I’ve been DMing for my group for a long time. When I was approached by Dirt Cheap Dungeons to run their module, “Cursed Echoes,” I thought to myself this is the perfect opportunity to get to actually play the game. So after a little bit of asking, pleading, and begging, one of my players reluctantly agreed to run the game.
Ecstatic, I rolled myself a Halfling Rogue named Pip.
Pip was a young halfling with a heart for adventure and mischief. His background was less tragic than a typical rogue; he was raised by a fairly wealthy merchant family. His father traveled to far away lands to sell his goods and he always returned with stories. Pip would sit by the fireplace and his father would tell him of the amazing and terrible creatures he had seen during his journeys. Pip may have been a little young and he knew his father would exaggerate, but those stories were fixed in Pip’s mind and one day he was going to live his own adventures. With a promise to return home to take over the mercantile business from his father, Pip left home with his parent’s blessing and his trusty backpack full of clean underwear, and sandwiches.
Pip’s first destination? Farwynd. A small city where the wind is always blowing and riches are always flowing. Pip had theories on the wind. His favorite was an angry djinn who lived in the Crystal Desert that made the wind punish the people of Farwynd for some past discretion.
Pip tugged the scarf higher up onto his face to combat that biting sand that rode the gusting winds. The gates of Farwynd were crowded with people trying to push their way into the already congested streets. The one benefit of being short is that the crowd of people blocked the harsh winds. Pip slipped through the crowd and onto the main streets of Farwynd.
The streets of the town were lined with several card dealers, dice rollers, fortune tellers, and merchants enticing those that walked by. Pip saw a group of men huddled around a card dealer tossing coins down, confident that this time they would pick the right card. The chorus of groans and cursing confirmed they in fact did not pick the correct card.
Suckers. Pip thought to himself. He knew these games were rigged and only a fool would actually throw their money away on them.
A sharp whistle followed by an explosion of blue and white sparks filled the sky overhead.
But fireworks were never a waste of money.
“Fireworks!” A dwarf woman hollered from her cart, trying to catch the attention of everyone watching the rain of colored sparks.
Pip dashed forward, pushing his way through the crowd.
“One firework, please!” Pip said, barely containing his excitement.
“I’m not sure I feel comfortable selling explosives to children,” she said, dismissing him.
“Children? I’m a halfling.”
The dwarf woman leaned over the counter of her rickety cart. Her eyes were bloodshot and she was having problems focusing on Pip. The pungent smell of alcohol rolled out of her mouth when she spoke, hitting Pip in the face like a fist. “Oh. Well then! Five hundred gold.”
“That’s absurd! That’s not even close to market value!” Pip protested.
“Market value? Well, look at this tiny economist. Supply and demand, boy.” She snorted as she laughed. She lifted a heavy wine skin to her lips and drank.
“Tiny? We’re the same height.”
A man in finely tailored silks roughly pushed Pip aside and placed a heavy sack of coins on the counter. Her eyes lit up at the sack, and she quickly forgot Pip existed.
Five hundred gold! May as well be stealing money from people!
He walked around the side of the cart, head hanging low when something caught his eye. One of the boards on the side of the cart was loose, and just on the other side of the board was a stack of fireworks. Pip could hear the vendor and the man haggling over the price. He took a breath and pulled on the board slowly. The old nails resisted briefly but the board came free with the faintest metallic squeal. Pip slipped his backpack off and threw the flap open and began stuffing fireworks inside. Each firework was roughly the length and width of his forearm. He could only fit four inside the backpack and still close it, but he was satisfied with that. With a smile and a bag full of fireworks, Pip vanished into the sea of people.
Pip walked past an alley. A high pitched squawk stopped him in his tracks. A towering, muscle bound half-orc picked up a chicken and inspected it.
“Oh, that’s a mighty fine specimen,” said Montey. He was a skinny man wearing a vibrant red silk vest over a puffy white silk shirt. “Remember you just need to get the bird over the white line and you win fifty gold!”
Pip saw a thin white line of chalk drawn onto the cobblestones fifty feet into the alley. Not an impossible distance but a challenge for sure.
The half-orc grunted, reeled back and chucked the chicken as hard as he could. The bird sailed through the air with a frightened squawk. White feathers flew off the bird as it flapped furiously before landing lightly about twenty feet down the alley. A full thirty feet short of the white line.
“Sorry, big man! You know what. I’m not supposed to do this, but I’ll let you have another go for one gold,” Montey said, flashing a broad grin.
The half-orc bared his teeth at Montey and stormed off.
“You! Child!” Montey called out.
Pip looked over his shoulder, confused as to who Montey was talking to.
“Oh my apologies! Halfling.”
“Yes, you! Step right up to Montey’s Chicken Toss! A game of skill and dexterity! Throw a chicken across the line and win fifty gold! Only one gold per throw.” He eyed Pip up and down and pulled a stick of chalk out of his pocket, “I’ll even sweeten the deal. You only need to throw the chicken to . . .” he paused and walked down the alley thirty feet and drew a line across the cobblestones. “Here,” he finished.
Pip thought for a moment and fished out a gold. After all, it was a game of skill unlike the card game scams.
“Wondrous! Now choose your chicken and give it your best shot!”
A group of identical looking white chickens pecked at the cobblestones, hunting for scraps of food. Pip grabbed the closest chicken and stepped up to the line, adjusted his grip on the bird, and threw it as hard as he could. The chicken sailed through the air, and for a brief moment it forgot that it was a more or less flightless bird and enjoyed the air rushing through its feathers. It felt something it had never felt before. Freedom.
It was on the perfect trajectory to clear the line and then some.
A gust of wind ripped through the alley, hitting the chicken full in the face. It flapped against the hellish wind but was blown backwards and landed directly in front of Pip.
“OH! What terrible luck! It was so close to going over the line too!”
Pip grimaced, fished out a gold, and picked up another chicken. This time he got a running start and threw the chicken. The chicken spread its wings and flapped twice, stopping all forward momentum. It plopped down ten feet into the alley.
“The chickens are fickle beasts! Would you--”
Before Montey could finish his pitch, Pip pressed another gold coin into the Montey’s palm and grabbed a chicken. He managed to get this chicken almost halfway to the line before it flapped its wings and guided its way to the alley below.
Not to be beat, Pip repeated this process another eight times. Each time the result was the same. He reached into his money pouch, his fingers searching for another gold coin only to come back empty.
“No coin, no chickens.” Montey’s tone darkened as soon as he realized Pip was out of money. “You there! Big man! Surely you can out-throw this pathetic halfling and win his gold and mine! Sixty gold if you get the chicken over the line!”
Pathetic? Pip walked away from the alley unsure of what he was going to do next. Sounds of merriment and laughter drifted out of the tavern door. A drink would help soothe the pain of losing his money to that charlatan. He pushed his way inside the crowded tavern. The place was packed with people celebrating. A bard played an upbeat tune in the corner on his lute. Pip spotted an empty spot at a table and wormed his way through the crowded room. He took his seat, slipped off his left boot, and retrieved his singular emergency gold.
This is it. I can’t go home already. I haven’t done anything. Pip thought to himself.
His self pitying was interrupted by a raven kenku sitting at his table. Her voice was rising in volume, “It’s barbaric! It’s disgusting! To think that anyone would take part in that horrible game. They’re just as bad as that vile man.”
“I know, I know. Keep your voice down.” Her companion, a half-elf, said, holding his hands up defensively.
“I will not keep my voice down! Throwing chickens for sport!” She shouted, drawing annoyed looks from the patrons seated around her.
“It’s awful but I mean . . . they are just birds.”
“JUST BIRDS?” She chirped, her voice hit an ear splitting octave.
“Here we go.” He shook his head, sighing quietly. He picked up his ale and drank deeply.
“Excuse me,” Pip interrupted. “I couldn’t help but overhear you discussing the chicken tossing game just outside in the alley.”
“You mean hate crime?” The kenku chirped, still glaring at her companion.
“Exactly.” Pip leaned in closer and spoke in a low whisper. “What if we liberated those chickens and liberated the ill gotten coin from that monster?”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” the half-elf began to protest.
“I think it’s an excellent idea. Tormat,” she said his name, seething with disdain.
“You know what, Vidae, I changed my mind. Nothing could possibly go wrong.”
“You’re not good at sarcasm, and it’s beneath you,” she snapped her beak for punctuation.
“Hey, I’m Pip. Wonderful to meet you both. So. Chicken heist?”
The three sat at the table drinking and hatched a plan. As night fell, the celebration raged on inside the tavern and on the streets. Pip slipped away from the table and out of the tavern. Revelers ambled past him on unsteady drunken legs.
Vidae and Tormat would exit out the back of the tavern which came out at the other end of the alley, trapping Montey between them. Pip suspected that if the three of them threatened him he would most likely surrender the coin and chickens without a fight. After all, they were just birds.
Pip waited at the entrance of the alley until he saw his companions sneak into the shadows at the far end. He wouldn’t have seen them if he didn’t know to look for them, so the odds that Montey did were pretty slim. Pip stepped around the corner.
“Oh, ho ho! Come to try your luck on another throw?” Montey smiled, gesturing to his birds. “I’m about to close up but I’ll let you have another go because you’re such a loyal customer.”
Pip saw Vidae’s head pop up over a pile of trash, her black beady eyes stared into his soul.
“Uh, excuse me but I don’t believe we’ve met before,” Pip attempted to bluff.
“Hmm, halflings do all look alike,” Montey shrugged. “One gold per throw! Get the bird over the line and you take home fifty gold!”
“Wonderful. Let me just get my gold out--” Pip feigned, reaching for his money pouch, then drew his dagger with a flash.
Montey barked out a laugh. “Oh my. This is quite interesting.” He snapped his fingers and shouted over Pip’s shoulder. “Fifty gold if you can throw the halfling over the line.”
Two thugs standing across the street in the opposite alley cracked their knuckles and pushed their way through the crowd.
Montey turned his attention back to Pip, “You can leave now. No harm, no foul.”
“What did you say?” Vidae’s screech echoed off the alley walls.
Pip could faintly hear Tormat mutter, “Not again.”
“Who are you calling fowl?!” Vidae all but jumped from her hiding spot.
Montey looked to Pip for help.
“I honestly don’t know,” Pip said, equally confused.
Vidae closed the distance, her taloned feet clicking rapidly against the cobblestones. Montey drew a dagger and squared off against her. In mid stride she threw a clawed hand out and sprayed a thick cloud of poison into Montey’s face.
“My EYES!” He howled in pain as he slashed out blindly to keep Vidae at bay.
The two thugs pulled heavy cudgels out of their waist bands and stalked toward Pip. The mouth of the alley was narrow enough that the thugs would have to enter one at a time or they wouldn’t have enough space to swing their cudgels without accidentally hitting each other.
Pip slipped his heavy backpack off of his shoulders and slipped into a defensive stance, dagger held forward.
One thug didn’t waste any time. He charged Pip, swinging the cudgel like a hammer in an attempt to crush Pip’s skull. With a savage hollow crack, the cudgel slammed into the top of Pip’s head. It was luck that Pip managed to keep his feet and fight off the dark spots swimming across his vision. He could feel a trickle of warm blood down the side of his face.
A gap toothed grin spread across the thug’s face, as he reeled back with the cudgel to finish Pip off. He didn’t hear the sharp snap of the bow string from deeper in the alley, but he did feel the arrow sink into his chest. The grin was replaced with a look of surprise as he looked down at the wooden shaft jutting out of his chest.
Tormat had already nocked his next arrow.
Vidae avoided Montey’s clumsy attacks and drove her staff into his stomach. The air in his lungs was evacuated with a pained wheeze and he collapsed to the floor.
“Free the chickens, Pip. We’ll handle the thugs,” she said, stepping over Montey.
That is a wonderful idea. Pip thought to himself as he dizzily walked to the chicken cages. He popped them open and waited for the feathered prisoners to make their great escape, but they just clucked at him in confusion.
“C’mon, get out, you’re free!” Pip reached into a cage to encourage a chicken to move, and got pecked on the hand for his effort.
“Stupid bird! GO!” Pip picked the cage up and shook it violently. The chicken fell out with an alarmed squawk. Instead of running, it just pecked at the cobblestones at Pip’s feet.
Well, I tried. Pip snuck over to the wheezing Montey who was still clutching his ruined diaphragm.
“They’re trained, you idiot,” Montey coughed out a harsh laugh. “They won’t leave for anything.”
“Wait. So it’s not a game of skill?”
“There’s a sucker born every minute--”
Pip punched Montey squarely in the jaw, bouncing the man’s head off the cobblestone, knocking him out cold. He reached into Montey’s vest and pulled out a heavy sack of coins.
“We should probably get out of here before the guards show up.”
And if by saying the word ‘guard’ it was like Pip had magically summoned them. Men in heavy leather jerkins wielding short swords pushed through the revelers and formed a semicircle at the mouth of the alley.
The iron bars rattled shut on the prison cell door.
“See. I told you nothing would go wrong,” Tormat said, taking a seat on the thin cot against the back wall of the cramped cell.
Vidae paced the cell, muttering to herself. Pip could faintly hear “go wrong” repeated sarcastically.
A quiet voice from the outside of the cell interrupted her pacing.
“Excuse me. Are you the three brave heroes that tried to save some chickens? I’m Gorbi and today is your lucky day.”
“Oh?” Pip asked approaching the bars. He was the same height as the dark blue skinned merdwarf.
“I’ve been looking for someone to help me with a little quest. And who better than those that have already shown a propensity for helping those in need?”
“No thanks,” Tormat said.
“You haven’t heard the best part yet. You’ll get ten thousand gold pieces and a royal favor each upon the completion of your quest.”
“I’ll also pardon you; the whole robbery and attempted murder thing will go away. Or you can hang in the morning.”
“That sounds like a pretty compelling offer to me,” Pip said, thrusting his hand through the bars. “Name’s Pip Fiddleson. Pleasure”
Pip looked over his shoulder and could see the hesitation on Tormat’s face. “What is there to think about? Help this nice fellow out or die. Seems pretty obvious to me.”
“What is this quest?” Vidae asked, sharing Tormat’s skeptisicm. “And why us?”
Gorbi got as close to the bars as they could, “Because I need you to find King Marephus. I don’t trust the locals and I’m paying for your discretion. You have a few hours before sunrise. I suggest you rest up and set out at first light. The Windy Woods are not pleasant after nightfall. Your equipment along with a map will be waiting for you at the guard’s desk. You should start your search at the Old Farwynd Ruins. I’ll scout ahead and meet you there. Good luck.”
Pip turned to Vidae and Tormat, “See, everything worked out!”