Tabletop Meditations #1: Treading Common Ground

While participating in roleplaying games many times over I’ve found myself sitting with people I’d not otherwise associate with, individuals with whom I could easily creep through dripping sewers infested with giant mutated leeches or fight the ravening hordes of either zombies or orcs side-by-side but with whom I simply could not get along with away from the tabletop. Our only common ground being the table between us.

This may have been such because of either a collision of personalities or by accident of disposition which occasionally, of course, would erupt during the game but not often. Outside of the game we would have very little if anything, besides the game itself, in common our personal interests laying in completely unrelated areas and even in those that were related, mostly mutual interest in fantasy especially in the Lord of the Rings movies (at the time of the longest lived gaming group that I’ve been a part of), our attentions and emphases would be on different areas or our foci would be in completely different places. Over the tabletop however, we were knit together, granted occasionally our characters at each other’s throats but it was as they would do in-game, by table culture and interest in the current campaign even over outside influences such as the overall tabletop roleplaying culture as can be tangentially experienced and engaged for the most part through the tubing of the internet.

The only common ground between us besides fantasy and sci-fi genera was the tabletop and the activity of roleplaying. Even the subject that should have united each member with the others in our group (at the time), heroic fantasy, a subject on which we differed drastically each person with their own particularly strong opinions and preferences on the subject.

A particular sore spot in one incarnation of that gaming group when it came to outside but related interests were Drizzt & the Icewind Dale Trilogy. I hated these finding them particularly pedantic and frankly boring with major scenes ripped off from the Lord of the Rings books (Icewind Dale Trilogy) as the action set-pieces, found in reverse order in these novels from what I remember, blech! When it came to THE dark elf, Drizzt seemed to me a pale copy of Elric of Melniboné and the Dark Elf Trilogy (sensing a pattern here?) was just as lame as the previously mentioned Icewind Dale books and treated characters as devices rather than towards any genuine attempt at using characterization to drive the narrative such as Clacker – the Hook Horror which seemed to just be there to pluck at a heart string or two before he’s done away with.

Another memorable bit from the Dark Elf novels concerns a very out-of-place graphic orgy/demon-rape scene which again is just there to titillate and/or shock especially the incestuous interaction between Drizzt and his priestess sister. Basically all six novels seemed to rely on lazy and cheap hack-writer tactics but one guy at the table, let’s call him Big-H, LOVED these things, in fact in an effort to try to get a better footing on some shared earth between the two of us I read all six of the damned things, needless to say I think our concepts of what constitutes GOOD fantasy fiction differed quite a lot. My suggestions to him, none of which he read, were the “Original Saga” of Elric (consisting of Elric of Melniboné, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, and the Weird of the White Wolf), bet you didn’t see THAT coming, and the dell editions of Robert E. Howards work, namely The Conquering Sword of Conan specifically due to one of my favorite of the pantherish barbarian’s adventures, Beyond the Black River.

The real trouble would begin when Big-H would insert things he read in an R.A. Salvatore novel (then his favorite novelist, I have no idea if that’s still the case) into the game when he would referee/game-master, a particular incident which nearly ended a campaign was when we openly decided to and successfully took Drizzt out. Taking both mine and Big-H’s fiction preferences as combined examples into account even though both are fantasy and arguably of the sword & sorcery genre they couldn’t be farther apart in style, content, and might I say, originality. At the table though our differences colored our in-game conduct and altered how we constructed our game-worlds & structured our campaigns when we would Game-Master.

In fact another friend, let’s call him Red, that had played for a while had similar but still very different preferences for fiction from either Big-H or myself. He was a devotee for a brief period of the Discworld books; I enjoyed the first four novels (compiled in an SFBC edition called Rincewind the Wizzard which I still own) but had no interest outside of those.

He seemed to more enjoy the humorous, light-hearted side of things as well as the weird monsters, I tend to enjoy the more atmospheric and action-oriented type stories not that I don’t enjoy the humorous side of fantasy; I like the Xanth books as an example, my favorite among those being Castle Roogna, and again my penchant for Sword & Sorcery becomes apparent. Red often described scenes, characters, and incidents that had recently amused him found in the pages of whichever novel in the series he had recently read sometime before the game. Typically prefaced with the statement “I was just reading something really awesome on the toilet”. He was a self-confessed bathroom reader; information I could have done without by the way especially when he would go into graphic detail about an especially memorable poo, yech!

I, again, recommended Moorcock’s Elric books the first of which I loaned him but he didn’t like it due to the anti-heroic nature of the perpetually morose and somewhat unlucky albinic protagonist and the torture scenes, too dark for him apparently. He did express a passing interest in the Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser books when yet another player and I would talk about mutually enjoyed exploits of the daring duo. Unfortunately, to my knowledge Red never got around to reading those. Basically, everyone at the table at any given time seems to have had very distinct tastes in the fantasy that on the surface had brought us all to the table but that vague and general interest by itself certainly didn’t provide much tack to keep us all together in the real world as friends though it did contribute to the overall table-culture as it applied directly to game-play at least allowing us to be “table-friends”.

Table-friends being those individuals that really don’t have a close association outside of the game basically only seeing and interacting with each other in context to game-night. This might result from things as simple as scheduling conflicts or as complex as personal incompatibility. As I’ve been reading both in books and on various message boards/aggregators this is not an uncommon occurrence when it comes to gaming groups.

“Typically, those who participate in fantasy gaming groups develop a social network consisting of other group members; overtime …members of these groups become acquaintances and then friends. However, it appears that these social ties often do not transcend the gaming settings; gaming friends need not be, and frequently are not, friends outside the gaming group.” [Shared Fantasy, Gary Alan Fine, The University of Chicago Press, 1983, pg.237 – emphasis mine]

Experience has demonstrated to me that the incongruity of personalities and disparity of attitude within a group and the consistent minor conflicts that that entails sometimes resulting from gameplay itself is definitely a contributing factor to the disintegration of roleplaying groups. What kept all of us at the table was interest in participating in the shared fantasy and our interest in the game and its elements and of course the desire for fun. A major factor that helped to keep us together so we could engage in fantasy gaming and find our common ground there was the group culture that formed around the table, the table-culture of our group .

This involved the habits and rules governing behavior while at the table and what we found acceptable within the game and at play, behavior and traditions unique to every group around every table gathering members under a single uniting umbrella that shelters only their own table. The roleplaying community as whole consists of common references and special portions of knowledge, its own form of pop-culture, basically a subculture in and of itself but the community overall is composed of smaller cells, each cell a separate and self-identifying roleplaying group and its table culture that contributes to group cohesion as its this sub-subculture that exists at the table among each individual group distinguishing them from the rest of the roleplaying rabble.

“Every group develops a culture…termed its idioculture (Fine 1979). An idioculture is a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and customs peculiar to an interacting group [.]” [Gary Alan Fine, 1983, pg.136; author’s citation]

Idiocultures transcend certain aspects that appear to be central to gaming groups, especially to those outside since these are the most evident, such as genre and even system preference. Its idioculture that serves as a glue just outside of gameplay (or on the meta-side as it were) to keep a group at a table so that they can enter the game as a unit and form an adventuring party, regardless of the in-game dysfunction or efficiency (or lack thereof) of such a unit. Within this social structure disparate individuals come together for some fun.

This allows individual players to gather and begin to take an interest as they roll-up characters, explore the mysteries and horrors of the fantasy world, seek out and enter into conflicts that test their intellect and composure as well as that of their in-game personas. If it is a general interest in fantasy that can bring individuals together, it is the idioculture that can keep them together long enough to allow them to build a mutual interest, lay the groundwork for an imaginative construct upon which they can produce their own very personalized entertainment.

Of course if the members of a group cannot focus on the game taking interest in its elements in some manner the table-culture will only serve as a bandage holding the group together until something of interest can be found (or happens) or until there’s a clash of wills which can cause a group to self-destruct or simply dissipate without so much as a whimper.

The two major factors in the dissolution of gaming groups, at least in my experience, are the differences between individuals meaning those that are only assuaged by the common ground of gaming and real life occurrences. One cannot do much about life other than to go with the flow so that’s a moot point and definitely should be excused if not wholly understood at the time of departure.

A game IS just a game after all. Conflicting attitudes kept in check by a mutual interest in the game can cause the group to completely disintegrate in the blink of an eye when player interest wanes. When the players are no longer interested in the setting, in exploring the GM’s world, and building a mutual fantasy the framework of the group begins to tumble down, sometimes all at once, like a Jenga-Tower stacked too haphazardly but even this collapse can be somewhat stalled by interest in one’s own character but part of that is of course, testing them against the GM’s world; after all interest in the fantasy world does feed directly into the players’ interest in their own characters.

When interest in the game-world is lost the group will inevitably begin to fall apart as normally incompatible personalities which when interest is high can actually be a contributing force to the mutual fantasy become absolutely destructive causing games to suddenly explode into argument and creating the circumstances ripe for in-game back-stabbing and bad character deaths which can murder the fun that brought everyone to the table in the first place. When it gets particularly bad some may leave the realm of tabletop forever over very REAL feelings of betrayal by those they may have considered friends (the latter statement being based on an actual non-anecdotal incident).

Not to say backstabbing in-game is always a bad thing it is just a very risky endeavor though it can contribute when conducted correctly (and very carefully) to mutual interest (as well as in-game vengeance justified or otherwise). Group interest in the game is key in keeping groups together and at the table rolling dice. Interest is the deepest bedrock of a fantasy roleplaying group on top of which they build their mutual fantasy and sediment new imaginative layers over the old through play to create rich, deep imaginative worlds.

Groups are held, often loosely, together by mutual interest in the game that they are playing, to a lesser extent by group idioculture, and by a general interest in the subject matter shared by its members. These help individuals with disparate tastes, differing opinions & backgrounds, and discordant dispositions to find a foothold on mutual ground in a shared imaginative world, at least in my opinion. But interest and the investment in the fantasy itself and its components is what is absolutely central to any successful roleplaying group even over mutual outside interests, table-culture, and maybe even friendship away from the tabletop.

Ultimately Red and Big-H among others simply drifted away a few had stormed from the table in a huff never to return. All of the groups that they, and I, participated in over a period of about 10-years all fell apart in the end sometimes to come back in a new incarnation but ultimately the last to have at least two of us as members fell apart from a combination of life and personal friction never to reform.

That’s just my rambling meditation on the clash between personalities at the table, the double-edge of fantasy gaming I suppose.

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The Dragonslayers III Pt. 22: Howl of the Night-Trolls

A bit from the GM's notebook
A bit from the GM’s notebook

Magiia held a ready stance her shield on one arm and her battle-axe in hand, Vorwulf stood unarmored with his two-handed astral-drift-metal great axe in his, and Grom readied waiting to unleash his magic on the onrushing troll-flesh. The battle howl of the night-trolls became deafening as they charged in. The raging black-skinned trolls were wearing Scale-mail vests the medallions on their chests bearing the unmistakable arms of Trollguard. They were brandishing their serpent-bladed great swords menacingly and carelessly in the air.

Cris (Vorwulf’s Player): “Makes sense. These guys loose out here like the Black Soldiery.”

Gil (Grom’s Player): “What?”

Cris: “We killed their leaders. The lich. Remember, Vorwulf and Bers killed their [the trolls]  God-King. Of Trollguard. While you fought with the army.” Trollguard is immediately adjacent to, in the North-East of, Norusk.

Gil: “Oh yeah. Well. Let’s do this guys!”

A pair of trolls charged Magiia but their clumsy blows proved ineffective. Maggi whacked the first troll to reach her of that pair with a powerful swing of her battle-axe dropping the creature immediately, foul black ichor spattered everywhere. Two more trolls charged at the amazon leveling powerful blows with their own twisted weapons; both blows whistling by missing her by inches. The ground shook as a giant with slate-grey skin, 14 ft. tall, and with single eye on the side of its malformed head an enormous hunch rising up above its pointed skull, thumped onto the scene and swung a massively powerful blow with its two-handed iron-spiked great club at Maggi, but missed. Another pair of night-troll warriors entered the battle attacking Grom forcing him to simul-attack with an Animal Form spell (via the Battle Magic feat) instantly transforming one of the savages into a chicken which in a fluster of greasy black feathers leapt clumsily away into the darkness. The other gashed him deep opening a nasty wound. Yet another pair of trolls appeared and went at Vorwulf with a pair of mighty blows narrowly missing the ranger/dragon-slayer. Vor replied hacking a vicious wound into one of the duo of monsters that had charged him. A small group of about six trolls were engaging their guide, dancing around the giant seemingly only serving to distract him and were pushing him away as he held them at bay with his enormous boar spear separating him from the slayers. Soon the boar hunter was pushed into the dark outside of the firelight. The slayers lost sight of him. That was when they heard the baying of a pack of hounds running towards the fight, they could easily see them they were following the trolls and the Formorian (that is what the giant on the trolls’ side was). All the snarling dogs were wearing spiked collars and what amounted to studded leather armor over their backs.

Gil (Grom’s Player): “War-Dogs?”

Cris (Vorwulf’s Player): “They have War-Dogs with them!?”

One of the trolls on Maggi swung its sword at her but missed, she responded with a power attack dropping it in a blinding splatter of blood. The other two surrounding her swung clumsily at her as well each missing in turn as did the Formorian with its tree of a club. The single troll left on Grom took a swing but was parried, barely, by the shaman. The blow deflected from one of his bracers. Vorwulf parried the blows levied at him by the pair attacking him.

Grom: “Man! I need to get some room!”

Grom stepped back and unleashed a Wind Rush spell at his foe blasting it 100 ft. away from him. Vor hacked away at the troll he had previously hit, gore flowed over his axe up to his wrists though the monster still stood fast. One of the three remaining trolls on Maggi swung and missed, she dropped him in a single blow. Another of them swung at Maggi and the blow rang off of her axe and she turned her blade in counter and drove it through the monsters scale-mail crunching into ribs. The other threw its sword losing the weapon as it whizzed over Maggi’s head. She grinned murder at the monster. The Formorian took its chance and bashed the Ferenoi with a crushing blow, had she not been helmed the giant would’ve knocked her out. She was no longer smiling. The pair on Vor attacked again but missed badly as their impatient swings became more furious as well as clumsier. One of them also lost its grip on its heavy blade and wound up flinging it away. It was Vor’s turn to smile. With a single blow of his heavy axe Vorwulf whacked the swordless troll into two messy halves. The pack of war-hounds began to run into the battle and Grom quickened a Turn Beasts spell, every single war-dog turned tail and ran away the yelping quickly melted away into the distance.

One of the pair on Maggi swung and missed the other desperately clawed at her missing both times. The Formorian stomped on her smashing her to the ground like bug almost squashing her as it tried to pin her with its foot so it could grind the life out of her. She was badly injured. Vorwulf, after kicking the troll bisection at his feet into the campfire, chopped down the last troll within his reach. Grom tossed an alchemical grenade, an Alchemists’ Fire, onto an obviously regenerating troll body. It began to spasmodically twitch as it burned. The boar hunter was still out of sight though they could still here the clash of his boar spear against the night-trolls’ weapons.

Cris (to Gil): “Man! You know this all because of that troll book!”

Gil: “What troll book?”

Cris: “The Tome of Dragonslaying! Look! Hand me that.” Gil handed Cris the info-sheet, he got to keep it since Grom had ‘mastered’ it, for the troll-king copy of the Tome of Dragonslaying and pointed to a bit of information on it.

Cris: “Right here. ‘Troll Sense – ALL trolls within 1 square-mile will be attracted to the book’!”

Gil: “Oh. I forgot about that.”

Magiia was barely able to squeeze out and roll from under the Formorian’s club foot leaping to feet shield at the ready. Grom tossed another Alchemist’s Fire on another troll body as he neared Maggi’s position. The troll that Grom had blown a hundred feet away stood up and took its chance to flee. Vor kicked another half-troll into the fire, the air filled with the fetid stench of roasting troll-flesh and heavy, oily smoke began to fog the battlefield. The Formorian made a mighty sweep attack with its club catching Grom, Maggi, and a night-troll in the swing. The troll’s broken body took flight. Grom got hit and horribly injured. Maggi made a simultaneous attack in an attempt to drop the giant before his swing could reach her. She hacked his belly open but still took the blow which nearly killed her but the giant was hurt so she saw no reason to retreat. Vor chopped into a troll that tried to sit up. Grom ran back to try to heal himself. Maggi stepped in towards the Formorian and chopped him down with a final single blow and was able to sidestep the massive bleeding, eviscerated corpse as it came crashing down. The howl of the night-trolls was silenced. The battle was ended. Jez the Boar Hunter came bounding back into the view of the slayers; the trolls that had been keeping him busy had broken away as soon as their giant was felled jaunting off into the cover of the dark.

A downed troll near Maggi suddenly sat up. She immediately buried her axe in its skull putting it back down. They wasted no time in dousing all of the corpses, and the various severed bits, in the naphtha from the barrel of the stuff that Grom had purchased on their way out of town just a few days prior. Among the ever brightening yellow flames Maggi chopped through the log-thick neck of the Formorian severing its head after a couple of whacks ‘just in case’.

Jenn (Magiia’s Player)[Pointing at me, the GM, and with the annoying gusto of a late 90’s Gangsta Rapper]: “Ha! You tried to KILL me and I BEAT you! I killed that sucker like NOTHING! Ha! Just CUT HIM DOWN! Yeah!”



To Be Continued…

The Dragonslayers III Pt. 21: It’s What We Do!

Dawn in the town of Aáhké in the land of Norusk, in their bungalow Maggia had just finished restocking her Dragon-Blood Potion supply and Vorwulf was just beginning to nurse a hang-over with plans on fetching “some hair o’ the dog” with breakfast when Grom burst in wild-eyed and full of new info. He had easily bested the corrupted trapper and sang all he knew about those who had paid him with gold minted in the far north. The shaman went on to tell the slayers about the group of adventurers that had bribed the trapper since they had desired to stay out of town and keep a low profile having him among others that trapped and hunted the far eastern parts of Norusk to purchase wagon-loads of supplies for them and deliver those to a staging area near the White Heath. The assumed enemy group consisted of the “sons of the red dragon”, led by a half-dragon human with a double-ended bipennis axe and a steel helm marked by a pair of antlers, a dragon-shaman human, a red draconian with a cloak of black feathers and strangely feathers on his leathery wings and lastly another half-dragon human, a hunter and bowman whom was the spokesman to the trappers for the whole scary lot. They were all marked with a specific scarification on their chests and foreheads but the trapper couldn’t reproduce it for the shaman.

Gil (Grom’s Player): “And that’s all he would tell me. So after the gates reopened I came back here.”

Cris (Vorwulf’s Player): “Let me get this straight you spent all night OUTSIDE?”

Gil: “Oh yeah. I guess I could’ve transformed into an eagle or grew some wings and flew over the wall huh?”

Cris laughed and Jenn (Magiia’s Player) face-palmed.

Grom (Played by Gil): “Y’know he wouldn’t guide us there even after I threatened to kill him. Then he ran away WEST.”

Vorwulf (Played by Cris): “That’s because they’re scarier people than you.”

Grom settled in to catch some sleep while Maggi and Vor went to the Red-Bull tavern for breakfast and beer where the Ferenoi (an Amazon from the Icefere and Feren civilization there) put a platinum piece on the counter and wanted change since all she had was platinum. After Vorwulf helped to break up her currency so she could spend it at the bar they turned and noticed the place was rapidly filling up with two groups each of a fair number. The milder group appeared to be fighting men each with an Acton quartered with white and light blue but with the lower white quarter obviously and hastily painted with red. The central charge lying at the center of each of their chests which was a pair of crossed black maces with one being spiked. Hanging from each of their belts were maces of varying quality. Maggi asked Ole’ Twist about them and he told her they were a local “security outfit” called the Black Maces which hired themselves out to guard the merchant caravans that traveled through town and those moving north and south. He pointed out their offices just down the street though she couldn’t spot the placard bearing the very same heraldry. It was then that the other group filtered in.

These were definitely a large group of former Black Soldiery, rough looking and somewhat in a general state of agitation. A couple of them bumped into the pair of Black Maces that were pitching blades and tomahawks at the toss board, the defaced wood carving of the Achaánal clan heraldry. The captain of these ruffians rudely tossed a small sack of coin on the board and ordered drinks all around for “his men” and slopped himself down at a random long-table smelling to Maggi’s nose a bit road weary. The men at the toss board were beginning to argue loudly until the brigand captain gaveled his large wood mug which he had just pulled from his pack on the table. His men relented and sat down though still mad-dogging the mercs. The tension in the place settled and the uncomfortable silence slowly retreated as all of the men began to drink. After breakfast Maggi ordered herself a second jack of whiskey. Vor settled in at a table next the bar so he could sit with his back to the wall determined to wait for the boar hunter in order to hire him as a guide to the White Heath.

Jenn [to Cris]: “Dude, aren’t you a tracker or something?”

Cris: “A ranger and we’re not in familiar territory and it’s not small.”

That was when one of the Black Maces, a little tipsy, bumped into a brigand and the brigand roaring with drunken rage lunged up and drew his sword and swung, but missed, at the Black Mace. Almost instantly the place erupted. Strangely enough nobody paid any mind to Vorwulf but Maggi stood up and used the butt of axe to assist the locals.

Vorwulf: “Man o’ man. This is going to be good.” And so he watched.

It lasted less than a minute Maggi had battered down virtually all of the brigands including their leader without even breaking a sweat. Only two from each side were actually severely wounded and were quickly dragged away by their compatriots.

Gil [to Cris]: “Wait. You were just sitting there? Drinking while they fought all around you?”

Cris [a toothy self-satisfied smile on his hairy face]: “Yup.”

Having gotten into the good graces of the Black Maces and receiving and turning down an invite to join the company consisting of the ever-inticing “we could make a lot of money together” eliciting a derisive laugh from Vorwulf, Maggi went to the market later followed by Vor to gather up various sundries the most noteworthy being a 1 gallon clay jar and some black paint. Maggi and Vor went back to the room where Vorwulf painted 6 wooden shields with the black icon of the Blackwings guild (with a Natural 20 untrained art-check btw) later he went back to his spot to wait “all day” if necessary. That night Grom stood watch at the tavern as the other two slept talking with trapper after trapper all night long finding the same answer from each when he inquired as to their services as guides and probably giving them too much information. “The White Heath is cursed and what fool would go’o dere when a dragon’s tak’n oop dere.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that the titular boar hunter had appeared, a Hill-giant dressed in a patchwork of bristly boars’ hides and a sledge full of dressed quarry. Vorwulf introduced himself in a long-winded manner titles and all then the group and the giant sat next to the tavern drinking and eating from the barrel of pickled eel Maggi had bought from a gaggle of fishermen from the shores of the freshwater Norusk sea to the northwest. They talked awhile and when the giant, named Jez, found out where they were going…

Jez the giant: “What? You want to find dragon? There!? You fools or somethin’?”

Vorwulf: “Hell Yeah! We’re dragonslayers! It’s What We Do!”

So Jez the boar hunter agreed (after the shaman paid him a large Lapis Lazuli and charmed him then Vor paid him a silver talon “for expenses”). They would meet up at high noon at the south gate; the boar hunter had some trading to do. They shortly met back up at the prescribed time and place and departed with the giant in the lead.

It was a day or so later while traveling straight east they had stumbled upon an old campsite which they assumed to be that of the Wasp and his companion The Outrider which was 5 days old according to Vorwulf’s tracking instinct just before they stopped for the night. They were in what appeared to be a wide open glade but in reality it was an area of rolling hills which rose somewhat and flattened gradually to the south, a deep hidden ridge lay to the immediate north. They set up camp in a flat area which the giant called the East Meadow. It was on first that Maggi spotted the night trolls moving rapidly towards their camp with something much larger following them and in the distance what appeared to be a large pack of hounds. It was the howls of the trolls when they realized that they had been spotted that alerted the party. The slayers sprang up and armed themselves though with not enough time to don their armor before the monsters were upon them.


To Be Continued…

The Dragonslayers III Pt. 20: Dragon-Blood

Our intrepid heroes, the Blackwing Dragonslayers (Hirok-Nor branch), had finally found their way to the town that they were seeking which they had been given directions to TWICE after having made a wrong turn. The slayers’ strange craft floated by the ancient stone idol that stood a far way outside of the city palisade, it was chiseled into the crude shape of a grinning Satyr but the horns had been recently hammered away. The pennant flying above the open gates of the town of Aáhké bore a split field of white and red and a golden chalice with a longsword and golden mace crossing behind it. The guard loitering before the gate bore shortspears and freshly scraped round shields where the old heraldry could still be made out. The shields had borne a quartered field of white and light green with a red ram’s head being the central charge, the banner of the Achaánal clan but had been scraped and probably sanded. The presumed captain of the guard stepped forward to greet the incoming strangers his shield did have a fresh coat of red and white paint on its face. Vorwulf using his magic helmet halted the magic hovercraft. The guards were a homogenous mix of human, faun, and hill giant common to the Hill-Lands and were puzzled by the adventurers’ weird vehicle but not disturbed.

Vorwulf [Played by Cris]: “Is there a healer or a White Star Guild in this town?”

The Captain of the Guard [pointing at Magiia]: “If ya need help for your friend see the priest, Norwe, he might be able to help. What’s wrong with her? Doesn’t look like Marsh Fire.”

Grom [Played by Gil]: “She got bit by a Lindwurm.”

Vorwulf: “Dragon-venom.”

The captain shook his head knowingly and directed them to the Wayman’s Camp and the Travelers’ Inn not far inside the gates. Vorwulf caught sight of a prison-wagon, as this town apparently lacked a proper jail, across from the inn and a familiarly colored cloak from between its iron bars. He approached to get a better look at the person bundled underneath the black and yellow striped cloak. To his disappointment it wasn’t Xanto the wasp but rather an old faun vagrant. The pathetic old drunk told them that a young wizard gave him his cloak as he left town about two days ago along with someone he called “the outrider”. Soon after that the adventurers had already paid for a room (4 gp per night) and leaving Maggi in the room both Grom and Vor had made their way into the market place where all of the early season merchants were set up.

In the small market place they found that there were no permanent storefronts but a collection of wagons most of which opened up to show-off the goods for sale. They found the usual collection of snake-oil salesmen, weapons dealers, and local produce especially fish and eels. They quickly found they couldn’t understand anyone there so the shaman “chugged down” a potion of Comprehend Languages. He instantly realized that they were speaking Westlander, the native language of our heroes, but with an extremely heavy Hill-Lander accent. They quickly find a trader in alchemical gear and potions. Vorwulf picks up 2 potions of fire protection and 3 alchemist kits paying with 75 gold pieces and a pair of large emeralds. Grom the shaman got 1 potion of Purification and 3 alchemist kits but then charmed the salesman getting a discount putting down 4 aquamarines and 160 gold pieces.

Cris: “Man! You wanted a DISCOUNT! You know rich we are! Like when I was trying to get that info from the wasp CHEAP and you threw down those diamonds!” (see the Dragonslayers II Pt. 2)

So Vorwulf tossed 4 rubies into the merchant’s eager hand as “f*@# you money”.

They returned shortly to their room, more a bungalow really, and gave Maggi the 6 alchemist kits. The shaman gave her the Purification potion which after she drank it seemed to have an effect as her shaking immediately stopped but in retrospect the shaman realized later that it couldn’t have done anything for her. The Ferenoi immediately leapt to her feet and snatched up a kit and began brewing Dragon-Blood Potion. The other two left her to her labors as they departed tot eh tavern which was almost directly across the street adjacent to the town cistern. A red bull on a white field adorned the pennant that hung from a post that faced the muddy winding street.

The Red Bull tavern was under a semi-permanent canopy of oiled-leather that extended from an open counter of a longhouse which served as the kitchen and bar for the place as well as the proprietor’s home. The tented portion of the tavern was held by a perimeter of evenly spaced poles set into a floor of flat stones held by packed earth and clay and the sides were roll-up panels or flaps. The flaps were all currently rolled up leaving the place practically open-air. The place already had a few rough-looking fur-clad dirty faced trappers drinking their breakfasts. Several others, obviously fighters, well-equipped were doing the same the heraldry on their actons was a pair of crossed black maces one spiked against a quartered field of light blue with one white and one red quarter. By himself near the bar sat another trapper with a full meal in front of him and counting a copious number of gold coins. Vorwulf immediately approached him asking him if he would hire on with them as a guide. He replied with a backwater accent in bad Westlander saying he would but the shaman sensing something not quite right with him said he would “like a second opinion” about the direction the shifty looking woodsman would take. Grom pulled his friend from the table to the counter.

Next to the counter mounted to the wood-log wall of the house was a painted carving of the arms of the Achaánal Highlander clan on a round shield. It was badly defaced and studded with various throwing implements, throwing daggers, darts, and tomahawks. The barkeep was a bulky and tall old faun nicknamed ‘Ole Twist’ due to his badly deformed and twisted horns gained form a childhood bout of Twist Horn, a disease which is often lethal to young fauns of the Hill-Lands. Over the hearth which could be seen from the bar-counter in the corner of the kitchen area hung a Satyr Blade, a double ended sword with each of the blades curved like a scimitar, which was notched up and down both of the wicked looking blades. They found the man friendly enough, an old adventurer, especially since the first thing that Vor did was slap down a platinum piece on the soggy bar.

Ole Twist told them about a more reliable guide known only to him as “the Boar Hunter”, a Hill-Giant that spends all of his time in the wilderness “somewhere abouts” Black Boar’s Heath just south of the White Heath they were asking after. The wasp had been in town for a short while and looking for a guide the one he found was hardly reputable, a traitor who had been a sell-sword for the Achaánal clan during the rebellion against their rule but he was tolerated due to the amount of gold and silver he spent around town. He was a ratling known as “the Outrider” who rode a war-goat.

Ole Twist: “The lil’ turd don’t fight fair with his feet o’ the ground but from o’ back o’ da goat wid’a spear, canna ya believe dat?”

After a few jacks of ale and a few more of some decent Hill-Lander whiskey Vor bought “something special” from the old goat, a bottle of carved glass with a ruby stopper. The contents of which seemed to whirl and surge of their own accord though Ole Twist said that it was whiskey of a “pow’ful vintage”. He described to Vorwulf the bottle contained a Whiskey Elemental, he had taken it as a share of some loot from an adventure a long time ago and it was only now that someone happened by with the wealth to buy it. He packed it away and sat down to finish the remainder of the booze he purchased prior. The shaman took off to the market again to buy some more potions buying out the alchemist of his Alchemist Fires. As dusk came both Vorwulf and Grom stumbled into the bungalow at the inn and found Maggi back to her full capacities. Vorwulf slopped into his bed. The shaman got Maggi to pry herself away from her work, she was brewing the rest of the Lindwurm-blood into Dragon-Blood Potions, long enough for her to buy a carved glass bottle of some “good stuff” from Ole Twist and while she went back to the room to continue her alchemical task which she did until dawn, the shaman decided to follow the shiesty woodsman that he and Vor had talked to earlier who was now thoroughly drunk.

Gil: “Don’t worry guys this’ll be easy.”

The shaman’s quarry immediately noticed he was being followed and shot off towards the West Gate with Grom in hot pursuit. Just as the town gates were being closed they both dashed out into the dark and that’s when the trapper turned and pulled out his dagger in one hand and his battleax in the other.


To Be Continued…