Monday, December 11, 2006

Session 6 - Meeting at the Docks

Sunday, December 10, 2006 from 1:30 PM to 5:15 PM

We gather just after lunch and enjoy a few snacks together while Caroline catches up with the game, reading the transcripts of the Praemal Tales.

We resume the game around 2:30 PM.

Still the 6th of Rain

Beket and Simone get back to the Temple of the Watcher of the Skies and House Sadar respectively.

Beket finds out that Helmut Itlestein, the High Priest of the Watcher of the Skies, did not reappear at the temple that day. She has a hard time finding sleep. There are too many questions left answered. Ayla, her aunt who serves as an acolyte to the temple, knows best and leaves her to her thoughts. Whatever the answers to her niece's situation may be, she is sure the answer will present itself sooner or later.

Simone gets back to House Sadar. She doesn't have the same trouble resting that night. Maybe the thrill of adventure actually helps her sleep? After all, she doesn't live to serve as a maid for the Speaker of Aartuat and his eunuchs!

7th of Rain

The next day, after they send a courier to the courts to keep Hennie up to date, the girls meet for lunch at the Green Griffon in Midtown.

There, Hennie explains the courts needed her to serve as a guide for palastani children visiting Ptolus. She led them on a tour of the City Courts, where they attended some audiences and met with some representatives of the Commissar.

Simone and Beket explain their findings, and tell Hennie about the patterns their skins bear. The sorceress examines herself and soon realizes her legs are covered with some sort of pattern similar to the ones described by her friends. There is some confusion as to what these markings mean or what purpose they would serve, but the girls decide to forget about these things for the moment to instead appreciate their meals.

The girls enjoy some meat loaf despite a succulent special of tunnel larvas on a bed of algae with their giant red berries from the Moonsilver forest. Half way through the meal, they are interrupted by the sudden arrival of a magical wisp of darkness in the room. It swirls around the room madly, sometimes showing a hint of shadowy wings amongst the volutes of black light it draws on its path. Suddenly, as Beket dives to hide from it, the wisp lands at lightning speed on their lunch table. It did not disturb anything: glasses, bottles and plates are left untouched, and it just sits there for a moment.

Nella Schaun, the owner of the establishment, comes to them and asks: "Aren't you going to touch the damn thing?"

The girls are surprised Nella seems to know what that thing is. They ask her. She smiles: "You guys are new to Ptolus I see. This is a shadow sending, and a rather showy one at that! Please touch the damn bird so it can deliver its message and let us be done with it!"

Hennie touches the wisp, which then dissipates before their very eyes. They hear a rather dramatic voice then booming in their mind: "If you want to know more about Zalathar the Elf, come at the dead of the night on Pier Seven."

The girls discuss a bit more with Nella. The "shadow sendings", as they are called, are some means of delivery for vocal or visual messages for the Ptolusians. They are quickly becoming extremely popular to the wealthy, since they are magical, quite affordable for their unique properties, and can be delivered to locations and particular people alike. "It seems like you've got a fan", Nella concludes.

The girls leave the Green Griffon and decide to work most of the afternoon to be able to meet this unknown friend of theirs.

While on her way to House Sadar in the Nobles' Quarter, Simone is subjected to a very tight security search at Dalenguard, the fortress that stands at the only public entrance to that area of the city. When asking for explanations to the city guard, she learns that House Dallimothan, or "House Dragon" as it is commonly known, has asked the Commissar to implement these special measures for a few days. Listening to the people waiting to have access to the Nobles' Quarter, she finds out it may be related to the coming of the Traveler, a legendary dragon who visits House Dallimothan once every now and then. If the popular tales are true the Traveller is to dragons what a sage would be to other sentient races of Ptolus: a very knowledgeable being in all kinds of topics pertaining to the worlds of the visible and invisible with an eccentric and somewhat erratic personality to the common man.

Meanwhile, Beket decides to visit the Shadow Sendings' offices on Firestone Street. She discusses for a while with Rondella Loyath, the wizard in charge there. Rondella is falsely welcoming the monk's questions: she is polite and presents herself and her business very well, but some hints of a condescending personality show up as soon as the conversation leads to whoever paid for the particular shadow sending sent to them on this day. Rondella explains about "expectations of privacy", how the "company's policy" is dear to her, and such nonsense. Beket leaves the offices empty handed.

As for Hennie, she spends most of her afternoon at the courts. There, she learns that a dozen people have been disappearing in the streets of Ptolus. She asks one of her friends in the city guard to watch out for any information about these crimes, any rumors and popular tales that would be spreading on the markets and in the taverns of the city. She suspects this may have something to do with their own disappearance a while ago. If these people have been kidnapped by the same group of people Zalathar was working with, this means the situation would be more dire than the girls previously thought.

Just before midnight, Beket, Hennie and Simone meet at the Fish Market of Midtown. At this hour, the vast building overlooking the cliffs above the Docks is completely inhabited. The fishmongers show up early in the morning and sell their fresh goods to the people of Ptolus. It is then a crowded place, up until noon usually, but at this hour of the night, only smells, scattered fish parts and guts not cleaned up in the afternoon linger as an enduring testimony of the kind of business done here on a daily basis.

The girls wait there for a while before walking down the serpentine road to the Docks. Pier Seven reaches far into the ocean. At its western edge, open to the Ptolus bay, lies a wooden platform used by fishing boats to unload the heaviest catches. The adventurers do not have to wait long until a litorian shows up by the same path they used to get there. He stares at them for a moment and picks up a large blue gem from his belt. He looks at them through the gem, smiles, and then simply says: "So you came."

"They are here, my master."

A man wearing a dark toga and purple robes underneath appears out of the thin air. He has a fierce, maniacal look on his face, as if hunted down by someone or something he would just want to rip to pieces. His face and hands are bone white. He doesn't seem to have seen the light of the day for quite a while. He looks at the adventurers and announces: "I can help you find the one Zalathar was working for."

The girls are instantly reticent to have any dealings with the man. The symbol of a Black Hand appears embrodered on the robes he is wearing. A hand similar to the one painted all over the walls of the trashed laboratories the adventurers left a few days ago. The Ebon Hand.

The priest, who presents himself as Octavius, explains that Zalathar's master was once initiated to the Ebon Hand. They would call him simply "the Elf", the "Putrescent One", for he seemed to be afflicted more than any other harrow elf they had ever seen by some terrible, probably magical ailment no one could positively identify. Octavius says he never found out the Elf's name either. The priest rants for a while about him, explaining how the deviant Elf cheated both the Ebon Hand and the Shuul, how he exploited their knowledge and took advantage of their facilities to foster his own plans for magical discovery and experimentation.

Octavius seems fascinated by the girls. He stares at them, asks them if they have marks on their bodies. "You are the only ones who survived, after all. That in itself is quite an achievement." The priest seems to have ambivalent feelings of hate and admiration for the Elf. "He was working on the runes, and their effects thereof. How to develop them, to nurture them even. Many of us thought he was planning on bringing the Dissolution, but there had to be more to it!"

When the girls ask for more precise answers and complain about his annoying evasiveness, Octavius moves on, explaining how the Ebon Hand has to keep a low profile, particularly when dealing with Ptolusian authorities. "If you are on a path for revenge, if you want to hunt the Elf down and bring him to a swift death, the Ebon Hand would be grateful indeed. We know the Elf has had dealings with the Ennin who manage Ptolus' Slave Market. If you want to find him, search for the Dark Market, in the Undercity. There, you can find out where the Elf dwells and put an end to his experiments."

Given the continuous teasing the priest bestows on the girls, they do not at all appreciate the man. They brush him off and tell him to be more explicit, or to go away. He asks them: "What do you feel now? What are the runes telling you to do? Do you see the Moon? Do you feel the reckoning pound within your chest?" He waves at the clouds, and they slowly part to reveal the bright and silvery disk of the Moon high in the sky.

The priest's ramblings become even more unintelligible. As the girls show more and more annoyance towards him, he gets more and more agitated, speaking about the final nights and the end of all, and finally concludes: "You do not want the friendship of the Ebon Hand? Suits you all very well! Do not forget that we helped you!" On these words, he leaves the platform, his litorian servant following closely behind him.

It seems like the girls will have to visit the Dark Market to find out more about this "Putrescent One" the priest kept referring to.

8th of Rain

As Beket, Hennie and Simone stand there on Pier Seven, they notice something is amiss.

Simone is stung by a dart! Ambush! They notice some sahuagins swimming around them and shooting at them with ivory blowdarts. Not far from the pier, a shadowy figure covered in a deep night-blue cloak stands on a boat and casts a terrifying spell, waving at the moon and screaming like a madman!

Things from there become very blurry. Hennie and Simone find cover from the blowdarts, but gleaming spirits of dead warriors appear out of nowhere to assail them while Beket jumps over the waters on the wizard's vessel. Without waiting for a second, she punches him, and with uncanny accuracy, breaks his nose, hurling broken pieces of bone and cartilage through his brain. The wizard does not even realize he's just been killed. He falls on the boat's deck like a puppet whose strings have just been cut off.

Beket has no time to taste victory. Soon, she is assailed by sahuagins who climb on the boat and gang up on her. Even though Hennie helps her by blowing the brains out of one of her opponents with a lucky shot for her Dragon Pistol heirloom, the boat is overrun and Beket falls unconscious to the ground.

From their respective positions, Hennie and Simone can see a bright flash of light bursting from the boat during a split second and giant white wings spread in the dark.

The vision dissipates as quickly as it appeared. Still stunned by such an incredible sight, the two adventurers fiercely hack, slash and shoot at the sahuagins and apparitions.

The ghosts are entirely material, which surprises Hennie. It looks like the rays of the moon unveiled by the Ebon Hand priest earlier affect these creatures and make them vulnerable to physical attacks.

The chaos of the battle that ensues only heightens the confusion of the next few moments.

When everything becomes quiet again, Hennie and Simone realize they are both still standing. All of their opponents have been dissipated or killed, laying dead before them.

Both girls rush to Beket and make her drink one of the potions they carry with them at all time, and soon the monk of the Old Man comes back to consciousness. Everything is fine and well now, even though Beket still feels remnants of the pain triggered by the deadly wounds inflicted upon her a few minutes ago.

The adventurers search the body of the wizard. They find some bracers acting as magical protective and invisible shields brushing off physical attacks directed at their wearer, a wand destined to charm individuals and the most uncanny discovery of all: an ebony box engraved with patterns similar to the tattoos they all wear. These patterns seem to reproduce the configurations of some constellations visible in the sky. The box has no apparent lock or opening device. Something is in the box, but how to get it out of there is a mystery at the moment.

The adventurers leave the scene, weary, tired and decided to pay a visit to the Dark Market as soon as possible.

XP Breakdown
Beket and Simone are Level 3. Hennie is Level 2.
- Ambush on Pier Seven - CR7
Total XP earned: 3,600. XP per PC: 1,200 (3 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 4,300 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 3,325 XP.
Hennie levels up.

DM's notes

This was a tricky game session. I had two main issues to deal with:

1/ The characters were of different levels. Although not such a big deal as it may seem, it had to be corrected if possible. This is why the ambush (which could have occured in a different place at a different time) occured during this game session. It also explains why it was so overwhelming. It worked great in the game, because whoever wants to get rid of the PCs would want to do it once and for all, and not use the common and lame tactic of multiple attacks on the PCs that would each fit nicely their present abilities for an "average" challenge. No. The bad guys wanted to kill them. Once and for all. Of course, the huge risk was to end up with a Total Party Kill (or TPK) . I was confident the group's configuration could handle it. It worked great, and I feel the group's capabilities were pushed to their limits, but let me just say the bad guys won't make the same mistake twice!

2/ The pace of the game started to slow down right away. While the PCs were at the Green Griffon, I could feel the players needed something to happen. Plus, I was quickly realizing the players had too much information to deal with.

I needed to address the issue quickly to refocus the action of the game into a more proactive adventure for the PCs. Unfortunately, the only viable solution to this problem was to reveal more information to the PCs. I thus had to dance on the edge of a sword, so to speak: reveal too much and confuse the players even more, or not reveal enough and let the players wonder what their next move ought to be for the next few sessions.

All in all, the meeting with the Ebon Hand priest was the most plausible and the most direct answer to the problem. I rolled with it, and it worked fine to some extent.

Unsurprisingly, the players are a bit confused at the moment. I think they're wondering what the heck is going on, but once they get down to the business of the Dark Market the confusion will hopefully clear up on its own.

All in all, this was a good session. A lot of stuff covered in a small amount of time, some laughs, a good challenge, flavorful moments of role-playing, I really can't complain at this point.