Friday, June 12, 2015

Hawkhaven Pathfinder Campaign #4: Dead Man's Quest, Recap 3 & 4

Here's the second installment of the recaps for my monthly Pathfinder game. Like the first installment, there are two sessions (Chapters) presented here. And yes, we're criminally behind, but the effort is being made to bring things current. Here's a link to the first installment. Once again, there will be italicized commentary from yours truly, explaining the how's, why's, and other asides.

This is our current update roster as it stands, including everyone who's played at least one session since the campaign began, regardless of current status.

Dead Man’s Quest Characters
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
Gunnar (Dave)- Male Human Slayer from Norgheim
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
Sassha (Katie)- Female Catfolk Rogue (Urbane)
Pandar Goldsmith IV (Kevin)- Male Dwarf Fighter
Moribund (Matt)- Male Dwarf Inquisitor
Izanami (Noelle)- Female Human Monk from Nihon
Sverd(Seth)- Male Ravenfolk Rogue from Norgheim

Come on, bring it!
Chapter Three:  “Swear on Your Stupid God Because We Know When You’re Lying!!”
November 14th-22nd (March 21st, 2015)
Roll Call: Sverd, Melora, Tolg, Izanami, Azarus, Gerik, Ragnar, Gunnar, Gaspar
The party wakes in the morning to a crisp day with some old party members reunited and one new party member, Gunnar the Norgheimer, joining up. With business concluded in the area, the group decides to continue following Glano’s map north to Chessex, and end up in the town of Newmarket by night fall.

(With the late-coming Gunnar joining in, we now have FOUR Norgheimers in the party. So yes, the equivalent of four Norsemen...Norsepersons...whatever. Bloody Vikings!)

Newmarket is a town located on the eastern edge of the Commonwealth, the land claimed by the Halflings as their sovereign land. Since they are uncomfortable with “big folk” freely tramping around said homeland, they constructed Newmarket as a trade town on their eastern border to conduct commerce with non-Halflings. 

(Something's that always bugged me about isolated cultures is how they manage to still have access to goods and resources that wouldn't be found within their borders, like a forest-based culture somehow having steel swords. In my world, the four known races or cultures that practice some degree of exclusion and isolation recognize that they can't be fully self-sufficient, and the solution is to set up trade cities or towns, where outsiders can mingle with the host race and conduct trade and commerce, under strict guidelines and supervision.

Thus, the Halfling's Commonwealth has Newmarket, the elven kingdom of Hanael has Alverene, the Catfolk of the southern Plainslands have Vrow, and the Amazons on the island-nation of Sarmatia have Thessanopia)

The group decides to get lodging at the Hay Loft, an inn suited for big folk. Once inside and rooms are secured, the group is having some food in the common room when they are approached by a Halfling who informs the party that mercenaries left over from the Warlord’s failed attempt at uniting Lundar are causing some trouble in the area. They’re reportedly holed up in an abandoned fort close by. a known ruin that people tend to avoid.

Both Gaspar and Sverd do a particularly effective Sense Motive and get the feeling that something is a bit off about this fellow. While the Halfling continues his story, Gaspar walks off to the bar and secretly casts a Detect Magic and finds that the stranger has some kind of illusion magic cast on him. Sverd continues to sense the motives of the Halfling and continues to find that basically he’s full of it. Azarus also takes a crack at a Detect Magic and finds that the illusion magic radiates from the stranger's hat, so he unexpectedly does a “Yoink!” courtesy of a convenient Mage Hand spell, revealing a human of short stature who, it happens, is a worshiper of Orcus, Demon Prince of the Undead and sometimes venerated as a god. The group quietly but firmly decides to take this matter outside.

After some Diplomacy attempts by Gaspar (And yes, this is where the Chapter title came from), the cultist of Orcus breaks down, admits his deception, and describes the cult’s defenses and numbers in exchange for his freedom. He also informs the group that Orcus is looking to gain a better foothold in the area. This cultist’s job was to find strong, good-aligned souls to lead into a trap to capture and sacrifice to Orcus. The group strips the cultist of his powerful possessions and sends him on his way with just a dagger. The group decides to investigate the area of the abandoned fort that very night.

(Yeah, I know I was taking a chance with this old saw, but sometimes it does still work. My group consists of smart, experienced players, so it's hard to catch them with a trick like this. Possible, but not probable. But the cultists have no way of knowing this, and it's worked for them before, so there you go...)

After about an hour and half walk east of Newmarket, the group finds the cultists in the ruined fort, chanting near an altar and a statue to Orcus. Getting the lay of the land, the group splits into two groups. One moves around the guard perimeter to trigger the ambush, while the other half of the party sneaks up on the clerics of Orcus, correctly guessing that the latter are the biggest threat.

The party’s muscle starts the attack, and immediately begins inflicting damage to the surprised cultists. Gerik is able to eliminate one of the clerics. At this point the low-grade cultists (masses of arrow-fodder), a couple of their meat-shields (brigands) and a war-priest (the actual leader of this cell) rush towards the battle. In response, Melora lays down a sheet of ice on the ground with her Rod of Ice. One of the clerics casts a spell on Ragnar that takes effect without notice of the rest of the party, including Ragnar himself. Gerik kills a mercenary and Sverd tags another enemy.

Most of the charging low-level cultists fall prey to Melora’s ice trap. The war-priest and one of the brigands manage to stay on their feet, but the remainder embarrassingly fails and ends up prone. Izanami attempts to take on the war-priest but also slips on the ice and falls prone. In response, the war-priest takes out a dagger and mace and lays into Izanami, knocking her out. The brigands start getting worn down by the party’s attacks, and the tide of the battle turns as the war-priest, now badly injured, morphs into a dire rat and scurries away from the battle. (Cloak of the Rat, don't fail me now!!!). The rest of the cultists begin getting up and scattering in all directions, though Melora scores a critical hit on one prone cultist and slays him on the ice. The group shatters the statue of Orcus, gathers up whatever loot they can salvage, and safely makes their way back to Newmarket for a good night’s sleep.

(And the party will NEVER have to worry about dealing with that War-Priest of Orcus again. Uh huh. Yup. Gone for good)

The following morning, the party heads back on the road, pressing on to Chessex. After several days’ travel, they finally arrive at the old, isolated mining and trade town, nestled at the foot of a range of desolate hills. They get rooms at an inn called the Hilltop.

(Not to be confused with Hilltop Steakhouse, a now-defunct chain of totally awesome steakhouses in the Boston area. Mmmmm....steak)

After a good night’s sleep, the party consults Glanor’s notes and maps and begins looking for this man named Deysin, who is mentioned as someone who knows about these Black Scrolls that are the whole point of this expedition.

Scattering throughout Chessex, the party comes to find out that Daysin in fact died hundreds of years ago, and is buried in the town’s main graveyard. By checking out his grave and solving a riddle hidden on his tombstone, the party discovers that they have to go ten miles due northwest of the town, smack dab in the hills, to find the site Daysin helped create, related to the scrolls’ whereabouts.

(Okay, a word about the name "Chessex". Yes, I lifted it from the name of a company that makes and sells dice and other gaming accessories. When I was designing my campaign world back in the late 70's, I was looking around for good names for the various towns and cities, and happen to see an issue of the Dragon, with an ad for Chessex. Aside here: Yes, once upon a time there was this magazine called "The Dragon", and it was printed on "paper", and it came out "monthly". No Internet and websites in those days, you soft, spoiled whippersnappers!.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Chessex. Anyways, I liked the sound of the name; it had that Anglo-centric fantasy vibe to it. It also sounds like a portmanteau of "Chess" and "Sex", but we won't go there; I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine! So anyway, when I brought my old campaign out of mothballs a few decades later, Chessex made its return! But Chessex isn't the only town so named. You see, I also needed a good name for a coastal seaport/fishing town, and there was a Land's End shirt lying nearby, and..)

Well, anyway, off to the hills…

Here's what Spriggans look like in Small size
After about a four-hour hike, they find a hidden entryway on the slopes of Bramble Hill. Upon entering, they are greeted by a chained up watch dog, or specifically, a Devil Dog. Once they take care of that cretin, they press forward and find that the hill is riddled with a series of tunnels. Upon exploring the tunnels, they discover a bunch of ugly, misshapen gnomes who, upon seeing the party, consider them to be intruders and attack.

Then the gnomes Hulk out. Surprise!

That’s because they are called Spriggans, and they have two forms: a Small gnomish creature, and a Large hulking brute. That was quite a surprise for the party.
Spriggans, Large size

(Okay, I admit, I was hoping to have a situation where one of the expanded spriggan grabs a PC and recreates the Hulk-meets-Loki-meets-floor scene from the Avengers. Ah well. Puny adventurers!)

The party battles its way through most of the complex, taking on bands of angry spriggans. At one point they find a small chamber with a pair of captives, both of them of Fey blood. One is a Pooka called Zizi, the other a Pixie named Oddbark. Both faeries are chained to the walls with cold iron, which neutralizes their powers and abilities. They are prisoners of the spriggans, and are used for cruel games of torture. The party frees them, of course.

(The rules don't explicitly state that faeries lose their powers due to cold iron, but I thought it was keeping in the spirit of the rules. Besides, gaming rules, like the Pirate Code, are just guidelines!)

The group also finds a chamber positively stacked with treasure. Sverd is in his glory, as he “Oooo, shiny”s himself into a state of ecstatic bliss. Fortunately, he has enough presence of mind to deactivate the numerous poison traps before collecting the sweet, sweet loot.

(There's nothing like seeing a Ravenfolk, a race known for its attraction to sparkly things, go all google-eyed at seeing a large pile of gold items and jewelry. Seth played it perfectly).

With the prisoners freed, the treasure gained, and the spriggans killed, the party calls it a day and takes the four-hour trudge back to town. But there is one disturbing note: the spriggan complex’s size and room configuration speaks of a greater number of beings than actually encountered. Clearly, the remainder was off somewhere, and will eventually return.
Chapter Four:  Scavenger Hunt
November 14-22nd, 316 PE (April 18, 2015)
Roll Call: Azarus, Gerik, Ragnar, Sassha, Sverd, Tolg, Gunnar
Pictured here: Not the inn.
Foreground: Possible minotaur
While staying at the Hilltop, the group encounters Sassha, an urbane cat-folk rogue, who talks her way into the party.  Remembering that there are probably more spriggans to deal with, they head back to the lair in the northern hills. En route, they are ambushed by a pair of minotaurs looking for a quick meal. Ah, the joys of random encounters!

(In my world, Catfolk are divided into two main groups: Ferals, who are wild, barbarian types, and Urbanes, who are more Puss In Boots. Fear me..if you dare! Rowrrr!)

Once the minotaurs are defeated, the group back-tracks to the lair in order to see if they have anything valuable. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the most successful pair of minotaurs out there, and the lair was fairly empty. But at least the group found a shelter which, if they ever end up getting stranded in the hills in the future, they can avail themselves of.

When the party reaches the spriggan lair, the group does in fact encounter the remaining seven spriggan, and battle it out with them. They also take care of the watch-spider that lurked on the ceiling of the spriggan’s “dungeon” where the fey folk had been chained up in the previous chapter.

Searching the place for anything of interest, the party discovers that the spriggans had salvaged an old stone slab, turning it into a table top. There is writing on the slab’s underside, an old form of Valgarese, which reads:

"Four keys there are you must get awl frozen wyrm iron-toothed circle drunkards companion"

Yes, no punctuation and little heed paid to good sentence structure. Someone remembers that Glano’s original notes mentioned something about Chessex being or having the key or keys. Since the party notices that the spriggans’ “throne room” has some sort of secret door that can’t be opened, but does have a small hole in it where something narrow and sharp presumably fits, they realize that they need to get back to town and find these so-called keys.

Oh yes, they also find a large cask of mead. A few PCs drink from it, only to realize that this mead is some kind of amped-up, powerful faerie mead that causes intoxication after only one mug. Fortunately, they make this discovery after the need for combat has long passed, though Gunnar does end up getting drunk then stuck with a whanger of a headache, while Sverd and Ragnar only got a little light-headed.

(I love drunk PCs. They can always be counted on to do colossally dumb things. Regrettably, the consumption of faerie mead happened in safe place. Rats!)

Sing now! Every little thing...gonna be awl right
After an uneventful trip back to town, the group fans out and checks different establishments. Once they realize they need an awl, they go to the smith in town and commission one. But while they are at the smith’s, they notice a cog nailed over the door, like a lucky horseshoe. A few questions to the dwarven smith reveal that his grandfather was the one who nailed it there for good luck, and that the cog was made of adamantine, which is rather unusual.

Hmmm…an “iron toothed circle”.

They ask to borrow it, and they get permission, provided that it’s returned intact, and if the group finds anything that a smithy would be interested in, he wants one first pick.

A trip to the various inns and taverns in Chessex reveals an elaborate goblet that’s been part of the d├ęcor of the Page of Cups for generations, while one of the inns has a small statuette of a white dragon gathering dust on a shelf.

One “drunkard’s companion” and “frozen wyrm” obtained.

(Remember the thing about John's character's dark background? That's where this really came into play. It must be stressed, John had no idea the party would end up in Chessex, and I had no idea his character came from Chessex. All I can say is, he had a bad childhood incident, which necessitated that he leave town FAST. Now he's back. Fortunately, he availed himself of the Hat of Disguise yoinked from that sneaky cultist of Orcus, and wears it when the party is hanging out in town. Did I happen to mention that I LOVE fleshed-out character backgrounds???)

Finally, at the city’s main trading emporium, the party finds a solid silver awl that’s been languishing in a display case for years. Not only does the group buy it, they now have knowledge of a good contact in town for the purposes of selling any loot they find.

(And thus I managed to accomplish a secondary purpose; by having the group fan out throughout Chessex and interact with the locals, they got a better idea of what the town is like and what the people have to offer in terms of goods and services)

When the group returns to the Hilltop, they now have all four keys that they require in order to get to whatever lies beyond the secret door.

(Time for your basic, classic dungeon crawl, people!)

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