This is a play test of a campaign written for The Black Hack by Simon Forster. The Black Hack is a set of OSR rules by David Black. I have used The Black Hack to run my own fantasy campaign, The Chronicles Of The Latter Days Of Yarth and my group is familiar with the rules.
Because this is a play test document I will be including my thoughts on the adventure design as well as a narrative of play, this will necessarily involve SPOILERS. Please bear this in mind if you hope to play this adventure yourself.
Session 4: Valley of the Lost
The cage lift deposited our heroes on the foothills of a range of mountains encircling a forested valley, in daylight! The change from the gloom of the previous days lifted everybody's spirits.
Nearby a set of steps carved into the side of a tall rock spire beckoned.
Climbing to the flat top of the spire the party was given a good view of the encircled the valley.
There was a village in the centre and some sort of white building to the east. Since the village was next to a river our heroes decided to follow the river and go there first.
With the addition of Joshua and Phoebe the party now numbers eight (and a head). I decided that Joshua would give Ragnar +2 damage because Ragnar is a pretty crap fighter having managed to not increase his strength from its starting 12 and doesn't hit very often which is negating his multiple attacks ability somewhat.
Phoebe poses more of a problem. Gus is already a capable thief and I'm not sure what bonus to allocate to her. For the moment I'm just going to let her have a roll on thieving skills if Gus ever fails.
All three NPCs from the prison have been upgraded to from their default hospital gowned lunatics to miniatures depicting their aspirational forms.
As the party wandered through the woods they heard sounds ahead of them and took cover to see what was coming.
Some goblins emerged from the trees. One of the goblins was carrying a human baby which was making a lot of noise and the others were berating their companion for not keeping it quiet.
Not ready to assume that the goblins were up to no good Ragnar stepped out of concealment to confront them.
The goblins stopped, looked at him for a moment and then began to scatter into the trees.
At this point Remuz charmed the goblin holding the baby and commanded it to hand over its prize.
As the charmed goblin dutifully ran to obey the others stopped their retreat and immediately attacked. Clearly the baby was important to them.
Ragnar charged forward and engaged three of the goblins but the other two ran past him to try and retrieve the baby from Remuz.
Two of the goblins facing Ragnar were cut down and Gus emerged from the shadows to kill one of the ones threatening Remuz. The remaining goblins died quickly and Remuz handed the baby over to Eleanor for safekeeping.
This was a random encounter.
Once again half the encounters are non threatening, one foreshadows future events at the temple and two involve meeting things.
Meeting the goblins this early on was a good scene setter. It could have gone either way if it was a normal encounter with goblins as my players are not the sort to kill things indiscriminately and a chat with the goblins who would quite happily lie through their teeth could have unfavourably coloured the players' perceptions of the villagers and made for some interesting interactions later.
Unfortunately for the goblins, I rolled the 1 in 6 chance that they were carrying a kidnapped baby which sealed their fate.
So, on the face of it, this was a great encounter. It explained clearly that the goblins were bad and they stole babies.
What it didn't explain though is why the goblins were carrying the baby in this part of the valley, the single farthest point from their camp where they needed to take the baby in order to goblinise it.
If the players were to later find the goblin camp and realise what was going on this encounter would seem very odd indeed.
I would have a planned encounter about here if it was up to me.
The party is going to walk through the woods, they have no choice so a planned encounter that lets the players understand the situation in the valley by experiencing it negates the need for long exposition from an NPC later.
I would have the party stumble across some villagers torturing a captive goblin in a clearing trying to find the location of a missing child.
The goblin's pitiful cries would be the trigger. The villagers would seem cruel at first but later maybe justified when the reason for their cruelty became clear.
If the lost child wandered into the clearing attracted by the sounds and it was understood that goblins hadn't abducted it, then which is the good side and which is bad is blurred and the players have some hooks on which to hang their own theories.
After all, have the villagers ever actually seen a goblin making off with a child?
The children are crucial to the continued existence of both species and this could become a major story point.
I'm fascinated by the idea that the goblins stealing children were once children themselves. Perhaps they just want some playmates?
Wiping the goblin blood off their weapons the party continued following the river until they reached a small village set amidst some crop fields.
As our heroes crossed the bridge and entered the village they were met by an old woman, Old Nelly, the village elder. Introductions were made, the baby was handed over, everyone was happy and the adventurers were offered a meal in the inn.
The baby was given into the care of Sister Benedicta, the communities spiritual leader, who would look after it until its parents returned from searching.
The party spent an interesting few hours in the inn talking to Barnaby the barkeep, a loquacious but worried man.
They learned that the valley was the whole world, there was nothing beyond the mountains and anyway, there was no way to cross them, and the villagers had all been born here except Old Man Edgar who people said came from the forest one day long ago (much like our heroes).
No one wanted to leave the valley, it as a paradise. there was no disease, no war (apart form a few skirmishes with goblins) and no taxes!
Our heroes were told that the white building was a temple to a sea creature and that the goblins lived by the old tower to the north and that Old Tom lived in the forest because he didn't trust the villagers.
Awkward questions were asked here again.
There was a blacksmith but where did the metal come from?
If the goblins stole babies how often did this occur? How many families were there in the village? (not many) How many babies were born?
Where did the beer come from? The cellar, of course- oh right, silly of me to have asked.
Most of the incongruities were overlooked because this wasn't the 'real world' and the characters realised they were in a special 'place of testing' so most of the setting deconstructing was done humourously.
Also, the villagers apparently refer to the goblins as Knee-Gnawers, but that would have subjected me to an evening of ambulance jokes (What do you call a woman who sounds like an ambulance? Nee-Nor etc.) so I changed it to Knee-Biters.
One interesting thing did happen.
I decided it began to rain, the weather is changeable in the valley to presumably add to the strangeness, and so I made the rain torrential to emphasise this.
Karl (Remuz) immediately declared that his character wasn't going outside until it stopped.
When I asked why he explained that he still had the magic shells from the caves and didn't want to get so wet he would be teleported back to the cave they came from.
I thought this was brilliant. Especially since there's a mermaid statue in the temple.
The shells, the mermaid here and the trolls sea shanty singing in the caves would make a great linked story element if I run this again for a different group (which is very unlikely sadly).
Once the rain stopped the party decided to head for the temple because there was a path leading to it and to visit Old Tom on the way.
Old Tom proved reluctant to meet the party until they had bled for him to prove they weren't living dead like the villagers.
Ragnar and Remuz dutifully opened a vein each and, after Old Tom was satisfied, Zaboka mended the damage.
Old Tom didn't seem very happy in the valley and Remuz quickly worked out he was a wizard so our heroes asked if wanted to accompany them in their search for a way out.
Old Tom ran into his hovel to pack and put on his walking shoes and the newly enlarged party continued on their way to the temple.
Old Tom is another source of spells for player wizard. To future proof the party a bit I let him teach Remuz a 2nd and 3rd level spell to add to his spell book.
This makes Old Tom a bit too good to be a henchman so I'm going to get rid of him ASAP. Hopefully he won't have to die, although, if he does, maybe Remuz will get his spell book.
Without anything major happening the party reached the temple. There was a pool of clear water outside but nobody trusted it so it was ignored and our heroes explored inside.
Inside was a statue of a mermaid on a blue crystal plinth, which was nice, and a pit full of animal bones, which wasn't.
Remuz immediately rushed forward and divested himself of his magic shells as an offering.
This could have given him a blessing but since I knew he was getting rid of the shells rather than giving up the shells I decided not to on this occasion.
Whoops, see later.
His rapid movement alerted the temple guardian who leapt through the rear archway to land roaring on the altar.
The guardian was a huge bear brandishing an axe and carrying a freshly slaughtered deer in its other paw.
The bear threw down the deer and went to attack Remuz since he was closest. Remuz was too quick though and charmed the bear despite its size and ferocity. He commanded the bear to jump into the bones pit.
Alas, the pit was only a foot deep and, as the rest of the party closed in to attack, the guardian struck down Remuz with his axe.
The guardian has a good chance of being here but i didn't bother rolling and just had it turn up. It's meant to be a giant panther but my only panther model is a normal sized one (Felix would have fitted the bill but he was asleep on Giro's character sheet) so I substituted a werebear as a suitable fearsome forest creature.
There wasn't any themic reason to have a panther here anyway.
Remuz did well to gain the initiative and successfully cast his charm despite the powerful opponent modifiers.
His choice of command was unlucky, no one had investigated the bone pit and its shallowness was unknown.
Next he failed his defence even with Eleanor's help, if I'd conferred the blessing for the shells he'd have made it, and he took the full 12 points maximum damage putting him OofA immediately.
The rest of the party moved into avenge their fallen comrade and, despite its strength and tough hide the guardian was killed swiftly.
I gave it AP, I gave it more HP, it made no difference. Down it went although it did hit Ragnar for quite a bit of damage.
Our heroes didn't hang about long after they'd killed the giant bear. They revived Remuz who was horribly scarred but alive and followed the bear's track to a tunnel that led out of the valley.
Karl rolled a 5 on the Out of Action table and so had his charisma reduced to 4. Lots of chances to raise it by levelling though so not too bad. He was close to dying.
The players debated whether to bother the goblins but had no real emotional investment with the villagers so decided not to bother and just leave.
This meant they missed out on potentially getting a couple of magic items and some money but I don't think they'd have bothered even if they knew.
Once again, we had fun and the outdoors setting made a nice change.