Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fort Rannick, Part One (06/28/2013)

After a long layoff the Friday Night crew was able to meet for a second consecutive week. It’s not like we are on an actual schedule, but we hadn’t gotten together for almost a month and half until Friday a week ago and everyone was eager to see what was going to happen next. That, plus the upcoming weekend is the one right after the Fourth of July holiday, so things weren’t looking good for getting together then.

After the Graul family had successfully been eliminated the party and the three rescued Black Arrows moved up into the hills to find a safe spot to camp overnight. A quick running creek was found and the three survivors were able to clean off the muck they had accumulated while prisoners of the Grauls, and once they had their full set of gear back on, a full meal (double rations!) in their belly, and some additional healing, well, they were clearly still not ready for a full fight. But with a warm blanket, a trusty backpack to use as a pillow, and a place to stretch out, the three Black Arrows were soon asleep while the rest of the party took turns and took the watch for the night.

The next morning Jakardros, Vale and Kaven stepped away from the rest of the party and had what appeared to be a serious discussion amongst themselves. The rain that had kicked up overnight did not dissuade them from their fervent discussion. After about thirty minutes they returned to the party, gladly cupped a fresh cup of coffee, and told the party what they had decided.

Jakardros Sovark started as he said, “We are probably the only Black Arrows left. The others were likely slaughtered in the fort, but we don’t know for sure. We owe it to our brothers and sisters to find out if there are any left alive in the fort and to try and rescue them. Fortune has shined on us and we have been rescued from a most cruel fate. We must take this opportunity to do the same for any that might be in the hands of the ogres.

After a pause Jakardros continued. “Furthermore, as Commander Bayden would certainly rather die than let the ogres take the fort, we are assumed that he is dead as well, or at least incapacitated in such a way that he cannot lead. As such that would make me the senior member. As the temporary commander of the Black Arrows I have given the order to Vale and Kaven that this is what we must do.” Behind him Vale Temros nodded his head in solemn agreement, but Kaven Windstrike merely shrugged his shoulders in resignation.

But we are only three.” Jakardros fixed a firm gaze on Shalelu and the party. “We could surely use your assistance. We think that we have the element of surprise. With our number we can slip in and do some serious damage, find out if any of our order are indeed still alive, and then slip away.

Crude Map of Fort Rannick
 “We have several options for entering the fort.” Jakardros drew a picture in the dirt with his finger and continued, “But none of them good.” This drew a wry smile from Vale, who began to lay out the options. “In the mountains above the fort is an aerie where the giant eagles lived. The eagles have always been an ally of the Black Arrows. When the fort was attacked they were slaughtered, as were the horses in the stables. There is a dangerous trail that leads down from the aerie to the inside of the fort, but there is no easy way to get to the aerie. To climb would take 2-3 days, and with this rain, well, you likely would never reach there to begin with.”

Jakardros jumped back in with the next choice. “There are two gates, one to the north, and one to the south. The ogres have night vision, so the chances of slipping up to the gates, even in darkness, are slight. There is also a sluice gate where garbage from the fort is dumped into the river. The grate is locked shut, but the lock could be picked, but we would risk being seen from the southern gate.

Temros then added, “There are cells kept underground, with a set of stairs leading down from the main level. There is a secret door that leads to a set of underground caves where several sets of shocker lizards live. They are valuable below the fort because they eat the rodents and insects that might otherwise plague us. In general, we leave them alone, and they leave us alone. But, if we could get down there we might be able to drive them up to the surface – they don’t like the smoke from burning birchbark, and that would cause some real chaos for the ogres if a pack of shocker lizards waddled into their quarters.

Shocker Lizard
Kaven jumped in at this point, and said “But to do that we would still have to get inside the fort in the first place.

At this point there was a pause in the conversation. Jakardros and Vale looked at each other, and with a pause Jakardros said, “There is another way. Behind the waterfall is a secret tunnel that can get us into the fort. The Black Arrows have a stash of equipment there. The old crypts are down there as well, although they haven’t been used since before I joined.

Kaven was incredulous at this pronouncement. “Why wasn’t I told about this!” he sputtered.

Jakardros’s answer was terse. “Need to know only. We didn’t want that information to fall into the wrong hands. Imagine if the ogres had known!” Behind Jakardros the large head of Vale could be seen as it nodded in agreement.

Jakardros then began to provide details about the fort and the ogres. In the crude map of the fort that he had drawn in the dirt he pointed out the entrances, the walls, and the buildings within. “I don’t know how many ogres are in the fort now. When we tried to attack them in the fort that night I guess there was between 20 and 30 of them. It might be more, it might be less. I also don’t know where they are at inside the fort.

But let me tell you what I do know. Ogres tend to be about eight feet tall and weigh over 600 pounds. They are evil, vile creatures and no perversion or level of defilement is too great for them. They are extremely strong; they really pack a wallop, and are hard to bring down.

And then Jakardros’s voice got even grimmer, “And that’s not the worst of it. Jaagreth Kreeg is in there. He’s their leader. And he has at least two of his sons in there with him – Silas … you’ll know him when you see him. About half of his face has been peeled away. And who was the other one … then one with the metal jaw and metal teeth?”

Hookmaw,” Vale added, “Yeah, he’s a real piece of work that one. Jaagreth has got to be fourteen feet tall if he’s an inch. Besides the two sons he likely has another 3-4 lieutenants in there, each larger and better equipped than the regular ogre’s.

Jakardros jumped back in and said, “I know it sounds bleak, but we have an advantage. For one, they don’t know we’re coming. Ogre’s can get really organized sometimes, but that never lasts. They’ll lose focus, stop posting guards, wander off – especially once there’s no more food. If we can get in the fort without being seen, and if we can take them out one at a time, or even in small groups, then I think we can take them. Some distractions here or there, maybe a little magic – they are very magic averse – and we can do this.

Kaven wanted to offer one more objection. “That’s a lot of ‘if’s’ there Jakardros. Heck, it all depends on if we can even get into the fort in the first place. What if they have patrols? What if they brought in reinforcements? What if there are 50 o’ them ogres in there now?” With a pause, Kaven continued, “If we’re going I’m all in with you, I, I just wanted to ask the question before we started.

The larger group then sent several minutes discussing the fort, the various options. Reynard brought up Xanesha's letter they had found back in Magnimar from her still as-of-yet unknown sister that had mentioned the fall of the fort. Jakardros had assumed the fort had fallen because of mere strength in numbers, but the possibility that there was treachery involved disturbed him even more.

This is what I propose,” Jakardros finally said. “Let’s head towards the fort. We can get close enough to see if there is anything to see without being spotted, and we can finalize our plans from there.Reynard used his Magical Steed spell to create an extra pair of horses and the large party moved cross country towards the fort, avoided the main roads, and kept an eye out for any ogre patrols that might have been afoot.

The party arrived a safe distance from the fort later that afternoon. Even from their distant view point the party could see the ogres had turned this battle-worn but well run fort into a charnel house of slaughter and drunken debauchery. Dozens of skulls and mangled corpses hung from trees near the fort, with gigantic rusty hooks spitting them like meat awaiting a butcher's block. The stench of sweat, urine, blood, and ogre-musk befouled the air for hundreds of yards around the fort. Hulking deformed brutes of the Kreeg clan roamed the walls of Fort Rannick and lurked within, their mere presence caused severe distress to the remaining Black Arrows who hated to see their home defiled in such a way.
Fort Rannick
Talons of lightning clawed at the sky, casting pale light on the mountainside below. The lightning storm revealed a grim fortress of dark gray stone standing sentinel over the valley, huddled desperately at the base of two sheer cliff sides. Crumbling, fifteen-foot-high walls ringed the citadel, the stone pitted and cratered from hurled boulders and ogre hooks. Like the face of a veteran with decades of winters under his belt, the fort's craters, cracks, and scars were testament to its battle-weary history. A stone keep, a stubborn shadow against the mountainside, rose from behind the worn walls, a single tower jutting up from its ramparts like an ugly broken tooth. Nearby, a rushing curtain of white water cascaded down the mountainside into a large pool of water just outside the fort's walls.

From their safe vantage the party could see several ogre's at the northern gate, and could see that gate open and close. There was only one ogre at the southern gate, and from the viewpoint they could see the gates at the southern entrance were slightly askew. They did not see the southern gate open while they were observing the fort, but could not tell more about it from that angle.

It was decided that Jakardros would send his firepelt cougar companion, Kibb, along the wood line on the east side of the fort to distract the ogre's on the wall. Jakardros explained that not only would Kibb easily escape if any of the ogre's came after it, but that the animal would lead whoever did come after it farther and farther away from the fort - a dangerous game to be sure, but one that might benefit the party later.

While that was happening the party would slip in along the mountain wall south of the fort and across a slippery ledge that led to the waterfall. Jakardros explained that behind the waterfall was a cave entrance. As long as the ogre at the southern gate was otherwise distracted the party would make a break for the secret cave. With the plan in place, Kibb slipped along the woods and stayed hidden until it got east of the fort and then the animal cautiously stepped out of the woods and revealed itself to the ogres as it ambled along a safe distance from the fort.

The ogre's quickly saw the cougar and form their vantage point began to yell and point at the animal. One of the ogre's picked up a discarded bow and attempted to shoot arrows at it, but it soon became quite apparent that use of a bow was not a natural act for the ogre's.

With the distraction working as planned the party began the short but dangerous sprint from their hiding spot to the waterfall. One at a time party members successfully ran out into the open, stepped onto and crossed the slippery ledge along the mountain wall, and then safely ducked behind the waterfall. Stike, next to last in the order, was the only one who slipped and fell off the ledge and fell into the pool of water below the waterfall. The ogre atop gate heard something and turned around to investigate, but Stike lay quietly in his position and hoped to remain unseen. The ogre soon returned to the distraction Kibb was providing and Reynard and Shalelu helped to pull the big fighter back up onto the ledge and into the cave behind the waterfall.

The floor of this cave was dotted with puddles. Patches of pale moss and fungus grew in sheets on the wall, while to the north, a five-foot-wide passageway angled up into darkness. A walkway of soggy planks led from this opening southeast to a second opening curtained by cascades of falling water. Now out of the rain, and with the wall of falling water providing cover from the ogre's, Jakardros led the party farther into the cavern.

The floor, walls, and ceiling of this cool, damp cave were coated from floor to ceiling in soft, dark gray fungus. Several crates were stacked in a nook to the northwest. Jakardros noted that the supplies had been untouched, which meant that none of the Black Arrows had likely escaped from the fort during the fight. Vale and Kaven cracked open the cases and revealed sets of mundane swords, bows, and armor. Several party members replenished their supply of arrows, but with no more to see here the party turned to advance to the next area in the secret cave.

As they turned the party could see two pair of yellow eyes looking back at them from the darkness. The Black Arrows were surprised to see shocker lizards present in this cave, but despite whatever unofficial treaty the Black Arrows maintained towards the lizards, they also knew what was coming next - the two shocker lizards quickly provided a severe electrical shock that hit Jakardros and Shalelu. The two lizards were then quickly dispatched before they could do more damage.

In the next area of the cave the party came across a deep ravine that stretched across this cavern, splitting the room in half. Geodes and veins of glittering minerals shimmered along the walls of the chasm, which quickly dropped away into the dark. A ten-foot-wide wooden bridge spanned the gulf. Jakardros suggested going one at a time across the rickety planks of the bridge, and Reynard tied a rope around the waist of the Black Arrows leader. Jakardros then confidently stepped onto the bridge and immediately slipped and fell into the dak ravine. The party held the rope to avoid serious damage from the fall, but when the crestfallen leader was pulled back up from the darkness he revealed that he had found a pouch with two large garnets, each worth 100 GP, and +1 Mithral Short Sword, both of which had belonged to a Halfling thief whose skeleton now lay at the bottom of the ravine.

Once the rest of the party had successfully crossed the bridge Jakardros announced that the next area ahead was the crypt. The walls of this fairly dry cavern contained twenty seven-foot-wide, two-foot-high niches, in each of which rested the ancient body of a long-dead humanoid. The skeletons bore ceremonial armor and weapons. One of the bodies had been pulled from its niche and lay in a jumble on the ground.

This is where the Black Arrows once interred the remains of their brothers and sisters. The crypt filled far more quickly than the Black Arrows had anticipated and rather than spend more time expanding the crypt they began sending off their fallen kin in elaborate pyres and then scattering the ashes. No Black Arrow has been buried in this crypt for nearly 30 years - which was unfortunate since the last body they interred here has not rested peacefully.

The last Black Arrow buried here was a bitter, brutal man named Lorgus Fenker. His "accident" while on patrol had been rightly suspected of being an arrangement made between the others in his group, but since the leaders of the order at the time felt that his passing was probably for the best, there was little investigation into the particulars of his "accidental" fall from a ledge up on the Hook. Fenker was indeed murdered by his brethren and his bitter, surly soul rose from the dead a week after he was buried here (several days after the order decided to quit using the crypt).

The specter emerged from the mist in an attempt join the party members to his fate, but Selinor's Turn Undead quickly drove the foul creature back and it was quickly slaughtered.

From there Jakardros led the party around one last corner where they came face-to-face with a solid wall. He pointed out where the secret door was, and provided information as to the relative position the door had to the rest of the courtyard. But given that thirty minutes or so had passed since the party had last looked in the fort, Reynard cracked the door and cast a Clairvoyance spell centered in the middle of the courtyard. From there he could spy the presence of three ogres - two atop the wall at the northern gate, and a single ogre atop the wall at the southern gate.

The party knew that this was the point of no return, so a plan was hatched - Reynard would Dimension Door himself and Stike and Vale next to the ogre at the southern gate and the rest of the party would step into the courtyard and move next to the stables and guardhouse and loose their arrows at the two ogres atop the northern gate. The storm outside had continued, so it was hoped the noise of the rain, thunder, and lightning would provide some additional cover and not draw the attention of whatever others ogre's were inside the keep.

And with that, they were off. Stike suddenly found himself standing next to an eight foot ogre. With two mighty blows from his sword Stike suddenly found himself standing next to the corpse of an eight foot ogre. With no other target at hand, Vale started along the wall toward the northern gate, where the rain of arrows from the courtyard below had also quickly taken out one of the ogre's just as quickly.

Somehow the party had expected the ogre's to be somewhat tougher than that, but they then got an eyeful as two twelve foot ogres stepped into the courtyard, one from the guard shack and one from the cook shack. The party quickly found their forces misdeployed as the two big fighters were up on the wall, which left the remainder of the party to go hand-to-hand with the two ogre lieutenants down below.

The party did their best to avoid the blows from the massive ogre hooks, but Jakardros and Shalelu both took 40+ points of damage from the first round of attacks. Vale finished off the final ogre on the wall and moved to rejoin the party in the courtyard below, as Stike had already moved to do. Kheo and Kaven helped maneuver Jakardros and Shalelu out of the line of fire and looked to gain a flanking advantage on the two huge ogres. Selinor did what he could to avoid the mighty swinging ogre hook as well and cast his own spells when from up on the wall Reynard cast a lightning bolt that flew at both of the ogres.

Both of the large ogre's were hit, and hit hard, but almost looked to unaffected by the blows they had received so far. Stike delivered a pair of nasty blows to one of the ogres, Reynard's second lightning bolt coincided with a real lightning bolt from the storm and delivered more damage to the two ogres. The two huge ogres soon fell, but the party knew they had been in a real fight. Rather than stand around in the open courtyard in the rain, the party members moved into either the stables, guard house, or cook house to catch their breath and do some quick healing.

The stables had housed the horses of the Black Arrows - it was now otherwise empty, with all the horses having been slaughtered by the ogres during the initial attack on the fort. The guardhouse was a rickety stone building that stood nearly thirty feet high into the evening gloom. The cook house was an open-air structure that contained several large racks for storing smoked meat. The ogres didn't seem to have taken good care of the place, for everything was in a jumbled, broken ruin now. Several dead bodies lay haphazardly on the damaged smokers, slowly (and inefficiently) curing as the fires smoldered. For those in the cook house the smell was disturbingly flavorful.

Across the courtyard from the cook house were the new barracks. Jokingly Kaven mentioned that despite the fact the barracks were newer than the ones inside the keep, none of the Black Arrows ever stayed there. When pressed Kaven said the reason was that it had been determined that the new barracks weren't safe. In fact the Black Arrows considered the new barracks to be nothing more than just a fire trap.

This news caught the ears of several of the party members. To investigate further Kaven slipped across the courtyard, peeped in one of the barracks windows, and then came back to report there were at least six ogres in the new barracks. With the steady drumbeat of the rain the party new the fire would have be set inside the building, so several of the party members arrayed themselves around the courtyard to fight whatever ogre's might appear out of the burning building.

Reynard and Selinor quietly snuck up to the barracks, smashed a window, and immediately tossed in a Fireball. The fireball did its own amount of damage to the ogres inside, but then the ogres within panicked, ran to the single tiny exit, fought each other over for access to the door, and eventually cooked inside.

While the party was surprised that no ogres emerged from the inferno, they were also surprised when another twelve foot ogre giant exited from the main doors of the keep to investigate. Selinor managed to cast a Hold spell on the huge ogre (DM Note: I missed both of the save attempts) and the ogre was soon dead.

The party had made a huge dent in the ogre forces already this evening, but no other Black Arrows had been found alive yet, plus there were likely plenty of ogres remaining yet inside the keep, including Jaagreth Kreeg and his two sons.

And we’ll pick it up next time from there, with each of the primary party members having reached Level 8. For tonight's efforts each party member earned 6,000 XP, giving them (45,000 + 6,000) 51,000 XP earned so far, with 75,000 XP required to reach Level 9. The three huge ogre's each carried a +1 Ogre Hook, wore +1 Hide Armor, and one carried an as-of-yet unidentified magical ring.

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