Continued from above! I just don't have the heart to pile all that text on you at once. Maybe I need to assign someone to take pictures for me. A lot is on my mind already as I DM, I can't imagine where I would put one more thing...
The party went on up to the Moonstone Keep to see if they could find out what was going on. Lucan was clearly not happy about the arrival of the Elves, and did what he could to remain out of sight. Arlarond distracted the soldiers by using his magic to help them groom their animals. Ana tried to convince the guards to let her in the Keep, but they had been told nobody gets in, and her wiles fell flat.
She remembered that as a child she would squeeze out of the window in the laundry. She found the low window and climbed in. Arlarond sent his familiar through, and had it take the shape of Petunia, her 1/2 ton pet pig. With this ready excuse for being where she shouldn't (the pig did it), she snuck through the first floor and up the stairs. With a couple close calls but no alarms, she made it to a secret passage behind the Lord's study. All those years of snooping around paid off again, as she had a front row seat to the tail end of the meeting of the Lords. With little context, she was only able to find out the the Elves had come to warn Fallcrest about an old common enemy. Lord Markelhay did not seem convinced and asked the Lord if they could continue their conversation in the morning, after he had slept on it.
Ana returned to her friends and relayed what she had overheard, but Arlarond and Lucan, the two most steeped in History and the Elves could not think of what enemy they could be referring to.
After that dead end, the party elected to get in a good night's sleep before setting out in the morning. After a geography refresher they decided that checking up on the quarry and finding the fate of the stolen cargo would both be possible, since they were both in an unknown location South of Fallcrest.
Halma needed to create a diversion. He had a room paid for at the Lucky Gnome, but in a concession to common sense decided that putting a decoy in his room and joining the rest of the party in our Inn of choice was a better idea. Ana and Arlarond went with him to make sure he was safe, with Lucan and Arlarond not far behind.
He procured some dummy making supplies, straw, cloth and the like, and snuck in with the bag of holding to build it in his room. He did not count on Ervan waiting there to speak with him again. Ervan missed Halma, but spotted Ana and called her over to his table. He wanted to know where Halma was, and was getting quite verbally abusive until Arlarond intervened. At one point several of his lackeys stood up and he demanded that she leave the place.
After a verbal pissing match with Arlarond, they all sat down at his table, and talked things out. Ervan was mostly concerned about how this will hurt his reputation. As a dealer in information, if nobody trusts him that they will be paid he will loose business. He can't show weakness or allow it to look like he let Halma walk all over him. He needed the goods back with their owners, and he was willing to pay his informant out of his own pocket and let the group keep the entire reward if they would fix this for him.
During this exchange several things came out about Halma's past. He was a one-time leader of a splinter thieves' guild, and in the recent past had become involved in a brutal and nasty guild war. He managed to emerge with his skin whole, but with nothing else. For the past five years he has stayed a drunk and Ervan has moved up, to the point where now Ervan was in some position of power in the new guild, and Halma had no standing at all. The bad blood from this past feud had caused Ervan to overreact when he thought the olive branch of an offer of work had been abused by Halma. With both sides seeing a clearer picture, some agreement was reached. While working for the guild was on some level distasteful for members of the party, working to help clear their friend's name was noble and good, so they agreed to do this one thing for Ervan. For his part, Ervan seemed to view this as the beginning of a new long and beautiful arrangement between the Heroes of Fallcrest and the Guild of Thieves. It will remain to be seen now this develops.
The night passes uneventfully, and the group departs on a boat early the next morning. The storm is still putting a hurt on river travel South of Fallcrest, so a smaller boat was needed. Large enough for them to take their wagon, of course.
After almost eight hours of travel, the party spies a boat wreck on the Eastern shore of the river. It appears that they found the boat they were looking for sooner than they thought they would. They disembarked and started towards it to investigate. About fifty feet away from the boat they were surprised by an abomination made of plants and plant parts emerging from the forest -
- Three darts whizzed from the river's edge and caught Lucan on his neck. While the darts were trivial, their poison caused him to act sluggishly.
- The three lizardfolk with blowguns scattered, two of them disappearing near the wreck, and one making for the treeline.
- After the party rushes towards the Vine Horror, he takes his action (Having delayed since the beginning of the round), to run to where he can hit the whole group and unleashes a horrific crushing vine attack. Roots and creeping vines erupted from the ground and began crushing and killing the whole party, except Therryk whom he missed.
- The Greenscale Darters targeted those Heroes that managed to burst free of their vines, trying to keep them poisoned and slowed.
- The status effects were mostly an annoyance, since the main combatants were too tender to protect themselves once the party freed themselves of the vines and the effects of the poison. They were unable to retreat into the safety of the river or the trees, and were killed quickly.
Searching the boat was profitable. Aside from signs of struggle and several indications that suggested that the crew had been taken or killed by lizardfolk, Ana found a strongly enchanted Rapier, and some gems and gold were recovered from the lizardfolk.
Wagon tracks lead into the woods. The wagon appeared to be heavily laden, and pulled by horses, so the party figured that someone had taken the cargo that was on this boat away by wagon. The party headed East though the forest. By now the sun was low in the sky, and the thick foliage blocked much of the remaining light. The trees here were twisted by some unknown force, and misshapen.
The Heroes never saw it coming. From high in the branches Two Deathjump Spiders and Two Ettercaps descended on silent webs, and struck the party from the corners. Thinking to make themselves hard to hit with an area attack, the party had spread out, two defenders in front, cleric and rogue in the rear, and wizard in the center. Each of the corners was attacked, with only one of the spiders hitting, and then the apparent leader of this ambush struck. An Ettercap with a longspear covered the entire area with a sticky web, immobilizing some and making it difficult for the rest to move -
- The spiders leapt around, but missed with every attack. They were singled out and eliminated quickly by the party.
- The Ettercaps with axes tried a few different targets with little luck, but were finally able to flank on Ana and both hit. Their poison was deadly effective, and she was stunned and poisoned until she fell to the ground, unconscious.
- We stopped there.
The orange die is a flaming sphere courtesy of Arlarond. The red outline is the webbed area that is difficult terrain. You know, difficult terrain is my new found best friend for making difficult combats. This is a 3rd level combat, so it should be not difficult, but the ambush hitting all of the party meant that only Lucan, who is an elf and can shift in difficult terrain, and Hamla, who got out in his first round, have been able to do much in the way of moving. I apologize for the cruddy pictures. Cellphone camera + bad lighting combined for cruddy pictures. The air and fire elementals are the ettercaps flanking a dying Ana. The monster next to the die is the Ettercap Webspinner, who is still untouched. The earth elemental with the red ring to show that he is bloodied is a spider.
I am really coming around to liking the pipe cleaners a lot. My only difficulty with them is when it comes to PC's. It is easy to determine which monster is bloodied or marked, but players keeping the marks at their spot is not working 100%. Having them be on their minis would be a little better, but since the healing and debuff removal of PC's is many times better than monsters, we would be constantly moving and removing them. I think a good compromise is using the little markers that came with the whiteboard (they look like Sorry pieces), putting them at the edges of the board in front of each player and stacking the conditions up there. Putting the markers at the initiative count would work too.
So. . .the confrontation with Ervan was not in the cards. Originally he was going to be there to harass Halma a little more and press the urgency of his request. It was roleplayed well, though, and the moral quandary the party was put in was just delicious. I am a little sad to have had Therryk be there, but not roleplay his possible connections to the Guild. One of the reasons I have DMPC's and wish we had one more reliable player.
Ana's spy mission was also improvised. Especially entertaining given that she does not have the ranks in stealth to pull something like this off reliably. Lucky rolls on her part paired with unlucky rolls on mine got her all the way up unobserved. Good bit of fun there.
The combats this go-around are built with a better eye to enemy combat roles. The first combat I knew would be short. 3 Lurkers, 1 Controller, and 2 Minions. The Controller was dead meat the instant he showed his face, and the Minions are there because I delight in mixing them in with the regulars and seeing my party sweat. I have a new love of Lurkers. They do crap damage compared to Skirmishers. I don't care, they are fun to run.
The second combat is currently paused. I had a friend who would pause Super Mario Brothers while he went to school, and come back something like 6 hours later and pick it up again. Kinda like that. I think it could still go either way. Ana is down and taking ongoing 5 poison, she is stunned and restrained, and flanked by 2 Ettercaps, neither of whom is bloodied. The spiders are all but dead (one down, the other one a virtual minion), but they never hit anyways. The other Ettercap was only recently hit at all, and still has a lot of fight in him.
Thus, the party will have fought two 3rd level encounters, and be in rough shape and need an extended rest. 4th level is not looking good for them. I am a little worried for them...