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.