Dragonknights: Into the Birthright Frontier

On or Amongst Thieves part 2

An entry from the private log of Linden Falemon.

On or Amongst Thieves part 2:
The Vivisection of Reputations

There exists a certain seeming attached to stereotypes that remains difficult to shake. Black Tusk seems like a ferocious creature whereas in truth he’s something of a gentle pushover, whereas Gyynuwyne is possessed of a bloodlust and sexual drive that would shame even the most heathen and feral alpha male in any humanoid or animal pack. Gangs of thieves and murderers would seem, at first glance, to be unfriendly at best. You would believe upon meeting me that I wouldn’t be the kind of person to defraud two different competing brigands out of their worldly belongings. You wouldn’t expect your local apothecary to also be the regional expert in the rending of live flesh, or that your demi-evil drowish ninja companion would take up an interest in the chemical arts. Your core beliefs may remain unchallenged, as long as you stay on the boat.

I disembarked.

We arrived in Port Somethingorother for repair and resupply expecting to overpay for goods and services. Our initial encounter with local law enforcement certainly was up to the task, charging us a princely visitor’s sum — seven gold coins, each! — simply to make landfall. We also had to take bizarre oaths that we did not represent the spiritual interests of any gods or higher powers. As the guard specifically referenced the deities of the imported eastern religions I chose to adopt the narrow interpretation; I do not worship a named former-humanoid god and do not proselytize for the sake of religious conversion, took the oath, left my coin and wandered into the village main.

The purpose of the religious ban seemed reasonable given the explanation given, that various prophets and representatives of the banned organizations had a habit of sowing revolt and terror within the city as part of their ongoing efforts to harass or scare the population into adopting gods into their hearts, occasionally destructively or lethally. After the departure of the dragons, much of these lands became ripe for conversion by outside belief systems. It seems only natural that some of them would tend towards chaos and coercion and would take to any easy opportunity.

This isn’t to say that there’s necessarily a complete ban on clerical activity in the city, but rather that one must be “vetted” by the town’s leaders before being approved for operations. We ran into a representative of the Secular Humanoidists, a helpfully non-prophet organization focused on spreading a philosophy of self-improvement and philanthropy without worship. Is this just a kind of inward religion? I posited the idea to the group that had disembarked with me (Val, Ur, Armand) but our individual concepts of belief didn’t lend themselves well to proper conversation. Val seems to be under the impression that I worship a primordial but it’s not really like that, or that I espouse its tenets instead of just representing a core fundamental aspect of the natural world.

The familiar sounds of a scuffle in an alleyway drew us from the growing audience and behind the cartographer’s shop, where a lowly Dwarf was besieged by eight or so local toughs. This is where one of the major lessons in seeming should start: Remember the tone of Rolf’s voice. The casual placation, the silky smooth bargaining. Disappearing and reappearing randomly. Half lies and stories that seem to fit the situation too perfectly. The vulnerable street thief who bit off more than he could chew. Always in trouble and needing the charitable aid of those nearby. Remember Rolf.

So after some delicate words and indelicate smashing of barrels beneath Black Tusk’s girth we convinced the thieves (well Rolf is also a thief, so these fellows will be The Fellowship to walk away with their blood unspilled. Rolf, thankful, began bizarrely attempting to throw all of his belongings at us. He rewarded Val with some scrolls of unknown purpose, and then offered to sell us the items the Fellowship was hunting him for: Two exquisitely crafted swords, originally possessed by the deceased former leader of the . Rolf seemed to just be trying to solve his particular predicament by unloading the contraband upon adventurers strong enough to defend themselves from the Fellowship’s recover. It all seemed very reasonable indeed, nevermind that Rolf’s asking price was a fraction of the market cost of the swords, so low that in other circumstances it would immediately register as a scam.

Instead I attempted to do the honorable thing and broker a deal between Rolf and the Fellows where they would instead pay Rolf his discounted rate, Rolf would hand over the swords, and the two sides would agree to stop hunting and killing each other for profit. Would you believe that the Fellows and Rolf were both completely open to dialogue on the subject? And that both agreed to the opening negotiative volley without amendment? I believed it! It seemed too good to be true.

As it turns out, there’s no honor amongst thieves. Rolf slyly replaced the magical, amazing swords with mundane duplicates. He handed them over to me as a third party broker. The Fellowship arrived with eight thousand gold coins, also handed to me, as third party broker. Perfect! The Fellows approved of their wares without any hesitation and departed immediately, at which point of course Rolf unveils the hidden original weaponry and explains his entire fraudulent plot to walk away from the city with the money and the swords.

At which point I think Val put him to sleep so that Armand could make his case for retaining the swords in our possession as a kind of inconvenience fee for the whole endeavor. All I wanted was for these random strangers I’d have never otherwise known to be alive in the morning. The way to enable that outcome seemed to be to return the Fellows their gold, at which point they’re no worse off than before, and to make Rolf leave town with the swords, which he wouldn’t take back because I think, like most people we meet, Rolf became extraordinarily afraid of Armand after some casual death threats.

The Fellowship? As it turns out, there’s no honor amongst thieves. They apparently were expecting the deception, using the negotiation time to attempt to rack down Rolf’s hidden caches around the city to extract their value, and also preparing ambushes for Rolf’s expected departure. So standing there at the warehouse door, thousands of pieces of coin weighing me down, I decided to violate the first basic rule of escrow services: I kept everything. I kept the swords. I kept the money. Rolf had already run off by this point, and I didn’t feel particularly inclined to provide the funding for his or anyone else’s assassination. I suspect the Fellowship knew and didn’t care (or were intimidated, because Armand and vivsection). All I wanted to do was spare lives and I ended up with the infamous swords of a regional thieves guildhead and their blood money. We parted amicably, though I was furious and Val was amused and Armand was already imagining new and creative ways to flay with his new arsenal.

Only moments later, after a brief visit to Bill the Vivisectionist, we came across Lokaas strolling down the docks. No, not not-Lokaas Bedrier, my traveling companion. Actual Lokaas the actual Chronicler. The one that was supposedly dead. Hiring swordhands for his trip to Lysoria to pursue an impersonator.

Remember Rolf.

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Ur's Journal: Game 3

The Chronicles of Urr — as imagined by Linden — Chapter 3: On or Among Thieves

“Meat,” I recall thinking to myself as I removed my axe from my third poached kill, bisecting the ribcage of my prey cleanly. The breastmeat of road bandits and assassins tends to be juicy and well flavored. The arid mountain climate lends itself to a humanoid sustenance by way of liquor, which has a unique flavoring effect. It’s a shame that Uurt didn’t opt to make the journey with us.

Our first opposition since leaving the ruined and now abandoned-but-for-the-maggots-devouring-the-bodies-we-left-behind keep, a small cluster of assassins who apparently sought either portions or the entirety of Del‘s body for some unknown bounty, proved more formidable than the more frequent goblin tribes we’ve slaked our bloodlust upon. In addition to the standard assortment of toughs who, puzzlingly, made the decision to bring themselves closer to the edge of my carving axe — voluntarily! — there were also the odd pair of shaman who wielded dark, painful magicks and summoned huge, meatless forest animals. Del fell at least once that I could recall, Linden nearly so, and while I didn’t personally see it I assume Armand was knocked down at least three or four times. Soren proved capable with the alleviation of wounds to keep the remainder of our coterie alive long enough for me to get around to personally slaying every foe.

We decided that our (my) performance in combat should be rewarded with an evening in a bed with vaguely-laundered sheets, so we continued along the road to the small village of Appleton, where there were no apples. Certainly not a ton of them. This continues the bizarre trend of the River Kingdoms of naming their cities after things not wholly associated with them; there is no blood in the Bog of Blood, save that tarnishing my armor, nor any extraordinary amount of lice in Lysoria save what nests upon me. Anyway, we sought out an inn to lick our wounds — in Val‘s case this might be literally a thing, the licking, he’s into some dark and twisted stuff — and doze.

The innkeeper, Merle, rented us a few rooms. I like Merle. He has clearly seen some shit, given the lack of hesitation in his hand regarding slicing open the necks of the few horse-thieves we left alive. Oh, right. Yeah they tried to take the horses. Why did six bandits happen to stumble upon this village so small it hardly shows up on the road, nevermind the map? Why did they decide to target travelers whose mounts are literally burdened with the bloody equipment of everything we’ve slaughtered on the trip, hanging from packs like effulgent trophies in the moonlight? Why do some people say lizards taste better pickled?

The answers to these questions, like many others, remained unspoken because we (I) killed most of the thieves. Val’s strange magic caused two of them to fall asleep, and the only reason they both survived for questioning is because Armand and Lokaas tried and failed to stab a sleeping body with their blades. This has been an ongoing issue with those two. When Val puts something to sleep, you can kill it. You don’t have to TRY to kill it, you just kill it. You slit its throat, you filet the loin. You don’t wind up like you’re in the throes of an epic duel with an elder swamp elk. It’s a motionless body. You kill it. It’s not hard. I do it with moving bodies. I will have to dedicate some travel time giving that pair some pointers on the finer arts of butchery.

As I pondered whether I could salt and pack some thigh meat from the holey-men without the holyman noticing, there may or may not have been some discussion about whether Merle’s punishment fit the crime. I recall that the usual sentence for thieving horses is to be drawn and quartered, and given the immediate presence of many, many horses I’m not clear on why we didn’t tie them up then and there. It would have helped me with the portioning. Instead, Merle took care of business.

The next morning we set off again towards the goblin stronghold, to discover that the road here had been paved. Paved roads mean bridges, and bridges I’m learning generally translate to mixed melee/crossbow goblin ambushes. Thankfully this time we’d already perfected our standard battleplan for this type of obstacle, which involves Armand drawing out the melee into our sometime-later charging trap. I’d like to report that there was some variety in the nature of this combat, but we both already know that I killed everything efficiently while the remainder of the party offered enough distractions to make a show of it.

So here we sit, on the banks of a small stream, sifting through the possessions of the dead while I stealthfully record the excellence of my adventure into the surface of this dried bogboar hock. I believe, beyond the hill’s crest, we can hear the voices of the human-ish prisoners we’d come to liberate. I hope their captors are hungry. FOR STEEL. ALSO FATTY MEAT NOT MAKE BEST JERKY. LEAN IS BEST. HOPE THEY HUNGRY.

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Ur's Journal: Game 2

Ur’s account of the descent into the old fortress and how the party learned that there is no such thing as a silent moment:

After the slaughter, the party rested outside the old dragon fortress and tried not to think about the smells Daman was making in the cookpot. Scary little Val returned with a Chronicler named Lokaas Vals. The Chronicler wore his small sword and cheater’s bow like they were made of stinging wasps. If there were hobgoblin Chroniclers one would probably tell a riddle like How is Lokaas Vals the same as Linden’s fearsome horse? and the answer would be His most dangerous weapon is his mouth, but there are no hobgoblin Chroniclers.

For good luck, Armand the Drow led the group back into the fortress to kill the rest of the goblins and find their slaves. With much courage he scouted ahead, quiet and alone, until honor demanded he let the enemy know he was there by kicking a pebble, or sneezing, or walking straight into lamplight. Down the first hall, Soren the Prophet knew the sound of bones rustling because he is sometimes odd and cried out a warning: an idiot goblin priest hid behind a large sturdy table and an army of dancing goblin corpses. Daman blasted apart the skeletons with his fire, and Linden and Del smashed a path through the burning bones. Val swamp-looked at the priest and made it twitch and sleep until Ur crashed against the heavy table and cut the goblin’s head in half with a roar of delight and a spray of black blood. The only thing weaker and stupider than a goblin is a dead goblin; the priest should have made an army of dancing tables instead.

The party found another group of hungry goblins pounding a table and killed them. Linden sent a rain of goblin pieces exploding out wherever his lance landed and his horse ate many goblin faces. A goblin priest sent a nightmare to scare Armand the Drow but Armand the Drow does not fear anything and kept stabbing until one of Daman’s burning pots destroyed the priest in a ball of greasy screaming fire. While Ur struggled against the table, Del spoke to Uurt, the goblin cook. Uurt wanted to cook the party but Del made him cook for the party instead. Daman stayed behind to gather guts and recipes as Uurt put goblin bodies on a spit. Lokaas put his sword away carefully and took out his bow carefully and found some potions in a pool.

Deeper into the fortress goblin archers waited behind a hole in a collapsed stairway. Del ran up to slam his shield into the hole and the stupid cowards fired at him anyway. Strong, mad goblins ran screaming out of the hall and knocked Linden down but soon Val made his fingers move and Linden sat back up and coughed with the smell of an old dry lizard. The Prophet was busy taking wounds but his ancestors have been dead a long time and need no rest; they hung ghostlike and terrible over Linden. Ur and Del broke through the rubble and murdered the sleeping archers with much blood and not really looking at them even.

In the end there was a room with books, two guards with good armor, another stupid priest, and five goblin chiefs wearing headbands. Then Armand the Drow did something with light and there was only one goblin chief wearing a headband, and he looked surprised and then there were no goblin chiefs. The guards rushed, and Del caught one on his spear and twisted it until the delicious insides spilled out. Ur would have stabbed the other but the awful priest made him not move, so Linden wrestled Ur back, taking cuts from the guard, and took his place. All surrounded the priest and stabbed until it was dead. A door that was not a door opened and Del ran in to challenge the chief, who dropped a smoke pebble and disappeared again with powerful magic no goblin should have.

After much book-reading and hunting and talking to Uurt, the party knew the goblins were using slaves to build a city in the Green Mountains so they could fight in the frontier and that some teacher told the goblin chief about a tower with magic for helping goblins. Ur explained that the Green Mountains were the Draj Mountains, and that Draj means green, puking, and to mate and is one of three Goblin verbs, each of which also means to mate. Prophet Soren knew the chief’s headband was like the crown that controlled hobgoblins in old times. All know goblins are too stupid to use magic, too stupid to write, too stupid to build cities, but this is what they are doing. Lokaas Vals carefully put away his bow and said his Chronicler honor meant he had to travel with the party and always be talking and that he would bring the party to the Green Mountains to hunt the goblin city and free the slaves.

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Ur's Journal: Game 1

Ur — the semi-literate hobgoblin from the swamps — offers his account of the party’s first days:

The party gathered in the city of Lysoria like fleas on swamp elk, but instead of elk blood they sought news of goblin slavers. (Truthfully — one also sought elk blood. One always seeks elk blood.) They met at the gallows beneath three dead oathbreakers hanged for breaking their word to a merchant. Nothing special in the River Kingdoms. Fancy Delvernen with a shiny coin and his good way of talking even learned something about the broken oath from the [[Voltaire Trading Company | Voltaire House] man — but that is a story for a different day.

Goblins were hunted into the north. Armand the Drow sneaked silent as a dead delicious eel on a bunch of goblins attacking frontier settlers and their cart. Valentarius made them sleep with his finger-twitching and eye-staring so Armand the Drow could slice them up with very much black goblin blood. (Valentarius is small but fearsome.) Linden Falemon charged in on his frightening horse that is too smart and speared goblins up off the ground. Daman threw his burning pots that smell like something dead in a log for a week, and many goblins died screaming. (He has put the same ingredients in those pots in his potions for mating. Why.) Goblins are weak and stupid.

After, Delvernen cared for the people and gave them his horse to take their cart to town. The horse is old and weak, but it was good to do anyway. Valentarius went with them, and this also was good to do. Daman splinted an arm that was not broken, then spent much time talking about the cart.

The next day goblins were tracked to their lair, an old fortress from dragon days. Armand the Drow played a brave trick on the goblins outside by almost dying. He has very much style. They thought they could win until Prophet Soren ruined the trick by having his ancestors take away the wounds. We slaughtered the goblins in much fear and goblin blood everywhere. Daman guarded outside.

In the lair, we met strange hungry goblins at a big table under a tower and killed them. A goblin wizard made terrible lights and Armand the Drow and Linden Falemon fell like corpses. After much fighting, Delvernen killed the wizard with his big ax. It was well done. Many goblins ran in to die around Soren of Anuurn, Ur, and Delvernen. They were crazy and not afraid. The Prophet bravely killed with a club and made his ancestors take many wounds. All were proud. Armand the Drow and Linden Falemon woke up and all finished the killing so the floor was filled with dead goblins. There are more goblins inside but they will die later. Goblins are weak and stupid.

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