The Dalemark Gambit

The Sprite's Test
Hunting Party

Following a night's rest, the party parted ways with the perky peddler and continued their quest to find Lady Nyra and the Order of the Wolf. Completing their exploration from the previous day, the group turned south to look for the tree where Izzir claimed to have found his silver pendant. A pendant which Carrion had recognized as belonging to the Order of the Wolf's hard-drinking cleric.

Late in the afternoon, they came upon a tall, withered oak with patches of missing bark and several broken limbs. Not wanting broken limbs themselves, it was decided that Cade should be the one to climb it, as he was the lightest of the group.

Despite concerns that he had yet to master the technique for falling safely, the halfling monk made his way into the upper boughs, where he found the remains of an old bird's nest. This seemed to confirm Izzir's claim that he had found the pendant while searching for eggs. Cade had just relayed this discovery to his companions on the ground when a tiny humanoid figure with iridescent wings appeared in the air before him, brandishing a miniature bow and shouting "Halt!"

Two more of the creatures appeared below, keeping their weapons trained on the party as the one above demanded to know if they were the "foul villains" that had destroyed the pixie nest. The group recognized these little beings as sprites, more militant cousins of the perpetually pacifistic pixies, with a proficiency for poisons and the ability to perceive a person's penchant for good or evil from the palpitations of their heart.

Realizing that the true culprits were likely the Order of the Wolf, the party proclaimed their innocence and informed the sprites that they were also searching for the ones responsible. At this, the little warriors proposed a test: The party would choose one of their number to represent them, (at which point Dixn began to push Carrion forward) and the sprite's leader would listen to their heart to judge whether they were friend or foe to the forest. (At which point the others quickly shoved the tiefling bard to the back of the group.) After a brief discussion, Cade stepped forward, his kind heart easily passing the sprite's test.

With that matter settled, the party inquired if the sprites had any leads as to the true culprit's whereabouts. They responded that their search had led them here, but that a squirrel had informed them that a group of adventurers had entered "the bad place," and not all had been seen to leave. When pressed for more information, the sprites explained that the bad place was an old ruin "about a day and a half's flight" to the southwest, that was apparently infested with undead.

From this, the party concluded that the Order of the Wolf must have entered the ruins and that their cleric (and possibly others) had died there before the rest were able to escape. They further reasoned that a bird must have plucked the cleric's holy symbol from his corpse and used the shiny silver item to decorate it's nest, leading to Izzir's later discovery of it in the mostly-dead tree.

Once the group expressed interest in going to "the bad place" to look for clues, the trio of sprites became very excited. Declaring it "the next test," the went on to say there would be three:

  • The Test of the Heart - Which they had already passed.
  • The Test of Courage/Intent - Entering the "bad place" and eliminating the source of the undead to prove their commitment to aiding the forest.
  • The Test of ??? – The sprites seemed to have trouble coming up with a name for this one, demonstrating great zeal, but lacking in focus and attention span.

After further clarification, it appeared the sprites intended to continue searching for the "villains" who made it out of the the bad place, and would share their location with the group when and if they succeeded in eliminating the source of the undead. It seemed the third test, (and possibly reward?) would be to hunt down the remaining "villains" and aid the sprites in expelling them from the forest.

As evening was beginning to fall, the party decided to make camp. As usual, Cade prepared dinner, taking the opportunity to swap cooking tips with the little fey warriors. Afterwards, the sprites informed the group that they could not assist them in their second task, but would be watching to ensure it's completion—at which point the trio winked out of sight, having apparently turned invisible.

The next morning the party headed southwest, continuing to explore as they made their way toward the ruins the sprites had told them about. Shortly before noon they came across a set of large bear tracks, which soon led them to a cave. The entrance was a downward sloping tunnel in the side of a large, brush-covered boulder, and the numerous tracks surrounding it indicated that a family of bears dwelled there.

After a brief discussion on whether bears were considered "hostile creatures" under the terms of the gambit (and thus whether they would get a bounty for slaying them), Cade, Razi, and Carrion decided to go for it—only to realize that their guide, Dixn, had vanished. Thinking she might be nearby, some of the others called out to her, but there was no response.

Deciding to carry on anyway, the party left Treize and Enlail to guard the horses, and took up positions around the cave entrance. They discussed the possibility of using fire to smoke the the bears out into an ambush, but realized that the slope of the tunnel would cause the smoke to escape out the entrance rather than filling the cave. Finally, Artificer Razi simply threw a thunderstone into the cave, hoping that the noise would flush the bears out.

Sure enough, a large brown bear soon emerged from the tunnel, bellowing out a threatening roar at Carrion, Razi, and Cade. The trio fell upon the beast, which soon delivered a viscous bite to the tiefling bard. Reeling from his injuries but still standing, Carrion loosed a string of words in the infernal tongue so foul-sounding and full of malice that the bear actually burst into flames. At almost the same instant, Dixn emerged from the underbrush beside the cave entrance, firing two arrows which finished off the now-smoldering beast.

There was a brief pause as the party stopped to heal their injuries and examine the slain bear, which appeared to be female. The tracks around the cave indicated at least two cubs were likely still inside, though Dixn noticed that the tracks for the other adult seemed older, as if it had not returned for some time.

When they were ready, Cade and Razi both lit torches and took the lead, as Carrion followed and Dixn and her leopard companion vanished into the shadows behind them. The main tunnel continued on ahead, with side passages opening to the left and right. A pair of smaller (but still the size of a large human) bears emerged from these passages, attacking from either side. This time, Dixn remained hidden as Cade, Razi, and Carrion fought the two cubs. Despite this unexplained reluctance, the other three managed to prevail virtually without injury, with Cade delivering the final blow in the form of an impressive running dropkick against a creature more than twice his size.

Ahead they saw that the main tunnel opened up into a larger chamber strewn with bones and what looked like a few scattered weapons or treasure, but as Artificer Razi moved forward to investigate, a glowing, spectral form rose out of the floor before him…

Session XP: 475

Inspiration: Cade

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Into the Woods
Izzir's Got Yer Nick-Nacks

After using Artificer Razi's plentiful, perishable, potions to tend to their wounds, the party continued south along the banks of Brambles. Soon the razorvine disappeared entirely and the trees grew further apart—though the forest was still dense enough to limit their pace and visibility somewhat.

After a thorough exploration of the surrounding area, their guide, Dixn, and the bard Carrion discovered a strange sight: What appeared to be the remains of a very large, iridescent wasp's nest at the base of a large tree.

Upon investigating, Dixn realized it was in fact a pixie nest. Bespelled against wind and rain, something clearly must have knocked it out of the tree intentionally. Finding no sign of angry, newly homeless pixies in the area, Artificer Razi set about trying to harvest pixie dust from the broken, rain-soaked husk. Though hardly fresh, he did manage to collect a small amount from the papery nest before Carrion placed the pieces gently back in the boughs of the tree.

Recalling that pixies are shy, tiny fey creatures that love pranks and abhor violence, the party wondered if the adventurers they sought might be responsible for destroying the nest, and wondered what might befall those who earned a pixie's ire. A short time later, Razi discovered another Wolf's Head marker carved into a tree beside the creek, and the party followed both to the south. 

As the daylight began to fade, they made camp for the night—with Razi setting up his strange alarm device and Dixn offering to take the first watch, since she didn't require as much sleep as the others. After four hours, the taciturn ranger turned the watch over to her leopard companion, Ser'Racha, only to be nudged out of her elven rest-trance by the large cat shortly after midnight. Following the perceptive feline's gaze, Dixn heard the rustle and snuffle of a large animal foraging through the underbrush a short ways from the camp. Stalking after the source with her bow at the ready, she soon identified it as a bear, and proceeded to watch carefully from the shadows until it ambled off to the southeast.

In the morning, the party picked up camp and continued their journey south, only to discover a veritable maze of Wolf's Head marks pointing in all directions. Artificer Razi immediately checked for magical traps, but found only a faint aura of ambient magic suffusing the forest—too weak to be an actual spell effect or enchantment. Other than the remains of a campfire circle that Dixn found half-buried in the mud—presumably exposed by a recent rainstorm—there was no other signs of the Order of the Wolf or which way they had gone. After some discussion, the party speculated that angry pixies might have used illusions to lead the mercenary company in circles, and decided to begin a systematic search of the surrounding area.

Starting their search to the north east, near the region where they had found the broken pixie nest, they discovered another creek—this one surrounded by dying plants and a faint odor of decay. Further investigation revealed that it was slightly brackish—a mixture of salt and fresh water—and wound from the east to the north instead of flowing due south like the Brambles. Intrigued, the group resolved to follow it upstream.

Soon the light began to fade, and as the party stopped to set up camp they heard a curious sound coming from nearby. Someone was singing. Badly.

Leaving Knight Treize and Cleric Eanlail to guard the camp and finish setting up for the night, Cade, Razi, Dixn, and Carrion went off the investigate the odd singing. A short distance to the north the found the source—an ugly little green creature with a frog on his head, an eye-smarting pink floral curtain draped over his shoulders like a cloak, and a huge, jangling pack strapped strapped to his back.

Recognizing it as a goblin, they were surprised when—instead of attacking them or trying to flee—the creature gleefully introduced himself as "Sir Pomp Adillious Izzir Nic Nak the 4th (but call me 'Iz')," and asked if they wanted to buy any of his wares. At the group's cautious assent, the little goblin merchant began excitedly producing an odd assortment of items, ranging from small bits of jewelry to strange potions and the prize of his collection (according to Iz, anyway)—a jar of dirt.

Scanning the items with his goggles, Artificer Razi determined that many of them were actually magical, prompting him to ask if they could inspect the items more closely. Carrion convinced Iz to agree to this, and Razi proceeded to identify their properties over the course of the next hour. Although some were decidedly unconventional—such as the potion of Ooze Breathing—it seemed there were also a few genuinely useful items being offered at a significant discount.

Among the non-magical trinkets was a small silver pendant shaped like the face of a laughing satyr. Razi was able to determine that it was a divine focus of some kind, though no one in the group could tell what religion it was associated with. Carrion, however, realized that he'd seen it before—worn by a cleric who'd almost beaten him in a late night drinking contest about a month ago. In fact, he now remembered that the cleric had belonged to the Order of the Wolf—the same mercenary company they were trying to find!

Questioning Iz about the pendant, the goblin merchant told them that he'd found it the other day hanging up in the boughs of a tree. "Too high for even elfies to climb," according to him. When asked about the location, he told them it had been about six miles to the south.

With this information in mind, the group finished selecting their purchases:

  • Bronze Ring, notched on one side like a key (1 gp)
  • Jar of Dirt (25 gp)
  • Potion of Storytelling (10 sp)
  • Rope of Climbing (5 gp)
  • Wand of Friends (10 sp)

Carrion fronted the coin for the purchases, with the agreement that the party would sort it out after returning to Lairwood. (When, presumably, everyone would have a good deal more gold.)

Dixn also purchased a small packet of flowers and herbs from the goblin. This was apparently part of some prior arrangement, though she didn't offer any explanation to the group, and they didn't ask.

With business concluded, the party invited Iz to come eat with them back at their camp, which he happily agreed to. The experience was generally amiable, though Cade and Iz differed somewhat in their opinions of the proper preparation and palatability of poultry. Carrion seemed to get on particularly well with the strange little merchant, even taking some of the dry, ashy dirt that he had purchased and rubbing it over his incisors at the goblin's assurance that it was "good for teeth."

Session XP: 100

Inspiration: Carrion

Note: Now that the site's back up and you can check your character sheets again, just leave a message if there's anything else you want to buy from Izzir Nic's inventory. Ditto for those of you who missed this session. Since we left off where we did, I figure there's time for some after-dinner trading before people turn in.

Also, I'm going to try and be better about remembering to hand out inspiration in the future. There's been some really great roleplaying so far, and I want to make sure to properly reward and encourage that!

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Lairwood
Papers, Please

After three days of travel, the party had arrived at the outskirts of Lairwood. A garrison town standing at the (current) edge of the forest, it had recently grown to twice its original size with the addition of a sprawling city of tents and caravans outside its western gate.

Upon reading the scroll their guide had given them and learning that two additional scrolls were needed, the party looked up to see the young messenger already making his way through the dense crowds. Unable to catch up, Artificer Razi briefly considered using one of his thunderstones to clear a path—but that notion was quickly discarded when he realized the crowds were mainly composed of well-armed adventurers and a scattering of frazzled-looking guards.

Instead, the group tailed their former guide through the impromptu village and into Lairwood proper. Passing though the city gates without incident, they noted that many of the "permanent" buildings in Lairwood were built on stilts with wheels or rollers at the bottom—apparently intended to be mobile. The group's artificer deduced that magic must be involved in their construction, and resolved to study it further.

Soon after, their pursuit was interrupted by a disturbance in the market square as a cry of "Thief!" rang out from a nearby fruit stand and a diminutive figure rushed past, overturning a barrel of apples into the street in front of them. Zakariya and Treize spurred their horses over the fallen produce and maneuvered through the crowd to give chase as the culprit quickly vanished behind a stack of crates in a blur of movement. Upon catching up, the pair found no trace of their quarry—only a strange, hooded figure who appeared to be picking something up off the ground. Suspicious, but unwilling to accost the individual without further proof, they rejoined the rest of their band and eventually caught up with the young messenger just outside the Gilded Tree Inn—a grand, three story wooden structure somehow poised on stilts and rollers, like many of the buildings in Lairwood.

The boy, who introduced himself as Gil, apologized profusely and explained that he had thought he was supposed to deliver the other two scrolls himself. Seeming oddly relieved to discover this was not the case, he handed the scrolls over to the party and provided them with directions, informing the group that "The Brambles" was the name of the stream that flowed past the city's western gate. These scrolls appeared similar to the official missives the party had received previously. Each bore a red wax seal with the crest of House Dalemark, and were tied with a ribbon bearing the name of their intended recipient—in this case "Dixn," and "Carrion." Gil explained that Dixn was a scout who lived in a hut to the south of town and kept watch on the southern woods, while Carrion was a mercenary of some sort who was often seen wandering the town and patronizing (or being thrown out of) it's various taverns. Both seemed to have a less than savory reputation, at least in the young messenger's opinion, but were employed by House Dalemark in some capacity and one of them was likely the "agent" the group was supposed to meet with.

Turning their attention to a nearby notice board, they found a flyer written in Common, Undercommon, and Celestial warning people not to enter the south forest. The notice also bore a rather—unique—illustration, and a post-script appearing to attribute the artwork to an individual by the name of Carrion.

With the day now drawing towards evening, the party left the city and were informed by the guards that the gates would be closing for the night at sundown. Following the stream to the south, they came upon a strange hut with an abnormally large cloud leopard curled in front of it.

Ser'Racha

They tentatively addressed the creature, thinking that it might be the scout in animal form, only for it to get up and walk away dismissively. Checking the hut itself brought them face to face with Carrion, a spectacularly foul-mouthed (and very drunk) tiefling.

Carrion

After some initial misunderstanding regarding currency and constabulary, Carrion took the scroll that had been addressed to him and directed the group around back. There they found the mysterious Dixn, apparently in the midst of some kind of meditation.

Dixn

Though the mask and emblems she wore were intriguing, the party was unable to discern much about her—even her race. Nor did she volunteer much, the terse scout proved just as antisocial as her companion, though less vocal and profanity-laden about it. After a brief exchange consisting largely of single-word responses, she advised the party to visit the registration office and then simply walked off—leaving them to their own devices.

Once they had clarified that they should return in the morning, the group headed back to town—arriving shortly before the gates were closed for the night. Proceeding to the registration office (a large tent just inside the gates) they spoke with a pair of gnome clerks who registered their team and explained the rules of the Dalemark Gambit:

  • Each group must register in advance, and is assigned an area of the woods to explore. Tokens are provided to each registered member verifying their status, with the official documentation being held at the registration office in Lairwood.
  • Bounties are paid for mapping the assigned region, eliminating dangers such as hostile creatures, and for any artifacts or relics recovered. All bounties are awarded at the discretion of designated officials, with petitioners presenting proper proof prior to procuring payment.
  • New members can be added to a group after registration, so long as an existing member accompanies them to add their name to the official records.
  • An official "group name" is not required, but can be added or changed at the registration office.

After completing the party’s registration and giving them tokens for each member, (including Dixn and Carrion) the clerks informed them that the mayor would be giving a speech in the morning—and that the Gilded Tree Inn keeps rooms set aside for employees of House Dalemark. Resolving to take advantage of this, the group headed to the inn for the night. Once there, Cade volunteered to help in the kitchens while the others ate and gathered information about the young noblewoman they had been sent to find.

The Gilded Tree Inn was bustling with activity that evening. The group spotted their young guide, Gil, sitting at a table near the bar drinking and conversing animatedly with a group of slightly older youths who also wore the garb of official House messengers. They also spotted the suspicious cloaked figure from the market sitting alone in a shadowed corner by the door, and a group of fur and bone clad goliaths drinking and celebrating loudly at a long table on the opposite side of the inn.

From various conversations, they learned that they were to be part of the second ‘wave’ of expeditions for this year, with groups being sent out roughly one month apart. The most notable of the previous month's teams was a group of knights from the northern lands who had apparently discovered an ancient library within the wood. Artificer Razi was intrigued by this news, but was unable to find any further information on the library’s location—only that the knights had entered the forest on the north side of "Tower Hill", the ruin-strewn butte that rose beyond Lairwood's eastern gate. He did learn that the remains of a great, ancient kingdom supposedly lay somewhere deep within the forest, though so far only scattered, isolated ruins (such as those crowning Tower Hill) had been found.

The party also learned that a swordswoman matching Lady Nyra’s description had been seen in the company of a mercenary group known as the Order of the Wolf. Led by a burly female half-orc, other members of note included a pair of halfling twins who had earned quite a reputation for sneakiness and troublemaking among the inn’s employees. According to the kitchen staff, the night before they set out the twins had stolen every spoon in the inn and placed them along the crossbeams in the rafters. They further learned that the Order of the Wolf had been assigned to the southern section of the woods, (the same as the party, and the same section that Dixn’s flyer had warned against entering) and had not been seen since. In fact, it seemed that no one had returned alive from the southern woods since the previous Gambit five years ago—which was why that section remained uncleared. Local wisdom held that being assigned to the southern wood was a death sentence, or worse. Even more foreboding were the tales of those whose corpses had returned—as mindless undead.

Wishing to know precisely where the Order of the Wolf had entered the forest, the party considered trying to obtain a map of their starting location from the records office—before learning that there was only one path into the southern wood. Apparently the valley in which Lairwood sits was once overgrown with razorvine, the remnants of which now form a formidable barrier stretching from the foot of Tower Hill to the South-East of town to the rolling downs to the South-West. The only passage though this “Thorn Wall” was a path cleared along either bank of the Brambles—the stream having apparently been named for the deadly vines that once grew so rampant around it.

Awaking at dawn, the party chose to skip the mayor’s opening speech in favor of getting an early start. They met up with Dixn and a surprisingly sober Carrion at the hut before following the stream to the edge of the woods. There they found the path, carved like a great, thorn-lined tunnel though the dense foliage, as well as a possible sign of their quarry—a palm sized mark in the shape of a wolf’s head carved into the trunk of a tree.

The razorvine tapered off and the trees grew less dense as the party ventured deeper into the woods, though the path remained just wide enough to ride their horses in single file along the bank. Perhaps ten minutes in, a trio of wolves emerged from the underbrush and attacked. After a brief but brutal battle, the party paused to inspect their injuries, and prepare for the path ahead…

Session XP: 150

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The Adventure Begins
Salty Birds

Upon invitation from Lord Dalemark, Knight Treize, Monk Cavadin "Cade" Bolger, Cleric Eanlail Karr, and Artificer Zakariya Razi all attended a dinner hosted by the noble lord. Afterwhich Lord Dalemark held a private audience with the summoned adventurers.  
Lord Dalemark hired the adventurers to investigate the disappearance of a young noble woman from a rival family who joined the local adventuring 'festivities' under a false name. The party she was with has reportedly vanished several weeks prior just outside of the event area— past the garrison town of Lairwood. 

Upon negotiating a healthy fee of 50G to each successful surviving adventurer, the party set out.

The first couple days were uneventful beyond the playful pillaging of personal properties by a small clockwork crab created by Artificer Zakariya. Yet, on in the early hours of the third day they were not so lucky. While passing by a peaceful farmstead, the party heard an alarmed shout. Over the building crested a Giant Eagle with their newly won piglet prize.

Treize, being of quick mind and quicker hand in the early morn, was the first to act as he quickly loosed an arrow at the flying beast.  The arrow pierced deep into the wing, however, unlike normal beasts the eagle seemed to think that a more hostile approach was preferable to running away.

A raucous screech was loosed from behind the building as another eagle appeared. This one carried the small form of a stolen chicken.

The party fought in fervor against the frenzied fowl and bested them with acid and mighty blows.  

The eagles once known as Steve the Magnificent and Bob the Mighty were now  Bob the defeated and Steve the Melted. (400exp) The party then healed the injured farm animals, collected the giant eagle remains and spoke to the locals. While Cade spoke with the farm cook,  Eanlail, Treize, and Zakariya spoke with one of the farmers who, when questioned, mentioned a curious observation.

She noted a ring of desirable beauty that seemed to have a gem that had a glowing symbol within it.

It took the party most of the day before they finally reached Lairwood. Upon their arrival, the young and possibly starstruck guide handed the party a forgotten scroll before wandering off towards the local tavern.

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