Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 10: Talking, Talking, and more Talking

This session finds the party back in the civilized section of Phlan after a nasty fight with a green dragon and the first part of the session is haggling, talking to NPC's, and leveling up.

Jovanni (Half Elf Bard) leads negotiations with Barnabus of he town council and manages to get an increase in their fee since there was a dragon involved. As a part of the original agreement each member of the party is allowed to choose a magic item from the city vaults and they do so with much satisfaction. There is also some discussion of the council's next request which they will return for later.

The head of the green dragon -taken after the battle- is sold to the Dragonskull Tavern, which (despite the name) has been without a dragon skull for years. This is done for 100gp up front and 1 free drink each day for each party member for life. The Dragonskull is where Jovanni's main guild contact hangs out so this is a useful deal in several ways. There is also some negotiation with the guild representative as a potential source of exotic items.

Althea (Eladrin Wizard) trades the enchanted fomorian eye to the Mage Guild in return for membership, and eventually haggles the bard and warlock memberships in as well. Mikal (Human Infernal-Pact Warlock) asks about duties and is asked to keep an eye out for something.

The local gem dealer is a also a victim of the bard's excessive social skills and makes the party a very good deal for some very average gemstones.

Next the PC's remember that there are gods and that they have local offices in the town...

Uthal (Goliath Barbarian) and Kordan (Human Fighter) head for Martial Hall, the local temple of Tempus (the war god). There they make a deal for some healing potions in return for gold and stories of their battles so far. The high priest, Koros Redbeard (pictured above) is a loud boisterous man who has actually heard good things about them from the town council. He directs them to the adjacent training hall and it's master Dannan MacLeir, a dwarf from the Moonshaes who is an expert swordfighter. 

Althea runs into a local priest at the mage guild during her negotiations and pulls him aside to discuss his problems later. He tells her he is trying to locate a missing party from his temple and the mage guild has not been especially helpful. he invites her back to the temple of Torm with her full team to discuss further if she is interested.

Several members of the party also discover Sunset House or "the red house"  and decide to spend some time there - the barbarian especially enjoys himself. This house is associated with the temple of Sune (across the screen) and there is a discussion of doing some work for them as well.

So after a few days the party has taken on multiple jobs:

  • The town council has heard rumors that a powerful magic item is to be auctioned off in Podol Plaza a few days from now. Barnabus wants to know what it is, who is selling it, and who is buying it. the reward is another choice of magic from the town vaults.
  • The thieves' guild wants to know about a rival group that is said to be gaining power in the ruins and is supposed to be based near Podol Plaza. the guild will pay 500gp for this information. 
  • The mage guild wants to know about 3 wizards, garbed in black, that have been seen in the ruins and have shown considerable power. They are not guild members but the guild likes to keep an eye on all arcane types in the area and they know nothing about this crew. they will pay 100gp each (500gp total) for this information.
  • The temple of Sune wants the party to keep an eye out for any exotic slaves they find in captivity. the Sunites will give them a place to stay and teach them a "trade" and will be happy to ...reward...the party for any rescues of this kind. 
  •  The temple of Torm had a more complicated story: They (along with the temple of Kelemvor) keep a watch on Valhingen Graveyard, the massive city of the dead across the river from Phlan proper. Neither temple is strong enough to cleanse the foul place, all they can do is monitor and hope to contain any evil that bursts forth.  Recently the Tomrites mounted a punitive expedition to take out an unusually active band of undead and (according to a sending from the expedition) they discovered a powerful magic item, a lost relic of an ancient Tormite hero. They recovered it but were swarmed by hordes of undead and only a few of them made it out of the graveyard. The expedition's survivors never returned to the temple and now the rumors of an item for sale in the ruins has Armanthius, the high priest, concerned that this is in fact the item his people recovered. He would love to have it back but he is mainly concerned with the fate of his men. His request to the party is that they they locate and retrieve any surviving members of his expedition or, failing that, learn of their fates and also find out what they can about the item in question. The reward for this is a set of healing potions and a free raising if they die during the mission or at any time after that if they do not. 
Leveled up to 3rd, equipped with new gear, and refreshed from their break, the party set forth for Podol Plaza. The plaza is a relatively stable area of the ruins that was a marketplace in ancient days and is one again now under the control of the Crimson Legion, a large band of Hobgoblins that maintains very strict control over this area. They make a great deal of money from the controlled trading environment and having such an area is worth enough to other factions in the ruins that it has persisted for years.

Approaching the main entry point to the plaza area, the group decides to act like legitimate traders. They show some gold and talk things up enough enough that for the first time in their brief history they manage to pass through some monsters without rolling for initiative! They are given a pass to show to any patrols they encounter and are waved on through. They encounter two patrols on their way in and successfully pass the resultant questioning.

Reaching the Plaza proper, they see large crowds milling around, trading at various tables and stalls around the square, and witness a slave auction happening in the center of the place.  They learn that the special auction is supposed to happen tomorrow and there are rumors running rampant about what it is. There are strange wizards in town, the temple of Bane across the river has sent representatives, and the Fire Knives, a rising new power in the ruins,  are taking an interest too.

The party spends the night at the Dead Dragon Inn, an ancient structure that is the only authorized inn within the boundaries of the plaza as defined by the Legion. They pick up a little more information and see some of the notables mentioned in the rumors. Uthal and Kordan consider starting some trouble  but the innkeeper's bouncer "Brutus" makes an appearance and things calm down as the arcanists of the group recognize distinctive appearance of a flesh golem and realize trouble here is a bad idea all the way around.

The next day the party is up early and heads to the plaza to get a good spot...

A crowd gathers on the cracked stonework of Podol Plaza. The auction block is surrounded by bugbears and hobgoblin archers watch the crowd from towers in the corners of the plaza. Hobgoblin soldiers stand near all 4 entrances to the plaza – not interfering but ready to block access if needed. Mordicus, leader of the Crimson Legion stands atop it next to a cloth-covered rack of some kind. He announces in common “The greatest treasure ever offered for auction by the Crimson Legion is up for bidding – NOW! As he finishes his sentence the cloth drops away to reveal a dull, plain-looking suit of chainmail. A "huh?" goes up from the crowd and he jostles a nearby human wizard who makes passes, says some words  and then the armor changes to a shining suit of plate, the finest anyone here has ever seen. “It is a mighty suit of armor, imbued with magical power beyond anything we have ever seen and fit for the mightiest of champions –what am I bid for this incredible prize?”

Bidding begins and the Temple of Bane is very active as the Preceptor wants it for himself and will pay quite a lot to get it. The Three Wizards bid but drop out at 10,000 with a shrug of their shoulders.  A group of orcs from the Bloodskull tribe is active at first but drop out at 50,0000. Bidding tops out around 125,000 gold and the Banites will win, just beating out a Tiefling in red leather armor who has been an intermittent bidder right up to the end. 

Various figures in the crowd turn to each other and wave and otherwise signal and the onlooking guards tense up, waiting to see if someone makes a play for the armor right there in the square - but no one does. The crowd begins to disperse, then inside Kordan's head he hears:

"Free me and I will make you the hero you know you can be" Together we can be a legend!"
(To get the true impact of this you need to use the correct accent. This guy's accent. Yep, I went there.)

Kordan looks up and realizes the voice is coming from the suit, that no one else can hear it, and that he wants it badly as Destiny is calling - The Invulnerable Coat of Arnd lies before him and wants him to rekindle the legend.

DM Notes: Here is a report of one player's "interpretation" of the session. he's been doing these for a while so I'm going to go back and add links to each of my session reports.

Hooo boy this one was a doozy, a pivotal point in the campaign. Advancing to third level, the first extended rp session in civilized Phlan, first set of skill challenges, and the introduction of the first artifact.  Thoughts in order:

The "Town Vault" is my compromise between 4E's preferred method of handling magic items (let your players pick them) and my old school sensibilities (magic items are found in dusty tombs and dragon hoards and in the ogre chieftain's hands, not purchased at a store). For each council quest I specify a level of item (for Kuto's Well it was level 6) and pretty much let the player's pick an item from Adventurer's Vault 1 or 2 as their reward for completing it. The concept here is that the town has been in ruins for centuries and many adventurers and expeditions have come and gone and the town has collected many many magic items from those expeditions and excavations, storing them in a massive underground vault. Lacking a lot of cash the town has decided to use this hoard to finance the expansion into the ruins. This maintains some internal consistency while giving the players a fair amount of choice about their signature items. In the old days when fighters were good with all weapons you could hand a guy a +1 polearm , then a +2 battle axe, then a +4 Defender longsword and all was well. Now with feats and powers being tied to specific types of weapons it's not as easy, so I'm  OK giving them some choice.

When I designed the civilized section of Phlan I knew the town council would be the main quest-givers for any party but I wanted to include specialized contact groups for different types of characters. Martial Hall is there for Martial types, the mage guild for Arcane types, the temples for Divine types, and a druid in a grove on the edge of town for Primal types. I also included some nobility for high-society types and  the Thieves' Guild for lower-society types. There's a general outfitters/equipment shop tat can also be a source of information or quests and an alchemist as well. So far the PC's have been focused on only a few of those and that's fine - I like having some room in the design for a potential second or third party. I like to sketch in names and titles ahead of time, along with a basic personality and appearance and some notes on information and quests they might have. For example, Koros Redbeard, high priest of Tempus in Phlan, looks and sounds like Brian Blessed. This gives me an easy hook to remember even after extended downtime between appearances.

Once the party left town it was time for our first experience with skill challenges. I had left these alone before sticking to regular combat and quest XP for the first couple of levels. Having had time to study the much better presentation of skill challenges in the Rules Compendium made it a fairly straightforward thing to do. I made getting a pass from the hobgoblins a challenge, getting through the patrols (whether by interaction or by stealth) a challenge, talking their way into the Legion's jail (next session) a challenge, and getting information at the inn a challenge. Of course many of these could also end up in combat too so I had full combat stats handy as well but the party surprised me a little and talked their way into Podol Plaza with no combat at all.  I was very pleased with the way it went and I will be including more of them where they are appropriate. To me they are an extra spice for the DM to add, but will not be the main focus of most games.  If there's a chance for something other than combat I will consider working up a skill challenge to grant a better chance for skill use and an XP reward.

So...the artifact. One of the interesting changes in 4th edition is the idea that artifacts can be introduced at any tier of play, even low-level Heroic Tier. The more I read this the more I thought it could be a lot of fun as they have mechanical elements that encourage certain behavior and they have specific goals that when accomplished mean that the artifact moves on. The example in the DMG is the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd and knowing the player of my party's fighter very well I knew he would jump at the chance so I decided to start with him, though I do hope to give everyone in the party a chance to be the center of attention for at least a few levels through our campaign.

Also knowing the fighter's player I knew that the Coat of Arnd is way too close to the Invulnerable Coat of Arnold, and thus the accent and personality of the coat was crystallized for all time.  I tweaked the background a bit so that "Arnd" was a famous barbarian heroic dragon slayer who came to Phlan centuries ago to fight dragons during one of thier migrations that destroyed Phlan. He joined the temple of Torm, then eventually was slain and interred with his legendary armor in Valhingen Graveyard. Knowing that a time of need was approaching, the Coat sent dreams to hte nearby temple, guiding them to the mausoleum in which it rested and beginning the new legend which we are still telling. The coat hates dragons, and the coat pushes the wearer to fight them whenever they appear, which will make the later stages of the Phlan campaign very interesting. Mechanically it's powerful but not ridiculous the way some old 1E artifacts were. plus it "expires" later so someone else will get their turn too.

Overall it was a great session and set a good tone for the next part of the campaign.

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