Fridays Unleashed 3-27-2015

Iron Kingdoms Unleashed is a game in which characters frequently engage in behaviors that are morally questionable when viewed from a “civilized” perspective. To the inhabitants of the wilderness, however, these actions are often not the product of malice but simply the things one must do to survive. The cultures of the gatormen, bog trogs, farrow, and Tharn are not as strict about actions like murder and larceny as the nations of the Iron Kingdoms are.

Still, if one of the wild people of western Immoren is slighted (and survives), who can blame them for wanting to indulge in a bit of revenge? Knor, the farrow bone grinder of the Unleashed Adventure Kit, certainly feels he owes Lurk payback for a past transgression.

With a burbling croak, the bog trog burst from the brush, sending leaves and marsh detritus flying in all directions. The fish-man clutched his metal-hooked pole defensively, but his eyes were fixed on the brackish water ahead: if he could reach it, he might yet escape.

He had no chance.

Two farrow exploded into pursuit, Bardo racing up from behind and Reek closing in from one side. Just as the former raised his pole cleaver to strike, a boom shook the air, and the bog trog fell face-first into the muddy ground, his neck blooming red where the shot had struck.

Too late to stop himself, Bardo pitched forward, dragged by the momentum of his weapon. He squealed in indignation as his feet slid out from under him, and he tumbled onto the scaly corpse. He scrabbled up quickly, but not before he heard a loud snort of amusement from Reek. Bardo turned and glared at him.

“Idiot! Knor said not to damage the body,” Bardo said.

Reek raised his snout twice in a gesture of cocky superiority, then walked over to the dead bog trog. “Doesn’t look too damaged to me. That was a perfect shot.”

A third farrow emerged from the brush. “Good thing, or I’d have your corpses as well,” he growled. He was taller and broader than the others, with a musculature that belied his stout belly, and he wore a belt covered with pouches, cleavers, and saws. “Watch for intruders,” he said, waving them away.

* * *

Rolling the bog trog over, the farrow bone grinder was already anticipating the harvest. This specimen lacked the inner energy of a warlock or a mist speaker, but it was still a bog trog, and that made it appealing prey for a very specific reason. Every time he gutted a bog trog, Knor thought of Lurk, that traitorous thief. Someday the bone grinder would have his revenge: Lurk’s blood spilling out into his hands, Lurk’s vital fluids filling his vials, Lurk’s ugly fish-faced leer permanently stilled.

Knor spread his tool roll next to the body and took out his gutting knife. He then plunged the blade into the base of the bog trog’s belly and drew the knife up toward the chin—such as it was. Thin blood spilled from the incision, and he snuffed slightly at the scent. The bone grinder thrust his hands into the belly cavity and pulled out handfuls of cold entrails, which he piled next to the body in a slippery pink mass.

“Been eating worms, have you?” he said, chuckling at his old joke. “Now, let’s see what you’ve got . . .”

He leaned in to take a closer look at the creature’s organs, then set to freeing the liver, which he inspected with an expert eye before slicing off a piece and chewing on it appraisingly. He grunted in satisfaction, cut a bigger mouthful, and placed the remainder in one of the pouches on his belt.

* * *

Knor finished up, then straightened and took stock of his work, chewing on a chunk of heart. He’d stowed the best parts of the other organs but had sliced most of the dense heart muscle to gnaw on as he worked—it helped him think. The paste he’d mixed from lymphatic liquid and portions of the kidneys, lungs, and spleen filled two of his small oiled-leather bags. The concoction had a weaker taste than he liked, but it would intensify when heated. The skeleton he left, preferring the denser bones of other creatures for his totems, though he had extracted several of the longer sharp teeth.

The two farrow standing guard several yards away looked over, their noses twitching and their features showing cautious anticipation. The bone grinder ignored them; they knew better than to approach before his signal.

Knor kneeled forward again and turned the corpse over. As before, he cut away the clothing, but this time he closely examined the base of the main fin, firmly probing every few inches and sniffing close to the skin. If he looked carefully enough, he should find a row of small, firm ampules under the flesh, though they were easily mistaken for fine bone or cartilage. He’d recently discovered their existence only because of his close attention to his specimens and his keen sense of smell. Something about the scent of the liquid told him it held the key to something greater.

Where were they? These creatures were sneaky even in death, keeping their secrets well hidden.

Suddenly the farrow let out a pleased grunt and produced a small vial from one of his pouches. Taking his knife, he made a tiny incision along the spine that immediately began leaking a viscous black liquid. He dragged a finger through the fluid and brought it to his mouth to taste the flat, marshy scent of the bog trog in front of him and the musty stink of the farrow on guard. Besides these he detected the trace of a reptilian smell; looking around, Knor spotted a leaf lizard sunning itself on a rock at the water’s edge. Hurriedly, he pressed the vial to the cut to catch the fluid. He repeated this a dozen times on each side of the fin, watching the level of the precious liquid rise with each cut. The sight warmed his greedy farrow heart.

The bone grinder stood, stoppered the vial and tucked it away, and waved to his companions to have at the carcass. They trotted over eagerly with low squeals and grunts.

“You can eat the rest,” he told them. “I have what I want.”

And someday, Lurk, that will include you, he thought. As he watched Reek and Bardo devour the remains of the day’s catch, his fingers played over the pouch containing the mysterious liquid.

The relationship between Knor and Lurk showcases an important element of the Iron Kingdoms Unleashed roleplaying game. Neither one of them is really a “good guy.” Each is driven by his own desire for power and survival—a common position for many of the cultures in the wilderness of western Immoren. The setting chapter of the Iron Kingdoms Unleashed: Core Rules book contains a generous amount of information on the various playable races and cultures, which highlights some of these traits.

Game Masters and players alike will find the “Peoples of the Wilds” section of the book an invaluable resource as they build characters and plan campaigns set in the wilderness. Covering the Circle Orboros, trollkin kriels, farrow and gatorman tribes, various wild human communities, Nyss refugees, Tharn tuaths, and more, this section delves into cultures found across the untamed reaches of western Immoren. All told, nearly forty pages are devoted to providing an in-depth look at these peoples. Learn the major territories they control, how they view the world and interact with other populations, and what struggles they typically face in their day-to-day existence. Once you understand a character’s culture and background, you can see how complicated—and incomplete—the idea of “good guy” and “bad guy” really is.