Grimgut Gobmage

Grimgut Gobmage began as an NPC I wrote into “More Goblins!” for Escalation #6, the 13th Age fanzine. But I had so much fun with Grimgut, when a friend started a new campaign, I rolled him up as my character.

Grimgut Gobmage

Level 1 Goblin Wizard

OUT

I am the Archmage of goblins.

Icons

+1 the Three
~1 Archmage
-1 Priestess

Backgrounds

+3 impeached 45th master of Sump, glorious goblin city, rival of Horizon, in the southern Owl Barrens
+3 originator of "Grimgut's Ooze”
+2 imposter Cathedral docent in Santa Cora

Talents

Cantrip Mastery
Vance's Polysyllabic Verbalizations: “Lickspittle's Black Dragon Lugey” (Acid Arrow), “Derro Derro Dig Too Deep Crazy Even When You Sleep” (Color Spray)
Wizard's Familiar: an ooze with Mimic and Scouting abilities that Grimgut often keeps in his boot. It squelches when he walks.

Before the campaign started, the GM asked, “What does it say that a 1st level wizard is the Archmage of goblins?” And I said, “It says everything you need to know.”

Grimgut is an absurdist caricature. A much-less-foul-mouthed Selina Meyer from Veep—only a goblin. Impulsive. Shameless. Refuses to admit mistakes.

The GM is cool with Grimgut. Grimgut doesn’t break the tone of his campaign. And I’m not out to be the constant center of attention, so the party has fun with Grimgut too.

Cursed Myth 1.1.2

[The session picked up from where we left off last time. It started with a montage: the party moving a hunk of the obelisk crystal from the harpy’s lair to the circle of obelisks where they first woke in this valley. Duncan and Oramir’s players were absent. Again, the post title designates 1st level, 1 full heal up and 2 incremental advances.]

Rill’s plea

Rill stepped into view, as Aso brought the hunk of crystal to a stop. There was at least another hour or hour-and-a-half of daylight left.

[“What is distinctive about Rill’s look, compared to the other lizardpeople in the village?” I asked the players. Revan’s player said, “He’s big and muscular.” Aso’s player said, “He has a large birthmark covering his face and neck. He’s self conscious about it, and it’s part of what set him on the path to become strong and fight.” I said yes to both and, inspired by the latter, I said, “Lizardpeople are scaly, so I imagine this birthmark is like missing scales and soft flesh is exposed.” “More gruesome,” Aso’s player said, “But yes.”]

Rill approached nervously. He opened his mouth to speak, hesitated, then said quickly to Stink, ”Where did you learn to fight like that?”

“In the horde,” Stink said.

“What’s a horde?” Rill asked.

“You know, a goblin horde. Lots of goblins. Fighting.”

“Like an army?”

Stink shrugged.

“Will you take me there?”

Stink, Aso, and Revan shared a glance. “You don’t want to go to a horde,” Stink said.

“Well,” Rill said, “you’re not going to stay here very long. Take me with you.”

Revan didn’t like that idea. “Why?” he challenged.

Rill looked away. “The people I traded the corpses with… They’re coming tonight to trade for more. I promised the village today I wouldn’t do that anymore. They’re going to kill me.”

“Why’s that our problem?” Revan asked.

Rill looked at his feet. “I know. I know. You’re right. It’s just… I thought you could help.”

“We’ve already helped a lot,” Revan said.

“If you just left, would the village be in danger?” Aso asked.

“You’re right,” Rill said, taking  a half-step away, turning toward the mausoleum in the distance. “I…” He slumped. “It’s my fault. I’ll face them alone, and tell them I’m done.”

“We can help,” Stink said, less to Rill than to his companions.

“Why should we care about this village?” Revan asked. “We’re going to Valor.”

“Helping villages is a good thing,” Stink said. Then to Rill: “Who are these people you trade with?”

Rill brightened. “Well, at first, it was just one Merchant.” [I reminded the players their characters know this means a Merchant serving Daevos the Cursed Merchant.] “But then, the Merchant introduced me to some other people, and I made all the trades with them.”

“Who were they?” Stink asked.

“I don’t know who they were. I just called them the ‘Eyes.’ They have eyes painted onto their eyelids. They’re coming tonight at midnight, and they always meet me near the mausoleum.”

[Revan’s player said, “Revan ran a corpse smuggling ring. Can I roll to see if I know who these people are?” Aso’s player asked much the same thing, citing Aso’s background as a cemetery caretaker. I told them, “You’re a long way from where you’d know much, based on those backgrounds.” The other reason was, these two had no icon relationship with Daevos the Cursed Merchant. I asked Stink’s player for an intelligence-based background check. It was low…]

Stink remembered an eye symbol from his days in Daevos the Cursed Merchant’s goblin horde. He knew there was more to it, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

[Then I said, “Revan knows a lot about corpse  smuggling rings. How would he go about finding out if he knew this one?” Revan’s player looked at his character sheet and suggested a background for a roll. I clarified, “I mean, knowing what Revan knows in general, what would Revan do or ask to learn more about this corpse smuggling ring?”]

Revan asked Rill, “How many corpses a week did you trade with them?”

Rill said, “Six or so. They always wanted more, but we spent as little time in the mausoleum as possible.”

[I asked Revan’s player, “Knowing what Revan knows, what would he deduce about these corpse smugglers from that number?” He answered… I asked, “Does Revan share this with his companions?” He hesitated but decided Revan would.]

Revan told Stink and Aso, “This is a major operation. They’re probably working with several others like Rill, so they’re pulling in like 50 corpses a month.” Then he bragged, “But that’s nothing next to the Defilement”--the ring he ran, back in the day.

“Well, I’m sure we can help you out, Rill, but maybe let’s check out this mausoleum first,” Stink said. Aso and Revan agreed, and Rill agreed to lead them there.

Mausoleum

They went a couple miles upriver and inland. They’d gone around a riverbend, and a foothill blocked their view of the obelisks, but they weren’t far from there. They found a hill much like  the hill at the center of the obelisks. Except this hill wasn’t small and round but long. It was about 15 feet across and at least 100 feet long. “A burial mound,” someone said. The same tall grass surrounded and covered the burial mound. There was a stone door on the end nearest to them.

After some investigating outside, they went in. Rill pushed the stone door open, then stopped, to let the others  go first. But Revan pushed him from behind, and Rill went stumbling in. After lighting torches and casting darklight, they found themselves in an antechamber to the mausoleum itself. It was covered in ancient dust and cobwebs. The room was mostly filled with what looked like a small amphitheater. Curved rows of stone benches faced a stage. Beyond that, a closed stone door.

Rill warned that beyond that door was the tomb itself. He and his crew spent as little time as possible in their. And whenever they stole corpses, they had to fight off at least one or two skeletons.

Stink brushed off a section of wall and found a huge mural of a battle, involving a huge elven army. [“Is this like the battle we fought in the mythquest?” Stink’s player asked. “Yes and no,” I said…] When the party fought Gûlrymsúl, they fought under a great tree. But there was no tree in this mural. This battle was fought by a seaside. And Gûlrymsúl came with an army of spiders. There were no spiders in the mural. Instead, the elves were defending against sea invaders. [“Are there goblins in the mural?” Stink’s player asked.] Stink found a group of humanoid creatures fighting alongside the elves. It was hard to make out, but they were small creatures that could’ve been goblins.

Aso investigated the amphitheater stage area. [“I was a cemetery caretaker,” Aso’s player said. “What do I notice?”] Aso realized this was a war memorial, a mausoleum for dead soldiers.

[Revan’s player said, “I’ve been in hundreds of cemeteries. What do I know about who is buried here?” I suggested he open the door and enter the tomb itself, so he could see for himself.]

into the tombs

Stink pushed the heavy door open. Beyond it was a long, narrow room. Alcoves in the walls, floor to ceiling, held mummified remains. Another stone door was closed at the far end. Two more closed doors stood opposite each other, dividing in equal parts the long side walls. In the half of the room nearest the party, most of the alcoves were empty of all but stray bones and tattered grave cloth.

Rill watched with a mix of horror and awe as Revan walked to the far end of the room. Rill warned again that they always had to fight skeletons. Revan pulled back strips of cloth to reveal a particularly well-preserved mummy. Pointed ears. Tall. It was clearly an elf. But on the neck were three slits. They weren’t wounds. “Gills?!” Aso marveled. Revan checked others: more gilled elves. Then he went about listening at the doors. He heard nothing at first.

Then, at the door opposite the one they entered, scritching. Rill backed out, into the antechamber. The scritching became a louder scratching. Aso and Stink followed Rill. But Revan stayed long enough to behead a gilled elf mummy. At that moment, a scream sounded and the far door opened. Revan ran to join his companions, a mob of decrepit skeletons charging after him. Stink, Aso, and Revan pulled the stone door closed as the skeletons clawed to keep it open. A skeleton stabbed Aso with its arm: it had no hand, and its arm bones were sharpened as if filed to a point. And against the best efforts of the living, the skeletons started forcing the door open…

skeletons!

[Initiative!]

Out of the dark at the far end of the tomb, two skeleton archers [CRB 246] stepped forward and let fly their bone arrows. One missed Stink; the other hit Revan. Revan fired back at the archer, slamming it with a blast of ice, but he could not pull away from the skeletons mobbing him at the door. A tall, crowned skeleton [Skeletal Legionnaire, CRB 246] stepped forward between the archers, letting fly a javelin, that pierced frail Revan. Stink swung his sword at the decrepit skeleton mob [5 mooks, CRB 246], to no effect. Those skeletons counterattacked fiercely, wounding Stink, Aso, and Revan. Aso and Rill missed the decrepit skeletons. Finally weaker mob members lashed out, weakly.

[I represented dozens more much weaker skeletons mechanically as a terrain effect, an idea I got from Eyes of the Stone Thief. At Escalation Die 0-2, their attacks were +5 v PD--1d2 damage.]

By now, Revan was desperately wounded. Then the archers again took aim at him and Stink. But missed! And Revan let loose an unholy blast. He wiped out all but one of the decrepit skeletons and dropped the last with deathknell. The whole mob was now a pile of charred bones. Then he moved behind Aso. Sword drawn, the crowned skeleton charged at Aso, badly wounding him. Stink and Aso both attacked and barely missed the crowned skeleton. Rill also missed.

[Unholy blast reduced the escalation die from 1 to 0. Revan’s player consulted with his companions before casting it. But both Stink and Aso’s attacks against the crowned skeleton missed by 1!]

Revan was still desperately wounded, and now Aso was hurt badly too. Then the archers notched new arrows. A moment later, Stink was grievously wounded [crit!] and Revan was on the ground. The crowned skeleton stabbed Aso and dropped him. Stink, unafraid, swung and missed the crowned skeleton…

[It was a natural odd miss, so Stink’s player was unable to use his second melee attack. The situation was dire. So I offered a choice. In hindsight, I wish I’d been more creative. But as it was, Stink could take 1d2 damage as if from the minor skeleton mob to change his miss to a natural even miss. He took the deal and promptly rolled a crit! Stink’s player described the hit...]

Stink jumped onto the crowned skeletons shoulders and hung onto its skull. Almost by accident, while falling and flailing, Stink critically wounded the skeleton. It was now badly injured--[very staggered]--but not dead. Rill steadied himself and pressed the attack but missed.

Undaunted, the archers took aim at Stink. They dropped him.

[In a total of 15 levels of 13th Age play, players had never fled and taken a campaign loss. Now I suggested they consider doing so: Rill could drag them to safety. They all agreed.

This was a double-strength battle for three 1st level characters. Plus the terrain effect skeletons. I’ve seen players handle double-strength battles before. Of course, in previous battles, they were equipped with healing potions, magic items, and--players would add--had a cleric in the party. Even so, this battle was a near thing. If a couple dice rolls and decisions went the other way... If I had let Stink’s crit simply drop the big bad… And then, as soon as the battle was over, two of the three players realized they hadn’t taken the incremental advance they were due!

It was the toughest fight of the campaign so far. It was a battle they could have won. It was a battle they didn’t have to fight. Revan taking a mummy’s head triggered it and guaranteed Revan would be the enemies’ primary target. Even then, they would have avoided it, but for a poor group-effort skill check to shut the tomb door. The dice told a great deal of the story.

What is this tomb that held such powerful undead? Why were these powerful ones awakened on this night and not when Rill and his crew robbed the grave? What will be the consequences for the heroes of this campaign loss?]

Rill asked Aso, Revan, and Stink to save his life. But in the end, he saved theirs. He dragged them to safety and roused them. The four limped back to the village. Revan had almost paid for it with his life (if you can call it “life”), but still he carried the mummy’s head.

Nani Raan’s grandfather

As the group approached Herk and Sung’s hut, they heard arguing inside. Though reconciled by Oramir, village leaders were still at odds about what to do next. But when they entered, Herk declared, “We’re not going to solve this tonight. We all want the best for the village, and we all need to eat.” They sat down for dinner, and Aso, Revan, Stink, and Rill ate too. They kept silent about where they’d been.

Dinner ended, and Herk and Sung--clinging to JeeJee--said  goodbyes to the village leaders. Rill hesitated, but left too, all the while trying to catch Aso, Revan, and Stink’s eyes and mouthing, “Midnight! Deal’s on, right?”

When the hut quietted, Herk and Sung went into Nani Raan’s bedroom. Sung took her hand and stroked, addressing Nani Raan in a soothing voice. “It’s your daughter and granddaughter, Nani.” She did not acknowledge them but stared with an unfocused gaze out the window onto the valley below.

Stink remembered that the night before, he’d been eager to speak with Nani Raan. But for the life of him, he couldn’t remember why. But that didn’t stop him creeped into her room and around Herk and Sung. From below the window, Stink slowly raised his head into Nani Raan’s view. Her face lit in recognition.

“Grandfather! You came!” she said to Stink. Herk and Sung looked at each other with confused surprise.

Stink grinned. “Of course, I came, granddaughter.”

“I made this for you,” Nani Raan said, bowing her head and removing necklace. She held it out to Stink, a fish carved from wood hanging between them. Many others in the village wore similar necklaces. Stink stepped forward and let her put it over his head. She said, “It will protect you while you protect the tomb.”

“Right, protect the tomb…” Stink echoed. “Do you remember whose tomb it is, granddaughter?” Nani Raan laughed. Stink continued, “Why are we protecting it?”

“Oh grandfather,” she  giggled, “you’re so silly!” And as quickly as it came, the light of cognition left her.

Herk and Sung looked at her, Stink, and each other, agog. “The rest of the village settled on the other side of the ridge, but Nani Raan insisted we build our hut here,” Sung marveled. “I never knew anything about a tomb.” After a pause, she continued, “Now that I think about it, settling in this valley was her idea. She was lucid then.”

Herk and Sung knew nothing more about the tomb or Nani Raan’s grandfather. And as it had been an amazing and exhausting and grief-filled day, they went to sleep. The heroes did the same. Or at least pretended to.

playing dead

Later, they snuck out of the hut and carefully descended the paddies. Rill was already waiting for them by the river. They had settled on an approach to the corpse smugglers. They would play dead, posing as the corpses Rill had to trade. Rill brought sheets and wrapped them up.

In a little while, they heard people approaching, loud and bawdy. When the other group was close, they quieted and hailed Rill, who hailed them back.

“You’re all alone.”

“I am,” Rill answered. “But I have bodies for you.”

The smugglers came closer. Through thin sheets, Aso, Revan, and Stink saw five humanoid figures. Three talked chattily with Rill. One hung back, quiet.

The fifth stepped forward and said, appraisingly, “So this is the great Rill.” Revan recognized this voice.

“We brought the boss with us this time, Rill. He wanted to meet you himself.”

“Dackson,” said the fifth figure. Revan remembered Dackson well. He was a member of the Defilement, the corpse smuggling ring Revan ran during the war. He never really fit in with the crew. He wasn’t a true believer, but he was the best Revan had.

After Rill introduced himself, Dackson introduced the fourth figure: a Merchant. The Merchant nodded silently.

Then the “Eyes” (as Rill called them) started loading bodies.

[The players’ plan was bold, and it was midnight (in the game). So I set an easy DC and they rolled to pull off the ruse. Aso and Revan succeeded. Stink failed. I asked Stink’s player, “When the smuggler picked you up, something fell out of your pocket. What was it?” Revan;s player said, “The Potato God!” I said I liked that. Stink’s player went with it.]

A root vegetable dropped onto the ground at the smuggler’s feet. Stink had pocketed it during the celebration in the village. He hadn’t carved it yet, like he does with potatoes, but he was using it for worship.

The smuggler grunted, still shouldering Stink. “You brought us some fresh ones,” he said.

“I did,” said Rill, keeping his cool.

The smuggler slung Stink across a mule and retrieved the veggie. He turned it over in his hand, as two others loaded Aso and Revan side-by-side on another mule. The others started leading the mules away. He threw it into the river and followed.

Cursed Myth 1.1.1

[Between last session and this one, I shared this “story interlude” game fiction with players. We started this session resolving the cliffhanger it ended on. Aso’s player was absent.]

Rill’s Rebellion!

“You all are blasphemers,” Mard declared, gesturing to Rill, Sung, and the rest of the village’s Fighter faction, “ and this has gone on long enough!”

Mard had just called for them to ritually repent, after Rill attacked her while she prayed to the village’s god, Providence of the Sea. Sung, leader of the Fighters (of whom Rill was one), had restrained Rill and apologized to Mard. But holding Sung’s gaze, Mard called out: “Most Honored Speaker Oramir! Surely you will preside over the ritual, will you not?”

The whole village of 40 or 50 lizardpeople was gathered around, waiting to hear Oramir’s response and to see what Rill, Sung, and Mard would do. As Oramir hesitated, Revan grumbled, “What do we care about this village?” Duncan agreed. But Oramir ignored them.

“I have led many such rituals,” Oramir responded. “I will lead one now only with willing participants.”

“Are you willing?” Mard pressed the still-kneeling Sung. Sung was speechless.

“You know, Mard,” Rill called out. “You’re right. This has gone on long enough.” And suddenly, Rill and five other Fighters (who had separated from their faction’s huddle) produced weapons. Rill raised a spear and took aim at Mard.

Stink broke first to intervene and stop the spear, but Oramir was closer. Oramir lunged at Rill, knocking the spear away and was wounded.

[Initiative!]

Duncan cast a blur sigil on Rill and moved to collect his fallen spear. He found it was a true magic item, surprisingly beyond the capacity of what they’d yet seen in this village. Then Revan cast terror on Rill, who fled from the battle. Duncan expressed dismay that he used such powerful magic now, but Revan only shrugged.

Then Stink approached the five knife-wielding Fighters. “You don’t have to do this,” he commanded. Stink had won admiration especially from the village’s Fighter faction for his triumph over the ogre. And after watching their boss chased so easily from the field, they backed down.

[Stink’s player succeeded on a charisma-based background check.]

One rebellious lizardperson even fell on their knees in surrender. Rill, meanwhile, shook off the terror magic and stood in the distance, looking back on the scene, angry and ashamed.

Guanyin & Glaurung

But Oramir was angry too. He reached out to his god, Guanyin, as he did when he compelled a confession from David Fillion [his background].

[Rather than make a wisdom-based background check, Oramir’s player chose to narrate a random icon benefit he rolled with Glaurung the Dread Savior. Glaurung is the greatest of gold dragons--terrifying in majesty, unattainably pure, instrument of condemnation, judgment, purgation, and fire. Then Oramir’s player rolled a complication: it would be a complicated benefit.]

Oramir’s gods-blinded right eye glowed not with divine light alone but also with a blaze of dragonfire. His voice became terrifying and irresistible. He commanded Rill to return, and Rill obeyed. He pronounced judgment on the whole assembled village. Oramir condemned Rill’s violence, the small rebellion he had led, and the Fighter faction for feeding their contempt. But Oramir also called the Faithful faction to repent. He said, “I am a man of faith and a fighter. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. There’s no reason for you to be at odds with each other. You all must find a future together.”

And the whole village fell together in apologetic grief and relief. Sung and Herk embraced with tears. Mard held Rill as Rill blubbered out a confession. Rill and his crew had been exhuming corpses from an ancient mausoleum in the valley and trading them to a Merchant for weapons.

Oramir, meanwhile, slumped with momentary exhaustion as the god’s and Glaurung’s power left him. But before it left completely, Oramir saw a vision. His god, Guanyin stood, wounded, in a graveyard of the gods. She showed him enough to understand that in this region, gods were dying. Godlings, or small gods, especially. And that, at this moment, somewhere nearby Oramir, a harpy had tried to sacrifice a godling, Whale Bone God. Guanyin herself had given of herself to keep this godling alive. She charged Oramir with saving Whale Bone God.

[Here was the complication.]

The Harpy strikes back

Then Sung sought her husband and infant child, Firl and JeeJee. Firl left, a villager told her, slipped away to pick berries when Rill attacked Mard. At that same time, a lizardman cried in the distance. Then a harpy screamed. And to the west, a lone harpy climbed into the air and began flying northward across the valley, carrying a lizardman.

The party quickly readied themselves and pursued, along with Sung, a repentant Rill, and two other lizardpeople. They rushed down the terraces, across the river, and toward the wilderness mountains on the other side. A sudden tremor rolled through the valley. Undaunted, they followed the harpy screams and lizardperson yells into a narrow, winding ravine. The cry of infant JeeJee echoed off the rock walls.

Revan went up along the upper ridge of the ravine. He invited them, but the lizardpeople refused to be alone with him. The rest of the group wound through the ravine.

Harpy’s lair!

Soon the harpy came into view. It was far away, perched on a chunk of crystal from the obelisks where the party had first awoken in the valley. The crystal hovered a foot or two off the ground. Beneath the harpy, sprawled on the crystal, was Firl and beside him, JeeJee.

[Initiative.]

With a scream, the harpy gouged Firl’s face with its claws and crushed his skull. As life left him, the ravine was convulsed by an earthquake. Revan just avoided falling into the ravine with falling rock. Stink barely avoided being swallowed by a fissure that opened at his feet. When the quake ceased, a large 20-foot diameter rift had opened behind the harpy. A distinct briney, fishy odor began to fill the ravine.

But Duncan had already cast a vengeance sigil on the harpy, and when it attacked Firl, he teleported to it and attacked it, but missed. Oramir moved closer and blasted the harpy with javelin of faith. Wielding the magic spear he recovered from Rill earlier, Duncan attacked and missed again. Revan hit with death’s gauntlet. Stink moved to engage the harpy. And the lizardpeople approached, much slower than the PCs despite Sung’s fear for her family.

Just then, a pungent chaos beast slorped out of the rift beyond the harpy and its makeshift altar. And Duncan smelled an odor he recognized but was far out of place: the Iron Sea--it’s hot saltwater smell.

[I asked Duncan’s player, “What is distinctive about the smell of the Iron Sea, compared to the Midland Sea?” Because seafaring is part of Duncan’s background. He said, “Heat. It’s hot.”]

Then the harpy dispelled the spectral death’s gauntlet arms. Hurting, it spread its wings, took hold of JeeJee, and began to rise into the air. Stink lunged for JeeJee, but was too slow. Oramir, bent on saving the infant, ran at the harpy and slammed it with a double-strength javelin of faith. [Crit!] It dropped from the sky, as JeeJee fell from its grasp. Oramir dove, injured himself, but saved JeeJee from harm!

With the harpy down, Duncan marked the chaos beast with a sigil and charged it. But he missed with a barrier strike. Perhaps he was distracted. He had begun to hear a rising chorus of whisperings, low and overlapping. He couldn’t make out the words, and no one else could hear anything.

From the top of the ravine, Revan hit the beast with death’s gauntlet. He also saw into the rift beyond the beast: chaos glorps! In moments, three glorps emerged. Then Stink attacked a glorp. Meanwhile, Sung rushed forward to Oramir and took JeeJee. Two of her companions joined her in mourning and relief. But repentant Rill plunged into battle next to Stink. He drove a knife deep into the same glorp! [Rill critted!]

The chaos beast ignored the spectral hands raking it and instead lashed out at Duncan. It missed but popped free and engaged Stink. Then Oramir hit it with a javelin of faith. Duncan missed the beast again, this time with a keen blade! Revan hit the damaged glorp with death’s gauntlet, which immediately freed itself from the magic’s grip. The other two attacked Stink. Stink slashed at the first glorp again, knifing it twice. And Rill slashed it and killed it! [Another crit!]

Now hurting, the chaos beast swept away the spectral hands. Oramir hit a glorp with another javelin of faith. Duncan, out of spell attacks, stabbed with the spear and missed again. But in missing, wounded it badly. Revan missed the glorp with a ray of frost. Then a glorp scored a deadly hit against Rill. [It critted!] The other hit Stink. Rill, fuzzy-headed after being walloped, missed badly. [Fumble!]

The chaos beast attacked Duncan again and missed. Oramir blasted the last glorp. And Duncan at last hit, taking down the chaos beast. Revan used deathknell to finish off the last glorp--thereby confirming to his companions that he had indeed, most likely, killed Sung and Herk’s dog.

Whale Bone God

When the fight was over, the group rested and searched the harpy’s lair. They found many shredded baskets that presumably had once held the village’s grain offerings. They also found a couple handfuls of gold scattered among bones, rusted pieces of armor, and bent and twisted weapons. Stink managed to find two useable swords and piece together a whole suit of light armor.

Under Firl’s body, on the obelisk-crystal altar, Revan found a large bone. “I pick it up,” his player said. “Revan is drawn to bones.” “It’s heavier than you’d expect.” I responded. “It’s freshly scarred with burns and scored and chipped.” “Whale Bone God!” said Oramir. “Revan, you are drawn to this bone more than any other bone.” Reluctantly, he handed it to Oramir, and as a whisper on the wind, Oramir heard the words, “Thank you.”

Harpy Interrogation

Oramir found the harpy alive. It was in rough shape: laying on a crushed wing, taking shallow breaths through gritted teeth. But it answered questions.

[Before the battle, Oramir told the group he wanted to take the harpy alive. I obliged.]

Oramir wanted to know about Whale Bone God and the harpy’s role in the death of the other godlings. Gasping and wheezing, the harpy said it tried to sacrifice the godling to bring the sea monsters, but it couldn’t kill it. It had never tried to kill a god before. And the harpy didn’t know anything about this one. But many gods had moved through the area, fleeing from the north and east.

Stink asked, “Why did you terrorize the lizardpeople?” “This is our valley!” the harpy asserted.

“Why did you bring the sea monsters?” “To kill you!” it spat.

“Why did you want to kill us?” Stink didn’t come out and ask it, but he seemed to suspect the harpy was part of the plot that had kidnapped the group and left them here. Bitterly the harpy answered, “You killed my sisters!” “Well, I guess that makes sense,” Stink said, seeming satisfied it was unconnected to the mysterious wizard who stole the Orb of Leafblood from them.

The lizardpeople departed. Rill shouldered Firl’s body and returned to the village with Sung, JeeJee, and the others.

When they were done questioning it, Revan killed the harpy. Then Oramir performed a cleansing ritual to purge the harpy’s defilement from the obelisk crystal. Stink wanted to return the crystal to the obelisks but agreed to wait. Duncan wanted to explore the rift.

into the rift

The chorus of whispers grew louder as Duncan approached it. Standing and peering into the utter darkness, he heard the whispers resolve into words: “The sea beneath your feet welcomes you home, Eärendur, Servant of the Sea.” And Duncan remembered a latter stage of their ill-fated elven mythquest, when he and his companions fought and killed Gûlrymsúl. Each fought as one of the Astaldalim, mythic elven heroes. Duncan fought as Eärendur.

Revan cast sickly darklight into the rift. It revealed little. A cave-like tunnel of rock. But as they stood at the opening, they could feel air moving, like breath, in and out, in and out. The smell of the sea was strongest here. They hesitated, because they wanted to visit the obelisks and the mausoleum before night fell. It was mid-afternoon now. Agreeing not to spend too much time, they began their descent.

The way was rough over newly broken rock. In some sections, the downward slope was gradual. In others, it plunged in sharp, short cliffs. After 30 minutes, they saw no end in sight and no change in the rock. The movement of the air was more pronounced, however; so also the smell of the sea. Since his sword was stolen, Duncan carried blue flame in himself, his hands. As they descended, he noticed that flame intensifying, becoming brighter and larger. The whispering became louder in his ear only but since speaking clearly--“The sea beneath your feet welcomes you home, Eärendur, Servant of the Sea”--he heard nothing distinct. The group considered turning back, but curiosity got the better of them.

They did not stop after 60 minutes either. At 90 minutes, they guessed they had descended some 1,500 feet below the surface. Hearing water below, they pressed on. After about two hours total, they came to the end of the rocky tunnel.

They found the sea. It was rough, with 10-foot swells despite a lack of wind, and it was hot.

The whole length of it, though it was freshly sundered rock, the rift tunnel’s diameter did not deviate from roughly 20 feet across. At the bottom, it flared outward only slightly. The sea was only five feet below the group. Some 25 or 30 feet out, the rocky ceiling almost met the water but not quite. Instead, it formed a ceiling, worn smooth by the rough sea--except where the rock was newly broken.

questioning a god

And as they puzzled over it, Duncan told the others he had no doubt this was the Iron Sea. It seemed impossible! They didn’t know exactly where they were, but the lizardpeople had told them the shore of the Iron Sea was a four-day journey away. They wondered: Have we passed through some kind of portal? Have we gone to another world? But all their senses, magical and otherwise, told them no.

The sea beneath them was dark, hiding unknown depths and answering none of their questions. So Revan laid Whale Bone God on the rocky floor. “We might as well try to find out what this thing is,” he said. Revan and Stink asked the godling questions. Oramir--a Speaker [holy one cleric]--cast and interpreted divination tokens. Duncan looked on, mostly in silence.

“Where are you from?” North.

“Why did you come here?” To escape.

“To escape the gods dying?” Yes.

“Who is killing them?” The answer was hard to interpret. Undeceived? Unblinking?  Seeing? No, the first was best. Undeceived.

“How did you get here?” Birds. Animals. YOU.

“What do you want?” Resurrection.

“Resurrection?” To resurrect resurrection.

“Can you transport us to the coast of the Iron Sea?” Weak.

“Can you calm the water here?” Weak.

“What will make you stronger?” Prayers and offerings.

“How can we help?” Prayers and offerings.

Then Oramir suggested he could perform a ritual to honor--and hopefully strengthen--Whale Bone God. But it would take 15 or 20 minutes. Revan and Stink were in favor. They looked to Duncan, who shrugged and nodded. As Oramir completed the ritual, Revan noticed the very edge of the water. In an arc closest to where they were, the sea was utterly still. Beyond the arc, it was as choppy as it always was.

“We should go back up,” Duncan said. The others agreed. Stink produced from his pocket a handful of the grain the lizardpeople had given him. He burned it and reverenced Whale Bone God. “Thank you,” Stink said. Revan tied a strap around Whale Bone God and slung it over his shoulder. And talking with each other about wanting to visit the crystal obelisks where they first awoke in the valley and the mausoleum where Rill’s crew had been exhuming ancient corpses, they began their ascent.

A Day of Rest

[I shared this “story interlude” with players after session 1.0.1 and before session 1.1.1 last night. Characters were taking a full heal-up in the village, and I wanted to provide PCs with context, clearly show them the divide in the village, and pull them into it. I wanted to see: what will they do with this? This piece of writing did achieve those goals.]

In the late afternoon sun, Mard kneeled and reverenced the fish swimming in the paddy. She was stiff on old joints but uncomplaining.

Just after dawn, it was Mard who burst first into the hut where you slept. Forty or fifty lizardpeople--the whole village--followed her, all cheering, rejoicing, beating drums, and shaking bean-filled gourds.

It was Mard who presented Stink with the three grain-filled baskets originally intended for the harpies--in gratitude for his brave and (many said) miraculous fight with the ogre last night. Of course, they were eager to thank all of you. But as Herk told it, only Stink glowed with an inner light, light that guided his knives. Sung told of how deft, strong, and honorable Stink was, how the whimpering ogre fell before him.

It was also Mard who then whisked Stink and all of you outside. A feast was spread, modest compared to the recent death-feast for the elf Queen, but clearly a feast. Before she allowed anyone to eat, Mard orchestrated a lesson in how a family would work together to prepare the grain, chook (pronounced “chuuk” like mook). Mard insisted you all imitate them--soaking the chook in salt water, packing it into small cakes, and cooking it on a rock in an open fire.

But now, it was Mard who prayed alone. (Herk and some dozen or two others, excluding Sung, had prayed there earlier.) Mard began to chant, “Thank you, Provider, for sending us victory. Thank--”

“Hey!”

Mard tensed at the brazen interruption. A tall, muscular lizardperson shouted again from some yards behind her. Rill, was his name. “The fish had nothing to do with this!”

Mard inhaled, exhaled, slowly and stiffly took her feet, and turned. But Rill, shockingly, was already upon her. He moved in a flash. No one had time to react.

“We have to fight!” Rill cried, as he landed a blow that sent Mard sprawling.

In heartbeats, others rushed toward both of them.

Just moments before, the village seemed united in celebration, but the violence shattered the facade. The same strange tension you observed last night between Herk and Sung, mother and daughter, was suddenly obvious in the whole village. Around you, two groups formed subtly, dividing the village. You heard grumbles, whispers, accusations against each other. The “Faithful” and the “Fighters.” Those--mostly older lizardpeople--who wanted to let the gods lead them to a new, safer home and those--mostly younger--who wanted to fight for their honor and for this home they already had. Herk leading one faction; Sung, the other.

As Mard rolled onto her side, Sung wrapped Rill up from behind, pinning his arms. Two other of her Fighters helped pull Rill away a safe distance, all three of them scolding Rill angrily, demanding an answer for what he was thinking. Rill just laughed, taunting Mard.

At the same time, Herk tended to Mard, gently helping her sit up. Then she motioned calm to her Faithful. “Just some water,” said Herk. “She’ll be fine.”

A hushed but vigorous argument broke out around Rill. Sung and many of her Fighters insisting Rill apologize. Rill refusing, vehemently.

“What did the gods have to do with last night?” Rill bellowed. “Nothing! It was those warriors with their muscle and knives and magic. We should arm ourselves and train like them! What good are prayers?”

The argument continued, even after Sung left the Fighters’ huddle. She approached Mard slowly, eyes down, palms out. “My deepest apologies, Elder Mard,” Sung said, kneeling, head bowed. “Rill acted dishonorably. His shame is on me.”

Mard stood, wincing but resolute. “I want to hear him say it,” she spat. Then raising her voice above the argument with Rill. “I want you all to say it!” Mard gestured to Sung, Rill, and all of Sung’s Fighters. “To the Provider! A ritual of repentance! You all are blasphemers, and this has gone on long enough.”

A murmur went through the group of Faithful. Agreement. Maybe “blasphemers” was harsh, some said. But yes, repentance! “Who knows?” one said aloud. “Maybe Providence of the Sea will be merciful.”

Rill went silent. The Fighters looked around at each other, many with looks of shock. Some hesitated or took half steps away from Rill. Others straightened, stood their ground.

Still kneeling, Sung looked up, incredulous, and locked eyes with Mard. Sung seemed about to protest, but Mard cut her off. Keeping her eyes on Sung, Mard called out:

“Most Honored Speaker Oramir! Surely you will preside over the ritual, will you not?”

controlling the mail, or Tommy Tutone’s Rule of Game Mastery

In two consecutive weeks, in two separate campaigns, players were frustrated with the flow of information—NPCs who, in response to PC queries, didn’t give enough or the right kind of information or give it quickly enough. In the first, I was the GM. In the second, I was the player.

So I wonder: What can I as a GM learn? What can I as a player learn?

GM lessons

In the first session in question, I was GM. It was the second session of gameplay in a new campaign. The heroes, still relative strangers to each other, were lost and exposed. A job that was supposed to be ceremonial and not difficult went sideways. A wizard much more powerful than them put them to sleep, stole the item they were chosen to retrieve, and teleported the whole party to an unknown place. There, while they were still asleep, all the heroes’ weapons, armor, gold, and other supplies were stolen. Then, after waking and fighting off a small harpy, they made their way to a lone hut in the distance. Rice-farming lizardpeople lived there.

“I hate these lizardpeople!” one player muttered with a laugh, after a few minutes of roleplaying. This was the first sign the players were frustrated, and it surprised me.

It told me they weren’t picking up what I was laying down. In response to specific PC questions, NPCs hesitated and gave each other tense and meaningful looks.

In hindsight, I could’ve added other details. What I was going for was: this is a night of fear:

They were on edge because tonight was the night the harpies would come to take the villager’s monthly offering of food.

It was also a night of bitter argument:

This family—as indeed the whole village—was being torn apart by this question: do we leave this place for a new home because it’s too dangerous here, or do we stay and fight?

I wanted to avoid saying, “You get the feeling you walked in on an argument” or “They seem on edge or tense.” I hoped to describe it so they came to the conclusion themselves.

I think I needed more and various kinds of details to paint a picture of an interrupted argument. The italics are ones I in hindsight wish I’d added:

  • hesitation in answering

  • sharp-eyed glances

  • bitter remarks from one NPC to another

  • put downs, spoken as if the other wasn’t there

  • brooding silence

  • folded arms

  • derisive huffs and snorts

Or of fear:

  • “Go home! You know what night it is!”

  • Panicked: “You took the incense stick! Go put it back between the grain baskets!”

  • “You killed a harpy?! You’ve doomed us all!”

  • nervous fidgeting and glancing out the window

  • huddled in a corner

  • muffled crying

  • too insistent that “everything’s fine!”

You get the idea.

Possibly, I set too great a challenge for myself. Just one of those—argument or fear—might’ve been enough, but both at once? Definitely I overestimated how clear a picture I was painting. Perhaps I underestimated how anxious the players would be to re-equip and figure out where they were—they just weren’t in a chatty, attend to the emotional state of NPCs mood. There was also the crosswind of the anti-hero PC speculating about killing these NPCs and asserting he didn’t care about them.

There was a lot going on. And I didn’t provide the context my players needed to understand the NPC’s actions. Live and learn.

Player lessons

The very next week, the shoe was on the other foot. I was a player wanting more/faster information out of an NPC.

Obnoxiously, I said in character, “Well, you’re not a very good spy, are you?” (In my defense, it was true to my character, who is an impeached former mayor. Impeached for a reason, including imperiousness.)

But in short, I as a player failed to practice the very thing I as a GM hoped the players would’ve done a week earlier:

stop and wonder, “What’s going on with this NPC? Am I putting them out? What would happen if I got curious about them instead of simply pumped them for the information I need?”

Emotional intelligence. Empathy. Humanity.

Yeah, when I was a player, my character was just a big “give me what I want!” jerk too. In fact, I might’ve been a bit of a jerk toward the GM.

Here was the scene:

Colville: information

Cursed Myth: icon benefit rules

[These are the icon benefit rules we’re using in this campaign.

TL;DR: its an adaptation of 13th Age Glorantha “narrating icon benefits” rules. I also quote below from the 13th Age GM’s Resource Book.

My great hope is that players get comfortable and have fun using icon benefits to add to the story.]

Benefits, even from Random Icons

Roll 1d6 after assigning each relationship point to a number on the die. For example, your character has two positive points with Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng and one negative with King Battlehammer. You gain a benefit with the Emperox on a 1 or 2 and with the King on a 3.

If you miss (rolling 4-6 in this case), then roll 1d12 and gain a benefit with a random icon. If you roll a random icon you have a relationship with (in this example, the Emperox or the King), your benefit is empowered. It's like an old 6, a powerful benefit with no complication.

When you “narrate a benefit,” roll a normal “complication” save. On an 11+, there's no complication. Otherwise, there is.

After gaining a fourth icon relationship point, roll for another benefit when your complication save is a 20. At 5 points, roll for another benefit at  16+. At 6 points, 11+.

[This last paragraph is my addition to 13G rules. It keeps the probability and overall number of benefits roughly equivalent to the standard Core Rulebook rules. It also ensures that gaining relationship points means something.]

Narrating Benefits

We’ll also use this other 13th Age Glorantha (13G) rule: Icon benefits allow players to shape the story, not gain powers or combat bonuses.

Narrating [icon benefits] is the player’s choice; it’s one of the ways...players co-create the story of the game (13G).

Narrate a benefit by adding people, places, things, mystic powers, plots, organizations, and events to the scene or situation. Create new ones on the spot, or call on old ones.

Story Events, not Combat Powers

13G uses the word “narrate” intentionally, because narrated icon benefits are “usually more like story events.”

Your [icon benefit] indicates a direction that the story can take. It doesn’t indicate that your character is full of mystic power to be unleashed in battle (13G).

This point of view is implicit in the Core Rulebook.

The core rulebook generally discusses iconic advantages as things that help PCs overcome story obstacles, provide information, or perhaps avoid fights before they start. They weren’t necessarily designed to provide mechanical benefits to a PC. But sometimes a player wants to use an advantage during battle to help overcome an enemy, to survive the battle, or to help an ally in some way. Unless both the players and GM agree to this type of usage as standard, it’s probably best to limit it to special story  circumstances (13th Age GM's Resource Book).

Narrate benefits as cool, mystic power, as in the examples below. But let that power generally work outside of combat.

Icons as Benefactors

Icons are your benefactors. Though formidable, they need help that only you can give. In return, you may draw on icons’ resources—their servants, secrets, items, and mystic power—to achieve your goals. Or maybe an icon’s agents or organization are a little bit trying to kill you. Then you draw aid from their enemies. When it’s complicated, resources and resistance come from both directions.

  • Find someone or something

  • Discover information

  • Overcome an obstacle

  • Gain help defeating a powerful enemy

  • Avoid combat or start a battle with an advantage

“I Know a Guy.”*

An icon’s secrets, items, or power will most often come to you via their servants: NPCs. So narrate an icon benefit by declaring, “I know a guy!” and sketch that NPC and the relationship. (A few quick points are enough.) It can create moments like Obi Wan finding Han Solo or Han finding Lando, depending on your complication save.

You can also narrate icon benefits as:

  • Flashbacks

  • Magical aid

  • Magical spirits

  • Sentient or semi-sentient magic items

  • Iconic tattoos or symbol

Inspiration

Leverage your character’s One Unique Thing, icon relationships, and backgrounds. Draw on your campaign notes and your character’s factions and NPC relationships.

A robust Creation Night will, I trust, create lots of building blocks for you to narrate icon benefits. The following examples are adapted from 13G.

it's my party, I'll anti-hero if I want to

[In which, while this week I play in my buddy’s 13th Age campaign, I reflect on GMing with anti-heroic Revan in a party of heroes.]

backchannels

Maybe you read about the last session of my “Cursed Myth” campaign: the roleplaying got intense.

Revan considered killing NPCs who gave the lost, unarmed, and unarmored party food, shelter, and key clues about where they were. One threw Revan out of their house. While Revan was outside, he killed their dog with necromancy.

Revan’s player and I have an open line of communication, since before dice hit the table. He ran his idea past me. Then, at my invitation, he discussed his plan with the group at Creation Night. His bottom line: I want everyone to have fun. As we play, let me know if how I’m playing Revan becomes a problem. After the last session, he reaffirmed this. He also asked me for feedback.

creating Revan

Before the campaign started, Revan’s player asked how I felt about him playing an evil character. I wasn’t against it. I mostly asked questions to clarify how he saw his character.

I also shared this: Matt Colville's "On Being an Evil Character."

He found it helpful. Revan, he said, would be an anti-hero. As Colville described it:

An anti-hero, by contrast, is someone who literally does not want to be a hero. They do not embody the traditional virtues of heroism. They reject them and often openly ridicule them.: But they can be trusted to the right thing because it furthers some necessary goal. You can’t rely on them to be on your side in the grand scheme of things, but for this one mission, you will know they will help, because they have to.

Like Max in Mad Max.

So last session,, Revan was an anti-hero. His player did what he said he would do. In the moment, I was not thinking about this. But afterward, I saw it. Revan killed their dog and helped protect the lizardpeople from the harpies and ogre. The latter, not because Revan wanted to save them, but because he wanted to save himself and his mission.

In the bigger picture of this campaign, I share some of the burden of making Revan fit in this campaign. For one, I didn’t say no but encouraged him. I’d be an ass of a GM to leave him hanging. But also, as GM, that’s the job. Make room for the characters. Make it fun for the players. It’s what I’ll do for each character. It’s just more obvious with Revan.

For the duration of the campaign, I must pull all the strings of the world to make sure Revan’s goals align with the rest of the party’s goals. I have to arrange the pieces so Revan will do the right thing and help them because he has to.

Revan the Bonehook

Cave Elf Necromancer

OUT

I lived after a beheading at the hands of the Emperox’s Halos. I have no head, only a haze-filled cowl with a pair of glowing gray eyes.

Icons

+2 Wraith Lord
-1 Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng

Backgrounds

Former emissary for Necropolis, during the War of Night’s End against the King and Emperox.

I ran the corpse smuggling ring known simply as the Defilement to fuel the Lich King’s army.

Raised by my grandmother who was head of the Drakkenhall interrogation station of the Ministry of Order, Queen Moro-Līanae's spy organization.

the Cursed Skull (Revan’s Faction)

Agenda

Revive necromancy, bring an end to the ‘Unholy Dawn’ [bring down the Emperox] and initiate the cleansing of Necropolis, and create communities where necromancers can safely live and practice their faith

Icon Relationships

Positive Wraith Lord
Negative Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng
Negative King Battlehammer

creating a campaign that includes Revan

When Revan’s player first asked what I thought about evil characters, I knew almost nothing about the rest of the party. But I did know I’d leave it up to the players which icons were heroes, villains, or ambigiously both.

This is a must for 13th Age, and it’s the first—but not only—step toward a campaign where the characters fit together.


The Rest

+2 Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng

-1 Wraith Lord

Revan

-1 Divine Emperox Xìnyǎng

+2 Wraith Lord


I’m glad Revan and his player are part of the campaign. Revan’s OUT and backgrounds add a great deal to the world—things I never would have considered. But for a minute, consider a campaign without him:

  • The main heroic icon would’ve been the Divine Emperox.

  • The Wraith Lord would’ve been a secondary villainous icon.

But as it is, I gotta let Revan shift the icon dynamics of the campaign. What I expected or what his or any other players expected must give way to this truth:

The Divine Emperox and the Wraith Lord are equally ambiguous—about two-thirds heroic and one-third villainous.

Isn’t that a more interesting campaign, anyway?

So…


spoilers follow


I get to have some fun more than one player.

  • The Revan I’ve seen so far doesn’t seem to know about the Wraith Lord’s strong heroic streak.

  • The Oramir and Aso I’ve seen so far doesn’t seem to know about the Divine Emperox’s significant villainous streak.

Add to this, three of five players have negative relationships with Daevos the Cursed Merchant. There’s the main villainous icon. Now I gotta give Revan and Aso reasons to hate a servant of the Cursed Merchant!

Which, I have to say, creating factions alongside characters was a big help. Revan’s character, for example, fully identifies with the Cursed Skull’s agenda. So when Daevos messes with that….well, he better find a bodyguard for his dog.

Now a lot of this is still fairly abstract. What about specific NPCs and encounters? Obviously, there’s more to work out. Or improvise. But getting clear on the bones of the campaign makes the rest easier.

For me, Revan’s player, and the whole group.

Cursed Myth 1.0.1

[Stink’s player was late for this session, joining at the start of the first round of combat. Oramir’s player was very late. Here is the previous (and first) session.]

Harpy and vultures!

As the sun set, the harpy [CRB 234, modded] flew from the north. It circled the adventurers on the small hill and landed atop the northernmost obelisk, taunting them. “You’re tresspassing in our valley. What a tasty treat you will make.”

Unarmed and unarmored, Aso, Duncan, and Revan did not hesitate to join the fight. But strangely, Stink and Oramir stayed hidden in the tall prairie grass. Aso the dwarf abomination made a spit attack but missed. The gloating harpy sang a fiendish song, targetting Aso and Duncan. They took psychic damage, and Duncan was hampered. Revan the necromancer cast ray of frost, dealing cold damage. Then the harpy called to the vultures and they stopped their circling and plunged downward: one each on Duncan and Revan, two on Aso. They pecked and clawed, dealing minor damage. Duncan punched at a vulture and shook off the hampered effect.

Suddenly, Stink lept up from hiding and with two fists attacked the vulture on Revan and killed it. Aso swiped at one vulture with his claw. The harpy exclaimed, “Oh, a fight! This will be fun!” It sang its fiendish song again, damaging Aso and Duncan. Revan frosted the harpy again, staggering it. The two remaining vultures pecked and clawed at Duncan and Aso. This time it hurt. Duncan swung and hit the vulture on him.

Then Stink attacked the vulture on Aso, and Aso finished it off with another claw attack. The harpy screeched in rage and, goaded by Duncan’s sigil, attacked him with its talons, ripping at him painfully. Revan hit the harpy again. Duncan killed the vulture on him.

At last, Stink and Aso swarmed the harpy and killed it. Not much of a threat despite its taunts.

During a quick heal up, the adventurers found Oramir passed out, a large chunk of crumbled crystalline obelisk nearby. They could not rouse him. They also could not discern their location, the west-to-east flowing river was not enough of a clue.

the lone farm hut

Aso shouldered Oramir, and they all started south. Crossing the lively but shallow river, Aso twisted his ankle. Then they climbed many levels of densely overgrown rice paddies, toward what they presumed was a farmers hut up the mountainside. By the time they reached the edge of the cultivated paddies, they stood in shadow. Only the peak of the mountain glowed in failing sunlight. They noticed coy-like fish in these paddies. They heard a dog barking from a kennel behind the hut. Revan wondered about killing the dog. A pungent incense log burned between three bushel-baskets of a rice-like grain.

They saw a flash of movement from the hut’s window and decided on a direct approach. Stink knocked.

“Go away!” a voice called from within. Stink knocked again. “Go away! You know what day it is. Go back to your hut.”

“No,” Stink answered. “We are lost travelers seeking shelter.”

The door opened a crack, and the large yellow eye of a lizardperson came into view. “Close your eyes,” the lizardperson demanded.

“What? Why?”

“Just blink hard like this” and the lizardperson showed them. Stink and Aso complied. Duncan hesitated but finally did too. Revan defied the request, but the lizardperson didn’t notice. “Now drop your weapons.”

“We don’t have any.”

“Okay, then come in quickly! You’re putting us in danger coming here tonight!” They all entered. Revan, last, found a corner to lurk in, holding the insense log from outside. “Hey! Put that back! What are you trying to do?” Revan complied.

The hut was one large room, except for a single closed door leading to another room. In one corner lay mattresses. On a mattress sat a lizardperson holding an infant. Near the center of the room, a table and four chairs. Another lizardperson sat there (later identified as Sung), wary of them. Herk, the lizardperson who invited them in, quickly fetched drinking water. She also brought out some prepared grain for them to eat.

rising tension

Herk gave short answers to the adventurers’s questions. And even though they percieved the lizardfolk as tight-lipped and obstructionist, nonetheless, thanks to Herk, they soon guessed their approximate location. The river in the valley was the Green Star River and the wilderness to the north, the Dragon Wood, they decided. Herk told them the nearest large settlement was a four days journey to the east. It was called Valor, and it was a port on what the adventurers guessed was the Iron Sea. A lizardfolk village was on the other side of the mountain ridge, to the south. Still, the adventurers became impatient. Revan wondered about killing the lizardpeople, starting with the baby.

[In hindsight, I wonder if I should've said, "You get the feeling you interrupted a bitter argument between mother and daughter, an argument about some of the very things you're asking about." Instead, the way I played it was to drop breadcrumbs and wait for players to pick up the trail. Was it too subtle? Did I underestimate players' anxiety to discover their location and resupply? Would being perfectly opaque have sacrificed the dramatic tension between the PCs and NPCs? Or would it have simply given players clearer choices and a better understanding of possible consequences? TBH, it never crossed my mind to say, “You get the feeling…” So how could I play this misunderstanding/conflict of needs next session? Pondering.]

Then they asked about the obelisks. Herk said she didn’t know anything, but maybe Nani Raan did. Nani Raan was sleeping in the other room. Stink went to open the door, but Herk blocked him, as graciously as she could. “It’s late. Nani Raan is sleeping.” Stink and his companions agreed to wait until morning.

Stink asked how long they had lived here. Three years, Herk said with grief in her voice, glancing at Sung and hesitating to say more. Stink cheerfully guessed a tale of woe was involved. Confused, Herk confirmed this and said, the village was considering relocating again, glancing again at Sung. Brigands with eyes painted on their eyelids chased them from their original home and now had found them here.

Oramir suddenly woke up, no worse for the wear.

[Oramir’s player arrived at this point. I didn’t want to break the flow of what I thought was a fun, dramatic roleplay. But I do have a little twist to reveal later, explaining Oramir’s blackout.]

The adventurers asked about the incense and grain outside. “They’re for the harpies,” Herk said. “We killed a harpy,” they said.

Herk’s eyes went wide with fear, clutching the carved wooden fish hanging from her necklace. “You doomed us all!” Sung cried. There were two other harpies, Herk said. And they commanded an ogre.

Revan said something that insulted Sung. She lept up from the table. “Who the hell are you?!” she shouted. “You come into our home, and insult us?! Get out! GET OUT!!” Revan complied, saying he didn’t care about these lizardpeople, he only cared about the mission, maybe he should just kill them.

[I took this as Revan’s inner monologue, nonetheless evident in his outward manner.]

Just then a harpy screech echoed across the valley. Then another. The dog outside began barking. Stink asked if they had any weapons. And Herk quickly produced two knives, which Stink took. An ogre-ish roar sounded outside. The dog barked more. But suddenly squeeled and stopped—Revan killed it with necromancy. “Come out! Come out, wherever you are!” sang the harpies.

The rest of the adventurers went outside to confront them, Sung following…

two harpies and the ogre!

The dark figure of the ogre [CRB 240] began charging up the terraces. As it did, Revan cast terror, and one harpy flew screaming from the fight. The second harpy sang a fiendish song, and Aso answered with a spit attack. Stink charged the ogre and scored a critical hit with his borrowed knife. With his second melee attack, he scored a second critical! The ogre bellowed. Duncan and Oramir attacked the ogre too.

Despite Duncan’s sigil, the ogre swung its big club at Stink, dealing significant miss damage. Revan frosted the remaining harpy. It answered with another fiendish song, weakening Duncan and Stink. The other harpy kept fleeing. Stink landed another blow against the ogre, and then another critical!

[Stink, a ranger, has the double melee talent. In four attacks against the ogre, he rolled a 20, 20, 18, and 20! Amazing!]

Aso, Duncan, and Oramir also kept up the attack.

Staggered, the ogre gave Stink, Duncan, and Oramir a big shove, then partially hit Stink again. Stink was hurting. But Revan and Aso felled the harpy, and the ogre soon fell too.

A distant harpy screech sounded across the valley. It did not return.

aftermath

As the party congratulated each other and caught their breath, Sung—who had hung back during the battle—went to check on the dog. Finding it dead, she spun and pointed at Revan. “You killed him!”

{Revan’s player immediately said, “I’m going to kill these lizardpeople.” I said, “Okay. I’m going to slow the action down.” To the other players I said, “You see what’s happening. Are you going to intervene?” They hesitated. Revan’s player decided to try to convince her it wasn’t him.]

She might have struck him, if his “who, me?” patter was not so earnest.

[Revan’s player succeeded on a “hard” charisma-based background check. I could’ve realistically ruled it “ridiculously hard,” in which case he would have failed (forward?), but this was maybe for the best.]

Regardless, Revan’s companions grumbled against him, siding with Sung. Just then, Herk came outside, further defusing the situation. Clutching her fish necklace, she shared her grateful amazement with the party, especially Stink. She invited them back inside.

Sung, however, grumbled about the remaining harpy. Stink suggested they hunt it down, and his companions agreed. They asked Herk where the harpy lair was. She said, “We don’t cross the river.”

[I offered the players a choice: pursue the harpy in the morning, or spend a full day on a full heal up. They opted for a full heal up. Which sets the stage perfectly for more fun lizardfolk roleplay in the next session! But before you read that, read this “story interlude” game fiction I shared with players before the next session.]