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Showing Your Colors: Rabble Rousers

For an old man, the mysterious lizardfolk shuffles his feet quickly and the colorful city of the lizardfolk passes by the group almost in a blur. Younglings and wizened old lizardfolk alike stare at the outsiders walking their streets, with the occasional brave one shouting for attention. After crossing the river and hiking back up the steep steps on the other side of the city, the old man ushers the group into his small stone house. A simmering pot of soup and a cozy, if untidy, home greet their eyes. With everyone seated, his voice confidently booms out, stronger and more confident than his frame would lead one to expect. “This is all quite sudden but I think you all may be just what this city needs to break out of its rut, and end this confounded isolation. I remember a time when lizardfolk traded and roamed as freely as any folk, but today most are stuck in the status-quo,” he speaks in the common tongue, “ You must understand that there are those who want to change the kingdom’s laws, but they are divided against each other, to the Empress’ benefit: the Proudfrills and the Gemscales.” Rila cuts in to ask, “, and they want?” The conversation drifts back and forth as the elderly lizard explains the two main factions of the city pushing for change. One seeks an open path for raiding and honorable combat with the outside world while the other seeks trade for cunning lizardfolk to exploit the coin of the world. Many key players in the city are open to being swayed to factions promising change, so it will be up to the Dissonant Whisperers to break the deadlock.

This is the one-page dungeon I reskinned with lizardfolk and using the more thematic map below. I also updated their rules to have both sides add a 1d6, attacker wins on ties. I also added some concrete actions and quests that players could pursue in this abstract city-adventure. I am cleaning them up and editing them for a future post.

When the morning sun streaked through the ornately carved stone windows, the group found the fire smoldering and a missing lizardfolk. Donning their armor, the Dissonant Whisperers discussed a plan to pick a side and ride them to victory. The Gemscales, lacking an apparent desire for conflict seemed the obvious better of the two options, so the group took a long view of the city from the heights of this remote cottage and picked out their approach to the location the old man had described as Frillswoggle’s Accountant House.

A bustling building with incoming and outgoing message runners is thrown into chaos as unfamiliar outsiders are seen strolling in. Not too long after the group is asking about for the boss does an unfortunate lizardfolk gawk a little too long and trip up the tightly packed line of messengers. A throaty, deep voice from the back echoes through the hall, “What is causing this disruption?”. Quickly, a small, squat lizardfolk rushes from the back office to meekly point the adventurers to the back with a heavily accented, “Please follow” in the common tongue. Once in the back office, with a golden nameplate reading ‘Frillswoggle’, sits an overweight lizardfolk behind a desk piled high with sheafs of papyrus. “A, the outsiders, I was just getting some plans together to have my people reach out to you and make sure you were finding your way in the city, but it looks like you’ve taken the initiative upon yourselves”, he warbles in common with an upper class tone. Ariel takes the lead for the team, offering up their services in helping the Gemscales in return for getting the isolation laws overturned and them free to leave the Kingdom of Gaeia. A gleam shown in Frillswoggle eye as the outsiders were now speaking a language he spent most of his waking days speaking, business. His plan was simple, the group would use the excitement they could bring as outsiders to sway the city runehouse to his faction, and he would set them up with a nice place to stay while trapped in the city. This would be the start of a powerful friendship that would see both of them get what they want: the adventurers free to leave and Frillswoggle able to open up whole new markets for his business enterprises.

Unfortunately, the plan immediately went off the rails. The City Runehouse was more than happy to interview outsiders for details on what is happening in the world, their opinions on the lizardfolk city, and even the little personal gossip details that would fill pages. What Frillswoggle didn’t account for though is that when the Dissonant Whisperers started talking about wanting to change the laws and overturn the isolation of this small kingdom, that the stampers would decide to throw in their lot with the adventurers. Frantic workers all across the large stone warehouse began frantically taking their large papyrus sheets and taking them to the spaced out draconic rune stations to press down the paper onto inked stone. The tales of the outside world, the few rosy details given by the Whisperers, would be read by every lizard in the city by the end of tomorrow, or so the head runestamper had declared. The group shares a few sideyes as they try to nonverbally figure out what they are going to tell Frillswoggle, having accidentally added another faction to this mess: their own. 

While the group had been swaying the City Runehouse, Frillswoggle’s people had moved to secure another powerful merchant, successfully convincing him to throw his lot in with the Gemscales. However, Gurlge, the leader of the Proudfrills, escalated his efforts as well, using his loyal gladiators and slum dwellers to extort support from the scrapyard, securing a source of crude materials and weapons for his faction. Learning of the increasing activity of the city’s factions, the group hears of a third -mostly neutral- faction. The Temple of the Old Gods turns out to be fairly close to the cottage the group had stayed at the previous night, so they plan to check up on the old man while they make the trek up to the temple. Upon arriving however, the cottage instead plays host to cobwebs and detritus, appearing to have been abandoned for years. They suspect that the old lizard may not be exactly who he appeared to be, with conspiracy theories ranging from him being in the employ of one of the factions to him being the Empress in disguise, but no clues are found in a quick search.

Finishing the last of the additional hundreds of steps from the cottage up to the temple, the group comes upon a temple proudly featuring three draconic deities: Bahamut, Tiamat, and Asgorath. A young acolyte, bumbling through his words, happily explains that they keep the faith of the old religion of the lizardfolk with the three dragons here representing broad swathes of various aspects of lizardfolk philosophy. The talking in the otherwise empty temple draws the attention of the priest who steps out from the back rooms to chide his acolyte for failing to offer food and drink, then introducing himself as Goodscale. Discussion, over cool, clear water and dark rye bread takes turns talking about the the draconic deities of this temple to the various faiths of the outside world. Goodscales booming laughter matches his passionate eyes as he makes a direct offer to the group, he wants to walk the world, discovering what he can about the draconic gods, and spreading word of them where he can. In return for his committed aid in their bid to overturn the laws, he wants help in establishing draconic shrines in Alaran cities as well as the freedom to wander the world. He views the current Gaeian ancestor focused religion to be missing a key part of lizardfolk history, hoping to restore his deities to their rightful place in lizardfolks’ beliefs. The rest of the city isn’t making agreements as peacefully however, as Gemscales and Proudfrills finally come to blows over the recently swayed merchant district, which the Proudfrills fail to threaten with Frillswoggle’s people throwing their own weight around.

With turmoil mounting, the group decides to take a step back and explore the city before nightfall, listening for rumors, and scouting the competition. While they stick out like sore thumbs, the explosion of interest in their stories thanks to the City Runehouse makes most lizardfolk eager to converse with them about most any topic in exchange for outsider gossip. Meeting back together in the evening, the group compares notes about some of the unaligned influences in the city and decide to bring the Hall of Humility to their side. It is the largest source of food for the poor and downtrodden in the city, perfect for their new ally Goodscale to do some diplomacy. With him set on the task of swaying the Hall of Humility’s charitable owners, Ariel leads the group back to Frillswoggle Accountant House to make amends. The busy lizardfolk is wary of them for having broken their word to get him the Runehouse, but is also quite happy at how successfully they are encircling the Proudfrills with the combined might of their two growing factions. Altreyo jumps into the conversation to offer a sweetened deal, their group will put on a big performance in support of Frillswoggle’s cause. Frillswoggle smiles, showing his sharp teeth, “I’ve got just the place I’d like you to put on a show.”

A veritable tent-city sits on the spillway between the tenement stacks, but the down-on-their luck lizardfolk are curious as anyone else about the outsiders. The group is nervous, but Altreyo reassures them that this spot in the slums district has perfect acoustic, sound bouncing perfectly off of the dry spillway and bridges. Leon retorts about this being Gurgle’s main territory, but it is already too late with the attention of the tent-dwelling lizardfolk being on them. They decide to start the show with Altreyo at centerstage of a clear area in the center. Flashes of magic and illusory effects set a backdrop to types of music the lizardfolk haven’t heard before with a message of a bright future out in the wide world. It resonates with the crowd, something they’ve been wanting to hear from their society of rigid status and fixed ideas. One that puts that at the bottom, but maybe they won’t be stuck at the bottom for much longer if the kingdom opens up. But their performance doesn’t go unnoticed, Gurgle has gotten word of their scheme and has whipped a mob into a frenzy to come smash up the performance and any who enjoy it. A booming voice from the rooftops orders the mob forward, attacking any who get in the way of shutting up the outsiders and their corrupting music. The group uses their spells, skills, and weapons to bolster their newfound crowd from the mob, until Gurgle is forced to use his trump card. He sends in his elite fighters from the gladiator pits, but even that isn’t enough to stop the Dissonant Whisperers from breaking the morale of the mob, defeating the gladiators, and putting the slums under their influence.

Turns out Frillswoggle had been busy at the same time, and had taken over a few other locations in the city out from under Gurgle, using his faction’s superior wealth and goods to bribe key players or bank-roll supportive elements in influential areas throughout the city. The Proudfrills are left with only a single point of influence in the city as night falls. Resting up from the fighting, the group spends the evening doing light reconnaissance, only to find a familiar face running a small stand serving fried dough dipped in raw sugar cane juice. Recognizable as he is, he seems to be quite a bit younger than seen previously. Birds wait perched on the parasol of his cart, waiting for patrons to drop bits of the fried dough, as the group takes some time to ask him questions. He is mostly evasive but mentions that the city is waking up, and those benefiting from the status quo are going to start making moves of their own to quash the would-be revolutionaries. 

He isn’t wrong. The Dissonant Whisperers find the counting house in chaos when they wake in the morning. Frillswoggle has been captured by the city guard and taken in for questioning. His faction is listless. They could be brought back to action, but each point of influence loyal to the Gemscales would need to be corralled separately, and without their leader they are uncoordinated and almost useless. Rather than hope for a quick release, wait for a successor to fight their way to the top of the Gemscales, or methodically take over the faction, they decide to go free Frillswoggle. It is time for a heist. 

The 1st floor of the central guard station

Paid off citizens and former crooks reveal the layout of the main guard station. The group contacts the devil freed from Klithmnora’s dungeon for one of the favors he owes them, asking for a disguise spell to make them appear as lizardfolk guards. They sneak in through the back with Rila, undisguised, in tow as a pretend prisoner. An unexpected pair of guards with their own prisoners almost throw the group off, but they keep the focus on Rila the outsider and even manage to use the other group to copy lizardfolk guard procedure from when there is a lieutenant at the side door. Once inside, Tormenoth uses a prepared alarm spell to trick their own watch into raising their alarms, thinking that some lizardfolk on duty had used an alarm spell to alert those on watch. In the chaos the group attempts to head below to the cells but bad luck strikes; a councillor is touring the facility today and the warden orders the group to take a different route from where they are waiting out the alarm. Stepping through into the main guard room, the captain recognizes Rila and orders the group to take her to interrogation, rather than the cells. 

The basement

A quick path through the courtyard and down the cool stone steps to the basement, the group passes by a guard on the way to the interrogation room. Just as she is shackled in the room to await the captain, Tormenoth again triggers a false alarm before they cross the hall to talk to the jailer. She strikes up conversation when they approach, gossiping about the political prisoner she is watching over, idly wondering if the councillor will want to be present for the interrogation. Unable to provide documentation when the group wants to move the prisoner for the councillor’s interrogation, the jailer asks a favor instead to overlook the missing paperwork. She wants some drugs from the evidence locker, but she is barred from the evidence room due to some impropriety of having stolen portions of evidence in the past. A quick walk around the basement reveals the door to the evidence room, but they can find no easy key. Just beyond a different door they overhear the Councillor with the Warden, but decide it is too much trouble to try and get a possible key off the Warden. They return to the jailer, setting off a third false alarm when the guard in the basement entrance hall becomes suspicious of their nosing around. Under the cover of the third false alarm, they rush the guard. They think the jailer might have overheard, so they knock her out too and take her keys, turning off the magical protection on the cells. 

The second floor that the players did not use, but was a possible backup escape via the rooftops.

Leon takes up the hall guard’s post, moving the guard’s unconscious body into the interrogation room where Rila still waits as a backup plan for the group’s escape. As they unlock Frillswoggle’s cell, they tell him they are taking him to interrogation, and he fails to recognize them as disguised lizardfolk. His attempts to bribe them or weedle his way out of getting interrogated fall on deaf ears. At the same time, an adjacent cell holds a smooth talking criminal, Roussga, who bargains his way out of the jail, promising this obviously fake guard group aid on the run or in the future for their aid escaping now. He unlocks his own cell with some hidden spikes of fish bones and joins them, improvised shivs at the ready.

Moving the two unconscious bodies to the room beyond the interrogation room, the group hustles out as they hear the Captain coming down. Rila plays it cool evading the captain’s questions about the location of the other outlanders. Before long, the group triggers another false alarm and the captain storms off to go give someone a punishment detail for embarrassing him and the Warden in front of the Councillor. The rest of the Whisperers come through with prisoners to unlock Rila’s shackles and make good their escape. In the enhanced interrogation room there is a large sewer drain blocked with thick iron bars but a combined assault of magical spells dislodges the brickwork and the group slips down into the sewers. Frillswoggle is beside himself as the group has to fight a massive slime blocking the way of the tight drainage tunnel, but soon enough they reach the spout into the river. A short hustle after leaving the river takes them to a vacated apartment owned by one of Frillswoggle’s people, but before they can even check out the building, a group of elite fighters begins assembling outside. Gurgle’s fighters, armed with gladiatorial style weapons, nets, shields, and armor engage them outside the apartment. Their initial hit and run tactics are successful, pinning down the group as they exit the apartment with nets, but that only lasts until the nets are blasted apart with magic or cut apart with Tormenoth’s blade. Once free, the group is more than a match for the lizardfolk whose attacks are blocked by Tormenoth’s defensive shield work and blasted by four sets of magical attacks. What the group doesn’t know, is how this safehouse got compromised. 

Rain begins to fall on the downed fighters and the group uses it as cover to move among the lizardfolk taking shelter throughout the city. They quickly make their way to the Temple of the Old Gods where they get shelter for Frillswoggle, parting ways with Roussga, who mentions that his ‘associates’ will be available to help break the self-imposed exile of the empress should they need help. Frillswoggle is beside himself as the group hunkers down to take a much needed rest and plan out their next moves. First up is getting Frillswoggle back in contact with his people covertly, which the worsening rain makes easy. They send him out with a second-hand cloak from the temple. Second is to finally finish off Gurgle and his Proudfrills so all their assets can move on the Empress without worry. Unfortunately, while the group has been breaking into the guard garrison, Gurgle has taken back more of his territory over the night, but with Frillswoggle back to his people he messages the group that he is ready when they are. The adventurers head out to confront Gurgle directly at the recently reclaimed slums district, Gurgle Court.

Gurgle has not been waiting patiently, and has gathered his best fighters, waiting for the adventurers to show. The pounding rain has filled the spillway basin but it appears not everyone got their tents and belongings out in time, leaving it littered with floating junk. Lizardfolk armed with tridents, spears, bows, and clubs move to surround the Dissonant Whisperers long the bank of the flooded basin as others use the detritus as make-shift rafts from which to make ranged attacks. With a mighty blast of divine magic from Leon, the team strikes back, knocking lizardfolk apart from their formation and wounding a great deal of them. Rila’s wildshape form wades into the front line of the lizardfolk, drawing their attacks. Gurgle’s main group of fighters are being quickly wounded or downed, with half of them defeated when Gurgle reveals his trump card. He calls for aid from the Murk King with a long blow on an odd looking horn. The huge elemental of mud and silt his cronies had brought down last night rises from the river and water surges against the banks in its wake as it wades forward to attack. Gurgle climbs on its back to command his troops and throw javelins, but magic is the specialty of this group, and one lone target on a barn-sized enemy… 

Gouts of fire, blasts of eldritch energy, and searing divine light pummel Gurgle in quick succession and he falls, dead, into the muddy water. His temporarily leashed beast abandons him, fleeing back into the river, knocking his remaining few loyalists off their trash rafts as the adventurers retreat from the slums. No need to fight an elemental that isn’t attacking them. With the last of their enemies in the city taken care of and almost the entire rest of the city backing them or allied with them, the Dissonant Whisperers organize a march on the city gate. The torrential rain begins to slow and eventually stop as they lead their eclectic groups in tandem with Frillswoggle’s allies. City guards, despite orders, refuse to engage, leaving the nobility sputtering and ancestor-priests cowering in their crypt shrines. The Empress attempts to save face by pulling the adventurers and Frillswoggle aside for a ‘planned’ diplomatic event. 

She offers them food from a grand banquet and attempts to negotiate, but sputters as she misreads the adventurers as disloyal free agents willing to sell out Frillswoggle for their own freedom. Frillswoggle stymies her attempts to haggle just the adventurer’s release back into the world and the Dissonant Whisperers back him, demanding the Kingdom of Gaeia open its borders, and they won’t settle for anything less. Their end of the negotiation done, Frillswoggle waves the group out as he brings in some of his allied power brokers to pound out the fine details of the isolationism repeal, including lucrative, short-term trading monopolies for certain business areas, at least until those businesses get themselves established within the outside world.

As the group leaves, the Goodscale stops them to congratulate them on their efforts and mention that he will be in touch to re-establish draconic temples in bigger cities of the Kingdom of Alara. The excitement is plain on the colorful frills flapping like a dog’s tail. The Captain of the Guard is happy to see the group go, but annoyed that they are outside his jurisdiction now that the isolated kingdom is opening up and they are citizens of another realm. The pardon that Frillswoggle negotiated only adds insult to injury, but despite all the excitement, the temple and swamp are as the group left them just a few days ago. A long day of uneventful hiking sees them set up camp just a few miles away from Acacia-Burke as the sun sets.

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