Initiative Or What? – Archives – Aug/2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

RPGBN Shared World — Smoke Fire Bay; Part I

Greetings!This is just a quick blog to plug the fact that I managed to complete the first of four parts of my portion of the shared RPGBN Campaign Setting (Blogaria). Maps and all.

The section completed is the Smokefire Bay region. Hopefully, you folks out there will enjoy the setting. Now, the rest of you need to get off the bench. Yes, I know GenCon® is this week (sadly, I cannot attend); but let this encourage the rest of you participating in this project, to get to work!

The project page can be found here at this link! Scroll down the side until you find the entry for Smokefire Bay. That’s me!

The RPGBN campaign setting was set in motion by Mad Brew Labs, and Newbie DM, both excellent bloggers with serious gaming chops.

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Character Considerations: Ian Talmadge

I’ve been DMing, for awhile now and love it; but I also like to exercise my Player chops once and awhile. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to do that.

Since I enjoy writing, my character backgrounds have a tendency to come out like little short stories. As far as I know, most DMs enjoy it, because the stories have a tendency to reveal things about a character that a simple “by the paragraph” description won’t.

Today’s post is an older character background I wrote for a ranger in a Forgotten Realms campaign. Enjoy!

The rasp of the grinding wheel dampened the other sounds of the forest, as Ian set metal to stone and was rewarded with a hefty shower of sparks. One side of the axe-head smooth, Ian lifted the blade to inspect it. Satisfied that the stone was honing a true edge, Ian flipped the axe-head over and once again pumped the pedal with his foot. The hissing of the blade upon the stone almost, but not quite covered the sound of crunching leaves and twigs.

A movement in the corner of his eye confirmed the sound—he was not alone.

Removing his foot from the pedal, Ian reached for a previously sharpened axe on the table next to the grinding wheel.

“Stay your hand, Ian. I’ve no doubt your blades are sharp, but you’ll have no need of them against me.”

Returning to the grinding stone, Ian’s foot once more pumped in order to get the heavy wheel hissing against the axe-head. He didn’t bother looking up.

“Oaken Father, how nice of you to pay me a visit. Although I have to admit, your appearance is a bit of a surprise. I was left with the pretty clear assumption that your masters wanted nothing to do with me.” Ian rubbed a small scar on the left side of his forehead. The small indentation matched perfectly with the pommel of a Wealdeath elf longsword.

“An unfortunate misunderstanding. You were compensated.” The visitor entered the clearing now, making no attempt to disguise the sounds his feet made on the forest floor; although it was well within his ability to do so. “At least they spared your life.”

Finishing the sharpening of the throwing axe; Ian held it at arm’s length, blade up. Picking up a palm-sized maple leaf in his other hand, Ian held the leaf over the edge of the axe and let it drop. Hovering just an instant over the keen edge of the blade, the leaf split effortlessly in twain, fluttering to the ground.

Ian addressed the man as he watched the halves of the leaf get caught by a stray breeze, “You haven’t come this close to the forest’s edge for a social call, so you might as well make yourself at home.”

Securing the throwing axes into a bandoleer, Ian slung the leather strap over his shoulder, turning from the sharpening stone. Approaching his home with a couple of long strides, Ian made for the entrance. Casting a glance over his right shoulder, he called back, “Tea?”

The Oaken Father watched as Ian lifted the flap of a heavy leather curtain, and disappeared behind it. Walking easily through the untidy yard, the druid glanced up, admiring what the ranger had done with the place.

Simply put, Ian’s home was a tree—specifically, an old Quercus Robur killed by a lightning stroke many decades past. Even dead, the tree refused to give up its hold on the hillside beneath it. Years of weathering eroded the hillside somewhat, resulting in a sizable hollow space under the shelter of the dead tree. The addition of a few hides held the worst of the winter winds at bay, and the tree’s iron-hard roots provided a firm foundation on which to lay an open hearth. The Wealdeath elves, as well as the occasional Druidic circle had used it frequently in years past. Now it was Ian’s “compensation”.

Raising the flap of leather that served as Ian’s door, the druid wrinkled his nose to forestall a sneeze. The unmistakable smell of a coal fire assaulted the druid’s keen senses. Fortunately, hollow spaces in the tree served as a flue, and smoke drew up and out of the tree instead of lingering in the living space below.

“Tea would be fine, Ian. Are you still making it with the sassafras bark?” The druid moved to sit on an upraised portion of old root; shaved smooth and draped with a sheep’s hide.

“Yes, but I’ve added a little cinnamon this time. There are advantages to living near the Trade Way.”

Removing a small cloth teabag from the steaming mug in his hand, Ian offered it to the druid, “Oaken Father, you’ve not come all the way out here to discuss my recipes for tea. What is it that you want?”

Sipping gently, the druid murmured, “Mmmm, that’s quite refreshing”. Cradling his mug in his lap, the druid briefly contemplated the tiny wisps of steam swirling at the surface. Looking up, he regarded Ian sitting on a similar root across the room from him. Ian’s tea went ignored on a shelf nearby.

“And as always, you wish to get straight to the point. Very well, Ian. I suppose you deserve an explanation for my visit.”

Trying to look as little irritated as possible, Ian crossed his legs in the elvish fashion. Realizing the druid was doing his best to be polite, Ian knew the Oaken Father wasn’t in the habit of making casual conversation. Waiting with unusual patience for the Oaken Father to get to his point, Ian allowed himself a barely perceptible sigh.

“I know you are just getting comfortable here, but the Treespeaker has need of your services.” The druid paused, sipping again at his tea. If Ian’s sigh had registered, the druid made no indication that he had noticed. “Bulletins have been posted in several cities, calling for adventurers in Ithal Pass. While merchant caravans and trade warehouses always require hired swords, the Treespeaker feels that this calling out is different.”

Reaching for his previously neglected tea, Ian drank deeply of the now cooling beverage and shifted his weight on his seat, “One can barely walk a ten-day without happening on some new intrigue or adventure in this land, what makes this request any different?”

Frowning, the druid had not expected the young ranger to questions his motives, considering his situation. Nevertheless, the druid determined that it was in his best interest to remain patient for the moment. “Yes, yes, Ian. Sell-swords can be had for a few silvers a day. However, the Treespeaker informs me that this call is for adventurers who walk many different paths. Sorcerers, clerics, bards, monks, and others have all answered this call. Some foul stew is brewing in the south, and the Treespeaker would like to know what is in the pot.”

“So I suppose this is my penance for helping my forest brethren with tasks too distasteful for them to stomach?” The Oaken Father frowned, and Ian immediately regretted the remark. After all, the elves of the Wealdeath had given Ian this home (humble though it was). In a rare gesture of generosity, the elves extended asylum to Ian’s family, rescuing his mother and younger siblings from the clutches of Lord Bunlap, even as his father was assassinated.

“Forgive me, Oaken Father. I spoke without thinking”. Ian crossed his arms over his chest and bowed his head. “I suppose that I still fear Lord Bunlop’s men, and have grown too comfortable here. My forest brethren have done right by me and my family. I bear them no ill will – I just…the cost has been so high.”

“Ian, Lord Bunlop’s men should not concern you, your forest brethren will see to that.” The druid stood up, and walked over to Ian. Placing his hands on each side of his face, the Oaken Father bent down and kissed Ian on the forehead—a Tethyrian practice indicating forgiveness. This heartfelt gesture to Ian’s heritage was too generous and Ian’s cynicism melted away.

“Oaken Father, I will do this thing that you ask, but how will I contact you?” Ian stood now, and moved to place his empty teacup into a wooden pail near the fire.

The druid turned, and offering his now empty teacup to Ian, walked toward the leather flap that served as a door, “Also something that should not be a concern. We will be able to find you, when we need more information. Rest assured your deeds are appreciated by the Treespeaker. In the meantime..” The Oaken Father gestured towards the interior of the tree as he held the door flap, “I’ll personally see to it that when you return, your place will be just as you left it.”

Ian bent down for just a moment to place the druid’s teacup into the same pail. Remembering one final question, Ian quickly turned toward the door, but was greeted only by the flapping of leather in the empty doorway.

Ian readied himself for his journey the next morning. Rising before dawn, Ian packed provisions and insured that his pony was well fed and watered. As he went about this familiar ritual, Ian carefully considered the route that would take him to Ithal Pass.

Living just inside the forest border, in the south-central arm of the Wealdeath, Ian knew he would have to travel south-southwest towards Castle Tethyr, skirting west of the Starspire Mountains. A less direct route to the main trade road, Ian figured he could better avoid Lord Bunlop’s men by taking it. Ian’s reckoning then had him finding the road east to the city of Ithmong. After that, the journey would be more difficult, as the terrain became rougher and civilization sparser. Once in Ithmong, Ian hoped to find a merchant caravan heading further east, perhaps even to Saradush, as traveling in numbers was usually safer than going it alone.

Before the road east reached Saradush however, Ian realized that he would have to take a short trail south into the foothills of the Marching Mountains and then on to Ithal Pass.

Securing the leather flaps that served as the doors and windows of his humble tree-cabin, Ian muttered a warding prayer to Mielikki, the forest guardian. Ian knew that some time would pass before he could receive the cool embrace of the forest again. Perhaps by garnering Mielikki’s blessing, Ian could ease the keen longing he already felt for the verdant green and loam paths of his beloved forest.

Still breathing heavily, Ian reached down toward the body of the highwayman that now lay at his feet. The brigand had bled out profusely, and Ian struggled to find a relatively clean patch of cloth from which to tear from the body. Finding an unbloodied piece of sleeve, Ian ripped it free, causing the arm of the brigand to flop back at an awkward angle. Holding the cloth up to the sunlight, Ian examined the material carefully for vermin and general filth. Finding nothing objectionable, Ian folded the cloth and used it to carefully wipe the sweat and blood-spatter from his own face and arms. Satisfied with his temporary clean-up, Ian found a nearby stump and sat down, battle-lust ebbing from his veins.

Standing up after a few moments, Ian surveyed the scene of his encounter. The dead individuals before him bore silent testimony to the skills Ian honed fighting Lord Bunlop’s “foresters”. Replaying the last few moments like a bad daydream, it was now clear to Ian that the three brigands had jumped him from three separate points. The largest of the brigands made a flying leap from a low tree branch. Caught by surprise, the bulk of the leaping brigand unseated Ian and the two of them went sprawling. Ian recovered quickly, spotting two more attackers emerging from different points along the path. Drawing rapier and axe, Ian marked the location of these additional foes, and rushed the brigand still recovering from his ill-fated leap. Planting a firm boot to the brigand’s backside, Ian thrust the rapier into the brigand’s back, just above the kidneys. With a heavy wheeze, the foe expired. His back now exposed, Ian barely blocked a sword thrust from another brigand with the axe in his off hand. The blade slipped along the handle and nicked Ian’s forearm. Blood welled up immediately, but the wound wasn’t severe. A clumsy fighter, this second brigand overstepped his next swing. Stepping inside the brigand’s reach, Ian’s rapier found the brigand’s heart, and his assailant slumped to the ground. The third brigand hesitated, unsure of what to do next. Seizing this brigand’s lack of initiative, Ian’s fighting instinct sent his throwing axe spinning toward the final foe. The axe found it’s mark, and the brigand fell over backward, the axe buried in his forehead.

Sighing, Ian removed his axe from the brigand’s forehead, the weapon making a wet scraping sound as it was pulled from the skull. Removing more of the assailant’s clothing, he made use of the cloth to clean the blood from his weapons. Grunting with the effort, Ian then moved their bodies to the edge of the trail, and laid them out in a line. With any luck, other thieves and highwaymen in the area would get the message and think twice about waylaying travelers along this stretch of trail. Ian did not believe in burying the dead, and preferred cremation to dispose of the bodies, but for this practice, he had no time. Instead, Ian set their bodies into a peaceful pose, and hoped that scavengers in the area would take care of the bodies in short order.

Placing one bloodied boot into a stirrup, Ian swung his leg over and took the reins of his pony. While doing so, Ian spoke a brief prayer over the bodies of the slain men:

“You have paid for your evil with your lives, and I forgive you. May Mielikki guide your spirits safely out of the wilderness and into the hands of your respective gods.”

Continuing up the trail to Ithal Pass, Ian was disappointed his journey was marred by violence. The trail to Ithal pass was still dangerous and the three bodies now laid out in front of him proved it. Hopefully, further attacks wouldn’t be forth-coming.

Ithal Pass…

Morning had yet to break the mountain shadows, when Ian stepped out into the pre-dawn air. The chill early breeze filled Ian’s lungs, briefly removing the stink of the town. Relieving himself off the back porch of the Eight Orcs Inn, Ian could not help but notice that he had fallen under the scrutiny of an old crow. Tilting its head at that odd angle only birds can manage, the crow gave Ian a disapproving look. Ian snorted. Finished with Nature’s demands, Ian eyed the bird while carefully re-lacing his breeches. The crow preened itself carefully and apparently satisfied with its morning commentary; fouled its perch and flew off.

Ian smiled, “Hypocrite”.

Walking back indoors, Ian made his way through the maze of tables and chairs that sat empty in the dining room of the inn. Not far off, he could hear the rattle of pans and the shouts of the cook, as the kitchen crew made ready for the morning crowd. Blinking in the smoky haze remaining from last night’s cooking fires and pipe weed, Ian found a table near the corner of the room and sat down facing the door.

Four bleak dawns had risen since Ian found his way to Ithal Pass. Despite nearly constant rain, the merchant season was in full swing, and numerous wagons and pack animals churned the mud into a foul morass that simply could not be ignored. The more than two-dozen inns and hostels in town were running at full capacity and the crush of civilized folk made rooms expensive.

Hefting his belt pouch, Ian frowned at how light it felt. Forced to sell off his gear in order to continue paying for a dry room and occasional meals; Ian began to wonder if this mission was nothing more than a ruse.

The Eight Orcs Inn was open for business now, and Ian sat idly thumbing the pommel of his rapier as he watched the morning’s business unfold. Semi-conscious merchants, grumpy from lack of sleep and hung-over from last night’s revels; staggered down the stairs of the inn searching for sustenance and to start their dealings for the day. Occasionally, a new visitor to the inn would come through the swinging doors at the entrance and arrange for lodging. These transactions would often be punctuated by shouting, when the merchant realized how much he was going to be charged for the room. Over half the time, the shouters would leave in a huff, only to return a few hours later, discovering that prices were basically the same everywhere.

“Would you like your breakfast, mister?” A young girl, her face streaked with soot from the cooking fires, stood next to Ian’s table and smiled expectantly. She couldn’t have seen any more than a dozen summers.

Ian was hungry enough to eat steak, but after considering his purse, he opted for a more frugal alternative. “I’ll just have some oatmeal, please”.

“Very good, sir! I can bring that out to you shortly. Would you like some fresh goat’s milk with that? She was just milked this morning.”

“Sure, that would be fine.” Ian smiled as he fished three coppers out of his purse and placed two of them on the table. These the girl grabbed quickly, and dropped them into a pocket of her apron. The meal’s cost was but one copper, but Ian thought the young lady deserved to be well tipped. He laid the third coin down and held one finger on it.

“This one goes in your shoe, lass.”

The serving girl smiled, and immediately understood. Whipping off her shoe, she held it next to the edge of the table and scooped the coin into it. Replacing her shoe, the girl whispered to Ian, “Thank you, sir, Old Goran shouldn’t have a share in everything.” Ian nodded and grinned. In a gesture well beyond her station; the young lady curtseyed, and dashed off to fill Ian’s order.

More than happy to contribute to the young lady’s private nest-egg, Ian shifted his chair to once again observe the entrance to the inn, only to have his view blocked by a towering figure in thick furs and heavy chainmail. Immediately wary, Ian tensed slightly in order to make a quick leap from the chair if necessary, and placed a hand on the hilt of his rapier.

“Are you Talmadge?” The tower of fur and chain spoke with quiet-but-firm authority and leaned over Ian’s table in order to get a closer look at Ian’s face.

The slight brow ridge and serrated point to the creature’s ears indicated the obvious. This was a half-son of Gruumsh. A creature with orc blood.

As if reading Ian’s mind, the figure dragged a chair over and without invitation, sat down. “I am called Langdon, half-son of Magda. I’ll ask once more…Are you Talmadge?”

Hesitant to reveal his identity, Ian nevertheless extended his hand, if not a welcome.

“I’m Talmadge. I have no current quarrel with the Sons of Gruumsh. Why have you found me?”

The half-orc removed the heavy leather gauntlet from his right hand and placed it on the table. Grasping Ian’s wrist, the creature shook his hand firmly, “Well met Ian Talmadge, I’m glad to have finally found you.”

The half-orc called Langdon removed his other gauntlet and set it next to the one already taking up significant space on the table. Clasping his hands together in front of him, he quieted his voice, “I bring a message from the Oaken Father.”

Preparing to play dumb, Ian noticed the thumb-ring on Langdon’s right hand. Of simple construction, the ring was crafted of silver. Stamped upon the ring however, was the unmistakable symbol of the Unicorn’s Head. With a start, Ian realized that he was speaking with another agent—an agent of the Speaker of the Trees!

“I am ready to receive the message, my brother. Do begin.”

Without taking a single glance about the now reasonably crowded room, Langdon removed a small knife and holding it in front of him, turned it upside down. Moving his hand about quickly, Langdon tapped the end of the knife’s hilt against the table. Ian listened intently, and soon the many taps were punctuated with a slight scraping of the hilt against the table. To customers nearby, the noise served only to irritate. To Ian however, the various taps and scrapes began to form a pattern. And within that pattern, there was information. When the pattern was complete, he understood the following:

“Brother Talmadge. I hope this message finds you well. You will soon be joined by others who have answered a call. Protect the interests of the Speaker. Protect the interests of Mielikki. Serve with distinction. You will be watched over.”

“So…” Two sharp taps from Langdon’s knife interrupted Ian’s sentence, and he fell into silence. Removing another coin from his purse, Ian began to tap and scrape his own message. Still a novice at using the forest code, Ian nevertheless managed to convey the following message:

“Message received. Brother Langdon is a skilled messenger. Will wait for the initiative of others. Long live the Speaker! Praise be to Mielikki!”

Ian’s coin fell silent. With a nod, Langdon donned his gauntlets and stood up to leave. His heavy boots thudding on the wooden floor, Langdon crossed the room without speaking to anyone; the inn doors swinging wildly behind him as he left.

Ian sat back just in time to see the serving girl arrive with his breakfast. The steaming bowl of ordinary oatmeal was somehow more inviting.

“Enjoy your breakfast, sir.”

The serving girl turned to leave, and Ian dug in with a wooden spoon and began to shovel the warm oatmeal into his mouth. Washing the oatmeal down with the surprisingly cool goat’s milk, Ian realized that a new adventure was at hand. Now all he had to do was be ready. Ready for anything.

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.


About DeadOrcs

R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.

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