Soundtrack: Final Fantasy II Opening Theme
Since the end of the Demon War, the peoples of the west have lived in relative peace, free from fear of the Imperium Tenebrous. An age of prosperity and exploration that has lasted two hundred years...Has come to an end.
Striking from the ashes of their old empire, the monsters of the Imperium have already overwhelmed the frontier kingdom of Ishtan, and the Dwarves in the Lutgar Mountains have devolved into civil war, one faction seeking to join forces with the new Imperium.
Meanwhile, another frontier republic called Rabarac prepares for war. But old alliances have been forgotten, and only the Templar of Alra have responded to the call to arms, leaving Rabarac teetering on the brink of destruction.
In desperation, the Rabaraci Vanguard begins to hire mercenaries at exorbitant prices to come from distant lands to defend their territory. The mercenaries soon coming pouring in, and in response the Imperium begins to court the favor of short, nomadic, canine humanoids called Kobolds to ambush caravans en route to Rabarac and pick off the mercenaries before they can be organized and deployed.
Facing down a horde of monstrosities they cannot hope to contend with and now cut off from the support of the mighty nations of the west, Rabarac's situation has become even more desperate than before. In the days before the inevitable invasion, the people can do naught but pray for a miracle.
An arrow thudded into the side of the caravan as it lumbered through the Rabaraci desert towards the town of Lusak. Ajeta, the half-orc exile, grabbed his greataxe and leaped off the caravan, alert and ready. To the north he could see two Kobolds with slings and a third with a bow. Letting out a furious howl of barbaric rage, he rushed towards the nearest Kobold and cleaved him neatly in two while the others pelted him with stones.
Mortis, the human fighter Ajeta had saved during the pillaging forces of Kingdom Telmar as they sacked Ishtar, drew his weapons and rushed the Kobolds to the south, who pelted him with stones, cutting a deep gash in his forehead as he ran towards them. The Kobolds drew their daggers and began climbing atop Mortis, stabbing their weapons in the chinks in his armor. Mortis swatted one of them away with his longsword, stabbed another, and then succumbed to his wounds.
Meanwhile, Ajeta had cleaved through the other two Kobolds and glanced to see his comrade on the other side of the caravan going down. Ajeta glowered at the Kobolds and rushed them. They saw their dead comrades and one immediately fled, while the other was cut down. Ajeta spotted the fleeing Kobold and chased after it. Panicked, the Kobold turned around and attempted to stab his dagger into Ajeta's leg, but Ajeta parried the blow and brought his axe down on the Kobold's head.
At this point, the caravaneer climbed out from underneath the wagon where he'd been hiding and checked to see if the Kobolds were gone. Ajeta nodded towards him as he loaded Mortis's unconscious form in to the wagon, and the caravaneer set the wagon moving towards Lusak again.
It wasn't long before the ten-foot stone wall surrounding Lusak came into view. When they arrived, they found the town to be made up of sandswept sandstone buildings covered in sand with sand floors. Sand, it seems, was the town's biggest major export. Regardless, Ajeta looked around and found that the food prices were unusually high due to the Kobold's crippling of local trade. Few caravans were even willing to make the journey to Lusak anymore, as the prices of hiring mercenaries to guard the caravans now outweighed the profits to be had by selling there. Lusak was dying. So, too, was Mortis, so Ajeta hauled him out of the caravan and asked for a cleric, and found that the local cleric worked with the town guard, who conveniently were also the local employers of mercenaries.
Ajeta searched around and found a scrawny old man running a food stall with prices horribly inflated by the shortage. A weeks worth of trail rations was going at ten gold, nearly three times the normal price. "How about for three gold?" Ajeta "suggested" menacingly. The scrawny man called the guards. "No!" Ajeta said immediately, "I would never do that to you, that's completed inappropriate!" The guards glared at him with their hands on their swords, but didn't move to arrest him.
Ajeta is played by a kid named Eli, who also played the bugbear in How Not To Play D&D. Clearly, our other DM got him in the bad habit of intimidating his way into getting whatever he wanted. Since the intimidate check was successful, you could argue that, by the book, Ajeta should've gotten his way with the shopkeep, who would've been too scared to call the guards immediately, and may have only called them after Ajeta left. But this would've turned the whole thing into a huge mess that would've taken half the session to sort out, whereas simply having the man be scared enough to call the guards immediately sent the same message much faster.
In the guard headquarters, Ajeta found the captain of the guard, Nethmaethor. "I have two problems," he said, "First, I need work and I hear you're the guy with jobs for mercenaries around here. Second, my buddy is half-dead. Which do you think is more important?" Nethmaethor glanced at Ajeta suspiciously, but saw that his ally was perfectly human and so motioned his cleric over to heal the man. While the cleric went to work on Mortis, Nethmaethor asked "So, you've come to help with our Kobold problem, have you? We have a job for you, then. You see, while I have more than enough guards to keep this town safe, I cannot guard the entire desert. The only way to keep visiting caravans safe is to take the initiative and strike at the Kobold's camp. But we're not sure where it's located."
"Um..." Ajeta said, "That may be a problem. We're warriors, not trackers."
"We have a plan," Nethmaethor said, "The only problem is that I can't spare anyone to carry out the plan. I don't want to dispatch any guards until we've located the camp, for fear of a mass attack on the town."
I had to have some reason Nethmaethor couldn't solve the problem himself while still having the manpower to keep the PCs in line whilst in town. This is something of a problem when your quest ATM is head of the town guard. I think I handled it reasonably well, but I'm not totally satisfied with the solution.
"So what's the plan?," Ajeta asked.
"Simple," Nethmaethor said, "We load a wagon down with sand and send it out with a single guard disguised as a caravaneer through the area most heavily populated by Kobold bandits. When the caravan inevitably falls under attack, you capture one of the Kobolds and interrogate him for the location of the camp. Then report back here so that we can organize an attack on the camp."
Ajeta and Mortis quickly agreed to the attack in exchange for an advance payment of 25 gold each, and an additional 250 after the camp was destroyed. In about two hours, the caravan was filled with sand and the two of them set out with the disguised guard. About two hours after that, they were ambushed by Kobolds. Four archers and four swordsmen rushed the caravan. Two of the four archers snapped their bows while Mortis and Ajeta began tearing through the swordsmen. The battle was going incredibly poorly for the Kobolds, and Ajeta let out a roar to panic them into running away. Mortis was already grappling with one of them, and the guard bound him up.
Ajeta was easily able to get the location of the camp from the terrified Kobold, but something in the Kobold's eyes must have tugged at his heartstrings, because when they returned with their prisoner to Lusak, they decided they were going to take the Kobold under their wing. Through an interpreter who spoke Draconic, they found the Kobold's name was Vek, and they returned his weapon to him under instruction not to be stupid and try to use it on someone, as the guard would be watching him. The guard kept him in an unused bunk in the barracks while the bulk of them prepared for a night raid on the Kobold's camp.
Nethmaethor gathered the mercenaries and the guards in the war room of the HQ. "The Kobold camp is four hundred strong," Nethmaethor started. "There will be fifteen guards involved in the attack. Fifteen. Even given the average Kobold can't stand up to one of us in a fight, this is not going to be an even battle. Fortunately, we have the advantage of surprise, and fireballs." Ajeta gave a cheer. Nethmaethor sighed. "Unfortunately, these fireballs are scrolls, and the wizard who made them was something of a pacifist. He wrote them in such a way that they can't be used without a certain build-up time, so that the caster must be absolutely certain that he wants to use them before he can do so. I would love to find this wizard and punch him, but for now, we'll have to make do. Mercenaries, your job will be to protect the wizard while he prepares the scrolls. Now, hopefully we'll be able to take out the Kobold guards before they spot us, but we're not counting on it. We're leaving it up to the mercenaries to keep him safe, while the guards split into three groups of five at the north, west, and east points of the camp. The guards' job will be to distract the Kobolds and minimalize the number of survivors. Obviously, with these numbers, we won't get all of them, but we can still try.
"Any questions?" There was silence. "Then let's move out." On the way, Ajeta made some small talk with the wizard and became quick friends with him. The moon was just beginning to set when the raiding party reached the camp. Unfortunately, the guardsman sent to pick off the Kobold sentry failed miserably, and the sentry sounded an alarm.
A group of Kobold sentries rushed out to meet the attackers, a few skirmishes breaking out with the guard groups. One Kobold spearmen approached the mercenaries and was quickly stared down by Ajeta. The Kobold, knees shaking, held his ground as a dozen-odd of his allies rushed to aid him. They were led by Lieutenant Zak, who charged towards Ajeta and was smacked by his greataxe, sent flying five feet over the heads of his comrades, and hit the dirt behind them. He staggered to his feet and attacked glanced back towards the camp, contemplating retreat. Then he turned back towards Ajeta and charged. The second encounter was as short-lived as the first, and Zak did not get up a second time.
That's when one of the archers spotted the wizard in the back, yelling a warning in Draconic to his allies. The spearmen rushed to attack Ajeta while the archers began firing at the wizard. One scored a blow in the wizard's arm, heavily wounding him. He fell to one knee and Mortis rushed to defend him while Ajeta began carving through the Kobolds, picking up a half-dozen tiny nicks and scratches from the Kobold's shortswords.
After a minute or so of battle, the scrolls held by the wizard began to glow, and the Kobolds became desperate, rushing straight past Ajeta and Mortis, who cut all but two of them down. One spearman was barely able to slip past Mortis and thrust his spear towards the wizard...Who was healed by the guard cleric.
The spearman was immediately cut down by Mortis, and the wizard began his attack on the camp, fireballs streaming towards the individual caravans and bursting them into flame with military precision. Ajeta began chasing the archers as they fled, chasing them deep into the burning camp before he finally killed them both. By the time he looked around the camp, he realized something was wrong. Young Kobold pups screamed in terror and panic before succumbing to the flames. Women wailed over the burning corpses of their husbands. This was not a military camp. This was a fully inhabited Kobold village, which means that at least two hundred of its inhabitants were non-combatants.
It was a massacre.
And when the battle was over, Nethmaethor came and solemnly informed them that they'd be paid upon their return to Lusak. He also told them that anything in the camp was theirs to take, as part of payment for their services. Only two chests had survived the fire, both of them locked, but the burned wood easily giving way to Ajeta's fist. The first was a treasury, containing three hundred gold pieces. The second appeared to be the personal effects of one of the wealthier Kobolds, probably the leader.
It contained a ring of strength, three potions of cure light wounds, a tiny carving of a Kobold, an obsidian amulet on a leather string, and a letter.
The letter reads:
As I am sure you are well aware, representatives of the Imperium Tenebrous have been recruiting Kobold clans into their growing alliance, in the hopes that we might finally shatter the tyranny of Alra. They make a compelling case. For generations, we have been oppressed and rejected by the peoples of the west, and since the end of the Demon War we've been forced into a land all but completely wasted. And worse still, even among the easterners, the Kobolds are scum. And it's true, this could be our chance to change that forever.
But I write this letter to you urging you to come to the gathering of the Kobold tribes at the Imperium, not that you might persuade us to go to war, but that you might prevent it. It is true, without us to hamstring the Rabaraci forces, the Imperium invasion will likely fail. But what will the Imperium want with us once their conquest is complete? Are we really willing to send ourselves to the slaughter of war just to exchange Human oppressors for Drow? You are the only voice of peace left that the Kobold people will listen to, Alek. This war will destroy the Kobold people. The Templar will hunt us down and exterminate us to a man. The Kobold people must not be annihilated, known to history only as the meatshield of the Imperium. The only hope to continue our existence, even the meager existence we have, is if the Kobolds back out of this war.
I know I can trust you to make the right decision.