For our fourth session, the Company of the Closed Fist was back up to fighting strength:
Aelaran the Resilient (male cleric), played by Bret
Cadie Stone-Spar (female dwarf), played by Jaime
Garen-Gen (male halfling), played by Dan
Magda the Witch (female magic-user), played by Chris H.
Ondola the Blunt (female fighter), played by Chris V.
plus their retainers: "Big John" the charmed ogre, Bardoon, Worford, Ralan the elf and Mordal the dwarf
Having neutralized the threat of the orcs and other Nisshar deserters that had occupied the ruins of the Falcon Hall, the Company of the Closed Fist received a summons from Arjon Tenpher, the man who rules the Duchy of D'Ansor in his brother's absence. Tenpher informed the Company that far from being cross about the deaths of two of his personal guard (and one prize sheep) in the Falcon Hall assault, he considered it a bargain, and requested that the Company investigate reports of new inhabitants at Ralu's Redoubt, a roadside outpost that was previously believed to be abandoned after the recent war with Nisshar. Tenpher suspected that a group of bandits that had been raiding caravans traveling between the Duchy and their southern neighbors in the Principality of Timur may have claimed the outpost as their own.
The Company first contacted two survivors from the first Falcon Hall operation: the jittery, knife-wielding Otto, and the arrogant (if capable) Bardoon. Only the latter accepted their offer of re-employment. Aelaran chose to employ a town crier for a nominal fee, which reaped considerable rewards: several capable-seeming retainers, including a dwarf and one of the rarely-seen elves, offered their services. A new pay scheme was determined for the Company's retainers: a fairly generous flat monthly fee, plus salvaged weapons and armor, with opportunities for formal registry into the Company's roster (and thus, access to the various advantages of a royally chartered mercenary group) for particularly loyal and doughty retainers. (I love watching players come up with this kind of stuff, by the way.)
The Company then spent a good deal of time planning a ruse intended to lure the bandits out into the open, involving a wagon and a pair of draft horses borrowed from Tenpher, and a cart purchased with Company funds. Elaborate plans involving the lashing of demihumans to the undersides of these conveyances, the donning of false pilgrims' costume, and the inconspicuous transport of charmed ogres were hatched. Finally, the Company and their companions set out on the two-day journey southward to Ralu's Redoubt.
Despite conspicuously camping in view of the outpost, the ambush they expected never came. After a nervous evening spent waiting for a bandit attack, Garen-Gen decided to reconnoiter the Redoubt along with the elf Ralan. They found a large, conical hill with two cavernous openings apparently manned by watchmen and dotted with withered trees. Magda the Witch and her ogrish friend, "Big John", decided to approach the outpost with Garen-Gen and Ralan observing from cover. As soon as they came within roughly two hundred feet of the outpost, the "watchmen", who were now seen to be skeletons, signaled a green-robed figure who cast a sleep spell upon the witch and her would-be protector. Both were instantly sent into a slumber. Before the skeletal guards could approach, Garen-Gen and Ralan burst from the bushes and awakened their ensorcelled comrades. The four then fled for cover, with "Big John" howling in rage and confusion, as three skeleton warriors and two very nervous-looking green-robed magic-users emerged from the complex, and then quickly returned to it.
Hearing the ogre's screams, the rest of the Company came to the rescue, and the assembled party then entered Ralu's Redoubt at its upper opening. They soon found a Timurian merchant (named Nomahr) in chains, who told them the bandits that captured him had apparently been overrun by wizards some days previous. The group decided to have Worford take Nomahr and their cart and wagon back to D'Ansor and inform Arjon Tenpher of the developments. They found little else of interest on this level -- save, of course, a magical mirror that robbed Magda of much of her already meager strength when she gazed into it. The session ended as the Company took a downward-leading staircase, "Big John" in the lead, with the evil mirror strapped to his ample torso.
I let the players spend a lot of time planning their counter-ambush this session -- in retrospect, probably too much time, but I didn't want to give away that the bandits they were expecting were no longer the threat. I'm also finding it difficult to get the sort of engaged roleplaying I enjoy going on Google+, which is much more my own fault (and that of the somewhat awkward nature of Hangouts) than that of my players, but I'm planning on forging ahead. I wonder if my players have yet figured out that this whole campaign is really just a way for me to learn how to DM again.