There were a couple of weeks between the end of the last campaign and the beginning of the Wild March. I decided to run a one-off or two in the same setting with only a few of the players to set some of the stage for the campaign to come.
Word has gone out through the area - Monster! Riders and messengers have carried notices up and down the western border, announcing a reward to be paid to whoever can bring the Alderman of Norkall's Drift the head of the dragon that has been savaging the countryside. The "D" word has scared off many from the area, but a few more savvy or foolish adventurers have come seeking the reward. They suspect that the murder of cows and villagers in beneath a dragon, and that a more manageable beast might be the culprit.
One by one, a human, and elf, and a dwarf tromp into the local tavern in the hamlet of Norkall's Drift, stomping the mud from their boots and shaking off their sodden cloaks. It's either late winter or early spring in Harmark, which means rain.
As they come in, they quickly mark each other out from the rabble of shivering and beady eyed farmers. Almost wordlessly, they take up a table together in the center of the room. Pouring afternoon turns to pounding evening, and bit by bit, introductions are made.
The human is a Kolechian archer named Galapas, the Dwarf is an Cleric in exile named Kobach, and the Elf is a smirking, northern monk named Bruzlea.
Kobach and Bruzlea were mostly throwaway characters, and Galapas was sort of meant to be, but Galapas' player liked the archer enough to stick with him into the campaign itself. Bruzlea's presence is an interesting quirk of the setting. In D&D, monks are of the super-martial-artist Bruce Lee varie-
- oh, crap, Bruce Lee, Bruz-Lea, that is awful, screw you, man -
variety, in a way that doesn't really gel with most medieval settings. I decided that Monks only come from elven religion, which values the elven body as the ultimate creation of the gods. I'm not totally satisfied with this, but it's a fine compromise between my desire for a historical-type setting and player's desire to punch dudes through walls.
A brief discussion cements the terms of their relationship - they'll work together to take down the beast, and split the profits evenly. Afterward, they'll go their separate ways, happy to have some gold in their purses and food in their bellies for a change.
The next morning, they head to the Alderman's house to discuss the terms of their contract. The Alderman's wife gives this group of mercenaries some worried looks, then offers them some warm beer and scurries off to fetch her husband. They're left waiting for an hour and a half in the provincial-chic foyer before she returns to usher them into the Alderman's office.
Alderman Dalavit lets out an impressive honk into a handkerchief as the group enters. He introduces himself between sniffles, and apologizes for the cold, using ceremony and office as a shield against these distasteful individuals.
The facts are these - about six months ago, a winged creature was first sighted circling the high hills near the border. near midwinter, the first attacks began. Five people have gone missing, two of which have been found partially eaten and dropped on crags, to say nothing of innumerable sheep and goats plucked from farms in the area.
The Alderman can offer five hundred denari (gold pieces) for the delivery of the beast's head. Kobach pushes for an increase in price, at which Dalavit bristles. He rather stuffily insists that this money was gathered from the good folks of the village, and that it was already a nearly crippling amount for them to pay. Kobach conversely suggests that they might take less, which Dalavit considers, before puffing up even further and insists that Norkall's Drift has no need for their charity.
They ask for a physical description of the creature, but he says that he's never seen it himself. Somewhat indignantly, he suggests "Isn't it the job of the monster slayers to know what the monster is?" He suggests that the local Tavernkeeper, Vulk, might have heard more rumors, and that the Gamekeeper Neraea might have some unique insight into the beast.
Exiting, they decide to split up and gather resources from around town. Kobach goes to the smithy to see if he can purchase some chain, and Bruzlea seeks out the local apothecary. Galapas, already losing interest in the petty politics of this town, begins to trudge back to the tavern to gather his things when he notices a cluster of travellers huddled under the eave of a building across the street. Something about their body language pricks at him, and he slogs over as inconspicuously as he's able. Pausing as if to readjust his armor, he overhears some of their conversation.
"I think we've seen enough. We should report back."
"The captain said ten days."
"What the hell kind of information is another couple of days in this piss-pot village going to tell us?"
"Agreed. Not to mention that monster. The longer we stick around, the more likely it is one of us gets scooped up in the night."
"It's been four towns, each one more mud-soaked and iron-less than the last. I think we've established the fucking pattern."
"Fine, fine, damn it, no need to bite my head off, I just don't want to catch hell for not following directions is all..."
The knot of men drifts off, and Galapas takes a moment to ponder it. Being as it doesn't seem to relate to their job, he shrugs it off and goes to meet Kobach and Bruzlea.
Bruzlea has managed to lay hands on a couple of healing potions, but Kobach balked at the price of chain and settled on a couple hundred feet of rope instead. They pack up their supplies and set off for the gamekeeper's hut, not wanting to stick around the musty tavern any longer.
The Gamekeeper lives about a half mile outside of town, in a rustic stone cottage with a lean-to shed, and as the group approaches they hear the sound of chopping wood and a low, mumbling song in a husky female voice. They circle the cabin, and Neraea lets out a startled yelp as she catches sight of them, wielding the axe as if to ward them off before they assure her that they just want to talk. She rather sheepishly sets it aside, and invites them in for tea.
The inside of the cottage is adorned with bones, skulls, and antlers, to say nothing of numerous strange implements the use of which the party can only speculate on. She pours out a couple of mugs of a tea sweetened with honey, and they begin to ask her questions.
She is at once flighty and sanguine, answering in monosyllables and short, cryptic statements. She tells them that the creature is probably a wyvern rather than a dragon - a much smaller, less intelligent creature with no fiery breath, but a poisonous sting like that of a scorpion. They press for more information in its ecology, but she mostly shrugs and says it's not her field. She mentions that wyverns tend to live in the high mountains, and she's heard tell of many further to the west, but she can only loosely guess what might push one this far towards the open country of Harmark. Bruzlea asks if she's gone after it at all, but Neraea only laughs nervously and insists that she's not paid nearly enough for that.
The party suspects that Neraea might know more than she's letting on, but they don't press her, instead asking for advice on where to start looking. She suggests that they check in with the Rasdan farmstead, a couple of hours up into the hills. Apparently they got attacked by the wyvern a week or two ago and managed to fend it off. The group finishes the tea, thanks the gamekeeper, and sets off in the direction of the Rasdan home.