Observe & Report Goes Awry, Chapter 11
The party awakens in the boarding house the morning following their return from the Proving Grounds. Nym, Roben, and John make their way down to the main hall to a large table where the waitress brings them tea before she leaves to fetch them some breakfast.
When she comes back, the waitress sets down plates of eggs and warm bread as well as some tin cups and a carafe of a hot dark liquid giving off a pungent chicory scent. John immediately starts to dig in to the plate in front of him. As he does, everyone notices his skin seems to be peeling as though after a sunburn. John pauses noticing this himself seemingly for the first time and peels a long thin piece of his own skin off his arm. Holding it, he looks down at his arm and sees his flesh there is a sparkling kind of bronze with a faintly scale-like pattern on it although no actual scales. Everyone else at the table has paused what they are doing looking at John.
Before anyone has a chance to say anything, Jorg arrives. He sits down with abruptness and pushes the plate of eggs in front of him away with disgust. Jorg looks as though he has had a terrible night, something far beyond any kind of hangover. The whites of his eyes are a faint yellow jaundice as an angry looking red surrounds his eye sockets. His demeanor is more curt than usual due to a migraine that has been plaguing him since the party got back to Monton.
John is just about to return to eating when Asher arrives. Coming through the front door of the public house, he scans the room for his friends and quickly finds them. He sits and inquires about what went on during his absence. But before he’s given any responses, he sees the sickly state Jorg is in and the rather bizarre skin condition of John. Grabbing John’s arm, Asher examines it closely then starts to rub John’s back in a kind of searching manner. John is a bit taken back but tries to continue to eat, his hunger getting the best of him. As Asher rubs John’s back, he feels two large lumps and as he touches them, John becomes aware of them for the first time. Nym and Roben ask Asher if he thinks there’s something amiss with John. Asher can only surmise based on the books he’s read in medicine and arcane history at his monastery that John is presenting signs of a transformation…either into a bronze dragon or taking in the characteristics of one. John admits he’s been using his lightning spells with increased frequency and was able to get the party mostly back to Monton by using the spell Fly. With each of these castings, John felt a surge of power in him different than the usual magics. The waitress comes by again, and John asks for some bacon or sausage. Looking over Jorg, Asher asks what the party’s last battle was. The rest describe their work the day previous and how before coming back to town they encountered two feral gnolls in the woods. A wound Jorg suffered, a bite, seems to be festering a bit. Jorg is convinced he’ll be fine in a few days but Asher is rather certain he’s suffering from some kind of rabies.
The waitress returns with two plates of a rather foul smelling meat still on the bone. Still overcome with hunger, John uses his spice pouch and Prestidigitation to make it more palatable. However, Jorg immediately tears into the meat. A ravenous look is in his eyes as he flashes glances at everyone at the table eying them to make sure they don’t take his food. The party is surprised, a bit disgusted, and concerned for Jorg’s health. After eating about half of the meat, Jorg stops, pauses, vomits, and then immediately goes back to tearing into the meat. He feels compelled to eat it although he gets no pleasure out of it. Nym, disgusted by the the vomiting and by John’s skin flaking off, heads back to her room telling the rest to get her when it’s decided what they will do next.
Confused and bemused by their companions, Asher and Roben make the case to go first to the mayor’s mansion to update him on the goblin gang but also the looming threat of the hobgoblin army. Jorg comments bitterly that he needs to go back to the fletcher’s shop and get back his gold between attempting to suck the marrow out of the bone in the meat. Everyone else at the table nods and agrees to stop by the temple healer after talking to mayor Swith Masmond. Decisions made, Jorg yells out for Nym over and over until she appears waving her down to them saying they’re leaving. John uses Prestidigitation to clean up the mess Jorg made and they party exits.
The guard outside the mayor’s mansion warmly welcomes the party opening the door and letting them walk right in. Looking for Masmond in his study where they met him last time proves unsuccessful. As the party comes back out into the foray, Karen clears her throat and gestures the party to following her upstairs. She leads the group into a large bathing room. Through the steam hanging in the air, the group sees Masmond sitting in a huge square tiled tube built into the far end of the room. When he sees the party, he stands spreading his arms out wide eagerly welcoming them. Naked, Masmond gets the party’s report of what they saw at the Proving Grounds.
Masmond, oblivious to his nudity, seems overly concerned with the goblin gang’s demise and not really comprehending the degree of the threat the hobgoblin army presents. Karen, however, is taut with annoyance. John tries to whisper to her the urgency of the situation nods gesturing that she will handle it. Masmond rambles on in his aristocratic bombast but it becomes clear he’s less than eager to engage with the hobgoblins. The party thinks it would be wise to send for The Hundred, the mercenary troop in Foxon. John is able to use his Persuasion to convince Masmond that it will be to his glory and honor to finance protection of Monton. Masmond charges the party with finding out the degree of the hobgoblin threat.
As the party leave the bath, Karen pulls from out her tunic several thin paper notes. She gives them to John telling him to present them to any merchant in town for the supplies they party needs. She also tells them that using her name will get them any special or extra items that might be available. Jorg writes a note and seals it giving it to Karen to have her messenger give to either Godan or Joslyn of The Hundred in Foxon. Karen explains that it will be at least a day before they heard back from Foxon. She tells them she’ll do what she can in Monton to get things sorted.
Before they leave, Asher takes John and Jorg to the temple of Pelor to get them checked out. Although they don’t talk to Amoros Twinge, an acolyte is able to examine both of them. He explains John is for some reason starting to manifest dragon traits. He is not cursed or poisoned or turning into a dragon. Rather, it’s a natural process that’s expressing itself because of John’s increasing magical power. When it comes to Jorg, the acolyte surmises he is suffering from some rare kind of lycanthropy. He explains that usually a Remove Curse spell or charm would cure him, but in this case that’s seems very doubtful. The acolyte will consult with the high priest and come up with a more precise prognosis. He explains Jorg won’t undergo any transformation for another two weeks and then for three days. He won’t be hindered or a danger to anyone, for now, but if he is around carnage, he will find it exceedingly difficult to not join in.
Joining back up with Nym and Roben, who had gone to get some extra supplies for the journey, the party proceeds to the tower and the underground passage leading to the palace grounds.
A New Face & A New Place
Traveling through the underground secret passage again, the party arrive at the fork. This time they head towards what they suspect to be the Proving Grounds. The corridor’s complexion changes from rough cobblestone to smooth stone on all sides. As they explore, several Perception checks reveal a secret door of which the party can only discern the seams. They spend a good amount of time attempting to figure out how to open the door but are ultimately unsuccessful deciding to leave it be.
When they arrive at the end of the passage, they discover it opens up to the surface in much the same way the opening to the chapel did. However, these doors seem fixed by a chain. The group tries to push the doors open enough to be able to see out through the seams. They spy a stone pavilion over them with open air arches instead of walls. As the group debates if and/or how to best open the doors, they hear boots jump up on the wooden doors and the chain being dragged away. A door on one side is flung open and there stands a exceedingly tall figure, face obscured by a seemingly eyeless helm holding out a spear in a defensive pose.
This is the Bas Eldritch Merchant Guild spy Praswell Tarq (a new player joined the group and this was the character I designed for him as it was his first time playing). The party and Pras exchange pleasantries and superficial information. Pras joins the party as they decide their best bet for getting useful information will be to investigate the palace building itself.
The margrave’s palace grounds consist of the private chapel, the Proving Grounds, and the main house, which is a grand tower mansion. The party moves cautiously through the forest using it as cover until they reach the road they are familiar with. They then follow that road north assuming it will take them to the palace.
As they thought, soon the road opens up into a wide open estate littered with long disregarded topiary. In the distance stands the margrave’s summer palace, a four story mansion snuggly built on the shores of a quite pond.
Realizing they can’t approach the mansion without be seen, the group tries to devise a way to get to the building. Nym has the idea to turn herself into a squirrel so as to make up the distance between the group and the mansion (roughly a hundred yards) in the most inconspicuous way possible. She casts Wild Shape approaching the mansion without arousing any suspicion. She is able to see there are two fully armored guards at the main (and seemingly only) entrance. As she climbs the walls in squirrel form, she peers into every window to get a sense of the occupants. There are gargoyles on the corner of every floor, and Nym is able to count a total of sixteen although never engaging to see if they are statues or monsters. Looking through the windows, she discovers several completely armored guards at the ready on the first floor, nothing on the second or fourth, but two hobgoblins standing sentry outside a door on third floor.
Nym is able to see shadows those on the other side of the door through the space between the door and floor. She also hears three distinct voices–two speaking in Undercommon and a third in Infernal. However, the Infernal voice, Nym realizes, isn’t being spoken out loud but is rather telepathic. Nym is near enough to ‘hear’ the unguarded mental conversation that’s happening. However, she speaks neither Undercommon or Infernal and is therefore unable to make out details. The tone of the speakers suggests to her they are in the process of planning something, perhaps debating tactics or a course of action.
Having returned to the group, Nym relays her findings and they attempt to parse what their next course of action ought to be. Not eager to engage with the hobgoblins at the Proving Grounds and equally hesitant to challenge what they suppose are the leaders of the army in the palace, the party decides to return to Monton with what information they have.
Hounds At Their Heels
Moving through the thick forest, the party retraces its steps back to the pavilion where the entrance to the passage is. However, just as they pass the Proving Grounds, Nym takes a severe tumble alerting an already on edge hobgoblin patrol. The party rolls for initiative.
A unit of six hobgoblins chases after the party engaging them just inside the woods. From the tower of the Proving Grounds after a call out by one of the hobgoblins comes arching arrows. The tower is too far away for precision shots and every round two of the arrows hit random party members for one point of damage. In the woods, the party is able to handle the hobgoblins but just as they do they see another unit closing in. They also just catch the sounds of metal grating on metal the howls and yips of gnolls behind them in the far distance. Nym casts Call Lightning which turns the wave of foes to ash as they come on the party. However, it’s clear that more hobgoblins are coming. The party disengages hoping to get away.
As they arrive at the stone arch pavilion, the party not only hears gnolls getting closer but can see them through the woods bearing down. The party quickly enters the passage as John uses a Spell Scroll of Fabricate to create a stone wall over the entrance. The party rushes through the passageway back to Monton. As they pass the door they discovered on their way in, they hear the sounds of gnolls echoing from behind it getting closer and closer. Asher tears a patch off his Robe of Useful Items, a ten foot pit, and throws it down in front of the door.
Continuing on, the group gets about forty feet away from the door when it flings up open with gnolls pouring out. The first wave burst through falling into the pit but as their bodies fill the pit soon those gnolls coming use their brethren as stepping stones. The massive pack comes for the party who are bolting down the passageway. The gnolls begin to close the gap when John tosses his Argent Scepter (a custom item I made, “This silver rod is engraved with arcane symbols, and when thrown at a target within 60 ft, it does 6d6 force damage) towards the creatures and slowing the pack.
Both Jorg and Roben while running shoot two Hydra Arrows (another custom item, when these arrows miss a Skeleton arises in the space where the it landed) a piece. Not even aiming or hoping to hit, the Hydra Arrows careen off the walls and floor. The gnoll pack ignores the arrows but then each of the arrows shudders as it shatters releasing a Skeleton who lashes out at the nearest gnolls. The four skeletons further slow the pack. Well ahead of the pack now, the party emerges in the tower in Monton. John casts Lightning Bolt through the passage in the hopes of destroying the remaining gnolls.
A great black cloud reeking of scorched flesh and burnt hair comes billowing out of the passage. The pack on the heels of the party seems to have been taken care of, however there are the echoing sounds down the passage of more gnolls coming. The party sends one of the oafish guards to get help or warn others, then positions itself to fight the gnolls as they arrive.
Karen arrives with four guardsmen to help the party. She sends a guard to alert Amoros Twinge and bring him to the tower. The party surrounds the opening to the passage and sets a perimeter outside the tower should the gnolls break through. As the gnolls start to come through the passage, the party does their best to keep them from emerging. Spells, range weapons, melee, and Twinge’s casting of Chain Lightning and Wall of Fire are enough to defeat the gnolls after a prolonged battle. By the end of the battle, the party has killed over sixty gnolls.
Karen takes command of the guards having them begin sealing the passage. Nym gives some silver to hire more help to do so. Twinge hurries back to the temple of Pelor to alert his acolytes.
With the sun down, the party is exhausted and filthy. They decide to head back to the boarding house to figure out its next move.