I am made of stone
Walk the narrow line where nothing cuts you
Deeper than your own blade
I am the storm, my voice is the river
Take from me I fade into you
Fade the warriors, fade the black world into this fairytale
Fade, take to the sky

– Eilika Tribe meditational (Before the Battle, Psalm 4)

Hugo Tuya’s Guards have been attacked by bandits on the road to Ibara, but drove them off in a short and vicious battle. They now collect themselves, check their charges, and prepare to follow the surviving bandits to their camp. The roster for today’s adventure:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Quangbae, human explorer with an interest in crafting and metalwork
  • Yoog, changeling scoundrel on the run from a job gone wrong

The guards think there is money in this, and perhaps some stolen treasures, so they quickly organized themselves. Calim tried his medicine skills on some of their wounds (thankfully light) and failed, and then they set off after the fleeing bandits, following their fresh tracks back along the road to a narrow trail they had not noticed on their journey. They cut into the woods and followed the trail up a gentle slope until they reached the bandits’ camp, nestled amongst maple and alder trees perhaps half an hour’s walk from the road.

The bandit camp

The camp was a ragged collection of wagons and tents arranged around a central fire and table. They had obviously been based here a while and were not planning to move on – it was not even clear how they had managed to move the wagons (no doubt stolen) into the small clearing in the first place. Hugo Tuya’s Guards approached carefully, but it was obvious that the camp was largely unoccupied. The two guards they had chased were hiding behind wagons near the entrance to the clearing, bows in hand, waiting for the inevitable.

They attacked. Their plan was simple: they fired their bows into the camp and then Kyansei charged forward into battle. Unfortunately they had underestimated the numbers and guile of the bandits. There were six more hidden in the forest, who opened fire as the battle started. Their leader was also lurking in the trees, firing his bow. Within moments Yoog and Quanbae were brought down by arrow fire, and the situation began to turn against the guards. Fortunately they had Kyansei, who tore into one group of archers and killed them very quickly, while Calim and Bao Tap tussled with the leader. Behind them Itzel cast shrouds of fire on the warriors, hoping to burn their enemies. It worked, and after a few more seconds of brutal hack and slash the battle was over. All but one of the bandits lay dead, and the camp was theirs. They took the final bandit captive and searched the wreckage.

The treasure box

They found little to justify their valiant attack: a few coins, a suit of leather armour and a healing potion. At the back of the tent they found a dead semi-naked man but with characteristic sense did not bother to investigate the cause of his death. On the table in the centre of the camp they also found a small, well-crafted box that appeared to be of dwarven make, and unopened. Yoog, just recovered from the battle, attempted to pick the lock on this box and opened it easily, but also was struck by a small needle trap. The poison began working immediately, and Yoog sickened horribly[1].

Inside the treasure box was a map and a letter. They read the letter:

 

Siladan the Elder

Sundered Cliffs

Third watch road, the red house

 

23rd of the Harvesting, 1011

Verbere of the Flame

Ibara

My dear Verbere

I confess to some trepidation in writing this letter, for I know how deeply you felt Ashen’s loss and you blame me for it. I hope you will read it with a milder heart than 20 years hence, and will accept this token of remembrance and restitution for my mistakes.

I hear you are living comfortably and quietly in Ibara, with a good wife and family, and plying your trade still though in quieter and humbler manner than during our fiery youth. I do not pretend to believe that you care about my current situation, given the manner of our parting, but I tell you briefly that you may sense whether to trust my information. I have taken a position as archaeologist in an Academy in Estona, where I teach a little and also do a little research. After our parting I gave up on harsh living on the road, overcame my anger at the academy, and finished my studies as an astrologer. Here then, you see I know something of what I speak.

I have learnt in my studies that near Ibara there is a small cache of deepfolk iron, pure in form, cast in ingots, that was left forgotten there some centuries ago. I stumbled on word of it in the footnotes of a scholar known only as Aveld the Foul. Why he left it there I do not know but Aveld the Foul was a famous coward and endowed with a sixth sense for danger, so it is unlikely he would have found it if there were any risk. Perhaps a raiding party stashed it and fled, then died before the knowledge could be passed on, and perhaps Aveld the Foul left it there because he had no strength to carry the load. In any case, whatever the reason, I know the land around Ibara is safe and little-traveled by deepfolk, and no rumours have come to me of walkers, so I give you this information freely and ask nothing of you in return – not even a response to this message – except to hold some kindness in your heart for me as you grow older, and remember me for the better things we did together, and not for that tragic last night in the hills. I hope this small token of my regret for those events will help you in your future, though I hold no hope that it will soften your hear to me.

I owe you at least this. The map is copied from the notes of Aveld the Foul, and I expect it will take no more than a day or two from Ibara to find the cache. From Aveld’s notes it is not so heavy that you will need a horse, but worth considerable amounts regardless. My best wishes to you and yours, and know that I remain ever,

Your comrade in arms

Siladan the Elder

 

So, there was a treasure buried outside Ibara, the very town they were heading to. All they needed was perhaps a day of spare time and they could liberate it. It appeared that this “Verbere”, whoever he was, had gone to find the treasure and been ambushed by these bandits – at first the guards assumed it was his body in the ditch, but their captive informed them that the body had been the bandit who first tried to open the box. Now all the bandits were dead no one knew about it – except perhaps Verbere’s wife and children, but what did they matter? The guards packed up what they had found, tied a rope around the sole survivor’s neck, and trooped back to the wagons. They were just a few days away from riches, and the glorious fame that awaited bandit hunters in Ibara!


fn1: I don’t know anything about poison rules in Genesys yet, so I just made it up. Basically you do a hard resilience check every hour and if you fail you take a crit. The first two crits Yoog took were pretty nasty, and I’m using this house rule that if the number of levels of your crits is greater than your wound threshold you die, so pretty much within 4-6 hours Yoog was going to be in big trouble

Hadun Bay from the shores of Inorat

This the first session of the new campaign I am running, set in the Archipelago. The campaign begins in the small town of Inorat, on the east coast of Hadun just north of the great forest that separates Hadun from Ariaki. The PCs as a group do not know each other, but all for their own reasons have joined a merchant’s caravan as guards. The PCs are:

  • Bao Tap, a human stormcaller who was raised by dwarves but abandoned by his dwarven farmer on the coast near Inorat with instructions to find his own way in life
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, a human rimewarden who is something of a playboy, possibly in need of urgent work to escape a tricky situation with a local man and his wife
  • Itzel, an elven astrologer who emerged from the great forest to explore human lands, and only discovered on arrival in Inorat that when in human towns elves need money just like humans
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, a wildling barbarian looking for clues to a strange blight afflicting her tribal lands, and seeking travel to the Spine to begin learning about deepfolk and deep magic, which she suspects are responsible
  • Quangbae, a human explorer with an interest in crafting and metalwork, who has attached himself to the merchant caravan because it is run by an iron trader
  • Yoog, a changeling scoundrel on the run for a job gone wrong, and looking for obscurity in the wilds of Hadun for a short time

The caravan the PCs are guarding is owned by a merchant named Hugo Tuya, and for the rest of the first chapter of this campaign our heroes will be known as Hugo Tuya’s Guards.

Hadun Bay from the verandah of the Simpering Maiden

Meeting Hugo Tuya

The campaign begins in Inorat. Inorat is a small fishing town of perhaps 15,000 people with a long beach, surrounded by cornfields and within view of the distant great forest. The characters were interviewed for their escort work on the last day of the Drying Season, each visiting Hugo Tuya separately in a small interview room in a hotel called the Simpering Maiden and receiving the same story:

I need a small group of guards to protect my caravan. I’m taking a shipment of iron from here to Estona on the far side of Hadun. I want to arrive before the Traveling season, when demand is high, so we set off immediately after The Harrowing. It’s a peaceful journey but we will pass through a small pass in the southern Spine called the Middlemarch. It’s a little known travel route but relatively safe and only a few days’ journey, but I need guards just in case. I have no upfront payment but you will get an installment before Middlemarch, when we arrive at the town of Estala. There will be three people in the caravan: me, my wagoneer, and a cook and assistant. I expect the journey to go smoothly but you will be my insurance should anything go wrong

All having their own separate reasons for needing an urgent job despite the lack of upfront payment, the PCs agreed to his terms, and spent the three days of prayer and fasting that followed in relative peace of mind. On the third evening of The Harrowing they met Hugo Tuya and each other for the first time at the Simpering Maiden to break their fast, introduce themselves and discuss details of their mission.

Hugo Toya was a relatively tall, thin and slightly out of shape middle aged man, with straggly white hair cut in the shoulder-length bowl typical of his merchant class. He wore a simple tunic and trousers of comfortable cotton, and held himself in the party with the comfortable and easy manner of a man used to being treated with respect and deference wherever he went. The meal itself was pleasant and enjoyable, a fine spread of small dishes including the steamed shellfish in which Inorat specialized. Though the storm season would officially start in the morning the sky over the sea was clear and the weather comfortable, so the verandah doors had been thrown open to allow them an uninterrupted view of the Hadun Bay. In the cool evening air they discussed the mission, and Toya again assured them that the Middlemarch was safe, obscure and relatively little traveled. He again pressed upon them the urgency of his mission: people usually did not travel in the Storm season, and by the time it ended there was often a need for iron trade on the west coast, where maritime trade almost completely stopped for the month. By arriving nearly at the end of the Storm season they would be the first on hand with iron for a depleted market, with rich pickings to be made before other merchants could arrive.

Doesn’t matter the weather, everyone needs horseshoes

Tuya observed, and they nodded at his business acumen. Minor discussion followed about itineraries and camping and who would take what role, but in truth it seemed easy, at least as far as Estala, and they soon relaxed to enjoy light conversation and the pleasures of the sea at dusk. With the last flash of evening light and the emergence of the Whalestar on the Eastern horizon they called it a night, and left the table to make ready for an early start.

A typical traveler’s hut

Storms and travails

They gathered at the west gate of the bailey early the next morning, to find two women sitting on the rear folding gate of Tuya’s wagon. They introduced themselves as Selena, Tuya’s niece, and Laeia her maidservant. He had not mentioned this and indeed when he emerged looking hungover and exhausted from the cart he seemed none too happy with their presence. Atta, too, Tuya’s likeable and well-mannered assistant, also seemed somewhat perturbed by their presence, though he was too circumspect to say anything. They took it in their stride and headed out, just an hour or two later than expected, to begin the journey. Their first waypoint was Ibara, a small town of some 2000 souls about 4-5 days’ travel inland.

The day’s travel was uneventful, with the guards taking turns on point duty, the girls riding on the back gate of the wagon, and Tuya nursing his hangover inside. They arrived at a small hostelry before sundown and settled in to rest. The hostelry was a typical country rest for this area, the main building cut slightly into the ground so that they had to walk down a few steps into a dark, cozy alehouse. The building was ringed with a low wall of stone fragments topped with broken glass, and the stables were a covered space next to the main building. They slept in semi-private rooms on a balcony overlooking the dining area, their rooms separated by thin walls of bamboo and hanging curtains on the doors. It was during that night’s rest that Kyansei discovered Selena was not Tuya’s niece, and judging from the sounds coming from their cubicle had a much closer relationship. She had seen his marriage tattoo on that first night at the Simpering Maiden but she guessed Selena could not be the beneficiary of that promise, judging by the age of the tattoo. Perhaps this was why Tuya had been so unhappy to see Selena at his staging point in the morning – had he been hoping to give her the slip? Was his wife waiting for them at one of the towns on the road?

The next morning, tired and dispirited, Kyansei tried to explain the situation to the rest of the guards, though her language skills were still weak. They let it slide, and continued the journey. What harm could it do, really, and what business was it of theirs?

By mid-afternoon they had lost sight of the sea, and the road was winding through rough terrain on the edge of the forest. Behind them the sky darkened and the first storm of the Storm season blew in. It gained on them rapidly, stealing the light and assailing them with strong winds, and by late afternoon Kyansei was sure it would reach them before dark. For this night their plan had been to sleep rough, so they broke their forward march and scoured the area for somewhere to hide from the storm. They soon found an old traveler’s hut, a little distance removed from the road and seemingly abandoned, nestled among some low hills that might provide shelter from the worst of the storm. They hastened their animals into the lee of the hut, someone gathered water, and they managed to retreat inside the hut just as the rain began to pound the broken ground of the wasteland around the road. The storm settled in an hour later, casting the land in darkness and raging over their hut, but snug inside they slept well, and woke refreshed in the morning to a clear day. They returned to the road.

The ambush

The road was joined by a stream after an hour or two of travel, and having wandered away from the verge of the great forest entered into an area of scattered copses of trees. Many of the trees had been damaged by the storm, and leaves and broken branches littered the road, so at first they did not think much when they found a fallen tree blocking the road  – it was storm season, after all. However, as they began to cut it apart to make way for the wagon one of them realized its base appeared cut with an axe of some kind, not lightning struck, and they realized they were in a trap. They began moving back to the wagon for their weapons, and the trap sprang shut.

Arrows flew from the trees on both sides of the road, some hitting Kyansei and some falling harmlessly around the wagon. They all scrambled back for weapons and cover and the fight began. There were archers in the trees up a small slope on the right side of the road, and more hidden in the trees across the stream on the left side. Kyansei charged the archers across the river and while Bao Tap, Quangbae and Callim moved to take on the ones on the near side. Yoog moved into a covered archery position while Itzel attempted to cast a fire armour spell on her allies, failing miserably. Those crossing the river failed, and stood trapped in its strong flow as arrows rained down on them; on the other side of the bank Quangbae found the archers and began to attack them with his club. Kyansei dragged herself out of the stream, catching sight of the archers as she flopped onto the bank, and made short work of them when she caught up to them. As the archers wilted under their attack four more men emerged at the far end of the road, charging for the wagon and the unarmed Tuya. Yoog fired on them, bringing them up short for a moment and giving Callim time to intercede. By the time the four men reached him Kyansei had dragged herself across the river and thrown herself into the fray, wreathed in fire from Itzel’s spell, and Quangbae had finished off the archers on his side. The four men were rapidly cut down to two and, seeing their fate written in the salt, turned to flee.

The guards watched them go, caught their breath, and prepared to follow. Bandits should be scourged, and where there are bandits there is always money. They gathered together and hurled themselves down the road after the fleeing fighters, rage in their fists and coin in their eyes …


Image notes

The seascapes are from the Instagram accounts of Christina Mittenmeier and Morgan Massen. The hut is from the instagram account of Alexey Gupolov. I recommend following all of them!

As my Coriolis campaign comes to its extremely violent conclusion, I am completing preparations for the next campaign I plan to GM. The last few campaigns I have GM’d have been science fiction: Coriolis, before that the Spiral Confederacy (Traveler), and before that a post-apocalyptic water-world campaign called Flood (using Cyberpunk rules, natch). My players are craving some high fantasy and so am I, but I am completely over D&D and incapable of running it or playing it any more – I just find it boring in all its incarnations and although I loved it when I was younger I can’t enjoy it past about 5th level, so I don’t want to run it anymore. I considered Warhammer, but I think my players would like to move away from worlds saturated in darkness and I know that when I GM Warhammer I make it altogether very grimdark, which some of my players don’t need. So, I decided to make my own sunny and upbeat campaign world for Genesys, using a classic fantasy RPG setting with orcs and magic and mediaeval scenes and monsters and completely arbitrary but fixed notions of good and evil which mean the PCs can slay any evil monster they want without fear of repercussions or any moral quandaries. The setting I chose is based on a map I found on the internet, and I choose at this stage to call it the Archipelago Campaign.

The Archipelago

The Archipelago is a collection of island kingdoms of manageable size, isolated from any major landmasses and connected by stormy but navigable seas. There are 8 nations of human settlements, a large wild area occupied by human-like tribespeople called wildlings, a single island for dwarves, and a couple of forests where elves live. There are also a few members of a race of people called Changelings, who are like humans but smaller and a bit weird, who live in hunter-gatherer societies and can change their form to perfectly resemble any human they have ever seen. The entire area is also plagued by deepfolk: orcs, goblins, ogres, dark elves and deep gnomes who are implacably evil and hate humans with all their heart and soul (if they have a soul). The deepfolk live underground and come out through hidden entrances and lairs in mountains, hillsides and forests, and there is constant conflict between these nasty creatures and humans. There are also other monsters in the forests and mountains, and one island has been ravaged and taken over by a dragon.

The refugee history of humans

The human society in this land is relatively light on history and politics. Humans arrived in the Archipelago 1000 years ago as refugees, but were immediately plunged into 200 years of constant flight and conflict as the deepfolk tried to destroy them. As a result of these 200 Lost Years they have forgotten their origins and lost all documents and written stories about their past, and so they know nothing about where they came from, why they fled, or how they came to the Archipelago. After 200 years the dwarves took pity on them and helped them found a few pathetic settlements, and after that they slowly formed kingdoms. They had to learn to read and write from the dwarves, either because they had no written language or all those details were destroyed during the Lost Years. They brought a kind of magic with them, learnt a new kind from the dwarves and a third kind from the elves, and slowly settled and spread across the Archipelago. Out of respect for their refugee history they have no systems of slavery or kings or queens, and generally there is not much conflict between kingdoms – I have set this society up to be light on politics and history so the PCs can focus on uncovering secrets and killing orcs, but without having the stultifying and boring influence of feudalism on the society.

In general human society is at the technology level of Britain in the 9th century, with the caveat that they have little access to iron – all iron and jewels are hoarded by deepfolk and can only be obtained through war. So weapons and armour are slightly neolithic. This introduces a new tier of weapons between mundane weapons and magic weapons, and gives additional reasons to kill those pale-skinned underground bastards.

Magic and religion

There are three forms of magic in the world, each connected to a religion: Salt, the magic humans brought with them; Storm, the magic dwarves love, which helps them become consummate sailors; and sun, the magic the elves prefer, which is most like the arcane magic we all know and love. There is no heaven and hell, no demons, no afterlife and no special moral restrictions from religion, so religion is primarily a reassuring force to make pathetic humans feel they have a place in the world, rather than a strong moral code. PCs can be one of the three religions but can never mix magical forms. There is a fourth kind of magic, deep magic, used by deepfolk, which is the only way that one can learn necromancy or enchantments, but no human has ever used it so domination spells and vampires are entirely the province of the deepfolk. Deepfolk are evil!

Races and classes

In this world as in all my worlds elves are dodgy, shonky wild creatures who can’t be understood or trusted, but players can choose an elven PC if that is their thing. Dwarves are simply small, thin folk who live on the sea and are masters of art, culture and craft – kind of like erudite 16th century explorers compared to the 9th century barbarian humans. The wildlings of the north are maybe a lost tribe of humans or maybe a different indigenous race, no one knows, but they’re bigger and kind of more savage than humans. Changelings live in small hunter-gatherer societies on the fringe of human nations, and don’t seem to have much wealth or care for human activities, but are much sought after for their transformation powers. No one can play any form of deepfolk, because deepfolk are evil.

Resources and plans

The document I have prepared for my players to read can be found here, with detailed information about the world and rules for the Genesys system. We will be starting in the next month or two, depending on brutally the players are able to end the Coriolis campaign. I am looking forward to a long, leisurely exploration of a fantasy realm after many years of science fiction!