13 October 2012

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 04 - Killing Time

This is the fourth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

In this campaign Bartertown is portrayed a way that is a departure from many published sources of the setting. This entry takes a look at the Bartertown that appeared in this campaign.

Outside the gates of Throal is a libertarian paradise: Bartertown. The settlement was originally built by merchants that wanted to take advantage of the growing cultural nexus that is Throal, but unwilling to pay the high taxes and tariffs to do business in the dwarf kingdom. Since that original collective, it has grown into a sprawl. Lacking any formal laws or government (as well as the protections thereof), Bartertown has developed an economy that accommodates frugal adepts looking to sell their loot or make their way to the Great Library.

The inns provide a variety of services to adventuring adepts, such as bathing, privacy, and safety. Though these services tend to be idiosyncratic, and true luxuries are rare. There are numerous businesses that cater to adepts that require uncommon goods (blood charms, potions, item services, etc), as well those that purchase the (often bloodstained) "surplus" equipment that adventurers always seem to have in vast quantities. Of particular interest are those harvested parts of creatures that can be used for magical creations. This is a thriving market and a great deal of the economy is based around this aspect.

Without any rule of law, Bartertown is a dangerous place. Community members often band together into gangs in an attempt to protect themselves and their property, but just as often these organizations exist merely to prey upon the weak. The strict and orderly nation of Throal subtly encourages this chaos and violence, as it provides a lure for the criminal element that might otherwise reside within the dwarf kingdom. Bartertown also provides a place for Throal to shuffle off their poor and disruptive members of society, all without affecting the quality of life within their stone halls. Additionally, upstanding members of Throalic society can indulge in base pursuits by visiting Bartertown, all without exposing themselves to the unnecessary danger of actually living there. For Throal, Bartertown acts as a sewer drain, where unwanted people and uncomfortable truths can be safely discarded.

It is a shanty town, where nothing is built to last. No one is willing to invest in Bartertown because there is no one invested in it. The population is transient and interested primarily in economic exploitation. It is, without reservation, something of a terrible place. Certainly there are small communities within it, but they are continually taken advantage of in various ways. From extortion by local thugs (perhaps the thugs they once funded to protect them in the first place), to extortion from the local grocer who must inflate prices because of the theft and cost of importing goods. All of this is hidden from the travelers arriving in Bartertown, who see what they are meant to see. This is what keeps Bartertown in business.

Adventure Log – 04 Killing Time

Recorded By: Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep


Date: 27 Raquas – 28 Raquas, 1506 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
(1)
Ting the Swordmaster

Sitting at a corner both in a darkly lit inn, my friends and I were approached by a large troll. While we recognized this troll, he had been our waiter previously; on this night we could tell he needed our help. He described what should be a happy scene: His son (about to be Initiated) goes to celebrate with his friends as a local tavern. The next morning he had disappeared. Being that Hrothruk was a nice troll and we could tell he couldn’t afford to check it out. Hrothruk could provide us with a possible witness – Maguk’s friend Jimon(2).

Our initial investigation leads us to a very shady part of Bartertown. Our first witness (Jimon) seemed less than concerned with the disappearance of his friend. Jimon is a shady guy living in an equally shady place. His version of the night’s events would have to be looked into further. Jimon took us to the last known whereabouts of Maguk, The Juggling Shadowmant, a dark tavern.

Our second witness, owner of the tavern, Brainbiter, was able to give us a bit more information that Maguk had few friends and was one test away from being a Warrior Initiate. While this was good information, it doesn’t give us any new leads. With a dead-end staring us in the face, we headed to question the other Initiates.

The barracks(3) seems a typical place similar, but much larger than the Windmaster school. The initiates returned before Maguk and Jimon went off so they have no new leads to offer.

Back to our corner booth in the darkly lit inn, we mull over the clues and leads over dinner. Hithorn(4), a fellow investigator, believes he can offer some help in digging up leads.

A mysterious note is given to Ting saying information is available at My Dead Father and to go alone. This is just the lead we've been waiting for. This bar is located in a particularly bad part of Bartertown, as we all know good leads come from the worst places. Elmod and I are on stakeout while Ting ventures in. After a half an hour there is no sign of Ting. Elmod and I venture in to rescue our friend. We head in through the back door to draw less attention.

With no sign of Ting, I get some new information from Hithorn. There is a possibility that she has been taken to the fighting pits(5). Locating this place has become a new challenge. Our new contact, Fastoon(6) the human Nethermancer, while very shady seems to be well-connected. As he gave us the password and location of the entrance to the fighting pits.

We work to put together a disguise so that we may infiltrate this place. Fastoon’s information is good and we’ve made it to the fights. We didn’t make it in time to rescue her from the initial fight so we place a bet in support of Ting(7) and hope to save her after this fight.

This crowd is surprisingly high class given the circumstances of the arena, they try to shield their identities, but I know we’ve stumbled upon a larger conspiracy.

Now to find where competitors are kept as Ting was victorious. Next in the pit is the missing Maguk. This must be a well established place if they are able to capture adepts and initiates. Maguk’s fight is about to begin – Elmod does some magical thing and Maguk is able to take down his opponent. Being the honorable Warrior initiate he did not kill his opponent causing the guards to threaten Maguk.

Which is where I, the Windmaster turned detective, join the fray, knocking down the guards into the pit! After defeating them I take off to save Ting. The competitors were taken through a very scary hallway filled with a large ork and a human guard. I whip around and cut them both to get past and rescue Ting. Ting and I make quick work of the shabby lock and cage door. With the grace and artistry of the best Windmaster and Swordmaster, Ting and I take out the guards with finesse and ease. The rescue of Maguk is successful and we make an easy escape. Upon our return to the inn a larger question comes to mind – how are they luring people into the fighting pits and who is the financer behind it all? Larger mysteries remain, but for now we have temporarily shut down illegal cage fighting.(8)

(1) An uncommon Discipline, particularly in this part of Barsaive, the Windmaster is a community guardian, similar to a Warrior, for Windlings of Glenwood Deep.
(2) Jimon, full Name unknown, is a known associate of Tarr.
(3) These are the barracks of the, colloquially known, Bartertown Irregulars; a project of Maester Bleys.
(4) The group is associated with Hithorn (full Name unknown), this bears investigating, though may mean nothing given his proclivities.
(5) Fighting pits in Bartertown? This is disturbing and suggests Tarr strongly.
(6) If they, particularly the Nethermancer, are going to become associates of Fastoon Julari Makanth Phunkot of Iopos (full Name) they should be watched.
(7) What can be said about this?
(8) Received and edited by Zamirica One-Knee

*     *     *

This session was about introducing the characters to Bartertown and how things are not always as they appear. The world is a much worse place than it seems. There is slavery and gladiatorial fighting right outside the gates of Throal, champion of the rights of Namegivers, and attended by dwarfs of Throal. A number of recurring characters were also introduced in this session and it began to set the stage for some far reaching plots in which the players would have a direct impact. Some of the names from the Throal sourcebooks will look familiar, but a considerable amount behind the scenes has been changed. Thus continues the experiment with adapting material to the campaign.

Another part of this plot was to toy with and examine some common investigation plots, and player abduction. The latter is almost always an abject failure, but I wanted to try it out in a way that made the player feel pretty awesome even though they were captured and forced to fight for the amusement of others. It is worth noting that as soon as Ting's companions arrived and found out she was "about" to enter the ring, they spent a considerable amount of time debating how much to wager on her, and if they should wager on her opponent instead. She also earned her nickname from this endeavor, which should show up during the next log (stay tuned).

The tactile element introduced during this session are Campaign Coins. While the players were hesitant at first (it seemed something like an extra step with counting and all to manipulate the monies), it was quickly shown to be a success. There is something visceral about handling actual money that writing and erasing numbers cannot replicate. It is difficult to write about, because it is purely physical. Funds become more real, and players are both more willing to spend them, a cost may be incidental if all you have to do is hand over some coins, and also more aware of them, their piles of coins start to actually vanish. From a GM perspective, it's much easier to track funds - players either physically have them, or they don't. Doling out treasure can be as simple as grabbing a handful of the right color - much faster than a die roll and has a more random feel since it will be in different denominations. This is made much easier by having a box to put all of these coins in for each player.