Tuesday, December 31, 2013

RL #12: Invisible Assailant

The party delved into the forest while the sun was still low, following the walking paths established by Morningsong's woodsmen, and numbering twelve: the four PCs, Dowding, Kleigha, four additional men-at-arms, and two hunters. After stopping at a small campsite for their midday meal, the company came upon a stream, where a weathered cowl adorned with a lion's head brooch was found in the shallow rocks. Splitting themselves six-and-six to investigate further, the upstream group located the corpse of a woodsman, bearing a single piercing wound between his neck and shoulder. A few erratic bootprints and a lone claw-like track were spotted in the mud nearby.

The downstream group returned with no similar discovery, only a wounded militia man after an altercation with one of his allies related to the logistics of their search. Dowding seemed not overly concerned; undaunted, the company continued on as the sun set, hoping to reach the next outpost before nightfall.

As they marched along the darkening, forest trail by torchlight, the altercation from the stream again rekindled, this time resulting in both weapons and blood drawn. The other men-at-arms were ordered to bind the aggressors with rope, but as they did, more skirmishes erupted amid the contingent until a full-on melee ensued. Attempting to think quickly, Alaric used to detect evil while Aginot cast enthrall.

By the time the men from Morningsong were clinging to the priest's every word, Leilana had turned against the captain and Alaric was striking off after a presence he located in the trees - and according to the paladin, the ghostly, mounted rider presumed to be Lord Hanwey could be seen in the distance, beckoning him on. Nora and Dowding followed Alaric on faith, not seeing the "apparition" for themselves but sensing that something was amiss.

As they searched the grounds, Dowding was attacked by an invisible assailant who leaped upon his back and stabbed (something) into his neck. The PCs struggled to fight off the attacker, and though they eventually caused it to flee by way of sword and spell and the militia men were saved, Dowding succumbed to poison in his wound and perished.


All through the night and for the better part of the next day the party trudged back along the trail until they returned to the village, both their condition, and news, grim.

DM's Commentary

I hope this was a fun one to play, because it was frustrating as hell to run. The players' rolls were beyond awful, and every 50-50 decision felt like the wrong one. Kudos to Aginot for the enthrall spell, an effort that single-handedly saved the majority of the woodsmen. That really was the highlight, as every other course taken seemed to end in disaster.

Not how I expected the session to end, but that should make things all the more interesting for next time. The party definitely has a lot to think about. All for now.

Monday, December 2, 2013

RL #11: A New Ally

The group picked up last night (all in person, this time!) in Morningsong, eager to learn more of the village and its happenings - and the deeper the party delved, the more certain they became that something dark and sinister was shrouded in the past. Aginot, particularly, felt drawn to a sense of duty that the supposed "ghost" of Lord Hanwey needed the PCs' aid to somehow reconcile the events that led up to his demise in the famed battle against the orcs.

As the party plodded about the village and conversed with Dowding and Lady Silva, they met two new personalities of note: Nora, an unbranded, runaway thief from the town of Morfenzi whose history with the Talons was all-too-similar to their own, and a retired man-at-arms named Kleigha who spoke his remembrances of Lord Hanwey and his daughters inside the pub. Nora had arrived in Morningsong only two days prior, and circumstances warranted that she join the party as their ally straightaway.

After uncovering little in their first full day in the village (aside from a local rumor that Lady Silva's mute servant was actually her younger brother and only living relative), the companions took their sleep willingly. During the night, Aginot woke in a haze and spotted the mute, Azrael, peering into his first-story window. A second later, he was gone.

The next morning, the PCs plotted to tuck a slip of parchment bearing a message on Azrael in the village square, though the attempt failed. Afterward, as Dowding assisted a feign-swooning Aginot back to the Lion's Head tavern, Nora and Leilana trailed Lady Silva back to her cottage, then followed Azrael around back when the governess and her escort stepped inside. The mute approached a lonely well and delved briefly into the surrounding trees before Leilana revealed herself and drew near. The mute shook his head when asked if he could read, eyed the druid with suspicion and retreated from her advance. In the end, Nora and Leilana returned to the tavern to reconvene with their friends.

Aginot yet hoped that Azrael would return to meet them, but his augury yielded only more uncertainty:

You meddle in things that you do not fully understand.

The message was interpreted as neither weal nor woe (or at least, unable to be determined), and after the mute failed to arrive, the party again took refuge for the eve, this time with Nora hidden in the shadows outside. Around midnight, Azrael wandered into the village square toting a wooden bucket and drawing water from the communal well. Nora trailed the mute at a distance but departed after he (predictably) entered Lady Silva's cottage. How strange, Leilana pondered the next morning, that the servant would make the effort to visit the common well during the dead of night, when a seemingly adequate one was located just outside his own cottage?

The session ended as the party prepared to depart the village with Dowding and his contingent, unsettled as they were that so many questions remained unanswered...

DM's Commentary

This was a relatively quick session run on little preparation, and considering that, it went well. Most importantly, we welcomed a new player (new to our game and to D&D in general) into the party. Hopefully Kristen had a good time and came away with a good (and positive) feel for how the game works. Her PC, Nora, was rolled up only about an hour before we played, and even so meshed seamlessly with the rest of the characters.

As last time, no XP to award right now. Jason, would you mind posting the contents of the message that Aginot intended for Azrael, when you can? Anyone who has questions/clarifications or any other thoughts to add about the session can feel free to post them in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

RL #10: Morningsong

"I'm confused."

That seems to be a recurring theme in this campaign. But that's kind of what Ravenloft is all about, so I try to play it up as best I can. ;)

Tonight marked the tenth session in our game, which is now just over a year old. We started off with the PCs exiting Chatain on horseback en route to Stangengrad; over the vast, green countryside they rode, descending a low valley on the second day of their journey as the road wound northwest, deeper into Falkovnia. That night, as they prepared to camp, they heard the distant clangor of what sounded like a veritable army mid-march within the valley.

The noise grew louder, and soon the PCs shuffled off their hillside to avoid whatever was making its approach. But no matter where they moved, the racket only became more thunderous and frightful, booming in the companions' ears as they found themselves fleeing in a dead run. When finally Aginot tumbled over a jutted root, the commotion suddenly stopped.

The PCs had wandered far off of the road, and at a distance, Alaric spotted a mounted rider wearing a great helm and braided beard, and carrying a shield emblazoned with a lion's-head crest. Again and again the figure slipped away into the foliage and then reappeared again, always barely out of reach, as the companions diligently followed it, eventually discovering a hidden trail that led further into the forest.

They took to the trail by the moonlight, losing sight of the rider but arriving at the edge of a small village, nestled secretly within the surrounding groves. Warily, they entered a lamp-lit tavern bearing the same lion's-head insignia on a banner outside. Inside, the patrons and proprietor met the PCs with suspicion, and particularly so when Alaric told tale of the horseman, whose description elicited the name "Lord Hanwey." One tavern-goer dashed out to fetch Jorah, the local cleric, and after a sultry greeting, arrangements were made for the party to take refuge for the night at the pub.

The village, Morningsong, was home to only a hundred or so villagers - that number made fewer in recent weeks when a handful of able-bodied hunters inexplicably failed to return from the forest. The next morning, the PCs met Dowding, the militia captain, and Lady Silva, the town governess, who rode on horseback, accompanied by a non-mounted escort of two casually-outfitted men-at-arms and a lowly-looking servant who appeared to suffer from mental illness. Through exploration and questioning, the party learned a bit of history behind the town's modest chapel, whose signpost out front bore the following scripture:

"Let this chapel stand for eternity
As a reminder of the consequences of sin."
As explained by Dowding, some twenty-five years prior, two fair sisters fell in love with a brooding, young soldier from a faraway land. The younger girl, Ellidora, was to be married to the the gallant, but out of jealousy-turned-hatred, the elder sister, Angelina, slew Ellidora, slitting her sister's throat on the steps of the chapel where she was to be wed. Three days later, Angelina was stoned in the chapel courtyard by the light of the full moon. As she was bound to the totem, she vehemently denied wrongdoing and accused Ellidora of being a witch, possessed by evil.

In the wake of the sisters' deaths, the young gallant rode off into heavy mists one cold autumn morning and was never heard from again. A month after ordering the execution of his eldest daughter, Lord Hanwey, the town's governor, was slain by orcs in a great battle to protect the village (which the militia ultimately won).

We ended with the PCs pledging their aid to Lady Silva as village sought to learn the fate of its missing woodsmen.

DM's Commentary

No XP to award at this time. Players can feel free to use this thread (or just email) to ask questions or carry out menial dealings and conversations in the village. Not much else to add other than I thought this was a really good session, with fantastic atmosphere throughout.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Death & Dying

A couple more sections from OSRIC, important enough to quote directly:

Damage and Death 
When a character or creature is hit, the amount of damage is deducted from his or her hit points. When hit points reach 0, the character is unconscious and will continue to lose one hit point per round from blood loss until death occurs at –10 hp. Note that any additional damage suffered by an unconscious character (aside from bleeding) will kill him or her instantly. The blood loss of 1 hit point per round may be stopped immediately in the same round that aid of some kind is administered to the wounded character. Being knocked unconscious is quite serious; even after returning to 1 or more hp (by means of a healing spell, potion, or natural rest) the character will remain in a coma for 1-6 turns and must rest for a minimum of one week before he or she will be capable of resuming any sort of strenuous activity, mental or physical. If a character is reduced to –6 hit points or below, the scars of the wound will likely be borne for the rest of the character’s life. 
Characters who are slain may be raised from the dead if a cleric of sufficient level is available to perform the casting (exception: elves do not have souls, and are unaffected by the spells raise dead or resurrection).  If no such character is available in the party, as will be the case for most low-level parties, the group may choose to approach a NPC High Priest for assistance in raising a dead character. The NPC will always charge a fee for such a casting, typically at least 1,000 gp.

Natural Healing 
A character will recover 1 hit point per day of uninterrupted rest. However, if the character has a constitution penalty to hp, before rest will begin to affect the character’s hp the character must rest for a number of days equal to the constitution penalty. A character with high constitution gains a commensurate benefit after resting for one week; the number of hp regained during the second week will be increased by the amount of the character’s hp bonus at the start of the week. Four weeks of rest will return any character to full hp regardless of how many hp the character has lost.

Combat in 1e/OSRIC

This post is a reference for how I currently run combat. AD&D/OSRIC leaves a decent amount of room for interpretation when it comes to intricacies, and that's by design. I try to stick to "by the book" rulings as much as possible, but I know my personal style for running combat changes and evolves over time. I started putting this together after the last time we played, but I'm posting it now to help prepare for this week's game.

It's important to note that a lot of this tends to go out the window mid-session, especially when trying to keep everything exciting and fluid. That said, it's never bad to have a quick reference to defer to when needed.

(Much of the below is sourced from OSRIC. Anything that's not is generally my own.)


Combat Basics

  • A combat round is one minute. A "segment" is six seconds. There are ten segments in a round.

  • At the start of combat, each side with a chance to be surprised (i.e., unaware of the opposing party) rolls a d6.
    • 1 = surprised for 1 segment
    • 2 = surprised for 2 segments
    • 3-6 = not surprised
    • A character with high Dexterity (16+) gets a "Surprise Bonus" which negates that many surprise segments for that character only.

  • If there are any segments where one side is surprised but the other is not, the unsurprised party may act during those segments. This includes:
    • Movement (limited to the character's movement rate / the number of surprise segments)
    • Making a melee attack
    • Making a charge attack (limited to the character's movement rate / the number of surprise segments * 2)
    • Making a single missile attack (i.e., a single arrow, etc.) if in range
    • Attempting to turn undead
    • Casting a spell (only if the spell's casting time is equal to or less than the number of surprise segments)

  • Once surprise segments are handled, each PC declares actions for the first round, then each side rolls d6 for initiative. The result is the segment on which the opposing side may act (therefore higher is better).

  • Each character's action occurs on his or her party's initiative segment (i.e. the opposing party's die result).
    • Melee attacks occur on the initiative segment.
    • Missile attacks normally occur on the initiative segment, however characters with a "Missile Bonus to Hit" (Dex 16+) apply this bonus to their initiative count in addition to their attack rolls.
    • A charge begins on the initiative segment, but consumes enough segments to cover the full charge distance (at 2x normal speed) before the actual attack occurs.
    • Spellcasting begins on a character's initiative segment and consumes a number of segments equal to the spell's casting time (during which time the spell can be disrupted and foiled).
    • Movement is otherwise considered to be ongoing and fluid throughout the round. Determining a character's exact location on a specific segment is left to the DM's discretion.

  • After all sides have acted, if the combat is still ongoing, a new round is started with new initiative rolls by each side.

Combat Actions

Attacking into Melee: If an attacker has multiple adjacent opponents, the target is determined randomly. The same applies when attacking at range against "engaged" opponents (in these cases, the attacker can elect to take a -4 penalty to hit in order to try to hit a specific target).

Charge: A charging character gains +2 to hit, but if the defender's weapon is longer than the attacker's, the defender can attack first. A character can only "charge" once/10 rounds.

Fleeing: Fleeing characters immediately draw an additional attack from adjacent opponents at +4 to hit.

Parrying: A character who parries cannot attack, but may subtract his or her "to hit" bonus from his or her opponent's attack roll.

Invisible Opponent: An invisible opponent can only be attacked if the general location is known, and the attack is at –4 to hit.

Prone Opponent: Attacks against a prone opponent negate the benefit of a shield, negate dexterity bonuses, and are made at +4 to hit.

Concealment: Concealment is anything that obscures an opponent’s vision, such as tree limbs or smoke, but does not physically block incoming attacks. The GM must decide whether the defender is about a quarter (-1 to AC), half (-2 to AC), three-quarters (-3 to AC), or nine-tenths (-4 to AC) concealed.

Cover: Cover is protection behind something that can actually block incoming attacks, such as a wall or arrow slit. Cover bonuses are as follows:
  • 25% cover: -2 AC
  • 50% cover: -4 AC
  • 75% cover: -7 AC
  • 90% cover -10 AC

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Alaric's Backstory

Early Life
    Alaric was orphaned as a baby.  As a baby he was left on the altar of the church in Chatain.  The priest looked for many weeks for the mother and father, but neither was ever found.  Due to this the priest raised Alaric with the help of everyone in the village.  Everyone in the town treated Alaric kindly.  All during his childhood, Alaric was instilled with church doctrine.  He developed a strong moral compass at a very early age.  This caused trouble with the other children, as he was inclined to tell the truth about their "antics".  Due to this he spent much time alone in the church reading the scrolls in the church's modest library.  He also spent a lot of time in prayer because he was taught to pray when he was troubled.

The Sword
    At the age of 10, Alaric came across a sword in a forgotten room in the church.  He took it even though it was rusty, and was so dull.  He took the sword to Chatain's blacksmith who helped him remove the rust and sharpen it.  The blacksmith taught Alaric how to care for the sword, and the basics of using it.  It was not longer after this that the priest discovered the sword and confronted Alaric about it.  He made it clear to Alaric that he did not like that Alaric had a sword and pleaded with him to get rid of it.  However, Alaric was fascinated with the stories of great heroes that he had read about.  The priest relented and let him keep it.  Alaric spent many hours outside practicing with his sword, and began wearing it all the time.  At first he did not know what he was doing.  However, he found a couple of people around town that taught him what they knew of swordplay.  He soaked this up and practiced whenever he had the chance.  Occasionally, visitors came to the town, and Alaric was able to convince them to help him with his swordplay.  After six years of this, he was quite proficient with the long sword.

The Incident
    When Alaric was 15 something starting harassing Chatain's outer farms.  At first it was just a sheep here and a cow there, but the attacks became more frequent.  It was discovered that this was the work of a band of brigands living in the woods outside Chatain.  Alaric took it upon himself to end the raids.  One day, Alaric strode out in the direction that the brigand camp was located.  He confronted the brigands and commanded them to leave.  The brigands' answered him by drawing their swords and coming at Alaric.  Alaric was able to hold off all three for awhile.  During this dual Alaric continued to demand that the brigands throw down their swords and turn themselves in.  The brigands never complied with this.  During the fight, Alaric was getting tired and had been cut a few times.  During all of this, Alaric was fighting very defensively, and had yet to bloody any of the brigands.  Alaric soon realized that he was going to have to kill the brigands or be killed by them.  Alaric then caught the brigands off guard by going into an all out offensive.  After the many years of practice with the sword, Alaric was able to dispatch the brigands, but not without taking wounds himself.  He then gathered up everything of value in the camp along with the bodies and made his way back to Chatain.  He went first to the church where he implored to priest to give the brigands burial rites, and to help bury them.  The priest agreed, but said this had to wait for the next day.  When asked about what Alaric planned to due with the camp findings, Alaric replied that he would split it amongst the affected citizens.  After distributing the findings and returning to the church, the full weight of what Alaric had done hit him.  He stayed awake all night playing for forgiveness for killing three men.  For many weeks Alaric was distraught by the events, and refused to touch his sword.  He spent many hours discussing what happened with the priest, and the priest was able to convince Alaric, that there was no other solution.  He explained that by Alaric confronting the brigand, he set in motion events that would end up with one of them dead.  Alaric was slowly convinced that it was better for him a devout, and good man, to have survived than the lawless brigand.  Once he had come to terms with that, he reread the stories of great heroes, and only now realized that they had killed men as well.  They did not seem to have problems with doing this, but only ever killed when it was necessary.  Alaric realized that he had done the same thing and began to think of himself as a Servant of the Light.  When he mentioned this to the priest, the priest smiled, and agreed.  He said that Alaric was right, but to be careful of who he mentioned that to.  Alaric began to feel much better.  However, he vowed to never kill a man again unless there was no other option available.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Insta-kill Rulings

As this stuff seems to come up again and again in our games, here are some official rulings on "coup de gras" attacks in conjunction with various spell effects. In general, I'm deferring to OSRIC where the intent is clear, and trying to use fair judgment otherwise:

Hold Person

The OSRIC spell description says this:

Persons held by this spell may be killed or bound at a rate of one per round, or, if the attacker chooses, may be attacked at twice the normal rate with an automatic hit, for maximum damage.
From all I can gather, hold person completely immobilizes the opponent. They have no ability to react whatsoever, therefore automatic kills are allowed. In fact, I think it's probably correct to rule that held individuals aren't even able to speak.

Entangle

Sourcing OSRIC again:
[If] the saving throw fails, the creature is so securely held in the plants that it cannot move, attack, or cast spells for the duration of the spell.
This is a little more gray, however I don't interpret this as the degree of helplessness indicated by hold person. First off, the individual is only "held" as securely as the foliage can wrap them (as opposed to being outright frozen in place). Secondly, it's reasonable to think that the entangling plants themselves may obstruct the target area for an insta-kill attempt (like the throat). Third, anyone engaging in melee with an entangled foe obviously needs to make a conscious attempt to not succumb to the entanglement themselves.

I think a fair ruling on this spell is that magically entangled opponents are considered prone:
Prone Opponent: Attacks against a prone opponent negate the benefit of a shield, negate dexterity bonuses, and are made at +4 to hit.
Lastly, I was able to dig up a decent thread on this subject on Dragonsfoot. The responses are a little varied, but there's a pretty solid consensus that being entangled is not as severe as hold person with regards to mobility.

Sleep and Command

I'm grouping these two together since relevant command words for the command spell generally result in the same sort of effect as sleep. Again, OSRIC spells this out pretty clearly:
Magically sleeping creatures may be killed or tied up at a rate of one per round by a single person, or can be attacked at twice the normal rate with an automatic hit for maximum damage, if the attacker chooses not to kill or bind them.
This is effectively the same as hold person. So, when casting command, words like "die," "hold," and "sleep" all result in the same degree of vulnerability - the main difference is whether or not the opponent falls to the ground first.

One last thing: it's also important to note that magical sleep and natural sleep are not the same. The OSRIC entry for natural sleep is:
Sleeping Opponent: Sleeping opponents (natural sleep, not magical sleep) may be attacked with the same chance to kill as if the attacker were an assassin. The effect of magical sleep is described under the entry for the sleep spell.
All for now.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

RL #9: A Debt Repaid

Sometimes, under the threat of utmost peril, even the most downtrodden and oppressed can rise up to defend that which is worth defending. And so it was that, as Leilana rode the Talon captain's plundered steed back to the edge of Chatain, a party of six able-bodied villagers strode boldly out to meet her and travel at her side: Karsten the innkeeper; Merena the warrioress; the boy Elias and his uncle; Alpin the loremaster; and an armored militia fighter. Together, torches blazing, they made their way into the night.

After a several-hour march, a campfire was sighted in the distance, and the company from Chatain extinguished its light sources. The party knew that the Talons had been slowed, both from having lost two horses in the village and from the burden of prisoners among their ranks.

Making use of her infravision, Leilana circled around the camp whilst the remaining would-be rescuers fanned out to either side. At Leilana's call, the allies began clashing their weapons, causing steel-on-steel to ring across the glade and alerting the Talons to an unseen threat.  The Talons stood with swords raised, firing arrows haphazardly between the trees at their captain's call, though they hit and saw nothing.

Suddenly, the trees around the camp began wrapping the Talons in unnaturally-moving branches, holding fast the captain and two others, along with the still-shackled Aginot and Alaric. The rescuers charged into the fray, and bloodshed quickly ensued. Talons fought vehemently, but they were outnumbered in the wake of Leilana's spell. In the end, Karsten and two enemy soldiers were laid low before the last standing Talon surrendered. When the entanglement finally ceased, the Talon captain was held at sword point.

Leilana tethered two of the surviving Talons to their horses by their feet, though a third bolted into the night after serving a boot to the druid's face. The captain yielded the key to unlock his prisoners, and then was bound hand-and-feet in those same iron bands. Victorious, the companions deliberated their course.

At long last, the party turned back for Chatain, five horses and three Talon captives in tow. They arrived at sunrise, though instead of entering the village, they circled around it, to the edge of Souragne. Throughout the morning, a makeshift raft was constructed of fallen logs and rope, and as the sun rose high overhead, the Talons, still bound, were set adrift in the marshes, never to return. Finally, the contingent returned home, where Karsten would be laid to rest and the adventurers could heal.

Taking only enough time for Alaric to recover from his wounds, the trio of Aginot, Alaric, and Leilana rode forth from the village on horseback two days hence under a cloudless sky, leaving their memories of Chatain far behind.

DM's Commentary

It was definitely a crazy night, and once again the entanglement spell played a huge role in the outcome. At this point, I think it's important that I do some research and provide official rulings as far as what can and can't be done within the spell's area of effect. Off the cuff, I don't think that insta-kills of entangled opponents is reasonable - "held fast" isn't the same as unconscious or completely incapacitated in my interpretation, and coup de gras should really be saved for those situations where the opponent has zero awareness. (Aside from that, though, such an action is likely not something Alaric would ever support...)

In that vein, the most interesting part of this session, for me, was the moral discussion around what to do with the Talon captives. Alaric wasn't present for the game last night, so Aginot's and Leilana's players had to weigh not only their own characters' actions, but the paladin's moral compass as well. In the end, the decision to ship the soldiers off into the swamp was a pretty brilliant way of letting justice be served while not resorting to rash solutions like maiming or execution (both of which were considered...).

XP/Spoils

First, a list of noteworthy items plundered from the Talons:

  • The captain's longsword (given to Alaric)
  • The captain's iron ring - embedded with a red, swirling, marble-like gem, which looks very out of the ordinary
  • The captain's belt and boot daggers
  • The captain's belt pouch - containing 100 gp in coins along with a valuable-looking, jewel-encrusted necklace
  • Three longswords, two short bows, and several daggers and dirks taken from the remaining Talons
  • Five suits of chainmail - all either left behind or submerged in the marshes
  • Various food and miscellaneous supplies found in saddlebags - the PCs are free to assume whatever reasonable provisions they can carry, with the rest handed over to Chatain

As for XP, I'm only posting a high-level breakdown to avoid revealing too much specific information:

  • Soldiers defeated - 1,060 XP
  • Items recovered - 2,750 XP

That totals 3,810 points, however the XP is divided five ways, between Leilana, Aginot, Alaric, Merena, and all other surviving villagers (none of which warrant a fully equal share). Therefore, each PC receives 762 XP for the past two sessions - the fact that Aginot and Alaric were captured doesn't detract from their awards. Additionally, Leilana receives two individual awards of 100 XP and 50 XP, the first for orchestrating and executing the rescue plan, and the second for the idea of setting the Talons adrift in the swamp and reconciling the moral disparity within the party.

All that said, updated XP totals are:

  • Leilana - 5,579
  • Aginot - 5,529
  • Alaric - 5,479

No levels gained, to my knowledge, but this was nevertheless a very solid end to an extremely problematic situation. Leilana, especially, should feel proud of what was accomplished. I'll end the post with Karsten's dying words:
"Someday, a champion among men will defeat Vlad Drakov and put an end to his reign of terror. Do not let me have died in vain."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

RL #8: Captives!

Last Wednesday we ran a relatively brief session, starting with a week of in-game downtime for the PCs. Aginot made a point to play philanthropist during the repose, and his actions were notably well received across the village. Chatain boasts little in the way of proper defenses (for King Drakov's forces do enough to see that no major threats encroach on even the most meager of Falkovnia's settlements), and by now the heroism of Alaric, Aginot, and Leilana is known by all.

Merena, the warrioress that helped the party defeat the loup-garou Rapacion, confronted the trio as the week came to a close, inquiring as to their short-term intentions. The PCs planned to leave Chatain for Stangengrad, they explained, and offered Merena a place among their ranks. Merena committed to providing an answer the following morning, when the group would be set to depart.

But before morning could dawn, evening saw a band of Drakov's Talons return to the village seeking recompense for their previous losses, commanded again by the same Talon captain whom the PCs had engaged on the fateful night that led them into the depths of Souragne. Alaric strode forth from the Winter Wolf Tavern and a melee ensued. Although the PCs quickly gained the upper hand with their spells, Talon reinforcements on the village outskirts began setting fire to Chatain's shops and houses on the captain's order. Crippled by the captain's promise to leave no structure unscathed, Alaric and Aginot finally surrendered whilst Leilana sped from the village on the back of a captured steed. As the moon rose high overhead, the half-dozen Talon soldiers departed Chatain, Aginot and Alaric bound with iron shackles alongside them.

XP and DM's Commentary

Really cool session, the way things played out. Rarely do the enemies' plans come to fruition as well as they did here, with the Talons barely wounded and two-thirds of the party captured (and the remaining third having fled into the foreboding darkness of night, alone). King Drakov will most assuredly be pleased.

No XP to award for this game, though I might find some points to apply retroactively when all is said and done. Next session should be an interesting one, to be sure.

Friday, February 22, 2013

RL #7: Silver and Wolfsbane


Yesterday evening the PCs returned from the forest, having barely escaped with their lives at the claws of the loup-garou. Back in Chatain, the bodies of the two woodsmen were being carted away and prepared for funerary rites the coming eve. When asked what meaningful possessions were found on them, a strong-looking, dark-haired woman dressed in black leathers named Merena stepped forward, revealing a pair of silver-coated blades - a dagger and a short sword.  Merena, the companions knew, had lived in Chatain for the past few years and frequently carried arms about her person; whence she came previously, they knew not. Her demeanor was bold and accusatory as she voiced her concern that the killings were brought about by the party's return from Souragne.

The PCs took the blades and bade Elias to keep Jean Tarascon's dagger to protect the village. They also laid claim to an intricate vial filled with a clear, watery liquid found on the woodsmen. After speaking to Alpin, the local lore master, they delved into the forest in search of the purple-flowering plant called "wolfsbane," locating a patch near the edge of the swamp (and assisted quite handily by Leilana's magic).

That night they sat amid the Winter Wolf Tavern preparing their strategy, deciding it best to trek deep into the forest to expose themselves to the loup-garou in hopes of drawing an attack. As Aginot brewed a batch of wolfsbane tea in the hearth, Merena entered the tavern and inquired of the group's plan, offering her assistance and company, to which the party readily agreed.

In the morning they set out, distancing themselves more the a mile from the village proper, deep within the bowels of the vigila dimorta surrounding Chatain. The day passed uneventfully, and as darkness fell, a subtle fog settled upon the groves, limiting the party's visibility, though not gravely. The companions built a fire for warmth; shortly thereafter, a faraway wolf's howl played at their confidence. Dancing shadows cast by the flickering firelight tested their senses, and Leilana set herself in a tree for ambush.

They didn't have to wait long. Moments later, an imposing, wolflike figure appeared, standing upright on two hind legs at the edge of the clearing, a head again as tall as Alaric. "We meet again," it uttered in a rasping voice that sounded more animal than human. It darted toward the fire and Alaric charged headlong to meet it but as he did, Aginot commanded the wolf to sleep and it toppled to the leaf-covered ground. Alaric thrust his magic sword down through its body, eliciting an unworldly howl; Merena pierced the wolf's hide with one of the woodsmen's silver blades, though to her horror the weapon did nothing.

The loup-garou scrambled to its feet and attacked, using unrivaled quickness and ferocity to outmatch its assailants. Subsequent castings against it failed and Merena withdrew to the fire. When Alaric fell, Leilana waded in and struck true with her own magically-enchanted spear, and Aginot punched a fistful of wolfsbane into the creature's maw, sacrificing his own arm.

Already down Alaric, the remaining PCs struggled to stay alive against their mighty foe. Finally, when hope seemed all but lost, Merena took up the magic longsword and plunged its wolfsbane-coated blade into the beast's torso, laying it low. She ran it through again for good measure, then they all dragged the body, newly transformed into the man they recognized as Alec Rapacion, into the campfire and burned it to ash.

At morning's first light the foursome returned to Chatain, earning applause and accolades upon relaying all that transpired. Thereafter, Aginot and Leilana retired to the inn and Alaric to his church for a long overdue rest.

XP and DM's Commentary

Last night's victory hinged on a number of subtle factors, and the die rolls proved strongly in the group's favor: one-in-twenty odds of locating wolfsbane succeeded; timely saving throw and magic resistance rolls by the loup-garou failed; reasonably high attack and very high damage rolls for the heroes in the battle of their lives. Strategic thinking was critical and effective, as this session harbored many paths that might easily have ended in the party's utter demise had their course unfolded differently.

The only experience gained for this session is for slaying Rapacion himself, but that award is a hearty 4,000 XP. It seems only just to divide the spoils evenly with Merena as well, therefore 1,000 XP is awarded to each PC, bringing their updated totals to:

  • Alaric - 4,717
  • Aginot - 4,717
  • Leilana - 4,667

Alaric and Leilana have gained 3rd level; before they can advance further, Alaric must spend one week in prayer and quiet reflection, and Leilana must pass equal time in the forest among nature and its denizens. This session was very well-played by all, and the PCs should feel prideful of their accomplishments.

The Order of the Coin

"Life does not persist without the accumulation of debts.

Bounty awaits for those who pay good deeds forward, who return kindness with kindness, and who sacrifice for the benefit of others.

Ruin awaits the wicked, the greedy and the selfish.

Those who depart with debts unpaid will be cursed in the afterlife.

The Order settles all debts."

--Thus speaketh Aginot, Friar of the Order of the Coin

Thursday, January 31, 2013

RL #6: The Loup-Garou


Last night we resumed in the church of Marais d'Tarascon, where the PCs had been resting for a day following the battle in the cemetery the night before. Having expended their spells to heal, the party set out for the Tarascon plantation at twilight; there they found Luc, staring vacantly out into the fields.

Luc grieved for his brothers and imparted that he carried the blame for their deaths. When asked to elaborate, Luc accompanied the party back to the church where he explained how, many years ago, Marcel had come upon a journal belonging to one of the founding Tarascon forefathers. The journal made reference to a scroll penned by a Vistani seer named Hyskosa that foretold a great prophecy; though he searched for it throughout the village, Marcel found nothing.

Over time, the journal's tale was all but forgotten - until, one evening at dusk, Luc caught sight of a colorful gypsy wagon just outside the village. There, a beautiful, dark-haired woman named Valana told his fortune:

Look for the scroll where the old rest fine, behind the stone where six stars shine. The finding, however, will cause much pain; beware the time of the falling rain.
Luc was taken aback by the gypsy's words and rushed off to inform Marcel, leading his brother to a secret passage at the edge of the cemetery which led them into a walled-off area containing a number of ancient mausoleums. Upon one's door was etched a six-star insignia, and inside they found Hyskosa's scroll. Amazed, Luc began reading the verses aloud, but as he did, a slew of undead came forth from the disinterred coffins and struck Marcel down, taking his life. Luc could provide no details of the events that followed, for at that moment he entered the trance-like state that he retained until the zombie lord was finally defeated.

Caring to speak no further, Luc took his leave, and the party retired to their makeshift beds. They awoke the next morning surrounded by a thick fog amid the chill autumn winds - inexplicably, they found themselves outside, sleeping on the cold, bare ground.

Taking to their feet, they saw nothing recognizable and began marching in the direction Alaric believed to be north. As morning dawned, the fog cleared and they came to the outskirts of a village. Elias took note of a woman in the distance; suddenly, he ran for her, calling out to his "Aunt Meisha." Immediately they knew that they somehow had returned to Chatain.

The PCs spoke with the relative briefly and bade her to call for Karsten, who came to them a short time later. Karsten explained that, although no soldiers had returned after the night that the party delved into the swamp, their lone captive had been killed during a recent attempt to escape. Moreover, a few days after the party left, two woodsmen arrived from the east, searching for a large, monstrous wolf.  The loup-garou, as they called it, had terrorized settlements across the countryside, killing dozens if not hundreds.

At the party's request, Karsten located the woodsmen and sent them to the edge of the village to meet. They introduced themselves as Eldon and Ravewood, explaining that the trail of the creature they sought led unmistakably toward Chatain, though they had not found actual footprints in days. Fearing themselves at a dead end (for beyond Chatain lay only marshland and swamps), they agreed to accompany the PCs east until their respective roads would have them part ways. Not wanting to reenter the village, the PCs asked the pair to send for Karsten, agreeing to depart the following morn.

They waited all day for Karsten, but by dusk he never came. As night fell, the PCs headed for the Winter Wolf tavern (a name that Eldon and Ravewood believed was a bad omen). They found Karsten inside, but when questioned, the innkeeper denied that the woodsmen had come to him. At that moment, Eldon and Ravewood appeared in the doorway with weapons drawn. "It must be one of you," Ravewood accused grimly, implicating the PCs and Captain Rapacion.

Before a melee could ensue, Aginot cast hold person and the woodsmen were disarmed. When the spell expired, cooler heads prevailed, and the party convinced the pair that none of them could be their quarry.

Satisfied, all retired for the evening, Alaric to his church and the others to separate rooms in the inn. Screams of villagers outside awoke them in the early morning hours, and the PCs rushed to the street to find the grisly bodies of the two woodsmen, torn apart by a large wolf whose footprints were abundant in the soft ground.

The tracks led north into the forest. Though the PCs followed the trail as best they could, all signs of the wolf soon were lost. Rapacion assured them that the creature had not made it this far, and when questioned how he knew, he replied:
"Because I turned around last night when I reached the forest's edge and returned to the inn."
Horrified at the revelation, the PCs watched as the captain donned an evil grin, confirming their fears. "Fortunately, you have gifted the one weapon that could possibly harm me to an innocent young boy," he continued, referring to the magic dagger that Aginot had given Elias in Marais d'Tarascon. Alaric moved to attack but barely grazed the warrior. Rapacion fought back menacingly, fairly skewering the paladin with his longsword.

Aginot commanded the captain to "die," and Leilana cast entangle as he fell unconscious, causing vines and trees to wrap the captain tightly and hold him fast. Alaric took up Rapacion's longsword (knowing it to be enchanted from a casting of detect magic by Leilana in the tavern) and attempted to run him through, but the magically-awakened vines captured Alaric, and then Aginot too. Leilana bolted for the village, calling for Elias and Karsten, and returning with both moments before her spell would end. Rapacion had transformed into a thrashing wolf, biting and clawing at the vines to escape. Just as he tore himself free, Karsten plunged the captain's sword deep into his hide, eliciting an unworldly howl. Rapacion fled into the forest on four legs as the vines finally gave way, leaving the party wounded but very much alive.

XP and DM's Commentary

Wow, that was a lot crammed into a three-hour session, with a very unexpected turn at the end. The party almost fell to a handful of bad rolls (three failed saves against Leilana's entanglement) and honorable role-playing decisions (giving the magic dagger to Elias despite its enchanted nature). Leilana's casting of detect magic that revealed the evocation on Rapacion's longsword proved a critical bit of knowledge that saved (and nearly ruined) them all.

(It should be noted, as well, that as unlucky as the characters' die rolls seemed throughout the night, the PCs were very fortunate that no opponent succeeded on any saving throw rolled against their spells.)

This session was a great example of how, as DM, you really never know how things will play out, and how a PC's (or enemy's) fate can rest on the roll of a single die. In the end, the characters survived, but so did the final antagonist, and it should be interesting to see how the party proceeds from here. The players have seen Rapacion's combat prowess firsthand and no doubt know what a dangerous adversary he could prove.

A quick note on logistics: this is the first game we've had with absolutely zero technical issues. No blue screen errors from my laptop (I installed a horde of updates after the last two sessions), no reconnecting the video call mid-game, no audio echo from the mics. Good things all around - hopefully they continue.

It seems reasonable to award XP for Rapacion's longsword, so I'll do that at this time. Through a bit of trial and error, the PCs find the weapon to be a longsword +1. Beyond that, they know not what other powers it might have. For now, the sword will be valued at 400 XP; divided three ways, the party's updated totals are:

  • Alaric: 3,717
  • Aginot: 3,717
  • Leilana: 3,667

It remains to be seen whether "by the book" XP awards will work for this game long term. It's something I'm keeping an eye on, but I'd really like to stick to it if we can.

Alaric's Prayer



    I thank the light that myself and my companions are safe after the events of the past few days.  A few scrapes and bruises and broken bones are little to pay for survival after fighting with so many creatures of the dark.  I am thankful that my companions were able to continue the fight even after I fell.  I feel ashamed that I fell before my companions, and I shall strive to perform better in the future.
    It seems that dark times have arrived in Falkovnia.  I fear that what we have seen is only the beginning.  During my youth, I heard tell of the dead rising, but I thought it a story, meant to scare children into behaving.
    While the townsfolk in Marais d'Tarascon have welcomed us, it appears that we are being blamed for the events that happened.  I fear that I understand them, and that they are just trying to protect their town from further unpleasantness.  I hope that after what this town has been through they are sheltered by the creator's hand as they deserve peace for a long while.
    I must admit that I began to doubt myself during our trek.  I have discovered that it is easy to be a servant of the light, when you are at home and nothing is trying to kill you.  Now that I have been away from my church for awhile, I find myself with difficult decisions to make.  Leilana and Aginot are rash, but sometimes their way seems easier.  However, I have sworn to uphold the law.  Because of this, I find myself stopping them from acting, and lecturing them on the proper way to go about things.  I have wondered if it would not be easier to go along with their ideas.  It troubles me that I spent my life as a servant of the light and I am so easily considering forsaking it.  I feel as if this is a test of my faith, and I do not intend to give up so easily.
    I ask that the creator shelter my companions and I, and that the light show us the way.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

RL #5: Night of the Walking Dead

A marathon Saturday night session wrote an end to the mysterious deaths in Marais d'Tarascon. Despite a number of out-of-game interruptions, the party forged through and defeated the zombie lord, Marcel. Read on, if you dare...

After speaking with Lillin, the PCs headed for the cemetery in search of its caretaker, Pierot, but first found Shaman Brucian outside the church. In the privacy of its walls, Brucian explained that, after Marcel died, Jean Tarascon quickly fell from grace: once a noble overseer of the Tarascon plantation, Jean's mind became poisoned by the loss of his two brothers. With Marcel dead and Luc seemingly void of all consciousness, endlessly reciting scrambled verses of unknown origin, Jean was increasingly plagued by fits of rage and violence. In light of this, Brucian and others exiled Luc to the swamp for safety - until the PCs retrieved him a few days earlier.

Outside in the cemetery, Pierot shunned the party's questions, intent on preparing for the funeral of the waitress who was murdered in the early morning hours. The group remained for the interment of the deceased, and was relieved to see that the coffin remained quiet and motionless through the end of the service.

As evening approached, the party headed back for the inn but was ambushed en route by the black-cloaked assailant, who stabbed Luc twice before Rapacion slew him grimly. The corpse was revealed to be Jean Tarascon himself, and Brucian pilfered a key and dagger from the dead man's robes before ushering the PCs away to speak in private, urging them to find Marcel's body.

The party opted to replenish at the Full Moon Inn for the evening and begin their search at daybreak, though they considered it paramount to acquire the key from Shaman Brucian before the night's end. Together, they accompanied a handful of villagers back to the tavern, where Brucian confided yet more of his frightful tale. Jean, he explained, had brought Marcel's body - torn nearly limb from limb - to the church on the night that Marcel was slain. Brucian attempted to raise the twin with a magic scroll, but tragically, the spell failed. Jean fled the church in anguish, taking the body of poor Marcel with him.

Suddenly, the storm clouds - having loomed over Marais d'Tarascon for several days - finally broke, pounding the inn with putrid drops of rain and racking its walls with thunder. Simultaneously, Luc's sporadic verses became unprecedentedly clear and unmangled. Within moments, a villager at a nearby table fell dead as a deathly odor settled in the air. Alaric leaped to his feet and buried his sword into the body of the fallen, determined that he not rise as undead. Then Luc recounted a new stanza, a verse not before heard by the PCs in any form:
Look for the scroll where the old rest fine, behind the stone where six stars shine. The finding, however, will cause much pain; beware the time of the falling rain.
Before anyone could react, a rain-drenched villager burst in from outside, yelling, "The dead! The dead are approaching Marais d'Tarascon! An army of the walking dead!"

Constable Gremin quickly began to organize a defense, leading willing patrons outside. Brucian, however, urged the party to accompany him to the old cemetery, where he vaguely recalled an insignia bearing six stars from decades earlier. Ignoring Gremin's demands for help, Brucian and the party fled into the village, blanketed by the night and drowning in the downpour.

As they ran, shambling corpses lumbered toward them in throngs. Brucian and Aginot turned those they could manage while the others aptly slew those they could not. When finally they arrived at the cemetery, Brucian led the group to a chained iron gate enclosing a ten-foot high stone wall, guarded by twin gargoyle statues that eerily seemed to move with every flash of lightning.

Alaric and Rapacion pounded at the chain with their weapons, finally severing it and gaining entry to the old cemetery, an untended portion of the graveyard that supposedly hadn't been entered in years. Overgrown with trees and vines and the ground beneath them turned to mud by the rain, the PCs trudged amid the mausoleums until they came upon two buildings of interest: one was the grandest of all the tombs, towering in size and boasting a stained-glass dome ceiling, the other was a smaller and plainer structure whose entry was adorned with a cryptic, six-star insignia.

Luc refused to approach the latter, shrieking and cowering and nearly fleeing away in terror. Half of the group opened it and scoured its interior, finding recent boot tracks and a half-dozen disinterred coffins that, thankfully, were empty. Dismayed at the lack of anything to validate Luc's recitation, they turned to the larger mausoleum, which Brucian knew to harbor the long-dead ancestors of the Tarascon family.

They entered and ascended a set of stone steps, and as they did, the rain suddenly stopped. The moon's light cast a sickly yellow pallor through the stained glass upon the tomb's floor, a carpet of bones and half-eaten carrion. A nauseating odor filled the main chamber, further lighted by two burning braziers with a finely-crafted throne nested between them. On the throne was seated a hideous creature who resembled Jean Tarascon, but with rotting, pale-gray skin.

The creature proclaimed itself Marcel Tarascon, Lord of the Undead, and demanded an item it called "the scroll of the six signs." Before any could answer, corpses lumbered from recesses in the crypt's stonehewn walls, attacking with their vicious claws. The undead lord looked on as the zombies assailed the PCs, who struggled grimly as first Leilana, then Alaric were laid low. Companions rushed to the aid of the fallen, all the while slicing and stabbing at Marcel's undead minions. When finally Marcel joined the battle in earnest, a great thunderclap rattled the chamber and lightning exploded the dome overhead. Above, the moon turned blood red; its light bathed the tomb in a veil of deathly crimson before fading away and then disappearing completely - a full lunar eclipse.

Marcel gazed to the sky and cried out in abhorrence, and as the last of his minions burned at the end of a newly lighted torch, Aginot, Brucian, and Rapacion hoisted up the zombie lord and buried him onto a fiery brazier, igniting the undead body in a sea of red flames. Thereafter, the crypt fell silent; Luc instantly regained coherence, and those that were able helped carry the more grievously wounded out of the cemetery and back to the church.

The undead army, it was learned, dispersed aimlessly when the zombie lord was killed, though it had left Marais d'Tarascon with many dead and wounded. The sun rose early the next morning, shining its glorious rays upon the village with no storm clouds anywhere in sight. The Tarascon manors were searched by the villagers; Brucian brought word that the Tarascon servants were all found dead, and a mysterious scroll was discovered in a bookcase in the upstairs floor of the townhouse. The scroll held many of the verses recited by Luc when the storm broke:
The night of evil shall descend on the land
When this hexad of signs is near at hand. 
In the house of Daegon the sorcerer born
Through life, unlife, unliving shall scorn. 
The lifeless child of stern mother found
Heralds a time, night of evil unbound. 
Seventh time the son of suns doth rise
To send the knave to an eternity of cries. 
Inajira will make his fortunes reverse
Dooming all to live with the dreaded curse. 
 -- [Missing verse, torn away] --
The light of the sky shining over the dead
shall gutter and fail, turning all to red.

Post-session Details

In addition to showing them the strange scroll and allowing them to copy it if they so choose, Brucian offers the party the dagger and ring of Jean Tarascon (both magically enchanted), a scroll from Brucian's own collection containing two raise dead spells, and an offer to remain at the church until the time they are fully healed of their wounds. At that time, the PCs must seek refuge elsewhere, preferably nowhere near Marais d'Tarascon.

(Out of game, the dagger is a dagger +1 and the ring a ring of protection +1. Brucian explains that Marais d'Tarascon has no desire to harbor the implements that helped murder a number of its villagers, and asks that they be taken somewhere far away. The scroll, too, the priest wishes no remembrance of, given that its failing led to the near-total devastation of village.)


XP and DM's Commentary

Last night's session seemingly spells an end to the first major chapter in our campaign. This time I was well prepared to DM and despite some out-of-game delays we managed to grind out the most fruitful adventure thus far. With that, XP awards are as follows:
  • Rescuing Luc from the swamp: 100 XP
  • Slaying the zombie of Duncan d'Lute: 40 XP
  • Saving Lillin from the black-cloaked assailant: 100 XP
  • Defeating Jean Tarascon: 150 XP
  • Zombies (10 in total) slain/turned en route to the cemetery: 400 XP
  • Marcel's undead minions (5 in total): 363 XP
  • Marcel Tarascon, the zombie lord: 650 XP
  • Dagger +1: 400 XP
  • Ring of protection +1: 1,000 XP
The total award of 3,203 XP is divided four ways between the PCs and Rapacion. Though Shaman Brucian also aided the party in the cemetery, it can be assumed that the value of the raise dead scroll effectively negates his portion. The contributions of Elias and of course Luc were negligible and not counted; therefore, in the end, 801 XP is awarded per character. Furthermore, Aginot receives an additional 50 XP for his recent in-character journal, bringing the party's current XP totals to:
  • Alaric: 3,534
  • Aginot: 3,584
  • Leilana: 3,534
Aginot hereby gains 3rd level immediately, though he should plan to spend several days training and paying reverence to his faith at the next opportune point. Aginot will be allowed no additional level advancements until this occurs.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Detection of Evil and/or Good

One thing that seems to come up again and again in AD&D games whenever a paladin is involved is the innate ability to detect evil. Because the paladin is able to use this ability at will, a smart player's intuition is generally to attempt to detect evil around every corner and inside every inn; after all, why wouldn't you want to know if that innkeeper is secretly plotting to murder the whole party while they sleep?

Unfortunately (read: fortunately), neither the spell detect evil nor the ability of the paladin are so keen. From the first edition DMG (p. 60):

DETECTION OF EVIL AND/OR GOOD
It is important to make a distinction between character alignment and some powerful force of evil or good when this detection function is considered. In general, only a know alignment spell will determine the evil or good a character holds within. It must be a great evil or a strong good to be detected. Characters who are very strongly aligned, do not stray from their faith, and who are of relatively high level (at least 8th or higher) might radiate evil or good if they are intent upon appropriate actions. Powerful monsters such as demons, devils, ki-rin and the like will send forth emanations of their evil or good. Aligned undead must radiate evil, for it is this power and negative force which enables them to continue existing. Note that none of these emanations are noticeable without magical detection.

The second edition PH defines the spell detect evil using similar terms. While there's no reason a paladin can't detect evil constantly, only truly extraordinary circumstances would trigger a positive detection. No, the innkeeper probably isn't a demon, and the door to the blacksmith's outhouse probably isn't a portal to the Abyss. Though a player playing a paladin shouldn't feel bad about calling on the ability when a critical situation arises, it also should be accepted that, much more often than not, detect evil won't reveal anything at all. It's easy to trivialize the ability to detect evil when read as part of the paladin's class description - after years of playing D&D, I still seem to do it myself sometimes - but in the end the purpose of the ability/spell is to identify unworldly evil sources, not simply a common criminal or even a malicious mercenary.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Tarascon Diaries: Aginot's Perspective


The collected writings of Aginot, Friar of the Order of the Coin, scrawled upon scraps of parchment pilfered from the servant quarters at the plantation of Marais d'Tarascon, and kept rolled and bundled in the pockets of his robes.


The intrigues of Marais d'Tarascon plague my mind, and disturb my rest.  Our newest acquaintance especially, a queer little man named Mordu, leaves me with such a feeling of unease that I find myself checking my window every few moments, expecting to see his sinister little face peering back at me from without.  There are three mysteries, above all, which give me the most consternation, all dealing with murder.

First, and most troubling, are the sudden and unexplained deaths of several townsfolk, preceded by a stench fouler than that of Souragne, that result in their unholy resurrection as undead creatures of great strength and ferocity.  We are no closer to unraveling this mystery than we were when we first arrived at Marais d'Tarascon.  

Second are the assassinations, conducted in twilight, which are as of yet unsolved.  Our only clues, thus far, are the pieces of red licorice left at the scene...whether this clue is meaningful, or just some jape of the assassin, is as of yet undetermined.  Mordu may play some role, or at least have some knowledge of these murders, but we've been unable to ascertain whether he truly has any involvement.

Third, though certainly not finally, are the savage murders conducted at the Tarascon plantation, whereby flesh and limbs are rended and torn as if by some savage beast.  Our young companion, Elias, has had disturbing dreams of a dark woman warning of shapechangers, those that shift form by the light of the moon...I do not believe in coincidence, though I do not yet know the importance of the child's dreams, or why he, of the group, is the only one that suffers them.  I cannot help but feel that our detached companion Luc, or perhaps one of his wayward brothers, is at the root of this mystery.

I take faith in my stalwart companions--Alaric and Leilana, as well as Captain Alec Rapacion and my new friends Luc Tarascon and Elias.  It is my hope that we have the means to unravel these mysteries, and avoid the dire prophecies of the gypsy soothsayer from Souragne.  

Ravenloft session #4: The Murderer Escapes

The campaign was back from hiatus last night, and from my perspective it was a rocky few hours. I felt really off my game, and a solid half-hour of technical difficulties to start things off didn't help. By the end I think everyone was pretty well immersed, but for a while I was struggling through my notes and probably just not as prepared as I could have been. Hopefully things only go up from here. The PCs are sifting through a frustrating patch in Marais d'Tarascon, but I think that scheduling a more lengthy session in the near future should help get them through it.


We picked up the morning after the untimely death of Duncan d'Lute at the Full Moon Inn, and the party was eager to explore the rest of the village, starting with the Tarascon plantation. As they made their way to the edge of town, the PCs took note of the Tarascon townhouse, a lavish, two-story structure at the edge of the village proper owned by the three brothers. Its doors were locked up tight and its windows covered with heavy curtains - the place looked all but abandoned.

The manor house at the plantation (a half-mile outside the village) didn't show much more promise, with no people or field-workers to be found. After discovering a mutilated cattle carcass in a wheat field, the party prodded around the servant house, prying a lock off the cellar door and entering through the basement. Inside the house's main chamber they found a disembodied arm (female and presumed to be a servant's based on its tattered sleeve and dirt underneath its fingernails) and dried patches of blood. Otherwise, the house seemed in reasonable repair, neither pristine nor drastically unkempt. In a side chamber that appeared to be the head servant's room were records of the plantation's field-hands scrawled on sheets of parchment. The attached stables yielded little but rope and miscellaneous supplies.

Satisfied, the PCs turned back to the stately white manor house, hoping to find an easy way inside. As they searched, a stout man bearing sword and shield made his way toward them from the road, declaring himself the town constable (Gremin by name). Gremin seemed overly perturbed that a group of outsiders had taken it upon themselves to pry about the plantation, and was equally distressed at the presence of Luc among their numbers, making it clear that the youngest Tarascon brother was not welcome anywhere near the village.

As the PCs pressed for information and denied Gremin's requests for them to leave, the exchange quickly soured, and when they questioned his diligence in investigating the murders, the constable broke down and revealed that his own son had recently died in the manner witnessed the previous night at the inn. Distraught, Constable Gremin made to arrest the party - until he was interrupted by a second man calling for him from the road. Seemingly a laborer, the newcomer brought word of another murder, just outside the Full Moon Inn. With a look of contempt for the PCs, Gremin turned and followed the villager hastily back to town.

At this point, Aginot and Leilana made a case for forcibly entering the manor house, especially given that Jean Tarascon still had yet to be located, but were refuted by Alaric and Rapacion, who feared that such action could spoil them in the eyes of the village - a stance that the constable would undoubtedly support. In the end, the party elected to trail Gremin back to the inn with all speed.

They arrived to see a throng of people gathered around the body of a dead barmaid in the morning shadows outside, the corpse spattered with slashing wounds and a few pieces of red licorice at its feet. Lillin, the staff manager and daughter of the innkeeper and his wife, explained that the woman was en route for her morning shift and killed a few hours earlier, just before sunup.

"Such a shame, such a shame," a voice uttered behind them, and the PCs spun to see Mordu, the town eccentric, standing closely at their backs. Mordu's expression oozed of intrigue and excitement rather than sorrow, and he was quick to lead the PCs back to his nearby cottage, imparting that he had a theory about the murders. Obviously guarded, the party followed; inside were shelves filled with old histories and tomes, many of them likely fictional - or at least in reference to places nowhere near Marais d'Tarascon. One volume in particular seemed to interest the strange man (a self-proclaimed scholar), titled Infamous Rulers and Societies. After distastefully offering them all licorice from an earthen jar, he flipped the book open to a chapter called "The Cult of the Swamp God," attempting to link its content to the town's recent deaths and slayings.

The PCs found the theory far-fetched at best, but had little time to ponder it further as a scream from outside resonated through the open windows. The companions rushed to the door - though divided on whence the scream came, they followed Alaric on his hunch to the east. A few houses away, the party caught sight of Lillin being assaulted by a black-cloaked figure brandishing a blade. Leilana cast entangle as the others sped for the scene. At Alaric's call for the attacker to cease, the hooded form disappeared into the shadows, allowing the innkeeper's daughter to escape. The PCs darted behind the building where the attacker had fled but found nothing aside from twisted foliage livened by druidic magic.

Frustrated and distressed, the party questioned Lillin, who explained that she was on her way to find Pierot, the cemetery caretaker, when she was assaulted from the darkness. She saw nothing that allowed her to identify the attacker, though when asked about the Tarascon brothers, she revealed that Marcel and Jean were Luc's senior by fifteen years and that their mother, Claudine, had died twenty years prior. Marcel was one of the first in the village to die (if not the first), though Lillin knew not the cause of death nor if any private funeral was held - for none was held publicly.

XP and DM's Commentary

Throughout Marais d'Tarascon, the villagers (with the exception of Mordu) seem resigned to their grim fate, and the continued presence of dark, unbreaking storm clouds overhead does little to mend their confidence. Out of game, no further commentary aside from the notes at the top of this post, and I'm again waiting for a more suitable stopping point before divvying up and awarding XP. Our short sessions make it difficult to progress much over the course of a single evening, though I'm hopeful we'll be able to schedule for a longer stretch a week or so out.