Middle Earth: Sunset of the Fourth Age

Parlay View
Watching the camp(s)?

Our heroes did their best to control the the location of the parlay with the dark elvish chieftains who have been moving west into the heart of the Empire. Araphor is designated as spokesman, so that we have a single person speaking for all of us to better project a position of strength to the renegade elves.

As the elves approach, we note that they’ve sent nine instead of five. But five appear to be adjutants, and they hang back as four chieftains approach the party and begin the parley.

The chieftains want land of their own to the west. Araphor informs them that he cannot arrange this today, as we are at war. But he does allow that they can camp here for a few days as he tries to arrange something. He will have them escorted to the western lands after the war is over.

A hawk called from above us and circled, before flying off. It wasn’t immediately obvious what this meant.

As we watched, the five walk off and we hear them arguing. They soon abruptly stop in mid-argument, most of them standing “frozen” in place. One of their aides is then possessed by Sauron’s Shadow, who steps up and tells us that he’s doing his part and trying to prove himself. So he’ll make sure they agree to wait here.

Once that aside ended, the aide realized that he’d been controlled, and became oddly talkative. He relates that he’s experienced this twice before. The first time it happened, it saved his life. The second time it happened, his captain was railing about the army’s leadership. When he came to himself again, his captain was thanking him for his advice.

As he gets over the surprise of his possession, he relays his captain’s offer: the dark elvish cavalry will step out of combat and desert should a certain signal protocol be met:

  • The cavalry will be sporting a specific cavalry flag that signify someone from their ‘clan’ that may be open to deserting.
  • Our signal is to dip our flag three times
  • They should dip theirs three times in return to acknowledge our signal.
  • Soon after, they’ll charge at us – and through us without attacking, to desert.

Guthwyn tried to convince him that the same mind control magic that was used against us and the army could be being used against them. He doesn’t believe, as he states it’s common wisdom among his folk that mind control magic doesn’t work on elves.

Once the elvish diplomatic contingent heads off, our heroes assess what they’ve gotten themselves into. They get advice from the closest elvish expert: Nwalme. He doesn’t think there are enough boats nearby to transport all of these wandering elves. Guthwyn comes up with the idea of asking the Greenwood elves if there are any of their folk that may be interested in being escorts to these 800-odd members of the dark elvish army.

Our heroes contact the Empress, but she hands the ball back to us. She wants these enemy elvish troops to stay put, and especially to stay out of the areas where she doesn’t have sufficient military strength.

We keep an eye on their camps for a few days, talking with them occasionally, and observing what details we can of their behavior and equipment.

  • The two chieftains that are friendly are both farmers from villages disparate enough to have no opportunity to become enemies.
  • The two chieftains that are most competent with the Rider Within spells — fisherman folks for the inland sea. There is a lot of magic from them, though mostly at the cantrip and journeyman levels.
  • There are also bows and knives traditional elf types.
  • There are also the horseman. The adjutant is the best horseman we’d ever seen — until we saw the captain; the captain is truly spectacular. Even the plow horses and what not that they could find were almost at Arod’s level when the captain was riding them.

We eventually find out that the hawk that cried out during the parley was a sign to show the troops that we hadn’t prepared an ambush.

The more our heroes communicate with the renegade elves, the more it’s clear that they’re supremely lost. They’ve been lost for a long long time. They hadn’t even realized how lost they’ve been. They had something to believe in, but that’s gone now. And on some levels, they wish they had it back, so that they’d have a purpose again.

Where they came from has become hell on earth and they’re profoundly misinformed about thousands of years of history.

We told them that their escorts are a week out. Some of the elves are okay with this news. Many aren’t, and just want to get moving.

Our heroes soon notice that the dark elves must have a hidden camp in the woods. Some of the elves walk into the woods and different elves come back. Bo spotted it once, but not enough to be sure of any pattern. They were heading off just after dark, traveling in ones or twos. Others came back around dawn. There seemed to be six or so the first night, and a dozen the second.

Realizing that tracking elves in the woods is a recipe for disaster, Guthwyn pushes to just ask if they need extra provisions for the elves in the woods. The cavalry captain that has been the most friendly to us does his best to cover, but Araphor is sure that he’s lying. Araphor then asked to inspect the camp.

We get access to inspect the followers. We travel with the adjutant and another horseman, along with two other elves. Nwalme casts Sense Foes and is pretty sure that our two guides are hostile to us.

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Hey, Where'd They Go?
Pick a direction...

We return to our heroes, who are fortifying the castle. Araphor suggests infiltrating the renegade elves’ camp, but we need more information.

Nwalme interrogates more prisoners. He learns that their original plans have gone by wayside. They failed to drain the river to let in their forces, they lost one of their wizards to lead those forces, and they were expecting to be able to just walk into the castle, because they had suborned the people who had controlled it (Eorcanstan’s men). With none of these elements now in place, the final attack has been abandoned.

According to our prisoners, they have maybe 1,200 elves and 2,000 orcs, to attack the castle. They don’t all quite agree on the exact numbers.

Our prisoners talk more about how they came to invade. In the far east, elves have been deeply divided up until the last 500 years or so. This new order was mostly held together by a couple of men in black, the Blue Wizards, and a few elf chieftains. Any time the major leaders aren’t there, the rest become paralyzed and disorganized.

Gothforg appears to be the current man in black who is in charge of the troops. Lothar of the Green Pools is the elven chieftain working with Gothforg. It seems that there is always such a pair working together.

For a couple of centuries these leaders had been pushing the idea that the elves are all one united front and can take what’s long been due to them. But our recent successes are hurting morale, and they’re beginning to splinter into their constituent factions once more.

We realize that they have been mind-controlling their own people to keep the peace and hold the coalition together. The mages themselves, however, are also from a mix of villages. Which begs the question of why these mages are working together to keep this mind control going…

In light of this new information, it’s unclear why we are trying to hold the castle. Our real task is to “take care of the leadership” and stop these troops from being in a position to cause more trouble later. Presumably we could neutralize pieces of the army.

Araphor sends Stormdancer up to do some reconnaissance among the enemy troops.

The patrols that were supposed be nearby are no longer around. Clearly, their army is not as large as we had thought.

Several groups of elves – 300 or so, in total – are walking back towards their home, over the north mountains toward the Sea of Rhun.

There are four parties of about 200 elves each, heading West toward the plains. Our heroes decide that these elves should be dealt with, as their path takes them into the heart of the Empire.

Each of the four groups has about two wagons and maybe two dozen horses, some with riders. They contain subgroups of 30-80, with wagons generally toward the center of each. Each of the large groups are about a mile apart.

Our heroes head out to reach these parties. After about a half a day’s ride, we’re approach closely enough that they might be able to see us. They’re still in the foothills, a few hours short of the plains.

Araphor and Nwalme collaborate to make an offer to parlay. Nwalme casts Create Servant and instructs the servant to wait 15 minutes and then approach the elves. It is to say in Sindarin, “The Empress Guard request a parlay at sunset at [a nearby hill], no more than five representatives. I need a yes or no response.” When an acceptable response has been given, it is to leave on a path perpendicular to its original approach and then vanish. Stormdancer will ride in on its shoulder, with Araphor watching from within. Meanwhile, the party heads off in a different direction altogether, so that the servant’s path does not reveal their location.

The servant is challenged and brought into the nearest elves’ camp. It quickly becomes apparent that those present are more “frenemies” than friends. (The higher-ups speak a version of Sindaran that Araphor can mostly understand.) They agree to meet us. One was clearly not predisposed to come; when he realized four others agreed, he joined in.

We see nine elves leave — the four leaders who were more agreeable, plus five adjutants. The most hostile leader is only sending his aide. They stop when they’re still a ways away from the meeting location. Bo is slightly off from the group, bow at ready, while Guthwyn, Strongwülf, and the others await the elven delegation at the appointed place.

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A Surprise Visit
And a Still More Surprising Conversation

We rejoin our heroes in the castle recently vacated by the Empress as she headed to join the main body of her forces in the primary theater of battle, leaving us to “take care” of the enemies approaching from the north.

The first order of business is to investigate Bo‘s odd transformation during the recent nearby skirmish. Sadly, Bo’s recollection of the events are fuzzy (pun not intended). Nwalme uses Analyze Magic to determine that the nature of Bo’s transformation is an innate magic rather than some sort of enchantment. From that we can infer that Bo is of Beorning descent, a bloodline that seems to still run strong in the areas around Rivendell and the adjacent areas of the Anduin valley. Most of the party recalls encountering the young Beorning girl Nessa when we passed through that region, not long after Bo signed on.

As Bo struggles to feel out the magic within him, Araphor offers a suggestion: he can attempt to summon all of the bears in the area, and see if that will trigger a transformation. Since Bo’s control is still suspect, however, he suggests that Bo be locked in a secure room or cell during this attempt. Bo is game (pun intended), so they proceed to the dungeon. Once secure, Araphor casts a Beast Summoning for bears… and nothing happens. We release Bo from the cell, at a loss at how to help him further.

The next priority is the interrogation of our prisoners. Six dark elves were captured in the latest fight, and they await Nwalme’s attention. He proceeds with his inquisition, using his reliable blend of magicks and skills. The first couple of elves don’t reveal much, other than their fervent belief in their gods and their mission.

Nwalme makes better progress with the third prisoner, his first Death Touch breaking the elf’s spirit, and opening his mind to Nwalme’s Telepathy. As Nwalme begins to delve into the elf’s mind, however, his connection is severed as a sudden transformation comes over the captive. The elf’s demeanor shifts from that of a desperate and broken soul to that of someone extremely self-possessed and confident, and he begins to speak in a strong, clear voice.

Guthwyn and Strongwülf immediately pass out as a deep chill in the voice seizes them. But the remainder of the party endures, and recognize that the voice can only belong to Sauron, or what remains of him.

Sauron’s shadow, speaking through the captive elf, says that he’s been waiting to talk to us for some time, as we’ve been an incessant thorn in his side. More shockingly, however, he expresses a desire simply “go home” at this point, and abandon the war. When Araphor points out that his wish cannot be granted by the party, the shadow nods. He claims he cannot even name those who have that power (ed: the Valar), lest they move to destroy him.

He wants to know what he can do to atone for his actions and demonstrate his sincerity. He claims to be willing to work to end the war, although it is not exactly under his control any more, despite – as Bo gets him to admit – that he is/possesses the Supreme Leader of the Far East. The ship, as it were, is simply too big to change course easily.

Bo suggests that he offer to publicly travel some of his key elven subordinates across the Anduin, disproving the widely-held belief by his forces that this will kill them. Araphor is quick to point out that while this may be an effective way to help, we’re certainly not going to let him bring any part of his forces right through the heart of the Empire, where the Anduin mostly runs. Still, it might be possible at Osgiliath, which bridges the Anduin in the narrow valley of Ithilien.

Sauron’s shadow mulls over these and some other ideas presented, and then states that he will do what he can to stop the war, and that the party should be on the lookout for whatever opportunity to act he provides.

Once it’s clear that the possession is over, the party returns the captive to his cell, rouses the unconscious folks, and retires to the council chamber to discuss. There’s not a lot of trust for someone that has had millennia to practice deceit. Bo is worried about what alternate agenda the renegade elves crossing the Anduin would have – they could be anchors for teleporting in more forces, or worse. Guthwyn wishes that she’d been awake to ask Sauron’s Shadow to fix the orcs, as they’ve never had a chance to choose good or evil. (The Yrrch are a notable exception.) Araphor and Nwalme expressed little hope that the renegade elves could or would accept a peaceful path at this point.

Guthwyn feels that it doesn’t matter if Sauron is believable or not; if he acts good, that’s something that will reduce his army and improve our chances. Araphor is sure that we should be preparing for betrayal at all points, noting that Sauron has persuaded and corrupted both his allies and captors throughout history. Nwalme notes that Sauron has never used this tactic before, however, and that it could be that he’s not as powerful as we fear, although he could get nothing concrete from what telepathic connection he briefly had.

The consensus is that we should proceed with our current objectives and stay watchful for both opportunity and treachery. To that end, we begin to get a handle on when we can expect the Supreme Leader and his forces to arrive and besiege the castle.

A Divination reveals to Nwalme that the eastern armies will be arriving between noon and two in the afternoon three days from now.

Nwalme ‘talks’ to the Empress about our conversation with Sauron’s shadow, but doesn’t use names — fully aware that they’re probably being eavesdropped. She warns us to be very very careful. He also relates to her the results of his vision.

With this foreknowledge, the party begins to prepare the castle in earnest for siege, and send out word via the hobbit signal corps to nearby allies and forces.

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Triumph o'er Geysers and Bears, oh my!

Combat continued. Our heroes are battle-hardened and used to fighting difficult opponents, but even so they were outnumbered and hard pressed to win the day.

Even though the renegade elves had been surprised by our heroes appearing in their midst, they showed that they were well disciplined as they quickly leapt to the defense.

While the party did their best to attack their mages, the elves used their warriors to protect them and fend off the attackers. One of the mages was able to cast a Geyser, causing it to erupt between Bo and Nwalme, knocking both of them painfully on their asses.

But two unforeseen factors turned the tide in the party’s favor: Strongwülf was able to tap into his inner berserker, attacking with a heretofore unseen ferocity. And Bo, to his surprise, found the shock of the damage from the geyser triggering an ability that he didn’t know he had. He transformed into an enormous bear and rushed to protect his friends.

Unfortunately, other than Nwalme, no one else realized that Bo was the bear that was attacking elves in their midst. Strongwülf, in particular, was prepared to attack the bear. Luckily, cooler heads (most notably Araphor) prevailed — especially when it was pointed out to him that Araphor had the ability to control animals with his magics.

Some of the warrior elves surrendered, while off a ways Guthwyn cut down an escaping mage that she and Nwalme had caught, despite his plea for quarter.

After the combat, our heroes regrouped. Nwalme explained to the others that the bear was actually Bo. Once the stress of the combat was over, Bo started to revert to his human form. Bo and Strongwülf were both grievously wounded, and though Nwalme was able to stop them from immediately dying, they would need time to recover.

Araphor felt that the geysers blasting in the area could have been seen by any of the nearby enemy patrols and recommended that everyone bivouac out of there and retreat back to the castle and their reinforcements. Guthwyn organized the surviving seven prisoners and set the party marching castleward. They soon reached an approaching battalion of the Empress’ troops , and they were able to retreat without any further trouble.

They returned to the castle to find that their mission was successful: the moat had calmed to its normal state. The Empress and her retinue left for the field command center, leaving the party to heal over the next day or so. As she left, she formally relieved Guthwyn of her duty as commander-in-theater, riding off to take that position herself.

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On the Inside Looking Out

Our heroes are inside of the castle with the Empress, trapped inside a ragingly swirling moat, separated from the Greenwood elven force camped nearby.

The first order of business was for Nwalme to give the Empress a report on what’s been going on since the last time he’s been able to communicate with her via Telepathy.

  • Nwalme wrested the Blue Wizard’s staff from him, nearly dying in process.
  • Among the staff’s abilities is the Toss spell, which can throw human-sized creatures around. The Empress expresses an interest in learning this spell.
  • A short way north of the castle, we discovered a group of hostile elves that he thinks are responsible for the strange behavior of the castle’s moat.
  • The events surrounding the Battle of the Shore, and the ships that broke off and sailed westward just before that battle commenced.
  • Intelligence we have gathered indicates that the hostile elven forces are amassing north of the castle, and that their leader and his lieutenant are also present there.

Once the debriefing was complete, the Empress formally inducted Bo into the Empress’ Guard. (Bo was more than happy to rub this fact into StrongWülf’s face.) Unfortunately, the Guard’s equipment stores and quartermasters are outside the castle with the bulk of her troops, so Bo cannot be issued standard equipment. Still, Bo was humbled and honored that the Empress knew of him and his exploits.

The Empress sends our heroes out to deal with the nearby elves who are controlling the moat.

With this clear mission, Araphor sent Stormdancer out to perform some new reconnaissance. The falcon’s sharp eyes quickly spot the enemy elves, despite them being mostly under tree cover. Their position affords them a line of sight to the castle, which appears to allow them to target the ritual magic that eight of them are performing. Eight more elves stand guard around them.

Beyond this encampment, Stormdancer also notices several scouting parties of elves, about 40 individuals in total, arranged in a rough arc through the foothills north of the castle.

Relaying this information to those inside the castle, the consensus is that these forces are in place to keep the Empress trapped at the castle. Unfortunately, there are only about 200 people within the fortress: garrison support, Empress’ retinue, counselors, and a handful of elven soldiers. Not the military forces needed to withstand a siege, even with the help of the elves encamped outside.

In the course of conversing further with the Empress, it becomes clear to Bo and other members of the group that there has been no communication from the runners that Guthwyn had sent. This does not bode well.

Bo was also worried about the Wizard’s staff being in the room where they’ve been talking about things that they don’t want overheard. But Nwalme had been keeping an eye on it to ensure that it hasn’t been glowing to indicate that a spell was in play.

Tired from traveling all night, our heroes get a few hours’ sleep.

When they wake up a bit more rested, if not totally recovered, the Empress looks grim. Her experiments have shown that Sauron was not completely destroyed at the end of the War of the Ring, as everyone had thought. What remains of him may be little more than a shadow — far less powerful magically, but still with all of his knowledge and experience.

Araphor doesn’t like this; he’s worried that this might mean that in his inchoate form he may now be able to possess others. The group suspects that he might be unable to amass much power, though, since he needs to keep his Nazgul powered and obedient. The Empress weighs in, saying that she felt that the essence of the being that is disrupting the communication between herself and Nwalme felt somehow subservient.

With this, Araphor recalls that the far East was where the elves first awoke. Among these hostile dark elves, therefore, there could well be ancient, powerful elves who were among the first – some 15,000 years old.

[StrongWülf peed himself in terror as this was explained to him.]

The Empress felt that Araphor’s theory is close and that she wants to work with Nwalme to get the party into the hostile elves’ midst to better find out what they can about the enemy’s plan. And that in the mean time, she needs to escape to join the bulk of her forces, rather than await the arrival of the enemy while she’s trapped here.

Unfortunately, the usual escape route from the castle — the sally port — is largely collapsed and muddy due to the wild moat. Few could make their way out that way.

So the party decides to stage a diversion, so that the Empress can escape to the main encampment to the southeast. The idea is to get teleported in to where the nearby magic ritual is being performed.

Everyone gets into a circle and readies themselves. Araphor uses Icy Weapon to frost his blade, and dons the Ring of Haste to speed up. Nwalme tries his best to explain what it is going to feel like, so that everyone will be better able to avoid disorientation and be able to react quickly.

The teleport was successful. Most of the party made their body sense rolls and weren’t stunned. They could react quickly. With the party prepared, the Empress and her mages wink the party over to the nearby forest.

Bo, Araphor and StrongWülf manage to keep their wits as they pop into the clearing, and were able to attack from surprise with devastating consequences. Guthwyn and Nwalme took a second, but joined in with a will. Everyone lays out an elf or two, blade and arrows singing through the air as Nwalme Tosses a few of them about. Araphor charges into the circle’s center, pressing forward to attack the mages.

This draws the mages’ fire, and they throw spell after spell at him: Water Jet and Ice Dagger.

[…to be continued]

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Off to See the Empress (and Hopefully not the Wizard)
...although not without being tracked

Nwalme leveraged the power of ritual magic to cast a couple of healing spells on himself to recover from the horrific damage that he took fighting the Blue Wizard one-on-one. It was strange to see him do that with thirty-two willing helpers over ten minutes or so, but the results speak for themselves.

He also studied the new magical staff that he now controls.

Guthwyn and StrongWülf ensured that the army forces at the mouth of the river understood General Guthwyn’s orders to do the following:

  • Scuttle the boats to block the mouth of the river
  • March the prisoners and ex-slaves to the main encampment to see who can be trusted and incorporated into the Empire’s forces
  • Leave a squad at this location to control the area

After deciding that the enemy’s camp north of the eastern-most castle is probably where the invisible boats are going, our heroes head in that direction with a small rag-tag crew: the party, two Rohirrim, and a pair of hobbits. They set off over untamed lands, two and a half days of travel across rough and hilly terrain.

During this trip, Araphor was reunited with Stormdancer. Through conversations with the falcon, he learned that the elves at the site of the explosion were in still in disarray.

Also during this trip, Bo practiced with his new bow and new short sword as often as he could to become as proficient as possible in the short time that they had traveling.

At the end of the second day, the party was ten miles away from the castle and they made the decision to ride through the night. Around midnight, runes on the staff began to glow. The party prepared for the worst. StrongWülf was sure that the wizard was approaching and planned to kill them all. Nwalme cast History on the staff to try to understand what the glowing runes meant, and realized that unfortunately a spell was being cast from the staff. As he wasn’t doing it, that only left the wizard. Using Identity, he realized that the spell was a Seeker and assumed that the maia was trying to find them.

At this point, the party got close enough to see that the castle’s moat was now quickly moving around it, even flowing uphill at points. They surmised that that much water moving that unnaturally must mean that the wizard and his elves were behind it. Nwalme cast Seeker and found that the Empress was on top of the castle’s tower.

As the party watched, it was clear that the number of people atop the wall was dwindling, soldiers disappearing back into the castle. We rode closer, so that Nwalme could Teleport inside to get the staff to the Empress. He failed initially, but only partially so. He didn’t teleport to the Empress, but he did appear a half a mile away from the castle, deeper into the forest, within fifty yards of some dark elves performing a magic ritual. He used spells inherent in the staff to disrupt things briefly until he could Teleport to the Empress, completely draining the staff’s powerstone in the process.

While he was gone, the party met up with some of the elvish forces from the Greenwood that were camped at the castle. Guthwyn had the brilliant (actually brilliant — not just clever for Guthwyn) idea of using the bridge stones to cross the newly created moat. She set up one stone and had Araphor throw the other across the moat. When the bridge went up, the party found that the mystic bridges only worked over slowly moving water. The moat was moving too quickly. But soon, Nwalme’s disruption of the ritual slowed the water enough that a mystic bridge was enough to get Guthwyn, Bo, StrongWülf, and Araphor across, as well as a small patrol of six elves. Arod was the only horse able to cross with them.

The party’s old friend, Thaliondor* was there with the Empress’ guard. Behind them, the moat began to speed up again, leaving elves on both sides to try to build a normal bridge to cross in a more mundane way.

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Battle of the Shore
"We shall fight on the beaches... we will never surrender."

Some sessions are just a continuation. This is one of those.

At the beginning of the session:

  • 5 boats with mutinies
  • 8 of the mages have arrows sticking out of them (including the Wizard)
  • 2 of the boats seem to have dead mages on them
  • The Blue Wizard seems to be critically injured (but we’re not sure how long that will last)

With Araphor unconscious, the fish are starting to disperse. But their natural wish to get away is now tempered by their individual self-interest, so they are moving slowly.

Guthwyn was very busy keeping the forces on track and continuing arrow volleys at the enemy longboats. She also shouted orders to the longboats, when the mutineers took control of them. Her quick thinking and their listening to her orders results in the mutineers using their newly controlled longboats to ram enemy boat.

StrongWülf, by his actions reminded the troops of some useful information, such as: longboats on fire aren’t pleasant places to be, screaming that you’re going to do something and then running toward the enemy makes you a target for enemy bowmen, and most importantly seeing something important and getting it to a mage is sometimes that best you can do when the enemies aren’t within battling distance.

Araphor dutifully continued to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide, as he struggled to recover enough to move after the incredible magic he’d been able to perform moments before.

Nwalme was daring. He teleported himself onto the longboat with the Wizard — repeatedly, where he attacked with surprise and used his Death Touch deftly. He also realized that if he got the wizard’s staff away from him, his power would be diminished. Sadly, it took multiple attempts, after being flung off the boat by the maia as well as taking massive injuries, but he was able to separate the Wizard from his staff before he and it went flying into the air with the sweep of the Wizard’s arm.

With some quick action from StrongWülf when the staff almost landed at his feet on the shore, the young guard ran it up to where Nwalme had landed broken and unconscious and stayed with him to guard him and keep him safe.

Bo continued to snipe at the Wizard, doing his best to keep him from being able to regain control of his forces. It sounded better in theory than in actuality, as it wasn’t able to keep the maia from casting spells to pin down Bo (relatively ineffectively) or to fling Nwalme away from him and the ship. But during the brief battle of the shore, Bo and the other bowmen were able to do horrendous damage to the mages on the boats and to the Wizard himself. In the end, he’s hit with the maia’s web spell (again) and all but spread-eagle and incapacitated on the ground.

The forces under Guthwyn’s control was remarkably successful. The yeomen archers sent volley after volley into the longboats, sowing confusion and discord. Under their sergeants orders, after they saw StrongWülf throwing a burning flask of oil ineffectively at the longboats far outside of his range, they used flaming arrows to try to destroy the boats. They also continued to pepper mages, the Wizard and the like.

The longboats had mages, dark elves, and probably controlled rowers. When the mages’ spells were disrupted, the rowers often started to mutiny. On some boats, these mutinies were successful. On others, not successful, but still they successfully distracted the elves and kept them from giving their full attention to the forces on the shore.

The Wizard fled. He teleported to the far shore of the river and hurried off to lick his wounds and recover.

The end result: 2 boats have surrendered; 7 boats are badly damaged, but have successfully retreated; 3 boats have sunk; 7 boats are captured — but 2 of them aren’t usable.

Injuries:
StrongWülf has taken an arrow or two for some minor damage.
Nwalme is seriously injured from the Wizard’s slamming him around – so much so he can’t heal himself.

Nwalme’s first impression of the staff was that it’s at least a ten point powerstone and the stone on top is a powerful and specialized powerstone as well. Araphor, finally conscious enough to move, performed First Aid on Nwalme to better help him avoid death.

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So long and thanks for all the fish
Araphor, the codfather

The first thing our heroes do is to try to figure out their next move. There is vital information that needs to be given to the Empress and others, but how was the important question. Assumptions were made about the Great Leader™ (presumably Sauron in disguise) where he is and where the best place would be for us to be situated to try and deal with him. We realize that the information we’ve surmised is largely a death sentence from the leader of the dark elves, whether or not it’s actually Sauron.

Bo points out that it might be a good idea to have redundancy in our delivery, expecting that the Great Leader™ would do anything to keep his enemies from having our knowledge. He thinks that splitting up the hobsters to go to the next closest encampments to get the word out, as we head to the third closest encampment based on where we expect the Great Leader™ to be heading and where the Empress will want us to be. Nwalme thought that this would mean that we would need to go the mouth of the river. Araphor didn’t think that we should take the chance with General Guthwyn. If she were to be killed, it would dishearten the army. Having to worry about the morale of a greater army was new to us, as was the thought of keeping Guthwyn out of the middle of the fray.

As we continued to discuss our options, we traveled across the river, where we bumped into guardsmen that couldn’t wait to hop to Guthwyn’s orders. Surprising everyone that had known her well — and Bo — who hadn’t — Guthwyn embraced the full power of being the general and started giving orders. She had listened to the debate that had waged around her and forged her own stubborn way through the arguments and counter-arguments. She sent a pair of hobsters to their next communication station to get the information out in via that medium. She sent three guardsmen to ride as fast as they were able to the castle — they were to go straight to the Empress and tell her our news. That left our small group of irregulars (our heroes™) to go to the mouth of the river themselves with our smaller group: two hobsters, and two remaining guardsmen (Strongwulf and an unnamed female guardsman).

Three miles north (about 20 minutes of travel – which gives you some indication of the roads and how Arod could push us to travel on them), we got to the hobster communication station. They signal us to let us know that they’d heard the news that we had sent about the assault planned on the mouth of the river and toward the Empress’ castle. As of twenty minutes ago (the last communication along that stations), there was no word of any attack at the mouth of the river. It was all still and quiet. It was sunrise, about an hour from when Nwalme was scheduled to make his normal contact with the Empress.

At the designated time, he contacted her. Both Nwalme and the Empress realize that someone else is listening and as such, they’re circumspect in how they discuss the news of the enemy. Nwalme reported the numbers (20,000 elves; 500,000 orcs) and possible locations of the enemy troops, and also that one of the blue maia has died by our actions; the Empress wished that she had Wizards on her side. The listener made his appearance known with a chuckle and said that our information was better than he thought and that he’ll have to rectify that. When Nwalme gave the location of the troops that had teleported away, the voice says our information was too much better and the connection was severed. [The amount of magic and skill to do that must have been phenomenal.] Nwalme tried again and the ‘Empress’ asked what happened, but gave away the game with an unusual idiom, when the other magic user (presumably the Great Leader™) realized that the ruse was up, the connection is severed again and then used the connection to do damage directly to Nwalme. The true Empress contacted Nwalme and gave a quick message: defend the line, thanks for the warning, don’t contact us and prepare to disconnect quickly, if contacted. We realized that the telepathic communication channel (one of our greatest assets in the field) was now mostly useless.

Nwalme healed himself fully as we rested for a few minutes.

We continued on and catch the high ground as we approached. From our vantage point, we were able to see the enemy forces, using an unnatural mist to conceal an armada advancing on the village. As we’re pretty much on the front line – the villagers are largely long gone and it’s largely encampments with some villagers left to be part of the war effort – Guthwyn sends the unnamed guardsman riding like hell to the village to warn them, and use the communication point in town to get the word out. There ships are elvish longboats: we think there a couple of thousand people attacking (40-80 boats) – not sure how many of them are combatants versus rowers/slaves. We try to get an idea on how many might be spellcasters. As before with these group spells, there’s at least one spellcaster keeping the mist spell going and others feeding him/her energy.

Once again, we try to figure out what to do. We think there are 30 boats, but then they seem to have some of them fading away, as we watch. We’re not sure whether this is an illusion spell, or invisibility kicking in to hide them. This village is basically 100-150 people (two archer units: 50 together). The alarm goes off and the sentries realize that the armada is too big. It’s time to run — they give the signal to evacuate. But unfortunately, this means we can’t stop the elves from landing and must cede these two miles of coastline.

Araphor brought back up the idea of setting the forest on fire make a break and make it harder for the enemy elves to pass. Nwalme tried to cast See Secrets to figure out what’s going on. Araphor did his best to try to spot wakes and other options to tell what’s really going on with the boats. Guthwyn remembered that she has a Ring of See Invisible, which she gives to Bo. He looks out and can now see that there are 25 boats, and illusions of boats to make it seem that there are a lot more. (That means 25 w/ 20 people on them – so only 500 of so enemies to fight. 7 visible; 18 hidden)

It looks like the male maia is magically raising the mist from the front ship. It looks as though they’re bypassing the village and heading up the river. We realize that the earlier attack we’d seen before we crossed the river was to take out the defenses to make this attack possible. The Great Leader™ and his people know something about tactics and strategy.

From our vantage point, we can see the five invisible boats heading along the bank of the lake; and the remaining 13 started to fade into visibility to head up the river.

Araphor came up with a brilliant idea of summoning all the fish within ten miles of the fishing village, in order to really really muck up the armada’s attack. Nwalme will feed him fatigue to help him maintain the spell. While Guthwyn and Bo will try to get the archers in position to attack the elves. As soon as Bo sees the male maia become distracted, he is to shoot. That’s going to be the signal for all the archers to let fly to take out as many elves as they can.

As with many things, there is the plan, and there is the execution. Araphor’s plan executed brilliantly. In the first minute, the river stopped being smooth and there were a lot of fish agitating the water. In the second minute, the last three of the elves’ boats began slowing down significantly. In the third minute, all of the boats are slowed – the last five or six boats aren’t in control any more as the sheer number of the fish is making the water flow in the wrong direction. Halfway through the fourth minute, the male maia’s boat stops moving and he’s trying to figure things out. Two of the boats capsize. The maia was distracted. Nwalme failed his first attempt to share strength, but was able to still get enough energy to Araphor to keep the spell working through those critical first few minutes.

Seeing the male maia distracted, Bo aimed and let fly his arrow to critically hit the vitals of the male maia – severe damage to the vitals, bypassing armor. Once again, we forgot how bad it can be for a mage that’s channeling multiple spells and the energies of other magic users, when they take a great deal of damage while concentrating.

The five boats become visible. On five of the boats people stop rowing, and fighting breaks out as the slaves therein mutiny.

The other archers let fly. The elves are not happy as as the arrows hit their targets. On the lead ship, Bo hit the maia and someone else hit his elven spellcaster.

[NOTES from Pam on the first volley of shots. There were two archers aimed at each boat and the first 10 boats all have three aimed at them.]

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Flying downhill, all snug in our handbasket

As Guthwyn leaned in to slice the throat of the female maia the sounds of the insects and birds of the plains fell silent. This was one of those moments that seemed to cause nature itself to pause. Guthwyn cut the throat of the maia and as her last breath fled from her, a bluish glowing mist rose up from the body and into the air. The silence stretched; the heroes stared. The mist flowed back toward the west, as though the maia’s spirit was reaching out to home and peace, but a breeze kicked up and the mist spread out, dissipating. A few seconds later, a cricket called, and then the symphony of nature resumed.

The consensus was that the dark elves were too dangerous. The party slit throats, except for a single prisoner under the watchful and wary eye of Bo, who delivered a punishing headblow each and every time the prisoner stirred and seemed like he might rise.

Nwalme-Anna and Araphor were too injured and too weary from their magical works to ride immediately, so the party was forced to put them in the cart with the prisoner and Bo on watch. Araphor was able to do first aid on Nwalme as they traveled.

Unsure which way to go, we made for the river, but the cart caused our heroes to have a nagging fear that they would be seen, they would be caught, and they didn’t need to imagine what their enemies would do to them.

After the first aid, Nwalme woke up and a few minutes rest was enough to get Araphor and Nwalme invigorated enough to ride on horseback under their own power. The party was able to ditch the cart and run off twelve exceedingly dim horses.

They made for a defensible location that Strongwülf knew about. There Nwalme was able to interrogate the prisoner. Nwalme’s well-known skill as the Grand Inquisitor was amply demonstrated – he was able to crack the prisoner’s resolve and a wealth of information flowed:

The prisoner was the equivalent of a colonel in the enemy forces, which meant that he had 1000 elves under his charge. (A half regiment.) His knowledge of the leadership was going to prove very useful for us. Unlike other dark elves we questioned, this prisoner was a true believer. There would be no reasoning with him and his knowledge was fought for.

At the sight of the ritual, we had been too late to stop the elves commander from going through the portal with 2,500 battle-hardened elvish troops. They were sent to the other side of the river near the castle where the Empress is currently going.

The other maia is alive and unhurt. He’s heading to a boat to cross the water and meet up with the other troops at the mouth of the river.

Speaking of the other troops: they have over 20,000 elvish troops (10 regiments, for those doing the math at home) and about a half a million orcish troops. The bulk of the orcs are still on this side of the river, bearing down on the water and the empress’s forces.

But while that is awful, that’s nothing compared to the leadership: 400 years ago their Supreme Leader went from being one of their greatest mages to someone indescribably powerful and much more ruthless and cruel. They don’t know what changed him, but they do know that their leader may be strong enough for them to conquer the West and take their rightful lands back from those that have stolen their birthright. The supreme leader has a trusted lieutenant: one of the greatest magic users that the elves have ever had. (And a magic user that specializes in spells that convince others and allow him to learn things that he would have no way of knowing.) The two leaders of the armies are always seen masked and they are always wearing grey/green robes.

Nwalme wracked his brain trying to think of anything that might have happened four hundred years ago that might have factored in or even caused the supreme leader to change, but there had been no sign of it in the west.

The enemies’ plan (at least as known by an underling like the prisoner) are to make their way west and reclaim their rightful inheritance, that had been denied them. They’ll cut off supplies, attack the Empress’ leadership, and coordinate with another attack battalion. Once the forces of the west have been defeated, they’ll give the mountains to the orcs — they so rightly deserve these for what they’ve endured — and then the dark elves will continue on to Valinor and their birthright.

Nwalme was able to cast telepathy upon the prisoner after he had been broken and ‘saw’ the elf’s memories: the supreme leader’s aura was off; it just wasn’t quite elvish. We’re thinking that this might be Sauron. The army leaders are definitely Nazghul.

At this point, Nwalme puts the prisoner to sleep and shared this information with the rest of the party. Once he’s rested from the spells he cast during the interrogation, he tries to reach out to the Empress, even though it is not the pre-arranged time. He fails, but feels a presence watching and paying attention to his attempts to communicate with the empress.

The party rode for the river, expecting hell to rain down upon them. They got to the river, they met up with the hobbits we left there. They shared that something must have happened at the mouth of the river, because there haven’t been any patrols since we left.

We know that elven forces are being sent from the Southern Greenwood as well as the Iron Mountains, but we’re not sure if the Empress was able to muster enough troops to be able to counter the dark elf forces in such a short time — the last three days.

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One down...
...one to go

In the heat of battle…

Bo shoots at the wizard and hits. The maia is hurting, but maintains consciousness.
Araphor attacks and also hits.
Guthwyn attacks and hits the maia in the head.
Bad guy on cart disappeared into the cart.
Guard 1 near maia goes to swing at the maia, hit for a small amount of damage.
Guard 2 (under Bo’s direction) goes for the cart and attacks one of the bad guys still out; hits.
Blue wizard casts a spell, attempting to blow everyone away from her. [Note, last time the maia was “he” but someone got confused… Araphor, Guthwyn, and Guard 1 successfully stay alert and on their horses, but all move a few yards away and take some concussion damage. The maia moves away with great speed, attempting to escape.
E5 misses the guard.
E6 runs toward Bo.

Bo shoots E6 with a called shot to the vitals. E6 is hurt but not down.
Araphor’s superior riding skills allow him to overtake and attack and hit the maia again for significant damage.
Guthwyn’s even better riding skills also allow her to overtake the maia most handily. She swings again at the maia’s head, connecting resoundly.
The bad guy inside the cart emerges and heads toward Bo. Bo yells for help.
Guard 1 moves toward Bo.
Guard 2 disengages from the guy he was fighting (getting hit in the process) and moves toward E6 and attacks, hitting him.
Blue wizard cast another spell. A blue light surrounds Guthwyn and Araphor.
E5 tries to jump off the wagon but stumbles and falls, catching himself well enough to stand but do nothing else.
E6 disengages from Guard 2; Guard 2 swings and hit, doing decent damage.
E6 hits Bo, who tries but doesn’t dodge. [NOTE FOR JP: PICK SOME ARMOR! Why do you have only PD 1?! After this we assumed chain mail, PD 3 and DR 4]

Bo fast draws his short sword and attacks E6 – hitting VERY well! (critical success, double damage, rolled 11 – end result 27 pts of damage). E6 falls, unconscious or dead.
Araphor realizes his horse is moving very slowly; it feels as if he’s moving through jello honey. bq). [Chris: When did we come up against a Gelatinous Cube? Wrong world! ]
Araphor takes a moment to consider using a spell rather than an attack.
Guthwyn swings, but the maia dodges.
The spare elf dove under Guard 1’s horse in a beautiful acrobatic move, attacking as he moves — but does no significant damage.
Guard 1 attacks E5 and hits.
Guard 2 attacks and hits the spare elf, but not damage gets through.
Blue wizard appears to have healed herself.
E5 attacks Guard 1, who blocks.

Bo runs to attack the spare elf with his sword, but the elf acrobatically dodges.
Araphor casts Dehydrate on the blue wizard.
Guthwyn swings again and hits.
Spare elf swings at Bo, who parries.
Guard 1 attacks E5 and hits but no damage gets through.
Guard 2 attacks the spare elf, who attempts an acrobatic dodge but fails, taking significant damage and falling unconscious.
Blue Wizard does something but we don’t know what.
E5 attacks Guard 1, who dodges.

Bo runs to stab E5 and he falls.
Blue wizard’s spell goes off. The honey-air dissipates, but the blue wizard seems to have a blurry dome around her.
Araphor continues his spell for a second round.
Guthwyn tries to stab through the dome but despite a good attempt, cannot connect.
Guards 1 and 2 move toward the maia.

Araphor’s Dehydrate goes off — the spell on the water wizard does significant damage, stunning and confusing her as well as ruining her spell.
Bo sheaths his sword and prepares his bow.
Araphor begins casting another Dehydration.
Guthwyn directs Arod to rear kick the maia, which disrupts the shield but doesn’t hurt the maia.
Guard 1 hits the maia.
Guard 2 moves closer and begins to pull his bow out.
Blue wizard is recovering and has no action.

Bo moves closer.
Araphor continues casting.
Guthwyn turns Arod and stabs the maia, aiming for the head (and therefore the brain) – for significant damage, knocking her out.

Araphor’s spell does a bit more damage.

Guthwyn provides the killing blow on the unconscious maia, but we don’t know what this sets in motion…

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