Wednesday, June 26, 2019

#26: Unexpected Guests

Examining the cave, we find signs of the ogres’ habitation—piles of thatch that likely served as bedding, piles of refuse, the scattered belongings of a barbaric humanoid.  In one such pile of refuse, our examination is rewarded when we discover a rotting pouch that contains a few items of value and interest.  The contents spill out as we handle the pouch, revealing a pair of stoppered vials, four uncleaned gemstones of varying hues, and an assortment of coins that total approximately 35 gold pieces.

Bonie climbs one of the steep rock ledges that house the cave to see just how far the ridge runs, and whether we should expect any twists, turns, or other obstacles should we decide to pursue the ogres deeper into their lair.  The ridge runs perhaps a hundred yards, bending slightly to one direction, before it appears to spill into the forest, likely at the point of a cave opening very similar to the one we now stand in.

We decide to keep the group together, marching through the cave to make sure the ogres no longer lurk within to ambush us, carrying a few burning brands to supplement the light that creeps through the roof of the crevasse.  The cave takes the expected turn, and we tread carefully before eventually emerging from an opening on the other side.  A few sets of ogre footprints are found easily outside the cave.  Another set of ledges are discovered, these somewhat shorter than those present at the other entrance, and Bonie scales the ledge under the cover of archers to see if our foes are anywhere to be found.

Bonie calls down that she sees, at the edge of the distance, several large forms retreating from the area.  They are headed on an easterly course, mostly away from Dagger’s Deep, and we are faced with the decision to pursue them deeper into the Lurkwood or abandon our hunt, leaving the possibility for reprisals should they return.  After some discussion, we’re all in agreement that we’ve hopefully driven off the threat, and that we should quit while ahead.  No one has been injured and we have killed three of the ogres, potentially their leader, and we decide to return to Dagger’s Deep.  The fear that game will not return, however, weighs heavily on everyone’s mind.

Upon our return we report back to Pol Rallinoth, and the news is received very positively, leaving everyone in high spirits.  The coins are split among all those that accompanied the group, and the ale flows freely that night.  We find that our relationship with those around town is galvanized by the shared effort and success of the ogre hunt; I can’t help but be surprised by the warm reception, as it’s something we’ve encountered so little on our travels.

Audric spends some time in a deeper examination of the vials, cleaning the glass and inspecting the contents.  One appears to be a purplish liquid, when held to the light; the other a clear liquid, akin to river water.   Audric experiments with the liquids but is unable to ascertain their purpose, and I decide to attempt a divination the following morning to aid in the endeavor.

Thankfully, the watches pass uneventfully, and we awaken well-rested.  Selben and I have decided to split the night watch; should the ogres indeed seek revenge, each of us is equipped to at least stall the foes while Dagger’s Deep readies defenses, and we intend to continue this vigil until we can revisit the cave.

Casting a mystical eye at Audric’s vials, I determine that the purple-hued liquid is some manner of strength-granting phial, while the clear liquid is not magical in nature.  I give the former to Audric and keep the latter for myself.  Drained from the arcane effort, I retreat to my tents for the day.  Hours and days pass quickly; hunting parties are dispatched to see if the game has returned.  Neither, unfortunately, yield any success, but nor do the hunters encounter any sign of the ogres. 

After the second hunt, Perhegan and his company return from Mirabar.  His wagons carry goods and foodstuffs but are not laden as heavily as they were on our initial trip, and the leader of the settlement is brought up to speed on the events of the past week.  He seems pleased with our performance, though shares our worry over the unsuccessful hunts. 

Heavier snows fall, and conditions worsen.  We discuss a visit to the cave to see if the ogres have indeed vacated the area, but Audric talks me out of it.  Fortunately, I heed the warrior’s advice and a blistering storm greets us the following morning, pummeling the settlement for five long, cold days.  Bonfires become hard to sustain, and many are confined to their tents in a struggle to keep warm.

Audric and I administer what blessings we can to ward off the cold, helping those that are forced to face the weather to complete tasks around town or older folks less equipped and thus more vulnerable to the harsh weather.  During the storm, Audric gets to know Renwal a bit better, curious as to the man’s extent of magical knowledge, and is rewarded with a brief history of the mage’s experience with Perhegan and the other residents of Dagger’s Deep.  His arts are more utility than offensive in nature, and the old man reveals an enthusiasm to learn more about our own experiences and talents.  Audric develops a solid relationship with the hedge mage, “ministering without ministering” to Mystra’s flock.

After what seems like an eternity, the harshness of the storm relents, and Perhegan intends to send out a hunting party to replenish the settlement’s stores.  We intend to accompany this group—after such a large storm there could be any number of hungry creatures in the woods, ogres not least among them.  Perhegan assents, and we gather the three hunters that accompanied us last time, and we eventually relocate the cave, though this time it takes us a few hours longer than it did before—the heavy snows and lack of clear tracks to follow present a small obstacle.

We find the cave entrance much as we left it, with no obvious signs of occupation.  Audric ushers Lume forth to investigate, as the cat is well suited to such a scouting mission.  Aside from empathetic complaints of cold and discomfort from having to leap through snow drifts, the feline returns with no news.  We decide not to press our luck, leaving the cave as it is, and turn towards assisting the hunters in their mission—replenishing foodstuffs.  Unfortunately, yet another hunt is unsuccessful, and we return disappointed in terms of hunting, but relieved that the ogres seem to have been driven off.

After another stretch of ill weather, the worst of winter seems like it may have passed.  The storms fade into a persistent cold and wet period of weeks, during which several more hunts are sent out, each returning unsuccessful until finally, one returns with a burden worth celebrating—a huge stag.  Everyone seems put to ease at the success of the hunt, boding well for the future of Dagger’s Deep.

Another fortnight goes by, marking two months since our arrival at Dagger’s Deep.  Bare patches of earth begin to show through as the snows thaw, and the workers and laborers emerge from their tents to start work once again on the river keep.  One of the laborers, fishing the river, calls forth—a boat approaches upstream from the direction of Mirabar.

Unable to discern the purpose of the craft or those that man it, we decide to treat them as passers-by, presenting no obstacle to their passage until they prove to be something more sinister.  As it draws near, we can see that the boat is laden with goods, and two men are visible, both rowing against the current.  The men, clearly exhausted, pull the boat to Perhegan’s shore and dock their craft, dragging it up onto the land.  The men stumble onto the shore, taking long pulls from a shared waterskin.

The men reveal that they’ve been rowing nonstop upstream to escape Mirabar, and that they weren’t aware there was a settlement here; they seem glad for the respite.  Their explanation is a little suspicious, and when pressed for more information, they reveal that they had a falling out with a rival merchant, forcing them to flee with what they could of their wares.  Audric notices a broken quarrel protruding from the rear of the craft, seeming to corroborate their tale.  The boat is piled high with pelts and furs.

Upon further conversation with the men, they explain that they were sold equity in a mine north of Mirabar; the mine turned out to be flooded, devoid of any potential, and the traders lost a huge portion of their wealth.  The merchant that sold them the shares was prominent enough that it became a contest of their claim against his, and the merchant’s contacts within the city proved stronger than the traders’ word.  They were subsequently chased from Mirabar by the merchant, thus arriving at Dagger’s Deep in the condition we found them today.

We take the opportunity to ask for news of Mirabar and learn that the city is largely the same in this time period as it was in our own.  Nothing about their description of the city seems exceptional.  When asked where they are headed, they reveal that their plan was to continue upriver, seek sanctuary until the weather breaks, and then decide on a proper course of action.  Perhegan offers them shelter for the night, and while the men settle in, I make a show of pulling the boat higher onto the shore, offering myself the opportunity to root through the boat’s contents.  I find a sizable store of good quality weapons, but nothing otherwise suspicious or untoward.

Not trusting the men at face value, I recruit Selben to watch their tent.  The men present no trouble throughout the night, but we witness bobbing lights on the river coming from downstream.  Immediately, I send Selben to wake Audric and Bonie while I hasten to Perhegan’s tent to alert the settlement’s leader.  Perhegan seems unprepared to deal with Mirabar yet, should this be a craft of Mirabarran guards, and immediately my instincts are to see to the settlement’s defense against a potential threat.

Perhegan remains calm, to his credit.  Upon suggestion from Audric to wake the traders and apprise them of the situation, Perhegan assents.  The traders scramble from their tents and race towards their craft, jumping into their boat and immediately start to paddle upriver, clearly panicked.

The second craft approaches, perhaps 20 feet in length, and four men dismount and pull the boat ashore.  The men are wearing the crest of Mirabar, and the apparent leader steps forward.  It’s Rale Cotchen, captain of the Mirabarran guards at Xantharl’s Keep!  “Welcome to Dagger’s Deep,” I say with a wry smile.

He looks very, very surprised, but maintains his demeanor.  He explains that his men are in search of two escaped river bandits, that would have passed not more than a day ago.  There’s an awkward moment of silence as Audric stifles my immediate instinct to reply.

“We’ve seen no such men,” Perhegan replies.

“Then you won’t mind if my men and I have a look around,” Rale says, and Perhegan nods in accord.  Rale and his men check tents, looking inside them and waking the residents, though the soldiers are being reasonably cordial in their tone, maintaining a level of politeness and appropriateness in their search.

After completing their search, Rale introduces himself to Perhegan and asks if he and his men can rest the night, as they are too exhausted to continue their chase.  They are given shelter, and the rest of the night passes uneventfully.  The soldiers are already up and about, perusing the grounds of Dagger’s Deep, when we awaken.  The level of scrutiny the guard captain gives the settlement is evident, and finally Rale approaches Audric and myself.

Very casually, he says “I’ve come to know that you have an appointed meeting with my cousin and his... wife.  He asked me if you could be trusted on a journey upriver.”

“Can we?” I ask Rale, sardonically.  He replies that our actions at the mine speak for themselves, and that he has no stake in who his cousin and the “witch he calls a wife” travel with.

“Why do you hate the woman so?” Audric asks.

Rale explains that hate is perhaps a strong word, but that he’s ever wary of those whose interests are “divergent from his own.”  The man’s reply is arrogant, and spoken with a slant that implicates me and Audric as much as it does Odesia.  “If I come to learn that you’ve been harboring thieves here, you’ll answer to me,” he warns.

“Is it often you go around making idle threats to innocent citizens?” Audric asks.

Rale laughs sarcastically, and after more thinly veiled threats between Rale and Audric, the conversation ends.  Rale spends a significant amount of time in conversation with Perhegan, and we can’t help but notice several glances in our direction.  I fear little for what Rale might tell him.

Upon conclusion, Rale announces his intention to backtrack towards Mirabar in pursuit of the bandits, and we leave the Mirabarran captain and his soldiers to their task, watching as they drift away downstream.

“If there’s anything to be sure of,” Perhegan says grimly, “Mirabar will be aware of our presence now.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

#25: Rock and a Hard Place

Aside from construction of the shrine and helping with general tasks around camp, an exorbitant amount of time is spent with Zargon, as Zeb and Selben attempt to coach the bard through the rudiments of magic.  Despite Zargon’s willingness to learn, much of the magic eludes his grasp.  The time is not wasted, however, as he does manage to scribe a few spells and increase his magical repertoire.  It’s a style of learning that Zeb is not accustomed to, but he’s glad to help.

We spend a fortnight in various tasks and training, assisting Perhegan and the other men and women of Dagger’s Deep.  Eventually, the light snows turn into heavy winter storms, and the settlement is battered by several especially harsh squalls with accumulating snow.  That makes it difficult for the hunters to conduct regular hunts, and Perhegan declares a “precautionary ration” of food.  We learn that he’s readying a group of men and wagons that will travel to Mirabar to resupply under the guise of merchants heading to Xantharl’s Keep, as he does not yet want to reveal the existence of Dagger’s Deep.

As Perhegan departs, Dagger’s Deep is left in the command of Pol Rallinoth, a man-at-arms who works with what serves as the settlement’s soldiers and militia.  Pol Rallinoth sends out a hunting party during a break in the snowstorms, and they return with dire news—all signs of fauna have seemingly dried up, and worse, they discover a family or small clan of ogres that have found shelter in a nearby cave.  As a result, much of the wild game native to the region have fled their area of hunting and influence, leaving Dagger’s Deep with a dilemma.

The hunters found a pair of ledges in the woods which, when observed from a distance, come together to form a cave at their bases.  Movement in the area alerted them to the presence of ogres, but not before they could count six of the creatures, all assumed to be residing together in the cave.  When Zargon questions the gender of the ogres, he finds that they were an apparent mix of adult male and female ogres.

Questioning the resources of Dagger’s Deep that we have at our disposal, there are a half-dozen legitimate warriors among the citizenry of the settlement; Pol Rallinoth and Weald are included in this number.  There are perhaps a dozen more men in a solid enough physical condition that they could fight in the case of an emergency, but these are the settlement’s craftsmen, and we would need to be sorely pressed indeed to risk them without great need.

We discuss several options, and Pol Rallinoth is amenable to us having the same three hunters escort us to the cave, but not until they’ve rested for the evening.  We did not intend to leave in the afternoon anyway, so we retire to our various tents and prepare for the next day’s travail.

In the middle of the night, we hear the cry of one of the town’s watchmen.  At the southeastern part of the settlement, the watchman saw the shadow of a very large form in the trees milling about the woods around camp.  When he looked back again, it was gone.  We discuss plans, alerting the other guards, and Audric sends Lume to investigate.  When the familiar returns, Audric learns that she detected the scent of a repulsive creature, but nothing else.

Deciding that discretion is the better form of valor, we decide to stay awake the rest of the night to bolster the guards’ confidence, and to put more sets of eyes on the Lurkwood, with the intention of investigating further in the morning.  The night passes otherwise uneventfully.

We find the tracks of a large humanoid, what appears to be a single set of prints only, and the tracks prove reasonably easy to follow.  After a little exploration, it appears that they lead back to the general direction of the ogre’s cave.  We also discover that the ogre’s path crosses the trail of the Dagger’s Deep hunting party from the previous day—just as we intended to scout the ogre’s cave, they apparently have sent a scout of their own to gauge our defenses.  Nothing about our plan is changed after the night’s events, and Pol Rallinoth fortunately agrees, so we prepare with haste.

Eight of us set out from Dagger’s Deep—three of Pol Rallinoth’s hunters, Zargon, Audric, Bonie, Selben, and me.  With a fresh set of tracks to follow, Jakke’s nose and the various talents of the hunters, we quickly arrive at a place where we can see the top of the ogre’s ledge.  Audric devises a plan whereby we split the group—archers will head to flank the cave from two sides, with Bonie, Selben, Zargon and Audric divided between the groups.  Being uniquely qualified to drive ogres from their cave and also repel attacks to some degree, I will be the diversion meant to draw them from their sanctuary.

Zargon is accompanied by two of the hunters, and it is not long before they cross paths with one of the ogres.  The bard’s recitation of bravery is interrupted as all three men bring bows to bear.  One of the hunters proves a capable marksman, and Zargon strikes the enemy with his second arrow, though not before it nearly reaches the group in melee.  Fortunately, Audric’s group and I are alerted by the sounds of battle, and spells and arrows are raised in Zargon’s defense.  To Zargon’s credit, his group of hunters pepper the creature with another round of barbs.  As it raises its club to attack, an arrow from Bonie catches the creature in the chest and topples it.

Before we can celebrate, however, a pair of ogres—one of them mighty in stature, nearly 11 feet tall, the other a smaller female—turns a corner, likely having heard the encounter and come looking for trouble.  Both rush forward as I turn and run, hoping to draw them after me while our allies fire arrows.  The volley is effective, arrows raining into the enemies as I nimbly evade their reach.  The giant ogre falls to another of Bonie’s arrows, buried up to the feathers as it slumps forward, dead.

The female ogress seems enraged by the death of the giant one, presumably a mate, stooping to retrieve his oversized club and charging towards me as I move to close the distance.  Meanwhile, the arrows of our allies continue to take a terrible toll on the ogress, and before it reaches me, it is felled.  Bonie’s final arrow ends the life of the ogress, and I witness Bonie’s triumphant smile as her arrow draws a thin line across its neck, spilling its lifeblood. 

The Lurkwood is still, quiet, with only our heavy breathing breaking the silence as we recover from the fight.  We regroup as Audric sends Lume forward again to scout, and we learn that there are at least two more, near or within the cave.  We follow our original plan, and as I encounter the first ogre lying in wait outside, I conjure forth a mystical arrow of acid that misses, sizzling as it strikes the ledge wall behind it.  It approaches me cautiously as our allies take positions at the flanks.  Before any arrows can be fired, however, it retreats into the cave, and we can hear guttural noises—presumably speech—from within.

I layer abjurations as I approach, lighting a torch as Audric joins me to examine the opening, as it seems our enemies seek to avoid a direct encounter.  Through my magic, I detect the presence of an ogre hidden within, and as I step towards the cave, it reacts aggressively, raising a club high.  Fortunately, Malar’s blessing prevents it from smiting me, and I puff out my chest in challenge as our allies take aim and fire.

The angle proves awkward, however, for no arrow finds purchase, and the creature is driven further into the cave and the protection the darkness provides.  Knowing that there are likely several more enemies, we decide to backtrack, reconvene, and discuss possible options.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Starting spells for bards

I've made some determinations on Zargon's starting spells. First, a review of the relevant passage from the bard class description (2e PH, p. 42):

Since bards are dabblers rather than full-time wizards, their spells tend to be gained by serendipity and happenstance. In no case can a bard choose to specialize in a school of magic. Beginning bards do not have a selection of spells. A 2nd-level bard begins with one to four spells, chosen either randomly or by the DM. (An Intelligence check must still be made to see if the bard can learn a given spell.) The bard is not guaranteed to know read magic, as this is not needed to read the writings in a spell book. The bard can add new spells to his spell book as he finds them, but he does not automatically gain additional spells as he advances in level. All spells beyond those he starts with must be found during the course of adventuring. The bard's casting level is equal to his current level.

This is fairly clear. I'm going to honor the by-the-book rules, for a few reasons: first, there's no compelling incentive to deviate with a house rule; second, the above limitations reinforce that the bard is merely a “dabbler,” as opposed to a specialist wizard or mage; and third, the party is at a safe point with time on their hands such that new spells can be acquired from other characters.

In the interest of moving things forward, I rolled that the following two spells are in Zargon's starting spellbook:

  • Grease
  • Mending

Of note, I rolled a 2 on 1d4 for the number of spells. Both “chance to learn spell” rolls succeeded, and the specific spells were rolled randomly from the 1st-level wizard spell list. While it can be argued that a 4th-level bard could or should have additional spells beyond what a 2nd-level bard would know (i.e., acquired through adventuring), we haven't set that precedent with anything else (magic items, gold, etc.) in the campaign, so I'd prefer not to start now. (And again, the party is at a point that Zargon can easily expand his repertoire before his first real adventure.)

Hopefully this seems reasonable enough to everyone?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

#24: Dagger's Deep

With the decision made to depart for Mirabar in the morning, we settle what few matters remain open in Xantharl’s Keep.  Odesia says that we have honored our end of the agreement to the best of our ability and agrees to meet us in Mirabar late in the spring, when possible for her and her husband.  Arrangements are made to meet at the East Gate of Mirabar come Greengrass; if something delays their arrival, we will return every third day at the same time and appointed place.

Before retiring for the night, I leave the gates of Xantharl’s Keep to see if the hound I befriended, if that is not too strong a word for so ephemeral a relationship, is anywhere to be found.  After an hour alone in the Lurkwood at night he finds me, and I share half of the dried meat from my pouch with the hound, a smile on my face.

We awaken in the morning to a light snow, not unsurprising given the proximity of the winter season.  We conjure forth our mounts and before long, Xantharl’s Keep disappears behind us into the Lurkwood.  Travel is fast and uneventful, and at midday of the second day, we encounter a small grouping of stopped caravans, four wagons each drawn by a pair of horses, as well as nine men.  One of the horses appears to be wounded or lame, a small group of men huddled around it.

Audric hails the caravan, and an older man, having seen perhaps fifty winters, steps forth and answers our hail, revealing his name to be Perhegan Mercantor.  They’ve traveled a day from Mirabar and were forced to stop early as one of their horses came up lame.  As the wagons are all heavily laden with a variety of goods, a lame horse with no extra beasts of burden available would greatly slow their progress.  Knowing Bonie to have cared well for Elseba, I ask if she has experience seeing to the health and tending of horses.  She nods, and she and Audric approach to take a look at the animal.

We share a few words with Perhegan, briefly describing our short stay in Xantharl’s Keep and intention on traveling to Mirabar.  “What was your business in Xantharl’s Keep?” Perhegan asks inquisitively, “and what skills might you possess?”  Feeling no real reason to hide anything, we explain that we are traveling missionaries, and that we plan to stay over in Mirabar for the winter.

“I see, well met!” Perhegan replies.  He introduces us the robed man, named Renwal, and makes our introduction to the rest of the group.  All appear to be rough tradesmen, the traveling merchant sort, with two exceptions.  One is a robed man, perhaps a priest or a mage, though no sigil or talisman is apparent.  The ninth man is outfitted in leather armor and carrying an assortment of weapons and is introduced as Zargon. 

“Perhegan, it’s back!” one of the men cries, pointing to the sky, where we make out the silhouette of a large flying creature overhead.  It is too large to be that of a bird, though not so large to be that of the dragon we encountered in the Lurkwood.  Could it be the same dragon 100 years in the past, however?  The men seem shaken and claim that this is the third time they have seen it.

Bonie remarks that the horse may have been overburdened, pointing to the heavily laden wagons.  Perhegan explains that he’s carrying food, ore, blankets, timber, armaments—just about anything you could think of.  It’s apparent that the horse will be unable to continue to carry such a heavy load, leaving Perhegan’s men in a predicament.  After some discussion, I offer to conjure forth a mount that should see them through a day of travel in exchange for the lame animal.  We also discuss sharing camp for the night in shared defense of whatever the creature may be that stalks them from the skies.

“You claim that you’re looking for somewhere to ply your trades over the winter,” Perhegan says, pointing to Audric.  “You should come with me!  Your skills would be immensely useful, and you would be welcome among my company at Dagger’s Deep.”  The settlement, he claims, is not on any map, “but it will be soon!” he exclaims with burgeoning pride.  We decide on a shared camp and make way for a site known to the traveling merchants nearby that should provide some cover.

On our trip to the campsite, we see the shape in the sky once again, this time looming closer, and the form seems distinctly draconic.  Perhegan’s campsite is not far away, so we press hard to reach the cover of the camp and surrounding trees, but unfortunately, we’re not fast enough.  The creature swoops low towards the collected men and horses in a dive, and we loose a volley at it.

Bonie lands a piercing arrow, and one of Perhegan’s men manages a hit with his crossbow.  Audric and I conjure arrows of acid and loose them at the swooping creature but miss as it dives into the crowd and attempts to snatch one of the men.  It misses with its pair of terrible hind claws and sails back into the air, wings flapping.  A second volley of arrows all miss, and I finish an incantation to provide those around me with some protection.  The creature is not a dragon at all, but a wyvern—a smaller, dumber, more aggressive kin of dragonkind, with no foreclaws and a dangerous poisonous sting for a tail.

“We must hurry!” Perhegan shouts, and we rally the men and gather the mounts, pressing towards the campsite.  We arrive, glad to be protected somewhat by the cover of the trees and try to make the camp defensible.  Upon request, he produces a bundle of spears, instructing the men to set them against the wyvern’s dive should it attack again.  No second attack comes, however, and we settle into camp for the night.

“Dagger’s Deep is a settlement being founded along the river to the north,” Perhegan tells us.  It’s a day away from the campsite over rough terrain, and he explains that there are others there with provisions preparing to winter over.  He offers to shelter us there through the winter if we agree to aid in the communal defense and betterment of the settlement.

Renwal is a mage, older than Perhegan by perhaps ten years, and longtime friend of Perhegan and his family.  He supportive of the initiative to settle Dagger’s Deep.  He claims to be a dabbler in the arts, having been impressed by our offensive spells used against the wyvern, and offers to exchange knowledge of the craft with me and Selben should we spend more time together.  

That evening, we convene to discuss our plans for the future.  Perhegan’s explanation of Dagger’s Deep reveals a remarkable amount of work that has been done, as well as a remarkable amount of work that would need to be done to see the settlement through the winter safely.  We share a conversation with Zargon, who explains that Perhegan is a visionary, with visionary ideals in his plans for Dagger’s Deep.  “Mirabar wasn’t built in a day,” he retorts, when we question how likely the success of such a small settlement might be.  Zargon’s words are inspirational, and it’s hard to deny their allure.

Speaking more with Perhegan, I attempt to discern who stands to profit most from the success of Dagger’s Deep, and how that profit is to be realized.  Perhegan explains that the placement along the river allows it to manage river traffic, once the number of men and equipment will support it, and that he intends to keep the river secure and to help ensure the flow of traffic while collecting levies from merchants and traders and travelers.  The plan sounds ambitious, but is not outside the realm of reason.  When questioned about the influence of Mirabar and how its leaders may react to the presence of Dagger’s Deep, Perhegan’s response is “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” which matches the man’s entrepreneurial spirit.

After some discussion within the group, we decide to make Perhegan an offer.  After some negotiation, he settles on a compromise.  “15 gold each per month, and we’re all happy,” replies Perhegan.  I look to Audric, expectantly, and Audric holds out his hand to seal the terms.  “Done,” he agrees.  Zargon raises a tune on his lute to commemorate the agreement, and all those gathered raise tankards and skins in a toast.

When we awaken the next morning, we notice immediately that Bonie is gone, and we’re overcome by a sense of déjà vu.   Taking a moment to examine our surroundings, Audric realizes that we’re in the vicinity of Minstrel’s Glade, and the dire tale told by Oreiron immediately comes to mind.  Fuck.  I leap to my feet to see if there’s any sign of Bonie’s path, and in the newly fallen snow, I discover a series of tracks leading to the east.  Immediately, I run into the woods following the trail, feeling a looming sense of dread that I can’t shake.

After a couple hundred yards, however, I come upon Bonie standing in the woods, facing me.  Her hair is down, where it is customarily up in a ponytail.  The sun rises behind her to the east.  Standing next to her, her hand on its head, is the dog.  “Look who I found,” she says, patting its head.  “He’s friendly.”

“You are a bad dog,” I say, relieved to find Bonie safe and surprised at how powerful the sense of worry was in that short time.  The dog plods over, nuzzles me, and I give it the remaining dried meat from my pouch.  “His name is Jakke,” she says with a smile.

Audric, Zargon and Selben approach from behind.  “Look who I found,” I say dryly, pointing to Bonie.  When Audric asks why she disappeared, she replies, “there’s always something to see out here.”  To the east, we see the hills upon which Kezia and the druids danced, what seems like ages ago.

Returning to camp, we find Perhegan getting the horses ready for a hard day of travel over rough terrain.  Perhegan explains that he’d prefer to avoid Mirabarran checkpoints, not yet ready to defend his claim and plan to settle along the river, instead cutting across hills to Dagger’s Deep.

Staring out at the Lurkwood, with a humor only Audric and I can possibly understand, I tell Zargon and the others that “100 years from now, this forest is going to have a huge bugbear problem.”

“Are you a fortune teller?” Zargon asks.

“No,” Audric interjects.  “He’s in the business of being right.”  With that, we break camp and begin our travels. 

We traverse the hills through somewhat recognizable territory, though our attention is mostly on the wagons and the safety of the beasts of burden and conjured mounts, sparing more than a few glances to the clouds in the hopes that the wyvern has moved on.

Late that day, in the distance, we see a small river keep with a handful of people walking around, as well as the frames of several cottages under construction.  There are several tents spread about, and two keelboats moored at the river shore, with several large bonfires around the camp.  As we approach, people begin to hail our arrival, and Perhegan dismounts the wagon to meet a girl who rushes forward to meet him.  Perhaps 17 years old with dark brown hair, she calls out “Father, father!” and embraces Perhegan in a hug.  He introduces her as his daughter, Edine.

Perhegan introduces us to a few notable people, among them the Stonehand brothers, who are masons overseeing the construction of the keep and tower, as well as Tarrsh, who serves as blacksmith.   We are shown around Dagger’s Deep, and find that a waterwheel is under construction, and near it the start of a small masonry tower. 

One of the armed men we encounter leads a goblin that looks like it’s carrying bricks.  When Audric asks about it, Perhegan explains.  “That man’s name is Weald, and I know it’s a little unusual, but he was successful in domesticating this creature some time back.  It hasn’t proven to be a danger, though we do keep it chained at night.  We are hard pressed to refuse good help.”  When asked if the goblin is a slave or here voluntarily, Perhegan replies that it’s more of a servant or a pet.  Perhegan has an arrangement with Weald, who serves as man-at-arms, and the goblin servant is part of the package.  Though I don’t look kindly upon any form of enslavement, man or beast, I let the matter rest for now, as we are Perhegan’s guests.

As the group begins to break up and investigate our new home, I approach Bonie.  “Where should I set up our tent?” I ask her.  She blushes unexpectedly, which is replaced quickly by a rather stoic look as she points at a small plot of empty land near the river.

Indicating to Selben to set up his own tent nearby, we begin to settle in, each of us finding tasks to occupy the day.  Already plans are starting to form, among them a small, shared shrine to Mystra and Malar, which Audric surprisingly supports without any argument.  Our work cut out for us, we unload our meager belongings and look ahead to the future.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Staying awake

During the events that went down in the mine, I found myself asking how long a character might remain awake and competent under strenuous activity in the face of exhaustion from lack of sleep? I haven't found any official rules on this yet, though it's possible that something already exists. In lieu of that, I've devised a quick system to employ if the situation ever comes up again. I don't expect this to be at all commonplace, though it seems like when it happens, it's likely very important.

  • A character or NPC can stay awake at full capabilities for a number of hours equal to 12 + Con score + 1d6.
  • After this point, each of the individual's six ability scores are temporarily halved (rounding down, hit points unaffected) every hour. Whenever any score reaches zero (0), the individual passes out.
  • A person passed out from exhaustion cannot be wakened for 1d8+8 hours, at which point they rise with scores restored to their normal values.

This all feels reasonable to me. Adrenaline lets you go as hard as you can for as long as you can, but at some point you hit the wall. When that happens, your ability to function drops off quickly. You can still manage to push for up to a few hours longer, but eventually either your mind or body gives out.

Mirabarran fire arrows

This week, as the players deliberated how to deal with the undead minions inside the cave blocked by the bonfire they'd constructed, I had to determine in my own mind what steps the mining company would take to combat the situation. After all, while from a DMing perspective it was important to give the PCs first crack at solving the problem, the score of individuals present beyond the party itself would still have to bear this burden in the party's absence, or failure.

The most pragmatic solution I could come up with was the use of fire arrows by the soldiers to fell the creatures from the cavern floor. This approach required the NPCs to either know or suspect that natural fire would still harm the undead, even though they'd already proved immune to “normal” weapons. I felt this was reasonable enough, particularly with the arrowheads also being doused in holy water.

Before allowing such a course, however, I wanted to make sure that it was actually feasible, and get an idea of how well it was likely to work. I ended up finding and reading the following four posts from a blog explicitly dedicated to warbow archery:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

This was pretty interesting, so thought I'd share. In the end, the fact that it was a short-range situation and the arrows would be shot through an actual raging fire gave me confidence that it should work, provided a reasonable amount of time to ready the ammunition beforehand. I also reduced the ROF (rate of fire) for these arrows to one/round, given the effort needed to ignite them, which felt similar to loading a bolt into a crossbow.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

XP awards for session 23

Through a slog of comments over the past several days (the most we've ever had on a post), the party finally reconciled the situation of the crypt uncovered within the mine. Whether or not any future consequences of this are brought to bear, I'm issuing a story award here and now of 2,000 XP each to Zeb and Audric, and 1,000 XP to Selben. Of note, Audric was energy drained earlier in the session, reducing his XP total to halfway between the minimum needed for 3rd and 4th levels (5,400, based on our rules for the Crusader).

New party totals, following the session:

  • Audric - 7,400
  • Zeb - 3,000/29,395
  • Selben (h) - 5,600

This award inches Audric back over the threshold for 4th level, so upon training for four days he can regain some of the abilities lost in addition to adding another hit die to his hit point total. Incidentally, the dividends also propels Selben to level 3 as a mage.

Training can be assumed to happen in Xantharl's Keep at the start of the next session.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

#23: A Fate Worse Than Death

It’s hard to reconcile our current surroundings with what we remember of Xantharl’s Keep.  Starting in the fall, a mining operation financed by Mirabar took up occupation in the village, a result of a deposit of electrum, a valuable metal, found within a hole in the earth in the Lurkwood.  Since then, the miners have moved in with their tents, and the presence of Mirabarran soldiers has been a constant nuisance and drain on the village’s food stores for the winter.  While some aid has been shipped in from Mirabar, it has not been enough to offset the resources that have been used up by the soldiers.

The current lord of Xantharl’s Keep, Arvnsen Greywind, is a retired Mirabarran soldier himself, according to a local produce seller with a wagging tongue.  Despite the obvious suffering of his residents, Greywind seems to favor the Mirabarran soldiers, a fact that is not lost on the residents of Xantharl’s Keep.

There is an inn within the village walls, though it’s not the same that we remember.  Out of curiosity, I inquire as to the price of a room as well as a warm meal, trying to gauge just how dire the situation may be.  Rooms are available—the soldiers and miners keep to their own camps—the rate is reasonable, a single gold piece per room per night.  I’m surprised to find that the rate also includes a meal, though the innkeeper warns us that it might not be the quality we would normally expect.  While conducting this business, I also purchase a sling and a handful of bullets for Selben, as well as a handful of dried meat, in the case that my canine friend is still around.  The price for this last item comes as a shock, though perhaps it shouldn’t—I part with a pair of gold pieces for the bounty.

As we meander around town, we find ourselves at the outskirts of the eastern edge of the village near the miners’ tents.  In a silent moment, we hear a lilting voice drifting on the air:
O’er pastures borne
o’ fields of green
The river I follow,
its waters clean
With the flow, I ride,
‘til my heart doth cling
To pastures borne
o’ fields of green
Nearby is a well, and at it is a woman drawing water and singing to herself.  Beneath her winter cloak, we spy a red dress and scarf—together with the way her hair is bound, we instantly recall the garb of Kezia.  I leave my Carcerus mantle with Selben, and approach slowly, trying to seem as nonthreatening as possible.

“Excuse me,” I say hesitantly, then feign surprise.  “Your clothes…for a moment, I thought you were someone I knew.  Are you from Xantharl’s Keep?”  The woman responds hesitantly, explaining that she and her husband are from Mirabar.  Her husband is one of the miners.  I explain that I knew a woman, Kezia, and that she dressed in a very distinctive way, and that I have not seen anyone dressed the same way since.  She reveals that she is from the river valley.

Awkwardly, I ask her if she and her husband would be willing to join us for dinner, explaining that we have acquaintances in the valley and that we intend to travel there, and that we’d like to talk about what we might expect along the way.  “Why don’t we visit the camp this evening?”  I assent, and when asked her name, she replies “Odesia.”

We pass the rest of the afternoon until the appointed time, then we head to the direction of the mining camps.  Lit by bonfires, we’re able ascertain that there are perhaps two dozen soldiers, and the same number of miners and laborers.  We find Odesia sitting with a man that we assume to be her husband.  He’s a miner and seems amenable to our introduction—his name is Laerch Strolgam.  Laerch is from Mirabar, but Odesia was raised by her people in the valley.  Knowing no other way to break the ice, I pull out my deck of crude cards and ask Odesia if she’s ever seen anything like this before.

“You would not have an easy time finding them—strangers don’t generally intermingle with my people freely.”  Going for broke, I ask their patience to listen to a short story, and they agree.  I share an abbreviated account of our history in the Khedrun Valley, leaving out some of the details that aren’t critical to the telling, but this time include our encounter with Kezia—something that we usually exclude, due to the holes our meeting with her pokes into everything.

“Do they have a name?” I ask, referring to the cards.

“In my language they are called Tarokka,” she explains, though says she is not a user of them herself, that she lacks the gift.  She left her family over a year ago to marry Laerch, who she met when he and his brothers were fishing upriver.  They fell in love, and she made the decision that she would leave her family to live with her husband in Mirabar.

Feeling the need to fully explain myself, I share the first part of the reading, pointing out who each card represents, laying out the cards as I come to each layer of the reading.

“While I do not bear the gift, I do bear some knowledge of the talent.  I feel a very ill omen about the mine.  If you will see to the safety of my husband and these miners, then we will take you to the valley when the weather breaks and the river can be traveled once again.”

Odesia explains that the miners have been trying to break through a wall for weeks, and as that has progressed, she has grown more and more wary of what may lay beyond that wall.  Her husband, Laerch, says that “When you marry a river maiden, you learn to listen to what she has to say in such matters.”  When asked what her people collectively call themselves, she responds “Keravela.”  It’s not a word I know, nor a language I understand.

Odesia explains that she’s not confident in the soldiers’ abilities to protect the miners and asks if we will investigate the cave ourselves.  I ask if we might have the evening to convene privately on the matter, explaining that it’s a decision that affects my comrades, and that I can’t make it alone. 

After some deliberation, Laerch points us to the captain’s tent, and we approach to greet the man.  He is flanked by guards, and they stand to return the greeting.  The captain’s name is Rale Cotchen, cousin to Laerch, and he explains that he’s overseer of the mining operation.  When asked how it fares, he explains that it’s progressing well, and that he hopes to be through the rock barrier in the next day or two.  His tone seems to question our purpose, which leaves me unsure how to proceed.

When Audric asks what he hopes might be beyond the wall, Rale smiles and answers “Great riches, we hope.”  Rale questions our purpose directly, and when we reply with vague indications of dangers beyond the wall, he smirks.

“You’ve been talking to the river maiden,” he replies.  “What share did she offer you?”

Taken by surprise by the question, not having any clue what he’s talking about, I react the only way I know how—violently.  I draw out a knife and throw it into the dirt at his feet, growling at him when he questions my motivations.  I explain through gritted teeth that we seek not riches, but that it’s part of a deal with made with Laerch and his wife, a deal that has nothing to do with the captain, his soldiers, or the damned mine.

“Well, if there are other things you seek from the girl, I would tread carefully there as well.  There are rumors that the child that she carries is not her husband’s.”  Ignoring the jab, I continue to stare the captain down, and he grins, seemingly with approval.

“Very well, then,” he says smiling.  Rale is planning on visiting the mine in the morning to check progress and welcomes us to accompany him as his personal guests.

“Done,” I reply sternly, grabbing my knife and slamming it back into its sheath.

We arrive at the appointed time near the eastern gate to the village, meeting a group of a dozen or so soldiers and miners in the company of the captain, as well as a guide from the village.  We march through the forest a fair distance until finally coming to a great hole in the earth surrounded by tents and many men doing work.  The hole appears to be a natural sinkhole which drops into darkness.  A soldier approaches to report to Captain Rale.  “There’s been an incident,” the soldier says grimly.  He points past the mine entrance to the tents beyond, where men look to be treating the corpse of a fallen miner.

“Only a couple hours ago, the miners broke through the rock wall, exposing the cavern beyond.  We were immediately assaulted by a putrid odor, that of death itself.  One of the miners climbed through with a torch to see what lay beyond, but as soon as he did, he began screaming.  The torch went out, and when we pulled him back his face and chest were bloodied, and the man was dead.  Three men quickly hoisted a boulder into place to reseal the opening.

When asked, the captain gathers the miners that were in the tunnel so that they might be questioned for more details.  For the most part, it’s more of the same.  One man, however, grimly states that he saw something.  “I was one of the men that pulled him out.  When we lifted the boulder back up and put it into place, I saw a hand reach from beyond the darkness, just for an instant before we covered the opening.”

Rale looks at us expectantly, indicating that this is the reason we’re here, and asks us how we intend to proceed.  The cavern below is wide enough for two to stand abreast, the rock wall in a tunnel perhaps 50 yards from the entrance.  I inform the captain that we require four men—two with lanterns, two with torches, and he mimics my response from the previous night.  “Done,” he replies, perhaps too quickly.

The scree of broken stone amid the ropes descending into the tunnel makes it difficult enough to traverse going down, but very difficult if we find ourselves in a position to flee quickly.  When we finally arrive at the boulder we are nearly overpowered by the stench of death.  Audric uses his familiar to peer through openings in the imperfect seal, and it is able to empathetically represent that there are multiple creatures beyond, dangerous and terrifying to the small animal.  Audric draws upon Mystra’s blessing to try and discern the nature of the threat beyond the hole, and his powers reveal a strong, malignant evil within.

Conjuring forth my most powerful abjurations, we instruct the guards to pry loose the boulder so that we can reveal what lies beyond.  Knowing the threat to be dangerous, Audric summons a pair of hobgoblins into the dark chamber, and the sounds of conflict are immediate, with screams piercing the darkness.  With a brief incantation, I bring forth a small magical light which illuminates the cavern and Audric begins to clamber through the opening.  We see the hobgoblins being mauled by a half-dozen creatures that, at first glance, I mistake for those from Shadfeld.  Upon further inspection, however, they appear to be true undead, with bulging, glowing yellow eyes and thin, wiry hair.  Fearful of our ability to effectively combat such a large number of foes, we pull Audric back through the hole.  Defending the opening should be easier than a pitched combat in an open chamber.

Our foes move quickly, and our tactics prove to be insufficient, as a pair of the creatures are immediately through the opening and upon us.  The soldiers and Bonie support us with bolt and arrow, but the missiles prove ineffective.  I conjure forth a shimmering, floating hammer adorned with fetishes of the Beastlord, as well as a blade of flame that extends from my palm.  Despite this, however, Audric and I are driven back by the creatures, one of them striking Audric, who is nearly overcome by a deep weakness and emptiness that saps his strength.  A soldier at his side falls as well, and we are nearly overtaken, with a third creature clambering through the hole to join the fray.

In desperation, I instruct Selben to use his powers to attempt to magically enlarge the creature climbing through the opening, hoping that it may stall its advance and buy us time.  Audric cries out for us all to flee, the warrior stepping into melee again to stymie the undead advance.  Unwilling to let Audric sacrifice himself, I stand at his side and echo his order to the others, and we are both assaulted by the creatures, another clawing at Audric again, draining the warrior of yet more will and strength.

Behind us, Bonie is the first to reach the opening to the mine and scrambles to the top, helping draw others up to safety.  We hear her cries for us to join the flight, and Audric and I withdraw, battling back the undead as we stumble to the mine opening.  Fortunately, the creatures do not pursue us into the daylight, and Bonie and the others help us climb out of the pit.

Bearing few wounds but spiritually broken, we stare down at the creatures below.  They hover in the darkness just beyond the reach of the sunlight, mocking our failure.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Read this!

This was a great read, especially in light of the dragon, and now, Audric getting energy drained. It summarizes well how I feel as DM (though not at all how you guys behave as players, thankfully!).

Thursday, April 25, 2019

XP awards for sessions 19-22

XP for the last four sessions is as follows, after accounting for NPC involvement:

  • Aiding the Kromlor family - 1,000
  • Deterring and escaping Niohoggr (the dragon) - 2,000
  • Delivering the tribe to Griffon's Nest and slaying a hill giant - 6,500
  • Foiling the thieves in the stable house - 1,000

These amounts sum to 10,500. Note that, while the above items are the main drivers for the corresponding values, awards should be considered dividends for the entirety of each session. PCs each receive 4,200, and Selben, with henchman status, receives 2,100. As always, Zeb receives a 10% bonus, bringing updated party totals to:

  • Audric - 30,200
  • Zeb - 3,000/27,195
  • Selben (h) - 4,600

Selben inches near to 3rd level, but isn't quite there. At current rates, Audric is set to attain 6th level before Zeb, but neither is particularly close. Sean was able to remind me that Zeb's total is less than Audric's, even with Zeb's bonus, due to having used clerical powers during the encounter with Carcerus.

All for now!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

#22: From the Ashes

Settled in for the night, uncomfortable though our accommodations may be, we set watches.  It’s most important that Audric complete his rest so that he may recover his spells.  Bonie hovers on the edge of unconsciousness, having nearly lost her life in the magical duel—much of our time tomorrow will be spent guarding over her until she can be restored by Audric’s magic.

Selben and I watch the entrance to the stables in silence, listening as the revelers outside continue in their celebration.  With our watch nearly expired, we hear a light thud from a nearby stable, and the horse within stamps restlessly.  I send Selben to investigate, but before he can move very far, we hear a male’s rough voice.  “Give me all ye have, toss it over the wall.”  Someone has snuck into the stable stall next to ours and reached through the slats, holding a dagger to Bonie’s neck.

I try my best to calm the man, pulling my heavy purse of coin from my belt and tossing it deep into his stall.  As soon as he moves to retrieve it I order Selben to attack the intruder while I summon forth a magical light to illuminate the stable house.  “Get him,” I call out, hoping to awaken Audric, and Selben rushes forward to tackle the man. As the magical light appears, we see a shadowy figure—a human male—scrambling in the straw for the purse.

Selben tangles in a melee with the man, both armed with knives.  Selben dodges a thrust, and we see a second figure step forward, this one armed with a crossbow.  He snaps off a shot at us but misses, and I paralyze the man engaged with Selben, drawing forth the power of Malar.  Selben puts a knife to the man’s throat as we try to determine whether the crossbowman is friend or foe.

Audric, roused to anger, charges the man, who throws his crossbow at Audric and flees, out of my sight.  I trust Audric to make the right decision as I toss my rope to Selben, stooping to make sure that Bonie is unharmed, then recover my purse.  We check the remaining stalls and find no one else.  Outside the stable is the man’s discarded crossbow along with a second loaded crossbow—I have Selben bring both weapons inside and guard the entrance until our new friend revives.

“Let me go—I didn’t hurt anyone, I don’t have anything of yours any longer.”  I ask his name—he indicates that it’s Tannor Brin.  I inform him that he and his friend made a poor decision tonight, tapping him on the forehead with the flat of my blade.  “My companion ran off to deal with your friend.  If he comes back, we’ll discuss what to do with you.  If he doesn’t, I’ll hang you right here in this stall and gut you.”  Together with Selben, we toss a rope over a nearby rafter and drag the man up so that he hangs a few feet from the ground.

“While we’re in Longsaddle, is there anything else we should do now that the celebration’s over?” I ask sardonically, killing time while continuing to tap him on the head with the point of my knife.  “There is one thing,” he says.  “Untie me.”  A few long minutes pass and I start to worry, then from somewhere deeper into town I hear signs of commotion.

I leave the stable and walk out a few dozen yards, heading towards the shouting.  When I get close, it’s clear that a congregation of people have gathered around something…or someone.  Two men outfitted as guards are leading a bound Audric towards the center of the hamlet, as the crowd around him yells “Murderer!”  One of the guards carries his axe.  I head towards the group, calling out over the crowd that there has been a misunderstanding.  I explain the situation, and at mention of Tannor Brin, the crowd seems to turn, with many of them calling him out as a thief, bolstering our story.

My eyes are drawn to a woman wearing a white robe atop a white stallion, her hair red and flowing behind her.  She has a sheathed sword strapped to her horse, and she approaches the guard and asks what’s going on.

The woman makes motions—obviously casting a spell—and approaches Audric.  I catch a better view of her, and her telltale pointed ears reveal her elven heritage.  She speaks a few quiet words to Audric, which I am unable to hear.  Outnumbered, in a foreign environment and overwhelmed by the situation, I stand there silent, unable to intercede in any meaningful way.

Unsure of what they shared or the result, the elven woman rides towards me, ordering me to take her to the stable.  I call out to Selben, letting him know that I’ve returned and to drop the crossbows.  Thankfully, he answers that it’s done, and we enter.  The guards cut down Tannor Brin at her order, and the elf bids the three of us to accompany her.

“Four of us, actually.  Our friend is in the stall nearby, unconscious, and I’m not leaving her.”  We answer a few questions about her injuries, and she calls forth a large man in chainmail.  The elf indicates that she intends to take us someplace where Bonie can be cared for better than the stable.  “Can we trust you?” I ask bluntly.

“You have my word.  I am Soliania, caretaker of Longsaddle and its master,” she shares, ushering the large man forward to lift Bonie from the ground.

“And who would its master be?” I ask, as politely as possible, given the circumstances.

“Master Brehan,” she answers, and we gather our belongings to follow.  Soliania, the large man, and a small retinue of guards escort us back to the Ivy Mansion.  We’re led to a series of rooms down unfamiliar corridors, and Soliania says that we can rest here, undisturbed.  With a truly genuine sigh of relief, I thank her, and we are left alone for the night.

When we finally awaken, we find that many hours have passed, the travails of the previous day and night seeming to have caught up with us.  We study and pray for our spells, ready to attack the day and learn more about the situation we’ve landed ourselves in.  Bonie stirs to wakefulness, which is a welcome relief, and while still weakened, she is coherent once again and we catch her up on events. 

The large man from the previous night enters our room after some time, indicating that his name is Drakkor, and that Soliania is out for the morning.  We are served a bountiful breakfast, and in a quiet moment, I share a few words with Selben.  I congratulate Selben on his composure the previous evening, letting him know that he handled himself well, protecting Bonie and watching over the thief.  Sheepishly, he lets us know that he has something to tell us.

Selben admits that he’s started to have some recollection of the time when his memory was lost—he wanted to speak of it before, but there was never a good time.  He doesn’t remember everything, but he remembers that he was kidnapped from Three Streams.  He was investigating a cave, captured by someone, and held in chains in an unknown dungeon.

The red-eyed creatures were present in the dungeon, but other details elude him for now, except that he was being starved, perhaps tortured, and one other fact—that he saw a woman with auburn hair, like that of Aibreann, and eyes of yellow fire.  He slipped his manacles and escaped, eventually ending up in the forest and found his way to Carrock.  The details are unclear.

We encourage Selben to share his experiences and memories, letting him know that his history could very well be an important part of the puzzle we’re all in.  Good or bad, we’ve all done impulsive or morally questionable things (Audric choked a man to death, and I nearly eviscerated Tannor Brin), and he shouldn’t be afraid to share his feelings and memories, especially the dark ones.

Some amount of time passes and a small boy appears, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, along with Soliania who lets us know that we look much recovered, but that she has many questions for us.

“We’re literally a captive audience,” I tell her, and she asks her questions, starting with how we came to be in the stable, and how that led to us slaying a man.

Audric answers her question with one of her own.  “Are you a practitioner of the arcane arts?” he asks her, indicating that things may make more sense if she was.  She nods, and Audric begins to explain the story of the ring, including all the gory details.  “That was in this house 100 years in the future,” Audric ends, and Soliania’s eyes widen.

The boy speaks then, brash and impudent, stating that “That kind of magic isn’t possible.”

Audric responds by calling the boy “Malchor” and lets him know that he’ll understand more in 100 years.  Soliania explains that the boy is Brehan Harpell, heir to the Ivy Mansion, and that they know of no person named Malchor.

“That’s because he does not yet live,” Audric counters, disappointed that his hunch was not correct.

“Such a story would not be easily believed by anyone,” Soliania explains, and Audric offers to submit to any magical or divine truth-seeking.  Before rational conversation can occur, young Master Brehan begins calling out insults.

“What do we stand to gain by making up such a story?  Wouldn’t it make sense to make up something more believable?” Audric asks.

“I do not believe that there is true darkness in your hearts,” Soliania says finally, looking towards me, “despite your fealty.”  Her statement disrupts the argument that was beginning to form.

“The Beastlord and I have an understanding,” I explain sarcastically.

When asked of our intentions in Longsaddle, we answer that research into the ritual is our primary concern, and I tell her that, barring that, we have a meeting with a mortem disfidare from the past with whom we are acquainted.  She seems stoic, granting us leave to remain for the day, though she bars us from the library.  I get the sense that she may wish to see us before we leave—otherwise she would have expelled us from the Ivy Mansion outright, so we return to our chambers.

Before the sun sets, Soliania does indeed come to meet us.  She seems to believe us, regarding our encounter with the thieves the previous night, and lets us know that we will not be punished with murder.  She does think it would be best if we leave Longsaddle, however, for “everyone’s safety.”

“Young Master Harpell wants us out that bad, huh?”  I can’t help but ask.

“I wish you well on your journey,” she says coldly, and turns to walk away.

Audric stops her before she goes, asking for our weapons now, so that we might properly prepare for the journey.  She promises that our items will be restored, but when pressed by Audric, she responds angrily that his mistrust is ill-placed, and that we should not defy her. It is clear from her tone that the conversation is over.

The night passes, though despite the comfortable surroundings I can’t help but feel caged.  The next day dawns, and our gear is returned to us by Drakkor, who informs us that we’re to depart Longsaddle under his supervision.  Before he leaves, I ask if he’ll deliver a message to Soliania, and the large man assents.

“If Soliania believes us—if she thinks that there’s even a chance that we’re telling the truth, whether she believes it possible or not—we are in need of magical direction and aid.  That the ring is nonmagical now does not preclude its creation again, and there’s no telling whether the future will play out the same way.  If she cares for the well-being of the Harpell family—indeed, if she cares for the potential integrity of Mystra’s Weave at all—then we are headed for Mirabar, and beyond that, likely the Khedrun Valley.”

With little choice left to us, we conjure forth mounts for the group and begin our trek north.  Our travel is undisturbed until midday when we break for a meal, at which point we catch notice of what appears to be a lone wolf or dog.  Concerned that it might be in fact a pack of such creatures, I call for Selben to join me and investigate.

It’s difficult to make out details, but the dog appears malnourished.  It’s some manner of husky breed, grey and white, and after a few minutes I toss it a bit of dried meat from my rations.  It takes it and stands there looking at me but does not run away.  Not knowing if it’s a sign from the Beastlord or just a random mongrel, I tell it “You watch our backs, I’ll watch yours” and return with Selben to the others.  For a short while it appears that the cur may be following us, which is fine by me.

We finish travel for the day without finding a settlement.  Unsure whether Xantharl’s Keep exists in this time, or how close we may be, we decide to break for the night, leaving enough time to gather materials for a sizable fire.  We settle in for a cold eve, splitting up into three watches.  During the third watch, mine, the dog appears once again.

“You must have had a hard day’s travel, keeping up with a team of magical horses.”  I dig out a few more handfuls of dried meat and toss it the dog’s way.  “I don’t suppose there’s anything we should watch for in the woods tonight?”  No response, but it cocks it head in curiosity.  “Any chance there’s a town nearby?”  No response, but it cocks its head again, seeming to appreciate the conversation.  With nothing else to do, I continue speaking to it.  Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t have a remedy for being time-shifted 100 years into the past, and my watch concludes otherwise uneventfully.

Midway through the next day we approach a settlement.  It might be Xantharl’s Keep—there are similarities—or it could be another settlement entirely.  We decide to head into the village and investigate.  Pleasantly surprised, the dog returns again, and I toss it my last handful of rations, letting it know that we’ll be back in a little while.

The village is clearly smaller than Xantharl’s Keep, but there are many structures that are too familiar to be coincidence.  The village has a wooden palisade, patrolled by a few armed soldiers.  One wears a tabard with the insignia of Mirabar.