"Gnolls? I've not heard that term, but we have seen bizarre creatures with the features of beasts before."
"Still, if they are stuck outside, then they will soon be dead. Nothing can survive outside for long. And if they make it inside, and come here, then we will deal with them."
Pandora looks around.
"If that is all the chitchat, then Ana and I have some things to discuss."
Pandora gives a signal, and the portcullis is lifted for long enough to pass through to the other side. Pandora turns back to the others. "What we do beyond is sacred and you are not permitted. But return here in an hour or so and we will meet then."
Pandora leads Ana away into the Madaruan Quarters.
Pandora takes Ana into a room that looks like a dormitory. A central table seats eight and a number of bunks line the walls. A hearth sits against the east wall.
"All things in the universe are organized into cycles," Pandora explains. "Life has a cycle. All life. Living things are born, they grow, mature, and then wither and die, and decay. But their death makes room for more to be born anew. The cycle is never-ending. Our lady Madarua watches over this cycle, as do we, her chosen. When that cycle becomes out of balance, or breaks, we must intervene."
"We assist those who are with child; our order is the last group to practice the art of the midwife. We also comfort those who are near death, and arrange for the burial of the dead."
"Once, long ago, before the demons destroyed the surface world, water used to fall from the sky in a scattering of drops called rain, that sometimes lasted for hours. I know that's hard to believe, but this water allowed many plants to grow in the light of the sun. And people harvested those plants for food and for other good things. But the waters would come in cycles, called seasons, and the sowing and growing and harvesting of these plants came according to these cycles, based on the position of the sun in the sky which marked time. Madarua watched over these cycles too."
"Though plants don't grow on the surface any more, we do still watch over the planting and harvesting of those things that can grow underground, and we still watch the rising of the sun to mark the seasons, since Madarua's holy days are still based on those times of old."
"We Warrior Women of Madarua hold these virtues the highest: Passion, Vigilance, Patience, and Sacrifice...."
After the bulk of an hour has passed in instruction, Pandora takes Ana along with two acolytes north through another chamber (which has a large vault in the east wall) and to a pentagonal ritual chamber with a statue of Madarua and an altar in the north-east corner.
"Now is the time to make your oath. Take out your sword," Pandora commands. "Cut your finger with it, and wipe the blood on the blade, then place the blade on the altar. Before us and Madarua, you must swear to uphold the honor of Madarua, even with your own blood if necessary."
Assuming you do:
One of the acolytes pulls a brand from a burning brazier. The brand is in the shape of a sickle.
"Hold out your left wrist. The pain will last only a moment."
The acolyte presses the brand onto Ana's writs, and her flesh is burned with the mark of a sickle.
"I now welcome you into the order of the Warrior Women of Madarua." Pandora presents you with a bronze mask in the likeness of Madarua (like the other warrior women wear) and a set of green robes.
You also get to roll 1d3+1. These are temporary HP that work much like the ones you got at the start of the adventure.
Wallia of Winterbourne Stoke wrote:
Wallia asks, "Madam, I was wondering, how often do the Zargonese offer their false deity a sacrifice a month?"
"I wish I could say for certain. Unlike their public ceremonies, they do not adhere to a set schedule. Not long after we began raiding their sacrificial missions they started to change the times and dates. Which is only rational. It's what I would have done. But now that they do this randomly it gets very hard to predict."
"If we spot such a mission leaving their temple, it is usually too late to mount a raid. They would have a significant head start. We are much more successful if we can lie in wait for them, but it is difficult to do that if we don't know when the sacrifice will happen. We would need to bring a lot of provisions."
"On average I'd say they make these trips every 15 days or so. But it can be as low as 8 or as many as 25. We can never tell when the next one will be. Despite our efforts, the majority of them still get through."
Ferrous Grimgond wrote:
...But at this time without knowing the fullness of their plans I must refrain for anything so formal as taking a pledge of allegiance.
Pandora looks puzzled at Ferrous' mention of 'Rockhome.' But she shakes her head.
"You speak fairly. But only those that join our order are required to make any kind of oath. And in ancient times it was decreed that only women could ever enter the service of the goddess."
"The pendant that would mark you as an ally serves to identify you as a friend. You could show this to other Madaruans you might encounter so that they know you are not an enemy, and if you ask them for aid they will help you if they can, though whatever mission they may be on may take priority. You would merely be expected to keep the peace with members of our order and render aid to them if it is possible to do so, as they would with you."
Pandora pauses for a moment.
"As to our plans, they are simple in concept, if not in execution. We seek to intercept the sacrifices that are bound for the maw of Zargon. We send raiding parties to intercept the priests when they go to deliver their sacrifices."
"We hope for two things by doing this. First, releasing those who were prisoners of the cult shows the city that at least one of the old faiths still works for them, so that they may know they are not totally lost to the Zargonites. As long as the city serves the church the power of the cult remains, so we must undermine their support."
"Secondly, Zargon's lair is in a secret chamber far below the pyramid. We have never been able to penetrate that far, and even if we did, the lair cannot be large enough for a concentrated attack. If Zargon goes hungry, he will become angry, and will emerge from his lair to ravage the city. When that happens, all the people must oppose him. Even the church of Zargon would have to fight him if they value their lives. With everyone united against the beast, the creature may finally fall."
Ana clears her throat. "What is the price for membership in your organization, if I qualify. I am a capable warrior, as my friends can testify. What would be required of me?"
"Price?" Pandora sniffs. "This isn't a circus. We don't 'charge admission.' Did the Magi tell you that? Typical."
She shakes her head.
"The price is loyalty. The Warrior Maidens strive against Zargon and mean to destroy him once and for all. Then Cynidicea can be restored to its former glory. We all are dedicated to this goal and will not swerve from it."
"The factions ruled by men are all fools. The Zargonites are evil and corrupt, and they only care about perpetuating their own power and wealth. The Magi fiddle about with books while the city dies. And the Gormites lash out without plan or strategy."
"But we Madaruans realize that there is a cycle in everything. Just as the ancient seasons once governed the surface, going from summer to winter and back again, this dark period can end, but only when all Cynidicea is united together. As things are the men bicker amongst themselves, accomplishing nothing. When our plan is realized even the priests of Zargon must fight against Zargon or perish. We may be warriors, but we are also wise women and see beyond the short term."
"If you would pledge yourself to this worthy goal, you may join our order."
"Your friends, sadly, are men and are barred from our order. But there are many men who recognize the folly of the male factions and have pledged themselves as our allies. If your men wish to make such a pledge, we can give them a token to symbolize this allegiance."
Sample post 2: Combat
Round 4: (Sometimes things get tangled up and it can really help to indicate what round your action is for.)
Pandora points her sword at the vampire.
"Now you will feel the divine Rune GM's wrath!"
There is a bright flash of light from her sword.
Swift Action to smite evil against the vampire to the south. (remember to indicate who the target of your ability is!)
She darts around to one side of the vampire, opposite Bruno.
Move action to move 30', going E, E, NE, N, NW. I am now flanking the vampire with Bruno. (it's not always necessary to show your exact movement path like this but it helps, especially if there are hidden traps or things like that.)
She thrusts at the vampire's heart with her longsword.
Standard to attack.
Longsword -2 Power Attack, +2 flank, +3 smite, -2 sickened: 1d20 + 7 - 2 + 2 + 3 - 2 ⇒ (9) + 7 - 2 + 2 + 3 - 2 = 17
Someone please move my icon to the east of the southern vampire. (If you are unable to use the map please ask for help and someone will move your icon for you.)
"Where is Zargon? Can you lead us to him?"
"We don't know the exact location of Zargon's lair, but it is said to be deep below this pyramid. Only the Priests of Zargon know the exact route, and only a select few of them."
"There are those within our order whose duty is to see what these Priests are up to, but that's not my job. Our duty here is to maintain a calendar and watch for the changing of the seasons."
"Greetings, Fistep and Wallia."
"We will find and slay this... Zargon."
"A bold claim. Many others have said as much, but most never return, while others despair of ever fulfilling such a quest. Yet it is certainly a worthy goal."
"I don't believe that any one person, or even a small group, could ever hope to defeat Zargon. Our goal is to bring Zargon forth, and force him into the open. Where an individual, no matter how bold or skilled, might fail, the combined might of all of Cynidicea could succeed. If Zargon turned against the city, everyone would have to stand against him; even Zargon's priests would have to oppose him, for fear of their lives."
"I have heard much about it and suspect that it may not be a divine being at all. Has anyone ever even seen Zargon?"
"In that you are certainly right. Zargon is a foul and powerful creature, but the only claim he has to a right to sacrifice is his wrath if he does not receive it. He is a physical being and not a deity, though he certainly seems long-lived."
"None of my people have ever seen Zargon. But it is said that a part of the initiation of new Priests of Zargon is that they witness a sacrifice to Zargon. They sometimes come unhinged at this point, though they rarely were that stable to begin with."
"I am taller than any goblin, would you not agree? And yet, do any of your people look like this?" Ana draws the hair back over her ears, revealing the slender points.
"Nothing looks anything like you people. But there are two types of goblins; some are shorter than you, and others are taller. For all I know you are a third type of goblin we have not yet seen."
The woman nods. "Well, greetings, Brathas. I am Pandora, and we are the Warrior Women of Madarua."
"Brathas... what a strange name. If amnesia has really taken hold, perhaps you got it wrong, and it is actually Brathos?"
"Well, no matter. The stories the Magi have told you about Zargon are true indeed. The Priests of Zargon regularly take sacrifices and feed them to that foul creature. It is an abomination that must be stopped."
"What the Magi probably didn't say is that they are secretly in league with the Zargonites! It is for this reason that they refuse to raise a hand against the evil Priests. They insist that we must leave the Zargonites to their 'work.' They care nothing for the lives of ordinary humans; they have betrayed their own people."
"Surely we can better use our time opposing the Priests of Zargon and the goblins."
The woman crooks her head. "First you bring up the Magi... now you sound like the Gormites. If you seek bloodshed then by all means seek out the Zargonites and their goblin lackeys. We are not interested in idle fighting."
"What if I speak the truth?"
"If you really believe everything you say, then I would have to say that you are simply mad. Now... take no offense." She smiles for a moment. "There's a lot of that around here, and it affects many otherwise good people. Just don't expect me to partake of your particular fantasy. I don't see how it matters anyways."
A: 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (14) + 9 = 23
Br: 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (16) + 14 = 30
Fe: 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (17) + 14 = 31
Fi: 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (6) + 14 = 20
W: 1d20 + 13 ⇒ (9) + 13 = 22
Z: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (9) + 10 = 19
Your reading is that while this woman does not trust outsiders and is rather blunt and off-putting, she is actually willing to talk. If you want to put things on a better footing, the use of some common social conventions might be in order, like simply introducing yourselves.
"We are not goblins, but rather outsiders from the lands beyond the desert."
She laughs. "Hah! A likely story. Did the Magi tell you to say that, or did you make that one up on your own?"
Considering that nobody you have met has ever believed this I am surprised you are still telling people this story.
"... we have met the magi in our exploration of this place. We met them on friendly terms..."
"If you made friends with the Magi then you are fools. Their mouths are full of lies. They worship a god of treachery and deceit and black magic."
"We come in peace seeking only food and water for ourselves and our fellows above."
The woman frowns. "Did the Magi not tell you where such things could be found? Such things are hardly secrets. Perhaps your 'friends' will share their provisions with you? I see no reason we should haul supplies up here just to hand them over to friends of the Magi."
She pauses for a moment, and sighs.
"Why should I trust you? I have already caught you in one lie, and nothing else you say makes any sense. I would suspect this is some ploy by the Magi, but I don't see how they could gain by it."
The woman scowls.
"What in Hades are you on about? First you work for the Magi, then you don't. Speak plain, and don't waste my time!"
"Let me be clear. What do you want? And if you are not goblins, what the hell are you?"
During conversation you realize that the spear the leader is wielding seems to be enchanted.
A group of women emerge from the narrow corridor and take up positions behind the portcullis.
They all have bronze masks that resemble that of the female statue on top of the pyramid. They also wear what looks like bronze chain mail over green tunics. They are armed with spears, swords, and bows. The women of the rear ranks all have their bows out and arrows nocked.
See the TACTICAL MAP if you want to get an idea of their positions.
"So, you are from the Magi," the one in front speaks. "Do not attempt any sorcery. If you do, my warriors will shoot you where you stand."
"Hmmm... you're a strange looking lot. What sort of creatures are you then? Some kind of conjuration of theirs?"
BTW, ignore the pointy ears of the avatar. There aren't many avatar images with masks.