Saturday, 17 January 2015

The First Law's last stand



Galan and his elf retinue, the Woodland Guardians, have been commissioned by a very shady business-man from the Gurkish Empire to acquire potential 'human resources' from an number of small, weakly defended locations - including Ostenlet. Thankfully for the townsfolk, The First Law crew are billeted in the town and are certainly not about to let themselves and the poor wee townsfolk be snatched. However, the frightened peasants will fiercely fight off any attempts to enslave them but unfortunately, due to their panic, might also resist any assistance from their would-be rescuers!

After they failed to rescue Frederik dan Ferengis's caravan from both the Ogre attack and Galan's scheming elves, the First Law warband made a slow and dissonant trek back from The Wilds to Ostenlet, where the crew were planning to disband the expedition and depart on their separate ways. Unfortunately, The Wilds lived up to its name. A poorly concealed hunter's trap whilst they were negotiating a thick patch of wooded undergrowth, seriously wounded an unusually distracted Ferro Maljinn. It was likely to be back to the mud for the ex-slave from the arid Gurkish south. However, Bayaz was curiously instant she recovered and resolved to get her back to Ostenlet.


A few days later the crew, with Ferro slumped over a mule, trudged dejectively back into the small town of Ostenlet which has served as the expeditions base for so many months. Red Hat, still recuperating from his injuries, was at the door of the Blue Oyster bar to welcome his comrades back but his hope of the expeditions success was quickly quashed by his comrade's battered and morose demeanour.

Bayaz and Ferro were strangely absent for several days whilst the remaining crew recuperated. In fact, Bayaz had spared no expense from his own personal coin to have Ferro transported by wagon to a Temple of Light a dozen or so leagues from Ostenlet. At the temple, Bayaz engaged the priests to perform the Healing Rituals, which he himself led. Whatever supernatural rites they undertook behind the locked temple doors, it worked. Bayaz and a suspiciously healthy Ferro returned to Ostenlet.

Soon afterwards, Bayaz called what they all knew to be the final meeting of the surviving First Law crew in a back room of the Blue Oyster bar. But just as Bayaz was about to start on one of his interminable speeches the town's alarm bells started ringing. The muffled tones of Fat Eddy could be heard outside the room, so Red Hat stepped outside to find out what was going on.

"Slavers! There's slavers in the town! The militia are forming in the square!" shouted Fat eddy as he grabbed Red hat firmly by the arm.
"Please, send ya' lads to help!" Red Hat, always one to firmly on the side of moral right and honour, released Fat eddy's sweaty grip on his arm.
"What's it worth?"
"Worth? But there's slavers, we'll all be captured, Or worse. You must help!"
"I'm sure we can but help can be...expensive," calmly replied Red Hat. The sound of mounting panic and the frantic ringing of the alarm bells outside quickly made up the Innkeepers mind.
"Ach, bloody mercenaries! What do you want? Quickly, time is all but away!"
"Clear the crew's slate. For all of us. Including the fallen lads."
"Absolutely not! Bloody outrageous!" snapped Fat Eddy, the indignation of losing hold on a considerable sum of debtors gold overwhelming his fear of the impending slaver attack.
"Fine. Back to the meeting then," replied Red hat, making a move towards the room.
"Wait, we can negotiate..."  Sounds of fighting now clearly discernible outside.
"I really don't think you've time for that, Eddy my fat friend. Good luck." Red Hat started to walk away. Fat Eddy, now smelling smoke, cursed and, realising his predicament, called back Red Hat.
"Alright. Fine. Slate wiped for all. Now get your lads out there!"
"And a free keg and food for tonight."
"What! That wasn't the bloody deal!"
"Just call it a reward. For dealing with those, um, unwelcome visitors outside"
"Oh all right! Whatever! Ya' chancers! Now get out there!"
Minutes later, Bayaz First of the Magi, Logen Ninefingers, Ferro Maljinn, Forely the Weakest, Black Dow, Curnden Craw and the towering Rudd Threetrees assembled outside the Blue Oyster Bar. In the town square there was a scene of shear panic. The townsfolk - mostly women and children- were running and screaming as their men folk, armed with an assortment of improvised but plainly insufficient weapons, attempted to resist their attackers. As the First Law warband sized up the situation a discernible moan of incredulity rippled through them. The so-called slavers were easily recognisable as elves. Galan's elves.

Bayaz appraised his seething warband. Looking each directly in the eye. He then drew himself up and with a loud crack and a momentary blinding white flash slammed the end of his staff into the flagstone by his feet.
"Galan. That dark elf has been our bane since the Tainted Copse so many months ago. The sun as gone full circle and yet we are still here, still facing that elf and his retinue! We've fought with an avalanche at our backs! An avalanche! We've fought militia at Raven barracks. We've fought against witchcraft in the border towns. We've fought Scourge monsters in the Badlands. We've sought treasure and gold on the rivers. We've tried to break blockades and even fought together in this very Inn at our backs! We've fought in the hamlets not far from this very town and we've fought marauding Ogres!"  Oblivious to the chaos in the square, the First Law keenly watched Bayaz as multiple emotions flicked across their faces. Bayaz drew breath and continued in a muted but precise tone.

"And we fought together. We've lost good friends. Brothers in arms. Sent back to the mud. And through all those trials we've been hounded by Galan and his elves. I ask you to follow once more. Not for gold or honour or glory. But for Ferro. The Dogman. Jezal. Caul. And even Nicomo! For us!"
There was a long, silent pause from the First law crew whilst they wrestled with their emotions and made their decisions. And as one, the First Law crew roared out ,"The First Law!" and charged into the fermenting melee in the square.

Forley, with Logen not far behind, were first into the fray, spotting one of the elf warriors, Anlyth, bearing down on one of the guards. Logen shouted a warning as the scout archer closed with Anlyth but Forley was too blinded by Bayaz's inspiration and his lust for vengeance that he let all caution fall away as he forewent his longbow and drew his short-sword. Anlyth coolly and with a look of malicious delight easily side-stepped Foleys awkward attack and sent his long elf blade slicing into the young archer. The Red Mist overwhelmed Logan and he starts to charge towards Anlyth, his razor sharp blade held high and looking to tear into the elf. But he was suddenly stopped by a stinging whack to his chest. Monetarily dazed and with a look of sheer surprise on his face, Logen saw the sleek, black stump of an elf arrow sticking out of him. Unseen, Tatharon the Wood Elf archer had chanced a shot. "Baws!" slurred Logen as he slumped to his knees unconscious, as if in silent prayer.

Bayaz, taking his customary position on the flank of the melee so he could ware and command his crew ordered Black Dow, Ferro and Curnden to try and rescue some of the town militia-men and lead them to safety. He then spotted the Great Eagle used by Galan's warband, closely circling the battle, looking for openings to swoop down and ambush unsuspecting prey. Mustering his strength, Bayaz intoned magical phrase and a great jet of flame vented from his staff high into the air in the direction of the aberrant avian. But the Great Eagle somehow managed to dodge the worst of the flame and disappeared behind a rooftop, trailing smoke from its tail feathers.

Bayaz found himself alone in the edge of the square, with the Blue Oyster bar behind him and his crew either still engaged in the fighting or attempting to protect townsfolk. Threetrees was the closest ally but he was attempting to herd some of the panicking militia. The wily elf leader, Galan, carefully watching Bayaz from a distance, ordered Gresal, his Centaur Hero, to quickly move to intercept Bayaz. The Great Eagle, seemingly unaffected by Bayaz's flame attack returned and swooped overhead in support of the Centaur. Bayaz was resigned to find himself in what was an almost inevitable element of this whole expedition - outnumbered by elves and fighting for his life.

He vainly tried to invoke more magical resistances, but the fatigue of the long campaign and the effort of parrying the vicious elf blades with his staff led to a increasingly desperate and laboured defence. Suddenly he stumbled, catching his foot on some unseen object. In the instant Bayaz's attention was broken, the Centaur was on him, its great blades cutting deep into Bayaz's robes. Without a sound, Bayaz fell to the floor. The centaur bellowed a victorious cheer, accompanied by the piercing screech of the Great Eagle.

The incongruous cheering momentarily distracted the nearest combatants, amongst them Ferro Maljinn, Black Dow and Curnden Craw.  Despairingly, they saw their erstwhile leader reduced to a prone bundle of discarded robes, one of his thin, pale arms stretched out still clutching his fizzing staff, whist an exulting centaur stood over the body with bloodied swords. Something broke in them. These experienced warriors - Ferro, Dow and Curnden - each felt their resolve shatter and they ran, abandoning their terrified townsfolk charges.

Threetrees experienced an opposite reaction. Instead, he was overcome with the fabled Red Mist  Logen used to talk about on the rare occasions the crew could get a story out of him. The fearsome strongman launched into a relentless and viciously running battle with the Anlyth, Centaur and the Great Eagle. His huge sword unmercifully slices into Anlyth, dropping the elf. Black Dow, finally mastering the rising panic and quickly replacing it with dark anger, gripped his sword tight as he charged back into the melee hoping to come to the aid of the embattled strong-man but he's too late and see's his comrade fall under elvish blades and the eagle's brutal claws.

The valiant First Law rescued many of the townsfolk at high cost to themselves that day. Galan's elves took even more, expertly binding their captives and bundling them into commandeered wagons whilst the survivors hid in buildings or fled to the surrounding woods. Days later, when the Mayor addressed the traumatised citizens at a meeting in the relatively untouched Blue Oyster Bar, Fat Eddy appeared to be the only person whom it appeared recent events had had no impact. Indeed, he was in quite an ebullient mood, loudly proclaiming to anyone that would listen about how he was a close confident and patron of the Saviours of Ostenlet, the First Law warband.

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Congratulations to Arabianknight with his Woodland Guardians elves conclusively winning our 4th Songs of Blades Heroes campaign! It's taken a whole year to play and has been wonderfully thematic, diverse and fun to play throughout.



It's the first time I've campaigned with a human warband, campaigning with Valgen and his Dwarf lads previously. The humans certainly had to be played very differently from my dwarf warbands as they were weaker in melee combat than the resilient Dwarfs, plus I had to contend with self-imposed character ability restrictions - this warband is based on Joe Abercrombie's First Law books after all! Best of all the characters from both warbands gratifyingly developed with each battle, having to face many challenges, scenarios, survive post battle injuries and 'exploration' roles. This is why I love campaign gaming so much!


The First Law warband

[Left to Right] The Dogman, Caul Shivers, Curnden Craw, Ferro Maljinn, Bayaz First of the Magi, Logen Ninefingers, Rudd Threetrees, Red Hat, Black Dow, Forley the Weakest, Jezal dan Luthar, Nicomo Cosca.