The Blackgate Chronicles (Updated 11/15/21)

Hjorimir

Adventurer
Introduction

Hi, my name is Clay and I go by the handle of Hjorimir (YOR-ih-meer) on the interwebs (@Hjorimir on the Twitters where I post often if you care to follow along). I started playing D&D at the wee age of 8 when I cried long and loud to my dad, so he’d force my brother to let me play. Naturally, I was handed the cleric and thus began of 40 years of me being a TTRPG hobbyist.

This is what I hope is the first of many story hour posts for a new campaign of mine, called The Blackgate Chronicles. It takes place in a setting I call The Eld Earth, which has a strong Sword & Sorcery vibe. Think of it as my love letter to Conan, Elric, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, etc. Stories I grew up on, essentially.

Something I want to address up front are the more troubling aspects of these old stories. Namely exploitation of women and such things as slavery. The setting is a harsh world. Yes, there are all manner of atrocities that serve as a form of tension within the world. While these things will sometimes be spoken to, they will not be celebrated. The PCs themselves are – by rule (and by choice of the players) – anti-slavery, etc. When describing such atrocities, I will attempt to do so with a light hand and instead focus my efforts on the emerging story that comes out of play with my friends.

For the mechanically curious, this is a HEAVILY houseruled 5e campaign. If people are curious after reading, I’m happy to discuss the odd rules, how they work, and why I put them into place.

My mode of DMing is one that leans heavily upon player agency. While there are stories within the setting that I hope the players will cling to, I believe that the true story to be told is that of the campaign (i.e., the story that follows the exploits of the PCs themselves). The camera follows them, not me. I’m lucky that I have a wonderful table of people I love dearly to play with. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Lastly, a disclaimer. I’ve never taken a creative writing course in my life. While I’ve been inspired by many of the great story hours here (Sepulchrave, Piratecat, etc.), I don’t have a practiced hand at writing these story hour posts. I’ll do my best to make them fun, entertaining, and informative for those curious about my DMing style. Please be merciful!

Onward!
 

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Hjorimir

Adventurer
Dramatis Personae

When the campaign starts the characters are 2nd level, which means that other than the cleric and wizard, we don’t have subclasses yet. It will be interesting to see their choices at 3rd.

Antoine Lemarc, Le Dague des Corbeaux (aka The Magpie)
human rogue 2 (criminal – thief)
STR 16, DEX 16, CON 16, INT 15, WIS 12, CHA 7
Acrobatics, Athletics, Card Tricks, Deception, Sleight of Hand*, Stealth*, Thieves’ Tools
Dagger (+5, 1d4+3 piercing)

Halloran
human tempest cleric 2 (acolyte)
STR 18, DEX 9, CON 15, INT 10, WIS 16, CHA 13
History, Insight, Persuasion, Religion
Warhammer (+6, 1d8+4 bludgeoning)

Rhynn
half-elf evoker wizard 2 (hermit)
STR 11, DEX 10, CON 13, INT 18, WIS 12, CHA 14
Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, History, Medicine, Religion
Dagger (+2, 1d4 piercing)

Shepherd Thawn
human ranger 2 (hermit)
STR 18, DEX 17, CON 15, INT 9, WIS 15, CHA 13
Athletics, Herbalism Kit, Medicine, Nature, Survival
Quarterstaff (+5/+5, 1d6+4 bludgeoning) – I allow him to “dual wield” the staff

T’bidi Kitwana
human fighter 2 (acolyte)
STR 16, DEX 16, CON 16, INT 15, WIS 15, CHA 12
Athletics, Insight, Perception, Religion
Spear (+5, 1d8+3 piercing)
 

Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 1, Part 1 – Under the Knife
Oathday, 5th Gozran, 817


The World of Blackgate (4k).jpg


Rhynn struggled with the red-shrouded men as they bound each of her wrists in heavy rope. Is this it? Is this how it ends for me? I had only just started this life of mine!

As the wizard was being bound, a woman, also draped in red robes stepped forward. “Your blood will feed the Cardinal Mooooon!”

Rhynn sighed. The chief crazy amongst the crazies.

The priestess smiled and caressed Rhynn’s hair. “Cardinal, like the mooooon… Such delicate features. I do believe you’ve the touch of the fey in your blood. Delicious!” She licked her lips.

“You’re insane!” Rhynn spat.

The woman smiled and nodded once as she raised a curved dagger overhead. She began to chant as Rhynn was forced backward and splayed across the top of a large tree stump in the woods. Rhynn gasped as she looked upon the night sky. There hung a red moon. A moon that she had never once seen before. A moon that did not exist.

“Impossible!”

~

Shepherd Thawn stopped his run to take a brief respite against a tree. Sweat dripped from his grey hair upon his weathered face. At this pace, his lungs burned. Indua preserve! He looked upon his shaking hands. Surely my companions suffer more. They’re not used to moving this fast through the wilds…in the dead of night no less!

Bushes cracked as the Northman stumbled through, torch in hand. His face was beet-red, his breath ragged.

“Halloran, take a moment,” Thawn said, his own breath slowing.

Halloran nodded once as he leaned and fell to one knee, his heavy chainmail chimed with the thud. He looked close to vomiting. “Rhynn…” was all he could say. His head hung low, as he steadied himself upon his warhammer.

The ranger nodded. “We’re not far now. These tracks are fresh. We’ll make it, but you’ll need your breath in you when we catch them.” He’s strong, but he carries a lot of weight with that armor.

The warrior, T’bidi, arrived next. “Why have we stopped?!” she asked as she balanced herself upon her spear. She was also clad in heavy chain armor, but she kept to her feet despite heavy breath and sweat drenching her dark skin.

Thawn saw the trembling in her legs, but the look in her eyes was one of determination. “Just a moment, so we’ll be ready to fight.” He looked about. “Where is Lemarc? All of this started with him.”

“I am here,” the voice came from the shadows.

Thawn flinched. How does he do that?

“We don’t know why these cultists hound us…or why they do anything for that matter,” the thief continued as he slid out of the shadows into the light of Halloran’s torch. “We only know they’ve abducted our wizard.” He mopped sweat from his curly black hair with the back of his arm and looked about.

“This map better be worth it!” Halloran challenged.

“Let us hope,” Lemarc said as he nodded. “Shall we?” He gestured forward.

Halloran climbed to his feet and shouldered roughly past him.

“It would seem so.”

~

Rhynn fought back tears. I am a child of the Spark. Will I join with it in the afterlife? It? Him? Her? So many questions left unanswered. Where are they?!

Each of Rynn’s wrists has been tightly bound in heavy rope. At the end of each, a cultist leaned and pulled. Her shoulders screamed in pain. The priestess – still standing over her with that ceremonial dagger brandished high – droned on, but her voice seemed distant, so lost was the wizard in her own mind as she stared past the red moon into the depths of space beyond. From ebon maw spat ‘cross the cold, hither did come the hates of old…

A distant shout brought the priestess up short. No, not a shout, but a dying scream. Rhynn found herself smiling.

“See to the interlopers!” the priestess screeched. “The ceremony is not yet complete!”

~

From Lemarc’s point of view, it appeared that the cleric’s warhammer had found its way to grey pudding as Halloran bellowed and dropped a thunderous blow upon the face of a cultist. “Röth!” he bellowed. For what he lacks in grace he makes up for in fury.

The thief moved forward, sliding through the deep shadows provided by the canopy of leaves overhead. He saw the dark silhouettes of the cultists coming in from multiple directions as they descended upon Halloran, T’bidi, and Thawn who was far out ahead, charging deeper into the woods.

While the Northman wailed upon a trio of cultists to his right, T’bidi was completely surrounded in a sea of red robes to his left. He heard the shepherd call Rhynn’s name once from beyond. Choices, choices.

A cultist ran past the thief in the dark. Lemarc’s arm snapped out, dagger in hand, and he proceeded to do a cutter’s work upon one of the man’s kidneys. The cultist was already silent as he hit the ground and slid to a halt in the dark leaves.

Beyond, the din of steel could be heard as the red-robed men surged upon T’bidi. Though she was set upon on all sides, her shield and spear – as well as her heavy chain armor – turned all of their blows away. I’m pretty good in a scrap, but that one’s a fighter!

A thrust of her spear caught one under the chin and out through the side of his head before she pulled it out to leave him gurgling on the ground. She slid back out of their circle, leapt over a fallen tree, and braced her spear in anticipation. One of the cultists charged as he screamed to the moon, scimitar swinging in a wide arc over his head only to run himself up the length of her spear along the way. T’bidi booted him off and faced the others, the point of her spear poised like a serpent ready to strike.

~

The three cultists surrounded Halloran as they cut at him with their curved blades. “Röth take you!” the cleric shouted as he stepped through their number, turned, and released a thunderwave. The rupture left two of them reeling. The body of the third shuddered and distorted unnaturally as the surge of power liquified his innards. He dropped to the ground as a slop of flesh.

The two remaining cultists pressed forward again. One of their swings found a gap in Halloran’s hauberk and blood started to flow. The bear of a man spat blood from his thick, flaxen beard. “Time to die, Looooonatics!” he said, mimicking their ridiculous speech.

Halloran swung up…and then down upon one of their heads, reducing the man’s height by half a hand’s width. The cultist slumped lifelessly to the ground. His next swing came up and caught the remaining one in the midsection, forcing the man to topple forward. Looking across to where T’bidi was once again becoming surrounded, he shouted, “Save some for me!”

~

Thawn saw Rhynn being held upon her back. Over her, shrouded in ruddy light, a red-robed woman held aloft a dagger and chanted toward the night sky, her voice reaching ever higher. “Rhynn, hold on!” he called to his friend.

A cultist pounced upon Thawn out of the dark as he charged forward. A swipe of a scimitar drew blood from the ranger’s thigh. Thawn grimaced as he retaliated with his staff. A sudden jab to the cultist’s solar plexus left the man gasping for air at his feet.

The priestess was now staring at Thawn. She brought down one hand in a sweeping motion and a spire of red fire descended. Thawn leapt to his right, evading the magic of her spell, causing her to hiss in frustration.

He continued forward and again she called her magic upon him. “Be held!” she demanded. Red moonlight shone upon him from nowhere. Thawn quickly touched the smear of red clay that the length of his nose – a mark of his devotion to Indua as her priest – in a warding gesture. The magic of the spell rolled through and past him as he shook it off. “Stop him!” she cried. “The ceremony must be completed!”

With the priestess distracted, Rhynn acted. Now’s my time! She kicked out…feebly. In response, the two men holding the ropes that bound her arms leaned further back causing her to groan in pain.

“Settle down you!” one of her captives said. “We’re going to feed you soon.”

Huh?

“…to the moooon,” he continued.

Thawn arrived, swinging his staff upon the taunting cultist, but the man ducked under his swing. “Priestess, save me!”

“He shall be finished!” she replied. The athame in her hand began to glow with red light as she cast inflict wounds. When the tip of the dagger entered Thawn’s shoulder, dark tendrils raced from the wound and began to eat from his flesh. The ranger gasped and began to falter, his eyes wide in pain.

Holding his staff level in two hands, Thawn swung twice. The first strike sent one of the cultists holding Rhynn’s bindings to the ground. The second cracked into the shoulder of the priestess causing her to wince in pain.

With one hand free, Rhynn rolled from atop the stump…and somehow managed to completely entangle herself in the dangling ropes as she now stood restrained in front of her second captor. Are you kidding me?!

Her captor smiled and began to draw his blade, a wicked gleam in his eye. Rhynn arched an eyebrow at him before uttering a word of power. A word that brought with it three purple darts that whirled through the chill air in circles before two of them pierced through the man causing him to drop to the ground as smoke billowed forth from the holes. The third struck the priestess who now stood shakily, her strength waning before a final crack of Thawn’s staff sent her to the ground.

The remaining cultists were dealt with in short order…
 



Azkorra

Explorer
I've not yet read the actual story but, whoa, does that map look brilliant! Intriguing geography, evocative names and descriptions! Great stuff!
 


Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 1, Part 2 – The Offering
Fireday, 6th Gozran, 817


Halloran poked at the fire with a stick, sending a small spattering of embers into the chill, morning air. A light rain had begun during the early hours of the morning and the sky overhead looked like it wouldn’t be letting up any time soon. The cleric approved. Storms were the province of Röth, his god, and the showers brought the Northman comfort. His companions, however, didn’t seem to share his sentiments as they huddled close to the hissing flames, seeking its warmth.

“Lemarc, are you sure that this Cult of the Cardinal Moon aren’t connected to this map we’re looking for?” Thawn started, breaking the morning silence.

The thief shrugged. “I don’t see how really. I purchased from a reputable informant through my contact in Skarn,” Lemarc explained.

“Reputable.” T’bidi let the word hang in the air.

Halloran snorted.

“Okay, maybe reputable is a bit of a stretch,” Lemarc admitted. “Still, the lead should be good. I can’t explain how this might have drawn the interest from our red-robed friends. What I do know is that there’s a man called Bushar in the village of Black Hollow and he bears a map that is said to lead to a great treasure. We still like treasure, right?”

Thawn looked at him flatly.

“All I’m saying is that we’ve come this far, so let’s see where it takes us.”

“It takes us east,” Thawn said as he stood up. “Let’s be on about it.”

~

It was past noon when they came across the tracks. The ranger squatted to get a closer look while the others waited a few paces back so as to not foul the trail.

“What do you see, Thawn?” Rhynn asked.

Thawn held up a hand and continued to walk a slow circle as he considered what he was seeing. He looked up and shook his head. The rain isn’t helping.

Lemarc started to say something snide, but T’bidi held up a hand, cutting him off. “Thawn?”

“Well, as best I can tell, we’ve got three people who are being pursued by a group of five,” he explained.

“Not a fair fight,” Halloran added.

“Not sure it’s a fight at all,” Thawn replied. “The three fleeing were wearing soft boots. A poor person’s boot. These five, however, these are heavy of heel. A soldier’s trapping.”

“All are warriors in the north,” the cleric added.

“We’re not in the north,” Rhynn said still thinking about her own encounter with being chased – and captured – just the day prior.

The Northman lowered his eyes in understanding. “Then we follow.”

The others nodded.

~

It was late in the day and the sky still cried. The group stood before a large tree from which hung two men. Farmers by the look of them. Each was hanging upside down and had been opened from navel to neck, allowing their innards to spill out upon the ground.

T’bidi waved some flies from her face and advanced for a closer look. “Can you tell how long they’ve been dead?”

The shepherd frowned. “Let me take a look,” he replied and started a careful examination.

T’bidi considered the ranger. This isn’t a tracker’s task, but that of a physician. He seems almost comfortable with the gore. Her dark eyes fell to the empty scabbard that Thawn always wore. There’s a story there…but perhaps one for a different time.

Thawn shook his head and pointed. “They stirred the entrails. Almost like some kind of ceremony.”

“They were being read,” Rhynn said. “A divination.”

Halloran spat. “That’s what goats are for. Not men.”

“But there are only two here,” Lemarc said. “I thought there were three.”

“I’ll look,” Thawn replied.

“Wait,” Halloran commanded as he walked up to the ranger and placed a large, calloused palm upon the old man’s forehead. “Röth guide this hunter. Let his trail be true.” A distant peel of thunder was heard.

Thawn found the trail in short order. “Here!” he said pointing. “One escaped. From the look of these other tracks, the five then spread out looking for him.”

“We may save one yet,” Rhynn added.

“Maybe,” T’bidi said as she laid her hand upon the wizard’s shoulder and gave a small squeeze. “Maybe.”

~

Night was coming fast, and the ranger had paused to look at something.

“What is it?” Lemarc asked.

“The tracks…” Thawn said darkly. “No longer a run, but a staggering limp. One way or another, we’re close.” Without further explanation, the ranger continued following at a jog through the cold rain.

~

Shortly thereafter, they found him. The old man lay face down in the mud and grass. Shepherd Thawn turned him over carefully. The old man lived, but it would not be for much longer. His breath was ragged, his fingers gnarled, and his eyes rolled upward.

“Please,” he begged. “Do not sacrifice me!”

“Rest, friend,” Thawn said. “We are not your enemies. Who are you?”

“Mercy of the gods!” the dying man answered before coughing a spot of blood.

Lemarc kneeled and propped the old man up upon one of his knees to settle him as the others gathered around.

“My name is Pran,” the old man said. “Please, help my family! They are near! Save them before they are found. To the east is a creek, follow it left and you’ll find their camp.”

“Halloran, can you help him?” Rhynn asked.

The cleric looked down upon the man and shook his sadly. “Röth’s blessing heals the wounds of battle. This one is spent. He will sing with his ancestors soon.”

Lemarc tried to give Pran a snort of whisky, “Here, to ease your way,” but the old man pushed the flask aside.

“Take these things. I offer them to you. Save my family!” he begged. The old man fumbled at his belt. A belt that held a sturdy handaxe and small pouch. “Please…” he began, but fell into a fit of coughing, his mouth filled with blood.

Pran passed with a lingering sigh.

Thawn closed Pran’s lifeless eyes that stared up into the rain and placed a coin upon each. “For the boatman.”

After a moment of silence, Lemarc spoke up. “This is no poor man’s axe. It’s of sturdy make,” he said offering it up to the cleric. *

“Better than anything I carry,” Halloran said taking the axe to turn it over in his hands.

“It should go to his family,” T’bidi stated.

The Northman nodded. “Yes, but after it tastes the blood of those who wronged him.”

“Look here,” the thief added. “A jet of some value and a key…and no simple key at that. This is intricate and made of steel.”

“Who was this man?” T’bidi asked. “These are not the trappings of a simple farmer.”

“He was somebody’s son. He was somebody’s husband. He was somebody’s father. He was somebody’s grandfather,” Halloran said. The creak of leather could be heard under his white knuckles as he grasped the axe tightly.

T’bidi stepped to the side and used the butt of her spear to draw a stylized likeness of Pran in the mud. She then lit a small fire near it. “To keep him warm in the cold embrace of death,” she explained.

The others turned and watched her ceremony in silence as she continued by pouring some water from her skin and laying out some of her rations upon the image. She then placed his belongings, the axe at his hip, the jet in his hand, and the key upon his heart. She then stood and spoke words in her native language before cutting the palm of her hand with the tip of her spear and let her blood run into the drawing. I know not who you were in life but know that the spirit of a living warrior will protect you in death. She then walked away and began to gather her belongings.

Lemarc waited a moment before bending down to recover the belongings. Halloran raised an eye as the thief stuffed the axe into his belt. “I’ll make sure it drinks its fill,” he said to the cleric. **

~

It was well into night by the time the party found the eastern creek that Pran had told them about.

“We turn left to find the camp,” Rhynn said eagerly.

Thawn nodded as he looked about as his companions. In the light of his torch, he could see that each breathed heavily. “We need rest,” he said.

Lemarc nodded, “Agreed.”

“No, we should press on to the camp!” Rhynn said. “We need to save Pran’s family!”

“There’s time enough to rest after battle,” Halloran added as he stepped up beside the wizard.

The four of them looked to T’bidi in unison.

“T’bidi,” Rhynn said, “You’re the deciding vote.” The plea in her voice obvious.

T’bidi frowned as she looked between the two groups of her companions. She slowly shook her head and let loose a long sigh. “I say we rest.”

A tear slipped from Rhynn’s eye…lost in the rain.
 



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