Middle Earth: Sunset of the Fourth Age

You Sneaky Rat
...a wealth of information from different sources

We rejoin our heroes just south of Rivendell, recovering from a battle with an orc patrol.

Nwalme uses his healing magicks to get everyone back on their feet. The party backtracks from the battle site, then circles around toward the cave entrance to the secret tunnel that leads under the river and into the city of Rivendell.

While making their way through the woods, Nwalme accidentally makes a loud noise and the patrolling orcs start to converge toward the party. However, our heroes manage to find the tunnel entrance and duck inside before they’re discovered. Since the cave was well-concealed, the party decides that they don’t need to spend any time covering it up further. They proceed down the tunnel.

A little way in it opens into a modest-sized cavern. There they find a cache of a few weapons, some sleeping and camping gear, and some preserved food. The party rests, Nwalme performing some final healing and recovering energy.

While on watch, Guthwyn hears a sound down the main passage, in the direction they’re heading.. The group investigates very cautiously, and picks up the voice of an elvish child. Feeling safe enough, they continue on into the next cavern, and there meet an elf woman with two children.

Although somewhat alarmed at first by the sight of Dreorg and Rene, the livery of the Empress Guard, plus the sight of a fellow elf (Nwalme), puts the elven woman at ease. She relates what she knows of recent events. While her husband and two eldest sons were summoned to defend the Citadel, she and the children hid in their basement. The kids watched the town being sacked from the cellar window, and recount seeing orcs, giants, and something else – part orc, part human – that seemed like a leader. The older brother counted 631 orcs and 14 frost giants, and thought that there was some sort of headquarters in a certain part of the city based on their comings and goings.

After four days in the basement, the family ran out of food. They made a run to a ruined barracks of the third company of the city militia guard, where the other end of this tunnel lies hidden. They’ve been living down here for three days, on preserved rations cached in the tunnel.

Thanking the family for their information, he party proceeds to the end of the tunnel. Just outside the door, Nwalme attempts to make telepathic contact with the captain of the citadel, but fails. He then tries to make contact with the elven woman’s husband and succeeds. The husband is in great pain; he is very badly injured and expects to die within the next few hours.

Nwalme reached out with his Telepathy again, to bring his wife into the connection. He gives them time to talk, and to say goodbye. Once they’ve had a chance to bid each other farewell, he continues to query the man for information. He learns:

* The citadel is commanded by a militia corporal who had been promoted only two weeks ago
* The secret sortie tunnel entrance from the citadel into the city has been collapsed
* The secret escape tunnel into the foothills is still open, but the other end is in an area that’s getting patrolled very heavily by the orcish army
* There are only 23 soldiers left in the citadel
* Both of the couple’s sons were killed in an attack yesterday, when the man was wounded

Nwalme against used his Telepathy to contact the army. He was informed that the they would be attacking tomorrow at dawn and the team should harry the enemy command headquarters as much as possible.

After some discussion, they arrive upon a plan. Araphor casts Control Mammal on a nearby group of rats, followed by a Rider Within to see through one of them. Nwalme uses Lend Strength to help him maintain the control for as long as possible.

The dozens of rats quickly make their way to the enemy headquarters. Araphor sends most of them scurrying off to gnaw away bowstrings, bottoms of bags, horse hobbles, and the like.

But the rat through whom Araphor can see has a special mission. It slips into the command tent, to see what can be learned therein. Gaining entrance, it spies a group poring over maps upon a table, arguing. The group consists of two orcs, a frost giant (who barely fits in the tent), and the half-orc-something described by the elven boy. The half-orc is clearly in charge, by his tone. And he is oddly equipped: two scimitars carried at his side, but he keeps a wizard’s staff close at hand as well.

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Back In The Saddle Again
...to retake Rivendell!

The Empress has regained her throne, thanks to the work of our heroes. The Usurper is in chains in the imperial dungeons, never again to see the light of day. Four mens’ Rings of Power have been destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, and only two (known) remain. Order within the capital of Isengard is quickly reestablished, but it will take some months to restore the greatly diminished Empress Guard to its former size. Recruiting and training are going on constantly, keeping everyone busy.

As the Guard rebuilds, word comes down from Rivendell. A force of unknown size, made up of orcs and frost giants, has overrun the elven city! It takes a week or two to muster forces, and the Empress dispatches about 3000 soldiers north to deal with the threat. They’ve brought along ballistae in addition to the standard armaments, to help retake the city.

The army travels up through Hollin along the Loudwater river, near the western edge of the Misty Mountains. They halt about ten miles south of Rivendell, just past the Ford of Bruinen where the western road reaches, and the team moves ahead to scout out the city. Given who they are, they consider themselves a Reconnaissance in Force.

As they close on Rivendell, Araphor sends up Stormdancer and gets a birds-eye view of of the city.

There are about 300 orcs and a few frost giants stationed around Rivendell’s Citadel, which is on the north cliff of the valley on the out-skirts of the city. They appear to be besieging the Citadel, though there’s no evidence that there’s actually anyone inside it.

There are a couple of buildings burning in the city, and a lot of older destruction. It appears that a large number of orcs and frost giants are in the town partying and destroying things.

Two detachments, each of about 200 orcs and six or seven Frost Giants, are stationed across both roads leading out of the city. One guards the northeast road into the mountain pass, while the other watches over the road from which the Empress’ force approaches.

Nwalme uses his Telepathy to inform the army of the situation in Rivendell.

Since Nwalme lived there for many years, he knows of a tunnel that leads into town from the south side of the river, and a possible ford a half-mile to the east. The team decides to try for the tunnel.

They leave their horses with Arod and head into the wooded hills south of the river, in search of the tunnel entrance.

On their way, they make just enough noise to draw the attention of a troop of two dozen orcs, who attack their small scouting party.

Rene is badly wounded at the outset and things don’t look so great. Dreorg, on the right, holds his own against three orcs. Guthwyn, in the center, avenges Rene by going after his attacker, and pushes back two other wounded orcs. Araphor is flanked on the left, and accidentally drops his sword.

Araphor desperately attempts to grapple one of the orcs’s halberds, and somehow succeeds brilliantly. In the end, the disarmed orc is left stunned on the ground, and Araphor finds himself with a halberd perfectly placed to impale another orc attacking him from his other flank.

At the same time, Nwalme Strikes Blind another orc on the right, while Guthwyn wounds and knocks out another of the orcs who was attacking Araphor. The right flank had gone from overwhelmed to completely under control in a single round!

The battle ends with the second rank of orcs- (including one struck blind and an ice-mage wounded by Araphor’s longbow – turning and fleeing, followed closely by two more orcs from the front line. Ten orcs are left on the field and quickly dispatched by the party, they fail to surrender.

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The Usurper Defeated
...but bigger problems are revealed

We rejoin our heroes, their liege, and her retinue atop a mountain deep in Mordor, embroiled in battle.

A Ring-wraith throwing fireballs is in the base of the nearby tower, and the four soldiers who have breached the gate there enter after him.

Along the path threading by it, a pair of soldiers assaults the ruined building opposite, attempting to root out the sniper within. One stands in the building’s entrance, firing his crossbow into the ruins; the other tries to peer through the flames which Smial’s Molotov started.

On the raised and cobbled platform, Guthwyn and Thaliondor* square off against the formerly dead lieutenant (“FDL”), while Rene, Alfirin, and another female soldier continue to battle with the blinded Nazgul. Rene’s fighting ability has become seriously impaired, however, as the Nazgul has Dazed him. Nwalme, the Empress, Araphor, and Smial meanwhile make their way along the path to the platform.

Nwalme is close enough to note that Rene has been Dazed, and so casts Spasm on Rene’s backside to snap him out of it. (Rene maintains bowel control.) Once Rene is awakened, Nwalme turns back to heal the soldier who had been blown away from the tower by a fireball.

The platform fight has a few frustrating rounds for our heroes. Guthwyn cannot seem to land a blow on the FDL for all his parrying, and Thaliondor ends up switching to his heavy flail in order to get past the FDL’s armor when he does hit. The Nazgul, meanwhile, has created some sort of force field around himself. While Alfirin and Rene are trying to target the Black Rider’s ring hand, they notice their weapons stopping short a few inches before coming into contact with their victim.

The Ring-wraith attempts to escape while his shield protects him,and Rene slams him – or rather, tries to. He connects with the Nazgul, but fails to knock him down. While the female soldier continues her assault on the Black Rider, Rene suddenly changes course. He hands his anti-Nazgul sword to Alfirin, and turns away to run back to the Empress.

Off near the tower, Nwalme performs a perfect Healing on the fallen soldier, who quite literally springs to his feet. Inside the tower, the battle rages on, and a large flash of a fireball is visible through the arrow slits and breached door at its base. Two soldiers, their clothes smoking and flaming, emerge and make their way around the path toward the platform.

The fight with the FDL takes a turn for the worse, as well, as he strikes Guthwyn hard, causing her to drop her weapon. Meanwhile, Rene swiftly approaches the Empress, who has just reached the platform with Araphor. Araphor takes note of the odd behavior from Rene, and protects the Empress by tackling her, landing atop her to shield her from Rene’s blades.

Alfirin manages to ready the anti-Nazgul sword after somehow awkwardly holding both it and her normal sword in the same hand for a split second. Guthwyn also manages to recover and ready her weapon. She strikes at the FDL, crippling his weapon hand with a well-placed blow. The FDL immediately retaliates by punching her solidly in the face with his off hand.

Rene, meanwhile, attacks the fallen Empress, his choices limited by the fact that Araphor is covering most of her with his body. He makes a deeply biting sweep of the Empress’s legs, in what might well have been a fatal stroke if a more vital target had been reachable.

Off by the tower, the Nazgul within emerges, and tosses a fireball at Nwalme, hitting him squarely. The Black Rider then turns and launches itself off a 120-foot sheer cliff, picks itself up at the bottom, and starts running away.

From within the ruined building, a crossbow bolt comes whistling out of the flames at the soldiers, but does not hit anyone.

Araphor cries out that Rene has been enchanted, and the Empress must be defended from him. Suddenly, Smial comes barreling up the stairs to the platform, and slams into Rene, knocking him down.

Back on the center of the platform, Alfirin cleaves off the blinded Nazgul’s ring hand. With an unearthly scream, the Ring-wraith collapses – and Rene is released from its hold. Rene immediately calls out for Nwalme to heal the Empress, and tries to crawl away from Smial.

Alfirin continues to hack at the Nazgul until it stops moving, deflating into a pile of tattered black clothes. While she does, Smial tries to disarm Rene by kicking at his sword arm. Rene, trying to keep his sword in hand, parries with the flat of its blade, all the while trying to convince Smial that he is no longer under the control of the Ring-wraith.

The FDL, meanwhile, desperately grapples Guthwyn’s sword arm, preventing her from attacking him further. Smial turns away from Rene, and sends a crossbow bolt singing into the FDL’s chest, knocking him unconscious.

Araphor arises to turn his attention to the FDL, but finds him unconscious in Guthwyn’s arms, and declines to attack. While the Empress heals herself, Alfirin secretly pockets the Ring of Power from the fallen Nazgul.

The two men who had been assaulting the ruined building emerge from it, a captive in tow. They cry out that the have captured the Usurper, and the Empress turns and heads down along the path to join them.

Guthwyn slits the FDL’s throat, and drops him to the ground. Smial immediately grabs the man’s ring hand, which having been nearly separated from his arm by Guthwyn’s blade, comes off.

As the Empress goes to confront the villain, Araphor plants himselfat the top of the stairs to the platform, and insists on accounting for the Rings of Power from the fallen foes. Smial clearly has the one from the FDL, but the one from the deflated Ring-wraith has not been revealed. Nwalme, having arrived at the platform, uses his Truthsayer spell on the three who had been fighting the Nazgul, starting with Rene. Once Rene has been cleared, he tries to go after the Usurper, but Araphor continues to deny him egress from the platform until the remaining Ring is brought to light.

Nwalme soon discovers that Alfirin has the Ring, but that she will not willingly give it up. He calls upon the Empress for help, and she forces Alfirin to drop the Ring, so that Smial can take it up.

Once the Rings are accounted for, everyone goes to the captive Usurper, to begin questioning him. Rene is most eager to help with any persuasion, but Nwalme has it well in hand.

The Usurper relates the story of the recovery of six of the nine Rings of Power belonging to humans. More importantly – and more surprisingly – he reveals that Sauron has managed to manifest once again, although in a considerably weaker state than he was in the days before Aragorn claimed the throne of Gondor. Thus the Mouth of the High King is actually the Mouth of Sauron. While he wears no Ring of Power, he is a powerful wielder of magicks, particularly necromancy. He and the Nazgul who escaped via the portal have rejoined Sauron in his lair somewhere in the distant east.
-—-

At this time, the party can account for the six remaining Rings of Power as follows:

Four in Smial’s bag, from:
  • Braga the Artificer ( see log #1, “The story so far…” )
  • Thaliondor/FDL ( see “Thaliondor, One-Handed” 2000-11-17 )
  • the Witch-Queen of Angmar ( see log #1 )
  • the Nazgul that was just defeated on the mountaintop

It is assumed that while in Mordor, the party will cast these four Rings into Mt. Doom.

  • One on the Black Rider who just jumped off the cliff and escaped
  • One on the Ring-wraith who just escaped through the portal
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The Heat Of Battle
Fireballs, Molotovs, and one glowing red eye...

We rejoin our heroes and their liege in the land of Mordor, standing on a flattened hilltop on the plain, having just arrived through a magical gateway near Isengard. The group immediately fans out, Alfirin, Guthwyn, and Thaliondor* joining the other soldiers in the Empress’ retinue as scouts. Araphor sends up Stormdancer to reconnoiter around the nearby mountain, atop which the party spots several buildings.

As they prepare to head to the mountaintop, it is suggested to the Empress that if she knows any way of bolstering peoples’ resistance to mind control – given the recent Dazing of the party by the Content Not Found: mouth-of-the-usurper – she would be well advised to do so. She casts Strengthen Will on a handful of people, including the captain of her personal guard and Rene. The spell on Rene misfires, however, and its benefits are accidentally given instead to Araphor.

The group quickly makes it way up the switchback trail to the top of the mountain. There they are greeted by a small cadre of armed men, who are clearly quite afraid. Their glances shift constantly between the party and a small tower which rises above the path behind them. The party orders their surrender, and they do, some quickly, others with a bit of hesitation.

As the last weapon falls from their grasp, a fireball comes flying down toward them, striking one of them squarely and catching a few others. Araphor mercifully creates water to quench them, and they scatter.

By this time, Araphor has a better understanding of the events unfolding on the mountaintop, thanks to Stormdancer’s eyes overhead. He informs the group of the lay of the land. The path the party is on branches – one fork quickly sloping up to the base of the tower, the other winding its way between the tower’s small plateau and a similar one topped by a ruined building. It leads higher up, toward a larger level area. Men in black are emerging from the ruined building, and another stands at the edge of the level area, his hands making complex arcane motions over a large red eye which is formed in cobblestones there.

The Empress sends the captain of her personal guard and four soldiers to secure the tower, and heads along the winding path with the rest of the party – the way being led by Guthwyn, Alfirin, Thaliondor, and Rene. Araphor opts to stay close h the Empress, keeping her apprised of the situation as it evolves. Nwalme sticks with them as well, readying a Curse Missile of Strike Blind.

The men in black coming from the ruined building quickly make their way along the winding path, and the party notes a sudden glow coming from the level area ahead. From high above, Stormdancer sees the red eye in the cobblestones glowing brightly. The men from he building run for the glow, disappearing into it one by one as they each reach it.

The squad attacking the tower is bombarded with fireballs from a man in black atop it, but a few of them shrug them off. One is knocked over, but quickly recovers. Smial hangs back a little, preparing some Molotov cocktails to aid in the assault once the others reach the gate at the base of the tower. The mage atop the tower takes another opportunistic shot with his fireballs, and sends one right for Araphor and the Empress, who are distracted. Araphor is hit squarely, nearly blown off his feet, and the Empress pulls him into the shelter of the plateau to heal him.

The others making their way up the path note that one of the last men to emerge from the ruined building ducks back inside of it, but they charge on through toward the platform and its glowing eye. Thaliondor reaches the platform first, and smites the Nazgul (as is now apparent) whose arcane motions are maintaining the glowing gateway. It closes suddenly, darkening the platform. The person who was trying to enter it – the Formerly Dead Lieutenant (FDL) – stumbles. Guthwyn, Rene, and Alfirin reach the platform shortly thereafter, and Nwalme starts to catch up, having been urged onward by the Empress. He hurls his Curse Missile at the Nazgul, and hits it squarely blinding it. The three fighters engage the Ring-wraith, all of them smiting the blinded thing – Rene especially mightily, with the anti-Nazgul blade.

A shriek tears through the air from the Ring-wraith atop the tower – a sound that can only be from a Black Rider. One of soldiers attacking the tower, a female master archer, has scored a solid hit on it. The Nazgul and she trade missiles (fireballs vs. arrows) as the rest of the squad makes its way to the gate at the tower’s base and begin to breach it. Smial decides to bring his cocktails to the other path, and starts scurrying to catch up with the Empress.

As Smial nears Her Majesty, a bolt comes whistling out of the ruined building, striking the Empress in the head! She nearly collapses,and Araphor drags her into the shelter of the plateaus around the path. Smial prepares one of his Molotovs to throw, and a soldier waves for him to give her one, as she has a clear shot into the ruin. Smial, knowing well his own throwing skill, lobs his Molotov in a perfect arc, landing it right in the area where the sniper was, and flames instantly spring up.

As the Empress groggily heals herself, the fight on the platform begins to grow more interesting as the FDL turns to join the fray, coming to the aid of the blinded Nazgul. Thaliondor turns to him on, confident he can do better against this foe than he can against a full Ring-wraith.

The Nazgul at the tower has disappeared from the top, and is now at the breached gate at the tower’s base, fending off the squad with fireballs. One of the soldiers is blown back, limp, off of the tower’s plateau, and the others charge into the tower.

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One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor
...not when there's a teleportation gate handy

Everyone moved out of the range of the scorpio bolts. Smial went back within range to retrieve his knife.

Nwalme healed all those needing healing, and once he had rested our intrepid heroes went into the woods looking for the entrance to the escape tunnel.

Just before heading into the woods, a bright light was seen through the windows of one of the tower rooms.

After finding the tunnel in a cave in the woods, Nwalme performed a History on the door. He discovered that the door was alarmed, but the alarm only went off when the door is opened from the outside.

Araphor* tried his Body of Water trick to get to the other side of the door, but the door was 99.99% water-tight. It would have taken him several hours to drip through the door.

Smial took a closer look at the door and figured out how the alarm mechanism worked. Armed with that knowledge and his prodigious strength, Thaliondor* was able to open the door without setting it off.

The party then carefully made its down the corridor. It ended at the bottom of a well, which they stealthily climbed, only to find that the keep was now empty.

Smial opened the gate to let in the squad of soldiers. Rene made sure that the scorpios were no longer pointed toward friendly soldiers.

Guthwyn then tried to unlock the door to the keep, unsuccessfully. Luckily Rene was nearby and was able to open it. Rene then repeated re-aiming the scorpios on the top of the keep, while the others explored. The only thing of interest they found was a circle of a red-brown material (clearly, blood) drawn on the floor, with several large candles around its edge.

Nwalme uses Mage Sight to see that the circle is still magical, and the magic has a vile feel to it.

Nwalme performed a History on this room and determined that the circle was used as a portal for the Usurper and his men to get away. Casting a Seeker with the some of the blood on the floor, Nwalme was able to determine that the Mouth of the Usurper (High King) was about 800 miles away.

Guthwyn and Thaliondor prepare to use to use the dread portal, but before they get too far along the Empress’ retinue arrives. Nwalme uses Telepathy to talk to her privately. She says to not do anything until she gets up into the keep.

She soon arrives with an additional squad of ten or so soldiers, including several women and a couple of hobbits. She then asks if everyone is ready to go with her to take care of the Usurper. Her aide is pleased when several of our heroes express displeasure at the thought of her putting herself into the reach of the Usurper once more.

She very firmly insists on taking care of the Usurper once and for all.

The party activates and passes through the gateway, and finds itself in the ruins of an ancient tower in Mordor. Those with magical abilities find that the mana levels are ultra high. The party spreads out, looking for the trail of the evil-doers.

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The Hunters Become The Hunted
...and a perfidious parley

We rejoin our heroes in the servants’ quarters of the imperial palace, discussing the situation with Enderian.

Alfirin and others check the “PalaceCam” scroll, finding that the rooms are even more empty than the last time they checked. The Throne Room is bereft of any guards, the room behind it has no more of the Usurper’s things, and the Empress’ chamber looks like it’s been tossed.

Meanwhile, Araphor and Nwalme-Anna talk with Enderian about the goings-on at the Palace. He apparently has only recently returned from an appointment to deal with the tunnel that leads out of the city to the north. But the ones he was supposed to have met, the ones who knew the details about the tunnel, never showed. He has very little information on the most recent events in the Palace as a result, but does indicate that the Usurper relocated from the rooms shown on the PalaceCam to the major-domo’s apartments. He also mentions that the number of Usurper’s troops within the city have been diminishing rapidly, and those that remain seem to be growing more and more panicky as the days go by.

The party and Enderian then set off for the major-domos’ apartments, making their way through the administrative offices of the palace. To the surprise of everyone, especially Enderian, the offices are vacant – not a single bureaucrat or soldier is anywhere in sight. They decide to check in on the Throne Room and behind it, as it’s on their way. The room behind the throne has several empty wine and beer casks, and a pile of dirty cups in one of the corners. Moving to the Throne Room, they find it almost completely abandoned. A single guard stands at the front door, but fails to notice the group. Alfirin, Thaliondor and Guthwyn approach him, only to find that he’s fast asleep. From the smell of him and the various fluids soiling his clothes, it’s clear to them that he’s sleeping off a night of heavy drinking. Thaliondor and Guthwyn take his arms and start to drag him toward the rest of the group, who are approaching.

As they do, the man awakens with a start, shaking free one arm from Thaliondor’s grasp and nimbly regaining his feet. He looks around, asking what’s going on. Nwalme approaches, dropping his disguise spells, and tells the soldier to be quiet – which he promptly does. Thaliandur takes his arm once again, and as Araphor looks around outside the main door, Nwalme begins to question him about his duties and the events of the previous night.

He explains that he and his unit have been with the High King’s (Usurper’s) armies for years, and his unit has been together even longer. They were assigned to guard the Throne Room, but someone brought in casks and flagons, and they got to drinking. He wouldn’t leave his post, though others weren’t quite so diligent. Guthwyn seems incredulous that someone would be drinking on duty while on such an important guard duty, but it’s clear to Araphor that he’s just a low-ranking mercenary. Nwalme offers to let him go, provided he leave the city, and Smial suggests he take the postern gate. He accepts the offer, and sets off in search of the rest of his unit while the party continues on to the major-domo’s apartments.

Along the way, they find signs of looting just about everywhere. Tapestries have been pulled down, some even stripped of their gold threads. Floor tiles are missing, presumably where they contained precious metals. The Usurper has abandoned the Palace. They get to the major-domo’s room, finding it similarly empty of valuables.

Nwalme casts a Seeker to find the Usurper, using the bed to help attune his magicks. He locates the man outside the city, a few miles to the southeast. Araphor prods Nwalme to report this to the Empress immediately, which he does. She orders him to give chase while she sends a patrol from her forces to help, and to maintain thrice-daily contact.

The party leaves the palace, noting the scarcity of guards. They easily avoid what few remain as most are either sleeping, eating, or otherwise distracted with looting.

They make their way south to the postern gate, where they find a sizable crowd gathered, clamoring to exit the city. Two armed men, apparently mercenaries, keep everyone back, calling them cowards and telling them to return to their duties.

Guthwyn and Alfirin call out, “Stand aside, in the name of the Empress!” The group takes out and dons their winged helmets, readying their weapons as the crowds begin to scatter. Nwalme begins to tell the two mercenaries that they have two choices – leave the city, never to return, or die – but they’re off through the gate before he can even finish the sentence.

At the gate, Enderian takes his leave of the party, offering to remain and do what he can to speed the city’s fall and recovery by the Empress’ forces. Our heroes exit the city, Guthwyn calling up Arod and the rest of the group’s horses, Stormdancer gliding through the air above. The party mounts up, and Araphor casts Rider Within on the bird, sending him up to spot the Usurper’s men. Through the bird’s keen eyes, he spots them about ten miles distan: seven riders, the three leading the group dressed all in black, on black steeds. Only a couple of miles away is a patrol of twenty men, apparently those sent by the Empress. The party rides to the patrol, and all of them ride hard after the Usurper and his men, Araphor keeping them on track using Stormdancer’s eyes overhead.

It soon becomes clear that the Usurper’s party is outpacing the group by a fair margin, and as the horses tire the group finds a village in which to spend the night. The next morning Araphor sends up Stormdancer again, using his eyes to spot the Usurper’s party some thirty miles ahead, nearing a spur of the southern mountain range. They continue to follow as the Usurper’s party disappears into an out of the way keep in the mountains. They contact the Empress for further orders, and are told to keep watch on the keep. She is sending reinforcements, which should arrive the next day.

The group settles a little ways off from the keep where they can watch its main gate. Nwalme casts a few Divinations, to locate the Usurper (in a dark room nearby), all the exits from the keep (the main gate and a secret tunnel in the well), and the exit from that tunnel (up in the mountains somewhere). Alfirin, Thaliondor, and some of the members of the patrol take this time scout out the surrounding terrain.

As the party regroups to set off for the secret tunnel exit in the mountains, a man on horseback emerges from the front gate of the keep and approaches them. He rides up to the party, who greet him warily -more than one drawn weapon, and grumbling from Guthwyn and Alfirin which Araphor tries to quell somewhat. The man ignores most of the group, and speaks only to Nwalme. He introduces himself as the Mouth of the High King, and attempts to tempt Nwalme to join the Usurper’s forces, within. Meanwhile, he secretly casts a Mass Daze over the rest of the party, catching them all, as well as a few members of the patrol – except for Smial. Smial reacts by drawing his crossbow and firing a bolt into the man’s shoulder.

Nwalme, of course, has not been idle, either. While one of his attempted spells against the man fails, he succeeds in creating a Strike Blind curse to use on him. When hit with the curse, however, the man resists.

As Smial re-readies his crossbow, he finds it suddenly bursting into flame, and he drops it. He then turns to the closest party member, Guthwyn, and gives her a smack to stir her from the Daze spell. Guthwyn follows suit and awakens Alfirin. Before either of them can do anything more, however, scorpio bolts rain down upon them from the keep. One bounces off of Alfirin, but the other seriously injures her. Guthwyn is hit with one, as well, but it fails to slow her down. She moves to attack the Mouth of the High King (MotHK), who has turned to flee.

Nwalme, nearly exhausted from spellcasting, falls back. Alfirin does likewise, but takes a moment to awaken Araphor and Rene. They both set off after the MotHK, Araphor ordering Stormdancer to attack as well. Guthwyn, in the mean time, manages to get in several solid hits on the envoy, but fails to hinder him. Smial even throws a knife into his horse’s hindquarters, but it isn’t enough to slow him.

As the MotHK approaches the keep’s gate, three men in black on horseback emerge. Wary of the potential presence of Nazgul, Guthwyn and the rest of the man’s pursuers break off the chase. As their quarry re-enters the keep, however, they realize that the men in black do not possess the palpable dread aura of Black Riders…

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Back To The Palace Again
Ooh! Look at us!

We rejoin most of our heroes resting and recuperating with the Ents in the shelter of Fangorn Forest. Smial, in particular, is treated by both Nwalme-Anna and the Ents to repair the ravages of his imprisonment. As a result, he is now stronger than ever (+1 ST).

Several days go by, and a messenger arrives in Fangorn. The siege of Isengard has begun, and the party has been summoned to appear before the Empress and King Beren in her army’s encampment outside the city. They quickly pack up and make their way to their liege.

Upon arrival, both the Empress and King Beren rise, honoring the group. When the party begins to kneel before their liege, the Empress urges them to remain standing. She thanks them for their bravery in her rescue from the Usurper’s clutches, and declares that they need never bow to her nor to anyone that owes fealty to her. The group is of course honored, but also know that this means that still more dangerous duties lie ahead.

They ask how they can serve their Empress, and she smiles, inviting them back to the planning chamber of her tent (which is scry-guarded), along with King Beren. She also invites along Alfirin, who had accompanied the army from Fornost and has been serving as one of the Empress’ bodyguards since her escape. She and the rest of the group exchange some quick greetings, and the planning commences.

The army is set to attack the city shortly after daybreak two days hence. Since everyone present is now aware that the Usurper can track the party, she charges them with creating a diversion for this attack. They are to enter the city approximately an hour before the attack commences, and try to evade capture, serving to draw the attention of the Usurper and his men. Their secondary objective is to bring in the Usurper, preferably alive enough so that she and Nwalme can extract a few answers from him.

The group has some time to prepare, and most merely continue their regular regimens of combat training, animal care, and other routines. Smial and Nwalme visit the medical facilities in the camp, Nwalme to lend assistance (none is necessary), and Smial to obtain a drug for his special poison dagger – one that will quickly and effectively knock someone out. He manages to find a nurse who can produce such a serum – two types, in fact. Smial opts for the one whose effectiveness is more certain, but whose risk of killing the victim is higher.

Nwalme also uses the two days to attempt some Divination. The first day, he finds that there is a Nazgul at the main gate into the city (at the moment of his Divination). The second day, he learns that the total number of Nazgul in existence is currently
between three and four…

The group also makes contact with the “hobsters” who have been their allies within Isengard. They agree to unlock the postern gate of the city at the appropriate time, and create a diversion to make it easier for the party to enter. The party also takes a few minutes to check the “PalaceCam” scroll, finding the rooms to be mostly empty – a few guards left in the throne room. There is still evidence of the Usurper’s presence in the private chamber behind the throne.

There’s a last-minute debate about attire to wear, Guthwyn insists that we need to dress like the Usurper’s men to blend in. After some discussion, it’s clear that blending in will not require specific uniforms. There are enough bands of different types within the city that another one won’t draw any attention, unless that other one wears the livery of the Empress Guard. So the group stows their winged helms (to Thaliondor’s* in absentia dismay), and Nwalme casts illusions on both himself and Smial so that they appear human.

Now established, the party leaves camp and reaches the postern gate at the given time – and find it locked. They wait a minute or two, listening to the sounds of guards within the city raising the alarm about a fire somewhere not too distant. The gate remains locked, however, and at that point Araphor turns Smial into water, so that he can slip under the door and see about opening it from the inside.

Smial oozes under the door and looks up to see the back of a guard. The guard is holding his throat with one hand, while trying to fight off two hobbits. Still in puddle form, Smial opts only to ooze under the man’s feet. The guard doesn’t last long, and as he falls to the ground it becomes clear that his throat had been cut, and he hadn’t quite succumbed yet.

Smial flows off a little ways to wait for the spell to end as the two hobbits move to open the gate. Once they do, Araphor releases his spell; Smial returns to his normal form, and the party enters the city.

They confer with the hobbits briefly, learning the best street to take toward the Palace, quickly being marching in that direction. The hobbits head off in the direction of the fire to put an end to it before there’s further injury to anyone.

The group marches easily up the street, unchallenged. They spot a few groups of soldiers moving along parallel streets, one a company of about a hundred, but they pass without incident.

As they draw closer to the Palace and the wall to the Old City, the group briefly discusses how best to try and enter the Palace. Smial suggests they can bluff their way past the main gate, but Guthwyn’s suggestion of the servants’ gate meets with more approval. The party heads toward the gate to the Old City , wherein the servants’ gate to the Palace lies, and spends a few minutes reconnoitering.

They see three groups of soldiers pass, ranging in size from a company of about a hundred to a patrol of only four soldiers. All of them, however, are headed out of the Old City. They wait a few minutes to see if this trend changes, while discussing their story for the gate – that they’re returning to report on the fire near the city wall.

They approach the gate, Nwalme in the lead. He’s stopped by the guard, but the guard seems to readily accept their story, and lets the group pass. The party doesn’t get very far, however, when Nwalme spots someone out of the corner of his eye: someone on a side street reacted as if they recognized the party, quickly ducking out of sight. Nwalme quietly lets the group know they’ve been spotted, but they continue on their course, as they’re still being watched by the guards at the gate.

As they reach the servants’ gate, it becomes apparent to several of them that they’re being followed. When they enter the gate, Reneand Smial slip off to ambush their tail, while the rest of the party proceeds to the guard house. There are two guards present; one is asleep, the other is eating dinner.

Rene, meanwhile, has snuck up on the man following the group, and recognizes him as Enderian, a bureaucrat from the Palace with a reputation as being a decent fellow. Rene comes up behind him, placing a blade to his throat, and asks him to profess his allegiance. The man whispers, “The Empress has already escaped, you don’t need to be here.” Rene replies simply, “We know.” The man seems surprised by this, then asks Rene to follow him. Rene takes him to Nwalme, who quickly confirms his allegiance as being to Empress Ethurien. Nwalme also recognizes the man as someone with a reputation for overconfidence in most of his abilities, but a real gift for getting things done in a bureaucracy. The party and Enderian head for a quiet place to talk.

As they pass the open doorway of the guard room, one of the guards challenges them. Enderian responds by upbraiding him for eating on duty, and he backs down. The party passes into the servants’ quarters. They seem fairly empty. There they begin to discuss their mission and the next steps to take…

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Escaping The Palace Again
...with no hobbit left behind!

We rejoin our harried heroes (and their new ally, a Rohirrim guardsman) in the tower of the imperial palace in Isengard. Thaliondor is badly injured, and Nwalme-Anna is exhausted. The remainder of the party is tired, but ambulatory.

Araphor suggests that there’s one Ring-bearing lieutenant whose whereabouts is not quite accounted for, and has Guthwyn wear the Ring of See Invisible, taking it from Nwalme. She points out that the anti-Nazgul sword would be handy in such a case, as well, and Araphor takes it from Thaliondor, trading swords temporarily.

Guthwyn takes her crossbow in hand and leads the way down into the next level, finding a large storage area. Looking around, she spies the trapdoor leading down to the level below. Araphor suggests a destructive search (sticking swords in things), to speed things up, and they quickly go through the room before proceeding downward, Guthwyn continuing to lead.

The next level contains the prison and its cell, and is lit by several braziers. No one appears to be about, and one of the four cell doors is wide open. Guthwyn calls out for Smial, but gets no response. They peer into the open cell, and see what appears to be a dead human body, half in shadow. Araphor grabs a torch and tells Guthwyn to cover him as he explores into the cell. As he enters, he hears Smial muttering and grumbling about taking so damn long.

Smial emerges from the cell, pausing to kick the corpse, muttering another epithet. It’s apparent he’s been in captivity some time – he’s thinner than anyone’s ever seen him. He explains that the guard had come in to kill him, but he managed to grab the man’s belt knife and dispatch him before he could even swing his sword.

The three head back up, Guthwyn at point and Araphor taking up the rear. Smial pauses briefly in the storeroom to grab a loaf of bread. They rejoin the rest of the party. Waiting for Nwalme to continue his rest, they talk with Smial about his imprisonment, where the other prisoners went, and other details. Guthwyn voices a suspicion that he may not be the true Smial, to which he responds with a string of insults, including the suggestion that she consult her horse. (This strikes everyone as proof enough of his identity.)

After a few more minutes, the party moves on. The antechamber is empty, and they prepare to cross the courtyard to the storehouse in which they can escape to Orthanc. The guard who joined them leads the way, walking alone to the building and opening the door, pausing to reassure the gate guards on his way. He holds it open, and signals for the party to proceed. They run for it, Smial well in the lead), as the gate guards yell for them to halt. Thaliondor trips up, falling flat on his face, but Araphor helps him back onto his feet and they race on.

At the storehouse door, Guthwyn turns to provide a covering shot with her crossbow, and everyone makes it inside, barring the door behind them. They quickly make their way to the secret stone door, moving aside a large crate to access it, and speed along the passage into the maze beneath Orthanc, finally coming to the main doors of the tower, which are locked and barred from the outside.

Nwalme and Araphor prepare their spells (illusions and Shape Plant), and the party makes their way back to the forest in much the same manner as they approached the tower, weeks ago. They encounter no guards. It would seem that they are busy elsewhere, especially considering the fires which seem to be growing out of control within the city, clearly visible from the heights here.

Not long after entering the forest, they are greeted by Arod and the horses and ponies. They recover their equipment, saddle up the steeds, and head deeper into the woods, for Fangorn.

They reach Fangorn Forest proper shortly, and all seems quiet at first. But soon they espy a reptilian flying beast overhead, circling the area. Perched upon its back is a rider the Nazgul who has been hounding them all day. It quickly zeroes in on the party, and dives at them. It belches a fireball straight at them, and everyone dives from horseback to hit the ground. Nwalme gets caught, but the fireball explodes relatively harmlessly overhead, its heat washing harmlessly over the party. Not quite so harmlessly, though, several branches fall down from the forest canopy overhead, damaging several people and mounts.

The party picks themselves up as the Black Rider steers to the ground. His reptilian steed catches its wings in the trees, and it falls the last twenty feet to the ground. The Nazgul, however, manages a spectacular acrobatic leap from its back to land safely. Rene, who has taken a moment or two to grab from Thaliondor the Ring of Haste, faces off against him, his blades flying furiously. Araphor grabs his spear and Guthwyn her sword, both of them closing in, while Nwalme casts a Strike Blind into his curse missile wand.

Rene lands several blows, some of them exceptionally damaging, and the Ring-wraith lands a solid counter-blow. Meanwhile, Araphor and Guthwyn move into range. The next round finds Rene on the defensive, reeling a bit from the blow he received, but the Nazgul is in even worse shape. Araphor strikes with his spear twice at the Nazgul’s head, hitting him solidly both times, but doing little damage. Guthwyn also connects with her blade, hurting him somewhat.

The sounds of approaching Ents fill the air as the fight continues. Rene lands another blow, and the Nazgul decides to acrobatically leap away. As he does, Araphor and Guthwyn land more blows, and he lands badly. Reaching a hand into his tunic, he vanishes from sight. Rene asks Guthwyn if he’s invisible, but she responds in the negative – the Ringwraith has vanished once again. Its mount, however, is not quite so lucky. Just as it recovers from its harsh landing, it is dragged by the tail into the brush, the Ents making quick work of it.

After a long day (and night), the party rests, safely in the company of the Ents.

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More Stand In Our Way
...and manage to slow us down quite a bit

We rejoin our harried heroes in the imperial apartments, in the chamber of the ladies-in-waiting. They await a broom with which to sweep away the caltrops which line the “secret” passage that has its entrance here, while the strong (and flirtatious) serving maid literally sits on the Usurper’s spy among them.

The leader of the ladies returns quickly with a broom, which Araphor takes, thanking her graciously. He heads into the passage and begins quickly and thoroughly sweeping a path down its center. The rest of the party follows. Thaliondor brings up the rear, pausing to respond to a comment from the flirt with a smile and wink.

At some point, the caltrops peter out, leaving the center of the passage free to traverse. The party trots along it quickly. Eventually Araphor’s sharp eyes catch the beginning of another stretch of caltrops which signal the approach of the far end of the corridor, and he resumes sweeping a path. They reach the end, Rene taking the lead and rushing up the ladder-stair to push up the trapdoor exit.

As his arms rise above the floor with the trapdoor, a sword swings at them, crippling his right arm and sending him falling back down into the arms of Guthwyn, who manages to brace him somewhat. Araphor begins casting a spell, while Rene moves out of the way to have Nwalme heal his arm. Guthwyn moves up the ladder, and Thaliondor begins aiming at the trapdoor with his beloved crossbow, waiting for a shot.

As Araphor’s Dehydrate spell resolves, Guthwyn charges up through the trapdoor, shield up. She clears the trapdoor quickly, finding a rather ill-looking guard standing nearby, and another guard a little further off. Thaliondor fires a bolt, taking the second guard in the throat, and he collapses. She dispatches the ill guard quickly, and calls down for the rest of the party to join her. They all quickly ascend.

The group consults briefly on how to approach, discussing the layout of the tower they’re about to enter, knowing that the imperial dungeon lies beneath it. After mapping out a strategy, Thaliondor and Guthwyn open the doors leading into its main floor.

Immediately, a volley of crossbow bolts flies at them, downing Guthwyn. As the party moves into the chamber, they find themselves up against eight of the Usurper’s Guard, two with long pikes, the remaining six with crossbows. Three of the latter drop their bows to draw swords and prepare shields, while the other three begin reloading.

Thaliondor fires his crossbow at one of the pikemen, hitting him solidly, but not taking him down. Rene moves into the chamber, trying to get within the range of the pikes, acrobatically dodging a thrust by one of them. Araphor moves in as well, as Nwalme pauses to heal and revive Guthwyn. Rene wades into battle, felling a swordsman quickly. The uninjured pikeman tries to skewer Nwalme, but loses control of his weapon, sending it flying across the room to crash into the wall next to Araphor, who narrowly dodges it. The unarmed pikeman steps back, hands up in resignation as the fight rages on.

Thaliondor reloads his crossbow as Araphor strikes at a swordsman, crippling his leg and sending him to the ground. As Thaliondor fires, taking out a crossbowman who has reloaded, he calls for their surrender. In response, a pikeman skewers him solidly, knocking him back and unconscious. Rene, meanwhile, faces off against a second swordsman, felling him quickly before turning his attention to the pikeman.

Araphor turns to find a crossbowman aiming at him at point-blank range, and he swings his blade hard at the man. The guardsman falls, but not before firing his bolt solidly into Araphor’s chest. Fortunately, his mithril armor absorbs the blow, as well as one from the swordsman who strikes him in the back. Meanwhile, Rene swings at the pikeman that hit Thaliondor, but the man dives acrobatically away, dodging the blade.

Araphor spins around, striking the swordsman behind him incredibly well, causing him to drop his weapon, stunned. At this point Guthwyn rejoins the fray, hitting him as well and sending him to the ground.

The acrobat pikeman rolls and picks up a loaded crossbow from the floor, which he fires at Rene. Rene dodges the bolt, leaping over to thrust both his blades into the man, who falls limp to the floor. The remaining guardsmen call for quarter.

The pikeman who lost control of his weapon, the only unscathed guard, seems only too happy to cooperate. Unlike his fellow Rohirrim stationed here, he apparently has no fondness for the Third Prince of Rohan. He provides Guthwyn with information on the guards in the tower: there are but two left on the roof, and one in the dungeon. He also warns that we should bar the door, as they will expect reinforcements at some point. As they talk, Nwalme revives Thaliondor, but barely.

The group hammers out a plan: leaving Nwalme and Thaliondur here to rest along with Rene and the unscathed guard, Guthwyn and Araphor will head downstairs. They intend to call back if they run into trouble in the barracks below, but otherwise expect to return quickly with Smial.

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Back To The Palace!
Do NOT get in our way

We find our heroes on the run in the city of Isengard, sheltered by the hobbit underground in a not-quite-so-safe house, weary and hurt. They pause here to recover their strength and question their prisoner, the recently Ring-wearing and less-recently-dead lieutenant.

Nwalme-Anna leads the interrogation, using his magicks to ensure they get the truth from the prisoner. The rest of the party assists as they see fit. While Rene is extremely curious to find out about his survival, Araphor instead focuses on the survival of the party, insisting we first determine how we are being tracked. The prisoner’s information is somewhat helpful in regard to the tracking; he knows it’s some sort of box device in which an item attuned to the party, but not a specific individual, is placed. This convinces the party that they have no choice but to keep moving, as there is no one place they can be safe. The information regarding his death is less than useful, as he wasn’t alive to witness his revival; he can only say that he was told he wasn’t actually dead.

Nwalme and Araphor also take time to rest and recover their strength, Araphor attempting to keep the priorities in mind: mobility first, then full recovery. Araphor also takes a few moments to talk to Rene and encourage him to give the anti-Nazgul sword over to Thaliondor, to keep our opponents guessing. Surprisingly, he agrees readily, and swaps this sword for Thaliondor’s.

While they rest, a messenger arrives to inform them that they’ve discovered someone watching the house. They go send people to dispatch him, but fail in the attempt, and he escapes. As a sizable force of guards (both “Empress” and city) are getting close, the party chooses this time to move on. But the situation leads Araphor to suggest we send eyes to watch the movements of the guard forces, since they appear to be sending larger and larger forces after the party.

At the next stop, they pause to consider their next move. Reports come in of a fairly large force moving out, as well as a smaller group that’s very close – a group that includes the Nazgul. Thaliondor points out that we may want to try turning and attacking this smaller group if we can get two steps ahead instead of one. But as more reports come in, it strikes everyone (especially Thaliondor, who has been promoting this for some time) that the time may be right to return to the Palace and rescue Smial. As more reports come in about the size and composition of the forces being sent into the streets after them, including what may be the Usurper himself, it becomes clearer that this is the course of action to take. The hobbits with them also decide that it’s time to start a riot, and several of them disappear to put that into motion. Leaving the prisoner in the care of the hobbits, the party then sneaks off to the inn at which they surfaced when escaping the Palace a few weeks ago.

At the inn, they note smoke rising off across the city before they are quickly ushered inside by the proprietor, who is visibly (and understandably) nervous. Inside, they are surprised to find a very satisfied hobbit with a group of strangers… strangers who in size, build, and general appearance resemble the exact makeup of the party!

The hobbit leading our group congratulates him, and everyone goes over the plan: The faux party will attempt to lead the guards on a chase, taking them slightly off the true path (but not so far as to be obvious). They also will take the formerly dead lieutenant with them. In the mean time, the party heads into the secret tunnel, bringing a couple of hobbits with them to assist with any secret doors and such they may encounter. The objectives are discussed, and the primary one settled upon: rescue Smial, and escape the city.

The group makes its way through the tree-crypt and passage, reaching the sealed secret door without incident. Araphor casts Shape Plant and makes sure that the door is not barred. The group bursts in, surprising two guards, and Rene dispatches them swiftly, downing them in as many rounds, one dead, one on his back on the floor, unarmed.

The disarmed guard yells for help, but Thaliondor moves and kicks him solidly in the head, rendering him unconscious. They move onward, opening the flimsy new door to check for further guards, but find none. Thaliondor rushes forward, as Rene volunteers to bring up the rear. Araphor points out that this is ridiculous – the party needs to move fast, and Rene has just shown that he is quick and effective on point. Rene reluctantly agrees, and joins Guthwyn and Thaliondor in the antechambers, making their way into the rotunda, while Araphor and Nwalme follow close behind.

Thaliondor reaches the balcony quickly, and spots two guards at the base of the far staircase. One guard turns to run for help, and Thaliondor shoots him squarely in the back with his crossbow. Meanwhile the other guard charges up the stairs, sword in hand. Guthwyn soon after enters the hall, and runs to attack this guard, while Thaliondor reloads. As Guthwyn engages the closing guard, Thaliondor takes aim and shoots the fleeing guard squarely in the head, felling him quickly.

The guard fighting Guthwyn takes a few solid hits himself. Between that and seeing his comrade fall, he decides to run for help. He turns and runs back down the stairs, just as Rene enters the chamber. Seeing the guard about to escape, Rene vaults over the balcony rail smoothly. Twisting and rolling in midair, he lands on his feet, swords drawn, facing the fleeing foe. As the guard reaches him, Rene furiously attacks, thrusting his blade squarely through the guard’s eye, bringing him to an abrupt halt.

Guthwyn, still in close pursuit, takes no chances and swings her own blade, nearly eviscerating the man. The guard’s corpse collapses to the floor, and as the two of them pull back and clean their blades, Thaliondor runs by them in the direction of ladies-in-waiting chamber and its secret passage, Araphor and Nwalme close on his heels.

Thaliondor is greeted at the door by a serving maid, who recognizes him and welcomes him in with a smile and wink – while suddenly thrusting an arm out throttle one of the ladies in waiting, pinning her to a nearby wall. Thaliondor smiles and winks back, thanking her as the rest of the party bustles in from the hallway. They find the no-longer-very-secret-at-all door, and Rene leads the way, stepping into the passage.

He steps back quickly, however, his sharp eye and quick reflexes not entirely saving him from stepping on one of the numerous large caltrops that litter the passage floor. Upon seeing this, Rene readies his cloak to try and use it to create a path, while Araphor asks one of the ladies if there might be a broom handy. She rushes off to fetch one, and the party waits tensely…

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