A Knot of Thrones - Arming the Bugbears II


The Laughing Storm

In the dead of night as a cold snap hits, the temperature plummets well below freezing and ice rime begins to form on the rigging.  It begins to snow – intermittent flurries at first give way to fat flakes and biting winds.  The crew lights up a few torches to provide both light and warmth in the freezing darkness.  This proves a mistake as a nearby ice spirit named Kiliketz takes offense at the mortals’ interference.
Kiliketz - Ice Mephit

Kiliketz leads a small band of four ice elementals across the face of the barely liquid water towards the intruding ship.  The mephit stealthily flies to the top of the ship’s mast while the ice elementals wait in the water.  There, from his perch, he reveals his presence with an inhuman laugh.

Even though Kiliketz casts Chill Metal on Vicky's armor, and repeatedly hits Harlocke with Magic Missle, the party wastes no time in dispatching all 4 ice elementals and their leader.

The Bugbear Camp

Finally the Frosthamar arrives at the ice-choked en- trance to the River Taiga.  Kargeld proves himself a worthy captain nimbly sailing the heavily laden craft through fields of floating jagged ice.  He barks orders in norspik and his sailors scramble to comply.  Again and again he turns the boat at just the right moment to pass between the broken shards calved from ancient glaciers.

Finally, after nerve-wracking hours of this, the boat pushes through the dangerous headwaters of the Taiga into the clear water of this almost uncharted mighty river.  Beyond the headwaters is a land of savage wonders.  The Taiga winds through a great northern forest that to the best of anyone’s knowledge has no name.

After miles and miles of picturesque pine trees frosted with new fallen snow, the ship comes to a great mountain range.  This river flows through a great rift in the mountains that looks as if some impossible huge primordial giant smashed a pass through the grey slate.

The PCs are headed south now, though this appears to have no effect on lessening the intense cold.  They are headed to the great interior sea of Talingarde – Lake Tarik as it is known.  To the south of that lake sits the Watch Wall. And on the northern banks in a wide wooded valley is their destination – the camp of Sakkarot Fire-Axe.

Thousands of bugbears are already assembled.  These savage humanoids are not pleased to see outsiders, especially humans. Worse, there are more than just bugbears here.  The occasional polar bear lumbers around the camp untended.  Fur-clad goblins scamper here and there, laughing with frenetic glee.  Even a few hill giants gather at the camp’s fringes.

There is only one place to dock the boat – a crudely made pier that juts into the river.  On that pier are four hulking bugbears.  They don’t seem pleased to see the Frosthamar.  In fact, these bugbears are bored thugs who notice the Frosthamar’s approach a few moments before Sakkarot can get to the pier. They have the brilliant idea of eating the soft, squishy ‘hummies’ before the Fire-Axe gets here and claims all the tasty bits.

But Lumond and Shivers will have none of that; Lumond uses his stellar intimidation to stand fast against the thugs, even causing one to flee into the lake.  Vicky casts Invisibility on Shivers, with Shivers taking position next to Lumond.  The standoff lasts for several long moments just as Sakkarot arrives wielding an axe of flame.  He points at Lumond...

Who sent you?” Sakkarot demands in unaccented common.
Sakkarot Fire-Axe

Lumond explains they have a delivery from Adrastus Thorn.  Sakkarot smiles a toothy grin "Then you are welcome here.”  He turns to the somewhat stunned throng of bugbears who were getting ready to storm the boat and eat the occupants.

These humans are my guests. I will deal with anyone who harms them. They are our allies!”  He walks over to the boat and rips open one of the crates revealing finely made axes with in. He tosses one to a
nearby bugbear warrior who until this time only had a crude club to wield.  “Behold, they bring us steel!” This earns the PCs a terrifying chorus of growls and cheers from the monstrous assembly.

The boat is unloaded.  Sakkarot’s lieutenants see that each case is distributed and soon our villains can see a visible transformation in the camp.  Where once there were a thousand bugbear savages, now
there are a thousand bugbear soldiers each with new weapons and shields adorned with the emblem of the fire axe. What a terror the PCs have helped to create.

Sakkarot holds a feast in honor of the weapons shipment and their allies.  The feast is a brutal, savage affair with bugbears fighting each other and all manner of monsters in attendance.  The highlight of the party is when a great shaggy dire boar recently captured from the northern woods is brought in shackles.

One ton of angry pig is led in by a dozen bugbears who drag the beast before Sakkarot.  Sakkarot beheads the already wounded animal in one mighty stroke with his fire axe.  The beast is then spitted and roasted in a great open pit.  The PCs sit at the Fire-Axe’s table – a front row seat at this spectacle of savagery.

A Private Audience

Eventually as the raucous bestial festivities of the bugbear tribes die down, Sakkarot summons them into his private chambers and dismiss his many followers with a deep growl.  He seems genuinely curious about our party.

You are traitors to your own kind.  You must know that.  When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter the Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me, how can this be?

Our villains express their desire to overthrow the regime and help bring a new world order to the land.  They show their rune scars as claims to their vengence.  Sakkarot  pulls aside his great breast-plate and reveals the holy symbol of Asmodeus burned into his chest.  "We all have our scars" he says.

Tomorrow you must depart this camp. It will never be truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner.  I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then at last I will be ready to march. A week after that – I will be poised to strike.  I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne.  There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air.  Within the hour, we will attack.  Make sure that the way is ready."  Sakkarot hands them a single carefully wrapped signal rocket.

After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling.  Get your work done before then.  You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne.

Suddenly, the bugbear warlord gets very serious and stern.  He stares straight into the PC's eyes.  “Can you do this?  In one month can you break the Watch Wall?

Our party confidently claims they will make it happen.  Sakkarot grunts and nods.  “Thorn has faith in you. If you weren’t his best, he wouldn’t have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend.  Now go. Hail Asmodeus!

Our group heads back to the Frosthammer where Captain Odenkirk is more than anxious to leave the bugbear camp.   Already bugbear warriors have been eyeing his ship and though they have not yet built up courage enough to attack, the Captain knows it is only a matter of time.  He does not trust Sakkarot and is not shying about saying so.  “Look in that one’s eyes. He’s smart -- always plotting.  Bugbears should not be smart.”  He constantly grumbles about not getting paid enough and hints at abandoning the PCs if they linger any longer.  The group agrees to leave tonight rather than tomorrow morning.  

Loose Ends

Captain Odenkirk

The Frosthammer crosses the mist-shrouded lake Tarik under the cover of darkness.  At the southern shorre, no closer than a couple hours walk from the Tower of Balentyne and the small town of Aldencross, Odenkirk makes his request for the final payment promised by the PCs.  But Lumond resists and the betrayal of our villains begins!

Lumond deals with the Captain quickly while the other party members handle the crew.  They light a charge on the boat and sink it, looting any weapons, and the Captain's private coin, beforehand.

They are close now.  Just a few miles from here sits the small Market town of Aldencross and less than a mile from there is the watchtower of Balentyne - their goal.  Already Sakkarot's horde gathers and prepares to move.  Within two weeks,  they will be in a small valley north of the lake awaiting the signal.  Firing the rocket into the air at just the right moment is their first step towards claiming vengeance against Talingarde.

Destiny has brought them here.  Destiny has given them a mission.  There is no doubt that the future of this green and pleasant land lies in their hands.  They could go to that town right now and warn them of the plots of the sinister Cardinal Thorn.  They could give themselves up and face the justice they deserve.  They could turn back from the horror and the slaughter that they are going to inflict upon these Mitran sheep.  This is that moment.  This is the turning point.  After this, there is no going back.  But no one is eager for redemption for they have work to do.  They must burn Balentyne!

GM Thoughts

Lumond is proving to be a confident leader.  Using his intimidation wasn't what I had expected; I more expected a battle to start with the bugbear thugs causing others in the camp to eventually come to aid before Sakkarot arrived.  I'm proud of them for holding fast and also for recognizing the threat.

Shivers can be counted on for quick wit and an even quicker fist.  This also can land the party in trouble if it isn't kept in check.  I was expecting him to rush into battle with the bugbears almost instantly but was surprised when he held ground near Lumond.  My assumption is the invisibility Vicky cast upon him gave him reason to be more tactful.  

Harlocke is building a reputation for being the voice of reason within the group.  His words seem to be taken to heart by the party and he's built a bit of a soft spot for Vicky in almost a father-figure type of way.  His knowledge of various things, like nobility for example, has come in handy more times than not.  Lastly his ability to parry attacks would be annoying to most GMs however I find it adds a lovely flavor of power exchange during battle.

Vicky is still coming into her own.  She is unsure of herself but continues to evolve as a teenager does.  She is quick tempered, defiant, and impulsive.  But time and time again, she is the saving grace of this party; usually the one to be pulling their mangled bodies from the wreckage of their own undoing.  

Their mission is simply stated – throw open wide the gates of Balentyne. The PCs must do in less than a month what no invader has ever managed.  They must break the Watch Wall.  If one pauses to think about it – this is an insane assignment.  What chance do a handful of novice villains have against a fortification full of veteran troops?

Cardinal Thorn believes the sheer novelty of the mission is its greatest strength.  No one would believe that a few devotees of a destroyed devil cult would ever be audacious enough to perpetrate such a crime. In short, the enemy will never see it coming.  About that, Adrastus is a hundred percent correct.

So, how can this madness be done?  Direct assault can be quickly dismissed. The watchtower of Balentyne is manned by one hundred soldiers, four captains and a seventh level paladin.  That alone would be challenge enough but the soldiery are also supported by Father Donnagin, his acolytes and the fireball-mad magister Tacitus of Morimun.

If the PCs started a straight fight with that lot, they would face a CR 14 fight.  Actually, the battle would be harder than that (CR 16?), because the soldiers have a well-coordinated command, artillery (ballistae and stone droppers) and defensive fortifications as well as dwarven allies.

Worse, a credible direct assault would allow the watchtower to dispatch its ravens.  Soon, Balentyne would be reinforced by garrisons from the hamlet of Aldencross all the way to the metropolis of Ghastenhall.  Clearly, a direct assault is suicide. Instead, subtlety is called for.

How exactly the PCs carry out this mission is very much up to them.  I wont suggest any strategies for them.  Instead I'll allow player actions to discover facts and let the players themselves develop their own strategies.


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