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 sign outside had changed. Where once read:
Underneath the new stanza was a coin insignia, representative of Aginot's clerical 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, finding a colorful gypsy wagon situated beside a blazing campfire with five individuals seated around it. Of these five, three were Scarengi, Ryana, and Carloni - the same Vistani family that the party from Chatain 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 the PCs seats around the fire, warm stew, and bread. While kind in demeanor, the gypsies answered questions cryptically and seemed not to remember their 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, both trail and skeletons were gone, leaving the two companions, 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 recently 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 find this same road, Scarengi offered to lead the party there, so long as they agreed to find Valana and rescue her. The Talons would likely be met in Gorgi, a small town less than a day's march north. The party readily accepted.
With that, 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. Disturbed by Alaric's uncharacteristic brashness, Aginot committed to staying awake through the remaining watches, though sleep eventually claimed 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 recourse, 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 soon disappeared into the morning fog, leaving Leilana, Aginot, Carmen, and Gaertorin all alone.
The foursome traveled the road 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 persecutions 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 house six burly men - but which in fact contained only a single, female form.
Gaertorin, Aginot and Leilana steered clear of the carriage and entered the tavern, while Carmen cast invisibility and approached the prisoner 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 black, 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, meeting back up with her allies, though still fully invisible.
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 ever seems 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.
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.