19th of Kythorn of the year 1492

Knowing that Fogo had been captured the party started their planning for the rescue.  Sending Dancer and Fwoosh back to the keep seeing if they could get a better idea of the current guard situation and if those in the keep were acting any more alert than normal.

Before sending them out, Vladimir led the others in their planning on possible ways of assaulting the keep.  Vladimir, for some unknown reason, had convinced himself that there must be a tunnel from the earth monastery to the pirate keep.  Even though that would be a tunnel nearly 20 miles long underground.  Fwoosh and Avery were the most skeptical of that theory.

As the planning continued, it seemed that everyone except Avery, thought that some sort of distraction would be needed at the gate to attract the attention of the guards.  They kept trying to convince Avery that he was the best choice, especially if he were mounted on his hairless cat steed.  He would be able to magic missile outside of the vision of the guards and tease them into paying attention to him and not the rescue force that would be coming from the water side.

To figure out on how to synchronize their assaults they decided on a piece of string that would be used to measure the height of the moon from the ground.  Each group would have the same size string and start the attack when the moon hits the correct position.  The rescue group would delay a bit to see if they could hear any response from the keep guards and hope that they would be drawn to where Avery was attacking.

ISAC was hoping to use the ship as a distraction as well by setting it on fire either on the way in or on the way out.  This could also have the impact of decreasing some of the pirate activity on the river.  To make sure their string method would work, Vladimir pulled out his broken sword and cast Augury.

“What are the chances it will be cloudy tonight?”

“Woe”

Not sure what the answer meant; they assumed the best. As he was doing this, the rest noticed that Vladimir’s pupils had turned into six pointed stars. Vladimir start explaining about a dream he had and thought that maybe the broken sword was able to do more than just augury.  Concentrating more, Vladimir asked a question again of the broken sword.

“Where in the pirate’s castle is our friend Fogo currently found?”

“In a cavern’s embrace, where shadows shiver,

Embarking on an underground river.

In a boat, adrift, whispers echo the way,

Through the labyrinth, where secrets lay.

A landing emerges, stone cold and still,

Unlocking the passage, a gateway to fulfill.

Through the door, an entry to despair,

To the prison’s heart, where hope’s rare.

Dank walls confine, like a solemn vow,

In the dungeon’s hush, time seems to slow.

Yet within these depths, resilience may rise,

As shadows part, revealing freedom’s prize.”

These words burned in Vladimir’s brain as a vision of it flared and filled his thoughts until it ended.  While this was going on, his eyes glowed with an unearthly light, something bright and something harsh at the same time. With those words they felt comfortable with the plan and their ability to find Fogo within. Deciding to set up a camp with the wagons and horses about a mile away to be the final meet up point once the action was over.

Dancer and Fwoosh set out to spy on the keep one more time. There were more guards on all the walls, and they seemed to be more alert and looking for intruders more than previously, but the surprising thing was that it seems that the pirate ship had left at some point.  

When these details were brought to the rest, there was a lot of concern expressed about the missing ship.  If it was looking for them or if it might come back while they are trying to sneak in.  Having an extra variable only made the endeavor riskier. Waiting for darkness the group sat each in their own thoughts.  Vladimir was most concerned about the odd chance he might drop his favorite weapon, his magical maul.  Hoping he could solve that, everyone waited for the time to start moving.

Avery set out first heading to the front of the keep and waited for the correct position of the moon.  The rest used Angelica’s Water Walking spell to creep closer and wait for the correct time.

Unleashing a dozen magic missiles, Avery blasted apart the three guards on the wall with the gate.  It was so sudden and completed so quickly the rest of the guards were unaware of the action.  It was silent and Avery failed in his attempt at attracting attention.  Moving to the north wall he unleased more magic killing two of the three guards on that wall but leaving the third one alive.  The last one began screaming in fear alerting the rest in the keep.  Avery marched on back to the main wall and waited for guards to show up.

As an alarm bell sounded loudly in the keep, the party crawled further and closer to the keep.  As they approached, they also heard a horn within.  They continued forward and passed by the small sea wall and moved into the protected cove. Slowing down to make sure they would remain unseen; they were able to hear the sound a metal on metal and what seemed like a heavy door opening toward the front of the keep.

Back in the front, Avery could see the gate open and nine bugbears running out after him. Riding away on his naked cat, Avery ensured he was further away from a run distance of the bugbears but still in range of his magic.  He slowly peppered the group with his firebolt.  After killing two thirds of them and running over 600 feet away from the keep, the moral of the bugbears finally broke and the remainder started running back to the safety of the keep. Avery followed shooting them one at a time killing the last one as he was but feet away from the gate.

However, with that distance, and showing his location to those on the wall, they guards were able to fire off a volley of arrows from their long bows hitting both Avery and his naked riding cat.  Startled at being wounded, Avery turned around and rode hard away from the keep hoping there were not any other pursuers.

The rest of the crew finished their sneaking into the cove and were able to make their way to the gate leading to the underground river.  With some effort Fwoosh and Dancer were able to unlock the gate and the group moved into the tunnel.  Once entered, they could see a poorly lit landing over 80 feet away.  Two small boats were moored, and a set of steps led upward out of the water.

Being aware of the serpent that might still be haunting the water they moved forward carefully, except Dancer who sprinted forward and was able to climb up on the landing in an instant.  From there, he moved to the two doors and listened to them.  The rest continued to move forward slowly since Vladimir and Angelica were unable to in the dark and had to led by hand by ISAC.

It seemed that were able to infiltrate safely, or at least it appeared so.  Once they were about 30 feet from the landing, a serpent leaped from the water and bit Vladimir.  It had been completely invisible in the water, and its movement did not disturb the water in any way, as if it were made of water.  After the bite, a quick tail smash pounded, and then the serpent breathed out a cone of cold damaging everyone in the party.  Combat has started.

The combat was fierce and loud which saw both Vladimir and Angelica getting knocked unconscious.  If not for his death grip on his maul, Vladimir was sure to have been disappointed. ISAC used some of new powers and turned invisible while the serpent was killed.  As they started gathering on the landing one of the doors opened and out game some strange looking men.  It was not long before the other door opened as well where more of them started crowding into the landing.  One of the men in the stairs was some sort of caster and started using his magic against the party.

The battle was rough, but as they were killing them, the caster ran off back up the stairs to undoubtedly to sound the alarm while his compatriots failed to fend for themselves well enough. With the guards dead, Vladimir and Angelica ran into what appeared to a prison area to look for Fog.  The first door they opened contained five beaten dwarves and two humans chained to the wall, two of the other rooms seemed to only contain some commoners, but in the last and most secure room contained both Fogo and a human.  Both were naked, beaten, tortured, and in mage style constraints, which included a ball gag, some metal press gloves that prevents their fingers from moving, and a bag over their head. It was then, that more guards showed up in the stairwell slowing down the recovery of Fogo.

These proved to me much weaker than the previous guards and were dispatched quickly.  Dancer ran forward and freed Fogo from his chains and constraints while Angelica applied a little bit of healing to both Fogo and the unknown man.  As Angelica was healing the man and the bad removed from his head, she recognized him.  It was Imar from Rassalantar.  He was the military cleric that had been very friendly to them before they had been banish.

This is where the session ended.

History Lesson

Orc Ecology

Here we are again on our almost weekly program.  I am your host David Bourgh-Ettin, and we are here talking about the Savage Frontier.  It is impossible to talk about the geographical, or even political climate without understanding some of the races that live within the Savage Frontier.  This week we will be looking more closely into those green-skinned barbarians known as orcs.

Introduction

Orcs are a savage, violent and aggressive race of humanoids which take delight in plundering and killing innocent people. They once dominated Avistan in the Age of Darkness, where they appeared after they were expulsed to the surface by the dwarves in their Quest for Sky. But thousands of years later their most prominent presence has been reduced to the harsh lands of the Holds of Belkzen, which lies wedged between Varisia and Ustalav.

Physiological Observations

A typical male orc stands about 7 feet tall and weigh around 300 to 400 pounds, with females being slightly smaller and lighter. An orc is born with a deep green skin color which becomes more greyish as they age. The skin of an orc becomes entirely grey near the end of its lifespan, though few orcs live to witness that happen. Except for their skin, orcs are most recognizable by their short, pointed ears and the lower jar tusks, which they sometimes use in combat. Orcs are all nearly bald, except for some sparse filthy black hairs on the back of their head. Orcs are known for being extremely ferocious: able to keep on fighting after receiving fatal wounds before succumbing to them.

The true origin of the orc has been debated by many scholars, with some claiming them to be corrupted elves and others going as far to claiming they evolved from the goblinoid races. Whatever their origin, it is a fact that orcs surfaced after being expulsed from underground during the dwarves’ Quest for Sky. These orcs differed a lot from the orcs as we know today, being shorter (only up to 6 feet) with more rounded ears and grey skin tones. This kind of orc can still be found in the most remote mountain ranges, where dwarves have not yet migrated.

Orc anatomy is like that of other humanoid races: an Orc has relatively thick bones to support their 7 feet height and possess excessively large muscle groups. Another evident difference is their digestive track, which is relatively short due to an Orc’s carnivorously oriented diet. Given the grey skin of subterranean Orcs, scholars assume the green skin is an evolutionary development to act as camouflage.

Social Observations

Politics: Orcs group together in tribal communities for food, protection, and numbers. These communities are ruled by a single individual, a chieftain which is often a warlord or shaman. A chieftain wields the highest power within a community and dictates the laws of a tribe. In larger tribes, where the community is split into a main camp and several peripheral camps, the chieftain may anoint paramount chiefs to rule in his name. These chiefs collect and pay tribute to the chieftain in the form of food or plunder.

The sudden death of a chieftain (which is not at the hands of a challenger) and subsequent lack of an immediate successor almost inevitably throws a tribe into chaos and infighting, until a new leader arises and establishes dominance. The chiefdoms themselves are also relatively unstable forms of organization. Orc tribes are prone to periods of collapse and renewal, where tribes band together but eventually fragment through some form of social stress, after which they slowly band back together.

In some unique cases female orcs have been observed to rise to the position of chieftain. These females are more vicious and intimidating than their male counterpart, and they rule their tribe with an iron fist. Not surprisingly, they alleviate the females within a tribe of some of their tasks. A female chieftain also brings a considerable change in the looting behavior: tribes become more systematic and selective in the towns they attack, maximizing their returns and minimizing their losses.

Religion: Orcs are merely interested in satisfying their own needs, which is a reason why an orc would not worship a god. But they also dislike having a master, and they perceive the worship of a deity as subjugating themselves to it. Despite this, shamans frequently rise to power and enforce the worship of a god to exert control over the tribe.

The gods that shamans devote a tribe to directly influence the amount of control they have. Thus, they typically choose gods which portfolio suits an orc the best. Typically, this is either Asmodeus or Gorum. But tribes worshipping Norgorber, Rovagug or Zon-Kuthon are not unheard off. There have been some unique cases in which a shaman has successfully engaged a tribe in worship of himself. These forms of devotion rarely last long, as a shaman’s rivals will disprove his divinity as the first possible opportunity.

Warriors: Orc raiding parties are, thankfully, uncoordinated, disorganized, and opportunistic, striking only at targets weaker than themselves. It is due to this lack of the ability to effectively coordinate that orcs rarely develop a lasting nation. However, sometimes great leaders arise which can unite several tribes together and stand at the head of almost unbeatable orcish hordes, which will ravage across the land and plunder every town and village they’ll come across.

On an individual level, however, orcs are still fearsome warriors who plunge themselves in combat with great strength and ferocity. We have been able to identify several types of warriors within the orcish ranks.

Orc warriors make up the brunt of many tribes across the Holds of Belkzen. These orcs charge into combat against the nearest foe they can find. They’ll keep attacking with their falchions until either their enemy (or they themselves) are beaten, after which they seek out another target. Foes that resist will quickly find numerous orcs ganging up on him until he is worn down.

Orc berserkers, sometimes also called Orc barbarians, are the most fearsome sight in a battle. These brutes occasionally lead a charge, but more often seek out the strongest enemies on the battlefield to match their strength. They fight with great axes and can take an incredible amount of punishment.

Orc riders are an uncommon sight. These orcs were brave enough to tame a worg and ride it as a mount. Since these orcs lack in numbers, they often perform skirmishes on the flanks of an enemy, or after a battle pursue anyone trying to flee.

Behavioral Observations

Male-female interaction: Males are, unsurprisingly, the dominant gender within a tribe. If they are not out raiding, or occasionally patrolling a camp’s perimeter, they spend their time indulging themselves with food, torture [of slaves] and fighting rivals. Male orcs rarely take up professions as they disgust at even the thought of having to go through the effort to create something themselves, instead of taking it. However, in some cases a male might take up the craft of armour- or weaponsmith and become a valuable and protected asset of chieftains.

Females fulfil the role of the lesser gender within orc society, which is most likely attributed to having a much calmer and collected nature, compared to their male counterpart (this does not mean a disgruntled female orc wouldn’t tear off an arm). Males delegate much of the day-to-day tasks to the females within a tribe. These activities include, but might not be limited to cooking, cleaning, nursing, and herding. Females also seem to be more likely to take up a profession, like leatherworking or seaming to create or repair both tents and clothing.

Reproduction & childhood: With love seeming to be an almost alien concept among males, orcs do not form lasting relationships. Males rather see females, and their offspring, as ‘property’. Males thus create harems of females, the size of which is directly linked to their position within a tribe. Males do not partake in care for their own children, though they might occasionally teach their sons to fight. Children are instead raised by their mothers and learned how to survive within a tribe by assisting them in their day-to-day tasks.

Reaching adulthood is no small feat for orcish children. After leaving infancy they almost immediately must fend for themselves against older members of the tribe. Already in childhood do most males, encouraged by their fathers, start intimidating children of the same age or younger than them. When reaching adulthood, male children are initiated by leading the charge in a raid, in which the survivors of the vanguard are considered adults. Females don’t receive an official rite, though they are deemed adults once they develop their secondary sex characteristics, at which point they are forced into a harem.

Inter-Species Observations

Orcs take little regard for members of their own species, and even less for members of others. They enjoy raiding neighboring towns, and always enslave survivors of such endeavors. Male slaves are sold off for gold, weapons, and armour. Female slaves have the less fortunate fate of becoming part of the ‘daily entertainment’ within a camp.

Negotiating with an orc is almost always entirely fruitless, for they will keep increasing their demands after an agreement is made or lose their temper during a negotiation and satisfy themselves with whatever the negotiator(s) have on hand.

The best way to have an orc cooperate is by being more dominant than the orc itself, often accomplished by intimidation. However, unless the orc is restrained or otherwise prohibited from engaging in combat, he will have to be literally beaten into submission. This is no small feat, as most orcs fight to the death rather than being taken, as this would make them the laughingstock of the tribe.

On a political level, cooperation with orcs is even more problematic. Eradicating a tribe is easier than keeping them as vassals, due to an orc’s tendency to either rebel against or backstab their superiors. More often, nations that must deal with orcs and who have been unable to do this by military means often placate them with gifts of food or treasure. History has shown that providing arms and weapons has always proved counterproductive, as these seem to, almost inevitably, often be used against the gifting nation itself.

Iceshield Orcs

The Iceshields were an orc tribe dwelling in an area of rolling grass-covered hills where the Dessarin Valley met the western High Forest in the late 15th century DR. Where a branch of the Dessarin Valley meets the western High Forest are rolling grass-covered hills recently claimed by the orcs of the Iceshield tribe. They dwell in crude lodges made from timber cut from the forest. Elves and centaurs regularly emerge from the High Forest to attack and set fire to these lodges, but the orcs keep cutting down trees and rebuilding them.

The Iceshield orcs haunt the hills and grasslands north of Grudd Haug, near the western edge of the High Forest, and have forged a tenuous alliance with Guh the hill giant chieftain. They are the least loyal of her supporters and don’t get along with the goblinoids. Boorvald Orcbane, Great Chief of the Ghost Tree Uthgardt tribe, true to his name, hunts orcs and frequently launches attacks against the crude Iceshield orc-holds along the western edge of the forest.

Orc raids are common occurrences throughout the frontier, as small bands of orcs steal livestock or waylay the occasional supply wagon. In recent days, a tribe hiding in the rough lands east of the Sumber Hills has become markedly bolder. The Iceshield orcs are attacking farms and cattle ranches throughout the region, and orc scouts have been sighted by patrols less than a day’s ride from Yartar.

The Iceshield orcs reside in a handful of lodges spaced about a day apart along the western edge of the High Forest. They have long been a thorn in the side of the denizens of that wood and the settlers who farm and ranch in the plains to the west. Now the Iceshields have become a prominent threat. Disruptions to the weather and landscape due to the powerful magic being used by the elemental cults has been taken as a sign from Gruumsh that blood and gold must flow from the lands of lesser races.

The orcs seek supply sources in the valley. Scouts found that the farmers and ranchers in the area are prime options. Now, roving war bands attack the frontier families directly, raiding the homesteads with impunity. In addition to stealing livestock, the Iceshields take any carts and wagons they find, loading them with loot. They take the families as slaves and force them to tow the conveyances back to the Iceshield lodges.

Some independent-minded squads of orcs decided that the fertile land of the homesteads was more appealing than serving as underlings in their own lodges, and they killed the original owners to occupy the land. They have no intention of farming the crops or tending the livestock, but they intend to stay until the food runs out, then move on to the next settlement.

Campaign Notes

With Avery attracting attention and causing a fair amount of damage, the party was able to get into the tunnels with only some difficulty and found Fogo and an old friend.  But with all the noise they have made, and that one of the responders got away, how much time do they have left before more men show up.  Enemies are probably less than a minute away at this point.