Keep on the Borderlands Session #5: Finally Finished With Filthy Hobgoblins. Holiday Bonus: Murder Most Foul!

Wow, it has been over a month since our last Dungeons and Dragons session. For this game, I was still missing one of my four players, but I felt like things were at a tipping point. If we didn’t play this week, we may have never played again. So Brother Jaeric of St. Cuthbert was passed over to the player who also plays Tolman Butters, the halfling thief, and we got down to business. Just to recap, the party also consists of a human barbarian named Enmetius, a dwarven fighter named Garwin Longbeard, and a sorcerer known as Tim the Conjurer.  Tim has been an NPC since day one, since there are relatively few players in my group. During this session and the last I have also been running a human fighter named Kelmore. The party rescued him from the hobgoblin dungeons, and he agreed to go back to the Caves of Chaos with the adventurers, to seek revenge against the hobgoblins.

When last we left our band of heroes, they had just discovered a large cache of arms and armor that the hobgoblins had been hoarding. A few characters made some armor swaps and grabbed some extra arrows and crossbow bolts, but the biggest discovery in this room was a secret door in the Eastern wall. Our session this week began with the party advancing through the secret door into the chambers beyond, which happened to be the chambers of the hobgoblin chief, who happened to be waiting in ambush with his last remaining subjects. Things started out pretty well for the hobgoblins, but as usual things turned sour for the monsters in a hurry.

The chambers were arranged in such a way that the hobgoblins were able to flank the adventurers. The party kicked open a door to the East, which led into a large chamber with 5 waiting hobgoblins in it. Most of the party were pressed into a small corridor between two rooms, and the hobgoblin chief, with a couple of guards, burst through a door to the South.  The hobgoblins in the Eastern chamber got in a couple of good hits against Garwin and Enmetius, while the hobgoblin chieftan cut down the poor NPC Kelmore, who was hanging out at the back of the party due to a bad case of only having five hit points left to his name after the last game session. Before going down, Kelmore had at least managed to take out one of the hobgoblins in the Eastern chamber with a critical hit from a well-thrown dagger. Now the only immediate opposition the hobgoblin chieftain faced were Tim the Conjurer, Brother Jaeric, and Butters the thief. Enmetius and Garwin had missed their targets outright on the first turn, and I was feeling pretty good about my prospects of killing the whole party with enough time left over in the evening for us to maybe play a game of Smallworld.

Then things started to go poorly for the monsters. Tim, undaunted by the fact that the hobgoblin chief was bearing down on him, let loose a color spray right in the chieftain’s face. The chieftain was able to shrug this off, but his bodyguards weren’t so lucky. Tim took a pretty nasty hit from the chieftain’s long sword in retribution, but he was previously unscathed so managed to stay on his feet. Meanwhile, Enmetius made good use of cleave, taking out both of his opponents while only suffering a minor wound, while Garwin also took out his opponent and moved to engage the last hobgoblin in the room. In the next round Tim let loose with another colorspray, and this time the hobgoblin chieftain wasn’t so lucky, failing his will save and succumbing to the effects of the colorspray. But wait! This guy is a three hit die monster; colorspray doesn’t put him to sleep outright! I was right of course, it doesn’t put 3 hit die creatures to sleep outright. It just blinds and stuns them for the next several rounds, during which time they can take no actions, unless you count “being beaten like a pinata” as an action. I blame myself really. I’m the one who rolled Tim up, and I’m the one who gave him colorspray. Sorry, hobgoblin chief.

They looted the room, finding a decent bit of coin and a wand of hold person, and then decided they had better head back to the keep. On the way out of the caves, they encountered a party of five hobgoblins returning from a hunting trip. This encounter went way worse for the battered PCs than I thought it would, with Enmetius and Tim both getting dropped into the negatives. Jaeric was able to employ his healing arts to get Enmetius back up to a hale and healthy one hit point, while Jaeric and Garwin got to carry Tim and Kelmore back to the keep.

Thankfully, the party didn’t encounter any other opposition on the way back to the keep (I’m too nice to these guys). They arrived to the somber tolling of the church bell, and news from the gate guards that Father Almar, the Curate of St. Cuthbert, had fallen from the parapets of the keep early that morning. Almar often went up on the high wall of the keep to watch the sunrise in prayer and meditation. Apparently on this cold, wet morning, he must have tripped and fallen over the waist high rampart, plummeting to his death on the rocks below. Open and shut case, right? Since Almar happened to be researching what looked like an evil pendant that the party had found on a bandit earlier in the week, the PCs were a little suspicious of the accidental death ruling.

They did some investigating at the church of St. Cuthbert, where the wake of Almar was underway. Questioning one of his acolytes revealed that Almar had received a raven from Verbobonc the night before, and he had seemed agitated by the message it had brought him. At this point Lord Teveryn, Castellan  of the keep, got involved. He questioned the accident story as well, and vowed to get to the bottom of things. Brother Jaeric and Garwin were led to the curate’s chambers, where it looked as if his personal papers had been rifled through. After some digging, they found a false bottom in one of Almar’s desk drawers that contained the note from Verbobonc. It claimed that the symbol the party had found was linked to the old Temple of Elemental Evil, a revelation that weighed gravely on everyone in attendance. Lord Teveryn sent word to round up the guard who found the body, along with everyone else on watch for questioning.

Interestingly, Garwin felt that the castellan handled all of this news too calmly, and was immediately suspicious of his motivations. This came as a surprise to me, but I will probably run with this as a red herring. It’s always best in these situations to play upon what the party already thinks rather than trying to force a different narrative. It baffles me that in addition to suspecting the castellan they seem to have complete trust in the guy who is most definitely involved in Almar’s death. Story-wise, these are fortuitous developments. I feel like their cluelessness will make this situation infinitely enjoyable for me. I’d go into more detail here, but I feel like I have already said too much, since I don’t have complete confidence that one or two of my players won’t read this. Veterans of the Keep on the Borderlands probably have a good idea which denizen of the keep is behind the foul play; the rest of you will have to wait until the party are either assassinated or gets a clue.

The game was cut short yet again this week; It seems as if we never seem to get quite as much done in a session as I would like. Still, this has been my favorite session to date, and the players seemed to enjoy this new twist since it is a welcome diversion from the inevitable hacking and slashing that is typically the staple of module play. I had intended to introduce this wrinkle a little further into the future, game time-wise, but I felt like it needed to happen during this session because the pace has been prohibitive and I was ready for things to be spiced up a bit as well.

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