Sunday, November 24, 2019

#31: Old News

In the aftermath of the battle, there’s a mixture of elation over having survived, and desperation over the losses and what the immediate future looks like for Dagger’s Deep and its grieving residents.  One of the first major appointments is a new militia captain, a warrior named Kallevir.

In examining the Stormlord’s maul, I am unable to discern any of its magical properties beyond that fact that it radiates an aura of evocation magic, destructive arcane forces.  I have Zargon examine the weapon to try and determine its provenance as well, but the bard knows as little as I.  I take up the maul as my own as well as the Stormlord’s talisman, an iron-forged disc with engraved lightning bolts, the symbol of Talos.  I add this token to my string of fetishes.  Zargon and Audric divide the other spoils, tucking away a pouch of small gemstones and distributing what remains to the town.

Audric and I take up station at the shrine over the course of the next few days, triaging Dagger’s Deep’s most wounded and treating those wounds to the extent we are able with the powers bestowed upon us by our respective gods.  Our efforts are appreciated by the settlement, and by the end of second day, the burials commence.  The folk of Dagger’s Deep have been working tirelessly to craft wooden coffins and dig the long trenches that will house the fallen.  Everyone is present for the ceremonies, including Odesia, who seems nearly catatonic, unable to cope with the loss of her unborn child’s father.

Zargon spends several days in recovery and training, honing his abilities and refining his arcane knowledge, spending much time mumbling to himself in languages none of us understand.  Selben, as well, spends time cloistered away in his tent, poring over Ethelenda’s spellbook as well as his own.

The following morning, Daegahr approaches and informs us flatly that he intends to return to Mirabar immediately, having business to tend to and others to care for.  Though he bears us no ill will, he is not interested in prolonging his stay.  He has already spoken to Odesia, offering to return her to Mirabar, an offer that she declined.  We tell him that we’ll check in on him if we decide to make the trip ourselves, and he departs without further words.

That same day, a small fishing boat comes upriver, and a haphazard party is gathered to greet the craft.  The men are fishers from Mirabar, heading to waters where bountiful fishing abounds.  We share a warning regarding the river creatures we encountered, and the men thank us for the knowledge.  The traffic gives hope that Perhegan may one day turn a profit from his venture.

Perhegan’s daughter Edine looks over Odesia, but the keravela woman remains quiet and distant.  Edine has a brightness about her and is very pleasant to be around; there’s hope that her personality will help Odesia through her grief.

A few days after the burials, men begin filling the crater left by the lightning bolt that slew Pol Rallinoth; in the effort, they discover something and call us to investigate.  At the bottom, the earth struck by the lightning is found to be flat, crafted, rough-hewn stone.  I jump into the crater with the men and spend time trying to discern the size or scope of the discovery.  In every direction we attempt, as far as several paces, we find the same flat surface, indicating a rather large construction.

Zargon sequesters himself, attempting to expand his arcane repertoire, while Audric and I focus our efforts on the curious stone.  Renewal approaches, saying that he has something to show us, something found in the keep itself.  He leads us down into the waterlogged basement cellar, where women and children took shelter during the attack; we never thought much of it, being little more than an unusable storage chamber, and it smells dank and moldy.

Renwal conjures forth a magical light at an empty point in space near the far wall, displaying the smudged outline of a circle carved amid the stonework.  It is situated in the general direction of the structure outside, potentially indicating a tunnel opening.

Examining the cellar, it’s close to river level, perhaps slightly below it.  Given the direction of the tunnel, however, pointing away from the river, it’s unlikely to be flooded with river water beyond.  Audric examines the curious circle, attempting to divine whether it has arcane properties, and shrugs before finally heaving into the stone with a shoulder, budging it an inch.  Before I can complain to him about calling me rash, he heaves again, and the stone slab pushes forth as if a door on a hinge, opening into a three-foot diameter tunnel of carved stone.

Audric sends his familiar Lume into the tunnel, and before long the cat disappears into the darkness.  She returns safely a few moments later, and Audric says that he’s going to attempt to crawl through the tunnel.  Before doing so, I layer a few abjurations upon the warrior, not feeling completely comfortable about the confined space, but feeling better knowing I departed what protections I could.

Headfirst, he crawls into the tunnel, wriggling through the sludge.  After a few minutes of worming his way through muck, he reaches what appears to be a wooden door.  We discuss the risks involved, ultimately deciding to attempt entry after arguing with Zargon about the right to whatever glory waits beyond.

Though confined by the tunnel, Audric lays a shoulder into the heavy door, pushing it free from its position as it crashes forward, revealing a large chamber of perhaps 30 by 50 feet.  The ceiling is higher, allowing Audric to stand more comfortably, and surprisingly the stone is dry, though the air is still musty.

Very little in the chamber is intact.  There are broken pieces of wood that are remnants of barrels, crystals of salt littering the ground such as those used to store dry goods and meats, and the fragmented bones of a human skeleton that had been resting against the door before Audric heaved it inward.  Large boulders block an opening across the chamber, surrounded by scorch marks and smelling faintly of ash and cinders. Audric relays all of this back through the tunnel.

In the waning moments of his arcane divination, Audric discovers a cloth garment from which radiates a dim magical aura.  Picking it up, he realizes that it’s a cloak that had blended in nearly perfectly with the surroundings; from within its folds he withdraws a bloodstone, a smooth stone with black and red ripples the size of a small egg.  Carved into the bloodstone is a small circle, perhaps the size of a ring.

Also within the cloak is an old, folded piece of parchment, which Audric brings back to the crowded cellar.  Unfolding the document, a cryptic set of writings is revealed, several partial sentences or perhaps all nonsense, numbers that may be dates; we’re not able to make sense of it all without further research.  The handwriting looks to be of the same hand, though the script different sizes, as if written at different times and with different levels of urgency.

Using bits of rope to map out the distance from the blocked portal to the entryway and laying out a similar length of rope above ground, it appears that the stone surface discovered in the pit of the lightning strike corresponds with the chamber discovered beneath.  The scorch marks and scent are old in comparison to the lightning, likely not connected in any way.

The only words from the parchment that anyone in Dagger’s Deep recognizes is Fort Kaeylnor, a small fort situated near a village north in the Khedrun Valley.  “Is that Oldkeep?” Audric asks, recalling our encounter with the troll there.  As for Audric, he recognizes one of the names—Mystryl—and explains that she predated Mystra as the goddess of magic.

“Close the conduit” especially seems to cause Audric considerable consternation, harkening back to the runes discovered in Oldkeep and Moonglow Cave, as well as the magics unleashed by Malchor Harpell—or perhaps by the ring—that led to our temporal displacement.

“Is there a library in Mirabar?” I ask.  The consensus is that there are likely libraries in Mirabar, but none of any particular note.  If more information is to be found, we must travel to the fortress and seek it there.  The initial excitement at finding the document eventually leads, for me at least, to a feeling of dread, of being trapped by powers or circumstances outside our control.

Convening to discuss the matter, we decide that a visit to Mirabar is indeed in order—if nothing else to resupply, and perhaps bolster the defenses of Dagger’s Deep by hiring a few men—and we begin to lay out the details of our potential trip.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Statistical differences between rolling methods

Sean and I have been discussing rolling methods for ability scores, particularly in the context of PCs vs. henchmen. Consider the two following methods for generating a set of abilities (sourced from the 2e PH, p. 13):

  • Method II. Roll 3d6 twice and take the higher of the two values.
  • Method V. Roll 4d6, discard the lowest roll, and add up the other three.
For player characters, I've long employed Method V (4d6 drop lowest) with a caveat that the player can roll up to three sets; if the player discards one set to roll another, the discarded set cannot be used. This gives the player the ability to discard an underwhelming set or swing for the fences to try to attain a great set, but also adds an element of risk, especially if the third and final set (which must be accepted) turns out to be poor.

For most NPCs and hirelings, I employ Method II, which tends to generate more averages sets. I don't use any re-roll caveat for NPCs. They get what they get.

Because, in our campaign, henchmen have the ability to replace fallen PCs over the long-term, we want to make sure we're in agreement on the rolling method to use. Most AD&D players intuitively know that Method V is more likely to generate high scores (15+) than Method II, but what if we evaluate the methods more deeply? Let's say, for example, that we're looking to create a ranger, which requires two scores of 14 or higher and two additional scores of 13 or higher.

I wrote a quick app to generate random sets of ability scores using both methods. Scores within each set are arranged from highest to lowest, with sets that qualify for the ranger class marked with a letter r. Here are results for ten sets of scores for each method:
Method II results (3d6 twice, take higher):
  16  14  13  13  11  11  (r)
  16  13  12  12  10   8
  15  14  13  11   9   8
  16  15  14  12  11  11
  14  14  13  13  12  11  (r)
  13  11  11  11   9   5
  15  15  15  13  12   8  (r)
  15  14  14  12  12   8
  13  12  12  11  10   8
  16  14  14  13  12  11  (r)

Method V results (4d6 drop lowest):
  15  13  13  12  12  12
  14  14  12  10  10   8
  16  13  12  12   9   4
  17  15  13  11  11   7
  14  14  12   9   9   8
  14  14  12  11   8   7
  17  14  13  12  11   7
  15  12  11  10   9   8
  16  14  13  13  10  10  (r)
  15  15  14  13  10   8  (r)

Four rangers for Method II, only two for Method V. This are very small samples sizes, so let's run them again to observe the variance:
Method II results (3d6 twice, take higher):
  13  12  11  11  11   6
  14  13  13  12  12  12
  14  13  13  12  12  11
  17  16  12  11  10   9
  13  13  13  12  11  10
  15  15  12  10   9   8
  17  16  12  11   9   8
  15  14  14  10   9   9
  16  16  15  15  14   9  (r)
  17  13  13  13  12  12

Method V results (4d6 drop lowest):
  15  12  11  11  10   9
  15  14  13  12  12   7
  15  13  11  11  11   9
  16  14  12  11  10   8
  14  14  13  13  12  12  (r)
  15  15  14  13  11  10  (r)
  17  14  14  14  13  11  (r)
  16  16  15  12  10   8
  15  15  14  13  12   5  (r)
  18  14  13  12   9   9

This time, one ranger for Method II, four rangers for Method V (an opposite result). Obviously, we need more data. I'll have the application roll 100 sets for each method and take the averages (rounded down to whole numbers):
Method II averages:
  15  13  12  11  10   9

Method V averages:
  15  14  12  11  10   8

These are actually really close; in fact, the total number of ability points is the same with both methods. Through another few runs, I was able to verify that these exact averages still hold even with a very high (10,000) number of sets.

But the averages don't tell the full story. Again, we know from intuition that there's going to be tangible variance between the methods. If it's not in the total number of points, then where?

For starters, we know that, in order to get stuck with a score of 3 using Method II, we need to roll six 1s in a row. That means 6^6, or one in 46,656 scores. To get equally unlucky with Method V, you only need to roll four straight 1s, or 6^4, which is one in 1,296 scores.

That's a major difference: you're almost 40 times more likely to end up with a score of 3 using Method V (the 4d6 method) compared with Method II (the 3d6-twice method).

Let's see what the distribution of scores is over ten sets of scores using each rolling method:
Method II totals:
   3s:  0
   4s:  0
   5s:  0
   6s:  0
   7s:  0
   8s:  2
   9s:  6
  10s:  4
  11s:  5
  12s:  12
  13s:  7
  14s:  12
  15s:  6
  16s:  6
  17s:  0
  18s:  0

Method V totals:
   3s:  0
   4s:  0
   5s:  0
   6s:  2
   7s:  2
   8s:  2
   9s:  6
  10s:  3
  11s:  3
  12s:  12
  13s:  9
  14s:  5
  15s:  10
  16s:  3
  17s:  3
  18s:  0

That looks reasonable: fewer high but also fewer low scores when using Method II. How about for 1,000 sets?
Method II totals:
   3s:  0
   4s:  2
   5s:  11
   6s:  36
   7s:  101
   8s:  257
   9s:  424
  10s:  629
  11s:  839
  12s:  979
  13s:  926
  14s:  727
  15s:  513
  16s:  313
  17s:  184
  18s:  59

Method V totals:
   3s:  3
   4s:  25
   5s:  51
   6s:  99
   7s:  194
   8s:  269
   9s:  451
  10s:  585
  11s:  697
  12s:  794
  13s:  740
  14s:  737
  15s:  586
  16s:  430
  17s:  240
  18s:  99

Now we're starting to see the numbers at work. A thousand sets contain 6,000 individual scores; we have three scores of 3 using Method V, and none using Method II. Given that we were expecting only one in 46,656 scores with Method II but about one in 1,296 scores with Method V to result in a lowly 3, these results look pretty solid, though our sample sizes are still small enough that we're hitting a fair degree of variance.

Here are the totals for 100,000 sets:
Method II totals:
   3s:  15
   4s:  184
   5s:  1056
   6s:  3819
   7s:  10642
   8s:  24747
   9s:  43524
  10s:  65439
  11s:  84711
  12s:  94523
  13s:  92145
  14s:  72943
  15s:  51490
  16s:  32525
  17s:  16626
  18s:  5611

Method V totals:
   3s:  473
   4s:  1917
   5s:  4722
   6s:  9581
   7s:  17370
   8s:  29011
   9s:  41925
  10s:  56347
  11s:  68252
  12s:  77520
  13s:  79661
  14s:  74389
  15s:  60690
  16s:  43464
  17s:  25012
  18s:  9666

For Method II, fifteen out of 600,000 scores ended up as 3, or one in 40,000, which is very close to the one in 46,656 ratio that we expect to normalize to over the long term. For Method V, we had 473 scores of 3, which is about one in 1,268... extremely close to the normalized ratio of one in 1,296.

If we add up all the scores of 7 or lower, Method II only generated 15,716 while Method V produced a whopping 34,063. If we add up all the scores of 15 or higher, Method II gave us 106,252 while Method V resulted in 138,832.

The takeaways are that you're more than twice as likely to get bad scores (7 or lower) with the 4d6 method, but only about 30% more likely to get high scores (15 and above). Method V, however, is almost twice as likely to generate very high scores (17 or 18), while Method II is far more likely to hit in the average range of 10 through 14.

Finally, here's a plot graph of the 100,000 set results, which makes everything nice and clear:

Click to enlarge

Though Sean and I still haven't decided exactly how to handle scores for a new henchmen, the above data definitely provides the right ammunition to help us make the best decision for our campaign. As an extra bonus, here are score distributions for two additional rolling methods described in the PH, along with an additional graph that charts all four methods.
  • Method I. Roll 3d6 for each score.
  • Method IV. Roll 3d6 twelve times, and take the six highest values.
Here are the side-by-side averages of all four methods:
Method II averages:
  15  13  12  11  10   9

Method V averages:
  15  14  12  11  10   8

Method I averages:
  14  12  11   9   8   6

Method IV averages:
  15  13  12  12  11  10

...along with the score distributions of the two new methods:
Method I totals:
   3s:  2817
   4s:  8353
   5s:  16620
   6s:  27915
   7s:  41657
   8s:  58653
   9s:  68882
  10s:  74966
  11s:  74945
  12s:  69277
  13s:  58329
  14s:  41804
  15s:  27916
  16s:  16701
  17s:  8340
  18s:  2825

Method IV totals:
   3s:  0
   4s:  0
   5s:  0
   6s:  1
   7s:  129
   8s:  2063
   9s:  14860
  10s:  50573
  11s:  98940
  12s:  123988
  13s:  114935
  14s:  83276
  15s:  55540
  16s:  33591
  17s:  16596
  18s:  5508

...and the final graph depicting all four methods:

Click to enlarge

(If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations!)

Monday, November 18, 2019

The parchment

Image of the worn sheet of parchment found folded within a cloak inside the hidden cellar below Dagger's Deep:

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

XP awards for sessions 29-30

The XP award for the past two sessions is wholly attributed to the party's contributions in the battle against the barbarian invaders; as such, Zargon receives a full share, even though Bill wasn't present for the return journey downriver.

The total award, less amounts reserved for Bonie and other NPCs, is 10,000, which divides to 2,500 XP per PC and 1,250 XP for Selben. Updated totals:

  • Audric - 12,903
  • Zeb - 3,000/35,448
  • Zargon - 10,003
  • Selben (h) - 8,101

Zargon has attained 5th level, and can advance upon completion of five dedicated days of training.

Recovered Items

Further, following are the noteworthy possessions recovered from the Stormlord, whose throat was torn out by Zeb. (It can be assumed that the other barbarians' and ogres' gear is mundane, and will be allocated to Dagger's Deep.)

  • Large, claw-ended maul (functions as a bastard sword, magical)
  • Chainmail, marked from use and mended in several places (non-magical)
  • Black-iron medallion, hung from an iron chain and bearing a depiction of lightning bolts (non-magical)
  • Leather pouch, carrying an assortment of small gemstones and a handful of nominal coins (non-magical)

Friday, October 25, 2019

#30: The Battle for Dagger's Deep

On the day before our departure, Perhegan and Renwal return to Dagger’s Deep, along with their retinue of guards.  Perhegan is quickly brought up to speed on our news: the death of his man, the discovery of the barbarians at the cave, and our plan to investigate the barbarian activity and take the fight to them.  As Zargon states, the only way to answer violence such as this is with violence, and all our preparations are geared towards this goal.  The night before our intended departure, we retreat to our tents with the scent of spring rain on the wind.

In the middle of the night, we are awakened by a loud thunderclap, followed by an immediate feeling that something is wrong.  Looking around, we find that we are lying on open ground near a river where presumably Dagger’s Deep should be—all in our group are accounted for, but the tents, our shrine and citizens of Dagger’s Deep are nowhere to be found. 

As we pull ourselves to our feet, disoriented, we realize that the river keep is there, but rather than looking like it is still under construction, it looks dilapidated, perhaps ravaged by age.  We are cold and damp, and very much confused.  Audric asks if we might have returned to our time when Selben hushes him, and the young mage points to a single light bobbing around near the keep.

Audric sends Lume forth, and we’re able to see that the light illuminates a pair of figures, almost as if one is holding a lantern, and our group follows.  As we get closer, we aren’t able to discern much detail, but we do notice that the man in front holds a bow at the ready, while the man a few steps back is wearing a hooded cloak with the cowl pulled up to obscure his face, holding a staff illuminated with a small arcane light. 

We approach close enough that they should be able to detect our presence, but they appear to be ignorant of our position, perhaps of our existence entirely.  As I make to call out, I feel Audric’s hand on my soldier, and the warrior speaks.

“Tussugar told us that he adventured with three others,” Audric explains, “a warrior and a wizardess who commissioned the tower in Carrock.  They traveled with a deft bowmaster.”  Could it be possible that this is a vision from that time, of Reginald and Ethelenda?

As the bowman steps forward to investigate, we hear the low sounds of speech.  “Audric, Zeb?” the voice mutters.  The man turns towards us and we recognize him as Wyardt when suddenly he turns to Bonie and calls out “Bonie!” as if recognizing her, as if he can see her, and she gasps in reply.  Thunder bursts again with a flash, and we awaken back in Dagger’s Deep, standing in a cluster where we were on the rocky beach in our vision, damp from the rain.

Bonie seems more shaken than the rest of us, and Audric starts talking about various potential identities for the hooded man—could it be Malchor, or AbbĂ© Lira?  If that was indeed the future, what could possibly draw Wyardt out to look for us at the site of Dagger’s Deep?  What could cause him to even look for us in the first place?  If we were transported—momentarily, or in spirit only—why was Zargon with us?  I do my best to console Bonie as our minds race around the possibilities.

Zargon’s own theories also hold merit—what if our actions now, in the past, incite a bardic song or story that potentially leads our former allies to investigate the ruins of Dagger’s Deep?  Further discussion steers towards Kezia—could it be possible that keravela Kezia may have stepped back into the future to alert our former allies?  It is all very fascinating, confusing, and I’m not sure what to make of it all.

Despite the turmoil of the restless night, we awaken to a cool morning.  There is dampness in the air but no sign of the previous storm, cementing the hunch that it was supernatural, perhaps even in our minds or vision alone.  Preparations made, we set aside misgivings and thoughts of the past night, gather our men and gear to head towards the cave, hoping to find a defensible site beyond the midpoint, within the known range of the barbarian’s patrol.

We find a campsite and begin preparations, setting up dummy bedrolls and setting ropes into the branches of several trees, from which Zargon, Bonie, Selben, Audric and two huntsmen will be lying in wait to provide cover while I serve as bait.  As darkness falls and we settle in, I whisper a prayer to Malar that all our preparations have not been in vain.  I rest a hand on Jakke’s shoulder, and the hound lays down to warm himself by the fire.  The night passes without incident.

The next morning, we set watches and rest, planning to sleep into the early afternoon so that we can attempt to survey our surroundings before deciding where to settle in again for the night, for another potential ambush.  We pack up our camp and the woodsmen of Dagger’s Deep guide us through the territory in hopes of discovering signs of our prey.

After some time, we find a few areas with small streams or deer tracks that might serve as bountiful foraging or hunting spots and decide to attempt our ambush again there.  This time, halfway through the night, I am alerted to movement further upstream.  Lume wanders to investigate and returns after several tense minutes, clearly agitated.

I use my powers to set abjurations in place and settle in, lying in wait.  Several long minutes pass with no change, and I stand to make a short circuit around the fire, hoping to draw out whatever threat might exist.  I draw a torch from the bonfire and take one of the mounts to the stream to water the horse, hoping to prove too enticing a target to pass up, but again our stalker stays his hand.

Frustrated, I return to the campsite and stare out into the dark, whispering a curse under my breath.  Throwing caution to the wind, I drop my torch and head into the woods, Jakke at my side, relying upon the supernatural senses gifted to me by Malar.

As I walk forward into the dark woods, perhaps thirty yards from the camp, a hulking form springs out from the brush and I’m provided a mere moment of warning by my magic.  The form is a large man wearing hides, a barbarian, and he jumps out and swings at me with a club, which sails just over my head.  He takes another swing that misses as I turn back to run towards the camp, hastening towards my allies.  I turn and wait for a charge to come, and the forest goes silent once again.

I roar out a guttural challenge into the darkness, bolstering my taunts with arcane power.  A rock sails towards me that would strike me in the face, but I am protected by my magic and it ricochets off.  I roar again, grabbing a burning brand and charge into the forest hoping to draw out the attacker. 

This time, the barbarian leaps forward and swings at me again, nearly knocking me to the ground with a heavy arc of his club.  I fight defensively back to the fire, hoping to draw him into range of my allies.  His heavy club strikes me again, forcing the wind from my ribs, but I persevere against the pain, trusting in the plan.

A flurry of arrows streak through the brush, and one of Bonie’s barbs strikes the barbarian in the chest.  Audric summons a cloud of glittering motes that blind both me and the barbarian, and Zargon fires a shot that causes a geyser of blood to erupt from an arterial strike between the barbarian’s neck and shoulder.  I pause for a tense minute, unable to see, but reach out and call upon Malar to seal the barbarian’s wound while my allies scramble from their perches.

We tie the unconscious barbarian to a tree, gagging him, and remain on high alert for the rest of the night, unsure if the man was traveling alone or if there might be more foes lurking in the darkness.  The remainder of the night passes without incident.

Come morning, we regard our Northman hostage.  As he struggles against the gag and his bonds, we search him for fetishes, religious tokens, anything that might identify a tribal or religious affiliation.  I don’t see any obvious trinkets, but he does have a brand or scar that looks like an animal head with tusks, perhaps a boar.  It’s nothing that I recognize, though I am not well versed in the Uthgardt faiths.

I pull forth my holy symbol, a gnarled claw, and hold it up to his face, asking if he recognizes it.  The barbarian starts uttering guttural noises, an unintelligible language, and we’re unsure if he understands the common speech.  “If you understand me, nod,” I warn, “otherwise I’m going to spill your guts and let the scavengers have you.”  He growls back at me feebly, appearing not to understand or care.  Unwilling to torture our foe though also unwilling to let him live so that he might threaten the town, I slit his throat unceremoniously.  The barbarian has nothing else of value.  Zargon cuts off one of the ears as a token, and I nod to him in approval, as it was Zargon’s arrow that took the mighty warrior down.

Hoping to encounter more barbarians, we rest throughout the day and wait out another uneventful night.  We discuss potentially returning to Dagger’s Deep the next morning, but Audric advises that we stay one night more.  If the barbarian scout was due to return and his absence is noted, it’s possible that another party will be sent to investigate, granting us another opportunity to reduce their numbers.  

The sky is overcast and rain threatens, but the weather holds.  Zargon fortifies our camp with wooden stakes, hoping to slow any charge should our camp be attacked, and we wait out the day.  We set up for one final night, and this time Jakke is alerted much earlier in the evening, only an hour into the dark.

With my allies in the trees I call forth my abjurations, then return to the fire and wait.  Our foe is patient, however, never breaking cover to reveal himself, and this time—with the threat of perhaps dozens of barbarians in the night—I stay close to the fire, waiting.  No attack comes, though, and eventually dawn breaks.  As it does, the rain finally falls, so we hastily pack up our camp and return to Dagger’s Deep.  Having not rested well any of these nights, the return trip is exhausting, but we arrive safely to report our relative disappointment of the last couple evenings.

“What are your intentions now?” Perhegan asks, having heard our tale.  I tell him that I believe, were they to attack in force, that the barbarians could potentially overwhelm the town if we’re not here to defend.  We tell him that we intend to rest first, then convene to discuss plans for the coming days, but we assure him that we plan on remaining near Dagger’s Deep. 

We are awoken in the night by a disturbance in the forested hills to the east.  There is a crashing sound in the woods, as of huge branches breaking.  Audric calls out to several of the Dagger’s Deep folk who have also heard the commotion, commanding them to usher the women and children of the town into safety, sensing the coming assault.  We gather our gear immediately and rush to confront the threat, and I thank Malar silently for not making me wait too long for blood.  As we rush forward, a song issues from Zargon singing our praises, bolstering our spirits.

Audric sends Lume out ahead and she returns quickly, indicating a pair of threats that leave the familiar very agitated, and he sends her back to the camp for safety.  As we crest a small hill, we see two hulking ogres crashing through the trees.  They are over ten feet tall and they rush forth to meet us in battle.

I call out a blessing from the Beastlord for me and my allies, and next to me Selben’s eyes turn to opaque white then begin to glow red as he uses his magic to strike fear into the ogres, sapping their will to fight.  A pair of arrows from Zargon and Bonie strike one of the creatures as Audric summons glittering motes to blind them both.  Selben’s eyes pulse and the ogres drop their weapons, overtaken by fits of trembling, as Audric pulls out his wicked axe and clashes into melee.

Behind us, we see a brilliant flash of lightning to the west, and hear a crashing sound emanting from Dagger’s Deep.  I wave Selben off—we have the threat of the ogres handled, but he can potentially save someone from attackers amid the town.

Bonie draws her sword and she and Audric each strike one of the blinded ogres.  They are unable to raise an effective defense as Audric, Zargon and I rain blows down upon them, dropping them both in bloody heaps.  The excitement of the bloodlust and total victory fades quickly, however, as we race to back to the tents and witness a bloodbath. 

There are men, barbarians, bodies strewn about everywhere.  One tent looks blown away, reduced to nothing more than a small crater with scorch marks in a wide radius around where it once stood.  We see the robed and bearded barbarian waving his maul about, wreathed in some kind of magic as if in the midst of casting a spell.  There are nearly as many men fallen as there are alive.  It’s impossible to tell who is winning, as bodies litter the field.

Selben’s eyes flash again as he uses another spell to cause a barbarian to flee in panic.  There is a surge from the warriors and folk of Dagger’s Deep, as they fight desperately to protect their village, and they strike down several barbarians with picks, hammers and improvised weapons, fighting truly heroically.  We witness as Weald, seemingly paralyzed, is decapitated by a barbarian warrior. 

The barbarian shaman swings his maul at one of the townsfolk and crushes his head with the weapon, killing him instantly—between his mighty maul and the spells he has brought to bear against Dagger’s Deep, he is the biggest threat and I roar out a challenge as we rush to join the fray.  I call out my own spell to bind and paralyze him as an arrow of arcane acid spurts past me from Zargon, striking the shaman just as my spell takes effect, his form going rigid.

I race forward, ignoring the acid from Zargon’s spell, and charge the shaman, knocking his paralyzed form to the ground and leaping upon him.  I can see his face under his cowl—he looks middle-aged, muscular, his beard streaked with gray, and a necklace with a pendant bearing a bolt of lightning around his neck.  I can see the recognition of his pending doom in his eyes as, howling like a wolf, I tear out his throat with my teeth.

Audric and Zargon charge into melee with the remaining foes as the tide turns against the invaders.  The men of Dagger’s Deep rally around them, converging on any barbarians that remain, dragging them to the ground and pummeling them until they are dead.

As we survey the aftermath, surrounded by dead and wounded, friend and foe alike, my mind turns to Perhegan and Pol Rallinoth.  Victory or no, without Perhegan’s vision and leadership, Dagger’s Deep might not survive.  Breathing a sigh of relief, we see Perhegan helping some of the townsfolk to their feet, but the militia captain is nowhere to be found.  Not wanting to let anyone die that is within our power to save, Audric and I administer what magical healing we have to those most in need, reviving a few townsfolk who would otherwise have died from their grievous wounds.

As for Pol Rallinoth, we learn that the barbarian shaman commanded bolts of lightning from the storm, and used them to strike him down, incinerating the captain of the Dagger’s Deep guard.  A smoking crater is all that remains of the brave warrior.  Taking toll of the fallen, we count a dozen dead among the barbarians, as well as their shaman leader and the two ogres.  As for Dagger’s Deep, while there are dozens wounded, only six men were lost, including Pol Rallinoth.  We learn with sadness that Laerch, Odesia’s husband, is among those killed in the struggle, leaving Odesia to bear a fatherless child. 

Though the battle for Dagger’s Deep is won, recovery will be long and the town’s survival seems uncertain.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Roster of Dagger's Deep

Following is a list of all inhabitants of Dagger's Deep as of the fifth month (Mirtul), 1255 DR, in the aftermath of the battle with the Stormlord.

* = Revived from death's door

Classed or warrior caliber (7):
  1. Perhegan Mercantor - founder and general
  2. Renwal Whitefoot - resident mage
  3. Kallevir - militia captain (newly appointed)
  4. Militia
  5. Militia
  6. Militia*
  7. Daegahr - visitor from Mirabar
Laborers (14):
  1. Tarrsh - blacksmith
  2. Ailbeart Stonehand - stonemason*
  3. Cormag Stonehand - stonemason
  4. Greer Stonehand - stonemason
  5. Hunter/trapper
  6. Hunter/trapper
  7. Fisher
  8. Carpenter
  9. Cobbler
  10. Scribe
  11. Teamster
  12. Trader
  13. Male (unskilled, expectant father)
  14. Male (unskilled)*
Other residents (15):
  1. Edine - Perhegan's daughter (age 17)
  2. Senga - domestic overseer
  3. Herbalist
  4. Midwife
  5. Seamstress
  6. Female (unskilled, expectant mother)
  7. Female (unskilled)
  8. Female (unskilled)
  9. Female (unskilled)
  10. Female (unskilled)
  11. Youth (M, age 7)
  12. Youth (F, age 11)
  13. Youth (F, age 6)
  14. Youth (F, age 6)
  15. Odesia - visitor from Mirabar
Slain in combat (8):
  1. Pol Rallinoth - militia captain (killed by lightning)
  2. Weald - militia (killed by decapitation)
  3. Hunter/trapper (spiked to tree)
  4. Tanner
  5. Wastrel/gambler
  6. Male (unskilled)
  7. Male (unskilled)
  8. Laerch - visitor from Mirabar
Missing/unaccounted for (1):
  1. Briegs - goblin

Monday, October 21, 2019

Planning under duress

Today, Sean and I talked about how the party's preparations should be managed during the next session. In situations like these, it's easy for the group to deliberate logistics until the night is almost over by the time everyone is ready to act. For tomorrow, I'd like to try something different:

  • I'll start a timer when the session formally begins. Every ten minutes of real time will constitute a full game day of planning.
  • After each ten-minute period, a night will pass in Dagger's Deep, along with any advancements in the surrounds.
  • The timer will pause during any events not initiated by the PCs and other breaks.

While the above might seem heavy-handed, it should definitely keep the pace of the game moving. It's also worth considering that, during the course of an actual day in the game world, there likely are many matters to which the PCs must attend. Even locating and arranging a simple conversation with a specific third party (Pol Rallinoth, for example) may take the better part of an hour, if not more. At any point in the day, Audric may be tending the Mystran/Malaran shrine while Zeb is ensuring the safety of a departing hunter while Zargon is searching for damsels to impregnate. In short, that ten minutes of three players talking at the game table may take their actual characters substantially longer in the campaign world.

The above approach should put pressure on the party to make decisions quickly without forcing a hard stop. The players still retain agency to continue refining their plans as long as desired, albeit with heightened tension that something may interrupt them before they're ready.

In any case, I'd like to go ahead and try this out for a night. We can always reevaluate if a similar situation arises in the future. Anyone have thoughts or concerns?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

#29: Home Sweet Home

Despite the turmoil of the last few nights, as we watch the keravela camp come to life in the morning we experience an almost surreal sense of calm.  The village awakens on a chill spring morning, and we gather around our bonfire to share our thoughts on the reading, on our current situation, and on our path for the future.

Now that my course no longer feels compelled by any reading from Kezia, we are presented with a rare choice among several paths, all worthy in one way or the other.  The keravela seem like they could certainly benefit from our aid, given the increased activity of the river creatures, but given our feelings regarding the reading, it doesn’t seem like the best fit.  Audric had expressed a desire at one point to choose a direction, likely south, and abandon the North and all its problems to pursue a new, unknown future.  That too, however, lacks appeal as we have developed relationships in Dagger’s Deep.

For now, it seems like Dagger’s Deep is the most reasonable course of action, and from there we can reassess our options.  Audric seems more serene than ever, having also been freed of the burden of the ring, and is looking forward to pursuing a new legacy.

Odesia and Laerch are content with our decision, especially as no love seems lost between Odesia and the keravela tribes.  Before we can plan any further, however, our camp is approached by Danior.  His manner is gruff and direct, as is his nature, and he asks where Kezia is, explaining that she was not in her tents this morning.  He sniffs the air, an animal gesture, and narrows his eyes, then stalks back to the village.

In a moment of quiet, Audric approaches and inquires about Danior.  Knowing that I have entertained thoughts of giving into the more savage parts of my nature, and also knowing my history with Carcerus, Audric has made assumptions about what kind of creature Danior might be and the appeal that might hold for me.

It is, admittedly, an appealing path and one that I have given more than a little thought to, but the winter at Dagger’s Deep did much to change my perspective, cemented by the recent conversation around the bonfire with Audric, Bonie and Selben.  Giving in to that temptation would almost certainly mean staying in the valley among the tribes longer and would jeopardize the relationships built with Selben and Bonie, and perhaps even my bond with Audric.  It is not a risk that I am willing to take.

Having to pass through the village by necessity to start along our return to Dagger’s Deep, we stumble into the old witch Masilda and Danior, who are sharing words in their native, unintelligible tongue.   “You must follow her,” Masilda commands in the common tongue, looking at us, though before we can react, she turns her head, redirecting the words to Danior.  The hairy man grunts impatiently and stalks off again.

Steadfast in our decision to head back towards Dagger’s Deep, we approach Masilda.  “We’ll keep an eye out for her on the north bank as we return downriver,” I tell her, as Danior disappears towards the bank.  Masilda’s face is unreadable, though before she can pass any judgment on our intention, he returns.

“One of the boats is gone,” he says to Masilda.  “You remember what happened last time.  She almost didn’t return.”  She makes no response, her face expressionless.

“She will return,” Masilda says quietly after a long period of silence, “but they will not.”  Those words, foreboding, are for us.  Having spoken our piece to Masilda and possessed of no meaningful words for anyone else in the keravela camp, we turn our backs on their plight and depart, planning for the journey ahead.

We spend the morning in travel along the south bank of the river, and a light rain sets in, punctuating the general sense of miserableness.  Miserableness with a purpose, but miserable nonetheless.  Odesia seems particularly discomforted, the strain of her late-term pregnancy combined with the rough trails is wearing on her.  Our going is slow.

Our intention is to bypass Odesia’s village, not wanting to force another confrontation with those who clearly have no desire to speak with her.  When Laerch expresses concern over keeping her safe and warm, I share a minor blessing to soothe her discomfort and provide some defense against the chill. 

Knowing that starting a fire will be difficult given the constant rain, Audric, Selben and I decide to make a quick patrol of the woods around the camp in hopes of finding some dry timber.  Though we don’t find a cave or anything that would provide shelter, Selben stumbles upon a small stockpile of dry wood, enough to start a small fire and build it into something more substantial.  The night passes uneventfully, and morning comes.

Odesia knows the land around her village well, and we plan to make a wide circuit around it to avoid any potential encounter.  She seems excited about the prospect of resting in the boat as opposed to walking, and we have a slight bounce to our step as we approach where we left the vessel in cover.

Audric recognizes the markings he made with his axe, and we find the brush patch that hides our overturned boat.  The sun climbing, we approach within 50 feet or so when Jakke begins to growl, fur standing up and teeth bared.  As I’m the best protection for Odesia, Audric and Bonie begin to approach the brush patch.  There are no evident signs of disturbance.  Audric whispers a prayer to Mystra to discern any magical presence and, finding none, steps forward to approach with Bonie providing cover.

Audric begins pulling the brush aside and hoists the boat up to turn it right.  Though heavy, Audric’s might proves sufficient, and it tips over with a heavy crash.  Underneath the boat is a corpse, and we recognize it as Vadoma, the keravela that met with Odesia our first night outside their village.  A dirk is buried in her chest.

Audric hails me and I approach, taking in the scene.  “Get the boat into the water,” I tell Audric and Bonie, then I return to Odesia, Laerch and Daegahr, sending Selben over to assist with the vessel.  To answer their confusion, I tell them, “Someone left us a message, we are not welcome here.  We need to go.  Now.”  They ask again, but I make it apparent that my words are an order, not a request, and that everyone’s safety is at stake.

They are obviously curious and concerned but follow my directions.  With some struggle, Selben, Bonie and Audric get the boat into the water, and I redirect Laerch, Odesia and Daegahr towards the water, hoping to avoid having Odesia spot Vadoma.  Everyone piles into the riverboat, and we put as much distance as we can between us and the village before telling Odesia what happened.

As expected, Odesia erupts into hysterics.  Laerch and Daegahr seem to respect my decision, knowing that it was for the best.  My hope is that we can row as well as benefit from the current, so that we may reach Dagger’s Deep as quickly as possible, to the extent that Daegahr thinks it safe.  Odesia spends the day quiet, in a state of shock.  Bonie does what she can to comfort her but to little effect, while we alternate manning the oars and watching the banks of the river for threats. 

We row into the darkness of night before finally seeing the fires of Dagger’s Deep, and we push forward with haste.  Calls acknowledge our approach and we run the boat onto the beach, Audric and Daegahr jumping out to pull the craft aground. 

A party approaches with torches lit, and our hearts sink for a moment as we fear it to be a group of Mirabarran guards led by Rale Cotchen, but it’s only a trick of the torchlight and instead Pol Rallinoth, the captain of Dagger’s Deep’s guard, appears and we are welcomed as friends.

We make immediate arrangements for Odesia’s care, a warm meal and comfortable tent, before seeing to our own needs.  Pol Rallinoth states that he has news but that it can wait until the morning, so I respond that we have stories of our own and that he might want to add an extra guard or two to the watch.

We rise late, having been completely exhausted from the previous day’s exertions.  Dagger’s Deep is already alive with activity, and it appears that not much has changed in the last week.  More than anything, though, I feel a sense of relief at being someplace that feels like home, as opposed to spending nights in the rough mud along the riverbank.

We share an abridged version of our tale, not wanting to divulge too many secrets without good reason, and I warn Pol Rallinoth, “If by some means a large, hairy, angry-looking man shows up looking for us, do not get in his way.” 

He informs us that Perhegan and Renwal have not yet returned, but that he expects their return soon.  He also shares that he has dire news, something that unfolded within the last two days.  One of their men, Naered, was found dead—pinned to a giant oak tree with iron spikes.  His description immediately calls forth memories of the body we found while patrolling outside Xantharl’s Keep of the future.  It sounds similar enough that it might not be coincidence.  Pol Rallinoth has never heard of such a grisly method of torture, but also knows that the Lurkwood is full of creatures—and men—capable of such violence.

A group was dispatched to investigate as far as the ogre’s cave, and they are expected back today.  I ask if we might be able to meet them halfway and speed their return, but Pol explains that the encounter would be unlikely, and that we’re better off adding to the town’s defense.  We assent, and he is thankful for the extra hands.

Asking after Odesia, Bonie explains that she is not doing well—more the betrayal of her family and village, the murder of her friend more than any physical wounds or discomfort, which is completely understandable.  The shock and grief over the death of Vadoma combined with superstition and the physical toll of the journey is a powerful combination.  I ask Laerch of his plans, and if there is anything that we can do—he doesn’t think it’s safe to move her, so it seems as if they may be spending at least a few days in Dagger’s Deep.  I settle his concerns, making sure he understands that they can stay indefinitely, and that I will cover any expense.

We spend the day busying ourselves around the keep, and as the sun sets and light wanes, a call goes up heralding the return of four men from their excursion into the Lurkwood.  We hang about waiting for news, and our eavesdropping reveals that they took a wide patrol, wider than those used by the hunters, to return to the ogre cave.  They did not find ogres, but they did discover a gathering of savage men bearing crude weapons and axes, covered in gruesome scars and tattered hides. 

Barbarians are not uncommon, but what struck the men was that the barbarians were seemingly being led by a man wearing a black robe, with thick, graying beard, who spoke with a booming voice in a foreign tongue.  The man wielded an extremely large hooked maul.

Imaginations run wild
“How many?” I ask.  Though the men didn’t linger and risk discovery, they report at least a dozen, perhaps as many as twenty.  No women or children were among them, at least none that could be seen.  Having spent many winters among the beast cults in Icewind Dale, my heart begins to race, an excitement or bloodlust that I haven’t felt for some time, along with a new sense of purpose.  Such a large band of barbarians is a major threat to a settlement like Dagger’s Deep, a threat to my friends—a threat that must be dealt with. 

As I imagine myself cutting down the barbarian leader, I’m reminded of Korvich, and of the taste of the man’s blood as it sprayed my face while I cut out his tongue.  Savagery must be met with savagery, and I being to ready myself mentally for the coming Hunt.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

XP awards for sessions 24-28

At this point we've gone five sessions without XP, and the most recent comments position the group such that the keravela camp can be considered a safe haven for the time being. As such, here's what the party has attained since the mine at Xantharl's Keep:

  • Chasing off the wyvern near Minstrel's Glade - 700
  • Felling three ogres in the northern Lurkwood - 810
  • Spoils from the ogre cave (potions, gems, and coins) - 1,000
  • Story award for diffusing the situation with Captain Rale at Dagger's Deep (Audric and Zeb only) - 1,000
  • Defeating the fish creatures along the riverbank - 2,000
  • Succeeding Kezia's tarokka test (second try) - 1,000
  • Story award for protecting the lives of Odesia, Laerch, and Daegahr on the journey upriver - 5,000
Having a larger party is an adjustment in many ways, and also affects experience shares. The above 10,010 points are divided four ways, with one share each awarded to Audric, Zeb, and Zargon, and a half-share each to Bonie and Selben. Audric and Zeb also receive 500 XP each for the session that Zargon missed (and during which the NPCs were largely irrelevant). After all bonuses and additions, the party totals stand as follows.
  • Audric - 10,403
  • Zeb - 3,000/32,698
  • Zargon - 7,503 
  • Selben (h) - 6,851
No new levels are gained, so no consideration needs to be given to training at this time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#28: The Prophecy

Alerted by the snap of a branch in the otherwise still night, Zeb is torn how and even if to react.  Running off on his own leaves the already-wounded group nearly completely unprotected, but not investigating at all could mean inviting something dangerous to attack the camp.  There’s also the chance that the sounds of our pitched battle with the river creatures have alerted the barbarians rumored to live in the woods south of the River Mirar…or perhaps even the keravela, in which case having them meet us at the camp with Odesia present could be better than encountering Zeb alone in the woods.

Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, we decide to keep the camp together, and Selben, Zargon, the semi-conscious Audric and I do our best to watch the woods around us, trusting on Lume’s keen ears, my meager magical protections, and more than a little luck to see us through the night. 

Fortune is indeed on our side: the snapping branch proves to be nothing threatening and before long, the sun casts its light over the horizon and those of us that are able to awaken from a poor, restless night.  I steal a few precious hours of extra rest to prepare myself for the travails of the day, and once my prayers to the Beastlord are complete, I distribute what healing I can, starting with Bonie then moving on to Laerch and Daegahr.  I spend some time explaining the events of the previous night after they fell in combat, and once done ask Odesia if we’re within the range of the keravela tribes.  She explains that she hasn’t seen any immediate signs, and that based on our progress, she estimates another half day or more before we reach her people’s lands.

We decide to stay where we are, not wanting to stray too far from the river and leave our boat unattended, and wanting to give everyone the best chances at the quickest recovery.  That decided, we set about making the camp as defensible as possible.  With Audric recuperated somewhat, he decides to push the corpses of the creatures into the river, but not before I harvest claws, teeth and spines to craft fetishes for Selben and Zargon to commemorate their bravery in the fight.  Our preparations take us deep into the day and uneventfully into the night.

Watches are set and I double the amount of magical precautions I can bring to bear on the camp; combined with the stakes and a large fire, we hope that is enough to get us through the night.  The shrill cry of my magical alarms is the first notification of trouble, however, and one of my illusory wyverns strikes at something in the dark.  Knowing that Zargon is keeping at the bank, we hold our breath and wait for his news.

Zargon witnesses one of the river creatures emerge, this one wielding a large spear or harpoon, and watches as it is paralyzed by the mystical wyvern.  Zargon rushes forward and runs it through quickly, his blade sliding easily into the creature’s scaly skin as he eviscerates it.  He returns to camp shortly thereafter to bring word, and we’re forced to decide—defend the camp, or defend the boat.

Unwilling to leave everything to chance, I layer what magical protections I can and head towards the bank alone to investigate.  By virtue of my ability to detect hidden foes, I recognize the threat of multiple creatures lurking beneath the water, at least three of them.  They seem to be pacing, perhaps investigating for themselves the slaughter of the previous night.  More long minutes pass with no change before my magical detections fail, and then suddenly I’m left in the dark both magically and visually.

I quickly creep back to camp and apprise them of the situation.  It does little to relieve the tension, and I return to my observation point to keep watch as best I can.  Time passes, minutes and then hours, and I’m eventually greeted by the dawn.  Exhausted, I return to camp to discuss plans.

Audric distributes some magical healing, a welcome gift from Mystra, and we decide to press on.  Laerch and Daegahr are in poor condition but can manage the effort, especially when split between the rest of us.  Fortunately, we are not harassed as we board the boat, but instead face the prospect of a rough trip upstream.  Our progress is slow, and we’re forced to rotate often as strength lapses, but though it’s a slog we make some progress.

Later into the afternoon, we see several plumes of smoke ahead on the south shore, some ways inland—the first signs of any habitation since Dagger’s Deep.  Odesia believes this to be the keravela.  We decide to keep rowing, and as we get closer, we see the forms of a man and a boy fishing in the river.  They’re not outfitted as barbarians, but instead wear some distinctive keravela garb.  One of them points to us and they run from the shore towards the plumes, so we dock at the beach and wait to see what happens.

Minutes pass, and Odesia’s discomfort is apparent.  Whether it’s due to her pregnancy, Laerch’s wounds, or the stress of engaging her tribe after being estranged for so long, we’re not sure.  After a while, a small party arrives from over the hill, a few men and women, seemingly led by a woman with a yellow sash and red belt tied around her waist.  Her style of dress is very similar to that of Odesia.

Odesia breaks from the group and approaches the group.  The group of keravela departs without any word, heading back towards the plumes of smoke and Odesia explains that we weren’t turned away, but that we weren’t necessarily welcomed either.  This was expected, she says, part of the rite of fuge.  With few other options, we climb the ridge towards the village.

We see bonfires and nomadic tents littering the ridge, and more keravela with darker skin and darker hair than the normal stock of people from the north.  We take Odesia’s lead in our approach, skirting the perimeter of the village before entering.  The tension between us and the camp is palpable, with many glares cast our way or hands that drift towards knives or spears as we pass.  We approach a group of keravela that locks eyes with Odesia, seemingly in recognition, but the keravela then cast down their eyes, rebuking her.  Odesia explains that we should make a camp and has hope that perhaps they will engage us on their own terms.

As the afternoon dwindles, no such outreach is offered, and we find ourselves without a plan as night approaches.  We decide to rest up for the evening, keeping normal watches.  Perhaps they will regard this as sharing the responsibility of the camp and buy us an audience.  During the middle watch, shared by Zargon, Bonie and Selben, a human woman approaches us from the darkness.  She has distinctive keravela features, and as she draws near, she whispers for Odesia.  She’s young, perhaps the same age as Odesia, who meets the woman ere they embrace briefly, and they begin sharing words in an unknown language.  Selben attempts to magically comprehend their conversation, but the gestures spook the keravela woman, and it is several moments before they continue.

It seems as if Odesia is explaining the ordeal with the river folk, referring to them as mare ilciferium, devils of the water, and the name Kezia is overheard as part of the conversation.  Once their exchange is over, the woman returns to the village and, when questioned by Zargon, Odesia explains that we shouldn’t disturb the village at night, and that remaining silent is the best course of action.

Dawn breaks, and the village returns to the state we found the previous day, with keravela bustling about daily tasks.  Odesia gathers us and explains that a friend, Vadoma, took great personal risk to speak with her, even when her own family would not, and explains that the creatures that attacked us are known to the camp.  The village hasn’t been attacked, but the population of these creatures makes the land and river less safe than it once was.  She explained our purpose to the woman, and while she didn’t know, she would try to discover if Kezia exists and return to us with news.  She also warns Selben against using magic in plain sight, that it may incite fear and won’t help our cause.  She explains that we are exteri, outsiders, and as such are not welcome.

By virtue of Audric and my own healing, our group is brought back nearly to full strength—a good thing, as a confrontation with the keravela seems to be brewing.  We witness a few tense gatherings of villagers and fear that our presence may not be tolerated much longer.  Fortunately, Vadoma arrives, though the conversation they share is much shorter, with a much higher level of anxiety.  We get the idea that Vadoma’s outreach to us has put her and us in danger.  Odesia wants us to break camp and leave the next morning, explaining that Vadoma gave the name of a woman, Masilda, a vidensi, a seer.  She lives among another keravela tribe that doesn’t associate with Odesia—this tribe is seemingly feared by Odesia’s own tribe.

The way to the new tribe’s camp is impossible upriver and would require travel overland.  We decide to leave the boat in the brush downriver a mile from Odesia’s village and make the trip, having no more to gain here.  A light rain starts after we obfuscate the boat, and we give the village a wide berth as we navigate the wood to avoid their hunters.  The terrain becomes rocky and hilly, difficult to traverse, and evening begins to set in.  We decide to camp for the night, not wanting to encounter guards, and we split up watches.

During my watch with Bonie, we hear the howling of wolves in the distance.  It reminds me eerily of my time in Carrock, perhaps magnified by our physical proximity to that location.  The night passes into Audric & Zargon’s watch, during which three figures appear several yards away—two walk on all fours, perhaps wolves, though the third is bipedal, perhaps a man.  The presumed wolves appear to converge on the third figure, perhaps attacking it and pulling it to the ground, but both Audric and Zargon agree not to pursue in the dark.

When morning arrives, Audric and I travel to the hill to investigate, but find no sign of a struggle.  We do see, however, plumes of smoke in the distance, hopefully heralding the presence of Masilda’s camp.  We reconvene with the others and begin our travel for the day.  Odesia tells us that she has no experience with this tribe and knows nothing about them, though she should share enough of a language with them to be able to communicate.

Before long, we descend into a valley and see similar tents and bonfires, as well as people in similar garb.  Odesia defers to our judgment; we defer to Zargon’s strategy in our approach, and he intends to engage them in a bardic capacity.  This time, we stroll directly into the camp, and while we see some wariness towards outsiders, it’s not nearly as bad as what we encountered at Odesia’s village.

A man starts walking toward our group—fairly large in stature, perhaps a warrior, with long, dark hair.  He has a single, bushy eyebrow, and a hairy chest.  Zargon begins to explain our purpose in the village and I push him out of the way, announcing in a challenge “We’re here to see Masilda.”  He gives a mischievous grin and turns around, bidding us to follow.  Beyond, perhaps 50 paces away, we see the clearly recognizable figure of Kezia—she locks eyes with us, then scurries away, out of sight.  After a few minutes, we’re led to the center of the tent village, and brought before a venerable tribeswoman—Masilda.  “Thank you,” she says to the warrior, and she dismisses him.

“Are you a vidensi, a seer?” I ask her, starting the conversation.  She replies, “Who wants to know?”

“Zeb,” I reply, “and if you are indeed vidensi, then you know that you’re not who I am here to see.”

Exteri,” is her vehement reply, though the meaning is clearly different that simply “outsider.”  We sense that she means “otherworldly.”

I slap my crude tarokka onto the ground in front of her and tell her that she has no idea just how exteri we are.  She smiles wryly in reply and speaks.  “We will help you, but not now—tonight.  Leave and return at dusk,” she orders.  “Come to this spot.”

“Will she be there?” I ask her cryptically.

“Yes,” is her reply, and I turn to leave, satisfied.

We camp outside the village per her demand, and when sundown arrives, we return to the center of the tents.  This time, nearby, there is raging a large bonfire, as well as a constructed platform, a stage.  Atop it is a small wooden table.  Masilda is outside, waiting for us to gather, the large hairy warrior to her side.  She beckons our group to approach.

We comply, and as we draw near, we see all the people in the village begin to file out of their tents, surrounding the platform in a wide circle.  We can’t help but feel claustrophobic, and from within the ranks of the tribe emerges Kezia.  Masilda begins speaking in her tribal tongue, and Odesia explains that Kezia is Masilda’s daughter and that this will be her first reading—a rite, perhaps a coming of age ritual.

Zargon, Audric, Bonie, Selben and I are ushered onto the platform with Kezia, and the crowd of tribesmen and women press tighter.  Kezia begins to speak, her voice low and accompanied by a supernatural sense of privacy, as if what she’s saying is only for us.  There are the markings of healed scars on her face, and we remember that the Kezia we met in Shadfeld had similar wounds, though they were fresh at the time.

“I met you once, in the ruins of the village.  I was somewhere I should not have been.  I was attacked.  Who are you?  In response, I lay out the Missionary and the Abjurer.

“You have traveled far,” she says gravely.

“You have no idea,” is Audric’s reply.

She puts her hands over the cards on the table and her eyes go black.  The bonfire rages supernaturally and she swipes the cards from the table, shouting, “Exteri!”

Her face grows darker still. “I can help you, but first you must be tested.”  She reveals from under her robe the actual deck of tarokka cards.

“Last time we were tested, we nearly broke the world,” I tell her, “so tread carefully with those.”

“Each of you, claim the card that represents the darkness in your own reflection, the darkness that you would deny.”  She lays over the first card, The Broken One.  Audric reaches for the card, but Selben snatches it violently, keeping it for his own.

She turns over a second card, The Philanthropist.  No one reaches for it immediately, but Zargon finally claims it.  The third card revealed is The Hangman and recalling the events in the barn in Longsaddle with the thief, I take it.

The fourth card—The Ghost, is nearly instantly seized by Audric.  Perhaps he sees some connection I am unable to discern, but before we can discuss it, the fifth and final card is revealed, The Temptress.  Bonie reaches out a hand slowly and takes it.  I give her a grave look, trying to be reassuring.

Kezia announces, seemingly disappointed in our decisions, “Try again.”  Bonie and Selben both seem firm in their decisions, so I take The Philanthropist card, recalling my charity with the fisherman in the valley before our first visit to Longsaddle, but am later convinced by Zargon that The Ghost could be me, a ghost to my former sect, outcast over differences in faith.  After more consideration, however, I reclaim The Philanthropist—despite the violence of my time as an active priest of the Malaran faith, I have found myself more and more drawn to help others.  The Hangman is given to Audric, recalling his strangling of the thief in Longsaddle, and The Ghost is given to Zargon—in our time, one hundred years in the future, the bard would indeed be a specter.

“There is one card yet to be revealed. If this card should come to pass, beware! for it will bind you here forever.  Will you see it?”  This warning and question, however, is meant for Bonie and no other, who nods that she would see the card revealed.  The Innocent.  I’m unable to react, the implication of the card clear in my mind immediately, even if to me alone.  Bonie pales, her face devoid of emotion.

A long silence passes before Kezia finally speaks.  She looks at each of us in turn, and her eyes go black again.  “You have the blessing of our people and are free to remain among us.” 

The crowd cries out in a welcoming cheer which surprises us all, but before we can regain our composure Kezia convulses, and her eyes blacken once again.  Her voice is frantic, and from Kezia breathes forth a prophecy:

“The queen is unborn, but the king will rise!
The anarchist, unfree, seeks his throne
The runes of three must be unmade,
ere the labyrinth’s door will forever seal.”

We are instantly reminded of the runes in Oldkeep and Moonglow Cave.

Danior, the large hairy man, approaches the stage to escort us off, stating that we are free to remain in the village.  He says he’ll find us a place to camp.  On the way, I take my deck of crudely-carved tarokka and throw it into the bonfire.