Sunday, 12 August 2012

Fight for Your Right to Split the Party: A Bleaker's Gambit - Part Four


Chapter Ten

An Amazing Technicoloured Cavalcade

“Fallon's later travels are often glossed over, but, looking back over the God Maker affair, they show as being just as far reaching as his other work. Fallon was assumed to have fled Farrel to bury his discoveries and disappear into obscurity. What few knew though, was that Magnus Fallon was not leaving his homeland, but returning to it. Fallon's faintly exotic features are rarely picked up on seeing how he was depicted in the woodcuts, but it would now appear that he hailed from the strange people of the far east, many centuries or more ago. Fallon's longevity is often suggested to come from his study of the Palantír, but it is much debated if this was learned from his rival, and later murderer, Rasputin, or vice versa. Regardless, Fallon was to father two daughters, one he would keep to raise as his own, the other he sent with her mother, who died upon arrival, fleeing to the west.”

- Cadmar Worthington – Blood and Dirt: Tracing the Bloodlines of the Realms

There was a lot to get through for this session, and really, I didn't put much forethought into it, so it all sort of mashed together as one. Returning from the feywild, the team left Danya to go her own way back to the tribe, missing out on those valuable experience points and rewards they would have got from returning the golden plated heart to their leader. Instead, the team head back to more civilised lands. On their way they have a chance encounter with a mysterious elven woman, who Jocasta recognises. She explains she is on the trail of a traveling con man, one who is suspiciously similar in appearance to the man they have been seeing in dreams. At this point I'd also suggested a few times that... something... had followed Nero back from the plains, and was giving him a bad reputation.

The elven lass is is bit of a running character between me and one of my friends, but I didn't integrate her cameo very well for its purposes. Likewise, I hadn't yet decided what the mysterious dream man was going to play out as, so this was either a macguffin or a lead in to a sub plot. Either way, the team just wanted to loot stuff and get on their merry way, and thats what they did. Soon enough they reunite with Kerris, who takes the final translation and activates the map room. The Godmaker's location is noted to be in the remote sparrow islands.

As far as crucial objectives go that's all they needed at this point, but there was still the matter of finding the rest of Fallon's bloodline to activate the Nazrin's Modron's function to allegedly control the Godmaker properly. At this point I was going to branch the story two ways depending on if they did this or not, though I can't remember what the branch was now. Either way, Fallon's other child and Sakari's sister was always planned to be Mai from Carnack's eleven.

There were a lot of hints that the group chose not to explore regarding this, and the most obvious was that I'd always depicted Sakari as vaguely east Asian, and Mai was blatantly influenced by this also. Instead I had to sort out a contrived string of events that involved the group meeting with Bastillion (who once again could have crafted some potions for them, instead the group justs let him palm off a load of faulty ones that acted randomly), then failing to converse with Lucas and Kerris (after another run in with the half-orc minstrels), then meeting up with Alrianna again to finally getting to Mai.

Anyway, after that startling revelation it was finally needed to secure a boat to the Sparrow Islands. The group headed to a wrenched pirate hive, get up to some pirate nonsense and secure a journey with Illithid Captain Clodhopper, another character I'd brought back from my old campaign. The group stay at an inn for the night, fool around with the random potions, testing them on bystanders for laughs, and then Trust leads a group of pirates to beat up the half-orc mistrals and finish their nonsense once and for all. Nero also gets super stoned on a massive smoke that Clodhopper gives him.

The following morning they set sail, and are forced to do battle with an entire fleet of enemy ships, suggesting that there is more interest in the islands than they thought. The session ends with them landing on the island that the Godmaker is resident on, and are set upon by enemy archers.

Music used:

Lords of Magic again, Tom Waits was back for the return to Navarre and the return of the half-orc minstrels. More Show of Hands for inn based merryment.

What worked:

This session was pretty chaotic, and was pretty much me rushing the group to get to the Sparrow islands. That being said, coming up with random potion properties was pretty fun, such as inflating a guys head to the size of a room etc. The whole pirate section in general went down pretty well, and was open to violent solutions that other parts of the campaign didn't allow.

What didn't:

After what had come before, I honestly didn't expect the group to be motivated into finishing the Fallon/Modron/Sakari/Mai subplot, especially since Nazrin's player, whom it mainly related to, had apparently forgotten about it. As a result I didn't really plan a logical stream of events to tie it up, instead having to come up with things on the spot. I guess that serves me right for underestimating the players. Also, given the momentum this session (and the campaign in general) was taking, the massive revelation that Sakari and Mai were sisters wasn't taken the way I would have liked.


Chapter Eleven

Piracy, Murder and Failure to Risk Assess

“It was wondered, without access to Fallon's map's, without the translations or the ciphers or the use of the map room, how it was that Rasputin was always one step ahead every step of the way. Rasputin hadn't acted alone of course, he's already mined Alrianna, Tristan and even Duncan's culpability. He's forced most of the information out of Fallon when he'd killed him long ago, and already made deals with demons and fey. Backups of Fallon's data were spirited away by High Commander Vantis from the Farrel millitary council, who had his own ambitions to discredit Megi and secure glory for himself. The mind flayer Captain Clodhopper had subtly recruited knaves across the realms to spy and study those searching for the relic, and a shadow brought back from the negative energy plane already knew their rivals darkest secrets. Is it any wonder then, that this unholy alliance was already waiting for the adventures when they arrived at the Godmaker's vault? All they needed now was the sequence activated by Fallon's blood that could allegedly control the relic with ease. How fortunate then, that this had already been prepared upon their time of arrival.”

- Roma Drangasti – Beyond the Call of Duty: Mercenary Warfare during the Early Malcontent

This session was ultimately a glorified boss fight. After fleeing into the Caribbean-esque jungle, it wasn't long until the group took up Cardia's swamp-sense to find their way. Eventually they find some old ruins, that Sakari translates as part of a locking mechanism. I use this as an excuse to ditch the NPC's as the others move ahead. They finally find what seems to be entrance to the Godmaker's vault, seemingly specifically prepared for Nazrin. Before they can react though, they are set upon by Rasputin, who reveals he has been working alongside Clodhopper and Megi's rival all along, and we throw in Shadow Nero just for the hell of it and as a final face off of all the main villains so far.

The battle was, as expected, long and took up the majority of the session. Along the way the group took the cue to shout out to Duncan, to turn him against Rasputin and give them the upper hand. Well most of them did, Megi's player just wanted to tell him to fuck off. Once the grand battle was finished and the enemies defeated, the group reunite and enter the ancient vault. As I'd planned all along, Carnack returns to doublecross them. As a call back to the Farrel campaign, I had the plinth surrounded by a force shield only the faithless could enter, and then have a massive anticlimax. I'd decided at this point that the chalice would already be gone, and that Carnack would remain trapped within the shield.

Finishing the session, the group traverse through a tunnel in the side of the vault, and come out on a cliff face to see a fleet of ships bearing the sigil of the Bahamut order, fleeing with the artifact.

Music used:

Lords of Magic yet again, and lots of combat music the group could cobble together, mostly from Tron: Legacy

What worked:

The final showdown with the many prime antagonists tied up a lot of loose threads, and I'm sure it was satisfying for the group to give them their ends. The cliffhanger kind of worked, but the fatigue after the combat diminished it somewhat.

What didn't:

Having to dedicate so much time to the battle meant I didn't have as much time to set the scene for the vault. I originally wanted a bigger ruin, with traps and such, ancient locks and other stuff. The Succubus was also possibly intended to return as a mini boss, and Carnack's appearance was supposed to have some more of an explanation rather than appearing from out of the blue.


Chapter Twelve

The Better Part of Valor

“The plan was callous, manipulative and, for all intents and purposes, completely immoral. At the same time, from a certain point of view, for a plan of conquest it certainly would have cut down on bloodshed. The operation was completely unauthorized by The Empire's government and known only to its spymaster and the select few involved. To what extent the recent troubles on the continent were totally manipulated by The Empire is unknown, but it is known that they at least had a hand in the assassination of a Roc-decendant dignitary, pledged funds to the attempted coup in Wardovia, sealed off tunnels that may have encouraged the Drider's anywhere other than Varassia and kept relations between swamp-folk and desert dwellers in Ceaoria frosty at best. By the time of the Godmaker affair, the knightly orders of many nations were heavily under The Empire's influence. The icing on the cake would be to claim the Godmaker relic and use whatever power it had to stage an invasion of a weakened continent. This icing though, had something other than a cherry on top.”

- Robert Winterfield – Splendid Isolation: How The Empire Came out of its Shell

And so the time came for the final session. There were many different variants of the endings I'd come up with after the bait and switch with the Godmaker, but we'll discuss that in a bit. The team leave in pursuit of the knight's fleet, but by the time they get back to their landing point on the other side of the island they'd lost their trail. With Clodhopper dead, the pirates themselves have no allegiance, and with a little bargaining agree to take the group back to the mainland.

The characters return to Andavia to find clues of where the knights may have gone, and upon arrival get a summons from the order of Bahamut itself. First they check with Zantir though, who has been keeping track of the corruption since day one, and found out that the knights whole command structure had been infiltrated by agents of The Empire, the vast mysterious sprawling nation to the north who few had any contact with. Meeting with what is left of the knights, Azreal is told that he is now the highest ranking member, and must take command immediately, as armies of demons and terrors have started appearing all across the continent. A stand has agreed to be taken at Fort Quintus to attempt to stem this invasion.

Here we split the party again, but this choice is more significant. I wanted a big battle for the characters, but knew a standard combat encounter would take too long and wouldn't be significant, so for the battle at Quintus, for better or worse, I came up with a quick turn based strategy mechanic. It was pretty basic, the DM and the player roll a D6 for each unit fighting and whoever rolls highest doesn't die. Units get bonus' depending on their type (pikemen against cavalry for example) and movement like charging in. Whoever stayed behind for the battle got units based on the character they chose. Obviously Azreal had to stay and had a mix of knights and men at arms. Nero was chosen and with him got Ceaorian desert archers and war elephants (insanely powerful), and Megi stayed to bring powerful Farrelite magics to the field. The battle was played out intermittently as the other characters searched for the Godmaker, and would have to hold out long enough because of this.

Moving on, this meant that Nazrin, Trust and Cardia were the ones who would go after the relic. First they needed to get to The Empire though. Kara had her duty to the city guard and had to stay behind, and Sakari did likewise. Katie revealed that her airship from my last campaign had been rebuilt, so they could fly them to the border of The Empire. There were two options now, to get into The Empire itself they could either get help from Loggo and Chrissy again, who had been there long ago, or get Lady Illiarna, the Black Hand mage from my last campaign, out of prison and have her teleport the group in. Secretly the group agree to let Illiarna loose once her job is done, and Kara agrees to let the mage out on parole.

They fly to the walled border of The Empire, and the mage opens an arcane gate to the center of town, Jocasta and Katie agree to hold for their return, but will not stay too long. Trust, Nazrin and Cardia arrive in town and, as comes natural, check the stores for what's on sale. They sniff around for clues based on info Zantir had given them, and hear strange rumors of things going on in town. Piecing some leads together, they hear of some kind of meeting at a local music hall. Because I love my homages, this next bit was right out of Live and Let Die, and nobody noticed. The group go into the music hall, are seated near the front, then a trap door opens and they're lowered into The Empire's spymaster's lair.

Exposition heavy time, but you'll only need the short version. The spymaster reveals he's been working for years to weaken the other nations and infiltrate their organisations. All was going to plan, until having sealed the knights and the Godmaker in an underground bunker for safety, have heard nothing back, and now that the lands are being plagued by demons something needs to be done. Having nothing to lose, he offers the group all the info they need and advises them to head to the bunker to claim what they were after. This was the first time I really had to use a no sell on an attack against and NPC, with trust throwing a dagger at the spymaster and him catching it and throwing it back. If he had died the group would have to fight The Empires finest troops, and I didn't have all night.


“Quintus was the dam to Andavia's traffic. It had long stood at the only real opening across the great river, to protect the nation from raids from the Nordic warriors and other bands in the east. When the abyssal army came through, Andavia and it's sister nations were to make their stand here. If Quintus were to fall, then there would be nothing to stop the enemy heading north, taking the rivers flow to the sea and delivering them an attack route to Wardovia, Farrel and Varassia.”

- Deltiod Brennan – The Early Realms Renaissance

Back in Andavia the battle is underway, and the army is mostly holding its own against the demon hoards. I started to up the ante though. No more siege towers and battering rams, it would be full on teleportation now. At The Empire's bunker, the trio enter to the scene of a massacre, with knights strewn about the place. With his dieing breath the Grand Master of Bahamut revealed that they simply wanted to incarnate their god, but had brought something else into this world instead.

Exposition heavy time again. Waiting for the trio by the chalice is the man from the character's dreams, the one who was supposedly a con man, but is actually an ancient evil. He reveals that there never was a Godmaker, and instead the chalice was created by the other gods to seal him away forever, but he could still influence the minds of men, and perpetuated the Godmaker myth to put into motion a series of contrived events that would break the rituals and set him free. And so, here he was, with an army of demons ready to conquer the land. Naturally there was no more room for negotiation, and battle commenced.

Meanwhile the battle continued at Quintus. The demons were joined by the Succubus from earlier with her demonic superweapons, and Azreal was forced to do battle with her to prevent them from being activated. On the side of good however, comes reinforcements. As the barriers between the material world and the planes starts to break down, Ghost Damon arrives to lead an army of Ioun's finest. Battling the demons for a bit, he then blinks out, to appear at the bunker to aid the others.

I wanted our final ultimate boss to turn into some towering monstrosity for the characters to fight, but unfortunately events conspired to prevent this. Trust's player had an old Warhammer Chaos dragon that I was intending to use, but that was in no fit state, then I tried to find an old T-Rex toy I had as a kid, so no luck there. So we had to settle for his human form, followed by a beholder, litch, and then a giant Russian doll that led to a mental battle of the characters wills. The room was also surrounded by tesla coils, and activating all four would temporarily paralyze the dark god.

And so, to round it all off, the battle as Quintus is a victory, but Azreal loses his life in battle against the Succubus. Azreal's player had already agreed that he wouldn't mind him being killed off, and should have been more dramatic, I also never mentioned that the Succubus had enchanted blades that could kill with one cut, so his death seemed a bit out of nowhere. Likewise, as the gates between life and death close, Damon finds that he is back in a living body. But whatever. After the dark god is banished, Nazrin's Modron appears to reveal that he can actually harness the magics of the chalice but that they would have to act fast, and so Nazrin, Cardia, Trust and Damon head through a portal to Eberron.

And so the campaign ends. Having the epilogue finish up at Azreal's funeral seemed a little too much of a riff on Damon's funeral a few campaigns back, but it seemed the only logical conclusion point.

Music used:

Everything up until this point pretty much made it into the game.

What worked:

I think the dramatic climax worked well to draw people in. I think giving a few options along the way was appreciated. Despite many of the players statements to the contrary, I think the group did like the mix in formula that the siege presented. I think the final villain was threatening enough to feel like a final boss. I think as a finale it felt suitably epic enough.

What didn't:

Like many other sessions (I seem to say this often), I had a lot to get through, so a lot of stuff got squashed and a lot of things could have used better explanations. Controlling two battles at once got messy but I think I managed to keep a handle on it. I wanted the final villain to transform into a dragon or something and I think the lack of a big beast to do battle with diminished it somewhat.



“What would become known to some as 'The Godmaker affair' had ultimately become somewhat of an embarrassment to The Empire. It's leadership denied all knowledge of their spymaster's plans, which meant that they were either lying to save face or drastically incompetent. After the temporary alliance at Quintus, the continent's nations had agreed upon a steady peace. The long period of little communication with Caeoria was starting to come to an end, and an agreement between Wardovia, Andavia and Farrel ended with Navarre being calved up for territories between them. In the face of such an organised land, The Empire decided it would now have to tread carefully, and, for the first time in centuries, a summit was called for dignitaries to meet and discuss relations.

The Empire would have it own problems. As strange planer spheres were noted to have first arrived some months later...”

- Robert Winterfield – Splendid Isolation: How The Empire Came out of its Shell

“Azreal's funeral was a normal affair for a knight of Bahamut, a burning on the pyre, a final salute. In the end Azreal died as he lived, not saying much about anything.”

- Tomas of the order of Bahamut – Oh Shining Day!: The Exalted of Bahamut

“Megi returned to Farrel once again. With Vantis out of the way she had few obstacles in her way politically, though she still had far to go in terms of power. The fact that the librarian's had been sitting on records of Magnus Fallon's discoveries all this time without her knowledge was something that irked her from the start, and she ordered all text's exhumed that may offer further information on Fallon's studies.”

- Crispin Lennon – I Don't Want to Spoil the Party: Famous Farrelites

“Nero returned to Caeoria a conquering hero. Proving himself not only a competent commander, but also a man capable of facing the darkness of the planes. King Jingo offered to return the prince to his former position in royalty. Nero, however, had become infatuated with the north and instead returned to Andavia, and all the delights it might contain.”

- Bostock Conroy – Family Histories

“As always seemed the case, Jocasta and Katie were not tied down for long, and after the Godmaker affair departed for parts unknown. Kara now had more work than usual cut out for the city guard, dealing with refugees and those now made homeless. Sakari was to have the most on her plate though, she now had a sister that she had to get to know, and Mai herself was still largely bemused by customs and traditions in the west. The two would bond during a trip to The Empire, where Sakari had been sent to transcribe the events of the coming summit.”

- Alysoun Mifflinburg – No Dykes to Watch Out For: Mercenaries on the Road Less Traveled

“There he sat, in a strange new world. The ale tasted different. He could not quite put his finger on it.

“Now listen,” said Nazrin, “I don't want you lot making fools of yourselves. I command a lot of respect here because of my heritage and I don't want you giving me a bad name.”

“What?” shouted Cardia, “Are you suggesting that I'm going to give you a bad name because of how I look?”

Nazrin put her head in her hands, “No Cardia, that's not what I meant. Look I'm sorry, It's just we've come such a long way and I don't want you to get in trouble.”

“Fear not dear lady,” said our noble hero, “Since my resurrection I feel the power of Ioun flowing through me all the stronger. Our time here will be spent on righting the most dangerous of wrongs. Also, has anyone seen Trust, and where has my money gone?”

- 'Tripshot' Murphy – Same Old Footsteps: The Adventures of Damon Volume 4

So that was that. I think the biggest difficulty with the campaign was, as usual, keeping it regular. The first few sessions were all done within a week of each other, but when you start to have three to four week gaps then players begin forgetting important stuff mentioned earlier on. Nevertheless, I managed to pack the campaign full of memorable moments, variety and feature every character I wanted it to feature. There were a few things that hit the cutting room floor though. There was to be a section where the group go with Reece to free prisoners from a drow camp in the underdark, for example, and as already mentioned, Tristans Troupe and Carnack's Eleven were to play larger roles, but for better or worse most of the stuff made it in.


As for the overall conclusion, the finale went through several iterations, given that I'd had time to think about it for over a year and a half. I never wanted the Godmaker to do what it was described as, but mainly ended it with it just being a crappy jar after all. The end. This wouldn't have been very satisfying for players though. After this I was going to have the return to Andavia show the city under the control of some nightmare dimension, and the group would team up with Carnack and maybe Illiarna or maybe she'd be the villain again.

Developing this after watching Ironclad at Christmas, I knew I wanted a siege in there. Along the way I wanted the group to hook up with Bostock again, who'd be commanding the resistance, but that got cut, and the battle with the ancient evil was originally going to take place at the top of a tower. The idea of having the dream man as the big bad went on again and off again, and sometimes he was, other times he was just going to be a con man, but pruning off another unnecessary plot thread meant making him the big bad the easier option.

After the siege, they would witness the arrival of reinforcements from The Empire, led by game versions of the players themselves, creating mixed loyalties, and having The Empire claim the lands. I thought this was a bit unfair on the other players and their own created nations though, and thats how the development led into the final battle. And so, what's done is done, and we've got to get together and move forward to the next. As mentioned, I'm already planning my next campaign, and at this rate I'll probably be starting it in August 2014.

No comments: