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Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.13: Walking on Needles

After a forced march around the parade ground and a breakfast of fruit, veggies, and bread in the mess, Afheesh (played by your dear narrator) went to the bursar. He collected the previous day’s pay, 95 bronze thorns (it would have been 100 but for the 5% Mezcor tithe). He spent the rest of the morning atop the thorns above the gates spotting for incoming caravans.

Less than an hour into the shift on the battlements, the rest of the guards, Thorn-runner ratlings like him, were asleep. In frustration, Afheesh approached the ratling wearing the captain’s helm, also snoring in a dirty corner. The helmet was a bronze peaked open helm with a thorn design around the edges and a faded and ratty red-dyed horsetail, there was a groove just above the brow for a turban wrap, which was missing. Portions of the bronze were badly tarnished other spots were polished to mirror shine. The helmet did sport some signs of combat, blade gashes and multiple dents, all old and oxidized.

The snoring ratling once wakened turned over the helmet without argument. When Afheesh shouted out commands it only elicited grumbles and groans from the rest, so he spent the time marching up and down the guard walk occasionally glancing outside. All was business as usual.

When his shift was finally over, Afheesh went to return the captain’s helmet.

Formerly Snoring Ratling: “Just toss it in the corner. That’s where I found it. The sun was in my eyes there so…”

He stumbled off leaving Afheesh standing there looking perplexed. Eventually Afheesh threw the worn helm against a wall putting a new dent into the old bronze. He left in a huff.

Later, after first stopping by the White Rose Perfumery to purchase some sleep-poison, Afheesh met up with his cohorts at the inn for some dinner. Then they made their way to the Caskroom. There was a single remaining target to eliminate there, the bartender. It was not long before Wufcor (played by Isis) and Afheesh were engaged in a full-blown fight versus the bartender and the cook, the latter armed with a longsword. Meanwhile, Sikeek (played by Jenn) was off picking pockets of the onlooker mercenaries that populated the rear tables and benches.

After the ratlings already slaughtered the two bar-backs, the mercenaries jumped up and pursued Sikeek and Wufcor who were fleeing through the back door. Unseen, Afheesh broke off and ran out of the front door, then turned, shouted, and laughed at the mercs distracting them long enough for his other two coconspirators to flee.

The next day Afheesh got himself onto a patrol that protected the streets around “the good blocks” and took the opportunity to familiarize himself with the place. The day went slowly until a fight broke out in the Blue Lotus Well plaza among street toughs, the captain let them go after they paid a hefty “fine” which he cut the rest of the guards in on, Afheesh’s cut was 30 bronze thorns. Eventually, Afheesh was able to spot his goal, a young woman who presumably lived alone in one of the apartments. He had taken note of the building and got her apartment number by stalking her. He could feel his new troll-make weapons in his grubby little claws already.

After his shift was over, Afheesh went to the Last Rest Inn to his room to change his outfit. Afterwards, he walked to the Dancing Rat to try to find the other two. As he entered the rowdy establishment, he spotted a female ratling leaving with a familiar backpack cradled in her paws. As a result, he barred her way and did everything he could to try to snatch the pack back. However, she was highly agile and dodged nearly everything he could throw at her. Nevertheless, she had to drop the pack to recover from a successful trip when he hooked one of her legs with one of his weapons.

Afheesh snatched up his companion’s presumably stolen backpack. He introduced himself to the she-rat impressed with her skills. Her name was “Riknik” and she was not interested in working for anybody but herself. With that, she turned to run. Afheesh snatched one of five coin purses at random in the pack and tossed it to her before she ran away.

Afheesh: “Here! You earned this!”

Riknik (as she ran): “I owe you nothing!”

Afheesh shrugged.

Sure enough, when Afheesh entered the place he immediately spotted Wufcor asleep with his head on a table. Riknik, if that indeed was her name, had drugged him.

Later, Sikeek and Afheesh were dragging an unconscious Wufcor through the streets to Afheesh’s room at the Last Rest Inn. Suddenly, charging them from an alley buried in garbage came three giant centipedes.

Me (at GM Cris):  “Again!?”

GM Cris:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The battle was brief but Wufcor was almost dragged away to be eaten. Eventually they got their companion to the room. Morning came and they parted ways once again pledging to make the Dancing Rat their common meeting place.

On the way to guard duty, Afheesh passed by a sanctioned duel with a green robe behind each fighter. It was a disappointingly quick match. The two brothers of the Green Well exchanged two handfuls of gold.

Afheesh (laughing derisively): “With that much money changing hands you’d think you’d get better fighters! Aha-ha-ah! I could’a taken ‘em both on! Aha-ha-ha-ha!”

All the ratling got in passing were several dirty looks. Afheesh served out his guard duty at the West Gate and in the course of the afternoon accepted a bribe from some Troll Boy gang members earning a 75 bronze thorn “bonus”. Later, he went to the Dancing Rat finding his companions there. Sikeek was drunk after losing a drinking contest sitting alongside another scrawny ratling named Needles (played by Natalie). Wufcor was sitting next to them quietly drinking keeping his drinking jack close.

Afheesh (to Needles): “So, you have any skills?”

Needles: “Aw yeah, I got all the skills! What you need, I got it! I’m good with weapons and I could balance on a leaf!”

Needles back-flipped easily onto the tabletop and Afheesh easily tripped him by hooking his ankle. Having fallen face-first, Needles suffered a bloody nose. In disgust, especially as Needles started to cry, Afheesh turned his back on the scrawny ratling and addressed the other two.

Afheesh: “We have a mission let’s go!”

Sikeek grumbled as she rose from her seat.

Sikeek (motioning to the bawling Needles): “Come along, you’re good for a laugh.”

Afheesh (mumbling angrily): “And for fodder.”

On the way to their goal, five giant cockroaches swarmed from the Blue Well itself. The fight did not last long but Needles proved himself very inefficient in combat. He was unarmed and punching the giant bugs doing nothing but annoying his enemies and allies until Wufcor tossed him a dirk. Needles killed the last with a single blow. However, as he almost died from a single bite he ran off to the nearest White Star guild. The others continued on their way to the target apartment.

After sneaking past guards and picking the lock on the door, the ratlings prepared to burgle the place. However, after carefully opening the door so that there would be no sound a human fighter in a bronze chest-plate, a full bronze helm, and short sword confronted them.

Us (the players): “What!? Really!?”

GM Cris: “Hey, he natural 20’d the listen when you guys approached the door.”

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.12: Petty Vengeance

The pair of guards walked in, one with a bottle of wine, the other placing the key in his satchel. He lit an oil Murder D20lamp and then set to lighting the fireplace. Afheesh (played by yours truly) from just up inside of the flue, could hear the second guard pop and pour the wine. He was shaking with anticipation. His vengeance was soon at hand. Two thuds on the floor indicated that their helmets were off.

The first grabbed some logs from the woodpile next to the fireplace. Just as the first guard knelt down to place the first log into the hearth, Afheesh picked a chunk of cinder from the inside of the chimney and flung it down. Of course, the first guard poked his head in to check it out.

Suddenly, Afheesh dropped down and stabbed him in the neck. Wufcor (played by Isis) leapt from his hiding place under a table stabbing the reeling guard in the back. Sikeek (played by Jenn) sprung from her dark corner and stabbed the wine guard who then snatched a fighting spear from the wall. Afheesh redoubled his efforts against the first guard nailing him again but the guard’s chainmail absorbed most of the damage. Sikeek moved in on the other guard and slashed him.

Wufcor struck at the first guard wounding him badly. He in turn pulled the spiked mace from his belt and desperately swung the weapon at Wufcor accidently smashing a small table. The second guard struck at Sikeek with his spear barely missing. Afheesh ran the first guard through with both of his weapons killing him instantly. He and Wufcor then turned their attentions towards the spear-bearer.

Sikeek struck out and got a good hit in on the spear-bearer. Wufcor ran in and jabbed him in the back causing the blood to run. He thrust at Sikeek catching her in the belly. The small ratling stumbled backward from the fight (requiring a recovery check to keep from dropping). Afheesh leapt in missing with one weapon and hitting with the other but again the guard’s armor lessened the blow significantly. Wufcor tried to get in the last stab but tripped over his own feet. The spear-bearer lunged at Sikeek once again but missed then swung the butt of his weapon around and smashed her in the skull. Sikeek stumbled back once again nearly passing out.

Afheesh lashed out with both of weapons but the haft of the guard’s spear easily parried both blows away. Wufcor moved in and stabbed him again. He thrust then swung with the butt of his spear but missed both times. Afheesh landed the killing blow through the guard’s clumsy defense (a Natural 1 parry).

The blood was still pooling as the trio of ratlings looted the place and cracked the lock off a chest. They absconded with 5 gold talons, 6,000 bronze thorns, a low-quality bullwhip with a butt-spike, a silver ear-cuff, and a high quality dirk.

Thinking that no one was looking, Sikeek found a secret compartment at the bottom of the chest discovering a gold and ruby ring, and a sack of 6,000 bronze thorns and 4 gold talons.

Afheesh (to Sikeek): “Good, we each get more shares!”

Sikeek: “But I found this…”

Afheesh: “And we both saw you. So now, it’s group shares. Besides you’re a hired dagger or would you rather be dead?”

Sikeek (turning over the loot to Wufcor): “Aww man.”

Meanwhile, Wufcor tried to get away with the 900 bronze thorns he found on the corpses to Afheesh’s chagrin.

Wufcor: “Don’t kill me boss! See, I’m putting it in the group PILE!”

Afheesh gritted his teeth and the trio began to file out into the street after vacating the apartment building. However, just as they broke out onto the street they ducked swiftly back into the cover of a shadowed corner. A gang of roaches with a Mantck leader was out front obviously looking for trouble. There were too many to deal with at this point. The ratlings easily snuck past the gangsters and proceeded to travel to their other mark’s home in another apartment building to the south.

Soon enough, the trio clustered around a sturdy locked wooden door in a narrow plastered ill-lit hallway. There were only a couple of clay chamber pots set outside the doors aside for the sparse lamp lit niches in the walls. The smell was not pleasant.

Afheesh (to Sikeek): “Okay thief, get to crackin’ that lock.”

Sikeek: “Hey, c’mon guys, we already have money. Let’s just get outta here.”

Afheesh: “No…hey weren’t you badly wounded a little while ago?”

Jenn: “Yeah, healing potions. That guy almost killed me in a single hit TWICE back there!”

Sikeek: “So, I really don’t wanna go in there guys. C’mon, we already got some cash…I need to roll some BONES!”

Wufcor (flashing a piece of quartz to Sikeek): “Betcha can’t open that lock.”

The Canny-Jack (Wufcor) put his ear to the door as Sikeek went to work on the lock.

Again, Wufcor (in a hushed tone): “Hmm…I think I can hear him. Sounds like he’s messing with …metal stuff?”

Sikeek kept trying the lock but its artisanship kept evading her skill. After three tries at it, finally the click of success tweaked their twitching ears.

Wufcor: “Hmmm..I don’t hear anything anymore. … Um. What’re we gonna do?”

Afheesh had his back against the wall opposite the door ready to pounce. He was huffing in the foul air of the hallway with every deep breath. His needed to quell his thirst for vengeance.

Afheesh (through clenched teeth, yeah he knew this was a bad idea): “Let’s do this.”

Sikeek slowly opened the door while trying to stay under cover. The door came to a creaking stop and revealed the guardsmen, their target, in full chainmail wielding a bronze shield and a great sword replete with bronze great helm.

Guardsman: “You Ratling thieves have come to die eh!?”

What ensued was a deadly dance of whirling weapons, lightning reflexes, and sheer luck. Eventually, Wufcor buried his blade in the guardsman’s kidney nearly killing him then Afheesh followed up with a paired weapon strike ultimately downing their prey. Their enemy had not landed a single blow in two full rounds of combat. Afheesh felt some satisfaction standing over the body of the last guard against whom he had pledged vengeance. Vengeance indeed tasted sweet. However, he was now also eager to hurt the Roaches in any way possible.

As before, the ratlings ransacked the place, again finding a chest, and again breaking the lock and absconding with a fat sack of coin. Inside they had found a bag of 4,000 bronze thorns, a bone pipe with a bowl carved into an eagle’s head, a pouch of high quality smoking herbs, and 5 gold talons. They also looted 400 bronze thorns from the corpse. The three eventually landed in a room, rented by Afheesh, at the Last Rest Inn where they split the take. Afheesh netted 4,566 bronze thorns, 4 gold talons, and took the silver ear cuff. “Not a bad start”, he thought.

After the dividing of the spoils, Afheesh and Wufcor decided to cut Sikeek in on a standard share instead of paying her thereby welcoming her into the crew. Shortly thereafter Wufcor and Sikeek left. The latter mentioning something about getting “one more game in” before dawn. Afheesh settled in for some well-deserved rest. Thoughts of making the Roaches suffer never far from his mind.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.11: Dagger for Hire

A few days later, the pair of ratling villains, Afheesh (played by yours truly) and Wufcor (played by Isis), walked through the crowded streets at evening. The pair neared the plaza of the Blue Well and the Dancing Rat Tavern. They were going to drown their sense of loss in a sea of cheap booze. Even possibly work off some frustration in low stakes fights there and then maybe start recruiting for their own gang. The roguish pair stepped up to the saloon doors.

Overgrowth partially buried the tavern building underneath the snaking thorny vines of the Thorn-Ring. The hedge of thorns that serves as  Tangelthorn’s city defenses along gatehouses and partial fortifications at all four compass directions. The thorns spilled over the top of the three-story building canopy-like and wrapped tightly around the eastern half, the thorny vines at grips with the alien waxy-orange masonry. The ratling companions strutted into the yellow lit, smoke flooded tavern.

The thorn-creepers had extended into the bar itself cramping what could have been a spacious establishment. The woody vines shaped into a second tier in the western half of the combo taproom/common-room was crowded both atop and underneath with ratlings most bearing the light golden brown hair of thorn-runners. Tending the bar itself were ratlings and a human bar-back. On the far end, a half-troll sat on the floor wedged into his cramped station overseeing the all-sorts barrel. It was 1 copper bit (copper piece of eight) to dip your jack, no fliks accepted.

Layer after layer of compacted filth interspersed with sawdust and straw covered the floor. A fresh layer of straw and sawdust added a welcome fresh vegetable musk to the somewhat fowl and smoke-thickened air. Large scorched areas attested to the fact that the place was a fire hazard. As a result, there were water buckets on both sides of the entrance and the side door as well as behind the bar.

However, the ratling patrons used the water-filled buckets to relieve themselves thus adding a certain unmistakable bouquet to the place. It also made the extinguishing of the frequent fires a most disgusting affair. Even so, patrons still lit matches from the straw on the ground using the enclosed candle lanterns (no open flames allowed) often absentmindedly tossing them back to the floor.

The pair of beleaguered ratlings shuffled in among the rowdy crowd. Most of the tables were occupied, both of small and average size, with raucous rogues slinging down copious amounts of cheap grog and sour wine. Crowding the rear of the place, patrons at the gambling tables eagerly lost their shirts, some literally, to the house dice.

Afheesh and Wufcor settled into a couple stools at the ratling end of the bar the occupants wisely vacating their seats after being told to “scram”. Afheesh bought a pitcher of low quality ale fortified with some sort of cheap grain alcohol. As they commenced getting “sloshed”, a scrawny ratling sidled up to the disheartened pair.

This ratling was brown with white-grey spots on her face. She had on a wool jerkin, leather gauntlets, and had a horn-handled bowie knife at her side. She seemed a viable candidate for their gang.

The Ratling (very excitedly): “Hey Guys! I’m Sikeek! You wanna go throw some bones in the corner?”

The pair shrugged and joined Sikeek (played by Jenn) in a corner and started throwing dice. After a few small wins, Afheesh tossed a piece of quartz onto the table.

Afheesh (to Sikeek): “If you can’t pay the losses after this round against me, you’ll work off your debt in my service!”

Sikeek agreed to the terms and easily took Afheesh for his money. Apparently, Sikeek was a very skilled gambler. After that, the conversation turned to her weapon skill. She assured them that her skills at the gaming tables matched those of her roguery. As a result,  Wufcor and Afheesh took her on as a hired dagger to their cause.

Later, all three were well pickled and Sikeek’s appetite for gambling whetted. Wufcor and the new employee headed to a squat in the north. Afheesh went back to the guard barracks to catch some rest.

Early the next evening, Afheesh found himself hiding on a roofline. Wufcor hid in an adjacent alley and Sikeek was “acting casual” while leaning against a nearby corner. They were staking out the Cask Room to observe the three guards against which Afheesh had a vendetta (see last episode – Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.10: All These Roaches). They watched as two of the three guards approached the place from the west and a little while later the third from the north. The doors to the Cask Room seemed to have been opened from the inside to allow them egress.

The ratlings watched carefully and took mental notes. They also followed the guards when they left late at night. They repeated this the next day.

That night, the ratling trio had just broken up and Afheesh was loitering around the streets hoping to run into members of the Roaches street gang. He was hungry for trouble. Instead, he ran directly into a troll. The same troll that he had encountered almost two weeks prior. The little ratling recognized that massive iron maul, “Skull-Biter”, which was slung over the monster’s hill of a shoulder.

This time instead of panicking, Afheesh decided to try to strike a deal with this troll. The troll ability to forge extraordinary weaponry well-known and renowned in Tanglethorn. It was not long before Afheesh had struck a deal with Snotnack the troll. If the ratling were to bring the troll a beautiful human woman, he would and give the ratling a reward. He would forge a pair of weapons just like those that he now bore but “better”. For his new hook-guard daggers in three days, the ratling had to bring the young woman to the orange well. He would also have to call the troll’s name into the well. Of course, Snotnack bullied Afheesh into accompanying him all night long anyway.

By morning, Afheesh was exhausted and later in the evening was late for the third day of tracking the guards. This time, the trio was able to track two of the guards to a single apartment. The next night, the ratlings went to the apartment just before the time the guards would be getting off work. Sikeek picked the lock although it took a few tries. She popped the lock just before the pair of guards came up the stairs. The ratlings carefully shut the door and turned the lock, jaunted quickly to hiding places around the well-furnished room, and waited for their prey. Their ears perked as the lock turned and the door opened.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.10: All These Roaches

Three gang members ran in through the shattered front door of the abandoned warehouse armed with loaded Afheesh's anti gang weaponscrossbows. They spotted out Pabst (played by Jenn) and one took a shot. She knocked the bolt aside with her buckler (more of a targe but virtually the same in game terms). Afheesh (played by yours truly) pulled his paired weapons, matching variants on the sai, and lashed out at the Mantck who was blocking his egress through the rear door. The first blade stung the intruder but the second easily parried by a cutlass.  Afheesh turned to see Wufcor (played by Isis) leap from his hiding place and engage with five more Roaches who had surrounded Pabst. Pabst lashed out with her scimitar missing horribly. Afheesh turned his full attention back to the Mantck.

The Mantck slashed with his paired cutlasses, missing badly with one and the other parried easily by the ratling Quickling. Afheesh retorted striking deep with a single strike, the other deflected harmlessly away. Two thugs behind the Mantck pushed their way through the doorway as Afheesh took this opportunity to strike at both once each with his weapons. One of his narrow blades struck home, the other clinched by a short sword. The battle between the other two street mercs and the hordes of Roaches raged behind Afheesh where he could not see the fate of his two companions only hear the clash of steel.

It was at this moment that the Mantck took this opportunity to hack at the ratling while his human accomplice kept the clinch on the Quickling’s right arm and weapon. Afheesh was barely able to swat aside the Mantck’s double cutlass strike with a single weapon. He tried to break the clinch but failed. The Mantck took another paired weapon strike but again parried by Afheesh’s left-handed weapon.

In a desperate gambit, Afheesh reversed the clinch hooking the thug’s wrist with his weapon. With his second weapon, Afheesh stabbed the Mantck further wounding him. The Mantck responded hacking into the ratling’s side after a failed parry attempt (Natural 1). Both blades glanced of Afheesh’s tiny ribs. Horribly wounded he started to bleed out. The human thug broke loose of Afheesh’s hook. Breathing hard, the little ratling glanced around on the edge of panic looking for an escape, any escape. He spied through a window, the boards having been knocked out by the surge of Roaches, a naga with a large scythe on her back amongst the horde of gang members.

In a last ditch move Afheesh tucked and dove between the legs of those gangsters blocking the door. However, Roaches overflowed the alley, their daggers and swords bared and thirsty. In response, Afheesh leapt to the wall and used his supreme parkour skills to scale the bricks up to the roof all the while narrowly avoiding flurries of enemy blades. He found dozens upon dozens of thugs already atop the roof!

Cris (the GM): “They’re all heavily muscled and full of gang tats too.”

Me (to GM Cris): “So they have street gangster levels?”

GM Cris: “Yup. They look very experienced.”

Me: >:(

He made a quick survey of the roofline intending to jump to another roof. All of the surrounding roofs were populated with Roaches bearing loaded crossbows. Afheesh barley dodged several poisoned crossbow bolts that flew at him imbedding themselves in the bricks.

Me: “POISONED!?”

GM Cris: “Well yeah! They’re not taking any chances!”

Afheesh jumped onto the roof and ran around gaining momentum avoiding the clumsy strikes of the gangsters and leapt onto a neighboring roof tucking and tumbling as he landed followed by the thud, thud, thud of misguided poisoned bolts. He kept running as he bled finally escaping the few human-led ratlings that tried to pursue him over the building tops. Eventually he stumbled over the threshold of the local White Star guild where he collapsed.

An hour or so later Afheesh came to. The White Star had treated his wounds and taken their pay from the coin on his person, and no more. The ratling thanked them and left before they could go into their “would you like to come and pray with us” shtick. Although exhausted at this point, he had to find his friends.

At the Caskroom Tavern, Afheesh found Wufcor the ratling Canny-Jack. Pabst had been killed in the raid and he himself had barely escaped through a window. They sat in silence for a while and then began pounding jacks of ale. Afheesh pledged vengeance against the Roaches and Wufcor concurred with a hearty gulp from his frothing cup. The Canny-Jack mentioned that he did have a lead, there had been a naga bard with the Roaches maybe she could help them get their revenge. Afheesh grabbed the other ratling by the collar to make him lead him to the bard. However, Wufcor just lifted a finger and pointed. She was currently singing some poetry drifting from table to table for tips.

Barely a second later a beggar came to the ratling’s table apparently to beg. As a result, the bard passed their table up. Enraged Afheesh stabbed the man in his neck who then stumbled away and out the door bleeding. After her number was finished, Wufcor waved the bard over. As soon as she sat next to them Afheesh threatened her and got the name Skilneel from her for the Mantck that had fought him during the warehouse raid.

The Bard (played by Natalie): “I’m just gonna go, um.” She got up and slithered over to the bar.

The bard tried to rent a room from the bartender. He told her that there were no vacancies. Afheesh strode up next to her and asked the bartender how much a plate of food ran. The bartender set down a half full tankard in front of him and tossed him a plate of half-eaten food from the other side of the bar in response. So Afheesh smashed him in the face with the tankard and told the bard that she was coming with him and his friend. Wufcor sidled up to her on the opposite side smiling.

The Bard: “Uhm, I’m just gonna leave?”

Afheesh (with one of his paired weapons pointing at her): “If you try to run I’ll kill you.”

Wufcor: “He will, he’ll kill you so don’t run.”

The bartender groggy from the rattling that the Quickling gave him snapped his fingers and three guards ran from a back room. Armed with pikes they wore scale-mail.

Afheesh: “Wufcor. Pull yer weapon!”

The scuffle with the guards was brief. They attacked all three equally, the ratlings and the bard. The latter of who fled through the saloon doors into the street. Wufcor followed, after stabbing at one of the guards a few times.

Guard Captain (to Afheesh): “Ratling! Just leave! Get outta HERE!”

Then the guard captain got in a lucky hit that nearly skewered Afheesh. The ratling tumbled out of the saloon doors and into the street. The other pikes hit the floorboards fortunately missing the little hoodlum by a mile. As Afheesh galloped away from the tavern, he caught sight of the naga bard and Wufcor side by side just ahead. He increased his speed to a full run.

Afheesh flew into the air in mid leap attack and came down on the naga’s back practically nailing her thrashing half-serpent body to the street with both of his weapons. He twisted them as she died then ripped them free, wiped them clean with her hair, and scabbarded them. He stomped off to the White Star guild house once again.

With a tear in his eye, Wufcor looted the bard’s corpse. He then cut a swatch of her scaly skin from her shoulder. Then he sweetly caressed the still warm swatch to his hairy cheek before jaunting off to catch up to his leader.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.9: Merchant Boxing

It was early morning, already the sun was beating down upon the dead yellow dirt, and Afheesh the ratling merchant chestQuickling was beginning to feel trapped. After a forced march around the parade ground and a breakfast of fruit, veggies, and bread in the mess, Afheesh (played by yours truly) went to the bursar. He collected the previous day’s pay, 95 bronze thorns (pay was 100 but there was the 5% Mezcor tithe). Subsequently, he spent the rest of the morning atop the thorns above the gates spotting for incoming caravans.

Only ratlings were assigned the battlements over the gates as the Thorn Crown had grown over the ramparts ages ago leaving only small tunnels through the winding thorny vines. Moreover, the thorns acted as an additional cover for those manning the hidden crenulations of the gate. Therefore, it allowed the guards, armed with darts and some with crossbows, to fire with impunity on any enemies without the gates. It was also horribly cramped, suffocating, and filthy not unlike the hovels of Thorn-runner ratlings that subsisted within the confines of the thorns surrounding the city.

There was bird mess everywhere, not only the white and black-purple of their droppings streaking the woody vines but clumps of flea-infested feathers, filthy nest litter, and the cacophony of chittering from above where the small birds would alight atop the thorny canopy. The most common birds there being pigeons and shirkes the latter of which were known to impale the uneaten portions of their prey, other smaller birds and rodents, on the thorns. It was getting near noon nearing the end of his shift when he spotted something of interest.

A Hill-Lander caravan pulled up to the south gates with three hill giants in escort. There were four covered wagons, two vardoes, and iron strongboxes chained atop each vardo. The giants and the faun and half-faun drivers were all well-equipped. Consequently, Afheesh was intrigued. As the caravan was allowed entry the ratling excused himself, the rest of the ratling guards were asleep anyway. He trailed the caravan as it made its way north towards the city center and Mezcor’s tower.

Mezcor’s black keep sits at the very center of the city like a single coffin nail holding all the requisite parts of the rotting box together through shear gravity. Every night the single round window at the top of the tower glows with candlelight that burns from behind the purple glass. A high black stone iron spike-topped wall bound it with a single bronze double gate in its southern face. The gates opened of their own accord at dusk revealing the white flagstones at the threshold the engraved message warning “step not beyond the white stones trespasser”. It was here that traveling merchants could expect to toss their tribute lest they incur Mezcor’s curse.

The Hill-landers were evidently confused that the gates were closed. For a brief second Afheesh had considered fleecing them in the name of Mezocr as he strode up to the caravan leader in his guard uniform. However, he was no fool and Mezcor’s curse had proven itself true at an alarmingly constant rate. He kicked one of the giant’s in the toe to gain their attention.

Afheesh (to the lead driver): “What’s this now? Looks like you guys need a surprise inspection!”

The Lead Driver (exasperated): “Hey! We already paid our way in an’a’ gave a little sometin’ o’ tha guards!”

Afheesh (lying in a surprisingly convincing way): “That was for the South Gate guards what about those that secure this road for you?”

The First Giant (his ultra-baritone voice vibrating the ratling’s bones): “Didn’t I jes see ya come from ta gate back dare?”

Afheesh (apparently, he’s a good liar): “No.”

The Lead Driver (with a frustrated sigh): “Okay, here’s some coin…”

Afheesh (cutting him off): “No, give me a bottle of that famous Hill-Lander booze!”

With a sneer, the driver tossed the ratling a bottle of whiskey; it had been previously opened but was still mostly full. Consequently, the little extortionist tucked his prize in his belt and kept a tiny-clawed hand on it at all times.

Afheesh: “Now you lot make sure you pay the proper tithe to Mezcor at dusk!”

The hill-landers all shook their heads in both agreement and realization. Meanwhile, the ratling snatched a good look at their strongboxes and figured the locks though high quality looked easy enough for a crowbar to break or Wufcor to pick. He took his leave and high-tailed it to look for his crew. He intercepted them on their way to one of many taverns. Soon they were back at the warehouse conspiring together.

About an hour later, the ruthless trio found their way to the local market where the Hill-lander caravan had set up shop. Pabst (played by Jenn) strutted over to the merchant. She was going to try to work her charms on the goat-man.

Jenn (to me the plan-maker): “I don’t know why I’m supposed to charm the guy. I can just intimidate them…”

Me: “No! We need a distraction!”

Isis (Wufcor’s player): “Yeah sis! We’re trying to avoid a fight!”

Jenn: “My intimidate is better than my charm.”

Isis: “Nooo.”

She swished over to the head merchant who was eyeballing her suspiciously. Subsequently, Afheesh and Wufcor remained hidden in the shadows of the alley across the way from the shop stalls. Pabst began to work her magic.

The Hill-Lander Merchant: “Get away you ugly wh*#@! We’ll deal with your kind when we get ta da livery tonight! Maybe one a’ these giants would want you! Haw, haw, haw!”

So she decked him.

Isis face-palmed.

Meanwhile Afheesh stripped off his guard uniform and hid it in a trash-barrel. The Hill-Lander merchant cocked his fist back aiming the blow right at Pabst’s face.

The Merchant (just before smashing his fist into Pabst’s nose): “Aw an’ here I thought ya Poisonwood folk were tough!”

Wufcor darted to the stands followed by Afheesh. Her nose bleeding Pabst threw another punch at the merchant opening a cut along his cheekbone. The merchant circled from around his table and popped her good in the jaw. They were now facing off like a pair of street boxers. The crowd including guards gathered round to watch.

Afheesh began to walk nonchalantly towards the tent-back of the hill-lander stall where he believed the strongboxes were located playing it off as if he were watching the brawl. Pabst started talking smack to the merchant then she nearly tripped over her own feet when she went to throw a punch. The merchant tried to take advantage throwing a body blow her way but she knocked his hairy-knuckled fist to the side.

Meanwhile, a large group of gang members, the Roaches, flooded into the area attracted by the chaos and inched their way to towards the stall. Afheesh unawares cut a slash in the tent fabric and rolled into the stall. Outside the stall, the merchant threw a wild punch missing Pabst by a wide margin. Pabst swung and the merchant caught her arm in a clinch. Both fighters were in bad shape, panting, bleeding, and barley standing. The crowd roared for blood. Afheesh looked at the two strongboxes noticing the largest had runic markings over its outer shell. Wufcor rolled in and shimmied to the Quickling’s side.

The merchant caught Pabst in a grapple getting her in a tight headlock. She struggled as hard as she could but his iron grip held her skull fast. That was when Afheesh noticed that the two Roaches standing at the counter had spotted him and Wufcor. They were human, probably street rats and/or thugs maybe thieves. After a few moments of an improvised hand-signal-thieves’-cant back and forth between the ratlings and the Roaches a deal for their silence was worked out. Wufcor then picked the lock easily (Natural 20 picklock check) but immediately struck by an electrical bolt emanating from the runes on the chest. Fortunately, by chance, the crowd had roared at the exact same time concealing any noise.

The crowd groaned as the merchant locked in a chokehold on Pabst’s neck and she went limp her nose exploding as the vessels succumbed to the pressure.

Wufcor (after spotting the result of the brawl): “Oh boy! Time to go!”

Wufcor snatched two full bags from the chest and darted away. Afheesh threw a couple of signals at the pair of Roaches meaning to have them pick up and carry Pabst to the nearest alleyway. He then snatched up the last two full sacks, ran from the back of the canopy, and made his way around as stealthily as possible heading right for the nearest alley.

The ratling’s heart shot up into his eyes when he heard, “Stop THIEF!” He glanced over his sack-laden shoulder and saw that the bleeding and shaken Merchant had spotted him, by pure chance, as he was being taken back to the tent on a pair of his guards’ shoulders. Immediately the three hill-giants roared in unison and the ground began to thunder with their charge.

It took some minutes for the ratling to evade his gigantic and very fast pursuers. However, taking sudden sharp turns and ducking under obstructions that for the most part, the giants had to burst through did the trick. After he was sure that he had lost all three of his pursuers, he circled back around careful to stay in the narrowest of alleys until he was sure he had arrived where he had said he would meet the pair of street rats. He heard a faint whistle and saw the pair of Roaches with Pabst’s unconscious body leaned against a filthy brick wall.

The ratling swiftly checked the sacks; one filled with silver pieces and the other with bits of tanzanite. He tossed them the tanzanite sack and took charge of his friend. The Roaches with which the ratling had canted with gave his name as Neezik. He wasted no time in beating it to the warehouse careful should someone be following. When he met back up with Wufcor he found that the Canny-Jack had a sack of gold pieces and one of quartz.

The split, with Pabst included (she was still out), was 66 gold pieces, 20 quartz, and 166 silver pieces.

Jenn: “Yeah you guys better cut me in!”

The sun was down and the crew put their money away. It was time to decide what to do and where to go for the night.

Suddenly the boards blocking the front entrance smashed down with a crash and blast of dust. Standing in the door are Neezik and an uncountable number of the Roaches street gang. Afheesh dashed to the rear door just in time for those boards to come crashing down. A Mantck ratling wielding paired cutlasses stood in his way. The Quickling could hear dozens of feet outside around the building and dozens more climbing the outside walls and even feet clattering over the top of the roof. Pabst had just come to and both she and Wufcor tried to hide.

Jenn: “Damn! I’m still at K-O POINTS!”

Isis: “Yeah, I’m really bad right NOW! That bolt almost killed ME!”

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.8: Ratling Life

With the blood of their enemies still fresh on their weapons and dripping from their faces, Afheesh (played byrat or ratling versus centipede yours truly)  and Wufcor (played by Isis) dragged Pabst’s paralytic body (played by Jenn) into a boarded up warehouse a few blocks from the South Gate. They just assumed the place was completely abandoned. Soon after, Afheesh wiped his face and donned his guardsman uniform before beating it back to the barracks.

Afheesh spent early next morning scouting out the grounds of the south-gate-guard-post finding something of interest: a large building next the bursar. The building was windowless save for arrow slits at least two stories above the ground and built of white stone with an iron portcullis and heavy solid bronze doors behind. Before that intimidating edifice leaned several elite guardsmen. Afheesh soon found out that the place was the treasury of the southern guard. At once, a singular fantasy rippled through his tiny rat-brain, that of ripping off the city guard and fleeing from the curse-polluted Poisonwood to the greener pastures beyond.

After a forced march around the parade ground and a breakfast of fruit, veggies, and bread in the mess, Afheesh went to the bursar. He collected the previous day’s pay, 95 bronze thorns (pay was 100 but there was the 5% Mezcor tithe). He spent the rest of the morning beyond the thorns  inspecting incoming caravans. Relieved of duty at noon, he went to meet up with the rest of his crew.

Upon returning to the warehouse, he found Pabst fully recovered but also very stoned. At least she had donned the studded leather they had looted from a gang member’s corpse.

Wufcor (shrugging): “She stole some of my leaves and ate ‘em!”

The ratling canny-jack was referring to the leaves he had plucked from the corpse of the Dark Thorn Arborean from the previous night.

Afheesh let out a sigh and excused himself; he was going to find some work. After all, one cannot be a kingpin with no cash. Suddenly, three giant centipedes burst from a pile of garbage just outside of the warehouse and scuttled into the open doorway, Afheesh had apparently forgotten to replace the boards after entering.

Me (at GM Cris):  >:|

GM Cris:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Wufcor immediately leapt upon and stabbed the first one through the door. Afheesh pulled his weapons and attacked the same centipede wounding it badly. Pabst stumbled forward and clumsily swung a short sword missing her target completely. The second centipede struck at Pabst but missed. The first wounded centipede got in a lucky shot burying its poison legs into Afheesh’s chest wounding him horribly. Luckily, the ratling was tough enough to resist the monster’s paralytic venom.

Wufcor finished Afheesh’s attacker. Afheesh buried the points of his paired weapons in the second vermin nailing its corpse to the floor. Pabst hacked at the last centipede but her blade bounced harmlessly from its poison-red exoskeleton. Afheesh smashed his blades into the creature wounding it severely leaving Wufcor to finish it with his dagger spilling its verminous innards over the dirty floor.

After wrapping his wounds, Afheesh changed out of his guard uniform. Upset that it now had two large holes in the chest he folded it away. He left his two companions to see what jobs he could rake up, the higher the pay the better. First stop, the Bronze Shield Tavern, in search of Sergeant Neek.

A dense cloud of acrid pipe smoke combined with the stench of alcohol-drowned breath was as thick but nowhere near as fragrant as the sea. The clamor of rollicking patrons and the clatter and shouts from the tables where the bones rolled was deafening. The clientele were almost solely off-duty guardsmen and they were a getting very rowdy butting helms and beating armored chests and small bronze bucklers with daggers and short-swords. It did not take long, even in that noise, for Afheesh to find the sergeant. In turn, Sgt. Neek steered the “little ratling” to one Madame Canica of the Pink Lotus Livery who had a penchant for wearing purple and white silk.

Later at the Pink Lotus Livery, the ratling sat with the Madame. Canica was not overly tall but very heavily built save for the aquiline and sharp boney features of her face with almond shaped eyes set at high angles. The iris of her eyes was a reflective gold color and her pupils slits. Her nose was very small as well hinting at the Naga blood in her veins. This disturbed the ratling on a primordial level.

Over a few glasses of blood red wine, the Madame, a top member of the Livery of Pleasures guild, offered a substantial bounty for the head of the Courtesan Ebiak for leaving her house at 10,000 bronze thorns (bt’s). Soon after leaving that meeting and his head still full of wine, the Quickling easily located his quarry at the Blue Rose Livery. Afheesh rushed back to the warehouse to gather his troops.

As the three street mercs gathered and readied their gear, a loud commotion burst out just outside of the warehouse grabbing their attention. Wufcor and Afheesh strode outside where they saw a small-scale street fight involving the Moths and the Blood Moths. Wufcor shouted at them to stop.

Isis (to the GM): “Hey we gotta protect our territory!”

Afheesh followed suit but the gangsters ignored the pair of ratlings. Because of this perceived insult, the pair pulled their weapons and prepared to wade into the scrap. Pabst immediately charged from behind, past the pair, and directly into the fray.

Pabst hit and wounded the nearest gang member with her short sword. Afheesh on the other hand, spotted out the Moths’ leader and charged him. The gang leader parried one weapon but nailed by the second. He retorted with a massive and accurate blow Afheesh dodging the short sword point by a hair. Another gangster engaged Pabst, she parried and then counter attacked dropping him in a single blow. Wufcor backstabbed “the weakest looking guy” dropping him instantly. A scimitar blade wielded by a Mantck ratling (a medium sized ratling) barely missed Afheesh. Another Mantck struck at Wufcor barely missing the canny-jack.

Desperately, Afheesh stabbed at the leader who clinched the first weapon but the second skewered the man’s belly wounding him badly. However, the leader easily wrenched the clinched psi from Afheesh’s small claw tossing it away. The Mantck on Wufcor easily parried his blow. The other Mantck swung his scimitar at Afheesh barely missing the smaller ratling. Pabstcan attacked another gangster but was caught in a clinch. The Mantck on Wufcor struck at him barley missing.

Afheesh moved towards his lost hook-guard weapon. Wufcor struck with perfect accuracy at the Mantck but was equally masterfully parried. The Moth leader that Afheesh had wounded called for a retreat. He was apparently bleeding out. The opposing Blood Moth leader called his retreat immediately after.

Pabst broke the clinch and as that gangster turned to run, she drove her blade into his spine killing him instantly. Afheesh triumphantly held up his recovered weapon as the last of the street thugs disappeared into the shadows and filthy alleys of the city. After looting the corpses, the split turned out to be 133 bronze thorns each with the remainder going to Pabst her share being 134.

Afheesh eyeballed his crew. They were still in no shape to take on a job at this point. Pabst worse for the wear, stated that she was going to rest for another full day. Wufcor figured why go out to work now, he had just been paid. He was going to go pay for some fun. Afheesh shrugged and went to go procure a cheap room; he had guard duty in the morning.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.7: The Tree of Woe

Afheesh shot after Wufcor who was free of his shackles, fleeing, and armed with a stolen dagger. The Tree of Punishmentquickling guard tripped the fleeing canny-jack with his tail. Wufcor flopped onto his back hard with a blast of dust and dry leaves. Afheesh held the tip of his dagger to his former companion’s throat.

Afheesh (kicking dirt on the prone ratling): “Drop the dagger gutter trash!”

As a result, Wufcor let loose his white knuckled grip on the dagger letting it drop to the ground.

Wufcor: “I surrender!”

Pabst tried to move in and grapple the traitorous ratling but missed by a mile.

Jennifer (to me): “You traitor! I won’t forget this!”

Isis (shrugging): “Look Sis I figure he could’ve killed me at any time, so I hope he has a plan.”

Pabst reluctantly surrendered under the remaining guard’s spear points and Sergeant Neek’s sword. The prisoners were shackled once again and after another hour were finally led to the Tree of Judgment.

A large twisted trunk was before them that sported large thorns here and there over its pale striated bark. Deep scars crisscrossed the bole where prisoners had been lashed to it and left to die in the Poisonwood. The lower limbs, as thick and twisted as the rest, also exhibited deep hanging scars most still with some rusted bit of chain or rotted rope still dangling wafting or tinkling in the slight breeze. There were a few skulls and fragments of bone scattered among the surfaced roots and woody knees. Due to their diminished numbers, the guards were in a rush and so lashed the pair of prisoners to the bole before hastily retreating aboard the wagon.

The pair watched Afheesh ride away as the sergeant congratulated him, his attitude towards the ratling totally changed. The officer was counting himself fortunate that the guard had discovered such a skilled new recruit. The criminal pair was mumbling curses under their breaths. All too soon, the wagon was out of view and then the rolling crunch of its wheels faded into the general ambience of the dreaded Poisonwood.

There they were, Wufcor the ratling canny-jack and Pabst the female human duelist all alone and lashed to the bole of the execution tree. Intermittently tiny vermin of all kinds swarmed and crawled over their bare skin, fleas, wood lice, beetles, the occasional spider or centipede. Never had the pair felt more vulnerable, every crunch or slight movement of serrated leaf or thorny twig caused them to cringe. They nearly panicked when a large shadow swooped far above the autumnal umbrage momentarily blotting out the scant rays of sun that penetrated the reeking tree cover.

The poisonous musk of noxious weeds and nettles stung their nostrils and the rough, dry bark chafed and scratched at their skin. The thorns drew some blood. Adrenaline sharpened their ears and to them it seemed that the whole wood had come alive. It had come alive with things that were crawling and slithering through the dense underbrush. They writhed with discomfort.

Meanwhile, Afheesh was sitting with Sergeant Neek in a random saloon who was slinging back drink after drink. The ratling had tried to make use of the officer’s improved attitude towards him by getting assigned to the moneychanger at the front gate. However, that had gone nowhere. It was very near sundown when a still sober Afheesh took his leave and rushed to rent a wagon.

In the now dark Poisonwood, a very upset Pabst kicked a large black scorpion from her foot. Wufcor finally worked himself free of the ropes and soon freed his companion as well. The duelist secured an old branch that she could as a club. All the while, they swore to each other that they could see large black shadows skulking in the darkness behind a tangle of thorn trees and a dense thicket. Indeed, something was approaching them. They prepared to defend themselves determined to throw stones, bite, claw, and kick, whatever it took to survive.

On the trail to the Tree of Judgment to which his partners had been tied, Afheesh whipped the horses to speed. He was racing the setting sun as the golden disk sank into a blood-sky behind the black horizon. Already the purple moon with its golden ring was strong, dominating the eastern horizon. Although he could barely see it through the still dense but sickly foliage of the autumnal Poisonwood. He kept madly snapping the reins hoping to keep going just a little faster than before.

The wheels smashed into a small ridge of stone jutting from the rough path, the wagon jumped suddenly up onto the air for a split second. When it smashed back down onto the road, the ratling found himself airborne as the pungent winds of the wood roared into his face. Soon enough he flopped hard back onto the hard wooden driver’s seat with a guttural “oof”. It seemed an eternity until he had reached his goal. The wagon stopped in an explosion of dust, pebbles, and dry leaves.

Wufcor was guarding a paralyzed Pabst. Several giant spiders had attacked them not long before Afheesh’s arrival. Fortunately, they had been able to fight the monsters off killing virtually all of them. Unfortunately, Pabst had been bitten.

Afheesh (from the driver’s seat of the hay wagon): “Good you’re free! Get in HURRY! They close the gates at first gloaming!”

Seconds later the wagon was speeding back the way it came hitting the same bump again and nearly throwing Pabst were it not for Wufcor who was just able to grab onto her before she flew free of the wagon. For a short stretch just before the great thorn ring became visible, they could all hear something quite large chasing after the wagon. Whatever it was, it had halted as soon as the thorn-wall of the city came into view. The outer gates were just starting to be closed. Without stopping Afheesh raced the wagon in through as he kept shouting, “Don’t shoot, Guard! Guard! I’m a GUARD!”

Sometime later, the pair of ratlings, Afheesh and Wufcor, were dragging the limp, unconscious body of Pabst. They were nearing a deserted warehouse where they had planned to pass the night and wait for the effects of the spider venom to wear off of the duelist. Suddenly from around a corner they heard, “Well, well, well. What do we have here eh boys?”

A group of Bronzeboy gang members stepped out of an alley from around the corner confronting the ratlings. There were three well-armed humans, a single Mantck ratling (a medium sized ratling), and a Darkthorn Arborean (a purplish-gray tree-man covered in thorns).

Exhaling a mighty sigh pregnant with frustration, Afheesh dropped the paralytic duelist and pulled his paired weapons as he walked towards the gangsters. Wufcor followed pulling the dagger Afheesh had given him earlier “just in case”.

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.6: Oh My Captain!

Come sun up, Afheesh (played by me) was feeling good still from the strange green glowing liquor from Tanglethorn - City of mothslast night. For that reason he strutted down the wide street on his way to meet his two compatriots in front of the Yellow Lotus Inn where Pabst (played by Jenn) had room. He rounded the southwest corner of Mezcor’s black-stone keep when he spotted a full regiment of guards hauling away a pair of prisoners down the wide boulevard eastward.

Afheesh was in the middle of smirking to himself, “amateu…” until he realized the two prisoners were Pabst and Wufcor (played by Isis). An experienced city captain was leading the group of 16 guards, his lieutenant was to his right holding up and inspecting a glittering medallion. Afheesh recognized the polished gold medallion as that previously worn by Phenox, an acolyte of the Brotherhood of the Green Well, who they collectively murdered and decapitated for a bounty.

The ratling quickling was just about to turn around and consider recruiting new companions. However, at the last minute turned on his heel and began stealthily to follow. His aim was the captain; he easily prowled into the crowd even under the noses of his companions and crept up behind his target. Suddenly, the captain glanced to his side and asked, “hey little ratling what business is this of yours?”

Afheesh (sputtering in surprise for a second): “Um, What’s going on here? With them.”

The Captain (with increasing levels of braggadocio): “Well, looks as if we caught ourselves a couple a’ killers. They murdered a popular apprentice of the Green Well. Robbed ‘im and cut off his head. Taking ‘em to the Green Well to see what they wanna charge ‘em with.”

The greying, scarred old captain adjusted his belt. Afheesh was at a loss but was curious how this was going to play out.

Isis (at me): “HEY! You can try to RESCUE US!”

Me: “*ahem* Evil game.”

Isis: “crap”

Jenn: “I don’t think I like games where we play evil.”

Afheesh thought a little about the situation. He gazed back at his colleagues.

Afheesh (to the Captain): “Soo, what are the benefits of being a guard anyway?”

The Captain: “Ha, ha, you wanna join the guard little ratling? Well, just follow us! After we pick up the charges and return the medallion, we’re headin’ back to the Main Gate. That scum there will face my judgment then. Heh, don’t worry I’m a fair man, I always let the guilty have their say before I execute ’em!”

Afheesh puffed out his chest and proudly marched alongside the captain and the guard as they completed their circuit.

Isis: “Awww! Come on!”

Jenn: “Really!? REALLY!?”

Jenn: *sigh*

Jenn: “I guess this is kind of my fault.”

Isis: “KIND of!”

Cris (the GM): “Well you put that thing on…they tracked it to your room *sputter* and you WEARING it when they busted in! *shrug*”

When the company reached the main city gate just southeast of the Green Well, Afheesh was sent for outfitting while the prisoners were tried in the training yard. The ratling met with one Sergeant Neek whom issued him his kit. He was given a beaten-up wood buckler, a dull bronze skullcap, a short spear fit for his size, and a dirty brown cape fit for his size bearing the thorn ring symbol in black. Pay was 100 bronze thorns (bt) at the end of each 7-day but actually 85 in coin since 5 are for Mezcor and 10 are for taxes.

Sergeant Neek: “And you have to serve at least the greater part of each day that week to get paid! Your first mission is to report to the gate and help me escort the new prisoners to the Tree of Judgment.”

Afheesh: “Wait. How do you already know they’re getting sent to the tree?”

In response, the sergeant just puffed derisively and motioned for him to hurry. In Tanglethorn, the execution of criminals often involves tying them to a tree far outside city thorn-barrier. Typically, something comes along in the Poisonwood that eats and/or kills them soon after abandonment.

About an hour later, Afheesh, in his full guardsman outfit, followed the group of guards as they transported the two prisoners along a barely visible road through the Poisonwood. The two criminals had been stripped naked and were stumbling barefooted through the spiny, spiked, and thorny autumnal waste. They were being dragged behind a strong-wagon by chains and manacles, consequently their feet bloodied and covered in pale thistle burrs and bull thorns.

The wagon was plated in thick bronze plates iron-riveted to the heavy wood frame. Razor-sharp spikes lined its bottom edges and covered its roof; the driver enclosed by chainmail netting. Afheesh kept an eagle eye on Wufcor as the company reached an area of thick dull green overgrowth.

Wufcor (suddenly shouting): “Watch out! Plant monster!”

Afheesh (jamming the butt of his spear into Wufcor’s stomach): “Shut up you pig!”

Suddenly, a large green seedpod emerged from over the bushes and a long purplish spike shot from it lodging in the neck of an unfortunate human rookie guard. Hence, he was sucked dry in almost an instant. So, Afheesh immediately launched himself at the creature slashing it to death with his paired hook-guard daggers. Another previously unseen plant monster emerged and swung a seedpod fist at the ratling but missed. A hard wooden seed shot into the ground narrowly missing Wufcor from yet another plant monster as it emerged from cover. Another creature emerged and stabbed at Pabst with its purple tongue but it missed. Another tongue from yet another creature darted at Afheesh but he easily avoided.

The guards were in full combat against a fair number of these plant monsters, three monsters and five guards were killed in the first minute of fighting. Another tongue stabbed at Afheesh as he dropped a second plant creature. As the fighting began to die down he could see that only seven guards remained and but two monsters still stood. He immediately leapt at and dropped another monster.

Four nameless guards managed to take down the last creature. Afheesh facetiously congratulated the lot of them on killing a single creature together as compared to his three by himself. They sneered at him. Another guard suddenly shouted, “The prisoners, they’re escaping!”

To Be Continued…

Rats of Tanglethorn Pt.5: The Ruthless Trio

Afheesh (played by me) yanked his bloodied weapon from the throat of the Bronze Boy at his feet. The ruthless trio had just made quick work of a small group of Bronze Boy gang members. Consequently they had looted some 40 bronze thorns (bt’s), 4 dirks, and 4 saps. Pabst (played by Jenn) collected their bronze badges, their gang colors. Wufcor (played by Isis) suggested they all take the badges to the Troll Boys’ hangout, the Bloody Tankard, to see if they could score some free drinks.

It was not long after the three found themselves before a rundown saloon front. It was of pale cracked wood built onto the ground level of one of the old orange stone buildings. A hot yellow light poured through the entryway as did a pungent stream of smoke. Hanging from the placard hitch was a broken tankard, brown stained or rusted they could not tell which. There was a large group of Troll Boys out front guarding the door. A few appeared to have troll blood oozing in their veins but most were human. Pabst was the first to approach.

Pabst (tossing the Bronze Boy badges to the dirt): “How many drinks are these worth?”

The Ugliest Troll Boy (spits on the badges): “Maybe a half jack! We do our own fightin’, we don’t pay others to fight fer us!”

Pabst (undeterred): “Well then, do you Troll Boys have any GOOD fighters among you?”

Isis: “Sis…”

The Ugliest Troll Boy laughed at her and poked his head into the bar from over the saloon doors. Consequently he shouted a name none of the trio could make out, it could have been in trollish for all they knew. However, to their relief a human stepped to the door. He walked slowly out to the creaking plank porch with an air of supreme arrogance about him. He had a scale-mail vest and gleaming bronze bracers on his forearms. Circling Pabst for a few seconds and smirking said, “You’re too wounded to fight me tonight. Come back when you’ve healed and meet your death at the edge of my blade”. With that he turned heel and walked nonchalantly back inside.

Jenn (checking her character sheet): “Crap! I am still wounded, BAD!”

The trio parted ways shortly thereafter. Pabst and Wufcor headed off to find a White Star Guild house of healing and then back to the Yellow Lotus Inn to rest. Afheesh headed to the livery for food and some simple companionship for the night.

Several hours and 1,500 bt’s later at dawn Afheesh arrived refreshed and impatient in front of the Bloody Tankard. The place was shuttered until noon. The other two arrived sometime after with Pabst appearing fully healed. When they had seen the place was shut tight for another few hours they decided to go to the nearest armorer. There Pabst purchased a high quality bronze medium shield for 1,400 bt’s.

On the way back to the Bloody Tankard the ruthless trio was assailed from an alley by three giant earwigs. They made quick work of the monsters with Afheesh slaughtering two of them and Wufcor and Pabst slaying the last.

It was not long after the three were again in front of the Troll Boys’ clubhouse. The fighter that Pabst had challenged the previous evening was sitting leisurely on a chair leaned against the doorframe, his booted feet up on a stool. At his side was a rapier-like weapon with a razor-sharp polished blade, a full brass knuckle-guard, and a pommel spike. He was a professional swordsman, a Quick Blade.

The Quick Blade (taking his pipe from his lips): “So, what is it that we are dueling for?”

The trio proposed that the prize be a shot from the green bottle at the Green Bottle Tavern. The Quick Blade agreed and then terms of the fighter were worked out, drawing first blood would make the winner. That last stipulation was Pabst’s idea by the way.

As the gathering crowd of Troll Boys and curious passerby marked out the ring, Afheesh slipped into the Bloody Tankard unseen. He found two locked doors of interest in the empty bar when he heard the crowd lament then the Quick Blade and the Troll Boys laughing in victory. He darted back outside.

The Quick Blade had drawn first blood on the very first strike of the fight.

Jenn: “Awww! But I’m a GREAT duelist!”

Cris (the GM): “Well, his back is turned to you and the Troll Boys are congratulating him.”

Jenn: “Umm…”

Isis: “Sis! We might be over our heads here!”

Cris: “So, do you do it or not?”

Jenn: *sigh* “No, I put my sword away.”

Later, that evening the trio, the Quick Blade and five Troll Boys sat at the bar in the Green Bottle. Afheesh had already put down the money for the shot from the titular green bottle. The Quick Blade held up the small glass with green swirling liquor in it.

The Quick Blade: “Whosoever would duel over this shot may have it as their prize!”

Hence, a Troll Boy stepped forward. Afheesh sighed in disgust and stepped forward drawing his paired weapons.

Afheesh (looking back at his companions and shrugging): “I paid for it, it’s mine.”

Suddenly, the troll-blood lunged and struck with his dirk missing the agile ratling. As a result Afheesh jabbed with both blades striking deep, wounding the troll-blood badly. In desperation, the Troll Boy slashed narrowly missing his target (by 1 pt.). So Afheesh retorted killing the Troll Boy instantly.

The Quick Blade (sliding the shot glass over to the ratling): “I guess this is yours.”

Without thinking, the ratling slung it down and when it hit the bottom, he began to feel dizzy. However, he did fight off the dizziness and as a slight drowsiness faded, he felt strangely invigorated. Meanwhile, the Troll Boys grumbled as the swordsman led them out of the tavern. Finally, Wufcor approached Afheesh and gave him a small sack of coins.

Wufcor: “I made a little side bet. Here’s your share.”

The purse contained 150 bt’s so feeling very refreshed by the strange green booze, Afheesh decided to take his leave and go back to his favorite place, the livery. A jaunt in his step he whistled as left the place.

To Be Continued…

 

Tabletop Meditations #20: Organized Flow Theory

There are several theories on how RPG’s function and what that may mean. The intention behind my RPG rpg theoryludology and having a personal critical theory is practicality. It is handy for writing and during play, and as a framework in the designing of games. This is how I understand roleplaying games as a whole and this helps me not only to run games but also in writing them. This theory seems correct based on personal practice, experience, and observation. In addition, the basis of this hypothesis is the cursory analysis of actual play at the table during contiguous collections of sessions.

At the core of all RPG sessions is a hierarchy, though more of a stack of information, starting with the most basic component called a Play Unit from which the other higher ordered components arise from accumulation. However, these elements are artificial cross-sectional slices cut from the whole as a means to simplify the study and illustration of it. The entirety of this hierarchy flows and melts together during play. This flow is evident especially when games stall or fizzle out. It is this flow of information that has been interrupted when that happens.

It is this flow of information and the processing and acting upon it thus contributing to it is what not only keeps players immersed in the game but also is the game itself. This two-way flux of information is what is required to deposit the details that create the in-game world in which the Players’ personal blobs of info exist as characters.

One of the easiest ways to explain RPGs is comparing its structures to similar structures in fiction. This aided by the fact that the borrowing of elements between RPGs and fiction is simply uncontroversial. Roleplaying games especially those modeled after genre fiction can be seen as the gamification of fiction. Collective story telling is present in the element of information exchange that lies at the core of all RPGs. Rules structure these elements and introduce gamification into the whole.

Rules set limits; essentially the game mechanics set the diegetic frame and thus may affect multiple aspects of the experience at a very basic level. It is within this perimeter of the rules that the game world both exists and reacts to Player Character (PC) actions. It is also within this framework that the Game-Master (GM) must function in both writing and refereeing.

This flow underlying all RPGs requires the use of more precise but still flexible and understandable terminology. These terms being Diegetic or In-Game and Metagaming or out-of-game which reveals a flow of information between reality and the imaginary world of the game. This flow is filtered and limited by the mechanics of the game where the story-telling elements operate on the structure of a game within the arena of the game-world.

Diegetic (in game) occurs within the context of the game world. Commonly used in terms of cinema, this refers to what exists within the context of the film apart from reality. Its common definition is a form of storytelling/fiction whose narrative presents from an interior point-of-view.

Metagaming/OOG (out-of-game) is comparative to the plot-hole in fiction or even the breaking of the fourth wall. This also comprises of the rule set used in play as well as any structure, elements, or decisions provided by the GM that exceed the limits of the rules. Essentially anything Meta in this context is an element that comes from outside of the diegetic elements of the game, influence from outside of the game universe.

My RPG Session Structure Theory

As tabletop RPG play is built upon the accumulation of information, the exchange and back-and-forth flow of said information is key to how RPGs function. The exchange of information is essential to all RPGs. This includes World Building, Character Actions, and Processing actions and choice through the chosen ruleset. All tabletop RPG game systems require a high level of information exchange. This exchange is dynamic where improvisation occurs naturally within the flow introducing and sometimes spontaneously producing new information or otherwise transforming existing info.

The game begins when the Game-Master (GM) presents some information to the players and allows them to act upon that info from whence the flow of information springs. These exchanges can be the actions and responses of the PCs, Player questions, and/or the responses and text presented by the GM. Each bit of that flow of information, each Play-Unit, is essential in that an accumulation of exchanges is what builds the fantasy world and what institutes player engagement. The players must find some bit of information in these exchanges to latch onto, that is their attention or interest must be piqued by something either contained within or inferred by the Play-Unit thereby engaging them. This is what keeps them participating in the exchange and thus not only going with the flow but producing it.

Therefore, the flow of information is how roleplaying games work but to understand this fully requires us to analyze the exchanged information by looking at it in strictly defined pieces arranged into a hierarchy based on the self-contained complexity.

Play Unit

A Play Unit is the smallest component of RPGs, which is an exchange of information between the GM and a Player or group of Players. Note that Play Units may occur out of sequence as real-world table chatter and meta-gaming discussions counts as Play Units as well possibly obscuring a direct contiguous flow of information. The closest analogy in fiction to a Play Unit is a Story-Beat.

A Story-Beat (from Story by Robert McKee, p.37) is an emotive change in a character or exchange between characters (as in action/reaction) replaced in RPG Narratology with the social exchange between the participants these being the Game-Master (GM) and the Players. Characters that exist within the game are reliant on at least two sources or groups of authors. These are the Player Characters (PCs) controlled by the players and the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) run by the GM. It is between these entities where the story-beats lie. RPG story-beats are smeared across realities. That is, they are present inside of the game world (diegetic) and without among the participants (Meta) in the real world.

In addition, there is not always an emotive change marked in specific characters determined by a single author. These emotional changes in tabletop RPGs is dependent on the exchange of information on what the characters are feeling and doing and how the players themselves are reacting to what is going on within the game (both diegetic and metagaming). Since the emotional change so to speak is distributed over multiple people and existent partially in a shared fiction, it is the exchange of information between these participants and frames of experience (a la Frame Analysis) that is of importance here with each single exchange between participants being a Play Unit.

The way in which the participants understand and give meaning to their experiences is to frame this experience in a finite province of meaning akin to a theater stage contained within the imagination. [Fine, Gary Alan. 2002. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. p.181] Play Units not only comprises the flow of information between participants but also accrue to create the stage upon the existent framework of the rules. This stage is the diegetic part of the game and it is linked to the real world via the social interaction of the participants, which exists in the meta-game often blurring the distinction at some junctions but without affecting the participants’ perception of what is real and imaginary.

A Play Unit is produced when there is a single exchange of information between participants that effects or has consequences within the game world. Interaction with only the rules or raw mechanics of the game system does not. The rules are a filter for the raw information working on that information packaging it into a form communicated to the GM and then which the GM works on within the context of those same set of rules and then replies with a similarly packaged bit of information. Thus, the rules or mechanics of a game are a third necessary part of this vital exchange. The rules act as a filter and/or algorithm acting to alter info. This transformation of raw information gives rise to system specific lingo and in-game quirks as side effects unique to a specific rule system.

  • Three Vital Parts of a Play Unit are the GM, Players, and Rules/Mechanics

Not all exchanges in a game session are important and are of different levels of importance and immediacy however. Most important exchanges will contain a nugget of info that the GM can play on later, apply directly to the current action in-game, and those that may hint or directly spell-out character traits and especially player interest and reaction. Therefore, it takes multiple limited exchanges transformed by the game mechanics to conglomerate together to create a larger more cohesive unit. These key exchanges are what construct the game world in the minds of all the participants. These key exchanges involve multiple Play Units that build a single fictive scene known as an Episode.

Episode

An Episode is an incomplete part of an adventure where a group of things happen (a large accumulation of Play Units) which seem to be leading to the next episode or a conclusion. Essentially a single incident or short series of incidents occur in some relation to each other. In the world of fiction writing, these are roughly analogous to scenes.

In fiction, a Scene (from Three Genres by Stephen Minot, pg.376) is a unit of action within a story marked by a change of time or place (change of scene) which contains an event that moves the story forward. Note that the entrance of other characters can also demarcate scenes. The same is true of tabletop RPGs save that the demarcation of a scene is more reliant on the change of challenge to the Players such as the presentation of a question, puzzle, or problem by the GM without the scene changing in time or place. Characters may also die in between these exchanges as well as certain characters simply vanishing or becoming suddenly scarce altering the scene, meaning scenes are less structured in RPGs than fiction. Thusly, within the context of RPG Narratology it is probably more befitting to call these units Episodes instead of scenes.

An episode in the context of TRPG narratology is a related grouping of Play Units where the setting/background does not have to be fixed. An example of this is a conversation between two PCs while walking through a magic portal beginning before they walked through and continuing through and on the other side, the backdrop changes radically but the episode is composed of the exchanges between the PCs.

This somewhat transient notion in TRPGs can be difficult when trying to translate between traditional narrative and TRPG narrative especially in such instances as trying to blog a personal (or a character’s) tabletop experiences. Those that blog their experiences around the table may try to demarcate portions of the campaign by Session instead of by traditional narrative units or even those of TRPGs being discussed here. A Session being a limited time spent actually playing the game with others and often a series of Sessions will compose an adventure and/or campaign.

When writing or setting up for episodes a GM need only rely on the key exchanges that end on or lead to a desirable result for them. Basically, the GM will want the PCs to end up after this series of exchanges in a place or situation that either leads directly to another planned episode or that which they believe that they can work with, giving them fodder for more episodes further down the line.

Keeping Play Units and Episodes in mind a GM can structure their thoughts and ideas while running the game and writing for their campaign. A game-master can learn to keep tidbits of info in mind and group them together later when it comes time to act on them in-game helping to form the plot threads that run through campaigns which the GM’s writing and narration helps to bind together into adventures.

Multiple related Episodes will accumulate to build an Adventure, which may or may not be consecutive or broken up amongst episodes that take the Campaign in different directions or digressions that will matter later connecting to other non-contiguous episodes or future episodes. In fiction, this is Plot/plot lines. Plot (McKee, pg.43) is a sequence of events divided into Scenes with each single scene often presenting a single event all driving to a conclusion. For the purposes of this essay there is no distinction between Plots and Subplots.

A minimum of three scenes construct the traditional plot in fiction with a beginning, middle, and end type of striation within the text. Likewise, in a TRPG, plot consists of three vital exchanges or episodes, which are Presentation, Complication, and Twist. The building blocks of a TRPG plot are a series of Episodes, which are bundles of Play Units guided by the GM and a ruleset with a path blazed by the Players. TRPG plots are the result of the informational interaction of these three entities.

In addition, as episodic structure is spread across real-life and the imaginary stage of the game world, Plots in this context are very mercurial and apt to change direction and nature suddenly and unpredictably. For this reason, it is most useful to refer to TRPG Plot as an Adventure. An Adventure is a single plotline that can be followed through a campaign referring only to the game and meta-game elements necessary to communicate said plot.

Scenario

Another very similar but slightly different informational structure to Episodes within RPGs are Scenarios. A Scenario is virtually identical to an Episode but has a definite self-contained beginning, middle, and ending structure. An example being a short combat or random monster encounter, this does not mean the enemy is dead at the end but the battle definitively ends. Other scenarios or episodes can lead into these and a scenario can either terminate a story thread or lead to the next episode/scenario. In other words, a Scenario is a self-contained Episode but is not equivalent to a One-Shot Adventure.

Adventure

An Adventure is an extended section of a campaign, which has a beginning, middle, and an ending. Adventure would relate to a story arc or group of chapters in fiction writing. Standalone adventures or One-Shots would be similar to a short story in this context. An adventure module is essentially gamified fiction and so a completed adventure always has a recognizable beginning and a definitive ending. This ending may or may not lead into another adventure however.

The beginning and ending are somewhat inflexible giving the GM a definite starting point and a definite ending point but the body of the adventure is and should be very flexible. The middle may be adjusted as the PCs play through it allowing them freedom of movement and exploration while the GM invisibly guides them to the end. This structure of linked episodes and/or scenarios allows the GM to improvise more effectively in response to the indigence of the PCs and in response to the creativity of Player decisions.

The Beginning of an adventure starts with a vital episode called a Presentation. Presentation refers to an exchange initiated by the GM that presents something to be solved or acted upon by the Players in such a way as to lead them into another scene or episode. Although whether or not the players follow this to the next episodic component of the current adventure is unpredictable and may require the GM to put a hold on the current adventure to go on a player-fueled tangent. The beginning of an adventure can be composed of a single episode or scenario whereas the body can conceivably be made of a single episode it is more likely (and fun) to be a chain of episodes leading to a climax or certain ending conditions.

The middle or main body of the adventure will be a series of linked scenarios and/or episodes. These Episodes and/or Scenarios involving locations and incidents which are all connected in some way, preferably each leading into another rather than just a series of events happening one after the other. It is in this part of the adventure a vital episode called the Complication should occur. This plot component throws in an unexpected obstacle at the Players which they must overcome to proceed to the end.

The ending is a definitive endpoint where there is a requirement that when fulfilled the PCs have completed the adventure bringing it to its end. Of course, just as in fiction the GM may continue as an epilogue to the adventure in order to finish off any stray plot lines or character subplots otherwise eliminating loose ends that do not lead to another adventure. The end is also where an episode called the Twist can occur. This is an unexpected turn in events that complicates the situation for the Players and serves as the final obstacle or a final surprise. Adventures propel the characters and thus their players through this shared world, which they not only can alter through the actions of their characters but also help to construct episodically. These shared adventures can themselves link together into a campaign.

Campaign

The Campaign is the largest component of a tabletop RPG composed of a series of related Adventures. An RPG campaign is analogous to the novel in fiction with story at the heart of both forms.

This brings us to the overarching super-structure underlying both fiction and TRPGs. In fiction, this structure, composed from the bottom up of Story-Beats, Scenes, and Plot, is Story. A Story is the text resulting from the totality of the aforementioned structures with the addition of characters, details, and the background (that may or may not involve world building) in which the events of the story take place. The fictive element most analogous to a Campaign is Story.

Briefly, story in terms of this essay is a piece of fiction structured to elicit a certain reaction or reactions in the reader. Stories are structured by careful choice of material and the arrangement of constituent parts into a narrative. [Beacon Lights of Literature 1, pg.5 – Poe’s Theory of Short Story] The most basic elements of story that also correspond to RPGs are character, plot, and setting. Of course, these underlying structures that authors of fiction use to construct their stories vary so much from those of TRPGs at this point it is probably more efficient to call Story in terms of tabletop RPGs a Campaign.

A Campaign is the totality of all of the game and meta-game exchanges, participant characters (both PCs and NPCs), any material that the GM used regardless of original source or authorship, and the diegetic game world where the campaign has taken place. It is from this accumulation of detail and narration from which the participants can extract their personal narratives from the point of view as either their character(s), as a player, or a combination of the two. It is also in this higher tier structure where the world-building occurs as world-building is done through the accumulation of information gleaned from the gaming material and from the information drawn or resulting from certain exchanges and demonstrated in certain episodes. These details are often noted down by the GM so that the PCs may revel in or return to these certain facts about their imagined communal world.

A Campaign is a long-term ongoing RPG game that has at least one arc that takes it from the beginning to the end. Note that a campaign will often have several arcs and plot threads. Each game session builds on the next not just in terms of character experience but also in the accumulation and generation of story threads where at least some of which helps to lead to the conclusion of the campaign.

This long-form allows the GM to gradually build the in-game world as well as allowing the players to evolve their characters and make a mark on the game world possibly even influencing its course as well as the course of the campaign itself. Thus the game world is always seemingly in flux built around and accumulating certain facts about itself which serve to anchor believably (and replayability) in the diegetic frame. In RPG terms, Story is not the product of any single author but a group with a certain share of that group with their hands and feet within the fictional world of that story.

The Structure of an RPG in Ascending Order is:

Play Unit – A bidirectional exchange of information between participants analogous to the Story-Beats in fiction.

Episode/Scenario – A collection of play-units that paints a situation that leads somewhere analogous to a fictive Scene.

Adventure – A linked collection of episodes and/or scenarios with a definitive beginning, middle, ending structure analogous to Plot or a Short Story or Book Chapter.

Campaign – A collection of shared adventures analogous to a fictive Story or Novel.

World-building occurs in tabletop RPGs by the sedimentation of details and information born of the bidirectional flow of Play Units structured and augmented by the rule set. That building the more complex structures that constitute roleplaying games and their worlds as the game is played. This organized flow underlies everything about tabletop role-playing games.

Summation

This theory of the organized flow of information is meant to be not only a ludology device but also a practical tool for those involved in the writing, creation, and playing of roleplaying games. In my experience and in my research including the reading of various other RPG theories this one rings the most personally true and has been of practical use in my own writing for RPGs.

Related Blogs and Articles

All of these cited works are authored by me unless otherwise noted. Each holds bits and pieces of the Organized Flow Theory as well as some narrow applications. The last is a purely mechanical dissection but I think illustrates a general knowledge on how the mechanics side operates.

Handling Game Flow in RPGs (Hubpages)

Building Tabletop Myths (Hubpages)

Tabletop Meditations #7: RPG Narrative

Tabletop Meditations #9: Campaign Structure

The Finer Points of the Frankengame (Gnomestew)