Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 16 [RPG]

[5 Mirtul 1372]

A cold, heavy rain falls as the adventurers finish some final errands in Mirabar. Fargrim visits the city's shrine to Tymora and speaks with the adventurer-priest Janith about the foreboding Evermoors surrounding Startop Mountain. Cain continues working to create a spear, but the process takes
longer than he would like. Nakor decides to follow up on some leads relating to the strange, nearly dead man the group encountered the previous day, and tells the group he'll catch up with them later along the Long Road. Ellywick receives a folded piece of paper from a young messenger, and sees that it's a handbill
announcing the hanging of the Scourge of Blackford Road at dawn; on the opposite side, the number "2" has been written in blood. That evening, the group assembles at the Sign of the Forgehammer and agrees to attend the execution in the morning.

[6 Mirtul 1372]

When the group arrives, a crowd has assembled around the scaffold set up outside the Hall of Sparkling Stones. After a burly man is executed, the Scourge delivers her final words to Fargrim, stating that he's made a mistake and that he'll never find Grim without her. After her execution, Fargrim departs. A
third convict, a middle-aged woman, is then hung, protesting her innocence the whole time; she's described by a fellow audience-member as a recently-caught murderess named Galaiya.

When the event is over, Cain heads to the shrine of Tymora and learns that rumors have spread of more victims along the Long Road suffering from the strange flesh-rotting condition.

Before leaving Mirabar, the group leaves word at the Sign of the Forgehammer for Mellia. In the stables outside the inn, Trigonnis asks the group whether they're taking him with them, but Markus says it's up to the absent Nakor. When Trigonnis protests, Markus tells Trigonnis he doesn't even like him and the
group rides off. Fargrim's horse displays a tendency to suddenly stop and Markus' is known to kick, but so far the others do not notice any problems with their mounts.

The group makes excellent speed on the Long Road, covering two or three times the distance they used to. Towards evening, the group reaches the walled village of Xantharl's Keep. In the darkness and rain, the village makes little impression on the travellers and they head quickly to an inn, the Bear & Black Buckler. Inside, they find a dark, dirty, and decrepit place run by an equally disreputable innkeeper. He manages to wheedle extra money from the adventurers by claiming that room is scarce, and warns them "no matter what, don't go downstairs."

That evening, over a poor meal of roasted potatoes, curiosity gets the better of the group. With Cain dancing a jig as a distraction, Ellywick sneaks down the stairs and encounters a makeshift metal gate barring further access to the darkened basement. When Fargrim joins her later, his Dwarven vision allows him to make out a dusty storeroom and a key mysteriously dangling from a rafter. A low moan emanates from the room, and spooks everyone into heading to their rooms for a night's rest. Strange sounds and phenomena continue through the night, but those who are awake are steadfast in ignoring it.

[7 Mirtul 1372]

The rain and wind continue through the night and reach a terrible strength in the early morning hours. The wind howls through the inn, shaking the building through its sheer power. Effectively trapped for the day, the group decides to investigate the basement further. At Cain's prompting, Fargrim manages to lift
the gate off of its hinges to allow for further investigation. The moaning intensifies, along with whispers of "take the key" and "help me." The group decides to make the innkeeper talk, and he does so reluctantly. He claims that the inn is haunted, and has been so for years. Guests who take the key inevitably head into the hills west of the village and never return, but the key always reappears. He states he installed the gate for the safekeeping of the guests. The group extracts a promise of free accommodation from the innkeeper
in exchange for their freeing the inn of the haunting, along with a promise that he can keep their horses if they never return.

Undeterred, the group returns to the basement. Fargrim resolves to take the key to get to the bottom of this mystery, but just as he reaches out for it a large pounding is heard upstairs. When opened, the front door reveals a wet and windblown Mellia. The group quickly brings her up to speed and returns to the
basement. This time, Fargrim manages to grasp the key; he suddenly begins walking towards and up the stairs, entranced. He quickly heads outside into almost hurricane-level winds, but seems unaffected. Ellywick and Markus are not so lucky, as they tumble head over heels when they try to follow him. In his
heavy armor, Cain manages to stay upright and the group cleverly decides to lash themselves together for safety.

They manage to follow Fargrim as he strides out of Xantharl's Keep and into the hills. He stops in the middle of an ancient, overgrown graveyard in front of a weathered grey mausoleum. The group watches as he walks up to the mausoleum, inserts the key in its door, and tries to turn it--but to no effect, as the lock has long ago rusted shut. A spectral apparition becomes visible in the form of a rage-filled young woman shrieking "open the door, open the door!"

Markus knocks the key out of Fargrim's hand, and the apparition attacks the group. Her unearthly, freezing touch seems to drain the spark of beauty and personality from Ellywick, and even has some effect on the stalwart Cain. The group struggles to decide what to do. Mellia successfully casts and maintains a
spell to discern thoughts in the area, and is almost overwhelmed with a vision of a young woman being locked in the mausoleum as a prank, and collapsing from fear. Although the group isn't sure if it is the right course of action, Mellia magically unlocks and opens the mausoleum door. The apparition fades, emanating a sense of peace, and even the wind becomes calm as sunlight shines through the
Director's Commentary (October 18, 2013)

This session started with a hanging, which is a good way to get people's attention!  I was sad to see the Scourge go out in such a fashion, as I grew to like the NPC and thought she would have made an interesting antagonist.  But as the writer's aphorism goes, you have to murder your darlings.  I actually had a hard time trying to figure out what the justice system would be like in a place like Mirabar, as it's not a topic that's covered in any of the Realms sourcebooks I've read.  Would there be a trial?  Would there be a jury?  Is the death penalty a lawful good punishment?  Etc, etc.  I went with the dramatic result.  The PCs were determined to leave right after the Scourge was executed, so they never witnessed Grim's second act of revenge: the framing of another ally from Fargrim's background, a woman named Galaiya.  The idea with them receiving a handbill about the execution with the bloody number "2" on the back was that they would connect it with the Scourge's earlier statement that Grim would take two pieces off the board in return for their capturing her, but the clue may have been too subtle.  I often find that a difficult aspect of directing: things that appear ominous and obvious to me may quite easily go overlooked by players, who have a lot of things to worry about.  On the other hand, good story-telling shouldn't be too blunt lest it become banal.  The balancing act is much more of an issue when it comes to directing a mystery, such as in Call of Cthulhu, then it is in D&D, but it's still something I think about anytime I have dreams, prophecies, rumors, etc.

The journey south started with a little fun.  When they bought their mounts, I secretly rolled on a table of Horse Quirks from 2nd edition.  Added some nice humor (at least when I remembered to factor it in).

I really liked how the mini-adventure in Xantharl's Keep turned out.  I always try to rely on published descriptions of locations the PCs are going to encounter.  I have the 2nd edition D&D sourcebook The North, which has been invaluable for the campaign.  It had the bit about a ghost haunting the inn in rather broad terms, and I was then able to flesh that out, mostly through improv, to add something memorable to the PCs' visit to the town.  In an awesome bit of synchronicity, the weather I rolled on the random tables from The Silver Marches sourcebook fit perfectly into the spooky story.  In retrospect, Mellia's Detect Thoughts spell probably shouldn't have worked on the ghost, as, like all undead, they're immune to mind-affecting spells.  I missed it at the time, and the story turned out much better for it.

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