Courage Found

“Meepo not hiding. Meepo not a fighter like heroes.”

Looking towards the sound of the tiny voice, they saw Meepo peering around the far corner. He crept out, timid and shy, eyes glancing everywhere. “Heroes kill bad goblins. Save Meepo.”

He was still holding his dagger in an awkward, two-hand grip. They could see him trembling with fear.

“Stay close, Meepo, we will keep you safe.” Seraphina was looking at him with a kind smile.

He nodded, a hunched, fearful nod. He slowly walked closer, wary of the closed door. Then he stopped. Sniffing. His eyes teared up, and he began to shake.

“Meepo?” Seraphina climbed over the low wall, running over to the shaking kobold. “What is it?”

He pointed at the closed door. “Friends there. Smell friends.”

Looking at the door, then at Adran, she went to the door, listening. Shaking her head, she grabbed the handle. “Locked.”

“Try this.” Lia handed over the tarnished key. It turned in the lock, a soft click.

Adran and Lia were ready when she pulled the door open. Bow and crossbow. They stepped through the door, deadly arrowheads glinting in the light of a single torch lighting the next room.

A small cage held a captive halfling, barely big enough for the small man. He was wearing common clothes, dirty and disheveled. Three kobolds were bound hand and foot, tied to a ring set in the floor. They cowered and groveled when the three adventurers swept in.  Meepo was peeking in by the time they realized no goblins lurked in the chamber. He rushed to his friends, sawing at their bonds with his dull dagger. A yelp from one signaled his failings, and Seraphina pushed his hands away, drawing her own dagger and slicing the three kobolds free. The quartet bounded into the shadows, hiding in a corner and talking low. Growls and grunts. Meepo kept pointing at them and shaking his head.

“Excuse me, if you might?” The trapped halfling asked in a small voice. “Erky. Erky Timbers is my name. These goblins are marauders and bandits. Caught me traveling the Old Road some weeks ago. No one to ransom me to, so I think I’m bound for the pot.” He was sad and matter-of-fact. “If not for Yondalla’s grace, I’d already be dead.”  Seraphina strained at the bars.

“Call Malark, he can bend these open.”

Lia looked out the door and waved to Malark. In a minute he had bent the bars enough for Erky to slip free.

“Many thanks to you. I would repay you if I could, though,” he looked around, “I seem to be missing all my things.”

“Well, Mr. Timbers, we haven’t seen your things, though” Adran pulled a pair of daggers from his pack, “you might want some way to defend yourself.”

Taking the daggers, he feinted with them. Weak thrusts, his muscles tight from weeks in the cage. “Might not be much of a threat.” He was sad and wistful. “I’m not a real adventurer…”

“Still pays to be armed. These goblins aren’t real adventurers either.” Adran clapped the little man on the shoulder.

“A month you’ve been here?” Lia looked down at the bedraggled halfling.

“Aye, ma’am. At least. Sorta hard to keep track of time.”

“Might you have heard anything from the goblins? About the apples, or Belak?”

“Or another party of adventurers, a woman and two men. Or those little mean bushes. The pokey-slashy creatures.” Seraphina added.

“Oh, the goblins talk. Bragging mostly. Apples? Yes. The midsummer fruit is special. They say it restores vigor and health. The pale midwinter fruit steals the same. Always laughing and snickering about whoever eats that bad fruit. I think Belak is some sort of leader figure. He gives them the apples to sell, though I’m not sure why.  He lives down below and tends some sort of garden. The goblins call it the Twilight Grove. The apples grow on something called a Gulthius Tree. I’ve only heard a bit about it. Them goblins seem terrified of the tree.”

“Interesting. Tends a grove, you say?” Adran asked.

“That’s what the goblins say. Though how one might tend a grove underground, beyond mushrooms, I don’t know. What sort of tree grows beneath the earth?”

Adran looked pensive. Then asked, “Do the goblins say who this Belak is? His race or what he might be?”

“As far as I have gathered, he seems to be a wicked old human. A spellcaster, I think. And the pokey-slashy things Miss Seraphina referred to must be his twig blights. Nasty little creatures. Sometimes they come through here with the goblins. Like a living bush, but vicious and mean. Stabbed a poor kobold to death and drank its blood.” Erky looked sad, remembering the poor creature’s demise.

“And adventurers? Did any come through? Did you see any others?” Seraphina looked eager, the revelations clearing up some of the mysteries to this place.

“Aye, I did. Though I don’t think you can save them. The goblins captured them, keeping them here for a bit. Said their names were Talgren, Sharwyn and Sir Braford. Then they took them Belak, goblins said he wanted them.”

“At least we are on the right path.” Adran was frowning, looking off, lost in thought.

“Mr. Elf?” Meepo was standing tall. Dagger in hand. He looked up at Adran.

Nodding, Adran looked down.

“Meepo take friends home. Be brave like you, take them safe.”

Adran held out his hand, taking Meepo’s wrist in a warrior’s grip. “Well met, Meepo. Go. Take them home.” Meepo straightened his shoulders, looking braver than they had yet seen him. He nodded once, then growled to his friends and they all scampered away.

“That was good of you Mr. Adran.” Seraphina’s voice was trembling. “Everyone deserves a chance to be honored.”

“Aye Miss Seraphina, that they do.”

The four plus their new friend headed back over the low, mortared wall. Malark kicked a few blocks free, the shoddy workmanship crumbling under his blows. “Gobbos not build strong. Crush them all.” He was frowning. A new anger in his eyes.

Looking carefully, they noted another door nearly concealed in one wall. Two doors to check.

“Flip a halfling?” Lia casually asked, looking at both doors.

Erky looked terrified. Seraphina laughed. “She’s kidding. Right, Lia?”

Lia shrugged. Flicked a bit of flame off her fingertip and pointed at the concealed door.

Opening the door, they discovered a stockpile of rancid foodstuffs and vinegary goblin wine. Boxes, sacks, and kegs were stack along the walls in the is room. A clear path from the door they entered to another door passed between the piled supplies. Picking through the stash, Lia found a few flasks of oil, stuffing them in a pouch.

“Might come in handy. You know, for burning stuff.”

“Forward or through that other door?” Adran was listening at the door, leaning so his ear was against it.

“Nothing. All quiet through this door.” Slipping a small piton out, he wedged it under the door. “Delay them, at least. Back that way?” He slipped past the others, muttering. “A maze. Too many doors. Underground. I hate being underground.”

Seraphina hid a smile at his discomfort, then piped up. “If you think this is a maze, Mr. Adran, don’t visit a Hin burrow. All doors and passages and nooks. Not very tall, either.”

“Fair warning little friend. Here, though, every door is a danger. Too many doors.”

Malark was ready at the next door. He was frowning, still looking angry. The paleness was passing, his system dumping the toxins in the green smoke. “Find gobbos, Crush gobbos. Find lady’s people.” Nodding to them, he yanked the door wide. Adran and Seraphina rushed through, the tiny halfling seeming to melt through the space Adran occupied. Lia was next, crossbow in her hands. Malark nodded to Erky, motioning for him to go, and the tiny, gaunt halfling slunk into the next chamber.

Finding themselves in a long hall, with a door at the far end, and one nearly across from them, Seraphina smiled, nudging Adran with her bow.

“More doors.”

“Yes” he sighed. “More doors.”

Lia was listening at the closer door. Looking over her shoulder she whispered. “Voices. Two or three. Goblins. I think.”

“Mr. Timbers?” Adran’s voice was low. “Open the door, we’ll take them.”

The little halfling nodded, and grabbed the handle. Closing his eyes, he hauled the door open with all his strength.

Adran was through the door in a flash. Seraphina at his side. Lia stepped to the door, loosed a bolt, then ducked aside as Malark rushed through. All three goblins were bloodied before they knew they were under attack. Rolling across the ground, the largest of the three picked up a scimitar and growled at Seraphina, charging her. Malark roared, leaping to attack the nearest goblin. His sword swung in a crushing arc, barely missing the goblin as it scrambled away. The third goblin yanked Lia’s bolt from its thigh and ran to the far wall, slipping through a narrow gap and disappearing from sight.

Seraphina was down, wrestling with the goblin. It was trying to bash her in the head with the hilt of its blade, and she was desperate to avoid a blow. Both hands were holding its arm, straining to hold it off. Adran took two long steps, kicking the goblin in the ribs, sending the creature sprawling. Lia was in the chamber now, firing a bolt that merely nicked the goblin. Screaming in rage, it sprang towards Seraphina again. She had drawn her twin blades and was back on her feet. Deflecting the first blow, she stabbed it through the throat, her blade plunging deep. Sweeping the goblin blade aside, she stabbed her other blade into its chest, grunting as it slumped down, blades buried in its flesh.

Malark was parrying frantic sweeps of the last goblin’s blade. Metal clanged on metal, then he blocked a swing with his shield and swung his long sword in an upper-cutting sweep, slicing a deep gash in its chest. Screaming in rage and pain it ducked under his guard, slicing a cut in Malark’s thigh. He kneed the goblin, his blow striking a blow on the chin, knocking its head back. With a quick return stroke, he sliced it across the throat, killing it in an instant.

All four were huffing, trying to catch their breath from the furious fight. Malark laid his sword down and pressed the gash on his thigh, blood spilling through his fingers. Erky timidly entered the chamber, dagger in hand. Seeing Malark’s blood, he hurried over.

“I might not be much. But I can help with this.” He pushed Malark’s hand away, setting his own hand atop the wound. Closing his eyes, he whispered a prayer and began to chant. Looking down, Malark could feel the wound knit, the pain ebbing away. In seconds the wound was healed. Erky looked up. “Yondalla blesses.” Malark grimace-smiled in thanks, hand on the halfling’s shoulder.

“Care to do that again?” Seraphina coughed, holding her ribs. “Think that one cracked something when it tackled me.” She grimaced and coughed again.

Erky moved next to her, slipping his hand under hers. He smiled serenely, starting his prayer and closing his eyes. “You know Yondalla, my friend. She loves Her Hin children.” Murmuring, a faint glow appeared for a few moments, then faded away. “Better?”

Seraphina stretched, raising her arm above her head. “Much better.”

Adran was peering through the gap the lone survivor escaped through. Inhaling deep, he turned to the others. “I think this is a path to the surface. The air smells fresher. Too narrow for us. Either way, I don’t think that one is coming back for a while.”

Back in the passage, they approached the far door. Malark was ahead of the others, still on edge and looking to fight. Stepping in front of the door, he triggered a trap, the floor tilting to drop him into a hidden pit. He dropped his torch and shield, grabbing onto the lip of the pit, struggling to hang on. The grime and rubble were impossible to grip, and he dropped out of sight. The others rushed to pit, Seraphina pulling rope from her pack. The pit wasn’t deep, ten feet, maybe, Malark’s efforts keeping him from any real harm. He tossed his shield up, and picked up the flickering torch. Stooping into the corner, he held up something small and glittery. Pocketing the small bauble, he laid the torch aside and wrapped his arms in the rope. The others pulled, struggling to haul the big man out of the pit. Leaning and heaving, they finally managed to get him out.

“Many pits.” He looked apologetic. “Look for pits now.”

Adran nodded, clapping him on the shoulder. “A fine idea. You are heavy, friend. And lucky. These pits aren’t dangerous. Some are.”

Pulling another torch from his pack, Malark nodded. “Lucky.”

The trap slowly reset, the panel raising back into position, concealing the pit. A narrow ledge hugged one wall. Moving around the pit, Adran opened the door and stepped through, raising his bow. Seraphina and Malark followed close. Lia was watching the other doors, crossbow in one hand, flames flickering over fingertips on her other hand. Looking over her shoulder, she urged Erky.

“Go. I’ve got this.”

Waiting until he was safely around the trap, she glanced once more at the far doors, and hurried to catch the others.

Ancient, desiccated and decaying trophy mounts hang from the wall all around this large chamber.  Not just the typical trophies of huntsmen, at least one cow, a rat, and several grisly kobold heads hung amid the other more common trophies. Smashed furniture and cabinets attested to some rampage of destruction. Adran was looking at a huge spike hammered into the stone in the center of the room. A broken chain trailed away towards a half-circle wall and overturned altar. Patches of ice and frost coated walls and some of the floor. Lia turned slowly taking in the damage and the oddities hanging haphazardly on the walls.

Seraphine nudged a patch of ice with her toe. Mouth pursed; one eye half closed as she thought a moment. “Mr. Adran? What sort of dragon did the kobolds keep?”

“Why?” Adran turned to look at her.

“Ice? In here?”

Realization dawned on Adran. He drew his bow, hand to his cheek as he searched for threats. “Watch out! Dragon!”

From behind the upturned table came a low growl. Rising up on its hind legs, a small winged beast inhaled, then bellowed a spray of frost and ice. White scales, and long spikes covered the dragon. The torrent of cold caught most of them. Erky ducked and dove aside. Lia had barely walked in, still in the corner near the door.

She turned and spread her fingers, throwing a bolt of flame at the dragon. Malark took the icy blast, then rushed the dragon, sword flashing. Shaking off frost and ice, Adran and Seraphina both loosed arrows, then drew swords.

The dragon smashed the table, tail lashing and snapping its jaws. Malark bashed it in the face with his shield, slashing it with a brutal sword stroke. Sweeping him aside with a wing stoke, the dragon roared and swept forward. Striking out at the others with a tail sweep, Seraphina nimbly jumped the spike tail. Adran was not so lucky, his legs swept from under him. Lia shot flame again, flames burning the dragon and enraging it. It turned and inhaled, chest swelling. Lia ran, diving to slide across a patch of shiny ice in the instant the dragon belched another stormy blast of cold and ice.

Rising to attack the dragon, Seraphina slashed at the tail, ducking a return blow. Adran was slow to get up, hands on the flagstone floor, his breathing labored. Malark roared in defiance. Eyes flashing rage and anger. Running across the shattered table he launched himself at the dragon, battering it with shield and sword. It turned and twisted, trying to bite him. Shoving his shield into its mouth, he stabbed his sword deep, opening a wound gushing blood.

Rolling away, he came up on one knee, shield and sword raised. He roared at the dragon, challenging it. Taking a gasping breath, the wyrmling shook its head in spite, opening its mouth to spit ice again. Choking and gagging, a few wisps of frosty air were all it exhaled. Snarling, it rushed away, heading for the still open door. Erky squeaked in fear, curling into ball, the dragon bounding over him and away down the passage into the dark.

Malark started after the beast, muscles tense, his ire still up.

“Hold, friend!” gasped Seraphina. “It’s gone. Let it be.”

Adran was curled up, breathing hard. “It hurts. Oh, it hurts.” His face was blistered and frostbit. All of them gathered around him. Erky took a knee, soothing words as he took Adran’s face in his hands. “Shush now Mr. Elf. Yondalla will bless you.” Murmuring and chanting, a soft glow spread from his hands, the blisters and reddened skin healing before their gaze.

Erky slumped after finishing his chanting, his breathing coming in short gasps. “That’s all I have. I…” he inhaled, “I can’t help you anymore for a bit. Could use a sleep really.”

Lia was leaning over her crossbow, both hands drawing the heavy string back. “I think we all can use a rest. It’s been a long day. How long have we been after this?”

“Hours.” Adran was sitting up. Still looking weak, his face now bore little evidence of the dragon’s breath. He looked around. “Not the best place to spend a few hours, but maybe not the worst. I can’t imagine the goblins visit a loose dragon often. Wedge both doors shut and take a break. Eat something.” He closed his eyes, head down.

Lia laid her crossbow down. “Come help me Malark, let’s jam the doors shut.” They headed to the closer door, and began to work.

Seraphina helped Erky to his feet. “Come on, you can rest. We have plenty of food to share.” They moved away from the doors, towards the dragon’s hiding place. Unrolling her bedroll, she patted the floor. “Have a rest. Here.” She handed over some dried meat. “Eat.”

Adran slumped against the wall next to them. Seraphina was on her knees next to him. “That dragon got you good, didn’t she, Mr. Adran?” She touched his ribs gently. “I think you need a little more magic.” Whispering, she made several arcane symbols in the air, then lightly touched him, palms down. Murmuring, she pressed a little harder. “There, I think that should help.”

Taking a deep breath, Adran nodded. “Thank you, little friends. You both are wonders.” He relaxed finally, opening his pack and fishing out hardtack and a wineskin.

Lia and Malark finished with the doors. They piled some of the smashed wood, then built a little fire lay. Lia snapped her fingers, dropping a ball of flame into the wood, setting it alight. Crackling, the fire threw a friendly glow. Smoke wafter up, gently filling the chamber.

“Might not be able to keep it lit.” Adran was breaking the hardtack apart and eating small pieces.

Looking up at the smoke, Lia nodded. “Maybe not. But fire always helps. Even if for a bit.”

She set her crossbow down, and shrugged her pack off. Pulling an apple out she started eating. “I’ll take first watch. You all took the worst of that. Lucky me, I was barely in the room when you woke that thing up. Meepo’s buddy?”

Adran nodded. “Most likely. I do remember seeing some white scales when we first found him. Hopefully that is the only dragon down here.”

“That was just a baby dragon, huh, Mr. Adran?” Seraphina looked up. “It wasn’t very big, not like the things I’ve read about.”

“Yes, that was just a small one. A wyrmling they are often called. Still dangerous, but not nearly the threat they become.”

“Well,” she smiled, “I’ve seen a dragon, so there is that.”

Adran smiled, too. “Yes, yes you have.” Pulling his blanket around his shoulders, he laid down against the wall. “I think I will rest for a bit,” he murmured to no one.

More trouble, more reward

Malark pushed through them, and illuminated a pair of open doors. “Come. You look in doors. Malark protect you.”

He moved just beyond the pair of open doors, lighting another pair. The others followed him, then Adran stepped into the east door. Lia was at the door, crossbow in hand. Seraphina stood behind the other door, peering around it. Meepo was squinting at the torch, hanging back in the dark.

Adran came back into the passage. “Some sort of cell. Garbage and refuse on the floor. Maybe a nest of sorts. Nothing else.”

“My turn.” Seraphina didn’t wait for a reply and moved into the next room. They could hear her moving around for a minute or two. She came out, a disgusted look on her face. “Oh my… Ugh. Urogalan’s pits that smells bad.” She gagged and coughed. “It’s in my mouth…” 

Adran shrugged. “The other smell had an odor, decay, new life.”

Seraphina walked over to the other door, stuck her head in, then looked up at Adran. “You, Mr. Elf, have a strange sense of ‘odor’, that room is just as bad!”

Lia laughed. “And to think, you, a gold elf, are not bothered by the stench of decay.”

Pursing his lips, Adran was quiet for a bit. In the silence Malark leaned in to sniff the cell. He retched and blinked his eyes, his face a grimace.

“Pig. Room smell like pig.”

Lia had tears in her eyes now. “Even…” She tried to say. She was stifling a laugh and couldn’t continue.

Adran looked at the others. “It is true, I was raised in the Elven Court. However, decay is the breath of life. Without decay, nothing grows anew.”

“Don’t mean decay isn’t a horrible smell.” Seraphina wrinkled her nose and spit. “It’s still in my mouth.” She went to the next door, ahead of the others. Before she even went in, she turned back, “Stinks here too.” Sticking out her tongue, she disappeared.

Malark moved up to the door she went into just as a hiss and a squeal erupted from the space beyond. They could hear a scrabbling and violent fight. Before anyone could react, the squealing abruptly stopped and Seraphina stuck her head out.

“Big rat. Horrible smell.”

Malark turned on his heel, swinging his blade fast and low. He sliced another rat clean in half, catching the rat mid-leap. “More rats.”

They party cleared the last two cells, killing another rat. Six cells, all refuse-filled, and the only sign of the adventurers was a disabled trap beyond the last two cells. A pit trip was wedged open with several pitons. A small T was marked in yellow chalk.

“You think?” Seraphina was examining the trap, stepping carefully on the edge.

“Possible. Probable.” Adran stepped around the opposite side, looking into the next chamber.

Lia ran and jumped across the trap, jostling the bolt from her crossbow when she skidded to a landing. Scooping it up, she laid it back in the groove. Malark followed Seraphina, stepping into the room and avoiding the disabled trap. They spread out, covering the room and gathering at the far side, near a fountain that was a mirror to the one that had filled with the red liquid.

Lia was wiping dirt and grime off the front, searching for another command phrase. Seraphina wandered over to look at another door that was just ajar. Adran looked over to see her cock her head slightly, turning her ear to the opening.

She turned and opened her mouth to say something at the same moment Lia read the inscription. “Let there be death.” Her words had barely spilled out when a green cloud poured from the dragon carving’s mouth. Thick and roiling, it spread quickly. The three closest started to gag and cough, backing away from the fountain. Malark threw up, emptying his stomach. Adran coughed and spit. Lia shook her head, then retched.

Seraphina coughed once and backed away. Skirting the edge of the green cloud that was sinking to the floor. She watched the fountain, then the doors.

“Probably shouldn’t have read something with ‘death’ in it.” Lia spit, then washed her mouth out with a draw off her waterskin. Her and Adran were a tinge of green, their skin flushed and damp with sweat. Malark threw up again, dropping to his knees. He was a sickly hue, his skin pale, profusely sweating. The torch lay where he dropped it. His sword on the flagstones next to him.

Adran started coughing again, and didn’t reply. Seraphina spit, sticking her tongue out.

“Gross. Poison?”

Adran nodded. Washing his mouth out, he spit the filthy taste out. “Definitely poison. Got us three.”

Malark retched again. He was on his hands and knees. Spitting and coughing. A pool of sick on the ground under him. Lia knelt beside him, her hand on his shoulder. Looking over at Adran, “Can you do something?”

“Not at my power. Someday, perhaps. Not yet.” He washed his mouth out again. “How are you feeling, Lia?”

“Bad. Not Malark bad, but bad. My stomach is churning and my lungs burn.”

“Mine too, but already I feel slightly better. A weak poison? Or my body is neutralizing the toxin.”

Lia nodded, “I don’t feel as bad as at first. Our big friend here though…” She shook her head.

“Malark not dying.” He spit and got up to his knees, reaching for his waterskin. He rinsed and spit several times. “Weak. Wolf eat bad meat.” He drank a little, but threw up again.

“Wait here Malark. Wait out the toxin. We’ll check out the next room.”

“Uh, yeah, about that.” Seraphina looked over at the door. “There is something back there. It smells worse than the cells. And there is a soft, um, grunting?” She shrugged. “Like piglets.”

Lia flicked a mote of fire into the dissipating green cloud, and stood. “Shall we then? Whatever is there won’t kill itself.”

The three surrounded the door, Lia ready to drag it open. When she did, Adran and Seraphina rushed the room. The smell was oppressive, making the cells seem fragrant. A huge pile of garbage, refuse and corpses was mounded in a nest near the center of the room. They made out a couple goblins, at least one kobold, and a human in leather armor amid the pile. Other corpses were so decayed they were beyond recognition. Three giant rats burst from the nest when they rushed in. Charging the three, the fight was on.

Lia fired her crossbow, slicing a furrow across one of the rats before extending her hand to blast a bolt of flame into the same rat. Flaming and bleeding, it still charged her. It tried to bite her, but she stomped it to death. Adran blocked another as it tried to attack him. Circling, the rat feinted and mock charged. It was just out of reach of his sword. Mumbling, Adran snapped his wrist towards the rat and a tangle of barbed vines sprang from his hand, encircling the rat. It squealed in pain, thorns piercing its skin. Adran yanked, causing the rat to tumble and slide close enough for him to slice it apart with a pair of blade strokes. Seraphina crouched; blades ready as the third rat charged. It leapt, only to be sliced apart mid-jump, her blades stabbing deep and slicing out.

The three waited, blades up, Lia grabbing at her quiver to load another bolt. The squealing, dying rats awoke something in the midden. A low, grotesque squeal-howl sounded deep in the pile. In an explosion of filth, a monstrosity crashed out of the nest. It was swollen and bloated, diseased and scabby, a nightmare horror. Gnashing massive incisors, it scrambled towards Seraphina. Lia hit it square with a well-aimed shot, the bolt burying deep into the nearly hairless creature. Adran slid a dagger from his belt and slung it, burying the blade into the monster. Seraphina flexed her knees, bracing for the impact of the creature, side-stepping at the last moment, slashing both blades, stabbing the bloated body as she tried to avoid its gnashing teeth.

Avoiding the teeth, the rat slashed dirty claws, knocking the tiny halfling aside. It started after the prone halfling when Lia burned it with a bolt of fire. It turned to hiss at Lia, giving Adran an opening. He leapt, slashing down with his sword in a two-handed stroke. The blade cut into the bloated carcass, opening a deep cut flowing with blood and ooze.

Seraphina scrambled to her feet. Breathing hard, she gasped out her thanks. Adran nodded, pulling the dagger and bolt form the corpse. Tossing the bolt to Lia, he wiped the dagger clean on a bit of rag from the nest.

Circling the mounded nest, nothing else came out. Toeing the gnawed corpse of the human, Adran knelt and began pulling items from his belt and quiver. Dropping them aside, he pulled arrows and daggers, a money pouch, and a small vial with a red liquid. He shook the vial, and the liquid shimmered. Unstopping it, he sniffed. “Healing potion. Good find.” He tucked the potion away, then tossed the coin purse to Lia. “Stash that.” He stopped, then leaned closed, lifting the corpse’s left hand, The fingers were gnawed away, save the middle finger. A stub of flesh and bone held a gold signet ring. Pulling it off Adran looked closer and saw that it was inscribed with letters. “Karakas. Wasn’t that the name of the ranger that accompanied the siblings?” Yanking the dead adventurer’s pack out, he dumped it on the floor. Several torches, a bedroll, a small tinderbox and wrapped ration scattered on the floor. Picking up the tinderbox, he pulled some items out, tucking them into a pouch, then tossed the small box aside. Gathering the arrows and torches he stood.

“We should search this pile. Might have more corpses buried. Or inedibles like coins and gems.” Lia grabbed the dead ranger’s bow and used it to stab and poke at the pile. Seraphina used her swords to do the same. Adran was pulling the other corpses out when Malark stumbled into the room.

“Smell worse here. This place awful.”

“Yeah” Seraphina wrinkled her nose, “it is. Terrible smell. But look!” she held up a handful of coins, glittering silver and gold. “Come help.”

Malark used a javelin like the others, to poke and dig. They spent some time exploring the filthy pile, ending with a pile of silver and gold coins, and a couple nice gems.

“Stinking, dirty work, but rats usually gather everything.” Seraphina was shoving coins into a small sack. “These will keep us fed and in a bed for a while.”

Searching this chamber didn’t uncover any more secrets. Back tracking, they headed beyond the cells and opened a door in a small cross room. It was unlocked, but so decayed and gnawed at the bottom, part of it didn’t reach the floor. Seraphina was crouching, tracing faint marks in the dust.

“Rats. And goblins. Back and forth. Regular like.”

Lia reached for the handle. “Same as before. Three. Two.” And yanked the door before counting one.

Seraphina had switched back to her bow and drew it tight as she rushed through. Adran held his own bow low, an arrow notched. Malark was steady again, though still looking pale. He ducked his head to step through the short door and followed the others.

Lia pulled the door closed when she came in. The others had already done a quick search of this medium sized room. The far corner had a door similar to the one they had just passed through. Seraphina was on one knee looking at the door. Malark was walking along a wall, touching stones and tracing gaps between larger blocks. Adran was studying a faint trail on the dusty flag stones.

Seraphina held a finger to her lips and pointed. She waited until the others had gathered close before speaking in a low voice.

“See that?” She pointed to faint scratches and marks on one edge of the wooden door. Malark squinted, not seeing anything. “There is a thread hooked through a gouge in the wood.” She slipped a dagger from her belt and dug into the wood, slicing the thread. Using the tip of the dagger she fished the thread free. “Hope that does it.” She cracked the door, watching the thread carefully until it fell loose. Opening the door more, she looked into the next chamber, pointing again. “Bell.” She mouthed.

Readying her bow, she was aimed in and only nodded for someone else to open the door more. Lia held her crossbow one handed and pulled it open. Slowly. With a zing of released tension, Seraphina let an arrow fly. Her hand flashed to her quiver, drawing and readying another arrow. Something thunked into the door. Then another something clattered on the wall.

“Gobbos” is all she said as she leapt through the narrow gap, loosing another arrow.

Lia threw the door open, kneeling with her crossbow up. Adran followed, bow up and searching. Malark stepped through then hesitated. The floor was covered with hundreds of crude caltrops, a hallway of points and pain. Adran danced and spun down the hall. His steps are light and tiptoeing, avoiding the little traps spread all over. Seraphina kicked a small space open to kneel and fire arrows from.

Down the hall a crude wall blocked off the far end. Built in imitation of a castle wall, there were even crenellations. “Well,” Seraphina thought, “what stupid goblin thinks a crenellation looks like that?”

Aiming carefully, she shot one of the goblins defending the ‘castle wall’ in the eye, throwing it backwards. Another goblin shrieked curses and ducked out of sight. Adran vaulted onto the rough wall, and pulled an arrow back, then released the bowstring without shooting.

“Gone”.

The others carefully moved down the hall. Kicking caltrops aside, they cleared a path. All four gathered in some sort of guard post. Various supplies were scattered about. A small keg of black fletched arrows. Several small sleep mats. Crude pottery jars and stale bread. A smoldering fire wafted a thin trail of smoke, causing a light haze. A door was open, showing a short hall leading to another open space. They could hear angry shouts.

“So much for surprise” Adran was already heading through the door. “Let’s keep up the pressure.”

All four lined ready to enter the next room. Peering around the corner, Adran pulled his head back when several arrows sailed by.

“They know.” He used the notched arrow to point to the next wall. “Looks like an archery range. A couple effigies full of arrows.”

“They practice?” Seraphina’s voice pitched up.

“Looks that way.” Adran leaned around the corner then hid again. Another volley of arrows sailed past.

“Four. I think. I’ll lean out again, once the arrows fly, we rush them. They are hiding behind a wall like in the other room.”

He looked around again, pulling back just as quick. The arrows hadn’t even hit the far wall when all four rushed out. Adran and Seraphina were the first to send arrows flying. Malark hurled a javelin. Lia knelt, aimed, and careful squeezed a shot.

Seraphina missed with her first shot. She had another arrow in the air before her target could react. Adran hit his target, piercing its clawed hand and forcing it to drop its bow. Malark’s javelin hit the wall in front of his goblin foe. He roared in anger, drawing his sword and angling his shield to protect him. Lia’s bolt speared one of the goblins between the eyes. It crumpled, bow and arrows clattering on stone.

Two arrows stabbed into Malark’s shield, a hurled dagger cutting Adran across the cheek. Seraphina’s arrow caught one of the gobbos in the chest, sending it fleeing away. Malark was vaulting the wall when a bolt of flame caught the fleeing goblin between the shoulders, tumbling it over. Malark’s sword flashed in a long arc, a crushing blow cleaving a goblin nearly in two. Atop the wall, Adran bashed his bow into the skull of the last goblin, sending him to the floor. Malark was about to stab it when Adran leapt down, blocking it.

“No! Let’s interrogate it. See what else is here.” He pulled the bowstring from one of the goblin’s bows and bound its hands. Shaking it awake, he was on one knee, glowering at the bound enemy. Malark was pacing, sword held low, his eyes boring into the gobbo.

Lia was searching the dead goblins. Pulling a few coins from each. Then breaking all the arrows she found.

Seraphina was standing in front of the bound goblin, trying her best to look intimidating. Wrinkling her nose, she finally spoke.

“How many others are there? How many more goblins?”

Despite being bound and defeated; the goblin sneered through broken teeth. Its voice was surprisingly deep. “Many.” It laughed and spat blood. “So many. You all die. Elf man. Little girl. Humie. Elf girl. All die.” It laughed and sneered. Defiant.

“How many?” Seraphina slapped the goblin.

Still chuckling, despite the blow, it growled at them. “Many. Strong tribe. You all die.”

Malark stepped forward, punching the goblin in the face, smashing its nose and knocking it out. Seraphina had a shocked look. “Did you kill it?”

“Hope so.” He stomped on the goblin’s head then looked to the next door, hanging slightly ajar.

“What about that door?” Lia was pointing at another door back in the area that goblins used as an archery range. “Probably don’t want potential enemies behind us. This key might open it.” She held up a large, tarnished key she had scavenged from one of the dead goblins.

“Malark, watch that door” Adran nodded towards the closer door. “We’ll go check out the other one.”

“Wait.” Seraphina looked around. Where is Meepo? We got caught up in fighting.” Her voice trailed off.

The others looked back and forth. “He was with us when we first found the rats.”

Adran was pulling an arrow from his quiver when he looked at Seraphina. “Probably hiding in one of those cells. He never wanted to come along.”

“Still… He was with us. What if something happened to him?”

“Kobalds are survivors. He’ll be okay.”

Seraphina looked up at Adran, sniffed once, then wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I hope so Mr. Adran. He was nice.”

A Campaign World in D&D

When I stopped play Dungeons & Dragons around 1991, I left it all behind for many years, including my favorite campaign setting. I didn’t read any novels. I didn’t flip through books at the local game store. There wasn’t any internet to follow a labyrinthian wiki full of info pulled from 35 years of published material. The Forgotten Realms, at least for me, was stuck in 1357 Dale Reckoning (DR). With great fondness, I remembered devouring the campaign books from the legendary Grey Box and pouring over the impressive maps that were included.

When I next stepped foot into the Realms, I was smashed with great confusion and felt quite lost. It was about five years on and I was in the Army. One of my buddies had a book set in the Realms called Spellfire which I borrowed. Written by the actual creator of the Forgotten Realms setting, I found the book to be awful[1]. To be fair, every book this particular buddy had was awful, but Spellfire was a particularly bad book. Save Elminster, nothing was really familiar. I won’t go into details, but my fond memories were somewhat damaged. I stayed away for a few more years, though I occasionally dug the Grey Box out of storage to flip pages and read a bit.

A few years later I found a book called Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad. If Spellfire confused me, this book sent me reeling. Gods walking the land? Deities murdered? The Spellplague? What in Ed’s mindless wanderings was going on?

I get that timelines must continue, and no setting should stagnant in a single year. This though? Wow. It was a bit too much. I admit to laziness. I didn’t read a few more books. Or pay attention that Crucible was actually the 5th book in a series. What I did read was enough to cause me to protect my fond memories, and try to keep them untarnished by what I perceived as garbage. I wasn’t playing D&D anyways, so I didn’t need to catch up. I was busy enough diving into Warhammer (Fantasy and 40K) and then into historical wargaming. Plus, I didn’t know a soul that even played an RPG.

Through a few moves, college, marriage, and kids, I had a box of D&D books and boxed sets carefully stashed. It followed me everywhere. Generally, it sat in a storage unit, since my college and first married apartments were so small. Eventually I had room to finally bring that precious box home. Sometime around 2004 (best guess) a 40K buddy from Utah offered to buy a bunch of game stuff I wasn’t using. And like an idiot, I sold him most of my D&D books. I held onto the Grey Box, a Forgotten Realms book from 2nd Ed, and the Ravenloft module. About six months later, I deeply regretted the sale, even though I still wasn’t playing. Over the next few years I repurchased a couple of the books I enjoyed the most including the Complete Fighter’s Manual and the Castle Guide.

Sometime after 2007 I was the youth group leader at my church and several of the teen boys played D&D. They were playing D&D 3.5, even though 4th Ed had been released. They invited me to join their campaign, but a busy job and two young children kept me out. Plus, when we chatted about the game, there were bits of 3.5 that I didn’t care for. It seemed a bit confusing, there were too many rule books, and it didn’t feel right to me. I was listening to a D&D podcast at the time, whose name has slipped into the abyss of my brain[2], that used 3.5 rules. Even listening to others play, there were bits about the rules that I didn’t like. To be honest, though, I can’t remember exactly what turned my off to 3rd and 3.5 editions. I just didn’t like the feel.

As I have mentioned, when my son was about 12 or 13, I bought the 2nd Ed Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, and a semi-complete Monstrous Compendium. I offered to DM for him and his friends, but he turned me down. I found the Drunks & Dragons D&D podcast by then, and was listening to that. Plus, one or two others. Also lost to my useless brain. I can remember 80s songs and artists like nothing. Podcasts I really enjoyed? Nope.

When my finally decided to play, urged on by two friends at school, 5th Edition was in full swing. He asked for the Player’s handbook and dice, which I was super happy to buy despite the steep increase in prices since I last bought D&D books retail. I paged through the PH and was pretty excited by the layout, character design and options, and the game play. 5th Ed seemed solid, and given a chance, I would definitely play. He got a few more books, including the awesome Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and a DMs guide.

 It was several more years before I got a chance to play, as I have written about previously. When I did, I headed straight back to the Forgotten Realms. There was no question, I loved the Realms, and if I played, it was going to be there. Obviously Wizards of the Coast are also fans of the Realms, as nearly every adventure module is set in the Realms. Even when my son picked Ghosts of Saltmarsh as the campaign we would play as a family, I ported the adventures over to the Realms. For those not in the know, the adventures in GoS are classic adventures from previous editions. And, if I am not mistaken, all set in the world of Greyhawk. My D&D is in the Forgotten Realms, and always will be.

Before any fans of Greyhawk get nasty, I did actually own the Greyhawk box many moons ago. I did read about that setting, but it wasn’t for me. I sold the box to my gaming buddy, and did not regret it. I know, its the founding campaign setting for D&D, I just like the Realms more.

Looking at the timeline for D&D, I found that we had leapt over a hundred years into the future. It took a bit of research to catch up, mostly on the humongous Forgotten Realms wiki here. Many kind souls and fans of the Realms have copied page after page from many campaign books, modules, and novels. Doing research for my campaign, I spent a lot of time deep diving through that wiki. Many references came from the 3rd and 4th Ed campaign guides to the Realms, and after much though, I finally ordered both of those. Prices were kinda stupid for the 4th Ed book, until I realized I could buy it Print-On-Demand from DriveThruRPG. Brand new, for much less than good condition used books. I found a decent price on the 3rd Ed book a bit later, and now I have the full set, 1st through 5th (if you count the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide). Flipping through the 3rd Ed book, I am sure glad I skipped that edition. They type font is tiny, and pretty hard to read. Maybe its my age, but that type font and size was poorly chosen.

I will use all the books I have to continue to flesh out my campaign. I will use names from all the books for NPCs, and will definitely create descendants from important individuals from the past 150 years or so. This is world-building on a scale I can’t compete with on my own. Ed Greenwood is one of the top world builders in my opinion. Only Tolkien does it better. There is detail stacked on detail. Certain regions have far more information that other areas, but there is so much to use. I fan boy over the Forgotten Realms, and I am not ashamed.

Our current campaign takes place in and around Daggerford on the Sword Coast. From the small village of Oakdale, to the ducal seat in Daggerford, and out to the coast past the tiny hamlet of Bludhom, the Four, and an occasional friend or two, roam through an area I am attempting to detail and populate. Twenty-two of the villages and hamlets have at least the number of buildings and residents, the principal products, and any important NPCs detailed. So far, my players haven’t really explored the area, as their services have been in constant demand. Another few weeks of campaigning, and they should earn themselves a few days’ rest.

A blog is no place to go into great detail about the Forgotten Realms. Suffice it to say that it is a vast continent of blistering sand deserts, frozen tundra, soaring mountains and trackless seas. And decades of gaming to be had. Now that I have shared my favorite place to play D&D, what is yours? The Realms are not the only place to be published, and by far are not the only place to be created by Dungeon Masters around our own campaign world. Share your favorites in the comments, I am always interested in the worlds people play in.

BG out


[1] The other terrible series I borrowed was the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy based on the Star Wars universe. It was literally so bad I didn’t read another SW book for more than a decade.

[2] I listened to 200+ episodes of that podcast, and it really bothers me that I can’t remember what it was. I can’t even remember the players or characters anymore. I don’t recall any head trauma that would have led to completely losing nearly every memory of that podcast, but maybe I don’t remember the injury either. I downloaded the podcast and used a Sansa Fuse mp3 player to listen to it at work. I was listening to the What Would Patton Do podcast at the same time. Which I distinctly remember. Seriously, it bothers me that I can’t remember…