The players in my latest game all work at an excellent local tea house. It is a fantastic place for weaning yourself off sugary soft drinks, great conversation, and preparing to run RPG sessions.
There are many traditional teas there with interesting names and they struck on the idea of naming and/or theming their characters after some of them.
Osmanthus, Tiefling Warlock. Osmanthus is one of several teas made with flowers from the Osmanthus fragrans plant. Curled horns that blend in to curly hair, curvy and of somewhat ambiguous gender. Claims to have a restaurant back in the city.
Dragonwell, Dragonborn Druid. The literal translation of Longjing, a pan-roasted green tea. Small for a dragonborn, anxious and obsessively brushes her teeth.
Igom Ternin, Human Paladin. Named by way of acronym for Iron Goddess of Mercy, an oolong tea which is named for the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Rustic and earnest, carries a big axe.
Cha’ti, Apeling Monk. Inspired by Golden Monkey, a black tea, as well as the legendary figure Sun Wukong. Metallic golden fur, except for his perfectly white tail. Tiny but fast as lightning.
After meeting the heroes of our nascent story during the character creation session, I decided to set the campaign in The Forgotten Realms. There are analogs for many medieval Asian cultures in the land of Kara-Tur. It is the far east of the same super-continent that Faerun is on. Between the two there is a fantasy Silk Road called The Golden Way. Adding Faerun’s tea trade as a feature of the story seemed like an organic way of reinforcing the tea house theme. We are using the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition rules.
The adventure begins in the region of Thesk, who’s major city Telflamm serves as the Western end of the trade route and a significant port on the Sea of Fallen Stars.
Our heroes were offered work by one Marland Hane, an agent of the Shou Lung Merchant-bank, Telflamm branch. This serious orc with a military bearing informs them that they’ll be guards for a caravan leaving Telflamm for Almorel. Their secret mission while guarding the caravan is to determine if the halfling brothers, long time partners of the bank, are skimming a little extra off the top. Their losses have been suspiciously regular for the last few years. Magistra Cithra, head of the Telflamm branch, appreciates the relationship the bank has with the Three Sons Caravan Company but will only allow a certain amount of grift.
The journey will take two months each way and leaves presently. Dragonwell has prior experience as a caravan guard though only within the boundries of Thesk, never so far as this. Hane has provided a letter of introduction to the caravan masters from one of her previous employers. It includes a vague endorsement of her three companions, most likely added in exchange for some coin.
At the assembly area they meet their traveling companions for at least the next four months. During the first two weeks they get to know them as they walk along the wagons and camp outside of the towns along the Golden Way working their way East through Thesk.
The Three Sons Caravan Company
Vigor Wheatbane. The older of the two halfling brothers and the caravan master. A gruff man who’s halfling cheer manifests mostly in twisted smiles between his generous chops and the occasional eye roll.
Gerold Wheatbane. Vigor’s younger brother, caravan guide, and cook. Slightly more cheerful than Vigor but still surprisingly dour for a halfling. He provides two meals a day and even has two different herb blends for variety, Much to Osmanthus’ dismay.
Myrtle Wheatbane. Gerold’s teen daughter, on her very first caravan trip. Covers her hair dark hair with an over sized felt traveler’s hat. Rumored to be a mean shot with a sling.
Guard Captain Hez. A Stern but fair Orc who keeps the rest of the guards in line.
The Rest of the Guards:
Kogur. An enomrous half-orc, even bigger than the Captain. She scowls extra hard at the party and frequently comments that they won’t be any help in a fight.
Jerveil Redbloom. A haughty human woman with a scowl for everyone, especially the newcomers. Has just enough minor facial scarring to indicate that she is an experienced guard.
Glaboral Kav. Kav thinks very highly of himself, his hair, Jerveil, and little else.
Gregor Frostmane. A human of Tuigan descent. He keeps to himself though he is the most knowledgeable about the lands the caravan will be traveling in.
Chou Pei. Human, good for a chat or a game of cards or dice. Snores. Loudly.
Thyrek. An older Dwarf who just wants to smoke his pipe and lose himself in thoughts of the past.
Shai Fang. A brash human and martial artist, she is easy to talk to on account of her positive outlook and demeanor.
Olida Shieldsnap. Another half-orc. Not near as large as Kogur. She has an unfortunate overbite and like some of the other guard, she keeps to herself.
Auvur Mindosel. A scruffy, friendly, and often oblivious fellow. His lute playing makes him welcome a welcome companion on long journeys.
As untested new recruits the party is assigned to the middle of the convoy with Thyrek the Dwarf. He is poor company but Osmanthus manifests some compelling charm to convince him to come to one of the towns with the party during a nightly stop. However, he refuses to enjoy the experience.
After loading aboard ferries to cross the Mulsantir River the party leaves the wagons behind in the fortress city of the same name. It will be the last vestige of civilization until they arrive in Almorel, deep in The Endless Waste.
Now walking with a string of twenty pack horses and mules the caravan makes its way up the Sunrise Mountains. At the highest point of the pass the brothers call a rare early halt for the day. They pass out some spirits for their a to commemorate the moment, leaving Faerun is momentous, even for the road weary halflings.
While the guards and their employers enjoy the drinks Kogur, Jerveil, and Kav decide to make good on the not so subtle glares they’ve been giving to our heroes since the assembly in Telflamm. It is time to find out if the party can handle themselves in a fight, if they can be trusted should an attack come in dangerous land on the other side of the mountains. They seem especially concerned about the small monkey man, and the tiefling who is accused of being “soft”.
A wager is set and the two groups square off. With blinding speed Cha’ti strikes at Jerveil, feinting with his staff and dropping her with a punch to the ribs. Igom and Kogar advance on each other with their axes. The half-orc lands a brutal hit on Igom, staggering her. Dragonwell, clearly inebriated, summons thorns from the earth to drag Kav to her then sends him to that earth with a chop from her sickle. Osmanthus unleashes her eldritch magic in a lackadaisical but powerful blast at Kogur. Siezing the distraction Cha’ti effortlessly delivers a chopping strike to Kogur’s neck, completely incapacitating her. Igom prays for healing from Chauntea quietly as the three guards slowly pull themselves off the ground. Bewildered, Kogur begrudgingly admits that the newcomers can in fact handle themselves.
As they leave the mountains and enter the grasslands Captain Hez explains to the party that it takes only a show of numbers to ward off trouble in Thesk but in the Wastes they may very well need to fight. The various tribes that populate the steppes are to be engaged only if the rugged horsemen insist on a fight. Their horse archers are legendary and she hopes that they will be happy with the usual amount of extortion in exchange for passage through their lands. Fortunately they will typically only attack caravans for sport and are unlikely to make an effort to kill, hoping only for a spirited fight and an extra share of the goods.
Centaurs rarely attack caravans but should the primal folk decide to they will be very, very serious. And if a band of Gnolls is sighted, Hez very seriously warns that they will certainly attack and with a bloody minded ferocity at that.
Vigor and Gerold become noticeably tense now that they’ve descended the mountain path. At every stop they seem to be taking inventories of the goods the pack animals carry. The other guards look mostly outwards, uninterested in the antics of the halflings.
Osmanthus aproaches Myrtle, applying hoping for insight in to their behavior. She admits that they’re stressed out but says she doesn’t want to share family secrets. She does eventually reveal information but only after some friendly chat and a gift of nuts and berries from Cha’ti followed by some questioning of Osmanthus about her strange demonic heritage.
The brother’s are convinced that the ghost of their oldest brother, Eldon, is haunting them and stealing his share of the profits every time they pass this section of land. The same area where he went missing several years ago.
Osmanthus applies some charm to Captain Hez next who seems to seriously consider the flirtatious warlock before going in to her suspicions that a guard or guards have been responsible for the missing trade goods. No matter how she arranges the watch, how many night she stays awake watching, or how many guards she changes out between trips she has never been able make any sense of the thefts. Much to her frustration.
During the day’s trek the caravan is met by riders from the Khassidi tribe. Their leader Dagun makes a show of pointing out that the caravan is on their land and all of their goods are forfeit. In the end he is happy with some linens and fine wines from far off lands. Business as usual the party is assured.
The adventurers listen and watch closely for signs of misdeeds the following night. The most suspicious event is a horse near the front of the line who snorts as if disturbed when no one in the camp seems to be active. That morning Dragonwell uses her druid ability to speak with animals to question Geral, the third pack animal in the line. Horses are simple creatures who’s sounds translate to simple nouns and verbs for the most part. Geral informs her that his load was lightened in the night by a halfling. He is unable to differentiate them in any helpful way but he does mention that he, nor any other beast could see the halfling in question.
Suspecting a ghost or some other invisible creature the party prepares to watch for another night. Igom hears something this time and checks for the presence of undead with her Paladin senses. Ghosts are ruled out. Osmanthus’s excellent night vision detects the tarp covering a load moving on its own on the mule behind Geral, lending weight to the invisible thief theory.
Dragonwell prepares her Faerie Fire spell the following morning and on the next night Cha’ti hides himself under the fifth animal on the line. When they hear the thief Dragonwell lights up the area with Faerie Fire, outlining an invisible halfling sized person directly over the monk. Cha’ti lunges out to restrain the glowing outline but our thief slips his grasp and sprints out of camp towards the foothills nearby. The party rouses their sleeping members and concocts a barely plausible story for Kav, the other guard on watch.
Cha’ti is hot on the thief’s heels as they leave the range at which their shenanigans should be audible in the camp. With a single blow of his staff he renders their quarry unconscious. Igom is right behind him and immediately restrains the small person with a rope she wisely carried along. Dragonwell hurries back to camp to reassure Kav that all is well.
The paladin heals the bound and glowing thief to restore him to consciousness. As soon as he regains his senses he calls out for help from someone named Noblek.
Igom suddenly finds herself paralyzed, certainly by magic. Osmanthus is next. Cha’ti suspects that the hair-raising tingling sensation that has washed over him twice now could be the spell that has paralyzed his friends. He threatens to harm the captive and a calm clear voice, presumably Noblek speaks from nearby. “Please do not hurt my friend,” he says. Some negotiating ensues, Cha’ti’s disposition towards the speaker warms suddenly, and suspiciously.
Just then Dragonwell returns. Cha’ti asks her to cast Faerie Fire again and sure enough, a tall humanoid form is outlined just in front of them. The druid also feels her regard for the invisible figure increase suddenly. The man agrees to stop restraining Igom and Osmanthus as long as they free his friend. He admits that his small companion has been stealing. Eldon (again, presumably) claims he is only taking what he deserves. Noblek reassures him that they do not need these thefts.
Cha’ti releases the halfling, sneakily swiping his satchel and coin purse while untying him. The faerie fire on the halfling has faded but the party watches, now entirely unparalzyed as the tall outlined figure walks away, probably with his small invisible friend.
The monk finds a mere sixteen silver in the coin purse but the satchel contains 170 electrum pieces along with some bottles of wine and liquor. He returns the bottles to the crates they were removed from but keeps the coins, all unbeknownst to the rest of the party.
The next day dawns with no one else in the caravan any wiser to the real nature of the thefts. All seems ready to continue as normal when Dragonwell gets a strange foreboding from the land around her. Ahead Captain Hez calls a stop. Walking forward to see the issue the party finds that an entire herd of wild horses has been brutally slaughtered. The animals ripped apart, gnawed on, and here and there stuck with crude arrows.
“Gnolls.” Hez announces with distaste and consternation.