Basking in the glow of the villagers' adulation at peacefully solving their problems, the party settled into the inn to drink, celebrate, and unsuccessfully proposition the barmaid (much chagrined to learn that she was a slave and had negative opinions about the current social order of things). The party met a young bard named Walter that evening as he gave a punji concert to anybody (nobody) who would listen and decided that he would make a fine addition to the party. A tentative agreement that "we should really investigate those other bandits . . ." was reached and everybody found their ways to bed and rest.
The morning arrived and the gnomes departed while the party made ready to track down the bandits. Various plans were discussed including "dressing down" and lying in ambush while posing as merchants or helpless travelers amongst others, but it was readily agreed that the best start would be to visit the site of the original ambush and look for any tracks that might remain after 24 hours, and speaking with the sole survivor of the attack that they had rescued. The girl was able to reveal that her parents were spice merchants and that the attack was sudden and violent. Early on she was shot with an arrow and collapsed, but she remembers seeing "a hideously ugly bandit with arms that hung nearly to his knees, perhaps some sort of half-orc" but otherwise they were unremarkable in any way.
A quick investigation of the ambush site revealed some interesting things
Most interesting, though, was the obvious signs of the bandits. Fever was able to make out the initial hiding places of the attackers, how they had charged the field, slain the family, and then carted off the valuables and headed north towards hills somewhat visible in the distance. They were obviously burdened with something heavy (the loot?) as they went. The direction for the party was obvious.
Going quickly, the party happened upon a cleared area surrounded by a "palisade" (really more of a cow fence with delusions of granduer) surrounding several wagons, livestock, working folk, and a series of interconnected tree houses ten or more feet off the ground. At about 150 yards distant, the party was fairly certain they had not been spotted. Sending Harmony the gnome "priest" in for some scouting confirmed that the bandits had set no wary sentries and those with weapons were not paying a great deal of attention to what was going on outside the camp than to chatting with friends and family within.
Plans of battering rams were quickly dismissed and, instead, it was settled that the paladin and the bard would go forward for "negotiation" to provide a distraction while the rest of the party remained as hidden as possible and deployed for an ambush of their own, and so the paladin and the "swishy" bard approached openly calling for a parlay. Cautious, most of the unarmed folk ran immediatly for the shelter of the tree houses while a small squadron of bowmen and a large swordsman held a quick conversation. Sensing an opportunity for profit (seeing only a single paladin and his . . . pet . . . and knowing that the Order of the Eternal Lantern was in the area) in hostage ransoming, the bandits ordered the paladin to lay down his arms and surrender.
Things did not go at all as they had planned.
The duo retreated slowly before the oncoming bandits, drawing them out further into the open. The attack was sudden and brutal.
Seeing the swift and violent death of their fellows, the remaining bandits quickly threw up their hands and surrendered, asking only that theuy and their children be spared. They declared that whatever bandits were left would have been gathered in the shrine by their leader, Hanari. Shouts for parlay went unheeded, so the castle was stormed and the party went in armed for bear.
Luckily, or unluckily, the first door the party walked through proved to be the shrine and, in a bit of turnabout being fair play, a light spell blinded Fever the ranger, forcing him to drop to the floor as a flight of arrows hurtled through the doorway, one of which found a mark in his back. The paladin threw himself over his comrade and into combat and, displaying a remarkable ability to slay any and all foes, set about dealing death throughout the room. The rest of the party swarmed in and, within a few minutes, the entire remaining force of bandits was destroyed. Over the next hour, the party searched the hideout, looted it of all valuables, and returned to the village to a hero's welcome.
One item of note they did find was a letter addressed to the leader Hanari informing him that his payment was overdue and that soon it would be neccessary for his superiors to rectify that mistake. It was speculated that this was only a small branch of bandits under the general managment of a higher, more organized group. This would, in fact, account for the startling lack of half-orc or otherwise hideous bandits as described.
As an aside, I was a little unprepared for the capabilities of a party with so many people in it. They are extremely capable at dismantling just about anything I send in their way, so I think I'm going to begin to pump up the encounters a bit to see about challenging them more. I don't think it would go amiss to see about some monsters that would otherwise destroy such a low level party, but since there's enough of them they should manage. We'll see next time.>