Last night we resumed in the church of Marais d'Tarascon, where the PCs had been resting for a day following the battle in the cemetery the night before. Having expended their spells to heal, the party set out for the Tarascon plantation at twilight; there they found Luc, staring vacantly out into the fields.
Luc grieved for his brothers and imparted that he carried the blame for their deaths. When asked to elaborate, Luc accompanied the party back to the church where he explained how, many years ago, Marcel had come upon a journal belonging to one of the founding Tarascon forefathers. The journal made reference to a scroll penned by a Vistani seer named Hyskosa that foretold a great prophecy; though he searched for it throughout the village, Marcel found nothing.
Over time, the journal's tale was all but forgotten - until, one evening at dusk, Luc caught sight of a colorful gypsy wagon just outside the village. There, a beautiful, dark-haired woman named Valana told his fortune:
Look for the scroll where the old rest fine, behind the stone where six stars shine. The finding, however, will cause much pain; beware the time of the falling rain.Luc was taken aback by the gypsy's words and rushed off to inform Marcel, leading his brother to a secret passage at the edge of the cemetery which led them into a walled-off area containing a number of ancient mausoleums. Upon one's door was etched a six-star insignia, and inside they found Hyskosa's scroll. Amazed, Luc began reading the verses aloud, but as he did, a slew of undead came forth from the disinterred coffins and struck Marcel down, taking his life. Luc could provide no details of the events that followed, for at that moment he entered the trance-like state that he retained until the zombie lord was finally defeated.
Caring to speak no further, Luc took his leave, and the party retired to their makeshift beds. They awoke the next morning surrounded by a thick fog amid the chill autumn winds - inexplicably, they found themselves outside, sleeping on the cold, bare ground.
Taking to their feet, they saw nothing recognizable and began marching in the direction Alaric believed to be north. As morning dawned, the fog cleared and they came to the outskirts of a village. Elias took note of a woman in the distance; suddenly, he ran for her, calling out to his "Aunt Meisha." Immediately they knew that they somehow had returned to Chatain.
The PCs spoke with the relative briefly and bade her to call for Karsten, who came to them a short time later. Karsten explained that, although no soldiers had returned after the night that the party delved into the swamp, their lone captive had been killed during a recent attempt to escape. Moreover, a few days after the party left, two woodsmen arrived from the east, searching for a large, monstrous wolf. The loup-garou, as they called it, had terrorized settlements across the countryside, killing dozens if not hundreds.
At the party's request, Karsten located the woodsmen and sent them to the edge of the village to meet. They introduced themselves as Eldon and Ravewood, explaining that the trail of the creature they sought led unmistakably toward Chatain, though they had not found actual footprints in days. Fearing themselves at a dead end (for beyond Chatain lay only marshland and swamps), they agreed to accompany the PCs east until their respective roads would have them part ways. Not wanting to reenter the village, the PCs asked the pair to send for Karsten, agreeing to depart the following morn.
They waited all day for Karsten, but by dusk he never came. As night fell, the PCs headed for the Winter Wolf tavern (a name that Eldon and Ravewood believed was a bad omen). They found Karsten inside, but when questioned, the innkeeper denied that the woodsmen had come to him. At that moment, Eldon and Ravewood appeared in the doorway with weapons drawn. "It must be one of you," Ravewood accused grimly, implicating the PCs and Captain Rapacion.
Before a melee could ensue, Aginot cast hold person and the woodsmen were disarmed. When the spell expired, cooler heads prevailed, and the party convinced the pair that none of them could be their quarry.
Satisfied, all retired for the evening, Alaric to his church and the others to separate rooms in the inn. Screams of villagers outside awoke them in the early morning hours, and the PCs rushed to the street to find the grisly bodies of the two woodsmen, torn apart by a large wolf whose footprints were abundant in the soft ground.
The tracks led north into the forest. Though the PCs followed the trail as best they could, all signs of the wolf soon were lost. Rapacion assured them that the creature had not made it this far, and when questioned how he knew, he replied:
"Because I turned around last night when I reached the forest's edge and returned to the inn."Horrified at the revelation, the PCs watched as the captain donned an evil grin, confirming their fears. "Fortunately, you have gifted the one weapon that could possibly harm me to an innocent young boy," he continued, referring to the magic dagger that Aginot had given Elias in Marais d'Tarascon. Alaric moved to attack but barely grazed the warrior. Rapacion fought back menacingly, fairly skewering the paladin with his longsword.
Aginot commanded the captain to "die," and Leilana cast entangle as he fell unconscious, causing vines and trees to wrap the captain tightly and hold him fast. Alaric took up Rapacion's longsword (knowing it to be enchanted from a casting of detect magic by Leilana in the tavern) and attempted to run him through, but the magically-awakened vines captured Alaric, and then Aginot too. Leilana bolted for the village, calling for Elias and Karsten, and returning with both moments before her spell would end. Rapacion had transformed into a thrashing wolf, biting and clawing at the vines to escape. Just as he tore himself free, Karsten plunged the captain's sword deep into his hide, eliciting an unworldly howl. Rapacion fled into the forest on four legs as the vines finally gave way, leaving the party wounded but very much alive.
XP and DM's Commentary
Wow, that was a lot crammed into a three-hour session, with a very unexpected turn at the end. The party almost fell to a handful of bad rolls (three failed saves against Leilana's entanglement) and honorable role-playing decisions (giving the magic dagger to Elias despite its enchanted nature). Leilana's casting of detect magic that revealed the evocation on Rapacion's longsword proved a critical bit of knowledge that saved (and nearly ruined) them all.
(It should be noted, as well, that as unlucky as the characters' die rolls seemed throughout the night, the PCs were very fortunate that no opponent succeeded on any saving throw rolled against their spells.)
This session was a great example of how, as DM, you really never know how things will play out, and how a PC's (or enemy's) fate can rest on the roll of a single die. In the end, the characters survived, but so did the final antagonist, and it should be interesting to see how the party proceeds from here. The players have seen Rapacion's combat prowess firsthand and no doubt know what a dangerous adversary he could prove.
A quick note on logistics: this is the first game we've had with absolutely zero technical issues. No blue screen errors from my laptop (I installed a horde of updates after the last two sessions), no reconnecting the video call mid-game, no audio echo from the mics. Good things all around - hopefully they continue.
It seems reasonable to award XP for Rapacion's longsword, so I'll do that at this time. Through a bit of trial and error, the PCs find the weapon to be a longsword +1. Beyond that, they know not what other powers it might have. For now, the sword will be valued at 400 XP; divided three ways, the party's updated totals are:
- Alaric: 3,717
- Aginot: 3,717
- Leilana: 3,667
It remains to be seen whether "by the book" XP awards will work for this game long term. It's something I'm keeping an eye on, but I'd really like to stick to it if we can.