Our cast of players:
- Achmed (Dave): Human Thief, level 5.
- Albrecht (Rick): Human Priest, level 4.
- Pioden (Craig): Elf Warrior/Wizard/Thief, level 3/2/3.
- Tether (Dan): Human Warrior, level 4.
- Tomas (Alan): Human Paladin, level 4.
- William (Max): Human Warrior, level 4.
Total XPs awarded from the previous session: 2,097
Achmed, moving as quietly as he can through the marshy terrain, approaches the hut. Stopping just out of direct sight of the single open doorway, he listens intently and hears the crackling sound of a fire overlaid by incoherent mumbling. He returns to the bridge and motions the rest of you to come over. As an added precaution, William takes one of his rabbit snares and wraps the wire around the orc’s neck, garotte fashion.
Once you are all over the bridge, Achmed approaches the hut once more, which is stlll out of sight of the main party, and this time works his way around to the front, risking a peek through the doorway. Inside the hut is a boiling cauldron hanging over a small fire, in front of which an ancient elf sits, adding lizard legs to it. The elf’s flesh hangs in loose, grey flaps from his face and neck. Believing himself unseen, Achmed returns to the bridge once more and as soon as he is in sight gestures for Albrecht and Tomas to accompany him. Pioden, Tether, and William remain behind to guard both the bridge, your only known escape route, and your orc prisoner.
As neither Albrecht nor Tomas are in any way capable of moving quietly through the swamp, they and Achmed abandon the stealth and head straight for the door of the hovel. As you get within sight, the old elf stands up and comes to the door, watching you approach. He looks at you with wide, unblinking eyes, frosted white with cataracts, and gestures you to come in, before re-entering his hut. You cautiously approach and enter the hut. The bones of birds, rodents, lizards, and other small creatures litter the floor, and a short stack of humanoid skulls forms a pyramid on the back wall. Atop the pyramid is an unlit black candle forced into an eye socket. It smells of rotting vegetation and smoke, and everything in the place is covered in a grimy coat of grease and soot.
There is a moment of awkward silence and then the elf solemnly asks, “would you like some tea?” The tension is broken and you all gratefully accept. The elf pulls out three drinking bowls and dips each into the cauldron before passing them around. You all take one and eye each other uneasily. The contents are thin and covered in grease, and floating in Albrecht’s is a severed bird’s wing, still covered in feathers. “Drink up while it’s hot,” encourages the elf, making a smacking sound with his lips. Albrecht lifts his bowl to his lips and pretends to sip so as not to cause offence. Tomas studiously ignores the brew with an air of haughty disdain, while Achmed takes a deep draught. He seems to like it and it is only a hand gesture from Albrecht that stops him from asking for more.
Either way the elf seems satisfied and, with the niceties observed, Albrecht asks him what he is doing here. The elf launches into a largely incomprehensible ramble, gibbering incoherently about demon princes, lizardfolk, skulls, witch queens and a plague, all the time boxing his own head with clenched fists as if to force his mind to conform to some sort of order. You all look at each other in puzzlement. If the situation were not so serious it would be comical.
After listening to the old elf for some time, Albrecht interjects and asks what he knows of The Forge and how he manages to avoid the orcs. The elf ceases his ramblings and enters a moment of lucidity. He quietly asks Albrecht if you are here to fight the Witch Queen. Albrecht is non-committal, trying a different line of questioning in return but the elf stops him with a raised hand and interrupts, “I said, will you join my army and help me to fight the Witch Queen?”
Looking around as if he half expects to see a squad of well armed men in the hut, Albrecht shrugs and responds, “errr, no?” With a sinister glint in his eyes, the elf raises his hand higher and hisses, “in that case I shall have to recruit you by force! Behold, my army of vengeance!!” The three of you follow the elf’s outstretched hand pointing through the door of the hovel and see the bog outside begin to bubble as marsh gas rushes to the surface in increasing amounts. The grounds seems to boil as it erupts upwards with the release of pressure and animated skeletons, covered in slime and mud and wielding scimitars and shields, emerge from the swamp.
Jumping back in alarm, Tomas utters an exclamation to the sacred rose and he and Albrecht draw weapons and set about the old elf, who collapses to the floor, dead, within seconds of the combined assault, wizened and ancient body battered to a pulp. Achmed moves to the door of the hut and looks outside, deciding better of it and pulling back quickly as he sees several skeletons approaching, with more behind.
Meanwhile, back at the bridge, William, Tether, Pioden have been waiting and keeping your orc captive under close watch. Tether is sure he can hear Tomas shouting about something in the distance, but the words are muffled by the dense mist and this is hardly unusual behaviour for the prone to outbursts paladin. There are no sounds of battle or other disturbances, but Tether decides to head in that direction just to be sure. William decides to follow him, telling Pioden to stay behind and guard the orc. The pair head off into the mist in the direction that the others went and have not gone very far before they come across a most unexpected sight – a mud hut seemingly beseiged by skeletons. One of them is trying to fight its way in through the doorway, while the others cluster around banging on the walls of the hut with their shields.
Pulling out weapons, the pair shout out at the skeletons, five of which detach from the group at the hut and move to engage William and Tether, who back off slowly in the direction of the bridge before engaging with gusto, William swapping his customary dragon-pomelled longsword for a heavy mace that he uses to good effect, smashing skulls all around.
Pioden, hearing the sound of fighting, draws the Sword of Conviction and looks into the mist. Just at the edge of his vision he sees Tether and William back into view with their skeletal opponents just beyond. The sword gives a quiver of anticipation and Pioden is torn between guarding the orc and charging into the fray. The desire for battle outweighs prudence and, telling the orc to sit down and not move, Pioden charges to join his comrades and is soon engaged in his own fight with a skeleton, but the sword, although happy to be engaged against undead foes, is of much less use against the skeletons than the heavy maces of William and Tether.
Scarcely able to believe his luck, the orc quickly looks around and, confident that Pioden is far enough away in the mist and heavily engaged in combat, stands up and walks off into the foggy swamp, lost from sight within a few feet. With a cry of frustration, Pioden tries to disengage from his opponent, resisting the intense disappointment of the sword, and, as soon as he done so, runs back to the end of the bridge looking all around. There is no sign of the orc who has disappeared into the mist. Pioden stands listening, but to no avail. With the sounds of battle behind him and the muffling effect of the fog all around he can hear nothing – the orc has given you the slip.
Back at the beseiged hut, Tomas and Albrecht stand either side of the door as the skeletons try to force their way in. Fortunately they can only enter one at a time and the rest outside can do little other than hammer on the walls of hut, clawing with desperate frustration to get at the living flesh inside. As each skeleton enters, Tomas attacks with the bastard sword, which glows bright gold as it thirsts to release the skeletons from their undead existence, albeit with little effect and then Albrecht follows up with the morning star, shattering limbs and skulls, and sending shards of bone flying all around the interior of the hut.
Achmed, sensing that something within the hut may be animating and controlling the skeletons, and unable to contribute little directly to the fight, searches around turning over everything he can find. He smashes the pyramid of skulls, tramples the candle, overturns the cauldron onto the fire, which hisses and fizzes, then finally smashes the elf’s head to a pulp with a mace. All to no avail. Searching the elf’s body, he finds a sickle, five darts, and three rawhide scrolls, untreated and bloody. As Tomas and Albrecht appear to have the defence of the hut in hand, he unfurls them and attempts to read the elvish script within. They are a series of notes, largely the confused ramblings of someone clearly in the throes of madness. However, in the corner of the third scroll he looks at, Achmed finds the only passage remotely approaching meaningful. It reads:
…the first part bile of toad, cast with bones, set aflame. The disease has claimed the dragon. With the dragon gone who has the power to crush the witch and her Army? But there is another way – entrails tell me her power is drawn from the corrupted earth, the same taint born from the sins of Frogroth.
The savage king killed the demon once, sealing his bloody trophy in his tomb. Have the lizards awakened It?
It falls to my army to finish the task: bearing the skull to its final resting place, and feeding the Maw its bitter pill. Found three dead ravens in the swamp today. The end is near…
Achmed’s brow furrows at the mention of Frogroth, a name you thought you had left behind with the machinations of Suto Lore at Dundra. For a moment he is lost in thought, until a crack makes him look up to see Albrecht smashing the last of the skeletons besieging the hut. With Tomas, the three of you leave the hut to find William and Tether finishing off the last of the skeletons outside as well. They have put their maces to good use, and splintered fragments of bone lie all around, the remains of the elf’s army to which you were to have been its newest recruits.
You cast around the battlefield but find nothing beyond the skeleton’s rusty scimitars and shields. Tether finds one that is half usable and takes it for himself. Deciding to move on from here in the direction you have been told The Forge lies, Tomas remains close to the hut keeping watch while the rest of you return to retrieve the horses and Tarquin. Assembled onve more by the hut, Achmed and Pioden once more head off south into the mist, this time telling the remainder of you to wait until summoned.
It is easy to lose your bearings in the unrelenting sameness of the swamp, with only the occasional skeletal and blasted tree to break the monotony, and the disc of the sun, now you would judge heading into the afternoon, reduced to a sickly glow in the sky. The two thieves navigate as best they can and after heading southwards for some way come across another of the wooden bridges spanning the muddy waters in between the islands of reeds. The wooden bridge stretches out over the swamp, its far end lost in the fog. Sharpened stakes line each side, a skull impaled upon every one. A crow sits atop one of the fresher looking ones, absently picking at the rotting flesh. Catching sight of them, the crow caws twice, then takes to the wing.
To be continued…