The Broken Land Chapter Seven: night trails to Embercrag

Welcome back! During the course of the last chapter, our three surviving Ironbridge rogues Binye Borer and Elyn brilliantly succeeded – thanks to random chaos – in sending word to their taskmasters, the Templars, as to the Briar Keep situation.

Now the second and third stages of their task begin: 

  • A Uruk lord holds sway over illkin in the broken lands – where is his HQ; and
  • Is this so-called White Uruk the Uruk lord?

What’s known about the White Uruk?

Readers of the To Ikkutas! blog entries will know that this enigmatic illkin leader has quite the history in the Vale. Back when Sasha Orc-Slayer was just ‘Sasha, that girl who likes hanging around adventurers and will come to a bad end mark my words’ he had a run-in with her lover. No-one knows exactly what happened but Sasha’s lover died, the urukin got his white hide armour, and Sasha escaped with the urukin’s fancy falchion. She sold it to fund her thirst for vengeance, and it eventually ended up with Ponderblade who sold it to Cauleigh. That’s by the bye, although it’s worth knowing that the urukin will go to war to get the blade back! Years later a group of meddling dwarves turfed the white urukin out of his project to organise goblins not far south of Esgaroth into a considerable gang. He left for points west, mounted on his war-pig. After a couple of months Rothway had become mildly concerned about organised illkin forces operating south of the river. A couple of months later while Sir Cully Lucas was organising a punitive expedition, rumours of a White Uruk operating in the badlands south of Dolem’s Spire began circulating. By the time the Restorers rescued women from under Atharva Plateau the White Uruk had become synonymous with a large scale illkin hegemony under a Uruk Lord.

Readers who have an insane grasp on timelines will know that the three rogues are operating contemporaneously with the Restorers and have pushed past ‘season 3’. My own admittedly loose timeline looks like this:

Red Moon (the last full moon of high summer): Restorers slip out of Ironbridge, rogues guild purged and the 11 caught shipped up to Dunn.

2 weeks later: Restorers return to Ironbridge, Tadiko escorts Abbie away from Aurelon’s Keep, 3 other rogues begin wagon journey to Scarlet Heroes.

2 weeks after that: Present day. Full moon over Briar Keep. 

Character and NPC lists

Binye: L3 thief, 20hp, background animal trainer, +1 with club, STR14 STA14 AGI12 INT17 LCK16 PRS09. Currently down 3 LCK.

Borer: L3 dwarf, 21hp, background mason, +1 v corruption, STR13 STA14 AGI11 INT08 LCK14 PRS09.

Elyn: L3 thief, 13hp, background herbalist, STR10 STA09 AGI10 INT12 LCK13 PRS11.

The goblin traders (all female except where noted) Xagz the loquacious veteran, Beareen the even-handed banker, Gbus the friendly fletcher, Tarkar the awkward smith, Xmugz the timid seamstress, Xmab the arrogant male tailor and Kamz the aloof male herbalist.

The goblin night-guard: Noregz, Scab and Zab.

The red-haired ogress teamster Cy

The remarkably good-natured uruk cook, healer and teamster Zudi

Kobolds who occupy Ironwood Gorge outside Briar Keep

Lars the ex-Beadle

Red Sash gang survivors

Briar Keep’s margrave

Briar Keep’s sheriff

Briar Keep traders

Pantro, in Joseph’s Inlet

Templars

(That’s 1d12 of NPCs, if/when I need to roll which NPC is in the scene!)

 

Solo play resources

Aside from the emulators Mythic and CRGE, I use Location Crafter (LOC) for extra detail and UNE to drive NPCs. In terms of settings, while this chapter still uses elements of Dyson’s Dodecahedron 2014 and 2015, key elements are drawn from Usherwood Publishing’s BHS01-03 (all by James Kramer I believe). I did a lot of shopping around to find material that adequately conveys the ‘badlands under illkin hegemony’ flavour of the Broken Land, and I’m hoping BHS01-03 will do the job for the rest of the way. As usual, I’m converting to DCC wherever I can, including scaling down monetary values by a factor of 10. And as you’ll see in this session, everything is informed by pre-existing Vale events, geography and personalities.

 

Episode 1: The donkey raiders

For sale: used wagon

“I don’t really care as long as I can sleep in the back.” That’s Elyn’s judgement, and who can blame her after a very long danger-filled day. Apparently the next leg really won’t be suited to wagons and drays, so the kobolds have encouraged the goblin trading company to sell off the wagon and horses in Briar Keep. Cy explains:

“They’s sayin’ somethin’ ’bout fetchin’ mules, but anyhow, my job’s ta skin the wagon along, see what price we c’n git fer it, an’ you four’s gonna guard my ass whilst I’m a-sellin’.”

“I reckon I’m gonna git me some shut-eye too ‘less them road agent fools’re gonna try a holdup,” decides Binye, and like Elyn he rolls up in the wagon-bed.

“Sommun’s gotta watch, an’ I guess that’s me then,” Borer grumps. He makes sure their own weapons are stowed along with them!

Elyn and Binye are right: Briar Keep is quiet that morning, and if the sheriff’s men see a big empty wagon rolling across the bridge from their keep, they don’t come out to see who’s in it.

Across the bridge Cy finds the first likely buyer and begins negotiating. Borer grabs shuteye as well, and Zudi dozes under her mantle on the seat.

Binye catches up 1LCK and Elyn recovers 1 much-needed hp.

At length, the deal is struck. Cy and Zudi help the rogues gather their larger equipment and they all walk leisurely back.

“Howdja get on Cy, I wuzn’t payin’ no mind?” Borer asks politely.

“Aw, reckon I got me a dealer was plannin’ on high-tailin’ it north, he paid over th’ odds. Seemed real pleased ta hear th’ trail ta Joetown ain’t so bad.”

“Waal swell, say, how’s about a tip fer our service then”

“Ya mean, all thet hard snorin’ y’all did?”

“Waal sure, reckon ain’t nothin’ says, ‘safe trails ta Joetown’ like a passel o’ snorin’ guards!”

“Haw haw! OK, this hyar don’t need ta git ‘counted fer.”

 

A welcome break

Pocketing the silver Cy hands out they all arrive back at camp in a good frame of mind. Most of the kobolds and some goblins are gone. Beareen is tallying goods, Tarkar has her portable forge going, and Xmugz is mending. There’s evidence Kamz is working on herbs. In the deeper shade, Xmab is idling.

While no-one exactly explains, it’s pretty clear there’s no urgency. Beareen waves her assent to Binye’s half-hearted suggestion a guard be posted. Elyn sets a poultice to speed up her cut’s healing. They all end up taking advantage of the soft moss at the shade line, and getting another full sleep.

Binye catches up LCK and Elyn recovers 2 more hp. 

 

The reason for the absence of armed men in Briar Keep

Perhaps a league north, on the east side of the river, a camp of mounted men is laagered in. Mounted armed men approach from the Keep.

Halloos are exchanged and the arrivals permitted to approach, empty hands out. From the military-style tent amidst the camp strides a bald and fussy, over-dressed templar, flanked by a young dwarf with well-trimmed beard and a mighty warrior with full helm.

A parley of sorts ensues. It takes plenty of time, during which Briar Keep is not as well-defended as it ought to be in these troublous times.

 

The reason for the absence of armed goblins and kobolds

The last night of the last harvest moon is well spent by the time the rogues, now rested enough to feel on edge, hear the approach of mounts and people. The goblins don’t seem too scared, so it’s no surprise when in strut the missing kobolds and goblins. And a string of donkeys.

“Load fast!” Beareen proclaims, “into kobold lands before sunup!”

Everyone bar a screen of kobolds and the three goblin guards sets to, tying on loads of merchandise, grain, food, tools and necessaries. Binye the ex-animal trainer is the most useful of the three. But with nearly 20 pairs of hands, and some of those hands very big and strong, the job is done and the donkeys are led, unhappy, into the gorge and south.

Elyn passes on the odd bits of information Zudi has picked up.

“They stole them donkeys off one of the town traders. Also, sounds like blood was shed. Also, sounds like the kobolds’re getting shut of us fast as they can.”

The two other groan, under their breaths though. The ante has just risen dramatically. Will they be able to dodge a charge of horse-thieving?

 

How all this happens

These two scenes actually evolved in the opposite order, but that’s how the narrative makes sense. For a lot of the arc chaos checks are fine.

Framing the chapter: I use CRGE most of the way, mainly to avoid colouring events with my own thoughts about ‘how’ the BHS scenarios should go. We begin with the fact (last episode) that kobolds have turned up again, and aren’t hostile.

  1. Do the kobolds intend to trade directly with the goblins? Yes (Surge+2)
  2. Will the next leg require mules or donkeys? Yes but… none are available
  3. Do the kobolds intend to hand the traders on to orcs after that? Yes (Surge +2)
  4. Will the goblins be permitted to resupply in Briar Keep? Yes… and unexpectedly… scene shift:
    Mythic: focus NPC positive, d12=Templars, meaning ‘persecute competition’, cascades to ‘spy intrigues’.
  5. Has an expeditionary force arrived already? No but… it is close.
  6. Are the rogues aware of this? No (Surge+2)

Scene: Goblins gathering mules/donkeys:

Mythic: ‘Carry attention’, cascades to ‘kill the innocent’.

CRGE to knowledge:

  1. Are the kobolds doing the killing? Yes (Surge+4)
    Which trader faction? (d4) North.
  2. Does that mean crossing Briar Keep by road? No (+6)
  3. Are the goblins and kobolds raiding the trader direct? Yes (+8)
  4. Are they leaving the rogues? Yes (+10)
    LOC for remote scene raid: usurp death

Chaos drops to 6

Scene: horses and wagon for sale. Chaos check is fine. Meaning triumph dispute: trade goes really well.

Chaos drops to 5

 

Episode 2: Into the kobold tunnels

A reminder of past mortality

The gorge sides become sheer and the single trail in would present a hostile force with severe difficulties. The rogues sense watching sentries back in murder-holes as they pass under cliffs and walk right alongside the stream. Then, right in the stream! It proves shallow. Judging from the rock beside it, the stream swells during the year and might make the route impassable. Donkeys are sure-footed as long as they’re not hurried, and Cy and Zudi can both see well in the dim. At one point the stream pools and the donkeys get up to their withers, but the gear is all well-wrapped and there’s no real difficulty.

The rogues try to relax, but fail. This doesn’t feel like friendly territory, even though the goblins are all taking things easy. Their unease pays off when Elyn spots strands of spider-web:

“Ssst! Last time I saw that stuff we lost a couple of good men!”

There’s a rattle as kobolds present crossbows and another rattle as a few go astray: the rest hit a great black cave-spider. It crumples up, well away from anyone it could have stung.

How this happens:

Chaos check OK, event meaning negligence of ambush. BHS01 has so many encounters possible (1 in 5 every 3 turns!) that I just roll some. The first is a giant spider. Elyn makes her LCK check (she’s back to lowest LCK now Binye has recovered one) and I ask:

CRGE: Will Elyn cue the party? Yes (Surge+12)

Inits: Spider is a long way back, and the kobolds shoot it dead.

Chaos drop to 4

 

A sudden promotion, or is this a hijack?

Time acts strangely deep underground, as the rogues know. It could be only a half-hour since they first entered the tunnels, or it could be longer. Their donkey-train is intercepted by an important-looking uruk, flanked by four tough-looking kobold guards.

The mighty uruk extends a battleaxe as though it is a swagger-stick and bids the donkey-train halt. He seems to speak ogrish as well as his own tongue and common, so the rogues, well to the fore, catch parts of the proceedings while Cy, Zudi and the merchants are all speaking at various times.

It seems he’s a lieutenant of the White Uruk, and is heading back bearing word from kobold chief to uruk lord. The rogues prick up their ears!

There’s some fairly heated debate, but the sheer presence of this big uruk bears the kobolds and goblins down. It seems that there won’t be any need to trouble the kobold chief with these trade goods – the uruk lord will take them all!

Gesturing back in what could be a fond farewell, the kobolds retreat as the uruk boss heads the train around. The rogues have the impression they’re doubling back. Then the uruk leads them up through properly-fitted doors into dry land, then through well-cut passages, then through winding caverns surrounded by murder-holes, then more passages and finally to a sturdy door guarded by more uruks. They salute, and the donkey-train passes into uruk territory, on its way to Embercrag!

How this happens:

The second encounter is an orc diplomat, headed back bringing a message from the kobold chief. Using UNE I discover he is much stronger, has a neutral position, the conversation is hostile. Bearing and focus are death/power! This sequence cascades to ‘oppress travel’ and cascades again to ‘arrive ambush’.

So I’m pretty sure this uruk is either the same boss Cauleigh fought one-on-one, or his 2-i-c. It’s the 2-i-c.

CRGE to conflict:

Is the orc going to ambush the traders? No and… [here, I roll a meaning since nothing leaps to mind: ‘postpone legal’]

Is the orc going to take over? Yes (Surge+2)

Does this move them to pre-programmed encounters? [which would imply the kobolds fight the uruk] No and… [cascades] ‘agree expectations’.

Does Zudi hear about goblins seeking the Bone Hilt Sword? No and… is not interested in entangling the party!

CRGE to endings:

Are they ushered through kobold territory to orc territory? Yes (Surge+2)

Does this include Embercrag? Yes (+4)

Chaos rises to 5.

NPCs dropped: All Briar Keep NPCs, and Pantro

New NPC: ‘Black Gorgun, killer of widows, killer of orphans, mangler of Ogres’

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