Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Time of the Tarrasque #17: Quaint Local Religions

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 4.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 4.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 4; and Zafira, camel mount.
(L-R): Father Abghat; Kelk; Mother Shogar with lizard companion Borba
Last time, the party reached the half-orc settlement of Gorza's Well, but had to slay a dust mantis before they could enter. Once inside, they reported on the fight to one of the village leaders, Father Abghat, and spoke with him about their mission against the death cultists of the Ghost Fist Clan. They learned a bit more about that tribe from Kelk, an orc refugee from the decimated Snakespear Tribe, but it was clear that they needed to seek out more information at the Burburan Oasis.

The funeral for the dead guard Kazar took place the next day. Due to the difficulty of ground burial in rocky desert terrain, and the lack of fuel for cremation, the half-orcs of Gorza's Well practiced sky burial. All the PCs decided to accompany the procession to witness this ritual: ZhaZha because it was her home and she helped recover the body, Edel because he wished to help honor the dead, and Jumari and Fatou out of curiosity. The body, now wrapped in cloth, was carried by friends and immediate family out of the caves and up a long steep path cut in the side of the ravine. Mother Shogar, an old half-orc priestess with no gray in her hair, and Kelk led the procession while chanting for the dead. (This Orcish chant was partly intelligible words, partly nonsense syllables.) Shogar wore a large number of trinkets and fetishes, many of them related to the Tarrasque, but once again, Jumari failed to recognize their significance. A monitor lizard, the priestess's companion Borba, followed her. Father Abghat also attended, because the dead man had been a guard and thus under his command.

Above the ravine, the procession continued to an exposed height, where the body was placed upon a group of large, flat stones and the cloth removed. The long, deep slashes that covered Kazar's body made further evisceration unnecessary, so the villagers merely stepped back, fell silent, and waited for the gathering vultures to descend and begin their feast.

The PCs conversed quietly among themselves as they watched. Fatou's questions about the ritual, which she found both strange and quaint, revealed enough of her own ignorance and superior attitude to irk both ZhaZha and Jumari. After some time, the mourners returned to the village, leaving only Kazar's cousin Zakar and one other half-orc to keep watch over the body. (After a few days, once the body was picked clean, the bones would be collected and carried back to the village.)

The next day, our heroes departed for the Burburan Oasis. This journey took three days, and was uneventful. After a night's rest, they spent a day selling most of the the loot they took from the hobgoblins. They kept most of the magic items [see Session #15], but sold the rest. Jumari used her share to buy a masterwork longbow built for her strength, while ZhaZha finally acquired a masterwork version of her favored weapon, the heavy pick. Meanwhile, Fatou was able to acquire the necessary supplies to copy new spells from the hobgoblin wizard's spellbook into her own, then sold the captured grimoire for additional supplies for future spells and scrolls.

The party then spent time seeking more information about the Ghost Fist Clan, as well as any leads on ways to acquire more money. They learned that the Ghost Fists had been growing bolder in their attacks on caravans traveling to and from the Stairs (the easiest path up the face of the Shalash Escarpment to the north). The last caravan to come in from the north had been attacked by giant vermin and zombies as well as orcs. These monsters had attacked while traveling during the cool night, about a day south of the Stairs. Due to the length of a round trip on this northern trade route, nobody could be certain if any caravans had gone missing recently. The Ghost Fists had attacked a number of caravans over the past year or so, but did not seem to be seeking anything in particular besides easy booty, slaves, and food.

A couple of caravans in the oasis town were preparing to head north soon. One of these groups was composed of desert nomads, mostly halflings, who would be taking supplies to settlements just north of the Stairs. This group was still mustering, so would not be leaving immediately.

The other group was a band of kobolds seeking escorts in order to return safely to their home north of the desert. Their leader, a merchant, was currently a guest of the local sheik, Hafiz Barakat (whom the PCs had met briefly when they escorted Lucan Midorichal here a couple months before). Edel was not a big fan of kobolds, due to his homeland being invaded by them, but he realized that the caravan might be a useful source of news from there--if he could suppress his urge to murder the vile little things.

With that thought in mind, he and his companions asked around for more information about these kobolds. The merchant, a copper-scaled kobold named Vartoranax, dealt in esoteric arcane components, and was returning home to southern Fendorlis after doing business in Almazur. Fatou recognized the name thank to her connections in the arcane community there. Vartoranax had visited the city in the past, and being both a sorcerer and a successful merchant gave him high status among his own people. The merchant was accompanied by a blue-scaled herald named Tyrrentyg, and an experienced guide named Nylrynn.

Edel and his friends decided to seek a job with the kobolds. They found them camped in a small cluster of tents near the sheik's residence. The largest of these tents was a flashy pavilion with a banner hung outside: a kobold coat of arms that resembled a copper snake wrapped around a bag of money. A handful of kobold guards stood squinting in the sun under an awning. Edel addressed these kobolds in Draconic, and one of them fetched Tyrrentyg from inside. Edel greeted her very formally, and inquired about employment. The herald was surprised to be addressed so politely by an elf, and asked about the PCs' skills. Edel replied that Jumari and ZhaZha hit things, Fatou set them on fire, and that he was well-versed in knowledge of the land. When Tyrrentyg asked Fatou what kind of magic she cast, she replied, "both arcane and divine." The herald noticed her holy symbol, and asked if she was a priest of the local moon god. Upon affirming that, it was Fatou's turn to be called "quaint."

Tyrrentyg was favorably impressed with the group, so explained that the caravan would be crossing the desert, then making other arrangements for transport once they reached the forest of Fendorlis. (This detail intrigued Edel, whose home was in that forest, but troubled Jumari, who had never left the desert before now.) The herald made an offer of payment, which Edel and Fatou (the only PCs who spoke Draconic) proceeded to haggle over. While they did so, Jumari peevishly asked in Orcish if they could speak "a reasonable language." Tyrrentyg clearly understood her, and haggled a bit more keenly after that as a result. Eventually, both sides reached an acceptable amount, and the herald asked how soon they could depart. Edel replied, "We are at your disposal." The kobold informed them that they would leave the night after this one, then asked if they would be bringing any animals. On hearing the PCs had camels, Tyrrentyg stated that the kobolds were not accustomed to such animals, so be sure to bring feed for them.

During this conversation, Jumari used her inquisitor's senses to try to determine Tyrrentyg's alignment, as well as that of the guards and any other kobolds that might be inside the pavilion. She detected none of the four alignment components, so concluded that they had no clerics among them.


For more on funeral customs in this setting, see this past column of "Studded Plate"; sky burials are mentioned in the final paragraph.

We left the length of the journey, and the pay offered, to be resolved later, because I needed to do some calculations about distance and travel time, and research suitable payment. The caravan needs to travel about 300 miles: 50 miles across the desert to the Shalash Escarpment, then traverse the Stairs to the top, then 150 miles to the north edge of the Lokoran Desert (stopping at a couple more oases along the way), then about 100 miles across the foothills of the Dragonspine Mountains to the southern border of Fendorlis. This will take a minimum of 24 days, and possibly as long as a month if there are delays.

Appendix: Previous Sessions
UPDATE 11/29/2018: An index of past sessions has been posted here. From now on, I'll be providing a link to that page in each new post, rather then the whole list.

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