Last night the little The Woods campaign we started to playtest the SystemMech rules for Secrets of Shandisholm got to a new stage so I have decided that as the adventure unfolds I should blog it for posterity. Now in future I'll do this properly with photos and stuff, but for now let's just get up to date with what's been happening down there in the Mortal Realm...
-NOTE: The beginnings of this campaign follow the Reek of the Fens adventure from Secrets of Shandisholm, so I won't go into too many details in case anyone wants to play it themselves.-
Our tale begins one spring day when the son of the Toisech of Shandisholm disappeared from the village. Whilst the elders convened to debate what they should do the chief's daughter, Winifred, took matters into her own hands. Followed by her close friend John Ravenclaw she set out into the woods to search for her younger brother. Unseen by the pair a small, hunched figure followed them into the forest...
After only a few hours the adventurers were hopelessly lost in the dense undergrowth. To make matters worse their meagre provisions were disappearing from their packs, taken by the small, blue hands of thieving pixies. Eventually they broke clear onto the summit of Pixiebells, from which they could see the forest spanning below them. They also discovered the hunched figure, which turned out to be Ranrauko, a strange youngster from the village who was universally shunned by the other children for his weird behaviour. Ranrauko would sit in the corner of the pig sty, scrawling odd patterns in the mud with a curiously engrossed expression on his face. Winifred and Ravenclaw were none too happy to see the ragged child, but they were in the middle of nowhere so had little choice but to tolerate his silent company.
As they were looking across the canopy a small, disembodied voice drew their attention to a ruckus below and they made their way towards the crashing to see what was going on. As they reached the forest floor they were almost crushed underfoot as a trio of Eanabuises smashed through the trees with a pack of white dogs upon their tale. By the time the children had ventured out from hiding the chase was over and the dogs, with their elegant masters close behind, had succeeded in bringing down the giant birds with their cyclopean riders. Winifred's attention had been drawn to a small bundle one of the masked and cloaked figures was retrieving from the body of a marsh demon. Was she imagining it, or had it made a baby's cry? As the hunting party made off through the woods once more the Tuatha children followed close behind.
At the camp that evening they made a daring raid and retrieved the bundle (which was indeed Winifred's brother) from the cloaked figures, thanks largely to the mysterious powers of Ranrauko which had elevated the bundle from the midst of the sleeping Fae. Narrowly escaping their pursuers the group made it back to Shandisholm where they sought the guidance of Meg, the local wise woman. Meg told them that the best defence against the Fae was bog iron, a rare mineral only found in the marshes and which the Fae were strongly adverse to. It was said that there was a smith who could work bog iron in the village of Rangolt, over the other side of the forest. The group set off once more to seek the smith.
When they arrived at Rangolt they found the villagers wary and increasingly hostile. Diminutive and furtive figures were moving among the inhabitants and spreading rumours about these newcomers. Despite the unhelpfulness of the populace the adventurers managed to track down the smith, but alas he had no bog iron to forge. He did, however, suggest they visit the brewhouse where Athalwolf, the proprietor, kept a nugget of the rare mineral hanging over his fireplace.
By this time the villagers were openly aggressive towards the party and they took shelter in the brewhouse, where Athalwolf confided in them that he had no desire to remain in Rangolt and suggested they creep out the rear of the brewhouse and try to make it to the gates without trouble. The mob spotted them, but they were able to make it over the palisade into the trees to safety. Once in the forest Athalwolf told them his story. He was a Pech, a hill gnome, and had been part of a trading expedition into the marshes of Mael Fen. They had struck a deal with the Myeri for a shipment of the coveted bog iron, but on the way back had been intercepted by a large group of Redcaps. The Pech had been scattered and the bog iron seized. Athalwolf believed himself the only survivor and his nugget of the ore the only piece to have remained out of goblin hands. That is, until recently, when news of a Pech settlement near to the Heart Forest had reached his ears in Rangolt. Now he greatly desired to see if there were more survivors of the trading party living deep in the wood. The group agreed to go back to Shandisholm via the Deepwards route, rather than take the Old Lowland Road, and see if they could find any traces of the gnomes.
Sure enough, after a run in with a Barguest and a short detour through a mysterious maze, they discovered the remains of a makeshift settlement where two Pech were making a last stand against a dozen Redcaps. The party intervened and drove off the goblins, rescuing the gnomes. The gnomes were anxious to get after the goblins and retrieve their lost bog iron, but Ravenclaw suggested they return to Shandisholm first to get reinforcements and horses so they could catch up to the Redcap horde. During the preceding battle Winifred's Herbalism had saved Athalwolf's life and he made her a gift of the bog iron nugget, allowing her to take it back to the village.
When the group returned to Shandisholm they made haste to the gathering hut. The Pech, however, were concerned about the presence of some tents they'd seen tucked into the woods nearby. They suspected a reasonable force of the Fae Martial and were afraid of what this could mean. Inside the gathering hut they found an assembly underway, with a stranger present and seated in a place of honour. He introduced himself as Byron, from a village the other side of the wood, and was seeking aid against a Redcap army which had threatened his settlement. Suspecting this was the same party of goblins they were after the adventurers were keen to provide a force from the village to assist. Before the meeting could be concluded Byron, who had seemed a little tense at the production of the bog iron nugget and the Pech's story, turned white as a sheet at the mention of the Fae Martial and insisted Ravenclaw show him where the tents were pitched. Leaving the gathering hut they were set upon by white dogs who had raced through the settlement gates, howling blood-curdling howls. At the other side of the settlement tall figures in ornate cloaks appeared and blocked the Tuatha's path, but upon seeing Byron they fell to their knees before him. Byron commanded them to call off the dogs and it seemed peace would be restored, but behind the kneeling figures loomed new shapes, tall creatures in shining silver armour. Byron and the cloaked figures prepared for a fight, calling to the Tuatha to turn their backs. Most complied, but Ranrauko could not contain his curiosity and kept watching. Unable to dance out because of the mortal's eyes the Fae were forced to face the oncoming Fae Martial head on. As Byron mysteriously vanished the armoured figures set upon the hapless Fae Rade. The Tuatha hurried back to the safety of the gathering hut, and when they looked out again there was no sign of any of the strangers.
Anxious their village should not remain undefended the group decided to set out after the goblins alone, but took supplies and horses from the village. With luck they should be able to make faster progress along the Old Lowland Road than the ill-formed Redcap band. The quest begins...