Our young heroes rush into the city to buy appropriate clothes for their introduction to society. Astounding how rough and ready heroes known for their attention to weaponry can suddenly become obsessed with haute couture merely by the presence of nobility.
The tailor wants to dress them silk (think of the comissions!) but ultimately counsels them to wear wool, as Cardinal Ragnar and Count Kird are practical fellows. And what they wear matters: wool indicates they are with the throne and thus the Peace faction, while silk would mean they were aligning with Earl Theodorick and the War faction.
They are formally presented at the dinner as merely "... of the Wild," meaning they don't have to publicly declare a rank or profession yet. Since they won't be lords until the end of the dinner this fiction suffices. Given a choice of three tables, they pick the Peace faction with their ally Count Kird.
Unfortunately not all allies are created equally. Vicar Bernard, the second major member of the Peace faction, has brought one of his subjects as a guest: Ser Branford. They last saw Ser Branford when they were betraying and murdering his boss, the bard Dacey, in a bar in Varsoulou. Vicar Bernard has some earnest questions about their affiliation and strongly suggests they sit for a religious interview.
They are well aware of the difficulties this could cause - their cleric is heretic and wizardry is widely viewed as demonic - so they politely beg off. Brandford, however, has a matter of honor to settle with the barbarian who once fought by his side only to turn on him. Betrayal is a worse crime than murder to the Green.
The King's Courtesy holds, however, and no violence erupts at the dinner table. The duel is scheduled for the next morning. In the meantime the party tries to avoid the War faction, despite the Earl expressing his delight that some swordplay will soon be provided for entertainment, and chats up the Neutral faction. Only representatives of these lesser thrones have attended the dinner, but the leader of House Chadwick bends their ears about how hard he has been searching for a land route to trade spice with Varsoulou. He even had a line on some adventurer who claimed to mapping a route, but the poor fellow disappeared after a while. The party declines to point out that they know anything about this (if you recall, the contact that was trying to hire them to do this was mysteriously murdered and his head was left in a jar in their inn; they later tried to fob this preserved skull off on Count Erligil as evidence they had murdered the leader of the Order of the Tower). However, they are interested in the merchant's complains that House Marconi is secretly trading spice by sea despite public avowals. They leave open the possibility of future discussions vis a vie the land trade in spices. Now that they are lords they are suddenly interested in money as opposed to mere power.
The duel is not as one-sided as feared. Though Brandon is only 3rd rank, he is specialized in dueling, and he gives the barbarian a real run for his money in a fight that sees him delivering two critical strikes and getting the barbarian to within a sword's blow of losing. However, the barbarian's rage proves to be a powerful enhancement, luckily lasting just long enough to finish the fight. The barbarian adds Brandon's masterwork greatsword to his weapon collection but allows Vicar Bernard to ransom the man's armor. Bernard's magic also means that Brandon doesn't bleed out on the spot, so this threat will return again in the future. Especially since the Vicar still wants that interview...
The party decides to get out of town before they get any more attention. Back at their inn they discover that rumor travels fast; an enterprising stonemason is eager to begin planning and building the fortress that any landlord must necessarily have. When he finds out they have a ruined keep to start with, he explains that will save them significantly on the cost of materials. He estimates they only need to spend 84,000 gp over the next five years to acquire a small stone keep.
The party signs up with the first minimal payment - his salary while he puts together a crew - and heads out to check on the status of their ruined keep. As they were warned some time ago, it already has new occupants. They find two score of women, children, and old men living in tents inside the ruins of the walls. Rather than murder them all for the tael in their heads (our heroes are still technically on Team Good), they decide to hang out with the peasants until their menfolk return. The bard uses magic to make the daily meal more exciting, and is somewhat disappointed that the peasants are actually used to it.
A few days later two score of armored men march into camp, backed by a pair of bards - the twin brothers Archilochus and Aristeas, whom the party quickly dubs the "A-team." These brothers, leaders of the bandit gang The Argossey (detailed in Bandits of the Stinging Sea) spin a yarn about being descended from Odysseys and on a quest to sack the fabled city of Troy. They only have one warship at the moment but are eager to bring the party into their fleet.
There's a bit of posturing as the party bard tries to enforce some kind of rent payment while the rest of the party tries to figure out how to chase off the bandits without a fight (thereby annoying the DM who had assumed this was going to be the big battle of the night), but eventually the party decides to recruit the bandits to help them recover the women they left behind in the Black Knight's manor (see Journal #11). A short sea voyage is just the thing to see if the two groups can work together - especially since the party would like the brigand's help in disrupting House Marconi's spice trade (though they'll need a lot more information to make that happen).
Sailing around the coast of Edersarr, they quickly cover ground that took weeks to walk over. Landing near the Black Knight's manor they borrow ten of the brigand's common soldiers and march inland. Almost immediately they encounter a hag bathing in the river. Her horrific appearance cripples the bard and all the common men, while her evil eye almost kills the cleric and druid outright. The ranger is doing his usual bad dice rolling while the barbarian tries to rush into the river to close with her. Just as he gets there the ranger decides to lower his chances of hitting by firing two arrows at once; both hit, of course, killing the hag instantly. No need to resort to the ranger's mythical dagger of slaying!
They send the weakened and sickened common soldiers back to the boat and press on alone, only to be severely threatened by a flock of birds. Stirges - the bane of adventurers everywhere! By the end of the short battle almost everyone is suffering from CON damage. If not for the cleric's fear and the druid's hawk it would have gone even worse. Nonetheless, they persist.
(Both of these encounters, like all of the encounters so far, were pre-generated by my Sandbox World Generator program. Having basically level-appropriate encounters for every possible place the party could randomly decide to go is quite helpful. Whew!)
The manor house, as it turns out, is not a ruined tombstone for a bunch of helpless commoners. Instead, it's under new management. The original Black Knight had a retainer in the form of the bard Pascale (who was not in the encounter because the DM forgot about him despite having the entire encounter written out in advance). This fellow had been out spying on Varsoulou and sourcing supplies (and getting a drink out from under his rather dour boss's nose). When he came back and found the women all alone and helpless he started packing his things, but then the Black Knight's warhorses came ambling home, followed by a pair of donkeys loaded with saddlebags full of gold - the party's gold, not that he knew that (this occurred when the party was kidnapped for the City of Tomorrow, in Journal #12). Pascale took this as a sign from the gods that the manor was a money-making position and decided to stay.
He spent the money on attracting a new band of brigands. Vignetta, a fire sorcerer from Edersar, and her gang of bowmen known as Vengence Inc. (also from Brigands of the Stinging Sea) have moved in. The band has grown to twenty men and both Pascale and Vignetta have gained a rank, largely due to the unintended generosity of the party. When the party sees a score of longbows staring done at them from the walls of the fortified manor, they balk. Still suffering from weakness from their previous encounters they can do little but talk. The bard in particular begs for the return of his beloved donkeys. Much to his surprise, Vignetta agrees - after all, the price of a pair of donkeys is a small investment against the possibility that these yahoos will load them with gold and then lose them again. Dispirited, they trudge away in defeat.
The pall of failure beings to rankle, though. Days later when they reach the boat and find the bandit crew restored to health they have changed their minds. As lords they are in need of peasants; as subjects of a kingdom they are naturally at war with all bandits; and these arguments serve to justify their base desire to get revenge for their recent humiliation. They talk up the treasure they lost to the manor and convince the A-team to mount a joint raid on the manor. With all their men and rank it should be an easy fight, especially since they won't be crippled this time.
Join us next month when the party discovers just how much a DM can do with 2 low-rank NPCs, given time to plan a proper defense.