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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Orc in the Playground
    Dr paradox's Avatar

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    Default Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth

    Eos, the creator of all, was dead. And the immortal children of the egg, aberrations, abominations, god-butchers, plucked the light of the sun and the light of the moon from the sky, and hid them in the bosom of the sea. And the teeming slayers of Eos laughed and writhed with ecstasy in their night-black world, for they were seated at the head of all tables. And mortals wept and were afraid, for the dawn was slain, and in the darkness they were ruled by the Beasts of the Earth.

    -Histories of Temur, 2nd Translation, Volume 1
    My players have asked for a short-form pocket campaign, so I stirred up something to that effect in an unexplored corner of my D&D setting. Since this is meant to only take 9 to 12 sessions, I thought I'd try a light log for it on here. I'll try and keep this up until the Campaign is over or until I lose focus.

    Spoiler: The Setting
    The setting is built around an inland sea modeled on the Black Sea in terms of geography and culture, except two or three times as large. That "night-dark world" mentioned in the opening text is in the truly distant past, if you were wondering: the sun and the moon rise and fall as usual. The local fallen empire is a mixture of Ottoman and Byzantine influences, with the southern coast being the former Imperial heartland that's been fragmented into feuding warlord states since the Empire went broke fighting off a massive goblin invasion. The year is 1068 of the Fifth Era.

    Beasts of the Earth specifically takes place in these Old Domains, in the city of Borudar which is a prosperous trading center that serves as a prime port for old Imperial Merchant houses in the region, local Khans, and gnomish truffle farmers. Borudar has a sometimes tense relationship with the largest city in the setting, the former Imperial capital of Icos. It's ruled by Queen Basira, and it has a thriving theater scene exemplified by mythic and historical plays that make great use of elaborate shadow-puppets.

    Spoiler: The Setup
    Over the last three weeks, bodies have been turning up in Borudar with holes bored in their skulls and their brains missing. This is, understandably, causing something of a panic. Four corpses have turned up like this, and one of them was a city official - Cleon Bey, the Steward of the High Seats.

    Even though it's a pretty low-magic sword and sorcery type setting, folk recognized what this meant: There's an Aberration loose in the city, or as they're called in the setting, an Immortal (They aren't alien creatures from the far realm: just very very old). Popular talk has named this creature "the Ghul of Borudar," or just "The Ghul" to Borudarans.

    As it happens, five heroes were close enough to get wind of these attacks, and have resolved to investigate these rumors and perhaps claim the Queen's bounty. It will be their goal to discover the Ghul's purpose, track it down, and end its reign of terror.

    Spoiler: The Characters

    Spoiler: Leo Kontostephanos
    Level 8 Human Fey Pact Tome Warlock
    Leo was a younger son of an aristocratic family in the Old Imperial capital of Icos, and as such was shipped off to wizard school for an education and a chance for some power. He wasn't well suited to his studies, though, and Wizard Schools are mostly schemes to get old useless wizards an army of servants that pays THEM for the privilege. When Leo was passed over for a serious apprenticeship position, he sealed a pact with the Archfey called the Peckish Duke, and scammed his way forward instead.

    He was found out, of course, and might have been executed for witchcraft if not for his influential family. They supplied him with a forged Writ of Arcana and told him there was no place in Icos for him anymore. Since then, he's been roaming the world, hungry for the kind of respect and status that a wizard is afforded and he is denied.

    Spoiler: Alp al Butar
    Level 8 Human Battlemaster Fighter
    Alp is a returning character from a previous campaign. He was a sailor who as a boy had been forced to flee his home in the Old Domains when warlords rolled through and flattened the place. Over the course of that game he gained a few levels, returned to his hometown, retrieved a powerful dwarven relic, and helped kill an Aboleth, but lost a close friend in the process. Since then he's resolved to help protect commoners and the downtrodden from the reckless bloodshed of bandits and warlords, by leading his own brotherhood of local warriors.

    Spoiler: Flavia Vascelov
    Level 8 Human Oath of Devotion Paladin/Inquisitive Rogue
    Flavia grew up in the Iron Principalities, a mountainous northwestern region usually regarded as barbaric. She belonged to nobility, however, and she used her privilege to research the monsters that threatened her home. When she found herself selected by their family's patron ancestor, Saint Lisara, to be a paladin, she turned her hand toward hunting monsters, but her passion was still research.

    Unfortunately, while she was abroad a coup by a neighboring kingdom threw her home into turmoil, and her family took the brunt of the blow. She returned only to find the Vascelovs dead and their castle in flames, so heartbroken she stole her way to a port and fled to Borudar. There she has lived in hiding for the last year, earning pay and respect by hunting such monsters as trouble the merchant class.

    Spoiler: Dubhsith Syraneres
    Level 8 Half-Elf College of Swords Bard
    In the Imperial capital of Icos, the center of sporting life is the Hippodrome. Traditionally built for chariot races, it plays host to a wide variety of spectacles and is managed by an order of bards who specialize in "Sword-Plays," dramatized re-enactments meant to display the dazzling dramatic flourish of its artists. Dubhsith is a successful playwright, having produced two of the most stirring sword-plays in years, but he worries that his flash and flourish won't endure like the Seven Glories of Eldarasaq, the Day of Fire, or the Tragedy of Mehnet III. He's come to Borudar in the hopes of studying its dramatic arts and applying them to his own future work.

    Spoiler: Brother Ioannis Baharat
    Level 8 Human Theurgy Wizard
    The fifth child of Nestorius Baharat, Ioannis was mysteriously ejected from the Imperial Great Merchant House to which he was born. He was instead given to the monks of the Belgey Orders, respected religious scholars and astronomers. His keen mind, piety, and quick study made him a rising star among the acolytes, and it was assumed that he would be "chosen" as a cleric to replace the head of their order who had perished shortly before his arrival. He was in for a rude shock when, during the Feast of Five Horns when he was 25, a lowly serving girl manifested the light of their God.

    Sure that he was meant for great things, Ioannis decided to become a pilgrim in search of the calling his god clearly had in store for him. He trained with a variety of wizards and spent many years apprenticed to the reclusive Cemre Cloud-Keeper. He wandered the dusty roads of the Old Domains for 17 years, always seeking to learn how to capture the grace of a god he feared had passed him by.

    I'll come along soon with an account of our Session 0 from last week, and hopefully get through today's Session 1 before too long.
    Last edited by Dr paradox; 2020-09-01 at 05:47 AM.
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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Orc in the Playground
    Dr paradox's Avatar

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    Portland, OR

    Default Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth Session 0, Part 1

    Session 0, Part 1
    Leo Kontostephanos
    Leo had a problem. He wanted to live comfortably and respectfully, but he had thrown in his lot with a Fey sugar daddy who liked to lick his lips when he talked, and basically anywhere they have temples they have Witchfinders whose job it is to smoke out people like him. In Orzon he had managed to worm his way into the position of Court Wizard, but three years ago he'd gotten too comfortable with someone he was intimate and the next thing he knew he was out on his ass. On the other hand, Orzon got conquered and sacked a year later, so maybe it was all for the best.

    The point was, he hadn't had anything better, and his money was running out. That's why he was so interested in Borudar: their First Enchanter, Ehir Bey, had choked to death on a fish bone during a state dinner around midyear, and now they were having some trouble with a monster or a ghoul of some kind. The opportunity was perfect.

    He arrived in town by boat, and swiftly laid down the gold for a luxurious apartment on Gorgon Hill, along with servants and additional furnishings. With what he had left, he bought his way into the High Harikamfi: the legendary theater of Borudar, where a production of the Fall of Raux made the ideal venue for his society debut. He swept into the walled gardens that served as an atrium in a burst of smoke and a spray of sparks. He knew how to work a crowd, and the Khanate and Great House clerks alike were quite taken with him. He boasted that he was here to kill the Ghul of Borudar, and they believed him. Only one person seemed less than impressed: Bakar, of Great House Celik. "What did you say your name was, again?" he asked, plainly trying to place him. Leo concealed his alarm. Someone who sought out his family history could easily discover the truth. There was no time to worry about it, though: he had hobnobbing to do.

    The evening went wonderfully, and the production was spellbinding. A wonderful example of Borudaran Gölge, or shadow-puppet theater, a word often borrowed by locals to mean misdirection, misinformation, and trickery.

    Leo had a willing audience. Now he just needed a fellow player.

    Dubhsith Syraneres
    The half-elven bard had been in Borudar for a week, and he was already learning a great deal. Borudaran dramatic styles had been developing on their own since it had broken away from the old Empire centuries ago, and while their method had been imported back into the Imperial Capital of Icos, there was no capturing the culture. At the same time, the locals were all too happy to give space to a renowned martial performer of his caliber. Not at the High Harikamfi, of course. The Gümüshamfi in Sixmarkets was more experimental, though still respectable. He'd put on two solo performances to thunderous applause, but he ached for the presence of just one or two members of his troupe to give some conflict.

    The Ghul, unfortunately, was offering little in the way of that. You can't fight what you can't find. He'd spoken with the Merchants and lesser Khans who came to offer their congratulations on his arrival, and it seemed that nobody had a clue where to start, or even who to talk to. A character like the Ghul was dripping with dramatic potential for a new play - a ghost story, of sorts. He just needed to lay eyes on it...

    One of the clerks came up to him with a message. One Leo Kontostephanos had invited him to dine that evening on Gorgon Hill. He wanted to talk about how they could work together.

    Leo and Dubhsith
    Leo produced a lovely spread, and they ate with the doors on the balcony open to let in the cypress-scented air. "I saw your first sword-play in the Hippodrome. Incredible work. The poise, the control..." Leo wagged a finger. "When I heard you were in Borudar as well, I knew I'd found the perfect hunting partner. What do you say we pool our resources?"

    Dubhsith agreed, and their discussion turned to how they are to proceed with the hunt. Their discussion was interrupted by Leo's servant. "I beg your pardon," he frowned, looking at a scrap of parchment in his hand "But a rather threadbare man just dropped this off for you."

    Spoiler: Mysterious Note

    Leo passed the note to Dubhsith. "Could this be for you? Do you know any 'KS?'"
    Dubhsith shook his head "One or two, but none that seem likely to send this. Do you mind If I come along?"
    "I'd be more comfortable if you did. It might be dangerous."

    The Labyrinth, it seemed, was a lower-class district near the river, and the Bakiramfi was an old stone Amphitheater that's currently between professional troupes. Near to midnight the pair set off from Leo's apartment. Passing into the Labyrinth from Sixmarkets, they immediately felt the air grow closer and the walls become more oppressive. Only a narrow band of starlight could bee seen above them, and the alleys were indeed mazelike.

    Leo was about to suggest they backtrack and try to find a main thoroughfare, when Dubhsith's ears pricked up. He could have sworn he heard a voice - a cry? He took Leo's arm and guided him to the mouth of sidestreet just in time to see a scarlet fireball explode above the rooftops. They both immediately broke into a run, dashing this way and that to navigate the narrow streets. A few falling embers guided their path. They could hear voices ahead of them. "By the gods... What did we do? What did we DO??"

    They broke clear into a circular court with a well at the center. Near the well lay a robed corpse with a gaping hole in its head, and around the body were standing six men in the crimson and gold livery of Great House Baharat. Their leader, a man in a trimmed beard and silk Kaftan, whirled in a panic to face the newcomers.

    "Damn me..." he says. "Kill them. Kill them all!"
    Last edited by Dr paradox; 2020-09-08 at 04:52 AM.
    I've got a fiction podcast!
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  3. - Top - End - #3
    Firbolg in the Playground
    Join Date
    Feb 2011

    Default Re: Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth

    Really nice setup in terms of geography and culture. It’s clear you’ve put some work into developing the setting, and the characters all have detailed and solid backstories which mesh with that setting.

    The opening quote is fascinating on its own, but it had me thinking the campaign would take place in a lightless world ruled by abominations. Hopefully you’ll be elaborating more on the Histories of Temur in future sessions. Overall very nicely done, looking forward to the next entry.

    Also, by any chance was Queen Basira a former actress?

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth Session 0, Part 2

    Session 0, Part 2
    Flavia Vascelov
    Flavia had arrived in Borudar a little less than a year before the killings started. She didn't have much gold, but she was well outfitted, skilled, and of noble birth, so she did her best to present herself to the noble Khans of Borudar for service. Unfortunately, her Ironback accent and northern customs made a poor first impression: virtually her first night among gentle company in Borudar, she committed a terrible faux pas that marked her as an uncouth barbarian.

    Nonetheless, a woman of her talents was not to be long ignored. While the doors of the nobility were closed to her, she quickly found allies among the merchant class. Between the Great Houses, the the Doronite Gnomes, and the halflings of the Honorable Mariners' Guild, she was able to solve enough problems to earn a tidy living and a dwelling of her own near the Imperial Bazaar in Sixmarkets. She had her ear to the ground when the Ghul arrived in Borudar.

    She heard about the first killing: a barge captain near the docks on Hir Street. He'd been found by his crew in the alley behind an inn, and the curios state of the corpse had made it a subject for discussion in the lower class districts of the city. Two nights later, a robed figure had been spotted in the dead of night among the mansions on Gorgon Hill. Few people made the connection until Cleon Bey, the Steward of the High Seat, was found murdered in the Gardens of Mustafa. This caught the attention of city officials, Khans, and the Janissary Corps alike. Cleon hadn't been nobility, exactly, but he had been high society. Nightly patrols increased, and rumors flowed outward along the trade routes from Borudar.

    Flavia joined in the nightly patrols, particularly on Hir Street and in the slums of Zilkasaba, though she had no better luck than the Janissaries. A Tinsmith was killed in Sixmarkets, and the streets began emptying when the sun went down. Rumor had it that a beggar had witnessed the last victim, and was being held in the dockside fortress of Aegolhisara. Flavia had no luck getting in to see her, so the Paladin turned her attention to research: she was friendly with the Lector at the Ev Yoldaki. It was a temple to the Wheelwright, god of travel, trade, and destiny, and it doubled as a meeting place and roadhouse for travelers passing through Sixmarkets. Not exactly tranquil, as study environments go, but it was better than nothing.

    She dug into what few texts the Ev Yoldaki had on Immortals. These hateful creatures were unlike mortals, animals, or even most monsters, because they had not been created by the gods. Rather, they had originated from the same cosmic egg that had birthed Eos, the creator goddess, at the beginning of the Mythic Era. They lived in the cracks and crevices of the world that Eos fashioned, biding their time and growing their strength. At last they struck, killing Eos and claiming the world for themselves. They ruled over mortalkind as false gods for untold centuries until the arrival of the modern gods, who lit the heavens with the stars, banished the Immortals to the bowels of the earth and the bottom of the sea, and restored the sun and the moon to the sky. This ushered in the Second Era, the Divine Era. The Immortals, then, were the oldest enemies of the gods, and viewed mortalkind's heavenly saviors as usurpers.

    Among the ranks of the immortals, Flavia found, were particularly hateful creatures: parasites called Ilithids, better known as Mind Flayers. The Ghul of Borudar was likely one of these.

    Hey. Dungeon Master Gordon here. I'll be using these quote boxes to fill in slightly more out-of-character stuff about rulings, tablecraft, and so on.

    I was puzzled that most of the players responded with surprise and alarm to hear that a Mind Flayer was the Big Bad. I thought I'd made it pretty clear with the cause of death and explicitly saying it was an aberration, but apparently they've gotten used to me using obscure folklore monsters instead of classic D&D fare, so it hadn't even occured to them. If I'd known that, maybe I would have teased them along a little more. On the other hand, maybe that would have just been anticlimactic, if they were expecting something really mind-blowingly original.
    Flavia leaned back in her chair and pondered the books and scrolls in front of her. It was more important than ever that she hear what the witness had to say.

    Alp al Butar
    Since reclaiming the Hammer of Exiles and killing the Voice of the Deep two years earlier, Alp had been traveling far and wide in the Old Domains, recruiting warriors of principle to his cause and battling bandit warlords wherever they could be found. His efforts had helped countless commonfolk break free from the cycle of conquest that had dominated their lives for generations, but Alp's dreams were still uneasy. His thoughts often drifted to the cavernous and unnatural lake beneath Mor Mamlut, and the Immortal creature that had stolen away the very soul of his friend, Deimos Aphrodisios.

    It was chance that had him within a week's ride of Borudar when rumors of the Ghul began filtering into the surrounding area. Alp was transfixed when he heard an Immortal was loose on the streets, and he quickly made excuses to his men about a diplomatic mission to the Pearl of the Southern Coast. One-time traitor Sabbah al Uzuntu was there too, though, and he'd been with Alp in Mor Mamlut two years ago. He took Alp aside to speak privately. "I can come with you," he said. "I owe my life to your mercy. If you would have me, I would come with you."

    Alp shook his head. Sabbah had a wife and children. Riding against swords and spears and axes was a danger Alp knew he could defend against, but in Borudar he would be facing an evil stranger and more terrible by far, and he would not risk another comrade as he had Deimos. He would ride to Borudar alone.

    Alp had felt out of place riding into the white city. He'd lived so long in perpetual danger and warfare that the placid wealth of Eastern Borudar was a shock to his senses. Even the docks were filled with pleasure craft and noble yachts rather than the pot-bellied cogs and clinker-built carracks of his sailing days. He was quick to seek out the Salt Ward - less pleasant, but better suited to his comfort by far. He took up lodging in a burlesque, washed himself of the road's dust, and set out to offer his expertise to the Janissaries.

    At first his offer was rebuffed, but when he mentioned that he'd battled Immortals before, he was quickly ushered in to speak with Captain Ikbal. He sat at a desk in a splendidly decorated chamber, with fine carpets on the floor and broad windows gazing out over the rooftops toward Arseos Bay. It seemed the Janissary Corps was well appreciated. Ikbal was plainly tired, though, and frustrated that Alp didn't have any immediate answers. Nonetheless, experience was experience, and Alp seemed to be a capable fighter at least. The Captain wrote out a pass for Alp's entry into Aegolhisar to interview the beggar that had witnessed the last killing. "Second to last," Ikbal corrects himself with a grimace. "A porter was found dead in Zilkasaba this morning."

    At the gates of Aegolhisara, Alp saw that he wasn't the only warrior trying to gain entry. A northern woman in a breastplate was arguing with the guard. "I told you three days ago!" he growled, "Nobody can see the witness! Least of all some Ironback ratcatcher!"
    She scowled. "I catch a little more than rats. Are you saying you don't need help?"
    "I'm saying my orders are clear! You'll have to get permission from Captain Ikbal, until then my hands are tied."
    Alp strode up and interrupted, speaking to the woman. "Hey, thanks for waiting. I've got the pass from the Captain, we can go in now."
    The woman remained silent while the guard examined the pass. "Looks right enough," he said, giving the woman a suspicious look. "You say she's with you?"
    "Absolutely," said Alp.

    "Why did you do that?" the woman asked once they were past the gate.
    "I can tell a good warrior when I see one," Alp said. "And I'd rather not fight an Immortal alone. My name's Alp, it's an honor to meet you."
    "Flavia Vascelov," she said. "Same to you."

    Flavia and Alp
    The witness, they were told by their escort, was a beggar called Melis Weirdeye. She wasn't especially articulate before her brush with the Ghul, and it hadn't done her any favors. They'd found her near the Tinsmith's body, buried in a heap of rotting carpets and gibbering incoherently. The Janissary unlocked the door to the holding cells and motioned them in with a bow.
    Flavia said, "We'll call out for you when we're done."
    The Janissary grimaced. "Or she will."

    Melis was a mess. She was huddled as far back into a corner of her crumbling cell as she was able, right up under the window. She whimpered as they approached, and Alp wasn't able to get much useful from her: she was blind with terror, saying only that "It could see me, I couldn't see it, it was empty, but it could see me!" Flavia took Alp aside, and cast Heroism on the poor woman. Her breathing calmed, and her posture relaxed a little though her expression grew no less weary. Flavia could see that her left eye was larger than her right, and had a horizontal pupil like a goat's. She was a tiefling.

    "What did you see, Melis?" Flavia asked.
    "I heard it," she said. "I heard a kind of - it was like a moan, and a - a sucking. I jumped into the pile of carpets, buried myself. There was another sound - like meat hitting stone. It was just meat, now. I could tell." She wheezed a little, and shut her eyes. "I didn't even dare to say a prayer. I saw it. It came around the corner, and I saw it."
    "What did it look like?"
    "It was tall. Tall and thin. It was dressed all in emerald green - silk. It was wearing a silk robe, shining like it was new. And over the robe, it was all draped - it was dripping with gold and jewelry. All shining. All bright. And its face -" she shudders. "I couldn't see the face. All lost in deep darkness. I could feel the face, though. And I knew," her breathing grew more labored "I knew it could see me! It raised up its hand, and there were old rings on its fingers, and it raised its finger," she raised her own forefinger to demonstrate, pressing it against her lips, "And, and and..."
    "And then what happened, Melis?" asked Alp.
    "And then I was... I was here." She shook her head. "I don't remember. I can't remember."

    Melis grew more agitated after that. They tried to console her, but she stopped responding. The guard explained that she'd be like that for a few hours until she came around.
    Outside Aegolhisara, Flavia and Alp agreed that they should work together. Over the next two days, they'd split their time between patrolling the streets at night and studying by day. Flavia was interested to hear that the Ghul was wearing a new silk robe, and they spent some time tracking down a large bolt of green silk that had passed through the Salt Ward, only for the lead to dead end when they found it had just been a replacement banner for the Tower of Belazzar.

    Alp grew frustrated. There was a monster out there. They knew what it was, and they knew what it looked like, but there was nothing to do but keep laboring away in the library of the Ev Yoldaki. They were there when the Lector came in an expressed her displeasure at being treated like a secretary.
    "Ah, I'm sorry Lector Ozam, it won't happen again," said Flavia. She stopped. "Wait. What do you mean?"
    "Your mail, Lady Vascelov. Some scholar was here earlier and left a note for you. I told him he could deliver it himself, but he claimed to have no time." She handed over a slip of parchment.

    Spoiler: Mysterious Note

    "You can tell this 'KS' that the Wheelwright's servants are happy to provide guidance, but will not be treated as clerks."
    Flavia nodded, still looking at the note. "Of course, Lector. Alp, I know the way to the Bakiramfi. It's an empty amphitheater. I can't imagine who would want us there."
    Alp cracked his knuckles. "We should find out, then."

    Flavia led the way unerringly through the Labyrinth. She had tracked a Wererat and its servants through the tunnels and basements of the districts a few months earlier, and had learned the importance of reliable navigation. They were nearing the site of the meeting when a sound drew them up short. A cry?

    With a dry WHOOMPH, a fireball exploded over the rooftops. Both of them broke into a run, diverting through an abandoned house and onto a parallel street, rushing headlong into the darkness. They could hear voices up ahead...

    They skidded to a halt at the edge of a circular courtyard with a well at the center. Six men in the colors of House Baharat were standing over a robed corpse. Their leader turned to face them, then the mouth of another alley where two other men stood.

    "Damn me..." the Baharat leader said. "Kill them! Kill them all!"

    Next time we'll jump right into Session 1. The fifth player missed Session 0, so I played through Brother Ioannis' experience with him solo. I think I'll skip that, because he wound up learning a fair bit of information better learned in Session 1.
    Last edited by Dr paradox; 2020-09-01 at 04:18 PM.
    I've got a fiction podcast!
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  5. - Top - End - #5
    Orc in the Playground
    Dr paradox's Avatar

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    Default Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth Session 1, Part 1

    Session 1, Part 1

    (Since we're playing online, I put together an MP3 I can play over Roll20 as a signal to the players when it's time to start. Special thanks to Brother Ioannis' player for the music.)

    They call Borudar the Pearl of the Southern shore. Even at midnight, the buildings gleam white as bone under the waxing Barley Moon. Nestled in the valley between Gorgon Hill and Mehnet’s Fell, the city looks like a precious thing cupped in two hands, lifted from the black waters of the nighted sea.

    Borudar sleeps. It murmurs while it dozes. Gentle sounds of rustling cypress bounce off of the tile roofs and echo through the vast Bazaars. The Commonpots are vacant, and the last stagehand from the very last show picks his way home, clinging to an iron club with white knuckles. Borudar sleeps, but it does not sleep peacefully. Cities dream: and the Pearl of the Southern shore is having a nightmare.

    A scarlet fireball blossoms over the Labyrinth. You duck and weave through the streets toward the falling embers. You hear voices.

    “By the gods… What did we do? What did we do??”
    You skid to a halt at the edge of a circular court with a well at its center. In the court, six men in the Crimson and Gold of House Baharat stand over a robed corpse. Their leader whirls to face you newcomers.

    “Damn me… Kill them! Kill them all!”
    Dubhsith and Alp waste no time. They dash forward while their companions are still trying to understand the scene before them. Most of the assailants are dressed in simple gambesons, but Alp goes for the leader in the Kaftan while Dubhsith squares off with a towering brute in splint mail. Alp strikes a deep wound on the leader, who staggers back with a cry. He fumbles for a scroll, and suddenly ten shining daggers leap from his person and lance forward. Leo and Flavia retain enough presence of mind to try and fend off the deadly steels.

    In the midst of the chaos, a panicked voice calls out. "Wait!" A tall man in the white robe and black turban of a scholar emerges from another alley. "I am a son of House Baharat! I command you to stop!" He digs in his satchel for a moment, and triumphantly draws out... a piece of hard tack.

    The attackers ignore his command.

    The battle is short, but fierce. The wizard retreats while one of his servants cover him, but he doesn't get a chance to cast another spell. The flying daggers are deadly, but swiftly dispelled by Flavia. Dubhsith and the newcomer quickly dispatch two of the lightly armored assailants. Leo casts Hold Person on the armored bruiser and the remaining two henchmen. Alp seizes the paralyzed warrior under the arms and with inhuman strength uses him to slam the wizard into a wall, knocking him unconscious. With their foes outnumbered and surrounded, our heroes bring the battle to a decisive close.

    "Well done, Dubhsith" pants Leo. "I knew I made the right choice recruiting you."
    Dubhsith and Alp both remain silent as they work together to restrain their attackers.

    The newcomer in white rushes toward the robed corpse, but Flavia raises her blade in warning. He puts his hands up. "Please, I mean no harm. My name is Brother Ioannis."
    Flavia doesn't lower her guard. "You said you were Baharat."
    "Well, yes, but as you can see I'm not with them. Please, we must examine the body."

    Their attention is drawn to a swift, repetetive clacking sound reverberating up the southern street. They turn, and see a middle aged dwarf rush up, hobbling heavily on a stout walking stick. He wears dark blue robes that clash with his bright red beard, in the middle braid of which is hung a silver inkwell. He breaths heavily from the exertion, but his gaze falls on the robed corpse. He clicks his tongue. "Well. That's fortunate."

    Leo, Dubhsith, Alp, and Flavia are baffled. "What? What's fortunate?" asks Flavia.

    "You'd do well to conduct your investigation swiftly," the Dwarf says. "The Janissaries will be here any minute."

    Dubsith and Alp begin trying to rouse the Baharat wizard, while Ioannis stoops to examine the body.

    He appears to have been a human man, somewhere in his early fifties, dressed the the accouterments of a wizard: he wears a black robe with white trim, and a component pouch hangs from a green sash at his waist. Nearby, a varnished willow staff lies shattered on the cobblestones.

    His right eye is missing, and blood streams down his face from the empty lid. Slightly above that socket, a three inch hole gapes into unsettling darkness within. Ioannis' attention is drawn to his left hand, where two rings sparkle in the moonlight. On his pinky is a gold signet, and on his thumb is a silver one.

    Spoiler: Gold Signet

    Spoiler: Silver Signet

    His middle finger is broken and bleeding. It looks as though a third ring was violently torn from it.

    Meanwhile, Dubhsith has succeeded in awakening the wizard with a sharp slap. He sighs as his eyes flutter open, and his face contorts with affronted rage. "Release me at once. I am Zeki Nemir-Baharat. I will not be restrained."

    Alp shakes him. "What were you doing here? Why did you attack us?"

    Zeki curls his lip into a sneer "My comrades and I discovered a body, and immediately found ourselves surrounded by armed strangers. I presumed your involvement."

    "That's not what we heard," says Dubhsith. "We heard someone way 'what did we do.'" He leans closer. "So what did you do?"

    Zeki clams up.

    Suddenly, they become aware of the distant clattering of armor and raised voices, drawing closer. The dwarf hisses "The Janissaries! Take what you want, we shouldn't be here when they arrive!"

    There's a brief debate over whether they should carry away the corpse as well as Zeki, but Flavia is adamant that it's a bad idea. Ioannis compromises by taking the two signets instead, and they follow the dwarf into the darkened alleyways mere steps ahead of the Janissary torchlight. Zeki begins trying to call for help, but Dubhsith fixes a gag on him. Ioannis asks "Kagan, what was that? Did you plan for that to happen?"

    The dwarf shakes his head. "You overestimate the precision of my Order. Though I'm not inclined to call it coincidence, exactly..."

    "Kagan?" Leo asks "Are you the one who sent us that message? KS?"

    Kagan nods.

    Dubhsith shoulders his way forward. "Where are you leading us?"

    "To the Bakiramfi, of course, we still have a meeting there," Kagan grunts. "This is no time to furnish explanations. We can talk when we're safely off the street."

    Dubhsith shrugs. "I was done talking."

    They arrive at an open stone archway leading into a tumbledown sandstone amphitheater. Ten tiers of stone benches encircle a sandy performance space, all encircled by walls tall enough to screen it from the surrounding buildings. On the far side of the amphitheater is the mouth of an open tunnel, and a wooden handcart stacked with supplies. Kagan beckons for someone to grab it, and Ioannis obliges. He leads them down the short tunnel, then through a side door into a long neglected sitting area decorated with mosaics of the old Emperors: Eldarasaq the Conqueror in battle with the Divine Bull, Yasar II commanding the forging of weapons, and so on.

    Kagan goes directly to a mosaic of Mehnet I, standing on a balcony near a door and pointing out constellations from a scroll. He reaches up and brushes grime off the wall to reveal a small symbol on a corner of the scroll: An open eye, pierced by a long downward spike.

    Spoiler: Symbol

    "Alas," he intones. "Ataikhuul Remains."

    Immediately, Mehnet I springs to life. He turns and opens the door behind him, and as he does so the wall itself opens to reveal even stone steps curving down and to the right, into darkness.

    "Alp, if you would light a lamp. Dubhsith, you can carry some extra oil."

    "Hang on," squawks Leo. "Who are you? What is this place?"

    Kagan frowns. "It's off the street," he says, and turns back to the open door. "Leo, bring the carpet. It's vital. Gods, I wish there were fewer stairs..."

    He begins gingerly hobbling down the steps, and the rest of them tentatively follow. Zeki struggles a bit as as his turn comes, but Flavia holds him fast.

    Moments after the last of them enters, the wall sighs shut again.

    EDIT: Ahh, nertz. I didn't know about the double-posting rule. I got a warning for it, so if anyone's reading this, I'd appreciate a quick response so I can press on.
    Last edited by Dr paradox; 2020-09-03 at 03:03 AM.
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  6. - Top - End - #6
    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth

    This is interesting and enjoyable, but also a little confusing, since I'm not sure if two different factions of the party were fighting each other. Or was it just Brother Ioannis who was mixed up with Zeki for some reason?

    I'm really enjoying the setting so far, but the one jarring element was the use of the term "Janissaries," which is of course the name for a historical military force. Using the actual name in a fantasy setting seems out of place, especially when the other elements have their own setting-specific names.

    Apart from that, the setting is great--it feels appropriate to the characters. I also like the inkwell in the dwarf's beard, one of those "why didn't I think of that?" details.

    So, looking forward to more.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Orc in the Playground
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    Post Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth Session 1, Part 2

    Session 1, Part 2
    Once again, I'd appreciate any comments people can leave so I can avoid double-posting. Hope folks are enjoying the game!

    The six of them descend into the earth, following the curve of the staircase and guided by the lamp that Alp holds. Kagan is counting softly to himself. "Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty five." He raises a hand. "Hold on. One of the next five steps is trapped."

    "Which one?" asks Leo.

    "I don't know. The records weren't completely clear. If one of you could clear the way I'd appreciate it."

    Flavia volunteers, taking the lamp and jumping over the next few steps to get a better look. Meanwhile, Dubhsith turns to Leo. "We still don't know anything about this dwarf. Should we really be letting him lead us down here?"

    Leo shrugs. "I'm sure you and I are more than a match for him."

    "Found it," says Flavia. She has spotted a slight seam around one of the steps, suggesting it would drop if stepped on. The stairs have a thick layer of dust that suggests nobody has been down here in quite some time.

    "Outstanding," says Kagan. "If I could get your arm to help me step over that..."

    The stairs wind down a long semicircular arc, descending perhaps sixty feet before terminating with a sharp turn to the right, blocked by a bronze gate. Kagan fumbles inside his robe for the key and wrestles briefly with the aged mechanism before it opens with a squeal. the Dwarf seems to relax a little, and he stumps forward into a broad chamber beyond.

    The walls are made predominantly from a bluish marble, with the floor paved in white. Unlit clay lamps hang from the walls of the circular chamber and from four pillars that run up to a domed ceiling decorated with mosaics. Around the room, stout wooden tables have been pushed to the walls and chairs have been stacked neatly on top of them.

    Alp looks around. "How did you have the key to this place?" he asks.

    "Because we built it," answers Kagan. "Though we haven't been back in more than seven centuries." He wrestles a chair down and plops down in it with an exhausted sigh.

    Brother Ioannis stares around in wonder. "When you said you had a hideout, I thought you meant a warehouse or an abandoned building or something..."

    Kagan chuckles. "An Imperial Order doesn't skulk around in warehouses." He straightens up and grows more serious. "My name is Kagan Stonemantle. I am a diviner in the Order of the Piercing Eye. We were established in the Fourth Era by Emperor Mehnet I, and I've come to help you deal with the Ghul of Borudar."

    None of them have ever heard of an "Order of the Piercing Eye," despite some excellent education among them. Dubhsith asks "But what does that mean? Why were you established?"

    "To help combat the great threat of the Era, of course." Kagan gestures upward to the mosaic, and under the grime and cobwebs they can make out great masses of armed troops assembling, marching, and doing battle, marching eastward against the form of an immense Red Dragon, itself commanding red-hued troops rallied around a mountain. Here and there, on the periphery of the great conflicts, they can make out figures in blue robes, highlighted with shining lapis lazuli.

    "The Living Flame, great and terrible Krath, appeared and seized the lands that today bear his name. Icos couldn't brook this evil, and so the doomed Dragon Crusades began. Mehnet was smart enough to see that a foe like this would need more than pikes and shields to make war against, so he created our order." Kagan draws their attention to the same pierced eye symbol, positioned at the apex of the domed ceiling.

    Dubhsith nods. "Espionage."

    "We were diviners, tasked with safeguarding the empire with a keen eye and a subtle touch. We do so still." Kagan scowls. "Even in these places that have forgotten they belong to the empire."

    "And why have you come now?" asks Flavia.

    Kagan gives a sidelong glance at their captive, who has done his best to shrink to the periphery. "I think it would be wise to make sure our prisoner is stowed. There is a dungeon this way."

    They find some skeletons still left in the dungeon, and Kagan speculates dispassionately that they were left to starve in the dark when the Sanctuary was abandoned. Zeki Baharat is safely stowed, and they go to tour the rest of the Sanctuary.

    Kagan seems especially concerned with the crypts. Two dozen burial niches line the walls, and five stone coffins rest in the center of the floor. The dwarf explains that seventy years earlier, some fool wizard in the Kolechian Reach managed to cage the guardian of the underworld. It was only for a few seconds, but that was enough for some of the dead to wake across the world, even in tombs that had been sealed and consecrated.

    This is alluding to the events of our last pocket campaign, a 10th level prequel game called "The Tower of Scythes." It was a big hit for the group, and they like seeing their higher-level exploits mentioned as legend and backstory. In this case, I've used the climax of that game partial justification to have undead in any given tomb. I didn't feel like a filler fight with the undead would be appropriate here, but It gave a reason why Kagan hadn't come down here before recruiting them, it explains that setting detail, and it establishes the crypts, which I suspect will come up again later. Triple play, as far as I'm concerned.
    They throw open one or two of the sarcophagi, and are relieved to find that the dead still sleep. "Their time may come yet," Kagan says. "These faithful of the order still have oaths to discharge, at need."

    He shows them around the rest of the Sanctuary.

    Spoiler: Sanctuary of the Piercing Eye

    "It's not furnished now, but I brought bedrolls until we can get better settled," says Kagan. "Feel free to pick a room - "

    "No." says Leo. "Absolutely not. Under no circumstances am I going to sleep in this rat's nest!" He's affronted at the idea, being used to the finer things in life and having just put down several hundred gold on a truly luxurious apartment in the highest class part of town. "You expect me to put up with this??"

    "Don't be hasty..." says Kagan. "Come back in here. Bring that carpet." He hobbles back out to the Atrium and directs Leo to roll it out. "There," the dwarf says as he straightens the rug with his walking stick. "Perfectly homey."

    Leo storms out toward the stairs without another word. Alp follows him, and Brother Ioannis approaches Kagan. "I think we might as well try and get some sleep. It's been a strange night, and we can try to straighten out some answers in the morning."

    Dubhsith, Flavia, and Ioannis pick out rooms for themselves near the bath. Kagan take a room and office adjoining the library, and Leo and Alp spend the night above ground.

    Leo is awakened at dawn the next day by Alp singing a throaty hymn to his god. They head back down into the sanctum, bringing the rest of the cart of goods with them, and find Kagan has brewed some coffee and set up a plain breakfast on one of the tables in the Atrium. They discuss the coming day.

    Flavia and Kagan suggest to Leo that it may not be wise for him to have a public address, since they've just made enemies of one of the most powerful trading guilds in the city. Leo dismisses the idea, and insists that these accommodations are unacceptable, but admits that Gorgon Hill is too far from the Labyrinth for it to be practical to split his time. He resolves to spend the morning trying to renegotiate his lease a find lodging closer to the sanctuary. In the meantime, Dubhsith and Alp will go to Sixmarkets to acquire some more necessaries. Ioannis volunteers to cast Fabricate, so instead of purchasing beds and furniture they can just have raw materials delivered to an adjecent alley, which they can bring down and fashion into what they need under cover of night. In addition, Dubhsith plans to purchase some slight ornamentation for his own quarters. As they talk, Kagan is looking at the gold and silver signets they collected from the body. He groans as he looks at the silver one.

    Spoiler: Silver Signet

    "The dead man was on the Props Council," he says.

    "The what?" asks Ioannis.

    Kagan explains, "Queen Basira rules Borudar, but she still has to deal with the Great Houses, the Khanate, the Mariner's Guild... She does so through the theater. The Properties Council is in charge of managing the High Harikamfi, but politically it's like an informal senate. Every power player in the city is trying to either win a seat on it, or control a seat by proxy."

    "Does that mean the killing was political? Are we sure there was an Immortal involved at all?" asks Flavia.

    Kagan shakes his head. "I don't know. But this makes everything more delicate and irritating."

    Leo is able to relocate to a notably smaller, but still pleasant apartment, above a coffee-house called Goldspout, on the northern edge of the Labyrinth. Though in the lower class neighborhood, Goldspout is an upscale establishment popular with playwrights and producers looking to slum it. Leo is upset, but it's not a complete loss. Meanwhile, Dubhsith and Alp make an interesting discovery on their trip to the Imperial Bazaar: the man who was killed last night was a wizard named Cevahir Yol who lived in a local Sixmarkets landmark, the Green Tower. Apparently the Janissaries have already moved to cordon the place off.

    By the time they all make their way back to the Sanctuary, they find Kagan fuming about their late start. "In case you've forgotten," he growls. "We have a prisoner in our dungeon who needs questioning."

    "About that..." Flavia interjects. "Is he going to be allowed to leave here?"

    Kagan makes some noncommittal noises to that effect, speculating on what Zeki would be likely to do immediately upon escaping. He doesn't make any declarations one way or another, finishing with an ambiguous "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

    Flavia frowns as they head down into the dungeons. She's less and less sure that they can rely on this Diviner's moral character, and his attitude doesn't sit well with her paladin training. She's prepared Zone of Truth for the interrogation, but would prefer not to use it.

    Zeki Nemir-Baharat is indignant when they appear, demanding to be released at once, but quickly seems to realize the gravity of his situation when he finds his captors aren't part of any organization his people have leverage over. "Perhaps I was... hasty, in assuming you were involved in the killings," he wheedles. "If you only release me, I'm sure I could negotiate a fair settlement with my house."

    Brother Ioannis steps forward. "You can settle with me," he says. "I am of House Baharat: my name is Ioannis Phoca-Baharat."

    Zeki seems elated. "Then we have no conflict! My orders came straight from Valeria Phoca-Baharat, no doubt a cousin of yours! I was only carrying out her orders!"

    "What orders were those?" Alp folds his arms.

    "Er..." Zeki glances around, as if remembering himself. He asks Ioannis "Have you your lineage or signet? I must be sure of you before I share secrets..."

    Ioannis grimaces. He lost his genealogy years ago, when he was taken hostage by bandits on the road, and the life of a pilgrim gave him little desire to have it replaced. Zeki clams up, moving in circles to avoid given definite answers, but eventually the group pins him down with the simple truth that nobody knows where he is, and they can hold him here as long as they want. He relents.

    "Listen, the order came with Valeria's personal seal. It was all in order - I've done jobs like it before! It said to gather a company fit to contain a wizard and collect Cevahir al Yol from the Green Tower, with coercion if neccessary, for a confidential meeting in the Labyrinth. These sorts of things happen all the time, it's usual Props Council skulduggery!" he whines.

    "Then what happened?" asks Dubhsith.

    "We got him, and brought him to the place for the meeting." Zeki frowns. "Then my orders said we were to all form a cordon in the surrounding alleys and wait for the negotiator." he pauses. "That was the only strange thing."

    "What was?" asks Ioannis.

    "That... that we weren't to leave an escort with him. In other meetings like this, I and maybe one other would stay with the target to wait for the negotiator. These orders were clear that Cevahir was to be left alone."

    Dubhsith nods. "It sounds like you were duped. Could the order have been forged?"

    "Forged? You think I wouldn't -" Zeki's demeanor changes on a dime from affronted to thoughtful. "Well. I suppose it's possible. Yes, in fact I think it's quite likely, given what happened." he chews his lip. "If that's true, we ought to bring news of this to Valeria as soon as possible."

    Flavia says "You'd make the introduction?"

    "Oh, yes!" Zeki nods vigorously. "I'm sure House Baharat is just as eager to get to the bottom of this as you are."

    Kagan scoffs. "This man is an opportunist and a liar who will say anything to save his own skin. This is a waste of time. Flavia, cast the spell."

    I feel kind of bad about this moment. It's very in character for Kagan to respond like this, but it felt like I was tugging the reins of the story to keep them from derailing it by listening to Zeki. The problem is, I'm good at coming up with plausible lies, and my friends are all very nice people who want to give their enemies the benefit of the doubt. They didn't even attempt an Insight check on Zeki when he suddenly grew very cooperative.

    I think my real misstep here was in making Zeki so slippery. It would make sense for him to try and dupe his captors and do everything he can to avoid answering their questions, but the purpose of this scene was to plant the hooks that they could follow into the rest of the adventure. Kagan helped get the scene back there, but I'd kind of derailed it by making Zeki so quick on his feet.
    Flavia casts Zone of Truth, somewhat unhappily. Zeki immediately goes as rigid as a board, and his eyes shoot wide. Alp moves to join Zeki in the zone, out of some kind of solidarity, and finds that it feels like slight electric current is running through every one of his nerves. Not painful, but unpleasant. It feels a bit like a night terror. Dubhsith asks "Have you lied to us?"

    Zeki's voice is quavering and monotone. "Yes."

    "What did you lie to us about?"

    "I do not believe the order was forged. The seal was authentic, and I received it from a courier I knew well."

    "Were you going to turn us in to House Baharat?"

    Zeki opens his mouth several times, but doesn't respond. He's shaking very slightly. It looks as though the spell is causing him great discomfort.

    Leo grimaces. "I suppose we'll take that as a 'Yes.'"

    Dubhsith presses him. "Did you know what was going to happen to the wizard?"

    "No," Zeki intones. "I had no idea.""

    "Did you have anything to do with the other deaths?"

    "I - do not believe so." Zeki's face twitches. "Please. I don't like this spell. Please stop."

    Flavia dismisses the Zone of truth, and Zeki collapses as if exhausted. Alp moves to steady him, and catches a glimpse of with wizard's eyes burning with hatred.

    "I'm sorry for that," says Flavia.

    "I promise you," Zeki seethes. "I promise you that you might hold my tongue today, but one day you will hear me speak. I swear it."

    Leo cheerfully replaces Zeki's gag. "One day, maybe."

    They lock the dungeon behind them and head back upstairs. Kagan touches Flavias arm and says "You wasted time down there. Next time, open with the spell."

    "That depends on the circumstances, surely?"

    "We may not have time to debate the circumstances in the future!" Kagan growls.

    They start to discuss their next course of action. It seems there are two courses they might take: They can seek out what Valeria Baharat's involvement with these events really are, or they can try to find out why Cevahir Yol was so carefully targeted. After some deliberation, they determine that they'll check out Cevahir's background first, by trying to gain access to his home in the Green Tower. Alp chimes in and says he has a rapport with Captain Ikbal of the Janissaries, and he may be able to get his permission to open the tower. In the meantime, they direct Kagan to try to find out more about Mind Flayers, in case lore can help them predict the Ghul of Borudar's next move.

    Kagan reminds them of the password to open the Sanctuary: "Alas, Ataikhuul Remains."

    "What does that mean?" asks Flavia.


    "Ataikhuul. What is that?"

    Kagan gives her a strange look, then says "Nothing. It's nonsense. Just a password."

    Flavia is less and less sure how much she likes this dwarf.

    That concludes Session 1. Session 2 is tomorrow, I'll try to get the next installment posted tomorrow or the day after. I know this first session was a little thick with cutscene-type plot stuff, but hopefully with the setup out of the way the players can take the wheel.
    Spoiler: Responses to Comments
    Palanan: good point on the allegiances in that first fight being slightly unclear. I'll try and edit it to be a little more legible. In short, all five of them were strangers to Zeki, and he ordered his men to kill them. They worked together to fend them off, and it then turned out that Ioannis already knew the dwarf who had summoned them by name.

    Fair point about the Janissaries, but I have to draw a line somewhere about not being too exacting about etymology. People use "Crusader," "Legionnaire" and "Inquisitor" pretty freely despite their highly specific historical roots, and the Borudaran Janissaries are a standing army/police force, much like the Ottoman Janissaries (Though these aren't slaves.) A large part of it is ease of communication and shorthand: my players understand what Janissaries are off the bat without the need to stop and define a new made-up fantasy word. It's the same reason I use our months and days of the week. What a custom calendar gains through immersion rarely makes up for the loss of comprehension. If there are Turkish folk in the audience who object to the use of the Janissaries, please let me know.
    Last edited by Dr paradox; 2020-09-06 at 04:25 AM.
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  8. - Top - End - #8
    Firbolg in the Playground
    Join Date
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    Default Re: Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth

    Originally Posted by Dr paradox
    Fair point about the Janissaries, but I have to draw a line somewhere about not being too exacting about etymology. People use "Crusader," "Legionnaire" and "Inquisitor" pretty freely despite their highly specific historical roots, and the Borudaran Janissaries are a standing army/police force, much like the Ottoman Janissaries (Though these aren't slaves.) A large part of it is ease of communication and shorthand: my players understand what Janissaries are off the bat without the need to stop and define a new made-up fantasy word.
    I can see this, although I still feel that terms like crusader and inquisitor have become so widely used that they’re generic, as opposed to the Janissaries which are virtually unknown to the general population. Most people don’t know a thing about the Ottoman Empire, so the term “Janissary” remains keyed to a specific time and place.

    That said, if your players know what it means and it helps you smooth things along, that’s certainly fine.

    Overall I'm enjoying this, will post more comments when I can.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Orc in the Playground
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    Post Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth Session 2

    Session 2
    Really long one today. I decided to stop breaking the sessions up into multiple parts so that i'm not constantly in need of comments to avoid double-posting - though those are appreciated. Hope you enjoy the game!
    Spoiler: Previously in Beasts of the Earth
    Five adventurers (Alp, Ioannis, Flavia, Leo, and Dubhsith) are investigating a series of horrifying murders by the so-called "Ghul of Borudar." Though strangers to one another, they found themselves individually summoned to a midnight meeting. On the way, they stumbled upon the scene of the latest of these killings, in which one of the great trading houses appeared to be involved.

    They subdued the House Baharat retainers and took their leader captive. The person who summoned them turned out to be a dwarf named Kagan Stonefist, a diviner in an old Imperial spy ring called the Order of the Piercing Eye. He gave them access to a large safehouse, where they stored the Baharat leader.

    On interrogating him, they found that the latest victim was a wizard named Cevahir al Yol, and as far as these retainers were concerned he was brought to the site of his murder under official orders from the local Great House Chief, Valeria Phoca-Baharat. This proves a thorny personal issue, since Valeria is the niece of Ioannis.

    The adventurers resolved to investigate Cevahir's home, the Green Tower, to help figure out why he was targeted by the monstrous assailant. Suspecting the Ghul to be a Mind Flayer, they directed Kagan to research what he could of these dreadful creatures.

    It's about an hour past noon by the time the group is packing up to go, and Kagan suggests they make use of the back exit in the crypts. He says that his order's records didn't mention where it opens up, and it would be good to be sure of an escape route in case of emergencies.

    They head down, and Kagan opens a section of the back wall with the passphrase "The Copper Kettle is Open." They follow the crooked, mouldering passage beyond for several hundred feet, but when they arrive at its end, Kagan's passphrase causes the wall to split and crack into pieces instead of smoothly peeling aside. He curses, and they step cautiously through the opening. They seem to be in a basement, with a short flight of stairs up leading to a wooden door. Pots, jugs, and other clay goods are stacked all around, along with several large slabs of wet clay under damp canvas. Flavia checks the door and sees that it opens onto busy lane not far from the river.

    She suggests they find a way to seal up the passage and take the main exit from the sanctuary instead. She doesn't want to risk being spotted on their way out and provoking an investigation that might compromise the lair. Kagan grumbles about walking all this way for nothing, but approves of her discretion. Ioannis makes use of the clay, and uses Fabricate to produce an exact copy of the wall they just left broken to leave behind while they retreat back up the tunnel.

    As they emerge into the Bakiramfi, Kagan tells them that he'll be studying at the Grand Temple of Shan on Gorgon Hill if they need him, and he bids them good luck. Dubhsith and Brother Ioannis volunteer to go keep an eye on Cevahir al Yol's tower in Sixmarkets while the rest of them proceed to Kazimlisara in Pashakhan Gate to get clearance to enter.

    I'm not much of an artist, but I cleaned up the crude map of Borudar's districts I had for my own use.

    Spoiler: Borudar's Districts

    And remember, their base is in the Labyrinth.
    Alp, Flavia, and Leo
    The trio make their way back to the Janissary Barracks in the fortress of Kazimlisara. For a functional and formiddable castle, it has a remarkable airy appearance, with soaring arches and trees visible over its outer walls. The dome of the largest building is capped with an elongated gold onion that shines brilliantly in the sun.

    Alp raises a hand to the guards in greeting and asks to see Captain Ikbal, the man who had asked for his help with the investigation. The guard looks at each of them keenly. "Ah, of course! The Captain is expecting you, I shall summon an escort at once."

    Alp is puzzled. "That won't be necessary, I know the way."

    "I insist." The guard waves out a group of four Janissaries who take positions around the trio. Not seeing a politic way to disengage, Alp, Flavia, and Leo go with them, though Flavia does her best to jockey for a position from which she can break away. They don't like how this smells, but Alp quietly confirms that they're being led the right way. The escort delivers the trio to the door of Ikbal's chamber, and they are directed to enter.

    Ikbal is cool towards them, and plainly troubled. He speaks little at first, just listening intently to Alp's report that the Ghul of Borudar is a Mind Flayer.

    "And..." Alp pauses, wondering how to put it. "Someone else was there last night when Cevahir was killed."

    Ikbal laughs without humor. "Indeed. And how would you know that?" He goes on without giving them time to respond. "The Janissaries have already heard from these 'someones else,' and they have told us that someone matching your description was there as well."

    Leo clears his throat. "Yes, well, it was a busy night. In any case, we feel that the natural next step would be to investigate -"

    "You misunderstand me," scowls Ikbal bitterly. "The Janissaries have... certain obligations. Certain relationships that I am bound to uphold." He glares at them. "Your involvement here has come to an end."

    Flavia backs toward the door, ready to fight or run if the need arises.

    "I won't take you into custody, it would raise questions about who else was there last night and how we knew you were involved, but make no mistake Alp: you have not come among friends. If you continue to make trouble, you may well find yourself among enemies."

    Flavia protests, "We will continue with our investigation, even without your help."

    "I tell you, step carefully!" Ikbal slams a fist on the table before him, rising to his feet. "The Janissaries will brook no interference."

    "Ikbal," Alp pleads. "People are dying. This is bigger than city politics."

    The captain looks at him for a moment, brooding. He turns and goes to the open windows. "People die in Borudar every day," he says in a dull monotone. "The institutions must carry on."

    "If I may," interjects Leo. "I've made certain friends who might have something to say -"

    "Enough!" Ikbal seethes. "This audience is over. Your escort will see you out."

    Flavia and Leo exit, but Alp lingers a moment longer. He seems to be waiting for Ikbal to say something. The Janissary looks conflicted, but he says nothing. Alp leaves him with his cowardice.

    Dubhsith and Brother Ioannis
    Dubhsith and Brother Ioannis arrive at the Green Tower to find a pair of Janissaries posted and the foot of the stairs that led to the front door. They spend a few minutes examining the structure from several angles, but take care not to approach the guards.

    The bottom floor of the tower is elevated fifteen feet above street level, with a set of pale wooden double doors. Both the ground floor and the second floor have stained leaded glass windows, but the third floor has windows with shutters and the fourth floor (at the top) has three balconies spaced evenly around the tower's circumference, each with a door leading inside. The outside of the tower is decorated with arches, ledges, lintels, and copper-domed cupolas now covered with green verdigris that runs in streaks down the stonework. It also seems that a manor has been attached to the base of the tower, modest but tasteful, and there may be another way in through there.

    Having conducted their reconnaissance, Dubhsith and Leo go across the street to wait at a Commonpot. These eateries are a local tradition, being open yards centered around a large communal pan managed by a master cook called a Taplashka. This one is particularly well appointed, and though the cook at the moment is a mere apprentice, they're pleased to lunch on shrimp sauteed in butter with lemon and red pepper. They have time to wash down a portion with wine before the other three appear and explain what happened at Kazimlisara.

    The Green Tower
    They discuss a couple of options over a plate of Baklava. They might try and bluff their way in, but Flavia would rather they didn't let Ikbal know they'd gotten inside. Leo suggests he could enchant them, but the rest of the party objects with some alarm. If continuing to investigate the Ghul won't earn the enmity of the Janissary Corps, then bewitching them certainly will. Flavia considers scaling the tower, but she's leery of doing so in broad daylight.

    Leo has an idea. He urges the others to order another bowl of shrimp, then goes off on his own. He looks left, then right to make sure nobody is watching him. "Psspsspss!" he whispers, and Priscilla appears.

    The manor strikes Leo as the best way in, so he directs his familiar to loop around and slip in through the courtyard. She weaves through the busy street, circles the block, and squeezes through the bars of the gate. The manor, she finds, is two stories and centered around a fountain that burbles gently in its pool the sound mingling with the suppressed sobs of a man sitting in a chair nearby. She ignores him and clambers up a flight of stairs to the second floor, where a quick search reveals that the door from the manor to the tower is secured with a chain and padlock. With a grumble, Leo directs Priscilla to try and climb the tower, but her dainty figure doesn't prove equal to the seven-foot vertical leaps required. He calls her back, and with a scratch on her head and a murmur in her ear, casts Fly on the cat. She takes to it haltingly, preferring impossible soap-bubble weight jumps to taking to the air altogether, but is able to ascend to a balcony with ease.

    As she draws level with it, however, the keystone above the door flashes with a black symbol, and suddenly Priscilla's customary weight returns. She scrabbles furiously for the stone railing, and is just barely able to find purchase in the mortar. Her hind legs kick at the air for a moment before she can haul herself up and over to safety. Leo breathes a sigh of relief and goes to rejoin his comrades while Priscilla works to nose the door open.

    Strictly speaking, the Commonpot would be out of range of Leo's ability to share Priscilla's senses, but I was comfortable bending the rules on that, especially since Leo's player brought them up. It would have been easy enough to work around if they'd just gone closer to the tower, so I didn't see the harm in letting them stay where the tables, food, and wine were.
    Inside, she finds Cevahir's private study. A writing desk faces toward the center of the room, where a table is stacked high with bags, scroll cases, and boxes for carrying books and scribe supplies. On the floor are some chalk markings Leo recognizes as a children's passtime, and he finds the alchemist's bench filled with smoker's paraphernalia and the bookshelves filled with poetry, plays, and commentaries on both. It seems Cevahir wasn't a wizard particularly dedicated to his craft.

    On the table, amid the gear being readied for travel, Priscilla finds a rough map pinned open with several stones.

    Spoiler: Cevahir's Map

    At the table down on the street, Leo uses Silent Image to project the map he sees through Priscilla's eyes, and Brother Ioannis carefully copies it down on a sheet of parchment. Alp perks up: He's been to Al Mora before. It's on the same river that runs through Borudar and if they take ship, they can be there in two days.

    Priscilla searches around the table and desk, but the lack of hands severely impedes her abilities to do so. She finds two letters folded on the writing desk, and a tome that appears to be Cevahir's spellbook. She has to leave it behind, but picks up the two letters in her mouth.

    "Good work, Priscilla!" coos Leo. "Now jump down!"

    The empathic link between caster and familiar doesn't generally extend to verbal communication, but Priscilla's response couldn't be clearer: "Get stuffed, furless wonder. Just because I can survive that doesn't mean I'm doing it."

    Leo sighs and tells her to drop the letters off the balcony. They flutter off in different directions over the busy street, leaving Flavia and Alp to dash through the streets to rescue them before they're lost in the teeming throng. Leo banishes Priscilla to her pocket dimension, and the group leans in to examine the letters they retrieved.

    Spoiler: First Letter

    Leo and Ioannis are both trained as wizards, so they know that "Belazzar" would be Belazzar the Enchanter, the very first enchanter, in fact, one of the eight apprentices of Turol who bound the Djinn and scribed the first book of wizardry, ushering in the Third Era. Leo keeps up on the wizard trade magazines, so to speak, so he's familiar with Nazar Wrack-Tamer through reputation: he's a Dobrevi wizard of the 5th Order, a northerner who's gained some renown. In particular, his rediscovery of the Ring of Belazzar has made him much sought after - its properties are somewhat murky, but its august provenance more than secured his prestige.

    The second letter is more puzzling.

    Spoiler: Second Letter

    They conclude that it must have been sent by one of the "secret partners" that Nazar's letter mentioned, since it's not signed. Taken together with the map, it would seem that Cevahir was about to set out for this tomb, west of Al Mora. How exactly Nazar fits into things isn't totally clear.

    They gather up their take from the Green Tower and decide to check in with Kagan's progress. They depart from Sixmarkets with the Janissaries none the wiser.

    Four-star infiltration. Totally unexpected angle, bypassed all but one of the pitfalls I'd stacked this tower with that had made the Ghul decide to lure Cevahir out instead of attacking directly. The one downside for them was that Priscilla couldn't search the study very well, so she missed two extra pieces of information that could have been quite useful. Ah, well. What they don't know won't hurt them until they least expect it.
    The Grand Temple of Shan
    Alp and Flavia earn some mistrustful looks from the novices as they enter the Temple, but Brother Ioannis is on good terms with the chief Cleric, Zümra. They're directed up to the third-floor scriptorium, where they find Kagan intently studying a ragged scrap of parchment. They share what they've learned with him.

    He's unsurprised to hear about Captain Ikbal. "The Great houses have had centuries to sink their hooks into Borudar. I suppose it was too much to hope for that the Janissaries would remain untouched."

    Dubhsith wonders if the incident has to do with Cevahir being on the Props council.

    "You think the killings are strictly politically motivated?"

    Dubhsith shrugs. "At least one other city official has been found dead. Depending on what a Mind Flayer gets from its victims, it might be gathering up secrets about the city, even if it's targets aren't power players."

    "That's not a bad thought," muses Kagan. He grabs the parchment he was copying. "That reminds me, I found this on Ilithids."

    Spoiler: Ilithid Research

    Forgive me some slight deviations from established Mind Flayer canon.
    Flavia squints at the text. "Who wrote this?"

    "No idea," says Kagan. "It was folded up in the back of a more general text. I thought some firsthand knowledge would be helpful."

    "What does this mean? 'Host?'" Flavia asks.

    "I'm guessing a Mind Flayer isn't exactly a creature as we think of it," Alp speculates. "It could be more like a spirit, hopping from body to body."

    I honestly don't know if my players don't know anything about Mind Flayers or if they're playing this very in-character. I assumed the Ilithid life-cycle was common knowledge, especially since my group's been playing for more than ten years by now. I may need to be even more explicit if I want to establish the rules for this monster.
    "I'm sure there's more to turn up that could be useful," says Kagan.

    "This influence it seemed to have," asks Ioannis, "Could this be how the Ghul got help from the Baharats? Through Valeria?"

    "Maybe..." muses Dubhsith. "By the way, Ioannis, if you're her Uncle, couldn't you overrule her?"

    Ioannis gets a pained expression. "I already mentioned that I've lost my genealogy, so there's no proof that I am who I say I am. Frankly, even if I had it, the Great Houses don't judge authority by primogeniture, but by appointment. I've got no authority beyond basic etiquette. I certainly couldn't override whatever favor she's called on the Janissaries."

    Kagan sighs. "So we're back at square one."

    "Not quite," says Leo, and he passes over the letters they recovered.

    Kagan looks them over, then leans back in his chair, pondering. "What do you plan to do now? Search for this tomb?"

    Flavia shakes her head. "There's still more to do in Borudar. We ought to find out how the Baharats are involved."

    "There's sense in that," nods Kagan. "It may not be wise to leave an enemy at our backs. Or, well, your backs," he grimaces ruefully. "I'm in no fit state to go traveling overland."

    Dubhsith breaks in "And we're still not sure if there's anything connecting the victims. I say we spend the rest of today going over the events so far, see if we can tie them together anywhere. Who was the first victim again?"

    We spent a few minutes going back over the strict timeline of events. I'll spare you the paperwork and just drop in the calendar.
    Spoiler: Calendar

    I go by Tolkein's example on months and days of the week. There are "in universe" names for both, but I've never known it to be fun to force my players to memorize them, so for gameplay purposes I just "translate" into what they're familiar with. It's slightly less immersive, but it means I never need to stop a session dead to re-explain that Moonday is two days after Sworderday.
    They all agree that they ought to chase down all the leads they can before they leave town, so they split up the victims between them. Dubhsith volunteers to look into the Tinsmith and the Laborer's deaths, while Flavia is especially interested in the Barge captain. Alp elects to go with Flavia, and Leo decides to use his reputation among the city elite to find out about Cleon Bey. Finally, Ioannis decides to look discreetly into Valeria Baharat's activities in Borudar, and what might be the best way to approach her.

    "Remember," says Alp "We're looking for connections to Cevahir or Nazar. They seem to be at the center of this, somehow."

    "And myself?" asks Kagan, bemused. "While you're all pounding pavers, what should I be looking into?"

    "Find out who this 'Uvior' is," says Flavia. "And why someone or something might be interested in his tomb."

    "As it please you," the dwarf grumbles, turning back to the desk and shutting his book. "I'll see you all at the Sanctuary tonight."

    The bard makes his way to Sixmarkets for some inquiries about the Tinsmith killed on the 23rd. His body was discovered before dawn in the Deep Souk, a partially subterranean covered market known for its ilicit dealings and connections to the Nine Rings criminal organization. Dubhsith talks to some stall-keepers near the scene of the crime, and finds that the Tinsmith's name was Mesut. He had a shop of his own north of the Deep Souk, where his husband Eren has been in mourning ever since.

    The widower's voice is ragged and his eyes are red, but he seems steady enough, and more than willing to talk to Dubhsith. "I don't understand it," he says. "I just don't know what he was doing in the Souk in the dead of night."

    "Had he ever gone out like that before?" asks Dubhsith.

    Eren shakes his head. "Never. Not that I know. I was woken up by the Janissaries shouting in the street, before the sun came up, and he was gone. They'd already found his - they'd found him."

    "I'm so sorry."

    "Thank you," says Eren. "This damned city is so caught up with the Steward's death, and now that wizard... I understand why, but it can feel as if Mesut never existed at all." He sighs. "I'm glad that somebody is investigating his death."

    Dubhsith gets Eren's permission to look through Mesut's office, but he doesn't turn up much. The Tinsmith did some work for Cevahir al Yol a year and a half ago, repairing an Arcanist's tool, but it seems innocuous. They did live in the same district, after all, and Mesut was well respected for his craft. Dubhsith thanks Eren and leaves, stopping at the nearest Commonpot to pay for the delivery of a few days of meals to the Widower.

    From there, he crosses Genish Bridge toward Zilkasaba. The Bridge is a marvel of engineering, with arches high enough to admit most river barges and some smaller coastal ships, and wide enough that it supports buildings on either side of the street. He pauses to ask about the sighting of the Ghul on the 19th, and gets an eyewitness account of a gaunt, robed figure crossing from west to east near midnight. He pushes on - it's nearly sunset.

    In Zilkasaba, the laborer is survived by the two sisters he lived with. Their two-room apartment is filled with flowers, votive tablets, and other offerings of condolence from their neighbors, and the elder sister is prostrate with grief. Dubhsith talks to the younger, Damla.

    "Burçin worked on Hir Street," she says. "Loading, unloading barges. He pulled his weight, and he was proud of it, even though our weaving pays most of the rent." She grimaces. "He was excited. He'd gotten a good run of jobs from the Doronites, bringing in some real silver."


    "You know, the gnomes. They sell truffles they farm in a valley up the Uzun. Creepy little bastards, and they always kept Burçin working late, but he was happy to put soup in the pot. He'd been coming back after dark for the last two weeks, and then he just... he didn't." Damla needs a moment to marshal herself.

    "Did he ever say what ships he was unloading?"

    "No," says Damla. "He never talked about work."

    Dubhsith thanks the sisters and once again pays for some meals to be delivered. It's past dark by now, and he begins hustling back toward the Labyrinth.

    As it happens, Leo knows that the evening's events include a garden party at the manor of Kadir Khan on Gorgon Hill. He stops off briefly at his apartment above the coffee parlor in the Labyrinth to make sure his servants have gotten everything settled and get dressed in his best before riding off to gate-crash.

    He's received with enthusiasm - many folk at the party remember his fabulous entry into the Harikamfi last week, and they pepper him with questions about his hunt for the Ghul of Borudar. He slyly demures, but notices that Bakar Celik, the Great House representative who seemed suspicious of Leo, is lounging near the fountain and watching him. His expression is more bemused than hostile, as if he's trying to work something out.

    Before Leo makes time to go over and confront him, he falls into a conversation with their host, Kadir Khan, and turns it toward the subject of Steward Cleon Bey.

    "...Of course it was a tragedy - shocking, horrifying, indeed - when he was found. I never approved of his appointment, of course, but that is the privilege of Queen Basira."

    "Why didn't you approve?" asks Leo.

    "Well, I mean, it seemed obvious to the Khanate that her appointing a halfling as Steward of the High Seats was a political move to placate the Mariner's Guild." Kadir smirks. "I'm sorry, the Honorable Mariner's guild. Beg pardon."

    "I presume you're not an ally of theirs."

    "I resent being forced to deal with diminutive, puffed-up boat rats as if they were equals. I understand the need for wildcat freighters, we can hardly rely on Great House ships for everything, but I'd rather we get to deal with captains directly without the Guild inflating their egos. Not to mention their rates. As it is, I wouldn't be surprised if the Steward was feeding information back to his cousins down in Notosehir." The Khan wrinkles his nose. "What does that mean, anyway? 'Notosehir?'"

    Another guest chimes in. "I believe it translates to 'South Wind City?'"

    "Then why the blazes don't they call it that??" fumes Kadir.

    Leo redirects the conversation. "What would that mean, if Cleon did have split loyalties? What does the 'Steward of the High Seats' do?"

    Kadir rolls his eyes and takes a sip of wine. "Not much, to be honest. Mostly it's a bureaucratic position, managing the quarters and ceremonies and accouterments of the Queen's other appointed positions. Master of the Treasury, High Cleric, that kind of thing."

    "Still," insists Leo "He was terribly close to the Queen, I imagine. Was he acting suspicious before he died?"

    Kadir says no, but several others mention that he seemed a bit beffudled on the day before his murder. Listless, forgetting names, that kind of thing. "Hardly surprising," grunts Kadir Khan. "What sane reason would he have going to the Gardens of Mustafa in the dead of night?"

    Leo thinks on this while the talk turns toward other topics - the embargo on Orzon tobacco, the reduction of taxes on cinnamon, the upcoming show at the High Harikamfi, and so on. He decides to mention Nazar Wrack-Tamer and gets an immediate chorus on enthusiastic voices praising his name.

    "Surely a fine character of a Wizard," agrees Kadir. "Dignified, serene, a fine conversationalist. Like you in many ways, Lord Kontostephanos," he gives Leo a playful nudge. "For a northerner, anyway. He made the rounds through the social circles over the summer, then departed about a month ago."

    "Departed? Where to?"

    "Mm, I don't recall. I'm not sure he said, but he may have implied he'd be back before too long. More's the pity - the Queen was hoping Wrack-Tamer would accept the post of First Enchanter. He's certainly a finer wizard than poor old Ehir Bey ever was, rest his soul."

    Leo rubs his chin. "First Enchanter, I'm guessing that's one of the 'High Seats.' Did Cleon Bey speak to Nazar?"

    Kadir laughs. "Did he! That titch was downright infatuated with Wrack-Tamer, always hanging around trying to make himself useful. I lost count of how many times he offered a private tour of the Tower of Belazzar."

    At this Leo takes interest. "Tower of Belazzar? I don't think I'm familiar."

    "Oh, you must have seen it. You can see it from here, in fact, come look..." the Khan leads Leo out onto the terrace and points out a vast square tower made from white stone, hung with green silk banners and lit orange by the last rays of the setting sun. It stands on a jutting shoulder of rock that extends from Gorgon hill, accessible only by a long covered bridge running from the Lone Palace. "Built by Belazzar the Enchanter himself at the beginning of the third era, or so legend says. More than two thousand years old." He gazes at it, then laughs. "Bit of an eyesore, I always thought. Architecture has come a long way in that time."

    "And is that where they keep the Ring of Belazzar?"

    "Oh, so the Queen wishes. Nazar still has it, as far as I'm aware," says Kadir. "Though, now that you mention it, we probably ought to insist it be returned. It is a relic of the city after all..." the Khan gets a thoughtful look. "It's been a pleasure, Lord Kontostephanos, always good to catch up with our Icosian cousins, but I have some matters to discuss with my fellow Khans. I hope to see you again soon."

    "Same to you," agrees Leo. He finishes his glass and begins making his way towards the exit. On the way, he notices that Bakar Celik is still looking at him, but thinks better of a confrontation. Leo retrieves his horse from the stables and begins riding down toward the Labyrinth in the fading light.

    Flavia and Alp
    The first man killed by the Ghul was named Hayri, captain of the Otter, contracted to the Doronite gnomes. As it happens, Flavia's monster hunting has afforded her a handy connection: just a few months ago she helped the gnomes bring down a poison-belching Gorgon near the Doron valley, and a Hetman named Batya pledged that she still owed the Paladin a favor. That favor in hand, Flavia and Alp crossed Genish Bridge toward the Gnomish Quarter, known to those who live there as Vhadevi.

    Vhadevi clings to the edge of Notosehir and is scaled similarly, though the architecture is quite distinct, and its outer edge is built to allow only a few entrances to the neighborhood. Nonetheless, it's quite well-appointed for a Gnomish quarter as a benefit of the Doronites and their unique position of power in Borudar's trade. Flavia and Alp pass under a dense canopy of ribons and flags and spot shrines tucked into alleys and alcoves, each containing brass statuettes of strange figures. Hetman Batya lives in a marvelously ornate house off a market square, and the doorman quickly admits the two humans and leads them into an oversized tea room, illuminated by blue-and-gold stained glass windows.

    Batya greets them warmly. "Ah, Flavia! Wonderful to see you, it's far past time you took me up on tea. And you've brought a friend?" She moves to begin pouring from an ornate brass samovar.

    "Alp al Butar, at your service" the warrior bows. "We've come with questions about the Ghul."

    Batya pauses, and finishes pouring the tea more stiffly. "I see," she says. "I had been pleased when we passed the period of suspicion from overzealous witchfinders. Alas, I might have known folk would find reason to harass us again."

    "Oh - no, I'm very sorry," hurries Alp. "That's not what I meant."

    Batya waves him off. "Very well, apology accepted. When the first body turned up so near to Vhadevi, the rumor mill naturally started having it that it was some imagined gnomish rite." She purses her lips. "As if they could begin to understand. Happily, that mostly passed when Cleon Bey was killed and the Janissaries began to take it seriously."

    Flavia cuts in "It's actually that first death I wanted to talk about. I understand Captain Hayri worked for you?"

    Batya makes a "So-So" gesture. "Hayri was in breach of contract at the time of his death. He took work from us, ferrying goods up and down the Uzun. The man was honest, affable, well liked by his crew, though not especially reliable. The Otter arrived a day and a half late in port, and we'd been forced to find another barge to take supplies back to the Doron Valley, leaving Captain Hayri with nothing to do for a few days. He spent them drunk with his crew at the Silt Jar Tavern. He was found murdered behind it."

    "Why was he late?" Flavia asks.

    "Hayri had an unfortunate habit of unscheduled shore leave at certain ports along his route. I understand he had a reputation as a dice player to uphold." Batya looks down. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't speak ill. Captain Hayri was never anything but fair and pleasant with me, which is more than I can say for most humans. I only wonder if he might still be alive if his vices hadn't outweighed his business sense."

    Alp says "These unscheduled stops... did they include Al Mora?"

    "I seem to remember hearing something like that."

    Flavia and Alp exchange a knowing look. The Paladin coughs, and asks "Is the Otter and her crew still in port?"

    Batya takes a sip of tea. "I can't speak for the crew. As far as I know they've sought other work. We took possession of the Otter to cover certain outstanding debts by Captain Hayri. There's been some trouble lining up a new Captain, as you can imagine, so she's still on Hir Street."

    "I don't suppose I could ask..."

    "Flavia, there's no need to take that tone with me. I told you in July, you were underpaid for the services rendered, and that puts me in your debt. I'll summon a clerk to take you to the docks as soon as you like." She lifts her cup. "That is, as soon as you've finished your tea.

    They thank Hetman Batya and meet with their escort, who takes them some distance down Hir Street to the riverside wharf where the Otter is moored. It's a medium-sized barge of a fairly standard sort, with a cabin in the center and canopies over the broad storage decks in the fore and aft, both empty now. The gnomish clerk speaks to the Doronite guards and remains on the wharf while Flavia and Alp proceed to the captain's quarters.

    The cabin is modest and threadbare, but plainly well-loved. The bed is unmade, and the rest of the room is in a state of living disarray. The pilot's logs are gone, presumably collected by the Doronites when they took possession of the barge. Alp, having been a sailor for some years, begins searching the cot for spaces a person might have hidden something, but Flavia finds it first: A dagger is planted point down on the desk, through the chain of an amulet with a very archaic design. Despite this, it seems to be in remarkable shape, with a fat gold chain running through a silver medallion, on one side of which is embossed an eight-pointed star. On the other side, Flavia finds, is a gold-inlaid square symbol resembling a maze. Altogether it must be worth at least 200 denari.

    She examines the amulet for several seconds before turning to Alp. "I think the Ghul took this ship to get here from Al Mora."

    "And from the tomb?" says Alp

    "It doesn't seem far fetched," says Flavia. The Paladin tucks the medallion under her belt with an expression of guilt. "It could be important. I'll return it to the Doronites when we're done."

    Alp smiles. "I didn't say a word. We should get back to the Labyrinth, it'll be dark soon."

    The Bakiramfi
    The stars are starting to appear by the time everyone has gathered back at the open-air theater above their sanctuary. Alp and Flavia arrived first, followed by Leo, then Ioannis, then Dubhsith. They quietly share what they've learned and watch a truly dreadful group of amateur actors hack their way through a rehearsal.

    Kagan arrives last, sweating heavily and clearly anxious to be done with the day's walking. He sits heavily on one of the benches and starts massaging his bad leg. "What did you get?" he grumbles.

    Ioannis speaks up. "I did some asking around at the Imperial Bazaar. If we want to find out more about my niece, she's expected at the High Harikamfi for a show tomorrow afternoon. Or, if we'd rather not approach her directly, she also has an office and a small apartment in the Bazaar itself."

    Brother Ioannis' player was absent for this this session, hence his limited presence. I figured the "let's split up and look for clues" approach they decided on was a good way to expedite the legwork for House Baharat.
    "Of course, there's also the House archives in the Salt Ward, and her actual manor in Pashakhan Gate..."

    Dubhsith shakes his head. "No, I think you had the right of it with those first two. We'll focus on those. Kagan, did you get anything on Uvior?"

    The dwarf pulls some notes out of his bag. "Some. I'm not ready to make a full report, but I do have the most pressing detail: it turns out that Uvior was one of Belazzar's apprentices."

    Leo frowns. "Belazzar again? What in the world does the original enchanter have to do with this Ghul?"

    "I don't think we have enough to know yet" says Flavia as she stands. "Hopefully we can learn more from Valeria Baharat tomorrow. As for now, I think it's time we turned in."

    The rest of the party agrees. Soon after, the actors decide to give it a rest, and the Bakiramfi is once again silent and still beneath the stars.

    LOOOOOOONG post. Like I said, I'm trying to cut down on how often I need comments to keep from double posting, but I'm worried it's too long winded. I might try and cut down on the direct dialogue quotes.

    Still, I'm really enjoying writing this. The next session is on Sunday, we'll see how things turn out.

    Stay safe, folks.
    Last edited by Dr paradox; 2020-09-12 at 11:59 PM.
    I've got a fiction podcast!
    Also, I'm working on a Campaign Log!
    Also, you're looking great today, did you get a haircut?

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Firbolg in the Playground
    Join Date
    Feb 2011

    Default Re: Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth

    Originally Posted by Dr Paradox
    Leo has an idea. He urges the others to order another bowl of shrimp, then goes off on his own. He looks left, then right to make sure nobody is watching him. "Psspsspss!" he whispers, and Priscilla appears.
    Is this the first we’ve seen of Priscilla? She doesn’t appear by name before this, and I don’t think it’s mentioned earlier that Leo has a familiar.

    Also, I love the fact that she’s a Pallas' cat. Are you using different stats for her? Since the photo you’re using is one of the first to come up on a google search, I’m guessing you set out to use this species, which is a very nice touch.

    Originally Posted by Dr Paradox
    Illithid Research
    Did you write this section yourself? If so, outstanding kudos for doing such an excellent job with it. This is a short story in its own right, and it works perfectly here.

    Originally Posted by Dr Paradox
    I assumed the Ilithid life-cycle was common knowledge, especially since my group's been playing for more than ten years by now.
    It may not be as common as you’re assuming, since some of this feels unfamiliar to me, and I’ve been playing pretty much continuously for the past fifteen years.

    But I’ve never gone up against a mind flayer, never thrown one at a party, and I’ve never really looked into them too deeply, much less incorporated them into a campaign. A lot of this would be new to me as well, and I wouldn’t necessarily know if or when you were adding your own touches.

    Originally Posted by Dr Paradox
    Four-star infiltration. Totally unexpected angle, bypassed all but one of the pitfalls I'd stacked this tower with….
    Out of curiosity, what were those pitfalls?

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Dwarf in the Playground

    Join Date
    Nov 2014

    Default Re: Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth

    Hello! Just stopping in to say that I'm really enjoying reading this! The world building you've done has made for a really interesting and entertaining setting. I look forward to reading the next entry

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Firbolg in the Playground
    Join Date
    Feb 2011

    Default Re: Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth

    Just here to say I'm looking forward to the next installment.

    And I'm still very interested in knowing what "pitfalls" were in that tower....

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Orc in the Playground
    Dr paradox's Avatar

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    Jul 2010
    Portland, OR

    Default Campaign Log: Beasts of the Earth Session 3

    Session 3
    Spoiler: Previously, in Beasts of the Earth
    Our heroes (Alp, Leo, Dubhsith, Flavia, and Brother Ioannis) are hunting a Mind Flayer known as the Ghul of Borudar that's been killing people all over the city. To help, they've enlisted the aid of a dwarven diviner named Kagan and the underground lair he says belongs to his ancient society, the Order of the Piercing Eye.

    Their hunt for the Ghul is complicated by the involvement of a Great House Patron, Valeria Baharat (Who happens to be Brother Ioannis' niece), and a missing high-society wizard named Nazar Wrack-Tamer. Wrack-Tamer, it seems, was planning something involving a lost tomb south of the city. That tomb may be where the Ilithid appeared from in the first place: when the heroes investigated a ship captained by the first victim of the Mind Flayer, they found an unusual and ancient piece of jewelry onboard.

    The adventurers have just returned to their secret lair after a day of pounding pavement, and Kagan has revealed what his research indicates: the tomb sought by Nazar Wrack-Tamer likely belongs to Uvior, one of the very first wizards.

    Leo is still apalled at the idea of staying in the Sanctuary, so he bids the party farewell and returns to his apartment above the Goldspout coffee house. Meanwhile, the rest of them gather the building supplies Dubhsith had purchased earlier and takes the secret entrance down, where they start making furnishings for the base. Brother Ioannis' Fabricate spell produces a couple of carpentry monstrosities, crooked and stillborn pieces of furniture fused with one another, and to Flavia's horror, a bed with two heads. Alp gently uses his woodworking expertise to walk Ioannis through the basics of measurement and joinery, then takes time to finish the pieces with traditional tools and methods. This process takes about two hours, and when they're done they have a great stack of beds, bolsters, tables, chairs, and chests-of-drawers. Kagan took some time today ordering a heap of discount carpets to be delivered to a nearby alley, and takes this time to direct Flavia in their placement.

    With the dust swept out and the furniture complete, the Sanctuary of the Piercing Eye is starting to look quite homey. The dwarf looks into the bath in the quarters with some dissatisfaction, though. "I can't think why the water wouldn't be circulating," he murmurs, and hops down into the stone bowl to examine the low and stagnant pool. "It should be drawing right from the cistern."

    "A blockage?" suggests Ioannis.

    "Could be" says Kagan. "Ah, I'll take a look at it tomorrow."

    Ioannis frowns. "We should be careful. It just occurs to me that the last killing took place near a well. Is it possible this Ilithid travels through the water system?"

    Kagan looks at the inflow pipe in the bath and swiftly hops out. "All the more reason to make sure our plumbing is in order. We'll be on our guard in the meantime." Brother Ioannis casts Alarm on the bath itself.

    The next morning, they wake to find that Kagan has got the better of them again. He's in the kitchen scrambling eggs with red peppers and soaking fat slabs of rye toast in butter. They take breakfast in the atrium, where curling piles of sawdust have been swept into the corners. They start to discuss their plans for the day.

    Brother Ioannis says "I've put some thought into how best to approach my niece. In all likelihood, she'll be less than receptive if we ambush her at her place of work, so I'd prefer trying to get a meeting with her at the Harikamfi."

    Dubhsith nods. "You should probably take charge of that, she is your family member."

    "We may need to rely on Leo to get us tickets," Kagan muses. "The Harikamfi is the highest of high society: it takes more than money to get in."

    "Like what?" Flavia asks.

    "Nobility, standing in the community, or an invitation from someone who has it..." Kagan grimaces. "Ironbacks are thought of as barbarians around here, Flavia, so your title likely won't fly. Leo is Imperial Aristocracy, and he can request a plus-one."

    Dubhsith says "I know a playwright who's produced in the Harikamfi. I might be able to talk her into extending an invitation. I'll send a message for her to meet with me at Goldspout for coffee."

    "In the meantime," says Alp, "I'd like to try and seek out the crew of the Otter, see if they can confirm that they took on a passenger in Al Mora."

    Flavia and Ioannis elect to come with Alp, and Kagan resolves to continue his research into Uvior at the Ev Yoldaki. The rest of the party resolves to meet in front of the Harikamfi at three bells past noon.

    Once again, here's the district map of Borudar for easy reference.
    Spoiler: Map
    Alp, Flavia, and Ioannis
    The three of them cross Genish Bridge and turn south onto Hir Street. The river is clogged with boat traffic, such that Alp is pretty sure he could have crossed from one bank to the other without taking the bridge. At the Silt Jar Tavern, they ask around and find that two members of the Otter's crew are still around, a man named Cenk and a woman named Berna who are drinking at a secluded bench.

    Alp turns to his companions "I'd like approach them first, if you don't mind. Sailor to sailor." Flavia nods and takes a seat at the bar, while Ioannis, uncomfortable in such a loose and raucous social setting, stands near the open windows and fumbles with his hands. Alp buys a jug of wine and goes over to Berna and Cenk.

    Cenk is speaking. "...Berna, I don't know what to say to you, we've talked to just about every captain that's been comin' through here. Shy of just doin' what we're doin', we may just want to head to the Salt Ward..."

    "Hello!" says Alp brightly. "I heard what happened to your captain, and I wanted to offer my condolences," says Alp. "And these drinks!" he refills their cups and sits

    "Thanks for your condolences," says Berna, "Now piss off, I'm tired of telling this story."

    Alp nods. "Well, what about an earlier one?"

    The sailors look puzzled.

    "I'm sorry, where are my manners, my name is Alp al Butar!" He extends a hand. Still confused, they each take it in turn. "I asked around a bit, found you sailed on the Otter."

    Berna leans back on her seat and folds her arms. "You're buttering us up. What's your angle?"

    "Well. Honestly, I'm hunting for the thing that killed your Captain. My friends and I think your captain might have been targeted for someplace you went."

    Berna grunts. "We never went anywhere. The Otter came straight here from the Doron Valley."

    Alp puts up his hands. "Don't worry, there's no trouble. We're just looking to get whatever this is, and information where it's from is important. So I ask again:" he fixes Cenk with his steady gaze. "Did you pick anyone up?"

    Cenk cracks. "Ah, look, come on, maybe we stopped a day overnight in Al Mora, but we do that all the time! The captain mentioned he had a hankering for some dice."

    Berna shoots him a look. "Cenk!"

    "What?" says Cenk.

    "Dice?" asks Alp. "Did he have a favorite spot?"

    "There's a house at the edge of town, kind of a local drinking spot. Belongs to... Doruk? I think his name is? Captain Hayri was showing off a trinket he won, some kind of necklace."

    Alp makes a quick note. "My real question is, why so hostile when I'm asking about your captain?"

    Berna growls "Everyone's got questions in this town. We were bunking next to the big mystery, and everything thinks we've got the answers." she shakes her head. "We don't know anything, and we're sick of being asked about it. It makes it hard to get work when sailors got good reason to think your last boat was cursed."

    Alp offers them a deal: if they can beat him in a few rounds of cards, he'll tell them everything they need to claim they sailed on his last ship, the Silver Raven. At first Berna turns the offer down, but Cenk demands to know why she's being so hostile, so she relents. Alp calls Flavia and Ioannis over and deals them in.

    I came up with a quick system on the spot. Everyone rolls a flat d20 to represent luck of the draw. If they roll 11-20, they can choose whether to make a Deception or Insight check, if they roll 1-10 they have to make a Deception check. Their skill check result determines how well they did overall. This would probably make more sense modeling individual hands, possibly more so if good luck of the draw gave a bonus to the skill check, but I wanted to keep things moving. I took the two or so hours of cards to jump over to Dubhsith's meeting with the playwright.
    Dubhsith seats himself at a table overlooking the street on the second floor balcony. Around him, the exaggerated hubbub of actors, playwrights, and directors mingles with the fragrantly steaming samovars. Shortly after noon, his friend the playwright appears.

    Aysenur is plainly a nervous wreck. Her clothes are rumpled and days old with ink stains on her fingers and sleeves. Her one attempt at ornamentation, a jeweled hairpin, is affixed haphazardly, dangling and swaying with every turn of her head. She flits over and spends an extra few moments folding herself into her seat.

    "Er..." says Dubhsith "How have you been?"

    Aysenur bites her lip. "Awful!" she explodes. "I'm - I'm at wits end, to be honest! I shouldn't have come, really, but I just needed a minute or two outside of that damned garret!"

    "What's the problem?"

    "What isn't the problem! I shouldn't tell anyone about it..." she looks at Dubhsith sidelong. "...But I suppose you are rather outside the Borudaran circle... Alright, well, I'm in the grips of the most devilish fit of writer's block I've ever encountered, at the worst possible time! I've pledged new plays to two different patrons! Inexcusable, but I was in desperate need of the advance to cover a loan... and the second advance to cover the interest." She shakes her head. "That was months ago, and I've got maybe three readable pages to split between the projects!"

    Dubhsith hesitates. Borudaran dramas aren't the creative work he's familiar with. "What are they about?"

    "Nothing!" wails Aysenur. "I've been rather artfully demuring all their inquiries, which has given me more time but also convinced them that I've got the next Bayram Khan up my sleeve!"

    The bard puts out a hand to try and comfort her. "Well... alright, what if... could you write one play to satisfy both of them?"

    "Impossible! What about if they produce them? Then they'd be after my head!!"

    "No, I mean..." a new thought occurs to Dubhsith. "Listen, the stage at the Harikamfi has two sides, right?"

    "Semicircular, I suppose..."

    "Exactly. What if you wrote a play that has one story when viewed from stage left, and another when viewed from stage right?"

    Aysenur stares at him. "That's the most ridiculous plan I've ever heard in my entire life. It would be twice - no - five times as hard to pull off as just writing two plays."

    Dubhsith waits. He knows where this is going. "But..."

    "But..." Aysenur continues. "If I could pull it off..."

    "It would be legendary," Dubhsith finishes.

    "It - there could be a screen down the middle... and each side could provide shadow-play for the other, as, I don't know, fantasies or flashbacks... It's crazy, of course!" she exclaims, fishing a piece of parchment and a quill out of her robe.

    "Just so crazy it just might work," agrees Dubhsith.

    "I need - I need to get back and start outlining this," says Aysenur. "Uh, you don't mind if I...?"

    "Not at all, go right ahead."

    She starts to rise, then stops. "I don't know how to thank you, Dubhsith, you may have just saved my creative career. You mentioned you wanted my help with something?"

    Dubhsith says "I actually needed three tickets to the Harikamfi tonight..."

    Aysenur laughs. "Oh, of course! I'll extend an invitation to you and a guest, and you can have my ticket - I'll be too busy writing to make use of it anyway. I'll send word to the front office just as soon as I get home!" she turns, still scrawling, and runs straight into another table, upending coffee everywhere and sending the three actors drinking there into a state of dramatic and apoplectic indignation.

    Alp, Flavia, and Ioannis
    Flavia's steely nerves carry her through some awful hands, while Ioannis' inexperience and anxiety leads him to fold on fine cards. Alp carefully manages a few hands to give Cenk and Berna some wins, and explains the history and quirks of the ship. He's a few rounds deep, and a little sloppy.

    "...So most days Vigo was at the helm, had red hair and a redder nose, and he was always yelling up to the crow's nest where it was - where Deimos was." He stops suddenly.

    Cenk is oblivious, but Berna picks up on the change in Alp's attitude. "Deimos?"

    "Yeah..." Alp says slowly. "He was - he was the only halfling on board. He went overboard in a storm. We thought he was dead, but I ran into him a few weeks later. We went looking for something, him and me and a few others. He didn't make it back." Alp shakes his head. "Turns out he never quite made it back when he went overboard." He gazes into his cup. "An Immortal got him. He died in my arms."

    Cenk nods. "Sorry to hear that. It's hard losing a crewmate."

    Alp nods. "Well you'd know. Again, I'm sorry about Captain Hayri."

    Berna looks thoughtful. "Listen... Alp. You've been decent to us. I'm sorry if I've been a little prickly, but I've got reason to be on edge. See, I don't think that chain the Captain brought back was winnings. I think it was fare."

    Cenk looks surprised. "What? Berna, you never told me this."

    "I didn't know what to think. All I know is that I came out on deck in the late watches, that night we were in Al Mora, and I heard the captain talking, and I think I saw him letting someone into his cabin." Berna shakes her head. "I didn't see anyone else that whole trip, but Hayri was a little nervous. Chatty. And he was eager to get to drinking when we put in on Hir Street."

    Alp asks "This chain, what did it look like?"

    Cenk furrows his brow. "Gold, with a silver medallion. Some kinda markings on it, I don't recall."

    "Flavia?" Alp gestures to the Paladin.

    She balks. "I'm not sure that's a good idea..."

    "Just to confirm, get it out."

    Flavia sighs and pulls out the medallion they took from the Captain's quarters.

    Berna's eyes go wide."Thief!" she hisses, and grabs for it.

    Flavia jerks it away. "Hey now, it isn't yours either."

    "Hayri owed us back wages!" Berna says. "Wages those little buggers in the Gnomish Quarter conveniently forgot about when they stole the ship out from under us!" she points at the medallion. "That could go a long way to making things right."

    "Listen, it's not mine to give!" protests Flavia, mindful that under the law it now belongs to her friend Hetman Batya. "And it might be dangerous."

    Alp tries to smooth things over. "Listen, I know that Hayri would have made sure you got your pay, but we still need this for the time being. I promise you, though, that you'll get it as soon as we're finished." he holds up a hand. "On my honor as a sailor."

    "Alp!" protests Flavia. He quiets her with a look.

    Berna sighs. "You've dealt straight with us, so far. Alright, it's not like we've got much of a choice."

    Cenk says "Come back and find us here, when you've got the monster that did this. Hopefully we'll have work by then, but we'll leave word on where we can be found."

    The party bids the two sailors a good day, and they head for the street. Flavia is staring at Alp.

    "Hey, Hetman Batya is rich enough!" says Alp. "This way the money goes where it can do the most good. If it comes to it, I'll cover the cost."

    Flavia is unhappy, but she agrees. They start making their way across town to the Harikamfi, just east of the Pashakhan Gate district.

    The High Harikamfi
    Flavia, Alp, and Ioannis arrive in time to meet Dubhsith and Leo in the square, an hour and a half before the performance is scheduled to begin. Leo's eyes pop out of his head.

    "By the gods, you're not planning on wearing that to the Harikamfi??"

    Leo's player is trapped in a Montana cabin by wildfire smoke. I played Leo in this brief exchange, then passed him off to Flavia's player for the rest of the session.
    Alp frowns. "Yes. Is that wrong?"

    Leo gasps. "I assumed you'd be taking some of the day to see a halfway decent tailor! Now there's hardly any time at all!"

    Ioannis looks down at his travel-stained white robe. "Surely the patrons wouldn't object to a godly man's cassock?"

    "You and I clearly have different ideas about what is close to godliness" says Leo, turning the wizard around and buffing some of the dust off his shoulders. "There may still be some time to get something altered. It won't be pretty, but it won't cause a scandal."

    Dubhsith presents his own stylish attire. "I hope this doesn't raise any objections?"

    "No, no, you're perfectly fine, Dubhsith, as always."

    "Good," the bard smiles. "Then you and I will secure the tickets while our associates get dressed. How much are they, anyway?"

    Leo steps away from Ioannis. "Four-score denari."

    "What??" says Alp. "Eighty? for a playhouse?"

    Leo holds up a reproachful finger. "The playhouse, in fact the social spot of the entire city!" He shakes his head. "There's no time to argue, There's a decent enough tailor just down the street. Hurry!"

    Alp's mood does not improve when he finds that a rushed refitting of an appropriate caftan, breeches, and slippers will cost him an additional twenty denari. He's spent the last two years battling for crusts of bread to feed beleaguered peasants, turning every crumb of wealth he's acquired into the bare necessities for life. Even before he found his current calling, he hardly moved in wealthy circles. To Alp, this kind of expense and luxury is grotesque.

    Flavia claps him on the shoulder. "Tell you what, why don't I cover this?" she says. "I still owe you for getting me into that interrogation earlier. You could have left me hanging, but you didn't, even though you'd never seen me before."

    Alp accepts with a smile. "You had a good look about you."

    Flavia smirks in return. "Thanks," she says. "And now you will, too."

    They get their clothes fitted and hurry back to the Theater just in time to hear the first bell ring, announcing the opening of the outer gates. Ioannis catches up to them, wearing a carpet-runner as a stoll in lieu of fine attire. This raises more than a few eyebrows, but they are all admitted into the outer gardens of the Harikamfi.

    The atmosphere is resplendent. Instead of an enclosed atrium, the Harikamfi is encircled on its front by a series of walled courtyard gardens with attached sitting areas, fountains, a reflecting pool, and kitchens where cooks produce small plates of extravagant food. Servants flow expertly through the dignified throng carrying suspended trays of steaming tea and coffee, and the air is perfumed by incense that burns in dozens of braziers throughout the gardens. Flavia takes a deep breath of this, and recalls from her dealings with merchants that this sort of incense would cost twenty denari to burn for an hour. She gazes around at the many burners in this garden alone.

    Alp says "This place is disgusting."

    "Just don't ask what we're breathing..." Flavia murmurs.

    Ioannis inhales thoughtfully. "It smells like my mother's sewing room." Everyone else looks at him.

    "Whatever," says Leo. "You're inside. Now, unless you need me, I don't know you." He goes off to socialize with his peers, and the rest are left to stand awkwardly in the corner until the second bell rings.

    Though they might not have thought it possible, the interior of the Harikamfi is even more extravagant than the gardens. The walls are white and shining marble, rimmed in marvelous scrollwork depicting warriors, gods, kings, and animals. The domed ceilings of the hallways outside the main theater are a dazzling shade of turquoise, which pale in comparison to the theater itself. The amphitheater dome is massive in scope: a flock of live doves dance and play in the air above the seats, and hundreds of candles dance beneath the gold-plated dome which sparkles with constellations.

    The group beings casting around for their seats, and quickly finds that in lieu of assigned seating, patrons are expertly guided by a brigade of smiling, gold-coated ushers who place guests in accordance with their social circles and prestige. Many patrons appear to be tipping the ushers in exchange for more favorable seating, so they offer up a few coins to sit near Valeria Baharat.

    The usher laughs. "I'm afraid that will by quite impossible," he says, and indicates a private box on the second floor, towards stage left. It's hung with a tasteful Baharat banner, and inside a woman is barely visible, accompanied by two guards and a page. Her demeanor is slumped and almost comically bored.

    The party thanks the usher, and they take their seats.

    Ioannis and Leo
    The house lights are just being hooded when Ioannis makes his way over to Leo and touches his shoulder to request his help in getting an audience with his niece. The pair exits through the main theater doors and take the stairs to the second floor, where they spot the Baharat banner near a guarded door.

    "Greetings!" Ioannis smiles. "I know this is somewhat irregular, but my name is Ioannis Phoca-Baharat, recently returned from... travels, in the Old Domains. I was hoping to pay a quick social visit to my niece."

    The guard isn't sure what to make of this. "Ioannis, you say?"

    Leo cuts in. "Don't worry so much, I'm sure Valeria will be thrilled to see us. Just give her a wave and I'm sure she'll call us right in."

    The guard slips inside and confers briefly with his employer, and a moment later he emerges and bows. "You may enter, Milord."

    Down in the theater the play has begun, but it seems Valeria couldn't care less. She's craned around in her seat to look at Ioannis and Leo as they enter, and her mouth curls with puzzled amusement at the sight of the priest. "Uncle... Ioannis?" she says.

    Ioannis bows. "Yes, it is I. I wasn't sure you would remember me."

    "I'd say it would be quite difficult for me to remember you, since you were sent from Icos before I was born..." She shakes her head, still smiling.

    Ioannis smiles more warmly. "I only meant by reputation. I'm glad that you do."

    "You... might say that." Valeria seems to be barely containing laughter. "I admit, you've piqued my curiosity. What on earth could have possessed you to seek out someone else of the Baharat family?"

    Ioannis says "Just because I haven't been home for a while doesn't mean I no longer consider myself a part of the Baharat family." he looks away. "In this case, I'd hoped to both say hello and - er - to ask you about some things that have been troubling me." He glances past her to the show onstage. "I hope I'm not distracting you from the play?"

    She waves a hand dismissively. "I couldn't possibly care less about this nonsense. Of course I - hah, of course I'm more than eager to catch up with other members of - ahah, house Baharat -"

    "Is there something the matter?"

    "Something funny, I suppose I should say," she stifles her giggles. "You are an... amusing character to run into. My father never spoke much of you, I suppose it was a sore point. I got the whole story from my uncle Theudis, your brother, and..." she squints at him, eyes sparkling with malicious delight. "...You don't know. You don't know why you were sent away."

    Ioannis looks down and self-conciously adjusts his carpet. "I always assumed our family... sensed the Call, as I did. And obeyed." In truth, he's done his best not to dwell on it. Ioannis had been raised since the age of six by an order of monks who revere the Sage, an aspect of the Caller, he who delivers vocations, mysteries, and calls to action. His whole life has been built on the assumption that such a divine purpose awaits for him to find.

    He hurries on. "In any case, I should say that I had - you could call it a run-in, with some of our agents. A night or two ago." Valeria looks at him, the laughter dying on her face. "At the site where Cevahir al Yol was killed."

    Valeria's face is all business now. She picks up her chair and turns it around to face Ioannis and Leo. "So that was you, then. You were among those persons."

    "Yes," says Ioannis with a nervous smile, "by some happy coincidence. I'm certain, of course, that the orders were incorrect - or that our servants carried out your orders..." he searches for the right word, "...poorly."

    She stares at him for a moment. "Yes, naturally," she says. "A horrible misunderstanding. I've been doing my best to contain the damage - and root out the culprits. You must have been terribly afraid, being caught by our men like that! We will have to discuss this in more detail, but here is perhaps not the best spot. If you'd wait in the hallway for a moment?"

    "Of course, of course!" Ioannis smiles, relieved. "Maybe we could talk it over at the family estate?"

    "Yes..." says Valeria. "Yes, I believe that would be perfect. If you would just wait in the hall?"

    Ioannis bows and the two of them take their leave. They hear muffled voices, and a second later both guards join the third in the hall. One bows low and says "If you would come with us, Lady Valeria has asked you be escorted to the manor."

    Leo says "Oh - might we gather our companions from the theater?"

    "I'm afraid not," says the guard. "Lady Valeria has only given permission for the two of you to come."

    Either my players need to get less trusting, or I need to stop lying to them quite so much. Not a single insight check or even much wariness. You'd think I'd never tried to kill them before.

    In fairness, I think this was a deliberate choice on Ioannis' part: he really doesn't want to imagine that his niece is knowingly involved. For Leo, it's possible that his player (being a fill-in) wasn't sure what would be an appropriate amount of suspicion for the character. Or, maybe Leo's player wanted to make sure Ioannis had the reins firmly in hand, since it was so personal a plot. We'll see how it turns out.
    They agree to come along, and are led by two of the guards at a leisurely pace out the front doors, through the gardens, and onto the street. The lead guard makes amicable smalltalk with Ioannis about the comings and goings in the city as they descend the hill west into Pashakhan Gate, and finally approach a narrow white-stone mansion with leaded glass windows and a five-foot stone wall surrounding the property. the wooden gate is opened by another guard, who speaks briefly with their escort. They are told to remain on the front step for a moment while they are announced and accommodations are made ready. They can sense that something is off about this arrangement, but they dutifully wait two minutes until the guard reappears and ushers them inside.

    They make it seven steps into a wonderfully appointed front hall when the door behind them is slammed shut and locked. Six guards appear from adjoining rooms, hands on their weapons.

    "What is the meaning of this?" gasps Ioannis.

    Their escort speaks apologetically. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask both of you to relinquish everything but your clothes."

    "I am a member of House Baharat!" Ioannis shouts.

    "And I'm terribly sorry about this, but I must insist." He motions to two of the other guards, who draw manacles and begin to approach. Leo raises his hands in surrender.

    "It's you!" says Ioannis, brandishing his staff. "You're part of the conspiracy!" With that, he strikes the ground and a radiant mist springs forth, shining the five stars of a holy constellation.

    Spoiler: Constellation

    The Caller's Arrow, sacred representation of the deliverer of vocations and herald of quests.

    Weapons are drawn and the guards attack.

    They quickly surround Leo and manage to clap manacles around his wrists, limiting his spellcasting before he realizes that they have a chance of escape. The constellation seems to ring with a piercing tone that causes two of the guards to fall stricken to the floor, while the remainder circle Ioannis and attempt to wrestle him into submission. Leo charms two of the guards attacking him, but that only causes more of them to focus on Brother Ioannis, who is bellowing out scriptural exhortations to victory. The wizard lets fly with a Magic Missile and a Spiritual Weapon, and three more of the guards are dispatched, but Leo can do little more than keep his distance while his arms are bound. The Caller's Arrow winks out. Leo tries to break through the leaded-glass windows that look onto the street, but can't dislodge the frame. It's clear that despite a valiant effort, they are bound to be overwhelmed and captured.

    Alp and Dubhsith
    Valeria, meanwhile, has not moved from her private box, despite her clear lack of interest. Alp has moved up to the halls leading to her door in the hopes of keeping an eye on her movement. He's in a prime position to notice a group of three halflings approaching at a businesslike pace. Alp watches them covertly as they approach the last remaining guard and speak with him: The halflings wear leather badges identifying them as members of the Honorable Mariners' Guild. As the finest dressed halfling is admitted and the Baharat page is sent outside, Alp slips away to get Dubhsith's help.

    Unfortunately, there's little chance of tearing Dubhsith away from the play. This is the Lay of the Pashakhan, the fantastical historical tragedy about the death of the city's cultural founder, Nefiret Pashakhan. It takes place literally beside her deathbed, but makes frequent and spectacular use of the screens and outsized shadow puppetry the Harikamfi is famous for to present the legend of her life and the events that will follow her death. It is, in a word, spellbinding. The whole audience (that's paying attention) is wracked with sobs and wails of sorrow.

    Alp stands at the theater door and peppers Dubhsith with pebbles to get his attention. Dubhsith notices, sees the situation in Valeria's box, and decides quite firmly that wild horses couldn't drag him away from this show. Alp throws a few more pebbles, beaning at least one particularly insufferable Khan in the back of the head, then gives up and returns upstairs, making for the floor above the Baharat box.

    He knocks on the door of the box he judges to be directly above Valeria, and is greeted by a red eyed young page attending a well-dressed couple that plainly haven't noticed the door has opened. "Y-yes?" asks the page, sniffing.

    Alp clasps his hands. "I'm so, so sorry to bother you, it's just - I was in this box the other night, and I'm afraid that I lost an earring. It was all my grandmother left me, you see..."

    A look of profound sorrow crosses the page's face. He grips Alp's shoulder. "Yes... yes! Of course, think nothing of it, come in..."

    Alp thanks him and starts to move past, but the page stops him.

    "You," he says, face starting to crack with tears "You never really know what it is you leave behind, do you?" He tries to stifle sobs in a handkerchief.

    Alp give him a pat on the chest and enters the box. He waits a few moments for his box-mates to return their full attention to the stage, then expertly slips over the railing and clambers a few feet down. He halts, suspending himself upside-down with his fingers gripping a ledge near his waist, with the back of his head touching the wall just four inches above Valeria's box. He can the well dressed halfling speaking.

    "Valeria, I'm not sure I quite understand. Who is this Spyros character to you? She's just some Weatherworker we had on our payroll."

    "There's nothing to understand, Alexis." Valeria hisses. "Except that I must have her. you have no reason to protect her - she betrayed you, yes? Robbed you!"

    "I still don't -"

    "Listen," says Valeria. "All I'm asking is that if you find Ligeia Spyros first, you turn her over to me. There's much that I could offer."

    Alexis seems to think about this. "Well... there is the issue of the embargo on Orzon tobacco..."

    "Done. House Baharat will put all possible effort into lifting it."

    The halfling pauses. "And, perhaps a ten-thousand denari donation -"

    "Done. I'll alert our accountants as soon as this drivel is concluded."

    A longer pause. "And a discussion of an exclusive agreement on shipping through Tolikos."

    "Done!" snaps Valeria. "All done! The paperwork will be filed by morning!"

    Alexis sighs, and Alp hears the scrape of a chair. "Valeria, I have no idea what kind of game you're playing, but I won't sit here and have my intelligence insulted."

    There's a sudden shuffling sound, and when Valeria speaks her tone is low and menacing. "Alexis..." she says. "I warn you. I will have Ligeia Spyros. I will use every resource at my disposal, I will burn this city to the ground if it comes between me and her. Do I make myself clear?"

    "Enjoy the show, Lady Baharat."

    The door opens, then closes. Alp hears a strangled cry of frustration from Valeria, and a meaty crunch, followed by silence. He listens a few moments longer, then clambers back up to the box he entered and creeps for the door.

    "Did you - did you find what you needed?" asks the page.

    Alp nods solemnly. "I have what I came for. What I need - well, my grandmother was such a strong woman. I shall have to be strong for her."

    The page's face scrunches up with sorrow, and he bites his fist to keep from weeping. "Oh! Speak no more! I cannot bear it!" He opens the door for Alp. "Torchbearers blessings on you, sir. Torchbearer's blessings on us all."

    As Alp descends the stairs, he hears intermission begin with a roaring applause. He very nearly bumps into Valeria and her page as she hurries out, red-faced and furious. He has no time or reason to follow her: he's got a bone to pick with Dubhsith.

    Ioannis, Flavia, and Leo
    It was fortunate that Flavia saw Ioannis and Leo leaving Valeria's box and went to meet them in the hall. Otherwise she might not have seen the pair of them being led away by the Baharat guards. Fortunately, her time in Borudar had helped her hone her ability to follow unnoticed, and she kept a careful eye on the retinue as they made their way down Gorgon Hill. Her companions didn't appear to be under any duress, but Flavia still thought it would be better to know where exactly they were going.

    It proved a smart instinct. She's lurking across the street eating an orange when she hears the sound of breaking glass, and catches a flash of Leo's terrified face in the window. She curses that she's not wearing her armor, tosses the fruit aside and charges straight for the front of the house. The paladin is up and over the wall almost without breaking stride. Dashing for the damaged window, she seizes the top sill, kicks through it with both feet, and lands with dagger drawn in the hall.

    Ioannis is on the floor, unconscious, while Leo grapples, squawking, with the two remaining guards. They are scattered by Flavia's dramatic entrance, and one calls to the other "Go! Take the priest! Get out of here!" He does his best to square off against the newcomer.

    The other Baharat Guard obliges and slings the insensate Ioannis over his shoulder. He rushes for the back of the house, but Flavia somersaults under the first guard's clumsy slash and plants her dagger in the top of the fleeing man's shoulder, sending him and Ioannis toppling to the floor. The first guard curses and bolts for the front door, unlocking it and stumbling down the front steps, but suddenly he stops. Hunching and clutching his ears, he lets out a strangled gasp and falls unconscious to the flagstones before he can make the gate. Leo and Flavia turn and see that Ioannis, awakened by his fall, is holding one hand curled toward the man. He wears a furious snarl, and waves off Flavia's attempt to help him to his feet.

    Brother Ioannis staggers over to where their escort fell, the one who spoke with Valeria, and hauls him upright against the wall. The man's eyes flutter open.

    "Who do you work for?" Ioannis demands.

    The guard's voice is a pained rasp. "House... Baharat!"

    Ioannis slams him against the wall. "Impossible. I am House Baharat! Who did you betray us to??"

    "No...! Never!" he croaks. " I am sorry... Valeria... ordered it so."

    Brother Ioannis' eyes go wide, and he drops the man. The priest takes a step back, looking around the room at the scattered Baharat guards. He whispers "This is so much worse than I thought."

    Alp and Dubhsith
    "Spyros... does the name mean anything to you?"

    Alp shakes his head. "Never heard of her. They said she was a weatherworker, and that she'd stolen from the Mariner's Guild. A Halfling, probably."

    The two of them stand in the gardens outside the Harikamfi, away from the exuberant theatergoers.

    "Probably she's one of Cevahir al Yol's silent partners," says Dubhsith.

    "I was thinking the same thing," Alp nods. "But while we're on the subject of partners who don't do anything, can I ask what the hell you thought you were doing in there?"

    Another voice speaks. "I was going to ask you the same question."

    Alp and Dubhsith are both suddenly aware of a tall, fine featured man with a thick, dark moustache standing only two paces from them. He's dressed in the manner of a stagehand.

    "I'm sorry?" says Dubhsith. "I was just watching the show."

    "I was talking to your friend here," the man says. "Trying to go unnoticed in the Harikamfi is a difficult task for the most subtle of actors, sir, and you..." he shakes his head. "Well."

    "Who are you, exactly?" asks Alp.

    The stranger's lip twitches. "Come with me. The Shadow Players would like a word with you." he turns and starts walking.

    Dubhsith's eyes go wide, and he follows. Alp falls into step behind him. "Uh, Okay," Alp says. "It was a great show, by the way."

    Dubhsith aims a glance at the fighter. "Alp, do you know who the Shadow Players are?"

    "The puppeteers for the screens, I thought." The stranger leads them through the front doors, then off down a side passage they hadn't noticed before.

    "They're the Queen's personal spy-ring."

    Alp halts for half a step, then continues following. "Oh," he says.

    Another long one. So much for avoiding transcribed dialogue. At least it gives me space to revise my "ums" and throat-clearings, and at least I got this one out a good deal earlier than the last.

    Spoiler: Thread Responses

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan
    Is this the first we’ve seen of Priscilla? She doesn’t appear by name before this, and I don’t think it’s mentioned earlier that Leo has a familiar. Also, I love the fact that she’s a Pallas' cat. Are you using different stats for her? Since the photo you’re using is one of the first to come up on a google search, I’m guessing you set out to use this species, which is a very nice touch.
    Yep, this is Priscilla's first appearance. I didn't even know Leo had a familiar, and Leo's player hadn't decided on what it would be until it occurred to them to use it for this challenge. The name, Priscilla, came pretty much spontaneously when she succeded her dexterity save to grab the balcony railing: Leo's player just burst out "Good job, Priscilla!" out of nowhere, and decided to keep the name.

    Alas that the Pallas Cat has the stats of an ordinary cat. I decided it would be neat to make a domesticated Pallas be a local breed, because they are great and I love them. Maybe I'll make some slight adjustments to her stats, but at the scale that D&D works at, that may be overkill.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan
    Did you write this section yourself? If so, outstanding kudos for doing such an excellent job with it. This is a short story in its own right, and it works perfectly here.
    Thank you! I like handouts for research, but I get really worried about just having a dry slice of homework in the middle of the session, so sometimes I try and use a different format. On the other hand, that means I get really worried about wasting space and time with meaningless fluff.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan
    And I'm still very interested in knowing what "pitfalls" were in that tower....
    Nothing too exciting, sorry. The man Priscilla saw crying in the manor courtyard was an interesting character who would provide a social way into the tower, while the tower itself was mostly trapped on the third floor. Dense fog would flood the area and help conceal an illusion that the stairs up were in the middle of the floor instead of on the northern side, luring intruders into an electrical Forcecage trap then casting Fear on everyone outside the cage. Then, the trapdoor to get to the fourth floor had a simple glyph of warding on it and a lock enchanted to shatter lockpicks.

    Most of these dangers could be bypassed just by wearing the golden signet ring they'd taken from Cevahir's corpse. It only would have protected one of them, but it would have been useful if they'd remembered it.

    The biggest danger, when Cevahir was alive, was that the whole thing was blanketed in Alarm spells that would have told the wizard exactly where an intruder was, giving him a chance to prepare an ambush, call for reinforcements, or (most likely in Cevahir's case) use magic to flee. He kind of inherited a tower built by and intended for a higher caliber of wizard, which is kind of a running element in the setting as far as wizards go: There's not much reason for wizards to put in the effort to get past fifth level or so, since they can earn a comfortable income and level of prestige without going to much danger. And if danger does show up, they've still got Fireball. Wizards who get past that point tend to be weirdos (Like Brother Ioannis) or highly ambitious (Like Nazar Wrack-Tamer).

    Quote Originally Posted by RagingBluMonkey
    Hello! Just stopping in to say that I'm really enjoying reading this! The world building you've done has made for a really interesting and entertaining setting. I look forward to reading the next entry
    Thanks for the kind word! I hope it keeps holding your interest.

    Let me know if you'd prefer these broken up into parts or released all at once. As always, replies are greatly appreciated, and the next session is on Sunday!

    EDIT: Unfortunately, we lost quorum early this morning, so no session until next Sunday! Have a good week, folks.

    Stay safe, friends.
    Last edited by Dr paradox; 2020-09-20 at 12:46 PM.

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