[The story so far]
Session 01 - Ambush on the King's Road
The three carts trundled on slowly through the weak early spring sunshine. The monotonous creak of the wagons and occasional snort of the pairs of oxen drawing the carts had lulled carters and passengers into a waking torpor, conversation had faded some time ago and all were looking forward to arriving at a decent inn to make their final overnight stop before Corcelle and the delights of its Vernalia equinox festival.
Cresting a wooded hill with the forest coming almost to the edge of the road (the local Reeve would be in trouble for neglecting his duties to keep the road cleared for thirty feet either side), the lead carter, Alaric, gave a shout of "Corcelle! Look!" and pointed to a smudge just visible on the horizon. Encouraging their oxen with a flick of the whip all three carts picked up pace, the farmboy cousins in the middle (Pierre) and rear (Staedtler) carts whooping with delight, and the passengers in the lead cart (the halfling Jean; wannabe wizard Bernard; Bregans, cleric of Alathea; and Bregans' principal, Revered Elder Berignon, priest of Alathea) livening up - even conspicuously dark and brooding Bernard cracked an honest smile!
But then Alaric reigned his beasts in and hopped down from the cart with a curse; up ahead a large tree had fallen to block much of the road. "Come on, you inbred lumps" he shouted at Pierre and Staedtler, "Get down here and help me shift this!" Without waiting for them he stomped over to the trunk and clambered onto it, a coil of rope in his hand. Standing atop the tree he gestured again for help and the cousins dutifully got down from their carts to help, while the halfling and wizard clambered down to stretch their legs - they'd paid for transport, not signed up to be labourers! Just as Alaric was climbing over onto the far side he slipped, disappearing from view with a surprised yelp... not realising his luck as a crossbow bolt thudded into the tree just where he'd been standing a moment earlier.
|Brigand! By Kwuteg on DeviantArt|
Out of the trees ahead stalked a man in dark, well-worn cloak, hood up and shadowing his face. Discarding his crossbow, he drew his longsword as he stalked over to the fallen Alaric who was clutching his ankle and whimpering (he'd twisted or broken it as he'd fallen). Stopping at Alaric, the swordsman paused only to skewer the carter, before leaping up onto the fallen tree and shouting "Hand over the priest and no-one else need die!" From either side of the road more hooded figures with swords and crossbows were emerging from the bushes...
"What do you do now?" My active DMing had begun!
It was all go - Jean scrambled under the middle cart and tried to remain concealed while he scrabbled around in his pack (which he never let out of his sight) for his suitably scaled crossbow and bolts, Bernard hauled himself back up into the first cart and grasped his staff firmly, Bregans encouraged Berignon under the bench and grabbed his mace, Pierre and Staedtler drew their shortswords and nervously prepared for their first ever swordfight.
Who knows whether they would have honoured that pledge? They would never find out because Jean had got his crossbow sorted and shot at the nearest brigand to him, aiming for the legs so he could stay out of sight under the cart. The bolt flew straight and true, embedding itself deep in the brigands thigh, who collapsed with a scream, blood fountaining from his femoral artery [5 damage against 3HP]. On hearing this the other brigands (apart from the leader) rushed at the cart and the travellers.
Bregans leapt down from the cart and swung for his man [I gave +2 to hit for a well-described attack from above], crushing his skull like a ripe melon, and splattering the horrified young cleric of justice and social harmony with gore, who promptly staggered back against the cart and vomited in disgust [natural 6 damage roll combined with an "Ewww!" from the player]. On the other side of the cart another brigand tried to climb up while Bernard went to prod him in the throat with his staff. Getting caught up in his robes, the wizard tumbled from the cart [he rolled a 2] but managed to roll back under the cart before his foe could slice him [DEX check passed with flying colours]. Further back on the left of the carts, the final brigand from that side had spotted where the halfling's bolt had come from and made for him out of revenge.
Pierre impetuously cut at the leg of his foe and, much to his surprise [natural 20] took the leg clean off, just above the knee. His cousin Staedtler wasn't doing quite so well, failing to get past the shield of the final assailant and getting winded by a blow which just failed to go through his second-hand padded livery coat [counts as leather armour - trying to stick with the medieval vibe as closely as possible].
|From the NHLF site|
Seeing that he'd have to get involved, the bandit chief hopped down from his vantage point and advanced on the distressed cleric, making a probing cut to investigate Bregans' instinctive response [he rolled a 3 to hit and it seemed right that Bregans would still be shocked and not respond this round]. Meanwhile, Bernard was shuffling further back under the cart to stay out of reach of his attacker and Jean decided to throw his satchel at his attacker to trip him up so he could leap out and stab him. This failed [it was a cool idea as described by the player so I offered him a DEX check. Failed!] but only just, surprising the villain who dropped his sword [I used the Surprise rules from the initiative test]. Pierre rushed to his cousin's aid and was considered the greater threat by their joint foe who turned his shield to Staedtler and cut ineffectually at Pierre. Staedtler made his move and managed to de-shield the villain [got exactly equal to the AC of the bandit, argued that he might have made him drop his shield, and made the 50:50 roll I gave as a chance for this], while Pierre stepped in and gutted him.
Back at the front of the wagon train, the leader suddenly stabbed at Bregans but the attack was ill-conceived and over-hasty, leaving him off-balance [rolled a 1 to hit]. The cleric, his martial training and instinct combining to overcome his horror, slapped aside the blade with his left hand and stepped in to deliver a perfectly placed rising blow with his mace to the man's jaw [natural 20 to hit] that was so hard [natural 6 damage] that the unfortunate brute's head was torn clean from his shoulders and sailed through the air. Bregans dropped to his hands and knees, shaking uncontrollably and dry-retching.
Seeing the horrific fate of their leader, the two remaining brigands stopped trying to attack the characters under the carts, turned tail and fled. Jean sighed with relief, but Bernard's indignation at having to cower under a cart was too much for him and he cast a bolt of magical energy at the retreating back of his his erstwhile attacker [magic missile] that threw him several yards into the bushes, his back a charred and smoking mess.
The fight was over.
Berignon comforted Bregans, and helped clean the mess from him. The others were amazed and delighted to find that none of their party had been hurt at all in the encounter, apart from poor Alaric, and set to burying the dead at Bregans' insistence. Jean introduced his newly forged friends into the noble art of looting the dead ["Hey, wait, we should see if they've got any treasure before we bury them"], further drawing the group together as they rejoiced in their measly gains of a grand total of a dozen gold pieces. They decided to give the greatest share to Bregans to try to cheer him up, and wondered if the spider tattoos on the neck of each bandit had any wider significance than just a gang sign.
So, bodies duly buried and a short blessing over the graves from Berignon, the tree dragged from the path, and the early dusk of an increasingly cloudy Spring day drawing in, they rode on for a mile or so before setting up camp for the night and deciding the order in which they'd keep watch. We leave them with a fire crackling and Bernard hunched over his spell book but alert for danger...
Post Session Pondering
I take back everything I ever said or thought about roleplaying being just one step too nerdy for me; this was an absolute delight! I haven't laughed so hard for ages - I've known these lads for over three years now and took four of them on an overseas school trip last year - and the constant stream of short jokes aimed at the not-at-all-short halfling player, plus the running joke about young wizards trying to cast Grow Beard (it's why they keep stroking their chins!), was just the level of banter I needed after a gruelling work week.
I know I got some things wrong (I think I've worked out how you determine the starting spells for a magic user, but how they pick up new spells as they level-up is still a bit vague so any help would be much appreciated), and I played it a bit fast and loose with combat rounds, but it worked and was consistent - everyone had fun and wants to play again next week. The cleric player is even going off to design the code he's supposed to live by as a devotee of Alathea; cool, huh?
I've got local and country-wide hex-maps on the go, an encounter for an inn, a village roughed out, and two adventure seeds based around the cargo on the carts all ready to go. Roll on next Friday!
Thanks for reading, and any decent advice for a new DM gratefully received,