The 21st full game session. Dean (Thic Duc), Matt (Barron), Mariel (Leah), Nathan (Kevin), and Jonathan (Otis) are returning cast members.
As we left the party, they had just crossed the Dunwater river at the ford, killing three crocodiles that sought to contest their passage, though the battle cost Elion his life (at least temporarily). Michael chose to return to Saltmarsh with Elion's body to bring him back to life. Otis the Saltmarsh guide chose to remain with the party, seeking a life of adventure.
The rest of the party pressed on, with the two rangers in the lead. They rapidly located a large rise in the terrain, as if several separate hills had been pushed together. Closer investigation suggested that they were in lizardfolk territory, as their tracks were plentiful in the area, but the hill itself had almost no lizardfolk tracks once it rose out of the swamp. The rangers also noted tracks from crocodiles and large normal lizards in the area, and a large cave entrance facing northeast.
The party chose to climb the hill and approach the cave entrance from above. The ground near the entrance wasn't quite stable so they couldn't see very far in, but Barron was able to see heat-shapes moving around near the back of the cave. Clearly, it was inhabited by something.
Leaving Thic Duc and Otis on the top of the cave mouth, Barron attempted to sneak up to the entrance while the rest of the party spread out to cover him. Unfortunately, Leah brought Pyro, who immediately began barking madly. This alerted the giant lizard guards, who charged the party. A fight seemed imminent, but at the last second, Kevin managed to cast Speak With Animals and convinced the guardian lizards to wait for the smarter lizard-men guards to approach.
The majority of the party promptly surrendered their weapons and were led to the dungeons, with Barron attempting to involve himself in the negotiations taking place between the Guildmistress of the Thieves' Guild and the lizardfolk. Thic Duc and Otis remained lurking above the cave entrance, hopefully unnoticed, in position to attempt a rescue. (Those familiar with Thic Duc's record of rescues may feel that being in position is as far as such an effort would be likely to go)
The majority of the party promptly surrendered their weapons in a remarkably display of trust for their fellow adventurer and were led to the dungeons, with Barron attempting to involve himself in the negotiations taking place between the Guildmistress of the Thieves' Guild and the lizardfolk. Thic Duc and Otis remained lurking above the cave entrance, hopefully unnoticed, in position to attempt a rescue. On the way to the dungeons, they noticed a strange sword and breastplate in the mud of the lizard stables.
The rest of the party was taken through the lair into a series of small dungeon cells, one of which held a captive lizardman who complained of itchy scales and claimed he was imprisoned for objecting to the chief's decision to negotiate with humans to recapture their home. The other cell seemed to hold water, with something splashing in it, but no one investigated that cell.
Barron was conveyed to the throne room, where Guildmistress Elena was negotiating with the lizardfolk chieftain. She was surprised by the interruption, but quickly asked Barron in Thieves' Cant what he was doing there, and the two of them managed to convince the chief that they were working together and that the strange group of people (the Scooby gang, one presumes) the chief had captured earlier were also associates. (Sometimes friends, sometimes servants, sometimes slaves... that part was a little confused). In turn, Elena explained that General Perneti of Rookroost had attacked her guild hall, killed many in her guild, and driven her from the city.
The deal Barron and Elena negotiated works like so: First, the lizardfolk require that the party deal with a local giant crocodile that has been attacking their patrols. They cannot deal with it themselves for religious reasons and would prefer it be driven off if possible; killed if necessary. So long as the lizardfolk themselves do not do the deed, it will be acceptable. Second, the weapons originally intended for the lizardfolk and promised to them by the Thieves' Guild must be recovered and delivered so the tribe will be armed with proper weapons; when this task is complete the prisoners will be released to help with the attack on the sahuagin. Third, the lizardfolk will retake their home from the sahuagin scum with help from the Thieves' Guild. (Since Elena appears to be lacking in other available minions, this will likely be the party). Finally, they will assist Elena against the General.
In addition to the major points, Barron requested that the shaman reanimate Mr Crackers, using pillowfeathers as a replacement for the corpse's natural plumage. With much grumbling and argument from the shaman, this was accomplished.
The negotiations complete, the party gathered in the giant lizard stable and worked out a plan for dealing with the giant crocodile. The main idea was to use the mystery machine (and a convenient large python corpse) as bait to lure the crocodile into an ambush. Or possibly to use the noise it makes to drive the crocodile away peacefully. The party planned to place a large pile of python meat near the edge of the crocodile's territory, then drive the cart further in and leaving a trail of python sections back to the larger pile. Either the giant crocodile would flee the noise of the cart, or it would follow the meat back to their ambush... at least, in theory. And to accomplish this, they would hook the cart up to a giant lizard borrowed from the lizardfolk.
Barron also took the opportunity to grab the sword he had noticed earlier. He was not able to draw it from the sheath, however, and got a strange expression on his face each time he tried.
Barron requested the meanest, nastiest giant lizard the lizardfolk had available to pull the cart filled with bloody python chunks into the territory of a giant crocodile. The party's animal handling expert, Leah, thought this was a great idea (missed her animal handling check at diff 5... twice). However, she was able to adjust the harness to properly hook the selected animal up to the cart, and Kevin was able to negotiate with the animal's primitive mind to explain the task. As payment, the lizard demanded that he be fed with bird meat, something he had always wanted to taste but had never managed to catch. The party considered that an easy bargain to make, especially with Mr Crackers always available in case hunting was poor.
In practice, the party set off on a variety of separate tasks and accidentally surrounded a small grove of trees near where the crocodile was suspected to lair. Within that grove, a small oriental water dragon made its home, and upon seeing the party cautiously moving to surround the grove, decided it had best attack before it was completely surrounded by men with crossbows. It charged straight at Thic Duc, perhaps imagining that his grey robes meant a dangerous wizard. Thic Duc fled.
About halfway there, Kevin hit the creature with his Entanglement spell, and it was caught and held motionless by animated swamp grass. Immediately, the water surrounding the creature caught fire, and the grass began to burn away; but the party's archers were ready and aimed at weak points in the creature's immature scaly armor. Before it could free itself, the hail of arrows brought it low.
Unfortunately, the sound of the struggle had attracted the attention of the giant crocodile the party had intended to hunt. It emerged from the pond that served as a favorite resting spot and headed straight for Barron. Arrows from Leah scratched the beast's hide, and Mr Crackers dive-bombed the monstrosity, his decaying claws drawing blood as well. Thic Duc frantically readied his crossbow as a sling bullet from Kevin whizzed past, missing the creature along with the rest of the party.
Another volley of arrows from Leah at point-blank range landed just as it reached her, with Pyro barking furiously at her side. The terror on her face was heartbreaking: should she send her favorite pet into combat against such a huge and deadly creature? Pyro had slain a normal size crocodile almost on his own the day before, but this was another thing entirely. While she debated the moral question, the monster's massive maw chomped down on Kevin, mangling his body and sending him into unconsciousness. Thic Duc, caught out of position by the dragon's attack, hurried to reach a good place to shoot.
With the crocodile's attention on Kevin, Barron backstabbed the beast (14 points of damage). Unlike the mere scratches from Leah and Mr Crackers, the creature felt the blow, and whirled in fury. Barron was the next party member to suffer the creature's bite, and he too fell unconscious. Seeing him fall, Leah sent Pyro to attack with tears in her eyes and arrows to follow. Her fury and fear guided one of the arrows to strike true, inspiring an unheard-of level of competence in her shooting and a roar of pain from the crocodile. Thic Duc ran towards Kevin, bandaging his wounds just in time to keep him alive.
Two more arrows from Leah, one missing, but the other striking right between the eyes. The arrow clearly did not reach the creature's brain, but blood filled the crocodile's eyes and ran from its nose. It charged towards Leah to rend her limb from limb, but the blood from her arrows was blinding the creature and it could not catch her. Pyro's bite was almost unnoticeable against such a huge creature, but served as sufficient distraction for Thic Duc to pour Kevin's healing potion down the druid's throat. The horrible wounds covering his body closed.
Unable to find Leah and bite her in half as it had planned, the crocodile turned its wrath on Pyro and chewed on him instead. The loyal animal whimpered and collapsed. Leah's arrows once again found a weak point in the crocodile's hide, sinking deep to wound, while Kevin crawled to Barron and bound his wounds to save his life. Barron pulled his own healing potion from a hidden pouch and drank it. Thic Duc, feeling the moment of desperation, leaped to the top of the mystery machine and from there launched a flying kick that happened to strike the arrow Leah had sunk between the crocodile's eyes, driving it further into the creature's brain and ending the fight.
Pyro's wounds were bandaged and Kevin used his Cure Light Wounds to ease the creature's pain.
In the dragon's swampy lair, Kevin found it's hoard of treasure by stepping on it. A small hoard, for a young dragon, but still a hoard; large sacks of copper and gold coin, a scimitar, a scrollcase, a box with an agate periapt within, and an ornate necklace. The rangers occupied themselves skinning the two great reptiles, and the rest of the party counted coins. When those tasks were complete, they returned to the lizardfolk with their prizes in tow.
The chief of the lizardfolk accepted the head of the crocodile as completion of their task, but the shaman of their tribe was unhappy that the solution was not a peaceful one. Nevertheless, he grudgingly agreed that it may have been the only way.
To be continued...
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