5 May, 1032/ 30 November, 2010
Our band of adventurers take on the task of restoring an heir from beyond the winterwall to his lost birthright – a sack of magical hops that made his grandfather a famous brewer. This task requires a journey deep into the wracked and ruined Fallow Fields to the Charred Inn. Along the way, they worship at the altar of an ancient god, slay an intellectual bear, make babies in the forest, have a tussle with a nasty group of bandits, and go swimming…
Oxnard the Ox (in the service of Melphius)
One-arm Tom (in the service of Kankad)
Goslyn (in the service of Garvin)
DAY ONE (5-MAY)
Twas a glorious morning in May when our four heroes met for the first time around the public bulletin board at the well in the town square of the squalid frontier town known as Winterwall. With snowcovered peaks in the far distance, the travelers gathered round a small piece of sepia parchment. Those who could, read the text written upon it-words that promised employment and, perhaps, adventure.
Though most inhabitants of Winterwall are mistrustful (and untrustworthy themselves!), these three Men and Dwarf put aside the petty squabbles that so often come between otherwise likable sorts, and decided to make a joint venture of it. The paper described an expedition into the Fallow Farms. Everyone knows that the big FF is a not-so-nice place to visit, even when spring is waxing on this, the wrong side of the mountains.
The paper also instructed prospective applicants to meet their potential employer at the fabled Underfall Inn, an ancient roadhouse tucked underneath the vast and deafening spray of the largest of the Three Falls. Given the danger inherent in travel within the Fallow Farms and the not-inconsiderable length of the hike up to the Three Falls, the group decided that they needed subcontractors to carry their torches, shields, and various accouterments.
The Hiring of the Hirelings
The rest of this auspicious day was spent in the acquiring of said helpmeets. Money was spent, criers were hired, and Garven the Clanless Dwarf held court at a sizable table in the Weary Ox (a tavern neither as well nor as widely regarded as the Underfall, but deemed most suitable for the hiring of the nefarious sorts willing to hire themselves out on adventures).
By the end of the day, four applicants had presented themselves to the dwarf, who had reserved dibs on first choice of man-at-arms. Of the four, one was a giant of a man with a suspiciously ruddy complexion and swollen nose. He was aptly named Oxnard. Another found himself at a severe disadvantage in seeking employ in this, a rather physically demanding profession as he had only one arm and was considerably older than your average frivolous adventurer. This mono-armed gentleman went by the appellation of Tom. The third of the group was named the rather feminine name of Goslyn. Goslyn was a thin dark man of middling height, and composed himself in a manner befitting a fighter of some experience. The fourth made such small impression as to not even be worthy of recollection.
Garven, having the expert appraising eye of his, the most discerning of the four good folk of the earth, immediately put aside One-arm Tom, telling him to leave the tavern. He looked at the ogre-like Oxnard, but also spurned his offering of service. Perhaps it was all that height that ruined the Ox’s chances. A certain something caught his eye about Goslyn, though. After some short discussion of money and equipment, a deal was done. Goslyn would serve the doughty dwarf.
While the dwarf was making his selection, Kankad the Seaman had sidled up to the bar with the spurned One-armed Tom. Not being as hastily pro-quadralimbed as the dwarf, Kankad was interested in employing Tom and laid out basic duties-Tom would merely have to bear torch and watch the rear. Tom was touched by the young fighting-man’s faith in him, and joined his service with a smile.
Melphius the Magnificent also required a manservant. When one studies the byzantine and ever-evasive arcane arts, one does not have time to concentrate upon the study of warfare, and having an appropriate bodyguard can ensure that the wizard be afforded the time and opportunity to engage in furthering his studies. Melphius is not the trusting sort, but at the very least Oxnard was bulky and thus fit for service. A deal was struck, and the mage had servant.
Of the party’s principals, only Tavum Jhall the Cleric desired to remain in sweet solitude. Provisions were purchased, weapons were distributed, special back packs for one-armed men were donned, and the group left Winterwall for their destination: the famed Inn at Underfall.
DAY TWO (6-MAY)
Unemployment Ends at Underfall
The next morning the group left bright and early for the renowned roadhouse. Though the haughty staff of the establishment sneered at the ragamuffin (temporarily!!) bunch, they were allowed entry to the common room, where they found their employer-to-be. The employer, one Ang Marshawn, was the grandson of the man that founded the Charred Inn (though it was know, in those days, as the Pipe and Hearth), and he had returned west of the mountains to retrieve his inheritance. Marshawn told a tale of a hidden chest containing gold and his family’s most sacred and secret of treasures: magical hops. For a half-share of the gold, the party was to retrieve this treasure and return it to Marshawn in five days. If this schedule was not adhered to, the adventurers would answer to Ang’s most capable appearing bodyguard, Brommel. A deal was struck, and the party immediately set out.
The group walked under the last of the three falls, thus crossing under the mighty Riverill. On the other side of the river they found a crossroad. The beaten path lead towards civilization in one direction and Winterwall in the other, but the adventurers’ path lead down the least-used fork. They would travel south.
The Journey South
On this, the group’s first journey into the fabled Fallow Farms, the hearty fellows traveled south until near lunch time, whenIgnatius, sensed a…quickening in the arcane field of energy that envelops all things. Upon examining the immediate countryside, a round bare-topped hill, taller than its immediate fellows, became apparent and the party decided to climb the hill. There they thought they could get a look around, or at least sit down to a hearty meal of trail rations.
Indeed, they did have a grand view from the top of the small mount-to the north and west ran the Riverill. Across it’s tumultuous stream, they espied a small rectangular watchtower of ancient type and somewhat worse for the wear. Being across the snow-fed torrent of the Riverill (and not the subject of their immediate mission, besides), the group decided to mark the tower on their map and perhaps return to investigate on another day.
The Stone Circle
More immediately accessible was the small circle of ancient and weathered-smooth stone dolmens. Ignatius sensed that this stone circle was the source of the ripple in the energy field, and after a moment’s reflection, he decided to enter the circle and examine the altar at its center. The altar showed signs of use-as if grains, berries, and other cultivated and wild agricultural goods had been sacrificed there. Oddly, the party cleric felt no particular holiness or religious significance emanating from the site. After a quick examination of backpacks and burlap sacks, the young wizard sacrificed some rations, extolling the virtues of whatever nameless spirit or god watched over the circle. Ignatius was rewarded, as energies coursed through his body, and he became more in tune with the cosmos, at large.
After the circle was proved harmful (beneficial, even!), the assembly of adventurers did indeed take their lunch to the great relief of Tavum Jhall, the chubby cleric. During this lunch the group cast their eyes to the south, were they saw that the trail entered into a small but dense wood-a wood not shown on their heretofore trusty map. The decision was made to stick to the trail, though it lead them into a perilous wood, rather than risk getting lost in the rolling hills of the northern Fallow Farms.
The Intellectual Bear
The forest would, of course, prove to be of some interest. Within its shady boughs, the trail still proved easy to follow, though it meandered to and fro through the sizable trunks of the undercanopy. During one of these twists of the trail, the party was surprised (and did some surprising of its own!) by an enormous brown bear, sitting upright on a large felled tree trunk, and licking to some quite grievous wounds.
The party stayed its ground and waited to see what the formidable bear would do. Interestingly, it walked forward on two legs, peering at the humanoids intently, sniffed at them, and let out a great intimidating roar in their faces. This was more than Garven the Clanless was willing to take, and he charged forward, wielding his axe. With one fearsome stroke of that well-honed blade, the bear was instantly slain, falling to the leaf-carpeted forest floor with a dull thud.
Garven would then examine the bear, where he (most interestingly) found that the ursine creature wore a belt about its midriff, with various pouches as accessories. Nevertheless, the dwarven hero proceeded to skin the great bear, even going so far as to hack off great chunks of its still warm flesh. There was some muttering from the rest of the party about this debatable hasty series of decisions, but no serious reprimand was forthcoming, and Garven was, perhaps, a bit hurt at the lack of overt support from his comrades.
The Forlorn Fallow Farms
The bear slain, the group proceeded along the trail, soon passing from the relative shady cool of the wood. Over the next few hours, the party began to encounter actual fallow fields, along with burned out homesteads, and other signs of the ransacking that had occurred here some fifty years previous. The devastation seemed oddly fresh. As they continued south, the occurrence of farms began to happen with greater frequency and density, and the band decided they must be nearing some sort of nexus of former civilization-that the Inn of the Pipe and Hearth must be near. As it was nearing dusk, the wanderers decided not to approach the Charred Inn, and instead examine some of the nearby ruined farms.
In the time remaining them before nightfall, the group searched a couple of the farmhouses, and at one such encountered foul undead! Tavum Jhall called upon the favor of his deity, but that august lord decided not to answer him, at that time. The skeletal apparitions were dispatched by force of arms, and without any damage to the wayfarers of Winterwall. A quick search of the farmhouse uncovered some small treasure, including coins and a curious bottle containing a viscous blue liquid. The farmstead had a relatively intact root cellar and a semi-serviceable barn with a hay loft. The party set up camp in this hayloft and set guards for the evening. They eschewed a fire for that night, and passed around the contents of a keg unearthed from the ruined farmhouse’s cellar.
Ignatius was to discover his hired man, Oxnard, sneaking unauthorized grog from the keg late in the night, and the hireling sank in the mage’s appraisal. This was to be a mere foreshadowing of greater frictions to follow.
DAY 3 (7-MAY)
Babes in the Woods
Other than the attempted purloining of beery goodness, the night passed uneventfully. It was determined that the brave adventurers, having spent their first night in the wilds, deserved a hearty and warm breakfast. Much like girls going to the privy at a tavern, Garven the Clanless and Tavum Jhall paired off and went to collect firewood from a nearby copse of woods. While in the wood the two would-be-woodsmen detected what sounded like the crying of a babe! Following their ears, they found a fresh pink human girl baby lying upon some moss under a fern. The baby was naked to the world, and neither sight nor sound of the parents was seen or heard. The ever-empathic dwarf was in favor of leaving the baby, but Tavum’s conscience would not allow him to do so. The cleric gathered the babe into his arms, Garven gathered some dry kindling into his, and the couple returned to camp.
Much surprise was expressed by the rest of the party when Tavum and Garven returned bearing a baby. The typical jokes about cross-species homosexual breeding were made, and a mash made of rations and water was made. The baby was quite hungry, and took to the mash as if it were mother’s milk. The group debated what to do with the baby for quite some time, and after the debating concluded, Tavum noticed that the child has perceptibly grown in the interim. As if on cue, the babe began crying again. Perplexed, the cleric fed the child again. Again the child grew. This cycle continued for the rest of the morning, and by the time the group decided something must be done, the babe had grown to the size of an eight or nine year old girl!
The mysterious wunderkind was capable of no intelligible speech-in fact, the only thing it seemed capable of doing was crying, eating, and expressing affection for its caretakers. For this group of steely-hearted warriors, such things were not enough. They decided to trick the child, locking it into the ruined farm’s root cellar with a couple of days rations. They told themselves they would return and look in on the child after their business at the Charred Inn was completed.
The Charred Inn
Having successfully dealt with the threat of the 8 year old girl, the party returned to the main road in an attempt to find the Charred Inn. After journeying along said trail for some few minutes, the crowd of killers came to the top of a hill-in the distance, they saw a large ruined structure, which must have been the inn. Disturbingly, the blue-grey smoke of a campfire rose in a thin tendril from a portion of the ruins. Was the abandoned inn actually inhabited, and by whom?
It was decided to continue down the hill and investigate closer. Melphius the Wizard and a couple of the lightly armed hirelings were chosen for the task, for they were not weighed down by heavy clinking pieces of metal. The spies snuck through the overgrown grasses along the edge of a large pond behind the inn, and proved successful. They snuck up upon two men in leather armor dressing a venison that hung bleeding from a tree branch. The two strangers had stoked a fire in one of the fireplaces of the old inn and seemed to be preparing dinner. Or perhaps it was lunch. No matter, hearing the voices of others reverberating from another portion of the Pipe and Hearth, the three sneakers whisped their way back to their compatriots, describing what they had discovered.
Reunited, the seven slayers put their heads together and decided they would approach this group with open hands and attempt to parley, reasoning that perhaps they were simple country folk or refugees. Sadly, this was not the case.
Fight at the Inn!
The party approached the inn and were noticed by the deer-dressers, one of which picked up a nearby cowbell and commenced to whalloping it, creating a great clangor that carried throughout the small valley. This clangor was responded to with shouts of “To arms! To arms” and various runnings to and fro by the bandits that now occupied the inn. A short but sharp fight commenced, with the party giving greater than they got. All fought valiantly, though the cleric was knocked unconscious after taking a nasty slice from a brigand’s short sword (here, One-Armed Tom would prove his worth, giving the stricken cleric a draught from the liberated potion, and bringing him back from his near-deadly injury). The leader of the bandits proved himself to be a vicious gnoll, but before that horror on two legs could get into the action, Melphius brought him and two others low with arcane sleep. Those few bandits still alive fled in horror at the onslaught of the fearsome four, and those slumbering at the hands of the mage were tightly bound with good stout hemp rope.
A search was made of the premises, but unfortunately naught of value was found-certainly no magic hops was around! The group did find a suspicious large pit trap in the center of the courtyard of the ruined tavern. There was much blood scattered about the pit, along with broken spears and javelins. Great claw marks scored the earth, and the side of the pit had been caved in along one edge. Three shallow graves nearby told a tale, which the morbid Kankad learned by unearthing the remains within: The deceased were obviously bandits. The gnoll and one of the two remaining bandits were murdered after this, the third being kept around for questioning. The heir to the hops had also mentioned a springhouse as a possible location for the secret stash. The group left Tom and Goslyn behind to watch over the prisoners, and went in search of the springhouse.
The pond seemed a logical place to start the search, and indeed, it soon led the group to the springhouse, which actually proved itself to be a small cave. The cave was blocked by a portcullis, but the portcullis was barred from the outside, and proved no obstacle. Kankad offered to search the inky blackness beyond the gate, an offer readily accepted by his compatriots.
Yet another Bear?
Kankad stepped onto the shale-stone sand within the cavern, and after his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he found himself standing on the shore of a small clear pool. Unfortunately a great breathing hulk of animal-flesh making growling noises occupied a corner of the cave. The growlings proved themselves to be snores-the bear (another!), which it proved itself to be, was asleep! Kankad informed his comrades-at-arms, and they awoke the bear, thinking it might also be of the intellectual persuasion.
Twas not the case-this younger bear attacked with rabid fury, and the party met it with extreme violence of their own. Ironically (or fittingly, depending upon your perspective), Garven the Dwarf almost met his end at the hands of this bear, and was reduced to an unconscious hulk in the corner. During the desperate fight, Melphius, who had spent his arcane energies for the day when ensorcelling the bandits, urged Oxnard the Ox to take his place in the shield wall, but that worthy lost his nerve, and fled from the cavern, despite the wizard’s sputtering rebukes.
In the end, it was Kankad, slight of stature, but not of sand, who slay the bear, proving his worth to the party. After two hard fights the group was feeling worse for the wear. They were sore disappointed to find the cave empty of any treasure.
That which is Below
As Tavum prayed to his god for the health of the dwarf, Kankad borrowed the 10’ pole that Goslyn bore, and probed the depths of the small pool. He found nothing amiss with this probing, but his suspicious nature was tweaked. The sailor (ret.) lowered himself into the icy artesian spring, and despite chattering teeth, he soon learned that a hidden passage in the depths of the water led into the dark unknown!
Here the party was met with a quandry-continue on in search of the treasure, or rest and see to their hurts? Melphius wanted to, at least, see what was on the other side of the hidden underwater passage, and gave his hireling a chance to redeem himself by making the swim. This was more than poor Oxnard could take, and he began removing his equipment and stammering about asking more than was right of a man, and left forthwith to return to his family (or mug) in Winterwall.
After this deflating bit of betrayal, the party sat down to mull over their decision.
The adventure of the Charred Inn is to be continued here…