Chapter 2: The Butcher’s Brood
It’s like removing a hyena from a pit… Meru Proverb
(This Meru proverb recalls how a man once met a hyena that had fallen into a pit. When the hyena saw him above, he pleaded to be helped out. The man was moved in his heart as he felt pity for it. He ascended into the pit to get the hyena out of it and upon reaching the bottom of the very deep pit, the hyena told him: “I thank you for your good offer, but just before you assist me in getting out of this deep pit, you should know that I am very hungry as I have been here for many days. Therefore, I demand that you give me either one of your legs or arms to eat.” The man realized that he was in danger and was very much afraid, but cleverly said: “No problem, I have left a fat, juicy gazelle at the top of the hole, and I can easily reach for it while stepping on your back.” He quickly stepped on the hyena’s back and craftily climbed out of the pit leaving the hyena there alone. Hence, the proverb is directed to people who are never grateful for the good deeds done to them, and who create enmity instead.)
The adventurers, Petronella, Hurm, Lheeland, Namib and Voltoor find themselves back in Fallcrest after completing their mission to collect fruit for the town’s food stores. Although they are new to this adventuring thing, they did quite well on their first outing. Albeit with some fortuitous help from the town guard, Olmayne. Upon docking and unloading the fruit, they all go their own way as they each seem to have important matters to attend.
Petronella heads for the Esoteric Disciplines to speak with Melzam Hawkram about her training and the success of the last mission. Although Melzam is impressed with her improvement he points out that for the defender of the group to be captured so quickly does not bode well for the long term success of the adventurers. Petronella agrees, then asks about further training in ways that would help her absorb more punishment before requiring aid as the group has no true healer. Only Voltoor seems able to provide combat aid and very little at that. Melzam, after pointing out that with no leader their days as adventurers could be short, says she should probably try her best to aid the healer of the group. He then sends her to speak with Liria as she may have some tips. Seeing Elion Tamar, the head bishop of the House of Ravenkind would be helpful as well.
Petronellas next stop is to see her father, Tarik Kibre at the Tower of Judgement. Tarik is a captain in the town guard and a rather stern man, but he does have a soft spot for his daughter. When she enters, Tarik points out how lucky she is to be alive after getting captured. Gives her a hard time about it but ends positively saying that Olmayne feels she did well and could not prevent the incident. Petronella has her head down, taking the verbal lashing, feeling it is deserved but raises her head at the mention of Olmayne’s name. When her father is finished the first thing she does is to speak very highly of the guard, Olmayne. Tarik listens intently to her recount of his bravery and states that Olmayne did not take the credit for what he did as this is all new to him. Petronella recommends Olmayne for a promotion and her father agrees. He finishes by telling her he is very proud of her but she needs to be more careful in her fighting. Petronella takes her leave and on her way to the House of Ravenkind has a odd encounter. She sees an odd looking man wearing a purple cloak that seems to have no color to his skin, almost as if he were absorbing the sunlight itself. She tries to talk to him but he doesn’t respond, or more to the point he does respond yet nothing comes out of his mouth. No sound at all yet he appears to be talking. She asks him to write it on the dirt, and when he tries the dirt does not move. Perplexed, Petronella just asks him to nod or shake him head. She is able to find out that he needs her help and that he is in fact from this plane, which seems odd considering his strange appearance and the fact he seems incapable of interacting with his surroundings. Suddenly, he points behind Petronella, she turns only to see nothing, looks back, and he is gone. Could it be that this mysterious stranger saw some danger only he could see. Only time will tell as he will surely be seem again. Petronella leaves the Tower of Judgement to meet with Elion.
Hurm was already back in town after the group found the tablets in the Bullywog lair. They had gone missing years ago during the Dawn Wars and no one had seen them since. The find was of such importance that the group felt he should return them to Pinnacle Abbey right away. The tablets are the teachings that the monastery follows and the return of them would be of huge significance. The discussion that Hurm has with Ezaya, the head of the monastery, raises more questions than answers. Mainly, how did they happen to be in the hands of Bullywogs after being missing for so long and did they know what they had, or that they even had them, or was it planted by a powerful entity and the adventurers were led to find the lost artifact. And if so, who is that entity. Could it be Demogorgon. And if so, WHY…………………….
Hurm has also realized that, although he is quite agile in combat, his training seems to be lacking in the area of aiding companions and in self preservation. Ezaya tells him to look to Bishop Elion Tamar. When Hurm arrives he finds Elion hard at work on the restoration of the statuettes within the Raven Queens temple. There are close to 1000 of them and he has completed only 50 or so. Hurm waits patiently until he is acknowledged, at which point he is asked for his name. Hurm replies, but is cut off. Elion points out that he knows his name, he is asking by what name does he and his adventuring party go by. Hurm is taken aback as it was not a question he was expecting. He replies that they have no name when Elion says they should, as No Name is not much of a name for a group of young adventures about to put their mark on this world. Elion then asks what he may do for him. First Hurm talks about finding the tablets and a possible connection to Demogorgon. Elion knows well that name for Elion has studied demonology and knows of some of the Abyssal Lords like Demogorgon and Orcus. It’s a good lead but none that the group is able to deal with for now. Hurm then asks about possible training that may aid him or his companions in survival. Elion tells him to head to the temples training grounds as he will find another of his group there already who had the same request. Hurm takes his leave, finds the training grounds only to see Petronella in the middle of a lesson. He enters, they acknowledge each other and they both get back to the lesson.
Namib returns to town in foul mood. He doesn’t speak to anyone when he leaves the docks, he just heads for the Ancestor Tree in the lower part of Fallcrest and sits with his back to the tree with his head down in quite contemplation. He has seen a lot in the last few days and has much to dwell on. And yet in the back of his mind he has this nagging feeling that this tree, the center of all primal energy, is dying. And he can’t stop it. It seems no one but he cares. Not even Voltoor, even though Voltoor draws his power from primal forces such as the Ancestor Tree. Although Namib has come to call his companions friends, He just doesn’t know how to ask for their help in a way it will be taken seriously. To those walking past he looks asleep, or in a daze. Little do they know that he feels his very existence is at stake, and it is eating him alive. He knows he needs to come up with a plan, and soon. But WHAT. Hours go by and yet he still has no answers. He knows it will be restless nights for the foreseeable future.
Voltoor returns to town only to find Namib almost running off to Lowtown. He has been quiet for the last part of the trip, almost invisible in his desire to not be bothered. Voltoor was starting to see some similarities in their fighting styles and was wanting to learn more about the Primal Spirits that Namib has mentioned in the past. It became apparent however that that conversation was going to happen at a later date. He looked back at the boat to see Olmayne alone unloading his gear. Voltoor approached him, shook his hand and thanked him for his aid in the swamp. Little did Olmayne know that Voltoor had been joking about having to save the guards ass on the first day in the swamp. Voltoor left the docks quickly after the handshake not wanting to be questioned by Olmayne as to why their was 30 gold pieces in his hand. Voltoor felt Olmayne had more than earned it but would never ask for a share of the treasure that was found. After leaving the docks he was feeling good about himself, better than he had in a while as he found himself headed for Sinta’s Square, a common meeting area for the folks he felt most comfortable around. The poorest people in town. Voltoor first met Petr Fawkland, the man he had given a small amount of coin to before leaving town a few days before. Voltoor felt it was important for the townsfolk to know what horrors lay in the swamp waiting for the unsuspecting. He didn’t lie in his recounting of the Bullywog lair but he did embellish some of the story to make it seem the Bullywogs could be an immediate threat to the safety of not only the food supplies for town but also the female townsfolk. In the end, most of Lowtown was worked up enough for the town guard to take notice and bring word to the captain that something may need to be done about the Bullywugs. Voltoor was pleased with himself when he ran into Isobail Mergland and Rohesia Graceburn, the two other people, who along with Petr were the ones he was closest to in Lowtown. After a short conversation, Voltoor discovered that the two ladies were trying to open a soup kitchen in Lowtown to feed the poor, but were having trouble with the funding. Voltoor listened intently and when they were done, he reached into his pocket, pulled out 50 gold and handed it to them with the understanding that no one was to know where the money came from. The ladies were stunned and told him that was enough to fund them for 2 months. Voltoor promised more help when he could afford it and took his leave before too much attention was raised. He next stopped into Nimena’s store for a visit before meeting up with his friends later that evening at the inn.
Lheeland returned to town knowing his first stop must be The House of Ravenkind. He has been gone for some time and knew his talents would be needed. Sure enough, he barely has time to say Hi to Elion when he is told of a number of newly arrived bodies that require his embalming skills. During his break he meets Hurm in the hall. They have a short discussion about the Tablets of Enlightenment and wonder why they were in the possession of the Bullywugs. Hurm informs Lheeland of his desire to learn skills that may aid him in his survival skills and Lheeland points him in the direction of the training grounds before returning to work. When he has finished for the day he returns to Elion to discuss the adventure in the swamp. He points out that he had felt no loss for the deaths of the Bullywugs as their death does not add to the Raven Queens realm. He does admit to Elion that this most recent incarnation of his life has him concerned as he is unsure if it could be his last. He is told that the Raven Queen is the one to make that decision and he need not worry about it. Elion then asks him to attend the festival and have a public face for the next few days.When Lheeland finishes his days work he heads to Lowtown in search of information regarding diseases and plagues that may be affecting Fallcrest as these last bodies has him wondering. He arrives in Beggars Row and runs into the human Anydus and Theveus, the Tiefling. Anydus used to be a resident at the Commons, a place for the down and out to go, but he was kicked out for causing a disturbance and has been living here in bitterness since. Lheeland stops to talk and is asked for food, money, whatever he can afford. He hands over his old armor for Anydus to sell to Horus, the local innkeeper who has a desire to acquire old adventuring gear. Lheeland spends a little more time in Beggars Row before heading home for the night.
A few days later the Adventurers are invited to Lord Faren Markelhay’s keep to be honoured for their efforts in returning the fruit to town as well as finding the Tablets of Enlightenment. The lord is a young man who is well liked in town. He is a fair, merciful and just ruler. He is often seen walking in town in plate armor and a sword at his side. He tries to keep the spiral tattoos on his arms covered, as they are as much a mystery to him as they are to everyone else and it only leads to questions he is unable to answer. He does not know how he got them. The ceremony goes well and the adventurers find themselves being invited to the River Rat Inn for a party that evening.
The inn is full as they arrive but they are able to find a table. Horus comes to take their order, leaves and returns a short while later with food and drinks. His inn is always clean with good food cooked by his wife, Merelda. The walls display an odd assortment of adventuring gear hanging on the wall as the owners feels this adds a rustic feeling for thier inn. When the inn slows down the adventurers get the chance to speak with Horus to find out what’s new. It seems that the Gnolls that have been harassing the farmers to the north have become more bold and need to be dealt with. The Rembard and Flyn farms as well as Voltoor’s own family farm, the Suldash farm, have been hit hard in the last while. The adventures discuss this and agree their next path should be north to see what they can do about the Gnolls. During their discussion with the old smith, Teldorthan, they find out that the scars on Elions face were the result of Gnolls. When he was quite young, 12 or 13, he and group of friends went north to deal with the Gnolls. It would seem however that they were all too young as Elion was the only survivor as his friends were slain and he was left with a badly scared face. Some believe his scars run much deeper than just what’s visible on the surface however. While this is going on, Petronella spots a sword on the wall that looks like one her friend Liria has described many times as being an important family heirloom. They are able to buy it back and learn it was sold by the beggar, Anydus to Horace. Learning that the sword was sold by Anydus seems to be important so the group goes to look for Anydus. They find him and question him relentlessly until he confesses he found it on a dead body that was ½ a day north of town close to a “V” shaped tree. Yet another thing the adventurers need to look into on their way north.
The group heads north to deal with the gnolls and on the way discover the tree that Anydus had described. They do a quick search around it and realise it will take too long to find any evidence of Liria’s missing grandfather. Lheeland uses a divine channel to the Raven Queen to narrow down the search, the place is marked and they head on to Voltoors home.
After a long days travel they arrive at the Suldash farm. There are warm introductions and a hot meal for them all. The topic is light during dinner until the subject of Voltoors grandpa comes up. None of them know that he feels guilty for his death so they are all surprised when he excuses himself and heads upstairs. Voltoor ends up in his grandpas room and finds an old journal. He starts reading and happens upon an entry about the very Gnolls they are their to deal with. It seems grandpa had a couple friends a long time ago that were captured by Gnolls. Sadly, Caeden was killed but Tito survived and escaped. He returned with information about Gnolls – disturbing information. It seems Gnolls are the demon spawn of hyenas and humanoids, they keep slaves to work for them and slaves are tortured or sacrificed. Most are killed but some become “kryshtantal” – an abyssal word for a human who becomes savage soul and serve the gnolls cause by leading raids for their dark masters. Basically, they are Gnolls in human form that travel ahead of the marauding pack and sabotage as they go. They are very dangerous. Voltoor ponders this and wonders if Caeden was really killed or if he became something other than human. Either way he knows the group will have to hear about what he found.
After a good nights sleep in which there were no unwanted visitors, the adventurers awake to the smell of cooking bacon and eggs. After a tasty breakfast and a short discussion with Voltoor’s parents, it was decided they would head to the other two farms in the area and find out if they had had any encounters with the Gnolls recently.
The first stop is the Rembard farm about ½ days travel from the Suldash place. The farmers report that there has been more activity with the Gnolls. Not so much as outright attacks but they have been so bold as to dig up the parents graves and steal the bodies. They are also still stealing tools and burning crops right in plain day light. That part is out of character as they prefer night raids and the body stealing is entirely new and particularly disturbing. After some more discussion they learn that there have been Hyenas howling at night close to the farm and they have heard panting outside the back door of the house every few nights. And it’s not a Hyena. The farmers describe one of the Gnolls that have seen stealing tools and they suspect its the same one at the door in the middle of the night. The description catches Namib’s attention and when the farmers leave them alone he tells his companions what he knows. He tells the group that he has met this Gnoll before. His name is Ripfang. For some reason when they met, the Gnoll didn’t try to gut Namib. He’s not sure why but suspects there is something different about him. He belongs to the Snapjaw clan that has settled in the area for now. In previous encounters, Namib has been able to talk with Ripfang and the Gnoll has told him the body stealing has been going on for some time but his clan has not been involved. What the purpose for the bodies are he did not know. Namib shares what he has found out about Gnoll society. It’s not much of a surprise to learn that Gnolls use intimidation in all aspects of their society and that weakness will be punished severely. The rest of the group is surprised more by the amount of knowledge Namib seems to have than the actual information itself. Voltoor is more bothered than surprised by the news as it’s been his family in direct conflict with the Gnolls and Namib has been holding information from them all. Now is hardly the time to discuss this so the group decides to head for the Flyn farm. That is close to another ½ days travel so they set off after telling the Rembards to keep a close watch out and keep the doors LOCKED.
As they approach the Flyn farm they see smoke coming from over the hill. Voltoor knows that a large fire during the harvest can be devastating for a families ability to feed itself during the long drought months. They quicken the pace at his urging only to hear the sound of people screaming and yelling coming from the farm. When they crest the hill, a terrible sight is before them. All 4 of the crop fields are on fire, buildings are burning, and tools and equipment and scattered around the yard broken. What really grabs their attention however is Mr and Mrs Flyn standing over their son who looks badly injured while tring to fend off three Gnolls. The group springs into action. As they charge in they overhear the Gnolls demanding tools and goods in common speak. They Gnolls are disgusting. They are covered in feces and maggots. Their clothing is a mix match of different styles and sizes, obviously stolen from clothes lines and less desirable options. They are filthy and the stench as they approach is overpowering. The one thing they all have in common is a yellow eye shaped symbol on their armor. As the group runs in, Namib yells that it is Ripfangs clan symbol, but the rest care not, they are here to kill the Gnolls. It only takes one shot to get the attention of the Gnolls, they charge into the lead group and immobilize them. As this battle rages on, Hurm hears a girl screaming for help in the smoke of one of the burning crops. He rushes in only to find two Gnolls standing over the still bodies of the farmers two daughters. One is obviously dead and the other is in bad shape. Hurm looks at the Gnolls through the smoke and is stunned to see one speaking in the girls voice thanking him for coming to “her” aid. Much like the Bullywugs, Hurm soon learns once again that not all fights need be hand to hand. He batters them valiantly almost dropping one single-handedly when they back away and blast him with foul magic. Hurm falls before he is able to warn the group to beware of the trap. Lheeland was between the main battle and the burning crop and had just dropped one of the Gnolls when he heard Hurm cry out for help. Little did he know Hurm had already fallen and was quickly bleeding out on the ground needing help. It was a Gnoll mimicking Hurm that he rushed into save. As Lheeland is running into a trap, Namib has just summoned two hyenas to attack the Gnolls, and they are not pleased. They attack Namib with a frenzy when he suddenly changes into a hyena himself. One Gnoll is so shocked that Namib is able to get past his guard for a huge attack. Voltoor realises that Petronella and Namib can handle the last two Gnolls as one is almost dead and the other is bleeding badly. He starts to head for the smoke to help Hurm when Lheeland yells out it’s a trap. It was fortunate for Hurm that Lheeland found him as he was able to treat the poison that was leaching away his life. Voltoor heads around the smoke and is greeted by the sight of Hurm motionless on the ground and one Gnoll entering the smoke after a fleeing Lheeland. He rushes in to help Hurm and just as he finishes treating the wound he is attacked from behind. The last thing he sees is Hurms eyes opening just as his go dark.
Lheeland has followed the Gnoll and blasted him just as the Gnoll pulls his claws from Voltoors body. The Gnoll again goes after Lheeland which gives Hurm time to use his new healing skills on Voltoor. Finally the tide has turned in the smoke as it becomes all five of the group against one remaining Gnoll. It ends quickly.
After helping the Flyn family treat wounds and put out fires there is a discussion about the events. They find both of the girls are missing, one was dead but the other was still alive. The discussion reveals that recently a dark skinned Gnoll with broken teeth has been seen around the farm. Namib reveals in private to the group that it is Ripfang the family has seen. They have heard enough. The Gnolls have obviously become more bold in their attacks as this was a daylight attack and the living were taken. It will be only a matter of time before they are back for the rest of the family. They agree to head to the Suldash farm to discuss what to do. The group heads to the Rembard farm and tells them of the events at the Flyns. That is all they need to hear to head for the Suldash farm as well. All three farming families meet with the adventurers for a long discussion. Many different ideas are floated about and it seems that no single idea seems acceptable to all three farmers until Voltoor speaks. He tells them that to die protecting burnt crops and stolen tools is foolish and that his friends can‘t be at three farms at the same time to protect them. It is only a farm, one that money can repair. He then hands over his share of the treasure that was found on the Gnoll bodies. He tells the three families the gold should be enough to put them up at the River Rat Inn in Fallcrest while his friends try and deal with the Gnolls. When the farmers protest, Voltoor points out that it was probably made from selling the goods stolen from the farmers so it actually belongs to them. The rest of the group quickly offers their gold as well and agrees that would be the best course of action. The only question now is……… Do the adventurers travel with the farmers to protect them and lose two days, or do they head for the Gnoll camp to save the life of a young girl………..
The debate is settled. The farmers will take their chances and travel to Fallcrest alone while the adventurers head north and try to rescue Azura as well as find out what is going on with the Gnolls that they would require bodies. Dead or alive. The farmers head off and the adventurers head north when Hurm and Petronella feel that it is just too dangerous in the immediate area to let the farmers start off alone. The two rush back to the farmers to accompany them for the first few hours of the journey south. Lheeland, Namib and Voltoor head north and quickly find evidence of recent Gnoll tracks. Following them for about an hour they see in the distance ahead what looks like 6 Gnolls with a prisoner. They discuss this and realize that if the Gnolls reach their camp they can’t help the prisoner so they devise a plan. They follow the Gnolls until some good terrain is found. It is a dried up riverbed in a small gully that blocks the view ahead when at the bottom. Namib changes his appearance to that of a farmer and heads up the gully to get the attention of the Gnolls. The plan works great as only 3 Gnolls are dispatched to capture this lone “farmer”. Namib lures them into the gully while Voltoor and Lheeland hide in ambush. It turns out one of the Gnolls is Ripfang, an acquaintance of Namibs, while the other two are archers. As Ripfang approaches the trap he senses something wrong. Namib reveals himself and the two have a discussion about the best result to this impasse. It becomes apparent that combat will be the only result so little time is wasted. Ripfang and Namib meet head on while Voltoor and Lheeland keep the archers entertained. The Gnolls fight hard and bloody Namib but in the end all the Gnolls are bleeding badly when Namib makes the offer for them to surrender. Ripfang reluctantly agrees to the terms of surrender. When the deal is done, Ripfang turns to Voltoor and tells him to kill the two archers. Voltoor takes some pleasure in putting an arrow in the eye of one while Lheeland and Namib dispatch the other. With the deed done the group is able to discuss more openly with Ripfang. They learn that he is not the chief, that position is held by a powerful female named Zaden. He is only willing to assist the group recover Azura if they are able to overthrow Zadan so he can claim leadership of the clan. For the adventures to be welcomed into the clan it is agreed that they will be introduced as the slayers of the Bleached Skull Tribe, the Snapjaw Clans rivals. At this, Voltoor notices that Ripfang takes some odd pleasure in how this has all worked out yet he was the one defeated. Little did he know this was a foreshadowing of what lay ahead. The 4 head up to the other 3 Gnolls and their prisoner. Ripfang introduces the adventurers as the slayers of the Bleached Skull Tribe. They are not greeted with welcomes, only looked upon as things to be used until they are not required. Namib notices the prisoner is a Razorclaw Shifter like him. They talk for a short while and he is told in quiet of the plan so he should keep his wits about him.
The group marches on into some rocky terrain when they surprise a herd of Baazrags. An odd looking dinosaur that resembles a rhino. The Gnolls break off and fight the beasts on the left while the group, which now includes Petronella as she was able to catch up take on the ones on the right. It is a rough fight but does not tax the group too much, although Namib is hurt by the end of it and has no way to heal himself until he rests. They discuss this situation and decide they must continue on if any chance of rescuing Azura is to be had. They continue on until they reach the base of a hill. Ripfang says his clan is just on the other side so don’t do anything stupid.
They crest the hill and stop dead in their tracks. Before them is a sight none of them thought possible, for if they had they would not be here alone with a deal to remove Zaden from power. Ripfang grins widely and lets out an eerie cackle. They see a hill before them that is stepped in 4 different levels. Each level is hundreds of feet wide and deep. And each level holds hundreds if not thousands of Gnolls. As the adventurers stand stunned at what lays before them, Ripfang speaks. He tells them that this the meeting of Gnolls that will decide which clan will be dominant over all others for the next 7 years and hold the favour of Yeenoghu, the Gnoll god. The lower levels of the hill hold all the smaller clans with the weakest at the bottom. The top has the Snapjaw Clan, and with an evil laugh he adds the Bleached Skull Tribe is up there too. It is between his clan and their rivals as to who will be dominant for the next 7 years. And somehow this small group of adventurers have found themselves right in the middle of this power struggle. As the group stands their pondering how to survive the next couple of days they hear someone approaching behind them. They turn to see Hurm running up, just in time to,…….. Well. No one really knows WHAT they plan to do, and surviving seems the least likely outcome of all.
Hurm stood standing on the crest of a hill stareing straight ahead at the Summit of Gnolls. His allies believed he was analyzing weaknesess that they could exploit, but they were sadly mistaken. His late arrival was due to staying with the farmers at the insistence of farmer Rembards daughter. She was scared and pleaded with Hurm to stay longer for protection and in the end he stayed with the farmers to escort them closer to town. When he finally left the farmers to join his friends he was many hours behind. He ran. And ran and ran. He caught up to his allies and his run was epic. Too bad he wasn’t. He collapsed, totally exhausted and his allies were unable to wake him. Ripfang would not delay their arrival at the camp and so his friends provided shelter and continued on with their mission. Hurms unconscious state was the least of the adventurers worries at the moment. They were busy trying to find a way to survive the situation they were in.
They discussed at length with Ripfang what their options could be to get in to the camp, how they could kill the chief of the Snapjaw clan, and leave with not only their skins still attached to their bodies but with a little girl as well. Ripfang provided a wealth of infmoration to the heroes not the least of which was a custom that was very important to the gnolls. It seems that every 7 years, all the tribes meet to pick a new tribe that will be gain the title of The Chosen of Yeenoghu. Furthermore, every tribe has a religious totem which is to say they have a favored enemy that the tribe is specifically looking to kill or take as slaves. The tribe that became the Chosen of Yeenoghu would then dictate their totem as an extra totem that all other tribes would also have to focus on. Totems range from simple animals (for the lowly tribes) to humanoids such as elves, humans and dwarves for the more powerful tribes. As Ripfang informed the group, both Ripfang’s Snapjaws and their rival, the Bleached Skulls, have humans as their totem, making for a dire situation for the town of Fallcrest. No matter which clan wins it will be bleak times for Fallcrest and to make matters worse, the politicking for tribal supremacy is nearly complete.
With the groups confidence shaken, now realizing how dire now only their situation is, but also Fallcrests, Ripfang tells them that he can guarantee their safety until they meet Zaiden, after that it’s up to them to stay alive. He has a plan to get the group past the lower tribes without a battle and he told the heroes of the following gnoll legend:
Long ago, the first time the gnoll tribes united, they posed an incredible threat to the established nations of the world. A gnoll, known as the White Ruin came to power in his tribe after butchering the chieftain and all the chieftan’s sons in one horrific combat. With the warriors cowed, the gnoll champion swiftly turned to the other tribes stalking the forests and hills, seeking them out one by one to challenge their chieftains. Those who fought him died, and those who didn’t vowed their service, cementing their alliance with the blood of their firstborn sons. The White Ruin accumulated a horde ofgnolls, hyenas, goblins, orcs, and dread demons summoned from the Abyss, and all would know the name of his wicked master, Yeenoghu. And when the time came, his gaze looked upon the nations of humans.
During this time, the human lands were ruled by a King Elidyr. As the gnoll armies approached his lands, the king gathered his glittering knights and allies to meet the gnoll horde. His forces, although numerous, could not compare to the ravenous beasts under Yeenoghu’s banners. Elidyr struck and fell back a dozen times, each loss finding his diminishing army deeper in his own lands. and the gnolls scouring the earth of castle, town. and city. The Kings armies fought valliantly, racking up appalling numbers of dead gnolls, but nothing Elidyr did could halt the tide’s progress.
It wasn’t until the Battle of Nine Sons, when much of the human lands drowning in its own blood, that Elidyr was able to change the course of fate. He and his sons. each a bold knight and a great champion in his own right, formed a wedge and rode their magnificent chargers through the gnoll horedes ranks, driving deep to reach its heart. As they rode, their armies hit the horde from both sides, sacrificing themselves in one final attempt to halt the hordes progress. Elidyr and his sons fought through the press, each taking grievous wounds and vanishing in a sea of blades, claws, and teeth, until only the king remained, dripping with the blood of his eldest and most beloved son. It was then that the White Ruin sought out this courageous “warrior” and challenged him to single combat.
For nine days and nights, while the armies fought around them, Elidyr and the White Ruin fought, hacking and chopping at each other, neither willing to surrender. On and on they battled until the dawn of the tenth day, when the roiling dark clouds broke and the light of the gods shone down upon the embattled forces. The White Ruin, unaccustomed to the radiance of the gods, shielded his eyes, giving EIidyr the chance he needed to drive home his shining sword into the White Ruin’s heart. Just as he struggled to withdraw the blade, the White Ruin let loose a tremendous screech and was pulled, along with the noble king, into the Abyss.
The victory, won at the cost of a king and his sons proved bitter for the humans, for the destruction the kingdom suffered was too much and its people were too scattered to rebuild. As for the gnolls, their army was in disarray and without a strong leader to unify it, went their separate ways.
However, it is from this legend that the gnolls now meet every 7 years to unify under one banner as the Chosen of Yeenoghu to inflict a holy war upon the chosen tribes totem, so that they might recreate the power that the White Ruin had originally had.
Ripfang tells them with pride that gnoll shamans whisper that the king still lives and to this day, is in mortal combat with Yeenoghu himself.
This legend serves to provide reverance to the White Ruin, but it also gives honor to King Elidyr as he still fights the gnolls to this day while at the same time symobolizing the fight that the humans have in them resisting the gnolls. Ripfang described the kings markings as a crest of a bloodied fist upon his armor. Ripfang tells the group that all they must do to walk into the Gnoll Summit is to paint a bloodied fist upon their shoulder and proclaim they are the Bloodied Fist, slayers of the Bleached Skull tribe. This symbol, not having been seen since the time of King Elidyr will leave the gnolls in awe and furthermore, by proclaiming themselves as the Slayers of the Bleached Skull tribe it will make a powerful statement. The adventurers are obviously suspicious of this as none of them have heard of this king or this battle. Ripfang takes great offence to this distrust as he has told this group of adventurers one of the gnolls most respected legends. It takes Namib some time to calm him down and in the end they agree that it is the only option to get to the top. The one problem with the plan is that they are not all humans. Petronella and Voltoor are fine, Namib could be disguised. But Lheeland is a deva, and nothing could disguise that fact. The plan they come up with is simple. Lheeland will remain a deva but be introduced as the groups slave. They get to work on the disguise and ignore the real problem that still lies ahead – The slaying of Zaiden, the Snapjaws chief which is what they promised to do in exchange for saving the girl.
As the group approaches the lower levels of the hill they see small groups of gnolls, the smaller, weaker tribes. Ripfang whispers to Namib while walking up to these lower tribes that they each have their own totems. These lower, weaker tribes pick weak prey to hunt and will never be more than weak followers of those at the top. Voltoor and Petronella overhear this and pick up contempt in his voice as he speaks of the lower tribes. They realize that all though they’re in a tough situation they may yet swing it to their advantage as the gnolls obviously has no respect for those lower than themselves. The Gnolls spot the group and suddenly spring up with weapons drawn. Ripfang steps ahead of the group and speaks to the gnolls while pointing to the bloodied fist on the shoulders of those in the group. They are not sure what he says but they are surprised and somewhat relieved that the gnolls step aside for them to pass. It even looks to them that some of the gnolls have a slight bow as they walk past. The first test is passed but the biggest is yet to come. As they get to the second and third level they notice a change in the tribes numbers and the slaves they keep. Where the lower tribes might have one or two slaves and a number of animals tied up, the next two levels have mostly humanoids. They see dwarves, shifters, elves and some other types that are hard to make out in their ragged clothes, filthy bodies and the fact they keep their heads down. The one thing they notice that is most disturbing is that the top two levels of tribes seem to have a great deal of humans among their slaves. And that includes Ripfangs clan. When they crest the top it’s between the Bleached Skull and Snapjaw clans. Ripfang points out the leader of the rival clan. They are told his name is Nezrak, but the name seems to float in the air without acknowledgement. They are stunned by the sight of the largest gnoll they have ever seen. At least 9 feet tall and muscular beyond belief. His fur is a dirty yellowy white, his fangs have been sharpened to a fine point, he wears no armor and wears a massive bastard sword upon his back. But it’s his eyes that disturb the most. His bright crimson red, that make him look more demonic than gnoll never blink as he stares and the group and they walk by. If the group feels fear they never show it and that makes him smile and narrow his gaze ever so slightly. He doesn’t need to see fear, he can smell it. Ripfang stops suddenly and says he must introduce them before entering his clans’ camp. In a loud voice he proclaims this group of humans with him to be the return of the Bloodied Fist, Slayers of the Bleached Skull Tribe. Ripfang grins as he knows Nezrak has heard this pronouncement. The group stands with back to Nezrak and accepts the welcome of the Snapjaw clan. Nezrak does not miss this slight and upon hearing that pronouncement tenses up to the point of exploding. The group does not see this but he is actually held back by one of his guards. They also don’t see Nezrak break the guards neck in his massive hand like one would snap a chicken bone. No one touches Nezrak. He holds the dead guard by the neck, squeezing, all the while starring at these Slayers of the Bleached Skull tribe. Ripfang does notice this as he looks back to the group and grins even more, making sure Nezrak sees him. Little do the adventurers know that the game has already begun.
The group is introduced to Zaiden before entering the camp. She is almost 7 feet tall, muscular but not overly so. She wears filthy robes and carries a wickedly curved dagger in her hand. She has an air of indifference about her towards the group. Her self control is uncanny yet inside she is burning for answers. At her side is what looks to be a massive dog with large, sharp tusks. After the introductions and group is dismissed almost as an afterthought by Zaiden. Ripfang takes the heores to a secluded area of the camp and they immediately begin planning the gnolls rise to power. He starts with Zaidens short but brutal rise to power. At birth, she slew the siblings and mother, and then took her father as her mate. When she tired of him, she butchered him, feasted on his blood and flesh, then used his entrails in a ritual that revealed she was to be the next great chieftain. At least that is what she claims. Ripfang explains that it has been some time since Zaiden has performed a sacrifice to Yeenoghu and in 2 days a sacrificial ritual will be performed, using a human slave as sacrifice. She will butcher him up on the dais, drink his blood and toss parts for the tribe to consume. This ritual disgusts the adventurers yet they are able to form a plan using this information. They realize they have no hope of stopping this ritual, so using it seems the best option. They get Ripfang to gather herbs so a poison can be made that will serve 2 purposes. It will kill the pain for the slave and it will taint his blood so that anyone drinking it will die a sudden death. Ripfang returns with the herbs but it is soon discovered that one herb is the wrong one. The poison will not kill her outright but it will cause her to be in a very weakened mental state. Namib points out that if not for Ripfangs failure, her death would be assured but now he must step up and do the deed himself. They argue but in the end he agrees. However, the issue of how to get the slave to drink the poison must be solved as it requires Zaidens approval. Lheeland, being the undertaker for the Raven Queen has an idea to tell her it is a potion to prolong the slaves suffering and to prepare him for the Raven Queens embrace. Ripfang takes the plan to her and she agrees, but she does have a mission for the group to perform before the ritual. Whether she is suspicious of them or just wants to test them they are not sure, but what she wants them to do is all they can stomach. The slave is to be interrogated by the group before his death, and Ripfang tells them they had better be brutal as her advisors will be watching. The human slave was acquired by Ripfangs’ clan by exchanging their shifter slave to the Six Scars tribe for a human named Trampas.
That evening, the group was lead to this poor slaves tent. He was in a cage in the middle of the tent surrounded by 4 of Zaidens advisors. The group enters the cage and look at each other unsure what to do when Petronella starts to slap him around. She then grabs his throat, tips his head back and forces him to swallow the potion. As she does this she whispers to him that she and her friends can do nothing to help him survive. The best they can do is the potion as it will stop him from feeling pain. She then head butts him on the bridge of the nose, it shatters and blood sprays yet he shows no sign of feeling anything. Petronella leans forward and whispers to the slave that he needs to show some emotion to the torture so as not to raise suspicion from the guards. At this she head butts him again and he screams in pain and collapses to the floor. She picks him up and tells him to talk. He tells her that he used to live in Fallcrest a dozen or so years ago but he left to find a better life. He never got farther than a couple weeks from Fallcrest yet he tried. He made maps in his travels, but no matter how accurate he thought he made them, they always contained errors. Either the scales were off, or the features were wrong and no matter how sure he was that the map was correct, they were always incorrect in some way. Petronella wants to end the torture, she realizes this man knows nothing and this is all just a test of the group, not for any real information to be gained. She grabs the slave by the shoulders, leans in and tells him his death will not be in vain, it will save all of Fallcrest and his name will be remembered. She then knees him in the groin and lets him drop to the ground in his imagined pain. Fortunately the torture session was short, not so much for the slave but for the adventurers. It’s all they could do to maintain their composure and not lose themselves to something dark that may be hidden in the corner of their psyche. When they leave the cage, Petronella tells the guards that the slave has no useful information. The guards seem to be satisfied with the torture session and tell them to leave. When they get to their small camp within the gnoll clan they just sit in silence. No one speaks of the event until Ripfang appears. He wants to go over the plan and to make sure the potion was given. He is told all is good and leaves the group to sit and ponder what has become of them.
Two nights later, the ritual arrives. The group stands before the raised dais with Ripfang in front of the rest of the Snapjaw clan. It is a place of honor for the Slayers of the Bleached Skull Tribe, this group called the Bloodied Fist. They watch as Zaiden tortures this poor slave very slowly. They also pick up on the fact that Zaiden has realized the slave is not responding to the torture the way he should be. He does not move when she breaks his fingers, does not flinch when she smashes his legs with a heavy mallet, not even when she grabs his mangled legs and twists them around making sick, grinding noises as his broken bones move against each other. The group is close enough to see her face twist up in a look of disgust as she realizes what the potion was meant to do, relieve his suffering. She knows she is too far into the ritual to stop now and deal with this treachery. She takes her jagged knife and plunges it into guts, twisting and cutting. She pulls out his entrails and shows them to the slave as he dies before throwing chunks of his flesh to the gnolls on the ground. The slave is butchered before the groups eyes as his body parts are thrown off the dais to the waiting gnolls below. His blood is collected in cups at the ends of the table for Zaiden and her advisors to drink. They drink the tainted blood and start to stumble around in a daze. Zaiden looks at the group with hatred in her eyes but knows she must finish the ritual first – which includes recieving a vision from reading the entrails of the victim. As the trance overtakes Zaiden, it is almost as if she becomes unaware of what she is saying and what she is doing. She speaks, as she unknowningly looks in the direction of the heroes:
One betrayal, then another, and another.
Under one banner, the rising tide swells.
Beginning the Great Betrayers work – again!
Light is blinding, and its darkness transparent,
Illuminating five omens of the Great Betrayers Defeat! Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow become one,
Victory for the Homeless, the Chieftans Seed is absolved,
Accusing the Betrayer – will it lead to redemption or damnation?
Eyes of Two Prisoners must not become one, or all will fall to ruin!
When the vision is about to end, Ripfang tells the group that he is altering the deal. They must destroy Zaiden personally otherwise, their life would be forfeit as Zaiden would see them killed. Feeling betrayed, by the change in plans, but not in a position to do anything other than what Ripfang demands, the group acts. Ripfang heads to the base of the stairs and pulls the guards away for the group to get at her. The fight is savage with the Gnoll chieftain and her advisors but it is her pet that almost wins the fight for her. At one point only Lheeland is standing yet, somehow, this ragtag group of friends pulls through and kills Zaiden and all her advisors. When she falls, Ripfang appears on the dais proclaiming these humans of the legends of old have proven Zaiden was unfit to rule. He proclaims himself as ruler of the clan and these humans are his champions. The announcement is shocking to the rest of the Snapjaw clan. It seems to work as none come forward to challenge him. Then, Ripfang goes one further, announcing that the Snapjaw clan is done with backdoor deals and politicking and declares that might is right, and he challenges the more physically superior Bleached Skull tribe to combat to claim the Chosen of Yeenoghu title. Nezrak, takes the bait, accepts the challenge, yet once again finds that he is duped along with the heroes, as Ripfang announces that the Slayers of the Bleached Skull tribe will fight for him. Unnerved, but in too deep to back down, Nezrak accepts the challenge. The group look at eachother and wonder just how things could get any worse…
To be continued…
Five minutes. That’s all the adventurers had to discuss tactics for their upcoming battle with Nezrak and his 4 best fighters. As they recover from the battle with Zaiden, huddled together with Ripfang, they spot Hurm approaching with the three gnolls that were with Ripfang when they first entered the summit. Hurm looks well rested, which at this point is good as the rest of the group is low on resources. He has the Bloodied fist painted on his shoulder, which was put their by Ripfang when he went out to gather herbs for the first part of his plan. Hurm doesn’t know it but Ripfang had his dagger at his throat as he slept. One quick thrust would have ended it, but the crafty gnoll knew that this sleeping human would be needed by his companions if he was to be the next chieftain of the gnoll summit. So he instead painted the fist on him and advised his guards to bring him at the proper time. That time is now. Nezrak needs to be dealt with and this group are the ones to do it. The planning is short as time is of the essence. What they do learn from Ripfang is that Nezrak and his guards are called death pledged gnolls. What powers that may grant he does not know but the group suspects they will be hard to kill. They will also gang up on a bloodied foe in a lust for blood that will surely kill the unfortunate target. The adventurers know that tactics will win this fight, not brute force. They plan to drop 2 of the guards before concentrating on Nezrak, hoping this will limit the damage they must endure before ending the fight. Ripfang informs them that the 5 minutes are up, time to go out and make him the chieftain.
They enter a circle, a small circle if one is a ranged fighter, which most of the group are. Nezrak and his 4 guards line up on one edge of the circle and the Bloodied Fist split in two with the melee in front and ranged in back. It starts out well for the 5 as a rested Hurm gets the jump on the gnolls and hits all 5 with a big shot. That gets the gnolls attention as when they go it is Hurm that takes the brunt. As the fight progresses the adventurers stick to the plan and work on 2 gnolls. It’s a sound plan yet the gnolls fail to drop when they should be dead, instead they lash out even harder with double attacks before they actually die. The group has spread the last of Voltoor’s healing poultices around so they can each administer some aid where needed. This is able to keep the group relatively healthy for most of the fight until the gnolls make double attacks on Petronella before dying. Petronella drops after 2 big hits when Hurm rushes in to heal her. Unfortunately the timing is off as Nezrak sees that even though she is prone her eyes are open and full of blood lust. Before she has a chance to stand he smashes her again. Voltoor them tries to time his actions to heal her so she will be able to attack but that is intercepted by the crafty gnolls and he is hit hard for his decision. Now both Petronella and Voltoor are bleeding. The three standing friends are able to thin the numbers enough to have a chance to heal them up. After that the fight is over fairly quick as Nezrak is all brute force and not much for well planned tactics.
Ripfang is proclaimed the cheiftain of the gnoll summit and he upholds his bargain with the 5 adventurers. He returns Azura Flynn as well as granting the group to pick 4 more slaves to take with them. From Ripfangs perspective it is of little consequence as he believes in 4 weeks they will all be slaves again anyway. When in private he thanks the group for being present to witness his rise to power and grants them one extra week to prepare for the destruction of Fallcrest. It should be pointed out that “private” is a bit of a stretch since from the time he is proclaimed chieftain there are never less than 8 guards around him, and when meeting with the adventurers it rises to 12, possibly a silent show of his respect for their talents. In the end the group feels that he is the best choice to have as the current leader. He may be crafty but from their standpoint he is somewhat predictable and probably the most mentally stable of any gnoll they have met.
The slaves that are chosen are as follows.
1: Azura Flynn, daughter of farmer Flynn
2: Gola, a shifter slave they met with Ripfang when heading to the summit
3: Garro, a former town guard that was ambushed 2 years ago while heading to the farming community
4: Despina, once an avenger to the Raven Queen, captured years ago, former companion of Elion
5: Caeden, friend and adventuring companion of Voltoor’s grandpa, captured many years ago
They leave the gnoll summit with haste knowing the news they bring upon Fallcrest will leave the town in the biggest test of its existence. When they are a day or so from the summit they spot a group of 9 travelers heading in their general direction. It is a group of 4 tieflings and 5 humans that are heading out of Fallcrest to search for the lost, hidden city of Vor’ Rukoth. A place said to be full of treasures and knowledge yet thought to be abandoned. When asked how they found this information they are told it was in some books in Fallcrest, but what books is never a question that was asked. The leader of the expedition is a tiefling named Amerius. He is warned about the gnoll encampment to the north and that he best avoid it. The group is also told of the gnolls plans to destroy Fallcrest. This starts a discussion about using this lost city as a possible refuge for the citizens of Fallcrest, yet that option seems faint at best as its existence is naught but words on a page. Again, what pages is never discussed. The groups part ways and they head south only to find the tree they had planned to investigate for the remains on Liria’s uncle. A search turns up some bones that appear to be hacked with a sharp weapon as well as some unexplained claw marks. The bones are gathered up and they head to town with news that will forever change the town of Fallcrest, AND how its inhabitants see this brave, yet unnamed group of adventurers.
DM Commentary: Session 1 (Session 4 overall) Notes/Thoughts
This session had no encounters at all. In fact, there were about a total of 6 dice rolls throughout the entire session. It focused mainly on roleplaying, and it was a great session! As most of what happened will be covered by the story recap I will only touch lightly on my thoughts of the session here.
One of the things that I am focusing on in this campaign is the fact that the people and the town of Fallcrest have thier own lives. Consequently, after each adventure, when the PCs return to town they have the opportunity to talk with the locals, but the the locals will want to talk with them. They will update the players on what has happened in their absence, but also impoortant things in their personal lives. This should make the town a more realistic place, full of the highs and lows that life often brings. This session saw the players get recognized for their work at the orchards but it also saw a minor two week celebration in the town celebrating the years harvesting and bounty of fruit.
This session continued to introduce some NPCs that the players had not met yet and it further explored the goals, hopes and dreams of known NPCS.
- Horace of the River Rat Inn is a collector of adventuring gear.
- Two of Voltoor’s friends confided in him that they wanted to open a soup kitchen (and he graciously helped get it underway with a monetary donation).
- Three families were introduced on the edge of town – Voltoor’s family, the Rembard family and the Flyn family.
- A mysterious tattered purple robed figure made contact with Petronella. And finally, several beggars were introduced, with the most important being Theveus – who is a Tiefling.
Those familiar with the 4e timeline will realize that 60 years after the Dawn War, Tielflings should not exist yet – or at least that is my understanding. I’ve explained to the players that the Tieflings were created later in the timeline. While their characters have no knowledge of this, I did thell them that their character get a wierd vibe from the Tiefling. I think this is a fantastic way to do a mystery. The players understand that something is very out of place, the characters understand that something isn’t right and this lets both the player and the character try to resolve a mystery without metagaming the knowledge the player has. And of course, the fact that Tiefling exists right now is a major mystery of the story that the players will eventually discover.
My favorite scene from this session was the mysterious purple robed figure. When he appeared in the alleyway, I described to Petronella the fact that she could only make out the faintest hint of color in his being (both person and clothes) even thought the alleyway shed enough light to give color to everything else in it. My inspiration came from late night feedings for my son and daughter. I noticed how in the dark of night (and through some research) that for the human eye to see color a certain amount of light must exist. As the light dims, the eye begins to see everything in shades of black and white. I thought this was a neat way to describe a mysterious figure. I had decided that the figure could not speak and so it would be difficult to communicate with him. Of course, as writers often do, they focus on roadblocks for PCs, not realizing that there can be some real simple solutions to those roadblocks. In this case, Petronella asked the figure to nod and shake his head to answers – which I completely didn’t think of – d’oh! Anyway, it worked out for the best. Petronella was able to ask some simple questions, and get some information that I didn’t anticipate her having which actually works out better than I had planned. All in all, good thinking on Petronella’s players part.
That’s about it for this session – since there were no encounters, there is no tactical notes section. But don’t worry, the fighting will start up again next session! ;)
DM Commentary: Session 2 (Session 5 overall) Notes/Thoughts
This sessions roleplaying was primarily concerned with discovering the ecology of the gnoll. The three farms currently plagued by the gnolls were a great source for the players to learn as much as they could before going into battle with them.
I spent a fair bit of time reading about gnolls prior to this adventure as I really wanted the gnolls to have more depth than when I have portrayed them in past adventures. I really went in depth with descriptions trying to get across how savage they are and how filthy they are. One description included “maggot encrusted fur” which I think invokes a rather disgusting image.
After the PCs went to all three farms the players had the decision left to them on how they were going to handle the gnoll crises. They had the option of going on the offensive and taking it to the gnolls or staying defensive and protecting the farms. Both had pros and cons but the PCs were surprisingly generous and came up with a creative solution. Voltoors player decided to put the families up in town at the local inn until the crises was dealt with and this was quickly supported by the rest of the players. They all chipped in and this was a brilliant plan as it gets rid of concerns for furture attacks on the farms while they are out tracking the nomadic gnoll tribes camp. Now the biggest question the players have is – how big of a threat are they dealing with (what are the tribes numbers).
There was only one fight this session. As the PCs arrived at the Flyn family farm it was under attack by some gnolls. The encounter was set up with 3 gnolls attacking a child and the parents near the house, while another child screamed for help from some deep smoke in the burning crop fields nearby.
This forced the PCs to split resources and they made a poor decision. 4 of the 5 players aided the parents at the house while Hurm sought out the missing child. As he entered the smoke he continued to hear the childs screams but what he saw perplexed him. Deep in the smoke, at his feet he found the body of the girl – she was already dead. However, he continued to hear the girls voice and as he looked up he saw a huge gnoll in front of him. The gnoll had the ability to perfectly mimic the childs voice and this deception worked perfectly. Another gnoll came from behind and Hurm was in deep trouble.
Hurm gave a good account of himself almost single handedly taking down a level 5 gnoll leaving it at 3HPs before he was dropped. These two gnolls were far tougher than the three that were accosting the family near the house. In the end, some of Hurms companions rushed to his aid and the gnolls were eventually beaten with one escaping with the childs body.
I was pretty happy with this encounter as it achieved its purpose, however, a disturbing trend for Hurms player is emerging. Hurms player is concerned that he is a bit of a paper tank as he often has his ass handed to him almost every fight. After discussing it with him and ensuring him that his defenses are at an adequate number I pointed out that the issues seem to be two fold. First, some of it is just plain bad luck with me getting high rolls and hammering him repeatedly. Second, most of the party uses ranged attacks. This means that Hurm and Petronella are the front lines and Hurm is often not near Petronella. This means that when he is near a group of enemies that are melee based, it makes Hurm the ONLY target of their ire and no character, tank or not can withstand being focused on.
Incidently, my favorite scene of this session was the ambush of Hurm. Describing to Hurm that he finds the girl – dead – but still talking to him was kind of cool. Picture a big, filthy gnoll standing in front of you sounding like a young girl while attacking you and that will give you the impression of how cunning gnolls can be.
Next session should reveal some more suprising and unexpected things about the gnolls so I am looking forward to that.
DM Commentary: Session 3 (Session 6 overall) Notes/Thoughts
This session started off with an unannounced skill challenge involved with finding the gnoll encampment. In the past campaign, we announced when a skill challenge was happening but I have found that it is too difficult for my players to roleplay when the math of the game takes such precedence to their success. Ultimately, the last campaign became an exercise in looking at your sheet and finding what skills you are good at and then applying them to the situation. Good roleplayers can find ways to make most skills useful and poor roleplayers simply try to find a skill with a good number and want to use that – which is little more than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole without the roleplaying to back it up. Thus, this campaign I have changed tactics and I like how they work much better as it feels much more organic.
For this particular challenge, I tried something new. I created a nested skill challenged (based on an article I read over at Sly Flourish). Basically, the premise is that by using one skill it unlocks follow up skills that need to be used which in turn furthers the scenario. It prevents spamming the same skill and more importantly continues to provide options for the players to choose. While designing this SC I had originally planned for it to have a high complexity but I quickly realized that its better to have consecutive short skill challenges instead of one long one because you just don’t know how the PCs will do things.
In the end, they chose a path that I did not expect – at least not entirely. During the skill challenge, they managed to track a gnoll hunting pack and then ambush them. During the ambush they discovered it was Ripfang himself (a gnoll that Namib had some dealings with in the past) and they gained the upper hand in combat. Namib extended an olive branch to Ripfang in the form of a deal where they could get some prisoners released, they would find the gnoll encampment and they would put Ripfang in command of his tribe (as he was currently 2nd in command). Ripfang agreed to this, but kept a lot of info to himself. If the players didn’t ask, he didn’ reveal much, other than agreeing to the deal since it would really benefit him in the long run. His ultimate goal was to regain the upper hand while making use of the PCs in the deal that they themselves offered. To make matters more interesting Ripfang needed a convincing story for bringing the PCs back with him and the players agreed they would be recognized as slayers of the Bleached Skull tribe, the rival tribe to Ripfangs own tribe. They figured this was a good cover but in the end, it would make things mroe complicated…
As the session ended, the PCs were not expecting to come across a summit of all the gnoll tribes. Expecting 20 or 30 gnolls, they were surprised to learn there were well over 1000 gnolls from about 20 different tribes. The situation quickly became more complex and their deal would be much more difficult to fulfill. As Ripfang explained at that point in time, the two most likely tribes to become the Chosen of Yeenoghu was either the Snapjaw clan (Ripfangs own) or the Bleached Skull clan. The idea that they would be introduced as slayers of the Bleached Skull clan now made things sticky to say the least.
While there are many questions to still be answered I am certain more information will come to light next session.
There were 2 fights this session. The fight with the Baazrags was straight forward. The ambush encounter was a bit more interesting. I allowed the PCs to draw the terrain and set up the circumstances of their ambush. Since they were following the gnolls (and succeeded in not being spotted during that time) I let the PCs choose the timing and therefore the terrain. They drew the terrain, creating terrain that would block line of sight, hoping to draw only a portion of the gnolls away from the pack making for an easier fight and this worked perfectly. Namib used himself as bait, suckering only 3 gnolls to turn back to capture a “lone farmer looking for his daughter” and they quickly gained the upper hand which surprised me. Three PCs of level 2 took it to 2 level 3 gnolls and a level 6 soldier gnoll (Ripfang) with no issues at all. It goes to show you that circumstances make a big different in combat. Hurms player was absent which was too bad as I am sure he would have taken delight in a few encounters that would not have dropped him for once! ;) Voltoors player took great delight at the end of the fight when Ripfang wanted him to kill his assistants so there would be no record of his defeat and he put an arrow through each gnolls eye.
DM Commentary: Session 4 (Session 7 overall) Notes/Thoughts
This session involved a lot of roleplaying and only one encounter.
The players continued to grapple with the enormity of the situation they were in. As last session ended, they stood with Ripfang before a summit of gnoll tribes and they estimated at least 1000 gnolls – a force that was much larger than they anticipated dealing with (and just to put the number in perspective, Fallcrest was only about half that number). To make matters worse, the deal they had made with Ripfang meant they had to put him into power AND they were going to be introduced as the Slayers of the Bleached Skull tribe – a tribe that was vying with the Snapjaws (Ripfang’s own) to become the Chosen of Yeenoghu for the next seven years. Well, as the players would soon find out, things were about to go from bad to worse.
The PCs learned through Ripfang a bit about the reasons for, and politics behind, what the gnolls call the Tribal Summit. Essentially, tribe size, slave numbers and witherlings created (among other things) were part of a complex system used by the gnolls to determine the dominant tribe who would become the Chosen of Yeenoghu for the next seven years. Still not quite understanding the significance or reasons for the summit they continued to press for more information. Ripfang informed them that each tribe had a totem – a favored enemy that the tribe hunted and was sacred to that tribe. This ranged from lowly animals such as gazelles up to the humanoid races – elves, shifters, dwarves and humans. The Chosen of Yeenoghu would set policy and dictate their totem as the prime enemy for the next seven years and all gnoll tribe were expected to participate in capturing or killing that totem. What made this news particularly gruesome was that both the Snapjaws and the Bleach Skulls have humans as their totems. Either way, Fallcrest was in the sites of the combined gnoll horde.
As the session progressed two interesting things began to develop.
First, a match of wits began to ensue between Ripfang and the players. Most of this will be recapped in the story but suffice to say, the players tried to put Ripfang on the defensive and he kept turning the tables on the players. In fact, Saltmania even questioned me on the fact that in the previous session Ripfang didn’t seem overly interested in taking control of the tribe but now seemed very keen on it. I had him make an insight check (which he was successful at) and he was able to determine that as events progressed, Ripfang was able to constantly able to put a spin on things so we was in the best possible position. As his plan grew, so did his lust for power.
Second, as a result of the number one, Ripfang grew from a one dimensional NPC to one that had real personality. I find it particularly interesting that his personality developed from responding to the players proactive attempts at solving the situation they were in. Normally, as a DM I plan a personality, plan his goals and how he will achieve them but in this instance he was created because of the players attempting strike a deal with him to their benefit. While it hasn’t really worked out in the players favor in this instance, it really shows that the depth of the game is much deeper when the players take an active roll in bringing events about instead of always responding to things the DMs says. It was a nice change of pace.
As the session ended, the PCs dispatched Zaiden, with Ripfang assuming control of the tribe, and announcing a challenge to the more physically dominant Bleached Skull tribe with the winner becoming the Chosen of Yeenoghu. Of course, Ripfang anncounced that the PCs would be his champion which again shocked not only the PCs but the leader of the Bleached Skulls.
Next session should bring even further developments as the PCs mission has gone from a simple “stop the raiding gnolls” to “a horde of gnolls on the warpath now threatens Fallcrest”.
Tactically speaking, there was only one combat and most of the session was story oriented. There isn’t much to say other than to say that at one point, three of the four players were down (the fifth was absent) and it looked like a TPK. However, the players managed to get back up and they won the fight against Zaiden. Zaiden was skinned as a 9th level monster, severely weakened after drinking the PCs poison. She was originally a 20th level monster. I threw in a number of minions making the fight quite dangerous. With some better rolling Zaiden would have won, but such was not her fate and the PCs story continues…
DM Commentary Session 5 (Session 8 overall) Notes/Thoughts
As Chapter 2 wraps up, I must say that this “adventure” went the most sideways on me than any other adventure I have ever run (excluding TPK’s of course). Here are several reasons why:
#Ripfang wasn’t created as a Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) but he became one. As the adventure evolved Ripfangs personality grew from a war party leader, to a reluctant leader to a savvy, cunning bastard to a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur. I really felt that even though the PCs don’t like Ripfang, they respect his ability and the same is true from Ripfangs point of view as well. Ripfang was soundly beaten by the PCs but he used that knowledge to his advantage in every situation he could afterward putting the PCs on the defensive. From Ripfangs perspective he showed his respect by allowing the PCs to take extra slaves for their part in his rise to power. Even at the end, the contest of wills between the players and the villain was evident. Ripfang inadvertently gave the PCs mythical status by always comparing them to a respected human hero from the White Ruin Legend and this granted them more power than they realized. The players, had they wanted to, probably could have used thei status to dethrone Ripfang and have his tribe tear him apart, however, it was in their best interest to leave him in power as it bought them an extra week to prepare Fallcrest before the gnolls march. What I haven’t told the players (until now), is that if they HAD done something like this, it would have changed the politics of power for the gnolls. With no clear successor, the Snapjaws would have lost power, and even the Bleached Skulls likely would have been depleted as each side had lost their most powerful warriors and so the third ranked tribe would have assumed command which may or may not have changed things in terms of attacking Fallcrest. Regardless, it was a very interesting adventure and Ripfang has become one of my all time top five villains.
#During this adventure, the players kept coming up with very interesting scenario’s that challenged my plot planning. Some highlights were: 1) Using Ripfang as a hostage to find the gnoll camp 2) the plan to poison Ziaden 3) The PCs dedication to their goal which was to rescue Azura Flynn even in the face of overwhelming odds and 4) Constant use of brilliant battle tactics despite no leader in the group and new table rules preventing table talk in combat.
The fights during this adventure in the latter half were particularly hard. The PCs faced several fights of level +3 and this included opponents of level 7, 8 and 9 in the mix which were hard to hit and also hit hard. I can think of 3 instances where three different PCs were 1 or 2 HPs shy of dying outright. There was some close ones here but the PCs persevered and succeeded. They truly deserve accolades for this one and I certainly gave some out. First, Voltoor’s player was able to rescue a slave that included his grandfathers friend. Second, the players also rescued a woman who turned out to be an old ally of Elion, the priest of the Raven Queen, and by rescuing her, they have both become very close allies to the players. Third, Namib’s player has been searching for his lost tribe and while he didn’t find them, he did rescue a shifter that was without a tribe much like him. As a result I allowed Namib’s player to turn the rescued shifter into an ally (as a minion) and that was well received by his player.
I was very pleased with the depth of this adventure. I did a LOT of research on gnolls from all the editions of D&D and found useful info in each edition. This made the gnolls pretty interesting and complex. They had tribal customs, myths, they had totems, collected slaves and dead bodies and every single reason was culture related as opposed to a manufactured reason so I was very pleased from that standpoint. Even though the gnolls will continue to be a major part of Chapter 3, the adventure will shift gears a little putting emphasis on new events and people in the campaign. However, some of the ramifications and knowledge learned in this adventure will play a huge role as the campaign progresses.
The last note I want to put here is that I plan to change the DM commentary for future Chapters. Rather than put all the DM Commentary at the end of the adventure, I think it makes more sense to place it after each story write-up. It will be easier for people to read the events of that session, followed by my thoughts and then move on to the session. I will put my notes in italics making it easy for people to skip this section if they want to read only the story.
The one and only fight this session involved a squared circle match pitting the PCs against five warriors from the Bleached Skull Tribe. Since the group is ranged heavy, and they ALWAYS use that to their advantage, I made the fighting area quite a bit smaller so they had less area to spread out. I set up a ring of gnolls and decided that if any of the PCs finished their movement next to the crowd, they would be pushed into the center 1d6 squares. I let the PCs make an insight check to recognize the threat and they succeeded but in hindsight I wish I left that secret. The PCs were still able to manoeuvre well enough and avoid that issue altogether making it a non factor in the combat. On the flipside, most of the gnolls were Deathpledged gnolls and they were a LOT of fun to use. When they reach 0HPs, they regain 5 HPs, gained resist 15 and got an Action Point. They die at the end of the following turn but they can bring some serious damage in their final round. This ability put a lot of fear into the players as they weren’t sure if they could kill the gnolls once they reached this stage and I described the gnolls as shrugging off the damage and the players suddenly started second guessing if they could win this fight. The other funny thing was that at the time, the PCs had no powers that could do more than 15 damage short of a crit so they couldn’t bring the gnolls down before they got to use their AP’s. It was a fun, but deadly fight!