Our return to town through that misbegotten swamp was entirely uneventful, having killed off Eye Spy and forcefully relinquished its hold on the area. Our party's Paladin assures me that he will return someday to consecrate the Necromantic Tree and the surrounding lands, turning it into a decidedly Good-aligned location. Naturally, I'll want to be onhand to observe this if possible! It will be very interesting to see what sort of effect this has on the swamp in general.
In town, I was able to negotiate with the wizards we were assisting for an unbelievable deal on pearls for any Identify spells we will need in future (each casting consumes one pearl worth 100GP). I was able to get twenty of them, for 25GP each! The gods of luck and travellers must have smiled upon me this day, to get so many gems at a quarter of their market price! Yes, we did them a service, so their initial offering was 50GP per pearl, but a Persuasion Roll of 18 on my part for a total of 20 soon convinced them that maybe it was be nice if a fellow wizard like myself was able to identify any interesting items he came across in his travels, without the process being such a drain on the coin purse. With the money saved from that wonderful trade, I was also just barely able to pick up a Staff of Swarming Insects
, although it took my entire remaining 2000GP to do so (after the loss on the pearls, the wizards were understandably unwilling to negotiate this price down further as well). The idea of being able to cast Insect Plague
on my enemies is a very exciting prospect. I'd heard of this spell in my travels, and it sounded truly nasty, so imagine the luck of finding a staff that can cast it each day without having to memorize the spell, as well as being able to obscure myself should a hasty retreat be necessary!
[OOC: Until noted, this next section was relayed to me by the GM as having been auto-resolved in my absence by himself and the other players, since I missed a session due to other commitments.]
Having taken care of my needs in town (including buying up as many resources for creating Potions of Mind Reading later as possible, with a generous 4000 Gold investment from the party's Barbarian, enough for 16 attempts!), we once again set forth into the wilderness, this time to check on the drop-point I agreed on with my goblin tribe as a contact point. I must say, the goblins are... uh, inventive, when it comes to getting information to me. Since their writing skills are (currently, at least) nearly non-existent, they didn't leave me a note. They simply stuffed one of their tribe members into a hollowed-out tree trunk and made him memorize the message to me word for word as best they could. Thankfully, a Comprehend Languages spell once again came in handy (he was gibbering in Goblin, which I haven't had time or opportunity to get a proper handle on yet), and the gist of the message was that the hobgoblins of the region are getting very, VERY uppity. Moving in packs that could more be described as roving armies, they're taking as many prisoners / slaves as they can from the Goblin and Orc villages, and destroying everything and everyone who is of no immediate use to them. The poor goblin was half out of his mind with fear, especially having heard of me as being a terrible being who rains fire down on all who displease him... Although he didn't explicitly say it, I'm certain he was convinced I'd torch him on the spot just for bearing me bad news! I sent him back to the tribe with a warm thanks and a few shiny coins for his efforts, which brightened his demeanour immensely. It is my eventual intention to not only increase the size of the tribe I've "adopted", but to slowly shift their collective alignment out of the "Evil" side of the spectrum and into at least "Neutral"... That will be quite a long-term project, I think. Just imagine - Inherently non-evil goblins!
We all agreed that the hobgoblin threat was not to be taken lightly, especially when they're roaming in much larger packs than would normally be expected. This implies a greater threat, someone who is able to exert control over creatures normally known for their internal conflicts as much as their external ones; inter-hobgoblin tribe wars are normally a very common prospect. Setting off, we were able to track a large band of them to a valley where they had concealed themselves, and a few well-placed Fireball spells and associated all-up-in-your-grill spells and combat techniques and the hobgoblin encampment was thoroughly ruined in short order. Although there were a sizeable number of hobgoblins there, the feel and layout implied that this was simply a raiding party, and certainly not the major force that was behind the region's issues... Once again, my ability to create the Tiny Hut made for comfortable resting for all involved on this journey so far. Some of the others left to pursue interesting leads, leaving myself, the warlock, barbarian and sorceror to investigate this region.
[End of auto-resolved section.]
Having agreed that further investigation was warranted, our warlock friend made excellent use of a Fly spell to scout the surrounding region while the three of us rested and took watches. I saw this as an excellent opportunity for a "Waste not!" approach to the sudden availability of a lot of sentient-creature brains to make Potions of Mind Reading from, and with the help of the sorceror [creation attempts have "advantage": Roll two D20s and take the higher of them as the result] we set to work brewing.
That's when the trouble started...
Things were going well, with some successes and some failures (some of the brains were a bit too scrambled, so those potions didn't work out), and the creation of three Masterwork Potions (rolled a 20 for them, thank you gods of luck!), there was one particular attempt that told me the gods felt I'd done enough work for the day (rolling 1's on both D20s at the same time): The potion EXPLODED, releasing a noxious purple cloud of vapour that my assistant and I couldn't help but breathe in. Near-instantly, I had the absolutely strangest feeling I've encountered in my life so far: The feeling of being someone else
. Suddenly and briefly, I wasn't a Dragonborn wizard, no! I was Kuklug Murgog, PROUD HOBGOBLIN WARRIOR!
Memories of a horrid lifetime filled with pain, toil and torment coursed through me, leaving me standing and staring, dazed, at the strange array of brewing vials and apparatus in front of me, as well as the obvious aftermath of some sort of explosion. But... Aren't I dead? We were ambushed, stupid, STUPID to lock ourselves INTO a valley when that's where we normally chase and trap our foes! Made it so easy to rain fire and death down on us from all around. CURSED HUMANS! I remember the final searing burn of that wizard's spell as it tore through me... So WHAT is going on here? And I seem to be... Shorter? What is this madness!? I will seek these humans out and destroy them! I will...
...Ohhh, my head. For a moment there I thought I was a hobgoblin! I had his memories, his worldly perception, everything. I find this turn of events to be equal parts fascinating and disturbing. My sorceror friend is shaking his head as if to clear it as well; I wonder if he experienced something similar.
[OOC: GM's note to both of us - "For the next tenday, whenever you go to sleep, you will dream that you ARE the hobgoblin that owned the brain used in the exploding potion. This may result in sleepwalking, sleeptalking (in Hobgoblin!), and possibly hostile actions against those he perceives as enemies." My return question, since Torgos is in it to learn everything he can: "Am I able to learn the Hobgoblin language from this?" The GM's response: "Yes. If you so desire, when you wake, you can choose to take notes on whatever you can remember from 'being' him. By doing that you would know the language at the end of the tenday."]
The Warlock returns with some interesting news: Among his discoveries was a large cave in one direction, and in another were the ruins of a Hill Giant battlement which, despite being ruins, seemed to be a very
busy place. He wasn't able to get close enough for extensive details without giving away his presence, but the place seems to be crawling with hobgoblins and giants... Although the cave sounds fascinating (caves always contain interesting creatures and loot), the party decided that the battlements are probably a more pressing concern.
Encountering no wandering enemies on the way, we trekked through some very hilly country to a spot within viewing range of the battlements, situated on top of a large hill. The walls are in severe disrepair, cracked, tumbled down in places with a couple of gaps big enough to squeeze through. One truly massive set of stone gates (currently closed) are set into the oval-shape area, roughly 220 feet long and roughly 200 feet wide. Huge bonfires dotted around it including torches and bonfires at the set of gates and a huge hole in the wall across the other side, a lot of massive tents, around 40 hobgoblins spread around (one of whom is wearing some very decorated plate mail), roughly 12 hill giants (six of whom are sleeping on straw mats), and an obvious and out-of-place leader: A fancily-clad fire giant right in the middle of it all! His air of confidence suggests that he is the leader of the recent slaving efforts, especially since he's managing to get huge numbers of hobgoblins to work together, as well as a dozen hill giants in the mix. Some quiet scouting by the warlock and his homunculus familiar show the presence of several gigantic iron-banded treasure chests. While their contents aren't immediately visible (and opening them would be both difficult and time-consuming), it's a safe assumption that they contain some very exciting riches as an incentive for one side to join the other in the slave raids as an ally instead of a potential obstacle.
Faced with such a large force, we confer among ourselves as to how best to approach this situation, since there are only four of us in total, and lots of them. We have a few options: CHARGE!, try to cause infighting and confusion by shooting some hobgoblin arrows into the mix, or come back later when we're better prepared to deal with them. We can't leave, because they probably won't be here when we come back (and neither will those intriguing treasure chests!), they're unlikely to fall for a hobgoblin arrow ruse, but a direct attack with only four active members seems suicidal...
With the statement of "Well, you only live once", I decide that the sleeping giants would make for an excellent Fireball target, and the sorceror agrees. Two from me, two from him, and their bedding will ensure that they wake up ON FIRE, taking additional per-round damage until they can shake it off. (What's that? "Let sleeping giants lie?" I'd rather that they lie there dead, thank you, instead of having those gigantic clubs lie across my skull.) The others agree, the warlock decides that some poisoned arrows might be a nice touch on the fire giant as a sneak attack, and let there be light! LET THERE BE FIRE!!BOOM!!
During our discussions, one of the sleepers evidently got up and went elsewhere, so five hill giants got woken up by a very toasty surprise. Their bedding and clothing sufficiently ON FIRE, they're injured before things even get rolling. The warlock, being opposite us on the other side of the compound, uses the fireballs as his cue to start launching arrows at the leader. He scores a hit... And there's a strange glow from near the fire giant's elbow when the arrow hits. Fascinating... The arrow appears to do much less damage than intended, especially with it being coated in poison. He looks around for the source of these attacks, but can't currently see anyone, since the warlock is a sneaky bastard with VERY good stealth, who ducked back behind the wall out of sight.
With the element of surprise on our side, the sorceror and I are able to serve a second helping of fireball to the now awake, ON FIRE and extremely unhappy giants, before legging it like our own pants are also ON FIRE. (Those bastards carry huge sacks full of very flingable large rocks, and I'd rather not wear one as a hat.) Another sneak-shot from the warlock, but unfortunately this time the fire giant sees him, points in his direction and bellows a command for his cohorts to attack. The huge stone gates very slowly start to get opened (even with giants opening them, they're heavy; anyone with less than giant strength simply wouldn't be able to move them), leaving quite the crowd waiting impatiently near them for the chance to attack. The warlock, meanwhile, takes off running back around the wall, heading toward the other massive gap on the other side of the compound near where the sorceror and I are. He and I begin a hasty retreat so we have some space between us and the incoming army, all the better to fling spells at those too far away to retaliate with anything more than harsh language!
Soon, there is the fire giant, hobgoblin warleader, two hill giants and around 20 hobgoblins actively pursuing the warlock, while the sorceror and I have retreated back to the treeline where the barbarian is itching to get into the fight. It's at this point that she decides to show precisely WHY she's a force to be reckoned with... when she goes full Werewolf! Suddenly, "screw you, I'm immune to non-magical/non-silver weapon damage!" which an unfortunate hill giant finds out when he scores a direct hit upside her head... And she laughs at him, the effect on her being no more than that of the gentle breeze the club created when it swung. The fire giant and hobgoblin leader are different matters though, both being armed with magic weapons, and the hobleader getting multiple attacks per round. He's fast.
As he passes it, the warlock quickly drops a Wall of Fire spell across the large gap in the wall. Surely the enemies still inside (especially those on-fire hill giants) wouldn't try to walk through it? By doing so, they'd be taking 4d10 fire damage! And if they were only able to walk far enough to end up directly in the middle of it, they'd take that much damage again!
Well, it turns out that giants are kinda... lacking... in Intelligence. Maybe, already being ON FIRE, they figured it couldn't hurt to just charge through? Which they do. Straight through a wall of fire, with one of them ending his turn right in the middle of it. Naturally, this scorches them immensely, severely weakening them and making them easier pickings for our barbarian friend, who racks up several kills in the next few minutes, finishing off what we mages started while she's nearly untouchable, carving her way through various hobgoblins and taking pot shots at the giants.
After trying to throw some Firebolts at the enemies and finding they're very hard to hit properly, the hobs wearing Full Plate as they are (often the spell just glances or reflects off it because I have to roll VERY high to hit them with directed spells) and the fire giant... being, y'know, a fire giant
, I decide that retreating out of the range of thrown rocks might be a good idea. A Mage Armor spell makes me slightly harder to hit. Once out of range, I decide to make good use of my shiny new staff, and send a disgusting cloud of hopping, biting, crawling nasties right on top of the fire giant and hobleader. The giant makes his save for half damage, but the hobleader isn't so lucky - he gets chewed on quite nicely by the cloud of nasties. Naturally he and his giant friend immediately move out of the cloud; it's a pity the cloud of insects is stationary... I may need to figure out a way to shift it for maximum usefulness later, if such a thing is possible. Maybe through expending more charges to make it controllable?
The fight continues largely without me at this point, with the barbarian chugging potions and zipping around dealing out damage while raging gleefully. The warlock, due to his battlefield positioning, keeps getting clobbered with thrown boulders because he and the giants are just within range of each other for their ranged attacks, and theirs hit harder than his do! Most of the giants who ran through the wall of fire get picked off, with two of them burning to death entirely because they couldn't put the fire out from the initial fireball spells dumped on them. Eventually the warlock covers himself in some Dust of Disappearance and vanishes, being critically injured by yet another rock to the head. The hill giants then turn their attention to the sorceror and myself... Pity the sorceror who's just within range due to trying to get into position to dump a Lightning Bolt down their throats and, WHAM! A well-placed rock to the face and he backs out of the way, having sizzled them for their trouble. How they're still standing is anyone's guess.
Unfortunately for me, I decided that I needed to get within spell range to try and Scorching Ray one of the hill giants, because FIRE! and this fight needs to be finished. Both giants launch rocks at me, the first one misses... The second one hits me for over half of my ability to take damage in one go. This is when I decide that this fight no longer needs me, I use the Insect Cloud ability of the staff to hide myself within my own personal fog of insects (harmless; they obscure vision for everyone but myself, and stay centered on me as I move) and I leg it to safety FAR away from the battle until it's over.
I note here that the battlement isn't cleared as yet, although the remaining inhabitants are very likely to vacate posthaste with what has just gone down. It includes at least two hill giants who felt that staying put, eating and drinking and doing what they please with nobody to order them around was better than getting involved in the battle, plus an unknown number of hobgoblins who took the same approach.
We loot everything that is within reach of us, picking up some interesting (but otherwise useless) items such as various Instruments of The Bard, the fire giant's utterly massive magical greatsword, a +1 longsword from the hobgoblin leader, some cash, some nice gems potentially worth 1000GP or more each, depending on their cut and quality, and it turns out that the fire giant was wearing a bracelet (that's perfectly sized to be a belt for a much smaller creature like a halfling, but too small for standard size humans) that confers poison resistance (thus that flash of light). They will take those huge chests with them, but that will make them very easy to track, and they will be slowed further by the lack of any meaningful leadership. Enough time for us to rest up and restock our blasting capabilities before we track them down and find out just what is in those chests...