At this point the party is out of the small pan and in the larger over - and it's time for some town adventuring and world building. For now they've been reactive to whatever I set up before them, but for this adventure, Want Ads, they have some greater freedom and the ability to see how the world works around them in this northern, dwarven run area.
I like Sorton as the DM, but I'm not sure I'd like to live there as an inhabitant.
Write up follows:
After 2 plus weeks of training, on Heatmonth the 24th the party has left Thak behind, travelling westward along the Traderoad Highway at long last on their way to Sorton. The types of jobs and potential earnings in the ancestral hill dwarf city out strips anything the group could possibly acquire in Thak. However, the Reeves of Sorton help control the types of employment opportunities that could be given to non-residents, and without some letters of recommendation and good faith, the chance to the group getting any sort of material or steady work is pretty poor. That was why the group’s efforts for House Darbeard was so critical and explains why the precious letters in Korsdottr’s, the caravan master, strong box are so important for the party.
The hope is to get to Sorton, make their case to the Reeve, and get some mercenary work for 2-3 seasons for some established guild, bailiff, house, or group that would keep the party in employ, pick up their training costs, give them a roof over their head, and eventually enough of a grub strake that they can use to trip down the Enderlyn River, outfit themselves in Erylond, and then make their way at long last to Bork Keep and the Terror Dungeon to carve their names in legend.
The Moratian Mountains stretch towards the sky like ancient giants, thousands of feet tall, their peaks clad in sparkling snow even in the warmest summer days. Stately pines and sky snaring oak trees blanket their slopes with carpets of greenery. The Traderoad Highway threads its way ever westward, sliding and slipping between the base of the mountains as it moves inexorably towards the no longer distant dwarven city of Sorton.
The city is built on the slopes of and right into the base of the majestic Mountain known as Jarl’s Tooth; the samesuch place the Jarlborrin Dwarves take their clan name from. The Enderlyn River rushes along the western edge of the city, leaping and spraying its way out of the Moratian Mountains and ever eastward from here. Sluice gates and massive cuts in the bedrock redirect a portion of the energetic river until it slams into great wooden water wheels that have been set up to capture the millions of racing gallons. These wheels, the largest being 70’ in height, take the overshot water and in turn power whatever machinery the dwarves have milling away inside the mountain’s secret heart.
The far eastern slope of Jarl’s Tooth is a terraced area of farms and crops, even from this distance you can make out hundreds of fat boars snuffling their way around. There is a huge hill in the center of the city that sticks up over the heavy stone walls that protect Sorton from attacks and invaders. Doughty dwarves and other races can be seen manning the walls and watchposts, elaborate ballista and loaded trebuchets ready to unload their payload if need be.
There is a queue of people looking to get in to the city gates, and it looks like the roustabouts make the grand area and concourse in front of Sorton free of beggars, shanties, and loiterers. We made our entrance after getting waved in by the gate guards on their noticing Korsdottr. We were given a short “Welcome to Sorton” speech where we were informed that arm and armor were limited to Slagbottom and the Randari Quarter – anything past Central Gate was a no no as long as armed or armored.
We were advised to go to the Third Reeve and then get a room at the Pennywhistle.
So we travelled our way in to the Dwarven city, home to 12,000 souls, and meandered up Grand Boulevard. The city is clean, like ridiculously clean. Sanitation crews in noticeable white pants keep the cobbles well swept. Local law enforcement were well armed and armored groups referred to as Bluecapes (as evidenced by their tabarded cloaks). About half the populace was dwarven, 30% was human, 15% was a mix of half orc, half ogre, and orcish, and the other races were a smattering at best.
We get to the Third Reeve Theros’ Office and Korsdottr arranged our meeting not with the clerk, but with the Reeve himself. The letters of conduct was passed over, read, and the Third Reeve seemed pleased. He accepted that we were going to stay 2 or 3 season and wanted us to succeed. Sorton has a strict 100% employment policy. The exceptions are of course infirm, children, and the venerable – but otherwise, everyone works at something.
There are 8 sections of the city: Slagbottom (out of towners, sellswords, mercs), Randari Quarter (typically orcs and ogres – but not limited or ghettoed) then there was Central Gate that led to Central Quarter (merchants, trade, and guild halls – temples and the like, as well as the great open Tradegrounds) and Undercliff (section near the river below the cliffs – industrial center and factories), then it was Upper Gate that then led to Cobble Hill (middle class residential), Overcliff (upperclass residential), the Terraces (terraced farms and farming – 9 tiers, boars and pigs figure heavily), and finally there was Jarl’s Gate and that led to Sorton Proper – the area just outside the great cavern and the inner caverns of Jarl’s Tooth where it was dwarves only and the ancestral home of the Jarlborrin Dwarves.
The hope was to set us up with a merchant house of mining house that needed K’Morat nests to be neutralized and we were thrilled for the opportunity. He’d let us know in a day. Also, since we do not have work, we MUST show up at the Reeve’s Office by 8 AM every day (no later than 10) and see if something comes up.
From here we left (after bidding Korsdottr farewell and getting 18 nobles each as our final pay), and went across the street to the Pennywhistle. 4 stories tall, huge, boisterous. The main room/common room was set up like a long hall and with 2 bars could seat 300. A roped off area was set up for wrestling or fighting, a few minstrel stages, even a couple of tables where card games were taking place. Some “ladies” were walking around but given it was 3 or so in the afternoon, they were not the best looking women around. There was some drinking and Avulstein had a shot of spirits, falling on his ass instantly buzzed.
We went to the back and arranged two rooms (8 and 4) with the proprietor, a rough and swarthy looking dwarf named Curd. The place was a goldmine and even though Sorton was a “lawful” city, Curd was a businessman making his way anyway possible. There was a drug the girls were on called “dust” which gave you extra energy but sort of “dulled you out”. A hit was given to Avulstein who pocketed the dust without taking it.
Once we went to our rooms we verified the locks works, left off our arms and equipment and decided we would split up on a variety of errands and meet back here tonight for dinner after 6 PM. Earlier, Darius had written to his mother and gotten the ok to come by for early dinner so he was going to visit Overcliff, and Larry who also was from here had written to his family and was coming to visit them today in Cobblehill.
But for now, we left the Pennywhistle and Einar walked around first – deciding to visit the Randari Quarter on the east side of Grand Boulevard and see what was what. The orcish quarter was jusat as clean as the other parts of town we had seen, except the main difference was the sheer pride the orcish community had and the number of them. Everyone was “Hello Brother” and “Hello Sister” with one another, a feeling of community was strong. Non orcish (or ogrish) people were waiting patiently for “their” turn and it was sort of nice to be part of the larger majority community.
Einar did wander his way further and further into the back of the Randari Quarter. The entire city was built on the slopes of Jarl’s Tooth so the refuse, gutters, and filth did run down hill and eventually through the Randari Quarter and Slagbottom before ending up dumped into the Enderlyn River. So as Einer got closer to Cobblehill, the slope was increasing and the number of people on the streets was dropping . This was the poor quarter close to the Cobblehill/Randari Quarter Wall. The smell was strong here as the refuse coming down from Cobblehill was gathered in sewers here and then fed through culverts at the base of the wall.
Einar was interrupted by two orcs and half-orcs who wanted to know who he was, what he was doing here, and what he was looking for. At the culverts, two dim half-ogres with long billhooks were pulling stuck much and crap through the culverts as well as opening the gates and fishing out crates that were being smuggled into the Randari Quarter without going through the gates – black market? Illegal goods? Don’t know, Einar wasn’t going to stick around to find out, and let the two “watchers” lead him away from the area where some drink was shared along with a tasty bacon sandwich.
It was Avulstein who had the next moment in the spot light. The budding necromancer was heading to Central Quarter where he split from the rest of the group travelling with him and made his way to the Vault of the Heorot – the charnal house, burial vault, and holy sepulcher to Hel, goddess of the dead. He had been advised there was a Deathspeaker here named Parylis and Avulstein would be best off in meeting with him.
Upon entering, he was greeted by a Witness for the Dead who was trying to impress upon Avulstein the importance of lighting a candle, making an offering to Hel, and a moment of silence. Avulstein had little patience for it, instead name dropping Parylis and wanting to talk to him. The Witness was willing to pass the information along to the next rank up (a Watcher) and eventually an audience was granted.
Avulstein was led deep into the back halls and deeper levels of the Vaults of Heorot where eventually he had audience with the not one, but all 3 Speakers for the Dead. Parylis was a necromancer, 60+, body twisted and covered in lesions but had a burning fire about him. Marcia was a dwarven death priest, that ageless 200-350 year age look that dwarves get, austere, cold, pale, matronly and above everything. And the last was Paduntosis, and let’s call it what it was – an animated corpse, a twisted mockery of life, and undead magic user, a lich.
Avulstein was out of his element and punching above his pay grade right now.
They talked for a bit, all three of them about the goddess Hel, the nature of magic, the hereafter, and the dead from Nifleheim. Being under the tutelage of a Speaker for the Dead does translate to either the temple of Hel or the Arcane Academy (Mage’s guild) should and when Avulstein eventually leaves Sorton.
One of the things the Speakers tried to impress on Avulstein is that Hel is both good and evil, both sides of the great war. She watches over Nifleheim, where the dead go who were not chosen by the Valkyries. So she ends up with the weak, the lesser, the cowards, those who claim they are better than they actual are. And those kind are afraid of their own death so will often look to escape Hel and return to Midgard.
Hel is Loki’s daughter, and Loki cannot be trusted. So for a guardian of the dead, why is it even possible for any mage, priest, or shaman to summon the spirits of the dead? If Hel was as tight a guardian as she claimed/s to be, there would be no chance for any necromancer to ply his craft. But we do and can. Why?
Because Hel is constantly looking for the weak, the lesser, the ones who claim they are better than they actually are. And that is the eventual downfall to any necromancer or death priest – the day they think they are better/smarter/more powerful than the Goddess they profess to follow.
In order to take Avulstein on and eventuially get the man some 2nd level spells, Parylis is willing to help, but wants Avulstein to gather some stuff for him in return. He has 4 days. On heatmonth the 30th by 2:30, he must return to the Vault and present to Speakers: 1) Beard hair from a female dwarf, 2) a cup of midnight water, 3) the final breath of a dying child, 4) The promise of a dead man, 5) pint of blood from a living boar. He is told to get them the best of his ability but know always the Hel’s eye will be upon him and will know if he fails. He is allowed to have help of course, but the efforts should be his own.