A House of Cards

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All's quiet in Blackmarsh. Or not.
[Drew AFK]

DATE: Wednesday May 27, 2015.

Background

We begin in Blackmarsh, a fantasy quasi-Romanized Gaul.

It is a time of change. A holy war has just drawn to a bloody close. There is a magical insurgency in Blackmarsh. Blackmarsh is ruled by Lord Nazar, the current Duke of Blackmarsh. There has been a coup-d’etat in the capital. It was orchestrated by the “Praetorian Guard,” the 1st Legion. Further afield, The City-States of Mycenae have settled their 100 year war, even if the Matriarch’s goddess is the goddess of war. Exiles who refuse to stop fighting are given Scorpion Shields, signifying their outcast status. The Crystal Tower of Kuzic has fallen. In Blackmarsh’s Southern Reaches since the end of the holy war, outlying hamlets have been found abandoned. None of the inhabitants have been found, dead or alive. Instead, they simply seem to have vanished, leaving all their livestock and other valuables behind.

Blackmarsh’s Decrepit Temple

Outside Blackmarsh Castle is found a burnt-out temple, left to commemorate the 16 children and 4 adults who died in a mysterious fire. Shortly after the fire, some years ago, Maedoc “Templeburner” left town leaving her family to bear the name of her accidental deed.

Questions:

  • To whom was the temple dedicated?
  • Did they reopen another temple?
  • Were any of the dead from powerful families?
  • Is it true the fire started from a friendly game of spin-the-burning-candle in the shed played between a handful of juveniles?

Leontius

Leontios Tagaris Kaleothes, along with the Shield Maiden Ionna Khomninna, are hunting a giant wild boar with Lord Nazarus, For many in the party, things are going badly. Aided by Ionna’s bow-work, Leontius slays the large pig, but not before it has gored to death numerous other huntsmen. However, despite bearing the shield of the Black Scorpion, Leontios’ works gain him the esteem of Lord Nazarus after felling the 15’ foot beast.

Questions:

  • How did Leontios and Ionna come in the employ of Lord Nazar?
  • Are they the Lord’s body guards?
  • How far are the City States of Mycenae from Blackmarsh?
  • Is there a temple, or perhaps ruined temple, in Blackmarsh?
  • Are there other Myceneans in Blackmarsh?

Silanus

After a hard day of breaking in the recruits and conscripts housed at Castle Blackmarsh, Silanus fears they will never become the heavy infantry he is contracted to create. His thoughts are interrupted by a knock at his door.

Answering warily, he finds an old comrade from the 11th Legion at the doorstep with another man. Both this 11th Legionnaire and Carlos attempt to enroll Silianus into an insurgency to retake the Empire, much to Silanus’ irritation. Silanus repeatedly notes that he is uncomfortable with this entire discussion. Upon realizing Silanus was not interested in becoming a cadre in an insurgency, the pair of noisome visitors prepare to leave.

Thinking his night would return to normalcy, Silanus spies Carlos treacherously unsheathing a blade to backstab the Legionnaire of the 11th. Silanus intercedes with his own blade, saving his friend by slaying Carlos in a single blow. Having thwarted an assassination on his old comrade, and discovering that Carlos bears the mark of the 7th Legion, Silanus suggests that his old friend stay for dinner.

Questions:

  • What happened to Carlos’ mortal remains?
  • What is the old comrade’s name?
  • Was Carlos actually trying to ferret out who was and was not loyal to the current Emperor? Or was he merely trying to tie-up other loose ends?

The Honourable Carthonian

The Honourable Carthonian is hearing a local case in which a neighbor is accusing someone of using witchcraft to spoil milk. Irked, he notes aloud that witches wouldn’t waste their time souring milk. He then metes out swift justice, sending both defendant and accuser to jail for four days. This sentence will only be commuted if they can get along. Clearly, His Honour is unused to the business of the more peripheral of the Empire’s Courts.

Before the next interminable case can be heard, the Judge’s keen senses reveal a cloaked figure has dropped something black and tiny on the court’s floor. Before this figure can be stopped, it slips away through the crowd. Swiftly, this something becomes a larger scorpion, stinging to death a bailiff and pinching in twain two (presumed to be) innocent bystanders. Thinking quickly, His Honour summons a hero (Move 90’, 20 HP, Lvl 4 fighter, Dam d6+4, AC 8). While the Hero is dispatched, the Judge’s spells eventually dispatch the giant summoned scorpion. The Honourable Carthonian then stomps off to complain to the Duke of Blackmarsh about the indignities of court duty in this provincial backwater.

Questions:

  • Did this happen inside or outside? (I thought outside, but my notes don’t mention it).
  • Is this sort of thing (i.e., Scorpions of Unusually Large Size) common, uncommon, rare or never-before-experienced-in-Blackmarsh?
  • What are the penalties for releasing giant scorpions? Is it just reckless homicide? Treason?
  • Is there a local Wizard’s Guild in Blackmarsh?

Temperance Beneficent and Maedoc Templeburner

Leaving the large city of [FILL IN THE BLANK], the (maternal) cousins Temperance and Maedoc encounter each other on a ride back to Blackmarsh. Temperance relates that in an odd twist of fate, he has inherited the lands and manor of Aunt Industria Templeburner. He does not share that he has been sent back to Blackmarsh to follow up with Salazar Raman Tiberion Masalla Thieron de-Antanaria, a blessed priest of our God of Order, Ammonar.

Oddly, Maedoc says little about her reason for returning to her homeland. Perhaps she wishes to show contrition for the accidental conflagration that sent her from Blackmarsh at an early age. Unbeknownst to her cousin, Maedoc’s light fingers were caught in the till of her boss,_ Antonius Grande_, for whom she worked as a bookie. Fearing his thugs, she gingerly left behind her former city of employment in search of relative safety.

Temperance invites Maedoc to stay at his newly inherited manor. Not only would he like to catch up with his cousin, he also is somewhat concerned for her welfare. He is certain that if it can be shown that a Paladin of Ammonar will take her in, the parents of those 16 dead children or families of the four dead adults will feel compelled to let bygones be bygones. In case they won’t, he suspects being around might help her deal with anyone casting an evil eye upon her, or otherwise suggesting harm. And truth be told, Temperance is worried that his Aunt Industria might be haunting the place, rocking in her favorite chair on the back patio. Better to have another person around in such cases!

Maedoc and Temperance make themselves at home in his recently inherited and quite stout manor. After his aunt’s former servant show them how to operate and maintain the hypoclast, (i.e., floor heating), he learns that the hamlet attached attached to the manor by right (if not proximity) is Auster Industria [South Industry]. Temperance then recalls that Aunt Industria never could tolerate the smell of the peasantry. Also, she feared ogres, which she alleged ran rampant in those parts. “Silly old woman,” he thinks. “We all know ogres were cleared out long ago.”

The next day, Temperance and Maedoc take the road to inspect Temperance’s inheritance. Roughly halfway between Blackmarsh and the hamlet, a tall brutish figure lumbers out of the shrubbery. It stands 9’ tall, wields a club, and wears a mis-mash of beast skins. Yelling “Horses!” in a particularly culinary way, Temperance decides it is either an ogre or a barbarian. The pair gains the initiative. Temperance dismounts from his medium warhorse, Bice. While Temperance takes 8 points of damage, he remains afoot, bolstered by Ammonar’s faith and high constitution. The following turn, the pair collectively inflict 16 points of damage on the foul beast. Sorely wounded, it fights on, but misses. The next turn, Maedoc stabs it mortally from behind. After it finishes twitching, Temperance cleaves free the corpse’s head, tying this grisly totem to the Warhorse. They reckon there should be a reward. The ogre’s bag contains most of a fairly fresh pig, 7,000 cp, and 1,400 ep. Laying hands upon himself, he heals himself back to 15 HP.

After slaying the ogre and healing themselves, Temperance and Maedoc continue on to the abandoned inheritance. While the residents’ goods and animals have been scavenged by those living in the surrounding countryside, the pair note a strange symbol upon the door of a particularly squalid hovel. Maedoc deciphers a strange symbol on the door of an abandoned hovel. Temperance notes to himself that in her Knitters’ Guild, his cousin must have picked up many useful skills while embroidering fine-linen handkerchiefs with initials of big-city nobles and merchants. Maedoc relates that the sigil is Old Taurian for the equivalent of the letter “R.” [Taurians were quasi-Picts]. Searching the rest of the hovel, they find the place looted. As they continue to the hovels, they find no signs of struggle. All 40-odd families simply disappeared. Drawing on Ammonar’s wisdom, Temperance’s Detect Evil on the Taurian letter “R” reveals that not just the sigil, but in fact the entire surrounding area radiates evil.

Realizing that this area must be consecrated before resettlement by the good citizenry, Temperance has an epiphany: Maedoc’s friends from the “Knitter’s Guild” should relocate here after the hamlet’s (re)consecration. Temperance assumes it would be “…the perfect place to house a colony of knitters.” “Fresh air, bird song and country-living would do them good!” he mutters to himself. Thinking this a gallant observation and offer, he is a bit perplexed by Maedoc’s indifference to this suggestion.

Temperance and Maedoc ride back to Blackmarsh. After nailing the ogre’s head to a post on the front porch, they tuck into a simple feast of the fresh pig found in the ogre’s bag—after roasting it, of course. Temperance also wishes to hire a servant, and perhaps invite over the Lord of Blackmarsh for a simple repast of swine stew.

Questions

  • In what city were Maedoc and Temperance residing?
  • Was this the capital city?
  • How far away is it?
  • Are the roads to it well-maintained?
  • How many people live in the Town of Blackmarsh?
  • How many people live in the Duchy of Blackmarsh?
  • How many hamlets are there?
  • How formidable is Blackmarsh Castle?
  • What is Blackmarsh known for exporting?

What’s next?

Many questions stand before the party:

  1. How will the party meet?
  2. Will Temperance find the cleric he has been assigned to accompany?
  3. If so, will he show the mercy of Ammonar to apostates?
  4. Will Maedoc shank her kind-hearted but insufferable cousin?
  5. Will former legionnaires succumb to seditious calls?
  6. What of the feast of the 15-foot boar?
  7. Who will claim the glory of slaying it?
  8. Who was the seditious user of scorpion magic?
  9. What happened to the miscreants in the Affair of the Soured Milk?
  10. And most importantly, how many XP did the ogre-slayers receive?
  11. Will we remember to roll Initiative EVERY round?
  12. Will we remember to declare our action BEFORE we roll initiative?
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Second (?) Session
Posted on 15 July 2015.

June 10, 2015
AFK: Roxy

The Auran Empire is pantheistic. That is, they make appeals to the Lawful and Neutral ones, hoping for good things. They propitiate the Chaotic, hoping to avoid those gods’ foul gaze.

There are five Lawful. There are five Neutral. There are five Chaos. All Aurans worship or propitiate all these deities.

Beyond the universal (in the Auran Empire) pantheon, there are also lesser immortals. Of these godlings, three Chaotic immortals are worth noting: the Lord of Hell, the Lord of the Abyss and the Lord of the Void. While they have enough worshipers to maintain their immortality, they are not worshiped by all. There are also other demi-gods.

However, more recently certain fanatical sects have emerged within the faith of Amonar to stamp out the practice of propitiating the Chaotic gods, be they the big five or the three Lords. These Inquisitors of Amonar are now under close guard. They were motivated by the Holy War, as Chaotic necromancers sided with the Neo-Zaharans, undermining the Auran cause.

Salazar learns that all his battle brethern in the Duchy of Blackmarsh have perished, and is thus sent to replenish the ranks The Battle of Ornellus Flats, where the Duchy of Blackmarsh’s best troops fought against the Lords of New Zaharians. They died in an early rearguard action, dying to a man in the early days of the Holy War.

This Holy War continued for over a decade. It ended only with the assassination of the Old Emperor by the Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard was manned by war-weary troops who were tired of the war. After the Neo-Zaharians were driven from the island of the Auran Empire, the Praetorian Guard disagreed with the Emperor’s desire to continue the war and hunt them down. Given the strong opinions, assassination was used to settle their differences.

The Great Carthonian finds himself in the Wizard’s Guild, which bears an odd resemblance to a 19th century gentleman’s club. He realizes he was sent to this backwater, the Duchy of Blackmarsh, to deal with the lack of wizards. In the capital, wizards are fairly common. However, out here, in Blackmarsh with 5,000 residents, all the remaining wizards were conscripted and died at the rearguard action known as the Battle of Ornellus Flats, excepting the Duke’s wizard. Currently, then, there are but 2 wizards left in town, counting the Judge.

The Judge notes the library has been ransacked, the hall is dusty, and a humble servant brings him brandy. When asked if there are other magic users, the servant notes that a generation ago, the previous Duke put all wizards to the sword after a cabal of them attempted a coup. At that time, there were roughly 200 wizards. Only after his son ascended the throne were wizards even invited back to Blackmarsh. Thus, when they were sent off to fight, the number of residing mages had already been decimated. This is a problem given that the magical uprising is taking place just in Blackmarsh. The theory among the common folk is that the cabal and their apprentices insinuated themselves into the local Taurian community, and spread their evil ways amongst the barbarians.

The Judge is awaiting his appointment five days hence. He needs what is essentially a TSA body searching wand to prevent magical spiders. [Detect Magic has a twenty minute duration]. After drinking his brandy, alone, he decides to leave the desolate hall. He knows that a new priest of Amonar is in town, and perhaps they can be convinced to cast sufficient Detect Magic at the courthouse door.

Silanus is greeted by the Duke’s Advisor, Corbin (well-cut goatee), and warned of the Duke’s pissy disposition. Silanus enters the Duke’s chambers, and is asked to report on the progress of the levies being trained. Silanus notes that they are pitiful. He does have some more pressing news for the Duke, though. He tells him that he will be getting reinforcements in the form of disloyal legionaires in the form of the 11th Legion. They are fleeing a purge in the capital. Silanus notes that the 11th Legion is specialized in skirmishers and scouts, which would be fairly effective in Blackmarsh’s broken and forrested terrain. They discuss that the Praetorian Guard already sees the Duke as a loose end to be removed, there is nothing to be done to stop the 11th from setting up (given the Duke’s lack of legionnaires) here, and perhaps they are a sort of gift horse.

The Duke relates that he has a job for Silanus. A hamlet’s population has disappeared, the new Judge was attacked by followers of the old cabal that rose against his father, a crazed priest of Amonar is in town, and an ogre has been slain recently in Blackmarsh. The Duke wishes Silanus to ride herd over these and a few others to hunt out the source of this disturbance.

Burn’s Sleep, a small village of 600 with a freshwater pond fed by a waterfall, at the bottom of the escarpment. There a Mycenean mercenary slew a massive swine which had found its way down the escarpment. This mercenary is a hopilite. He will be the lieutenant to Silanus.

The Duke has two sons, the oldest four years of age, and a wife. Duke Nazar is 32 years of age, his wife twenty. She is the daughter of a neighboring lord. He is only the Duke because the Cabal killed off his brothers.

The Blackmarsh Rangers act as roving police and border guards. They also intercept megafauna that come off the plateau, such as T. Rex. However, there are too few since the Holy War.

Temperance notes that his cousin has fucked off to some were. A messenger has arrived with a message to call upon the Duke at the Ducal Palace. He is also requested to collect Salazar, and then present himself to the duke in one day’s time. The butler is looking at the ogre head, and complains bitterly of it adorning the post. And fleas borne by Bice, the warhorse. After sending the butler off to get a bag, Temperance prepares the horse.

Brother Salazar reluctantly accompanies Temperance to visit the Duke.

Leontius declines an offer in two weeks to stand in for trial-by-combat, as he does not know what the Duke requires of him in two weeks. He shows up at the anointed hour, surrounded by a hobo, a fanatical priest of Amonar, a dandyish paladin, and a Judge. Ionna says they smell bad. Likewise, the Judge has some assistants. The Judge and Temperance squabble.

All five of us are called in to see the Duke. Together, despite our insistence that each of us should be seen first. Entering the room, we see Corbin on the Duke’s right hand, Silanus on his left hand.

The Judge is shut down after demanding more security at the courthouse. The Duke tells Temperance to shut up, too. He then tells Leontius and Ionna that he is on contract for the rest of the summer. He is told to both guide and protect Silanus, and Leontius does so for 400 GP. Temperance is told to protect them and aid them in the execution of his duties, namely, rooting out insurrection. However, rooting out heresy is not the primary goal, at least in the short term. He then relieves the Judge of his duties as a Circuit Judge. His Honour Carthonian is surprised, and not in favor of leaving his current position. The Judge notes that the party needs a magician on hand. The grass tricksters will not do.

Temperance takes the opportunity to toss out the ogre’s head and request a reward. The hopilite argues nobody in the room but himself could kill an ogre. Later, Temperance receives 5 pp for the ogre head. Temperance is also told to “…never bring offal again…” to the Duke’s audience chamber or “…he will be whipped.”

The cleric heads off to the Shrine of Amonar and organizes the laity to ready the shrine. The burnt temple was to the Pantheon of the Fifteen.

Corbin hears Carthonian’s complaints running the court. He contends that small claims court was driving him mad, and his performance before the Duke was of the ‘Don’t Throw Me in the Briar Patch’ variety. Carthonian contends that he and Corbin collaborate, and use the expedition to collect spell components on the side. The other Judge in town is Cartho.

The next day, the Duke has lent each party-member a medium warhorse, and kitted us out with victuals. The hamlet of Auster Industria is but an hour distant by foot from the City and Castle of Blackmarsh. Temperance leads the way, followed by Silanus and Marula (his henchman), then the Wizard Judge and the Cleric, and then the two Myceneans in the rear.

Traveling southwards, the land is larger uninhabited now. Fruit orchards still dot the land. The hamlet is centered on a common area, featuring a well and about six houses. The crew notes that these houses are larger for peasants, as one would expect among freemen cultivating fertile orchards.

The priest translates the symbol, R, as the sign of revenge in Old Tauran. The Judge finds black feathers in the well. These are common spell components in Zaharan necromancy. This hamlet, notes Temperance, is a shadowed sinkhole, that is, the first level of evilness. The priest also notes there is no shrine of Amonar here. The Myceneans search the edge of the hamlet. There they Ionna hears the flapping mighty wings.

Quickly thereafter, the Myceneans find themselves confronted by a harpy. Hiding in the bushes, Ionna peppers it brutally, and then Leontius strikes it with a spear, after yelling “Harpies!” The beast claw-claw-bites, and manages to slash Leontius. The next turn, Ionna searches for other harpies, while Leontius misses. Again, the Harpy claws him. The next turn, Leontius slays it.

The rest of the party hears this in the background, but are charmed by a beautiful song, except for Silanus and the Judge. Hearing the beautiful song, so, too, are the Myceneans. Those of us charmed are wandering off to the edge of the woods.

Silanus and the Judge follow us, and see a woman with large black wings playing a crude harp. Silanus charges her, while the Judge casts a spell. The Judge is unsuccessful, and Silanus is clawed viciously. The next turn, the Judge is clawed again. Silanus misses. The next turn, the Judge casts Summon Hero, calling forth a magma warrior armored in obsidian, hailing from the Plane of Torment and Fire. The harpy misses, as does Silanus. The magma warrior eventually kills the harpy.

With the death of the harpy, Silanus and Judge argue about why the Judge didn’t do more hand-to-hand combat. In the meanwhile, the magma warrior butchers the corpses of the two harpies (for spell components) before blinking out of existence. Afterwards, the Judge butchers it for spell components. Irony! Or, efficiency.

We call it a night.

Temperance’s house in town is a Townhouse, whereas this hamlet has a manor house. The manor house needs fixed up, but could become “fancy digs” per the GM’s observation.

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A Mycenae Exile in Aurun

I am Leontios Tagaris, of the family Kaleothes, and this is my story.

From the Journal of Leontios

The Aurun Empire is a strange land, nowhere more-so than when it comes to gods. I recognize the faces, the statues, the phrases, identical to the gods of Mycenae, however most of the names have changed.

Ammonar? I know him as Zoraster, Judge and Father, God of the Winged Sun. Even the symbol his priests wear is similar. Once Zoraster ruled over the gods in Mycenae, as he does here.

Ianna remains Ianna. The Dancers of the Blade and the Dancers of the Veil are similar here, however she is but one of the Gods of Order here, no greater and no worse than the others.

One hundred years of war changed that, for us. One hundred years of tithes, dedications, endowments, and tributes. Year by year the voices of the priests of Zoraster grew quieter while the priestesses and Matriarch of Ianna grew louder, more powerful.

Phillipus, who was the wisest of my brothers, once said that it was the Matriarch who kept us at war, pushed us on when all were weary of the slaughter, until the time was right, the armies and cities exhausted, the people starving and homeless. Then they came with grain and honey purchased with our coin, our tribute, the Matriarch and her priestesses hailed as saviours.

Phillipus was the wisest of us all, but he was not the best with the spear and shield. I wish he was here today, I could seek his council, make sense of the chaos around me. I will not see him in the Afterlife, for Exiles have no place among the Sworn and Loyal Brothers. Perhaps I will see Tolmides, who died of a fever in Exile on our trip to this cursed land.

Ah, fair Tolmides, if only you had taken Mother’s offer and bent your knee in supplication. But you were bound by my honour, ever loyal and true. As I chose to enter exile, so to did you. I long to hear your laughter again, but there is no laughter in the place across the River where all souls go.

Ioanna awakens. It is time to prepare for our expedition to the country with these Aurans. On horseback, no less. Tolmides, you would laugh at that, brother, I know it.

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A Safe Arrival

To His Holiness, Marus Thiestes Calliat Satrus de-Antanaria, Patriarch of High Falls and Servant of the Grand Plan, From His Devout Servant Salazar Raman Tiberion Masalla Thieron de-Antanaria, Priest of Ammonar and Representative of Ammonar’s Holy Order in Blackmarsh.

Dearest Cousin,

The journey to Blackmarsh was, as you said it would be – long, bumpy, and mercilessly uneventful. Master Graelus at the Flogged Steed Inn in Cattala sends his regards, and delivered his usual delightful fare. The bridge was washed out and we were treated to a second night in Cattala and to his spiced lamb and custard – all rivers should run so high for such a gastronomic opportunity.

The situation in Blackmarsh, however, is less fortunate. The Brother Battle that remains in the Duchy, Temperance Beneficent, appears little more than a fop and a dandy. His attention to the needs of the church are sorely lacking, and I have my doubts about his martial prowess. Ammonar willing, such doubts will be assuaged and a strong clerical presence in the region will improve his piety and commitment to the order. I fear there shall be no effective Brotherhood here for some time, though, without new blood – perhaps one of the younger Brothers forged in Isatra’s fires could be spared briefly to rebuild the mailed fist of Ammonar in this hinterland.

I have spoken to the Duke, who has called upon myself and several others to identify the source of several village desertions of late, and he has appointed some laypersons to reopen and tend to the church while we address the issue. The Duke seems an amicable and serious sort – a potential ally in the region, to be sure, but we both know how the agents of darkness clothe themselves in vestments of light. I still cannot forgive my naivety after the incident with the baker’s boy – I hope that Darius’ widow and I will one day see Ammonar’s plan in those dark happenings.

May Ammonar’s will guide us and protect us.

Your humble servant on the edge of the world,
Salazar

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The party ventures forth!
Actually posted on 15 July 2015

June 24, 2015

AFK: Charlie.

The harpy’s temporary nest contains a copper necklace (200gp) and some gems (25, 40, 60 gp). The detritus of the hamlet’s citizens are also interspersed in the nest. It would appear that the harpies arrived after the hamlet was emptied of most of its inhabitants, based purely on the number of gnawed on bones. There just aren’t enough bodies and parts for the harpies to have caused the initial emptying.

We got 53xp! 58 XP for Temperance, and anyone else who has the +% XP bonus.

Afterwards, we return to Blackmarsh the same day so as to acquire food for the next forray into the southern lands and examine the other three hamlets which have also been abandoned or otherwise de-populated.

Upon the party’s return, the cleric, Salazar, visits the shrine of Amanar, dusting it off and otherwise making it more presentable.

Maedoc is “asked” by two of the Duke’s hired thugs to come to the Duke’s Court. There, she is asked to assist Silanus and the “hulking Mycenean” in their work for the Duke. He offers her a second chance to redeem her family name. She is asked to beware of less obvious threats as she traipses across the Duchy. The Duke hands her his sigil, and tells her to meet up with the party.

While re-provisioning, Temperance visits the Pantheon and asks the clerics if they know of anyone who has fled these now abandoned villages.

Silanus, needed elsewhere in the Duchy, sends us to investigate an abandoned village which once fed miners who worked a small vein of gold. We travel along the coast. For the first few hours, the landscape contains burnt-out turnip fields, orchards and neatly-trimmed hedgerows. The road carries farmers with small donkeys and carts. Most of the population we pass is very young or very old, especially among males.

While this land was once bedecked with ginger, the ginger plague of 42 eliminated it all. The lands become progressively wilder and wilder. Abandoned farms become more common. The clucks of chickens are no longer heard. A few of the farms are burnt out, but they are too far from the road to investigate. We plan to make camp at a sheltered dip on the land, relatively free of wind and commonly used by the Duke’s patrols, fog rolls in from the inland sea.

The Judge notes that fog is to be avoided, as it hides bad things. We ride faster to approach the bridge crossing Grant’s Creek. This creek is ill-named, as it is a small-sized river perhaps 100 meters across. Just beyond the other bank lies our proposed camp site. Ignoring the tension soaking the fog, Maedoc and Ionna bravely scout ahead.

As the pair pulls 100 meters ahead of the main party, the two are enveloped in fog. We can’t see more than 15’ or 20’ through the fog. Ionna starts to hang back, so that she can maintain contact with the main guard. Maedoc remains ahead.

The flattened and muddy road is replaced by worked stone. The causeway represents a major engineering undertaking, as small boats can pass under it. Maedoc reaches the causeway first, and can only see Ionna’s murky form behind her. In turn, Ionna calls back to the party.

Maedoc, heedless of the possible dangers, continues across the causeway. She snickers at the party’s fear “of a little fog.” About 3/4ths of the way across the causeway, she hears a wet splortch. Something wet and rubbery has crawled over the railing, standing taller than a man. It utters in Common, “Toll.” Its mossy hide covers a lanky frame. Wiry hairs adorn its head, especially its head. Its claws are filthy.

It leaps at her. Her wild swing misses, and it claws her cheek. The party hears the roar of something in the fog. The Judge states, offhandedly, “Tis but a troll,” drawing on the knowledge gleaned from lectures held by grey-haired mages in the Magical College. He does not share this knowledge, though, and remains in the rear as the party advances. Temperance spurs his horse onward, followed by Salazar. The hopolite Leontius advances to Ionna, and both dismount before advancing.

Maedoc spurs her horse backwards. The old nag has but three HP, but only takes a nasty gash on its flank. The horse bucks, though, tossing her to her bum but ten feet away from the troll. Seeing this encounter, Salazar and Temperance dismount. The Wizard and Mycenans arrive on the scene.

Ionna draws her bow and lodges an arrow in the trolls leathery hide. The troll lunges at Temperance, biting him on the shoulder. Leontius stabs it with a spear, but only lands a glancing blow. Salazar swings his hammer, but misses. The troll’s AC is 5.

The next round, Temperance swings and misses, Salazar hits, Maedoc backstabs it successfully. Leontius spears it well. The troll attacks Leontius, clawing him and biting him once for a total of 11 points of damage.

The Judge casts magic missile at the troll, with the bolt of energy striking the troll in the head. Temperance and Maedoc strike it for a total of nine points of damage, and it falls dead. However, upon hitting the ground, its wounds are knitting together rapidly.

The judge takes charge. He commands Leontius to keep stabbing the beast, while the cleric and paladin each take an arm and haul it toward the camp site. We also recall passing stone stairs that lead away from the bridge on to the waystation we have found.

Maedoc takes the already present kindling and wood into the fire pit, and starts a blaze, as befits her last name. We dismember the troll there, and as the blaze takes hold, toss the bits into the fire. This is accompanied by a lecture about the socioeconomic conditions and history of trolldom.

We then lay on hands to knit Leontius’ wounds. The next morning we track down two of the horses, but Maedoc’s mount fails to return. Afterwards, we find a troll lair attached to the side of the causeway. This cyst-like structure, made of reeds, sticks, and mud. Thousands of coins of gold, silver and copper are tossed into it. There are also four barrels. One is oil, three others are Barramain beer barrels. There is also a leather-wrapped brick of salt. One corner contains two large bundles of pelts three rolls of dirty but salvageable silk rolls (3,000 gp per roll). Twelve antlers (1000 gp for the set) and three jars of dye (blue, yellow and green) are also found. All told, this largesse is worth 15,000 to 16,000 gp. There is also a magical warhammer +2.

Using ropes and strong people, we haul out the loot. Afterwards, the Judge burns the cyst-house to the waterline.

The causeway is about 100 meters long, made of stone, and wide-enough for two fully-laden wagons to pass each other. From top of bridge down to the water line, the distance is 40’. It was built by the old Duke before he was assassinated by a cabal of wizards, when he hoped to expand this direction.

After packing our gear and riches, we press on. The only reason we didn’t reach the next abandoned hamlet was due to the fog. While but a few hours from our destination, we return to Blackmarsh to get a new horse for Maedoc and to divide up the loot.

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A Mycenae Exile in Aurun II
Tusks, wings, and flame.

I am Leontios Tagaris, of the family Kaleothes, and this is my story.

Nazar, Duke of these lands, has hired Ioanna and I, along with a band of others.

I first came to his attention when a great boar — you who read this will not believe this when I tell you it was greater than four horses in size, but lies to not fall from my lips easily, and neither do they flow from my pen!

While others thrashed around in the scrub and bushes, Ioanna cunningly set us upon a game trail, and before too long it charged us, leaving broken huntsmen in its wake!

Many would have quailed, but have I not stood upon the rocky plains of Parses unflinching while the numberless Red Bull shields of the Caranae hoplites closed upon us? To turn from this beast would have lead both Ioanna and me to Ianna’s grey fields, to dance among the fading shadows of history we joined that day.

I managed to avoid its tusks, wicked ivory barbs the size of my sword, and having impaled it upon my spear began the bloody work of killing the beast with my sword. Thus, I came to the attention of the Duke.

Summoned before the Duke, we met others. A priest, and a local temple-warrior of some kind, devotees of Zoraster. A magistrate skilled in the arcane arts. A warrior, one of the so-called war-masters of the Aurun Legion, and his shield brother, a man as tall and as wide across the shoulder as I, although lacking in my Mycenean civility and charm. All pleasant enough, for barbarians.

This duchy is beset, we are told, as if the proof that has met our eyes as we travelled is not enough. We were placed on retainer to solve this problem, a few heroes of legend against a tide of darkness.

Our first village investigated was abandoned, like a village in the path of a campaigning army. We did not loot and torch this village, burn the orchards, trample the crops, slay the animals, nor spoil the fields with salt, for these are our Duke’s lands.

I suspected marauders, for wherever there is wealth of any sort left unattended you will find human rats, picking at the corpse. Instead we faced creatures of myth!

Ioanna and I slew a harpy, a shrieking thing with the wings and legs of a vulture but the torso of a woman. Yet the second entranced us with her sorcerous song. Deviltry! Still, she could not trap us all with her arcane wiles, and fell to the blades of my new companions.

On our trip to the second abandoned village an unnatural fog descended upon us. Carthonian, a magistrate and Magus, expressed concerns. His wisdom was evident to all, for as we crossed a bridge constructed in the Mycenean fashion we were beset by a troll!

Our newest companion was unhorsed. A saddle is no place for a fighting man, so I dismounted, and entrusting my reins to Ioanna, who had distracted the creature with an arrow, I charged, alongside my companions.

My spear was the first to bleed the creature, the glory is mine, I swear it to be so!

None the less, the fearsome creature towered over us, and despite years of training not even I could block its wicked claws nor sharp teeth. This was not work for one, but many, for the enemies of Civilization know no honour, and I gladly share a portion of the glory with those who bravely fought alongside me.

Soon my companions and I had slain the beast, but its wounds knit themselves together before my eyes! This sounds a tale of whimsy, but if you believe even one of my words, believe these! We consigned the creature to the fire, for no evil healing can overcome the Blessing of Fire that Peremochus the Titan stole from Zoraster’s chariot and carried to humanity.

By the mercy of Zoraster, known here as Ammonar, my wounds were mended. For this I give thanks, and will offer a lamb up to the gods at my next opportunity.

This troll had been about its work for some time, for a sizable portion of treasure, coin, cloth, casks, and chests were all cluttered about its mucky lair. We leave now, our mission set aside, for such riches need to be secured, our minds free of such concerns, when next we face the supernatural forces that threaten this land.

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Letters from Home

To His Holiness, Marus Thiestes Calliat Satrus de-Antanaria, Patriarch of High Falls and Servant of the Grand Plan, From His Devout Servant Salazar Raman Tiberion Masalla Thieron de-Antanaria, Curate of Ammonar and Representative of Ammonar’s Holy Order in Blackmarsh.

Dearest Cousin,

I write today to confirm that we remain in contact even on the edge of civilisation and to thank you for the news of the Order’s faith in my work here. The promotion to Curate will surely demonstrate to Duke Nazar the seriousness of our interest in the region. He places some trust in us and furthers the Grand Plan by encouraging our involvement in returning light to the darker portions of his duchy. Our party has surveyed nearby settlements and the abandonment and decay are truly dismaying. Savage beasts and lesser agents of evil now make their dens in the empty homes of the faithful, and cut off trade and communication routes. Just yesterday, we were set upon by a troll exploiting a causeway on the main road to the mining settlement of Gold Hill. The Lord of Light knows how many innocent travellers have fallen to this creature, but no more need fear it. The encounter did, however, cut our excursion to Gold Hill short, and our return to the city permits me to receive and reply to your letter. We return to the wilds at dawn, and it may be some time before I am able to send further word.

May Ammonar’s will guide us and protect us.

Your humble servant on the edge of the world,
Salazar

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A Glimpse of Light

- Excerpt from the Journal of Curate Salazar Raman Tiberion Masalla Thieron de-Antanaria

Blackmarsh Mission, Day 3

It is clear that it may be several days or weeks before I am able to submit correspondence with any hope of it reaching High Falls, so I will keep some record of my experiences here. Having dispatched the troll preying on travellers of the main road, we have moved on to survey the more distant farmsteads and villages. The desertion and decay worsen, if anything, and the settlements have been taken over by wild beasts – enormous rats, aggressive wolves – and even the dead walk these lands. The priests and priestesses of Ammonar’s courtiers have passed from these lands, and their temples sit empty and dilapidated.

We have located such a ruined and desecrated temple of Ianna. Fortunately, the beasts, scavengers, and lesser undead are not familiar with the ways of the servants of light and the sword of the high priestess of Ianna remained safely ensconced in the temple’s altar. The sword was truly a weapon of power, and drawn from the altar, it glowed, the sky darkened, and crows sounded warning. The two formidable Mycenaean mercenaries with whom we travel are followers of Ianna, and have taken it upon themselves to guard the weapon and return it to the Iannan church at the earliest opportunity. I must say, it comforts me to know that neither are the forces of evil well enough established to have found and removed the sword, nor are we lacking in weapons blessed by the forces of light with which to combat them.

Several hours down the road, at last we have come upon signs of sustained life, and the darkening wilderness has opened to maintained and prospering farms and ranches. Inquiring with the locals, we have found the source of this relative safety – a local Constable has taken it upon himself to protect the region. The Duke’s military and administrative representatives, Commander Silanas and The Honourable Carthonian, have expressed concern, however, about the local collection of taxes and the Duke’s levee requirements. Indeed, both seem self-destructively obsessed with these short-sighted goals. The Commander went so far as to have his man strike the Constable for providing excuses for not meeting their obligations; they had sent riders who have not returned (or broken past the troll), and are continually beset by raiders and hobgoblin attacks. As proof of their situation, we were ambushed by hobgoblins at this tense moment. With the blessings of Ammonar, the Mycenaeans and Blackmarsh soldiers made short work of the attackers, but not without the loss of two local woodcutters.

Having fought a common enemy, and with demonstration of the power of the Duke’s representatives, the parties returned to negotiations considerably calmed. I was able to convince both parties that this reconnection is fortuitous although it would come with some changes to reestablish the ways of order and government. Reconnection will mean taxes and levees for the capital, but also the effective training of a strong local militia and the return of trade. The Gold Hill mine, too, may be reopened, as it seems the mine was not played out but simply unmanned, the miners lost to a cave-in or taken off to fight the recent war. There remains a dwarven craftpriest in the settlement, and his presence may provide a connection to bring in new dwarven miners to exploit the mine.

To assuage the concerns of the locals, soon to lose many of their able-bodied defenders to the Duke’s levee, I have proposed the extension of our presence in the region to root out the source of the hobgoblin attacks. It seems both sides have seen the benefit of such a solution, and we spend the night under the Constable’s roof this night. Our survey of the mine did not turn up any hobgoblins, and it has been sealed for now by the fatal cave-in. We turn our attention, tomorrow, to several likely locations for the hobgoblin camp – I pray Ammonar will grant me the ability to seek out this evil and end it.

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Back into the Shadows

- Excerpt from the Journal of Curate Salazar Raman Tiberion Masalla Thieron de-Antanaria

Blackmarsh Mission, Day 4

The day started with a new tragedy; a young man was brought in bloodied and worn to the Constable’s farm. The apprentice of a local magician, he had escaped an attack on his master’s camp by a wraith or spectre while their party had been camped in the region’s old cemetery. I tended to the boy’s injuries, and we set off immediately to search for further survivors, but our search was met with predictably tragic results – the entire party had been killed in the night, and the boy survived only by the grace of Ammonar. Had he known the workings of his master, however, he ought to have fallen beside him. Secreted among the wizard’s effects was correspondence that chills my soul. A letter bearing the seal of Raven’s Feast Keep, a cabal of chaos wizards thought destroyed a generation ago, bid this wizard to seek out “certain items” and to remain in the area to sow dissent and discord in preparation for invasion by the forces of evil. Positive negotiations with the Goblin King were mentioned, in particular, and can forebear nothing but ill. High Falls must know of this collaboration immediately, and its tenure ended – pray, cousin, that my words reach you.

The old cemetery has not been tended in what appears to be a generation or more, and without a priest’s attention permeates evil. Repeatedly and in broad daylight we were assaulted by the restless dead – ghouls, skeletons, and even the ghast of a deceased Lord Mayor. Having laid these poor souls to rest, we have searched for signs of the items sought by the wizard. We can only hope that we have found them, and take solace in the knowledge that evil will occasionally bite its own tail.

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