Part One: A Hiring and a Hastening
It all began with a simple note. Some courier had been dispatched form the king of Tauria and had arrived at our room. The note had read: “You and the rest of your party have been cordially invited to spend lunch with the King of Tauria tomorrow.” So we went to the lunch. And over crumpets and sandwiches, we were told by the King, with only a few of his guards,our mission. It seemed to be simple enough. Since the King didn't want to involve his military (“since the populace would eventually find out, and I'd become a laughing-stock,” the King had said), and he had a problem he needed some people with a good handle of weaponry for, that left mercenaries. And so we entered the picture.
“Your mission,” the King had begun, “Is to infiltrate the Savage's territory. Specifically, the northwestern island area, which is most probably the most barbaric, the most violent, and the most deadly area of the whole Savage Lands. That is where the barbarian raiders are based. And that is where your mission will occur.”
The PCs have just arrived in Tauria's capitol city. As the King of Tauria knows all, especially in his own capitol, and the typical heavily armed group is not exactly inconspicuous, the King knows exactly where the PCs are staying, be it an inn or the PCs own houses.
A messenger will be sent, bearing a letter. The letter will be in fancy paper, embossed with fancy filigree, and so on. It will read (in fancy handwriting) that the PCs are summoned before the King. In some setting with no one, except for the King, his bodyguards, and the PCs. The bodyguards have been selectively picked to be the type who knows how to keep their mouths shut, even when a fair some of money shows up.
The King will then give them their mission. They have, ostensibly, a choice in the whole thing. But the King feels that going is in the PCs best interest, and will present the whole thing with the words saying “choice”, but the tone and the body language saying “Wait, you really think you have a choice in the matter?” Naturally, if the PCs try to flee the city, some soldiers will show up who seem to think- at the point of a sword- that the PCs are trying to make their appointment with the King, and their job is to “make sure bandits don't harm or delay you.” If the PCs really feel strongly about saying no, let them escape. Just let them have some fun escaping.
The mission itself is simple. In the last couple of summers, the amount of barbarian ship-born raids have increased. It has gone from a mild nuisance to an actual threat. The PCs have been chosen to find the reason for this increased raiding and quench it. Preferably by killing a bunch of raiders. That's better, according to the King of Tauria, that the raiders deserve.
As the King knows the social, political, personal, and mental consequences (remember the bit in the first paragraph about him knowing all?) of sending the military out to solve this problem (the public would eventually find out), and a large mercenary corps would attract the same problems, a small group that has no relationship with the country best fits what is needed. And that small group is the PCs.
The PCs ship will leave in two days after the talk with the King. They have that time to prepare. If the GM chooses, they can have one of the King's bodyguards accompany them. If the PCs might need help.
Part Two: On the Road Again
The boat ride was uneventful. Though there was the brief occurrence with the giant squid, my group and I were able to land on the shore unscathed. The sight was eerie. Oh, it was beautiful sight, what with the waves crashing onto the beaches, that led to the forest. But it was ominous. Lying within those trees were hundreds of potentially hostile barbarians. They might be inferior to humans, but were their weapons of inferior composition? The sailors of the ship started to set up camp on the beach. All ready the basics of a wall was being thrown up. They were under orders to stay in the area until the PCs were finished with their mission.
It must be great to be an all powerful king of one of the two biggest powers in all of Atheus.
I sighed as I faced the forest, and began the long trek into the trees. But before I got anywhere, a salvo of arrows interrupted my progress. Men shouted as figures slipped from the trees. It seems I was right to be wary. The trees had contained elves that were armed and ready to fight.
The PCs are provided transportation to the islands. At least, the northwestern shoreline of the mainland. A small, ocean-readied boat will be provided to allow the PCs to travel to the islands north of their position of they (or the GM) so desires.
The travel to the location is uneventful. Unless the GM desires to add something to spice it up. Atheus lacks many ocean adventures- why not crack open the aquatic section of your monster list? When they finally reach their destination, the sailors will set up a defensible camp on the beach. This camp is small, and is for loading/unloading supplies that they gather from the island or mainland. Most of the sailors are going to stay on the ship. They are going to stay there until one of two things happens: the PCs anger some tribe enough to prompt them to decimate the ship and the sailors (in which, if some sailors survive, they'll probably run away). Or the PCs finish their mission and can go home.
When the PCs first arrive on the scene, a welcoming committee will arrive. A warband of elves, armed to the teeth, will make their presence known to the intruders, and greet the humans. Some info can be gathered from them, such as basic geography and major players in the area, but they will be resistant to giving any information. Unless you do something nice for them. And they know just the thing.
There's this other tribe, a tribe of orcs, that's being very annoying. They keep trying to kill the elves. If the orcs mysteriously suffer a major setback, then the elves might just let some of the answers to these questions the PCs are asking slip.
The PCs should be allowed to use a variety of tactics to deal with the orcs, dirty to honorable. This can run from poisoning the water supply, burning/stealing their good (metal) weapons, using guerrilla tactics to whittle away at their numbers, or just entering the camp and killing any orc in sight. Let them be creative as they deal with the orcs. At least let them use reconnaissance to find a good entry point.
One of the things they might notice as they run around inside the camp is the abundance of metal weapons/tools. Where are they getting all this high-quality steel? No mines in the area, and no way to work the ores when they come out of the earth.
Part Three: Now I have to Kill Who?
Cleaning my blade from our encounter with the orcs, I led my companions through the trees to the elven camp. Let me see... go northeast for about five miles from the orcish camp, then was it 2 miles east? No, three miles, and then... We eventually stumbled upon the elves, and related our exploits in terse words. The leader of the elven warband smiled, and nodded, and thanked us for our services. He then started answering our questions. And we soon learned of the third, fourth, and fifth factions involved in these woods. A tribe of dwarves and a tribe of goblins also lived in these parts. But there used to be another tribe. Another tribe of dwarves used to live in the area. Internal pressures, caused by that fifth, as yet unnamed, faction, had caused the destruction of the dwarves' farms and hunting/gathering, and forced them to abandon their homes. With no longer having a place to call their own, they were forced into shabby, small territory, with next to no food source. These dwarves had been forced to start raiding to get something to trade for food.
And what was this unknown cause? Why, it stemmed from the only race that could cause so much destruction from simple greed. A human logging company.
The elves know the following things, and will describe them all in detail.
- Each of the tribes had a small harbor (location of which is not disclosed) where the tribes have a mutual pact not to fight near. This harbor is where the tribes keep their ships for raiding and fishing.
- There used to be five tribes (not including multiple small, unimportant tribes) in the area. These would be the elves themselves, the orcs that the PCs just attacked, two tribes of dwarves, and a tribe of goblins.
- All of these tribes did some (but very little) raiding before the logging company arrived.
- The goblins and one tribe of dwarves had been living on some land that had excellent trees for logging purposes. A human logging company had hired the orcs, as well as some mercenaries, to move the goblins and the dwarves.
- Because the goblins could trade goblin-made weapons to their neighbors, they could survive on much smaller territory, with far less food output. The dwarves could not, and were forced to take up high amounts of raiding to get materials to trade with everyone else for food.
- As the logging company takes down more trees, and takes more land, their actions are encroaching and pushing back the borders of all the other tribes. These other tribes are increasing the amount of raiding they do (as a supplement to their own farms, as is usual for Raiders).
- The orcs are not being adversely effected by this logging, and are being traded metal weapons and tools to act as guards for the logging company. They do this by raiding and looting the other nearby tribes more effectively with their new weapons, and by disrupting any chance at banding together the other tribes have.
- The logging company will probably know of the attack on the orcs soon. Perhaps in a day? If any orcs happen to know that humans attacked them, the company will probably react by attacking the PCs ship. So that word of their illegal operation (see Afterword) doesn't reach Tauria or Obstaria.
The PCs have a choice now. They can either fight against the logging company, and force them to leave the area (which would let the dwarves resettle the area, and lower their raiding amounts correspondingly), go attack the dwarves who are raiding the most (which would be difficult, as the dwarves are strong, and would incur hostility from the elves and other tribes, which might lead to the other tribes attacking the PCS), or report back to the King. Or some fourth option that I don't see available.
And they should make up their minds soon. Before their transport home is up in flames.
Part Four: The Cliche Climactic Conflict
My group and I decided that it would be best to finish the King's assignment. Though he no doubt intended for us to slay barbarians and not humans to accomplish the mission, this is exactl what our path had brought us to. Though it pains me to trust the elves, for it has been barbarians that have caused so much death and suffering on my wife's old west Obstarian farm, their story seems credible and well-reasoned. And that is what brought us to this path.
We were accompanying the elven war-band in their crusade against the loggers. A pair of runners had been sent to each of our potential allies as reinforcements. It would be a tough battle, as the logging had some mercenary corps with better armor and weapons than the elves, but if the dwarves and goblins arrived before the battle was finished, they might yet win the day.
They had no time to waste. The elves recently received word that an orc knew of both who had attacked them and who sent the attacker, so the inevitable counterattack is imminent.
But there soon was no time for any further internal debate. The elven bugle sounded, and the war-band charged with an accompanying hail of arrows and magics.
First, the elves should be watching the logging camp, as the strike on the orcs that they orchestrated will alert them, and cause them to counterstrike. Give the PCs some time to plan, but not a whole lot. But more importantly, reinforcements from the other tribes that are adversely effected by the logging will probably not be able to get to the camp in time, so as to allow one big en masse.
A straight-up fight with just the elves and the mercenary forces guarding the loggers is unnwinnable for the elves. The mercenaries have some defenses (walls, a couple of short towers, and a moat with spikes at the bottom), equal numbers with the elves, and superior equipment (a metal sword can cleave the elves' skin, but a wooden spear cannot pierce metal chain mail).
A full-frontal assault on the camp would require all three tribes participating to put it in the probable win range for the PCs. Thus, tactics are a necessity.
Perhaps the elves can draw out and distract the mercenaries, while the dwarves sack the camp and the goblins attacks the mercenaries from behind. Or set fire to to side of the wall, to distract the mercenaries as they try to put it out, and attack another. Or quickly construct a catapult to destroy the wall- an onager would be the easiest, since all you'd need is wood and rope, both of which the elves could probably provide. Of course, ingenuity is prized.
The elves and the PCs will have an opportunity to plan their attack, so they have a chance to make their brilliant battle plans (or, as is perhaps more likely, hare-brained schemes). The elves have a map of the logging camp, though they don't know the layout of any buildings within the complex (buildings like barracks of mercenaries, barracks of the loggers, mess hall, etc.). This map was drawn up from knowledge gained from climbing a tree and looking in, so most of it is inaccurate.
Once the battle is won, allow the PCs to find money, equipment, treasure, and a symbol that leads them to find out that this whole thing was just the small part of a wider evil plot by a shadowy organization...
The logging company has been mentioned as being illegal. It is. As I explain in http://strolen.com/guild/index.php/topic,6287.msg77402.html#new, Tauria and Obstaria have made logging operations outside the human borders illegal, so as to minimize human/barbarian interactions.
The second thing I should mention is that the above plot is not designed to be an outcry against immoral logging operations, nor a pro-environmentalist piece. I simply took decisions I had previously made in my forging of Atheus to produce this plot. If you do take and use this plot, feel free to make it as environmentalist as you want, but do not propagate rumors that I designed to be environmentalist.
Third: if the above plot is too simple, feel free to add that the logging company was an evil cult summoning some horrific demon in their camp there, and that the logging was supplying the cult with funds for the demon summoning. Or that there's a magical spring of some sort that the logging company has discovered, and has claimed (this spring was known by the dwarves and was not shared, too gain an advantage over the other tribes), and that the company is using it for its own nefarious needs- such as grotesque experiments, heinous torture, etc. Naturally, feel free to add to this.