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“All right," Treville says as everyone settles into their seats around the table. "Porthos, Athos, Aramis — you've played in this setting before, but since you all have new characters, your perspective on it will be slightly different, and I've been working with Constance and d'Artagnan to develop some aspects of it that haven't been explored in the past."

Everyone nods, looking down at the map weighted down on the table.

"Did you use the industrial plotter to print this?" Athos asks, raising an eyebrow.

"No." Treville says, fooling no one. "That would be a misuse of company equipment. Now, you three will know most of this, but for our newcomers, let me introduce you to Rette."

Rette is what a modern player would call a "low-fantasy world," but to those who live there, it's simply "the world." Magic exists, but it doesn't govern everyday life for most of the population the way it might in a "high-fantasy" setting. Rather, it's a cultural tradition held by some, a powerful resource exploited by others, the influence of the gods in certain religious orders, or just another form of energy that flows through the natural world.

Most of the planet is covered in water, but — like earth — it has an ice cap at each pole, and unlike earth, most of the land is contained in one large continent. This continent, along with its nearby islands, contains a multitude of climates and habitats, from the scorching desert kingdom of Esfah to the lush jungle states of Laa'laanpee', across the arid steppes of the Tagharian khaghanate and into the fertile yet wild lands of the Nomadic Plains. It is believed that all of these lands have been mapped, but rare is the traveller who has seen them all.

Rette has been inhabited by humans and humanoids for hundreds of thousands of years, and evolution has been a shaping force like any other. Climates and landscapes shape individuals and societies, which in turn shape cultures and civilizations. Among the humanoid species that remain to this day are elves and tieflings, though in recent centuries they have become increasingly outnumbered by humans, who have begun asserting (and enforcing) social and cultural dominance over their non-human peers.

The primary setting of this campaign is the Kingdom of Ciâfe, located to the extreme west of the continent. Like its neighbour and rival, Andor, Ciâfe has been slowly but steadily suppressing and restricting the use of magic within its societies. These efforts haven't been uniform, with some areas of the kingdom being much more open and tolerant, and others hiding a history of bloodthirsty purges beneath a veneer of enlightenment. In the current era, the Church of the Monarchy has denounced all gods, deities, spirits, forces, and pantheons but their own: The God of the Church is the only source of magic that is not inherently evil and impure, and the priests and clerics of the Church are they only ones who may call upon magical powers without risking the fear and disgust of onlookers.

Tied to the monarchy as its name suggests, the Church is seated in the royal capital of Ripasse, and the royal family has been linked to the Church for many generations. As a result, Ripasse is one of the least magic-tolerant cities in the kingdom, but its vast population and many sprawling streets have proved impossible to fully rid of unsanctioned practitioners. The existence of an enclave of outcast magic-users is an open secret within the city, though as such it has been targeted many times by rioters, Church clerics, and soldiers attempting to "purify" the district.

Ripasse is located in the north-east of the kingdom and is the closest large settlement to the northern border. To the north and east of Ciâfe is the territory known as the Nomadic Plains, which some citizens of settled kingdoms refer to as "the unclaimed lands." While it is true that the region has not been carved into rigidly defined states, this assumption is a vast oversimplification.

The Nomadic Plains are home to a large number of tribes, clans, and nations with incredibly diverse cultures, traditions, and languages. They may all theoretically share the same land, but migration patterns differ by clan, and no clan travels the whole of the territory, so distinct characteristics have emerged among seemingly similar people.

Despite these differences, there are great friendships as well as great enmity between and among groups, and in many (if not most) cases, the arrival of a neighbouring group into another's vicinity is a cause for celebration and festivities. Some groups intermarry freely, while others are incredibly hospitable and dedicated to one another without physically joining in that way. Most tribes have little interaction with the settled kingdoms of the world, but those living in nearer proximity to Ciâfe (to the west) or the khaghanate (to the east) have become accustomed to interacting with settled people, whether for good or for ill.

"Any questions so far?" Treville asks, looking up from his notes. "I'll give more information as we get further into the campaign, but is that enough to be going off of for now?"

Constance has been furiously taking notes the entire time, and d'Artagnan has been jotting down the occasional bullet point, but the other three are just nodding along as he speaks. They're familiar with this world, after all.

"I think I'm good," Constance says, determinedly punctuating a sentence. "If I forget something you've already said, can I ask you again?"

"Of course — you're free to ask anything at any time, within reason," he adds pointedly, seeing Aramis' eyes light up. Aramis deflates. "D'Artagnan?"

D'Artagnan spins his pencil around his thumb. "Yep, I'm set. Let's geaux."

"I could hear all of the extra letters in that," Athos tells him, pained.

"Good, because my enunciation was flawless."

"Not good, because I've seen how you spell it, and it wouldn't sound anything like that."

"Pry my slidey diphthongs from my cold, dead hands."

"I will."

"Athos' character and d'Artagnan's character murder each other in cold blood," Treville narrates flatly. "Thank you both so much for coming, the remaining three will continue the campaign without you."

D'Artagnan pushes his chair back loudly, and Porthos cackles. "Porthos' character casts reincarnate and brings them back as possums."

"Can your character cast spells?" Athos asks, at the same time Constance says, "That'd actually be perfect, because d'Artagnan's character was already a possum."

"I thought I was going to be the possum!" Aramis complains, slapping his character notes onto the table in disgust.

"No," Porthos says, "you decided you wanted to be a flying sword, remember? The two of you thumb-wrestled for it and you lost."

"If we're both possums now, do we have the same stats?" d'Artagnan asks. "I want to fight Athos for my diphthong rights while we're on an even field."

Treville sighs heavily. "Possum Athos pulls out a blunderbuss and shoots you point-blank."

"Not how I expected to go, but it's an honour nonetheless."

"Porthos reincarnates him again."

"I hate you all," Treville says.

"If we're Redwall-ing this, can I quickly redo my character?" Aramis asks.

"Absolutely not. Now, do you want to get on with the campaign or do you want to get out of my house?"

D'Artagnan pushes his chair back again, but Constance grabs his arm and yanks him down.

"No, Minister," Aramis says. "Sorry, Minister."

"Please let us play, Minister," Porthos tacks on in a high-pitched voice.

"My god," Treville says. Somehow, he always manages to forget how much this group is. "If there are no more questions at the moment, why don't you all introduce your actual, non-dead, non-possum, non-flying-sword characters. Who wants to start?"

"I'll go," Constance volunteers. "I don't want to feel like I need to live up to whatever you lot do."

"There's no wrong way to introduce a character," Treville assures her, "except by reincarnating yourself as a possum."

"I was thinking about doing that, kind of last-minute, but now I'm glad I decided not to. All right, here goes."

Thaïs Liserau is a human woman who has spent her entire life in Ripasse, working in her family's fabric company. They started off weaving and dying fabrics in the more industrial Stormgate district, but were eventually able to move up in the world and sell the fabrics instead of making them. The family store front is now located in Old Town, near to the Military Ward that houses the City Guard.

Although she enjoys the business and recently took it over from her ageing parents, Thaïs is looking for a little more adventure. Fortunately, her proximity to the Military Ward allowed her to meet a few members of the City Guard, who have befriended her and started teaching her how to fight.

There's a round of applause as Constance looks up from her character sheet, and she grins. "Did I miss anything important?"

"Yes, how dashing are your City Guard friends?" Aramis asks. "The people need to know."

"He's 'people,'" Porthos clarifies, hitching a thumb at Aramis.

"It depends on the day," Constance answers archly. "And I have to admit that sometimes they can be a bit on the brainless side."

"As long as that also depends on the day, it's probably a fair enough descriptor," Athos allows.

"So you're a level one fighter?" d'Artagnan asks. "Just to double check."

"Yes. Very new to all of it, but very enthusiastic."

"Hell yeah," Porthos says. "That's the best way to have fun. I can go next, if that's all right with everyone?"

"The floor is yours," Aramis declares magnanimously.

Kairon Damakos, a tiefling fighter with ram's horns, hella style, and no fucks left to give.

"I must know more about the style," d'Artagnan insists, clenching his fist. "I need details."

"Learn through context," Porthos says flippantly. "Do you meet a new person and demand their entire life's story?"

"I do, actually."

"No," Athos argues, "you meet a new person and tell them your entire life's story."

"I can vouch for that," Constance says.

"Give me one more detail," d'Artagnan persists.

"No. I'll just run my fingers through the sleekest, blackest, tightest, most lustrous locks you have ever seen and turn away dramatically."

"Nut," d'Artagnan says quietly, and Constance kicks him under the table.

"Level?" Treville asks, more out of a need to return to something resembling on-track than out of his own ignorance.

"Level four fighter, level three rogue."

"Can I establish that my character is hot for Kairon?" Aramis asks.

Athos peers at him. "Was that ever not established?"

"He's already on your Horniness Table," Treville promises.

Aramis presses his hands together in front of his chest and bows. "Thank you, Minister."

"Aramis' characters are always extremely...amorous," Athos explains to Constance. "We've found that having a random list of targets for his attempted seductions keeps the story moving in unpredictable ways."

"You'll see," Porthos puts in. "Plenty of opportunity to observe the Table in action."

"The Table won't be the only thing in action," Aramis smirks.

Treville loudly rolls a d20 on the table. "Incredible. Aramis' character has just been struck by lightning."

"My character is actually resistant to lightning damage, so..."

"I am one hundred percent certain that he's not, but why don't you tell us what he is."

Miró Cobaría de Santao—

"Wait, 'Mis, go back. I don't think you rolled those 'r's long enough."

Mirrrrrrró Cobarrrrrría de Santao?

"That's better, thanks."

Miró Cobaría de Santao is a half-elven monk trained in the Way of Mercy. He grew up in the village of Santao, on the southern coast of Ciâfe, and was content to remain at the monastery, studying the healing arts and practising philosophical contemplation until an attack on the village forced him to acknowledge that there was more to the world than his idyllic haven. After assisting with the rebuilding of the village, he felt called to better understand the state of the world and so set off as a wanderer, serving as an itinerant healer and scribe in the villages and towns he passed through. After a year or so, he found himself in Ripasse, and shortly thereafter joined the City Guard with his new friend Kairon.

"Aw, that's sweet."

"I’ll go into the details later, but I want to make it clear up front that Miró has no idea how he met Kairon and joined the Guard. It's just a blank spot on his memory."

"So he was on your Horniness Table before you even knew you had a Horniness Table," d'Artagnan says. "That's the vibe I'm getting."

"No, I knew I had a Horniness Table. I think Miró came to discover and embrace his horniness during his wanderings. He joined the monastery fairly young, and lived there for several years before leaving, so he has a lot of catching up to do."

"Aramis, I know this will shock you to your core, but not everyone goes through life in a constant state of arousal."

"Yes, Athos, you've mentioned that before, but Miró absolutely does do that."

"My god," Treville says, yet again.

"So is everyone on the Horniness Table," Constance asks, "or do people have a say in it?"

"The Horniness Table merely determines who Aramis — Miró, sorry — will attempt to seduce, but the general rule we've worked with before is that NPCs have to roll to resist, but player characters can just decide if they want to go along with it or not, and you can opt in or out of being on the table at will."

"We've had fun with it as a bit," Aramis says, getting a little more serious, "but now's probably a good time to remind the group that if there's any element of the game that anyone's uncomfortable with, speak up and we'll address it."

There's a murmur of assent around the table.

"Good to know," Constance says, "but as long as she can tell Miró to get lost, I'm fine with Thaïs being on the Horniness Table. Especially if they've known each other for a little while already, and she knows not to take it too seriously."

"So how long have you know these guys?" D'Artagnan asks. "Character-wise, I mean."

"A few months, I think. I imagine I've run into them in the market and such, and gotten to talking with them, but I wouldn't say we're close friends."

"Got it."

"So, in the timeline of this campaign, d'Artagnan's character is the only one who doesn't know any of the others," Treville points out. "It's not very common to run campaigns that way, but it's definitely an interesting decision."

"I think it'll be fun," Porthos agrees. "Hardest thing will probably be coming up with all the in-jokes we would've had."

"Oh, good call," Aramis says. "Minister, can I get an Inside Joke Table?"

"Tell you what: if you make one, I'll let you use it."

"I've got a set of those story cubes," Constance jumps in. "I don't have them on me, but I can get them to you if you think they'd be useful for that."

"Screw the table idea," Porthos says, "just throw a handful of those down anytime you need an obscure reference."

Aramis bows again. "Constance, Porthos, you honour me with your insight. I'm going to make a note of that, and I'm counting on all of you to remind me if I don't use that to its fullest potential."

"On it," d'Artagnan promises, also making a note.

"I don't think that's what people mean when they talk about the dice telling the story," Treville sighs, "but I did say you could use a table so I suppose I'll have to allow this insanity. In the future, you can use an action to make up some bullshit if you want to, and yes, I do know that I'm going to regret this ruling. Athos, would you like to introduce your character and finish rounding out the Ripasse cast?"

"Of course."

Alos of Dymea—

"Your character's name is Alos?" Aramis demands.

"I couldn't think of any other name that conveys the proper amount of existential exhaustion," Athos says, deadpan.

Aramis considers, then shrugs. "I'll accept that. Carry on."

"So glad to have your approval."

Alos of Dymea arrived in Ripasse two years ago in the travelling garb of a Ranger and carrying little aside from his weapons. Despite his appearance, he favours swords over arrows and has shown himself to be a skilled duellist. He joined the City Guard not long after arriving in the city, and after a period of initial aloofness he became close with Kairon and Miró, and the three of them began to make something of a name for themselves within the Guard.

"Ooh, mysterious," Constance says. "Although now I feel like I've given too much of my character's background away."

"I don't think Thaïs has an awful lot to hide," Porthos points out. "And some people are naturally more open than others."

"Well, by those standards, Kairon's hiding the most. Is that true?"

Porthos flashes her a mischievous grin, which Constance returns. "Right. I'm sure I'll find out."

"All right, then." Treville says. "D'Artagnan, that's you."

"Before I do my introduction, could you set up the scene a bit? Where we all are, and that sort of thing?"

"Sure. D'Artagnan, because you're coming in from a different area, you'll essentially start your action a little sooner than the rest of them so that you can all meet each other the next day. At the moment, I'd imagine the four Ripassennes are having an evening in. It's late winter in a fairly northern region of the globe, so it gets dark fairly early, and the days are generally cold and wet. So I suppose you can either tell me what you're doing now, or in the morning you can just tell me where you are in the city. What would you like to do?"

"I think I'm probably at home," Constance says. "If it's evening, then I've likely closed up the shop and am cooking dinner or just enjoying the quiet."

"Sounds lovely. The rest of you?"

"Alos is drinking heavily in his apartment. I'm assuming he'd have an apartment?"

"You can think of the current era as somewhat analogous to the late Medieval period, so there would be guesthouses divided into rooms for long-term tenants. This being a fictional world, I won't be too strict about adhering to the actual historical timelines of Earth, so even if there weren't apartments in the late medieval period, you can still have an apartment."

"Excellent, thank you. In that case, Alos is definitely drinking heavily in his apartment."

"It's not quite night-time yet, if that changes your answer. It's early evening, maybe four-thirty or five o' clock."

"Alos is drinking."

"I like this character development so far," d'Artagnan says. "I think you can learn a lot about someone from what time they start drinking heavily on a weeknight."

"Yes, Alos is certainly coming across as a level-headed and reliable individual," Treville agrees wryly. Athos shrugs. "How about you, Kairon? What are you doing on this dreary evening?"

"I'm having a hearty meal at a tavern. Something with lots of potatoes in it. And the potatoes have little bits of parsley sprinkled on them."

"Potatoes just so happen to be one of the crop staples of this part of the continent, so you're in luck. Miró?"

Aramis leans back in his seat and links his hands behind his head. "I am likely spending an evening in the intimate company of someone from my Horniness Table, but I'd like to wait to determine who it is until the morning."

"Of course you would. So, the four of you are in town, and d'Artagnan, your character is travelling towards the city."

"Is the weather terrible where I am, too?"

"Yes, I'd say so."

"All right. In that case..."

Coming to a stop near a stand of trees, two figures on horseback look out into the distance, trying to determine how close they are to shelter. Although they're well accustomed to enduring all sorts of weather, they aren't travelling with their traditional round tents and so will need to find a place to wait out the rain.

They are two Masym clansmen from the Nomadic Plains, travelling through the northern part of Ciâfe to learn why Ciâfenne soldiers have suddenly started harassing their people. The older is Banai Khahri, and with him is his son, Kīdu.

"Say the last name again?" Athos requests.

"Khahri," d'Artagnan repeats. "Really get the guttural in there on the kh. Khahri."

"Is your throat gonna get sore after doing that for a while?" Porthos asks.

"No," d'Artagnan says, "I'm immune. I've got throat callouses."

Constance makes a face. "God, never say that again. I will pay you actual money to never say that again."

"Well, I don't have throat callouses," Porthos says, earning another face from Constance, "so my throat's gonna get sore after doing that for a while. Please tell me it's socially acceptable to address your character by his first name."

"Yeah, Kīdu is fine."

“All right, Kīdu, is there anything else you want to say about your character before we get into it?"

D'Artagnan thinks for a bit. "Yeah, I'm definitely going to end up having a sort of competitive hair-envy dynamic with Kairon."

"The poetry of the storytelling," Aramis sighs, looking wistfully up at the ceiling as he leans even further back. "Minister, please commence the scene."

"If you fall over backwards and brain yourself on the floor, I'm billing you for a new carpet. So, Kīdu, you and your father are looking for some kind of shelter in this rainstorm. Why don't you give me a perception check, and I'll roll for Banai."

"Gladly. And I'm proficient in perception, so I add my proficiency bonus to whatever I roll, on top of my...wisdom modifier, right?"

"Yes."

"And we decided that my dad's proficient in nature checks, so can he look for a natural shelter of some sort?"

"It's unlikely that you'd find something like that out here, since it's more or less just flat farmland, but he can try."

"Great." D'Artagnan picks up his die and gives it a hearty shake before letting it skitter across the table. "First roll of the campaign is a natural nineteen," he announces after it lands. "Porthos, thanks for these dice."

"It would've been cooler if it were a twenty," Porthos says, "but a nineteen ain't bad."

"And I add plus two and plus three to that, so that hot nineteen becomes an even hotter twenty-four."

"So hot!" Aramis exclaims. "Minister, add Kīdu Khahri to my Horniness Table."

"After all this time, you still doubt me? Your party members are always on your Horniness Table." Treville rolls his own die with much less fanfare. "Well, Banai rolled a natural three, so thank god for your young eyes. Yes, you do see a low building off a bit in the distance. With a twenty-four, I'll say that even though it's raining rather hard and getting on towards dark, you can see that there's a fairly large stable next to it, so it's probably an inn of some sort rather than just a house."

"Oh, perfect. We'll head towards this inn."

"Was Banai just looking in completely the wrong direction?" Aramis asks, finally letting his chair fall forward with a muted thump.

"He didn't actually look at all; he had an eyelash in his eye and spent the entire time trying to get it out."

"My father has famously loose eyelashes," d'Artagnan agrees solemnly, adopting an interestingly enunciated accent. "It's a common trait among the Masym people. Instead of bald heads, we get bald eyelids as we get older. It is a curse I hope to avoid, so for good luck I will help my father remove the eyelash from his eye."

"To avoid being cursed with loose eyelashes?"

"They can be a real hindrance," d'Artagnan protests, still in the voice.

"Are you trying to sound like Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond?" Constance asks.

D'Artagnan blinks, looking affronted. "No," he says, a moment too late and sounding uncannily like Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond.

"All right, roll a medicine check to help your father and avoid the curse."

D'Artagnan rolls again, releasing the die with a flourish. "That is a twelve, but I add two, so fourteen."

"You're able to get it out without messing up his eye too badly," Treville tells him, then adopts a slightly deeper, raspier timbre:

"Ah, thank you, Kīdu. You know these loose eyelashes are at their worst in this sort of weather."

"I do know that, Father. There is an inn up ahead where we could spend the night, and maybe ask some questions. Shall we go there?"

"Yes, I think that'd be best."

"So you head off towards this inn," Treville says, in his normal voice. "It's a rustic stone building, made of large, rough blocks that have been worn and pocked by wind and rain. Instead of a thatched roof, like you've grown used to seeing during your journey, this building has a roof made of slate shingles. As you get even closer, you see that the area out front is muddy and churned up, like there were recently a several horses walking around out here."

"Ugh, so it might be full," d'Artagnan says, dropping the accent. "That seems kind of odd, though, right? If we're out in the middle of nowhere… Is there a village nearby?"

"There's probably something," Treville tells him. "The two of you have been keeping to smaller towns and villages, but you know that you're getting close to the area around Ripasse, so this might be a popular way-station for people heading into and out of the city."

"I guess it's still worth trying. If they don't have any rooms left, we could probably sleep in the barn. I'm kind of wishing we'd brought our tents, but I know that we're trying to keep a low profile."

"Sorry," Constance cuts in. "Why are you trying to keep a low profile, again?"

"Because soldiers have been attacking our people," d'Artagnan reminds her. "And we don't know why, so making it obvious that we're nomads might get us targeted for some reason."

"Oh, right. Proceed."

"So the two of you have come up to this inn," Treville continues, "and it isn't very loud, like a tavern might be, but there's enough noise to indicate that it's occupied, and you can see people moving around in the common area. It has a friendly atmosphere to it, but most importantly, it looks a hell of a lot warmer and drier in there than it is outside."

"That's all I'm looking for, at this point. I'll probably let my father ask about getting a room, since he's more used to being around settled people, and I guess I'll go over to the stables to wait somewhere until he finds out if we can stay here."

"All right. Banai dismounts and knocks on the door, and a moment later someone opens it and invites him in. You dismount and lead the horses over to the stables, which you find to be modest but sturdily made. The entryway is low enough that you would have trouble getting through without dismounting, and once inside you immediately feel the effect of a solid roof and walls. The wind doesn't reach far past the entryway, and the air is warm with the body heat of several large animals. If you aren't able to get a room, you wouldn't really mind sleeping in here with your horses, but for the moment you simply enjoy the sensation of not being pelted with icy rain."

"One of my favourite feelings," Porthos agrees in a low voice.

"A few minutes later, Banai comes back with a key dangling from a ring in his hand.

"We have a room tonight, and supper if we want it. I'll take your bags up and then come back to help you get the horses settled."

"Thank you, father," d'Artagnan says in his character voice. "And I'm glad to hear it – I don't think your old bones would enjoy sleeping outside tonight."

"My bones are stronger than yours ever have been, but I do worry about my eyelashes."

"They're already so loose," d’Artagnan agrees. "Go on, I'll see you back here in a bit."

"You both work to unstrap your bags and bedrolls from the saddles, and your father goes back out into the rain with them to take them up to the room. You get the horses unsaddled and... What else do you do with horses?"

"I want to brush them down, and can I look around the stable to see if there are any buckets I could use to give them food and water?"

"Sure. There aren't really stalls for individual horses – there are larger pens that look like they can fit two or three horses, but instead of having walls and doors they just have low fences sectioning them off – so you're able to see around the whole building. You easily see that there are some buckets and bags of grain against one of the walls, and every pen has a couple of water troughs already set up. Why don't you give me another perception check to see if there's anything else of interest in here."

"All right. I mean, seems like a pretty ordinary stable so far, but..." D'Artagnan rolls. "Fifteen."

"It is a pretty ordinary stable, but as you look around, you notice that five of the horses are fully tacked and saddled, and instead of being in the pens, their reins are just kind of loosely tied to one of the fence rails."

"Did some people just arrive? Or will they be leaving soon?"

"You don't know. You just notice these horses."

"Can I notice anything else about them? Like what kind of tack they have on, or if there are any weapons I can see?"

"You know horses pretty well, so with a fifteen, you can tell that these aren't exactly war horses, but the style of the equipment looks military. It's a little different than what your people would consider military, but these aren't working horses, and they're not little ponies."

"Are there weapons on them? I have 'danger sense,' so can I tell if there's something off about them?"

"You don't see anything that immediately strikes you as a weapon, and danger sense mostly applies to saving throws, but with the knowledge that Ciâfenne soldiers have been attacking your people, this does give you a bit of a bad feeling."

"All right. Well, I'll make sure I know where my weapons are, and they're with my saddle, as usual, so I guess I'll take care of the horses but keep my guard up."

"You start brushing down your horse, and a couple of minutes later, your father joins you."

"I toss him a brush and we get to work in companionable silence."

"You work for a little while, brushing the horses, getting them some food, going through your usual routine. But after a few minutes, you think you hear a slight noise that doesn't blend in with the rest of the noises in the stable. Give me one more perception check, but I'll let you do it with advantage since you were already on edge."

"I knew this conveniently placed inn and this warm stable were too good to be true," d'Artagnan mutters, but rolls. "First one's a ten, second one's a six, so I'll go with the ten, which goes up to fifteen."

Treville also rolls. "You hear a sound, and instead of dismissing it, you turn around and see a masked man walking towards you, holding a rapier level with your chest. He rolled an eight on his stealth check, so he doesn't get a sneak attack on you, but as you watch, four more masked men enter the stables behind him."

"Aaaaand these are the five soldiers whose horses I saw. Of course they are. I didn't see any weapons on the horses, so do the men have their weapons with them?"

"The only one with a weapon out is the man in front, with the rapier, but at a glance you see that they all have scabbards on their belts, and they look like they're ready to fight."

"Ah, fuck. Okay. I want to just attack them, but I should probably try to talk to them first. So I put my hands up, and I say, 'is there a problem?'"

"The man with the sword drawn steps a little closer to you, almost touching you with the point. His voice is a little lower than sounds natural, like he's trying to disguise it for some reason.

"There might be, barbarian."

"I resist my instinctive desire to headbutt him, and I keep my hands up and say, 'What can we do to avoid it?'"

"Give us your horses, and your weapons, and your money."

"'Our horses? But your own are quite fine.' And as I say that, I make a little gesture towards their horses, to see if he'll glance away, and if he does then I want to hit his sword out of the way and tackle him."

The table erupts in cheers, but Treville just stares at him. "There's a sword an inch away from your unarmoured chest and you want to tackle the man holding it?"

"Not to metagame,” d'Artagnan says, reverting to his usual voice, “but my unarmoured AC is fifteen, and it's a rapier, so it's thin and lightweight, and I'm wearing gloves and well inside his reach, so I think I can just smack it out of the way."

"You're wearing gloves?"

"Yes! It's cold as shit, first of all, and second of all, if I brush a horse without gloves on, all the wet hair will stick to my skin. It's gross."

"Jesus," Treville mutters, but he looks a little impressed. "Fine. This is insane, so he will definitely be surprised, but he's the one with a sword already out, so roll a regular dexterity check against him."

"Hell yeah." D'Artagnan rolls, then winces. "Well, that's a nine."

Treville rolls as well. He lets out a long breath. "He got a natural twenty."

The table erupts again.

"No!"

"Fuck!"

"First crit of the campaign and it's some guy in a mask? This is bullshit!"

"You try to knock his sword aside," Treville continues, "but you're cold and stiff from being out in the rain, and his reflexes are faster and he flicks the blade up before you can hit it. He's going to take an opportunity attack against you... or, no he won’t, because he just rolled a natural one."

Porthos whoops.

"What are the fucking odds,” Treville mutters, looking like he doesn’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted. “He was quick to move his sword out of reach, but he reacts a little too strongly, jerks it up way too high, and really telegraphs what he's about to do. You duck out of the way easily, and his sword slams into the ground. Everyone roll initiative."

"I will roll for my father," d'Artagnan says, back in his character voice. "Can I also roll for him during the fight?"

"If you want to, that's fine with me."

"Then I shall."

"There are four other men there," Treville reminds the rest of the table. "Anyone want to roll for them?"

"Fuck yeah, I'll take one." Porthos picks up his own die. "I'm gonna imbue this with so much fail power."

"Eleven for me," d'Artagnan says, "and an eighteen for my father. My father is a skilled warrior."

"That's a four from me!" Porthos shouts. "Suck it, mask men."

"I'll do one," Constance says. "I have plenty of incompetence to offer. The twenty, right?" She picks up her d20 and gives it a slightly hesitant shake. "Well, that's a seven, so. Guess it could've been worse?"

Aramis reaches across the table for a high five. "Your first ever roll! How does it feel?"

"Not too special so far, but I think that's just because seven is such an unimpressive number."

"Wait 'til you start rolling in combat, you'll love it," Porthos promises, as Aramis puts his own d20 into a martini shaker with a loud rattle.

"I feel like this is encroaching on my character, somehow," Athos says, watching him.

"Treville may be lenient with the timeline, but I will insist that martini shakers did not exist in the medieval period. Get a wine bottle or something." Aramis shakes the dice up and pours it onto the table with a flourish. Then he looks at it, and his smug showmanship evaporates. "Fuck me, that's a sixteen. I'm sorry."

"It's fine, my father can still kick ass. Alos, will you shake a wine bottle for me?"

"I'd love to, but alas I cannot. I will roll, though." He does. "Nine."

"Good enough. Minister, what did the rude man get?"

"He got a three."

Constance cheers. "Fuck yeah! Even I know that's good. What's your dad's name again?"

"Banai. Banai Khahri. Don't forget the guttural."

Porthos and Aramis start chanting. "Khahri! Khahri! Khahri!" Constance joins in.

"My father, a fearsome man despite his loose eyelashes, darts back as the rude man swings at me and draws his scimitar from its scabbard on his saddle. As my assailant falters, off-balance from missing me completely even when I was right in front of him, my father attacks him. And he adds two to his attack rolls, because he is a skilled warrior." He rolls. "Oh. Well. Does a ten hit?"

Treville shakes his head. "It does not."

"I thought not. But my father is not deterred! He uses his bonus action to go into a rage, and then he takes his second attack. Fuck. Does a twelve hit?"

"Still no."

"Great. That's his turn. He did nothing at all. But he is resistant to damage now, so he'll only take half, and... Can I use my bonus action before my turn?"

"No — you can use it before your action."

"Right, yes, that makes sense. So I guess I'll wait."

"Next up is one of the four men behind the man with the sword, and this one used the brief confusion to draw...a flintlock pistol."

"They have guns?" Constance bursts out. "That's a thing that can happen?"

"In this campaign, yes, people can have guns." Treville looks entirely too pleased with this twist. "We've tweaked some aspects of them, but Porthos really wanted to be a gunslinger, so guns exist in this world."

Porthos settles back in his seat, self-satisfied, and is somehow wearing sunglasses.

Aramis sniffs. "Minister, remove Kairon Damakos from my Horniness Table. Temporarily."

"Quick question," d'Artagnan puts in. "Have I seen a gun before? As a character? Are guns one of those things that settled people mess around with but we sensible nomads know better?"

"I don't know," Treville admits. "Your people generally move around close to the Ciâfe border, so it's possible, but I don't want to tell you what you have and haven't experienced. How about you roll a d6, and we'll say one or two, you've never seen a gun before; three or four, you've seen them but never seen them used; and five or six, you know exactly what you're up against."

D'Artagnan tosses his d6 and then slaps it onto the back of his hand like a coin. "That's a two," he announces. "Why is this man holding a thick stick? Is he going to throw it?"

"He draws a pistol and aims it at your father, and for a moment you're confused, but an instant later it apparently explodes." Treville rolls, then huffs a laugh. "Actually, it does explode. He rolls a one, so the pistol misfires. So far this entire fight has just been people missing wildly."

"I have concluded that this thick stick is a distraction device that doesn't actually do anything except make a loud noise."

"Unfortunately, yes. Or, maybe not 'unfortunately.'"

"Great that your dad didn't get shot, but not great that you still have no idea what you're facing," Aramis summarizes.

"Precisely. The pistol misfires, literally exploding in his hand, and it startles him enough that he drops it. He's so frazzled by this that instead of trying to attack with another weapon, he'll take his second action to try to repair it. Let's see if he manages it..." Treville rolls another die. "That's a four, and he needed to get at least a nine, so he does not. His pistol is broken, and that's the end of his turn. Kīdu, that's you."

"Finally. I go into a rage, but I also go into frenzy, so I can make another attack as a bonus action starting on my next turn."

"So you get to make two attacks?" Constance asks.

"Yes, because I, too, am a fearsome warrior. I trust that my father can handle the rude man, so I will use some movement to draw my scimitar, and then I'm going to go around the rude man to attack the man with the noisemaker. I attack—" He rolls. "Does a sixteen hit?"

"Yes. You dart out around the man fighting your father and swing into this other man who just broke his gun. What's your damage?"

"1d6 plus five, so...ten."

"He's very badly hurt."

"But he's still alive?"

"Yes."

"Hmm. These settled people are hardier than I expected. Who will attack me next?"

"The man next to the one you just slashed is also going to try to shoot you, but guess what, he rolls a three and misses wildly. You're starting to realise that maybe these aren't just noisemakers, but you still don't know exactly what they do. He'll take his second attack and try again... He rolled a sixteen that time."

"That hits."

"All right. Because the gun mechanics work a little differently in this campaign than in the standard rulebook, I'll explain how this works. If someone shoots at you and hits, they roll another die to see where you get hit, and then they roll their damage. Depending on where you get hit, you might need to do a con saving throw, or you might take recurring damage for the rest of the combat, but I've tried to balance it so that while having a firearm is an advantage in a fight, it isn't guaranteed to tip the scales irreversibly."

"Do the healing mechanics work any differently?" Aramis asks.

"Not specifically relating to gunshot wounds, but I did make some changes to the healer's kit that should help balance the extra damage done by the firearms. We can get more into the details when it comes up."

"All right, thanks."

"So, Kīdu, this shot is going to hit you, and he's going to roll a d12 to see where. He rolls a three, so it clips your arm, and you've never felt anything like this before. You've been hit with arrows and cut with blades, and this feels a little like those sensations, but also entirely different. It’s not a critical hit in the sense that it’s potentially lethal, but you're still very surprised and thrown off by it. Roll a constitution save, DC five."

"Nine."

"You pass. You almost drop your sword in shock, but you manage to steel yourself and stay focused. Normally a pistol would do 2d10 piercing damage, but you're in a rage so you'll just take 1d10. That's also a nine."

"Eh, I've had worse."

"I don't know what your starting HP is," Athos says quietly, "but..."

"Oh, I'm fine," d'Artagnan assures him. "If that had been an eighteen, I'd be a little fucked up, but a nine is just annoying."

"Okay, good."

"Next up is another of the grunts back here with you, and he's not very confident with his skill in firearms so he'll take a stab at you with his shortsword."

"Bring it on."

"Ten to hit; that one misses. He swings again, and gets an eleven."

"That also misses."

"In that case, he's going to use his action surge to swing two more times."

"Bring it on."

“Nine; misses. Eighteen?"

"Okay, that one does hit."

"That's just one d6, halved, so...a big two damage to you. The fourth and final grunt is also going to go after you, since you're between all of these men and your father, so it doesn't really make sense for them to try to attack him. He's going to try his luck with the pistol." Treville rolls three dice. "That's a sixteen for the attack roll, so that hits, and the d12 is a five, so you get shot in the leg. Con save, please."

D'Artagnan rolls, then blinks. "Well, fuck. I hope this wasn't a super important save because I just rolled a one."

"Your leg buckles under you, and you collapse to the ground, taking four damage from the shot. And while you're down, he's going to use his action surge to shoot at you again."

"Will he roll with advantage, because I'm prone?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

"Great. Can I spit some blood on the ground in front of him?"

"What? No, you've been shot in the arm and the leg."

"Can I bite the inside of my cheek really hard and then spit blood on the ground in front of him?"

"Not without taking extra damage," Treville answers flatly. "He shoots again, and rolls a seven and a four. He misses."

"I bite my cheek for one more damage point and spit blood on the ground in front of him."

"He's horrified."

"Does he drop his gun?"

"He actually dies of fright, and the rest of them flee in terror. He takes another shot with advantage… four and… Fuck, that’s a nat twenty. He crits on you.”

“Jesus Christ,” Porthos groans.

“If I die in the first encounter of this campaign I am coming back as a possum,” d’Artagnan hisses, “and I will give you rabies.”

“Instead of a d12 to determine where you get hit, it’ll be a d4 this time, since it was a crit, and then you’ll take normal damage instead of half. That’s a two on the d4, so he hits you in the leg again. Damage is going to be 2d10… But he rolled like shit, so you only take five damage, but you do need to do another con save. Normally, it would be to see if you stay standing or fall prone, but you’re already prone, so I’ll say that if you fail the con save you’ll have to roll with disadvantage to get back up, and on each of your turns until you’re healed or rested you’ll have to roll a con save to stay up.”

“Hey, Porthos, can we talk after this?” d’Artagnan asks as he rolls. “Actually, that’s a nineteen, so…”

“That passes, so you can use your action next turn to stand up, but you’ll have to keep doing con saves.”

“Great. In that case, Porthos, you’re safe for now. Also, where the fuck did those sunglasses come from?”

“Trade secret.”

“Now that we’ve established how fucked Kīdu is, next up is the man fighting your father, and he will continue fighting your father. He swings with his rapier, misses; swings again, and rolls a fifteen. That hits. Your father takes ten damage, halved to five, and then it's your father's turn again."

"Wonderful. He swings at the rude man with his scimitar, and gets a nineteen."

"Hits."

"Of course it does; he is a skilled warrior. My father does eight damage to this man, then attacks again. Fifteen."

"Hits."

"Another eleven damage."

"This man is looking furious, but he's not incapacitated. Next is the grunt with the broken pistol, and he's going to swing down at you with his shortsword. Ten to hit?"

"Does not hit."

"You roll out of the way, but you get some straw stuck in your gunshot wound."

"Oh, right, because I'm still prone. That does suck, though, because straw is a lot pointier than most people realize."

"We get it," Aramis groans, "you're a farm kid."

"He takes his second attack," Treville continues, "and swings again. That time it's a seventeen."

"Yeah, that hits. Goddamnit."

"Just two damage, though. You get a tiny slice on your face, and it just make you look a little more rugged and wild."

D'Artagnan scoffs. "Impossible."

"Does it comb his hair a little bit?" Porthos asks.

"My hair does not need to be combed, Kairon! It is silky and luscious and perfect!"

"I love that you're saying that while face-down in some straw in a stable."

"It is your turn, now, so you can stand up if you want."

"I do want. I use my action to stagger dramatically back to my feet, shake my glorious hair out of my eyes, and then use my bonus action from frenzy to swing at the man with no honour, who tried to strike me while I was down. Does a sixteen hit?"

"Very much so."

"Seven more damage do the dishonourable man."

"This guy is fucked up, but still standing."

"What?" D'Artagnan explodes. "Damn it, Treville! I feel like I'm getting my ass kicked for no reason!"

"Well, you are getting your ass kicked, but that’s because you wanted to start at level five. And I allowed it, even though I shouldn’t have, so to balance that out you have to face opponents with guns and actual HP."

"Fine. Keep kicking my ass, I guess."

"Thank you, I will. First, though, give me a con save to try to stay standing.”

“Unnatural twenty.”

“Great, you stay up. Next grunt is a little too close to use his pistol, so he's going to use his shortsword. Ten to hit."

"Misses."

"Swings again: fourteen to hit?"

"Still misses."

"Great. He's getting frustrated, so he's going to use his action surge to take two more swings at you... And that's a five and a four. What a waste of an action surge. I truly cannot overstate the extent to which everyone is trying and failing to attack each other."

"My father and I are succeeding."

"Your father is succeeding; you've been shot three times. Let's see... You were shot, fell prone, got shot again, rolled out of the way to avoid an attack, and then got back to your feet, and you're no longer directly between these guys and your father, so the third grunt is going to try to shoot at your father this time." Treville rolls two d20s. "First shot misses, but the second hits..." He rolls a d12, one of the d20s, and a d10. "That's a two on the d12 so he gets shot in the arm, but he passes his con save so nothing happens there, and he only takes two damage, halved to one. My god. It just barely clips him."

"He will be more concerned about the hole in his shirt than the tiny scratch on his arm."

"Fourth grunt swings after you with his shortsword—"

"Of course he does, but I face him gladly."

"—Eighteen to hit, so that hits, and you take two more damage. He swings again, gets a nineteen, does another two damage. How're you looking?"

"Beautiful but angry, thank you for asking. Am I a little messed up? Yes. But it is strangely charming? Also yes."

"So you're not about to drop?"

"Not even close. I take half damage, I can do this all day."

"Glad to hear it. In that case, he'll take his action surge to try to hit you again. He rolls an eleven. Misses."

"These dishonourable, rude, unskilled men are all getting fired after this, right?"

"Depends on who's still alive, I suppose, but they certainly aren't feeling too good about themselves right now. That's the man fighting your father; he'll continue fighting your father." He rolls. "Three. Misses big time." Rolls again. "Five. Also misses. He's furious, but I think he'll save his action surge, so now it's your father's turn."

"My father trusts me to fight four men at once, and I am showing him that his faith in me is not misplaced, so he will continue duelling the rude man. His first attack is...a five. The rude man is not a terrible fighter, just not very good. Second attack will land, because that's a twenty. Not natural. An unnatural twenty."

"That absolutely hits. What's the damage?"

"Eight."

"Nice." Treville makes a note on his sheet. "Also, as a reminder to everyone, a round is technically six seconds. Combat is cumbersome and feels like it takes forever, because everyone has to go one at a time and roll for everything, but in the timeline of the game it's only been twelve seconds. Banai just took his turn, so now it's the man with a broken pistol—"

"The dishonourable man."

"Yes, the dishonourable man. He's going to swing at you with his shortsword... That’s another fucking nat twenty.

D’Artagnan drops his head onto the table and makes a sound between a groan and a scream.

“This is insane, and I actually feel bad about it. You're in a rage, so you'll take normal damage instead of double, but it's still just a d6. Four damage."

D’Artagnan lifts his head up and angrily takes note of the damage. "I hate this dishonourable man. He gets lucky and thinks it means he's skilled. He will try to attack me again, yes?"

"Yes. But he rolls a five, so you dodge. And that's your turn."

"Can I go after the man who shot at my father?"

"Absolutely, but you need to do a con save before you do."

“Nat twenty! My anger at their complete lack of honour is making me strong. I assume that’ll pass, so I shall fuck up some more of them. One is hurt but the other three are unharmed, yes?"

"One of them – the most dishonourable man – is on death's door and the other three are glowing with health."

"They must all be harmed. I swing at him…" D'Artagnan rolls. "Ooh, a sixteen. Is it just me, or have there been a lot of sixteens so far?"

"I think there have been a statistically normal number of sixteens."

D'Artagnan shrugs. "All right. A sixteen hits, though, right?"

"Yes, it does."

"Nice. Eight damage to this no-longer-unharmed man, and then I'll use my bonus action to attack him again. Fifteen, so it hits, and I do another seven damage to him."

"You've succeeded on your mission, because he's looking almost as fucked up as the first one. The second grunt swings at you, rolls a three, swings again, rolls a five. Your footwork is so immaculate that they simply can't land anything."

"How artful are my parries?"

"Aramis, roll for his artfulness." Aramis fires up the martini shaker and pours out a natural nineteen.

"They're stunning. At least one of the grunts is tearing up with awe and envy, especially because you have a scimitar and they just have shortswords."

"Does that mean he'll roll with disadvantage?"

"Absolutely not. The third grunt swings at you, rolls a nine; swings again, rolls a thirteen. You've hit your stride and are blocking all of these attacks so easily. The fourth grunt sees that your blade skills are unassailable, so he pulls out his pistol and takes a shot at you."

"No! Coward! Face me in a contest of skill!"

"He is a coward, and he's also not great with a pistol, because he rolls a four. You don't actually smack the bullet away with your scimitar, but it kind of looks like you do, and it rattles him. He tries again, and rolls a seven. His hands are shaking and he can't aim for shit."

"I want to get all of these cowardly men down super low and then cleave through them all with one stroke."

"That might actually happen, the way this fight is going so far. You've taken the most attacks, but your starting HP is much higher than theirs."

"How much higher?"

"That's classified information and you know it. Next is the man fighting your father, and he rolls a seventeen. It hits, and does... nine damage halved to four. He swings again, rolls an unnatural twenty, does another nine damage halved to four. Your father is by far the healthiest person here right now."

"Man, I'm glad I took the time to get that eyelash out of his eye when I did," d'Artagnan says in his regular voice, before switching back to Kīdu. "My father continues to attack the rude man." He rolls two d20s. "He gets a seven, and then an eleven. Perhaps in my eagerness to cleanse his eye I did fuck it up a little bit. If only I'd had a more delicate touch!"

"Kīdu, I think you fucked up my eye!"

"I'm sorry, father! But you're still kicking ass!"

"I know! You're kicking ass, too, son!"

"That's all I've ever wanted to hear from you! Kīdu glows with pride."

"That's the dishonourable man with the broken pistol, and he's going to keep attacking you with his shortsword. First attack is a fifteen to hit."

"That just hits."

"He gets a lucky strike in through your defence, does a huge two damage, halved to one."

"I'm down! Just kidding. I spit some more blood at him."

"He recoils in disgust and takes another swipe at you. Thirteen. Misses."

"I'm going to kill this man." D'Artagnan rolls, then whoops. "Does a twenty-one hit the dishonourable man?"

"It absolutely does."

"I thought it might. That's a big eight damage. A great eight, if you will."

"Kīdu, you not only kill this man, but you cleave through him and also kill the other grunt who was hurt. You did exactly enough damage to kill both of them."

"Death to cowards! I'm already in a rage, but I'd like to make eye contact with the other two guys back here and make sure my eyes are all big and crazy."

"Your eyes are so terrifying that the second grunt is going to take his last two shots at you. One hits, that's an unnatural twenty, and the other is a twelve, so it misses. He rolls a four on his d12, so you get shot in the arm. Give me a con save."

D'Artagnan rolls; the die almost skitters off the edge of the table before it stills, and Aramis pushes it back over to him with a wink, and d’Artagnan shouts when he sees it.

"Oh, shit! Would you believe that I got another completely natural twenty?”

“He did,” Aramis chimes in before Treville can answer that question honestly. “The dice are spicy today.”

"You've adapted so quickly to these new weapons that you don't even flinch when the bullet hits you," Treville narrates, “and I’ll let those two insane con saves carry you through for the rest of the combat, so you don’t have to keep rolling to stay up. You still take ten damage, though, already halved."

"Hmmm, don’t love that. Is it the same arm as last time?"

"You've passed both con saves, so we can say they're both in your left arm. That way they don't impede your fighting all that much."

"Within thirty seconds of seeing my very first gun I've been shot four times. I definitely know how these things work by now, but I'm not happy about it."

"How are you looking?"

"Much more angry and slightly less beautiful."

Porthos gasps. "No! How's your hair?"

"It's become slightly mussed. This is what makes me angry."

"The other grunt still standing is going to swing at you with his sword... First attack is a five to hit, and the second is a nineteen."

"I hate this."

"Just another two damage."

Porthos cuts in. "Can I remind everyone that while Kīdu is getting destroyed in this four-on-one fight, I'm eating potatoes in a tavern?"

"I might also be eating potatoes," Constance says, "but in the comfort of my own home."

"Alos has just finished one bottle of wine and decided to start in on another one."

"Miró is currently not available for comment on his activities, but he is definitely having more fun than Kīdu."

"Yes, you're all having very enjoyable evenings, except for Alos, who is essentially day-drinking."

"He finds that enjoyable, though," Athos protests.

"Which should tell you everything you need to know about him. Let's all take a moment to imagine everyone else, warm and dry and more or less satisfied with life, and then cut back to Kīdu, who is at this point the most beat-up of anyone still alive."

"Kairon takes a big bite of potato and sighs happily."

"Kīdu, despite being quite injured, you've killed two of the four men you were fighting and your father's more than held his own against the leader. These people did not expect you to fight back; they figured they could just rob you and leave, or else kill you and then rob you, but you're proving to be much more trouble than they're prepared to face. Instead of attacking your father again, the leader is going to use his action to disengage, and then he'll use his action surge to take a dash action to get to his horse to get away."

"Unsurprisingly, he is also a coward. Can I take an opportunity attack as he goes past me?"

"Yes, because he's dashing. If he'd only disengaged then you couldn't, but he shoves your father away, disengages, and then makes a run for it, so you can absolutely take a swing at him as he goes past."

"Good. Twenty-two."

"Surprisingly, that hits. You slice into him as he runs, doing..."

"Another great eight of damage."

"You slash him across the arm, but he gets up to one of the horses—

"My father throws his scimitar at him,” d’Artagnan says quickly. “It's his turn, right? Can he do that?"

Constance laughs, and Treville sighs. "He can try, but I'm going to make him roll with disadvantage since scimitars aren't actually meant to be thrown."

"Psh. Disadvantage won't stop the great Banai Khahri. Oh, ouch, but a natural one might."

"His eye's a little fucked up, remember? His depth perception isn't at its best right now."

"Ah, yes. Forgive me, father."

"Next would be the dishonourable man, but you killed him, so it's your turn."

"These other two can't run away until their turn, right?"

"Correct."

"Then I attack the man who's been shooting at me, because I'm annoyed at him. Also, I just realised that I forgot to take my bonus action on my last turn, so I will attack him twice, with extra fury. Nineteen and ten to hit, so only the first one lands, but I do six damage to him."

"Great. The two back with you are closer to the horses and have a freer line of movement, so the one you just hit is going to take a dash action without properly disengaging."

"So I get an opportunity attack on him?"

"Absolutely. He's a coward, he just turned and ran."

"What a craven man. Does a thirteen hit?"

"Yes, it does."

"Great. Seven more damage to the craven man."

"The craven man is very fucked up, but he's still alive. The second guy is also going to take a dash action, provoking another opportunity attack from you."

"Good. I despise these craven men. Fourteen."

"Hits."

"Great eight damage."

"He thought he was going to get out of this without getting hurt at all, but no, you slice him up. All right, so the leader has gotten up onto his horse – the stables aren't big enough that he needed to use his entire dash movement to reach it, so he had some movement left over to mount up – and it's his turn, and he's angry that he's being forced to flee in disgrace—"

"No one's forcing him to flee but his own cowardice."

"—so he's going to pull out his pistol, which he had in a holster on the side of his horse that you couldn't see, and Kīdu, since you're clearly the most hurt, he's going to aim at you."

"I spit a little more blood at him."

Treville rolls a handful of dice. "First shot is a nine to hit, which misses, but the second shot is a seventeen. He rolls a six on the d12, so that hits your leg again. Do you want it to be the same leg or the other one?"

"Might as well have it be the same one, since I probably already have most of my weight off of it."

"All right, but that'll increase the DC of the con save."

"Fine." D'Artagnan rolls. "Seventeen."

"You pass, so you stay standing, but you take another four damage, halved to two."

"Gross. Two doesn't seem like a lot, but it's adding up."

"That's your father's turn, but he threw his sword, so..."

"Everyone's out of range by now, right?"

"Yes, the three men who are still alive are all on horses, trying to escape this bloodbath."

"Will they have to pass us to get out of the stables, or can they go out another way?"

"There's another entrance at the back, so they're going to go out that way."

"In that case, I think he'll probably hold his action, but stay in a rage in case one of them tries to shoot at him again."

"Okay. That's your turn, then."

"I'm also going to try to throw my sword. And my father held his action, so can he give me advantage?"

"How the hell is your father going to help you throw a scimitar?"

"Well, I saw how he threw his, and it didn't work, so I have some idea of what not to do."

Treville pinches the bridge of his nose with a sigh. "Fine. Yes, you can throw your sword with advantage, you maniac. Who are you aiming at?"

"Whoever's the most hurt."

Treville opens his eyes to check his sheet. "That'd be the second grunt, the one who shot you twice."

"He is a dead man. Nineteen and a five to hit, so the nineteen becomes a twenty-one. I imagine that hits?"

"God, yes. How much damage do you do?"

"Nine."

"Jesus. Somehow, this sword — that is not at all meant to be thrown — flips perfectly through the air and slams blade-first into this guy's chest, killing him instantly."

"Yeah, I held my sword by the tip and threw it like a knife. It was comical, right up until it impaled this man, and then it was hilarious."

"He died laughing."

"I'm fine with that."

"And the two survivors of this party of five, who attacked two unarmoured strangers in a stable, having had their asses thoroughly handed to them, take off into the gathering night. You have three corpses and five horses in the stables with you, and the whole encounter lasted about thirty seconds."

"Are we out of combat, now?"

"You are out of combat."

"Great." D'Artagnan stretches. "I'd have liked to question someone, but I guess we can go over the bodies and look for clues, or something? Like who they were and why they attacked us? Or were they just random bandits?"

"Yeah, you can check the bodies and see if you find anything identifying. Are you still in a rage?"

"Can I be? Because I did frenzy, so once I come out of it I get one level of exhaustion and have disadvantage on ability checks."

"Technically I think you have thirty seconds of rage left, so I'll let you search one body without disadvantage."

"Okay, so I'll check one, my dad will check another, and then we'll both check the last one together. Can I roll all the checks at the same time?"

"Go ahead."

"All right... Man, this is a lot of d20s. I'd love to roll these for damage someday. Cool, that's an eight for me on the first one, a ten for my dad on his, and then...another eight for me, but a twenty-one for my dad on the last one."

"All right. Even with the eights, you can tell that although they're dressed kind of haphazardly, they're all wearing identical leather pauldrons on their right shoulders, with the symbol of a fleur-de-lis stamped into them. The first two bodies you two check don't have anything else identifying on them, but on the last one your father finds a letter tucked into a pocket. The writing is faded and blurred, like the ink's gotten a bit wet, so both of you roll an investigation check to see if you can make it out. Kīdu, you roll with disadvantage."

"Great, and I'm stupid, so my intelligence modifier is zero. Three. But my wise and knowledgeable father rolled a nineteen, and he adds one, so that's an unnatural twenty."

"Kīdu, you've been shot four times, sliced up a bunch more, and you're coming down hard from an adrenaline high, so you can barely see that there are words on this piece of paper."

"Father, why would this man be carrying a piece of blurry grey paper with him? Is it some secret code?"

"Your father laughs a little bit, like he thinks you're trying to make a joke, but then he gives you a once-over and realises that you have five bullet holes in various limbs and you're covered in blood."

"Does he notice the straw stuck in one of the leg wounds?" Aramis asks. D'Artagnan tiredly gives him the finger.

"He does, but he doesn't say anything about it because you were fighting four men and accounted for yourself very honourably. So instead of giving you a hard time about the straw and mud mixed in with the blood, he puts his hand on your shoulder and says:

"Daň Ene, Kīdu, you fought hard. Why don't we go up to our room and get something to eat, and then we can look at the letter and decide what to do."

"Oh, that's a letter? That makes much more sense."

"Yes, it's a letter. But we don't have to worry about it right now."

"Your father helps you up, and you're able to lean on him as you head back out of the stables towards the inn."

"I'm trying to give the impression that I'm just humouring him, but he's taking pretty much all of my weight on every other step so I don't do a very good job."

"Yeah, by the time you get to the door of the inn your father's more or less dragging you along. You're both covered in blood and mud, and soaked from the short walk from the stables."

"Did the rain at least wash some of the filth off?"

"It washed a little bit off, but you also got more mud splashed up your legs while walking across that little courtyard area, so the net effect is the same. You look slightly less like you were just in a fight, but the innkeeper still stares at you both as you come in."

"Should we tell him about the bodies?"

"The what?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought only my father would hear that. Five men attacked us in the stables. Three are dead."

"The innkeeper, this stout man with curly grey hair who looks a little older than your father, looks outraged for a moment, but then he looks you both over and sighs.

"We can deal with that later. Please accept my apologies – those men seemed like trouble, and I was happy to see them go, but I never expected them to do something like this."

"Did you know them?"

"The innkeeper shakes his head, and comes around to your other side and helps your father get you up the stairs.

"No. They came looking for rooms, but they were harassing my other guests so I asked them to leave. I'm afraid they may have taken their frustration out on you."

"This time, your father answers.

"I doubt it was anything to do with you, sir. They seem to have a grudge against my people."

"Your people?"

"We're nomads, travelling through Ciâfe to visit some old friends. We've found these lands to be friendly in the past, but this time..."

"I continue trying to pretend that I'm fine, but I'm doing an even worse job of it now."

"How’s your HP?" Aramis asks.

"I’m at five."

"Five? Jesus. You're so fucked up."

"I'm so fucked up. Can I do a deception check to see if I can cover up how fucked I am?"

"Fine, but you'll roll with disadvantage."

"Maybe I'll roll really well! ...Or not, because that's a four."

"You make one final effort to support your own weight, but you collapse and almost take the other two down with you. Let me do a quick dex check... Twelve. No one falls down the stairs, but you do successfully interrupt the conversation that might have led to you learning something."

"...Fine. I let myself be dragged, but I don't like it."

"Good choice. Do you travel with a healer's kit?"

"No, but I have herbalism."

"That's less helpful here, I'm afraid. The innkeeper finishes helping you two up to your room, and then leaves you to sort yourselves out and goes back down to the common room. The room you've rented for the night is small but neat, with two modest beds tucked up against either wall and a fresh-smelling layer of rushes spread out over the stone floor."

"Can I do a perception check to make sure they're rushes and not more straw?"

"No. It isn't straw. I promise that it isn't straw."

"If I see a single piece of straw in this room, I'm going to go into another rage."

"Duly noted, but there isn't any straw. Your father helps you over onto one of the beds and gets up cleaned up and bandaged with some extra clothing from your bags."

"Can I cast a level one 'cure wounds' on myself? Oh, and I forgot to run this by you, but since I'm a druid, can I use wisdom as my spellcasting ability, rather than intelligence?"

"What's your wisdom?"

"Still not great, but +2 rather than +0, and this is a healing spell, and medicine checks are wisdom, so..."

"That's fine, you can use wisdom for now. In the future I might make you use intelligence for certain spells or situations, but you can use wisdom for a cure wounds."

"Great, so I cast 'cure wounds' on myself and... God, this d8 feels so insufficient. Okay, I get eight hit points back."

"The bullet that was stuck in your leg plops out."

"Oh, what? I thought they all just grazed me!"

"The one that crit on you stayed in."

"That's horrifying. Can I just say that I'm disgusted by the raw cruelty of these new weapons? Settled people act like they're so much better than everyone else and then come up with this? And they call us barbarians."

"It's unfortunate, but so far you haven't seen much about the settled world that impresses you."

"I mean, I've met settled people before, and they've been fine, but this kind of turns me against them a little bit. Not in the sense that I actively hate them, but I'm definitely more distrustful of them now than I used to be."

"Understandable," Porthos says. "I think Kairon feels the same way about humans. Met some great ones, but also had run-ins with a lot of really shitty ones."

“At least you have potatoes, though,” d’Artagnan offers, and Porthos grins.

“True that. The bounty of potatoes is probably one of the reasons I stay in Ciâfe.”

Aramis draws in an offended breath, but Porthos cuts him off. “I said one of the reasons, ‘Mis, Christ.”

Aramis relaxes, beaming.

"So why don't we say that you've both gotten cleaned up,” Treville says, “and you've done a little healing—"

"Does my dad need any healing?"

"He's still pretty close to full, but I think he'd appreciate it."

"All right." D'Artagnan rolls the d8 again. "I do another level one 'cure wounds,' and heal him for nine."

"Thank you, son. I'll go and get us something to eat, and then we can look at that letter."

"Thank you, father. I'm sorry I fucked up your eye earlier."

"Don't be. I know you meant well."

"Your father goes down to the common room and gets some food to bring up to the room, and by the time you're done eating we can say that you've essentially had a short rest, which means you can both roll your hit dice. Your dad can't not get back up to full, so just roll for yourself, and add an extra d6 since you have the herbalism kit."

"Hit dice, hit dice, hit dice, what are my hit dice... Okay. 4d12 and a d8, and then the d6. Aramis, can I use your shaker for this? It seems like it's rolling high."

"Sure." Aramis tosses it across, and d'Artagnan loads it up and rattles it loudly.

"Oh yeah, this is the good stuff. Come on, no ones, no ones, no ones." He spills the dice out onto the table in front of him. "Ohhhh, that's a lot of ones. Well, it's only twenty, but it more than doubles my HP so I'll take it."

"All right. You still have disadvantage on ability checks until you take a long rest, but your dad can do the actual reading and you can try to help him figure out what to do next."

"Great, let's read this letter. Can I tell that it has words on it yet?"

"Now that you know they're there, and you've gained some HP back, you can see that there are words, but you're still a little too foggy to be able to read them. Your father lights a little gas lantern on the table in one corner of the room and carries it over so that the two of you can sit together and read by the light.”

"I pretend to read."

"Your dad rolls a sixteen, which is pretty good, but this letter isn't in very good condition. Even in the stables, the paper looked like it had gotten a little damp at some point, and it got even more wet during the trip from the stables to the inn, so there's honestly not that much that you can make out. The ink has run, and the paper is creased and crumpled, but after doing his best to decipher it, your father concludes that it's a set of orders or instructions. He can't read the name of the person it was addressed to, but the signature is a little clearer – Tretessus? Trolassus? Something that begins with a 'tr' and has a few 's's – and next to the signature is a stamped fleur-de-lis."

"So we're dealing with official people of some sort. Or at least a group. Does the symbol mean anything to either of us?"

"You can roll to see if you remember anything that seems relevant, but that won't guarantee that have the information."

"Might as well try it. Can my dad do an insight check, or do I have to do it?"

"You can both do it, but you still have disadvantage."

"That's a six and a seventeen for me, thank you exhaustion, but my dad gets another sixteen."

"Neither of you has spent a lot of time in Ciâfe proper, so although you're pretty sure that the symbol is somehow related to the kingdom, you don't know anything specific about it."

"So, theoretically, this could be the national military or something."

"It could be. Or it could be a fringe group using the national emblem to feign legitimacy. You don't know."

"All right, well, I don't think there's anything concrete that we can do tonight. Although it seemed like the innkeeper might be willing to tell us a little more. Can we talk to him again?"

"I need to take the dishes back down to the kitchen, and I can try to talk to some of the other guests while I'm down there. Even if he doesn't want to say anything else, someone may know something of use to us."

"Your father takes the dishes downstairs, and I'll roll a few investigate checks for him to see if he has any luck talking to people. That's two tens and a nineteen, so between overhearing other conversations and asking people directly, he's able to get a general sense for what's been going on."

"How long does it take?" d'Artagnan asks. "Or is that not narratively relevant?"

"You can roll if you want, to estimate the minutes. Either a d100 or a d10 times ten."

"Cool. I'll do the d10, and that’s...an eight. Well, if he's down there for eighty minutes, I'm for sure asleep by the time he gets back."

"Makes sense, though," Porthos says. "People might not be too trusting of a stranger if there's already guys running around starting fights for no reason."

"And those two tens on his investigate checks didn't help," Treville agrees. "He tried to strike up some conversations while waiting for a chance to talk to the innkeeper, but those weren't very fruitful."

"Can I roll a con check to see if I'm still awake?"

"Wouldn't your father just wake you up?"

"I think normally he would, but maybe he still feels bad about how much I got shot."

"Fine. You roll a con check, and I'll roll a callousness check for Banai."

They both roll. "That's a fifteen and an eighteen," d'Artagnan says, "so I guess I'm going with the fifteen, which turns into a seventeen."

"That passes, which is good, because Banai rolled a five for callousness. He wouldn't have woken you up unless your lives were in danger."

"My father is a fearsome warrior," d'Artagnan says as Kīdu, "but he is also a kind and gentle man. This is the duality of the Masym people."

"Banai comes back up the stairs a while later, and it sounds like he's making an effort to be quiet, and he opens the door slowly to try to keep it from creaking, then sees you waiting up.

"Ah, you're still awake! I didn't expect that."

"Did you learn anything?"

"Your father comes into the room and shuts the door behind him.

"I think I learned as much as anyone is willing to tell a stranger, but unfortunately that isn't much. It seems that the City Guard of Ripasse have been making themselves unpopular lately, but no one knows – or will say – what their goal is."

"So it's likely that the men who attacked us were members of this guard?"

"It seems so. From what I understand, only those sworn to the service of the king may wear that symbol—" He gestures towards the leather pauldrons"—and it's what gives the Guard their authority."

"And the letter was stamped with the same symbol," d'Artagnan muses, "so it was probably orders from someone official. We couldn't make out what it said, right?"

"Correct," Treville says. "Your father was able to decipher enough to make it seem like a set of instructions, but couldn't pick out any details beyond guessing at the signature."

"Right. So these dudes are probably under orders to come up here and mess shit up, and there's a chance that the people who have making life hard for the nomads are also part of this group."

"There's definitely a chance."

"Great. I guess in that case we'll spend the night here and then go to Ripasse tomorrow. What do you think, father?"

"It seems the surest way to get the answers we're looking for, though I fear those answers may be worse than we thought.”

"Do you think they're preparing to try to claim more land, or just drive us away?"

"That, I can't say. But I think caution is more important than ever, at least until we understand what's going on."

"All right. Oh, shit, the bodies. Do we need to take care of the bodies?"

"The innkeeper has moved them from the stables and into an empty field. We can bury them tomorrow – it's cold enough for them to keep until then."

"Good. I climb into bed, intending to check the mattress for any bits of straw poking out, but as soon as I’m lying down I forget all about that plan and fall asleep immediately."

"Which is good, because there was indeed one little piece of straw sticking out from the side, but it won't stab you so there's no point in going into a rage."

"In my sleep I locate the piece of straw and rip it out."

"Amazing. All right, Kīdu and Banai go to sleep, and in the morning we'll pan over to you four," Treville says, nodding to Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and Constance. "Constance, now that you've seen a bit about how the game works, with combat and ability checks and such, do you have any questions, or are you good to go on?"

"I think I'm good," Constance says. "That was really helpful, so thanks for doing it that way."

"Of course. I think it also worked to give everyone a bit of background on the new setting, as well, for the ones who have played in this world before."

"Did you like playing an NPC?" Aramis asks, over-earnestly. "I know you've never done it before."

"It was a new and delightful experience," Treville answers, with absolutely no expression.

"He secretly loves it," Porthos whispers loudly to Constance.

"Oh, really?" Constance whispers back. "I couldn't tell."

"Anyway," Treville goes on, "it's now the morning of the next day, and we are in Ripasse proper. It's a cold day, but clear, and although the rain from yesterday has sunk into the mud of the streets and fields and hardened into ice, the sky is cloudless and the sun is strong as it slips over the horizon.

"Alos, the last time we saw you, you were day-drinking in your apartment. What are you up to this morning?"

"It was evening drinking, actually, and then it became night drinking, so as a result I am profoundly hungover. What time is it?"

"Probably around seven."

"All right, so I've just woken up, and I very much hate my life right now. What are my surroundings like?"

"You're in your apartment, or whatever the historical equivalent is, and it's winter. Anything else is up to you."

"Fair enough. Can I do a perception check to see if sober me left anything to help drunk me out? Alos is a practiced alcoholic, so I'm sure he's developed habits to keep himself more or less functional."

"Sure. You can do a regular roll, instead of disadvantage, because you can probably rely on muscle memory and past experience to an extent."

Athos rolls. "Nineteen?"

"You know that sober Alos has left you an array of coping mechanisms scattered around the apartment, even if you can't quite open your eyes enough to see all of them. Your clothes for the day are laid out on top your trunk or armoire or whatever you have, there's some bread sitting on the table for a simple breakfast, and there's a bucket of water on the floor by the window."

"I head directly to the bucket and put my entire head underwater."

"Naturally. The water is quite cold, so it's definitely invigorating, but give me a con check to see how much it dispels your hangover."

"Con check or percentile?"

"Hmm, percentile probably works better. Just the d100, though – we don't need to get single-digit-specific."

"Sixty."

"Now he needs to roll a d10!" Aramis insists.

"How about you roll, Aramis, and if it's a nine you can get up and leave."

"Worth it." Aramis tosses his own d10 down onto the table, then grins brightly. "That's a nine!"

Athos checks. "It actually is."

"Of course it is," Treville sighs, at the same time that Porthos says, "Nice."

"Aramis, thank you for that demonstration, but it doesn't affect Alos' hangover in the slightest. Alos, after holding your head underwater for an inadvisable amount of time, you feel some of the effects begin to fade. Your head doesn't hurt so badly, and once you come up you find that you can open your eyes all the way without being stabbed by the sunlight coming in."

"I suppose I'll get dressed, then, and do some exercises and such to finish clearing my head before I set off to the garrison."

"You manage to put on all of your clothes right-side out and facing forwards on the first attempt, which is definitely not something to take for granted, and then pick up your rapier and start doing some drills to limber up a bit. How long do you do that for?"

"A while, likely. It's cold, so it probably takes some time to warm up, and my quarters are close to the garrison."

"Okay. So while you're going through the rest of your morning routine, we'll head over to Kairon and see what he's up to. Did you do anything after dinner last night?"

"Oh, you know I tried to fleece some birds at the tables."

"Oh? And how'd that go for you?"

"...Can I say that it went great and I won a lot of money?"

"No. For reference," Treville adds to Constance and d'Artagnan, "'birds' is short-hand for the Church Guards. They're under the control of Cardinal Montfond, who's the head of the Church of the Monarchy in Ciâfe. Not to be outdone, the Church Guard refer to the City Guards as 'pigeons,' because everyone is mature and takes everything seriously. Constance, your character would know this, having grown up in Ripasse, but Kīdu does not. So, Kairon, I'll allow that you had a relatively successful go of it, since you're skilled in deception and sleight of hand and suchlike, but nothing insane."

"Yeah, I just like making them squawk. I made some money, ruffled some feathers, and then once that had wound down I probably took a room upstairs for the night, so now I'm back down for breakfast."

"Excellent. Roll a luck check to see if anyone you cheated last night is still here."

Porthos does. "Seventeen."

"There's only one of them – a scrawny, slightly rat-like man with stringy dark hair and an expression that's perpetually somewhere between nervous and sneering."

"I wave to him cheerfully."

"He sees you and scowls, then makes his way over to where you're sitting."

"Morning! How'd you sleep last night.... What's your name again?"

"Dujon," Treville says in a sour, nasal voice. "You cheated last night and we both know it."

"Well, Dijon—"

"Dujon."

"Yeah, that's what I said. All I remember 'bout last night is some really good luck and some even better potatoes, and besides, I don't think it's too healthy to go around picking fights before breakfast."

"Who said anything about fighting?"

"Oh, so you wanna try to win back some of your money, is that it? Well, who am I to stand in your way? Take a seat there, Dijon, and show me what you've got."

"Dujon pulls out a deck of cards and explains the rules of a simple game. You'll each draw three cards from the deck at random, and whoever has the better total wins. Mechanically, I'll set the DC for each check at random, and then Kairon, you'll roll a d20 to try to beat it. We'll do this three times, and the number of successes you get will determine how much you win or lose. How much do you want to wager?"

"I'll let my good friend Dijon set the stakes."

"It's Dujon, you tiefling devil, and I'll bet ten gold."

"Damn, ten gold? I musta cleaned you out good, Dijon."

"Dujon shuffles the deck and draws his three cards. I'll roll the first DC...All right. Kairon, this first check is 'insight,' so add that modifier to your roll."

"Shit, my insight isn't great. ...How's a ten do?"

"That fails – the DC was eighteen."

"Fuck."

Treville rolls again. "The next check is 'deception,' so add that modifier."

Porthos rolls. "That's a natural nineteen, plus five is twenty-four."

"That very much passes; DC for that one was only thirteen." Treville rolls a third time and jots down his result. "Next is intimidation."

"Seventeen?"

"Natural?"

"Nah, with my modifier."

"That fails, unfortunately. You've only gotten one success, which means that you lose half the amount you'd bet, which is five gold."

Porthos grimaces. "Logically, I know that that probably means I've just come closer to breaking even with what I won last night, but I really wanna take this guy for more."

"You want to go again?"

"…Yeah. It's probably stupid, but I'll do it."

That’s the Kairon we know and love,” Aramis says approvingly.

"Roll a persuasion check against his intelligence to convince him."

"Nice, because I've got plus six to persuasion.” Porthos rolls, and sucks in a breath through his teeth. “That's a natural five, though, so how's an eleven?"

"His intelligence is only nine, so you convince him to do another round, but only betting the same ten gold. He shuffles the deck again, and you both draw your cards. I'll roll all the DCs at once to make it quicker." Treville rolls three times and makes notes on his sheet. "All right, same order as before: insight, deception, and the intimidation."

"Nineteen?"

"Passes."

"Dope. Ten?"

"Fails."

"Fuck. Sixteen?"

"Passes. You win fifteen gold, so you've broken even on this game."

"Well, I'm an idiot, so I'm gonna try for one more round."

"I'll allow one more round, but no more after that."

"Fuckin’ fine, I'll do it."

"All right. Roll another persuasion check, and this time I'll have him roll an intelligence save rather than using his raw stats."

"Sixteen on persuasion."

"He rolled a six, and he has minus one to intelligence, so that's a five."

Porthos cracks his knuckles loudly. "All right, Dijon, I've gotta be heading out soon, so just this one last round, and I'm doubling the stakes. Twenty gold."

"Fine."

Treville rolls three more times, then turns the table over to Kairon. “Hit me.”

"Fifteen."

"Passes."

"Nat twenty,” Porthos enunciates with relish, and Aramis wolf-whistles.

"That absolutely passes, and I'll give you advantage on the last one."

"Hell. Fucking. Yes. Eighteen?"

"Fails." There's a chorus of 'No!' from around the table. "DC is 2d10 plus five, and that one was twenty."

"Motherfucker," Porthos mutters. "That's still two passes, though, so I win overall, right?"

"Yeah, you still win big time. That's thirty gold you to."

"Oh, thank god. I just needed to piss this dude off."

"You've pissed him off thoroughly, and he shoves the piles of coins at you and stalks off, muttering to himself."

"What would he have won if he'd passed all of them?" Aramis asks.

"Three successes on a round wins double the amount you bet, so that would've been forty gold. The DCs for these tend to be pretty high, since it's 2d10 plus five, so the outcomes aren't extreme on either end. If you fail all three, you lose twice what you bet; if you start out in debt, or set the stakes ludicrously high, that can go really badly, but the minimum stake is ten gold and that's usually not going to be disastrous as long as you know when to cut your losses."

"Kairon makes more money in a week cheating Church Guards than he does from his actual pay, and he's got a reputation to uphold."

"Your captain knows this," Treville says, "and he's long since given up trying to get you to stop, but he won't bail you out if you fuck up."

"I know, but that's what friends are for."

"Only because we all benefit from it," Aramis puts in, but Porthos shakes his head.

"Nah, you enable me because you love me."

"I've actually been using you for your gambling skills this entire time."

"Liar."

“Speaking of lying,” Treville says loudly, “why don’t you give me an investigation check. You know that cheating is kind of the default when it comes to gambling in this part of town, and you know better than to expect a Church Guard to take a loss easily, so it seems a little odd that Dujon would just leave you with all that gold and not kick up more of a fuss about it.”

“Oh, do I think he’s shorting me or giving me counterfeit, or something?”

“You think something’s up, but do that investigation check.”

“Nineteen?”

“You poke around through the pile of coins, making sure all the pieces are there, and they are, but not all of them are Ciâfen gold. Some of them are Andorran, which is fairly unusual in Ripasse, since you’re so far from the border.”

“Fishy,” Porthos pronounces, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Well, gold is gold, and I don’t discriminate, so I throw those bad boys into my coin purse or whatever and call it a morning.”

“Are you heading to the Garrison?”

“Probably should be, yeah.”

“All right. So you’re on your way to work, essentially, so we’ll leave off with Kairon there and go and see how much trouble Miró is getting himself into."

"Trouble?" Aramis asks. "Me? I'm hurt by that, Minister."

"Not yet you aren't. Miró is currently in the company of an undisclosed paramour, so do you want to tell us who it is or roll for it?"

"If you think I'll pass up the opportunity to consult the oracle that is my Horniness Table, then I don't think there's much hope for you. Let me roll, Minister, and let the dice decide my fate."

"Fine. Go ahead."

Aramis loads a d8 into his martini shaker, flips it around a few times, then unscrews the cap and releases the die. "That's a one," he announces, and Porthos groans.

"I knew I should have made you come to the tavern with me. Why can't you just sleep with someone who won't try to have us killed for it?"

"Who's on one?" d'Artagnan asks.

"One means he needs to roll again on a different table of truly horrible choices," Athos explains. "Two through seven on the first table is usually harmless, and eight is a free choice, but the second table is only potentially dangerous conquests. Aramis spends a lot of time on the second table," he adds, flashing Aramis a Look.

"I've never once been on the second table," Aramis responds primly. "Miró is the one you should be glaring at."

"I am," Athos says firmly. "Now roll your d6 so we know how fucked we are."

"How fucked I am, you mean," Aramis says brightly, "both literally and metaphorically." He shakes up his d6. "Five."

Treville consults the table, and sighs. "All right, Miró, you're currently in bed with Cardinal Montfond's mistress."

"I'm trying to get her to share information with me," Aramis insists immediately, but is largely drowned out by the groans of everyone else. "Look, it's fine. She's not going to tell the Cardinal any more than I am, and what he doesn't know won't hurt him."

"Might hurt you, though," Porthos puts in.

"I'm sure it won't."

"You're with the Cardinal's mistress—"

"What's her name?" Aramis asks. "She's her own person, you know. A human. A being possessed of a beautiful soul—"

"Adèle,” Treville interrupts. “Adèle…Blanc-Sec."

"Oh, wow, so original," d'Artagnan says.

"Yes, I'm a genius of character creation. Miró and Adèle have spent the night together, and Miró needs to roll an intelligence check to see if he's still horny or if he's gotten his wits back."

"I shall roll, but only with reluctance, for Mistress Adèle is a woman of great kindness and talent," Aramis announces, and rolls with a flourish. "Eleven."

"That just passes."

"Alas, my dear, I think I've already stayed too long. I should be going."

"So soon? The sun is barely up."

"Don't construe this as desire to be apart from you – I wish nothing less than that – but my duties will be starting soon, and I've no desire to get you into trouble with the Cardinal."

"She sighs, but gives in.

"If you must.

"She lets you up, and you start getting dressed and gathering up your things. As you do, roll a perception check."

"Eighteen."

"You’re mostly dressed, but as you’re haphazardly tucking your shirt into your trousers, you hear footsteps coming up the stairs."

"I freeze, leaving my shirt artfully untucked. Adèle, do you hear that? Someone's coming."

"I'll roll a perception check for her...that's a natural two, but she probably trusts you, for some insane reason.

"God, that must be the Cardinal. He never comes here this early – you need to go!"

"Double shit. I hustle."

"You hustle, and although the footsteps aren't moving particularly quickly, it's still a struggle to get everything gathered up in time. Your shirt's still untucked and unlaced but you have all of your clothes on, at least — but as you finish up, you see one of your darts on the floor on the other side of the room. It must have fallen out of your quiver at some point, but you don't have time to go over and pick it up."

"Can Adèle kick it under the bed or a dresser or something?"

"Sure, but you need to go. The footsteps are almost at the door, and the only other way out of the room is through a window, so roll a d4 to see how high up you are."

"See what we mean about the Horniness Table making things exciting?" Aramis says to Constance as he rolls. "Two."

"You're only one floor above ground level—"

"I dive through the window."

"Are you sure? You don't know what's on the street outside."

"I'm skilled in acrobatics, I can probably make it."

"Fine. Adèle kicks the dart under the dresser just as you dive out through the window—"

"I opened it first, obviously. I opened it and then jumped out."

"I should make you go through the glass, but I’m feeling generous. Roll a dexterity check."

"With advantage?"

"No way in hell."

"Fine. Ouch, natural four, but I add four to that, so, eight."

"You don't hurt yourself, but you do look like an idiot."

"How many people see me?"

"Lots. It's a busy street, and Alos and Kairon are actually right there."

"I'm having a great morning," Porthos says. "Good breakfast, good gambling, and now my best friend comes flying out of a window and lands right at my feet."

"Can I roll to see if the sight of that dispels any more of my hangover?" Athos asks, and Aramis glares at him.

"Sure," Treville says, and Athos does.

"Thirty."

"Great – you only have ten percent of your original hangover left at this point."

"It's the crisp morning air," Aramis says archly. "Alos would never take solace from seeing Miró be humiliated this way."

"No, he does. If you'd hurt yourself, I wouldn't be laughing, but you didn't, so."

"I stand up quickly, brushing myself off and trying to look like I meant to do that."

"Hey Miró," Porthos says. "Didn't expect to see you here. Good night?"

"Delightful, if you must know."

"Glad to hear it. Your shirt's on backwards."

"I look down to check immediately."

"It's fine," Athos says. "Let's get out of here before whoever you're running from looks out the window and sees you."

"Running? What makes you think I'm running from anyone?"

"Is that the Cardinal up there, closing the window?" Porthos asks.

"Miró casually gets on Kairon's other side and tries to hide behind him," Aramis narrates.

"Roll a stealth check," Treville tells him, trying to hide a smile.

"Twenty-one."

"You're fine. Are the three of you heading to the garrison, then?"

"We'd better," Athos says.

"Good call. All right, Constance, that's you. What's Thaïs up to this morning?"

"Probably running some errands before going to the store to open up, so I guess I'd be at the market?"

"Sure. Thaïs, your shop is in the Old Town district, but you live in an area called the Silver Stairs, between the Military Ward and the river, and that's where the more mid-level markets are. There are some more specialized markets in Old Town, mostly for things relating to the various guilds and trades, and usually more expensive than the ones in the Silver Stairs. There are also markets in Stormgate, and you'd have frequented them as a child and younger woman, but you can get better quality goods in the Silver Stairs. Which one are you going to?"

"Probably the closest one," Constance says after considering for a moment. "I'm just thinking of getting some food to take back to my house before I go to the store."

"Great. So you're strolling through, looking at bread and fish and vegetables, and maybe some housewares like baskets or bowls or mugs or something."

"Oh, I love mugs," Constance says. "As me, but I also want to transfer that love to Thaïs, so can I see if there's a really nice mug at one of the pottery stalls?"

"Of course. Roll a perception check, so a d20, and then add four to whatever you get because you have proficiency in perception."

"Sixteen! Plus four, so twenty."

"Dirty twenty," Porthos says approvingly.

"You pause in front of a pottery stall, and see your perfect mug waiting for you. What's it look like?"

"It's sort of bowl-shaped, and it's a dark blue glaze with some streaks of red and orange and yellow, at the bottom, so it looks kind of like a sunrise."

"You were super ready with that," d'Artagnan says. "How long have you been pondering the ideal mug?"

"I was looking on Etsy yesterday while waiting for something to print," she admits. "It was something insane like 50€, though, so I've just been pining for it a bit."

"D&D: the ultimate form of wish fulfilment," Aramis agrees sagely. "How much does it cost in-game?"

"Let's say five silver. That's about the same as a lamp or a set of clothes would cost, so it's not cheap, but you can probably afford it."

"I'll buy it. How can I not, right? I probably won't get it in real life, so I may as well get an imaginary version."

"Fair enough. The merchant takes it off the shelf and wraps it up in some paper, then hands it to you as you put your coins on the table. I assume you're carrying a bag or a basket to put your purchases in?"

"Yeah, I have a basket."

"Great. As you turn to tuck the mug into your basket, making sure it won't fall out or be damaged from shifting around, roll an encounter check. This is also a d20, but you won't add anything to it – it's just a luck roll, essentially."

"Okay," Constance says slowly. "Does this mean something bad's about to happen?"

"Not necessarily."

"Someone had better not try to steal my mug," she warns, but rolls. "Thirteen?"

"You catch some movement out of the corner of your eye, but when you glance up, it just looks like a normal market street. What else do you want to shop for?"

Constance takes a moment to glare at him suspiciously. "I think I probably would have gotten the essentials first before looking for mugs, because I'm generally pretty careful with money, so maybe just something to have for breakfast after I drop off my groceries at the house?"

"Do you want to look for a bakery stall or something?"

"Sure, I'll do that. There must be one around somewhere."

"You continue a bit further into the market, aiming for the bakery you know is nearby. It's still relatively early, but not so early that the market is empty, so there are a fair few people you have to make your way around. As you do, roll another encounter check."

"The things I do for a pastry. Nineteen?"

"You get to the bakery without anything unusual happening and order your breakfast."

"What were the checks for? Would I have met someone, or would something have happened to me?"

"You can do a perception check, to see if you notice anything out of place or something that catches your attention, but as a character you wouldn't have felt that anything was amiss."

"Can I say that I'm very protective of my new mug since I know it wasn't necessary, and I'm being extra cautious about pick-pocketing to make up for it?"

"Sure. You hold your basket close and look around the market as you wait for your pastry. Go ahead and roll, and add four because it's perception."

"Twenty-three."

Treville raises his eyebrows. "No one's going to try to rob you, but as you're looking around you catch sight of a well-dressed woman, possibly noble, who doesn't quite look like she belongs here. She's not loitering, exactly, but she doesn't seem to be looking for anything in particular, or with much purpose. She's wearing a long, rich cloak with a deep hood, so you can't see her face, but something about her body language is just off."

"And a noblewoman would probably send a maid or a servant or someone to do her shopping for her, right?"

"Correct. She's not doing anything suspicious, but she's definitely out of place."

"Hmm. Noted. How far away is she?"

"Maybe a block or so, on the other side of the street."

"Is that who I would've encountered if I didn't pass the checks?" Constance presses.

"Maybe," Treville answers mildly. "Or maybe someone else. Or you might have witnessed an event. But now that you've seen her, you can approach her if you want."

Constance thinks for a moment. "No, I don't think I will. I should take this stuff home and then go open the store, and I don't have anything to say to her, really. I think I'll just file that away in the back of my mind and get on with my day."

"All right. You get your breakfast—"

"What'd you get?" Aramis interrupts.

"A bagel."

"A bagel?"

"Fine, Jesus. Two bagels."

"Splurging," Aramis sing-songs, and Constance glares at him.

"Don't you dare try make me feel bad about my imaginary mug and double bagel breakfast. I wasn't almost caught with the Cardinal's mistress."

"Sick burn," d'Artagnan whispers, and holds out a hand, palm-up. Constance high-fives him without looking.

"Do you start heading back home, then?" Treville asks.

"Yeah, I'll go drop off my things and eat my bagels on the way to the shop."

"All right. You make your way back out of the market, which seems like it's getting more crowded by the second, and go home to get your purchases put away before going to your store in Old Town. So you'll be at the store, and the other three will be at the garrison."

"Oh, do I get to see Miró fall out of the window?" Constance asks.

"I didn't fall," Aramis says, but Treville ignores him.

"No, unfortunately. You were on different roads, essentially, so your paths wouldn't have crossed. But you usually go the garrison for a little bit after lunch – that's how you've been getting your training – so you'll still get to hear all about it."

"Great, thanks. I guess Thaïs doesn't know she's looking forward to that, but I definitely am."

"Now that we've caught up with the Ripassenne crowd," Treville continues, "we'll go back to Kīdu and Banai for a bit. Last night you went to bed after learning some more about the situation with the City Guard, and decided to wait until morning to bury the bodies of the men you killed during the fight in the stables."

"A long rest is eight hours, right?"

"Right."

"So my exhaustion should be all cleared up by, say, six in the morning?"

"Definitely. You probably went to sleep around seven or eight – it really wasn't that late, since you pretty much found the inn, fought a bunch of guys, got cleaned up, had dinner, waited about an hour and a half for your dad to collect information from the people downstairs, then passed out."

"Great. So my dad and I probably get up a little before sunrise to go bury the bodies, then we come in to clean up and have some breakfast before getting back on the road."

"All right. Let's say that that takes about an hour, so timeline-wise you're setting out around the same time that other four are doing the things we just talked about. You're not very far from Ripasse, but you're also not in any great hurry to get there, so it takes a few hours to finish the journey. The sun is rising steadily higher in the sky, but it's still cold, so you keep to a steady pace to stay warm without tiring your horses. Finally, a little before noon, you round a bend on a slight hill and the city comes into view.

"At one point, there had been a wall around it, but these days only segments are left, since demand for more space and housing has led to sections being torn down for building material and to allow the city to grow. There are five major roads into the city, though, and most of them have some amount of wall left, as well as gates that can be closed if necessary. Because Ripasse is in the North of Ciâfe, there isn't much risk of an invading force from Andor, and historically there haven't been any serious altercations with the various nomadic tribes that live in the surrounding areas, so only one of these gates is still routinely guarded, and it's the gate you're approaching.

"Of course it is."

"You're on the East Road, which loosely bisects the city and is the closest open road to the Palace. Although much of the wall around the city has fallen into disrepair, the Palace is still strongly walled off from both the outside and the inside of the city, though the internal gates are usually left open, though guarded. As a result, any unfriendly force attempting to get to the Palace would most likely come in through the East Gate, so it's guarded as a matter of routine."

"Oh, okay, so it's not like they're reacting to a perceived threat or anything."

"No, no. It's really just a tradition."

"Would we know that?"

"You have some maps, and they show the various roads and the gates that still exist, so you know that this gate is guarded, but you don't really know anything about the reasoning or the history behind it. That explanation was mostly to help you orient yourselves as you go in."

"Got it. So if the guards let us in, we can just go straight into the city?"

"Yep."

"Great. So don't piss off the guards, I guess?"

"That'd probably be best, if you can avoid it."

"Do we know what the guards are likely to do or ask us?"

"You can assume they'll want to know your reason for travelling to the city."

"Okay. So..." d'Artagnan trails off. "We should probably lie," he says after a bit. "About being nomads, anyway. If there is some sort of vendetta against us, it might not be super smart to announce ourselves that way. Father, what do you think?"

"I think you're right about that, but I think we should tell as much of the truth as possible. Say that we're worried about recent attacks on our people and want to know what's going on to cause them."

"Yeah, but how detailed will we need to get? Also, just so everyone knows, I'm talking super casually because I'm speaking Masymya with my dad right now. When I’m speaking Ciâfen I’m a lot more fancy and formal, but in Masymya I'm pretty much just a punk."

Constance laughs. "I love the idea of you speaking really formal Ciâfen but then just turning to your dad and going, 'what the actual goddamn fuck is this shit about?'"

"I wouldn't talk to my dad that way, I don't wanna die, but yeah, that's the gist."

"Amazing."

"We didn't talk about this during the player intros," Treville says, "but everyone here speaks at least two languages. The handbook refers to a 'common' language that's spoken by everyone in the world you're playing in, but for the purposes of this campaign, trade 'Common' out for Ciâfen. So Kīdu, you speak Ciâfen, but not as your first language, and you can also choose two more plus 'Druidic,' although that isn't really a language you use for day-to-day activities."

"And I also just took my first level of Druid, so I don't think I know a ton of it yet beyond basic spells and stuff. One of the other languages is obviously Masymya, and can I say that the other one is a sort of trade language that a bunch of different tribes in my region use? So I don't speak any of their languages fluently, but we can still communicate basic information to each other, or is that cheating?"

"No, I don't think that's cheating, especially since we're going for a more realistic campaign setting, and a trade language makes a lot more sense than a universal language that spans an entire continent."

"Treville hates the idea of 'common' as a language," Athos notes, somewhat needlessly.

"It's a crutch for lazy writers who have never had to learn another language in their entire lives," Treville says firmly, "and you will never change my mind. Does anyone else have specific language requests while we're on the topic?"

"Hang on," Porthos says, "lemme just cross off 'common' from my character sheet before he sees it. All right. Nah, I think I'm good with Ciâfen and 'Infernal,' though we'll have to ret-con the whole 'tieflings are devils from hell' thing."

"We'll go over that a bit later," Treville promises. "But yes, in this setting, tieflings aren't demonic in any way, they're just another humanoid species that evolved differently. I don't think the language thing has ever needed to be addressed in our other games, but if it comes up, we can talk about what to do with that."

“Cool.”

“I’m good with just Ciâfen and Andorran for now,” Aramis says, and Athos seconds it.

“Just Ciâfen for me,” Constance decides. “For now, at least. If something comes up later, can I decide to add another?”

“Sure,” Treville agrees. “So, Kidu, you and your father are trying to decide how much to lie to the guards you’ll encounter at the gate into the city.”

“Right. We definitely shouldn’t tell them we’re nomads, but how much detail are they going to want? Will they ask us for the name of our village, or something? Actually, fuck, they are going to ask for our names, and they’re not exactly inconspicuous. Quick, what’s an inconspicuous name? George,” he decides, without waiting for an answer. “I’ll be George…Canard. George Canard, inconspicuous peasant from the north.”

“How sold are you on Canard?”

“Extremely,” d’Artagnan answers. “I think it might be the only way to gain their trust. No, wait – Grenouille. George Grenouille.”

“Oh, good. That’s even worse. I don’t think we should make ourselves too memorable, Kīdu—”

“George.”

“Your father stares at you for a long couple of seconds.

…As I was saying, I don’t think we should makes ourselves too memorable. If we’re already lying, we should try to be as ordinary as possible, so they forget us as soon as we’re out of sight.”

“Let me have this, father.”

“Fine. You can be George, and I’ll be Pierre.”

“Pierre Grenouille.”

“But I want the record to reflect that I think this is a terrible plan.”

“It’ll be fine. I’m sure there are plenty of people with unreasonable, outlandish names. For all we know, Grenouille is one of the ten most common surnames in Ripasse.”

“I’m almost sure it isn’t even in the top thousand.”

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

“Good lord. After a short but heated debate, you and your father decide to introduce yourselves to the guards as George and Pierre Grenouille, livestock farmers from the northern region of Ciâfe, concerned about recent raids on your farmlands.

“As you've gotten closer to the city, the landscape has gone from plains to rolling hills to more mountainous features, so the road goes up- and down-hill and bends and swerves quite a bit, but it levels off once you're a couple hundred meters away from the gate, and you can see that although the gate is open, there are two small guardhouses, one to either side. As you get closer, four guards come out, two on each side, and take up their posts by the gate. When you're within a few meters of them, one of them holds up his hand and calls for you to stop."

"We stop, and I try to look bored, like this is totally routine to me."

"The guard who'd spoken approaches, tailed by the other one who had come out of the guardhouse with him. He comes to a stop just a little too close to seem professional, and speaks in a gruff voice:

"State your business, strangers."

“I am George,” d’Artagnan says, once again in his Kīdu voice, “and this is my father, Pierre. There have been raids on our farmlands recently, and we have been travelling the area, trying to learn why.”

“Give me a persuasion check,” Treville says slowly. “DC ten.”

D’Artagnan rolls it. “Eighteen, baby.”

“The guard looks uninterested, but doesn’t challenge your answer, and continues with his questions.

“And where might your farmlands be?”

“This time Banai answers,” Treville says.

“To the northwest of here, only a few days’ ride.”

“The guard snorts derisively.

You sure it ain’t barbarians? That far away from civilisation, there’s no telling what sort of wild maniacs you’ll run into.”

“I’m white-knuckling the reins,” d’Artagnan says, “but I do my best to unclench my teeth and speak politely. No, sir, we don’t believe it is. We’ve seen some up close, and they appear to wear the insignia of the City Guard of Ripasse. That’s why we’ve come here.”

“Do another persuasion check, and your father can give you a help action.”

“Great. Thank you, father. Fourteen, with advantage.”

“That passes. The two guards share a look, then the one who’s been questioning turns back to you.

“Those City Guards are bad news. They’ve been out of control, recently, but the King won’t hear any complaints against them. If you’re looking for explanations, you likely won’t find any here, but you’re welcome to try.”

“Banai speaks up again.

“Thank you for the warning. We’ll be careful in our inquiries, but we’d like to make them all the same. Who might we speak to?”

“The guards share another look, and this time the second one answers. He sounds a little younger, and a little more hesitant, but he answers directly enough.

“The captain of the City Guard is Tratossus, but he’s an arrogant and unreasonable man. You’ll have better luck trying to get an audience with Cardinal Montfond – he’s been trying to convince the King to bring the Guard to heel, and your testimony could help him.”

“Could Tratossus be the name signed on the letter we found?” d’Artagnan asks in his regular voice.

“I remember there being a ‘T,’ an ‘R,’ and a lot of ‘S’s,” Constance agrees. The other four are carefully noncommittal.

“Okay, so at least we’re not wildly off-track. ‘If I may ask – you’re clearly guards of some sort, but not City Guards?’”

“The first guard spits on the ground.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll take that as my answer, then.”

“The City Guard are a bunch of heathens that only get away with flouting the natural order of the world because their captain has weasled his way into the King’s inner circle. It’s an open secret that the ranks are filled with elves and devils and un-Godly magic-users, not to mention women. The Church Guard is the only respectable order in this city, maybe in this entire kingdom. So no, strangers, I’m no City Guard.

“He spits again.”

“Well. Um, sorry for asking? I’m only trying to understand the situation here a little better.”

“The guard grunts, but then steps back and motions you forward, towards the open gate.”

“Can I do a perception check or an insight check or something to see if we can trust these assholes? Some of what they said tracks with what we already know, but that guy was such an enormous douche that I think I should ignore him on principle.”

“Sure, you can do that. Which one is better for you?”

D’Artagnan checks his sheet. “Uh, perception – I have plus five, and only plus two to insight.”

“Okay, roll a perception check, then.”

Both d’Artagnan and Treville roll.

“Thirteen for me,” d’Artagnan says.

“They rolled a six on deception, so yes, they didn’t strike you as very trustworthy. At the very least, they’re clearly biased against the City Guard, more for who they are than for what they do.”

“And that guy definitely had a massive stick up his ass about magic and godliness and all that,” d’Artagnan agrees. “So we’ll remember what he said, but take it with a heaping handful of salt. Oh, and can they give us directions to the two people they mentioned? The captain and the Cardinal?”

“Who do you want to try first?”

D’Artagnan hums, drumming his fingers against the table. “Probably the captain?” he says after a bit. “If the Cardinal’s anything like the guys who work for him, he’s probably a sanctimonious piece of shit. Also, as a druid, and as a follower of Daň Ede, I don’t think I want to get mixed up in Church Shit™.”

“Daň Ede?” Athos asks, ignoring the ‘TM’ with visible effort.

“The Dawn Mother – the primary deity of the north-eastern Nomadic Plains.”

“Ah. Is Kīdu very religious?”

“Kinda? His half-sister is a shaman, and any powers he has as a druid come from the Dawn Mother, but the religion itself is very flexible and tolerant, so there aren’t a lot of rituals and strict rules to observe.”

“Oh,” Aramis says, brightening, “like Tengrism?”

“A lot like, yeah. Spoiler alert, most of my character design is based on the Mongols.”

“Love that for you,” Porthos says. “The Mongols are rad as hell.”

“Right?”

“So the two of you are going to try to find the City Guard captain,” Treville cuts in, steering them back on track. “As you pass the other two guards, the ones who didn’t question you, one of them tells you that you can get to the City Guard garrison by following the road you’re on until you hit the park, then you’ll turn left, go along the park, and turn left again at the end of it.”

“Straight, park, left, park, left. Got it.”

“You go through the gates, and suddenly find yourself in a crowded, bustling city street. The cold is keeping some people inside, but you couldn’t tell that by looking. The street is wide enough for you two to walk next to each other without dismounting, but it seems like every available space is filled in with people – some walking, some running, some clustered in groups or standing outside of storefronts, talking and haggling, and some others on horseback as well. From every direction comes the sound of talking, shouting, and laughing, as well as the sounds of shod hoofbeats, clattering wagon wheels, and general cacophony. It’s strange to you, since the largest settlements you’ve ever been in have been villages and very small towns, and only then to pass through, but it’s not necessarily bad strange. Just strange.”

“The road we’re on goes straight through the city, right?”

“Yes – not necessarily in a perfectly straight line, but it does go all the way through.”

“Got it. So I guess we’ll keep going along it and keep an eye out for the park.”

“All right. As you go on, you begin to notice that the two sides of the street are fairly different. To your right, the buildings are small and crammed together, and most of the alleys joining up with the main road are either dirty or just simply dirt. To your left, however, the buildings are a little larger, a little grander, and arranged more neatly around cobblestone streets.

“From your map, you know that the right side is the Military Ward, which houses most of the soldiers and guards in the city, and now you know that the City Guard garrison is there, as well. The left side is Old Town, and you don’t know much about it beyond that it looks fancier.

“You’re also going downhill, and as soon as the park comes into view, the road in front of you drops away down a steep hill leading to a river, and on the other side is a dense cluster of small buildings, somewhat obscured by the slight haze rising from the water.”

“So we’re at the park?”

“Not quite yet. You see it, but you haven’t gotten to the cross street yet.”

“Cool. Can I start looking for stables or something? I think we should ditch our horses in a bit and continue on foot.”

“Sure. Do a perception check, and I’ll roll for Banai.”

“Pierre,” d’Artagnan corrects, then curses. “I never told the guards our last name!”

“I was wondering if you’d notice,” Aramis says. “All that hype for Grenouille, and then you never even pulled it out. What a waste.”

“I’ll hang onto it in case it comes up again,” d’Artagnan promises. “I just can’t believe I forgot.”

Constance pats his hand consolingly. “It’s okay, George – everyone makes mistakes.”

“Not George Grenouille. He has a reputation to uphold. Anyway, yeah, my dad and I’ll look for public stables, if that’s even a thing. That’s a fourteen for me.”

“And a six for Banai,” Treville says. “

“Pierre.”

“So you don’t see a public stable,” Treville goes on, heedless, “but you do see a large building at the corner of the park, and as you get closer, you see that it’s a guesthouse of some kind, with a restaurant or tavern on the ground floor, and two floors above that one for people to stay overnight.”

“It’ll probably have a stable, then, right?”

“Most likely, but you can’t just walk up and put your horses in it. You’ll probably need to pay for a room, or at least a meal.”

“Mmmmmm, okay. What time is it?”

“Probably a little before noon, at this point.”

“Let’s stop for lunch, then, and see if we can keep our horses there for a couple of hours while we try to find people to talk to.”

“On the side closest to the park, you do indeed find a stable, and the hostler there agrees to keep your horses for the afternoon, for the price of one gold coin.”

“Can I roll an insight check to see if I’m being scammed?”

“I guess?”

“Fifteen.”

“You’re not being scammed, but he’s essentially charging you a full day’s rate for half a day.”

“I glare at him.”

“Do you want to roll an intimidation check?”

“Oh, can I? That’d be great.”

“Fine, we’ll do an opposed.”

“Another fifteen.”

“He got a five. He caves, and drops the price to seven silver.”

“I glare again, but I pay, so that he knows I am aware of his little game and merely choosing to play along.”

“He takes your money, and promises to take very good care of your horses before scuttling away.”

“I do the thing where I point at my eyes and then his eyes.”

“Don’t overdo it.”

“You’re not my dad.”

“Don’t overdo it, Kīdu.”

“…Fine. But he knows what he did.”

Treville rolls his eyes, but doesn’t respond. “Having secured your horses and sufficiently terrorized the hostler, you go back around to the front of the building and enter the tavern on the ground floor. It’s essentially one large room divided into sections by sturdy wooden pillars, with clusters of tables and benches scattered rather haphazardly around. It’s bit darker in here than it was outside, but well-lit for the size of the space: there are oil lamps hung at regular intervals along the walls, and larger lanterns suspended from the crossbeams of the ceiling.”

“Are the lanterns low enough to run into?”

Treville stares at him for a solid three seconds. “No. The people who designed it weren’t idiots.”

D’Artagnan shrugs. “Just checking.”

“Most of the tables are full, but as you look around the room you see a few empty ones scattered throughout. There’s a small table that looks like it would just seat two people off to your left, set up against a window with a piece of glass missing; there’s a more spacious table more in the middle of the room, positioned between two groups of people who seem to be loudly celebrating two different occasions; and there are a few towards the back wall, sort of grouped into the corner.

“Which one would you like to sit at?”

“I’m already feeling a little claustrophobic, so I’m going to head for the emptier area at the back.”

“All right. You and your father wend your way through the crowd and make for one of the tables in the back. You turn around one of the pillars, and as you do, a door you hadn’t noticed before opens and a beautiful woman comes out just in time to run into you. It’s not a hard collision, but it throws her off balance, and she stumbles against you.”

“I of course reach out to steady her, and apologise for startling her. …What’re you rolling, there, Treville?”

“Nothing. What’s your passive perception?”

“Fifteen, I think.”

Treville raises his eyebrows. “Seriously?”

“Yeah? I have…” d’Artagnan skims his stat sheet, “…plus two to wisdom, so that includes perception, and I also have proficiency in perception, so I add five to the base ten.”

“You are just perceptive enough, and I mean truly, by-the-skin-of-your-teeth, just perceptive enough to notice that as she stumbles into you, she slips something into your pocket.”

“She’s reverse pick-pocketing me?” d’Artagnan demands, affronted. “She’s put-pocketing me? With what?”

“Do an opposed dexterity check,” Treville says, unhelpfully.

D’Artagnan glares at him, but rolls.

“It’s the mug,” Aramis whispers to Porthos, and Constance gasps loudly.

“How dare she! That mug is my everything! I knew I should have put it in the safe.”

D’Artagnan scowls down at his dice. “I’m guessing a six doesn’t win?”

“Not remotely, since she rolled a nineteen. You don’t catch her before she’s let go of whatever it is, but you do feel something land in your pocket.”

“Can I grab her arm once she’s dropped it in?”

“Do another opposed dex check.”

“Dirty twenty.”

“…She also got a dirty twenty.”

“God damn it. Does that mean I fail, or do I try again?”

“You have to do a roll off, so just roll a raw d20. I’ll roll for her again.”

“Fourteen?”

“She got a six, so you do manage to catch her arm.”

“I hold onto her arm to keep her from making a run for it, and with my other hand I reach into my pocket and find…” he trails off expectantly.

“You reach into your pocket, and feel something hard, and a little heavy. You pull it out, and find yourself staring at a bloody dagger. And as soon as you’ve seen it, the woman screams.

“Let me go! You’re hurting me! Help, please, someone help me!

“It’s this raw, primal, terrified shriek, and you see her expression change in an instant from startled confusion to desperate fear, and even though you know what just happened, for a moment you’re a little concerned that somehow you really have hurt her.

“Please, help! He killed that man!”

“What?” d’Artagnan bursts out. “Who? It’s her knife! It’s her fucking knife, and she planted it on me! She just came out of that room and tried to put a literal bloody dagger in my pocket, and now she’s trying to say that I killed someone? Bullshit!”

Treville looks at him for a second, considering. After a while, he asks, “Would you consider that to be ‘super casual’ language?”

It takes a moment, but then d’Artagnan gets it, and groans loudly. “Fuck. So no one but my dad understands what I just said?”

Treville nods. “So, to summarise, you and your father have just walked into this tavern, looking for lunch, and within seconds of doing so, you ran into this woman, pulled out a bloody knife, and shouted aggressively in a foreign language while the woman screamed and begged for help.”

“Absolutely fuck me. How are my odds?”

“Not great. There are already several people advancing on you from nearby tables, and the woman has used your surprise to get out of your hold and make a run for it.”

“Well, Plan A would have been ‘explain myself,’ but I think we are well beyond that now, so I’m gonna resort to Plan B, which is ‘get the fuck out of here.’”

“Better move fast; you’re about to be blocked in.”

“God damn it, Treville. I dive between two of the people coming towards me, land in a super tight roll, and come up sprinting.”

“Acrobatics check, please.”

“I’m never going to trust you again,” d’Artagnan declares as he rolls, then whoops. “Another fucking nat twenty! God, Porthos, we’re going out for drinks after this, because these dice rock.

“Kīdu, instead of diving between the people, you actually jump over them, do a perfectly tucked flip as you sail over their heads, and hit the ground running. What’s your speed?”

“Just thirty.”

“With a nat twenty, I’ll say that you manage to get past the first mob of people without issue, and you’ll roll your next check with advantage, but you do still need to roll a dex check to avoid being grappled by anyone else as you book it towards the door.”

“Any chance I can do athletics instead of dex, so that if someone does grapple me I can shake them off?”

“I guess, yeah.”

“Cool. Fifteen, plus six, so twenty-one.”

“You duck and dodge everyone with ease, the adrenaline making you even quicker and sharper in your movements than usual, and you make it to the door untouched, but you are still holding the knife, so that might have helped.”

“Oh, shit. I drop the knife.”

“You drop the knife as you burst out into the open air, and hesitate for a moment as you take in your surroundings. Ahead of you is the road that you’ve just travelled down; if you choose to keep going straight, you’ll eventually go back through the gate, past the guards, and out of the city. To your right, on the other side of the main road, is a smaller street that will take you into Old Town. Behind you is the road leading down to the river and the bride; and to your left is the park, and beyond that the Military Ward. Which way do you go?”

“The Military Ward is kind of messier and haphazard than Old Town, right? In terms of layout?”

“From what you’ve seen of it as you rode down the main road, yes, it does give you that impression.”

“I skid to stop outside of the tavern, look around for a beat, and then take off running towards the Military Ward. Are people following me?”

“Absolutely. You have a bit of a head start, but mechanically you have the same speed as a commoner, so you’re not guaranteed to be able to outrun them.”

“Then as soon as I hit the Military Ward, I start taking turns at random, trying to lose my pursuers.”

“Roll a d12 to see how many people follow you out of the tavern and see you turn left.”

“Eleven. Fuck.”

“The first side street you come across is to your right, so you turn right. Roll a d10 to see how many people are close enough to see you make that move.”

“Eight.”

“They’re not gaining on you, but they’re not giving up, either. At the next intersection you can turn right or left or keep going straight.”

“Uh, left.”

“Roll a d6.”

“Four.”

“You’ve lost most of your pursuers, but there are still a few. Once again, at the next intersection you can go right, left, or straight.”

“Right.”

“You turn right, but find yourself face to face with a young woman with long dark hair and a sword at her side.”

“Wait, shit, is it the same person?”

“As in the tavern? No.”

“Well, fuck it. I do the tropiest, most cliché thing imaginable, and I say, ‘Please go along with this,’ and then I kiss her.”

Treville blinks a bit, taken aback in spite of himself, and then turns to Constance. “Thaïs—”

Aramis crows in surprised glee, and even Athos grins at the twist as Treville continues.

“—this person you’ve never seen before in your life comes hurtling out of an alley, almost runs you over, and then kisses you.”

“I think for a second I’m just shocked,” Constance says.

“How good of a kisser am I?” d’Artagnan asks, and Treville snorts.

“Roll a performance check with disadvantage.”

Disadvantage? This entire scenario has ‘swashbuckling and romantic’ written all over it!”

“It has ‘absolute madman’ written all over it,” Constance corrects. “So yes, roll your disadvantage.”

D’Artagnan rolls his eyes, and then his dice. “Disadvantage didn’t make much difference, honestly. I could have gotten a seven, but now I only get a six.”

“You’re not the worst kisser I’ve ever experienced,” Constance allows graciously, “but as soon as I shake off the shock of it I am going to punch you in the solar plexus.”

Why would you do that?” d’Artagnan whines wheezily as Treville rolls a d4.

“Fortunately for you,” he says, “all four of the people chasing you ran past while you were kissing Thais.”

“Oh, wow, I can’t believe that actually worked!”

“How much damage can I do on my punch?”

“An unarmed strike is usually just one point of damage, but I’ll let you roll a d4 and add your strength modifier to it.”

“And that is…” Constance skims over her sheet. “Plus one, I think?”

D’Artagnan leans over to check where she’s pointing, and nods.

“Maybe one of us should verify that,” Athos suggests drily. “I’d hate for Thais to be cheated out of a just retribution.”

D’Artagnan turns on him with an offended gasp.

“I have everyone’s main stats,” Treville interjects, “and Constance is right.”

D’Artagnan smirks, then jerks as Constance kicks him in the shin.

“How much damage on that one?” Porthos asks, sniggering.

“I’m dead, actually. Ow, Constance.”

“I rolled a two,” she announces primly, “so you take three damage for propositioning me on the street.”

“It wasn’t a proposition, it was a diversion—”

“Oh, and that’s supposed to be better? A diversion from what, precisely?”

D’Artagnan blinks. “I was running for my life,” he says after a beat, slipping back into Kīdu’s voice. “At least, I think I was. I was just framed for murder, and I don’t know what they would have done to me if they’d caught me.”

“Murder? Where? When?

“At the inn by the park – I don’t know what it’s called, we’ve only just arrived in the city.”

“Did you see who did it?”

“I think so. I bumped into a woman as I was looking for a table, and she tried to slip a bloody knife into my pocket, but I caught her, and she started screaming that I’d killed someone.”

“Can I do a check of some kind to see if I believe him?” Constance asks. “How would I do that?”

“You can roll an insight check,” Treville tells her. “That’s a d20, and then you add your wisdom modifier, and…do you have proficiency in insight or wisdom or anything like that?”

“Um, maybe? Where would I find that?”

“It’d probably be listed in the ‘other proficiencies and languages’ section of your character sheet,” Aramis suggests, “in the bottom left corner.”

“Oh, then yes, I have proficiency in insight.”

“Then you can add another plus two to whatever you roll,” Treville says. “So, roll a d20, then add four.”

Constance rolls. “Ooh, that’s an eighteen, so…twenty-two.”

“Almost in spite of your better judgement,” Treville says, “you do find that you trust this person. He’s obviously been running hard, and he looks on-edge and jumpy, and maybe even a little frightened.”

What?” d’Artagnan protests. “Come on, I’m not scared.”

“Oh, please,” Porthos scoffs. “You’re quaking in your boots.”

“It’s the adrenaline,” d’Artagnan insists. “It makes you shaky. It’s all bloodlust and fury, I swear to God.”

“Deception check,” Athos murmurs to Aramis, who cackles and tosses a dice up in the air before catching it and slamming it down onto the table.

“Nat three!”

“Fuck you, Aramis. I can roll my own deception.”

“Do it, then,” Treville challenges. “Disadvantage.”

“Hah hah,” d’Artagnan says drily and swipes Aramis’ dice from across the table. “Well, that’ll be a nat four, thank you so much.”

“He’s absolutely terrified,” Treville tells Constance. “In fact, Kīdu, give me a con check.”

“Check or save?”

“Whichever is lower.”

“Fuck you, too, Treville,” d’Artagnan says without heat. “Uh, six?”

Treville snorts. “You fully pass out. The adrenaline wears off abruptly, and you’re so stressed and exhausted that your vision starts to grey out, and before you know it you’re flat-out on the cobblestones.”

“Fine, but I’m going to insist to my dying day that I didn’t ‘pass out,’ okay? After some hardcore acrobatic feats and a successful evasion of an angry mob, I collapsed in a fury of victory.”

“You are going to have eternal disadvantage on that claim, but in the meantime, Thaïs, you now have an unconscious stranger who told you he was being hunted as a murderer and then fainted at your feet.”

“Great,” Constance sighs. “If I’d known my day was going to be like this, I would’ve had three bagels for breakfast.”