The party had their first opportunity NOT to be railroaded here - lots of options and I left it open ended on how they could achieve them - many different ways to get to their goals. There was a good hour plus in real time during the start of the meeting where they talked and discussed and tried to come up with as many working plans as they could to achieve their goals. I also remember actually marching time in game forward at the same pace as their discussions - so if they wanted to assault the K'Tharkian Kobold clan during day light hours - they were wasting valuable time.
They did eventually coalesce which made me much happier - and at the end of the meeting - we had acquired a sizable force of heroes to help us in our crusade against Kuluk (oh...and getting treasure...and exacting petty revenge against the slaver Thadar who had engineered their capture).
Write up follows:
The group huddled behind the berm of mounded hay bales and stretched skins that made up the targeting area of the K'Tharkian Homewarren training grounds, safely out of sight of the main guard tower as well as the rest of the encampment. It was here that we went back and forth talking about what our plans were and are – defining 3 main objectives: "Rescue" Thadar (the slaver), Attempt to take out Kuluk, and recover what riches and treasures the kobold's have to pay off the Drywood clan as well as Lord Walter.
It was the execution of these plans that had the group at odds with one another.
There was a strong but non-unanimous push to enter the caverns and try to find a back door to Kuluk’s – but there was concern over wasting daylight, capture, detection, and a departure from our main goal which is/was to get the slaver. The clock kept moving forward and the party had to act now and soon.
In the glare of the mid day sun, Zoltan and Asgirda crept up the side of the encampment, following the ramp of stone till they were able to achieve entrance to the caves. Once there, they began to scout, trusting to the shadows and relying on Asgirda's ability to see in the dark – counting off paces to themselves to keep track of where they are and where to go. There were arguing miners, abandoned carts, strange trilling in the dark, and working kobolds. It was like a labyrinth in there, but mapable for the duo to a point. Feeling that they had pushed their luck, the bard and the bugbear made their way back to the party.
Meanwhile, while the two of them were inside, the group watched a lone youthful kobold come out of the colorful tent, walk to the cistern, get two buckets of water, take them to the central guard tower (knocking 6 times composed of three groups of two) and then go off to the larger building and get a drag skin filled with food – also eventually depositing it to the guards.
Karis was getting antsy and wanted to storm the tower now – but there was worry since we hadn't heard from Zoltan and Asgirda yet. He waited and the two of them returned, sharing with the party what they had learned. Brief and angry discussion followed and then it was decided – go to caves and find way to Kuluk.
While trying to make it to caves, Detheron slipped and fell, attracting the attention of the tower – which we were dismayed to find out had fire beetles like Ringo – except full sized adults and capable of supporting a kobold warrior in flight. At the last moment when the kobold guard and beetle were very close, the druid bounded to his feet and Puck cast a distraction spell which turned the guard's attention away. We waited just inside the entrance, baited breath, but we had not been discovered and the guard and beetle went back to the tower.
The mine cave. We went in and went up to center split towards the strange trilling sound. Floor was covered with small bones and while walking through, a fleshy length of tube shot out of the darkness and slapped into the side of Karis' head. He was dragged across the room and the party leapt to his aid. Flames did not seem to affect the tongue/tube, and weapons were struck against it and held fast as Asgirda and Gwyn lost their club and scimitar.
While dragging Karis back who was getting hurt by the strange tongue, a giant spider dropped out of the dark and launched itself at the dwarf, biting him and causing him to fight for his life. Stones were thrown, the tongue was cut, and a monstrous looking beetle lumbered out of the darkness and tried to assault the group. Flarg and Karis did first line battle while others helped and more spiders came at the cave fisher's call. Rest of the battle was furious and Ringo suffered a poisonous bite from the spider but a successful melee finished things up.
It was decided to heal up quickly and then move on before others came to discover the strange noises – we went to the right, relying on Gwyn's skills to guide us in the direction of Kuluk's home. There was a storage area where we took bars, picks, and two small casks of lubricating oil (I sense "fire" coming up at some point here), and then we stumbled on a half dozen sleeping kobolds who were supposed to be mining but were sleeping instead. There was a brutal slaying of the somnolent monsters and Karis looted their pockets while Zoltan set up a simple alarm made of rope and bars to warn us if any follow.
The mine split – one way leading to a roped off area with signs showing dead bodies and teeth and decapitated heads – and the other way was clear. We decided to go to the clear side. Passed a small area with a visible iron vein on the wall and came to another storage area near a hole in the ground over 12' in diameter – numerous rope ladders lashed together and going down into the darkness. Party decided to go down, even though it would take us towards Kuluk but would place us "under" his ridge line.
There was a long rough hewn corridor that eventually ended in some sort of larder filled with foodstuffs, water, and survival gear. From there we kept going, the feel of fresh air getting stronger, till we saw both the exit OUT to the main encampment as well as a room where they paddock the fire beetles, half a dozen of the animals there and a dozen catering kobolds at least.
We retreated back to the rope ladder and rethought of our trip – feeling that we missed something.
We went to the corridor that was roped off and had warning signs, sending Zoltan and Asgirda down to scout it out. There was a strange room with a scum lined green tinged pool and an oddly indented rocky niche on the opposite side. Attempts to go past the pool had some strange ooze crawl out of the water towards whoever it was, forcing them to retreat. Rest of the group was brought up and we discussed plans. It was discovered by Detheron and Zoltan that fire would keep the greenish ooze at bay, allowing both of them the get to the rocky area, the dwarf Gwyn brought along.
Wall was smooth and featureless – not at all natural. No doors, but it was made by something strange. Puck's divination uncovered that there was a faint dweomer of magic in the area, leading the party to deduce it was made magically. Meanwhile Gwyn used the auger we had found and slowly drilled a hole in it, eventually seeing a room lit, some sort of chains or some such on the wall, and a filthy smell coming from within.
Decided to break it down so Flarg and Karis went to town on the wall – chipping and picking it down while Detheron kept the ooze at bay – until the wall was eventually burst open and the party was able to enter. The stonework here was nothing like the rest of the mine – clean, smooth, well crafted floors, walls, and ceilings. A few tables, manacles, hooks, knife cases, braziers, torture devices, old dead bodies, and two prisoners were here.
One was a one eyed poxed elf in a cage too small from him, his legs covered in sores and sticking out through the bars. The other was an odd 3' tall brown gnomelike figure in fingerlocks hanging from the hooks on chains. There was a door on the other side of the room where Flarg went to stand guard – but it was closed and locked.
Detheron administered healing on the very wounded two while they were freed of their bonds and given water and gently questioned. Elf was Thistle Aesirson, a devout follower of Thor who was following a vision to the Dusty Mountains where he was captured by kobolds and ogres about 2 months ago and brought here where he has been abused and tortured by Kuluk. The other, Gureroddon, called himself a pecs (pronounced: PESH) and said that his clan had been slaughtered by orcs, he was the last, and had been sold to Kuluk a year ago – kept here as a prisoner.
Thistle kept asking for a hammer, any hammer, and Flarg gave him his while Zoltan went to the door and tried to open it (failing it – the lock was pretty good). Once with a hammer in his hand, he was able to pray to his god, having his pox removed and healing some of the damage on his wounded legs. He is still one eyed and no amount of magical healing will cure the internal injuries and the deep scarring he has suffered to his soul. He returned the warhammer and Zoltan gave the priest a smaller mining hammer in return.
Gureroddon was missing his left ear and part of his cheek but was more than willing to go with the party to help them defeat Kuluk. He offered to help with the door Zoltan was having trouble with by plunging his hand into the stone floor and making the rest of the rock peel away as if water from the hinges and lock. This also explained the featureless wall that the party broke through – as Kuluk often has the pecs do this when he seeks to walk through.
In game time it is between 5:30 and 5:45 and there is an hour or so until sunset and we figure the K'Tharkian's will be awake – so if there was ever any time to assault Kuluk – it has to be soon and now. Gureroddon assured us that the doors eventually lead to Kuluk's home – there is a meeting room, some chamber with a strange demon bear, and then a corridor leading to Kuluk's house.
So the party girded itself and made ready to march on to do battle with the K'Tharkian chief – our group now numbering 11:
Karis (half ogre knight)
Detheron (human druid)
Puck (human sorcerer)
Gwynwyver (dwarven fighter)
Zoltan (human thief bard)
Ringo (sub adult fire beetle)
Asgirda (bugbear scout and archer)
Flarg (bugbear brawler)
Thistle (elven cleric to Thor)
Gureroddon (pecs fighter)
That was about where we ended it. We know time is against us now and we don't feel comfortable going all the way back through the kobold mines and try to sneak out of camp. So far we still have the advantage of surprise and we are hoping to keep pressing forward and taking advantage of it.