Thursday, July 18, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #26: Hurry Up and Wait

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 5.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 2; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 5.
  • Skarlo Rockhopper, gnome summoner 5; and Skuttledust, scorpion-like eidolon
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 5; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes fought a pair of primitive dragons and recovered one of their eggs. They then finally reached their destination, the elven forest of Fendorlis, and the kobold-occupied border town of Galdar. They gladly parted ways with the kobold caravan, and met a young gnome named Skarlo Rockhopper who is interested in seeing the desert. Skarlo confirmed the existence of a local resistance effort, so the party promised to take him with them if he could put them in touch with the rebels.

Skarlo went to talk with his contacts, Pyntle, a female gnome who worked as a street entertainer, and Theren, a male elf who was a warrior of some kind. He told them about the newcomers he'd met, who were interested in the resistance. Teren and Pyntle were surprised that Skarlo would suggest that half-orcs join them, but the summoner explained that they had worked for the kobold caravan, but didn't like them much. The two rebels decided to watch the group, and asked Skarlo to find out more about their capabilities. 

Meanwhile, the others discussed Jumari's paranoia. She explained that her parents tried to kill her as an infant, and she expects other people to try to, too. (ZhaZha opined that everyone is trying to kill everyone else in her home village, but that's just training.) The conversation then changed to the dragon egg. ZhaZha offered to train it for Jumari if she hatches it. Fatou suggested the cavalier might be able to train it as a mount. 

Skarlo returned to the inn later in the day, to report what his contacts had told him. Jumari replied that she didn't plan to stick around just to be watched. ZhaZha wondered aloud if the rebels expected their party to fight someone to impress them, and said, "I don't want to kill things just for the sake of killing things...I don't believe I just said that." (Edel and Fatou were also shocked by this statement.) Jumari insisted that if Skarlo's friends wanted them to do something, they needed to let them know what. She suggested that they could give more information on the caravan they arrived here with, and Edel suggested they might be able to sabotage those kobolds. In the end, they sent Skarlo back to request more enlightenment about what the resistance expects.

While the party waited to hear back about that, ZhaZha suggested that they look for signs of the death cult here in Galdar. The other agreed, and also tried to learn more about the local resistance, and whether there were any problems that outsiders could solve. They found no trace of the death cult. (Most of the people they asked assumed they meant the Winter Queen--the faerie goddess of death and darkness--and knew nothing of Asmolon.)

The townsfolk were very close-mouthed about the resistance. Jumari and Fatou sensed that some of them knew more than they were willing to say, but were afraid to talk to outsiders--especially a group that included half-orcs. Fatou offered her two friends some coin to go have a nice meal while she and Edel talked to more people; the cavalier and inquisitor readily agreed. By this time, the party had also noticed of elves following them, so splitting the group would also test their tail. 

As Fatou and Edel continued asking questions about town, they did not gain many answers to their questions. However, they did hear that the locals planned to hold their usual Winter Solstice celebrations in a week, but were worried about the kobolds interfering. Since the occupation of Galdar, the kobolds had mostly let business continue as usual, but they gathered taxes on all trade that passed through the town, and forbid some things like other races gathering in armed bands. (Fatou believed that one of the elves continued to follow her and Edel, but the bard saw no sign of this.)

Jumari and Fatou went to get food, and easily spotted the elf following them. They continued to be nosy, mostly just for the sake of hearing what others said about them. They attracted a good deal of attention, but could not understand most of the bystanders' comments (which were in their native Elven, Gnome, or Draconic). Fatou had been generous with her coin, so they sampled food from many shops (favoring those with "barbeque" or other roasted meat), and brought quite a few leftovers back to share with their friends. 

Skarlo was unable to locate Teren (who was probably busy watching the newcomers), but did find Pyntle. The summoner told her more about the group--two could fight, one wore a holy symbol, one told stories--and Pyntle relented enough to tell Skarlo that the resistance may have work for them by the solstice. 

After the gnome reported this to the party, Jumari opined that she might need to leave town, to avoid causing trouble. However, and ZhaZha wanted to find work to earn some money if they found nothing better to do during that week. Edel could easily make some coin performing. Fatou planned to replenish her supply of wizardly materials and scribe some more scrolls. 


[We stopped there because I found myself underprepared for a full session, and some of us were more tired from the week than usual. In order to have a more productive session next time, we continued the conversation via email. What follows summarizes that discussion and exposition.]

The Winter Solstice celebrations in Galdar normally begins with some sacred pageantry, led by local religious leaders and their assistants, to mark the changing of the seasons. This is followed by a great deal of raucous partying. 

Skarlo learned from his contacts that the resistance was concerned that the kobolds might interfere in these celebrations--especially if any of the local fey showed up, which they have in the past. Fey are wild and unpredictable, so tend to make the kobolds twitchy. The rebels wanted the PCs to stay near the religious leaders and protect them if there is any trouble. 

As natives of Fendorlis, Edel and Skarlo know that the solstices and equinoxes are the principal holy days of both the Faerie Sovereigns and the druids. The principal actors in Galdar's religious drama will represent the four Faerie Sovereigns as those deities change partners with the progression of the seasons. The Winter Queen and Summer King exchange consorts (Spring and Autumn) at each solstice and equinox; one of those two monarchs, along with their current consort, are ascendant during each season. Winter and Autumn are the current ruling pair, but at the solstice, Autumn will decline and Spring will ascend. (At the vernal equinox, Summer and Spring will become the ascendant pair, and so on.) 

Skarlo is related to two of the actors: his cousin Banwyn is a priestess of the Spring Princess, Nalanimil, and her husband Felvar will play the role of the Winter Queen, Maridor. (Maridor is a sinister goddess, feared rather than worshiped by honest folk, but she remains an integral part of the yearly cycle. She has no priests of her own among good-aligned elves, gnomes, and fey, but clerics of the pantheon honor her as part of the whole of nature. Here in Galdar, a layperson always plays her role.) The summoner knows that the other two leaders are both high elves: Daenestra, a female druid who will represent the Autumn Prince, Basaran, and Ornthalas, a male priest of the Summer King, Vanatar. 


"...a fat camel with big jaws."
[And finally, we had a brief session with just Jumari and ZhaZha's players, in order to address the potential conflict between them once the inquisitor finally learns the cavalier's religion. ZhaZha acquiring the banner class feature at this level provided the perfect opportunity to explore that.]

Jumari found ZhaZha sketching images in the dirt, and asked what she was doing. The cavalier explained that she was designing a banner, which would help their party remember that they had help at hand. She belonged to the Order of the Dragon, but was having difficulty drawing one, because she had never seen a true dragon. (Despite Fatou identifying the two amphipteres they had fought as dragons, they didn't fit her mental image of one.) The thing that the people of her village drew has powerful limbs and a lot of teeth. But given her limited knowledge with strong beasts, she was afraid that her drawing looked too much like a fat camel with big jaws.

A dragon--this specific dragon--is the most powerful thing that ZhaZha could think of. It had been ages and ages since any of her people had seen one, so they only had crude drawings. Jumari asked if she follows or worships it. ZhaZha revealed her incredulity at Jumari not having figured it out when they were in Gorza's Well. She hesitated to name it because, based on Jumari's reactions in the past, she was afraid the inquisitor would want to kill her. Jumari was still confused, so ZhaZha had to explain bluntly that she and her family worshiped the Tarrasque*. The leaders of her tribe all wore its symbols. Jumari was surprised-she had never seen its symbols before to recognize them. She reassured ZhaZha that she wasn't going to kill her--she liked her, and would miss their friendship. (Also, it was far more fun to tease Edel together.)

ZhaZha guessed that Fatou might have a better idea what it looked like, due to her extensive book-learning. Jumari reminded her that Edel had spoken of it, too. (ZhaZha confessed that history mostly went over her head--she'd rather be pointed at things to fight now.)

Jumari wanted to kill the Tarrasque, because it ate her god. Edel wanted to kill it because it ate his king. ZhaZha wanted to be the best rider ever, and the hardest thing to ride must be the Tarrasque. If she could ride it before they kill it, she'd be content. Jumari believed Edel would agree to that. But ZhaZha worried that another one might not appear within her lifetime--which, as a half-orc and a warrior, was bound to be short.

ZhaZha explained that the Tarrasque's cult was not a death cult (which she knew Jumari was violently opposed to); instead, her people revered it for its strength. Granted, her religious views might not exactly match her family's, but she wasn't with them now.

She asked Jumari what she thought of being "the white orc" now. Jumari claimed that as she long as she gets to destroy Ras Raduz, she didn't care about what happened to herself. She just didn't want to die for some stupid reason first.

ZhaZha showed Jumari her drawing, asking her if seeing it on a banner would inspire her to fight. The inquisitor wasn't comfortable with the idea of gaining support from a Tarrasque banner, so asked if she could add an egg to it. She explained that the birthmark on her face was in the shape of a broken egg, her god's symbol. (She repeated the story of the Tarrasque and Lost Egg's origins that she had told her companions before.)

ZhaZha's new banner design. (Drawings
used with her player's permission.)
As they talked, ZhaZha modified her drawing, and decided it would be much easier to depict just the dragon's head rather than the whole body. She had saved a few scraps of yellow-brown amphiptere hide from what they sold to the kobolds, and planned to cut the dragon head device out of that and mount it upon a red canvas background; she would also add a cream-colored broken eggshell to the design. Jumari recalled that their new gnome acquaintance, Skarlo, was a leatherworker, so suggested that he might be able to assist with the work, or at least with finding the right tools and supplies.

The two friends struck a deal: ZhaZha would ride the Tarrasque, then the others would kill it. They might never get that chance, but at least there would be plenty of death cultists to kill together along the way. (ZhaZha stated that if she died before then, she did not want to be reincarnated as a gnome. Being that small would make it even harder to achieve her dream.)

With the difficult part of the conversation past, their talk turned to lighter subjects--such as ZhaZha thanking Jumari for setting her up with Morag. 

* The Tarrasque is not a dragon, but in my setting's cosmology, it is the cursed spawn of the dragon gods, so its worshipers usually consider it to be one.

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