On the day following the Battle of the Sea Wyrm, the PCs awoke in Bornhavn, snug and secure in the bunkroom of Bellik’s Rest, the cool breezes of a cloudy autumn day seeping through the shutters. They were ready for the next stage of their adventure, although most were not what you’d call “well-rested”, given the array of dark and disturbing dreams that had plagued their sleep.
The dreams served three game purposes. The first one was to set a little classical foreshadowing in motion, in the sense of placing a revolver on the mantelpiece in the first act so that nobody would be surprised when it is picked up and fired in the third. The second reason was to establish an underlying motivation for a new player, with a new PC, who was about to join the Party, seeing as how Alric’s player had failed his will save against Neverwinter Nights II and abandoned the group. And the third reason was sheer DM buggery – I wanted to show the Players that play-time was over, that bad things happen to good people who make bad choices, and that, as they say in the DMG, “evil is evil.” Actually, I think the way I put it was “Evil is E-E-E-E-E-EVIL, BWAHAHAHA!” Anyway, it seems to have worked; as one of the veteran players said in an e-mail after the Dreams synopsis, “Mighty Corellon, DM! Things have taken a turn for the darker, haven't they?! Eek. Eeek. Eeek. EEEEEK!”
That made me feel good. And yeah, it was Breygon.
Anyway, the PCs awoke the morning after the battle and stumbled, bleary-eyed, into Bellik’s dining hall to break their fast. Somewhere between the applesauce course and the chestnut course, a great, big, delicious story hook showed up.
I gave the group a copy of the image shown here, causing one of the players – who shall remain nameless – to expostulate, “Sweet! Is that the new PC??” It was not. The new arrival introduced herself as “Cymballa”, and explained that she was an emissary and had a message for them.
(Note to fellow DMs: It’s been my experience that if you’re trying to hook Players with a mystery NPC who shows up out of nowhere with a portentous message, it helps keep the potential player mutinies down if you make her a hot chick in thoroughly impractical skin-tight plate armour. The downside is they’re often too busy fighting over who gets to keep the picture handout to listen to her carefully crafted speech.)
(Another note: For some reason, this works with female as well as male players. Gwen's player's comment was, "Whoa, she's hot!")
While the Players were ogling the handout, Cymballa introduced herself:
"Greetings. I am Cymballa of Pilvii Vuori, that the Dwarves call Lyfthéahbeorg."
(I warned you I had a soft spot for Tolkeinesque dialogue. Cripes, what DM doesn't?)
"I bear a message for one Breygon Sylvanus, from Castlemayne of Aeryn, Captain-General of the Watch."
She then handed over the message, which was sealed with the mark of the Watch and the crown of the Captain-General (shown below). Because I’m into high-school quality realism, I printed the message on a nice, parchment-coloured background, tore the edges up a little, rolled it into a scroll, and sealed it. I do this sort of thing partly because I like to throw a little faux-realism into the game, and partly because it’s kind of fun to watch the Players, a year later, pawing through a foot-high pile of crumpled maps, notes pages, picture handouts, miscellaneous scrolls, treasure lists, old character sheets and Post-Its in a pathetically futile attempt to remember “who shot who in the what now?”
Anyway, the letter was addressed to Breygon from the Commander of Fort Ryker. Remember him? Yeah, the Players didn’t either, which forced a bit of a DM recap. Here’s what he had to say:
* * * * *
The 10th Day of Lastreap, 1054
The Commanderie, Aeryn
From Castlemayne of Aeryn, to Breygon Silvanus, Advigilius, Greetings!
Belike this will be my last letter to you all as members of the Watch.
I congratulate you and your company on your victories of the past week. Despite many trials, you have bested your foes, many of which were more than your match. In doing so, you have brought credit to the Watch.
These victories come, however, with a price. Since time immemorial, long before the founding of Zare or even of Aeryn, the safety of the Kindred Lands and all of their varied peoples has been the charge of a secret brotherhood that I may not name herein. This brotherhood has eyes and ears in all the divers lands of Erutrei, and they are ever watchful for prospective members. The Watch of Aeryn, like many other bodies the wide world ‘round, answers to them when the call comes – and it has come to me.
The bearer of this message is an agent of the brotherhood. She has watched your Patrol over the past week – and, as is her right, she has petitioned me to allow her order to recruit certain members of your company. You are not the first to be so selected. I cannot counsel you in your choice, save to advise you on three matters. First, by long tradition, your duty to the Watch and Aeryn is held as secondary to the duty that all of the Kindred owe this brotherhood. Should you choose to quit our number, therefore, your service to the Watch will be held complete. Second, should you leave us for this ancient order of errantry, your path will be dark, but your destiny immortal. Even though it may seem that every hand is raised against you, the purposes to which you will be set will be just and mighty; and you will find help (or it will find you) even in the unlikeliest of places.
Third and finally, I must advise you that if you choose to remain with the Watch, your prospects are limited at best. We are a military organization, and none of you – save perhaps one – has the makings of a soldier. This is not an impediment to service with the Brotherhood; quite the contrary. They value and reward the individualism and initiative that military men seem often to despise. Take this advice, therefore, in the spirit in which it is given. You may not be soldiers – but you could be heroes.
So fare you well. Justicar Grant [This was the NPC, a Paladin, who sheparded the PCs through their first couple of engagements] speaks well of you, and from his reading of your hearts, I do not doubt what your choice will be. I am given to understand that induction to the brotherhood will be offered not only to yourself, but also to your comrades Gwendilyne Holbytlan, Qaramyn Lux, and the Tyrellian monk, Joraz. They are likewise free to take up this new allegiance. The choice is left to all of you – but you should know that this order does not approach the unworthy.
However you decide, you may trust the bearer of this message as you would me. She is Cymballa of Cloudspire, and although young, she is mighty, and stands high in the order that seeks your aid.
Were I young again, I would wish myself in your boots. As I am old, I merely wish you well.
May the long road see you safe home, and the stars light your way to journey’s end. And may our paths one day cross again.
Praeficio et Imperator
Post-Scriptum: For whatever reason, the warrior Alric was not selected for induction to the brotherhood. I am glad, for I have need of warriors of his calibre. He is therefore ordered to return to Fort Ryker to take up an immediate commission as Lieutenant of Infantry, to be appointed second-in-command of a company that is being dispatched to the Citadel Garrison at Vejborg. Tell him his new Commanding Officer, Captain “Big” Ben of Aeryn, is looking forward to seeing him again. Any others who elect not to accept Lady Cymballa’s offer are to return to Ryker under Alric’s command. – C
* * * * *
Long-winded prick, wasn’t he? The Party studied this missive dispassionately. No one asked what the obviously human commander of an almost exclusively human paramilitary organization in a mostly human kingdom was doing using Elven terminology (by which I mean Latin. I guess sooner or later I’m going to have to explain about my lazy-assed approach to gameworld languages. Probably later). Good thing, because I didn’t have a logical answer.
All eyes then turned to the mysterious hot warrior chick in the skin-tight plate armour. On cue, she launched into her blast of carefully prepared dialogue.
* * * * *
“I have been informed of the content of this message, and therefore I must make myself known to you.” Placing her right hand over her heart, she extended her left arm, palm facing forward, and intoned the following phrase:
Veli lohikäärme, huoltaja hyvyys
A glowing tattoo appeared on the palm of her left hand: a stylized dragon in black and bronze. She said, “I am a Hiltmark of the Brotherhood of Wyrms, empowered to induct the four of you into our order. I warn you not to accept lightly; if you join with us, you will become one of the guardians of justice and the light, and an enemy of all that is evil.”
She then deigned to offer the PCs a little history.
“The Brotherhood was forged in the Age of Wisdom by Yarchian the Renewer, last High King of Harad, and his mentor, the mighty Silver Wyrm Jawartan, who fell with him at the Field of Oldarran. Our fellowship perpetuates that bond. In honour of it, we conduct all of our dealings in the Tongue of Wyrms, which will be vouchsafed you if you join our number.”
“We recognize neither race nor creed, so long as all agree to battle evil. Brothers have three rights and three obligations. The three rights are Aid and Rest at any house owned by a Brother; Succour and Guidance at any Chapter House of the Brotherhood; and trial by arms before a superior Officer if accused of any wrongdoing by a Brother. The three obligations are Loyalty to the Brotherhood; Courage in battle; and Mercy to the weak.”
“In addition,” she went on, “we celebrate deeds of valour by the Brethren, and tell the Long Tale each night around the tables of the Brotherhood.”
(This was how I introduced the concept of the Tales of the Wyrm, aka the Varata Lohikäärmeta, to the PCs. It was nothing more than a pretty transparent device for dumping potentially important historical information on them from time to time, in what I have been hoping is a mildly engaging form. I may have overestimated the Players' appreciation for my attempts at poetic artistry, but if so, they have thus far been too polite to mention it.)
“Know, too,” the interminable speech continued, “that in token of our dedication to our cause, we give one-eighth of all we gain to charity, and one-eighth to the maintenance of the Brethren.”
(This caused much narrowing of the eyes. Give up a quarter of our loot? Are you serious? Dudes, I am SO out of here. Meanwhile, the rogue shrugged and said, “Meh, the Thieves’ Guild usually takes fifty percent.”)
“Brothers may leave our number at any time without rancour or reproach.”
(How about now? Shut up.)
“I therefore invite you to become a part of our order. But before you decide, know this: our offer is not extended lightly. If we choose you, you may be sure that we have watched you and have judged you suitable. We do not control our Brethren, but encourage them to seek their own path, and on the way, to do their part in the everlasting struggle against evil. You are all worthy in our eyes. Will you aid us?”
Cymballa then invited questions from the PCs; there weren’t any of consequence. Good bless the Players, they all recognize a railroad plot when they see one. Cymballa then administered the Oath to each of them, requiring them to place their left palms on hers, and intone the following incantation:
Heleä päiväessa, hämärä yöessa
Ei ilkeä pelastua minun avista
Ilkiö palvonta ilkeäs valta
Pitää varansa ukkonen lohikäärmes pakomatka
Each PC received the symbol of a Recruit of the Brotherhood on his or her palm and took a little jolt of subdual damage. Cymballa then taught each of them the incantation necessary to make the tattoo glow as a means of verifying the identity of other Brethren.
Veli lohikäärme, huoltaja hyvyys
“Welcome, my friends, to the Brotherhood of Wyrms.”
And then – finally – gave them their mission:
“These, then, are your orders: First, Qaramyn and Alric are ordered to Vejborg. Alric is to report to the Citadel to take up his new duties as a Sergeant of the Watch. Qaramyn is to report to Magister Wiglif Skibbsen at the Vejborg Chapter House for duties in the Great Library. I wish you luck.”
The responses from the newly NPC-ified Alric and Qaramyn were, respectively, “Yay! I get to see Ben!”, and “A library. Ex-x-x-x-xcellent.”
“The remainder of you,” Cymballa continued, “are to travel north along the Nordvej. A mage, one of the Brethren, has been dispatched from Ellohyin to meet you and to take the place of Qaramyn. She should be nearby. Make her acquaintance. You will know her by her mark, which is the same as the one you bear.”
“Your first task together is to report to Malryn Olgin, Senior Brother, keeper of the Chapter House at Ganesford, ten miles North of Bornhavn. He has had disturbing news of problems in the hills further up the Sweetvale River, west of Ganesford, and has called for the aid of the Brethren. That’s you. Find him, seek his counsel, and follow his instructions.”
“If you can complete the tasks he assigns you, continue North and report to the Master of the Ellohyin Chapter House; you will find it in the heart of the city, just south of the Nordvej, on Four Wains’ Street, opposite the Square of Swords. In a little more than a month, we celebrate the Solemnity of Harad, and tell the Long Tale; see if you can’t join us for this solemn and joyous occasion.”
“A final word: rank in our order is advisory rather than hierarchical. Between Brothers of equal grade there are no ranks; you are expected to cooperate and find the best way to survive and fight together. And remember this, too: the Brethren are the final bastion between the innocence of the world and the evil that seeks to destroy and enslave it. We are few, but we are everywhere, and we must be implacable and tireless. Leave nothing evil or unexplained in your path, and never fail to protect the weak and helpless.”
“You may not live a long life among the Brethren, but if you do not, your deeds will be remembered each night when the Long Tale is told at the tables of the Brotherhood, all throughout Erutrei.”
* * * * *
There were no more questions. Cymballa bade the PCs farewell and left, the thunder of her hooves – well, her horse’s hooves – echoing on the morning air. The PCs then got down to serious business: figuring out what to do with the loot, having Qaramyn identify all of the magic items they had found, and buying supplies for the journey north.
And then they boarded their pre-fab story vehicle and set out along the railroad plot, and into the mysteries of the Bjerglands, in search of adventure.
It found them later that afternoon.