You know, we’ve never really done a classic “rescue the princess” scenario in all our years of playing D&D, have we? Well, now we have…
- The PCs knew where they had to go: the mysterious castle on the banks of the River Laine that Phloyd had seen in the mind of Sir Bracken. William had been able to figure out approximately where that was, and they set off.
- After an uneventful cross-country trek, the reached the wide and mighty Laine and began following it north, looking for a suitable crossing point. They eventually found a ford, but also found that it was guarded by a knight and his attendants.
- As the party crossed the river, the knight rode up to the far bank. He was dressed in a black surcoat but bore a large gold medallion with the lion symbol of Duke Bhereu. “Turn back or else face me in single combat!” he called. William took the challenge, and a joust began.
- William finally put his lance to good use, unseating the rival knight on the first pass. The Black Knight, undaunted, drew his sword, and William dismounted to continue the fight on foot. What transpired was an epic fight that culminated with William disarming the knight. “You are beaten. Now let us pass.” The Black Knight seemed to consent, but then, true to stereotypical black knight behavior, he signaled for his four attendants to open fire with heretofore-concealed crossbows as he dove back for his sword.
- The crossbow volley was ineffective, and Phloyd put the men down with a couple blasts of color spray. William, meanwhile, found himself in a desperate battle against the enemy knight. Even with Phloyd joining the fray, they only just managed to defeat him, leaving his shattered body bleeding into the clear rivers of the Laine.
- Unfortunately, the fight had taken so long that two of the men Phloyd had knocked out had regained consciousness and were fleeing to the northwest. William mounted one of the remaining horses, a light and swift breed, pulled Phloyd into the saddle, and whistled for Gagejolly to follow him. The chase was on!
- William caught up to the men after 10 miles of hard riding, and Phloyd sent a blast of color spray their way; they did not survive the falls from their horses. By this point, the terrain had become much more hilly and wooded, and the spires of a mighty castle could be discerned on the horizon about a half-mile distant.
- After Gagejolly caught up, and with everyone badly in need of rest, the party found a sufficiently isolated copse of trees to camp in out of sight of the castle. Their night went undisturbed save for a party of dwarven miners—the same party they’d encountered some days previous, by the looks of things—walking up towards the castle the next morning. Small world!
- Phloyd did a repeat of his infiltration of Eagle Peak by going invisible (using his new ring this time) and assuming wraithform to slip past guards and through closed doors. The castle showed signs of isolation, but also of recent renovations. Within its walls, Phloyd discovered four bodies in the dungeon, men in pilgrim’s garb that had been left to die of thirst—Phloyd surmised they were members of the Princess’s party—as well as Duke Bhereu and his half-elven lover (whom Phloyd did not recognize) and a rather nasty-looking half-orc bodyguard in a nearby tower complex. But most importantly, he found Tanalesta, near death herself from ill treatment and paltry rations in a private chamber. He returned and gave his report to William.
- That night, the PCs returned, using Phloyd’s levitation spell to get to the top of the tower where Tanalesta was being held. Phloyd’s color spray incapacitated the guards outside her chamber, and the PCs spirited her away into the night. They were momentarily pursued by the castle’s eponymous griffin, but sacrificed the riding horses they’d acquired from the Black Knight in order to distract it and get away cleanly.
- After riding about five miles, they made camp again. Tanalesta was given food and water and gradually began regaining her faculties. She was full of questions: she did not know about her father’s death or the plot against her. The PCs gave her the run-down, much to her horror. At this point, a rustling came from the nearby bushes and a man stepped into the clearing. “Allow me to ease your pain, Princess,” he said, just before hurling a dagger straight at her face—it was the assassin from Eagle Point!
- Fortunately, his knife just missed its mark, cutting off a lock of Tanalesta’s hair instead. He then vaulted into the midst of the party, inhumanly quick, and took a swipe at the princess with another poisoned dagger, but she managed to dodge out of the way. Then Phloyd and William were upon him. They managed to avoid getting stuck with the poisoned blade, and dispatched their foe after a brief fight.
- The next morning, with William laying hands on Tanalesta to give her enough strength for the journey, they rode out for Fontmere Abbey. After three days of cautious travel, giving Eagle Point a wide berth, they arrived at the abbey only to find that, tragically, it had indeed been brutally sacked and pillaged, as feared. Among the ruins they found the decaying remains of William Menote, head of the abbey.
- They elected to press on along a path through the Stormhorns that would take them into the heart of Cormyr. Keeping off the main road, they made for Espar and the Three Feathers Inn, the one remaining “friendly” place in the country. Entering the quaint town, they saw Lord Edrin’s raven banners hung from every major building in town. Yet, as they made for the inn, the people of Espar, having recognized the princess, mobbed them, cheering and crying tears of joy. Vangerdehast was there, too, as if he knew the PCs were coming. He welcomed them back, beaming.
- The following few days were a whirlwind of celebration and feasting, first at Espar, then at Suzail. Lord Edrin was arrested and executed for treason, and Duke Bhereu, now known to all of Cormyr as Bhereu the Infamous, fled the country. A national holiday was named in honor of the new queen’s return, and Sir William was finally given official rank in the Purple Dragons, named a Constal of the order. All’s well that ends well.
[There was some interesting discussion after the session regarding the much-reduced rate of level advancement we’re now encountering. Phloyd leveled up as an Illusionist, but there are tens of thousands of XP to accrue before the next such advancement for either character. This might just be a function of this level of D&D gameplay—we’ve rarely had campaigns get this far—but I’ve given it some thought, and I’ll be making some adjustments to XP awards in the future. Namely, in addition to XP for defeating monsters and gaining treasure, as well as the occasional story award, I’m also going to award XP for neutralizing threats through stealth or cleverness; I think the PCs deserved some Experience for the way they got out of fighting the griffin and Duke Bhereu and his flunkies. It seems unfair to punish players for creative problem-solving over hack-and-slashing, and with a small party, it’s even more wise to encourage plans that avoid potential Total Party Kill scenarios. I’ve made a note to adjust XP awards from this session at the beginning of the next; it’s not anything huge, but every little bit helps.]