Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #1: New Companions

Every few decades, that dreaded abomination, the Tarrasque, reawakens from its long slumber. At such a time, the world's greatest heroes must defend the world from its nigh-insatiable appetite. Sometimes these heroes fail, and civilizations fall. And even when they succeed, the lands in the Tarrasque's wake are changed forever.

As I've mentioned in a past post, I've been wanting to run a campaign featuring the Tarrasque for quite some time. About two years ago, we started gearing up for it in earnest, but I wanted to finish the Freeport campaign I was running at the time on a high note before starting a new long-term game. That took rather longer than initially planned, but we finished that up in August, then my wife Erika ran a mini-campaign for us while I focused on recharging and prepping. During that hiatus, I met with each player individually to finalize their characters and work out a bit more background--including how they arrived in the area where the campaign proper begins.

This campaign uses the Pathfinder RPG rules. The "Lands of the Sun" pages on my "Time of the Tarrasque" wiki give character creation guidelines and background information for players in my game. I've shared the campaign teaser in a previous blog post here; I suggest reading (or rereading) that before you continue. In my columns about this campaign, I will frequently link to relevant pages on that wiki, or to past "Studded Plate" columns, that give additional information.

Back row: ZhaZha (on Zafira). Front row (L-R): Lucretia, Edel (with Marta), Fatou (with Nochaesh), Jubair, and Jumari.

The players characters are starting at 1st level, and include:

Edel Naergon, a high elf bard, was born in the high elf kingdom of Fendorlis. He fled his homeland in the wake of an invasion by kobolds of the Zolothi Compact (so-named because of their fealty to the green dragon queen Zoloth). After leaving Fendorlis, he eventually ended up in the Shield, a human stronghold in the shadow of the Dragonspine Mountains. In his travels, he has picked up a pet cat who he named Marta.

Lucretia Scavola, a half-elf monk (zen archer archetype), was born in the matriarchal human Empire of Thovalas. After finishing her training, she started traveling the world to learn more about other nations. After spending some time in the wood elf kingdom of Allasimar, where she learned more about her elven heritage, she sailed south to the Shield to study in a Thovalan-style martial academy there.

Fatou, a human wizard (evoker), was born into a magical family in Almazur, the capital of the Emirate of Kobara. She is deeply religious, worshiping the Javanian moon goddess Yaziel, but has seen little of the world outside her school and home city. She has an owl familiar named Nochaesh.

Jubair, a human rogue, grew up in the desert near Zahallan. He scavenges in the wastelands for anything he can sell for food and other supplies. His solitude has made him rather awkward socially, which frequently causes trouble for him--particularly around women. 

ZhaZha, a half-orc cavalier, is also a native of the nearby desert. She grew up among half-orcs, but she finds far too many of them to be exactly the sort of savage beasts that others see them as, so has decided to try her luck among other races. She has a camel mount named Zafira.

Jumari, a half-orc inquisitor, is an albino with pasty grayish skin and startling red eyes. She is notably close-mouthed about her own beliefs and background, but is dedicated to investigating the death cult that operates in secret on the frontier.

We have now had our first group session, so "Time of the Tarrasque" is--finally--underway! 

Edel and Lucretia met when they signed on to a caravan organized by a human merchant, Lucan Midorichal. This caravan started in Pax, capital of the Shield, crossed the Dragonspine Mountains, then traveled east through northern Khaldoon and the southeastern fringes of the Lokoran Desert to the city of Almazur in Asasor. When Lucretia learned that Edel was from Fendorlis, she encouraged him to tell her more about his homeland, as she plans to travel there to see for herself what state the conquered kingdom is in. He has had little news from that region for the past several years, since the initial elven diaspora following the conquest.

In Almazur, Fatou signed on with the caravan because she was eager to get away from her home (for reasons she has not yet shared). Midorichal and his entourage continued on north to Zahallan, a town on the edge of the desert, where they stopped at the Blind Camel, a caravanserai run by an immensely obese halfling, Gathmir the Fat. Midorichal planned to stay in Zahallan for a few days to do more trading, and to recruit more guards for the next, more dangerous, leg of the journey, into the Lokoran Desert.

This is where Jubair, ZhaZha, and Jumari joined the caravan. All three are from this area, so are experienced in desert travel, and familiar with the most common dangers of the area--notably, the orc tribes who claim much of the neighboring wastelands. (In fact, Jubair was rather surprised to see half-orcs signing on as caravan guards, given the race's usual reputation. But upon getting to know them better, he found them more agreeable than expected.)

Over the next day or two, the PCs used their off-duty time to explore Zahallan. Fatou made a point of visiting the Temple of the Moon to worship her goddess. (Unlike most settlements in Asasor, where the Javanian pantheon share a single temple, Zahallan has separate temples for the moon goddess Yaziel and sun god Talitar.) 

Edel followed Jubair's recommendation for a reputable tavern to perform at. Lucretia had adopted the habit of accompanying Edel on such excursions, partly to enjoy his work and partly to watch his back. This time, his performance was the story of a hobgoblin attack during their journey here; his description of Lucretia's archery skills was quite flattering.

The next night, while Jubair and Fatou were on duty, the wizard noticed a halfling woman who was skulking about, watching Midorichal and his employees and goods. When the halfling moved in the direction of their employer's rooms, Fatou alerted Jubair and followed her. When the small robed woman stopped to listen at the boss's door, Jubair confronted her. That precipitated a fight, though Jubair found himself unable to attack the tiny sneak-thief, and was then frightened away by her. [She cast sanctuary followed by cause fear.] Meanwhile, Fatou's spells wounded the intruder, who tried to escape but underestimated Jubair's ire when he shook off her spell. Between Fatou's owl hooting an alarm and the sounds of fighting, the other PCs were soon drawn to the scene (except for Edel who, alas, was too sound asleep). Lucretia arrived first and awoke Midorichal. Jumari arrived just in time to see Jubair take down the halfling, but the inquisitor quickly stabilized her for questioning. 

Jumari also stripped and searched the unconscious woman, finding an ebony disk that Fatou identified as an unholy symbol of Asmolon, a death god and especial enemy of the Javanian deities. The half-orc immediately smashed the symbol, but retained the shards as evidence.

The caravanserai's chief of security arrived moments later. After hearing the PCs tell what had occurred, he took custody of the unconscious intruder while a message was sent to the temples. 

The next day, the authorities informed the PCs about the results of their interrogation. The halfling, Rozhelle, was indeed a death cultist, and the PCs could expect a reward for her capture. She had been hired to steal black onyx gems from the merchant; these gems could be used to animate the dead. She knew little about her contact, a half-orc named Izaz, except that she suspected the name to be an alias. 

The fight and this report prompted a discussion among the PCs about death cults. Jubair was deeply confused about what could motivate someone to subscribe to such beliefs. He has resolved to help track down more death cultists so that he can ask them for himself. Meanwhile, Jumari made it clear that she intends to simply find them and stop them. The others, with the exception of the more cautious Edel, all leaned towards looking into this threat as well, once free of their commitment to Midorichal.

The subject of the Tarrasque also came up, because both its cult and Asmolon's are popular among the orc tribes of the Lokoran Desert. ZhaZha explained to Jubair that many orcs idolize the Tarrasque for its awesome strength and indestructibility, which made much more sense to him than adoring a nihilistic death god. Except for Edel, the PCs knew little substantial lore about the Tarrasque. He informed them that the beast's last known appearance in the world was in the heart of the high elf kingdom, where it devoured the last king nearly three decades ago. That rampage weakened Fendorlis enough that armies of kobolds led by a green dragon were able to conquer it several years later. Lucretia wants to see what became of the kingdom. Edel wants to return with enough swords to reclaim his home.

Next time, the PCs will accompany the caravan into the desert. One of my players opined that they were not yet a "party," at least not until they stop being hired guards and start adventuring on their own. Their new interest in dealing with the death cult seems the most likely motivation for that change.

To close, I offer a verse written by my friend Chris LoBue, who plays the bard Edel. He hopes to write one of these for each session for as long as his bard lives.

The Time of the Tarrasque, verse 1

A cultist of the god of death did creep
Up on our boss, with Edel fast asleep.
She sought his gems that they might raise the dead,
But mage and scout did battle her instead.
With blade and spell, they brought the crook to heel
That temple justice soon this thief would feel.
Awake at last, this humble elf did share
His tale of woe with new companions there.

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