This summer has been tough for gaming. Vacations and other obligations have made it difficult for us to get a regular game schedule going. With that settling down, our regular schedule is going to be better. We’ve been playing in person as all of us are vaccinated and healthy. With the various mutations on the move, I don’t know how long that will last.
I hope we don’t have to go back to online gaming. It was great that we were still able to meet up every week and game during the first year of the pandemic. Online gaming kept me sane and I am grateful we were able to do that, I prefer being together.
We started the campaign with a session of Microscope wherein we formed the history of the campaign setting. I suppose that would be a session “zero” of sorts. Using Microscope to create a setting was new for most of the group but they got into the spirit of it once we played a couple of rounds.
We hashed out an odd but coherent set of ideas that became the historic background of the setting. The history included a mysterious red obelisk that was broken apart into smaller pieces and imparted magical energy to those who found the shards. The age of “musicals” which were central to the political processes of a great empire. There were beings who evolved to have body parts that made music. Magical judicial duels. Empires rose and collapsed. Great temples fell.
The campaign begins in the riverside town of Dragon’s Bend. Dragon’s Bend is a camp built on the ruins of an ancient town at a bend in the Deena River. Deena is the goddess of speed and swiftness. The river is named after her. At the bend in the river the fishing is good and it the river itself protects the camp on three sides. It had been temporary or seasonal camp for living memory. The reason no one had occupied the site on a permanent basis is the proximity to danger.
Down river to the east, there is an ancient outpost consisting of a single tower and a wall. It sits on a narrow point in the river. A mere half day away from Dragon’s Bend the location had a reputation of being haunted and the land unclean. The tower itself was old. The quarried and fitted stone it was made of was constructed with a skill no one living can match. A strange plaster tinged with a red pigment was applied to the walls long ago, now crumbling. The people call it the Red Fort.
To the southwest is the palace of the sorcerer ox, Vitallis. His minotaur guardians watch over the lands Vitallis claims and discourage visitors who come without gifts.
North of the river are the Draug. A hybrid people of wolf, bear and man. Some say a wizard made their progenitor. Others say that men and dog-men used to be Draug but were split off from their ancestors. The forests on the edge of the steppe are the domains of the Draug clans. The Draug raid across the river when it suits them but they prefer to trade amber, furs, honey and slaves. Boatmen further down the river come to trade with the Draug in the spring.
Further north where the land rises toward the distant mountains live the simple hill-people. The Draug raid the hill folk who are poor and have nothing anyone wants but their labor. The Draug carry away entire villages as slaves to sell to the boat-men and the chieftains’ of the steppe-men.
To the south a few days ride on the steppe are some old mounds with megaliths. Ancient kings are buried there. Undead haunt those lands and and no one grazes their herds there. It is a dangerous place where the dead are restless.
Three days to the south is the abandoned, ancient underground palace of Empress Zelaya. There are many legends about the hypogeum. It is said to contain the treasures and wisdom of the ancients. Sages say there is temple to the old gods where hundreds of singers and musicians would gather to accompany performers acting out epic dramas depicting ancient gods and heroes. Powerful enchantments were sung that shook the rafters of the heavens and the foundations of the underworld.
The dog-men go in packs across the steppe. They herd horses and hunt marmots on the vast grasslands. In large groups they are a danger to villages of men. The packs are constantly fighting each other so their danger is mostly as raiders. The dog-men trade with the steppe men and the Draug. They are good judges of horse flesh. The dog men love the taste of lamb but are not very good shepherds.
The steppe-men are herders like the dog-men. In some of the more civilized languages, these people are called humans. There are many of them but they are as fractious as the dog-men. They herd their animals around the steppe where ever the best grass can be found. The steppe-men stick to the western edge of the steppe. The dog-men stay to the east and there is some overlap between the two people. Since they cannot make children together there are no family ties between them and much bad blood.
On the steppe, there are still manners. Even though the humans and the dog-men fight and steal from each other; they also trade and help each other if there are monsters to be slain.
Caravans of men from the east travel across the steppe. They pass through on their way west. They say there are men to the west who have vaults full of gold and live in tall buildings of stone but no one believes in such tales. Their travels take many years. When they go back east, they buy slaves, honey, furs and mead from the Draug and wool from the steppe-men and horses from the dog-men. There are wizards among them who protect the caravans from raiders and bandits.
To the west of Dragon’s Bend is the largest gathering of men on the western edge of the steppe. There is a big town on a hill. It has a ditch and a tall palisade fence. It is called Oktar’s Town. Oktar is the warlord who claims dominion over the lands in this part of the steppe. Oktar has a reputation as a great warrior prone to fits of murderous rage.
Last spring, Oktar fought one of the biggest gatherings of dog men any grey beard could remember. Not often does a dog-man gather the support of the other packs to be a threat to the human villages.
Oktar led his warriors to Dragon’s Bend and set up camp there. The hill with a river on three sides was easy to defend. He had his hill-people slaves build a palisade and dig a ditch. The usual followers came along and set up in the camp. Oktar spent the better part of the summer in the camp, raiding against dog-men and stealing their horses. The Draug came across the river to trade.
Vitallis the sorcerer did not take any interest in the fighting so long as his herds and his land were untouched. There was little profit in stealing cattle when a sorcerer and his retinue of minotaur warriors would certainly come seeking redress. Oktar and the dog-men kept their fighting well away from Vitallis.
The great gathering of dog-men and Oktars warriors met on the steppe a day south of Dragon’s Bend. There they battled a for a full day. Oktar led his warriors from the front and center of the lines carrying an ancient blade with a piece of the legendary red stone wired to it’s pommel. He already had great renown but this victory was one for the songs. Many dog-men were slaughtered and the rest scattered. The heaps of their bodies fed the vultures for weeks. Oktar and his warriors built mounds for their fallen brothers and rode back to their town.
Many of the camp followers found Dragon’s Bend to be pleasant enough and stayed when Oktar went home. They were the dregs of Oktar’s town. Battlefield pickers, outlaws, merchants of minor goods, and former slaves that had earned their freedom or run away. All of them thought that maybe this camp might offer them a chance to improve their lives.
Oktar was done with it and went back to his long house and his wives. Others heard of the open land and some shepherds came. The pasture was good enough for small herds and now that the dog-men warbands had dwindled, safe enough to graze. The Draug came across the river to trade honey and buy ale. Fishermen found good catches in the deeper water of the bend and moved their families to the camp. There is no chieftain giving orders and telling folk what to do.
There are fights and it’s a rough place but it’s a place with opportunity. The poor folk of the steppe are willing to take a chance.
Dragon’s Bend is one of those places that draw hard people. Men who’ve sat in the saddle beneath the sun so long their faces are tanned like the leather of their tack. Women who are as hard and dangerous as the men. Strange folk who speak different tongues and dress in long gowns of colorful silk and come hundreds of miles from the other side of the steppe. There’s the unusual solitary dog-man, driven out for stealing meat from the pack. The Draug have been coming because it’s closer than Oktar’s Town and the merchants will go wherever the Draug gather with their slaves.
Dragon’s Bend is a place where an adventurer might find his fortune or his doom.