Other than the B2 Caves of Chaos one-shot, the most recent game session for my D&D group marked the beginning a new campaign, as we unwrapped new characters for adventures in the land of “Aurora”.
What follows is the first installment of a campaign chronicle, written as the personal journal of one of my characters: Twingol the Gnome Illusionist. The account was composed a week or two after the actual session, so I’ve used creative license to fill gaps in my recollection, as well as to punch up the narrative. An example of the latter would be Twingol’s reference to “Foundry Day”, an event which marks the first day a young dwarf is deemed eligible to work as a blacksmith unsupervised. Think of it as something of a Dwarven “Sweet 16”, a day of celebration for the normally dour race, and one of much, much drinking.
[edit: When I first made this post, I was having trouble recalling all of the names of the characters. Consequently, I was forced make numerous references to "the other gnome wizard", which is a very clunky and unsatisfying way of identifying a subject. So in a bit of post ret-conning, here is the cast of characters:
Montgomery Drake Scott, Esquire - Human Cavalier
Zeb (no clan name given) - Gnome Thief/Mage
Jane Proudfinger - Human Cleric
Gareth Ravenmantle - Gnome Paladin
Beorn Sigrunsen - Human Barbarian
Twingol "Twinkle" Fiddlesap, Image Master Red Class - Gnome Illusionist (Image Maker kit)]
Year of the Bounding Lamb, 5th Waning, Day 3 – The Escaped Rout Pt. I.
As the sun goes down on our little band of mis-matched companions-in-arms, I can’t help but feel fortunate that I’m able to lay quill to scroll once more. With sorrow, I must report that blood flowed as freely as dwarven spirits on Foundry Day, mostly from our men. The fates may decree that our cause is lost, but I will do what I can to ensure our story is not. The morning broke with a bright sun shining in a cloudless summer sky, but reports from advance scouts had cast a pall over the camp that more befitted the dead of winter. The forces marching to meet us were monsters, which isn't itself all that worrisome. But this army was comprised of goblins AND kobolds. Working together. Without killing each other! And not only them, but orcs and gnolls and ogres, too! Even a giant, of all things! All under one command. It was unnatural, and where nature stops, magic begins. So I suspected, and my fears would be confirmed all too soon. But who could wield magic that powerful? The reports had also included hints that there might be a wizard or two in among the enemy, but that would not be enough to assemble and control such a patchwork horde of horrors. Why, the sheer numbers alone would make it prohibitive to-
Forgive me, I digress. My professional interest and obsessive nature have lead me down the cowpath to premature explication. Let the demands of chronology now return me to the proper point in my tale. Our forces were divided into three companies, themselves comprised primarily of members of the local militia, supplemented by "volunteers" who had simply been in the wrong hamlet at the wrong time. My large barbarian friend and I are counted among the latter, though we served with quite different levels of enthusiasm. Each company militia was manned by individuals of like vocation. Company C, also called "Bootlicker Company", was populated by many of the merchants, craftsmen, and government officials from the local towns. The men of Company B were drawn from the multitude of small farms that dotted the area. To honor their agricultural roots, they were redubbed "Shitkicker Company". The final unit, which also included myself, was manned largely by workers from the enormous Gimideen Pig Ranch, which of course is famous for providing pork and pork products to the King himself. Naturally, we immediately adopted the fearsome nom de guerre of "Pigsticker Company". We were, all things considered, a stout enough force. The main complement of each company were healthy, robust men who, while not professional soldiers, were not strangers to the sword. As for the remainder, several of we conscripts were adventurers, seeking what fortune and/fame our blades and spells might bring.
We drilled as we could, and occupied what was judged to be the most defensible grounds that lay between the approaching horde and the populated lands behind, namely the mouth of Boscogne Pass. The cliffs on either side of the pass would, we thought, protect our flanks. And if we were forced to retreat, we had even rigged several falling rock and log traps at the narrowest points of the path that should slow pursuit. The scouts had estimated that the enemy would reach our position by mid-morning, and on this they were spot on. They first appeared as a cloud of dust that oozed over the horizon, sparkling with glints of steel. The cloud gradually resolved itself into mass of bared fangs and clutching claws, flashing weapons and clanking armor. Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Ogres, and even the Giant we had feared. We had anticipated this intimidating display, however, and had prepared for it. What we had not foreseen, and what sent a chill down my spine, was HOW they were approaching. None of the monstrous races advancing on us had a reputation for their grasp of military tactics. Or discipline. Or bathing, for that matter, but that's beside the point. One would have expected most in this lot to merely charge forward, some perhaps on all fours, screaming and gibbering in rage and bloodlust. Others of their number are known more for disliking direct confrontation, and typically would have held back from the initial assault. But THESE creatures were marching in formation, and at a steady pace. No screams or howls, either, as if they had some measure of training. I did not like that at all.
When their forces were roughly 100 yards away, I heard the sounds of several short, authoritative sounding barks float above the droning footfalls, and the army promptly split into three smaller groups, mirroring our own formations. Our commanders must have been struck dumb by the unexpected precision, because I don't recall hearing a single order from our side. At a point 30 yards away from our front ranks, the invaders suddenly halted, and for a few pregnant moments, silence swept through the valley. Then, as if on cue, every goblin and gnoll and kobold and orc and ogre let loose with a bloodcurdling cry, thrusting their spears in the air, or beating their swords against their shields in a terrible display of coordinated rage. This tactic was having its intended effect, as I noticed several men around me took a faltering half step backwards. I could feel disaster approaching, so decided to take the initiative. To break the spell of intimidation being woven by our foes, I cast a spell of my own. An enormous, illusory wall of iron sprang up from within their position, dividing the infantry ranks in front from the Giant, the siege ballista, and the commanders behind. I also hoped that if there were magic-users among them, they too would be caught behind the wall. The barrier stretched fully from one side of the cliff to the other, and I must admit a moment of pride at such a length. Instantly, the Giant bellowed in rage, and began a futile attempt to climb over the wall. The noise must have startled his allies, for the chanting died as they turned to see what happened. As uncertainty began to seep into their ranks, our commanders found their voices, and ordered the attack.
Our men surged forward against an enemy that now thought themselves cut off and trapped. We hacked and hewed with newfound hope, and for a moment it seemed victory would be ours. Then I heard a sickening thud from off to my left. I looked over to find the shattered figure of a goblin lying in a jumble of broken bones and flesh at the base of the cliff. I had scant moments to wonder how the cur had made it's way over from the enemy lines unseen before I heard a shout ring out "'Ware enemy on the cliff!" My head jerked up to see yet another surprise: goblins and kobolds rappelling down the face of the rock like Sherpa mountain men! Well, not exactly like Sherpas; several of them lost their grip on their ropes, following their friend to a gooey demise. But enough reached the ground in one piece that we suddenly found ourselves flanked after all. "Still," I thought, "they're just goblins." And indeed, the closest Pigsticker soldiers, lead by a Montgomery Scott, a human cavalier, and Gareth Ravenmantle, a gnome paladin, had already split the monsters numbers, driving them back. But suddenly, I was arrested by twin roars that split the sky. I wheeled around in time to see two enormous wyverns fly over our company and wade into the back ranks with fierce glee. Savagely they ripped at our men, tossing bodies to and fro. I stood rooted in the ground, as the implications flashed through my mind. We were not merely flanked, we were encircled! Trapped by the enemy and the very walls of the pass we had thought provided a defense! Moreover, even if we could retreat, the wyverns would not be inconvenienced in the slightest by the traps we laid. There would be no way to outrun them.
No sooner had these thoughts raced through my mind than they were blown away by an enormous fireball that detonated in the middle of Pigsticker Company, decimating our ranks. I understood then that the rumors of enemy spellcasters had been true, and at least one of them had pierced the veil of my illusion. No doubt the rest of the blocked enemy forces would soon also detect my ruse. "To the cliff base!" roared the cavalier, his voice shaking me from my despondent reverie. "Use the trees and rock as cover!" I seized upon his words as if they were a lifeline, and scurried towards a gap in the mass of rappelling (and falling) monsters. Several of our men followed suit, though the tremendous din of battle prevented most from hearing the command. As I neared the base, I heard the excited shouts of Zeb, the other gnome wizard: "A cave! A cave!" Hope flowered in my heart, and I made for the sound of his voice at a dead run. "Beorn! Beorn! This way!" I shouted, and the big savage began loping after me. We rounded a large oak and spied our escape; a man-sized opening in the rock, which, from experience, promised to be the entrance to a significant network of caves.
Unfortunately, we weren't the only ones to have heard Zeb's exclamations. Already, two mixed groups of goblins and kobolds were attacking the several members of Pigsticker company who had made it there before us. Squire Scott and the Lady Jane Proudfinger were holding off one group, while Gareth and several pig farmers were keeping the other group at bay. Zeb was nowhere to be seen. I suspected that he had already disappeared into the cave, and resolved to follow in his wise footsteps. Beorn, however, had other plans, and launched himself at the goblins vexing the paladin. And by "launched", I mean he charged, tripped on a root, and then fell on a kobold. I imagine the beast was quite surprised before the life was crushed from his broken form. Gareth, taking advantage of the momentary stunned pause, quickly surveyed our surroundings. "Into the cave!" he barked, "we are cut off!" It was true. The wyverns and fireballs had devastated our forces, and they had disappeared behind a chaotic wall of orcs and ogres. Some of those same creatures, apparently in search of more prey, peeled away and began heading in our direction. "Beorn, we've got to go, now!" I shouted, and then ducked into darkness. Lady Jane followed close on my heels, leading a panicked pig farmer. The others stayed behind to cover our escape, and then began a slow defensive retreat to the safety of the cave.
As I made my way deeper within, I slipped past a section of the tunnel that angled sharply back on itself. "That's going to be a problem for the big humans, but at least it will stop pursuit by anything ogre-sized or larger," I mused. Zeb was in a room-sized chamber a little further, from which several other tunnels wended away to parts unknown. Before I could address him, I heard a sharp cry from where I had just come. I dove for the side of chamber and hid, hoping to ambush whatever monster had made it past the fighters at the cave's entrance. I tensed as a light approached, then sighed with relief as the form of the cleric struggled into view, now dragging an unconscious pig farmer. We gnomes then quickly conversed, and settled on a plan of following the twin guides of the air currents and the nose of Zeb's familiar in navigating the underground network. We four set off, with Lady Jane leaving behind lightstones to mark our path for our rear-guard. First Gareth and then Beorn caught up to us. I was shocked that Beorn was not last to arrive, as he is, in the first place, loathe to ever choose the better part of valor. I thought surely he would insist on being the last to spit in the eye of our foes before making his escape. But no, the Squire Scott was the last to find us, having gathered all of the lightstones on his way. To hear him tell it later, he stood his ground at a choke-point, slaughtering so many monsters that eventually their corpses grew to form a macabre barrier. I'd have thought him a liar if he weren't covered in so much blood, so I settled on arrogant bastard.
The day was young yet, but my eyes grow heavy with sleep, and this quill grows heavy in my hand, so I put them to rest for the night, and will continue the tale tomorrow.
~ Twingol Fiddlesap, IMRC