“We’re not just in a Dungeons and Dragons world, we’re in Faerun,” Josh said. “You know, Forgotten Realms.”
Ashly looked up from her bowl of stew to stare at him blankly, still chewing. The words meant nothing to her.
“It’s a campaign setting, goes all the way back to the first ed,” Josh clarified.
“How’s the stew?” Nick asked.
“It’s fine,” Ashly lied. “How do you know we’re in a Forgotten Realm?”
The group had been turned loose from the barracks the day after they’d returned from the swamp, though it didn’t feel like they’d been fired, more like their contract had ended. Josh had been barely capable of walking, so they’d stopped at the first tavern they came across and managed to, after a comical series of gestures, acquire a room with two large beds for three of the gold coins.
The group spends a week at the inn, spending 21 out of their 400 gp, and have 379 remaining. Days of bed rest and adequate food enable Nick to heal up to 7/10 hp, Vera to 11/11, Ashly to 10/10, Marco to 11/11, and Josh to 11/11.
This rest doesn’t enable the group to actually get out much, but spending time in the tavern common room exposes them to the local language and culture, to the tune of 4 effective hours per day – and at 200 hours, they will get a point in both Common Language and Cultural Familiarity. So after a week, they’re at 28/200 hours.
“Yesterday I saw a halfling,” Marco said. He was stacking the coins they’d been gifted at one end of the table.
“What’s a halfling?” Ashly asked.
“A hobbit who’s been through a copyright dispute,” Josh quipped. “But I was down in the common room gathering intel-“
Ashly rolled her eyes.
“- and I was watching these two farmers play cards, and one of them made a short prayer to Tymora and Lathander before dealing.”
“How do you know what he was saying?” Ash asked.
“Well I caught the words, anyway. And Tymora and Lathander are both Forgotten Realms deities.”
It was a thin rationalization, but more than anything else they had to go on. “So what does that tell us?”
“It means I know this place! I know the names of some of the most important wizards and rulers of this land. If what’s happening to us is magical, we can try to get Elminster to help us!”
“Yeah?” Ashly restrained herself from telling Josh that was stupid. “I know Elon Musk’s name, but that doesn’t mean he helps me with my not-having-a-Tesla problem.”
“No, Elminster does this kind of shit all the time,” Josh insisted. “Exactly the kind of magical puzzle that would grab his interest.”
“Okay, so, how do we find him?”
Josh hesitated. “That… that I don’t know. I’m not even sure where in the Realms we are, or what era this is. We need more intel.”
Marco sat up and put their sacks of coin on the counter. “Be that as it may. In case we don’t find your wizard friend we’re going to be stuck here for a month or two, based on how long we were in Zombieland and Austin. Staying here costs us three coins a night, so if we estimate seven more weeks of this?” He moved three stacks aside. “This is what we have left.” He pushed one stack in front of each of them. “Might be safer to just sit on it in case of emergency or if we’re stuck here longer but… man, I could use some fresh clothes and whatever passes for toiletries around here.”
Vera looked at Josh’s stack. “How come he gets coins? He didn’t go stomping around the stomp.”
Josh pulled the coins closer to his chest. “Hey!”
“It would be a dick move to expect him to sit around while the rest of us have some spending money,” Marco said. “And we’re all in this together.”
“Okay,” Vera said. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Josh.”
“I’m gonna buy me a sword,” Josh said.
“Let’s cover the basics first,” Ashly said. “Like Marco said. Clothes.”
“Oh, and chain-mail!”
Each PC has 46 gold coins to spend on whatever they want. A full wardrobe of tunics, cloaks, breeches, belts, boots, hats, hose – not too fancy, but appropriately lower middle-class – will cost them 30. They all opt for this, except for Josh.
Josh wants a sword, and the cheapest broadsword he can find will set him back 20gp. He refuses to settle for a short-sword, so instead he opts to buy the cheapest clothing he can find – second hand rags, largely, that he picks up for 10. He spends another 20 on his sword, leaving him with 16.
Nick and Marco opt to buy knives – neither is confident with their spear skills, and both used knives enough back in Austin that it feels “comforting” to have one on hand. They go out together, and pick out nice large knives for 4gp each.
They, along with Vera and Ashly, also buy leather knapsacks to store their clothes and other belongings in for 6gp each. Ashly, out of a general precaution, spends another 5 gold pieces on a collection of bandages and the sorts of herbs the women at the market tell her are good for healing, though she doesn’t know how to make poultices or anything yet.
Everyone also spends a coin on various other essentials – flint & steel to start fires with, cutlery and eating utensils, some soap, and another 10 on a leather knapsack to store it all in. This leaves Vera with 9gp, Ashly with 4gp, and Marco, Josh and Nick have 5gp. Everyone still has their leather armor and spear.
A month and a half later, Ashly was returning from the river with her laundry when she found Mustache talking to Vera and Marco at the inn. “What’s going on?” she asked.
It’d been very different, staying in Daggerford compared to the time they’d spent after the zombie apocalypse. Calmer. Less tense. And they weren’t mourning anyone’s death. There was a sense of routine, of normalcy – the feeling that she could let her guard down a little, live a little. She was still desperate to get home, to get back to the real normal, but the simple pastoral life allowed her to think beyond immediate survival.
Mustache turned to her with a shallow nod. He tapped his chest. “Johan.”
“Oh.” She nodded, shifting the laundry basket on her hip. “Ashly.”
“Johan was just telling us that it’s time for our training.” Marco said.
“You learn to speak Common, good.” Johan said in Common, speaking slowly for their benefit.
Nick had initially invited her to their gaming sessions at the start of the school year, and she’d said yes because he wasn’t boring and had some genuine artistic talent. He wasn’t exactly her type – at least, not really like the few boys she’d dated – but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. He was nice.
It hadn’t turned out to be flirtation, though – he was generally being friendly, and that was okay too. At first she’d thought he was involved with Vera, but they acted more like siblings than anything else, and her mild romantic interest drifted to Marco. The older boy was smart, funny, charming as all hell – and genuinely a good person.
She hadn’t got around to seeing if he was interested, back in the real world. At least, she hadn’t thought she had… it was still hard to remember anything leading up to the zombie attack. Aside from the general nature of her life and her history, it was all a blur… like their short-term memory had been wiped clean by whatever brought them into this recurring nightmare.
Now, though, she had the free time to start thinking of her companions in that way again. She didn’t feel… lonely… exactly. They all spent a lot of time together, supporting each other. They’d certainly been through a lot together. She still couldn’t decide if she was interested in any of them romantically – and if so, if it was worth potentially disrupting their status quo to pursue it.
Maybe she should talk to Vera about it.
45 more days have passed, meaning that our players have picked up, largely by osmosis, a Broken understanding of the Common tongue, as well as Cultural Familiarity (Faerun). They understand simple sentences spoken slowly, important words. They are 28 hours towards gaining Accented fluency.
Additionally, they’ve gained 20 hours towards the Housekeeping skill – doing laundry, keeping their room at the inn tidy, doing some simple cooking. Except Josh, who has paid 1gp for a washer-woman to handle his laundry and has gained 20 hours worth of Broadsword experience practicing by himself instead.
Oh, and at this point, everyone is fully healed.
“We’re still in the militia,” Nick said.
“I thought they let us go?” Vera asked.
“Apparently it’s like the national guard?” Nick switched to Common. “Everybody here in militia?”
Johan nodded. “One day a month to train, three days a month on guard duty.”
“Oh,” Ashly said, sticking to English. “So today’s our training day?”
“I guess,” Vera said.
“You come now.” Johan said, not asking.
Nick patted his chest, speaking in his own strangled attempts at the language. “I get Marco and Josh. We train.”
Johan paused, then nodded. “At training field. Okay?”
“Okay.” Nick turned to Vera and Ashly. “See you guys there?”
“Sure,” Vera said.
“Get your armor, your spear,” Johan said. “Anything else. After training, you’ll stay in the barracks during watch.”
“Guess we’ll save a bit more on lodging,” Nick said.
Vera and Ashly followed Johan to the training field – the grassy expanse where they’d first lined up before collecting their spears and armor when they’d appeared in this world what felt like a lifetime ago. Two dozen other recruits had gathered, arranged in two lines, each with spear and armor. The girls filled into the rear line.
The instructor was an older man with red hair and a bushy beard. He began talking about the proper way to grip the weapon, how to hold it so that your stance was firm, and Ashly flashed back, briefly, to the fight against the lizard men, when the weapon had flown from her grasp at the end. Back to the chaos and confusion of combat, how it felt to fight, to drive her weapon into a creature that was struggling for its life…
Next, the instructor had everyone try a basic stance, while he walked up and down the line correcting postures – Ashly’s back foot was too far extended, so he tapped her heel until she brought it forward.
Nick arrived with Marco and Josh in tow halfway through this exercise. Ashly noted that Josh had left his spear behind in favor of bringing his sword.
The instructor walked up to him, glanced down at the weapon, and they had a quiet conversation she couldn’t hear. After a few minutes Josh departed in the direction of one of the barracks, while Marco and Nick joined her.
“Where’s he going?” she asked.
“Sent him off to train with the sword from someone else,” Marco said.
Nick chuckled. “He seemed thrilled.”
Training continued, going through a few more stances, how to brace the weapon, proper thrusting technique. Ash had picked up on quite a bit of it in her fight with the lizard men, but the corrections the instructor was making made a lot of sense.
Everyone gets 6 hours of instruction in the Spear skill, except Josh, who gets six hours in Broadsword training instead.
“Marpnoth?” Ashly asked.
“Marpenoth,” the halfling corrected. Tibbard was one of the other militia members in the mess hall for the evening meal, though he wasn’t part of their training unit. She was doing her best not to stare at his small proportions, because she was getting the impression that she was mistaking her glances for interest of another sort. “Next month, is Uktar, snows will be coming soon.”
“November, I guess,” Nick said, passing the leather ale mug into Ashly’s hands.
Initially Ashly’d been hesitant, back when they’d first arrived at the inn, at the local custom of everyone passing around the same drinking vessel. She’d had “don’t drink something someone hands to you” drilled into her head, of course, and even shared with the whole table, a gallon was a lot of ale.
But, as Nick had assured her, medieval ales were fairly weak, more useful for their nutritional content than getting shit-faced – and it did indeed make up a large chunk of their daily rations in the militia. And, as the nights grew colder, it left her feeling warm, rather than tipsy.
She sat with Nick, the halfling, and a few other, quieter, militia members, while Marco, Josh, and Vera sat on the other side of the room singing some kind of bawdy drinking song that she could only catch half the words to.
The divide here is that Marco, Josh, and Vera have the Carousing skill – the skill of socializing and drinking and casually getting along. Nick and Ashly are more awkward at parties for lacking it.
Johan slid into their table, accepted the mug as she handed to it, and took a long swallow. “Nick. Ashly. New duty for tomorrow.”
“Yes?” she asked.
“Commander Sherlan wants you and your friends on road duty.”
Tibbard let out a whistle. “You musta impressed someone important.”
“Road duty?” Nick asked. “What is?”
“It’s…” Johan searched for a simple way to explain it, “scouting down road. One last Caravan from Waterdeep before winter. Ride down to Way Inn, make sure no trouble for caravan. Come back.”
“Way Inn?” Ashly asked.
“It’s a traveler’s stop,” Tibbard said. “Three days ride down the Trade Way at an easy pace.”
“Seems like…” Nick waved his hand. “A lot for us. Little training.”
Johan smiled. “Easy task. No reports of trouble.” He put a hand on Nick’s shoulder. “You did good at swamp. Avenged Baron Cromm.”
Ashly’s mouth gaped. “That guy who died, he was the Baron?”
Johan nodded. “Lady Piann was most grateful that we returned his signet ring.”
Nick looked across the bar, to where Josh was balancing a bottle on his forehead, and switched back to English. “We better tell the others to expect an early morning.”
At the crack of Dawn Johan escorted Ashly, Vera, Nick, Marco, and Josh to the stables, where they were presented with the mounts they’d use on the mission. Each had a saddlebag that, Ashly discovered when she checked, contained food, a tent, and expedition supplies.
Johan escorted them all the way to the bridge south of the city, then indicated the road running to the southeast horizon. “Just stick to the Trade Way. Good campsites every few hours, but you can reach Liam’s Hold by nightfall. Okay?”
“Got it,” Marco said. He looked more confident sitting on his mount – they all did, except for Nick, who still seemed a bit intimidated by the horse, and Josh, who’d missed out on the earlier opportunity to ride one. Johan ended up having to help them get their animals under control.
GURPS: Riding rolls for each of our players.
Nick and Josh fail, but Marco, Vera, and Ashly succeed.
This is the second scenario in Under Illefarn, “Caravan Duty.” Again, these are short adventures, so while I’m not sure that we’ll play through all of them during this season, they do work well together – they’re designed for 0-level characters, so our PCs shouldn’t be too far out of their depths.
(A rough GURPS equivalent to 1st level Dungeons and Dragons competency would be 125 points; our PCs started with 75 and currently have in the vicinity of 100.)
The day’s ride went a lot more smoothly for Ashly, even though she hadn’t climbed onto a horse in over a month – her muscle memory was strong and she felt a lot less sore through the day. The road was well maintained but traffic was sparse, and the group only passed a few farmers making their own slow ways up towards Daggerford.
They reached Liam’s Hold just as the sun was starting to set – a village built around a fortified tower, much smaller than Daggerford, with what Ashly estimated to be about a dozen hovels. The largest wood and thatch structure was an Inn smaller than the one they were staying in back north.
They hitched their mounts up outside – Josh almost fell off trying to dismount, but Marco caught him. As they entered the man behind the counter launched into a long greeting that Ashly could barely follow.
Vera interrupted him. “We from Daggerford. Road patrol.”
“Daggerford!” His face brightened. “Militia from Daggerford always welcome here. We’re empty right now, so you’re welcome to find rooms to take for free.”
Marco grinned. “Thank you. Any trouble lately?”
“Trouble? No. Things have been quiet this Marpenoth.”
“Good to hear,” Ashly said.
“Take any rooms you like. I’ll have a supper made in an hour, if you’re interested.”
“Fantastic,” Josh said in English. He switched to Common. “Good, Good.”
The innkeeper’s eyebrow creased. “Sorry? Where did you say you were from?”
“Daggerford,” Nick said. “But we’re from, uh…”
“Kara-Tur,” Josh said.
“Oh, that makes sense,” the innkeeper said.
They headed down the hall toward the private rooms they’d been offered.
“What’s Carrator?” Ashly asked.
“Fantasy totally-not Japan,” Nick said.
“Of fucking course,” Ashly frowned. “Do we look Japanese, Josh?”
“Like he’d know,” Josh said. “But I had to come up with a good reason none of us can speak Common.”
“Whatever,” Nick said.
After a simple but nutritious meal with Binn, the innkeeper, during which Josh offered more information about ‘their’ homeland of Kara-Tur than Ashly was comfortable with, the group called it a night. The set off the next dawn.
“According to Binn we’ll have to ride through the night to reach the Inn without making camp,” Marco said.
“Uh, no,” Josh said. “Let’s stop at nightfall and camp.”
“Seconded,” Nick said.
“Yeah, I don’t want to push the horses,” Marco said. “And Binn said there were prepared campsites for travelers along the way, so we might as well make use of them.”
“I can’t remember the last time I went camping,” Ashly said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been,” Vera added.
“I used to go all the time,” Nick said. “But that was with modern gear.”
“Modern fancy rich person gear,” Marco grinned. “Don’t worry, sleepin’ rough ain’t so bad.”
Everyone gets 1 CP. Nick fails his roll to learn Riding, but Josh passes, and puts 1 point into the skill. Vera, Ashly, and Marco improve theirs as well. Nick spends 10 points to raise his Health to 11.
Next Time: The Caravan Job