Saturday, 5 November 2011

Too Damn Hot Today: The Sand and the Dead It Left in its Wake - Part One

“When the offer came to investigate strange goings on in Caeoria It seemed as though providence was smiling on me. There was little reported on the collection of city states stranded in the middle of a harsh desert, so any information I could obtain to put to paper would be of great interest to scholars and librarians the realms over. It would also make me a lot of money. The reality of the experience however... well, lets just say that had I known what these 'strange goings on' would escalate to, I'd have probably stayed in Andavia.
What we did discover in Caeoria though, I can safely say, was widespread systematic corruption running all the way to the top. Backwards through time.”
- Zantir Xanderfell – Caeoria: The Land the Gods Forgot


Here we are again. Another new campaign, another opportunity for a well made plan to go out of the window, for both the characters and the DM. This would now be our forth campaign, my third playing a character, and like the others it was dogged with the problem (which Penny Arcade readers will be abundantly aware) of trying to get four men in their twenties together for one night a week which doesn't involve a pub. The DM's own planning for the campaign was pretty tight, but we would go weeks and sometimes nearly a month between sessions, making it hard to remember what the plan was. We all tried our best though. The roots for this campaign began at the end of the last, with two new characters arriving at Damon's funeral. The first, and arguably most important was the DM's guest NPC, Nero.

“Ask anyone about Nero and they'll tell you there just wasn't something quite right about him. For an adventurer I mean. He certainly had the skills, the smarts for the job. As a ranger he was as good as I've seen. But his attitude, he had this sort of... too perfect a hero sort of aura. I mean most adventurers have a part of them that want to do the right thing, or at least work for someone who wants to do the right thing, but by and large its a full time job for them. The average adventurer is in it for the money and the treasure and the respect. They won't go out there and rescue some princess without the expectation that they're going to get some nookie at the end of it.
But Nero he was different, like the money and the respect and all that didn't mean a thing to him, he was out to do the right thing. Which meant that he was either part of that rare breed that are genuinely honest or stupid and out there to do good deeds for the sake of doing them, or he had some serious funding coming from somewhere.”
- Unknown – From an interview in Who's Who of the Realms

Nero was a human ranger hailing from Caeoria, a far away desert land occupied by an apparently Scottish accented culture. Nero was styled to be similar in looks and mannerisms to David Tennant, hence the Scottish accent. The DM dropped the accent about half way into the first session, which I thought was a shame, but he was the boss. Like Megi in the last campaign, Nero being a DM character meant that he didn't get much room to express his personality, and we'll touch upon this later because Nero had a BIG SECRET that we were supposed to uncover gradually, but ended up not coming out as planned.

“ Zantir Xanderfell. Cultist. Militant. Politician.. Journalist. As far as careers go she's had a rather varied one. Part of a minor race of green skinned 'dark elves' who lost their souls due to a centuries old elven curse. Like most of her contemporaries, the fact that her soul had now passed on to the astral plane for judgment meant that any actions they now took within life had no bearing on what fate awaited their souls. She fell in with the usual group of raiders and deviants, with the usual 'fallen elf' fair of spikes, straps, whips, clips, zips and chains. This went on for a couple of centuries.
Eventually though Zantir would become one of the few to turn to good rather than evil, since extremes of either would have no bearing on whatever treatment her soul would be getting from the divine. She turned to politics, and was an instigator of the Reunification Wars, which in the end achieved very little beside even more strained relations between the elves. She was finally double crossed and deposed by a goblin general. Disgusted by how the political system had let her down, Zantir left to chronicle and publicize examples of corruption throughout the realms. Prior to Ceaoria, she had already exposed illegal peddling of opiates by those high in Andavain society, overcoming the prejudice that the human city had originally shown her.”
- Rupert Brooks – Voices in the Darkness: The early realms Chroniclers

Never being one to sit on a character for more than one campaign, I switched again to a new one. Zantir came from a wide range of influences. I'm ever nostalgic for the old Baldurs Gate/Icewind Dale games, especially that you could choose outlandish skin colors regardless of the race you picked. I'd wanted to create a green skinned elf lady since playing Age of Wonders years ago, but never got the opportunity.
I'd started playing Age of Wonders again on a nostalgia trip, and created Zantir as a player character. When our campaign began I wanted to have a try with bard, but she didn't seem to be the lute playing type. So I made Zantir essentially a female, green , elf version of Christopher Ecclestone's character from Our Friends in the North. A disillusioned individual that turned to journalism to expose the failings of the system that let them down. Also, I have just realised that we're two characters in and both are based on ex Doctor Who actors!

“Megi was now well respected in Farrelite society. If she wished she likely could have lived off her status, comfortable and content. She knew better though, since on Farrel, if your not constantly out finding ways to keep above your rivals, you'll end up with a knife in your back. Having been recently associated with Damon of Ioun, she had met with the mysterious Nero who offered a grand adventure in the faraway land of Caeoria.. Looking into the records of the Farrel grand library, Megi found that Caeoria was practically untapped for its arcane mysteries.
In the interim before the expedition, Megi cavorted around court, partaking in the usual mental and social shadow boxing that Farrel was notorious for. Her rank and status meant that she could obtain many diplomatic documents that meant traversing the nations would not be a problem, and that she would be shown the due respect, or so she expected. On a foggy Farrel morning she set sail to rendezvous with Nero, palms tingling with the anticipation of what power would be up for grabs.”
- Crispin Lennon – I Don't Want to Spoil the Party: Famous Farrelites

Now no longer a DM character Megi was on top form, and by top form I mean doing everything she could to get first dibs on loot. Unsurprisingly her player was the same who had Trust in the earlier campaigns. Megi did fortunately have her diplomatic status to get us out of (or in to) a few problems, but by and large most of the time the other characters couldn't shake the feeling she was trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Despite the fact that it was Zantir who was the 'dark' one and supposed to essentially have a sadistic streak, in the face of Megi she was positively the grounded one. As with Trust before her, torture and murder was the order of the day, and it still didn't get us any further in the long run.

“Azreal of the Order of Bahamut. You are accused of the following sins against the Church of Bahamut: Gambling. Gambling with estates and property bestowed upon you by the church. Gambling and losing estates and property bestowed upon you by the church. Sentence: Demotion to Paladin Errant. You will not be granted replacement lands proportioned to those lost lost. Recommended penance: Follow the orders creed of performing good deeds of valor and charity, and if possible obtain funds with which the church estates can be repurchased. You're current judgment is pending. For the great Blue Dragon God, go in glory.”
- Holy Order Decree sealed by Chief Justicar McNulty

Our final player decided to switch back to Azreal this chaplain after finding Lerissa the warlock a little difficult, however he soon met with more frustration as Megi, despite being a mage, seemed to be able to take more damage than Azreal could, and he was supposed to be the tank. Personality wise, this was the same old Azreal, saying very little and voting for the most direct, violent course of action possible. Hitting things with his “smashy board” as he would put it.

So thats our line up, and the campaign begins proper at Nero's behest.


Chapter One
Baby It Could Be Worse

“The land of Ceaoria was not a nation as such but more of a collection of states. While ruled by a king, the prime responsibility of administration was left to rulers of the separate cities. It was fortunate then that when madness gripped King Raz al'Kah after the death of his wife that the cities could continue to function independently without his guidance.
Not so fortunate however was that in his grief and dabbling with ancient magic, the King had cursed the nation with a plague of undead wanderers, mindless and deadly. To compound matters, several of the independent rulers jumped at the opportunity to expand their own mini empires.”
Zantir Xanderfell – Caeoria: The Land the Gods Forgot

Our session begins with Nero regrouping with his former mentor Farrow, who is suffering from a deadly poison. A solution is proposed by obtaining the antidote from local cleverman Viqtor Zheng, who resides in the cities library. Despite the obvious signposting, Megi is convinced that it can be circumnavigated by simply killing Farrow then bring him back using a raise dead ritual. After some heated debate, Nero states that the death magic within the poison would negate such a ritual. Megi eventually drops the idea, but this would not be the last time she'd try and get round a problem by suggesting this solution.
Once the group arrive at the library, they find Zheng wrapped in grief. It turns out that his baby son had been kidnapped by local despot and nutter Marix. Megi once again suggests offing Zheng and looking for the antidote themselves, and while supposed paragon of justice Azreal sees no problem with this, Nero is starting to think that recruiting Megi was not such a good idea after all. During this sequence, our DM full on dramatised Zheng's tearful state, to such a point that we were all unsure what was in game and what wasn't. Brilliant.
The son had to be obtained from Marix, so the group then head to his city, Marix, which does not fill you with confidence in a mans sanity. Through the desert a few of the dead need to be contended with, and upon arrival at the city fail to convince the guards to let them in. Megi tries to flaunt her diplomatic papers, but in the end it falls to Zantir to use her magic pipes to dominate the guards and let them pass. When they meet Marix, they find he'd covered the baby with tattoos, and babbles nonsense about dark prophesies, as these types of people do, and is suspiciously mistrustful of Nero.
The session finishes with Marix eventually agreeing to part with, but would only do so if someone would stay with him. Zantir agrees to stay, on the grounds that she seems to be the only one to take his stories seriously.


Chapter Two
I'm sorry but I haven't got a Clue

“The swamp people are an affront to civilized society. They have no concept of trade or economy, and no practice at all regarding hygiene. They do not recognise their betters and have still not submitted to leadership of an organized government. They call themselves Caeorians but they have no right to use this name. Living side by side with those 'frog people' they contribute nothing but the spread of superstition and paganism. Worse of them all is this so called 'Queen of the Zombies', who says that the walking dead can be tempered and put to good use. It is the work of devils, and they are a hellish people.”
Lester Gryphon – An open letter to the people of Ceaoria regarding the occupation of the marshlands.

Zheng grants the antidote in return for his son, and Farrow is cured. Fortunes turn however when Farrow falls foul of the Kings curse, and instead of rising to life, he returns to undeath, as a deadly wraith like being. The group are forced to do battle with the now unreasonably powerful Farrow, who even has the power to summon Zantir to the location in an attempt to destroy her too. The group manage to force him back, and he fades into the mists, promising to return.
This leaves Nero as now sole leader of the resistance. In an attempt to combat the undead hoards, the group travel from city to city in search of allies, only to mainly find opportunistic bureaucrats with ambitions of turning on each other. Zantir contributes blueprints of Katie's airship from my last campaign, in the hopes that the nations air force can be bolstered, but again this just results in the leaders seeing a more effective way to double cross each other.
After a few close shaves while traveling, word is finally heard of a strange people living in the swamplands, who apparently have the knowledge to control the undead. Heading to the marshlands, they are contested by a few of the regions strange creatures before they meet the populace proper. Cardia, the so called queen, reveals she has a magic mask that can control the living dead, but she is not willing to give it up. Fortunately she gives them the location of another such mask, in the caves on the far side of the desert.
Within the caves though, awaits something not quite human. Something in the darkness, large, and pinchey.


Chapter Three
The Benedicuts Tedium

“To look at them would reveal no unusual qualities, they would be indistinguishable from the average human, but the Caeorian nobility concealed a secret and deadly bloodline. Centuries ago the drow elves lived on the surface of Caeoria, within the center of an endless jungle. During their time of dominance they conducted spectacular and profane rituals to their god Lolth. All things must come to an end however, and a brutal feud with followers of the Raven Queen resulted in the extermination of most of the areas plant life and the majority of the drow themselves. They persisted however, one way or another, turning their back on their dark god or interbreeding with the human populace. By the current era most of the drow are all but gone, but their legacy continues, one way or another.”
- Gabriella Burke – Mapping the Realms Underdark: Appendix A

The scorpion creature is revealed to be Jingo, a remnant of the drow empire and once one of its foremost lieutenants. He has since mutated into essentially a scorpion version of a drider, but retains his mind, and more importantly his humanity. Jingo fills in some of the blanks, revealing centuries ago he and his fellow generals were working on a ritual to incarnate Lolth in the physical realm. He agrees to part with the mask, which Zantir feels is in her best interests to keep hold of rather than Mrs Evil Plan and Captain Indifferent. The masks power is put to the test, allowing control of the undead it looks upon, and could be further enhanced when fire is used to create a spotlight of sorts.
Further investigation of the plagues source leads to a hive of blind monks hiding in catacombs below a ruined church. These as it is revealed are what are left of the followers of the Raven Queen, and the only one to retain some of his mind, Benedict, relates more of the tale. Took us a while though, since I feel the DM really hadn't planned exactly how he wanted us to uncover the plot, he didn't want to hand it to us outright. Turns out the blood of the drow scattered throughout the populace has a desire to reunite itself, which would complete the incarnation ritual, it was this reason that the king unleashed the curse, in an attempt to capture those of the blood.

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