Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.3 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part 3, A Camp by Night

Played 3/14 to 3/27

Continued from Part 2, this section introduced a new PC, saw one PC on his own (Nikala), and we ran our first combat.  It went fair. 

Finishing a programming project, so I'm behind on my blog.

Things to do:
  1. Compile summaries of all the characters' disadvantages with explanations for easier gameplay.
  2. Finish putting together my GM notebook for both this game and the tabletop. 

***

The 18th day of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers:  early morning at the workgang camp near the village of Hygom, two days west of Cymru

Hours before sunrise and the hanging of Walt Durgman, Nikala woke from a crook in one of the tallest cedar trees, stretched his wings, and began to scale to the top. Once he’d gotten high enough for a decent view, he took in the landscape, his eyes attuned for movement: at this height, they would likely only be other scouts.

A thin plume of smoke, some five miles to the north, emerged from the cedar forest, then flattened as it meet the cool air above.  Scanning, Nikala spotted something shiny near the fire.

No doubt the quarry he’d been tracking these past few days...a messy, noisy bunch, whoever they were. He clawed his way around the tree, putting as many branches as possible between himself and the flash. Sometimes, the groundwalkers had far-seers, and sometimes a forward scout would be discovered when he was careless.

Nikala let his senses, his instincts lead the way. Allowing the breeze to drift into his nostrils, he narrowed his eyes at the smoke and the flash, trying to discern what might have caused it. Was the flash a far-seer that had already spotted him?  He shifted his weight to his legs, ready to take off and fly low over the treetops.

The distance was too great, even for his eyes and he would need fly closer, if he was to get an idea of what kind opposition he was facing.

The Night Flier, the voice of pure wisdom, taught in his works that the best way to approach an enemy was from the flanks, never the front. Nikala peered to the east, looking for landscape that would hide him. Though he intended to fly just above the treetops, a keen pair of eyes would pick him out all the same.

The cedar forest covered the land for some twenty miles until the foothills that marked beginning of the forested hill country.  To the east the sun slowly rose. The line of smoke slowly lessened as if a fire had died. 

Nikala pushed off with his legs, his wings beating the air. There wouldn’t be much time if the fire was dying, it meant they were striking camp or getting ready to strike it. He pushed out toward the foothills, not flying in a straight line, but in a wide circle, as the Great Hunter taught, moving in the direction of the rising sun, which might blind his enemies to his presence. As he passed over the forest, his eye spied a rabbit nibbling on a blade of grass, a deer drinking from a stream, and a strange large rodent he’d never seen standing on its hindquarters and stuffing horse apples in its mouth.

The forest was full of prey, including his. He leaned, banking around a little tighter. The sun would not be at the horizon for much longer, and it was essential he put it between himself and the camp if he were to gain a better view undetected.

Nikala quickly flew east of his target toward the foothills beyond. The smoke had all but disappeared in the dawn.  As of yet there was no sign of his prey.  The foot hills were also covered in the high cedars, many thirty feet high.  The air was cool that morning and a chill wind blew in from the ocean.  Not unusual weather from Nikala’s birthlands.

He began to circle higher, gaining altitude until he had a better view, as well as the cover of height to protect him from any arrows or stones the ground walkers might throw. He spread his wings and soared on thermal currents, looking for any trace of the quarry, circling outward from where their camp had been.

Soaring along the foothills, watching for a sign, Nikala did not see the launched net slung towards him.  At the last minute, he turned his head only to see it hit and wrap around his body.

***

The 19th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: a waystation on the West Road

The second day out out from the workgang camp, the caravan stopped for the night at a waystation.  The night came on them quickly, with an unseasonable damp fog, as they made their camps (each wagon setting a watch and camp.)

Arlin the half-orc had mostly healed from his flogging thanks to Otso and was placed in the watch.  The kobold Meepo proved skittish and kept quiet. Edwina sat on her haunches finishing her supper before bed and watches began.
Dinty sings of halfling ladies

Dinty broke into a terrific song while staring into the campfire.

There once was a lass from Maiden Mist
She had not a leg and one eye was amiss
She’d handle any comers with a wink and a kiss
I had many a roll with her in total darkness
The best I’ve had but oh what a mess
She broke me heart and now I could-naa care less
Oh oh I'll never miss
That halfling wench from Maiden Mist

Once the goblin finished his lusty song, Edwina stuck out her tongue.  “I see you’ve still got that charm, Dinty,” she smirked and slipped into the darkness under the trees.

“That was wonderful,” cried Meepo, the kobold, clapping for Dinty, while Arlin, the half-orc just chuckled.

Goreal joins in clapping with Meepo, while grinning with a mouth full of pointed teeth.

Otso, seated with his eyes closed, seemed to be talking with someone.  “Of course, the Lady of Fate favors us, but in serving the Wheel I ….?”

Meepo asked.  “Where did you learn so many beautiful songs, Dinty?

Dinty shrugged, "Oh here and there mostly. I've done a bit of traveling and met a fair number of different folk. They all have different songs and I like to sing. I don't always remember the words but I get by."

The human wagon driver, Chuck, who had travelled with the new wardens the past few days said little on the trip.  Not a warden himself, he tended to ignore them.  However, seated on the wagon, eating his plate of beans and rabbit, he frowned and his face soured.  “That sound was awful, goblin.  Just awful.  No wonder you became a warden, you certainly wouldn’t make it as a bard.”  He grunted and ate another spoon of beans

Dinty agreed. "Aye, that's true. I wouldn't have made it as a bard. That's why holy Desna saw fit to point me towards a more Noble profession. It could be worse… I could have been a wagon driver. A fate I hope to never suffer."

The driver tossed his empty plate onto the wagon.  “To hell with all you freaks.”  He jumped down from the wagon and stormed off toward the trees.

*****

Edwina
Edwina moved quietly through the forest.  Though the night was dark enough moonlight lit the forest floor for her to see.  In the distance, she could smell cooking meat.  Climbing an embankment, she found herself staring into a forest ravine.

In the middle of the ravine was the remains of a caravan. Five wagons had been pulled into a circle around a central fire.  Even the leads to the oxen were still tied to a nearby tree.  The wagons themselves had seen better days. The damage from some sort of attack was still evident, the weather had done a fair share of damage, and one wagon appeared to have been set on fire.

One wagon, though, was still in good shape.  The side appeared to fold out into a stage and  was covered in bright paint that exclaimed “Professor James Hawkins’ Miracle Medicine.” It looked fresh. Scattered near it was what appeared to be pieces of a broken door.  The back of the wagon had a door that obviously did not match the paint or wood of the rest of the wagon. Across from the wagons were several graves. Most were older, but a few appeared to be newer.  The new graves had a crude banner of green and purple cloth staked at their heads.

Mollie had spent some time going through the wagons looking for anything that might be useful or sentimental.  Anything of value had long been stripped from the wagons by whatever scavengers had wandered by.  Even some of the secret drawers had been found and pried open.  She had gathered what she could and had set to repairing her uncle’s wagon.  She had taken to staying in the wagon when she needed rest.  The town folk were not openly hostile to her, but she could tell that she wasn’t entirely welcome.  It was easier to be out here and not put up with that.

Seeing the wagons, Edwina ducked her head and crept toward the circle.  The shadows danced around her, and she attempted to stay within them as best as possible.  As she crept, the light caught her red hair for a moment before she sank behind another shadow. Unobserved, Edwina slide quietly between a wagon and watched.

Mollie stepped out of the wagon and headed to the piece of meat that she was cooking on the fire.  In her hands,  she had a pouch of spices, a plate, and some utensils.  She threw several pinches of spice on the meat then flipped it in the pan and seasoned the other side. After a few moments, she took the meat from the pan to the plate and began to eat.  She was armed, but did not seem to be on alert.  Her clothing was in the same purples and greens as the markers on the graves.

Edwina watched the young woman a moment, then decided she would speak to her.  Creeping back to the tree line, she stood and approached the campsite visibly and with her hands out and facing upwards.

Mollie turned to face the girl that had just walked into her camp.  From Edwina’s actions, Mollie quickly decided that she meant no harm. What if she’s a bandit?  Mollie grimaced and quickly scanned the perimeter of the camp. Ignoring the voice and the paranoia it caused, she decided to call out to her new friend.  “Hello!  Who is she?”  Mollie’s voice, while audible and friendly enough, sounded strangely hollow as if it was coming from somewhere farther away.

Taking a deep breath, the girl moved into the firelight.  From the look of her, she was a wispy red-headed teenager dressed in some kind of brown uniform with the crest of Cymru on one sleeve.  “Umm, hi,”  she began.  “I’m Edwina,” she stopped and looked at her clothes.  “Private Edwina of the Cymru Wardens.  I saw the wagons and the fire.  My squad is camped nearby.”

Mollie stood up and did an exaggerated bow.  “Her name is Mollie and she was an acrobat for Copperbolt and Hawkin’s Mechanimazement Show.”  Mollie looked around the campsite.  “But she thinks the bandits stole all the ‘mazement with everything else.”

Mollie could be easily seen in the fire.  She looked a few years older than Edwina, standing at average height but thin bordering on frail.  Her hair had a purple sheen to it, and her skin was a  sickly green.  She’s going to see what you are. Again, Mollie ignored the voice.  Of course Edwina was going to see.  Besides, she couldn’t keep secrets from her best friend!  Mollie popped up from the bow and extended a hand to Edwina.  “It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Edwina!”
Mollie Hawkins

Edwina stood staring with her mouth open.  “Umm, hi,” she sputtered.  “I’m not sure if I am amazed by you or just terrified.”  She held out her hand.  “Is this a carnival show?”

Mollie grabbed Edwina’s hand with both of hers and shook it heartily.  “She is probably both!”  Mollie’s face lit up at the mention of the carnival.  “It was! Her Uncle’s friend Cogswell built the rides and games, and her Uncle sold medicines and cures.  Not fake ones like other shows though!”

Mollie let go of Edwina’s hand and somersaulted backwards.  “She was an acrobat, and they were training her on the tightrope and the trapeze!”  Mollie’s shoulders slumped, “Then the bandits came…”  And before she could finish, from the south, a dull buzzing rose from the trees and a scream pierced the silent night. Mollie spun to face the sound and drew her short sword.  She called back to Edwina, “Did that sound like her people?”

*****

A few minutes later, from the direction Chuck had gone, a dull buzzing rose in the forest, followed by a scream.

Dinty grabbed his weapon and headed towards the scream at a wary pace calling out "To arms."

Goreal took on a serious demeanor  and joined closely behind Dinty - his great mace of Atgur
ready.

Otso stood surprised and watched Dinty and Goreal run off, while Arlin grabbed his axe and shield then rushed after.  Meepo hid under the wagon. “I will guard the wagon!”

***

Mollie and Edwina rushed into a small clearing in the woods from the north.  Everything was lit blue from the moonlight.  Across the clearing, they saw at least a half dozen black, dog-sized things flying around a broken tree.  The screams came from that direction.  Soon after, on the southside of the clearing came Dinty, Goreal, and Arlin.

Mollie frowned at the dog-sized wasps.  "Of course, it had to be them,"  Hoping to move in before they noticed, Mollie tumbled out of the brush on the north side of the clearing and removes the head from one of the wasps as it flew by her.  “Why is it always bees!?!”

Goreal charged at the nearest wasp and tried to swat it out of the air with his mace. With an audible crunch the wasp smeared on the mace head; it's mandibles chittering in reaction.  It's mangled body dropped to the ground leaving a pool of ichor, as Goreal finished his swing.

The giant wasps, angrier, flew about Chuck, continuing to sting him. The wagon driver cried and then was silent.   One wasp flew at Mollie flying too high to hit her, while another dove at Goreal.

Dinty aimed his crossbow and fired off a shot.  The bolt slipped through the night air and impacted into the body of the wasp that had just flown past Goreal.  The exoskeleton crunched, and the wasp dropped the ground. 

Arlin rushed toward the driver Chuck, shoving a wasp away with his shield, injuring and angering one.  While Edwina, pulled her knife and ran up beside Mollie.

As a wasp attempts to sting her,  Mollie ducked and rolled, lashing at at the wasp that had just buzzed Goreal and been shot by Dinty, cutting it in half.

Goreal attempted to place himself in a position to protect the wagon driver by attacking the nearest the man.  He missed, and it turned to dive at Goreal.  The wasp's stinger plunged deep into Goreal’s chest.  Blood welled up from the wound and covered his fur and leather armor.  He felt the wasps venom enter his body and dissipate.

The wasp on Chuck’s face stung him again and the man gurgled blood, covering his chest.  Arlin swore and slashed at it with his axe cutting vermin in two.  The injured wasp buzzed the half-orc and stung him in the arm.

Hanging back Dinty pulls out his flail. Assessing the situation and ready to attack at any opportunity.

Edwina rushed forward with Dinty.

Dinty move in to attack the wasp on Arlin with his flail.  Carefully swing his flail at Arlin’s arm, Dinty launched a partially crushed wasp toward Mollie.

After a brief flashback to the last time she tried the knife throwing act, Mollie decides not to toss a knife at the wasp on the bear and opted for the one still buzzing around. Turning towards the fallen human, Mollie saw a wasp flying right at her and decapitated it.

Goreal gasped from the sting and dropped his weapon, which landed with a  thud on the dirt, kicking up dust.  He grabbed the wasp, ripping it from his chest, and held it immobilized in his hand.  Goreal, bewildered, crushed the wasp with great effort.

Arlin leaned over the human driver, Chuck, and shook his head.   “Looks like this one’s dead.”  At that time, Otso came running into the clearing.  “Is anyone hurt he asked,” out of breath.

Dinty said. "Aye a couple of us and it looks like we're short one teamster."

Mollie quietly attempted to hide behind Edwina as soon as the fight was over.

Otso attended Goreal, examining the pierce in his armor and the stinger wound.  “You seem to have escaped poisoning,” he said and closed his eyes.   Motioning the bear closer, he touched the bloody wound with his fingers.  Then wiping his hands he pulled a handful of flowers from his satchel and sprinkled them on Goreal.

Goreal was stung by a Giant Wasp
The smkia’s wound closed and the bleeding stopped.  “You will require further treatment,” he told him, wiping his head.  “Let me see the driver.”  Walking to Arlin, he saw the half-orc’s arm had been stung though he was wrapping it.  Kneeling he examined the driver, Chuck, he shook his head.  “The poison killed him.”  Instead he prayed for Arlin and covered the half-orc in lilacs.  Now visibly tired, the samsaran sits on nearby rock.  “We’ll have to tell Hal we need a driver.”  Glancing at Edwina and the girl behind, he added.  “Dinty, looks like we’ve met someone.”

Dinty said.  "Well now that Goreal is done playing with that overgrown mosquito and the healings done. Who's that you got with you Ed?"

Edwina turned and looked behind her.  “Umm, this is Mollie.” She stares at the girl’s purplish hair.  “I met her over the ridge at the remains of some wagons.”

Dinty asked. "So what are you about Mollie? Where are your people?"
 
Mollie replied. "They are all gone. Except for her and Uncle.  Uncle is somewhere.”  Mollie gestured as if to indicate that somewhere is very far away.  “She is all that is left.”

Dinty asked. "Do you or your uncle need help?"

Mollie shook her head. "Oh, no!  They are fine. Uncle is off getting some rest, and she has been out finding bandits and friends!”  Mollie patted Edwin on the head.

Edwina smiled.  “I do seem to make friends easy, Dinty.”

Otso nodded and spoke with Arlin, then walked across the clearing.  “And you, Mollie, any injuries?” 

Mollie took a step back from the priest.  “She is perfectly fine and healthy!  He shouldn’t bother himself!”

Otso stopped and turned away.  “May Morrit bless and guide us on our journey on the Wheel.  We cannot guess what the Lady of Fate has prepared.”

Crashing through the brush came a tall human with the symbol of Desna visibly around his neck, followed by a kobold.  “What is going in here?”  the human asked?  The kobold wandered over to Goreal.  “Is that a new pet?” he asked pointing toward the wasp.

“That would be a terrible pet.  They are stingy," Goreal observed.

Meepo poked the squirming wasp.

Dinty said. "Cap’n, old Chuck here got huffy and stumbled into a pack o hornets. We came to rescue him when we heard the noise. We killed em all but they got Chuck. It's a shame, he was the best teamster we had."

Mollie continues to keep Edwina between her and the priest and the holy human.

Hal approached Edwina and Mollie.  “You seem to have picked up a stray, Ed.  Where's the young lady from and how about we escort her back there?”

Edwina turned, looked at Mollie, then pointed to the ridge.  “She was living in some wrecked wagons over the ridge.  I think she’s touched.”

Mollie sighed, “She is not touched. Also, she can hear you.”

Edwina blushed. “Sorry.”

Hal eyed Mollie, walked over to Goreal, and put his sword through the wasp.  “Arlin, Meepo, Otso, I want you to take Chuck’s remains back to camp.  The rest come with me, I want to see these wagons.”

Mollie pointed over the ridge. “Over this way. She wasn’t really living in the wagons.  She was just staying there for sentimental reasons until she decided what to do with herself.”

Goreal looks perplexed by the captain's actions, and he starts to worry he didn't do a good enough job killing the wasp.  He looks at attention and follows, while working through his confusion.

“Better a dead wasp than not, Goreal,”  Hal eyed Mollie.  “Dinty, keep an eye out behind.  Move out.” Hal stomped toward the rise and Mollie's wagons.  Edwina turned and rushed after.

Dinty said. "Aye cap’n Goreal you and I are on the rear guard. Everyone else on your toes and watch for ambush."

Hal Saldana questions Mollie
Hal gazed into the ravine at the five ruined wagons.  “Edwina,” he said. “Run back to camp and get Otso.  Quick.”  Edwina nodded and rushed away.  “Loose soil yes, but this is an old battle.”  He turned to look for Mollie.  “Dinty, you and Goreal go further down and flank the wagons.  You two can see better in the dark.  I will wait then go in here.”  He looked through the moonlight.  “Where is Nikala?”

Mollie sighed and continued on into the ravine.  “There wasn’t much of a battle.  The bandits attacked in the night and killed almost everyone.  When she came back, the scavengers picked everything clean and all she had left were graves to dig.”  Mollie motioned to the row of graves on the far side of the camp.  “She supposes she should give him these before she gets smited.”  Mollie produced a folded parchment from a small satchel attached to her belt and handed them back to Hal.

Climbing into the ravine behind, Hal took the parchment from Mollie, then unfolded it.  He read for a moment and frowned.  Returning the parchment, he said.  “I see.”  Calling to Dinty and Goreal.  Search the wagons for any sign of bandits.”  Hal refolded the parchment and handed it back to Mollie.  “I will ask Otso’s wisdom.”

Dinty and Goreal started to search the wagons.

Hal watched Dinty and Goreal poke around the ruined wagons.  Before long, Dinty spotted something branded into the side of one of the wrecks.  Lighting a torch, he identified the brand as a tied bunch of arrows.

Hal stood near what he assumed to be Mollie’s wagon.  He watched the ridge for Edwina and Otso as well as eyes Mollie.  “Your case must be a strange one,” he finally told her.

Mollie replied. “Well, it fits in with the rest of her life, and it beats the alternative she thinks.” Mollie balanced on one leg while she talked.  She pretended to fall only to go into a cartwheel that placed her standing next to Hal.  “She has found her condition to be a bit liberating.  She no longer has a lot of her old fears and anxieties, she can eat all the candy she wants, and she doesn’t have to watch her figure .  It’s not for everyone though. The food is so-so, and it can be lonely.  Also, she still gets weird looks in town even after she helped with the bandits.”

Hal nodded.  “If you’d met a paladin of the Stone today, you might have had a different night.  As it is, I am less particular or well Desna has bigger problems.”  He faced her full on now.  “Otso, will be back soon.  He is a priest of Morrit, Lord of the Dead.  So you know, I will seek his advice as to what is to be done with you.  Your papers there though are surprising and yet knowing the dwarves not so much.”

At this moment, Edwina, now holding a torch, and Otso climbed over the raise and into the ravine. Otso approached Hal and Mollie with Edwina in tow.  “You wished to see me?” he asked.

“Not sure how it is for you, but the goddess blesses me with the sense of the Other.” He nodded at Mollie.  “I want your wisdom in her case.”

Otso blinked.  “Well….”

Doing an obviously bad impersonation of Otso, Mollie says, “He thinks they should let her go.”
Mollie let loose with a laugh.  “She doesn’t know what is worse, that voice she made or that he thinks he gets to decide anything about her.”

Otso turns to one side.  “Odd after effects, of course, but not unprecedented.”  He shakes his head.  “Yet we do recall that well.”  Now to Hal.  “I haven't been granted, by the Piper of Bones, your gift to sense the Other.”  Looking Mollie up and down.  “The Lord of Death wishes for each of us to turn on the Lady Fate’s wheel.  This one I suspected, and you confirmed, has been halted.”  Raising his hands, “Yet with herself intact it is likely we would do more harm than good to push her along the Wheel.  The Lady Fortuna will decide, not us.”

Hal laughed.  “The priest of the Lord of Death is a pacifist, Mollie.  But he wouldn't have hesitated against the mindless.  Your papers maybe valid, but the priests of Grumbar won't care.”

Edwina looked nervous trying to figure out what was going on.  She glanced at Dinty and Goreal.

“Dinty, Goreal, I have a question for you.” Hal called.  Looking around he continued. “Mollie it looks like the Red Arrows hit your caravan here.  Sometime in the recent past.  And as for what has happened to you, well, I’m a bit surprised to see the dwarves granted you the rights they did.”  Turning to Dinty and Goreal.  “It seems Mollie here is one of the Risen, though I can just detect the Horror-taint on her from undeath.  What do you two think?  I’m tempted to offer her a place in the Wardens, since she likes killing bandits so much. Frankly, I don’t know what Desna would think about this, but I will pray.  But Otso’s wisdom from his lives, I do know.”  He faced Dinty and Goreal and waited on their input.

Dinty shrugged. "I find it a lucky thing that she was given the chance to avenge her kin. Besides the goddess might look favorably on us if we are able to help a lost soul travel from this place to a new destination. I say she's a bit touched in the head but we could use the help."

Hal said.  “Dinty is faithful and also a pragmatist.”  He turned to the shmkia. “And what would the Eternal Sun say, Goreal?

Goreal shrugs, “Atgur’s never spoken to me, but I would judge her by her actions.   She fought to save our wagon driver, that says enough for me.”

Hal nodded. “When it comes down to it Mollie, those papers give you rights to go anywhere,” he stopped.  “But this band of Wardens is an eclectic bunch, which I believe will serve us well.   I invite you to sign on and help us clear out bandits and any other threats.  You’ll be stationed at the last village on the north road of the Republic, just before the frontier and as the forests give way to the grasslands and then the deserts.”

The moon had begun to set and Mollie’s fire burned low.  “It’s getting too dark out here for me.  Think it over.  You’d sign on for a year and renew if you liked it.  Dinty and Goreal have done the same.”  Clambering up the side of the ravine, followed by Otso and Edwina, he said. “We can always use someone of ability and if the Carbona family vouches for you, that’s good enough for me.”

Mollie grumbled a bit when the goblin called her touched.  “It’s like she’s not even here! Gosh!
She was happy that the wee fuzzy bear liked her. It only took her a few seconds to answer after Hal spoke.  She looked over at the ruined wagons.  “Give her a little time to pack and say some goodbyes.  She will meet them in the morning.”

Dinty shrugged. "Do as you will Mollie, the caravan heads out at first light. We'll see you there at the rear wagon."

Otso stopped Hal as they walked. “Any particular reason you are recruiting every misfit along the way?”

Hal squinted in the darkening forest at the samsaran.  “The frontier will be unforgiving.  We will need any help we can.  Though I have a feeling, Desna has something in mind.  Especially for Dinty.  He may need options.”

Otso asked.  “How do you know you can trust them?”

Hal said quietly. “You and Dinty will get to figure that out.”

Goreal overhears the Captain and Otso, and is visibly relieved that the new members won't be his responsibly.

*****

The 20th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: arriving at the town of Lonah - five days on the road

The morning was unseasonably cool and damp.  The caravaneers packed the wagons for the day’s journey to the town of Lonah, the last town before the frontier.  Hal told them that they would stay a full day in Lonah to recuperate.  He also sent a spare cart driver, a human called Jorg, and told them not to lose this one.

Edwina watched the forest as they packed trying to pick out in the fog some sign of Mollie.

Mollie had spent the night gathering up what she could from the wagons.  Most items of value had been taken long ago, but she knew of a few secret cubbyholes and hiding spots.  She had put together what she thought was a fairly decent adventuring outfit from what she scavenged and had previously taken from some bandits.  She changed out of her old tattered clothing into her old acrobat costume.  The purple and green costume was a bit loose on her now, but it was still wearable.  It also gave her room to hide a few things if needed.  Mollie surprised herself with a yawn.  She didn’t sleep much anymore.  In fact, she had used that to her advantage when chasing down some bandits like the one that used to own the pretty set of black leather armor she had been wearing.

After donning the armor, she slipped over it her most prized possession. It was a hooded tabard she had scavenged from the show.  It was purple and green like her old costume, but it had the show’s heraldry on the front.  She also liked the hood, because she could flip it up and hide when needed.  After securing her sword and her assorted knives and daggers, Mollie filled a small pack with the rest of her belongings.

She thought about taking her sack of rations, but while the smell didn’t bother her anymore, she was sure the condition of the meat would not be to the liking of her new friends.  Just before morning, she knelt down before each of the graves whispering a goodbye while crying the best her undead eyes would allow.  “Are you sure about this?  You don’t know them, and there’s a paladin and a priest,” the voice said.  “No, if they were going to hurt her, they wouldn’t have talked to her, and they are heading to the frontier. She has made her mind up,” Mollie said out loud.  She grabbed her pack and headed where the other caravan slept.

It was Meepo who spotted her first, approaching the campsite as the squad packed.  Poking Arlin, he nodded in her direction.

Arlin said aloud.  “Here she comes.”

Mollie spies Edwina as she comes out of the fog and waves enthusiastically at the other girl as she approaches.  “Hello!”

Edwina smiled and waved awkwardly.  “Umm, hi,” she stuttered.  “Glad you came.”

Otso watched with detachment as he positioned Chuck’s corpse on the wagon.

Edwina continued.  “We need to see where Dinty wants us.  Meepo and Otso usually ride in the wagon.  Meepo, he’s the kobold, has short legs and Otso’s kind of old.”  She pointed to the samsaran.  He smiled quietly.

Edwina continued.  “Five days walking and my feet are tired.”  She stopped.  “Do your feet get tired?”

Mollie shrugged at Edwina “Sort of, but it’s not her body that gets tired..  She can take her spot walking if she wants.” 

Edwina smiled.  “Nah, I’m getting use to it.  Besides, Dinty sets our places.  Like how Goreal is at the rear.  Not sure where Arlin’s gonna be now.”  She looked at the sky.  “Then there's the crazy birdman who just shows up and mutilates small animals.” <>

Mollie peered up in the sky to catch a glimpse, but alas there was no birdman to be seen.  She peered back at the wagon that held poor, dead Chuck.  She paused for a moment then walked over.  “She is sorry she was too late to save your friend,” she said equally to Otso and Edwina.

Dinty called. "Alright you two, less talking and more readyin' the caravan for travel. We'll be coming up on a town soon and will have a wee bit of down time before we head out to the frontier.  Otso, what is the status of the wounded? Is everyone fit for marching?"

Otso blinked tiredly.  “Everyone but Goreal is completely healed.  The bear has a healing puncture wound on his chest.  Fortunately, he has no ill effects of poison.  He’s hardy, but still an injury is an injury.  I am tired and intend to rest the day in the wagon in case my healing is needed.”

Dinty. "That's a good idea, we need you rested. Okay marching orders. Goreal, are you up for walking today?  Ed and Molly I want you on either side of the wagon keeping an eye on our flanks. Arlin you have rear guard with me Meepo I want you on top of the wagon as lookout

Goreal has a grim look on his face,”Yes Commander, I can walk today.”

Dinty nodded. "Glad to hear it Goreal, you'll be between me and the wagon."

Mollie snapped to attention and gave Dinty a salute.  “Yessir, sir!”  She place her pack in the wagon with Otso.  “She’ll just leave this here for now,” she said and sprung to the other side of the wagon.

Dinty replied. "That's the spirit Mollie. This will be everyone's position until I or the cap’n says other. Meepo, run over to the cap’n and tell him we're ready to move out when he is." Looking to the sky, he asked. "Where is that blasted bird person?"

Meepo eeked at Dinty’s shouts and scampered off.  Arlin grabbed his gear and headed back to the rear position.  Edwina leaned against the side of the wagon waiting.  Otso sat praying, burning a stick of incense.  Suddenly he stopped and looked at the sky.  “The Lord of Bones weighs heavy on the town of Lomah.  Many may be taken to the wheel before their time.”  He leaned back and closed his eyes.

Mollie leaned against the wagon waiting for it to move.  She looked behind her to see if the bear was seeing what he could see, the she peeked under it to see if Edwina was there.  After that, she decided to scan the edge of the forest for anything interesting.  If it was going to stay foggy, spotting anything would be difficult.

Soon word came down the wagon train that they were moving, and finally the last wagon rolled out as well.  The day was grey and drizzly.  The cedars seemed to shimmer in the rain.

Walking was long and tedious, especially with the slow moving wagons.  With the rain growing heavier, there were few chances to talk.

By mid-day, the caravan stopped at a new post station with its corrals.  Each wagon threw up a canvass tarp between some trees so they could eat in peace.  “What is a post station,” Meepo finally asked.

Otso added. “The Council is looking for ways to get news to and from every town or village in the Republic.  In addition to the waystations, every half days travel between is a new station with horses for the couriers.”

Goreal walks up to one of the tied up horses and strokes it along the mane.  He thinks wistfully about how nice it would be to ride a horse, with the wind blowing past him.  He wonders if there are bigger horses out there that could handle his weight.

Carrying a few apples from the wagons, the kobold, Meepo, approached the horses with happy chitter.  Seeing  Goreal, he stopped.  “Hello there, shmkia.  You like the horse?”  Feeding an apple, he spoke low to one.

Goreal is slightly startled, too deep in thought to notice the kobold approach.  “Yes, it is a fine horse.  Do you know much about horses Meepo?”

“Meepo, know there's horses farms near the village we will live,” the kobold began.  “and they takes the horses north of the dwarf lands to Baktara.  Maybe they know great horses there.”

“Great Horses?” Goreal asks, trying to hide his excitement at this prospect.

Meepo seemed excited.  “Yes.  May we can visit Baktara.  Ask the human-boss, Hal.  Baktara is nice but scary.  Meepo safe with Goreal.”  He jumped up and down.  “See the horses, see the fight pits, lots to eat from all over,  see the Pragni traders!”  He bounced off to feed more apples to the horses.

Goreal walks over to Meepo and crouches  down to continue petting the house, “That sounds like fun Meepo.”  He says with a friendly grin.

Meepo nods his small reptilian face and smiles with his little pointy teeth.

After a meal and a break, the caravan began again.  Tired from days of walking, the wardens slowly marched to the the new barracks on the eastern edge of Lomah.  Peering out into the rain off the ocean, Otso said.  “There is rarely any rain like this in Equos especially this far north.”

By evening, they had stopped at one of the newly built and now empty barracks.  The wagons unloaded, Hal Saldana told Dinty to take the squad in and grab a bunk.  He also distributed some pay to each of the them. 

***

The barracks were wooden structures, still smelling of sawdust and drafty.  In the center of the room was a brick fireplace with a stack of logs nearby.  “Cosy,” said Otso.  Hal stepped in as everyone was finding a bed or a pile of blankets for Goreal.  “Alright, squad.  We will be in town tonight, tomorrow, and leaving the next day.  Make sure to check in and let me know you are alive and try not to go to jail.”  He laughed.  “Other than that enjoy the town.”

Lomah itself sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  A small town compared to Cymru, it still had several thousand residents and a variety of shops.  Lower Lomah was down the cliffside, reachable by lift or stairs, and housed the docks and wharves. 

Mollie stowed her gear near one of the bunks and turned to face the group.  “Well, she wants to go to see the town.  Who’s with her?”

Edwina counting her silver, smiled and raised her hand.  “Sure, where are we going?”

Mollie shrugged.  “She hasn’t thought that far ahead.  Maybe somewhere they can eat something besides trail food?  Even she’s tired of it.”

Edwina smiled and looked around the bunkhouse.  Otso was deep in prayer.  Arlin cleaned his gear and declined.  Meepo had disappeared as soon as they arrived, in search of snacks, he’d said.  “Well, Dinty and Goreal might be busy.  I guess leave word with where we’re going.”

Mollie nodded then pointed to herself then Edwina.  “She will go tell Hal, and she can check with the others.”  With that, she pranced off to find the paladin.

She found the paladin, after asking a few uneasy wardens, in a small room overlooking the Warden compound.  His door open, he sat cleaning his weapons and armor from the grim of the road.   A small candle burned over a purple medallion of the Goddess Desna, but nothing from it hinted at malice towards her.

Mollie peeked around the door frame and knocked.  “Hello!  She and Edwina and maybe some others are going into town.  Does he feel like coming along and eating some real food?”


Hal shook his head.  “No, you go on.  I need to take care of Chuck and report to the base Commander.”  Staring into the flame,  “Desna’s grace has been troubled tonight.  An ill wind from somewhere, she says, but what ill and what wind.”  He finished cleaning his gear and blew out the flame.

“Hmm, maybe she’ll see if there is any gossip in town.  Sometimes there’s something worth listening to.”

***

First combat.  A bit clunky with room to improve.

The story continues in Fragments of the Last War 2.4.

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,