Ranhold’s Journal

LOTRO: Scenes from Haragmar

Before I start let me explain that the tales of daring do, lucky escapes and painful losses you are about to read are not presented in-character, but rather as a straight (if occasionally dramtically emphasised) retelling of gameplay incidents separated by several days. It’s possible some of the elements contained may well find their way into my in-character entries from Ranhold’s journal, but for now it’s best to see these as the daily ‘rushes’ of a film we are working on together with the eventual editing, condensing & distillation of their content the grand project we shall show acros the silver screens of the Nation to an enthralled and rapt public. What? Aww come on! Leave a man his dream, won’t you?

Anyhoo, east of the ruined refuge of Ost Guruth, the last retreat of the Eglain people besieged and battered by the atacks of orc raiders and corrupted nature in the Lone Lands there lies Haragmara strange swamp in a deep, terraced hollow. The waters of this marshy bogland are stained a deep red, it is said by the blood of an ancient & terrible battle, and its inhabitants are wild and fierce. As you rise back out of the hollow on your eastward path, travelling parallel to the Great East Road to your south you find your way blocked by a fallen stronghold, crumpled and ruined and now entirely in the vile hands of lesser Gaunt Lords and their undead thralls. This Nan Dhelu is and you enter only with caution and preferable companions…

Scene 1: A Need of Friends…
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My first trip here I knew something was amiss when the steep terraces that led up away from The Circle of Blood were crawling with bloated, rotting wights. I battled a few, but they were tougher than the last ones I had encountered in Bree-Land and I soon found myself staring at the imposing edifice of the ruined fort and wondering how I would make it through alive if these were just the guards! Luckily my prayers were answered as with a cry of challenge and a crack of metal on sheild a warrior came charging up the hillside and began to lay into the walking dead as though possessed! I ran over and lent him my swords and over the crumbling corpses of the slain wights I offered him a Fellowship. Now whether he too had his doubts about pushing on alone, or he just took pity on one a few levels below himself, I do not know but he agreed and offered to help me in my explorations and quests.

And believe me when I say I needed all the help I could get! The wights are packed in tight so attacking one usually draws the attention of one or two others . The archers stay back and pick off your armour and health with cruel, hard shots. The spewers belch out clouds of rotting gasses in a great, monstrous roar to leave you weakened and susceptible to further poisons. The bloated ones, as they approach their final moments on the end of your sword, buckle backwards and from their distended bellies explodes an enormous curled multi-legged worm-like insect that immediately bites and stings. In a tight spot, with poor planning and bad luck, you can easily find yourself facing five enemies at once and those odds can be hard to beat.

Still, together my companion and I made it through my first run at the fort with no loss of life (well, on our side at least – we sent plenty of wights on their way let me tell you!) and soon we parted, he back to the Great East Road and I back to nearby Ost Guruth to repair my gear, sell my loot and carry on with my quests. Little did I know how soon I would have to return to the confined horrors of Nan Dehlu…

Scene 2: A Rear Guard Assault…
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The tasks seemed simple enough – enter Nan Dehlu, kill x-number of wights, y-number of Gaunt Lords and retrieve z-number of various items. I was by now a couple of levels higher so this should be easy, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. I had been sent into the ruins by a lonely Eglain guerilla Northrim from his holdout in Dol Vaeg on a series of quests. As I skirted the edge of the ruins, attempting to work out my best point of entry I heard the unmistakable sounds of battle nearby. I rounded a corner and found a young woman, a captain of her people it seemed, battling undead wights with her bannerman. I leapt in and helped dispatch her enemies and asked if she would consider joining me. I was mightily relieved when she said yes and we pressed on together retreading the frantic path I had taken before… except this time I pushed on further than before and with every step deeper into the fortress we drew more enemies towards us. The battles were many and fierce, my companion had her work cut out healing me fast enough to allow me to cut the wights and Gaunt Men down, but in the end we were victorious and our time had come to leave… and that is when our woes began.

I knew a short cut out, one the captain may not have been aware of but one I had used a few times before. I leapt down one wall, skirted a roving wight and leapt down onto a raised mound of earth at the edge of the inner court below – from there it was a simple run through the gaps in the ruined walls and we would be out. Except this time two wights had found their way to this normally quiet spot and launched themselves at me! Still, two wights were no match for my swords and I dispatched them relatively quickly, a sudden green glow of light around me telling me the captain had found me and was working hard to heal me as I fought them. I turned to say thanks and was horrified to see, charging over the mound towards us having been alerted by the captain’s carelessly wandering banner bearer, 3 wights and a gaunt man!

The fight that ensued was hard, bitter, dirty and nasty. A bile wight poisoned us badly, the two rotting wights loosed crawlers at our feet, the gaunt man sent in his skeletal warrior and raised a badly decomposing wight corpse to attack us. I did everything in my power, I used every combat skill I’d ever learnt and sent my fingers dancing across keys as though they were on fire, but alas it was not enough and the the banner man fell. He was closely followed by the brave captain and suddenly I was alone. My power was low, my health failing but I fought like a man possessed! I didn’t put a skill wrong as I used every AoE trick in the book to burn down the foul undead around me until I was left facing just the Gaunt Man. By this point it was hard to say who was in the worse condition, both our morale/health was dipping low and our power was all but burnt out, but I had three things he did not, the Second Wind skill, one remaining power pot and the “Oh Crap!” button otherwise know as Dire Need.

As the last of the wights fell I hit Second Wind and the pot in rapid succession and watched my blue bar rise back up to just over 50%, not much but it would have to do. Next I hit the Dire Need button, my power vanished and my morale/health rose by the corresponding amount. If the previous rise in my power had been less than large, this morale boost was worryingly small but it was all I had left and would have to do.

I began to lay into the snarling Gaunt Man with everything I had left. I doubt more than thirty seconds could have passed, but they felt like thirty minutes as I watched our respective health bars hold their morbid race to the bottom. At 1% of my remaining health, a mere 90 points at the time, the Gaunt Man yielded to one last final blow from my swords and as he collapsed into a pile of leathery bones I sat back unable to quite believe my luck. I never saw my brave captain friend again, but let her defeat serve as a warning that if you venture too far east in the Lone Lands you will do well to take some friends with you.

And if you think Nan Delhu is tough, it’s a walk to the shops when compared to Garth Argarwen

LOTRO: Relaxing in the fields…

Extract from Ranhold’s Journal.
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After the horrors of Haudh Iarchith it has been a blessing to return to the Shire, despite my earlier grumbles and gripes. My soul was greatly affected by the terrors I & my friend Enthallion faced and I have slept poorly ever since. It was as I wandered the hills south of Michel Delving in an effort to keep my promise to my mother and stay out of the local taverns that I found myself watching the industrious locals of that town toiling in the fields and I was taken back to my youth helping my grandfather on his small holding.

Before I knew it, and almost without a conscious decision, I found myself asking if I could help. The halflings, whilst surprised, were most generous in their acceptance of a tall stranger treading their fields and soon I found myself dressed in a hastily stitched smock working the land with them. After all the death and killing, it felt good to be working on giving something back to the land, something clean and alive and uncorrupted.

I worked in all weathers to sow the sow the seeds of many a crop, from simple vegetables to the halfing’s most prized breeds of pipe-weed…
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I showed such an aptitude (my Grandfather had tought me well and would be proud) that farmer Proudfoot sent me over to Hobbiton to seek out one of his relatives, Olo Proudfoot, and I have spent many a happy day working on his farm learning new skills and helping to grow much improved crops.
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Master Olo is a wise and kind teacher and grows some of the best pipe-weed in the district (although I would be careful how loudly I say that and who may be in earshot – these Hobbits can be mighty fearsome in their loyalty to one type of pipe-weed and it is a brave man indeed who would challenge them on their choice!). Form my part I have a particular, and to my kinsmen from Dale a no doubt perverse, liking for the Dragon’s Breath weed…
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Still, whilst it has done my heart and soul good to step back from the fire and fury of combat, I know this lull is but temporary and I have many roads yet to travel. But for now I am going to remain in the Shire, especially as these wee folk are all a-flutter in the planning of a great Summer Festival due any day. After that… well then I shall see… I think I shall make my way either to the east as I have an invitation from the Scholar’s Guild to honour in Rivendell, or north towards my heart’s desire of Annúminas on fair Evendim.

LOTRO: The Course of True Love…

Extract from the journal of Ranhold, Champion from Dale.
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Whilst I’ve been running hither and yon all across The Shire (mainly delivering pies or post!) I’ve seen many a wonderful sight in this beautiful part of Middle Earth, but none has warmed the heart of this old warrior as much the following exchange I witnessed in Overhill recently…
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LOTRO: Once more unto the Barrows dear friends, once more…

Extracts from Ranhold’s Journal
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A letter arrived today, the newly re-instated Shire quick post finding me as I delivered my last pie to Miss Hornblower in Hobbiton. It bore the waxen seal of Bree’s Mayor and was addressed to not just me, but also to all Free People of the West who had recently aided Bree in their fight against the corruption inhabiting the dread Barrow-downs. I broke the seal and read the short missive and a cold hand gripped me as I realised being Kindred with Bree bore a price far beyond that which I have already paid. Travellers had been attacked, merchants killed and vital supplies left to rot in the fields along the Great East Road and the unquiet dead of the Downs were to blame. The Mayor all but begged any true friend of Bree to return immediately to aid them in their struggle to push back the darkness. For us, the town’s most loyal defenders, he had a special task: he beseeched us to enter the dire tomb of Haudh Iarchith in the southern fields of the dead and with hearts free of mercy slaughter any and all walking dead we found.

Suddenly I find my recent task delivering pies a very agreeable one indeed, but I owe Bree my fealty and I will answer her call. Who knows, maybe one day I and others like me will be able to reclaim the Barrows once more the honour of my ancestors and I will be able to wander their halls in safety as I study and record their history.

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The horse from Hobbiton was as fast and true as I hoped, but he was not as hardy as my brave Felan and refused to cross the border into the Northern-most Downs, but no matter as I am waiting here myself to see who else answers the call for I don’t believe Haudh Iarchith is a task I can tackle alone.

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Surely it is a grim sign of the times when only one other soul was able to come to the aid of Bree! Still, I count my blessings that the one soul, a hunter by the name of Enthallion, to answer is a warrior of such prowess that for the first time since the letter arrived I have allowed myself to hope I shall see daylight again after I plunge into the darkness of that accursed pit. Yes, I rather think that with Enthallion by my side, or rather I by his for his skills with bow and blade are far greater than my own, this is a fight we can win.

We have gathered our gear and are setting off on foot very shortly. If nothing else I hope my endeavours in this foul place helps the dead reclaim some of the peace so cruelly stolen from them.

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Forgive my haste. This place is worse than we thought. So many. They appear behind us. Too many. Everyw

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I had to run. Nowhere is safe. I owe Enthallion my life many times over. Resting in the darkness. Must go again soon. We are winning, but only just.

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The foul air of the Barrow-downs had never smelt so sweet. We emerged from Haudh Iarchith two long hours after we entered, both of us exhausted by the almost constant battle we had fought deep underground. Wave after wave of walking corpse warriors threw themselves at us roaring a spitting with a fearsome hatred! The spirits that flitted and floated throughout the tomb swooped and dove at us but we fought on. Enthallion was as a man possessed! His bow sang and his blades danced. I did what I could to keep up but I know all too well that I am only alive to write these words because of his great skill and brave heart. I know I did not disgrace myself or shame my father, yet I know that I yet have much to learn in the ways of combat if I am to prove myself and reclaim my family’s heritage.

An hour after we parted in Bree, and with the thanks of the Mayor still ringing in my ears, I found myself back in Michel Delving once more surrounded by the inane chattering of the little folk, only now, after the horrors of Haudh Iarchith, it had never sounded so welcoming. Yes, I have much to think about.

LOTRO: A Hat Full of Hobbits…

Extract from the journal of Ranhold, Champion from Dale.
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Gods… The Shire… If anywhere makes me wish I were back in the Old Forest being chased by rancid bears, screeching bats, howling wolves and murderous trees it surely is The Shire. Oh there’s nothing wrong with the Shire itself. Lovely rolling hills, babbling brooks, shaded glades; the whole landscape is the very antithesis of the dead Barrows or the wild Forest, but its residents are infinitely more maddening!
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From the moment I arrived in Brandybuck I have been assailed by half-pint Hobbits seemingly intent on driving me to the brink of madness with their incessant wittering about food and drink or their endless empty-headed gossip about the wrong-doings of other Hobbits or failings of various family members. And if they’re not chundering on and gossiping then they are dipping into what seems to be a bottomless well of errands they require doing and appointing me their odd-job man and all-round run-around! And they only seem to pay in food!

In the Downs I was asked to rescue a lost child afore she was eaten by wolves. In The Shire I have had to rescue a pig called Sally from nibbling shrews!
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Outside Bree I had to rescue a farmer’s daughter kidnapped by Brigands. In The Shire I had to rescue a sheep from some mangy old goblins!
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In The Old Forest I had to do battle with a spider queen the size of a cart horse. In The Shire I had to scare a big toad back into her cage!
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By all that is holy, I’m a warrior! My line can be traced back to Arnor and the nobility of Annúminas and yet these halflings ask me to deliver their mail (avoiding the ever-eager eyes of their kind’s nosiest gossip-mongers, of course) or collect spoiled fruit pies (all the while staying away from the ever-twitching noses of their kind’s perpetually hungry, naturally)!
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And what do I have to show for all my efforts? Why, a feathered cap from the Bounders. A feathered bloody cap.
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Is it any bloody wonder I’ve turned to drink?
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LOTRO: If you go down to the woods today…

Extract from Ranhold’s journal.
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Bloody trees. Honestly I wouldn’t care if I never saw one again. Oh I know I was yearning for verdant sward, sweet water and clean air when I was skulking around the Barrows, but after two full days lost and wandering in The Old Forest outside Buckland I’m beginning to wonder if I did the right thing in leaving there and coming here – maybe I should have stayed in Bree where there are no bats, bears, wolves and (to the best of my knowledge) huge walking trees that attack you with their roots! I swear I must have felled three dozen of the brutes and still they harry my every passing!
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And if it’s not giant angry haunted trees it’s more bloody spiders! These have been by far the biggest I have ever seen and the desperate few hours I spent trying to escape their huge nesting area in the far south of this Gods-forsaken forest were amongst the grimmest of my life. I still recall the revulsion I felt when the queen of all the spiders found and attacked me – with a body larger than a fully grown bear and legs that raised her taller than a horse, she charged at me with pure hatred in all eight of her disgusting eyes! The battle was as fierce as it was long, with several of her kin joining in to defend their queen (the ones that lowered themselves from the silk-covered trees above me still haunt my nightmares!) but in the end I was victorious. True I have several nasty bites and puncture wounds, but the potions I bartered for in Bree are holding any infection at bay as they heal.
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I can not understand why one such as Tom Bombadil, a man possessed of such power that he could crack the earth and fell a great Wight-Lord as he did when he rescued me from the Great Barrow, suffers these foul creatures to life in and pollute his beloved Old Forest.
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But then I am at a loss to see what he finds so agreeable about such a dark, dismal place as this. Oh I understand that once it may have been a beautiful wood to walk through, but even the fabled Ent Wives could not survive here, leaving only their flowers to mark the places where they were subsumed into the Forest and ceased to exist.
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Everything here is hostile and monstrous in a way that is very different from the Barrow-downs – there the dead have been given life by the long dead Witch-King and as such are almost fated to be evil and murderous, but here life, not death, abounds and still everything seems intent on murder! Every glade and dell, every tree and bush is bursting with vigour & vitality… it’s just that it seems to hate, nay despise! anything that is not from the Forest. There must be a deep, dark scar here – something terrible in this Forest’s past that has twisted it and warped it into a nightmare of its former self. As far as I can see, the only pure thing in this forest is Tom’s wife, Goldberry, who is a women of such beauty that our one and only meeting still makes my heart sing!
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Since then I have completed a great many quests and deeds in the Old Forest – finding two Hobbits who were fool enough to run after a Brigand was the most testing (I have heard tell that a week in the company of these wee folk from the Shire will make even the most patient soul desire to slap them into a lake!) but many other have also been testing in various ways. Still, ’tis done now and I can at last move out of this damnable greenness to explore the open, rolling hills of the Shire at length on my way to see the magnificent ruins of Annúminas on the shores of distant Everdim where I’m sure I can at last rest my sword and attend to my studies of the past. All I need to do first is find the hedge tunnel back into Buckland…

LOTRO: Gorfrik Grinds The Quests… and the Goblins!

Poor the Dwarf… Ranhold’s been having so much fun in the Barrows and the Old Forest (and even the Shire, despite it being overrun with bloody dippy Hobbits) that Gorfrik’s not had much of a look in lately. He has, however, managed to get to level 11 by grinding the bejesus out of the Erid Luin quests. Take some armour here, shoot down some birds there, hack a few goblins everywhere… all good, clean family fun but some were a little dull when compared with the bloody great walking trees Ranhold was facing in the Old Forest(*). The real highlight were the three runs into the goblin infested fortress of Orodost, but I’ll let young Gorfrik tell you about those himself in an extract from a letter home to his old granddad, Greem the Stonebiter:

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The first time I saw it from the Vale of Thain (May the Stones bless his Name) I was really impressed by the huge stairs leading up, lovely bit of craftsmanship even if it was by those dullards the Dourhands, but I was a little less impressed at around half way up when my lungs were fit to burst! Still, I soon forgot them as some lunatic Elf on a horse galloped past at full speed and nearly ran me down heading out of the fort and down into the valley. What could be driving him to take such a risk, thought I? What could cause him to put both himself and his horse in such danger? The answer to my question came in the form of nearly ten yelping and screeching Blue Crag Goblins charging down the steps after him. I remembered your advice Gramps and I kept my head down, my mouth shut and waited for them to pass – like you say, “No sense in getting your fool skull dented for whatever some other fool had done to piss a troll off!”. No, instead I decided to take this opportunity to run full pelt into the now partially empty fort and complete my quest whilst the residents of this charming Dourhand dump were otherwise engaged chasing Captain Pointy Ears right out of the Vale of Thain (May the Stones bless his Name) and back to his trees where no doubt he’d have a ruddy good cry!

The first few areas were indeed empty, their occupants busy bellowing insults down the great stairway behind me (and for goblins they had a surprising understanding of how an Elf reproduces, let me tell you Gramps!), but the next areas weren’t and I had quite a few toe-to-toe scraps as the layout up there is not all that kind to a hunter like me. Luckily I made it through and reached the top area. Unluckily it was crawling with goblin scum! But then the lucky-unlucky see-saw tipped my way again and I saw another fella, a Man this time, scanning the place as well. I sidled on over and proposed we pool our resources to form a Fellowship. Together we were able to handle the mobs that came running at us and we sailed through our quests with ease and were soon heading down the steps in a far more dignified fashion than the silly sod I had passed on my way in. Back in the Vale of Thain (May the Stones bless his Name) at the bottom we split the Fellowship, said our thanks and went our separate ways. Done & dusted. Or so I thought!

Imagine my face when I found out my very next quest was to go back there again! The see-saw of fate had tipped back and caught me right in the shin this time! It was with a heavy heart I trudged into the Vale of Thain (May the Stones bless him) and stealthily made my way past patrolling guards to the cyclopean steps once more. But I must have been wearing my lucky codpiece because yet another Dwarf brother was heading the same way and so we formed a Fellowship bound of a common cause (1).

We shot, sliced, hacked and harangued the stinking goblin filth until we had completed another quest and could once more dance and sing our way down the stairs and into the Vale, casually offing unsuspecting goblins as we went out of a spirit of pure joie de vivre (2) before we too split and travelled our different paths out of the Vale of Thain (May the Stones bless etc). You’d have been proud of me Gramps, and I just know you’d have joined in if your back hadn’t gone lifting that ruddy great boulder. How is Gran anyhow?

So there I was, two trips into Ordost with two wins (no defeats, no submissions) under my belt when my quest handler hit me with a thunderbolt from Thror’s own hammer! I had to go back a third time and recover stolen gold! Now I like gold as much as the next Dwarf, you know that Gramps. Gold is where it’s at. Gold is the stuff. Gold gives me goosebumps. But did I really want to chance my arm a third time for a bag of someone else’s? Yet I had to. Dwalin himself wanted me to see this quest through and there was bugger all I could do to get out of it. I strapped my codpiece tight and set off once more to the bloody Vale of Bloody Thain (May the Bloody Stones Bless the Bugger Once and for BLOODY ALL!).

This time there was no one else around, no other Dwarf or Man I could join with, not even a pointy ear or one of those small, annoying buggers from the Shire, you know who I mean, the ones who keep yammering on and on about food and wittering about their family relations and gossiping about Thorin knows what until you want to slap them clean off a cliff! Well not even one of those useless sods, just me, my bow and my two axes. This was going to be tough, but you know me Gramps, I’ve never let a goblin best me yet and I wasn’t about to start. I was going to use all my cunning and stealth and traps and arrows to silently enter the place and sneak up to the Dourhand who had the gold and relieve him of it (along with his lungs).

So when I woke up ten minutes later reeking of goblin spit and with a Dourhand warhammer imprint on my face, I began to suspect I may have let my natural Dwarven optimism get the better of me. What I needed was a plan… a plan that had already proved itself as a winner, a plan that could guarantee the planner success and a face free of goblin knuckles. So far I had only seen two plans work in this acursed place – one was to go in mob-handed and revel and the other… well the other was a shameful event I was now contemplating with all seriousness.

Kaarak, the small pony I’d bought with the money you sent to Thorin’s Hall for me, was not convinced of my plan, but then neither was I. Still, it was the only plan we had if we wanted this Caveclaw Day nightmare to be over so I checked my weapons, strapped up my armour and began to read from the book of elf magic I’d been given for helping get the Dourhands out of Thorin’s Hall. The tome did its job and Kaarak reared up and shot off like a greased pickaxe! We raced past the surprised goblin guards, up the steps, around the goblin holes, up more steps and through the middle of the Dourhand camp! Of course they chased us but we were long gone and they soon gave up and returned to their posts… except we weren’t gone at all, merely hiding! You’ll have to forgive me Gramps, we Hunters have to do things differently from old Guardians like you or Champions like Gran, you understand don’t you? Anyway, I waited for the guards to retreat and things to calm down again before I lobbed a small stone over the bushes and at traitorous Dourhand’s great fat head. He strode out furiously looking for whoever had dared attack him and this arrogance cost him dear! I leapt up and shoved the tip of an arrow through his eye and the edge of my axe through his belly before grabbing the gold he had stolen and jumping back on Kaarak and running like buggery through the furious goblins! Even Kaarak split a few of their skulls with his hooves as we leapt over them!

There you have it Gramps, it wasn’t my most honourable hour I’ll agree but at least I retrieved the gold, dispatched a Dourhand and thinned out the goblins some more. And honestly, it wasn’t the most shameful thing I did that day… that was when I dropped my britches and showed the howling goblins my great hairy arse as I rode away, but don’t tell Gran that bit, will you?

Yours in need of a good ale,
Gorfrik.

(1) Namely killing goblins before they could kill us.

(2) I think it’s an Elf term… sounds all fancy and pretty, just like something a blimin’ pointy ear would say.
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So there you have it folks. Ranhold’s dodging wolves and bears and walking trees in the woods whilst Gorfrik’s mooning the enemy during a tactical withdrawal… Dwarves are so classy!

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(*) More of that in a future post, suffice to say they don’t call Ranhold “The Woodsman” for just one reason only, you know 😉