Friday, August 17, 2018

The Chronicles of 'Team B' - Chapter 5 - Bjorg's Bear's Services

Lokan, a vagabond from the south, has come to Malinka at nightfall. He had heard from some rough men living in the woods that Kochmak raiders have recently destroyed the village of Vladykino, though they left the village mill, its lifeblood, untouched. As they tell it, the archbishop's people from his summer estate at Malinka came afterward, and took the miller with them, for unknown reasons, but likely having to do with dark deeds.

Lokan stopped at the mill on his way to investigate the burnt out village, but found nothing save a suspicious bag of bones, a dead vasilisk, and some starving animals at the barn. He decided to continue on to Malinka, to see what he could learn about the miller's fate. But he arrived to after nightfall, and found the gate to the estate closed, so after finding a crabapple tree a short ways outside, he decides to spend the night in the tree.

* * *
In Malinka Yuri looks to gather a party together to go off in pursuit of the Kochmaki, in order to recover his family and his paramour. He hears from Father Oleg that a curious traveler has arrived from the north - a huge man, standing over four arshins tall. As Fedor and Alden are busy running an errand for the brewer, and Kesha has private matters to discuss with the priests, Yuri decides to seek out the foreigner, as he seems like he would be a useful companion. Oleg recommends that he get his party together as fast as possible, seeming to suggest that their further presence in Malinka is troubling to the archbishop.

The billing lives up to the hype. The foreigner, Bjorg, is indeed a huge man, who has come from the Land of Birma to seek out news of his kind living on the eastern edge of the Land of Nor'. He wears peculiar headgear, and carries a huge cudgel with a stone driven through it, but on the plus side, he is eager for adventure, and wishes to prove himself against the troublesome raiders. He and Yuri agree to leave early the following morning, and at his request, Father Oleg provides him with two days of food for seven people.

Bjorg in a candid moment, without his horned hat

* * *
Kesha speaks to Father Oleg about the deed to the land that he has carried with him all these long years, since he left the Svora Mountains, and returned to the world of humans. Oleg confirms that the land mentioned in the document is the land upon which the mill in Vladykino now stands. He also confirms that Kesha's mother was the owner of the land, but that she was deeply indebted to the archbishop, for which reason Kesha was enslaved when he came to the village. The mill was built on the land at the archbishop's behest, but it is not covered by the deed. Kesha would technically be within his rights to attempt to recover the land, but his mother's debt is still outstanding. Moreover, Oleg adds, trying to recover it is not worth his trouble for other reasons. Now that the archbishop has granted him his freedom, Kesha should take advantage of it, and travel to all four corners of the world, and the sooner, the better.

Taking that under advisement, Kesha goes to speak to Zbigniev. The miller's bonds have been removed, though he is still in the same room at the rectory. Zbigniev seems to bear a grudge against Kesha and his companions, and accuses them of attacking him without provocation, and stealing wealth which he came by fairly, and without killing anyone. He also threatens that his father will kill Kesha and his friends. Not wishing to make enemies, Kesha returns his portion of the coins he took from the mill, but Zbigniev demands that the money taken by the others should be returned to him also.

* * *
Yuri and Bjorg leave Malinka the following morning. Kesha, who has slept in, is to meet them outside the gates, while Fedor and Alden, who are still preoccupied, will meet up with them on the road as best they can.

Outside the gate, they find a hirsute man, with a somewhat grisly visage, sleeping in a tree. Lokan awakes to the sounds of heavy stomping and hoofbeats. He sees the gate open up ahead, and watches a rider, along with a huge man, approaching him. He asks the travelers who they are, and as Yuri introduces himself and Bjorg, Lokan decides to fling one of the crabapples he gathered the previous evening at the volot's head, just to see his reaction. The big man is amused, or perhaps not, so he picks up the vagabond, and throws him back into the tree. Lokan misjudges the distance, misses grabbing the branch with his hands, and goes into it head first, before falling, unconscious, onto the ground. Both Bjorg and Yuri stand astounded at the sight of this man, who they have just met, bleeding out from his head. Yuri begins to furiously call for Kesha or the priests, and fortunately, the small man with the eye bandage just happens to be walking out the gate. Kesha runs up to the body, and, his hand glowing with light, applies aid to the man's head. The wound closes, and Lokan regains consciousness. Bjorg is chagrined at not knowing his own strength, and the rest are relieved at not bearing witness to a murder just outside Malinka's gates. Grateful to his savior, and hoping to return to Vladykino with some protection, Lokan happily joins the group.

* * *
The group travels south along the beaten path, and encounters no obstacles during the day. At night, while Yuri and Kesha are on watch, they hear a high-pitched whine approaching them. They awaken their companions, and while Kesha summons an arcane light onto his walking stick, Yuri peers into the darkness, to see what is coming for them. Soon, a huge swarm of mosquitoes flies into view. Yuri attempts to lead them away from the group on his horse, but the rest of the group runs at the swarm as it begins to follow. Lokan is surprisingly successful at swatting masses of the pesky gnats with his whip, but Bjorg has Kesha light a branch, and throws it at the insects. He overshoots, and hits Yuri's horse Vera in the rump, sending sparks all down its hide. The horse panics, and flees the scene of the battle, while Yuri attempts to calm it. In the meantime, Kesha attempts to zap the bugs with magical discharges. Masses of bugs are dispatched, but they have become enraged, and attack all they can reach. Bjorg continues flinging projectiles at the cloud, and is still not having much luck. He hits Kesha with a rock instead. Finally, weakened by zapping and whipping, the big map brings a rock down on top of what's left of the swarm, and raises his arms in triumph.

Swatting mosquitoes - a perfect opportunity for another bear's service!
The party is covered by mosquito bites, and bruises caused by their big friend. They decide to take extra hours of rest before setting out, even if it means arriving in Vladykino under the cover of darkness. In trying to flee the fight, Vera lost a horseshoe, which slows movement even further. Finally, several hours after sunset, they arrive in Vladykino. It is no longer burning or even glowing, but wood smoke and the stench of burned flesh still hangs in the air. Otherwise, the place appears to be undisturbed.

Yuri goes back to what is left of his home, and searches the compound for any horseshoes that might have survived, and as his family were horse-breeders, he does succeed in finding three dozen. He then settles down with Bjorg to eat what's left of the priests' food, while Lokan, closely followed by Kesha, returns to the mill. Here, he releases the hungry animals, all of whom, except the fowl, run out of the barn. He succeeds in enticing the two pigs with his crabapples, and they follow him back to Vladykino, hoping they will be fed, and not food.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Chronicles of 'Team B' - Chapter 4 - Domestic Disputes

The following day, while the rest of their companions are attending to personal matters, Alden and Fedor - both persons-at-arms and servitors of the Archbishop, seek to occupy themselves. Fedor consults with Father Oleg - the attendant priest, and liaison to the Archbishop - about possible ministration for his limp, but the good father cites the prohibitive expense, and the Archbishop's business with other matters.

The two then go into the practice yard to spar. Alden gets the first lick in with a wooden sword, but the fight is full of falls and missteps, and Fedor's hard hits with the axe handles send Alden tumbling to the ground, and yielding. Three other warriors watch the fight, and narrate it with snide commentary. One of them throws Alden a kopeck for the entertainment the fight provided.

When the training day is over, Misha the brewer wheels several casks of beer into the compound, to help the soldiers relax. Fedor engages him in conversation, and asks them if there are any matters in Malinka or the vicinity that need attending to, that might earn them a bit of coin. Misha does have a problem that he would be willing to pay to solve. Apparently, he and Yulian - the master of stables - fought for the hand of the same woman. Misha won, and married her, but Yulian never let the matter go. As Misha tells it, the stable master is also a sorcerer, and has given him the evil eye, and caused accidents for him on several occasions. If the pair drive him out of the estate, Misha is prepared to pay them one ruble.

The following day, the two head to the stables to seek out Yulian. They find him carrying a bag of horseshoes into the stable. Fedor tells him to lay off Misha, and to find someone else to court. Misha tells them to mind their own business. When they persist, Misha smacks Fedor in the head with a horseshoe. The stablemaster is quickly subdued, but as the two warriors beat him down, Fedor feels hands closing in on his throat, choking him. At first, the two men think Yulian is doing this through some dark magic. But the choking continues even after he is knocked unconscious. Seeing no one else around, the two quickly tie Yulian up and leave. Only after they get a ways away from the stable does Fedor feel the pressure on his throat lighten.

Yulian, when he's not being pestered about his personal life
The two bring Yulian to Father Oleg, tell him the tale of the contendings of Yulian and Misha, and claim that he used dark magic to try to choke them. There is a lot of dark magic going on on the Archbishop's lands, they say, and something needs to be done about this. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Gathering Information: Situations, News, and Rumors

An open-ended approach to urban adventures involves gathering information for a long-term project or an emergent side-venture chosen by the player characters themselves. Cities are typically the best-known parts of the world, and are clearing houses of information about other parts of the world, so operating in cities can make the world somewhat less mysterious than looking outward from small villages or trekking through the wilderness. Being aware of a city’s rulers and its history and people, key trade items and attractions, political position in a wider world, and secrets can help determine characters actions in a campaign or an individual adventure.

Character Knowledge

The larger the city, the more knowledge is available about it. Use the following table as a rough guide for setting difficulties for a knowledge roll (typically History) about a particular type of settlement:

Type of Settlement                                                            Base DC Knowledge Roll
Isolated Settlement                                                                                 30
Hamlet                                                                                                    25
Village                                                                                                     20
Town (1000 – 10000 population)                                                            15
City (10000 – 50000 population)                                                            10
Capital/Metropolis (over 50000 population)                                           5

It is open to GM discretion whether characters who lack proficiency in the knowledge skill in question may make a knowledge check about a particular settlement. The number of facts also depends on having proficiency, and/or on the result of the roll. Rolling to know Secrets (see below) is usually done at disadvantage. Further, at GM discretion, a failed roll may result in misinformation being learned (Variant: 40% of all information learned via a successful Knowledge roll is a red herring).

Learning Information

Information about a city or settlement can be acquired at most public places, though doing so anywhere outside of a Tavern, Hostel, or Market might have to be performed at a disadvantage (especially if the character attempting to do so is clearly not local, or an authority figure such as a noble, official, or priest). In some cases, the disadvantage may even apply at these locations as well. Typically, to acquire a piece of information, a character will have roll a successful DC 15 Investigation check, though the difficulty may increase to 20 or more (or carry a Disadvantage in the case of an isolated Homestead in a particularly small settlement, or if an investigator is trying to learn Secrets. Common information can include the following (see also DMG, p. 112):

·      Who rulers or VIPs of a particular locale are
·      Their relationship to other VIPs in a locale
·      Recent occurrences at the locale (see Year’s Occurrence Table or make one yourself)
·      The presence of a particular type of business or trade item in the area
·      The presence of a particular type of institution (e.g. a church dedicated to a particular saint, a ranger lodge, a postal waystation, etc.)
·      The presence of a particular family or significant individual (if not in hiding)
·      The timing of important events (local celebrations, weddings, tax levies, the planned arrival of an external VIP, the departure of an important mission, etc.)

The first thing newly arrived travelers will likely discover is the general situation in the town or settlement. Unless you already have an idea in mind, you can roll on the following table, or select a particular situation:

Situations (d12):

1.            The settlement is well-governed, orderly, and prosperous
2.            The settlement is preparing for war
3.            The ruler has mysteriously vanished (or is being held hostage)
4.            There is strife between factions or sects, with likely support from outside forces
5.            A revolt is brewing among the lower orders of the settlement (with likely support from above)
6.            The ruler and his/her supporting clique are fools, weaklings, or religious fanatics
7.            An isolated clique wields power with little internal support
8.            The settlement is recovering from a recent calamity (invasion, attack, famine, plague, economic collapse)
9.            particular neighborhood is unsanitary/has been taken over by unsavory characters
10.          charismatic stranger has recently arrived with wondrous objects or new ideas
11.          The settlement is overcrowded with refugees from a nearby disaster

12.          The settlement is beset by an inexplicable sense of foreboding and dread 

In addition to learning about the local goings on, characters in settlements may also learn of important goings on in the outside world (News). To learn a piece of information, a person must succeed on an Investigation roll. The difficulty is determined by the size of the settlement one is present in (see the Character Knowledge Table above). If information is sought about a locale with 10 kilometers, the roll is made at advantage. If it is sought about a locale more than 1000 kilometers away, the roll is made at disadvantage. Further, if one seeks information at a tavern, hostel or market, the roll is made as if the settlement is of a type one row lower on the table than in reality (i.e. an isolated tavern is a treated as a Hamlet, a hostel in a Village is treated as a Town, etc.). Moreover, if information is sought at a Waystation, the roll is made as if the settlement is of a type two rows lower (a Hamlet is a Town, a Village is a City, etc.). Types of available information may include (d10 for a random result [Variant: roll a d20, and treat 11-20 as “No Result”]):

News (d10):

1.            Another city or realm are undergoing internal trouble (revolt, civil war, invasion, famine, plague)
2.            Another city or realm are planning to launch an invasion against someone
3.            Another city or realm have just had a change of ruler, dynasty, or political order
4.            Another city or realm is planning or thinking about a religious conversion
5.            Another city or realm is experiencing an unprecedented period of prosperity for some reason
6.            A Power, group of monsters, or calamity (earthquake, comet) is terrorizing a city or a country
7.            A treasure, wondrous item, or new technical marvel have been discovered or imported
8.            A VIP has set out (or returned) from a distant journey with wonders and tales to tell
9.            A prophet, saint, revolutionary or great scholar has arisen in another city or realm
10.          An ancient ruin, creature, or item have been rediscovered
In addition to News, Rumors and Secrets can also be gleaned about a particular person, family, household, or estate. The DC for an Investigation roll is typically set at 15 (as stipulated above), though attempts by outsiders may have a higher DC (or be made at Disadvantage). To determine the nature of the rumor, roll a d6 (if you think a rumor about the NPC is likely), or a d30 (if you think it's unlikely, and consult the Rumors and Secrets table below (treating all results above 6 as "no result"). . [Variant: failed rolls, or 40% of learned rumors in case of success yield spurious information]):

Rumors and Secrets (d6):

1.            Illegitimate child/illicit affair
2.            Criminal wrongdoing in the past or present (theft, graft, desertion, treason, murder)
3.            Secret hatred for or rivalry with another
4.            Dabbling in forbidden religion or lore
5.            Secret identity (including being a changeling, skinshifter, of another gender, etc.)
6.            Possession of secret treasure (or creature)
You may want to consult the DMG, p. 90, for further options.

A particularly effective way of learning about adventures, receiving news, and sniffing out rumors is to gain admittance to a feast. Any true city will have a feast thrown at the mansion of an oligarch, rich noble or merchant, or other VIP thrown on any given day. To win an invitation, one must seek out the appropriate person at the right public place or at their home, and convince them by making a DC 15 CHA roll (CHA-based proficiencies may apply, as appropriate). The check may be conditioned by the following factors:

Admission to a Feast:

Character is an important prince or boyar, or a high-level VIP                        Advantage/-5 from DC
Character is a competent performer                                                                 Advantage/-5 from DC
Character is a commoner or bondsman                                                            Disadvantage/+5 to DC           
Character is foreign or markedly “different”                                                     Disadvantage/+5 to DC
For each additional person trying to gain admission simultaneously                +1 to DC

If a character has managed to gain admittance to a feast, he or she may make further Investigation checks for Information, News and Rumors and Secrets at advantage (or without disadvantage), as appropriate.