The 19th full game session. Matt (Barron), Mariel (Leah), and Nathan (Kevin) are returning cast members.
As we left the party, they had just survived an attack by a coordinated warband of bullywogs (frog-men) by the skin of their teeth. Michael healed Leah, Barron, and Kevin so the three party members could follow the escaping bullywog and hopefully catch it before it could warn any others. The rest of the party made camp, and woke up the next morning with a note pinned to one of their backpacks.
Leah was able to follow the blood trail south from the party's camp, eventually losing the trail near a large tree. There were marks on the bark as if something had brushed against it, or perhaps attacked it with a claw. After a few minutes examining the tree, Barron determined that the frog-man had climbed the tree, walked out one of the branches, and leaped from the branch to land as far as possible from the tree before continuing. The party was able to resume following the trail, which now went mostly west rather than north.
After following the trail for another mile or two, the party saw a strange earthern pillar ahead. Barron attempted to sneak closer to the pillar to examine it, but the party heard loud splashing and saw light reflecting from various daggers and bits of equipment he was wearing. Soon after that, a loud, repeated croaking was heard, accompanied by movement from the top of the pillar ahead. Something was clearly watching them from its position above the swamp, something low and flat enough that it could not be seen easily from below.
Sensing that they had been spotted, and the croaking was a form of alarm call, Leah shot blindly at the top of the pillar, aiming for the blur of barely-seen motion and hoping for the best. Her shot hit something with a fleshy sound of impact, followed shortly by a splash. The croaking ceased, and the party cautiously advanced.
They found themselves approaching the unfinished side of a semicircular fortification, with three more pillars similar to the first arranged in the cardinal directions, and a wall made of crude wooden logs being raised on the far side of the camp. In the center was a crude square hut of similar construction, and the center area had been mostly packed down with dirt and cleared of brush and trees. To the west of the hut, a chaotic group of small and smaller frog-men milled about in confusion. They appeared to be grabbing sacks and bags, packing frantically, and trying -- but failing -- to organize for a rapid departure. To the east of the hut, a smaller group of large frogs lined up, clutching at arms and listening to what can only be a drill sergeant speech in ... frog-speech.
The party continued to slowly advance, and when they were about 40' from the hut, the unit of frog-soldiers hopped to meet them. Neither side was eager to attack first, so much staring and posturing ensued while Kevin tried to remember how exactly his Speak with Animals spell worked. Finally managing to remember the proper sequence of gestures and words, he managed to stammer out, "We come in peace!
Pointing at the dead frog sentry they had shot and whose body was clearly visible on this side of the pillar, the frogs were clearly skeptical. However, they were also aware their warband had just be slaughtered by a group of human warriors. Further violence might result in the complete slaughter of their entire village, including the frog-women and tadpoles. Wiser frogs counseled peace.
The party expressed their interest in searching for a group of missing friends, the "Scooby Gang", along with their regrets about the slaughter of the warband (with the blame-shifting assertion that the big leader frog called Han shot first), and their hope to somehow rescue their friends from the clutches of the lizardfolk while possibly resolving the scaly problem in a permanent fashion. The frogs appeared to be all in favor of a permanent solution to a cold-blooded problem.
With the tension level decreasing and Kevin's Speak with Animals spell on a timer, the party quickly inquired about the wounded frog they had been following. Would it be possible to procure the return of the creature the frog had swallowed?
This turned out to be possible indeed. The wounded frog was in the shaman's hut, having given his report and immediately requested that the shaman "get this bloody bird out if it kills me!" As a druid with some skill in healing, Kevin offered his assistance with the operation as a show of good faith. He entered the hut at the center of the unfinished fortifications, and assisted the shaman with the emergency avian removal surgery. The surgery took about an hour, and resulted in a very drunk frog (alcohol is the only anesthetic available to medieval frog-men), and a featherless Mr Crackers. However, the shaman said he was likely to recover, in time. Physically if not psychologically.
He was talking about the frog, not poor, plucked Mr Crackers. Mr Crackers will bear the psychological scars of showing up to the rest of his unlife naked for all of eternity.
In the corner of the shaman's hut lay a mysterious wooden chest with a human body wrapped around it -- as if the human had chosen to sit down, cross-legged, with the chest in their lap and their arms wrapped around it. Kevin tried very hard not to stare at this obvious treasure, and did not recognize the body.
Meanwhile, outside the hut, Barron discovered by accident that the frog sergeant spoke Common, albeit not terribly well. They discussed the fight with the frog warband, and much was made over the claim that the frogs attacked first. With their only witness undergoing emergency surgery, this claim was not disputed.
While negotiations continued, the Great Chief of the Bullywog Tribe arrived: an enormous frog carried, one hop at a time, by four merely very large frogs supporting an palanquin. Somehow, they balanced the contraption even as they hopped vigorously through the swamp. They arrived from behind the party, cutting off any path of retreat. Luckily, one of the bearer-frogs spoke Common as well, and was able to join in the negotiations on behalf of the Great Chief, though it was unclear how much of the bearer-frog's function was translation and how much was merely to provide a social barrier between the chief and the half-elves.
Eventually, the negotiations were concluded. The village frogs wished for the half-elves and their friends to go away and leave their swamp in peace. The Great Chief explained that the lizardfolk had moved into the swampland recently, and displaced the frog settlement from their previous home. He would like the lizardfolk forced to leave their new territory. In return, he offered the half-elves news of their friends (the so-called "Scooby Gang", but it's not clear who exactly calls them that), and safe passage for the whole party through the bullywog's territory to reach and deal with the lizardfolk.
As for the Scooby Gang, the frog scouts had seen them passing through their territory towards the lizardfolk camp from a distance. The frogs had no desire to interfere with the infernal beast pulling the cart or the hideous racket it made, so they allowed it to pass without challenge. At the time, everyone visible on the cart appeared healthy, albeit mostly unarmed. The bullywogs did not see the cart or anyone from it (as far as they could tell) returning from the lizardfolk lair. Their concept of time is not terribly clear beyond the seasonal variations and the day-night cycle, so the best they could offer was "before the current moon", which appears to translate to "last month".
The peace treaty was sealed with a party, and (mostly? partially? hopefully?) fresh fish stew was eaten by all. Kevin had the opportunity to demonstrate his nonmagical healing skills, and achieved a success that can be only be described as contagious and mouthwatering. Even Pyro got to enjoy warm leftovers brought to him by his caring human companions in that special way that only dogs and baby birds appreciate.
After concluding their business with the bullywogs, which the frog-men appeared to view as an excellent bargain for some reason, the trio returned to their party's campsite to spend the night. Finding their friends strangely (and yet, familiarly) unresponsive, they left a note and continued onwards to scout the path to the lizardfolk lair.
Traveling a few miles from the party's camp, the trio of scouts reached a wide river. Presumably, the Dunwater, which (according to the maps) feeds into the Nyr Dyv to the south. The lizardfolk lair is somewhere on the other side, near the river delta. Except, technically, all of the swampland is the river delta... so we'll suffice it to say, on the other side of the river and probably somewhat south of the party's current location.
The immediate problem was to cross the river, which (at the point which the intrepid trio of adventures encountered it) stretched for about a hundred yards of slow-moving, brown water. The shore on either side was heavily overgrown with low trees and extensive root systems, lacking a clear boundary between river and shore. Of Barron, Leah, Kevin, and Pyro, only Leah could swim well, although Pyro can dog-paddle. After checking their inventory for possibly useful tools, the party decided to have Leah swim across the river and shoot an arrow with a rope tied to it back across. This would result in a rope bridge that the party could use to cross the river without actually swimming, and hopefully, without getting wet. The question of Pyro was left as an matter to be resolved later.
The first phase of the plan went swimmingly (pun very much intended). Leah crossed the river quickly, though she felt several strange tugs at her armor as she crossed. Perhaps there were fish in the river? She was able to re-string her bow and get a solid hit on a tree trunk with her second shot. The results of the first shot were, luckily, no more consequential than a lost arrow. However, suddenly Leah realized that, though her ranger training had shown her the technique for crossing a river with a rope bridge for companions unable to swim, no one had actually taught her how to tie the knots. The rest of the party, left behind for the moment, were in similar straits: after their best efforts, the rope bridge was sort of in place, but it wouldn't remain in place for long without someone holding the rope on both sides.
Kevin volunteered to go next. The druid dangled himself from the rope by his hands and crossed ankles, and begin to swim across. Unfortunately the rope bridge dipped low to the water near the center (failed strength check on one side of the bridge) and soon his leather armor was soaked by the river. As his crossing disturbed the surface, something beneath the water began to grow interested in the activity, and three pairs of large, greyish-brown claws emerged from below.
Thinking quickly, Barron tossed a fish loaded with sleeping draughts to the first pair of pincers to appear. The fish landed with a splash, and the water briefly churned, before slowly calming again. That set of pincers did not reappear. (A fish in time saves ... well, four.)
That left two sets of claws to attack Kevin, whose grip on the rope was quite precarious enough already. He made his way across the rope slowly but surely, taking a series of increasingly more serious wounds as he did so. Just as he neared the far shore, he finally collapsed and fell into the water. Leah immediately rushed in to pull him out, just as Barron and Pyro (still on the eastern shore) began their crossing. Working together, Leah was able to pull the unconscious druid to safety and lend her strength (along with Pyro's, and really, it was all Pyro) to the effort to pull Barron to shore before the mysterious crustaceans could claw him to death as well.
As the curtain closed on this session, the trio (and Pyro) were safely across the river, just far enough from the shore to avoid being dragged into the river by a wandering lobster or crawfish. It was about this time that Barron remembered a ford or crossing marked on the map a little to the north of where he thought they were...
To be continued...