Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hawkhaven Pathfinder Campaign #4: Dead Man's Quest, Recaps 1 and 2

The conclusion of our old campaign meant that naturally it was time to start up a new one. The following post contains the first two recaps of our monthly sessions. As an experiment this time around, I'm inserting some DM's commentary, presented in italics; call it Designer's Notes, Observations, and Editorializing. By adding these notes, I hope to give people an insight on the campaign's inner workings, perhaps mention a few spots where things could've turned out differently, and even simply provide some color commentary. If it works out well, I may consider making it a regular feature.

ROSTER- Dead Man’s Quest
Ragnar (Augie)- Male Human Bloodrager from Norgheim
Melora (Carol)-  Female Human Sorceress from Norgheim, with a frost-related bloodline
Grumm (Chappy)- Male Half-Orc Barbarian
Azarus (Chris)- Male Human Wizard from Lundarian Free Lands, with Necromancer specialty
Gaspar (Dibs)- Male Human Oracle from Lundarian Free Lands, with the Time mystery
Tolg (James)-  Male Hobgoblin Warpriest of Bellorum, God of War
Gerik  (John)- Male Tiefling Barbarian from Lundarian Free Lands
Pandar Goldsmith IV (Kevin)- Male Dwarf Fighter
Moribund (Matt)- Male Dwarf Inquisitor
Millicent (Noelle)- Female Catfolk Fighter from Aguitania
Sverd(Seth)- Male Ravenfolk Rogue from Norgheim

Character Observations/Notes

Right off the bat, this is an odd party. There are three people who hail from Norgheim (my campaign's equivalent of a Norse culture, with Vikings, Thor, longboats, Spam, the usual), and a fourth one due in when we do Chapter Three. Furthermore, Aguitania is my campaign's version of Medieval France, and Lundar is a former kingdom and now fragmented mess where the campaign happens to be set.

In my world, Hobgoblins are a viable PC race that don't have that whole goblin stigma. Think of Lt.Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ordinarily, I'd consider Ravenfolk to be strictly a native Nihoni (Japanese) race, but the player, Seth, noted that Odin's symbol is the raven, and thus having Norgheim ravenfolk would make sense. Point made.

John gave his character an elaborate back-story, filled with pain and tragedy. The town his character got away from just so happens to be the town that the party is heading for. This is why I love back-stories; it gives people more challenges and opportunities for character development.

Pandar Goldsmith is the great-great grandson of Kevin's original character in my campaign back in the early 80's. Nice to have some continuation, despite a 2,000 year gap! Grimm the half-orc is basically a blunt instrument, and apparently a retainer in the Goldsmith family.

Gaspar is an old guy, with the usual attributes bonuses and penalties levied. Dibs apparently already has a backup character ready when if this fragile, weak old soul bites the dust.

Melora is a cold-oriented sorceress, and Carol has already gone on record as saying "Don't call me Elsa!" The other arcane spell-caster, Azarus, is a Necromancer specialist wizard. This character was an apprentice of a Necromancer that the previous campaign's group had a working relationship with, so there's some nice continuity there.

Campaign Notes

I had wanted to start this campaign out in a manner I hadn't done before. I was tired (and I guessed that my players were as well) of the usual "You gather in a tavern and are approached by some guy in a suit robe", or the ever-popular "You all are hired to be caravan guards, body guards, coast guards, mouth guards, whatever".

So I thought...hey why not have some guy who's like an 8th level fighter, who prefers to work alone, and who is embarking on a quest, but dies en route? In fact, let's throw in some irony; despite all of his magic items and his experience and prowess, it turns out he has a fatal allergy and ends up dying alone from a bug bite.

But then came the whole question of how the group got together in the first place. Since the past campaign's main theme revolved around a warlord's plan for the unification of an old fragmented kingdom, only to have it foiled by those meddling kids the players, I figured it was only right to show the results. It was time to bring up the consequences of a lack of cohesion and order in the would-be kingdom. It didn't matter that the man trying to unite the old kingdom was an unprincipled jackhole with dubious methods. His ambitions were thwarted, his armies disbanded, and as a result the countryside is now crawling with disgruntled unemployed mercenaries who have plenty of weapons and very little scruples.

A call goes out for people to help deal with the threat. The player characters are on the way!

Chapter One: Dead Man’s Quest
November 8th-13th, 316 PE (January 17th, 2015)
Roll Call: Azarus, Gaspar, Gerik, Grumm, Melora, Millicent, Moribund, Pandar, Ragnar, Sverd, Tolg

Six months before the start of this campaign, a mysterious charismatic leader known as the Warlord failed in his bid to unite the fragmented Kingdom of Lundar. Having his plans foiled by the adventurers in the previous campaign and being ignominiously taken prisoner, his armies disbanded and fell apart. All of the levies and conscripts returned to their homes, while the mercenaries had mixed reactions; some were happy to simply pocket the money they had been paid thus far, and leave. Some, however, felt cheated and decided to take up a new and exciting career as bandits, forming themselves into numerous robber gangs and terrorizing the roads.
In recognition of this development, the Imperial City of Valgaroth, now without the services of the Imperial Marines, sent out word to all budding adventurers that there was work to be done in and around the city.  It was this offer that induced the members of our new little group (okay maybe not so little), to individually book passage on a sailing ship from Aguitania, bound for Anchorage, in order to go to the Imperial City and seek their fortune..

Unfortunately, this is November, and ocean storms are frequent. Barely a day out of port, the vessel ran aground due to a storm.  Although no one was lost, the ship was rendered useless. Everyone had the choice of either returning to Aguitania and trying again, or simply striking northwards on foot. Our group, including some other random passengers, chose the latter course.

Some of the random passengers eventually left of their own volition while others wandered off during an incidence or two of poor visibility until conveniently it was down to our eleven heroes.  Fortunately, they found an old established road that ran north-south, and followed it. They traveled on foot for five days, and on the fifth day, around noon, the group noticed a flock of carrion birds circling in the distance.

Upon investigation, the party discovered a pair of dead giant hornets, each the size of a deer, near the dead body of an armored man. Gaspar noted that the poison used by the hornets shouldn’t have killed the man, just paralyzed or slowed him down. Ragnar kept watch for any more hornets while Azarus and Tolg checked the body. Tolg used his skill to ascertain that the deceased had been allergic to hornet venom and had actually ended up dying of anaphylactic shock!

(And not a single +2 epi-pen in sight...)

While Millicent began digging a grave for the fallen warrior, Moribund cast a Detect Magic spell and discovered that the fallen traveler was positively loaded with magical items, while Sverd emptied out the dead man’s backpack and found a lot of conventional, general use items.  Azarus, along with Gaspar and Ragnar, began identifying the various magic items. The group also found his journal, which identified the victim as Glano the Unready, a professional treasure-hunter who had set out to find a collection of valuable items known as the Black Scrolls. The journal revealed Glano to be a bit of a blow-hard who really wanted his adventures to be sung about and told around campfires.

(Millicent did a smart thing here. If Glano hadn't been buried, his spirit would have haunted the PCs until he was given a decent burial.)

Some other folks in the group noticed a low hum coming from a point beyond the clearing. Ragnar quickly handed out the identified magical items to various people.  While everyone sort of stood around wondering what to do next, Millicent and Grumm cut to the chase and strode boldly towards the source of the noise, inducing the rest of the party to follow. Approaching the sound, the group found a large dead tree that had been turned into a big nest for more giant hornets. Even worse, a few corpses had been incorporated as nesting material, although at least they had STUFF!

Melora cast a Ray of Frost at a hornet, and it stuck to the tree and began to slow down. Grumm threw a flask of oil at a hornet and Ragnar followed up by throwing a Campfire Bead at the splashed oil, which ignited and started a smoky fire. Moribund threw an Acid spell, and Gaspar cast Sanctuary. Ragnar, Gerik, Pandar, Grumm, and Millicent all charged in and started making some great hits. Tolg closed distance and cast Murderous Rage on one hornet, and Sverd used stealth to sidle up to the tree without the hornets noticing.

Of course, the smoke and the frost are doing a number on the hornets as well. The smoke is making them drowsy, and the cold is slowing them down. That, coupled with the sudden ferocious attack, went a long way towards rendering the insects’ counter-attack feeble.

(The rules description of giant hornets makes no mention of a weakness to cold or smoke, but real life flying insects like bees and hornets are susceptible to it, so I put it in. Well done to the players!)

After the hornets were swiftly defeated, Moribund and Gaspar perform several castings of Create Water on the still burning tree in order to stop the flames. The rest of the group pried the remains of the unfortunate victims and checked for any interesting magic items or wealth, finding a few nice things.

In the midst of identifying the new items, an entrancing melody drifted in from the west, courtesy of a trio of harpies roosting in a tree (who were attracted by the rising plume of smoke from the burning tree..HAAH!). Half the party fell victim to the harpies’ singing and began to move toward them, charmed.  Pandar quickly shot a screaming bolt that distracted two of the harpies, and Melora used an Ice Rod to create a sheet of ice on the tree, making all the three harpies slide out of the tree and fall to the ground, which stopped the trio from singing altogether.

(Important safety tip from Egon. Rising plumes of smoke + the noise of battle = more wandering monsters)

Battle commenced, with Gerik, Grumm, and Pandar doing some heavy damage to the prone harpies. Although one managed to connect on Millicent, the combined power of the melee group took the monstrosities down in quick time. Once they had fallen out of the tree and were prone, they were doomed.

Once the fighting stopped, Gaspar detected magic beyond the tree and found a pit filled with the remains of the harpies’ past victims, as well as some objects glistening in the muck. Melora performed the unpleasant and disgusting task of fishing out some items from the charnel pit. After cleaning and identifying the magical items, the group decided to leave the area and move east down the road to an inn known as the Black Sphinx, which was marked on the dead adventurer’s map and referenced in his journal.

At the inn, the party studied Glanor’s journal a little more, and based on what they learned, decided to retrace his steps back to his residence in the nearby city of Ulverston. Once they got there, Pandar visited with Skareth, Glanor’s next door neighbor mentioned in his journal, and informed him of Glanor’s fate. The rest of the group went to check out the house. Pandar further suggested that Skareth take possession of Glanor’s home, as the latter left no will and had no relatives to speak of. The group looked through Glanor’s home and found more clues as to what he was doing.  They also managed to find his backup stash of stuff!
The group took a portion of Glanor’s retirement stash for themselves and left the rest to the next door neighbor.  Pandar also took the other fourteen volumes of Glanor’s journals, with the intent of giving them to a bard in order to have them turned into songs and stories. While staying at the Warrior’s Rest Inn, the group divided up the rest of the party treasure, decided “Hey, let’s take Glanor’s quest as our own!” and crashed for the evening.

(Pandar did a good thing here. Although the party had Glano's house keys, his house was being watched by the neighbors, who knew he was going off on a quest. Almost a dozen strangers entering a house in the neighborhood would have resulted in the City Watch being called, and the place surrounded by a dozen crossbow-wielding guards and a short-tempered Inquisitor)

So, next morning, the group purchased mounts and retraced their steps westward. They traveled for several days until they reached the Crossroads Inn, an extremely old establishment located where The Great Trade Road and the Path To Knowledge intersect. There’s an ancient graveyard across the road, and a hangman’s gibbet down the road a ways. Nice neighborhood.

While relaxing in the inn’s common room, the group noticed a group of five well-off individuals enjoying themselves in that loud, annoying, boisterous manner. There was a pair of grizzled warriors sitting at another table, close to the loud people, keeping a dutiful watch on them.  The so-called upper class folk took notice of our heroes, and openly snickered at them while commenting amongst themselves, behavior which Pandar took exception to.

The dwarf approached their table, introduced himself, shaking the hand of Lord Snaught, the perceived leader, and used his great strength to crush the rich man’s hand. The pair of rough-looking warriors, Alborian mercenaries working as bodyguards for the upper-crust folks, stood up and told Pandar to stop. The dwarf replied that he would break their arms if they didn’t stand down. In response, one of the Alborians head-butted Pandar (a much-favored Alborian way of expressing one’s objections), which in turn set off Gerik into a rage.

(The three nobles were called Lord Snaught, Earl Shibe, and Duke Coverl. I apologize for all three. Really. Oh, and Alborians are my campaign's version of Scotsmen)

Gaspar realized that Gerik’s big weakness was about to cause the simple barroom brawl to escalate into a bloody melee, so he used one of his Oracle mystery powers to erase Gerik from all time and space for one round. Grumm drew his weapon and cross checked the two Alborians to the floor. Gwen, the bard at the rich people table started playing a tune to inspire to the Alborians, which in turn drew Millicent into the fray; and she grabbed the bard’s lute. Gerik reappeared and Gaspar erased him from time and space one last time. Gaspar pleaded with his compatriots to help take care of the great raging barbarian, who would be returning, still raging, next round.

(Millicent's original intention was to defend the bard from harm. Once she realized that the woman was actually working with the rich guys, she grabbed the lute and smacked her with it)

The inn’s bouncer demanded that everyone involved stand down, and people slowly obeyed. Gerik reappeared again and Ragnar grappled him to hold him off. Sverd, who seemed to have slipped away during the brawl, spoke up and bought two rounds of drinks for everyone in the bar, something which calmed the situation further.  Our heroes then dragged the raging barbarian to a private dining room so that he could calm down.

(Quick thinking by Gaspar there. Gerik's flaw is that if he sees battle, even a barroom brawl, he launches into very real, very fatal, combat. John's character has more issues than TV Guide).

In the interim, a pair of hobgoblin warriors visited the private room and paid their respects to Tolg, as he is a warpriest of Bellorum (god of war) and asked for a blessing. They also thanked Sverd for the two rounds of drinks that the ravenfolk bought for the room (gee, wonder where Sverd got that money…?).

After the hobgoblins leave, the group was approached by a pair of well-off people, a brother and sister, from the City of Gold, with the offer of a job. Introducing themselves as Aloysius and Drusila Banbury, they told the story of their nasty vindictive mother who died a few years back and was buried in the crumbling old family fault in the cemetery across the way from the inn.

The old woman had been buried with a locket and brooch that the siblings had originally been promised. Furthermore, the old bat had arranged for a curse to be placed on the vault door so that it couldn’t be opened until after sundown. You know, that time when undead manifest more often? Clearly, the old woman was a piece of work (or a piece of something, anyway).

So, the siblings wondered if the group would please venture into the cemetery at night and, using the key that the siblings provide, go into the crypt and fetch the items that their mother vindictively had buried with her?? They offered the group 500 gp each for their efforts. However, Tolg questioned their motives and eventually the two broke down and explained that back in the City of Gold, where their family is from, there was a hidden ancestral treasure vault, and the map to it could only be read when the brooch and locket were brought together to create a lens viewer.

Pandar spoke up and declared that the group would do it, but the price was 1,000 gp each. The siblings decided to think it over and talk with the group in the morning.

(I ran a huge risk setting this situation up as I did. Many of the situations and locales involved some impressive stashes of loot. But in order to actually run into them all and really hit the jackpot, the party had to make a certain series of choices. Well, they did. For instance, if they hadn't investigated the buzzing, they would have never encountered the giant hornets and the resulting loot. Or if they did encounter them but not set the tree on fire, the harpies wouldn't have come, and that chance for treasure would have been lost. More importantly, the party could have just simply headed off on Glanor's quest and not retraced his steps back to his house, meaning they wouldn't have found those bits of his stash that he couldn't take with him because he was already loaded up enough. I took the chance, and the party walked away with some cool stuff with proportionately little risk . Well played.)

Chapter Two:  Time For Side Quests
November 14-22nd, 316 PE (February 28, 2015)
Roll Call: Gerik, Grumm, Pandar, Ragnar, Sverd, Tolg, Tzanami
In the morning, the group and the Banburys met over breakfast and came to an agreement, meeting about halfway on the price. During this time, Millicent decided to leave the group (who knows, maybe she saw a bird and got distracted). Fortunately, a young Nihoni monk from the Fire tradition had her interest piqued by the group and asked to join in (convenient, no?). The party was intrigued enough by this Lawful Good monk that they decided to let her into the group.

(Sometimes, players get PC Remorse, where the original idea they had doesn't seem as awesome once they start playing it. I have a house rule that allows switching out a character provided it's only 1st or 2nd level. I also allow retroactive tinkering with Feats, Traits, and the like, provided none of the ones to be swapped out have been used in a critical capacity thus far).

All that was left was for the group to wait for dusk, so they spent the day just kicking around the inn until sundown. Then they entered the cemetery and headed for the Banbury family crypt. They arrived at the tomb, opened it with the key, and headed downstairs where the old woman was buried along with two other relatives.  They found the jewelry alright, but the old woman rose as a coffer corpse and the two other dead family members buried down there arose as wights.

To make matters worse, sounds came from the upstairs to indicate that things up there were waking up as well, and sure enough, the skeletal remains of older Banburys animated and shuffled downstairs, with the intent of cutting off any escape.

Fortunately, the party managed to throttle all of the undead and run out of the tomb, eager to find the gate leading out. However, someone in the party pointed out that there was no need to find the exact exit; as they could just hop the fence, which they did, and booked it back to the inn. Hey, Occam’s Razor.

Aloysius and Drusila were delighted with the results. They took a liking to the party, and asked if they’d mind escorting the pair on the three-day journey west to Heldren Keep. Though the Banburys did have a body guard, the idea of an entire troop of guards sounded far more attractive (and safer!). A fair price was reached, and they left in the morning.

The three-day journey down the Great Trade Road to the keep was uneventful, the easiest money any guard could make. Once safely in the keep, the Banburys thanked them, saying that they would hire some muscle from the local Mercenary Guild in order to escort them the rest of the way back to the City of Gold. As a parting gesture, the Banburys paid for the party’s stay at the Lock and Bolt, a secure inn that caters to their kind.

The party spent a day conducting business at the keep, and then headed out the following morning. While camped out during one night, a dozen brigands approached the party in three groups of four, proceeding as stealthily as possible. However, the watch spotted them and raised the alarm, and a fight began.

The brigands (one of those previously mentioned after-effects of the failed reunification of the kingdom) were surprised at the level of resistance the party offered, and pretty soon the latter got the upper-hand. The final two brigands surrendered, the other ten having been killed.

When the brigands were secured, Pandar took his axe and tried to chop off one of the brigand’s hands, saying that this was how robbers were dealt with back home.  Tolg was furious, as he abides by a strict military code which includes the humane treatment of prisoners. The two got into a rather animated shouting match and it looked like they were going to come to blows, which was unfortunate, since this meant that Grumm, who was Pandar’s retainer, would be honor-bound to enter the fight, after which Gerik, who cannot witness a fight without going berserk and wading in with weapons, would jump in as well.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and everyone stood down. Tolg healed the brigand’s hand, and the pair of bad guys were tied up and brought with the party in the hopes that someone back at the Crossroads Inn would be able to take them off the party’s hands and deliver them to some authorities.

(This whole incident was a perfect example of two people of the same alignment, in this case Lawful Neutral, who come from different backgrounds and thus experience a culture clash. In this case, we had a hobgoblin whose society is honorable and militaristic, where a foe who surrenders is treated honorably, and a dwarf who says that, back home, thieves get their hands chopped off. For the record, that must be a thing reserved for robberies done on that family's property, since the Dwarven kingdom of Hahta-Durzak gives convicted robbers and thieves an all-expense paid trip to the nearest mine, with picks, shovels, and leg irons provided free, for a period measured in years)

When the party reached the Crossroads, they were lucky to find a pair of Rangers who were more than happy to escort the two robbers to the nearest place of incarceration. With that done, the party once more relaxed at the inn and waited to rejoin their friends for whatever the future brings.