cover in nearby bushes, shortbows ready. Wizard Corun trots his mount closer to the oncoming Orcs, and readies a Lightning Bolt spell. In response he is pelted by three sharp shafts; six of the enemy Orcs are crossbowmen, already launching salvoes from range. This is a dreadfully wounding barrage and the Wizard is seriously hurt, but he does not lose his spell.
Magnus reads the enemy formations and spurs his formidable horse off to the flank. The infantry mercs, with short swords and spiky heavy-steel shields, appear from the carriages and form a line with Corun. Wick brings his voice to the fight, an extraordinary effort (Perform : Sing = 30) to Inspire Courage and carry an Inspirational Boost. Eberk is slow to act; he hustles around in front of Corun and his mount, though too late to draw crossbow bolts this round.
These are the Orc brigands the party was after; their numbers and tactics suggest experience and expertise at raiding – though this caravan is quickly shaping up to be tougher than it looked. Eighteen Orcs advance. Six crossbowmen array at the rear, reloading and firing as they walk. Ahead of them, six Orcs with battleaxes and shields are in quick march. And charging headlong into the party, six shock troopers; furious Orcs in breastplate, with fearsome greataxes.
Without hesitation, the Orcs rush and attack. Corun’s Lightning Bolt blasts one Orc, and two others take half-damage. The Wizard then casts Protection From Arrows on himself. Goa Finnbjorn shoots a breastplate Orc in the face with her light crossbow, then tosses the empty weapon aside and breaks cover to move in closer.
The mercenary archers stake out a safe spot well back from melee, and load and fire arrows as fast as they can, plenty of targets for their choosing. The infantry mercs tangle with breastplate Orcs, holding their own. Elroy Wick draws “Homestead Avenger” and advances, assisting an infantryman by stabbing his Orc opponent. Eberk liked his new Dwarven Waraxe before, but now that he’s hacking Orcs with it, the Dwarf’s infatuation grows with every cut – it’s like the Waraxe hates Orcs as much as Eberk himself does.
Rogue Goa has twin shortswords “Slice” and “Dice” in play; deftly she ducks and flanks and slashes, finding Halfling-sized opportunities and dealing giant damage. She fells two Orcs early on – one a breastplate Orc and the other a second-line Orc with shield. A brilliant dive (Tumble = 30), then a Sneak Attack critical-hit hamstrings a shield Orc before she kills it. Cartwheeling behind another shield-bearer, Goa stabs with “Slice” and kills that Orc.
The fight rages, and halfway through, as if it Nature’s wish to complicate matters for both sides, it starts to rain. Captain Martin’s hires prove their value; they take down three melee Orcs and one of the Orc archers. Terribly wounded by the Orc archers’ initial offering, Wizard Corun Dum’man slams back a weak Cure Moderate Wounds potion, then rides after Magnus to harass the stationary line of Orc crossbowmen. Force Orbs, Scorching Ray, Lesser Orb of Sound from his wand, even a well-placed crossbow shot are Corun’s offerings.
Elroy Wick was perhaps unwise to involve himself in close combat. Dealing modest damage, the singing Bard receives considerable hurt in return, virtually crippling him. Wick flashes back to his experience with the Winter Wolves, and his resolve to fight fades. Withdrawing from the front line, Wick ends his song to cast Cure Moderate Wounds on himself, and drinks a potion of the same. When he does re-engage, it is at range with his light crossbow. When needed, Wick cautiously advances and casts Cure Light Wounds on the infantrymen mercenaries according to their needs.
Eberk cuts down two Orcs. It is satisfying, and his Waraxe thirsts for more, but the ranks of raiders dwindle quickly. The Dwarf moves on to the next target. Goa tumbles and stabs. The party is starting to win.
Fighter Magnus is the personification of Fear. Atop his heavy warhorse, his Heavy Pick in hand and the lot of him and his mount plated in thick protective armoring, Magnus is a moving wall of destruction. First he strafes the middle line of Orcs, killing one on his second round of attacks and wounding another for his horse to finish off. A greataxe catches him with a critical hit (a Natural 20 confirmed with another Natural 20) but wily Magnus is skilled as an Elusive Target; the cut is only a normal hit.
Then thundering Magnus is off to the archers. They have become an irritant. The Fighter casts the Mirror Images spell from his magic ring, as he closes on the fearful crossbow Orcs. A phalanx of six Magnuses gallops through the archers, scattering their line and trading their ranged weapons for halberds, slaying one with each pass. By combat’s end, Magnus and his horse are responsible for a total of seven Orc corpses.
The Orc raiders started the fight well, despite the weakening effects of daylight and the unexpected skill of this deceptive caravan’s defenders. But their opponents have the strength to prevail, and by the time the bloodied Orc raiders saw wisdom in retreat, it was too late. The Orcs’ attempt to surround and overwhelm what they thought were merchants, never came to pass. The front- and second-line Orcs were the ones outmaneuvered, and ended up slain down to the last raider. Even the archers, removed from the fray, could not flee a hundred yards before being cut down by arrows or swift Magnus.
Steady, cold rain slicks the victors. Elroy Wick expends all his healing spells on his friends and mercenary allies, sparing only one for himself. Eberk and Goa set about looting the bodies, taking all the weapons and armor to eventually sell in Tannis. Corun Dum’man tries to estimate their profit margin given the burdensome sales contract he arranged with the Gnomes but gives up the attempt, hikes up the hill, and draws a giant phallus-shape around what had been the Orc brigands’ hideout.
Post-fight ritual is done. The weather is getting worse. The party turns the carriages about and begins the trek back to Tannis. The miserable weather follows them, soaking each through armor and clothes. Even Elroy Wick’s solid-gold rain-slicker is no help against the penetrating wet, especially when Goa playfully nabs (Sleight of Hand vs. Wick’s Natural 1 for Sense Motive) a gem from his belt and dispels the entire illusion. Wick, in a good mood from the day’s good outcome, pretends not to notice he is effectively pantsless. For the rest of the day.
Nightfall comes early. The group makes Survival checks to build adequate shelters against the downpour and construct a large bonfire. Wick improves morale with a memorable tune (Perform : Stringed = 25). The first watch of the night stares off into the gloom and white-noise of rain, which by second watch transitions to mixed rain-and-snow. By dawn it is rain again.
A wet slog back to Tannis, and uneventful. The party sells off the Orcs’ gear, and informs Lieutenant Richard that they have dealt with the Orc situation. Goa remembers that two Orcs vanished at the outset of the fight and were never accounted-for. This minor oversight aside, Richard is pleased that the trade route is safer now. And Captain Martin has sent word – he has completed his swing of cities to the south, and returns soon with the full complement of hired fighters as requested.
With the weather dripping into autumn, the party dries off in their rooms at the inn and spends the next few days watching the rain fall outside their warm tavern haunt.
(end of the session)
(1) Image isolated from D&D Player’s Handbook, illustration on page 107.
(2) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 203.