Eshah, Torg, Bluss, and Ten Thousand Skies reunited with Olena, Zac and Grabthar at the castle. Spear was in Olegburg, along with Kesten Garess, and had left word with Fork that Bluss should join them as soon as possible. Fork had other news: Svetlana had a baby boy, whom they named Svaros after Svetlana’s father. Mother and baby were doing well; Fork reported that he’d never seen Oleg smile so much.1
Bluss departed early the next morning for Olegburg; the others, fueled by Fork’s famous coffee, started in on their various tasks of kingdom leadership. By midday they were interrupted: first, by the tragic news of recent local murders; second, by the arrival of a new charter from the Swordlords of Restov. The news of a band of trolls based somewhere in the southern Greenbelt had reached Restov, and the Swordlords tasked the leaders with ridding the area of the menace.
The half-orcs prioritized the matter of the slain townsfolk. One of Garess’ deputies briefed them: three nights ago, some livestock were brutally slaughtered in their pens at an outlying farm; the next night, a maid named Suki never made it home from her shift at the inn; and just last night, a shepherd boy named Beven was attacked (along with his flock) on the way back into town. The leaders investigated the mutilated bodies, held at the jail; Ten Thousand Skies and Olena agreed that the wounds appeared to have been caused by a large, man-sized animal – likely a wolf or worg. The druid’s search at the kill sites further discovered tracks consistent with a large wolf. At the site of the latest attack, the animal tracks led into a nearby copse of tress from which they did not emerge – but a set of bare human footprints did, leading towards town before Ten Thousand Skies lost the trail among the day’s foot traffic.
They shared one thought: werewolf. And the druid confirmed that the fourth and final night of the full moon was only a few hours away. The leaders ordered the deputy to impose a sundown curfew and planned a ruse to draw out the lycanthrope: Olena disguised herself as a helpless old woman and walked the roads outside of town after nightfall while the others hid nearby. Unfortunately, from the howl Ten Thousand Skies heard from the center of Redemption, they knew their plan had failed – and the horrible scream that echoed through the streets as they rushed back into town told them that the werewolf had found easier prey.
The half-orcs found the monster – wearing primitive hide armor over its dark fur and holding a massive earthbreaker similar to Grabthar’s in one clawed hand – standing over a shredded body. From the volume of blood dripping from its fangs and pooling on the cobblestones, Olena knew the victim was already dead. Ten Thousand Skies saw the shine of another set of lupine eyes from the shadows of a near alley and alerted his allies.2 The druid magically enhanced Torg’s strength and Olena enchanted bad luck3 upon the werewolf as it charged her in a slathering rage, slamming its heavy weapon into the witch despite the curse.
Grabthar responded in kind,4 but the wound he inflicted seemed lessened, and Zac’s flanking strike was completely ineffective – owing to the lycanthropic barbarian’s uncanny senses and resistance to non-silver weapons. Torg joined the melee, as did the two dire wolves that raced from dark alleys – and immediately stumbled under Eshah’s stone call. Olena blinded the slowed wolves with a glitterdust spell, allowing Torg and Grabthar to hammer the werewolf.5 The lycanthrope’s focus stayed squarely on Grabthar, even when relentlessly hexed by the witch, buffeted by the druid’s storm burst, and knocked on his furry backside by the sorceress’ grease spell.
The skirmish was over in moments: Zac and Torg dispatched one dire wolf, Olena slumbered the other and Ten Thousand Skies put it to sleep, and Grabthar won the earthbreaker contest, fatally crushing the werewolf with a powerful attack.6 The dead werewolf transformed from its hybrid form back into a tall, lean human with the look of a Kellid barbarian. While the witch healed the wounded, Zac and Torg disposed of the bodies7 and Eshah and Ten Thousand Skies used minor magics8 to clean the carnage from the streets. Grabthar was happy to relieve the dead tribesman of his magical armor and enchanted earth breaker.9
The next morning, the half-orcs’ further investigation determined that the last victim was a visiting merchant named Norben who had broken curfew and left the inn to check on his horse. The werewolf had also been staying at the inn for the last week; a search of his room turned up a single golden earring, still attached to a severed ear, hidden under the bed. The innkeeper identified the jewelry as belonging to Suki; the half-orcs returned it to Suki’s family with their condolences, and also visited the family of Beven and sent news of Norben’s passing to his hometown. Word of the leaders’ handling of the werewolf problem spread, further bolstering their reputation in the kingdom.
The half-orcs next took up the latest charter and resumed their exploration of the southern Greenbelt, heading to the southern shore of the Tuskwater and a feature Jubilost Narthropple had identified as a “mud bowl”: a strange, 20-foot wide pool of bubbling mud sitting in a narrow defile between several hills. The mud was heated by geothermal activity and gave off foul-smelling vapors, but the kingdom leaders recognized the potential value of the mudpot for masonry materials.10 Large mounds of fungus and giant mushrooms thrived on the mud bowl’s banks and in the noxious air. Zac pointed out a cluster of 8-inch-tall black mushrooms on the far side of the pool; Olena recognized them as black rattlecap mushrooms – a very rare (and, to herbalist, very valuable) variety with hollow caps filled with tiny hard balls of spores that rattle when shaken.
As they moved around the pool, a huge mound of fungus and rank vegetation also moved: a tendriculos! The carnivorous plant rose to a height of nearly 25 feet and lashed out at Olena, spoiling the witch’s spellcasting and grappling her in fibrous vine-like tentacles. Grabthar and Torg closed to melee while Eshah greased Olena, hoping to loosen the monster’s grip. The tendriculos dropped the witch and grappled Grabthar, pulling the barbarian into its immense tendril-rimmed maw. Zac and Ten Thousand Skies peppered the plant with precision arrows and hurled flames 11; Eshah embiggened Torg. Grabthar’s rage couldn’t match the monster’s strength, and the barbarian was swallowed whole.12
Ignoring the continuing ranged attacks from the druid and ninja, the tendriculos turned its tentacles on Torg, whom the sorceress also greased – but despite enlargement and lubrication, the monster swallowed the fighter.13 Deep within the tendriculos’ trunk, burning in paralytic acid, Grabthar struggled – and failed – to climb back out of the monster’s gut, and Torg drew a crossbow bolt and tried – and failed – to use the improvised weapon to cut his way out off the fibrous abdomen.14
The stomach acid proved too much for the warriors and they both fell unconscious and dying in the digestive depths.15 Luckily, Torg released his enlarged lucerne hammer, which returned to its normal size; the shrinking weapon scraped the monster’s gullet, triggering a gag reflex – and the mostly-dead barbarian was violently vomited out.16 Stuck with multiple arrows and burned from several fire spells17, the tendriculos gagged again and puked out nearly-dead Torg.18 The tendriculous then grabbed Olena again.
The monster widened its mouth to swallow the witch, but Eshah changed the menu, firing a final flameball into the distended maw. The tendriculos reared back, tossing Olena into the muddy pool, and collapsed in a writhing, smoldering heap. Ten Thousand Skies had closed to the unconscious warriors and administered several castings from his curative wand before the dead monster fell still. As soon as Torg and Grabthar were upright, Zac and Eshah handed them daggers and made them swear to carry them always.
After healing and cleaning themselves up,19 the half-orcs harvested the black rattlecap mushrooms that weren’t crushed into paste during the fight.20 Exhausted from the warriors’ dual brush with death, the party moved far enough away from noxious pool that Ten Thousand Skies could tolerate the smell21 and set up camp.
1 The others couldn’t recall seeing Oleg smile ever.
2 In Orc, as is their standard combat approach.
3 Ill omen spell.
4 RAGE-CHARGE-EARTHBREAKER SMASH!!!
5 And Torg cleaved to a dire wolf – reach weapon FTW!
6 A well-timed crit for 68 points of damage. DR, shmee-R.
7 With a note to task Oleg with putting the dire wolf pelts to good use.
8 Create water and prestidigitation.
9 For those familiar with the Super Mario game franchise, the head of this +1 earthbreaker looks like a Thwomp.
10 Resource hex!
11 Ranger focus plus sneak attack from stealth and produce flame, respectively.
12 The group didn’t like this development.
13 The group really didn’t like this development.
14 Neither Grabthar nor Torg carried a light slashing or piercing weapon, as required to cut their way out of being swallowed whole. This was particularly frustrating to the other players as it violated the “Kellor Rule” established in our previous Red Hand of Doom campaign when the dwarven paladin Kellor Stonedog was swallowed by a behir without such a weapon and died.
15 The acid damage knocked Torg to -4 hit points; Grabthar had already fallen to -6 hp, used his Orc Ferocity action to try to climb out, failed, and fell unconscious, ending his rage and dropping him to -14 hp, then took 15 points of acid damage and ended at -29 hp. Wait, doesn’t -29 hit points mean he’s dead? Stand by…
16 Grabthar spent 2 Hero Points to “cheat death”, ending up expunged and stable at -15 hp.
17 Ten Thousand Skies exhausted his produce flame and then cast flaming sphere; Eshah joined in with several castings of flameball.
18 The stomach acid cost Torg another 13 hit points, and 2 Hero Points to cheat death.
19 Prestidigitation and create water sure are coming in handy today!
20 14 mushrooms, which the Old Beldame eventually purchased from them for 100 gp each.
21 The Scent ability is not always a boon.