Dramatis Personae: Calla, Gil, Keluak, Keth
Source: “Alarums and Excursions” (Princes of the Apocalypse)
Bears & Bows
The PCs had spent the better part of a day searching along the Cairn Road for bandits. The Larchwood constable had suggested a number of likely spots but so far they’d all been dead-ends in more ways than one. Footsore and mosquito-bitten, the would-be adventurers were just about to give up and head back to town when they caught a whiff of roast boar emanating from the trees to the side of the road.
Spotting a trail that a wagon had recently been taken down, the PCs approached cautiously. Sure enough, in a little dell in the woods were some bandits, making merry around a campfire. There was also a black bear in a cage atop a wagon. And some crossbows within easy reach of the bandits. A quick huddle and the PCs decided that Calla the sorceress would stumble into the dell, looking for all the world like a lost and helpless maiden in hopes of drawing at least one of the bandits out onto the trail so Keth and Keluak could ambush him, while Gil circled around to take the bandits from behind.
This plan would’ve worked if Kel and Keth had done a better job hiding in the brush. Calla managed to get the bandits’ leader to come towards her, his intentions plain upon his face and in the hungry tone of his voice, but he spotted his would-be assailants as soon as he came within view of the trail. The game was up!
As soon as the fighting started, the black bear started banging against the bars of the cage and soon broke free! It immediately turned on the bandits and began mauling them. The PCs made short work of the leader, though they accidentally killed him in the process. They knocked out two of the other bandits and then rescued the fourth from the bear after she agreed to surrender if they got it off her.
The female bandit, a young human woman named Elia, pleaded with the PCs to have mercy on her. When she discovered that Keth was a true cleric blessed by the goddess Freya (which he inadvertently revealed when he healed one of his comrades), she professed to be a fellow believer. She gave Keth a big sob story about how she’d been forced into banditry by poverty and her big brother (the now-deceased bandit leader) and so on and so forth. Keth believed her and agreed to save her from the hangman’s noose if she swore never to resort to banditry again. Elia promised, and so when the PCs returned to town, they only handed over the two surviving male bandits to Constable Harburk, as well as the body of their leader, but made no mention of Elia. Instead, Keth took her to the boarding house he was staying at, where he asked the proprietor, a pipe-smoking prune of an old lady known as Mother Yolantha, to take her on as a chambermaid. Mother Yolantha, who also happened to be a secret adherent of the Old Faith, agreed to the deal, much to Elia’s and Keth’s relief.
In thanks for their efforts, Constable Harburk treated the PCs to a round of free drinks at the local tavern. Keluak politely declined any alcohol, asking for spring water instead. Keth, meanwhile, spent a bit of time getting to know the other two half-orcs in town: the older, retired mercenary Feng Ironhead, proprietor of the local arms and armor shop (who, Keth learned, had a great eye for gear but no head for business) and Grund, the village simpleton who lived by the market square, happily letting everyone pilfer his pickles. Keth vowed to ensure that some of his own coin found its way into their pockets.
The Haunted Tomb
The next morning, a bold young girl named Pell marched up to the PCs and proudly informed them that she’d seen a ghost. They asked her where, and she told them up in the hills. They were able to corroborate her story by talking to the local baker, a surprisingly thin halfling named Mangobarl Lorren, and promptly headed up into the hills in search of the old haunted tomb. There they discovered that there was indeed a ghost, but they also learned that they weren’t the only ones who’d been in the tomb – as the ghost couldn’t possibly have propped up that bucket of wagonwheel parts that fell on Gil’s head when he pushed open the tomb door.
The ghost kept asking them to leave and because they didn’t do so quickly enough, it attacked them. Despite the fact that their weapons went through it, they eventually managed to reduce it to a few thin wisps of ether. Gil then set about opening the inner door and discovered a sarcophagus and a chest. Letting their curiosity get the better of them, the PCs opened the coffin only to be attacking by a flying sword! Recovering quickly, they battered it into submission, then put it back in the coffin and shut the lid. Gil investigated the chest and found a secret compartment hidden under some rotten books and cloth.
The PCs took what little treasure was in the chest and left, only to be accosted by a goblin riding on the shoulders of a half-ogre who were waiting for them on the path outside the tomb. The PCs were certainly not about to let a pair of uneducated scum rob them of their ill-gotten gains! Inexperienced though they were, the adventurers proved more than a match for the would-be robbers and left them to rot on the path.
The Last Laugh
On the way back to Larchwood, the PCs came across an odd sight: a human skull stuck to a tree with a black arrow wrapped with what appeared to be parchment. Calla used mage hand to retrieve the parchment, which on close inspection appeared to be made from human skin. Written on it was a vague comment about being marked for the last laugh by someone named Valklondar. Nothing further would have come of it had not Keth stepped forward and pulled the arrow out of the tree by hand. He wanted to take it back to the village to see if anyone recognized it. That night, he experienced a nightmare consisting of the skull that had been stuck to the tree rushing at him hungrily.
Although Keth insisted on staying at Mother Yolantha’s, the other PCs had set themselves up at Larchwood’s only inn, the Swinging Sword. Keluak in particular was quite taken with the inn’s proprietor, Kaylessa, whom he swore must be an elf queen, despite her protestations to the contrary. She was, in fact, only half-elven, but she was nevertheless flattered by the dwarf’s attention. She was most keen to have Keluak and his companions in town, as she felt that the more monsters the adventurers slew, the safer the town would be!
Calla asked Kaylessa if she knew anything about the tomb they’d explored, and she said that it was one of many old tombs in the hills dating back to the days of the old empires. No one in Larchwood today was descended from those nobles, but nevertheless none would like the idea of goblins and other monsters getting their hands on whatever was in those tombs, so she thanked the PCs for their work in that regard.
The Necromancer’s Cave
Kaylessa also took the PCs aside later on and told them she’d heard of another source of trouble. The children of the town’s clothiers had been warned away from playing near Lance Rock because of plague! The PCs went to talk to the children and their parents and were duly informed that a gruff dwarf prospector (who didn’t live in town and therefore couldn’t be questioned directly) had warned the children about the plague. The PCs promptly volunteered to go and investigate. They soon found a sign warning of plague but decided to ignore it and pressed on. Next they found a cave with an identical sign posted outside it. Again they ignored it and went into the cave.
In the cave, the PCs found zombies. Lots of zombies. Including some zombies dressed rather strangely: one in a bear costume, another in a jester’s outfit, and a third in the get-up of a high-court lady. These three zombies danced an oddly mesmerizing dance that allowed them to get close enough to the PCs to attack them, though this proved to be a fatal move on their part. The PCs pressed deeper into the cave and found a mad necromancer and some freakish disembodied hands that crawled all over them, punching and slashing with their dirty undead nails.
Keluak succumbed to his injuries, and soon after the necromancer bewitched Keth and forced him to strike his downed comrade. Luckily, Keth pulled himself together and shook off the madness before he murdered his friend. As the necromancer’s skeletal guardians advanced on the PCs, Keth revived Keluak and the four adventurers decided now would be a good time to withdraw. And back to Larchwood they went!