Dungeons & Dragons Online

An Unexpected Proposal (Steelshod 447)

Hey there!

I don’t post these daily anymore, so just in case you’re a newcomer and you’ve never seen a Steelshod post before… click here to start at the beginning

This is the latest chapter out of several hundred, and I don’t think it will make much sense without context. This isn’t an episodic story so much as one long narrative.

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy yourself, and I’ll see you back here in good time. If not, no big deal. But I think if you start here you’re going to be very, very lost.

Table of Contents – includes earlier installments, maps, character sheets, our discord server, and other documents.

First | Previous


World map

Here is a general lore doc including character profiles and here is a basic roster showing who’s where, and who is a PC: Steelshod Roster!

Note for Binge-Readers: This is generally live-updated to reflect the current state of the game! Hopefully if you’re binging you can keep better track of who’s going where, because you just recently read about them going there.

One quick note: I accidentally did not include a link to the last post, 446, in the one prior (445) for about a week or two after posting. So depending on your reading schedule there is a non-zero chance you may have missed 446 entirely! If so, please go check it out before reading on.

Ronald’s Basin, Victoria

The disparate teams have regrouped at Ronald’s Basin.

They’ve survived an ambush on the road and an ambush inside the Basin—the latter mainly due to Conall intervening, and slaughtering nearly a dozen fiendwolves single-handedly.

Conall has broadly remained aloof thus far, but when they talk to him he acknowledges that he has made a decision about what he intends to do.

He agrees to aid Steelshod, at least insofar as they fight against Partholon and the fiendwolves.

He isn’t interested in fighting his other clansmen. But he sees the fiendwolves as abominations, and Partholon as something even worse.

And he seems to have developed a decent rapport with Steelshod… or, at least, with Cyril.

That’s probably a concern to Cara, though she does not voice it aloud.

Given that Cyril is… well, he’s on the same side as Steelshod for now, but he’s not exactly a loyal team-member.

Maybe it would be better if the ancient inhuman monster-man was friendly with Steelshod in general, instead of with what essentially amounts to a mercenary subcontractor.

But Cara is mostly concerned with the immediate situation.

If it bites them down the line, she figures they can sort that out when it happens.

And for now… Conall is on their side. Good enough for her.

There remains, however, the question of what approach to take now.

How can they isolate Partholon from the rest of the Collar of Thorns?

It’s a question that they have a lot of vague ideas for, but no solid answer.

In the meantime, they have their hands full.

They get the Basin cleared of corpses, the defenses repaired

They secure their captives—and tend to the wounded ones, since Agrippa does not discriminate.

But they also have a lot of their own wounded to help.

Most of Steelshod is badly battered. More bruise than man.

Nearly everyone is either nursing old injuries, recently banged up and on the verge of injury, or… both. Cara, Perrin, Dagur, Amos, and Gerald are all injured. Felix and Zelde both specifically have leg and foot wounds, and even Snorri still has an injury on the mend.

So for the next little while, they rely heavily on their hired Victorian soldiers.

Cyril insists on keeping up heavy patrols around the Basin, but they are given orders not to engage Collar warriors.

Just report in to Cyril and Cara and await instructions.

Fortunately, things are quiet following the Collar’s failed two-pronged attack.

The only activity comes a couple days after the ambushes, in the form of a small war party that openly approaches via the main road.

They soon recognize the man at the head of the group.

Lorcán, the Farseer. A Druid of the Collar (but not the Druid of the Collar, that’s Partholon)—the one they have already negotiated a prisoner release with.

Lorcán seems to be a basically decent man. He follows the more common druidic traditions, not Partholon’s supposed “Old Ways”.

Agrippa has heard it said by some of the wounded prisoners he cares for that Lorcán sees great distances, maybe even into the future. He is well respected throughout all of the clans of the Collar of Thorns.

From what they’ve gleaned from those friendly Collar prisoners, it seems that if Partholon had not emerged from the forest some years ago and taken over, Lorcán probably would have ended up the next Druid an Fáinne.

Instead, he serves.

They have a standing deal to release regular prisoners, on the promise that Lorcán will do likewise with captured Victorian rank-and-file.

But for elites — Steelshod members on one side and Collar laochra on the other — a proper trade must be negotiated.

Steelshod caught four elites… three regular laochra warriors, and one especially notable: Mathúin Cú Fiáin. The Mad Dog.

These four will not be released on promises. Steelshod expects a deal of proper value in exchange for them.

Lorcán says he understands they are short on food, and he has brought some.

Of course, his intelligence is not totally accurate now. The team that came up from Victoria brought food, at least enough to last them a few more weeks.

So Cyril says… sure. Food is nice. That sounds like a good start

But he needs more than that.

Lorcán asks what Cyril has in mind… and Cyril smirks.

Cyril says he will release the laochra in exchange for antimony

An ounce per man.

He figures if Partholon uses the stuff to make fiendwolves, they might as well deprive the Collar of the resource.

I am pretty fucking amused at this request.

Lorcán not so much. But he nods slowly. This is… doable.

But they would need more time for that.

Cyril shrugs. No problem. He will wait. The captured laochra will be well kept.

Cyril also tells Lorcán that if he can’t find the antimony, then they’ll need to bring double the amount of food they’ve brought already.

Cyril half expects Lorcán to balk at any of these demands, but the Farseer takes it all calmly.

In fact, he tells his men to unload the food now as a down payment.

As his men snap to obey, Cyril surprises Lorcán.

He points out that this food is… close to half what he’s asked for. So, as a show of faith, he tells the Victorians to release two of the laochra — two that are not Mathúin.

This is the first time Lorcán looks surprised. It’s obvious that he did not believe in Cyril’s magnanimity until now.

He makes a comment… if the Victorians were all like Steelshod, perhaps there could have been some other resolution here. Maybe peace, or something close to it, could have been possible.

Cyril notices one of the laochra behind Lorcán look upset at that. It’s the woman that some recognize from the ambush earlier, the skirmisher that led a contingent of the ambushers.

She seems annoyed at Lorcán for his honesty. A fact Cyril files away in his scheming brain for future reference.

The meeting ends peacefully, and the Collar depart with an assurance they will return in a few days with four ounces of antimony.

The next few days pass quietly inside the Basin

But their scouts have a few run-ins with the Collar.

One goes utterly terrible for the Collar — Levin is in command of that scouting group, and he sees the ambush before it springs. He unleashes a volley on the would-be ambushers, and the whole thing fizzles out with a few Collar warriors dead and no substantial fighting.

The second ambush is a closer thing. In the end, Steelshod’s scouts prevail.

Two of the Sons of Victory commanded that team, and they tell an odd tale to Cyril when they return.

Part of why they think they succeeded is because the Collar seemed to… go easy on them?

One of the Sons is almost certain that the Collar warriors weren’t trying to kill him, they were trying to capture him.

They avoided shooting him, and tried to surround him with a net and some bludgeoning weapons.

It went badly for them.

The scouts and the Sons rallied and drove off the small team of Collar warriors.

But Cyril thinks he knows what’s happening here: He suspects Lorcán is behind the attacks.

The druid was trying to capture an elite or two of his own, so he could trade elite-for-elite and not have to buy his people back with antimony.

Honestly, it just makes Cyril respect Lorcán that much more. What a clever play. He’d respect it even more if they’d succeeded!

But they did not. No further such attempts are forthcoming, and the next day or two of scouting is quiet.

Finally, five days after he left, Lorcán returns with a larger retinue than before. At least a hundred men altogether.

Including several other laochra that seem to command the respect of their surrounding warriors.

They recognize one of Lorcán’s attendants as the skirmisher woman again—they get her name this time, as Lorcán introduces her as Saoirse an Sciobtha, “Saoirse the Swift”… or just Saoirse.

They also see Darach the Tall, the huge laochra decked out in the stolen armor of Victorian and Kirkish knights and warriors, bearing a flanged mace taken off a Kirkish knight.

Another one really stands out, because every bit of exposed skin on him is covered in intricate blue woad tattoos.

Cara will even quietly comment that many of his tattoos remind her of the ink worn by the Cuig Dorn in her homeland, unusual from what she’s seen of the Collar of Thorns.

Though Lorcán seems to have come with a small army, he approaches openly and in apparent peace.

He also has several packhorse’s worth of food supplies, and Lorcán provides Cyril with just three ounces of antimony.

He apologizes, as that was what he could get on short notice.

The extra food is to make up the difference, since he’s an ounce short of what was promised.

Cyril doesn’t object—he’s a little surprised that Lorcán has given up antimony at all.

They welcome him into the Basin again — Cyril knows Lorcán tried to game their deal with those ambushes, but he still expects him to honor their terms while he is here.

He doesn’t seem the double-crossing type, not when he’s given his word—the druids seem to take oaths very seriously.

As the goods are unloaded into the Basin, and the prisoners are released, Lorcán approaches Cyril

And he quietly murmurs that he would like a word with them.

While the prisoner exchange is occurring, Cyril takes Lorcán up on his request.

He and Cara take Lorcán and just a couple of the most notable laochra that have accompanied him: Saoirse, Darach, and two others.

On a hunch, Cyril leads them over to the one stone building in Ronald’s Basin that Borthul has suggested might be resistant to Partholon’s prying eyes.

The old stone chapel where Conall has been living and James has been recovering from his strange cursed injury.

Inside, they find James resting in his cot.

Conall is sitting on the floor with Bear and Vigi—they are playing some kind of simple dice game, and appear to be gambling over coins.

A closer look shows that Bear’s purse is beside him, spilled open, and it seems all the coins they are betting with are actually Bear’s

Makes some sense, since Conall has no money.

Cyril and the others leave them alone, skirting their game and going a bit further into the chapel to talk.

Lorcán eyes Conall as they pass, and he comments that he is surprised Conall is still with them.

Cyril shrugs. Conall is welcome to stay with them as a guest, and he’s been a good one so far.

Lorcán says he thinks that, sooner or later, they’ll regret it.

But that’s not what he wanted to discuss.

Instead, he turns to Cyril and speaks bluntly: Dolan wants Lorcán to crush Ronald’s Basin and everyone in it.

(Bear perks up in the background, eavesdropping enough to grab his axe, then put it back down when he sees that Lorcán is just talking, and was not giving some signal to ambush.)

He explains this is why he has been given so many of the clan’s best warriors.

Cyril is mostly just amused… the hundred outside? Crush the Basin’s defenses? But he lets Lorcán finish.

Lorcán feels that any such fight will be… costly, to the Collar.

“Oh, you don’t say?” Cara snorts.

Lorcán shrugs, conceding the truth of the comment.

His people have bled much more than Steelshod have, in all of their fights so far. That’s true.

And while Dolan is an ambitious war chief, Lorcán cares too much for his clan to spend their lives frivolously.

That’s exactly why he wanted to talk, instead.

Is there no way to settle this without further fighting?

Steelshod is not a Victorian company. This is not their war.

He knows they have their problems with Partholon, and with Dolan… but is it really worth a great bloody battle to settle that?

Is there no way Lorcán could convince them to leave? Or must they stay and fight Victoria’s battles for them?

Cyril shrugs.

He opines on the topic for a while, meandering around the point, but ultimately he points out that the original cessation James negotiated was a good idea—James’s overzealousness notwithstanding.

(Cara doesn’t like this plan—they were sent this time to get Victoria to join the Coalition, and to do that Victoria needs their Collar problem solved, not simply delayed into a fresh temporary peace.)

But Cyril meanders on this idea for a time anyway. Would it even be an option? Would the Collar return to their previous peace, despite James’ attack on Partholon?

Lorcán says that he doesn’t think the Collar holds much ill will towards James. Not even Partholon, he expects, holds a real grudge about it.

James made an oath, several oaths really, and he tried to fulfill them as best he could. Killing Partholon was one of those oaths.

It was endearing in its own way, even if Partholon did send a warrior to kill James in retribution. That, too, was a matter of honor—not personal.

The main issue though is that the peace James broke was also a peace with Victoria

And Lorcán doubts Dolan would ever agree to return to that peace.

From their perspective, as thorny as Steelshod is being, they have Victoria running scared. Pulling their people in from their many farms and settlements, avoiding direct fights.

Dolan won’t want peace now, Lorcán doesn’t think.

And he knows Partholon would not agree to it.

Even Lorcán admits he is not interested in peace with Victoria, and he knows that the others want such a thing even less than he does.

He just wants to find an amenable way to get Steelshod to stand down.

It appears to him that Partholon and Dolan underestimated Steelshod’s capabilities after their first meeting.

Clearly they are a formidable force. And they do not need to be enemies.

Cyril gives Lorcán a sort of apologetic smile at that, and tells him that honestly… from what he has seen of Steelshod, this is just a token force.

They have many more troops, thousands of well-trained soldiers, dozens more elites as strong and fierce as the best fighters in the Basin.

Lorcán frowns at that. He says he isn’t sure he believes the claim.

The last time they came with such a small force, and this time clearly they came in force, brought their best to try to kill Partholon.

James sits up from where he’s been resting, and interjects. He apologizes to Lorcán for giving the wrong impression by taking such an aggressive stance when he first met Partholon.

But he and Oliver were always nothing but a small diplomatic delegation.

And this? This is basically a large diplomatic delegation.

Lorcán’s laochra have held their tongues, but now one speaks.

Saoirse is clearly annoyed and tells them to stop with the threats.

Cyril is apologetic, insists again these are not threats. Simply statements of fact.

Saoirse isn’t impressed. “And I could draw my blade and shove it through your fat gut. This is a simple fact.”

Cyril shrugs. Yes, exactly.

Behind him, Bear is standing up now, axe in hand. He laughs, and tells Saoirse to go for it. That sounds like fun.

“You think you could stop me?” Saoirse challenges him.

Bear grins. “Would be fun to try! If not, eh. Is just Cyril.”

Cyril sighs, quietly lamenting the lack of respect.

Darach, the one in heavy mail, tells Saoirse to stand down.

She glares, but she shuts up.

Lorcán steps back in.

He tells Cyril that one of the reasons he agreed to Dolan’s request, and brought these champions, is that he thought perhaps they could settle things another way.

Among the clans, they sometimes settle disputes with small-scale contests of skill and prowess, instead of all-out battle.

And given Steelshod’s prowess, he thought they might agree to such a plan.

It’s an intriguing idea.

Let’s talk about that some more.

Cyril wants to know what sort of contest they had in mind, but first they need to figure out stakes

What would the exact terms of this contest be? If Steelshod wins, what happens? If the Collar wins, what do they want?

Lorcán can answer that last one easily.

They want Steelshod gone. For a year at least, let’s say. Let Victoria fight for itself.

But what does Steelshod want?

Cyril recalls Partholon’s offer to tell them more about where they can find Unferth… can Lorcán speak for Partholon?

Lorcán shakes his head.

He cannot.

In fact, this entire meeting is being conducted without Partholon’s knowledge.

Cyril arches an eyebrow

If that’s the case, how can Lorcán agree to anything of consequence?

Lorcán explains that Dolan knows he is here.

Dolan is backing him. And Dolan will agree to any terms Lorcán negotiates.

Partholon controls the druids, and the fiendwolves, but Dolan is the Collar’s warchief.

The fighters follow him, not Partholon.

Cyril suddenly gets a gleam in his eye.

“Would Dolan be willing to send some of his warriors to join Steelshod’s coalition?” He asks.

Lorcán doesn’t get it at first. “Once the war with Victoria is over—” he begins to say

“No no no,” Cyril interrupts. “We will go. Perhaps we could even agree to go win or lose after this contest. But if we win, we will not go alone. We will go along with a thousand of the Collar’s best warriors.”

That gives them pause.

Cyril explains… they came here to secure Victoria’s alliance against Unferth.

That is their goal. They want fighting men to help face a great foe.

But those fighting men need not be Victorians.

In fact, maybe this would be more valuable.

Victoria could give many more troops, no doubt

But most of their troops are fundamentally militia

Well trained, well armed, compared to the peasant levies of most Middish kingdoms.

But still militia.

Whereas the Collar’s best warriors are not just excellent warriors.

They are hunters, trackers, and woodsmen.

They would be extremely valuable scouts and skirmishers.

And being that Unferth’s creatures are part animal, perhaps the Collar of Thorns would even be distinctly suited to hunt them down.

Cyril lays on some charm here, talking up the skills of the Collar and the difficulties Steelshod has had in dealing with them.

He actually gets the warriors behind Lorcán to preen a little.

Even Saoirse, who clearly hates Cyril, seems to appreciate the show of respect.

Lorcán is the only one that seems displeased.

So much so that he asks the laochra to give him a moment to speak with Cyril alone.

They hesitate, but eventually acquiesce.

Cara shoos away Bear as well, and then the three of them speak in low, whispered tones.

Lorcán admits Cyril is making a fascinating suggestion. And he grudgingly notes that Cyril clearly knows how to flatter an Wncari warrior.

But if he did win, and he got Lorcán to lead “a thousand of his best men” off with them on their quest…

He would be leaving behind Dolan, Partholon,and those most loyal to them.

Lorcán fears what would happen in his absence.

“Afraid Victoria would win?” Cyril asks. “Or that Partholon would?”

Lorcán closes his eyes. His voice is barely audible when he answers:

“Aye,” he says. “Either.”

Cyril understands, of course, but it’s still an interesting admission.

He asks if Lorcán had expected some other request, then. What did he think Cyril was going to ask for?

Lorcán admits that when he stated his terms: that they back off and let the Collar strike at Victoria without interference…

He sort of expected Cyril to make a similar request.

For Lorcán and his men to back off… and let Steelshod strike at Partholon without interference.

“Dolan would allow this?” Cyril asks.

Lorcán nods slowly. “Dolan is ambitious. He wants to command the clan, and lead them to glorious victory. He wants to crush Victoria. Partholon is powerful, and it is hard to say no to someone powerful that promises to give you want you want.

“But Dolan is a proud man. He wants to rule. He does not want to live always in Partholon’s shadow, as a figurehead. And worse… with the fiendwolves, I think he sees a future where he may not even be that.

“A future where the Collar of Thorns will not need a warchief at all.”

Lorcán clarifies. Steelshod has done a lot of damage, and so long as they are here on Victoria’s side… Dolan will back Partholon. He will give his warriors over to be made into fiendwolves.

His back is against the wall and he needs Partholon’s support.

But if Steelshod was gone, and Partholon was gone… Dolan would be very satisfied.

He was ready to make war on Victoria even before Partholon emerged from the deepest part of the One Forest bearing his strange gifts.

So yes… if Steelshod killed Partholon, and left, Lorcán is confident Dolan would find that outcome amenable.

That’s quite the proposal.

Though… Partholon’s mobility and ability to scout the forest makes him exceedingly hard to track or trap

So they’ll need more from Lorcán than just having his men stand down.

They’ll need help setting up an ambush.

Is that something Lorcán will do? Is it even something he can do?

Lorcán is quiet for a long moment.

Finally, he nods.

“I can See far,” he says. “Throughout the forests, and even some into what has yet to come. But such powers are fickle, especially when dealing with someone as skilled as Partholon.

“I could promise nothing, only that I would arrange things such to give you a chance. Just one, win or lose, and that would have to satisfy our agreement.”

Cara and Cyril are fine with that.

One chance at Partholon is a lot more than they had yesterday.

Hey folks!

Behind the scenes… This was a fun sequence to play. And to plan.

The Victoria arc was, for me, a constant test of finding ways to make villains that were interesting and not just one-dimensional baddies, but also not too reasonable or too easy to just make nice with. Bayard had given me some good tools in Dolan and Partholon, but it didn’t make sense to me for an entire culture to be monolithically on board with their brand of viciousness, so then the question became… who else is there? What do they want?

Lorcán is an answer to those questions. He still wants to crush Victoria — it was important to me that every respected mover and shaker in the Collar should still want to crush Victoria, regardless of any other intentions they may have.

So he has his own motives, but at least for now it certainly appears that his motives could potentially align with Steelshod.

Lorcán was also a lot of fun because even though we’ve only seen him diplomatically so far, in reality Steelshod had already faced several of his combat abilities. Because he is able to See across space and time to some degree, most of his leadership buffs can be given to someone even if Lorcán is nowhere near them. Several of the previous fights, like the ambush on the road, featured Collar warriors benefiting from some of Lorcán’s buffs and abilities.

Just a fun bit of trivia there. See you all next time!


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