In the city of Silver Sails, Liliana the courtesan and her half-ogre companion Hef, Dawnfire the gnomish oracle*, Samson the Sorceror, and Argos the Sumonner were each visited by a blink dog and given an invitation to take the Adventurer Test, to become Official Adventurers. Being in orcish lands, they knew that there was a good deal of power and authority invested in such a title, and little responsibility to go with it... it was also an honor rarely bestowed upon anyone but orcs.
So they travelled to Crossroads where they were supposed to talk to Sergeant Hastings to get instructions for how to actually take the test. They found the small town swamped by orcs trying to convince the Sergeant to let them take the test even though they hadn't been invited, and one orc in fancy armor who was gathering a team to help him win this year. "Ah, the competition. I see they've decided to go easy on me this time. Don't worry, I'll make your deaths merciful."
They ignored him and proceeded into the bar, where a halfling bard was harassing the Sergeant. "You don't have an invitation!" the orc growled. The halfling cast a spell, "But I *do*! I already showed it to you, remember? *wink wink*" -- and got pummled for his trouble, knocked right off the bar and onto the floor, to the vast amusement of the other patrons.
Dawnfire approached first. "Go home," growned the Sergeant. "You're too weak. I don't want to see you killed." Dawnfire assured him that she had vast experience hunting undead in the city's sewers -- with the gods absent, the dead invariably rose as undead sooner or later, barring moderate clerical magic that was often unaffordable, so the city tossed its dead into the sewers and hoped they rose as skeletons or zombies which would be too weak and stupid to find their way out. There was still a bounty in place to keep the numbers manageable, though. She regaled him with tales of her prowess until he grudgingly handed her a map.
Sam was next. "You smell like an elf." "Thank you! I spent quite a bit of time among the elves, learning the secrets of magical power, until I decided they had nothing more to teach me and decided to set out on my own. Surely you recognized my potential, and that's why I was invited here." Eventually, his arrogance wore down the orc's hostility and he too got a map.
Hef was the next to try. "Give map." The orc stared at him, and was intimidated. "Okay, yeah, you're the kind of thing we're looking for."
Liliana was also able to get a map -- when the orc led with, "Sorry, I'm on duty," she offered to come visit him in his tower (by then, she'd seen the other maps, which led to a tower) after he was off... "Fine, but make sure you stick with someone strong. I don't want to see you hurt."
At that point they decided they had plenty of maps, since they'd heard from the orc outside that they were allowed to go as a team. "I'll be on your team!" offered the halfling. They didn't precisely turn him down, but they did make good advantage of their 30 foot or better movement rate to leave him behind.
They quickly figured out that the bottom of the map was north, and noticed by comparing their maps that not all the trails were marked on each one. At the first branch, there was a bit of an argument -- everyone was sure that they were supposed to go straight, except for Sam who was sure they were supposed to go left. They'd just convinced him that coming along with the group wasn't admitting he was wrong -- "You can laugh at us if we come to a dead end." -- when a bunch of summoned wolves appeared and attacked.
Figuring it was part of the test, the party set to fighting the wolves and didn't worry too much about finding the caster -- and that bore out, as nothing new was summoned during the fight. Hef made short work of any wolf within his reach, often taking out two at a time with a cleaving blow of his morningstar, and the only one in any danger at any point was Sam, who got tripped by a lucky hit from his wolf and badly mauled before Argos and Dawnfire could get to him to save his ass.
But he was saved, and they were victorious -- and was that a scream, from down the path behind them? They ran to investigate, and found the halfing unconscious, being mauled by a summoned wolf, which they easily dispatched. Dawnfire stabilized him, but decided to sling his unconscious body across her horse instead of waking him up, since he was a pest. Apparently, a pretty weak fighter, too.
They proceeded on through the maze of forest paths, and while they did come to a dead end or two, they were making pretty good progress when they came to the ravine. It was steep and muddy, and wouldn't be any problem except for Dawnfire's horse. The stream at the bottom looked tiny, though, so they decided to travel upstream to find a better crossing place -- and before long, found one; a patch of muddy ground on the edge of a swampy pond. They stared wading across the muddy area, when Dawnfire and Hef spotted some slimy creatures sliding across the surface of the mud towards them... and Liliana heard something else moving around under the surface of the mud.
They didn't have much that was useful against the amoeba swarms, so they decided to just run past. That mostly worked, except for the eidolon getting repeatedly entrapped by the mud elementals. Hef killed off all the elementals, though, and the eidolon broke out of its entrapment, and they were all able to get away before the momma elemental could come to take vengeance for her slaughtered children.
An hour or so later, they came to the tower. The blink dog showed up and berated them for being late, and told them to hurry through the rest of the tests because everyone was waiting! They signed the guestbook, left the halfling in a corner of the antechamber, and then prepared to face... the sinister HALL OF STATUES.
There was a piece of paper near the far end, so Dawnfire levitated it over to read it before anyone went inside. It said 'I prepared explosive runes this morning', and there was much exploding. Sam and Liliana were nearly killed, but Dawnfire herself lived and was able to stabilize everyone and heal them up with a wand of cure light wounds, although it used a bunch of charges. So the only actual casualty was the eidolon, which would be back the next day. In the meantime, Argos would have to make do with temporary summons.
Hef decided to check for traps by walking through the room and setting them all off, but the party made him stop halfway, on a safe square, and Argos summoned a Lemure, which had enough DR to mostly ignore the needles that shot from the ceiling. It walked around on each square, setting off each needle trap so they could chart a safe path, until it finally found the square that turned the room into a 60 foot deep pit, dumping Hef to the bottom.
He survived, of course. He was tough! And when some orcs appeared out of a side room, he started slicing them up, thinking that was part of the test. The rest of the party kept him from chasing after them when the survivors ran off "I think that was the cleaning crew...", and they sent the Lemure further on to see if the bottom or the top of the pit was the way to continue. When they discovered it was the top, they all climbed down into the pit and then back up the other side, and continued on to the written test.
Everyone passed except for Sam, who was sent to speak to the headmaster. And Liliana, who had to wait after class to 'discuss' her grade with the Sergeant, who was indeed the same orc they'd seen in the tavern.
The headmaster pressed Sam on his belief in the gods, asking him what cult he belonged to. When he denied being a member of any organized religion, the master demanded that he join the Cult of Orcus, swearing his soul and his life to the cult. Since that was a dead, evil, orcish god, Samuel refused, even when threatened with death. That was enough to pass the test, and he was dumped down the chute to rejoin the rest of his party in the holding area, where they were forming teams for the final battle to decide who got to be an adventurer, and who got dumped out the garbage chute.
Well, the rest of his party except for Liliana. She and the sergeant took a few minutes to join up with them. They had... things to... discuss.
The sergeant explained the rules -- the last five people standing, from either team, would become Adventurers. The rest would die "and if you want to be raised, I hope you remembered to arrange that before now, because it's too late to send a message." The other rules were things like 'no team killing' and 'no leaving the arena' and 'no fighting until I say 'go''. Then they headed out into the training yard -- each side casting a few buffs ahead of time -- and the sergeant wasted no time in saying 'go'.
Dawnfire feared one of the rank-and-file orcs, and Argos summoned a speed bump I mean wolf to keep the orcs from charging... or at least that was the theory. One killed the wolf, and then the others charged, hacking at Samuel and Hef, who were in front.
Meanwhile, the orc in fancy armor -- who was some sort of cleric -- cast a 'hold person' on Hef, followed by 'cause fear'. The fear stuck! Between Sam and Dawnfire and Argos and Lilia, though, the orcish front line was... ragged. Often, dazed. Two of them were put to sleep. Two found themselves on a flaming grease patch, and had to waste a turn crawling out of the fire. Still, the orcs hit hard and didn't go down easily, and were backed up by a cleric --
Oh, nevermind. There went Hef, recovering from his fear and charging across the yard to 'distract' the healer before he could wake up the last surviving sleeper. While the half ogre wreaked havoc in the backfield, the rest of the party managed to finish off the front line orcs, and it was over. They'd won -- five to zero.
Samuel made sure to quickly loot the cleric's morningstar, which he'd been throwing across the arena like a boomerang, but to his dismay found it not to be magical -- the thrown weapon thing was a domain power, not a property of the weapon. And the plate armor was masterwork half plate instead of full plate, BLAH! Hef claimed the cleric's body to make sure that he could loot it, anyway. He also tried to RAPE the cleric's body until the Sergeant told him to get a room. "The fight's over!"
Then it was back to the classroom, to get educated on what exactly they'd won. Most of the party managed to stay awake for the lecture, and discovered that they were, as Dawnfire put it, essentially knights of the realm, empowered to enact Low Justice. Only with less talk of chivalry. They were expected to roam the land, settling disputes and slaying monsters and other threats, and were empowered to take whatever they wanted (and could physically get their hands on) as payment from the people involved.
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* Dawnfire replaced Eric's first character, Shiara the undead-hunting cleric, halfway through, because playing a cleric was boring. It was a retcon and not an in-character replacement, though, so I'm going back and making it be Dawnfire all along.
In completely unrelated news, I hate my thermostat. I was freezing this morning and turned it up a tick, and now... well, it's not THAT uncomfortable I guess. Better than freezing.