Friday, April 7, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.2 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part 2, the Trial

Played 3/9/2017 to 3/14/2017

Previously, the Warden caravan left Cymru and met a new member.  Here they continue west, stopping at a workgang camp and are called on to server the Law.

GURPS 4th edition has a great line called Social Engineering. If I ever manage to stop being broke, I need to get the others in this series too though I have new hardbacks to get first.

Social Engineering:, Chapter 3 proved helpful in running contested social situations.  During the Trial, I let the jurors ask questions because otherwise it would be boring and it came down to Dinty using Diplomacy and Goreal using Intimidate vs the witness to gain enough information for the jury to make their decision.

***

Hygom
By sunset of the second day on the road west of Cymru, the caravan came to a stop outside the village of Hygom.  Seated on the edge of a granite seacliff with paths down to the small harbor where the boats moored, Hygom was primarily a fishing village.  The new Warden barracks and the Two-headed Weasel Inn sat to the north of the village on the new road. 

The temple of Manoc, god of the sea and storm, occupied the center of the village, while a small shrine to Abadar, the god of trade, had been newly built outside the Two-headed Weasel.  The villagers were a mixed lot, mostly human and halfling, though a few half-orcs and undine also lived and worked there. 

The old road continued close to the coast, but as the caravan cuts north of the village, the sound of hammers striking stone and chanting could be heard.  The wagons came to a stop in a palisaded area to the west of the inn.  Women and men of all races, dressed in simple work clothes, cut stone into regular squares.

Edwina and Otso climbed down from the wagon to stand near Dinty, Nikala, and Goreal.  “Work gangs,” Edwina said, her face pale.  “Criminals, homeless, debtors, you name it.  All sent to the gangs.” 

“And in this case,” Otso replied.  “It seems they are building the new road.”

Hal Saldana made his way back from the three covered wagons in the center of the caravan.  Removing his helmet, he wiped his eyes.  “You’ve been volunteered by me,” he said slowly.  “Well, some of you.”  He looked up at the squad.  “The commanding officer here, Major Ennis, has asked us for volunteers for a jury.  Apparently some gangers are accused of desertion and in the interests of fairness and in keeping the work gangs calmer, they want outside jurors not guards.”  He pointed to Edwina, “You’re too young,” and then to Otso, “And you would just free them no matter what.”

Otso nodded.  “True.”

“There will be a few others from another one of the wagons, but Dinty, Goreal, and Nikala this ought to give you a lesson in how Cymru expects the army, work gangs, and wardens to behave.”  Hal continued.  “Get something to eat at the mess tent.  After, supper we'll have the trial there.  Dismissed.”

The caravanners set their tents to one side of the compound.  As they finished their campsite, the workgangers returned from their day.  It had grown dark and several small fires burned around the compound.  The sky was cloudy and heavy with no light from the stars or moons.  They lined up outside the mess tent and were soon shown inside.  The camp guards and the wardens were given preference over the gangs in who eats when and what.

The food was plain: corn gruel, some burned rabbit, and hard bread.  Nothing which looked appetizing to the garuda, but Nikala had eaten his own kill earlier.  Goreal ate enough for four to five, while  Dinty ate what was set before him. Edwina picked at the rabbit and Otso ate his corn gruel without comment.

The gangers arrived as the camp guards and the wardens were eating.  Spotting Dinty, Otso, Nikala, and Goreal, several of them murmured unhappily. 

Edwina watched the gangers and swore quietly.  “That was almost me.”

Dinty nodded. "Aye, it almost was. The gods are pushing you in a different direction now and Desna saw fit that I save you from that particular fate for now. We’ll see what she has in store for the poor souls that we are to sit in judgment of."

Turning toward Dinty, Edwina seemed thoughtful.  “Thanks, Dinty.  I guess maybe Desna has some ideas for me after all.  Maybe I should talk to Hal.”  She looked up.  “They’re cleaning up the tables but everyone is staying.  Maybe the trial is about to begin.”

As the gangers cleared away the tables and plates, another group brought in a table and set it to one end of the tent.  Soon the camps officer, Major Ennis, an aging human man, told everyone to rearrange their benches to face the table.  Another bench was provide for the jurors.

A robed grey-bearded dwarf arrived with a large leather book locked in iron chain.  He sat at the table, unlocked the book, and called a guard to bring him several papers.  Major Ennis walked through the crowd to direct the jurors to the benches. 

Goreal, as large as he was, sat on the floor beside the bench, while Dinty, Nikala, a dwarf from their caravan, Quintin, and a gnome, Galna took their seats.

The crowd of gangers and guards murmured unhappily as Goreal, Dinty, and Nikala walked to the front.

“Be silent.” The dwarf at the table said without looking up. “I am Magistrate Jean Bordeaux.  You are all hear to witness the trial and verdict related to three accused deserters.”  He shuffled some papers and turned to the jurors.  “We do have any legates here to speak for the law or the accused.”  The Major shook his head.  "Very well."

Sizing up the jurors, he turned to look at Major Ennis, then back to the jurors.  “I will introduce the accused.  I will question them.  You, jurors, may ask questions of me to pose to the jurors should I feel the questions are of a serious nature.”  Staring at Goreal and Nikala, “Do you, jurors, understand what is asked of you and are you capable of fulfilling this requirement?”

Dinty, with a confused look plastered on, shook his head in the affirmative. Nikala remained silent, his eye on the Major as he spoke. He cocked his head in apparent confusion, but kept his words to himself. Goreal seemed tense. He nodded though his discomfort apparent.

Hal Saldana stepped forward.  “Perhaps for all of us you might explain things more fully, your honor.”

Magistrate Jean Bordeaux
The magistrate looked at Hal annoyed but nodded.  “Very well.  You jurors are here to determine if the accused are guilty of desertion.  I will ask them questions.  You may ask questions through me as well.  You will decide for each one, based on what they tell you, if they knowingly and intentionally deserted.  If so, the will hang.  If they deserted, but it was not intentional then the accused will be flogged in the center yard.  If they did neither, they will return to duties with no punishment.”   He glanced at Hal again.  “Is this clear?  Are any of you incapable of determining, fairly without having already decided, the fate of three accused?”

Dinty raised his hand. "Are the accused either horses or dogs?"

The dwarf stared at Dinty.  “I’m sorely tempted to have you flogged.  However, to answer your question.  No.  No horses or dogs.”

Dinty nodded. "Then yes, I can be impartial in my judgement."

“I will be fair.” Goreal said awkwardly. "I didn't expect my first order to place me on a jury, but I am determined not to disappoint."

“Nikala will apply the rules of honor. They have no emotion, no heart. Nikala will not let instinct guide him, only reason.” The garuda shifts one eye around the room, looking at the men in front and beside him. “The Wise Night Flier asks we do not always listen to our hearts, so Nikala will not listen.”

Quintin and Galna also agreed, so Magistrate Bordeaux beat his stone gavel and called for the prisoners. The rear tent flap opened; several camp guards marched in a human with his hands bound in front and wearing leg irons.  Bordeaux read a slip of paper.  “Walt Durgman.”  He motioned to a bench opposite the jurors.

Next the guards brought in a similarly bound half-orc (ur-akesh).  “Arlin,” the magistrate read.

The final prisoner brought forth was a black-scaled kobold. “Meepo.” The kobold blinked as the magistrate read his name.

With the three prisoners seated, the magistrate turned to the jurors. “Any questions you find relevant before we begin?” he asked.  

The gnome juror, Galina, raised her hand.  “Could we know the basics of this case, sir?”

The magistrate nodded.  “Of course.  These three, accused of desertion, were assigned to tree-cutting duty.  An evening a week ago, they went into the woods and did not return.” He made a note on the page and continued.  “A search party with dogs was sent out the next day and after two days of searching the three were found.”

Galina nodded.  “Probably the kobold’s fault,” she whispered to the dwarf juror, Quintin.”  He did not reply.

Dinty whispered to Goreal and Nikala. "I'm sure there's a joke about a human an half ork and an kobold walking into a tavern."  Then to the magistrate he asked. "Good dwarf, was there not a guard watching over these three? If not then, why?"

Magistrate Bordeaux stared expressionless at Dinty for a moment, then nodded. “Major Ennis.  Please come forward.  We have questions for you.”

Major Ennis, looking surprised, came forward.  “Sir, if I had known you wanted me to be a witness I would have dressed in my…”

The dwarf waved his hand.  “You are not on trial here, Major.”  The major swore on the articles of the republic and then stood in the center of the room facing the magistrate.  To his left were the jurors, while to his right sat the accused.  Bordeaux continued, “Is it common practice to permit workgang members to wander off by themselves?”

Major Ennis looked ahead, his eyes stared hard at the table.  “Independent duty is permitted under the rules of the work gang, sir.  The three were assigned to independent duty for tree cutting to provide firewood for the camps.”

The dwarf nodded, wrote in his book, and began to speak, but stopped and looked over at the jurors again.

Goreal cleared his throat, “Y-your Honor,  what reason did the three give for their…” Goreal concentrated “missing?”  He looks slightly uncomfortable after finishing his sentence.

Magistrate Bordeaux turned to the accused and called on Walt Durgman.  “You gave the first account.  The court wishes you to repeat it.”

Walt Durgan
Walt stood. He was a young human male, tanned dark, with a face that seemed old and tired.  “Yeah, your honor, I can do that.”  He looked around the tent and at the jurors.  “Look, we was just cuttin’ wood like we was supposed to when a big band of goblins came by.  We tried to hide, but they seen us, and we figured the best chance we had was to run.  Thankfully, Arlin is so good with an axe.”  He nodded to the half-orc.  “And I told the Corporal that’s where me and Meepo got the knives.  We used the streams to keep ‘em off our trail.  I heard goblins got a sense of smell better than a wolf.”  He stopped for a moment and glanced at Dinty.

“Well,” he continued. “Meepo helped us find a place to make camp and wait the goblins out.  We, got hungry and caught us some coney’s and was roast ‘em for dinner when the search party found us.  I told all this to the Major.  We was all armed, but we didn’t put up no fight when the search party found us.”  He sighed and looked around.  The magistrate motioned for him to sit.

“Did the Major find any proof of goblins in the area?” Goreal asked, getting more comfortable with the situation.

The magistrate nodded.  “Bring up Corporal Roburin.”   A few moments later, a halfling guard stood before them and was sworn in.  “Corporal, you are an assigned scout with the guards and led the search party after the missing workers.”  Pointing to the jury, “The surprisingly wise bear has asked if you found any signs of goblins.” 

Goreal seemed very pleased by the magistrate’s complement.

The halfling spoke without hesitation.  “We found signs that goblins and bandits had been in the woods beyond, but the marks were older.  I found no bodies.  No blood.  No sign of violence where they had been chopping wood.”  He turned to the accused.  “There were attempts to hide their trail as Durgan said, though I found overturned rocks in the stream.” He continued.  “The accused were found at a makeshift camp under an overhanging cliff.  They’d cut brush to hide the entrance.  They had been hunting and were cooking rabbits just as Durgan said.” He paused and looked at the accused and the magistrate.  “When my men approached, they greeted us.  They did not run and offered no resistance.  Durgan told us about the knives and he told us the goblin story.”

The magistrate nodded.  “Thank you for now, Corporal.”

He turned to the tent.  “We will take a short break.  Jurors you will be escorted to another tent to discuss the case.  Do recall that a decision will be made for each prisoner individually.”

The accused were led away through the rear tent flap, while the jurors were led the other direction.  One of the gangers mumbled. “Savages deciding our fates,” under her breath.

The guards led Dinty, Goreal, Nikala, the dwarf, Quintin, and the gnome, Galna to a small tent with a table and some benches.

Dinty offered when they were in the tent. "It's true goblins do have a keen nose and if a large group were after them it sounds like they would have had little trouble tracking them. Wild goblins would have a few trackers as good as the halfling in a large party. I think they manifested the gobo from thin air to suit their needs."  Looking at the other jurors to weigh their reaction, he continued.  "The scout sounded capable enough, he didn't seem to think the tracks were very fresh and he only saw them in the area. He didn't say the tracks were following the three. Which they would, at least for a time till they lost the trail."

The gnome, Galna, nodded.  “I say hang them all.  Especially the kobold.”

“I would like to hear what the other two have to say since we are judging each of them.” Goreal sai with a grunt.

Dinty agreed. "We need more to make a proper decision, but I dunno like what I'm hearin'":

Nikala stood against a wall, his eyes on the floor, where they remained even as he began to talk. “Ran from battle. Why not circle around, try to find the rest of the brood, come back? One hunter is weak, and sometimes even three cannot bring down big ground-walkers.” Nikala looked up at his fellow jurors. “Confusion? Or running?”

The dwarf, Quintin, who thus far had been silent spoke.  “Mostly, I could care less about the accused’s guilt or not.”  He pulled out a small pipe, filled and lit it.  Taking a deep inhale, he blew smoke rings into the room.  “Does it matter,”  he said finally, “who they are or are their actions all we need to know?”  He shrugged.  “I’m willing to hear from the rest as the bear suggests, but this whole thing sits poorly with me.”

Galna stared at Quintin.  “I’m surprised you aren't taking this more seriously, dwarf.  I would have thought you would be concerned about discipline in the work gangs.”

Quintin only shrugged. They all waited quietly. 

By the time the guards returned the jurors to the mess tent, the moon had begun to set and the camp was much darker though Quintin, Dinty, and Goreal had little problem seeing in the dim light. 

Once again seated on or near the juror’s bench facing the accused, they waited on the magistrate.  The kobold, Meepo, looked tired and his eyes darted about the room.  Walt watched the jurors, while Arlin stared at the floor.

Finally, the magistrate, Jean Bordeaux, returned, and they were ready to resume.  Goreal asked to hear from Arlin and Meepo, and the magistrate agreed.

Arlin stood slowly from his bench and shuffled to the center of the room.  “Do you have anything to add?” Bordeaux asked.

The half-orc shook his head.  “No, it was just like Walter said.”

“I see,” said the magistrate.  Next he called Meepo.

The kobold approached the center of the room slowly.  He smacked his mouth dryly.  The lantern light of the tent made his black scales shine.  “Well,” said the magistrate, “what about you?”

Meepo looked at him with a start.  “Huh?”

Magistrate Bordeaux cleared his throat.  “You charged with desertion. That means leaving the camp without permission.  Do you have anything you’d like to say?”

Meepo looked confused.  “We no leave camp without permission.  We gets permission to cut trees.”

Bordeaux shook his head.  “How did a kobold end up on a work gang?”  He turned to look at the Major.  “Meepo, have a seat.  Major take the floor.”

Major Ennis returned to the position in the middle of the room.  “How did this kobold end up in the work gangs?”

Ennis nodded and opened a leather journal.  “Accused of starting a fight in a tavern about a year and a half ago.”  The room chuckled.  “When he was caught, he had stabbed another bar patron with a knife.  Assigned post trial to a work gang for three years. He’s been in a few fights since he arrived, nothing serious.  Overall, Meepo is obedient, but not very bright.”  Bordeaux leaned back and looked at the jurors.

Dinty raised his hand. "Did Meepo see any goblins or did he just continue to do as he was told?"

Walt Durgman looked at the Dinty with an expression of surprise and irritation.  Arlin did not look up from the floor.  Meepo blinked and looked at Walt and Arlin. 

The magistrate cleared his throat.  “The accused Meepo will answer the question.”

The kobold started at the magistrate and then at Dinty.  “Meepo has no idea what he is to say.”  A harsh murmur broke in the crowd.

Dinty asked. "Whether or not he truthfully saw any goblins, if he speaks true then he has done a good job."

Arlin
Meepo stared at Dinty, then at Arlin, then began to cry.  Magistrate Bordeaux spoke. “If you are found guilty, Meepo, you could be flogged or hung.  Does that change your mind?

Dinty asked. "Meepo, why are you crying?"

As Meepo continued to sob, Arlin, the half-orc, looked up.  His face set, he started at Dinty then the magistrate.  “Dammit, leave Meepo alone.  He had nothing to do with this.” Walt Durgman turned to look at Arlin.

The gangers began talking at once.  Magistrate Bordeaux slammed his stone gavel onto the table, shouting for the guards to quiet everyone.

Magistrate Jean Bordeaux  shuffled his papers.  The room had quieted down by the time the deep rumbling voice of the shmkia asked.  “Does Arlin have something new to add?”  Goreal wonders, “If not, would questioning of Meepo in a more private setting be allowed, as it looks like he may be afraid of the others on trial.” 

Nikala turned his gaze to the outspoken accused. “You would save yourself a great mark on your honor by not allowing this small one to suffer for his silence,” he said. “If you wanted to go far away, to leave, the crime would not weigh so heavily if you were to speak to this one's innocence.”

The half-orc, Arlin, looked over at the magistrate.  “I’d like to add something, your honor.”  The dwarf nodded.  Arlin stood slowly, tired, and walked to the center of the room.  Walt stared at him, his mouth held tight.  “I’ve been in the gangs about five years now,” Arlin began.  “You can ask the Major.  “I came in when I was a kid.  Got involved with some toughs in Cymru.  We knocked over houses, bashed heads of the owners.  Got caught and sent to the gangs for ten years.” 

He looked around the room.  “Now, I ain’t saying this so you will feel sorry for me.  I just want you to know where I came from when I say Meepo’s ok.”  He looked over at the kobold sobbing quietly.  “He had nothin’ to do with any of this.  It was all Walt’s idea.”

At this, Walt Durgman jumped up and rushed Arlin.  He began to choke the half-orc, yelling.  “Why you little…..” when the guards grabbed him and held him down.

Arlin, now free, coughed. “I didn’t know you could run so fast in leg irons. Huh.”  He coughed again.  “Walt got us on tree-cutting.  Was easy for me to get on it.  Walt thought Meepo’d come in handy if we needed to hide.”  He turned and faced the jury.  “If we did our jobs right, Walt said we could join up with his old outfit in the north.”  Facing the magistrate, he continued.  “That idea beat the hell out of busting rocks for five more years.” 

Sighing, his shoulders sank.  “I suppose I deserve to hang.  I’ve hurt some people.  I knew we was goin’ to run.  But there’s no way the kobold should.  He didn’t do nothing wrong.  Meepo was scared when we told him, but Walt said he could go home.”

Arlin returned to his seat and sat with his head down.  The guards led Walt out of the room then returned for the half-orc and kobold.  The gangers, the wardens, and the guards were silent.  “Very well,” the magistrate began, “take the jurors to their tent to come to a conclusion.”

***

Dinty, Nikala, Goreal, Quintin, and Galna filed out of the mess tent.  As they passed the wardens, Hal Saldana stood near the aisle and nodded to them. Once in the mess tent, they were provided with a pot of hot tea, cakes, and pipe tobac.

Quintin, the dwarf, lit his pipe.  “It’s a hell of a thing.”

Galna, the gnome, took a cake.  “We should hang all of them as a warning.”

Nikala shook his head. “Hang the little one, no. Would you hang a messenger from another nest who brought ill-tidings?” He absentmindedly smoothed some feathers as he spoke. “The Tusken spoke the truth. Admitted to desertion of the brood. But hang him, and hang also any chances of your brood bringing these matters to your attention.”

Dinty replied while eating cake. "I say we hang the human, flog the orc and give double duty for two months to the kobold! They're all guilty of something, but they don't all have to swing."

Goreal nodded. “I agree, that seems a wise and fair decision Dinty.”

Galna looked around annoyed.  “Well, I still say hang them all, but I agree with the goblin.”  She laughed.  “Never thought I'd say that.”

Quintin poured himself some more tea and relit his pipe.  “Wasn’t so long ago we found bird-person here stealing and killing livestock.   Why’s he different?”  Quintin took a deep puff.  “Your Edwina was guilty, but she's in the Wardens.”  Quintin sighed.  “I’ll support your decision.  Better we move on quick.”

A few feathers on the top of Nikala’s head raised, as if in protest. “Nikala was only hunting. But yes. The Tusken’s crimes are lesser. He has only the desire of freedom and not the sense to see where that desire leads him to folly.” Nikala paused. “These grounder work gangs, maybe they have bad ideas. Maybe.”

Dinty finished his cake.  "Then it's decided, let's let em know we're ready to write all this down."

Quintin put out his pipe and called the guards for paper, ink, and a quills.  He began writing, pausing to sharpen the quill.  Finally, when he was done, he read the verdict to the jurors.  Corrections were made, and they called for the guards a second time.

Late now, the gangers, the guards, and the wardens stared bleary-eyed.  Quintin told the magistrate they were ready, then stood in the center of the room, and read the verdict.

Walt Durgman cried and thrashed as he was sentenced to death by hanging.  The guards held him down as the magistrate announced he would be hung at dawn. They afterwards led him away.

Arlin nodded when he found he was to be flogged and not hung.

Meepo cried and thanked everyone when he learned of his double duty for two months.

Finally, the gangers were led to their bunks by the guards, and the wardens came to congratulate Dinty, Nikala, Goreal, Galna, and Quintin for making it through the ordeal. 

Magistrate Jean Bordeaux informed the jurors that they were expected to be at the hanging in the morning.  He then stopped Dinty, Goreal, and Nikala on his way out and congratulated them on their keen insight during the trial.  He told them to contact them if they had any questions.

***** 

The 18th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers:  in a workgang camp north of  the village of Hygom, two days west of Cymru

The next morning, just before dawn, the guard, the workgangers, and the wardens stood around a gallows erected that morning.  The jurors stood close by, while the magistrate waited on top. 

Walt Durgman, escorted on either side by a guard, walked out of a distant tent toward the crowd.  His legs seemed like jelly and his face even paler than the night before.  As he approached, the crowd could see his legs were restricted by a length of rope just long enough for him to slowly walk and his hands were bound.

Lifted onto the scaffold by a pair of guards, he stood blinking as the dawn broke over the horizon.  Major Ennis took Walt to the rope and placed it around his neck.

“Any final words?” the magistrate asked.

The crowd looked on: the guards bored, the gangers tense, the wardens with mixed emotions.  Otso stood nearby dressed in his formal robe, waiting to perform Morrit’s rites.  Edwina watched the sunset on the trees instead.  Hal Saldana stood at attention staring past the events.

Hal Saldana remain silent, standing next to the wardens.  Walt cried and yelled.  “You’re making a big mistake,” then the trap door opened and he fell, neck audibly snapping.

Nearby Edwina, looking ill, turned and walked away.  Otso spoke with the magistrate that had climbed down the ladder and agreed on rites and burial.

Dinty turned to Hal. "Cap’n, excuses sir. I think we should bring on the half ork. He’s loyal to a fault and would be loyal to us if we gave him a bit of freedom. He could join me squad of irregulars! And if he runs I'll hunt him down myself and fix that mistake."

Saldana turned to Dinty and smiled.  “Excellent thinking, Corporal.  I’ll arrange it with Major Ennis.  Did you want the kobold too?” he asked watching Walt’s body swing.

Nikala nudged Dinty a bit. “Nikala could find use for a small grounder. More eyes. He would not be disloyal, fareah.”

Dinty shrugged. "Having the kobold along would help cement both their loyalties and they often make good scouts, plus I think Nikala wants a pet. He says with a wink at the bird-person."

The paladin nodded.  “I will speak with Major Ennis.” He turned to them.  “Otso will be performing funeral rites soon.  Assist him and then we will begin packing.”

Dinty nodded. "Aye sir, I head over to Otso and ask him what needs doing."

Cedars
A pair of guards carried Walt’s corpse through the gate of the outpost and to a grave in the forest.  The morning wind blew cool and the cedar needles rustled gently over the funeral procession.  Otso carried a small bag over his shoulder. 

Once they had gathered at the grave site, Otso instructed the men to set Walt on the canvas beside the hole.  He anointed the swollen face with scented oil from his bag.  “Ideally, he said.  I would have liked time to strip and wash the body, but this will have to do.” Removing a stick of incense from the bag, he stuck it in the ground and lit it from a flint strike.  The heavy smell of sandalwood soon covered the site.

“On, Dancer of the Dead, Piper of the Dirge, today we send you Walter Durgman.  His time in the physical plane has ended again, we way pray you return him to the the marble palaces that lay beyond our world where he will wait his return.  May he remain in the Wheel until his journey is complete.”  Otso sprinkled flowers on the body.  “Protect him from the curse of undead, guide him in his voyage, and may the next time he returns see him wiser than this.”

Otso motioned to the guards and they lowered the canvas into the grave.  He took a handful of soil and tossed it in.  Then began walking back to the camp.

*****

At camp, the half-orc Arlin, shirtless, stood tied to a central pole, while Major Ennis approached with a whip.  The cracks and grunts filled the morning air just as the hanging had an hour before.

Otso looked on the scene with a drawn mouth.  “I will have to put him back together enough to travel.  I suggest he ride in the wagon today, Dinty.”

Dinty nodded. "If that's what you think is best. We need him up and mobile, sooner than later. He's no good to us on his front in a wagon. He's your responsibility until then Otso."

Once Arlin had been flogged, Major Ennis directed the camp guards drag him to the last wagon of the caravan.  There Otso had prepared a space for the half-orc to lay.  Praying, spreading lilac petals, he washed Arlin’s torn back and sealed some of the wounds.  A quiet kobold sat on a box at the rear of the wagon.

“Alright, Dinty,” Hal told him marching to the three central wagons, “time to go.”

Dinty said. "Alright, you heard the good paladin. We're movin out. Time to bring up the rear. Keep it tight you lot."

****

The conflict in this mostly boiled down to the party using contested social skills to convince Meepo and Arlin to tell them more information.

Goreal spent some points to add Magistrate Jean Bordeaux as a Contact.  It's only 6 or less right now, but he can increase it later.

The PCs received a free point in Law (Cymru) as well.

I highly recommend GURPS Social Engineering.

The story continues in Fragments of the Last War 2.3 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part 3, A Camp by Night.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.1

Session played: March 4, 2017

Our first session for Volume 2, this played out as a strict investigative game where I gave them clues and they decided what to do.  Its Hour Come Round at Last is my bi-weekly tabletop game played in GURPS 4th edition.

***

Monday, June 12, 1916 - London

At the end of the previous week, MI 18 HQ in London contacted Alaard Vick, Geppetto Ponzi, and Reginald Smythe III and asked them to come in Monday morning - Smythe asked for elevenses.

Monday morning, Alaard took the train into London from Oxford, while Smythe had Nigel drive him, and Geppetto took a carriage.

They arrived just before (or just after) eleven am and were shown to a sitting room in the basement that Lady Margaret had setup next to the new library.  She and Alaard worked to create a London library for occult books.  The more delicate works were to be kept at the Oxford site.

Lady Margaret served as the Librarian of the HQ Library and also entertained.  Her sitting room opened into an atrium that ran through the center of the building where she had arranged a flower garden and water features.

When everyone had arrived, she called for tea, cakes, and a bottle of brandy.  She gave her hand to Geppetto and Alaard, but kissed Smythe on the cheek. 

"We have a few items to cover before Watson arrives," she told them.  "My researchers and newspaper cutters have found two incidents to bring to your attention."  Stirring her tea, she read a sheet of typed paper in front of her.  "The first is a newspaper item from the Times, March 1865.  Oxford girl, A.L. disappears between Godstoy and Bisney in October of 1864.  She returns one March after noon and was found in the river.  She thought she had only been gone a long afternoon rather than six months.

"She claimed to have found a hole and to have visited another world where she met horrific creatures who threatened her as well as strange but beautiful creatures.  She appeared unharmed other than her dunking.  Doctors assumed some kind of exposure madness but could not explain the missing time."  Lady Margaret handed the paper to Alaard he reread the copy of the cutting closely.

"This is nearby my home and our Oxford branch," he told them excitedly.  "I will speak to my daughter, Viola, and ask her to see if there are any local records."

Lady Margaret smiled.  "And I will have the researchers continue to look for related information.  Granted we only have four researchers right now and two clip newspapers."

Ponzi huffed.  "We need to hire more people around here."

Alaard added.  "Give the nature of what we do, you can't just hire anyone"

Lady Margaret stirred her tea. "The other item on the morning agenda are a series of explosions heard near Colchester."  She withdrew a series of newspaper clippings.  "These explosions were heard at an estate, owned by one Jason Bourcher, residing in Fingringhoe near Colchester."  She passed around the newspaper clippings of the sounds of explosions at the estate, the police investigation, and interview with Bourcher,.

Smythe poured himself another brandy and asked, "How are we involved?"

She opened another file.  "After the police investigation, MI-5 did their own.  Just like the police they found nothing unusual.  The house is old and in disrepair.  No sign of German saboteurs, which is what they suspected.  Here's the MI-5 report."

Lighting a cigarette, she continued.  "However, Watson has us monitor reports that come in from Richard Donovan II.  Donovan worked for Scotland Yard and MI-5 now after the reorganization."  Taking a deep inhale of tobacco, she withdrew another report.  "In his personal report, he mentioned seeing a three-eyed bird on the estate.  His version was not included in the official file and Donovan was placed on administrative leave."

"Why does Watson monitor Donovan's files?" Smythe asked her, passing the report on to Ponzi.

"His father," Lady Margaret replied, "was Richard "Dick" Donovan of Scotland Yard, the Home Office, and later the Lamplighters.  A contemporary of your own father, Reginald.  You might have read his detective stories in The Strand when you were boys."  Turning to Alaard, "or young men."

Alaard looked up from the report of the three-eyed bird.  "What happened to the father?"

Lady Margaret nodded. "Many of his cases dealt with jewel thieves.  From the files though, it seems these jewels weren't anything the police could identify.  No diamonds, rubies, emeralds. Just odd crystals."  He closed the file and passed it to Smythe.

Smythe sat his glass on the table.  "Let's see if we can get someone out to fetch Donovan's records at Scotland Yard."

The door to the sitting room opened and John Watson arrived out of breath.  "Sorry to keep you waiting, Lady Margaret. Gentlemen." Taking at an empty chair, he accepted a small dish of cake and a cup for tea.  "Now, the matter I am about to discuss is related to a personal friend, so I expect your delicacy.  That said, his concern is related to the work we do here."  Watson ate some of his cake and tea before continuing.  "Last night, I dined with my old college friend, Edward.  Edward Call.  He's now an affluent physician living here in London."

Clearing his throat he continued. "Recently, he was invited by a colleague to join some fraternal order in South London.  I assumed it was some Freemason imitator and wondered how much poor Edward was being taken for." He began rummaging in his coat pocket. "When I saw the name, I determined the department should investigate."  He passed a business card reading Order of the Silver Gate with a stylized gate.  "It could be nothing, but I have asked Call to be available for dinner tonight.  This is department business but...:

Smythe leaned in and took the card.  "I know just the club."

***

That evening the team met Doctor Edward Call at a a plain building in Knightsbridge..  No recognizable sign identified the places, but once inside Smythe led them to a quiet room on the top floor overlooking Hyde Park a few blocks away.  The decor and furniture was expensive without being opulent, and the wine was excellent.  All had dressed in evening formal, while Smythe sent Nigel around to Edward with a rental.

Like Waton, Call was in his sixties and now a retired physician.  Mostly bald and thickset, Call, Watson had told them, had been an avid equestrian as a young man, but a fall let him walking with a cane.  He admired Smythe's club - "One of my clubs," Smythe admitted - commenting on its tastefulness.

 Their dinner interview went smoothly, Dr. Call remaked he had been invited took to be a neo-Masonic social club but now had his doubts.

“Everyone was friendly and well-spoken.  Many of the members are well off and I believe of high intelligence.  All in all they seem a good group of men.  I came way with a most favorable impression of the Order and the sort of person they wanted as a member.

“And yet, I could not help but finding it an odd place.  There are far more employees than seem necessary and they aren’t all the right sort of help.  Low class, foreigners.  One of them, a tattooed Pole I think, had this strange three bladed fan-like tattoo that seemed to move on its own when I looked at it.  Nearly made me sick.
There are entire floors of the building that are sealed off from prospective members.  I took a wrong turn after going to the Water closet and was escorted back by that tattooed pole fellow. The whole place has an air of secrecy to it.”

At the mention of the tatoo, the team took interest and asked Call about the next meeting.  Call noted their next meeting was that Friday, June 16, 1916 and he would be happy to bring them as potential initiates. 

*** 

Tuesday, June 13, 1916 - London

 The next morning, the team met with Watson to discuss their dinner and the Order of the Silver Gate.  He agreed it fell under their domain for investigation.

Alaard spent the day searching (Research roll) for anything about the Order and located a reference to a book Daemonic Kultes of London written by  Herbert Grobenach of Paddington in 1735 that mentioned the Knights of the Silver Gate.   He also found the name of a local historian Barnaby Pritcher who wrote extensive histories on West Barnes.  His contact at the British Library agreed to search for the books.

He and Lady Margaret's newspaper clipping staff also found reference to a missing man from Mitchum, a neighborhood near Motspur Park (formerly West Barnes)

The London Times - June 1, 1916
  • Police today sought the information from the public concerning the puzzling disappearance of Mr. James Clark from his home at 1312 Newton Circle, Mitcham.
  • He was last seen at home by his wife at about ten o’clock on Monday night.  Mr. Clark is of medium build, brown hair, and 34 years of age. An omnibus driver reports seeing a passenger resembling Mr. Clark headed toward West Barnes at about 2:30 in the morning. Mr. Clark keeps a law office in West Barnes. His is a public-spirited, outgoing personality. Friends at Masonic Hall and at the Order of the Silver Gate expressed dismay when apprised of his disappearance.
Lady Margaret also briefed them on a followup to the A.L. case in Oxford from the 1860s.  Her researchers the day before found an account from April 1875 about a girl A.L. of Oxford who claimed to have gone through a mirror  and returned.  She became ill after refusing to eat and died two weeks after her wild claims began.  Autopsy showed all of her organs were reverse of normal.

While Alaard stayed at headquarters for research, Geppeto Ponzi contacted (Contacts) some associates in the Irish mafia of London as he looked into the Order and their muscle.  He found - thanks to Diplomacy, Charisma, and Luck - they had been supplying the Order with a steady stream of Eastern European security at surprisingly high turnover.  He also found they were avid purchasers of the morbid paintings of a Belle Epoque French artist, Sabine Chanteur.

Smythe spent the day at his clubs discretely asking about the Order or anything like it and finally came across a flier regarding a weekly lecture series sponsored by the Order called: Look to the Future. Furthermore, his tennis friend David Archibald, whose father was a member, told him there were two leaders: John Scott who ran things, and Carl Stanford who gave speeches at the Order and the Look to the Future.

*** 

Wednesday, June 14, 1916 - London

The morning of Wednesday, the team met up at London HQ again for tea, cake, and brandy, while Lady Margaret Jameson gave them any updates.  Two new agents to MI 18 but with police experience had been dispatched to Colchester, or more precisely to the village of Fingringhoe to investigate the explosions and any three-eyed birds.  The pair checked in the day before on arrival and were staying at The Whalebone.

Lady Margaret's researchers found another reference to disturbances of the Oxford area.   

April 1876, a year after the death of A.L.
  • Reverend Doctor Eric Bellman led a team of investigators to determine what had happened to A.L. on the river.  They claimed to have found a hole that appeared and explored it.  
  • His entire team, which notably consisted of a Reginald Smythe I, vanished after the hole disappeared. 
  • Six months later all but Smythe were found floating face down in the river.  They were each reported as mad.  
  • One of them, George Butcher, had changed.  His skin was glossy black and his hair glossy white.  He died three days later.
  • A journal was found on Bellman, but was written in nonsense rhyme.  One passage wrote, "It has taken Smythe.  Beware the JubJub bird!"
  • One P. Fogg of London arrived to take charge of the scene and had the entire group committed to an asylum.
Alaard mentioned his daughter, Viola, had been unable to obtain the medical files, but was now going to visit any of the locals who might recall the incident.

 Ponzi decided to tail Richard Donovan and learned from the man's housekeeper he had been spending time at the British Museum and Library the past few days.  There he found Donovan looking into the Bourchier family of Fingringhoe, books on Norse myth, and trying to find a copy of the Demonic Kultes of London.  

Alaard and Smythe visited James Clark's wife in Mitchum.  Smythe charmed Annaleigh while Vick questioned the housekeeper.  Smythe steered the conversation to the garden where he learned the members of the Order of the Silver Gate had given Annaleigh a present: a blue spore mushroom.  This he collected.

Alaard learned from the housekeeper that Annaleigh had taken a large payoff from the Order in order to stop searching for her husband.

***

The story continues with Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.2,

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.1 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part 1, Departure

Played 2/28/17 to 3/9/17

In volume 2, I decided to run a hybrid play-by-post and online game. The following begins the adventures of a squad of Cymru wardens.  It takes place four months after the events of FoLW 1.24, but only includes Dinty and Edwina from volume one.

***

The 15th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the city of Cymru, on the continent of Tirane, on the world of Eifer.
Horror from the Pit

In the months following the opening of the Horror-Portal to the south, the people of the city of Cymru had been on edge.  Many of the holy warriors and priests of Grumbar as well as Desna went to fight back the incursion.  The Cymru Counsel hired troops to accompany them, and later shipped all prisoners out to workgangs supporting the warzone and the other hinterlands.

Finally, winter came to an end, though barely.  In the months that followed the opening of the Portal, the weather had worsened.  Though never a bitter cold climate, the winter of the Year 21 and 22 after the Opening of the Caers experienced brutal snows and ocean storms.

After the dissolution of the North Cymru Irregulars, the members went their separate ways.  Malpais Rana woke from a fever dream and headed south to his people.  Grind and Piper traveled east in search of a hidden Fae city.  Louis went to bed one night and was not seen the next.  Nota’Cor, Rolli, Dinty, Edwina, and Al took the clockwork automaton, Zanpip, back to Professor Andalus before going their own ways.  Nota’Cor was determined to hunt the wizard Rista.  Rolli vanished as quickly as he had come.  Dinty returned to the service of the Temple of Desna - with some chastisement and penance from the Priestess.  Edwina returned to the streets, stealing what she could to buy medicine for her sister.  While Al, disappeared without word.

As the winter progressed, the Cymru Counsel formed the Cymru Wardens in an attempt to patrol and defend the villages and towns loyal to the city.  Since the noblin patrols had also gone south to fight the Horrors, the Wardens were also tasked to keep the roads open.

Recently, the goblin Dinty, with permission from the Temple of Desna, joined the Cymru Wardens.  Soon after he found the human, Edwina, jailed for theft and sentenced to serve on a work gang at the Horror-Portal. Dinty convinced the Cymru City Guard to reassign her to the Wardens.  For the next week, Dinty and Edwina split a bunk bed in the North Gate barracks along with other Warden recruits. The ten or so other recruits kept to themselves.

Finally the time came for the new Wardens to leave Cymru.  One afternoon during a particularly nasty rainstorm, one of the ranking members of the newly formed Cymru Wardens, entered the barracks, informed them that the next day they all marched north, and they would be divided into teams of five under a Warden Commander.

Just before evening mess, the recruits marched to the center of the barracks yard and stood still, while three wardens (a pair of dwarves, and a human) approached.  The two dwarves took turns calling names until they had five recruits and then led them away to eat.

The human stood before them looking wet and tired. He wore a visible symbol of the goddess Desna around his neck.  “I will spare you any embarrassment and not give a speech about how great you are.”  He eyed them.
Corporal Dinty

Dinty (a fine goblin of noble bearing with a prominent nose and devastatingly beady eyes that often looks confused) he knew from the Temple.  The human girl, he knew Dinty had recruited from jail.  Otso, the samsaran - a healer on loan from the temple of Morrit - stared off into space blinking and muttering.  Rounding out the group, was the enormous shmkia, Goreal, with its big bearlike head with small black eyes and wild coarse brown hair, snorted tiredly and stared at Dinty; the goblin simply nodded to the warden.

Scratching his butt, Dinty hocked a loogie and elbowed Edwina.  He was sure she wasn’t paying attention.  Edwina jumped with a start, blinked, and looked around quickly realizing she’d been staring again.  Dinty looked around at everything, except the behemoth bear staring at him.

The human cleared his throat.  “For those of you who do not know me, I am Hal Saldana, Paladin of the goddess Desna, blah, blah.”  He spit.  “Don’t think the paladin bit means I’m nice or only drink milk.  I was a soldier before Desna called me.  And in this business, I’m a soldier still.”  He stared up at Goreal.   “You have joined the Cymru Wardens.”  He eyed each member of the group.  “Your job will be the thankless task of defending the frontier and trying not to die.”  Spitting again, Hal walked back to his place in front.  “Therefore, you will need to learn to rely on your team members.  Or your ass will be a rotting corpse.”

“Dinty, you have been promoted the rank of Corporal in the Wardens for your experience, my familiarity with your skills, and your unfortunate membership in the North Cymru Irregulars.”  The human glanced down at the goblin.  “This isn’t the army.  You role will be support and logistics.  You will make sure this motley bunch pulls together.”  He pointed his thumb at the shmkia, “Sometimes, that just means pointing them in the right direction and hoping.”

“We will be recruiting more for our station as we travel, but until then this is your team.”  He saluted.  “Desna have pity on you all.  Dismissed until first light when we march out.”

Dismissed, the new recruits shuffled off to mess before settling in to pack their gear and get ready for their journey.
Otso

Otso, the samsaran, watched the his squad mates depart with a cool detachment before slipping back to the barracks. He spread his last orchid flower petals on the floor and lit a stick of incense, then kneeling before his bunk, he prayed to Morrit the Piper, Lord of the Dead to protect them on their journey or else return them to the Wheel for rebirth without the taint of undeath.

He quietly focused on his breathing, trying to call up a memory of his before-lives, but his mind remained blank.  Smoothing his tunic with his thin blue hands, Otso smashed out the incense and gathered the flowers.

Opening the windows to the barracks, he let the flowers drift off in the spring winds.  “Well, time to eat.”

***

The 16th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the northwestern section of the city of Cymru

The next morning, up before dawn, Hal Saldana’s squad of Warden’s stood by the last wagon of the caravan.  A few minutes earlier, the paladin had led them here and told them that the Wardens had assigned this squad guard the rear of the caravan.  “It’s because I’m human,” he spoke bluntly.  “They’d prefer my squad in the back.  Less reliable, the Colonel said.”  He spat.  “I will be guarding the center wagons with the other paladins.”

He examined the squad.  “Dinty, I leave you in charge.   That means making sure everyone stays together, and if we are attacked try to keep everyone alive.”  He pointed at the shmkia.  “Goreal, you are too big for the wagon, so you will have to walk.  The rest of you can walk or ride.”  He nodded and looked at the sun, “Let’s hope the gods don’t decide to have fun with us today.”

Dinty saluted Saldana and then turned back to his squad.  “Right, you lot heard the man and by Holy Desna we’ll watch the rear like no other! Watch your backs, watch your squadies backs and above all else be wary of any four legged creatures we might encounter. They're all in on it!”  Otso frowned at the comments on four legged creatures.  “ Edwina you're with me. Goreal you stay 10 paces back as a rear rear guard and the samsaran can ride the wagon.”  Dinty skill Teamster at 10.   Roll 3d6.  Result 6.  Dinty skill Tactics at 10.  Roll 10

The samsaran climbed into the back of the wagon and stowed his pack and staff. “I am called Otso.” It was soon obvious to him that Dinty had worked caravans before as he expertly organized the wagon and the draft horses then positioned his team for defense.
Goreal

Goreal, wanting to add to the conversation, mumble his replies.  Being ten paces back, he realizes he’d have to raise his voice loudly for anyone to hear.  “That’ Dinty’s a little bossy,” he said, “but he seems to know what he’s doing.”

The samsaran sat among the bags of food and other supplies.  He watched the sky brighten as they traveled beyond the western gate. “The gulls have not arrived yet from the north,” he told Dinty.  “I can not recall a time in all my lives, when the gulls had not already come to Cymru this month of the year.”  Otso shook his head and watched the shmkia trying to listen and stay back.  “This summer will be unlike any other.  Cold and wetter in Cymru.  Who knows what it will be like in the village where we will be stationed.” Otso, Racial Memories - IQ 13, roll 11.  Skill Naturalist 13, roll 13

“I don’t know what birds have to do with anything,” Dinty replied surprised.  “I don’t think they're in on it.” He waved his hand toward Otso. “I try not to think about things I don’t understand.  Gawds, don’t give me a headhurt or you’ll get first watch at camp tonight.”

As if summoned, a shadow darkens the wagon as a winged creature flew overhead, silhouetted against the sun for just a moment. There was a whoosh, almost silent, as the creature’s wings beat against the sky, and then plummeted soundlessly toward the earth, it’s shadow widened on one of the goats being herded behind the wagon. As the creature rapidly draws closer, it shrieked a cry that is equal parts raptor and man.

As the creature fell, it came into clearer view. Roughly the shape of a man, but with huge feathered wings that opened to slow its descent, it spun at the last minute. Bringing its feet down toward the ground, huge black talons sprouted from clawed feet adorned with golden feathers. Brawling at 13 - Roll 9

The goat slammed against the ground, and the talons dug into its flesh, sending rivulets of blood streaming down the animal’s sides. It bleated, answering the beast’s shriek with a cry that was likewise almost human. The predator landed with a crouch atop its prey, then stood to its full height, easily a head taller than an average human.  A pair of huge yellow eyes took in the surroundings before its wings beat the air again; it rose.

Dinty and Goreal both have Combat Reflexes and made their Perception rolls against the surprise. Otso also reacted.  Everyone else was surprised this round.

Dinty shot a withering glare at Otso. “You brought this on us.” He pulled his crossbow and aimed it at the interloping avian terror. Calmly taking stock he said, “We’ll gladly exchange food for services. Far be it for me to prevent the death of a four leg, but you should know that if you steal our food not only do you break the law of Cymru. You also open yourself up to being its replacement in our stockpile. Licking his lips he looks pointedly at Goreal who is behind the raptor. What do you have to say fer yerself?”

Goreal moved menacingly towards the birdman, responding to Dinty's glance.  He prepared to strike or grapple and keep the thief from flying away.

The creature had startled the horses drawing the wagon, and the driver struggled to keep them in check. Otso scrambled toward him to lend a hand.

The Garuda eyed Dinty and his crossbow, then his talons reflexively tightened around the goat. However, his wings began to patter a little faster, and he slowly descended toward the ground. The goat, still alive, bleated in pain.  Something like confusion came over the creature’s avian face, but it made no move toward the long pole-arm strapped to its back, nor toward the roped harpoon looped around its belt. Finally, the bird-man spoke in a strangely accented Dwarvish.

“You would feed Nikala? You would bring a great dishonor to you and your family,” the Garuda said, folding his wings across his back completely.

Goreal watched for Dinty's command and wondered: "Why would the bird-man would kill the goat, if eating it will cause others dishonor?"

Dinty said. “I don't know nor care about all that honor and foolishness. I know that we could use a good pair of eyes to help us watch for danger and another sword arm never hurt the cause neither. If it makes you feel better we could let the bastard loose before you stole it.”

Nikala looked around, eyeing those who’ve stopped in their tracks at his intrusion. “This one is Nikala. This one will take your food and give you eyes. Yes. You have no honor, but neither has Nikala.”

The wagon driver driver with Otso’s aid steadied the horses.  Edwina, standing beside Dinty stared surprised at Nikala until finally she realized she had been staring.
Paladin Hal Saldana

From in front of the wagons, came yelling as the dwarf Warden Commander Angus Gravefury and paladin Hal Saldana approached the scene with guards in tow.  “Is this the thief that’s been raiding livestock?  Where are the nets?”  Hal Saldana raised his hand.  “A moment, Angus.”

Approaching the group, he paused.  Saldana stood over six feet tall.  Dressed simply in a common clothing and chainmail, only his symbol of Desna marked him as more than a mere soldier.  “Dinty, what is going on here?”  Eyeing the Garuda, “Any reason you flew into an armed caravan and killed a goat?”

Dinty mocked. “This one is Nikala. This is our new scout, he's taken my offer of food in return for keeping us aware of what might be creeping up on us. It's up to yerselves of course but I think we could use some eyes in the sky. Plus he looks like he could fell a horse in one blow!

Nikala eyed Saldana, regarding him with caution. “Nikala has no honor. Nikala must hunt. The brood no longer has need of us or our bloodlines.” Then, turning to Dinty, he says “Nikala does not like horse. Too much is wasted. Too many eyes to Nikala, make it hard to hunt.”

Dinty slapped his leg. “Do ya hear that cap’n he don't like horses neither! We definitely need him now.”

Hal stood for a moment then looked behind at the angry dwarf, Angus.  “Dinty, the godsdamn dwarves would as soon hang him as recruit him.”  Hal watched the garuda thoughtfully. Loudly he called,  “And you Nikala, you admit to stealing livestock?”

The paladin looked from the dwarves to Dinty.  What a day, he thought. “Ok. Nikala.  Do you accept the offer of pardon I, by way off the impertinent yet ever resourceful goblin Dinty, offer you?”  He stopped and started at the garuda. “Swearing, on whatever gods or honor you believe, your loyalty to the Cymru Wardens, to fight in defense of the people of the villages, the roads, the towns, etc, and also to stop killing their damn animals?”  Hal spat.

Nikala turns his eyes to the goat beneath him. It has bled out while the conversation continued. “I cannot bring this one back.” He catches himself. “No stealing. Only hunting. Only thought hunting was especially good around the stone ground nest. Sometimes, hunting is best close to the nest.”

Otso, the samsaran, walked closer.  “I’m afraid it is correct, Commander.   The goat is dead.”  Nearby, Edwina suppressed a snicker.

One of the dwarf commanders stepped forward.   “I dunno like this one bit,” he said, his voice thick with the accent of the eastern Caers.  “You want a bird to swear?”  Angus laughed.  “”Why not you’ve already got a bear?"  And pointed to Goreal who looked up at the mention of his name and gave a big toothy grin.

“Yes, Nikala will swear. Nikala has no honor but does not wish to be dishonorable.” The Garuda straightened, appearing strangely excited, youthful. “Nikala will bring you eyes. And bring you his blade. Nikala will bring you the sky for your kindnesses.”

Hal nodded. “Welcome to the Cymru Wardens, Nikala.”  He took his butterfly pendant and said a brief prayer.  “With us you will defend the roads, the villages, the towns, the people.”  He thought for a moment.  “And the livestock, from bandits, soldiers, monsters from beyond, and your run-of-the-mill goat-eater.”  He turned to Dinty.  “Show this one the ropes.  Best case we get it to the frontier where we can get him fully settled.”  He turned to the caravan.  “We’d best be on our way.”

Dinty laughed. “Right you are cap’n! All right you lot, back to it! Don't act like you've never seen a samsaran summon a birdman afore!"

Goreal interjected quietly “I have not”.

Dity waved the bear off.  "And you Nikala, time to start earning your keep.”

That night the caravan stopped at a waystation.  Camp was made.  Food was eaten.  Watches set.

Being used to a soldier's life, Dinty does what he always does. He says his prayers, sharpens his weapons and keeps a close eye from a sensible distance on the caravan horses. He makes his rounds and makes sure the others are doing their jobs. When he gets a chance he will extol upon Nikala the evils of horses and revel in Nikala’s “shared hatred” which he assumed was Nikala’s meaning when he said he "didn't like horses.”

***

The 17th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: on the road west of Cymru

The next morning they packed and moved on to the village of Hygom.  Everyone seemed in better spirits after a night's rest and a full belly.  As the caravan took to the road, the samsaran took his staff and set pace with the shmkia.  Despite camping in an old tent beside a dusty waystation, Otso’s clothes looked neat and his white beard groomed.  He carried a hunk of dried beef, which he cut in half, the offered part to Goreal.  “Good morning to you, shmkia.  We haven’t had much chance to talk.  I am Otso.”

Goreal took the dried beef, which looked small in his giant hand, and ate it in one bite.   He grinned at Otso, “It is a good morning; Atgur blesses us with his presence!”  Goreal looked to the skies while shading his eyes.

Otso laughed as he picked out the shmkia’s words over the chewing.  “Atgur?  Our sun in the Old Tongue.”  He smiled calmly.  “Do your people revere Atgur?” he asked.

“Atgur protects all, Atgur will be there for us whether we show reverence or not.”  Goreal says with a smile and a nod.

Otso watched the large bear-like creature thoughtfully and debating for a short moment patting its arm in understanding.  “The gods are like that.  And yet, what does Atgur ask of you?  For myself, Morrit the Piper asks us to contemplate the Wheel and the return we will surely face.” Glancing at the early morning sun, he continued. “Many of his followers hunt the undead and the necromancer as Wheel-breakers, but the Lord of the Dead has many faces.” Otso paused.

Goreal said. “Atgur asks for nothing.  We follow Atgur’s example, to show our gratitude for the protection Atgur provides our world.”

“I see.  You revere Atgur, yet he demands nothing of you.”  Otso laughed. “Perhaps, I should have followed Atgur instead.   Morrit can be exacting.”  The samsaran watched the cypresses sway in the cool spring air.   “What does Atgur tells us about the chill this year?”

Goreal looked a little confused, “Atgur is not a god of words, Atgur is a god of action.  Atgur fights the cold and dark, no matter how long it may take, victory will come. Does Morrit share the secrets of the gods with his followers?” Goreal eyes grew wider at the prospect of this.

Otso considered the question.  “He does through his teachings, his priests, dreams and visions to his followers.  As Atgur warms the earth and dispels the night,  Morrit teaches us about the Wheel and our place in it.”  He stopped and drew a circle with spokes in the dirt with his staff.  “We are born, we live, we die, we travel to the place beyond and await rebirth.  Morrit protects our travel after death and struggles against the curse of undeath.”  Otso continued walking.  “We priests of Morrit lay the dead to rest.  Other times we heal the sick and injured.  Sometimes we return some to the Wheel when it is clear they are too quickly embracing Chaos.”  He sped up a bit to catch the wagon and keep up with Goreal’s long strides.

Goreal spent the rest of their conversation pondering if slowly embracing Chaos was somehow better.  He worried that asking about this might look stupid.

***

When they stopped at midday to rest, the paladin Hal Saldana returned to the rear wagon to check on his troops.  Nodding to Edwina, who sat idly on the edge of the wagon eating a pear, he went looking for the garuda.  The girl watched him go, licking her fingers of pear juice.  She glanced at the olive trees nearby.

Beneath them sat the Garuda, kneeling on the grass and dirt, his wingtips dragging patterns in the dust. As Edwina watched, the Garuda looked to the sky, reaching out with another hand to pick something off the ground. As Nikala lifted it, Edwina realized it was a rabbit, likely something the Garuda had drummed up on the hunt he’d presumably left on at the crack of dawn, returning before most of the camp, save for the last watch, had awoken.

The Garuda never took his eyes off the sky, but held the rabbit above his head. The blood had long since dried to clots in the rabbit’s fur, like Nikala had saved the animal for this occasion. Looking back down, there was a rending sound, and Nikala stood again. He was, she realized, tearing the creature apart with his hands and beak, but he consumed none of it’s flesh. Instead, he scattered the animal around, tearing it apart joint by joint.

From a nearby olive tree, a raven squawked, then glided to where Nikala was finishing this grisly task. The raven began to hop around the ground, picking at choice morsels here and there, seemingly inattentive to the other birds that began to launch themselves out of the trees to partake of this feast as well. There was a cacophony erupting in the olive grove as ravens and other birds walked the ground around Nikala, who kneeled amongst them with his head down for a moment, then stood again, walking away from the buffet he’d created for his smaller cousins.

Hal approached the olive grove, fighting a feeling of disgust.  Desna counsels us to judge only those who consort with Horrors, he thought, not to judge those whose ways are not our own.  He glanced at Edwina, who now looking ill, tossed her pear away.

Approaching the garuda, he called.  “Nikala, I want to talk.”

The garuda shifted his head, showing Hal the side, one giant yellow eye focusing on him, the pupil large, but narrowing in Hal’s direction. “Yes,” Nikala said. “I have many words for you. Ask me which ones to say to you.”

Hal took a deep breath.  “You agreed, when talking with Dinty, in joining us, but I wanted to see if you knew what you were joining.  We are the Cymru Wardens:  new group formed because frankly most of the soldiers and guards have been shipped south to fight the Horrors.”  He turned to observe the dwarf commanders.  Not yet time to go, he thought.  “You said you had no honor.  Why is that?”

Nikala blinked that huge yellow eye. “No nikala has honor. We are cast out of the nest.” He breaths a sharp puff of air, something that might be a forlorn sigh. “We..I fight for my brood’s mother, for her to be Matriarch after Matriarch died. She is defeated, and now her children are all nikala. Our honor is lost, our right to the blood of the nest, gone. We must go, or face death.”

“I’m not sure I completely understand,” Hal told him.  “You have no honor?   What will you swear by then?  Your gods?  Your family?”  He paused.  “The Wardens are new enough we have no set traditions.”  He glanced at the Nikala and looked again at the pieces of rabbit.

The eye stared, unwavering, though after a long moment, it blinked. “Nikala will still swear to the gods. Swear to Great Brood Hen. Wise Night Flier.” Finally, the garuda breaks his gaze, sweeping an arm around the olive grove. “The One Who Eats Death, I have just made offerings to him. I would swear to him. Or to the Watcher, who watches over the Cousins, who watches over all nikala.” He touched the long pole arm strapped to his back, the blade glinting menacingly as he followed up with a strange hand motion. “The Hunter, who gives us bounty and keeps the ground creatures safe until harvest.”

He fixed his gaze on Saldana again. “Swear to all of them, or the ones Hal Saldana chooses with his words.”

Hal thought for a moment watching carefully.  “Swear to defend those who need your strength and to your duty as directed by your superiors in the Wardens so long as as such orders uphold the common good.”  He coughed.  “By what gods you revere, by your life and blood, and by your weapon.” Hal spit in the dirt.

“Yes. Swear to all my gods. Defend those who have need of Nikala’s strength. Swear to act with honor, though I have none, and to listen to your brood’s leaders. Swear to uphold the common good. By my gods, my life, my blood, and my weapon.”

Hal saluted Nikala.  “Good.  As a Warden Commander, I declare any and all crimes you may have committed against the Republic of Cymru to have been pardoned.  Welcome to the Wardens, Private Nikala.”  He began to turn and stopped.  “When the time comes to face whatever fickle Fate has chosen for us, may we all do so unwavering and clear-eyed.”

***

Still feeling ill from watching the bird-man destroy the rabbit, Edwina climbed down from the wagon and decided to find Dinty.  Walking beside the other wagons and squads, she stopped suddenly when someone called her name.

Dinty spied her by the wagons and called. "Awh Ed, how are you enjoying your first caravan? Keeping a safe distance from the evil in our midst I hope."

Looking around nervously, Edwina replied.  “Umm, what evil, Dinty?  Is there something I should know.”

Dinty laughed. "No, no… (under his breath) she doesn't know, shouldn't scare her. ( Louder) Oh no, nothing at all, just discussing the weather and what not. It's an unnatural cold and there's no birds. That's what Otso told me! But don't fear you have the paladin's and the faithful followers of Desna at your side to help ward it off!"

She smiled with relief.  “I’ve always thought it strange you have been a soldier instead of a wild goblin, Dinty.”  Surprised by her words, she continued.  “And a follower of Desna.  How does a goblin do that?”   She leaned against the wagon and watched Dinty.

Several humans, a gnome, Galna, and a dwarf, Quintin,  sat near their wagon and became agitated at the sight of Dinty and Edwina talking so close to their wagon.  Finally, the dwarf called to them.  “Look you two.  Watch what yer doin’ wit our wagon," he drawled in an Eastern accent.

Dinty smiled at Edwina. "Nothing to worry about good saer, I'm watching it sit there and she lean against. I'm good at watching things, that's why I'm a warden! You'll never have to fear of things not being watched with swarthy wardens such as myself around! Why … whoa, hold on… oh nevermind I thought that this tiny lass moved your wagon a hair but rest assured she did no such thing. You're welcome for my observance of the situation. Now my companion and I must go over there and watch other things."  With an exasperated sigh, Dinty motioned for Edwina to follow muttering under his breath about not needing more things to watch.

Edwina followed Dinty across the clearing.  “You handled them pretty good.  I guess you got that from soldiering so long?”

Dinty shrugged. "Some, but mostly growing up in the temple of Desna taught me that words will get you out of many perils when you are my size. Wild gobo rely on their numbers to win the day. I must rely on my head and alliances with bears and ogres and bugbears and really anything on two legs that is really big...Bird people..."

Edwina smiled.  “And human girls, too.” The sound of shouting could be heard around the wagons.  “There’s the sign to march.  Guess we’d better get back.”

The story continues with Fragments of the Last War 2.2 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part II, The Trial.

***

We've been using Google Docs for the PBP.  A good start but some kinks to work out.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.0 - Volume Two: MI-18

September 1915 to June 1916 - The United Kingdom
Dr. John Watson

Following their return from Paris, the Lamplighters, working with Doctor John Watson, began transitioning their organization to the Directorate of Military Intelligence,   While MI-18 would be part of the greater intelligence network, few were to know the true nature of their work.  Since the current cadre along with Dr. Watson were the senior members of the new organization, they sat down to identify the mission of MI-18.

 1.  Much like their predecessors, the group felt that defending the United Kingdom and the World from malevolent monstrous creatures and those who would use said creatures or lore to cause harm to humanity was the primary goal of MI 18.
  • They were still uncertain as to whether the rat-faced creatures represented a hostile threat.  
  • To this end, MI 18 purchased Merriweather's land near Recluver Kent, and has begun the setup of a building in place of the the old house where preparations can be made to enter the caves.  
  • Watson is looking for soldiers who can deal with what will find and then train them in the usage of flamethrowers.  
  • Bertrand spent time at his house in Shropshire understanding and eventually communicating with the Sword of Paracelus.   He soon began calling it the Sword of Fenrir, who despite "false propaganda" was an enemy of the aetheric Horrors. This marked the first usage of the phrase aetheric for the current Lamplighters.  
  • They worried about Bertrand Merriweather's mental health, but Allard and Doctor McKinley weren't much better.

2. With David Watson incapacitated, much of the history, artifacts, and libraries of the Lamplighters could not be found, leaving them with many questions about the secret history of England and those who defended it.
  • They identified the search for artifacts, books of lore, crystal-tech, and the histories and treasures of the Lamplighters as one of the major goals of MI-18.  
  • Allard Vick has helped set up the beginnings of a Library and Basement storage for non-dangerous artifacts at the new headquarters. 
  • When Dr. McKinley is not using it, he stores Der Gerbrachen Tram here.  
  • Lady Margaret Jameson, recruited to MI-18 by Reginald Smythe III, oversees the library and artifacts as Alaard is mostly in Oxford unless in the field.  
  • Lady Margaret also began studying the book, the Magnus, which Smythe bought for her at the Paris auction, and is learning Enochian and Dee's ceremonial magic.
  • Also, Jameson and Smythe began seeing each other socially and are courting.
Lady Margaret Jameson

3. Doctor Thomas McKinley and Alaard Vick both felt MI-18 needed research labs, and Alaard found an abandoned 19th century coal power plant near the house he and his daughter share.
  • Vick is a librarian at Oxford College, and because he revealed much of what he learned to his daughter, then tasked her with research, Dr. Watson found it necessary to bring her in.  The daughter is only a Dependent at this time, so she doesn't operate like an Ally for Alaard.
  • Alaard chose a building for his research with the ankh he purchased in Paris.  Contacting it in a meditative state, the ankh told him it was a servant of Isis and could teach him Kemetic magic. Alaard routinely has his mind filled with visions of the past and has even come to believe he might be a reincarnation of a god or pharaoh.  
  • I built a symbol magic system (with severe minuses) that relies on Thaumatology, Symbol Writing (Kemetic), Ritual Magic (Kemetic).  This permitted Alaard to begin learning symbols - thus far he knows Create and Protection as VH skills capped at the lowest of the previous skills.  He also takes a -5 to the rolls, but that can be reduced to a -4 if an hour is spent meditating before hand. (Meditate skill)
  • He then draws - failure makes the process take longer and a critical failure means he starts over - the symbol on something and activates it later.  The margin of success determines the Damage Resistance.  I am thinking he could receive either bonuses to his roll or to results if he used an additional skill like Calligraphy or even metal working for a longer affect.   
  • The ankh promises to teach him more, but we have already seen some strain on Alaard's mind.
  • Also, McKinley and his research biologist friend at Cambridge identified the blue spore and fungus as being ingenious to Lake Toba on the Island of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies.
  • The doctor took over one warehouse of the research facility to grow his own fungi (including those he'd found in medieval France) under laboratory condition.   He noticed odd behaviors among the rats he injected with the blue spores, including their eyes turning blue.
  • McKinley also found, from his readings in Der Gerbrachen Tram, that smoking the spores and meditating could generate the dreamlike states he'd experienced before where he could share thoughts with this fellow Lamplighters even if they were hundreds of miles away.  He had a much harder time with one he didn't know.
  • His experiments with the blue spore, meditation, dreaming, and Der Gerbrachen Tram led him to a vision of the past in which Sherlock Holmes, Reginald Smythe II, Tali's father, and several others were in a glen in England rushing toward a wagon all while avoiding a giant anthropomorphic plant that sliced people in half with its scythe hand.  When the opened the wagon door and saw a man with no skin and no eyes sitting in a chair - very alive - McKinley woke screaming.  
  •  McKinley learned a Precognition advantage called Dream Visions and a linked Mind Reading and Telecommunications advantage called Dream Share.  They only work when he (and if he has a target) is/are dreaming.

4. Smythe and Ponzi felt that one of MI 18's important roles was to Gatekeep information regarding what they are currently calling the Unnatural.
  •  As such, they argued that much information needed to kept from the public.
  • Also, that those who possess such knowledge must be recruited or dealt with by violence, threats, bribes, etc. depending on the person.
  • Beyond, Alaard's project to examine libraries, Ponzi argued the need for a newspaper clippings office to look for any odd stories they needed to investigate.
  • Both Smythe and Ponzi mentioned they would use their different social networks (the elite and the criminal classes) to monitor anything outside the papers or police.
  • Dr. Thomas McKinley
  • Both spent time networking in their social circles.

5. Finally, Watson and Smythe - in agreement - reminded the team that as supporters of the English Crown (whether by birth in the case of Smythe, McKinley, and Merriwether or by adoption in the case of Vick (perhaps reluctantly) and Ponzi.) they had a duty to provide England with a Technological Advantage over their Enemies, current (the Central Powers), and possibly future (everyone else.)
  • They were particularly interested in finding more of the clockwork/crystal tech and hopefully replicating it.  
  • They were also interested in portal technology that could lead them to other worlds or times with technology they could use.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.0 - Volume Two: The Cymru Wardens

Volume One of Fragments of the Last War ended with the dispersal of the North Cymru Irregulars.  All original players have also moved on, so Volume Two will take place in the same universe, just after the end of FoLW 1.24, but will follow different characters.

When we left off the City of Cymru on the world of Eifer was ruled by a counsel of Dwarvish families and the Church of the Stone.  In the months following, Grind's breaking of the portal to the Horror dimension, a blight had formed some miles to the south, and the Church of the Stone began organizing a resistance to the creatures.

Consequently, the Cymru Counsel began recruiting for both the assault on the horrors and patrols to police and guard the outlying towns and villages in the area controlled by Cymru.

The story begins with the goblin Dinty, a follower of the butterfly goddess Desna and - unknown to most everyone else - a recent member of the North Cymru Irregulars.  Dinty had been on hand when the portal to the Horror dimension was broken open and had fled with the Irregulars.

When the Irregulars split up, Dinty returned with a caravan to Cymru.  Chastised by the priest of Desna for what had occurred, after a stink of penance in the temple, by the month of Equos Dinty decided to join the Cymru Wardens.  Due to his experience he was promoted to Corporal. 

Not longer afterwards, he ran into Edwina - a former street rat recruited by the Irregulars who participated in the assault on the warehouse. She had been arrested for theft and was being shipped south to provide manual labor in the assault against the Horrors.  Dinty recruited her into the Wardens.

Dinty and Edwina are to be sent north to the village of Melaotne where they would serve under the guidance of a paladin of  Desna. They meet the remaining members of the Warden party as they prepare to depart.

***

The first volume of FoLW began as a Pathfinder campaign, but quickly we tried out Savage Worlds, Fate Core, and Cortex Plus before settling on GURPS 4th edition.

This volume will be run in GURPS 4th edition and make use of Dungeon Fantasy.  I backed the Kickstarter, so once I receive my DF box we'll take a look at characters again.

That said, I am a fan of Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchman and all PCs will be created with the 125 point templates plus any 25 point or less race for a total of 150 point characters.  Duty and Patron for the Cymru Wardens will be added after character creation.

Dinty, as a participant in the North Cymru Irregulars and several operations, begins with 160 points.

Edwina participated in the Irregulars battle of the warehouse and begins with 152 points.

All other characters begin with 150 points.