Warning: This report will spoil the adventure. I will also include my thoughts as the GM. (The aim of this report is to make it useful to other GMs who want to run this scenario for their group.)
We started off with three characters:
- Randerin, the Wood-Elf treasure hunter;
- Gain, the Dwarf scholar; and
- Merian, the Hobbit wanderer.
They meet up as part of the delegations of their respective cultures before the Meeting of the Five Armies. They play only a minor role, and spend most of the meetings waiting in an antechamber doing... nothing. So they get set loose in Lake Town to amuse themselves. Because they don't know anybody in town, they stick together (much to the annoyance of Randerin). They see Gloin's bill posted, and Gain convinces the rest of the group to visit Gloin and offer their help.
While Gloin is no big friend of Elves, he recognised that it would be good to have an Elf on board in case the two missing Dwarves had been forced to 'enjoy' the hospitality of the Elven King... So he gives them the job (figuring he can always hire others if the need arises) and arranges for a boat for them.
Once they get out on the River Running proper, it is time for Travel rolls! All companions fail their roll, and the Guide (Gain) even botches his! I ruled that the boat had gotten stuck in the reeds, and that the party needed to get out of the boat and pull it to the side of the river. There, they were found by three lowlifes (using the Orc soldier stats) who attacked them. The Dwarf made good use of his intimidating Battle roll (using up all three bonus dice), draining all the Hate from the opposition. Making them Weary made quite a difference in the fight -- when one rolled a 0 (two 1s and a Gandalf rune), I allowed a counter-attack. Unfortunately, our brave Hobbit was hit pretty hard.
After dispatching their attackers, the group rested for a bit and then set out for the Stairs of Girion. They set course for the huts of the fishermen who fished the lake in front of the waterfall, and Merian got a great result on her Courtesy roll when making their introductions.
They had a good time sharing their meal with the fishermen, exchanging news from the wider world. They were introduced to the village elder, who recited a small rhyme for them, warning for Gallows Weed. The Hobbit botched her Lore role to identify what kind of plant it would be -- so she would probably try to smoke it...
Early next morning, the fishermen carried the boat down to the foot of the waterfall, and after the Dwarf tipped them some gold, the party surveyed the quiet and stagnant waters of the Long Marshes, wisps of fog rolling in from the woods to the west...
The group rode the stream to the south, keeping an eye on both the river and the western banks to see if they could find any trace of the missing Dwarves.
When Gain botched his roll to steer the boat away from peril (again!) they were spotted by a group of Forest Goblins (good thing I had looked through the monster section of The Heart of the Wild that afternoon). One hurled his spear to the boat, but missed. After initially fleeing, Randerin realised that this group might alert others, and they doubled back to confront the goblins. Gain got to take a few hits, but the group rolled quite well, and even managed to put two of the four Goblins down with Piercing blows!
That evening, when making camp, Merian got a great success for her Awareness roll and realised they were being watched. When her watch was over, she woke Gain to take over for her, and then expended a point of Hope in order to sneak over to an Elf watching the camp from a tree. Stepping out of the shadows, she introduced herself to him, scoring another great success on Courtesy. She invited him to the camp, and the Elf could not refuse...
They chatted with this chap, who told them about his mission and about the two Dwarves they had spotted a few days earlier. He even pointed out the location of their last-known camp to the group, before joining his troupe again. (When he mentioned the name of their leader, Randerin recognised the name, and they were very glad indeed that they didn't get to have this same conversation with Girion...)
(With such great successes, I decided that Merian should be able to spot and approach the Elf. Why not -- the important thing is that the Elves would give their information and then leave, which is exactly what happened.)
Onwards they went, and with a great success on Explore and Awareness, the Hobbit and the Dwarf steered Randerin to the spot where the two Dwarves had made camp. Gain even discovered the jewelry box in the tree stump, and tried to keep the contents hidden from his companions. But when he took the roll of parchment out of the box, the jewel attached to the chain was revealed, and he saw the look of hunger in the eyes of both the Elf and the Hobbit...
And at that point, the Stone Troll emerged from the water! (According to the scenario, this is an optional encounter. But if you skip this one, or have the troll ambush the characters somewhere else, then the events make no sense. Why would the Dwarves leave their camp in a hurry and even leave the gift for the Lord of the Eagles behind if they were not pursued by a troll? Using this encounter at this spot will allow the players to deduce what has happened here. The Dwarven axe wound on the troll also helps to explain the Hatred it has for Dwarves: he was wounded by the fleeing Balin and Oin!)
It was a tough fight, but Merian made great use of her 'Small' feature to duck and weave behind the troll's legs to tie him up with a rope, which Gain then tied to the old tree stump in the clearing. Then, when they were retreating in order to let the troll trip himself up, Randerin tripped too and ended up prone on the ground before the troll! Gain defended Randerin, and took a huge hit, but ended up Wounding the troll in return. (Due to the troll's Great Size, it was not out of the fight after being Wounded!)
After Randerin had recovered, the group retreated outside of the reach of the troll, who then turned around to pull the rope free. The stump was creaking dangerously, and he would have gotten free if not for the fact that Randerin rolled a Wounding attack with his sword -- so I ruled he 'pulled a Legolas' and ran up the troll's hunched back and planted his sword at the back of his neck, finally felling the monster!
The group decides to spend the night at that spot (after pushing the troll remains into the water), because Gain really needed to recover from the fight. On her watch, Merian took Balin's box from underneath Gain's cushion(!) and studied the letter and the jewel...
The next morning, they went on. (This part of the scenario does not make much sense. The group needs to succeed in an extended action to find the clues for where the Dwarves went, but there is no time limit set. It makes no sense to have the characters miss the clues, because that short-circuits the adventure. But who cares if it only takes one or maybe three days to search? There might be another Fatigue Test if it goes on too long, but that is hardly a reason to take all the excitement out of the adventure. Who wants to spend rolling the dice again and again until a certain number of successes are rolled, if there is no dramatic reason for them to hurry?)
So I ruled that after some time they simply found the Dwarves' boat, the fields of bones and finally the quay of the ruined village. They specifically kept an eye out for whatever Gallow's Weed could be, and managed to avoid that hazard, but then all three characters failed their Wisdom tests and walked into the icy cold water when they heard the bell toll...
(This was the point where Randerin's player dropped out. I managed to recruit two new players, who created Asgard, the Beorning scholar and Grigory, the Hobbit treasure hunter. I explained to them that they had travelled along the Old Forest Road to the East, in order to visit Lake Town for the Gathering of the Five Armies, but that they had gotten lost in the marshes at the eastern end of Mirkwood. Then they heard the Marsh Bell...)
All the characters, including the new ones, woke up in the cellar of the ruins where the Marsh Bell had taken them. The new faces needed some introductions, but soon they were exploring the rest of the ruin -- and finding the Marsh Dwellers! Nothing unites a group like combat. Asgard is quite good with his spear, but due to his low Parry score, he does get hit frequently. His intimidation worked out quite well, though, so after a few hits the Dwellers were sent scampering back to their humid cells.
Then Gain woke up (this player had trouble connecting and only now joined us), and he reminded Merian of their mission to find Balin and his companion (which I had not named upto that point -- if any of the new players wanted to play a Dwarf, this would have been them).
Soon, the Wine Cellar was found, along with the hungry Dwarves. Luckily, Merian had food with her! Asgard stood on guard, and did not seem to want to share his Twice-baked Honey Cakes...
(I chose to give this part of the adventure a sense of urgency. There are too many Marsh Dwellers to take on (as it is in the treasure room), there can only be a temporal respite from attacks before more monsters turn up. Getting the Dwarves out safely should be an exciting rescue with more monsters hot on their heels!)
Just as the party was wondering what to do, more Marsh Dwellers poked their heads around the corner! This turned into a pitched battle, with Asgard and Gain at the front, Merian sneaking past them to poke at the Dwellers and Grigori providing missile support from the back. Again, it was Merian who did the most damage -- she is clearly the MVP of this party: the rest is more talk than brawn!
The end of the fight saw Gain and Asgard Weary, and they were looking for a way out. They settled on the pool where they woke up: Grigori got a rope bound around his middle and swam the two meters under the walls and to the surface of the black pool they entered. The rest followed, pulling themselves forward along the rope if they were not good swimmers (which most of them aren't).
Merian was the last one down there, and as she was preparing to depart, a new wave of Dwellers poked their heads around the corner...
(The group did not discover the Marsh Dwellers' treasure room, which I take to mean that I managed to sufficiently step up the pressure.)
Outside, the group retreated to the boat and cast off before the Marsh Dwellers could catch up.
(The scenario calls for more Fatigue tests for the trip back, but again: where is the drama in that? Because when the group gets back, they can rest anyway, thereby recovering their Fatigue. So I skipped that part.)
When they returned to Lake Town, the group immediately took the Dwarves to Gloin, who was overjoyed to see them. He was also curious about seeing some new faces, but since Balin and Oin could confirm that they too had helped in their rescue, they were rewarded none the less. When Gloin started planning on the reward ceremony, the group asked him to forgo the ceremony and just give them the reward -- they didn't like to stand out. Gloin accepted (because why would he want to advertise that two Dwarves needed rescuing?) and so after about half an hour the party stepped out of Gloins office with their rewards, leaving Balin and Oin to recover at Gloin's house.