When we'd left off last week, the group had just defeated a group of hobgoblins slavers, and saved the villagers from being thrown off of the cliff. However, another threat loomed. Just over the hill came the hobgoblins advanced party, an orc barbarian, two goblin blades and two guard drakes.
Maddie had been called in to work, so was unavailable for the first fight, but she managed to make it for much of the rest of the session.
Combat was joined. The party immediately identified the orc barbarian as the largest threat, and our wizard hit him with an effect that slowed the orc. The goblins and drakes charged in, with the orc moving more slowly behind. The drakes turned out to be a threat as well. They do a whopping 1d10+9 damage on a hit when they're within two squares of an ally. So the goblins egged them on, and when they bit down on the meaty parts of our heroes, they sure felt it. The orc finally managed to get up into the melee, but just barely. It moved into position, but because of the slow effect, and its efforts to charge into the melee, it suffered a huge penalty to its defenses. The party flocked to it like lions to a wounded cow, and started hammering away at it. I think that the menace implied by this orc was a mechanism both of my description of its huge and terrible axe, and the players own understanding of the elite orc barbarian. The orc ended up right next to John's warlord, who is not a "soft target" like our wizard, but is not quite as hard a target as our defenders, either. Over the course of a round, the party pummeled the orc with everything that they had, pretty much. He was bloodied in no time, which arguably made it a bigger threat, since it did even more damage with its huge axe when bloodied. But my players get a round of applause for their efforts, as they were able to drop the orc dead in its tracks before it even got a swing. I was only a tiny bit disappointed ;)
The goblins and drakes were swept up in fairly short order. The drakes bite hard, but go down reasonably quickly. A+ for John's warlord: they were fighting atop a tall cliff, and John used a power to push one of the drakes right over the edge. I briefly considered giving the drake some kind of save or check to at least hang onto the edge, but I went with the "players win with their cool powers" theory, and over the edge he went.
The party rounded up the frightened villagers. It was chaos for a few minutes, as they tried to keep them together, and answer their questions and assure them of their safety. A tall, muscular fellow, perhaps a smith, asked them about his wife and children. He, and the villagers, wanted to know the fates of the family that they'd been separated from, some of them having been left with the goblins back at the village. The party told them, sadly, that no others remained alive. The man buried his head in his hands, and walked back amongst the villagers, and walked a few more steps and threw himself off of the cliff.
The party worked to calm the villagers, and finally formulated a plan by which they would rest amidst the trees nearby, and would protect and escort the remaining villagers to another village some distance to the west.
The hobgoblins that they'd dealt with had a large chest with them, that the party grabbed and were finally able to open. Within was a treasure trove: some +1 plate armor, some magic bracers, an everfull provisions, and a +1 wand, as well as a bunch of cash and a couple of ritual scrolls.
The players also used this opportunity to level up. This took us nearly an hour, I think. I think that the biggest confusion had to do with applying the "one half your level". You apply this modifier to ability score mods, and to your defenses. By accident, some of the players were applying it twice, once to the ability score mod, then again to the defense. In fact, its supposed to be applied separately, but the character sheet was a little confusing about this, and it took awhile to find a clear reference to it in the book. People seemed pleased with getting more hit points, and with their defense and attack generally going up, but were a little disappointed with feats. A number of players said that the feats felt uninspired and limited in selection. John was excited to take a multiclass feat into Paladin.
Maddie was able to join us at this point, and so once everyone was all set, we pressed on.
The players were given two options. Based on their limited understanding of their location, they had two routes to take in order to reach their destination, the village of Krandal Creek. They could go west, a route that would take them through gently rolling hills, and straight through Skull Hammer orc tribal lands, or they could go south and west, a route that would take them through more rough and rocky hill country, but that was likely to have fewer orc problems. The party chose the more southerly route, hoping to have less orc trouble.
They set off, and sure enough, the path grew steeper and more treacherous, with cliff faces plunging away hundreds of feet. After some hours, they saw ahead on the path a makeshift camp, with a figure tending to it. The camp was before a small cave in a vertical cliff face, the path was thirty feet wide or so, with a small cliff face, dropping about ten feet. As they got closer, they could see that the figure was an orcish woman. She put her hands on her hips and watched them for a moment, before going into the cave and returning with a large halberd. As they got closer, she dumped a small bag of powder into the cookpot, which immediately began to billow heavy smoke, completely obscuring the area. The fighting types charged into the smoke, where they could only see for about five feet around them. Jason's fighter charged in first and nearly bumped into the orc. They traded blows, and she vanished into the thick smoke. So began a game of cat and mouse in which the party searched around in the thick smoke for the orc. Once or twice, they bumped into her and the clang of metal on metal rang out, but each time she vanished again into the smoke. At one point, she emerged from the opposite side of the large smoke cloud and charged right at the cleric, dealing a couple of wicked strikes to him. The party all charged back in that direction and began laying down the pain on the orc. She wielded the huge halberd like a tornado, laying all about her with its blade. The warlord even manged to get his hands on her to grapple her, but she escaped and again vanished into the smoke. Finally, the Andrew's rogue bumped into her, and used a power to slide her four squares, and managed to slide her right off the 10' cliff nearby. Maddie's paladin charged over and leapt down to continue the fight. Her scythe was true, and the fight was over.
Fearing that the smoke, which had formed a tall column, and was quite visible, was a signal and that they had angry orcs on the way back, the party took refuge in the small cave, where they found some money and a set of darkleaf hide armor. They and the villagers rested briefly. No enemy showed up, and soon they moved on.
Their next encounter found them a few hours later, trying to navigate a high and narrow trail. On their left the cliff face was vertical and towered high above them, and on their right it plunged away hundreds of feet. The trail was between five and fifteen feet here, and twisted around the rocky outcroppings like a snake. In a few places, loose stone and steep grade to the trail made the going very difficult. As they made their way carefully along this dangerous trail, they heard goblin voices from high above them, and stones started to come sailing over the cliff above, down onto their heads. The party did their best to shield the villagers with them, and began moving along the trail as best they could. Jason's fighter led the way, and came to a wider section of the still precious trail, and noticed a number of deep rifts and holes in the rock cliff face to his left. He also noticed that there were dozens and dozens of small drakes lurking within the fissures, and suddenly they swarmed out upon him. He was caught somewhat isolated, ahead of the party, and so he bore the full brunt of their assault. They pulled him to the ground and ripped and tore at him. In one round, doing more than 40 points of damage, and sending him into negative hit points.
I froze for a moment. I thought that surely I'd just killed the first characters, and I was even more horrified because if Jason's fighter was dead and out of the fight, it was going to spell bad bad news for the rest of the party. He wasn't dead, and because Jerry's cleric is a freaking healing machine, Jason's fighter was back on his feet in no time flat. The needlefang drake swarms continued to attack the fighter, and as the other party members moved in, they felt the sting of these creatures as well. Mechanically, these monsters have a minor-action attack that lets them pull down a victim. Normally, their damage is 1d10+x, but against prone targets, its 2d10+x. Ouch! This was a tough, tough fight, in my opinion. The party was stretched out and not able to focus their effort. The monsters were "swarms", which means that normal melee and ranged damage only inflict half damage on them. Jason's fighter went into negative hit points at least twice during the fight. They pulled together, and started dealing some effective damage to the creatures, but what turned the tide was a power from Jerry's Cleric that let him push a couple of the swarms over the cliff. After that, while they were still tough, simply for their damage output, it was just a mop up operation.
Then the moved on as quickly as they could.
On the way, they did find a scythe that turned out to be a +1 terror weapon. Woo!
No D&D for us this coming weekend, due to three players being out of town, but we'll reconvene in two weeks.