We picked up the campaign last night after a long hiatus. New player and character joined the group – Limka, a Varisian dancer & singer (Bard). The Sandpoint Cavaliers now consist of Hyanth (Cleric 5/Paladin 1), Valak (Monk 7), Dolgann (Ranger 6), Wertz (Rogue 6), Voldemon (Wizard 6) and Limka (Bard 6). Not a lot of heavy armor in that bunch, really. For this session, Wertz and Hyanth were both not present. The NPC Shalelu was accompanying them, as was Shayliss, the fiancee of Hyanth.
Most of the session was spent recapping the events of Burnt Offerings and The Skinsaw Murders, to bring the new player up to speed and refresh the memory of the other players. "We've done a lot," one of them observed. In game time, a little over 2 months have passed since the game started, so there was quite a bit to recap. The important part was reminding them that they were headed to Fort Rannick to find out what had happened to Orik, the fighter from Burnt Offerings who had left Nualia before the final fights and ended up being a Black Arrow. The last correspondence they'd had from him was a mention that he'd seen a sihedron rune tatoo on someone at Turtleback… and then no more letters had arrived.
We picked up events with the players arriving in Turtleback Ferry. I'd sent out emails describing the trip earlier, and had that printed off to refresh their memories. While the adventure says the trip should take 9 days on horseback, my estimation was closer to 14 days, considering the weather (the characters are travelling in the end of Neth (aka November)) being cold with lots of rain and some snow. I emphasized the rain, trying to set up the eventual flooding events to come.
This meant that Fort Rannick had been captured about 3 weeks ago, and the Paradise has been burned and sunk for about 10 days. I figured the last patrol of Black Arrows was captured by the Grauls around 12 days ago, and the Grauls have been killing them at a rate of about one every 3 or 4 days (takes a long time for them to die by the torture, and the Grauls wanna enjoy it).
In Turtleback, the party established that: Fort Rannick had been silent for weeks, a party sent to check on it had never returned, and that the people of the Ferry were afraid and had sent word to Magnimar for help. The party didn't disabuse them of the notion that they were that help (which I found interesting). They also flashed a sihedron symbol (the amulet recovered from Nualia) and got muted reactions from some of the townsfolk.
The next day they were off to Fort Rannick. The encounter with the bear was nearly passed over, but once Shalelu and Limka both mentioned that bears were unusual in the Kreegswood, someone made the connection that maybe it was a Ranger's animal companion and they opted to investigate.
They were able to free Kipp the bear just before the Graul hounds showed up (Valak having picked up some Disable Device skill). Voldemon tossed me a curveball, hitting the hounds with Hypnotic Pattern and basically taking them out of the fight for the first while. This let Valak go toe-to-toe with Rukus, while the rest of the party (and bear) dealt with the dogs one on one.
I had ruled that all the ground was difficult terrain and concealment terrain (so x2 movement costs and 20% miss chance). Also used the rule that trees provided +2AC and +1 Reflex cover. For the most part, the only effect was to prevent 5-ft steps and to have one or two hits miss. Rukus was quickly dropped to under 30 hit points, so tried to run… but when there's a Monk in the party, running never works (50ft of movement is awfully fast). Rukus ended up getting charged and hit with a Stunning Fist (DC 15 to save, +11 Fortitude save, roll on the d20 is a 2… priceless). And with the target being Stunned, the Monk unleashed a flurry of non-lethal blows on the half-ogre hillbilly mutant and knocked him out.
They tied Rukus up and were going to leave when they noticed his blanket and all the Black Arrow patches. Figuring he might have captured some, they decided to follow his trail and ended up at the Graul Homestead, which is where we left it for the night.
The big game changer for the fight was the Hypnotic Pattern, which took out 4 of the 5 hounds. It let the party focus on Rukus more than they otherwise could have, and thus he was stripped of hit points pretty quick. Still, they did end up using a number of charges off a wand of cure light wounds, and the wizard used up a couple spells, so the fight served its purpose.
Aside – I've really noticed that the monk is a game changer class, by which I mean that it has the ability to completely turn encounters on their head if it gets half-way lucky. Their special attacks (stuns, trips, grapples, etc.) can all shut down a monster completely on a good roll, and their speed makes it nearly impossible for anyone to just run away.