When we left the villains, they had just completed their basement-challenge and were told by Tiadora that their real task was about to begin. They were brought before Cardinal Thorne once again, and the dark master was most pleased with their progress. He asked them to sit and carefully explained that the upcoming task for the ninth knot would require all of their skill and guile, for it was of the utmost importance.
The Cardinal told them that not far from the mansion, a ship was moored. Called 'The Frosthamar' and captained by a certain Kargeld Odenkirk, this vessel was to be their home for the upcoming weeks, as they would journey far north, beyond the wall, and make landing in a newly constructed camp of war. With them, they would bring a not insignificant amount of crates containing armor and weapons, that were to be delivered to a strike force of bugbears. This army was to be the first move, at least overtly, of the Cardinal's glorious plan. Once the bugbears, commanded by the villain Sakkarot Fireaxe, struck against the northern border of Talingarde, it would strike the doomsday clock for everyone to hear. From there, the villains were to contact him for their next assignment.
They were warned, however; this wasn't a simple bash-in-and-slaughter mission. The fortification along the wall were not to be trifled with, and the bugbears were unable to bring them down on their own. This was were the villains entered the picture.
|He may look like something out of Asterix, but he can sail|
So off they took; Grumblejack being most grateful for finally being away from the glares of Tiadora, and made way towards the Frosthamar...
Oh yes, one more thing; of course the good captain and his crew already knew too much. Once the weapons were delivered, they were to be terminated.
(This is my favorite part of the adventure, starting right here. While the first one is really fun, this is where it picks up and starts becoming truly interesting and challenging)
I'm on a boat!
The villains met up with the captain who turned out to be a sour old man with a big bushy beard. He was much in line with his ship, which was nothing more than...well, a viking-ship. It sufficed well enough for the cargo, however and the villains were soon aboard with their pet-ogre. Not bothering to stay for any goodbyes, Tiadora left them as soon as they were aboard and disappeared into the swamp like a white dot soon after.
Kargeld didn't waste much breath on the villains. After a couple of questions about the cargo he gruffly explained them the rules, which boiled down to 'keep your nose clear of my men and we'll get you girls there in one piece. Food at six, toilet is over the railing. Now sit down and shut up.”
And thus the ship moved on north...
(The journey north is foremost an opportunity for more roleplay within the group and with the sailors, depending on the preference of your players. It's certainly possible to play Captain Kargeld as an asshole who's getting what he deserves. I decided to go in a different direction and instead made him kind of likeable, curious and still a pirate at heart. He asked questions about the villains, their cargo and the ogre.
It certainly made his demise more powerful later on.
Of course there are a couple of encounters for people who'd rather rollplay. As written, there's an enemy boat from Talingarde, some mephits in a storm, some Yutak hunters and a seal-hunt. I moderated this a bit and skipped the mephit and enemy boat; instead I went on and modified the seal hunt a bit, and turned it into a Grumblejack encounter!)
Event: Grumblejack is on a boat. And hungry.
This event happens halfway into the journey; the villains wake up to a loud yell from the captain. On the deck they see gory trails, empty barrels that once held rations and a very guilty-looking ogre. It is quickly revealed that Grumblejack went for a binge-midnight snack and didn't leave much for the rest. In fact, he didn't leave anything.
Kargeld is furious and demands for someone to do something. Even if the villains offer their own rations it's nowhere near enough. To make matters worse, the ogre decided to also eat the watchmen as an appetizer so they're one man short as well.
Kargeld decides to make a stop at a nearby island populated with seals. In a rowboat, he goes ashore, demanding the villains to help him hunt down the little critters. Needless to say, most of these seals are baby-seals and some cruel hunting is in order now. Allow the villains to go crazy and feel like truly evil savages clubbing baby-seals for funzies. Then something happens;
The villains hear the sound of a horn, and not long after a group of merfolks emerge from the waters. Their leader; Gwennebron Greenwave, orders the evildoers to stand down and cease their actions at once. If the villains refuse, the merfolk call to the seals while hurling nets and spears at the villains from the water.
Make a challenging encounter for your group and roll initiative for the seals and merfolk. It's up to the villains to not only defend themselves, but also butcher as many seals they can before they head off into the ocean. It made for an alternative, interesting encounter.
Oh, and if you're in doubt, yes, I was pretty heavily inspired by this (at 7:45)
Now, with the seals done; cultural imperialism!
The villains butchered enough seals to make it worth, and Gwennebron had his head chopped off by a good strike, so the ship headed on north along the coast. Everyone noticed how the weather slowly grew colder over the following days; the villains scuttling together on the deck and keeping an eye on the cold, lonesome, dark waters. Minor icebergs started moving by and for a long while they felt so alone as they moved northwards towards the grand river that would take them behind enemy lines and towards Sakkarot's camp.
Three days before reaching their destination, they were greeted by a strange sight. Three canoe-like boats approached them and gestured to them, asking whether they could come aboard. Their common language was crude, but they were brought on deck and asked about their purpose. The leader presented himself as White Tusk, a young chief of the Yutak tribe to the north. They were heading south to trade their valuable ivory-statuettes for iron tools.
(The Yutaks play a strange and little role in this entire campaign from what I understand. It's just a nomadic Greenland-like cultural society far up north that doesn't really do anything...for the very same reason, my players decided to act accordingly...)
|Really, how I perceive most players..|
The young chieftain set down and presented his statuettes of animals, and a strange old ring he'd found and was willing to trade. The villains tried offering him some metal, a dagger and the like, but when he refused, he was struck down by a dagger through his head. His entourage was butchered the following seconds and thrown overboard.
(The ring isn't part of the adventure; I decided to throw it in there. It was a ring of protection. From a D&D Next perspective, there aren't really that many magical treasures in this part, but the villains get to make more than up for it later on, through crafting)
Yeah, you and what army?
The villains later sailed inland and soon ended up in the inner sea from which they had a spectacular view of the southern shore, in which beautiful Talingarde stretched out with its mighty walls. And there, to the far north, they could glimpse the columns of fire from a camp. Not just any camp, but one of considerable size.
Kargeld warned them of Fireaxe on the way. He grumbled that a bugbear shouldn't be so intelligent and calculating. Something was off with him, he knew that much. He urged the villains to be cautious around the camp, and especially the boss.
The captain's warning turned out to be true. As they docked, they noticed how far the massive camp stretched northwards into the savage landscape. Several tents, buildings and fires decorated the bare rock; thunder from marching feet bellowed in the air along with savage orders. Regiments of undisciplined bugbears marched back and forth; even a couple of giants made their way around the edges and occasional groups of giggling goblins skulked from tent to tent. This was an army bred for a single purpose...
|"...to advance the plot of this campaign"|
They'd barely made it ashore before a group of bugbears confronted the little puny ones. Asking about their business here, these guys were really just there to push them to the limit (and yeah, this is a fight I can understand, it has a purpose, it adds tension and dram; feel free to ham it up here and make it a memorable fight, seeing how the villains have a whole camp to impress. Surely, they'll have plenty of spectators!)
So yes, a fight did indeed break out and the villains ended up butchering the bugbears with gory ease. Only then did they hear the heavy footsteps in the snow and saw the towering mass of a male bugbear look down on them. He wielded a mighty axe that burned with fire and glared at them for several seconds. Then he noticed the crates on the ship and roared out in triumph, bidding the villains welcome to his camp.
The crates were torn open and the morale went through the roof as the bugbears started equipping themselves. The armor even had the sigil of a burning axe on them.
That night, Sakarot held a grand feast to their honor and started explaining the next step of their journey. It seemed as if their trials had just only begun, for the next step on their journey wasn't one to be solved by force...