This week’s session was a bit less exciting than the last couple of games. That’s what happens when the party turns away from the dungeon and goes hex-crawling: the tension is more of a slow burn than a roller-coaster. And the truth of the matter is that most of Shade Isle’s three-mile hexes are empty of anything except wilderness: there’s only a chance of wandering monsters with most areas the adventuring company travels through. The chance that they’ll stumble into a lair by accident depends on the nature of the monsters living in that area, and the one time it happened this game, there were clear signs of monsters that the party was duly able to avoid.
The progression of events that took place this session (which, in game time, covered about a month and a half—nearly all of October and half of November in the year 916, Imperial Reckoning) is at least straightforward and easily recounted this week.
1) After sending Sven and Partrix along with their cart back to Dämmendell, the party decided to ascend the guard-stairs in the uppermost level of Shade Abbey to the top of Thunder Table. They spent about two weeks tramping through the mountains and rocky flatlands at the top of the plateau, and they found only some interesting geography: they spied a few high, sharp peaks to the north, and they found that the center of the plateau actually had a waterfall spilling into a lake, which emptied into a river flowing through a canyon that winds approximately northwest through the plateau. There was no easy way to get down to the lake from atop the table-mountain, though. The party had one random encounter during this expedition, with a common rock-hydra dwelling in the mountains.
2) In late October, they returned to Dämmendell, where King Bjornstraand summoned them to his throne-room and asked them to investigate some goings-on in Dwerport. Apparently, no word had come from Deputy Vice-Mayor Fruben Flinthelm in a while, and none of the king’s messengers had yet returned either; the king’s bodyguard, Fundin Flinthelm, was starting to worry for his brother’s safety.
The party agreed to investigate, but they needed to take time off to train and prepare first. Frieda finally got to level up to 3rd level as a fighter, by training under the king himself. The rest of the party busied themselves with spell and gadget research. When they were finally ready to leave, they went to Dwerport and arrived there on Halloween, which is what makes the next part so amusing.
3) They found the town under martial law, occupied by soldiers of Dolheim. The gates were shut, so they dressed up like Shade Abbey guards, cultists, and monks. Namely, Gibli wore the uniform of a guard-lieutenant, Connor and Deliah dressed as mid-to-high-ranking Lamas of the abbey, and the rest wore plain black cultist robes.
They discovered that Dwerport was now under the control of Baroness Skaadi of Dolheim, one of Prince Svartsen the Black’s Twelve Peers of the Realm. She had been keeping Vice-Mayor Fruben chained up in his own basement while she occupied the mayor’s manor in the middle of town. The party, posing as an emissary from the abbey (this grift’s official name: “the Dolhemian Rhapsody”) got in tight with the baroness.
4) When Baroness Skaadi demanded to know why the mana stone shipments had stopped, the “priests” claimed that roguish raiders and adventurers had become a serious cause of trouble in Shade Abbey. They requested more defenses, which the baroness provided to the “lieutenant of the guard” (Gibli) in the form of a detachment of fifty men-at-arms (a third of the force occupying Dwerport; the baroness had already crushed any opposition, so she felt that she could spare the men). The party also convinced her to let them take Fruben to Dämmendell, to “ransom” to King Bjornstraand; she agreed and wrote a letter to the king demanding 2,000 pieces of gold for the dwarf’s safe return.
5) The company marched the 50 soldiers and Fruben to Dämmendell, where they left the solders at the gates and went inside to “negotiate”. They had the dwarves mock up a chest of fools’ gold (artistically flawless, as is the wont of dwarves) to take back to Dwerport and give to the baroness. Into this chest of “gold”, Connor slipped his mirror of narcissism as a nice little “bonus”.
Back in Dwerport, the baroness didn’t seem affected by the mirror, so the party let her take the fools’ gold and forsook any attempt on her life at that time. Nevertheless, they did help the Thieves’ Guild instigate a small riot, during which they burned down and blew up two warehouses where the Dolhemian forces were keeping their munitions.
6) Now the party took off southwest of Dwerport, over the mountains and into the Merkbog. Here, the found the Brunflow river at its source and followed it until they came within sight of some dunes-and-beach-grass terrain. There, not far from where the peddlers’ treasure-map that they’d bought had marked an “X”, they found a Pirates’ Cove with a three-mast galleon in port.
“Lt.” Gibli ordered the soldiers to attack, and while the party completely wiped out the pirates, their men also took 60% casualties (turning a force of fifty pretty loyal men into twenty shaken and pissed-off men). From the Pirates’ Cove, the party claimed a positively huge treasure… and their ship, which they now crewed with the (borderline mutinous) Dolhemian soldiers, momentarily placating them with promises of a share of the pirate-booty.
Oh, and one of the three magical items found in the pirate-hoard was a cursed scroll that turned Connor into a tropical parrot.
7) For the next two weeks, the party took that pirate ship, the Mad Slasher, all along the southern coast of Shade Isle. Along the southwest coast (the Merkbog), Connor the parrot (flying inland to scout) spied a few ruins in the West Merkbog region.
Back at Sægen Village, Connor sought out Father Onnus Eagan for another curse-removal ritual. The old padre was more than willing to help, and spent all day working the magic, but it also proved to be a huge strain on his person. When all was said and done, Connor was a gnome again, but the shrine-priest was in a coma. Connor took Frieda, hired a wain and draft-team, and took Father Onnus straight to Dämmendell to seek aid from Matriarch Garavel.
8) The rest of the party remained aboard the Mad Slasher and explored the southeast coast of the isle, all along the Lornwood. Just as they were getting up around the east coast, though, the weather started to turn bad. Rain became a hurricane became a November blizzard, and the crew of soldiers, now fully mutinous, tried to take over the ship and wouldn’t parley. They all wound up deader than dead, and the party was forced to steer the ship for shore as best they were able and drop anchor off the coast.
9) About four leagues south from where they left their pirate-ship, the party came across an old abandoned house on the eastern shore of the isle. The party detected magic coming from the entire house, so they chose not to shelter themselves from the blizzard there; they plunged back into the Lornwood instead, exploring the eastern part of it (but mostly avoiding any monster-lairs and suspicious clearings they stumbled across) along the way back to Sægen Village.
After that, the party once again turned back north, to Dämmendell, where all of the 3rd level party-members (Klaus, Deliah, Gibli, and Viktor) were able to at last train up to 4th level. So now Klaus is a Knight, Deliah is a Witch, the Gibli is a Specialist, and Viktor is a Champion.
This was by far the coolest development of the whole game-session, in my humble referee’s opinion. By virtue of that pirate-hoard (let’s hear it for Treasure Type A, ladies and gents!), all of the player characters have now made “hero” level—the experience level at which they’re not mere tomb-robbers; but rather, fully-competent badasses, starting to master their professions. This is also the experience level at which a party of adventurers can make long treks into the wilderness, and the random encounter tables from the D&D Expert Set will produce more or less balanced and challenging encounters. Hex-crawling and dungeon-crawling actually both get quite a bit more fun from here on out (although the party will have to seek deeper dungeon levels before they actually start meeting suitably challenging monsters and finding suitably rewarding treasures).