Part 1: Prologue and Chapter OneIn the Free City of Nerekhall, in one of the quarters never completely rebuilt after the devastation unleashed by Gargan Mirklace, squats a rough pub by the name of Spirit's Rest. The name may be fair, but the roof sits low, the air is thick with pipe-smoke, and flickering candles barely illuminate the muttering drunkards within. The Ironbound guards of the city give the place a wide berth, though trouble rarely spills out into the street the Spirit's Rest attracts a quieter, more sullen sort of crowd.
So it is on a night like tonight, where three young adventurers saunter through the open door and peer into the dimness for the man they sought.
He's not here, mutters the Dwarf woman, looking away in irritation. Your informant wasted our time.
My information's rock solid! snaps back the Gnomish man to her side. He must've got wind of us somehow. Too much snooping around this morning!
The Dwarf is about to reply when their third companion, a tall Orc woman, raises a hand. She points to a dark corner booth, where a shadow slightly darker than the rest shifts. A match is struck, revealing a gloved hand, which lights a candle set in the middle of the table and illuminating a trio of open seats.
You think your contact talked? whispers the Dwarf, her hand on a dagger at her hip. The Gnome shrugs uneasily, but after a moment of waiting, the Orc crosses the tavern floor (ducking the low ceiling as she does) and takes a seat. Her companions reluctantly follow.
So, you wanted to hear my story? an old man's voice growls from within the darkened booth. The three adventurers don't answer, but gradually lean closer to hear. Seems fair, you've come far enough for it. Only, it's not just about me...
On a quiet day, along an unassuming stretch of road in Western Terrinoth, there sits an unassuming wooden bench left just to one side. From the small rise, it commands a respectable view of Eventide forest for any weary traveler that might choose to rest a moment. As the rising sound of footfalls suggests, such travelers are fast approaching.
First over the rise is a woman in fair traveler's clothes, a sturdy walking stick in hand and a fiddle poking just out of her pack. She shades one hand against the sun, sighting the forest ahead, and smiles broadly. With a wave over her shoulder to beckon her companions on, she skips down the trail.
Following close behind is a sullen man in dark, weather-beaten clothing. He bears a hunter's bow and quiver, along with knives and camp equipment that speak of a life outdoors. Despite this, the sight of the forest provokes only a sour look as he hurries to keep up.
"Aria! Minar! Hold on!" Next up, huffing and puffing as he covers the rise, comes an older Dwarvish man. He takes a moment to catch his breath and tug frustratedly at his intricate beard braids. Fumbling with his many pouches and pockets, the Dwarf eventually retrieves a vial of something clear and blue. Downing the contents in one gulp, he seems to perk up, and continues in his younger friends' wake.
The next to appear is a wiry Orc woman. Her wrappings are a mix of traditional Orc styles and human materials, and her pack is festooned with a mix of bone fetishes, books, exotic materials and oddities. Her sharp features twist into a grin and she barks a laugh, watching the Dwarf below her scramble.
She's passed on one side by a short figure bound up in a thick traveling cloak.They might not have merited a second look, except for the furry tail that occasionally flicks around her booted feet. Pausing just a moment, the figure lets her hood fall back to reveal a hairy, cat-like face with large, inquisitive eyes. She takes in the view from the top of the rise impassively, sparing no comment before joining the Orc woman in descending the trail.
Lastly appears a tall elf, his long hair catching the wind as he crests the rise. He's dressed in chainmail armor of decidedly human make and carries a longsword typical of knights in the Baronies, but a few touches - a threadbare neckpiece tucked into his collar, an unmatched leather bracer of fine elven construction - speak to his Latari heritage.
Athtar the Elf slumps down on the wooden bench, stretching his legs. The party has been traveling for nearly a week now toward a small village called Dragonholt. This journey is at the request of Celyse, a former adventuring companion and friend, who has since found her calling as a tutor to the children of Countess Regina Fairfax, Lady of Dragonholt. He takes a moment to reread the letter.
He is uncertain why Celyse has summoned the party to Dragonholt. Her letter is strange, speaking only of a vague threat that requires his assistance. And although he is sure the letter was written in her hand, the message contains several details that he finds uncharacteristic of the elf he adventured with in the past. He had never known Celyse to drink dwarven wine, and he would swear she always wore a green cloak. It is not unthinkable that her preferences have changed over the years, but something about the way the message is written makes him feel there is more to the letter than is obvious.
Athtar had always known Celyse to be excessively proper in her speaking. She must have been in a panic while writing to have produced so many spelling errors. Even more alarming is the brief note on the back of the letter, "Please refer to my first letter". He had not received any word from Celyse before this one. Could she have sent another letter that was intercepted as she had feared?
Regardless of the vagueness of her request, Athtar and his companions owe Celyse at least this much after that business in Nerekhall. Not to mention (as Deepmind had quickly pointed out), as the tutor in the employ of a countess, she may be in a position to reward them handsomely for any assistance they can render.
Excuse me, is this road the fastest way to Dragonholt?
Athtar looks up from the letter to see Mariam, a gnome merchant the party's been traveling with, talking to another traveler and pointing down a path toward a forbidding-looking forest.
Aye. If you're going to Dragonholt, you'll have to go through Eventide Forest. Ain't no way around it. About a day's travel straight through. Mariam thanks the traveler, and he continues on his way in the direction opposite the forest.
Athtar folds the letter and stows it away before standing. It won't do to rest for too long. He slings his baggage over his shoulder and prepares to resume his travels.
Mariam turns to face the party. Well, what are we waiting for? If that's the road to Dragonholt, let's be off. Mariam has been traveling with the group for some three days now. Like the party, she is traveling to Dragonholt, and, as she put it when they met, the more the merrier.
We should proceed with caution, calls Braxton from behind the group. The orc woman hefts Mariam's bag off the ground where the gnome had left it and drops it into Mariam's open arms. Rumor has it there are bandits who make camp in those woods. We should watch our backs as we pass through.
Since meeting Mariam and the orc knight-errant, the party has found Braxton to be the more cautious of the pair by a wide margin. As far as they can tell, Mariam has hired Braxton for protection, but at times the orc seems to dote on the gnome more than a bodyguard would.
Athtar nods in agreement at Braxton's comment, turning to the rest of the party and noting no objections. With a last fleeting glance at the crossroads signpost, they follow after the energetic gnome, who has already started off toward Eventide Forest.
Decision: First to one vote wins.
A) Let's make some headway before we lose the light.
B) What else have you heard about these bandits?
C) Stick close, Mariam. It's dangerous to get separated.
(NOTE: A core mechanic of Legacy of Dragonholt is making decisions. Whenever we make a decision, it must be performed by one of the currently active party members, who are then set to inactive. Once every party member has been activated, the whole party refreshes, so it's sometimes sensible to be careful with who you exhaust in case a character with crucial skills will be inactive when the opportunity to use them comes up. While in the village between quests making decisions does not cause characters to become inactive. For simplicity's sake, I'll pick which characters will perform which actions if chosen from the current active party.)
(I'll set some time-based votes later for bigger choices, the "first to x" votes are mostly meant for quick decisions to keep the game moving - I'd have jumped straight into this next post last night, except I ended up going to bed before anyone voted. In the future I'll probably leave whatever last vote I reach before having to go do something else open until I return.)
Braxton strides beside Aria, keeping an ever-watchful eye on her eager companion. "Not much. I've just heard from some travelers that a number of caravans have been ambushed while passing through. Valuable goods were taken, but the merchants and traders have been mostly unharmed."
Aria's brow furrows in concern. "Mostly?"
Braxton pats the hilt of her sword reassuringly. "Don't worry too much. Any bandits ahead will not find us such easy prey."
Mark story point S1.
(This choice has led to us marking a story variable. There's some 200 of these, and certain choices require certain variables to be marked. In the future I'll keep track of these off-screen, but it's good to know that bits of information you learn or people you meet might be important to giving us new choices in the future.
Also note that Aria is now marked as Inactive on our party status tracker in my second post. That means that she cannot be chosen again to perform a decision action until everyone else in the party has had a turn.)
Decision: First to one vote wins.
A) We should hurry along before it gets dark.
B) Mariam, best you don't get too far ahead.
The young gnome glances over her shoulder at Athtar with a raised eyebrow. "You're starting to sound like Braxton." She twirls to face him and walks backward down the road in front of the elf. "Despite my size, I'm quite capable of protecting myself, you know."
Braxton chuckles warmly to herself. "I believe Sir Ravaberos is worried for you not because of your size, but because of your nature. Even though you can protect yourself, try not to worry us too much."
As the party chatters, small trees begin to dot the terrain around them. Tall grass gives way to brush, and they soon find themselves at the edge of the forest.
(I've added the time tracker for this adventure to the second post. Time trackers for each quest and for the adventure overall often play an important role, as many events are time sensitive. Dawdling can have real consequences!)
As the party walks, they take the opportunity to become better acquainted with their fellow travelers.
This next choice does not exhaust activation. First to one vote.
A) Ask Mariam what she plans to do in Dragonholt
B) Ask Braxton what she plans to do in Dragonholt.
So will each answer be picked? And In the order we pick them is what determines the outcome?
It varies a lot. In that last stretch, asking about bandits was more like an optional side-question before deciding which of the two main responses you wanted to make. Other times, conversations will loop back around to a "hub" where we can ask a variety of questions and then say when we're finished. Some choices, especially in battle, will be completely exclusionary and absolutely have a right or wrong answer - pick the wrong one and we'll take damage. Not every decision ends up "mattering" in the grand scheme of things, but they add some colour.
Falling in step with the gnomish merchant, Urist tugs distractedly at his beard braids while examining the vials hanging from her pack. "You seem heavily laden for a traveling alchemist. What exactly are you hoping to find in Dragonholt?"
"I'm glad you asked!" bubbles Mariam. "I am going to set up the finest apothecary's shop that Dragonholt has ever seen. I'll brew potions and sell remedies and make lots of money." She nods, tossing a vial of pink liquid into the air, catching it, and balancing it on her finger for no particular reason.
"My aunt can help me get started; she already runs the best inn in town, and she's a fantastic tailor too." Mariam flourishes her half-cape and brightly colored tunic.
First to one vote.
A) Ask Mariam what types of potions she brews.
B) Ask Mariam about her family.
C) Exchange brewing recipes with Mariam.
D) Compliment Mariam's attire and inquire about its maker.
E) Tell Mariam what you know of Dragonholt's markets.
F) Educate Mariam on methods for barter and trade.
Minar eyes the vial precariously balanced on Mariam's finger uneasily. "What, uh... what sort of potions do you make, anyway?"
"Oh, all sorts." Mariam pulls out two glass bottles stoppered with wax. She flourishes the blue one. "This potion can cure a dozen diseases and keep wounds from being infected." She holds up a cloudy gray liquid in her other hand. "This one is bottled smoke; use it to choke out a hornet's nest, or signal for help, or maybe give yourself something to hide behind." She glances down at her bottles and purses her lips. "Or maybe I have that backward. Oh well." She slips the bottles back into a leather pack at her hip.
"Right," Minar mutters, glancing warily at the pack.
"I'm always looking for new recipes, but I already know enough to start my shop." She falls silent as she examines a shy-looking flower growing in the shadow of a mossy log. "Always looking for ingredients too!"
The party continues down the road, and the sky overhead is soon obscured by the foliage of the forest canopy. Streams of sunlight dance around the group as a gentle breeze shakes the leafy ceiling. Mariam skips forward and spins through the shafts of light, smiling and laughing.
"It would be best if you stayed close. Becoming lost in the woods is all too common for those not accustomed to traveling without the sun or moon to guide them." Despite Braxton's warning, she makes no additional effort to keep pace with the playful gnome, and sighs as her infectious enthusiasm pulls in Aria as well, who goes spinning off.
"What about all of you?" asks Mariam. "What are you planning to do in Dragonholt?" Before Aria can answer, Mariam hunches over and crooks one finger like a sinister hook, putting a sneer into her voice. "Are you seeking vengeance on a terrible foe?" Just as quickly, she swoons, throwing one hand artfully over her forehead. "Or are you in search of love?"
Mariam tumbles backward over a log with a squawk, earning a burst of laughter from Aria. The gnome grins up at her from a pile of sticks and leaves. "Or maybe it's just a chance encounter?" She continues to talk about everything and nothing before finally pausing for breath as the rest of the party catches up.
A) Ask Mariam about Eventide forest.
B) Ask Mariam how she met Braxton.
C) Ask Mariam about gnomes.
Deepmind sidles up to Mariam so quietly that when she speaks, the gnome almost loses her balance again. "I'm not familiar with the Eventide, just the rumors." She scans the treeline either side of the trail with obvious unease.
"I've heard all sorts of stories about Eventide Forest," Mariam concurs. "I've even heard that there is a secret kingdom somewhere in the treetops, where elves and fairies dance in the starlight hidden from the eyes of gnomes."
Deepmind gives her a flat look, but she shrugs and looks up at the mossy tree branches. "I don't believe half of it, though. I think it's a big, dark forest, and people are scared of anything they don't know anything about."
"Also there's the bandits," says Braxton from behind them.
"Bandits I can handle," Deepmind murmurs, mostly to herself.
Eventide Forest is an intimidating landmark, and she could see why Braxton was concerned. Within an hour of entering the forest, the thin, young trees give way to ancient, gnarled guardians. The light, leafy canopy transforms into an oppressive shroud that cloaks the road in darkness, even during the most sunny of days.
In the darkness of Eventide Forest, a chilling stillness reigns, and even bird songs are drowned out by silence. The party continues onward, Mariam's usual banter quieted by her new mood, one part fascination and one part fear. Braxton and Athtar keep an ever-vigilant eye on the surroundings, their hands resting on the pommels of their swords.
The group soon comes to a stop when it catches up to Mariam. She is glancing down what appears to be a small game trail that branches away from the main road. Up head, a number of fallen trees are blocking the path. An old crossroads signpost marks the split, but the wood is too rotted and the writing is indecipherable. "What do we do now?" asks Mariam.
"It doesn't seem like Lady Regina has been alerted yet." Braxton strains to look over the fallen trees. "We could clear the road ourselves or send word to Lady Regina once we reach Dragonholt."
"We could try this trail," offers Mariam. "Maybe it connects to the main road on the other side."
A) Scout along the game trail and report back.
B) Climb over the trees and continue on the main road.
C) Clear the road of debris before continuing.
"It wouldn't do leave this mess for the next batch of travelers to come along," sniffs Urist. He gestures broadly at the logs. "A few chips of wood is nothing to the big stone blocks I had to haul back home, we'll have this cleared in a trice."
The rest of the party shares a few doubting glances, but no one protests. Braxton produces an axe from her baggage, and the group sets to work clearing the trees from the road. Breaking each tree down into pieces small enough to move isn't complicated, but it is tiring. Shoulders burn from swinging the axe, and backs ache from dragging the enormous tree limbs off to the side.
Mariam busies herself with the smaller branches. When only larger boughs remain, she "helps" by singing "a gnomish working song" that seems to include invented verses mocking the party, Braxton, herself, gnomes in general, Eventide Forest, and any other subject that catches her fancy.
Two time passes
Everyone loses one stamina. Anyone without Endurance loses two additional stamina
(As mentioned before, stamina is like our party members' health. We can recover it overnight, or from potions, or meals, or a variety of other sources. Sometimes having the right skills will protect party members from losing stamina, as it does here for Urist. If we run out, we'll start having skills disabled, which can cascade to further failures and more damage - watch out for that!)
At length, Urist and Braxton roll the last and largest of the tree trunks to rest against the side of the road, then collapse atop it for a brief rest. All done.
"Good work!" says Mariam, offering each of them a drink of water from a tin cup. "We should mention this in Dragonholt; it'll really help me get my business of the ground if people know I helped clear the road."
Braxton glances at Urist over her drink but says nothing. The Dwarf just chuckles, tipping the contents of a cloudy brown vial into his cup before downing it.
After following the winding road for what feels like hours, Minar voices the fear that the party's traveling in circles. Just as he was about to suggest turning back, Mariam calls out from beyond the next bend, "There's a clearing up here!"
As they round the bend, the group sees Mariam staring up at a single massive tree that stands alone in the center of a clearing some twenty paces across. Although the great oak's canopy is just as thick as anywhere else in the forest, its branches reach well above the tops of the surrounding trees, affording a view of the sky at the edges of the clearing.
"It's already night! No wonder I feel so tired," Mariam mutters with a large yawn. Sure enough, when they look up, the party sees stars sparkling brightly in the vast emptiness of the night sky. Athtar smiles, noting how brilliant they seem so far from the torchlight of the city.
At the edges of the clearing, several paths cut through the dense trees, leading away from the great oak in different directions. Only a few seem well traveled, but none are marked by signs. Braxton, too, has noticed the myriad options for further travel. "We should get our bearings before making camp for the night."
Mariam rolls her eyes at Braxton's suggestion. "We can use the sun as our guide in the morning. I'm going to sleep." With that, she takes out a bedroll and makes camp at the base of the great oak. Most of the party follows suit, but Urk hesitates, her curiosity piqued.
A) [Devotion] Determine your heading by observing the stars
B) [Persuasion] Convince Mariam to read the stars before she sleeps
C) [Athletics] Climb the great oak to look for a landmark
D) Leave the navigation to Braxton and turn in for the night.
(I'm going to brunch now, so feel free to chew on this one or speculate about what you want until I get back!)
Urk gazes up at the stars, walking a slow circle around the great tree in the clearing's center to get a better view. She takes her bearings from the constellations and finds Latariana's Star. She is now confident she knows which way to go to reach Dragonholt.
As she makes her way back to the campfire, she feels something small strike the top of her head. It's a small wooden statuette. She looks up at the branches of the great oak and notices a number of small pages and other trinkets tied to branches or resting on tree limbs.
The party gains the wooden trinket (item B)
(Items like this go beyond our usual assumed equipment, like bows or boots. They also come with a card that explains what they do. Item cards will be tracked on the second post, along with who's currently carrying them, although items can be passed freely between characters as needed.)
She returns to the campfire and brandishes the trinket to the group. "URK FOUND SPIRIT OMEN!"
Minar sits up from where he lies against the oak and squints at the small object. "Is that a... wooden badger?"
"SPIRIT BADGER," Urk insists. She passes the badger to Mariam for her inspection as Braxton peeks over her shoulder.
"What do you make of it?" asks Braxton.
"I'm not sure," says Mariam. "I think this was carved by a human or an orc; too rough to be made by an elf." Behind her, Aria turned to arch an eyebrow at Athtar, who gave her an amused smile in return. "Probably just some harmless local custom." Mariam tosses the trinket back to Urk, who stows it gingerly with her other odds and ends.
Minar assists Braxton in gathering some kindling and starting a small campire a few paces from the great oak. While they work, they can hear Mariam humming softly to herself. The party rolls out their bedrolls to relax. Although they are tired, a brief chat around the campfire is not an unwelcome event.
First to one vote. This decision will not exhaust activation for that character.
A) Ask Braxton what she plans to do in Dragonholt.
B) Go straight to sleep
(I did say first to one, but since there's one each with some seeming uncertainty I'll break the tie for A this time)
"You seem a capable knight, Dame Braxton." Athtar inclines his head respectfully at the Orc. "Once we reach Dragonholt, will you be staying on long?"
Braxon smiles gently, nodding her head in Mariam's direction. "I will continue to protect our friend Mariam for as long as she requires my services. As you may have noticed, looking after her does not leave me much time for anything else."
"I resemble that remark!" calls Mariam.
"After that, I am not certan. I was not certain what to do with myself before meeting Mariam, either. I suppose I will travel to a larger city and try to find employment."
"Skip Nerekhall," offers Deepmind, to low chuckles from her companions.
First to one vote.
A) Ask Braxton about her past adventures.
B) Ask Braxton about how she met Mariam.
C) [Performance]Tell Braxton about your past adventures.
D) [History]Ask Braxton which lord she served.
E) [Military]Ask Braxton about her military training.
F) [Thievery]Show Braxton how to foil sleight of hand.
Seizing on a lull in the conversation, Aria leans eagerly forward toward the campfire, still wrapped in her bedroll. "I'm sure after all our poking into your business, you must be curious about our small company!"
Braxton quirks a lip as she looks from the mismatched Elf knight to the eccentric Dwarf packing his pipe with a strange purple resin. "Perhaps a little."
"Well," declares the Bard, pulling her hands free from the roll for an expansive sweep. A few resigned groans comes from the shadowy figures of her companions, but Aria ignores them. "Let me tell you the tale of our meeting. It all started in the City of Nerekhall - yes, that cursed burg. In its darkest district, on a night much damper than this one, the rain chased me through the door of an ill-reputed tavern called the Spirit's Rest..."
Braxton listens to Aria's tales of her exploits politely, nodding at the appropriate points and asking a handful of clarifying questions. "I can tell you're all quite accomplished," she says. "Mariam and I are lucky to be traveling with you."
Aria gets the distinct impression that she is humoring her, but takes it in stride. "That's probably enough about us for now. I'd actually like to hear more about this village we're heading toward, I'd never heard of it until a week ago."
"I've never been to Dragonholt myself," says Braxton. "Lord Kahler's lands were west of here, so I never had occasion to visit. I did hear that the village has a fine inn."
"You heard that from me!" calls Mariam.
"Mariam's aunt runs the place," says Braxton with a smile. "Apart from that, I think the place is rather unremarkable. A small collection of houses surrounded by farms and orchards." She frowns and drums her fingers on the hilt of her sword, looking all around. "Well, there was that one story about a brave hero who could freeze a dragon's flames in its throat. But I think that was just a story."
Braxton lapses into a comfortable silence for some time.
A) Ask Braxton about her family.
B) Ask Braxton about Orcs.
C) Leave Braxton to her thoughts.
(For voting format, I'll definitely take a little more time once we get to some more consequential actions. The game just has so many decisions in it that if every choice was a drawn out vote it'd grind the thread to a crawl. The introductory quest has a lot of fairly fluffy conversation stuff like this to help you get the feel of the characters, game and setting, so hopefully once we reach Dragonholt and the game opens up a bit there'll be enough activity to support more discussion and voting.)
"I've known terribly few Orcs in my time," remarks Urist, who pauses to puff his pipe. "Well, besides Urk, naturally."
Urk grins, large white teeth glimmering in the firelight.
"You seem of quite a different temperament, though."
"Yes, your friend seems... unique," Braxton remarks, giving Urk a sidelong glance. "They're not all like me either, of course. My people celebrate independence and strength. I hear that orc clans rule in the Broken Plains, but here in Terrinoth we mostly live in small bands, traveling from barony to barony. The humans don't like it when large numbers of orcs settle anywhere for long, so we have to keep moving."
"TRUE," Urk agrees. "FEW HUMANS BOTHER URK ALONE, BUT TWO ORCS? THREE? HUMANS GET WORRIED."
Braxton looks down to where her hand is wrapped around her sword hilt. "The humans are happy to pay us to fight for them, though. You can find my people serving as mercenaries, even gladiators, all through Terrinoth." She takes her hand from her sword.
Mariam lets out a long yawn, and Deepmind seconds the motion. As the party nestles into their bedrolls for the night, Braxton speaks up. "Best we don't all sleep at once. I'll take the first watch. Can I count on one of you to take the second?"
The party regains two stamina each
Two time passes
Decision: First to two votes, which party member should take the second watch? Both active and inactive party members may be nominated, inactive ones will be refreshed.
"Aren't Hyrrnyx known for superb night vision?" wonders Urist aloud.
"Nope," Deepmind answers, keeping her face impassive as she stares straight at the Dwarf until he looks away, embarrassed.
Athtar sighs and sits up from his bedroll. "I will take the second watch. You all came on this quest at my behest, your safety is my responsibility."
The little Hyrrnyx lets out an annoyed groan and rolls her eyes. "I'll do it, you self-righteous beanpole. For a 'sharp-eyed elf', you've got the awareness of a brick."
The knight stiffens in response. "That's not true."
"Oh?" Deepmind reaches under her blanket and withdraws a fine leather purse with the letters A R embroidered in the center. She casually tosses it to Athtar as he blinks in surprise, rolling back under her blanket. "See you in the morning."
Hours later, Deepmind rouses from her slumber to gentle coaxing from Braxton. "Your turn at watch," she says quietly. She rubs her eyes for a moment, peering balefully at Braxton before trying unsuccessfully to feign snores. When the Orc remains unmoved, she sighs and struggles to her feet. "I'm going, I'm going."
Deepmind glances around camp at her fellow travelers. Braxton prepares her bedroll, lies down, and is quickly asleep. Mariam stirs for a moment, possibly awakened by the brief commotion, and rolls to her other side. A gentle silence takes hold of the clearing.
The journey to Dragonholt has been a long one, but now the group is no more than a half-day's travel from their destination. A creature of the city, Deepmind reflects on the web of debts and favors that find her traipsing off into the wilderness, while nibbling on a length of jerky liberated from Minar's pack. The crack of burning branches from the campfire keeps the Hyrrnyx company as she keeps watch. The moon is beginning to set, and Deepmind can already imagine the light of dawn creeping along the far side of the sky.
Just then, she hears a rustling in the thick brush on one side of the camp and recalls Braxton's warnings about bandits. She also recalls her own boast from earlier in the day, "bandits I can handle," and rests a hand on hilt of her dagger.
A) Watch for further movement or signs of danger.
B) Arm up and take a look (this action does not exhaust activation)
C) Wake the party.
Deepmind tightens her grip on her dagger and slips out of the camp, circling around toward where she heard the sound. As her twinkling eyes pierce the darkness, she moves silently from tree to tree and soon finds herself behind a small group of rough-looking people, lurking in the bushes and watching her camp. Bandits!
There are three bandits directly in front of her, two men and a woman in torn and stained clothing and scraps of leather armor. The woman holds a strung bow across her knees as she crouches, while one of the men has a spear and the other a long knife in his hand.
"Wasn't someone on watch by the fire?" asks one of the men.
"I don't see anyone there now," says the woman.
"Quiet!" says the other man. "Wait for the signal."
They clearly haven't noticed her yet. just as clearly, they're intending to attack your traveling companions.
First to two votes
A) Shout a warning to the party.
B) Draw the dagger and engage the bandits.
C) [stealth] Sneak up on the bandits and ambush them.
(I did say first to two votes for this one, but it seems like most folks may have turned in for the night, so we might as well finish one more decision today)
Deepmind creeps carefully up behind the bandits, ghosting up behind the man with the spear. Moving swiftly, she grabs his spear and twists, tearing it from his grasp and bringing it up across his throat. He gurgles and kicks, then goes still as she drags him into the dark forest.
"There's one of them in the trees!" shouts the bow-armed woman, loosing an arrow blindly in Deepmind's direction. The shaft passes within a hand's breadth of her head, and she sees her pulling back to fire again. She dumps the unresponsive bandit and sprints back to the camp.
Confusion echoes around the forest as the bandits try to track Deepmind down.
"Bandits!" she yells, rushing back to camp as the bandits swear and move to follow.
"We're supposed to wait for the signal," hisses one.
"That was the signal!" shouts the other.
As Deepmind skids to a stop by the campfire, she sees Braxton already on her feet with her shield in hand, Athtar close behind with his sword drawn. Mariam is still staggering out of her tangling blanket as the rest of the party fumbles for their feet.
"What is it?" grumbles Mariam. "What's going on?"
"Bandits" rumbles Braxton as a half-dozen of the desperate-looking figures run into the firelight, weapons held high.
"To arms!" Athtar calls, moving to put himself between the attackers and his baffled companions.
Braxton hefts a heavy steel sield and slashes her longsword threateningly at one of the approaching bandits. Mariam produces two flasks and unstoppers one of them. A thick, acrid smoke pours from its open mouth as she holds it aloft, ready to throw.
Three of the bandits suddenly rush forward, charging the camp. Mariam hurls the smoking flask which smashes against one of their bucklers. A billowing cloud of acidic fog erupts from the impact site. The bandit shrieks and flails, dropping his buckler to the ground as it dissolves.
The two other bandits continue their charge. One swings an axe at Mariam, but Braxton catches the blade with her longsword and slams her shield into the man, sending him tumbling to the ground. The third bandit dodges around Braxton and darts forward, straight toward Urist, still struggling to shake off the fog of sleep.
First to one vote
A) Dodge the attack
B) Catch the spear and disarm the bandit
C) [Dueling] Deflect the spear and counter attack
D) [Arcana] Blast the bandit with a rune.
What each skill can do is fairly flexible to the situation. Arcana, for example, will typically be some fire or blast effect, and can be a small bolt or a large explosion as the situation requires. Runes also covers magical effects but more utility, like growing a vine to hold a door shut or decoding an ancient magical tablet. Devotion can be anything involving prayer, spirits, religion or theology - knowing a bit of holy lore, but sometimes even getting away with a million-to-one shot.
Typically, opportunities to use skills will yield better results than options that don't, though sometimes options without skills have hidden skill checks for a good outcome after you choose them. "Combat difficulty" involves predicting what skills will be needed to succeed at certain options, what options will yield the best results, and what party members you should hold on to as part of the active party to deal with later problems. Picking Deepmind for her Awareness and Stealth to keep watch, for example, led to a good outcome for that event.
Anyway, I see some indecision between B and D, so if either Epsilon or Black Robe would like to assert their vote or someone else wants to weigh in I'll go with that, otherwise shortly I'll just break the tie.
As the spearman bears down on Urist, a looming shadow behind him begins chanting Orcish curses. Urk produces a blasting rune from a hidden pocket and raises it above her head in a clenched fist. With a violent thrust of her hand, she channels the arcane energy from the shard into the ground before the charging bandit. The earth swells before erupting in an explosive spray of molten shrapnel. The explosion occurs closer to Urk and Urist than she had anticipated, and while the Dwarf ducks for cover the orc tries to dodge the shards of shattered stone...
Does not have Agility - lose three stamina
When the dust settles, the bandit lies motionless beside the smoldering crater.
"Uh, much obliged," Urist manages from the ground.
Urk yanks a finger-length splinter of rock from her shoulder with seeming disinterest. "URK HAPPY TO HELP!"
"For Kahler and Harmon!" bellows Braxton. In the flickering firelight, she seems a demon from a nightmare, huge and dark and powerful. Three of the bandits attempt to surround her, but she pivots away, slamming her shield into one and knocking her down, then slashing at a second and sending him screaming into the dark, clutching at his face. She trades blows with a large human, his axe sliding off her shield, her sword flickering past his face as he dances backward.
Athtar, fending off a pair of bandits nearby, spots a bandit with his hair in a long braid creeping up behind Braxton with a knife glimmering in his hand. Focused as Braxton is on her battle with the large bandit, she clearly hasn't noticed. Athtar spots Minar nearby and furiously tries to wave the archer toward the hidden threat, but Minar gives an embarrassed shrug - in the confusion, he's lost his quiver.
A) Intercept the approaching bandit yourself
B) Catch the bandit from behind anyway
C) [Alchemy] Stop the bandit with an alchemical concoction
In the middle of Athtar and Minar's pantomime argument, Urist suddenly lurches to his feet. He pulls out an oiled leather bladder and hurls it as hard as he can against the bandit's feet. The bladder bursts, sending a black, tar-like substance all over the grass and the bandit's legs.
"What is this stuff?" the bandit says, trying to brush the oobleck from his thigh with one hand. "I'm stuck!" he says, trying to retrieve his hand. With a wail, the bandit soon finds that his feet are rooted in place, and his attempts to move only send him toppling over to get even more stuck.
Urist stops to take notes for a moment, before remembering the battle raging around him, and pockets his notebook with a sigh.
The party is still locked in combat with the bandits, who swarm around the edges of the light provided by the campfire. Screaming incoherently, a scarred bandit rushes into the thick of battle. In one hand, he brandishes a studded, iron mace. The other arm ends in a steel hook, its metal glinting in the firelight.
A) Rush forward to engage the bandit.
B) [Military] Brace to receive the charge.
C) [Archery] Fall back and attack at range. This move does not exhaust activation
As the hulking, hook-handed bandit menaces the party, Minar's voice cuts above the din. "Hey, ugly!" The bandit's head perks up as the archer waves a rude gesture at him. Having found his quiver at last, he strikes a defiant pose. "What's your life like now that you can only count to six?"
The ugly brute sets off straight at his tormentor, who quickly realizes he doesn't have time to draw. Minar maneuvers through the melee, dodging around Braxton and another orc woman. Then he breaks away from the fray, sprinting toward the great oak, hoping to put enough range between himself and the bandit so that he can attack from relative safety.
Minar does not have Agility or Athletics
The bandit gives chase and keeps close behind Minar no matter how hard he runs. He ducks behind the campfire, then sprints for the great oak, then circles back around the entire clearing. The bandit stays only a step behind the whole way. His legs burn and his breath rattles in his chest, but still the bandit keeps pace behind him.
Minar loses one Stamina, exhausts activation.
Finally, on another loop back around the great oak, Minar's foot catches in an unseen tree root, and he goes sprawling. The bandit looms above him, his hook gleaming, and then suddenly flames erupt all along his back. Screaming, the bandit falls over, rolling around and tearing at his leather jerkin with his good hand in an attempt to put out the flames.
Mariam calls out, "Quit playing around! These guys mean business, and I don't mean the kind we profit from!"
Despite the mortal peril, Minar manages a wince of annoyance at the joke. The next figure to loom over him is Aria, who politely suppresses a laugh as she offers her hand to help Minar up.
"I had him right where I wanted him" Minar mutters.
Aria nods sympathetically. "Oh, I'm sure."
The group finds themselves standing in a loose circle with no bandits close at hand. Even more of the enemy emerge from the trees, however, and they begin to surround the party.
"What now?" breathes Mariam. It's the first time fear has entered her voice.
The bandits' leader chuckles and speaks, causing the firelight to play off the long scar on the side of his face in a sinister way. "Drop your valuables and leave. There is no need for you to die here." The other bandits hoot and howl and brandish their blades and axes in the air in front of them.
"Fat chance of that," Deepmind whispers. "These aren't a couple highwaymen, this is a whole bandit clan. As soon as we stand down we're as good as dead."
Braxton glances sideways at Athtar. "There are too many of them. We cannot win this fight." She edges backward, and he notices her lean in the direction of Dragonholt.
"You can't have my gold. I'll be using it to start my business!" hisses Mariam. Despite the bite in her words, her hands are clearly trembling.
First to two votes
A) [Dueling] Fend off the bandits long enough for the others to escape.
B) Turn tail and run
Still hanging in there for two votes on this choice if we can swing it, might be important.
Athtar surges forward, longsword poised. "Go, now!"
"But-" Mariam begins to protest.
"Now!" Braxton bellows, following Athar close behind. The two knights spring forward, bringing the battle to the bandits while their companions flee. The ferocity of their attack catches the bandits off-guard, and at first they fall back. Athtar presses the advantage, striking down a burly human woman with a pair of jagged knives and disarming a gnome man who attempts to dart in and slash his hamstrings.
The bandits soon regroup, however, and their numbers begin to tell. The knights are swiftly pressed back and it becomes clear they will be overwhelmed. Since the rest of the group has escaped, they turn and run for it as well.
The party runs through Eventide Forest, scrambling and stumbling as they go. They are surprised to discover they can see, and realize that the sun must already be rising somewhere beyond the trees.
The narrow and twisting path soon comes to a steep climb with a rocky outcropping that rises above on either side. A large standing stone towers to the right.
The sound of bandits is still coming on from behind, shouting to their fellows like hounds on the hunt. But any pursuer will have to scramble up this same narrow gulch.
First to one vote
A) Tip over the standing stone to block the path.
B) [Archery] Fire with a bow from the high ground.
C) [Survival] Set a trap for the approaching bandits.
"Go on ahead," Minar yells to the party as they run by. "I've got something for this!" He quickly withdraws a set of hunting snares from his pack that he tethers to young trees at the top of the gulch, before kicking leaves and gravel over them. He falls back in the party's wake as the bandits grow closer, hooting and baying as they come. Their shouts turn to cries of alarm as the first of the snares yanks a bandit off his feet.
With the bandits preoccupied picking their way carefully through the gulch, the party is able to gain a considerable lead on them. The rocky terrain continues to rise up on either side, the trees of Eventide Forest becoming smaller and scrappier as they go.
Soon they come to a sheer cliff face, only a few scraggly trees clinging to the rocks rising above. Sunlight spills across the sky above the cliff, a promise of freedom and safety. They could climb the cliff to the top, but it would be a challenge.
The path continues to the left a fair distance, then becomes a tight switchback crawling up to the top of the rise. It would be a safer route to the top, but slower than climbing directly.
A) Climb the cliff face
B) Run for the switchback path
"What now?" Aria begins to ask, before a resounding crunch grabs the group's attention.
Urk begins scrambling up the cliff face, relying on the trees that cling to cracks in the rocks for handholds. "CLIMB! LAST ONE TO THE TOP IS A SITTING DUCK!" Her companions' surprise wears off and they rush to follow her example.
Anyone without Athletics loses two stamina
This proves unwise, as not all of the trees are anchored securely enough to bear weight. With a resounding crack, one branch Urist clung to gives way, leaving him dangling by his fingertips above a steep drop.
Mariam isn't making things any easier, either, despite Braxton's efforts. "I'll be fine!" she huffs. "I'm not the only one here who needs help!" she says with a nod at Urist.
Braxton makes her way over to the dangling Dwarf and helps him regain his footing. "Test each toehold before you put weight on it," she says.
"I swear, it looked a yard across," he mumbles in reply. The interrupted night of sleep and hurried flight shows in his addled expression.
The group resumes their climb, but they hear shouting below - the bandits have reached the bottom of the cliff. They immediately begin pelting the group with arrows and stones, making the climb a nightmare.
Anyone without Agility loses three stamina
Most arrows clatter harmlessly into the rocks, but one shaft catches Urk in the shoulder. She stifles a grunt of pain and steadies herself against the cliff with her good arm. Deepmind skips along the rocks to inspect the injury, but Urk waves her off with a wince. "PUNY BOW FOR HUNTING BIRDS, NOT ORCS."
Finally, the last of the party makes it over the top, gasping for breath. They may be safe from the bandits' fire, but some are already beginning to climb.
A) Throw rocks at the bandits
B) Return fire with your bow
C) Smash a vial of alchemical fire on the cliff face
"Stand back!" Urist yells over the din. He reaches into his jacket and withdraws a thin vial of golden liquid with a flourish. In a single smooth action, he gulps down the vial. His eyes go unfocused, and after a moment's tension, he lets out a small belch. "Oh, pardon me. Right, what were we doing?"
"Is he being serious right now?" Minar whispers.
"Ah! Right!" Urist reaches into his bandolier and withdraws a heavy flask, heavily bound with warnings and seals that he scrapes away with his thumb to reveal a label, 'Lorimor Fire'.
"Oh, that's just mean," Mariam says, pulling out a vial of her own. "On three," she says, and counts them off. Both containers go over the lip of the rise. They break on the cliff, sending a cascade of burning liquid down on the climbing bandits. Shrieking in pain and fear, they hurl themselves from the cliff, some burned, others simply desperate to escape. A minor landslide ensues, burying the trail below and scattering the last of the bandits back into the trees.
As the dust settles, Aria peeks her head back over the cliff to scan the treeline. "I think we're clear." There's a collective release of held breath.
"PLEASE REMOVE ARROW FROM URK NOW."
"I'll handle it," offers Urist, who pauses briefly to bat at something unseen in his peripheral vision. "I believe I have some wound ointments somewhere in my pack."
"Work quickly, master Urist," Athtar says as he turns to face the road to Dragonholt. "We must not linger here."
As the sun climbs above the trees, the party continues their journey toward Dragonholt. At their new elevation, the trees are smaller and farther apart, and at some point they pass an invisible barrier, where they are not in a forest so much as a rocky plain with occasional trees.
Dragonholt lies below, with the beacon tower rising above the trees and the sun climbing the sky behind it. There's less than an hour's walk left.
At length the walk through an orchard, the twisted trees heavy with fruit and propped up by weathered boards and poles. Then the group finds themselves on Dragonholt's main street, walking beneath the dueling dragon statues that serve as the closest thing to a city gate. One dragon is carved from black stone, the other from white, and they arch across the street above you, not quite touching.
"Marvelous," breathes Braxton. From behind, Minar rolls his eyes, clearly unimpressed. He receives a chiding elbow to his side from Aria for his trouble.
"Some sort of memorial of the Dragon Wars," says Mariam. "This way," she says and skips down the cobbled street as if she hadn't been woken in the middle of the night by bandits.
They cross a crowded village green that is laid out before a garden shrine with a domed, glass ceiling. In front of the shrine stands a marble spire, atop which burns a beacon fire. Then they pass a building dark with soot and marred by broken windows. Mariam pauses at an intersection and peers down two side streets before nodding vigorously and leading the way south. "We'll get a proper breakfast as son as we find my aunt's inn," she says. "It's called the Swan."
"Does it have a lovely white swan painted on its sign?" asks Braxton.
"Yes, it does," says Mariam.
"Then is that it, just there?" She points, and Mariam beams.
"That's it! Let's go!" She ruses off in a fresh burst of energy, leaving everyone else stumbling along behind.
When they finally reach the Swan, they find Mariam babbling excitedly to a gnome who looks almost exactly like her, plus twenty years.
"You must be Mariam's friends," says the older woman. "I'm Mariam's aunt, Sapphire. It's good to meet you." She welcomes everyone inside, stepping into a blessedly cool, half-sunken common room, where a scattering of thick oak tables and sturdy chairs lie beneath rafters strung with herbs and root vegetables. Thick iron lanterns rest on each table, none lit now, and light streams in from tall windows against the south wall. "Please have a seat," says the host, and the party flops exhaustedly into whatever seat is nearest.
"We made it," says Braxton, dropping heavily into a chair that creaks under her weight. "I think I could sleep for a week."
"None of that!" says Mariam. "We have work to do." Braxton lifts her head and glares. "Starting tomorrow, I guess. Let's all take today off." Mariam vanishes into a back room, then appears a few minutes later with a tray rattling with glass bottles of red liquid. "Here," she says and distributes the bottles. "It's the least I can do for helping get me here safely."
The party gains three Healing Potions (item A)
Sapphire returns a moment later with a larger tray, overflowing with plates of yellow eggs, loaves of dark brown bread, and a tall pitcher of milk. "I hope you'll stay at the Swan for as long as you like," she says. "No charge, of course. Not after what you went through to get my Mariam here safely."
"We simply did our duty, ma'm," replies Athtar with a bow. "It would not be right to take advantage of your- Ow!"
The knight awkwardly wobbles on a kicked shin as Deepmind slips in front of him. "What he means is, thank you kindly for your hospitality, and of course we'll stay."
"MHM," grunts Urk in agreement, mouth already stuffed with bread. "SAME."
Mariam pours everyone a glass of milk. She holds hers aloft and exclaims, "To new roads!"
Braxton takes a glass holds it up, and looks from Mariam to Sapphire to the adventurers. "To new friends."
"To the Countess Fairfax," toasts Athtar.
"To breakfast!" Aria finishes.
Urist, preoccupied with adding a fine powder to his drink that turns the milk blue, looks puzzled. "I'm sorry, were we toasting something?"
The meal is amazing, and the party soon retires to two large rooms provided by the generous host. There they doze through the majority of the day, tending to wounds and damage from their brief battle. They rouse only for a short dinner and idle chatter with Braxton, before lack of a good night's sleep catches up and they retire. Exploring Dragonholt will have to wait on the morrow.
The party recovers half their maximum stamina.
All activation is refreshed.
Each party member gains one experience point.
Fame increases by one.
(That's the end of the first quest, To New Roads! Tomorrow I'll introduce Dragonholt village and how we'll navigate around that, the game takes on a slightly more open-world flavor after this introductory quest. Good job!)