Dramatis Personae: Keth, Sorrel, Tasklar (and Elia)
Source: “DDEX3-10 Quelling the Horde”
As autumn progressed towards winter, Sorrel, Keth, and Keth’s protégé Elia found themselves in the Stop, a one-horse town west of Larchwood. Its tavern, the Plodding Plow, was run by a kindly dwarf woman named Glenna Moonsmith. As the trio made themselves comfortable at the bar, Glenna pushed some ales in their direction and told them they could have them free of charge if they let her give them a tip.
The PCs readily agreed, so Glenna related what two ranch hands who’d passed through the day before had told her: namely, that they’d been awakened in the night by goblins parading around as knights with crowns on their heads, lighting the place up and killing anything that moved. The ranch hands had fled through the night, not stopping at several neighboring farms that appeared to be under attack as well, before stopping for a rest (and a few drinks) at the Plow.
Glenna cautioned the adventurers that others in town would dismiss the ranch hands’ tale, as they were known to drink a lot, but she insisted that they were sober. She acknowledged that fear makes people exaggerate, though, so it’s possible they didn’t actually see any goblin knights with crowns. She pointed out that the ranched belonged to the Arcruses, a well-liked (and well-heeled) human family, while the neighboring farms belonged to the Lumbuses, a clan of hardworking halflings, and the Callidells, a family of humans who, it was rumored, were into witchcraft.
Goblins with crowns and rumors of witchcraft only excited our protagonists. After draining their drinks, they asked Glenna for directions, let her know a friend of theirs might be along shortly and to let him know where they’d gone, and then hit the trail.
A light drizzle set in as the group approached the Callidells’ farm. Elia went to scout ahead and reported back that there were bodies lying in the farmyard. The group decided to approached stealthily through the wheat field west of the compound. Much to their surprise, the four scarecrows posted around the field animated and moved in to attack! The scarecrows were truly frightening, able to paralyze their prey with a mere glance! Three ganged up on Sorrel while Elia and Keth teamed up against the fourth.
As Sorrel reduced one to a lifeless pile of straw and sackcloth, Tasklar came running up through the wheat and started firing at scarecrows with blasts of eldritch magic. The bard’s arrival helped turn the tide, as the scarecrows were proving to be quite tough to defeat. With the help of Tasklar’s magic, however, all four were soon down.
Free to proceed into the farmyard, the group discovered seven bodies on the ground. All were clearly related (and quite probably inbred as well), and ranged in age from young to old. They looked like they’d been hacked apart while trying to defend themselves with weird knobby clubs wrapped in humanoid skin. [Before the adventurers left the farm, they made sure to burn the clubs.]
The Callidells’ house was burnt to the ground, but one of the outbuildings — a shed by the look of it — was still intact. As was the lock. Elia picked it, and inside our protagonists found a circle engraved on the stone floor, with fat black candles ranged around it. And a set of manacles screwed into the middle of the circle. It would appear that the rumors of witchcraft had been true!
Keth stepped forward and pissed into the middle of the circle. As he did so, he noticed that the piss was quickly sinking beneath some cracks in the stone. With some grumbling about the stink, Tasklar bent down and noticed that part of the stone could be pried up. Underneath, Keth found a wet wooden box containing some gems and jewelry and a nightmarish wooden idol. They smashed the idol to bits but took the other treasure.
They then moved on towards the halfling family’s farm.
An hour later, they trudged into the halfling farm to find it deserted. Except for a goat that stuck its head out of the barn, bleated, then withdrew. The group went to check out the barn and found a small halfling boy hiding behind some hay bales. They coaxed him out with assurances that they were not going to hurt him. He asked them if the rest of his family was all right, so while Elia stayed with him, the others went to check. The rest of his family was not all right.
Their bodies were quickly buried, and the boy was escorted to another halfling family’s farm. Along the way, the boy told them that goblins had burst into the house while everyone was sleeping. He’d climbed out his window and hidden in the barn. He also told them, quite proudly, what he knew about goblins from listening to his uncle’s stories. These ones, he said, were quite unusual, in that some had crowns of spikes on their heads and metal armor on their bodies. Some of them were also riding on monsters, like giant frogs and two-headed dogs! One of them, the leader, had a giant centipede mount, and he could shoot fire out of his fingers!
Our protagonists stayed the night at the other family’s farm and warned them to seek shelter in the Stop until the all-clear could be given. They agreed to take the boy and leave home in the morning. As the new dawn broke, the adventurers said goodbye to the halflings and retraced their steps.
From the Lumbuses’ farm, they headed to the Arcrus ranch, where they discovered a fierce battle had taken place, in which some of the goblins had actually been killed. These ones were like normal goblins, with just piecemeal leather armor and no spiky crowns on their heads. They also surmised that only the ranch hands had been slain in the battle. The Arcruses had all been taken prisoner. Digging through the remains of the Arcruses’ house, they came across a strong box the goblins had overlooked. Inside was some silver jewelry that had melted in the fire, along with a few gems. They took this along with them as they followed the goblins’ tracks south.
Into the Underdark
Another hour’s travel south, our protagonists came upon a narrow cleft in the side of a hill. Lighting up the driftglobe so the two humans could see in the dark, they headed in. After a short distance, the entered a large cavern with several rock formations in it. A narrow passage descended into the dark on the far side. At that moment, two heavily armored goblins riding two-headed dogs moved out from behind the pillars and challenged the adventurers. One of them had a “crown” of spikes sticking out of his head, while the other did not.
The two half-orcs attempted to deceive the goblins into thinking that they were delivering two human prisoners at their leader’s request, but this ultimately failed when they could not even give the name of the goblins’ leader. (It didn’t help when the goblin knight pointed out that his tribe didn’t even normally have any dealings with orcs anyway.) The fight was on!
The adventurers decided the best strategy would be to unseat the knight and his squire from their mounts. While this proved relatively easy for the latter, whose death dog mount was swiftly slain, forcing the squire to retreat behind a rock pillar, the knight was adept at fighting while mounted and was repeatedly able to force his attackers to attack him instead of his dog. Outnumbered, the knight was soon brought low. Neither he nor his squire were shown any mercy. After the battle, Keth and Tasklar used restorative magics on each other, as the death dogs’ mouths had been quite dirty and they were worried about getting sick.
The group noted that both goblins were wearing chain shirts with bits of metal plating bolted on. They also discovered that the knights’ spikes had been hammered into his skull! Crazy goblins!
As the adventurers pressed on, Sorrel soon realized that they were heading into the Underdark! At last they came to a T-intersection. They chose to go right and, after a short distance, found another passage branching off their left into a garden of fungus. Hearing voices coming from beyond the garden, they snuck up amongst the mushrooms and discovered that they could all see into the large cavern as it was dimly lit by phosphorescent fungus. In the middle of the cavern was another goblin knight mounted on a giant toad. Three other goblins were rearranging barrels and ropes to create a course for the toad to navigate.
Being one for bold action, Tasklar charged out of cover, and the others were forced to follow. A savage fight ensued, with Sorrel at one point getting swallowed by the toad only to come bursting out in all his gory glory! One of the goblins managed to make it to a side passage, where he started hollering about intruders, before the group slew him from afar.
Fearing retaliation, the group headed to the north end of the cavern, where they had spied a small stable and corral that they hoped to hide in their long enough for a short rest. Unfortunately, the corral contained two large insectoid creatures that busted the fence down as our protagonists approached. They made a beeline for Sorrel in his heavy armor, and the former dwarf quickly realized that they were facing a pair of rust monsters! Luckily, both half-orcs were wielding magic weapons. Keth, too, felt safe in his new fire-resistant breastplate. Elia and Tasklar kept their distance. It was just poor Sorrel who was forced to deal with the rust. His chainmail will need a bit of repair when he gets back to Larchwood.
Much to their relief, after they’d dealt with the rust monsters, the adventurers were able to hide in the stable shed to catch their breath and bandage their wounds. No one came looking for them. The cowardly goblins appeared to be waiting for the adventurers to come to them!
Over the Wall
As our protagonists emerged from their hiding place and proceeded in the direction the fleeing goblin had taken, they found a wide passage descending towards another large cavern haphazardly filled with small shacks. Thirty feet up the left-hand wall of the passage was a ledge on which a crude battlement had been built. From beyond the battlement came a deep red glow. The wall even had convenient handholds.
The group decided to climb up and investigate the upper cavern. Fortunately, Tasklar’s dragonmark flared up as he approached, and he was able to see that the handholds were a trap! Each of them consisted of a sharp blade cleverly concealed by a layer of rock dust. Best not to climb up that way! Instead, Tasklar turned himself invisible and then scaled the cliff the hard way. Once at the top, he found another sizeable cavern with a chunky blockhouse to the right, an empty stable further along on the left, and two exits to either side at the far end. The blockhouse’s windows and door were shrouded by curtains. Several braziers filled with glowing coals were placed around the cavern.
Tasklar tossed a rope down for his mates but decided not to wait for them and made for the blockhouse. Shoving the curtain aside, he found himself looking at a decadently appointed bachelor pad, in which lounged a giant centipede thing (actually a carrion crawler!) and a tall, six-fingered goblin man with a crown of horns and coal-black skin. Sensing danger, the goblin flung rays of fire at the doorway. One of them struck the invisible Tasklar, who became visible once again as he hit the occupants of the room with a shatter spell.
The fiendish goblin laughed and attempted to charm Tasklar, but the bard shook it off and laughed in return. But then the carrion crawler lunged forward, its flailing tentacle striking the bard and freezing him in place. The goblin then leapt up and slashed at him with his scimitar.
The rest of the group reached the top of the wall just in time to see Tasklar fall backward out of the blockhouse doorway, a cheesy grin frozen on his face. Elia rushed forward and dragged Tasklar’s body back towards the wall. As she did so, he came back to life [rolled a natural 20 on his first death save and then successfully saved against the paralyzation!] with a gasp, just as the carrion crawler and fiendish goblin came dashing out in hot pursuit.
In the ensuing battle, the goblin managed to charm Elia into defending him. After Sorrel was also paralyzed by the crawler’s tentacles, the group focused their fire on it and destroyed it. As its carcass collapsed to the ground, the goblin let out a cry of anguish. He turned on the group in a fury, and they discovered that the had the power to teleport. As Keth summoned up some spiritual falcons to aid him, the goblin teleported up onto the roof of the blockhouse.
Sorrel slapped Elia back to her senses and she turned on the goblin. Sensing that he was losing the battle, the goblin vanished. The group waited a moment, then went into the blockhouse to loot it. They found some treasure, as well as a bottle with some red liquid in it. Keth tossed it to Sorrel, who promptly broke it, spilling the liquid on the ground. [‘Twas an elixir of health.] Keth also found a strange green crystal that, when he picked it up, made him feel uneasy. He decided to keep it, though, so he could show it to Calla or Kaylessa later. He thought maybe they might know what it was.
At that point, our protagonists decided it was time to leave. As they descended the wall, several goblins started shooting arrows at them from the relative safety of their shanty town. Keth decided to jump down, rather than expose himself to such fire (having already been hurt quite badly — both physically and in terms of his pride — by goblin arrows earlier). The group then hightailed it back up the passage to the surface, then hunted around the countryside till they found a defensible copse of trees in which to take another short rest.
With the echoes of Tasklar’s restful music still ringing in their ears, our protagonists made ready to descend into the Underdark to face the horde of the goblin lord once again.