Cat-House Confessions (Prehistoric RPG session 2, Part 1)

Read about Session 1 here.

The second session went much more smoothly than I anticipated, even though we had a surprise sixth player, thanks in large part to a much more considered and restrained playing style by Wil’s player. Alas, it was a bit too restrained, as Wil could have used his peculiar skills (Medicine, Science, and Alchemy) to aid the group. There’s a learning curve in all of this, not to mention a social adaptation curve, so time will tell if she and the other players can sort this out or if she’s just going through the motions awaiting character death to provide a safe reason to exit the game.

After negotiations with Artigo, world’s greatest frontiersman and adventurer, last session, the group heads back to Wardensburg to discuss if and how to convince Vario, the dandy and Rai-pretender, to front the 1,000GP that Subico owes to Artigo. Over dinner negotiations at the Hand-in-Amber, Vario scoffs. This is the first time he’s been shy about spending money. He quite reasonably asks why they can’t get another guide or just buy a boat. The groups pushes back that having the King of the Arqi Frontier would be a great benefit to their mission, with a roundabout allusion to their less-than-spectacular performance against the Deep One ambush. Vario doesn’t care. He’s already paying for their equipment (no small thing, considering two of the players have little in the way of equipment and no gold at all!), he’s bought them breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and he’s graciously letting them keep whatever spoils they find during their little raid. 

“What more can you ask of me?” Vario says. “Besides, you can always offer the Mighty Artigo a share of the loot. And these brigands have already carried off half the wealth of the eastern shore!”

Seeing the argument was going nowhere, the group whispers about a Plan B, namely appealing to Artigo’s good nature and patriotism, and even… *spit* …a share in the loot. But wait! Vario has another surprise to spring on them, namely our new sixth player…

In walks Inigo (one term Commoner), a shadowy, unsavory looking youth. Vario introduces him as his special assistant and will accompany the group to aid them in whatever way needed. It hardly needs to be said that he’ll be Vario’s spy. No one in the group knows that this callow youth has the Assassin trait, and is Vario’s man to make sure that Vanduro, the missing Rai, is killed if found alive. But the other PCs aren’t exactly stupid…

While Vario departs for his nightly liaisons  at the fort’s brothel (officially unnamed, but colloquially known as the Amber-in-Hand…), the group has some liaising of their own to worry about. Wil is the only player with the Liaison skill, and so they need him to have a reasonable chance of hiring some good mercenaries on short notice.

And, like, they really need him, because Subico’s decapitating slash last session notwithstanding, none of them are combat monsters. They impress this great need on Wil very strenuously. More than that, they need help fast. They’re leaving tomorrow, after all. “Don’t screw it up!”

Wil dutifully goes around the tavern, and the inn, and to whoever he can find, greasing the palms of local gossips with his substantial gold supplies. At the sage recommendation of Terrio, the tavern-keeper, a small fortune of 20gp is spent to get make sure people know this is serious business. A bunch of loose lipped types head out of town to tell the surrounding village. In a few hours, Wil and dusky, untrustworthy Inigo are met by two rough looking men in armor. 

“I am Orvio, and this is my younger brother Avio,” says the merc. “I hear you’re looking for swords on short notice.” 

And these are serious dudes, veterans of a dozen campaigns on the frontiers of Carqland, killers of Crannogmen, Dogmen, and worse. Though he doesn’t say brag about it, the lordly Orvio is whispered to have been a Fultoplista (literally First-Spear, a top commander in the legions). They have just skill, kit, and the knowledge the group needs. They readily agree to the job, but hammering out the bill is more fraught. They want 50gp up front, each. Plus 20% of the loot.

They haggle, but eventually Wil gives them their 100gp and a 17% cut.

Elsewhere, Rena conspires with Subico and Reesan to find out more about the man they’re working for. She hatches a plan for the two of them to go to the Amber-in-Hand once Vario leaves and pump the girl he was just with.

For information. Pump her for information.

This is the best encounter they’ve heard all day, but they pretend reluctance. Reesan, in particular, is broke. 

“I’ll front you. But it’s a loan! I expect repayment after all this is over!” Rena says, and the deal gets even better.

While Subico and Reesan await their moment of glory, Horzad is alone in his room, performing rituals to load up his Foci (mostly dire wolf, cave bear, and sabretooth teeth). Maybe it’s the proximity to what some might call civilization, but his Shaman abilities aren’t firing on all cylinders. Two minor failures leave him frustrated, but a third nearly ends in disaster as he makes a critical failure and rolls a 66 on the Sorcerous Mishaps table. “Roll Endurance or Die,” it says.

It’s a very near thing, and there was some confusion about what exactly he needed to roll, but Horzad did indeed survive. He took a rest before trying again, and was able to load up all of his foci with spells: one with Summon Demon Spawn, two with Respite, and one with Faerie Fire. Blackened and smoking like Wile E. Coyote after a run-in with a pair of rocket skates, Horzad decides to call it a night.

Rena takes in an evening drink and chats up the tavernkeeper, asking about the unusual name. “The Hand-in-Amber,” he explains, “is what they found when they were digging the perimeter of the fort. A withered hand, a giant hand, hewed off at the forearm, as tall as you from the waist up and almost as wide, and covered in amber. Belonged to a Nephilim, one of the lightning-makers, blown off and petrified in the Celestial War, no doubt.” Some more inquiry reveals that the Hand’s location is known, or was known, at least, before Vanduro disappeared. The Rai incorporated it into his arms (no pun intended!) and even, he heard, offered it to the Emperor, no doubt for some political arrangement. But what does someone like Terrio know about these things?

This is all very interesting to Rena, whose (backstory) adventure had her steal a fabulously expensive (and unfenceable) jewel from a wealthy merchant back in Stavranido just to brag about it. How she got out of that one is a tale for another time…

A little after 10 o’clock, Vario staggers out of the Amber-in-Hand and Subico and Reesan get down. Well, sort of.

Reesan is greeted by Velia, the darkly beautiful and mysteriously aristocratic looking madam. She is used to dealing with rough frontier sorts, and far from condescending to our vagabond, promises that her establishment offers pleasures for a variety of tastes, and a menagerie of exotic beauties not to be rivaled even in more cosmopolitan locales.

Aside, as you know, I’m not the sort of GM who lets people get by on social interactions with die rolls. There’s got to be at least a bit of role playing, and I want to know what they say to get an idea as to how the NPCs will react to them. Plus, it’s a lot funnier that way when you get into situations like this one. Back to the show…

“That gentleman that just staggered out of here,” says Reesan. “Now he looks like a man of sophisticated tastes. I, too, am a man of sophisticated tastes.”

Velia very nearly raises an eyebrow. She leans in conspiratorially. “Do you know the man of whom you speak?”

“Uh, no, not at all.”

“Between the two of us, his tastes are… less than sophisticated. Wild and even… uncouth. But if you’re looking for sophistication, I suggest…”

“I’ll have what he’s having.”

Velia introduces him to a short, saucy woman with fiery red hair, savage eyes, and an uncouth tongue of her own. Azori is a barbarian from the Hangritic cliff-dwelling tribes upriver. She’s a little perturbed by not getting at least a full half hour of rest between clients, but a working girl must work.

We interrupt this crass scene with a tasteful Waterhouse nude.

In private, Azori puts on her usual routine for Reesan, even parlaying it into an opportunity for her to have a bath. “Maybe you’d like to help,” she suggests, handing him a sponge.

Reesan deftly replies: “So that guy you were just with. He was real sophisticated. I’ll bet that guy who was just here likes to bathe.”

Azori laughs awkwardly. “Oh no, I don’t let just anyone wash me…”

“He’s a real mysterious looking guy. Rich and powerful, too, I’ll bet.”

“Uh, why don’t we…”

“I wonder if a guy like him goes to the same girl all the time, or if he changes it up…”

An increasingly awkward and hilarious back and forth continues for a while before Azori becomes fed up, wraps herself in a towel, and wonders aloud if Reesan might have had an ulterior motive in coming here.

“Finally! Yes, I want to know about Vario. Tell me everything.”

“We don’t share gossip about the other clientele! I could lose a lot more than my livelihood, you know.”

“I’ll pay you extra,” says Reesan.

“How much extra?” asks Azori.

“How much do you want?”, responds the expert negotiator.

Azori thinks it over. It’s a risk, but… the thought of making a month or more’s pay in a single night appeals to her. “Ten pieces.”

“Of what?”

“Gold,” she smiles.

Reesan the haggler immediately coughs up the money, and Azori dishes about Vario. She doesn’t know when he rolled in exactly, but she knows he’s not from here. The style, the manners, the gold… they’re not just pretensions. Given some of the things he’s said, she figures he’s the younger son of an island noble, one that’s too far down the pecking order to inherit anything except maybe a fat wallet. He’s obsessed with what he calls ‘Fortune’, with a capital F, and that since Fortune screwed him over in his youth, She’s bound to make good on him later on. And judging by how he was acting today, he thinks Fortune is setting the table for him. She notes also that he’s missing his right hand and that he wears a dummy under a glove (something one of the PCs noticed), and that despite his airs, he does business with all kinds of lowlives. He frequently pays in odd coinage, including the rough, ugly bits that she’d seen traded back in her home in the cliffs, and hideously engraved coins from the Dogmen or Thuder-knows-where. Vario and the Warden, Tyto Brontek, hate each other, but Vario has been deft enough to evade any of Brontek’s clumsy schemes so far.

This filled in a lot of important gaps for the party, at least if you can trust the intuition of a prostitute (and a barbarian one at that!). There was, of course, a problem. Reesan would have to tell them, and having paid the 10 gold, he had nothing left to pay the madam on the way out.

“How far up is that window?” he asks. As Azori tucks her money where no one will find it, she agrees to give Reesan  a five minute head start before she yells that he’s gone out the window.

While Reesan makes his escape, Subico is downstairs, making good use of his Carousing skill by beating the lowlives in dice. He cleans house, winning a respectable pile of silver (or a small stack of gold) and learns a thing or two about the recent events. The most important tidbit comes from an old sea dog named Rotelco that pirates (“not me, of course. It’s just a known fact”) have been visiting the old river fortress, bartering with the crannogmen for the slaves they’ve been capturing, and then selling them off to the outlying islands. It’s a bit of a risk travelling up the river, but it’s safer and less work than capturing them yourself. It wasn’t exactly what he came for, but this gives Subico a much needed idea for infiltrating an island full of barbarians. When the alarum goes out that Reesan snuck out without paying, Subico ducks out with his winnings.

And that concludes the adventurers first full day of activities. Come back for part two, when they scout the island and make the possibly fateful decision to… *gasp* Split the Party!

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