The party has learned organically the situation in Darkenwoods/Helmian Lands and what some of the possible impediments would be along the way. Obviously they haven't even come close to arriving at the destination yet (3 days more travel?) but it gives a sort of frame on what might be waiting for them at the end of the day.
At this point we are "done" for '15 and will have our end of year dinner and one-shot game and should return either 1st or 2nd week Jan.
Write up follows
We rested at the Crossroads and met up with our new hires in the morning. Money was exchanged, packages put in order, and we set off towards the Western Wharf to talk to Bargemaster Athers. There are two rivermen who control most of the trade and barge traffic from the Helmian Lands and we had been informed that Athers was the better and more honest of the two.
We discussed the trip, our quarters on the barge, the length of time, and what cargo we were bringing (foodstuffs and ourselves). A fee was paid and we were informed that it would be 4 days to Last Town (as it’s referred to inside Darkenwoods) and the Keep there that is called Riverwatch. Meanwhile we then went to the Fartooth family (Dugan, our half-orcish linkboy) who life in the slum section of Brewersbridge nicknamed “Orc-town”.
There were 20+ of us armed and armored so although we saw a number of gang and guild signs, no one was daring to accost us at this time. We came to Fartooth’s home and met with his mom who was flabbergasted when she found out we were heading to Darkenwoods. She informed us that she was lucky enough to get out of there 12 years after the fiasco and internal fighting had gone on, the press gangs, taxes, and the heavy hand of the Wizard-Lord on the populace. We got a sinking feeling.
Coupled with some other strange rumors we had heard last night and earlier at the barges (the lord of Riverwatch is actually a thug, the people of the Helmian lands hate cats, wizardry and elves and looked on with terrible distrust) and we had a more disquieting idea of what was ahead of us. Dugan’s mom forbade him to go and Dugan said that he had made his mark and had to go. He left with us, but heartbroken and hurt – unsure of what was going to happen to him after this was all over. We assured him it would be fine and we’d look out for him. But when this was done, he should take what coins we were going to pay him and him and his mom (and brothers/sisters) should leave Orc-town / Brewersbridge and maybe move north to Shakun.
We returned to the river, boarded the barge, made out acquaintances with Captain Onvalay and set off. The weather held as the barge slowly poled its way upriver. There were no roads here, no trails, paths, or drags. The land on either side of the wide wide river was swampy and grassy, with little sign of humanoid habitation. Steiner warned us about lizardmen, but we didn’t see any. The only other people on the barge were a 3 count of merchants who wanted to arrange a shipment of stones directly from Last Town and try to save the 30% markup fee that would be gotten by dealing with a buyer in Brewersbridge.
As the days passed the western horizon became greener and deeper eventually side to side with forested trees. It wasn’t a defined line, just a slow growing and densening of the woods until we found ourselves in the “Darkenwoods” itself.
And it wasn’t dark, it wasn’t evil or foreboding or terrible. It was like any other gathering of trees, except there were miles and miles of them. Closer to the river were willows and cypress and cedar, further away we could see oak, elm, birch.
On Deathmonth the 26th, amidst the cold wind and sluggish current, our barge poled its way into the shallows and docked at the small wharf set up here at what seemed to be a working town set in the mud of the Black Water River of a dozen large buildings or so and an even larger three story stone keep. This was not a keep designed to show people your riches, it was a keep designed to defend and withstand.
We asked where to go and were told that we could get a drink and maybe a room at the tavern. Name? Vongard’s Tavern – west of the keep. We allowed the merchants to go and talk to Sir Balderi, the lord of Last Town and Warden of RIverwatch, hoping that they would put him in a good mood so he might be willing to talk to us.
We went to Vongards and got a table, rented the 4 rooms he had to spare, spoke about the amenities here (not much, warehouses, sawmill, carpenters, corger, wheelwrights, longshoremen, smithy) and pumped him subtly for information about Wizard-Lord Erazmus and the land abouts. Long and short, no one was going to let us go further west of here – Last Town was the last stop leaving the Helmian Lands and the furthest everyone gets when entering the Helmian Lands – but we were welcome to try and get Sir Balderi to give us a shot.
The merchants came back and were happy to have made a deal (10-15% in “fees” to Sir Balderi but still a profit over what they expected), telling us that the Lord of Riverwatch was in a good mood and even invited the 3 merchants to stay at his keep as guests and maybe play cards tonight. Knowing that there was a distrust of elves (we hadn’t seen any at all and had been warned, but did spot a shirtless dwarf) and the big dislike of mages, we left the people going to Riverwatch to be: Flimflam, Tranis, Steiner, and Avidius – with everyone else staying at Vongards for now.
Riverwatch was not only stout and sturdy from the outside and up close, but there were ballistae, a catapult, and crossbow wielding soldiers walking the parapets. The guards at the portcullis stopped us; checked to see if we were allowed in, and asked to make sure we left weapons here (we left them at the inn). There was a long corridor with slits and murder holes that would stop any assaulting force, another door that had to be unlocked from within, and then we found ourselves in a dining room.
From here it was a third set of doors before we could enter the central or meeting hall of the keep and meet Sir Balderi. There was a table set up here, a few guards, documents and coins, and what we assumed to be Sir Balderi. Late 40’s/early 50’s, black hair greying, thickening middle, and a presence about him that just oozed command and a shrewd mind.
As it was displayed when in a short time he poked holes in our cover of wanting to go “moose hunting” and looking for a permit. He knew of our trip up, our armament, and a rough estimation of who we are and might be. This was then a change on our part where we instead were looking at bigger game and it was revealed that there were still some Giant Cats wandering the land – but much rarer than they used to be. Giant – like 17’ at the shoulder and 30’ long, ¾ ton Giant Cats. He showed us a claw, 23” long. He would offer us a permit to hunt one down and that would give us passage beyond Last Town (for a price).
We also heard of something else, Risenwald, Giants in the Woods, that were north of here closer to Stormbringer Peak if we were feeling ambitious, but that was most likely a fool’s errand. So we paid the 20 crowns for the hunting permit, and even plunked down an additional 10 crowns to have one of his barges going upriver past Midway’s Crossing and onward to Varohelm ferry us up that way (keeping us out of the land, locals, questions, and other lords/people of Darkenwoods who might give us a problem).