Today was my San Francisco group's first full game day. I'd done two two-fers previous to this, as each pair got into the story differently, but now we are all on board together.
Something is moving in the world. A pervasive unease and anxiety lay across the land. It is just barely Autumn and snow is falling and the cold is bitter and dangerous. There are stories of armies - horrible things, inhuman things - waging campaigns of extermination in faraway lands, growing ever closer. Closer, from the north, armies of monsters and evil men have ridden out from some ... keep or temple ... under four banners: the red, the white, the blue, and the brown. Humanoid lords and lieges ride against them, setting up a kind of firebreak by evacuating and burning the farms and homesteads on the frontier, so the encroaching forces will find no towns and cities to loot, no treasure to take, no food to pillage. Armies march on their stomach.
Our characters have been sort of tangentially involved in this, but not close enough to any part of it to get any big picture. Dwyn (Edbury), our ethereally beautiful druid ("Keira Knightley with a beard and Celtic face tattoos") is dispatched from his forest by the druid hierarchy to heal a sick community of ranchers. Plague stalks the land. He is distracted by the aftermath of a zombie attack at a local lord's keep. There had been a wedding going on between the lord's son, Bartholomew son of Bartholomew, and his bride, a young wizard with a talent for necromancy named Elyx (Kellie). As Dwyn appears on the scene he discovers the bride is the only survivor: still in her wedding dress, covered in blood, and missing a hand as, judging it to have been infected by a zombie bite, the young anatomist had self-amputated it. Determined to visit his superior, the Forest Oracle, to get to the bottom of this blight that seems everywhere, Dwyn sets out on the road, with Elyx in tow, after she performs a ritual that summons and binds a pixie to her as her wizard's familiar. They encounter inexplicably anomalous and hibernating fauna - like a tiger - in the middle of the forest, but keep on going without closely investigating, because being around if that tiger wakes up would be bad.
Several dozen miles away, bard Matthonwy (Ryan) is travelling to the castle of Lord Bartholomew to play at the wedding of his only son, unaware that the entire castle has been overrun. He passes a homestead of ranchers whose halfling employee, Pudgit (Chris), is the only survivor of the pox that killed everyone else at the ranch and that scarred Pudgit horribly in face and body. There was supposed to have been a druid coming to heal them, but he never arrived. The two encounter a female orc priest who applies some kind of poultice to Pudgit's sores, and all three are accosted by a human rabble of conscripts who are traveling through the countryside burning homes and grain stores. Pudgit has, however, already set fire to the property, to burn his dead before travelling onwards. The conscripts make to execute the orc when all are put to sleep. When Pudgit and Matthonwy awake, the orc is gone but the humans are all dead. They loot the bodies - Matthonwy takes an especially sharp sword - and move on down the road in a horse-drawn cart full of what are now roasted potatoes.
At an inn they encounter a cagey necromancer named Delon who is putting on a bit of a performance for the local townsfolk and giving a big "we need heroes" speech, and wrangles Matthonwy and Pudgit to agree to visit the Forest Oracle to get to the bottom of what the fuck is going on with the land. However, privately, Delon admits he thinks all is already lost, and the reason he's not visiting the oracle himself is that he's getting on a boat and going somewhere faraway. Kara Tur maybe? Pudgit and Matthonwy decline the invitation to go with him, largely on account of the price being too steep. (But also, the players believing that to be an "invisible wall" of the game world, didn't think they could take him up on that offer.)
Pudgit and Matthonwy travel down the road and encounter an encampment of conscripts, who have all left on a sacking and burning raid. There is but one guard, whom the characters bluff their way past, but it's just a temporary encampment so they find nothing much of value, although there is one locked chest that Pudgit makes off with.
As they are travelling down the road in their potato cart, Pudgit attempts to pick the lock on the chest, fails, and gets a face full of a paralyzing powder for his trouble. While Pudgit's muscles lock into a painful crouch, rendering him immobile but not insensate, Dwyn and Elyx come up the road. Elyx is particularly terrifying looking as a blood-soaked bride with one hand and Matthonwy thinks she's maybe a ghost or something. However, behind him, coming up the road are a platoon of jungle monkeys in red regalia, led by an orangutan in human armor. The monkeys begin to pursue our characters in the cart, but are called back by a larger ape who appears to have a humanlike intelligence. He fixes the characters with an eerie gaze, and leads his troop back into the forest.
Matthonwy doesn't want to stop for the crazy looking bard and necromancer, but Dwyn draws a sigil in the dust and lays down an entangle spell and arrests the progress of the cart. The characters have their first meet cute and start talking. Dwyn tries to diagnose Pudgit's paralysis, touching the dust with a finger and putting it in his mouth. He makes his save! But still freezes his facial muscles for a while, and spends the next three hours uncontrollably drooling on himself and being unable to speak. Pudgit begins seeing strange visions of an eerie young girl in the underbrush.
They travel down the road together toward the Forest Oracle. Eventually Pudgit comes out of his paralysis and Dwyn stops drooling. Elyx interacts with her familiar whom she kind of hates. Matthonwy plays a ditty.
The characters keep moving, managing to stay warm despite the cold. They come across a frozen lake beside which a deer seems to be slumbering in the snow, with a pavilion on stilts at the far end of the lake. Dwyn ascertains the deer is afflicted by a fell magic and cannot be awoken. He slits its throat to put it out of its misery. Elyx performs strange necromancy over the corpse and raises her first zombie. The dead creature ambles slowly by her side.
In the pavilion the characters discover a sleeping beautiful man, bound in chains. The pavilion appears otherwise empty beside a chest containing some personal belongings, blankets, and a wreath of dried water lillies. The eerie young girl appears and begs Pudgit, a burglar, to free the man, as halflings usually have some experience opening locks. She alleges the Forest Oracle has done this. Pudgit resolves - with the bare minimum of enthusiasm - to take the matter to the Forest Oracle himself, while Elyx decides to take the wreath, driving the girl into a rage. She removes her shift to reveal she's actually a sublimely beautiful nypmh. And angry. Dwyn and Elyx are immediately blinded, and Elyx suffers further. She later realizes without intervention she will die in four days. The nymph casts dimension door and flees.
Not know what else to do, they get back on the road, minus the zombie deer, which Matthonwy has dismembered in horror. They come on an abandoned tavern at a crossroads being abandoned by its halfling owner who, like Delon, is fleeing the area, yet unsure where he could even go, and angry. The characters explore the inn, finding the halfling's anti-police panic room, and a strange rodent-smelling room hidden behind the wall which contains quite a bit of treasure. They pack the money up and prepare to move on. Elyx and Dwyn are still blind, Elyx is still dying. The Forest Oracle is three day's march away. She lives in hope the Forest Oracle can do something about her condition.
Crap. I need a name for this campaign.