"The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

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Terisonen
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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by Terisonen » Wed Aug 02, 2017 9:35 pm

Oops my frenchy way of english has betrayed me.

I would say this kind of nasty persons are likely to be approached by shadow agents... :mrgreen:
Last edited by Terisonen on Thu Aug 03, 2017 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by gsecaur » Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:58 pm

Terisonen, I knew from your previous posts that English is not your first language, but like Otaku I could not figure out what that meant.

Makes a lot more sense now! Merci de votre opinion!

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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by Otaku-sempai » Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:30 am

Terisonen wrote:
Wed Aug 02, 2017 9:35 pm
Oops my frenchy way of english has betrayed me.

I would say this kind of nasty persons are likely to be appraoched by shadow agents... :mrgreen:
Thanks for the clarification. I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable by asking about it.
"Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he."

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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by Terisonen » Thu Aug 03, 2017 10:39 am

Absolutly no problem. It make my english better. So thank you very much :P
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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by gsecaur » Sat Aug 12, 2017 3:24 pm

Here's the second session of our campaign. Again, this is the write-up I emailed to the players so it recaps everything in detail, and may be too long for some readers' tastes. Naturally, it also includes spoilers, this time for Rich Harrison's "To Journey's End & the Eagles' Eyrie".

Session 2: To Journey's End (part one) (March 28, T.A. 2946)

The characters:
Caranthir, an Elf of Mirkwood, Slayer
Gerold, a Man of Woodmen-town, Warden
Gylfir, a Man of the Beornings, Warden
Nali, a Dwarf of Erebor, Wanderer
Will, a Hobbit of Buckland, Wanderer

Two weeks following the party's return from their escort of the merchant Baldor and little Belgo to King Thranduil's Halls, they have been reunited with another old friend, Willhald "Will" Hayward (of the Newbury Haywards). Will had first left the Shire -- inspired by the example of his maternal aunt's nephew, Bilbo Baggins -- working as the cook for a group of traveling Dwarves which included Nali, and he had later made the acquaintance of Gylfir while passing through Beorning territory. He is a stout wee fellow, with a bright and merry spirit.

Gylfir, meanwhile, has a mission to complete for Beorn: to meet with and assess the quality of the new Master of Lake-town, Omund, son of Lomund. The old Master was a venal man who'd absconded with much of Esgaroth's treasury, after King Bard transferred a great deal of Smaug's hoard to the people of Lake-town in order to help pay for rebuilding the city. They'd managed to rebuild after all, but the Master had vanished into the wilderness with wealth that was not intended for him. Beorn would only begin trading with Lake-town if the new Master proved to be a better, more trustworthy man. Gylfir has brought a gift from Beorn, a wooden pot of sweet honey, carved around the outside with an image of the flowing Anduin and people living along its banks.

Master Omund is quite friendly to Gylfir, and they chat about the fortunes of the new town, and the fact that Dale has become the new center of trading in the North, leaving Esgaroth struggling to reestablish its importance. This seems to trouble the Master. They also talk about the presence of Easterlings in the city -- Gylfir has observed that the people of Lake-town seem not to trust these foreigners, but to tolerate them nonetheless, as a town eager for trade cannot turn away willing partners. This is interpreted as a mixed sign for Beorn's interests -- if Esgaroth is desperate for custom, perhaps better terms can be negotiated for the Beornings, but their desperation could also lead to the Lake-men trading with more wicked partners.

Ultimately, although Gylfir struggles with polite conversation and finds himself unsure how to relate to city folk, he doesn't do or say anything disastrous and manages to make an acceptable impression on Master Omund. He determines that the new Master is sincere in his desire to do good for the people of Esgaroth, but that there is something else driving him, something which Gylfir can not put his finger on. He believes that Master Omund would be an honest trading partner, and that his self-interest does not override his sense of public service. (This was handled as a full Encounter between Gylfir and the Master, capped off by an Insight roll, on which the player produced a Great Success. Had he gotten an Extraordinary Success, I would have allowed him to figure out the Master's "secret" motivation, which isn't as sinister as that sounds.)

The Master is pleased enough to present a gift for Beorn, a small, intricate carving of a wooden boat, trimmed with gold and bearing little wooden men sitting at the oars (worth 5 Treasure). He also presents a small gift to Gylfir, a silver pin (worth 1 Treasure).

As Gylfir is leaving, the Master mentioned that if Gylfir is returning to Beorn, there is a job to be done that the Master thinks the party might handle. He tells him to report to a certain address in the prosperous quarter of town, tomorrow morning with the rest of his fellowship.

----------

The next day, the company arrives at a townhouse where a Dwarf shows them into a receiving room and tells them to wait on comfortable couches. Soon, a small door opens and an older Dwarf in expensive white clothing enters. He introduces himself as Gloin, son of Groin, and a member of Thorin's Company. He now acts as ambassador from Erebor to Esgaroth, and he is considering hiring the company as escorts for a dignitary on an important journey. However, he wants to hear about their adventures, to ensure that they will have the martial prowess and strength of character to complete the job.

Nali reasons that as Gloin's kinsman, he should attempt to act as spokesman for the group, expressing his admiration for Gloin and Thorin's Company, but making a complete hash of his words. (He has a ranking of one in Courtesy, and he rolled an Eye!) Will jumps in to try to salvage the interaction, introducing all the company members and mentioning his kinship to Bilbo. Gloin visibly softens at the mention of his friend, and declares that Will is certainly the second-best Hobbit he's met. (Gloin has met precisely two Hobbits.) (The player rolled very well for this skill check, and he has the Fair-spoken trait.) Caranthir wisely stays out of the conversation, given that Gloin is plainly irritated by the Elf's presence. Both Gerold and Gylfir are able to contribute to the conversation and ultimately the company wins over the Dwarf.

He explains that they will accompany his cousin, Balin, son of Fundin, on a long, arduous journey through very treacherous lands. They will go south along the Running River, through the Long Marshes, until they reach the Old Forest Road. From there, they will turn west across the width of Mirkwood, as Balin assesses the state of the road and determines whether it would be feasible to restore the road now that Erebor has been reestablished. From the western gate of the Old Forest Road, it will be a gentler trip across Beorning lands, crossing the Anduin, and heading up into the Misty Mountains to the Eyrie of the Lord of Eagles, Gwaihir. There, Balin will present a letter from King Dain and King Bard, inviting the Eagles to attend the Gathering of Five Armies, to be held at Dale this coming November, on the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Five Armies. This will be the conclusion of their contract.

The PCs accept the job and sign a legally-binding agreement. They are instructed to meet Balin at a warehouse in two days, to begin the journey. As Balin is currently preparing the provisions, Nali decides to find him sooner and offer to help with the preparations. (Nali is a Wanderer with the Trader and Wilful traits, so this feels like something he would do.)

Balin is significantly older than Gloin, but still hale and strong. He is also very friendly, welcoming Nali's help. (His two companions, Barrack and Torrun, are less so.) Nali notices that Balin's itinerary calls for making the entire southward trip on foot, including through the Long Marshes. Nali thinks that a more practical approach would be to rent boats -- this might not reduce the travel time necessary, but it would certainly make for an easier and more comfortable voyage. Again, however, Nali struggles to make a cogent argument for his position, and simply makes things worse. He tries again, and convinces Balin to at least consider it. Lest he do more damage, Nali gets out of there quickly. (The first roll was a minor disaster -- I think the player rolled his second Eye of the evening! -- so I allowed him to try again in order to mitigate the catastrophe. On the second attempt, I think he had a Great Success, thanks to spending Hope to add an Attribute, so I allowed the GS to cancel the Eye and leave him in a kind of neutral position again.)

On the day of departure, the team meets Balin and the Dwarves and Caranthir finds that Balin is much friendlier to his folk than many Dwarves are. He feels emboldened to offer his own expertise and successfully promotes Nali's plan. Caranthir has a great deal of boating experience, so Balin relents. The party sets out in two small boats, one steered by Caranthir and one by Gerold. (Caranthir has a high Athletics skill and the Boating trait, so he's something of an expert in this area. They decided to split the party, though, for reasons I didn't understand. Worked fine by me, though, as this presented twice the chance for entertaining failures. Balin and his Dwarves and Gerold's hound, Roderic, were in Gerold's boat, and the other PCs were in Caranthir's.)

It is some 15 miles south down the length of Long Lake, to where a waterfall drops away to the Running River below. The company loads their boats onto small carts to be lowered down the paved path known as the Stair of Girion, and they join a small camp of Lake-men who act as porters. Here they spend the night, singing and telling stories of their travels. Most of the porters are just boys, easily impressed by adventurers. When Balin draws his pipe, Will does the same and offers him some Old Toby. Balin is delighted, remarking that he hasn't smoked real Shire-weed since Bilbo returned home years ago. In the meantime, he's had to make do with marsh-weed cultivated near Long Lake. (Both Will and Balin share the Smoking trait, so this was a good bonding experience for them. Also, establishing that there's no good pipe-weed in Rhovanion sets up a future storyline for Will, in which Dodinas Brandybuck will ask for Will's help in developing a hybrid pipe-weed that can grow at the Easterly Inn, making them the best source of weed in Wilderland. Will grew up on a farm, with the Gardener trait, so he's capable of doing this and I think it'll be fun for the player to get to name a new strain. This will require a trip to the Shire at some point, to gather starter plants, then the investment of several Fellowship Undertakings to develop the hybrid weed.)

An old man, Nerulf, approaches from out of the darkness, and the boys scoot over to make room for him at the fire. Nerulf seems to be only half-aware of where he is and in whose company, as he continually mutters a phrase, "If you go south in the marshes take heed. Tread lightly and fear the gallows-weed." The company recognises this as a rhyme of lore, a mnemonic often used by to recall folk wisdom. In fact, Gerold is familiar with gallows-weed, a vine which hangs from branches and instinctively tightens around the neck when a person passes too close. Balin takes note, remarking that it brings to mind a poem that Bilbo shared with Thorin's Company, called "The Mewlips". Will also knows this poem, and while Balin recites it Will takes out a small stringed instrument and accompanies him.

(Here I played the recording of someone -- allegedly Tolkien -- reciting the poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7pULUvCFjw. This worked well for representing Balin's voice performing the poem, and was nicely atmospheric.)

A hush settles over the campsite as everyone digests this tale. Will has always regarded it as a mere fairy tale, but there are some striking similarities between the text and the details of their journey. "Merlock Mountains" could easily be a misremembrance of the Mirkwood Mountains, and there are references to an old road, right where the Old Forest Road would be. Further, the description of the grey forest and the marshy river correspond. The party determines they will be careful and remember the old man's rhyme.

----------

The next morning they load up the boats and continue south. Soon the river reaches the lower marshes and the boats threaten to entangle in low-hanging vines or weird, knobby roots and branches that protrude up beneath the water. Although Caranthir is the more experienced boatman, he struggles a bit and at one point his passengers have to climb out into the chilly water and lift the boat around an obstacle, leaving them all wet to the bone and exhausted by cold and effort. Gerold, who grew up along the Dusky River but has less practical boating experience, excels at maneuvering in the marsh and gently teases his friend about it. (I told Caranthir's player that he didn't have to roll his Athletics skill check to pilot the boat, due to his Boating trait, but he insisted that he wanted the AP. He would almost certainly have made the check because his Athletics is very high, but for the Eye that he rolled! Gerold's player, on the other hand, rolled a Great Success.)

The river is fast at this time of year, all the melt-water coming down out of the mountains to add to the flow, and Caranthir and Gerold decide to dare some rapids in the interest of picking up speed and reducing their travel time. For a few hours, the piloting is more challenging, but both succeed admirably and they estimate that they have saved an entire day of rowing.

They are nearing the end of this leg of the journey, and stop for the final night on a dry spit of land. Nearby, Will spots a cluster of flickering lights some twenty yards distant, which he recognises as corpse candles and vows to avoid. However, Gerold knows a great deal of herb-lore, and recalls that where there are corpse candles one might find hagweed, from which he can brew a draught that bolsters the spirit for travel through blighted lands. He decides to see if he can harvest some, and Will decides to go with him in case of trouble.

Indeed there is a bed of hagweed, a thick carpet of small green leaves floating atop a pool of foul-smelling water. Gerold knows that hagweed grows near corpse candles because the plant is fed by the rotting bodies within the water. In a moment they realize why there are dead bodies here, as the carpet of hagweed ripples and then a shaggy arm reaches up out of the muck. It is a marsh-ogre!

Both Gerold and Will are alert enough to avoid being ambushed, and they go on the attack. The rest of the band comes running seconds later, and soon the ogre realizes it has bitten off more than it can handle. It is wounded deeply by a thrust from Caranthir's spear, then by a rending chop by Gerold which opens up its rib cage, and the marsh-ogre falls back into the water.

Will remembers Bilbo's tale of meeting the three trolls, and their cave of stolen goods, so the group searches the waters for any loot left behind by the ogre's previous victims. They find bones in the bottom of the pond, some with soft flesh still attached, and a small trove of treasure. (I deemed this to be 10* Treasure, since this is our first hoard and I wanted to try out the treasure rules. Both Caranthir and Gerold found Precious Objects. For Caranthir, this was an adamant ring which catches the slightest light, sized for a Dwarvish finger. He gave it to Nali, as Caranthir is not interested in wealth. It is worth 30 Treasure, but is corrupted by Shadow. Caranthir succeeded at a Corruption test, so did not gain a Shadow point, and I forgot to have Nali roll for the same when he accepted it from Caranthir. For Gerold, it was a necklace with five emeralds, in a setting of old Dalish design. It is worth 20 Treasure.) The rest of the group divides the coin, and Balin decrees that he and the brothers will take no share as the escorts earned it.

They spend the rest of the night sleeping fitfully, as the Shadow looms over this place. (Gerold gained a point of Shadow from a failed Corruption test.) They are eager to move on in the morning, and soon they are well into the forest. Will realizes that something is following them along the river bank, and a few hours later catches a glimpse of long-limbed Elves skulking through the trees. He calls out and the Elves freeze in place, then one steps forward. Caranthir immediately recognises him as Galion, the erstwhile butler of Thranduil's Halls, who was exiled after allowing himself to fall asleep in the wine cellars, thereby permitting a certain troupe of Dwarves (and one Hobbit) to escape from imprisonment.

Neither Galion nor Balin recognise each other, as neither ever saw the other's face, but when Caranthir carefully avoids naming Balin, Balin doesn't understand why so he declares himself by name. He intends this to smooth the interaction, as it usually does, but Galion knows the names of the Dwarves who cost him his position! He coldly identifies himself and orders the group to leave Mirkwood immediately. Someone makes the mistake of pointing out that it wasn't the Dwarves who caused his exile, but his own lack of discipline, and things become even more tense!

It is clear that Galion wants badly to murder the entire troupe, but he has no legal right to mete justice so far from the Woodland Realm, and the Elves serving under him would not permit it. Also, he can't very well kill Caranthir, who is one of his own folk. Instead, he demands that they climb out of their boats onto the eastern shore of the Celduin, that the Elves will confiscate their rented boats, and that the party will walk due east until they are clear of the forest.

They do not accept these terms, reasoning correctly that he cannot enforce this edict. As this stretch of Mirkwood is not controlled by Elves or Men or Dwarves, all have freedom to travel here. They say so, fairly persuasively, and Galion's warriors start to get uneasy with this encounter. He relents, saying that they may continue as far as the Old Forest Road, and that his men will track them the entire way. When they reach the road, they may travel it or move south of the road, but they are not to set foot on the north side of the road, which he still deems to be the Elvenking's domain. The party agrees to this compromise, and Galion turns away, not to be seen again.

As they boat the last remaining miles to the road, Will begins singing an Elvish-style song which Caranthir composed during the last Fellowship Phase, "The Lay of Mannish Years", which tells a tale of a Man wandering along the Elf-path who encounters the Enchanted Stream -- the same stream in which Bombur famously fell during the Quest of Erebor -- and, not knowing of its magical effects, drinks deeply of its waters. He drinks so deeply, in fact, that he falls asleep for many, many years, and when we wakes he finds that he has slept an entire lifetime of Men, and that everyone he knows is dead. It is a deeply tragic, melancholy song, and Will sings it perfectly. (Literally, he sings it perfectly. He has Song 3, and he rolled a Gandalf and three sixes!) The Elves who are tracking the party are deeply moved by the song and thank Will for sharing it, before they turn and melt back into the trees.

Where the Old Forest Road reaches the bank of the Running River, the party draws their boats ashore and unloads them. The road is in poor condition, but would be far worse had it not been built with the masterful masonry of the Dwarves and wound-about with spells of the Elves. The ruins of an old bridge once crossed the river, and the road once continued onward toward the Iron Hills, but now that bridge is gone and the road overgrown. A ruined town of Men once stood here, too, a trading outpost for the Dwarves that traveled the road and the Men that peopled the plains of Rhovanion. The town is now forgotten, as are the Men who once dwelt there.

[End session]

----------

Loremaster notes: I mishandled the Treasure rules a bit, allowing the players to make second rolls (based on the quality of the hoard) to see if they find anything notable. Reviewing the treasure rules in Rivendell, it is clear that the re-rolls are possible only on the second Feat die with Success dice equal to XP wagered, the one that determines whether a found object is merely Precious, or a Wondrous Artefact, etc. I explained this misstep to the players and we will correct the rules next time.

I wanted to reward Caranthir's player for surrendering his treasure, as I think it was nicely in-character. I gave him an extra Advancement Point, with the caveat that I won't do so every single time he forgoes treasure or payment.

I also wanted to reward Will for that stunning Song roll. Word will get back to the Woodland Realm of the Hobbit with the voice of a Valar, and something good will come of it at some point.

I decided to swap out the Stone-troll in Rich's scenario for the Marsh-ogre, as I would prefer to use an indigenous threat in the marshes. I don't know when we'll get back to the Long Marshes, so let's use that nice bestiary from the Lake-town sourcebook.


Greg

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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by Majestic » Tue Aug 15, 2017 5:49 pm

Excellent recap, Greg! :)
Adventure Summaries of our campaign, currently playing through The Darkening of Mirkwood

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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by gsecaur » Thu Sep 14, 2017 1:50 am

After a lengthy hiatus due to some scheduling difficulties, we finally got back to the game last Friday. As always, this is rife with spoilers for those who are sensitive to such things, and quite lengthy as well. The scenario we're playing through is "To Journey's End & the Eagles' Eyrie", as adapted from "The Marsh-Bell" by Rich H. (This session marks the end of the "Marsh-Bell" content.)

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Session 3: To Journey's End (part two) (March 31, T.A. 2946)

The characters:
Caranthir, an Elf of Mirkwood, Slayer
Gerold, a Man of Woodmen-town, Warden
Gylfir, a Man of the Beornings, Warden
Nali, a Dwarf of Erebor, Wanderer
Will, a Hobbit of Buckland, Wanderer

Beyond the rotting river, the water course breaks against tangles of hoary willow-trees standing close together and shutting out the light of day even at its brightest. Their drooping branches trail into the water, and their moulding roots sink deep into the grey slime: the river disappears in a vast fen without wind or tide.

The last vestiges of an ancient town jut out from the slime and the mud, like stubbed fingers and broken teeth. Lonely pillars, small marble arches, and wet walls with grinning gargoyles stare at the unexpected visitors.

Balin tells the group that he wants to explore these ruins for a bit before starting along the road, to which Caranthir objects. Balin declares, "The purpose of this journey is to determine if the Old Road can be reopened for trade. If there are dangers along the road, it is important to know that." As Balin is their employer, the group complies and they pair off to search the area. Barrack and Torrun go together and Balin selects Nali. Caranthir and Gerold are another pair, and Gylfir and Will are the last.

They search for some time with little success. Gerold is the most effective, finding a few important clues including some squishy footprints -- wide and with long, webbed toes. Gylfir stumbles into a patch of gallows-weed, failing to notice it until the vine is reaching for his neck, but he manages to evade it before it wraps around him. Caranthir discovers a willow-tree full of gorcrows, small black birds with greasy feathers showing a greenish sheen. Their croaking call is unpleasant to hear, but Caranthir decides it's not worth avoiding them because they are, after all, just crows. The birds set up a dense chorus of calls as he passes near them.

Soon a bell begins to toll, sounding distant and muffled, and some of the heroes recognise that the sound comes from underground. Nali is dazed by it, falling into a sorcerous stupor and turning to walk slowly in another direction. Balin sees this and lifts him from the ground, carrying the ensorcelled Dwarf over his shoulder. He calls out to the rest of the group.

Elsewhere in the ruins, both Caranthir and Gerold have fallen under the spell of the Marsh-bell, as have Barrack and Torrun. Both pairs are nowhere to be found when the companions meet Balin and the still-dazed Nali, whose legs continue working even as he remains thrown over the old Dwarf's shoulder. Gylfir recalls folk tales about people who have been enchanted, and that sometimes they can be awakened by a song. Will sings "An Ale So Fine", a Hobbit drinking-song, reasoning that if anything will bring Nali back to himself, it's a song about beer. This works, and Nali is snapped out of the spell.

Now making sure to stick together, the group searches for their missing friends. They hear the baying of Roderic, Gerold's hound, and find the dog circling at the edge of a dark pool. The water still ripples outward, indicating that someone disturbed its surface very recently, and the party finds bootprints entering the water at a few points along the edge. Here the ruins are more prominent, as if this was the place where the main buildings of the sunken town once rose. The remains of a great marble arch can be seen on the opposite shore, the other walls of the building now crumbled into the mud. On the treetops around the pool the gorcrows croak, signalling the presence of the trespassers.

----------

Caranthir and Gerold, and the two Dwarf brothers, wake up at the top of a flight of stone steps. They are soaking wet and the steps descend into water, so they deduce that they passed through that flooded passage to reach this place. The steps open up to a small chamber, and on the opposite side is a small passage from which the only faint light comes in. While Caranthir and Gerold discuss their plight, Barrack and Torrun have gotten to their feet, readjusted their mail coats, and are deciding to explore the complex. Caranthir argues against this plan, but the Dwarves insist that Balin would want them to search for threats. (The heroes suspect this is less about doing what Balin would wish and more about the brothers' desire to explore.)

Before this argument can grow more heated, Gylfir rises out of the water, climbing the steps, the rest of the party behind him. Nali has brought torches, and despite having just been completely submerged, he is still able to light them. (Nali has the Fire-making trait, so I opted to give him a chance to keep the torches dry.) The companions do not agree about whether exploring the complex is warranted, so Balin opts to put it to a vote. Ultimately, a majority of the party agrees to search the ruins, with the stipulation that they all agree to withdraw if the situation becomes too harrowing.

The party moves cautiously down the short passage, which opens into a much larger chamber, presenting six arched openings, three on the right side and three on the left. The farthest doorway on the right side is larger, its arch decorated with stones of many colours. A foul stench of rot hangs in the still air.

In the wall opposite the opening to the flooded cellar, there is a narrow vertical chimney, leading toward the surface; inside the chimney hangs a frayed and rotting bell rope. The floor inside the confined space of the chimney is littered with gorcrow feathers and bird deposits.

Caranthir brandishes a torch down the first passage on the left and sees that it twists away from view. He declares that this passage is virtually an ambush waiting to happen and declines to explore it further. Meanwhile, Nali has crossed to the furthest arch on the right, the large one with the colourful stones. He sees that a short flight of steps lead down to what was once a heavy wooden door, though the wood has rotted completely over the years, so that only the rusted iron hinges and metal straps of the door remain. He gets distracted before he can probe further, so he never does find out what was behind that heavy door.

Gerold and Gylfir are on opposites sides of the chamber, each starting to look down other passages, each finding that it leads to a series of dark openings on both the right and left side of the passage. Given how little space there is between the arches, these must either be very small cells or passages which connect to each other. Both heroes note that the stench seems to increase as they advance, until Gerold sees a pair of red eyes looking out at him from the darkness. He instinctively brings his torch around and it illuminates an ugly figure with stringy hair and green-tinted skin, short claws and gnashing teeth. It hisses and snarls, and elsewhere more of the creatures emerge to surround the party!

Both Gerold and Gylfir recognise the creatures as Marsh-dwellers, most likely the things called "Mewlips" in Bilbo's poem. (Both PCs are Wardens, so they possess the Shadow-lore trait, and I judged that this would be sufficient to identify the monsters. I suppose I should have required a Lore check from them, to represent that these are pretty rare monsters and not deeply connected to the Shadow.)

The battle is joined! Caranthir launches the first attack, and smites a Marsh-dweller through the heart, felling him immediately. Gerold follows by hitting his foe, though it's not a killing blow. And then things get difficult -- the heroes are having a hard time landing blows, and they each have two creatures to deal with. (Gylfir is struggling more than anyone, rolling a failure after failure, including a total of seven or eight Eyes over the course of the entire session!) Balin and the Dwarf brothers are holding their own and managing to fell some of their own enemies.

Slowly, the band manages to turn things around and kill more of the Marsh-dwellers. Caranthir's flashing spear is the deadliest weapon in the fight, and he finishes of his second opponent and moves to assist Gylfir. Gerold, too, finishes off his opponents and moves to aid his friends, as do the Dwarves. Finally, the entire company stands surrounded by bodies, gasping for breath, covered in cuts and scratches. (Nobody is Wounded, but three PCs are Weary from Endurance loss.) They hear shuffling sounds from the dark archways and decide to retreat before more of the things arrive.

Caranthir asks Nali to try to rip the bell-rope free so that they don't have to worry about the ringing again. (The mechanic I decided to use for this is an Athletics test, but doing damage equal to the character's Body. Since Caranthir has a tremendous Athletics skill but a low Body rating, they decided it made sense to have Nali try this, though his Athletics is lower. He failed the check.) Nali seizes the rope and pulls, but can't seem to get in position to exert his full strength. They don't take the time to have another character try, since the Marsh-dwellers are coming.

They charge back to the watery stair and plunge into the pool, coming up again near Gerold's barking hound. They quickly run back to the road and move away until they feel they've achieved enough distance from the ruins, and they stop to catch their breath and take a drink.

Now they begin the the most arduous section of their journey: crossing the width of Mirkwood Forest along the entire length of the Old Forest Road. It is just over 200 miles through terrain of varying difficulty, and is expected to take about a month and a half.

The Old Forest Road was built by the Dwarves, and is thought to have connected their settlements on either side of the Greenwood in the days before the forest darkened and was corrupted. Elves wound spells around and through the Dwarven masonry, to protect the road and keep its travelers safe. Most of those spells are broken now, or twisted by the Shadow into less wholesome magic. The stone road remains physically intact, more or less, though the stones and the earth beneath have buckled and heaved here and there. Grass, weeds, and roots force their way between the stones, and low-hanging trees reach across the span like malicious claws, forcing a traveler to climb frequently. Ponies or wagons would be impossible to drive through in many places. Even in lengths where the road is intact and unobstructed, the canopies of ancient trees on either side meet and blot out the sky, casting the road into a perpetual gloom that the sun cannot penetrate.

For ten days the party marches, and on the eleventh day a bitter wind arises from the east, blowing directly at their backs. It is cold and fierce, making it hard to find good shelter. Gerold, acting as the scout, is able to secure decent campsites for three of these nights, but finds nothing on the fourth and the company spends a miserable night with no fire and being buffeted by cutting wind.

A few days after the harsh winds have abated, Gerold realizes that he knows of a safe haven nearby, where they can rest and recover from the stresses of travel and the battle with the Marsh-dwellers. It is a tree-fort of the Elves, just south of the road, remaining since the days when Thranduil still commanded this end of the forest, and which the Woodmen have used when traveling south of the Mountains of Mirkwood. It is composed of a series of oak trees planted very close together, so that their trunks nearly touch and their branches have been trained to weave tightly together. Ten feet above the ground is a platform of these interwoven branches, once accessible by retractable rope ladders, but those ladders are long since gone -- these days the Woodmen (and Elves) who occasionally shelter here have to climb up the hard way. Above this platform are two more levels, the topmost being open to the sky and even presenting the opportunity to see above the trees and take in a bit of sunlight. The company spends three days resting here, recovering most of the fatigue of travel and restoring their spirits a bit. (These forts are described in the MERP sourcebook, Halls of the Elven-king, ICE #8204.)

Several days later, the heroes reach a section of the road which is covered in spider webs. Though night is falling and the party wants to stop to make camp, Caranthir persuades them to press onward, continuing to march despite their exhaustion, until they are out of that spider-haunted region.

Another week passes and the drudgery of this route has again become difficult to bear. Gylfir, out hunting away from the party one night, spots Wolves approaching the campfire. He knows of Caranthir's hatred of the beasts, and decides to run them off before the Elf knows it. He is a menacing figure, charging them in the darkness, silhouetted by the fire behind him, and the creatures scatter.

Days later, Will's sharp eyes and simple Hobbit sense allow him to spot an ambushing company of Orcs in the trees. There is no way to avoid the Orcs, for they have already seen the heroes, but Will's warning is enough to prepare the company to meet them. In this battle, Caranthir steps up to engage the Orcs' captain, while a number of lesser brutes charge the other companions, and a pair of archers hang back.

Once again, Caranthir is deadly in the opening round of battle, and he kills the Orc captain in a single, tremendous thrust of his spear. The group fights with more confidence than in the battle with the Marsh-dwellers, and the Orcs are swiftly reduced in number. Will wounds one of the archers with his own arrow, and that Orc breaks away, running back down the road to the east, blowing a horn. Soon, he would bring a larger force running, and Gylfir and Gerold both know that the pursuers will be led by Snaga Orcs, scouts that track their prey by scent even at full speed. And the prodigious endurance of Orcs means that they can run very far without tiring. There can be no hope of outlasting them on foot.

Balin declares that he knows an old Dwarf outpost which should be nearby. He whistles, and a raven flies down to light on his shoulder. He whispers to the bird, which breaks through the canopy of trees. "Peloquin will find Amon Naugrim, if it yet stands." He leads the party further west along the road, looking for the overgrown path which leads to the lost outpost. The party marches as fast as they can, exhausting themselves to stay ahead of the pursuing Orcs, until Balin announces that he has found the old track.

Now they must pick their way through brambles and thick underbrush, and each of them suffer innumerable scratches and minor cuts, until they break free into a clearing. Ahead of them atop a small hill is a ruined keep, with a narrow bridge leading to the gate. This is a place they can hold, at least until morning, when the sun reaches the clearing and drives the Orcs back into the shadows. They set about planning their defenses, as Peloquin circles overhead.

[End of session]

----------

Loremaster notes: I was not thrilled with the way the "Marsh-Bell" portion played out. The published scenario, of course, has the PCs searching for Balin in these ruins, so searching them is the whole point of the story. In Rich's re-working of the story, Balin has not been captured, so there's no real reason for the PCs to tarry in the ruined city. However, I really wanted the Marsh-dwellers to make an appearance, both to set up their later appearance at the Black Tarn and also because I'm infatuated with how well the "Mewlips" poem fits this location (not to mention that the recitation of the poem in the previous session gave us the most Tolkienesque moment of the game so far).

So I had figured, well, they're working for Balin and if he says he wants to search the ruins, that's what they'll do. Still, I wanted the players to buy into this so as not rob them of agency. The explanation that part of the mission is to scout the Old Forest Road and determine if it can safely be reopened seemed sound to me, but the players didn't really buy it. They wanted to save such things for the future, when they could come back with a larger force.

What I wish I'd done, but didn't think of until later, is to establish in the scene with Galion and his Elves that they are searching for some lost companions. First, that could have defused the scene with Galion, or at least have given it more reason to exist. Second, when the PCs are at the edge of the ruins and they find some clue of Elves having been abducted here -- a distinctive hat here, a batrachian footprint there -- suddenly the Wardens are seeing this as a mission of mercy, and the Elf in the group is compelled to save his kinsman, and people have stakes in searching the ruins. I would highly recommend this adjustment to anyone else running the scenario, and would love to hear how it works out!

Another quirk of the way they played through the Mewlip-lair is that they didn't investigate either of the "interesting" rooms, the wine cellar or the treasure room. They know there are many more of the Mewlips here, and hopefully they'll decide to follow through with bringing a larger force to drive them out, and then we can finish exploring this place. In the meantime, the bell itself is still a threat to travelers, and they are a pack of real do-gooders...

I'm glad I recalled the Elvish tree-forts from that old MERP supplement, because the party was beaten to hell after the Marsh-dweller fight, and I couldn't see them surviving to the other end of Mirkwood, with Orcs and other fights yet to come. This gave me a chance to key on Gerold's Mirkwood-lore and provide a reprieve. It also reminded me of Bilbo climbing to the top of the tree to take the lay of the land, and getting his own respite from the gloom of Mirkwood.

We went through a lot of Hope in this session, and the players frequently had to invoke it to succeed in attack rolls. When you see those sixes staring at you but your Feat die roll wasn't good enough, it's tough to leave a Great Success on the table. Once or twice, this included an Eye on the Feat die but a Great Success on the skill dice, so these were successful attacks that came at a cost. Fortunately, they have a large Fellowship Pool -- it's five players, including a Hobbit and a Beorning with honey-cakes! -- so nobody spent any of their own.


Greg

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Re: "The Shadow over Wilderland" campaign AP -- SPOILERS

Post by Majestic » Thu Sep 14, 2017 9:11 pm

Another outstanding recap and interesting read, Greg! I think you handled things well enough, and I agree that the change you suggested would be a good one.

My players were forced off when they first did The Marsh Bell, and - despite me hinting at it a few times over the intervening years - they finally returned (twenty years later for some of the characters) to slay all of the Marsh-dwellers and recover the treasure.
Adventure Summaries of our campaign, currently playing through The Darkening of Mirkwood

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