Two of my three players just set up new characters, and we just started a new scenario this week, so to give people a feel for how things go in my world, I thought I'd waste a few hours typing up a hopefully brief description of the last run --
The party currently consists of Samara, Yuni, and Sintar. Samara and Yuni are both Durshis while Sintar is a nonhuman, a member of a birdlike race known as the Aven. (Sintar is a skreeaa Aven, which is to say, a member of an Aven subrace that resembles eagles. There are seven other Aven subraces. My race of catmen, the Jeopards, similarly has 8 subraces.)
Samara is a big, hulking, strongly built swordsman type, while Yuni is a Honan archer. (In Durshi culture, male first names tend to end in 'a', while female names end in 'i'). Durshi are not generally a warlike people. They seem to have a sort of affinity to nature making them tend towards more agrarian vocations like farming. Durshi are, according to one particular creation mythos, one of the three proto-races of humanity. Where the Kanqu and the Than (known in modern times as the Sothark and the Sottles) are generally credited with the invention of metalworking and literacy, Durshi's are believed to have invented agriculture and animal husbandry. So Samara tends to stand out amongst his fellow Durshi, being nearly six feet tall, wearing heavy ringmail, and carrying on his back a two handed battlesword that he wields one handed while sporting a tower shield on his other arm.
Yuni is a Honan, which is to say, a member of an elite, universally respected/dreaded mercenary group that is not only intensively trained in their own particularly lethal package of martial skills, but that can also employ various psionic disciplines specifically designed to be devastatingly effective in combat. Most Honan use a sword as their main weapon and get some sort of missile at half level; occasionally, however, a Honan will reverse this, specializing in the use of a bow and relegating their sword skill to half level. As I mentioned above, Yuni is one of these Honan archers.
Okay, that's our cast of characters. Our setting is the city of Jeressa, capital of the Realm of Ona-Tengu. Until very recently, there were no 'realms' or 'kingdoms' on the River, there were only fractious, chaotically disorganized cities where the most complex social structure was a gang and the most authoritative title was 'Boss'. Most 'bosses' simply controlled a building; a very few Bosses might have managed to amass enough of a following to control a city block.
One of these cities was called Ona-Tengu, and about thirty years ago, a number of Ona-Tengu's bosses got together to hire a mercenary named Jeressa, otherwise known as Commander Crimson, to protect them from being invaded by the Church of the One True God, which had nearly taken over Riva Zand, the city across Lake Rivona from them. (The River is a sort of super-river, rather like the vast river in Jose Farmer's Riverworld series; the 'lakes' on the River are more like inland seas.) Jeressa and her Crimson Cohort managed to successfully organize Ona-Tengu to defeat the invading flotilla, but after the battle was over, Crimson decided to keep the city, rather than let it go back to the customary Riverish urban chaos. She crowned herself Queen and used the Crimson Cohort as the basis for the Knights of Ona-Tengu, awarding Lordships to the city bosses that agreed to bend the knee to her and ruthlessly slaughtering those that didn't. Thus was the realm of Ona Tengu born, which eventually grew to encompass the former city of Ona Tengu, Riva Zand, and another city to the north, Jennaru. When the Empire of Man invaded the River a few years later, Jeressa, now known as the Crimson Queen, died defending the Realm, and the city of Ona Tengu was renamed in her honor.
Thirty years later, Ona Tengu is ruled by a poor sort named Kameron, a rather charismatic but not particularly bright former Knight who succeeded to the throne after the death of his much craftier father Karak, who took it away by assassinating King Kayam, Jeressa's hand picked successor. (Residents of the River respect strength; the status of 'boss' has never been hereditary there, it is always passed from hand to hand on the basis of who is capable of killing the old boss and holding off all other competitors for the title... so Karak assassinating Kayam was not considered scandalous or in any way objectionable.) For political reasons, Kameron was long ago wed to Kayam's widow, a Sothark of some dubiously 'noble' lineage named Kristara. Kameron and Kristara detest each other, though, so twenty years ago they divided Ona Tengu up unofficially into the 'Kingslands' and the 'Queenslands', one to the west of Lake Rivona, the other to the East. Kameron has another wife, Jeressa, who is the Crimson Queen's younger sister. Jeressa is considered to be a 'lesser Monarch', meaning she has no real, legal power but still wields enormous influence on Kameron and, more important, on their children, one of whom will eventually take the throne.
Kristara has never had any other official liaisons besides Kameron; she primarily associates with her Court Mage, a former Cardinal of the now fallen into disgrace and nearly extinct Church of the One True God known as Maraud. She also has a ten year old daughter, the rather spooky Morgraine, whose father is unknown (Kameron denies paternity; many whisper Morgraine must be Maraud's child, but they sure don't whisper it loudly, and there are a few who believe that Morgraine's father is one of the demonic Neverborn... although those that incline to that hypothesis try not to even think about it when Kristara or Morgraine are around.)
Ona-Tengu is centered on the ancient area that was once known as Dusha, a fertile land stretching across the River valley primarily populated by the Durshi. Jeressa and Kayam tried to be decent rulers to every subject of the Realm including the native Durshi who largely dwell outside the cities; Kameron's father and Kameron himself, however, have taxed the rural Durshi heavily, mostly to give them an excuse to impress Durshi youths into the Tengish Navy and Militia. Ona Tengu has prospered since its founding (helped largely by the Tengish Knighthood killing Malefolion the Black, one of the few dragons still surviving into modern times on the River, and turning Malefolion's prodigious horde over to the royal treasury) but Kameron has spent most of it on Ona Tengu's military, leaving the poor Durshi farmers to mostly fend for themselves. This has led to a great deal of grumbling amongst the native Durshi, especially those who live outside the Tengish cities. Rumors of rebellion are in the air... especially since Kameron, facing a mid life crisis, has decided to lead most of the Tengish military up the River to try to annex the distant metropolis of Tharkis City to the Realm.
Okay. Against this backdrop, we begin:
Samara has been sent by a Durshi merchant named Ashara Go to try to secure the services of a Honan archer named Yuni for Ashara. Unfortunately, Yuni has already taken a contract with an Aven named Sintar, so Samara invites both of them to meet with Ashara and see exactly what it is he might want to hire Yuni for... it may be profitable for Sintar to subcontract Yuni to Ashara for a limited time. They all walk across the city to Ashara Go's small, crowded office at the Caravanserai Guild, where Ashara informs them that he is actually just trying to assemble a small group as a favor to another friend of his, a Durshi named Sankara Jin.
Sankara, according to Ashara, was quite a hellraiser when he was younger, but now he's quite old and somewhat disabled. Yet for reasons of his own, he wants to go on an expedition to the Giant Mountains, and due to his infirmities, loathe though he is to admit it, he's going to need some help. He doesn't want to put together a large party, because right now the Tengish Knighthood is watching everything that any Durshi does very carefully and he doesn't need trouble with the Crown. But a group of three, maybe four people to accompany him on his nature hike would be ideal.
The group of PCs agrees to meet Sankara at a nearby dive called the Bucket of Blood. Upon arriving there and asking for Sankara, they are shown into a back room where they meet an aged, leathery, white haired, bright eyed old Durshi who does indeed look as if he was quite a firebrand in his younger days... like most male Riverscum, he clearly prides himself on his warrior skills and his toughness, wearing battered leather armor of a very antiquated design, with a glint of metal underneath it.
Belying his rough, tough facade, however, is a crutch leaning against the wall next to him. He greets the group gruffly, seemingly annoyed at the apparent necessity to ask anyone for help. While the PCs introduce themselves, he keeps glancing at something under the table he is sitting behind, although the PCs never get an opportunity to see what he's looking at.
After a brief discussion, the PCs agree to help him. He instructs them to meet him by the caravan gate at sunrise the next day. Getting up to leave, he gets his crutch under him and the PCs can see why he needs it... one of his legs is terribly withered, like a dried up husk, barely a quarter of the size it should be.
The PCs leave and seek an inn room for the night. As Sintar is extremely rich from a previous adventure, the party decides to repair to Token's, the finest inn/public house on the River, which is very near the caravan gate. For 12 gold a night (a gold is worth roughly $100 in my game) they get one of Token's finest suites.
That's pretty much where we left it. What the PCs do not know (in my scenarios, there is always plenty the PCs do not know) is that Ashara Go is up to his neck in the Durshi underground. A Tengish Knight named Emok (a Northark, another of my human subraces), has been investigating Ashara for several seasons now and is about to have him arrested for treason and subversion. Emok has had several of his squires following Ashara and everyone who has any dealings with Ashara for the last several weeks. So now Emok is very interested in the PCs, wondering exactly what they're up to, and first thing next session, he'll be dropping by their suite at Token's to ask them some pointed questions.
Sankara Jin is a colorful old guy. While he has his own reasons for making a pilgrimage to the Giant Mountains which I won't say any more about now, he was once a member of the Crimson Cohort. He couldn't become a Knight due to his injury (the result of a long ago misadventure that has more than a little to do with the current scenario) but he's spent most of the last thirty years hanging around the city of Jeressa. He knows a lot of very powerful people; former Cohort members now high up in the Knighthood or the various Temples, and many of the older City Lords (former 'bosses'). He isn't particularly well liked, but he's very well respected and can call in a lot of favors if he needs to. (A little known provision of the original Charter of Ona-Tengu grants property and a minor lordship to any member of the Crimson Cohort that wants it. Most members took it in the form of a Knighthood; Sankara has never availed himself of the title but he does live off a small amount of the seasonal pension he gets, while letting most of it pile up in the Temple of Silver and Gold.)
Sankara isn't at all political and doesn't really consider himself to be a Durshi, at least, not culturally. He's Riverscum through and through. What loyalty he had was to Commander Crimson; he thinks Kameron has made a right mess out of her Realm, but he's not going to get involved in court intrigues. He has one particular thing he wants to do before he dies... which will probably be soon... and that one goal is the reason behind his trip to the mountains.
Nonetheless, Ashara is aware that Sankara knows about the location of a very powerful magic item in the Giant Mountains, a magic item that the Sottle Merchant's Council would be willing to accept in trade for another very powerful magic item they currently have in their possession, which would greatly help the Durshi in their coming rebellion against Kameron. So he's agreed to help Sankara with his expedition, in return for Sankara agreeing to get this powerful magic item for Ashara.
So the PCs, all unknowing, are at the center of a morass of politics and intrigue.
Pretty much SOP for the World of Empire.
This description will, hopefully, give anyone who managed to wade through the entire insanely tedious length of it a fairly good idea of the kind of scenarios I tend to run. If anyone does actually read this whole thing, well, thanks for the time and attention, and I hope you enjoyed it at least a little.