[3 Lamashan 4707 continued]
Having made the final preparations necessary for their impending raid on the goblin fortress of Thistletop, the adventurers collect their mounts from the Goblin Squash Stables and leave Sandpoint. Their departure is punctuated by excitement when their goblin prisoner, Grizzlenik, runs away rather than being seated on a horse; after a lengthy chase, Grizzlenik is subdued with a modicum of violence and the journey begins.
The adventurers set off east along the Lost Coast Road, expecting the six mile journey to Thistletop to take only a couple of hours. Short after leaving Sandpoint, however, they notice a listless cow swaying oddly on the road in front of them. Noticing that blood seems to be dripping from it, Oliver approaches to see if the animal is hurt when, much to his disgust and dismay, two dire rats leap from a wound in the cow’s side and attack! The ranger is bitten by one of the rats, but his companions react quickly, with Felix stomping one and Nedrin killing the other with his longsword. The group continue east, passing by the broken hills of Ravenroost, the boar-hunting ground called Tickwood, the goblin-infested Shank’s Wood, and the stony hills known collectively as The Tors. There, just before reaching the western edge of Nettlewood, the adventurers decide to go off road and head north to the cliffs overlooking the Varisian Gulf. They set up camp and post sentries before experiencing an uneventful night.
[4 Lamashan 4707]
The adventurers are startled during their morning routines by an uncanny squeaky howl coming from nearby. Felix and Nedrin react quickly, realizing that a pack of the mangy, beady-eyed canines known as goblin dogs are slinking towards the campsite! Believing they’ve found easy prey, the craven creatures encircle the adventurers and attack. Oliver suffers a serious bite to the abdomen, while Felix, who has quickly mounted his Shoanti-bred steed, takes a minor wound to his leg when flanked by two goblin dogs. But the skilled pugilist responds in kind, lashing out with both legs simultaneously to either side of his horse and kicking the beasts in the head. Nedrin circles the campsite on his mount and comes to Bey’s aid by having his horse stomp on a goblin dog’s back. Oliver and Felix make short work of the last attacker, and the battle is over almost as soon as it began. Bey exhausts her reserve of healing magicks to address Felix’s and Oliver’s wounds.
It’s a cold, crisp autumn morning when the adventurers talk over how they should approach Thistletop. They settle on a plan to scout the goblin fortress during the daytime, rest nearby overnight, and then launch a raid at dawn. Oliver’s wilderness skills come to the fore as he leads the group through the dense, tangled undergrowth of Nettlewood. At about midday, the adventurers reach a hedge wall made of thistle and sharp brambles. Grizzlenik is persuaded to reveal where a secret door can be found, so the adventurers tie their horses in a safe place nearby and prepare for their first incursion into Thistletop.
The secret door made of a rigid mat of thistles and nettles is pushed open easily to reveal an unexpected sight: a veritable maze made from 4’ high hedges that grow together at the top to form a thin canopy overhead. The adventurers are forced to crouch to navigate the goblin tunnels and, with no reason to pick one direction over another, decide to follow the eastern path. After passing next to a chamber containing a hole from which the distant sound of sloshing waves could be heard, the adventurers stumble unsubtly into a goblin-dog kennel! Four of the mangy mutts are tied to wooden stakes by fraying rope, and they begin to howl when they scent intruders. One of the goblin dogs breaks free and jumps at Bey, while Oliver gets too close to another and is bitten viciously under the armpit. Bey cuts deep into one with her bardiche and drops it as Oliver begins hurling flasks of fire and acid into the kennel. Nedrin lines up a seemingly-impossible shot with his longbow, but somehow the arrow flies true and catches a goblin dog in the eye!
|Gogmurt and Tangletooth|
The immediate battle is won, but the results have been disastrous: Thistletop has been placed on alert! The first defenders to arrive on scene, seconds later, are the goblin druid Gogmurt and his beautiful firepelt cougar, Tangletooth. Gogmurt literally steps out of a hedgerow towards a startled Felix and slashes him across the chest with a blade made of fire! Simultaneously, Tangletooth pounces on Bey’s back and knocks her to the ground unconscious! To make matters even worse, Grizzlenik’s predictable betrayal occurs, as he stabs Nedrin in the back with the very dogslicer the hobgoblin gave him! The adventurers seem moments away from being completely routed by the surprise attacks, but, somehow, they rally. Felix gets Gogmurt in a headlock and begins punching the druid in the face, while Oliver and Nedrin combine their efforts to cut down Tangletooth. Grizzlenik changes sides again and helps the adventurers. Seeing his dearest companion dead, Gogmurt draws upon his magicks to change into a dire badger! Although Felix tries to hold on, Gogmurt wriggles free and burrows into the ground to make good his escape.
The heroes of Sandpoint make an immediate decision to withdraw before more reinforcements arrive. Felix uses a healing potion to awaken Bey, and the group quickly makes their way out of the hedge maze and back to the horses. Disoriented from their hasty flight, the adventurers find themselves temporarily lost in Nettlewood and have difficulty finding a safe campsite. Eventually, after unfortunate run-ins with stinging nettles and goblinberries, they are able to make camp. Nedrin uses corporal punishment on Grizzlenik for his earlier betrayal. Desna favours the adventurers, and they face no further dangers in the night.
[5 Lamashan 4707]
Bey’s divine abilities to heal the adventurers allow them to return to Thistletop immediately. This time, Felix bursts through the thistle door to see ten goblins ostensibly on sentry duty. Alas, some are napping, others are distracted with arguing or playing games, and only a couple are ready for a fight. Rather than repeat the mistake of fighting the goblins in the cramped tunnels, the adventurers cleverly lure the goblins to the entrance and fight on their own terms. The disorganized, easily distracted goblins are mowed down in seconds.
The first battle of the group’s second incursion into Thistletop has been a rousing success! But will their good fortune continue?
Director's Commentary (17/04/2017)
The dire rats bursting out of the cow's stomach and the goblin dogs attacking the early morning campsite were, of course, random encounters. The adventure path assumes that PCs will face random encounters and gives tables of monsters for different areas. The challenging, but fun part of random encounters is trying to very quickly think of a semi-original reason why the PCs are running into the monsters. This has to be done while the GM is frantically trying to organize the grid, finding minis, pulling up stats, and so forth, and all of the players are either staring expectantly (bad players!) or taking the opportunity to role-play (good players!).
The first intrusion into Thistletop really was as suspenseful as the recap described. As the GM, I was shocked that Gogmurt (a goblin druid) and his animal companion were doing so well but then, somehow, the PCs turned things around and narrowly won the day and escaped with their lives. They were wise not to press on any further, and were lucky the rolls were with them to avoid further random encounters while they rested.
For the second intrusion, I had to make notes to remind myself that the goblins should be really bad--verging on ridiculous--when it comes to combat. It's part of their schtick that they're easily distracted, take ridiculous risks, and are the furthest things from sensible tacticians. But since the PCs will face plenty of much harder challenges down the line, I don't mind throwing them some softballs early on.