THE FROZEN FRONTIER - MYTHIC AGE
Mythic Age: Dark Saga
January 15, 2021, Game Session #1
Five adventurers sailed for nearly three months on a ship from Albion to the North Realm. People head there for a variety of reasons: expeditionary forces to claim territory, glory and treasure hunters who seek to accumulate wealth, or those wanting to establish a city/town. It seems the five of them were here for a combination of any and all of those reasons. The North Realm is an untapped resource but also a dangerous, untamed land. People have been trying to establish a foothold for a long time, but it has been blockaded and cut off by the warring factions there and in the surrounding nations.
Erik Arneson, a Tempest Cleric, has a soldiering background, but claimed to have been around boats growing up. He was generous enough to use his contacts to get us on a smuggling vessel already headed for a tiny northern port known as Cold Harbor. The Captain and crew were a strangely stoic bunch, not interested in talking to us, answering or asking questions. There was no laughing or joking as they seemed to take their jobs very seriously. Albion is very strict about how they maintain trade routes, and it took months to find a way past patrols and blockades so the ship will be arriving during the winter months. Unfortunately, they have had to share the ship’s sparse quarters and poor conditions with a Priest of the Penitent Flame. The Priest had a small procession of six slaves, who he was smuggling to the North. The slaves were sickly and had not been treated well. The Captain and the crew were as indifferent to this as they were to any entreaties to help them for more food, water and amenities.
Arneson spent his time trying to heal the slaves with his medical skills and nursed one slave back to health who was going to die from sepsis. The slave was thankful, but Erik caught scorn from the priest. Saving the slave seemed like a personal insult to the Penitent Flame. Otherwise, Eric performed menial duties around the ship, but with all his talk of a maritime background, he seemed useless to the crew and got shouldered out of the way when they were doing anything important.
Jax, a flame-haired fighter from Arcadia, focused on trying to help by sharpening tools during the journey. He volunteered to use both his medical and smithing skills however they are best needed, but his efforts, though they kept him busy, were never really appreciated.
Conley Pettimore, who looks like an archer or hunter and has only admitted to a few that he is also a cleric, contributed with carpentry. His efforts were greatly appreciated as the main carpenter needed lots of help keeping this less than pristine vessel in fighting trim along the treacherous and icy course they were required to take avoiding patrols. As a result, Conley was given extra food and resources. He put together a little stash of some 50’ of rope, seven extra serving rations and four iron spikes.
Lydia wants to speak with everyone about everything, even to the Priest who is not a good person, big surprise. The slaves were treated terribly and are headed to an even worse fate. She said she prays to all her gods for the slaves that they may be reborn to a better fate, but that they blame the gods for their fate. The Priest’s words about how men are supposed to suffer seem to be subtly sinking into their psyche, which is heartbreaking.
Tulgar Odith, a ‘barbarian’ style fighter, used his longship navigation skills to try to make a map and understand the trade route of the ship. As we traveled the cold barren waters, he generally mapped out the route we took. It is not what travelers would usually take, avoiding common shipping lanes and blockade-ships, but we could come back this way if we had a vessel.
Conley found enough down time to craft a usable short bow and four arrows on the sly and gave it to Lydia. She apparently loves free things and seemed very thankful. Jax watched the crew’s attitude, arms and armor, growing suspicious as they seemed to be nearing their destination. He wanted to make sure the adventurers weren’t going to be grabbed as slaves at the last minute. The crew was armed with short swords and daggers. They wore warmer clothes as they progressed north but no other significant changes occurred. He was not sure what they were doing and never saw anything out of the ordinary. This did little to decrease his paranoia.
Erik also took time to work with the cooks offering to purify food and water ritualistically. By the time he was finished with the elaborate ritual the crew had backed well away from him and kept him at arm’s length afterward, and the Priest’s view of him plummeted further, if possible. Some suspected that the purified food and water was never used or even thrown overboard. All in all, everyone was parched and uncomfortably cold when sounds of the icy water on the ship picked up and a cold fog fell over the ship. Rarely, voices echoed down into the hold, but dulled and muted, by the fog or in anticipation was not clear. The cold had been an unwelcome companion the whole trip but was now noticeably intensified.
Finally, the welcome call, “Land Ho!” A voice called down for the Priest and said, “We are only here long enough to resupply.” The Priest muttered curses as he shook and pulled the slaves to their feet. They disappeared up the stairs as the rest of the passengers gathered their belongings and quickly followed them up… except Lydia. Tulgar, the only one to note her hesitation looked at her, but she casually waved him onward before sneaking away from the deck stairs and the main group
(back to role-play present-tense)
Lydia looks around the bowels of the ship for valuables; papers, books, tidbits of knowledge in runes, drawings, maps or carvings or anything shiny. She notes the crew’s quarters door is ajar and slips through. She is very tactile and touches everything, ghosting her fingers across every surface. The bunks are actual beds with stuffed (if thinly) padding and pillows, a stark contrast to the moldy straw piles she and the others had been provided. In total there are 10 to 12 bunks, with storage trunks scattered between. She immediately sees four chests in her immediate vicinity and a makeshift desk folded out from the bulkhead wall. She quickly opens the nearby trunks and investigates, still running her hands over everything. The first few chests are mostly clothing and quite uninteresting. Then she finds a satchel that jingles with coinage. Crossing the room, the carefully chooses the cleanest blanket she sees and stuffs it in her backpack in a tight bundle. She finds nothing of remote interest around the desk, but it seems she has taken a little too much time being inquisitive. As she opens another chest she hears the plodding footsteps of a crewman who comes in and starts to look around.
On the deck, observing the crew nimbly poling ice floes from the ship’s path, Conly finally notices that Lydia is nowhere to be seen. As he watches a crewman walk down into the hold and follows him. The crewman is already investigating the open crew-quarters door by the time Conly can act, so he intentionally tumbles down the rest of the stairs, flailing his pack of spikes and taking the fall fully and loudly as he can on his breastplate. It takes no effort for the controlled fall to turn to an uncontrolled one down the rest of the stairs, and Conly thanks his ancestors he didn’t break his neck, or worse, his bow! The crewman’s hand goes for his weapon which isn’t there, but when he sees awkward heap sprawled at the base of the stair, he just offers his hand and says, “Go topside, you shouldn’t be here.” Conley scrambles to pick up his equipment, so the crewman impatiently helps him.
Lydia nimbly and silently slips out with the distraction and makes her way topside, unseen. Conley shakes the man’s hand, thanks him and shrugs. “Maybe I didn’t fix the stair as well as I thought.” The crewman, unamused as normal for this lot, roughly pushes him upstairs.
Lydia puts her arm around Conley and covertly places the pouch in his hand. “Thanks, this is for the bow and the assist!” Conley has conflicting emotions as he tries surreptitiously hide the pouch in his undergarments. Topside the cold wind scours away every ounce of warmth and tears the breath from the group’s lungs. The crew, however, is laughing and talking now as they clear the last few yards of ice from the area side of the pier.
The adventurers can see the silhouette of a half dozen homes beyond this small dock. In the great distance a towering white column of sparkling ice crystals and snow twisted into a very unnatural hurricane churns the sky, the infamous Hivernal everyone knows of, but no one knows anything about! A constant storm that separates the continent, no one can pass the unearthly barrier, for good or ill. Unklaw, the despot warlord, and his cannibal clans at least appear to be held at bay on the other side by the impassable phenomenon, pausing the devastating war with Albion. The Hivernal stopped his advancement from ravaging the rest of the continents and gave us the chance to slip in and try to glean our fortunes from this inhospitable land. Dreams of claiming a share of the untold wealth on the other side of the Hivernal, the ancient ruins of the elves, the inexhaustible diamond mines, all lost when the storm suddenly and enigmatically appeared. The raging storm is impossible to miss, impossible to ignore. Conley says to Erik, “Can your god do that?”
Erik replies, “That and more!”
Lydia is impressed by the confidence with which he speaks, but Conley gibes, “Then why can’t you get this ice out of our way so we can go ashore?”
Erik replies icily, “I worship the god of storms not ice!”
The group feels frozen fast to the decking by the time the ship is finally moored to the small dock and disembarking commences. As they slowly make their way to Cold Harbor it is totally unremarkable. No one pays undue attention to this ship, a rare sight in these parts by all accounts. All accounts were that a ship might make port here once a year and yet the inhabitants ignore it. The people clearly live a rough life and continue to work, reminiscent of the way the ship’s crew toiled grimly, day and night, for months. They are not a happy people, very grim.
The priest disembarks and scowls at Erik briefly. His slaves are manacled together in chains with the lead in his hand and firmly attached. He pulls them right through Cold Harbor and out onto some rough path or ill-kept road into a light flurry of snow, despite a total lack of transport or supplies apparent.
There are a few people near the docks with strange wicked-looking hooks at the end of long wooden poles, some sort of tool. As they dip them into the water, they spin the shaft in their palms similar to using a fire-starter stick. Suddenly, one of them stops spinning, gives a little grunt of satisfaction and pulls up a writhing mass of oily black eels on the oddly shaped hook. He shakes them loose into a nearby barrel earning a nod of approval from another local standing a little away from the water. This man is better dressed and Jax recognizes him as looking classically Arcadian. It is soon clear he is the dock master as the captain of our transport ship reports to him. They begin to converse in low tones, and Jax is close enough to listen in. Conley attempts to stay and listen as well, but Lydia and Tulgar make their way to the trading store and Erik prays.
Conley and Jax hear them discussing the charter, log and missives. Conley becomes rather obvious in his listening, stopping the conversation as they look askance at him. As the captain is clearly deciding how to best remove the nuisance, Conley stammers, “Sorry to disturb. I wanted to listen to see if there was any more work I could help you with?”
The captain opens his arms to this frozen hell hole, “Welcome to the new land!”
Conley stupidly continues, “We were all wondering just what is on the ship that you are bringing way out here?”
“None of your business.” The captain’s resolute truculence is mirrored on the harbormaster’s face, so Conley walks away and joins the others at the trading post but not before slyly dropping an iron spike near Jax’s feet.
The Captain and Dock Master are being very cautious until Conley is out of sight. The Captain doesn’t talk until he is out of sight. Jax bends down and pretends to look for the iron spike and continues to listen, seemingly unnoticed by the two. They discuss a cargo of black powder currently being unloaded in exchange for a return cargo of rare troll tusk scrimshaw and barrels of eels and a few other supplies the ship needs. Since war seems inevitable to boil over in and around Albion they won’t be back for 3 or 4 winters. The Captain states they will be privateering while it is more profitable. They roll over barrels and drop four large crates on the dock in the exchange.
When the conversation is over and the Harbormaster passes by, Jax extends his hand and introduces himself. “I grew up in Arcadia. Are there people here that would appreciate skilled help?”
The Harbor Master looks at Jax’s weapon and armor. “Are you an adventurer or did you come a very long way for work you could have more easily found back in Arcadia?”
Jax says, “Adventurer, but I don’t want to freeze to death before my first adventure.”
“Many adventurers have done just that!” The Harbor Master says, “I can let you have a map and directions to Fools March.” He pauses and seems to be waiting for something.
Jax, unsure what to do, says, “Thank you. What service may I provide you in exchange?” The Harbormaster just shakes his head and leads him towards his home.
Lydia and Tulgar head toward the trading post and Conley soon joins them. They see a large figure tending the shop, and as they approach it is clearly not human. One side of its face is knotted and twisted, but clearly some sort of malformed Trollkin. It is clear from a cursory glance that what they have heard about the dwindling sea trade is obviously true. Trade here appears to be almost exclusively locally sourced and primarily for the locals needs. Conley whispers, “We may need to intercept that priest before he reports our ‘Sorcerous’ friend’s little ritual of purification to the rest of his order. Tulgar looks for winter coats, but the Trollkin laughs at our offer of copper coin. There are much needed supplies in the store, but clearly no one here is interested in coin, only trade or trinkets, such as ground down troll tusks with exquisite designs. That is the money here and coin virtually useless.
Conley steps out behind the building looking like he is using the bathroom and fishes out the coins Lydia slipped to him that he assumes he stole from the ship. He finds 31 copper inside the bag and secures the pouch to his belt to go inside. He tries to trade 3 iron spikes for 3 cloaks, but they only counter with a wolf cloak for two iron spikes. Conley asks, “If I bring you an animal or hide how much would that be worth in trade?”
The trader offers, “Two hides for a cloak. Wolf or bear hide for the cloak, but these animals come from far away inland. The deep forests.”
“Are there local animals you would trade for?”
“For 2 trihorn (a local deer) pelts, we will make a coat if you throw in some copper as well.”
Conley says to Tolgar, “We should hunt these woods to get some gear if we hope to survive even a little while in this forsaken land.”
Tolgar, still suspicious even after traveling with the helpful and hard-working carpenter, reluctantly agrees to help. Tolgar asks the owner about hunting spots, but both are rough men and not very glib with words.
Meanwhile Lydia is looking at the eeling hooks. There are 3 or 4 on the back wall. She asks, “How much?”
“What is in that pack of yours?” the Trader asks, and she offers the blanket she ‘acquired’. The owner looks it over and hands it back, disinterested.
Lydia asks, “Will you take coin?”
The Trader says, “Not much use for coins.” She offers 20 copper pieces, anyway, but he declines.
Lydia asks, “What do you want in trade?”
“Useful goods people need and will trade for or raw materials like iron, hide, food, fish, eels.”
“If you would lend me a hook, I would provide you with eels galore!”
He shakes his head, “No loans. Trade something useful or get out.” Overhearing, Tolgar suggests she leave her bow as collateral, and Conley asks her to help get the hides.
Finally finished praying, Erik proffers his skills in medicine to random local people he can find but finds no interest.
The Harbormaster, Aulus Scaro
Jax follows the Harbormaster, who introduces himself as Aulus Scaro, to a house the man opens with an intricate key. The door leads to a large room, large couch, fanciful desks, and bookshelves with books and tomes. He seems educated, or at least wants people to think so. His home is much larger than the other houses, as is his sizable paunch. Jax breaks the silence, “What’s your story? How did you come to be here?”
Master Scaro edges his answer around the Tribune, the traitors who assassinated the royal Arcadian families. When Jax doesn’t show a reaction he continues. “I was brought here from Arcadia young, raised here and left here. They trained me and made me a legionnaire, but left me stationed here.”
He also explains his connection to the garrison at Fool’s March, many of them share a similar story to his. The Arcadians control the town and supplies, but he ensures they remain wealthy and have food and water. In fact, he is going to be leading a convoy to Fool’s March to take the crates from the ship.
“Why don’t you and your adventurous looking companions come along as guards? This will give you a way to enter the city as something other than an armed company of strangers, and could go a long way toward getting on the good side of the Leader of Fool’s March.” The Harbormaster reverts from his trading ways back to a conspiratorial tone. “I make no guarantees. This leader is fickle, and he may ask you to take care of problems well above your skill and experience or send you on some other suicide missions to prove yourselves just to provide entertainment and relieve the boredom. It will also eliminate more new strangers that he has to worry about upsetting the status quo.”
Jax asks, “Is there anything you are particularly looking for that I could keep an eye out, in case I could procure it for you?”
The heavy middle-age man replies, “I’m well past trying to improve my station. I have few unmet wants or needs. I am simply willing to help young adventurers. Cold Harbor is nothing, just fishermen, hunters and traders.” He grins, “I suppose this is how I relieve the boredom! Stay in our storehouse tonight, if you wish. Let me know in the morning if you will accompany my caravan to Fool’s March. If you survive your trials, perhaps you can repay me later.”
Jax asks for advice dealing with the mercurial leader of Fool’s March. The Harbormaster warns, “Don’t trifle with him. Change the subject if he gets upset. He has no oversight and so acts like a Praetorian.”
Jax thanks him and leaves him to make the arrangements and preparations for his caravan. “Tread carefully in Fool’s March, not only with the leader there. The more useful you are the better!” This seems like a blanket statement for this country.
Jax goes to find his travel companions which isn’t hard in such a small place. It is only one or two hours past noon, but darker due to the snowstorm caused by the Hivernal and the northern latitude. It will be pitch black in only a couple of hours. It gets dark early and stays dark longer here. Erik is preaching about his storm god, while Conley worries about the priest of the Penitent Flame, an hour ahead even if moving slowly. Conley wants to kill the priest, not only for fear of bringing the Penitent Flame down on their heads, but because he genuinely deserves it. Jax briefs everyone on the Harbormaster, Aulus Scaro’s offer. He posits they will have to kill the slaves with the priests if they go after them. Conley disagrees about killing the slaves, but Tulgar thinks they should find shelter. Not to be outdone in changing the subject, Erik continues unsuccessfully seeking out people to heal. Lydia considers the timing of the priest’s march. She crosses her arms over her chest and shakes her head. “I don’t like this Priest, something felt off with him. I wanted to find out more about him but he was hiding something. He took that path to the Northeast, maybe towards Fool’s March? I suggest we join the caravan Jax so keenly got us into and just keep an eye out for his trail. I’m no tracker, but aren’t a bunch of manacled and chained slaves easy to track?”
Conley sees that no one wants to risk getting caught in the open road totally unequipped as they were and concedes to reason. He shifts his focus. “Let’s take what daylight we have and check the nearby woods for food and hides.” Jax quickly volunteers to track and guard. They see Erik still muttering and walking up and down the street. Conley loudly and poorly fakes a sickly cough, but Erik comes running anyway, until he sees who it is and his head droops defeatedly. Conley asks him, “Would you like to come with us?
Erik says, “Yes, of course but there are sick people that need me!” There is no confidence in his voice this time, and the group slips into the light wood. Jax searches for useful flora as well as tracks of fauna while Erik keeps an eye out for danger. Neither Jax nor Lydia have any luck finding useful herbs at first, but Conley can see signs of wildlife, something like wild boars, perhaps, and quite a few.
Encouraged by their success Jax bends his total focus to aiding the search. Lydia walks over to guide him away from some poisonous weeds and toward some useful flora that they both agree can ground together to create poultices or teas. They are not sure how these three slightly stunted and sickly primrose relatives, or the 10 little blue cedar berries from a dwarf northern variety or those strange black leaves (only four of them were full-formed) may interact, perhaps a weak healing balm, but they can experiment to see.
Conley tracks the animals down quickly, watching the whole time for predator tracks crossing the game trail. Deeper into the woods, he halts the group as he does, indeed, see some strange and larger imprints in the frozen soil. A bare 10 yards ahead looks like the kill site. Half-ravaged remains of some canine/porcine/rodentia cross like a fat dog with stripes down the front of the head and down the back. Though the kill is a few hours old, Conley, Tolgar and the others take time surveying the surroundings. Tulgar hears a hissing like the whipping and snapping of branches, and everyone feels the presence of a predator is in the area. “Does anyone else hear limbs whipping around?” Tulgar asks.
Conley immediately scans the low canopy and spots a huge sloth-like creature above them. The weird body looks like shredded wood, bark and branches. The whole creature is weird and unnatural. They discuss it, an inaudible agreement to move on. They give a wide berth as it moves over and drops down on its kill, its beak-like face splits into a writhing, sucking mass of vines, roots and small thorny branches ripping into the half-frozen carcass stripping flesh from bone like they say the cyclone of the Hivernal scours the bones of any foolish enough to attempt to cross it. Though it appears as some sort of plant creature, nothing in Jax or Lydia’s herbalism training had anything like this!
Conley refocuses on the game tracks and motions the others to follow. Jax puts himself between Lydia and the creature as they pass. After 20 minutes the path converges with more tracks and they come upon a den with numerous striped and spotted dog/pig/rat creatures. Appearing to be a family unit, it seems the mother was the one killed. A number of pups, from tiny spotted whelps to small juveniles starting to grow out their adult stripes are being guarded by an adult, larger than the plant-weird’s kill. They have dug out the area, creating a shallow den and large clearing, even uprooting saplings and some smaller trees.
Conley holds up his hand to stop the group, nocks an arrow, sights in the big male and makes a clean kill. The arrow hits his mark with a perfect shot to the spine, sticking between the head and neck. The big buck/boar/dog leaps up into the air and runs two steps for the den before collapsing. Some of the young run into the den and others charge into the woods. Jax remains on guard against the unknown little beasts wondering if Lydia will take a shot, but only the younger pups remain in the den. She won’t shoot a baby, but Tolgar runs towards the hole and, as the smaller ones try to dart past him, he catches one with the flat of his broad axe and breaks its spine. The creature shakes and writhes on the ground, making an almost inaudibly high-pitched squeak before he fully dispatches it. They look like some kind of boar/canine with broad shoulders and thick haunches, but obviously purely a prey animal. Conley uses a minor blessing of guidance on Lydia as she skins the creature to enhance her skill. Jax advises her with his survival skills, as well, so that her nimble and dexterous hands, more used to cutting purse strings than sinew and tendons, expertly skin the animal. In fact, she does a very clean job and has an unblemished a pelt as anyone has seen. They cut the meat into chunks and take every part of the animal except for the blood and guts seeping into the earth, dividing equally among them.
Jax says, “We should get back as it is getting dark”. He tries to speak more about the Harbormaster but the group clearly isn’t interested. Conley suggests that they collect firewood on the way back, so everyone grabs what they can. Jax also packs the young carcass whole as they don’t have time to skin it.
A fisherman is outside the converted storehouse. It isn’t fancy but there are real beds and it is relatively clean, with a roaring hot fire in a massive hearth. The Harbormaster obviously moved most of the supplies out since we are strangers, as the drag marks patches of disturbed dust show where many more barrels and crates were recently here.
Conley uses his cantrip of guidance and Jax again assists Lydia with the skinning of the smaller animal. She produces another pristine hide that is perfect with no blemishes. The pristine hides could be worth quite a bit in trade, and they discuss trade tactics and plans for the morning. They put the extra firewood to use melting snow to quench the parched thirst they have been living with for most of the sea voyage and topping off their water skins. Conley finds a couple of flat iron surfaces upon which he arranges about 5 copper coins and maneuvers them, as flat as possible onto the glowing gold-orange embers of the hottest part of the hearth. While waiting on them to melt, he and Jax first hammer a thick ridge on one side of five more coppers, then use some fine stones to whet an edge opposite the thick ridge on the same coins. “A one-use blade to be concealed may come in handy someday.”
When the coins in the hearth have fully melted to golden pools he fishes them out with sticks and pokers, trying not to disturb them too much, then takes them near an outside wall or window to cool, but not too quickly. While eating with the others, Jax and Conley are also vigorously polishing the surface of these little hand-size copper disks and cleaning up the edges to a regular shape. Pretty soon their faces can be seen reflected in the gleaming reddish surfaces, and they reflect little dancing motes of firelight onto the roof timbers.
They found: The group gains 3 rations each, plus the meat from a young whole beast, copper cutting coins x 5, copper mirrors x2, Red Flowers X 3, Blue Berries X 10, Black Leaves X 4 and two pristine hides, adult and child as well as useful trade goods from the animal parts.
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