I'm going to preface this by saying that barely any of this adventure was actually "planned." I'd thought of a few quick hooks to follow Words of the Wise, and while the players sort of half bit into one, it went into a really unexpected direction. So here's what happened during my first "non-scripted" TOR game.
To re-cap, this was with my second group so the players are Grimwine (Beorning), Lowthesis (Dwarf), and Ranulf (Barding). The Fellowship Phase following Words of the Wise was spent opening up Woodland Hall as a Sanctuary. The company became familiar with the 3 most powerful Elders of this settlement, Beranhild (The Sage), Rathar (The Silent), and Walcaud (The Shepherd), as well as getting to know some of the warriors, hunters, and guards. Grimwine spent some time attempting to mentor Hathus, a young up-and-comer who was orphaned at a young age, but he was unwilling to leave the life he'd finally established for himself to start adventuring. Ranulf mostly hung around with the fishermen at the Dusky River, and Lowthesis basically just talked with as many people as possible. Other notable events around town were the upcoming Folk-Moot to determine which Woodmen elder would be accompanying Radagast to the Council of the North, and the hunting of the remnants from the orc assault on the village. After a little over 2 weeks (April 26 2946 of the Westron calendar) our company's next adventure begins.
Finding the Cold Cave
A young messenger returned from the forest reporting a sizeable orc band, and Heva (with her captain Ingelram) invited the PCs to accompany her on a reconnaissance mission. The elders wanted to know where these orcs were camped, and what their numbers were. After crossing the Dusky River into the dark depths of Mirkwood (Corruption test) Ranulf scouted out ahead and reported a major game trail that would speed their travel. Just a few hours travel on the path led them to an area where the main trail diverged into many smaller (fainter) trails, but ahead along the path a fresh gut pile was spotted. After cautiously investigating the area, Grimwine crept forward following a track where the deer's body had obviously been dragged through the forest. After about 100 yards he encountered a small clearing of trampled vegetation and various bones before a rocky cliff face (~50 feet high) with a narrow cave opening. No signs of fire were present, which Grimwine found odd (being very learned in Orc-lore). Lowthesis investigated the opening, finding some rough runes scrawled into the rock near the cave. Grimwine recognized the letter "c" in an orc-tongue. Also notable was the fact that a noticeable breeze emanated from the cavern, and it was colder than would be expected. With Ranulf, Heva, and Ingelram waiting in the bushes with bows drawn, and Lowthesis in front of the entrance, Grimwine banged his axe loudly against the rock so that it echoed within the cave. Ranulf was able to persuade the two Woodmen that Grimwine must have had a plan, as Ingelram was livid and ready to leave the company and head back to Woodland Hall with Heva.
No answer came from the cave, and so the heroes crept in. Lowthesis crafted some torches (very well, at that) and they headed down a narrow, twisting passage before emerging into a wider chamber. This "room" had a fissure at its far side from which the unusually cold air was coming, and nearby several deer carcasses hung from pitons installed in the cave wall. One was a white stag, to everyone's horror (the Woodmen consider it taboo to hunt the white stags of Mirkwood). Ranulf removed the pitons and attempted to climb down the fissure, but was unable to reach the bottom (though he came close). A feeling of being watched prompted a hasty retreat back up the ropes. Lowthesis searched the room, finding (in addition to the expected orc trash) a small bundle of survival tools that also contained a parchment with strange runes that nobody recognized (I hadn't planned on this, but he got an extraordinary success. This happened quite a bit tonight). After find nothing else of interest in the orc's "meat freezer," Grimwine proposed that the company camp outside of the cave so that they could ambush any orcs that stopped by to retrieve any food. Ranulf found an excellent campsite with plenty of cover nearby, and Grimwine volunteered to take 2 shifts at watch. On his second shift (the third of the night) he heard footsteps approaching the cave, and saw 4 torches. Two entered the cave, and 2 stayed outside. Ranulf attempted to ambush the orcs with a distraction (shooting an arrow at the cliffside to make a noise), though 2 of the 3 failed their rolls and so the orcs were aware of them. There ended up being 3 orcs outside (an archer wasn't carrying a torch), and 4 inside. Ingelram sustained a wound the first time he was attacked, and Heva ended up unconscious after being hit with several attacks in a row. The heroes were on fire, until orcs starting to flee. They yelled at each other (in common, suggesting that these were orcs from different regions) to get back to camp to warn Gazmog. Grimwine was proud that he'd killed 4 orcs, though everyone else was PO'd that this plan of his ended up giving the main camp warning of their presence. Ranulf attempted to heal Ingelram, but an Eye meant that his "treatment" actually hurt Ingelram more, and he fell unconscious. The part passed the rest of the night at their camp allowing Ingelram and Heva to recover, and then set off in the morning (which brought drizzle and overcast skies). The group heard wolf howls in the distance at dawn.
Knowing that wargs and orcs often work together, the heroes pressed on as fast as they could but the howling kept growing closer. Ranulf scouted for a defensible location, and found a small rocky hill that was encircled by thorny brush on nearly all sides. They decided to make their stand here. Lowthesis crafted a rudimentary boulder trap (that he ended up never using, though he got an AP for the excellent roll to construct it). The wolves eventually caught up, but only slunk around the perimeter. The first one sighted had its throat pierced by a single shot from Ranulf, though they grew more wary after that sticking to better cover. A small group of 5 dashed up the hill to test the party, but after 2 were killed they fled back down. Lowthesis eventually decided that he'd had enough of this and went down the hill to scout out the warg's perimeter. Immediately after passing the line of brush he was flanked by 2 wargs who were joined immediately by a wolf leader. I can't remember whether Lowthesis scored a piercing blow or if he got an extraordinary success to deal massive endurance damage, but either way he killed the wolf leader with one lucky blow. Cover fire from Heva, Ingelram, and Ranulf drove the 2 wargs off, and the heroes took this opportunity to flee straight out of the line after several hours of being under siege on the hill. Lowthesis kept everyone going at a good, steady pace (Travel roll), getting them to the Dusky River just before sunset.
The company returned to Woodland Hall in the middle of the night, and Ranulf escorted Ingelram and Heva immediately to the healers. Grimwine and Lowthesis went to sleep, then in the morning sought out the elders. They found Walcaud (The Shepherd) and reported what happened. He was not surprisingly a bit disappointed. Grimwine spent the next day hunting, and as luck would have it he encountered a white stag that was standing on the east side of the Dusky River. He followed the stag over a tall, rocky ridge that commanded a good view of a nearby hollow, at the head of which was a conspicuous stand of dead trees. He made his way in that direction, eventually encountering the foundations of an old bridge on the other side of a stream. After crossing the bridge he felt a dark presence, and noticed a broken statue on the pillar of the ruined bridge. An extremely lucky Lore roll (no ranks, but a Gandalf was rolled) prompted him to recall childhood tales of the Black Numenoreans who worshiped Sauron back in the Second Age. He made his way back to town, arriving well after dark to find a young man slinking around. After catching up with him, Grimwine asked the nervous fellow what he as up to and he reluctantly admitted that his uncle Arnulf had paid him to let the hogs out. Grimwine released the lad into the custody of the guards before finally getting to sleep.
Meanwhile, Lowthesis and Ranulf sought out the elders, and found Walcaud (The Shepherd) in a rather one-sided conversation with Rathar (The Silent). Lowthesis showed them the parchment he found in the orc bundle, and Walcaud offered to give it to Beranhild (The Sage), who was more learned in ancient lore than he. I honestly can't remember specifically what Ranulf asked them, but their failed mission was brought up. Ranulf spent the rest of the day fishing at the river.
The next morning everyone woke up and the party was finally reunited (quite a bit of real time had passed with everyone split up). They sought out the elders again, and found only Beranhild (The Sage). Grimwine reported to her about the stand of dead trees, and she warned him that the Woodmen do not go that way, and that there was rumored to be old ruins there that still housed great evil. Lowthesis asked about his parchment, and what little she was able to translate described an ancient artifact of some kind that the orcs seemed to be after. She was also asked about the white stags, and noted that sightings were rare, but that these 3 newcomers has already encountered 3 of them (one during the battle at Woodland Hall just before the temporal anomaly, one dead in the ice cave, and one that led Grimwine to the Black Numenorean ruins). It was then decided that the company would attempt their mission again, and investigate the artifact.
Return to the Cold Cave
The party reached the cave with no incidents (and more rope). They noticed a new rune carved into the rock, an orcish "B." Lowthesis guessed that "B" meant "bad," just as they'd assumed "C" meant "cold." I informed them (OoC) that they'd guessed correctly; orcs are fairly simple-minded). Lowthesis once again crafted some torches, and they entered the cave. They first noticed that the deer meat had all been removed. With their extra length of rope (and the pitons spaced a little less safely) they descended into the fissure. After continuing on a short way they were forced to cross a large mound of guano, and looking up saw many bats. Grimwine noticed orc tracks between one and two weeks old based on the accumulation of guano over them (my players got a kick out of that), and they pressed on. The floor became smoother, and they soon reached an archway. Lowthesis appraised the stonework as being very fine, but not Dwarven. As far as he knew, only the Noldor or Numenoreans could achieve this level of craftsmanship. Runes on the flagstone were of the same type as those on his parchment. As they crossed the threshold, a ghostly figure appeared, rushed at them, yelled "pillagers!," passed through them, and disappeared. They entered into a large chamber with 2 doors on the left (both of which led to caved-in tunnels) and 2 doors on the right. The first on the right led to a tomb with sarcophagi lining each long wall and one large one in the middle. Upon the large one was perched an intricately-wrought mithril stand which looked like it might hold some vaguely round object. Ranulf copied down the names (written in those same strange runes) on the sarcophagi, while Lowthesis tried to open one. A ghostly swordsman emerged from the first and swung his sword to decapitate before disappearing. In the second one a robed ghost with red eyes exhaled an incantation before disappearing (though Lowthesis passed his Corruption test). No treasure was found. Then he tried to open the big one, but couldn't. Grimwine aided him, but it still wouldn't budge. Ranulf left the room. Lowthesis tried to search the tomb for any hidden buttons or latches, but to his surprise discovered instead that it was a fake! It was actually a block of solid stone cunningly worked to resemble a sarcophagus. Ranulf circled that name on his list.
Through the second door the company followed a long passage that led into a wide chamber. The chamber was brimming with treasure of all kind! Grimwine wanted nothing to do with any of it, but Lowthesis loaded up enough to max out his load (14 treasure points, I believe), whereas Ranulf took a comparatively paltry 3 points. As they were about to cross the threshold a ghost appeared, simply stating that any who carried treasure out of this room would be cursed. To Lowthesis he stated that gold would be his undoing, and to Ranulf he stated that all of his future songs would be flat until his very final note. Ranulf put the treasure back, but Lowthesis kept his. After passing out of the room I announced that any cursed characters would gain a number of Shadow points equal to the number of treasure points that they took. Bad news for Lowthesis! They made their way back to the fissure's opening and climbed back up.
After emerging from the cavern Lowthesis was shot at by 4 arrows. He advanced slowly into the clearing, shield up, when 4 wargs charged at the company. Grimwine scored an extraordinary success with his spear in the opening volley, killing a goblin archer outright, and then scored a piercing blow on one of the wargs during his first turn. Nice. The battle was short and relatively easy, though Lowthesis did manage to roll an Eye being well past Miserable, and so he gained his first permanent Shadow point and flaw. After reading the flaws his player was excited about the prospect of his character's Shadow-weakness, but we'll see how he feels when I start invoking that flaw. Once all of the Wargs were killed the remaining 3 goblins fled. It was at this point that we decided to end this session. Quite a bit happened, if I do say so myself!