The Proving Grounds, Chapter 10
Nym’s casting of Speak with Plants and her decisive action to respect a tree felled by the goblin gang earned the party the protection of the woods for the evening. The party awakens in the early morning in the ruins of the private chapel. As they prepare for the day, they discuss what course of action to take for the day. Asher, it seems, has disappeared in the night leaving a note saying he must go off on his own for a meditative retreat (Asher’s player couldn’t make it this night). Still the party has options before them.
They have successfully put an end to the goblin gang and reason they could simply return to Monton to collect their reward. Seemingly hidden away on the palace grounds, the chapel does give them an ingress to explore the area to perhaps find out more information about the Drow plot and/or hobgoblin presence in the area. The party is also far enough away from the main palace and Monton to venture towards the two southern Corse ruins, return to explore the maze ruins further, head north to the Crix Outpost, or just push on east to the city of Bas Eldritch. The party elects to further explore the palace grounds.
Working their way through the woods, they discover the ruins of a cobblestone road. As they follow it north the road’s condition improves dramatically until they come to a fork. The road they are on is clearly unused having been allowed to fall into disrepair, however, the one before them continuing on and the one turning off their path are both well maintained as well as covered in tracks. Both Jorg and Nym examine the tracks discovering the wheel tread of push/pull carts, heavy boot prints, and animal tracks. Nym is able to recognize the tracks as gnoll pads and using her animal handling knowledge can tell the gnolls were being pulled along like dogs and not walking in any uniform manner. Also, the gnoll tracks are only going off down the fork, never going the other way.
Instead of continuing forward, the party decides to turn at the fork and follow the tracks. The road shows signs of ruin, knee-high crumbling walls hemming it and broken archway pillars that would have covered it in better times. Soon the road widens opening into a green field where the party can just make out the suggestion of a building. They decide to hide in the forest and use it as cover to do some reconnoitering.
Nym using Spider Climb quickly shimmies up a tall tree to spy the building. What she sees is the Proving Grounds, the complex used to house the margrave’s guard and servants in the past.
The building stands in good condition. While there is a border of open grass around it, the Proving Grounds seem snugly nestled in the thick woods. Nym sees two hobgoblin guards standing on either side of a doorway as two more come walking around the corner on patrol. There is also a figure she can’t quite make out in the tower as well as at least two more figures on the second floor mezzanine, and although she can’t see down into it, there’s the suggestion of an open courtyard below these guards.
Relating the information, Nym watches as the patrol turns the next corner. The party tells her to keep watching to gauge how long the patrol is. After twenty minutes, the patrol comes back around to Nym’s vantage point only these two hobgoblins are different than the two she first saw. Another twenty minutes passes, before the patrol come by, the two guards at the door are relieved by two different hobgoblins who come out of the door. The relieved guards disappear inside just as the patrol comes back around the corner, again a different pair of hobgoblins. Finally, after roughly another twenty minutes, Nym sees the original pair of hobgoblins come by on patrol.
Jorg decides to sneak around the grounds using the forest as a blind looking for the best place to set an ambush for the hobgoblin patrol. He discovers the eastern side of the building is out of view of the tower. It’s a blank stone and plaster wall with three very high round windows near the roof top. The party plans to lure the patrol into the woods and kill them, then wait to see what the response is by the other hobgoblins to the patrol being missing.
Nym and Jorg both climb up into trees to do range attacks from above while John and Roben stay low to engage the hobgoblins once they take the bait. The bait, John uses Prestidigitation to make enough of a commotion to lure them in. The patrol does notice it and stop, however John has to cast multiple times to finally get them to come into the brush. When they do, Jorg strikes and with advantage the party battles the hobgoblins and wins. Throwing out some of the armor of one of the hobgoblins into the grassy clearing, the party drag the bodies deeper into the woods and then wait to see a reaction to their handiwork. Not more than ten minutes later, two hobgoblins (the second pair Nym saw) come around the corner from the opposite direction. They are grumbling and angry looking around for the patrol. When they see the armor, the investigate and decide to report back. As they turn to leave, Jorg lets loose his bow landing a critical strike and killing the hobgoblin. John then does the same with this crossbow doing maximum damage to kill. The party again drag the bodies back into the woods. Then discuss what their next move should be.
Doning the Hat of Disguise, Jorg enters the Proving Grounds building with Roben as his ‘prisoner’ (for our game, I used my Women Write About Comics knit hat made by @metakate). Their goal is to get a lay of the land but move quickly since Jorg doesn’t speak Goblin.
Entering the building, the two find themselves in an empty foray with two large doors ahead of them and a smaller door off to their left. As casually as he can, Jorg opens one of the doors in front of him to see a large hall. It has been emptied out of all furniture or statuary and filled with large tents in which Jorg can make out the guttural sounds of several hobgoblins. Closing the door and moving to the smaller door on the side, Jorg peaks through seeing a large courtyard were between 30-40 hobgoblins are training.
Quickly, both retreat out of the building and back into the woods. Jorg removes the Hat of Disguise relating to Nym and John what was seen inside. Realizing they may have bitten more than they can chew, the party looks to get out of the area. John in a rush casts Fly on the party members and the group soars over the treetops on their way back to Monton.
The group lands well away from the Proving Grounds but still not quite to Monton. As they each collect themselves from landing and are talking about how they could deal with the hobgoblins, a pair of weregnolls happen upon them (this monster is one of my own devising).
These two weregnolls look like regular gnolls, however, their stamina and intelligence reveal they are more that just that yet each seem feral attacking without armor or conventional weapons. Each weregnoll does two attacks, one Bite and one Claw. The Bite attack on a hit requires a DC 13 Constitution saving throw, otherwise becoming cursed with the gnoll lycanthropy.
The party does a myriad of damage to each weregnoll but their fortitude pushing the group to its limits. John takes severe damage eventually deciding to disengage flying up high enough to be out of the fray while sending down Witchbolt on each foe. Jorg deploys his hit and run tactics which do the expected damage but also leave him open to attack. He is bitten deep by one of the weregnolls and cursed. Roben is able to engage both gnolls in melee dealing enough damage to keep them mostly focused on himself and not the others. Nym using Spider Climb tries to get above the beasts for a better angle on attack. Eventually, she’s followed up the tree by a gnoll where Nym ends up getting the better of the fight by leaping to a different tree and using her Javelin of Lightning.
It takes a lot out of the party, but they do defeat the weregnolls. After defeating the pair, the only item of value on their bodies is a Chroma Stone (an item I made up).
Chroma Stones: Much like Sending Stones, these polished, palm-sized stones facilitate communication. Each stone becomes attuned to its holder’s voice and thoughts allowing the holder to speak with anyone else holding a stone. The receiving stone will light up with a distinctive color from the sent stone and the receiver will hear the message. The receiver can choose whether the message is heard mentally or aloud.
John, unfamiliar with the stone, casts Detect Magic discovering the stone glows and hums with a brilliant energy. However, because no one has ever seen one of these before, he’s unable to determine just what is magic about it. He pockets the stone and the party trudge on. The foursome come walking into Monton in the small hours sometime between 1-2 in the morning. Needing a rest, they make their way in silence to the boarding house proceeding to collapse exhausted.