Monday, March 3, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 42 [RPG]

[17 Kythorn 1372]

After a night spent in frivolity with the Carnivale Intrepid, the adventurers wake tired and (in Fargrim's case) somewhat hungover. While Bettina puts together an excellent breakfast for Markus (and his friends), Ulugu the Far-Seeing offers a potentially entertaining (and lucrative) diversion: pulling out an old, battered chest full of coins, he says that the spirits are encouraging those assembled to test their wisdom by solving mankind's greatest riddles, and that if they succeed, the chest shall be theirs. After being encouraged by "the spirits" to "sacrifice" a few gold pieces, Tunak is posed with the riddle "The more of me there is, the less you see" and is stumped. Mellia and Cain are quite skeptical of Ulugu, and decide to pose him a riddle; but the challenge unravels when Mellia realizes Ulugu keeps talking about "the chest" as a reward rather than "the chest and its contents."

While Cammy goes on a walk with Daisy and her menagerie, Mellia gives Tunak a note to read later. She then takes Fargrim, Markus, and Cain to one side. She asks if their intent is still to go to Mirabar, and when they assent, she suddenly grabs their hands, utters occult syllables, and transports them instantly across hundreds of miles! The foursome find themselves standing right in front of the Sign of the Forgehammer Inn in Mirabar. After explaining to her startled allies that she had finally reached a breakthrough in learning to teleport from place to place, Mellia says that she didn't want to waste time debating what to do. The others are impressed, and the group decides to head straight towards the massive domed fortress known as The Hall of Sparkling Stones to receive their reward for Grim's capture.

As they travel through the streets of Mirabar, they notice several heavily-armed patrols of the city's standing army, The Axe. When they question a guard about it at the Hall of Sparkling Stones, they learn that the "cold war" between Luskan and Mirabar has intensified to open conflict, with several skirmishes being reported to the west. The recently-returned Lord Feldspar is said to have taken a major role in organizing the city's defences. When the group bring up the topic of a reward for the capture or death of Grim, the guard summons a dwarven priest who asks for proof. Fargrim turns over Grim's mask and shows the priest Grim's longsword. The priest channels his divinely-granted gifts to see that the adventurers are telling the truth, but he is still unsure whether they may have been fooled by one of Grim's duplicates. The priest tells the adventurers he'll need to cast some further spells on the mask and that he'll deliver his verdict the following morning.

Meanwhile, back at the campsite, the winds are beginning to pick up and it looks like another poor day for travel. The remaining adventurers are mystified by their companions' sudden disappearance, until Tunak remembers the note Mellia had given him. When Cammy and Daisy return from their walk, the former reads the note which says that they will be gone for three days but upon their return, the group can head straight for Startop Mountain. Cammy, however, says that it is urgent she reach Silverymoon and speak to a certain contact there. With a bit of logic and a bit of fast-talk, zhe persuades Temeris that the others meant to leave their mounts for the remaining members' use. Zhe thus saddles Mellia's horse and prepares to head off east. Tunak, however, sees this as a straightforward case of theft and tries to stop Cammy. The half-elf is determined, however, and spurs hir mount on; although Tunak manages to deliver a blow with his quarterstaff as zhe rides past, Cammy soon disappears into the lightly forested area to the east.

Back in Mirabar, the four adventurers decide to take rooms at the Sign of the Forgehammer. Mellia opens up the spellbook she took from Aloysius' corpse and notices that the inside front cover reads "Property of Beagin Tenfingers" and that a torn piece of parchment, written in a strange runic code, has been buried in the book's pages. She posts a notice on the inn's message board that states: "Beagin Tenfingers is dead. For details, contact me." and signs her name. She then gets to work learning a spell related to lightning.

Markus, Cain, and Fargrim, on the other hand, have foregone scholarly pursuits to go shopping. At the famous House of the Bright Blade, Fargrim trades in Grim's longsword for a greataxe, the blade of which is composed of a strange red metal said to have come from a massive glowing rock hurtling from the sky that crashed into the Sword Mountains. The adventurers then spend some hours asking locals for the location of Protius the Potion Purveyor. When they find the infamous gnome, they see his former alleyway operation has blossomed into a proper store. Protius is disappointed to learn that Ellywick is not with them and is further befuddled by Markus' request for a pearl. He does sell the young swordsman what he calls a "Potion of Extreme Bravery." A somewhat abashed Markus later purchases an expensive pearl at a jeweler's, planning to ask Mellia to use it to discern the property of some magical crossbow bolts he has been carrying for some time.

At the campsite in Mirabar, Tunak waits patiently for his new allies to return. He asks Temeris for a map of the area, and the young cartographer obliges.

While finishing her day's study in the common room of the Sign of the Forgehammer, Mellia is approached by a handsome man in his mid-30s with a languid, overly-familiar manner. The stranger introduces himself as Jak, and said he saw the note Mellia posted on the noticeboard. Mellia is surprised that someone responded so quickly, and notices a huge, burly figure (probably a half-orc) leaning against the fireplace watching them closely. After some introductory remarks, Jak gets to the point: he's interested in the torn parchment he says he knows was in Beagin's spellbook. He says Beagin and he were part of the same adventuring company, one that had to split up after becoming the target of mysterious dark forces. The parchment, he says, contains the coded directions to the group's new meeting place. Mellia is skeptical of this story, but not particularly interested in the parchment as long as she has the spellbook. After excusing herself to retrieve it, she goes to her room and makes a quick copy of it. When she returns to the common room, she bargains with Jak and gives it to him for 200 gold pieces. Jak's genial manner quickly turns threatening when Fargrim arrives and questions his presence. Still, he and his companion depart without further incident.

That night, a suspicious Mellia decides that, to be safe, she should temporarily vacate her room and that the four adventurers should sleep in shifts in one large room. To further enhance the group's security, she casts another recently-learned spell that summons a dozen apple-sized orbs. The orbs are actually mystical flying eyes that follow Mellia's instructions to keep a close watch on her original room and the hallway adjacent to the group's current room. However, the eyes are unable to function in darkness, and sometime during the night, someone or something manages to slip into the dimly-lit hallway, squeeze open the door to the group's room, stealthily remove Aloysius' spellbook, and slip out, all under Fargrim's nose!

[18 Kythorn 1372]

After an uneventful night, the new day dawns warmly and with a more manageable wind. Temeris announces his intent for the Carnivale Intrepid to head south. Tunak tries to talk him out of it, but Temeris is eager to begin exploring Startop Mountain and find Daisy's brother. He implies it was somewhat rude for the other adventurers to disappear suddenly, but says he hopes to see everyone again if they journey to Startop Mountain too. Bettina, however, decides to stay behind with Tunak, as she's eager to see Markus again.

Back in Mirabar, Mellia wakens with a gasp, which the others assume is simply the result of a nightmare. When she begins her morning's study, she realizes Aloysius' book is missing. When the group move to the common room for breakfast, they see that a new note has been posted on the notice board: "Scholar seeking dead god Myrkul at the Fountain of the King." The group eat quickly and then head off to the Hall of Sparkling Stones, where the same warrior-priest who spoke to them the previous morning returns Grim's mask, gruffly praises them on their success, and duly provides the 5,000 gold piece reward. The four adventurers split the bounty, and then Mellia and Fargrim travel to the Fountain of the King in the city's market square to meet the poster of the mysterious note.

A young woman is waiting for them there, and says her name is Dolcetto. She says she's a scholar who has realized that Myrkul may be becoming active once more and that she is seeking a legendary artifact named the Crown of Horns because it will prevent the dead god's resurrection. Mellia is somewhat skeptical, and suspicious that so many strange coincidences (the visit from Jak, the theft of Aloysius' spellbook, and this approach) are occurring so quickly together. As Mellia is starting to reply, she notices the silhouette of an eavesdropper hiding underneath the fountain. The figure is yanked out and revealed to be a dark, rock-coloured gnome. "Oh, crap!" it says.
Director's Commentary (June 24, 2016)

So, teleport: the bane of my existence in this campaign.  This spell might not seem like a big deal, or even seem like a handy convenience, but it actually creates several indirect effects that make directing a sandbox campaign very difficult.  I'm surely not the first nor the last director to complain about it.  The problems it creates for a game-runner are numerous, and the problem gets even worse when combined with scrying or when Greater Teleport comes on line.

First, and obviously, the spell eliminates the need for characters to travel overland from place to place.  This means that there are no random encounters for travel, which are a good source of XP and excitement in an otherwise RP-heavy session.  More importantly, it means that there's no time for a director to prepare for wherever the PCs may decide to go, which results in settings that are less fleshed-out, and definitely less distinct, flavourful, and immersive.  As a director, I can be ready for Silverymoon, Nesme, and Mirabar.  Now, thanks to teleport, I need to also be ready, on a moment's notice, to handle Waterdeep (a major part of Realms lore that has entire boxed sets devoted to it) and dozens of other cities in the North on a moment's notice.  A related problem is that PCs can jump deep into areas where I need to have encounters planned in seconds--very difficult to do in such a crunchy system like D&D 3.5.  For something like Startop Mountain, the spell could have allowed them to bypass several dungeon levels worth of encounters if they did some good scrying or got accurate information.

Second, it means that the PC with the spell has an easy escape option from almost any combat (5' step and teleport).

Third, and often less realised, is it encourages the players to split the party because there are limits on how many PCs, animal companions, cohorts, etc. can be taken along which can result in a "we'll be right back" situation that doesn't take long in terms of in-game time but can last sessions in real time.  And because it's so easy and tempting to use, it can result in a less-focussed group that flits about doing all sorts of stuff without really ever delving deeply into any one thing.

There's a load of other problems created by teleport, but I don't want to rant about the spell the entire post.  There are various ways to deal with some of these problems with enough practice, foresight, and preparation, but it's certainly not an easy problem to deal with even for a fairly experienced directly like myself.

Cammy's theft of the horse was fun and exciting, but zhe would have been much better off if Tunak had knocked her out with his quarterstaff.  We'll see very soon that hir ride would not come to a happy result.  I tried, again and again, to make it clear that the Evermoors were an incredibly dangerous place and shouldn't be traversed alone!  A word should be said about how well the player ran a gender-queer character, and this was great to see in a game.  The gaming world needs more inclusion and diversity, and I need to do a better job in this direction as well.

An awesome  picture for Dolcetto.
The player who ran Cammy introduced an alternate PC in order to have something to do in the Mirabar scenes (an example of the complications of teleport!).  This new PC, Dolcetto, would become a major character in the campaign.  She was portrayed as an incredibly smart, gifted, and detail-oriented caster.  She became a good example of the true power of a Tier 1 character in the hands of a optimizer.

In the very last bit, another new back-up PC is introduced--but more on that next time.

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