Saturday, January 14, 2017

Savage Empire: Courting Trouble

When last I left our intrepid heroes (ages ago - I suppose this really is a valley stuck in time, isn't it?) I was preparing for a trip to Tichticatl, the grand capital city of the Nahuatla. There, I would find a way to restore a king to his rightful place, clinching the support of the most advanced tribe in the valley, and guaranteeing their aid in the efforts against the Myrmidex.

But first, I stopped to talk to a lizard.


See, I ended my last session in the Sakkhra caves, and on my way out, I bumped into one that I had somehow missed talking to in my previous visits to the lizardfolk. Ksssindra was once a warrior, but having aged past her golden years, she now served as a teacher in the tribe. And outside as well, as she eagerly told me of Sakkhra legends and of a city beneath the ground near the great mesa. According to legend, she said, the Sakkhra once lived there, though the city had been since lost. She seemed glad for a listening ear, and after a pleasant exchange, we said our goodbyes and my little band made their way toward the city of Tichticatl.

One of my first tasks that I set myself upon arrival was to track down a few more obsidian swords. The Yolaru had asked me for ten of them to arm their warriors, after all, and I was only carrying a few. Scrounging around on the outskirts of town turned up another one or two, though the area seemed fairly deserted. Wondering where everyone might be, I strolled into the city proper to see what information I could get from the locals - or whether I could even find any locals. The situation in the city might have been more dire than I had first expected.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the first person I spoke to turned out to be Atlipacta, the town weaponcrafter! She excitedly told me of her work and her craft, and was more than willing to show me her wares and offer them in trade for emeralds. She showed me the armor and shields she crafted, while Triolo examined the bows and arrows in her stock. It was her blades, however, that truly drew my eye, passing straight over her knives and instead negotiating for the purchase of her swords. I walked out of her shop a few emeralds lighter, but with four more obsidian swords weighing down our packs - enough to bring my total to eleven, ten for the Yolaru and one spare left over for Aiela to use.

Naturally, I promptly abandoned the city in order to beeline it straight to the Yolaru and give the swords to their chieftain. Hey, those things were heavy and I was in sore need of space in my inventory!

Well that's not suspicious at all.
Packs now significantly lighter, we made our way back to the city, only to stumble upon an allosaurus blocking the way. We made short work of him, Aiela acquitting herself well with her new weapon, then returned to our exploration of Tichticatl proper. We quickly came to realize that this was a city on edge - most of them men we came across decried us as intruders and made to attack. The women were considerably more open, but even they were uneasy. They were more than willing to point us to the weaver and the weaponmaker, should we have need of any of their services, but when it came to the state of things at court, they were decidedly unsettled. Many of them denied even knowing the name of Moctapotl, their proper king. Some further questioning uncovered the fact that Huitlapacti had claimed the throne for his own and decreed that nobody may utter the name of the previous one. The sense of fear in the city was palpable.

Methinks something's rotten, a lot closer than Denmark.
Of course, the best way to get a sense of the state of court was to visit, so after chatting with Paxaptamac for a bit (who told us of flax, and took some feathers off our hands in exchange for emeralds), it was off to the palace. Right away we could tell something was not right in Tichticatl - from a parrot, of all things. There was one flapping about the throne room, repeating things that didn't quite make sense to us out of context. The names Fritz and Spector came up on occasion, as well as mentions of the Kotl city, and plans to conquer the world! Affairs among the Nahuatla were indeed more dire than first glance suggested.

Remembering how much the townsfolk seemed to fear Huitlipacti, I opted for avoiding the man himself and instead talking to his shaman, a man named Zipactriotl. Or more accurately, Johann Spector - he was known to Professor Rafkin, being an archaeologist himself. At one point, at least, as he had currently declared himself shaman, and, as he himself put it, the "savoir of Earth, the bringer of peace and paradise." He spoke of stones like the moonstone, and energy similar to that which came from them in the Myrmidex caves and the Kotl city, and of his grand plans to harness that energy reactivate the Kotl's automatons, use them to get the stone in the Myrmidex caves, and promptly use both to conquer the world itself! Yes, these were dire circumstances indeed. He openly bragged of deposing Moctapotl and disposing of the previous shaman, Oaxtepac, as both of them were in the way of putting his plans into motion. He seemed intent on doing the same to me, as further questions merely provoked him into calling the guards on us!

Yeah, that's sending up half a dozen warning signals.
We scrambled through the palace halls, eventually finding refuge in a room that turned out to be the Queen's own chambers. Fortunately, she seemed to sympathize with us. Tlapatla was the wife of Huitlipacti and cousin to Moctapotl. She was a bit haughty, but told a bit of the strange blue glow that surrounded both the usurper and his mad shaman - Zipactriotl (or rather, Spector) had given him a belt which surrounded him with a glow that protected him with a glow no weapon could pierce, brought back from the hidden city.

Needing allies, I sought out the prison, to see if I could find the previous shaman. Spector had implied that he was merely imprisoned, not dead, and after some effort I did manage to find Oaxtepac. He gave us clues to both the history and the location of the hidden city Tlapatla had mentioned - according to him, the ancestors of the tribes of Eodon were brought to the valley by the denizens of that city to be servants. Eventually, though, their ancestors rebelled, slaying their masters and abandoning the city. Who their captors were, legends could not agree. Some called them spirits, some likened them to the Sakkhra. Whatever the case, it was clear the key to bringing down Huitlipacti and Zipactriotl lay in the city. Supposedly the previous residents, when they abandoned the city, left a key in case they ever decided to come back. To find the city, one needed to find a device on the great mesa, and fit a large gem into it. At a certain hour, the light hitting the gem would reveal the location of the city. This gem had apparently been stolen by the Urali - but Aiela reminded me that Darden had given it to her as a present!

Precisely what I was thinking, Jimmy m'boy.
Oaxtepac told us, however, that there was one more obstacle in our way - a man made of solid gold guarded the entrance to the city, and was currently missing its head. Oaxtepac had found it on a Barrab man, and after telling Spector's assistant Fritz, was now in the possession of the crazed shaman. Fritz himself was driven off by the madness of his former master, but I remembered hearing his name among the Pindiro. Thanking Oaxtepac, we went on our way, only to have another prisoner, bragging of the crimes he had committed, demand we break him out. When we refused, he called for the guards, and once again we were fighting and fleeing for our lives.

A quick sneak back to the palace revealed the golden head in the palace treasury, but we still felt it best to track down Fritz for his side of the story before proceeding further. The Pindiro told us Fritz was currently residing in a cave west of the great lake, so after fending off a few deinonychuses (deinonychi?), we found the man in question. He told us it was his fault that Spector had gone mad, but had tried to make up for it by stealing the crystal brain Spector had taken from the Kotl city. Whatever he may have ended up doing while working for the madman, it was more than evident that that Fritz was doing his best to make amends. So when he offered us the crystal brain to aid us in our effort, we readily accepted.

From there it was off to the Great Mesa, where we placed the gem into its setting (after thanking my lucky stars that I'd thought to save just before I did - I tried to (M)ove it rather than (U)se it at first, which shattered the gem. Reload ahoy!!) At noon, the light refracting off the gem converged on the plain to the north, and heading over there revealed a hidden entrance, right near the teleporter plaza! Descending into the depths, we came across the headless golden statue we were told would likely be there. Reattaching the head, the statue sprang to life, welcoming us to the city of the Kotl, though apologizing for not remembering much. He did remember his name, Yunapotli, and said he would remember more with his brain. We handed over the crystal brain, and in return he told us of devices the Kotl developed to combat the Myrmidex - black staves, canisters full of a gas harmful to the Myrmidex, shields. We would have to keep an eye out for them as we explored the city. He also told us that Katalkotl would know many things about the Kotl and their city. We could find him in the center of the city, he was unable to move from his spot there. After some further discussion, Yunapotli agreed to join with us and opened the door to the city proper.

And so that was where I called it a day - in the same place where I began it, in a sense. I'd started by talking to a Sakkhra about the lost city, and now I was standing in it. All that was left was to explore it - and find a way to deal with the glow about the Nahuatla usurper in the process.

~~~

I just can't resist wordplay.
I have some thoughts about the plot of the game as a result of this update, but I think I'll reserve those for the game's culmination proper. For now I'll just say that an open world can lead to some pacing issues when it comes to game story, and I think that came into play a bit during this session. It's nice to finally get some backstory and a sense of the larger scheme of things, but the fact I waited this long to get to the Nahuatla city meant that I didn't get that particular piece of the plot until much later, and I think it would have helped having it earlier.

That's not to say that I think it's necessarily bad, but-- well. Again, I think that's something to be saved for my eventual wrap-up post.

I did have one other thought while putting this together, though, and that's an inexplicable aversion to calling my merry band of adventurers a "party." I've consciously avoided using the word while composing the narrative of my travels through Britannia and beyond, and I still can't figure out exactly why. At first I thought it was simply a term that sounded too "game-ish" to my ear, and I've made an effort to make these posts, at least the bits describing my gameplay, to feel a bit more story-like. But then I remembered that I've had no hesitation about including things like leveling up, which is very much a game mechanic aspect that I haven't had any compunction about throwing about willy-nilly.

So why this aversion to calling them my party a "party?"

Maybe it's because I feel there's a bit of a disconnect in the term. When used in a game context, it feels somewhat... well, "impersonal" is the word I'm looking for, I think. To me, it describes a group chosen solely for function and capability rather than a proper gang of characters that's developing together. And as I've tried to do the latter more than the former in this series, "party" doesn't feel much like an appropriate word to use. I mean, bare bones as it is at times, I like to think of these guys as proper characters, rather than just what use I can get out of them in a combat situation. And the connotations my brain gives "party" just doesn't fit the image I have of them.

Of course, there's another explanation, and that's simply, "language be weird, yo."

...and I think the fact I just typed that sentence is an indication that it's time to draw this post to a close. If you'll excuse me, I've got an ancient city to explore!

Right under my nose, this whole time!

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