They’ve always been revolting, now they’re rebelling! The party gets a lucky break that allows them to break their shackles.
Game date: Summer-ish. Year TBD
Morning comes again. At least you assume its morning: you haven’t seen the sun in months. But the guards are making their way along the cells, crashing their flails against the doors, waking the prisoners for another day in the caves. You uncurl yourself from the corner, and gaze bleary eyed at the other wretched figures in the room. The door opens and a burly hobgoblin scans the cell. His eyes rest on you, and he snaps his fingers. You are taken out into the hallway and a manacle is snapped around your ankle, chained along with the other slaves you’ll be spending the next grueling day with. You glance at them, faces you’ve seen in passing as the work gangs were shuffled around, sometimes digging through dirt, sometimes breaking large rocks into small ones, sometimes hauling debris into some dead-end tunnel the guards don’t care about. You don’t know why opening these tunnels is important, but you don’t care: if you don’t work, you get beaten. If you work…well, you still get beaten, but at least with a little less malice. And sometimes there’s food.
Uh oh. It’s a “short chain”. The hobgoblins usually use groups of ten or fifteen slaves to clear out the tunnels. This one looks like it’s only going to have five. That means the higher-ups are sending us someplace new. They want the guards to be watching out for more than just slacking workers, so they send fewer slaves. You’ve heard stories from other slaves about breaking into new areas and being swarmed by bugs or vermin. The guards are almost always fine, but slaves don’t always come back…
The guard hauls your chain of compatriots to the large room with the broken wall revealing the cave entrance. Then the overseer strides in. His whip plays over everyone, the pain driving off the last of last night’s sleep, but the dull exhaustion still remains. Picks, shovels, and a couple of lanterns are shoved into the slaves’ hands, and you’re led down the tunnel. At the bottom the goblin slave is chained to a wheelbarrow; looks like he’s on hauling duty today. You think that the guards would have a little empathy for one of their own kind, but the goblinoids seem to take a special interest in tormenting the little figure, laughing when the hobble chain causes him to stumble and fall against the wheelbarrow.
The overseer uses his whip to direct the work gang, like a cart driver with his horses. First to the left, then to the right, following the guide ropes the guards use to keep themselves oriented in the twisty tunnels. You reach an area that shows signs of recent work: a small pile of debris is all that’s left from a cave-in cleared out in the past few days. You remember working this spot before, but the tunnel beyond is new. The overseer unslings a coil of rope, tying one end to the rope you had been following (which ended at the debris pile). He takes a slip of parchment out of a pouch at his belt, and barks to one of the slaves to turn the lantern his way. He rotates the parchment back and forth, finally determining the orientation he wants. With a flick of the whip, he sends you past the remaining debris pile, then down the larger fork to the right. He stays at the back, playing out the rope behind him.
After a couple hundred feet, you and the guards enter a wide area where many tunnels intersect. To the left and right, tunnels lead off into the darkness. Ahead, a tunnel goes a short way before being blocked by yet another huge pile of rocks and dirt, blocking it from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. The overseer cuts the rope, and ties one end to a handy outcropping on the wall. He glances at the parchment, and says to one of the other hobgoblins to send “the little green maggot” up the left-hand tunnel, there’ll be a dead-end branch about 30 feet up to dump rocks. The guards begin their well-practiced routine: the chained slaves are directed to begin digging out the pile, while the small goblin is sent with his barrow to haul rocks away.
You start work, continuing on in the same dull, tiring way as you always had. Rocks are pried out of the pile, dirt is slung away, everything is hauled back in the wheelbarrow. But then you hear one of the guards give out a wild yell. Looking over, you see a horrid figure grasping the guard from behind: in shadow, it could be mistaken for hobgoblin, but as the light of the lantern falls on it, you see deathly white flesh hanging from its limbs, and a dull blue glow emanating from its eye sockets. As you take this in, you see the figure lean over and bury it’s teeth into the guards neck, spraying blood across the walls.
[At this point, the players took full control of their characters, so I’ll step back a bit from the “in your head” narration style]
The other guards stand stunned for a moment, then all charge over to help their comrade. As they run across the cavern, more figures appear from the darkness, unearthly howls giving voice to their hunger.
Thorin recognizes the foul creature as a zombie: an undead monster that only thinks of feeding on the flesh of the living. Neb reacts by throwing a rock he had at hand into the fray, but it bounces harmlessly off the decaying flesh. Galinndan and Edmond glance at each other, the same thought going through their minds: with all the guards distracted by the monsters, this could be a chance for escape! Of course, the options are bad (back to the old area of the cave, where you know you’re likely to run into other guards), worse (through the tunnel that the zombies came from), or unknown (the tunnel to the west). Judging an unknown threat as slightly less risky than known danger, the chained prisoners start shuffling down the western tunnel.
Meanwhile, Ngrok realized that with his guard running back to the main tunnel, he’s unobserved. A quick struggle allows him to pry his small hands out of the manacles chaining him to the wheelbarrow. He sees the other members of the work gang run past him, so he follows, grabbing the lantern off the wheelbarrow as he goes.
During their run, the party hears the sounds of combat behind them slowly die out, followed by the grisly sounds of feeding. A minute or so of clumsy travel brings the party to a T intersection, with tunnels leading to the left and right. The sounds from the zombies slowly end, leaving them surrounded by silence broken only by the party’s ragged breathing, and the clinking of Ngrok’s hobble chain as he catches up. The party looks at each other, with little reason to trust one another other than their shared dilemma, and the thought that safety in numbers beats the alternative. Edmond is especially suspicious of Ngrok, since his years under the Bloodreaver’s lash has not given him the best opinion of goblinoids.
The party takes several minutes to slowly work themselves out of their restraints. Edmond retrieves some small bits of wire and metal hidden in the hem of his torn rags, and is able to use those to unlock a couple of the manacles. Others are able to twist their feet and work the manacles off. Eventually, everyone stands free, for the first time in many months if not years. They start discussing their options, and Thorin states that zombies usually feed until sated, then wander off, leaving the bodies. This means that the guards’ weapons and armor may still be lying on the cave floor. The party douses all but one of their lanterns, and cautiously creeps back to the site of the attack. There they find the remains of the guards, and as Thorin said, the equipment was left behind by the zombies. The party quickly loots the bodies, strapping on the armor and hefting the weapons. Edmond finds the goblin leather a tight fit, but loosening some straps makes it serviceable (and certainly better than the rags he’s wearing underneath). Edmond also argues strongly against giving “the goblin” anything, suspecting Ngrok of treachery. Thorin and Galinndan eventually make the case that they’re all in the same situation, and should at least try to work together. The party also finds the overseer’s waterskin, and they all take a long drink. The clean water helps to drive back some of exhaustion of captivity, but they are still very weary. They also find a key to their manacles, the map the overseer used to guide them to their work area, some tindertwigs and some gold coins in the guards’ belt pouches.
The party heads back down the unknown tunnel to the intersection where they stopped before. While trying to decide which way to go, Neb notices that the rivulets of water seeping out of the wall seem to be flowing down to the left. Figuring “follow the water” is a good a guideline as any, the party heads to the left. They pass a couple more tunnels branching away, but the party continues following the flow of the rivulets, which carries them to the north before eventually curving back to the south.
As they travel down the tunnel, Edmond (carrying the lantern) spots a tunnel branching to the left. As he comes up to it, the light reveals many small furry figures: rats of many sizes swarming down the tunnel, attracted by the light. The party raise their newly-acquired weapons and fight off the horde of creatures. Ngrok leaps among the bodies, and starts dropping some of the dog-sized rats, sometimes two with one swing. Edmond and Thorin focus on the massive Dire Rats, although Thorin smites a swarm of dozens tiny rats with the wrath of Odannis. Galinndan directs his comrades into advantageous positions, inciting them to swing with fury and precision. Neb at first looks useless (as he didn’t bother taking any armor, and only took two javelins), but a brief look of concentration from him causes a whirlwind of magical barbs to surround one rat and then the swarm. He obviously has some hidden talents.
As the last of the rats are slain, the party checks up the way they came. The tunnel dead ends in a corner filled with what appears to be some old wood and debris forming a nest for the rats. Among the pile Galinndan finds bones from some sort of humanoid, but the rats’ gnawing makes them impossible to identify further or determine their age. The party makes quick work gathering the rat nest into a small fire, which they use to roast the meat of their recent foes. The still air of the cave causes the smoke to gather uncomfortably, but soon enough the meat is cooked, and they all have fresh food in their bellies. They gather some of the unused wood and debris, and head back into the darkness.
Further down the tunnel, it again branches to the left and the right. Edmond hears the sounds of flowing water to the right, so the party heads in that direction. A few minutes travel brings them to an underground brook: about 10 feet across and flowing to the right. Neb reveals another hidden talent as he holds a small branch in his hand, which then erupts into light rivaling the lantern. He cautiously makes his way out into the water and looks up and downstream. The water runs out of sight in both directions, so he drops the wood into the current, which drags the glowing branch downstream. Watching it float, it seems to speed up, bobbing more and more, until finally dropping out of sight.
The party decides to travel upstream. None of them recall seeing flowing water in the caves before, so it’s likely this is still outside the area controlled by the hobgoblins. The water reaches from wall to wall, so they wade in, Ngrok holding onto Thorin’s belt for support. As they travel upstream, the waterway widens and becomes shallower. After many minutes of travel, another tunnel appears on the left, this area bathed in dim light from glowing lichen on the walls. The party climbs out of the water to dry out and take a short rest. They continue upstream again, but the waterway starts to get cramped, the ceiling dropping down making travel difficult. Eventually, they reach a rock face where the water is simply flowing out of cracks in the wall. No further progress can be made in this direction, so they head back to the last beach area.
They rest for several hours, during which time Edmond shares a story about how he was enslaved. He had discovered his friend’s father had been selling arms to tribes of goblins around Galenwind, risking the peace of the city for his own profit. After Edmond confronted Fernand about this, he was on his way to the constables when he was attacked by masked men. He was beaten unconscious, tied up, and when he next saw daylight he was in the hands of the Bloodreavers as their slave.
After some restless sleep (with Edmond insisting on sitting a watch with Ngrok to keep an eye on the goblin), the party heads up the tunnel away from the river. As they make their way up, they begin to hear sounds. After some hard listening, they identify it as the muffled echoes of picks and shovels. Suspecting they were coming back to areas where the slaves were working, they make their way back to river to see if downstream offers any alternatives.
After reaching the second tunnel, Neb again sends a bobbing piece of glowing wood down the current. The party follows it down further this time, watching where it bobs out of sight. It looks to be a drop-off of the riverbed. Galinndan and Thorin rig a pick and the chain into a makeshift grapple and wedge it into a crack in the wall as an anchor. Neb holds onto the end of the chain and makes his way forward to scout out the conditions downstream, with the rest of the party hanging onto the chain for support.
Suddenly, the piece of wall holding the pick cracks under the strain and breaks off. The party is swept by the water over the edge of the drop-off. The current increases as the riverbed falls at a sharp angle, the water getting deeper as the walls narrow. Most of the party is able to keep their balance and keep their heads above water, but a strong eddy rips Edmond off the chain and sucks him under. He fights the current, but is unable to make it back to the surface. Ngrok reacts by diving down, grabbing the human’s arm, and pulling him back to the chain still holding together the rest of the party. The water rushes downward, but Galinndan sees that the roof is falling even faster, reaching the surface of the water a few feet ahead, blocking off the air. He shouts a warning to the rest with scant seconds to spare and the tunnel of water drags everyone down into the darkness.
A brief plunge through the darkness brings up fears that their air would run out. Or they’d get hung up in a spot conducive to water, but not to living bodies. Then, not even a minute later, the water breaks through a cliff wall, and falls about ten feet into a small pond below. The party swim to shore, looking up into a sky slowly darkening after sunset. As hunger impels several to begin foraging the lush vegetation for food, Edmond seems to give Ngrok a nod of grudging respect, thanks for pulling him from the watery depths.
A brief meal later, Neb scouts around to determine where they landed relative to the temple they narrowly escaped from. To the south east, he spots signs of smoke, and with that as a guide can make out the top of the temple about 1/2 mile or so away. From the pond, a brook flows out to the south west, which seems to indicate a good direction to go without bringing the party closer to their recent masters.