Friday, September 28, 2007

Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Saturday, May 5, 2007 from 5:00 PM to 10:15 PM.

As usual, we meet and have dinner together. This is the first time our friends get to be with our dog, Buster, in our home. We adopted it just a few days prior to this session. The food is varied and great, as one might expect from the excellent cooks that happen to be playing in campaign. I mostly remember the tortillas filled with Nutella and Strawberry slices we had for dessert.

Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Still the 25th of Rain

Our heroes defeated Armenius Shiver and his alchemists. They know he was in league in Zalathar and some Shuul who performed experiments on them for some unknown reason. They also so know that somewhere beyond the galleries spreading from the Lodge they will find some sort of cannon Armenius wanted to protect at all costs. What is the purpose of this cannon? That's what they have to find out.

The girls loot the bodies and search the surrounding area before taking some well deserved rest. They do not know when their next stop would take place, and know that whoever is guarding the cannon ahead is already aware of their presence. With no element of surprise left to them, they might just as well prepare for the worst.

26th of Rain

The next day, the girls progress through the galleries below Old Town towards an unknown destination. They soon reach some sort of old catacombs and decide to explore them.

They walk through vault after vault giving shelter to ancient crypts and sarcophagi predating the modern city of Ptolus. There is no light source but for the sunrods they brought with them. The air is thick with the smell of dirt and rot. As they progress through the surrounding darkness, they can hear the faint sounds of air moving high above. There is no ceiling to be seen.

That's when the first attack comes. As it turns out, some sort of insect creatures, half-human, half-flies, use one of the vaults as a nest and breeding chamber. The combat itself lasts a split second. The dimwitted beasts are no match for our magic and bow-wielding team. They are routed, but the warning is clear enough: these crypts hold more secret dangers than the alchemists' alone, if they ever were to be found in such foul place.

This session's set-up using Dungeon Tiles and various props.

It just takes a few minutes to confirm the warning. As soon as they penetrate the main vault of the complex, one of the sarcophagi slides. A juicy, rotten corpse emerges from the tomb below. Its movements are erratic. It stands up awkwardly and stretches a hand towards them. Its mouth opens. Bloody bile flows onto its chest, and it whispers: "You... are... doomed..."

Simone knows when things are about to get worse, and things are definitely going to get worse in this instance. She sprints at the other side of the vault just as Oscar the Otyugh takes a hold of the animated corpse with its tongue. She reaches a gate opening on a dark corridor. The others run through the vault. Some trap is triggered. In the corridor beyond Simone, a wall section slides mechanically. The undead corpse escapes Oscar's grasp and rushes towards the corridor, soon followed by the Otyugh. It welcomes what it calls "the Master" with a high-pitched voice: "You are coming Master! You are free Master! Yes! Yes! Welcome the Master!"

A hulking form walks heavily through the opening revealed by the side panel. It is half organic, half mechanical. It is a collection of corpses stiched together and covered with a spiked, rusted, wet plating of some sort. The monster growls as it marches on. Its spikes impale the undead wretch at it cries its undying love for the Master. The creature then gets rid of Oscar, pushing the Otyugh aside as if it was lighter than a feather. Blood flows through the rusted orifices covering its plating. It wants flesh. It wants blood. It wants them.

Beket goes in contact with the creature but fumbles and crashes on its spikes. Simone becomes temporarily corporeal and stabs the thing in the back to no avail. Hennie concentrates and extends hear fingers towards their enemy. She shakes them as if they were boneless tentacles. There is a sudden tension in the air. Pseudopods of ethereal darkness from the ground up to the creature. They search for openings and flaws in its armor, insinuate themselves through it, search through the dead flesh and eat the rot from within. The plating cracks loudly. Pieces of the creature's armor crash down and send metallic echoes throughout the crypts. That's just the occasion Beket needed. She sends her fist through the creatures misshapen head with all the strength she can gather. She sends pieces of flesh and rotten pulp flying in all the directions. Some skull within explodes, and bits of brain matter cover Beket's face as the creature tries to keep its footing. She squeezes whatever her fingers can find. She takes a deep breath. She pulls... and pulls... to rip off some sort of enormous, twisted spine from the creature. She throws the thing across the room.

The creature stops dead in its tracks. Its unnatural life stolen from it along with the spine now shaking and wiggling on the cold floor of the vault, its amalgam of a body collapses in a sickening fleshy sound. It is followed by the silence of death.

And then more silence.

Until the girls manage to draw breath again.

Oscar the Otyugh and his friend, Beket.

Flakes of dust float in the air. A few drops fall irregularly from the ceiling of the vault. The girls look at each other. This one was close. Very close. But far from breaking their determination, it only strengthens it. The rest of the exploration is a succession of traps and hostile encounters with wizards and duergars working for the alchemists. The girls know that they are close from the cannon. They push forward relentlessly, triggering, disarming traps, defeating foe after foe... until they finally reach their goal.

There, in a large room that is nothing short of a gigantic shaft reaching up for the surface of Ptolus, a curious structure of basalt looking vaguely like a monstrous hand reaching for the heavens has been assembled by the alchemists. It is surrounded by building platforms, but seems to be operational since strange gems embedded here and there along its surface pulse with a threatening, impious red glow that seems to give life and energy to the machine. Wires connect the structure to the walls of the chamber. Somewhere high on the platforms, a group of Shuul alchemists is waiting for our heroes.

Bullets, arrows and magic missiles are exchanged. Beket climbs up the black structure to reach the Shuul. As more projectiles fly all around, Beket looses her footing. She falls.

Puppy Buster is waiting for the game to be over.

And that's when all hell breaks loose. Just as Beket falls, the markings covering her body suddenly hurt. Hurt very much. The runes are alive. The runes want to save her. They shine like the sun. Wings spread from her back. White feathers meet air. Beket finds a new life within.

The runes are alive. All of them. Hennie's body is now cloaked with flames that do not hurt her. Simone runes make her hear the slow pavan of the dead buried here, perceive their lost hopes, their wishes unfulfilled, their cries for help and revenge. Iliana's runes uncover new layers in her psyche, a sea of deep thoughts she can use and shape as blades to assault her opponents.

The tide turns in favor of the runebearers. The alchemists die, one after the other, paying the price of the treachery and price they put in all these experiments they performed on them. The whole necropolis is shaken by the awakening of the runes. None within can ignore the obvious threat the girls now represent. Blocks of masonry crash here and there. The whole place is about to collapse.

Some of the servants of Armenius Shiver rush to the room. They want to flee from the area. Their leader, Ozhûl, bargains for their lives and reveal what the girls want to know. "The alchemists? They are the Ogden Suhl, the servants of the flame, some of the Shuul who followed the harrow elf and his wretched master once they sucked all the technological secrets they could from the organization."

They ask about the wretched master Ozhûl mentioned. "He too is a harrow elf like Zalathar, but he is the Master. Zalathar was just the Apprentice. Nobody knows his name. Everyone knows he is the one who proposed the construction of the cannons."

The girls are stunned. "Cannons? You mean there are several of them?"

Ozhûl shakes his head. "Seven of them. They're all aimed at the sky. They are all using some Chaositech and some of the secrets of the Shuul. They can shoot straight up, straight to..."

"... the Vallis moon." Hennie understands suddenly. "They want to destroy the Vallis moon."

Ozhûl confirms. "Definitely. Everyone got in for the power that represents. Just a chunk of the moon crashing down on Ptolus... the magical potential is enormous! That's what the Ogden Suhl are after, but not the Master. The Master has another agenda in destroying the moon. He unearthed rituals and means to make the moon come back. Nobody knows what he really wants. He betrayed the Fallen and Forsaken, then the Shuul, all for some goal that has to do with the destruction of the moon and Goth Gulgamel."

Goth Gulgamel. The fortress built by the Skull King on the side of the Spire. One of the deadliest places of Praemal.

Simone and Yorick the familiar.

The girls let the information sink. Simone then asks "How can we get to Goth Gulgamel?"

Ozhûl looks at her like she suddenly became insane: "You sure?"


"Alright... it's your life." A block of stone crashes to the ground and breaks apart not far away. "Just beyond this chamber, you will find a Maw."

"A Maw?"

"A portal. It's alive. Looks like a maw, with teeth and everything. You should step through the Maw. You'll be on your way there."

The whole necropolis is falling apart. Ozhûl asks if he can leave. The girls reluctantly agree: time is running out.

They rush to the next chamber, and exactly like Ozhûl explained, there stands a sort of gate that strangely looks like a maw. They do not waste any time: one after the other, they jump through the gate. Beket, Hennie, Simone, Iliana, Hamrick, Oscar... they all get through. The sound of crashing rock fades behind them.

Nothing is left but silence.

XP Breakdown

Beket and Simone are Level 5. Hennie and Iliana are level 4.
- Combat vs. Insect people - CR 4
- Combat vs. ghoul and "master" - CR5
- Electric trap - CR 4
- Combat vs. Duergar and Wizard - CR5
- Combat vs. ex-Shuul agents - CR4
- Deal with Ozhûl - CR4
XP per PC for Session 12: 1,166 for level 5 PCs, 1,333 for Hennie, 666 for Iliana (player left early).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 12,051 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 11,243 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 9,276 XP.
Hennie levels up.

DM's notes

Another good session. The fight with the ex-Shuul agents waiting for the PCs at the cannon took forever. The awakening of the runes was foreshadowed earlier in the campaign. I wanted it to take place gradually and this is the first of two big awakenings leading to the great confrontation with the bad guys in Goth Gulgamel and beyond.

This is at this point in time that I learned that two (and soon a third) of the players would not come back for the next school year (all the players are teachers in our community). I now realize I haven't much time to finish the campaign, or bring it to some satisfactory closure. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize I did not want to end the Praemal Tales, at least not definitely.

This is how this awakening of the runes, the Maw and the deal with Ozhûl came into play. These were ways to speed up the resolution of the game without really bringing in a deus ex machina. It was another opportunity in disguise, really.

It's important to precise that the pieces of the puzzle (the purpose of the cannons, the link with the Vallis moon and so on) were really put together by the players alone. Ozhûl provided some big chunks of information, but the deduction was really theirs. I think that was particularly important in this case. Having such a release of information happen any other way would have robbed the players of any sense of achievement. There was definitely one at the end of this session.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Session 11 - Answers at Last

Saturday, April 21, 2007 from 5:30 to 10:00 PM.

We gather around 5:30 PM and have our early dinner together. As you might guess, the meals are as varied and short lived as one might expect with a group of hungry role-players like ours. When we are done, we take some time to just relax and digest, as the picture below can testify. We resume the game around 6:30 PM.

I wasn't sure we were going to play!
Session 11 - Answers at Last

25th of Rain

The girls wake up at the Ghostly Minstrel and head back to the Lodge. All has already been done to protect Simone's body after her untimely demise when facing an ogre there, and they can now resume their exploration of the network of underground rooms and galleries beyond the customers' area.

Once there, the girls discover that the bodies of the ogres and yuan-ti they fought they day before weren't moved. They know the monsters employed by the Lodge have taken over the area after they discovered some members of the staff had been replaced by dopplegangers in league with the Alchemists they are trying to find, so they proceed with caution when searching them.

Indeed, they discover the bodies were booby-trapped sometime during the night. This means that either the monsters, the alchemists or both are now more than aware of the adventurers' presence and thought they might come back really soon.

After salvaging what they could of the monsters equipment, the girls go back to the cavern where Iliana originally spied on the ogre cook. Despite their caution, they trigger a trap carefully concealed on the cave's floor while walking in. Not far from them, they spot what looks like a metal bottle topped with a crystal sphere. When the trap is triggered, the crystal sphere falls from the bottle and rolls to the center of the sphere where it starts to spin and levitate.

The girls retreat just before the sphere explodes. Large amounts of chaotic protoplasm erupt from the grenade and quickly take on volume. It shapes itself into some massive... something with two necks, a large belly... scales, horns and claws... an hydra!

Our heroes spring into action. The two-headed creature spits flames at them, hovers around, tries to catch them, but the girls have learned their lesson: they coordinate their efforts to confuse the beast, divide, and finally conquer.

The Two-headed Polyhydra spraying fire on the PCs

When they are done with the creature, the girls explore the cave further. Beyond a stream of water flowing nearby, they find an otyugh chained to a wall. The poor beast calls the girls to its help. It is terrified of the rats swarming all around. It calls itself "Garbage", since that's what the employees called it. The girls will have have none of that: they decide to help the otyugh and baptize him "Oscar".

Oscar knows its way around, and knows that the monstrous employees of the Lodge were the ones who trapped the place while the girls were gone, with the help of the alchemists! The summoning grenade the girls just faced was one of the alchemists' gifts to their new allies, it seems. Certainly, Oscar doesn't explain all this in these terms, since it is not all that bright, but it has witnessed a lot due to the fact that both monstrous employees and alchemists were dismissing his presence as the one of mere item, nothing more than a walking garbage bin really.

Oscar wants to follow the girls and help them find the alchemists. It doesn't have vengeance in mind, however, but rather a particular affection for these adventurers, these two-legged people who were the first to acknowledge its presence as a sentient being worth talking to.

With Oscar's help, Simone's newfound ghost abilities and some rather disturbing ingenuity (tossing a corpse as some sort of test weight around the corners of corridors would have been very disturbing to watch by the faithful of the Church...), the girls easily disable the traps they meet along the way.

Oscar the Otyugh happily munching on a corpse...

Soon, the group reaches a locked door. Simone becomes incorporeal and looks through it: beyond, there is a forge, and a large pool of molten metal. There, two Azers, who look like dwarves with burning beards and hair, are talking together and are obviously bored, as if waiting for something to occur. A fire mephit pierces the pool's surface and taunts them, but they simply ignore the remarks of the smart outsider.

Simone reports to the group. When doing so, the girls hear some movement beyond the door: they have been heard! The door opens wide, and the mephit stands alone in the room, right on the pool of molten ore: "Welcome, my friends! Please come in! I'm afraid my masters weren't as brave as they thought, and they left me with the fortunate task of dealing with your disturbances."

Our heroes, including the girls, Oscar the Otyugh and Hamrick the Bold step forward. The mephit smiles. "Now, you have a choice before you: we either play for a while with charades and see where it leads us, or you die. Now." The girls can't believe their own ears: play charades, in a moment like this?!

"Yes, play charades with me. All you have to do is to sign... here" the imp precises as he produces a burning piece of parchment that is not consumes by the flames all around. The girls try to talk it over with the mephit, but the elemental imp is obviously short-tempered. He gives up his idea of a game of charades and attacks instead!

The mephit attacks after changing into a magma hurler!

The mephit changes into a creature made of magma. It attacks by throwing blocks of molten metal towards its opponents. Simone runs forward in a room the girls did not explore before while Hennie Nagel reads a scrolls to summon a fire elemental she found some time before. To her surprise, Hennie's incantation works perfectly, and instead of a minor elemental, this is a Aarsaklaash, Lord of the Everburning Citadel and Archon of the Molted Skies of Al'Rashan who answers the call! The monumental fire being reaches from beyond and talks to Hennie: "What is it that you want, mortal?"

"Command that imp to leave us alone!"
"This will be done, Sorceress."

The huge elemental turns to the mephit. "FEAR MY WRATH, MEPHIT! Leave the Scion of Nagel to her quest! Begone with you!"

The mephit opens its fiery mouth to protest, but doesn't dare. It sinks into the pool of molten metal once again.

Ahead, Simone reaches a room with stairs climbing up to another level of the Lodge. There, a duergar stands with a chain in his hands. Two bugbears slaves are each tied to one of the chain's extremities. When the duergar slaver sees Simone, he doesn't think twice and flees before she can say anything.

The girls and their companions, including Aarsaklaash, soon join her. They hear the sound of conversations upstairs. They climb up and rush into the room...

The group climbs up the stairs...

When the girls enter the room, they find an aged human scolding the duergar: "So, you choose to leave your post, is that it? You choose your death, my friend." With this, the aged, gaunt man dressed in a military fashion thrusts his blade into the dwarf.

There are many people around the old man. Two alchemists, a young woman armed with a rapier and a dagger, what looks like a wizard of Kemite descent, a Shuul renegade, an Ogre mage armed with twin becs de corbin made of the whitest of horns and a clockwork machine of humanoid shape.

The old man sends the wizard, the ogre mage and the clockwork away to guard "the cannon", as he puts it. He then welcomes the girls: "So, you made it this far? You should certainly be proud of yourselves. You survived the cryotubes, the cloning, the implementation of these runes you bear... you are my own personal miracles, since I, Armenius Shiver, is the one who provided the knowledge necessary to your survival."

The girls are stunned. Armenius Shiver... of House Shiver? Cloning? Are they clones themselves, or the ones of have been cloned?

"We can solve this with honor and dignity... or not!" He fires a dragon pistol on Beket! A tremendous fight ensues, during which Armenius is literally disintegrated to ash by the Elemental Lord who came to Hennie's help earlier, his daughter, the young woman armed with rapier and dagger, succumbs to the combined efforts of Simone and Iliana, all of this while the Shuul fires at the adventurers. The latter finally understand the tide has turned in favor of the runebearers: he leaves the scene before dying like all the others did seconds before.

Fight against the alchemists of Armenius Shiver

At the end of this combat, our heroes now have a lot more answers: Zalathar was in league with this Armenius Shiver and his alchemists. They not only experimented on them, but cloned them (if they are not the clones themselves, that is). There is some sort of "Cannon" ahead which has to be protected at all costs. A cannon for what? That's what our heroes will soon find out...

XP Breakdown
All characters are Level 4.
- Fight against the Pyrohydra - CR 3 (5 characters involved)
- Second trap disabled with Oscar's help - CR4
- Third trap (poison arrows triggered by Beket by tossing a corpse) - CR2
- Duergar Slaver and Bugbears - CR5
- Armenius Shiver and company - CR7
XP per PC for Session 11: 1,410.
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 10,885 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 9,910 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 8,610 XP.
Beket and Simone level up.

DM's notes

Good game session where I had the occasion to test a few of my own designs, like the Summoning Grenade, and where the players had a variety of threats and NPC interactions.

Oscar was definitely a highlight of the game session. I played him like a muppet, with a deep voice, repeating his voice, a bit naive and very (overly) friendly: it was a complete success. The encounter with the mephit could have been much better, but I didn't have the time nor the inspiration to get on with it. I was desperate to get to the finale.

All around, a good session really. I adjusted my prep work on the spot to feel the need of the moment, and nothing went really bad. Prep time is important, but it shouldn't stop a DM from improvising on the spot if it makes more sense at the moment!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Session 10 - A Sudden Twist of Fate

Saturday, April 14, 2007, from 4:00 PM to 9:30 PM

We invited two new players to join our game.

One shows up today: Stephanie, one of the teachers of the local school (like all the other players of the game). I prepared a character using what I knew of our group's composition: we had a rogue, a sorcerer and a monk. The two D&D archetypes missing to have an iconic party are the Cleric/Healer and the Fighter/tank. I did not want to create a Cleric since Beket would multiclass as one and because the Cleric basically is a support role I think is unfit for people who want to discover the game (unless they are the sole character in the game, that is).

Stephanie inspecting her character sheet.

I want the character to be simple and use straightforward mechanics allowing her to quickly grasp the basics of the game. Further options, spells and rules can be discovered as the game unfolds. To start playing, nothing beats a character with a focus on action: the character does one thing well that has a chance to meaningfully impact the flow of the game, and that's it.

I chose to go with a female warlock named Iliana. The Warlock can be found in the D&D supplement Complete Arcane, published by Wizards of the Coast. It is an excellent character class for newbies since it encourages an active role in combats, thanks to its Eldritch Blast ability. It also has Invocations, which are supernatural abilities always "on", basically. No need to keep track of them all the time. You can just relax and enjoy the game. You can shoot stuff and have fun. Exactly what Stephanie needs.

Some relevant information about the character:

- Iliana, female human witch. She is a Runebearer who doesn't know anything about the marks she bears since she was born. After being rejected from her community, she ended up in Ptolus, trying to make it as one of the numerous adventurers flooding its streets. She was recently mugged by some alchemists. She tries to find out what they want from her and ultimately joins the PCs in their investigation and adventures.
Warlock Level 4.
Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Weapon Focus (ranged spells), Rapid Shot.

Prior to the game, we also level-up all the players' characters. I prepared everything in advance by writing down all the necessary modifications to the character sheets in my campaign notebook. This allows us to not waste time shuffling through rulebooks to check that modifier or this hit die.

We have an early supper with tacos, salads, home-made bread and sushi. We are all well sated and end up resuming our game around 6:00 PM.

Session 10 - A Sudden Twist of Fate

Still the 24th of Rain

Beket Per Aau-Nu, Heinrietta Nagel and Simone Ahrenameer just defeated a Yuan-Ti and her abyssal minions within the Lodge, the adventuring resort for the wealthy indirectly owned by the Balacazar crime family.

It turns out, as Malkeen Balacazar pointed out to them two weeks prior to their visit, that the Lodge was under new management for some time: some doppelgangers allied with the alchemists who originally tortured them had infiltrated the resort, but the monstrous staff (playing the monsters in the fake dungeons the costumers of the lodge explore during their stay) found out just before the girls came in the picture. Now, the monsters control most of the area and don't seem too keen on discussing things over with our heroes. They have to fight their way through the complex to be able to track the alchemists back to their secret lair, wherever that may be.

After looting the orcs, gnolls and Yuan-Ti on the lower level of the Lodge, the girls are about to climb up the stairs to the upper level when the air suddenly shimmers and bends before them. Patches of color sparkle around and agglomerate to form a smooth and featureless body. It grows, and takes on more details to become a young woman standing tall before them, thin, with dark brown hair, brown eyes and pale skin. She is wearing a long blue coat, leather boots and banded mail. She carries some adventuring gear including backpack, rope and all. She does mean business.

The girls recognize the new comer: she is a runebearer, and was mugged by some people a few days earlier. Zavere had learned about this somehow and had her brought to Castle Shard to rest and recover. She remained unconscious during our heroes' stay there.

She explains that she awoke soon after the girls left for the Black Ladder. She is a new adventurer to Ptolus and doesn't know why she was mugged in the first place. The Lord and Lady of Castle Shard roughly explained the situation to her, but they didn't waste time: they thought it was best for her to join Beket, Hennie and Simone in their quest for answers.

Hennie Nagel wants to confirm Iliana's story before she can trust anything she says. Watching over the stairs leading up to the second level of the Lodge, she uses her thoughtstone and contacts Zavere directly. She concentrates on the gem and soon hears the Lord's voice in her mind. It just takes a few seconds to confirm Iliana's tale. All seems well and good.

When the conversation is over all the girls hear a deep voice resound upstairs: "Dinner is almost ready, boys!"

Iliana decides to sneak upstairs and check out what it is all about. She soon finds herself in a vestibule of sorts. Two doors are in front of her, leading to the customers living quarters. On her left, a book case concealing a secret door was recently swung open. She decides to sneak past the secret door. Just beyond, she finds the corpse of a richly dressed woman in an advanced state of decomposition. On the other side of the secret door, marks of nails and blood. This poor creature had been sequestered here until she died alone in the dark.

Iliana is now standing at the edge of a vast underground cave connected to the Lodge via the secret door she just walked past. At about 60 feet beyond the corner opening on the cave itself, she notices the flickering flame of a brasero. Shadows slowly slither on the natural stone wall facing her; there is some movement down there.

She hides in the shadows and peaks around the corner. She spots an ogre armed with a gigantic cleaver knife. He is about to slaughter some furry animal standing on a huge wooden platform. Nearby, another furry beast lies dead, covered with what looks like large chunks of ice. The ogre is humming a song as he tests the edge of his knife with his bare fingers. He lifts the blade above his large head and suddenly hacks at the beast standing there. A huge grin deforms his face. He does not seem to have noticed her hiding nearby.

A good cook cuts his meat by himself, wouldn't you say?

Iliana decides to retreat. She goes back to the other girls and relays what she just witnessed to them. The group discusses it over for a few seconds and climbs back up the stairs. When they all reach the second floor, they decide to go for the doors leading to the customers' living quarters.

Once there, they realized they have just interrupted another Yuan-Ti and two ogres who were chatting while waiting for their evening meal!

The Yuan-Ti leaps into an adjacent room away from the girls' sight. One ogre decides to run through a guest room while his partner kicks the dining table to project it at the heroes' faces!

As the ogre runs to meet with the intruders, gunshots and bolts of eldritch energy burst left and right. Simone turns around the obstacle through lateral corridors but finds herself face to face with the first ogre who went through the guest room! She quickly shoots an arrow. It fends through the air and pierces the ogre's eye. The hulking monster shakes his head violently before charging. He then hits her with all the might he fosters from the pain and hatred he feels at this precise moment. The blow lands on Simone's bare jaw...

... and sends her flying through the door frame! She crashes on a table at the other side of the dining room. She is unconscious. The ogre's blow crushed half of her face under its impact. The girls fight on. Beket notices Simone's body starts shaking uncontrollably. She runs to her and inspects her wounds. The shakes stop. There is a moment of doubt that is soon cleared up: the body lays there, lifeless. At peace.

Simone is dead.

The rest of the girls' fight becomes a blur. When everything is over, they all stand among the corpses of their former adversaries. Not that any of this matters anymore: Beket kneels beside Simone's corpse. Iliana is just a few steps behind, not knowing how to react. Hennie stands straight, her thoughts quickling racing through her head.

She picks up her thoughtstone and says a name aloud: "Zavere..."

The Lord of Castle Shard connects his thoughts to hers. She explains the situation and as soon as everything is clear to him, the Lord does not waste time. He just tells them to wait and be patient. Silence follows the initial shock and indeed they wait.

Seconds turn into minutes, and minutes into hours. Or so it seems.

Another shimmering wave grows in the air. Patches of color. Another teleportation. A smaller individual appears before them: Hamrick, the bold halfling the girls have been meeting on and on since they escaped from Zalathar's lair. The halfling carries a pair of silver bracers in his hands. He walks directly to Simone's corpse and puts the bracers on her forearms. He stands aside and waits.

Nothing happens at first. Beket, Hennie and Iliana feel like they're waiting for a miracle to occur.

A fine phosphorescent outline surrounds Simone's body. Then, Simone gets up. She looks around and meets her friends' looks of surprise. She smiles at them. She notices there is some sadness in their eyes. She looks around, notices Hamrick but cannot say another word: her own body is still lying there, on the floor.

She looks at her hands. They are translucent.

"A ghost," says Hamrick. "That's what you are. For now."

The girls decide to retreat. Just as they step in the vestibule the ogre "cook" Iliana spied on earlier emerges from the secret door leading to the cave beyond. Another fight ensues. Simone soon finds out she can actually touch her friends physically but cannot reach other people or items. She distracts the ogre's attention enough for her friends to take care of him.

When the cook finally lies dead, the girls take a decision: it is time for them to back off, go back to the surface and make arrangements to bring Simone back to the world of the living.

When the girls emerge from the basement of the Black Ladder an hour later, no customer, no member of the staff dares to intervene. The somber and decided looks on their faces, their clothings torn apart and the various wounds they have suffered thus far clearly show they won't put up with complaints right now.

Dusk is upon them as they reach the streets of Ptolus. They catch a carriage cab and indicate their next destination to its driver: St. Valien's Cathedral, the largest of the nine churches dedicated to Lothian's cult in the city.

The magnificence of the building with its elaborate sculptures, evocative iconography, colored stained glass all around isn't sufficient to divert the girls' thoughts away from their grave purpose. Their steps echoing down the Cathedral's nave, they walk firmly towards the altar. An acolyte steps forwards and greets them formally.

As soon as the adventurers start explaining why they came to St. Valien's, it soon becomes clear from the acolyte's dispassionate tone and careful choice of words that they are not welcome here. He tries to redirect them to St. Gustav's chapel, where the Church "attends to the need of the bold and the unwary who plunge and plunder the dungeon below for a living."

The discussion quickly heats up after the acolyte spots Simone and recognizes her for what she is. He mentions the Keepers of the Veil and how the "creature," as he immediately starts calling her, should be brought to the Necropolis under the Order's watch. Only the intervention of Sister Mara Von Witten, an adventurer devoted to the Church who just happens to catch bits and pieces of the argument stops the exchange before it becomes too vehement for everyone involved.

She gracefully yet firmly sends the acolyte on his way and excuses herself on his behalf.

The girls explain their situation to Sister Mara. She listens carefully. She corrects them whenever she thinks some factual details are wrongly interpreted, but she does so with respect and deference.

She tells the girls the Church can indeed help them bring back Simone from "beyond the veil", as she puts it. She explains that the Holy Rite of True Resurrection could be performed by the Archbishop Adlam Theobold. Unfortunately, His Grace would not be able to perform the Holy Rite before next Theoday (five days from now). The Church of course would "welcome" a donation as a "necessary" sign of Faith on their parts prior to performance of the Holy Rite. The girls do not object.

Sister Mara helps them with the details. The acolytes of the Church help carry Simone's body to the Guild of Morticians stationed not far from the cathedral. There, the body will lay safe while the girls carry on during the next few days.

Tiana wearing Simone's Silver Bracers

Dusk has long morphed into a dark, starless night when the girls finally reach the Ghostly Minstrel where they plan to rest for a while. They discuss all that happened to them with the other patrons of the tavern including luminaries such as Urlenius, Star of Navashtrom, Steron Vsool, Shiva Callister and the two well-known mavericks Daersidian Ringsire and Brusselt Airmol.

Together, they discover the nature of the bracers Simone's spirit is wearing: these, Daersidian points out, are some Bracers of the Silver Shroud. "These," he explains, "are artifacts of great magical value once forged by the Wizards-Priests of Ni-Gorth whose worship is now all but forgotten: they allow their wearer's soul to linger and stay among the living. The soul can then shift between the worlds, become as tangible as each of us or remain incorporeal, as the wearer's sees fit."

The girls are all worn-out. They decide to go to bed. Simone joins the Minstrel himself and talks with him through the night, learning from his own experience of death and spiritual states of being. Such a twist of fate. Much remains to be learned. Much to be discovered.

Just another day in Ptolus, citizens say...

XP Breakdown

All characters are Level 4.
- Combat vs. Yuan-Ti and two Ogres - CR 6
- Combat vs. the Ogre "cook" - CR4
- Dealing with Simone's death - CR 4
XP per PC for Session 10: 1,200 (4 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 9,475 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 8,500 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 7,200 XP.

The Dwarven Forge set-up for Session 10
DM's Notes

I don't think the death of player-characters has to be a problem in a tabletop RPG campaign. Actually, I think it can be just the opposite: an opportunity in disguise. You can bring about all sorts of dramatic moments or new plot elements when one of the PCs die. This is an important moment. A defining moment even, as far as the characters' emotions go. New perspectives can be exchanged. New information unveiled. New characters can be met, and many events triggered. A death doesn't "have to" matter in your campaign, but it certainly can, in a very productive way.

We may see some dramatic moments show up in the game sooner rather than later, since Simone's player does not actually want to be resurrected (she just finds the fact of playing a dead character really exciting).

The group already invested in the Holy Rite of St. Valien. What happens when Simone suddenly doesn't want to be back from the dead? What will the reaction of her comrades be? What about the Church and the Keepers of the Veil? What about the dark forces looming over Ptolus, such as the Fallen and Forsaken of the Necropolis? There are tons of possible developments, and I'm sure what will end up happening has not been foreseen. It's well and good. It's part of the reason I am the DM: if there weren't any surprises for me in the game, what would be the challenge, really?

Another issue I wanted to talk about is the thoughtstone. It is like a magical cell phone for Ptolusite characters. The stone Hennie uses during this game was given by Zavere to the group so they could keep in touch further on.

I do not want the item to become some sort of deus ex machina provider each time the players are in trouble. Hennie's player tried to use the stone on a few other occasions during the game, but didn't get any response from Zavere.

My rationale is that people like Rill and Zavere may have thoughtstones and provide them to the people they want to be able to contact, but that doesn't make them available all the time to pick up and chat whenever the PCs want. It's like people in real life: when they are attending meetings, doing some work around, or engaging social exchanges that forbids them from just "picking up the phone", they just don't. That'd be just rude to do otherwise, right? Same thing in Ptolus, particularly considering the people owning this stones usually are very well-known and influential citizens. They just don't have the time to chat endlessly over the "stone".

Overall, this was a good game session with some surprises for everyone.

Our new player, Stephanie, liked the game very much, and was pretty much hooked as soon as we started using the miniatures to simulate combats and movements. Something to remember for people I introduce to the game (and this is not the first time I witness it): people really love to have something concrete to play with. When miniatures are on the table, the game doesn't look as "weird" as it may have looked like otherwise: it's not abstract, it's not "too far out" - there's some tactic, some strategy going on, and a bit of acting to make the whole scene look more vivid and entertaining. That's all the newbies need to understand at first. Keep the drama for later. Keep the complex situations out of the way for the moment. There's always time to spice things up later on!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Session 9 - Welcome to the Lodge

Sunday, April 8, 2007 from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM

We gather around 1:00 PM. I am a bit late on my schedule: when the players arrive to our place, I am not quite done with the miniatures set-up I started after cleaning up the place, around 11:00 AM. Somehow the time flew by. I woke up in a "Ptolus mode", as I came to call it, and can't wait to start the game.

We enjoy our "brown lunch" (thus branded by Tiana/Simone because of the common tones of all our courses), with curried shrimps, ash brown potatoes, breaded chicken and the like. We take our time, but soon enough, the players naturally migrate from the couches to the table where I set-up a replica of the Lodge at miniature's size by using various elements of Dwarven Forge sets and fish tank props.

We're ready to roll!

Hedgehog delights

Session 9 - Welcome to the Lodge

During the two weeks following their first meeting with Lord Zavere and Lady Rill, Beket Per Aau-nu, Heinrietta Nagel and Simone Ahrenameer decide to stay at Castle Shard while some of their troubles take care of themselves, so to speak.

It soon becomes obvious that making an enemy out of an Imperial Eye wasn't necessarily the best thing to happen to our little group of adventurers. Zavere advises the greatest of caution and asks them to stay while he takes care of the matter with Commissar Igor Urnst directly.

During their downtime, the girls get to know more about the residents of Castle Shard, including Moynath Autumnsong, an elven sorcerer who spends most of his time cloistered in his own quarters, and Narasha the female Satyr who demonstrates quite early on both an overwhelming sexual appetite for any type of male around and great blabbering skills, one often triggering the other and vice versa.

Simone visits her parents at Emerald Hill. All sarcasm aside ("so... you are still alive, my daughter... nice to hear from you again"), they are really glad to see her again. The main reason for Simone's visit, however, is to get in touch with Vania Ahrenameer, her younger cousin, to get her to work at House Sadar while Simone is away. It takes some time to convince her (by guilt-tripping her into doing it, actually), but the elf finally gets her way. She does not have to worry about losing her job at the Sadar estate.

Hennie walks down the street one day and pays a visit to her family as well. She faces Fransin and her laments about the loss of her husband Kurtlan once again. The family is penniless, without any standing or alliances that would work in its favor, and Hennie is harshly blamed for not doing anything about it. "After all, you are an adventurer, aren't you?" Even the Knights of the Golden Cross don't seem in the best of dispositions to do something about the Nagel's dire situation. It seems clear that if Kurtlan is ever to see the light of day again, it will be through the intervention of Hennie and her friends.

Beket stays at Castle Shard and meditates with Rill. It's hard to follow her, since she always seems to speak in cryptic terms and refers to events and topics while seemingly assuming her interlocutors know as much about them as she does, but overall, Beket learns much about self-control in her company. When Hennie asks her about her future as a sorcerer one day, Lady Rill proposes to join the Brides of Magic, but makes clear it would mean she would marry magic itself, thus leaving behind the troubles of House Nagel and any hope of a personal life she could have. Surprisingly, while this is clearly not to please Hennie herself, Beket is in the room when this conversation occurs and follows Lady Rill's explanations very closely.

Later, she makes clear to her new mentor that, even though she still believes in the existence of the Old Man and the Watcher in the Skies, it seems to her she's been misled into believing these deities represented the overall meaning of Creation in the universe. She now believes they are part of a bigger picture she still has to uncover, and further, she believes magic itself to be closely tied to this "grand scheme of things". She comes to worship magic itself.

24th of Rain

After two weeks have gone by, Lord Zavere talks to the girls once more. He explains he's had some measure of success with the Commissar. The girls shouldn't be troubled again by the Imperial Eyes, but they should keep some measure of caution when dealing with the authorities of Ptolus. He also informs them that he arranged a meeting with Alderaan Kernst, the owner of the Lodge they heard so much about, for lunch on this very day.

Alderaan's Lodge, simply known as "the Lodge" by the wealthy families of the City by the Spire, is an underground resort for nobles and rich bourgeois alike. There, people who can pay may enjoy the life of an adventurer for a while, exploring dungeons, killing and looting monsters, without dealing with any of the consequences such a "dirty way of life" implies for the multitude of delvers trying to make a living out of it.

Alderaan Kernst is a famous business man in league with the Balacazars. This confirms part of the tale Malkeen Balacazar shared with them at the Onyx Spider. If the rest of the tale is true, this means something dark is going on at the Lodge, with some of the staff at least sharing some kind of alliance or pact with the alchemists who originally trained Zalathar, the tormentor they have to thank for the horrific experiments they have been subjected to after hunting for ratmen a few weeks ago.

Somehow, to know what the ultimate goal of Zalathar was and to understand the big picture that would have something to do with the so-called "Night of Dissolution", the Runebearers and the Vallis moon, the girls have to first find out what exactly is going on at the Lodge.

The Black Ladder

The girls finally meet Alderaan Kernst at the Black Ladder, a fabulous restaurant located at the corner of the Emperor's Road and Vock Row, in Old Town. It is a peculiar establishment, particularly when compared to the Aristocrat's Table in the Nobles' Quarter. Indeed, the Black Ladder's meals have a reputation to rival even the quality of those presented the Aristocrat's Table, but the Black Ladder is known for taste over presentation while still proposing a wide array of courses for all budgets.

The Black Ladder has enormous kitchens serving hundreds, if not thousands of meals to many, many customers during lunch hours. Its main room looks like an enormous amphitheater carved out of a single block of black marble. Two or three tables can fit the width of each of its tiers. The basic rule at the Ladder is this: the closer you sit from the center of the amphitheater, the rarer and better the courses become, the prices increasing exponentially to follow their overall quality and rarity, of course.

When the girls come in, they wisely choose to stick to the higher levels of the Ladder. Aldeeran Kernst soon joins them: he is a tall, gaunt fellow with a bald head, dark eyebrows and a goatee finely trimmed around his colorless lips. He talks to them for while, trying to understand their interest in the Lodge, and the girls successfully pose as the bored rich daughters of wealthy merchants just wanting to "have some fun".

They pay the basic fee for entrance at the Lodge (100 Imperials per customer, no less) and agree to pay for the lodging, the meals as well as any extras they would require during their stay separately. Alderaan also points out that the Lodge takes a flat 25% share of all their findings in the underground levels of the city. Definitely not a vacation for the poor.

When their lunch is over, Alderaan takes the new costumers down to the basement of the Ladder. There, they reach a oval-shaped room where a basket that could easily hold about 10 people standing aside of each other hangs over an even larger well of unknown depth. A steam engine provides the means of descent for the basket and whoever it carries during its runs. Alderaan steps in the basket, followed by the "newborn" adventurers. A nearby employee starts the steam engine, and they thus plunge down the well...

Havoc at the Lodge

When they finally reach the bottom of the well, Alderaan and his customers walk through a network of irregular corridors up until they reach a vast natural cave. In front of them, an underground lake, a damaged bridge thrown on top of it. Beyond, a solid watchtower, and beyond still, a vast mansion embedded in the natural stone wall facing them. This mansion looks like many one could find on the surface. It looks like it could have been taken apart from there and just rebuilt stone after stone to fit its gloomy surroundings. All around the mansion, torches shed some light here and there upon the unusual setting.

As the girls make their first steps along the lake and towards the broken bridge, they see a man run on it, jump over its chasm and land awkwardly on the other side, towards them, while shouting: "Flee! Flee while you can! They're evewhere!"

Just at this moment, the man receives a gigantic arrow in the back. The impact projects his corpse down the stairs of the bridge at the feet of the adventurers. The shot came from the other side of the lake, near the mansion.

The corpse then starts to change shape... a grey-skinned and featureless creature soon replacing the man that was there. Alderaan Kernst swears loudly and turns to Hennie Nagel. He attempts to stab her with his dagger!

The girls are fast to react. They fight Kernst and kill him as another gigantic arrow is shot at them from the other side of the lake. Hennie takes cover behind the steps of the broken bridge while Simone retreats to do the same thing behind one the corridor walls behind them. Beket tries to cross the lake as fast as she can. The lake is clear and shallow, but it's muddy bottom is particularly treacherous for fast movement.

After just a few steps in the water, Beket suddenly sees a large mass of rot and algae emerge from the lake, right in from of her. The long legs, the bloated body, the multitude of eyes almost paralyze her with fear. A giant, black, hairy and wet spider stands before her, an ettercap rider on her back.

Beket runs for the Bridge. Another gigantic arrow misses her from a few inches. She climbs the stairs as fast as she can, one of Simone's arrow shooting back at the sniper somewhere at the other side of the lake. She runs while the spider and her rider walk through the lake to intercept her. Before she can jump, she already knows it is too late: the spider is way quicker than she is. She has to confront the beast.

Beket attacked by the giant spider and its ettercap rider

She readies herself for a jump, but soon spots a large mechanical balista hovering towards her. What kind of a devilry is this? An orc pilots the balista and shoots yet another enormous arrow at her. Luckily for Beket, Simone has her own idea in mind. She shoots at the hovercraft and sends it into a mad spin in the air. The pilot tries to master its erratic movements while Beket jumps at last, using the spider's face as a springboard to jump higher and reach the machine... but she misses it at the last moment, landing on the other side of the bridge.

Hennie casts a Blood Spikes spell (Complete Book of Eldritch Might). Horns of bone rip the ettercap's flesh apart as its blood coagulates. The creature screams in pain while Beket jumps once one, this time reaching the hovercraft and holding on to it. The machine is still spinning in the air for a second, but the pilot finally finds a way to control it. He plunges towards the bridge to lose Beket and tries to harpoon Simone (who is now running along the side of the lake) in a sudden kamikaze attack. Beket lets the hovercraft go just before in slams into the cavern's wall.

Meanwhile, the giant spider went for Hennie. She manages to stand her ground for a moment, just long enough for Simone to run back to her and help her slaughter the monstrous thing.

On the other side of the lake, a small group of orcs and gnolls were watching the fight as it unfolded. Not too eager to join the fray immediately, they just sit on the benches in front of the mansion and enjoy the spectacle. This says a lot about their sense of duty and abnegation. When the fight quickly turns in favor of the newcomers, they decide to barricade themselves in the mansion, waiting for the storm to pass by.

But the girls are not exactly done with them. After making sure the hovercraft is still able to fly properly, Simone attemps to slam it into the mansion's main entrance to ram her way through, but at the last moment she fumbles on the gas pedal. The hovercraft makes a 'L' shape turn and slams on the cavern's ceiling instead!

Simone jumps out of the hovercraft just before it slams into the ceiling. She lands on the ground and tumbles almost immediately. She avoids the remains of the hovercraft crashing just after her at the spot where she originally landed. It explodes in flames and a huge cloud of thick, oily smoke while she gets up and looks at what she has done.

Simone's safe landing. Sort of.

Just as Hennie and Beket join Simone in front of the mansion, the orcs and gnoll inside try to force their way out. Looks like something made them change their mind. Beket stands her ground and fights several of them at once while a gnoll finds his way through and sprints through the cavern. He believes he's succeeded in his escape, but just as he reaches the exit to the Lodge's cavern, he receives an arrow in the back right between his shoulders. As the gnoll's body crashes to the ground, Simone lowers her bow with a smirk. This one would not go any farther, she points out to herself.

She walks to her target and finds out the gnoll is still alive. She asks why they attacked. The gnoll answers: "The staff! We've been working for the Lodge for a long time, but everything's changed! The staff changed! Doppelgangers everywhere! They've been working with the alchemists, but we don't want to die at the hands of the Balacazars! We have nothing to do with it, and if you're not doppelgangers yourselves, or even allied to these alchemists, you should die nonetheless! Nobody will bring back the news to the Balacazars before we're long gone!"

The gnoll tries to attack Simone in a last attempt to escape, but this is already to late: the elf's bow is much quicker than a fist.

Beket and Hennie have some success to with the orcs and gnolls they're fighting. As soon as they can they step in the mansion, searching for more of these cowards. Immediately, a female voice addresses them from the shadows: "You are violating my domain, foolish girls. Go now, and live."

The girls would have none of that. Beket shouts: "Show yourself instead of making empty threats!"

On one of the tables of the lodge, a form materializes from the shadows. It has a female abdomen, head, arms and shoulders. There are no legs, but a serpentine body supporting her weight from her hips down. She has a greenish skin and white hair. A half-blood Yuan-Ti.

"Leave now," she warns them. Beket makes a step towards her. She extends her snake-like hand and spreads her long fingers as she utters words of power. Three abyssal creatures with disjointed limbs, eyes and maw inverted on their elongated faces, appear to defend their mistress.

The Half-blood Yuan-Ti and her abyssal minions

One of them jumps past Beket and Hennie and crashes through one of the mansion's window, straight for Simone who came back and was walking outside! As all girls fight for their lives, they realize their opponents are far from the usual monstrosities found in the sewers of Ptolus. These ones' blood is alive with mischievous magic that animates it and changes it into nasty tentacles of ichor which reach out for life when the flesh keeping them within is torn open by the blades of the adventurers.

The Yuan-Ti becomes invisible as the girls fight her minions. Outside the mansion, Simone struggles on the ground with the last of the abyssal pets. The fight changes into a strange ballet of wits, guns, fists and claws as the adventurers try to outsmart their opponents.

As it soon becomes obvious they will win this fight, the Yuan-Ti pops out of nowhere as her tail grabs Hennie by the throat. The daughter of House Nagel doesn't waste time. She calls upon the blood spikes again, tearing the flesh of both the Yuan-Ti and one of her minions apart. Beket kills her opponent swiftly and races to the Yuan-Ti. She hits the monster with her closed fist with unbelievable strength dislocating her jaw and sending pieces bone fly through the air as the Yuan-Ti's wretched mouth explodes from the violent impact.

The Yuan-Ti hits the ground, like the others before her. There's nothing here to stop the girls in their quest for answers. Nothing will stop them from understanding at last what's happened to them. Nothing will stand between them and their goal: to find the alchemists and know their fate at last.

Beket's Victory Shot

XP Breakdown

All characters are Level 3.
- Great fight outside of the mansion against a giant spider and its ettercap rider, a doppelganger, a flying balista and its pilot - CR 7
- Fight against the Orcs and Gnolls trying to escape - CR 3
- The Half-blood Yuan-Ti and her abyssal minions - CR6
XP per PC for Session 9:
2,400 (3 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 8,275 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 7,300 XP.
All PCs Level Up.

DM's notes

This was another great session. We laughed a lot and made sure that there was plenty of action to keep us entertained. I noticed that the players imagine the surroundings of their characters with much more ease now, and don't rely too much on what's on the table in front of them. They also describe their actions much more than before, probably because we haven't been using 3D decors and miniatures during the last few sessions.

There's a certain pleasure in using Dwarven Forge again, and I'm sure it's heightened by the fact we don't use that sort of diorama at every game session.

If you want to see more pictures of this game session (and other moments of the Praemal Tales), don't hesitate to have a look at my Flickr album.

Another thing I'd like to mention: for this session of the Praemal Tales I used the Magic Item Compendium of Wizards of the Coast for the first time. I particularly used the tables to generate treasure randomly according the slain creature's Challenge Rating located at the end of the book. I must say I'm very impressed by the ease of use, organization and overall gaming goodness this book provides. I let the players roll for their treasures after a Search check which basically determines the CR I use (low roll CR-1, average CR+0, high roll CR+1). They like this very much, and apart of one roll I had a player re-roll (On the Half-blood Yuan-Ti, Beket got a plate armor or some such that the NPC obviously didn't have), it worked great. The girls love to roll for treasure.

MIC certainly is a great tool I'm going to use from now on.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Session 8 - Saved by the Shard

Sunday, March 04, 2007 from 2:00 PM to 5:30 PM

When this session occurs, we all know we haven't been playing for a while and will certainly need to get back on track, so to speak. Professional and personal agendas have been getting in the way lately.

When we gather, we first start by enjoying a few snacks together, as always. This is part of our ritual and allows me, at least, to remember the real reason we are here : not to level-up characters, not to role-play, but primarily to enjoy the presence of each other while enjoying a good game. It's all to easy to forget the real purpose of a role-playing game and believe it's worth resides solely in its "artistic value", its coolness, or whatever else which could make us forget this is a social event first and foremost.

After such a long break in our gaming, the blog write-ups I printed out from the Praemal Tales prove useful : one of the players checked out this site before coming over while the others review the events of the last sessions during our meal. We discuss a moment and then get down to the business, as they say.

Session 8 - Saved by the Shard

Still the 9th of Rain

After leaving the Dark Market and getting back to the surface on Delver's Square, Beket, Hennie and Simone walk directly to the Onyx Spider in Midtown. They know from the slavers doing business under the streets of Ptolus that the alchemists in league with Zalathar, the harrow elf who performed foul experiments on the girls, have something to do with a location known as "The Lodge".

The Lodge, according to their contact, is some kind of "tourist resort" deep underground for the rich and noble who would like to know the excitement of Delving without the risks naturally coming with it. Any rich bourgeois of Ptolus can then become an adventurer for a week-end or more, depending on the depths of his purse, of course.

When the girls asked where they could find more information about the Lodge, they were told to go to Malkeen Balacazar at the Onyx Spider, no less ! Even our new delvers know the reputation of the Balacazars, the most influential criminal family in town.

The Onyx Spider proves to be the gloomy place the girls expected to see when they first heard the name : it is a shady but vast tavern with levitating candles making for a dim light inside. Amidst the candles floating around, a gigantic spider moves slowly within a crystal sphere flying right in the middle of the main room.

Our heroes walk to the bar and ask for Malkeen Balacazar. They are then walked to one of the booths available for the customers in need of some privacy. The man lifts the curtains cutting the people within the booth from the rest of the tavern. There, a man sits at a large table. He is young, with dark air, a tatoo of a black sun covering his right eye. Behind him, a tall and stern figure with such a stance and such a void in his eyes they do not leave any doubt as to the darkness creeping within his soul, if he has one.

The young man was just talking to a dward who also sat at the table. When the girls come in, he leaves in a hurry, always facing the young man, repeating he will have the money... soon. Very soon.

The young man presents himself as Malkeen Balacazar himself. He asks the adventurers what kind of business they'd like to discuss. He doesn't know them and seems extremely suspicious. They explain how they came to know about the Lodge and how there seems to be a connection between its staff and the alchemists who performed experiments on them. Malkeen seems very interested by what they are telling him. He pauses a moment before answering.

This is when Beket starts to act really strangely. First, these were just remarks that seemed "off", somehow. Answers that didn't make much sense, changes in her behavior that didn't seem motivated by anything happening to them. But now, Beket is actually acting up in front of Malkeen Balacazar. She seems to be completely off the hook, going as far as to insult their host directly !

Malkeen asks her if she's doing drugs. Beket avoids the question and gets on a rant that makes no sense to anyone in the room. She leaves the table.

Hennie and Simone make a mental note to find out what's up with Beket as soon as possible, but they have to get answers from Malkeen. He explains the Lodge is a new venture for the Balacazar. They own the Lodge. After all, that not because you're known as a member of a crime family that all your activities have to necessarily be illegal, he adds.

He knows something has been going wrong with the Lodge lately. The Balacazars suspect its staff may be forgetting where its loyalties lie. He proposes something to the adventurers : the staff of the Lodge knows Malkeen and his men, but he would like to know what exactly is going on down there. Maybe the girls could go there and investigate for him too ? He explains that barging in wouldn't do them any good, as for presenting themselves as agents of the Balacazar. Going there as customers, however, could allow them to spot some interesting things and learn more about the connection between the Lodge and the alchemists, since not all customers are expected to make it out alive...

Malkeen Balacazar also explains there are two main areas to the Lodge. The first is the Lodge itself, with its resort, room and tavern for the customers. The second isn't supposed to be known from the customers : it is were the "creatures" of the phony "dungeons" the customers visit during they stay live. Malkeen would pay for their services, and even though he does not indicate any particular amount for rewards, his offer is very tempting.

The girls accept his offer. Malkeen explains how to get in touch with the staff of the Lodge : they can go to the Black Ladder in Old Town. It is a fine restaurant for exotic foods and beverages that also serves as the entrance to the Lodge. There, they could reserve a place as customers of the Lodge. It would cost them 100 Imperials for the reservation, with further expenses for their stay and "adventures" down there.

Everything has been said. The girls leave Malkeen Balacazar.

Beket still doesn't seem to be quite herself, so Hennie and Simone decide to take her back to the Temple of the Watcher of the Sky. There, they meet Helmut Itlestein who was lecturing Ayla, Beket's aunt. As soon as they reach the Observatory room, Helmut tries to persuade them to leave Beket at the Temple so he can watch over her. Ayla gets close to the girls and whispers to them : "This is not a good idea... please... take Beket with you. Don't leave her here..."

The girls then make their way out with Beket while Helmut Itlestein protests as much as he possibly can. There is something wrong with him : he seems way too concerned about the girls and the marks they have on their bodies. Could he have something to do with the alchemists themselves ? That doesn't seem possible, and yet, many impossible things have been popping up in the girls lives of late.

The adventurers go to Hennie's appartment. Whatever's going on with Beket, she must not be left alone. That much is obvious.

Sometime during the night, someone knocks at the door. When Hennie opens, the gaunt man with grey eyes wearing a black cloak, leather pants and a fine rapier presents himself as Wolfran Arkûn. He says he is one of the Imperial Eyes and is sent by the Commissar himself to watch over them and understand what is exactly going on with the Runebearers in town.

He explains his men have been hearing about the girls, what happened to them and the kinds of questions they were asking around, but before they can discuss any further Wolfran spots Beket. He realizes immediately something not right is going on with her. He shows the order signed by the Commissar and insists that he will stay during the night to watch over Beket himself, but the girls will have none of that. They start to argue with the Imperial Eye who visibly doesn't take it very well. He leaves then, saying he will come back with an order for their arrest, since they will not cooperate !

Hennie and Simone then try to talk to Beket to make her understand the gravity of the situation. They might are in trouble, and she has to pull herself back together.

When Wolfran comes back, he indeed has an order for their arrests and the company of several mages of the Goldshield to prove it. The girls try to protest, and as they try to resist, they are subjected to a whole flurry of spells ! In a matter of seconds, the scene fades for them in darkness...

10th of Rain

When they reopen their eyes, they are in a dark room with complete silence but for the sound of water drops falling from the ceiling. Hennie creates a magical light, but it seems spells cannot be cast here, as her attempt fails miserably. She has a mechanical torch with her and uses it : they are in some sort of cave. There is a single door here. It is made of strong iron with a small trap door at eye level to allow people to see from one side to the other. The trap door itself is covered with iron bars. No doubt : they have been magically teleported in the Prison of Ptolus !

Despite some attempts to escape from this cell, the adventurers quickly realize they are definitely trapped. Hennie makes a connection with a wandering rat and makes a familiar out of him. He is renamed "Yorick" and explores the surrounding areas for them. All around, more and more cells. Somewhere nearby, a great pit opening on a multitude of corridors such as the one the door of their cell is leading to. All these corridors are accessible through mechanical elevators moving between the levels of the pit.

After waiting there for several hours, someone comes to visit them. When the door opens, they could not have guessed who was about to save the day : their "friend" of several adventures, Hamrick, the halfling they first met when they escaped from Zalathar's lair !

Hamrick explains he's been coming here on behalf of the Lord and Lady of Castle Shard who have agreed to pay for their release. Beket, Hennie and Simone never met them but are sure glad they can get out before Wolfran Arkûn comes back to taunt them.

They visit the underground Prison of Ptolus as they walk with Hamrick and the guards : most corridors share an uncanny resemblance to the upper level of Zalathar's lair indeed, which would mean the upper section of the Prison at least would date back to the time of Ghul, the Skull King who terrified the region and surrounding lands centuries before them.

The upper level of the Prison opens on the bay of Ptolus. There, a small skiff is waiting for them. After paddling away from the cliff and reaching the docks, Hamrick orders a carriage to take them directly to Castle Shard in the Nobles' Quarter. Far away to the East, the sun rises in a sky of mingled crimson and gold.

Castle Shard, as wonderfully illustrated by The Forge.

Castle Shard truly is a sight to behold. Everything about it seems eerie, mysterious and magical. As the adventurers walk on the bridge that leads to its entrance with Hamrick before them, they cannot but wonder what exactly Lord Zavere and Lady Rill may have to do with the business at hand. They are well known and respected by the citizens of Ptolus, and Castle Shard certainly is one of the attention-magnets of the city, which seems to indicate the Runebearers' disappearances and what happened to the adventurers themselves really is the tip of a much larger and sinister iceberg waiting for them to be revealed to the world.

They meet at the door with the majordomo, Kadmus, who strangely seems to know the girls by their names. He keeps referring to Hennie as "Miss Nagel", and her two friends are thus made aware of her origins. She has to explain to them why she did not reveal her true identity, how she was determined to make it on her own, without the help of her family which had fallen on hard times and thus had much better things to do than solve Hennie's problem and support her financially.

Beket is still acting up strange. This too would have to be explained sooner or later. Hennie and Simone suspect this has to do with the tattoos all three bear on their skins but if so, why would these strange compartmental effects just affect Beket and not her companions ? More questions, still more questions needing answers.

The girls then meet for the first time Lady Rill and Lord Zavere. They are very gracious to them but soon enough they notice something wrong is going on with Beket. It is Lady Rill who comes to her and simply asks her : "Since when ?"

Beket does not answer. She looks at the floor sheepishly.

Lady Rill adds : "You know this is not for me to tell them. If you want help, you need to tell them."

Beket runs away in shame. What is going on ?

Shortly after, as Hennie talks to Zavere, Beket shows up in the room again. Simone walks to her and asks her what her problem is. To her amazement, instead of answering her question, Beket proposes some pollen to her, a drug she's been using for some time. Here is the answer to her strange behavior !

As soon as the Lord and Lady of Castle Shard realize what Beket is doing, it is Rill who intervenes. Zavere runs to her and knocks her out. Rill explains to Hennie and Simone that she cannot tell them what Beket has been doing with herself : this is not her responsability. She and Zavere have a duty to help those in distress within the Castle's boundaries, however. She then tells them the Shard will offer them asylum while Beket recuperates. During the next few days, Zavere will try to gather more information for them. When they are ready, they will be able to face the threat of the alchemists by then.

A long discussion between Rill, Zavere and the girls follows during which the Lord and Lady of the Castle explain how the alchemists tried to get magical knowledge and various advantages by associating themselves with the Chaos Cults and the Shuul, and how they thus tried to play both sides against each other to cover their own tracks, gather more Runebearers they use in their experiments, and how this may have to do with the fabled "Night of Dissolution" and the Vallis Moon. But why would a bunch of alchemists want to trigger the Dissolution after clearly backstabbing the Chaos Cults ? What is there to gain for them, in the end ? This is still a mystery.

When Beket feels better, the girls will certainly try to find out while visiting the Black Ladder and the Lodge.

XP Breakdown
All characters are Level 3.
- Dealing with Malkeen Balacazar and getting out of the Onyx Spider alive – CR3
- XP Bonus for good role-playing – 150 XP/PC
XP per PC for Session 8: 450 (3 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 5,875 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 4,900 XP.

DM's notes

This was a game session that did not go in the direction I expected, and it was great ! That's the kind of thing I love as a DM : I hate it when the players just follow the line. I feel like the charactes and decors are not really alive when this happens for too long or with too much regularity.

For this session, I expected the PCs to go from the Dark Market to the Onyx Spider, then from the Spider to the Black Ladder, then from the Ladder to the Lodge. Simple enough. One main thing happened to change this : Nerissa, Beket's player, came up with the idea that Beket was doing drugs and role-played her character as such. The fact then that the Imperial Eyes showed up at the wrong moment and that Hennie Nagel started to argue with them triggered their bried incarceration in the Prison of Ptolus and the reappearance of Hamrick leading to the meeting with the Lord and Lady of Castle Shard.

I'm glad the PCs got to meet such iconic characters of the city. This just came up in the game, without being prepared whatsoever. This made the succession of events feel quite real not only to the players but to myself as well. I love it when I can feel a situation as spontaneous and thus more genuine.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Session 7 - Dark Tidings

Saturday, January 20, 2007 from 5:30 PM to 9:45 PM.

This session started with a wondrous meal provided as usual by the players of the Praemal Tales: chicken pasta, chili con carne, Vietnamese mint and basil noodles, pork chops coated with sesame seeds… we were off to a good start.

Melissa, who was earlier a player in our Seven Spires campaign, joins us during the meal. This is probably her last time with us, since she is leaving the island in a few days. We all enjoyed her inquisitive mind and wondrous talents as a cook, and she is a dear friend of us all.

After discussing for while, Melissa leaves us to our game. I wish all the best for her. I will always remember her portrayal of Miriell the dwarf paladin. She will be missed.

Session 7 – Dark Tidings

Still the 8th of Rain

The girls meet in the end of the morning at the Ghostly Minstrel where they are warmly welcomed by staff and patrons alike. Since they successfully saved the inn's ghost the word seems to have been widely spread. All the patrons know about their exploits.

Zade offers a free meal to them and thanks them again before leaving them to their conversation.

Beket does not seem to be quite herself today: she keeps brushing her friends off and acting in a very awkward manner, as if she was not truly there with Hennie and Simone. She meditates while her friends are talking together, and performs an unknown rite that leaves her companions worried for her.

As a matter of fact, Hennie and Simone get so worried that they leave Beket to her meditation and go to St. Gustav’s Chapel to search for Petran Achenburg, the priest who assisted them many times on their search for answers since they escaped Zalathar’s lair.

When the girls come back to the Ghostly Minstrel, they are accompanied by Petran who took a peculiar interest in their request. He seems to be genuinely worried about Beket and explains this may have something to do with the tattoos they are all wearing on their skins, the results of Zalathar’s experiments during their captivity.

Petran tries to make the conversation with Beket, but she remains uncooperative and aloof. While the priest is trying to get through to her, Beket suddenly comes back to her senses. She has forgotten all that occurred since their arrival to the Ghostly Minstrel: she remembers getting in, greeting Zade and looking at herself in a mirror hung on the wall, thinking her skin looked weird (indeed, her skin tone is closer to ash grey than pink. This is something, along with her unusual size, that has been puzzling her as well as her relatives for some time now).

Then, without warning, Beket grabs the black short sword she took on the body of one of Ram’s muggers and throws it on the ground, shouting “The sword! It’s the sword!”

Petran picks up the blade using napkins of the Ghostly Minstrel to avoid any direct contact with it. He strongly advises the girls to follow him back to St. Gustav’s Chapel. They agree.

Once there, Petran performs a few rituals to rid Beket’s soul of any residual influence the blade might still have on her. He proposes to keep the blade himself, but the adventurers are unwilling to let that happen. Petran then proposes to go to Myraeth’s on Delver’s Square to have the old elf’s opinion about it. This is more to the girls’ liking.

When they arrive, Myraeth Tuneweaver, owner of Myraeth’s Oddities, welcomes them back. They do not waste any time and show him the black blade. Myraeth seems deeply interested in the artifact and proposes 5,000 Imperials for it. Beket and her companions are surprised, and they thus asks Myraeth what he intends to do with it. “Not keep it to myself, if that’s what you were wondering,” he precises.

Beket agrees to the deal. Myraeth pays and thanks her. He then takes the same precautions Petran took before him: after putting on a black leather glove, he picks up the sword and looks at it more closely. “This weapon is ancient, indeed. It was forged during the conquests of Ghul.” The girls recognize the name of the Skull King, the conqueror who spawned armies of horrors to conquer the land around the Spire centuries ago. Myraeth’s eyes are gleaming: “This is a weapon of power, and like all weapons of power, this is a danger for anyone carrying it.” He then slams the blade against his desk as he shouts words of arcane meaning.

The blade explodes with a thousand sparks!

“It was necessary,” Myraeth explains after a pause. “The blade would have fallen into the wrong hands, sooner or later.”

Petran and the girls leave Myraeth to go back to the Minstrel. There, they discuss about the various options available to them. The adventurers want to discover who was behind Zalathar’s experiments. Remembering their encounter with Octavius of the Ebon Hand, they choose to go to the Dark Market. There, they would be able to find out more from the slavers Zalathar’s master was dealing with, according to Octavius.

Petran warns them against the place. He explains how the customers of the Dark Market get there: they usually have to reveal who told them about the place, have to provide a few dozen Imperials and know a password which is regularly changed for security purposes. “Criminals in Ptolus know the value of cautiousness,” he tells them. Of course, the girls ask him how he came to know about such things. “Being a priest doesn't mean I wasn't involved with the wrong crowds at other times of my life.”

The girls know what to do: they need to gather the necessary keys for their admission into the Dark Market. They do not lack Imperials, and they know the name of Octavius. Remains the password: how to get a hold of it?

Simone is the one coming up with the solution: why not obtain the password from House Sadar? After all, Ren is known to manage shadowy businesses, and Simone would be surprised if nobody at the House knew the password to the Dark Market. Her companions decide this is probably the best option available to them. Simone leaves for House Sadar at once, leaving Hennie and Beket at the Ghostly Minstrel.

When she arrives at House Sadar, Simone starts asking here and there who would know the ways to the Dark Market. This is no easy task as it requires both a smooth tongue and gambling skills from the rogue, but Simone finally finds out the password: “strawberry puff”, of all passwords.

Simone comes back to the Ghostly Minstrel with that piece of information, but once she is in front of the inn, she trips over a loose cobblestone! She stands up and suddenly wonders why she was going to the Minstrel… after all, she had some errands to attend to, didn't she? She walks away from the Minstrel!

Inside, Hennie and Beket are waiting for Simone to return. When Simone trips outside the inn, Hennie spots her through the colored-glass windows and watches as she walks away. What has gone into her? Hennie runs after her, and after catching up, she tries to make Simone come back to her senses. It takes a few minutes of confused exchanges for Simone to remember why she was going back to the Minstrel and what important piece of information she has, but in the end, she does so. It is a moment of great relief for the adventurers. Who knows what might have happened if Simone had walked off unnoticed?

Back at the Ghostly Minstrel, the girls talk about their plans for the next day. One of the patrons walks to their table and presents herself: Sheva Callister, retired adventurer. She explains she “couldn’t help” but overhear their conversation. She asks them if they desire any help from the patrons of the Minstrel. “We are all thankful for what you did for Zade, us and the ghost. If we can help you in any way, just say so, and we’ll be happy to answer the call.”

It looks like the girls made some new friends around here!

After talking for a while with Sheva, Beket, Hennie and Simone call it a day. Tomorrow promises to ask for all the energy they can come up with.

But rest would not come that easily.

Returning to House Sadar, Simone finds out the Speaker to the Spears of Aartuat has now officially disappeared. The servants are searching the grounds of the Guest House under the direct supervision of Ren Sadar. It looks like the Master of House Sadar is not happy at all with this turn of events. He treats everyone with the greatest disdain, including Simone when she comes to him. It’s as if he is not even listening to her: he questions her whereabouts, and despite her explanations, he almost accuses her of having a hand in the kidnapping. After the intervention of one of the Stewards of House Sadar, Ren dismisses her and carries on with the search for any clues as to the whereabouts of the Speaker. The Speaker’s eunuchs are nowhere to be seen.

As for Hennie, she decided tonight would be a good night to pay a visit to Fransin Nagel. As she enters the grounds of House Nagel, she notices the garden has not been tended to for quite a while. As she gets close to the estate, its door opens violently, and her niece, Sasha, almost bumps into her. It looks like she was just about to sneak out, judging by the way her eyes shift between Hennie, her back and the gardens behind.

Hennie leads her gently back inside the estate and asks how Fransin is doing. Sasha explains she’s been depressed for the past weeks, since Kurtlan has been framed and convicted for murder, as Hennie knows. It looks like her mood has gotten worse in the last few days.

Hennie goes straight for Fransin’s apartments. There, she finds her aunt in a dark mood. She seems discouraged. When asked how she’s been doing for the past few days, Hennie explains her situation and reveals her marks to her aunt. She does not seem to react as much as could have been expected. With so many woes on her mind, this is actually hardly surprising. Hennie’s granduncle, Yarek, comes in the room unannounced, as usual: he is known to have grown senile during the past few years. Discarding his mere presence, Fransin asks Hennie if she has talked about her marks to the Kaira Swanwing, the leader of the Knights of the Cross. Fransin knows Hennie’s admiration for the knights who were once allied to House Nagel. Hennie explains she did not. Maybe, when the time is right?

Hennie has dinner with the rest of the family. The mood is somber, and conversation is sparse at best. When talking about the various gossips shared around town, Fransin catches the name Sadar and flies into a rage: she accuses Ren Sadar of being the one who framed her husband Kurtlan. Now, he is in jail, thanks to the House Shadows. Ren Sadar should be hanged for what he did, she insists. If there’s some justice in this world, “Lord” Sadar will get what he deserves…

The rest of the dinner is spent in introspective silence on the part of the family members. Too much had been said already. Hennie felt reminded of the reasons which pushed her out the door of this estate a few months ago. As she leaves, Sasha walks with her to the door. She explains she’s met a new boyfriend. His name is Iltumar Shon, and he isn’t noble. She professes she likes him all the same, and Hennie feels compelled to warn her against people who might want to use her and through her, the family. Sasha nods, speechless, and Hennie walks into the night.

The DM taking notes during the game.

9th of Rain

The next day, while working at the Court House, Hennie hears rumors concerning the disappearance of the Speaker to the Spears of Aartuat. It seems Lord Sadar has been asking for the assistance of the Commissar’s Men. The Speaker seemed to be dealing with some criminal organizations in Ptolus, or at least that's the rumor going around lately, so the Commissar isn’t too eager to comply with Lord Sadar’s demands.

When she wakes up, another surprise is waiting for Simone. It seems that last night Yvon, one of the personal servants attending to the needs of Lady Sadar, disappeared as well. The girls at the Guest House whisper about the anger of Ren Sadar and the dark spells he uses when losing his temper… it seems to them that whatever she did to trigger the rage of Lord Sadar, Yvon wouldn’t be attending to the needs of his wife any time soon.

The girls meet with Beket at the Ghostly Minstrel. This time, they are all set and go directly to the Undercity. There, they purchase some traveling rations, not knowing when they would go back to the surface. They then head to the Undercity store branded “Scouts, Guides and Porters” where they meet Travinor Rem, the man who secretly manages the Dark Market, according to their contacts.

Travinor is a middle-aged man with a sharp eye and a soft tongue. He discusses with the adventurers, proposing the services of his men for a fair price. When the girls mention the Dark Market, Travinor’s behavior shifts and becomes much more inquisitive: “Who sent you here?” He asks. “Octavius of the Ebon Hand,” they answer. Travinor’s face expresses what may be disgust. “Never liked the old chap too much… what is the password?” The girls don’t loose their cool, and answer with a straight face: “strawberry puff.” The shop owner smiles: “These passwords, gotta love them!”

After the 50 Imperials fee is paid, Travenor takes them to the back of the store, where the rogue reveals a hidden door. It opens with a complex mechanism concealed within the wall. A block of stone shifts, revealing the entrance to the Dark Market. Travinor turns towards them and smiles: “Have fun, Ladies…”

The Dark Market under Ptolus occupies a few interconnected rooms which long ago belonged to Ghul’s Labyrinth. New doors and entryways have been created, facilitating movement between the stalls. The collection of sellers and buyers of the Dark Market could not be more eclectic: walking through the rooms, the adventurers cross path with a drow selling scrolls, a priestess and her zombie acolytes, kobolds and goblins, as well as many humans, some of which may not have seen the light of the day for years.

Soon, the adventurers reach the area were slaves are sold by a mysterious group known as the Ennin. An assarai, or lizardman, shows a powerful, tall slave for sale. He vaguely looks like a human, but much broader and meaner. He stands tall, over nine feet tall. This could be a hill giant.

Not far away, a hooded man discusses with a strange fellow wearing a dark blue cape and a complex golden armor. His face is concealed by a golden helmet evoking the shape of a human skull, and he is followed by clockwork no taller than a human but with one of its artificial hands looking like a huge metal hammer. The conversation seems to be quite lively: the armored man making gestures and visibly trying to make a point for the hooded man who doesn’t seem too impressed by this behavior.

Hennie gets closer and drops an item on the floor near them. She walks ever closer, pretending to pick it up. The armored man turns his eyes to have a brief look at her while talk.

Deep within the golden helmet, Hennie can see the man’s eyes narrow dangerously. “You…” he whispers as he draws a huge sword with multiple mechanical blades chopping thin air!

Simone and the Alchemist.

Hennie and her companions have to fight for their lives. Beket gets closer and tries to hit the mysterious man, but he proves to be extremely dexterous with his strange mechanical blade. He twists his wrist after blocking Beket's attack and the blades of his sword make an impossible turn down Beket’s leg, slicing through as if it was butter!

Beket falls on the pavement, trying to stay conscious. The battle rages on around her. She hears people shouting and rushing past her. She feels warm and opens her eyes: a nimbus of light is surrounding her. Beket has a look around and spots part of her leg lying on the ground not far away. The nimbus seems to reach through the air… and the leg comes back to her knee!

Their mysterious opponent soon realizes he will not win this fight. He runs away, leaving his clockwork behind to keep the adventurers busy, but they are much too efficient and get rid of the machine in a matter of seconds before chasing after him.

After running through a few rooms, they cut the stranger's retreat. He stops and looks at them, his eyes bright with ingenuity. He reaches for his pocket, and Beket leaps… landing just besides him. She hits him, her fist plunging through armor and skin right to his heart. The man’s eyes lose their shine. They look at the monk, interrogating, wondering why the hand still did not reach the pocket.

The corpse collapses.

Beket, Hennie and Simone find themselves victorious. They do not know exactly what happened to the monk’s leg, and if it has to do with the marks they are all wearing, the explanation for such a phenomenon will have to wait for a little longer.

They talk with the hooded man, who didn’t loose his composure. Most of the buyers and sellers around resume their business. All seem to be used to fights breaking out in the Dark Market. The hooded man explains he disliked the Alchemists from day one. They are far too pretentious, too demanding and attract far too much attention on his business.

While the adventurers were fighting their envoy a few moments ago, he made up his mind to get rid of these bothersome clients once and for all. He explains the alchemists have been interested in purchasing Runebearers from the Ennin. He knows they are up to something big, but he doesn’t know what, exactly. He remembers the envoy came a few times with some of the employees of the Lodge.

The Lodge, he explains, is a tourists’ resort for nobles and bourgeois who would want to experience the thrill of the Delve. It is located deep under Midtown. He knows something fishy is going on at the Lodge, and he knows the Alchemists have something to do with it, but he doesn’t what exactly.

When the girls inquire as to the exact location of the Lodge, the hooded man explains they would want to talk to Malkeen Balacazar at the Onyx Spider. “If you want to get to the Lodge, you might as well ask the man directly.” He laughs.

Before leaving the Dark Market, the adventurers buy a few things. First, they purchase a scroll of fire elemental summoning which gives them the occasion to learn more from the drow about the dangerous business of reaching out for outsiders from Praemal: it seems that whenever something is called and reaches Praemal, it then cannot leave the material plane. Always good to know. Second, they purchase a dragon riffle off a smuggler. This might give them more firepower for whatever stands now between them and Zalathar’s associates.

They leave the Dark Market.

Outside, it is heavily raining. They still have the greater part of the afternoon and evening left to carry on their hunt for answers. The Onyx Spider isn’t too far from Delver’s Square. They can feel it now: they are really close from their prey. It is just a matter of time.

XP Breakdown
All characters are Level 3.
- Dealing with the Cursed Blade – CR3
- Gathering requirements for entry into the Dark Market – CR3
- Dealings with the Dark Market without any faux-pas – CR3
- Defeating the Alchemist and his Automaton – CR4
- XP Bonus for good role-playing – 150 XP/PC
XP per PC for Session 7: 1,125 (3 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 5,425 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 4,450 XP.

DM's notes

It was a great session for two main reasons:

First, the PCs took control of the game, quite literally. The actually cursed blade event as well as the moment when Simone trips in the street and almost forgets who or what she was doing where elements of the game the players came up with. I had no part in these events, besides rolling with whatever the players came up with. That was really entertaining for me and everyone around the table.

Second, a lot of stuff happened, as you can see. Somehow, the events of the game seemed to unfold naturally, and there was a good mix of personal events versus investigation on the characters’ part.