Quite a few more miles traveled, quite a bit more lore uncovered. And nasty beasts.
Firstly, the protagonists:
- 3 henches
The morning dawned clear and cold, and the party made good time. Hearing traffic ahead, they paused, cautious. They were met by a caravan drover and his most unusual beasts of burden:
Continuing east, they hit another small settlement of Boyton around mid-day. This thorpe at least had a run-down tavern operated by a rather disheveled dwarf named Lili. She served flat ale accompanied by salt pork and turnips. Jax stepped outside, killed a rabbit, and cooked it with some herbs she'd picked. She was nice enough to share at least. Lili talked about the varied dwarf clans, including the mysterious sea dwarves, who inhabited three volcanic islands in the southern inland sea. The settlement's priest of Khador recommended that they make haste to the village of Kebrook, where the temple there would be able to host them and the expeditionary force trio.
Escaping that culinary experience, the party traveled until dusk. Again, rustling and crashing in the woods. It wasn't a horse this time, at least. It was a horrific chimeric agglomeration of predatory hate that only the most depraved mind could imagine. Having faced mutant horrors, the party braced themselves... for... this...
Because of course I did. Anyway, they proceeded to fill it with arrows and slay it without issue (Note to self: attack them with three next time). Fulvus cut off its head and paws as a trophy for future alehouse decoration.
Stumbling into Kebrook after dark, they were met by the local priest, who remembered the expedition, and was shocked at their meager survivors. He rallied his acolytes, and a small feast (no salt pork) was procured. Via gossip, the local furrier popped in to offer taxidermy skills for the owlbear head. The party and trio recounted their adventures before a restful sleep.
In the morning, Frederick was greeted by a raven, a messenger from the hermit Thefri that had sought out the charm Frederick wore. The message carried by the raven was grim. The tower had been overrun by Chaos troops, but not before Thefri, with Brutus the Bear's help, had dislodged the ruby lens and buried it. Unfortunately the stalwart bear had been slain, and Thefri had retreated into the forest with associates. Frederick wrote a brief status report in reply, and sent the raven back to its master.
The next day was a brief trip to the city of Opharel. Farms became denser, and the road improved as the party approached. The first thing the group noticed were the troops freshly bivouacked outside the city walls. Preparations appeared to be afoot for campaigning.
They were led to the central temple to meet the city leadership: Prior Messina, his advisor Valdemar Bæk, and the military commander, Alanso Ngom. The trio of survivors gave a brief account of their expedition, and introduced the party. The Prior thanked them for their timely rescue, and asked them of their explorations. The party briefly noted that they were exploring the frontier in search of Barrier locations, and that the incursions of the mutated Chaos troops was widespread.
Messina revealed that the Theocracy forces had uncovered a ruined stronghold with apparent Barrier components. The materials were currently being investigated by their sage/artificer, but it didn't seem that the Theocracy understood the purpose. Valdemar Bæk pushed for campaign into the wilderness to confront the Chaos forces, based on the expedition's encounters. Messina was concerned that they would be stretched too thin, and deferred to waiting for signs from Khador. Ngom suggested that the Theocracy could establish a defensive perimeter along the western trade road, further if they could ally with the towns along the road. The Prior was again hesitant, as the towns may not accept vassal-hood, and the Theocracy preferred conversion, and not simply allies. Although certain compromises could be made given the situation.
The party was presented with a small coffer of gold and gems in gratitude for their rescue and escort. They were then dismissed as the three leaders continued to debate, and more thoroughly debrief the three survivors.
The party was left to their own devices in the city. Slick and Frederick recalled that a fellow not-thief had told them if they reached Opharel to make an offering at "St. Vivinna's Home for the Wayward." The party turned to seek out the charity...
Again, a lot of ground covered with a smaller group of players. I did a lot of voices. I'd made a list of NPCs, small settlements, and encounters ahead of time, so although the timing of encounters was random, they were generally pre-determined. That said, conversations and lore drops were driven by player/character questions, and gave me the opportunity to draw their attention to other locations on the map. Likewise, news from Thefri reminded them that the baddies continue to be on the move, and that they may soon feel like they need to be in multiple places at once.
Slick hated that horse. I couldn't pass up the idea of a vengeful mutant warhorse, though. >:)
I had them going with the owlbear description... hah. After all, in a campaign world where mutants and chimeric monsters abound, might as well throw in one of the O.G. weird magical combo-monsters.
In other news, I broke my embargo on buying new dice. Saw these elsewhere on the interwebs and sprung for a couple sets:
OptiDice: The numbers are bored in pips that are claimed to be balanced. The shop has a number of other innovative and oddball dice, as well. We'll see how they work, as there is rumor at the table that my random encounters d6 is biased against the party.
Or maybe they just need to be more watchful for angry bitey horses.