Slowly ramping back up on this, and there are some new players possibly joining the game, so I thought I'd put together a brief summary.
It all started with the ANNOUNCEMENT:
In the name of Thambar the Prudent, Lord of Hembard Wilds, Defender of Highcliff Keep, Recognized Lord of the Peerage of the Kingdom of Jal, Meisterburger of Auslaug, Hustwood, and Brekkevale, TAKE HEED: The following ANNOUNCEMENT has been announced:
Be it KNOWN: It as come to our attention that some ONE or some THING has crept its way past the border guard (unsurprising, given the low rate of pay), and taken up residence within the realm of Hembard Wilds. Said person or thing (or persons or things) have engaged in LAWLESS acts of LAWLESSNESS, including, but not limited to, theft, burning, drinking alcohol during proscribed hours, pillaging, spitting in public, rape, murder, torture, hen tossing, and general MAYHEM. This will not do.
Royal huntsmen, in the service of Thambar the Prudent, Lord of Hembard Wilds, Defender of Highcliff Keep, Recognized Lord of the Peerage of the Kingdom of Jal, Meisterburger of Auslaug, Hustwood, and Brekkevale, have endeavored to track these malefactors (possibly kobolds) to their lair, a task which they have rightfully and justly accomplished (though they were unable to confirm the actual presence of kobolds, entering caves and caverns not being in their contract).
With this new intelligence at hand, Thambar the Prudent, Lord of Hembard Wilds, Defender of Highcliff Keep, Recognized Lord of the Peerage of the Kingdom of Jal, Meisterburger of Auslaug, Hustwood, and Brekkevale, has authorized an EXPEDITION. To wit: A gathering of heroes (or whatever scraggly types the guard can dig out of the jails and drunk tanks) shall be gathered, and given the task of seeking out these evildoers (they probably are kobolds, I mean the tracks were the right shape and everything). Said heroes shall be granted full rights to all TREASURE and PLUNDER (save for a small tax levied by Thambar the Prudent, Lord of Hembard Wilds, Defender of Highcliff Keep, Recognized Lord of the Peerage of the Kingdom of Jal, Meisterburger of Auslaug, Hustwood, and Brekkevale to benefit the widows and orphans of the recent violence) recovered during the course of the expedition.
FURTHERMORE, participants shall receive a bounty of 5 gold pieces per head for each villain turned over to the chief of the guard at Highcliff Keep (kobold heads preferred, but other evil beings allowed, head to gold rate subject to approval by local authorities, no dwarf, human, elf, or halfling heads accepted - ever).
ALSO, all parties who join this noble mission on behalf of Thambar the Prudent, Lord of Hembard Wilds, Defender of Highcliff Keep, Recognized Lord of the Peerage of the Kingdom of Jal, Meisterburger of Auslaug, Hustwood, and Brekkevale, and who SURVIVE, shall have their name etched upon a memorial stone, which shall be placed in the square of Auslaug (but not in the middle, probably off to the south side, next to the stable), and FURTHERMORE shall be granted the honorary rank of HONORED CITIZEN (rank implies no specific honor or benefit, offer may be void for known felons or hen tossers).
ALL interested parties shall gather at the hour of DAWN tomorrow in the Auslaug square to be sworn in as member of the EXPEDITION TO THE COLD CAVES (tea and cakes provided by Thambar the Prudent, Lord of Hembard Wilds, Defender of Highcliff Keep, Recognized Lord of the Peerage of the Kingdom of Jal, Meisterburger of Auslaug, Hustwood, and Brekkevale, one cup and one cake per person, two each for halflings).
In the name of Thambar the Prudent, Lord of Hembard Wilds, Defender of Highcliff Keep, Recognized Lord of the Peerage of the Kingdom of Jal, Meisterburger of Auslaug, Hustwood, and Brekkevale: So let it be written. So let it be done.
Captain Vargen of the watch organized the party, such as it was: Rawon the drunken wood-elf, and Ingvild and Dagmarten, poachers caught on private land, were dragged out of the cells. Others joined by choice: Grit the angry dwarf, Maro the carefree elf and his grim sister Nissa, Uruvion the wood-elf of Very Few Hit Points, Durego the heavily-armored priest, Locky the plucky and cheerful halfling, and Ohwatoo, one of the smartest people in the world.
Barely organized, the group spends several wet and miserable days hiking to the Cold Caves, making their final camp at an abandoned and burned out homestead. The group's first foray into the Caves runs squarely into the outer guard. As expected, it's kobolds, the Acorn Kobolds! The first battle is a running affair complicated by a swinging log trap in the entry tunnel. The party wins the first phase of the fight, but not without getting fairly banged up. They start searching bodies and cutting off heads (bounty you know), only to have the 'boss' show up, a massive, shaggy humanoid!
[Funny, that was the last turn before last Christmas, a holiday cliff-hanger!]
With no choice but to fight, the party engages the creature (which, it turns out, is a poorly lit bear). That fight ends with a sleep spell, which also takes down Grit and Rauguey. There's something else coming too! Durego spots something big, along with several kobolds in the shadows beyond the door, hears crossbows being fired, and decides to run! Everyone joins the party, except Nissa, who casts Hold Portal on the now-slammed-shut door. Run away!
Wait! With the door held, Ingvild suggests skinning the bear, which greedy Grit agrees is a good idea. The party uses the furniture and firewood available to barricade the held door while Dagmarten (priest of the huntress goddess), skins the beast. The party then exits stage left, and makes their way back to their camp. Phase one complete!
The party spends a couple days recovering from their many wounds, while those that are healthy keep watch, study the map they found amongst the loot, or explore the area right around the camp. After this recovery period, they head back to the entrance for another go. Penetrating the outer caves, they find no one home. Going deeper they find a side passage that leads to a trash-filled pit. There's something deep in the shadows making gnawing noises, so the scouts retreat, and the group heads back to the site of their major battle. They're surpised to see all the furniture is gone!
Hasty Grit presses forward into the next room (where the bear came from), and the party finds the furniture, set up as a barricade manned by kobolds! They also find a deep natural pool by the door, and Durego spends a fair amount of time in it, almost drowning. As teh party engages, two massive figure stride forth to do battle, ogres!
It's a nasty battle, but eventually the party is victorious. Ingvild manages to rescue Durego from the pool, and Gorvil (Durego's man-at-arms) spends the first of many battles unconcious. By the end he's not alone, Grit, Uruvion, and Jonquil (another man-at-arms) have joined the sleep-in.
The party once again retreats after a few hasty healing spells. They search the fallen foes and find a Very Sharp Sword (TM), which is later identified as the Sword of Bees.
After a night back at camp, the party decides to head back to town. They've killed a lot of kobolds and the probable leaders (two ogres), and they're burdened with many kobold-heads. The trip back is quick and easy, and the party sells off most of the loot. A night in the inn and it's back on the road to the Caves.
On the third trip into the caves the party returns to the scene of the last battle. The place feels abandoned, and a search of the connecting rooms uncovers a dead kobold, covered in suspicious green dust, next to a large chest. A sprung trap! Ingvild deals with the chest, which contains a nice haul of loot, including some magical stuff.
The party explores beyond the ogre den, and encounters a big tentacle monster in a pool of icky water. They choose to avoid the fight and explore several other dead ends, before returning to the battle chamber and the other door therein. It leads to a grisly mess, scattered human and dwarf bodies obviously captives (perhaps food?) of the ogres and kobolds. They've all starved to death, some recently. The only thing of value they find in this grim place is a note scratched in the door with bloody fingernails. Their best guess is it says "From the West."
On that note the party is done with this place. Really done. They head to town, are wined an dined by Thambar, pick up some useful lore from the lord and his sage-like priest, gain the favor of the city guard captain Vargen, and also get paid.
With the Cold Caves done with, the party turns their gaze west, to rumors of Blackpool Maze, and the map that they found. They decide to head for Stonefinger, a massive rock that more or less marks the west border of civilized lands. Once there they spend a considerable amount of time exploring the woods and wilds beyond. They encounter a giant lynx (slain) with kits (captured), and begin to create a map of the wild lands. Eventually they find a long-abandoned road heading west, and the ruins of an old church and graveyard.
The group uses the road as a guide and continues west, eventually camping near a huge lightning-struck elm. Their rest is interrupted by a chase! In the woods to the NW, a single humanoid figure fleeing larger shaggy humanoid figures. The party prepares for a fight but stays in cover, watching as the fleeing figure heads for the huge tree and vanishes in a flash of green light! The pursuers gather and prepare to start a fire, perhaps to burn the tree down? More torches are seen in the woods to the west.
The group constructs a hasty ambush, with Locky serving as the bait. It works, sort of, drawing many of the creatures to the party's camp, and into bow / crossbow range. As dawn breaks the party engages the enemy, hulking wolf-headed humanoids (gnoll-ish). One sounds a warning horn, bringing more of the creatures from the woods!
As the first phase of the fight winds down, the party is severely battered and more foes are incoming. Dagmarten notices the sky is clouding over and the wind is growing. The party tries to escape, but are quickly spotted. Desperate for cover they head northeast, putting the tree and the massive black clouds above it between them and the approaching enemy. The ploy weems to work, and one of the beast-creatures is blasted by a massive bolt of lightning from the storm!
The party stands and fights while lightning strikes and beast-creatures fall. Finally one of the last beastmen standing, a towering figure carrying a standard or flag of some kind, howls something, stabs the pole it carries into the ground, and leads the few remaining creatures away, back west.
As the party tends the wounded the storm dissipates. Uruvion and Maro move to check out the tree, stamping out a few fires, then go investigate the banner, which turns out to be a decorative spear, complete with shrunken head!
"I'll bet we can sell this for a good price back in Auslaug!" says Uruvion, as he tugs the decorative weapon out of the ground.
A billow of smoke and flame bursts from the spear, enveloping both elves! Both try to dodge the blast, but fail miserably! [7 damage each]. Coughing and blinking from the smoke and heat, Maro grabs the downed Urúvion, and drags him away from the smouldering grass. "Urúvion!" he shouts, as he beats out the flickering flames on the other elf's clothing.
No use. The burst of fire was too much for the already wounded wood elf. With a gasp and a choking wheeze he expires in Maro's arms. [First party death!] The subdued party retreats to the road with their dead and wounded, then heads a bit further west to an abandoned quarry and a fair campsite. There they rest and mourn the dead.
The party continues west along the road, finding a stone pile that is actually a shrine. The road bends south and they follow, into rocky, scrubby terrain. At camp that night, they encounter Mordikarr, the beastmaster. After some initial suspicion, he joins the group and offers to show them to desperately needed water.
Mordikarr knows the immediate area, and he leads the group to a good spring, and then on to a strange spire of translucent yellow stone, an unnatural structure with a black rectangle and a very complicated lock mechanism in one face. Baffled the party leaves this for now, and continues west along the road. They find an abandoned farm, a huddle of abandoned huts, an old stone bridge, and signs of a giant flying predator (Huzzah!) Further on they find a dark shrine to Fraykulga, the demon-god of chaos and war worshipped by goblins and their allies.
Leaving the shrine (and howling wolves) behind, they continue west and find a strange circular hill. Atop the hill they find a tunnel lined with the same golden glowing stone that made up the spire! Of course the party investigates and discovers a small tomb-like complex beneath the hill. Fitting, since the giant bug creatures that guard it end up killing both Grit and Nissa before the party disposes of them. [Note that Grit and Nissa's players stopped playing, so these were dramatic deaths].
The party finishes exploring the golden tunnels and finds a nice cache of gold, platinum, silver, and copper bars (a lot of treasure), plus a bunch of weird geometric objects. They eventually figure out that these are the keys to the spire which they discover contains a pedestal fitted with geometric slots.
With food running short the party leaves the spire behind for now, and beelines for town. The trip back is fairly uneventful, apart from a brief run-in with some undead and the discovery of yet more old ruins. Eventually they return to civilization and cash in. There is leveling up involved.
After a brief break it's west again, this time via Hustwood, the southern village. They take a different route into the wilds, finding an abandoned farm and orchard (complete with giant spider!) and thne more open ground. They head for the spire, because they really want to figure out what that's all about. Experimentation shows that the entire tower is part of a network of towers, and the geometric shapes allow teleportation between the various locations. Eventually the group determines that some combos are actually fairly close to their original location, so they pursue exploration from the one they think is to the west (their map says that's where the infamous Blackpool Maze lies).
Explore explore. Swamps. Giant ticks. Swamps. Forest. Ruins. Big lake. Hey, we've been here before! The party establishes their location by backtracking east along the abandoned road. Their theory was right, the second spire was west of the first. They head back to the second spire and continue exploration, following a trail of kobold skulls on pikes (enemy of my enemy thinking) to an encampment of suspicious humans. Maro and Mordikarr manage to make a positive impression, and the tribe grants the group free passage across their land (with a warning that if they cause trouble they'll get it!) They also tell the group of a major ruin further west, along the shores of a huge lake.
They go. They look. It's an old castle. That sank into a swamp. It's Blackpool Maze.
The party sets up a base camp fairly far from the ruin, hopefully a good spot for a safe retreat if the worst happens. Then they head in. There are signs of traffic in and out of the tunnels, and an old fire pit on the surface. The first level is half-flooded, but eventually they find an elevated area that may have been an old prison. There are oubliettes, and one is covered with a big boulder. [scraaaape, scraaaape!] The party runs away from the eerie noise.
They explore the other direction, and encounter a nest of giant leaping bugs, who are quite hostile. There's something big in the flooded section too, but they avoid it for now.
Beyond the bugs, more corridors and chambers, one with a crevice leading down to a lower level. There's also a tomb and more stairs down. The party descends the stair and finds a weird summoning circle and a then a room with a six-legged reptilian statue. Everyone is nervous. Then they hear hissing voices in the corridor beyond. Rauguey leads the attack! On the pit!
The fight is very chaotic, with Rauguey in a pit, and others engaging in tactical repositioning behavior and finding more pits (and by finding I mean falling in). It's a near thing, but the group manages to defeat the first wave of trogs. Demoralized by the poor showing, the group retreats to base camp to rest and heal up.
After recovering their health and will, the party returns to the depths, past the pits and into new territory. There are many corridors, and rooms with various fountains, levers, statues, grates, and devices. It's all very confusing, until the chuds come. Or trogs, they're hard to tell apart. This fight goes much more smoothly, and trogs die right and left. Some escape though, including what may have been the leader. The party pursues, but finds the passage out has been magically sealed! Definitely the leader. The group backtracks and regroups. Then, drawn by some shouting, rescue a prisoner from a pit. Tesso claims he was part of an expedition that was surveying the lands west of Thambar's lands. He's willing to fight for his freedom.
The party explores further and finds another summoning circle. This one appears to be part of an arena-like chamber, complete with benches and chairs.
That's about where things ended before the holidays. The party is currently trying to figure their next steps, and I'm trying to add some new players.