View Full Version : Journal Adventures in Eaphandra

2021-03-25, 11:18 PM
I'm very pleased that a slow-rolling plot in a game is about to come to a head, and excited to see what direction the PCs take things.

I'm DMing two D&D 5e games, one, a run of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The other, a custom game in my homebrew setting (I posted a bit about it in the world-building forum (https://forums.giantitp.com/showthread.php?614554-Help-me-Name-Deities) a while back).

Several of the players in that latter game came up with backstories that had a mystery about them:
- An adolescent halfling, had her adoptive older brother suddenly vanish;
- An elf conceived under mysterious circumstances (I'm not quite sure about the details, but basically she appeared by magic (https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/11/02/assertion-twelve)), who was very nearly the victim of a kidnapping... er... elfnapping?
- A little person dragonborn, who served in a mercenary company of dragonborn of similar stature, and who was seeking out the captors of a boon companion of his. (This character has since been retired.)
- Another elf (my son's character), who explained that he was seeking out a foe who had stolen a powerful gem, called the Lightning Ruby, from his homeland. According to my son, the Lightning Ruby is dangerously powerful.

(My wife is also playing, using her adaptation of Alanna of Trebond (https://forums.giantitp.com/showthread.php?592681-Character-build-like-Tamora-Piece-s-Alanna), but she didn't have a hook like the above characters did.)

After mulling possible answers to these questions, I have settled on a single antagonist who is responsible.

His Grace, Duke Frøde, Regent of Andell, has a proclivity for collecting rare and exotic things. In his younger days, when he helped his late brother (then King) with diplomatic missions abroad, he would often take the opportunity to hunt local wildlife, even dangerous creatures: lions and tigers, crocodiles and dinosaurs, even a manticore. At home, he has collected the hides of bear, mammoth, yeti, and even a remorhaz from the heart of the Trollclaw Mountains.

For the last twelve years, he has been Regent, ever since the King and Queen perished when their ship was lost at sea. Between royal responsibilities and advancing age, he has turned to having mercenaries do his collecting for him, and of late has been interested in stranger things than hides and heads:
- He arranged to have necromantic-tainted beeswax and wood from the southern Tidemarsh, in a far-away land called Borillia, shipped to Andell (it'll never arrive because the PCs wiped out the mercenaries)
- He wanted to have the little dragonborn to stuff.
- He wanted to collect the elf, because she was such a curiosity. Also, a scholar with whom he has been fast friends for years, and who has great interest in magical and occult knowledge wanted the chance to study her.
- He wanted the Lightning Ruby, because who wouldn't want a doomsday weapon gemstone? (He's also managed to get his hands on an equivalent gem, the Heart of Winter.)

(The halfling's adoptive brother was supposed to keep the Heart of Winter out of dangerous hands. To make good on his failure, he has gone far to the south, where rumour has reached his ear of another gem of similar power, the Black Pearl, in the hopes of keeping it out of the wrong hands. If the PCs follow that hook, they'll be off to an adaptation of The Isle of Dread.)

Setting the Scene:
Duke Frøde is in over his head:
- The Lightning Ruby, the Heart of Winter, and the other gemstones of their ilk, are perilous for mortals to use. Elves, being originally from the Land of Faerie, and dwarves, having been forged by Tharkadd the Forge-Father, can safely handle them, but even they cannot use their power. Humans, orcs, goblins, and other mortals of this world - even the mighty dragons! - cannot even have such things in their possession for long without their minds being eventually overthrown. Experimenting with the gems risks some sort of disaster.
- Andell's founding involved running a white dragon out of the region long ago. One of that dragon's descendants has returned and wants to claim Andell as its own.
- The Duke's trusted aide-de-camp and longtime friend and confidant, Astride, is actually a succubus, unbeknownst to the Duke. (She has never used her charm ability on him, nor has she ever presented herself to him as anything other than a sort of sister-like friend.) She has managed to manoeuvre the Duke into his current collecting spree and his planned gambit to seize the throne and become King, mostly by being supportive and enabling his bad decisions. She intends to seize the gems for her own agenda.
- An undead sorceress wants to steal the gems for her own agenda. She's not so powerful that she can just waltz in and fry everyone, so she's embedded herself in a diplomatic envoy.
- The Duke has decided that being Regent suits him so well, why not be King? By happy circumstance, an opportunity to seize the throne has turned up: Crown Princess Ida has expressed sorcerous powers. (Arcane magic has been forbidden in Andell, punishable by death, ever since the reign of Mad King Alfrik.) The Duke had her detained while he and the Thengg (the Andellan Parliament) discussed what to do about her. Her younger brother, Prince Birger, meanwhile, fled, fearing for his own life. The Thengg resolved to have the Princess put to death, and the Prince's trail has gone beyond Andell's bounds, where he is likely to run into a troll or some other fatal encounter - and if he doesn't, among the search party is a loyalist to the Duke who is ruthless enough to ensure that the Prince has a "tragic demise", if it can be contrived.
- Over the last few years, the land has been failing. Crops blighted, forests withering, summers becoming shorter and cooler, winters becoming longer and harsher. The Duke has neglected an annual ritual, in which the reigning monarch or an immediate relative (sibling or child) sheds a bit of their own blood in a ceremony at a site called The Silver Tree (a living tree made of silver). Duke Frøde believes it to be mere pageantry, but it is in fact a ritual that has sustained the Tree's magic, which in turn has sustained the milder climate of Andell for centuries. (As a side effect, it has produced the occasional sorcerer among the royal line.) If the magic is not renewed, which after over a decade of neglect might require full-on human sacrifice, it will fail - an event that is a year out, so the PCs don't have to grapple with it.

Enter the PCs:
The elf who is in pursuit of the Lightning Ruby had a contact outside of his land, in the form of a foreign diplomat. That diplomat is representing his land at what was ostensibly the coronation of Princess Ida. Because of their shared interest in the safe retrieval of the Lightning Ruby, the diplomat has agreed to hire the PCs as bodyguards.

They've just arrived in Andell, and they're going to try to find the Lightning Ruby. Having traced the trail to the mercenaries, they know that someone in Andell was after the gems and the PCs/companions. Based on the clues they have, they may well soon know the Duke is responsible.

It's going to be fun seeing what they do. I don't expect them to try to befriend the Duke (but you never know with PCs). Will they save either or both of Ida and Birger? Will they spark an international incident? Will they retrieve the MacGuffins?

The PCs are up against a bit of a clock as far as stopping Ida or Birger from coming to harm, but neither the Duke nor any of the other malevolent forces know of the PCs' agenda, so once the royal heirs are safe, they'll be able to pursue things at a bit more leisure. The Duke's situation will begin to unravel if the Princess isn't killed swiftly (as members of the Thengg begin to reconsider their decision), and especially if it's made public that the Prince is safe, and he'll act out of desperation if he feels too threatened, so they don't have all the time in the world.

For their part, both Astride and the undead sorceress will patiently wait for chaos to break out at the Royal Palace before making their move. The dragon, meanwhile, will swoop in when it thinks the land is ripe for overthrowing.

Beyond that... well, it's up to the PCs decide where to go and what course of action to take.

2021-04-08, 09:09 PM
Update - Meeting the Duke
After taking last week off, the PCs finally had their day seeing the Duke. They assembled at the palace fairly early in the morning, met the Duke briefly in a receiving line, and noted that he seemed unwell.

They met a few diplomats from around the region.

The Duke delivered the following speech not long after everyone was gathered at the palace:

Friends from distant lands, on behalf of the Crown, the Thengg, and the people of this land, I welcome you to Andell!

As most of you know, twelve years ago, King Thengel and Queen Ylvar were lost at sea. With her Royal Highness, the Crown Princess Ida, but six years of age at the time, at the request of the Thengg, I stepped in as Regent, and have acted in stewardship of this land since then.

It was our intent that, in but three days' time, on the day after the last new moon before the winter solstice - in keeping with our laws and custom - we were to crown Her Royal Highness as Queen.

I say 'was', for, I am most distressed to report, recent events are changing the course of our nation.

As you may all likely know, our land has for many centuries been endowed with a milder clime than the surrounding lands. The agriculture, forestry, and industry that this has afforded us has brought us many centuries of prosperity, allowing us to be honourable partners to your own principalities.

Those of you who have been among us for the past few days may have, in conversation with our folk, heard tales and rumours: of cropland and forest alike failing, of shorter and cooler summers, and longer and harsher winters. Sadly, I can only confirm that those rumours are true. In recent years, the cold of world around us has seeped into our land, as if the land itself were somehow cursed.

What is more, we believe that none other than the Crown Princess herself, in league with the White Witch - a wicked sorceress who lives beyond the bounds of our land - is responsible. The Crown Princess displayed sorcerous powers in the sight of myself and many of our folk, including several members of the Thengg.

Sorcery and witchcraft are not tolerated in Andell. After a long debate, ending just late last night, the Thengg has resolved that Her Royal Highness was indeed guilty of such witchcraft.

As for His Royal Highness, Prince Birger, Princess Ida's younger brother - I regret to inform you that he has gone missing in recent days. The Commander of the Palace Guard, Ulfwegg, and my own personal huntsman, Torvald, are even as I speak leading an expedition in search of the Prince. At last report, his trail had already left the boundaries of Andell. We still hope to find His Royal Highness alive and well, but our hopes dim with each day that passes.

The Thengg has resolved that, in lieu of a coronation, the Crown Princess will be executed for her despoiling of this land at noon, the day after the new moon. On the morrow, she will be taken to The Silver Tree, a relic of the founding of Andell, at our eastern frontier, and held there until the execution. The coronation itself will be delayed until either Prince Birger is found or no sign of him can be found by next spring. If His Royal Highness is alive and well, he will be crowned King when he himself comes of age. If by some cruel stroke of fate, he is dead, incapacitated, or lost beyond our reckoning, then the Thengg has resolved that my stewardship will go on, with myself crowned King of Andell.

I say these last words with a heavy heart, for I am not the same man who accepted the burden of rule twelve years ago. It had been my hope, as Her Royal Highness' eighteenth birthday came and went, that I should be relieved of my duty.

We entreat you to wait at least a little while before considering your departures, in the hopes that we find His Royal Highness alive and well before long. In the meantime, gather such enjoyment as you can from the feast we have prepared in your honour, and in the days to come we will gladly speak to you as you desire about any such matters of state between our nation and yours.

(The Thengg is the Andellan parliament.)

The session wrapped up not much after that - our sessions only last about an hour, so that's all we got through. Next week, the PCs will have a chance to discuss and figure out what they're going to do.

2021-04-15, 09:59 PM
This week, the PCs started off the session returning to their accommodations, where they held a meeting with Consul Shen, the diplomat they are "working for" (nominally; in fact this is a partnership), discussing the day's events.

Based on their discussions, they think it is likely that the Lightning Ruby is in the palace. In order to buy themselves time, they have decided to rescue Princess Ida. They believe the risk of an international incident is worth it.

Regrettably, the party splits up. Two of them - Raeda (the halfling) and Viszla (my son's elf) - are headed for the palace, to find where the Princess is being held and to see if they can find the Ruby or clues to its presence. Another one - Katniss (the elf of mysterious origin) is headed to the Silver Tree to see what can be found out there. Alanna has gone to the ship that bore them to Andell, Rogue Wave, to find a silvery woman named Argent and get her help.

Katniss has a visit from a mysterious white raven, who claims to have been sent by the White Witch. The raven tells her the White Witch wants to meet them, and gives her a way to summon a guide who will bring them to the Witch.

Aaaand that's pretty much it. (Really not much to say after a one-hour session.)

2021-05-20, 11:06 PM
It seems like it's easier to update this thread after a few weeks - the problem with one-hour sessions is that they're, well, one hour long. Not much happens.

The Andellan watch on the Princess was, it transpires, fairly light - the Princess herself was not yet desperate enough to attempt an escape (and the guards are all people she grew up around or with, making her loath to harm them), and they did not expect foreigners would involve themselves in the matter.

As such, it was a simple matter for the PCs to get into the palace - helped along by Alanna's imperiousness and their being known associates with a diplomat. Getting out of the palace might have been an issue, but for one thing working for them.

In my last update, I mentioned the PCs were seeking the aid of a silvery woman, named Argent. The reason they want her help is that she is not merely a woman with an odd colouration - she is a silver dragon.

Long story short, a silver dragon name Saumuros is indelibly linked to the founding of Andell, and the Silver Tree that sustains the realm sits near Saumuros' old lair. Saumuros passed away many years ago (or Argent, who is Saumuros' progeny, wouldn't dare return). As its power has faded, the Tree has called Argent to Andell.

Argent helps the PCs by creating a noisy and extremely visible distraction. The PCs then get the heck out of the palace while everyone present is in a panic over the sudden appearance of a dragon - perhaps not noticing that the attack seems more for show.

After some debate, the party decides to take Ida to the White Witch, and arranges to sneak her out of town on their ship before things settle down enough that the palace and the Ducal guard organise a search for the missing Princess. Argent, meanwhile, dives into the fjord and transforms back into humanoid shape in order to evade notice and return to Rogue Wave.

However, they can't rely on Argent's help after that - one of the PCs lets slip that she overheard Ducal soldiers were raiding Saumuros' old lair for treasure (to fund the Duke's habits), and Argent - still a dragon, after all - storms off. The PCs may not know for sure, but I think they have correctly surmised that she has stormed off to her dam's old lair, where she will stay, guarding its treasures, until her temper cools enough for her to be coaxed out.

The PCs put Argent to use in more or less the way I hoped they would. And then it was time to get her out of the way so she couldn't overshadow them. They can go fetch her later, but for now, it's on them to sort out the situation the way they want to.

The party slowly splits up to get out of town by various means (helped along in some cases by dust of disappearance acquired on a prior occasion), with some meeting a guide sent by the White Witch - a white-furred stag, before eventually reuniting in the woods outside of town. (The land to the east of the city is dominated by farmlands; the lands to the west, forest.) The party begins a days-long journey to Niruvik, along the far northern bounds of the land. During this time they scale an escarpment about 12 miles northwest of the city.

In the second half of our most recent session (earlier tonight), the party came across a set piece I've been hoping to do for ages, in an homage to the final episode of the BBC series Walking with Beasts: a convoy of mammoths traveling south to overwinter in the foothills of the western mountains. Most Andellans don't bother the mammoths - the pastureland in the southeast has space enough for animals to eat, although Andellans living in the northern hill country sometimes hunt them, or scavenge for ivory. (Hunting of mammoths on anything other than a modest scale is also forbidden by law, a condition set down by Saumuros, who sensibly wanted to protect a food supply.)

One of my players, a 10-year-old who had previously been playing the short dragonborn, is now playing an elven ranger. (We have two elven rangers and one elf fighter-thief with the outlander background. It's... kind of a thing.) He wanted to try to tame a mammoth. After several weeks of sort-of-saying no to his ideas (such as "I want to go fly out to sea and search for a kraken" - I mean, sure, if he wants to do it that badly, he can, but we could hardly devote any time to it in a session, and a kraken's just not something that turns up that often), it was nice to be able to mostly say yes. The mammoth was not permanently tamed, but by being nonthreatening and offering some food, he was able to cast beast bond and convince it to let him ride it for a time.

And now we're caught up. I daresay I'll wait a few more sessions before updating again.

2021-06-05, 12:20 PM
This game is on hiatus for tragic reasons. If it picks up again, I suppose I'll post a new thread.