Location: Forests west of Rilan
Date: Late Cal and Early Dacal, 1333 Avard
Stirges dove through the canopy and attacked them in seemingly unending numbers. The dog-sized flying mammal-like creatures managed to drive their long probosces into several of the party and draw quite a bit of blood, before Gruck and Mara's blades and Beth's blasts destroyed the last of them. Beth's warlock powers proved to be overpowered, literally blowing some of the stirges up such that they blinded anyone nearby with gobbets of stirge meat and blood.
Eingrim was fascinated by the stirges, having thought that they were insects for some time. Realizing they were mammals and had bone drew his attention. After tending to the wounds of the team, he turned his attention to several of the felled stirges, dissecting them to learn their secrets. It was then that they learned of the power of his robes, for Eingrim added a stirge bone to a collection of nearly a dozen species already there. With the bone of the stirge added to the robe's many pockets, and a ritual of arcane magic and powers binding the bone to the robes, the clothing became resistant to any further stirge damage.
Once they had rested for a few hours, they resumed their trek into the rocky forests during mid Autumn. Snow still stood in the shadows of the trees, and the air was still cold, their breath visible in the air throughout the morning.
They had been amongst the ruins of Drbth for some time before they realized it. The ruins were a thousand years old, covered in vines and trees and dirt – and sized to fit giants.
Exploring one of the nearby ruins with renewed interest, they were barely warned before a terrible danger found them. The remaining bones of the giant were held together with necrotic energy; to touch it would be to invite death. Worse, it drug behind it a battle-axe sized to fit – an axe that, in order to withstand the touch of time, would have to be enchanted. The skeletal giant saw them, and moved to attack.
Although slow and simple-minded, it was ferociously dangerous. It grabbed a stone from the nearby ruins and hurled it with one hand, and then rushed forward with the axe held high. The team was disorganized with fear, Gruck and Mara falling back, afraid to get close to its necrotic energies, Beth indecisive, and Wellby unsure of her stolen crossbow.
Eingrim unleashed a powerful bolt of lightning into the skeleton, and it scooped him up with one hand and hurled him at Gruck. The two went down in a tumble, both almost dead. Mara raced in, heedless of the danger, fond of the most non-dangerous mage she had ever met or heard of, screaming, “Eingrim! I love you!” The rest of the team, seeing the danger, focused their ranged weaponry on the skeleton with deadly intent.
The balance between the necrotic energy and the arcane energy using it to power the undead skeleton shifted – and it exploded with bone shrapnel and a flood of black power that nearly killed them.
They stabilized what wounds they could, and then withdrew behind a ruined wall as quickly as they could, in case any more skeletal giants appeared. Tumbleweed and Wellby found that a tree hid an ancient cellar, and the team withdrew into the cellar, hiding, licking their wounds.
After Eingrim recovered his wits, he set about healing them all as best he could. Mara had terrible wounds, and offered a bit of giant's bone shrapnel to the wizard. He accepted the bit of bone with a strange sadness, not reciprocating Mara's declaration of love. Tough as she was, she accepted that perhaps she had overstepped herself, and resigned her mind to dying gloriously in battle – as had been her intent until she met the strange wizard that healed people.
Deep in the night, while most slept and some kept watchful eyes open against the darkness of night, they heard other skeletal giants wandering the ruins.
Understanding that they would need to change their tactics, they pooled their knowledge of the undead and carefully went over the battle utilizing all of their inputs. They realized that skeletons were susceptible to bludgeoning damage, and their swords and axes would not be as useful as clubs and flails. Mara lamented not having a shield, and Gruck commented on his lack of a good maul.
Eingrim realized he had a spell that could help, but he needed raw materials. Using what they had, pooling their resources, they were able to put together enough wood and steel and iron for Eingrim's spells – and he fabricated a kite shield for Mara, and a maul-hammer for Gruck. Of course, the mage was no smith, so the items were both fantastic and horrible, but they were better than nothing.
In the morning, they set about preparing a trap for one of the skeletal giants, determined to make up for their seeming incompetence the day before. Eingrim's familiar, a raven known as Orist, helped watch for giants through holes in the canopy from high overhead. When they found one, they got into position for an ambush.
The giant went down within seconds, and when it exploded, they were prepared for the shrapnel hail of bone and the release of dark energies. Unfortunately, two nearby skeletal giants had heard, and came running.
The team found itself in trouble, as one of the skeletons had a giant-sized halberd with which to attack them. The second giant waded in with its axe, once again grabbing a team member it could reach and hurling them at another. The situation deteriorated rapidly, with Beth's arcane blasts and Wellby's well-placed quarrels making the difference between life and death.
They staunched the bleeding as best they could and withdrew into their hidey hole as quickly as they could.
They spent two days recovering in near darkness, speaking softly and fearfully, analyzing their mistakes. From the air above the forest, Orist the raven could see little. Tumbleweed, Wellby's coyote mount, could sense the skeletons almost as well. Silver, Gruck's winterwolf pup, could also smell them. They needed a recon from below the height of the trees, and an assessment of the remaining numbers of skeletons.
With better intel, dug in trenches and sharpened spikes, hidey holes for ambushes, and much better coordination and reconnaissance, they finished off four more of the giant skeletons in short order.
From there, they were able to finally explore the ruins at their leisure.
The ogremai Thlbr had said in a scrap of journal, “…left the thumb-sized bastards stuck beneath my treant pot. I'll return when they've starved to death, and see what their inventive little fingers have made of the crystals and the runes. Until then, the flag of war flies, and Drbth heeds the call of…”
The language of the giants was not written with vowels, and the team found the proper names hard to pronounce.
The middle of the giant ruins had a great circular fortress with only one way in, and a giant tree growing in the middle. The fortress was still intact, although covered in vines and plants. Next to it, they found Thlbr's building, and after some organized digging, found the remains of a giant pot right over a still intact hidden door.
Under the hidden, giant sized door, they found a blue-lit research room for a giant. Cages still had gnome skeletons in them – skeletons that moved as the team descended into the hidden room. Plants inside the cages attacked the team with poison sprays and tendrils that drug them closer. After dealing with the giant skeletons, however, the team had nothing but contempt for some gnomish skeletons and a few plants. They quickly destroyed any resistance.
The team found three intact runestones – one of which was powerful, indeed. Mara and Wellby were torn between newfound loyalty to Eingrim and a desire to share information with him, and old loyalties to their sponsor Thalessa.
Eingrim's contract with them specified that he keep one of the magic items, and ten percent of all treasure they found. Wellby and Mara worried that Eingrim would choose the powerful runestone, but after they went over the blue-lit hidden room, Eingrim showed only haste to leave.
He seemed fixated on the still-intact fortress, having seen something in Thlbr's slave cellar that moved him to explore it. The main door to the inner circle of the fortress was missing, perhaps having fallen off its hinges long ago. In the middle of the clearing was an oak tree easily thirty feet wide with long branches that shaded the bowl of the fortress entirely.
They found skeletons of humans and gnomes and elves and dwarves still in what appeared to be a slave pen, but Eingrim ignored it, urging them to move on, exploring more and more quickly. The team had to rush to keep up as Eingrim recklessly rushed through the fortress' first floor, looking in windows and peering along leaf-littered detritus on the floors. On the second floor, they found a still-hanging tapestry that was apparently a map, but Eingrim did not even wait to see more of it, heedlessly rushing on to the third giant-sized floor of the fortress where there was but one room.
Little in the room had survived the vagaries of time, save a giant-sized pedestal with runes inscribed upon it. Before the team could react, Eingrim activated the runes.
Eingrim the Gold's giddy eyes turned to fear, as he realized what he had done. He seemed to become more himself as he yelled, “RUN!” Despite his lack of physical exercise, he out-paced everyone as he ran back down the stairs and across the space beneath the oak's boughs, sprinting out of fortress with a speed that frightened the others to follow.
They made it out of the fortress just in time, as it began to shrink. The oak, the slave skeletons, everything within the fortress – even the stones of the well inside its walls – shrunk down with it, to the size of a coffee mug.
Eingrim was grinning ear to ear, and asked them, “Where should we set up our base?”
The team realized that he meant to include them in his future ventures, and Eingrim seemed genuinely concerned for all of them – even if Mara and Wellby had divided loyalties.
To assuage their fears, he agreed to go with them to meet Thalessa. The team seemed cohesive, and ready to meet any challenges.
Two nights later, as they neared Thalessa's farm hold, they came upon an abandoned camp site, the fire only three days' old. There were no signs of blood or spoor – only tents and packs still intact, sealed food uneaten, and wineskins still full.
They warily made a campsite on an overlooking bluff nearby, while Gruck slept in one of the abandoned tents – his feet sticking out near the rekindled fire. Silver slept with the goliath – and elaborate alarms of Wellby's encircled him.
Eingrim used his magics to protect the bluff campsite as best he could against magical attacks, and they cautiously waited through the night.
During Eingrim's shift, near midnight, he saw a sailing ship as dark as the night moving across the red face of Maroth. The terrified mage awoke Mara, and asked her if she, too, saw the strange apparition. She did, and the two held hands in fear.
Neither slept a wink the rest of the evening, keeping a wary eye on the sky, as well as on the abandoned camp site, drinking coffee and watching the forests warily, not saying a word.
In the morning, Gruck yawned, and when it was evident nothing had happened to him or Silver, he went hunting.
Mara and Eingrim drank yet more coffee, both wary of the sky as never before.
DM's Notes: I had intended there to be more of Thlbr's plants to harass the party with, but they handled the first giant so poorly that I felt they needed a rematch. They defeated the second one very soundly, but I wanted to push them and see how well they could really handle themselves. Although there were almost a few deaths, they managed to take on the third and fourth giants simultaneously, and survive – but it was close. I think Gruck and Silver both were just one or two bad rolls from death, and Mara and Eingrim not that much farther behind. Only Beth's healing balms turned the tide, there. But, once the party started acting as a team, they handled themselves very well, doing double damage from bludgeoning weapons and acting very cohesively. Sualy, for her part, is still learning D&D – and this was her first session to use any of her weapons!
None to date.