The campaign kicks off with Ashandir (the tight-lipped elven ranger), Quinn (the mercenary human bard), and Nalla (the hard-drinking goliath warden) looking for work in Harphaven’s seedy Spitted Frog tavern. They quickly find a job with a merchant cartel represented by a human named Buruk Goldenhand: a group of bandits calling themselves the Scarhead Band have stepped up their attacks on merchant caravans in the Bloodseep Hills, between Harphaven and the tiny village of Hillshadow. Goldenhand offers 300gp for the party to clear out the bandits, which he guesses at about 20 in number (most of those desperate but untrained rather than hardened killers), plus discounts on the cartel’s merchandise. When pressed for more gold, he protests that the bandits are eating into his income (and that of his associates), but suggests that if the bandits are killed or driven off, no-one’s going to ask questions about the goods they stole. This is enough to convince the party to take his offer.
All the while, a small group of poor- and desperate-looking travelers haunts the other side of the Spitted Frog’s taproom. They’re fairly obviously hoping to find help from a group of adventurers, but don’t look like they can pay anywhere near as well as Goldenhand and his associates. The party doesn’t make contact with them, and they seem somewhat awed by the sights and people of Harphaven—particularly rough-and-ready adventurers.
The party accompanies one of Goldenhand’s caravans up the trade road through the Bloodseep Hills, Ashandir scouting ahead to look for likely points of ambush. Two days later and about halfway to Hillshadow she finds one: a set of ruins astride the trade road with bandits hidden in their shadows. Summoning her companions, Ashandir leads an attack on the west-most group, her stealthy approach marred by Quinn’s loud stumble as he tries to follow Nalla through a thicket of brambles. Nalla and Quinn charge into combat with the western group’s leader as Ashandir lays down a hail of fire from her greatbow, slaying one crossbowman and driving the other from his position.
Another trio of bandits attacks from the eastern ruins and the caravan’s ox-drawn wagons trudge up the trade road; Ashandir shifts her fire and Quinn and Nalla engage the other bandit leader in the ruins of the north wall. After less than a minute of combat, the crossbowmen are all dead and Quinn convinces the remaining bandit to surrender.
The surrendered bandit tells the party that his group was intended to spy out caravans traveling north along the trade road, signaling a larger force further north and cutting off the caravan’s escape. Prompted by Quinn, he laid out a tragic life story: once apprenticed to a blacksmith in Hillshadow, he ran away after his parents died in a tragic house fire and was taken by brigands; since then he’s known no other life and feels the world owes him for the suffering he’s endured. The bandit fills in the party’s map with information about likely ambush points and the Scarhead Band’s base: a patched-up ruined watchtower to the northwest, just beyond visual range of the trade road. It is apparently built on rather extensive ruins but the bandits keep to its above-ground portion. After he complains about a group of three half-human monsters from the West – the Scarhead brothers – strongarming the band, Quinn lets him go after extracting a promise not to interfere. The now-disarmed bandit flees southward as quickly as his legs will carry him.
Quinn turns to the merchant trader running the caravan (whose sudden appearance during the first fight caused some consternation), and extracts a promise of 100gp from the caravan’s profits in Hillshadow for the party’s close escort. The trader is rather shocked by this demand, but concedes that it’s better than continuing unescorted as the party advances on the watchtower or spending a day more than necessary in the Bloodseep Hills as the PCs clear out the bandits ahead.
As the party scouts out the next ambush site, which they find empty, they hear a great crashing of foliage to the west of the road, heading southeast towards the first fight’s ruins (and the caravan). Ashandir and Nalla combine their knowledge of nature to determine that this noise is produced not by man or by beast, but by something in between. It speaks a language they cannot understand, but by the replies (in the common tongue) given by an accompanying human the PCs discover that it’s investigating the disappearance of the scouts. Nalla and Ashandir maneuver into a position of advantage at their rear; Quinn, mindful of his lack of stealth, stays a short ways behind to avoid spoiling their approach.
Ashandir opens the battle by downing two crossbowmen with a pair of arrows, opening the way for Nalla to charge in and engage the hardened bandit and the huge creature – now identifiable as a (somewhat hungry-looking) gnoll with a huge halberd – with swinging longsword. The bandits respond adroitly, surrounding the goliath and battering her under a rain of blows. Ashandir moves to the eastern flank as Quinn dashes into the melee from the north, in turn flanking the bandit – who is quickly knocked to earth and then slain. The gnoll, flying into a frenzied rage as Nalla bloodies him, hacks about with his halberd until Quinn finally runs him through from behind.
The noise of the melee attracts a pair of bandit scouts, which take a couple of pot-shots with their crossbows before Ashandir returns fire with her greatbow and pins one of them to a tree. The other scout drops out of sight, narrowly avoiding the searching PCs but leaving a clear trail back towards the watchtower’s assumed position. Armed with this information and fearing an attack on the caravan, the party decides to escort the merchants past the watch-tower and perhaps all the way to Hillshadow.
We end at sunset, with the caravan’s traders uneasily making camp at the side of the trade road. (In other words: extended rest.)