Sanballet’s Refrain

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Eight

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

[Avast! Spoilers ahead.]

8 Goodmonth, 570

Tyrius, Larry, Aurora, and Babshapka were already awake when the smell of Ruth’s cooking came drifting up the stairs from below. Others, having indulged in too much ale the previous night, needed to be roused from their beds when the food was finally laid out on the table. Eventually the whole of the party found their way downstairs, some eagerly and some reluctantly.

A tall, broad-shouldered, dusky woman strode in through the door. Her features betrayed a predominantly Flan heritage, though not purely so. She had copper-brown skin and black tresses. Whether her mixed ancestry included Oerid, or Suel, or both was not obvious. Ruth nodded in recognition and offered a half-curtsy in respect. The newcomer was dressed in an old but well-maintained tabard bearing a device on the left sleeve, a loose linen blouse underneath, tight leather breeches, and high boots. The hilt of a longsword projected above her shoulder (she wore it on a back-harness under her tabar) and a dagger sat comfortably on her hip.

The woman grinned, more in satisfaction than friendliness.“No mistakin’ ther lot o’ ye fer Moorfolk, be t’ere?” she asked rhetorically. Thokk, looking up from his plate of fried fish, smiled in reply, spiky tusks protruding from his broad mouth.

“Excuse me?” asked Aurora. She understood Keoish well enough, but she was taken aback by the woman’s thick lower-class Salinmoor accent. The woman tried again in Common, but her accent was just as heavy. “I be sayin’, ther lot o’ ye be ther strangers wot met wit’ ther council.”

“Oh, yes, quite!” Aurora agreed.

The woman introduced herself as Corporal Wilhelmina Stoutley, chief excise office of the Saltmarsh Customs House. Under the direction of Secun, she had been tasked with both conveying the party back to the alchemist’s house and retrieving any goods that they wished to turn in for reward under their right of pillage. She said she had a wagon ready outside.

“Thank you for bringing the wagon,” Aurora said respectfully, “That was quite thoughtful. But as yet we are only part-way through breakfast, and after that we will need time to pack and load our gear.”

Wilhelmina scowled and gestured at the window, “We be burn’n daylight ‘n’ ‘aven’t time fer layabouts,” she muttered. Nevertheless, she took a chair on the other side of the room, glowering at them as they ate.

Ruth brought her a plate of fried herring, which she refused at first, then reluctantly accepted. Ruth said something to her too softly for the party to hear, but her response was clear enough, “Tom stays wit’ ther wagon!”

A little later, those sitting across from the window saw Ruth bringing out a fried egg sandwich to a man sitting in the passenger side of a wagon drawn by a single draft horse. Ruth even had a handful of raw oats for the horse, and she and the man talked amiably for a while.

When the party was finally finished with their breakfast, they loaded their gear into the back of the wagon, and then themselves. There was only room on the seat for two, with Wilhelmina driving and the other excise officer sitting beside her. The lad introduced himself as “Private Tom Stoutley, at yer service!” They quickly noticed that he addressed the woman as “Willa,” not “Corporal.” There was a strong facial resemblance between them, but the youth was much lighter in skin tone and a good ten years younger.

The wagon bumped and jostled the passengers about, and Thokk soon elected to walk alongside them rather than riding. His long strides easily kept pace with the draft horse. There was no way little Barnabus, or Tyrius in his heavy armor, could keep up, though, so the rest of the party remained in the wagon and arrived at the house before midday.

Willa drove the horse right through the gate, without a hint of superstitious hesitation, and up to the front entrance of the house, on the seaside.

“Unlike the townsfolk, your horse doesn’t shy away from the wall or the gate,” Aurora observed.

“Ther ‘orse ‘as got more sense than most people does,” Willa remarked. She spat into the long grass, perhaps to emphasize her point.

The party showed the excise officers the trapdoor into the secret basement, and pointed out the cask of brandy they wanted taken back to the town. The whole of it already reeked of death, and at first, Aurora had to fight the impulse to gag. They collected a few odds and ends, like gold earrings removed from the dead smugglers, that they still planned on personally selling in Seaton. While Willa and Tom rolled the cask up the stairs, Aurora conferred briefly with Tyrius. When the officers returned, Aurora showed them the secret door, and then walked them through the sea caves, counting casks and bolts, and ending at the lowest cave, which was half filled with seawater.

“Ye dinnae mention aught o’ t’is t’ ther council” Willa said hotly.

Before Aurora could offer an explanation, Tyrius apologized, “We did not want to inform the council of the full extent of the smuggling ring until we were sure that the smuggler did not have allies on the council. Now that Murphey has been run out of town, we are confident that the council will be able to do the right thing with all of this contraband.”

“And by do the right thing, Tyrius means pay us the full value of all the goods,” Barnabus said sharply.

“After the excise tax,” added Tyrius.

“It nae be me place ta make decisions fer ther council,” said Willa, “but we can bring all yon casks an’ bolts back. ‘Twill take more’n one trip, tho.”

Meanwhile, Tom was looking out into the Azure Sea through the cave. “I musta been by t’is cliff a hunnerd times an’ never seen t’is cave.” he wondered alloud.

“Nae, yon rocks be concealin’ it,” answered Willa, and pointed out a rocky promontory that would shield the cave from view from the open water. “Ye’d need t’ be in tight t’ ther cliff face t’ see it – perfect fer smugglin’, all right.”

Willa, Tom, Thokk, and Tyrius packed the wagon full of casks and filled the empty spaces with bolts of silk, and then the two excise officers set off back to town, leaving the party in the basement of the house.

“Before we settle in,” Aurora suggested, “And now that we are alone, we should finish searching the secret cellar, as we did not have time to do that properly on our previous visit.”

Their first stop was the room of the leader. Even as he stepped inside, Babshapka knew that something was amiss. “The bed has been moved, and look at this,” Babshapka observed. The floor that was previously under the bed had a flagstone removed to reveal a large hollow underneath. As the ranger approached, a voice boomed out, seemingly coming from the hole itself but filling the room. It sounded suspiciously similar to the voice that greeted them upon their first entry to the house.

“Fools! So you have returned. Well, you’re too late! You left behind my spellbooks and my treasure, and I have them now, so there is naught more here for you. Me and the merchant and the captain had a nice little smuggling operation set up, and we would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for you meddling adventurers! Well, don’t you worry. Sanballet doesn’t forget. Enjoy your success for now, but heed my words—I am out there, and I will have my revenge. And next time, I won’t be stopped by a room full of skeletons! I will have my revenge! AH-AH-HAHAHAHAHA!”

“It’s an audible spell with a trigger,” Aurora sniffed. “Tacky, cheap trick.”

“Well it scared the poop out of me,” Larenthal admitted.

Sobered and a bit nervous, the party carefully searched the room but found that nothing of any value had been left behind. They then moved to the “danger” room from whence the skeletons came. Rapping on the walls, Aurora quickly discovered a secret door, but not how to open it. After several minutes watching her try, Thokk grew bored and left, but soon lumbered back, carrying the wrought iron stove that had been in the hearth.

“Thokk, what are you…?” began Aurora, but she did not have a chance to finish.

Thokk shouted, “Thokk open door!” and he hurled the heavy stove at the wall. It crashed into the wall and then to the floor, but broke through the dust-covered lathe to a thin layer of wood beneath. Thokk retrieved the stove and hurled it again, this time cracking the wood and revealing an open space on the other side. After several more blows, the stove was a smashed and rent ruin, but the doorway was open and large enough for them all to step through.

The room beyond contained the remains of a laboratory and, apparently, the famed alchemist. The party recovered several items of gold from the table in front of his long-dead corpse, coins from his rotting belt pouch, and Aurora even found a water-damaged spellbook in a secret drawer of the table, plus a specialized text on alchemy. Thokk discovered a glowing stone clutched in the skeletal fist of the alchemist.

“What is it? What do you have there?” Tyrius asked. Tyrius had been appointed to carry the small valuables recovered by the party (gems, jewelry, coins and such) as the only one whom everyone trusts. Thokk bared his teeth menacingly, clutching the stone, but he backed down under Tyrius’ unflinching gaze. Reluctantly, the half-blood handed the stone over to Tyrius.

Next the party searched the cellar itself, and this time they managed to find the secret door to the wine cellar. Tyrius took the plate armor they had removed from the dead man on their previous visit. He was eager to try it on, but the memory of the corpse worms made him cautious. He decided to requisition a single cask of brandy, break open the top, and soak the armor in it, reasoning that the potent alcohol would kill any remaining pests. Thokk remarked, “Don’t dump it out. I’ll still drink that.”

Barnabas announced, “I can see things are in good hands here. As for me, I have now finished composing the Ballad of Barnabus and the Smugglers of the Haunted House of Saltmarsh, and I intend on returning to town to debut it tonight. I think it would be best if Aurora accompanied me, and the rest of you stayed here to guard these goods and watch the house.”

“No my diminutive little suitor,” Aurora laughed. “Babshapka and I travel on with Tyrius along the coast road to Seaton. We leave Larry and Thokk here to guard the house.”

Several hours later, when Willa and Tom return with the wagon, the party informed them of their plans. Willa reminded them, “Didn’ ther council charge ye t’ave ‘alf yer number ‘ere in ther ‘ouse ‘case ther smugglers return?”

“As I recall,” Aurora objected, “The council specifically said that half our number need remain in the house or the town. Barnabus will be in the town, and Larry and Thokk will be here in the house. That’s half our number, and it does meet the requirement.”

Willa sighed, opened a small chest in the wagon, and took out a wax-sealed sheet of parchment. “If ye be goin’ to Seaton,” she explained, “ther council ‘as writ up a letter to ther Viscount for ye.” Aurora reached out to take the letter, but Willa pulled it away from her and handed it to Tyrius, who carefully folded it and tucked it away. Aurora scowled at the woman. Then they got to work loading the wagon a second time and managed to fit all the remaining casks and bolts aboard—including the cask, now resealed, in which Tyrius had soaked his armor.

Willa and Tom headed back to Saltmarsh with Barnabus riding in the wagon and trying out his new ballad on the captive audience. Between the three inns and the tavern in Saltmarsh, Barnabus planned on working out an arrangement of performing local songs, plus his featured ballad, in one establishment each night in exchange for food and lodging. The stanzas of the song featured all the action of the search of the house and the climactic battle with the smugglers. It mentioned each of the party members by name, but the chorus, curiously, referred only to himself:

Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,

There was danger by the fistful,

But through it all there shone the smile,

Of Barnabus the minstrel!

Aurora, Babshapka, and Tyrius begin walking down the coast road to Seaton as Barnabus’ voice faded behind them. Larry and Thokk stood by the gate, watching the others leave. Then, with with Larry’s help, Thokk carried the bodies of the nine smugglers and the gnoll out of the house and tossed them in the bushes on the other side of the road. “Maybe they will attract wolves. Or even a bear! I would like to fight a bear!” Thokk said as he dragged the last corpse out of the house.

“I used to know a bear,” Larry said. “I can speak bear.” He said a few phrases in the bear language to demonstrate. Thokk ignored him.

Neither of them understood the function of the stove and they didn’t miss it. They cooked a hearty supper over the open hearth and discussed sleeping arrangements,

“The magician’s bed is too small for the both of us to sleep in it together,” Larry said. “And what if that creepy alchemist comes looking for the things we took from him today!”

“Thokk fears nothing,” Thokk said, but his voice lacked conviction. Darkness was falling and speaking of the mage left them both feeling a little spooked.

“Maybe we could watch the house better if we slept outside, in the woods across the way. Besides, I’m not used to sleeping indoors,” Larry said.

Thokk nodded, “If the mage comes back, he won’t find us in the woods.” They packed a few things and left the cellar, setting up camp in the woods. Before lying down, Thokk took out his flute and played some plaintive melodies. He thought wistfully of all the glorious blood that had been shed recently. He remembered fondly the looks of admiration the townsfolk gave him after his return to the Merry Mermaid the day before. Perhaps living among humans is not so bad after all, he thought. At second moonrise, Thokk was snoring heavily, but Larry could not find sleep. He left his slumbering companion to walk even deeper into the woods where he could commune with nature the way his master had taught him.

Used with permission. Adapted for Greyhawkstories.com from the original article posted to Canonfire!

Don’t miss chapter nine of It Started in Saltmarsh. Follow greyhawkstories.com for the next exciting chapter. 

The Escape of Master Murphey

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Seven

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

[Avast! Spoilers ahead.]

7 Goodmonth, 570

Tyrius, Aurora, and Barnabus held a hushed strategy session over breakfast. They sat by themselves at a different table from the other three party members, and they stopped talking whenever Ruth appeared from the kitchen. Tyrius reiterated, “We simply need to appear before the town council and tell them what transpired in the haunted house.”

Aurora shook her head emphatically, “You are being naïve!”

Barnabus agreed, leaned forward, and hissed, “No one needs know anything until we have determined the disposition of the recovered smuggled goods! We are in possession of bolts and bolts of silk, casks and casks of fine brandy. This is a fortune, and it belongs as much to us as to anyone. As soon as the council learns of this windfall, they will seize the goods without a second thought!”

Tyrius objected, “There is what is right and what is wrong, and I choose to be on the side of what is right. I will not be a party to theft, even if it be from thieves and smugglers. Surely the council members will appropriately reward us with a portion of the recovered goods, which is more than we had yesterday and as much as we deserve.”

Barnabus smiled impatiently, “Listen, noble knight. We can report everything we found in the cellar, down to the last gold earring if you want, but we are better off keeping what was found in the sea caves a secret until we find a way to move the goods to Seaton and sell them there, for the benefit of the whole party—equal shares all around. After all, we are the ones who risked our necks, not the council.”

Tyrius’ face darkened. His voice took on a note of firm resolve. “I will not lie, or hide goods for simple monetary gain.”

Aurora tried a more subtle approach. “Whomever was receiving these smuggled goods,” she explained, “is likely to be both wealthy and powerful. If they are not on the city council themselves, they are likely to have allies, eyes and ears, on the council. For all we know, the council itself could already be aware of the smuggling ring and be using it to enrich the town at the expense of the king!”

Barnabus nodded emphatically. Aurora continued, “I’m just saying that we have to tread Continue reading “The Escape of Master Murphey”

Sanballat’s Trap

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Six

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

[Avast! Spoilers ahead.]

6 Goodmonth, 570

Sometime during Babshapka’s watch, first Tyrius and then Larenthal regained consciousness. Both remained in considerable discomfort, but the elf was relieved to find them lucid. Babshapka spoke to them softly, gave them water, and attended to their needs before encouraging them to rest longer. By morning Larry felt strong enough summon up enough of the Oerth’s power to work spells of healing for his own wounds and also for those of his companion. Tyrius, in his turn, invoked the name of Pelor to lay healing hands upon himself and the dwarf. Through rest and the power of spells and prayers, they recovered their strength, but the effort cost them all their magical potency, and the party was not keen to return to the house with their spellcaster at “empty.” They decided to let Larenthal continue to rest for the morning and then set out in the afternoon.  For his part, the dwarf was content to spend the morning communing with sky and land, earth and sea, and the living soul of Oerth rather than returning immediately to the house of giant vermin and blood-sucking stirges.

The rest of the party spent a leisurely morning in the fresh sea air, enjoying a generous lunch. Nadine did not have food to contribute (her supplies having been taken along with her clothes), but she did provide assistance with gathering wood, cooking, and washing up, so the party did not begrudge her the two meals. Thanks to Tyrius’ careful planning, they had purchased a week’s worth of supplies, and they were in no danger of running short soon even with one extra mouth.

In mid-afternoon, the party broke camp and returned through the woods to the house. Arriving there, however, they found it surrounded by townsfolk! Mostly the young and spry, but people of all ages had gathered—many having brought a picnic lunch with them. They were spread out along the road and camped on high spots so as to see over the wall—a few youths were even perched in trees, studying the house. None had dared cross the wall or enter the garden, however, and Aurora noted that they stayed well Continue reading “Sanballat’s Trap”

Haunted House of Saltmarsh

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Five

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

5 Goodmonth, 570 (afternoon and evening)

[Avast! Spoilers ahead.]

“That one’s got to pay! He didn’t want to be a guest here last night, and he’s not eating for nothing today,” Ruth warned severely, nodding toward Barnabas as she set a luncheon out for the paying customers.

“Not to worry, Oh Fairest Flower of the Azure Sea,” Barnabus said with obviously feigned obsequiousness. “Bring me an ale with this luncheon and I shall pay for what I eat and drink with a song worth twice the amount.”

“We’ll pay with coin for what he eats,” Tyrius hastened to add.

Aurora hoped that Ruth might offer a more sober telling of the tale of the alchemist’s house than the version offered up by the children of Saltmarsh. Ignoring the whole exchange about whether or not Barnabus would pay for his food, she inquired, “Ruth, what can you tell us of the alchemist’s house? The children you chased off told us that it’s haunted?”

“Like as not it is haunted,” she admitted as she ladled up the broth into their bowls.

“Would it be meet to say the spirits haunting it are a threat to the town?” Aurora pursued eagerly.

“Hardly!” she said with a dismissive laugh. “It’s four miles east of the town which is a long way for a geist to go a-creeping. It’s not even likely any of the ragamuffins ye spoke with has ever actually laid eyes on the place. It is indeed a lonesome house, just off the old coast road and looking out to the sea.”

“We intend to exorcise the spirits that haunt it as a service to the people of Saltmarsh,” Tyrius explained as he counted out coin to pay for Barnabus’ food. “What can you tell us about it?”

Madam Ruth put down the ladle, a grave expression settling over her plump features. “Oh, I shouldn’t be poking my nose into things like that if I was ye. I can tell ye this. Until some twenty years ago, when I was yet in the flower of youth, an aged alchemist and magician did reside there, and he did indeed have a sinister reputation—as anyone who practices magic deserves, really. The townsfolk mostly shunned the house because of the Continue reading “Haunted House of Saltmarsh”

In Search of Adventure

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Four

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

5 Goodmonth, 570

Tyrius, Thokk, Larry, and Aurora awoke to the smell of fresh bread and batter-fried fish rising from The Mermaid’s kitchen. Babshapka had been awake for hours already—elves do not sleep like other races. He spent the early morning seated near the open window of the bedroom he shared with the half-elf girl, staring out over the town and to the water.

At breakfast, Aurora continued the discussion she had initiated the night before, exchanging stories and manipulating the conversation toward a resolution to form an adventuring company. Tyrius was reluctant to commit to anything long-term. His goal was to get Larry to the Moot of the Great Druid, and he recognized that he would need coin to accomplish even that. Why should I doubt the light of Pelor? If these two elvish folks want to help me get coin by doing some noble deeds, so much the better. They were still talking when visitors arrived—Lieutenant Dan of the town watch, and several of the watchmen that Tyrius encountered the previous day. He cast a curious eye over Babshapka and Aurora, letting his eyes linger perhaps a few moments too long on the pretty half-elf. Then he turned to Tyrius and addressed him with a stern and non-nonsense tone, “I’ve come to meet you all and see that you found yourselves some honest lodgings. I want to see that you have paid Ruth here with good coin, and that you understand you now have six days left to find either employment or a patron.”

Tyrius sighed a nodded. Thokk picked at his teeth and sniffed at the air.

The watch officer levelled a finger at the half-orc Continue reading “In Search of Adventure”

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Arrival in Saltmarsh

It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Three

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

4 Goodmonth, 570

Standing among their gear on the docks of Saltmarsh as they watched their former ship set sail, Tyrius, Larry, and Thokk contemplated their options. Or, rather, Tyrius contemplated while Larry and Thokk returned the open stares of the passers-by. The dockworkers seemed rough-and-tumble men, and if they were taken aback by the newcomers in town, they did not let on. The inner harbor, however, was lined with a dirt road that ran all along the shore. Judging by the number of commonfolk stopping and gawking, the town did not see much in the way of huge half-orcs, grubby dwarves, or noble paladins. Tyrius could not have guessed which of them made the bigger spectacle. Keoish manners seemed to prevail, however, and the bystanders did nothing more provocative then staring and whispering to one another, occasionally cuffing the bolder children who would have spoken to the strangers had they been permitted.

With the decision-making left to Tyrius, it seemed meet that they should first thank the gods for their safe arrival. Enough of the commoners sported the dusky hue of the Flan that Tyrius dared ask about a temple to Pelor, but the look he received spoke louder than the answer itself. Overhearing the exchanges, an old man who sat mending nets nearby remarked that anyone who had any sense would thank Osprem for a safe arrival after a voyage at sea. He motioned a hand toward the back of the harbor, where what was obviously a temple stood overlooking the water.

The temple was of limestone without, decorated here and there with bits of coral. Inside were simple wooden benches without backs for pews, and a stone altar in front of what looked like a marble-lined wading pool that smelled of saltwater. No clergy were present, not even novices, so Tyrius offered what he hoped was an appropriate prayer. He looked up just in time to stop Thokk from entering the pool. The half-orc argued that they should collect the coins and pearls from the pool and use them for drinking money; Continue reading “Arrival in Saltmarsh”

Naïve scholar, moody elf, and scallywag halfling

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Two

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

Aurora never knew her father, but his elven blood left his mark upon her unmistakably. Her mother spoke fondly of him often, but only when her own father was not about. Grandfather was a wealthy human merchant of Tringlee, the capital of the Duchy of Ulek, and Aurora was born and raised in his household. As the girl had grown from babbling child to discreet young maiden, her mother had explained that her father was a soldier, a guard to an Ulecki elven nobleman sent in a delegation to the Duke, on a diplomatic mission that lasted all of one glorious summer. They met; they fell in love; he returned home before either knew she was with child, and they never saw each other again.

“When you are older,” her mother would say, “When you are a young woman, you will understand such affairs of the heart.”

“Why didn’t you go after him? Why not write to him or try to find him?” Aurora would ask. Her mother never answered directly, but always with a tale or lesson about how some parts of the Duchy were forbidden to humans, about how her grandfather was a good man but was still subject to all the prejudices of men, about how she had known more than one person undone by the deaths of their children, and it was a sad truth that Aurora would surely die before her father did. Always the lesson was different, until Aurora did not know whether the true reason was one of these or some or all or none.

Aurora matured into a highly intelligent child, and quickly surpassed any tutor that her grandfather could provide. A month shy of her twelfth birthday, she saw a mendicant illusionist doing cheap street theatrics in the market square. She had dragged her maid home early from shopping, politely slipped into a business meeting with her grandfather, and announced her intention to be a wizard. His pale Suel skin grew beet red with embarrassment and anger, but his temper subsided quickly, and he sighed with resignation, “Ah, well. Blood will out.”

With her grandfather’s permission, Aurora obtained an apprenticeship with a local Master of History and Magic, an ancient human sage with a lifetime appointment to the Duke’s Court, though one without much power or prestige (which was, he later told Aurora, just how he preferred it). Like all his other apprentices, it seemed she studied just as much history as she did magic, and did more text-copying, book-searching, and scroll-filing than anything else. Yet, over the years, she mastered one spell after another, and delighted in practicing them.

Like all students of history, she knew about the Twin Cataclysms (the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire), which had, a millennium ago, destroyed the Continue reading “Naïve scholar, moody elf, and scallywag halfling”