Note: I've lifted a little of the text from the adventure to use in the following so spoilers
certainly apply to this post.
Adventuring Phase: Those Who Tarry No Longer
The company are taken to meet the Lady Irimë and Prince Legolas. Although the Prince of Mirkwood feels ill at ease as to the way the discussion is progressing he acquiesces to Irimë’s desire for the companions to escort her to the High Pass where she is to meet with Elves from Rivendell; eventually to journey further west and take a ship to the Undying Lands.
Rising the next day, only the company and the Lady Irimë remain in the glade where they slept. Rising early but completely refreshed, the fellowship set out upon their journey, Irimë leading them through Mirkwood by paths unknown to. Leaving Mirkwood, Irimë speaks of many memories as they make their way across the Anduin Vales.
Looking back at Mirkwood, she speaks of Eryn Galen, the Green Wood, for so the Elves used to call it before the Shadow came to Dol Guldur. The Wise may have driven the Necromancer from his fastness in Southern Mirkwood, but evil still lingers in its depths.
Near the river, she describes how the Anduin flows south past the Golden Wood of Laurelindórenan. There is a strange note in her voice when she speaks, and cautions the company against travelling there, lest they fall into the enchantment of the Lady of the Forest. East of Laurelindórenan, she says, the river once watered the Garden Lands, where the Enyd Bess dwelled until the Enemy hunted them all down. The burning of their gardens was one of the worst wounds the Enemy ever inflicted upon Middle-earth. All that is beautiful fades or is destroyed.
At the Old Ford, she describes how a great bridge built by the Dwarves once spanned the river, and how it was made even greater by the men of lost Arnor. Great armies rode across that bridge, and she remembers the ice-spear of her kinsman Gil-Galad glittering in the sunlight. She claims to have known men like Beorn in the Second Age. They were dear to Oromë, she says, he who the Northmen call Béma, and learned secrets from his servants.
At night, she sings of Beleriand, which is drowned beneath the ocean, and the days of heroes. Leaving the Old Ford long behind them, it is one late afternoon when a sparrow alights upon Irimë and she tells the companions that it has told her they are being hunted by Wargs and their leader…
With the day waning, Grimbold leads the company to a defensible hill; used by Beorning patrols as a campsite and place to stay of a night. It is the best chance they have of facing the pursuing pack. Soon after, the wolves attack. They are led by a huge Red Warg, Caran Gaur. Irimë sings aloud and a light shines brightly from her outstretched hands and a ring of power. Bathed in the light, the companions find courage and strength; Grimbold standing against the Red Warg and his mate, a white-furred beast from the far north. The battle is desperate and Grimbold nearly succumbs to the savage attacks of the two Wargs but Iwgar strikes the great red wolf with a deadly blow. While the other companions fight on against the onslaught of warg and wolf they are each plucked from the craggy hillside by a great eagle and lifted away to safety.
Flying high into the Misty Mountains the eagles leave them upon a perilous height, exhausted from their battle with the wargs they rest and sleep deeply and in the morning they are greeted by the Lord of the Eagles and his honour guard. Exchanging pleasantries with the Lady Irimë, the companions inform the eagles of the death of the Red Wolf to which the Lord of the Eagles thanks them for bringing an end to such a cunning foe. Informing the eagles of their mission they agree to carry them near to their destination so that they may avoid other enemies and speed Irimë on to her meeting with Elves from Rivendell.
Arriving at the pass, Irimë informs them that the ancient standing stones and grass covered cobbles are all that is left of the old Northman settlement of Haycombe, the trader’s town leading to the Cirith Forn en Andrath. Irimë explains that this is where she is to meet the emissaries from Rivendell and the fellowship set camp among the old ruined stones.
Again, the evening draws in. Irimë does not sleep; instead, she wanders the hillside, following the unseen path of streets that were buried centuries ago. She steps lightly over snowfalls, remembering her vanished kin, and the lights and sounds of the market and the town. As the stars come out overhead, she raises her voice in a song to Elbereth Starkindler. Thogrim watches her dance and sing upon a distant hill but feels an unnatural coldness was across him; not the chill of the mountain air, but the clammy cold of sickness. A shadow slithers through the night and off in the distance, the dwarf sees Irimë glimmering softly, as if surrounded by a moonlit radiance – and then the shadow is upon her, suffocating her light. Irimë casts a single desperate glance back towards the sleeping adventurers... and then utter darkness falls upon the whole company.
The companions dream of travelling many years ago to the bustling town of Haycombe, they walk in familiar yet different bodies; for now they play the parts of folk from centuries passed: Rathar the Woodman, Olfast and Armund of Laketown, Lofar of the Grey Mountains, and Dirnan of Mirkwood.
As they walk through the open gates of the town Haleth, Armund’s young paige, swings a wooden sword and pretends to be a hero of old. The company are greeted by the sound of laughter and the bustle of a market from inside the town, and it is clear that many travellers have gathered here. Exploring the town, the dreaming companions realise that every sight and sound feels familiar to them, as though they belong to this place and time. Retiring to the Fallen Goat, an alehouse at the side of the market square, they are greeted by Aldor the inn-keeper and Geb the minstrel who accompanies Armund in a song about Fram the Dragonslayer and Scatha the Worm.
Time passes strangely within the dream but eventually cheers of excitement are heard from outside. Many of the inn’s patrons rush outside and shouts of “the Alderman is here!” drift in from the open door. Aldor informs the companions that they can best see his arrival from the first floor balcony of the inn. Here, the companions witness the Alderman’s attack – the townsfolk assailed by dead men and soldier in strange garb of red and gold. Defending the inn, the fellowship are outnumbered. Only Rathar stands free; the red garbed warriors demand his surrender but he refuses and is slain by their steel spears and curved swords.
Once the town is conquered, many women are slain at the command of the Alderman, anguished and spent the menfolk are chained and driven South to “meet their new Master…” by the Easterlings. Along the hard march, those slaves who cannot keep up are whipped; those who fall are left to die where they lie. The days pass swiftly and the companions and the menfolk of the town arrive wearied at the gates of Dol Guldur, where they are taken to the dungeons to await their fate. The company are thrown into a lightless, noisome pit, together with Aldor, Geb and Haleth; the distant sounds of machinery and screams of torture their only company beyond the fall walls of their prison.
With Aldor dying, but tended by the companions, a woodman enters the cell and offers them a choice; to perish here or serve his Master. The woodman, Annatar, leaves a plate of food and fresh water with them. The companions reject Annatar’s offer immediately and Armund and Lofar convince Geb to not succumb to the insidious offer. Returning, they all reject Annatar whose rage grows and they feel a great shadow cover their hearts, which lingers long after the Woodman leaves.
Olfast the Woodmen is dragged from the dungeon by a group of orcs “for sport”. He is pushed along winding tunnels and down many staircases, all the while being tormented and bullied by the orcs for, they state, a deadly fate awaits him. Olfast/Iwgar is thrown into high-walled pit through a sturdy and bolted door, orcs and goblins surrounding it; smashing swords against shields and banging iron helmets on the walls, they scream with glee.
Above the portcullis stand a woman dressed in deep colours - purples, reds and black; her long raven hair tied tight in braids that stretch from her temple, over her shoulders, and to the small of her back. Next to her, bound, is an elf woman who looks familiar; but Olfast/Iwgar cannot place her.
The woman and the elf both sing but in different languages; one harsh and guttural, the other is the Sindarin tongue. One speaks then the other responds. The elf cries as she sings, sobbing between words, as a dark shape moves behind the portcullis. The portcullis rises and a creature bound in barbed chains enters the pit; orcs behind it threaten it with burning torches - a gnarled, thin, tall long-fingered creature, covered in broken hard brown skin. Hair more like lichen or moss and dark eyes full of pain and fear. As the creature shuffles into the pit, threatened by burning brands the elf woman sings in common:
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain air,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!
Her voice is loud and clear and full of melancholy but it awakens something deep and good within Olfast/Iwgar. For her bravery, she is brutally beaten and dragged away, the Sorceress left to finish the dirge and Olfast is commanded to attack the creature, "... or your friends back in their prison will die".
Above the pit, the orcs and goblins scream in excitement "MANSBANE! MANSBANE!" The creature is tormented by the song being sung. It thrashes and screams, looking up pitifully at the woman. Poked with burning torches it lurches towards Olfast/Iwgar, the crescendo of noise more like a thunderous storm, drowning out the words of the song but for a moment, but then the light of the fires dim and the woman's voice carries in the air, above the sound of steel on stone; the language dark and foreboding; the creature lost to its hatred and torment.
Broken but still alive, the orcs return the fallen Olfast/Iwgar to the prison, saying they will return for the boy tomorrow. Passing in and out of consciousness, Olfast murmurs broken words from the song as Gilbrannon comforts him. Meanwhile, Armund/Grimbold and Lofar/Thogrim, try to calm and support Haleth; preparing the boy for the horrors ahead.
The next day the orcs return and ignoring the protests of the companions take the young lad away later returning his broken and lifeless body to the dungeon cell. As they leave, the cell is filled with an eerie presence. An unearthly greenish light fills the chamber, and the companions see a thing of shadow looming over them. The spirit is vaguely man-shaped, like a shadow cast on a wall, but its outline shifts and warps as it moves. The spirit speaks through the dead body of Haleth. The boy’s broken, bloodied lips and smashed jaw move, and a sepulchral voice echoes from his dead mouth, addressing the adventurers. The companions deny the demands of the spirit to betray Irimë who hiss and dooms them to share her fate and despair! The companions find themselves back in the waking world. They see Irimë standing before the rising sun. A shadowy horror hangs in the air, lashing her with fingers of darkness, but she is unafraid. She lifts her hand, and it is as though the dawn shines through her fingers. The spirit wails and vanishes as the morning breaks over the High Pass.
At the breaking of dawn, a company of travellers approach from the west, led by two Elf-Lords who are alike in appearance and garb, dark-haired, grey-eyed, elven-fair, clad in bright mail beneath cloaks of silver-grey. These are Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond. The elf maiden informs Elladan and Elrohir of the bravery of the companions and that she chose them well. She bestows on them gifts; a cloak which hides its wearer from sight for Brand, a dagger that glows when orcs are abroad for Grimbold, vambraces wrought in ancient times for Thogrim, and a flute which soothes those who listen for Iwgar. Finally, she names Grimbold “elf-friend” and states that the light in the old Beorning’s eyes and the ring in his voice will tell all of this; benevolent birds and beasts will recognise him as a friend of the fairest of all folk and a staunch enemy of the Shadow.
It is here, also, that Gilbrannon bids farewell. His encounter with the Sorceress of Mirkwood has taken more from him than he cared to admit and he looks to the Last Homely House for comfort and reflection; “Farewell my friends! But do not despair; we may yet meet again if your journeys bring you west of these mountains for you may find me in Imladris. Farewell!”
Phew, bit of an epic post that, apologies, I couldn't think of a way to break it up and so much happened in this adventure; the culmination of lots of foreshadowing and a couple of plotlines.
As you can see, I heavily altered the published adventure, including the Red Wolf and his wargs as the antagonist in the battle rather than the orcs from the published adventure. In addition this dream/flashback allowed me to (a) introduce the Sorceress of Mirkwood, although not named directly, and (b) bring in some background for Mansbane...
The Sorceress is really underused in DoM and I wanted to bring her into the story more, so I used the absent player/Gilbrannon in an 'off-screen' encounter with her as referred to in a previous adventure but then also thought the introduction of her here in the dream was perfect - binding her to the origin of the creature Mansbane as well as a certain Elf who they have met in passing in an earlier adventure; will make reference to that in a later post though!
Mansbane is something I've taken from the official material but felt that the usual idea of it being some kind of Troll was a bit of a missed opportunity. I've discussed what it could be with others here on another thread (ref: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=7169
) and have gradually built up references to the creature and its origin (remember the ruined gardens in the Brown Lands from an earlier adventure) to place some seeds in the minds of the players. I also wanted to show how the creature has been corrupted by Sauron and his agents, to give the player-heroes some interesting decisions to make in the future with regards to the creature and how to deal with it.
I couldn't be happier with how this adventure went; it was epic and the key elements I introduced really elevated it from an often criticised (unfairly, perhaps) published adventure into the highlight of the campaign so far, personalising the events in a way that can often be hard to do with pre-published material. Sure, it took some work to accomodate my ideas but the results were worth it.
So, I'm going to pause here and give my typing fingers a rest! Does anyone have any questions/comments on this adventure or the campaign so far that I can answer?