Being the first group to ever break into an employment office in order to get a job, the Adventure Co made sure to show up extra early to the warehouse to make sure they were part of the headcount.
The warehouse yard was bustling with activity early on as teamsters, escorts, and hangers-on prepared for next trip out. Unsure of exactly where they should be (like the first day of high school all over again), the party milled about like they totally knew what was going on. While scanning the crowd, the monk thought he recognized some familiar shoes in the crowd — dragon cultist shoes. Taller party members confirmed that there were actual dragon cultists in those shoes, and that the cultists had also made note of the party’s presence. Neither side made happy faces at the other.
The gang boss Bryferhew (winner of this week’s ‘Fantasy Name Generator Award’) bellowed for attention and everyone snapped to. He told the assembly that the caravan’s destination was the Carnath Roadhouse, a 10 day trip through increasingly hostile territory, as the High Road approached the edge of the delightfully named Mere of Dead Men (4 our of 5 stars on CaravanAdvisor.com). The job of the laborers and drivers was to get to the roadhouse; the job of the escorts was to make sure that the laborers and drivers got to the roadhouse. Every escort was responsible for his or her own wagon, and points would be deducted for letting the wagon fall into unsavory hands/paws/claws/tentacles, catch on fire, get sucked into an interdimensional vortex, or even get a parking ticket. Bryferhew divided the laborers to the left and the escorts to the right, and each was to meet with their caravan coordinator. The players got to meet Coordinator Duclose, a charming half-orc with a clipboard and a greatsword. She assigned them to carts 6 and 8 and let them know to be on their guard. They could expect to find lizardmen, trolls, ogres, goblins, bandits, and bullywugs (“pissed off Kermit-the-Frog types”). Stay with your cart, get to the roadhouse, and there won’t be any problems, she growled.
Once on the road, the party noted that the cultists were assigned to the wagons behind them in the column. Some of the cultists that they recognized were also posing as escorts, and some had taking up the spade and were posing as laborers. Some of the escorts were walking with carts that carried unmarked crates or tarp-covered materials.
Seven days into the trip, the party found themselves on a suspiciously calm forest road edged by moderate brush and thick copses of trees. Wisdom (Perception) checks revealed nothing until the ranger heard a twig snap. One of the other party members then swore that they heard the sound of sticks rattling — like arrows in a quiver.
Because the presence of a map in the game is the surest way to tell that the shit was going to hit the fan, the party was suddenly besieged by a hail of crossbow fire from the treeline on both sides of the road. All up and down the column, bandits burst forth and assaulted the caravan in force. As other escorts fended off their own attackers, Adventure Co. sprung into action, taking out bandit after bandit before the attackers could deal significant damage. The caravan had been slowed, but not stopped, and none of the carriages seemed worse for wear.
The column arrived at the roadhouse and began the ponderous dance of unloading. One cart at a time rolled into the courtyard where the goods were unloaded into the stockyard. Sturdy goods like timber were stored in the open areas, while tools, crates, and perishable supplies were moved to an enclosed storage room off the main yard. A half-orc named Bog Luck (name generator runner-up) seemed to be running the show at the roadhouse, and was seen hurrying around with the unloaded goods and directing traffic.
The players were assigned rooms on the second floor of the roadhouse, and eyed that walled storage room from the balcony.
* * *
Due to circumstances beyond our control, we missed three whole sessions prior to this one. We spent some time getting back up to speed on the story, and on how to use Fantasy Grounds, before we were able to start.
The thing I didn’t want to happen was to drag this caravan out like the last one. I’m finding that there’s a limit to the kind of session I can concentrate on: it’s either a straightforward, by the book session where I follow a very specific room by room game plan (like a dungeon crawl), or I have to wing it. I apparently can’t do both, as the previous caravan attested to. Mixing an RP situation with plot advancement seems very difficult for me to get my head around, and I always end up feeling like I did neither as well as either deserved.
While there was a blurb in the module about the chance of encounters along the road, I figured that being between the city and the roadhouse would see enough traffic to make incursions by the regional natives fairly infrequent, so I chose to include just one. I just happened to roll “bandits” on the encounter table, and that made sense to me: humans near human settlements, attempting to prey on a semi-regular caravan on the off chance they got lucky and ambushed an inept column. It’s been a while since the party engaged in some real combat, and while I don’t think that a bunch of Generic Bandits is going to stretch the party’s abilities, I think the event was enjoyed and appreciated. We kind of slipped into tactical mode — which was wholly unintentional — but the encounter went fast enough and we were able to ignore the hexes enough to get the job done without the mechanical aspects weighing us down.
Reaching the roadhouse was just a Good Plan, partly because I didn’t want to drag this trip out, and because I didn’t have another encounter map set up for it.
I did realize that a lot of this session was “DMsplaining” if we want to turn an obnoxious phrase. Mostly it was obvious stuff: describing the crowd outside the warehouse, listening to Bryfrehew and Duclose, and observing the protocol in unloading carts at the roadhouse. There were a few things I kind of rambled on about that probably should have been hidden behind Perception rolls. Nobody volunteered to make the roll, and I don’t want to “DMnag”, so I figured it’d be in the best interest to expedite the scenario and throw in those details just to get back into the swing of things. It’s sometimes a fine line between wanting to tell a story and wanting/expecting/hoping the players will “play” the game and not just keep the monologue rolling.
I also keep forgetting that Jamna is with the party, and Jos the Thayan is with the cultists.
The phrase of the night, in response to someone saying “it’s too quiet”: “Yeah, but it’s a dry quiet”.