CharGen takes just over an hour. Starter packages speed things up, though there is still agonizing over skills and feats. The Bard decides to swap out the long-sword the starter kit gives him for a longbow, since he is built for loving not for fighting. The Half-orc decides to swap out the WpnFocus feat for Tracking ability, because his skills have some wilderness element to them. Everyone else sticks pretty close to the starter kit. There’s a “Good, Bad, Ugly, Really Ugly” feel to the team. Names take a long, long time. Two are kind of jokey, two are found after much difficulty.
Borrox, Cleric of St. Cuthbert, stalks up to Garrotten Village’s statue of St. Cuthbert and looks about. His ex-guard comrades are not in evidence. Nearby, Clerics of Pelor officiate at a bounty-claim. The claimant stands beneath a Zone of Truth and numbers the bounties; then he is paid out.
Borrox’ three ex-guard companions join him. The largest bears a great-ax: a huge half-orc named Forgrim, his mighty shoulders merging seamlessly into a domed protuberance that by virtue of position could be said to be a head. The frontal part, analogous to a face, appears to have been hacked out of wet clay with an adze by a sculptor on a really bad jag, then left to dry. The human of the three newcomers is a bard named Alex. Here, any lack of care the gods put into the huge ax-bearer’s physiognomy they have made up for. This is a truly handsome man, a lute-player and teller of epics. His teeth gleam white. Borrox feels a surge of envy: then reminds himself there is evil to be tracked down, rooted out and possibly burnt at the stake.
Finally, the third companion: a Dwarf named Ulf. Easily missed, since he is literally half the half-orc’s size. Like the half-orc he carries an axe, though his is strapped to his belt. Unlike the half-orc the Dwarf’s head is swathed in hair, so much hair one can barely see skin. And this is just as well, Borrox thinks.
And now, we are all assembled and ready to find a source of income. Bounties seem to be the most likely way of earning a crust, but we are alert to any chance.
Our attention is caught by another cleric of Pelor, who goes storming up to the Keep, his face suffused with anger. Alex and Borrox begin debating what options there are to earn a living. The Dwarf does not join in, but looks about thirstily. The half-orc Forgrim drifts back down the Keep-path to the crossroads, where an itinerant preacher is warning all who linger of the chaos to come. Finding his words lacking any tincture of sanity, Forgrim returns to the others. Alex the bard informs him of the decision:
“We’ve decided to head down to the inn.”
(His companions know that Forgrim is actually pretty shrewd: he finds the lack-wit act makes life easier around other people.)
The Dog and Owlbear is a large walled Inn, with a wagon-yard and stables. The ale-house itself offers entertainment as well as food: the music and voice of a bard can be heard from the street. Pushing through the doors, we size it up. A mustachioed barkeep tends a well-stocked bar, a blonde serving-girl tends the tables, and an elderly bard plays and sings adequately and loudly. A card-game is in progress at one of the tables.
The meals and drinks seem expensive. Alex buys a meal and Forgrim helps himself to scoops of it. Ulf, the dwarf, buys a gallon of ale and Forgrim helps him drink it. Borrox orders water. He books common lodgings there for all four. Alex offers Rilla the serving-maid a coin in exchange for a favor but she takes herself off very quickly, having been warned all her life about strange men and offers. He has more success with the barkeep.
“They say as how Orcs have taken over an old ruined keep in the Gnarly forest. The ruin was supposedly built by a wizard.”
Forgrim takes himself outside and squats by the front door. His presence is intended to drive off would-be patrons. It attracts the attention of the village watch: a pair of armored men bearing poleaxes. He removes himself back into the Dog and Owlbear!
By the mid-noon, we feel we have loitered enough, and agree we may as well walk up to the Keep, to see if there are any news of bounties. Forgrim tucks a good-sized lump of cheese that Alex had not finished into his pouch.
The Keep’s outer ward is given over to services, including an inn: the Gne’er do well Gnome. We walk right around the ward, noting that bounty notices are notable by their absence, though there is plenty of evidence where old ones have been torn off. The only notice advertises a 50 gold coin reward for the return of a jewelry box.
Returning around the ward from the Inner Keep Gate – almost a bastion in its own right – we enter the Gne’er do well Gnome. The barkeep is a Gnome, standing on a high step behind the bar.
Forgrim is not surprised to find that food and drink are to be had at a cheaper price. He orders a gallon of the best beer, and shares it with Ulf. An adequate stew is also bought and doled out, with healthy hunks of dry bread to ladle it down. Alex orders a good wine, and Forgrim and Ulf help him drink it. Borrox orders water.
From the Gnome barkeep, Alex learns that a scribe named Bernard the Chubby is a habitue of the inn, and he has his ear to the ground. The Gnome also tells Alex the name of the cleric who had stormed up the road earlier: that was Arnouf, Priest of Pelor.
By the time Bernard arrives, Forgrim and Ulf are tipsy. Ulf has been warned about his habit of spitting at random, though the Gnome seems tolerant –
“We Gnomes have been charged by the gods to converse with all burrowing creatures – even Dwarfs” –
and Forgrim has been guided away from the rear stores – where he is sure an exit to the privies must exist – and into the indoor jakes.
Bernard proves amenable to simple bribery. He exchanges knowledge of an upcoming bounty (and a delay in posting said bounty) for a flat fee of ten gold out of the reward.
“Arnouf of Pelor was riding back from the north with an escort. Not far from here is the creek named Trickle, where their mounts were chased away. Kobolds stole the mule Arnouf rides. They went upriver. It’s said that a holy symbol worth 50 is in the saddlebag. The bounty on Kobolds is to rise to a gold a head.”
We return to the Dog and Owlbear for the night. Alex works up an epic, then strikes up a professional association with the old bard, Steppen, he of the hard rock lute-playing. The pair perform a duet, and with the help of Forgrim who shoves an open lute-case in front of patrons, Alex earns a couple of silvers. Steppen mentions that the Castellan might pay for a special epic, though only on a high day. He also warns that there might be an assassin in town.
“Trust is for the stupid,” warns Borrox, when Alex passes this on. “If there is an assassin about, ten to one it’s the old bard.”
True to this philosophy, Borrox ensures that his money pouch is laid under his head when they all bed down in the common room. The others stretch out more laxly. Deep in the wee small hours, a bulging bladder, or surreptitious movement at his side, wakes Ulf. A man is standing over him! Realizing he has been rumbled, the intruder backs off silently: but by then, the Dwarf knows it is not a dream. He screams an alarm!
Surprise round: intruder retreats to the stair, Ulf screams a warning.
Round 1: Alex is able to fumble a coin out, and cast a light spell on it, and toss the coin as hard as he can towards the stairs (a bonus attack action swindled out of a
gullible kindly GM). It flies up, hits the ale-house ceiling, and bounces down roughly mid-room. Forgrim, not bothering with weapons, leaps up and pursues to the stairs, shouting the alarm. Guests begin reacting in the private rooms above the ale-house. The intruder flees along the corridor above. Ulf, complaining bitterly that he should have been able to move in the surprise round, decides to open the ale-house door, gets up, and moves to the door, which is bolted. Borrox decides on balance that Ulf’s choice is best and gets up and moves to the door.
Round 2: Alex gets up and begins equipping. Forgrim races down the corridor, his keen ears [listen 25] picking up the direction the intruder took, races after him, and sees him leaving through an open window. The intruder leaps down safely and seems to be away clear into the darkened village. Ulf has partly unbarred the door, with Borrox assisting.
Round 3: Alex is now equipped and the barkeep and some guests are moving. Forgrim hurtles out of the window and smacks hard on the ground [jump 13, d6 damage, -5hp] but keeps pounding after the thief. His eyes, easily coping with the dark [darkvision] note a trail of dropped coins [spot 23]. They are gold! Forgrim takes the easy option and gathers them in.
Forgrim returns to the inn, tucking the coins into his loin-clout. In his agitation, he drops the “dull-witted half-orc” act and bellows in outrage about thieves. Thievery in the inn! Fearing a scandal, the barkeep – who is presumably the inn owner as well – offers to recompense the loss. Forgrim is now the better off by the six gold he picked up.
The following dawn, we set off to the north of the village and arrive at the general store, the last building of any solidity on that side of town. It’s still closed, so we wait a little while, then growing impatient, Ulf knocks.
A woman serves us. Ulf buys trail rations for all, and Alex buys rope but decides against sacks or sack-cloth. The offer of breakfast has Forgrim slavering and he buys a scrambled egg breakfast for all. We share it in the homely rear kitchen, where the woman’s husband joins us. The woman acknowledges that Kobolds infiltrate the village from time to time, though her own place – so she says – is built well enough to keep them out.