The long, low mess hall was smoky from the torches lining the walls. In the center of the room was the warriors’ pit, and many surged up around its railing to cheer on the two inside it. Finally, one of the combatants, a huge bear of a man wielding a hammer, got a solid blow against the other, a weasel-quick elf with a scimitar. The elf fell, stunned. The crowd roared and moaned as their bets were tallied, and ale slopped over the floor. People slowly filtered back to the long tables and benches, reenacting the battle with their hands and near-empty mugs. The serving wenches bustled about with trays full of drinks, showing amazing dexterity as they dodged armored men and grasping hands.
The bartender stepped up to the verdigris-coated bronze shield that hung by a chain from the roof. He banged upon it with a great wooden spoon. His peg leg tapped against the floor, and his great belly swung back and forth with the full motion of the banging. The shield rang like a bell, and gradually the crowd quieted, except for the far-corner singing of a Meilosh sauroid deep in his mugs.
The bartender spoke: “Brothers, a tale! One among us has a tale of valor to tell, and you be the judge! Will he drink for free if it be a true adventure, or will he buy a round from the house if it be the imaginings of a coward!”
Chants of, “A tale! A TALE!” rang through the halls as a rhythmic banging of the wooden mugs formed a sort of twisted drum line.
A silver dwarf in a battered breastplate stood and waved his arms for silence. From a nearby table, a Plains Elf shouted, “Stand up you wee man. We can’t see you!” Hoots and howls followed his jest.
The dwarf pointed at the tall, slim elf with a thick sausage-finger, “You’ll see me hammer right enough, and, when you’re on the ground, I’ll be the taller!” Laughter continued to ring through the hall as mugs were refilled and drained.
Finally, the crowd quieted and the dwarf continued in a deep voice that echoed like the grinding of stones deep beneath the earth. “Last summer it was. We were in Titan’s Fall over in the Golden Sea, exploring some of the old crypts in the region. We were approached by the elders of Clan Greatstrider that run that place.
“One of the Suk’hebataar Zuuts was active near Titan’s Fall. The local Bronze Dwarven Clan, The Greatstriders, was fortifying the town, but they needed scouts. That’s where we came in. I am Ferolous Stonehammer, leader of the Seven Shields Adventuring Band. In a region controlled by cavalry,”—here, a group of horsemen cried out “Aye!” and drained their mugs—“we were all ground-pounders with some stealth abilities.
“Unless you want to crawl everywhere, the Golden Sea terrain is a nightmare for sneaking. The land is made up of waving grasses around waist-height on a man. Rare copses of trees dot the landscape. We came to the area where the Suk’hebataar were rumored to be. As was their tendency, they had set up camp out in the open, near water. They had scouts dispatched. It looked like a full arbat of ten warriors was out on patrol. Luckily, Fareyes, our plains elf comrade, had the exceptional vision that earned him his name. He told us there were no families in the Zuut. That meant it was nearly a hundred warriors with no saplings to slow them down. That confirmed it: It was a raid—not just a tribe passing through. It was time to go. We found out what the Greatstriders needed to know, and now we had to make it back to town to collect our reward.
“The return passage was difficult. We couldn’t stand up within sight of the Suk’hebataar, and a man on horseback can see a long way on the plains. We were nearly a league away from their camp when we heard a cry behind us. One of the scouts had discovered our trail. The rest were coming. So did we flee, hide, or stand?” Here, the warriors screamed out each of the three answers for a moment before allowing the tale to continue. “We couldn’t run. Ye may have noticed my legs are not overlong, so we decided to make for a nearby copse of trees and try to slay the oncoming men.
“But of course, I haven’t introduced my comrades to you! There was me.” The dwarf performed a surprisingly graceful flourish with his bow. The crowd laughed. “The elf, Fareyes, you already know. He was our scout. Our mage was the human Gregorius Starbolt of the Lion Tower.” On one side of the hall, a fat human held up a Lion pendant and cheered, but he sat down shortly after a rain of boiled potatoes bombarded him from another table. “We had two brothers, Harbad and Jored Grimmson, who were the very devils in a close fight. Our second elf was an archer, Aramil Whiteflower, who also commanded some minor magics of the Serpent school. The bravest of all was Falanth Ironheart, a gnome priest of Fyurnail, the God of Courage. We had been together for nearly three years, except for Gregorius who had only joined us the previous summer.
“Once under the trees, we all locked shields, except for the two elves. That way each warrior could cover another. We’d all gain protection. There were four Suk’hebataar horsemen thundering down upon us. Another six in the arbat scattered out a bit, much further behind. Aramil started firing arrows, bringing down the first horseman with a pattern of three in his upper stomach. When the horseman fell, it slowed another down, leaving only one horseman approaching. His short horsebow loosed several shafts our way, but our shields caught all the blows. (As you may know, in an exchange of arrows, the archer firing from behind cover has an advantage.) Aramil put a shaft through the horseman’s lower face. He fell from his horse, screaming. Falanth surged forward out of the shield line to finish him and grab both the loose horses. The third Suk’hebataar drew his scimitar and charged the gnome. Jored Grimmson threw himself at the legs of the horse, breaking one of them along with some of his ribs (he was stepped on by the great beast). Both horse and rider were killed in the thunderous fall. Falanth laughed and proclaimed that he would be damned by Fyurnail if he failed to acknowledge such bravery. Laughing like a maniac, he healed the groaning human and scooted back towards the shield line to help Jored. The fourth of the enemy whipped one of those vicious barbed lassos over his head, dropping it around Harbad’s shield and arm while turning his horse to thunder away. This pulled Harbad out of the line, tearing his flesh with the steel barbs. Gregorius chanted and gestured with his free hand, and a spark of electricity zipped out and struck the fleeing horseman. He shuddered and fell from the horse with smoke rising from his corpse. The horse continued to flee while Harbad chopped at the braided rope with his sword. Once nearly a dozen yards from the group, he finally came free. He staggered to his feet and came lurching towards us, his shield arm hanging limply by his side.
We now had two horses, and the rest of the arbat was approaching. Aramil stepped forward from the shield line and loudly chanted while mystically waving his arms about. Fareyes’ javelins and the Suk’hebataar’s arrows nearly struck the gesturing elf as they shot back and forth. The three slain warriors groaned and glowed green for a brief moment. They began to rise in a jerky, gruesome manner. We all fell back in horror from the elf, save Gregorius who snorted, saying, “Never trust an illusionist. It is time we were off.” Clapping Aramil on the shoulder, I ran to support Harbad as we fled.
While the enemy warriors were distracted by Aramil’s macabre illusions, we made our escape. On our way back to Titan’s Fall, we were richly rewarded by the elders of Clan Greatstrider, and the city knew to fortify against a raid.”
The dwarf’s tale had generated much noise from the listeners, and the huge bartender rang his spoon upon the old shield once again. “Warriors!” The crowd continued to roar and bang their mugs upon the long tables. “We have heard the tale of Ferolous Stonehammer. What say we? Is he a warrior and leader true to his salt, or is he a lying vermin that should be cast out from our company?”
Chants of “Warrior! Warrior!” filled the hall with only a few voices crying “Craven.” The bartender filled a mug to the top with foaming ale and handed it to the dwarf who raised it to the assembled company. The cheers roared on late into the night.
Shield Wall Feat:
Requirements: Shield Proficiency, base attack bonus +6 or higher, medium shield or larger.
Benefit: If the user stands next to another character with a medium or larger shield, each gets the bonus of the other’s shield in addition to his own. If there is a character using a medium or larger shield on both sides, the bonus is cumulative. For every two characters in the shield wall, one standing directly behind them (within 5’) may gain the average shield bonus to armor class of the two in front of her.
Barbed Lasso – Martial Weapon
Appearance: The barbed lasso is a rope of braided animal sinew with metal blades woven along the last ten feet of its normally twenty-foot length.
Use: The user may make long-rang trip or disarm attacks with the barbed lasso. If either attack is successful, the victim takes 1d4 damage. The rope may then be used to drag the enemy. It is normally tied to the pommel of a saddle, so the horse does the dragging, rather than the far weaker man.