Thursday, May 17, 2018

#9: A Statue Among Men

We begin in the forest, in the aftermath of Audric’s unwitting unleashing of the ring’s power.  The girl—Faylin—is lucid, and we reveal to her that we’ve been searching for her.  Her first words are that she wants to see her mother and father…an understandable sentiment.  She asks what happened, pointing to the petrified form of Arkhen, and we give her an abridged version, stating that we’ll return to see to the hunter.  Though barefoot, she indicates that she’s able to walk, so we hasten to return to Carrock. 

Few words are shared on the trip, except for a brief discussion with Rould regarding the oddity of the wolves—the polarity of their behavior, seeming somehow protective over the prone form of Faylin, yet aggressive beyond expectations when approached.  We arrive back at Faylin’s farm before dusk and find her parents, who are overjoyed to learn of their daughter’s safety, and convince the family to retreat to the relative safety of Carrock for the night.

We arrive safely back to Carrock, and contrary to the grimness of our mood, the townsfolk seem persistent in their desire to cheer our success and celebrate our return.  They do not yet know of Arkhen’s sacrifice.  At the inn, we find a table and warm meal for Faylin and her family while we gather Tussugar and Drachus to share the dire news.  The conversation is a difficult one, and after discussing the events leading up to the attack, Audric seems to stutter and stall, as if not sure how to relate the ring’s role in the matter.

After several false starts, Tussugar cuts to the heart of the matter—and asks for the return of the ring, holding out his hand.  After several moments of not getting what he wants from Audric, he withdraws his hand.  I’m unsure if the dwarf is disappointed or just saddened at the confrontation and asks us to excuse ourselves so that he can discuss matters with Drachus one on one.  When Tussugar and Drachus return, they invite us to leave the inn with them, heading for the tower.  “I gave you the ring under the pretense that you would be its protector; both of the relic, and of those around you.  You’ve proven that’s not who you are.”  When they step forward, it’s to bind Audric in ropes to be held within the tower.  Audric must choose…the ring, or the ropes.

In an effort to deflect, Audric asks if Tussugar thinks he can do any better, as if turning into a great cave bear within town is any safer, any better way to protect it.  Tussugar attempts to punch Audric, but is clearly overwhelmed by rage at the audacity of the statement and misses.  Disgusted, Audric removes the ring and throws it at Tussugar, storming out of the tower.  After a few moments, Tussugar issues a command—stern, but seemingly not unreasonable—to return Audric to the tower.  I obey.

I catch up to Audric, and the resulting discussion—or argument, perhaps heated debate—takes place in the streets of Carrock.  Tussugar and Audric’s mutual distrust—valid or no—has clouded one or both of their perspectives, and the situation is truly a mess.  Regardless of Audric’s feelings toward Tussugar (and vice versa), I tell Audric that at the very least he owes Drachus an audience, a chance to weigh in on the matter with his own words.

Two days.  The crux of the discussion boils down to two days, and whether Audric is willing to forestall his abandonment of Carrock—based solely, at least from my perspective, on Audric’s distrust of the dwarf—is Audric willing to give me two days to settle matters in Carrock before we turn our backs on the town.  Audric relents…reluctantly…but the return meeting with Tussugar and Drachus does not go well, Tussugar issuing commands to Audric, and Audric throwing words back in anger.  At the end, we are left to stand alone in the streets.  Drachus, unsure how to react to the disintegration of whatever tentative alliance, gives us his blessing and the thanks of the town whatever course of action we decide to take, and the trio—Drachus, Tussugar, Rould—leaves us to find our path.

After some discussion, Audric is persuaded to stay at Erathmar’s camp, even to resume his vigil over the tower of Carrock, though he won’t have anything to do with Tussugar.  Satisfied with that concession, I return to the inn to consult with Tussugar, Drachus and Rould.  I apologize to Rould…the hunter has deserved better in terms of communication, explanation, and inclusion, but the heightened emotions of the day have led to some complicated situations.  I try to rationalize Audric’s actions, but unsure himself just how damaged Audric’s relationship with Mystra might be, he finds little explanation that seems to make any sense, and thus abandon my defense of Audric.

Drachus’ primary concern is whether Audric is a danger to Carrock, to which I reply that “Audric is no more a danger to Carrock than I am, and if that’s a situation that causes you worry, we will leave at first light.”  Fortunately, Drachus’ confidence in us seems unwavering, and he wishes for us to stay on in Carrock, even suggesting that we might eventually make our home here.  The statement has great impact on me, and for a few moments, I can even picture what a future in Carrock might hold for me...but after the events of the day, I fear such peace may never come to pass.

When discussing the ring, which seems ever-present in the conversations of the night, Tussugar shares his perspective.  “The artifact has proven to be unsafe and destructive, regardless of the wielder.”  Tussugar makes it clear that the ring will not be worn by any other until its power can be harnessed and understood; Tussugar is now the sole protector.  I can’t help but think of The Myrmidon in Kezia’s reading, and whether it may be a reference to Tussugar…but given the stress of the day, I abandon that line of thought, as there’s no way to prove anything, in any case.

Meanwhile, Audric heads to Erathmar’s camp to fetch Selben.  I worry, given the predilections of this strange “goddess of the hunt”, that Selben may be at risk, and wants Audric to bring the boy into town.  At the camp, Erathmar takes Audric’s abbreviated version of the events of the day at face value, and afterwards shares that Selben had been acting strangely throughout the day.  He was found sitting alone, either meditating or chanting, and Erathmar shared concern over the boy, given his past.  Erathmar seems relieved that it was our intention to watch over him through the night.

Audric finds Selben, and their conversation turns towards Selben’s queer actions earlier that day.  The teen seems taken aback but finds relief when Audric admits that Selben wasn’t being followed and was only found by accident.  Selben claims that he was trying “to get his powers back”, after which he admits that he was a mage in training, but that he lost his implements, and has been powerless since his flight from Three Streams.  They share a conversation about the source of Audric’s own power versus my own, and they decide that consulting me on the matter may be prudent.

Back at the inn, I finally get a chance to question Faylin.  Her parents are present, as are Tussugar and Drachus.  Faylin describes that there was a woman who called herself “the lady of the hunt” or “the lady of the forest”, and that she saw her as if she were in a dream.  This lady wanted to teach Faylin of the hunt, of the kill…and Faylin followed her into the woods throughout the night.  The lady left her in the care of the two wolves before eventually disappearing; Faylin after that, awoke from her trance to see the wolves, to find herself alone without her family, and was scared…and that’s when we arrived.

When questioned about tattoos, symbols, items or anything else noteworthy or identify this lady’s affiliations, she mentions that several times the “beastlord” was mentioned, as if they might be traveling to meet him in the woods…but when Faylin asked when they would see him, the lady replied, “I am the beastlord.”

Faylin’s parents seem visibly shaken, I give up on further questioning.  My own resolve is momentarily shaken…that this impostor would claim to be the true Beastlord, or to even be acting on his behalf, boils my blood.  This lady’s actions, her tactics, her targets are all antithetical to my understanding of the Beastlord’s dogma, and I’m quick to share that with Drachus and Tussugar, who seem supportive and to understand the distinction.

Rould & I meet up on the tower with Audric and Selben, where Selben’s past is shared with me.  Agreed that a half-trained, unsupervised apprentice may be more dangerous than one under my tutelage, we discuss plans to start Selben’s formal training.  It is a complicated situation…given Selben’s past, I’m sure that Drachus would not be supportive of the decision, but Selben has done nothing since our arrival to make me question his loyalty.

I take some time to meditate on the events of the day, struggling to find some sense of the many threads that seem to be in play.  If there is indeed a pattern developing, it eludes my discovery…


  1. This was a really brain-bending session. Dealing with the aftermath of Audric's use of the ring led to some really deep, really complex character development on Audric's part, which in turn led to me examining Zeb's own motivations, and weighing them against the expectations of Drachus, Tussugar, and the others.

    I find that I like Drachus, Tussugar, and especially Rould, and find it odd that Audric can harbor such intense distrust of the dwarf. I'm glad that it never came to pass, but there was discussion of abandoning Carrock during the session, Audric wanting to leave the town over his differences with Tussugar...had that issue been pressed, I honestly don't know what Zeb would decide to do.

    I'm glad we managed to survive another session, but with fissures within our alliance and threats without, it looks like the next couple sessions will be complicated.

  2. Really impressed with the level of detail you managed to capture here. This was a fluid session for me to run, in that, I feel that I know the NPC personas so well, it was very natural to speak as them and adjudicate the goings-on around the village. Agreed that there's immense depth to both the characters and their interactions. I'd have been disappointed to see Zeb and Audric separate or decide to leave Carrock, though it's ultimately your prerogative.

    In talking today with Sean, my hope is that the eruptions with Tussugar allow Audric to hit "rock bottom" such that he can slowly begin to build himself back up. Perhaps later, in the absence of the immediate tensions surrounding the village, hindsight can prevail and Audric can elevate himself to being a purveyor of good, with the furthering of his faith a resulting side effect, rather than the other way around. It seems a common thread in campaigns where characters whose goals border closely on narcissism tend to cause parties to fracture.

  3. I'm digging the NPCs as well. I can start to feel Drachus' burden, running a town that he neither wanted nor was necessarily asked to do. Tussugar, despite his differences with Audric, is really a tragic hero, and Zeb identifies with his turmoils on several levels.

    I feel like I know Rould the's easy to think of him as just a hired bow, a "red shirt" NPC, but I'd like to think that there's room to develop that relationship. Same with Selben, and I've always had an affinity with Erathmar for some reason.

    "Rock bottom" is a good phrase. Feeling betrayed, or at the very least ignored by his deity, trying to delicately navigate the matter of the ring with its original owner, a stubborn dwarf. Needing to keep secrets, but distrusting those around him for the very same reason...I'd love to see Audric get through this and thrive.

    Narcissistic is probably an apt description of Zeb's faith, or at least his recent expressions of it...but I like to think that it's more self-damaging than destructive to those around me.

    1. To follow up on your post about NPCs (from a couple weeks back), Rould is definitely an introvert: never married, and more at ease in the seclusion of the forest. The loss of Shadfeld, for him, was no small thing, though he's swallowed his grief for the sake of Tussugar, whose mind is immeasurably burdened since attack by the Malarans. These are wounds that might take years to heal, if ever.

      Arkhen, while it matters less now, was bold and self-confident (even bordering on arrogant), though he fought with a keen eye and a stout heart. Perhaps not the most likable fellow, but a staunch ally and reliable companion.

      Erathmar is outgoing, a leader and an organizer by nature, having a demeanor that both offers and demands respect. He grants his trust based on what he sees with his own eyes, and cares little for what skeletons anyone may harbor.

      Drachus is level-headed, forced into stoicism and wisdom beyond his years. He's the proverbial child who became a provider at an early age, and has thus far succeeded where lesser men may have failed.

      Selben finds himself in circumstances he can't control, brought about by events he can't remember. He seemingly tries to do whatever he can - to aid those around him, but also to carve out a sense of purpose for himself amid the chaos.

  4. Out of character, I love the NPCs as well. I do feel like they are nuanced, and definitely feel different and like they have different motivations. I feel like Rould has not had the same opportunities to be as fleshed out. He has always been a bit of an afterthought, or has always been "tagging along" so to speak. I have had conversations with him in the past, but his trust of Tussugar (deserved trust) makes Audric not get too close.

    Right now, Audric is emotionally compromised. He has not had enough time to process everything that has happened in the past day. Due to this he is making more decisions based on emotion than on thought/logic. He does feel some combination of betrayed/ignored/used by Mystra and he does not know how to handle that.

    I don't envision Audric as anything but a Good character, though perhaps a touch too fanatical in his mission. He is good Good to sit in Erathmar's camp while the town is being attacked and not help. He isn't uncaring, he is broken for lack of a better term. Right now his decisions seem random or weird, but that is just because he has a lot to come to terms with. He will come through this, but how it happens remains to be seen.

  5. After the conversation, Zeb would like to take Selben on a short walk. His main goal is to find the villager that he left the wolf carcass with, and to hopefully recover the skull, as well as a few scraps of hide left over after skinning the animal. Zeb has plans for that grisly trophy, and the pelt will make a fine reward to the villager for any work done slaughtering the animal.

    Assuming he's able to get it, Zeb will take the wolf's skull back to the base of the tower, where he'll start a small fire with the intention of scorching what remains of the creature's flesh from the bone. It's not a task he looks forward scavengers, the flesh of such a beast is inedible, and unpleasant. He'll arrange the strips of hide on sticks high above the flame--enough to help dry it out, but not close enough to burn the fur. He'll enlist Selben's aid in these tasks, giving the young man a chance to ask anything else that might be on his mind, whether about magic or anything else.

  6. The hour grows late; we'll begin Wednesday's session with darkness setting in upon the village. It will be helpful to have your intentions for the night in mind when we convene.

    Selben follows Zeb obediently around Carrock, drawing apprehensive looks from villagers as they pass. Despite this, the boy steps lightly and seems eager to help in any way that he can; as such, the tasks laid forth above are carried out in short order by the pair.

    After the gruesome ritual is complete, Selben turns to his companion and asks, with some hesitation, "In what manner of... study... do we partake, this eve?"

  7. "Fighters rely on strength of arms, Selben," Zeb replies, trying hard not to sound too aloof or preachy. "Thieves rely on sleight of hand and skill, they strike from positions of surprise or from the shadows when their opponents are least aware and most vulnerable." He pauses a moment, continuing. "Priests rely on their faith, and hope that their god or gods will answer in times of need." That last statement is wistful, Zeb's skin still laced with wounds and scars displaying his various failures and successes of faith.

    "As a mage, you will rely on magic but that power can also be fickle, and its resources not limitless. When it runs out, what then?" The question is rhetorical, but Zeb hurries to continue before he loses the young man's attention. "Thus a mage needs other tools. Here," he says, pointing his dirty knife at the skull and small piles of charred flesh that have collected as Zeb peels it from the skull, "is an implement of intimidation, or at the worst, a distraction. One of our foes, Carcerus, takes the form of a beast, a wolf, that walks on two legs. My hope is that this will serve as a warning--Carrock is made ready for an an attack such as the one that saw Shadfeld fall, and I'd have Carcerus know it when he sees me."

    Zeb shrugs. "At least, that's my hope. If nothing else, it may enrage the creature so that it focuses its attentions on me--I'm ready for them, whereas the men and women of Carrock, brave though they may be, are nearly defenseless against such a foe."

    Poking around the tower, Zeb found a sturdy torch shaft, as well as several scrap leather straps. The former he cleaned up with a knife, scraping away any char from the burnt end, and the latter he has soaked in a bucket. Once the skull is mostly clean, at least clean of flesh, he will set the torch staff into the base of the wolf skull, and begin using leather straps to bind and tie it, creating a heavy, improvised mace. Such a weapon won't withstand much punishment, but its purpose is more visual than it's meant to be physical. Zeb shows Selben how to layer the straps, and after doing the first few himself, passes the rest on to Selben to finish.