Lance Haug

The Journal of Konus of Knosa

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ENTRY 3

The Harder They Fall

Lance haug


JOURNAL OF KONUS OF KNOSA 
Entry 3
Lance Haug

"Only fools would stand still to meet a giant’s charge"

THE HARDER THEY FALL

I explain to Beldain that setting a camp watch is a must when travelling in the wilds and, truth be told, often on the roads. He has spent most of his young life behind the secure walls of a sizable monastery where he worried more about missing the morning prayers than being attacked. Since his human sight puts him at a disadvantage in the night we will pair him with Dominia on the last watch. An idea that he enthusiastically embraces as he seems smitten with the exotic features of our elven mistress. A condition I am sure she has already taken notice of and will use to her benefit; I hope the cost is not too dear for the callow monk. I will take the first watch as managing the components of my plate armor can be fiddly and somewhat time consuming, and it is nearly impossible to sleep in. My status as an Unfettered cleric of Etha denies me a shield, but my iron helm is never far away. I settle with my back to a scrawny oak and face myself downhill, opening my senses to the sounds of the twilight.

Valinor relieved my watch to take the second of the night, darker now that a thick cover of clouds obscured the moon. With some effort I find a patch of ground relatively free of roots and stones to spread my blanket. I close my eyes and quickly drift into a deep sleep with dreams filled with angry dwarves. My slumber and the quiet of night is broken by our warrior mage’s warning of intruders coming from the high ground! The camp is roused and I scramble to don my helm and gather my sword and darts. The half-elf shouts a challenge that is answered by a rumbling voice in an unfamiliar tongue followed by a command in awkward common, “surrender”. A blaze of brightness turns night to shadowy day as Draper calls for light and reveals the source of the disturbance, four very large and shabby giants. The largest shields his eyes from the light and tells us that if we throw down our arms and come with them it would be less painful. They will only eat our horses tonight and will save us for another meal.

Valinor steps forward, drawing everyone’s gaze, and informs the brutes that if they drop to their knees and beg for mercy he may overlook their lapse in judgement in disturbing us. He is a bold one and the bravado causes a moment’s hesitation in even this vicious crew. With a shout of warning to us the conjuring begins and a shimmering wall of magical force springs from his palms to form a barrier in front of our party, and not a moment too soon. A trio of horse-sized boulders arc towards us only to be deflected by the mage’s ward, rolling harmlessly to lower ground. Enraged, the giants forget all tactics and lumber forward, their bellows echoing in the hills.

Only fools would stand still to meet a giant’s charge and our party spreads out, diverting attention. A second prayer calls on Etha and a shaft of light as bright as ten midday suns strikes a foe full in the eyes, causing him to blindly stagger. It makes him an easy target for the heavy iron darts I sink into a massive leg. A cloud begins to form around what appears to be the only female giant as she tries to reach Daneel perched on a rock ledge at the rear of our encampment. At the druid’s urging, every insect on the mountain swarms and crawls to harass the creature and soon she thrashes on the ground in a desperate attempt to dislodge them. Vivid proof that, under the right conditions, the largest can be brought down by the smallest.

Valinor and a giant are face to face a spear’s throw apart when his magic barrier dissipates. A growl of triumph accompanies the beast’s charge as the mage nonchalantly traces the symbol etched on a scroll of parchment he pulled from a pouch. The giant covers barely a stride before a bright flash of energy flares from the disintegrating sigil engulfing him in a clear amber prison of magic. His eyes show life but his enormous figure is encased and immobile, floating just above the ground. Beldain and I flank the blinded foe and launch telling blows while avoiding the increasingly wild counterstrikes. Dominia materializes from the shadows and commands a shower of magical sparks that burn and shock cruelly. Valinor chooses to abandon the magical arts and unsheathes his enchanted longsword and advances, Dominia’s attack serving as a welcome distraction. Committed to melee, Valinor leaps nimbly atop a boulder to gain some height and sinks his blade deep into the largest brute’s side followed closely by a stunning hit from the barely visible spiked buckler that appears near the midpoint of his off-arm. That impact allows the fluid withdrawal of his steel which swings a high, wide arc catching the seam of the monster’s thick neck. The barrel-sized head tumbles unceremoniously to the ground, rolling a pace before coming to a rest face up, a look of bemused surprise his death mask. The body falls directly backwards with a crash, a truly astounding wash of blood pumping rhythmically from his neck stump and forming a small pond at the edge of our camp.

There is an improbably long moment of utter silence before the remaining giants drop to their knees with shouts of “quarter” and “parlay”. It is done, and our warrior mage jumps down and strides purposefully towards what are now our captives in full demi-god mode. The red rage of battle possesses him and there is no telling what he might have done if it weren't for the firm hand of Draper locking on his shoulder. A heartfelt exchange between them defuses the moment and the tension and anger quickly drain from Valinor’s shoulders. He will not be denied his stage, however, and demands that the giants grant us safe passage, pay reparations and honor us and our offspring in perpetuity. We will keep the magically ensnared giant as a hostage for the time being and the half-elf assures the survivors he will happily inflict grievous magical torment on the captive giant if they break their oath. The headless carcass is tossed over a massive shoulder for the journey up the mountain. The giant woman retrieves the head with care, stopping a moment to glare into my face. “Your pointy-eared masters are powerful and dangerous. Perhaps you can buy your freedom before you die in their service, orc-blood” she snorts in my mother’s tongue before following her clansmen into the darkness, the head cradled in the crook of her arm.

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THE HARDER THEY FALL

DM Insights

Both Konus and Valinor were capable fighters and there was a friendly rivalry between them to compete for the claim of “best fighter”. Konus was slightly stronger with better armor class and hit points, but Valinor augmented himself with magics that aided him in melee. Valinor discovered a special sword early in his career that allowed him to summon a magical spiked buckler of force that gave him a defensive bonus and granted him an additional attack each round. This magical sword became his hallmark fighting style. Along with his high strength (18 71/100), this magic sword made him a very capable fighter. Konus mastered his own fighting style by using darts to great effect. Early edition darts dealt low damage but had a high rate of fire. Konus had a set of +1 magic darts and his 18 91/100 strength added +5 to every dart hit. He would launch 3 or 4 darts as he closed with an enemy, then engaged in melee with a two-handed sword (greatsword), dealing 3d6 +5 damage to large creatures with each hit. Few enemies could stand for long against this tactic, giving Konus the edge on Valinor as the best fighter in the party.  

This giant encounter was not intended to be a combat encounter. Instead I hoped it might become an interaction encounter from which the party might learn something interestingI designed the giant clan to be led by the biggest male, but to be ruled by his unusually intelligent mate, Khul. Khul made pacts with surrounding settlements and agreed to not harm any of them, so long as those settlements agreed to provide the giant clan with food. The surrounding villages learned to accept this tribute to keep peace and gave livestock to the giants whenever they were encountered. This provided them with other benefits because the giants kept the surrounding areas free from wandering beasts, but these facts remained undiscovered by the players.  

When the heroes' refused to pay tribute to the giants they were puzzled, and when Valinor responded to their demands with his usual elven haughtiness, all hopes of dialogue vanished as the insulted giants attacked. The party had epically good spell choices and dice rolls and breezed through this encounter. Valinor’s bravado was monumental. His decapitation of the clan leader was done in dramatic and flamboyant fashion and the giant he encapsulated was the child of Khul. This, along with his demands of tribute, solidified the hatred of the remaining giants. I reasoned that Khul took their massacre as a betrayal by the surrounding settlements and the giants schemed revenge against the settlements even as the heroes travelled far from the area. I let this thought sit in my head for several games, and waited for the right place to bring it back into the game.

Spells from earlier editions of D&D were often much more incapacitating than those from the present edition. One such spell was the cleric’s light spell, which could blind an opponent for hours with a single failed saving throw. Another was the magic-user spell sepia’s snake sigil. On a successful spell attack, it could encase an enemy in a magical stasis field for days, allowing no saving throw to end its effects earlier. Tough luck if you got hit with either of these spells. This type of sting has mostly been removed from the 5th edition magic system (which is probably a good thing), but it shows the power of magic in earlier editions. Those who wax nostalgic for this kind of awesome power may find the spell serpent sigil to be a welcomed (or dreaded) addition to their arsenal.*





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