When we last left our motley band, they were trapped between a barricaded bunch of kobolds with crossbows (and who knows what else) and the shuffling approach of things as yet unseen, but likely to strongly resemble zombies or some other such undead threat.
That’s where our session began, and it put us in a rather interesting place. There were only two obvious options: if we went in one direction, we would need to either overcome the kobolds or negotiate with them. If we went in the other, we would encounter whatever it was that was approaching us. We knew there were no side passages to escape along.
Negotiation with the kobolds would seem to be the strongest hand. If all went well, we would gain cover and some temporary allies in the fight. Of course, if all went poorly, we could end up in a pitched battle, having forfeited any chance of surprise, with another encounter certain to follow before we had time to rest. And there was, after all, some reason to believe that the kobolds had killed the miners in the first place, even if they weren’t responsible for their corpses’ reanimation. There was no guarantee they wouldn’t attack us on sight.
Fighting the kobolds might gain us surprise, but it would cost us any hope of an alliance, and we’d still be dealing with the approaching undead.
Fighting the undead meant going into a battle without any real grasp of the forces arrayed against us. Rarely a good idea. On the other hand, it might mean only having to fight one battle… unless the kobolds got curious. It was a fair bet they’d hear the sounds of the fight.
Rodrik supported that third option. Both the Raven Queen’s hatred of undead and his own pragmatic approach seemed to push him in that direction — take care of the undead, then, if necessary, take care of the kobolds. There was always the chance that the kobolds wouldn’t become a problem. I as a player wouldn’t have considered it the best choice, but he would, and did.
I think it might have worked out okay, too. Needless to say, though, it’s not what we did.
We went instead with a modified version of plan A, wherein Cat and Tomal (who was trained in Stealth) would hide, to help conceal our numbers and hopefully give us an advantage if things went south. Meanwhile, Rodrik would attempt to parley with the kobolds, with Matias along to provide some support if he got swarmed. Zaz would be somewhere in the middle, playing lookout against the zombies while also being ready to step in and throw a spell if we needed him against the kobolds.
I’m really not sure how Zaz’s role was supposed to work.
That was the plan.
What actually happened was that the kobolds almost uniformly broke and ran as soon as they spotted Rodrik. A couple of crossbow bolts came our way, but by the time we’d reached the barricades, those had begun to withdraw, too. We wondered about this, but we let them go; they were scattering, and there was no hope of the two of us catching up to all of them in time. I’m sure something evil is going to come of this in a future session.
That did give us the barricade, along with a couple of abandoned crossbows.
After a moment of discussion, we almost unanimously decided that we didn’t wish to see what had driven off all those kobolds, who a minute ago had seemed ready to fight. (Rodrik was again overruled here, and I still think we’ll regret it.) We proceeded down the corridor, making a few turns, until we could no longer hear the creatures behind us.
We came across some more bodies, mostly kobolds; none of them were rising as undead yet. They burned nicely. We also had a few combat encounters, with a nest of giant rats and a rather nasty giant spider, and we found two more traps, a classic pit and an arrow trap. We never saw a trace of a kobold. Occasionally we would hear distant echoes of metal on metal, which I took to mean a battle somewhere. The entire thing was getting a bit eerie, actually.
That’s when the zombies attacked.
I say zombies, but these weren’t typical zombies. Typical zombies shamble along, possibly making noises much like the ones we’d heard earlier, near the barricade. These zombies were walking corpses, but that’s where the resemblance ended. They were fast, mean, and hungry for flesh. And did I mention inhumanly strong and almost impossible to put down? And to top it all off, utterly silent. They actually surprised us. Zombies managed to get a high enough stealth score to overcome our ranger’s passive perception.
They were also reptilian. We thought. We couldn’t identify them, but we did know they were nothing we’d seen or heard of before.
This was the toughest fight we’d been in yet. Despite the best efforts of both Tomal and Rodrik, Matias went down beneath a small swarm of velociraptor-troll-zombies. (At least, that’s what they seemed like, and I have to say Ron did an excellent job of describing the confusion of the fight, with weird quasi-reptilian zombie-things flashing in and out of sight, attacking from every direction, and all that good stuff.) It took a very lucky turn undead, several daily powers, and at least three action points from different characters to turn that fight around, and at the end we were all bloody and battered and standing over a pile of dismembered reptile-zombie corpses.
(“Zombie corpses” might be somewhat redundant, but hey — what else do you call them?)
This was a victory we, the players, actually celebrated. It was a hard fight, and we could have come out on the losing side at any time, but we managed to pull it together and win. Our groups don’t fudge die rolls. We play fair — no instant-death traps, or anything — but defeat and death are both real options in our campaigns. It leads to some loved characters being lost, yes. But it also leads to situations like this one, where the entire table was happily recounting the fight for upwards of fifteen minutes. This is the main reason I discourage fudging rolls — it takes away from the thrill of a skin-of-the-teeth victory like this one.
We all thought that was going to be the end of the session, in fact. But Ron had one more surprise up his sleeve for us.
As our battered, weary, and in one case unconscious heroes started to rest after the long, bloody fight, the kobolds showed up.
Looking forward to seeing what develops next week.