|And so it begins again...|
Picking up where we left off, the crew was walking rapidly away from angry gang bosses and alarmed citizens in the town of Hoblington, making their way to meet Duncan's mysterious benefactor. As the group approached the place, Duncan informed his compatriots that they were going to be going through a (hopefully) abandoned village to climb down a sea cliff. There, they would find a cave wherein dwelled his employer, a dragon named Krakatoka.
Zab and Radj reacted to this announcement with a healthy dose of disbelief, and concern that their new friend wasn't right in the head. Oh well, they reasoned; we've come this far, and hitched our wagon to this maniac. Let's see where this leads...you never know, right?
True to his word, the party came upon Duncan's abandoned village, and continued to a point on the cliffside where they could descend to a cave that faced the sea. And from there, of course, they were led into the presence of Krakatoka the Betrayer, ancient dragon of legend.
The trio's amazement quickly curdled into anger, as they realized that Duncan had not been completely forthcoming. Yes, the urbane dragon would give them a tiny share of his treasure hoard in return for their services, and would be a powerful patron. What had been left unmentioned was the fact that this arrangement was not voluntary - as far as Krakatoka was concerned, they were now his servants, an understanding that would be formalized with a magical branding upon pain of death.
|Drives a hard bargain|
Making the best of the situation, Krakatoka's two new recruits took stock of their new treasures: both received Krakatoka's Amulet of Loquaciousness, while Zab selected a clay urn full of wax-covered seeds, and Radj selected some dragon-skin boots (Krakatoka has a sick sense of humor).
The Amulet is the dragon's own invention; it has a large locket-like compartment, which is intended to accept a severed tongue. The wearer of the amulet is able to speak and read the native language of the tongue's original owner as well as that individual. This lasts only so long as the tongue has not decayed into nothingness, which takes a few weeks.
Krakatoka explained to the new recruits their obligations: three quests to be named whenever he desires. Two of the three are given immediately: first, they must each find two more recruits for him. Second, they must together recover fourteen stone of unprocessed protonium ore from the Land of One Thousand Towers.
Furthermore, Krakatoka had gained some control of the otherworldly Nexus which they now occupied, so he was able to give them directions and a key to a door that would lead to that world. Beyond that, he could only tell them that he knew their quest lay in the galleys and chambers of a complex that lay beneath a certain Mount Rendon, and that more could be found at the local capital city, Denethix.
After a few more questions and remarks, the party departed from the dragon's presence, Zab and Radj stewing at their involuntary servitude to the ancient creature. Duncan was definitely not in good standing with his new comrades. The trio followed Krakatoka's directions and came to a hallway with several locked doors, each bearing its own emblem. They approached the one that they were told led to the protonium, and using the key, passed through.
|Ooh, a door to another world...how mysterious!|
The three found themselves in a system of natural limestone caves, not far from the surface, obviously dry and long disused. After a bit of uneventful searching, they found their way out, and emerged into sunlight. The cave was situated in the banks of a network of gullies and shallow canyons. It took them about half an hour to free themselves from the rough terrain, whereupon they found themselves at the side of a road running from North to South.
Because these are the murderhobros, the first question they asked me was: are there any nearby people with tongues? No, not at the moment, said I. Then we will wait. For tongues. There shall be a red harvest.
|The original hobro|
As the pair approached, Radj lay twitching in the dust of the road, pretending to be suffering from some kind of ailment, while Zab appeared to tend to his condition. Duncan waited in the underbrush to furiously stab the two innocent travelers. It was a pretty solid plan, while also being an act of sociopathic aggression.
As the pair came close, Zab attempted to distract them with his medical diagnoses and foreign language, while Duncan got into position for his ambush, and Radj twitched convincingly. This pattern, by the way, seems to repeat itself a lot in the adventures of these three rapscallions. After the two priests seemed to be growing suspicious, Duncan launched his attack. Imagine the surprise of the party when these two priests turned out to be...CYBER PRIESTS.
|Always look for the glowing eyes|
Although one of their quarry went down pretty quickly, the other survived long enough to ascend beyond their grasp with telescoping legs, whereupon it attacked the hobros by projecting a deadly red beam of light from his eyes! With his deadly gaze, the priest almost laid Duncan low, but together, the trio prevailed, and harvested the tongues of the priests.
This brought the second session to the close. The players enjoyed a nice dose of WTF, courtesy of ASE. Yeah, priests are different, here. It wouldn't be until the fourth session that the party got more of a taste of religion, Thousand Tower style, but it would be worth it when it came.
The following session was, as I mentioned, very brief. The players had time to decide to depart from the road for a bit, at least until they had time to visit the Effluent River to the east and clean off some of the evidence of priestly de-tonguing. After that, they reached the river and struck camp for the evening.
That night, during Radj's watch, assailants were detected. This was no doubt due partly to Radj's extremely useful companion, Specter the War Dog. Indeed, Specter proves the value of his kibble many times in the days that come.
In any case, the players have just enough time to register their attackers before the real world brings our session to a close. We leave on a cliffhanger as they contend with the assault of a roaring muscular lion-headed humanoid, and its stranger companion: a glassy black metal sphere, studded with mechanical protrusions, some of which mounted rotting limbs of a bear and a human. As this nameless monstrosity bore down on them, the stage was set for the next session.
|Dylan put this together...it should have legs, but I kind of like it better hovering like this|
I said I would wrap these up with a bit about lessons learned...so what did I learn, here?
Well, not a whole lot, this time around. If I learned anything, it was probably that having engaged players can make things a lot easier for the GM. Engaged players will drive the story forward, making it far easier to come up with new content on the fly. It also makes it easier to tie different hooks and activities together, since the players are going to be actively pulling on the narrative threads. You're going to see how this works out for me even more in the next session.
Also, since they're reacting so visibly, you can easily see what else is going to continue to engage them, which can lead to a pretty virtuous cycle. Conversely, it's easy to see how a campaign can get stuck in a rut; once the GM loses player engagement, it's hard to tell how to get it back. The players stop reacting, and the GM loses any sense of what is going to motivate them.
These guys are always driving things forward, which makes many things easier. On the other hand, they are constantly challenging me to improvise new material on the fly. That can definitely feel like a high-wire act, but the sense of big risk is paired with big rewards when it works out.