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Tooth & Claw (Steelshod 439)
I don’t post these daily anymore, so just in case you’re a newcomer and you’ve never seen a Steelshod post before… click here to start at the beginning
This is the latest chapter out of several hundred, and I don’t think it will make much sense without context. This isn’t an episodic story so much as one long narrative.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy yourself, and I’ll see you back here in good time. If not, no big deal. But I think if you start here you’re going to be very, very lost.
Note for Binge-Readers: This is generally live-updated to reflect the current state of the game! Hopefully if you’re binging you can keep better track of who’s going where, because you just recently read about them going there.
The Victorian Wilds
Steelshod has journeyed to Conall’s Rest, deep in the One Forest.
A secluded basin full of huge trees and strange, ancient writings.
They found strange, white-robed druids that call themselves the wardens of this hidden place.
They also found one of Partholon’s disciples, and some thirty fiendwolves, intent on unearthing Conall—called the Faolen, and the First Fiendwolf—for their own purposes.
Steelshod was careful how they interfered… but they knew they had to interfere.
Cyril and Agrippa managed to incite enough anger in the volatile fiendwolves that one of them has finally struck first, drawing Agrippa’s blood.
(And dying to a pair of arrows from Felix and Zelde for his trouble)
Agrippa flees to rejoin Steelshod, and Zelde drops her bow to pull out her axe.
Now, Steelshod and the Sons are rallying against a similar number of fiendwolves
While their hundreds of reinforcements begin rushing down the hill to their aid, and Partholon’s druid works some sort of sorcery with Conall’s unearthed, desiccated corpse.
They’re pretty sure they’re on a tight timetable here, but the fiendwolves have surged forward through the mists
They surround Steelshod
In theory, there are comparable numbers on both sides
And the Collar have killed several of their own as part of some kind of ritualistic sacrifice to Conall, so one might think Steelshod has an edge here, at least in numbers.
But Steelshod’s thirty includes people like Borthul, Cyril, and Agrippa.
And Garth Lutrell’s nine Sons of Victory are all sturdy warriors, but they’re not at the level of a Steelshod elite or, most likely, a fiendwolf.
So things could take a turn here at any moment.
And, as it turns out, that moment happens right out of the gate.
The fiendwolves seize the initiative.
They fan out around Steelshod, who try to hold themselves in a cohesive battle line and keep the most vulnerable safe.
As Steelshod forms up, the fiendwolves surge through the mists and begin striking at them from all sides.
The fiendwolves try to strike viciously, then fall back into the fog
But, even on the back foot, Steelshod stands their ground. Many of the fiendwolves quickly get embroiled in melee.
The field quickly becomes a seething mass of claws and fangs surrounding the stoic square Steelshod has formed into.
The fighting is messy and bloody from the outset.
We don’t do detailed mapping, but we determine the rough layout of Steelshod’s formation.
Steelshod’s frontline is Zelde, Perrin, and Bear, which is good… but it’s also Cara (she was forward as the commander), Felix (he prepared to intervene to help Agrippa, and then did so), and Agrippa (he has just barely fled to the front lines—moments ago he was even more exposed).
So their frontline is an unfortunate mix of strong front-liners and squishier folks that probably shouldn’t be there.
Their front left flank is quite sturdy: Snorri the bersark, Lioness and Tiny the axemen (both a bit banged up but still ready to fight), Evan Lafferty with sword in hand, and Amos.
The front right flank is a little more vulnerable, but they should work well together since they’re the four ulfskennar currently present: Knut, Gulbryn, Sigridur, and Dagur.
The rear (and this is loops into both flanks) is primarily held by Garth Lutrell and nine of his best Sons of Victory.
And in the center of the group is Cyril, Borthul, and the Ban Capall archer lads that have followed Felix all this way from Farrowell.
Cara is pounced upon, one of the fiendwolves raking into her and knocking her flat on her back.
Felix tries to come to her aid, but a fiendwolf pounces on him as well. He takes a vicious slash on the same leg that already has an injury on his foot.
Agrippa manages to survive without a serious hit. The three heavies, Bear, Zelde, and Perrin all take a few hits but nothing that puts them out of the fight yet.
The left flank holds strong, as expected. They take a few hits, but they are mighty enough to withstand the onslaught of the fiendwolves without crumbling. Snorri and the two axemen easily keep the fiendwolves focused on them, allowing Evan and Amos to use their ranged weapons. For the moment, at least.
The right flank falters a bit more—the ulfskennar are excellent warriors and skirmishers, and compared to regular soldiers they’re quite durable. But in terms of Steelshod elites and the ungodly high damage output of the fiendwolves, they’re a bit more on the vulnerable side. None of them go down as badly as Cara did, but several of them are already bleeding and sporting small injuries.
Many of the fiendwolves circle around the formation, looking for weaknesses, and end up surging forth to assault the “rear”
Where the Sons of Victory meet them head-on.
The Sons are, broadly speaking, the most elite troops in Victoria. Every fully fledged member of the Sons is at least a Level 5, Tier 1 warrior. They hit hard and they can take a decent amount of punishment.
And Garth’s men are generally a cut above the average Son—there’s a reason Gwynneth asked Garth to pick a score of his best men to accompany Steelshod out here.
That’s all to their favor. On the other hand… even Garth’s hand-picked men still have some weaknesses. They hit hard, but their defenses are only “good enough”—decently heavy armor, pretty good hit points, average bonus to their defense rolls.
And fiendwolves are made of little more than lean muscle, claws, and aggression held together by dark sorcery. They hit hard.
So the Sons endure the attack as best they can. They take a beating, but they stand tall.
One of them goes down to a critical hit, and the fiendwolf drops onto his prone body and begins gnawing and ripping at his flesh.
One fiendwolf comes in behind that one, leaping over this gap in the Sons’ line and into the midst of the “center”
That is, Borthul, Cyril, and the four Ban Capall boys.
He goes straight for Cyril, since Cyril and Agrippa were the two insulting the Collar of Thorns and trying to incite them to make the first aggressive move.
The Ban Capall boys all try to intervene, and help Cyril, but the fiendwolf is so fast.
It weaves between them, and only Caomhainn even manages to clip it with a small blow.
Undeterred, it launches itself at Cyril.
Cyril did take some precautions when the fight broke out, drawing his sword and poisoning the blade
But the fiendwolf is too fast for him to do anything but flail at and wildly backpedal.
One of the creature’s claws rakes across Cyril’s chest. He comes from a privileged and wealthy family and he wears a shirt of light, sturdy steel mail.
The blow hurts, but he takes it surprisingly well… the other thing really helping him here is that Agrippa has been hounding Cyril for months to get his shit together and live a healthier lifestyle, and out here in Victoria he finally prevailed.
(In other words: He’s finally benefiting from Agrippa’s “Healthy Living”, which means he gets +5 HP and +1 to a stat of his choice… which in this case is Constitution, resulting in another +5 HP. +10 HP is a huge deal when your normal max is a bit shy of 30.)
Those benefits make the difference. A blow that would have inflicted a grievous injury instead inflicts no lasting injury at all, just a painful bruise.
Cyril keeps his footing, and the fiendwolf is now surrounded by him and the four Ban Capall boys.
The Fiendwolves have unleashed a vicious onslaught, as seems to be their standard tactic
But now, Steelshod tries to rally and push them back.
Of most pressing concern is Cara, who is pretty banged up and has a fiendwolf on top of her.
Bear and Zelde are too far to easily help—but they can clear a path for Agrippa.
Bear throws himself against the fiendwolves, getting stabbed in many places by their magically thorny collars. He sweeps his huge axe into them as blood sprays all over him. None of the wolves drop, but he hurts several of them.
Zelde is more focused: she hews into the wolf fighting Agrippa, killing it in a single mighty blow before turning to face the others.
That allows Agrippa to hurry forth and come to Cara’s aid, whacking his hammer into the wolf’s elbow with a loud crack. The wolf snarls, and the sudden injury staggers it enough for Cara to maneuver out of its grasp.
She plants both feet on the fiendwolf’s chest and kicks as hard as she can, launching it off of her. While she does, she nocks and looses two arrows in rapid succession… all while still lying flat on her back.
Both arrows embed themselves in the fiendwolf’s chest before it hits the ground. When it does, it does not rise, and instead begins shifting back to human form.
Agrippa grabs Cara by one hand and pulls her back to her feet.
Agrippa also calls out some words of encouragement to the rest of the team, telling them they’ll be alright, and he will take good care of them when the fight is done.
He’s using “Trust Me, I’m A Doctor” special ability—a tier that lets him roll his Calming skill to grant area-of-effect temporary healing to every ally around him.
That’s temporary healing, as in healing that wears off later as if it was never there. It gives a boost to HP for the short-term, but it does nothing to prevent people from getting injured or killed if their actual HP value drops low enough.
But in the short term, it will help many of the team that have already taken a beating from the fiendwolves stay in the fight, even if it means they end up worse off when the fighting is over. And long term… well, that’s what Miracle Worker is for.
The next situation we are most worried about is Cyril, who could easily be killed by the fiendwolf in front of him.
Cyril assumes the stance he learned when he was drilled in basic swordsmanship years ago, and he darts in to slash and stab the wolf.
He cuts himself on the supernaturally sharp collar of thorns it wears, but he still manages to land a blow.
Nothing very impressive, just small slash across the chest… but as mentioned earlier, Cyril smeared a heavy dose of poison onto the blade of his sword.
He hopes it will have an effect on the fiendwolf, because he doubts he can bring it down with his mediocre bladework.
The Ban Capall lads all throw themselves at the same fiendwolf as well, and because they have it flanked and outnumbered they actually land a few decent hits.
They’re racking up a lot of small bonuses from things like Perrin’s leadership, and between the four of them they put some good hurt on the wolf. They’re using spears, trying to keep their distance from the thorns, and trying to pin the fiendwolf down so it can’t easily pounce on any of them.
They don’t kill it, but they are doing a decent job at controlling it.
Beyond that is a series of intense exchanges along the flanks. The heavy hitters do what they do best, and they put down a lot of pain on the fiendwolves.
But these monsters are tough.
Only with lucky critical hits or a once-per-session double damage strike do they really have any chance of killing one in a single hit… fortunately a little bit of both of those things do show in evidence here.
Snorri is notable for flattening a fiendwolf to bloody paste with a single mighty crushing blow.
Also particularly noteworthy here is another one of the ulfskennar.
Not Gulbryn this time, whose voice and throat are still sore and not able to replicate his trick from before.
This time, it is Dagur that stands out.
Dagur is one of the less clever of the wolfskin bersarks. He tends towards vicious, animalistic fighting—even going so far as to sometimes tossing aside weapons and attacking with his fists and teeth.
As a fiendwolf surges at him, swiping with its claws and snapping with its jaws, Dagur drops his spear and mirrors the creature’s body movements.
He lunges for it, slamming into the creature, punching and grabbing at it with his bersark-enhanced strength.
Dagur has a special ability that lets him make two unarmed attacks, each with double damage. If they hit, he can follow them up with a bite attack.
The normal drawback is that his unarmed damage, though almost as good as his spear damage, totally lacks penetration.
But the fiendwolves are notable for supernatural foes in that they lack any protection at all. Their hides do not repel blades or blows, they simply heal them back up rapidly if given a chance.
So the fiendwolf takes the full brunt of Dagur’s blows. He breaks one of the creature’s arms at the elbow, uppercuts it in the jaw, and then surges in to rip out its throat with his teeth.
The fiendwolf collapses, dead. Its blood pours down Dagur’s chin and spatters his armor, and he howls in triumph.
A good moment.
But it’s the exception.
Most of Steelshods heavy hits just result in an injured but still fighting fiendwolf.
Steelshod’s counterstrike is potent overall, but nowhere near enough to decisively turn the battle.
Up in a tree, Vigi takes careful aim and puts a large arrow into a fiendwolf.
Further up the hill, Ben is still rushing down with his longbowmen, looking for a good vantage to take position from.
Borthul is still insulated from attack, and he stares at Partholon’s disciple with a furrowed brow… he doesn’t seem to be doing much, but an astute observer may know that he is likely extending his own will and sorcerer’s sight onto the druid.
Trying to understand what he’s doing, and perhaps hinder him.
Likewise, Felix has some breathing room due to Bear & Zelde’s handling of the front line, so he takes aim at the druid.
The man is crouching behind the bodies of other fiendwolves, and he seems to be carving out the flesh of one of them as some kind of ritual.
Felix steadies his breathing, ignoring the snarls and howls and screams all around him… and looses.
His arrow is perfectly aimed, and it catches the druid just as he raises a hand slightly too high.
It sinks deep, right through the druid’s hand and into his forearm. A bad injury, though not an instantly fatal one. The druid screams in pain, and reels back.
Amos spots this, and uses an ability he’s had for ages but doesn’t get a ton of mileage out of: ”Poacher,” which lets him take a bonus shot at someone when they are dropped below 5 HP.
He takes quick aim and looses as well. He catches the druid in the side and puts him down, successfully poaching Felix’s kill.
The druid collapses in a heap on the altar.
At this point, it’s getting ridiculous…
The original sacrifice, shoved off to the side.
Conall’s desiccated corpse lies on the altar as well, with two dead men on either side.
Then there’s the fiendwolf that the druid was working on, who was draped directly over Conall’s body.
He is rapidly shifting back to human form. Whatever the details of the ritual were, they appear to have been fatal.
The druid also falls dead on top of Conall.
There’s basically just a mound of corpses piled on the altar now.
As the two sides fight, the white robed druids look on in horror.
They plead with both groups to stop.
They may be the Wardens of this place, but so far they’ve displayed very little notable power or ability.
And the fighting has raged on despite their protests.
However, when the Collar’s druid falls, they move towards the altar.
They arrange themselves around it, as if protecting it with their bodies, and between them Felix sees some of them moving onto the altar itself to begin doing something with the corpses.
If Felix hoped the death of the druid would lead to the fiendwolves standing down, he was too optimistic.
The monsters don’t even seem to notice.
Or, if they do, it just drives them to greater depths of rage and viciousness.
They continue snarling and howling as they rip into Steelshod with superhuman strength, claws, and fangs.
And now, the battle does begin to turn.
But not in the way Steelshod might have hoped.
I’ll be honest, I kind of gave the fiendwolves short shrift here.
First, despite my original intentions when prepping, I let them get quickly bogged down into a formation-based melee.
That’s Steelshod’s strength. The fiendwolves work better with hit and run tactics, dragging out the fight to give them time to regenerate.
More than that, I didn’t have them open the fight using their intensely brutal once-per-session double damage attacks.
They might have dropped a few people out the gate if they had, but it slipped my mind.
Now they’d already suffered casualties, so some of those attacks are just wasted.
But I decided to make sure they stepped it up a notch on their next round.
And they did.
The wolves fare the best. They take some hits, especially Knut, who gets a nasty wound on his hands.
But they weather the onslaught quite well, overall.
The Sons, in the rear, do not do nearly so well.
It’s a chaotic mess of iron and fur and blood, and both men and beasts howl in pain and fury.
One of them drops to the ground, motionless—the second casualty of nine.
They are barely holding the line here, barely stemming a tide that threatens to sweep into the middle of Steelshod’s simple square formation.
In the front, Zelde and Bear have handled the brunt of the offensive, and they handled it well. Their nearest foes are dead or stunned.
But Perrin is also there, and he’s been going toe-to-toe with one of the fiendwolves.
He’s held his own so far, but he takes a brutally strong blow fully on the center of his shield
And the fiendwolf’s superhuman strength makes that a bad situation.
It gouges deep clawmarks in the shield, and the sheer impact of the blow shatters Perrin’s arm in several places.
He staggers, barely keeping his feet.
Only Agrippa’s temporary healing keeps him above zero, and when those wear off he’ll drop like a puppet with cut strings.
Still, it’s lucky, because if he had dropped the wolf would have immediately begun eating him.
Instead, he keeps his wits and manages a counter-thrust with his sword, putting the wolf down.
As it dies, and transforms, Perrin lets himself collapse to his knees in the grass.
Things take an even nastier turn on the toughest, most dangerous flank Steelshod has.
Snorri still holds his own, but Lioness and Tiny are overwhelmed by their foes.
One wrong step leaves Lioness exposed, and a fiendwolf tears deep into her thigh.
She falls, stunned, the wound gushing blood.
Tiny, likewise, can’t get keep his foe at bay
The fiendwolf strikes him across the head, knocking off his helm and ripping its claws across his scalp.
Chunks of his scalp and forehead peel away in ribbons, and the claws take his right eye.
The two Sons of Victory go down with little more than pained grunts, shock taking them out of the fight entirely.
Both have mortal wounds, and only their beefy HP pools saved them from instant death.
But the wolves are about to start eating them… so if someone is going to help, it had best be soon.
Inside the formation, the fiendwolf that’s being held down by the Ban Capall boys explodes with sudden movement.
It shakes off their spears, breaking free.
A casual swipe leaves one of the lads, Rian, bleeding out on the ground.
But when it swings for another, Eòghan, it stumbles and loses its footing.
Maybe bad luck, maybe it’s Cyril’s poison coursing through the creature’s veins.
Either way, the three young lads proceed to stab it repeatedly with their spears.
It’s a tense, frightening turn of fortune
But it’s not enough to win the day for the wolves
Not by a long shot.
Steelshod rallies again.
Perhaps I didn’t give the wolves as much short shrift as I thought
They may not have opened with their best moves… but neither did all of Steelshod.
Cyril calls for an Onslaught maneuver. One of his trickier ones, with harsh consequences for failure.
But the fiendwolves have no surviving enemy commander to oppose him, and he executes the command, giving further offensive benefits to Steelshod.
He also triggers his Surprise! ability—one of his oldest strategic tricks, where he can pop up a ten-man team into a battle.
Ten more Sons of Victory—the other half of Garth’s squad—burst out of the fog and charge the back line of the fiendwolves
They are the hammer to the surviving Sons’ anvil, and they now dramatically outnumber the fiendwolves.
It’s a bloodbath of hewing axes, and no more Sons fall to the enemy.
The ulfskennar keep fighting, and again Dagur shines
He leaps onto the fiendwolf that dropped Knut and rips the creature off his packmate
He rolls in the dirt with the monster, snarling and biting in a tangle of tooth and claw.
When it is done, the fiendwolf has reverted to a mangled human corpse.
Dagur is flat on his back, the corpse draped over him, blood and bits of flesh covering his face and body.
He laughs, and howls his victory.
On the front lines, Zelde mops up the stunned enemies with a Giant Swing, grabbing one of them and using him to smash the others onto the ground.
It’s especially effective (same as last time), since the magical Collar of Thorns turns the fiendwolves into living weapons themselves.
Bear charges to help Tiny and Lioness—and Zelde triggers Fools Rush In to take an additional action and charge with him.
The two of them join Snorri, replacing the Sons in a three-man formation of massively strong warriors
With little fanfare, they crush the wolves trying to feast on their fallen allies.
And… that’s that.
Agrippa rushes to triage the most badly wounded, starting with Tiny and Lioness.
Cara and Amos rush to help him, as do a few others with similar training in field medicine.
Unsurprisingly, he is able to stabilize them. This is Agrippa, after all.
Neither of them die (actually, Agrippa even manages to keep one of the fallen Sons of Victory from dying like he was going to)
But I do get my consolation prize: There are several nasty permanent injuries here that Agrippa can’t prevent.
Lioness’s leg will have a notable limp, Perrin’s shield arm is going to always be at least a bit stiff and aching, and Tiny’s eye isn’t growing back any time soon.
While Agrippa works to treat the wounded, those still standing gather up and move through the fallen wolves, ensuring that they are all dead.
It’s easy to determine—they change back to human when slain, so any motionless wolf is badly wounded but alive.
And likely regenerating, even now.
So a few Steelshod members confirm the kills.
Around this point, the rest of their Victorian troops come charging down the hill.
Evan moves to stop the troops from advancing further, to keep from inciting any more issues.
While Cyril and a few others look towards the altar.
The strange white-robed druids seem to be undertaking some sort of ritual, now.
It’s unclear if it’s the same one the Collar druid was doing.
But they are chanting
And whatever they’re doing is making a lot of sickening ripping noises
Not unlike the sound of a carcass being dressed by a hunter, or consumed by a wild animal.
Cyril hesitates, as does the rest of Steelshod.
After a few moments, one of the white druids drags the corpse of a fiendwolf off of Conall.
They shove the corpse aside, and even at a glance they can see that the body’s innards have been hollowed out.
Lying on the altar below, they no longer see the desiccated corpse of a man.
Instead, they see a fiendwolf.
It rises to its feet, and immediately Steelshod notices many differences between it and the fiendwolves they’ve been fighting.
For one thing, it’s bigger
Broader shoulders, long arms, and a huge head.
The wolf “base” of its form looks different—larger, more primal—compared to other fiendwolves.
Its fur is pale gray salted with white, rather than the mottled color of the other wolves they’ve seen.
But perhaps most notable of all is that they can see visible scarring on this one.
Something they’ve not seen on any other fiendwolf.
Its hide is a patchwork of old scars, including a nasty one that runs through an empty left eye socket.
The fiendwolf’s muzzle is covered in blood, and more blood stains its fur.
Its breaths come in heavy pants, and a rough growl ripples from its throat.
The white-robed druids all drop to their knees before the creature
Their chanting suddenly ceases.
And Steelshod watches cautiously.
They are ready for an attack, but they take no aggressive actions.
Cyril calls for Cara, and they both step to the front.
They can probably take one more fiendwolf, if they have to.
At least, they hope they can.
But if there’s any chance of this being resolved diplomatically, they have to try.
I was kind of unhappy with how I ran things, after the fact, but it is what it is. Those of you that have GMed before can probably relate—sometimes you have some plans that you may or may not remember in the heat of the moment.
Until next time, I hope the Americans in my audience all have a good Thanksgiving (as good as you can, considering the state of things) and for everyone else I hope you all have perfectly acceptable late Novembers as well.