The half-orcs explored to the east, through the craggy hills south of the Gudrin River, with no notable encounters other than finding a large cave in a narrow valley that looked to be a long-vacant lair of some unknown beast. They turned south and then west again, following the path of the Little Sellen River until it joined the Shrike; half-collapsed, rotting wooden buildings – an abandoned ferry station – stood on each bank.1
They continued west along the Shrike River until they heard a strange sound over the next hillock: a sad, blubbering baritone singing (loudly and badly) in the language of the giants.2 Zac crept up and spotted a hill giant, squatting on a rock, trying to lick the last drops out of a broken jug between sad verses. Unfortunately, the giant also spotted the ninja.3
The other half-orcs saw Zac get clobbered by a flying rock the size of the spymaster’s head; he cried “hill giant!” and then scrambled to hide behind an close outcropping. As the pounding sound of the giant’s charge preceded him over the hill, Olena shouted “If you want to talk about this, we can!” Eshah joined the diplomatic effort, yelling “We mean you no harm” in the giant tongue. The hill giant crested the hillock, wielding a bundle of tree trunks as a humongous club, and caught the witch’s glitterdust spell full in the face. The blinded giant swung wildly, lost his balance, and tumbled down the hill – where he dropped his weapon and buried his head in his hands, blubbering “Munguk sorry…” in Giant.
Eshah started a dialogue with the dull-witted Munguk, who was depressed about being rebuffed by a gang of trolls and was trying to forget his troubles by looking for blue wolfberries to make moonshine from, hunting for game, and seeking a mate. Unfortunately for Munguk, however, wolfberries were out of season, his loud singing had scared away all the larger game in the area, and there were no female hill giants for miles around.4 Eshah focused on getting more information about the trolls, and Munguk – after the promise of “lots of beer” – produced a crude map that highlighted the location of the troll lair, more than 30 miles west in the Narlmarches. The half-orcs directed Munguk to the abandoned lair they had recently found and told him to wait there; they would return with the booze after they had taken care of the trolls.
They continued west, mapping the unexplored hills of the Kamelands and then the deep woods of the Narlmarches. An ambush attack by a forest drake nearly killed Zac,5 but the half-orcs triumphed and slayed the dragon, taking its head to eventually collect the posted reward.6 As they approached the spot marked on Munguk’s map, Ten Thousand Skies found troll tracks that led to a hidden trail at the base of a forested hill; the druid also spotted what appeared to be a watchtower rising from the top of the hill, disguised as a natural rock outcropping.
The half-orcs waited until nightfall; it was pouring rain when they started up the concealed path. Zac scouted ahead, winding up the hill with a steep cliff face on one side and sheer drop-off on the other. At the top, the path followed a wide ledge, where the corner of a weathered stone building jutted from the side of the hill. The ninja crept closer, timing his movement with the rolling thunder between flashes of lightning. It was dark behind the multiple arrow slits; he saw that the single stone door was ajar and heard the sounds of at least two different creatures immediately inside.
Zac signaled the others to approach: Olena, Eshah, and Ten Thousand Skies cast protective and enhancing spells and followed Torg and Grabthar to the door. The half-orcs burst into the square barbican, seeing stairs up and out to the south and west, and surprised two hunched, green-skinned trolls and a pair of slobbering, sore-covered beasts that looked like a cross between oversized bulldogs and their troll masters. The acid that dripped from the raging barbarian’s weapon7 and fire-based spells from the druid and sorceress8 stymied their enemies’ extraordinary regenerative abilities, but Grabthar and Zac still suffered substantial injuries before the half-orcs dispatched the monsters.9
While Olena and Ten Thousand Skies healed the barbarian back to his feet10 and the ninja drained a few healing potions, Eshah and Torg scouted the stairs and heard more enemies at the top of the western flight. The half-orcs readied, then Zac rushed up and antagonized the room’s occupants – two trolls and another trollhound – into following him back down.11 The monsters tumbled down the greased stairs and died quickly in the ambush.
At the top of the stairs was a large chamber with walls decorated with ancient dwarven carvings, now defaced with crude graffiti in several languages. Two headless gnome corpses lay atop a large bloodstained stone table in the center of the room. A short hall to the south led to a storeroom with a rough hole gaping in the far wall; the foul-smelling room to the north appeared to be a makeshift kennel with a pair of trollhounds chained to the wall. One of the straining beasts pulled the chain from the stone and charged at Zac, but it first ran into Eshah’s flameball and then Olena’s slumber hex; the witch ended it with her greataxe while Zac and Eshah peppered the still-leashed trollhound with arrows and rays of flame until it also fell dead.
As Olena and Ten Thousand Skies filled waterskins with troll blood as promised to Bokken and The Old Beldame,12 the others searched the storeroom. Stacked boxes, barrels, crates and bags filled the room from floor to ceiling and lined the crude shelves along the walls; they contained foodstuffs, lumber, mundane tools, household supplies, bolts of cloth, etc.13 Some of the supplies were familiar and gnome-sized; several crates bore the Narthropple crest. To the south, a rough tunnel extended deeper into the hillside.
Not wanting to leave their backs unprotected, the half-orcs returned to the barbican and Zac snuck up the other stairway, which led to a round high ceilinged chamber with a layer of foul filth caking the floor and a wide flight of stairs circling up: surely the watchtower the druid had spotted. Zac froze at a sound from above, then backpedaled as quickly as stealth would allow when a shower of troll piss rained down. The half-orcs repeated their ambush tactic, and first a troll hound and then its master rushed down the stairs in response to the ninja’s provocation. They didn’t last long.
The half-orcs returned to the tunnel past the storeroom; at the first fork, the others waited while Zac scouted ahead. The ninja peeked into a wide cavern littered with pallets made of branches, leaves, and smelt, uncured hides – and a trio of trolls. The party charged in; Eshah and Olena hindered the trolls’ response with a slowing stone call and blinding glitterdust. Torg, Grabthar and Zac tore into the monsters while the witch’s hexes, the ninja’s arrows, and Ten Thousand Skies’ and Eshah’s ranged fire spells kept them on their non-regenerating heels. The trolls never stood a chance.
The cavern narrowed to another forking tunnel; ahead, Zac saw a cave stacked with carcasses of both beasts and decapitated humanoids. Running low on healing and other spells, the party decided to withdraw and refresh. They left the fortress and camped in the woods, close enough so whoever was on watch could monitor the hidden trail for any monstrous comings or goings. The rain ended before the sun rose.
They returned to the dwarven structure in the late morning. Moving through the bloodied rooms, the bodies remained where they had fallen; there was no evidence their previous incursion had been detected. The others waited at the first fork in the tunnels while Zac snuck again through the troll barracks. The carcasses in the northern cave seemed undisturbed. He spied around the corner to the west into a large room, still mostly hidden – but he did see an armored troll sitting on a crude throne carved from a giant tree stump atop a makeshift dais of boulders. The troll – presumably the gang’s leader – was lost in thought and didn’t notice the ninja.
Zac rejoined the group, then stole a glance into the unexplored branch of the first fork. A wide natural cavern hung with dripping stalagmites. Gnawed bones littered the floor; Zac grimaced at the sight of a collection of severed, humanoid heads arranged in a circle drawn on the floor with dried blood. At the far end of the cavern, a trollhound growled; first one and then a second troll head turned at the ninja. A massive brute of a troll stood up – fully erect, not hunched like the others they’d faced, and half again as tall.
Zac yelled “Two-headed troll!” The monster responded in Giant (Eshah heard “Nagrundi smash!”), took a single step, and swiped its huge arm; claws the size of short swords slashed the ninja. Zac focused his ki and vanished. Grabthar raged and charged, but he was struck by Nagrundi’s reflexive attack and missed his own. Torg paused for the sorceress to embiggen him then stepped up, matching the monster’s massive reach and bludgeoning it with his enlarged polearm. A burst of sparkling particles blinded one of Nagrundi’s heads and a flaming sphere seared its leg, courtesy of witch and druid. The trollhound raced around the giant but skidded to a halt, sniffing the air near the invisible ninja.
Half of the half-blind troll’s attacks went wide, but claws and teeth shredded Grabthar; the barbarian’s ferocity kept him on his feet just long enough to land one powerful blow before collapsing.14 Eshah conjured grease under the monster and it also fell; Olena hexed Nagrundi to make it more susceptible to magic attacks.15
Zac snuck back from the hound; it resumed its charge against Torg, earning a deep wound on its approach. Nagrundi regained its feet and also stepped up on Torg, inside the fighter’s melee range. Ten Thousand Skies redirected his flaming sphere to follow the monster and stabilized the dying barbarian. Torg yelled at Olena to move; the witch backpedaled and hexed the troll again. Eshah’s flameball burned and staggered the brute, but Torg’s massive swing missed despite the druid adding to the fighter’s already-impressive strength.16 Zac appeared, firing three arrows into the troll in rapid succession.17
Nagrundi ignored the still-flaming sphere and tore into Torg; Eshah’s next flameball somehow missed the giant target.18 Olena, unsure whether it would affect a two-headed creature, tried to slumber the troll: it fell to the stone floor, both heads snoring. As Eshah ended the trollhound with a ray of flame to the eye,19 Torg lined up his shot and crushed one of the troll’s heads into the other.20
As the healers went to work on the warriors, Zac searched and looted the two-headed corpse, bequeathing Nagrundi’s protective ring and amulet to Grabthar to aid the barbarian in finishing a fight on his feet.21 Eshah confirmed that the circle of severed heads included several familiar gnomes from the Narthropple Expedition, including Jubilost Narthropple himself.
The spymaster then snuck back to the leader’s room, but the throne was empty. Zac risked one more step inside to see rest of the room and found himself staring into the eyes of the armored troll, who was sitting upright on a heap of furs atop a wagon with its wheels removed, scratching the neck of a slabbering trollhound.22 The troll leader, Hargulka, hollered in Giant as Zac retreated to his allies in the barracks, hollering in Orc.23
Eshah again embiggened Torg; the fighter and Grabthar prepared to attack whatever enemy first entered the cavern – but it wasn’t the leader. Rather, from the northern cave came a bulky troll with rocky skin studded with small crystals, and a jutting underbite holding large, crystalline teeth. Ten Thousand Skies yelled “Rock troll! Susceptible to acid, not fire!” Grabthar’s grin grew to a grimace of rage as he channeled the power of the tarn linnorm, coating his weapon in an acidic sheen, but despite Olena’s hex, the barbarian’s swing glanced off the monster’s craggy hide, as did Torg’s enlarged attacks. The druid’s storm burst also had no effect.
But Eshah’s grease did: the glittering troll fell roughly to the cavern floor. Both warriors took full advantage, pounding the prone opponent with powerful blows. As the monster struggled to its feet, Torg hammered the rock troll’s head down with an enlarged blow, then Grabthar knocked it clean off with an enraged uppercut. The skull smashed against the cavern ceiling, raining broken crystals.24
The troll hound turned the corner and hit the grease, skidding wildly into a wall. Hargulka also emerged, more cautiously, and reached up to his necklace. As the troll pulled a bead from the string, it started to glow brightly, and he hurled it into the middle of the half-orcs. It exploded into a fireball: Olena and Ten Thousand Skies took the worst of the burns; Eshah was unscathed.25 The sorceress returned fire with a flameball as Grabthar leaped the grease and tried to overrun the troll to set up a flank with Torg in the bottleneck, but Hargulka halted the barbarian’s maneuver with a blow from a stout morningstar. The troll shook off Olena’s blinding glitterdust; the scorched druid backed away and drained healing potions.
Eshah dismissed the grease and Grabthar withdrew, suffering more wounds from the troll (and taking out his frustration on the trollhound as he moved past). The opening permitted Torg to bring his oversized polearm to bear, striking Hargulka and killing the trollhound. Hargulka was not pleased at the death of his favorite pet and pounded the fighter brutally.26 Zac struggled with the dynamics of the battleground, switching from longbow to wakizashi and then back again, shooting the troll as Torg backpedaled to the witch’s healing touch. Eshah followed up with another flameball and Grabthar stepped up again.
Hargulka dodged the swinging earthbreaker, shouted “You will never claim the Green Queen’s domain!” and tossed another glowing bead behind the barbarian into the clustered half-orcs; the fireball burned Grabthar and Zac and left Torg and Olena unconscious and smoldering. Eshah’s eyes blazed like hot coals as she watched Ten Thousand Skies rush to stabilize the dying witch. The sorceress fired another flameball, striking Hargulka in the chest. The troll reeled, then looked down as all of the remaining beads on his necklace started sparking like lit fuses. Hargulka locked surprised eyes with Eshah just before the necklace detonated in three simultaneous explosions, engulfing the troll and the barbarian in the expanding fireballs.27
They searched and looted Hargulka and his quarters. The troll leader’s armor and weapon were enchanted;30 a large chest inside the wagon held artwork, jewelry, and coins, plus Jubilost’s personal gear – and, incredibly, a scroll of raise dead.31 Olena cast the powerful spell and restored Grabthar to life, though the ordeal left the barbarian weakened.32
A large map drawn on the back of a thylacine hide was tacked to the wall of Hargulka’s room. Several locations, including Redemption, were marked with large Xs along with arrows and other notations (in Giant) showing planned raids and routes of attack. Eshah translated the notes and the half-orcs determined that the trolls had been carrying out a series of organized, planned attacks in the region against locations where civilization had intruded on the Stolen Lands. Areas where fey creatures lived, however, had been carefully marked to avoid.
With the troll menace ended, the half-orcs began the long trek back to Redemption. En route, Zac developed symptoms of bloodfire fever – deep internal pain, loss of muscular coordination, pus-filled blisters, and overall lethargy and fatigue – surely contracted from a trollhound’s filthy bite. Ten Thousand Skies and Olena both tended to the sick ninja and by the time they rode into Redemption, Zac had fully recovered.
The returning explorers reunited with Spear, Bluss, and the other kingdom leaders. They collected their rewards,33 restocked their low-level healing supplies, and sent a mission to Restov to sell their more exotic loot and purchase more powerful healing magic, including the divine scrolls needed to fully restore Grabthar.34 After delivering several barrels of beer to Munguk – who was quite content in his new lair – the half-orcs spent the next two months in Redemption attending to kingdom business. Marshal Bluss again had to assist Warden Garess in Olegburg when the other half-orcs resumed exploration along the southern edge of the Greenbelt, which was thankfully devoid of any notable ruins, lairs, or encounters.35
When they returned to Redemption, however, they found the capital in shambles: newly-plowed fields torn up, trees knocked down, livestock slaughtered, and a number of homes and the brewery flattened. A pall of smoke and dust hung over the town, and the few people on the streets milled about in shock.36 The leaders’ inquiries were met first with blank stares, but eventually the whole story came out: the town was attacked by a terrifying monster of immense size, part bear and part owl, that crashed into the town and killed dozens before it had its fill of destruction and lumbered off into the hills.
The owlbear’s trail was simple to follow: it headed southeast, leaving a swath of felled trees, trampled brush, and churned earth across the Kamelands. Its tracks indicated that the beast was substantially larger than the owlbear they’d defeated at the Stag Lord’s fort.
After several days, they found what was surely the monster’s lair: a dark, gaping hole in the side of a large, rocky hillock a few miles north of the Little Sellen River. The earth in front of the cave had been trampled flat, and shattered trees and stumps bore the marks of powerful claws. Tufts of dark fur were snagged in branches, and huge feathers littered the ground.
The cave mouth widened into a large cavern filthy with carrion and offal. A bewildering variety of molds and fungi grew on the floor and walls, some as big as a person, and countless insects scuttled about underfoot, feeding on the mounds of waste. A large tunnel sloped down ahead, with smaller passages on the side walls.
Zac snuck inside, hugging the wall to the right. Suddenly, a man-sized purple mushroom emitted a piercing sound that made it impossible to hear anything else. Zac fired an arrow into the shrieker but it continued to wail. Then the ninja saw movement: three tall mushrooms ambling on tentacular roots; deep violet tendrils slithered out of dozens of fissures in their pointed caps. Zac’s ranger training recognized the violet fungi as one of the most notorious and feared dangers of the world’s caves. “Don’t let them touch you; their tentacles cause a swift and deadly rot!” He withdrew as Eshah conjured a rain of gravel to pelt the carnivorous creatures and slow their approach. The stone call also released a cloud of spores that fogged the cavern waist high.
The half-orcs picked away at the violet fungi, but the battle was soon joined by a shambling mound from the passage to the right, presumably drawn by the shrieker’s cry. The plant monster slammed Zac, constricting him with a tangle of slimy vines from which scuttled a writhing swarm of biting red centipedes. Eshah greased the grappled ninja; the lubrication enabled the ninja to squirm free and tumble away as Grabthar cleaved to the mound after smashing through a violet fungus.
Spear silenced the shrieker with an arrow, then boosted the group’s courage with an inspiring oratory. The half-orcs held their own against their plant opponents until the other side passage birthed a stream of nearly a dozen caveweaver spiders, each the size of a large dog. The spiders clambered along the floor and walls toward the party. Despite their spells and weapons, they were in danger of being overrun.
Then an awful sound bellowed from the depths of the lair: an awful, awesome, deafening, terrible, half-roar half-screech. All movement stopped for a split-second as the sound faded – then the shambling mound, the walking fungi, and the skittering spiders all retreated from whence they came. The half-orcs took the opportunity to also withdraw outside.
The owlbear was coming.
1 Bridge hex, plus a free Pier if the leaders build a settlement here.
2 The giant equivalent of a traditional “lost my job/wife left me/truck broke down/dog died” country song.
3 Terrible Stealth roll for Zac; great Perception roll by the giant, even with a -8 penalty for being depressed.
4 “Munguk only pawn in game of life.”
5 The drake’s surprise round acidic cloud followed by an initiative-winning bite/tail slap combo brought Zac to -4 hit points before he could take an action. He was still able to act due to Orc Ferocity (moved out of the acid cloud and then passed out), so this wasn’t a true example of “getting Correa’d.”
6 1,200 gp!
7 Grabthar has a rage power that channels the power of tarn linnorm, inflicting 1 additional point of acid damage on every melee attack. A tarn linnorm is a CR 20, 120-foot long, 12-ton (Colossal size), aquatic, two-headed dragon with a breath weapon of poisonous acid.
8 Produce flame and flameball, respectively.
9 A rending attack by the last troll put Grabthar at 0 hit points, but the barbarian used Orc Ferocity to kill that troll before keeling over. In addition to other injuries, Zac was bitten by a trollhound and failed his Fortitude save against contracting bloodfire fever from the diseased beast.
10 Grabthar also used his renewed vigor rage power to heal himself.
11 If anyone could successfully troll a troll, it’s Christian.
12 Quest completed! 1200 gp in potions from each of the hermit and the witch.
13 Worth 4 BP; it eventually took several full wagonloads to return all of the supplies to civilization.
14 At -1 hit point from the troll’s attacks, then to -9 when he fell unconscious and his rage automatically ended.
15 Evil eye hex for -2 to saving throws.
16 Ten Thousand Skies added bull’s strength to the enlarged fighter.
17 Hero Point + sneak attack + Rapid Shot + ki extra attack. Booyah!
18 Even touch attacks still miss on a natural 1. Ah, the GDI.
19 Crit! Ah, the GDI!
20 A Happy Gilmore-esque coup de gras swing by an enlarged bull’s strength-enhanced fighter for 55 points of damage was enough to kill Nagrundi outright.
21 Amulet of natural armor +1 and ring of protection +2 to improve Grabthar’s armor class by 2 points; Torg inherited the barbarian’s ROP +1.
22 Natural 1 on Zac’s Stealth check. Damn GDI.
23 “Intruders!” and “Incoming!”, respectively.
24 The warriors inflicted a combined 53 points on the prone rock troll; it standing up provoked another 28 from Torg and a crit from Grabthar for another 65. Damn, GDI!
25 Olena and Skies blew their saves; Rob spent a Hero Point to reroll and did 2 points worse. Eshah made the save and took no damage due to the fire resistance granted by her efreeti bloodline.
26 Vital Strike + Power Attack = 30 points of damage = ouch.
27 Oh boy. Per the necklace of fireballs item description, “If the necklace is being worn or carried by a character who fails her saving throw against a magical fire attack, the item must make a saving throw as well (with a save bonus of +7). If the necklace fails to save, all its remaining spheres detonate simultaneously, often with regrettable consequences for the wearer.” Hargulka blew his save vs. Eshah’s flameball; the necklace then rolled a natural 1 on its save. Boom boom boom, baby.
28 The fireballs took Grabthar to -24 hit points.
29 Zac used his vanish ninja power to shoot for sneak attack damage, then spent a Hero Point to reroll his failed attack, hitting for 17 points of damage and killing Hargulka.
30 Hargulka wore +2 hide armor and wielded a +2 darkwood morningstar.
31 That was lucky!
32 Per the spell, Grabthar took 2 permanent negative levels.
33 Upon hearing of the leaders’ success over the trolls, the swordlords sent not only 2,000 gp but also additional kingdom support in the form of 10 BP.
34 A wand of cure moderate wounds and 2 scrolls of restoration.
35 At this point, the entire Greenbelt (i.e., Books 1 and 2) had been mapped. Huzzah!
36 +2 Unrest.