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Thursday, 1 September 2016

Into The Woods part 2: The village in the valley

Last night saw another instalment of the campaign we're playing using the setting and rules from Secrets of Shandisholm. Sadly I forgot the decent camera, so the photos are awful, dark and blurry from my piss poor phone camera.

The little party of gnomes and tuatha had reached a steep slope down into a sheltered valley. To continue on their way to join the Old Lowland Road they would have to descend and follow the track along the Duskwards edge of the Heart Forest. Dismounting and leading their horses gently down the winding path they reached a gap in a long, low stone wall which marked the entrance to a settlement.

Although the central fire was still burning under its mantle the rest of village seemed totally deserted. It was evening and the sun was sinking low in the sky but no fires were lit in the small round houses clustered inside the walled enclosure. The group made their way from house to house, checking to see if anyone was about, but the round houses appeared to have been emptied of all objects except the occasional bedding roll. Ravenclaw summoned up courage to call out and ask if anyone was around, but apart from a faint clucking of hens in one of the distant huts there was no reply.

As they crossed the centre of the village a sudden ruckus started up on the edge of the clearing. Two wild boars careered out from the trees. The party took cover in the nearest hut doorway to see what was going to happen. Close on the heels of the boars a pack of white dogs with red ears and glowing eyes appeared from the dusky wood. Their attention fixed entirely on the boars they did not notice the party in their hiding place, but the boars were running directly towards it. Cornered by the faster animals, the boars turned to make a final stand. One of the dogs was gored horribly, but the rest set upon the boar and brought them down with ease. As she stood watching Winifred noticed a small figure emerge from one of the other huts. Dressed in a cloak and carrying a sword much too big for her the young girl shouted fiercely to the dogs. They turned slowly, prowling menacingly towards the girl, who struggled to raise the large sword in defiance.

Winifred frantically gestured to Ravenclaw and the others, fearing for the child's safety. Ravenclaw swiftly pulled out his bow, notched an arrow to the string and let fly at the nearest dog. Snarling with rage it turned and came running towards him, but before it could cross the distance Winifred's sling had put a rock between its eyes and fell unconscious to the ground. The gnomes had taken short bows from the Shandisholm armoury, but they were struggling with the unfamiliar weapons. One of the arrows met its mark and a slingshot from Ran Rauko felled the wounded animal. The last dog bounded across to the party and managed to sink its teeth into Athalwolf before Ravenclaw's axes dispatched it.

Winifred went to tend the fallen Athalwolf whilst Ravenclaw approached the girl with the sword. She didn't seem to realise the party had saved her life and haughtily demanded to know what they were doing in her village. No amount of reasoning seemed to change her attitude and she insisted they leave immediately. This was her village, she was the chief and she and her younger brother who was inside the hut were the only people allowed to live in it.

As the older tuatha were losing patience with the brattish teenager the sun finally sank below the horizon. A deafening splintering crash omitted from the largest and most distant hut, accompanied by a raucous bleating and grunting as pigs and sheep dashed from the doorway. It looked like the roof was caving in. At the sight the young girl dashed across to where the animals were breaking for the settlement walls. "The flocks!" she cried, "We have to get them back inside!"

Her dash was cut short as a massive figure emerged from the shattered door of the hut. Roofing straw matted in its clothing and a sheep under one arm, the Spriggan gleefully trotted towards the other animals. It must have crept into the hut during the day and nightfall had transformed it into its giant form.

Ravenclaw was close behind the girl and shouted to the Spriggan to drop the sheep it was carrying. The giant just laughed and reached for another creature nearby.

Meanwhile, unnoticed by the party, a shadowy figure had appeared on the slope above the village. It raised a hand towards where the silhouettes of the gnomes could be seen clustered around the fire. Athalwolf, recovering on the ground by the fire, suddenly clutched at his head, agonising pain screeching across his scalp and down his spine. He fell back unconscious.

By this time Ravenclaw and the girl had been joined by Ran Rauko and he called out to the Spriggan once more, commanding it to release the sheep. Seeing there were more enemies arriving the lone Spriggan decided to cut its losses, dropped the stunned sheep and capered into the night with a shrill cackle.

It was now fully dark, and the party spent the next hour rounding up as many of the animals as possible and making their enclosure fast. The girl used a shrill whistle to herd the sheep and pigs and had great skill in gathering them together. Her brother also emerged from the hut to lend a hand. Working together to retrieve the livestock seemed to soften the girl's attitude to the party and as they retired to the huts to cook meat from one of the boar it emerged that she and her brother had not eaten for two days. A few days ago a stranger in purple had visited the village and talked with the elders. The children had overheard something about goblins but had been sent away from the meeting hut and knew nothing more. They had gone off to play in the woods and when they returned the village was deserted. The girl's name was Jinni and her brother was called Glenn. Jinni told them her mother had once mentioned that there was a safe place they could go to in times of need, a hidden refuge just inside the Heart Forest. They thought this might be where the rest of the village had gone. Ravenclaw told them of the quest they were on, the task of defeating the goblin horde. Jinni at first laughed at him speaking so seriously of the Fae and goblins, make-believe creatures grandmothers used to warn naughty children to behave. As the tale unfolded though she became more wrapt and was determined to follow them to stack the goblin horde. First though, they had to find the other villagers to make sure Glenn was safe with the other adults. The party secretly hoped Jinni's parents would take her off their hands as well!

The following morning they packed their bags, loading the second boar carcass onto one of the horses, and set off towards the Heart Forest in search of the missing villagers.

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