Monday, January 9, 2017

One-shot: Rise of the Beastmen: The Generals

Near the end of the Age of Men, mages began magically combining men, dwarves, and even elves with beasts. Generation after generation of beast-men were created. Some, like halflings, were quite peaceful, and served as farmers, or other peaceful work. Others, like goblins, were savage creatures, employed as laborers or soldiers. As the original, somewhat more lawful mages died off, their secrets were aquiered by others. The peaceful combinations were left on their own, while the more feral beast-types were combined and combined again. Though countless combinations were created, certain archtypes seemed to be the most successful: goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, orcs, orgres, kobolds, gnolls, and so on; the beastmen known and feared today. These armies gathered materials for their masters, ransacking villages and pillaging farms. As beastmen were released or escaped, more and more wild beastmen roamed free, which meant the armies increased to fend them off, which meant more beastmen escaped, and on and on. As the second generation of creature-splicing mages died off, a third generation arose. Hungry for power, these mages has none of the restraint of their old masters. The new masters created monstrosities, horrors of necromancy and unholy power, powerful and untamed. They reached too far, and the edges of their control began to slip. But still, power-mad, they churned out beastmen...

Up to this point, the lives of Skadge, Slithe, and Gutsack were those of slaves - they did as they were told, no questions asked, or took a beating for their impertinence. Still, they survived, something few of their companions managed to do; the brutal work strengthened their muscles and increased their stature, until they were the biggest orcs around. Perhaps because of their size, their commander, a fat orc known as Bloodmouth, selected them for a special mission: scouting the front lines. Though they didn't know it, there were several groups of adventurers working against their army. Bloodmouth generously allowed them to choose weapons to call their very own: a poorly-made morning star, noisy and/or broken armor, an off-balance swords, poorly weighted shields, and so on, all of it caked in blood and muck. Further, he allowed them to pick from a pile of dubious magical items, and if they refused he was going to pick for them.

Skadge chose a wicked-looking black blade, and a lightweight hide shield; Slithe picked a wire ring and a heavy helmet; Gutsack, an accomplished shaman, chose a stone-tipped staff and a torch. Though most items didn't seem to do anything immediately, Slithe's ring began whispering to him: Careful, those other items are probably cursed! Look behind you, someone is coming - everyone here is armed! Stay alert! Danger is all around... trust no one! Trust no one!

Bloodmouth, satisfied with their selections, pointed them towards a cart, pulled by two dire boars. A large ogre was helping others climb aboard, through liberal use of his whip, as an orc in a leather coat cursed at them. Clambering aboard, they began their trek. The first two days went smoothly, but as they reached the edge of the forest, four humans blocked their way. A warrior in shining plate held up his hand, and cried, "Halt! Travel no further, foul beasts! This forest is protected!"

Every beastman turned to Gutsack, the only orc among them who spoke Common. He translated, and their leader burst into laughter. "Kill them!"

The three orcs jumped down, as their leader and the orcs he brought with him watched. Skadge quickly learned what his blade could do - on each successful strike, it cursed him, but increased its power by +1. After his first strike (reducing his dexterity by 2), the cleric in the group cast Command Word on him, forcing him to flee the battle. Slithe bludgeoned his way through the leading warrior, though the pesky rogue stabbed him in the back with his blades. Gutsack cast a few spells, then began beating the rogue; attempting to retreat, the rogue fled, but was cut down by Slithe before he could make it. Skadge, returning, destroyed the remaining warrior, though at the cost of his eyesight, and two points of strength - further curses by his sword. Luckily, the curses faded after battle, as did the enchantments on the sword. Every time the warrior struck Skadge's shield, the tightly-pulled hide boomed loudly, surely waking and alerting any creatures nearby. Together, Slithe and Gutsack killed the cleric.

Their leader applauded slowly, then searched the body of the warrior. He managed to find a scroll of some kind, and waved the others to the bodies as he peered at it. Each orc managed to grab a potion, and replaced some of their weapons and armor. Slithe's helmet, it seemed, was stuck to his head; not that he minded. His ring worried that the helm was cursed, and it was eating his brain, I mean he was following the advice of a ring...

After beheading the humans and spiking their noggins onto the cart, the orcs flopped down for a night's rest. Slithe tended to the injured with his crude healing ability, and Gutsack passed out a few healign spells. In the night, Skadge awoke to the sound of singing; distrustful of anything that beautiful, he quickly roused his two friends and went to investigate. The sound was coming from a beautiful human woman, who appeared to be bathing in a small pond. After some deliberation, Skadge approached; the water was too murky to see through, so he poked it with his blade. The woman didn't seem to be afraid of him, which was unsettling, though stabbing the water did nothing. Skadge returned to camp, the lilting laughter of the woman ringing in his ears, and fetched one of the other orcs. Who he then ordered into the water. As soon as he was within a few feet of the woman, she said something to him; he turned back to his companions with a goofy grin and said, "Lady... nice!"

Gutsack, realizing the woman may not be all she seemed, cast "Purify Water" on the pond, turning the murky liquid into sparkling clear water. She snarled, ducking under the water a bit to hide her form, but Skadge dunked his head into the water, too. He saw that below the water line, the woman was a lizard - a half-woman, half-lizard, Lamia! As he lifted his face out of the water, the one suddenly became three. Slithe, hoping to dissuade the extra orc from helping her, chucked a rock at his head; max damage was done, and the orc, regardless of charmed state, now wanted to strangle him.

As the orc charged Slithe, Skadge charged the Lamia, and was reduced a point of wisdom for his trouble. One more, and he would be permanently under her control! Slithe easily dealt with the orc, and together, the three managed to wear down the Lamia, though Slithe also lost a point of wisdom in the process. Gutsack activated his staff, and learned that it randomly affected the targeted creature's stats - in the Lamia's case, a -2 to DEX, slowing the creature immensely. Eventually, the Lamia decided to flee, but Slithe and Skadge weren't done yet. They charged after her, killing her. Victorious, they dragged her carcass back to the cart - along with the various trinkets, scrolls, gold, and other items from her lair. Gutsack looked lovely wearing a (woman's) rich fur coat, and Skadge looked pretty good himself with a rich fur cape. He also traded his drum-shield for a +2 shield, and Slithe traded his broken armor for the +1 armor of the Lamia. It looked a bit odd, but at least it fit. Skadge stowed his sword - the Black Thorn - and instead chose the Lamia's Sword +1, +2 versus spell casters.

After a night of recovery, they awoke to feel... different. Suddenly, they realized they no longer felt the power of their dark lord forcing them to obey; perhaps they were too far away, or perhaps he had died, but whatever the reason, they were free! Though the ogre and the leather-clad leader tried to enforce their wills, the trio was having none of it. Gutsack, attempting to weaken the Ogre, instead increased its Con bonus by 2; during the fight, Slithe broke his morning-star in half over the Ogre's head, but it and the leader were quickly brought down, and the trio assumed command. Looking through the leader's stuff, they located the scroll - a map, with several locations marked on it. One location, a bit further up the trail, was crossed out.

They visited that location, and found a burned goblin village, looted, with anything of worth heaped up and burned. Moving on to the second spot, they located a village of hobgoblins. After a short attempt at diplomacy - where Gutsack pointed out that the humans had wiped out a tribe, and was likely looking to kill off the hobgoblins next - the hobgoblins agreed to join forces.

As they camped in the hobgoblin village, Gutsack decided to experiment with his torch; every hour, on the hour, he re-activated it. Most of the time, it stayed lit as a normal torch; once, it was fairly dim, and finally... the flames burst out in a fireball, singing his eyebrows. After that, none of the hobgoblins would dare go near him, in case he randomly burst into flame again.

The next morning, they packed up the camp; beastmen, women, and children. The trio lead the warband from the front; on their way, they came across a five-headed hydra, but managed to stay out of its way.

The third stop found a village of bugbears; though the village was happy enough to join their warband, the leader decided that, perhaps, he would like to lead, instead. Skadge talked him into a dual: their champion against the orcs' champion. A ring was formed, and Skadge swaggered in... only to realize that he would be fighting a shaman. Gulp. In the first round, he was bound up by the bugbear's stick-to-snake, and though he took some light wounds, he managed to break free in the second round. He did not, however, manage to break free of the Hold spell. The shaman cackled, and pushed him over. Gutsack intervened, quietly, and un-froze him... at which point Skadge charged the chief. The chief, flanked by two bodyguards and his shaman, was quickly killed. Two more champions, realizing this was their big chance to become leader, charged in, but were quickly dispatched.

From there, the warband of now 100 bugbears, 25 hobgoblins, and half-a-dozen orcs, plus females and offspring, methodically went from camp to camp, picking up a tremendous warband, and bringing chaos and death to the entirety of the Wild Plains. Only the Hill Dwarves, holed up in their caves, and Mareten, hiding behind its invicible wall, were able to withstand their mightly presence.

Even today, orcs tell stories of their great generals:

Skadge the Curse-bringer, the Mage-Killer, the Terrible

Slithe the Masked One, the Paranoid, the Destroyer

Gutsack the Burninator, the Chaos-bringer, the Obese

Legend says that the three generals, powerful to the last, hid themselves away; the last reports of the generals placed Gutsack near the Zahara, Slithe in the Wild Plains, and Skadge somewhere near the cliffs. A rumor claims that one, of not all the generals are alive, and merely biding their time before they can renew the Age of the Beastmen, and their enemies will flee before them, blood soaking the earth.