[D&D] Dreadwood Tales


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Dreadwood Tales

World of Greyhawk (with some divergences from canon)
Geographic Location: Dreadwood, Keoland, South-West Flanaess
Edition: 3.5 with a sprinkling of 3.0, PF1e and House Rules


Camp Ragfried is an outpost established in the heart of the leafy Dreadwood in a former troll den, by a cadre of powerful adventurers who are famous heroes of the nation of Keoland; here, they station a select force of their respective followers and cohorts to explore the area and to provide assistance to the local elven nobles up at nearby Castle Briar, and the druids of Oaken Heart, to keep the depredations of regional menace “Dargon of the Crags” in check. Dargon is always hatching new mischief to keep our heroes busy. One day perhaps they will be ready to take the fight to him, but today is not that day…or is it?

Let's begin with a look at the party lineup:

Leguzh Leafcrusher:
a somewhat atypical, rather charismatic half-ogre. A former galley slave on the ill-fated Stormbringer Juggernaut (a mad plan to attack the city of Gradsul with a seaborne invasion of giants - a previous adventure based on the DCC module of that name). He's handy in a fight because of his size and strength but actually, combat is not his primary focus; he is a Favoured Soul of the deity of sunlight and healing, Pelor, hence a divine spellcaster and at the moment, the party's main source of healing.

Tagline: "Hello friend. Be not afraid of my fearsome appearance, I am here to help, through the grace of Pelor."

Mellowtwig Hazelshade: a young Treant and one of the party's most solid melee combatants. A good way off reaching full maturity but still Large in size and though slow to anger, a bit terrifying in battle once he gets going. Sensibly avoids town now, though, since on the last visit to a human settlement, some mercenaries were paid by a rather nasty alchemist to try to chop him down because his wood held magical properties making it a valuable commodity!

Tagline: "This is some lovely soil, I think I'll put my roots down here for a while..." (yawns)

Vrashka: a Bugbear / Hobgoblin hybrid (homebrewed) who was recruited from a community of goblinoids who the party were initially at odds with. Vrashka leans more towards her Hobgoblin tendencies and is proudly conscious of her honour. She is a Duskblade (so essentially, a "gish" type build). These goblinoids had enjoyed peaceful relations with their woodland neighbours until their leadership became corrupted as part of the machinations of regional all-round bad guy "Dargon of the Crags". After the party put paid to Dargon's plans with a targeted strike against the chieftain (who had been replaced with one of Dargon's shapeshifting agents) the new chieftain of the tribe commanded Vrashka to go forth and restore their honour and good relations with others by helping the party in their endeavours. Vrashka can be a little uncompromising and hotheaded. She wields an unfeasibly large sword.

Tagline: "Come out and fight, coward! Your avoidance mocks me!"

Jinxsie Magwise: Jinxsie looks like a sweet and lovely elf lady for all intents and purposes, until she smiles revealing a mouthful of sharp, needle-like teeth...she is of the Fey, a Jaebrin Jester/Swashbuckler. Jinxsie comes from another forest a long way away; she is not quite sure how she got to the Dreadwood; she woke up here after a particularly wild revel involving some pixies, and decided to stick around. Jinxsie mainly adventures to stave off boredom. When not busy with her two blades, she cavorts, tumbles, dances and juggles. She is a little macabre though and character most likely to be offered a role in a Tim Burton film.

Tagline: "You have exquisite bone structure. Can I have your skull to play with when you've finished with it? I think it will be soon."

Caanan Barasweyn: Caanan is a Tiefling Rogue/Scout. He doesn't have the stereotypical horns, tail or cloven hooves his kind seem to so frequently present; but he does have other features marking him as distinctly inhuman. The frilled, pointed ears, violet-coloured skin and vestigial wings are something of a giveaway that his human mother's tastes may have run to the exotic (if indeed she had any idea of his father's true form or identity). A recent addition to the party, he's a little cagey about his past. He has the air of someone who came to the heart of the Dreadwood to hide from someone or something, and it might be something more than just crowds of small children throwing rocks or peasants waving pitchforks at him while making religious signs to ward off evil. Jinxsie met him in a bar and got talking with him because she thought he looked cool, which is how he joined the party.

Tagline: "No, they don't work. If they did do you think I'd still be stuck down here on the ground talking to the likes of you?"

Mordechai: Another recent addition to the party, Mordechai is a Gray Elf, and this makes him the most "normal" character in the party, in everyday D&D terms. He was sent to Camp Ragfried as an ambassador by the local elf lord, Gwairin Enderan. (Of course, this is ambassador spelt S-P-Y). Mordechai is a Druid / Wizard / Mystic Theurge, angling to become an Arcane Hierophant soon. Mordechai gives the impression of having a liking for comfortable surroundings, such as the surroundings of Castle Briar the seat of the elf lord who unfortunately sent him away to hang out with this bunch of strange losers. He has aristocratic tendencies and is plainly not the rough-and-rustic type of druid. Though he barely disguises his desire to be elsewhere than trawling around with this rag tag crew he takes his situation in fairly good spirits and is no less of a team player.

Tagline: "I have an idea. Well, quite a lot of them, really. One of us has to."

We've run Sessions 1 and 2 of the game so far. More on this will follow.
Dreadwood Tales, Sessions 1-2

Some Introductions

The scene opens, with Jinxsie Magwyse and Caanan Barasweyn on a forest trail heading due southwards. Jinxsie is an established member of the party, while Caanan is a newer recruit. The story that's been spun to introduce Caanan, is that he and Jinxsie ran into each other in a bar in Oaken Heart, when Jinxsie was in town to collect some supplies to take back to the party's base of Camp Ragfried. Jinxsie tends to draw the short straw for this task because outwardly, she appears to be an elf, and so attracts the least undue attention. The same cannot be said of Caanan, whose lilac skin and vestigial wings tend to provoke ungenerous reactions from small-minded folks. This is the Flanaess, where the Empire of Iuz lends the demon-spawned an ill reputation.

So, Caanan has accepted Jinxsie's invitation to come to the woods to meet some of her friends. On the trail, they encounter an ally of those who live at the camp, an Aranea called Yaknie. Caanan is introduced after Yaknie reveals her true nature, calling off her spider pets. Yaknie was present on the expedition that originally cleared out the caves that now serve as the party's residence, but tends to stay back guarding the camp when the party head out on expeditions.

While they chat amiably with Yaknie, trotting along the trail come two steeds - one a fine white elven horse, the other an actual unicorn. They bear two elven riders. The unicorn rider is Lady Belnoa Malphiriel, known to the party already as an emissary of the local High Elven sovereign of these woods. The other rider, is our second new player character, a grey elf known simply for now as Mordechai. He has been brought to introduce to Camp Ragfried as an ambassador for the elves. Belnoa leaves Mordechai in the company of Jinxsie, Caanan and Yaknie with a final warning to keep his wits about him. "Don't be fooled by the one who looks like a fair elven maiden - in truth, she is a wild, fey creature, to be respected but also treated with caution. And the winged creature - well, I have no idea what that is, but probably no less dangerous." With that, the somewhat judgmental Belnoa spurs her Unicorn to Dimension Door them both well away to a safe distance back along the trail before returning to Castle Briar, regional redoubt of the High Elves.

The three of them head down the trail, encountering along the way a tree that stretches, yawns and reveals itself as a young Treant. "Hi Mellowtwig. I have some new friends" says Jinxsie, providing the introductions.

The scene then switches to the meeting hall at Camp Ragfried, where they have arrived and met with the remaining two party members, the half-ogre Leguzh Leafcrusher, and Vrashka who is a Bugbear/Hobgoblin cross. It is a time of telling the tales of past adventures by the fireside. Jinxsie entertains with some juggling tricks.

A New Quest For The Party

Mordechai reveals that he has come bearing a request for aid from the Elfin Lord of Castle Briar. The party's stronghold of Camp Ragfried is within the lands he lays claim to, and is tolerated on condition that he can occasionally request assistance from them.

The tale is then told, of troubles in the woods in the vicinity of the gnomish village of Stonewood. The gnomes dwell under the elven Lord's protection, so he is requesting that the party goes to investigate. There have been incidents of travellers being waylaid on the trails to and from Stonewood, particularly around the northern fringes of the village. Survivors who escaped these ambushes tell of strange mists springing up all around, of bushes and trees grabbing at them in an entangling embrace, and strange ululating cries from shadowy, threatening figures in the mists. Some victims are evidently carried away by the ambushers, not to be seen again.

It has been a few months since the party last ventured forth on the Quest for the Fire Opal, and so they feel ready for another escapade. They stock up with provisions. Mordechai asks them if they happen to have a cart available, which they do, at least a small one. He decides this will suit his purposes, and shifts a feather mattress from one of the beds at Camp Ragfried - the best one he can find, of course - and rides in the back of the cart to "guard the provisions". Mordechai seems to be a creature who appreciates comfort and the finer things in life. Mellowtwig, who has a tree-mendous carrying capacity, is furnished with two barrels of mead that he carries in his upper branches. Jinxsie, whose weight Mellowtwig barely notices, sprawls across these, "guarding the alcohol supplies" on the way. She doesn't do a very good job of this, judging by the amount that has gone missing by the time they arrive. She does do a lot of singing, though.

They visit along the way, the hunter's village of Longbarrow, the elven trading post of Silverleaf, and just about make it to Stonewood by nightfall. There, the mayor of the village confirms the stories they have heard and mentions one of these ambushes has taken place recently. "We have a survivor, Alcorin, who will take you to the place where he and his fellow travellers were attacked, tomorrow."

The Investigation Begins

The next day the party set out with their guide. It is around an hour's trek northwards into the woods towards the place where Alcorin's party were ambushed.

As the party approaches the ambush point, Alcorin takes affright and holds back. Someone has to stay behind and guard him, and Vrashka draws the short straw. She grumbles about this intensely [Metagame note: staying behind to stand guard is uncharacteristic of Vrashka, but her player was not present and we have a policy of keeping the PCs of absent players out of danger in such situations].

The party discover evidence of a recent fight that has occurred; some gnome bodies lie next to an overturned cart near a river ford. Mordechai "reads" their clothes using his Gauntlets of Object Reading, learning that they are hunters who live here in the woods. The gnomes seem to have died from attacks with what appear to be a mix of bladed weapons that have left splinters in the wounds, and some wooden darts that look eerily like elongated, sharpened claw-like fingers have pierced their bodies.

A Dangerous Vision

Mellowtwig ambles forwards. He crosses the river and scans the trail ahead. Seeing nothing, he puts down his roots, and tries to call forth a vision of what has occurred in this area recently [this is a feat he has].

His vision is of the recent past...mists, and entanglement, and blood-curdling screams...twisted-faced humanoid figures looming in the mist...a weird ululating cry springs from their throats that shivers him to his core....

Suddenly, the vision is reality! An Entangle spell-effect goes off in the party's vicinity...and some humanoid figures lurch out of the forest towards them. They point their hands in the direction of the party and their fingers darken, harden and then are launched forth as darts. A barrage of these uncanny projectiles whizzes the party's way, inflicting a few minor scratches. They see the stumps of the creatures' fingers regrow as new digits, almost instantly, as they hove nearer. There is movement within the undergrowth as more of the assailants start coming at the party, seemingly able to pass unhindered through the densest vegetation. It is seen that these creatures have prominent, greenish-tinged veins protruding at the surface of their skins, pulsing weirdly. Their hair has the aspect of pine needles. As the first of them reaches Mellowtwig its hand morphs into a darkwood scimitar with which it swings at him.

Vrashka, leaving Alcorin behind at their temporary camp rushes forwards to join the fray [Vrashka's player is now present!].

The fight is a scrappy, chaotic one. Mists spring up in places separating party members from each others' field of view. The weird shrieking of the creatures as they attack puts even the hulking Leguzh in a panic. He drops his mace and frantically struggles to break free of the entangling vegetation. Mordechai is in less of a funk, but has also become entangled. He swears in elfish as he struggles to break free. Mellowtwig however is the party's bulwark against their frontal assault, and starts crushing them brutally with his wooden limbs. Caanan is also effective and springs back and forth dealing damage to the things with his magical sickle.

Vrashka fords the river at a different place to where much of the party are in a logjam, and rushes through the trees as fast as she can to try to get around behind the creatures or at least to tackle a later wave of them that is coming towards the party.

By now, the party have ascertained that these creatures are an unfamiliar form of undead.

Mordechai ends up fighting a defensive struggle as some of the creatures manage to swarm around the back of the party and attack from the rear. He is targeted with numerous darts (as he is not in the misty area) and is hit badly by a number of them. Jinxsie gives him some backup and in the nick of time as a couple of the creatures are moving in to threaten him with their darkwood scimitars, Caanan bounces back from the front lines to the rescue.

Leguzh, after breaking free of entanglement, spends much of the fight in the river, hiding in a panic, head peering just above the waterline and ducking down at any sign of danger.


Suddenly, the woods fall quiet again and it is all over. Vrashka, who cast Detect Magic after finishing off her opponents, thought she picked up some kind of magical aura in the thickly wooded area but it recedes rapidly. She suspects the presence of a druid or similar. She stomps off into the woods after it, shouting for it to come back and fight.

Mordechai examines the bodies of the undead creatures and takes a sample of the greenish ichor that floods their veins. He thinks it consists of pine sap and some other alchemical ingredients of sorts.

Alcorin, after some reassurances, is brought forwards. He examines the gnome bodies the party found earlier and recognises these as dwellers at a nearby hunting lodge, a father and son. No sign is found of his own travelling companions. Some of the undead creatures, though, were clearly gnomes in their living state, and Alcorin, sadly, recognises these as some of the earlier disparus.

"These hunters...they had more family, a mother and daughter, I pray to Garl Glittergold that they are still safe and well up at the hunting lodge, but fear the worst. We must proceed there as swiftly as possible!"

[This does not quite take us to the end of Session 2, but is a good break-point in the tale.]
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Dreadwood Tales, Sessions 2-3

Due to various time pressures, I have not managed to keep reporting on the party's adventures apace with the sessions as I would wish. I will therefore offer a few succinct summary accounts of the sessions we've had until caught up. This one covers the tail end of Session 2 and takes us almost to the end of Session 3.

The party, guided by Alcorin, pressed further along the trail in search of the gnome hunting lodge, anxious for the safety of any surviving occupants. Upon arrival, they found signs of a recent struggle: a dead badger lay pierced by the darts of the strange undead creatures they had encountered before. The lodge had been ransacked, with signs of a struggle that seemed to have ended less violently; there were no bodies, and only a little blood had been spilled.

Leguzh, the half-ogre favoured soul, was hailed from the surrounding forest in Giantish by a female voice with an ogrish inflection he recognized. It was Elikohr, an Ogre Ranger, accompanied by Krazig, a male ogre barbarian. Elikohr produced a small wriggling figure from a tied sack that served as her backpack: a terrified gnome child, whom Alcorin recognized as Miphina, the hunters' daughter.

Elikohr explained that she had found the child hiding in the barn and decided to take her into captivity for her safety. Her tribe had maintained semi-cordial relations with the gnomes, having occasional dealings with those living in the forest to the north, such as these hunters. She emphasized that the attacks were not the doing of her people. The undead creatures, she said, were known as the "Brothers of the Pine," enemies of both gnomes and ogres. Their arrival had been threatened by Bemdroch, who had visited the ogre caves and urged them to join an alliance being forged by Dargon of the Crags, a regional menace whose lackeys the party had tangled with before. When their chieftain dismissed him, Bemdroch departed with threats that "The Brothers of the Pine will come for you."

Elikohr suggested that the party accompany her and Krazig to meet their chieftain, Vaturek, at the ogre caves. She proposed stopping for the night at a nearby farmstead run by an ogre couple from her tribe, as it would be difficult to reach the caves before nightfall when things would become more dangerous. Alcorin decided to return to Stonewood with Miphina for her safekeeping, praying for the party’s success in finding her mother, Arymin, before she could be turned into one of the dreadful creatures.

Hours later, after a trek through untracked forest, the party arrived at the ogre farmstead only to find it under attack by the Brothers of the Pine. Several dead goats lay in the pen, shot with darkwood darts, while the remaining goats panicked and tried to escape. Near the ogre lodgings, the male ogre farmer, Oruk, fought against an Entangle spell to wield his longspear against a hidden target, aided by his pet wolf, Jax. Other family members were penned into defensive positions by a combination of Entangle, Obscuring Mist, and Fear effects.

The party waded into the fight and, after a fierce struggle, defeated or routed the undead attackers. Vrashka used Detect Magic to search for a leader figure in the woods north of the farmstead. A keen-eyed ogre spotted a shadowy humanoid figure launching strikes against Oruk and his wife, Mizig, with a spiked chain. The assailant fled when the piney undead were defeated.

Together with their ogre allies, the party pursued the shadowy being, aided by the abilities of Jax and Elikohr. They almost cornered the figure, but it melted into the shadows and vanished. Various party members speculated about the creature’s identity. Jinxsie suggested it might be from a mysterious and legendary race called the Shadow Fey, though no legends associated them with the Brothers of the Pine.

Determining the farmstead was unsafe, the party decided to brave the darkening woods and reach the caves of Ogre Rock that night, helping the farmers herd their goats along. Despite the hurried journey, they reached the caves in deep twilight, thanks to the lingering summer sun.

Elikohr pleaded with her father, Chieftain Vaturek, at the cave entrance for the party to be accepted as guests. Vaturek eyed the motley group suspiciously, particularly the elves among them—Jinxsie, who often appeared elvish, and Mordechai, who actually was one—remembering old grievances against elves...

So, will Elikohr persuade her father to have her tribe play host to these strangers? How violently does Vaturek hate elves...and why? This and more will be revealed in the next installment.
Dreadwood Tales: Cartographic Interlude

Here is the map I made for the Dreadwood Tales adventure series. It details part of the Central Dreadwood region.


I talk some more about this map in my blog post on the subject, here. This is for the technicalities, I will discuss the geography and demography of the area sometime later.