War has erupted, and despite the frontlines being far away from our setting, the small city of Talador, “The stronghold of the South”, it is changing life everywhere.
The Seven Cities of Jurl, to the North East, is a rich and prosperous territory run by a powerful merchants guild, The Traders Alliance, with an armada that helps it trade all over the world.
The Kingdom of Hazeldore is a primarily agrarian society, with some large towns and small cities scattered throughout a rather vast land.
King Lor’el, monarch of Hazeldor, declared war on the Seven Cities months ago. Some say it was because the Kingdom is nearly bankrupt, in debt to the Seven Cities and the Trader’s Alliance, while others say it was because the Trader’s Alliance blocked a marriage between the King’s daughter and the son of a nearing island kingdom by buying the crown. Instead of marrying, the son has been sent to a monastery to spend his days praying and fasting. Some say the King has gone insane for not marrying off his only son and heir, while others say that the reality is that the King’s son is a hostage to be held as a guarantee that the Kingdom will not interfere in the now unfolding war, and there are even rumors that the son is illegitimate, and that the King is sparing the royal family the dishonor of having this come to light and whatever grave consequences might result.
The front lines of the war are far to the north of the small city of Talador, but “the stronghold of the South” had to send most of its men of age to go fight for the King.
The war has driven bands of goblins south toward The Amber Valley. Talador has received news of this, and being that most of the local warriors have gone to war the Amber Valley is vulnerable. To prevent any goblin attacks they sent a small party to scout the goblins and report back if they got too close or were obviously preparing to attack.
That was weeks ago and the scouts haven’t been heard from. Farms south of Ducat, a town to the north of Talador, have been attacked and there are reports of children having been kidnapped.
Talador is stretched thin and can’t spare more soldiers to go look after the scouts, but they need to know the whereabouts and intentions of the goblin horde. The solution the city seeks is to find adventurers for hire to go find the missing scouts and to report the location and situation of the goblins, and to hopefully find and return the missing children.
Countess Wesswind, the ruler of Talador in the name of King Lor’el, has gathered together a group of adventurers to find the missing children, the missing scouts, and to report back on the location and state of the goblin camp. She is deeply concerned for the wellbeing of her city and its people. She thinks this war has drained them of too many resources and left them too vulnerable. She fears the principalities of the South uniting, leaving them stuck between a newly formed enemy in the South and the goblin horde to the east. She explains that the amber basin produces most of the food for Hazeldore, and if it were lost, the Kingdom would fall, but since it is not near the front lines the King has taken away their ability to defend themselves in order to help the war effort in the North.
At the meeting representing the Talador elite is also Baron Ruble, an old man who has lost his son to the draft and his daughter is part of the missing scouts, and Timotis a rich merchant (and rumor has it a retired pirate who used to be called Captain Blackheart). Baron Ruble secretly tells the group about Blackheart’s past and makes it clear that the former pirate isn’t trusted by the local elite even though he has the Countess’s confidence. He also mentions that Blackheart is known to have lots of connections in the Trader’s Alliance – whom they are now at war with.
The party starts by investigating Blackheart, as they heed the Baron’s advice. Blackheart runs a shop where he sells exotic and rare items of high value. The party goes in and snoops around the shop, some talk to him to keep him distracted, while Sarjenka sneaks in to the back of the shop and goes through his office and looks around, reading his paper work and looking for any kinf of a clue that he is colluding with the Trader’s Alliance. Sarjenka finds nothing and the party leaves without getting caught.
They decide that their next step should be to go visit the families of the missing children to see if there are any clues that they haven’t heard about yet.
They take a ship u the river to Ducat, the small town nearest to the region where the abductions took place. It seems as if the parents all have different opinions as to what happened. Many say that it must be the goblins, as the news of the approaching goblin horde is all anyone can talk about, while others say that it was not goblins, but large shaggy beasts, most likely gnolls from the nearby mountains. Finally they visit one farm where a blind old grandmother shows them a tuft of reddish-brown hair that was discovered after the abduction of her two grandchildren. She says that she also had a dream about the abduction and that she knows for sure that it wasn’t goblins or gnolls, but rather that it was a werewolf.
Prak Riti, a hunter class, is the group’s wildlife expert, and she is thoroughly confused. The small bands of gnolls that live in the mountains have never come down to bother humans, as they prefer to be left alone and hunt the animals in their own habitat. If they were hungry, then why were no farm animals ever killed or abducted? If it was the goblins, why only kidnap children and cause no other harm, and how can that explain the tuft of hair? Lastly, werewolves don’t kidnap children, they just feed. So many of the same questions apply to this hypothesis. After seeing the homes the children were abducted from and speaking to eyewitnesses the party is left with more questions than answers.
The party heads off to the mountains, in hopes of finding some clues as to the whereabouts of the goblin encampment or a gnoll lair. They make camp for the night right where the fields meet the forest. In the middle of the night the person on watch notices large figures coming out of the woods and heading toward the farms. The group is awakened and they run after these figures, which at times disappear in the tall fields of wheat. Sarjenka, the halfling witch, casts a spell to run faster and tries to catch up to the figures to see what they are, however she loses sight and suddenly finds herself face to face with a creature more than twice her size! It is a gnoll, a hairy 6 1/2 foot tall broad shouldered humanoid beast with a hyena face. It wears no armor and carries no weapons, but it has claws and a bite, and sees her as dinner! Sarjenka uses her spells to daze and stun the creature to keep it at bay while her allies come to her aid. By the time the group comes to her rescue another gnoll arrives. Their first fight as a group leaves many of them badly injured, but they were able to subdue/kill the gnolls. Prak Riti, the hunter, notices that these gnolls have brown/black hair, but the type of hair definitely matches the reddish-brown that they got from the grandmother on the farm.
A couple days later they are exploring the mountains and they see signs of many camp fires in the distance, which they assume to be the goblin horde. With the help of Prak Riti’s elven dog Oshie they find a gnoll lair in a cave. It is empty, but scattered about are a few dead bodies, of both gnolls and goblins. They continue to search the mountains and eventually stumble across two goblin scouts. They beat them up and interrogate them. They discover that the goblin camp hasn’t moved in weeks because they are afraid of some monster in the woods that comes out at “second darkness”. One goblin describes it as a dragon, the other as a giant, and the two argue about it until threatened by Crumble, the gnome alchemist, with a bomb, and by Drogheda’s, the half-orc barbarian, axe. The goblins claim to have never seen any scouts from Talador and to know nothing about missing children.
The next day the group visits the nearby small village of Covenant, which none of them had either heard of before, but noticed it was on their map. About 50 families or less live in this village, and they aren’t used to getting visitors. A man named Darius Fen’ar who appears to be one of the leaders explains that their village was founded around 100 years ago when the Kingdom of Hazeldor was at war with its neighbor to the south, the Kingdom of Hrath. After the war Hazeldor broke up the Kingdom of Hrath into a number of principalities to keep the former kingdom divided and no longer a threat. During the war many people from Hazeldor were fed up with war, greed, materialism, and the sins of mankind so they left and founded Covenant, an experiment in utopia. Covenant was attacked by the goblins a few weeks ago and the village suffered many casualties, and they really are not looking to get involved with the politics of missing scouts and the wars going on. The villagers are very nice, but it is very clear that they do not want the party to stick around for the night.
The party is suspicious and decides to return after nightfall. They notice everyone go into their homes and after some time only one cabin still has flickering candle light. Goggle Moggle sneaks up and peaks in through a window, just in time to see Darius Fen’ar bring a knife down into the heart of a small child! Suddenly darkness engulfs him, and the party, which is watching from afar sees a globe of magical darkness emerge and slowly expand outward. Sarjenka decides to run to the cabin and find out what is going on.
As Goggle Moggle runs away Sarjenka runs forward. As they cross paths the ground rumbles as if an earthquake is happening, and they feel a presence nearby, a presence of something gargantuan. Whatever it is it ignores them or doesn’t notice them and Sarjenka finds her way in the dark to the cabin and goes inside. Darius and Sarjenka end up grappling and Sarjenka is able to grab the strange symbol on a necklace around his neck that she had noticed earlier, and then she ran away.
The party runs away from the village and and finally makes it outside of the magical darkness. They come across a small encampment, with the dead bodies of what appears to be the scouts they are looking for, however not all the scouts are accounted for. There are no obvious signs of death, but their bones have been crushed.
The party leaves and decides to scope out the goblin camp. Prak convinces a little birdie to scout the camp, and it reports one person in a cage in the middle of the camp. The come up with a plan to draw attention to the opposite side of the camp they are one while Goggle Moggle, the party’s rogue, sneaks into the camp and sets the prisoner free. The prisoner is one of the scouts, Chlamydia a halfling rogue who ends up joining the party.
He explains that the scouts had found the goblin horde but no signs of the missing children and they came across Covenant and sought shelter. The villagers had a meeting where a debate raged on about whether or not help the scouts and seek help from Talador, with many taking a hardline no. They had just been attacked by goblin scouts a few days before and were totally caught off guard and many were killed. The scouts explained that Talador wouldn’t help unless Covenant joined the kingdom, and one of the townsfolk. Just then the bell was rung, a sign that the goblins had returned. A man named Humbert O’Pan a middle aged man with redish-brown hair who had lost a son in the goblin raid spoke up. He said that they didn’t need the help of outsiders and that they had their own way. He then took a knife and from behind slit the throat of his last remaining son, who was but a teenager. He spoke some words and then everyone and everything was enveloped in darkness. Between the darkness and the impending raid the whole village broke into chaos, as the scouts tried to flee. Chlamydia reported feeling the ground shake and hearing something like thunder, but close to the ground. He got split from his group and just kept running. He was caught by goblins and has since been imprisoned here.
The party decides that all signs point to Covenant, so they plan to return the next day before nightfall. They sneak up on the village and Prak sends Oshie to sniff out the children and the rest of the group confronts the village leaders. Darius breaks down and explains that their village was founded by a group that wasn’t just separatists, but they were also a cult. They could summon what they call “the Guardian” for protection. Over a hundred years ago when the village was founded the King of Hazeldor sent troops to make the village surrender to him and the villagers refused to give up their sovereignty, and the Guardian kept the army at bay for weeks, and eventually the King gave up, and since then Covenant has been a peaceful little utopia. That is until the goblins attacked and killed many of their family members. They all panicked, they had never needed to learn how to defend themselves and their isolation made it so they never made enemies. But the war drive the goblins in their direction. Many felt that the Kingdom of Hazeldor was to blame, as it started the war which drove the goblins to them. They felt that their people were paying the price for another people’s ways. A couple of families had still remembered “the old ways”, or at least some of it. Humbert O’Pan convinced many of them that they could summon this “Guardian” for protection. However, the Guardian required a sacrifice each time he was summoned. When the scouts visited and the village was attacked Humbert took the life of his oldest son to summon the Guardian. Since then they decided that none of their own should pay the price. Humbert used “the old ways” to get the power to transform into a gnoll and control the other gnolls, using them to help him gather children from the farms of Hazeldore, children they would use to summon the Guardian every night for protection so they would never be caught vulnerable.
Humbert returns, with a new batch of children, and a fight ensues. After Humbert is killed they find all the children and bring them all back to Talador, after Darius and the other adults promise to never use this black magic again.