Thursday, January 15, 2015

Gaertorin: Reflection and Musings

As Gaertorin is laying by the fountain trying to sleep he begins to think about the day's events...

And Aginot was not worried about the dead. It is something evil and unnatural that is doing this, and it must be stopped. I lost my father to the undead already, I will not lose anyone else to them. What to do though? Is it wise to attempt to cross the desert during the day? We barely made it to the town, and had it not been for Carmen's decanter, I fear we may not have made it. If we go out at night we run the risk of encountering Anhktepot if we are to believe Isu, and encountering him could mean a swift death. It is not death I fear though, but undeath. I do not believe that Habbakuk would allow that for one of his faithful servants, but I have seen many things recently that I did not believe were possible before seeing them.

Valana's foretelling tonight was cryptic. I have never been good at deciphering prophecy and foretelling, but this seemed to me to be saying that we need to slay Anhktepot along with his undead minions. This is not a task that I relish, but I will undertake it if that is what is required of me. Perhaps I should discuss it further with Aginot, Leilana, and Carmen. Maybe they can make sense of this where I can see none.

This place that the mists have brought me to is more and more troubling each day. I wish Carmen and I could make our way home. However, I do not know where we are, so I cannot even begin to think of a way to get back. With each day, I become more certain that it will not be as simple as walking home.

As he rolls onto his side Gaertorin concentrates on his ring and begins to slow his breathing in an attempt to sleep. It is a gold ring, and on the top is a sapphire in the shape of a phoenix . As he is concentrating on the ring and slipping off to sleep it briefly flashes as if glowing from the inside. Gaertorin is left wondering if it was moonlight that caused that or something else as he drifts off to sleep.

RL #21: The Touch of Death

Safely removed from Gorgi, the party began to set up camp. As they did, a trio of lantern-lights passed along the road, though at too far a distance for their nature to be discerned. The companions took their sleep in turn, though Leilana was startled during her watch when she turned to see Valana suddenly awake and staring at her intently. "One of your company possesses something of great significance to my people," the gypsy uttered. "You."

Valana reminded the druid of the scroll she carried, stating that it was penned by a Dukkar, a rare male Vistani gifted with Sight, many generations ago. The author, Hyskosa, recorded a six verses, prophecies that together foretold the unraveling of the mists, rulers, and of the world itself. One of these verses had already come to pass. Leilana pressed for more details, but Valana answered her cryptically, then fell silent.

In the morning, a low haze covered the ground, and Valana explained that she could lead the PCs through the mists to find her family. The party followed the gypsy into a thick fog, walking until the sun shone high and hot overhead, and the ground was covered with sand. The mists burned away to reveal a vast desert, with endlessly rolling dunes in three directions and a steep cliff face in the fourth. They were standing near a road that led to a small village.

Valana was distressed and unable to say where the party was, or why. With little other recourse to escape the oppressive heat, they walked along the road until they came upon a brown, withered hand emerging from sand along their path. They uncovered a corpse, a dried-out husk dressed in a tattered garment. Unsettled, they proceeded on to the village, arriving at a spring in its center as lithe, brown-skinned villagers outfitted in flowing white robes and headdresses looked on. Standing next to the spring was a woman wearing a gold-trimmed gown, a snake's head circlet, a gold medallion, and several pieces of ornate jewelry.

The woman introduced herself as Isu Rehkotep, servant of Osiris, god of the dead. She welcomed the party to the village of Mudar in the land of Har'Akir, and explained plaintively that the villagers were wary due to a series of recent kidnappings. When the PCs mentioned the corpse they discovered along the road, Isu bid them to take her to it, and they did. Upon returning with the body, a female villager rushed to it in hysterics. Gaertorin attempted to comfort her, but the woman shrieked at the intrusion and several men surrounded her and the weathered corpse, finally carrying it away from the spring. Isu invited the PCs into her temple to help answer their questions.

The temple itself was a whitewashed, sandstone building of elaborate architecture, with two great statues guarding its entry. The first, a powerful male figure with the head of a hawk, depicted Ra, the sun god; the second depicted Anhktepot, the last pharaoh of Har'Akir. While Ra's statue appeared to be immaculately maintained, Anhktepot's was damaged and worn.

Inside, Isu led the party through a grand hall adorned with columns, prayer mats and tapestries before passing through a curtain into the priestess's public antechamber. Isu's exotic pet cat, Bashet, paced the room (showing a particular distaste for Aginot) as the priestess told the legend of Anhktepot:

The pharaoh Anhktepot ruled centuries ago in the land of Har’Akir. This nation encompassed the entire Abal river valley in the great Akir desert. According to our beliefs, the pharaoh is the link between man and the gods. The pharaoh is himself a god of this land. The pharaohs ruled by the divine grace of Ra, the sun god.

Anhktepot greatly feared death. It was known that when a pharaoh dies, he becomes a servant of Ra in the underworld, exalted above all other servants. For some unknown reason, Anhktepot did not want to die. Maybe he feared the wrath of Ra should the sun god discover that Anhktepot had been a false pharaoh. Anhktepot commanded his priests to find a way for him to cheat death. Many slaves and prisoners died horribly as subjects in Anhktepot’s gruesome experiments in immortality.

Frustrated by his lack of success, the pharaoh had several temples burned and razed. He stalked into the Kharn temple, greatest in all of Har’Akir, and cursed the gods for not granting him his heart’s desire. Ra answered Anhktepot. He told the pharaoh that when he died, he would live, though he might wish otherwise. However, for cursing the gods, Anhktepot would suffer eternally. Ra did not say how this curse would be manifest.

Anhktepot left the temple elated but confused. He still did not know how to cheat death. That night, when he touched Nephyr, his wife, she died instantly. Everyone he touched that night died. His wife, several of his servants, and his eldest child all died by his hand. According to our customs, they were mummified and entombed in great buildings in the desert. The funerals took over a week.

Anhktepot soon understood that after the sun left the sky, his touch was death. So long as Ra shone upon him, he was safe. But once he was no longer under the sun’s watchful eye, whomever he touched died horribly.

Shortly after the final ceremony of his wife’s funeral, he was visited in the night. A mummy wrapped in funeral linens entered his chambers. By the vestments he knew it was Nephyr. Unable to speak, the mummy tried to embrace Anhktepot. Horrified, he screamed for her to leave him forever, which she did. Nephyr walked into the desert and was never seen again. Her tomb has remained open and empty through all these years.

Anhktepot was also visited by the mummified bodies of those he had killed. He came to understand that he controlled them utterly. They did his every bidding. He used their power and his own deadly touch to tighten the reigns of his evil power over Har’Akir.

He killed many priests, making them into his undead slaves. Occasionally he would find one of his mummies destroyed, burned from the inside out. Some scholars believe Nephyr was responsible for the destruction of Anhktepot’s mummies, but no one knows the true answer.

One day, the priests rebelled against Anhktepot and murdered him in his sleep. He was still the pharaoh-a god and blessed of the gods. The priests gave him a funereal befitting his station. Shortly after the funereal, the Walls of Ra appeared, cutting us off from the rest of Har’Akir. All that remains of the life we once knew is Mudar and the tomb of Anhktepot, which lies a short way through the desert. All of this happened many generations ago.

Occasionally the villagers say they have seen the mummified body of Anhktepot staggering across the sand dunes. They blame most of their ill luck on him and use his name to frighten small children. I don’t know what has happened to Har’Akir or if Anhktepot truly does walk the land as one of the living dead.

Isu offered the party a place to sleep outside, near the spring where they would be safe. Strangely, many travelers had come to Mudar in recent weeks, she explained, but most often, the heat of the desert claimed them. The spring's water was sacred to the village; all were welcome to drink it freely, but filling a decanter or taking water away from the spring was considered a serious crime.

Distraught by the day's events, Valana bade the PCs to participate in a fortune-telling near the outskirts of the village, away from the populace. The PCs agreed, and seated themselves in a small circle, out of sight of any villagers. Valana removed a deck of cards from a pouch around her waist. She asked each companion to shuffle the cards in turn, then entered a trance-like state and revealed the following:
Six of Hearts - "The card of the hex. A sign of mystery and events to come. Look for the sign of six. The king understands the hex as the knave does not. [The heart] is the symbol of loyalty betrayed." 
Queen of Clubs - "This card is the traitor queen. She who should serve has betrayed her lord." 
Four of Diamonds - "The sun shall set this many times before the king can be sought. This time is called the Night of Thoth." 
Four of Hearts - "A strengthening of the aspect of the Night of Thoth." 
Jack of Clubs - "This card represents evil personified. He attempts to overthrow the king. The queen now serves this knave." 
Four of Clubs - "A further strengthening of the sign of Thoth." 

Before revealing a final card, Valana asked each companion to shuffle the cards again.
Ace of Clubs - "A singular presence. A symbol of those who do not belong. They have a terrible task ahead of them. [The club] is the symbol of physical power. This card holds the power to destroy."

Upon finishing the last reading, Valana broke from her trance and collapsed, stating that she needed rest. The PCs helped her back to the spring, where they set watches for the night.

In the late evening hours, after all the villagers had retired to their houses, Gaertorin spotted a lone figured illuminated by the moonlight in the desert, stray ends of cloth fluttering in the breeze as it walked among the dunes. Shaken, the half-elf assured the safety of his companions; when he looked back again, the form was gone.

During the midnight watch, Leilana heard a rustling sound and turned to see brown, withered corpse attacking her from behind. The druid screamed, awakening her companions as the creature raked across her neck and face with its claws. Injured nearly to unconsciousness, Leilana ran the creature through with her spear, and Gaertorin crushed its skull with his mace.

The party dragged the body to the nearby temple steps, and the final watch passed uneventfully. In the early morning hours, as the sun began to warm the village, Leilana turned her focus toward the spring and began to cast a spell...

DM's Commentary

I'd never have thought that Carmen's decanter of endless water would come in so handy when I arbitrarily gave it to her as an initial magic item. So awesome when things like that just work out.

The only other thing to mention is that these session recaps shouldn't dissuade players from taking in-game notes - names, maps, and especially specific events like the fortune-telling should be recorded in as much detail as you think you might need later on. This time, I did include the minutiae since Aginot already posted his notes as well, but please don't count on me to always provide this stuff later, otherwise I may start omitting them from my write-ups.

Aginot: Disarmed

Before settling down for the night, Aginot takes a few moments to ruminate near the spring over previous events.


Trickles of sweat run down the priests neck onto his back beneath his robe.  His matted hair, damp from that same sweat, bothers him incessantly.  It takes a great effort not to jump into the spring and cleanse himself.

Though the ever-present heat of Mudar forced him to finally remove his heavy overcoat of chain, it was not the catalyst.  He has seen much violence of late, enough to unsettle him, and the priest has given long thought to his companions, as well as his own role in the group's actions.  He rolls his shoulders, finally free of the ever-present weight of his armor.  The skin of his shoulders shows bruising where the armor rested and chafed, a result of the weakness that has been a part of him since childhood.  Aginot has always bruised easily, and his bones would break as a child if stressed.  It was a condition he learned to live with, the constant pain and discomfort becoming a part of him, never relenting.

Finally removing the heavy chain, however, was both a physical and spiritual relief.  Separating himself from the group for a short time, he uses his hands to dig a small pit in the sand near the spring, placing the armor into it.  Settled on a course of action, Aginot removes his pouch and dumps the contents onto the sand.  18 gold coins glitter up at him.  He counts out 17 of the coins, one for each life he has taken with violence, and puts them into the pit along with his chain armor.  The fact that one gold coin remains bothers the priest in a way that he can't shake, but he returns the gold coin, along with his other small coinage to the pouch, and covers the armor again with sand.

"Our debts are settled," he mutters on the way back to the others, unable to forget the single gold coin that remains in his pouch.

Aginot: Valana's Second Reading

While the memory is still fresh in his head, Aginot records his notes and thoughts regarding Valana's second reading of the deck.

The Mists are fickle, and they have brought us to Mudar, a village built on an oasis in the middle of the desert.  How we came to be here, no one knows...not even Valana, the Vistani seer.  But here we are trapped, for the blistering heat of the "Walls of Ra" prevents our escape.  It seems we have been brought here for some purpose, and at the moment, it seems that purpose is to rid this land of the curse of Anhktepot.

At our bidding, Valana did a second reading of the cards.  Here are my notes--I know not the full meaning of the reading, or how it relates to Leilana's scroll, but I have thoughts.

  • The Six of Hearts: "The king understands the hex, while the knave does not.  This suit is the symbol of loyalty betrayed."  I can only believe that the "king" is Anhktepot, but I know nothing yet of the knave.
  • The Queen of Clubs: "The traitor queen."  I think this to be Nephyr, wife to Anhktepot, but I know not the significance.
  • A Trio of Fours: "The sun shall st this many times before the king be sought.  This shall be known as the Night of Thoth."  I have no idea what "Thoth" is, but it seems now that we have limited time to accomplish our task.
  • The Knave of Clubs: "The knave, evil personified. He attempts to overthrow the king, the queeen now serves this knave."  More mystery, but it reinforces my feelings that we must seek out the Temple to Nephyr.
  • The Ace of Clubs: "A singular presence.  This suit is the symbol of physical power, the power to destroy."  Yet another mystery, I cannot guess at its significance.
I shall have to review Leilana's scroll again, if she will let me.  There is much yet to learn, and time is short.  I wonder what conclusions the others may have drawn from this reading...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

AD&D 2e: Ranger's favored enemy ruling

From the AD&D 2e Player's Handbook (p. 29):

In their roles as protectors of good, rang-
ers tend to focus their efforts against some
particular creature, usually one that ma-
rauds their homeland. Before advancing to
2nd level, every ranger must select a species
enemy. Typical enemies include giants,
orcs, lizard men, trolls, or ghouls; your DM
has final approval on the choice. Thereafter,
whenever the ranger encounters that enemy,
he gains a +4 bonus to his attack rolls. This
enmity can be concealed only with great dif-
ficulty, so the ranger suffers a -4 penalty on
all encounter reactions with creatures of the
hated type. Furthermore, the ranger will ac-
tively seek out this enemy in combat in pref-
erence to all other foes unless someone else
presents a much greater danger.

As we've been using the 2e rules consistently for character creation and advancement, this applies to Gaertorin. Through a bit of research, though, I'm going to agree with what seems to be a large segment of DMs that restricting the favored enemy to a specific "species" is sometimes too narrow to be relevant in a given campaign. As such, for Gaertorin, the rule will apply to a broader "type" of enemy, which will allow him to appropriately favor "undead." This should be a nice benefit to the party and is very much on theme for the character.

Gaertorin: Growing Up and Finding a Place

As a young boy, I enjoyed playing in the woods. My father, a retired soldier, encouraged me and taught me to hunt at an early age. He wanted me to become a soldier just like him. He rarely spoke of his time during the Chaos War, other than it made him the person he was.

I always loved those hunting trips with my father. One day while tracking a deer we encountered a pair of skeletons. Paralyzed with fear, my father told me to run. The last image I have of my father is him fighting the skeletons. I returned to my mother broken up, and relayed the story. Several neighbors teamed up to dispatch the skeletons if they were still around, retrieve my father's body, and provide a proper burial. I even saw a couple of nobles and generals at his funeral. What had he done to cause them to show up at his funeral?

After the funeral, I could not bring myself to hunt again, and the thought of being in the army was too overwhelming. How could I possibly follow in his footsteps? I continued to live with my mother for the next few years helping around the house, and performing odd jobs for neighbors and friends.

When I was older, I decided I needed to make a life for myself. I ventured off on my own with only a few belongings. While in the woods one night, I felt a presence unlike anything I knew. I packed up my belongings and started walking. I do not know why I went the direction I did, nor did I know where I was going. Early the next morning I found myself in a small town facing a temple to Habbakuk. Sure, I knew who the gods were, but I had never worshiped any of them.

However, I felt an urging to go inside, so I did. When I entered an older priest inquired if I needed any help. I told him my story of how I came to be here, and I saw understanding in his face. He explained that the presence and urging was Habbakuk directing me to the temple. We talked at length about Habbukuk and what he represents. I was intrigued, and asked to stay at the temple. I offered to work for my room and board. The priest warned me that the work would be hard. I was raised having to do many chores, so I told the priest that I could handle a little hard work. Little did I know that for the next three years my days would be filled with cleaning, serving, praying, and more cleaning. In that time I came to know Habbakuk better and even became a priest myself. During this time, I came to accept that death is a part of life, and that my father's death was natural. However, I came to abhor the undead that slaughtered my father, and they are certainly not a natural part of this world.

Many of the other priests would go out looking for new converts and believers, but I never did that. How could I convince someone to start worshiping Habbakuk, when it took his presence to convince me. Besides, I am the son of a soldier, who would listen to me talk the praises of a god that supports a natural cycle of life and death.

Two years later, the War of Souls came to our kingdom. The king implored all who were able-bodied to help. I offered my services as a healer and priest, nothing more. During this time, I provided rites and healing to many soldiers. I became friends with the scouts, as they all seemed to worship Habbakuk. After one particularly bad battle, the captain was short on scouts, and looking for anyone to help. One of the scouts must have mentioned my father's background to him, and my hunting trips. I refused at first pleading that I was a priest and not a soldier. The commander told me that he just wanted me to scout for him, not to fight for him. He badly needed a scouting report, and there was no one else with the skills.

I went on the scouting mission, and while I did not run into anything bad, I found that I could balance my priestly duties with the scouting. I spoke to my captain about going out more and more with the scouting parties. While I always attempt to avoid fighting it is not always possible. I had finally found my place. I spoke with the patriarch of Habbakuk about this and he told me that not all priests serve in a temple. I should serve in the manner that I was called.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Gaertorin: Thoughts on New Companions

This is a strange world that the mists brought me to. I am glad to be here and alive, rather than on the wrong end of a skeletons blade. I am also glad that Carmen was brought along with me. It is comforting to have a long time companion in Carmen at my side still. Unfortunately, we will not be able to bring word of my scouting to the Captain. I only hope that our disappearance does not lead the army astray.

I am not sure of my new companions. Leilana seems level-headed, and quiet. She is the only other elf/half-elf I have met here. It is nice that I am able to travel with another of my kind. She seems to know the way of the woods, and to be in communion with nature. Perhaps she would wish to learn more of Habbakuk. I will have to discuss this with her.

Aginot is brash at times, but I always tend to trust a holy man with good in his heart. I have not heard of this church of the coin in my travellings, but I confess to be a little ignorant of dieties other than Habbakuk. I will have to learn more about this church and why the coin hold such a place of honor.

Aginot: On Morality

Aginot takes some time to pen his thoughts on to a scrap of parchment, one of several that compose a makeshift journal of thoughts.

Alaric,

When you left us, you stole more than the mask.  I hope that the gods can forgive your transgressions, and that debts can be settled, but in my heart, I know it is more likely that you will fall to the darkness within you.  Should we meet again, and should you still bear the mask, it will be as enemies.

Despite your shaky moral foundation and questionable judgment, you brought a sense of balance to our group.  My own faith pays little regard to justice; a ridiculous term, subject to whims of the spirit and self-righteousness.  The Order, however, does concern itself with equity, and for all of your faults, you always tried to distribute your misguided justice equitably.  You would have made a good acolyte.

I fear, however, that our new companions Gaertorin and Carmen may not share this trait.  They are deadly, each in their own way, but they are seemingly indiscriminate in their lethality, and that makes me worry.

Consider the Talon soldiers, if you will.  The Talons as an organization are surely tyrannical in their motivations, that much is without dispute by anyone of a reasonable mind.  A single Talon soldier, however, is just a tool of his lord, and is not necessarily deserving of a knife to the back or killing blow while helpless.  There have been times where Talons have directly opposed us, and we fought with lethal intent, but it was to save our own lives.

In Gorgi, though I do not know the details of Carmen's assassination of the Talon she encountered, I witnessed Gaertorin crack the skull of a guard I had rendered helpless, killing him instantly.  Such actions create imbalance, and can only be answered with equal force, and I fear that we may not be up to the challenge should tides ever turn against us.

I cannot help but think that you would have handled the situation more responsibly, and it is for that, more than nearly anything else, that I regret your betrayal and desertion.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

RL #20: The Black Raven

Last night marked our twentieth Ravenloft session over the course of two and a half years, a pretty good track record in RPG terms. What's more is that the PCs are still fairly low level, so we have a long way to go before all is said and done.

In the Tally-ho Inn and Tavern, the party weighed its options at length. As they did, the pair of Talon guards from outside entered the taproom to the call of "The gypsy will curse us, you've doomed us all!" from a stumbling drunkard. One soldier approached the man, held him up with one arm and slugged him with a bladed gauntlet, laying him low. That quieted the patrons, but the whispers overheard from nearby tables were clear: the capture of a Vistani was a serious matter indeed, an order that would be given by no lesser than King Vlad Drakov himself. And why the carriage would be en route to the militant border-town of Stangengrad, no one knew.

Before long, the soldiers returned to the Black Raven with a gallon-sized tankard of mead for the dwarf. Not to be outdone, Aginot took it upon himself to purchase and offer up a five-gallon barrel in an attempt to win the men's trust. The effort proved fruitless, and the carriage was soon stabled for the night, along with the dwarf, the two Talons, and the two wolf-hounds. Carmen tailed the contingent, looking on as Valana was beaten to unconsciousness after she finally began to stir. A second pair of Talons helped secure the stable, then subsequently returned to the tavern.

The rest of the party took leave of the taproom, sneaking into a large, unlocked stable adjacent to the one that housed the Raven; Carmen, still invisible, lurked outside. The PCs plotted an ambush over the stable wall via the rafters, but as they did, their would-be victims detected the party's presence and took action: one Talon sighted Leilana through a hole in the stable wall with his crossbow, while the second led the dogs outside and into the party's stable, the dwarf lumbering drunkenly behind. Leilana was struck by twin crossbow bolts as the dogs rushed in, and melee ensued.

Carmen resisted the urge to call out a warning to her friends, knowing it would do little aside from exposing her position. Instead, she tactfully crept inside the Talon stable and stabbed the lone crossbowman from behind, canceling her invisibility but saving the party from additional fire. The soldier rose to his feet to assault the mage, but Carmen struck deftly again, laying the man low. A knock spell on the prisoner cage door and Carmen dragged the unconscious Vistani woman outside while her companions defeated the remaining enemies with sword and spell. Gaertorin cast cure light wounds on Valana and her eyes fluttered open, revealing her beauty.

The party made haste for the north gates, staying off the main road and bribing the gate-guards to exit the walls safely. Once outside, they fled into the night, finding sanctuary in a forest grove a half-mile from town, and in desperate need of healing.

DM's Commentary

This session ran pretty smoothly, with the party spending most of its time deliberating the optimal course against the Talons. There was a brief opportunity early on where Carmen (invisible) might have been able to steal the carriage while the first pair of guards were busy fetching ale for the dwarf, but the moment was fleeting and I'm not sure they'd have had time to execute the theft cleanly. I liked the direction the party was going when they snuck into the adjacent stable and plotted an attack from the rafters - unfortunately the stable walls were paper-thin and they just couldn't be quiet enough not to be heard with a Talon guard awake and on watch. If there's one mistake the group made this adventure, it was spending too long in the stable without action.

Mechanically, the party had some breaks, but made some sound decisions as well. Aginot's hold person spell was key, even though he unluckily rolled a '1' for the number of individuals he could target. Gaertorin reaped the statistical benefits of multiple attack rolls per round, and Carmen used good tactics to find advantage in melee combat, even as a lowly wizard. Leilana fell victim to some rather poor rolls - we had a critical moment where Aginot was at 2 hp and unable to escape one of the dogs, and Leilana needed any damage roll other than 1 (which she of course rolled) to kill it. Fortunately, the dog missed on its final attack and everyone survived, but it was close. On the plus side for the party, I made consistently bad initiative rolls for the enemies throughout the combat.

Someday I'm sure the numbers will get the best of the PCs and one of them will die horribly, but I'm glad it hasn't happened yet. You really have to play to your advantages, know when to fight and when to flee, and especially how and when to use your spells. AD&D doesn't offer much margin for error.

A Word About Morality

Ravenloft is very much centered around morality (or lack thereof), and frequently a situation arises that gives me a bit of pause. Last night, the party discussed the option of setting fire to the Talon stable. It could just be that the repercussions of such an approach were lost on the players at the time, but the party had witnessed a village fire spread quickly once before (in Chatain) and would do well to consider the potential loss of innocent lives and destruction of homes and property before heading far down so dangerous a path.

The other instance worth mentioning was Gaertorin's coup de grace against a magically held Talon soldier after the combat was effectively won. We talked briefly about how Alaric (a paladin) would never have allowed such an act, but a character not adhering to a specific class or code shouldn't constitute a free pass to look into a defenseless man's eyes and kill him without remorse. Now, in this specific case, I think the slaying was reasonably justified - it would be easy to argue that killing the soldier was in the best interest of not only the party, but the entire town as well. So it's not a matter of imposing any kind of penalty on the PCs - I just think these kinds of actions warrant enough in-game roleplaying to ensure that the moral aspect of the event isn't lost on anyone in the group. It's a delicate line to walk, and Ravenloft especially is known for acknowledging those that stray from a moral path - even in the heat of battle. Tread carefully...

XP

Some solid XP awards to hand out for this session:

  • Defeating the two Talon soldiers, dwarf guard, and two Falkovnian wolf-hounds - 500 XP
  • Rescuing Valana from the Black Raven and safely exiting the town gates - 1,500 XP
That's 500 XP each, and Carmen gets her 10% prime requisite bonus for Intelligence. Updated totals:

  • Leilana - 8,224
  • Aginot - 7,604
  • Carmen - 7,550
  • Gaertorin - 3,750/3,750
No new levels gained this time. I'll keep an eye on XP advancement over the next few sessions to make sure the story awards are sufficient based on the Ravenloft style of game (i.e., high roleplaying, relatively low combat and treasure acquisition). I can make adjustments if need be as time goes on.

Friday, October 24, 2014

RL #19: Transitions

Tonight marked a major transition for our campaign, with the exit of Alaric and Nora, and introduction of two new characters (played by the same players), Gaertorin (male half-elf ranger/cleric) and Carmen (female human transmuter). Also our first session back after a long hiatus due to real-life dealings, so it was great to get back into the swing of things.

We picked up in Morningsong - or, the shell of what the village once was, abandoned, weathered and aged - as the characters found it when they returned. Aginot awoke alone in a roofless and dilapidated inn; exploring the grounds, there were no inhabitants - only a few long-dead skeletons - though when drawn to the chapel gates by an unexplained ringing of the church bell, the four friends noticed that the placard outside had changed. Where once read:

"Let this chapel stand for eternity
As a reminder of the consequences of sin."

Now proclaimed:

"Let this chapel stand for eternity
As a reminder of heroes and good will among men."
*

Underneath the stanza was etched the coin insignia of Aginot's order. Additionally, the well behind Ellidora's cottage was still collapsed as the party had most recently left it. A sign of decades taking their toll, or something more?

With little other recourse in the village, the PCs took the day to rest and then set off along the trails, hoping to again find the river. As they waded into the depths of the forest and night began to fall, a cool breeze ushered in the sound of wind chimes in the distance. The party followed the haunting notes, arriving at a colorful gypsy wagon situated beside a blazing campfire with five individuals seated around it. Of these, three were Scarengi, Ryana, and Carloni - the same Vistani family that the party had encountered before arriving in Marais d'Tarascon. The other two, a half-elf man and a human woman, were unfamiliar, outfitted in adventurer's garb and clearly not gypsies.

Scarengi offered seats around the fire, warm stew, and bread. While kind in demeanor, the gypsies answered questions cryptically and seemed not to remember the previous visit with the party in Souragne. The two non-gypsies were quiet, but when asked, explained that they'd been scouting along a dangerous trail at night when they were ambushed by skeletal warriors, known to be minions of an evil warlord named Soth. As the skeletons began to overtake them, the trail was surrounded by a thick fog. Suddenly, the trail and skeletons were gone, leaving Carmen and Gaertorin alone in the woods amid a grove of black, dead trees, the likes of which they'd never before seen.

Soon, the pair heard wind chimes in the distance and came upon the Vistani wagon. Alaric, Aginot, Nora, and Leilana arrived shortly thereafter.

The travelers' tale seemed of little consequence to the Vistani, and notably, Scarengi and Ryana's daughter Valana was not present in the camp. Scarengi explained that Valana had been captured by Talon guards aboard a "Black Raven" (a Falkovnian prisoner carriage) along the road to Stangengrad, persecuted for her gift of "Sight." As if knowing the companions' own eagerness to locate this same road, Scarengi offered to lead them there, so long as they agreed to trail Valana and rescue her. The Talons would likely be found in Gorgi, a small town less than a day's march north. The party accepted, and all settled in for the night.

As Gaertorin and Carmen were exhausted from their travails, Alaric and Aginot stayed awake for the first watch, during which time Alaric demanded that Aginot return Ellidora's mask to him so that he could find a way to destroy it. Aginot refused, waking Leilana and entrusting the item to the druid instead. Disturbed by Alaric's uncharacteristic brashness, Aginot committed to foregoing sleep through the remaining watches, though fatigue eventually overcame him.

In the morning, Alaric and Nora were nowhere to be found, and the mask was missing from the folds of Leilana's cloak. The forest was scoured, but Leilana and Aginot uncovered no sign of their friends. Saddened but seemingly with no other option, Leilana etched a message "Farewell, Alaric and Nora" into a tree and the pair followed the Vistani to a well-beaten trail that surely hadn't been present the night before. The vardo disappeared into the morning fog, leaving Leilana, Aginot, Carmen, and Gaertorin alone.

The foursome traveled throughout the day, cresting a final hill and looking down upon a small, gated town at sunset. Warning the new companions - whose foreheads were unbranded - of the various mistreatments typically suffered by Falkovnian citizens, the party circled the valley eastward and entered Gorgi from the north, an effort to deter any suspicion that the PCs might be pursuing the Black Raven, if it was indeed here.

The gatemen barely questioned their entry, and the companions found their way to the town center, marked by the "Tally-ho Inn and Tavern" and the Black Raven coach - guarded by a pair of Talon soldiers - tethered just outside its doors. The party observed the carriage, drawn by two jet-black mares and adorned with a prisoner cage easily large enough to transport a half-dozen men - but which in fact contained only a single, female form.

Gaertorin, Aginot and Leilana steered clear of the Raven and entered the tavern, while Carmen cast invisibility and approached the cage from behind. Up close, she surmised that the captive - sleeping or unconscious, but certainly not dead - was indeed Valana, based on the party's description. She noted, too, a set of iron clubs wrapped in bloody rags hanging from the carriage side, and a pair of wolf-like dogs laying attentively in the shadows. To each dog was tethered a harness, and the ends both harnesses were clutched firmly in the hands of a black-armored dwarf. Having seen enough, Carmen looped back around and made her way into the taproom, reconvening with her allies still fully invisible.

DM's Commentary

A paladin's road is never easy, and Alaric's was no exception. His need to destroy Ellidora's mask, though driven by a desire to do good, turned to near-obsession in the end. When Aginot and Leiliana wouldn't surrender the mask to him, he employed the party's thief to steal it while the rest of his companions slept, and together the pair trod off into the mists. Though Alaric quickly realized his mistake, when he and Nora attempted to return to the Vistani wagon in the dead of night, all they found was an empty forest grove.

In the land of mists, fate seems ever at odds with those seeking to do good, and Alaric may have just taken his first step down a very dark path. A warrior who might have been destined to end the reign of an evil king in an oppressed land has departed his companions, lost within himself... and to what end?

Out of game, Alaric and Nora's players were both new to RPGs when we started the campaign, and Nora, particularly, was rolled up with literally an hour's notice. Both players were enjoying the game but felt that they wanted to go in a different direction, now that they've had a chance to wet their feet. It's definitely a move that I support - these kinds of transitions provide interesting new story arcs, and it's important that players are playing characters they can have fun with.

XP

50 XP to Aginot for yesterday's post. Gaertorin and Carmen will begin with 7,000 XP each. I typically start new characters at a total slightly below the otherwise-lowest party member. This helps reward the characters that have stuck around longest and provides incentive not to change (or die) too often.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Aginot: Can't Buy Me Love

While his companions were away righting wrongs (likely driven by Alaric's self-deluding sense-eluding idea of justice), Aginot set his mind and body towards a project of consequence--converting the heathens.  The Order of the Coin had gained much traction in the events following Lady Silva's unmasking, and several of the townsfolk had made private inquiries regarding the faith.

Aginot took this as an excellent sign, and as his comrades set about fighting beasts in dark tunnels, Aginot laid himself to the task of winning acolytes.  His first success was Jerome, a beggar.  While Jerome's motivations were suspect, at first, he had quickly become the most outspoken of the Order's acolytes.  He was granted The Coin on his first day with Aginot, and Jerome Branded his first two converts the next day, increasing the Order's strength in Morningsong threefold.

Aginot spent much time with Jorah the first night, and while he was unsuccessful in converting the priest, Jorah did accept a token of the Order at Aginot's insistence, which he wore discreetly around his neck.  Aginot had begged access to whatever books and geneologies Jorah had access to, as Aginot was certain and sought proof that Lord Hanwey himself was a disciple of the Order.  It was this, more than anything else, that opened Jorah's heart to The Coin.  That it was, in fact, a lie was of little consequence.  The Order of the Coin seeks not truth, but rather balance.  And this first step in Jorah's conversion tipped the balance slightly in favor of the Order.

It was by pointing out Jorah's necklace that he won the conversion of Abigail on the second day.  If Jorah's views regarding the Order were somewhat exaggerated by Aginot, that as well was of little  consequence.  The result was surely worth it.  Abigail was Branded that morning and accepted The Coin in Aginot's room that night.  Thus it was with great satisfaction that Aginot fell asleep, confident of what the next day would bring.

When Aginot awoke alone in the Mists, however, the strength of his despair hit him and he could barely stand.  Abigail, who had fallen asleep beside him, was gone, as was the bed, and the inn was an empty shell of what it had once been.  Everyone that Aginot had met was gone.  With no idea what happened, and not knowing if Leilana, Alaric and Nora had also disappeared, he eventually gathered the strength to stand, and stumbled through the Mists calling for his comrades...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

RL #18: The Phantom Village

Tonight we resumed where we left off, with the party regaining its bearings in the aftermath of its battle against the kobolds. They set back out to the tunnels, following the nearest fork a short distance to a dead end, then backtracking to a crossing of two paths in an 'X' and taking a downsloping outlet marked at the top by a decades-old mine cart.

That tunnel led back in the direction of the village, and at its end, miles later, was an enormous chasm where a waterfall poured into an underground lake from one side (Alaric correctly deduced the waterfall's source to be the river cavern nearest the kobold lair). The tunnel itself opened to a 100-foot drop, ending in a rope ladder and a small iron barricade used to prevent mine carts from rolling over the ledge. Far below, smoke from a bonfire billowed up to the cavern's uppermost recesses; around it loitered a handful of man-sized humanoids.

A plan was devised to throw stones from the ledge and wait for a scout to ascend the ladder. It worked, though it took several minutes, and the orc that climbed up was assailed with arrows and fell to its doom. Thereafter, the party began its descent, covered by the readied bows of Ainsley and Rooks, and Leilana's spells.

The orcs below had taken to the shadows and fired crossbows from hiding as the companions climbed down. Kleigha was pierced in the back and plummeted to his end, soon followed by a second longswordman. Alaric, Nora, and two men-at-arms reached the bottom, and when finally the orcs charged in, bloodshed came quickly and fierce. The party's strikes proved far truer than those of their enemies, and even after a hulking ogre joined the fray, the band from Morningsong knew victory. The cavern was scoured for secrets and gold coins, and a final orc who fled from the melee was tracked down and slain. With that, the party made its way back to the cave's entrance, exiting to the moonlight.

After only a few hours of rest, they set out for home, trudging through fog as the early morning sun finally began to glow. As they closed in on the trails that led back to the village proper, the PCs inexplicably lost sight of Rooks, Ainsley, and the lone surviving longswordman. They searched and called out, but found nothing: the men seemingly had vanished into thin air.

A short time later, Alaric, Nora, and Leilana arrived back in Morningsong, and what their eyes beheld chilled them to their very core. The village was desolate and abandoned. And more than merely abandoned, it looked as if no inhabitant had graced it for years, even decades. The wells were dry, the farms barren, and the structures they remembered as homes and establishments were dilapidated and decrepit. Confusion turned to horror turned to fear.

End.

XP

The XP awards for the past three sessions are as follows:

  • Avoiding the dire bear - 489 XP
  • Kobolds slain - 83 XP
  • Orcs slain - 132 XP
  • Ogre slain - 180 XP
  • Gems, coins, and items recovered - 232 XP
  • Story award - 1,000 XP

In total, that's 2,116 points, though the allotment will be divided into five shares: one to each PC, one to Ainsley and Rooks, and one to all other allies. That makes 423 XP per character. Updated totals are:

  • Alaric - 7,774
  • Leilana - 7,724
  • Nora - 7,303

Leilana hereby attains 4th level. I don't have any additional commentary, though players are welcome to add/post their own. Looking forward to hopefully having Jason back next time we play!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

RL #17: Unwelcome Return

Last night we resumed in Morningsong, with the party quickly deciding to further investigate the mysterious cave by the river. Calling a meeting in the Lion's Head tavern, Alaric imparted the danger of the mission at hand, offering a chance for any unwilling man to stay behind. All pledged their allegiance to the journey, though before the group could part ways for the eve, Rooks entered from outside, accompanying an injured young man who brandished sword and bow. The wounded hunter, Ainsley, brought word of a vicious orc trio that had slain a fellow woodsman near the forest outpost. Alaric healed Ainsley, who offered his aid to the contingent as well. With heightened urgency, the band departed at middark, aiming to reach the cave shortly after sunrise.

Their ill-advised nighttime passage through the forest ushered in a veil of thick fog as they closed proximity to the river. Without warning, the din of a marching army sounded off in the distance, singing to them like a nightmare. Recognizing the omen, the PCs bade their allies to close their ears and focus on the trail ahead. One of the men-at-arms (Vedrane) fled with all speed from the group, disappearing into the mists. The remaining eight travelers began chanting a bold chorus of "Stay strong for Morningsong!" to drown out their fears. When finally they found the river, the phantom noise was gone, and the fog began to break. Rooks and Ainsley led them to a shallow crossing and they made quickly for the cave.

Outside, no activity was detected, and the party filed into the rocky passage beside the running stream. Nora traversed the precarious ledge, toting a grappling hook attached to a hundred-foot length of rope. Securing the grapple in place for the others, Leilana followed next, slipping on a wet section of rock and plummeting into the chasm below. Nora scaled the cliff to administer healing in time to save her friend, though lifting the half-elf to safety and helping the rest of the companions across consumed a great deal of valuable time. Worse, as they toiled, kobolds slung stones from a ledge across the waterfall. Bowmen picked off two, frightening away the others.

Finally, the party took to the tunnel, traveling more than two hours and passing multiple forks before encountering a lone orc backed against a heavy, iron-banded door. The orc turned tail, but when the party followed, they found themselves inside a kobold lair. A battle ensued, the PCs routing the kobolds into an expansive cavern blocked by an underground river - the same cavern they'd travailed on their venture from the well in the village, this time entering from the opposite side, mere yards from the pit trap where they'd nearly met their demise.

The kobolds proved unprepared for the assault, and the party's combatants (with the help of Leilana's dust devil) made short work of the minions, slaying them all.

DM's Commentary


This was a pretty fun session, though admittedly, allowing Leilana to fall from the ledge nearly ruined it. A 5% chance to slip followed by a failed Dex check had her toppling fifty feet to a rocky chasm below. In the end, she took 17 points of damage (average rolls on 5d6), falling unconscious at -2 hp and dropping all the way to -5 before Nora made it to her side. These are the kinds of unlucky mishaps that I find myself most tempted to fudge in the party's favor. I had a bad experience several years ago where I allowed something similar to happen to a player, whose PC died and who ultimately decided not to play D&D anymore afterward. Despite that incident, I stayed true to the dice last night and everything still played out reasonably OK. Those are always tough calls to make, especially in the heat of the moment.

That said, I probably was a bit lenient in allowing Leilana to retain her spells and continue to operate at full capacity after being brought back to positive hp through magical healing. I didn't care to take the time to look up official rulings, and we've spent enough time playing with a party member completely debilitated in recent sessions. I think I made the right call on that too.

Of note, Alaric entrusted the black mask to Aginot prior to leaving Morningsong (Jason was good enough to agree to this via text even though he wasn't playing). Also, the party recovered coins and gems inside the kobold lair. No XP will be awarded until we reach a true resting point, but as a reminder to myself for later, here are eligible accomplishments from the past two games:

  • Avoiding the dire bear in the forest by way of entangle
  • Slaying 12 kobolds in the dungeon
  • Recovering a haul of copper coins and a handful of valuable-looking gems

Last but not least, remember for the next session that the orc who led the party into the kobold lair was nowhere to be found after the combat ended. As the PCs scoured the cavern diligently, it presumably found an escape.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RL #16: Shadows in the Forest

Picking up after a couple months off, the PCs assembled a contingent of eight that included Rooks and four other able-bodied men and took to the forest trails outside Morningsong. Shortly after reaching the first outpost, they encountered a twelve-foot tall bear, which advanced toward them aggressively before being held fast by Leilana's entangle. Moving fast, the contingent circled around it and pressed on until it fell out of sight. From there, they reached the river-crossing, and elected to follow the stream downriver.

Toward late afternoon, one of the men-at-arms, Vedrane, spotted a fast, fleeting movement on the opposite shore. Investigating from afar but finding nothing, the party hoped (but did not truly believe) that the sighting was simply a large fox. Continuing on, the contingent arrived at a previously uncharted fork in the river as twilight began to set in. The fork led away from the opposing bank, into the open mouth of a small cave. Rooks pondered the strange formation, doubly concerned that it seemingly had sprung up from nowhere, as Morningsong's hunters travelled this route often.

Deciding to camp for the night, a fire was set ablaze and watches were arranged. In the early hours of the morning Nora caught sight of two yellow eyes peering near the cave opening, but as with the earlier phantom, a shake of her head and they were gone. Unsettled, Nora awakened Leilana and passed the remainder of the night in the druid's company.

Rooks advised that the river could likely be crossed a short way further down, so the party continued on, traversed the shallows, then doubled back. Near the cave mouth was a semi-concealed rocky passage that led behind the stream, into a cavern and along a precarious ledge that ended in a man-sized tunnel. The river fork itself poured down a fifty-foot waterfall, ending in darkness below. Wary of delving too deep underground, the contingent marched back upriver, back to the outpost, and finally back to Morningsong before nightfall.

In the village, the PCs and Rooks convened privately with Jorah, Kleigha, and Aginot. The older residents of Morningsong showed grave concern for the findings, citing similar happenings from twenty-five years ago, when hunters would return from the forest bearing tales of inexplicable new landmarks amid well-known territory. Their most serious failing, they believed, all those years past, was in neglecting to root out the evil that threatened them until it was almost too late. As such, Jorah particularly impressed the need to investigate further, and not again leave the village's fate to mere chance.

DM's Commentary

This was a tough one, starting back after some time off. It's always hard to get your head back into the game and recall all that transpired previously. The party's investigative approach, too, didn't feel all that exciting, though it did uncover some interesting new details. No XP to award right now, we just need to play again soon so that we don't feel the lag next time too.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

RL #15: Out of (and into) the Dark

Last session left the characters in a particularly bad spot. We resumed with the orc gazing down at them from the top of the ten-foot pit where they were trapped; after growling a few undecipherable orders to the surrounding kobolds, the orc left and I put the players on the clock, with one minute of real time equalling one minute of game time.

They tried a few things initially (searching the walls, attempting to scare the kobolds away with a torch, attaching a grappling hook to the underside of the raft), but didn't seem to yield any real benefit. Finally, seventeen minutes in (three minutes before the orc would return with allies to turn the pit into a cook-fire, though the players didn't know this), Alaric donned Lady Silva's black mask.

Black tendrils of smoke clasped the mask to his visage, and Alaric took the form of a hulking orc chieftain bearing a giant hatchet. Succeeding a few key ability checks, he climbed the already-secured rope and swung to the nearest ledge, pushing the raft aside just enough to fit through. Where prior to the change, the kobolds prodded at the PCs aggressively from above with their javelins, from orc-Alaric the creatures backed away, slowly and warily.

Nora was hoisted up next, and as Leilana followed her out, a half-dozen orcs came running for the corridor. Alaric slung Nora over his shoulder and burst through a line of kobolds, racing for the upriver raft while accepting hits from flying javelins. Once aboard, Alaric cut the tether and he and Leilana paddled with all speed.

The orcs reached the bank and leveled crossbows, but with the party outside the range of their infravision, the bolts sailed wide - and with the last remaining raft still covering the pit-trap, the enemies had no easy means to follow. The companions crossed the river, took to the tunnels, and fled from the well, all alive.

Back in Morninging, Alaric sought healing for Nora, and as she was revived, Leilana organized a team of villagers to collapse and seal the well. In the following days, the trio recovered from their wounds and readied a team of hunters and men-at-arms to scour the forest for additional threats.

DM's Commentary

This was a short session; we didn't have a ton of time, and while I didn't know at the beginning how things would play out, I figured that one way or another, resolution would be quick. Things ended as well as the players could possibly have hoped, and I'm not really sure if the party had another out after the mask (of note, Alaric required a save vs. spell to remove it from his face, though he made the roll easily). Alaric's Strength checks in the pit were key - while failure to climb out quickly wouldn't have caused damage, it would have cost valuable time. When finally the PCs escaped, Alaric was left with one hit point from the javelins (the players saw my actual damage rolls).

Morningsong, while thankful that the well is sealed, is more concerned than ever that orcs and kobolds are lurking barely a mile from the village, albeit underground. To those villagers that survived the battle twenty-five years prior, the fear of imminent danger is all too familiar.

XP

Not a ton of XP to award, but the party's foray in the catacombs wasn't entirely unfruitful:

  • 12 kobolds slain - 90 XP
  • Sealing the well - 500 XP

That's 197 points each (216 for Nora). I think the award for sealing the well is justified; the party could easily have left it intact for further exploration and plundering, but by sealing it off they ensure that no monsters can use it to invade the village, even after the characters leave. XP totals are updated on the right.

All in all, I'm surprised everyone made it out. Had Alaric gone down, Nora would likely have been lost as well. The party had a brief window for escape before the orcs returned, and to their credit they made the most of it.