He had fought the Undead Scourge amidst a battlefield filled with the ghosts of their victims, crying out for release.
He had faced dragons, drakes and wyrmkin.
Once, after a particularly hellish battle, he had literally found himself with one of his boots jammed into the hindquarters of an orcish soldier.
But all of those paled to this.
Ringo was having dinner with his in-laws.
Bael Rockbottom let out a burp that could have peeled paint and, in fact, sent some of the few birds that lived in the ramparts of Nethergarde Keep flapping away for cover.
“Oy! Tastes almost as good coming up as it did going down!”
His whole family roared with laughter. Ringo glared at his wife. Beli had smacked him in the back of the head with a dinner plate for making that very joke, not two weeks ago.
But there was always a different standard for her family of lunatics, the Rockbottoms.
Bael and his wife, Dorae, lived in a tower in the cliffs of Loch Modan, overlooking Thelsamar, but they were rarely home, instead going wherever there was construction work to be done.
His youngest son, Omar, invariably tagged along, although as far as Ringo could tell, Omar didn’t actually do anything other than eat, sleep and drink. He didn’t even have the initiative to chase loose women: It apparently cut into his eating, sleeping and drinking time too much.
Bael’s oldest son, Kort, apparently did something for a living: Those filmy things his floozy of a wife barely wore were expensive, Ringo knew. (He’d once wandered into the wrong shop in the Canal District and had a very awkward conversation with a bemused proprietress while trying to avoid looking directly at the veritable sea of unmentionables. He’d known elves and a few humans who’d worn such things as their outer garments, but Reiya was the first dwarf he’d seen behave in such a fashion. In any case, those little wisps of cloth and strategic reinforcements cost a pretty gold piece.) How Kort made his money, though, was forever unclear. That no one seemed bothered by this baffled Ringo all the more.
Bael pushed himself away from the table and stood up.
“Aaaah, I’m off ta water a bush. See you lot later.”
Laughter, again, from the Rockbottoms.
“I made that joke on the way to Nethergarde and you punched me in the mouth!” Ringo hissed at his wife, who merely responded with a dismissive wave of her hand.
In an unconscious imitation of his father, Omar stood up and stretched.
“‘m gonna go get s’methin’,” he mumbled, shambling away from the table.
Ringo looked at Beli, who just shrugged, and so Ringo turned back toward his other brother-in-law.
“So, Kort, what is it that you actually do for a living?”
Kort was working a toothpick through his mouth, using only his lips and tongue in a noisy process.
“This and that, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. Are ye a burglar? I don’t mind them, I’ve worked with them,” Ringo said, unbuckling his belt in the ceremonial post-feast releasing of the gut. “There was this time, me and 11 of my friends decided to go down to Searing Gorge and take my buddy’s father’s treasure back from this drake, Blackchar. This human mage who’s a friend of my buddy decides to tag along with us, and we realize, ‘Oy, there’s 13 of us!’ So we go and hire this gnome burglar named Bill –”
“Not a burglar,” Kort said.
Ringo looked at him suspiciously.
“Who are they?”
“Rogues and the like working for deposed Alterac nobles, trying to return them to power.”
“Ah, them. No.”
“Ye’re not working for the Dark Iron Dwarves, are ya?”
Ringo tugged at his mustache and glowered.
“That’s it, then, I’m out of guesses.”
“Well, there you go.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll see you at Winter’s Veil with a new list of possibilities.”
Omar ambled up to the table with a wooden box as Beli and her mother cleared the dishes away.
“So,” Omar mumbled through his whiskers. “Got thuh game …”
Everyone looked up at him through the haze of full bellies and more than a little ale.
“‘s called Gobopoly.”
“What sort of name is that?” Demanded Reiya. The wooden box had seen better days and she suspected this would turn out to be a rather common sort of activity.
“‘s Goblin …” Omar trailed off.
Beli cleared her throat and motioned for him to put down the box and open it. She was the youngest child, but she often seemed older than both her brothers.
“So, what’s this game, then?”
“Yuh play Goblin Merchant Princes,” Omar held up several little figures of goblins, which Reiya snatched from him, looking for a female one. Beli managed to snag one before her sister-in-law got her overly soft hands on them. Her brother continued, oblivious. “Thuh board is thuh tunnels of Kezan an’ you go roun’ an’ buy prop’rty in Undermine. Thuh goal is get a gobopoly and run other princes out of bus’ness.”
Everyone took a moment to translate this explanation. Eventually, Beli, Reiya and Ringo found themselves reading the poorly translated instructions inside the box.
“OK,” Ringo said slowly, pondering his chosen game piece, depicting a merchant prince riding on the shoulders of a chemically enslaved ogre. “Roll to see who goes first.”
He blinked in surprise when all the Rockbottoms, including Beli, suddenly produced their own pairs of dice. Looking around suspiciously, he reached forward, grabbed the pair of dice in the game box and rolled a seven.
There was a clatter of dice being rolled by everyone else. Ringo groaned when he looked around: Every other die on the table showed a six.
“Let’s just use the dice the game came with, aye?”
The Rockbottoms looked at each other warily before mumbling their ascent.
The dwarves moved their merchant princes and merchant princesses around the board, grabbing up workshops, mines and tram lines.
Ringo managed to pick up various shops, but kept being stymied in his efforts to assembly a gobopoly; every time he thought he’d landed on an unbought workshop to complete a gobopoly, one of the Rockbottoms would announce the fee for landing on a space they owned. The pile of wooden coins — painted copper, silver and gold — in front of him continued to shrink.
In contrast, everyone else seemed to be doing much better. When Reiya finally assembled her gobopoly, Ringo was now the only one without one. Standing up, surveying the board, it looked that, at last, every piece had been purchased, which meant, barring something unforseen, he was just going to be picked clean by the others, something that had obviously occured to them, given the predatory glint in their eyes.
Sitting down with a sigh, he accidentally knocked some of his wooden coins off the table. Leaning down, he reached under his chair to scoop up his few remaining coins, his head beneath the wooden table’s edge.
Every one of the Rockbottoms had white property cards sticking out of their boots, out of the hems of their skirts or were simply sitting on them. There was also a heavy weight in the cuffs of several pairs of pants suggesting a stash of extra Gobopolgy coinage.
He looked back up, mouth open, ready to roar with anger, and found himself facing a sea of grinning Rockbottoms.
“What?” Beli asked, eyes gleaming with mirth. “The challenge isn’t playing the board game, it’s not getting caught playing the other players!”
The others roared with laughter as Ringo tossed his coins and cards into the box before stomping off in a huff.
“Bloody in-laws …”