2017/07/16

OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings, Session 7

Continued from here. In which the party discovers feudalism, hirelings, and the dumbest trap ever devised. Also, my controversial tax system is implemented to great success.

The Party:
A nameless human Paladin of the Voice. Very faithful, very dumb.
Franklin, the Iron Frog. A frogling knight.
Antonia Barracuda, a fishling thief.
Everyone else died last session.


What was left of the party, along with Albarich the minstrel (and officially designated firewood-chopper and water-boiler) and Tshamus, ex-jeweler's apprentice, now Franklin's young, mostly incompetent squire, decided to ride into the village of Bogrest to recruit help. They left their tents and campsite behind.

The road to Bogrest was full of soldiers returning home from the War. Most were wounded. Carts struggled on frost-coated log bridges. Ragged groups of camp followers, with thin animals carrying their goods, marched alongside. Their general opinion was that the War was not going well.

The swamp-ringed village of Bogrest was full of soldiers, but the main attraction and source of chaos and rumour was the presence of Sir Edmund, the local baron's son. Baron Bayle's manor was within sight of Bogrest on a clear day, but the Baron himself had not been seen since he returned from the War. His son, a green-mottled toadling with thin cunning eyes, managed his estates and domains.

Antonia noticed that the baron's son was accompanied by a representative of the glassblowing guild of Elderstone. As an escaped glassblower, Antonia could theoretically be captured, fined, and hauled back to Elderstone for breaking her terms of employment. She decided to stay hidden. The Paladin,  meanwhile, was busy poking soldiers and trying to be helpful.

But Franklin, the Iron Frog, had a plan. 


William the Curious: Knight of the Water Lilies Hardcover, Charles Santore
Like this, but you know, person-sized.
Since losing both his land, title, and position to a whim of the king, Franklin had been brooding on a way to restore his family to glorious position they deserved. He reasoned that the baron's son was out and holding court in town to gain support and recognition among the villagers. Therefore, he was either planning on usurping his father's barony, or the baron was already near death. In either case, the young, ambitious, and newly promoted baron would need loyal followers and money. Franklin had both.

"Franklin, is it?" Edmund said, greeting the disgraced knight from the center of a crowd of followers and soldiers. The Black Stone Inn was nearly full to the rafters. Franklin bowed and offered the usual courteous responses. Edmund, it seemed, was wise enough not to mention Franklin's embarrassed status... or his blatantly illegal looting. They agreed to a private conference and moved into the inn's pantry.

"Look, Franklin," the baron's son said, "there are rumours. Disturbing rumours. You have been seen bringing gold out of the hills in vast quantities. Your friend... Antonia, is it? She is a wanted fugitive. Her guild is claiming she absconded with some of their funds. She was seen depositing hundreds of gold pieces - archaic, ancient gold pieces - into the First Dragon Bank of Elderstone. Her guild wants her caught and interrogated. They've asked me to look for her. On top of that," Edmund continued, in an exasperated whisper, "the Paladin you are traveling with gave the church here a mysterious bag full of diamonds. Diamonds! It's the talk of the parish. The bishop wrote me a very confusing letter."

"Your former associate, Tito, has revealed almost everything," the sly toadling continued. "I barely had to threaten him with torture. Ordinarily I - or, to say again, my father - would hang you all for thieves and traitors, but these are extraordinary times, and you seem to be," he said flatteringly, "a gentleman of merit. I propose a deal. Give me, directly, eight tenths of the treasure you and your associates find in this tomb, and I will make you a knight of my household."

Franklin smiled. Edmund's greed had, predictably, played right into his hands. "You are a generous and noble lord," the frogling said, bowing low, "but the tomb we have discovered is both dangerous and unexplored. I am also a poor knight. Eight tenths of the treasure would leave me with nothing but my scars, after my generous donations to the church are included. As well, should the King relent and restore me to my strategically useful Barony of Moreau, it would be advantageous if I could afford to repair Castle Frogspur," the frogling fawningly said.  "As well, the tomb is very dangerous. We have lost many companions already. If you could spare a few soldiers..."

"Soldiers?" Edmund said, clasping his hands behind his back, "I have few enough already, and those who remain are wounded, or wish to return to their farms. If I had soldiers and knights to spare, do you think we'd be having this conversation?"

"Winter is almost here," Franklin said placidly. "I would not task them to serve forever. And they would be rewarded well... from my share, of course. And the old hill fort above the tomb could be repaired, given carpenters and time. If the War is going as poorly as they say..."

At this, Edmund smiled, for the first time appreciating Franklin's cunning and foresight. "Yes, I see. It is not for nothing that they call you the Iron Frog. Very well. I can provide six soldiers and four carpenters, and I will pay their usual wage until the end of the month. In return, you will swear fealty to me as a household knight, and give me eight tenths of the treasure you find."

"I am afraid I cannot accept," Franklin said boldly. "But I would happily serve a lord who sent twelve soldiers, four carpenters, and allowed me to keep four tenths of the treasure, to pay my companions and the soldiers."

"Preposterous!" Edmund shouted, banging his warty fist on a barrel of salted fish.

"If, within the month, I do not make you sufficiently rich, such that you could not swear in front of a bishop that you had been cheated and impoverished, you can have me executed," the knight said casually. "If you are not satisfied the sum six tenths provides, then my life is yours. After all, you - or your father, I should say - is lord of these lands. I am but your humble servant. And how is your father, by the way?"

"Bah," Edmund said. "Six tenths, then, and all the gold you have on you, for I am sure you have more hidden elsewhere. Twelve soldiers, four carpenters. But you swear fealty to me now, today, in front of everyone. And you make the old hill fort defensible by spring. Properly defensible, mind you. You may need to defend it sooner than you might think. This war is truly dire."

"And Antonia?" Franklin asked.

"I know of no one by that name," Edmund replied, "and I will direct her guildmasters elsewhere. She would be wise to bribe them to forget her existence as well."

"And the Paladin?" Franklin asked.

"Hells to all Paladins," Edmund said with a burst of energy. "Can I tax them or not? Do they swear loyalty to the lords or not? They go where they please, do what they please, and I - my father, I mean - cannot lay a finger on them. In any case, as long as he supports the church here and does not act against me, I have no quarrel with him."

"Then I accept," the frogling knight said, smiling, and handing over a small purse of gold. 

Ten minutes later, outside, Antonia and Franklin had a whispered argument in an alley.

"Hells to the baron's son," Antonia said, "my money is mine. Can we just kill him?"

Franklin sighed, "And then what? Someone else inherits the land. Your problems wouldn't go away. They would only multiply."

"He knows who I am, Franklin," the fishling said, a hand on her dagger. "It's too dangerous to let him live."

"And how many others would you kill to hide? Your entire guild? Your own family? You can't hide forever. This is a better way. If this works, you won't need to hide at all. You'll be... legitimate."

"A legitimate slave. And what does the Paladin think of this?" Antonia said, turning to the plate-armoured warrior. The Paladin looked up from his meditation, shrugged, made a few incomprehensible hand gestures, and closed his eyes again.

"Seems like a yes. And trust me, we are all going to be rich anyway," Franklin said.

"Sorry, couldn't help but overhear," a thin, whistling voice said from the alley's entrance, "but did you say you had a way to get rich?" A young ant-ling in the white and grey robes of a Wizard of the White Hand order stepped forward, bowing and waving her antennae in traditional greeting patterns. 

The antling, Annie, had a sad story to tell. She had been raised as part of Baron Bayle's levy for the War. Her village-colony in the hills had always supplied him with diligent soldiers and the occasional battle-wizard. She was the only survivor. Coming from a culture of strong social bonds, the loss of her friends had sent her into a deep depression. The other soldiers feared and distrusted her, as both wizards and antlings find few friends in the army. She was also stone broke.

"Do you have any qualifications?" Antonia asked, "Any at all?"

"I can cast magic missile and I am very good at carrying things. I also like tunnels."

"Done. You're hired. The baron's son did say he would give us twelve soldiers. We're just saving him time," Franklin said smugly.

2E Monster Manual. Like this, but much nicer, and in robes, and with a wizard hat.
Unable to find room in the inn, the party decided to sleep in the local church. The priest was overjoyed to see them, and pointed out all the improvements he'd made with the money the Paladin had donated. The roof no longer leaked, the floors were clean, the altar was magnificent, and the gravestones had been properly cleaned for the first time in generations. Unfortunately, half a dozen soldiers had also taken up residence. Annie nearly stepped on one as she tried to find an unoccupied pew.

"Watch where you're going!" the surly goatling announced, putting down the straw hat he was eating. Seeing the Paladin, he perked up. "Oh hey, you must be the human who donated all those gems to the priest here. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. Now where did a guy like you come by stones like that? Did they fall from heaven?"

The party stared at the grinning goatling as he pulled himself out from under the pew. "Pleased to meet ya," he said, to no one in particular. "I'm Fergus, and I'm a wizard! Got any food?"

"No," said the party, at once.

"Got a job? War's over for the time being."

Franklin glowered at the scruffy-looking goat in badly stained Orthodox Wizard robes. "And what can you do?"

Annie interrupted, "I was in the War with him. He's one of the Baron's Wizard Ordinaries, a battle-wizard. He can cast a... well, a sort of magic missile. It's..."

"Of my own invention!" Fergus interrupted.

"Dribbly," Annie said, somewhat apologetically. "And green."

"I can also do backflips," Fergus said, and did a passable one.

Franklin sighed. "We'll decide in the morning."

Not sure who originally produced this illustration, but there's a fantastic series about the town here.
Bogrest is built on a similar plan, but smaller, and with a much less prominent manor. The largest stone building is the local church.
The next morning, after being publicly declared as a knight of Baron Bayle - by his son, of course - Franklin tried his best to convince Edmund to loan two of his father's battle-wizards, pointing out that keeping two wizards far from home and familial turmoil might be be wise. "I accept your wise judgement on the other ten soldiers," Franklin said demurely, as Edmund grimaced.

It was noon by the time the group set off. While Antonia, Franklin, and the Paladin all had fine horses and packs full of fresh supplies, the ten soldiers, some wounded, some healthy, traveled on two donkey-drawn carts, with the two wizards alongside, resting from time to time. Four carpenters, all bafflingly named Dave, followed in their own locked and sturdy cart. A final cart, drawn by a pony of astonishing ugliness, carried a ratling blade-sharpener and his equipment, who had followed the army to war and was following it back again. For some reason, the soldiers also brought along a cross-eyed old human who only ever said "heh" in response to any question, as well as completely wild urchin who kept trying to bite the wizards, the horses, and itself. Much later, after forcibly washing the urchin in the river, the Paladin had to admit defeat - thorough bathing had not revealed the child's gender or even species. He speculated by sign language that the child might be entirely made of dirt and rage.

In any case, the party's tiny camp at the tomb's entrance was hardly suitable for their new and enlarged force. They moved their tents - what was left of them, after a hasty overnight goblin ransacking - inside the ruined fort on the top of the nearby hill. The ancient wooden walls were heaps of half-rotted logs. The stone tower, built by ancient artifice to watch over a fallen and buried city, was a collapsed heap with a tree growing in it.

With their troupe of soldiers in good spirits, the carpenters already evaluating nearby trees, and a sort of shanty-town emerging in ruined fort, the party settled down for an optimistic night. First thing the next day, Franklin drew up the group's plan of attack.

Two soldiers would remain on the surface to assist the Four Daves in clearing the fort's walls. Eight soldiers, along with the two newly hired wizards, would march into the dungeon, murder any remaining goblins, loot any remaining treasure, and generally massacre any remaining dangers. The soldiers were briefed on the dungeon's contents. Six of them would carry spears and short swords, The other two would keep their bows ready. The two newly hired wizards would remain in the centre of the formation, with the Paladin, Antonia, and Franklin at the back.

Of course, immediately upon entering the Basilisk Hall, the Paladin had to go feed and placate the giant lizard, while the soldiers, nervous and cautious, crept along the opposite wall. The party decided to approach the foul-smelling and entirely unexplored south corridors first.

Twenty minutes later, the party had trapped a skeleton jelly in a pit trap, lost one soldier to the same pit trap, and reached a large locked iron door. Fergus the wizard was selected to open it a key the Paladin had found around the basilisk's neck days before (and failed to mention to the party). Ready to run at the first sign of danger, Fergus opened the door and stood shock still.

"By the Saints," he whispered, "it's full of gold."

The room contained ancient wall hangings, four treasure chests in two rows, and a giant stone statue of a snake-man god. The statue held a hanging set of scales in one hand. One side of the scales held a golden heart; the other, a stack of golden coins. One of the treasure chests had burst and spilled its golden contents across the floor. Gems glittered in the torchlight. Chains, rings, and coins sparkled.

"Wait," Antonia said, before the party rushed in, "lets check the chests." She picked up a rock from a nearby rubble pile and tossed it at one of the chests.

"Safe!" said Fergus, rubbing his hands together, "Let's go!"

"Not yet," said Antonia. She picked up a larger rock and tossed it in front of the nearest chest. A column of white-hot flame burst from the floor, spiraling upwards to the ceiling.

"That's why," she said, as the cooling rock pinged and cracked.

Luckily, the flame traps seemed to take a few minutes to recharge. Cautious but hopeful, the party examined the chests for further traps. Finding nothing, they bashed the locks off and opened the chests, eagerly running their fingers through the gold inside.

"Right," said Franklin, "soldiers, take these upstairs and guard them in the camp. Take anything and you'll lose your fingers. Antonia, go with them. Paladin, distract the Basilisk again." Annie, meanwhile, picked up a chest on her own. While the three intact chests were very carefully hauled to the surface, Franklin, his squire, and Fergus stuffed their pockets with the scattered gold from the fourth chest, then retreated to the surface as well.

Examining their vast haul, Franklin made a decision. "I'm taking these two chests to the Baron immediately." 


"That's bullshit!" Antonia shouted, waving her arms in the air. 


Franklin pulled her aside for a hasty conference. "Look, we still have two chests, plus whatever else we find. If I show up with these two unopened, untouched chests full of riches, what do you think the Baron is going to think? Will he even care that we're swindling him? Of course not. He'll be too busy trying to hide this cash from Count Pellamy, and the King, and paying bribes, and fending off greedy members of his own household. Meanwhile, we'll all be rich. There must be a thousand gold pieces in each of these chests."

"Fine," Antonia said, "but this had better work."

The Forging of the Sampo, Gallen Kallela
As Franklin departed on a horsecart, accompanied by two soldiers, the rest of the group made further plans. The soldiers and carpenters would guard the treasure, under the care of Franklin's squire. Antonia, the Paladin, Fergus, and Annie would make further runs into the tomb to bring up any other loot from the room.

Antonia noted, as they cautiously approached the room and skirted the pit trap, that a few coins were missing. Fergus noted a rope and a wooden handle on the wall. It hadn't been there only a few minutes before, and it looked exceedingly primitive. He gave it a solid tug and was startled to hear an enormous crash from the darkness to his left, followed by the pattering of tiny feet and goblin war cries. With their incredibly obvious trash-alarm trap disturbed, 6 goblins and a suspiciously toad-like troll emerged from the darkness and charged at the terrified wizard.

Annie and Antonia fled around the pit trap, waiting to see what would happen. The Paladin and Fergus, on the other hand, decided to make a stand on the other side of the trap, hoping that the goblins would somehow charge past them and fall into the pit. Sadly, this did not work. While Fergus was prodded by many cutlery spears, the Paladin commanded the toad-troll to "HELP US". Blinking slowly, the troll turned and mashed two of its goblin friends into a paste with its giant pitchfork-sword. The fight ended soon after. Fergus fled into the darkness, trying to reach the surface with all possible haste, navigating blind. He blundered directly into the Basilisk Hall. Though the Paladin had fed the giant lizard two bread and meat rations, it hungered for goat-flesh, and pursued the terrified wizard all the way to the stairs.

Over the next few hours, the party made several more raids into the treasure-room, hauling most of the loot to the surface. Antonia discovered that the scale-bearing statue had not originally weighed a golden heart against golden coins. The coins had been placed there carelessly; underneath, the tray was stained with ancient blood. The statue was clearly magical, and both Fegus and Annie speculated as to its function. Unwilling to risk it, or try any blood sacrifices with the Paladin looking over their shoulders, the party returned to the surface and spent the rest of the day celebrating their extraordinary good fortune.

Antonia, while pretending to celebrate, spent most of the evening studying Spackles' spellbook. She was convinced that exposure to the octarine light, and Spackles' messy and unfortunate death, had somehow transferred a portion of his magical power to her. Indeed, with a few hours of study, she had conjured a few illusory sparks and wafts of smoke. Antonia was certain becoming a wizard was usually more difficult than this, but under the circumstance, she didn't mind at all.

Franklin, meanwhile, reached the manor of Baron Bayle. He contemptously brushed past the guards, and met with Edmund in the central square of the little fortress. With barely a word, he opened the treasure chests. The gold inside glittered in Edmund's eyes. The soldiers, peasants, and servants of the fortress crowded around. 



"For the Baron," Franklin said, simply. Later, privately, before spending the night in the manor, he whispered to Edmund, "and there is more where that came from, I'm sure."


Is there? Will Franklin's political ambitions get everyone killed, or will the Tomb of the Serpents Kings claim them all?





GM's Notes:
-Franklin's player immediately grasped the core of the tax system, and pretty soon afterwards, everyone else was on board, scheming away merrily.
-Antonia is currently a multiclassed Thief II Wizard II.
-Antonia and Franklin are Level 4. The Paladin is Level 3. Fergus and Annie went from Level 1 to Level 2 in one session, thanks to the discovery of the vast treasure hoard.

Followers:

Squire - Tshamus
Soldiers:

Sgt-at-arms: Germund
Soldiers: Joel, Nikola, Jacques, Jean, Other Jean, Lupin
Archers: Bastian, Frederich

Non-Combatants:
Minstrel - Albraich

Sharpener - Gembin
Guy Who Goes "Heh" - Unknown
Urchin - Unknown

Carpenters:
Tall Dave

Medium Dave
Round Dave
Little Dave



1 comment:

  1. These are great! Learning about the feudal system debts in play is really useful. Keep em coming

    ReplyDelete