This meeting had the party finish the overland travel and do their first attempt at infiltrating an enemy encampment (in this case, a slaver tent city of 400 people) to get information and answers. I do not like the introduction of sense motive and intimidation and all the other "skill" check rolls that were introduced in 3rd edition and never made the adjustment to include them in my games.
Instead, I have the characters do their best to act it out. A decent Charisma goes a long way to me softening the NPC's reactions to the things the party might utter and we spent a large portion of this meeting talking and meeting the type of people that make up the slaver world.
And this was the introduction of the 500 lb gorilla. We've used this joke since then, but this was the 1st meeting where we identified it. A 500 lb gorilla is a loud and chest beating beast that DEMANDS to be noticed and gets upset that no one noticed it was here a moment ago. That is what gets whipped out when someone in the group says the worst thing at the wrong time to the least desirable people. And I believe the party was laughing because it happened a lot this night.
Role playing and the stories that come from it is often its own reward. And this meeting was one of them.
Write up follows:
After bidding Ungoth Rockholm and the other dwarves you had saved from the feral orc encampment farewell, your party reviewed the map (as provided by Thadar) and continued on your way towards finding Fulgore Keep. From Malek's Peak, you continued following the valley trails north-east, looking out for someplace known as Crispani's Vale. It was there that you discovered the location as marked by scrub junipers and scraggly pine trees sheltered from the mountainous winds in a bowl formed by three hill peaks. A natural collective of ground water and run off provided a watering hole for local fauna (wolves, foxes, goat, and rabbits according to Detheron) at which the party refilled their waterskins and rested briefly.
From here, we traveled east towards the next marker on our map - someplace referred to as Double Dagger Hills. We came to the strange location at just under an hour - two peaks which looked like at some point in the not too distant past that were once one. They were separated as if cloven by a mighty axe - the pass between them filled with broken rough edged and acrid smelling stones. Zoltan scouted the pass and felt a bit claustrophobic and uneasy - the winds blowing stray stones from far above down into the detritus he was walking in. He returned to the party and Gwyn and Detheron checked the area out as well - finding no signs of magical emanations and learning that the rocks were also pitted and scoured - not normal for this type of area according to the dwarf.
Party decided to trailblaze to the west and circle the outside of Double Dagger Hills - hoping to meet up with the pass on the other side and rejoin the map's directive. The area was dangerous and prone to sudden and uncomfortable slidings of loose stone. The rough ground played havoc with everyone and the occasional smoking crack forced the group to pick their way up and down the slope in effort to find safe passage. Eventually, after an hour or so, the party safely (barring a few stray hit points) came to the other side of the Double Dagger Hill pass and continued onward - this time looking for a single spire of stone and a pass marked off as Deep Clefts.
It was here that they were instructed to travel clockwise around the peak as going counter would have them come upon a section of the map labeled "Here be Trolls" - and after their last run in with Tnagrath in Fengarth's Tower - they felt troll-baiting was not a good idea. They walked the ravine trail - finally seeing the odd signs of passage (thrown horse-shoe, body under a cairn, stub of a torch, etc...) until arriving safely on the other side - from here it was a walk through some craggy hills and the group stopped a good 15 minutes outside of Fulgore Keep and the slaver tent city there.
Zoltan was elected to go into the town where it was planned he would come back (sneak) at 1 AM and inform the party of what he found (if anything). He walked carefully towards the city and came upon a site as detailed here:
The Keep stands like a squat toad on one side of a deep ravine, a large wall, stout gate, imposing barbican, and ready towers offering a powerful defense to anyone approaching the stronghold across the wide and cleared ground.
A tent city has been erected around the Keep; no structure closer than almost two hundred feet from the cut and mortared walls. People are milling around the canvas and wood city, going about their business as if it were market day in Orihalcus. Most of them have a hardened look about them and from what you can see, each person is armed and armored as they go about their business.
No one gives you more than a cursory glance, engaged in their efforts as it is as they go about their business. A few standards flap in the feeble breeze, banners with symbols and heraldry that is strange to you.
At that moment someone to your right clears his throat and asks, "Hail. Ye've come to Fulgore fer work or are ye just stepping through and spotting wares?"
Our scout then spent some time in Flitch's company (local that addressed him) - plying the talkative slaver with coin and beer while getting his ear bent at the Rusty Bucket. The encampment was a mix of human and half-orcish people - with a smattering of half ogre and dwarves thrown in as well. No elves (barring slaves) were visible, neither were gnomes or halflings seen. There were about three to four hundred slavers here, with about eighty slaves as well. The slaves were in different places of the tent city - property of different organizations of slavers.
Roughly twenty organizations have presence here - although as of this moment - only eleven had representatives local (one of which was Lycos Suns - the party's original captors). Zoltan scouted out the entire area and arranged room and board at the Rusty Bucket - eventually giving Flitch the slip. There were no guards, patrols, or militia. If there was any crime – there was no mention of it. The slavers know that only those that are supposed to be here would be here - and there was an open air of trust - no organization would dare do anything against anyone else. Some whispers that the Castellan and his men kept the peace through fear, intimidation, or whatever was indicated - but no one from the keep ever came and mixed with the tent city.
Zoltan went back to the group and told them of what he had learned and let them know that entering the city should be safe and easy - as no one minded anyone coming or going. Gwyn went in with Karis - after Puck went in (with a fake name) - after Zoltan went back. Detheron opted to stay out of the city seeing as he had a wolfkin, a 4' glowing firebeetle, and a 350 lb black bear.
Apparently the group also brought a 500 lb gorilla with them as they took turns passing it around the room. You know gorillas, don't you? Hulking 500 lb beasts that you just can't ignore? Larping and role playing are great fun - and with a larger group like ours – you can count on some interesting turn of phrases and events, as we found out when mouths ran on and the denizens of the tent city listened to the things we had to say. And it was great.
While in the Rusty Bucket, Puck stayed at the bar nursing an ale, Zoltan had a nice stew at a table, and Gwyn and Karis were getting something to eat. Gwyn tried to join a knife throwing contest but was rebuffed as they didn't play with "halfers or stunties". Karis tried but he was just told "no fricking way". There were some other things going on and Gwyn was accosted by a hulking half-ogre who asked him "Do you know who I am!?" and Gywn said, "No! Do you know who I am!?" And he was called out. 10' circle - 30 bronze disks - some side betting. And it was 1st guy to hit the floor or get tossed loses. Puck tried an odd distract spell but some other spell caster was boosting the ogre's reflexes. The dwarf and the half ogre fought punch for punch for punch until a lucky shot had Gwyn slam the half-ogre back and out of the circle.
Winnings in hand – they went back inside. Half ogre was named Driys and was some mid-level functionary for a slaver outfit named the Ghosts of Heroes. Was impressed with Gwyn and he and Karis were invited to spent some time with him drinking and eating and talking. Got more info on the encampment and the Keep. Slaver camps only been here about 5 years - Castellan helped set it up - leasing space to the slaver organizations. It is really needed now since Delarinn's toppling two years plus ago - it is difficult to move stock without them getting waylaid by Cedric's dragoons.
Then Gwyn invited Puck to the table - trying to be subtle. But forgot Puck's alias and invited the sorcerer over by his first name. Puck came and the group continued talking to Driys and his boys - pretending to be slavers for hire. And when Driys asked casually who Puck had done work for - the mage's mind went blank and stared at the half-ogre for a moment before blurting "Lycos Suns". Attempted to cover it up by saying it was a while ago but now the cat's out of the bag. Driys didn't seem to care about who and just yapped with the group all night. Zoltan attempted to sing a pro-slaver song about whipping and beating and the rigors of the road which got much applause.
There was some attempt to get someone with a magical earring either drunk or stoned and Puck convinced Gwyn to go and ask the person in question if he liked to smoke opium and Gwyn eventually relented and went over there and whipped out the gorilla by asking, "Say - would you like some opium?" There was a brief exchange that followed where it was hilarious but the slaver informed the dwarf that he had heard the mage and his exchange and there was no stealing here outside of Fulgore Keep and move on or wind up tossed in the ravine. Gwyn was falsely incensed and said he was going to go back to the mage and tell him how mad he was. Damned funny (yes – it seemed to be an earring of keen hearing). The group was tired by this point and went to sleep.
Detheron was awakened by Fodder during the night but the bear stayed mostly asleep - foul- temperingly waking up only when prodded repeatedly. Someone was walking in the hills and Detheron instead of letting them pass challenged "Who's out there!?" No answer. "Answer me! Who's there?" He then lit a torch - showing the bear next to him. "Tell me who you are!?"
The Voice answered and the exchange in the pitch black night followed. "Are you crazy?" "Are you!?" "What are you doing out in the hills alone at night?!" "What are you doing out here!?" "I don't have time for this." "Get away. Move on. I have a bear and I'm not afraid to use it!"
Sadly, the bear had fallen back asleep. Whoever it was had left and the next morning, Detheron decided since his cover was blown, he might as well enter the camp city. Group woke up - ate breakfast of porridge and cool beer and talked about what was to happen.
While walking the camp city, Detheron was randomly asked if he wanted work and he rudely told everyone who spoke to him to "Shut up" while making his way to the Rusty Bucket and trying to sit down - with his animal companions with him. Frankish, the proprietor - was having a conniption and tried to get Detheron to leave but the druid was playing dumb and said he wasn't going anywhere. Eventually the proprietor realized he wasn't going to shake the druid (who everyone in town thought was a ranger - and the story of the "crazy guy in the hills with the flaming bear" had already made the morning gossip rounds) and let him stay at a table near the door where Detheron made yummy noises about how damned good the food was here. Porridge!
Group wandered around - spoke to Crimson Moons, Zathar the smith, Lycos Suns, and others - some plied with opium - others just good conversation - others fumbling bits of dialogue. Learned most of the functionaries of the Lycos Suns, Obsidian Feathers, and Crimson Moons were inside the Keep on orders of the Castellan and have been there for two days. Something is going on. Not normal. A name like "Yohanis" was mentioned as the local boss of the Lycos Suns for here (not Vanir - most likely a subordinate). Also - Keep is an Ogrish/Orcish keep - and was never a Sedarin Keep - which is why no one had ever heard of it. The ravine was once called the Copper Bottom River - but was now dry - and had been so since the dragon attacks at the end of the Ogre/Orcish war 50 years ago. Ravine was 200' wide and about 450' deep and went off to the east and west as far as visibility in the mountains would allow.
Castellan is an Ogre - his manning of the keep are orcs. Castellan is position that is rotated every 10 years. Current one has had it for 7 years. He apparently handles some sort of seal forgery - making the movement of illegal and unpapered slaves much easier with his help. He keeps no slaves, but seems to have a good business head. It is assumed that representatives from the Ogrelords come about twice a year around the equinox and leave with wagons loaded with stuff and tradegoods. Has NO tolerance for manlings - and won't allow them to stay. Even Zathar the smith is not allowed as he is half human and has to live in the city. There is a much poorer orcish smith inside the Keep but not as skilled as Zathar. There is one well in the area - but it is outside the orcish fence line - no one ever sees them get water.
We ended it here as the party has pretty much exhausted any information about the encampment and whatnot in the area - also getting some info on Fulgore Keep. It is Firemonth the 2nd right now - about 2:30 in the afternoon - and we have hit an impasse given what we have learned at our disposal so far. Tvold - the low level functionary watching the Lycos Sun's area has no real information at his disposal - there are 6-7 others inside the Keep and have been there for some time now (2 days or so). So there is nothing we can get without having either someone else come out or some records that we can read.
A frontal assault on the keep would result in death so if we are going to try and get in - we're going to have to use some ingenuity. Of everyone in the encampment - only Zathar is allowed in - and only him alone - and ONLY when he is invited to come in - which isn't very often. Other than that - higher level functionaries of various slaving organizations are invited in (most likely to pay rents) but that's about it. Karis mentioned trying to get a job there - but no one is sure how to go about doing that since the Castellan has his own staff and has never taken anyone from outside the encampment in his employ before. The keep is right on the edge of the ravine - at least the NE tower pretty close to the rocky wall.
There is also talk of waiting till the Lycos Suns come out and accosting them - but that has its own issues and problems. There are 300-400 slavers here - plus whatever is manning the keep. There is talk of also calling on Sir Cedric and having the Count come here with his dragoons and wiping the place out - but again - timing issues and problems. Our immediate goal with coming to Fulgore Keep was getting information from the Lycos Suns on what they were doing with capturing the party - where we were going AFTER Fulgore Keep - and some more info on Djohrgahd or Vanir. Since we were unpapered - was the Castellan going to have papers drawn up for us? Are there records? There were two other caravans that DID make it here - where did they go?
There is a feeling that the clock is ticking against us and our window of opportunity to learn what we need to know to get the next link in the chain is closing. The group is going to have to make some hard decisions very soon - decisions that will radically alter what happens next and their future. We are going to need some more information - specific types. And its going to mean we're going to have to talk to someone or someones very soon to get it.
That's it - had a great time. Lots of laughter at the table and I thank everyone for having a good sense of humor and joining in. There is NO wrong way to do what we did - and no one should feel "Aw man - I really screwed up by saying that" - because it was great. It happens. And it only adds to the camaraderie our characters feel with one another as well as our own around the table. Some people play an ultra-serious game and some time our sessions will be like that. It was safe to say that this week's wasn't.