Grisly Eye Games

Black Griffin 39 - The Double Cross

In the tenth instalment of Black Griffin the party interrogate their prisoners, learn little of the mysterious Commonwealth and acquire a new comrade-in-arms...

This campaign diary taken from the in-character chat channel from session 38 of my ongoing playtest campaign, lightly polished and annotated.

Black Griffin is a play-by-chat game that runs every week on Roll20. The party are mercenaries in the employ of the infamous Company of the Black Griffin. Lowly even for sellswords, they have been placed on punishment duty as company fetches: bounty hunters charged with capture of deserters for trial.

Black Griffin Encampment Map Preview
Scene VIII: The Interrogation Continued...

When we last left our foul-mouthed fetches they were busy furiously torturing agents of the Commonwealth. One captive, Eggard, agrees to confess on agreement he is given a writ a pass to return home. With all due haste, word was sent to Agata requesting such a writ. But Corporal Ba has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew; Sergeant Agata herself arrives with an entourage in tow.

With her is the lean, handsome, and solemn figure of Corporal Loth, and Walter the Scribe, company chronicler and bursar. The scribe is looking a little queasy. He is a thin, grey man in fine clothes, including a ruff and fancy shirt, most of which have seen better days. As per usual, he is splattered in mud.

The trio come up on the party waiting in the wide, bottle-lined corridor outside the makeshift cells.

Walter

looks in at the ghastly and bloody scene.

By the Mother!

Agata
to Ba A word if you please!
Ba'Raknul
Yes ser.
Biron
stands to attention, silent.
Quinn
mutters quietly Oh look, the la-di-da brigade have arrived...
Loth
gives Quinn a sharp look.
Biron
gives Quinn a filthy and disapproving look.
Quinn

doffs an imaginary cap and bows, smiling nervously.

Sorry, m'lord. I mean to say we are graced by ya presence. Didn't mean nuffin by it!

Biron
raises his top lip and lets out a quiet but low growl at Quinn.
Loth
looks away, as though he heard nothing.
Quinn
winks at Biron and smiles.
Agata
What's this I hear about a writ?
Ba'Raknul

leans in.

hushed Sorry ser, I wasn't demanding… we have one in there…

He motions to the other room.

…saying he'll spill if he sees a writ. We thought if a fake one showed these two also might spill.

Agata
And you propose we give him this writ?
Ba'Raknul
I propose we write it in here, in front of these two so these guys can badger some more and then show him a writ.
Orin
clears their throat from the corner.
Ba'Raknul
After he's told us everything we can absolve him of crimes here and hand him to the Royal Bailiffs for their crimes.
Agata
Let me get this clear, Corporal. You want me to lie?
Orin
raises an eyebrow at Agata.
Ba'Raknul
No ser, it wasn’t my intention for us to lie. I thought it wouldn’t make any difference at this point if we're giving them to the Royal Bailiffs. If I stand corrected, I apologise.
Orin
Can be entirely true, if you have a problem otherwise. Won't matter because he'll never see the light of day after Helia gets him.
Agata
rolls her pipe around her mouth, clearly uncomfortable.
Ba'Raknul
We need to know what they were after. This was their mission to get in with the Flock.
Quinn

scratches at his stubble.

Hmm... don't seem right to offer him his freedom then deny it none.

Orin
We're not denying him anything. He asked for the writ, not freedom.
Quinn

laughs without humour.

But ain't the writ to grant him absolution for his crimes? Ain't never bothered with reading here, so wouldn't know.

Orin

shrugs.

Doesn't matter what it's for. Griffins don't have power outside themselves anyway.

Agata
I might be a sell-sword. I might be a cold-blooded killer. I might be a right bastard. But I'm also a gods-fearing woman.
Ba'Raknul

My only other suggestion, ser, is talk to him yourself. See if you think the information is worth it.

He leans in toward Agata.

Could you at least pretend to in front of these two so we can pressure them some more?

Biron

coughs slightly in the dim hall, the smell of damp getting to the back of his throat.

We could just force them to talk.

Agata

turns towards the cell containing the unconscious form of Wren and puffs heavily on her pipe.

We won't get much information knocking heads until our sources fall unconscious, Corporal.

Biron
gives a nod and stays silent.
Orin
Look, ser. This was my idea. I came to it because you had already agreed we should send them off with Helia. How is handing him the writ first any worse?
Agata

Very well. Loth!

Clear a space for Walter to write!

Loth
sweeps a nearby table clean with one swift action.
Ba'Raknul
turns and gives a nod to Orin and Quinn to begin pressuring the other two privates.
Agata
Walter, take this dictation!
Walter
lays out a sizeable array of quills, inks, and parchment, produced from somewhere in his ragged brocade coat.
Biron
Shall I bring the one who talks?
Agata
Very good, Corporal Biron.
Biron
gives a single grunt and nods, then walks in to get Eggard.
Ba'Raknul

gets close to Quinn.

See if you can get Lucas in there to squeal before time runs out.

Orin

nods to Ba, then turns to Quinn.

Come along.

Quinn

leans in to look at the quills then turns back to Ba.

Yesser!

He follows Orin, muttering.

Must learn that fancy writing stuff at some point. Could come in handy.

Biron
walks into the other cell with a dark shadow across his face. Looking down upon Eggard on the floor.
Eggard
What's going on out there?
Biron
Up.
Biron
grabs the guy by the arm and pulls him up.
Eggard
gingerly gets on his feet.
Biron

places one hand firmly holding his arm and another on the back of his shoulder.

Move.

He marches him out of the cell to Agata.

As Biron reenters the corridor with Eggard, Agata is standing over Walter, dictating the writ.

Agata
Walter, write so: By the order of Sergeant Agata of the venerable Company of the Black Griffin, I do hearby grant Corporal Eggard leave to forfeit the rights and purchases of his office, so that he may return home, on this day of our Mother and Father, 19th Ancept, 467.
Walter

hastily scribbles out the writ in near perfect calligraphy.

With a flourish he signs it, and passes it to Agata, who in turns adds her own X to the paper.

He rolls up the parchment, carefully pours wax from his wicker lantern, and seals it with his ring so it bears the arms of Griffin Company.

Agata

turns to Ba and hands him the writ.

It is done, may the Mother help us all.

Biron

gives a strong squeeze to Eggard’s shoulder.

whispering coldly Now, you tell us everything. Or that writ means nothing.

Ba'Raknul

takes the writ and bows low.

Thank you Ser.

quietly to Agata When will the Sergeant-Baliff be here?

Agata
Do I look like her keeper, Corporal Ba? She'll be interrogating someone in the camp. Carry on, Corporal!

Agata marches out of the cellar, closely followed by Loth and Walter.

Eggard
Give me the writ!
Biron
pulls him hard and keeps him in place.
Ba'Raknul

gives Eggard a sharp look.

IF you tell us everything and IF it checks out. You get your writ.

He leaves for the other room.

Biron
growls behind Eggard.

While the writ is being written and signed, Quinn and Orin encourage the other captives to listen in from the other room…

Quinn

looks over to the two captives and smiles sadly.

Can't help thinkin' you've missed ya chance. Singing like a Kastenburg Canary that one. Always the problem with loyalty; it’s only worth something until someone breaks.

He walks over to watch the scene in the corridor.

looking back to Orin You reckon that scribbling actually means anything? All looks like it’s been done too fast to me eyes.

Ba'Raknul

enters and motions to Orin to a corner.

Orin can I have a moment please?

Orin

peers at Lucas.

Sure, Ba.

Quinn

crouches down in front of the two captives, pulls out a chunk of dried ration, and tears a mouthful with his teeth.

He turns to look towards Ba' and Orin, chewing and holding part of his rations. He slips it to Lucas when he thinks the others aren’t looking.

Ba'Raknul

subtly shows the writ.

We got it. there's two things I was thinking. I was thinking you would be best to talk to Eggard as he trusts you a bit already, but one of us needs to go get Helia as she's off somewhere in camp. I'm not sure how you wanna play the writ thing.

Quinn
stands and runs his greasy hands down his trews. With his back to the others, he motions sshhh to Lucas and winks at him.
Ba'Raknul
And we need to time it right as well.
Orin
Time it how?
Ba'Raknul
So that we get all the info, but the Corporal doesn’t have time to actually dash.
Orin
There's no reason we should give him the ability to dash. He doesn't get the writ until we get what we want. He should stay locked up until we're satisfied. He's not free until he gets the writ.
Ba'Raknul

nod and hands Orin the writ.

Hide that and go have a word with Eggard.

Quinn

approaches Orin and Ba.

So, what's the plan? It ain't handing them over to laughing boy is it?

Ba'Raknul

turns to Quinn.

Me and you keep watching these keep the pressure up.

loudly Orin is going to go have a chat with Eggard.

Quinn

salutes half-heartedly.

Yesser!

He turns to look sadly at the captives.

Don't fink this is gonna end well for ya, gotta say. Not too late to join your friend out there on the path to freedom though.

Lucas
says nothing, just looks at Quinn with hopeless eyes.
Orin

slips the writ into the secret pocket of their shirt, next to the note from The Sparrow.

quietly I think I know how to make the switch. I'll show him the writ's in my pocket. When we're done, I'll show him I'm putting it in his pack. Except it won’t be the writ, it'll be the note from Sparrow.

Ba'Raknul

lights up.

I love it. It’s horrible, but I love it.

Orin

Then all we have to do is tell Helia where to find him and to search his bag.

They start to leave, but think of something else.

We'll tell her these two said they were working with him and he's about to get away, yeah?

Ba'Raknul
nods in agreement.
Orin
nods and walks out.
Ba’Raknul

He leans in to Quinn and whispers.

I understand helping a man in chains. Don’t let Biron see you-- and only food.

He moves and stands close to the captives, eyes on them.

Quinn

shrugs.

I'm thinking they'll hang anyway.

He leans in to Ba and whispers.

Won't hurt for them to think they have a friend in here with them, if you know my thinking.

Orin
draws Eggard into the makeshift cell he was in earlier. They give Biron a strong look then look at the door and back at Biron again.
Biron
stares at Orin dully.
Orin

sighs.

Go on and lock him up if you must, but shut the door while we're talking.

Biron
grunts aggressively. He pushes Eggard to the wall and chains him back up.
Eggard

Wa... what's going on?

Where is my writ?

Biron

ignores him, stepping to Orin.

You better be able to do this.

Without another word, he leaves and closes the door.

Orin

pulls the writ from their shirt pocket, unfolds it, and puts it a few inches from Eggard's face.

It's right here.

Biron
stands outside both doors and stares through both bars.
Eggard
All well and good, but I'm not going to be doing much going home chained up like this.
Orin
refolds the writ and puts it back in their shirt.
Eggard
I won't speak a word 'til that writ is in my unfettered hands.
Orin
You haven't earned it just yet, Eggard.
Eggard
Neither have you earned my spilling of guts.
Orin

Ah, but see, we're the ones doing the buying.

We don't have to get anything from you at all. We're entirely within our rights to shoot you dead. So, you give us what we're paying for. Then we pay you.

Or we shoot you. Your choice.

Eggard
What's stopping you just shooting me, soon as I talk?
Orin

Eggard, I've been completely straight-forward here. I said I'd get you the writ and here it is. I say I'll let you go, and I will. All these people here...

They gesture around the room and to the door.

...they're keep me to my word.

Eggard

laughs.

I heard you nearly kill poor Wren. You word ain't worth shit. Unlock my chains, put that writ in my hands, and I'll talk.

Biron

barking If he doesn't wanna talk, leave him for me.

He pushes his face against the bars of the door. Pushing hard against it, staring at Eggard hungrily.

Orin

looks gravely at Eggard, then the floor, then sighs.

They go to the door.

Biron, where's the man's pack?

Eggard
looks fearfully at Biron.
Biron
looks around for Eggard’s pack.
Quinn
walks to the door of Wren and Lucas’ cell, and leans up against it, straining his ears to see if he can pick up any of the conversation with Eggard.

Biron spies a pack in a corner of the adjoining corridor.

Biron

grumbles and snarls as he paces like a caged lion before getting his meal. He picks up Eggard’s bag and starts to walk back with it. Here.

He stops and looks at the bag. He thinks for a moment and opens it to look at what’s inside.

Quinn

scratches at his chin and looks at Biron.

Looks like spoils of war that. Bout time we had a payday, if you take me meaning?

The contents of the bag are much as can be expected of a mercenary’s bag: dry rations, pots and pans, a flint for lighting fires, bandages, a set of cards and what looks like a corn doll. Perhaps some kind of memento?

There is also what looks like a fulsome purse! It jingles ever so seductively.

Biron
removes the doll and looks at it. He takes the doll and purse, then brings in the bag to Orin.
Quinn
licks his lips and eyes the purse.
Orin

I fear Eggard has a point, men. BUT... If he has the writ on him, it becomes illegal to kill him.

Do you agree, Eggard?

Eggard
That is the point, yes.
Biron

steps into the room, throws the bag at Orin, and looks at Eggard.

Is he mine yet?

Orin

And, perhaps with the exception of Biron, you don't think we'd be audacious enough to kill you then?

They give Biron a meaningful look.

Biron
growls.
Eggard
Enough talk! Unlock me and give me the writ, or you may as well let that dog kill me. I'm a dead man either way!
Biron
snarls and looks at Orin.
Orin
Okay, okay.
Biron
narrows his eyes and his stance widens.
Orin

pulls a folded parchment from their shirt pocket.

Your note.

They put the parchment deep into Eggard's pack.

Here. And now I’ll remove your restraints.

They pick open the locks on Eggard’s shackles.

Eggard

rubs his wrists and licks his lips.

That's... that's better.

Biron
snarls aggressively, and stands fully blocking the door.
Orin

holds out the pack for Eggard.

Now talk.

Eggard

starts a little at Biron, then turns to Orin.

Talk... yes... you'll be wanting to know who I took orders from.

Look inside my bag. There is a pack of cards?

Orin
takes the cards from the bag.
Eggard
We never saw who gave the orders. Until tonight, I didn't even know Lucas and Wren were involved.
When the moon is at its highest point in the sky, we'd meet by a campfire in the East Camp.
Biron
doesn't take his eyes off Eggard.
Eggard
Hooded so we couldn't recognise each other and play cards.
Quinn
nods and looks sadly at the captives.
Eggard

Each night. That's how we got orders.

Take them cards, and it’s gotta be them cards, and play tonight. One of 'em will be the one giving orders.

Orin
How many show up at these games?
Eggard
Dunno, was a score or so the last game... but maybe there's more than one game.

As far as Orin can tell, Eggard is too frightened and desperate to deceive you at this point. Biron is more suspicious, his wily wilding instincts tell him maybe Eggard is leaving something out.

Biron

steps to Eggard.

You're lying. Tell us, everything!

Quinn
is leaning up against the bars listening for snippets of the conversation. On seeing Willem he smiles I take it our bird is singing.
Biron
grabs him by the arms.
Orin
looks shocked.
Eggard

recoils in fear.

splutters Five of Coins! Everyone got dealt a card at first. You take it in turns to play yours. If you don't, they'll know. I was the the Five of Coins!

Biron

snarls.

splutters and shouts You. Lying, Traitorous....

Orin
goes dark with rage for the briefest of moments.
Biron

slams him into the wall and locks him back in his shackles.

We'll see if what you said is right.

Quinn

from the door to the other room Oh oh, sounds like laughing boy is going to kill the choir.

turning to Wren You sure you don't want to be the one making it to freedom?

Wren
merely groans, having temporarily lost the ability to speak.
Eggard
What 'bout our deal?
Biron

Orin, we're out.

He walks out the cell and stands by door.

Orin

You lied. We need a moment to decide how seriously you've broken our agreement.

They walk out.

Biron

snarling You lied. If this is true, then you will be freed.

He slams the door and locks it.

Eggard
Blast you! We had a deal!
Biron

goes to Ba in the room with Wren and Lucas.

He broke.

Orin

follows behind Biron. They hand Ba the cards and explains their purpose to him.

I think you should see how the other two respond to these.

Ba'Raknul

nods and smiles.

Good job you guys.

Biron
stands tall, leering over the two captives, Wren bloodied and hurt.
Orin
Not yet. We still need to know if the others corroborate.
Biron

We should speak in the corridor.

He turns and leaves the cell.

Quinn

sniffs.

One free.

looking at the captives Why don't you come clean and go free. I hear Faro is nice this time of year?

Wren
merely groans.
Private Lucas
Ain't sounds like he's happy out there, does it?
Ba'Raknul

waits for everyone to come out, then he closes and locks the cell. He leans in to the group.

We need to know their cards at the very least. So we can infiltrate this meeting.

Biron
looks at Orin and nods to them.
Orin
Our luck, yes. Agata will probably expect that.
Quinn
looks around the room any chance one of yous can explain what this is all about?
Biron

grunts at Quinn.

The traitors play a game here, in the East Camp fire. Everyone has a card. We need to get them to talk.

He shrugs his head to the other cell.

We need to know their cards.

Quinn
frowning Like a playing card?
Biron
They had a lot of traitors at these things.
Ba'Raknul

looks at Quinn.

Yes, like a code.

Biron
We will want to find them all.
Ba'Raknul
If we can find their cards before we leave that would be better. One crack at them? Maybe tell them we're tired of the lies and they have one shot. If not we go to Agata with what we got.
Quinn

Wait up, let me see those cards you found in the bag.

He chuckles.

Biron
glares and Quinn.
Ba'Raknul

shows the deck to Quinn.

You got an idea?

Quinn

smiles and nods.

Just wanna see if they been marked or summat. Been had enough times by crooks and cut throats playing cards.

He looks over the cards closely, trying to see if there are any markings.

They appear like any set of cards but with a distinctive back design a flock of birds!

Orin
I expect they don't know each others' cards, only the dealer does.
Quinn
compares one card back to the next.

All the cards are identical, but it's a design Quinn has never seen before.

Quinn

nods.

True that, but worth a check.

Orin
Perhaps one of them is more worn than the others, is it Eggard's card?
Ba'Raknul
looks around for the others’ items to see if they have an identical deck.

Ba does indeed find two similar packs in the other prisoners belongings.

Ba'Raknul
pockets the decks for now.
Quinn

sniffs.

Seems legit to me... but your eyesight is probably better than old Quinn’s.

He hands the cards to Orin.

Orin
takes the cards and uses their fingers as well as their eyes to compare the three of coins to the other cards in the deck.

Even to Orin’s eyes, trained as they are, they seem otherwise normal, except for that distinctive design on the back.

Orin

I can't tell a difference. We can only rely on their word.

They hand the deck to Ba.

Biron

growls angrily.

So many traitors.

Quinn

Feckin' marked decks - have people no honour eh? Good to see these ain't crooked at least.

He smiles.

Biron
So many disgusting bastards living within us here.
Quinn
snorts none taken, I'm sure.
Orin
I can't believe as many as twenty are traitors here, let alone multiples of that.
Biron
is getting visibly riled up and more angry. He starts to pace around the room snarling.
Ba'Raknul
looks through the cards to see if any are missing from the deck.
Quinn
cleans his ear with one filthy cracked nail on his little finger.
Ba'Raknul
Okay, Quinn and Orin. One more crack at the Privates to get their cards. If not, we go with what we got.
Biron
We should burn these bastards outside and high up. Let every bastard know they can’t hide.
Ba'Raknul
We're running out of options.
Quinn

sniffs.

Twenty traitors eh? That's rough.

Ba'Raknul
Work them over together.
Orin
At least.
Biron
looks up towards Ba angrily.
Quinn

nods.

Yesser - beggin' ya pardon though, what was his calling card?

He nods his head towards the door with Eggard in.

Orin
sighs and takes the cards before heading into the room with Wren and Lucas.
Quinn

follows Orin and sits down in front of Wren.

So, your pal is heading home. Can't remember his name none, but let’s just call him the five of coins. You absolutely sure you don't wanna join him?

Private Wren’s eyes roll and she groans. Clearly she is in no fit state to talk.

Quinn
looks to the other captive.
Private Lucas
glares back at Quinn, eyes full of hate and mistrust.
Orin
stands in front of Lucas, wielding the deck of cards. They make a show of pulling them out and fanning them so each number can be seen.
Private Lucas
spits at Orin's feet.
Orin

Ah, so you recognise them?

They grin at Quinn.

Quinn

sighs and shakes his head.

Ain't no need to be like that. We're trying to help you. That maniac you can probably hear outside, now he wants to hurt you and hurt you bad. I want to see you go free. As does my friend here. Why don't you answer their questions some?

Private Lucas
Oh aye? Got your word you'll set me free, huh?
Orin
What, you don't think we'll let you out of here?
Quinn

smiles sadly.

My word ain't worth goose droppins, ain't got no authority. But I'll give my word that I'll try to talk those with the power into letting you go free.

Private Lucas

Aye! I heard Eggard praising the reliability of your word, at the top o' his lungs.

Fuck off, royalist scum!

Orin
Eggard tried to lie to us. He's just spending a bit of time thinking about what he's done. Don't worry, he's still getting out.
Quinn
laughing I ain't no royalist - only crown I care for is the type you spend in taverns. I'm a mercenary, me. Got no real loyalties and try not to make enemies if it can be 'elped. I'd rather you leave here as a friend, than swing and I make an enemy of your kin.
Private Lucas

Aye? And I'm the King o' the West.

Fuck.

Off.

Royalist.

Scum.

Orin

Well, alright, then.

They walk back out.

Quinn

sighs.

to Lucas I hope it’s fast, for your sake. Nuffin' doing.

Orin
Judging by their reaction, they know what the deck means. But they're not talking and I don't blame them.
Ba'Raknul

sighs.

Well besides not getting those two's cards we did good guys. Do you think we should take their belongings to the Sergeant-Bailiff? Or just tell them they’re here.

Quinn

shrugs.

Spoils of war, innit.

Ba'Raknul
No we need them, Quinn.
Orin
We should give Eggard his bag and send him off. See if he'll tell us to where, first. But at the minimum we have him tailed for a bit.
Quinn

smiles nervously.

Want me to, erm... look over their coin, see if there’s anything like unusual about it, like?

Biron

roars angrily.

We should make them pay.

He slams his axe handle into the wall.

Ba'Raknul

looks at Biron.

That’s not happening. We need them for the Bailiff! Calm down.

Orin
We'll have a window to see if releasing Eggard persuades the other two before Helia comes. But Helia will still get him. Remember the plan? We send her after him.
Ba'Raknul
I'd like her to get him before he see's we've given him a bogus writ.
Orin
Gets her out of camp while she decides if they're the real thing, anyway.
Biron

squares up to Ba.

They're fucking traitorous scum.

Ba'Raknul

turns back and fully squares off with Biron.

I. Dont. Care. We need them. Don’t ruin this because you cant keep in check.

Biron
snarls loudly and pushes past Ba and leaves the jail in a furious mood, worse than anyone has seen so far.
Ba'Raknul

sighs heavily… deeply.

Relieved that didn’t come to blows.

Orin

rolls their eyes at Biron.

What does it matter if Eggard realises once he's gone? He's still gone and pegged as a traitor.

Quinn

looks at the leaving Biron.

Where's Giggles going?

Ba'Raknul
Yes, but an angry, pissed man could do some damage before Helia catches him.
Orin
One man?
Quinn
So, who's this Hella?
Ba'Raknul
I am one man. With how bad this camp’s defences are, I could do a lot.
Orin
to Quinn She’s the Royal Bailiff.
Ba'Raknul
I say we get Helia, tell her that we captured some spies and that she has free rein to them. Tell her their stuff was untouched and boom.
Orin
Problem is if they're all here together, they could convince her that we set them up.
Ba'Raknul

grabs Eggard’s bag. He pulls out the coin and tosses it to Quinn.

If you must.

He places the bag on the floor.

You saw her. She isn’t gonna believe them… I don’t know.

Quinn
opens up the bag and fishes out the coin purse.

It feels weighty in Quinn’s hand. He opens it to find fifteen golden pieces, so shiny and pleasant. They fair smile back at him.

Ba'Raknul
I won’t force either way, but I know if I got out and was angry enough I could do some damage before I got caught again.
Orin

looks at Quinn, then leans in to whisper to Ba.

She might be bull-headed, but she didn't bother us even though we're three and probably fit Rothaniel’s description.

Ba'Raknul
So she'll probably believe the 'evidence' over them. We caught them in our tent. They're clearly spies. And Agata has said she can put them in Dismas at the right time.
Quinn
looks over the coins to see if he can see where they were minted.

They bear a curious marking, a hammer-and-anvil. Quinn has not seen its like before.

Orin
Well I don't want to argue about it. But it feels like putting too much to chance.
Ba'Raknul
If we are letting him walk I want Helia notified before so he doesn’t have a head start on her. What if we all leave and get attacked, we might never get to tell her otherwise.
Orin

How about we set him loose and send one the numpty...

gestures at Quinn, rifling through the bags.

...all at once?

Quinn

holds one coin up.

Any of you recognise this marking? This a local coin?

Ba'Raknul
remembers he is saving for a rifle and looks in the third bag.
Orin
Thinking about it, Agata must know where he's from, so we can definitely give Helia a direction.
Ba'Raknul
We could do, we should set the twins off slightly first and then open his cell and say off you go.
Orin
nods.
Quinn
shrugs and reaches for his own coin purse, fishing out a handful of gold coins and placing them on the floor next to the coins from the captives purse.

The old coins all have the heads of the current kings. With the surfeit of kings south of the Commonwealth border, no two are alike. Seems odd that a coin wouldn't have some noble blood's inbred profile stamped on them.

Quinn
leans over and studies the difference.
Orin
peers at Quinn's coin.
Ba'Raknul

looks at the group and sighs.

I wanted to say I'll go get the twins but with Biron in this state I'm hesitant to leave. We need to make sure Birno isn’t alone with these guys at any point.

He looks at Orin and Quinn.

Ba'Raknul
Toss a coin?
Quinn
picks one of the captives’ coins up and tosses it to Ba.
Ba'Raknul

catches the coin and laughs.

Not what I meant.

He tosses it back.

You haven’t met Helia before.

Orin
Oh, well I meant send Quinn.
Quinn

pushes all the coins on the floor into the captive’s coin purse and puts it back in the pack.

He flinches as the coin bounces off his head.

Orin
I suppose, though I didn't figure her difficult to find, I can go find the twins and send them if you like.
Ba'Raknul
I will go to Helia directly. You and Quinn release our boy and watch Biron. Two of you might fair ok.
Orin
grimaces.
Quinn

looks up from the floor.

If it be dangerous, wouldn't it be best to take someone with?

Ba'Raknul

It’s dangerous for you, not me.

He laughs joyfully.

You'll have Biron.

Quinn
grumbles Join a mercenary group, they said. Get rich, they said. Earn a name for yourself...
Orin
can't laugh at this and looks injured at Ba.
Ba'Raknul

looks to Orin.

What? Look I don’t doubt your skills, but I doubt we all could take Biron on one of his bad days.

Orin
That's what I'm afraid of.

To be continued...

Black Griffin 38 - Quinn

In the ninth instalment of Black Griffin the party interrogate their prisoners, learn little of the mysterious Commonwealth and acquire a new comrade-in-arms...

This campaign diary taken from the in-character chat channel from session 38 of my ongoing playtest campaign, lightly polished and annotated.

Black Griffin is a play-by-chat game that runs every week on Roll20. The party are mercenaries in the employ of the infamous Company of the Black Griffin. Lowly even for sellswords, they have been placed on punishment duty as company fetches: bounty hunters charged with capture of deserters for trial.

Black Griffin Encampment Map Preview
Scene VIII: The Interrogation

When we last left our baleful bounty hunters they had just interrupted a cadre of Flock spies overturning Ba'Raknul's tent. Tense combat ensued and Orin was badly wounded, but the spies were subdued.

Then a mighty crash! While the party were waylaid by the spies, more of the camp defences were sabotaged. This time a wall falls, leaving the camp exposed to the dark trees of Friar's Wood.

After some rest, our fetches decided to interrogate the spies. They make their way to the wine cellar cum camp prison in the heavily-guarded, ruined manor house that Captain Larke has commandeered.

As the party make their way there, they see a nervous looking fetch waiting.

Quinn stands around 5'8” tall and is slight of build. He has a nose slightly too big for his face, thick overhanging eyebrows, and squinting brown eyes which are too close together.

A thin, almost lipless mouth sits above a weak, clean-shaven chin. Black, slightly greying hair protrudes from a dark hooded cloak that has seen better days. The cloak is little more than a bundle of leather offcuts held together by filth.

He shuffles nervously from one foot to the next.

Orin
looks behind themself to see what he’s looking at.
Ba'Raknul

approaches the fetch.

Yes?

Biron
glares at the fetch, standing beside Ba.
Quinn

turns to Ba'Raknul.

We been sent to look for Corporal Ba'Raknul, squire... If ya knows him or could direct, would be grateful some!

Biron
grumbles and takes a step forward...
Orin
snickers behind a sleeve.
Biron

You are?

rests his hand by his axe and stares down at him.

Quinn

doffs a non-existent cap and bows slightly.

The name’s Quinn sir. Quinn Wheatsteal. You be our Corporal?

Ba'Raknul

Looks Quinn over closely before pausing.

Keep up and we'll fill you in after we've talked to the prisoner. This is time sensitive.

He moves towards the prison.

Quinn

grins nervously.

Fill us in? What, like kill us?

Orin
Maybe.
Biron
grunts and moves along with Ba.
Ba'Raknul
Sorry for the brief intro, I am Corporal Ba’Raknul. Ba will suffice.
Quinn

grins at Ba.

A pleasure to be meetin' ya, squire.

Orin

tries on one of Biron's glares but can't keep a straight face.

They cover by turning to catch up with Ba.

Biron
whispering to Ba Don’t like ‘im.
Orin
You still don't like me.
Ba'Raknul
whispering back You don't like anyone.
Orin
See?
Biron
snorts and keeps moving.
Orin
starts to chuckle but ends up sucking their teeth and grabbing at their fresh wound.
Ba'Raknul

looks over his shoulder.

There is no need for formality with me. As long as you don't get us killed and do your job, you're good. Him on the other hand…

He flicks a thumb towards Biron.

…He'll take longer.

Orin
turns around and walks backward so they can look at the new fetch.
Quinn

looks over towards Biron.

Take longer to be good with, eh? Sure, I can win 'im over.

Biron
ignores the small pest.
Orin

rolls their eyes.

Sure.

They turn around and continue on toward the makeshift jail.

Quinn

looks towards Orin.

I ain't killed none, just up here trying to earn a crust. Man's gotta eat, good coin in war. Can earn a pretty crown or two.

Orin
sighs.
Quinn

shrugs.

What? You join for some noble cause or sommat? Can keep your causes in ya breeches. Can't eat high-minded ideals none!

Biron

rolls his eyes back to the group.

barks Get a move on, talk on your own time

Biron
growls.
Quinn
What's these prisoners done, then?
Orin
Ambushed Ba. He's sore.
Ba'Raknul

keeps the pace up.

They were in my tent. We need to know why.

The party, along with their new member, find themselves at Larke's digs. As they climb the steps, carefully treading over loose chunks of stone debris, to the grand entrance of the crumbling manor house, they find the way is blocked by two stern looking mercenaries. Judging from their scars and age, these are veteran members of Larke's elite guard.

The Soldier

sneers as he looks you up and down.

What do you bastards want?

Ba'Raknul

smiles.

Agata sent us to talk to the captives.

Quinn
scratches at his stubble with the filthy nails of his right hand.
The Soldier

laughs.

Ol' Aggie, huh? You must be fetches.

Biron
remains quiet and holds up straight, with his normal unamused expression.
The Soldier

turns to his comrade.

Ugly business, fetching. Not work for a true fighter!

Quinn
grumbles Man's gotta eat.
Ba'Raknul

smiles again.

And I suppose watching the rain is?

He chuckles as if laughing at his own joke, eyes on the soldier the whole time.

The soldier

growls.

Watch your mouth, fetch!

Quinn

grins.

Nah, they ain't just watching the rain none, Corporal. They be guarding against snow!

Biron

gives an angry sideways glance towards Quinn.

We're here to do a job. Can we get on with it.

Orin

You must be hungry, Quinn. You keep talking about it an awful lot. Here.

They reach into their pack and toss some ration crumbs his way.

They turn to the guard.

Whatever the job, it's all about how you end the day, isn't it?

They offer the guard their wineskin.

Quinn

scrabbles to catch the crumbs.

Be rude to turn down food some!

The soldiers each take swigs of the wineskin then begrudgingly raise their halberds and stand aside.

The Soldier
Straight the cellars, mind you! No exploring.
Orin
nods.
Biron
gives the guards and then Orin a single nod and walks in with Ba.
Ba'Raknul

nods and smiles again.

Thank you very much.

He heads on past toward the cellars.

Quinn

leans in to Orin, grinning.

Can't help finking those boys just called us thieves. Never been so offended.

He tries to keep up with Ba.

Orin
narrows their eyes at Quinn before turning away.

The atmosphere inside the manor house is very different to the camp. The constant din of mercenaries doing their favourite thing, grumbling and complaining, dies out here. Servants bustle past you. The walls are adorned with paintings and tapestries, only some of which have been vandalised.

Quinn

looks around him whilst absently scratching at his crotch.

Oh, very la-di-da. How the other 'alf live, eh? Reckon those paintings be worth a pretty crown.

Biron

snarls.

Touch them and lose your hands.

In one room you spy several lieutenants sitting at a large table, heavy with fruits and wine bottles. At its head sits Vins, telling some bawdy tale. They don't even notice you pass as you take the stone steps into the cellar.

Down in the cellar it is very cold, and very dark.

Quinn

snorts.

Just appreciatin' the art. Love a bit-o-paintin', me.

Shattered glass litters the floor, and grim men and women are chained to the low walls. The group are greeted by a grey-looking man, stooped and carrying an array of knives.

Biron
stops and picks up a handful of shattered glass and keeps it in his hand.
Ba'Raknul

stops before they go in and turns to Quinn.

Listen, this is serious. We need not to be giving things away or letting the captives think we're disorganised. Don't speak out of turn please, while we are here.

Quinn
nods at Ba and looks sternly at the knives.
Biron
turns and eyeballs the new one silently. He grunts and turns away to follow Ba.
Orin
chokes on the dungeon stench. They cover their mouth and peer closely at each person chained to the wall.
Ba'Raknul

moves to the grey man.

Okay.. You know who I am?

Grey Man
nods sullenly. What you want?
Ba'Raknul
We're here to talk to the captives.
Orin
Agata's orders.

The man nods and leads you through a passage to another wine cellar, this one quieter than the last. Lit by a single torch sit three mercenaries chained to the walls: a lean looking woman, a young man, and an older man with streaks of grey in his long black hair and black beard.

Grey Man
These are Privates Wren and Lucas, and Corporal Eggard.
Biron

grunts to Ba.

Let me have the woman.

With that, the grey man walks off, leaving you to your business with nary a word.

Orin

quickly steps in front of Biron.

We're just here to talk... for now.

Ba'Raknul

whispers at them.

I have a plan. Just threats.

Quinn

raises an eyebrow.

‘For now’?

Biron
stares at Orin and then just pushes them aside.
Orin
raises an eyebrow at Ba.
Wren

turns to her compatriots.

Say nothing! Leave the talking to me.

Biron
looks at Ba, irritated, but backs off.

Private Wren bears the muscular physique of a heavy swordsman.

Orin
Wren, eh? Not your real name, is it?
Wren
Whose name would it be?
Ba'Raknul

walks in and announces to the room.

Look, this goes one of two ways: either he talks to you…

He motions to the large Biron holding a handful of glass.

…or they do.

He motions to Orin holding their wine skin.

Orin
Not very smart, are you... Wren?
Quinn
leans in to Ba Fink it would be best to split 'em ser.
Ba'Raknul

nods.

I think this ‘private’ has too much influence in here.

Biron
whispers to Ba. I have a way to make them talk
Wren
I ain't stupid. And I don't believe for one second we're getting out of our chains alive.
Biron
gives Wren a cold look. There’s worse ways to die.
Orin

looks back at the others, then back to Wren.

Sorry, Wren... you know us fetches, we're hard to control.

Wren
Like I said, we ain't leaving these chains alive. And there is no way we're not going to get tortured either. You gonna double torture us to death, or summink?
Orin

Aw, don't think like that. I'm pretty sure you are getting out of here alive, you know that?

turns to Ba and Biron and winks.

Quinn

steps between Biron and the chained captives.

We ain't come all the way here to torture wretches chained to walls. I'm sure the good lady here can be convinced otherwise...

Ba'Raknul
Okay. Orin pop our lady’s chains. Biron have a chat, and I mean a chat, in the other room. Me and Orin will chat with these poor wretches.
Orin

gives Ba a dark look. They walk over to Ba.

whispering I don't think that's a wise idea? Certainly not as a first resort?

Ba'Raknul
If you could hold the door for us Quinn.
Quinn
nods and opens the door.
Ba'Raknul
walks over with Quinn and quietly talks.
Biron
follows.
Ba’Raknul
Listen. I am not okay with torture or even fear tactics and pressure. Understood?
Quinn

leans against the door frame.

Course, no need for everyone to be interrogated none. I'm sure the good lady here will be keen to sell out her underlings if that’s what they really are. Always our way innit? Shat on from above.

Biron

growls.

Traitors are traitors. They deserve nothing.

Quinn

sniffs and winks at Biron.

I'll go with you then, laughing boy, see if we can get some sense outta this one.

Biron

rolls his eyes.

growling Go get the keys

Quinn

suddenly lights up.

Couldn’t we just, erm... improvise keys?

Biron
From the guard, idiot.
Quinn

waves his hand dismissively at Biron.

I'm talkin' about future endeavours 'ain't I, chuckles?

Biron

tries to mask his irritation while in the cell, but it slightly comes through.

He growls louder.

Get. The. Keys.

Orin

sighs at Biron.

Here.

They walk to Private Wren and pick the locks on her shackles.

Biron
glances up at Orin as they do this.
Quinn

rubs at his jawline and whistles under his breath looking at Orin.

Me and you are gonna get on just fine.

The crude shackles aren't difficult to pick and as Wren stands everyone is amazed at the sheer size of her. Ba and Quinn lead the seemingly fearless woman into another room.

The two men left behind seem more frightened than the junior officer.

Biron
leads Wren to the next room. As they get in he pushes her to the ground.
Quinn

follows Biron. He reaches into the smelly tattered backpack at his shoulder.

Got some old rope 'ere somewhere...

Biron

nods.

Bind her legs.

Orin
looks uncomfortable at Biron walking away with Wren, but turns back and gives the two remaining men long, hard stares.
Ba'Raknul

laughs at the men who seem more scared.

Trust me, you'll have a much better time in here... providing you talk nicely with my friend here.

Orin

What I said to Wren is absolutely true. You will get out of here alive.

Do you believe me?

Eggard
Alive? Really? You expect us to believe that?
Orin

Here, have a drink. I bet you're thirsty.

They offer Eggard a drink from their waterskin.

Eggard

laughs and turns his head.

I'd be a fool to accept a drink from a fetch!

What is in that wineskin though?

Orin
Ha! Smart man. Some of Sly Ben's finest. A sip?
Eggard

looks to Private Lucas, who shakes his head vigorously.

Well, might as well. Could be my last...

He eagerly gulps down some wine.

Orin

helps Eggard with the skin then nods to the private.

Save some for this one.

They turn and offer Lucas a drink as well.

Lucas
says nothing, just shakes his head and glares.
Orin
But really. I mean it. We put ourselves on the line and made a deal to see you out of here safely.
Lucas
spits at Orin's feet.
Orin
sighs.
Eggard
Be honest, fetch. What are our chances of getting out of here alive?
Ba'Raknul

sighs and calls over from where he stands at the door.

Why keep fighting? Wren here is playing nice and I've seen tougher people than her break for Biron.

Lucas
laughs darkly at Ba's remark.
Orin

thinks for a second.

Your odds are all but guaranteed. There's just one thing we're a little confused about. If you help us clear it up, that'll be a definite.

Ba'Raknul
goes back to being quiet.
Eggard

snorts.

Guaranteed? We hang people for less than...

He trails off.

What do you want to know?

Orin

All we need to know is what your orders from the Flock were for last night.

They lean in and start checking all of Eggard's pockets and layers of clothing.

Orin finds a piece of flint, a few copper coins, and a filthy rag... nothing you wouldn't expect to find in the pocket of a mercenary.

Lucas
looks startled.
Eggard

Fl-flock?

Can we talk privately?

Orin

gives Eggard a knowing look.

Of course.

to Ba Can we put the Private in with Wren?

Ba'Raknul

nods and smiles.

Another for the bad room. Gotcha.

Orin
unlocks Lucas' shackles.
Ba'Raknul
grabs the man tightly and marches him through to the other room.

Meanwhile, in the other cell…

Quinn

grins widely as he starts tying the captives legs

Never been one fer takin' orders much… from me equals anyway.

Wren

looks defiantly back at you.

It doesn't have to be this way, you know? We don't have to work for the bastards. We could work for the good guys. You know, for a change!

We could be helping the common folk. Earning good coin for it as well.

Instead of pillaging the poor sods.

Biron
in a cold monotone voice Quiet.
Quinn

smiles sadly at Private Wren.

I don't want to see no-one hurt none. But he…

He flicks his head back towards towards Biron.

...he seems to like hurting folk.

Wren

turns to Biron.

You think when they're finished putting down the Commonwealth they'll stop there?

Biron
You have no honour.
Wren
They won't turn their heads North next?
Quinn

leans in to Wren.

And there's worse that can happen to a woman in a cell - I don't need to be saying it none, but...

Biron

gives Quinn a disgusted look.

He turns back and slaps Private Wren.

Wren
spits blood in his face and laughs.
Quinn

puts his hand up towards Biron.

Let’s not be doing none of this just yet, eh? We can all talk. Civilised like.

Wren
laughs.
Biron
growls deeply.
Wren
What does it matter? The Peasant King is coming. The Kings are losing. You'll all be dead by year’s end!
Quinn

leans in to Wren again.

Look, I don't think I can stop him hurtin' ya none. Not sure I'd try that hard if truth be told. Why don't ya tell him what he wants to know, save him biting ya...

Biron

looks at Wren.

You're a fighter?

Wren

peers at Biron.

...aye?

Biron
You a coward?
Wren
I'm a fighter. Being a coward’s neither here nor there.
Quinn

sniffs.

Seen him bite a man's face off once... while he lived. Don't wanna see that with you, ‘specially not if he’s gonna defile ya as well...

Biron

barks.

Shut it!

Wren

turns to Quinn.

Who’s to say I haven't bitten a few faces off meself?

Quinn

puts his hands up.

Don't mean nuffin by it, just saying, like.

He turns back to Wren.

Yeah, but I'd wager the one being eaten hurts more.

Biron
Death comes to all fighters, whether here or later, whether it’s from your peasant king or a beast.
Wren
Aye, but some deaths are coming much, much sooner.
Biron

Yes, they are. But how has not been determined.

takes a step forward to the woman on the floor.

growls. Wanna die on the floor. cowering.. Or die with a weapon in hand.

Wren
I think I already made me decision on that matter. I wanna die sticking it to those three fat bastards sitting on thrones!
Quinn

sighs.

No one needs to die none. Let the woman answer ya questions and let her live...

Biron
grabs the woman by the throat and lifts her to her feet.
Wren
struggles to break free of her bonds, but alas to no avail.
Biron
pushes her back against the wall hard.
Quinn
Look, I wouldn't give the Father's happy sack for this war, we're mercenaries just trying to earn a crust. Why don't ya tell him what he wants to know then you can go back to ya grand crusade or what not.
Biron

glares into her eyes.

Tell us then, who is this peasant king?

Wren
chokes, trying to speak but unable to.
Biron
releases his grip.
Wren
lands on her knees, coughing and spluttering.
Biron
Weak.
Quinn
tries to catch her and soften her fall.
Wren

snorts.

Untie me and tie yourself up, then we'll see how you fare being throttled.

Biron
Who is the peasant king, and how is he working? You tell me, I release your binds, give you a weapon. You don’t…
Wren
You... really don't know?
Biron
glares aggressively.
Wren
He's the man who started the revolution, the first to raise arms against the pretender’s men. He leads the Commonwealth.
Biron
Where is he?
Wren
Probably in the Capital. Or commanding his troops near the frontlines. He's a general, don't you know. Now, you mentioned something about a weapon?
Biron

spits.

How did you get into our camp?

Wren
Took the coin, like everyone else. East of here, five years ago. Well before the Commonwealth was even weaned. Now, that's two questions you got for free. Where. Is. My. Weapon?
Quinn
takes out a husk of dried jerky and slumps down beside Wren.
Biron

snarls and slams her into the wall again.

I didn’t say how many questions. You answer them, you get your weapon. Understand?

He glares at her, nose to nose, and pushes hard against her collar bone.

Quinn
holds the jerky between his teeth and stands up, trying to get between Biron and Wren.
Biron

snarls aggressively.

Stand down, private.

He pushes Quinn aside.

At that moment Ba enters the room with Private Lucas.

Ba'Raknul

looks around the scene and pauses. He decides to go with it.

See? This is what you're in for.

He throws the man in towards Quinn.

Biron
snarls.
Ba'Raknul
Tie him up. The other is cracking now.
Quinn

tries to catch the other captive before he falls on his face. Then he starts tying him up.

muttering Shoulda sung some, no need for anyone to get hurt...

Ba'Raknul
leaves the room.
Biron
looks again at the woman, eye to eye.

Back with Corporal Eggard…

Eggard
whispering to Orin I... I just want to go home...
Orin
Don't we all.
Eggard
Give me that and I'll tell you anything you want to know.
Orin
Where is home, Eggard?
Eggard
South. Barrow. I've had enough fighting. Get me a writ from Old Aggie. An exemption, leave. And I'll talk. In writing!
Orin
Well, I certainly can't tell you where to go from here when you leave. Hell if I'll stop you.
Eggard
You might not. Others might. But not with a writ!
Orin
I doubt an exemption is necessary. Agata wants nothing to do with you anymore.
Eggard

laughs.

You’re not listening. No writ. No talk.

Orin
I understand. I'll ask. But tell me one thing... how does a Corporal such as yourself end up taking orders from such an obvious plant as Wren? Your lesser, even.
Eggard

grinds his teeth a little.

She's not the one given the orders, fetch.

Orin

You use that word like it's an insult...

They shrug.

If she's not giving you orders, why did she think she could tell you to keep your mouth shut?

Eggard

shrugs.

We got a deal? You need to talk to your commander?

Orin
This is give and take, Eggard... I'm not going to hand you the prize without a little something first.
Eggard
Like wot?
Orin
How. Do you. Come to be. Taking Orders. From the Flock?
Eggard

shrugs.

How do you think? They offered to let me go home. No way I'm getting out of the fighting here without one of your lot coming after me. So I cut a deal with 'em.

Orin
How did they think they could deliver on their promise?
Eggard
They didn't. Like you, they wanted a little something first. And here we are.
Orin
I see. Well, let's see what we can do about it, then. Please excuse me.
Orin

walks into the hall and shuts the door behind them.

Ba? A minute?

Ba'Raknul

laughs.

Go ahead, Biron, their boss is talking privately with Or-- Oh, speak of the devil.

He turns to Orin.

Quinn

looks up towards Orin as they enter, then back towards the captives.

Shoulda sung some...

Orin

So apparently he's just a merc through and through. Made a deal to get out of the war in one piece, but had to pay for it first.

They turn to Quinn.

Shut that door, please?

Ba'Raknul

leans in close and whispers.

Why were they in my tent?

Orin
He won't give me that information unless we make the same deal with him.
Quinn

smiles and climbs back to his feet, looking towards Biron as he does.

There ya go, laughin' boy, that's how you ask. ‘Please’.

He strides over and shuts the door.

Orin
I don't see why we shouldn't. Giving him a writ of passage has no effect on whether Helia will take him or not and we can just burn it once we hand him over.
Ba'Raknul

thinks for a moment.

If you go back in tell him it’s on, then come through into the other room and play like we've got everything we need and there’s no reason to keep the other two.

Orin
He's been honest with me so far, and we've got nothing to lose in my eyes. It's just whether Agata will see it that way.
Ba'Raknul
Maybe they'll give us the rest. If not then we talk to Agata.
Orin

nods.

Send someone to talk to Agata just in case?

Ba'Raknul

nods. He turns and goes back into the room with the two privates.

Pack up your stuff, boys, we got what we needed.

Orin

walks back into the room with Eggard.

It's done. Just a matter of putting ink to paper.

They nod and walk away again, shutting the door behind them.

In the privates’ cell, Wren fights against her restraints…

Ba'Raknul

finds the cell guard and whispers.

Go tell one of the guards out front to fetch Agata. They should tell her we’ve broken the traitors only we’ll need Walter the scribe to finish the job.

The grey-looking man seems to want to argue, but he’s heard quite a lot of Biron’s growling and seen Wren lying unconscious. He rushes off up the stairs.

Wren
YOU TRAITOR, EGGARD!
Biron
smiles grimly.
Wren
YOU CAN'T TRUST PRETENDERS!
Biron
You could of fought your way free.
Ba'Raknul
Gag her. Unless she’s got useful info, I don’t wanna hear her.
Biron
slams the pummel of his axe across her face to shut her up.
Quinn
sighs and walks-- then seeing Biron, runs-- over to the woman.
Biron
picks her up again and smacks her back down.
Quinn

tries to push between the two.

She ain't no use to none, dead!

Orin

enters the room.

Well that was easy enough. I mean... you're all mercenaries after all.

Biron

snarls at Quinn aggressively.

You need to pack it in. These are traitors. Don't be so weak. They'd kill you in a blink.

Quinn

scowls.

We're in a warzone, ya fool. No shortage of folk to hit. She's tied up and probably facing the choppin' block.

Biron
snarls and squares up to Quinn.
Ba'Raknul
Biron, she's done. Unless they're gonna talk they're going in a different cell to be sent for execution.
Orin
Definitely facing the chopping block. Would've been different if she'd opened her mouth, though. Eggard's got himself a writ of release.
Quinn

puts his hands up and smiles.

Look, I don't mean nuffin by it. Not looking for trouble. But it’s beneath you, innit? No honour in smacking around a tied up woman is there?

Biron

through gritted teeth Talk to me out of turn again or get in my way…

He grabs Quinn by the scruff, pushing his face towards him.

…and you'll regret it.

He lets go of Quinn and pushes him away, then storms out of the room.

To be continued...

Location Blocks

Location Illustration

Public domain woodcut from the Hereford Map of the World (Mappa Mundi).

This is my first stab at a location stat block as part of work on my homebrew campaign, Black Griffin. This version could for any campaign where travel is central like sandbox campaigns.

Please find a description of the new format and an example location below:

Describing Locations

Locations are described with a name and description, as well as the following stats:

Size.
This stat defines relative size of a location and can be small, medium large or huge.
Type.
This stat defines relative size of a location and can be small, medium or large.
Tags.
A location might have one or more tags appended to its type, in parenthesis. Common tags include: secret, keep, village, town or city.
Level and Difficulty.
Level and difficulty also appear in parenthesis. A location’s level is expressed as a range of levels to give you an idea of its relative strength (levels 1–4, 5–10, 11–16, and 17– 20). It is then labeled as an safe, unsafe, or perilous. The location’s level tells you how much of a challenge it is compared to others of its level range
Traits.
Locations can have one or more traits which influence or affect creatures travelling through the region. For example, a trait might make navigation harder, might require travellers make a saving throw or suffer an environmental disease or poison, or some other, magical effect. The most important trait is difficult terrain.
Peril

Each location has a peril rating that ranges from -5 to +5. Unlike other traits that affect a location, the characters actions within a location can increase or decrease its peril rating.

A location's peril rating does the following:

  • If the peril rating is greater than zero, add it to rolls when checking for random encounters
  • Add the peril rating when rolling on random encounter tables.

For example, the party are travelling through a region with a +3 peril rating. The DM checks for a random encounter and rolls a 15. Normally this wouldn't trigger an encounter, but with the +3 peril rating the result becomes 18. The DM rolls on the random encounter table for the location and also adds the +3 peril rating, resulting in a more challenging encounter.

At the start of play the peril for all locations is 0. Each time the characters do something substantial to increase lawfulness of a location, decrease the peril rating by 1. For example, if they kill a band of brigands or bring a wanted criminal to justice.

Similarly, when the characters do something substantial to increase the chaos of a location, increase the peril rating by +1. Usually if they commit some kind of crime, or fail to stop some other chaotic faction.

When a location's peril rating exceeds +5 it can increase its difficulty or level. Safe regions become unsafe, and unsafe regions become perilous. When a perilous region exceeds +5 peril increase its level, decrease its difficulty to unsafe and reset the peril rating to 0. For example, a level 1-4 perilous location becomes a level 5-10 unsafe location.

Similarly, when a location's peril rating descends below -5 it can decrease its difficulty. A perilous location becomes unsafe, or an unsafe location becomes safe, and the peril rating resets to 0.

These changes to a location may require increasing or decreasing the difficulty of its traits, DCs or random encounter tables.

Example Location: The Coves

Medium region (level 1-4, unsafe)

The Coves are a series of cliffs, caves and remote beaches that runs along the easterly coast of the Midlands. Here you will find remote fishing communities and the odd gang of smugglers.

Flat.
The land is mostly flat in this area making navigation easy (DC 10).
Hidden coves.
The many hidden coves that litter this area give good cover to all manner of nefarious folk, make scouting difficult (DC 17).
Scarce.
Game is limited to a few gulls and fish straying too close to the shore. Foraging checks are made with DC 15.
Random Coves Encounters
d20 + Peril Encounter
-5-0 1d4 travelling common folk
1-5 2d6 fisherman commoners
6-8 1d6 guards protecting a merchant commoner
9-11 Shipwreck (on a roll of 1-3 of a d6 the wreck is inhabited, re-roll on this table for occupants)
12-13 Dead whale
14-15 1d4 swarm of crabs
15-16 1d6 bandit smugglers
17-18 1d6 guards protecting a noble
19-20 1 pirate bandit captain and 2d6 bandit pirate crew members
21 1d6 + 2 giant lizards
22 1d6 + 4 giant crabs
23 1d6 merfolk
24 Pirate crew of 1d20 bandits and 1 pirate bandit captain
25 Coven of 3 sea hags

Notable Locations

Notable location in the Coves include:

Whiterock.
This remote fishing village does a brisk trade in fish but does not welcome strangers lingering after dark (see page XX).
The Robert Morgan.
This landlocked ship has become a haven for pirates and smuggler's in the Coves, commanded by the ruthless pirate queen, Captain Daniels (see page XX).

Black Griffin 37 - The Near Miss

In the eighth instalment of Black Griffin the party find themselves attending a war council and a new enemy makes their presence felt...

This campaign diary taken from the in-character chat channel from session 37 of my ongoing playtest campaign, lightly polished and annotated.

Black Griffin is a play-by-chat game that runs every week on Roll20. The party are mercenaries in the employ of the infamous Company of the Black Griffin. Lowly even for sellswords, they have been placed on punishment duty as company fetches: bounty hunters charged with capture of deserters for trial.

Black Griffin Encampment Map Preview
Scene VII: Night 2 Continued...

When we last left our band of baleful bounty hunters they had disturbed a group of cowled figures searching Ba'Raknul's tent. The figures attacked shouting Commonwealth rallying cries and the melee was joined!

From the shadows, two figures shot arrows whilst three drew swords and confronted the party directly. One was quickly dispatched and Biron wrestled t'other to the ground, but another clashed swords with Ba'Raknul while Orin dodged arrows.

The prone woman in Biron's clutches struggles to break free, attempting to wriggle out of his iron grip. Unfortunately for her, years spent hunting and wrestling prey in the North give Biron an edge over the weak Southern traitor.

Ba neatly ducks a swipe from a sword and a arrow bolt.

However, one of the archers spies Orin as she sneaks through the tents. With uncanny accuracy they shoot exactly where he predicts they might be, landing a bolt directly in Orin's side.

Orin

grunts as the arrow punches them in the side. Holding the shaft, they turn and look at their attacker with confusion before dropping like a sack of grain.

Ba'Raknul

looks with frustration as Orin drops to the ground, he scowls.

You're going down!

He swings with two hands on his spear, then spins with the momentum of the strike and kicks out.

Like many mercenaries, Ba’s opponent is well-matched against other armed men, but they do not expect a kick, which lands a satisfying blow on their thigh. Ba hears the sharp crack of bone breaking! They stumble and limp, mortally wounded but still up.

Ba'Raknul

uses the moment in the enemy’s view to spin around, putting them between himself and Biron.

Biron

raises his axe up, confident in his position over the woman, and screams in her face making a wide reckless swing against their prone figure.

Biron slams the prone spy with the flat of his axe, smashing into her face and sending teeth flying. She turns her bloodied face to look at you, eyes filled with rage and snarls.

Biron

You traitorous dog.

to the air DANGER DANGER!

The cloaked woman leaps up and swipes at Biron, but is still too dazed from the blow. Her blade swings wide, missing even the wide opening his reckless frenzy gave her.

Swords swing at Ba, and arrows fly at the him and Biron, one hitting Ba’s shoulder.

Ba'Raknul

catches the arrow and throws it back at the one that shot it.

There’s a cry from the shadows just beyond the torch blaze as Ba’s counter attack hits true, "By the Bastard." The shadows gasp, it’s a wound to the lung!

Ba'Raknul

hears the wheezed breath and it surges him to act fast, swinging his spear again in his opponent’s face.

Another strike, this time the figure's neck. He drops to the ground.

Ba'Raknul

uses his momentum again, rushing the foe he just put an arrow in. He leaps through the air to deliver a flying kick at the enemy’s head. You're running out of options. You should surrender… while you have the chance.

At the last moment the archer leans backwards, avoiding a fatal blow to the head. Instead you hit his shoulder, sending him spinning. He turns back to you, leaning to one side, clearly enfeebled by your blow, and draws his sword.

Orin

lies still in the darkness.

The others can hear Orin’s laboured breathing... still alive... yet...

Biron

screams again, blood dripping off him, splattering on the woman’s face, as he brings his axe down again.

Biron’s second blow puts the woman out cold. She lands face down in the mud, splattering him with a mix of blood and soil.

Biron

looks up, his face awash with rage. He lifts his axe, pointing it at the remaining archer.

You. Are. Mine.

He sprints at him, screaming.

The second archer draws his blade and lurches forward to impale the approaching barbarian, but Biron dodges at the last minute. Meanwhile, Ba's opponent feebly swipes at him with his one good arm. A blow Ba easily dodges.

Ba’Raknul

takes a look around and sees the tide flowing in the party’s favour. He smiles back at his foe.

You made a mistake.

He brings down his spear again, aiming for a non-lethal spot.

With the blunt end of his spear, Ba gives the limping opponent a sharp tap to the temple, sending him flying into a nearby tent. He lies still.

Ba'Raknul

turns and looks back to Orin.

to Biron Handle him I need to get Orin.

He rushes over to kneel next to them.

Orin

fights to breathe, blood trickling from the corner of their mouth.

Biron

barely hears Ba through the rage, but grunts in response before continuing his attack on the lone archer. Now he grins, chucking aside his shield and raising the axe two handed.

We have enough prisoners.

The axe fairly cleaves the assailant's head in twain, burying the blade to the neck. No one will nary uncover their identity now or ever again.

Ba’Raknul

tosses his weapon aside, seeing Orin’s blood pooling.

No No No.

He begins frantically working to stop the bleeding, barely able to see through it.

I got you.

Biron

shakes off his rage and begins shackling the three unconscious enemies.

He calls over and directs any of the griffin soldiers that turn up to help but never lets his prisoners out of his sight.

Someone bring a medic and Loth or Agata!

Ba manages to staunch the bleeding from the wound in Orin's side, which narrowly avoided puncturing their lung. However, the vicious arrow head will leave a nasty scar.

Orin

coughs up a few tablespoons of blood, spraying Ba in the face. Once the fit has passed, though, they seem to be breathing better.

Several fetches arrive at the grisly scene. Some stand and gawp, but a few take action and start carrying Orin to the infirmary.

Ba'Raknul

moves to his tent the minute Orin is in safe hands and begins checking what they were doing.

Clearly they were searching for something, the place is upturned. Ba’s mementos from your homeland are strewn about, but nothing obvious seems to be missing.

Loth

suddenly looms over Biron, as if appearing from nowhere.

raises an inquisitive eyebrow.

Ba’Raknul

looks for any evidence they left something suspicious, possibly to frame him for something.

Nothing obviously not belonging jumps out to Ba, and the bodies are dressed in the armour and arms of your typical Black Griffin mercenary. On closer inspection… that's exactly what they are: familiar faces you've seen around camp a thousand times.

Biron

looks up at Loth, covered in blood and breathing heavy.

These three are prisoners. Those two didn’t make it.

Loth

nods, and gestures to a couple of fetches who start rounding up the unconscious bodies.

Ba'Raknul

emerges from his tent and approaches Loth.. limping but otherwise just bruised.

They were searching my tent... I don’t know why.

The fetches start dragging the unconscious spies to the commandeered manor house at the centre of camp, Captain Larke's abode and the only building with walls strong enough to act as a prison.

Ba'Raknul

We will need someone to help with the rest of our watch.

He motions over his shoulder to the slumped form of Orin being dragged away.

Sergeant Agata. arrives, in hastily donned uniform, under-shirt sticking out of her chain mail shirt.

Agata

nods to Loth.

It appears a lady just cannot get a good night's sleep around here.

What happened?

Ba'Raknul

We were doing our rounds when we heard movement from my tent. As we moved to inspect, we were ambushed: five attackers in total, two with bows, three with swords. We subdued who we could, but outnumbered we were left little option.

And when Orin went down…

He pauses, clearly bothered by that statement.

…we had to finish it.

Agata

Orin is down?

Her brow furrows.

Ba'Raknul

I stabilised them, but they are in the infirmary now.

Me and Biron are ok, but still pretty banged up.

Agata

nods.

I think under the circumstances. You're relieved of duty for the rest of the night. Orin will get the best care, but the pair of you should rest too.

Ba'Raknul

nods.

Thank you, ser.

pausing One more thing, ser?

Agata

Yes, corporal?

Ba'Raknul

Our friend Helia... is looking for three individuals who were recently in Dismas. If were we to have evidence of say…

His eyes flick to the three captives.

…after interrogation, it could be a good way to give the royals something and get them out of our hair, ser.

Agata

looks at Ba appraisingly.

Indeed, corporal. Perhaps you're being wasted on fetch duty!

Yet... I feel these traitors are not the only ones. We need to root the rest of them out.

Ba'Raknul

Of course, ser.

He bows low.

Thank you again, ser.

Agata

I suggest you yourselves speak with the spies and learn what you can before we turn them over to the bailiffs.

Ba'Raknul

nods.

Orin would be the perfect choice for that… If they are not able we will do what we can. Biron can be persuasive.

Agata

Let's hope...

Before Agata can finish that sentence, Ba and Biron hear an almighty crash. In the distance, on the opposite side of the camp, a flaming arrow shoots into the sky!

Agata

By the Father!

Ba'Raknul

sighs.

Fuck.

He turns to the noise.

Biron

looks over to the noise immediately.

It is too far to see what is happening, but distant shouts can be heard.

Biron

looks and sees Ba emerging and begins sprinting.

DANGER! EAST WALL! BE READY!

Ba'Raknul

sees Biron take off and does the same, earth exploding from under foot as he sprints. He draws his bow and takes the most direct route, leaping over smaller tents when necessary.

Ba and Biron arrive on the far side of the camp to find an amazing sight! The barricade here has fallen, lying over the ditch beyond and leaving the camp open for a space of about twenty feet.

The infantry unit you command are on high alert, looking about, arrows drawn.

Biron

looks around for any sign of enemies.

BE READY MEN! HOLD FIRM!

The wall has been undermined, dug out and the foundations chopped away. A soldier turns to the two men.

Soldier

Sorry sers, we heard the noise and when we arrived... there was no one in sight!

Another private pipes up.

Private

I could've sworn I saw something running into the woods, ser!

Ba'Raknul

looks to the sky.

Everyone, bows at the ready. Something moves we give it one warning shot... It moves again we kill it. UNDERSTOOD?

He draws an arrow.

All stand there, bows ready, hearts pounding and... nothing. It seems whatever has come, has gone, their work done. The defences of the camp are yet again weakened!

Ba'Raknul

sighs as the tension and adrenaline releases. He realises how tired he is and drops to the ground in a sitting position.

Biron

growls, almost disappointed at the lost chance to kill.

Ba'Raknul

motions to the man who saw something enter the forest.

You. Soldier. Go report to Loth.

The soldier nods and runs off.

Meanwhile, various mercenaries, disturbed from their sleep, start to swarm about the broken wall. A couple of sleepy-eyed company engineers are already kicking about the logs of the fallen barricade, discussing how to put it all back together.

Beyond the silent woods stand silent, dark, watching.

Ba'Raknul

motions to Biron.

Come look at this a minute with me.

He walks over with Biron and begins inspecting the wall as closely to see if they can tell what was used to do this.

Ba can see a furrow under the wall where the foundations were dug out, weakening the wall, and where the foundational posts were hacked away. With what kind of weapon you could not say, although you have a suspicion the cuts seem similar to those that brought the tower down!

Ba'Raknul

is utterly confused and seeing a look on Biron’s face that seems more interested in the next meal, turns to an engineer.

How would someone do this?

Ba turns to a short, red-faced man with a bald pate and a scraggly, white beard. He peers at you over his glasses.

Engineer

It’s pretty straight forward, if you don’t mind me saying...

He points to the furrow.

They dug it out here so the only thing keeping the wall up was the deep posts. Then they cut through those.

Ba'Raknul

How are they getting close to the wall for long enough to dig out this much? And do you think there is a way to defend against it again?

Engineer

shrugs.

Not long if left undisturbed. We could put all the posts deeper... but that would mean rebuilding all the walls.

Ba'Raknul

What about spikes at the base, preventing them from getting close to the foundational posts?

Engineer

shrugs.

That, I could not say.

Ba'Raknul

Okay thanks.

He walks away just a little to talk with Biron.

Things are getting worse.

Biron

grunts.

And there’s still more spies.

Ba'Raknul

shakes his head in frustration.

Let’s just go check on Orin for now and get some rest.

He turns to the remaining men on patrol with them.

You will be continuing patrol without us.

He looks to see if there are any in the crowd that are already dressed and armed.

The soldier salutes, and continues off around the perimeter. Ba does see a couple of armoured privates gawping like fish.

Ba'Raknul

approaches them with purpose and speed, pointing at each of them.

You. You and You. Due to recent events we need extras on patrol tonight until the wall is fixed.

The privates reluctantly agree, and march off in the opposite direction.

Ba'Raknul

heads off to the infirmary, finally feeling moderately okay with the situation.

The infirmary is quiet, the patients either asleep, moaning quietly, or quietly dying.

Biron

begins following but half way changes his mind and heads for food and bed.

You see Orin, looking very pale and thin, lying in a cot asleep or unconscious.

Ba'Raknul

stealthily enters the tent and moves closer to them.

Up close, Ba can see they are breathing steadily and slowly, a clean bandage wrapped around their side. They seems cool to the touch, not warm or feverish.

Ba'Raknul

sighs with some relief. He takes off his prayer beads and wraps them around Orins hand. He closes his eyes in prayer.

You are not ready for the next journey.

He turns away, scanning the room for the boy.

Ba can see him not far away. He appears to be sleeping, even dreaming. He turns and rolls in he sleep, snorting and breathing heavily... perhaps troubled by a nightmare. For a moment Ba thinks he hears him squeal, quietly, but he’s not sure... perhaps just a snore.

Orin

rustles in their sleep, awaken by Ba's touch. They blink at him.

Ba? You've got blood...

Mid-sentence, they drift back to sleep.

Ba'Raknul

glances back at Orin as they chatter, before leaving the tent to find sleep.

Scene VIII: Night 3.

The party all take a well-earned rest. Their dreams are filled with figures that leap from shadows and things that squeal in the darkness. They awake late in the afternoon the next morning.

Orin wakes too, feeling bruised, searing pain on their side, but very much alive.

Orin

Burn it! Where's my drink?

The orderlies being Orin food and water which they greedily gulp down and Vicmas, seeing their appetite, discharges them.

Orin

grumbles.

Not the drink I was looking for...

The group hears the bell for the start of the evening mess.

Ba'Raknul

stretches and rolls out of bed beginning a martial arts drill, before heading out to the mess for food.

Orin

checks to make sure they still have the Sparrow's letter.

The damning letter is still very much on their person.

Biron

gets up and heads straight to the mess, scratching their scar that itches from time to time.

Orin

then heads to meet Ba and Biron at the mess, walking slower than usual.

The party are immediately hit with the atmosphere in tent. It is unusually quiet and subdued. Biron and Ba are relieved to see Orin up and about.

Orin

Oh good. I had a strange dream that Ba was crying tears of blood.

Ba'Raknul

looks up and smiles warmly at Orin.

Glad to see you did not take the next step.

Biron

barely looks up from his food.

You survived. Well done.

Orin

grunts in a classically Biron fashion, then grins at him.

As they gulp down the bland but solid fair, a young private, a lad of no more than fourteen summers, runs up with orders to report to Agata's tent. As soon as he's delivered his message, he runs off again, no doubt on some other errand to keep him from the battlefield before his time.

Biron

grunts and gets up heading off in silence eyes still darting back and forth looking for anyone acting suspicious.

Ba'Raknul

Gets up and follows.

We'd best get over there, we're probably under attack again.

He laughs as he walks away, worries seemingly gone.

Orin

gets up, wincing at the pain in their side.

As per usual, Loth’s joyless face greats them at Agata's tent. He gestures them in, and they find themselves in the smoke-filled interior. Agata stands over her desk, puffing furiously on her pipe.

Agata

Well, this is a mess.

Orin

I know, right? I'm going to have to buy a new shirt.

Agata

I'm rather more concerned about the infestation of spies and the fallen defences, to be quite honest, private. I want your thoughts.

Orin

scowls.

Aw, thanks.

Ba'Raknul

As to the wall, I think we need to have torches set outside the wall. To dig that out they need time and to be undisturbed. That means they’re probably watching our patrol routes then sneaking in and digging away.

Agata

nods.

Yet I can't help feeling that working the defences isn't dealing with the root of the problem.

Orin

They're using the forest for cover, perhaps it would be wise to cut it back.

Why these two things at once, though? Are they coordinated?

Ba'Raknul

nods

We could cut it back. We'd need to be careful though, they might react hostile towards that. But I don’t think the two things are related.

Agata

We don't have the manpower to spare to cut the woods back.

Orin

Well, nothing is really coincidence, is it?

Agata

Not until the rest of the men and women are back in camp. And that wont be for days.

Orin

tugs on their ear, deep in thought.

What do we know? The commonwealth is targeting the three of us.

Ba'Raknul

It’s true they were on opposite sides of the camp, but the guys in the tent didn’t expect us. I think whoever is cutting the walls watched us, saw us pass and then did their thing. All the commotion just made it easier.

Orin

The orcs are taking down the camp's defences.

Biron

looks surprised.

Unless they did. Maybe they were searching my tent not because they wanted something but because they knew i was on patrol. Perfect to draw us in. And these spies could be for anyone.

We need to talk to the captives. Before we hand them over. Me and orin can have a quick word.

Orin

Yes, I don't think we have enough information.

Agata

Very well, question them and find out what you can before we hand them over to the bailiffs.

Orin

nods.

Ba'Raknul

Ser, can I request an empty tent if such a thing exists? Just incase they were looking for me or something I have. Doesn’t need to be fancy just somewhere to sleep.

Agata

Very well. Loth, see to it!

Loth

rolls his eyes.

Ba'Raknul

We can suitably trap my tent should they try again.

He looks to Biron and Orin with a grin.

Agata

Anything else?

Orin

grins back.

Wouldn't want to be them.

Ba'Raknul

salutes.

Not from me, ser.

Orin

shrugs.

Biron

grins from ear to ear, barely able to hold back his excitement.

Lets go make some traitors squeal.

Orin

is the first to walk out of the tent.

Biron

follows closely behind.

Ba'Raknul

stands in the tent a moment and smiles.

The A team are on it.

He laughs, salutes again, and leaves.

On the way, he fills in Biron and Orin as they walk.

He looked as if he could wake any day now. we should check on him later.

The party makes their way to the captain's quarters, the abandoned manor house at the centre of camp where the prisoners are kept, with a grim determination to uncover the truth...

To be continued...

Agenda-Based Adventures

Recently I ran a new mission for my playtest campaign Black Griffin. In this particular mission, the party have been commanded to patrol their camp for a few nights (as a sort of punishment).

On reflection, not the most exciting adventure. So, to spice things up I decided there would multiple factions at play:

  • A group of bailiff’s searching for wanted spies (whose description suspiciously matches the party),
  • A cell of spies operating within the camp, and
  • An advance party of orcish saboteurs looking to weaken the camp defences.

Writing an adventure around these various threads seemed tricky, but it got me thinking about the agenda design I've been doing with NPC stat blocks. Taking that I came up with an agenda-based adventure designed. Basically it's like an event-based adventure (from the Dungeon Master’s Guide) but for multiple threats.

Huh?

In agenda-based adventures I give a bunch of enemy factions (which I will now call threats) their own agendas organised into an agenda ladder and start throwing them at the party one at a time.

For example, the agenda ladder I used for the orcs was as follows:

  • Sabotage Camp. Goblins sabotage the towers and barricades on the North-West side of camp.
  • Kill Patrols. Goblin assassins starts killing members of patrols.
  • Clan Attacks. Orcs attack the camp en-masse.

Then you just start the ball rolling! For each in-game day or night I do the following:

  1. Randomly select a threat and check off one event. This is the foreground event and it directly involves the party.
  2. Randomly select another threat and check off one event. This is the background event and it occurs while the party are elsewhere.

I repeat the above until all the threats are thwarted or one reaches its final goal. All final agenda items are foreground events. This is normally some direct attack the party must thwart. The stuff of climactic, final scenes.

To make randomly choosing threat events easier I used index cards to make some improvised “threat cards”:

Photo of threat index cards

Additionally, every time the party move to a new location I rolled a d20. On an 18 or higher, a random clue is waiting for them in the area.

Design

I think it's fairly obvious to mention this design is heavily influenced by fronts from Dungeon World. The design here is a bit less narrative to fit with the Dungeons & Dragons style of play, but many of the principles are the same.

I used a pyramid structure for pacing. The first tier has three checkboxes (slow as the threat starts to feel its feet) then two, and the final tier (when the true stakes are finally revealed) has only one.

Running some of the agenda events in the background makes the world seem more alive. Things happen even if the party aren’t about to witness them. They aren’t the sole protagonists!

Lastly, the idea of checking off encounters is based on bullet campaigns from Redmark Adventures Volume I (an excellent campaign book that unfortunately never got a sequel).

Where Things Need Work

Overall, it worked well. What could’ve been a routine traipse across the camp map actually turned into rich sessions which the players (seemed to) enjoy. But some areas of improvement include:

I messed up with the clues. Firstly, rolling for clues every time the party “reached a new area” doesn’t make much sense unless you’re on a dungeon crawl. If you’re just mooching about an open map (as the party were) I’d skip over frequently visited locations and often struggled to figure out when to roll.

An alternative might’ve been to place clues in specific locations rather than randomly scatter them around. I think this has problems too: players could all to easily sweep the camp and collect all the clues in one go. And it makes things too static: clues dynamically appearing makes the world seem more alive. Perhaps a more detailed map might’ve helped here, making it more noodly to stumble upon a clue?

Also, the probability of encountering a clue (the same as for random encounters) needed to be higher. Perhaps it could even increase as the threat agenda burns down. Maybe using some kind of usage die mechanic? There is a clue in any scene on a roll of 1 of the clue die. The clue die starts at something like d10 and counts down to d8 → d6 → d4 per day.

I really like the idea of threats: it worked well in play and it's easy to devise new threats. The interaction with multiple agendas kept the flow of the game going without requiring massive prep and unduly railroading the players.

It also has a lot of potential: you could easily bundle up a bunch of encounters, locations and agendas into one threat block. I’ve already started thinking about campaign threats where each checkbox could be an entire adventure.

I was worried the pyramid structure of the agenda ladder would risk throwing samey encounters at the party. This didn’t happen in play, and if you keep the agendas general enough there is plenty of leeway to change things up.

The main problem is that, with three threats, the agenda ladder had too many events (18 in total). I had to cut things short, even when the party took one threat out of action early on. So I think a smaller ladder perhaps with two just minor events, one medium and one final event might move things along faster.

Lastly, making cards to shuffle and deal when drawing background and foreground events didn’t work that well. There were just too few cards to shuffle effectively so I’m not sure how random my choices were. Again, some kind of usage die mechanic might be more effective here.