The biggest obstacle for wilderness adventuring is the party going off the rails on what you planned and expected. The party did not want to risk climbing up to Spire Keep Pass, thanks to the difficulty in the terrain and my own description of the place, so they referred to the map and made a different choice than what I expected and trailblazed over a differing ridge. This actually knocks a day plus off their travel and brought them to a place where they can sneak upon the K'Morat Warren still relatively unnoticed.
Write up follows:
The group discussed what all out options were for a few hours after breaking our fast before looking to leave Damlagast’s Tower. No matter how it played out, at no point did we want to enter the valley during the daylight hours and risk being seen by the unknown location of the suspected Beacon House there and our presence announced back to the K’Morat Warren.
By 9, we had loaded up into the canoes and with slow great care made our way back towards the north side of Broken Tower Lake and then pulled the canoes ashore. We made our way east to where we had hid them earlier and stowed them here again, buried under enough underbrush and natural deadfall that they should not be found even casually. Barb, Einar, and Gryg blazed a few trees nearby for further marking and the group then entered the treeline at the box shaped valley east and south of the valley. We stayed upslope and under the cover of trees as we made our way east and then north. A pack of boars were near our path in the later afternoon and we allowed them to pass. As evening was approaching a Giant Eagle made its passage far overhead, scanning the ground for miles before winging away.
As night was falling we ventured further upslope, pretty close to the mouth of the valley on the south east tip of an ending ridge. The goal was to find a cave large enough for the group to stay in and we wanted to make sure that we lit no fires. With five dwarves in the group it was close to 8 when we came upon a cave large enough for the party’s needs. Cramped we could get 10 in the cave with 3 stuck outside and 2 on watch.
The party spent a half hour clearing out the detritus, setting up bedrolls, and swapping blankets around to combat the cooler temperatures at this altitude and time of night. We set up a rotating round of 2 on watch for 5, 2 hour watches and the group fell asleep. Most of the watch was without issue except at one point a 12 point dirty white stag came into the area, sniffed around, and then wandered off. It was thought it might be a good omen, but no one was sure. Around 5:30 in the morning there was a light coming from the floor of the valley, steady and whitish, moving through the valley floor, turning east, and was then lost to our sight around the mountain.
On Workmonth the 18th the group awoke, broke our fast, and made plans to leave as soon as the priests and druids finished their prayers for the morning. This was going to be a difficult portion of the trip because once we circled around the ridge line, and headed east, we would be in view of the valley and most likely the Beacon House. This meant we would NOT be coming off the slope or down the treeline, or through any clearing. And we would do our damnedest to do it quietly.
We made the circle around and started heading east towards the direction of the rising sun. It had crested the ridges which were shrouded in local clouds around 4,000 feet up. And due to that and its angle, be constantly looking behind us to the west as we travelled, we were able to spot a glint of metal reflecting up slope on the western end of the valley, about 2,500 feet up. Unable to tell what it was except metallic, stationary, and large, we assumed it was the Beacon House and within half an hour, the further rising sun no longer shone directly on the structure and its reflection was lost to us in the trees. Be that is at may, the group made careful note of it on the map where it was for us to avoid or conflict with on our way back.
Our hyper vigilance paid off as through the space of the trees and downslope, the group saw a line of fast moving lightly armored K’Morat warriors running through the grasslands between the ridges, coming from the east and heading west. We covered our armor with cloaks and stayed rooted as we counted 2 dozen making the run with flatbows, spears, and similar weaponry. As we were mulling over the merits of risking an engagement at over a mile away, we saw 6 more K’Morat coming, these with bristleback short-hair boars on chains, running behind their charges as they made their way through the valley to catch up with the larger pack.
We waited as they all arrived in the valley together, conferred briefly, and then spread out in a large 100 yard circle watching all directions as 4 of them broke away and ran towards the slope where we assumed the Beacon House was. It was almost 20 minutes later when they came down with 4 other kobolds and they all once more collected together and had a long conversation. It was almost 15 minutes later when 6 of the K’Morat warriors shouldered their packs and ran up the slope towards the Beacon House, while the other almost 30 kobolds gathered their gear and started running their way south in the direction of Broken Tower Lake and beyond; boars and original 4 kobolds going along with them.
While we discussed how lucky we were not to be in the grasslands when this occurred and coming to the conclusion that these were the “elite” kobolds scouts and rangers we had suspected the Warren would have, the Beacon House on the slope behind us lit up and flashed four times in the direction we were travelling to the east, a blast of light before shutting down. Even during the day, the flash was visible at 4 miles away and we assumed would be also to whoever ahead of us was looking for it.
This must have been the signal for arriving and/or changing of the guard and we took note of it, and with greater care, continued on our trip east, staying a good 1,000 feet upslope and deep in the treeline.
Eventually the valley turned from east to north and it was at around 2 that we slowed down and came to a stop. The slope ahead of us had been denuded of trees as the soil had been washed away some time ago, leaving bare stone with many cuts and steps hacked into the rocks. Looking downslope we could see the base of the mountain here was a hillock of gentle slopes where we assumed the soil had washed away to, and the slope when uphill to the east higher and higher until it was lost in the clouds. The spacing across here from the sparse trees at the edge to the opposite side had to be 500 feet and then some.
Clear ground with rock, slope, lichen and no cover.
Nope. Not going to risk it.
We wanted to get past this area and suspected that upslope at the top would be Spire Keep Pass. They would see us, or the Beacon House would see us – and that would be it. The decision was to head back away from here to the southern ridge we had just come from, find a cave, do some hunting, and then come back here at night and cross then. As for the slope, Gryg did notice one thing of interest – the ground had a preponderance of salt and gypsum crystals across its surface. Gypsum normally grows within a cave and not naked on the side of a mountain but it was another thing to make the dwarf give his voice to the party heading back and coming here again very early in the morning. We didn’t know what defenses the Keep had at the top of the ridge and no one wanted to risk it.
We headed back and then around the curve from south to east, the party headed upslope to find a better cave to hole up in. It was around 3:30 when we came upon one large enough for everyone and then some. Five of the party went off to do some hunting while the rest of the group cleaned up the cave and the surrounding area.
A stand of badgers fell to the hunters along with many game birds so it was by 6 that we returned to the cave, a fire was lit in the cave, and the skinned animals were set up to cook and smoke for an hour or two. We ate well, including Shog and Avulstein on the offal and bits of skin. Thalin took one of the badger remains and animated it, while the party placed one of the skinned faces back on the beast.
It was 9 when we had the cave aired out enough to sleep in and the party rested, again cycling 2 on watch in 2 hour increments – hoping to get up at 3 AM and make their way back to the slope and across in the dim predawn hours and be away before being seen.
Everything went as expected except around midnight when a hunting party of bugbears (7) came upon our cave following the faint smell of cooked/smoked meat. Sybil and Dizzy were on watch and under the cloak, with no light, and Sybil being behind dizzy, to the infravision of the bugbears; they appeared to be a small ettin.
Conversation followed and they were looking for food, hungry and tired. They reported escaping from a kobold Warren maybe two days away and had crossed a keep upslope not far from here. Closer we were able to see missing fingers, scars, burned patches, and other signs of abuse and torture. We gave them a day’s worth of smoked meat and they passed us a rabbit’s skin pouch with a couple dozen brass chits with no markings as thanks.
They went on their way and reported that we should keep clear of Whitetop Mountain, as that was where the kobolds were.
It was 3ish when the group woke up, we reported the bugbears and their information, and the group gathered up all our belongings and then made our way through the darkness to the east and then north, eventually coming once again to the large cleared area. We could not see clearly in the dark the other side where the trees were but we knew they were there in the faint starlight. Nothing upslope seemed to be watching us and there was no way in the dark that anyone in the Beacon House at this point 5 estimated miles away could see us.
We began crossing one at a time, then two – with the more surer footed members helping those who were having trouble crossing the sloped stone to the other side. It took some time, with many a pebble or rock dislodged to fall away down slope into the darkness. Nothing came out to accost us, no one showed up, and within a few tense minutes the party reconvened on the opposite side of the of the cleared slope.
Pressing on yet feeling tired, we continued along the tree line as the sun came up, the cloud cover having rolled in and obscuring everything from 3,000 feet and up. We travelled on until the ridge we were on went from north to west again. According to the map, there was a ridge top above us and it would lead to a valley on the other side should we be able to get to it.
So the decision was made to link up with lengths of rope and climb up into the cloud bank. The degree of the slope increased to 35, 40 and we had a rough time making our way along. There were gouges in the stone where the whipping wind had dug furrows along the peak area here, making footing treacherous and slips all too easy. Darius actually lost footing, braced by Gryg and caught by Barb, he was lucky not to fall any further or upset the roped line of adventurers.
We did top the ridge in the cloud cover and then made our way down slope until we emerged once again. The valley was laid out ahead of us and in the distance at the mouth of another valley a good 4-5 miles away, we caught the telltale glinting reflection of a Beacon House some 2,500 feet upslope. According to the map, it was around that valley and to the east was the foot of Whitetop Mountain – and where we suspected the K’Morat Warren was located.
We went looking for a cave here to hole up, discovered one easily enough, and decided to stop here, rest for the truncated sleep we had earlier, and discuss our options on the approach of the suspected locale.