My last session with the Bearfoot Marauders was the most intense battle I’ve ever run at a GM.
It began as traveled through familiar territory, they’d passed up the road less than a week before and passed a number of folks who were fleeing violence occurring in the forest around the remote town of Modrin. They’d travelled north without incident, but on their way back the road had been transformed into a scene which hinted horrible violence–burned out carts, discarded possessions, and occasional bodies. This made the trip most unsettling.
At last they arrived at a major landmark, a place called “The Broken Tree,” and found a group of people being guarded by a group of orcs who were telling them to shut up. Seeing this, party attempted to sneak under the canopy of the trees to plan, but the dice got in the way. I rolled that both sides achieved “surprise” so everyone leapt into action and a fight broke out. As the party moved to engage the orcs, who were relatively easy opponents for the party, one of the hostages shouted out, “Forget us! They’re trying to destroy the tree!”
On a previous visit to this spot the party had discovered 1 The Broken Tree was linked to a previously unknown goddess of light and life–and the hostage who shouted to the party was a person they discovered knew more about the tree than he was letting on. So when they got the warning, the party disengaged from the orcs who were guarding the hostages and began sprinting south toward the tree. As they did so one of the orcs blew a horn, which alerted two massive orcs there was trouble coming.
A running battle began, as several of the smaller orcs sprinted after the party, and the massive orcs moved out from behind to the tree to engage the intruders. At this point I placed a counter on the scene, and as the combat rounds passed it counted down. By this point the party had reached the north face of The Broken Tree, and could hear chanting from the opposite side, and as the rounds passed the sound of that chanting grew louder.
The party’s impulse was to engage the massive orcs and then continue on to the other side of the tree, but these creatures were tough. Several blows from the players hit, but I kept describing that they weren’t doing quite as much harm as they expected. When the counter hit “3″“ I had three of the characters, who had some connection with this unknown goddess, make wisdom checks. They all succeeded and so these three characters heard voice cried out, ”Please, you must stop him. STOP THE CHANTING 2.“
Spurred on by the voice, the party decided to sprint to the other side of the massive tree, allowing the massive orcs to get a parting shots on a couple of the characters. The players survived, and the Elf fighter/magic-user managed to bring a dwarf-like priest into view. He hit a chanting priest with a magic missile just as the counter was about to go to “1.” This erased the counter, but now the players had to contend with the massive orcs, an infuriated priest of chaos, and his dwarrow bodyguard. All but one of the characters decided to circle the tree by the one side, and as the battle was joined things got really tense 3. Hit points dropped, and had a dice roll or two gone a different way some of the party could have died.
On the other side of the tree, while the rest of the party was struggling to survive, a single second level dwarf fighter was left all alone against one of the huge orcs. I made these creatures as mini-bosses in their own right. They had a base movement of 40 feet, so running away from one was not going to be easy, and they were four hit dice creatures 4 and enjoyed a +4 to hit. When this happened I groaned a bit, and thought, “Die well, Nikare.” But then the orc guard started making horrible attack rolls! I wove this into the story, and commented that it seemed the tree itself was interfering with the orc’s attacks. And, even so, that lone dwarf almost went down.
In the end, the party overcame their opponents, prevented the tree from being destroyed, and were rewarded with a scroll which fills in much of the story details they’ve only heard piecemeal by the few NPC’s who have any idea what’s going on. Also, the party’s cleric was called to become a proclaimer of the unknown goddess’ name–changing his holy symbol, while continuing to include the symbol of his prior allegiance. And the new symbol gave him the ability to use “cure wounds” once a day without burning a spell slot. That’s pretty huge.
In the end there were lots of great moments, some real concern about survival, and a satisfying victory. It’s the what a good TTRPG session should be, and the players were really happy.
Well, they decided the location had to have something to do with the plot and I made something up, so we all discovered together. ↩
This may make some GM’s upset because ‘you should never hide necessary information behind a dice role.’ I understand this, but wisdom checks to hear the voice from the tree had already been established, to comedic effect, in game and I have a good dice adjustment so I was reasonably sure someone would succeed. If they hadn’t, one of the hostages would have slipped past the guard and passed on the same information, so the die roll was just another layer of tension. So there. ↩
One player texted me this morning that he was certain that was it for his character, but was ready to go down. ↩
Each with the maximum hit points, 32. ↩