Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 22 [RPG]

[3 Neth 4707 continued]

Jodar Provolost turns even paler upon seeing Ome literally bite pieces out of the powerful ghast in the Hambley farmhouse in order to destroy it. He mutters something about how repulsive this whole matter is, and stumbles outside to see that that two of his fellow watchmen have died in the battle. Artemis secures the scene, as Bey has again lapsed into her mystery and Arnald has succumbed to a delayed onset of the ghoul’s paralytic touch.

Artemis joins Ome inside the farmhouse to examine the horrifically mutilated body of Crade Hambley. They confirm that the Sihedron star carved into his chest is orientated to place the rune of Greed at its highest point. The scrap of parchment pinned to the man’s tunic is examined; like the others, it is covered in blood and addressed to Bey: “Take the fever into you, my love—it shall be but the first of my gifts to you.” The two discuss the meaning of the note, with Ome suggesting that, by fever, the writer is referencing the supernatural disease “ghoul fever.” Artemis continues examining the corpse and finds a rusted iron key in one pocket.

The search of the farmhouse continues, as the tengu from Sandpoint and the watchman from Magnimar examine the body of the ghast that Ome defeated in single combat. The corpse is wearing dirty and torn servant’s livery and has an iron key on a chain around its neck; the key features a curious heraldic symbol of a flower surrounded by thorns, but neither Ome nor Artemis are able to attribute any meaning to it. A search of the master bedroom uncovers a loose floorboard with a small coffer hidden underneath. The key found in Crade Hambley’s pocket unlocks the coffer to reveal 34 pouches of exactly 100 silver pieces each. Artemis says that the money should be left where it is until the farmer’s next of kin can be notified.

The two conclude their investigation of the farmhouse and turn their attention to the barn. The macabre tangle of bones and partially eaten carcasses of livestock and humans testify it has obviously served as the ghouls’ lair for some days. Artemis sees the bones of children included in the pile, and suggests that the Hambley children have met the worst imaginable end. Apart from an ancient statue that the locals call “the Stone Warrior,” the barn contains nothing else notable.

Artemis and Ome, along with the two surviving members of the Watch escort, decide to return to Sandpoint with their incapacitated friends and the bodies of their two fallen allies. Sticking closely to the winding farm trails that led them here, the group make it back to the Lost Coast Road quickly and have an eventless journey back to Sandpoint. Bey and Arnald are seen safely to their rooms at the Rusty Dragon. Artemis and Ome notice several notes nailed to the inn’s Help Wanted board, including a request for escorts for a trip with Sister Guilia to Mosswood in return for which “spiritual compensation” will be offered, the offer of a reward to help wagonwright Bilivar Wheen recover some lost goods, and a request for escorts to Thistletop posted by Veznutt Parooh.

The functioning members of the team head to the garrison to make their report to Sheriff Hemlock. Hemlock is told that it’s possible the powerful undead in the Hambley farmhouse was the culprit behind the murders, but it’s by no means certain. Upon hearing that more ghouls could lurk in the fields and byways of the southern farms, Sheriff Hemlock says he’ll declare a state of emergency and send more men to sweep the area in the morning. After Artemis leaves, Ome stays for a private word with Sheriff Hemlock about the public meeting scheduled for the next night on whether brothels should be made illegal in Sandpoint. Sheriff Hemlock says he’s found no link between criminal activity and the Pixie’s Kitten and will state this at the meeting. Ome says that the instigator of this meeting, Titus Scarnetti, is the real problem. She delicately hints that if there were any skeletons in Scarnetti’s closet, it could be used to change his mind. Sheriff Hemlock shuts down the idea, but says that anything Ome can do lawfully to change public opinion at tomorrow’s meeting would be appreciated. Afterwards, Artemis tells Ome he’ll attend the meeting but that he’s not much for speech-making.

The two retire for the night, with the town watchman heading for his bunk in the garrison’s barracks and the tengu adventurer heading for the Pixie’s Kitten. Inside the latter, Ome sees that the brothel is busier than she’s ever seen it before, as many in Sandpoint anticipate it could be the final night of its existence. Ome finds Kaye in her private chamber, practicing a speech in front of a mirror. Ome uses her natural instincts for persuasion to help Kaye refine her words. Afterwards, the brothel owner explains why tomorrow’s meeting could go either way. The four representatives of the founding families each have a vote, with the mayor possessing the tie-breaker. Kaye says that, obviously, Titus Scarnetti will vote to close the brothel, but that she knows her friend Ameiko, who’s recently succeeded her slain father on the council, will vote to keep it open. Mayor Deverin has been supportive in the past, but could be swayed if public opinion leans strongly one way or the other. The wildcard is the vote from the Valdemar family. Ethram Valdemar is an old man who is quite sick, and misses as many meetings as he attends; if he doesn’t attend, his eldest son Belvan will take his place.
Kaye Tesarani

[4 Neth 4707]

In the morning, Ome finds Artemis and says that she’s determined to help her friends at the Pixie’s Kitten. The two decide that perhaps they could secure Mayor Deverin’s vote, so they head south towards Deverin Manor. As they cross the southern footbridge across the Turandarok, the two are stunned to see an enormous fish, over fifteen feet long, with bony scales and toothy jaws congregating in the river below! Fortunately, Ome and Artemis are both able to react quickly and run back several yards onto the northern shore before the fish, known as giant gars, are able to turn them into a one-bite snack. The two climb to the rooftops of nearby buildings and start firing arrows at the giant gars, but the angle and water makes their attacks largely ineffective. The drama of the situation escalates seconds later when a rider on horseback (town tanner Larz Rovanky) approaches the bridge from the south. Ome shouts and waves to get Larz’ attention, and succeeds in persuading the skeptical man that danger really does exist in the river. Larz turns back, and after some minutes the giant predator fish swim downstream in search of prey elsewhere.

Ome and Artemis continue their original plan and soon reach Deverin Manor. The butler is not predisposed toward admitting the tengu, but the presence of a uniformed member of the town watch is enough to gain them both entry. The two are led to a dining room where Kendra Deverin is having a late breakfast prior to her planned departure to her office at the town hall. She welcomes the two to sit down, stating that she doesn’t usually receive visitors on public business at her home, but that the combination of a tengu and a member of the Watch was too intriguing to turn down. Ome explains the purpose of their visit, and says that there’s no absolutely no evidence that the existence of a brothel in Sandpoint has any connection whatsoever to any of the terrible things that have befallen the town of late. Deverin agrees, but tells Ome that reason and logic are unlikely to persuade someone like Titus Scarnetti: questions of “sin” and “the punishment of the gods” are not capable of being proven or disproven through evidence. When asked which way she’ll vote at the meeting, Deverin says that it’s a matter of public record that she’s supported legalized prostitution in Sandpoint in the past. However, she says that it would be improper for her to announce which way she’ll be voting tonight until she’s had a chance to hear everyone out. She thanks the two for their interest in civic affairs and sincerely welcomes them to continue participating in Sandpoint public life.

After asking some questions around town to gauge public opinion, Artemis and Ome conclude that they need to find someone really popular to speak out on the Pixie’s Kitten’s behalf. They decide that Cyrdak Drokkus could be just the man, and walk to the Sandpoint Theatre. Inside, they see him frenetically directing rehearsals for a new production in which Sandpoint’s “Local Heroes” (actors in the roles of Bey Lin, Xeveg Kishalq, Oliver Turn, and Felix Bloodrider) battle a papier-mache Sandpoint Devil. The fact that three of the four real-life inspirations for the “Local Heroes” are now dead seems not to have deterred their characters’ popularity (or Cyrdak’s enthusiasm for a sure crowd-pleaser) in the slightest. Ome has difficulty getting Cyrdak’s attention until she jumps on stage and delivers a line of dialogue in a far better manner than the actor hired to play “Felix Bloodrider” did. Cyrdak immediately tells everyone to “take five” while he takes Ome backstage to try to convince her to join his production. She adroitly moves the topic of conversation to tonight’s public meeting, and asks Cyrdak if he plans to speak. The virtuoso performer says there’s no one in Sandpoint he hates more the moralistic Titus Scarnetti, but that he’s not sure if he might do more harm than good. Ome persuades Cyrdak that he could really make a difference for Sandpoint and get revenge on Scarnetti at the same time, and sweetens the deal by saying she’ll owe him a favour. Cyrdak is convinced, and announces that he’s going to bring his partner, Sir Jasper Korvaski, and anyone who doesn’t like it can be damned!

With the time left before the meeting waning, Artemis and Ome split up to make their final preparations. Artemis dresses in civilian clothing so it’s clear he’s attending the meeting in his personal capacity. He talks with Bosk Hartigan about the investigation into the murders at the mill and the old Bradley farm, and tells the man that the cases shouldn’t be considered closed until more decisive evidence is found. Ome goes to the Pixie’s Kitten. She sees that the brothel will be closed tonight so that the entire staff (barring one cleaner) can attend the public meeting en masse.

The town hall is packed! With the representatives of the four founding families sitting behind a semi-circular table at the rear of the hall and a podium in front for a speaker, Mayor Deverin begins the meeting and asks for comments from the public. Several people instantly raise their hand, and Mayor Deverin starts calling on them one by one.

Gorvi, the town’s half-orc rubbish collector, states in crude terms how much he likes visiting the Pixie’s Kitten. His words turn several people against the brothel, contrary to his intention.

Cyrdak gives an impassioned and effective speech about the need for individuality and self-expression, and how “moral know-it-alls” shouldn’t use their authority to suppress anything they don’t like. He ends his presentation by calling on his semi-secret partner, Sir Jasper Korvaski, to stand up so that their relationship can be publicly acknowledged. Cyrdak’s words are effective in swaying the crowd.

Jubrayl Vhiski, a lanky Varisian known to frequent the Fatman’s Feedbag, speaks up in opposition to the Pixie’s Kitten. Jubrayl says that everyone knows that brothels and crime go hand in hand, and that Sandpoint would be a safer place to live if it were closed down. Some heads in the crowd nod in agreement.

Sister Giulia gives a rambling, almost incoherent talk that leaves most listeners confused.

Hannah Velerin, the town healer, gives an effective, matter-of-fact statement that the management of the Pixie’s Kitten is responsible, and makes sure all of its men and women in the sex trade are healthy and treated respectfully by their clients. She says that brothels like the Pixie’s Kitten should be encouraged to exist rather than risk a much more dangerous black market sex trade flourishing in the shadows.

Sheriff Hemlock states that no link between the Pixie’s Kitten and any criminal activity has been found to exist, but his speech is undermined by the perfect timing of Jubrayl Vhiski’s mocking shout that he’s just saying that because he’s in love with Kaye Tesarani.

During a short break in the proceedings, Ome sidles up next to Jubrayl and tries to subtly intimidate him into keeping quiet. He just winks at her and slips away. Artemis uses the time to try to influence small groups of people, but as a perfect stranger to most of them, his efforts come to nought. When the meeting resumes, Ome stands up to talk. She says that she’s met men like Titus Scarnetti before, and that they live to dominate others. “It won’t stop with the Pixie’s Kitten,” Ome says. “Next will be the theatre, and the taverns, and it will go on and on until everything good in Sandpoint is banned.” Ome’s speech is extremely well-received and receives applause from large swathes of the audience.

But, following, directly on its heels, Titus Scarnetti takes the podium. Pounding his fist for emphasis and pointing his fingers at “the culprits”, he condemns the Pixie’s Kitten for allowing sin to enter and infect Sandpoint. Scarnetti links the opening of the brothel with the events of the Late Unpleasantness, and says that although the gods offered Sandpoint a brief reprieve to oust the malignancy within their midst, the townsfolk refused to do so and now the gods continue to punish their sin through goblin raids, murders, and other evils. The only way to set Sandpoint on the path of righteousness and recover the blessing of the gods, Scarnetti says, is to start by banning immoral activities like prostitution. Scarnetti’s speech is moderately effective, especially considering that Father Zantus isn’t in attendance to confirm or deny his points.
Titus Scarnetti

After Ameiko gives a brief talk about her personal friendship with Kaye Tesarani and her confidence that Sandpoint could have no kinder or more caring person in charge of the Pixie’s Kitten, Mayor Deverin says there’s time for only a few last comments. Ome manages to persuade a reluctant Artemis to come up to the podium with her. Ome continues the theme that Sheriff Hemlock was developing about how there is no proof of any link between the existence of a brothel in Sandpoint and any misfortunes that have been visited upon the town. She introduces Artemis, and the inexperienced public speaker gives an impressive showing! His arguments that, having lived in a large city like Magnimar, he knows that public, regulated brothels actually decrease crime and that many of the gods condone sex work is quite persuasive to those in attendance.

The members of the Town Council recess briefly, and then return. Mayor Deverin announces their decision: the brothel will be allowed to stay open. The staff of the Pixie’s Kitten are jubilant. Titus Scarnetti shoots looks of disgust at Artemis and Ome as the meeting is called to an end and people start to stand up and get ready to go home. Before they can, however, the doors of the meeting hall are thrown open by a sweat-soaked Bimmy Beems: “the town is like, on fire or something!”

Everyone rushes out of the town hall and towards the smoke and orange glow coming from the southeast. Soon the source of the flame becomes all too clear: the Pixie’s Kitten is burning! The townspeople start a bucket-line, and the fire hasn’t progressed too far; there still might be a chance to save the building! Ome starts conjuring water to help, but then she and Artemis hear a dreadful sound: screaming from inside the building. The two prove their heroism by dashing into the burning building as waves of heat and smoke-filled corridors dog them at every turn. Their excellent hearing helps them locate the source of the screaming, and when they get to a storage room on the second floor, they see the Pixie’s Kitten’s cleaner shouting for help. Ome picks the woman up, but as they turn back to go the way they’ve come, they realize the stairwell is in flames! Artemis opens a window so that Ome can jump out with the cleaner in her arms—and, thanks to a magical ring of feather falling, both touch down unharmed. Artemis ducks through the window and tries to climb down to the street, but slips and hits the ground hard. He lives, but will have serious bruises in the morning! Once the cleaner is safely out of harm’s way, the two heroes help the other residents of the town fight the fire and, fortunately, they’re able to get it under control. The Pixie’s Kitten won’t be habitable for a couple of weeks, but it’s not a total loss either.

Sheriff Hemlock tells Artemis that there’s no way the timing of the fire, when most of the town’s residents were in city hall, could have been an accident. He designates Artemis and Bosk Hartigan to find the arsonist. Meanwhile, Ome talks to the brothel’s staff—about twenty of them are now homeless. The tengu says she can house six of them at her shack south of town. With Artemis’ help, she finds temporary housing for the others at a combination of the cathedral, the theatre, and the Rusty Dragon.

It’s well past midnight as the exhausted heroes finally make it to their own beds.

[5 Neth 4707]

The autumn morning sees a constant drizzle descend over Sandpoint. Artemis and Ome decide to work together to figure out who was behind the attempt to burn down the Pixie’s Kitten. Their first visit is to the records room at town hall to see if attendance sheets were kept on when people arrived and left last night’s meeting; the line of inquiry fails, however, as a clerk says that people are allowed to come and go freely as long as they don’t create a distraction. A visit to the scene of the crime is far more rewarding: somehow, with a combination of incredible tengu eyesight and the investigative skills of a law enforcement professional, the two discern wet footprints made with lamp oil heading west. Despite the rain, Ome is able to follow them across the street to where they end at the backdoor of the Fatman’s Feedbag, Sandpoint’s most notorious tavern! Having prepared for his secondment to Sandpoint, Artemis knows that the Fatman’s Feedbag is a real dive and the site of several fistfights that have to be broken up by the town watch on a regular basis. Even worse, it’s reputed to be the informal meeting place of the town’s criminal element, including the loosely organized gang of Varisian highwaymen and thieves known as the Sczarni.

The tavern is closed in the morning, and, resisting Ome’s veiled suggestion of doing some breaking and entering, Artemis suggest they gather more clues and return when it’s open. Artemis examines the burn pattern at the Pixie’s Kitten and concludes that the job was done hastily and by an amateur: someone splashed a few flasks of lamp oil around the outer walls and lit them with a brand or torch. Had the job been done by a professional, the brothel would have been a lost cause before the volunteers could arrive to put out the blaze. The two investigators, one official and one unofficial, set out to discover if anyone purchased a large quantity of lamp oil recently. A visit to the Sandpoint Mercantile League shows major imports by the league itself, Deverin Manor, and the town’s general store. Following the lead, the two investigators walk to Ven Vinder’s establishment. Two signs are posted on the door: “No adventurers!” and “Closed tomorrow for funeral.” Ome wisely decides to wait outside while Artemis enters. Ven is obviously in a state of deep mourning and despair, but complies with the watchman’s request to learn who has been in to purchase lamp oil in recent days. The answer consists of only three individuals, and one of them is Gressel Tenniwar, owner of the Fatman's Feedbag!

At lunchtime, when the tavern is opened, Ome enters while Artemis waits outside, knowing his membership in the Town Watch would simply cause everyone inside to clam up. The Fatman’s Feedbag features sticky tables, sawdust-covered floors, and a bar gouged by years of knife- and broken bottle- fights. Gressel Tenniwar, an enormous man with muttonchops, stands behind the bar filling drinks. But Ome is savvy enough to know that the real power in the Feedbag is sitting at a table in the corner surrounded by his flunkies: Jubrayl Vhisky! Ome’s reputation as someone known to lurk occasionally in the seamier side of Sandpoint life is enough to gain her a private audience with the man. The two have a conversation filled with insinuation and innuendo, as Ome subtly hints that Jubrayl was involved in the recent arson. Jubrayl is too experienced to speak about such things with a virtual stranger, but he does make it clear that as the Pixie’s Kitten has an effectively monopoly on the sex trade in Sandpoint, “competition” could be “extremely lucrative” for a “businessman” like himself. He says that if Ome can persuade Kaye to take her operation elsewhere, he’d compensate the Tengu with a “finder’s fee.” Ome leaves, having learned much even if unable to prove any of it.
Jubrayl Vhiski

Titus Scarnetti’s efforts to impose his singular moralism on Sandpoint has been dealt a severe setback. Yet, the Pixie’s Kitten is closed. Who’s responsible for the arson? And has the true culprit behind the serial Sihedron-related murderers really been dealt with?

Director's Commentary (August 2, 2017)

This is probably the longest recap in the campaign, because there was a ton of role-playing and plot development and very little combat.  Two of the players (who ran Bey and Arnald) weren't available for the session, so I only had two players to work with--one forgets how much more quickly stories can advance when there are fewer people at the table!  Still, this session did get me thinking seriously about adding a fifth player so that a couple of people could be absent and wouldn't necessarily imperil the whole AP. 

The entire storyline with the Pixie's Kitten was something I made up myself, drawing upon Ome's relationship with Kaye Tessarani and the presence of a moralistic prat like Titus Scarnetti.  It was also a great way to incorporate Jubrayl Vhiski into the campaign.  The public hearing was run as a skills challenge, and I was really happy with how it turned out--the fact that most of the NPCs had already been established in the campaign meant that I had a good idea how to run them and give them different voices.  The players did fantastic RP, so a scene that could have fallen flat (a town meeting!) was actually pretty exciting.

The encounter with the giant gars was my use of plot twist card; everyone gets one card per chapter, including the GM!  In retrospect, that encounter was far too deadly for just two PCs, even if it was one the random encounters table for the AP.  I was lucky not to have some PC deaths on my hands.

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