Ram meandered into The Golden Cornucopia of Nourishment That Yields the Purest Milk and Cheese This Side of the Great River, unsure exactly how or why he was arriving there but vaguely recalling consorting with his mistress Death and the gift she granted his boon companions.
Merit, savior of Copia
When he arrived he found Merit in the center of the village being adored with gifts. Wheels of cheese, smoked meats, bouquets of local flowers….more wheels of cheese.
She was not, however, all that please to see him. Why did you leave? What have you been doing? Did you know Rahi was a stinking coward?
Merit, unconformable with all the attention, and now upset that Ram has arrived out of the blue, stalked off to her home, followed by Ram, and by the many villagers who still wanted to give her gifts, but were blocked by Ram’s large frame occupying the doorway. So they just started piling gifts outside! Inside Merit told Ram that she had a new plan, to give up the live of a hero and return to her village. Taste this… it was bread she made this morning. Ram could not abide this. Not only did he know that Merit lived for adventure and would be bored with this sedentary life, he also needed her to rescue his mistress Death!
Kanta and Rahi, the silent couple
Meanwhile, outside, Rahi and Kanta were also being adorned by gifts, albeit fewer that Merit received, and with the mayor’s family keeping their distance from Kanta. They stood in the shadows of the village wordlessly. Rahi because she felt terrible that she had disappointed Merit, and Kanta because she had taken a vow of silence for telling a lie (also her tongue was so badly damaged, she couldn’t really form a word if she tried). So they emoted looks of regret to each other.
The communal silence was broken when Ram found them to find out what was wrong with Merit? Rahi was at first sheepish, afraid that Ram would also be upset with her for beating him up over the fate of a child and his parents (the child which Ram now had following him as his apprentice). To her delight however, there were no hard feelings at all. In fact, with the disappearance of Death, it had slipped his mind…as thought it happened many months ago.
Ram did want to know what was going on with Merit, however, and neither Kanta nor Rahi were much help. Kanta on account of not talking, Rahi because she was still beating herself up about what she had done. Kanta began poking Rahi, rather forcefully mind you, in the direction of Merit’s home, to prod her into action, but the sullen warrior would not move, or at least not fast enough. The mage scrambled over the mounds of cheese outside and tumbled into Merit’s home. Before she could really begin to emote however, Merit shrugged and said “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll get my things and we’ll head out.”
A Long Road to travel
Though many objected to the heroes leaving (except Kanta, nobody really minded her leaving) it was Long who took it the hardest. He saw the strapping tall figure of Ram enter the scene sweep Rahi out of the village and assumed she had affections for the holy killer. Despite this he followed us, with a lame excuse that he was bringing us supplies from the village (a cart with food, and all the coin that could be mustered, and a half dozen healing potions). It was a final attempt to stay by Rahi’s side and he earned a kiss for his efforts, but was still sent home. We were going to dangerous places not safe for a farmer (some pretty classic Buffy/Xander dymanics here…including the stalkery bits).
As we continued traveling west into the boggy gnoll territory we saw signs of their various tribes. Insignia that we could not recognize but that we could differentiate from each other, clearly the gnolls were not united.
As we inspected one of them, we heard a gurgling sound and when we investigated further, found that a gnoll was trapped in a bog and was slowly drowning in it. Not that we had any love for gnolls, but because we thought this one might provide us some information about the gnoll emissary (more on gnoll society below) we sought.
Freeing the gnoll turned out to be more trouble than we expected. He wasn’t stuck in any old bog, but in the manifestation of a small swamp god that he had stumbled into. We chased off the god with fire and steel, but not before being wrapped up in it’s tangled vines, pulled under the surface, and in all other ways getting bruised, battered, and mucked!
When the gnoll was free of captivity, it still wanted to chew off our arms, but through body language and a drawing that it shared (which was crude but was clearly of us) and a new drawing that Kanta made (which was of the emissary we sought) we learned that it sought us, and we convinced it instead to take us to the emissary. Threats and cajoling were involved.
Gnoll Ecology 101
Here’s the lore we received about these creatures that were belched out of the abyss during the Night of Blight.
This is the typical gnoll, and the one most likely to be encountered in numbers outside of the badlands. They much prefer to strike from ambush and at range, and are much better at raids than pitched battles. Nevertheless they are not to be underestimated, particularly when encountered in numbers. Those found outside the badlands are always male. Those found in the badlands can be of either gender.
These are not emissaries to other cultures, but emissaries representing their particular tribe to their terrible god. They are powerful beings capable of dangerous magic, and are never found unescorted. They are the only Gnolls found outside the badlands that are commonly female.
This was the image we saw as we fought to save Copia.
Formidable opponents even for heroes, Gnoll leaders nevertheless prefer to lead from the rear, the better to drive their troops forward to attack. They are skilled bushwhackers and often wield one or more magical items.
The exact method by which these creatures come into existence is unknown, but they are not the same as vetala. Gnolls generally employ them in numbers to help soak up casualties and cause terror. They are well known for ripping the limbs from victims and for biting off fingers, ears, noses, etc.
Big as a house, these creatures are best known for consuming the souls of its victims. These souls do not reincarnate, nor do they rejoin the Source, but seem to be gone forever, though there is speculation on this matter. Always solitary, and even gnolls tend to avoid it. One has been known to destroy an entire village, consuming the souls of everyone and everything.
This was the creature we fought in Copia.
Merit’s Regard for Kanta
During a watch while we were camping Merit woke Kanta early and had words for her. She knew Kanta had done something, had some reason for not speaking, and also knew that her morals were not so lofty as she claimed them to be. This was the point where Merit told Kanta that she know about the village Kanta sacrificed to save Rahi in the past. Thought Kanta did not feel regret for the lives she had given, she did agree (if silently) that she was not so scrupulous as she often claimed to be.
Oh it was good to have Ram back. We needed that levity especially after Rahi was so ashamed, Merit so betrayed, and Kanta so disillusioned. Having his happy-go-lucky quest to save Death was just what we needed!
I love that all our secrets of each other’s past have come out. Now Rahi must prove herself to Merit and Ram, and Kanta must keep Merit from telling Rahi what she did.
It was great when Merit’s mother told her they were going to rename the village after her and she said that was going to far, but then they said they would call it the “Meritorious Golden Cornucopia of Nourishment That Yields the Purest Milk and Cheese This Side of the Great River” she actually quite liked it and said that would do just fine. So good!
Merit’s ability to understand Kanta is a life saver. I like that Karen just chose to have that, instead of us trying to work out some labored means by which she could communicate. I like that it also means Merit can choose to understand Kanta anyway she likes! Can’t wait for the “Oh, Kanta thinks we should go steal all those golden lion statues while the monks sleep… for truth and stuff” lines.
What could have improved
There is this “gods are among you” vibe that is in the setting, but I haven’t been able to bring out in play. The gods feel like they are either somewhere else, or they are present in the form of avatars. Both of those are good, but I think I’m missing the “gods as concept” expression. Like the god of the swamp is manifested in this swamp creature but it’s also all of the swamp, and we should interact with it as such. It’s this wanting to exist on both a physical and a celestial level that is part of mythology but hard to capture in play. Or rather, I’m having a hard time capturing it.