leaving old owl well

Leaving Old Owl Well towards Conyberry

When last we saw our characters they had pacified the lands east of the Triboar trail, and were ready to begin seeking their main goal, Cragmaw Castle. To do this though they needed to find the castle, which was lost somewhere in the Neverwinter Wood, and before they could do that they needed to rest and restock. So, they headed over the hills north of Old Owl Well for the town of Conyberry, where they had been asked to ask a question of a banshee, and where they thought to take some time to recuperate and perhaps have a hot bath. To their consternation, however, Conyberry was a partial ruin, a town long-ago laid waste by barbarians and now only beginning to recuperate. Aside from a mercenary brigade with grandiose titles, a merchant, an inn and a few trapper’s homes the town was a mess of ruined buildings and crumbling walls, not quite the respite they had hoped for and definitely no place to discharge their ill-gotten gains.

They settled in the inn, which to their surprise was a comfortable and welcoming place, and eventually made contact with a wizard who needed to be escorted to the tin town of Caernarvvn, in the mountains to the east of Conyberry. He offered to pay them a Find Familiar scroll in exchange for their support and they agreed, so the next day they set off east, traveling into the sword mountains for three days accompanied by the constant chatter of Raymond d’Cantrus and Verwell the Vertiginous in deep argument.

dawn caernarvvn

Dawn at Caernarrvn

Caernarvvn proved to be an excellent resting place. After three days of uneventful travel they reached the new gateway to the eastern planes, the tin city of Caernarrvn. A collection of narrow and crowded buildings clambering over the steep sides of one of the valleys of the sword mountains, the city looked out over a deep ravine that fell away to a spectacular view of the eastern planes and the distant High Forest. Caernarvvn was a mixed city of dwarves and humans, much of it built underground or in winding alleys and cramped tenements perched precariously on the side of crevasses splitting the ancient mountains, and it was a joy for the PCs to explore the small towns, craftman’s shops, and mixed dwarven/human establishments of this frontier town. Down the steep-sided ravine and along the rushing river lay the larger town of Triboar, fat and settled in its position on the lowlands and the High Road; but here was the first frontier town on a new road from the plains to Neverwinter, the only civilized pathway through the Sword Mountains, and it reveled in both its uniqueness and its newfound riches. For a week the PCs stayed here, while Raymond d’Cantrus learned the Find Familiar spell they had been gifted and taught the same to Mouse. While they dallied in meaningless scholarship Mostly Smithson prowled the alleys of the town, seeking out weaponsmiths and artists (Tyge stood on the hillsides, staring at the sun); eventually he found a Dwarven tattoo artist, a famous flesh-etcher by the name of Grim Gariful. He attempted to convince Gariful to fashion a tattoo with an ink made from the eye of the Nothic they had killed, and to carve it into Tyge’s skin. The dwarf baulked at fashioning an ink out of the vitreous fluids of a dead monster’s eye, but was willing to consider it for his art; but he refused point blank to sully his needles on the skin of “one of those stinking fascist upstarts”. So it was that Mostly returned to their quarters dejected; they would need to find a better, less bigoted tattoo artist in Neverwinter next time they visited.

They returned to Conyberry, now accompanied by an owl called Nimh and a spider called Fuck Where Is It Now!? But before they left the wizard granted them one more payment for their escort: he told them the location of Cragmaw Castle. At Conyberry they prepared their assault on the castle.

agatha

Before they did though they had one more task to perform. The morning after their return to the ruined town they ventured out northwest into the forest, until they came to a small hovel enfolded in branches, the location of the Banshee Agatha. They pushed aside the thick hides covering the door and into a small, dusty living space, obviously long since abandoned. After a moment a chill filled the air and on the far side of the room, over an old book, the air began to coalesce into the ghostly form of an old, haggard-looking woman.: Agatha the banshee. They had come here to ask her a favour and offer her a gift, and she had come to collect.

The gift they offered was a small silver comb, and in exchange Agatha told them the story of an ancient spellbook, which they had been asked to investigate by Sister Garaele in Phandalin. When Agatha reached out to the comb from Mouse he could feel a terrifying paralysis stretching down his spine and along the base of his skull, but somehow he emerged unscathed and with only a few more grey hairs. After she was done Agatha asked him to drop it in a chest, which contained a viper and a huge haul of silver that he was too scared to even try and steal; hundreds of years of offerings to the banshee lay there unclaimed. Mouse opted not to take any, and the rest of the party chose not to offer any other sacrifices to Agatha in exchange for answers to more questions; instead they withdrew, and as Tyge, last out of the door, withdrew into the sunlight, she saw a strangely wistful look on the ghost’s face as she faded away into her strange undead silence.

cragmaw

From now they were ready to approach Cragmaw castle. They headed south along the Triboar trail, and after a night on the trail headed west into the forest. Tyge and Mostly Smithson helped them find a base of operations, which they built as a treehouse in an old abandoned giant spider nest perhaps an hour’s walk northeast of the castle. As they did this Mouse and Raymond d’Cantrus approached the castle, staying in the cover of the forest and using their familiars to explore the outskirts of the castle. They confirmed it was infested with goblins and other goblinoids but could not establish numbers or power. The group gathered to the southwest of the castle and decided to wait and watch.

As they waited and watched they remembered Yeermik, the goblin chef they had spared at Cragmaw Hideout. He would be inside the castle, toiling away over the stove, and perhaps at some point would emerge from the castle to search for herbs. They settled down to wait.

Sure enough, after several hours as the sun began to set he emerged from the castle, accompanied by two goblin guards, on some kind of food gathering mission. They laid a trap, and after a short battle during which Mostly Smithson was attacked by bees they subdued the guards and reacquainted themselves with Yeermik. He was indeed now the assistant cook at Cragmaw Castle, and had been sent out to collect crickets for dinner by his abusive boss Yegg, even though everyone knows that at this time of year Mantises are best, since they’re fat and mature and you can extract the parasites and eat them fresh and wriggling! Yeermik was obviously very angry at his gang master, and happily offered to help the PCs to lure Yegg and his gangmates out of the castle and kill them. Then Yeermik would be head chef!

Without mentioning to Yeermik the delicate fact that they aimed to kill everyone in the castle, so that he would be the head chef of a gang of 1, they hatched a plan. Mouse would disguise himself as Yeermik and slip into the castle, presenting himself to Yegg and telling him that the two goblin guards who had accompanied him out of the castle had caught a delicious beast and were holding it down, but they needed the rest of the gang to come and help with the kill. Mouse would lead them back along the path to a pit trap, and after they fell into it the PCs would slaughter them with all the honour they deserved. Yeermik instructed Mouse that the most appetizing beast to hold down was a Veermek, and after they had prepared the trap Mouse ran off to the castle. Behind him Yeermik and the rest of the group slipped into the shadows – but nobody thought to tie Yeermik up, and he slipped away once they were hidden.

Mouse entered through a locked gate in the southern wall, using a key given to him by Yeermik. The kitchen was the first door on the left after the gate, and he soon entered into a scene of ruddy warmth, stinking goblin cooking smells, yelling and cowering. Putting on his best impression of Yeermik, Mouse spilled the story about the Veermek. Unfortunately Yegg had questions: was it a striped or spotted Veermek? And were the guards holding it by its wings or its horns or its antennae? Having not thought to ask what a Veermek was, Mouse was forced to guess the answer – and got it wrong! Yegg declared him an impostor, and he and his four guards charged. Mouse fled, but as he left the room running to that southern entrance he realized the entrance was closed, not ajar as he had left it! He managed to get the key in the lock and push himself out the door just in time, and opted to run slowly and tantalizingly close enough to lure Yegg and his guards to the trap.

Glass cannon

This worked beautifully, and Yegg and two of his guards fell into the trap while two more came to a teetering halt just on the edge of the pit. The slaughter that followed was quick and brutal, but the PCs had forgotten that Yeermik was gone, and by the time they had dispatched the last goblin they faced a new challenge: a huge wolf, a drow, an enormous Bugbear and a squad of Hobgoblins came charging down the path to attack them. Hopping along behind the bugbear was Yeermik, yelling “Kill!! Krush krush!! Grol smash!!” He had told King Grol about them, and King Grol had brought all his bodyguards out to kill them!

The battle would have been long and brutal but for the fast action of Tyge. She charged forward, Helmsmasher out, calling wrathful smite down on her sword, and struck King Grol a vicious blow to the heart, channeling the divine wrath of her god as she did so. With a single blow she struck Grol dead in his tracks, before he could even swing his morning star[1]. Moments later Mostly Smithson struck down Grol’s wolf in a fury of lightning and steel, and from hiding Mouse shot the Drow with a crossbow bolt. Shocked and dismayed, she turned and ran, but within moments was pulled down by a sleep spell cast by d’Cantrus – a sleep spell that somehow worked even though Drow are supposed to be immune to sleep! Energized by the extreme power of his magic, d’Cantrus declared himself superior to all that had come before, and stepped forward to cast another spell on the remaining Hobgoblin archers. Before they could flee they were all dead and Yeermik captured. The entire leadership of Cragmaw castle, slain in seconds.

They turned their gaze to Yeermik, who whimpered and cried as they dragged him and the sleeping Drow and tossed them into the pit with the dead goblins. It was time to have a forceful conversation with their treacherous little goblin …


fn1: A critical hit with wrathful smite and divine wrath, with a magic weapon, so 4d6+4 for the sword +2d6 for wrathful smite +4d8 for divine wrath, yielding 46 hp damage. Pretty good for a 3rd level character! And unfortunate for Grol, who had 45 hit points …

Our heroes have captured a goblin, Droop, who was some kind of dogsbody in a room full of Bugbears. Having killed the bugbears and slaughtered a large number of the redbrands at the tavern where they gather, our heroes were fairly sure that there was little left to kill down here in the dark, but just in case they gave this goblin a stern interrogation, and he immediately spilled all the beans. Glasstaff lived in a room north of this room, which should be protected by guards but the four off-duty guards had gone to the tavern to watch the town, and the men they were replacing hadn’t returned yet – probably carousing with the others, Droop surmised, and the PCs did not bother correcting his error. They let him go, and picked their way northward. First they passed through an empty guard room, where the guards they had slain at the inn would have returned had they been able. From there they crept across a narrow corridor into a wizard’s workroom, a typical assortment of rough-hewn furniture, badly pickled animal parts and pungent herbs. They set about carefully searching the room but stopped after Mouse heard a noise in the next room. They burst through a door into an empty bedroom, just in time to see a secret door swinging closed in one corner. With reckless disregard for his own safety Mouse leapt through the door, and was hit by a fusillade of magic darts from the far end of the corridor. The wizard was trying to flee! They chased him and cut him down in a small store room, his life’s blood ebbing away amongst a pile of cooking implements. They searched his body and found his glass staff and some notes to the Black Spider, which confirmed their suspicion that the redbrands had been working for whichever foul creature lived in the mysterious Cragmaw Castle. For now they left his body and moved on.

Droop had told them about the last few rooms in the complex, where a group of skeletons lay waiting for passing adventurers, but would let through anyone who wore red cloaks. They walked through this room to a door on its east side, where they knew the remaining guards stood watch over some kidnapped villagers. Their plan was simple. Mouse placed an illusion on himself to look like Glasstaff, through open the door and demanded that the three of them follow him to deal with intruders. The guards fell for his deception and walked out with him. When they entered the room Mostly Smithson slammed the door shut and d’Cantrus used his prestidigitation spell to make the guards’ cloaks fall off. They stood back and watched as the skeletons attacked the unready redbrands, beating down the last one after he managed to slay the last skeleton for them. It was harsh, but they had triumphed at both adventuring and irony.

They freed the prisoners and dragged Glasstaff’s body into town. Here Sildar Hallwinter told them, in shocked disgust, that Glasstaff was actually Iarno Albrek, the wizard he had been sent to Phandalin to find. The townmaster signed over the rights to the old ruined manor, and they repaired to the tavern for a much-needed bath. Over the next few days they caroused with the locals, toasted their newfound freedom, muttered ominous warnings about taxation, and picked up tidbits of information about possible adventures they could undertake once they became bored of the adulation.

Although d’Cantrus could have run for months on the vague plaudits of a couple of drunk old men the rest of the party grew bored after a few days, and they headed North. They had picked up two adventures and one treasure mission:

  • The townmaster had heard tell of Orcs in Wyvern Tor, and wanted the PCs to hunt them down and kill them
  • The local elven priestess, Sister Gaerele, wanted the PCs to find a banshee called Agatha and ask her a question about a spellbook
  • Mirna Dendrar, one of the captives they freed, told them of an ancient heirloom in a ruined town called Thundertree, which they were welcome to keep as their own if they were willing to risk the journey there to take it.

They decided first to kill the Orcs in Wyvern Tor, and then consider the banshee. They left the next day.

On the road to the Triboar trail they were attacked by an Owlbear, which they made short work of. Mostly Smithson and Tyge Trip spent some hours plucking out its feathers, which can be used to produce +1 arrows, and Mouser prepared a couple as they worked. The rest of the feathers they stored for future use when they met a fletcher.

He speaks three languages!

Wyvern Tor

They traveled north on the Triboar trail for two days, until they reached a point where a large valley opened to their east. This valley would lead them to Wyvern Tor. Here the weather was grim and grey, with chill sheets of fine rain drifting off the mountains and rolling over them towards a broad, shadowed line of forest to the west. That forest did not look inviting, and at night strange sounds came out of it. They did not want to spend another night in the open, with that menacing forest on their western flank, but fortunately ahead they saw the ruins of an old inn. As they approached they were confronted by mercenaries, but after assuring them they were no threat they were welcomed into a small compound where a wagon train had taken refuge. Here they found a fletcher who made them a few more arrows, and the mercenaries told them of rumours of evil happenings at Old Owl Well, an old well and ruined town on the northern side of the valley from Wyvern Tor. They were also given some information about Coneytown, a town a day’s travel to the north where they could maybe base themselves while they searched for Agatha.

The next morning they set out for Wyvern Tor. They entered the valley to the east of the ruined tavern and traveled east for the whole day, stopping for an uneventful but cold and unpleasant night in the lee of a moss-covered outcrop of boulders. The next day they began to search the Tor, a large and sprawling hill that rose above the surrounding hillocks to a commanding height, atop which the fragmented ruins of an ancient tower could just be seen. By midday they had found what they were looking for: over a ridge and in a shallow incline was a large cave mouth, guarded by a single bored-looking Orc.

Bored-looking Orcs are Mouse’s stock-in-trade. While the rest of the party moved away to take up ambush positions in a tree-clogged ravine Mouse threw on a quick goblin disguise and ran out to the cave. The Orc approached him with the typical bullying menace that the green-skinned thugs hold over their weaker cousins, and in a short but brutal conversation Mouse managed to convince it that he and a few of his mates had captured a human treasure, but that his mates had driven him away and now he wanted to join the Orc tribe if they would help him get back his treasure (and share it, of course). This plan appealed to the Orc’s humanitarian instincts – who doesn’t want to help out a weaker cousin in their hour of need – and, grabbing Mouse by his goblin collar, the Orc dragged him into the cave to meet his warboss. Mouse’s heart sank as he was dragged into a large cave, where five filthy Orcs lounged around their savage and nasty-looking warboss, Brughor Axe-biter. Six orcs and a warboss did not disturb Mouse overmuch – but the huge ogre lurking in the shadows behind the warboss’s loathsome sleeping furs did. Ogres are trouble. But it was too late to go back on the plan now, so Mouse put a little more squeak in his voice, and after a convincing display of cowardly bloodlust the entire gang decided to roll out and smash his goblin mates.

Their surprise when they were ambushed by Mouse’s friends was almost comical in its completeness. Sadly the comedy was washed away in a sea of orc blood, and even the Ogre did not last more than a couple of swings of his oversized club before he was brought smashing down, struck so hard in the end by Tyge’s greatsword that his enraged charge was stopped dead, and he was thrown back with the force of the blow. Beside him Brughor, with his last breath, shamed himself and his clan by speaking to Mouse in goblin rather than Orc: “C’est un piège!”

Indeed.

They returned to the Orc cave and searched it thoroughly, uncovering a little treasure and some disgusting Orc food and trash. They found no evidence that the Orcs were connected to Cragmaw castle or the Black Spider. Finally as night settled in they cleaned out the cave as best they could and slept by the Orcs’ dying fire.

The stones find their voice

Secrets of the stones

Before they slept Mouse took them up to the top of Wyvern Tor, to the ruined fragment of tower at the top. He had a feeling that there were secrets buried here, and he had heard the stories of its destruction. Many years ago the Tor had been the home of some dark wizard, who had surrounded himself with wyverns and ruled the area around him with an iron fist. But some obscure texts suggested it was dragons, not wyverns, that roosted here, and the wizard was their slave. Eventually a force of elves and humans had attacked the tower and put down its power at great cost, destroying all but a few shards of the innermost tower and killing the wyverns that defended it. Battles leave treasure, and heroes when they fall sometimes lose their magic items in the blood and mud and shit of the mundane world. Perhaps the stones had a story to tell.

Mouse had recently discovered that stones could talk to him. Perhaps it was too long in d’Cantrus’s lab, stirring strange reagents and sampling new potions; perhaps it was his parents’ legacy – after all he had never known them, so perhaps they were more special than the whispers in the alleys of his childhood had suggested; perhaps it was some wilder power, handed to him by fate or some capricious god. In any case Mouse believed in it, and so at sunset he trudged with his friends up the long, tussocked path to the flat top of the Tor, picking his way through ancient lightning-shattered stones to the broken and crumbling fragments of wall standing in the centre of the open hilltop. To the southwest the sharp, awe-inspiring Icespire peak stood out of the jumbled grey teeth of the sword mountains, glowing pink in the setting sun. Somewhere on its slopes a flash of blue lightning rippled, perhaps a frost giant’s anger or maybe just some strange natural phenomenon of its constantly storm-tossed stone ligaments. To the west and the north, as they watched Mouse approach the shell of the tower, the PCs could see the last red light of sunset fading across a wide vista of forests, plains and river. Tyge even fancied her half-elven sight could pick out the distant line of the sea, luminous in the magic hour, calling to her even from this distance with that strange mystical voice that it reserves only for the fickle souls of elves and their kin. They drank it all in and then turned to watch Mouse as he leaned his face against the chill stones.

Mouse laid his young brow against the stone, and for a moment all he felt was the tug of lichen on skin, and all he could smell was the musty talc of the stone. But then his vision faded, into a maelstrom of war and violence, dark shapes rushing and huge shadows, fire and sudden tugging violence. Vast forces flowed past him, huge shapes surged over the stones, and magic lashed and rippled in the air. He smelled blood, lots of blood, and the acrid smell of damp air in the wake of lightning and storms. Somewhere voices cried in unison and he felt the earth plunge. With the stones he fell down a huge distance into darkness and emptiness, the light closing above him. A flash of purest scarlet, a sudden pure, clear view of the sun rising over high mountains, and the vision was gone. Mouse came to, sweating against the cold stone, the last comforting rays of the setting sun gone and the night’s wind chill upon him. In the aftermath of the vision he knew – knew, with the certainty that only magic can make you feel – that there was a treasure down there. Beneath the Tor there had been a complex of tunnels, and it had been sealed in. Perhaps the denizens of the tunnels were still sealed in there. And somewhere on the east side of the Tor there was a way in.

He retreated from the stones, shaken by the power of his vision, and returned to his friends. Showing uncharacteristic grace and kindness, d’Cantrus wrapped a filthy Orc fur around his shoulders, and Mostly Smithson offered him a sip of the hot rice brew that he carried with him. They picked their way down the hillside, their footsteps lit by deCantrus’s chill magic light, the night slowly closing in around them, and returned to the Orc cave to rest. Somewhere beneath them treasures undisturbed by time lay silently waiting for them.

But what guarded those treasures? For now, they put that task aside, and turned their gaze north…

A flash of red …

Old Owl Well

Old Owl Well was across the valley from the Tor, and took them half a day to travel to. This day was warmer than the last few and bright, so they found themselves easily able to make out the well as they approached. The story of this well was that it was once a small but thriving settlement that provided fresh water and rest to the trappers of the region, but at some point the trapping business declined and the well fell into disrepair, or was destroyed by raiding orcs. Now it was abandoned, but until recently trappers had continued to use it as a place to stop and rest and gather fresh water. Recently, however, something had been making them stay clear of the place. Trappers being a taciturn lot, no one was quite sure what. But now the characters had a chance to find out, so their first action was to turn away from the ruined walls of the well and head up to a hillside to watch the compound.

The well was little more than a square of crumbling walls around a central tower, a squat little thing with its upper levels crumbling. To the north of the tower was the well itself, surrounded now with low bushes and tangled with ivy. Beyond the walls on all sides but the south were rough, scrub-covered hills with steep sides, from which it was easy for spies like our heroes to watch the well. From their vantage point they could see, on the eastern side of the tower, a large red tent, its canopy daubed with black symbols of some kind. Bemused, they sat on the hill for a few hours watching, but nobody emerged and nothing moved. Sensing daylight fading, they decided to return to the well and investigate.

They waited outside the main gates and sent Mouse in. He passed through the gate, moving as stealthily as he could, and first avoiding the tent moved to the broken tower. As he approached he smelled something foul and unusual, a smell he had never experienced before. Disgusted and uncertain, he crept up to the gaping entry of the tower and peered in, only to recoil in shock. A pile of bodies lay in the centre of the old tower, rotting and silent. No wonder he had never experienced the smell before – he had never experienced a charnel house before. Nor, now, would he ever forget. Disgusted, he turned and crept back towards his friends, to warn them that there was murder done here.

Halfway across the open ground to the gateway though something in his senses tingled. He looked around uncomfortably, and there behind him he saw all those dead bodies walking silently towards him, their mouths open in unmistakable blood lust. Shocked, he stumbled, and they were on him. He slipped between the legs of a particularly large and unruly one, and fled to his friends, yelling in terror.

Battle was joined. The PCs formed a line just back from the gate outside the well and prepared to fight 12 – 12! – of the most pitiful zombies the world has ever seen. Mostly Smithson’s divine grace drove 5 of them away but they still had to fight 7. As they fought a red-robed figure appeared at the doorway and threw a spell at one of them, freezing Mostly Smithson in place, but disappeared from view when Mouse fired a crossbow bolt at him and disrupted the spell. Tyge’s greatsword, Helmsmasher, hummed and sang its holy joy, and she hacked great glowing swathes through the undead, sending rotten flesh flying across the hillside. Finally they defeated the zombies, though not after taking some injuries, and pursued the red-robed wizard. He succumbed easily to their combined might, and soon they were able to interrogate him.

Mostly Smithson, with his unique skill and experience in tattoos, was soon able to recognize the man as a Red Wizard of Thay, a necromancer to whit, and with that knowledge all kindness left the crew. They forced him to tell him what he would, and soon discovered he had been raising this army from local villagers and tin miners, to support him while he researched at Owl Well. Satisfied he had nothing useful to tell him, they finally decided to make the world a better place, and Tyge killed him with a single strike of her sword.

They had pacified the lands east of the Triboar trail. Where next? A chill wind drew their attention to the distant Tor, and they thought about their next steps …

Our heroes have killed the changing of the guard, and now they descend into the Redbrand lair. From the ruined manor a flight of stairs leads down to a heavy wooden door, which they pushed aside to reveal a dim cellar. They descended the stairs into a large stone chamber dominated by a huge cistern, filled with cold pure water. The room was large, their lantern light barely reaching to the walls, which were lined with barrels. As Mouser dug around in the barrels looking for signs of traps or treasure a door in the northwest wall opened and a trio of redbrand thugs came charging out to attack them. They dealt with them in short order, beating them down into the flagstones in the doorway of their room. They searched the rooms further, finding a few trinkets and what looked like a package of emergency supplies hidden in the waters of the cistern. Whoever had secreted this escape package in the cistern was going to get an unpleasant surprise if they tried to flee and found their secret stash already looted; but the PCs doubted that anyone was going to escape from here.

They searched some more, and found a secret door in the southern wall of the room. From here they walked carefully through to a large, natural cave cold and smelling vaguely of rot. They immediately guessed that this must be where the strange eye-beast lived. A tunnel from the south they guessed connected the large cave to the secret entrance the halfling child had reported finding on the edge of the village – a useful escape, if that were their plan. A narrow chasm split the tunnel in two, and a bridge linked the two sides of the cave. Mouser crept into the room and headed north on the near side of the chasm, seeing nothing interesting. As he returned to the group he was struck by a strange series of visions, of falling into the chasm and rotting suddenly away, and an intense sense of hunger. Disgusted and confused, he crept back to the group. They moved to the edge of the cave and Mouser and Imoto chan headed back into the cave, Imoto chan tying a rope to the bridge and dropping it into the chasm as Mouser crept north to explore some more.

As Imoto chan finished tying the rope to the bridge she was suddenly struck by some strange magic that caused her body to rot and well up in stench and disgusting, noisome ruin. Somewhere over the chasm, the eye-beast was attacking them. Tyge rushed across the bridge, which collapsed under weight and dumped her into the chasm. Imoto chan leapt across the chasm to find the eye-beast, while Mouser took cover behind a pillar, firing arrows, and Mostly Smithson charged north to cross a bridge on the northern end of the cave, and Raymond deCantrus let loose spells across the chasm. The eye-beast was well hidden but they were able to drive it out of cover and cut it down without suffering too much damage.

In the chasm they found the body of Thel Dendrar, the woodcarver who had gone missing after he confronted the redbrands, and a chest containing some small trinkets and some potions. The chasm was haunted by a strange, weak magic that froze both space and time, rendering it chilly and making all movement in the chasm difficult and slow. As a result Thel’s corpse was still fresh, and strangely lifelike even though it had been ripped open by the Nothic and half eaten. Disgusted, Tyge climbed out and they resumed their quest.

From the cave a tunnel headed west and back into the more regular hallways of the cellar. A set of steps led down to a hallway, with a door at the base of the steps. Mouser opened the doorway, and was attacked by three bugbears who had been waiting quietly for them in the room. Pushed back mostly by disgust at the stench of their foul dog-like bodies, Mouser was shocked to see one hurl a spear straight into Mostly Smithson so hard that it went clean through his chest, knocking him down. The battle that followed was fast and brutal, and for pressed moments they thought they were all going to die before Tyge was able to cut a bloody, vicious path through the bugbear leader and start scattering bugbear hair and flesh like confetti in some horrid underdark wedding. Mouser took the chance to revive Mostly Smithson, and ultimately they prevailed through steel, lightning and hard, nasty work.

Standing in the stench of bloody dog-hair, shivering in rage and reaction, they looked around the dimly lit hallway, back at the room of half-eaten stored corpses and scattered vitreous nothic goo, and decided it might be best if they took a rest. Shuddering at the stench and iniquity, they pushed the door of the bugbear lair closed, and settled down to sleep.

Which was when they saw the goblin. With a sigh, and a shared sideways look of tired resignation, deCantrus asked it, “What is your name, little wretch?”

“Droop,” he replied, and so his fate was sealed …

He has a glass staff

Having destroyed the goblin nest and learnt some disturbing facts our heroes traveled onward to Phandalin, where fame, glory – and ale – awaited them. In addition to delivering the supplies they were contractually obliged to deliver, they had also rescued a cargo from the goblins, which they hoped to gain a reward for delivering to Phandalin, and they also had to escort Sildar Hallwinter to the town. He had not only been escorting Grundar Rockseeker to the town, but had been seeking a wizard called Iarno who seemed to have gone missing after arriving at the town. Once he had recovered and set himself up in Phandalin the PCs expected to have more opportunities to work for him and whatever shady cause he truly represented, so they wanted to get to the town fast and settle in.

Phandalin is a new town, a small number of houses built on the ruins of a much older town. The older town was ringed by a strong defensive wall that must have been destroyed in an earlier battle, that also razed the old town. The now town stood defenseless inside the ring of those old walls, crumbled and cast down, its houses built of poorly slung-together naked wood cast up on the foundations of older, grander buildings. The roads through town were a mixture of mud paths and scattered cobblestones, last remnants of the old town. It hunched against the drizzle of the fag end of the Storm Season, its inhabitants and the buildings themselves taking the last breath in earnest before the winter set in and froze their bones. It had a ramshackle, desperate air to it, as if the whole community had been slung together in the hope that none of the marauding orc tribes of the mountains would notice it, and its residents might have a few seasons in which to profit from trapping and mining before the whole shoddy enterprise fell apart in an orgy of blood and slaughter.

Sadly, it hadn’t lasted that long. The PCs soon discovered that a gang of bandits had set up in town, camped in an old manor on a rise on the edge of town, and were terrorizing all the residents. The script was the same they had seen before in their travels: terrified locals, a blacksmith who used to be a great warrior but had taken up a pacifist religion and refused to fight back, a terrified and collaborationist mayor. The usual. Raymond deCantrus was able to cite several sociological studies familiar with the various psychological and socio-cultural issues underlying such phenomena, until a grim glance from Tyge shut him up. As always in these scripts they planned to ignore the issue and get on with their business, but they were ambushed in the street and forced to kill three of the stupid bandits in quick succession. The fourth rendered up the information they needed before they dragged him to the townmaster, cast him into the town hall’s one cell, threatened a tiny payment out of the townmaster, and set off to destroy the entire stupid band.

First they traveled to the Sleeping Giant, a seedy taproom on the eastern edge of town. Their informant amongst the dead guards had, upon witnessing Tyge’s savagery, told them the entire workings of the redcloaks’ guard operations, which were quite straightforward: at any one time four guards (now dead) were patrolling town, four were on call at the Sleeping Giant, and four were resting in the manor. Besides a few on guard duty with prisoners, this was their whole complement. In about four hours the guard would change at the Sleeping Giant, so the PCs decided to go there, kill the redcloaks in the bar, wait, kill the four who came, and then march into the manor unopposed. A few small details made this plan slightly less workable than it sounded – in particular the gang of bugbears who had been sent by the Black Widow to help the bandits, and the weird monster with one eye that stood guard in the basement of the manor.

Whatever. Killing the four guards in the Sleeping Giant proved remarkably easy. They just walked in and set to work with a grim and brutal disregard for the furniture. As they stood cleaning their weapons the barman tried to run out the back but Mouse easily caught him, and with a minimal amount of threats he admitted he had been running away to warn the redcloaks of the trap. Satisfied, the PCs made sure he stayed in the bar and set up their trap. Sure enough a few hours later the next four guards walked in and died, and their pathway had been cleared out. They tossed the barman a few coins to repair his shoddy furniture and set off for the manor.

The entire aboveground structure of the manor was ruined, obviously destroyed by raiders a long time ago and abandoned. In amongst its vine-tangled and rainswept ruins they found a door leading down to the cellars, where they knew the remnants of the redcloaks (and the Bugbears, and the weird eye-beast) lived. They marched down into a large square room with a huge cistern in the middle, full of pure water. They were checking the cistern and arguing about the correct door to take when three redcloaks burst out of one of those doors to attack them. Perhaps their informant hadn’t been entirely honest with them – but he would pay. They slaughtered their three attackers and cleaned their weapons, while Mouse dragged a small bag of treasures out of the cistern, obviously someone’s escape kit, containing clean clothes and a potion of invisibility.

Well, whoever had hidden that there wasn’t going to escape now. They braced themselves, and headed in …

 

Klorg sleep now!

Our heroes have successfully infiltrated the first half of the Cragmaw Hideout, and they now know that ahead of them lies a water trap of some kind, and a Bugbear leader. After they allowed cook Yelmick to leave they moved back down the tunnel they had entered by, passing the scree-scattered scarp they had hauled themselves up to get here, and moving on along the tunnel to the bridge that overlooked the lower tunnel that lead to the entrance. The bridge was rickety but held their weight, and they crossed it safely. On the far side Mouse moved ahead, sneaking along one goblin piss-stained wall towards a larger room that roared with the sound of falling water. This room was larger than the previous caves, and had a refreshing breeze drifting through it. The tunnel opened into a large flat area of slick stone, which overlooked a wide pair of pools, that had obviously been created by damming the stream that had made these caverns. On the far side of the room a waterfall fell into the higher pool, bringing welcome fresh air into the stuffy and stinking confines of the lair. A huge tree trunk hung in the air, held up against the cave wall by a series of ropes connected by a rickety and makeshift-looking apparatus to a lever on the floor near the pool. This was obviously the source of the water trap that the party had just avoided. There were no goblins in the room, but from the southern side a dim light glowed from a connected cave. A single exit ran out of the north side of the room, following the line of the stream back down under the bridge towards the cave entrance.

Mouse brought the others forward and moved ahead again, to check the light source. He found a set of rough-hewn stairs leading up to a large cave, where the light was revealed to be a firepit in the middle of what must be the leader’s cavern. Crates and supplies lined the far wall of the cavern, and in one corner a human sat naked, tied to a barrel of some kind by tight ropes that had cut many burns and marks into his pale skin. A single goblin sat in front of the fire, spitting and cursing that he had to stay in the cave while the rest of the tribe got all the fun and treasure.

It took but a moment to subdue this pathetic beast, and it soon told them all they wanted to know. A goblin had been hiding on the bridge and had seen them as they entered the cave. It had called down to the cave with the ponds, and the goblins had released the first of two water traps. The goblin on the bridge had seen the light stone that Mouse cast into the flood, sweeping away down the stream, and had assumed the party had all been swept outside. Klorg had taken all the goblins except this pathetic beast and gone down the stream to find the PCs and slaughter them. They would no doubt be coming back soon. The PCs freed the human, Sildar, gave him the goblin’s sword, killed the goblin, and rushed back to the bridge to set their trap. Tyge went down to the lower tunnel under the bridge while Sildar and Mostly Simpson waited by the pond, and deCantrus and Mouse took the bridge. The goblins soon returned, marching up the tunnel with no regard for safety, spitting and cursing at each other the way goblins do when they have no one else around to hurt. Klorg marched in the middle, accompanied by a fat, mangy wolf.

They released the trap. Two of the goblins were swept away, though Klorg and his wolf stood their ground next to one goblin, and two goblins escaped the deluge, though the characters did not immediately know they had ducked and hidden. deCantrus cast a sleep spell that knocked Klorg and his wolf, while the remaining goblin opened fire on them. After a short moment a goblin returned from the cave mouth, and deCantrus tried to hit it with a flame bolt that only succeeded in setting the bridge alight. Beneath the bridge a goblin emerged from hiding to stab Tyge, and Sildar and Mostly Simpson rushed down to help her in battle. Another goblin emerged on the bridge to attack Mouse, giving deCantrus cause to run to the other side of the bridge. The remaining goblin in the tunnel woke Klorg and the wolf, so deCantrus cast another sleep spell. The goblin on the bridge fumbled his attempt to attack Mouse, smashing a piece of burning bridge down onto the goblin below the bridge, and giving Tyge a chance to mash it into oblivion. The battle was soon over, and Klorg slept through the whole thing, never to wake. If only the goblins were as good at resisting their traps as they were at making them …

They looted what they could, though the reward for their risks was paltry. In the cavern they found a stash of supplies that had been looted from another caravan on its way to Phandalin, and resolved to return it to its owners (for a reward, of course). They also spoke to Sildar, and he told them:

  • Gundren Rockseeker and his brothers had found the lost Wave Echo Cave, a location of some fabulous treasures
  • Klorg had orders to capture Gundren, given to him by some nefarious figure called the Black Spider
  • Gundren had a map to the cave, but it was sent to the goblins, probably at Cragmaw Castle
  • Sildar has his own contact in Phandalin, a wizard called Iarno, but has not heard from him for two months. Having lost contact, he was heading himself to Phandalin to see what was going on

They decided to travel together to Phandalin, rest there, find out the location of Cragmaw Castle, and free Gundren before he became useless to this mysterious Black Spider. Since all goblins look the same to the party they could not easily tell if Yelmick had been in the group of goblins they killed, but Tyge seemed to remember he had a big hairy wart under his left nostril, above a rudimentary tusk that protruded through an infected piercing in his cheek, and which she could not keep her eyes off when they were talking to him; looking at the goblins in the cavern they guessed he wasn’t there based on this hideous telltale, and decided to assume they now had a plant in Cragmaw Castle, though not the most reliable kind. They decided to return to Phandalin, and see what they could learn.

At Phandalin they secured accomodation and returned the stolen trade goods in exchange for a reward of 50gps. Now they were ready to seek out the Cragmaw leader, and this mysterious Black Spider, and kill them. First a warm bath and some ales – then the world!

The party had a simple task – escorting a wagon of mining goods from Neverwinter to the small town of Phandelver. An easy job through peaceful vales for our four adventurers, who were:

  • Mostly Simpson, A human Cleric of the Storm
  • Tyge Trip, a half-elf Paladin
  • Raymond d’Cantrus, a human wizard forced into adventuring after his grant funds dried up
  • Nithren Mar, “Mouse”, a half-elf rogue

They had been hired by a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker, who dropped hints of a big find in the town of Phandelver and offered paltry pay for the group to escort his provisions in a slow wagon, while he hurried on ahead on horseback with his hired sword, Sildar Hallwinter. His fine speech gave the impression of riches and further jobs waiting to be had, so they agreed to his poor payment on the promise of future chances. Like good entrepreneurs, they hustled along the road to Phandelver, throwing caution to the wind in the hopes that they would move quickly and not burn their entire payment on provisions, and were soon within a half day’s ride of Phandelver, on the Triboar trail. It was here that the Goblins struck.

As they rounded a bend through a copse of trees they stumbled on two horses dead in the road, obviously shot down. Tyge moved forward to investigate, and a hail of arrows fell on them from both sides of the road. Tyge was struck down immediately, and in haste Mostly Simpson cast a fog cloud over the ground to the right side of the road, from which half the arrows had come. d’Cantrus hopped down from the wagon, and Nithren slipped into the shadows of the woods just as a harsh voice yelled “Gank the mage!” in goblin, and a second fusillade of arrows hit Mostly Simpson, felling him immediately. d’Cantrus crouched by the wagon, listening to the muttering and cursing of goblins in the fog to the far side of the road, as Nithren tried to creep up on the archers. Another volley of arrows felled d’Cantrus, leaving only Nithren upright. He ambushed one of the goblins as two others emerged onto the road and started looting the bodies, one on Mostly Simpson and one on Tyge. Mostly Simpson lay in a dire state, blood pouring from deep wounds, and his final moments fast upon him. Nithren fled deeper into the woods, drawing a goblin after him, and disappeared into the underbrush to lay another ambush.

It all looked lost, at least for Mostly Simpson, his last lifesblood draining into the mud of the road, when Tyge recovered consciousness, to find the goblin rifling her pack. It had already tried taking her greatsword but, finding it too heavy, cast it down at her side in disgust. Much obliged, Tyge hauled it around and smashed the goblin to pasty muck, rolling over and staggering to her feet to find another panicked goblin staring at her over Mostly Simpson’s paling body. The goblin, seeing her ichor-slicked sword and enraged face, panicked and ran for the brush, dropping all it had stolen. Tyge staggered over to Mostly Simpson and lay on hands, a gentle blue light suffusing him and bringing him suddenly alert. Staring around madly, he grabbed his spear and rushed to d’Cantrus’s side. Meanwhile in the bushes Nithren Mar killed a goblin, and was fast on the heels of another when the fleeing goblin came screaming past. They both turned and fled, but not fast enough – d’Cantrus struck one down with a bolt of wrathful magic, and only one escaped.

They had survived an unexpected goblin ambush, though only just. They regathered at the wagons to rest and recuperate, while Mouse inspected the horses. These horses were the same horses Gundren Rockseeker and his guard had left Neverwinter on some days before, shot down perhaps a day ago and thoroughly looted. With no sign of Gundren or his guard, the group presumed they must have been captured by the goblins. They decided to hide their wagon on the trail and follow the goblins to their lair, either to find and rescue Gundren or to take back his belongings if, as they feared, the worst fate had befallen him.

The goblin trail was easy to follow, and the traps they laid on it pathetically easy to spot and avoid. The trail led to a low cliff face with a cave entrance, obviously regularly used by goblins. A stream seeped out of the entrance, running strangely low in its banks for the end of the storm season, and a brace of bushes near the entrance contained an obvious goblin watchpoint. Mouse sneaked up to the watchpoint and lay low near its entrance. Here he heard the goblin that had fled the ambush, bragging about how he had single-handedly ambushed a party of warriors and driven them back down the road with his cunnning. As the other two goblins in the hide oohed and aahed at the brave goblin’s story, Mouse rose up behind him and cut his throat, pulling him back from the hide and into the open while grunting “No he didn’t!” as he ran.

The goblins came charging out after Mouse and straight into the trap, cut down on the river’s edge by arrows and spells. One fell immediately but the other fled into the cave. Not wanting the alarm raised, Tyge and Mostly Simpson charged in after. They stumbled in the dark, and were just orienting themselves when a ragged, starving wolf emerged from a cave mouth to their right. Mostly Simpson set his spear and the wolf impaled itself on the spear, but soon two more came charging out. Grimly beset by the river’s edge in the dark, they beat the two wolves down and killed the last goblin too. Silence fell on the caves, and blood slicked away down the torpid stream.

Though sluggish and shallow, in the narrow confines of the cave interior the stream drowned all sounds from further in the cave. Confident they had not been heard further in, they explored the cave to their right. It was a filthy, stinking kennel, where the three wolves had been confined on chains and fed scraps. Holding in their vomit, the party searched through the filth and the shit for signs of Gundren rockseeker but found no human bones or remains. At the back of the cave they found a natural chimney that carved a narrow passage up to a higher cave, from where they could hear the faint sound of voices. They opted not to climb it for a surprise attack, and returned to the main passageway. This passageway was wide enough for the stream and a narrow walkway next to it, suitable for them to walk in single file. They devised an elaborate strategy for the humans to move forward using a light spell cast on a stone, and Mouse crept ahead to investigate the tunnel. After a short time the rest of them came forward to join him. The passageway curved ahead of them, and a passageway branched off to their left from the far side of the stream. Ahead of them a very unsafe wooden bridge balanced precariously over the stream, linking passageways that crossed the tunnel they were in. As they stood their discussing which way to go, they heard a roar ahead of them and suddenly a wall of water surged around the bend of the tunnel, rushing towards them under the bridge. They dived in separate directions, Mouse for the side tunnel, de Cantrus and Tyge back to the filthy wolf cave, while Mostly Simpson just stood his ground and weathered the storm. As Mouse ducked into the side tunnel he threw the stone with the enchanted light into the swell, and it bobbed away into the darkness. After the water had passed they rejoined in the side tunnel and climbed hastily up its scree-strewn slope to a higher tunnel, hoping that any pursuit would pass them. The constant chattering of the stream hid the sound of any pursuit, and they found themselves standing in a narrow tunnel that obviously must cut back to the bridge under which the water had raged.

Mouse stalked left, away from the direction of the bridge. He had found a nest of goblins, and they needed the mage. The wizard came forward to witness a scene of goblin Hygge: Four goblins crouched around a fireplace while a fifth turned a piece of pig carcass on a spit, swigging a mixture of alcohol, oil and pepper and spitting it over the mouldering pig flesh for flavour, while a boss goblin yelled down at them from on high in a torrent of abuse and foul-mouthed suggestions for the cooking pit. Thick smoke roiled around the room and out of a narrow gap in the ceiling, and the walls were smeared with old oil fumes and smoke. One of the goblins limped to a foul pile of straw in the corner and unleashed a lurid stream of piss that steamed in the half light and seemed to cascade forever into the dank straws, while the other snarled and recommended the cook add it to the carcass to improve the flavour.

deCantrus whispered the incantation for a Sleep spell and they attacked. The battle was short and brutal – three goblins fell asleep under deCantrus’s magic, two were cut down by arrows, and the last fell to Tgye’s sword with barely a whimper. The cave was cleared. Having slaughtered his friends, deCantrus cast Charm Person on the cook, and they woke him with the intention of telling him they had saved him from the beast that struck down his friends. Unfortunately as soon as he woke up, the goblin began a terrified bleating and prostrating, a sure sign that the spell had failed. Instead they threatened him, and with barely a raised voice they convinced him to tell them everything he knew:

  • This was the Cragmaw clan
  • Their main lair was in Cragmaw castle, somewhere northeast of here
  • The boss in this cave was Klorg, a bugbear of stupendous power
  • They had been ordered by their chief in Cragmaw Castle to raid wagons to find a dwarf called Gundren and deliver him to the castle
  • They had done just that, but were keeping his guard here for food or ransom
  • There were two water traps at the end of the tunnel, but they could go over the bridge and sneak up on the people in the trap room
  • His name was Yelmick

They cut a deal with Yelmick: They would let him live if he fled straight to Cragmaw Castle and set himself up as a cook there. Then when they invaded that castle, he would be ready to give them all the help they needed. If he agreed, they would give him treasure. If he betrayed them, they would deal with him just as they were about to deal with his friends.

They weren’t his friends, he assured them – he was just the cook. He just liked to cook. He didn’t know about any of the bad stuff and was just acting on orders. He would happily go to Cragmaw Castle for them and set up as a cook, no doubt he would soon become cook to the chief himself, since he was such a great cook.

Mouse recommended him to make contact with a traveling bard called Michelin who rates cooks, and then bade the goblin wretch be on his way. Yelmick was not even out of the room before behind him he heard the crunching, gurgling sound of his tribe mates being put to death in their sleep. Not doubting his new patrons’ power, he fled with nary a backward look.

Their grim task done, the PCs turned towards the bridge, and prepared to invest the inner depths of the hideout.