Dean (Jared), Matt (Spinter Paw), Mariel (Ragash), Coby (Azza), Jeff (Ford), Chris (Creeper), and James (Kraygen) are returning cast members.
We left the group in Phandalin, looking for the location of Cragmaw Keep. They began by speaking with Sister Graele, who did not know herself but did know of a local druid who knew the area. She did not have a way to contact him. However, after discussing the Redbrands (a local group of mercenaries running a protection racket on the town), and getting a feel for the characters, she suggested a mission. She has recently found a fragment of a spellbook from a legendary wizard, suggesting the rest may be in the area. She needs to question the last person known to possess it, a woman named Agatha… unfortunately, this individual is no longer among the living. However, Agatha is rumored to persist in the form of an undead spirit. Local legends suggest her wail is terrible and fearful, but if approached with flattery and perhaps a gift of sufficient beauty, she may be persuaded to answer questions. The party expressed interest in completing this task later, when the screams of Gundren Rockseeker being tortured by goblins were no longer echoing in their ears. Sister Graele also suggested asking around at the local farms for information on the local of Cragmaw Keep.
The next stop was the Eldernath Orchard, close by but technically outside the town walls. They were greeted by a young boy who led the group to the cidery, where a fresh batch was bubbling under the watchful eye of the proprietor. He introduced himself as Daran Eldermath, and between complaints about the Redbrands', sold the group a small barrel of hard cider. He also mentioned rumors that someone – perhaps orcs – was digging in the ruins of Old Owl Well, a minor outpost of some historical significance that had been abandoned for some time. He suggested asking the local druid about Cragmaw Keep, and suggested the family at Alderleaf Farm might be able to contact him.
On the way back into town from Eldermath Orchard, the party was intercepted by a group of eight Redbrands, distinguished by a (often faded and chipped) burning brand on their shields and armor. Clearly this group of mercenaries had seen better days, but they were demanding a protection tax from the new adventurers. After some tense moments, the party traded the almost full barrel of cider for safe passage. The Redbrands implied they would be back to collect more if the group had success in their adventuring, in return for protecting the town from monsters.
The Townmaster’s Hall had a poster by the door referencing a 100gp reward for the destruction of orc raiders in the area near Old Owl Well. The townmaster himself, an somewhat oily fast-talking politician named Harbin Wester, welcomed the group to the town and explained the terms of the reward; just bring back a sufficient quantity of orc ears and he will send a small group of mercenaries to investigate and confirm the problem has been solved. He fears sending enough mercenaries to do the job themselves and leaving the town defenseless. While he promised to make inquiries concerning town complaints against the Redbrands', the group got the impression he didn’t really intend to do much about it besides talk a lot. Harbin was able to locate a map showing the rough location of Cragmaw Keep, however.
Despite finding a map, the party decided to visit Alderleaf Farm anyway, where they were greeted by a halfling woman (Qelline) and her son (Carp). Qelline also complained about the Redbrands, though she mentioned they had defended the town against an attack from orcs and goblins about a month ago. Carp spoke up and mentioned he had seen the Redbrands entering a leaving a secret cave in the woods. He offered, over his mother’s protests, to lead the party there. They did not take Carp up on it immediately, but did enlist him as a “secret agent” to watch the bandits and report back. Qelline also mentioned the local druid, Reidoth, as an expert on the surrounding area. She said he had recently left town, headed to Thundertree, which is closer to Neverwinter than Phandalin. The party tried to catch up, but were unable to do so. Carp did sneak aboard their cart and had to be returned to his mother.
Armed with the map to Cragmaw Keep, the group set out into the forest and soon located the ruined structure. Closer investigation revealed that, though ruined, it was inhabited by goblins and at least one other dangerous creature. There were several entrances to choose from; the party chose to unlock a locked door near a banquet hall being abused by goblins at mealtime. Ford did the initial scouting and Azza managed to open the door with his lockpicks, then scouted ahead. Creeper found an internal door that led to a group of hobgoblins, but managed to make inquiries without alarming them. Most of the group managed to sneak in, but Ragash’s armor clattered at the wrong moment, alerting the goblins inside the dining hall. The fight was on.
Ragash entered the dining hall and blocked the exit, supported by both Kraygen and Splinter Paw. She held her ground, defeating most of the goblins; the few survivors tried to flee to the west. Meanwhile, Azza and Creeper were trying to keep the hobgoblins locked in their room by main force. They failed, but eventually defeated the hobgoblins. Shortly after that, goblins begin to enter the area from a door to the west of Creeper’s area, and he made short work of those who attacked before deciding to explore through the door they had come from. The goblins in that room were trickier, using hit and run tactics, but most fell quickly – including a shaman of some kind. Creeper was alone in the room … or so he thought, for a moment later a tentacled monstrosity fell upon him and begin to rip and tear the friendly goblin with it’s beak. Creeper fell to the floor, bleeding out.
Azza and others followed Creeper once they realized he was at risk, and the distraction allowed Creeper to bandage his wounds and retreat to within range of the healers. The monster slipped out of the room in the confusion. At least two goblin archers were taking occasional potshots through a door as more party members entered the room, but there was a brief lull in the action…