The cast of characters:
Bryan is our fearless GM
Marc plays our warrior Stannis, skilled with a bow
Hudson plays Sonja, who fights with savage fury, hewing foes with a great-sword
Paul plays Egg Shen, a monk of unusual disposition from distant eastern lands
Brian plays Ambario, whose mastery of armor cements his bold advances
I play Arndor, a fey-blooded sorcerer (history here)
We began the session in the comfort of the fort, discussing our options. A dozen more soldiers had arrived, bringing the complement up to 18. The priest was grateful for the liberation of the temple.
We are motivated to strike down the bandits; they seem like an ambitious target (said Arndor), particularly holed up in their fort, but harassing tactics would keep them rocked back on their heels. We also decided to investigate the far side of the Thorn and make sure that bandits weren’t widely roaming there.
We set off for the Thorn River bandit camp the following morning, crossed at its bridge, and scouted the south side of the Thorn. No serious obstacles cropped up, though we noted that the water was high with snowmelt. We continued down until the thorn flowed into the Shrike, then backtracked to the ford. There was no bear at the ford this time… but the water was much higher with snowmelt.
Stannis took the lead and crossed the river; we were poised to haul him to safety if the river current proved too strong. He crossed successfully and anchored a rope to guide his allies across. That worked for a while… until Ambario and Arndor were swept from their horses by a freak wave. Luck was with them and they caught the guide rope before they were swept downstream to dash against the rocks. Bruised and teeth chattering, soon everyone had completed their crossing back to the north side of the Thorn. We were less than a mile from the bandit’s bridge across the Shrike where we had won our victory against Kressel. Confidence bubbled up in us; we mounted up and headed out to investigate.
When we approached, we noted that a new detachment of bandits had set up at the bridge. They were all keenly armed with long bows, but their archery proved no match for Stannis. We plunged forward at a gallop, trying to close the distance and take as few arrows as possible. At hundreds of yards their arrows went wide, but as we closed their aim improved. Sonja veered when struck and galloped into a copse of trees near the river, screened by the foliage. Ambario continued straight ahead, his armor turning most of the arrows. Behind him rode Arndor, who mimicked Sonja in veering for cover when the range grew too short. At a lope followed Egg Shen, who still adhered to humility, asking no horse to bear him. From the rear, Stannis’s precise volleys proved deadly.
As Sonja and Arndor sought cover, the leader of the bandits balanced his paired blades in hand and dashed forward to engage Sonja. The remaining four, then three, archers (one fell, speared by Stannis’s arrows) tried to provide cover fire, but Ambario could not be dissuaded. Arndor’s magic sought the archers holding the bridge; two were ensorcelled and stopped their firing.
The bandit wielding short sword and blade struck at Sonja as she emerged from the trees; they proved well matched. Quite well matched until Ambario closed on the bandit from behind; while Sonja was marked by his blades, they soon caught him between their skilled assault and cut him down like a mad dog. Meanwhile, Egg Shen had closed with the remaining non-ensorcelled archer, and broke his neck with a snap kick. By the time the last two bandits shook off the enchantment, they were menaced by the heroes’ blades.
They surrendered. The first refused to speak, terrified of the Staglord. Ambario formed a noose and prodded him off the bridge. The second, tongue loosened but still brave enough to demand amnesty, filled us in on the fort–and his friend, who had fled for reinforcements on spotting us. It also became clear that the Staglord was using the danger of facing us as a threat; guarding the bridge was a punishment detail.
The friend who fled was a member of Falgrim Sneed’s force. Evidently, while Falgrim may be welcome in the bandit keep, his men aren’t. Falgrim’s men are a band of about 8 river kingdoms mercenaries with a savage dog who lair in the marsh, only a few miles to the south. Our captive also told us that the fort is well defended, with few approaches–and haunted, built out of the ruins of an old monastery. Few safe approaches to the bandit keep exist. It lays west of the Shrike river against Tuskwater Lake; access from the east side of the river required crossing a guarded causeway. The Staglord is still served by about 10 men at the fort; he drinks all the time and is fiercely strong–he bites people in battle. His lieutenant Akaros is a strong thug. With that information provided, we reluctantly agreed to let him go, though Ambario ensured that he had no weapons as he departed north, towards Oleg’s, Brevoy, and civilization.
We decided to wait, lurking in ambush, for Falgrim’s men to ride to the rescue. But a day passed; on the second day, we realized that the mercenaries weren’t going to ride into our ambush–or come to visit the bridge at all. Advancing south would do little good; we’d approach the keep from the wrong side–across the causeway, and likely drawbridge, protecting the fort. Given the inadvisability of that route, we decided to investigate a lead we’d let slide… the fangberry patch.
So we recrossed to the north and rode to the Thorn. We rode along the bank and came to the ford; Ambario and Arndor refused to cross–they’d already felt the treacherous river almost sweep them to depth. So, with some humor, the group agreed to ride all of the way north to the bandit’s bridge and cross the Thorn in safety. We took advantage of the remaining cover of the old bandit’s camp and settled in for a night. During his watch, Stannis noticed that his belt pouch had vanished. Ambario decided to investigate, and climbed down the hole where Kressel had holed up; in that room, he found small furniture, glowing rocks, small playing cards, and the stolen coins divided into stacks–as if he’d interrupted a game in progress. He collected a glowing rock and the stolen coins and emerged from the hidden chamber, puzzled.
The next day the heroes found the fangberry patch in a shallow valley. Stannis took a position on a short hill and kept a watch over the horses, while the rest of the heroes descended into the web covered thorny bushes. The thorns were sharp; the warriors cleared a broad path with axes and blades to ensure that we wouldn’t be caught and prodded both in and out. Finally we reached the bright leaves and began picking. Suddenly, a wave of disturbed spiders–not large, but a swarm of thousands–emerged from the bushes and flowed toward the berry pickers. Sonja was engulfed, her skin turning red with dozens of bites. Desperate plans were selected; Ambario took his large shield and flopped down crushing spiders by the dozen, while Arndor flicked a cloud of sparkling sand that flashed into light, stunning the horde of spiders… but also dropping the mighty Sonja in their midst. The warriors continued whomping on the stunned spiders, while Stannis rushed down the hillside to recover our fallen friend. He lifted her out of the spiders as they shook off the spell; soon the violence and a kindled torch broke the swarm and sent the remnants fleeing. With a wary eye to the bushes, Stannis and Sonja kept an eye out from the hilltop, while the rest harvested the precious berries.
That night we ran two two-person watches, letting Sonja sleep through to recover. Stannis was attacked by four wolves and was pulled down, but everyone rushed to his aid and we were soon victorious. On the late watch, Ambario skinned the wolves for our return to the fort.
The heroes returned north, crossing again at the Thorn River bandit camp’s bridge. Rather than continuing down river to the bandit’s bridge across the Shrike, they decided to return to Oleg’s and drop off their fresh fangberries. The alchemist was pleased, offering a 25% discount on his valuable potions. The swordlords’ reward for bandit suppression (400 gold!) had arrived. Arndor asked Oleg to request skillfully wrought chainmail and a masterwork steel shield from his contacts back in civilization. We stocked up on fresh healing, resupplied, and finalized their plans for a strike against the bandits. We headed south the next morning.
Two days later we reached the bridge across the Shrike… to find no bridge at all. The bridge had been burned down to their pilings at the river’s center. We discussed the possibility of repair, examining the trees of the copse that had protected us from bandit archery only a few months ago. Few were long enough to even reach the smoldering pilings at the river’s center, and without proper tools to fell the trees and place them, repairing the bridge appeared impossible. Our heroes were not deterred; abandoning the bridge repair plan, they spent the next day exploring north along the Shrike, seeking a ford. They found none. So our heroes decided to cross south at the Thorn River bandit camp bridge and skirt the forest edge in a broad arc leading to the bandit keep.
This time they hustled through the bandit camp by day, not trusting the mischievous forces that had taken stolen so subtly from Stannis last time. As we passed through Egg Shen heard voices, but couldn’t find the speakers. Ambario did recheck their hole, where he traded some copper from his purse for gold on the table. Without pause, the heroes continued their journey.
As we advanced through the woods, Sonja suddenly signed danger to the rest of us. Once alerted, several others heard the crashing sounds of something large snapping winter brittle brush. In the distance Tuskgutter–an immense boar, tall as a horse–was spotted. We scattered and positioned ourselves; then Ambario started pig calling. Arndor caught his cloak on a tree as it charged; Ambario leapt into the lane it was charging down and intercepted it. Arrows leaped from Stannis’ bow, burrowing deep, and Egg Shen launched a brutal combination of strikes against the boar. Sonja’s great axe cut deep in its hide; after perhaps twenty seconds of ferocious fighting, it suddenly slumped.
We divided the board for travel and returned to Oleg’s; they were excited to see the such a feast of meat, which would help break up a monotonous winter root diet. Vekkel Venzen, who had lost a leg to Tuskgutter, gifted Stannis with an enchanted bow and a half-dozen animal bane arrows.
We renewed our provisions, loading up for an extended journey to strike at the Staglord’s keep–or at least to harass his men. After a few days of relatively easy journeying, in the woods south of our fight against tuskgutter, we set a watch for the night. On watch, Sonja was ambushed by an owlbear; her shouts roused her slumbering allies, who rushed to battle. A whispered spell from Arndor bought them time to position themselves to strike with deadly force from all sides; then the fight began in earnest. The heroes fought boldly, and the great bear, still dazzled by its enchantment, was unable to find a chink in Ambario’s skillful defense. Then, suddenly, its heavy paws landed on Egg Shen; we feared it would smother our monk friend to its chest. But the weird magic of its being couldn’t overcome our heroes’ skill and training; several skilled blows opened it up and it fell, dead, at our feet.
[End of session]