Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The storms clouds part over Phandalin

The session begins the morning after I exploded the situation in Phandalin+Peter V. Dell'Orto joins the group as a human priest of Mitra, Alb Irex. +Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic has a post up with his account of the session.

The Roster
  • Keyar Nailo (Dan McEntee) - an High Elven Archer seeking to keep the elven refuge of Losthain safe.
  • Vognur (Chris) - a warrior armed and ready to take his place in the world and to pursue the mystery of the box left to him by his family.
  • Sidwin the Sharp (Tim) - a native of the City-State, the human rogue senses opportunity in Phandelver and positioned himself to be hired as one of the caravan guards. 
  • Aevin Steelhand (Ken) a former solider who doesn't back down from anything looking to make his mark in the world now that he out of the Overlord's army.
  • Elder Carmina (Joshua Macy)  a human cleric of Mitra, the goddess of Justice and Honor, sent as a routine courier from the Archbishop of Modron to the temple in Tain.
  • Mark Bludiell (Douglas Cole)  a half-elven paladin of Veritas, the god of Truth and the High Lord, Originally from the mixed community of Ashenshaft in the Gnome Kingdom of Lightelf he has been wandering the northeast coast region for several years following the call of the High Lord. 
  • Alb Irex a human cleric of Mitra. A local itinerant priest providing religious services to rural manors and out of the way now caught up in the tumults of civil war.
In the old Redbrand Lair underneath Tresendar Manor
Early afternoon on the 2nd of Regal Serpent (1st month of autumn)

The mage steps into the crypt gesturing and chanting arcane words. Across the room Sidwin thinks "Oh shit." as he sees the mage completes the final gestures of the spell. A ball of fire begins to forms in the air. 

Sidwin shouts "Duck!" as he scrambles for the door. One of Nepthys threads of luck must be entwined with the rogue as he slams the door just before the fireball explodes. Despite the closed door, the ferocity of the flame leaks through the cracks and singes Vognur, Alb, and Mark. Despite the burn the party was spared the full burnt of the spell.

Sidwin's heart is chilled when he heard young Carp's screams from beyond the door. Opening the door he sees Alderleaf's 10 year son, whimpering on the crypt floor badly burned. 

Righteous anger raged through the rouge's mind. Sidwin was never what people would call a nice man. Nobody would call him religious. But seeing that boy on the floor with blackened skin smoldering burned away the callouses that built up over the years on his soul. With a yell he tore through the remnants of the web and charged. When he reached the other side of the crypt Sidwin leaps in the air and with a fury worthy of a storm crashed down on the mage. As the two fell to the floor, Sidwin's sword sliced through his opponent's throat and blood sprayed over him and the nearby minions of the mage.

Sidwin looked up at the three thugs around him and stabs his sword into the mage's heart. "Drop your swords" He said in a quiet voice. 

They quickly dropped their weapons and raised their hands up in surrender.

The depths of Dearthwood, several days ago.

"Rokore will go no further." The large orc warchief said to Pardan. "Neither will my ironhides." as he gestures toward the thicket of rhododendron bushes lying at the base of the slope.  "In there is death." Point up the slope, "Up there death. We stop here and will go no further." 

Pardan sighed, "I have told you, that I have come here under the protection of Pan Caulderax. You and your fellow tribesman will be safe, especially considering the magic I command." With a gesture, Pardan produces a small flame from his fingertip.

The orc chieftain looks slyly at Pardan. "You are magic-user, you bear token of black master. You don't need protection. You powerful enough."

Pardan blinked a few times and thought, "Great, I had to get a smart orc for a guide.". The mage spoke"Very well, my men and I will proceed on from here. By the will of the black master wait here for my return."

All the orcs began chuckling at this, the warchief answered Pardan, "You have until sun reaches there" he points to a position in the tree canopy. "Then we will leave."

Pardan looks irked. "Very well, but you best be here until then or the black master will know." Pardan turns to the seven men accompanying him. "Let's go." 

One of them steps forward. "Look we agreed to come with you on the order of Herone. If the orcs are worried about that place maybe you should go alone. We didn't sign up to provoke a dragon." 

Pardan stops and looks at the thug. The mage answers, "You know perhaps you should stay.". And before the thug could react sheets of flame erupt from Pardan's hands. The thug falls to the ground screaming and writhing. Pardan turns to the warchief, gesturing at the fallen thug, "If you need something for your pot tonight. You may have him.". Turning the remaining six. "Do any of you wish to stay?". 

The remaining thugs vigorously shook their head no and the group proceeded into the thicket.

In the Stonehill Inn, Phandalin, the morning of the 2nd of Regal Serpent.
The party wakes up and has breakfast courtesy of Innkeeper Toblin and the village. After about an hour of eating and small talk. Elder Gisele comes and tells the party that she leaving Phandalin to talk to the elders and reeves of the other nearby villages. She thanked Sidwin for giving her much to think about and informs him that after talking with the village council that this was the best thing to do. She introduces Elder Alb Irex to the group and explains that he is an itinerant priest of Mitra and arrived in Phandalin late last night. After the introductions she leaves and Elder Alb sits down and has breakfast.

The group debates their options through the morning. Among the raised questions was whether the revolution in City-State has ended with the bishops in control, how long before the Sheriff and the Overlord notices the loss of revenue from the miners and village, and what will Sildar Hallwinter being doing during all this. The various enterprises of Halia Thorton are discussed as well and whether Sir Varius of Highgarden will be doing something since he is apparently in her pay.

During this discussion, Linene Graywind of the Lionshield Coster enters the inn. An acerbic personality on her good days sparks immediately flew between her and Mark Bludiell. However she was quickly put in her place when Mark revealed he was a Paladin of the High Lord Veritas. During the run up to this confrontation she offered her support to the group's efforts to find a way out of Elder Gisele and village's impetuous declaration of support for the rebellion.

In the Stonehill Inn, Phandalin, noontime.
With breakfast long over the party is slowly working their way to a course of action when they were interrupted by Pip, innkeeper's son. "Tim... err Carp has fall... errr the Redbrands have returned beneath the manor and have captured Carp. We were exploring and they just appeared."

The group gathered their gear and quickly marched to Tresender Manor. Based on Pip's account the group decided to enter through the secret entrance in the forest rather than the basement entrance up in the hilltop ruins.

The party found themselves in the main cavern and as they made their way north heard voice of Carp pleading with several angry men. Vognur excitedly pulled out a map he drew but put the parchment away when he realized it was for Wind Echo Caves not the old Redbrand Lair.

With the voices coming from the northeast, the party moved into the northern storeroom. Sidwin made his way through the secret door and down the corridor. There he spotted the mage Pardan interrogating Carp along with four thugs with swords and crossbows. Deciding that it was best to act quickly he shoots one of the thug with short bow. The arrow plunges into the thug's kidney and his staggers backwards shocked by the pain.

Unfortunately for Sidwin and the party, the mage reacts quickly and with his wand fills the corridor and the doorway where Sidwin is at with webs. Pardan then ducks out of the crypt through its southern entrance. Sidwin manages to hit with another arrow on the same thug he hit earlier but lacking surprise it doesn't do nearly as much damage. The four thugs bring up their crossbow and three of them manage to sink bolts into Sidwin. Hindered by the webs, Sidwin is running out of options.

Vognur flails at the webs with his sword and doesn't achieve much progress until Lanar steps up with his torch. Vognur tells Carmina that there is a passage south that loops around, the priestess starts running down the cavern. Mark Bludiell raises his shield and attempts to run through the web and is immediately ensnared. 

The Pardan steps back into the crypt and with a word and gesture sends five magic missiles at Sidwin. However the rogue is no ordinary thief but a arcane trickster who has the shield spell memorizes. The mage is stunned when the bright shimmer of the spell stops his missiles and ducks back out of the crypt.

Sidwin yells "Your mage is powerless against me! What are you going to do?" Seeing this display of Sidwin's prowess the thugs take a final shot at Sidwin and run. Two of the bolts hit causing Sidwin to stagger. With multiple injuries and his lifeblood spilling out on the floor, darkness begins to encroach on his vision. 

Vognur tries to free Mark from the web with his swords but his efforts prove useless. Lanar is ready with his torch but uncertain to his course of action. He looks to Vognur for answers.

Carmina runs through the southern passage and sees a lighted room ahead with two thugs. Calling on Mitra, she unleashes the Scared Flames of the Red Maiden on the unsuspecting villain.

It was at this moment that Pardan steps back into the crypt and unleashes a fireball. Despite his injuries Sidwin reacts with superhuman speed and manages to shut the door (roll a natural 20 on his save). Greatly mitigating the damage of the spells (1/2 damage on a failed save, and 1/4 damage on a successful save).  But as recounted earlier his heart chilled when he heard Carp screams. 

One of the four thugs with Pardan manages to jump across the pit blocking the way to the entrances. At that moment Sidwin charges across the room and leaps on Pardan and with a single blows downs the mage. Mark Bludiell rushes into the room and interposes himself to shield Carp from any further attacks. Elder Alb reaches Carp and with the aid of Mitra and a Cure Wounds spell was able to fully heal Carp. 

With their leader dead and Sidwin standing on top of the mage looking like an bloody angel of vengenace the three thugs surrendered. The fourth ran down the hall yelling to warn the two thugs at the entrance. Carmina continues to duel the two remaining thugs calling down repeated strikes of Sacred Flame.

The thugs retreated leaving by the basement stairs of Tsendar Manor. Inspired Sidwin used a spell to give him the semblance of Pardan and proceeded to run after the thugs. Once outside, the three remaining thugs turned to Sidwin/Pardan asked what the plan was.

"Surrender is the only option." replied Sidwin/Pardan.

The thugs kneeled in surrender when the rest of the party caught up

The verge of Deathwood, one day ago

It was night and a fire was lit as twilight deepened. Seven men sit around flames eating their dinner. One of them is Pardan a well dressed mage, and other are thugs equipped with swords and crossbows.

Looking around at the six thugs, "We won't be heading back to Tain to report to Herone right away." Pardan spoke. "We need to take a detour to the ruins of Thundertree."

"Why that my lord?" asked one of thug "Is there anything special we need to prepare for?" He added quickly remember what happened a few days ago. 

"We need to keep out an eye out for druids." answered the mage looking sternly at the thug who questioned him. "They have taken an interest in Thundertree. It seems that Vermian, Mori's child, has taken up residence and we are tell the young dragon that his mother wants him to come home."

Another thug chuckled "Well I guess even dragons have mommy issues." Everybody laughed including Pardan.

After the laughter died down, Pardan continued, "We will stop to see Glasstaff in Phandalin to resupply and see if he has any information for Pan Caulderax on what the Black Spider is up too. So everybody get a good night's rest."

In the Stonehill Inn, Phandalin, late afternoon.

The group rereads the parchment Sidwin found on the dead mage. Everybody discusses who and what Pan Caulderax is. Mark Bludiell explains that this, not the civil war, is the reason he has been called her. He states that it is obvious that the dragon is going to attempt to take advantage of the war to gain more territory and power. 

After talking through dinner, the party decides that they lack enough information and that the best way is to obtain it is to head to Tain. But first see what Sir Varius of Highgarden is up too in case his planning to get a jump on the situation and attack Phandalin. While the knight could only muster at best a company of men (20 troops). Trained soldiers can defeat a far larger force if they are only village militia. 

Having formulated a plan the party retires for the night.

Lassie! Timmy fell down a well! Yeah that is a discredited trope. In my defense what happened is exactly the type of situation that would occur with Pardan arriving and the characters of Pip and Carp being what they are. A pair of 10 year old boys known for getting in trouble.

One things I like to is establish cultures. Not always capital C culture like Western Europe, China, etc but little 'c' cultures like a neighborhood or a small town. In this particular case is the idea that the "bad" guys have their own little social network going on. I feel this makes them more than just stock villains to be beaten and forgotten. And for most of the bad guys I don't try to make them tragic or misunderstood. They are evil and are making the wrong choices that harm. Something that I hope th first vignette of Pardan illustrates. Even the evil overlord has a life in the Majestic Wilderlands.  In this case I thought it would be interesting to have Glasstaff be more than just the Black Spider's flunky. 

This intersection of events also introduces in the two remaining major plot threads. The idea that Dreathwood holds things of interest and reveals the threat behind the paladin's vision.

Now understand that I implement all of these "plots" as actions of specific NPCs. That while Divolic, Pan Caulderax, and others have their plots and schemes, they have to use their followers and supporters to see them through to fruition. Which means their plans get mixed up with their followers plans and result is never as a cut and dry as it appears at first glance. 

This is my secret in using "grand plots". Always to implement things through specific NPCs doing specific things as if they existed as flesh and blood people. 

For each NPC I ask myself, 

a) what they do for those they are loyal too
b) who else they are loyal too
c) what they want for themselves. 

I try not to get much more complex than that as I don't want to have to use a charting program to keep track of everything. Which is what would happen if you tried to make things as complex as they are in real life. For some NPCs, details get piled on due to PCs exploring logical connection or a character is used over multiple campaigns. But in general I start with the above three for any particular NPC.
Another trick I try to do is impose variety on myself. It not easy to see at the moment as we are only two session into this phase of the campaign. So far the most sympathetic characters have been the rebel villagers. All those in authority, except for Sildar Hallwinter, have been pretty unlikable.

However I try to have a mix of personality types on both sides. In the Gold Star Anime campaign, the characters have met Duke Divolic and he was not what the players expected for being a feared Myrmidon of Set. He was quite polite, almost unassuming. Although towards the end of the dinner, their evasiveness towards his offers caused the Duke to show a little of how he treats his enemies.
Enjoy your plundering expeditions, but understand the day is coming when you nwill eed to make a choice. And if you decide to go against me and what's mine,  I know who you are, what you have, who your friends are, and where you live.
Divolic continues
I have threatened you with nothing but the truth. As High Regent and a Duke of City-State I hold both authority and power. What I stated are the facts of the situation. And know that the line between the Overlord and the pretenders to his crown grows smaller. Soon it will be so thin that you will find your feet on one side or the other. I am giving you the opportunity to decide now before it is decided for you later.
Divolic not stupid and while devoted to Set has his Myrmidon realizes that the larger world is not painted in black and white. That much can be gain using the carrot first before wielding the stick.

Then there is Sir Varius, slovenly, stupid, and thinking little beyond of his own needs. The very flower of the Tharian Horselords.

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