The Backwater Gambit: Campaign Diary, 3

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Chapter 3: Moncrief’s Manse

Our adventurer’s wake with the dawn leaving the Running Dancer to meet Celia Moncrief at Foxon’s courthouse so that a magistrate can validate the deed the party brought to Celia’s attention. The goal is simple: confirm the authenticity of the deed and have the magistrate officially turn the estate over to Celia.

However, Jorg, Asher, and Roben are a bit worried local law enforcement might discover the three killed two town residents the night before and are keen to keep discussions to a minimum. The group gets a bit anxious when they arrive at the courthouse to discover a rather large and unruly crowd has gathered outside it on the steps. They are all yelling and shouting at a well-dressed dwarf standing on the stairs above them trying to keep them all calm. There are townspeople in the crowd but the group immediately notices much of the group are clearly miners and workers. They are dressed in rough, dirty cloths. A few have bandages and look like they’re in a state of shock.

Jorg works his way into the crowd striking up a conversation with a miner to find out what’s going on. He learns the mines, called the Foxon Cellars, have been having issues with hobgoblin attacks over the last few months. Small bands of hobgoblins would appear in the caves. The miners assumed they had wandered into looking for plunder and were able to drive them off or kill them outright. However, yesterday, a full legion appeared in the mines driving the miners out. They were able to kill a few but there were much better trained hobgoblins this time and with their lack of true weapons the miners couldn’t do anything. Now the mines are occupied and the town has lost its primary resource.

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While Jorg is talking with the miner, John finds Celia in the crowd. He asks her what she knows about what’s going on, and she gives an account of the mines similar to what Jorg was told. He also discovers that the dwarf talking to the crowd is the magistrate Zaghain they need to speak with about the deed. The group decides to wait to see what happens with the crowd. Zaghain reassures the townfolk and miners that he will send what soldiers Foxon has to resolve the situation. Most are only slightly sated, when a tall, late middle-aged woman with long white hair and amber eyes wearing fine clothes chimes in. This is Wena Riffolk, a member of the town’s council. She is stern looking and speaks in a tone refusing debate. She commands the crowd to disperse saying everything will be taken care of in due course. The townsfolk and miners, cowed, disperse but the party hears murmurs and grumbles of discontent from them.

Entering the courthouse to speak with Zaghain, the party and Celia find him speaking with a guard in a frenetic manner giving him commands but also telling him to improvise. It sounds as though Zaghain is attempting to recruit the handful of mercenaries in town. Celia speaks reminding the dwarf of their appointment. He waves the group into in his library where he sits behind a desk overcrowded with papers. Celia explains how the party found the deed. Zaghain then asks the party himself getting the same story. John also mentions that there may be a tribe of bullywugs settling in or near the Usurer’s Tower but Zaghain brushes it off as something that doesn’t concern the town.

The dwarf magistrate validates Celia’s claim on the deed technically granting the estate to her. Celia speaks to the party explaining the manse is perhaps cursed or occupied by some dark force. Even though she now has the land back in her family again, she doesn’t have the means to take control of it with just herself and her goblin employee. She asks the party to secure the estate for her promising to give them half of the treasure remaining in the family’s vaults in the manse. The party doubts the value of this task. Zaghain chimes in explaining that having the estate up and working again would be a great boon for the village. He tells the party he’s willing to reward them for securing the estate.

He also tries to get the party to volunteer to go to Foxon Cellars to combat the hobgoblins. He offers the party ten gold a piece. Eager to cut a better deal, Jorg demands more and more gold before Zaghain is able to explain the town’s wealth is tied to the mines and it can’t offer more gold than his initial offer until it’s operating freely again. Jorg demands 200 gold to do the job prompting Zaghain to dismiss the entire party from his chamber. As the party is leaving, a guard comes to speak with Zaghain. Nym overhears the conversation making out snippets–“well, we knew it was bound to happen,” “were they in the woods,” “go search the area and see if you can find any witnesses or clues”–realizing the dwarf has just gotten news of the deaths of Church and Creed. She encourages the party to leave before more questions are asked.

Attempting to at least guarantee themselves some income from venturing to the manse. John goes back to Zaghain and is able to negotiate 15 gold for each of them to secure the manse, but they must bring back proof the estate is cleared. Jorg demands to know what Zaghain wants but after their initial exchange, the dwarf has no interest in talking to the rogue. Celia again promises half of the treasure vault in the manse and with the 75 gold promised by Zaghain, the party decides to head to the manse.

Cutting through the woods, they party leaves the town in the early morning and arrives in the farm fields around the estate by late afternoon. Approaching the manse, the party has to cut through fallow fields of corn and wheat. There is no path or road to the house. In each quadrant of the fields is a scarecrow leaving the party no angle of approach that doesn’t pass by at least one. Coming from the east, the party passes between two scarecrows. John casts Detect Magic seeing a glow come off the scarecrows. He tells the rest of the party and as they move between the two, he readies his crossbow. When the party is just passed the scarecrows, they come alive and lunge at the party.

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Because he was suspicious of the scarecrows and readied, John launches a bolt at the scarecrow coming at the party from the north striking it in the body. The rest of the party rolls for initiative engaging the animated creatures. John toys with the idea of setting the scarecrows and fields on fire but is talked out of it by Jorg who worries the fire will consume the manse as well. Asher, Roben, Nym, and Jorg are able to make quick work of first the northern and then the southern scarecrow in melee battle as John attacks from range. Moving to the manse, the party takes a short rest (having defeated the scarecrows awards enough experience for Nym, John, and Jorg to level up to 3).

Jorg scouts the manse doing a perimeter check seeing there are two several windows all around the first floor as well as what looks like an ornamental statue at the back door and front main entrance (north and south sides). He finds a small window that he can open and is unlocked while being large enough for him to climb through. Entering, he tells the party to move around to the back where he’ll met up with them/let them in. The rest of the party moves to the back and when they come close to the door, the statue comes alive. The four party members face off against a gargoyle. 

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After rolling for initiative, the party engages. Nym casts Entangle. With the gargoyle on the roof of the first floor bearing down on the party, there’s a debate among the players whether or not the spell can be cast given it draws on natural elements but the gargoyle is on man-made ground. As DM, I lean towards giving conjuring the benefit of the doubt but it did seem a bit of a stretch to have vines grow out of a tiled roof. Nym made a convincing argument that there would be random natural debris on the roof and/or gutters making enough of a natural presence for the spell. I agreed, but we all asserted for future uses that there needs to be some natural draw for the druid to use.

Roben, Asher, and John engage the gargoyle doing limited damage while the creature does equal amounts of damage to each. Nym continues to try focus on her Entangle spell to bind the creature. Jorg makes his way through the manse realizing he’s crept into a kitchen. He discovers a stairwell and then a hall leading to the backdoor. He opens it calling to the party to get inside. The party does and while the gargoyle does bash the door a couple of times, it doesn’t chase them inside but returns to the perch.

Once inside, the group takes a short rest in the kitchen healing from the gargoyle attack. Jorg inspects the kitchen but finds nothing of value. The party moves into what appears to be a dinning room. The house is in disrepair, dusty and fallen apart. However, they notice on the opposite wall there is a shield with two swords behind it that appears to be more polished than it should be. Moving slowly through the dinning room they discover it opens up into a main hall where in they see a large stairway going up, a central rug, and suit of armor in the corner near the front entrance. The armor is again in more pristine condition that its surroundings. John gets himself into a position to be able to see both the shield crest and suit of armor, casts Detect Magic, and sees that each is giving off the same kind of aura as the scarecrows.

The group decides to approach the shield crest first. Asher crosses the dinning room and when he gets more than half way the swords behind the shield come alive. They each rise out from behind the shield, floating in midair as they do some intimating slices. The party is now facing off against two Flying Swords. John and Jorg retreat to the back to attack from range leaving Asher and Roben at the front line with Nym in the middle ground. The attacks against the swords are successful and crushing leaving both in shards on the ground.

Having now encountered three different hidden or animated creatures, Roben is convinced the suite of armor will come at them. He and Asher plot a move where they’ll pick up the rug before the armor tossing it over the armor and then attacking the incapacitated creature. Jorg moves along the walls stealthily to get in a position where he can attack the armor from behind. Both John and Nym wait just behind Asher and Roben. The moment the rug is touch the suit of armor comes alive. It steps towards the party speaking “You’ve entered the home of Maise Pegoram, give the pass phrase.” The party has no idea what the pass phrase is and just tries some random guesses. The suit asks again, but instead Roben and Asher throw the rug over it. The two only roll successfully enough to cover half the suit; the rug flops over it but almost immediately begins to slide away. The rest of the party attack dealing a good amount of damage. The suit asks a third time for the pass phrase and when it doesn’t hear it moves to attack. The party rebuffs the armor and then finishes it off during its round of attack.

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After defeating the armor, the party explores the rest of the first floor discovering a solarium, a den or library of some kind, and the servants’ eating area. In the servants’ area, John inspects a desk covered with papers and ledgers which clearly belong to the long departed butler of the manse. He grabs some of the parchments to show to Celia and Zaghain as proof they were in the manse.

The party moves to the second floor. By now it’s early evening and they decided to rest for the night. The stairs face down a long, narrow hallway with a door on its right and two doors on the left as the hall turns to the left as well. The party settles in for the evening with plans to explore the rest of the manse in the morning…

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