Monday, June 24, 2013

Meet The Graul's (06/21/2013)

Our humble Friday Night game group hadn’t met since mid-May due to a series of schedule conflicts, some planned and some unplanned, but all were back together tonight and were ready for some fun. To help keep things fresh in the interim the DM had sent a page’s worth of teaser notes and these have been incorporated into the post below.

During our last session each of the party members heard a rumor during their night at the inn in Turtleback Ferry, but the DM neglected to include a rumor for the other member of the party, Shalelu Andosana: “People been disappearin' lately. And not just them who's been going into the deep woods. I'm talkin' fishermen, travelers, people just out on the roads. My money's on them Grauls - that family's got ogre blood in them, and once you get ogre blood in you ... you just ain't right!"

What were ogrekin? An ogrekin was the result of an unfortunate union between an ogre and humanoid, the ogrekin (or half-ogre) was cursed with horrific malformations due to its tragic ancestry. Shunned by both parents, ogrekin tended to form unstable clans of their own and have often resorted to inbreeding to sustain the collective. While good-natured ogrekin had been heard of, they were most often mean, nasty, and altogether unpleasant brutes.


The townspeople of Turtleback Ferry had quickly warmed to the presence of the heroes, but it soon became quite apparent that the ongoing absence of the Black Arrows was having quite an impact on the town. Despite the happy faces and cheerful talk at the inn that first night in town the party could see the wistful glances towards the roads that surrounded the town as the locals looked and hoped for the rangers to appear. Or perhaps they were fearful glances, as they wondered who – or what - might appear in their absence.

The following morning the party had a chance to replenish their supplies and reclaimed their horses at the local stables. The townspeople told the party that the simplest route to the fort was to follow the old road that led up along the banks of the Skull River. The road would cross an old wooden bridge to the western shore about three miles north of Turtleback Ferry, and from there they would head all the way up to the impressive Thassilonian ruin known as Skull's Crossing, an immense stone dam that held back the waters of the Storval Deep.

A side road branched off about three miles before the dam, and the party was to look for a crooked wooden sign that pointed up this trail and proclaimed "Fort Rannick." The trip was explained to be about thirty miles total, so without interruptions and with an early start the party was told they would surely be able to arrive safely at the fort before dark. The fort itself was tucked into a cleft in the mountains and with its thick walls the citizens were sure everything would be fine there, but despite the friendly and smiling reassurances that worrisome look would soon return to their faces – where were the rangers?

The stable hands had properly fed and cared for the party’s horses overnight. The young man working in the stables that morning quickly prepared the horses for the party as he led the horses out and ensured the parties gear was accounted for. As he did his arm extended out one time a little too far from his sleeve and the tattoo of a seven-pointed star was quite apparent to the party. When questioned the stable hand quickly covered up the tattoo and tried to deny its existence, and then tried to brush off the party’s questions about it. Finally, when pressed he quietly admitted that he gotten the tattoo two months ago at The Paradise, the floating barge that had been converted into a gambling and drinking hall that recently sank.

The villager sullenly explained that by allowing The Paradise's owner, the lovely and silken-tongued Lady Lucrecia, to place the tattoo on him for a small fee, he could then show the tattoo at The Paradise's door and avoid paying the cover fee to board. Further, those who got "Paradise's Mark" were often rewarded with additional gambling chips and other perks, and were told that only a select few regular patrons had been chosen for the honor.

Sihedron Rune
The villager admitted he had been coy about the tattoo because his wife would be furious if she found out he'd been gambling, but defensively pointed out that he was not the only one in town with the mark. In fact, if he had to guess, it was his considered opinion that half the town of Turtleback Ferry secretly bore the mark. No one could know for sure except for Lucrecia but she had sworn them all to secrecy, and now of course Lucrecia lay at the bottom of the bay entombed in the wreck of The Paradise.


It was another hazy day, and more rain was expected as the party left Turtleback Ferry on their way north to Fort Rannick. After about an hour of relative quiet the party crossed over the old wooden bridge a yowl of pain came from the woods nearby, as if a large cat were wounded. Shalelu was insistent that the party investigate, so the party tied up their horses and slipped into the woods.

It wasn’t far until they upon a clearing - A firepelt cougar had stepped in a bear trap, its rear leg mangled and the beast in serious pain. The party could also see that the cougar was a bit on the emaciated side, but it was difficult to determine how the long the animal had been here. The party had an unpleasant experience with a firepelt cougar before in the ticket outside of Thistletop Island, but Shalelu stated that she thought the animal was a pet and they should attempt to rescue the wounded animal.

As the party studied the situation a different sound appeared from deep in the far woods - the noise of a howling pack of dogs, and a noise that moved in the direction of the clearing that held trapped animal. Shalelu ran into the clearing and was able to calm the cougar, but Kheo was unable to free the cougar’s leg from the trap. The howling of the dogs drew ever closer as did another sound, something more chilling - someone (or something) in a deep lisping voice singing a song in a child-like parlance about the possibilities of having a "purty kitty" for dinner that night.

The cougar thrashed even more, hoping to free itself from the trap, but Stike was able to add some additional strength and the jaws of the rusty bear trap was opened just enough that Shalelu was able to extract the animal from the trap. Selinor wand'd an ounce of healing to the beast, Shalelu ran for the bushes with it in her arms, and the remainder of the party prepared for whatever was coming through the woods.

A pack of five large dogs sprang out of the woods and into the clearing, the singing voice was not far behind. Stike quickly took down two of the mangy looking large dogs and Reynard finished the other three off with a spell, and the sudden silence was deafening. From back in the woods a voice could be heard. "I's Rukus Graul! I's hunting kitty cat! No concern o' you's 'less you's wanna be hunted too!"

But the sudden silence gave warning to the mysterious singer as well. The party could hear the voice begin to call out the names of the dogs, but with no response, the next noise the party heard was the sound of footsteps of the unknown singer as it appeared to run back from whence he had came.

After the combat the party opted to take a brief rest and to discuss their next step. The firepelt cougar, slightly healed from Selinor’s and Shalelu's ministrations, seemed to dance about as it ran to a spot next to the wood line, and then back to the party where it carefully nipped at a sleeve or a jacket of different party members. It didn't take much searching to determine that the spot the cougar was leading to was the well-worn path that the hounds had traveled down.

The path led through the woods for about a half of a mile and eventually led to large clearing that featured a rickety farmhouse and barn. Whoever had run from the party had obviously run here, but no one was visible now. The party opted to stay in the wood line, and swung around to right and came up behind the barn. Shalelu was having a difficult time keeping the cougar from running into clearing, so Kheo volunteered to sneak around the barn to see what he could find while she stayed behind.

As Kheo slipped around the corner of the barn and out of the line of site from the rest of the party he met an ogrekin coming the other way – Crowfood Graul, wielding a vicious looking ogre hook. Crowfood's grotesquely deformed head resembled a giant pumpkin on the right side - a huge puffy mass of tumors and overgrown bone giving his head a lopsided look. The ogrekin normally spent his day stalked the perimeter of the farmstead day and night, constantly on the lookout for intruders and working to scare crows and other animals away from his pride and joy: the raggedy cornfield that grew here in the clearing.

Kheo was successful in his attempt to squawk out a plea for help and managed to avoid taking any serious damage from the brute until the rest of the party arrived. Crowfood was enraged that intruders had invaded his property, but his ire was no match for the party’s strength and the deformed ogrekin soon lay dead. A quick search of the body revealed: Two potions of Cure Serious Wounds, Leather Armor, +1 Ogre Hook, Amulet of Natural Armor +1, Ring of Protection +1, and tattered rags and a tunic. The presence of such magic on such a bizarre creature gave the party pause, but rather than stand around in the open the party decided to move into the barn.

Inside the barn the party could see the barn housed several mounds of molding hay, grain stores, and even a large but crude still. Two catwalks rose up along the walls and led to doors near the ceiling in the east wall. Lower, a pair of massive doors, boarded over with thick timbers, allowed ground access to the room beyond. Several dingy kennels were built into the walls under the catwalks, but the inhabitants of the kennels were not present.

The opening of the barn door also introduced the party to three more of the Graul boys. Hograth Graul was the eldest of the three, a hulking brute with a vestigial arm growing from his left elbow and a no-necked, dented head. Jeppo Graul was a big, handsome boy that towered over his brothers. His eyes were huge and milky white, and his skin pale as the full moon. Sugar Graul was the shortest of the Grauls, standing barely more than five feet tall, with crooked stumpy legs and constantly twitching skin. They each wielded a nasty looking spear and moved towards the party with cruel intentions.

Selinor felt the best way to deal with the three ogrekin brothers was to set fire to the hay and let the leaky still do the rest. The rest of the party thought otherwise, and decided to kill the brothers the old fashioned way – with arrows and swords, with maybe a little magic thrown in.

Once the three ogrekin brothers were dead Shalelu rejoined the party – she had used her skills to convince the cougar to stay in the woods and to let them investigate whatever may be here. The party was unable to open the large double-doors on the main floor that led to the back half of the barn, so Selinor went up to the left catwalk while Stike and Kheo went up the right catwalk, and both opened the doors to see what lay beyond.

The majority of this large, stuffy chamber was covered in filthy webs forming a funnel that dipped down into the ground. A catwalk continued on around the rim of the room near the ceiling, twenty feet above the ground. In northeast and southeast corners, the catwalk expanded into a ten-foot-square platform that was fenced in by wooden beams that formed cages.

Kheo yelled back to Reynard and Shelelu that there were cages up here, and the two responded by climbing up to the stairs to the catwalk. The noise also alerted the ogre spider that slept beneath the web and the creature quickly crawled up its web and attacked Stike and Kheo. It managed to sink its hairy fangs into Stike and the poisoned bite caused some temporary weakness to the big fighter, but soon the beast was killed by the remainder of the party.

The walls within each cage were hung with iron manacles. Most of the manacles were bloodied to some degree, and most were empty were empty except for three in the southeast corner that imprisoned three emaciated men. They struggled to their feet, but in their weakness could barely stand. As soon as the door was opened Shalelu rushed in supported the older of the three men, with other party members providing support to the remainder.

The first order of business was to get the men outside and away from the Graul’s farm. Once safely away the men introduced themselves as Javardros Sovark, Vale Temros, and Kaven Windstrike, all members of the Order of the Black Arrows. Some food, water, and some healing was able to perk the men up, but they were still obviously too weak to do much more at this point. The men did ask several questions though: “Did you find any other of the Black Arrows?”, “Have you found our gear?”, and “Are any of the Graul’s left alive?” The answer to all of these questions obviously could be answered in the house, so Shalelu agreed to stay behind and watch out over the former prisoners while the rest of the party would investigate further.

The moss-encrusted, decaying farmhouse slumped drunkenly at the edge of the damp forest clearing. Rickety steps crawled up to a porch covered by a huge eave held aloft by thick pillars of pine. These timbers were decorated with crude carvings of manticores impaling children with their tail spikes and women being ripped apart by wolves. The carvings looked like a child's work, but the subject matter grew more gruesome and depraved from one depiction to the next. An unsettlingly large rocking chair of lashed wood and bone swayed erratically in the breeze at the far end of the porch under a vast menagerie of wind chimes composed of decidedly humanoid bones. The house's windows had all been boarded up with thick timbers, although it was unclear whether this was done to keep intruders out or imprison whatever things make their home within.

A host of ants marched happily away here and there on the porch, many the size of a grown man's thumbnail. A moth the size of a shovel head clung to the porch ceiling and watched the party with alien eyes, but it allowed them to pass unmolested. The scent of bad meat, urine, sweat, and decay wafted now and then from between the cracks in the boarded-up windows

Stike and Kheo decided the best course of action was to rush the door and to bust in on whoever they might find. The traps they set off along the way – rusty saw blades that sprang up from between the floor boards and a spike trap built into the ceiling – tripped up a few of the party members, but they were successful in opening the unlocked door and entering the house.

DM Note: What is the first thing your DM teaches a fledgling dungeon crawler? That’s right, check for traps.

The front room featured a mangy bearskin rug that lay before a tremendous hearth set into the wall, the rugs pained visage still seemed to snarl at whatever cruel hunter took its life. A huge couch had been haphazardly upholstered in animal hide and human flesh, replete with a collection of talons, monstrous hairy spider's legs, fox heads, and human hands and feet, sat to the west.

DM Note: None of the party members managed to set off the couch trap - maybe next time.

With no further surprises, the party moved into the dining room. The door itself was not trapped, but the scythe trap on the opposite side of the door nearly missed Kheo. The dark room stank of putrefying flesh. Eight wooden chairs with grinning bleached skulls crowned their backs circle a monstrous four-foot-high oak dining table covered with a crude tablecloth of crinkly human leather. The centerpiece of the dining table was a rotting human head, its stringy red hair thankfully draped over its mutilated face, served as a gathering place for a host of buzzing, bloated flies.

The next room was the kitchen. This musty chamber smelled of blood and week-old meat, and was thick with clouds of fat, greasy flies. Thumb-sized cockroaches danced along the walls, floor, and ceiling. A thick butcher's block sat under three cruel-looking cleavers that hung on a rack above. Bloodstained smocks of thick leather hung on bone-spur hooks by the door and included one that still dripped with fresh gore. A crockery platter of severed fingers and toes sat on a rickety old table next to a dried sinew basket overflowing with hacked-off hands and feet, and all sported stubs of congealed blood where their digits once were. A family of lucky rats gorged itself on the red stumps.

Mammy Graul
The party then slipped down the hallway and stepped into the bedroom of the leader of the Graul family, Mammy Graul. The cloying stink of this room was nearly overwhelming. Buckets of filth were stacked against the walls, fat ravenous flies lazily circling their rims. The room itself was dominated by an immense bed, its ratty sheets stained beyond hope. A huge easel sat next to the bed with a palette of various shades of brown and red paint. The sources of these morbid pigments - several crushed organs and ragged stumps of flesh - sat in receptacles next to the easel. A set of brushes made with human hair jutted from a broken skull by the easel, while a comb made from a human mandible sat on a small oak bedside table nearby, its teeth clotted with thick strands of greasy black hair. The bodies of three horribly deformed men dressed in ragged finery were propped up in huge open coffins against the far wall, their mouths sewn tightly shut with lengths of hair.

This hellish room belonged to Mammy Graul, an incredibly corpulent monster with stringy hair and bald patches. Her obesity made it difficult for her to move far, and she has been more or less confined to this reeking chamber for several years. She wore a huge red curtain as a shroud, and her bed creaked out in anguish as she shifted her massive form to regard the intruders.

Mammy was also attended by three of her dead sons – Benk, Kunkel, and Hadge. Black Arrow rangers killed them all over the course of the last couple years, but Mammy "saved" them by casting animate dead on their remains, and now the three zombies serve her tirelessly. Benk had a useless third leg on his left hip and a pin head - three old arrows still protruded from his chest. Kunkel had an extra nose jutting from his right cheek and a hunched back, his head split by a ranger's axe. Badge's deformities were hard to determine exactly. He had been trampled to death by a charging warhorse and was now little more than a shambling fleshy bag of broken bones and mashed features that flopped about when ordered to attack.

Benk, Kunkel, and Hadge all missed their saving throws and the undead creatures were pushed away by Selinor’s Turn Undead spell. Mammy got off a few spells of her own, but just when it looked like the party might be able to finish her off she simple disappeared.

The next room was some sort of twisted version of a playpen. This simple room was strewn with "toys," some of carved wood or bone, while others appeared to be little more than partial animal carcasses. Old bloodstains marked the walls; some resembled crude, childlike paintings and featured images of dismembered horses, a ridiculous grinning horned devil tossing children off a cliff, and a big lake with a black reptilian monster that sprouted tentacles from its back. Bookshelves rested against the wall, but instead of tomes they held skulls of all shapes and sizes.

This "playpen" was where the two youngest Graul boys spent their time. Both were full-grown, yet out of all the Grauls they acted the most like spoiled children and rarely emerged from this chamber into other parts of the farmhouse. Maulgro Graul was a hairless and pale bloated thing with malformed, stumpy legs and a wide mouth filled with ragged teeth. Maulgro kept his skull collection here.

Maulgro's younger brother Lucky Graul was here as well. Lucky's limbs bent in strange ways, but he was blessed not to have any other hideous deformity and almost looks human. Mammy didn't like Lucky nearly as much as Maulgro and often neglected to even change the youngster's clothes for days at a time. The hapless fool reeked of his own waste as a result. He would often steal Maulgro's favorite skulls to play keep-away and to mock the slower ogrekin to tears as he danced the skull-jig his brother would never dance himself.

Lucky and Maulgro didn’t put up much of a fight, but the party was still more concerned about Mammy and where she could have escaped too. The party could see there was one more room on this floor, but there were also a set of stairs that led up to the attic and a set of stairs that led to the basement.

Rukus Graul
The party crept up to the remaining room on the main floor and carefully opened the door. This filthy bedroom contained little more than a lumpy mattress heaped with twigs, mud, and hopefully little else, although the stink of sewage in the room indicates otherwise. Dozens of humanoid fetishes crafted of bits of leather, straw, corn husks, twigs, and bones hung from cords throughout the room.

As soon as the door opened Rukus Graul roared out and lunged at the part with a huge spear, spitting in anger. “You’s kill’t mah dawgs and now ah’m gonna keel you’s!

And that he almost did. He landed two blows against Selinor (DM note: one a critical) and then on his next swing he knocked Selinor unconscious. Kheo managed to drag Selinor body out of the fight and forced a potion of Cure Serious Wounds down his throat, while Stike and Reynard stepped forward and finished off the enraged ogrekin.

A quick search revealed that Rukus had several magic items: +1 Spear, Belt of Giant Strength +2, and a favorite blanket, as well as a ratty, flea infested item that was decorated with several insignia's crudely sewn on to it - a black diamond with three arrows.

The party next moved into the basement and this area was just as foul as the rest of the house. The first room in the basement smelled of rot and old blood. Piles of blood-spattered skin heaped on the floor. A horrid rubbery face robbed of its supporting skull and muscle rested on top, its toothless mouth agape and empty eyes revealing only the layer of tan flayed skin resting beneath.

The next room was a low-ceilinged room featured a floor of hardpacked earth stained in many places by blood and mold. A lumpy mattress lay heaped against the west wall and what appeared to be several half-finished chairs made of flesh and bone lay against the eastern wall.

From a darkened corner of the room Hucker Graul moved forward to attack, a dangerous looking ogre hook in his hand. Hucker shuffled with a pronounced limp from an old injury suffered when one of his own traps backfired on him, a wound he bears with misplaced pride. Hair grew lopsided from the right side of his head and face rather than atop his brow, and a vestigial twin capable of grunting and gasping protrudes from the back of his neck. Hucker's best friends were two overgrown donkey rats he had cheerfully named Chuckles and Drooler. They eagerly defended their master with the intent of chewing the intruders to pieces.

The fight did no go well for Hucker, and one of the two rats decided to make a run for it while it could, the second rat not having been quite so lucky. A quick inspection of Hucker’s gear revealed: a Potion of Cure Moderate Wounds, +1 Hide Armor, +1 Ogre Hook, Amulet of Natural Armor + 1, a collection of severed noses in a wax-sealed tin, and 235 GP.

The party then moved to the final room of the basement. This damp, steamy room reeked of rotting vegetable matter. Pools of mud and stagnant water dotted the mossy floor, and the walls were caked with thick swaths of puffy fungus and mold.

This mossy, vine-covered section of the basement was home to one of the least fortunate of the Grauls. Ironically,Muck Graul used to be one of the handsomest of Mammy's boys, but after he caught and tortured a nymph princess for days on end she spat a foul curse upon him with her dying breath. Muck soon began a slow, painful transformation, his flesh showing strange greenish sores and moss growing from his orifices. His limbs grew spongy and insubstantial until he collapsed into a shuddering mass of plant matter. Mammy had consigned him to the basement to keep him from "mussing up the house." Muck grew larger day after day, nurtured by his brothers even as they ridiculed him for his new hideous appearance. Muck Graul was now a massive carnivorous plant – a Tendriculos.

Muck Graul (Tendriculos)
Muck slashed out with his tentacles and attempted to grab individuals and pull them closer where his internal vats of acid could do their work, but all for naught as the party soon made quick work of the twisted remains of Muck Graul.

On the back side of this room was a door, and inside the closet lay a large chest. Within lay an agate-studded gold ring worth 50 GP, a necklace of emeralds and silver worth 350 GP, a pair of small leather gloves studded with pearls (actually Gloves of Arrow Snaring), a large sack filled with assorted coins (210 GP, 452 SP, and 108 CP), and a ruby-inlaid red dragon-scale cloak clasp worth 600 GP.

In addition several recently added sets of gear could be found: Studded Leather, +1 Shocking Composite Longbow with 20 arrows, Masterwork Long Sword, Chainmail, +1 Battle Axe, +1 Hand Axe, Composite Longbow with 20 arrows, +1 Leather Armor, +1 Rapier, Masterwork Dagger, Composite Longbow with 20 arrows, and Ring of Protection +1, among other bits of mundane clothing and gear. The two leather armors had a black diamond with three arrows burnished into them and the party surmised they had found the missing gear of the Black Arrows they had just rescued.

Mammy still has not been found, so the party then decided to search the attic next. Here they found a workshop, a cluttered room and several tables strewn with beakers, glass vials, old tin cans, rope, animal traps, bits of twisted metal, spikes, bones, and all manner of junk littered this area. In one corner sat some old furniture and other keepsakes, as well as a beat up looking old chest.

A quick search of the room revealed five curious flasks of acid that had been stored under one of the tables. With a few minutes of scrounging Kheo was able to assemble three full sets of Masterwork Thieves' Tools were scavenged from the gear that lay on the tables.

The chest wasn’t locked and did not appear to be trapped, but the lid was a tight fit and considerable effort was required to open it up. A sack of coins lay at the bottom of the chest and Kheo came within a hair of losing a finger when a war razor from the hand chopper trap that lay inside. The sack of coins contained a mix of 121 CP,110 SP, and 23 GP, along with 17 mostly skeletal severed fingers - trophies from the hand chopper trap collected and stored here by the ogres.

If Mammy was not somewhere in the house, all eyes turned to the barn. As the party approached the barn they could hear the woman wailing “Ya' kill’t all mah boys, and now I’ma gonna keel you’s.” As the party opened the door to the barn they could see the bloated body of Mammy Graul flying around in a rage. Mammy fired off several volleys from her assortment of wands, but Selinor was able to point a fireball spell at the still and the ensuing explosion shot the corpse of Mammy Graul into the clearing.

The party inspected the smoldering corpse and found: Wand of Magic Missile (CL 3rd, 44 charges), Wand of Ray of Enfeeblement (28 charges), Wand of Vampiric Touch (33 charges), Masterwork Quarterstaff, and a Spellbook that contained the following spells: Animate Dead, Magic Missile, Ray of Enfeeblement, Protection from Chaos / Evil / Good / Lawful (Choose one), Daze Monster, Explosive Runes, Deep Slumber, Fire Trap, and Charm Monster as well as her prepared spells:

Prepared Spells: (CL 8th; Concentration +11)
4th - Bestow Curse (DC 17), Contagion (DC 17), Dimension Door
3rd - Displacement, Fly, Ray of Exhaustion (DC 16), Slow (DC 16), Vampiric Touch
2nd - Blindness/Deafness (DC 15), False Life, Ghoul Touch (DC 15), Mirror Image, Spectral Hand
1st - Chill Touch (DC 14), Grease (DC 14, 2), Mage Armor, Reduce Person (DC 14), True Strike
At Will - Light, Mage Hand, Message, Open/Close, Touch of Fatigue (DC 13)

The explosion brought Shalelu and the rangers running. They were especially glad to see the Graul’s had been taken care of, and were glad to have their gear returned as well. Jakardros had been reacquainted with Kibb, his still wounded firepelt cougar companion, and the cougar and Shalelu never seemed to leave his side either. When Jakardros and his men were captured by the Graul’s Kibb had managed to escape and had spent the last three weeks eluding the Grauls (who had been desperately attempting to recapture the firepelt ever since) while trying to find someone whom he could lead back to the Graul homestead to save his master.

The party, now eight members strong, decided it was best to move deep into the forest and avoid any remaining Grauls that might be roaming around or anyone that might was to check up on that mushroom cloud that hung over the remains of the Graul’s barn. The party retrieved their horses, and once a safer location was secured Jakardros told the party the story of the Black Arrows.

The Story of the Black Arrows

The Order of Black Arrows had been a secretive and insular order for decades since it was first founded by Zarnath Rannick. Traditionally a wandering order of hunters and rangers had been dedicated to patrolling the Storval Rise, the Black Arrows saw it as their duty to prevent incursions of giants from the plateau into Varisia. When Magnimar offered the order a fort in the shadow of Hook Mountain, Zarnath accepted graciously but died in a battle against the Kreeg ogres before it was completed. His men named the newly built keep after the fallen leader and ever since Fort Rannick had been instrumental in keeping the ogres, trolls, and other giants of the region from spreading too far into the lowlands.

During the 45 years they had been stationed at the fort the Black Arrows had inducted new members, often typically petty criminals were given a choice of severe punishment or a lifetime sworn to manning the walls of the fort and patrolling the perilous heights of Hook Mountain. Conditions at Fort Rannick swiftly made honest men out of most of these criminals and forced them to engage in a vicious regimen of training that stripped away all sense of their life prior to having joined the order.

The task of keeping the horrors of the Hook at bay was a grueling one and required a level of discipline unattainable by many soldiers. They had a reputation for dealing with trouble among the ranks of the order in their own way - coldly and efficiently. Those who disobeyed commands were flogged nearly to death before being exiled to the south. Those who betrayed the order were mercilessly executed. Their justice was swift, their reputation fierce.

Jakardros Sovark
Jakardros Sovark lost his eye to a close call with an ogre hook a decade ago. For many years he was second-in-command of Fort Rannick under Commander Bayden. Jakardros feared the worst, for he knew the commander would sooner die than surrender to the Kreegs. After his patrol was delayed they had arrived back home to find the fort under Kreeg control. He lost a third of his unit in an attempt to retake the fort, and when they were forced to flee south into Kreegwood the remainder were easy targets for the Grauls. Jakardros carried the loss of Fort Rannick heavily and felt it was his fault that the ogres were able to take it. Had he been a bit more prompt returning from his patrol, he was sure he would have been back in time to help defend the place. But he wasn't, and now a 45-year tradition was dead.

Vale Temros
Vale Temros was a dark-skinned man with piercing gray eyes. His towering height of 6-1/2 feet and his muscular build consigned him to the warrior's path at an early age. Despite his stature, Vale was a quiet and withdrawn man whose passion for life only awakened during the heat of battle.

Vale had been born into the Order of the Black Arrow; both his parents were members, as were his two younger brothers. All of them were now dead, slain either years ago (in the case of his parents) or weeks ago (in the case of his brothers) by various Kreeg ogres. Vale's oath of vengeance against the Kreegs had become the only thing holding him together over the past several days of torture and mind-numbing horror at the Grauls' hands. Vale made it clear that he would seize any opportunity to strike back at the ogres with grim satisfaction.

Kaven Windstrike
Kaven Windstrike, a handsome young man with dark hair and emerald eyes, had traditionally been able to get what he wanted out of life via his good looks and smooth tongue. He was a wayward youth born to harried parents in Turtleback Ferry, and his antics finally got him in over his head when he assaulted and robbed an old goatherd who turned out to be a longtime family friend. Infuriated, his father was all but ready to press charges and have the boy taken south by the law to serve time in a jail in Ilsurian, but his mother managed to temper that reaction. Kaven was given a choice: be disowned and spend time in prison, or to seek membership among the Black Arrows. His father had always admired the order and figured if they couldn't shape Kaven into an upstanding man, then no one could. Kaven, balked at the thought of prison, chose the Black Arrows and has made a home here for many years.

Fort Rannick

Jakardros was happy to be rescued, but this happiness was tempered by the fact that Fort Rannick had fallen to the ogres. Jakardros and his squad was out on patrol that fateful night and unfortunately they had experienced several delays in returning to the fort. When they arrived the ogres were already over the wall and had control of the entire fort. Jakardros and his men had attacked as soon as they arrived, but being on the wrong side of the walls proved to be too much and the ogre’s successfully drove them back.

Jakardros and the survivors retreated from the fort to return to Turtleback Ferry and alert the locals and to get a message to Magnimar. Unfortunately they were captured by the Grauls along the way and over the past 2-3 weeks had seen six of their order tortured and killed by the Grauls, something they were sure that was sure to be their fate as well. With the remainder of the order surely killed in the defense of the fort - including Commander Bayden, Jakardros, Vale, and Kaven were all that remained of the Order of the Black Arrows.

The three survivors were certainly in no condition to mount an attack right now, so Jakardros suggested they rest overnight, and then attack the fort at dawn. Vale wanted to attack the fort as well, but was more concerned about exactly what would be the best tactics to use. Kaven disagreed with both – he felt the best thing for the group to do was return to Turtleback Ferry, notify Magnimar, and wait for reinforcements, even if that meant waiting until next year.

And we’ll pick it up next week from there. For tonight's efforts each party member earned 10,000 XP, giving them (35,000 + 10,000) 45,000 XP earned so far, with 51,000 XP required to reach Level 8.

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