|The Dragon Queen|
Others are welcome to read this if they like, keeping it in spoilers so the prelim stuff doesn't take up much space.
The view from the entrance to the Dragon's audience... cavern... was spectacular, but you aren't given much time to appreciate it. The robed pair in front of you, a kobold and a human, gesture impatiently for you to keep moving.
The chamber at the top of the mountain is enormous. The glint of sunlight on metal catches your eye, and you realize there is a huge hole in the distant cavern roof above you. The sun - nearly to its zenith - is shining down on a pile of coins and gemstones, littered here and there with large items. The whole lot is heaped against the left cavern wall.
"Not actually to my taste, but one must keep up appearances."
The voice is deceptively gentle, both in tone and volume. You glance back to your right, and not five feet from you is the great face of the Dragon. Two eyes larger than your own head, set above a maw large enough to swallow an ox.
The human and kobold attendants bow low, and after an insistent shove you remember to do so as well. "The human warrior, Surtur Murumasa."
The Dragon lifts her head somewhat, affording you a glance of the sculptured stone you lie on. At first you can make no sense of it, until your sense of scale shifts and you realize the dragon's bed is carved in the likeness of a gargantuan cityscape, complete with rubble where many of the once-proud towers and voluminous mansions had been toppled by her repose.
"Tell me, Surtur? Is what I hear about your childhood true? Were you raised in that unfortunate region they call Gelkrosh?"
Please respond in spoilers as well so we can keep this compact.
The riches he ignores, he's immediately drawn to the large, scaled blue figure to his right. So this is the Dragon, he thinks, sizing up the creature. He's impressed; the blue of her scales shines like a midnight lake under the moon, and she's impressively large, larger than most figures he's seen.
A hand suddenly reaches down and shoves him to the ground; for a half- second, he's tempted to attack the creature, but he refrains. Anyone else would have been punished for the offence, but he's in the presence of the Dragon, and he does not wish to incur her wrath. Besides, he remembers, he should bow. Such formalities in this realm are bothersome, and something Surtur's had to slowly learn over time; though he often ignores this, not because he thinks himself better than others, but because he simply does not have the time to indulge in such extravagences.
After a moment, he raises himself again, to full height, chest out, to help his wounded pride. And when she speaks, he answers in short, clipped speech "It is the land of my people." He does this, noting how she insults his homeland, but chooses to ignore it.
|The Dragon Queen|
The Dragon makes no mention of Surtur's slowness to bow as its other servants do. She blinks, slowly, lids sliding over her opalescent eyes.
"Such change, recently, for Gelkrosh. Not so long ago - for me, at least - it was practically deserted. Your people's ancestors, a few other tribes. Then the river farmers came, and all the rest followed. And then those dreadful mantids."
The Dragon heaves a sigh, her breath hot and smelling of brimstone and smoke.
"Tell me, Surtur. Do you think you'd like to go back there?"
"Yes, my Lady. Very much so."
He pauses, and swallows back a moment of fear "May I ask, why have you called me here?"
|The Dragon Queen|
"When Gelkrosh first began burgeoning, I was busy with other things. Then, when the mantids turned up, it was too much trouble. As it happens, many of the displaced refugees came here. Now, with the war against Ybtrafalz The Giant King who rules the Dragon's rival nation, our most fertile region is raided, troubled, even invaded from time to time. Many people are fleeing the borders. Understandable, to be sure, but inconvenient."
"To be plain, Surtur, this realm needs living space. And food. Gelkrosh has these, especially once the mantids are dealt with. But I cannot invade it openly - that will only extend the border of the war, to no immediate benefit."
"I have a mind to send you in my stead. I would have you return to the land of your people, and do whatever you feel is necessary to unite and pacify the region. Then, it shall become a part of this realm. With you - should you wish it - as it's ruler."
The Dragon snakes its head forward and to the side, until one eye is only a couple feet from your face.
"Is this a task that interests you?"
"Yes. Yes, this is something that interest me greatly."
Surtur pauses, then resumes. "What can you tell me about the powers in the region? What resistance can I expect?"
|The Dragon Queen|
"We have been gathering information on the current state of Gelkrosh for quite some time, Surtur, you will not be going in blind, I assure you."
The Dragon looks to her other servants. "Take him to Master Kiayuscan" she commands, voicing a name you are certain you could never learn to pronounce correctly. Then she turns back to you.
"You fought well for me against the giants, Surtur. Those who fought with you speak well of you, for the most part. But that war was straight-forward. Gelkrosh is not."
She closes her eyes and lays her head back down on her stony bed as if to sleep. You get the distinct feeling that is a common gesture of dismissal for her.
"Master Kiayuscan is my leading expert on the Gelkrosh situation. He will tell you what we know, and advise you on how to proceed. Good fortune to you, Surtur. Serve well, and your rewards shall be... fit for a king."
You are led back out from the cavern and through a network of tunnels that culminates in something of a library. In a suite of chambers that seem to form offices, you are introduced to an aged kobold, and left with him.
"I am Kiayuscan. I serve our mistress as an organizer of sorts. So, you're Surtur, eh? Big enough for the job, I hope. Mind your head," he says as he leads you through into a smaller chamber. He sits at a remarkably human-style desk and rummages through sheafs of paper and vellum pages.
After you repeat your question about the sort of resistance in the region, he grabs a thin, loose-bound book from a corner of the desk. He does not open it, though.
"There are three or four major faction in the region. First is the city of Gelkrosh itself - which means 'bread basket' in hobgoblin, in case you didn't know. It produces the staple grains for the entire area, and exports more to the lands beyond - including us. The city and its business is run by a few... well, you can think of them as guilds, I suppose, or merchants houses.
Then there's Hafton, the industrial center. If you don't count Gelkrosh's sizable slave population, Hafton is the biggest city and easily the most militarily powerful. However, they depend on Gelkrosh for nearly their entire food supply, so they have to play nice. The balance of power between the two is always a bit fraught, but it's been stable for decades. Hafton is controlled by gem merchants and ironmongers.
Third, you have Swampside. It's a bigger town than you normally find in a swamp, but it offers a stable route in and out of the south. We don't know a great deal about its ruler, which the locals just call 'The Power.' Some sort of magician, that much seems obvious, but most of the agents we send to find out more disappear. I'd be extremely careful when dealing with Swampside - fortunately, of all the other factions it doesn't seem to care much about playing politics.
Finally, you might call Northbridge a faction all its own, though officially they're in allegiance to Gelkrosh city. Northbridge is the other major farming city. Run by a halfling, if you can believe it - there's a whole orc tribe loyal to him. Supposed to be some sort of a political genius. Anyways, there's a lot of friction between Northbridge and Gelkrosh city. You can probably use that..."
I'll be putting up more info mostly outside of RP style, to make things simpler. Go ahead and ask your questions straight-forward style in OOC text, and use whatever RP styling you want otherwise.
"1. Tell me more about Zeb. It's a lumber town. How do they get the lumber from Zeb to Hafton? What's the current market price of the lumber? How well- fortified are the trade routes? Are they usually taken in caravans, with lots of private guards, or is the company who cuts the wood responsible for the safe travel? Or is that Hafton's problem? What type of wood is it? What is the wood used for, in Hafton? How much of a supply is there left of the wood (i.e. at current rate of usage, how long will the forest sustain Hafton?) Who's our contact in Zeb? What else do I need to know here.
2. Talk to me about the Steel Cabal. How safe are the smelting factories? Who's producing these weapons, in what quantities, and what are they being used for. How much of this is going towards the Dragon's campaign? How easily accessible is the trade route between the front lines and Hafton? Can we exploit this somehow?
3. Talk to me about Hafton's military. It's a volunteer force? What od the majority of the militia do daytime? Who decides when it is time to raise a militia? Talk to me about Tosk Cragspire. he has the loyalty of the military, but what about the other factions? How is he viewed amongst the population, or the Sapphire and Steel Cabal's? Benji Kamimura; how much does her heritage matter to her? How does she feel about the tribes slowly disappearing, and working in the smelting mines? Talk to me about Byrine, and her tenants.
4. Talk to me about House Yemuz. Who are they raiding, if not the Dragon nor the giants? Who's losing out on this, and who is getting angry, for surely someone must be losing out?
5. What is beyond the Crossroads Lake, and someone speculate why Dax Jerria is so interested in it? The Crossroads Lake is home to just a few small settlements, and beyond opening up trade to Swampside, it doesn't seem to have much value. So why the interest? If Swampside is the "remaining link between the Gelkrosh Region and the lands to the south and east," then is he trying to circumnavigate Swampside? Cut them out of the transaction altogether? What is Swampside, and the Power, doing to stop this?
6. Talk to me about the Broken Chains. How are they an "open" secret, how does one get information from/about them, and can we track it?
7. Talk to me about the Lodge. Who's there, where are they getting supplies, and why are they not mentioned anywhere else? Who owns this ferry service? The same goes for Birksdreb. Who's there, why are they there, and if they are just a fortified stopping town, who's collecting the taxes?
8. Where are the mantids centrally located? What effect do they have on trade, and what is anyone doing to put an end to them there?"
Kiayuscan answers your questions to the best of his ability. Many of the minutia are not certain, but with his academic familiarity with the region he makes his best guesses, and notes that much of the information you should double-check yourself when you arrive, by whatever means you'd like.
[Most of the lumber products out of Zeb are processed before leaving the town. Transportation is by large carts drawn by teams of aurochs. Outside of the shipments from Zeb to Hafton or Loghead to Swampside, or Harraw which is near its own small forest, lumber is used sparingly as it is somewhat expensive. Mud brick construction is more common.
Trade routes: Aside from the trade route from Hafton to Gelkrosh City, caravans tend to be poorly guarded. The main lumbering companies in Zeb are all owned by merchants in Hafton, as are most of the other business interests. The Wyrdwood is a vast, ancient forest. There is no danger of overlogging it, though there are rumors of druidic concerns that seek to punish too-rampant use.
The Dragon has no direct agent in Zeb, relying on agents in Hafton for useful info.
Steel Cabal: Due to internal competition in which sabotage and vandalism are not unknown, there are guards around most of the major businesses in Hafton at all times - but generally speaking, only enough guards to prevent petty thugs from causing any damage. The weaponry is produced by Steel Cabal-owned forges and foundries. Currently The Dragon does not import weaponry from Hafton - most of it is shipped to nations and buyers to the west and south, with some of it going north to the giants.
Hafton's Military: The core of the Guard is a full-time professional force, but these are supplemented with a larger, part-time force who may contribute one or two patrol nights in a week. During troubled times able-bodied people may be conscripted into support roles (usually not active combatants, though - laborers, water-carriers and the like). The soldiers are a fairly broad cross-section of the city populace, with Steel Cabal-connected people slightly more common. All matters concerning the guard's disposition and use ultimately fall to the High Captain.
So far as we know, Tosk is liked and respected throughout the city. He is neither harsh in enforcing the law nor does he allow the guard to become too lax or friendly with criminal elements. If he has any enemies, they keep a low profile.
Benji: Little is known of her personal opinions on anything except law and order, where she is much more harsh than Tosk. She is known, however, to still dress somewhat like a tribal warrior/hunter in casual settings. Our agents have heard rumors that the criminal element in Hafton are terrified of Benji succeeding Tosk to the High Captaincy.
Byrine: The Heavenly Crusader. Byrine is a warrior goddess who opposes evil with single-minded focus and utter mercilessness. There is very little humor about Byrine. Most of her servants tend to be warriors of one sort or another, and whether or not they share their goddesses stern and humorless personality, they are expected to be strict in the pursuit of Law and Goodness.
While the realms of The Dragon and the giants are the nearest powerful nations to Gelkrosh, there are large areas of lesser-populated land which sport many small settlements and tribes. Most of these are unaligned with any outside nation, as their land isn't useful for much beyond subsistence-level living. These are the peoples that House Yemuz preys on for loot and slaves (though they don't always get away from these raids unbloodied). It is very possible that your group may be able to turn to these outlying settlements for some sort of alliance if you were to decide to contain the Gelkrosh houses.
Crossroads Lake has only its few settlements, but several days downriver of the lake there is a more populated area that could offer lucrative trade possibilities - however, there are rapids and waterfalls in-between which make it difficult to trade by river. Dax seeks to surmount this with permanent settlements acting as trading posts. This would indeed make Swampside less important of a settlement as a result. There is no information on what The Power thinks of this or any efforts of theirs to counter it.
The Broken Chains are an open secret insofar as everyone know such a large group of slaves will try and free themselves, and certain activities in the past have displayed what looks like high-level organization. To get more information on them, one would need embedded sources/agents within the slave population itself. The Dragon's spies have been unsuccessful in developing any such agents, and none of them have yet been willing to subject themselves to slavery to get inside personally.
The Lodge: In short: it's an adventurers camp for people who want to hunt and fight the mantids. There is a single enterprising hobgoblin merchant in the camp who ships in supplies from Gelkrosh city (by going around the river on the north side then back across at the ferry) and otherwise from the Dragon's lands. The Dragon has agents here and you know quite a bit about it - I'll post more in an info document later today).
Birksdreb: This town/encampment is a shared endeavor between Hafton and Gelkrosh City to ease transport. It isn't really a settlement anymore - the people who live here are in the employ of one or the other city.
Mantids: It seems certain their central nest is still in the badlands area, near the coal mines. They have been seen to establish other nests as they expand, and these are occasionally located and burned out by hunters and adventurers to limit their spread. Due to the overall number of the monsters, efforts to completely wipe them out have been unsuccessful so far - for the remaining people of the region it is easier and safer to avoid their territory and try and keep them from claiming any more. One of the parties main advantages will be that the Dragon's alchemists have developed an antidote for the mantids paralyzing venom, which is one of the main reasons they are so dangerous.
They come in three varieties: the normal worker mantid, which is about as large as a deer. The warrior mantid, which is a large, aggressive creature, and the queen mantid, an immobile egg-laying machine whose defenses are a powerful pheromone spray (and of course the swarms of mantids in her hive). The warriors and workers favour ambush tactics when they are hunting, and are capable of leaping up to twenty feet with ease.
Sprinkled in with answers to your questions, Kiayuscan also mentions some of the options available to you: General strategy notes
First of all, once the mantids have been dealt with there will be a sizable unclaimed and unsettled area. There are many emigrants from Gelkrosh currently residing in the Dragon's realm and many of them have expressed an interest in returning home - should Surtur and his group wish it, they could put out a call for settlers and immigrants would soon start to show up. These settlers would start out loyal to you.
In this unclaimed land are the coal mines, tar pits, and a decent amount of arable and grazing land. The coal mines especially would be valuable to develop.
Furthermore, dealing with the mantids would get the responsible parties a lot of goodwill from the other settlements.
Kiayuscan suggests keeping your connection to the Dragon secret for as long as possible. Once the giants find out she is trying to seize the region they will surely send agents to oppose you.
In addition or replacement to the settlement option is the possibility of seizing control of some of the existing towns, though this may be more difficult unless you develop internal allies.
Going to do this RP stuff in a spoiler as well. Please do the same. Surtur, if you want to keep going with the strategy portion before this, label it 'Planning' or something.
You'd been told to stay close - not that you much wanted to make the trek all the way back down the mountain and then back up again. Even with magic it'd be a pain in the ass. They'd give you enough money to let a room in one of the nicer inns at the mountain-top settlement. The main city was far below you, but they had decent food, booze, and entertainment up here too, so it wasn't so bad.
You don't go before The Dragon this time. You're led into a seperate series of chambers - and in one of them you find your glorious leader, the human Surtur. You exchange some words with him and he waves you into the next chamber saying the group will meet in there.
Inside is a round stone table hewed out of the bedrock, with six comfortable seats around it carved from wood definitely not found anywhere near here.
Go ahead and roleplay whatever you like!
He's chosen a dark hallway to stand in, with a tiny alcove in which he can shift his massive frame. He's chosen this place for a reason- beyond being away from the finery and niceties, which he dislikes, it's quiet- and he likes quiet. It's also unexpected, and that's what he wants- he gets a better read on people when they are surprised, without the masks social conventions place upon these "civilized" folk.
There's a small torch near him, and as Surtur moves, he begins to play with the various shadow he makes, seeing if he can make himself appear bigger by standing in just the right way. Then, he catches himself; he has more important things to do than to worry about how he looks in the light.
And so he waits like this, in a dark hallway, still as stone, deep in thought, the torch off his back casting long, intimidating shadows down into the gloom.
Gork shuffles through the claustrophobic-small hallways of the castle. His plates scrap on the walls from time to time and will announce everyone way ahead of his actual arrival.
As his heavy footsteps echo around, he thinks back to yesterday...
At noon, trusty-Ham had carried him out of the forest and over the last hill, opening the view at the big town and the massive Dragon-Mountain above it – and he halted. Questioning is plans and purpose. With so many pinkies in one spot and the dragon guarding them from above, would he be able to talk to them and make friends like he managed with several of the smaller villiages near his tribes home?
A warm nagging and pushing feeling on his noseback had finally convinced him, that Merry thought it a good idea and that he should at least try it.
Not that he had much of an choice after all. If he could not find a new home for the Bone'Gnaws'No'More they would surely be taken out by the Crush'as and Slic'ers during a the next winter or the next. And Merry had told him, that there was this far away land with lots of free space and the dragonfolk mounting up to free it from some strange evil to settle it anew.
So he mounted up and rode the rest of the day until reaching the gates at nightfall.
Where he nearly got killed by the guards – the things that saved him was his thick armour which deflected the arrow and Merrys aid. She had placed one of her followers at the gates and as Gork called for her guidance, the pinky hesitated and the two were able to talk peace. The guard (named Thomas) sent a runner to the dragon and allowed Gork and Ham to rest near the city walls.
Shortly after dawn, the answer of the dragon came to the city door and he was allowed to enter the city and ascend the mountain to meet the pinky named Surtur.
As a thick door gets in the way, Gork stops for a moment. It's probably here. Time to use that trick Merry taught him. Somehow these words and the little spoon of honey made it easier to talk with others. It had helped him a lot during the travel, where he often had to calm frightened pinkies.
Using honey tongue spell here. Diplomacy reroll-take-better for half an hour.
Then he carefully knocks at the door - it still sounds like someone trying to break the door with a ram though and enters with his hands held high in that gesture Merry insists to appear most-unthreatening. As he gets the first glimpse of the pinky-male standing in the shadows, he quickly speaks up to prevent any misunderstandings.
"Be calm pinky. Gork no killin nor eatin you or your kin.
The guidance of Merry the Golden Maid brings Gork here.
Gork join yur ex-pe-ti-ton to free far lands."
While his voice is loud, unhuman deep and cannot hide the dim, unlearned nature of the Ogrekin, it is also somehow calming and … honest to earth.
Copy&Paste from Appearance section of my alias:
Before you stands an Ogre.
A real Ogre, full grown to at least three meter and clad in multiple layers of metal armour of surprising good quality tipped with fur.
The round head with the big maw is looking at you through big brown eyes and with a slow-witted expression of curiousity but a noticeable lack of the tell-tale cruelty Ogres are feared for.
Over his back, a massive axe is strapped, the size of a grown man with sheafs of grain wrapped around its shaft for a reason you can only guess.
Upon closer inspection you notice that the breastplate of his half-plate features a unique symbol, crudely carved into the iron and slightly darkened. With some imigaination it may represent an eight with a thicker-than-normal mid-section made from some braided fabric that is unrecognisable.
It seems likely that it should represent the religious (?) token he is wearing around the neck on a long leather band. It has the form of an eight made of braided and looped hay held together by a silver bracelet.
I don't know how much Surtur knows about Merry, but that's her symbol.
"About time! Just wait until I get my hands on you you bug eyed piece of chitin! I'm going to -" she muttered to herself, savouring the thought of slaying mantids, as she passed around the corner. Unexpectedly, there were this huge chunk of human standing there. By the looks of it (huge, menacing) that would be Surtur. "-to ... *Cough*. ... Hello."
She stopped and fell silent. Since she had already said 'hello' her obligation in this introduction was over and she could instead take a moment to inspect her new leader. At the very least he was statuesque. So if the antivenom doesn't work I'd just need some grey paint ... With that amusing thought her expression switched to a friendly (?) smile.
He soon sees a particularly large human, who he can only assume is the expedition leader, Surtur. He notes Surtur's positioning with interest as he bows to him, his charcoal-grey finery nearly as black as his scales in the dimness.
"Greetings, Surtur, chosen of The Dragon," he says, in a voice that, while soft, carries surprisingly well. "I am Drekisal of the Iron Scales clan, a diplomat, translator, and worker of magic. But you must already know this."
He stands back upright, showing a faint grin as he looks far up to the human's face. "I hope my council shall be as valuable to you as my spells and my knowledge."
"Sir Gork. Be welcome. Please, we have a table back there that should accommodate you. We will sit, and converse more there."
And with that, he marches back to his previous spot, giving no more than a passing glance at the ogre knight.
"Nar chini narny gerel tusakh boltugai, Drekisal" he says in tribal common. He switches to draconic, "May the greater sun light your path. It is a saying, amongst my people, when we meet. To remind us, even in the darkest days, that what is may not be, and what seems impossible may yet be."
He waves towards the room, and finishes "We will converse more in that room. I shall look forward to our future conversation."
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It really is funny to see the very real surprise displayed on the Ogres face. He really did not expect this.
After a few think-seconds, he hastily returns the salute - with an ill calculated movement of the hand which caused it to crash hard against the metal helmet cashing a resounding 'clank' of metal against metal.
"Gud talk, Pinky-Surtur.
Gork wait in strong-chair."
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"Mhm! This really could work. With a bit of luck everyone is that agreeable! Or mute. Hmrhm... That *could* make things hard... Maybe?" the elf evaluates the situation so far as she searches for the best chair.
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As the hobgoblin's gaze takes in ones surroundings, one sets off fairly directly in the direction of Surtur, not hurrying, but with purpose. When Histrok is about 5 feet away from the large human, one gives a shallow bow.
"Leader Surtur I assume? It's good to meet you. I am Histrok, presenting myself to you on behalf of the Dragon. I am to provide support in finding the truth, from people and from the land, using my experience, my magic and with help from the Spirits of my Ancenstors. It is hoped that I will be able to help inform the decisions you make decisions in your expedition. My knowledge is your knowledge to use as you see fit, and I will do my best to determine in advance any threats that might beset our group.
"Is there any way I can offer my services at this time, or shall I adjourn to the table to await the full gathering?" Histrok looks towards Sutur, not holding his gaze, but awaiting a response.
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Cuneo had dressed quickly, waiting in quiet stillness until only a few minutes before he was supposed to arrive. He was nervous about this whole business. It had been a long time since he had felt so alone. As he walked down the tunnel, Cuneo adjusted his hat. He had put it on for the first time ten years ago aboard a creaking, disease ridden ship and done his best to save his friend, and the men they had met below decks. It was old and faded, bleached by the sun and the salt spray of the ocean, and slightly dusty from a long stay in the chest where he kept things from his old life. His new life, again. Stopping to lean against the edge of the tunnel, Cuneo took a deep breath.
He walked into the light, looking up at a big man standing beside a sputtering torch. Cuneo wasn't nervous anymore, now he stood perfectly still except for his eyes, which darted up and down, examining the man's clothing, his stance, his haircut. Cuneo was nearly as tall, but quite a bit lankier, dressed in his finest blue silk shirt and black wool pants. He carried no weapons except for a dagger on his belt, and wore no armor, knees bent ever so slightly, he was comfortable in the dim hallway. After a moment, he took off his hat, holding it at the level of his chest. "I'm Cuneo Danetha from across the seas."
He extended a hand, looking Surtur in the eyes.
He gives another bow and then joins with the others. He notes two that had arrived before him--and ogre and an elf. While he'd been informed a little on the makeup of the group, they would all need to know each other well to survive the coming days, much less thrive. So he bowed to the others as well.
"I am Drekisal," he announces as he walks to a seat.
He takes a small bow, "Yes, there is something you can do for me, Truthspeaker Histrok. Tell me of your childhood. It is said you grew up in the Gelkrosh plain?"
He waits to see how the hobgoblin responds. Unfortunately, the next man begins to crest the bend, and Surtur holds a hand up to him, before finishing speaking to Histrok.
He lowers his voice to a whisper, and says "Perhaps another time. We will speak of this later."
With that, he waves Histrok into the room.
He then takes the proffered hand, and shakes it. He smiles at Cuneo, and speaks in a low voice "With everyone else, I have done my best to off- balance them, play to a stereotype so as to make them unnerved about me. I find that I can read them better that way."
He smiles, and, still gripping the hand, steps beside Cuneo, ushering the man forwards, step- by- step. In a quiet whisper, he adds "Tell me, Cuneo Danetha from across the sea, what surprises you?" before quick- stepping off to the side.
Cuneo raises an eyebrow at 'with everyone else', unsure why he would get special treatment, but doesn't say anything.
Walking alongside Surtur, Cuneo stops when he asks his question, thinking for a moment. "Love," he says, after a moment, then quickly adds "and kindness." He looks down at his hat, gently running his thumb over a small hole near the edge. "What about you?"
"Greetings my comrades. I see that we are mostly here. I am Histrok, and you can consider me at your service." Histrok smiles a faint, but friendly smile of greeting and takes ones seat.
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We're all here then, right?
As the room starts to fill with people, Gork starts to understand why the pinky did not react too concerned about him.
It seems like the dragon has selected the group to be made of as many different folks as possible - and not the most sane of those as either.
A rather-big-pinky-leader, a frail-hobgob, a minature-drake (obviously the dragons real representative), an old-pinky, a likely-mad-pointy - and an Ogre.
If the room was a tavern, this could be the start of a really bad joke...
Gork waits nervous for someone to start talking (NOT to herself that is). It is rather unnerving and a powerful flatulence is building in his belly that would surely break the silence in the most uncomfortable way soon ...
In a calm voice loud enough to reach those at the table as well as the corner by the door easily Histrok addresses those around him. "I again give my greetings. We've now had a chance to meet Leader Surtur at least briefly, but I've not met the rest of you. I don't know what you're expecting of this meeting or this expedition, but I've come to two conclusions that seem relevant now. The first is that we should know what our capabilities as a group are. The more we know of what the others can do, the greater our chance of success.
"The second is that we will need to be able to act on our own initiative. Guidance and commands from Leader Surtur are clearly to be followed, but we're all here because he and the Dragon value the skills that we bring to the group. If we encounter a situation in which we can further the goals of the expedition we need to be able to act on the spot and trust our instincts at times even without direction.
"Having said both of those things, my name is Histrok. I am here to seek truth from the peoples we encounter and from the land itself. I bring my experience working with and understanding the motives of varied peoples, some divine magic and the guidance of my ancestor's spirits. I will seek to keep us informed and warned of dangers. As I said earlier, you should consider me at your service should there be anything you seek to know."
"Now, in order to further that, I would ask to know who I am to work with." Histrok's gaze turns to the others at the table rather than the corner where Surtur stands.
Huh, of course, small-drake talks first.
"I am Gork, Paladin of Merry the Golden Maid.
Gork wants to free land for the simple folk who praise Merry and find a new place for Gorks clan.
Gork strong and not go down without a Gud fight.
Merry taught Gork da Gud talk too and lead Gork to Ham.
No stopping Ham and Gorks charge-HARHAR!"
Written in ooc style, but you can take it as representing in-character exchanges. All of this is coming from a character(s) with their own prejudices and limits of knowlege - but you can trust they are being open and honest with you about what they think.
Starting at the Lodge is wise. And I'll get up the info doc on the lodge today too! It's a camp full of transients where your arrival won't be a surprise, nor will your intention to fight the mantids, as that is what most of them are there for. It has been the starting point for most of the hypotheticals the Dragon's agents have worked on.
If you let on that you're a tribesman, it gives you an understandable motivation to focus on the mantids, but you might need to come up with a cover story for where you've been - unless you want to say that you've been with the tribes this whole time and only just now left to come fight the threat from a new angle. Whatever you decide on, you might want to avoid saying you've come from the Dragon's lands or that you fought in her army.
Recruiting a major power: A solid second step. You'd probably need some kind of notable victory over the mantids - destruction of a nest is an obvious possibility - to give you credibility. Revealing the antidote to them is another possibility, though if you aren't willing to give them the secret of its manufacture it might anger them (it is a rather obvious lever to gain control/advantage over them if they know about its existence but aren't able to make it themselves).
Benji is an unknown quantity for the most part. The Dragon's agents are at least a little leery of the possibility of recruiting her, but they allow that your shared tribal background may help. They do point out that as one of the leaders of a major military power she'd probably desire control over the operation. Furthermore, would the alliance be secret or on the up-and-up?
The Steel Cabal: Playing on their desire to sell weapons could be a good move. If they help to fund, equip, and promote a war to wipe out the mantids it would do a lot for both their eventual income AND their popular support, both of which they would find attractive.
Kiayuscan also notes that the Cabal's leader, Gwin, is a very ambitious dwarf who has been kept away from the ruling council a couple times. If he is put into a position to increase his control over Hafton and owes part of that to you, it could pay dividends down the road when the time to control territory seperate from the mantid war comes. It is a long-term concern, though.
The River Basin Concern: As a business interest their decisions tend to be mostly pragmatic. It would definitely be possible to convince them of the benefit. They are none too friendly with House Kun who currently control all major land trade. Giving the Concern a chance to open up new, mantid-free routes before House Kun can do the same would likely be highly attractive to them.
if you pursue The Concern as an ally, rapid immigration and creation of new settlements would be favorable, giving the Concern new customers and trade destinations before House Kun even knows they exist.
Another possibility: You mention Lorri Longstalking as a possible obstacle - and he is - but he is also a possible ally. His aims and desires are mostly inscrutable but he also seems ambitious. If he desires more control and more power, then offering to help him secure it might provide a strong and clever ally. The danger comes in when estimating just how loyal he might be, or if he might rebel at the idea of being a part of The Dragon's realm. We know too little about him to predict how he'd react to the idea. Using the divide between him and the houses of Gelkrosh City is an obvious wedge.
On your issues:
Sapphire vs Steel: If you're seen to back one, the other will be wary of you. Simple as that.
Yes, Benji is indeed a wildcard. It would be wise to feel her out early on before you decide on a course of action.
Kiayuscan shrugs at your concerns over the immigrants. Sure, it would be easy for the giants to slip agents amongst them, but the immigrants can't divulge what they don't know. And one way or another, once the mantids start getting cleared out chances are that someone will try and claim the freed-up land. Probably several someones all at once. Violence over land claims and such is practically assured.
Kiayuscan won't comment on the more hypothetical further steps, as he is also well aware that they'll need to be guided by the situation at the time. He does mention that leaving Swampside for last seems wise. He has no idea if the Power might be amenable to an alliance or if you'll need to destroy it somehow, but before you try and find out it would be wise to have built up a significant amount of strength and support. The Dragon does not need every existing government/ruling power to be destroyed - she just needs them to accept her own supremacy.
If there are other specific bits you want comments on, let me know.
The ogre was an interesting fellow. A paladin? And serving The Dragon? Fascinating. No doubt paladinhood would make him only more dangerous in melee, a useful asset.
Once Gork has finished speaking, Drekisal speaks, his voice surprisingly strong for his stature. "I am Drekisal of the Iron Scales tribe. Where Histrok seeks truth, I suspect I will be best used to hide the truth from our enemies."
He flashes a toothy little grin at the others. "That is frankness you shall hear only when we are alone, yes? Truth shall be precious in days to come. Beyond this, I also have magic to both heal and harm, to strengthen and protect. I have also the gifts of my bloodline, breath of fire or acid and resistance to the same."
though if you aren't willing to give them the secret of its manufacture it might anger them (it is a rather obvious lever to gain control/advantage over them if they know about its existence but aren't able to make it themselves).
I'm thinking that if we use the age- old mantra "if you are not with me, then you are against me," type of thinking to justify not giving them the mantid formula. Either you are willing to support troops to the cause of the destruction of the mantids, and thus will have open access to any doctors and antivenom medicine at all times; or you aren't willing to help, in which case, why do you need the antivenom? We're the ones out there, dying to protect you, regardless of whether you will help or not- if you won't help us, then we won't give you the medicine. How is that likely to go over in Gelkrosh?
Furthermore, would the alliance be secret or on the up-and-up?
I'm hoping that Benji will be the first to support us on the destruction of the mnatids front- and if she is, then yes, I expect our alliance to be well- known. If she can't, or won't, then I don't expect us to have a relationship, period.
How likely is Lorri Longstalking to try and overthrow Dex Jarria for control of the River Basin Concern? My fear of him being an obstacle is this- if we give him power, he'll try and use that power to put himself in the driver's seat of the River Basin Concern. Since we really, really don't want a internal war between Longstalking and Jerria, he's either going to be a problem we need to address early, or he'll be a valuable asset- in fact, if he's likely to be content with the power he has, I'd like to propose Lorri take control of the land- based operations while Dax controls the river and getting settlements up to bypass Swampside.
Tomorrow, I'm going to have Surtur call everyone to task and set up the introduction of the plan and what he wants each of you to do. But, for now, ya'll have till then to continue interacting! Which, btw, is kinda fun!
And then, of course, the hobgoblin started chatting. And asked everyone one else to join in! "Bugger ..." Wait! That wasn't supposed to be loud! Ah well, nothing to do about that now. She waits until it is her turn to speak up.
"I am Jhaelwyn. . ... I am a hunter from the vale; here to slay the mantids. I know a trick or two that might come in handy for an ambush - or other fun!"
The ogre seems very straightforward, almost excessively so except that this is the best that might expected from an ogre. Still, I should keep an eye on him to make sure that he's not more than he's presenting himeself to be. If he is as he seems, he'll be a force to direct, likely a powerful one at that.
The Kobold will be a potential danger if he decides that he wants more than is being offered. There is skill there, and it will be a great tool for us as long as his interests stay aligned. The dragon wouldn't have chosen him for the group if he were too likely to cross us, but again, one to watch.
I question the stability of the elf, but given their long lives she's not so erratic as to be a danger to herself at least. If she's been chosen to go with us her skill and experience with the Mantids must more than overcome her quirks.
The remaining human seems quiet, perhaps pondering his interaction with Surtur as he had the least amount of time to process it. I'll learn of him in time I suppose.
And that leaves Surtur. Everyone here seemed ill at ease, more than I'd expect from the pressures of simply being summoned. It's likely that Surtur himself did some extra pushing for them as he seemed to be doing for me. I've learned what I can without pushing an agenda I'm not here to push, so hopefully he'll direct the next moves soon.
"This is the Gelkrosh region," he says in a low voice. "This is where we are to go."
He points to a spot on the map. "This is the Lodge. Adventurers gather here, to try and defeat the mantid pestilence. Our goal, for the short- term, will to be to help eradicate them."
He pulls something else out of his pocket- a vial of thick, purple- almost to black liquid inside. "This is an antivenom, developed by The Dragon, for use against the mantids. it'll help protect us against the mantids poison. For those of us with the skill, you will be taught how to make more of this substance. For the rest, learn how to apply it carefully, so it will be of some use to you."
He pulls out of a third pocket a set of 5 scrolls, and passes them out. "Inside is everything we know about the Lodge, and it's important residents. Study it. It'll be important. Pick one, and give me three ways you think they may be either recruited to our cause, or eliminated from the game without a ruckus. Is that fair?' Ya'll dont actually have to do this; we've already done most of it in the Discussion tab.
"Before we depart, you all will need to come up with a cover story. This is your own responsibility. If you are discovered for what you are, you will be left out- understand, no one is coming to save you."
And with that, he begins to walk away. "We leave on the morrow. Pack your things, and be ready to speak when we get on the way."
He does linger for a moment by the door, waiting to see if anyone wants to say anything.
Short, blunt, to the point. Surtur would be proud.
Whatever the case, this information would be useful. He unrolled the scroll and glanced over it. Clearly The Dragon's agents already in the area had been busy. Good... he could work with this. He just hoped he could work with their 'mysterious' leader.
Drekisal tends to have negative opinions of just about everyone at first.
While we're introducing ourselves.
Cuneo speaks up after Jhaelwyn. "I'm Cuneo Danetha, I've come from far to the south, and before that the west, from far beyond the lands of the jewel princes, past the tangled jungles of the elves, and across the Sea of Stones. I can fight, get along in the wild, and sail a ship. There's a large cat in the stables, she doesn't bite unless I tell her to, must be some sort of magic, since cats that big aren't domesticated. I can do one or two other things..."
Cuneo volounteers that he might be helpful in talking to Dex Jarria, a rare Drecna in a sea of dust. Perhaps it might warm his heart to hear someone talk of his ancestral lands, where Cuneo grew up and spent most of his life, and there must be something inside of him that would stir at the telling of a sailing story.
Obega Garca is the most powerful person in the lodge, and he might not take too kindly to a bunch of newcomers arriving and changing the way of things, esspecially if his ogre dissapears or gets killed. Still, lowering the number of mantids in the area and freeing up the existing towns has got to be something that would increase traffic through the area, which is good for buisness.
This brings up another point. If we do free towns and settlements, there are going to be people who want to lay claim to whatever the erstwhile townsfolk left behing. Further, if we establish mining towns we're going to have to make sure we can protect them from bandits. Of course, if the towns are populated by or contain good numbers of ogres, that's less of an issue. It's also important to note that if we successfully kill a nest and it has a lot of loot, we're going to need to keep that secret unless we think most of the lodge would be too scared to try to mess with us.
As far as cover stories are concerned, Cuneo is there for adventure and for money. He's not really in it for the money, but then, I'm sure plenty of people in the lodge aren't either. We don't want people finding out that he was doing work for the dragon, which they probably could if they went to the village where he was settled down and asked around. "There was a man who fit the description living here about a year ago who ran off with another man. Both of them had full packs and were dressed for war, said something about a war with giants." So perhaps Cuneo will have to claim that he arrived only recently, after a shipwreck, and that Surtur found him in a smokey tavern near the shore.
As Histrok listens to Surtur's presentation one looks over the map to see the region of interest and nods. Hitting the Mantids directly has merit. It's a more direct approach than we're getting here, so that's good. The hobgoblin's eyes gleam a little brighter when Surtur explains the anti-venom and then puts down the scrolls with intelligence in the region. Good, these we can work with. Now we can coordinate and bring our specialties to bear on dealing with the first set of obstacles we might face at the lodge. This is auspicious.
And then, abruptly the gathering is over with the promise to talk during the journey. Hmm, this seems to have been largely ceremony then. It's a shame, but there will be time to talk with everyone I need to during the journey I suppose.
When Surtur pauses at the door before leaving, Histrok "Leader Surtur, before we leave today to prepare for our trip I would ensure you are aware of one thing and ask your preference on another.
"Tomorrow morning, before we start out I will be asking my Anscestors for guidance as I do most mornings. It can be on any topic, but should there be any specific ones that you would like me to inquire about I can do this. I would ask you, if you care to, to have your largest immediate unknown for the early part of our journey in mind so that I can request the guidance you might be most interested in.
"Second, I have the option, at the cost of most of the flexibility the spirits provide me each day, to obscure our tracks for a good portion of a days march. Would you prefer me be able to do that, or be able to meet with a wider variety of situations we might encounter? I know that it's important that we not be seen coming from the Dragon's territories, but I would know your priorities here if possible."
I can cast pass without trace on at least our mounts, but it'd take almost all of my spell slots to get 10 hours out of it given the size of our force. It might be worth doing this until we're outside of the Dragon's territories if we want to make it look like we're coming from somewhere else. That would also mean taking a less direct route and slow our progress. I don't know what our priorities would be.
Histrok also turns to Drekisal and smiles. "I would walk and talk with you as we leave if you don't mind. It seems that we should spend time in preparation to make sure that we can complement each other fully throughout our journey. We should be able to cover a wide variety of contingencies, but it will be best to know what each can do in particular to make the best use of that. I expect to be summoned to the Dragon's anti-venom experts soon to be shown what secrets they have, so if we want to get started soon, this is our best opportunity."
"As for your second question," and he pauses, taking a breath "Just the first and last days before arrival. Once we leave here, few will track us- and those who do, will have a difficult time doing so. Once before the Lodge, so as to keep our information- how do you say it- close to the vest? The rest of the time, it is unlikely we will be more than a passing note."
He studies the group for a second. "Are there any other questions?"
Gork takes the offered scroll with a troubled look.
"Gork not gud wit reading small-folk-scribble.
Gork will have peoples doin' speak for them.
Is easier. Scribble'n'talksy lie more easy."
As the topic approached cover stories...
"Hmmm... Gork tells curious-pinkies that Gork helps Surtur free his homeland.
And Gork tells pinkies about Merry and her wish for more simple folk living the Merry-life and thanking her."
The elf grinned, feeling that she had contributed her part (for now!). It was clear that she didn't feel too bad about arranging accidents.
"Sir Gork- I'm quite certain someone may be willing to read those scrolls to you. Perhaps a follower of Merry?" He smiles a quick smile, and moves on.
"Those decisions, Drekisal, will likely be determined by the type of offers we receive." His face scrunches slightly, lips curling in distaste. "However, I do not like the idea of another having authority over us."
It has been a long, dismal, but uneventful trek. Some of you had idly wondered what the annexation of Gelkrosh would mean for the marginal - but expansive - lands in between the Dragon's Realm and the new territory she meant to add to it. It would, no doubt, end up for all intents and purposes as hers, even if there was little to do with it. It was bleak, thinly peopled, and took five days of travel to cross even for a group as small and relatively quick as yours was.
As planned, Histrok covered the trail until you were well away from the city, and then again just as you arrived to Gelkrosh. You camped for the night within bowshot of the river crossing, and in the morning you speak with the ferry operator - a relative of Obega Garca, the lodge's sole merchant. The ferry is of the barge-and-pole style, guided by a thick rope strung through a trio of metal loops. A pair of burly hobgoblins prod it slowly from bank to bank using twenty-foot poles. It takes three trips to get all of you across - with the final one bringing Gork and Ham as well as a couple of the fighters who've best gotten to know the odd pair. Though you begin at dawn the sun has made it over an hour's trek into the sky before you all make the western bank. Then you trudge the rest of the way into the glorified camp called The Lodge.
More than a few heads turn as your group moves up the main lane between the tents, and most of them turn again as they catch sight of the obviously-an-ogre-in-armor figure on top of a similarly impressively-sized bull aurochs. You imagine rumors are already spreading through the camp, announcing the interesting new arrivals. You also imagine that there are at least a couple who are noting the details about you and memorizing them, to report them later to whichever master they might serve.
A diminutive figure seated on a barrel draws your eye as he points out the arriving group to a pair of others he's talking with. He must have cracked some manner of joke, as they all begin laughing uproariously. The joker - a halfling - wears a bright red scarf. This is the signal you had been told to watch for. This is Yidi Tir. As if to confirm, he suddenly and briefly meets your gaze in such a way as to be unnoticeable to anyone else.
So far, only you can be guaranteed to know who Yidi Tir is. You might want to mention in Discussion whom else you have told.
Surtur leads the group to what seems to pass as the camp center. The square is large, maybe 50 feet to a side. To one side is the overgrown hut that serves as Obega Garca's trade post. An ogre is sleeping noisily outside the door, with a couple other tough-looking figures also hanging around. In the corner opposite Garca, there seems to be another sort of merchant, selling clumps of sod, cords of wood, and dried dung to serve as campfire fuel. From the smell of the place, he doesn't let the dung dry enough.
And thus, with this rather low-key arrival, we begin.
The camp has a sort of ad-hoc logic to the layout, and you can imagine there are several places around the periphery to set up your tents. I know I haven't given you any real 'guide' to what you might do first. Right now, it's all up to you - if you get lost, or flounder around to much, I'll offer up some hints.
Welcome to Eldreon.
As the company comes to a halt in the middle of the clearing Histrok gives the riding yak between ones legs a pat on the neck. "Good beast. You've carried me well and now it's about time for you to have a well deserved rest and some feed." Taking in the sights and smells of the area, the Hobgoblin turns to look at his companions. "Leader Surtur, we've had a long trip and the men have borne it well. I see that we've a chance to lessen their duties for at least one night. Might I treat them to a quarter-cord of firewood for the evening, assuming we'll be finding a place to set up base camp here before we start our hunting?"
Surtur watches it all as he enters with a careful indifference, sitting atop his mount as if in quiet assurance. He keeps his knowing smile from plastering his face as certain ones point to Sir Gork, and he thinks to himself That one will have no problems finding his followers here, if he does intend to preach. Of note to him are the ones studying him, and he pays close attention, though he pretends not to notice their observations.
Perception: 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (16) + 9 = 25
He sees the red bandana and makes a careful note of the halfling's appearance, though he does not acknowledge Yidi as he passes. Instead, he files the information away for later, certain that he'll need the halfling shortly.
Might I treat them to a quarter-cord of firewood for the evening, assuming we'll be finding a place to set up base camp here before we start our hunting?"
He simply nods at the hobgoblin's question, and shows no outward signs as to whether or not he's heard the question beyond the nod. After a heavy moment, he adds "Take the quartermaster with you, and some of the men."
He begins walking "Sir Gork, Cuneo, Huntress, come with me. You stay and guard the horses," he adds to the remaining men.
He slowly begins walking towards the trading post,and enters.