This is part of the ongoing narrative of our D&D campaign, which is graciously being run by Proud Lion, a fantastic comic shop in Cheltenham. Their RPG Encounters nights are a lot of fun, and give me some entertaining material to work with.
Tales of the Yawning Portal:
The shrill scream disturbed the morning gloom. “Heeeeelp!”, the female voice screeched, hardly stopping for breath. “My family…”, and with this the voice fell to sobbing.
Burian Roundtree looked up from his wild berry jam and bread, and groggily hefted his bulk from the benches of Madam Freona’s Tea Kettle, to head towards the door. His companions, similarly roused from their breakfast, were manoeuvring away from their seats, dimly aware of some action. But not all were up and mobile. No, Burian’s disgraced brother, Kalashnikov Rowntree sat happily at the table scoffing down a peculiar mix of onion and chive jam, scooping potato fritters into his maw.
Ever since he had changed his name for legal distinction, Kalashnikov had distanced himself from Burian and the Roundtree Clan Brewery, aiming to outshine his seconds-older brother and destroy the family business. The Roundtree clan was famed throughout hill dwarf regions for the distinctly floral flavour of their bitter, and Burian had followed in his father’s druidic footsteps to live as-one with nature to divine the most flavourful ingredients. Kalashnikov had always rebelled against his familial duties, and once he came of age he broke all bonds with the Roundtrees to hunt for a “better” system to build his own brewery upon.
When he returned to the Roundtree brewery, it was to announce the grand opening of his opposing brewery, the Duergar’s Dare Brewing House, across the vale from the Roundtree family’s. Kalashnikov had renounced all his druidic knowledge, and exchanged it for the backing of a Great Old One, training himself as a warlock, working only for his own profit. His brewery dealt in the production of strange fruit “pastilles”, a chewy material with vague flavours of fruit, and an extremely strange alcoholic concoction brewed from melted down pastilles.
The introduction of a foul-smelling but intoxicating new beverage split the vale market, leading Burian and Kalashnikov to set out hunting for new flavours or additional funds to break this stalemate. Like many sibling rivalries, Burian and Kalashnikov found themselves drawn together while constantly competing, and found themselves in the company of adventurers, taking contracts while exploring distant lands.
Sighing in frustration, Burian left his obnoxious brother and headed out the tavern door, into the square of Phlan, a small town in the Swordcoast, a little way from the city of Waterdeep. The square was filling with people drawn by the screams, as an event such as this was likely to be the talk of the town for weeks, so could not be missed by any.
In the centre of the square a woman was crying on the cobblestones, her dress marked and torn, clutching a baby to her chest. She allowed no one close to her, cringing back if anyone attempted to touch her or the child. From this distance, Burian could tell nothing about her child, and detected no discernible enchantments over her, and moved towards her. In fact, to one of the companions, the tall and handsome half-elf Jester, this seemed like no situation outside the ordinary, and he strolled back into the bar, to continue his conversation with Madam Fiona’s 3 daughters.
When Burian and Jester had met, the half-elf had seemed like a foppish ladies-man, using his silken words to woo and wound in equal measure. Only once the ended up in a bar brawl had Jester revealed his roguish talents, albeit from behind the comfort of a table. Despite the racial tensions between the two, a begrudging respect was earnt in that fight, and Jester’s presence in their company lost its grating edge to Burian’s ears. His skill with ranged weapons was far better than any other in the group, and his tips about stealth did come in useful, on occasion.
One of his companions, Enna, a half-elven cleric, sped past him to comfort the lady, and wove her way through the crowds towards the centre of the square. She approached slowly, and Burian could see she was taking care not to shock or scare the woman. Unfortunately, her softly-spoken words had no effect on the distraught mother in front of her, who shied away from any inspection of the child. The half-elf did make for a calming presence, but it seemed as though nothing could reduce her grief and agony.
Enna had revealed little of her past during her time with the companions, but it was known that before her current profession, she had had a moderately successful career in local politics. Her vanity and calculating greed had been boundless, but at some point she had been shocked out of her poor state, and embraced her inner faith. She turned to the the Green Goddess, Eldath, who offered redemption for her sinful ways in the promotion of serenity. Her silver tongue turned to comforting and guiding the stricken, and she found herself drawn into the companions when they turned to her for healing. Once slimeball politician, now reformed, she was an integral part of the group, putting her strategic mind to use in the planning and execution of their quests, and her faith helped conquer those hurdles that planning could not.
Burian had reached the inner ring of the crowd now, and noticed that the thoroughfare of the square was well and truly blocked, stopping carts and foot traffic from passing into the streets. The long weapons of town watch officers could be seen overhead, as new voices joined the throng,
“Clear the way!”, “Get this street open and moving!”, “What’s the problem here? Get that woman off the floor!”
Guards strode towards the fallen lady, but were quickly intercepted by the final member of the party, Drenk, a huge half-orc who had served in Waterdeep’s City Watch before joining the companions.
“Don’t worry lads, I’ve got this, I’m an officer, just like you lot.” he prompted, and after a few moments conversing, the town watchmen agreed to leave the case with him, as it looked like it might be out their jurisdiction. It looked like pretty much all case would be outside their jurisdiction, if they had a say. Drenk pocketed a cheque for 50 gold on successful completion of the case, then moved to keep anyone else from interfering with the traffic.
Drenk had joined the previous incarnation of the companions after a long stint in Waterdeep’s City Watch, and had survived the team shifting as members left and died, stoically taking all that came at him. This was a natural progression for him, as he had come from a job where his nickname was “The Ram”, and he turned his experience knocking doors down and accosting (mostly) criminals into the brute force clearing of monstrous nests. A no-nonsense lawman with chainmail and maul, his swing could often shore up the fight in the companions’ favour.
“Ey up lass, why you crying? Come on, stop doing that and tell us what’s happened?” Kalashnikov rumbled, and this approach, with little to no subtlety, seemed to be just what the woman needed. She calmed down as she stared with streaming eyes, and released her story in fits and starts.
“They…th…they attacked our fa…fa…farm…and STOLE my children…”. More tears burst forth before she continued, “Go…goblins raided us and took my husband, my two s…so…sons and our 9 farmhands away…”
“9 farmhands? That’s a pretty big farm you must have there missus.” Jester commented, a slightly greedy look in his eyes.
“Wait, s…sorry, I meant my 2 daughters, they took my daughters.” Bewildered looks passed between the companions before she carried on, “Yes, and 6 farmhands. My husband, my 2 sons, 2 daughters and 6 farmhands. I only just managed to dive onto the wagon with my last daughter, here.”
At this, Enna finally managed to get a good look at the child, and saw that no harm had come to her during their flight.
“W…w…will you help me? Can you get my family back?”. A desperate look plastered on her face, despair turned narrowly to hope looking at the companions.
At this point, Jester leisurely strolled out of the Tea Kettle, whistling to himself. “Well team, guess I’ve got someone to come back to after this mess…what are we doing?”