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.