Dramatis Personae: Gil, Sorrel, Tasklar (and a host of NPCs)
Source: “Alarums and Excursions” (Princes of the Apocalypse)
When Gil and Tasklar finally returned to Larchwood, they were gobsmacked by the news that their dwarven friend Keluak had been killed and later brought back to life in the body of a half-orc. They were also rather surprised to find that Calla had grown quite a bit taller in the few weeks since they’d last seen her.
When reports filtered into Larchwood that orcs were raiding the homesteads to the northwest, the PCs set off to investigate. They soon came across a burning farm. Tasklar turned himself invisible and snuck into the yard, looking for orcs and any survivors. Although he could see plenty of boot prints and some wagon tracks, there appeared to be no one around, not even any bodies. Then he heard coughing coming from within the house. Hurrying to the front door, he found a bloody half-elf male struggling to lift himself off the ground. Still invisible, he called out to the man that, although he couldn’t see him, he was there to help!
As Tasklar pulled the man out of the burning house, the man started yelling for his wife, Maygan, who was with child. Turning visible again, Tasklar rushed back into the house, going room to room but finding no one. As he emerged, his companions joined him in the farmyard. Although Sorrel’s appearance alarmed the farmer, he was soon placated and calmed down enough to reveal that his farmhands also appeared to be missing. All he remembered was that orcs had come barging into his house, and one of them hit him over the head as he was attempting to shield his wife. Introducing himself as Selwyn, he thanked the PCs for rescuing him and begged them to help him find his wife.
After a quick but fruitless look around the burning farm buildings, the group set off down the trail, following the obvious tracks left by the orcs. An hour or so later, they spotted the orcs resting by a dry riverbed. The wagon appeared stuck in the soft sand, and they could see a woman hunched in the back of the wagon along with various goods looted from the farm. The two farmhands were resting at the front of the wagon.
The PCs were also spotted, however, and two orcs with bows advanced on them. Gil put one to sleep, but the other slipped into the trees and proceeded to flank them as its compatriots charged up the path to engage the PCs in melee. Unfortunately for the orcs, they proved to be no match for the three hardened adventurers, and Selwyn was soon reunited with his wife, Maygan, and their two farmhands. With no home to return to, however, they asked the PCs to escort them to the nearby Dellmon Ranch. On the way, Selwyn explained that the Dellmons had begun fortifying their ranch and had invited their neighbors to join them.
A few hours later, the group found themselves staring at a large compound protected by some crude fortifications consisting of wooden palisades, makeshift crenellations, and a large ditch on the eastern side. The windows of the various buildings had all been boarded up as well. Inside the compound, the PCs found the Dellmon family and a host of other farmers, ranch hands, and children, as well as a group of soldiers led by a holy knight and a trio of scouts. Last but not least were the ranch’s two dwarven smiths. The PCs were welcomed in with open arms and introductions were made.
The Dellmon family included a number of able-bodied warriors, led by patriarch Kerbin, who’d refused to flee from his ancestral lands. His oldest son, Perd, stood by him, determined to fight. Perd’s wife, Marka, a skilled hunter, was also fiercely determined to protect her children. Kerbin’s younger son, Fyndrick, was full of bravado and wanted to take the fight to the orcs instead of waiting for them to lay siege to the ranch. Lastly, Kerbin’s daughter, Dreena, was a member of the local druid circle. She informed the PCs that she’d sent an animal messenger to a nearby tribe of wood elves but hadn’t heard back. She hoped they would send aid in time.
The knight was one Ser Erned Stoutblade, a member of the Order of the Warrior’s Sons, part of the military wing of the Andarian Septry. Full of zealous bluster, Ser Erned had brought his contingent of faithful warriors to deliver retribution for the orcs’ wanton savagery.
The trio of scouts were led by a halfling named Flameran Verminbane. The halfling and his two human cohorts had been tracking the orc war band as it moved through the countryside and had come to the ranch to warn the Dellmons of its approach. When asked, Flameran explained that the war band consisted of about forty orcs.
The dwarves were twins named Stowal and Branikan Gorunn. They had a bet on to see which of them could slay the most orcs.
The First Attack
The PCs took a moment to catch their breath and then set about organizing the ranch’s defense. They ordered oil to be poured out in various places, hot coals from the dwarves’ forge to be carried up to the roof, zip lines to be strung up between the various buildings, and so on. Gil also activated his silver raven and sent it out to look for the orcs. No sooner had they positioned everyone to their liking but the orcs’ scouts were spotted on the ridges. The orcs soon came pouring into the fields and surrounded the ranch, approaching from all sides.
Then the drumming started. It seemed to give the orcs heart, while it chilled the defenders to their core. Not liking the unsettling beat one bit, or the demoralizing effect it was having on their fellow defenders, the PCs pinpointed its source and took aim. Tasklar fired on the orc war drummer with his wand of magic missiles, then Gil put him to sleep. As the defenders shook themselves free of the drum’s effects, a heavily-armored orc bent over and shook the drummer awake … which merely prompted Tasklar to unload his wand on the poor drummer, taking him out of the fight before it had even properly begun! [DM note: This prompted comparisons to that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Arab guy brandishes his scimitar theatrically only to have Indy pull out his gun and shoot him dead.]
While the defenders were able to pick off a few orcs as they approached, the melee was soon on as the orcs charged the barricades. A few of them clambered over the wall and got into the compound, but they were quickly dispatched by the defenders. During the course of the fight, Kerbin and both of his sons were taken down, only to be revived by Dreena. Fyndrick nearly lost his head when the war chief attacked him with a mighty sweep of his falchion. As the young human dropped to the ground, the chieftain roared in victory, seemingly growing stronger, much to Sorrel’s dismay. That said, although the half-orc was quickly surrounded, he was more than able to hold his own, even against the war chief.
When a number of orcs approached the front door with the intention of smashing through, the defenders realized they’d forgotten to place anyone inside to protect the noncombatants. Fortunately, the men up on the roof had the presence of mind to drop the burning coals from the forge down on the orcs, sending them reeling.
Before long, the orcs withdrew out of sight. The defenders were able to lick their wounds and count their dead, among them Branikan the dwarf and a number of farmers and ranch hands. Two of Ser Erned’s warriors had also perished. Fyndrick was now sporting a nasty scar on his neck from when the war chief’s falchion had nearly separated his head from his shoulders.
While they nursed their wounds, the PCs concluded that the ranch was too large for the survivors to defend properly, so they ordered everyone to withdraw to the southern side. All the noncombatants were moved out of the house and into the barn, and the majority of the defenders set themselves up in the space between the barn and the forge or up on those buildings’ roofs. They also laid out more oil for Dreena to light up with her fire magic.
The Second Attack
It soon became apparent that the orcs had plans of their own. Rather than make another mad rush across the open fields, which had proved too costly for them, they moved upwind and set fire to the fields, shrouding the compound in smoke and reducing the defenders’ visibility to thirty feet.
In response, Gil sent out his raven and his bat familiar to keep watch. As the bat’s echolocation picked up the orc scouts advancing through the smoke, Gil lit up the oil they’d placed in front of the house and then zipped across the yard to the forge to warn the others. Hot on his heels were several of the orc scouts, emerging from the smoke and peppering the defenders with arrows. As the scouts melted back into the smoke, a group of orcs rushed across the yard to assault the defenders’ northern flank. As the archers on the roofs fired arrows down, Dreena lit up the oil, burning them severely.
At the same time, orc scouts appeared out of the smoke from the west, just as several orc grunts came climbing up onto the forge roof. A number of the defenders were slain up there, and Marka Dellmon was knocked to the ground, where she was set upon and laid low by the orcs’ war chief. Her sister-in-law, Dreena, came to her aid, reviving her with the last of her healing spells.
More orcs came rushing out of the smoke to assault the southern barricades. Things looked pretty desperate for a while, but the defenders held out, and soon the orcs’ war chief was the last man standing. He spat at Sorrel as the half-orc approached, calling him a traitor to his race. The war chief, knowing that his doom was at hand, was determined to at least take Sorrel with him. Alas, it was not to be. Although the chieftain managed to take out one of Sorrel’s eyes, he was unable to kill him. Outnumbered, the war chief quickly succumbed to his wounds, with Gil delivering the killshot.
As the smoke slowly cleared, the result of the battle became evident. More than forty orcs lay dead around the compound. Though many of the defenders lay among them, their numbers were far fewer. Ser Erned had lost all of his men, and if it hadn’t been for Dreena with her healing magic, the Dellmons would all be dead as well.
And at that moment, the elves showed up!
As the ranchers settled into cleaning up the mess, the PCs went in search of the orcs’ camp, where they found all the loot that they’d stolen from other farms and homesteads. They gave a good portion of it to the common folk, keeping only a few choice pieces for themselves, including a pair of sending stones and a magic breastplate granting resistance to fire. Sorrel also claimed as a prize the hideous belt made of tanned dwarf skin that the orc’s war chief had worn. He sensed it was magical and found himself being drawn to it despite his utter revulsion. He spirited it away in his pack, determined to figure out what to do with it later.
After all was said and done, the PCs had proved themselves to be capable leaders of men, ensuring that their heroic deeds at Dellmon Ranch would be made known far and wide for years to come!