Session One of GRNC 2 – The Retaking of Grabford
A GREAT NORTHERN CRUSADE ADVENTURE from Greyhawkstories.com
(Campaign Notes and Adaptation by Thomas Kelly)
Scene One: Search for Dina
Sir Harassin wakes from a troubled dream in which he saw two lovely women vying for his attention. It’s daylight, midmorning before noon, but the sun shines pale through the accursed never-ending creeping fogs that rise and fall all around the city walls. The siege is underway. The shouts of soldiers, the cries of the wounded, and the battering of the ram against the unyielding Morsten Gate fills his ears. The battle goes well by day, despite the weird shadows and creeping fogs, but by night, terrors from inside the city come out to stalk the men in the camps. Mournful wails of ghosts and specters haunt the night. Not one of the men dares sleep so long as the sun is down.
Harassin tries to remember the details of the previous night, drinking with the raftmen of the Lucky Prince. Captain Paddy Lash and his crew have been making some extra coin by running supplies up the canal for the army while waiting for their promised reward. Ordinarily they don’t stay the night near the cursed city. But their Vetha wisewoman failed to return yesterday. Harassin waited with Paddy Lash and Danni, spending the night on the barge. They shared the last of their Pomarj Black. That’s the last thing Harassin remembers.
“Tis bad luck to taunt the dead,” Paddy Lash complains. The captain is eager to shove off and get far away from the walls of Grabford as soon as possible, but he cannot do anything without Dina. She’s not only the Vetha wisewoman of the crew but also the matriarch of their band.
Danni the Darkhagard shakes his head, “You know my Dina. She’s probably spent the night in the arms of a witless Shieldlander. He’ll soon wake to find what his purse gone disappeared along with my sister.”
Several hours pass, but Dina has not returned. The barge folk are nervous. “Ask your friends to help us search her out,” Paddy Lash says to Harassin.
Sir Harassin finds Sir Flynn and employs his assistance in the hunt. They ask around the camp inquiring after Dinah. Both of these Furyundy boys proudly wear the colors of the Shield Lands and display the coat of arms of the Holy Shielding. Lady Katarina of Walworth dubbed them knights of the Holy Shielding after their successful reconnaissance into Molag. The Lady Oleini, herself a Gloryaxe of sacred Heironeous, conducted the solemnities. Count Jakartai bestowed upon them his own personal commendations and release to fight for Shield Lands. During the fierce fighting of the bitter cold winter months, the young knights proved themselves worthy of the honors, and they command the respect of the soldiers in the Great Northern Crusade.
“We saw her with the boys last night before dark, but she returned to her Rhenfolk rafters,” say the soldiers in the camp.
The knights find the cottage in which Oleini and Twiggy have made a bungalow. The army has occupied the abandoned houses and shops that once belonged to Canal Town, a village just outside Grabford’s walls. The stone structures flank either side of the canal. Those habitations were all abandoned when the city fell to the fearsome armies of the vampire Maskaleyne at the onset of the Greyhawk Wars.
No, Oleini hasn’t seen Dina either, but she will help the search for the missing wisewoman. The elfblood druid they call Twiggy will also join the search. She offers to put her wolf on the scent. The wolf leads them to an empty house some short distance from the canal. They find Dina’s body stuffed into a closet, and another victim lies there too. Vampiric wounds pierce both victims’ necks. The blood has been drained from the bodies. Mirdon the Spellbinder is summoned to examine the wounds. “There can be no doubt,” he concedes. “This is the work of a vampire, perhaps the lord of the city himself.”
Oleini hurries through the camp, raising the alarm. “There are vampires in our midst! Heironeous protect us!”
The raftmen lament the death of their wisewoman. Danni grieves the death of his sister. He swears terrible oaths of vengeance and vows himself to hunt and slay the monster that killed her. Paddy Lash recites the traditional Rhenee funeral odes. One of the raftwomen, a woman named Vadoma, seals Dina’s body with the wards and sigils for its protection. They send her pyre afloat down the canal aboard a funeral raft stoked with fuel to insure nothing remains for the priests of Iuz to desecrate. Mirdon the Spellbinder stokes the fire with addition heat of spellcraft. The flaming raft disappears into the fog as the flowing water of the canal carries it away. The sun dips toward Lake Whyestil. Night falls.
By night the army of the Great Northern Crusade feeds wood into bright fires all through its camp, not only to drive away the chill of the bewitched fog but also to ward against the ghouls and ghasts who come crawling about the camps like rats. The wizards cast continual light spells to illuminate the night, and every sentry post is hung with enchanted lanterns. Every man carries with him a lantern or a torch. All efforts are made to dispel the undead dark.
Three armored riders mounted on horses with heavy barding arrive in Canal Town. Their horse’s hooves clop across the stone arch Morsten Gate bridge. Count Artur Jakartai leads the way on a big stallion. His second, Ryell Hawkshand, rides at his left, and the Knight Commander of the whole crusade, the Lady Katarina Walworth, follows at his right. They have come to inquire about the murders.
“‘Vampire,’ you say? Not the only victims I’m afraid. It’s what been happened every night these last days three,” the count says.
“This bodes ill. Perhaps the lord of the conquered city himself now stalks us by night,” says Hawkshand. The Lady Katarina shudders.
“My lord, how goes the siege? How much longer must we sit outside these cursed walls?” Sir Flynn asks. He is weary of the war and perhaps regrets his rash oath to serve the Shield.
“We have nearly compassed the city about and begun to pound upon the gates, as your own ears will tell you. Comes the Furyundion Navy up the Veng and waits for us to win the Canal Gate. But every night, this damn vampire!” the count replies.
“I’ll not spend another night in this undead fog!” Paddy Lash demurs. “We push off this very hour.” Now that Dina is dead, the captain fancies himself in charge of the crew, but Danni shakes his head, mumbling, “I’ll not be for leaving.”
“Ah, you want to leave us? I blame you not,” Hawkshand addresses the captain of the raft. “But go not by night. Wait until dawn and leave at first light. Come to the Canal Keep this same night, and we will pay you your wages and the reward for your work in Molag, as we promised.”
“And the rest of you should come along too. I have a mission what I would send you,” the count adds.
Scene Two: Who Let the Dogs Out?
The raftmen make a meager funeral meal to honor Dina with food and drink. They invite Oleini, the Heronian Gloryaxe, Twiggy the elfess druid, Mirdon the Spellbinder, and the two knights of the Shield, Harrasin and Flynn, to join the memorial. The Rhennfolk spread out the food on the wharf below the Morsten Gate stone arch bridge where it passes over the canal.
Scarcely have they lifted the first cup when howls and shrieks from the city alert them to danger. Twiggy looks across the canal toward the city walls to see what causes the commotion. Her keen elven eyes peer into the foggy darkness. “I see men falling back from the siege. They flee toward us.” Presently, the crusaders come in maddened flight, fleeing before a pack of enormous baying hounds with hideous faces. Men throw themselves headlong into the canal to escape the terror of the unoerthly dogs. The fearsome baying of the dogs sends them into blind panic.
All at once the bat-faced dogs leap out of the fog, pounce upon their victims, and tear them asunder. They are as big as horses. Their paws do not touch the ground. One leaping hound crosses over the top of the water of the canal, his feet never touching the surface of the water. The enormous dog leaps onto the barge, tilts back its head, and howls. Several members of the party, including many of the raftmen, flee maddened with the terror at the sound of it. Others stand to fight, but unenchanted weapons without silver do not bite.
Sir Flynn tosses aside his useless sword and attacks the beast with not but a sack of silver coins. The hound gnashes at him and bites at the others savagely. Twiggy commands her dire wolf attack the intruder, but the beast cowers in terror, hiding itself among the barrels on the barge. “Very well,” she says, “I summon a pack of brothers for you. Fight dogs with dogs.” From the fey ether of the Old Faith springs forth a pack of howling wolves which leap on the yeth hound like hounds upon a fox. Terrible is the fight on the raft, a cacophony of growls and snarls, yelps and whimpers.
Crusaders crazed with terror race across the bridge as they flee the walls of Grabford. Three more hounds pursue them. A dreadful cloaked and hooded wraith rides upon the largest of the dogs. The wraith wields an evil sword and cuts down the men round about.
Oleini the priestess, a Gloryaxe of Heironeous, takes to the bridge, rallies the men, and invokes the power of her god to fight. Sir Flynn and Sir Harrasin join her, holding the bridge from the advance of the dogs. Mirdon too hurls spells at the beastly nightmares. Oleini calls upon the power of Heironeous to smite the wraith and his dogs with fire. All those who recover their wits join the battle. Danni the Darkhagard attacks with darka. Flynn and Harrasin throw themselves into the fight. In short time, the heroes strike down the hounds and also the wraith.
Sir Flynn picks up the sword left behind by the wraith. “I will make some good use of this evil blade,” he says.
Scene Three: Count meets Countess
“Soon as we get our pay, we shove off. Not waiting for morning light,” Captain Paddy Lash announces as he heaves the remains of the torn yeth hound into the canal.
“I’m not for leaving ‘til I’ve had my vengeance,” Danni reminds the captain.
“Nor am I for leaving just yet,” says Queenie a young Rhenee thief girl. “I’ll be still staying with Twiggy and Oleini and these other fellows for a spell before I come back to the rafts.”
“Spend any more time off the water and you’ll find yourself become an Atolai girl,” Captain Paddy Lash warns her. Queenie shrugs it off. The Atolai are the land-based clans of the Rhennee people, and no love is lost between the raftmen and their wagon-train cousins.
The party leaves the bridge and goes to Canal Keep to report the incident with the yeth hounds and the wraith. Captain Paddy Lash accompanies them, as does Danni the Darkhagard and Queenie. They come to a squat fortress guarding the canal, a short distance from where massive siegeworks are under construction outside the Canal Gate. As they enter the pass through the gatehouse to enter the outer courtyard of the keep, they recognize the archmage Bigby. He is on his way to inspect the magical construction of the siegeworks for which he is responsible. His powerful hand spells construct towers, ramps, and ladders for the assault. His spells will swing the battering ram against the gates. He recognizes the party and briefly acknowledges them as he leaves. His mind is focused on his magic.
Inside the keep, Count Jakartai and the Lady of Walworth are waiting for them.
“You’ve come at an auspicious moment. We are expecting a guest shortly and may need the power of a priest, and the rest of you as well,” the Lady Katarina says. Sir Flynn and Sir Harrasin kneel before their commander and present their weapons.
“Who is this guest you are expecting,” Mirdon the Spellbinder inquires suspiciously.
“Tis a traitor to Maskaleyne, or so she would want us believing,’” the Count Artur Jakartai explains. He brandishes a sharp pointed wooden stake in his hand. “We’ll soon see has she to say what about what.”
“I like it not! The Lady Estell is consort to the vampire, and very likely a vampire herself,” Ryell Hawkshand says.
“We may be certain, whatever she may be, she is no lady,” Katarina says.
Hawkshand counts out the coin promised to Captain Paddy Lash for smuggling the party aboard his barge and bringing them into Molag. “Where will you go now?” he asks the Rhennee pirate.
“Far from this ugly war. Back to Greyhawk City where I can spend this coin,” the captain says. “But it looks that I’ll be leaving a few of my friends behind with you.” He nods toward Danni and Queenie.
“That’s well. We are in need of someone speaking the tongue of your people,” Katarina says.
A watchmen enters, “A coach at the gate my lords and ladies. The coachman asks your leave for Countess Estell of Rauxes to enter the keep.”
On the Count Jakartai’s permission, a horse drawn carriage rolls through the gates into the courtyard. The party goes out to meet it and surrounds the carriage. Two slaves sit atop the carriage, unspeaking, unresponsive, as if entranced and unaware of their surroundings. Inside the carriage the count finds a polished stone coffin. Katarina instructs the knights to bring coffin inside the keep. Flynn and Harrasin lift the heavy coffin from the carriage and carry it into the keep where they set it on the floor of the great hall. Flynn lifts lid. A lovely woman, dressed in the finery of the Great Kingdom, lies peacefully at rest inside, her hands folded together as if in prayer. Harrasin recognizes her as one of the two women from his dream.
Her eyes snap open and she sits up abruptly. The priestess Oleini leaps forward and challenges the undead being with the holy symbol of Heironeous. The woman swats at the priestess, hisses, bares her fangs, and scolds, “Away with your trinkets!”
She introduces herself. She is Countess Estell of Rauxes, the rightful consort of Maskaleyne. She has come to betray him because she is jealous of her rival. A century ago, Maskaleyne insulted her by taking a new consort—a woman called Belle. Estell has hated her more with each passing day for one hundred years. She says, “You will help me slay my master, and then I will slay his drossel!”
“What price for this bedswerve?” Count Jakartai asks.
“I ask nothing from you but your help in doing what I cannot do. When Maskeleyne is finally and forever dead, beyond all hope of return, I will take his place.”
“And withdraw his army and return this city to Furyundy,” the Lady Katarina adds. She shakes her fist at the vampiress.
Meantime Queenie watches through the arrow slits. She whispers to Mirdon, “What do you see there? It looks to me not like the fog, but more an evil shape in the mist, like some phantom that lurks and hovers outside the walls of the keep.”
“I have a spell that will reveal it to me,” Mirdon says, and he pages through his spellbook, selects a certain spell, and quietly begins a slow ritual recitation of the words.
“Why should we trust you?” Sir Harrasin demands. He does not like this woman who feels free to haunt his dreams.
Estell shrugs dismissively. “Your choice. But know this. You will not succeed without me. You cannot kill the dead.”
“There must be a way to slay him forever. Tell us!” the Count Artur smacks the wooden stake he holds in his right hand against the palm of the other.
Estell winces at the sound of the blow. She begins to reveal her plan, “When my master’s galley sailed up the Veng from Molag, the ship carried in its belly not just the host of undead from the Gardens of Necrosis but also twelve stone sarcophagi …”
Mirdon interrupts Estell, “What treachery is this? Even now a vampiric mist lurks outside these walls!”
At those words, a genuine expression of terror twists lovely Estell’s face. She leaps up from her coffin where she yet sits and transforms herself into a great bat. Everyone shouts in alarm and surprise. The bat flutters away in all haste.
“Where has she gone?” the count demands to know. They search about the great hall, but she is gone.
Scene Four: Staking His Claim
A moment later a watchman reports, “Someone knocks at the gate begging admittance.”
“I’m betting it’s Belle!” Queenie wagers.
Count Jakartai hastens out of the keep, crosses the courtyard, and heads to the gatehouse. Oleini, Flynn, and Harrasin flank him. Hawkshand and Katarina stay behind. In the courtyard, Queenie takes charge of the carriage, left standing in the yard, and leads away the coachmen slaves to safety.
Inside the gatehouse, Oleini warns the watch and the men at arms, “Don’t grant her permission to enter. She can’t come in unless she’s invited.”
The count waives the men away from the sealed gate. He himself intends to face the visitor. Someone on the other side is knocking.
“Watch this!” Oleini says confidently as she lifts the bar from the gate and swings it open. There stands … not the vampire Oleini expected to see. Her knees buckle. Instead of a lower consort or vampire spawn, there stands the unmistakable image of Count Strahd Maskeleyne, high vampire of the Great Kingdom, member of the Lesser Boneheart of Iuz, a vampire mage, friend of demons, and no ordinary noblemen.
“I’ve come seeking my wife, Estell. Have you seen her? Grant me permission to enter and we will discuss matters in civilized terms.”
A second vampire materializes beside him: the lovely Belle. Sir Harassin, who peers out through the open gate from behind Artur, recognizes her as the second woman from his dream.
Before anyone has a moment to reply or otherwise react, Artur Jakartai leaps forward through the open gate, grapples the vampire in a death grip, and plunges the wooden stake into his heart. Using his own fist as a hammer, he drives it in, and the two collapse to the ground. A struggle ensues.
The knights add what help they can, striking at the undead lord. Oleini invokes the power of Heironeous, and they all strike at both the vampire and his consort. The vampires bite and cast spells as they are able. Belle casts a powerful sleep spell, but the party presses on with the attack. Jakartai has pushed the stake all the way through the vampire, pinning him to the ground. It’s all over in just moments. The vampire lord lies lifeless on the ground. His consort screams in terror, turns to a bat, and flies away. Jakaratai still grips at the lifeless body of Maskeleyne, but to no avail. The corpse dissolves into mist in his hands and dissipates into the foggy darkness.
Sources, The Marklands, Iuz the Evil, The Adventure Begins, Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, Curse of Strahd
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