Having returned from the large battles to the East the party wanted to settle down and focus on completing their large, combined stronghold. Through a combination of experience points and an arcane book the party fighter and leader, Doomsman, is now 13th level and the cleric/mage, Darkwalk, is 8th/9th. Unfortunately, the Redcaps still pose a major threat.
The Redcaps are the spiritual descendants of the rebellious humanoid legions that brought down the last Human Empire a few centuries before current game time. The have a mysterious leader and employ mainly humanoids and giants. Typically they have Goblin scouts/skirmishers and Hobgoblin infantry/etc. with Bugbears as shock troops. Above all that, however, is The Pack.
The Pack is a group of exceptional giants (one each of Hill, Mountain, Fire, Frost, Fog, Fomorian, Desert, and Jungle) with a Cloud Giant leader that act as the best of the best troops for the Redcaps.They are supported by an army of Verbeeg and have Ogre troops, too.
The party is building their fortress to command the only so-far unprotected pass between the West and the Redcaps and the Blackstone region. They have a lot of attachment to the area since from 1st level to about level 5 they adventured heavily in the region and pushed the Redcap-allied Goblins from the same pass.
Concerned about an attack on the in-progress stronghold by giants, the party decided to take the fight over the mountains. After a long discussion/argument Mournglow convinced everyone to leave the hippogriffs at home and travel by horse. This led to only Darkwalk bringing a henchman (Starwing, a 3/3 cleric/magic-user).
Travelling north along the Old Mountain Road the party soon ran into something they had encountered before - animals acting oddly with a single eye glowing green or red. After three days of dodging these creatures and scouting the thief, Stardust, found something odd; two human guards speaking in bored tones as 5 other humans sat crouched over glowing stones, insensate. After a relatively quick skirmish three thinsg happened;
1) The lead guard was Charmed
2) The other guard was dead
3) The insensate people were bound
The charmed guard talked, of course, revealing that there were two other groups hunting for the party and that the men with stones were controlling/diving through the animals as scouts. Because the party was a bit split up and there was combat with some animals and undead, they did not get back to the bound diviners for several game hours. By the time they did the diviners had been devoured by a pack of... somethings.The charmed guard was sent away. The guard did sketch a brief map and give the players a run down on the pack, leading to a 10 minute argument about going back for the hippogriffs.
They pressed on.
Two game days later they encountered the second party sent for them, a group of humans that were 'on loan' to the Redcaps. The battle lasted longer than I expected, mainly because of the '2e monk' that I made with Combat and Tactics and his magic items. In the end, though, the party prevailed. They finally reached sight of their destination, a walled town protecting the only river crossing for miles. While they knew from their interrogations that the majority of troops were gone, they realized that they still had to somehow deal with the left behind. The portion of the village on their side seemed largely empty but with hobgoblins, the far side with Verbeeg.
The also realized the Pack's fortress, in the mountains beyond, was probably on a cloud island. Between that and the river there was a heated discussion with Mournglow about bringing the hippogriffs.
After resting the night they left Starwing at camp with the horses and gear and set out. Darkwalk used a Rainbow spell to cross the river near a small waterfall (and its rainbow). With a combination of items and spells they then scaled the walls of the fortress on the far side of the river to eliminate a strongpoint behind them.
While creeping along the outer walls towards the main fortress a roc flew by overhead with a giant riding it. They could hear the faint screams of a woman from the roc, too. Puzzled, they pressed on.
They made it to the main fortress from the outer walls but drew the attention of a guard. Before too long the alarm was sounded and battle was engaged. Stardust just avoided an attack by a Marilith (!); she got away and Doomsman engaged her in melee, cutting her down in just 2 rounds (!!). After temporarily sealing the stairs behind them with a Wall of Fire (and leaving a set of Explosive Runes behind) they engaged about 25 Verbeeg, including a shaman, outside the door leading from the base of the tower. Between spells and combat they killed or injured all the Verbeeg there but were driven off by giant-sized heavy catapults from the main keep hurling 120 gallon barrels of flaming tar.
Returning to the tower they decided to go all the way to the top. Once there they were engaged by the invisible Hill Giant member of the Pack who wielded a massive war club of stunning. In a scene far too familiar Doomsman cut him down in short order. While this was going on, though, the roc returned and dropped something. The party dove through the trapdoor and fled down the stairs as a massive barrel of vitriol burst, eating away at the top of the tower and damaging the stairs further down another floor.
It was looking a bit grim, I thought. The main keep (400' tall) had the ability to hurl more flaming tar; the roof was effectively gone and with the stairs above gone they couldn't go up. The only other exit, on the ground floor, still had a large tar fire on the other side of it. I started moving in the Verbeeg and the roc rider circled lower.
Being careful and taking minor damage Stardust used her Rope of Climbing to get the party to the level with access to the walls. Darkwalk then used a Fireblast to destroy the catapult from the keep that could fire at them and the party moved to the walls. The were engaged by 2 Verbeeg (including the one that first noticed them and raised the alarm) but Ember hurled a Lesser Fireblast which seemed to drop them. The party rushed onto the wall as the roc swooped in, the Fog Giant on its back preparing to hurl another barrel of vitriol. Darkwalk rolled a good initative, though, and hit the giant with a Flamestrike and the barrel failed its save (with a 1) shattering and coating the giant and the roc with vitriol. The roc and its rider flew away as the party scrambled down from the wall, commandeered a longboat and recrossed the river and fled toward their hidden camp.
When they reached camp, though, it was destroyed; tents gone, horses missing or bitten in half, all their gear missing, and Starwing nowhere to be found. Looking at the massive claw marks they realized the roc had been there and that the screaming woman they had heard earlier was Starwing being carried to the fortress in the clouds.
There was a moment of sheer terror when Mournglow and Darkwalk realized their spell books were missing. Then Ember told them he had stashed copies of their travelling books in his Portable Hole. There was also some anguish about Doomsman's warhorse, Spanky II, meeting such an ignominious end.
The party is now on foot deep inside enemy territory (walking back to the closest safe place, their own stronghold, is at least 8 days assuming no encounters, they are travelling in the open, and the weather is perfect), they have 1 day of food and water on them (although water is plentiful nearby), their enemies know roughly where they must be, and a beloved hencman is captive of the enemy.