Tuesday, December 27, 2016

One Shot: Rise of the Beastmen: Battle for the North

My kids, ages 7 and 9, have been begging me to play an RPG with them; having a few free days around Christmas, I finished fleshing out a bit of lore, and built a one-shot campaign for them. It, too, is set in this world, a few short years before the age of the beastmen truly begins. It's a bit long, as it was actually three sessions, stuck in between shopping, presents, and general holiday spirit.

The Emissaries

It is the year 3781, 7 years before the Wall of Mareten is completed, and 19 years before the Age of the Beastmen. The Council of Five - that is, the top diplomats of the Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes - called two of its last heroes to begin what may be the most important mission of the century. Beastmen activity was increasing; incursions were digging further into civilized territory than ever before. The Elves (that is, the True Elves) in the West were pressed to the breaking point; already, the southern city had closed its gates. Roads were not safe. Worse, rumors began to filter in of a danger to the North. If the Northern Tribes were conquered, their precious knowledge would be lost.

Thus, the Council summoned Gimli Thorson, Dwarvish Craftpriest, and Evindal Elaric, Elven Enchanter, to begin a perilous journey to warn the people of the north.

Gimli and Evindal decided to make their way through Mareten, using Gimli's trained War-Ox. Their journey began near the modern city of Forreston, and lead through the Mareten Gate. Gimli and Evindal were impressed by the structure, and spent a few hours checking for secret doors and weak points. Eventually, they moved on, traveling towards Riverbend. Near Laketown, they happened across a village of peaceful lizardmen; Evindal impressed Zarc, one of the guards, and captivated the lizardfolk with his sleight of hand and his familiar, a fairy. The next morning, they resumed their journey.

In Riverbend, Gimli kept an eye out for evil, and finally spotted a thief looking for trouble. Quietly, Gimli cast Command Word, and for the next few seconds, caused the poor thief to sing loudly: "Oooh, la la la la, I have no idea why I'm singing / What the heck is going onnnn / If this is a prank / Jimmy's so deeeeeeaaaad!"

Once the spell wore off, the thief noticed that Gimli and Evindal were chucking over his plight, and guessed that maybe the two may have had something to do with it; Gimli put on his best innocent face, and managed to convince the thief that it wasn't him; the thief stormed off, quickly blending into the crowd. The two adventurers found a place to stay, and went out to look at the nearby shops.

Evindal quickly realized that there were no cheap magic shops nearby, and eventually retired to bed. That night, near midnight, Gimli awakened to the sound of someone picking the lock of his door! He nudged Evindal awake, and he woke up his fairy familiar, sleeping peacefully in a drawer. The door flung open, and three thugs ran into the room! The first swung at Gimli, but missed; the second tripped on the rug, his sap flying wide of its mark (Evindal, that is). The two reached for their staffs; Gimli managed to whack Thug #2, and commanded the Staff of the Serpent to entangle him; the poor fellow was down to a single hp, and failed his save, resulting in him being tied to the bedpost by a huge python! The fairy, meanwhile, flew silently out to the hall, behind the ringleader, and tried to stab him with a silver dagger, but only glanced off the thief's leather armor.

Taking advantage of the surprised thugs, Gimli cast Command Word: "Tango!", and Thug #3 grabbed Thug #1 and danced him across the room! Evindal, meanwhile, cast Charm Person, and the thief was unable to resist. Before the Tango wore off, Evindal asked the thief to tell his friends to go home. The two dancers danced right out the door, but the tied-up thug was none too happy, threatening to kill the poor thief. Charmed, however, the thief was likely to be a help; Gimli and Evindal offered to let him stay with them, as long as he stuck around and helped them out. The warm room was better than a damp street, charm or no charm, so the thief quickly agreed. The fairy, still invisible, stayed awake to keep watch on him.

The trio now headed north, to Norston. The journey was fast and uneventful, and they made good time, the tireless war-ox pulling their cart like it was nothing. When they arrived in Norston, Gimli left his friend to visit the forge-temple of Thor, and spent the entire night at a feast. Very pious, indeed. Evindal and his new henchman, Gene Valli, searched for their contact, a half-dwarf named Jean Craggsmouth. They found him with no trouble at all, and were given a map - a way through the mountains to the north.

Picking up Gimli, they began the treacherous journey. Two nights in, they met three adventurers, making all haste; it seems they were retreating from a group of beastmen they had encountered, where they had lost their cleric. Gimli took a liking to the thrassian gladiator, and told him where to find the lizardman village they had discovered earlier; the lizardman, Krak, was very happy to learn that there were more of his people. It seems his family had been wiped out by some sort of war. Gorg the dwarf, a vaultguard, promised Gimli that he would visit the temple; Evindal and the elvish ranger, Alendel, discussed the road ahead. Eventually, the two parties had to part ways.

It wasn't long before the adventurers met the group the trio had feld from - a group of 31 troglodytes and 6 champions! Quickly, Evindal cast Alter Self on himself, and along with Disguise, managed to turn himself into a troglodyte. Some fancy disguise work on Gene gave him the appearance of the lizardy creatures, too, though he wasn't quite able to disguise Gimli, who refused to have his beard altered. Instead, they decided to "tie him up" with his serpent-staff. After some very smooth talking by Evindal, the troglodytes were happy to leave the group alone. In fact, Evindal managed to convince the bloodthirsty creatures that an army of five humans, three elves, six dwarves, and an unknown number of magical pets were hunting them!

Not a day's journey later - slow in the mountains, trying to get a cart through the narrow pass - they met a huge creature. A chimera! Gimli cast Speak With Animals on Evindal, who talked up the lion-head's ego. The dragon head, however, was hungry; he was about to sway the opinion of the lion-head, until Evindal suggested an all-you-can-eat troglodyte buffet. His enticing description (as translated by the lion head) of the warm, leathery skin, seared just so with dragon-breath, and finished with a sprig of more troglodyte, was enough to make the dragon's mouth water. He was already in the sky before Evindal had gotten to the bit about barbecue sauce. The poor troglodytes, expecting an assault from the east, wasn't expecting the chimera, and were roasted to perfection; in only three rounds, all of them were dead, while the mighty chimera only lost a measly 12 hp. There were a lot of cleaves, and a lot of failed saves...

Finally, the adventurers reached the river on the other side of the mountains. They camped by its bank, intending the head to the ferry further up stream, but an early-morning attack by a frost salamander changed that! As the creature walked slowly over the river, its own freezing temperature solidifying the river to ice under its feet, Evindal summoned an elvish Hero, and Gimli cast Resist Cold. As the hero challenged the frigid creature, the trio hitched the wagon and fled. Or rather... slightly fled. Gimli, realizing the river was still frozen over, drove the wagon back around, across the slippery ice! He managed to make it halfway across before the wheels slipped; he kept the cart on the narrow icy path by diving out and slamming his back to the side. The second time it slipped, Evindal caught it, but Gene slipped off the side, into the frigid water! Thinking fast, Evindal cast Magic Rope on the rope in his cart, and commanded it to lash itself to the great ox, and to Gene. With a quick heave, the ox yanked Gene out of the water, and Gimli cast Resist Cold on him, instantly warming him.

On the other side of river, they heard the Hero's final shout, then the salamander turned to chase them! They shoved the cart almost to the side, before cracking through the melting ice. The strong ox wasn't bothered, and with Gene, immune to the cold water, they managed to shove the cart onto dry land. Fleeing from the frost salamander, Gimli summoned a spiritual weapon, the mighty hammer of Thor, but only managed to bip the salamander on the head for minimum damage. Evindal, too, fired Magic Missle, but only managed minimum damage. Sighing heavily, the elf dumped a day's worth of food over the end of the cart, which was enough to stop the creature.

After a full day's forced march, they arrived at the gate of the dwarven city of Dundrende Klippe. Tired, but safe, they hired an inn and immediately fell asleep.

The adventurers earned a total of 2,020 XP for defeating the three humans, one second-level thief, 37 troglodytes, and one chimera. They earned no XP from fleeing from the salamander.

Making Cash

After a good night's rest, Gimli wasted no time in finding a workshop, and whipping up two potions of Speak to Animals. He sold them both for a profit. Unfortunately, his attempt at making magical maps was a dud; he made some decent maps, but was unable to enchant them. As Evindal shopped around for magical items, Gimli bought a treasure map for 1,000 gp!

Now prepared, the trio (Gimli, Evindal, and Gene - plus the ox) traveled through the dwarven tunnels, usually an easy trip. It would have been too, except they ran into two opposing sides in a shouting match - four dwarf guards, and four hill giants! Evindal tried to talk them down, but Gimli was having none of that. As the giants drew their weapons, Evindal summoned two heroes, and Gimli quickly blessed everyone, then charged into the fray! The giants split up - one giant per two dwarves, one giant fighting each hero, and everyone else, fall where they may. Gene quickly proved himself MVP, killing three of the four giants, one single-handedly!

Two dwarves fell, though Gimli quickly healed them up, though one was blinded, and the other lost three fingers. Still, better than dead, which is what the giants were! The fourth giant, by the way, was felled by Evindal's fairy familiar. Luckily, that was enough XP for everyone to level up!

They only paused a day to sleep when they reached Stromsloja; Gimli was determined to find his treasure. After two easy days slogging through snow drifts (and Evindal bragging about walking on top of them), they arrived at the location marked on the map. Unfortunately, it looked like two frost giants had taken up residence! The fairy tried sneaking some gold, but again, Gimli was having none of that. Sneaking was for suckers. He charged in, and quickly regretted it, as a frost giant punched him down to two hit points. Luckily, he was able to make his retreat; they hid, with Gene's help, and stayed the night in a mock snowbank. Sharing a snow-cave under a cart with an ox wasn't actually all that bad, as everyone was able to rest up enough to get their hit points back. Only 19 gp and 1 gem richer (as swiped by the fairy), Gimli was determined to try again.

After some regrouping and planning, Evindal summoned two heroes, and Gimli blessed everyone again. With the heroes to tank against the 56 hp frost giants, they made much better headway; Gene crept around behind, then back-stabbed with his +3 strength and +1 sword, doing considerable damage! The fairy flitted from one to the other, leaving a dozen paper cuts with a silver dagger, as Gimli hit solidly with his spiritual weapon and his flail. The two giants fell, and our heroes looted the treasure.

19,000 gp, and 2485 gp in gems, from the map; plus 1,000 silver pieces, a rich fur cape (with 1600 gp, that Gimli kept), two sticks of incense, a Potion of Treasure Finding (as sniffed out by Gimli), and a Scroll of Arcane spells, written in Common: Invisibility 10' radius, Hold Portal, and Wizard Lock. All told, the encounter netted the party 22031 XP - enough to level Gene up a second time!

As they left the cave, they heard howling... the fairy, left behind to scout, returned in a hurry when she saw two more frost giants and 23 dire wolves in their command! The two were quite thankful they had managed to attack at the right time, and headed back home without incident.

The Final Stretch

Gimli and Evindal stocked up on supplies, and Gimli bought a polar bear, outfitted in scale barding. He also hired a fighter of his own, Will Smitty, a very strong-looking human; +1 STR, +1 INT, +2 CON, and +2 CHA, he was quite the fellow! With 20 weeks of supplies for the dwarf, the elf, the two humans, the ox, and the polar bear, they converted their cart into a sledge and left through the snowy mountains for the Northern People. Only a day out, they met 10 Pegasi, which took a fancy to them. Gimli's Speak with Animals came in very handy. The pegasi left after providing a few days of air support, heading south. Evindal repeated his earlier performance by disguising himself as a bugbear when they approached a band of 21; he passed through easily, and learned that they were moving to join an army...

Next, they met a herd of moose: 3 males, 12 females, and as many young. Another Speak With Animals later, and Evindal had a conversation with... well, the moose. About movin' south, eatin', and poopin'. As he told Gimli: "Well, just so you know... these moose are stupid."

They made it to an arboreal forest; Evindal elected to go in, but after only a day's journey, they met four saber tooth tigers! The ensuing battle was brutal; unable to summon his heroes, Evindal was only able to launch a fireball at one of the beasts. Gimli wore down another, but was reduced to 0 hp; it was a good thing he had hired a fighter, or else they would all be dead. Gene dropped; the fighter was a mere 2 hp from death; even the polar bear was dropped.

Evindal, just before a saber tooth tiger lashed out at him, fired a Magic Missile, killing one of the beasts. Luckily, the saber tooth tigers were spooked by the death of their fourth member, and fled into the woods. Evindal's fairy quickly healed Gene, who had been hurt the worst, and moved on to Gimli. Stabilized, Gimli still needed a week of bedrest... and 5 teeth, which he lost in the battle. Gene recovered immediately, though his wounds pained him in cold or stormy weather. Not the best for a trek through the wilderness...

Gimli healed his polar bear, too; it took all his spell slots, but he wasn't about to let his new friend die. The bear recovered, also needing a week of rest, and gaining +2 to intimidation, by way of some terrible scars. The polar bear didn't mind, honestly. The group decided to stick around a week, as the weather wasn't so bad, camping out to heal their wounds; recovered, they packed up. And immediately ran into none other than a member of the northern tribe!

With an escort, they wove their way around, avoiding beastmen and beasts alike. Finally, they reached the Northern People, the capital of the north, and the only established city of the northern tribes.

The city itself is tear-shaped, sitting atop granite cliffs. As the glaciers pushed south tens of thousands of years ago, they were driven around this section of land, creating cliffs that range from 20 to 100 feet tall. The city itself was built on top, an easily defended estate, with the only joining land an earthen bridge at the southernmost tip.

Gimli and Evindal were taken to see the Chief, the leader of the Northern Council, and ruler of the Nine Tribes of the North. They told him of the approaching beastmen; Gimli warned of undead, while Evindal stressed the hobgoblins were joining forces. The Chief was worried by the report of the saber-tooth attack. It was rare for the beasts to seek out and attack humans or demi-humans...

The Chief spoke to his council, and they in turn spoke with Gimli and Evindal; they were willing to do anything it took to protect their homes. As Gimli lead the men in digging pits and making other traps, Evindal went with a shaman (shape-shifted into a giant eagle) to warn the tribes. Eventually, all was complete; the people were safe inside the city, and the pits and traps ringed the walls. Evindal used his crystal ball to scry on the land, until he saw a swarm of darkness overcoming the land - the horrible hobgoblin army. He disguised himself as a hobgoblin, and rode a skin-shifted hyena-shaman right into the enemy camp. He did a good job, too; his disguise went undetected by everyone. Using his natural aura and charm, he talked his way onto the battle-platform of the chief - a rolling platform 100 feet by 100 feet, pulled by ogres, and carrying the catapults to be used in the siege of the Northern People. After replacing the lone guard, he quickly uncapped the vats of pitch and tar, smeared it all over the catapults, and under cover of an illusion, he used his prestidigitation to set it aflame! The shaman, not wanting to be left out, used Animal Control to control three war-hyenas, then Growth of Animals to make them into enormous beasts, and finally told them to kill basically everything. Evindal summoned a winged steed, and the two took to the sky, their retreat covered by the sudden billowing clouds of black smoke... only two catapults made it, and the battle platform was destroyed.

Between the fire and the enraged hyenas, 7 hobgoblin champions, 6 hobgoblin warriors, 11 goblin warriors, and one of the Five Chiefs was slain! The Chief of the Seige was no more.

The Battle

The Battle for the North was a decisive victory; indeed, the only one of the War of the Beastmen. The first charge was destroyed utterly, 75% of the charging goblins obliterated by the spiked pits built by Gimli and his trappers. The second charge, bolstered by mounted hobgoblins, lost nearly half of their charge before they ever reached the walls. From there, archers hailed down death from above. The 10 pegasi, ridden by men with bows or stones, threw more confusion into the horde.

The first to fall was the gate, knocked in by two huge ogres. The two heroes Evindal summoned, as well as Will, the fighter, held the gate; though one hero took an ogre spear to the chest, Will and the second hero held the gate the entire battle, finally leading the charge down the hill.

Gene, seeing a head poke over a wall, quickly joined fighters in pushing ladders down. Realizing that the ladders were going to keep coming, he climbed down the wall and, absolutely silent and absolutely invisible, set fire to the ladders. When two hobgoblins came to investigate, he stood, and in a single movement, stabbed then each through the throat with his swords. The ladders dealt with, Gene realized that he was never going to make it back up the wall with hobgoblin archers. Instead, he crept around, backstabbing and sneaking, until he made it to the battle-wagon of another chief - and killed him. The Chief of the Charge dead, the mounted hobgoblins went into disarray; though they managed to kill Gene, they routed.

Gimli, meanwhile, was turning undead left and right; the clattering skeletons and stumbling zombies fled at the brilliant light of Thor's Hammer. Mounted on the polar bear, flanked by two shaman-lions, and backed up by the battle-ox, Gimli charged the third battle-platform that held the dark hobgoblin clerics controlling the undead. The polar bear was struck by arrows, then by Cause Light Wounds, but still bounded onto the platform, ripping the head off a guard, tearing the life out of a hyena, and biting one of the clerics fully in half. Gimli, leaping down, brought his mace onto the head of a second hobgoblin cleric, and after a short tussle, caused the exit of his brains. The polar bear mauled a third cleric, but was brought down by more Light Wounds. Enraged at the death of his pet, Gimli ran around and slammed his flail into the chest of the cleric, shoving him off the side, where he fell under the great wheels and was turned to jelly. The battle-ox put his head down and charged for the front wheel; with a crash (and a natural 20!), the ox snapped the wheel in half. The front edge dragging in the dirt, the four ogres pulling the battle platform dragged it in a half circle, as the ox clamored up the sloping platform. A second wheel snapped as Gimli climbed aboard the ox, and the two charged into the leaderless undead, Gimli's Staff of Healing cutting a swath of damage through the undead.

The Dark Chief was dead. That left only two more Chiefs: the Chief of the Tactics, and the Chief of the Swarm.

Evindal, out of spells after nuking a dozen goblins with his fireball, still had his voice. Rousing the mounted warriors of the Northern People, he lead a charge straight into the center of the hobgoblins. As the creatures shrank back in terror, the fighters, filled with courage from Evindal's scream of defiance, slaughtered their enemies. Granted, Evindal admitted afterward it was merely a scream, as he had no idea how to stay on a horse, and only managed to do so through complete luck.

The enemy was routed; the Five Chiefs were slain.

74% of the Northern People survived. With a strong army, they were able to decisively eliminate the rest of the beastmen from the north.

The battle-ox, there from the beginning, survived, with nary a scratch. Gimli and Evindal, too, survived, unharmed.

Gene, once-evil rogue, was hailed as not just a hero, but a martyr; his story was passed down for generations, a saint and savior of the Northern Tribes. He was given a chieftain's funeral.

The polar bear, strong and fearsome, was laid to rest in a huge funeral hill, rivalling those of the ancient chiefs; it was stacked with white stones, and stands there even today, a monument to the brave animal.

Only one pegasi survived; the eldest, who flew with Evindal's fairy, recovered. He stayed with the Northern People, to morn the loss of his tribe... and to begin a new one, when the females and children returned from the south. The Northern People's city is always attended by one of the countless offspring of those noble beasts.

In the center of the city, a huge statue was erected: an elf, leaning on a staff, and holding a glowing orb; a dwarf, the Hammer of Thor hovering over his shoulder, and a serpent-staff in his hands, mounted on a battle-ox; a polar bear, standing tall; a human fighter, his sword thrust skyward; and a thief, head bowed, a knife in his outstretched hands.

Of the beastmen, only 9% of the survivors escaped. The rest of the army was slaughtered; though the beastmen attacks grew more frequent, they were fewer in number by far, and each was driven off, until no beastmen remained that were willing to assault the great city.

So ends the tale of Gimli and Evindal, Saviors of the Northern People.

I have no idea how I'm going to figure up how much XP they got from this... I was barely able to keep track of who got killed, let alone who did it. Most of the tends of thousands of hobgoblins and such were killed by the northern army, but the PCs did do some. Eh, I'll figure it out.