play report: Lost Sword of the Overking, episode 4

This is an account of a recent session of my ongoing Running With Swords campaign entitled Lost Sword of the Overking. The referee was myself, the players were Seb, Jack, Jameela, and John.

As the flames spread among the trees in the wake of the fleeing Forest Spirit, the party was faced with a decision: turn back and try to warn the sleeping villagers about the fire, or head toward the boglands to the south and try to escape the Old Forest before the growing fire barred their way. They chose the latter, but soon found themselves hemmed in by the rapidly spreading fire, which drove them to the cliffs at he forest’s western boundary.

Wolflike demons leaped and cavorted among the flames as the fire grew closer; and as the adventurers attempted to climb out of reach of the flames, three of these demonic beasts attacked. As if made of molten rock, their outer hide was black and crumbly over a glowing orange core, and fiery light shone from their eyes and mouths. Caul bravely threw himself in the creatures’ path, giving Fria and the nimble Canter time to clamber up out of danger. Geortino, still drained from his psychic encounter with the Forest Spirit, was a bit too slow, and and one of the demonic fire-wolves latched on to his ankle with its powerful smoking jaws.

Seeing Geortino’s predicament, Canter shot the beast with an arrow, allow Geortino to escape, his ankle and foot badly mangled and burned. Meanwhile, Caul the master swordfighter was doing his best to take on all three beasts, slashing with his sword and smashing with his shield. Canter assisted with arrow fire from above and Fria hurled rocks at the beasts. Geortino saw that Caul was outmatched and leaped back to the ground in spite of his injury to add his sword to the melee. Eventually the beasts were defeated, hacked to glowing chinks which melted into the ground like magma.

Climbing up the steep rocky cliffside, the adventurers noticed a high cave at some distance where the treehouse villagers were going to escape the forest fire. Fria caught sight of a teenage boy and had a flash of Knowing from the Goddess: this boy was the one destined to wield the Sword of Arras and unite the warring kingdoms as the Overking.

On a rocky ledge above the inferno, Fria tended to Geortino’s ankle, dressing his burns and crafting a splint to immobilize the joint so it could heal. They managed to get a few rough hours of sleep, and upon waking they discussed how they should proceed. Now that the Overking had been discovered, should they present him the Sword of Destiny and be done with it? Yet this was a mere boy, a strange forest-dweller with no political or military experience, clearly not ready to become a king. Perhaps it would be best to deliver the Sword to the High Priestess as planned, for safe keeping until such time as the boy was ready to fulfill his destiny. And Caul and Canter still wished to find their sister in the Hidden Temple. Fria wished to take the boy and the sword to the High Priestess, so they made their way back to the site of the treehouse village.

They found the village destroyed and the villagers engaged in a heated debate regarding the genesis of the terrible fire and its meaning with regard to their relationship with the Forest Spirit. The village king and the majority of the villagers viewed the presence of the outsiders at the feast as the origin of the disaster, and did not welcome the visitors back. Noting that some of the villagers, including apparently the family of the boy who would become king, were suggesting abandoning the forest and finding a new place to live, free from the tyranny of the Forest Spirit, Fria attempted to foment an open rebellion against the king, but the king and his men-at-arms angrily drove the party off.

They made their way through the smoldering ruins of the forest, south toward the boglands where the Hidden Temple was said to be. That night, they discovered a nearby campfire, and were approached by two strangers in the dark, who turned out to be defecting villagers. In the ensuing conversation, the villagers stated their desire to be free from the rule of kings and forest spirits, and Canter, recognizing their outlaw spirit, offered them a place in his “kingdom,” where his followers lived illegally in the woods in Queen Vauphria’s lands. The villagers gratefully accepted his offer, and agreed to meet in the morning to discuss matters further.

The next morning, the adventurers visited the camp of the defectors, where they saw the boy destined to become king. Caul and Geortino were showing off their swordplay skills to impress the youngsters, which was met by disapproving looks from the adults; they learned that the forest people traced their descent from the Elves (also called the Good Neighbors) and therefore shunned iron and steel.  Fria found an opportunity to address the boy in semi-privacy and she revealed to him her belief that he was destined to become overking of many lands. The boy seemed overawed by this strange revelation. When asked if he ever dreamed of becoming a king, he related a recurring dream which felt significant to him: he was a wild boar chasing a mighty stag; just when he was ready to gore the stag with his tusks, he saw the stag had his own face, at which point he became the stag being gored by the boar, which had the face of a man he didn’t recognize.

The adventurers were fixated on the idea of bringing the villagers into the boglands, I think because they had learned that in generations past the forest people often visited the Hidden Temple. However, no one now living had any firsthand knowledge of the treacherous swamps nor of the secret path to find the Temple. They knew only tales from the past, saying that the Temple was not in a fixed place and could only be found by those who the Priestesses wished to find it. It was said that a mysterious Boatman could ferry people to the Temple. They were also warned about giant alligators that live in the swamp.

The adventurers were insistent about the forest people accompanying them, in spite of the fact that none of the villagers had ever journeyed into the boglands before nor had any contact with the priestesses dwelling in the Hidden Temple. Finally the villagers, out of gratitude for Canter’s gracious offer of a place to live in his “kingdom,” agreed to send one hunter to the dangerous boglands with the party - a man called Vinm.

Before departing the forest, Fria used her magic bowl to divine the path to the Hidden Temple.  She filled the polished silver bowl with pure spring water and waited until the water was mirror-still, then gazed into the bowl. The path was revealed to her, but in order to keep it in her mind she would have to concentrate intensely; any distraction could cause the vision to be lost from her mind. She learned in her vision that the path was not merely physical but was a kind of magic spell; by walking in a very specific way, stepping in specific places, and concentrating her magical faculties, she would be able to lead them into the parallel world where the Temple was hidden.

The party set off into the swamp, proceeding slowly and carefully, Geortino limping on his injured ankle, everyone following Fria and taking care to step exactly where she stepped. Unfortunately, after a few hours they were attacked by a giant alligator. The creature burst out of the murky water and grabbed Geortino by his good leg, dragging him down to drown him. Caul told Canter to continue following Fria and leaped onto the beast, driving his sword up to its hilt through the alligator’s massive neck. Fria maintained her concentration and continued on the magical path. Caul nearly lost his sword as the alligator retreated under the blood-darkened water. Canter threw a rope back to Caul while taking care to follow Fria’s path, and at that moment Fria and Canter entered the hidden world, disappearing from the world where Caul, Geortino, and Vinm stood; Canter’s rope lay coiled on the ground where a moment before he had stepped. 

Caul tried in vain to follow but the path was lost to him. However, at that moment they say the Boatman, poling a flat-bottom skiff across the marsh in their direction. The Boatman stated that he would ferry them to the Temple but they must pay a price: whatever is most precious to them. Caul offered up his knightly ring, bearing the seal of Queen Vauphria, entitling him to hunt and conscript men and horses in her lands, as well as to courtly treatment in the neighboring kingdoms. He hoped the Boatman would be fooled; the ring was actually of little value since he had disobeyed the Queen and helped his outlaw brother to escape her justice.

Geortino did not wish to part with his most precious possession: the enchanted sword of his great-grandfather Edwall; he and Vinm chose to remain behind in the swamp as Caul stepped onto the Boatman’s skiff.

Fria and Canter were surrounded by swirling mists when suddenly the barge of the High Priestess was upon them. Standing beside the High Priestess Canter recognized his sister Dwarna; she seemed to be the High Priestess’s chief assistant. Fria began to explain the reasons for their visit; that they had brought the Sword of Arras destined to unite the kingdoms, and that canter wished to visit his sister. The High Priestess stated that all sworn priestesses renounced their families when they entered service in the Hidden Temple; during the boat ride Dwarna gave Canter a significant glance indicating that she was indeed happy to see him but was unable to break the decorum her position demanded. The High Priestess explained that men are not permitted within the Hidden Temple; Canter would be provided lodging on the grounds outside the temple walls while she would stay within and dine with the High Priestess that evening, when they could discuss her visions and the Sword of Destiny.

Caul shortly arrived on the island of the Temple and encountered his brother in a yurt that had been made available to him for the night. Geortino and Vinm were left alone in the dismal boglands, still carrying the Sword of Arras. Fria entered the Hidden Temple and was conducted to her guest quarters to rest and prepare herself for dinner with the High Priestess.

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