The characters are:
- Gain, the Dwarf scholar;
- Merian, the Hobbit wanderer;
- Asgard, the Beorning scholar; and
- Grigori, the Hobbit treasure-hunter.
After resting up in Lake Town, the group took a stroll along the lake (Grigori to see if he could find some of the gems from Smaug's hide, Asgard to see if he could see the remains of Smaug from this side of the lake, and Merian and Gain to enjoy the summer weather), when young Belgo burst out of the bushes in search of a brave hero to save his father, who was set upon by the three guards he had employed! After a show of strength by Asgard, the three villains chose to leave, and Baldor the trader offered them the job of guarding his caravan during the trek across Mirkwood.
To my (slight) dissapointment, the players were not very interested in being 'mere guards', but Gain, who has Trading as specialty, proposed that the group invest their newly won treasure in a trading caravan of their own, and charge Baldor 6 Treasure for the privilege of joining his caravan to theirs. Everybody agreed, and the trip would be postponed for three days to allow the group to outfit their caravan.
- Gain invested all of his 5 Treasure in the caravan, and bought mostly manufactured goods to sell to the Beornings and the Woodmen. Laketown and Dale have workshops, but the homesteads in the West do not...
- Merian invested 3 of her Treasure, and sought out dried herbs that were not common in the West (making good use of her Herb Lore specialty).
- Asgard chipped in for 3 of his Treasure too, and invested mainly in weapons of high quality steel, which are hard to find in his hometown.
- Grigori invested 3 Treasure too, but simply let Gain do all the buying. He did buy a field kitchen, because he will serve as the caravan's cook.
After the agreed three days, the two caravans met (each with 4 ponies), and the Wood Elves brought them upstream to the Halls of the Elven King with their rafts. Lindar was unwilling to trade with the characters, but a Persuade by Gain and a greatly succesfull Courtesy from Merian, it was agreed that Merian would take the caravan's manifest and Lindar would see what he could use. He was interested in some of the herbs that Merian had bought, and proposed a trade: he would offer five doses of a healing herb that grows in elven clearings for some of the herbs that Merian had brought. Everybody agreed, and now they have five doses of herbs that, when applied to a Wound, will lower the TN of a Healing roll...
The next morning, the Elves packed everybody on the rafts again, and brought them to where the river crosses the Elven Path. There, after unloading, they are given a final word of advice by Lindar: "Don't leave the path!"
The group managed to pass the first week of the journey without incident. (My veteran players made sure to specify marching order and camping routines before I was allowed to continue! We spent some time roleplaying the interaction with Baldor and Belgo, who had claimed the safest spots in the caravan.)
When they found an open space in the forest, they became extremely suspicious, but even an extended investigation revealed nothing untoward in the clearing, and they made camp.
(Personally, I thought the pretense that the stream in the clearing would make you lose your memories, but only at night, a rather thin excuse -- it makes it impossible for the characters to take measures to keep themselves safe. They had investigated the water during the day and had drunk from it with no ill effects... I don't like plot points that 'need' to happen no matter what, but when it happened, Merian's player immediately said: "Yeah, but it's night now, so who knows...?" So I guess it's not an uncommon plot device.)
Baldor woke up while Gain was on watch, and Gain actually prevented Baldor from running away with an extraordinary success on his Persuade to keep him on board. The rest of the party tried to soothe Baldor (and Belgo, who became increasingly distraught at seeing his father in this state), with some success. So in the end, no-one ran off from the clearing, so no-one got caught by the spiders so no-one needed rescuing!
I placed some spiders at the edge of the clearing, but they did not dare to enter, and the characters were not itching for a fight, so the whole episode was resolved without a single combat!
After another week of travel, the group is caught by surprise when the weather turns suddenly. A storm is brewing, and due to a few Hazard rolls from the scout, the whole group gets a few points of Fatigue before they find a hollow tree that seems to be someone's home...
The group barges in (leaving the ponies outside) and find the hole of the crazy hermit. They settle in, with Grigory the Hobbit starting to cook on the small fire there. After a few minutes the hermit comes in and he is (of course) alarmed to find the group in his home. They quickly calm him, and offer him food as well. That's the easiest way to his heart, so he lets them stay (though the Hobbits think his table manners leave much to be desired, but the Dwarf and the Beorning think nothing of it). He even gets a second plate.
(Lots of fun roleplaying with this -- I enjoyed peering in the camera when everybody introduced themselves, looking from left to right and mumbling to myself. The characters seemed genuinely friendly to him, so that was a good episode.)
Then the episode with the Old Well. The two Hobbits got a Shadow Point, and Grigory's player played the gold lust to the hilt. When Asgard and Gain went to check up on him, they found him at the bottom of the well, filling his pockets with mud while being strangled by a vine -- Grigory thought he was filling them with gems and gold, and thought he was feeling heavier because of the added weight! Gain used the old rope to descend -- and fell when the rope broke. Asgard ran back to get another rope (encountering a dazed Merian the Hobbit en-route to the old well as well -- she was expecting a tower with a magnificent view over the treetops). Gain managed to shake Girgory out of his revery, and battle began -- leaving Grigory and Gain rather Weary in the end, but they recovered after a short rest after battle.
After a quick rest, the group picked themselves up and left the well behind.
Travel rolls for the last week of travel were all succesfull (either by the application of bonus dice or points of Hope), and at long last they saw the end of the path: they had arrived at the Forest Gate!
Everybody was relieved to be out in the open again. They went a ways West, away from the wood and towards the river. Belgo gathered firewood, Asgard hunted two rabbits and Grigory cooked a delicious stew of it with some of the spices that Merian had bought as trade goods. Baldor produced a skin of premium wine and a little bottle of liquor, and the party had a feast.
(Something interesting: my players insists on following some of the tropes of D&D during travel. Stuff like setting watches in a particular order etcetera. I make every watch roll for Awareness, because it seems like they like that kind of thing -- and they often will spend a point of Hope to succeed, even if nothing was going to happen... It amuses me.)
The next morning, Baldor paid the party and he and Belgo were on their way. They're moving north, to the remote farmsteads there (and because I want my party to go south).
(I liked the scenario, but it does have its rail-roady moments. Sure, when you fail your Corruption Test you get a Shadow Point and become 'enchanted' -- that's something a player simply has to roll with, it's part of the genre. But the scenario itself also has some points where player input is minimised so that a certain thing that 'needs' to happen will actually happen. I'm not a big fan of that myself, and so I let the players prevent Baldor and Belgo from running away from the Elf Clearing into the woods, completely defusing the situation with the spiders.
Sure, I did not get to use that (fun) encounter, but it did make for some good roleplaying: Baldor who is confused and wants to get away but who is talked down by the Dwarf. Meanwhile, Belgo watches the characters closely: they have been attacked by bandits who posed as their guards before, and if anyone would have made a bad remark or would have tried to physically restrain Baldor, he would have ran -- making him the spider's victim, which might even be more dramatic.
No fighting, but tense roleplaying? That's a win in my book. But the GM has to be willing to improvise.)