Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, the gang had just been roused by a commotion from outside the inn, and townsfolk were moving en masse in that direction. Naturally, the party joined the surging crowd, and made their way towards the town's eastern gate. They were greeted by an interesting sight.
Well, not quite that. They were more lupine-themed, for one. The self-styled Wolf Brothers, Howl and Growl, had arrived to challenge the town of the Lugosi to...A WRASSLE-OFF!
In my Land of One Thousand Towers, one of the additions I made to the setting was inspired by the following question: what if there was a way to do monks in D&D that was less kung-fu?
Most people don't know much about European martial arts traditions, and that's because very little of it survived the invention of gunpowder. One of these kinds of traditions consisted of grapplers who would travel from fair to fair, challenging locals to wrestling matches as part of the entertainment. These styles evolved over time, arguably culminating in catch wrestling, a fin de siècle English technique that borrowed from many schools from around the world.
Season this with a bit of mysticism and monastic devotion to improving mind and body, and you have my ASE wrestlers - masked martial artists who wander the countryside, right wrongs, and challenge villages to wresting matches.
Actually, that describes the actions of one of the three biggest wrestling guilds (yes, they call themselves guilds) in The Land of One Thousand Towers: The Screaming Firewind Eagles. These are the "good" wrestlers. The "bad" wrestlers belong to the Order of the Midnight Serpent. Members of the enigmatic guild called The Unceasing Eye all talk with synthesized voices and hire themselves out as bounty hunters and mercenaries.
Of course, the players didn't learn this all at once. It came out in drips and drabs over the next two sessions. As of the time of me writing this, they all have a standing invitation to try out for The Screaming Firewind Eagles at their Invisible Monastery, but...well, we'll get there.
For the time being, they witnessed the ritualistic boasts of the Wolf Brothers calling out Lugosi, as well as the unpolished retorts of the excited farmers and enthusiastic drunks. The delighted manner with which the townsfolk received the dire threats of these itinerant brawlers told them a lot.
Once this drama had been wrapped up, the mayor and citizens of note organized the construction of a ring, as vendors and gamblers converged on the scene on the Main Square. Over the course of the day, the party witnessed the arrival of yet more revelers, as well as preening would-be wrestlers being sized-up by swarms of gamblers and well-wishers. Vendors sold spiced wine and a number of unusual treats, like curried plantains.
A few of these goings on caught the players' attention. First, there was the arrival of a slaver troupe, with slaves bound for market in Denethix. The mayor, obviously hostile to the institution, turned them away at the gate, forcing them to camp outside the town proper. The slavers themselves, however, were not barred from visiting Lugosi, so a few of them were ever-present.
More troubling to Radj's character, however, was the spectacle of dogfights being conducted at ringside, with a small gang of ruffians supplying dogs and taking bets. Radj, as you must remember, is the proud owner of Specter, a rather impressive war dog. It turns out that he's homicidally intolerant of those who abuse dogs. He has a soft side, you see.
|Gladiators being led to battle|
Anyway, Radj gets a bead on this dog-fighting gang, and keeps them in his sights for future pointy conversations. As you will eventually see, this unexpectedly ties into a subplot in a way that was very satisfying for the narrative. I'll get there.
In the meantime, Duncan has been looking into possibly stepping onto the canvas for a bit of grappling with Howl and/or Growl. Surveying the prospectives, he spots a small mountain of meat called Durnik, who is a blacksmith and terrifying. Duncan offers a partnership, and Durnik accepts: they will wrassle the Wolf Brothers together! Too bad that Durnik had no prior training in grappling - or any other kind of fighting, for that matter.
The wrestling duo of Duncan and Durnik got off to a good start when they were randomly selected to go late in the line-up. This meant that the Wolf Brothers would be fatigued from many previous battles. This advantage in circumstance, however, neither granted wrestling skills to Durnik, nor denied them to the brothers. Durnik went down quickly, and even though Duncan held strong for a little while after, he, too, was laid low.
|Aw, poor Duncan|
At the end of the day, nobody beat the Wolf Brothers, and so won the purse they offered to all comers. Everyone was about to pack it in for the day...until the arrival of a surprise challenger: Lord Python. An imposing figure in a cape, this member of the Midnight Order of Serpents showed up to challenge both brothers to face him on the morrow. The brothers accepted, and also accepted Pythons terms, which were winner-take-all for the gate.
At this, finally, the gathering began to disperse. Radj had not forgotten about the dog-fighting ruffians, and stated his interest in tracking them for later murder. The trail led to the the inn being occupied by Lord Python and his hangers-on: the Bared Fang. After situating themselves inconspicuously near the bar, Zab was able to overhear the wrestler himself order them to cause a distraction, and take care of things with "the formula."
Shortly after this conversation, four of the gang members departed; our gang followed them back to the Effluent Inn, now occupied by the Wolf Brothers and their fans. After watching things for a while, the party confronted a thug who was getting close to the Wolf Brothers, causing him to withdraw from the inn. Radj and Specter followed him out into the street.
After a bit of mugging as a simpleton, Radj was able to provoke the thug into a confrontation. Specter was able to put an end to that in short order by dragging the assailant off his feet to smack his head on the cobbles. Back in the common room, Duncan and Zab were warning the Wolf Brothers just as a fight broke out between two of the remaining thugs. The promised distraction!
Just as Zab and Duncan began to search for the fourth thug and warn the Wolfies not to drink their ales, Radj burst in the through the door, carrying the unconscious ruffian from outside. With a thud, he dropped the attacker to the floor, and everyone went quiet. And that was the end of the session.
|Those ASE wizards sure are assholes|
So what did I learn?
I think it really helps to have ideas in the background, a plot that has a life of its own but still has room for player interaction. I had made notes ahead of time that the same thugs who ran the gambling in Lugosi were also Lord Python's accomplices in a plot against the Wolf Brothers. I didn't actually expect the players to witness him giving orders to his lackeys.
It was just as plausible that their plan would have succeeded, leaving the Wolfies sluggish and weak in their bout the next day. Python would have won the match, and stuck around Lugosi to run up tabs, harass the women and bully the local farmers.
And that would have been fine! The players might have gone back another time, and someone wants to hire them for revenge against Lord Python. Or maybe Python himself would have had some use for them. The key here is that even though the players were perfectly capable of interacting with the plot, there was no requirement that they do so. The fact that Radj took a dislike to the guys running the dog fights was just a bit of unexpected serendipity for me.
I'm also seeing how few of the traditional trappings you strictly need to have a good time gaming, even when you take an old-school approach. I'm running ASE here, and the players are yet to explore any of its dungeons, much less ASE itself. Does that matter? Not at all. We're all having fun, and the world is getting fleshed-out as we go.
And that's another thing...this is really bringing home to me the truth that you don't want to over-design your setting. It's better to just sketch out what you need. The rest will evolve as the players explore it. I've been coming up with potential encounters and plots only a week in advance. That way, they are really well-tailored to what the players are currently doing, and what they are enjoying.
Without spilling the beans (because my players read this blog), I've already taken a few threads that came up during the last few sessions, and come up with some plots and background events that may or may not come to fruition. They feel far more organic than if I came up with them all ahead of time, tried to shoehorn the players into my clever plots, and weighed them down with tons of exposition.
So that's all for the fourth session, which was a real doozy. We had pro-wrestling monks, faces and heels, slavers, video gods, pie demons, cake paladins, dog fights and dirty tricks. Next time, we start to dip into some of the ASE goodness. Clever me, I found a way to tie it into those evolving plotlines I was telling you about.