A Matter of Trade – The Silken Thread

The loss of the mule has made the mulemaster Gulstaff even glummer, if such a thing were possible, this does not help the mood in the party I can tell you. Even with the advantage of elven eyesight the gloom is hard to penetrate and the strain of constantly keeping watch is beginning to strain even Gerran’s optimism. Fryancryn chats easily with those who are nearby and I enjoy his company. He is clearly a man of the road and it is the journey more than the trade he lives for. We exchange tales of travels around the fringes of the Great Wood. It seems he has not met many of the First born and to have three, even if one is only a half blood, for company peaks his interest. I, of course, deflect much of his interest in me and my comings and goings, instead focussing his attention on the Noldo, Talaras and his reasons for wandering so far from the Havens.

Uphead a glimmer across the path catches my attention and I call for a halt. It is clear that there is some kind of silken thread stretched across the South Road. While giant spiders are rare, they are know to live in the depths of the dark heart of the forest and are hunted mercilessly by my fellow wood elves. I advise caution and scan the area for any further sign of the foul beasts but all seems quiet.

My plea for caution and care goes unheeded as Gerran strides manfully towards one of the great silver threads strung across the road. Behind him scuttles Talaras, bow drawn looking far more cautious but none the less too close to use the bow should Gerran be attacked. I pause for a moment, unsure whether to stay with Fryancryn and the mules or to cover the other two guards. I opt to follow at a distance comfortable for the range of my bow.

There is a faint sound of something passing through the air near the pair up front but I do not understand its importance until Talaras yells ambush. He does so as six misbegotten orcs slip from their hiding places in the thick rose thorns that line the path. There are four between Talaras and myself and two more beyond him unseen by Gerran. I let my arrow fly with a cry of warning; darting sideways Talaras looses his bow but both flights miss their mark. The warning is enough though to allow Gerran to turn and defend himself.

Too quick the foe is upon me. I have no time to pay heed to how my companions fare as I am forced to hurriedly defend myself against two orcs. The first lashes a lucky blow beneath the guarded of twirling quarterstaff, my calf is slashed and I am badly bruised by a heavy handed blow from the flat of the blade. I go down on one knee and fear it will be over soon. The sight would be comical if I were not so injured as I watch the other orc drop its blade but I am busy parrying the attack of the first. A second flurry of blows smash the the sweeping guard of my quarterstaff and the world goes black.

I awaken and the pain in my calf sears straight to my vocal chords in a cry of anguish. I bite down hard not wanting to alert any enemies nearby but it seems that they have fled. There is only my companions and I still here but a distinct lack of slain foes to suggest that the others were not any more successful that I. Gerran has an arrow shaft protruding from his leg which Talaras is currently trying to remove and staunch the bleeding. It seems that outnumbered the pair retreated scooping up my fallen body as they passed. Fortunately, a bruise to the lower leg and the concern over Gerrans wound has meant they have not checked me thoroughly and discovered my secret. Of Fryancryn and Gulstaff there is not a sign also, it must be said, of the mule with all the food supplies. However, we do have plenty of grain and weapons on the remaining mules.

We are making plans to dump some of the grain to free up two mules for Gerran and I to ride when we hear some muffled groaning from the depths of the rose thorn thicket. If it wasn’t so pitiful we would be really worried, not to mention in deep trouble given the wounds taken. But is turns out to be Fryancryn dragging Gulstaff through a hidden passage among the bushes. He tells us he and the mule man had pursued the orcs but were overcome and he is little pleased with the realisation that two thirds of his grain will need to be dumped to let his guards make it to Buhr Widufiras.

Then again, as I said, he is more about the travel and adventure than making the largest profit and travellers in peril can’t be choosers. So we limp on towards the Buhr a few days further along the road. I would attempt to forage some herbs and berries to supplement our scant supplies but I cannot limp for long enough to be successful. I am concerned also by the bold presence of orcs on the South Road.

We meet a pair of woodman travelling the road. They appear to be some form of patrol and escort us to the Buhr in safety. By careful questioning, I discover that they are worried for a missing scout called Windlore, who is a bit a totemic hero among the Woodman of Buhr Widufiras. The presence of the orcs on the South Road has also caused some concern, not least since, though they appear inept, they have caused more havoc on the roads than the normal pattern of raids by orcs.

At Buhr Widufiras we take the time to rest. Fryancryn bids us farewell as he plans to move on with a new cargo and, I believe, he is only to happy to be rid of such an inept set of guards. Harsh if you think about the number of foes encountered in the ambush. It would have needed two or three times as many fighters to protect the mules in such a limited space. Still there it is and he does at least pay us a half of the original fee. I spend most of mine hospital fees and a pack of herbs that will aid recovery in any future combat.

There is now the matter of these orcs and who controls them. I look for a way to get the message to my master but there appears to be no fellow traveller to carry a coded message and I cannot afford to travel far from Buhr Widufiras without attracting attention. There will be nothing for it but to return to where the grain has been stashed and explore the tunnels through the rose thorns. I’m sure my companions will be looking to transport the grain back to the buhr but unless they plan to carry it on their backs I doubt they will see coin from Fryancryn’s cargo, even if the woodland creatures have left the sacks undisturbed.

A matter of trade – Wumbahad

Burgh Ailgra is pretty much a one horse town and that horse is dead. The Wumbahud is where most of the merchants preparing to pass through Mirkwood and onto Buhr Widfurias gather. No such luck at the moment. Looks like I missed them and my chance of being able to scout the south road without travelling alone. The bar room is empty save for three of us. One looks like he is known locally by Tostig, the inn keeper. Dark hair and grey eyes mark him out as a Noldo, which is strange given the down at heel look and that he seems to live near here. There seems to be something strange about this one and a story that would interest my Lord. A Noldo abroad so far suggests something is afoot.

Then there is the dark-haired, half-elf who entered long after I’d arrived. Mistook me for a boy and headed straight for the bar all burly and manly. Seeking to dull his senses in ale and talk proudly of his prowess in arms to any (Tostig) that will listen. By the time ten minutes have passed he has revealed his given name to all in the room, Gerran, and I am sure if it wasn’t for the arrival of the merchant, every detail of his life within the half hour.

Thankfully, we were all saved by the arrival of a rather flashy merchant by the name of Fryancryn. Cherry travelling cloak and clothes appearing to dazzle the other occupants of the inn but I’m not fooled I can see the frayed edges beneath the mud and road dust. Says he is late on the road and looking to hire some guards for security on his final leg to Buhr Widfurias. Gerran of course is first to proclaim his fitness to role, gesturing at the pair of short swords strapped to his side and ensuring that all look at his shiny mail coat. I am beginning to wonder if he has the wit to do more than show off. Soon the Noldo – Talaras – has expressed his interest after a healthy nod from Tostig and so I know that I have a good chance of travelling with this caravan without having to resort to anything that might get me noticed. I gracefully unwind from my place in the corner and offer my eyes to the party but perhaps it is the bow that tips the balance in taking such a callow looking youth with them.

Overnight, I check on Fryancryn and his cargo; he has a mule man, slow, sullen and bullnecked man who seems more at home with the beasts he looks after than company. The goods appear to be just as he says a supply of grain and a few iron weapons.

The morning is a good day to start travelling. The mule train is led by Fryancryn with Gulstaff (the mule man) in the middle. I let the gaudy Gerran take up the vanguard and the Noldo with mace and shield seems best suited to guarding the rear, which is just as I need it to be. I travel towards the middle roving up and down the train keeping a weather eye on the surroundings. The journey to ….is uneventful and from there we enter under the eaves of the Mirkwood.

Once this Southern wood was full of light and shade. Ents and Entwives cared for the trees and the creatures that dwelt there. Now the trees grow too close and cut the light on the south road until it is almost permanently twilight. Thorns clamour in the spaces between the trees seeking to choke the remaining light. My Lord’s fear that things are amiss in the Southern Marches of Thranduil. We travel a few days and during each night I am worried by nocturnal visitations. Nothing more than the glimpse of eyes in the undergrowth but I feel we are being trailed by more than just a natural nightly visitor.

On the second day, we are halted by a tree fallen across the path. I’m worried, the tree is large and we can’t get the mules over such and obstacle. The undergrowth is thick and I can’t even worm through a gap. This could have been an ambush site. The tree looks like it has been felled. There has been no storm to bring down such a large and healthy tree. However, not much is going to get through and if they are in the trees our only hope is to run. Gerran decides to show off and wave his two swords about, blunting them on the thick undergrowth in the process. It is fortunate that the Noldo discovers some loew aglor and the blades are resharpened. Some hours later, a section of the tree has been hacked clear and the mules are able to pull the block clear.

Another night and the eyes are back, this time though they are bolder and the wolves attack in the early hours when Gerran and I are on watch. The lump takes a nasty gash to his cheek but I am too quick for them and from a vantage point in the trees rain arrows at the retreating beasts. Soon they are among the mules and it needs the strength of Talaras to drive off the wolves. Meanwhile, Gerran continues to attack the bushes before realising that his target is at the rear and provide support to the flying mace but not before one of the mules is injured beyond saving.

Taure Rana

A bit of a change in tone. I’m taking a break from running the game. Firstly, so I can avoid GM burnout. Second, so that I can work on the next section of the story arc, which was getting a bit last minute. Finally, it gives the other players who have all been GMs a chance to remember what its like on the other side of the screen. So within these posts I’m going to write a personal diary from my character in the game.

Meet Taure Rana (Bre: Wood Wanderer) a Silvan elf of Mirkwood. Dressed in typical elven traveller gear the youthful (for an elf) mopes around the fringes of civilisation like a hormonally challenged teenager; not here to do any work, but they are here to keep an eye on what is going on around the fringes of Mirkwood for their master.

Sanctuary – Jazirat Alburunz part 4

After the horrors of the mine, the party rest overnight and refreshed,but still with the taint of the touch of the undead, they set out through the jungle with the intention of investigating the central peak once again. The Jungle is thick and dark, but a pathway leads across the central ridge of the island.

After an hour of hardship, Denig spots a large creature that to Dwarf and Half-elf resembles a dragon of old. It sits in the sunlight dappled path. Heavy lidded eyes gazing at the interlopers with defiance. The party are stuck in a quandary. Aerandir and Dagaard fear the creature to be a baby dragon, but believe them to be much larger and to have passed into legend. Denig is torn between fear of an attack from a monster and a desire to protect the life of innocent animals. For sometime the adventurers debate whether to attack or avoid the great monster, which sits ahead of them, forked tongue flicking in and out.

Eventually, Fulton decides that he can charm the monster with song. Singing a gentle song he, with the party forming a defensive wall around him, approaches the dragon-like creature. The monster makes no aggressive moves and the party pass on into the jungle beyond.

They have travelled about another hour when, except from a last moment warning from Dagaard, a grey clad figure steps out of the jungle. She pulls down the hood of her cloak and greets the party with an Elven greeting in archaic Silvan. Seeing that only Aerandir comprehends, she switches to the more widely used language of the region. The grey-eyed Avari explains that her name is Astamo and that she is the Dayr of the Maladh Alsalam (Sanctuary of Peace) on this island. First greeting, Alqatris and then the others. She bids the wanderers to return with her to the Maladh to share a meal and rest the night.

Red Gem by Yang Liu

Through the evening the adventurers ask other questions about the island and it’s inhabitants. Discovering the reasons for many of the encounters they have had on the island. They learn that the children are Maghnia and servants of Latif who have lost their purpose beyond remembering that they sing songs of forgetting. One of the purposes of Astamo’s order is to bring healing and respite, but on the island they are also guardians of the Lost Children.

The companions also discover that there is a curse on the treasure on the island and that this may have something to do with the mine and the ghosts that they explored the day before. Soon though the party retire one by one and awake refreshed. A day is spent in recuperation. Denig wanders the olive grove behind the Dayr and Aerandir rests in shade of the olive tree. On the following day, Fulton and Dagaard wish to return to the ship and continue the quest but Aerandir is reluctant to leave the restful sanctuary. Denig through his own sense of obligation feels unwilling to leave without Aerandir. So after, one unusually poor attempt to convince Aerandir of his duty to the ship. Fulton, Dagaard and Alquatris return to Ulmo’s Beard.

The next couple of days are spent by the remaining pair at the Maladh. Astamo suggests that their quest may fail if they do not rejoin their ship but also offers them sanctuary for as long as they need. Aerandir shows every sign of wishing to remain but for Denig the thought of the ship sailing without him is too much. Even now he worries that Alquazam will have left, so it is with regret that he prepares to leave and join the ship without Aerandir. Perhaps it was this spur that Aerandir needed all along to leave as he immediately gathers his few belongings and joins Denig.

The pair return to port and find the treasure scattered around the square but no sign of the crew. Fearing the worst, they hurry to the shore. They are relieved to see that the bay is not empty and riding at anchor is the Ulmo’s Beard. One problems remains. How to get our to the ship? They resolve this by calling on Cloch and the Valar for some divine solution and are able to walk across the intervening water to the ship.

Enemy Mine!

The party settled down for a few days well earned rest before the next stage of their journey to Caras Celairnen. The Inn at the Last Bridge was relatively full and a bard, recognised by Pick as Galboron from the Kings Horse at Bree, was entertaining the crowd. Also entertaining the crowd was a short, red-headed man, who was flamboyantly describing his exploits as a troll hunter to those who would listen. Other travellers were noticed by the party but ignored as they puzzled over the scraps they had recovered from the ruins in Hollin. Four were written with dwarvish runes and Pick and Dagaard were able to read these. The fifth was in elven script and as none of them spoke, let alone could read Quenya they were stuck. Pick thought Galboron might be able to help, as he was a bard, and fortunately, he provided the translation. However, he could not help with deciphering the legend described within and suggested seeking help of Dwarf Loremasters.

The evening continued without incident until it became late and the locals began to return to their homes. Then, the door burst open and in stumble an exhausted and bedraggled dwarf. A great fuss was made of him being one of Duilden’s boys. Revived, he told his tale of how, having arrived back late from hunting, he had discovered his clan hold in the nearby hills under attack by trolls. Unable to aid them he had been forced to retreat and seek help bearing news that some were trapped in the mine itself.

Feeling honour bound Dagaard immediately pledges his hammer. Followed quickly by Pick. Billwise and Denig are also prepared to help the dwarven part of their fellowship. Burra the innkeeper then volunteers the red-headed troll hunter, who looks less pleased at the prospect than perhaps he should. The party decide that speed is essential and despite it still being dark they set out guided by Daldin the dwarf and accompanied the the troll hunter Riscen and his servant Jiord.

The sun is rising when the party arrive near the hill where the clan hold and mine are located. Riscen advocated a full frontal assault on the mine workings where he believes the trolls will have hidden during the day. As the troll hunters made their way up the hill, they hear a wolf howl. Mindful of Daldin’s recount of his escape and being pursued in part by wolves: the adventurer’s decide to opt for entering the workings through the main mines and a secret door to which Daldin is able guide them.

The mines are cramped and in dwarf terms poor. The men of the party are reduced to stooping so badly that it is easier to crawl than try and walk. Despite the discomfort, they arrive at the secret door. The mine chamber beyond is definitely occupied by trolls. They also discover three dwarves bound and stuffed in sacks in a closed tool chest. Releasing Daldin’s brethren from captivity Riscen and Jiord manage to work their way to the back and are unable to assist further.

Billwise scouts forward with all due care and confirms the presence of the trolls. The rest enter the chamber, but Dagaard, moving the tool chest for easier access disturbs the recumbent trolls. Battle is soon joined. Denig implores his tribal god to calm the troll but his prayer is ignored. Pick moves to the vanguard. His mighty hammer rains crushing blow after crushing blow on the troll and with a previously unseen confidence, he slips through into the next chamber splitting the two trolls’ attack.

The second troll, is faced with Denig who quickly nocks and fires his short bow piercing the hideous creature through the neck. In a rage, the second troll sweeps a massive paw and Denig is thrown back. Billwise and Dagaard join battle seeking a chance to bring the monster down.

In the other chamber, Pick continues to press his advantage. Bones snap and with one mighty blow he breaks the back of the miscreation. Things are more evenly matched with the second troll. An unbalanced Denig shoots and hits his mark, but with little effect. Billwise darts in and out and nearly loses his head in the process. Dagaard continues to seek a telling blow and then, the moment comes. He sweeps up with his hammer driving into the the troll’s armpit and shattering its shoulder. The beast roars in pain before collapsing in death.

Trolls dispatched, the party discover three more dwarves holed up in a narrow shaft leading off one of the chambers. Riscen and Jiord have disappeared. Along with, it is discovered later, some of the dwarves personal possessions. But at this time, it is the missing Duilden, the patriarch of the clan that most concern the dwarves of the hold. The search parties do not take long to discover the fate of the old dwarf. By the cooling fire outside, cracked bones, discarded clothing and a signet ring tell of the passing of the clan’s lord.

It is a time of mourning for all the dwarves, including Pick and Dagaard. There are secret rituals beneath earth and stone that Billwise and Denig are not privy, so in response, the pair go hunting and return with the intention of feeding everyone. However, they soon discover the mourning is so solemn that no fire is lit or food consumed for a day. The pair retreat to the woods and feast on rabbit until the time of mourning is over.

Honoured elder interred and gifted with what small provisions they can provide, the dwarves bid the party farewell. Soon, the adventurers are back at the Inn at the Last Bridge before the Misty Mountains. Riscen the troll hunter and his servant have not been seen. Burr says that is the last time they will get free food and lodgings from him; Galboron promises to ensure that Riscen’s cowardice is made know wherever he travels.

Fauna of underground Middle Earth

Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.

Gandalf[1]

The trouble with dungeons in Middle Earth is there is a limited number of monsters for you to meet as you wander through the hidden depths of Arda. In the most part, this is because Tolkien didn’t do monsters in the classical literature sense. His scary monsters were all the creatures of Morgoth and apart from those which had direct contact with his protagonists were left implied and unmentioned. All of which leaves a GM in Middle Earth with very little variety in the evil monster department underground. Orcs, the odd troll, giant spiders, and a variety of undead are your only option and quite frankly as a GM varying tactics to keep the players’ interest can become tricky. Even more so if you believe there should be a reason for a monster inhabiting that room or area of cavern. There are the Maia linked to the various elemental forms but if you are using the MERP/Rolemaster systems you might as well be thinking of assaulting a dragon and we know how well that turned out for Thorin and co.

So what is the answer for those surprises in the caverns? The Moria module which you would think would provide a decent treatise on cave dwellers, but actually most of the fauna described would still need access to the open upper levels to feed. Goblin Gate is even less forthcoming only adding the vampire bat to the list because the bat was associated with the goblin army in the Hobbit and I am guessing the brief reference to them in the Silmarillion.

Adventures in Middle Earth rarely focus on exploring underground and yet every quest covered by Tolkien had some form of underground journey. So perhaps there should be more of a consideration of the denizens of the deep.

With no mythical creatures to draw on GMs would naturally drawn on non-fantasy creatures which Middle Earth would happily accept. Bats, bears, and anything that basically has the prefix of Cave are trogloxenes: creatures which live periodically underground but rely on above ground for food. Obviously these encounters will be near entrances to deeper caves and are covered in the fauna sections of most of the MERP and Rolemaster material.

What we really need are troglobites – animals that live underground permanently in cave systems. Unfortunately, these are really small and pretty much not very aggressive which could lead to come interesting encounters.

As you enter widening passage a hochenwartii scuttles past. Idly you swat it from the wall to the floor where it curls up briefly before scuttling into the darkness.

Which is where Gandalf’s passing comment on the nameless things begins to provide an opening. Already we have giant spiders but what if there were other giant fauna below which live in a thriving ecosystem on which the nameless things would in term feed on and presumably surface into the the depths of Dwarven delvings. Thankfully, you can find a long list of these in Wikipedia and suddenly the risk of being crushed by a giant Phantom cavesnail as it blindly travels forward through a tunnel or even attempts consume the adventurers makes your random encounters far more interesting.

Below are some links that I’m using to create some challenging encounters in my underground campaign sections. I will build a bestiary companion on this blog as I go.

Flatworms

Mollusca

Velvet worms

Arachnida

Myriapoda

Millipedes and Centipedes

Sinocallipus deharvengi

Crustacea

Insecta

See Cave insects

Fish

Main article: Cavefish

Amphibians

Mammals

There are no known mammals that live exclusively in caves. Most bats sleep in caves during the day and hunt at night, but they are considered troglophiles or trogloxenes. However some fossorials which spend their whole lives underground might be considered subterranean fauna, although they are not true troglofauna as they do not live in caves.

Wedding day blues

Our plucky deputies having discharged their duties with admirable aplomb are retained by Mally Nation as deputy shirriffs (it has been pointed out that they should officially be called Bounders, but I suspect that in the early days of the Shire this formal arrangement has not been organised). Taking their rest in the Midnight Rooster in Wibbleham they are interrupted by a young Dunlending lad seeking sherriffs to come quickly to a hold nearby where members of the family are engaged in a deadly stand-off. Duly prompted the deputies set off to discharge their duty.

At the clan hold, they find a family at war over who poisoned the clan lord’s favoured hunting hound. Family rivalries have risen to the surfaced and been amplified by other family quarrels as the extended family have been invited for a wedding the previous day. So it is that Brega, Alvi and Aelfric walk into a silent hold with three large houses full to bursting of drink-fuelled warriors barely held in check by the desire not to be the first seriously injured in any scuffle.

Having made sure that everyone is aware that the law-keepers have arrived, the party set about interviewing the quarrelling family members. The discover the clan lord Arthfael, in a sombre mood, mourning his dead hound. The chieftan is unwilling to take any decisions and has, in essence, abdicated control of his hold and lands. His new wife Blejan informs the party of how two of the daughters, Nuallan and Fedelmid virtually ruined her wedding party with their constant harping. She accuses both of being evil scheming witches who are just the sort of women to poison the hound in order that their husband could seize control. The youngest daughter, Maella, appears almost as heartbroken as her father and agrees that both sisters could be responsible but admits in private that Blejan has never liked her new husband’s love of hunting.

None the wiser as to the cause of the dog’s poisoner, save that it must have happened during the wedding feast, the investigators move onto question the occupants of Aedan and Nuallan’s house. Aelfric, deciding that a forceful police presence is required muscles his way into the house almost causing the occupying warriors to divert their pent up aggression on himself and his fellow lawmen. Aelfric discovers from Aedan that Brennus, the husband of Fedelmid, the middle daughter, was seen sneaking out with a plate of meat during the wedding banquet. Alvi and Brega question Nuallan and are also led to believe that the fault may lie with this couple. At this point a shout goes up and Aelfric is forced to intervene between two warriors about to attack a goat-herder out to care for his flock. Returning the goat-herder to safety Aelfric discovers that both of the two elder daughters and their husbands could have been stirring up trouble at the wedding.

The tyro detectives move on to the third house where Brennus and Fedelmid along with relatives who have taken their side in the argument have barricaded themselves. Brennus makes no bones to Aelfric about how Aedan throws his weight about the hold as if he were lord. When questioned about the meat he explains that he has a soft spot for his dogs and often feeds them tidbits from the table. Under questioning from Brega, Fedelmid waspishly complains about her treatment at her elder sister’s hands and how the new wife, Blejan, is an arch manipulator who surely should be considered as the culprit.

During this time, a small altercation breaks out when some of the younger members of the family break out into the square. With much bravado, both sides face each other off, more bravado than intent until one strikes out at an opponent and in error strikes another. The Shirriffs are quickly on the scene. Alvi charming the main protagonist to sleep with her sweet music and Aelfric and Brega separating the remaining foes. Alvi again employs her smooth tongue to convince the warring youths to return back to their halls.

Faced with a range of opinions but very little evidence the three shirriffs examine the kennel where the hound was kept. Discovery of a poisonous blue flower amongst the straw bedding leads the three to question the master of the hounds. He reveals that he is the one who collects the bedding for the dogs and that he changed the bedding in the kennel. Further careful investigation reveals that the servant did not understand the nature of the flowers and that this was all a terrible mistake.

Gathering the reluctant principals back in the main hall the deputy shirriffs explain their findings and forcefully point out that any misdemeanours between family members will be dealt with severely. Satisfied that the situation is resolved Alvi, Aelfric and Brega return to Wibblesham

Food

In the cool autumn air, Brega walked towards the Midnight Rooster, the only lodgings in the small town of Wibblesham. Her dark robe was muddy from six months of wandering. Weighed down by her pack and pans, she leaned on her intricately carved staff and paused taking in the mix of overground houses and round doors set into the hillside.

As she neared the inn, her thoughtful hazel eyes noticed a familiar figure stood with an unknown companion on the wooden boards that kept customer’s feet dry when entering the Midnight Rooster. Hailing Aelfric, whom she had grown up in the same village with before they had both been forced on the road half a year ago, she quickened her pace to the door. Soon Aelfric had introduced Brega to his companion who he had travelled with from Tharbad. Alvi, a red-headed bard, was one of those women who made a room light up when she entered. So it was not long before the three sat with a the remains of a supper before them; Brega and Alvi swapping stories; Alvi playing a quiet tune to entertain the tavern’s other patrons.

Come the morning, the three are sat breaking fast together when they are approached by a hobbit wearing a blue goose feather in her hat. She introduces herself as Shirriff Mally Nation. She has been granted leave by the village moot to recruit additional shirriffs to help with shepherding of refugees to safe areas. The village of Wibbleham is not rich but can cover the cost of board and food while they are shirriffs. Seeing a chance to save coin and have a place to rest for a while they work, the adventurers agree.

The first task is to escort a group of refugees to a safe ravine because Shirriff Mally believes that there is a risk of Corn-skin fever, a deadly disease, amongst the refugees. Guiding the emaciated refugees along the road to the new campsite, the party notice one particularly healthy Dunlending. He protests vociferously about the treatment of his people and they are being prevented from moving on. However, Alvi talks eloquently to the unhappy, hungry and weary people about how they are going to be looked after if they follow to the camp and without fuss they refugees move to the prepared quarantine campsite in a narrow ravine.

The adventurers are tasked with guarding the refugees and bringing food to the camp. Brega uses her skill in cooking to create warm hearty food for the refugees and earns favour with the refugees. Still, there is the odd attempt by one or two refugees to escape and find extra food or perhaps somewhere else to live in peace. None get far and Aelfric proves himself to be a capable athlete in chasing down the errant refugees.

Whilst resting in the Midnight Rooster the adventurers hear of talk from some of the local farmers of the theft of livestock. Mally not having spare shirriffs to dispatch to investigate sends Alvi, Brega and Aelfric. At each farm, the tale is the same: they believe that the refugees have taken the lamb or calf that has been stolen. Yet at one farm a clue is discovered, young Semmi Midtoe looks uncomfortable when his family are questioned about the missing lamb. Alvi and Aelfric eventually manage to win his trust and he reveals that it was his pet lamb that was stolen by Betwin Proudfoot. Which is strange because Betwin was buried yesterday.

Confused but unconvinced by the youngster’s description of the deceased hobbit stealing a lamb, the party return to the Midnight Rooster for the night. During the evening, an irate hobbit, Marco Chubb, interrupts their rest demanding that the shirriffs investigate the cruel practical joke that had been played on his daughter Daisy. He tells of how some cruel prankster, pretended to be the recently departed uncle Clarfew and leered through the window at poor young Daisy, quite distressing the hobbitling. Initially, the recently conscripted shirriffs are unwilling to investigate immediately yet after much pleading they eventually agree.

At the Chubb farm, Aelfric finds signs of an intruder but the party are unable to track the intruder. However, they discover that Grandmother Minna has also seen her son playing with the family cat that day. She is most distressed that no-one had told her of Clarfew’s death. This and the presence of the remains of said family cat cause the shirriffs to question the Chubb family further. In doing so they discover that Uncle Clarfew had in fact been secretly trading with the refugee camp and had also contracted corn skin fever. Faced with two recently departed hobbits, the shirriffs soon discover that two more “associates” of Clarfew had recently died and been buried quickly in the village graveyard. With this new information, the deputy shirriffs set off for the graveyard.

In the dark it proves hard to find more than four graves with recently disturbed earth; returning at first light the investigators find a trail leading from the graves into the wood. In the depths of the woods in a small dell Brega, Alvi, Alefric and Mally discover the source of the livestock losses in the form of four hobbit ghouls. Trapping them in the hidden lair it is only a matter of time before Aelfric Smithson with the aid of Alvi Craigsdottir have dispatched the evil but ineffectual undead. Thinking about the refugee camp it becomes clear to Brega that Firdok, the rather healthy and vocal refugee, may also be infected with the corn skin sickness. She explains this to her companions and they plan to capture Firdok without causing risk to the remain refugees.

With a cauldron of stew, the shirriffs return to the camp and without causing alarm to manage to convince Firdok through Alvi’s clever words to come with them to see the new site of the refugees’ village. Before Firdok has time to realise the deception, Aelfric strikes him from behind stuns him to the floor. Fearing that Firdok may recover quickly, Alvi plays her flute and causes Firdok to fall into a deep sleep. Soon Firdok is bound and secured in the village gaol. The town mayor and Shirriff Mally are extremely grateful to the adventurers and promise to hold a trial to determine what to do with Firdok, who is clearly a ghoul but equally has continued to try and support his family and tribe of refugees.

Just a postscript on this adventurer log. This was the first game my family had chosen to play and that in itself was a strange experience given that previously they had shown no desire to play when invited. The start was rather awkward as it often is with new players trying to get over the self-consciousness of playing for the first time. However, I also had to deal with the scepticism of “this won’t be fun and will be weird” and it also being my wife and kids at the table, who it must be said found it tricky to deal with the change in roles and dynamics (as did I). Eventually, once we had got past the embarrassment and also the realisation that it was up to them as players to direct the story, it turned into quite a good game. I am not sure how often they will play or if they will join the main campaign, but at least they enjoyed it and we didn’t end up with one big argument.

Down the Hobbit hole (pt2)

As with most councils of war, the subject of leadership and planning reared its ugly head. Denig, the stone man, counselled that he and Ydal should scout the area to assess the location of the Orcs camp. Billwise and Pencho disagreed complaining that the Big People were as noisy as Dwarves in chainmail. Although Pick and Dagaard did not express much of an opinion, it was Pick who swung the vote of all the adventurers towards Billwise’s plan and grudgingly, the stone man was forced to agree.

After a second breakfast, Billwise and Pencho stealthily set off into the woods. Billwise is shown how a Hobbit could move undetected by others through the wood and notice large patches of sunlight where the pursuit of Orcs could be hindered. Following a sunken road, they find an abandoned ruin which appears to be occupied by two Orcish shamans. Below, in a dark defile, a large number of Orc voice can be heard, indicating the main body of the force is larger than the number of adventurers and Hobbits. During their time scouting the area, a cloaked figure, who carries a distinctive pipeweed odour, arrives and converses in Morbeth with the Orcs. Billwise and Pencho, not speaking the language, understand none of this but do catch a few words spoken. They continue their scouting, noting the small patrols of Orcs moving through the wood and a set of riverside huts in which prisoners appear to be kept.

Back at the smial, the scouts inform the council of what they have discovered. The adventurers all agreed that the first task is to free the prisoners, who are probably being kept as a food store. With two Hobbit guides, the adventurers travel through the woods to the riverside without any untoward events unfolding.

Near to the huts, the party formulate a plan. Denig insists that he and Ydal can pacify up to ten Orcs and insists that they are the only ones to enter the camp and that the rest attack any fleeing Orcs first. The Dwarves are unconcerned so long as Orcs are killed and Billwise prefers to wait and see what unfurls before to committing to combat.

As Denig and Ydal move towards the hut where the Orcs appear to be sheltering from the day, they are surprised by a hidden sentry. Ydal attempts to cast her Calm spell but is unable and so retreats. Denig charges to the door of the hut and cast his Calm spell on the occupants of the room. Immediately, one of the occupants relaxes into a calmed state. Unfortunately, the other five are very much active and with a sentry charging, he looks to be very much in trouble.

Realising his only hope is to hold the doorway until help arrives, Denig chooses to engage one Orc in the doorway and ignore the sentry. Ydal shoots wide in haste and the Dwarves rush in, whilst Billwise seeks an opponent to shoot. Soon the sentry is felled by Dagaard but the remaining Orcs seek to escape through the flimsy rear wall. Denig is driven back by the Orc’s charge but both appear evenly matched. At the rear of the hut, both Dwarves engage the remaining Orcs, war hammers breaking bone like winter twigs. At the front, Billwise races through the trees and with element of surprise dispatches the Orc fighting Denig with a thrust through its backbone sending it reeling back into the hut. Unfortunately, the act also disarms Billwise. Fortunately, there are no more foes.

After freeing the captives, the valiant heroes and the weary, starved prisoners return to the smail where the immediate concern is where to house and feed the extra mouths. This is closely followed by decisions about how to remove the Orcs from the woods!

Elvellon Manor and the first crystal shard

Returning from their audience with the King of Arthedain and feeling very smug that they are now Royal Rangers, Pick and Limolas meet up with Billwise and Dagaard at the King’s Rest. In the common room of the inn they adventurers listen to the news of the prevention of an assassination and roaming bands of Orcs. They talk to the recovering Galabron and gain information about strange events by the Royal Barrows and of bandits on the southern Greenway.

Refreshed and resupplied the party sets of along the Greenway. The first night out and Pick observes a passing group of wandering elves passing to the west. Although notes this event he does not consider it significant and tells no-one in the morning. The heroes continue southwards until they near the Royal Barrows where they climb the high hills of Tyrn Gorthad to investigate. The sun shines on the burial tombs of the last King of Cardolan and his sons. The party spend a day investigating and foraging for food without incident and so continue on their journey toward the Manor of Elvellon. 

Nearing the region in which Elvellon Manor is located the adventurers come across a canvas-sided caravan studded with arrows. Using his uncanny ranger abilities Limolas is able to intuit that a previous associate by the name of Jeremiah Fallowhide was here recently. Just as he informs the rest of the party of this fact, who should poke his head out of the canvas flap than the aforementioned manic hobbit. Jeremiah explains to the party that he was embarked upon his latest mercantile adventure of transporting some Dwarven steel ingots down to the kingdom of Saralainn when he was attacked by Dunlending bandits. Escaping only by good fortune where his guards did not, Jeremiah has been camped out in his wagon with no way to go forward or back. He looks upon the arrival of the heroes as another sign that fortune on his side as they will surely chase down the bandits and recover his goods for him. However, this time the Pick and Limolas are less than willing to risk all for the unhinged merchant preferring to stick to the task of finding the crystal. Yet, when Jeremiah describes the direction that the bandits went in (confirmed by Limolas’ tracking skill), they agree to keep an eye out. After some pleading by Jeremiah, they also leave the hobbit with some food to allow him to wait out the time it takes for them to investigate. 

So it was that the adventurers began to climb into the hills of Cardolan following the tracks of the Dunlendings and away from the Greenway. Within half a day the party had sighted the ruins of Elvellon Manor and noticing smoke rising, approached the ruins with caution. Both the Elf and Hobbit scouted ahead of the less stealthy Dwarves and in doing so discovered the bodies of fifteen slaughtered Dunlendings. Limolas and Billwise returned to the Dwarves and reported what they had seen and the party then entered into the ruins to secure the area. 

orcs_debate_by_turnermohan-d8jo68t
Orcs by James Turner Mohan

In the ruins of the keep, there are signs of a hurried defence against superior numbers of possible Orcs and something bigger which has pulled the heads of some of the Dunlendings. The party discover two heavy chests and decide to leave these until they have explored the area more. Scouting further the heroes discover a sunken room in which two small Goblins are sheltering. Quickly, they dispatch the two small Orcs and then proceed to investigate the wall on which a freize of Dunedain princes in battle with Orcs is painted. Limolas quickly discovers a secret door and also that further in are more Orc guards. 

After a quick discussion to plan an attack, the adventurers decide to rush the guards with the Dwarves cutting off any escape as quickly as possible and Limolas and Billwise wounding the guards with missile fire. It takes less than a moment, for the party to quell any resistance and none of the Orcs escapes to warn their companions. Justifiably, the heroes begin to feel very pleased with themselves. 

Cautiously, the heroes explore the underground complex. In one room, Limolas sets off a trap that releases a cloud of mist, but it seems that the trap has deteriorated with age. Further in, they party locate the rest of the Orcs and decide to leave the area rather than risk a confrontation with a large party of Orcs. Consequently, they descend to the next level. 

Below, in a great hall, the party come across a depressed Troll moaning about being sent down below by the Orcs and not being wanted. The Troll’s misery doesn’t last for long and the heroes begin to explore further. At the far end of the hall, there are two doors protected by wards. In his exploring, Limolas discovers a secret passage which leads to a number of rooms not accessible through the two additional, unwarded doors that lead off the main hall. 

The party explore several rooms down the secret passage. A plain blue room appears to have some sort of magical properties but not understanding the lore of magic, the heroes move on. An alchemy laboratory and plush room are soon explored and the party of soon loaded with a few additional weapons and a few potions of unknown use. 

The explorers descend another level and discover an ossuary full of bones, which unfortunately animate as they enter the bone repository and the party are suddenly outnumbered. Dagaard full of war-like confidence charges in and engages the skeletons, closely followed by Pick who joins more out of a sense of Dwarvish solidarity than a real desire to wade into a room full of walking bones. Limolas remembers that a bow is ineffective and belatedly puts away his bow and joins the battle with his longsword drawn. However, this prevents Billwise from entering the room. Quickly, the adventurers dispatch the skeletons, helped in the most part by the Dwarven hammers. 

f2b702e630d0c54efda7dcf62df39670A door led off the room, which of course being adventurers, they opened. Unfortunately, the room was home to a Wight which immediately attacked. Pick overcome with fear ran in panic leaving only three to face the fearsome undead. Heroically, the three fought against the malicious spirit vanquishing it with their combined might. Finding no treasure the three victors went in search of the missing Dwarf. 

Sometime later, having recovered Pick, the adventurers continued their exploration of the third level. The party began to wonder at the purpose of the crypt when the discovered a bier in a room decorated with a scene taken from the lays that appeared to show Morgoth triumphing over the Elves. Beyond this room lay a discovery that only served to confirm this idea. Behind a rotten door, the party were met by a hideous sight. A creature composed of the flesh of many humanoid creatures roiled in the darkness. Many heads and limbs seemed to lurch out towards the surprised adventurers; Limolas barely escaping the first grasping hand. Battle was quickly enjoined; Dagaard was nearly lost to the folds of the creature but for the arrow loosed by Billwise which finally incapacitated the creature. 

Relieved, the party continued on and after dodging some caustic slime by using their shields as protection, discovered a cave system. This is where Pick took the lead, a confident caver he determined that one route might lead to the surface. The adventurers decided to investigate this first to see if they could escape the caverns without having to go past the Orcs on the first level. Eventually, they reached the open air and debated what would be the next course of action. Knowing that rest was needed and worrying that the horses might be discovered by the Orcs they decided to return with the horses back to the Greenway and Jeremiah Fallowhide. 

The adventurers reorganise back at the Greenway. Jeremiah’s caravan is pulled off the road and the horses and heavier items of loot are stashed with the hobbit. With a rest period completed, Pick, Dagaard, Limolas and Billwise return to the caverns and resume their explorations. They soon discovered a bridge crossing an underground river and beyond this a cavern that led to steps up to a metal door. The only problem, four skeletons that guarded the door. Dagaard rushes recklessly to engage the skeletons. After being victorious over skeletons recently, the now more confident Pick and Limolas quickly join him. The battle appears to go well until Limolas is caught off-guard and finds himself skewered by a skeleton’s sword. Having dispatched the remaining skeletons his companions rush to his aid but they are too late, Limolas’ spirit is already travelling to the Valinor. Having noticed a subterranean lake, the heartbroken party dispatch the Elf’s mortal remains to the depths of the lake along with his beloved fishing gear. From the depths, a giant catfish breaks the surface before diving to the depths once more. 

skeleton_warriors_by_aaronbradburyDetermined to find the crystal so that Limolas’ death would not be in vain, the hobbit and dwarves return to exploring. More skeletons block their path and locked rooms thwart them. Until eventually, they discover the crystal sitting in a casket. Unfortunately, it sits behind a set of iron bars which also appear to have prevented a number of skeletons from escaping, judging by the armour and the desperate way two cling to the bars. Pick devises a plan to lift the bars and wedge them open with a stone from a nearby empty sarcophagus. This plan has to be slightly altered when they realise that Billwise is incapable of moving the heavy stone lid into place under the bars as the Dwarves lift the metal obstruction. 

Stealthily, Billwise moves across the room amongst the scattered skeletons to pick up the crystal. As he reaches to take the crystal he hears a scraping sound as soft a paper. It soon becomes apparent that the skeletons are reanimating, which means it is time for a quick exit. Thankfully, only two skeletons escape before the bars are lowered back into place and these are swiftly dispatched by the three companions, who then vacate the area for safety. 

Taking stock of the aims of the exploration, the adventurers decide the cost has been high enough with the death of Limolas and that with the profits from Jeremiah’s ingots and the contents of the captured from the Dunlendings there are sufficient rewards to support further adventuring. As a result of the discussions, the party return to Jeremiah with a chest containing 20,000CP and the ingots.

REWARDS GRANTED

A crown with some jewels – value unknown
Five potions of unknown use
A collection of short swords, daggers and arrows
20,000 CP
5 ingots of dwarven steel +5 belonging to Jeremiah (% of profits)
Handaxe that glows red at evil or undead the party aren’t really sure yet.

MISSIONS/QUESTS COMPLETED

Collect the crystal shard from the ruins of Elvellon Manor

CHARACTER(S) INTERACTED WITH

Galabron the bard
Jeremiah Fallowhide