Episode 2.3 – The Dogs of War

Storm Season had broken with a vengeance and the rain poured down, turning the ground to a sea of mud. Drogo, Shadow and Galadiir stood at the edge of the farm and looked to the south.

“They will surely not attack in this weather “said Shadow. Drogo shrugged. “Drogo would. Take enemy by surprise, sheltering inside in dry”.

“Listen”, called Galadiir. In the distance came the braying of horns. “They have been sighted from Kularni”. Two of Drogo’s men came in; a force of Ayaka was approaching the farm from the south; a large number accompanied by three hunting spiders.

Drogo reviewed his army. Along with himself, Galadiir, Shadow and Akazar, he had his men and the farm workers. There were several others; friends and relatives of the workers; plus he had Deneris and Galadiir’s “Army of the Dead” and “Wall of the Dead”. Furthermore, he had organised the men into digging some earthworks and clearing the vegetation around the farm perimeter.

That night, after the sun had set and the boiling red moon was in the sky, they heard a loud noise in the distance, like water pouring over a mighty cataract. In the morning, three men had gone; thrown down their weapons and deserted their posts. Drogo took up post in the centre, ready to command the army and to help in the defence. Galadiir had built himself a low platform to cast spells from; Akazar and Shadow stayed in the centre of the farm with a reserve of men.

As dawn broke the Ayaka attacked from the south; screaming their battle cry “Ootini, Ootini!” Drogo leapt into the fray and Galadiir loosed several spells. As before, once the Ayaka saw he was a sorcerer they turned their attentions to him. Drogo leapt across to defend him; the initial charge was repulsed. The second wave of attacks saw Drogo battling to protect Galadiir and the Ayaka surged past them and into the farm. Drogo took a deep blow to the leg; saved by his Loin-Cloth Hero Edge; Galadiir was running out of energy; having to maintain several spells at once.

In the farm, Akazar went down under a frenzied onslaught by a group of Ayaka; Shadow fought a desperate battle around the statue of Geoff the Mighty aided by the reserve men. A final battle round the statue saw the defeat of the Ayaka; who routed and ran south.

Shadow mourned the death of Akazar; they searched for and found his body; he was buried under the statue of Geoff.

“This will be our graveyard, where we will all be buried”.

After a few hours rest they left a garrison at the farm and headed north to the battle at Kularni. The Ayaka were laying siege; they had climbing ladders to scale the walls and several spiders were on the roof of the caravanserai. The heroes fought their way through to the main gates; Galadiir was wounded by a spear thrust and then bitten by a hunting spider that dropped on to him from inside the gates. The arrival of the heroes helped turn the tide. Drogo, Shadow and Kerim Shah led a sortie out of the gates whilst Galadiir went to help the healers in the market area. The sortie was a success and the Ayaka withdrew to the south.

As darkness fell, Kerim Shah met with Drogo on the roof of the town, by one of the ballista. He was covered with spider bites.

“My thanks for your help.” He looked to the south, where the horizon was lit by a flickering glow. “That was just a skirmish, to test our defences. The main army lies there, waiting to attack.”

Later that evening, in the tavern, Drogo challenged Shadow to The Drinking Game. It was not Drogo’s night; he passed out after the first drink and Shadow collected 500 Moons in wagers. Across the room Galadiir saw Toorkman, surrounded by his men. Toorkman doffed his hat and made a sweeping bow; then turned back to his men.

To be continued…

GM: Our first test of the Mass Battle Rules from SWD. I used the rules as written; with the bonus of a Benny at the end of each Round in which they went out in personal combat. I’m going to quantify things a little more using “Tattered Banners”

They have discussed a plan for Shadow to sneak in and assassinate the Ayaka leader

 

Session 2

Storm Season (Returning), in the Fifty-Second Year of the Leopard

Galadiir, Drogo and Shadow discussed a plan to take the fight to the enemy. Leaving a garrison at the farm, they headed south into the Ivory Savannah, with Drogo riding Deneris. Drogo and Shadow were excellent trackers and were able to follow the trail left by the fleeing Ayaka. It was during the third day that they encountered trouble.

“Halt!” called Shadow, who then scaled the nearest tree into the lower branches. “There are several creatures approaching from the south, through the grass.”

Drogo leapt onto Deneris and readied his Buffalo Spear.

“Drogo is ready”

Soon the creatures were visible, Giant Hunting Spiders. The size of small ponies, they bounded through the grass towards the heroes.

“Spiders”, groaned Galadiir. “Why does it have to be spiders? If I create a “Wall of the Dead”, they’ll just climb over it”*
Drogo and Deneris charged the nearest spider and ran it down; Deneris trampled it into the ground. Galadiir summoned two of his “Army of the Dead” to engage the spider closing in on his left; Shadow stood ready in the centre. The spiders showed a disturbing grasp of tactics; two of them climbed up trees and jumped at Shadow and Drogo. Deneris reared up but to no avail, the spider landed on her and attacked Drogo. One of Galadiir’s Army went down; Shadow used his newly-learnt Shooting to shoot his bow at the creature; both shots missed.
Another spider ran out of the grass towards Galadiir, Shadow dropped his bow and leapt in front of it. Drogo stabbed at the spider as it fell towards him; his spear caused a deep gash; enough for the spider to jump back into the tree. Galadiir used his “Sea of the Dead” (Blast) to take out one of the spiders that was lurking up a tree; Drogo decided to snare the last one in his net to make a spider cloak out of its hide** However, he succeeded in snaring the spider up in the tree too well; he pulled it out of the tree and the fall killed it.

They stored the spider hide and Shadow was able to recover one spent arrow. Continuing on, they reached the edge of the Savannah and the thick wall of the Lush Jungle rose before them. Venturing in, they soon found there were few ways of navigating and they wandered for several days before exiting onto a river bank.

The river is wide and fast flowing. The bank rises up on the right to a knoll; from there to the opposite bank is a rope bridge…

To be continued

GM’s Notes
* Galadiir is developing a real phobia about spiders (IRL, his player HAS got a spider phobia)
** This is a throwback to a very early Game of Talislanta when they fought and killed a Crag Spider
*** They have no food, water or supplies with them!

Session Three

Storm Season (Returning), in the Fifty-Second Year of the Leopard, somewhere in the Lush Jungle

Drogo looked at the river and considered whether to risk Deneris swimming it. The river is wide and with a fast current tumbling over rocks and cataracts. The only option was to risk the bridge. Drogo ran up the slope to the top of the knoll; the others followed. Shadow ran to the bridge and started out across it; with loud screams of “Ootini! Ootini!” a horde of Ayaka poured out of the jungle opposite. Shadow grabbed his bow and nocked an arrow; the swaying of the bridge unbalanced him and he fell forward; to his dismay he watched half of his arrows fall into the raging river.

“Souls for Xymart, I call on the Sea of the Dead”, cried Galadiir and raised his arms. A shimmering spectral host engulfed the Ayaka, two fell dead with expressions of sheer terror on their faces, the rest scattered. Drogo ran onto the bridge and attacked the pygmy who was running towards Shadow, with one blow from his Tribal shield he knocked the screaming pygmy off the bridge and into the river; where he was swept into the rocks.

“Drogo will take you all!”

A flurry of blowgun darts came from out of the jungle, several struck Drogo’s shield and one struck Galadiir in the shoulder. He concentrated on the burning sensation spreading from the wound and it faded.

Shadow slung his bow and drew one of his swords in time to beat off an attack from another Ayaka. He killed that one; only to see two more rushing towards him. Drogo intercepted one and used his shield to push the man off the bridge. Galadiir cast “Rose’s Thorns” and took out two Ayaka; he then was hit by another blowgun dart. Again, he was not affected by the poison (perhaps Xymart was watching over him this day).

The bridge was not meant to take this; with an ominous “snap” one of the lianas parted.*

Galadiir called upon the Sea of the Dead again and took down more of the Ayaka; Drogo pushed another pygmy into the river (it would appear that they can’t swim), then ran for the end of the bridge; followed by Shadow. Galadiir took out two more pygmies with “Roses Thorns” and survived another hit from a blowgun dart. He crossed the bridge; but there were no more attacks.

Drogo spent some time coaxing Deneris to cross the bridge; it groaned alarmingly under her weight but she crossed safely. Drogo and Shadow then scouted for tracks of the Ayaka. They found obvious ones; leading south into the jungle.

INTERLUDE: –

Several days later they were on a hill overlooking a large hollow. There were two large camps; bivouac shelters around fires. Beyond the camps were areas with large cages. A central slope led up to a crumbling vine-grown ruin; beyond the ruin are the light of a huge fire and the sound of rhythmic drums…

To be continued…

========================
GM:
This was the first test of mine and Ben’s combat battle system, adapted from Mantic Game’s “Mars Attacks”. It combines the best elements of table top war gaming with a 3×3” grid to regulate movement and combat. It worked really well.
* There was a very real chance that the bridge could have collapsed if too many people were fighting on it.
** Drogo’s use of the Push (Shield Bash) to push the enemy off the bridge was inspired and he has gained +1xp

The Gamers are very interested in sponsoring / setting up a Gladiator school to use the published rules. Has anyone else tried these yet – if so, how did it go; or is there an ongoing tournament they can get involved in?

Note: They have settled on a name for the group – The Gallant Band of Manic Strangers

Session 4

Storm Season (Returning), in the Fifty-Second Year of the Leopard, somewhere in the Lush Jungle

Galadiir strained his eyes, trying to see what was in the cages nearest to them.

“Spiders! “, he cursed. “Always damn spiders. Spiders hate me.”

Drogo and Shadow studied the layout of the camp. The way to the entrance of the ruins lay straight through the middle, past the large fires that were serving as cooking fires. Around the fires, in groups, were Ayaka pygmies; Drogo attempted to count them but ran out of fingers. Beyond the camp a slope led up to a shadowy vine-grown ruin, from beyond this came the sound of muffled drumbeats and the flickering of firelight.

“The leader has to be in the ruins”, declared Galadiir. “Shadow goes and does his assassination thing and we create a diversion.”

“Drogo will ride Deneris across camp and split many small man skulls open.”

Finally, they decided on a plan that involved Shadow using his stealth to sneak towards the entrance to the ruins whilst Galadiir crept into the middle of the camp using Drogo’s camouflaged tribal shield as cover. Once in position he could then summon several “Sea of the Dead” to cause confusion in the camp whilst Drogo charged in on Deneris.

The plan was going well; Shadow nearly made it to the ruins when Galadiir tripped over a sleeping Pygmy. The man stood and rose to full height – far bigger than a pygmy.

“Anda akan mati untuk itu, pria jahat!”

Galadiir did not know what the man had said, but it sounded like a challenge. He replied in High Tricarnian and pulled out his short sword.

“Tev jāmirst, ka ļauns cilvēks”

The Ayaka leapt forward and struck down hard; Galadiir managed to parry but missed on the riposte. He jumped back and the Ayaka came after him. This time the stone club hit Galadiir on the upper shoulder and he half-fell. He struggled to his feet to see Drogo grappling with the big Ayaka; a telling blow sent the champion reeling; Galadiir stabbed him with his sword and Drogo struck the killing blow.

“You are my brother”, said Galadiir; they high-fived then turned to face the hordes of Ayaka charging them.

Meanwhile, Shadow had made it through into the ruins. He headed up the slope; pausing only to duck into cover as several Ayaka ran past him. He crept forward and hid in the shadow of a large column. In the centre of the ruins were two blazing fires; on a low dais sat a large grinning monkey-headed man, flanking him were three Ayaka champions and a pygmy wearing a necklace of skulls carrying a gnarled wooden staff. Shadow drew back behind the column and readied his bow.

Something about the column disturbed him; he looked up to see that it was one leg of a gigantic monkey statue that straddled the entrance.

“Prepare yourself, my brother”, said Galadiir and loosed off a set of “Roses Thorns” at the attacking Ayaka. Many fell; the rest milled around in disarray. Drogo whistled for Deneris and leapt into the melee; he took several wounds; all soaked by his Loincloth Hero Edge; his return use of Sweep held off the Ayaka until Deneris charged into them from the rear; tossing them like ninepins. A furious melee ensured but eventually the PC’s held and rode Deneris to the edge of the jungle; Galadiir loosed off several “Roses Thorns” to discourage pursuit.

Shadow drew back even further as number of Ayaka ran up from the camp, shouting and yelling. He presumed they were raising the alarm. Hoping it would draw off some of the guards around the monkey-head, he readied and aimed his bow at the monkey face.

Drogo turned Deneris around and they charged back into the camp*, only to be jumped by two hunting spiders. Galadiir took down one with a “Rose’s Thorn” and Deneris trampled over it; Drogo speared the second one on his Buffalo Spear. Racing through the remains of the encampment, they charged into the ruins…

Next week – the concluding episode(?)

GM
* I didn’t follow the conversation that led to this decision

Hmm … I’m a bit unsure about how this went. I wanted to get the feel of them fighting a huge horde, so I treated the Ayaka as a series of SBT similar to swarms, with the champions, shaman and Masked Warrior acting on their own cards. It didn’t feel like the PC’s were under threat at all, although the exploding damage dice did wreak havoc amongst the Ayaka (it was unbelievable; practically every combat roll or damage roll the PC’s did exploded.)

Session 5

Storm Season (Returning), in the Fifty-Second Year of the Leopard, somewhere in the Lush Jungle

Shadow saw Drogo and Galadiir on Deneris charge into the group of Ayaka round the entrance*, scattering them. Shadow took his chance and started to climb up the ruins. The ancient stones crumbled under his weight and he fell backwards. The noise caused the nearest Champion to notice him; in a flash he raised his blowpipe and sent a dart towards Shadow. The purple-tinged dart stuck into Shadow’s armour near to his neck. The Ayaka charged Drogo and Galadiir; Drogo’s First Strike proved effective at keeping them at bay. The shaman gestured with his monkey skull rod and four Headless Zombies clawed their way up out of the earth and advanced.

Shadow climbed up the ruins again and found a vine-grown ledge about 30’ up. The Masked Warrior (aka “Monkey Man”) swarmed up the wall on his right and let out a high-pitched chattering screech, directed at Shadow. Unnerved, he watched in disbelief as the Masked Warrior swung on a liana towards him, axe raised.

Galadiir jumped off Deneris as Drogo rode her forwards towards the nearest Champion and the shaman. Just in time he pulled her to one side as a huge pit opened in front of them. He looked up to see the shaman gesture with the monkey skull; a cloud of green spiders engulfed him. The shaman gestured again and a second cloud of spiders struck Drogo. Again he laughed off the attack.

“Drogo does not fear your sorcery; Monkey Man. Drogo will split your skull and let the magic pour out onto the ground”

Deneris gored a Headless zombie and threw them into the pit; Galadiir managed to kill the last Ayaka hunter and summoned his Army of the Dead to face off one of the Champions. They killed two of the Headless zombies; the shaman used his power to raise three of the dead Ayaka as zombies.

Meanwhile, up in the ruins, Shadow and the Masked Warrior were battling; swinging in and out on lianas and striking blows in passing. The Warrior took a savage blow from Shadow that he was able to Soak; in return Shadow took a Wound. The Warrior took the opportunity to scream a bloodcurdling howl straight into Shadow’s face. Fazed by this, Shadow was unprepared for the attack and took an axe wound deep into the guts.

Drogo was suddenly thrown by Deneris, who tried to charge him from behind** He jumped aside and tried to barge the Champion down into the pit; it was a close call but the Champion failed to fall in. They attacked back and Drogo took a Wound; Soaked by his Loincloth Hero Edge. A gesture from the shaman and Deneris bolted off the map. Galadiir cast three ‘Roses Thorns’ at the Masked Warrior; they did some damage but exhausted his magic.

“Drogo does not understand. Deneris is loyal to me and would never run away”.

Drogo battled the Champion; Galadiir battled the other Champion; doing significant damage with his short sword. Suddenly they heard a terrible scream. Looking up, they saw Shadow falling from the upper levels; a stone axe embedded deep in his guts. He hit the ground with a wet sound*** Drogo and Galadiir looked on, stunned.

“Xymart”, called Galadiir. “A soul for you, Lord Xymart”

The shaman gestured again with his monkey skull rod; the shape of a huge spider began to form in the centre of the ruins. Suddenly his expression turned to outright terror as a twisted rip in the air opened behind him and dimly-glimpsed was the image of a monstrous spider****. Two spider legs, thick as young tree trunks, dragged the shaman into the rip; which closed with a satisfied smacking sound. The remaining zombies crumbled to dust.

The Masked Warrior swung back across the lianas and disappeared into the jungle, along with the Champion. The jungle was thick and pursuit almost impossible.

Deneris was found hiding behind a tree down in the Ayaka camp. On recovering Deneris and Drogo giving her a strong telling off; they loaded Shadows body and headed north for Kularni and the farm. The Ayaka army was breaking up; it’s driving force gone.

The End

XP = 4 each (3+1 for the death of Shadow)

*I’d given up on the swarm idea and replaced the swarm with a group of six Ayaka hunters.

** Ben (Drogo) really could not get to grips with the effect of a Beast Friend spell on Deneris.

*** Shadow was Incapacitated and rolled snake eyes on his Vigour roll.

**** Backlash from using Sorcery

GM: The first real battle that pushed the PC’s to the limit. There were several Jokers drawn and extra Bennies awarded on all sides from Joker’s Wild; Shadow spent several on re-rolling damage. He drew two Jokers during the fight.

 

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