Wednesday, 23 January 2013

First Session Part 2: Governor Markot

Trotter and Kurz Lum have left Castle Greatpine and have made their way to the outer ring of the city, an area known as the Sun District that is not shadowed by the boughs of the tree. Ducal script and seal in hand, they have bartered on a fair price from a local coachman, who has agreed to carry them as far as Orn, despite reservations regarding rumors of disappearances from the region.

The three travelers make their way southwest along roads paved with white stone, following the twists and turns of that Karn River. The countryside to the east is flat and arable, and farmers work its every inch. To the south, the countryside begins to roll, and they pass several watchtowers manned by  ducal servants. It is a day and a half journey to Orn, the nearest outpost from the capital and a spot of common archaeological attention.

Orn is almost entirely a normal town, populated by farmers, stonecutters and men who fish the nearby river. Merchants often pass through the town on their way between Waterwall and Greatpine, lending it an air of busyness that the populace alone would not provide. Its only truly notable feature is the keep that dominates the town's eastern side. A block of perfectly smooth stone, seventy feet high and without seam nor mortar, the keep at Orn is a remnant of old Imperial holds on the isle, and is woven with powerful enchantments by the long dead Imperial Magisters. Magisters were ancient enchanters, weaving powerful spells into weapons, armor and even into the walls of palaces and keeps. The keep at Orn has never fallen to invasion, it's walls self-mending. An army could work day and night picking at its walls and find their way no deeper than when they started. Archaeologists come from the mighty Gray Hand Guild to study the walls and the library that the governor, Markot, keeps deep below the keep.

After dropping them off in the city, the coachmen looks about fearfully. "Strange goings on, friends," he says. "Mighty strange. If ya can survive, maybe I'll give you a ride away from these haunted places."

"Many thanks, friend," Kurz says. The pair have arrived near midday and the sun is high in the sky.

The coachman rides off. Trotter leans against a nearby building. "Open your eyes, Kurz," he says. "Take a look around. Midday and no people in the streets. And look up there. Gouges in the crossbeam of that house, like something climbed along the rooftops with claws all a-clicking. And in that alley, looks like dried blood."

"What are you saying?" Kurz asks.

"I know monsters well enough," Trotter says. "And this be monsters, not superstition."

"I think you are reading too much into little, meaningless things," Kurz replies. "Let us seek council with the governor."

The pair wind their way through the town. They see a few people, going about their daily business, but the town has a strange air of stillness about it. A chill runs down Trotter's spine.

"I'm quite sure there's something wrong here," he says.

Kurz glances sidelong at him. "You are being superstitious as the commonfolk, Trotter."

"We are commonfolk, Kurz," Trotter grips his bow tightly. "We have a right to be superstitious."

Kurz ignores him and the pair reach the base of the keep. There is a single visible entrance through the walls, a gate reachable by a single bridge of solid stone over a dry moat. A single guard leans upon his spear at the end of the bridge. He eyes the pair's weapons as they near and straightens.

"What business have you here?" he asks.

Kurz reaches into his pack and pulls out the ducal orders pertaining to their mission. He flashes the seal. "The duke has sent us to speak to the governor, sir. May we have entrance?"

The man squints incomprehensibly at the words, but obviously recognizes the bird imprinted on the large black seal. He swallows. "Of course. I'll lead you to the governor at once."

The adventurers are led across the bridge and into the keep. They are lead down several halls and up a flight of stairs to an upper level, where they cross a courtyard to an inner building. Here, they are led past a series of elaborate doors to the end of a hall dominated by two, massive wooden doors embossed with strange symbols. However, they do not pass through the doors, but turn right and progress up a long flight of spiral stairs to a top level. They are led down a final hall to a simple wooden door guarded on either side by men in armor matching the guide.

"Who're you?" one of the guards asks.

"Adventurers, sent by the duke to help you," Kurz answers.

"More adventurers?" says the guard. "Do you have a script?"

Kurz shows them the ducal seal. One of the guards reads the scroll quickly, then knocks on the door. There is a muffled voice from within, and the guard opens the door and leans in. After a few moments, he turns to Trotter and Kurz and hands them their script.

"Go on in."

The pair of adventurers and their guide enter. The room is austere: no rugs or tapestries as would be common amongst other governors. Shelves of books line the walls to the right and left. The opposite wall is dominated by a huge window. Between the door and the window is a simple wooden desk, extremely well-organized, with a stack of scrolls on the left and a quill and inkpot on the right. Behind the desk and next to the window is a coop of pigeons, merrily cooing in the sunlight.

Behind the desk sits the governor. He shares the Ostengard height and beard, but unlike others of his family, he is less like a tree than a bird. His face is all narrow angles, his body a crow-like cut of fabric. His head is shaved clean, but his beard falls to his waist beneath a hooked nose. His eyes are pale and precise. He is in his late forties or early fifties, but the lines in his face tell of great worries. He carefully wipes the quill he is working with upon a blotter, sets it perfectly parallel to his work and places his fingertips upon the edge of his desk. This is all done with bizarre, ritual care.

"So," he says, his voice a quiet cut of glass. "My cousin has sent more adventurers to solve our problem."

"More?" Trotter asks.

"Did he not tell you?" the Governor raises a hand slowly to his cheek and scratches. "He sent others before you."

"Where are they now?" asks Trotter.

"Dead, I suppose," the Governor's hand returns to the desk. "We cannot be sure. Not yet. But I am rude. My name is Markot Ostengard. I am Governor of Orn."

"I am Kurz Lum," Kurz replies. "And this is my companion Trotter."

"Charmed, I am sure," says Markot. "I am afraid that you have come some way for very little. Several have tried to hunt the monsters before you and have failed."

"We will not fail," Trotter says.

"All adventurer's make such promises, little one," Markot says.

"We mean it," Trotter replies.

"Perhaps," Markot turns half a smile.

"What makes you think these are monsters?" Kurz asks. "From what I have seen I claim superstition and wicked humanity over monsters."

Markot turns a cold stare on Kurz. "I have proof."

"What proof is that?" Kurz asks.

The Governor slowly stands and moves about his desk. "Several weeks ago, twelve members of the Gray Hand Archaeological Guild arrived to study in my library. Not an uncommon occurrence. However, they came across ancient Imperial writings that I did not have the skill to read. They did. There were claims of an Imperial tomb nearby, perhaps untouched since the days of the Empire. Unwilling to let the chance go to waste, they went to the tomb the next day. Only three returned."

"What happened to the others?" Kurz asks.

"The three claim that they found a tomb that was in pristine condition, untouched by dust, rust or time. They were amazed. There were six graves within, inscribed with disturbing images and held in steel cages ringed in spikes and merged with the stone beneath."

"What did the inscribing show?" Kurz raises an eyebrow.

"There are rubbings in my library, but I dare not speak of them aloud," Markot replies. "Needless to say, the archaeologists were not dissuaded. They saw their chance to study Imperial burial rites as never before. They opened a cage, moved aside the lid of a sarcophagus and..."

"And what?" Trotter asks.

"A beast came from within," Markot answers. "The three who escaped knew well enough to run."

"Well, where are they now?" Trotter responds.

"Returned to Waterwall with their findings," Markot replies.

"Then we must go to Waterwall to speak with them," Trotter replies.

"A two week journey there, another two back," Kurz replies. "And who knows how long in the city. Half the village could be killed by then."

"Then to the tomb," Trotter pulls his goatee. "Perhaps we could lure the creature."

"All that is left of those who disappear is a splash of blood, sometimes not even that," Markot says. "We do not know what the beast wants."

"Provide us with goats," Trotter squints. "Or sheep. As bait."

Markot smiles. "Clever. Very clever. The beast has been known to kill livestock. However, they will come for intelligent creatures first. We always find the corpses of the animals."

"We can test its abilities with the sheep," Trotter replies. "Perhaps get an edge on it."

"Very good," Markot suddenly whirls about to his pigeon coop. "I have a good feeling about you two. Perhaps you will finally drive this horror from Orn. Here, take this."

He turns, holding a pigeon. "Surprisingly clever animals. I breed them myself. They can remember many locations, and will fly there at command. This one knows this keep, Castle Greatpine, a few smaller holds besides. If you discover anything, you can send me a message."

"Perhaps you could provide us with a few other needed supplies?" Kurz asks. "Tents? Water? Food?"

"My quartermaster will be happy to oblige," Markot replies. "Is there any final questions? What reward have you been promised?"

Trotter looks about. "An old watchpost near here, to act as our guildhall once we have repaired it."

The smile falls from Markot's face. "Oh," he says. "Oh, my cousin has a disturbed sense of humour. You have been had, I am afraid. You see, the tomb that the beast comes from..."

"Yes?" Kurz arches an eyebrow.

"Is beneath the old watchtower..."

Sunday, 20 January 2013

First Session Part 1: The Duke

The city of Greatpine is remarkable upon the highly divided isle for a several reasons. Firstly, elves and man live side by side in this city with almost perfect peace. This is resultant of the second unique feature of the city: the Greatpine itself. Rising 700 feet tall, with boughs spreading over the city like some strange ceiling, the Greatpine is called the king of trees. The elves of the city make their homes within its boughs, while the humans live below between its roots. A series of ingenious elevators constantly move between the layers of the city, serving as a link between man and elf.

At the base of the tree's trunk is Castle Greatpine, home of House Ostengard, the Dukes of Caldor. The castle was built centuries ago, and the tree has grown much since then. The castle is now as much a part of the Greatpine as the Greatpine is a part of the city. House Ostengard, in turn, is as much a part of the castle as the castle is a part of the tree. They have come to echo the stark power of the walls and roots. Huge in size, these men are noted for their honor and strength. On the other hand, they are also known for their stubbornness and lack of tact. Like the tree, they have grown into the very stone of the castle. It is hard to imagine such a place without the Ostengards and their patriarch, Duke Rutgar.

Once a month, the Duke opens the doors of the castle to any commonfolk who have grievances or come seeking counsel or favor. From the lowest beggar to the highest noble, any may seek council with Rutgar, and he will pass his judgement as law. Men will travel for days just for the chance to line up before the doors of Greatpine Keep. Each prays that they are lucky enough to see the Duke, and pray harder still that he acts in their favor.

And so we find Kurz Lum and Trotter, having arrived to Greatpine at noon on the day that Rutgar opens his doors. In despair, they look upon the line before them, wending from the doors of the keep, around the courtyard several times and finally through the gates of the castle walls. Before them are perhaps 400 men and women seeking counsel, and behind yet more still. They arrived too late, and at the rate that the line moves, they know the Duke will not see them and they will have to wait another month.

"Perhaps we can seek private audience with the Duke?" Trotter says, tugging on his goatee.

Kurz frowns. "The Duke will not see nameless adventurers without a guild. No, we must see him today."

"What then? It is hardly possible to break in," Trotter gestures at the guards.

Dressed in shining platemail, their helms bearing no gaps for eyes or mouth, yet clearly able to see, the Royal Guard of House Ostengard wear the black tabards of the house. Red birds fly across these tabards, and their shields bear the same sigil. At their hips hang swords that glow with magic. Upon the walls, more common guards march, but two of the royal guards stand at the foot of the gate, and two more before the doors. Whatever strange magics give them sight are probably enough to prevent a common thief from sneaking near.

"And breaking in would serve no purpose," says Kurz. He scratches his chin. They pass beneath the gate and stand in the courtyard proper as the line moves. Several long minutes pass as the pair look around, trying to find a suitable solution.

Suddenly, an elderly merchant comes from inside the castle, looking very upset. Behind him, a young man walks out, looking pleased. At their heels is a massive man in the same armor as the guards. He does not wear a helm, and so his curly black beard falls across the tabard on his chest. He has the look of a hardened warrior, as much tree and stone as flesh and blood. His thick brows and broad nose look almost dwarven, but he stands seven feet tall.

Kurz nudges Trotter with an elbow. He has some knowledge of nobility and their lines, and he can recognize an Ostengard anywhere. "That is an Ostengard, perhaps the Dukes nephew or cousin," he says. "He bears the red stripes of command upon his pauldron. If there is anyone who can get us in to see the duke, it is him."

"We can hardly get his attention from here," Trotter says. "Look at all these people. Hear all this noise? Look, he's already leading the next ones in."

"Do you doubt the power of my voice?" Kurz arches an eyebrow. He takes a deep breath and begins speaking, his voice ringing across the courtyard. "Commander, wait! We have traveled many days to see the duke with noble purpose! So long to be turned away so soon! Will you not speak with us?"

As though compelled by some strange power, the Commander pivots on his heels. His eyes narrow as he sees Kurz within the crowd, and he stomps down the stairs, a path opening before him. He stands above the pair of adventurers, a dark shadow in his eyes.

"Are you placing some sort of spellweave upon me?" he says, his voice a cold rumble of grating stone. Up close, he appears even larger than before, his chest and shoulders as broad as any man they had ever seen, his arms as thick as some men's legs.

Kurz swallows. "No, my lord. We wished only to speak with you. My name is Kurz Lum, and this is my companion, Trotter. We have traveled long and hard to speak with the duke for truly good reasons."

"What reasons be those?" The Commander asks.

"We wish to start a guild to help the sick and weary and grant them sanctuary and defense," Kurz says. "We wish to unite all of Cindar beneath a single banner of peace and trust."

"His reasons are his and not mine," Trotter scowls.

"Humph," the Commander growls. "And what have you done that makes you think you are so worthy? Words are wind, but actions are steel and stone."

"I once served Duchess Elenia by healing her daughter of some strange sickness," Kurz replies.

"Not the sort of action I meant, but a noble one nonetheless," the Commander turns his gaze upon Trotter. "And you, tiny one?"

"I once helped the Dwarves near Hade hunt down a marauding troll, saving any number of soldiers and good men," Trotter mumbles.

"I couldn't care less for Dwarves or their problems," the Commander says. "The war isn't so far gone."

"I am sorry for my companion's lack of tact," Kurz says quickly. "But I assure you that he is worthy. I will vouch for his actions."

The Commander scowls, but shrugs. "You seem like better folk than most who come here. Follow me."

The Commander leads them past a series of scowling people, who watch with distaste as the pair are placed at the head of the line. Kurz, noting their looks, turns with a broad smile. "Hear me, people! Do not begrudge us! We seek only to serve you!"

While a few stop mumbling, most continue in anger. Trotter rolls his eyes at Kurz. "People don't always need preaching at."

"People don't always need stories of death," Kurz replies.

"I have saved many lives with a few deaths."

"Yet the deaths are still upon your tiny hands," Kurz looks at Trotter's bow in distaste and the pair fall into silence. This is not the first time they have had this argument.

A few minutes later, the Commander returns, a tired looking old man at his side. The old man wrings his cap in distress.

"It looks like the duke does not always grant the boons asked for," Kurz says.

"Best tread carefully, preacher," Trotter replies.

"Come then, heroes," the Commander says. "This way to the duke."

The pair are led into the castle. A flight of stairs rises before them, carpeted in thick moss. Vines and roots grow up through the stone of the building, acting as pillars and arches and granting the building a cave-like feel. There are three landings as the ascend the stairs, with doors on either side hung with curtains of leaves. Reaching the top of the stairs, a massive throne room rolls out before them. Guards ring the darkened edges of the room, and at the far end there is a raised dais. Above the dais are two great, stained glass windows depicting robins in flight. However, the stained glass is shadowed by thick vines which trace its edges. So dark is it here that guards to either side of the dais hold torches on long staves.

The throne is an edifice of steel, stone and wood, draped in leaves and moss. A Royal Guard stands to either side. The man seated upon it is ancient, easily into his nineties and probably older. However, he still has the hulking size, broad nose and long beard of an Ostengard. He still wears plate armor, cloaked in bear pelts. He has lost his hair, and his eyes are the milky colour of the blind or near-blind, but he holds himself with a regal bearing that reveals the noble man beneath the wrinkled flesh. One of the Royal Guard leans over and whispers in his ear, revealing the arrival of the next petitioners.

"Who comes before me and what quarrel have they?" His voice is surprisingly deep and robust, like his relative nearby.

"We have no quarrel with you, my lord," says Kurz.

"I asked not your quarrel with me but with each other," the Duke speaks.

"We have none," Kurz glances at Trotter. "We come asking you a favour. For some time, my companion and I have traveled together. We have helped many, and understand the need for the guilds to serve the people. However, there is no guild for our purpose. And so we wish to start one, to heal and protect and offer sanctuary to people in need. To gather adventurers with like minds to unite the Duchies and form a frontline against evil. But to do so, we need land. And so we come to you, seeking a land-loan, so that we may build a guild hall and begin our quest of helping the people of this land."

"Do you always speak the ear off of Dukes, or is this new?" the Duke asks. He shakes his head. "I cannot give you a land-loan. Every day, more people come to the isle, seeking succor from the mainland's terrors. The only thing they all have in common is the need for land. Land is valuable, more valuable than gold or silks or spices. I cannot simply give you land on trust. You must purchase it."

"What is your price, my lord?" asks Kurz.

"I understand adventurers are not always  in a strong position monetarily," the Duke replies. "But there are other ways to pay. Like with service. I know of an old watchpost, to the south near Orn. It will serve your purposes. I will grant it to you, if you can do something in Orn for me."

"What is it, Lord Rutgar?" Trotter asks.

"My cousin, Markot, is governor in Orn, studying the ancient Imperial structure there. He has sent me many reports over the past months of strange happenings. They appear to be superstition, but they become more worrying daily. I fear someone may be playing on the superstitions of the folk there to hide dreadful business. People have gone missing. If you can find out what is going on there and put a stop to it, I will grant you use of the old watchpost for your guildhall."

Trotter and Kurz look at one another. "That is a fair price, my lord," Kurz finally says.

"Good," the Duke replies. "My clerk will write up the paperwork. Now out with you."


The land is in ruins. The orcish hordes, led by their god-king Grammir the Beautiful, have conquered, burned and pillaged the mainland for the better part of two centuries. The heroes destined to stop him failed, betrayed twice by their own number: first, by Maximus the Archer, who sold them out for riches, then by Kratonos Halfblooded, who, corrupted by the power of the ancient god Wrath, joined Grammir. The orcish empire had no one to oppose them, and they spread.

But these problems are distant and half-forgotten. As the orcs spread, refugees came in droves to the Isle of Cindar, where they were welcomed by the eight duchies. For 200 years, the population of Cindar has grown, the power of ancient magics protecting the isle and its people from Grammir and his wrath.

While the Dukes and their noble families rule Cindar, the commonfolk more often see the hand of the great guilds. Who can buy and sell, what crops can be planted, who can build a home or a barn, these things are all dictated by guilds. Even who may adventure into the ancient Imperial ruins that dot the countryside must be sanctioned by an adventurer's guild.

And so we join our heroes. First is Kurz Lum, an Aasimar Cleric of a mysterious and unnamed deity. Fair of face and of voice, Kurz has a strange insight into the events that happen around him. Is this simply gut instinct, or is some greater power involved? Unwilling to kill any thinking creature, Kurz has a powerful code of ethics, so much so that he will die rather than kill. This behaviour, and his willingness to preach in the streets, has set him at odds with the pirates of the northern isles. To this day, the villainous Captain Calhoun hunts for Kurz, the only man to have escaped his dungeons. Thankfully, Kurz has the support of the Elven Duchy of Thardia, where Kurz once helped heal the duchess' daughter of a strange disease. Aside from these facts, his past is mysterious, and he has told no one of it.

Next, there is Trotter, the stoic Halfling Ranger. Lost as a young child, although whether through abandonment or some other wickedness is unknown, Trotter never knew others of his kind. Raised in the mountains by a highly intelligent wolf, whom Trotter would later name Manegarm, his life became the forests around him, the stone underfoot. The mountains he called his home were infested with goblins, who would attack the travelers attempting to use the treacherous mountain passes. Trotter became the travelers' silent protector fighting the goblins and, more treacherous still, the trolls the stalked the mountains. One winter, he came upon a group of goblins being attacked by a troll. Sitting in wait to kill whoever was the victor, the troll soon destroyed the goblins, but left before Trotter could eliminate it. Trotter went down to scavenge what he could from the goblins, but the troll returned, the situation a trap for Trotter Trollhunter. Manegarm, Trotter's constant companion, caught scent of the creature before it could attack them, and the brave wolf attacked the troll to defend his friend. The sound of the troll's howl of pain loosened the snow far above and began an avalanche. Caught in the pressing weight of tons of snow, Trotter, the troll and Manegarm were carried down the mountain. Surviving the avalanche, Trotter managed to dig his way out. He soon found the troll, half-buried and dead in snow, but Manegarm was nowhere to be found. Gathering what small things he had with him, unable to return to his home until after the winter, Trotter set out into the world for the first time.

He came first to the human city of Olkand, famous for its smiths and craftspeople. There, he tried to sell raw ore from the mountains to help replace his gear. A kindly smith saw the ore for what it was: incredibly rare and valuable mithril, and promised that he would one day make Trotter a powerful weapon. Trusting this promise, Trotter left the ore with the smith and continued his journey eastward, coming to the Dwarven Duchy. Here, he helped hunt a roaming troll, using his knowledge of the beasts to help the dwarves. His journey then took him north west, to the city-states of the north. Here, he met Eris Glasshair, an Elven thief on the run from Thardian officials. Helping protect her, he fell madly in love and the two spent a single night together. When he awoke the next morning, Eris was gone. After some searching, he left the cities brokenhearted and travelled to the land of the Barbarians, where he stayed for some short time. Unfortunately, his lack of knowledge about the world led to problems when he accidentally spoiled much of a barbarian tribe's winter food stores. Cursed by the barbarians, he escaped to the east, to familiar lands, where he met Kurz in the harbour-city of Waterwall.

The two have travelled for some time together. While allies, they do not consider each other friends. They respect each other's powers and abilities, but their differing opinions on killing causes a sharp divide between them. Kurz believes that no thinking creature should be killed, even monsters. Trotter, on the other hand, believes that killing monsters prevents them from enacting further harm. The two will continue to use each other until there is no further need.

Unfortunately, that time seems far away. Finding that their mission to protect the people, and Kurz's personal quest of uniting Cindar under a single banner, has been dogged at every turn by the adventuring guilds, the pair have made the choice to begin their own guild: a place where adventurers can become a bulwark against the dangers of the world, and where normal people can come for healing, comfort and work. Their first duty is to secure land to build their guildhall, and so they have come to the capital city of the Duchy of Caldor, Greatpine, to meet with Duke Rutgar Ostengard and beg for a landloan....