Well… last night was a bit…chaotic.
Our intrepid heroes were ambushed in the cave they had chosen as a campsite by eladrin decrying that the characters would “Never take the spear from them!”. This of course was before the slaughter began. They dealt handily with the eladrin and even captured one, but just about then Tayle(Elf Spring Sentinel) noticed that the sun was coming up outside the cave. None of the PCs recognized the landscape outside the cave, despite only having gone to sleep there a couple hours before, but as the sun came up the terrain changed from fantastic and brightly colored fauna to the normal hues and terrain they knew from the day before. Tayle realized that the glowing eladrin runes they had activated–thinking the runes were wardings and protections for the campsite– were in fact the activation matrix for a Feyfall ritual, pulling their entire cavern into the Feywild. Apparently this particular cave in the Feywild is inhabited by murderous eladrin, too. Bummer for them.
The Feyfall had also left behind something else– a bronze-headed boarspear of ancient lineage, carved with green-enameled vines on the shaft. When Tayle picked it up, the vines and leaves came to life, twining around his arm and wrapping themselves up to his elbow. The spear, too, whispered in an ancient dialect of Elvish to Tayle, though he could not…quite…make out the words it was speaking. The voice was soft, and feminine, and encouraging. Tayle decided to keep the spear, and the rest of the party agreed.
Once the Feyfall was over and the cave transported itself back to the natural world, our heroes packed up and left, only to run into two more of Lord Tremayne’s liegemen– Strahd the tiefling Starlock and Titus the Primal (using halforc rules) Weaponmaster. They both had been tasked by Lord Tremayne to send word to the heroes that they were needed back at Barradin’s Hold immediately, and they had left two days after the original PCs departed…
… but they had been looking for the characters all over the wilderness for nearly three weeks. The PCs single night in the Feywild had cost them more than half a month of time in the natural world. Strahd and Titus accompanied the heroes back to Barradin’s Hold where Merric the Seneschal informed them that Tremayne’s reason for recalling them from their mission was for the direst of reasons: Lyonesse was riding to war.
Astonished by the news, the party listened as Merric continued: the Tharn had sent a war party up the Silver River, past the heartland of Brittanis and into the northern reaches of the country to pillage previously untouched lands. King Connor had called his banners to battle, and Lord Tremayne had ridden to war. The PCs were under orders to rest overnight, provision for the journey and attempt to catch up the army massing at a place called Trellen Creek.
After the shortest rest they could take and still completely be ready for the ride, the heroes rode for Trellen Creek, and into the mouth of war.
Upon reaching the growing army, the PCs immediately went straight for the command tent occupied by Lord Tremayne. As they rode through the massed soldiers and knights in order to reach their Lord, however, Thorad (dwarf earth warpriest) noticed that the mood of the army was not a positive one at all. Mutterins and rumors abounded– this was the first time the men of the North would fight the Tharn. To the northern soldiers the Tharn were boogeymen out of hellish nightmare– cannibals and blood magic followed them everywhere, and ritual sacrifice of their enemies and captured foes was commonplace. The men were afraid.
As they progressed into the command tent, Ehod Kathstien (Tiberian Human Swordmage) took point, his noble rank giving him confidence to step boldly into his lord’s tent. He was not prepared, however, for who he met inside the tent’s doorway. Standing with his back to the door– flanked by a pair of Crimson Knights, the Royal Bodyguard of Lyonesse– was a young man with a serious face and grave demeanor, gold curls making him look younger than the 19 winters Ehod knew him to have weathered. Standing before the party was King Connor himself, giving final commands to Lord Tremayne and then a brief encouragement to our heroes before leaving, his crimson-plate-wearing bodyguards in tow.
Tremayne took the heroes’ tale of Feyfall at face value and proceeded in his usual, direct way into the heroes’ first Council of War. He told them the King had entrusted Tremayne with the right flank, and that Tremayne’s forces would be responsible for holding the line while the rest of the army wheeled to crush the Tharn invaders against a rocky cliff. Dawn was coming swiftly, and the main attack would commence then– but Tremayne had two ideas for pre-emptive strikes that would allow the army to stay hidden from the Tharn and maintain the element of surprise. The party divided itself into two squads– one squad would sneak up on the Tharn scouts and eliminate them before they could report the whereabouts of Connor’s army, and the second group would ambush a group of Tharn on the far side of the enemy camp, attempting to make the enemy think that the army was exactly opposite of where it was.
(This is where things got complicated. I had 9 players, one long table and not enough attention span to keep everybody engaged. So I split the party into two teams and ran TWO COMBATS SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH ONE INITIATIVE ORDER.
I moved the squads together so they were sitting together and put the battle map in between them. I then did the same thing for the other squad, with the other mission, at the other end of the table. Then EVERYBODY rolled initiative, and I compiled them all in one massive initiative order– all the monsters and PCs were color-coded by what fight they were part of (I used a big whiteboard at the head of the table). Monsters and PCs for the Eliminate the Scouts fight were on the whiteboard in blue, while the Make a Distraction encounter were in green, all intermingled together. Then we went through the entire initiative order in sequence, with me as GM bouncing back and forth between the tables. I told the players early on that the time I spent away from their fight should be used for planning their next moves, and they did just that.
Everything went REMARKABLY smoothly, and the fight was GREAT– but I’d rather not have to do that again anytime soon. It’s incredibly draining to run a single game session, let alone what amounts to running 2 full encounters simultaneously. It’s doable if you’re an organized, prepared GM, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone new to the game. It’s definitely and Advanced Game Master Skill. )
The first rush of attack against the Tharn army went brutally. Both groups of heroes were caught offguard by the nearness of the Tharn to their own location, and the element of surprise–for these small skirmishes, at least– was lost. The Distraction team noticed quickly that these Tharn didn’t take on the bestial aspects like the previous Tharn they had fought, but still proved formidable fighters. The glaive-wielding sergeant, in particular, dealt damage with abandon, but Kain (tiefling Star Binder) did a fantastic job of turning the battlefield against their foes, immobilizing them so that Maxis (human executioner and assistant seneschal to Barradin’s Hold, affectionately referred to by the party as the “Secretary of War”), Titus (tempest fighter using half-orc stats as a Primal character), and Thorad could dispense the hurt at will.
The Ambush group’s assault started out poorly to say the least. They did not anticipate the Tharn had any kind of alchemical capability, but learned the hard way as three of their foes tossed poison-spewing clay jars that dealt poison damage as well as ongoing damage. This bloodied three of the four heroes even before they had a chance to act! Several times in the fight, one hero or another dropped due to wounds, but they eventually prevailed despite taking some grievous wounds.
Victory in both fights gained the party +10 Victory Points toward winning the battle of Trellen Creek. The players don’t know how many points they need, but telling them that they had earned the points got their attention REALLY fast– I think this group will do well for tangible game mechanics like these, and announcing that Skill Challenges are happening.
Tired and bruised, both groups made it back to the Command Tent. Tremayne told them to get a couple hours’ sleep (not enough for an extended rest, though), and report back before dawn.
The real fight against the Tharn was about to begin.