Primal Elements

Julian's Journal, Adventure Two

Adventure Log Two
*
*Frontier, Atrocida

**
p. I have always liked travel. Getting to a new city is the most exciting part, but it’s also interesting to see the parts in between – the farms, the forests, the mountains, the rivers, the ever-changing sky.

But I’m sick of the Atrocidan landscape. Mile after mile of bleak, barren wasteland. The only people I met in a month of travel were trying to kill me.

Naturally, I was excited to get back to civilization. Frontier can’t match the energy I enjoyed in Adamston, but it still has far more to offer than the village – or the wasteland. Furthermore, unlike in Adamston, I had money to spend – which makes all the difference in a city.

My first order of business – well, after a hot bath, a hot meal, and a good night’s sleep in a real bed – was to buy some decent clothes. I don’t think that Paki and Tianna understand, but decent clothes are a necessity of doing business. People of importance simply don’t take you seriously when you show up dressed like a peasant.

I had very specific requirements. The dress of a top-tier merchant can be gaudy or restrained, fragile or durable. Every choice sends a message. My message is that I’m a young merchant of a wealthy family, prosperous and successful but still very much at the stage of business where frequent travel is required. My clothing will be tasteful, restrained and durable.

For material, this leaves only one option: silk. Silk is expensive, as all of it has to be imported from Axeria. This in itself makes a statement. But it’s also the perfect material for a traveler. Silk is less irritating to the skin than any other fabric. It’s cool in hot weather. It dries quickly. And although it doesn’t look it, silk is remarkably durable. It can stand up to abuse that would shred any other fabric.

Since I want to avoid a gaudy look, I have to show quality in a more restrained and elegant fashion. First, there’s the cut. My new business suit fits perfectly, made to match my body. Then there’s the dye. To look tastefully prosperous, you want good dyes and you want to use plenty of them. Dark-colored clothes are more expensive than light-colored ones. I went with deep indigo, a shade which complements my hair and eyes. Finally, there’s the jewelry. Jewelry serves as a display of wealth, but it’s also a convenient way of transporting wealth. Any merchant can quickly and accurately estimate the value of each of my pieces and accept them as cash – from a simple silver-and-amethyst earring to the sapphire on my forehead.

My weapons, too, will be elegant, but as a recent target of assassination attempts and monster attacks, I want them to be functional as well. A rapier of good crucible steel, capable of bending double without breaking, its hilt silvered and elaborately worked, but also capable of protecting the hand. A matching dagger. A pair of lethal little hand crossbows, with wrist straps so they can be dropped and retrieved in a confusing combat. I shopped for new armor as well, but I didn’t find anything better than the vest that Mama made for me, and I’m rather sentimentally attached to it.

I did, however, buy new traveling clothes to wear with it. Two clean new linen shirts; leather breeches; sturdy boots; lots of pockets; a new cloak; a broad-brimmed hat. In theory, such an outfit should cost around ten gold, but I had very specific requirements and I paid easily twice that.

I left my old clothes at Paki’s sickhouse. Someone there will need them. Sometimes I think the boy is a saint, the way he automatically serves those most in need. Then he creeps me out. Yet I also feel a protective affection for him. I never had a little brother, but sometimes I think of Paki that way. It’s rather a confusing mix of emotions. I don’t think I’d spend my morning mopping up miners’ vomit for anyone else.

The Wild, Atrocida

“Perhaps you have only lived in the village for a couple of years,” Tiana snapped, “but it’s my home. I will not give up on my mission. It’s a matter of life and death to my family.”p.

Her rebuke stung. This was the second time in a month that I had come within a hairsbreadth of death in the service of the village. When I will it, my flesh can be as light as air. But when the Gauth’s terrible eye struck me, I felt how tenuous the bond really is that holds me together. The slightest further shock would have broken my spirit’s hold on my flesh and I would simply have dissolved into a mist. The feeling is already fading now, the memory hard to hold on to, like a dream. But I felt, in that moment, that what will kill me one day is dissolution.

I wanted to run. I didn’t want to die defending a box of rocks from a creature none of us were ready to face. But Tiana stayed, and Paki needed her help. So I forced myself back into battle, and I was the one who struck the creature down. Courage isn’t particularly a merchant virtue, but helping your friends when they need you is. I was reasonably proud of myself.

Nevertheless, I thought that with a little bit of foresight we could avoid this sort of situation again. If I came close to death both times, Paki came far closer. I won’t give up on helping the village, but dying foolishly will do them no good. Far better to go to a fallback plan.

I was certain that I was right about this. But still … Tiana’s rebuke stung. I decided I had better think carefully about why.

My father taught me that a merchant’s strength is his honesty. He also taught me that a merchant’s strength is his ability to understand other people’s perspectives without being seduced by them. It was my mother who showed me how these two virtues work together. She taught me that it’s impossible to be honest with others unless one is first honest with oneself. She taught me how to deal with insults by considering the source.

When I considered Tiana’s perspective, it occurred to me at once that she must be homesick. The air and the water flow eternally, but while the wind blows where it will, the river always flows from the same mountains to the same sea. If she has seemed irritable of late, I now realize that she was particularly so when I spoke about how glad I was to be back in civilization. The bustling city streets that comfort me are alien to her. My eagerness to get rid of the rustic garb Mama made for me – and back into professionally-tailored silk – might even seem to her like a rejection of the village. Salt on the wound, if she’s homesick.

Whether she is or no, she certainly is worried about the village, and Lower Ballarian in general. And she does have a point. Every delay in our mission means greater suffering there. Having lived there longer, she feels this more passionately, and so it’s natural that she would rather take greater risks than brook additional delays. But we must not be foolhardy. Every time we get into a fight, poor little Paki almost dies. His luck cannot hold out forever. None of ours can.
*
*The Wild, Atrocida

p. From a young age, I’ve been trained by the finest swordmasters. I am a skilled swordsman, good and finding and striking weak points. But that was preparation, an effort to be ready for difficulties that we hoped would never come. I didn’t really expect to kill anyone with a sword. And now I’ve killed two men.

I’ve killed a Bloodspider and a Gauth too, but that’s not quite the same. Men and monsters are different.

For that matter, I really didn’t feel too badly about the mercenary back in the ruins. They were trying to kill us, and they nearly succeeded. In the heat of the moment, I struck to defend myself and my friends. It bothered me a little to think that I’d killed a man – but only a little. I let the last of the mercenaries live – though I offered him no help – because I am not, at heart, a killer. I’m a trader, a negotiator of networks, a merchant.

But the caravan master was different. That was the cold-blooded, deliberate murder of a helpless man. I had been thinking about it for two weeks. I had been approached by two secret societies. One of them wanted me to help the caravan master divert the supplies – masterwork weapons, as it turned out, disguised as lead ore – to their own supporters. This group, known as the Founders, wishes to overthrow the current government of Atrocida and install a stronger central executive. The other group is apparently devoted to preserving the status quo. They asked me to thwart the caravan master’s mission and make sure that the shipment reached its original destination. They claimed that our late friend, Mayor Liam Woodsworth, had been one of their number. This may well be true. It seems consonant with his activities – apparently devoted to opposing a secret society which meant to assassinate the President. It also makes sense of Merchant Barque’s strange eagerness to have us guard his caravan. Under pressure from both sides, he could make only the subtlest gestures.

Still, it’s clear that factors I don’t understand are at work here. Why would the preservationist faction want to secretly ship weapons, and why would the revolutionaries want to divert it to the military? Doesn’t the military have enough weapons already? For that matter, I can’t be certain what side Mayor Woodworth was on. For all I know, the Founders could be part of an effort by the President to increase his own power, and the Mayor could have been trying to protect him from a republican assassination. But this seems the less likely possibility; rather than claiming the Mayor as one of their own, the Founder evaded my questions about him.

When the caravan master fell under the Gauth’s gaze, I saw an opportunity. An opportunity to thwart his and the Founders’ mission without any blame to us. The ambiguity of his death would allow us to claim credit for safeguarding the shipment with the federalists while offering a convenient excuse to offer the Founders. This would allow us to avoid entanglement in the more dangerous aspects of Atrocidan politics. Or at least to delay it until the sides became clearer. Our mission could easily be derailed by such involvement. It also would allow me to make this choice without burdening Tiana and Paki. Paki in particular is too young to have to make this kind of decision.

I acted not quite on impulse, then, but seized an opportunity for which I had been looking. Yet now I question my decision. The caravan master was a wretch, and unlikely ever to become a better human being, but he might have, and I took that chance away from him. He might have been loved by someone who was a better person than he was. I was not fighting for my life, but seeking to avoid risk and inconvenience. In retrospect, I don’t think that was quite enough. If he had been a truly evil man, or if the complications I feared were clearer dangers, it would be different. My mother would certainly not have acted so (I’m less certain about my father.)

Also, the caravan master was the only one who knew the route. In my haste to avoid inconvenience, I forgot that rather important fact. Overall, I would say, a blunder.

There would be little point in crippling myself with regret, but I will remember this if a similar situation should arise.

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Paki's View; Adventure One
Thoughts and Observations

Paki was sorry to leave Mud People’s village. He missed his friend Naeem and helping villagers who were in pain. It made Paki happy to take pain from people. Some could be pulled all the way back into the living world and others helped to peace in death. Both were better off but some people looked at him funny when he helped the second type.

The others Paki traveled with were interesting. Khorev called himself Julian now. Why did people change their names? It was confusing remembering what name to call them by. Paki was a good name, given to him by Naeem when he stumbled out of the darkness into the mud people’s village. Paki could not remember what his old name had been, the one that his first parents had given him, but he suspected it did not fit him any more anyway. Maybe that was why Khorev had become Julian? Paki would have to remember to call him Julian then. He didn’t want to call Julian by a name that didn’t fit.

Tianna was kind of quiet, like Paki, though she did talk to the walking tree that followed her around. Paki could not understand the sounds the tree made, but apparently Tianna could. When she did talk she seemed nice. Paki wanted to be friendly, so maybe he should learn the tree’s language so he could talk to it too. He would ask Tianna to teach him the tree language.

Jerek didn’t talk much either. Now that he thought of it, Julian was the only one who really said much – but he really made up for the rest of them (Julian liked to talk). Jerek seemed to be a man who communicated through action rather than words. His bow was like part of him and all pure expression was done through it. Paki respected that. It also seemed that Jerek remembered less about his past than Paki, despite having lived longer and, it seemed, more thoroughly. If Paki’s observations were correct, then Jerek was a weapon that did not think much but killed whatever he was pointed at.

The mission Paki and his companions had been sent on was very important, he knew, though he didn’t really understand the details. For some reason the mud people’s village had to send a very large amount of minerals, which are special kinds of rocks, to the city in the sky. The amount of minerals they had to send was a lot more than they could really get from the mines they dug, so the party was supposed to find some more outside of the village. If the people in the sky found out that they were going to this other place to get the rocks, however, they would be mad. It didn’t make sense to Paki that the people in the sky would be mad that the mud people got the rocks elsewhere when there was no way they could get enough themselves.

So this mission they were on took them to the town of Adamston in Atrocida. Paki didn’t remember having seen so many people in one town before. Maybe from his dreams, which he thought were pieces of memories from his past, but he wasn’t sure. The people didn’t seem as friendly, either, and a lot of them were sick. Julian took them to something called an “Inn” where people pay money to stay in rooms. Money was a bunch of small flat disks made from different types of rocks. When you left the village you had to use them to get stuff, like the room. Paki had some other types of rocks, called gems, that he could trade for money or stuff and were easier to carry around.

While the others were out doing important things in the town, Paki found the local sick house and met a grumpy lady named Gladys Roe. She was grumpy because she had to tend a lot of sick people and didn’t have any help, so Paki offered to help. At first she thought he wanted something from her. What could Paki want from a grumpy lady who helped sick people? When she finally decided that Paki didn’t want anything but to help, she wasn’t as grumpy. Paki was sad to see so many people sick from lack of food. The mud people had lots of food so why didn’t these people?

Tianna found Paki at the sick house and told him that their party was invited to Mayor Woodsworth’s house for dinner. Paki thought that a Mayor was some type of leader, like his friend Naeem, so he should be able to get Gladys Roe more help and more food for his people. Paki went to the dinner so he could ask the Mayor about these things but Julian asked him not to talk. Julian and the Mayor talked about a lot of things that didn’t make sense to Paki. When it seemed like the conversation was almost over, Paki told Mayor Woodsworth about Gladys Roe and the hungry people. The Mayor seemed worried and said he’d do what he could. He also said he’d help the mud people’s village with their problem and asked us to retrieve some papers for him at his cousin’s mushroom farm. Paki liked the Mayor but didn’t think the favor he asked would be as simple as it sounded.

Paki and the others left the next morning to pick up the papers for Mayor Woodsworth. It took a couple of days and they ran into some blood spiders, but suffered no real harm. When they arrived at the mushroom farm, it was destroyed and everyone was dead. Julian found the papers but there was something funny about them. The words were in some kind of code and turned out to be a letter to someone called the “President” of Atrocida. Paki guessed “President” was like “Mayor” only of a bigger place. The letter said there were people trying to kill the President and the Mayor wanted to to stop them.

When they got back to Adamston the flags were at “half mast”, which Julian told Paki meant that the Mayor was dead. That made Paki mad because the Mayor was nice and didn’t seem sick when he’d fed them dinner. Someone had killed Mayor Woodsworth and from what the letter said it was probably the “Governor” (another leader-type, Paki guessed) or somebody he’d hired. Since the group had been seen with the Mayor, the people who killed him would probably try to kill them too. Paki’s group decided to go to a different town for the rocks but needed supplies for the journey. The spinners they had cut from the blood spiders were worth money but had to be preserved. Paki offered to visit Gladys Roe and request assistance. His companions agreed.

It was dark when Paki reached the gates of Adamston and they were closed. He pretended to be a lost little boy and the guard took him to Gladys Roe, thinking she was Paki’s Mom. Cloaked and veiled, Paki kept his eyes on the ground to avoid spooking the guards. Gladys was less than pleased by the visit but took Paki in and rudely dismissed the guard. When Paki explained their situation, the nurse was sympathetic. She provided him with a bundle of supplies and wished him well as he set back out into the night. The small boy was quite a sight as he stumbled up to a different gate and asked to be let out to assist his fictional mother, but this time the guard was not moved to help.

Angered by the impediment, Paki raised his head and met the guard’s eyes. Every other time Paki had met another’s gaze like this, the person had been traumatized by whatever they saw in the boy’s eyes. Perhaps the darkness of the night afforded the guard some measure of protection from the sight. For whatever reason, though he was clearly disturbed by what he saw, the guard was resolute. Paki allowed a portion of the otherworldly power he’d gained while walking the Shadowlands to enter his voice as he commanded the guard to let him pass the gate. Confronted with the bizarre and frightening aspect of the child-creature in front of him, the guard decided that having Paki on the other side of the wall from him was not such a bad idea after all.

Supplies in hand, Paki rejoined his companions. When they investigated the contents of the satchel given to him by Gladys Roe, they discovered another note written by the now deceased Mayor. This time it was written to them. The letter hinted that Mayor Woodsworth had anticipated his own death and provided clues to aid Paki and his companions in a quest to complete the Mayor’s mission of preserving Atrocida’s future as a “beacon of light and good.” Though Paki did not yet fully understand the implications of this mission, it seemed like a worthy goal.

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Tianna's Staff, Adventure One

Tianna sits in their camp that night trying to make sense of the events over the last few days. She doesn’t think much of the land they are in. Human destruction of the land just to free themselves from other humans seemed selfish and vain. Every thing she had heard of Atrocida tried to paint this in a valiant, glorifying light, but she just didn’t see it. All of the people, creatures and plants that had died to carve out this country just dumbfounded her.

It seemed to her that this was true even today. The kind old man who had wanted to help being killed in these political games just made her feel unsettled. She was sure it had not been natural causes that had caused his death. Otherwise, why would the governor have gotten involved so quickly. No, she was sure the mayor had been killed. She also thought, looking back that he knew it was coming. He had planned for every move they made.

It was lucky that they had decided to send Paki back in. They would have never gotten the message otherwise. She was glad they were going to try to do what was asked of them. She thought of the kind old man selling off his fortune in order to supply some of the ore needed by the people he left. She hoped it made it there safely and promised herself that she would arrange for the food they had promised in trade to be sent once they made it home.

Home… She missed it already. She felt rather alone in this blasted land. Copac did his best to cheer her up, but everything felt strangely quite without the whispering of the plants that she had grown accustomed to. The party she traveled with was a strange bunch. All fairly new to the village, she was not real sure of them. They were certainly a skilled bunch. She thought the village did well to pick them. She just wasn’t sure of their motivations just yet. It was a concern she only shared with Copac.

Tianna had not added to her staff in over a year. She felt that she needed to today. She retrieved her woodworking tools and laid her staff in front of her. She started work adding four miniscule symbols to the staff where the previous string of symbols stopped about 1/3 of the way up. Footprints to represent their journey. A handshake to represent friendship, with Copac, the mayor, and, she hoped, her traveling companions. A flag at half mast to represent the death of the mayor, and a question mark to represent both the mystery they were out to solve and the uncertainty she felt about all of this.

Adventure1

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Julian's Journal, Adventure One

Adventure Log One

Adamston, Atrocida: Although I have studied the language and geography, I have never been to Atrocida before. The food is of poor quality and the lodging mean and overpriced, but it’s good to be in a city again. I’ll always be grateful to the village, but village life is dull. Adamston may be primitive compared to Palatine cities, but it has a vitality, a vibrancy, a variety, a vigor, the lack of which vexed me in the village. On the other hand, Atrocidan life apparently has other disadvantages. The entire city is on lockdown due to roving hordes of monsters. The citizens seem largely unfazed; apparently this is just part of life in Atrocida. I don’t suppose that life under Crucibal was much fun, but I wonder whether the price Atrocida paid to escape it was too high. It’s no wonder they have food shortages … which means our proposal really ought to be of interest to someone. I only need to get an audience with a man of vision and resources. That may be easier said than done.

Adamston, Atrocida: The markets are in a most unusual state at the moment. A canny investor with local contacts and some liquid capital could surely get wealthy quickly. Sadly, I have none of the former and precious little of the latter – especially at the extortionate rates which our innkeeper charges during the lockdown. Well, the lodging market changed; I won’t gain much by taking my business elsewhere. There’s a glut of nails on the market – so much so that they might be as cheap as raw ore. And of course considerably easier to obtain. Apparently the Mining Guild is well-organized and conservative. It may take some time to make reliable contacts within it. Not to mention capital. There are bounty posters everywhere – apparently a licensed adventuring band could make a great deal of money in a short time. But the licensing requires precisely what we lack – well-established contacts within Atrocida. We can’t get influence without money, and we can’t get money without influence. I’m getting a bit tired of being a bloody peasant.

Adamston, Atrocida: The unusual state of the market seems to be caused by an extraordinarily high demand for military materiel – weapons, armor, horseshoes. This might be explained by what seems to be an upsurge in the monster-hunting business, but it seems too large to be explained by that alone. There are rumors of war. Adamston is well positioned to invade the Palatine Empire, but surely the Atrocidans would not be so foolish. More likely the entire nation is preparing for a large-scale push on the Isle of Light and Darkness. Every smith in town is taking on extra apprentices. Perhaps this explains the surfeit of nails – don’t smithy apprentices start on nails? It also means there’s a huge demand for weapons-grade ores. This does not bode well for our mission.

Adamston, Atrocida: I made my approach to the Miners’ Guild. At first, it went as I expected. I made contact with one Jacobin, bureaucrat, who promised to arrange meetings with influential members of the Guild if sufficiently induced. The road to making a deal with the Guild seemed open, if difficult and dubious. But by chance – apparently – I made a much more interesting acquaintance just outside of the guildhall. Mayor Liam Woodsworth has taken an interest in us. He has invited us to dinner. I must admit I’m tempted to attend alone. My companions are as devoted to the welfare of the villagers as I am, but they lack refinement. Jarek is too laconic to make decent conversation, and his Cruciballian ethnicity is likely to weigh against him in an Atrocidan social setting. Tiana is a clever and perceptive girl, but she’s grown up among mud farmers. And Paki still unnerves me after knowing him for two years. On the other hand, they’re all capable in dangerous situations – even Paki, who is barely old enough to wear clothing by Ballarian standards. And it may well be an ambush. At the very least, Mayor Woodsworth wants something from us – something that he doesn’t want to trust to locals.

Adamston, Atrocida: The deal the Mayor offers is more than fair. Suspiciously more, in fact. Having met him is certainly a stroke of luck, but what sort of luck? My father always said that there’s no such thing as good or bad luck; there’s only fortune, and men who use it well or badly. The Mayor has freely offered us everything we asked for, and more, in exchange for a trivially simple mission. There must be more to it. If I were already well established, I would reject such an offer as too good to be true. But the truth is that our situation is desperate – if we don’t get ore shipments going soon, then the Erdu Ballarians will suffer. And the Mayor has offered to start shipments immediately.

The Wild, Atrocida: Apparently it is quite dangerous outside the city walls, even when the elemental swarms have moved on. We were attacked by Bloodspiders. Fortunately, we were victorious and no one was poisoned. Better yet, their spinnerets are worth 200 gp bounty each. My share ought to be 150 gp – enough to afford at least one decent set of clothes. The mushroom farm to which we were directed had already been attacked and the secret room ransacked. The secret compartment, however, seemed untouched. We retrieved the documents for which we had been sent, only to find them encrypted. I broke the cypher, and found the letter to be a warning from Mayor Woodsworth to the President. Our mayor seems to be opposing a powerful and mysterious cabal of conspirators within Atrocida. I hope he can take care of himself.

Adamston, Atrocida: The mayor is dead. His replacement has been hastily chosen. I’m certain he was murdered by the conspiracy he opposed. It so, then they will be coming for us as well. I need to leave town, and inconspicuously.

The Wild, Atrocida: Paki made it back into and out of the town. I don’t know how he did it; the child has the social skills of a rabid bat. He brought us a letter from the Mayor – who apparently anticipated his own demise. He urged us to find his killers, but also to make contact with a merchant in Frontier. It occurs to me that the mayor played his own death out like a chessmaster, setting us up to continue acting on his behalf after he was murdered. It gives me a new perspective on my own father. I was so proud to be sent out on a trade mission to Ballarian at sixteen. But now I wonder: did he know what was coming? Did he get me out of the Palatine Empire on purpose, just before our enemies struck? Did he commit suicide out of shame, as the rumor went, or was it so that the rights of the Zephyrian clan elder would pass to me, the only Zephyrian who was safely out of their clutches? I owe my father so much. I’ll avenge him, but revenge is not enough. I have to rebuild House Zephyrian into something that he would be proud of. But I’ll still need capital and contacts for that. And even dead, Mayor Woodsworth is still my best chance of access to those.

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Adventure #1
In which it begins

Post-Session state of the party:

Level 2
Treasure: 600gp
Tons of ore secured: 2 tons

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The Story So Far
How we got here

Whatever your background or history, at some point you found yourself under the care of a small village in the farming communities of Ballarian. The village took you in, hid you, tended your wounds, etc. (based on how you arrived, up to you). The only request they had was that you aid their village in some fashion (teaching, farming, hunting, etc) for as long as you stayed with them. Their only request, that is, until recently.

About three months ago, the Ballarian Arcanists from the sky cities have begun placing a greater and greater emphasis on ore as the tithe to be provided for their ‘protection’. They seem to favor Iron, Tin, and Copper, but are pressuring The People for more and more of this and are accepting less of the more traditional resources of Lumber and Food. It has gotten so bad that a counsel was called to discuss options for how to address this issue and you were all invited, as individuals of unique talent and ability.

The result of these counsels were a number of different plans of action, all being pursued simultaneously. Your particular part will be to investigate possible outside help. Nominally, you’ve been asked to find assistance from others from outside the Ballarian lands but the strongest suggestion was to travel to Atrocida and see if some arrangement/trade can be made: Lumber and Food for Ore was the first suggestion but any assistance they can provide should be investigated.

The trip to Atrocida took place primarily along common roads and fairly safe pathways. Because of the natural suspicion of Crucible, and the difficulty in making the crossing between Crucible and Atrocida, your group chose to travel through the Palatine Empire, who are warm and receptive to travelers. The most terrifying/troublesome aspect of the journey came at the border crossing between Atrocida and Palatine, where the unstable elemental energies that traverse the borders pressed perilously close to the road. Your party made it through, and were grateful for the opportunity to rest in the first city-state across the border.

At campaign start, you find yourselves trapped within the wooden palisades of the town having rested for the evening and awoken to the gates being shut and barred. Upon investigation, you discover that there is a plague of lesser demons and elementals rampaging across the countryside and the city has been closed up for its own protection. It seems you will be staying a while…

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