The team will travel by water as far as Deadwood, where Eyeless' agent will provide horses and provisions for the desert.
Trolls are most likely to be found in the rocky hills to the east.
Sand Trolls have a chameleon-like ability to alter the colours of their hide, so caution is recommended when moving through their hunting grounds.
Fresh water is deadly to Sand Trolls, so it will have to be protected from it on the return journey.
Compensation: 1,000gp each for success, 200gp to each survivor in the event of an honourable failure.
Most of the session was spent in creating characters and finding out as much as possible about Sand Trolls — which was not very much, but hopefully enough. It will not be an easy job, but then that's why they get the Big Bucks.
The team have designed a troll-carrying/restraining ox-wagon with the limited information they have to hand, and have given the specifications to Eyeless' factor for transmission to the agent at Deadwood.
We need to remember that in the event of the ring being lost or destroyed by (for example) being eaten by a Sand Troll in the course of a failed mission, the cost of the ring comes out of the remaining team's compensation.
If the mission is a success, then the ring becomes the property of Strawberry, and having been eaten by a Sand Troll becomes irrelevant as far as the ring is concerned. Maybe not as far as Strawberry is concerned.
Strawberry (the halfling thief) has bargained for a +1 Ring of Protection in lieu of monetary payment for the job. At present it is on loan, to become hers only if the job is a success.
Novi (half-elf magic-user/fighter) expressed some doubts about the ethics of capturing a sentient creature, even one as fundamentally nasty and brutish as a troll, and delivering it up to a fairly dubious character for who knows what purposes. Nobody else seemed that fussed, to tell the truth.
We left the team on board a boat, bound for Deadwood where they expect to meet Eyeless' agent, who will hopefully have fulfilled their requirements regarding the equipment they need.
Here's the planned route, assuming all goes as expected:
The team were ferried down the coast and on to the river towards Deadwood, passing small settlements on the way.
Shortly after passing one such settlement, they observed smoke on the northern bank, and as they got closer it became apparent that it was the remains of a caravan. All the the drayers and beasts had been slaughtered and the wagons set alight; several of the men had been pinned to trees, tortured and mutilated. There was no sign of any survivors, nor of who might be responsible for the attack.
Our Heroes wanted to land and check for survivors and clues. In response, the captain of the barge pulled further over towards the southern bank and ordered out the oars to get them past as quickly as possible.
They made the docks at Deadwood without incident, and were met there by Eyeless' agent, one GOZOLON. A shifty, untrustworthy looking fellow, with more than a lick of the orc-brush about him. However, as it turned out he appeared to have fulfilled his instructions perfectly well.
Deadwood is not much of a holiday destination. It exists primarily to smelt ore brought down from the mountain mines; it is constantly shrouded in a pall of coal smoke, and the sound of the water-powered trip-hammers is unceasing day and night. The most common businesses in the town are taverns, and they are busy at all hours as the shifts at the smelters change. The team went out to one of them, RICHOLON's, for a meal and a drink, and in the hope of some information.
They got their meals and their drinks, of reasonable, though not startling, quality. Of information they got very little. They mentioned the attack on the ore caravan, but the general view was that, while a sorry business, it was somebody else's business.
The following morning they harnessed their twelve oxen to the massive oak-built ore wagon Gozolon had converted into a troll-carrying wagon, with very sturdy manacles and chains, and plenty of them. He'd also provided two weeks' water in kegs, for both the oxen and crew, and food and fodder alike. Not having been asked to provide drovers, he had not — but fortunately, Novi's animal-handling skills were more than up to the task, and they headed off.
For the first few miles they could follow the well-maintained River Road, but as it veered southwards they had to leave it for a barely discernible track leading out towards the east and the desolation of the Curséd Land. Travel was uneventful for the first day, though jackals and lions both were heard — but not seen. They found a good, reasonably secure camp-site where a sheltered fire could be made and the oxen set to graze, and Novi and Olaf both set out snares in the hope of getting a rabbit or two.
As the light faded, they could see a weird flickering glow, like an unhealthy, multi-coloured, ground-based aurora, pulsing irregularly on the eastern horizon.
In the last watch, Strawberry's alertness roused everyone when she saw the fin of a BULETTE breaking the surface beneath the ox herd. She flung off a sling-bullet, without discernible effect, as Novi and Olaf both grabbed their weapons and ran out to attempt to drive it off before it could get any of their livestock. Novi managed to pierce its massive shell once, but that was the extent of their success before it grabbed a terrified ox and disappeared back below the earth with it.
Olaf was all for following it below with the idea of retrieving the ox — he felt that otherwise, Eyeless was likely to charge them for its loss. However, he was dissuaded by cooler heads; the others pointed out that the ox was certainly already dead, and it would be a futile gesture.
They harnessed up the remaining oxen, and had to make a quick promotion — it turned out that the bulette had taken the lead ox. However, Novi's animal handling skills were put to exemplary use, and they got off and away from the site of the attack without trouble.
The next morning, Novi and Olaf both remembered that they'd left snares behind, and insisted on running all the way back to get them: some might say that was a complete waste of time, but then again, all three snares did actually hold dead rabbits, so there's that. Strawberry, having proved to be a lousy rabbit hunter, turned out to be a top-class rabbit cooker and created possibly the best rabbit stew ever made. Certainly in the top 5% of rabbit stews, anyway.
The following day's travel brought them to within the walls of the ruins of an ancient city they'd been told of by Gozolon, straddling the very edge of the Curséd Land desolation — within a few yards, the country went from dry but healthy grassland to a semi-barren, diseased wasteland. They'd been shadowed by a pair of lionesses throughout the day, so the party elected to move right into the ruins, and found an enclosed courtyard to hole up in, surrounded by still sturdy remains of walls about eight feet high. They blocked the entrance with the wagon, and settled down to rest.
Olaf, on the first watch, was alerted by the small sounds of stones rattling against each other, so the team weren't taken completely by surprise by the rushing attack of about a dozen GRIMLOCKS. They were beaten back, though not before inflicting grave damage on Novi — Olaf was able to keep her in the fight with his healing magic — and eventually the surviving grimlocks fled into the night.
Strawberry's vigilance failed utterly, alas, to detect the follow-up attack over the walls from a different direction, and the grimlocks managed to get in some shrewd and unanswered blows before the team rallied and manage to kill every last one of them. Hopefully. Surely that must be all of them. Right?
Now the team are waiting at the ready, hoping that the dawn isn't too far away. It has not been a restful night thus far.
Not long after the fight with the grimlocks, Olaf heard noises coming from down the street — an unpleasant repetitive schlorping and squicking sound that drew closer and closer, and was soon revealed as coming from a gigantic bus-sized carrion-eating maggot-thing. It rolled over the remains of the thirteen grimlocks and ingested them all with an alarming crunching and squishing, all of which Strawberry witnessed from the top of the wall while being just as still and silent as she possibly could. The creature ignored the living beasts in the courtyard and carried on away in search of more deliciously dead, and preferably rotten, things to hoover up.
The remainder of the night passed uneventfully, and the following morning Strawberry sent her owl out (a Sepentine Owl, a figurine of wondrous power) to see if it could see any water anywhere. It returned no sight of actual water, but it did spy one patch of bright green in the city that might be evidence of water. "Aha!" thought Strawberry. "This seems like exactly the sort of reason to run off and SPLIT THE PARTY!"
Leaving Olaf snoozing, and Novi getting the oxen ready, Strawberry hied herself off in the direction the owl had given her, and soon found a ruinous courtyard with the remains of an old fountain in it. She found no usable water in it, though the virulent green slime in its bottom indicated moisture coming from somewhere. However, across the courtyard, within an old portico, she saw something interesting — what appeared to be a corpse, caught in a relatively recent wall collapse.
She sneaked stealthlessly around the periphery of the courtyard and approached the cadaver, scattering a swarm of fist-sized cockroach-like insects that scuttled away under the fallen blocks. She could see that the dead thing was humanoid in form, and about human-sized, and had been thoroughly eaten away from the inside — the dessicated skin was left stretched out over the skeleton beneath. So intent was she that she utterly failed to notice the slight noises behind her as she was attacked by some hideous tentacled abomination!
The thing flailed at her with its mouth-tentacles, covering her with a stinking, numbing slime. She had time to give out just one shriek before she felt her limbs locking up, and the creature dragged her off into its lair. She could still see and feel and hear everything going on around here, which was of limited comfort since she could clearly see the thing's abdomen pulsating as it extended a long ovipositor...
This was supposed to be a pretty simple encounter, with just a little danger, to get the evening off to a rollicking start. I had not taken into account that the players might all decide individually to attack singly, one at a time, in single file, in true kung-fu movie style.
Meanwhile, Novi had heard her faint cry, and, giving the sleeping Olaf a kick as she went past, ran off to SPLIT THE PARTY AGAIN! She soon found the courtyard, and her keen survival skills immediately showed her the signs of the brief struggle and the dragging off of Strawberry's paralyzed body. So intent was Novi on her investigations that she utterly failed to notice the slight noises behind her as she was attacked by some hideous tentacled abomination! (Sound familiar?)
Novi was subdued as quickly and easily as Strawberry had been, and dragged back into the creature's lair for impregnation. This had been a great day for the abomination — two egg-hosts in a single day! What incredible luck!
Meanwhile, Olaf had come back to consciousness just in time to see the back of Novi as she disappeared at the run out of their camp courtyard. He got himself together and followed after.
Thanks to the gods of dramatic neccessity, he found the courtyard in a timely fashion, and he too noticed the half-buried cadaver and the signs of struggle. However, unlike the others he elected not to approach the scene directly, but to engage in a bit of stealth. He put on his ring of invisibility, and crept up to observe the ground before blundering straight on to it.
He could see that the drag marks ended in what appeared to be solid wall, which puzzled him somewhat. All was revealed though when he tossed a rock across the portico to make an attractive noise, and the creature burst out through the "wall", its illusionary disguise quivering as it passed through. He was in position to see that though the thing had chitinous armour covering its fore-parts, it was soft and pulpy behind, so he begean to beat the crap out of its soft and squishy parts with his hammer.
The creature took enough damage without being able to give any in return that it retreated back into its lair. Olaf decided that following it into its own territory might not be the best idea in the world, so he attempted to lure it out again, using the same trick as before.
It would have taken a remarkably stupid creature to be fooled twice, but thanks to the gods of dice, this thing turned out to be just such a creature. It came out again, ready to grab its third egg-bag of the day, just in time to be finished off by a mighty blow from Olaf's hammer. He dragged his two companions back to the camp-site, and settled down to wait for the thing's poison to wear off. Which it did, but not until a full day had passed, and leaving the two victims with excruciating cramps and mouths that tasted as though an orc had taken a shit in them.
Strawberry and Novi both decided, over the protests of Olaf, that they should go back to the scene of the crime and check out the cadaver on the off-chance that it might be loaded down with lootable loot. So, off they went, and a good thing too as it turned out. The huge cockroach-critters were having a fine old time with the already fœtid remains of the Abomination, but as usual they scattered as soon as anyone came near. The human corpse proved to be that of a low-level wizard of some kind; Novi claimed his spell book and scrolls, Strawberry grabbed his obviously magical short-sword, and Olaf — who was solely responsible for keeping both of them alive — got nothing at all. There's no justice.
The shortsword is a +2 weapon, and has a rune engraved into the heel of the blade. None of the party are able to read or identify it, nor do they have the first clue why it's there or what, if anything, it does.
The party headed off through the remains of the city and out into the desolation, towards the troll-hills to the east. The country was difficult in the extreme; a parched maze of cracks and ravines, with the only vegetation being coarse, diseased grasses and deformed, twisted thorns. Without Strawberry's magical owl to use as a scout, it would have been an impossible task to find a way with eleven oxen and a huge wagon; even so, they were only making about five miles a day in a straight line.
Nevertheless, apart from an encounter with some kind of rock-creature (which smashed Olaf into deep unconsciousness with a single blow) they managed to make it to within spitting distance of the troll-hills in only six days of increasingly uncomfortable travel. Everyone's skin is itching and flaking, and Novi's gums have started bleeding. The oxen are unhappy.
The owl has reported seeing something that may or may not be a troll or trolls. It is not skilled in the identification of humanoids though.
Over the days of travel, Novi took the time to decipher the crushed wizard's spellbook, which was useful in more than one way — she got some more spells, and revealed in a tiny marginal note was a drawing of the rune inscribed on the blade of the short-sword and the words INMOBILIS MOBILIS.
Some experimentation showed that these were command words that allowed the wielder of the sword, if speaking inmobilis while holding the hilt of the weapon, to fix it immovably in place until the hilt was grasped again and the counter-charm, mobilis was spoken. This ability can be used once a day.
On the bluffs ahead, the team could see the very weathered remains of buildings — so worn down that they were only just discernable as being artificial structures. There seemed to be no way of getting the ox-wagon up there though; the only route that Strawberry's owl could spy out — an ancient road, perhaps — would have been passable on foot, but it was far too badly broken and eroded to get the oxen and wagon over. They settled down to camp for the night.
Darkness revealed the usual sickly auroras of the Curséd Land, but also pin-points of light up on the bluffs. Nobody was very keen on investigating though, especially considering the very nearly tragic results the last time somebody(s) went off on their own to investigate something.
Late in the night, in Strawberry's watch, the sounds of bellowing and roaring were heard — Novi suggested it might be some kind of mating thing, but if that was the case it was pretty rough sex, because the bellowing soon changed to sounds of pain and fear, and then stopped altogether.
The labyrinthine ravines made it difficult to determine how far away the sounds were coming from, but Strawberry felt that she had a reasonably good idea of direction. The next morning, as soon as it was light, she sent off her owl to reconnoitre, and it reported the existence of a "big dead thing", not far away as the owl flies, but in another ravine without any apparent connection with the one the party and their ox-team were traversing. Strawberry decided to climb up and over to see for herself, over Olaf's gloomy predictions of certain doom.
She scampered up the walls of the ravine with ease, and up on to the tops where she suddenly felt very exposed — from up there she could see, and presumably be seen, for miles and miles. The tops all appeared quite flat, apart from the occasional nubbin of rock.... and from under one such nubbin she was attacked by a huge scorpion, about the size of an alsatian dog!
Her shrieks of alarm alerted her team-mates below, and they immediately began to fail to climb up to her aid. Novi used her spider climb scroll and scampered up the cliff face, arriving just in time to see Strawberry dispatch the thing with her shiny new magic short-sword.
Her reconnaisance mission resumed, she peered over the edge of the neighbouring ravine to see the corpse of a very large, hairy creature that looked like a cross between a yak and a centipede.
Some considerable discussion about how best to find a sand-troll ensued. Somebody suggested using themselves as bait, somebody else suggested killing one of the oxen and using that to lure a troll, until it was remembered that there was already a perfectly good dead thing available for the purpose not too far away, if they could but get to it.
Strawberry's owl was sent off (possibly in error, since I think it might have already been used that day, but anyway, it was) to scout out some connection between the two ravines, and one was eventually found. It required going quite a long way out of their way, but they managed it eventually and began to draw near to where the dead thing lay — though not yet in sight of it.
It was noticed that although carrion birds were gathering above its location, they didn't appear to be settling, which suggested that there was something there disturbing them. Strawberry went off on another climbing recon, again to prognostications of doom and disaster from Olaf, but this time she made it without incident. Looking down on the yaktipede, she initially saw nothing untoward, but then as if from nowhere appeared a large tan-coloured humanoid with a rough, rock-like hide, which gorged itself on the guts of the corpse as she watched. Withdrawing as stealthily as she was able, she brought back the news to her companions.
Planning ensued. So much planning. Let it suffice to say that in the end, as usual, a frontal attack was decided on. It always ends up being a frontal attack.
The theory was that Novi would zap the creature with her staff of paralyzation, whereupon everything would be easy-peasy. So confident was she that she ran off ahead of the others, which proved not to be ideal, tactically speaking. Instead of surprising the troll, she herself was surprised when it appeared from nowhere (camouflage!) and ripped her to bits in no time at all. The other two arrived in time to save her from actually being killed, and Strawberry (the teensy-weensy little halfling) engaged it in hand-to-hand combat while Olaf stpped Novi from bleeding to death. Then he picked up her staff, zapped the troll, which rolled a pathetic 3 for its save and keeled over, rigid. Huzzah!
The troll went down a lot more easily than I had expected, mainly because of its terrible saving throw, but also because it was getting pretty well whacked about. It is worth noting, however, that this particular troll is one of the weakest and puniest of its kind, and probably a good thing too.
The two conscious party members took turns trying (and failing) to convince the oxen to move any closer to the stench of death and troll, while the other remained and kept hitting the troll to keep it semi-dead and quiescent. In the end, they settled for dragging back some of the very heavy chains and manacles, and wrapped it up like a mummy. Strawberry stabbed her sword through a chain link into the ground, said "inmobilis", and then left it while they carried the comatose Novi back to the wagon to recover.
Recover she did, eventually, and they went back for the now very, very angry troll. It had almost accidentally dug itself out and away from Inmobilis with all its thrashing and writhing, but it hadn't quite made it when the team returned and zapped it again to keep it still. Then they started hitting it again until the wagon could be brought up and it could be loaded on to its new home for the journey back. Dragging an 800 pound troll loaded down with a couple of hundred pounds of assorted chains and manacles is no joke, but fortunately oxen are very well adapted to dragging heavy things about, and it actually turned out to be relatively simple to get the troll in place and thoroughly restrained.
Now all they have to do is get it back home.
Off they went, with Novi walking with the unusually fractious oxen — they were not at all happy at being so close to troll-stink — and Olaf and Starwberry up on the wagon, keeping the troll well stabbed and quiescent.
They had attempted to put up the iron hoops and canvas wagon-cover, but made such an appalling botch of it that all they achieved was to utterly ruin a couple of the hoop-sockets, bend several hoops out of whack, and completely ruin the canvas cover to the point where it ended up in several raggedy pieces. Strawberry made an attempt to sew it back together with twine, using her dagger as an awl, but made a sorry job of it and the pieces just barely hung together.
Later in the day, something, maybe the smell of troll-blood, attracted the attention of a small swarm of gigantic horse-flies, each the size of a football. They descended mainly on the oxen, but also attacked Our Heroes and started sucking their blood for all they were worth. Strawberry and Olaf bore the brunt of the attack, and before the last of the flies were killed they were both looking sadly anæmic. Possibly as serious was the plight of the oxen — three of them had been completely drained dry, and several more of them were badly weaked by loss of blood. The weight of the wagon and troll was now a serious burden to the survivors, which would mean the party would have to seek out as easy a path as possible rather than simply retracing their footsteps.
The smell of blood from the bursten fly corpses was strong, so the team got on their way just as quickly as possible to put some distance between themselves and the inevitable scavenging predators that would be attracted to it. The fight had distracted them from their troll-stabbing duties for long enough for the troll to have woken up again, and it was writhing and straining at its bonds, and set up a raucous cry until Strawberry stabbed it quiet again. Though it had not managed to free itself, some of the shackle-points were showing alarming signs of strain.
Just to make everyone's misery complete, now the wind got up strongly, filling the air with stinging sand and blinding dust.
Sure enough, though Our Heroes didn't know it at the time, the blood-smell had attracted the attention of four ghasts, which shadowed them through the dust-storm until they stopped to camp for the night. When it was fully dark, they launched their attack, their appalling charnel reek preceding them. Novi, on watch, was alerted by the stench and called the other two awake just as the ghasts swarmed over and around the wagon.
All three party members went down, paralysed in short order by two of the ghasts while the other two went after the oxen, who, not being stupid, had run for it. Fortunately, Strawberry had had time to activate her serpentine owl, this time in its giant owl form, and it gave the coup de grace to the ghasts at the wagon and then drove off the two who were chasing after the oxen.
The team were left to lie, paralysed, while the troll woke up and started bellowing and straining at its bonds. Strawberry came out of her paralysis just as it finally managed to wrench one arm free, and though she bravely attempted to subdue it all by herself, the troll smashed her entirely off the wagon with its chain. The initial blow didn't quite kill her, but hitting the rocks at the end of her remarkably long trajectory certainly did the trick.
Olaf was next to regain his strength, and he too tried to deal with the troll — this time by smashing open a water barrel and dousing it with the fresh water, deadly to sand trolls. It took terrible damage from the water, which acted like acid on its flesh, but not enough to prevent it from treating Olaf exactly as it had done Strawberry. And just like Strawberry, Olaf just managed to survive its initial blow before succumbing to having his skull crushed on the rocks below.
The troll, now completely free and bellowing in agony, bounded down off the wagon and attempted to flee. Alas, the damage from the water burns was too great, and it collapsed and died just a few yards from the wagon.
Novi managed to survive the catastrophe by the cunning ploy of being the member of the team most severely affected by the ghasts' paralysis. All she could do when she finally came to herself was to
loot arrange her comrades' corpses and bury them, and to round up the surviving oxen and make her way back to civilization.
She eventually made it back to Bucket Lane in Skrær, where she found that the news of Strawberry and Olaf's demise had apparently preceded her. She found their belongings neatly parceled up and ready for storage, and two new employees esconced in their rooms.
They are a pair of half-orc twins. The Hitty-Twins.