View Full Version : Journal Tales from Kasmuria: The Universal Campaign

2016-11-27, 03:45 PM
An Introduction to the Universal Campaign

In the world of Kasmuria, far to the south there lays a continent known in the human tongue as Hizharan. There, in the frontier villages beholden to the Empire of Imuul, legends are told of a great champion who arose. Her name was Zahra Ironfang. She was many things; a wildling, the godchild of a Fae, and, in her time, a hero. If you'll grant me some of your time, I'd like to tell you her story.

But it's not *just* her story. It's the story of Anya Dobronov, an exiled magi from a foreign land. It's the story of Vispor Hielux, a slave from the distant north. It's the story of the Universal Campaign.

The Universal Campaign (or the UC as we've come to call it) was the second "big" campaign that my friends and I sat down to play and, currently, it is one of our two ongoing campaigns. The cast consists of three constant players, a handful of guest stars, and two co-DMs. I am one half of the DM team. We've played around twice a month, every month, for just shy of two years (as of the time of this writing).

Conceptually, the UC isn't complicated. A trio of exceptional people live and adventure in a world that the five of us collectively created together. This means the players know things that are happening on the biggest level in the world, but not necessarily on the smallest level. Which is kind of what you want in a DnD game, I think. Everyone has basic knowledge of the world at large, but they've still got a lot of room to figure things out on the personal-, character-level.

We’d played DnD a fair bit prior to beginning the UC. Our first foray into tabletop gaming--and into the d20 system period--had been with the d20 Star Wars system (the one before Saga Edition, I believe). After that we’d ventured into DnD proper with 3.5 and ran a few different adventures in a different region of Kasmuria. We didn’t really understand the rules and those earlier games are, looking back, horribly wonky. Fun, but wonky. And riddled with DM fatigue.

For this one, we decided to have two DMs. Myself and my co-DM, Abassi, had the most experience running the games.

Before the UC, I had a history of being kinda stuck with DMing duties. The Star Wars game had somehow fallen into my lap after the GM of that game decided “Man, I’m too busy to do this, can you do it?” and I said, “Sure!” It fell apart soon thereafter because I didn’t really know what I was doing and, as it turns out, YIM is not a great place to run a DnD game. Lesson learned and applied. After that, somehow, I was convinced to take the reigns of the last "big" DnD campaign our group had run after that DM also started suffering DM fatigue. I had a better idea of how to DM by then, but, again, the campaign fell apart for various reasons. Then I said, "Screw it" and decided to just run my own campaign because apparently that's my natural role in the group. That one caught on fire and THEN fell apart.

But the fourth one stayed up.

Abassi, on the other hand, had run a very well-regarded campaign of her own with some of the UC players and myself sometime before. She’d powered through the DM fatigue, making maps and art for her campaign all the while, and put together a really awesome story to boot. It’s pretty widely agreed that Abassi is our group’s best DM.

Naturally, when we, as a group, decided to try another big campaign, Abassi and I conspired to work together to alleviate DM fatigue. I had something to prove, she had a reputation to uphold. We were two renegade DMs on the edge and nothing was going to stop us. We'd alternate every other session and discuss big details with each other, working out problems with our combined brainpower and collective creativity. We'd herd the cats together. The players would never know what hit 'em. That was and is the arrangement and it's worked pretty well thus far, I think.

Regardless, the UC was meant to be our big, all-encompassing campaign. The "Universal" part of the name came from that ideal. This would be the campaign that we ran every weekend for years at a time and went through dozens of characters in. That was the idea. Then circumstances conspired to limit that to every other weekend. Still, the basic idea remained intact.

The players went in knowing a few things outright.

1.) The players knew we'd be using Pathfinder for this campaign.

This was a departure from the norm for us, even if only marginally so. Previously, we'd been a DnD 3.5 group and my co-DM was very...let's say reluctant to adopt a familiar-but-different system because she'd put a lot of effort into figuring out every mechanic of 3.5. Two years in, she still grumbles now and then, but I think she likes Pathfinder for the most part.

I personally really like Pathfinder. I liked 3.5, too, but a (sadly bygone) campaign run by Anya's player convinced me that Pathfinder was really, really fun and had made some good changes to 3.5's mechanics. I was eager to adopt it, I'll be honest.

So, yes, technically this isn't a DnD campaign. But it's kinda like Mountain Thunder and Mountain Dew. It tastes like Mountain Dew, it looks like Mountain Dew, it smells like Mountain Dew. It's basically Mountain Dew. But they can't call it Mountain Dew. That's Pathfinder. It feels like DnD, it functions like DnD, playing it makes you as nerdy as DnD, but it’s not legally called DnD. But it's totally DnD.

2.) The players knew that we'd be using the slow track for Experience.

This meant that the party would level up much slower. And that, to me, seemed fitting. After all, this was the long campaign. This was the one we'd be playing for years to come. It made sense that they'd level up much slower.

Some of the players weren't as enthused as others, but I think they've come around.

I think the slow track makes getting a level feel more exciting. It allows you to get used to your abilities before you get new abilities. It lets you acclimate to a certain level of power before that power increases. And I like that.

My interest in the slow track was also fueled by my belief in how character levels are meant to work (with 5th Level being the peak of historical, real-world human achievement). I've read and written some essays on the subject. I may include those for anyone interested. Regardless, the longer I could stop the party from being superhuman, the better. Because, that way, when they actually became superhuman it would mean more.

3.) The players knew that they wouldn't be saving the world.

The UC was not meant to be some epic campaign where the party stops some world-ending catastrophe. Don't get me wrong, there are world-ending things going on in Kasmuria contemporary to the UC...but the party aren't involved in those happenings. They started out as slightly above average people. Sure, they have special training. Sure, they have things that make them unique. But they're not The Chosen Ones or anything. There's not some evil overlord for them to overthrow. There's not an army of undead about to descend upon the lands of men and only they can collect the McGuffins of Doom to stop it. No portals to Hell are opening up. They're just some exceptional people living in a place.

They've absolutely come up against villains, it's DnD, but they're not really tangling with anyone who could threaten the world. There are other people for that. Probably. Maybe by the end they could be the people for that. But they definitely weren't earmarked for it from birth.

4.) The players knew that the UC would be entirely off the rails.

The UC was, in part, the players exploring the world. They were finding their place in it. The DMs, Abassi and I, knew the goings on of the local area. The PCs were supposed to find a place for themselves in that world; to carve out their own niche. That meant that it was very much a cooperative storytelling effort.

They all started in one village. They want to leave? Leave. The story will follow them because they're actively TELLING that story. They want to try to take over the country? Go for it. The story will follow. Open a business? Go for it. The story will follow. They were deciding what to do with their characters. We were just telling them the results.

This was meant to demonstrate what I think DnD can be. Where you and your friends sit down and tell a story together. It's the kind of campaign I'd like to play so it's the kind I offered. Abassi and I offered plot hooks, the players ignored them or followed them as they chose. Often it was the former, sometimes it was the latter.

They actually could have chosen not to follow any plot hooks. They could have just lived simple lives as farmers. It would have been weird, but it was there for them to choose. We weren't forcing a story on them.

Eventually, a story emerged, but it was a story that the party chose, more or less.

5.) The players knew that the UC could be lethal. Permanently so.

The party had more choice than their counterparts in other campaigns might have. But choices have consequences. And I wanted to emphasize that here.

In previous campaigns, DMs had gone out of their way to preserve PC lives. PC deaths had narrative importance or they usually just didn't happen. In our first big campaign, in fact, I distinctly remember people talking to the DM and setting up dramatically appropriate times for their characters to die.

We were new, okay?

Anyway, there was always some safety. Unless we were playing Tomb of Horrors as a one-off (for example), you could survive horrifyingly stupid decisions (like the time one of my characters actively disrespected the god of death to his face...in his realm...while he was sitting on his throne). PC lives were pretty well-guarded by the DMs, to say the very least.

I wanted to change that.

I wanted the dice to fall where they may. I wanted actions to have consequences. And there was no narrative for the party to have importance in.

That didn't mean I wanted players to die, not at all. It didn't even mean I was above cheating in the PCs favor. The DM should be rooting for the players. This just meant that if they messed up, they could die from it. For good.

See, in Kasmuria, there's a hard rule about resurrection: it doesn't happen. People don't come back from the dead. It decidedly takes some major mojo to bring someone back from the realm of the dead and, simply put, that kind of magic just isn't available. We've collectively decided there's only One God able to raise the dead and He doesn't have a lot of followers in the world right now (let alone a lot of high-level Clerics).

So if the PCs died, they'd die. No coming back.

And PCs did die.

6.) The players knew that the UC would be structured a bit like a TV show.

I grew up in the '90s. So maybe my first exposure to a fantasy adventure series was Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. It was smart, but also really dumb. Self-aware, but not necessarily trying too hard to be so-bad-it's-good. It had terrible effects, but they were also a lot of fun. I've always pictured and ran the UC like that. Now, I know Abassi envisions the UC a bit differently than I do (more Studio Ghibli than Harryhausen), but since I'm telling this story, I'm relating how I view the UC.

Picture an '80s fantasy movie in TV show form. Conan the Barbarian, for example. Dragon Slayer. Go further back, even. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. That's the visual aesthetic to have in mind. But with Arabian flavor because the region is maybe best described as the medieval Middle East if it were in a grassland. Kind of.

Regardless, it's that type of visual. Monsters are all practical effects, there are a few Muppets running around, we've really only got the budget for human actors (because, look, fake ears and rubber foreheads get costly), it's not in HD by any stretch of the imagination. It's great. This is not Lord of the Rings, this is Barbarian Queen.

I see the whole campaign as a TV show and treat it, more or less, accordingly. And, like a TV show, it's structured into seasons. Each season has a set number of episodes/sessions and each season has a "show runner" (a DM who takes the lead on the season, covering the "plot related" episodes while the other DM covers more "stand alone" episodes). Originally the seasons were meant to also reflect character levels, but...that...that fell apart at a point.

Each episode would begin with a recap of the previous episode (or, for the season finales, a recap of the season). Originally it was meant to be a rotating job, but...eventually Zahra's player just kinda became the official recapper. Opening and ending theme music would play (stolen from Xena in Season 1 and Prince of Persia thereafter), a title card would be shown, it was basically presented and treated like a TV show.

We'd also have "off seasons." After we finished a season, we'd take a week or so off, do a one-shot, and then come back.

I'm looking forward to hitting that 100th episode so we can finally get into syndication. That's where the money is, y'know.

7.) The players knew that the UC would end.

Six seasons and a movie. That's the promise. Abassi and I are going to get these players (though not necessarily these characters) through six seasons of the Universal Campaign and an epic movie-like adventure that will serve as the series' climax. After that, we may continue or we may not. New characters might take over. We might skip ahead a generation. We might move to a different part of the world. Who knows. But we're gonna get there.

We're currently at the beginning of Season 3. We’re hot off the heels of a big two-part episode. We've got forty-plus episodes and a New Year Special under our belts.

So this "series" will follow those episodes pretty strictly. From the Pilot all the way to the latest episode, I'm going to do my best to recap the Universal Campaign in full. Consider this part director's commentary, part recap. I'll withhold some things because my players might be reading, but I'll tell you everything THEY know. Where possible, I might even include some of the notes I’ve got written down for various episodes.

I'll probably be using prose sparingly because...well...that's not the type of campaign journal I like to read and I write what I'd want to read. This is going to be more out of character than in character. Sadly that will probably mean a lot of the cooler character acting bits Abassi and I have gotten to do will be lost, but that's the price to be paid.

If you've made it to the end of this wall of text and are in any way interested in what you've read, why not hang around? Maybe binge read a little UC (once I've got some posted). What else y'got goin' on? C'moooooon.

2016-11-29, 10:56 PM
Episode 101
“PILOT” pt. 1
“The Drakes of Dohabi”

By the time we got together for the first episode, the players had already rolled up their characters. Maybe it’s just us, but I’ve never had a session that didn’t run absurdly long if we tried to do character creation on top of a normal game. If we sit down to do character creation, it will, without fail, take most of the session somehow. So we set up a pre-game session just for that the week prior. During that session, the players did the basic steps of character creation and got used to their numbers. They’d established rough backstories and they’d done the math. So when they arrived at the virtual table (because we play on roll20), they were more or less ready to get down to business. After about half an hour of carousing and socializing, of course.

Anya Dobronov - 1st Level Human Druid. When the series began, Anya has been in Imuul for around a year and she is in a relationship with a local kid named Raziel ha Shef. Anya came to Imuul fleeing a war in her native homeland of Duroznia, far to the east. She is accompanied at nearly all times by her pet raptor, Asya. She has a Russian accent, even though this is fantasy Arabia.

Ta Ramarupi Wa Hauku - 1st Level Kore’Noa Cleric of Dhruvashar. Hauku is an ferretperson. She worships the god of justice. Hauku is Abassi’s DMPC. As of the pilot, Hauku has, like Anya, been in Imuul for around a year. She and Anya actually arrived on the same ship (their homelands being near to one another) and they’ve been friends ever since. For most of that year, Hauku has been living with the local priest, Rasid, at his parish and basically helps tend to the faith of the local village, lending her divine magic to that cause.

Raziel “Razi” ha Shef - 1st Level Human Rogue. When we begin, Razi has been living in Imuul for most of his recent life. Razi grew up a street rat in a major city far away from Imuul. After falling in with some criminals, he wound up nearly being killed in a gang war. But, lucky for him, a woman named Nida happened by and, being a magi, she coaxed him back to life and eventually adopted him, bringing him to Ha Taleem to give him a gentler upbringing.

Zahra of the Waterfall - 1st Level Human Barbarian. Raised by the Fae known as Hareesh deep in the treacherous swampland Dohabi, at the beginning of the series, she’s working as a scout, leading people into Dohabi for various reasons. Zahra has had minimal experience interacting with other humans to this point, having only wandered into the village a year prior during a big festival. For most of her life, she’s really only had animals, a centaur named Arne, and sometimes Hareesh to talk to. A Fae and a centaur in fantasy Arabia. Because my co-creators didn’t get the memo, I guess. At this point, it honestly doesn’t even feel unusual anymore.

Zamara ha Nadin - 1st Level Human Fighter. Zamara is my DMPC who pretty quickly transitioned into just being an NPC. When the pilot begins, Zamara is pretty much fresh out of her stint in the local militia. The daughter of a local lord, Zamara is pretty well off at the beginning of the series. Then her dad went missing in Dohabi.

Who Knows Who and How:
Zamara and Zahra are friends.
Zamara knows Razi.
Razi is romantically involved with Anya.
Anya is friends with Hauku.

So that was the setup going in. The party has some pre-existing relationships, reasons to know each other, and--as we’re about to get into--something to do for their first outing. They were ready to get into their new skins, roll some dice, and play the game. Once I’d properly settled down the idle chatter, we started the game proper...with a bit of a monologue.

It is the twenty-first century since the Ruin fell upon fabled Zanza. Two thousand eighty years have passed since mankind was cast out from the Island of Paradise. Now, Queens of all sorts divide up the lands and claim the right to rule over them. Though it is a time of peace, tensions brew eternal.

On the continent of Hizharan (for so it is called in the Albiz/Human tongue) lays the Empire of Greater Imuul, a vast territory unique among its contemporaries for its domination by men rather than women. In times now past, but never forgotten, Imuul had waged a bloody war of conquest against the Queens of the Albiz. Though in recent years Imuul has been ravaged by a deadly plague, the Empire continues its expansion towards the continent's interior. New colonies are founded yearly and the Empire's territorial claims grow by the month.

Our story begins in just one such colony at the edge of Imuul's reach.

The village of Ha Taleem has existed for fifteen years as a midway point between the cities of Machen ha Tafor to the west and the twin cities of Quntira and Qunima to the east. Surrounded by farmland, Ha Taleem is ruled by the 23rd son of Emperor Azon I of Imuul. Prince Taleem (for whom the city takes its name) is not an exceptionally ambitious man, but one who is a competent ruler nevertheless. Though his demesne is small, its importance is great. Imuul relies on Ha Taleem to connect the Twin Cities to Imuul's holdings in the northwest. Therefore, Ha Taleem serves as a vital point for the Empire's holdings in the region.

The importance of Ha Taleem is not lost on Imuul's foes. To the south, the Rhye--natives of the land--stand ever-ready to strike out at Imuuli interests. The two nations are perpetually locked into a stalemate, neither eager for outright war with the other, but both wishing to claim the other's land for their own. For this reason, a secret back-and-forth war is being fought between the two powers. Infiltrators, highwaymen, and mercenary raiders perpetually cross the border to attack their foes under orders of their secret masters.

The Rhye are not the only foes which lurk the land, however. Magical beasts of all sorts roam throughout the colonial holdings, many driven northward by the Rhye's expansion efforts to the south. The nature of their migration and their constant contact with humans has emboldened and enraged the beasts, causing them to attack travelers and farmers near-constantly. Worse still are the barbaric dwarven tribes which haunt the region. Descendants of renegade slaves and remnants of the fallen dwarven empire, these tribes have lost what little "humanity" they may have once possessed. Feral and vicious, the dwarven tribes wage a constant war against man, beast, and even one another. Worshiping at the altar of the forbidden goddess Havarah the Bloody, their mere continued existence is an affront to peace.

Fifteen years ago, when Ha Taleem was in its youth, the worst of all beasts fell upon the settlers. A drake, powerful and fierce, came forth from the mists of Dohabi to devour all in its path. In its rage, whole farmsteads and families were wiped out.

Prince Taleem, then a much younger man, rallied his forces and ventured into the mists to find the beast and slay it. For five days they searched and for five days they found nothing. But on the sixth day, they found the drake at last. Near a waterfall close to the Rhye border, Prince Taleem and his men confronted the Drake of Dohabi. Though they struggled violently, dozens of Prince Taleem's best soldiers were slain by the drake and the Prince himself was wounded in his arm. To this day he has no use of the appendage.

It was only when the Prince lay dying in the swampland that salvation came. From out of the pool at the foot of the waterfall came the seeming of a woman, fair and perfect. She mended the Prince's wound and saved his life. When the drake moved to consume her in its massive jaws, the woman transformed herself into a fearsome direwolf and did battle with the creature. Though its fangs, dripping with acid, wounded her grievously, the fair woman overcame the beast. Regaining her mortal seeming, the woman forced open the jaws of the drake and down its throat she cast a single seed. Released, the drake took to the skies immediately and vanished. The woman did likewise.

When Prince Taleem and his men left Dohabi to return to the village, they came upon a sign. At the edge of Dohabi, perched atop a fallen tree, stood a wooden drake covered in wildflowers. At once, Prince Taleem gave thanks to Hareesh, the Guardian of the Waterfall, and commanded that the priests accompanying him should bless the site.

Every spring, in commemoration of the defeat of the Drake of Dohabi, the village celebrates the Feast of the Waterfall. It is at just such a feast that this company first met one another.

It is spring now: [September] 17, 2080. One year since your first meeting. Three days hence, the Feast of the Waterfall will begin. But though you are all residents of the village, you are not in Ha Taleem this day.

This day you have ventured into the mists of Dohabi in search of loved ones who have gone missing...

For weeks you have all heard rumors that many farmers have been attacked and slain on their lands. Though none of you know much more, you do know that several days ago Arne the Hunter came to Lord Nadin (an influential local nobleman) and convinced him to go into the mists to search for the cause of the killings. You also know that Rasid, the village's most prominent priest, accompanied them.

When none of the party returned, Zamara ha Nadin, the daughter of Lord Nadin and a friend to each of you, gathered you together in hopes that you might accompany her in search of her father and his group. Each of you agreed to help. After a day's worth of travel, you are now in the heart of the swampland; deep in the mists of Dohabi.

So begins the Universal Campaign.

Now this monologue had two purposes.

First, it informed the players on where they were and the basic situation of the area as well as telling them what they were going to be doing at the start of the episode.

Second, it made them pay attention and realize, “Alright, it’s game time.” Because if I talk enough, they’re gonna realize they need to get their minds in the right place. Theoretically.

A bit verbose? Oh, absolutely. But if you can’t tell by now, I’m a wordy individual. So that was just part and parcel to the whole thing. And it did its job. It kicked the pilot off and grabbed their attentions.

I once read or heard some advice for aspiring DMs. It went something like, “Get your players rolling as soon as you can.” The basic idea behind the advice was that if you throw some trivial challenges at players almost as soon as the game begins, it will make the players feel good and helps to establish a nice atmosphere. It can be something as simple as a rudimentary skill check that you know they’re good at or fighting a handful of weak enemies. Basically, by giving them that mathematically trivial task that sounds hard, you make them feel empowered. They get a feeling of “Oh, we’re cool people who can do cool stuff” and that can suck them into the game easier than just immediately forcing them to roleplay.

It was definitely advice I tried to apply to the pilot episode of the UC.

So there they were, no joke, smack in the middle of a deep, dark swamp looking for a nobleman, a priest, and a centaur, all of whom had gone missing after going into the swamp. Here’s this group of kids (well, teenagers), going into the local haunted forest to rescue an experienced group of adventurer folk from unknown perils.

Dohabi is this overgrown, wild place. The whole of it is covered by a thick canopy of branches and vines that block out the sun (already hidden by thick clouds) and there are places where the ground is only a foot or so thick and quickly gives way to cold, dark water. All through the place there are these eerie blue lights that give off the barest glow and wild animals--some magical, some mundane--stalk the darkness looking for a meal.

But the perils of the wilderness weren’t really intimidating to ⅔ of our intrepid party. Anya’s a Druid and Zahra, in addition to being a Barbarian, grew up in Dohabi. Razi was out of his element, sure, but with Anya and Zahra leading the way, the party was pretty confident in their ability to navigate the swampland. Hauku and Zamara were basically just around for support, both being GMPCs/NPCs and out of their natural environments besides.

Their immediate task was Survival. They needed to find the trail the original group had left behind and follow it. So Zahra and Anya, together, roll exceptionally well on their Survival and Knowledge (Nature) rolls, more or less keeping the party out of harm’s way and following the right track in their search.

They even managed to mostly avoid the natural hazards of the swamp...well, until I rolled really poorly for Zamra’s Perception, anyway. Zamara stepped in exactly the wrong place and sank waist-deep into the ground. Immediately, she started being pulled under by the currents of the river that flowed under the shallow ground and some panic set in. She was in full mail and if the party didn’t do something quick, she could realistically have been swept under and drowned.

Luckily for her, the party sprang into action. Zahra whipped out her trusty grappling hook, tied it to a nearby tree, and together the group hauled Zamara up out of the cold depths. She was chilled and wet, but she’d live.

After a short hike onward, the party eventually came to a place where they determined Arne, Rasid, and Lord Nadin had camped on their way through previously. They found multiple sets of tracks leading away, in different directions and theorized that maybe the group had become separated or split up somehow.

Nevertheless, the group had been walking for nearly a full day at this point and were pretty tired. So they made camp at the site and settled in for the night. They had a nice meal of field rations and, when asked about the strange lights that filled the swamp, Zahra explained to the party that those were the places where Hareesh’s feet had touched the ground during his wanderings through the wetland. In essence, they were Faerie lights, trace remnants of his power.

Their bellies full, the party got ready for bed, setting up Zahra, Zamara, and Razi to stand watch at various points while Hauku and Anya got their rest. Because they wanted their spellcasters well-rested and also Anya has penalties to her Wisdom and no ranks in Perception. It was agreed that she’d be a bad sentry.

Razi, on the other hand, probably had the best Perception of the group. And, honestly, if the party hadn’t had him watching when they did, they might have been in trouble.

Because around six hours into their rest, they got visitors. Out of the trees, a bunch of squat, primitive figures stalked up to the camp. They never noticed Razi, hidden in a tree of his own, watching them approach. But when the Sneak Attack hit and his rapier sank into dwarven flesh, they all realized their oversight. Razi shouted, a dwarf died, and the first initiative was rolled.

Zahra and Zamara came running out of their tents, greatsword and scythe in their respective hands, armor half-on. They were the first ones into the fray after Razi. They engaged a few dwarves and quickly outflanked one of them, killing the poor savage handily. Next came Asya, the raptor, roaring in a blood frenzy and killing one dwarf almost instantly. Lastly, came Anya, entangling the majority of the dwarves and making them easy pickings for her friends. I believe Hauku slept through the engagement, but later handed out healing where necessary.

Most of the dwarves were killed in the first round or so of combat. The others quickly realized how outclassed they were and tried to run away. The party, not actually being kill-happy lunatics, decided not to pursue at the time and the curbstomp battle ended. Everybody felt good about themselves and went on assessing the situation.

Now here’s something you should remember about dwarves in Kasmuria. They’re basically to this setting what goblins and orcs are to other settings. They used to have a big, evil empire, they worshiped the goddess of bloodshed, and after a long period of conquest and warfare, they’ve been reduced mostly to warring tribes, slaves, and mercenaries. So don’t think about the curmudgeonly miners with the big beards from other settings, think more about short, human-y goblins.

The dwarves that had attacked the party just then, Zahra realized, were part of a tribe that lived in Dohabi called the Grayheart Tribe. They sometimes wandered out of the swamp to harass farms or merchants along the Jade Highway, but most of their attention was usually focused on tribal struggles within the swamplands proper, in particular against a newly arisen tribe called the Whitemane Tribe. So it wasn’t unusual for them to attack people if they thought you’d be an easy target and they could make some money off of killing you. Logically, this was probably just some random occurrence, a natural hazard of being in Dohabi.

The party assumed the dwarves had attacked the group they were looking for. They elected to disregard the tracks near the campsite and decided to track the dwarves who’d escaped instead.

And, in hindsight, I’m like, “Alright, y’know, I guess I can understand why you might make that assumption.” But at the time I was thinking, “What? No. You guys. No. What?”

But I let them try anyway because that’s what I wanted for the UC. They had the ability to follow the wrong lead and fail. I wanted them to be able to make the wrong choices.

Luckily for both of us, I guess, they failed to fail.

They packed up quickly and set out to follow the dwarves who had run away from the battle. Anya was on point with Asya (who they’d established was the REAL tank of the group) and Zahra was bringing up the rear. Both were doing survival to follow the tracks and keep the group going in the right direction. It was an okay set up.

Except that they both failed their rolls. Significantly.

Roll to follow the tracks? Fail. Roll to find the tracks again? Fail. Roll to figure out where you are? Fail.

And these were really low DCs, too. They just had horrible numbers all of a sudden.

Suddenly they weren’t following the dwarves, the other party, Hareesh’s lights, or anything. Suddenly they were lost.

So the party wandered around Dohabi for...most of a day more or less without direction. At one point, they circled the same overly large tree for about an hour. At that point, the players started getting nervous. If they couldn’t get their bearings, how were they going to do ANYTHING? Forget their main quest, forget their tangent. If they couldn’t find their way, what would happen to the whole series? Was this their lives now? Wandering around the swamp until something ate them?

That’s...kinda when you, as a DM, need to make a judgement call. Do you just let the dice fall where they may at the expense of the game or do you cheat in the players’ favor? I did a little of both.

See, their numbers weren’t quite high enough to find their way back to the camp site or to find the dwarves (they’d wandered way too far afield). But one of their Perceptions *was* high enough to hear someone calling out from nearby. So I put someone nearby.

When the party found Rasid, the priest was laying underneath a tree, moaning incoherently with savage wounds and a high fever. He’d clearly been laying there for some time, his wounds festering. Razi’s player, being a medical-type person in real life, noticed a few signs of gangrene setting in. Abassi and I like throwing in medical facts sometimes just to really sell, to that player, how serious some injury is. But I digress.

A prayer from Hauku inspired some divine intervention and soon enough Rasid was once again cognitive. The ferretperson and the priest had a brief moment together--as they knew each other best--and Rasid struggled to his feet to join the group.

When asked, Rasid explained that the group had come into Dohabi looking for a drake that had recently been terrorizing the farmlands. He told them that Prince Taleem was not currently in residence, having traveled to the nearby city of Machen ha Tafor to attend his elder brother’s wedding there. In his stead, a local Lord named Mohnir had been left as regent. Mohnir and Nadin were personal rivals and when Lord Nadin reported the attacks, Mohnir was quick to write them off as being dwarven raids. As a result, the crown had failed to provide swift aid, forcing Lord Nadin to go after the drake himself.

Lord Nadin had set up his few personal armsmen to protect the farmlands and he’d gathered the most competent locals he could find to accompany him. Arne, the centaur, was a well-regarded hunter who knew the swampland. Rasid had a small gift for magic. It was a flimsy, rag tag group, but it was the best he could do. And he obviously wasn’t going to recruit any of the kids, what’re you, crazy?

After the trio had negotiated the swamps, they found the drake they were looking for, tracking it back to its lair deeper in the swamp. But when they arrived, they found not just one drake, but three. Things kinda went sideways from there.

Rasid admitted, to his shame, that when the drakes ambushed them at the lair, his nerves got the better of him. He ran. One of the drakes had pursued him, wounding him, but he’d eventually escaped. He hadn’t seen what befell Arne or Lord Nadin.

So it’s a little character acting moment for me and a roleplaying chance for the players. The party gets to decide how to deal with the priest’s cowardice. Anya, herself having run away from her homeland as it was engulfed in flames by an invading army, empathized with his action and was quick to work with him. Zahra, eager to fight because that’s her only character trait at this point, also readily looks past his flight. And Razi was mostly just worried about, “Wait, there’s three drakes?! You guys, we can’t fight three drakes!”

The general consensus was, “Yeah, y’know what? You’re good, dude, we get it. Can you show us where the lair is?”

Rasid obviously could and, feeling shame for abandoning Arne and Lord Nadin, was more than willing to try to make up for his sin, even if he knew he wouldn’t be of any real use to them in the fight.

So the group headed off for the lair of the drake.

Under a tangle of trees near the site where Rasid said they’d fought the drakes, the group found a dead drake, apparently felled by a scythe (Zamara could identify the wounds). It also looked like it’d been eaten a little. That was weird, but, y’know what? Probably not bad! It was dead! This led the group to assume that, hey, maybe things hadn’t gone that bad after all! Clearly Lord Nadin and Arne had killed one of the monsters, maybe they were fine.

Except, no. Probably not. There was a lot of blood nearby. Also, y’know what else was nearby? A sleeping drake.

The party knew what they had to do. They had to sneak up on it and kill it in its sleep.

Everyone rolled Stealth, most of them doing so rather well in spite of some noticeable penalties. Except for Anya. Anya did not Stealth well. Because Anya is not stealthy in the least.

So Anya stumbled in the misty, dark swamp, made a racket...

And nothing. The drake didn’t move.

The party let out a collective sigh of relief and kept moving closer to the drake. Their weapons were ready, their hearts were ready. They knew this was going to be the fight of their lives.

Razi looked at the others and a silent agreement passed between them. Razi could Sneak Attack it. And with it sleeping, he could basically coup de grace it (he assumed).

Razi reversed his grip on his rapier, raised it high into the air, and brought it down in a precise strike right in the drake’s eye. He was going right for the brain.

Massive damage! The drake lurched with the sudden, violent motion and, without even a sound, the rapier sank into its skull all the way to the hilt.

Silence reigned.

And then Razi shouted, “I JUST KILLED A DRAKE IN ONE SHOT!”

Razi climbed onto the drake’s limp form, posing dramatically as he tried to pull his rapier out of the skull it was stuck in. Suffice to say, the party felt really good about themselves.

Until a post-mortem examination revealed that the drake was very much dead when they arrived. It’d likely been dead for a few days. Razi had stabbed a cadaver. More than that, it wasn’t even fully-grown. I’d just been a juvenile.

Not that that was going to stop the party from planning to brag about their exploits. No one was there but them, for all anyone knew, Razi totally killed it in one hit. That was their story and they were sticking to it.

But while they were concocting that tall-tale, they suddenly realized something. There were only two dead drakes here. And Rasid swore there’d been three. One that had chased him.

And then a roar shook the canopy overhead. Bits of ancient, dead trees rained down. Something was flying in Dohabi. Something big. And it was coming their way.

As Razi gave his rapier one last, good pull to dislodge it from the dead drake, a very alive juvenile drake swooped down to face them. It towered over them, it could see in the dark, and it was angry. Bad combination for our party.

Initiative was rolled. Zahra raged.

And just like that, the fight started.

The party threw everything they had at the drake. Anya enchanted Asya with some Magic Fangs. While raptor and drake faced off, lizardo y lizardo, Team Z rushed in to flank it. Razi tried to get around behind the drake to Sneak Attack it and Anya, after throwing her only spear, grabbed a nearby tree limb and went in with her Shillelagh. Hauku mostly went around trying to heal people, I think. Because Hauku isn’t really a fighter-type-person. Hauku is but a humble Kore’Noa.

So basically everyone was trying melee on this thing. I believe I used a slightly modified River Drake for the stat block and, hey, that’s not too bad for a 1st level party. If you’ve got the HP and AC for it, it’s always a viable strategy to just charge in on a single, big enemy and try to hit it until it’s dead. If you don’t...well...you can get hurt. And people got hurt.

I think Anya took the first big hit. I don’t remember if it knocked her out, but I remember her taking some notable damage in the first strike. After that, Zahra and Zamara took some damage. Now, they could take it, but not for long. They were sturdy, but they were still only 1st level. A few solid hits could take them down.

The drake, on the other hand, wasn’t keen on staying surrounded. So when its foes started playing defensive, it got smart and decided to do something they didn’t even realize was an option for it.

It went underground.

That is to say, it broke through the thin layer of earth and roots that covered the swamp floor and it dove underwater. It was, after all, aquatic.

That freaked the party right out. Because now, here’s this big monster that totally wants to kill them and it’s right under their feet waiting to pop right up and devour somebody. Not their idea of a good time.

Also not their idea of a good time: it doing the inevitable.

The drake did exactly what they were scared it would do. It came up a round or so later and grabbed Zamara right in its jaws, its acid-covered fangs biting into her mail and doing some serious damage to the noblelady.

So they charged.

Zahra hit it from one side, Asya hit it from the other. Razi came down the center, whining about not getting Sneak Attack bonus.

The drake lashed out at them with its tail and bit into Zamara even further. It was wounded, seriously so, but it was still fighting. And it was about to dive back down with Zamara in its maw.

And that’s about when Anya used Summon Nature’s Ally I to call up a stirge.

I have a house rule. It’s really an interpretation. See, I make the assumption that with divine magic (such as Druidic magic), a god is actively altering the natural course of events to intervene on your behalf. Sometimes it’s something overt (like Hauku asking Dhruvashar to heal Rasid’s wounds), sometimes it can be something more subtle like a god influencing events so that a certain animal is in a certain place at a certain time. So if you’re using Summon Nature’s Ally, you’re calling out to an already-extant animal to come help you. One isn’t just poofing into being, it’s already there, you’re just asking it to do you a solid.

So if Anya had called out for...say an eagle in Dohabi? She’d get it, but it’d be very out of its natural environment there. It would have just been weird. But she didn’t call an eagle. She called out to a stirge. And stirges are all over the place in Dohabi.

For those who don’t know, stirges are basically giant mosquitos. Evil, giant, disease-ridden mosquitoes. They have Blood Drain which inflicts CON damage. They’re kinda nasty.

And Anya summoned one up to attack the drake.

And it not only succeeded to hit, it critically succeeded. And it did enough CON damage to this drake to put it into negative numbers.

So this giant mosquito flew up at Anya’s command, bit into a wound on the neck of this drake, and it bit right into one of the drake’s major arteries and through to the acid gland. Acid started pouring out of the drake’s neck. The stirge was consumed by the acid, but by that point the acid had gotten into the artery. Drakes can withstand acid pretty well when it hits them on the outside, but when it gets into their blood? Probably not so much.

So the drake’s neck started being eaten away around where the stirge bit. It spasmed involuntarily, its eyes wide in terror--an alien emotion on the fearsome creature’s face--and the drake fell over dead.

The party had just killed a drake with an overgrown mosquito.

They rummaged around in the drakes’ nest for a bit after that. There were a bunch of eggs there, most already smashed up--apparently by the drakes themselves. All save for one, a black egg a little smaller than all the others. Anya grabbed it and the party took the rest of the eggs for proof of their deeds. They also found Arne there, alive if only just. But there was no trace of Lord Nadin.

Hauling the big centaur back toward town, the group left Dohabi. And that’s about where we ended the first session.

Now, there’s still another half to this episode. The pilot was two sessions long (basically two episodes crammed together to make a big “hour-long” series premier). But I’ll “broadcast” the second half a bit later. For now, I’ll leave you here.

2016-12-06, 04:48 PM
Episode 101
“PILOT” pt. 2
“The Festival of the Waterfall”

Anya Dobronov - 1st Level Human Druid. A refugee from a big war in a distant land called Duroznia. She has a pet raptor named Asya who is probably the most dangerous member of the group.

Ta Ramarupi Wa Hauku - 1st Level Kore’Noa Cleric of Dhruvashar, Abassi’s DMPC. A ferretperson who’s oddly non-violent for an adventurer. She heals people. Also, she has a cart and a donkey.

Raziel “Razi” ha Shef - 1st Level Human Rogue. A young farmboy who used to be in a gang in the Big City. Once totally killed a drake in one hit. Prove he didn’t.

Zahra of the Waterfall - 1st Level Human Barbarian. A wildling raised by the Fae known as Hareesh, deep in the treacherous swampland Dohabi. She has a very large sword and when she’s mad she turns into kind of a wolfman.

Zamara ha Nadin - 1st Level Human Fighter, my DMPC. The daughter of a local lord, fresh out of her stint in the village militia. Recently, her father went missing and she recruited this lot to help her find him.

Who Knows Who and How:
Zamara and Zahra are friends.
Zamara knows Razi.
Razi is romantically involved with Anya.
Anya is friends with Hauku.

Two weeks after our first meeting, our group got together for the second session of the UC. Everyone was a bit rusty. For us, I’ve found that if we aren’t doing the same game every week, but, rather, are ping-ponging between campaigns every week we always arrive to both with at least some level of confusion. It always takes players a minute to get going, to get their minds in the right place. Of course, needs must and all that.

That was part of why, eventually, I started relying on the players to recap stuff instead of doing it myself. Because, while I had a better memory for it and notes to consult, that didn’t mean they retained ANYTHING from the last session other than “we rolled some dice, did some things, and met some dudes.”

By putting the ball in their court, so to speak, I was expecting them to retain information and, thus, be more involved in the game.

At this point, we’re not quite there yet. There’s no real “previously on” from the players’ perspective. Rather, we opened up with more monologuing from the humble DM (myself in this instance).

We join our heroes in Kahbul, the manazil belonging to Lord Regent Mohnir ha Miyazan.

Only a few hours ago, you had all been resting at the parish of Rasid, the most prominent local holyman, following your adventures in the Mists of Dohabi. Zamara had rode out at daybreak to bring news of the Drakes--and of her father's death--to Lord Mohnir who had been left in charge as Regent of the village Ha Taleem during the Prince's absence. Shortly thereafter, you were all roused from your sleep by the arrival of a cavalry troupe led by Yasar the Horseman, the right hand of Lord Mohnir. Yasar greeted you politely and requested that you should all return with him to his lord's side to recount your story.

Agreeing to the request, you traveled with Yasar and his men to speak with the Lord Regent. There, you were greeted with a sort of reserved kindness, as if your host did not fully trust you. Now, surrounded by the Lord Regent's men, you have been given audience to recount your adventure.

So that’s where we’ll start off. We’ve fast forwarded a bit since the end of last session (around a day). They’ve all slept and recovered to some extent. Certainly, their wounds have healed, but they’re still worn out mentally. They’ve been through a lot, stuff most normal people wouldn’t come back from.

Before we get into the episode proper, though, I wanted to give you guys a little peek behind the curtain. See, this session is the one where I first started writing what I’ve come to call my “Flow of Episode.”

The Flow of Episode is basically what you might expect. It’s a short little bullet point list of things to hit during the episode. It was a quick reference thing for me to look at during the game to make sure I was covering everything I wanted to cover. Like a lot of things, this first one isn’t exactly the same as how the Flow of Episode concept eventually turned out, but this is sort of the prototype. It’s the first one, even though I wasn’t calling it by name at the time.

Due to its nature, you may avoid it if you want a less “spoiler-y” reading. Maybe read th actual episode first, then come back and read the Flow of Episode to see how close I got to what I anticipated/wanted. Because, again, these are unedited DM notes. If the rest of this is director’s commentary, the Flow of Episode is a peek at my script.

You have been warned.

Next Session:
- Lord Mohnir interviews the party about what they know and has Commander Zarif to launch an investigation into the events
- The party are asked to stay in Ha Taleem during the investigation, leaving them to enjoy the Feast of the Waterfall
- The Feast should be about having fun and stuff, largely an RP session with some fun skill-based games where they can win some minor prizes
- Events should be as follows: wrestling (two matches consisting entirely of grappling; winner gets a fancy wooden crown that gives +1 to Diplomacy), spear throwing (a single toss at a target; winner gets an ornate spear that's worth about 20 gp more than an average spear), the riddle game (a 1-on-1 competition with three riddles; solving all three riddles gets the winner a black cloak that grants a +1 to Stealth), and the drinking game (a Fort Save-based game; winner gets a flask of Irongut Mead which is basically a poison worth 30 gp that can knock out anyone who drinks it and fails a DC 20 Fort Save)
- The session should end with the end of the Feast and the party still technically forced to stay in the village

- The investigation will be over on September 23, 2080 and Lord Mohnir will delay the official verdict until the Prince returns; with the death of Lord Nadin confirmed, however, he will set in motion the process by which Zamara and her family are stripped of their lands...probably
- Prince Taleem will return on September 24, 2080 with his 42 soldiers and Marshall Jamal
- Prince Taleem will summon the party before him on September 26, 2080; there he will offer his formal thanks, while being unable to legally reward any of the adventurers; he will, however, offer them official positions in his militia so that they might be at his disposal in the future and continue their adventuring efforts semi-legally
- Arne, Hareesh, and Nida will have their meeting October 2 (as that is the earliest time when Hareesh will be available to them)


Replace the spear throwing game with a game of bull leaping.

The participant has to stand in the way of a charging bull and make a DC 15 reflex save to avoid the bull's horns. Then they have to make a DC 20 acrobatics check to flip over the bull's back. The winner gets a necklace crafted by a Naidan. The necklace provides a +1 to Diplomacy (+2 with Fae, +3 with Naidan).

Anyway. Onto the episode.

I think it’s important to give your players balance.

Now, yeah, there are groups who like to just rush into battle, killing things every session. Initiative! AC! HP! Crit threats! Some people just love the combat system. Some players and groups of players just want to sit around doing math. And that’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that. Rollplaying is perfectly acceptable.

And there are also groups that like to just roleplay. Some players love to just pretend to be their characters. They like dialogue and monologue and introspection and sometimes skill checks. They like to act. They like to be IN the world. That, too, is perfectly acceptable.

There’s not really a wrong way to do it as a player. If you’re there for math, you rollplay. If you’re there for playing pretend, you roleplay. Both are cool. But if you’re a DM with both in your group...you need to accommodate for that. You need to offer both. You need to try to engage both types. Sometimes at the same time.

I’ve heard legends; whispers only. It’s said that there are DnD groups who can do both in one session.

Definitely not my group, God, no. If we get into combat, that’s basically us done for the night. We get one fight and then we’re there for hours.

What I’ve found to work is giving the players sort of “designated roleplay time” in the form of downtime. That and just getting my story stuff in early before Anya’s player falls asleep.

So this half of the pilot was basically all about downtime. Which was, for us, kind of a new concept.

I’d played campaigns before (Abassi’s and one run by Anya’s player) that had touched on downtime. And, let me tell ya. I liked downtime. I’m the kind of player who, when he plays, is invested. I start businesses, I make magic items, I put ranks into Profession and Craft. And I thought that maybe other people would like that too. Or at least that option.

So, right after their first outing, I gave them downtime. Not “you’ve got a week, what do you do” levels of downtime (though that would come later), but more “you’ve got a night off, what do you do?”

Was it too early? Well. If I’d given them a week off, yes. If I’d given them significant downtime, yes, I think it would have been. I think it would have been boring for them because ⅓ of the party had never experienced downtime before. And ⅓ hadn’t made use of it when she HAD experienced it. It could have been too much, too soon.

But this was the pilot and, like a pilot should, I wanted to use it to show off what the series would ideally be like for the players/viewers. Last week, you fought a crazy monster and traveled through the wilderness. This week, there’s a big party and you’ve got some time to just hang out.

The hanging out part was still to come, of course. When the episode began, our quartet of heroes were gathered in the manse of Lord Regent Mohnir, the reigning authority in Ha Taleem during Prince Taleem’s absence. They’d lost their weapons and were without armor. Even their raptor had been restrained and kept apart from them (no mean feat, mind you). Mohnir had summoned the party to him after Zamara rode out to his plantation to inform him of the apparent death of her father, Lord Nadin. Naturally, the death of a local nobleman--Mohnir’s rival no less--was cause for a thorough investigation.

Mohnir knew the whole situation would look suspicious. The Prince leaves town and then Mohnir’s chief opponent among the nobility dies? That didn’t look good for him. He wanted to get all the facts and apparently this bunch of kids were the only ones who had those facts.

So here’s this nearly feral teenager, a druid from a foreign land, a small ferretperson, and some street rat trying to talk to a Lord and answer his questions. Indignation and fumbling humility ensue.

Perhaps naturally, Razi began as the party’s spokesperson. “It’s an honor for you to meet us, Your Excellency. I will answer all of your questions on behalf of my friends.”

Razi handled the situation with as much tact as he could muster, explaining that Lord Nadin’s group had been attacked by juvenile drakes while in the swamp. Most of that party had suffered serious injuries, but Lord Nadin’s body had been nowhere to be seen in the aftermath.

Hauku, being a simpler creature, chimed in with, “Wasn't much of a party by then. Nope nope.”

“More like a funeral,” Razi agreed.

Hauku then played with her trusty bag of marbles while Lord Mohnir continued his questioning. She was, perhaps, the most indignant of all, having no apparent concept of mortal authority that did derive directly from the divine. She chafed at the Lord’s probing and at the use of nomenclature unfamiliar to her.

Called an adept (the term for an apprentice either of theology or magic), Hauku replied, “Hauku is Kore’Noa, not an adapt? Though Hauku does adapt quite well!”

Called a magi (the generic term for magic users in the region), Hauku responded, “Hauku is Kore’Noa, not Magi!”

“Your point is noted.” “Hauku did not see you make a note of that! So you lie as well!”

Basically, my co-DM decided to be obtuse with me because it amused her.

Anyway, Mohnir knew that he’d had no deliberate hand in Nadin’s death (their rivalry wasn’t so aggressive that they’d kill one another) and he knew that Zamara certainly could have had no motive for it (because, by Imuuli law, she wouldn’t inherit anything upon her father’s death). The others? Well, they were really shifty-looking from his perspective.

Suffice to say, our motley crew did very little to convince Lord Mohnir that they, themselves, hadn’t had some hand in Lord Nadin’s death and then somehow tricked Zamara into believing otherwise. But they did have some evidence of drake-like activity. They had the shells of drake eggs.

Nadin had come to him about some troubles out near the edges of the swamp just before his disappearance. The evidence--circumstantial or not--was enough to convince Lord Mohnir to send his people into Dohabi to investigate. If the group were telling the truth, there might be more drakes in Dohabi. He’d need to be ready if there were. His men would need a guide, of course.

Zahra volunteered to lead them into Dohabi. And Lord Mohnir, realizing she was basically the only person healthy enough to both lead them there and actually get them there, agreed. But she’d have to go unarmed and unarmored. Which she groaned about and initially refused, but eventually submitted to.

Splitting the party like that was something, in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done because it forced one player to miss out on most of the episode’s planned-for activities. If it happened like that now and she still went off on her own, I think today we’d have one DM handling her with improvised content and the other DM handling the rest of the party with what was prepared. But mostly we’d avoid splitting the party. It was a miscalculation on my part and I admit that.

Hauku, Anya, and Razi? They were under town-arrest until the investigation was finished. Which, as it turned out, wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Because the Feast of the Waterfall was beginning the next day.

The Feast of the Waterfall celebrated the defeat of the original Drake of Dohabi fifteen years prior. It was also where the five of our heroes had first met one year earlier. Zamara was helping make sure there wasn’t any trouble as part of the local militia, Hauku and Anya had just arrived in Imuul and were swept up in the excitement of the festival that surrounded the Feast, Razi was in the village with Nida having a break from farm life, Zahra wandered into town, attracted by the noises, smells, and sights. Eventually, everybody had wound up together. Razi and Anya had met and the seeds of a relationship were planted. Zahra learned there were strangers like her. Hauku learned the joys of chickens. Everybody became friends at the festival. So this was basically their friendaversary.

While Zamara did a lot of emotional unpacking at her family’s manse south of the village and Zahra led Lord Mohnir’s men into Dohabi, Hauku, Anya, and Razi went into the village to try to get their minds off of their current legal troubles.

The Feast of the Waterfall is basically the biggest holiday in Ha Taleem (next to New Year’s Day). It’s typically right at the start of the growing season (~September* in the Southern Hemisphere) and it gives everybody a chance to take a break from their work for a few days and have fun. There are all sorts of games and shows, music, dancing, the whole bit. And by the time our trio arrived, it was just getting started.

So the first thing our group noticed right off was a game called bull-leaping. In reality, this was based on a game played in Minoan Crete and among the Hittites. In-universe this is a game that was taught to humans by the Naidan, a group of Fae who delight in doing extremely dangerous things for fun. They also have a habit of showing up in seaside taverns and drinking the place dry.

To play bull-leaping, a person stands in front of a charging bull and then tries to jump up, over the bull, and land--on his feet--behind the bull without ever touching or being touched by the bull. This is a real thing real people did in real life and it sounds like a great thing to incorporate into DnD.

Mechanically I set up the game like this. The player makes two checks. First, a Reflex save to avoid being gored (DC 15). Second, they make an Acrobatics check to leap over it and land without touching it (DC 20). Fail the first save, get 1d6 damage and lose the game. Fail the second, you just lose the game. It’s not meant to be an easy game, especially not for 1st Level people. But it’s mostly harmless. You probably won’t die from playing it.

So Razi decided to be the one to try it. He had a pretty good bonus to his Acrobatics and DEX so he thought, “Yeah, I can do this! It’ll impress my girlfriend!”

Razi was not the smartest person, but God love him, he was entertaining.

So Razi got into the pen with the bull, giving a wink to Anya as he did so. The person running the game set the bull after him and Razi jumped to avoid the horns!

He failed.

Bam, right in the ribs! Razi had the wind knocked out of him and was thrown aside by the fairly well-trained bull.

He took some damage, crawled over to the fence, stood up, and moaned that he’d like to try again. Despite Hauku and Anya’s protests, Razi stepped back in front of the bull. The bull-tamer shrugged and let him go again. After all, the crowd was enjoying it, at least.

So the bull, once again, charged Razi. And once again, he jumped to avoid being gored.

Once again, he failed.

This time, he took maximum damage. His ribs cracked with the force of the impact and, though the bull didn’t actually run him through or trample him, Razi wasn’t going to be getting up from that one any time soon.

The trainer’s people pulled Razi out of the pen and laid him up next to his friends. Hauku said a prayer, asking Dhruvashar to heal Razi’s idiocy-inflicted wounds, and Dhruvashar apparently said, “Eh. Fine. But only a little. And only because I like you, Hauku.” Razi got fairly minimal healing from the prayers.

So Anya decided to get in the pen.

Anya is a druid. Anya was trained as a cavalrywoman. Anya knew how to Handle Animals. Anya realized this was a trained bull. So she decided she was going to manipulate the bull and, in doing so, win the game. Which, while not not cheating, wasn’t overtly cheating. And who was gonna call her on it anyway?

Anya climbed into the pen and stood in front of the bull, accepting the challenge of the game. The trainer caused the bull to charge her, just like he’d done with Razi. But as it was charging, Anya hit it with a little Wild Empathy. The bull kept running, its forward momentum giving it little choice, but suddenly the bull wasn’t really feeling like hitting her, it was feeling like letting her up and over it.

So I decreased the DC a little. Anya made her Reflex save.

Anya isn’t very dexterous, but with the bull essentially helping her win, she passed the DCs pretty handily. All she had to do was stick the landing.

Which she, somehow, did.

Anya won the game of bull-leaping and was rewarded with an old medallion. Though it had no actual magical power, the medallion was an old Fae-crafted thing passed from bull-leaping champion to bull-leaping champion from a Naidan. It was a symbol of capability that any Fae and most people would notice and respect. It would grant a +1 bonus to Diplomacy (+2 with Fae, +3 with Naidan Fae).

Anya’s miraculous victory brought life anew to Razi. He jumped up in excitement and lept over the fence (if only he’d treated the bull with such competence), running up to her. In celebration, Anya put the medallion around Razi’s neck and they embraced. And while they embraced, Hauku tottered off to a riddle game.

Just a short distance away, a short little man in a concealing cloak was perched up on a post, asking riddles and promising fabulous prizes to anyone who could answer them. Hauku figured that she could answer their riddles.

But the hooded man wasn’t eager to play the riddle game without a wager on the line. While she was haggling over a proper wager (the short man offering a fine cloak on his end), Razi and Anya joined her, assuming she was playing with some dwarf. Eventually, the price was set at one of Hauku’s baby teeth.

“Hauku has a baby tooth! Tooth faerie never came for it. Hauku was very sad. Hauku will play riddles! Hauku likes games.”

Though everyone but Hauku thought this was a strange wager, a cloak for a tooth, the riddle game began nevertheless. Three questions and three guesses. Hauku could also ask her associates for help, but only once.

“A woman has 7 children, half of them are boys. How can this be possible?” asked the wee man.

“Woman miscounted her kits. Happens all time with many running round. Happened all the time with Hauku's mother,” replied Hauku. But then immediately elected to ask her friend, Anya, for advice.

After a short, whispered discussion, “Hauku says they are all boys!” was the ultimate reply. And the correct one, too.

One riddle answered and the second began. “How far can a man walk into the woods?”

Without hesitation, Hauku replied, “Mmm. Until he reaches the middle! A man can walk into the woods until he is walking out. Yup yup.”

Which was, of course, the correct answer. No real deliberation on that one.

So there she was, Hauku, come to the ultimate riddle of the game.

“Lighter than what I am made of,
More of me is hidden than is seen,
I am the bane of the mariner,
A tooth within the sea.
Speak my name.”

“RUMPLESTILTSKIN!” Razi’s player cried.

But no. That made no sense.

Everyone seemed to grasp this one (or at least have an answer for it immediately), all but Abassi. So, therefore, everyone had a thought about what the answer was, all but Hauku. So Hauku pondered.

“Hauku only has teeth within her mouth and this one in hand,” She thought.

It seemed to stump her for a short time. But eventually she replied, “ICEBERG!” which...wasn’t technically right, but also not technically wrong. Technically the answer in mind was “Ice,” but an iceberg IS ice and fits all the criteria. It seemed like a right answer.

With Hauku victorious, the little man handed Hauku a fine black cloak, did a backflip off of his post, and disappeared before their very eyes. Hauku immediately assumed the man was the tooth faerie and beheld the cloak in wonder. It was cloak as black as night. So black, in fact, that it actually granted a +1 to Stealth.

While the party was marveling at Hauku’s new cloak, Zahra was busy walking through the swamp. The whole time, she was grumbling to herself about having to miss the festival. She’d really enjoyed it the year previous and, though she liked Dohabi (it was her home), she wanted to be with her friends. And she was pretty upset about Lord Mohnir being suspicious of her despite Zamara’s assurances that Zahra and the others had no hand in her father’s disappearance.

Still, Zahra led Mohnir’s men onward into the swampland, toward the drake’s lair. This trip is much easier than the previous one for Zahra. Having made the trek once before (and very recently), she now knew the safest path to the lair. She also rolled very well on Survival.

Eventually, Zahra and her charges arrived at the drake’s lair and the team began their investigation.

Meanwhile, back in town, Hauku and the others had decided to try out some wrestling.

Apparently a traveling troupe of wrestlers and their promoter had arrived in the village for the festival and they were taking on all comers. A big, burly, wrestler stood menacingly in the middle of a roped off ring, ready to face anyone who dared accept his challenge. At ringside, what appeared to be a well-dressed dwarf played the carnival barker, goading passers-by into trying the challenge.

It so happened that Hauku passed by.

Now, Hauku is an aspiring priest, but Kore’Noa in general are a rowdy bunch. Wrestling, in particular, is a common passtime because it’s just what happens when you have a bunch of furry babies living together. They grapple, they bite, they hit, they wrestle. So Hauku saw this as a good bit of fun.

She handed her new cloak off to Anya for safekeeping and, as Razi went off to get a drink, Hauku got into the ring with all 12 of her STR.

The guy in the ring--whose name I wish I remembered--towered over Hauku, menacingly, and we rolled some initiative.

Hauku got the advantage starting out and went to work on the big grappler, shooting right in on him and initiating the grapple. Establishing dominance--presumably by way of surprise--she quickly switched around to his back, pulled his head down, and bit him on the ear.

“Hey, biting’s not allowed!” the barker yelled in warning.

“What do you mean biting’s not allowed?! We’re wrestling!” Hauku shouted back in confusion.

Using her momentary distraction, the wrestler attempted to gain control of the grapple. Buuut Hauku maintained her dominance, wrenching on his arm and forcing him to the ground. Hauku applied more pressure and...actually managed to succeed in beating the much larger grappler who had, somehow, rolled very poorly and embarrassed himself.

Razi returned at this point, drinking, and declared, “If Hauku can win and Anya can win...then so can I!”

But it was still Hauku’s go. She’d have to beat the whole troupe in order to win the prize. And the next wrestler wasn’t looking quite so “easy” as the first.

The next wrestler was an enormous man covered in hair everywhere but on top of his head. He had a long handlebar mustache and pointed eyebrows that lent his face a sinister expression even when at rest. Visually, he was basically Ox Baker. Look him up if you don’t follow wrestling from several decades ago.

And he was standing across the ring from Hauku now.

Hauku cried out, “Hoy!” in greeting, fond of the new man because he was furry, like her.

The match began and, once again, Hauku charged in, trying to repeat her success. But the new wrestler proved to be much more powerful than his predecessor. He overpowered Hauku with each and lifted her up for a slam.

Hauku countered by kissing him on the nose.

Distracted and confused, the wrestler hesitated for a moment. And in that confusion, Hauku tried to gain control.

She failed and was promptly tossed to the dirt below. Standing back up, Hauku tried to rally the crowd behind her, but she was immediately grappled once again.

Again, Hauku tried to bite her opponent, this time in order to break the grapple. But the wrestler, having seen her tricks previously, avoided her mouth and forced her to the ground. A three count later, Hauku had lost the fall and the match.

The crowd cheered for Hauku as she got out of the ring. And, trying to keep that momentum going, Razi got in. Razi, who still had injured ribs. Well. He’d been drinking.

So Razi faced off with the same wrestler who’d just bested Hauku and we rolled new initiative.

Razi critically succeeded and barely won the initiative. He rushed in on the experienced grappler and the two engaged in a collar-elbow tie-up. Razi tried to get control, but the wrestler was too skilled and managed to reverse the momentum in his favor. He slammed Razi to the ground, hard.

Razi got back up, not knowing when to stop, and once again tried to take control of the match. Again, the wrestler slammed him.

A third time, Razi got to his feet. By now, the wrestler was getting frustrated. He grabbed Razi, but Razi slipped away. So he maneuvered to Razi’s back and got him in a waist lock. Razi squirmed, trying to weasel out of the hold, but the grip was too tight.

The wrestler lifted Razi, bodily, into the air, over his head, and brought him crashing down, head-first into the ground. Razi had just been German suplexed.

But the wrestler wasn’t done. He kept his hold, stood up, and went to repeat the slam. Razi struggled to get free, but he just couldn’t manage it. Another German suplex.

And then another.

And then another.

Suplex, repeat. Suplex, repeat. Suplex, repeat.

But Razi’s got heart! The fans are cheering for him! The crowd loves it! They love this little guy who just won’t quit!

The wrestler picks him up for another suplex!

Razi gets free mid-suplex! Acrobatics check! Razi does a backflip mid-air! He’s on his feet behind the wrestler! Could this be the start of some kind of crazy babyface comeback?!

Well, no. It wasn’t. Razi got hit really hard immediately after that and went down for the count, but...y’know. He had a cool hope spot.

So Razi was a little concussed as Anya and Hauku helped him out of the ring. But after the match, the promoter came up to them.

He introduced himself as Balthazar Shagglepot, the advocate and manager of a troupe of wrestlers and gladiators out of Imuul City (the capital of the Empire). He was this short, rotund little man that looked like clean-shaven, balding a dwarf to the party and he had the voice of Paul Heyman. Or, if you don’t follow wrestling, he sounded kinda like Gilbert Gottfried.

For context, this session happened pretty soon after the Brock Lesnar/John Cena match at Summerslam 2014 which most of the group had watched together, even though only three of us like wrestling. It seemed like a fun thing to include and the dice were rolling that way so...

Anyway, Balthazar said that he was very impressed with Razi’s performance and that, if the party ever managed to get up to Imuul City, they should look him up because he thought he could make Razi a star. He gave them a token to present if they ever got to Imuul City and promptly went back to tending to his wrestling.

This left pretty much everybody in the mood for a drinking game.

So Hauku, a barely conscious Razi, and Anya went and sat down at a table where a fairly organized drinking game was about to begin. The rules were simple. Whoever could drink the most without passing out would get a flask of a very special brew called Irongut Mead. Winning was entirely dependant on Fort saves and we’ve got a druid and a rogue over here.

So I’ve got about four NPCs rolling opposite the party and I’m treating it as “lowest Fort save is eliminated.”

Right off, the party is doing well. One NPC goes down, then another. Then Razi slips up and can’t handle his drink.

So then it’s Hauku, Anya, and two NPCs. Hauku goes down next.

Then one of the NPCs passes out.

And then something weird happens. Anya and this other guy keep tying each other. Anya was raised on that good Duroznian wine, she can hold her own, but this other guy is a true pro at this.

They’re well into their cups by now. Drink, drink. Stalemate.

Drink, drink. Stalemate.

“You are pretty good at this, my friend,” Anya said.

“No, you are pretty good at this. Have not met one who can drink so well as me!” said the man.

Drink, drink. They stare at each other.

And then the man passed out.

Anya pumped her arms in groggy triumph as the proprietor of the game handed her her well-won flask of Irongut Mead. The mead was, basically, a poison worth 30 gp that could knock out anyone who drinks it and fails a DC 20 Fort Save. It had been aged for quite some time and...realistically, if you lit it, it would burn. Which mead is not supposed to do. This was some good stuff.

So, triumphant, Anya passed out in the tent with her friends.

And that’s how Zahra found them the next day when she finally got back to town.

2016-12-12, 04:20 PM
Episode 102

Anya Dobronov - 1st Level Human Druid. A stoic proficient in dinosaur husbandry.

Ta Ramarupi Wa Hauku - 1st Level Kore’Noa Cleric of Dhruvashar, Abassi’s DMPC. A ferretperson who will not be appearing in the episode proper.

Raziel “Razi” ha Shef - 1st Level Human Rogue. Anya’s boyfriend, a scrawny goof who apparently has a high pain threshold.

Zahra of the Waterfall - 1st Level Human Barbarian. A borderline feral teenager with a big sword.

Zamara ha Nadin - 1st Level Human Fighter, my DMPC. A nobleman’s daughter who’s probably about to lose all of her land and titles.

Who Knows Who and How:
Zamara and Zahra are friends.
Zamara knows Razi.
Razi is romantically involved with Anya.
Anya is friends with Hauku.

During the earlier episodes of the UC, Abassi and I were under the (ultimately false) impression that our alternating schedule could allow us to both DM and PLAY in the campaign. We’d just keep certain things from each other! What could possibly go wrong with that?

Yeah, obviously there were a few bugs. We had a good basic idea with the UC, but we hadn’t quite figured out how best to run the thing. We knew having two DMs would help with a lot of our fatigue problems, but we didn’t entirely trust each other with all of our plot details. There was definitely a sense of “I have no idea what’s going to happen next episode” early on.

While I’m fairly good at improvising and rolling with whatever situation Abassi’s episodes left me in, she...isn’t? As much? Abassi is a planner. She’s meticulous. She’s organized. She’s the clockmaker DM. She plans for every contingency and I’m not exaggerating or using hyperbole. But she’s human so it’s literally impossible for her to account for every possibility. So if you do something she doesn’t expect? It can flip her world upside down. Kill an important, hopefully friendly NPC during a fight early on with one critical blow, thus derailing her entire campaign? She turns into a big old ball of stress and holds a grudge for years. Probably forever. “Never forgive, never forget.”

She’s gotten a lot better at rolling with things, I’m glad to say, but early on in the UC she was definitely still deep in that mindset. And with me being more freeform in my approach to DMing, at this point we were kind of at odds. We weren’t necessarily moving in the same direction.

I knew together we’d be a good team. I knew we could accentuate each other’s strengths and cover up each other’s weaknesses. I knew if there was anybody I wanted to work with as a DM, it was her. But early on, it was difficult for either of us to actualize that. We were still trying to figure out how best to compliment each other. We still are, but we’re getting there.

So this episode, I was a player. Abassi was the DM. And while I could ask her for her no-doubt absurdly detailed DM notes to try and get a better grasp of her side of this episode, I think I’ll give you my perspective as a player for this one. And, because it’s an earlier Abassi episode where a lot of the actual character dialogue is available for NPCs, expect more prose in this one.

Last time!

The party went into the treacherous swampland known as Dohabi in order to find Zamara’s father, the priest Rasid, and Zahra’s mentor, the centaur known as Arne the Hunter. In the swamp, the party ultimately found Rasid and Arne, fought a juvenile drake, and killed it with a giant mosquito. But Zamara’s father was nowhere to be found.

Afterward, they told Lord Regent Mohnir (ruling in the Prince’s name while the Prince is away at a wedding) about the incident and he sent men (with Zahra as guide) to investigate the matter more thoroughly. While they were investigating, the rest of the party had fun at a big festival.

Razi got beat up by a bull and later by a wrestler, Anya won a shiny medallion that she then gave to Razi, and Hauku won a fancy new cloak. Then they all got drunk and passed out.

You’ve had a day of recovery since your little drinking game escapade at the festival. With Hauku’s healing touch and Zahra’s firm aid, everyone is recovering nicely. By the morning of the following day, however, you seem to have lost track of Hauku. And seeing as the local authorities still seem to desire you to stick to the village, you get a little worried about the ferret and start looking around for her. In your search you run into Zamara, but find no ferret.

That’s how we kick off, it’s a day after the Feast of the Waterfall, the party is still bound to Ha Taleem for the nonce, and Hauku is missing. Get ready, guys, it’s gonna be a long one.

But anyway. On to the episode!

In the early seasons of any TV show, you’re gonna run into what TV Tropes refers to as “Early Installment Weirdness,” things or events that don’t quite mesh up with later episodes or seasons. It can be anything from something minor, like a character offering contradictory backstory information, to something more significant, like someone acting wildly out of character because the writers just didn’t quite know what direction they were going with that character at the time. It’s what happens when you have a bunch of different writers approaching a relatively fresh batch of characters with no real vision for where those characters will be going.

In addition to the disconnect between Abassi and I, the players, too, had some weird moments early on. Roleplay, in my opinion--especially with our group--is a lot like having a bunch of writers working on a TV show. Specifically, every member of the main cast has a dedicated writer working specifically on that one character. But while they’re getting a grasp on the character, strange things can happen that seem jarringly out of character when compared to later seasons.

This episode is one that, I think, lives on in mild infamy. The episode concept was, I think, really solid in conception and execution on Abassi’s part. But the players...well. Things happen, choices are made.

Things started off well enough. After a night of leaping bulls, getting slammed by wrestlers, answering riddles, and drinking their peers under the table, the party woke up ready to seize the day. Seize the day by staying in Ha Taleem and minding their manners. Because they weren’t allowed to leave due to Lord Regent Mohnir’s ongoing investigation into the death of Lord Nadin, Zamara’s father.

Zahra had just gotten back from leading Mohnir’s men into and out of the Dohabi swampland for the investigation, Anya and Razi were still nursing hangovers, and Hauku...was nowhere to be seen.

When everyone realized Hauku was gone, they naturally decided, “Hey, we should find her.”

Hauku had been kind of indignant when the party had spoken to Lord Mohnir, but she’d begrudgingly agreed to stay in the village until the investigation was finished. Though she normally lived with Rasid the priest in his parish northwest of the village, she’d been staying, as all the others had, in the temporary lodgings Lord Regent Mohnir had provided for them. Ha Taleem wasn’t a big place. If she was there, they should have been able to find her fairly easily.

So they set about looking around the village, trying to find Hauku. But everywhere they went, they found neither hide nor hair of the small ferretperson. Which was, in hindsight, a good thing because finding her hide would probably be a bad sign and a real bummer for the second episode of the series. Instead, they found nothing. Which, while better than hide, was still not a good thing.

It was early in the morning, right at the beginning of spring when they conducted their search. The air was crisp and cool, the sky overcast, and the sleepy village of Ha Taleem wasn’t quite roused from its slumber yet. The people who were milling about in that early hour were typically local tradesmen, busy opening their shops and setting about their work. Their number included, incidentally, a miller who was busy grinding up grain from the previous season when the party arrived at his shop looking for Hauku.

The miller hadn’t seen their small Kore’Noa friend. Asked if he was certain, the miller replied that he was sure he’d remember seeing someone matching the description they gave. Her folk, though far from rare on the Imuuli frontier, were less common in Ha Taleem and, therefore, somewhat notable. The miller assured them that he’d keep an eye out for Hauku and the party continued on, no better off than before.

In their search, the party soon found a different friend. Zamara passed by just as they left the miller, apparently on her way to their lodgings. They hadn’t seen Zamara in a few days and she hadn’t been at the Feast of the Waterfall. When they saw her, she looked somewhat diminished compared to her usual self.

With the death of her father, Zamara’s life was in a turmoil. Not only had she lost someone very close to her, because of his apparent death and due to the laws of the land, Zamara’s family were looking at losing all of their land, holdings, titles, and finances. Lord Nadin left behind him only two daughters and a wife. And with Imuul having very masculinist inheritance policies, that essentially meant that Zamara’s family were looking at becoming destitute soon. Suffice to say, she was having a rough go of it.

But she knew she needed human contact so she was going to see her friends. With Hauku missing, she went along with them and joined the search.

Before they could do much searching, however, something else got their attention. Toward the middle of town there was some kind of commotion. Assuming it involved Hauku (because everything has to be quest related) the party bolted off to see what was up. What they found was not Hauku.

In the middle of town, the party came upon a young man kneeling in the middle of the road, wailing in mourning and grabbing onto the hem of a village deputy's trousers. He had shabby-looking clothes on and, from their cut and style, he clearly wasn’t a local. He also had a head wound.

“Woe! Woe and agony!” the man cried. Noting the new arrivals, the man then walked over to them on his knees and grabbed Razi by the tunic, wailing, “All is lost!”

The deputy, standing over his shoulder now, looked at Zamara and the others very uncomfortably. When Zamara asked the deputy, Tariq (who she knew from her time in the militia) what was going on, the deputy just stammered in confusion. He was clearly as lost as the party was.

The man continued, explaining his situation to anyone who would listen, “I am a humble tailor’s assistant from Shodrid. The man for whom I work, may his days be long, thought so well of my skill that I have been sent on the long road to Quntira. In that great city I was to seek Lady Khethys, who would make an appraisal of my work, and if it was found to be good, she might help me in traveling across the sea to study under the masters of the Order of the Thread in Ha Inah! But woe and agony are mine! As I neared this village I was waylaid by thieves, may dishonor plague them all, and now I am without all my life’s work. I am ruined, I am shamed, I am less than a mite in the dust! And this guardsman, son of a cow, will do nothing to help me because all that has been lost are clothes! Clothes!? Garments worth more than gold or silver in my heart without which I am nothing! Agony and woe!”

To which Razi replied, “Far be it for fashion to be lost to the world!”

Zahra didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. To her, clothes were a means to an end. Clothes exist so that you have pockets. It’s not widely known, but canonically, in Kasmuria, clothes first came into being because a Fae decided that it was very convenient to have pockets. Everyone else just followed the trend. Zahra, being half-raised by a Fae, had that knowledge impressed upon her at a young age. “Wear clothes so that you have pockets to put your acorns in.”

So while Razi jumped at the call to adventure (bless the poor fool), Zahra just stared at the wailing man somewhat confounded. Anya had no strong opinion either way regarding clothing, but was willing to help out because clearly this guy was in a bad way.

Zamara...Zamara was a paladin. She wasn’t a Paladin, but she was a paladin. She was an honorable, law-abiding, nice, Good person. Because that’s one of the character archetypes I play a lot in DnD. I like playing the knight in shining armor. It’s a thing for me.

So here was a guy who’d clearly been accosted by bandits. He’d been beaten up and abused, he’d been robbed. Of course Zamara was gonna want to help him. And everyone else was being kind of noncommittal.

So I kinda took point on leading the party for the episode right then. It wasn’t right of me, but, again, Early Installment Weirdness. This episode, I was just a player. I had no special knowledge about how things were set up, I knew nothing the players didn’t know about this episode. And as a player, I can be kind of take-charge. I can be decisive to a fault. I shouldn’t have stepped in and said, “Alright, guys, we’re doing this, let’s go!” I should have let a leader naturally emerge from within the party and played the follower. That’s hindsight. So maybe I didn’t, as a co-DM, do the right thing in that instance. But I absolutely think I did the right thing for Zamara as a character.

Zamara stepped forward and introduced herself to the man, “Sir, I am Lady Zamara ha Nadin, daughter of--” She winced at the thought of her father, of naming him. She shook it off in an instant, “How may we assist you?”

The man, named Jamar, explained again that he was a tailor from a foreign land and that, on the highway, he was attacked by bandits who stole his life’s work...several sets of very fancy clothes. Though the party was reluctant to go hunt bandits for clothes, Zamara had pretty much already volunteered them and, well, what else were they gonna do? Find Hauku? Pssh. Out of sight, out of mind. Hauku would keep.

Alright, I’m exaggerating. I remember that they did protest and Zahra’s player did think we should keep looking for Hauku. But I think between Razi and Zamara convincing them, everyone just kind of accepted that this guy needed their help more than Hauku probably did. What trouble could Hauku get into? Ha Taleem was so small and she was such a gentle ferret!

There was one problem with them just charging off to find the bandits, though. Well, aside from the party being stuck in the village. On that one, Deputy Tariq was willing to let the party leave because Zamara was with them and he liked Zamara and, y’know, she was still technically nobility until it was stripped from her. No, the big problem was that Zamara didn’t have a weapon or armor.

I’m weird. I assume my characters aren’t walking around in full-plate with a giant scythe strapped to their backs all the time. I make assumptions about the comfort of my characters and the social taboos related to carrying a giant weapon literally all the time for no apparent reason. So, while the party’s weapons and armor were either on their person or in their nearby, temporary lodgings, Zamara’s equipment was all the way at her family’s manse, south of the village. It would have been a tremendous detour to get her effects.

But that problem, too, was quickly rectified. Tariq, at Zamara’s request, actually gave her his sword on the spot so that she could run off to face unknown dangers, unarmored, alongside a bunch of scruffy teenagers who were under village-arrest due to their possible involvement in the death of her father. He probably still has his job, too.

So, with at least one of the resources necessary for adventuring now in her grasp, Zamara assured the man that they’d return his lost clothes unharmed and led the party off to hunt down some bandits.

The party headed north of town along the highway to the place matching the description of where Jamar had described the attack taking place. There, through unusually good Perception rolls, the party were able to find signs of a struggle and an overgrown trail leading off the highway. Survival checks from Zahra and Anya confirmed that there had been an unusually large amount of foot traffic on the trail recently. So, down the trail the group went.

The trail was an old one, obscured by time and neglect. Someone lacking experience would have had a difficult time following it reliably. Luckily for the party, Razi knew the trail fairly well. He’d traveled it before, in fact, while delivering eggs from Hauku’s chickens to a wild-eyed Kore’Noa hermit who lived along its path. With his experience, Razi led the party confidently down the trail until the tracks they were following suddenly veered off into the brush.

Again the party left the beaten path to follow the prints of their apparent quarry. Bootprints led into the wild plains and the party went after them. But somewhere along the way, the prints changed. They became more...fabulous.

More Survival was rolled to follow the fabulous prints and, for the first time possibly ever, the entire party rolled absurdly well. Razi critically succeeded, Zamara came one short of doing similarly, and Zahra and Anya had such naturally high bonuses that they easily surpassed whatever DC Abassi had set before them. So following this trail was childsplay to the party. Through brush and thicket and wood they followed the trail, searching for fine clothes for a man they didn’t know, and they met no real difficulty in that pursuit.

Now, the plains of the Imuuli frontier are most often sparsely forested, flatland. They’re typically similar to the great plains. But there are a number of groves and hills that break up that flatness. Certainly, some were naturally occurring, the result of plates shifting or seeds falling. Some of them were planted or built by human hands, distant reminders of the settlers who came long before Imuul added the region to its empire. Others came from more inhuman sources. Fae and other things played in Hizharan long before man came to the continent. So the topography of the plains was not necessarily natural.

Certainly the grotto the party found at tracks’ end was such an unnatural occurrence.

Beyond the fissure of earth and wood, smoke rose. The party dropped immediately into Stealth mode, creeping toward the opening and their Doomed encounter with whatever lay within.

Half of the party was quiet. Anya and Zahra made quite a ruckus, but no immediate consequences made themselves known. Zamara and Razi were as quiet as a porcupine. Ever heard a porcupine? Of course not. They’re that quiet.

Past the opening of the grotto, the party came upon a bit of a ravine. They had a good overview of a campsite. Though it was midday by now, a fire burned in the middle of a group of about six people. Music and laughter lofted up to the party’s ears and a glimpse of something fabulous danced across their vision. Though the group was relatively far away from the camp, they could tell (rather, Zahra and Anya with their eagle eyes could tell) that these were the bandits that must have robbed Jamar the Tailor.

To get down to the bandits, the party realized they’d have to negotiate their way down the ravine, probably risking being injured or caught or injured and caught or caught and injured along the way. But they also knew that there had to be a path down that didn’t involve climbing. After all, the bandits had horses. Horses--barring a few instances wherein they run, full tilt, up mountain slopes--are not known for their climbing prowess.

Reason, then, dictated that another path must exist. So the party Stealthed their way back to the entrance of the grotto and looked for a path leading down. And they found it. Guarded by a very dead skeleton of a man in rusted out armor.

Some forensics work later, the group couldn’t determine a cause of death or how long he’d been there. And though we should have figured, “I dunno, maybe it was soft tissue damage and, since he’s a skeleton, there’s no real way of knowing for sure; maybe it’s just an old skeleton and we should move on” we spent a very long time puzzling over the matter for some reason. Because if you put something in the world and tell the players it’s there, they will, necessarily, obsess over it like they’re Jack Skellington trying to understand Christmas.

Eventually, we tore ourselves away from the decorative skeleton and got back to the task at hand. Something like thirty minutes later in real life. I know Abassi facepalmed. Even I did when I realized what we were doing.

Regardless, the party made their way, quietly, down the ravine.

Quoth Abassi’s narration (because I have it conveniently in text form), “...That is to say, you see several bandits and some of them are wearing fabulous outfits of what may be white tights and yellow silk tunics. The ones wearing complete sets of this fabulous attire are dancing and laughing, apparently amused by the clothing. Two surly non-fabulous bandits sit to one side looking grim and stuffy. On the side of the campfire opposite from you a large rug is spread out. On the rug sits a man in a black tunic with a yellow cloak and mask, he holds a cup in one hand and appears to be completely at ease. Beside this man stands a very tall and fully armored warrior, or statue of a warrior, by his lack of movement it is hard to tell which (a distinct feature of this man is a long braid coming from the back of his helmet and slung over one shoulder). To the other side, leaning on some wooden barrels is a dwarf wearing a fabulous yellow hat with a massive feather in it. Behind all of these, sitting someway up the rocks at their back, is a hooded figure with a snout and a longbow. Last but not least, in front of all of these and drawing far more attention than the men in tights is a beautiful woman in a fabulous dress which looks to have been made by expert hands. The woman is laughing and dancing before the masked man who, if you would guess, is probably the leader of the bandits. Now and again the fabulously dressed bandits try to dance with the woman, but they are poor dancers by comparison even with their clothing to help them feel majestic.”

So, with the party debating what to do and still mostly hidden in rocks and brush, Zamara took action. She emerged from along the path, summoned up all the grace, dignity, and poise taught to her in her eighteen years of noble life and military rhetoric, and she walked right into the camp.

“Hail!” Zamara called to the bandits, sword sheathed at her side. “I am Zamara ha Nadin, a soldier sworn to the Emperor's service. I am here on behalf of a tailor who had been waylaid on the Emperor's road. I seek parlay.”

Razi’s player screeched, everyone demanded to know what I was doing. And in hindsight, perhaps this was where the episode truly went sideways. It could have gone well, I believe, but here is where a lot of things were set into motion.

In my defense, I think it was the best thing I could have done as Zamara. The party was being indecisive--a common problem for us, especially then--and, more than that, Zamara almost certainly would believe in using stealth for scouting purposes, but she wouldn’t want to launch a sneak attack if the conflict could be resolved diplomatically. I had, in fact, put quite a bit of effort into beefing up her Diplomacy. I’d built her as a Fighter, but as one who could talk her way out of problems instead of just relying on her blade. She was, in a way, a diplomancer.

So she wanted to talk to the bandits, to try to reach a peaceful resolution. She wanted to talk them into surrendering their ill-gotten gains and, probably, into giving up their lives of crime.

So Zamara spoke to the masked leader of the bandits while the party silently panicked. The leader of the bandits informed Zamara that they didn’t like the Emperor and, for all her grace, Zamara’s declaration of allegiance to him didn’t really help her case with them. Though she asked for peaceful talks, the dwarf at the leader’s side (in true Kasmurian Dwarven fashion) called for her skull to be split open. Luckily the leader was more reasonable.

The leader just asked that Zamara’s friends come out of the bushes.

Because Anya and Zahra had made a lot of noise earlier. I don’t know for a fact that the masked bandit knew there was more than just Zamara there. Realistically, from his perspective, it might have just been Zamara making that noise. He might have just been playing the odds and taking a shot in the dark. He might have just been bluffing.

But if he was, it worked. Because, even though they were all, by now, hidden...everyone came out of their hiding places.

This was not Zamara’s intention. I want that to be clear. Zamara’s intention was to talk to the bandits to reach a peaceful resolution. And if peace proved impossible, then her friends--hidden in the shadows--could spring out to help her. Theoretically, THEY would still have had the element of surprise even if SHE didn’t. But they revealed themselves.

So Zamara, the most diplomatic and thoughtful member of the party, was quickly drowned out by everyone else trying to negotiate for the clothes. And that might sound like I’m talking down about my players, but I’m really just reporting the facts. I tried to play Zamara as polite, diplomatic, and with consideration toward what impact her words might have on the negotiations as a whole. No one else did that.

Zahra was frustrated that they’d lost the element of surprise and weren’t immediately engaging in battle, Anya was worried that they’d just gone off to their deaths over some clothes, and Razi couldn’t really get words out around the foot that was lodged in his mouth.

So let’s say negotiations went poorly.

Razi offered to trade something for the clothes. The masked thief, in turn, replied that it didn’t seem they had anything worth trading. Except, he supposed, Razi as a slave. But he determined that Razi would make a poor slave as he was rather scrawny.

“Would it be too much to ask to have you delve into the kindness of your hearts and save a poor man's livelihood?” Razi pleaded.

The masked bandit rolled a shoulder lazily, “It would be too much to ask. You see, some of my men like looking fabulous. And my lady must have finery and so rare is it that I have the opportunity to...acquire any. Besides. Thievery is my profession.”

Zahra sighed.

“Let us not mince words,” Zamara cut in, realizing how far things had broken down. “We have reason to believe you have come into possession of the clothes you now wear through illegal means. I would ask that you surrender them to us now.”

Zahra facepalmed.

“You have reason to BELIEVE?” The thief smiled. “Oh I am humbled by your perceptive prowess!” The bandits laughed.

Zahra drew her sword.

Zahra’s player, at this point...had become bored. She felt we were talking in circles and wanted to intimidate the bandits--who outnumbered us quite noticeably--into surrendering the clothes. She didn’t, apparently, consider what drawing a great sword in the middle of tense negotiations would obviously communicate to the other side. Or, perhaps, she didn’t care.

So after Zahra drew her sword, a bunch of things happened all at once. As Zamara tried to regain control of the situation, shouting for Zahra to stand down, the bandits drew their weapons, terrified. Zahra flew into a Rage and won the initiative over them.

Zahra’s face twisted. Her muscles spasmed. Hair grew, fangs appeared. Suddenly, where Zahra had been, there was now this towering wolfman with a giant sword. And it was cleaving through the nearest bandit, fine clothes and all.

Calm as could be, the masked leader, his command over his men far better than Zamara’s over her friends, stayed the hand of the massive warrior at his side and ordered the hooded, snouted archer to do something in a language most of the party couldn’t understand. Immediately, a quiver sprouted out of the wolfman’s flesh. A short sword bit into her exposed skin. The dwarf, elated at the chance for bloodletting, shouted a challenge to the wolfman and charged her in a Rage all his own.

Razi met a nearby bandit drew his thin sword and, with the finesse expected of a fencer, sent the bandit’s weapon clattering away. Anya backed away from the fight proper and sent forth her raptor, Asya, to rip into a nearby bandit. The talons of the raptor ripped apart the bandit’s flesh and, in so doing, also ripped apart the fabulous clothes covering that flesh.

I was dumbfounded. And, because of that, Zamara was dumbfounded. But more than that, Zamara was freaking out.

Zahra had just turned into a wolfman and was killing people. And that was weird.

Now, the party had been around an enraged Zahra before. But it’d been in Dohabi where light was scarce and they’d been preoccupied with fighting a drake. And Zamara, specifically, had never seen that side of Zahra because while Zahra was enraged, Zamara had been stuck in the drake’s jaws. She’d had other stuff going on. Some extra hair on Zahra? Not her priority at the time.

But just then? With a wolfmonster killing people for no real reason? Well that was scary.

Still, Zamara fought back her baser instincts. She didn’t attack the wolfman. Instead, she did the most logical thing she could. She acted to preserve the clothes that she’d promised to return unharmed.

Regaining some of her composure, Zamara turned to the bandit Razi had disarmed, drew her sword, and commanded the man to strip. And he did. Because he was terrified of everything happening in the world just then.

With that out of the way and the fabulous clothes intact, Zamara felt her confidence returning somewhat. So she spun on heel and tried to direct her people.

“Anya, tie them down! Control your beast,” she ordered. “Zahra! You better be in there somewhere! Stop killing people!”

Wolf-Zahra tilted her head, looked at Zamara, and growled. Zamara, drawing on some well of courage not present in normal people, just narrowed her eyes, kept eye contact, and tried to establish dominance on the feral beast.

Anya followed Zamara’s lead, Entangling the majority of the lesser bandits as well as the archer. This made the number of enemies immediately threatening us far fewer and theoretically hampered their ability to get at us.

But it didn’t quite stop the dwarf from getting to Zahra. And when his axe bit into her, they both let out a yell. The archer, struggling free of the vines, then sent a shaft at Anya. Her armor absorbed most of the hit (flavorwise, not mechanically), but the tip still pierced her and, because she’s always been a big of a glass cannon, she was suddenly in a bad way.

So while Asya assailed the dwarf, Razi pierced the heart of a nearby bandit (who was only in fabulous tights) and rushed over to help fight the dwarf.

Pretty soon it just became a big dogpile on the dwarf with Zahra, Asya, Anya (with her spear, Razi, and even Zamara attacking the dwarf who ferociously resisted their attempts. Literally the entire party encircled this guy and stabbed him to death. Because, man. He wasn’t going down.

As the dwarf lay bleeding out, Zamara commanded another nearby bandit to throw down his weapons and, like his friend before him, to disrobe. Which he did. And then he ran away.

Suddenly freed of enemies in her immediate vicinity, Zahra decided now was a good time to get on a nearby horse. There was no reason. The bandits weren’t running away (except the one guy) and she wasn’t going to leave or pursue anyone. The masked leader of the bandits was sitting, calm as ever, right where he’d started. The archer was still on his perch. The big warrior still hadn’t even entered combat. Zahra just saw a horse and wanted to get on it. But not by just climbing up. She wanted to jump up onto it. While in her wolfman form.

The horse, obviously, was not thrilled at this large, unnatural predator that has just been killing people next to it suddenly pouncing on its back. So it threw her off. And she took damage which, because she was Level 1, was very considerable damage.

The horse bolted as Zahra stood up, her leg hurt from the fall.

Then the big warrior walked over to her, grappled her fairly effortlessly, and threatened to break her neck if the party didn’t surrender.

“Well now you are in a pickle,” the masked thief said casually.

And that’s how the party lost a fight (started by Zahra’s foolishness) due to Zahra’s foolishness.

Episode 102: Alternate title, “Zahra’s Folly”

But that’s not how the episode ended.

With Zahra captured and her rage suddenly replaced by a distinct awareness of her own mortality, the masked thief now sought parlay with the party. Well, in a way. More like he sought to rob them. But in a polite way, with talking and drinks.

So, after a tense moment between Zamara and the leader, the party disarmed, sat down, and conversed with the masked bandit leader.

Zahra apologized to her friends for her actions, for putting them in danger by letting her anger get the better of her. An important lesson was learned. Sometimes, violence isn’t the solution. Or, at least, jumping onto strange horses isn’t the solution. One of those two isn’t the solution.

Zahra explained to her friends (and the masked thief) that she was taught to harness her Rage in such a way as to effect a transformation into a wolfman by her Faerie godfather, Hareesh. She wasn’t a werewolf, not in truth, but merely a person taking on aspects of the wolf through pure emotion.

But Zamara was like, “We can talk about that some other time, we’ve got other problems right now.”

So Zamara and the thief negotiated. Which could have happened without people dying, but didn’t. The exchange below was preserved, for posterity, in our Roll20 chat log and I’m thankful for it.

“Now let’s see,” the thief began. “You've killed my dwarf, that is a shame. For the dwarf's life, I intend to keep the garments which I acquired for my lady.”

“I wish a peaceful resolution to this ordeal, but I am not prepared to make such allowances. Instead, I will offer a different type of compensation for your dwarf's life. I have a fine dress in my wardrobe which should suit your lady well. Though it is not so fine as the one she now wears, it is of a noble cut and a high quality. In return for the life of your other man, unjustly slain, I will offer 100 gold. For these things, I would request the return of the ill-gotten clothing in your possession.”

“And I should risk awaiting such a boon? No. I think not.”

“I will offer myself as hostage against the payment of these items,” Zamara appealed.

“Yes, and whatever militia is possessed by the village will not come at once to collect you. To be making offers as you are. I see you are a lady of merit, and for that reason, it is too much a danger to me to risk that. I'm not a grand thief you know, my aims are normally such that I need not deal with too much trouble, and I prefer it that way.”
“Look,” Razi interjected. “I'm the least complicated answer here. You will keep me until Zamara can fulfill her end of the deal. I trust her not to delay, and no militia would find me valuable enough to fight for. Simple.”

“Mmmm...No. I'm fond of the fabulous dress as is my lady. My offer stands thus, I will keep the garments for my lady, you may take the rest. I would also have any coin or valuables you have upon your person.”

Zamara considered for a moment, nodded, and replied, “Agreed.”

So after a bit where Razi tried to convince everyone that he didn’t have any money...okay, just a little money...okay, fine, here’s all my money...the party and the masked thief sealed the agreement with a drink. Because contracts are often sealed with a drink in Kasmuria and the thief didn’t want to seem inhospitable to Zahra, besides.

“Do you have a name, sir thief,” Anya asked. “A title, perhaps, by which you're feared?”

“Oooh, a title by which I were feared, that would be nice,” the masked man replied. “I am called Sumur ha Cith, Under Thief of The Masquerade.”

At Zamara’s inquiry, Sumur explained that he had journeyed far from the Masquerade’s base of operations in a distant Queendom to visit his cousin in the nearby city of Quntira.

“The Masquerade is not legally permitted to operate within the Empire,” Zamara explained. “Regardless to laws elsewhere, your operations here are a crime against the Emperor of Greater Imuul. Perhaps you were unaware previously.”

“My lady, legality, is not within my sight. I care not.”

“Nevertheless, you seem like a decent person. Or at least not an overly wicked one. If we meet on Arudah’s shores, I would gladly share wine with you again. I must tell you, however, should we meet again within the Empire, we shall not share wine and I shall not greet you in kindness. I'm certain you understand.”

And with that, Zamara spilled wine for Haddan, the god of storms and the ocean. Then she spilled wine for those who’d died. Then she drank the rest, sealing the contract between the party and Sumur.

“Shame to be so stiff,” Sumur commented. “But I shall feel no pity if we meet again and Taro must kill you. However, I doubt we will meet again, unless it be in Quntira or Cith.”

To which Zamara just curtly smiled.

As the groups parted ways, Sumur then told the group that, if it should make Jamar the Tailor feel any better, Sumur’s cousin in Quntira may be willing to put him to work as his personal tailor. But he also spoke cryptically to Zahra.

“Give word to your...Hareesh: ‘In the passing thrice hence of Lantern’s Night, and seven dawns to golden dusk before it, the green will be good, the boar will be swift, and wine will flow from silver fountains in the harrow of the stone. Keep the blue fires lit, Walkers may be abroad. Or so have I heard the ravens say.’ See he gets the words as such, if you will.”

“I will,” Zahra replied, eyes wide. “But, how do you know of him?”

“I do not know him personally. But I have heard the stories, and you mentioned the name as well as, your bestial shape.”

“Still, seems like you put that together rather quickly. But, I thank you for the message.”

“Well my dear, you would be the envy of many for the blessing you have in life. I am more a stranger to such things than you, but I have...good neighbors. ‘Til we meet again.”

And with that, the party left. They returned the clothing they acquired to Jamar the Tailor who, though thankful, could not offer any compensation, but gave his thanks and promised to remember them. Hauku was still missing, the party were banged up from a failed attempt at heroics, everyone had lost a lot of their money, and they were still under village-arrest. But at least they hadn’t died and Jamar got some of his fabulous clothes back.

Which is where we’ll end this episode.

2016-12-20, 04:24 PM
Episode 102.5

Anya Dobronov - 1st Level Human Druid. A stoic proficient in dinosaur husbandry. A reluctant hero who’s only involved because things keep coming up that involve her.

Ta Ramarupi Wa Hauku - 1st Level Kore’Noa Cleric of Dhruvashar, Abassi’s DMPC. A ferretperson who is currently missing. Irreverent to mortal authority, but utterly adorable.

Raziel “Razi” ha Shef - 1st Level Human Rogue. Anya’s boyfriend, a scrawny goof who apparently has a high pain threshold. Eager for adventure and unquestioningly loyal to his companions.

Zahra of the Waterfall - 1st Level Human Barbarian. A borderline feral teenager with a big sword. Overconfident and lacking in social graces. Deadly when bored.

Zamara ha Nadin - 1st Level Human Fighter, my DMPC. A nobleman’s daughter who’s probably about to lose all of her land and titles. Rational and diplomatic to a fault.

Who Knows Who and How:
Zamara and Zahra are friends.
Zamara knows Razi.
Razi is romantically involved with Anya.
Anya is friends with Hauku.

One-on-one DnD sessions are unique beasts. They have encompassed some of the most fascinating roleplaying experiences and fulfilling storytelling endeavors I’ve ever been a part of. Certainly, they lack the comradery of full-party sessions, but it’s much easier to sit down and be completely immersed in a one-on-one session. It’s a far more intimate roleplaying situation. The majority of my experiences in that arena have been with my co-DM, Abassi.

As I touched on in the previous entry, at this point in the UC, we were still under the impression that we would be players as well as DMs in the campaign. We were alternating roles. So, naturally, when one of our characters had to be written out of an episode, we thought perhaps we could set up small interludes between episodes to flesh out what those characters were doing while the party was missing them. This was meant to get those characters up to the same level of XP as the rest of the party and potentially to fill in the other DM on relevant plot information to provide to the others when they rejoined the party.

So between Episode 102 and Episode 103, I DMed a one-on-one session for Abassi that was meant to address the burning question left unanswered in the previous episode: Where is Hauku?

Now, to recount the entirety of this interlude would take about the length of a full episode and that’s not quite what this needs to be. While elements introduced in this interlude reappeared in the UC proper later on and certain details from this interlude became immediately important for the episode we’re about to cover, a great deal of this information never became public knowledge. To this day, nearly two years later in reality and in-game, our players and party don’t know a lot of the details of this interlude.

That puts me in a weird position as someone recounting and commenting on the series. What do I leave in? What do I excise? How do I treat this for the purposes of this telling? It’s all written down, this particular session was all in text, I could could copy, paste, and format it; give it to the world verbatim. But that would distract from the episode itself. And the episode is what matters.

So I will present, here, an abridged version of the interlude session.

The interlude began with Hauku waking up after a long rest. Or, at least, it was presumed that she had woken up. She distinctly recalled falling asleep after the Feast of the Waterfall. Certainly she had slept. Logic dictated that now, standing in a field of tall grass, she had woken up.

Of course, logic also would beg the question of how she had arrived in such a field. Or why the sun shone so brightly in spite of the overcast skies that had dominated the world well into spring that year. Or how it was that she came to be walking down the natural pathway that she now strode upon. But Hauku was a simple Kore’Noa and logic, for the verminfolk, is much less a burden than it is for we mere humans.

So onward Hauku walked down a path both familiar and unknowable. It was a pathway utterly alien to her, one she had never before seen, yet one she knew by heart. Something within her told her to follow and so she followed until (with only a momentary delay to discuss philosophy and eggs with two mice and a cat) she came to a place she knew much better.

As the natural, unnatural trail gave way to a more man-made path, Hauku found herself trekking toward Rasid’s parish. She’d been living and working at the parish for a year at that point, keeping and tending to the various animals at the farmhouse as well as helping tend to the other flock that often stopped by.

Being a small parish for a small village, Rasid’s makeshift temple consisted primarily of his family’s farmhouse (two or three generations old) and a barn. The temple, such as it was, existed as an addition to the house proper; a simple room built onto one side of the small home.

As she arrived, the clear blue warmth of spring gave way to overcast gray and cold winds. It was as though she’d walked, half-dreaming, to the parish and only now was waking to reality. But this sudden change in weather didn’t concern Hauku overly much. She simply shrugged and continued on to the parish.

Noticing the door to the barn standing open, Hauku’s heart jumped. The thought of foxes invading the farmstead filled her mind as she rushed forward into the barn to check on the animals therein.

But within she found a strange sight. Although it was midday, all the animals in the barn were asleep. So asleep, in fact, that Hauku found it impossible to rouse them. An investigation revealed that all the animals were accounted for except for one. Hauku’s favorite chicken was missing.

Even further investigation of the farmhouse found Rasid himself asleep at his desk, spilled ink obscuring a letter he had been writing before nodding off.

Hauku then walked toward the makeshift chapel to check on the state of Arne the Hunter. The centaur, since his encounter with the Drakes of Dohabi and subsequent rescue from same, had been staying at Rasid’s parish in order to receive medical attention. The chapel had served as his quarters during that time. But as she walked toward the chapel, down out of the rafters some massive brown and white thing lurched out at her.

Hauku’s Reflexes weren’t quite fast enough to save her from the enormous blur of feathers as her favorite chicken hurtled down toward her from above. The chicken knocked Hauku flat on her back and, being very inconsiderate, strutted away from the scene and down the hall. As Hauku righted herself, she saw the chicken disappear into Rasid’s bedchamber.

The ferret considered her options for a moment, then went and retrieved her butterfly net from her cart in the barn. Returning to the house, Hauku began to Stealth her way to the chicken. And critically succeeded.

Making her way as silently and obscure as ferretly possible, she entered Rasid’s bedchamber. But she saw no chicken. There were feathers, but no chicken.

Which perplexed Hauku. Where else could it have been? The farmhouse wasn’t very large.

She then recalled how Rasid had told her he’d survived when the original Drake of Dohabi had come upon Ha Taleem. A crawlspace existed somewhere in that very chamber. One just big enough for a child. Or a Kore’Noa. Or a chicken.

But before looking for that, Hauku thought she’d use a more tried and true method of locating fowl.

“Heeeeeere chicky chicky chicky, heeere chicky,” Hauku called.

Or, rather, that’s what Hauku would have called. But when she opened her mouth, no words came forth. And thinking back, Hauku was surprised to realize, there had been no sound at all since she arrived in the farmhouse. When the chicken came down from the rafters, it had been utterly silent. When she’d fallen, there’d be no noise. Her calls had no voice.

It was in that moment that Hauku began to suspect that the farmhouse--the whole parish--must be under the influence of some kind of powerful spell. Her knowledge of Arcana told her such a thing would be possible, but to Silence such a large area, she knew, would require potent magic.

But first things last. Hauku had to find that chicken. So she started looking around for the crawlspace Rasid had told her about. A thorough search of the room later, Hauku had found a small hole under Rasid’s bedding.

Squirming into the hole, Hauku bumped her head on a small lockbox, but kept going forward. The crawlspace, as it turned out, was not just some hole in the ground. It was actually a fairly deep tunnel leading downward into darkness. Fearing that the chicken had somehow gotten into it and was now alone in the dark, Hauku squeezed onward.

What seemed like miles of crawling later, Hauku finally came to a place where she heard movement ahead of her. Yes. Heard.

Hauku heard her favorite chicken up ahead and, hurrying toward it, she finally laid eyes on it once again as it stood, cornered, in a pool of light. They had come to the end of the tunnel and the chicken had nowhere left to go. A swoop of a net later, Hauku had caught her chicken. But a few feet above them, Hauku heard voices.

“--o cause for concern,” A noble voice said.

“But if what he says is true, shouldn't we investigate?” asked a woman.

Hauku petted her chicken, through the netting, and listened.

“I was there,” came the voice of Arne. “The creatures were not even fully grown and, yet, they overcame us. If their presence means that Akash--”

The noble voice cut him off, “Akash is no longer a danger to anything which walks, flies, swims, or crawls, centaur.”

The woman’s voice again. “We all witnessed his ruin, this is true. But he has cheated destruction before. If he has returned somehow to his strength--”

Again, the noblest voice cut in, “Think before you question the work of your betters.”

“No one is questioning your handiwork, guardian,” the centaur soothed. “Only whether or not Akash was more clever than we expected. The mere presence of the drakes indicates that there were more eggs than we accounted for.”

“The eggs which have now hatched and been disposed of were spawned by a renegade creature which, itself, was dealt with,” The regal one replied. “Akash thought himself clever. He thought himself able to outwit even I. He reaped the consequences.”

“Is it not wisdom to at least investigate Castle Khorsabur?” the feminine voice asked. “If there is even a chance that some of Akash's abominations might persist, is it not our duty to--”

Again the majestic voice cut her off, “Speak not of duty to me, Nida of Essalon. I have no duty to any mananimal nor to any of their burrows. My work has been done. The younglings which slew the drakes have destroyed the last remnant of Akash's work. It is finished. You have wasted my time.”

At this, a woosh of air filled the place above Hauku and Hauku knew--felt--that one of the people above her had departed.

“That,” Arne verbally winced. “Might have gone better.”

“The Fae are always so hard-headed!” Nida exclaimed with a sigh.

“Careful, girl,” the centaur warned. “He's not out of earshot yet.”

Nida audibly rolled her eyes. After a moment, she asked, “How are you?”

“On the mend,” he replied. A pause and then he clarified, “But not ready to fight any mad alchemists, if that's what you're about to ask.”

A beat.

“I wouldn't ask,” Nida replied. “Two of us aren't enough if Akash has restored himself. Would that Darya were still here…” she trailed off.

“Any word on Jyles?”

“He's fighting a war,” Nida returned. “No time to go stomping around in some gods-forsaken backwater looking for ghosts.”

The centaur shifted where he lay, making some rustling in so doing. After a moment, he reassured her. “He was probably right, you know. Just because there's smoke doesn't necessarily mean there's a drake.”

“And if there is?”


“If there is,” the centaur answered with resignation. “Guess we'll die fighting.”

The sound of footsteps followed, someone walking across the room above Hauku.

“Get better, Arne,” Nida said, opening a door and muttering some words Hauku couldn’t hear or understand. The air popped and crackled, magic beginning to dissipate. More footsteps as a door closed.

And that’s where we ended.

2016-12-20, 04:26 PM
Episode 103

Anya Dobronov - 1st Level Human Druid. A stoic proficient in dinosaur husbandry. A reluctant hero who’s only involved because things keep coming up that involve her.

Ta Ramarupi Wa Hauku - 1st Level Kore’Noa Cleric of Dhruvashar, Abassi’s DMPC. A ferretperson who is currently missing. Irreverent to mortal authority, but utterly adorable.

Raziel “Razi” ha Shef - 1st Level Human Rogue. Anya’s boyfriend, a scrawny goof who apparently has a high pain threshold. Eager for adventure and unquestioningly loyal to his companions.

Zahra of the Waterfall - 1st Level Human Barbarian. A borderline feral teenager with a big sword. Overconfident and lacking in social graces. Deadly when bored.

Zamara ha Nadin - 1st Level Human Fighter, my DMPC. A nobleman’s daughter who’s probably about to lose all of her land and titles. Rational and diplomatic to a fault.

Who Knows Who and How:
Zamara and Zahra are friends.
Zamara knows Razi.
Razi is romantically involved with Anya.
Anya is friends with Hauku.

Last time!

Stuck in the village of Ha Taleem while the investigation into Lord Nadin’s apparent death unfolds, the party went looking for their friend, Hauku, who had gone missing early one morning. But before they could find the small Kore’Noa, they got caught up in another adventure entirely. Which quickly led to them breaking their village-arrest so that they could leave town to help.

It seemed that a tailor’s apprentice had been waylaid on the highway and a bunch of his valuable garments had been stolen (garments that he needed to submit to a master tailor who would judge his work to see if he was worthy of high-level training). So Zamara volunteered the party to track down the bandits and save his clothes. Because she’s noble like that.

Well, after some tracking, the party found the bandits (who were all very fabulous by way of their clothes and their demeanor). Zamara tried to peacefully negotiate the surrender of the garments, but once the rest of the party were revealed, things went sideways pretty quick. Eventually, Zahra got bored and decided to try Advanced Diplomacy (the kind with a sword).

The subsequent fight left a bunch of the bandits dead, most of the clothes ruined, and Zahra captured by the bandits. The bandits, however, had no interest in killing Zahra or the rest of the party, so negotiations began anew, just with the bandits having far more bargaining chips than the party had. Ultimately, the party gave up all their valuable possessions and got back most of the not-ruined clothes.

It was a pyrrhic victory if it was a victory at all.

So that brings us to the new episode. Structurally speaking, I’d actually want to put “Hen of Providence” as the lead-in to this episode. That’s how I’d open this episode if it were actually a TV show. Hauku’s whereabouts in the previous episode are explained, cut to the opening theme or a late title card.

Here, in this weird director’s commentary-type thing on a forum, however, that wasn’t possible. I exceeded the character limit because I’m wordy and I won’t trim it down by over a thousand characters because I’m lazy. So here’s two updates in one day.

I’m also going to give you guys yet another peek behind the curtain. Here’s another glimpse at what I’d wanted to accomplish this episode; what I planned on doing.

The Flow of Episode concept was still being developed at this point and it hasn’t quite reached what I currently consider the “standard” format, but it’s similar enough. Like the eventual format, it’s a bullet point list of what I wanted done as well as some other information that I had written with a little more detail.

As I said with the previous Flow of Episode, it might be best to read this after you’ve read the rest of the episode because, though there aren’t a lot of spoilers and things don’t always necessarily pan out how I want them to, this might spoil you a bit on how things are going to progress for the episode. It’s your call, of course.

The appeal, here, and the reason I post these, is so you can kinda look at what I wanted to do and what actually happened and compare the two. Sometimes things go exactly to plan, sometimes they go horribly awry.

You have been warned.

Flow of game:

- Hauku arrives
- Summoned before the Prince
- Rewards
- Hauku gets to talk
- Castle crawl

Date at start: September 26, 2080
Distance to Castle Khorsabur: ~28 miles (1 day's walk)


Prince Taleem should reward the party by returning to them the bodies of the Drakes that were slain (three of them) and the shells of the drake eggs (7 in all, which are golden in color, the size of footballs, and typically very sought-after; six have either hatched or been destroyed, but one--smaller than the others--remains unhatched and is presumed defective). His reasoning for this is that, as they slew the drakes, they have the right to the bodies of the drakes. He can't reward them officially, but he CAN offer to buy back the drake bodies and eggshells for the modest price of 5000 SILVER (more than most folks' life savings). But he CAN be haggled up to 7500 SILVER. The unhatched egg he will offer them an additional 1000 SILVER for.

Prince Taleem will also offer the party an official position within his militia's ranks with an attached salary retainer of 20 SILVER every week (a high paying job). If they accept, he will honor them with the unique titles of "Specialist" denoting their unique skill set and from that point forward they'll be called in to work on the stranger and more delicate problems the Prince encounters. They'll have to swear an oath to the Prince to serve him and the people of Imuul to the best of their ability, but they'll retain their freedom of movement. Just whenever the Prince sends a summons to them, they'll be expected to try to attend his court.

If the party accepts Prince Taleem's offer to sell him the Drake bodies and also accepts his offer to work for him, he will have fashioned for them each a dress uniform made from the hide of the Drakes of Dohabi. Figure out the stats later.

Anyway. On to the episode.

When we were first conceptualizing the UC--months before any dice were rolled--I decided I wanted to use the UC to run some adventure paths. Nothing long-term, not campaign-length published adventures, just simpler, standalone adventures. I hadn’t had many chances to run adventures based on pre-existing material before and, even if I had to adapt them to fit our campaign setting, I was interested in trying that out here.

Part of my reasoning was that I wanted to see if it made DMing easier. I wanted to see if DM fatigue could be staved off better if half of the work was done for you by some other, professional DM. Sure, I’d run Tomb of Horrors before. I’d run Scourge of the Howling Horde (in part). But I’d never really gotten to do a standalone story within a larger campaign. It was an idea that interested me and the quasi-episodic nature of the UC seemed like it would be conducive to that.

So I picked a module and decided “I’m gonna run an episode based on this module.”

The module I picked was Castle Caldwell and Beyond. I like older modules. There’s less of a chance that someone in my group is aware of them and they’ve got this charm to them that a lot of modern stuff doesn’t have. Plus I have this perception that older DMs just didn’t care if their party faced “fair” challenges and that speaks to me on a philosophical level. If the party can rise to the occasion, great! If they can’t, they can die. That’s life, man. None of this hand-holding “game balance” nonsense.

I’m being hyperbolic.

I’m also digressing.

I build this episode based on the first scenario presented in that module. “The Clearing of Castle Caldwell.” It’s not a story-driven adventure (because most of the adventures of the time weren’t), it’s actually a pretty straight-forward dungeon crawl. I reskinned it a bit, made some changes, and basically ended up taking the map and the barest bones of the premise. The rest of the episode was built mostly from scratch. So while Harry Nuckols might get an executive producer credit on this one, he doesn’t really get a writing credit. The majority of this episode is all me.

The episode began with Hauku and the party meeting up the day following the party’s escapades with the fabulous bandits. Upon their return to Ha Taleem, the party gave Jamar the Tailor the garments they hadn’t destroyed and decided to return to the quarters that Lord Regent Mohnir had provided for them in the village. When they arrived, they found Hauku tottering up at about the same time.

Reunited, both sides shared their respective stories (or at least portions thereof). The party explained their adventure and Hauku explained her pursuit of the Hen of Providence (for so she now named her favorite chicken) and the conversation she had overheard.

For those who, for whatever reason, may have skipped over the long-form summary of said conversation, Hauku explained that she’d heard Arne the Hunter (the centaur the party had rescued), Nida (Razi’s adoptive mother), and a third, noble-sounding individual referred to as Guardian discussing the Drakes of Dohabi, postulating that the drakes were symptomatic of the return of some mad alchemist known as “Akash.”

Zahra soon postulated that the “Guardian” Hauku had heard speak may have been her guardian, Hareesh (Hareesh meaning, in fact, Guardian in the Albiz tongue). Hareesh was a Fae and he’d “raised” Zahra from infancy in Dohabi. When the original Drake of Dohabi (no mere hatchling like the party had bested, but a full-grown drake) had terrorized Ha Taleem, it was Hareesh who’d defeated it single-handedly, turning it to solid wood. The idea that someone, this Akash, might have not only been behind the drakes, but might have tangled with Hareesh and walked away from it put the party ill at ease. They needed to know more.

And Zahra figured that they had the perfect person to ask: Arne. The centaur had been like a close uncle to Zahra when she was growing up. Hareesh, as Fae are wont to do, often ventured far from his demesne and his charge, leaving Zahra essentially on her own most of the time. The only reason she never became entirely feral was due to Arne’s influence.

Arne had taught her to hunt, how to trap, and how to survive in the wild. An old soldier far from home, he’d also been the one to teach her how to use weapons and armor. It was through Arne’s tutelage, not Hareesh’s, that Zahra learned most of the skills at her disposal. It was by his kindness that she’d lived to adolescence.

Similar could be said of Razi and Nida’s relationship. Nida had found Razi dying on the streets of the great city Kutaf. She’d saved his life, nursed his wounds, and taken him in. Together, they’d traveled far from Kutaf to another nation entirely to make a simpler life for themselves. Nida had given Razi something he’d never knew before: home, family. She also gave him training.

And now it seemed that Hareesh, Arne, and Nida not only all knew one another, but were also connected somehow by this strange, mad magi known as Akash. Had the party’s meeting--even their friendship--been mere chance circumstance or was something more grand urging them together?

They decided to head to Rasid’s parish to speak with Arne and find out what they could about Akash and the mysterious Castle Khorsabur.

Before they could sneak out of town, however, they were hailed by a guard called Nasim.

Nasim asked the party if they were the ones who had gone into Dohabi and slain the drakes therein. Hauku and Anya attempted to convince the guard that they were not, in fact, the droids he was looking for and proceeded to walk off as if they’d answered his questions to the best of their ability and were really busy just then. Razi, on the other hand, was more insistent on handling things the right way and called after Anya to come back. Saying her name confirmed for the somewhat befuddled Nasim that they were who he’d thought they were and, thus, their Bluff checks were thwarted.

But Hauku kept on walking because Hauku doesn’t respect mortal authority.

Nasim, obviously the rookie of the squad, stopped Hauku’s egress with aggressive kindness and informed the party that His Glory Prince Taleem had returned and, now, requested they attend him at his manse. While this assuaged the rest of the party’s misgivings about being stopped (presuming that, hey, maybe after we talk to the “mayor” as Razi called him even though he’s a Prince, they’ll just let you LEAVE the town), Hauku was not so easily persuaded.

Because my co-DM has to be contrary, I guess.

“Hauku has to check on the chickens,” she informed Nasim.

“Apologies, little one, but the Prince is not one to be kept waiting. I will have to ask that you come as well.”

Hauku motioned the deputy closer and whispered into his ear, "The Hen of Providence must not be kept waiting either."
Nasim blinked.

Hauku looked at him, deadly serious.

Nasim, not being paid enough to contend with Kore’Noa logic, replied, “I am certain your words have deep meaning, adept. I offer no insult. However, my Lord commands and I must obey. I am forced to insist.”

“Hauku is commanded by a greater lord than your lord,” Hauku affirmed.

Nasim saw the truth in those words and, a Diplomacy check later, he was happy to let Hauku (but only Hauku) go on her way while the others saw the Prince. He didn’t want to offend Dhruvashar and he also probably just wasn’t prepared for that kind of debate so early in the day. Hauku, for her part, was perfectly happy waddling off to the parish ahead of everyone else while they handled that whole “murder investigation” thing.

So while Hauku went off to handle her own ferret-y affairs, the rest of the party were escorted to Prince Taleem’s manse in the middle of the village.

Ha Taleem, as a village, basically grew up around Prince Taleem’s homestead. The village name, in Albiz, literally translates to “Of Taleem.” Though there were settlers in the area before Prince Taleem and his people came, the Prince’s entourage and his mere presence was what caused the settlement to bloom on the frontier. He brought civilization to the wild.

By this time, Ha Taleem was a small community that sprawled out around the grounds of Prince Taleem’s manse. Certainly there were a few outlying manses belonging to other local Lords, but it would be safe to presume that the majority of the 507 people who called the community home lived within walking distance of the manse. Which is relatively typical in this region of Kasmuria.

Albiz society developed around the concept of population centers and communities. There’s a sense of togetherness, of safety in numbers, of familial ties, that is intrinsic to the Albiz way of thinking. There are only a few dozen villages, cities, and towns in the whole region despite it being roughly the size of the Americas. But those few that exist are usually where all the people are. There are absolutely some outliers, people who like to live off by themselves, but they’re fewer and farther between than in reality.

Regardless, the walk to Prince Taleem’s manse was a pretty quiet one for the party. Their arrival was largely uneventful as well, lacking any real pomp or circumstance. The simply arrived at the archway leading up the walkway to the manse, were led past the guards, into the manse, and brought to a sitting room.

Prince Taleem was an older man (from the party’s teenage perspective), but not an old man. He wore dark robes and a large turban. One of the arms of the robe hung hollow, the Prince’s dead arm folded up in a sling beneath it. He leaned on the other as they were brought in, considering them.

After a copious amount of bowing and scraping and “Your Glory”ing (Razi was intent on not giving offense, the polar opposite of Hauku’s experience with Lord Mohnir), the party were seated. Prince Taleem, not actually one for putting on airs, thanked the party for attending him and restated the circumstances that brought them to his attention. Their trip into Dohabi at Zamara’s request, their encounter with the drakes there, their rescue of Arne and Rasid (though Lord Nadin was missing and presumed dead). It was quite a tale his men had told him when he returned.

In addressing the situation, Prince Taleem informed the group that the investigation into their actions had been concluded. They had been cleared of any wrongdoing, intentional or otherwise. Everything his deputies had discovered or learned seemed to corroborate their version of events. They were innocent.

More than that, they were to be commended for their actions. Prince Taleem saw their slaying of the drakes in Dohabi as a brave thing, one worthy of praise. Though he could offer them no tangible reward, he told them, he would be happy to offer them the return of the drake bodies that they had recovered. They had killed the beasts, it would seem only appropriate that they receive the hides if they so desired.

The party had no interest in drakeskin. Why would they? That’s dumb. Potential applications in armor? Nah. If it doesn’t glitter, it has no value.

Moreover, they had no particular interest in being returned the eggshells of the drakes when offered them. There was, however, some interest from Anya in keeping an in-tact drake egg that was suspected to be inert.

The party’s slaying of the drakes had done a huge boon for Prince Taleem and engendered a fair bit of appreciation in him. He also saw something of himself in these young adventurers, himself having been a thrill-seeker as a youth.

So Prince Taleem offered the party a deal. He couldn’t give them financial compensation (because the Empire of Imuul has strict laws against financially rewarding adventurers who aren’t part of the Brotherhood of the Coin, a large mercenary guild with a legal monopoly on adventuring for financial gain). But he could purchase the drake materials from the party. Which, effectively, was the same thing. But it wasn’t legally the same thing and that’s what mattered.

He further asked the party if they’d like to work for him on an ongoing basis, handling any strange or interesting matters that might arise and need addressing. He offered a fairly high-end salary, even. They would, of course, have to swear an oath to serve him loyally.

Which is where I lost the players. They chafe under any authority but their own, you see, and as soon as “work for me” came up they were like, “Nah, we’re good. We’d rather have no reliable source of income or steady supply of adventures than have to promise to work for a living.”

It was a real bummer, too. Prince Taleem would have been a great boss for them and could have given them resources they’d otherwise have had to pay for. I specifically wrote him and played him like the kind of guy you’d want to work for. He was a merciful, kind master and he would have been a little too forgiving when they needed him to be. They also would have gotten cool dress uniforms made out of the drakes.

But they turned him down.

So Prince Taleem loaded the party down with silver (that being the most common currency for paying wages) and sent them on their way. Zamara, however, he requested to stay with him for a while so that they could discuss her circumstances and the impending loss of her family’s wealth and status.

After walking for several hours, they eventually arrived at Rasid’s parish. Razi and Zahra were packed high with chests full of silver while Anya hugged her giant egg to her chest like she was Misty with Togepi. Things were more or less normal at the parish by then, chickens and other assorted animals just milling around on the quiet farmstead. Hauku waited by her cart, grooming her donkey.

The group greeted Hauku and Hauku greeted them...until she saw the egg Anya was carrying. For reasons never really clear to the party, Hauku suddenly began to panic at the sight of the egg and ran around like...well...a chicken with its head cut off. Her friends trailing her, Hauku ran into the farmhouse and to the chapel, waking Arne from his sleep and causing quite a ruckus.

As the others watched on in confusion, a chicken suddenly jumped up and slapped Hauku, dazing her and snapping her out of whatever mania she had been in. The chicken then strutted off as Hauku rubbed her cheek.

Assuming, “Eh, it’s just a Kore’Noa thing,” Anya (who had stashed away the egg in the meantime) and Razi tried to sooth Hauku and get her mind off of whatever had come over her just then. While they did that, Zahra asked Arne about the matters at hand.

She started with the obvious, asking how he was. The drakes had done a number on him, acid and all. Healing--magical or otherwise--could only do so much. By the time they’d found him, his wounds were a few days old and he’d been on the brink of death. Hauku, who’d seen to some of his nursing first-hand, estimated that he’d never be able to walk quite right again.

Arne (who, for the record, sounds like a weird cross between Bobby Singer from Supernatural and Wolverine from X-Men: The Animated Series), for his part, told Zahra that he was fine. He was obviously lying, though, and she knew it.

When pressed about his relationship with Hareesh and Nida, Arne was evasive. He maintained his acquaintanceship with Hareesh, but didn’t acknowledge knowing Nida at all. Asked about the nature of the drakes, Arne, again, obviously lied, saying that they were probably just natural creatures who’d gotten out of hand.

Then Hauku said the name “Akash.” And then again. And Arne tensed.

“Hauku will say it three times,” she threatened.

Arne scowled at her and warned her against it.

“Aha! It’s a djinn!” Hauku cried, presuming to have solved the mystery of who--or what--Akash was.

“Not a djinn,” Arne corrected. “Just a man. But a dangerous one. I don’t know how you learned the name, but you’d best forget it.”

Zahra asked for more information, but Arne wasn’t giving any. He just warned them away from pursuing it any further. Which is, obviously, exactly how you get people to pursue something.

Stonewalled by the centaur, the party humored Hauku’s insistence to identify the large egg Anya had in her possession. It clearly wasn’t a drake egg, their knowledge of Nature told them that much. But between all of them, they couldn’t seem to figure out what kind of egg it was, only what it wasn’t.

So Hauku insisted that they take it to Rasid. He was a holyman, surely he could figure out if it was evil or not. Rasid super isn’t that kind of holyman, by the way. He’s just a nice guy who knows some religion and a little first aid.

So while Rasid and the others examined (and failed to identify) the egg, Zahra slipped off back to Arne’s bedside for some “just between us” talk.

“Arne, I am sorry to bother you,” Zahra plied, walking into the chapel. “Although I know you wish to deny his presence here the other day I have a very important and urgent message for Hareesh, and I need to get it to him as soon as possible, did he give any inclination as to where he would be going?”

Arne, laying with his back facing her, rolled his head to one side to look back, then sighed.

“You know Hareesh better than I do, kid. He'll make himself found when he's good and ready. Fae. Always about their own business. Don't have a mind for anything but their own work. Can't guess 'em.”

Zahra let out a sigh of her own, "I know, I just don't know how much time I have to get this to him. It's frustrating not knowing when I will see him next. He has always been that way, but as I said I merely hoped he may have slipped a piece of information to you of his whereabouts so I would know where to look. I suppose you are right though, he will find me."

Arne snorted in amusement, “In my experience, kid, a Fae's never late or early. They always arrive right on time. If you've got a message, it'll get to him when he's meant to get it.”

“I suppose,” Zahra said, dejected. “Thank you anyway.”


A beat.

“Hey,” Arne broke the silence as Zahra was walking out of the chapel again. “I know what you're gonna do. Don't go dying.”

“I'd like to think I retain some mystery. And I promise not to die as long as you promise me you won't go dying either.”

“Hmph,” the centaur snorted. “Nabiri carry you, then.”

And then Zahra left to rejoin her friends. Her friends who, as it would happen were still debating the nature of the egg, what to do with it, and whether or not they should now be trying to ask Nida about Akash and the drakes.

When Zahra returned, Hauku was asking a stray chicken if it believed the egg in Anya’s possession to be a bad omen. The chicken flapped its wings, bobbed its head, and strutted off. Hauku was thus convinced that the strange egg was an omen of pure evil.

Soon thereafter, the party left Rasid’s parish. While they did, ultimately, decide to ask Nida, they found her missing from she and Razi’s home. Arriving there, they found no sign of Nida, but some of the (sparse) furniture had been moved out of place. Examining it, Razi found a false bottom to the floor of the home. Inside was an empty chest.

Hauku speculated that Nida had left to “go get people with big swords to come back and deal with the hoodoo.”

Fresh out of leads, the party returned to Rasid’s parish to ask the holyman about Akash. They reasoned that since Rasid’s family had lived in the area well before the village was founded, perhaps he’d know something more about the history of the place than most would. And being as he was a holyman, Hauku elected to do most of the talking.

They found Rasid in his study, working on a letter he’d previously attempted to write before falling asleep and spilling ink across the whole thing. Hauku greeted him and asked, “Has good Rasid ever heard of castles in the Dohabi?”

“Castles?” Rasid questioned and began considering.

“Or ruins,” Hauku offered. “Or barrows, or dens. Whatever a people in the Dohabi might have lived in.” Hauku thought for a moment, rubbing her face, “Hauku has always liked ships best and dens second best.”

“When I was a lad,” the older man thought aloud. “I believe I recall hearing my father tell a story about some great lord or another who lived in the swamps. A hermit, I believe, though wealthy. Built some great keep or another out there in the mists. Foolishness if you ask me. Who would want to live in Dohabi?”

Zahra silently took offense, though surely none was given.

“The truth is, if there IS any such structure, I'm sure it's well-destroyed by now. The thing was old when my grandfather was young,” Rasid decided. “It had a name. Castle...Corrah? Castle Kurpah?” he wondered. Then, revelation hit, “Ah! I remember!”

He drew a rough map on the back of an ink-stained letter. “Castle Khorsabur!”

Hauku apologized for the ruined note, but Rasid shook it off. “Hrm? Oh. Think nothing of it. A blunder of an old fool! Fell asleep writing a note, I'm afraid.”

Hauku patted Rasid on the shoulder, reassuringly, “It is okay, Good Rasid cannot be expected to be as resilient as favorite chicken.” And then, taking the hastily-drawn map, Hauku tottered off. The rest of the party followed after.

Leaving the lion’s share of their silver at the parish, the party took a measure of their funds to Ha Taleem and, after purchasing some horses and debating the wisdom of riding off into unknown danger, they struck out for Dohabi once more.

Along the way, Zahra wondered why Hauku had thought Akash was a djinn. Hauku responded that it was a reasoned guess based on Arne’s reaction to the threat of the name being said thrice. Hauku explained that if a djinn’s name is said three times, it is compelled to appear before the person who says its name.

Zahra then wondered if, perhaps, Fae functioned based on similar principles. Willing to take the risk, she called out Hareesh’s name three times in succession. But nothing happened.

“He is apparently not a djinn,” Hauku decided. “If you call them three times they come and get sooooooooo mad.”

“Hauku!” Zahra exclaimed. “What if he came and was mad! He hasn't been mad at me in years…” she trailed off.

“Hauku thought he was Zahra's friend, so maybe not get so mad.”

They rode for a bit. Dohabi came upon them and they went into its darkness headlong.

“Oh,” Hauku said. “Guardian must not worry about you much. Hauku is thinking he heard. Maybe he's not worried because it is aaaaall okay. We should check! It is like Hauku's big brother Ahuru, he trusted Hauku to swim in shark infested water. And it was fiiiiiine.”

“You swam in shark infested waters and lived?” Zahra questioned.

“Hauku's father was not happy,” Hauku admitted. “But it was fiiiiine. Kore'Noa swim very well. Brother would not have let Hauku if it would not have turned out fiiine.”

“I should hope not,” Zahra said, thoughtfully.

Before long, they had come upon a thick area of swampland not far from where they’d fought the drakes before. A winding, twisted, ancient path lay before them and the party followed it. At the path’s end, a broken, single-story hulk of stone sat upon a man-made hill. From a half-ruined tower hung a limp, tattered, brown banner emblazoned with a white wolf’s head. They could only assume that it was the place they searched for, Castle Khorsabur.

The group dismounted and tied their horses (and donkey cart) a ways out from the castle. They strapped on the full kit of their armors, unslung their weapons, and began their approach.

Silent as they could manage, Stealthy as they could manage, Razi led the group up the ramp leading to the castle’s archway. Treacherous, swampy ground lay all around them, but some bygone feat of engineering had ensured that the castle remained standing in the half-liquid wastes.

At the top of the ramp, beyond the archway, the party found that whatever portcullis had once barred entrance to the castle was utterly sundered. The skeleton of the castle gate remained, smashed in by some enormous force of energy long ago. Scorch marks, decades old, were barely visible on the stonework.

Passing through the ruined portal and into the castle, the party heard voices. Dwarven voices. And though Razi and Zahra both spoke the dwarf tongue, these voices were speaking some more primitive form of it, something wilder.

It was decided that the quietest among them should go and scout out the castle so that they knew what they were getting into. Razi, being rather well-versed in being sneaky, and Hauku, being very small and able to see in the dark, went ahead.

Together, the two managed to follow the hall the entire circumference of the castle. They never opened a single door, but they walked through every open area available to them without issue. Stopping at every door, Razi put together a rough estimate of how many dwarves were present. Based on Razi’s Perception, he believed that a whole tribe of dwarves had taken the ruined castle as their home.

Creeping through a door at last, Hauku and Razi found themselves looking into a courtyard. In its center, atop a makeshift throne, a dwarf sat, debating something loudly with two other dwarves. Razi and Hauku decided that comedic hijinks needsmust ensue.

Hauku spread her marbles along the floor outside the door and Razi entered to try to talk to the dwarf chieftain. The “plan” was, if things went sideways, Razi would leave the room, drawing the dwarves out behind him. As the first one came through the door, slipping on the marbles, Hauku would Create Water on him and shout “HURRICANE!” because Muppets jokes.

So Razi went into the room and tried to find out if the dwarf chieftain was Akash or knew of him. The dwarf chieftain, in response, demanded to know who Razi was, why he was here, and why he shouldn’t just kill him where he stood.

Razi did not have particularly good answers. Also, he spoke to them, specifically, in Southern Common which...who knows if they even spoke that? He said who he was and...that he was there to deliver a letter! Yeah! A letter! Then he decided to turn it around and ask the dwarf who he was. Y’know. To make sure he was the guy who was supposed to get the letter.

To which the dwarf chieftain, said something along the lines of, “I am Dulgar Whitemane, Chieftain of the Whitemane Tribe.”

“So you’re not Akash?”

“Whoever that might be, I am not they.”

“That’s disappointing.”

“Don’t worry,” The unusually well-spoken tribal dwarf replied. “I’ll soon free you of the burden of caring.”

At which point Dulgar had his men pull out weapons to attack Razi.

So Razi ran, screaming bloody murder. Behind him, Dulgar commanded the alarm to be raised, there was at least one intruder in the castle and he wanted any others brought before him, dead or alive.

A dwarf charged after Razi, but Hauku’s brilliant plan worked. He tripped on her marbles and soon met a faceful of water as Hauku yelled “HURRICANE!” and Razi slammed the door behind him. The two then waylaid the prone and very confused dwarf, knocking him unconscious before retreating further.

Regrouping with the others, Razi explained that they’d stumbled into the current home of the Whitemane Tribe (who Zahra recognized as being one of the most fearsome dwarven tribes then-inhabiting Dohabi). The group then debated leaving or fighting, being pretty split on the matter. It was obvious Akash wasn’t in the castle and, if Akash wasn’t there, why should they be there? But at the same time, if they just ran, wouldn’t the dwarves chase them? Then again, they did have horses. But did they really want to try to run relatively blindly through Dohabi?

Before they could come to a conclusion, a conclusion came to them in the form of several dwarven savages. With their crude (by human standards) weapons, the dwarves assailed the party and Initiative was rolled.

As usual, Asya the raptor and Zahra were the big damage-dealers, but Razi definitely held his own. Hauku and Anya pitched in where they could, stabbing and slashing at the dwarves in a desperate effort to stave off the superior numbers. Strangely enough, Zahra (who last episode was happy to kill random bandits) refused to kill a single dwarf. As a result, Asya got most of the kills of the two.

The dwarves came in waves, essentially. One group would attack, be repelled, and then another would come at the party. All the while, the PCs were pulling back. They’d repulse a wave, step back, repulse a wave, step back. They were going for a tactical retreat, but the dwarves weren’t letting them get far.

As they won their way toward the exit, a dwarf rounded the corner and sent Anya to the ground with a mighty stroke. Another, nearby, sounded a horn, summoning more of their numbers.

Zahra Raged.

Greatsword and raptor claws bit into dwarven flesh, rending the hides and leathers the squat savages wore for protection. The darkness of the castle was soon filled with the din of the melee and the smell of irony crimson.

Between wolfman and raptor, another wave was being contended with. Their numbers bogged down the party, but the damage-dealers were holding them off. With Anya down, however, their ability to control the crowd was diminished and, worse still, Asya now attacked without direction.

The dwarves forced a wedge between the prone Anya and her raptor companion. A particularly burly dwarf with an overly large bronze axe menaced the fallen Druid and, at that sight, Razi sprung into action.

The Rogue dashed across the battlefield (avoiding several AOs in so doing) and thrust at the big dwarf with his thin sword.

Roll to hit. Critical threat. Roll to confirm. Confirmed.

Razi’s blade sank to the hilt into the dwarf standing over his fallen love. The momentum and force of the strike sent Razi and dwarf both tumbling ass over teakettle away from Anya. The dwarf was dead instantly, Razi’s blade had taken his heart.

Hauku said a prayer over Anya, restoring her to consciousness.

At the same time, perceiving Razi’s act of bravery even through the darkness, Zahra swung her sword at a dwarf who had stumbled over yet more marbles. As the dwarf fell, Zahra’s blade caught him and the dwarf’s head departed its body. His friend, lying nearby (having also fallen due to the marbles) was traumatized for life.

But where the last few waves had been distinctive from one another, this time was different. This time, the waves came immediately after one another. And they were vicious.

While the party fought on, they were looking much the worse for wear. Zahra was only still moving because of her Rage. Anya was limping along. Hauku had only taken a little damage and Razi was almost perfectly fine. But Asya? The raptor was in a bad way.

In fact, you might say she was unconscious and dying.

Knowing how much the raptor meant to Anya, Razi charged, once more, across the battlefield to help the downed beast. This time, however, he didn’t avoid the AOs quite as well. By the time he arrived, he was wounded. He saved the raptor and contended with the dwarves nearby, but he was, to use a term from another edition, Bloodied.

Asya had been on the front line. She was on one side, Zahra was on the other, and Anya, Hauku, and Razi kind of floated around, holding together the middle. Now Razi was on the front line.

So when a dwarf woman (incidentally the very last dwarf who was coming) came around the corner, weapon ready, Razi wasn’t in a great position to fight her.

The dwarf woman came around the corner. Razi saw her, she saw him. Their eyes met. They both raised their weapons, her just a little bit faster.

She swung wildly.

And the dwarf woman criticaled.

Her axe found tender flesh and, in an arc of scarlet, divorced Razi’s head from its body.

Razi slumped to the ground. Red washed over his shoulders and torso. And he died.

A hush fell over the group.

I’d rolled the damage publically. The damage, by Pathfinder rules, meant instant death. There was no death save, no healing, no last chance. It was just over.

Razi was dead.

He was the first PC to ever actually die in one of our campaigns. And he died fighting a random dwarf woman. Not a drake. Not a big villain. Not even Dulgar. Just a glorified minion.

Anya saw Razi die. Razi hadn’t been a great love to her. Theirs hadn’t been some grand romance. He was safe. He was the potential for a new home, a new place to belong. He was a good man. And he hadn’t deserved to die like that.

So Anya took up her spear and charged at the dwarf woman. And she pinned her to the wall. She pushed her spear into a stone wall.

The dwarf woman died. More dwarves did, too. Zahra ended her Rage and passed out. Hauku slept. But Anya didn’t sleep. Anya just laid her cloak over Razi, nursed Asya, and sat there.

No one saw Dulgar leading the non-combatants out of the castle. No one saw their escape, their mad dash through the swamplands. No one saw their flight from Dohabi.

But as Anya sat there, she did see something. She saw fires. The fire that consumed Grozny, her home city. The fire that would consume Razi’s body. The fire she would feed Dulgar to.

And that’s where we’ll end the episode.

2017-01-03, 07:59 PM
Episode 104
Also Featuring: “Daughter of Faerie”

Back after a brief break for Christmas and New Years!

Anya Dobronov - 1st Level Human Druid. A stoic proficient in dinosaur husbandry. A reluctant hero who just wants a simple, peaceful life, but can’t seem to find it.

Ta Ramarupi Wa Hauku - 1st Level Kore’Noa Cleric of Dhruvashar, Abassi’s DMPC. A ferretperson who wrangles chickens and heals people. Irreverent to mortal authority, utterly adorable.

Raziel “Razi” ha Shef - 1st Level Human Rogue. Anya’s newly-deceased boyfriend. Recently beheaded by a dwarf during the party’s assault on Castle Khorsabur.

Zahra of the Waterfall - 1st Level Human Barbarian. A borderline feral teenage girl raised by a Fae. Has a big sword, turns into a wolfman when angry.

Zamara ha Nadin - 1st Level Human Fighter, my DMPC. A nobleman’s daughter whose father recently passed away. Currently facing the impending loss of her family’s land and titles.

Who Knows Who and How:
Zamara and Zahra are friends.
Zamara knew Razi.
Razi was romantically involved with Anya.
Anya is friends with Hauku.

Reunited with Hauku after a brief period where she was missing, the party set about looking into a mysterious figure known as “Akash.” The mad magi had come to their attention after Hauku eavesdropped on a conversation between Nida (Razi’s adoptive mother), Arne the Hunter (Zahra’s centaur-y pseudo uncle), and Hareesh (Zahra’s Faerie Godmother). There, Hauku had heard of Akash’s involvement in spawning the original Drake of Dohabi and, potentially, the drakes that that the party encountered as well.

After some investigating, the party failed to turn up any leads on Akash himself, being discouraged from pursuing the investigation by Arne. Despite the wise, older centaur’s warnings, however, the party pressed on and looked into a place the magi had once been said to reside in: the Castle Khorsabur, deep within Dohabi.

So naturally, they went right for the Castle. There, they ran afoul of the dwarven Whitemane Tribe and ended up fighting nearly the whole clan right there in the ruins of the Castle. In the battle that followed, Razi, in particular, showed himself to be incredibly brave, twice rushing into danger to save Anya and her raptor Asya. The second time, however, proved to be his undoing.

Razi was beheaded for his efforts.

The party defeated most of the dwarves (the combatants, anyway, the ones that weren’t being led away by Dulgar Whitemane, the Chieftain of the tribe). But Razi was still dead. For good.

Character death--especially permanent character death--is an interesting experience in a group that isn’t entirely used to it. My group had certainly had their characters die before, of course, but the deaths had always had narrative purpose. They’d been more planned out. They’d had build up and there was a readily discernable point.

This? This was kinda new to them.

Someone had died and there had been no real build up to it. A character that had their whole life ahead of them--who hadn’t even come into their own, really--had fallen. This, of course, directly impacted the tone of the next episode and, in turn, impacted the existing plans for that episode.

I can’t say everyone was crestfallen going into this episode, but I can say one thing for certain.

Abassi was mad at me.

She’d intended the next episode to be a light-hearted one. In fact, she’d written it somewhat specifically to engage the player of the character who was now deceased, using a personage from that character’s background as a major NPC.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Abassi is not one to have her plans altered. Being a planner who tries to prepare for every possibility, Abassi stresses when things don’t go the way she anticipates. Especially in those days. She’d failed to account for the possibility of a character dying, randomly, through sheer ill fortune.

So the character’s death had really impacted the episode for her. Now she had to introduce a new character. Now she had to deal with disheartened characters (and possibly disheartened players). Now things had to be a bit more solemn.

Now it couldn’t just be a silly episode about chickens and Kore’Noa.

The random number generator had ensured that we now had more work to do.

So between episodes, we had some things to take care of with the players. I worked with Razi’s player to figure out a new character for her. I helped her work out a character who could be slotted into the game with relative ease and a backstory that could drive the apparently emerging plot of Anya’s revenge forward. And Abassi had a one-on-one session with Zahra.

‘In the passing thrice hence of Lantern’s Night, and seven dawns to golden dusk before it, the green will be good, the boar will be swift, and wine will flow from silver fountains in the harrow of the stone. Keep the blue fires lit, Walkers may be abroad. Or so have I heard the ravens say.’

That’s the message Sumur ha Cith, the Under Thief of the Masquerade, had told Zahra to tell Hareesh. And Zahra, sure that these words held grave, world-shaking importance, was bound to relay them as soon as possible.

Following Razi’s untimely demise, the group had laid their friend to rest near Nida’s cottage. That had been a few days ago. With the party split up to grieve in their own ways, Zahra returned to Dohabi, to the waterfall of her childhood. Passing beneath the falling water on a familiar ledge, Zahra negotiated her way into the cave that had long been her home and, there, found a lithe green man seated on a stone, deep in thought.

Kneeling before him, Zahra greeted the wild-haired figure by his title. “Hareesh?” she said.

“What is it, my little?” Hareesh replied, unmoving and undisturbed.

Zahra, clumsy and awkward, relayed the message given her. Upon its ending, Hareesh’s eye twinkled. Which, with the Fae, may be interpreted literally.

“This is good news,” the Fae man responded. “And bad news,” he said, an instance after. “Making it, more or less, simply...news.”

Zahra scrunched her face up, “But what does it mean?”

“Very little to one who is little,” Hareesh said. Then, looking her up and down as if appraising her, “Even if they have grown quite tall.”

Zahra, of course, presuming literally the worst, questioned, “But, Hareesh, if this concerns our world and if our world is in some sort of danger, should I not try to do something if I am able?”

To which the little Fae laughed and said, “Messages which the ravens bring seldom have anything to do with ‘your’ world, my little. But more importantly, no matter how tall you have become there are some things you ought never try to look in the eye.”

“Such as what?”

“I will not speak of that,” the regal, wee man dismissed. “But it is not good, now that you have grown so tall and your wanderings increase. You wander far from the protection of my waterfall!”

“I did not realize you wished me to stay here,” Zahra said, the tone of a whipped pup in her voice.

“Wished you to stay?” Hareesh questioned. “It is not so much. Your kind grows taller, you are prone to wandering, never content to stay in one place or another, it is your nature. But here is safety, here is a haven. Yet you will always wander, further and further. And now you are very tall, as the wildcat is tall when it fends for itself and does not call back to its mother when it is weary, afraid, or alone.”

"Do you wish me to come back here to you, when I am afraid or weary...or alone?"

“To return here or not, you may, or may not,” Hareesh tilted his head to one side in a gesture that looked like a shrug, but not quite a shrug. “The way is always open to those that know it. But I will not be here for your sake any longer. The ones who are tall, take thought for themselves, and bear their own burdens.”

“But it is not good,” He continued as the thoughtful look returned. “Even so tall, there are still things I would not have you look upon.”

“What things?” Zahra wondered. “I have already looked upon death.” A twinge of pride mixed with unmistakable sorrow clung to her words.

“There are worse things,” Hareesh said. And as he responded, the air felt heavier to Zahra, the world darker. The words themselves seemed to hold their own gravity and as they traveled through the air, they felt as though they might pull Zahra to them, force her into an unwelcome embrace. A grim embrace. An embrace no mortal should ever know.

“But such things might be avoided,” Hareesh said, severing the weight of the words in flight and causing their power to dissipate, returning them to the state of simply being words.

Hareesh put his hands together for a moment, then spread them before Zahra. Upon his open palms lay five pendants shaped like blue fire affixed to simple leather straps. “Choose one,” he instructed her.

“Are they all different?”

“All different, all the same.”

Zahra gestured to the one in the exact middle of the five. And with a gesture of his own, Hareesh caused the other four to vanish, placing the middle one around Zahra’s neck.

“Sometimes he will glow with a green light and be warm to the touch. Sometimes he shall shine with brilliant blue light as a fire and will be so icy to touch that he shall burn. Only to you and to no others shall he reveal his light. When he glows blue, you must hide, for that is the warning of things I do not wish you to face.”

Zahra had never received a gift from Hareesh before. Well, not since he gave her the gift of pockets, that is. Such a tremendous gift that was. And thise gift, too, would surely be a wonderful one.

It was then that Zahra did what once must never do with a Fae--well, one of many such things--she gave thanks. Fae, of course, take horrible offense at being given thanks. It is, to them, an insult, you see. Thanks is offered when one does you a kindness you would not have expected from them. To imply any Fae is lacking in the utmost kindness is, well, rather like slapping them in the face (an actual slap in the face being more akin to slapping one’s mother and so on). In many circumstances these are the sorts of actions that would result in someone being turned into an aardvark or similar.

But Hareesh was, just then, rather busy and he liked Zahra besides. So, though he bristled at the lack of manners, he simply gave the wild girl a pat on the head as one might do to a foxdog that simple doesn’t know any better than to chase the chickens about. And then, with all the grace and speed accorded to his kind, Hareesh shifted his form into that of a green fox and ran out of the cave.

So Zahra stood there, alone in the cave.

So yeah, Zahra got a neat new pendant pre-episode. Who knows what that does!

Well, I know what that does.

And Abassi. And most of my players know or have an idea by now. But you, loyal reader, YOU don’t know.

Y’wanna know what it definite does do, though? It brings us to the new episode.

Boom. Nailed that transition. Good work, me.

So anyway, on to the episode.

Razi ha Shef was, irrevocably, dead. His head had been separated from his body, his spirit had gone to the Labyrinth to find its way to judgement, and the party was in mourning.

As I’ve said, we weren’t a group especially accustomed to unexpected PC death, at least not in a major campaign. They’d lost characters before, but never so suddenly or, even, so violently. When it happened, there’d be shock and I’d venture to say some level of genuine mourning among the players. Razi had been endearing in his way and, besides, one of their own was gone now.

In the two weeks that passed between episodes, the players had gotten over the initial shock and taken the loss in stride. The incident engendered an “anyone can die at any moment” feeling among the players and won me a reputation. Ever since, I’ve been considered the more dangerous, malevolent DM while Abassi--despite actually being the more dangerous DM--enjoys her standing as the “fun” one. Still, they’d mostly recovered from the trauma.

Abassi, on the other hand, was in turmoil going into this episode. The sudden death of Razi had really thrown her for a loop and interfered with her plans. So she’d spent a significant amount of her time between sessions stressing and trying to figure out how to run her game. She also groaned at me several times, as I recall.

Prior to the episode I wasn’t entirely privy to how Razi’s death had impacted her plot, the two of us not sharing such details at the time. We were still players as well as DMs, you see. Can’t go around telling the players all your ideas or it’ll spoil the experience for them. Even now, I’m not positive I know all there is to know about how his absence impacted the episode’s story. I can grasp at the shadows, but I can’t quite be sure because I’m only looking at the experience that was, not the one that may have been.

We picked up around four days after the party’s endeavors at Castle Khorsabur, four days after Razi’s demise. Razi’s remains had been returned to Nida’s homestead on the outskirts of Ha Taleem. There, the party had interred him as best they were able. Which was to say, they’d kinda fumbled their way through a funeral off-screen. Anya, Zamara, Zahra, and Hauku all came from very different cultures with very different funeral customs and, on top of that, they were teenagers. And they hadn’t told anyone in authority (even Rasid, the local priest) about the death yet because, well, they had only gotten off of village-arrest a few days prior. They didn’t want to get caught up in another murder investigation just yet.

And Razi had been a known figure in Ha Taleem, too. Mysterious, brave, gregarious roguishly handsome young man about town in a small community? People would notice him disappearing. It was just a matter of time until it came down on them and the party pretty well knew that. But they weren’t keen on dealing with that just yet. Right now, they were grieving.

In their grief, they’d split up a bit. Zamara was staying in her family’s manse with her mother and sister, grieving her father and Razi both while biding her time until the law stripped it from them and left them homeless. Zahra was wandering Dohabi near her waterfall. Anya and Hauku, of course, were still staying together at Rasid’s parish, but Anya had been keeping to herself and traveling more far afield to be alone.

So when our episode started, Anya was with Asya near the Thieves’ Grotto. It was a wilder place, even by frontier standards, one that had done well in resisting the influence of civilization. Razi had been in the vicinity previously, it being near a route he took in his bi-monthly egg delivering duties. He’d told Anya of it, of course. She’d like it, he said.

She went to the wild place to be alone with her thoughts; to remember him. She’d thought maybe it would make her feel better, like he was there. Maybe she would see the beauty of the place and find some peace. Or perhaps it would redouble her need to avenge him, sparking in her some remnant of the feelings she’d felt for him and anger at their robbery.

But just then, she felt nothing.

She didn’t feel sorrow or anger, bittersweet fondness or pain-tinged nostalgia. She just felt numb.

So she sat there, twirling Razi’s necklace and looking out on the remarkable beauty of the wild with contemplative indifference.

Which is, of course, how Zahra and Zamara found her when they came looking.

The two Z-Warriors approached their friend slowly, awkwardly. Zamara sat beside her--Asya on the other--and Zahra stood behind her, arms crossed and face downcast.

After a moment, Zamara asked, “How are you holding up?”

“I…” Anya trailed off, looking out at nothing in particular, then down at the necklace. “I’m fine.”

“That’s a damned lie,” Zamara responded.

Anya made a sound of consideration and then admitted, “Perhaps.” A pause. “I do not know.”

Silence. The three contented themselves with the uncertain quiet; with the solemn calm, accepting that words could do no justice and provide no salve. So they gave no words and simply were.

Then their calm ended. Asya bolted up and looked around nervously. Before anyone could properly react, the raptor shot away, down an overgrown path, and disappeared from view. Which, obviously, caused the group to give pursuit.

As they followed along the dirt trail, the midday sun shone bright overhead. The pathway led them to the Grove of Janesh, a patch of somewhat ancient fruit trees brought by settlers now long-passed. Once alien to Hizharan, the invasive flora had grown over time to overwhelm and choke out the native plantlife. Where once small saplings had no-doubt been planted there stood a truly impressive wood the canopy of which blocked out much of the sun’s light.

In the grove, rays of light danced down through air that whispered of old mysteries and dead tales. Long before Imuul and her settlers had arrived, this place had stood as testament to the touch of mankind. Pinpricks touched Anya’s skin as she walked through the grove.

Around a bend in the path, the party came at last upon Aysa. The ozraptor stood, warily regarding a figure crouched to the side of the trail. As the party looked, they saw and recognized the figure to be Hauku.

Something was wrong, however. Hauku offered no notice of their presence. She neither reacted to their appearance nor did she offer a hearty “Hoy!” in greeting. Hauku simply crouched, unmoving. Stiff as stone.

From one stiff arm hung a basket over which was draped a checkered handkerchief. The other was outstretched, reaching out to pluck a wildflower. Her eyes stared straight ahead, blankly.

So that was horrific. Not at all lighthearted funtime, Abassi! Hauku was a rock now! Haven’t these people suffered enough?!

Closer inspection revealed that Hauku was, in fact, a rock now. And Survival checks from Anya and Zahra revealed that nearby there were bird-like prints in the dirt. Knowledge (Nature) checks further identified the prints to belong to a chicken. Which led the players to one conclusion: cockatrice. Of course, the characters had no idea what a cockatrice was. Their checks to see if they did know what such a creature was failed.

We, therefore, were left to follow the only clue we had: the tracks.

Or we could just continue down the path and see what was there. Because that’s what we did. I forget our exact reasoning, but I know that’s what we decided to do.

As we proceeded down the path, we came to a stream. Not a deep stream, not a broad stream, not a river, just a stream. We could have jumped it, walked through it, or walked across a series of slightly wet stepping stones. This, obviously, provided us with the perfect opportunity to debate for hours on end the optimal crossing technique.

Before we could begin our debate, however, we discovered that someone had beaten us to the punch. Even as we approached, someone else was standing in front of the stream, considering the best method of egress. Enter Razi’s player’s new character, Nisaa.

The first meeting between the party and Nisaa was...odd. Nisaa’s player wasn’t sure how to play her yet and the party was probably too willing to have her along...while at the same time, too reluctant to form any bonds with her?

The party approached the young woman by the stream and demanded to know who she was and what she was doing. Which...I dunno, I can sort of understand from a character perspective, I guess.

Nisaa, for her part, stammered out with pseudo-confidence that she was Nisaa ha Daaran, a magi, and that she was presently trying to figure out a way across the stream so that she could continue her search for some hen’s teeth. She’d been sent to acquire some hen’s teeth by a local crone known as Ancient May. Ancient May had told Nisaa that if she could get her some hen’s teeth that the old woman would help her track down a man she was after. Of course, Nisaa didn’t tell the party all that. She simply told them she was looking for hen’s teeth.

Which, naturally, made the party assume she was gullible or crazy. Because, as a Druid and a Barbarian and friends of someone who kept chickens of all sorts, they knew hen’s obviously don’t have teeth.

Nevertheless, the group informed Nisaa that it wasn’t safe in the grove just then. Asking why not, Nisaa was informed of Hauku’s present statue-like state. Which convinced Nisaa that there might be safety in numbers and, perhaps, she should seek that safety. Afterall, Zahra had a big sword strapped to her back, Anya had a raptor, and Zamara was carrying a big scythe for unknown reasons. Seemed like the kinda people to throw your lot in with, I suppose.

The party, for their part, were glad to have the tagalong to prevent her from getting into trouble. And, on the off chance that she turned out to be some kind of terrible werechicken, best to have her close at hand so they could kill her.

So with surprisingly little debate, the party crossed the stream and proceeded down the path to a hollow where Razi had, some time prior, told Anya he often delivered eggs and other provisions to a wild-eyed old Kore’Noa. When they arrived, they found that no house or dwelling stood in the place. But after some Survival checks, the group moved aside a bit of bramble to find the child-sized entrance to a musty den.

While they considered how best to gain the attention of the inhabitant, Nisaa voiced her confusion. She was under the impression that the group were in search of a cockatrice (she knew what one was or, at least, knew enough to give a name to a stone-turning chicken monster). Anya and Zahra explained that they were primarily concerned with restoring Hauku to her flesh-and-blood state and hoped that, perhaps, the Kore’Noa who lived here might be able to help in that endeavor. Which Nisaa had no real interest in.

After numerous greetings and calls went unheeded, eventually Zamara attempted the Kore’Noa variant.

“Hoy!” she called.

And, soon thereafter, a scraggle-headed old ferret popped out of the entrance to meet them. Wild-eyed, fearful, and smelling of the wild, he inquired, “What? What do you want?”

“We’re looking for a cockatrice,” Nisaa said, playing in some nearby dirt, rather disinterested. “Have you seen one?”

“No!” the Kore’Noa cried. “Now go away!”

Zamara cleared her throat and stepped in. “Greetings,” she said uncertainly. “We are friends of Hauku.”

“Hm? What? Hauku?”

“We recently found her in a very unfavorable condition--that is...turned to stone--and we were hoping you might help us figure out the cause and remedy?”

This caused the old ferret to hold his head and howl, “Oh Hauku, good, sweet Hauku! Moihu told her, ‘bad time for visiting, go home and stay in house many days. Go quick-foot, no waiting.’”

“Then,” Zamara wondered. “You know what’s done this to Hauku? Please! Help us save her!”

“It was the thing,” Moihu moaned. “The beast which hides in plain sight! It is dangerous, clever, tricksy. Don’t look into its eyes; never look at those terrible eyes!”

“What sort of beast is this?”

“Lives in the grove. Sleeps many tides, sometime it wakes up. When it wakes up, Moihu stays out of trouble, hides quick-fast, not come out many days, stays safe.”

This all, given Zahra’s meeting with Hareesh and her newfound pendant, led to a rather lot of worry for her. Zahra’s player was sort of overthinking a bit of dialogue from her one-on-one session. Which is understandable, it was something that was said to her chronologically right before this episode, logically it’d be something coming up immediately. It wasn’t, of course, she was off-base. But I understand the concern. Regardless, with her pendant not glowing, her fears were somewhat assuaged and we continued on.

Zamara asked if there was any way to help Hauku and Moihu replied that there was, but that it was crazy. We were an adventuring party, of course, so crazy was right up our alley.

“Gotta find the thing, the beast, its blood or spittle sprinkled on the ones who looked it will make them all better, quick-fast, no mistake.”

We also asked if there were other known victims of this monster.

“Moihu keeps out of trouble, not know things, minds own business! But for Hauku, will tell you this: you go quick-fast, west of here, but turn north when you see ruins of old furless den. Go north many steps till you see big stone shaped like tree. Terrible thing lives near there, maybe find it there, but careful careful! It has evil eyes! You watch out! Moihu is smart! Not look at it! Go quick-fast!”

The blood of the beast was the cure and we shouldn’t look at it. Which, to Nisaa’s vast Knowledge, didn’t sound like a cockatrice at all, nor like any other monster she’d heard of with the capacity to turn people to stone. But she was OOC sure that it was a cockatrice so she was also IC sure it was a cockatrice. A big problem with differentiating character/player knowledge, that one has.

Regardless, armed with this new information, the party headed west and north according to Moihu’s directions until they came to a run-down old manse. Zamara, being the most “local” member of the party, informed the rest of the group about the place’s history.

Quoth Abassi’s note to me:
“Zamara! Being a local of Ha Taleem you recall that: back in the day when this area was even more sparsely populated than it is now, there was a man by the name of Janesh ha Shaul who had a respectable frontier villa and land holdings. There isn’t a lot of information written down about what happened to Janesh, it just happened that in later years more settlers moved into the region and by that point the villa had fallen into disrepair and there was no one inhabiting it. The reason the grove remained uninhabited thereafter, despite the value of the land and the fact that the villa could have been restored at that time, is that the area, the entire grove, is thought to be haunted.”

So we’d found ourselves in another haunted forest hunting another horrible monster. And night was coming. Story of our lives, really.

The magi in the group could feel the pressure of long-dormant magic in the air and Asya was getting twitchy. The whole place felt wrong to them, like something was watching them, eager to pounce on unwary passersby. No one wanted to linger around the villa any longer than necessary. So we pressed onward with a quickness.

North of the manse we came to an enormous stone shaped like a tree in the middle of what may have once been a garden. Beneath the tree stood a half-finished statue of a man in robes. Asya maintained her trepidation. As we looked around the clearing, the sun sank below the horizon.

Suddenly, to our right in the fading glow of twilight, a growl came from the bushes.

We all rolled initiative. We were on edge, expecting danger any moment, and we were sure it had come.

Then we remembered not to look at the monster. So everyone drew their weapons and shut their eyes.

And nothing happened.

So Nisaa opened her eyes and, quoting Abassi’s description,

“The remaining vestiges of daylight and the flare reveal the creature to be an old foxhound, quite large, possibly having some wolf blood in it. Though its size made its appearance threatening, as it now lies upon the ground you can see that it is really a rather feeble creature. Its ruddy fur is a patchwork of matted filth and one ear appears to have been almost completely torn off.”

As an aside, foxhound in this usage refers to a dog of fox descent. In Kasmuria, foxes were domesticated by early man instead of wolves. So dogs, in Kasmuria, are more closely related to foxes than to wolves. Wolf-dogs are, in fact, rather unknown. Fox-dogs are the norm.

Anyway, what we found was a rather miserable, old foxdog. It was malnourished and sad, but despite that, seemed fairly intimidating. So everyone kinda wasn’t sure what to do with it, if anything. Fighting it seemed pointless, but tending to it might have been dangerous.

It decided for us.

It leaped, teeth bared, at Anya and, though everyone thought to react, Anya commanded them not to. So the fox snarled and fell upon her. Soon, it was all over but the biting and the eating.

Fortunately for Anya, it was biting and eating food she had on her person.

Pitiful and terribly hungry, the fox ate all that it could stand to eat and then it stood next to Anya. The foxdog whined loudly as the last of the light left the sky.

In the distance, a faint sound came. Arythmic and chaotic it came, too distant to be heard clearly. But as it drew closer, the wind grew foul and the scent of dirty feathers wafted towards us. Soon, clear, as day, the wretched sound came to our ears:


Everyone shut their eyes and prepared for battle. Zamara charged blindly in the direction of the noise, scythe arching. A flapping fiend met her charge and slammed hard into her, cutting her face through some unseen means.

Anya called out to an eagle, bidding it to help them in their battle. As it happened, one was nearby and swooped in to fight, perplexed though it was. The sound of birds fighting filled the air as feathers flew in the not-typical way. Asya--herself a giant lizard-bird--rushed into the fray and joined the avian assault.

So it went, the party swinging blindly while the three birds battled. We missed very badly.

Eventually, Zamara had enough of this whole “not hitting things” business and decided to open her eyes to fight the monster on more even terms. And what she saw shocked her to her core.

Well not really. The opposite, actually. It turned out, it was just a regular-looking overgrown chicken. Well, I mean, apart from the red eyes.

The foul fowl looked at Zamara, menace in its expression!

And nothing happened.

Her eyes now open, Zamara realized that everyone was pretty much right on top of the chicken monster at this point. Apparently they’d been missing entirely because they had their eyes closed.

Nisaa, of course, didn’t know where people were (being apparently unable to tell people were immediately nearby despite the yelling and fighting...or perhaps because of it). So she decided to throw a volatile concoction toward the chicken. Provoking AO.

And when the chicken’s beak...no...when it’s TEETH cut her...a patch of skin began to turn to stone. The hen’s teeth were turning people to stone.

As Nisaa’s bomb exploded (rather ineffectually), everyone decided now would be the right ntime to open up their eyes. The foxdog, recovering from its sad state of hunger and now apparently feeling some kinship with Anya, juxtaposed itself between her and the chicken and the battle was, as they say, joined.

The chicken was not happy.

But what could it do? It was surrounded by two big strong warrior types, a raptor, a foxdog, and two magic people who were also trying to hit it (the eagle had long since turned to stone). One magic chicken? Not gonna really beat up a whole group of folks aiming to kill it.

In the melee that ensued, Asya bit the thing’s head clean off.

Which, as it turned out, wasn’t really a huge loss for the chicken. It still had its clawed feet and, apparently, it didn’t really need the head to begin with. Being cut in half with a big scythe? Bigger impediment.

Once we opened our eyes, we basically mobbed it until it died. Which followed in fairly short order.

Nisaa had some vials we could use to collect the blood and spittle necessary to destone Hauku and, since we ended up with a little extra, we decided to play around with it some. One vial ended up being used on Nisaa, to fix her stoney patch (that was growing at a fairly alarming rate). Another was used to help out the eagle who’d helped us. The eagle, confused at all this, basically gave Anya a look like, “Don’t call me again, you’re weird and you do weird things” and flew off. But that left us with a bit of blood and spittle to spare.

So we turned to the man-shaped statue beneath the tree and the stone tree itself.

Quoth Abassi’s narration:
“On a whim, you decide to try the petrification cure on the statue beneath the petrified tree. The flecks of blood land upon cold stone, soaking into the icy pores. After a few moments you notice the stone begin to change color, gradually warming and softening. In a matter of minutes the statue has come to life.”

“...And be sure you pay attention this time, Ramdas, or else there might be--” the one-time-statue spoke, continuing a conversation no doubt long since concluded. He looked around us, confused.

“Who are you? Where is Ramdas?” he asked, then dismissed the quandary, descending into a mild rant. “Nevermind, it doesn’t really matter who you are, I simply must find Ramdas. I’m tired of this place and I want to get back to Kutaf. I’m sure it isn’t all as bad as Ramdas was going on and on about. Mad things about wars and evils and who knows what else, as if the Vhegid League were on the cusp of war. And djinn! Can you believe that, worried about djinn of all things. Fah! The city just got a new Emir and that’s nothing to be concerned about, fair enough that the city could use some change for the better. I’m sure the lad will turn out fine. What was his name?”

He looked to the party, expecting them to know the name, but received only confused stares.

“Posh,” he said, returning to his thoughts.

“You've been turned to stone,” Nisaa interrupted. “We just rescued you.”


Anya offered, “Yes. There was a chicken. It is dead now.”

Zahra wondered, “Where are you from? Who is Ramdas? Who are you?”

“What kind of a foolish question is THAT?” the man scoffed.

INT checks were rolled in place of Knowledge (History) or (Geography) to try to glean...y’know...common knowledge of major historical events. Strangely, though she was raised in the wild, Zahra recalled that the city of Kutaf (which, as it happened, Razi had once lived and nearly died in) was not part of the Vhegid League as the man assumed (thought it had once been). In fact, she knew that the Vhegid League (a collection of city states on a distant continent) was presently dissolved following the century-long War for the Land. Others knew similar knowledge, though none more than that.

“Sir, I think you have been dormant for a century,” Nisaa accused.

Zamara tried to say much the same (at around the same time), “Sir, I greet you in the name of Prince Taleem of Greater Imuul. I am Lady Zamara ha Nadin of Ha Taleem. And you have been sleeping for quite some time.”

Which, naturally, caused the man to look at them as if they were spouting nonsense.

“Greater Imuul?” he said, verbally rolling his eyes. “I haven’t time for this nonsense. I must find Ramdas, where is he?”

“Probably dead,” Zahra offered, lacking in all social grace.

The man simply stared at everyone.

“...I apologize for their manners,” Zamara said, assuming my natural role of smoothing things over for the others. “The name Ramdas is unfamiliar to me, but there is a chance that my Lord might be able to assist you. With your consent, I would gladly take you to my Lord.”

“No,” the man replied. “You’re all mad. Only a moment ago I was telling Ramdas I wished we had some food, that I was so hungry I could eat a cockatrice...and now you! This is some witchery!”

“Wait,” Zahra said. “You wished for a cockatrice?”

“I wished for food!”

“Sir,” Anya said, pausing for a moment. “Was Ramdas your fox?”

“Ramdas is my servant.”

“Did either of you have a fox?”


“Did either of you wish aloud to become a fox?”

“What is this? More nonsense!”

At this point, Nisaa became disinterested in pursuing any questions with the man and, after unstoning the tree and collecting some of its sap, began wishing aloud for various things. None of which appeared or occurred because that’s silly. And, to quote Abassi “It’s not a giving tree, apparently.”

Offered the chance to come with the party back to Ha Taleem, the man refused. He maintained that he would have to find his servant. Asked how they had come to be in the grove, the man recounted his story.

He was Mardus the Magi, a magi who dwelled in the city of Kutaf during a point at which the city and the rights of magi were in a bit of a tumult. His servant, Ramdas, had expressed some fear of doom coming to the city and attempted to convince his master to flee the city while there was still time. Somehow, during one of their arguments on the subject, they had simply found themselves transported to some wild, untamed land.

Based on Zamara’s basic knowledge of history, she supposed the period he described to be consistent with one that had been contemporary about sixteen hundred years prior. Which, of course, confounded Mardus utterly.

“Sixteen hundred,” he said in astonishment. “But if that's true--Even if I believe you--I--well then. You say you saved me? From stone? Stone which is how I have survived the passage of such time?”

“Apparently so.”

“Then,” Mardus said. “My gratitude.” Mardus bowed and, from his robe, produced a pouch and gave it to Zamara.

To her confusion he replied, “That is, my thanks, a debt fulfilled. But I must get back. Back to Kutaf.” He began to wander off. “Back to my Kutaf.”

And so Mardus walked off to have his own crazy adventures that, no doubt, will come up in later episodes.

Inside the pouch, Zamara found a bunch of mint-condition vintage coins. Coins that would probably be worth many times their face value being as they’re from sixteen hundred years prior. These coins were divided between the group. The party then returned to Hauku and restored her to flesh and blood. She’d apparently been out trying to pick berries so to make all her friends a nice pie to help them feel not-as-bad about Razi’s passing.

After, Nisaa talked to the party about why she had needed the hen’s teeth (which were, then, digesting in Asya’s stomach). She had hoped to give the hen’s teeth to a local crone who promised to use them in a locating spell, a spell truly beyond Nisaa’s ability. She needed the spell to find a dwarf named Dulgar who had stolen her father’s formula book.

But we can talk about that next time. That’s where we’ll end for this episode.

2017-01-11, 07:30 PM
Episode 105

Anya Dobronov - 1st Level Human Druid. A reluctant hero currently seeking revenge on the dwarf known as Dulgar Whitemane for the death of her boyfriend Razi.

Ta Ramarupi Wa Hauku - 1st Level Kore’Noa Cleric of Dhruvashar, Abassi’s DMPC. A divinely-called ferretperson who wrangles chickens and doesn’t afraid of anything.

Nisaa ha Daaran - 1st Level Human Alchemist. A new arrival to the group, searching for Dulgar Whitemane for her own reasons.

Zahra of the Waterfall - 1st Level Human Barbarian. A borderline feral teenage girl raised by a Fae. Has a big sword, turns into a wolfman when angry.

Zamara ha Nadin - 1st Level Human Fighter, my DMPC. A nobleman’s daughter whose father recently passed away. Currently facing the impending loss of her family’s land and titles.

Who Knows Who and How:
Zamara and Zahra are friends.
Zamara knew Razi.
Razi was romantically involved with Anya.
Anya is friends with Hauku.
Nisaa hired Zamara, Zahra, Hauku, and Anya to help her find Dulgar Whitemane.

While mourning Razi’s passing, the group discovered that Hauku had been turned to stone by a mysterious, mystical creature. Searching for a cure, the party encountered a young woman named Nisaa ha Daaran deep in the woods.

The group added Nisaa to their numbers (to protect her and also wanting any help she could offer) and, after an encounter with a strange Kore’Noa who lived in a hole in the ground, learned more about the monster that had assailed their friend. It seemed that some kind of monster with a stony gaze ran rampant in that particular grove, attacking anyone who saw it. The old Kore’Noa then revealed that the blood or spittle of the beast could turn the affected back to flesh. So naturally the party set out to find and slay this monster.

After a trip to a haunted mansion (they didn’t go inside), the party met an emaciated fox-dog beneath a stone tree near a half-finished statue. Anya befriended the fox-dog, obviously. Then the terrible giant chicken attacked.

The cockatrice attacked the party while they closed their eyes and swung wildly. Their blind flailing proved ineffective and, eventually, Zamara decided just to open her eyes. She wasn’t turned to stone, however, as, apparently, the monster didn’t actually have a stony gaze, it has a stony peck attack. Bombs were thrown, an eagle was summoned, fighting occurred.

In the end, Asya the raptor bit off the cockatrice’s head and Zamara cut the body in half. The blood and spittle were collected to unstone Hauku. But they had enough that they played around with it a little and unstoned the tree and the unfinished statue as well.

It turned out that the unfinished statue was actually a magi named Mardus who apparently hailed from sixteen hundred years in the distant past (having been turned to stone in that time). Through conversation, the party learned Mardus’ story of how his fearful assistant and he had been mysteriously transported far from their home city and how an inadvertant wish from Marus had summoned a cockatrice. You can probably guess what happened from there.

Possibly the cockatrice--having already turned Mardus to stone--then crossbred with regular chickens, eventually creating a weird hybrid species that has the stone peck instead of an eye beam. Or maybe cockatrices live for a very long time. Or maybe it was a magic cockatrice (imagine that) that could live much longer than normal cockatrices can. It isn’t clear.

Anyway. Freed from his stony status, Mardus rewarded the party with some mint condition old coins and left to have his own adventures, trying to return to his proper time. The party unstoned Hauku and everybody had berry pie.

So that’s where we are going into this episode. The party are back at Rasid’s parish, Nisaa in tow, and they’re basically just waiting for the hammer to drop on the whole “Razi is dead” thing. They know his disappearance is going to be noticed sooner rather than later because he was fairly well-known and well-liked in town and they know, eventually, they’re gonna have to explain themselves to some kind of higher authority. They’ve already been subject to one murder investigation, they really don’t want that kind of scrutiny again.

But, until it comes, they’re content with just mourning their dead and trying to figure out what to do next. Which kinda brings us to the party’s first downtime episode since the Pilot and their first “real” downtime episode of the series.

Without further adieu, on to the episode (or at least a filibuster)!

I’ve often heard the complaint from other DMs is that their players are “murder hobos;” that they have no family, friends, homes, or jobs and simply travel around killing people without consideration for how it would impact their characters or those characters’ lives. And that can be a perfectly valid complaint. Sometimes, no matter how engaging and detailed the world you’ve built is, all the players will want to do is burn it down. There are absolutely “murder hobo” characters and players. And that can be a valid form of play, a valid campaign style. It’s perfectly within reason to treat the game like it’s a game. DnD is, afterall, a combat system.

From its infancy, DnD has been built around the notion of “I hit it/shoot it/throw magic at it.” It started as a scaled-down wargame and for decades it was purely an action/adventure game. A player picked up a character, killed some kobolds, and then went home. It was very much like earlier video games. Early DnD is like Legend of Zelda. You’re a guy, you go a place, you fight some stuff. You didn’t have to worry about ramifications or consequences beyond the immediate perils presented in combat. That character didn’t exist outside of combat, basically.

Which worked really well for the original group of players. They were wargamers, they liked wargames, this was basically a wargame. There was no real thought to what your avatar’s life was like when you weren’t gaming. He was an adventurer having an adventure. It was an adventure game. Period.

Then some guy applied a psychology term to it. He called it a “roleplaying game.” And generations thereafter have taken that term to heart. Suddenly, it’s not okay to treat it like your Marios or your Zeldas. Suddenly you’re expected to have conversations outside of combat and care about where your character sleeps and have character motivation.

Rollplaying turned to roleplaying. And suddenly it’s not okay to just want to roll some weird-looking polygons and pretend you’re hitting an orc. Suddenly you’ve got to have a REASON to hit that orc (other than “it was in my way”). And if you don’t? You’re the bad guy now. “Why don’t you ever try to subdue people?” I dunno. Guy’s got a spear pointed at me. Seems like I should kill him.

Gygax himself once said, “If I want to [play a role], I’ll join an amatuer theater group.” Which is fair. Because Gygax was a rollplayer. He’d probably be bored to tears by, like, Vampire: The Masquerade or something. He was a guy who liked to hit things with an axe. Which is valid.

Now, I don’t think either approach is wrong. Roleplaying and rollplaying are both valid approaches to DnD. It’s a divide that players and DMs will inevitably encounter. As soon as you sit down at the table with your wizard robe and hat on, you’re going to fall into one of the two categories. Which one you are at any given session can vary. And that’s okay. A good DM should be able to accommodate both playstyles.

As a player, I’m probably more rollplay-oriented because I think the combat system is really run. However, if you build a world that interests me and you try to engage me, I’m absolutely down to roleplay. If I feel like my acting is being rewarded, if I feel important, I’m happy to be a roleplayer. I’m happy to invest in your world if you make me interested in it as a living, breathing world. I just prefer to roll dice and simulate hitting things.

As a DM, I try to be impartial. I try to offer both experiences. I get a lot of my character acting out when I’m DMing; doing voices and generally playing roles. I do that to enhance my players’ experience and to cater to both sides of the aisle. I’ve got roleplayers and rollplayers in my group. I want them both to have fun. Because that’s my job as the DM.

I believe that giving players the opportunity (explicitly) to enjoy downtime helps with that. It gives the players a chance to just kind of breathe and explore the world. It gives them time to invest in the world. Get a house, buy some stuff, start a business, run afoul of a shopkeeper because his daughter wanted to seduce you. Y’know, character stuff.

That’s what this episode was for the most part. But first, I had to do some housekeeping.

The party were at Rasid’s parish, talking with Nisaa about her search for Dulgar Whitemane, when the Prince’s men found them. They’d been sent to, once again, collect the party for questioning regarding a disappearance. Everybody knew that Zahra, Zamara, Hauku, and Anya were friends or better with Razi. With him noticeably missing, it stood to reason that they’d know where he was.

Off screen--and the players never really knew this--an affluent admirer of Razi’s had noticed the group traveling back from Dohabi just after Razi’s death. She’d seen how banged up they were and also, y’know, that they had something tarped up in the back of Hauku’s cart. Razi’s absence was, to her, very conspicuous (because he was never far apart from that foreign witch Anya). So she’d kinda been pressing the issue. The Prince typically had more stuff going on than tracking down random missing persons who might have just wandered off, but given who it was missing and who was bringing it up, he looked into it.

The party offered no resistance when the Prince’s men came. Because they’re not idiots. So they were brought back to Ha Taleem to stand, once more, before the Prince.

This was the second time the party had been brought before the Prince himself and the third time they were in the presence of nobility. So they’d learned a little bit about how to conduct themselves. They didn’t follow protocol at all, of course, but they weren’t as awkward or indignant as their previous visits. Unfortunately, Razi wasn’t there to offer the more honeyed words. Zamara wasn’t under any suspicion and, so, wasn’t even in the meeting. Nisaa was an unknown element. Anya doesn’t talk much. So Zahra and Hauku were suddenly the faces of the group.

Prince Taleem asked the party about Razi’s disappearance and they answered mostly truthfully. At Hauku’s urging, they explained that they’d gone into Dohabi to find a magi named Akash who might have been related to the drakes they’d previously encountered. They hadn’t found Akash, but they had found a tribe of dwarves living in his old abode. The dwarves had attacked the party and Razi died in the battle that followed. They left out details about how they’d also found a pretty notable trove of treasure in the dwarven “camp.” It just didn’t come up somehow.

The party informed Prince Taleem that they’d taken Razi’s body back to his home and, there, laid him to rest as that seemed like the best thing they could do for him.

So the Prince asked why they’d gone into Dohabi to find this “Akash” by themselves. If there was some kind of serious threat to the village, why not come to the Prince? He could have sent men to investigate, men with experience in such matters. Why should a bunch of teenagers have gone into that kind of danger? Why are you adventuring at all, you guys?

Hauku answered that she had gone because she felt it was her duty to go--as an agent of Dhruvashar. She reasoned that she hadn’t known for sure that Akash was actually in Dohabi. There was no reason to involve the Prince or his men if Akash weren’t actually there. Which, I thought, was pretty reasonable.

“Who goes with Hauku is not by any force or even request. They do as they feel they are willed. Hauku must do as compelled. To bring the slowness of furless soldiers into such things is not wisdom. Soldiers and princes have no powers over Powers. But even if Hauku thought it good to bring in such powers, had not enough information to be sure of any worry. That is why Hauku went to look and see. Princes and soldiers give no credence to the dreams and portends known to Kore'Noa. Hauku says respectfully.”

Out of character, their reasoning had been threefold. They hadn’t trusted the Prince (for some reason), Hareesh’s involvement made them uncertain of whether or not mortal authority should be involved at all, and they also, as Hauku said, weren’t sure there actually was a problem. They obviously didn’t tell Prince Taleem about the first two reasons.

The Prince still mourned their thrill-seeking, of course. Which is how he saw all this. Here’s a bunch of kids who keep throwing themselves into harm’s way, even if they have good reason. The first time had been a real emergency. The proper authorities hadn’t been available and they were doing what they could in the best interests of the village. This time, to him, it seemed more like they’d sought out trouble. And, hey, he doesn’t want a bunch of kids getting killed, y’know? And he wanted to spare them the sight of so much death.

The party, obviously didn’t see it that way. Which they weren’t necessarily meant to.

“You would have been better off leaving such things to those with more experience,” he warned them.

“Yeah, but how can we get experience if we’re not doing it?” Zahra asked.

“I offered you a steady job doing this and you turned it down!” I wanted to have the Prince say. But I didn’t have him say that exactly. I just had him reiterate the offer that he’d proposed to them, the one they’d turned down. He wasn’t offering it again, he just was pointing out that they could have gained such experience in his service.

“Is military service the only path to adventure,” Zahra asked, basically confirming that, yes, she is thrill-seeking.

“The wisest path, yes,” the Prince replied. A pause, then he sighed and waved them away, “As you have refused my offer of employment, I cannot and will not extend to you any favor if your actions lead to further mischief. In the future, you would do well to keep your adventurous urges in check. Each of you. Now go and...mourn your lost. As we all should do in such times.”

So they left, not really in trouble, but definitely not not in trouble. Essentially, the Prince now saw them as a potentially dangerous element. He’d thought himself an adventurer in his youth, too. He had loads of sympathy for them. But he also saw the dark path that road could lead to. He really was a good-intentioned dude, trying to look out for them. That’s why he’d tried to give them direction--an outlet for all that wanderlust--and it’s also why he was basically warning them away from freelance adventuring in the future. Freelance adventuring was, after all, very illegal in Imuul.

But the party definitely didn’t see it that way. They didn’t want to work for him, but they also didn’t want to be on his bad side. So it was right around this time that Zahra began looking into the legal options available for adventurers.

She pretty quickly learned that it was illegal to perform mercenary work in Imuul (that is, adventuring for profit) without being a member of the Brotherhood of the Coin. Now, she could absolutely travel the countryside helping people for free, but if she wanted to make a career out of it, she’d need to be part of the Brotherhood. And she kinda wanted to be able to charge people. She needed money, y’see, because she planned on renovating Castle Khorsabur.

After driving the Whitemane Tribe out of Khorsabur and burying Razi, Zahra had gotten the thought in her head that maybe she’d like to set herself up with a castle and some minions. Why? I have no idea. I don’t think there was an endgame. It was just, “Hey, free castle just sittin’ here in the swamp! I could totally make that my house!”

Which was cool. Because that’s kinda something I was really interested in dealing with as a DM. I’m way into the idea of PCs trying to elevate themselves in the world and reclaiming forgotten castles and stuff. I’d done something similar in another game (one that Zahra’s player had been part of). We’d killed a bunch of goblins and I’d decided to make their cool castle into our base of operations. Zahra was doing something similar here.

As it so happened, she’d recently come into a fair bit of money with which to hire a small garrison and start renovations.

After they’d driven the dwarves out of Castle Khorsabur, the party had looted the place and hauled all the valuables they could find back to Rasid’s parish. They made out with a fair chunk of money. A few thousand gold worth of gems, jewelry, and coins. Plus a mule, assorted (poorly maintained) armor and weapons, and some weird alchemical brews. They’d done well for themselves aside from Razi dying.

Back at Rasid’s parish, they divvied up that loot and everyone went shopping. Yeah, they just...went ahead and lavishly spent a bunch of money that had no readily identifiable source. Like teenagers might do if they fell into a few grand.

The first thing worth addressing was Anya’s use of her share. Anya had decided she wanted to become a Lord. See, Imuul was, at the time, in a period where it was eager to spread its influence and swell its population. To attract immigrants to its frontier holdings, the Emperor of Greater Imuul had declared that anyone to buy land and help tame the frontier would be granted a noble title. In practice, this just made them part of the lesser nobility and didn’t necessarily afford them any particular influence. But most people weren’t looking at it like that. Most people were looking at it like, “Hey, I can found a noble line and my kids might have some influence.” Also, Imuul is the one human country in Southern Kasmuria where men, not women, are considered the dominant sex. So this was partly intended to attract men with wealth and pedigrees (like Zamara’s father).

Now, most people still couldn’t afford land. Most people didn’t have thousands or even hundreds of gold to spend on a plot of land. Most people just sort of lived on land belonging to another Lord. So the number of nobles was still pretty low all things considered. But Anya? Anya could afford it. Anya could afford to buy her way into nobility.

The big problem was, Anya was a woman. And women, in Imuul, can’t own land.

So Anya decided to adopt a pseudonym. Taking pieces of the names of her (presumed slain) family, she came up with the name “Yevgeny Polina.” She dressed in a set of Razi’s clothes, covered herself with cloaks and padding to disguise her womanly figure, and went right back to the village to talk to one of the Prince’s men about buying a plot of land north of town.

The disguise, poor though it may have been, worked. Had she actually talked to the Prince, it would have failed horribly. But the bureaucrat she ended up dealing with had never seen her before and thought all white people looked similar enough anyway that it didn’t matter. And so, Lord Yevgeny Polina was born.

“Yevegeny” then immediately went to “his” plot of land and began work on building a very lordly...shack. Well, y’gotta start somewhere.

While “Yevgeny” was working on the estate, Zahra had Nisaa busy trying to identify the alchemical items the party had recovered from Khorsabur. But despite her having a pretty good Knowledge of alchemy, Nisaa didn’t really manage to identify most things. She identified a pink gooey substance as being bloodblock ointment, handy in helping along blood clotting. She also identified a vial of bubbling liquid as being a unique compound that, upon contact with oxygen, actually could solidify into a crystalline blade. Zahra stored both away for future use.

This episode also saw the introduction of the party’s extended entourage. Because everyone but Nisaa hired some people to do their bidding this episode.

While building “his” estate, “Yevgeny” contracted a local boy to serve as the shepherd of his vast assortment of two horses. Ibad the Shepherd was a character that...I swear, he entered the story at eight years old and aged up appropriately, but everyone said I kept making him younger and younger. So there’s a running joke throughout the series of Ibad having Benjamin Button’s Disease and aging backward. He enters here at eight years old. By Season 3, he’ll be a wee lad of three years old, taming horses before he’s out of diapers.

Also joining the entourage were Hauku’s driver (an otterperson named Walks-by-Fire), bodyguard (a human named Maryam), and two animal handlers/general rapscallions (a ratperson named Ragear and a weaselperson named Ta Nuwea Kiku). Walks-by-Fire, for the record, was the driver of Hauku’s fancy new gypsy-style wagon (decidedly a step up from a cart), her travelling burrow as it were.

And then there were Zahra’s people, but she was still scouting for them at the time. She hadn’t found just the right candidates yet and wouldn’t the following episode, actually. At this point, she was still haggling with Hauku over buying the armor and weapons from her (Hauku having taken the armor and weapons to sell as part of her share). She was also distracted with buying lumber from the local woodsman.

“What’re y’gonna do with all this timber?” he’d asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” she told him and handed him a sack of coins.

It’d been a couple of days. The party had started setting up a life for themselves in the area near Ha Taleem. Nemgo Grozny--Yevgeny’s estate--was well on its way to being livable. Anya, Nisaa, and Zahra were all crashed out in Rasid’s barn (as y’do) and Hauku was sleeping in her wagon with her collection of followers.

That night, Hauku had a dream. No, not just a dream. Hauku had a vision.

In her mindscape, Hauku saw the Holy Paladin (a big-time holy warrior in the service of Dhruvashar) fighting against a dwarf on the deck of a ship during a nasty storm. She couldn’t identify the Holy Paladin in the vision (there had been several in the distant past), but she could tell that they were fighting for their life.

The dwarf ducked under a swing of Evil’s Bane (the legendary sword of the Holy Paladin) and caught another on the haft of an enormous warhammer. Repelling the Paladin’s sword, the dwarf brought its spiked warhammer back and then forward, a crushing blow that shattered the Paladin’s breastplate. Blood poured out of the Paladin’s chest, Evil’s Bane fell to the wet deck of the ship.

It was then that Hauku recognized the weapon that had felled the Paladin: an accursed artifact, an unholy weapon desecrated by Havarah the Bloody, a mockery of the Paladin’s sword. She recognized it as Star’s Bane, an age-old symbol of the Dwarven Empire.

She saw Star’s Bane withdraw from the Paladin’s breast as the holy warrior fell to the ground. Then she saw the hand that held Star’s Bane reduced to a skeletal shadow of what it had been. All around was darkness, the darkness of a tomb, deep within some mountain. A new hand grasped the scarred haft of the hammer, prying it from the skeleton’s hold.

As the hammer was lifted skyward, Hauku could only look on as the moon itself was consumed by some terrible black dragon.

The little ferret awoke with a start. Someone was knocking on the door of her wagon.

Meanwhile, in the barn, Zahra also woke up. A darkened figure that she didn’t recognize was standing over her. She realized, to her horror, that other like-figures were standing over Anya and Nisaa.

“Who are you?!” Zahra demanded. “What are you doing?!”

“Why,” the figure said. “I’m kidnapping you.”

Zahra let out a kick, but it missed. Something hard hit her head and something heavy pressed against her legs as the figure came closer. She let out a feeble punch. Another bolt of pain to the head. Her vision blurred, her hold of the world loosened, she was falling backward into darkness. Then she was unconscious.

Hauku was having a much different experience. Outside her door stood a well-dressed man in clerical garb beneath armor who greeted her in her own tongue and informed her that he was here to conduct some business.

Hauku, assuming it was related to her vision, agreed that it was very serious business and happily listened to the man.

“A thousand apologize, but I have been asked to receive your company. Will you please follow me? You may bring your companions and arm yourselves as needed, I mean you no harm,” he promised in near-perfect Quick-Speak.

“What, what for? Hm? Hm?” Hauku questioned.

“Hrm. Well. There is no cause for secrecy between brethren,” the man said, wanting to handle the ordeal as kindly as possible. “I believe you are an associate of the late gentleman Razi--may he rest in the arms of Dhruvashar the Starlord. A mutual friend of his has asked that you may answer questions she has regarding his passing.”

“Mmm. Hauku is being annoyed by questions questions questions,” she complained. “But if is a friend Hauku understands need for answers. Hauku will go. Get things then go, leave cart with new friends to watch-keep.”

The man thanked her and they departed together peacefully.

Zahra regained her consciousness in a peculiar position. She was tied to a tree--as were Nisaa and Anya--and she was completely unarmed. At first, she was alarmed. As her head ached and her vision came into focus, however, Zahra saw, across from her, unbound and eating a biscuit, Hauku. Hauku waved, Zahra squinted. The alarm was still there, but now, confusion was more abundant.

Into the edge of her perception strode a tall figure. The light was poor and the features dark. Zahra couldn’t make out the person’s face. On either side of the figure were two others. A fourth was busy drawing a circle around the bound heroes.

The air popped audibly as the fourth man completed the circle and willed magic into it. This pulled the barely-conscious Anya into an alert state. She sat up straight against the tree, looked at Zahra, and started to speak, but someone else spoke first.

“It’s ready,” the well-dressed man said, standing up from the circle.

The central figure took another step forward and looked directly at Anya. With a deep breath to control barely-concealed rage, the figure accused, “What did you do to my Razi?”

Anya immediately recognized the voice of Razi’s guardian, his adoptive mother Nida. Zahra did not.

“Who are you?” Zahra asked.

Nida ignored her. “What did you do?” she demanded.

“I did not--,” Anya said, weakly, flinching.

“How did he die?! What did you do to him?!”

Hauku, at this, might have been concerned. But Hauku was a simple Kore’Noa and very trusting. She was sure it was fine.

“Razi killed quick-fast by dwarves,” Hauku said. “Sad business.”

Nida looked at Hauku, then back at Anya. “Dwarves?” she questioned.

Anya was quiet for a moment, then replied, “Yes. We went into Dohabi to track down a magi--the one who had made the drakes--”

“He who must not be named. Yup yup,” Hauku agreed, nibbling a biscuit.

“Akash?” Nida asked.

“He must not be named!” Hauku declared.

“Why were--is the ward working?” Nida asked.

“It should be. Hard to imagine teenagers overcoming Kama’s work,” a man next to Nida replied. “They should be compelled to answer you truly.”

Nida shook her head, “What could have possessed Razi to go hunting him? Why would--” she looked at Anya. “Tell me everything.”

So everything was told. How Hauku had overheard Nidaa’s conversation with Arne and Hareesh, how the party had decided to go into Dohabi to find out if Akash was there, how the dwarves had attacked them. How Razi died.

Nida had mixed feelings regarding Akash's lack of involvement in Razi's death. To her, the presence of the Whitemane Tribe indicated that Akash was no longer in Castle Khorsabur and that worries her. With Razi dead, Nida said that she intended to investigate the Castle for signs of Akash, to be sure. If there were no signs, she’d turn her attention toward tracking down Dulgar and avenging Razi’s death. But Akash still had to take priority for her.

Zahra, now freed from the Zone of Truth along with her friends, asked for more information about Akash, but Nida wasn’t keen on giving answers. Nida was positive that Akash would be well and truly beyond the party’s paygrade, even in a diminished state.

“If we’re going back to Khorsabur to fight him, though, I should like to know what I can about my enemy,” Zahra said.

“Who said anything about you going to Castle Khorsabur?” Nida asked.

“I like this one, lot of spunk,” the man next to Nida said. “Got a good attitude, munchkin.”

“Shut up, Jyles,” Nida said.

“If Akash is as dangerous as you say,” Anya said, weakly. “Will you not need all of the help that you can get?”

Hauku ate a biscuit. Nisaa was confused at what kind of people she had fallen in with.

“If you come,” Nida said after a moment. “You’re observers. First sign of trouble, you fall back.”

The party didn’t necessarily agree, but they also didn’t not agree. So it was back to Castle Khorsabur for everyone! On the way, Nida finally told Zahra more about Akash’s history.

Years ago, during the War for the Land, Akash had been a human magi who’d tried to breed an army of drakes to serve as his personal military in a bid to conquer the continent of Arudah. Along the way, Nida, Hareesh, Jyles, Arne, and a few others had come into conflict with him and made it their goals to stop him. Driving Akash out of Arudah, they’d pursued him south to the continent of Hizharan, specifically to Dohabi.

A big fight had followed during which Hareesh had broken Akash’s power and transformed him into a twisted abomination, a stunted fusion of man and drake. They’d then imprisoned Akash in his lab beneath Castle Khorsabur and left him to die.

The original Drake of Dohabi had been one of Akash’s creatures that had escaped their raid on the Castle, presumably the young drakes the party had encountered were the offspring of the original. At least, that was Hareesh’s theory. Nida, on the other hand, was worried that Akash was alive and returning to his old tricks after all these years.

Basically, the party were inheriting problems from an older, much higher level adventuring party.

Hauku critiqued Nida’s group’s decision to seal Akash away. Hauku was very adamant about not leaving evil beings laying around to cause problems in the future. “Furless always making no sense at all. Not want to keep things simple.” Leave it to the adorable muppet to be the pragmatic sort.

So the group returned to Castle Khorsabur and, with Nida and Jyles’ direction, they made their way to a sealed up room, far at the rear of the fortress. As Nida unwove the magical wards in place that had deterred the dwarves and even the party themselves from entering, everyone was on edge. Jyles and Nida were haunted by memories of their last visit to the castle--the battle with Akash--and for the rest of the party it was a similarly unpleasant recollection.

The wards down, the group proceeded inward. The room beyond seemed to be an old alchemy lab with notes and long-broken bottle scattered about the floor. Nisaa looked around with a great deal of interest. However, even she (apprentice though she was) could tell that this room was a mere facade. This couldn’t have been Akash’s true laboratory. For a magi of Akash’s repute and apparent talent it all seemed to elementary.

And Nisaa was right. Again, Nida unwove the subtle and overt wards that concealed a trapdoor leading down to what she said had been Akash’s actual laboratory.

Proceeding downward, the party found themselves in a half-finished basement beneath the swamp. An enormous room with doorways lacking doors stretched out around them. On the walls were scrawlings of an alchemical nature, formulae well and truly beyond Nisaa’s ken. Some seemed very old, others more recent.

As they explored the unfinished chambers, they soon came upon a room with no entrance. Directly in the middle of the dungeon lay a room with rounded walls and no door. Laying her hand on the wall, Zahra could feel heat coming from within the room. She promptly withdrew her hand.

Seeing the room’s walls without fault, Jyles and Nida both breathed a sigh of relief. Within, they told the party, had been Akash’s hatchery. Less reassuring was the absence of any trace of Akash himself. Neither body nor person were found.

What was found was a tunnel, hidden and presumably missed during the battle. An escape tunnel. Akash had escaped.

So the group conferred.

Nida felt that she had to pursue Akash. She had to make sure he was put down. He was just too dangerous to be left alone. But that left the matter of avenging Razi’s death up in the air.

So the party took it upon themselves to handle that job. Nida, Jyles, and the others could handle the big bad evil guy. The party would hunt down Dulgar and kill him for what his people did to Razi. It was gonna be a vendetta ride.

Which, as it happened, worked pretty well for Nisaa. Because she’d already talked to Zahra, in private, about hiring the party (illegally) to hunt down Dulgar. Nisaa never really explained much about how she knew Dulgar, only that he’d killed her father, stolen his formula book, and fled the city of Quntira to escape justice. Now, she was after him to get it back.

Zahra had money at stake, Nisaa had a personal mission, and Anya was trying to avenge Razi. So it looked like the party were heading out to hunt a dwarf.

And I think that’s a good place to stop for this episode.