Sunday, 20 February 2011

inns & taverns: aulog's garden

An underworld grotto filled with giant toadstools hides Aulog's Garden.  Underworlders come to drink and deal on neutral ground.  A cairn marks where the river can be safely forded but ghost pike attacks are known.  Traders bear news of Aulog's Garden far and wide.  This unexpected oasis is protected by it's distance from aggressive slavers, mystical tyrants and hungry undead.  Yet those using the Garden take care.  Treasures left unguarded are always taken.

Woven between the boles of the toadstools are ropes and canvas to form a canopy.  This shelters guests from bat guano, spiders and toadstool spores.  Stone benches showing dwarven craft and the skill of a dozen other races provide seating for twenty guests.  A pair of verdigrised braziers with perforated covers cast diffuse light and shadows.  Drinks are served from a makeshift bar of wooden planks balanced on empty casks.  If the bar is moved, the braziers scuttle to follow them.  Lighting is kept minimal, many patrons have sensitive eyes.

Many patrons drink a thick, bitter-edged gruit called skard.  Lizard-hide sacks dusted with toadstool spores ferment a mix of water, yeast, fungus and bat. Those refusing skard have alternatives.  Those of delicate palate favour deepwine, a cloudy white wine made from lichen and insects.  Those seeking potency are often pleased by a black clay jug.  This appears to be a clear, earthy fungal spirit.  For food, baked shelf fungus and stuffed bats are the usual fare.  The house speciality is a fish stew using the giant ghost pike but catching these makes these a rare occurence.

Drinks are served by a cowled woman called Old Meg.  Appearing neither old or hag-like, mystical auras of transformation cling like a ghost.  Assisted by three pallid ogre-sized sexless humanoids who fetch and carry, she welcomes paying customers.  Her tolerance for evil ends if the Garden's peace is threatened, she can call on eerie magics and the humanoids whose flailing fists rival a golem's strength.  It's whispered she offers trade for mysterious travellers and sells fungal-based poisons to the discreet.  Old Meg is greatly amused by these whispers.  

There is no accommodation available.  Old Meg becomes territorial if prospective guests attempt to ask about beds or even baths.  She does know of nearby caves suitable as basecamps.  She also knows those caves are used by other groups.  If she likes a group, she'll warn them.  Attempts to inveigle Old Meg into staying with her will result in a shifting appearance to something more hag-like.  Those who have seen this transformation rarely survive the experience.  Those who do often decide not to stay in the grotto.

It's whispered that Old Meg has a cache where her coins are hidden.  The pale humanoids that serve her are said to come from the toadstools of Aulog's Garden. As news of the Garden spreads, the threat of raiders will increase.  A share of the profits is used to lay false trails.  However, gold can only buy so much.

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