Bloodied Swords and Dogmen (Prehistoric RPG Session #2, Part 2)

Read about Session #1 and the first half of Session #2

It’s a new day in Wardensburg, and the PCs are ready to finally set off on their adventure proper. But first, a quick run down of what happened in the morning.

First, Rena, Horzad, Subico, Wil, and Reesan were able to meet at the Hand-in-Amber (the tavern) and discuss everything that they found out last night without Inigo listening in, which was important because a lot of what they found out has to do with the group’s patron and Inigo’s boon companion, Vario. They also find out that Wil promised the mercenaries Avio and Orvio a significant amount of their loot and that Reesan, at least, would not be welcome back at the Amber-in-Hand (the brothel).

While they eat breakfast, they hear singing from the other room. As promised, Artigo, King of the Prehistoric Frontier, has arrived. He’s playing his meluset and serenading the tavernkeeper’s daughter with a song he wrote especially for her, complimenting her in return for the fine compliments she paid him (via the PCs) in the first session. The only problem is that this is the wrong daughter. As he finishes his ditty by calling out Terrin, Terrin’s sister Ionia, storms off, but not before letting this lothario know what she thinks of his philandering, swamp-skimming, possum-eating lifestyle.

Rena, fast becoming the PC’s spokeswoman, gives Artigo the bad news about the 1,000gp that Subico owes him for stealing his furs. She offers him instead the 1,000gp out of whatever they recover, and then a further X% cut. Artigo thanks her kindly, but no, he doesn’t work with snakes who’ve cheated him once before, and he doesn’t stick his neck out for as uncertain a reward as that. Rena goes for the jugular but appealing to his patriotism and the poor folk who’ve been captured by the bandits. Artigo hesitates, then finally agrees to her conditions, but says he will only guide and transport them on his boat, he won’t go in there and fight alongside them. Good enough, Rena says.

Leaving their mounts, the group of six PCs plus the two mercenaries board Artigo’s punt and head upriver. The journey is uneventful, except that the PCs have a lot of arguing about how they’re going to infiltrate. The first plan was that Horzad would lead two of the others (the ones with Deception skill), dressed as barbarians (clothes they bought at the town trading post), and pretend to be a group of Crannogmen raiders, who captured the others and are looking to sell them at the fort. Subico has doubts about this plan because only Horzad can speak the Crannogmen language, and what are they supposed to do if someone talks to them? Pretend to be mute? Avio and Orvio also flatly refuse to be disarmed and led in as slaves. They will go in fully armed and equipped or not at all.

With time running out, Subico suggests a second plan. He has some experience with slavers (three of his four Enemies come from double-crossing slavers!), so he knows they don’t much care who they’re trading with. Further, he knows from his talk with the smuggler Rotelco at the brothel last night that there are Arqi involved, so there’s no need for the risky barbarian ruse, nor even any fake captives. Subico, Reesan, and Inigo, along with Orvio (who knows the Crannogmen language) will dock at the island, pretend to be working for a wealthy buyer in the islands looking for a particular slave stock.

The rest of the group, meanwhile, will have already disembarked on the shore. Their job will be to scout the approaches to the island from the safety of the woods, and get a good survey of its lookouts and defenses. Artigo and the mercenaries, all familiar with military operations, are unanimous that the fort will have some kind of patrols on the shore to screen the fort for another overland attack; this is probably how they ambushed the Rai’s forces. They’ll need to at least keep an eye on these pickets, since they’ll respond to any trouble on the island.

Everyone agrees to this plan and the party splits.

The first group disembarks at the last bend in the river before Artigo’s boat would come into view of the fortress towers. Within a few minutes, they find tracks in the mud leading away from the riverbank. Avio identifies them as Coyle footprints, a type of smaller and stupider, but more savage Cynocephali (yes, they’re imported from Palladium Fantasy). The merc suggests that the first thing they do is find a good spot to ambush them along the path for when they inevitably come back. There are at least 10 of the little buggers, and it may not be sane to attack them after all, but at least they’ll be prepared if the opportunity is good. I roll on Recon and get boxcars, so they’ll have as good a chance at carrying out that ambush as any.

Like this, but with unshaven legs and carrying swords.

A little later, as they continue their scouting, they notice an awful lot of buzzards circling. Following that sign, they come across a bloating human corpse dressed in armor and the Rai’s heraldry, surrounded by four lean Dire Wolves and a couple of vultures sulking about being chased off of their meal. Rena and Will light torches and wave them around to try and scare off the wolves, while Avio (the only member of this group with Archery) makes use of Rena’s sling to pelt the wolves. Horzad hangs back, just in case he has to use his Respite foci.

The wolves eventually scatter and they strip the corpse of his armor, a messenger bag that has some spoiled rations, a waterproof metal tube bearing a missive from Rai Vanduro to Warden Brontek that they’ve been ambushed and they need to send help (three days too late, alas!), and a mysterious skeleton key. Horzad spends ten minutes trying to cast Purify Food & Water on the rations, but just like the previous night, his efforts are wasted.

Cut to the island, where Subico, Reesan, Inigo, and Orvio make their play. They roleplay it well enough that I don’t even require the deception rolls, and they’re quickly taken inside by a scuzzy half-Arqi, half-barbarian broker to see their stock. Subico has guessed right about the whole operation, and the slaver confirms a lot of the details on the way through the fort. Subico’s player, meanwhile, is trying to keep a map of the twists and turns of the corridors and observe the positions, attitudes, and arms of the defenders. Since he’s doing it mentally, I try to give clear, but not extremely detailed descriptions (“you go at least 80 feet down a long doorless corridor”, “there’s a couple of men down the hall, half-lit from some kind of light source, but it’s hard to guess how far down they are,” etc…).

The half-breed broker shows them the slave pen and asks what they’re looking for. Subico says they’re looking for strong men, preferably soldiers who will give a good fight in the arena. The broker laughs and says that if they were fighting men, they wouldn’t have been made slaves. He offers commentary about the poor state of the Arqi ‘warriors’ that were butchered in their hapless attack on the fortress, and that even the Rai proved a weakling and a coward, surrendering and begging for his life.

“You have the Rai?” Subico asks.

“Not anymore. Crizzak the Killer now uses his skull as a cup.”

The halfbreed tells them he’ll see what he can do, and there might be some good big, dumb farmers he can use. The broker’s assistant (who speaks only the barbarian tongue) leads them back to a waiting room.

An amusing scene unfolds where the barbarian notices Inigo feeling around the stone walls (searching for secret doors? He didn’t say) and asks him what he’s doing. In a series of ever more elaborate bluffs and escalations, translated back and forth by Orvio, Inigo says he used to be a mason and was admiring the stone work, while the barbarian presses him for ever more detail about the kind of stone, and whether it was good stone for building a castle, and so on. Now, as the GM, I wasn’t going anywhere with this; I knew the barbarian was just clueless and trying to get advice on what kind of stone he should use for the new crannog he intended to build, but it had my players sweating bullets. And isn’t that what refereeing a game is all about?

The broker and his guards eventually bring in three male slaves, tall and burly enough, but stooped from their chains and suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. Subico does some nice roleplaying here, trying to get some information out of them without revealing anything to the slavers. He asks them if they’re soldiers. One says no, he’s just a farmer, the other two stare at him, silent and defiant. Subico taunts them, more or less repeating what the halfbreed says about real warriors not being captured. They remain silent, so he goes on, trying to get a reaction.

“You have no honor,” the first captive says, coldly.

“Oh, I know that,” says Subico.

Eventually, Subico and Orvio are convinced that two of them are well disciplined soldiers, maybe even part of the Rai’s force. Subico agrees to buy the three of them (20gp each, paid out of his own purse), and if his master finds them useful, he’ll be back.

The broker thanks him, but asks if he wouldn’t consider buying the rest of the lot. He’ll even sell them at a discount. They’re getting more captives than they know what to do with, and they’ve got to save space for the more high-value hostages. By the way, would he be interested in seeing some of his elite stock? Much more expensive, but worth it. Merchants, landholders, even a few minor knights and nobles, their guilds and families willing to pay good ransoms, no doubt. And he’d better not hesitate if interested, because there’s a boat scheduled to come in tonight, and he is sure to miss out on this opportunity!

Subico politely declines, and says a silent prayer of thanks for the bandits poor OpSec. As the slaves are turned over, the slave who denied Subico’s honor meets his eyes in icy challenge. “You will die,” he says, cocking his head, “like these men. Alone. Quaking. Faithless. Ashamed.”

Cutting back to the western bank of the Hysilen River, the other half of the party hears the triumpant howls and yips of the Coyles… and some sobbing humans, as well. They take up positions in cover on both sides of the path and observe as 11 Coyles surrounding three hostages, two maidens and one young man, haggard, exhausted, and their clothes and skin shredded from the Coyle’s whips and claws.

The PCs agree to spring the ambush. Avio has already told them that they must strike aggressively, targeting the largest coyles first and working their way down the height scale. Coyles are ultimately cowardly and will panic when they see the higher-ranked members of their pack hierarchy go down.

It was a fun fight, but not much to write about. The Coyles did not make their Recon roll, and so the party had Surprise, giving them a full round during which the dogmen could do nothing. Avio starting the show by splitting the biggest Coyle’s skull open with a slung rock, and then impaling another on the point of his sword. Rena, Horzad and Wil jumped in with their own weapons, seriously injuring two more. By the end of the round, the Coyles had failed their morale throw, but only badly enough to make a fighting withdrawal. The PCs pursued, and they were able to absorb the damage of the few contests they lost, except for Wil who suffered a spear thrust to the arm, leaving him with only one rank of Endurance left. Soon, however, the Coyles were in full retreat and the party melted back into the woods with the rescued captives.

And that’s where the second session ended. Session three starts today!

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