Monday, June 17, 2013

038 - A diplomatic surgical strike in Mulkan

This session reports on the Palantir's commission first contact with the tribe in possession of two Palantirs. They know that they are personae ungrattae in terra incognita. A number of demons are lurking around, and the locals to be swayed are xenophobic yocals that eat angels for breakfast. The ice is thin under their feet, literally and figuratively.

Act 38, Scene 1 - The Raven gets skittish

During the night of the 26th, a sailor panicked and climbed the Raven's rigging. In the midst of the raves and pleas for help, he appeared to be fending off an invisible foe. The last that was seen of Paulof was when he got plucked from the ladder and dragged to the black waters below. Then there was silence.

The Captain of the Raven reported the story to the Palantir commission members on the following morning. He made clear that the crew and himself weren't paid enough for this kind of travelling. He bemoaned the lack of commercial opportunities and threatened to cut short the expedition. Halin let out a grunt and a stare good enough to cow a troll [ Intimidation check won by +5] [+]. Arnadil explained to Vacros (the captain) that the commission wasn't going anywhere and that no payment would ever be made without their safe return. Vacros backed down [ Intimidation vs. Will, supported by Halin. Success.] [+], but maintained that his crew was getting restless. It was settled that double pay delivered up-front should be good enough to keep the sailors content for about another week of lingering [ Merchant quick contest, won by Arnadil with MoS +2] [+].   

Act 38, Scene 2 - Ten Kilometers in the snow

As far as days in Forochel are goin, it wasn't a bad one. The snow was wet as the sun peeked over the horizon. The company set out from the Raven with a keg of ale. Ale has now by then become standard issue in matter of diplomacy. They tried to rent the service of a dog sled for the day, but didn't settle on a reasonable price and had to accept that the barrel would have to be carried on foot across 10km of frozen fjord water. The topography was similar to the previous fjord, with sheer 50-70m high cliffs on either side. Irina identified a number of tracks in the snow along a path that their guide, Reitu, decided to follow. Irina figured out that the path was used on most days, in both directions by Lossoth dragging large sea kayaks. The path crossed the width of the fjord and kept on going up a river called Stikoa. By midday, plumes of smoke could be seen on the west bank. Distant figures, like tiny ants descended to meet the company.

Reitu provided the introductions. They introduced themselves as Southrons that came with a metal trading ship and were coming to talk to Mulkan's chief Taavinnen. Arnadil was a bit uncomfortable about the innacurracy of their introduction which omitted key facts. However, he compromised on his first inclination to introduced himself as the representative of the King of Gondor on a mission to repatriate the Palantirs.

The Lossoth hunters escorted them across Mulkan. The village was an impressive architectural feat: most buildings were multi-storied, built atop a carefully laid, 2m thick rock pavement. The timber was certainly milled rougher than in Minas Tirith, but none in the company expected this level of sophistication in a Lossoth settlement. At the heart of Mulkan, a temple was built over another 2m of laid stones. Sixteen pillars were supporting a heavy-set roof that covered the altar. There they were: the Palantir of Arnor was resting on top of the altar, ready to be picked up. Underneath, the giant stone of Amon Sul (weathertop) was carefully set in a cradle of granite.  Three nasty looking Lossoth guardians looked down on the company as they walked pass the temple and headed for the cliff.

The village was made of about 20 buildings, carefully packed together over the pavement and wrapped around by a wooden palisade. Beyond the palisade, some 20 totems were dotting the slopes. Some 300-500 souls must have live in the village, by their estimates.

Act 38, Scene 3 - Drink the darn ale!

Taavinnen's house, overlooking Mulkan.
(Arnadil, Halin, Thannolf, Irina, Finbert, Kasper, Araliniel, Reitu, Chief Taavinnen and 8 of his guardians)

The company walked into the house of Taavinnen and were required to put their weapons down into an antechamber. The main hall was a wide enough room, with a coal fire pit in the center and a set of bean-bag-like seats around. Taavinnen invited the southrons to sit. Eight of his guardians remained standing by his side. There was an awkward silence as both parties sized their abilities to engage in a meaningful conversation [ All language-based checks in a broken language are done at -6, Lossoth and Westron are compatible at the broken level. Only Thannolf, speaking Northmen, could interact with Lossoth at the accented level (-3)] [+].

Taavinnen was in no mood to entertain, and had little interest in learning about irrelevant cultures such as these from the south. He assumed that the company was speaking in the name of a Southern sovereign, which the company members confirmed. Taavinnen told them that it was a matter of legend that the Lossoth people had saved a Southron king from the Witch King. He warmed up as his narrative turned into a boast about his people. The company members steered the discussion back to the Southron stones. Taavinnen stressed that the stones were given to the Lossoth as a gift. The company members, mainly Arnadil and Thannolf, tried to pry from the chief how the stones were used as the seat of the Lossoth nation and the provide the strength to overcome all foes. They were hoping that Taavinnen would start to blurt about Shapithui, the snow demon, but he did not. Thannolf felt a shift from a boast to a difficult conversation [ Thannolf has empathy, the mood change was lost on the other company members.] [+]. Thannolf further dragged the focus of the discussion to the fact that the Lossoth people must have been great even before they received the gift from the Arthedain king.

Taavinnen had been struck dumb by this question and made a mental note to ask Elder Tiani about it[ This question was so well setup by the company that I automatically gave composure damage to Taavinnen for it. This heralded the start of a most interesting downward spiral for the chieftain.] [+].  Taavinnen realized that the southrons were expecting an answer to Thannolf's question and played for time. He demanded that ceremonial broth be brought.

Thannolf, Finbert and Irina went on the offensive again and, after drinking the foul broth, insisted in cleansing their palate with the ale from the keg. Thannolf offered first, but was politely turned down. Finbert, who had brewed the ale himself back in Tharbad used his hobbit's cheermeister touch to ease the tension in the room. A wide smile, a large swig of ale and a few notes of a drinking song, and the sliver of a smile echoed back in the face of the Lossoths [ Finbert's carousing is now a signature move, and this influence reaction was suitable as the objective was to get Taavinnen to get over his xenophobic chavinism and warm to the southrons.] [+].  Taavinnen gave way, maybe because he was desperate to deflect from Thannolf's probing line of questionning. Irina started to utter her most accessible drinking song [ Singing check won by a wide margin.] [+]. The Lossoths in the room felt compelled to try the ale. None of them really enjoyed it (anyone like their first sip of beer?), some spat it out over their shoulders. The damage on their close mindedness was done.

The company members proceeded to explain that the Winter Drake hatchling had been raiding the south. Irina was invited to sing her song about how Finbert, Halin, herself and an elf had confronted Farathui in the snowy Shire. A sense of relatedness grew between the two parties. Taavinnen, engrossed by his own prejudices, assumed that the Southron were finally cutting to the chase and were finally admitting that the Southron King was sending emissaries to get counsel from him. Arnadil played Taavinnen's misconception and pretended that, indeed, the company was here to get counsel from him on how to protect their own southron stones from Farathui. Taavinnen's defense slowly melted as he went on a long diatribe on how the Lossoth, under his leadership, had beaten down Farathui and his army twice in the last two years. The company didn't have to work very hard to make a strong display of interest as the Lossoth chieftain reverted to his boasting schtick.

Act 38, Scene 4 - Let me show you my shiny balls

Mulkan, on a sunny Forochel afternoon.
(All company members, Taavinnen and guardians, and three Lossoth temple guardians)

Taavinnen insisted in taking the company members to the temple to observe more closely the southron stones. The company members enthusiastically accepted the offer and followed the chieftain back to the heart of the village. He lead them down the stairs, pausing often to point out evidence of his greatness as a leader: defenses, notable buildings, wild claims about mastercraftmens toiling in the houses below. He lead them through Mulkan and up the steps of the temple.

The company climbed up the stairs and entered its covered area. Both Palantirs were now resting on a large stone altar before the company members. Halin figured out that the small Palantir of Arnor cold be knocked with a small hammer blow while the master stone of Amon Sul would require a much more vigorous treatment.

"Can my friend the seer touch the stones", asked boldly Arnadil [ A gasp of disapproval roared from around the gaming table. Irina invoked her disarming smile to claim a free diplomacy check (without the language barrier penalty, which worked +1 in support of Arnadil's check. Thannolf reformulated the request with his richer vocabulary (-3 to his check), which succeeded and gave another +1 to Arnadil's. Arnadil's Diplomacy check was now at -4 rather than -6. The quick contest vs Taavinnen's Will ended in a marginal victory which owed much to both the support and Taavinnen's previous composure damage. ] [+]. Taavinnen was reticent but figured out that there was not much danger in letting the southrons look from closer. Araliniel walked to the small Palantir. A faint glow, like a dancing flame emanated from the heart of the stone. It was difficult for the company member to contain their surprise, but the Lossoths were completely floored by the sighting.  Araliniel then knelt to the ground and put both hands on the masterstone. The flame-like glow started to light the ceiling of the temple. Soon, her face was brightly illuminated. She whispered that she could catch glimpses of Minas Tirith. The Lossoths recoiled, some drew their weapons. To the company's surprise, they didn't seem to threaten Araliniel but rather scanned the horizon line as if something bad was about to happen. Araliniel pulled back, smiling widely. "The masterstone is out of alignment, but I could catch glimpses of the white tower in Gondor.", she added. 

Taavinnen whisked the company away and roused the guardians to keep a keen eye. There was no need of empathy to feel a sense of urgency and panic in the Lossoths.

Act 38, Scene 5 - The butterfly wing

Back in Taavinnen's house.
(The company, Reitu, Taavinnen and his guardians, Elder Tiani)

The company and the Lossoth sat back where they were before the field trip. Taavinnen wasn't interested in talking, seemed to be listening for something outside his house. Nobody in the company dared say anything until an older Lossoth entered the hall. He was about 50,  covered in amulets and furs and carrying a walking stick although he had no need for it. His face was stone cold with anger. Taavinnen yielded his chieftain's seat to him. 

The Lossoth elder asked to the southrons to explain what was done to their stones. He was specifically staring at Araliniel, whom he saw as a witch. Araliniel, with as much social skills as a she could muster (not a lot), stood up and explained that she was a seer of Gondor: that she was trained to work with Palantirs. She explained that in the south, these stones are used by Kings to communicate and keep an eye on their dominions. She closed by asking what the stones were doing for the Lossoths. Elder Tiani interrupted and ordered the southrons to never get close to the stones again. Arnadil protested that they had approached the stones with the permission of the chief. 

Tiani let out an angry scowl. "You are never to let strangers into the temple ever again", he roared to Taavinnen. The warrior recoiled first, but after scanning the room to see faces staring back at him, he stood up and with his finger to Tiani's face he replied: "You are never to walk into my home and tell the chief what to do!" [ Intimidation contest here, won by Taavinnen, sent the scene into an unexpected twist as the chief managed an upper hand on his Elder. Things were working out somewhat along the lines that Arnadil intended with his last statement. ] [+]. None of the Lossoths present were breathing anymore. The company members felt like they had walked into a nasty family fight. Tiani stood up and left the room without a word. Clearly no more was to be said in front of strangers. 

There was another awkward silence. Arnadil carefully broached the topic of repatriation. He gently hinted that the Southron Stones may not be all that the Lossoths believe they are. He hinted that the King of Gondor would be interested in trading them back against ample compensations. Taavinnen explained that without the stones, the Lossoth people would be in a grave danger. Taavinnen was much exhausted from the day's event. This could be read in his face. Thannolf saw in this an opportunity and asked him to explain more clearly how the stones were helping the Lossoths.

Taavinnen regained a bit of his composure, but didn't sit on his seat again. He explained that this day had been difficult and that he had to ask for counsel. He instructed the Southrons to leave and wait for them to be fetched again in a few days. He stated that he wasn't sure that the Lossoths were willing to help the Southron King.

On their way out, Thannolf reiterated his question and turned his heels. The company reclaimed their weapons and were lead through Mulkan to the dock. Over frozen waters, the dock was used as an assembly points for dog sleds. One of the dock's pier was also used as a totem. On it, some 30 different variations on Mulkan's amulet were strung through a long leather strap. The company looked one last time at the Palantirs in the temple nearby before setting on the trek back to the Raven. 

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