The Northern Alliance

The (Low-Level) Adventure Begins
...and then re-begins again once more!

A party of four down-on-their luck wannabe adventurers found themselves recruited from their barstools to travel to a remote town in need of a firm hand to take on a plague of goblins (known to the rest of us as WOTC’s “Scourge of the Howling Horde”). The heroes of this heady tale: Lia the elven wizard, Redgar the dwarven knight, Gareth the cleric (“the other elf”), and the all-too-human Lucas, who specializes in skulking, slinking, and picking locks.

Thanks to some cunning capture, interrogation, negotiation and diplomatic skills, our heroes skipped 90% of the module in a single blow, facing a black dragon within a few minutes of sitting down for our first session. They weaseled all the relevant backstory out of a captured goblin; drew out the hobgoblin tribe leader with a hostage ploy; then negotiated a return to peaceful goblin-townsfolk relations in exchange for access to the bossy black dragon putting them up to their recent naughty behaviors. (The dragon narrowly escaped with its life.) Great gameplay!...but a waste of a module. So…

In our next session, the notoriety of the party (now second level) has spread far enough that they are sent for by another local town with an amazingly similar goblin problem. Their lair is even remarkably similar! This time our team goes in bashing heads, and after some coy and cautious dungeoneering and an overnight in a sealed goblin chapel, the party decides to take on the horde all at once. It pretty much requires one initiative roll to polish up every foot soldier in the place, and the Big Bosses drop soon after. Good game sense and hot dice save the day.

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The Slaughterous Slayers of Goblintown
...and the Quest for Work

Here’s the e-mail I sent the players before the next session, in which we began WOTC’s “Barrow of the Forgotten King” module. Note the skipping of all fiddly role-playing bits at the beginning and the acceleration to actual killing; this is a function of a 9 p.m. start time and midnight-ish stop time. Clock management is, like football, key to our gatherings.

The original e-mail included scene-setting scans from the module:

Hail the conquering goblin killers!

Your reputation as courageous fix-it men travels almost as fast as you—some towns have already heard of your exploits before you arrive, welcoming you with free lodgings and ale. And while their praise is plentiful, work is not. No one has heard boo from a goblin or other malicious nasty, not even an unruly drunk in the cathouse or a pesky gopher in the radish patch. Nothing. Evil seems well in check around these remote foothills. The only business for a band of adventurers is an occasional barn-raising, horse shoeing, or pie delivery.

Money is thin and getting thinner.

You cross paths with a traveling maypole repairman who tells you about the next town down the road. Kingsholm is rather famous in the region for its major tourist draw: the local mausoleum. It’s one of the few remaining relics of a long-forgotten kingdom that once ruled the rolling hills from this seemingly humble spot. Even the name of this old kingdom is lost to time—all that remains is the statue of a nameless king on a hill overlooking town, and, of course, the gorgeous mausoleum. So proud are the villagers of this monument that they take meticulous care of their cemetery, and to this day, prominent villagers are still buried deep in the vaults of the old building in highly formal funerals.

When you finally reach this little burg, you notice the streets are quiet. Soon, though, you see many people gathered around a central town hall building. There’s a palpable buzz in the air, and the citizens seem upset about something. As you approach, you are recognized by a member of the town guard and hailed: “Aha! A miracle! Help has arrived—these are the Slaughterous Slayers of Goblintown. You’ve heard Dingus the Bard sing that addictive little ditty about them, right? They’ll set things right!”

What’s going on (as you are told by Stouty Beefbeard, a husky dwarf who manages the Coronet & Cabbage Inn) is that a prominent local family went to the mausoleum yesterday to prepare their recently deceased patriarch for internment. When they didn’t return for the wake last night, a division of the town guard went to check on them. Those guards didn’t return last night—nor did the second set of guards who were dispatched this morning. No one is going near the cemetery for fear of their lives. The leader of town council is away on business, and no one left in town knows how to deal with a crisis like this…so a lot of expectant eyes turn your way.

“Can you go up and find out what’s happened to them all?” asks Beefbeard. “There’s three kegs of my finest mead and, let’s see…seventy-seven, seventy-eight… Seventy-nine gold pieces in it for you!”

Allow me to play God for a moment and say: You accept. And now the last member of the town guard leads you to the gate of the pristine cemetery, points toward the mausoleum, and refuses to join you any further.

You walk boldly toward the mausoleum, weapons drawn, ready for anything. As you round an artful topiary (lovingly crafted into the shape of a lute-playing angel—it really is an amazing likeness as far as topiaries go, not that any of you have had much experience appreciating precisely trimmed shrubs, but on the whole it strikes you that the gardener really captured the essence of a divine, albeit leafy, seraph) you see a bloody body sprawled on the ground. By the shreds of its uniform you can tell it was a town guardsman. Two wolves are gnawing upon it, and they look up at you with bloodlust in their eyes.

Roll for initiative.

Really. Roll for initiative and e-mail me the result. Come ready to start an encounter!

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Barrow of the Forgotten King, Part 1
In which cleverness ensues, but which is met with swift counter-cleverness

Prepped as they were by the previous e-mail, the Slayers chugged merrily through the first five encounters of the module, killing them some scavenging wolves, repelling some undead nasties lying in wait in the mausoleum, mopping up a pretty vicious slaughter of a grieving family, rescuing the lone survivor (who babbled incessantly about a “snake man”), getting annoyed by some red-herring clockwork menders (they really just want to keep the tomb clean; don’t bother with them, really); and finally breaching the Beholder Room.

The Beholder Room, which was apparently sealed with a permanent arcane lock, which no one in the party could possibly hope to budge. So after many frustrating minutes – ta da! – Gareth’s deity sort of opens the door for them, with some channeled divine enegery or something. Deus ex module.

Then there’s the riddle of the room; this is where I sort of got geeky. I didn’t care for the riddle as it was described. If you haven’t seen this module, the riddle involves comparing the artwork on the door of the room with tiles on the floor within. Maybe I’m just a noob DM (which I am), but to me, it seemed like the only way for players to solve this riddle was for me to (eventually) describe enough of the details of the room so that they comprehended that the patterns didn’t match and – eureka – they should move tiles around until the patterns did match. I didn’t get it. So…I sorta rewrote the riddle. I began with the main image of a beholder that had iconic symbols at the end of its eye stalks (a running man, a sleeping man, a man getting zapped by lighteneing, etc.), then I gave the players this:

Dare ye stare down B’holder’s eye? Dare ye bleed? Dare ye die?

Can ye live with flesh of stone? Or see that flesh melt off your bone?

Do these things ere you doth sleep And ye may enter kingly deep.

Fiendishly clever on paper, perhaps, but the long-praciticed gamesense in my fellow players proved more than a match. It went like this: “Oh, these tiles in the floor match the picture on the door. I bet each of them causes a spell to hit you if you step on it. Well, we better step on them in the order of the riddle so we can unlock the next room.” Zap zap zap, and three minutes later we’re on to the next room. So much for clever.

They proceed deeper in the dungeon, polishing off a few more undead beasties that seemed to be waiting for them, and we called it a night.

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Barrow of the Forgotten King, Part 2
In which midnight sure rolls around fast

Hereafter, my descriptions serve as official recaps to my players, with appropriate excruciating meta-game detail:

The first task of the night was to cross a rope bridge, which nearly cost Lucas his life. Deviating from the module, I gave Lucas a reflex save to grab the rope as it broke, and a strength check to hold on. He excelled at both, but his legs still grazed the surface of the water below, ample opportunity for the flotsam ooze to strike. It dragged Lucas under, but the wily escapist surfaced soon after. The party couldn’t quite finish off the creature, but it wounded it gravely enough for it to retreat. CR:3

A broken chamber revealed a rope ladder that rose far up to the surface—is this how our tomb robbers got in? For some reason, a choker was hiding in wait, but was no match for the group. CR: 2

The ancient and elaborate frescoes of the next oddly partitioned room held our first look at an odd kind of goblin who’s dead bodies we have encountered earlier in the complex: these horned goblins seem somehow more feral than your everyday variety. An attack from a zombified goblin alerts two sentries who sneak up from behind and nearly wipe Lia off the map. They were resilient and quick, and it took us a while to put them down. As soon as the last blow fell, we broke for the night without even searching the room. Here’s what the party found (in abstentia) upon the bodies of the two living goblins:

  • 3 sets studded leather armor (one with a magical aura!)
  • 3 masterwork scimitars
  • 1 masterwork short sword
  • 1 masterwork shortbow
  • 57 gp in the purses
  • foul bedding gear and chamber pots and a chest full of preserved meat

CR: 4

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Barrow of the Forgotten King, part 3
In which it seems like we reached the end, but oh, not even close

August 1, 2007

Another after-hours session, and about 2-3 hours of gaming on a weeknight. Subversive!

We picked up right where we left off, withthe heroes wiping their rapiers dry after running through some nasty goblinses…who are a variety, apparently, known as varag (a species that didn’t exist until hybridized by a sorcerer known as Monster Manual XXIV).

The heroes passed through an elaborate vault, where an earlier battle seems to have gone poorly for some varags. A bubbling water weird warned the party to retreat at once, but those silver tongues devils convinced it that they intended to root out the evil that had passed before them. The weird was serioulsy hurting from the previous fight, so it relented.

They tiptoed past and entered a Hall of Heroes, where it seemed several cherished servants of the king had been interrred. They stumbled upon a snarling, rat-faced tomb robber who was trying to infiltrate a well-sealed vault. A fight broke out…if you could call it that. With this poor devil cornered, but with an intense Damage Reduction of 10, this was like some sort of Swap Meet for stab wounds and senseless violence. Redgar and Lucas had several excellent hits, but the damage only trickeld in. What…15, 16, 17 rounds? More? He dropped his rapier and got two good bites in on Lia and Lucas. Dirty, filthy fangs…oh, there must be something diseased in that saliva! At last Redgar made the tackle, and they tied the rat dude up. Garjuk, a mercenary wererat hobgoblin theif (how’s that for a job title?) tried to bargain for his release with information about what lay ahead. The party didn’t trust him though, and Garjuk got an inkling these goodie-goodies weren’t going to undo that knot, so he shifted into his dire rat form and made a break for it. “Oh no he didn’t,” said Gareth. He and Lucas chased the running rat, and it was Gareth who pinned him to the floor with a well-timed critical hit. Whew! Now if only Lia and Lucas didn’t have sinking feelings in their festering wounds…

The haul was good, though: four magic items from a vault bequeathed to good adventurers: +1 bracers, a quiver of Elhonna, a +1 rapier, and an Ephod of Authority (for pumping up that cleric level when turning). Sweet!

Garjuk revealed just enough info about Krootad, “the big boss,” who was in a room up ahead, animating some more undead nasties. The party went all SWAT team—loaded up on spells, did their best Move Silently schtick, and caught Krootad by surprise. After Lucas snuck up behind him while he worked (moving waaay too far on just one “move silently” roll, I later realized, but what the hell, it was getting late), the jig was up, and the battle over before it started. Krootad and his minions went down hard.

If Krootad was “the big boss” though, he sure was awfully alone, and there is evidence that a bunch more creatures had been through here, tromping through a broken door and down a ladder that descended into blackness.

The party carried Krootad body back to the surface, an excellent idea that won the trust of the water weird. The elemental spoke to them as they passed: “There are more like that one, and others, many others. An arcane sorcerer led them all, with mongrel goblins and humans. Return and drive them out!”

The townies were also grateful (horrified, but grateful) to see Krootad’s corpse. It gave them somthing to hang their hopes on. So grateful were they, in fact, the town healer produced the necessary scrolls to cure the feverish disease that was creeping over Lia and Lucas, and reward them with gold for the return of some plundered loot from the masuoleum. Lucas, however, still had a sinking sensation creeping over him. He looked up and the moon and felt a strang pang…

(Of course, after our nigh-deadly encounter wiht the wererat, we had to ask: What’s the downside of lycanthopy? Sure you have to be tied up once a month, but oh, the power! We suspect Lucas may wait a while before seeking a cure…)

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Barrow of the Forgotten King, Part 4
It's been HOW long?

Oct. 7, 2007

So, it had been more than two months since we last played-two months!- so of course the first thing we did was ask ourselves, “How do you play this game again?” We spent the better part of the night reading various rulebooks and character sheets (“Oh, look, I have a high AC!” ... “Yeah? What’s an AC?”)

After a while, I realized I was what they called the “DM,” and that I was actually supposed to be “runnning the adventure.” Who needs rules, I said, let’s play this game.

So our heroes had conveniently ended their last session in the Barrow at a great stopping place where they could bunker down and heal up. (“Didn’t we kill some stuff last time?” “Yeah, like a dragon? Or maybe an owlbear?” Turns out it was a hobgoblin and some skeletons.) They had been pursuing some grave robbers who were mysteriously well stocked with muscle and magic. The trail led them directly to…

...a bizarre cavern whose floor was compsed of a series of 50-foot-tall “islands” connected by tenuous ropes. Fall off one of these, and you’ve got a long fall into a little bit of water.

Which, of course, the dwarf did. (He had even removed his clunky armor.) Once Redgar landed in the drink, a stand of tendons and eyeballs wrapped around his neck trying to strangle him. Could have been a bad day, but Lucas shimmied down a rope to help fend off the Lurking Strangler. How to get the great lump of warrior back up to safety? A little Oil of Levitate to turn him into a Macy’s T-Day balloon should do the trick.

And just like that, the party was ready to face…The Labyrinth! If you’re like me, you are immensley bored and annoyed by any suggestion that you should keep a party on pins and needles by putting them in an endless, aimless maze populated by tons of random monsters and no real point. So I made a compromise: Magical sentry statues at the mouth of the maze offered the party direct passage if they pledged to fight off the grave robbers who directly preceded them. Two catches: The extra-planar monsters who would be summoned within could not be prevented from attacking; and the “unclean one” had to crawl on hands and knees; that meant Lucas, the Would-Be Wererat, was out of action. The direct passage meant only a few monsters would get a swipe at the team, and verily, a Monstrous and/or Fiendish scorpion, wolverine, and weasel took turns taking chunks out of the team, but nothing made our heroes break a sweat. Particularly that wolverine; it fell apart at the word “Appalachia”...Ho, ho, just kidding Redgar & Mia!

And then…we were all sweepy. This is what happens when you play after your kids go to bed: You start yearning for your pillow yourself. And thus, with our heroes about to discover some really interesting things about their quarry, and with a few nicely nasty encounters ready to brighten the day, we retreated to our homes, our beds, our normal lives completely devoid of hobgoblin necromancers, lurking stranglers and spider-filled mummies. ...Did he just say “spider-filled mummies”? Oh, no he din’t!

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Sellswords of Punjar; or: Beggar Me Silly

An Eladrin princess several steps removed from the throne; a Dragonborn bodyguard accompanying her on her globe-trotting journey of self-discovery; a roguish elven mercenary serving a stint in a company of city guards for murky purposes; a bright young half-elven warrior serving in the same company to pay his dues on the road to greatness…

These are the characters we’ve neglected pretty regularly for months as we very casually and slowly played Goodman Games’ rootin-tootin’ “Sellswords of Punjar.” It’s a great module full of fresh ideas and tasty flavors, set not just in the Lieber-esque city of Punjar, but in a nasty, scummy slum. What a hoot!

Here’s the summary of this, the Northern Alliance’s first foray into 4E:

Lia, hoping to understand what humans enjoy so much about gambling, dragged Redgar to Punjar’s infamous Lucky Lulu’s Palace of Chance and OTB, where she promptly gambled away what little coin they had left … and a whole lot of coin they didn’t even have. When the city guards dragged them off to the Dragonne post in the heart of The Commons, these two had little to look forward to but breaking rocks and making license parchments under lock and key at Blackwell Citadel.

Enter Capt. Thurg (name changed to protect the forgetful; that is, the DM didn’t write it down). He’s got two perps who clearly have more wits and combat skills than your average drunken gambler; meanwhile, he’s got a growing problem next door in the Old Punjar district known as Smoke: A war has been growing between the Thieves Guild and the Beggar’s Guild, and the disturbance is spilling over into the legitimate business of Punjar.

The captain has an idea: Offer these two young tourists a chance to clear their record in exchange for venturing into the heart of the slums and capture or kill the Beggar King. Capt. Thurg can even send along a city escort: two expendable young lieutenants who are fairly new to the force. Thurg (who wears a a “Human First!” pin on his jerkin) had himself a pair of fairy-blooded freaks tranferred to his unit the pervious week.

Gareth, a seemingly capable half-elf, joined the poorly paid, lowest rung of a para-military city guard with no hope of advancement excepting years of abuse from his superiors—how could you trust a creature who would volunteer for this? Then there’s Lucas, a full-blooded elf with a dark personality and need to crack heads. Thurg could almost admire the lad’s sensibilities if it weren’t for the pointy ears and that elven lightness in the loafers. Clearly, these two are perfectly choice for the task.

And they’re off at once, in a driving midnight rain. The slum isn’t easy to navigate - the locals quickly peg them as easy marks - and after a few skirmishes and chases they find themselves outside the fearsome gates of the charnel house where the Beggar King makes his home.

Lucas immediately springs a poison trap the wrong way. Over the course of the night, his skin and eyes turn slate grey before his body stabilizes his decline. (It would have gotten kind of nasty—Shadowstuff Toxin ain’t no H1N1.)

With just hours to go until dawn, the party crept methodically through the complex laying waste to the various characters of shady purpose who stand in their way. The fence and his thugs? Dead. The band of Dog Brother mercenaries? Dead. The tiefling warlock and her exotic bodyguards? Oh, you better believe they’re dead. Those chumps could barely get their weapons up before it was all over.

The party showed a real bit of ingenuity when they realized a locked barn door concealed a large group of men lying in ambush. They threw the warlock’s clothes over the dragonborn, and Lia cast a spell to mimic the witch’s anguish cries of help. The beggars-in-hiding threw open their door to investigate, and that was all she wrote for those poor bastards.

The enemies were falling like dominoes until Lia fell through the floor trap and ended up in a slaver’s cage dangling over an underground river. The party got her out, but was beginning to suffer some exhaustion from their efforts. They rescued a cadre of slaver prisoners before breaking for the night.

QUEST ALERT—Saved prisoners include:
  • Thoumont, aged sage and self-described scourge of evil, and his assistant Neveril. They had been investigating their own leads about the nature of the Shadowmagic leaking out of this area of the slum. Thoumont runs a magic shop in the Souk district, and offers hospitality and assistance to the party if they can return him to safety.
  • Lady Constance, of the prominent Punjari family House Farod, had been kidnapped in a brazen public attack on the eve of her wedding. She insists her family and fiance will greet her safe return with rewards beyond imagining for her rescuers.

The party holed up with their rescued subjects elsewhere in the complex (promising to return with them in a group once their quest concludes). The group crept closer through the dungeon of the slavers, finding little evidence of the Beggar King’s operation, but only more thugs and goons protecting their trafficking business.

They dispatched the main group of four lead slavers—but nearly lost Lucas when he leaped into a runaway boat to save the floating loot. Thanks to some timely skill checks, the boat got moored, the loot got saved.

But then they had to go and ruin the ride! Steal the Rat God’s pile of shiny coins? What were they thinking? They managed to whack the bejeebus out of the pseudo-deity animating the ratly statue, but that left the team panting as they faced… The Beggar King! (Actually I think they may have rested one more time…?)

Anyway, the BK did not disappoint, flailing his desiccated Shadow-infested corpse around the room and flinging fiery skeletons at everyone. When at last his charred corpse collapsed to the floor, everyone breathed a sigh of relief… until they realized that the smoky thing trailing from his zombie body was actually grateful to have the BK eliminated from the magical equation. As the dungeon started to crumble around them, the crew ran up the steps inside the charnel tower to discover… an Umbra Drake with a mad-on to destroy stuff.

It was established pretty quickly that they were lucky to have defeated one enraged uber-fiend for the day, and the conversation went like this:

YELLOW-BELLY 1: “It’s not like the Guard would let this shadow dragon tear up the whole city or anything, right?”

YELLOW-BELLY 2: “Sure. Someone’s bound to complain. They’ll send someone to slay it.”

And with that, they scarpered. Yep, they left the shadow dragon beast to someone else, and skedaddled with the loot, the rescued slaves and not a little bit of shame, I should think.

Does that about sum it up, gentlemen?

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Skull Session: A brief foray into slaughter

Updates all around from our June 15 session, which incorporated elements from an encounter in the “Open Grave” sourcebook:

  • Thoumont offered his shop in The Souk as a place for Lia and Redgar to stay indefinitely. It’s not exactly zoned as an inn, and the amenities are spare, but the price is right. He’ll exchange free rooming for a little extra security around the old homestead.
  • Lucas, under secret orders, returned some of the Beggar King loot to his masters at the Thieves Guild, who raised an eyebrow that the amount was so … paltry. Thanks to some fast talking, he staved off further inquiry into the matter with promises that he had an in to the House Ferod, where he had achieved great favor for rescuing the Duke’s eldest daughter from slavers. By curious circumstance, the Guild’s own agents inside the Ferod household had gone silent, feared dead – or worse, off on vacation with ill-gotten gains they did not share with the Guild. Lucas is allowed to leave the Guildhouse with his life…
  • Gareth, having identified in the Beggar King’s haul a stack of silver ingots stamped with the mark of House Ferod, offered to return the ingots to the Ferod estate. He met with the Duke himself who seemed taken aback at the sight of the lucre. He soon informed Gareth of his unending thanks and trust, and promised a fete for the band of adventurers as soon as his household recovers from the wedding revelry.
  • Until then, however, the duke had a delicate favor to ask: A family heirloom – no more than a curious onyx skull – had gone missing. He had bequeathed it to the church (the Sacred Cathedral of the Holy Breath of Podru) where his house had been a patron for generations. But he received word the day before that this worthless curio had been removed from the vault where the priestly scholars had stored it. Some of the duke’s retainers – skilled and doughty men, all – were dispatched to investigate at once but he had not heard from them since. Gareth agreed to round up his new allies and follow up with Father Rumpus at the cathedral, returning the onyx skull at once if possible.
  • To the cathedral! The big bloody corpse hanging from the altar was a dead giveaway: Something was amiss at the church. But the party didn’t know for sure what kind of trouble until the ghoul dropped out of the rafters and began to feast on their living flesh. Snicker snack, and that was that, except for the two ghouls who escaped out the back.
  • To the graveyard! Many prominent families of Punjar had crypts and mausoleums in the ancient bury patch, including a grand structure bearing the Ferod name. Lia heard plaintive cries coming from there. A separate mausoleum had its door wrenched open—Lucas saw bodies of dead acolytes just inside. But they followed the sounds into a room filled with zombies, skeletons and a tall humanoid, ghastly and white, with a fabulous mane of rock star hair. The beatdown resumed, the pale reaver found himself outmatched, and he ran away through a wall. Brother Tickles cowering in a corner warned the party that the reaver has captured Father Rumpus.
  • The party followed down to the undercrypt of the neighboring tomb. Bad things down there, including the two ghouls, some ratty minions and what was left of the pale reaver—which was still quite a bit. After Lia remembered she was Eladrin, she fey-stepped next to a sarcophagus where an onyx skull emitted purple light and generally whipped the undead into a frenzy. She pocketed the skull, debuffing the undead, who put up less fight and had the decency to die quickly.
  • The party rescueed Father Rumpus from inside the sarcophagus where he was bound, covered in arcane runes written in blood. He was unsure of what the beasts intended to do with him, though sacrifice is a pretty safe bet. All he can tell the party is that the vault holding the skull had been unsealed and removed improperly – all the priests permitted to study it know proper ways of handling it, but none was authorized to do so.
  • The party returned the skull first to Thoumont, at the mage’s request, so he could examine it. He turned it over in his hands a length and said very little, other than that it appeared to have been broken or sawed off from something larger. He listened to the stories of undead antics with interest, but stopped short of calling the skull evil. When Lia asked what they should do with the skull, Thoumont replied that it would be unwise not to return it to Duke Ferod as he requested. “How far and how fast could you run?” were his exact words.
  • Duke Ferod receives his lost heirloom happily, if a bit surprised to see these scrappy heroes survive the encounter. A feast is promised within the week to commemorate the heroes. The Overlord of Punjar himself has even been invited to make an appearance at the fete…
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Scions of the Times: Another adventure in Punjar

In which we begin: “Scions of Punjar”

When last we left our heroes, Duke Farod had promised them a banquet for rescuing his daughter in time for her wedding, and boy, did he make good on his word. The gala event welcomed several prominent families of Punjar. (Though a visit from the Overlord was hoped for, and much-promoted by Farod himself, the sovereign was a no-show). Captain Thurg, Lucas and Gareth’s superior officer, was invited as well, since he was the mastermind of the rescue mission. He took all the credit. And drank most of the wine, too.

During the evening, however, a small nobleman took Gareth aside for a quiet chat in an empty hallway. Lord Dev’shir, patriarch of a lesser household in Punjar’s social strata, had a potentially embarrassing problem that needed the attention of some doughty (but discreet) agents.

Dev’shir’s son, Elam, discovered an heirloom of the Dev’shir family in a pawn shop of all places – more unnerving still, the amulet in question had been buried with a cherished aunt at the family crypt. Would Gareth and his friends consider themselves up to the task of quietly investigating?

Yes, they would. (I hope somebody wrote down what he promised to pay you…)

Armed with a key to the crypt and the name of the pawn shop, the party started the day in the neighborhoods of the Souk, at Oskar’s Pawn Shop, where the irascible Oskar proved a thorny subject for questioning. Before a fight broke out, sufficient coinage trickled his way for him to give up what he knew about the amulet:

  • It had been pawned by a half-orc named Latimer, an ugly character with a gold earring and an identifiable facial scar.* He was a known gambler who frequents the Famished Froghemoth in the Devil’s Thumb district (Punjar’s “Vegas quarter”).

“To the Famished Froghemoth!” cried the party, until they realized it was only about noon. Since the city boneyard was just to west, they decided to kill time at the Dev’shir family tomb. Their key was useless, as the doors had been forced open and were now protected by a magical glyph. Inside, things seemed quiet at first, until the party discovered an entire undead army of reanimated Dev’shirs lying in wait. It damn near took them down. But not quite.

Jinkies, a clue! A mural of the Dev’shir family tree depicted the current Heads of House: Lord Abir (who initiated this quest)and Lady Noura were represented on smooth bricks, as was their son, Elam. To the left of Elam’s name were two blank bricks that showed signs of having being replaced.

Behind the mural lay another burial chamber, this one from the modern era. One of the tombs had been smashed open, and the remains within were not animated, as the others had been, but slung to the back and onto the floor. “Beware the ghost of Burr Oak!” advised Gareth, but it was only the ghost of Dugesia Dev’shir who approached them. She reacted first with fury, but calmed when it became clear the party were not tomb defilers.

She seemed lost and confused, unable to explain who or what had happened to her tomb, but it was the cruel treatment of her corpse that led to her return as a ghost. The party (probably) returned her bones to the slab—her remains had only been decaying for few years, which helped retrieval and repositioning of her corpse. The party also retrieved pieces of a shattered brick, which bore Dugesia’s name when assembled; it had been smashed on the floor here.

Jinkies, another clue! Red footprints in the tomb hint at iron-rich soil. As Gareth and Lucas surely know, Punjar had once experienced an iron boom many years ago, spawning a slew of mines on its outskirts. But the iron proved to be of poor quality, and the mines that sprung up overnight were soon abandoned, leaving behind a vast playground for every bandido, evil sorcerer, and lurking beast looking for a quiet spot to call home…

Licking their wounds, the party limped back to their quarters to rest up that day and night. What ever will they do for an encore?

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Pub Life: A trip to a tavern, and everyone gets lit

(belated notes from our mid-July session)

The party began the adventure by informing the Dev’shir family of the desecration at their family tomb. Thanks to some supremely slick game-sense, Lia noticed the worried look of the servant who was ushering them out, and she totally Power Manipulated a little info out of the valet. Namely: daughters Dugesia and Lakaisha had both perished in a tragic barn blaze, though the servant made some oblique references about bad blood between those two daughters and internal worries about public opinion and the continued social standing of the Dev’shir family. This seemed to indicate there was more to the story than the public had been led to believe.

Lia was able to form a Promising Theory about the identity and motive of someone who would desecrate the family tomb. (Nice going, guys! I didn’t see that total fast-talking grifter maneuver coming, and you cobbled together some critical info a session or two early! Well done.)

After this, the party was hot on the trail of Latimer, the half-orc who pawned the Dev’shir heirloom. Following a tip from Oskar, the pawn shop owner, they entered the raucous tavern called The Famished Froghemoth. It was about 7 in the evening, and though many were already hunkered down with their mugs of ale and mead, none appeared to be the distinctive half-orc they sought.

And so, to blend in, they drank. And drank and drank. Gareth and Redgar nursed their mugs and watered them when possible, but Lucas and Lia took this opportunity to reclaim their college drinking days. And boy did they put on a good show. Lucas nearly got into a scrap over a drunken game of darts, while Lia was nearly convinced to “earn some beads the Mardi Gras way.” Redgar kept her under close watch.

The hours ticked by. No Latimer. Lucas got drunker.

Captain Thurg “bumped into” his guardsmen grunts in the tavern. Clearly he has known Gareth and Lucas are moonlighting and picking up good money and notoriety with the noble crowd, and he wanted a piece of the action. Gareth was, to be honest, a little brusque with the captain, who hung around all night waiting for things to happen.

Which they did. Around 9, Latimer walked in, to shouts of “Norm!” all around the bar. He quickly fell into drinking and gambling, losing as much as he won, until an opening appeared at his table. Gareth and Redgar moved in. Latimer talked them into a wager on a game of Punjar Hold ‘Em. Their cards stunk, but as it turns out, the sharp-eyed Gareth just barely noticed Latimer slip the extra pair of aces into his hand at the last moment. He decided to keep mum and let Latimer scoop up his winnings.

Their queries soon made Latimer uncomfortable. He slipped out the front door and the party followed. (Lucas mostly stumbled.) Captain Thurg tried to join, but Gareth bristled at his boss’ interference – the quarrel nearly allowed their quarry escape, but they heard a muffled cry from an alley. They arrived in time to see Latimer getting bound by a pair of shadowy thugs. When the party accosted these ne’er-do-wells, they were warned to leave or face the wrath of “the Slayers.” Lucas and Thurg instantly recognized the gang symbol these thugs flashed – the Slayers are an infamous league of Punjari assassins and mercenaries quite separate from the Thieves Guild; their agenda is their own.

A tiefling warlock on a balcony overhead warned them that Latimer was now “property of the Slayers” but did the party listen? Of course not. Despite Lucas falling down drunkenly at least once, they managed the thugs quite well. That slippery warlock nearly got away – BUT thanks to Thurg, who had moved around to the opposite end of the alley, they pinned him down and rendered him Not Alive. Lucas pinched a swank Cloak of Lurking.

Latimer was grateful to be rescued, and (since his life was forfeit now anyway) he spilled the beans: He had been a mercenary for a small band of bandits called the Crimson Hand. The Hand had been hired by a secretive, black-robed sorceress (whom Latimer had never seen directly) to exhume bodies from the City of the Dead. Easy work for good money. But thanks to his old debt to the Slayers coming due, he decided to go on the lam. He shared the directions to the particular abandoned iron mine where the Crimson Hand holed up.

I think we all know what’s coming next. Bring your miner’s hat and a caged canary!

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