Episode 2: The Broken Tower
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It is the 10th of Thaumont in the year 1004, a drizzly Tserdain, and the group wake up in Olum's hut in varying states of hangover. They are just mopping up a meal of bread and fried eels when Malkas, the disapproving hunter from the night before, appears at the door. He is upset that the party came from the dead beach, and wants rid of them as soon as possible: as far as he is concerned, they are cursed.
Olum suggests that they could help with the Gnoll problem, and a debate ensues. It turns out that the Gnolls have been here since last Autumn; one came and stood outside the town and asked for food - part begging and part threat. They gave him some. But now there are many Gnolls on the plains: the speaking one said "We go back to broken tower." The party mention that they killed five on their way here, and offer to handle the rest.
Malkas barely acknowledges the offer, and Murph drives him off with vile Halfling curses. Gregory suggests leaving, but Krøüstë wants to kill the Gnolls. Murph says "There are lots of Gnolls all over the place!", to which Krøüstë answers "Yes, but these are the most convenient." The party banter a bit about their chances on the plains. Olum, having chased Malkas, returns and asks for help.
Gaiel notes that if there are more shipwrecks, it is best that this village survives to provide some help to those who escape the beach. That convinces Gregory. Michael takes some more convincing: "We're walking into a trap for free?" he says. Murph answers - somewhat prophetically - "It's better to get killed being a badass than starving to death.". At last, the party decide to tackle them. Gregory and Gaiel manage to buy an antique but serviceable longbow from an old hunter in the village, to replace the one Gaiel lost in the shipwreck. It costs all the money they have.
Having stocked up on rations, the party set off with Olum as a guide to the halfway point where the hills begin. After an uneventful two and half days' travel, Olum leaves them not far from the hills with directions to the area they should find the broken tower in. A further two and a half days finds them well within the hills. They round a hill and notice a bad smell - up ahead there is a carcass of a large quadruped, perhaps cow- or horse-sized. It is mostly eaten.
As they come up to investigate, Gaiel hisses "Watch yourself!", draws his sword and attacks, missing something the rest of the party don't see. He shouts "There's another one!" Murph, Jack and Krøüstë look around, seeing nothing. Michael runs up and attacks the carcass, just chunking off a piece of rotten meat. Then a little 6-inch homunculus with wings detaches from the carcass and tries to bite Gaiel. Another bites Michael, hurting him and attaching to his arm. Gregory and Gaiel fail to hit the one still flapping around.
Murph steps up to look for more on the carcass - there don't seem to be any. Gaiel's attacker tries again, missing. The one on Michael seems to be sucking blood from him. Gaiel manages to hit his target, shearing off a leg and the tip of its wing, and it spirals dead to the ground. Gregory stamps on it. Michael wildly tries to scrape off the one feeding from his arm with his scimitar, failing.
Gregory fails to pull the thing off. Gaiel tries to restrain Michael and nearly manages, but doesn't get a good grip of him. Michael's flailing again fails to dislodge it. Gaiel tries to kill the thing itself, but then it seems to finish with Michael and detaches. It starts flapping lazily off. Gregory tries to catch it and fails, Michael misses a swipe with his scimitar, but Gaiel hits it hard and it explodes, spraying Michael's blood everywhere. Michael looks pale.
Michael heals himself, and Krøüstë mutters to Clangadin about another unbeliever not needing his help. Murph and Jack find a little bundle-on-a-stick by the corpse - apparently carried by the homunculi - with some gems and a nice feather. Murph surreptitiously pockets one gem, but Jack gives him away. No-one minds.
A disastrous ambush
The group reckon that they are in the right ball park, and they start looking for high points to sight for the tower from. Late in the afternoon, from a height, they see the top of the tower peeping out of a set of hills - apparently it is in a bowl of some sort. They move in, settle below one adjoining hill and send Murph up to spy. After an extended period he slides back down and reports maybe seven big Gnolls, four or so smaller unarmed ones, and some Gnoll young playing. There is also a man down there, being slapped around occasionally - he seems to be a captured slave.
Murf masterminds an ambush point: there is a well-worn track leading out of an arch at one end of the bowl the tower is in. Murf hides and watches the arch while the party set up at a bouldered hilltop within sight of him. The plan is to take a patrol coming out or going in. Several hours pass. Suddenly, those watching at the boulders find themselves rushed by a troop of Gnolls - two wielding battleaxes and one a morningstar.
The morningstar misses Gaiel, but Gregory and Krøüstë are hit by axes. The party gather their wits as the Gnolls attack again, luckily all missing. Gregory's riposte cuts his attacker down. Jack wakes Michael, who has been resting to renew his Druidic energies, and the rest of the party miss their attacks. Murph hasn't yet seen what is happening back at the boulders.
Gaiel and Krøüstë miss, and the morningstar thumps into Gaiel's head, knocking him unconscious. One axe-Gnoll hits Krøüstë hard and he goes down too. Gregory and Jack step in to cover him and Michael arms himself before stepping up. All three miss the axe-Gnoll. Murph notices what's happening and hares it back, reaching speeds previously thought impossible for Halflings. Gregory takes a hard blow and barely stays standing. The morningstar-Gnoll hits Michael, again leaving him barely standing.
Murph joins the fight, but misses, setting the tone: there is a flurry of dodged and blocked blows from both sides. Eventually Gregory lands a hard blow but his opponent stays upright and drops Gregory with a crushing blow to the forehead. The party miss more of their attacks and the lethal morningstar-Gnoll dispatches Michael. Jack desperately tries to revenge his friends and Murph tries to flee; both are cut down in short order by the Gnolls.
The party lie dead or dying at the feet of the Gnolls.
The Flind hunters
An argument develops between the two Gnolls over Gregory's bastard sword. Gaiel's eyes flicker open; seeing a chance, he crawls painfully down the hill from the boulders, unnoticed by the Gnolls. He drags himself under a mossy overhang and falls unconscious again.
Time passes. Gaiel slips in and out of wakefulness. Eventually he hears voices nearby - humans and elves. "Hey, another under this overhang - oh, he has a longbow." A half-elf tries to pick up Gaiel's bow, but Gaiel starts awake and grabs it. "Woah, a live one!" shouts the half-elf, and the others come down and gather around. They help pull Gaiel from his hiding-place and a human cleric heals him. The half-elf makes Gaiel appear to say "Get your hands out of my pantaloons!" The cleric chuckles and tuts at the ventriloquist.
Gaiel quickly tells his story and is upset to find that the rest of the party are dead or gone: most of the bodies are missing, but Michael's half-eaten corpse is at the boulders. It was what attracted the attention of this group of adventurers. Cedric consoles Gaiel, and his party in turn introduce themselves and explain how they came to be here: they're on a mission from a wizard called Reamonn to find and kill a Flind in this area. Flinds are smaller, smarter cousins of Gnolls. Gaiel is able to say that he thinks there are one or more at the tower.
This new group consists of the cleric, Cedric; a well-armed human fighter named Dan carrying a tower shield; a human ranger with a clipped accent, called Fred; an androgynous Elven wizard named 'Wild' Ali; and the half-elf ventriloquist, a bard who introduces himself as Barnabas. They have travelled from the Partefjallen Hills, where Reamonn the wizard hired them to track a Flind that used to work for him.
The Flind stole some of Reamonn's things a long time ago. Recently he came into scrying range, and Reamonn hired the party to kill him. Anything that's left of his things, they can have: it was money and potions he took, some healing potions and "magical slippery oil". He warned not to drink them together, and ever since Ali has apparently been fantasizing about trying.
The party travelled from the hills, through Viksdalen, and quickly across the swamp. They have a map of the area provided by Reamonn. It is quite detailed in this area.
A discussion ensues. Dan is unimpressed with 3 Gnolls taking out Gaiel's party, but Cedric diplomatically suggests that they had the drop on them. Gaiel cleans up and gets his armour back on. While he and Ali speak some Elven together, Fred goes off ahead to do some scouting. When he comes back, he imparts some detailed knowledge of Gnolls and Flinds: apparently he's an expert Gnoll hunter. He insists that they kill everything in the camp, including the young - they'll try to kill the party. He also has detailed information on the camp: numbers and activity.
They plan the attack. Barnabas hands out raisins, and offers a prize of two to whoever kills the Flind. They decide on an assault from one of the hills, starting with a missile weapon attack and whatever magic Ali can manage. He seems uncertain whether it will do any good, but extremely enthusiastic about trying. Barnabas has an uproariously funny conversation with his longsword about killing Flinds and Gnolls. Once the party have settled from their laughter, they set out for the hill and arrange themselves in a line below the crest with Ali well away from the others, apparently for their protection.
The party step up to the crest of the hill simultaneously. Below, a bunch of small Gnolls mill around - there are two Gnoll warriors to deal with, one with an axe and one with a shortbow. Everyone misses their first missile attacks but for Gaiel, who hits the axe-Gnoll twice. Barnabas chats with his bow, and Cedric demands he takes this seriously, but "can't stay mad" at him. The bow-Gnoll shoots but its arrow sticks in Dan's armour. Ali waves his arms, shouting, and casts ... something. There is no visible effect on the Gnolls. Cedric finishes the now-charging axe-Gnoll with a well-placed sling stone.
Others miss, but Barnabas' shot hits the bow-Gnoll. The Gnoll young mill around in panic. Another round of missile fire results in many misses, except for Fred who also hits the bow-Gnoll. The Gnoll young run inside as Ali casts another spell - this time the only effect is that butterflies start spilling out of his mouth alarmingly.
Four Gnoll warriors charge out of the tower buildings. Dan sets his crossbow down, picks up his tower shield and strides down the hill, drawing his longsword. Other party members follow, while others miss their missile shots again. Ali manages to hit the bow-Gnoll again with his sling, but it still stands. Cedric misses his last slingshot but moves up behind Dan and Gaiel who are set to receive the Gnoll attack. Two attack Gaiel with swords, missing. The other two have polearms, and attack Dan from outside his swinging range: he hits the ground under their rain of blows.
The party concentrate themselves around Dan and Gaiel; Gaiel takes a hit from a sword and drops to the ground. The situation is looking bad as the other sword-Gnoll steps up to Cedric, but Cedric dodges his blow. Fred charges in at one of the polearm-Gnolls, who fails to prepare itself properly, misses Fred, and is killed by a good hit. Cedric drags Dan to his feet, uttering a prayer. Ali is still slinging the bow-Gnoll and misses, but is hit by its return fire. Dan makes a quick appraisal of the situation, turns, and kills the remaining polearm-Gnoll with a quick strike.
Barnabas tries to defend Cedric as he drags Gaiel to his feet with another prayer. Dan hits Cedric's attacker powerfully, killing it. The remaining sword-Gnoll is distracted by Barnabas and hits him. Fred comes to his aid and grazes the Gnoll, but Dan steps in and finishes the job. (Amazing couple of rounds! - Ed.) Ali is finally struck down by the bow-Gnoll, who flees inside.
Dan, Fred and Barnabas approach the building as Cedric runs over to Ali and stabilizes him with his first aid skills. There are two Flinds inside the building, in front of the females - one has a club, one a Flind bar. Fred shouts (surprisingly, in Gnoll), calling them out. Dan also shouts in Thyatian. "You go away" is the response, then "You throw down bows, we fight in open". Barnabas shoots into the building, killing one of the Gnoll young. The Flinds charge out with two Gnolls and attack Barnabas and Dan.
The party (apart from Barnabas, who is surprised by the charge) are ready and attack, mostly missing, but Fred kills one of the Flinds with a superb blow. He also grazes the other with another attack. The Gnolls fight desperately but miss with their attacks. Barnabas hits the returned bow-Gnoll with his sword, dropping it. Cedric hits an axe-Gnoll, but it still stands and brings down Dan with its return blow. Gaiel avenges him with a good hit, but the axe-Gnoll still stands. The club-wielding Flind hits Barnabas, who falls to the ground.
Fred hits the Flind, who in turn misses Gaiel. Gaiel hits it. Cedric drags Dan to one side and quickly patches up his wounds, stabilizing him. The Flind attacks Gaiel but misses; Fred brings it down with two quick blows. Cedric runs over and stabilizes Barnabas, again proving his skill as a combat healer even where he's out of magic. Fred and Gaiel charge into the buildings and there comes out the noise of slaughter as they kill every Gnoll they find, helpless or not. Some flee out of back doors, but most are butchered.
Fred and Gaiel pile the bodies in one room, and the other is used as a defensible position to gather up their downed comrades - Ali, Dan, and Barnabas. Cedric rests to recover his spells while Gaiel and Fred take watches. Searching the buildings uncovers some coins, adventuring gear, a bag of gems, and some potions - three of one kind, two of another, and three other types. The potions are tested, and three are found to perhaps be healing potions. Gaiel gives one to Dan, who comes to as a result. Fred holds on to one potion, and feeds the other to Barnabas, but he doesn't wake up.
Outside, a Gnoll patrol returns, but don't spot the party. Shots are exchanged and the patrol is driven off. Morning comes, and the party wakes. Cedric uses his healing to get everyone back on their feet. They take stock of the situation and begin to plan their next move.
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Jan 10th 2010