Monday, January 28, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #18: Beating Out Some Answers

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 4.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 4.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 4; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes left Gorza's Well and continued on to the Burburan Oasis, where they sold their spoils of battle, sought out more information on the Ghost Fist Clan, and looked for odd jobs to earn a little extra money. Their two lines of inquiry dovetailed when they learned that the Ghost Fists had attacked a number of caravans travelling to and from The Stairs, and that a kobold merchant's caravan was looking for additional muscle for their journey north through that region. Despite Edel's intense dislike of kobolds due to their invasion of his homeland, the opportunity to get paid to go into Ghost Fist territory, and the prospect of seeing the forests of Fendorlis again, were too compelling to resist. His friends all desired to fight more death cultists, so readily agreed to sign on with the caravan.

After a day to prepare, the party joined the kobolds as they decamped. Tyrrentyg introduced them to their employer, Vartoranax, a coppery-scaled kobold a few inches taller than any of his fellows. The merchant wore no armor, just desert garb of fancier make, and some jewelry. When Jumari used her inquisitor senses, she detected fair evil and law in Vartoranax's aura. Meanwhile, Fatou used detect magic to scan the kobolds to try to get a better idea of how much help they might provide in a fight. She determined that Vartoranax wore a magic amulet, Tyrrentyg wore a magic cloak, and a handful of kobolds carried small, faint magic auras in their belt pouches (probably potions?). The merchant noticed her spellcasting, and seemed to recognize what she was doing, but did not comment.

Among the kobolds, only the merchant and his herald seemed to speak Common, but Tyrrentyg still made a point of introducing the new hires to Nylrynn, the caravan's guide. (Jumari tried to speak with her about desert lore, but Nylrynn knew no Orcish, either.) She had very dull-colored scales, and seemed far more comfortable in her desert robes than the other reptile people. The rest of the caravan consisted of 20 other kobolds, equipped with light armor, spears, and slings (a couple had crossbows instead). ZhaZha thought the foot soldiers were rather cute in their tiny little outfits--she is roughly three times their height. The caravan also included a half-dozen monitor lizards: three serving as mounts for Vartoranax, Tyrrentyg, and Nylrynn, and the others to carry food and tents. (All of Vartoranax's esoteric trade goods were small and lightweight, so required no additional bearers.)

The caravan set out shortly before dusk, both because of the cooler temperatures at night, but also because kobolds are sensitive to bright light. That suited the heroes just fine, for they also preferred to travel at night. Nylrynn led the way, some distance ahead of the main group, while the rest of the kobolds flanked the merchant and herald on foot. From time to time, the guide made signs to the caravan to inform them of the conditions and direction of the path ahead.

By now, Edel, Fatou, and Jumari had noticed that Vartoranax and Tyrrentyg wore small silver dragon pendants, which they recognized as symbols of Vadnizala, the Scintillating Dragon, goddess of chromatic dragons, and the primary god of the kobolds. This did not sit well with Edel (who rightfully blames dragons for the current state of his homeland) or Jumari (who distrusts all dragon-related cults besides her own).

The travelers were told to expect a trip of 4 days to reach The Stairs--the easiest passage up the face of the Shalash Escarpment. During this time, Fatou attempted to be frtiendly with the kobolds so she could learn more about them, and regularly refilled waterskins and canteens using create water. None of the kobolds were very talkative around the larger races, except for Tyrrentyg, who gladly listened to new stories. Edel tried to tell some of his funny stories in Draconic, but his jokes didn't translate well. He also asked the herald where she expected them to run into trouble on this journey. Tyrrentyg replied that, based on reports from other caravans, she expected the most danger near The Stairs--which the elf already knew was where the Ghost Fist Clan was active.

The first couple nights' travel was uneventful. During the day, the heroes took turns on watch. There were always a handful of kobolds on sentry duty, too, though it was very clear they hated the bright sun.

Most of the way through the third night of travel, Nylrynn discovered half a broken javelin partly buried in a dune, and brought it back to the caravan to show to her employer and the PCs. She suspected it was of Orcish make, and Edel was able to identify the shape of the head, wicked barbs, and markings on the shaft as matching those of the Ghost Fists they had fought near Spine Hollow. He briefly summarized his experiences fighting those orc and half-orc death-cultists.

Jumari and ZhaZha investigated the place where Nylrynn had found the weapon, and could find few additional clues; the javelin had likely been here for some time, and they found no tracks besides those of some small desert fauna. Vartoranax ordered the caravan to continue on but to stay alert, and gave Nylrynn permission to stop before dawn if she found decent shelter before then. With Jumari's help, she did so only half an hour later.

That day, during the last watch, Edel spotted a plume of smoke in the distance, perhaps a mile or away. He woke ZhaZha, who judged it was only half a mile away at most. One of the kobold sentries woke Nylrynn, who barely glanced in the smoke's direction before reporting to her superiors. A moment later, Tyrrentyg ordered her to wake the other big folk and help them investigate. The group rode their lizard and camels in that direction, trying to be stealthy.

Beyond a small rocky ridge, the scouting party spotted a small campsite, with half a dozen orcs around a campfire that was close to going out. Three were half-orcs, with the white skulls of the Ghost Fists painted on their faces. The heroes dismounted--excluding ZhaZha--and the group moved closer. ZhaZha had just enough time to move around the ridge to a clear charge path before the orcs noticed her and her companions. She readied her lance and charged, spearing one of the half-orcs but not killing him. Edel began an informative lecture on orcs [his naturalist ability] as soon as the humanoids spotted the party, and started shooting arrows into their midst. Jumari used expeditious retreat to reach the camp more quickly. Meanwhile, Fatou sent her familiar Nochaesh flying ahead, loaded with a spell; the owl suffered an attack of opportunity, but inflicted a heavy wound with shocking grasp. Nylrynn shot the same Ghost Fist with her crossbow.

Jumari circled around to engage one of the full-blooded orcs, and downed him with a single strike of her falchion. ZhaZha dropped her lance and switched to pick, and dealt one Ghost Fist a staggering blow. By this time, Fatou was close enough to the fight that an orc attacked her and missed; she stepped back and channeled healing. (She managed to place herself so that she would heal her allies--especially ZhaZha, who was quite bloody now--and only one unwounded orc.)

The three Ghost Fist barbarians continued to focus on ZhaZha, and one landed a critical hit with its falchion. This knocked the cavalier unconscious, but she managed to stay in her military saddle. Edel and Fatou administered healing magic to ZhaZha, which brought her back to consciousness before she bled out. She drew her longsword and cut down the last orc with a critical hit of her own.

Most of the enemy were dead from their wounds, but the barbarian who had been staggered was barely alive, so they stabilized him for questioning later. Three of the orcs carried potions of bull's strength that they did not have time to drink before they were attacked, and pots of black fester (an orcish weapon poison that inhibits magical healing). After some debate, the heroes decided to keep the black fester, because it could prove useful as a poor man's version of Selective Channel [which Fatou lacks sufficient Charisma to made useful].

The heroes returned to their own camp, carrying the unconscious Ghost Fist with them. Fatou asked Vartoranax if they could sleep in to recover the spells they'd used, but the merchant pointed out that it would take a full 8 hours to regain any spells used in the past 8 hours, and he felt it unwise to spend much longer here.

First, however, they had an interrogation to conduct. Rather than wasting her magic on the prisoner, Fatou used mundane healing to treat his wounds, then Jumari cast a single spell that brought him barely back to consciousness. Jumari then started asking questions, with the other PCs aiding her intimidation check. The half-orc, scared out of his wits [by a final result over 30!], readily began babbling answers.


[I ended the session there, and promised to give the players replies to their questions over email. That information is summarized below.]

  • Where is the Ghost Fist Clan? The prisoner gave rough directions to their main base, in some caves a day or two west of the base of The Stairs.
  • Who's your leader? Yazdanyar, a human warrior, and champion of the Lord of Endings. He is accompanied by an elf spellcaster, Ragalash, who can create undead. (The PCs learned these names earlier, but this confirms that intel.)
  • Who are you after? What are you doing out here? The clan raids merchant caravans for food, other supplies, and slaves. This band were scouts, sent to watch for travelers who seemed easy pickings.
  • What is your great plan? Are you working with anyone? These orcs are too lowly to know the mighty Yazdanyar's plans, or whether they have any allies elsewhere. The warlord and the elf have been searching for more than plunder, but they don't know what.
  • Do you fight alongside undead? Does Ragalash turn your dead into undead? When Ragalash leads a war party, he brings some undead with him. (Only he can control them.) He usually animates dead Ghost Fists (but not all the clan's dead), and occasionally uses other creatures. 
  • How does Yazdanyar prefer to fight? He sows fear among his enemies as his scythe cuts them down!
  • Do you sell slaves or use slaves yourselves? The clan takes slaves for their own use. They have no one to sell them to.
  • How many scouting parties do you have? At least a couple more in the area, watching for potential prey. Beyond that, the prisoner didn't know.
  • How many are in the clan? He was vague on such large numbers. Probably at least 200, including women and children.
  • What is the layout of your base? The prisoner had difficulty describing it coherently. It's a cave complex with two entrances, one leading to the shrine and the other to the main barracks. The women, children, and leaders live further inside.
  • Are there any defenses other than troops? Ragalash's "pets," and sometimes a wild animal that a clan member tries to tame.
  • Are there any clan members who want out? Does anyone have issue with the rule of Yazdanyar? If any do, they do not speak of it, for fear of what the warlord might do to them. 
  • Do you ever raid past the Stairs? No. The clan has long believed that a powerful spirit lives there, one that traps and kills orcs who climb the Stairs. 
  • What can you tell me of the Lord of Endings? Does this god have a name? The prisoner knew very little about religion. However, Fatou knows the the Lord of Endings is a title for Asmolon, one commonly used by the superstitious who fear to say the name aloud. 
  • Do any of your clan have divine power besides Yazdanyar? The prisoner either didn't understand the question, or simply didn't know. 
  • What spells have you seen members of the clan cast? Ragalash can create water, create undead, summon spiders, and curse people. Yazdanyar can inflict fear or wounds with a word or a touch. 
  • Does Ragalash have a book?* All but Yazdanyar are too terrified of the elf to enter his chambers.
[* Fatou is more than a little obsessed with finding new magical writings to add to her spellbook.]

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