Monday, January 4, 2010

Talamhlar - Session 2

Just as a reminder, I'll list the PCs at the top of every session summary. Martok, the Goliath Barbarian, was not present for this session, leaving:

Garret Kahneus - Half Elf Valorous Bard
Alaric Rose - Elf Archer Ranger
Urogoth - Half Orc Bleak Disciple Assassin
Gaknar - Goblin companion character who allied with the PCs in Lyria Castle

The plot thickens. Whereas session 1 was essentially a dungeon crawl through Lyria Castle--full of fairly difficult encounters--session 2 took the clues planted throughout the dungeon and developed them into cohesive events that the PCs had a direct part in.

Escape from Lyria Castle

The session began right where the last session left off; after a tough fight against a group of Warforged near the castle entrance. Unfortunately, the player of Martok (the Goliath Barbarian) has gone back to school and so I employed somewhat corny hand-waving to account for his absence. A flaming bird spirit appeared before him and spoke in some language that the other PCs couldn't understand. Martok turned around, said "I hope you guys can do without me for a little while," and the bird proceeded to fold its wings over the Goliath and they both teleported to parts unknown in a spiral of flame. Yeah, I'll deal with the repercussions of such a theatrical exit later. At least he wasn't "with the party but not fighting," and it's in theme for the character to have close ties with various fire-related Primal Spirits.

Anyways, the room where the party defeated the Warforged was the only entrance to the castle, and there was a closed drawbridge. Unfortunately, the winch to lower it lay unassembled on the ground. There was a large set of doors that had been bashed open by something large, and the party decided to go through these. Two dead mages lay on the floor, which was also littered with broken glass and spilled liquids that were mingling and bubbling. There was a large stone slab bordered by 3 crystals on either side, and heavy duty looking restraints were broken. And most importantly, a cloud of black smoke (think the smoke monster from Lost). The smoke expanded to fill the room, and then flowed into the next room, covering all other doorways with a thick tar-like substance. The players were locked in the room, with their only exit being the drawbridge. I used a modified skill challenge here, with the winch being assembled and the bridge lowered over the course of 10 rounds. A standard action could be used to assemble a piece, but thievery or dungeoneering could do 2 rounds of work in 1 round, while Arcana could be used to ward one character against the smoke, making them invisible to it. Which brings me to the "modified" part. Instead of failures, I had the smoke affect each character in a random way. On a D6 roll, a 1 did nothing, a 2 stunned, a 3 dominated, 4 caused a surge to be lost, 5 caused an AP to be lost (re-roll if none were left), and a 6 was a 1/enc power (re-roll all subsequent times) which caused a Daily power to be lost (Garret lost his in round 1). As far as skill challenges go, I thought this one was interesting and engaging, albeit simple (since the list of skills was small). Alaric didn't really have any relevant skills (which I was worried about), but it turned out that he spent the whole time dominated or stunned anyways.

Once outside, the PCs verified that there were no other obvious entrances to the castle (and the moat filled with bubbly purple liquid made investigating any a suicidal endeavor). After taking the only road away from the castle, Alaric and Urogoth's passive perception allowed them to notice a backpack that had been torn, though it still contained fresh trail rations and a page torn from a diary. The entry was dated March 17 (the day that the PCs were originally kidnapped from Helmund was February 22), and read: "I've had enough of this. Tintrim is going too far. I'm going to leave tonight for Argondale. Hopefully I can find a safehouse there. Perhaps Kaeleth would be willing to reconcile." The name "Skamos" was written across the top of the page, and he is presumably the author.

On the Road

After about 45 minutes of travel, the party spotted a lone figure coming down the road toward the castle. They dove into the underbrush, but Garret and (ironically) Urogoth were both spotted for rolling low on their Stealth checks. The Eladrin addressed Garret when he approached, and asked him to take a message back to his boss that Orsir had arrived. Garret played along, and Orsir followed him to the castle. Urogoth and Alaric followed behind, though Gaknar (the goblin companion character) stayed hidden because he had 0 healing surges left. Once they all got to the castle, they tried to explain to Orsir what had happened after he threatened to turn them back in to the mages for a reward (for returning the escaped captives). Satisfied that they were telling the truth after seeing the tar that the smoke had left on the doors, Orsir left (but not after revealing to the players that he was seeking more details about a job that Tintrim had for him in Marblemount. In the previous session, the PCs had found a letter which explained that Tintrim was thinking of hiring Orsir to "deal with" a Dwarf named Baern, which was presumably the same job). The PCs also learned that the current date was May 16, the closest town was Argondale, and that Baern was in Marblemount.

The next day as the party continued onwards they heard some voices just off the side of the road. They were speaking Goblin, which only Gaknar understood. It was a Hobgoblin raiding party which the PCs decided to sneak up on and kill (Gaknar was ambivalent, but warned them that if they killed every goblinoid they saw in this region that they would run into trouble really fast). Later on a red arrow was shot, landing right in front of Garret and seemingly coming from nowhere. Nothing else happened so the party continued. Further down the road Alaric noticed what looked like pressure plates in the road. This was a spear trap set up by a Hobgoblin ambush party, but since the PCs decided to walk around the trap the Hobgoblins never sprung the ambush. Unbeknownst to the PCs, the Hobgoblins instead sent scouts out to warn a larger force comprised of dozens of soldiers and archers. The party soon found this out though.

The escape from the Hobgoblin warband was another skill challenge, though it didn't really seem as engaging as the first one against the smoke monster. I still haven't run many skill challenges, but I'll get used to them eventually. This one used Athletics as an option to sprint well out of arrow range or Endurance to steadily move just out of arrow range. Alternatively, Stealth could be utilized where cover was present to travel at a normal pace (within arrow range), but hidden under natural cover. This skill challenge was also modified, in that instead of 3 failures I simply had each failure cost the PCs a healing surge (which represented being peppered with arrows from the archers as the PCs were unable to gain enough ground). The PCs were pursued across a series of ridges, and as new terrain was encountered different skills came into play. Nature was utilized in some areas to choose more efficient routes (negotiate a scree slope, take a shortcut through boggy terrain, and locate a fordable section of river), and in rocky areas Thievery was used to set up makeshift deadfall traps that would slow the Hobgoblins down. During the beginning of this skill challenge, the party was rolling poorly and ended up failing a lot of checks. It's telling that by the end of the skill challenge Urogoth was down to only 1 healing surge (when I set up the skill challenge I defined failure as occurring when one character ran out of surges, which would have required the PCs to march through the night, as they had failed to outrun/outmaneuver the Hobgoblins before that). I eventually let Garret use Bluff to lead the pursuing Hobgoblins in the wrong direction (by running the wrong way in a convincing manner, getting to cover, and then doubling back), since he didn't really have any relevant skills and wasn't contributing much. At one point he led some Hobgoblins in the wrong direction, straight into a trap that Urogoth had rigged up. This actually completed the skill challenge, slowing the pursuers down enough to let the party get a safe distance away.

Where the skill challenge ended, a new decision had to be made. The road from the castle (which was largely in disrepair) joined a main road, resulting in a west fork and a northeast fork. The players decided to take the northeast fork (which led to Argondale, whereas the west fork would have taken them to Marblemount). While camping along this road, the party was attacked by a group of Halfling thieves. They got a surprise round, and rolled higher initiative than the PCs in the first round (since all but Alaric, who was on watch, were asleep and thus prone, this resulted in easy CA for enemies that get bonus damage when they have CA). The fight looked pretty bad after that first round, and I was starting to think that at least one PC would die. The fact that each of the opponents had Second Chance, which turned 2 critical hits into misses over the course of the encounter, didn't help either. Eventually, after 2 of the 6 Halflings were killed and 2 more were bloodied, the Halflings fled in different directions (pursuit was unsuccessful). I honestly expected the players to use this opportunity to capture a Halfling and learn more about the area, but they didn't take advantage of this (I did give them a magic item and a bunch of gold as loot for a consolation prize).

In the morning the party continued down the road, when Alaric spotted a figure stooped high in a tree overlooking the road. The Elf identified himself as Roedyn, and had the same tattoo scarred into his left cheek as Alaric has on his back. After cryptically referring to Alaric as "the lost one" he fled through the treetops, but shouted back "be seeing you soon." There is a large chunk of Alaric's past that he can't remember, though apparently Roedyn knows something about it. Soon after that they ran into a guy driving a cart pulled by two mules, coming toward them. His name was Lars, and he was a potato farmer. They told him about the Hobgoblin "army," and he decided to return to Argondale (where he was coming from with a load of potatoes) and warn the guards. Garret used Traveler's Chant to speed them up. During the journey, Lars droned on about various pests which affect potatoes and how to combat them, the advantages of planting and harvesting and different times of the year, etc. Garret said that he was attentive, in case he ever encounters a Sphinx that asks a riddle regarding potatoes. Oddly specific, but I just may incorporate that into a much later session and see if he remembers it ;)

Note: Essentially, I created Lars on the fly to give the PCs an opportunity to once again choose between going to Argondale or Marblemount. I wasn't satisfied with the generic fork in the road as a branch point, since the PCs didn't know where they were so it was really just random chance. This way, at least they knew which city they were headed for. Had they been more interested in investigating Baern's significance they could have let Lars warn the guards at Argondale about the Hobgoblins while they turned around and took the road toward Marblemount.

Arrival in Argondale

Argondale is a walled city built upon an island in the southern edge of Lake Lassen. A ferry was taken to the city (Garret paid Lars for the fare, and then some) and the party stayed at the first inn they encountered (the Moonveil Inn, a pricey establishment that caters mostly to the wealthy). As adventurers, the PCs may look grungy but they have the cash to enjoy some luxury. Unfortunately, after taking one look at Gaknar the innkeeper simply stated "we don't serve their kind here" (yes, sometimes I just can't help slipping a Star Wars reference into my game, so sue me. No don't sue me, that's the opposite of the point I was trying to make). Gaknar was thus locked in Garret's room, though Garret gave him a steak as a treat. During the night Gaknar curled up at the foot of Garret's bed (where Garret learned that he purrs in his sleep), and in the morning the Goblin was cuddled up against his leg, with obvious evidence of having an inappropriately exciting dream.

The next day Alaric sought out a tailor to replace his torn cloak (which had revealed the tattoo on his back to Roedyn) while Garret searched for information (and Urogoth drank at the Moonveil Inn). Garret soon ran into Edwin Crow, his former mentor from Tynus City (the oppressive city-state that he's from). A guard captain, Thaddeus Knight, had supposedly hired someone outside of Tynus to capture Edwin, though obviously he evaded his captors. Garret's childhood friend, Annie (a rash, aggressive girl) left town to hunt this person down (leaving a note with another friend, Barry, who notified Edwin). Edwin is now looking for Annie because he thinks she's in over her head. Since Edwin had been in town for a few days, Garret asked him if he recognized the name Kaeleth (from Skamos' diary entry). Edwin directed Garret to the Oakroot Inn in the government district (heavily patrolled by guards), where (after setting Alaric, Gaknar, and a drunken Urogoth up as sentries outside) he inquired about a friend he was searching for (Annie) and mentioned Lyria castle. Kaeleth (the Half-Elf barkeep) became deeply suspicious, excused herself, and then went into the back. Garret heard a trapdoor opening, and footsteps going down a set of stairs. She returned 10 minutes later and offered Garret a free night's stay at the inn. When Garret rolled well on his Insight check, I informed him (in my best Admiral Ackbar voice) "it's a trap!" Garret politely declined the offer, and reported back to Edwin (who had gone to the Moonveil Inn to wait for them).

After some additional information gathering by Edwin and Garret, they discovered that Annie had entered Argondale through the South Gate, but left about a week and a half ago through the West Gate (the road leading from this gate winds around the lake, heading north). The cities of Whitehall and Goldridge are the biggest cities in that direction, though Edwin wasn't convinced that Annie was headed there (besides, she had obviously learned something in Argondale, and Edwin was convinced that they too could uncover this information). Garret decided that, though risky, spending the night at the Oakroot might lead to some answers (he suspected Skamos was hidden in Kaeleth's basement, and the party was eager to question him). So Alaric and Urogoth rented rooms (Kaeleth hadn't seen them yet) while Garret claimed his free room. They set up a drunken Gaknar (he was given "the boozes" as a reward for his sentry duty) in the free room and waited. When Kaeleth and Skamos burst into Gaknar's room, the PCs rushed into the hall to confront them.

The trap had been set up because Skamos thought that the PCs were from Lyria Castle (he wasn't aware that everyone was dead, though he suspected that it would happen eventually). After this mix-up was sorted out, Skamos answered some of the party's questions.
  • Tintrim was the leader of the Order of the New Dawn, which is what the mages called themselves.
  • Karek was in charge of the Volksair Project, the goal of which was to create an aberrant super soldier (likely the entity that had killed everyone in the castle)
  • The sentient smoke was a side effect of the process used to create the Volksair super soldier.
  • When asked what the super soldier could have been looking for as he rampaged through the castle, Skamos stated that he was supposed to be 100% loyal to Tintrim, and if he'd gone rogue there was no telling what his intentions could be (the PCs considered that perhaps Tintrim isn't dead, but used the beast to destroy all other witnesses--except Skamos).
  • The fissures in the rear of the castle and the drill are part of a mining operation to extract Fenorian Crystals (essentially, there's a subterranean rift into the Feywild below the castle which infuses the crystals with Arcane energy). Azers were used as workers in the geothermal vent.
  • He is unsure what Tintrim may have wanted from Baern, but suspects that the Dwarf possesses some kind of artifact.
  • He also mentions that Aston Grimslade and Vistun Selfeer (see clues from session 1) somehow modified Fenorian Crystals in the past. Some of these modified crystals may still reside in the ruins of Grimslade Castle, and Skamos mentions that he's sent an adventurer to scope it out. Garret is horrified to learn that Annie was that adventurer.
Wow, that was an incredibly long summary! I guess that's what happens when so many story elements are revealed in one session. There were many questions that needed answering, given the circumstances that the PCs began their campaign in. Importantly, the PCs now have a proactive goal: get to the Grimslade Ruins and see what's going on there. Prior to this their goals have been 1) escape from captivity in the castle, 2) figure out where the hell they were, and 3) gather information in Argondale. Now they finally have some control over their travels, which will hopefully make the campaign a bit more interesting. Looking back, I'm actually glad that they chose to go to Argondale before Marblemount. Either one would have worked, but now the PCs have more information about the Order of the New Dawn earlier in the game, and there were more character background elements introduced earlier (Roedyn, Edwin, and Annie).

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