Chapter 2

Due to my brain going on Hibernate mode, I’m not able to write in a coherent manner at the moment. I’m also unable to put myself into the shoes of an alcoholic, vain dwarf. As such, I am simply going to dump the session summary of the previous session here instead of an actual story.
The Terminal
Ashie, the artificer, successfully brought the train’s berserk air elemental under control. Slowing down the train would mean the rest of the trip takes 2 hours, while keeping it at maximum speed means they arrive at the terminal in less than 30 minutes—at the risk of losing control of the train again, derailing, or smashing into the Vathirond Terminal, likely killing themselves and a lot of people in the process. Deciding to play it safe and avoid an imminent crash, Ashie slows down the train.

Kikkeni, the Kalashtar psion, having been dropped to 1 HP in the previous encounter, is healed with a wand of lesser vigor.

Knowing that the party is now riding one third of the train they’d departed Flamekeep in, and that the said remaining third of the train contains several dead crew members, the party figures out what to tell the authorities at Vathirond.  After weighing the pros and cons of lying and Holden, the dwarf Silver Flame crusader, says he’s beholden to tell the truth, and so they reluctantly agree.

The train arrives at Vathirond, and Father Larrister, the local contact, is shocked to see that only a third of the train is left. Holden quickly tells him they were attacked, and Larrister quickly calls in his guards to seal off the train before anybody tries to investigate, much to the chagrin of the House Orien personnel in the station.

Larrister brings the PCs to go to the Silver Flame diocese so he can brief them further.

At the Diocese
The PCs explain exactly what happened. Larrister is shocked, but since the PCs successfully identified the assassin as a rakshasa, Larrister explains that it wasn’t a random attack; a rakshasa who stayed in close proximity to them for hours wouldn’t have made a mistake. The attack was a deliberate assassination attempt, and the PCs have also come to this conclusion. Intrigued by the turn of events, Larrister says that they may be up against more than just a warband of hobgoblin bandits.

Larrister explains where they’re headed next: Drellin’s Ferry, a town at the forefront of a lot goblin attacks. Since the town is in the middle of nowhere (we joked that Drellin’s Ferry’s town motto is “More Nowhere than Nowhere”—there really is a town in central Breland named Nowhere, but at least the Lightning Rail system gets there. Drellin’s Ferry is over 160 miles from the nearest station.), Breland can’t really mobilize an army to meet the threat of a few random bandit attacks; said army would have to cross most of the country, and frankly, King Boranel is more concerned with the hostile Droaamite attacks on Breland’s western border than random bandit attacks in the east. The PCs have yet to make the Rakshasa-Khyber-Tiamat connection, but I expect they’ll get there by the time they get to Wyrmlord Koth. Either way, Larrister is convinced the PCs are up against more than just “random bandit attacks.”

The PCs bed down for the night in the diocese, waking up to find a House Orien coach specially chartered for Drellin’s Ferry. The coach driver/courier, Kien d’Orien, is a man of few words. Loven, the warforged scout rogue and the dwarf’s adopted brother, says the carriage reminds him too much of the boxes humans put equipment in, and declares that he wants to ride on the coach’s roof. Kien sarcastically tells him to enjoy the 160-mile ride.  Loven shuts up and sits in the carriage.

Holden also opens up a letter that Larrister slipped him as they left; the Letter talks about Amery Vraath and his failed lycanthrope-purging crusade into Elsir Vale. Vraath was nasty, bloodthirsty and altogether unlikeable, and ultimately he was killed by the lycanthropes he was hunting. There are lots of rumors about him being infected with lycanthropy himself or that his ghost haunts his old base in the Witchwood. Larrister simply asks Holden to check out Vraath Keep while he’s at it, but the old vicar himself says he never really liked the guy.

Marauders
Ah, the first encounter in the module. Kien spots the ambush for the PCs, and stops the carriage a few miles out of Drellin’s Ferry, and in a dreadfully quiet manner, tells the PCs that there’s an ambush just up ahead. The PCs get down. Kien hangs back to protect his cargo from looters, while the PCs engage.

Roll initiative.

The battle goes very, very badly for the hobgoblins. All of the archers miss their first attacks, and for the most part, miss over and over again for the entire encounter. Loven decides to sneak into the woods and carries his bag of boulders—one of the most fun low-level items for rogues, ever.

Ashie lays down a wanded entangle spell in the middle of the area, covering almost the entire map. However, since the trail down the center had no foliage, only the hobgoblins in the trees are entangled. Almost all of them fail; the only one who made the save was “hobgoblin A,” the furthest down the right side of the map.  Hobgoblin A constantly makes high saves and high attack rolls, even a couple of natural 20s. I dub him “Lucky” henceforth.

Kikkeni takes a round to get psionically focused.

Soon after, Uth-Lar the bladebearer and Zarr the cleric rush out of the farmhouse, telling the PCs to attack the spellcaster (at this point, Ashie is the only person who’s cast anything.) The two of them rush down the path with the two scorch drakes (just the hell hounds I reskinned to become bipedal lizards). The scorch drakes run at tremendous speed.

One of the scorch drakes runs past Loven, who throws a pebble from his bag of boulders. It would’ve likely been a fatal sneak attack, but unfortunately, he rolls horribly and misses. Holden, maul drawn, sets about bashing in heads on the left side of the map. He hits one hobgoblin, which he kills with a massive crit on his second turn. (x3 crit = win) With two hobgoblins dead, all but one of the archers entangled, and every single one of the hobgobins rolling badly, it looks like it’s over for them.

Zarr turns invisible; Uth-Lar runs at full tilt toward Kikkeni. Uth-Lar successfully lands an AOO on Kikkeni as she tries to slip away, while the archers keep firing at Ashie.

Kikkeni, with her 40-foot speed thanks to Speed of Thought, is able to get out of the way and shoots an electric energy bolt across the path, frying one of the scorch drakes and one of the archers. Ashie buffs herself with shield. Uth-Lar pursues Kikkeni into the forest, but as he enters he passes by Loven, who attempts to sneak him with his shortbow. The attack hits, but Uth-Lar’s uncanny dodge prevents him from getting creamed by the sneak damage.

One of the scorch drakes engages with Ashie’s  iron defender homunculus, damaging it for half its HP with a single bite. Holden charges the scorch drake with Battle Leader’s Charge, reducing it to a fine red mist. Holden: 3, Red Hand: 0.

The second wave of hobgoblins doesn’t do much better. Most of them miss consistently, although a number of solid hits land on Kikkeni and Ashie over the course of the battle, dropping them to single digits. Kikkeni responds in kind by killing almost all the second wave with one application of energy missile and then runs off into the forest.  Ashie, on the other hand, is unable to help much. A CL 1 magic missile wand really doesn’t do much. Uth-Lar pursues Kikkeni, and Holden follows.  Ashie orders her homunculus to chase down Uth-Lar as well.

Holden saves Kikkeni with Defensive Rebuke, forcing Uth-Lar to attack him. The bladebearer obliges, cursing Holden in his language (Holden knows Goblin; I translate Uth-Lar’s swearing as “Your mother has less honor than a flee-bitten centaur whore”) but his rolls are also bad. Only one of his Wolf Fang Strikes hits, and his Wall of Blades counter to parry Holden’s Mountain Hammer rolls a pathetic 3. Zarr reappears behind Holden and nails him with an inflict moderate wounds—Holden fails his first save but uses his Zealous Surge to reroll his failed will save. He takes token damage.

Loven throws another charge of his bag of boulders from concealment, this time successfully sneak attacking Zarr. The cleric takes significant damage and is left bleeding  (c/o Pathfinder Rogue talent); Ashie helps by pumping him with another shot of magic missile.

The homunculus shakes down Uth-Lar, finally dropping him to exactly 0 HP. Only Zarr and two hobgoblins—one still entangled and the other ready to piss in his pants—are left. Zarr attempts to rally the two and uses his smite on Holden, but Holden has cover thanks to the foliage. Zarr misses, and finally collapses due to blood loss. Holden makes sure he’s dead with a coup de grace.  The unentangled archer runs for the hills. The other one is stuck, and in no morale to fight any more. Loven walks up to him and executes him with an arrow to the back of the head.

I changed the treasure here. I said one of Uth-Lar’s short swords broke and replaced it with a bunch of low-level magic items that had been with the merchant whom the hobbos had ambushed earlier. Same thing with Zarr’s armor; nobody needed it, and since the town doesn’t offer much in the way of gear, I decided to scrap it.

Loot:
-one darklight (Secrets of Sarlona). A very interesting magic item that can change ambient light when imbued with psionic power. Due to simpy changing the ambient light and not emitting actual light, nobody can really pinpoint the bearer. The party finds it a very interesting item and thinks of all the various applications of the said lantern—then they see another darklight already in Kikkeni’s gear list (the character’s loot was prepared by me in an emergency due to players being unable to come). They shrug and move on.
healing belt. Without a cleric, they needed it.
restful crystal. Now the dwarf doesn’t take his armor off anymore. Ick.
-eternal wand of shield
-everlasting rations
-355 GP
-one unconscious hobgoblin marauder.

The party also hoovers the miscellaneous mundane gear and stacks it onto the carriage and ties up Uth-Lar BENEATH the carriage. They haul everything into town.

Kien delivers his goods and leaves while the PCs talk to the militia.

Tarnished Silver
Due to my re-fluffing of Amery Vraath as an unlikeable Silver Torch zealot who made life more than a little difficult for the Ferry folk during the Last War, the militia are wary of the PCs. However, desperate to have the hobgoblins dealt with, they’re let into the town.

Loven nonchalantly drags Uth-Lar toward the Old Toll House while the two girls look for an inn. They decide on the Old Bridge, which is a House Ghallanda operation—the only one for miles around.

The dwarf and the warforged start talking to Norro Wiston, and Soranna is impressed by how the PCs dealt with the ambush so easily. The women arrive just as Speaker Wiston offers a pay of 500 GP. Holden hates goblins so accepts off the bat; the others are fine with it. They tie up Uth-Lar in a cell.

Holden=Jack Bauer
Holden makes an Intimidate check as Uth-Lar comes to. Uth-Lar’s steely façade and pointed-back ears melt away—despite his+4 bonus to resist Intimidate checks, he rolls low and Holden easily makes his point by smashing a chair into powder with his maul.

Uth-Lar sings like a canary, telling the party about Wyrmlord Koth’s base in Vraath Keep, and also mentions Azarr Kul. He’s not sure of the entire horde’s command structure, and gives no certain description of Tiamat’s involvement—all the PCs know is that Tiamat is involved, since the hobgoblins keep raving about her, and that the holy symbol Zarr carried was Tiamat’s. The PCs puzzle over the title of “Wyrmlord,” but Uth-Lar doesn’t know why that title was chosen.

Holden explains to the party that the worship of Tiamat—a demon Overlord—is unheard of among goblins. The ancient goblinoid Dhakaani empire was agnostic, trusting in its own glory more than any gods; Darguun, the nation of Lhesh Haruuc, at least publicly worships the Sovereign Host in order to appear more civilized; other goblinoids in Darguun may turn to the worship of the Dark Six, the Sovereign Host’s dark brethren. An actual cult of a demon Overlord is very, very rare, as most of them are in suspended animation.

Ashie asks if there were other races involved. Uth-Lar snaps back at the artificer, saying that unlike humans, “the People” or “the Dar” have always considered themselves a single race with three different bloods (this is consistent with Eberron’s goblinoid fluff), and that humans were fools to separate them into three different races.

Uth-Lar mentions Karkilan the minotaur, but the PCs seem to gloss over this—Uth-Lar begins to get his courage back, Holden smashes Uth-Lar in the knee. Uth-Lar mentions one last important bit of information—the Red Hand is coming to slaughter the “human river village.” Ashie presses Uth-Lar some more for information, asking if the horde will continue pushing eastward past Drellin’s Ferry. Uth-Lar, his courage and adrenaline back, simply keeps raving about the Red Hand coming.

Annoyed, Holden orders Loven to shoot him “where it hurts,” but I tell him that Uth-Lar is too far gone and any further attacks would kill him. Holden then grabs Uth-Lar’s broken knee and twists it. Roaring in pain, the hobgoblin simply keeps swearing and says that he’s confident his brethren would feast on their innards, even if he were to die.

The party leaves Uth-Lar, and Soranna leans over to Ashie, saying that it was nice of them to leave the hobgoblin for them to take care of for the night. Loven hears this, turns around, and shoots Uth-Lar in the head. Soranna sighs, drags out the body herself, and orders one of her men to bury it out back. The captain tells the party that Vraath Keep wasn’t far, and that meeting up with the woodsman Jorr could help them get through the Witchwood without much trouble.

Shopping
The party visits Delora Zann, but she’s closing down for the day, so the party goes to sleep. Early the next morning, they go to Morlin Coalhewer, who accepts Holden as a fellow dwarf, and purchases the masterwork longswords and suits of mail. The party donates the rest of the gear to the town guard, much to Soranna’s delight.

The party spends the gold buying scrolls from Brother Derny, the local cleric of Dol Arrah (female Pelor to non-Eberron players, she’s one of the Sovereign Host, the predominant pantheon-based religion), and  Sertieren the Wise. Finally, they buy mounts and gear from Delora Zann, and ride off for Jorr’s place.

Jorr the Badass and Hydra Soup
Jorr greets the PCs in typical hillbilly fashion. They make their intent to explore Vraath Keep known; Jorr blows them off and tells them that it’s just “down the road, can’t miss it.” He responds a bit favorably to their flattery, but since the PCs feel they can’t trust him yet, they only speak in uncertain terms.  He responds by saying the wood isn’t that unsafe, and that while the Keep is haunted, they don’t need his help. It’s only when they mention the goblins that he perks up and offers his help.

Not long after, they arrive at the Blackwater Causeway. Jorr takes point, tells the PCs to keep watch, and leads the crossing. The PCs dismount and take the horses with them. Jorr fails his spot check and misses the Hydra completely.

“Aw hell. I dinnow there wuz a hydra here.”

Roll initiative.

Intiative goes as follows: Kikkeni, Loven, Hydra, Jorr, Ashie, Holden. Kikkeni’s Knowledge check result spooks the player; she advocates either mounting the horses and attempting to run full speed across the causeway (which would’ve made an awesome chase scene reminiscent of that one area in Metal Slug), or running back toward the town.  Holden stows his maul and draws his greatsword.

I simply tell her that the hydra will give chase, that horses can’t run at full speed with a rider, the causeway is too slippery and rickety to cross with charging horses, and that the beast will follow them all the way back to town if they ran.

Kikkeni uses inertial armor, while Loven tries to get cover and hides to snipe. The hydra takes the path of least resistance—the river. Ashie fires a ray of enfeeblement from a scroll, greatly crippling the hydra’s abilities. Its attack bonus is down to +5, and its bites no longer had their damage bonus. Jorr Rapid Shots, hitting both times. Holden scrambles straight into the path of the monster as it swims up the river to where the causeway crosses the deep water.

Kikkeni opens fire with her energy bolt, but rolls low. To make matters worse, hydras have good reflex saves despite their size, and takes very little damage. All its heads are intact. Loven sneaks the hydra with his bow, dealing a good amount of damage. The hydra moves in to attack Holden, using its superior reach to savage him with bites. Only one hits, and deals a pathetic 4 damage. Jorr keeps the arrows pumping, dealing 7 more damage. Ashie fires a magic missile from her wand, dealing 2 damage.  Holden pulls out a blast disk, sets it to “Proximity,” and plants it in the bridge.

Turn 3. Kikkeni blasts again, searing off a head. Loven sees what his brother is doing, and makes a run for it, climbing back over the causeway to the side opposite the hydra. The hydra stays put, attacks Holden with everything, and misses all but one bite. Again.  Jorr goes “What th’ hell are ye doin’? KEEP SHOOTIN’!” and stays on the bridge. One more Rapid Shot: 17 damage. Ashie makes a run  for it, jumping into the bog on the east side of the causeway, and Holden makes a run for it, ducking under the hydra’s would-have-been devastating sextuple AOO (none of it hit), and jumps into the bayou as well.

Turn 4. Kikkeni blasts yet again. A second head comes off, dealing damage to the beast’s body. Loven is already off and running away. The hydra takes the bait and steps right into the [I]blast disk[/I]’s range. [B]BOOM.[/B]

The bridge is sheared off its posts and falls into the water on the far end.  Unfortunately the hydra makes its save again. It does take enough area damage to shear off another head, though. Jorr almost falls, but manages to stay up—and keeps shooting. “I hope that wasn’t the  only one ya got, because it’s still COMING!” Another Rapid Shot and the hydra’s HP is down to 26. Holden swears at his failed plan, stomps back toward the hydra and plunges his greatsword into the body.

And rolls a 20.

And confirms with a 17.

The hydra’s heart bursts under the impact of 28 damage, and the whole thing collapses into the water.

End of session.

Spoilerrific DM Comments:
Thoughts
The PCs have extracted a good amount of information from the clues that have been dropped, but their patchwork of intelligence isn’t meshing together just yet.
1. They do know that a certain “high wyrmlord” is directing attacks through a lesser “wyrmlord.”
2. They do know that the hobgoblins are planning a massive attack on Drellin’s Ferry, possibly with bugbears and goblins as well.
3. Karkilan the minotaur is mentioned, but the PCs don’t really realize he’s a minotaur.
4. The PCs know the base’s location. Vraath Keep is their next target.
5. The hobgoblins worship Tiamat.

What they don’t know:
1. The Rakshasa attack was more involved than they realize.
2.  The exact structure of the Horde is unknown.
3. The relevance of the title “wyrmlord” is still unknown.
4. They don’t know when “the day of ruin” is.
5. They don’t know exactly how the Horde plans to move, or how far they’re moving. In fact, they don’t know if there’s a Horde at all. They only know of the “Red Hand.”

The first encounter was a bloodbath. I was consistently unlucky with rolls except for Lucky, and in the end he got fried with a single energy missile. The encounter is a lot easier than its EL lets on, as the module admits, but even as a martial adept, Uth-Lar sucked—I blame it on bad rolls.

I really didn’t know what to do with Zarr—I figured he could add some battlefield control, but all he did was sneak up and then start attacking. Too little, too late.

I may have given a lot of treasure in that first encounter, but the PCs aren’t going to get much otherwise. A bunch of low-level, “cute” treasure (situational but otherwise useful) instead of high-level “let’s sell this” loot, seems to draw the players in more.

The hydra encounter was priceless. The module has the hydra running away when its HP goes down, but I figured the PCs could kill it anyway, so I let it fight on. Jorr’s presence did make the battle way easier, but in the end, the PCs still took the glory. Ashie didn’t do much damage, but ray of enfeeblement was absolutely crippling even if it didn’t drop the hydra’s STR to penalty levels.

I’m concerned about Loven. He’s had a lot of opportunities to sneak, but it seems he’s not able to optimize well. The player isn’t so sure about what direction to take with his build either. I was suggesting going with Crossbow Sniper, but he’s still considering it.

Finally, using Magic Item Compendium to “fix” this module’s treasure really works. The treasure in RHOD is way above recommended character level, but there’s so little of it that’s useful that the PCs are likely to just sell it. In RHOD, there’s little time and opportunity to actually go shopping, especially since Elsir Vale is in the boondocks of wherever the setting is. Breaking down the “big uber” treasure (expensive, powerful treasure that the PCs will end up using more than their own class features) into more interesting, “cute” magic items (highly situational but conducive to creative use)

Next week: Vraath Keep.

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