It was a meagre dawn that met our exhausted gang, the fog blocking most of the diminutive rays of sunrise. The meagre light falling upon the campsite soon revealed how absolutely filth-encrusted they where, caked in mud and blood, troll gore and quick mire, biting insects and bog weed. Tam remained unconscious from his injuries, while the wounds of the party members ached unrelentingly. They were also miserable and hungry, but grateful to have lived through the night to see the next day.
They soon found that they were being watched, a voice calling out to them from the dissipating fog to ask if they needed assistance. Immediately suspicious, the gang instinctively switched to their default status of passive-aggressive and began belligerently questioning the unseen stranger.
Assuring them of his desire for peace, the stranger eventually emerged from the mists, his rotund and dirty form shuffling forward through the mire. Offering to lead the party back towards Faulgimere and safety, the gang’s suspicion deepened, and they began interrogating the self-declared swamp hermit as to where he lived (“Hermit’s Hill”), if he was the witch they were hunting (“No, definitely not I”), where the witch could be found (“In the Swamp – but you should leave the fellow alone for he harms no-one”), and what the stranger was doing in the swamp (“I live here”). Leading the gang westwards, the gang continued to pepper the hermit with questions, discovering that the hermit only answered questions at his own discretion and openly ignored some of the parties more pointed questions about the history of the area and the nature of the curse befalling the swamp.
The hermit hinted that that the problems all lie within Faulgimere, not the swamp or the witch, and beseeched the party to stay away and leave the witch alone. Unsatisfied with the hermit’s lack of full disclosure, the party thanklessly waved the mysterious hermit away once the fallen walls of the town came within view.
Staggering on towards the town and the hope of food and bath, the gang soon discover that the formidable retinue of one Witch Hunter Krieger on site. Arriving on a well-equipped barge with black sails and heavily adorned with religious iconography, the gang soon realises that they have to share the town with a group of equally hardened and experienced killers and zealots.
Aulric and Gorm assisted the crew with unloading some crates and dragging them up the hillside through the village gate. Aulric attempts to befriend Volden, a warrior with a damaged face, but he instead comes across as making fun of Volden’s lisp. He is immediately offended and storms away, now a dangerous foe, while Aulric feels genuine regret at his social lapse.
Undaunted, the gang pushes through to the Three Hogs Inn, where they are greeted by a dismayed innkeeper. Taking the inn over once more, the gang begins the onerous task of cleaning themselves and their equipment from the swamp foulness, and fresh(er) water for a bath and buckets is called for. Tam remains unconscious, but Klaus suddenly becomes obsessively concerned that Tam may soil himself and argues for intervention. Klaus then sits the unconscious wizard’s apprentice him on the privy and ties him in place, where Tam remains slumped for most of the day. Meanwhile, Grom once more takes his pants off and drinks at the bar while they dry (strangely, he is the only customer all day) and the rest of the gang meticulously clean themselves and their gear as best as the woeful conditions permit.
Surprisingly, at one point Grom manages to greatly offend the innkeeper after making crude comments about the minstrel stand, and the fellow flares up. The dwarf attempted to smooth the waters, but the innkeeper’s passive demeanour has become soured and he has started to turn against the gang, despite their significant coin.
It is in the midst of these shenanigans that an envoy from Krieger arrives and (ignoring the naked dwarf and unconscious wizard tied to the toilet) invites the gang to dine with the witch hunter at the Stauffer manor that evening. They accept, but they insist that the witch hunter meets them at the Three Peaks Inn, mysteriously suggesting the need for a “private conversation” without the noble family present.
As night falls, Tam awakens and finds himself tied to the toilet and demands to be released. Separately, Grom puts his pants back on. Tam has but moments to scrape swamp filth off himself before the party leaves and walks to the other Inn for dinner. On the way, they discover that the witch hunters have been busy and already assembled three pyres and a gibbet in the town square.
The Three Peaks proved to be a sharp contrast to the Three Hogs: a clean and dry place with a bright atmosphere (unlike the rest of Faulgimere). However, conversation dies as the gang enters through the door, and in the stunned silence Grom announces that he wishes to “try the shitter” (comatose Tam having occupied the one at the Three Hogs all day).
After discussions with the nervous barkeep, the gang soon discovers that Krieger’s envoy has been very efficient and the upstairs common room hurriedly converted to a private meeting room. The gang soon find themselves relaxing over ale followed by a well-cooked meal in a tidy space all to themselves, and they begin to relax after their horrid venture into the swamp.
This respite is short lived, for Krieger soon arrives with some of his menacing warriors. He is a friendly chap, and sits with the gang and asks the party about what they have learned in a polite, non-confrontational, way. The conversation goes mostly well, but the party leaves a mixed impression as:
- Aulric alleges that the von Stauffers are “into” witchcraft – but is unable to offer any proof other than his considerable dislike of them. He is soon rebuffed for the dangerous practice of bringing disrepute to the nobility.
- Richard highlights that von Schnell, the Baron’s favourite pigeon, is a fat, sinister creature that is frightful to be around. Many of the gang nod vigorously in agreement and rock traumatically in their seats, but Krieger looks askance at the suggestion.
- Krieger asks the gang is they had come across an alleged “hermit” in the swamp. Aulric spontaneously denies this loudly and unconvincingly, and then breaks into a sweat as if suddenly realising the implications of being caught lying to a witch hunter. Krieger makes nothing of it, but this somehow seems all the more disturbing.
Agreeing to work together in principle, Krieger indicates that hunting parties are setting off into the swamp tomorrow, aided in their explorations by some of the resident bog hunters. Krieger indicates that he would prefer the witch captured alive if possible, but appreciates the difficultly of this request. Further, he suggests that his “questioning” of the villagers will begin tomorrow, and the gang has a fairly clear and grim understanding of what that will likely entail.
The meeting over, Krieger leaves and heads downstairs and offers a speech to the locals, while upstairs the gang hiss and snipe at one another about their current predicament and that they’ve yet to see any gold for their efforts.
The group ventures downstairs after the witch hunter and his entourage depart. They soon split up and pursue a range of initiatives: Richard gossips with the locals and discovers the significant lack of certainty or clarity around the witch’s attack, and his suspicion deepens. Aulric runs after Krieger – catching up with him at the entrance to the von Stauffer manor – and apologies for fibbing. Grom buys a keg of ale and freely shares it with the patrons, much to everyone’s delight. An ailing and smelly Tam makes undertakes a late-night visit back to the apothecary, seeking more medicinal assistance. Klaus hangs around, making plans for the ‘morrow.
Tam stays on the night at the Three Peaks, preferring the cleaner lodgings and hoping that the improved accommodation will assist with his recovery. The rest of the gang sleep in the damp hovel of the Three Hogs, awaking not longer after yet another sallow dawn breaks over Faulgimere.
And it is at this point that tonight’s session begins…