Gnomes in need– this sounded like a job for our adventurers! With the danger of the ever-flowing water threatening the wagon and all of their supplies, it was time for action. Gavriil the Human Arcanist levitated himself across the waters out to the wagon. Eneko the Human Bard/Cavalier spurred his mount forward into the waters, guiding him through along a safe path until he reached the distressed Gnomes, and helped to calm down the panicking horses. Gavriil, utilizing his Floating Disc, placed the spell underneath the cart, lifting it out of the waters. With a bit of a push, he floated along calmly above the waves with the wagon behind him, to many cheers of Gnomes from the far shore. Elysia the Half-Elf Ranger and Noruas the Human Gunslinger were not far behind, trotting their horses carefully through the river– though Elysia fell off hers at one point, and was rescued by Noruas.
When everyone arrived on the opposite bank, they were greeted by a particularly important-sounding Gnome who identified himself as Jubilost Narthropple, leader of his very own Narthropple Expedition! This band of explorers had been searching the Narlmarshes for some time, looking to find old ruins of a Dwarven keep rumored to be in the area. This interested the group, because they suspected, correctly, that Jubilost had maps of the area– and they wished to trade! Unfortunately for them the Gnome was very protective of his maps, and wished to sell them to the party for quite the exorbitant price. Thanks to the efforts of Gavriil and, slightly, Eneko, he was convinced to trade off some landmarks in the areas based on the information that the party gave him of the forest to the north. In this way, the party learned of the Lizardman camp to the south of their position, where a group had chased the gnomes this far and into the stream before being beaten back.
The party departed on good terms with the Narthropple Expedition, after inviting them to come visit Elbat Dnuor (“Wombat Dinner? What kind of name for a city is that?”) once their expedition was complete. From there, their explorations took them south again– this time along the shores of the Tuskwater, taking stock of the surroundings near their city. It was around mid-day that they came across an old shack, surrounded completely by a wooden fence, with vegetable patches and a scarecrow scattered through the yard. Noting a bell on a post, the group rang the bell to get the attention of whomever was at home. The noise certainly attracted attention– an old, wrinkled, greenish-looking face stuck itself out of the door, shouting in an old-woman voice across the not-inconsiderable distance, “Go away!”
Diplomacy was conducted at a distance for a time, with each party shouting back and forth at each other. At one point, Gavriil attempted to walk inside the fence to speak at a closer distance, at which point the woman screeched and told him to get out, as the scarecrow in the yard began to slowly animate and lurch towards the party! Gavriil quickly backed out, and the scarecrow settled itself down to its post once again.
More convincing continued, but it wasn’t until the woman was convinced of Gavriil and Noruas’s gardening interests that she invited the party inside to talk. An hour passed, where she spoke at great length of her garden. She told them that people called her the Old Beldame– Eneko recalled several tales about her eating children, being a witch, having sold her soul to demons, and many other such horrors. They didn’t seem to be true as far as the party could tell– her strange appearance, Gavriil deemed, was due to some kind of Fey ancestry manifesting itself in her looks. After the gardening talk was done, they exchanged some other information– The Old Beldame told them to avoid the Lizardmen tribe, to be cautious in the forest to the west, for there was a mad hermit living in the area, and to stay away from Candlemere in the middle of the nearby lake– people who traveled there never returned! She also mentioned that if they happened upon some Black Rattlecap Mushrooms, she would be very grateful for some, as they made excellent tea.
More exploration! Leaving the Old Beldame’s hut, the party found themselves deeper into the Narlmarshes. Towards evening, while walking through a particularly narrow portion of trees, the party was ambushed! Elysia and Eneko, walking in front of the party, were surprised as the ground beneath their feet began to fall away! While the Bard was able to spot the signs of crumbling ground just before he tread forward, the Ranger was not so lucky– she began to fall, and was only barely caught by Eneko before falling several feet to the hard ground. Before anyone else was able to react, a crazed-looking man, wild hair and a horrible smile upon his face, leaned out from behind the cover of a tree several feet in the air, and shot a blowdart into Elysia’s neck! Simultaneously, a large feral cat creature leaped down from the trees behind the group and onto Noruas, scratching at her face and biting at her legs!
The party quickly moved to take care of the man, with Noruas shooting him with her full double-barrel musket compliment, hurting him badly. He called out to stop, have mercy on him! When the group held back for a moment, he laughed and began to run away, climbing out of sight behind a tree and scurrying away, his cat following suit. Gavriil quickly cast a Web spell at him to entangle him (he’d previously cast one on the hermit, but the man made his save and all of the Escape Artist checks to avoid being grappled by the webbing), this time successfully, and everyone caught up with him and brought him down from above easily. A bit of interrogation, which proved mostly fruitless, did let them know that he had some voices in his head telling him to do things– Eneko wondered if perhaps the man was under the influence of the Geas spell, and after some magical checking, the Arcanist was able to confirm that this seemed to be so. Determining that the best way to help the man was to break the spell, they realized that none of their friends back in Tolemac were educated enough to cast a spell that could break him free of the enchantment– but what about their new friend, the Old Beldame?
Tying up this mad hermit, who could not even recall his own name, they trekked their way back to the Beldame’s hut, once again getting her attention before being invited inside. They made their request of her– but, like before, she bordered on the edge of rude and aggressive, refusing to aid the man. Finally she was convinced to lend her aid– but only if she was given several of the Black Rattlecap Mushrooms she so deeply desired. Giving them a general location– ‘oh, there’s a mudbowl a few miles to the east of here’– she sent them on their way. Though not happy about the task, the party shrugged and headed out– they wanted to help their mad hermit, so they’d put up with the tasks. After a bit more than a day’s exploration, they found what they were looking for– a stinky, smelly pit of mud surrounded by a large variety of mushrooms!
Though Elysia kept herself back– not wanting to come too close to the mud and its rather…unique…smell, the rest of the party slowly approached. Gavriil took the smell the hardest– he found himself rather nauseated. As they began identifying the Black Rattlecatps and approaching them, the party was surprised to note that one of the largest mushrooms appeared to be moving, ever so slowly! They began by attempting to steer clear of it– but it was not very long before the plant-like creature attacked!
Though slow, the creature, later found to be a Tendriculus, was fierce– its tentacles lashed out far in front of it to wrap around first Gavriil, and then Noruas, though not before taking bullets to its body. Thankfully, before the Arcanist or Gunslinger were drawn into the creature’s mouth, Elysia’s arrows and Eneko’s whip were able to finish off the plant, ending the immediate threat. Though the Tendriculus had managed to crush four of the Black Rattlecaps with its thrashing movements, the party still recovered fourteen of them, as well as several other interesting mushroom species, and began the trek back to the Old Beldame’s hut, hoping to restore their crazy hermit to health.
PAYERS, DO NOT READ!
Once again my group threw me for a loop– measuring their exploration progression from the last session, I figured that they would continue from the Narthropple Expedition to the west, towards the distressing situation which will eventually be discovered between the loggers and the Fey. Because of this, I read up on the encounters in that general area to make sure I was fully refreshed on what they could come across– and the information on the Old Beldame, the Mud Bowl, and the Mad Hermit were not in the front of my mind. As such each time they came across these encounters, I had to take a small bit of time to quickly re-read to make sure there weren’t any specifics that I needed to know– like remembering that the Old Beldame wouldn’t come out of her house to talk to the party unless properly talked into it. Even then, I ended up modifying the encounters; my party clearly wanted to talk to the Beldame instead of fight with her, and so when one made the mistake of stepping into her land, the scarecrow was sent back to its resting place by the offending party retreating properly.
When it came to the old hermit– waaaaaay back in the last book towards the beginning, when speaking of Old Bokken, I recall telling the PC’s the story of his brother and how he’d gone crazy, but none of the party seemed to put two and two together– fair enough, it’s been several months of real-world time and more than a year of in-game time since that story was last heard, though the comment was made that the area seemed to be positively full of crazy old people, between these two hermits and the Old Beldame! Still, ‘crazy voices in his head’ didn’t seem very satisfying to the players…as they mulled over what had happened to him, Eneko’s player asked if he could make a check to see if the man was under the influence of a Quest/Geas spell, and that made up my mind– yes, yes he was. More destabilization for the Stolen Lands fits perfectly with our BBEG– it sounds just right for her to magically compel someone to cause trouble for others, when her usual methods of persuasion fails. Similarly, the Old Beldame is a seventh level sorcerer, which is not high enough level for her to cast Break Enchantment, which would be required to free the hermit from the spell…but hey, they thought of her and knew her to be a sorcerer, so I wanted to reward them for their choices, and decided that she’d have some way or another to cast the spell for them.
The party’s time is ticking down to the end of the month– I’m looking forward to their next kingdom phase, as when they return they will get a special event! I’ve decided to do away with Kundal the werewolf, which is a suggested encounter for when the party first returns to their kingdom after adventuring. We’re hopping right into the rabble-rousing Bard himself, and with the way that the group has constructed their city so far (stats and obligations first, roleplaying structures last), he’ll have a large number of legitimate complains to level against them!