Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)
Warning: This adventure contains a lot of references and spoilers to the ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ campaign. If you have yet to play through the campaign, be warned that you’re likely to come across the same stuff we did.
After a short break, we get on with the adventure. Jojo asks me if it matters that they’ve not cleared the bandits earlier, and I shrug and repeat that in D&D, they can do anything they want.
“Of course, not getting rid of the bandits could have its consequences,” I add with an ominous tone.
With that, we start the session.
The rest of the trip to Red Larch is uneventful, and the adventurers soon roll into the quiet town in the wee hours of the morning.
“Red Larch is named after a type of tree that grows in this district. In fact, you see these trees growing along the road leading into town, a type of fir tree that is green on the top-half, and red on the bottom, sort of like it’s stuck in a perpetual autumn.” I’ve never seen a larch tree in my life, so I pretty much make it up. It’s a DM perk.
The kids nod appreciatively when I show them the town map of Red Larch. I describe the prominent 3-storey Swinging Sword Inn, the awful stench from the tannery as they pass it, and some of the other buildings.
“Is there a tavern here?” Evan asks. Standard adventurer query, that one.
I briefly skim the campaign book. “Yeap, the building across the road from the Swinging Sword is a tavern called the ‘Helm at Highsun’, complete with a sign-board that has a large helm with eye-slits perched on top of it. Upon closer inspection, you realise that it’s an upturned washtub with some eye-slits cut out.” The Princes of the Apocalypse campaign book is great. Not too blurby, and relays interesting quirks that really make the game experience shine.
Of course, the kids decide to split up to explore town. Yes, trying to keep the kids together is like herding displacer cats. Evan decides to visit the tavern, while Jojo opts to check out the large empty fairgrounds to the east of town.
I start with Jojo. “It’s still really early in the morning, so few people are around. Tempest arrives at a large empty field, which obviously must be a fairgrounds or marketplace during certain days. There are empty wooden stalls, some wagons with missing wheels, and one wagon covered with a tent at the far end of the fairgrounds. There’s a light inside the tent; there’s probably someone in there.”
As the dragonborn cleric approaches the wagon tent, I describe a smouldering campfire next to the wagon, along with scores of glass pickle jars all around the place. Jojo says, “Where are all the COOL people? I’m not going to bother some pickle seller!” With that, she makes her way back to where Evan’s character is.
Meanwhile, Evan is trying to inquire about the most expensive drink in the tavern. I tell him that the bartender (a jovial-looking man in an apron) presents to him ‘Hagfish brew’ (it’s an in-joke from a previous adventure when Evan tried to drink slime from a Hagfish tank). “Best drink that a silver piece can buy!” he states.
“A whole silver piece for a drink!? Evan, that’s a rip-off!” declares Jojo.
Evan does the brotherly thing, and ignores her. “I buy two. One for me, and one for Jojo.” He presents the drink to the dragonborn cleric when she turns up. There are suspicious-looking bits floating in those drinks. I get the kids to roll a Constitution roll to see if either of them throw up. There’s a lot of gagging, but fortunately, they don’t spew all over the place.
“You new to these parts?” asks the bartender. “Welcome to Red Larch, Gateway to the South!”
“We’re from the south,” Jojo informs him.
“Gateway to the North!” the bartender amends. “Towns like Red Larch are caravan stops and supply depots for settlements and farms all around the Dessarin Valley! These days though, caravans are finding it hard to get through, what with all the bandits raiding them!” I give the kids a meaningful look.
The kids do the kid-thing, and ignore me. Evan decides to check out the marble quarry in the north of town, while Jojo checks out the three-storey Swinging Sword Inn.
Evan finds a small stone hut at the entrance of the marble quarry, and after a few words with a very unfriendly quarry overseer woman who lives there, he decides to hang around with the rest of the quarry workers and help carve out some stone.
“The quarry overseer woman keeps complaining about being way behind on their marble orders, and that they should do night-shifts cutting the stone, but the quarry workers seem fearful about this. They keep referring to some strange figures at the quarry at night who watch them as they work. ‘I’m not working night-shifts while the Watchers are around!’”
“Evan, ask about the Watchers,” says Jojo.
Evan decides to carve out stone instead. I get him to roll a Strength check, which comes up unfavourably. “You finish carving out one marble block, and then realise that the guy next to you has carved out five!”
Indignant, the gunslinger tries to carve out more stone, and this time Evan rolls a 1! “With a mighty clang, the head of the pick-axe you were given snaps off the handle! The overseer woman is furious! She gives you 3 coppers for your work so far, and tells you to leave! As you leave, you hear her arguing with another worker about the so-called Watchers.”
“Evan, ask about the Watchers!” insists Jojo, but the gunslinger decides to whisper ominously to the worker next to him, ‘You are being watched!’, completely freaking the guy out. He continues on his way out of the quarry, makes a failed attempt to break into the overseer woman’s stone hut, gives up in disgust and goes off to find Jojo’s character.
Meanwhile, Jojo’s dragonborn cleric is getting acquainted to the lady innkeeper (named Kaylessa Irkell) of the Swinging Sword Inn. Kaylessa seems to be someone who knows what a quality inn ought to look like, and has taken great pains to bring that quality to the sole inn in Red Larch. She freely shares her view on the town’s recent troubles to Jojo. “I tell you, it’s bad omens everywhere! Last week, we saw lightning flashing in the hills - upwards into the sky! And just last night, someone reported seeing a lightning flash in the south road!”
Jojo coughs, “Ah, yes - um, you can discount that last rumour.”
“Children used to be able to go berry-picking in the hills,” continues the chatty innkeeper, “But these days there seems to be a monster hiding around every corner! And on top of this are all the bandits raiding the caravans coming up the south road!” I shoot a glance at the kids, but they seem to be busy fiddling with their character sheets.
“In fact,” says Kaylessa without pausing for breath, “I can tell you what the source of all this evil is!” She motions the cleric closer. “It’s all because of the evil at Lance Rock! I keep telling Constable Harburk that we should send someone to clear out the evil at that rock cave, but he keeps making excuses about being too busy with matters in town!”
“There’s a Constable in town?” says Jojo. “I’d like to meet him.”
Kaylessa gladly gives directions to the dragonborn cleric on where to find Constable Harburk. Meeting up with Evan’s gunslinger, the two of them head off to the given building.
I tell the kids, “When you two get there, you think you might have been given the wrong directions because the building is obviously a butcher shop, with a wordless sign of a meat haunch and cleaver hanging out front.”
The two adventurers enter the butcher’s shop, and ask for Constable Harburk. A broad woman in an apron hollers for an even broader man in an apron from the backroom. He wipes his meaty hands on his apron. “Yes, I’m Constable Harburk. How can I help you?”
“The town constable is the butcher!?” exclaims Jojo.
“It seems so,” I say. “Constable Harburk is helped by his four sons, who also help carve meat behind the shop. Oh, roll a Perception check, both of you.” They roll, and I tell Jojo. “You notice behind Constable Harburk that there are meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. On one of the meat hooks, there’s a man hanging by the back of his belt.”
“Um, right,” says Jojo. “I ask him if I can buy some meat off the hook - like that one!" She points to the man hanging on the meat hook.
The Constable turns and grins. “What him? Hah, well, he's not for sale. You see, we don’t really have a place to lock people up here. So when we find drunks on street, we hang them up in the meat room till they sober up.”
“Now that’s awesome!”
They ask Constable Harburk about the recent happenings, and the broad man shrugs. “Weather’s been playing up, monsters teeming in the hills, but most of all, there have been numerous bandit attacks on caravans coming up the south road. I’d go do something about them, but I’m just too busy with things in town!”
The kids finally capitulate. “Okay, okay, enough already! We’ll fix the bandit problem!”
The next day, the adventurers are back in the Westwood forest in front of a bemused Gib-Bob. “Hey, dude, sorry about not wanting to clear out those bandits before, but we’re back to help you out.”
I tell the kids, “Just then, there is a commotion from the other Elk tribe warriors. Gib-Bob frowns as a grey-haired woman dressed in animal furs strides through the crowd of Elk tribe warriors. She looks like she’s from a tribe like the warriors, but she’s wearing a different insignia.”
“Ghost Bear tribe,” mutters Gib-Bob to the adventurers. “They’re all a little… odd in the head. She probably doesn’t even know why she’s here.”
“Ghost Bear tribe!?” exclaims Jojo. “Why didn’t you tell us about these cool tribes sooner!?”
The woman comes up to Gib-Bob, and gives him a curt nod. (I asked the kids for a good name for her, and for the life of me, I can’t recall the name we chose, nor can the kids who continually refer to her as the ‘Ghost Bear Lady’) “The Ghost Bear tribe greets you, war leader of the Elk tribe.”
Gib-Bob accepts her greeting politely. “What brings the Ghost Bear into these parts?”
She shrugs. “The Ghost Bears come and go as we feel. I felt this is where I should be, so here I am. I do not question why.”
“Right you are,” says Gib-Bob, while giving the adventurers a ‘I told you so’ look.
The Ghost Bear Lady seems content to follow along with the plan to attack the bandit camp. Soon enough I draw up the bandit camp and describe it to the kids. “The bandits are camped in a small clearing, with a trail leading off through the trees to a cave in the cliff-face. That’s where they probably stash all their stolen goods. You see a number of bandits, and one bandit leader who seems tougher than the rest. There’s also a wagon in the middle of the clearing, one with an iron cage fixed onto it. Inside the cage is a large, black bear.”
“Oooo,” the kids go. “What does the Ghost Bear Lady think about that?”
The Ghost Bear Lady nods, “I now know why I am here.”
Gib-Bob says, “Hmm.. if there’s a way we can free that bear, it can do most of the work for us.”
In the end, the kids decide that Jojo will cast ‘Disguise Self’ on herself to look like a bandit, and saunter up to the cage and try free the black bear.
“After I free the bear, the Ghost Bear Lady can calm it down, right? Right?”
“Um, sure, probably-likely,” I reply unhelpfully. It’s good to be the DM.
Under the guise of the spell, the dragonborn cleric makes her way to the caged bear. I tell her, “No one seems to suspect that you’re not one of the bandits. You get to the cage door with ease, and see that the lock of the cage is already broken. Instead, there’s a metal spike holding the cage door shut.”
The dragonborn cleric attempts to remove the spike, but Jojo rolls a bad Strength check. “The spike seems wedged in tight! Just as you heave to pull it out, you hear a voice behind you, ‘Hey! What are you doing there!?’”
“Oh, who me?” Jojo replies innocently, “I’m just, um, checking the cage door to make sure it’s secure!” I get her to roll a Deception check, but the d20 continues to be unkind. The bandit starts towards the cleric, reaching for his scimitar.
“Can I see him? I’m shooting him!” says Evan. The gunslinger takes aim and fires a loud shot at the bandit confronting Jojo. “Hit! With 8 damage!” With a surprised look on his face and blood spreading across his chest, the bandit falls over dead.
The gunslinger’s rifle shot brings all the bandits on their feet as the rest of the whooping Elk tribe barbarians charge into the clearing. “The bandits are all in disarray while the bandit leader shouts his orders. Excited by the commotion, the black bear lunges at the cage door, but fails to smash it open!”
“I’m going to try to remove the spike again,” says Jojo as she rolls. “Yes!! Natural 20!”
“Obviously,” I tell her. “When the bear charged the cage door, it must have loosened the iron spike, and it falls off by itself just as you reach for it.”
“No way!! That was pure dragonborn strength!”
The dragonborn cleric drops her disguise spell and melts into the shadows as the black bear smashes out of the cage, swiping yelling bandits left and right. Gib-Bob engages in a fierce battle with the bandit leader, clashing his axe against the bandit’s scimitar slashes. Evan manages to take out another bandit with a cracking shot, while Jojo fries a couple of bandits in well-aimed lightning breath attack. She gives chase to another bandit fleeing towards the cave.
I tell the kids, “As the fleeing bandit reaches the cave, he looks up and sees… someone in robes and a stone mask watching him from the cliff face! The bandit raises his sword and warns the figure to stay back, but the figure thrusts his arms upwards and a blast of earth and rock erupts from under the bandit!” By the time Jojo catches up with the bandit, she only finds his remains among bits of rock and earth. She finds no one else at the scene.
The battle is over in a few minutes. While the kids loot the cave, the Ghost Bear Lady inspects the remains of the bandit Jojo was chasing. She gazes at the two adventurers, “There is the stirring of elemental evil here. And you two - your fates are entwined with the evil. Seek the Bloody Tree, for there your paths begin.” Before they can ask her anything more, the Ghost Bear Lady departs, with the large black bear following her docilely.
“The Bloody Tree?” Jojo wonders. “She’s not British, is she?”
I like to take our time playing through the little side trek quests before launching into the main adventure. I feel it helps establish the game world.
And of course, after I introduce the Ghost Bear lady from the Ghost Bear tribe, do I realise that I stuffed up the name, and the PotA campaign book has it as the 'Tree Ghost' tribe. However, 'Ghost Bear' sounds way cooler, so I'm sticking with that. The Ghost Bear lady isn't a character from the campaign book, but I plan to use her as a plot device for sub-quests involving the 'High Forest' in the east which the campaign book does have. Gib-bob, of course, should feature in other sub-quests involving the Uthgart tribes themselves.
The kids didn't take to Kaylessa the inn-keeper as much as I thought they would. I suppose she came across as more 'pushy and annoying' rather than 'chatty' with her Lance Rock quest push. Constable Harburk had a better reception, I don't think the kids will forget how he hangs up offenders by their belts.