Monday, 3 April 2017

The Adventurer's Journal #2

Conquering The Gauntlet

Greengrass, 1490 DR (The Year of the Star Walker's Return)

With a third place win securing the Thunder Company an early headstart in the Gauntlet, Kal pressed Mapp Dunnfoot for more information about the next challenge, the halfling promoter sliding him a slip of paper with details of Tuns of Fun, giving the party time to prepare and select the most appropriate champion. With a few hours to spare, Dragon, Brynn, River and Kal ventured out of the Farmer's Gate to the hamlets and farmsteads beyond Daggerford, in the hopes of tracking down the Worgs that had been harassing local farmers. Meanwhile, Abel and Gomak explored the Marketplace, until a half-dozen burly street thug-types confonted them, requesting they join their master - The Snail - for a brief meeting.

Happening upon a quiet farmstead in their explorations, Brynn, Dragon, Kal and River, ventured inside, discovering a scene reminiscent of a slaughterhouse. Seemingly, someone had attempted to run out of the front door, but something big grabbed them by the scalp, tearing gobbets of hair and flesh, dragging them back through the house - leaving a trail of blood - before launching them bodily through the window. Exploring the house, a small noise alerted the group they were not alone, a small boy - named Deggin - had hidden in a linen cupboard for two days. Shielding the little boy from the sight of the carnage, they took him away, leaving him with a neighbour - Argyn Brightshield - whose fortified farmhouse seemed proof against Worg attacks, until Daggerford's priest of Lathander could take the boy in. Determined to return at full strength, the team headed back to town, noticing they were being followed by three large, furred beings that stalked through the long grass, scaring them off temporarily with bowfire.

Meanwhile, Gomak and Abel were brought into the River Shining's private dining room, where the Snail made them an offer, drop out of the Gauntlet in the fourth round and take a share of the Snail's betting proceeds, or suffer broken hands and feet under the care of his goons. Gomak and Abel refused, and found themselves swiftly attacked by the Snail's thugs, Abel's watch-horn bringing aid in the form of Glorindel, the wizard of the Red Veil Company, who helped bring down one of the Snail's henchmen. Unfortunately, with greater numbers, the henchmen won out, knocking Abel out and bringing Gomak to his knees. Realising he had little chance for success, Gomak feigned unconsciousness, leaving Glorindel to take a beating, before taking an opportunity to escape, Abel over his shoulder, kicking one of the Snail's thugs through the tavern door before racing to the docks to hide. With the two safely out of the River Shining, Glorindel escaped separately with the aid of a Misty Step spell.

After losing their pursuers, Abel and Gomak headed to the Silver Flood Tavern in the hopes of finding the Red Veil Company or at least finding a safe haven, discovering a badly-beaten Glorindel having his wounds tended by the barman. Glorindel and the barman - named Tam - grilled the pair on the Snail's offer and threats, revealing that were agents of the Harpers, in Daggerford to investigate the Zhentarim's plans for the region and their connection to the Town's Duchess and ruling Council of Guilds, and - if possible - send them packing. Relieved to discover their cover hadn't been broken, Tam and Glorindel suggested Abel and Gomak rest for a while in a spare room before the next Gauntlet event. 

A few hours later, the rest of the party arrived back in Daggerford, finding themselves being followed by a burly ex-mercenary, one that Kal recognised from the Snail's retinue. Ambushing their stalker, the group knocked him unconscious, stealing his gold tooth, his coinpurse and a written order for the stalker to follow the Thunder Company and see who they spoke with, signed by "S". Sure they didn't have a second stalker, the team headed to the Silver Flood, eventually convincing Tam that they didn't pose a threat to Abel and Gomak. Over a drink, the party traded information, before setting out to take on the next Gauntlet challenge.

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Speaking with Mapp Dunnfoot at the Happy Cow Tavern, Kal discovered that the promoter had two freshly broken fingers, and seemed terrified. Pressing the halfling for more information, Kal discovered that the Snail's thugs had forced him to rig the matches for the Thunder Company, the Swamp Snakes - the Zhentarim's representatives - and the Red Veil Company, placing the Thunder Company against the War Wruaiths - a battle-hardened group of mercenaries - for the second challenge. Determined to win regardless, the party chose Abel to represent them. After trading insults with her opponent, Mang - a Mulan with a tattooed, shaved head and an attitude problem - , the contest began, each contestant given a ten-foot pole and led onto a tun - a massive barrel - floating on the Delimbiyr River outside of town, where they were to try and oust their opponent from their barrel into the river. With a combination of sure footing, trickery and skill, Abel won handily, knocking Mang into the river and propelling her team to the next round, where Mapp had told them to bring a bow to the Marketplace - the party regretting committing their best archer to the previous challenge.

With a few hours until the next challenge, Brynn and Kal paid a visit to Mapp, trying to discover what lay in store for them, Mapp divulged that the challenge involved mechanical targets and an archery maze. The halfling suggested that the Thunder Company try and stay away, lest the Zhentarim think he was giving other contestants an unfair advantage, having already threatened him (and broken his fingers) to rig the competition in their favour. As they headed to the Marketplace for Let It Flow, Brynn and Kal went ahead of the halfling, but strange noises alerted them - alas, a little too late - that Mapp was in distress, discovering him in an alley on a pile of refuse, a vicious break in his leg as a reminder from the Snail. Brynn fixed up the promoter as best as he could - Mapp refusing to go to a temple, in case the Zhentarim decided to break a second leg to repeat the message - and helped him to the Marketplace just before Eight Bells to announce the next challenge.

Let It Flow turned out to be an archery challenge, with gnome-operated mechanical targets springing up from painted wooden walls and alcoves. Supplied with ten fowling blunt arrows each, the teams' nominated champions would gain a point for each "bandit" target struck, and lose a point for each "innocent" (elderly, children, townsfolk) target struck, points going to the top three contenders. Despite getting off to a good start, Dragon's struggle to differentiate between humans led him to strike a few "innocent" targets, and caught completely off-guard when traps - padded mechanical batons - around the archery maze knocked him off his feet. 

Meanwhile, River and Abel, watching from the roof of the River Shining Tavern, spotted a strange figure - overseeing the archery contest from a nearby balcony - drawing a dart from a black overcoat, and sprang into action. River pinned her throwing hand to a doorframe whilst Abel leapt at the would-be assassin, tackling her to the ground. After discovering the stranger's dart to be poisoned, Abel interrogated her, learning she had been sent by the Snail, before knocking the stranger unconscious and leaving her for the watch. Despite Abel and River preventing the assassin from harming Dragon, their ranger only managed to secure a paltry three points, harming the Thunder Company's standing on the Gauntlet scoreboard.

With the day's final challenge taking place at Twelve Bells (Midnight) at Farmer's Gate, some of the party took the opportunity for a little rest, but Brynn hoped to do a better job of fixing Mapp's leg, bringing Gomak and seeking Mapp out at the Happy Cow, and finding the woebegotten halfling sandwiched at a table between two of the Snail's thugs, Gomak recognising one as the same thug he'd kicked through the River Shining's door earlier that day. A fight brewing, the Hardcheeses told Gomak and Daelon - the bruised door-prone bruiser - to take it outside. Gomak made short work of Daelon, savagely beating the thug now he didn't have the advantage of superior numbers. While Daelon's companion dragged his henchman's unconscious body away, Gomak and Brynn saw to Mapp, trying to re-set the halfling's broken leg, before escorting him to the next challenge.

Nominating Kal for the Wayward Home contest, the party learned that contestants would be blindfolded and made to navigate a series of devious and painful traps and hazards, including false steps, a road of broken glass, pitfalls and finally a heavily-trapped door, all whilst carrying a full flagon of wine. Kal skilfully navigated most of the traps - spurred on by advice from the spectators - without hurting himself too much, before taking a charge at the door at the end of the course, being blasted by fire, spring-loaded darts and a deep drop on the other side, landing face-first on hard cobbles, but - to the shock and awe of the crowd - managing not to spill a drop of his flagon. With their qualifying place in the rest of the Gauntlet secured, the party took the opportunity to take a decent night's sleep at the Silver Flood Inn, before the next day's challenge 

1 Mirtul, 1490 DR (The Year of the Star Walker's Return)

The next day, over breakfast, the Thunder Company discussed what they knew so far, Abel revealing the Harper presence in town, before making plans for the day. After leaving the inn, the party headed to the marketplace for the morning's first challenge, finding Mapp strangely untalkative, going out of his way to avoid them. After nominating Gomak for The Runaway Beers, a challenge which would see contestants chasing, catching and drinking the contents of magically-animated flagons of beer, points being awarded to the three most successful contestants, the party settled down to watch the challenge unfold. Gomak breezed through the challenge, smashing barrels, crates and the entire course in his hunt for animated flagons, pouring the contents of each into an open barrel, which he downed in the last handful of seconds of the challenge, passing out before he could be declared the winner by a large margin.

After rousing Gomak, the party headed to the Farmer's Gate for the final solo challenge, Chasing the Brown Dragon, where the top ten teams would nominate their remaining contestant. These contestants then drew straws to discover who would be the starting "Brown Dragon", hefting (or draggin', geddit???) a small (but weighty) keg of beer to the finish line with a ten foot headstart, avoiding being tackled by the other contestants. Brynn drew the short straw and, as the race began, used magic to fling a nearby door open, leading the contestants on a chase through washhouses, back alleys and side streets, losing them and managing to stroll peacefully most of the way to the finish line, a hundred feet between him and his nearest competitor, edging the Thunder Company to first place in the competition, and a guaranteed place in the three-way final, The Grand Melee, against the Red Veil Company and the Zhentarim team, The Swamp Snakes.

After preparing themselves, the party headed to the marketplace, and were led into position. As Mapp began to announce the final event, River, followed shortly after by the rest of the group, noticed something shifting in the clouds, a vast Cloud Castle sailing the skies on an bank of solid cloud-matter, and two figures - presumably Giants, to be visible at such a height - shoving a boulder over the edge of the castle, sending it hurtling toward Daggerford's marketplace, on a collision course with the party and dozens of spectators...

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