31 October 2012

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 06 - Festering Ardanyan

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

Scorchers are considered a plague across the plains of Barsaive by many; they are considered the only true element of ork culture by others (these would mostly be ork scorchers).  They are tribes of loosely affiliated ork cavalry and are fiercely territorial of what they consider their ancestral lands, particularly towards other scorchers and any other groups that can put up a fight. Given the lifespan of orks, ancestral status may not take very long to reach. Most commonly these savage nomads make their living by taking from others, though some may act as mercenaries, often protecting other Namegivers from the attacks of other scorchers.

Tribes most interested in feeding their families will engage in semi-formal protection rackets; pay them to leave you alone. If you don't pay, they will take and you will be punished. If you pay, they will come back wanting more. Tribes lucky enough to have a chieftain with foresight may take that a step further and actively protect those who pay them. This is by no means altruistic; if they are successful, that means they will be able to pay more and more often. A situation beneficial to everyone, though it lasts only as long as it takes for the newest chieftain to decide they are growing fat on the yoke of these weaklings. Bringing us to tribes that are interested in the glory of conflict in the name of Thystonius, Passion of Combat. Even if the village will pay, they will still engage in an orgy of violence because that is just their way, though they will not necessarily shy away from their equals (or even betters) in conflict - that is the depths of their devotion to their chosen Passion.

Mercenary tribes may evolve from those that see the wisdom in working within the system, or perhaps just engage in a more formalized protection racket with some acceptable civilized trappings. The unfortunate nature of some of these tribes is that when the opportunity seizes them, they may turn against their erstwhile employers and engage in the very behavior they have been paid to prevent. Scorchers can be a fickle lot, likely due to a poor understanding of their social underpinnings. They are, after all, just brutal savages. Not all scorchers fall into these categories, nor should they. The Thunderers are the most famous tribe and with good reason: they have earned a reputation for honor and valor, serving the dwarf kingdom of Throal for years.

In play, they may be a common and convenient enemy. Bands of scorchers can appear nearly anywhere in varying sizes and their attacks are frequent and often brutal. Luckily for civilization as a whole, their organization rarely rises above that of a band, though all of the bands nominally operate under the leadership of the chieftain. The level of coordination, leadership and organization to have all of the bands together as a cohesive whole is extremely rare, but terrifying when it occurs (see the Thunderers for a prime example). Consider the potential threat represented by various scorcher bands becoming organized for an unknown purpose by an effective leader. A mounted horde that gives even the Thunderers pause. Dealing with a threat along those lines is the kind of thing that legends are made of.

Adventure Log – 06 Festering Ardanyan

Recorded By: Jak’Tak

Date: 02 Riag – 08 Riag, 1506 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer(1)
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster(2)
Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith(3)
Ting the Swordmaster(4)

We return to Bartertown. Nishta(5) needs a mate. Titanstroke Greybeard, chief of the Thunderers. Skull Wargs(6) – ork scorchers in the area. Brutal and cruel. Warrior brotherhood works for Maester Bleys. Ting takes work as Tarr’s bodyguard. Phregas Kular, as human merchant, hires us to guard his caravan – to Ardanyan. Scorchers attack on the third day – burly orks with skull helmets. Skull Wargs! One raider rushes past and delivered an object. The driver claims ignorance. Elmod is hired as inquisitor. Jak gets a horse. We reach Ardanyan, a fine city. The city guard looks fine, but can they fight?

Karl the dwarf meets with an ork. And hands over a box. Honeysuckle follows to an ork home. In the box is a pigeon, which Honeysuckle kills(7). Elmod meets with the local Nethermancer(8). Gets a job to fetch a necklace. Ting hands out with the t’skrang folk. Eats spiced fish. We tell the authorities. The conspirators are arrested and we head out to find the necklace. Find out that it is an elven burial ground. We were confronted by elves and left empty-handed. Phregas gets arrested, Elmod goes to make a statement. We found some of the forest elves there. Strange. Uncovered a slave ring(9)? The dwarfs are dubious. We take a job collecting a debt from the Council. We are told to return in the morning. Ting and Jak camp in the woods. The Council tells us to get payment from his family. The elves are not trustworthy.(10)

(1) Known associate of Fastoon Julari Makanth Phunkot of Iopos. Trained under Mestoph, if that information is possibly correct.
(2) An uncommon Discipline, particularly in this part of Barsaive, the Windmaster is a community guardian, similar to a Warrior, for Windlings of Glenwood Deep.
(3) Known associate of Maester Bleys and Omasu.
(4) Known associate of Tarr. Trained under T’Skee “the Magnificent”, Swordmaster of V’Strimon. See cataloged: Adventuring Groups: Exploration: Fourfathers.
(5) Troll Novice Weaponsmith associated with Maester Bleys.
(6) Particularly violent and troublesome. They seem to have a new leader that is exceptionally cautious, determined, and cunning. Little more is known.
(7) This suggests a whole new level of operations for the Skull Whargs. I suggest contacting one of the Houses and arranging for a suitable group to do reconnaissance in the area. Seven Winds of War would be preferable, though expensive.
(8) Issir Fanng, a human Nethermancer residing in Ardanyan.
(9) This must refer to Grankar Eisengeisser, a dwarf merchant of Throal operating in Ardanyan. No Throalic dwarf would ever take or hold slaves.
(10) Received and edited by Zamirica One-Knee.



*     *     *
This session marks the beginning of a three-part arc using the adventure, Ardanyan's Revenge. It is typically suggested and used as an introductory adventure for groups just getting into Earthdawn. There are two different ways in which it can be run: a Group of Initiates starting inside of a sealed kaer, or a group outside of the kaer. The former is the most popular take, which is as expected since having characters come from a recently unsealed kaer is a good way to start of any chronicle. It gives them a common history and reason to be together, and also allows them to explore the world together with limited expectations that they are already familiar with the setting. To those steeped in lore, the issue of spell matrices can be a sticky one (they weren't available until after the Scourge), but there is some discussion on how to handle that within the adventure; including that when they were developed they were immediately a part of the larger Discipline, which is my preference, or characters can be created as "old-style" characters with different Talents.

Since this Group was already well under way, I decided to go with the much less common take and have them become embroiled in the events. Some elements were added to include this arc in the larger story (notably further implications with the scorchers in this session). On the whole, the adventure works much better with the direction that it was clearly intended. There are parts where, depending on your group, keeping them interested and focused on the issues at hand and not walking away from the mess, can be tricky. Besides that, the adventure as a whole is good, though the end can seem like a railroad if your group needs to feel they have agency in every scene and action. I will try to address these specifically as they occur, though they are generally not helped by being outsiders and having no initial buy-in to the premise and actors involved.

Despite using them for all of the sessions, I realized that I had not yet brought up one of my favorite game aids: note cards. These are the best way for me to distribute things that I want players to have in some way and tend to quickly go on replacing traditional ways to track various things. For example, I have cards for every piece of equipment with the game effects and stats (including weight and cost), along with a description. This helps save time looking things up (including buying more, or even making it), gives a place to take notes and also tracks who actually possesses the item in question. All of this is doubly true for Thread Items. They make great handouts and a useful way to introduce new characters. Make a card with their Name and some key traits about them; easy descriptors to convey the important elements about them. Players can then take notes about that character in one place. I prefer to color code my note cards, so I know at a glance what I have; for example, purple is people, green places, red blood magic, white equipment, blue key items, and yellow consumables. An interesting way to implement theft is to quietly remove a card from a stack and then have the theft noted when the player notices the item is missing. This is not a good idea for every group or player, though can be effective for groups that appreciate that kind of play.