Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Fights Are Harder - A Bleaker's Gambit: Part Three


Chapter Six
Paved With Good Intentions

“Dast wasn't exactly well known as a gate town on the outland, indeed throughout most of the planes it was practically unheard of. This was sort of its point though. Dast existed on the fringes, not quite slipping into the hells themselves. It was the very embodiment of apathy, denial and all those things that make us turn our backs on the seemingly important. The town housed some unusual landmarks such as the illusory 'House of a thousand dads', or the bottomless brown mines. Dast's strange and unknowable nature drew many learned men to investigate its secrets, like most places on the planes though, staying in one place for too long can have a profound effect on an individual.”

- Anteili Moriarty – The Lesser Seen Outlands

At this point Cardia had picked up a disembodied skull that would constantly tease and taunt her and which only she could hear. I honestly can't remember where the skull came from but I think it was after one of the battles on the way to Navarre. Anyway, with this session being quite the weird one, the skull was at its most talkative, and was another tool I used to keep the players involved.

This time following Azreal, Trust and Cardia, the group have to head for the gate town of Dast, which has its fair share of experts that could translate the ancient abyssal. Getting there should have been pretty straightforward, what with Sigil having portals to practically everywhere. Harry had given the team the key, so all they had to do was find the door, and the gang were streetwise enough to locate two large skeletal hands sticking out of the ground. The solution to activating the portal was simple, just push the arms together to form an arch and activate the key. Instead, it took the group quite a while to grasp this, and eventually had to ask a bystander, who helpfully explained it to them. This wouldn't be the first problem the group would take far too much time debating over.

Arriving in town the group head out and explore the demonic landscape. A messenger contacts Trust, stating that her father is waiting to see her. Intrigued, they head for a strange manor house, wherein a large demon claiming to be Trust's dad starts harping on about her birthright. A nearby door starts knocking, and through it bursts another demon, this one also stating to be her father. An argument ensues and shortly yet another demon bursts forth with similar claims. What follows is a farcical turn of events with many different demons bugging Trust. Eventually another group attacks and gives them a window to escape.

Soon enough they find out what had happened to all the academics. Returning from my last campaign is the Succubus they fought in Wardovia, who reveals that after her escape she has still found herself exiled from the hells proper. The Succubus has been using the enthralled scientists (and the ghost of Damon's youth (possibly being revisited in a future campaign)) to construct a magical super weapon for her to take retribution against her enemies. She offers to get one of her thrall to translate the texts, but only if the group can help her escape the town.

Asking around, the group communicate with a demon that collects pain, and offers info in return for memories of some of the groups most painful encounters, as well as consuming the pain held within Cardia's talking skull. The demon reveals that the portal to the hells is hidden by the mines, and guarded by his upstanding brother. Heading to the mines they confront the gate keeper, who reveals that he cannot leave his post until he is confident that his quarry, the Succubus, is no more.

What followed is a long series of lengthy debates between the players on how to solve this problem. Generally I'd come up with several, notably defeat the gate keeper, kill the succubus outright and just free the academics, or rouse the city's inhabitants in a riot against the demons. I can't remember most of what ideas the players came up with, but I remember that they somehow thought that smuggling the Succubus out of the city would convince the gate keeper that she was dead. In the end though, they just decided to do battle with the gate keeper after all, and as spoils Azreal got his massive sword and shield, and Cardia got a new disembodied head to talk to.

Placated, the Succubus makes good on her deal and returns to the hells, as the team head back to Sigil. Finishing off the session, the team head back to Fell for some more tattoos and return to the prime material realms via Sofia's spelljammer.

Music used:

Again, totally overloaded with the outlands/hells music from the Planescape: Torment soundtrack.

What worked:

As far as pre-planning goes, this session went pretty well. Like session two, I'd planned multiple solutions and gave the group free reign to go their own way. The weird Planescape stuff continued to mix things up, and I think everyone found the House of a thousand Dads pretty funny.

What didn't:

Given the amount of time spend debating on the best course of action, maybe I should have made the groups options a little clearer, but then again, I don't want to hold their hands, so maybe this wasn't such a bad thing after all. Also, a battle with Rasputin was supposed to take place here, but it totally slipped my mind.


Chapter Seven
Mammoth Told Me Not To Come

“Nobody quite knew why the tribal lands of Tir had remained independent for so long. Traditionalists will cite the staunch territorialism of its native tribes, mostly dominated by the rivalry between the blue marked Arcadians and the orange marked Golgothans. Others may note that there is very little land of worth on the harsh plains, but look past that and you'll see fertile grassland when you need it, and all the meat you'll ever need if you can take down one of the mighty mammoths. No there was no concrete evidence to show what had stopped a more civilised nation from helping itself to these lands. Perhaps lords and monarchs just like the idea of a land to point to if they need to look superior.”

- David Davidon – Rocks and Robbers: The Feral Lands

This particular session took a lot longer than anticipated. Once returning to the map room, the team conversed with Kerris regarding the translation. While this occurred, Nazrin's now miniaturized Modron revealed that Sakari was one of Magnus Fallon's two descendants, giving hints to nobody about who the other might be. Kerris reveals that he has a contact in the Feywild's Court of the Stars that could translate some ancient fey, but his exile means he can't see to it himself. The only Feywild portal is noted as being on the far side of the tribal lands of Tir, and so the team depart on a quest to decipher the final piece. Some encounters along the way suggest some foreshadowing of Rasputin's involvement, and another overly long combat encounter takes place.

Entering the tribal lands, the group have to undergo some nature checks to make sure they head the right way. Jocasta reveals that she has an old lover in one of the tribes, but mentions she doesn't want to cross paths if necessary. Along the way the team find a group of barbarians doing battle with a mammoth. I was without a sufficient model to represent the mammoth though, so had to draw it on the board for the combat encounter, to which the team bemoaned me of this. Afterwards the team converse with the barbarians, who trade, offer a tusk of the mammoth, and offer general information.

“Being hard and tough was all part of a barbarian's life. You are born, you kill to survive, reproduce and die. There is no room for romantics. So Danya Golgotha's life would have been, if not for a chance encounter with Jocasta Lacroix. As those with past experience of Jocasta know, when Jocasta wants something, she'll be persistent, and for whatever reason at the time, she wanted Danya. To Jocasta, this was just a one night stand, a frivolous fling, but to Danya it was proof that there was more to life than methodical survival. Since then Danya had become the black sheep of the tribe, an idealist, a romantic. Fortunately she was still hard and tough, probably more so than ever, and she may have been a black sheep, but the tribe knew when to offer respect when it was due.”

- Alysoun Mifflinburg – No Dykes to Watch Out For: Mercenaries on the Road Less Traveled: Volume 2


Not long afterwards the group reach a rival tribes settlement. Here they introduce themselves, and are introduced as such to one of Jocasta's previous tumbles. Danya is a character I'd been meaning to do something with for a while, and was one of my previous attempts at hooking Jocasta up before Katie came along. Her main purpose was to annoy Jocasta, and give the group an excuse to throw her into awkward situations, since I think the players would have enjoyed the opportunity to give Jocasta a hard time. As it went though, like a lot else, I didn't have much room to impalement this.

Introductions being over, the group are invited to take part in the great hall feast, after gifting the leader with the mammoths tusk. Since this was mostly a Conan homage anyway, I gave the leader my best Arnie voice, and the team negotiates guidance on entering the Feywild. They find that the portal has been unusually active and the tribes are currently at war with the Feywild's Formorians. The tribe offer assistance in return for putting a stop to these attacks, and give a little side objective of retrieving the leader's father's gold plated heart from the enemy.

Music used:

More Twin Peaks for the dream sequences. I'd grabbed the Lords of Magic soundtrack for the barbarian plains. In fact I don't know why I hadn't done this sooner, since the old Turn Based Strategy RPG had great music for every setting, and I went onto use this in the rest of the campaign.

What worked:

The music really set the scene. The barbarian plains were well realised but also simple. The negotiations felt involved without being overly complicated. The team took the most out of being encouraged to explore. Danya was a forward support character that didn't get in anyones way.

What didn't:

Any combat encounter with all six characters was a bad idea from this point onwards. I wanted more comedy from Danya/Jocasta but didn't put enough work or planning in for it. As for the mammoth, it was painful to have to resort to drawing on the board, made worse that later on I would find a toy of one of those old hairy things the Tuscan raiders ride from Star Wars that was a perfect fit for a mammoth.


Chapter Eight

A Ghost to Most

“And so, once again was our bearded crusader Damon brought back from the realms of the dead to assist his comrades. Presently adorned in a great battle dress bestowed by Ioun, Damon awoke not in the lands of traditional mortals, but the strange and surreal plane of the Feywild. Looking before him, he saw that he had been brought to some strange arena, to do battle with another spirit from some godless land no doubt. Looking up at his summoners, it was only the half-elf Megi that he recognised, but saw that he was in the presence of some divine winged creature, so his arrival must have been blessed with the power of good. So fight he would, and though his body was transparent and intangible, his will was a solid as rock that had just been varnished.”

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

Once again we kick the session off with an overly long combat encounter. At this point I was trying to steer away from having combat encounters that feature all six characters, but had to have something to show the Formorian's having a presence in the land. Getting through this, the team reach the portal gate but have to activate it first. Earlier I'd hinted that a druidic influence would come in handy for getting to the feywild, and if the team had decided to summon Lilith or Zantir it would have made activating the portal easier, instead Megi insisted she could do it on her own.

So with a few rituals, some gold and a mixture of some of the vegetative crap they'd picked up along the way the portal is activated. I decided to insist on rituals with ingredients at this point because the group kept finding items that were supposed to be used for Bastillion to make potions out of, but they never decided to explore this element I had presented. Anyway, the team enter the portal and as they decided to go in green they end up separated and dumped at a seemingly random location. From this point on the players just control Megi, Cardia and Nazrin, with Danya as a guide.

Stranded in the endless forest of the feywild, the team nonetheless pass a nature check to get in the right direction. I wanted to play up the strange, seemingly trivial sensibilities of the fey during these sections but the group were having none of it. Arriving at a city all they really needed to do was be polite and they'd get entry, instead they pretended to be slave traders and when that didn't work decided they were going to chop down a tree to turn into a battering ram. As DM I managed to work them around it, because if they had gone down this route they'd have just ended up having to fight the whole city, and that would have been no good.

Finally getting an audience with the Court of the Stars, they are told they will be granted assistance so long as they beat one of the councilors champions in order to settle a grudge. The fey being a tricky lot, it turns out that the champion they have to do battle with is an intangible ghost. This part of the plot was all about working the deceased Damon in as a cameo, since everyone did kind of like him as a character. Chosen as the player's own champion, Damon got boosted stats for the fight, and everyones favorite Cascade of Light overkill. Naturally he won it hands down.

In return for the favor, the Court reveals that there is an academy on a nearby island where they can get the final part of the cipher translated, but it is currently under siege by Formorians and will be purged shortly to prevent its secrets being compromised.

Music used:

More Lords of Magic stuff. This time the Earth and Life themes in order to fit the natural setting of the feywild.

What worked:

A bit of a mixed bag this time. The feywild offered a slight change of pace. The ghost battle with Damon went as expected. Danya remained an NPC that helped the plot along and didn't get in the way or overshadow things.

What didn't:

The combat encounter was too long, which ended up splitting one session into two. The activation of the portal was a bit vague, and I think I should have put more planning into how it was to be done. The quirkiness of the fey folk was not taken very well and just caused arguments more than anything. Having said that, the group did get fair warning that fey people don't operate by the same rules normal folks do.


Chapter Nine
Feywild at Heart

“It's unknown if Tristan's Troupe knew what they were getting into with Rasputin. Indeed, the group had been under considerable strain as it was, with Alrianna's infatuation with Azreal and Tristan's constant refusal of rewards. Duncan, being a follower of Bane, was likely the only one happy to remain in the dark sorcerer's employ after his methods were discovered, but even he was starting to question the sanity of the plan. By the time Rasputin had arrived in the feywild, Tristan had already been double crossed in secret, and Alrianna defected shortly afterwards. At this point though, Rasputin had unlocked greater power from the Palantír he held, and most times insisted that Duncan stand back and be little more than a spectator.”

- Roma Drangasti – On the Road Again

I opened this session with an opportunity for the team to check out some of the stores in the feywild. They'd already picked up some epic loot from the planes already, but I didn't want all that money burning holes in their pockets so I gave them the chance to grab some feywild themed kit. Afterwards they were to head to the docks to travel to the nearby island. This being the feywild though, things were never as expected, and rather than traveling by boat they were to be teleported through a magic stone circle.

Upon arrival they come across a battle site littered with formorians and the undead. Once again, they must use their nature skills in order to find their way through the forest. About half way there their path is blocked by a formorian camp. Wanting to avoid any more unnecessary combat encounters, I'd planned this part as a stealth section, with the group navigating the camp carefully. Later on I'd planned that there would be a quick encounter with Rasputin.

Instead, somehow, Nazrin of all people decided it would be a good idea to negotiate with the purple skinned monstrosities that were bent on conquering every last piece of the feywild, and naturally that went about as well as expected. So the planned stealth section ended up as another combat encounter and in the interest of saving time I decided to add Rasputin's appearance to the mix, resurrecting the fallen creatures as his own minions.

After this the group make it to the besieged university, where they reunite with the other missing characters and meet up with Alrianna, who gives some exposition on Rasputin and his whole deal thus far. The group then meet with the headmistress, who explains that the Court of the Stars kill team is on its way to exterminate the whole island, but she can perform a ritual that'll buy everyone a little more time. With a bit of bargaining, Cardia trades the head of the demon she was carrying, which works as a final part of the ritual, and in return they get the translation and the gold plated heart Danya's leader had asked them to obtain.

They are told how to leave the feywild once the ritual is complete. The headmistress does her incantations and stuff, and the group black out. When they awake, in various states of undress, the place has been evacuated. It's up to the player to come up with their own story of what the ritual did. Have fun with that.

Music used:

As usual, more Lords of Magic and some Phantom of the Opera for Rasputin's appearance.

What worked:

Despite the stealth section going tits up at least it showed that the group was free to make their own decisions and had to deal with the consequences. Rasputin was getting about as much hate as I would want a villain to provoke.

What didn't:

Alrianna and Duncan really were supposed to have a greater arc in the story, detailing their gradual defection from Rasputin, but most of this got sidelined because of the amount of stuff I kept putting in. The last three sessions were only supposed to be one, so obviously I didn't put enough thought into pacing, and some stuff got rushed.

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