Monday, December 11, 2006

Session 6 - Meeting at the Docks

Sunday, December 10, 2006 from 1:30 PM to 5:15 PM

We gather just after lunch and enjoy a few snacks together while Caroline catches up with the game, reading the transcripts of the Praemal Tales.

We resume the game around 2:30 PM.

Still the 6th of Rain

Beket and Simone get back to the Temple of the Watcher of the Skies and House Sadar respectively.

Beket finds out that Helmut Itlestein, the High Priest of the Watcher of the Skies, did not reappear at the temple that day. She has a hard time finding sleep. There are too many questions left answered. Ayla, her aunt who serves as an acolyte to the temple, knows best and leaves her to her thoughts. Whatever the answers to her niece's situation may be, she is sure the answer will present itself sooner or later.

Simone gets back to House Sadar. She doesn't have the same trouble resting that night. Maybe the thrill of adventure actually helps her sleep? After all, she doesn't live to serve as a maid for the Speaker of Aartuat and his eunuchs!

7th of Rain

The next day, after they send a courier to the courts to keep Hennie up to date, the girls meet for lunch at the Green Griffon in Midtown.

There, Hennie explains the courts needed her to serve as a guide for palastani children visiting Ptolus. She led them on a tour of the City Courts, where they attended some audiences and met with some representatives of the Commissar.

Simone and Beket explain their findings, and tell Hennie about the patterns their skins bear. The sorceress examines herself and soon realizes her legs are covered with some sort of pattern similar to the ones described by her friends. There is some confusion as to what these markings mean or what purpose they would serve, but the girls decide to forget about these things for the moment to instead appreciate their meals.

The girls enjoy some meat loaf despite a succulent special of tunnel larvas on a bed of algae with their giant red berries from the Moonsilver forest. Half way through the meal, they are interrupted by the sudden arrival of a magical wisp of darkness in the room. It swirls around the room madly, sometimes showing a hint of shadowy wings amongst the volutes of black light it draws on its path. Suddenly, as Beket dives to hide from it, the wisp lands at lightning speed on their lunch table. It did not disturb anything: glasses, bottles and plates are left untouched, and it just sits there for a moment.

Nella Schaun, the owner of the establishment, comes to them and asks: "Aren't you going to touch the damn thing?"

The girls are surprised Nella seems to know what that thing is. They ask her. She smiles: "You guys are new to Ptolus I see. This is a shadow sending, and a rather showy one at that! Please touch the damn bird so it can deliver its message and let us be done with it!"

Hennie touches the wisp, which then dissipates before their very eyes. They hear a rather dramatic voice then booming in their mind: "If you want to know more about Zalathar the Elf, come at the dead of the night on Pier Seven."

The girls discuss a bit more with Nella. The "shadow sendings", as they are called, are some means of delivery for vocal or visual messages for the Ptolusians. They are quickly becoming extremely popular to the wealthy, since they are magical, quite affordable for their unique properties, and can be delivered to locations and particular people alike. "It seems like you've got a fan", Nella concludes.

The girls leave the Green Griffon and decide to work most of the afternoon to be able to meet this unknown friend of theirs.

While on her way to House Sadar in the Nobles' Quarter, Simone is subjected to a very tight security search at Dalenguard, the fortress that stands at the only public entrance to that area of the city. When asking for explanations to the city guard, she learns that House Dallimothan, or "House Dragon" as it is commonly known, has asked the Commissar to implement these special measures for a few days. Listening to the people waiting to have access to the Nobles' Quarter, she finds out it may be related to the coming of the Traveler, a legendary dragon who visits House Dallimothan once every now and then. If the popular tales are true the Traveller is to dragons what a sage would be to other sentient races of Ptolus: a very knowledgeable being in all kinds of topics pertaining to the worlds of the visible and invisible with an eccentric and somewhat erratic personality to the common man.

Meanwhile, Beket decides to visit the Shadow Sendings' offices on Firestone Street. She discusses for a while with Rondella Loyath, the wizard in charge there. Rondella is falsely welcoming the monk's questions: she is polite and presents herself and her business very well, but some hints of a condescending personality show up as soon as the conversation leads to whoever paid for the particular shadow sending sent to them on this day. Rondella explains about "expectations of privacy", how the "company's policy" is dear to her, and such nonsense. Beket leaves the offices empty handed.

As for Hennie, she spends most of her afternoon at the courts. There, she learns that a dozen people have been disappearing in the streets of Ptolus. She asks one of her friends in the city guard to watch out for any information about these crimes, any rumors and popular tales that would be spreading on the markets and in the taverns of the city. She suspects this may have something to do with their own disappearance a while ago. If these people have been kidnapped by the same group of people Zalathar was working with, this means the situation would be more dire than the girls previously thought.

Just before midnight, Beket, Hennie and Simone meet at the Fish Market of Midtown. At this hour, the vast building overlooking the cliffs above the Docks is completely inhabited. The fishmongers show up early in the morning and sell their fresh goods to the people of Ptolus. It is then a crowded place, up until noon usually, but at this hour of the night, only smells, scattered fish parts and guts not cleaned up in the afternoon linger as an enduring testimony of the kind of business done here on a daily basis.

The girls wait there for a while before walking down the serpentine road to the Docks. Pier Seven reaches far into the ocean. At its western edge, open to the Ptolus bay, lies a wooden platform used by fishing boats to unload the heaviest catches. The adventurers do not have to wait long until a litorian shows up by the same path they used to get there. He stares at them for a moment and picks up a large blue gem from his belt. He looks at them through the gem, smiles, and then simply says: "So you came."

"They are here, my master."

A man wearing a dark toga and purple robes underneath appears out of the thin air. He has a fierce, maniacal look on his face, as if hunted down by someone or something he would just want to rip to pieces. His face and hands are bone white. He doesn't seem to have seen the light of the day for quite a while. He looks at the adventurers and announces: "I can help you find the one Zalathar was working for."

The girls are instantly reticent to have any dealings with the man. The symbol of a Black Hand appears embrodered on the robes he is wearing. A hand similar to the one painted all over the walls of the trashed laboratories the adventurers left a few days ago. The Ebon Hand.

The priest, who presents himself as Octavius, explains that Zalathar's master was once initiated to the Ebon Hand. They would call him simply "the Elf", the "Putrescent One", for he seemed to be afflicted more than any other harrow elf they had ever seen by some terrible, probably magical ailment no one could positively identify. Octavius says he never found out the Elf's name either. The priest rants for a while about him, explaining how the deviant Elf cheated both the Ebon Hand and the Shuul, how he exploited their knowledge and took advantage of their facilities to foster his own plans for magical discovery and experimentation.

Octavius seems fascinated by the girls. He stares at them, asks them if they have marks on their bodies. "You are the only ones who survived, after all. That in itself is quite an achievement." The priest seems to have ambivalent feelings of hate and admiration for the Elf. "He was working on the runes, and their effects thereof. How to develop them, to nurture them even. Many of us thought he was planning on bringing the Dissolution, but there had to be more to it!"

When the girls ask for more precise answers and complain about his annoying evasiveness, Octavius moves on, explaining how the Ebon Hand has to keep a low profile, particularly when dealing with Ptolusian authorities. "If you are on a path for revenge, if you want to hunt the Elf down and bring him to a swift death, the Ebon Hand would be grateful indeed. We know the Elf has had dealings with the Ennin who manage Ptolus' Slave Market. If you want to find him, search for the Dark Market, in the Undercity. There, you can find out where the Elf dwells and put an end to his experiments."

Given the continuous teasing the priest bestows on the girls, they do not at all appreciate the man. They brush him off and tell him to be more explicit, or to go away. He asks them: "What do you feel now? What are the runes telling you to do? Do you see the Moon? Do you feel the reckoning pound within your chest?" He waves at the clouds, and they slowly part to reveal the bright and silvery disk of the Moon high in the sky.

The priest's ramblings become even more unintelligible. As the girls show more and more annoyance towards him, he gets more and more agitated, speaking about the final nights and the end of all, and finally concludes: "You do not want the friendship of the Ebon Hand? Suits you all very well! Do not forget that we helped you!" On these words, he leaves the platform, his litorian servant following closely behind him.

It seems like the girls will have to visit the Dark Market to find out more about this "Putrescent One" the priest kept referring to.

8th of Rain

As Beket, Hennie and Simone stand there on Pier Seven, they notice something is amiss.

Simone is stung by a dart! Ambush! They notice some sahuagins swimming around them and shooting at them with ivory blowdarts. Not far from the pier, a shadowy figure covered in a deep night-blue cloak stands on a boat and casts a terrifying spell, waving at the moon and screaming like a madman!

Things from there become very blurry. Hennie and Simone find cover from the blowdarts, but gleaming spirits of dead warriors appear out of nowhere to assail them while Beket jumps over the waters on the wizard's vessel. Without waiting for a second, she punches him, and with uncanny accuracy, breaks his nose, hurling broken pieces of bone and cartilage through his brain. The wizard does not even realize he's just been killed. He falls on the boat's deck like a puppet whose strings have just been cut off.

Beket has no time to taste victory. Soon, she is assailed by sahuagins who climb on the boat and gang up on her. Even though Hennie helps her by blowing the brains out of one of her opponents with a lucky shot for her Dragon Pistol heirloom, the boat is overrun and Beket falls unconscious to the ground.

From their respective positions, Hennie and Simone can see a bright flash of light bursting from the boat during a split second and giant white wings spread in the dark.

The vision dissipates as quickly as it appeared. Still stunned by such an incredible sight, the two adventurers fiercely hack, slash and shoot at the sahuagins and apparitions.

The ghosts are entirely material, which surprises Hennie. It looks like the rays of the moon unveiled by the Ebon Hand priest earlier affect these creatures and make them vulnerable to physical attacks.

The chaos of the battle that ensues only heightens the confusion of the next few moments.

When everything becomes quiet again, Hennie and Simone realize they are both still standing. All of their opponents have been dissipated or killed, laying dead before them.

Both girls rush to Beket and make her drink one of the potions they carry with them at all time, and soon the monk of the Old Man comes back to consciousness. Everything is fine and well now, even though Beket still feels remnants of the pain triggered by the deadly wounds inflicted upon her a few minutes ago.

The adventurers search the body of the wizard. They find some bracers acting as magical protective and invisible shields brushing off physical attacks directed at their wearer, a wand destined to charm individuals and the most uncanny discovery of all: an ebony box engraved with patterns similar to the tattoos they all wear. These patterns seem to reproduce the configurations of some constellations visible in the sky. The box has no apparent lock or opening device. Something is in the box, but how to get it out of there is a mystery at the moment.

The adventurers leave the scene, weary, tired and decided to pay a visit to the Dark Market as soon as possible.

XP Breakdown
Beket and Simone are Level 3. Hennie is Level 2.
- Ambush on Pier Seven - CR7
Total XP earned: 3,600. XP per PC: 1,200 (3 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 4,300 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 3,325 XP.
Hennie levels up.

DM's notes

This was a tricky game session. I had two main issues to deal with:

1/ The characters were of different levels. Although not such a big deal as it may seem, it had to be corrected if possible. This is why the ambush (which could have occured in a different place at a different time) occured during this game session. It also explains why it was so overwhelming. It worked great in the game, because whoever wants to get rid of the PCs would want to do it once and for all, and not use the common and lame tactic of multiple attacks on the PCs that would each fit nicely their present abilities for an "average" challenge. No. The bad guys wanted to kill them. Once and for all. Of course, the huge risk was to end up with a Total Party Kill (or TPK) . I was confident the group's configuration could handle it. It worked great, and I feel the group's capabilities were pushed to their limits, but let me just say the bad guys won't make the same mistake twice!

2/ The pace of the game started to slow down right away. While the PCs were at the Green Griffon, I could feel the players needed something to happen. Plus, I was quickly realizing the players had too much information to deal with.

I needed to address the issue quickly to refocus the action of the game into a more proactive adventure for the PCs. Unfortunately, the only viable solution to this problem was to reveal more information to the PCs. I thus had to dance on the edge of a sword, so to speak: reveal too much and confuse the players even more, or not reveal enough and let the players wonder what their next move ought to be for the next few sessions.

All in all, the meeting with the Ebon Hand priest was the most plausible and the most direct answer to the problem. I rolled with it, and it worked fine to some extent.

Unsurprisingly, the players are a bit confused at the moment. I think they're wondering what the heck is going on, but once they get down to the business of the Dark Market the confusion will hopefully clear up on its own.

All in all, this was a good session. A lot of stuff covered in a small amount of time, some laughs, a good challenge, flavorful moments of role-playing, I really can't complain at this point.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Session 5 - Omens and Runebearers

Saturday, December 2, 2006 from 4:00 PM to 8:45 PM

This time around, only two players show up. Caroline, who plays Heinrietta Nagel, has flown out of town to Ontario. We enjoy our usual meal together before playing. One of our friends joined us, even though she isn't playing the Praemal Tales. We discuss and debate about various subjects, such as the value of advertisement in our society while enjoying freshly baked cheese sticks, two dishes of wild salmon (one baked in the oven with soy sauce and sesame seeds, the other with spices and tomatoes) and rice.

As usual, the food is incredible!

Baked salmon with soy sauce and sesame seeds.

We then resume our game.

Session 5 - Omens and Runebearers

5th of Rain

After Beket and Simone take care of their duties to the Observatory of the Watcher of the Skies and House Sadar respectively, both meet in front of the Ghostly Minstrel to decide on their next course of action. Hennie does not show up. She is probably busy due to her duties to the City Courts.

Beket and Simone decide to wander the streets and taverns of Ptolus for information. Sometimes, it is better to take the pulse of the city than stay cloistered in a library for hours. Hennie's not there, so they might just take it as an opportunity to avoid the dust of old parchments and ominous tomes of ancient lore, at least for now. They ask around for details on Zalathar Greycloak, the man who performed experiments on them, and more precisely about his family. Maybe the Greycloaks are (in)famous to the people of Ptolus, and if so, why are they?

They learn that the Greycloaks are harrow elves with a troubled history of magic and mayhem. Zaen Greycloak, Zalathar's father, was an elf with a passion for magical research. He would perform all kinds of experiments, and seemed to be quite extreme in the way he carried them out. For Zaen, the end justified the means. Some say he was involved with the wrong crowds, some Chaos Cult probably, and destroyed his family's unity in the process. It seems Zalathar hated his father and left the household early on. Whatever the reasons for such a family feud may have been, soon Zaen and his wife Ravana disappeared, never to be seen again from the folks of Ptolus.

Beket and Simone become increasingly worried about the sort of experiments Zalathar conducted on them. They decide to head for St. Gustav's Chapel in Midtown to see Petran Achenburg, the Cleric of Lothian and adventurer who originally hired them to hunt for Ratmen in the sewers.

While the girls explain to him what they discovered, Petran quickly realizes he has to commune with Lothian to find out more about their present condition. They spend the rest of the afternoon in the Chapel while Petran performs various rituals on them.

When the priest is done, he has some new insights on their puzzling situation. He explains that both Beket and Simone radiate magic, although the auras themselves are faint, almost unnoticeable through conventional means. He asks them to strip for him. Of course, both women hesitate to do so. Petran explains he has to have a look at their bodies but would understand if they would not agree. He has taken a sacred vow of chastity, and would not think for a moment to profit from the situation.

The girls agree and show their bodies to the priest. He gasps almost immediately, for both adventurers carry faint marks on their skins. Beket carries faint strands running down her back from her shoulders. These look like wings of some sort. Simone carries faint marks as well but these are around her wrists, up to her elbows. They vaguely look like flames. Both marks are just as intense as light sunburns but their hues are greenish. There is no trace of poison or rot tainting them.

Petran then asks them many questions about their childhoods, if they were subject to supernatural events early on, if they've been in dire situations in their lives that would just have turned out alright for no apparent reason than sheer luck. Both women answer by the negative. This seems extremely puzzling to the priest. He explains he knows about some people with such magical marks on their bodies, but these are people usually born with such traits. He's never heard of people who would actually develop such marks later in their lives. He also precises he hasn't found any trace of Transmutation or any clue that would point out towards an obvious alteration of their bodies alone. It seems their "transformation", for lack of a better word, is more spiritual than physical.

Beket and Simone decide they ought to understand better what these marks may be, and what people with such marks represent. They part for the night, their minds troubled by these new developments.

Simone gets back to House Sadar. Sayem Nadir, Speaker to the Spears of Aartuat, is the guest Simone should attend to, but he is not present at the Guest House. His eunuchs are, however: they treat the servants of House Sadar as if they do not know what commitment and service to their master truly means. This is a straining evening for her.

Beket goes back to the Temple of the Watcher of the Skies. She shares her concern with her aunt who serves as an acolyte there. As soon as she hears Beket's story, she mentions that Helmut Itlestein, the High Priest of the Watcher of the Skies, ought to examine her more closely. Maybe he could explain some things this unfaithful priest of St. Gustav's could not? Beket agrees, and they both head to the Observatory.

Helmut is there attending to some research of his own. When the women arrive and explain the reason of their intrusion, Helmut's behavior, which was absent-minded previously, becomes suddenly commanding and quite worrisome. He orders Beket to show her marks, gasps when she does so, walks to a table nearby, scatters star maps and personal notes on the floor and quickly grasps a feather to start drawing the patterns appearing on Beket's back. He then runs to the telescope and compares some notes with the sketch he just drew.

Beket's aunt is flabbergasted. Beket tries to asks Helmut for an explanation but the High Priest's reaction shows his deep annoyance. He just says she has to open her eyes to the stars and steps back from the telescope. Beket has a look. There, in the vast and dark immensity of the outer reaches, Beket looks at what the faithful call a nebula. Colors and pattern dance before her eyes. They are perfectly recognizable to her: they reflect the colors and pattern on her back. She asks to Helmut what this means, but the High Priest is dismissive, telling her he has to study the matter more closely. He storms out of the room with sketches and star maps, and the two women are left there, under the vast dome of the Observatory, wondering what exactly just happened.

6th of Rain

Beket and Simone meet the next day in front of the Delver's Guild Library and Map Room in Old Town. They discuss the reaction of the High Priest of the Watcher of the Skies and firmly decide this is time to get some answers. They step inside the Library and meet Shad Livbovic, the tower's designated librarian, who helps them find more information about major astral events that may have happened in the past and the relation there might be with some of the bearers of runes Petran was talking about.

They learn, through the diaries written by an arcane explorer of Ghul's ancient libraries, about the "Runebearers": how these mythical individuals seemed to be common place in the past of Praemal and how these were often seen as heroes and people of some important significance to the world. They also learn that major changes in the sky did occur in the past. There is the mention of a moon that disappeared from the sky long ago. The Vallis Moon. How these two phenomena may be linked, the author of the diaries doesn't say.

They spend their whole day within the Delver's Guild library. When they emerge from the tower, it is dusk already. Still more questions. There has to be a thread connecting all the dots.

Beket wants to forget about all their trouble and head for some tavern or whore house but Simone isn't in the mood for such trivialities. They argue at the corner of a street when a half-orc and two dwarves come to them and ask for their purses. The two women laugh at the request, and the half-orc's tone changes from a request to an order as he draws a short sword from his belt.

The fight against the half-orc and dwarves*

Beket and Simone have to fight for their lives. They struggle direly against these tough opponents. Simone falls unconscious at some point, but they are victorious at the very last moment when the half-orc finally succumbs from his wounds. One of the dwarves flees from the scene, and Beket manages to take care of the last courageous mugger. They loot the bodies without a second thought, and Beket realizes the sword of the half-orc is magical. Maybe these weren't simple muggers after all? Still more questions, and so few answers...

XP Breakdown
Characters are all Level 2.
- Asking the Right Questions (Gather Information/Knowledge checks) - CR2
- Defeating the streeet muggers - CR4
Total XP earned: 1,950. XP per PC: 975 (2 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 3,100 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 2,125 XP.
Beket and Simone level up.

DM's notes

I really appreciated this game session, particularly how the plot of the Praemal Tales so far interconnected with the PCs' backgrounds, and through them, with the materials of the City by the Spire. This is something I had not planned, and this is always a thrill to see unexpected events come out of a game session.

*Also, it was the first time Tiana (Simone) played through a fight without using miniatures. The picture included on this blog was taken after the game, to represent the situation of the characters at that moment. I am quite happy with the way it all went. I was afraid the use of miniatures and battlemaps would somehow lock the players' imaginations in such a way as to require the use of visual aids for combat. I was happily mistaken!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Campaign Checkpoint

We have now played four game sessions in this Ptolus campaign of ours. Here are a few of the random thoughts (things I've learned, re-learned or confirmed mentally) I've had outside of game sessions so far:

1- It is good to have fun and laugh out loud at the game table. The end goal of a role-playing game session is to have fun. Verisimilitude only matters so long as it increases the fun of a game session. If the players want to have fun through jokes and movie lines and you, as a DM, stop them from doing so because you'd think the believability of the game is the only thing that matters, you would have to seriously question your train of thought and re-prioritize the aims of the game.

2- Using game materials from other sources than RPGs, including plots coming from computer games such as Baldur's Gate II - Shadows of Amn can be great fun. Having played this game many times and loving it dearly made me feel the actual plot elements I used in the Ptolus game much more intensely. Maybe not something to do all the time, but variation is good.

3- Speaking of variation, playing a campaign with some sessions using miniatures, some sessions without, and/or sessions with varying types of visual aids (dioramas in 2D, 3D or all at the same time) is feasible and keeps the game fresh for versatile players who like all these different aspects of tabletop role-playing. It requires some organization on the DM's part, but it can make for a better play experience when done right.

4- Running a game with fewer players makes it tougher for me to DM because I feel the attention of the players is more often driven to me. If I make a mistake, the players are thus far more likely to notice it, whereas, when playing with numerous players around the game table, they are more likely to interact with each other than pay attention to this or that ruling of mine.

5- Running a game with fewer players makes it easier for me to DM because they are more likely to be focused on the adventure at hand rather than sidetrack and debate over the next course of action for a long time. I have less policing to do, as far as the social part of the event is concerned.

6- It's tough to plan a game without first having an idea of how long it will go on. I expect I'll run more than one campaign using Ptolus, and thus do not expect to stop the Praemal Tales any time soon, but this game we are playing may end in a few months since some of the players may leave the place we live in for good. It's particularly tough to plan a short campaign and make it a worthwhile or somewhat "complete" experience for all the people involved.

7- Having dinner before the game can be great, because it re-focuses the game on the actual social part of the whole thing. We play the game because we like to be together first and foremost. The game can be great and fun all we want but the bottom-line is that we wouldn't play together if we weren't getting along first outside of the game.

Food for thought, indeed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Session 4 - Unusual Crafts

Sunday, November 13, 2006 from 5:15 PM to 9:15 PM

4th of Rain

After meeting with the Keepers of the Veil at the Siege Tower and accepting their offer to investigate murders for them, Beket, Hennie and Simone are determined to find out the source of all the troubles in and around Exposed Street.

After taking care of their duties to their employers in the morning they meet at the market not far from the crime scenes. They walk amidst the stalls for a moment, looking for the beggar a city guard described to them the night before. This beggar, they were told, would have been a witness to the murders they are investigating.

They are debating their next course of action when Simone catches a glimpse of something or someone hiding behind Beket. It turns out this is Hamrick, the halfling they met down in Ghul's labyrinth, who's attempting to rob the monk of the Old Man! Of course, Hamrick protests to the sudden hostility of his "friends", saying he is just trying to make a living.
"For my children's sake," he professes.
"You don't have any children!" Beket retorts.
"I might one day..."

It soon becomes clear to the adventurers that Hamrick may be of some use, after all. He is quick to precise he knows the area fairly well, and indicates he knows some of the beggars of these streets, "out of professional interest", he adds.

Soon after, they find the beggar they were searching for. The poor old man is being mugged in a nearby street! Beket is quick to act and almost falls when one of the criminals attempts to stab her. The fellow sneers and shouts insults at her while his two companions, a sturdy, muscular man and a mean-looking dwarf, keep on kicking the beggar lying on the pavement. Hennie springs into action and concentrates. The man who just stabbed Beket cries in pain as dozens of spikes emerge from his body in a split second! He falls to the ground, dead, while Simone tumbles past him and takes care of his friends. The dwarf manages to escape, but the sturdy man does not: he is knocked out as he tries to reach for the roofs and stumbles down the street.

The adventurers give him to the authorities after they interrogate him. He says he has been hired by a sinister fellow who showed up at the Skull & Sword (#293, Guildsman District) gave them a description of the beggar to kill and some hard cash to do the deed. They do not get much more out of him, but find a letter of credit signed "KK" on the dead mugger's body.

The beggar, Rham, fears for his life. Beket proposes to take him to the Farmer's Rest (#106) at the other side of the North Market and pay for him to stay for a few days there. He agrees, and talks during the walk. He found the first murder victim, the male halfling going by the name of Ryon selling fruits on the market. He describes how he found him badly mutilated and almost entirely skinned. He also found some kind of piece of hide he would like to keep but agrees to lend to his saviors. This looks like a very pale skin of some exotic animal.

After letting Rham at the Farmer's Rest, the adventurers, still followed by Hamrick, decide to head to the Skull & Sword to start to get some answers.

Sure, they almost start a brawl there -again- but this time they indeed receive some valuable information. They find out there that the piece of hide they've got comes from an elephant, and that the sinister fellow who hired the muggers wasn't much of a talker. "He had a strange appearance though. His hands, see? They were like all red, as if tainted by pigment he'd use over and over again."

Of course, the adventurers also ask about Zalathar, feeling these events may all be related somehow. They learn that the harrow elf was indeed meeting some people here from time to time. It seems like they were no friends at all, judging by the hostility you could cut with a knife when walking close to their usual table, but they were always coming back a few weeks later to discuss some more. Zalathar was always talking of his "master" and how they would clean-up the streets of Ptolus when they would be done with their "project", as he called it. It seems like his drinking buddies were once members of the Ironworkers' guild. They have been rejected from their ranks some time ago. No clear answers for sure, but the adventurers now have new leads.

Before investigating the mystery of Zalathar's pet project any further they want to figure out the murders' mystery once and for all. Putting all the pieces together, they guess the murderer may be working with hides, skin. His hands are tainted. Maybe some kind of exotic tanner of the Guildsman District? They ask around, and with the help of Hamrick, determine there is indeed a tanner known for his particular work in Ptolus. His name is Valenus Savius and he lives near the North Market, just besides the Shrine of the Oracle (#165) of the Temple District, in a rich mansion he recently acquired.

Beket, Hennie and Simone resume their search and decides to head straight for the mansion. The house itself is located right in the middle of a park which is part of the property. The park itself looks wild and luxuriant. Without waiting much after they called from the gates, Simone decides to pick the lock. She succeeds. She and her companions sneak into the property.

They soon realize the undergrowth is alive. They are attacked by some wild animals and amidst the chaos of it all fend their way to the main door. Whoever this Valenus is, he doesn't want anyone coming to the property, visitors and intruders alike.

When the adventurers finally reach the house, they knock. An imp opens the door and greets them. He presents himself as Lord Savius' majordomo, and shows them inside. In the mansion's main dining room, they see an ogre present. The imp turns to them, flying around, and asks on an unconcerned tone whether they broke into the property or not. As soon as they try to justify their actions, the imp turns to the ogre and simply says: "They bore me. Kill them."

Hennie has to fight the imp itself after he fires a magic missile at her. Meanwhile, Simone and Beket join forces to fight the ogre and bring him down as quickly as possible. This is a violent yet efficient battle on the adventurers' part. They now start to acknowledge each other's strengths and weaknesses and use them to their own advantage.

Soon the ogre and imp lie dead in the dinner room. The girls search the place and finally hear some faint noises coming from the basement. They locate a trap door in the corner of the dining room and do not think twice before climbing down the stone stairs beyond.

They soon reach a vast room with a fountain. There, Simone decides to drink. The water is icy cold and extremely refreshing. All around the fountain, some chains secured to the inner side of the pool plunge deep within the waters. Simone pulls on one of the chains and makes a gruesome discovery: at the other end of the chain she finds a large human arm has been fastened to a hook. It bears some runes that have been etched into the flesh somehow. All the other seven chains around the fountain lead so similar body pieces etched with runes. They belong to different individuals of various races. Whatever this tanner is doing in here, he has been doing it to a number of people already.

They hear some noise in one of the corridors ahead. They rush there and peak around a corner. A strange being is walking down the vast corridor ahead of them: it seems to have been utterly skinned and then has had some different patches of leather and skin sewed to his flesh. The monstrosity comes to them. The girls have to fight for their lives once more. During the combat with this hulking horror, Simone finds herself suddenly short of breath. She feels her skin shrink during a split second, and beneath, her blood vessels explode! She feels dazzled for a breath or two but manages to turn and meet the cold eyes of a fair-skinned, dark-haired human who would be none other than Valenus Savius, the tanner and serial killer of Exposed Street. He swears: "You! I knew I was right to tell the elf to finish you before you could wake!"

The combat is fierce but ultimately, Hennie, Beket and Simone find themselves victorious. They have defeated Valenus and his servants. They search the whole place, find the notes of Valenus and a few other items of value, but they mostly now have a confirmation of their darker thoughts: Valenus and Zalathar knew each other! What is this project Zalathar was working on? What type of experiments have been inflicted upon them? To what purpose?

They are now more decided to find the answers to this eluding mystery than ever before. And what of Hamrick the halfling? He came with them through the park and was a witness of the fight against the imp and ogre, but disappeared soon after. It seems like he searched the ground level for something and left whether he found it or not.

The adventurers try to sort all the elements of the puzzle after they leave the mansion. They explain what happened to Phadian Gess at the Siege Tower, and she thanks them for a job well-done despite some failings to observe the property laws of the city. She doesn't seem disappointed in them though. She gives them a reward of her own (in golden imperials) and tells them Zade and the folks of the Ghostly Minstrel won't have to worry about the Keepers of the Veil for the next while at least.

They then leave the tower and bring back these news to the Minstrel. Zade is also grateful, and pays them what he originally promised. It seems like Hennie, Simone and Beket are starting to leave their mark in the City by the Spire. They hope for the best, and fully intend to investigate the conspiracy behind Zalathar's project as soon as they can.

XP Breakdown
Characters are all Level 2.
- Saving Rham from the muggers - CR2
- Defeating the Wild Animals of Valenus' property - CR2
- Defeating the imp and his ogre "pal" - CR4
- Defeating Valenus and the Skin horror - CR4
Total XP earned: 3,900. XP per PC: 975 (3 PCs with Hamrick the Halfling).
Total XP earned in the campaign per PC: 2,125 XP.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Session 3 - Investigation

Saturday, October 14, 2006 from 5:00 PM to 9:50 PM

Still the 3rd of Rain

Beket, Henny and Simone meet each other just past noon at the Ghostly Minstrel, on Delver's Square. As they come in the main room, they notice Zade, the bartender of the establishment, has a rather agitated discussion with some people covered from head to toe with weapons, full-plate armors, the works.

While everyone's having lunch, Henny manages to talk to Zade about his issue: it looks like the Keepers of the Veil, the holy order protecting the city from the horrors rampaging within the Necropolis at night, would like the actual Minstrel, the Spirit who gives this establishment its name, exorcised permanently. Zade and the Keepers have been discussing the issue several times, and the bartender fears that sooner or later, the Keepers will just stop talking and give in to their zealous tendencies to come back with some sort of Imperial warrant to take the Minstrel away. He asks Henny if they are adventuring currently. As she answers by the negative, he asks if she and her companions would be willing to help the Minstrel out by going to the Siege Tower and try to talk it over with the Seneschal there.

After a few minutes of reflection, Henny agrees to the bargain.

Meanwhile, Simone the elf is getting a bit tipsy due to her lack of endurance as far as dark ale is concerned. A dwarf going by the name of Gorin Tumblestone seems to be really interested in her, but he himself had quite a lot to drink.

Beket doesn't quite get that kind of attention from the Minstrel's patrons but manages to get into trouble with an Assarai with red scales talking over a glass of wine with a local mage. The fight is avoided, but the lizard man doesn't look like he's going to forget Beket's face for a while.

The Ptolusite adventurers. From left to right:
Tiana (Simone), Nerissa (Beket) and Caroline (Henny)

After lunch, the companions leave the Ghostly Minstrel to head directly for the Siege Tower. They know the Zar'at isn't far from the Tower at all, and they plan on visiting Zalathar's apartments after they meet with the Keepers of the Veil.

At the Siege Tower they meet with Phadian Gess, its Seneschal. At their request, she explains how some of some of the Keepers of the Veil would like to solve the "problem" of the ghostly minstrel once and for all. She doesn't agree with their attitude towards the staff and owner of the establishment, but she can hardly ignore her men's opinions. Sooner or later, she says, she would have to reluctantly make a request for a warrant.

The adventurers ask if they can do something to change this situation. After a few seconds of reflection, Phadian points out that they could probably help the Keepers with an issue that came up quite recently to their attention but have had no time -or intention- to investigate so far. Not far from the Necropolis, at Exposed Street, a couple of gory murders have been commited during the night. The City Watch claims this is the jurisdiction of the Keepers of the Veil, since obviously this is the result of the incursion of ghouls or worse into the neighborhood at night. The Keepers do not appreciate when the City Watch relies on them to do their dirty work.

Phadian asks the adventurers if they would be willing to investigate the murders of Exposed Street and find out if these have anything to do with the Necropolis. If that is the case, the Keepers of the Veil would take care of the matter immediately. If not, the City Watch would have to take care of the problem like they should have in the first place. If the adventurers work is satisfactory to her, Phadian proposes to deliver a special authorization for the Ghostly Minstrel to keep its "friendly" spirit resident.

The companions accept the bargain.

After leaving the Siege Tower, they decide it is time to catch up with their original concerns about Zalathar and the strange experiments he and his friends performed on them while they were captive. The adventurers head to the Zar'at, and there try to talk to some of Zalathar's neighbors.

Beket lies through her teeth and pretends the Harrow Elf had debts to pay to the Watcher of the Skies. Henny soon joins to her efforts and together, they manage to sufficiently annoy one of Zalathar's neighbors to extract some valuable information from him:
- "If Zalathar needs to pay some debts, maybe you could speak to his "friends" who pay him visits quite frequently. They are in some sort of business with him, and they're the ones paying, it seems."
- "I heard them talk about meeting in a place called the Sword and Something once. They seemed to be familiar with the place." (he's talking of the Skull and Sword in the Guildmans District, the place where Simone first asked about the news in town after their escape)
- "Don't hesitate to add a few Imperials to the bill. The fellow is pumping money from these guys, and the more pissed off they are at him, the more likely I'll be able to take over his place. See what I mean?" (quite a nice fellow, isn't he?)

After this charming discussion with Zalathar's friendly neighbor, the adventurers sneak in his apartment. Simone triggers a crude trap while opening the main entrance, and requires immediate attention in order to keep her alive. One of Henny's potion seems to be quite enough.

It looks like Zalathar had something he wanted to protect in there: it's time to find out what it is. The adventurers search the whole place and find a few gold pieces, a letter of credit for 1,000 GP from someone named Berhart Von Birne, a dark Crystal Ball which doesn't seem to be magical and various other trinkets. More clues, yet no answers. Great.

Simone, Henny and Beket leaving the Ghostly Minstrel

After leaving the Zar'at, the adventurers walk to Exposed Street. They reach the area just as the sun sets. They see a prostitute working at the corner and ask a few questions.

It looks like Tana, the prostitute, was one of the first hand witnesses of the crimes committed in Exposed Street. She explains how she found the second murder victim, hardly articulates how mutilated and half-skinned she found her, and tells the adventurers what strange natural perfume still lingered about as the Watch arrived.

She asks them if she could get some funds to leave the city and escape the clutches of her pimp. Without asking any further question, they just hand her the money and wish her good luck. Tana leaves them at the corner of Exposed Street.

After they look around a bit, they meet one of a terrified and old watchman out patrolling the streets. He doesn't seem to confident in his own abilities after what happened to these two poor victims. After he checks the adventurers out, he discusses with them about the circumstances in which both victims were discovered:
- They both were found in the street and had been murdered at night.
- They both were partially skinned and had parts of their flesh also missing.
- The first victim name's was Ryon. He was a male gnome selling fruits on the street market.
- The second victim was Morianna, a female human. She was selling flowers on the street market.
- Besides Tana, the prostitute the adventurers just talked to, there is another first hand witness. His name is unknown but he is a frequent beggar in the neighborhood. One shouldn't have too much trouble locating him during the day.

After sharing this information, the watchman takes his leave. It starts to be late for the people of Ptolus, and the companions understand their investigation will now take them to the stalls and streets of the North Market. There is no need to linger for too long here. They leave Exposed Street and get back to their homes. Tomorrow is another day.

XP Breakdown
The PCs are all level 1.
- Extracting information from Zalathar's neighbor - EL 1
- Gathering information in Exposed Street - EL 1
Total XP earned: 600. XP per PC: 200.
Total XP earned in the campaign per PC: 1,150 XP.
All PCs level up.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Session 2 - Back to Ptolus

Monday, October 9, 2006 from 4:00 PM to 9:20 PM

Thanksgiving. We gather to have our thanksgiving dinner together. Since turkeys in our local store are more monsters on steroids than actual normal-sized birds, we decide to avoid the traditional stuffed beast to instead have Cornish Hens. The results of Nerissa's cooking are actually quite impressive:

The Cornish Hens

These actually follow the nachos and italian dip we have as a starter. Scallop potatoes and squash accompany this main course. We socialize for a while and finish our meal with a home-made lemon pie, pumkin cheesecake and muffins.

We start playing the game around 6:30 PM.

Session 2 - Back to Ptolus

Still the 2nd of Rain

After leaving the halfling Hamrick to his insults, Beket, Henny and Simone walk down Aethel Street in the Guildsman District. They end up in the vicinity of the infamous Skull and Sword, a tavern known for its not-so-sympathetic patrons.

Simone tells her friends that she might find out more about the events that occured since they left the surface. Beket and Henny stay outside the tavern while it starts to rain heavily. While they are waiting for Simone to come back, they spot a half-orc exchanging some sort of merchandise in the shadow of a doorway nearby. Whatever this fellow is up to, this cannot be legal.

The DM's Tools

Simone goes in and exchanges a few rude words with the patrons. Avoiding a fight with them becomes clearly a challenge as several of the customers start poking fun as the "nice little elfish girl". Simone obviously does not appreciate the jokes, but she makes a good job at keeping her cool. After a short conversation, she learns it is now Airday, the 2nd of Rain. Since they left for their Rat Hunt of the Theoday, the 17th of Toil, this means she and her companions have been down there for more than two weeks!

She doesn't ask more, since the patrons seem to quickly loose their tempers with her. She catches a rumor pertaining to the barbarians to the East, who, according to the rumors, would have made a few incursions in the Empire during the past few weeks. Simone decides to leave before starting a brawl.

As she meets back with Beket and Henny, the three of them decide to push on to Delver's Square and try to make it to Myraeth's Oddities before it closes. With the rain pouring on the streets of Ptolus, it is hard to tell what time it is. Probably the end of the afternoon.

The delvers push on and stop by St. Gustav's chapel to check on the bounties for ratmen. They meet with Petran Achenburg, a priest of the Church who gave them a few advice before they left for the sewers two weeks ago. Unfortunately, none of the adventurers seem to remember meeting Petran before. This probably is a side effect of whatever experiments Zalathar and his aids performed on them. They leave the chapel before the conversation gets too awkward, even though Petran seems like a nice fellow truly concerned with their well-being.

As they cross the street, they reach the Square just as Myraeth Tuneweaver closes for the day. They manage to get a few minutes of his time. The old elf seems to be in a good mood as he chats with them about mundane events in town. Simone manages to sell Zalathar's spellbook and a few other items they got on their way out of Ghul's Labyrinth since Myraeth's business focusses on buying and selling magical items. This is pretty much the only store of its kind, and thus a very popular location for all the delvers in Ptolus.

Nerissa (Beket) and Caroline (Henny)
are waiting for the game to begin

After wrapping up with Myraeth, the adventurers take their leave. Whatever happened during the last two weeks, it is now time to catch up with their lives.

When Beket arrives to the Observatory of the Watcher of the Skies, she meets with her great aunt, Ayla, who was really worried for her. They decide to share some tisanes together in the meditation room. They cross paths with Helmut Itlestein, the High Priest of the Observatory, while on their way in. Ayla points out that the High Priest seems worried lately - it may have something to do with his politics, who knows? As they discuss together Beket is reminded of how fond she is of her great aunt, this little lady with such a huge heart she wonders how her tiny chest could contain all that sweetness.

Meanwhile, Henny gets back to her appartment in Old Town. There, she finds Sasha, her niece, who has been staying there for a few days. The teenage girl complains about Fransin Nagel who's been so gloomy and serious these days. Of course, Henny tries to make her understand the House has fallen on some hardships recently, that the members of the family ought to stick together, but Sasha has a thirst for freedom, for adventure. Obviously, Sasha asks again if she can stay at Henny's appartment and follow her on her delves, but the young woman doesn't give in. Out of frustration, Sasha leaves the place, slamming the door behind her. Teenagers...

During this time, Simone was walking down the streets, going through Dalenguard's inpection. When she finally reaches the Sadar Estate, the skies grow dark. She walks through the woods surrounding the estate and meets Rowen, the elvish servant acting as her supervisor at the guest house where she works. Simone has to endure a harsh and long lecture from Rowen before she can finally make it to her bed. It isn't really comfortable, and the place gives her the creeps, but she isn't fired at least.

3rd of Rain

The adventurers attend to their usual morning duties before gathering at Delver's Square. They still catch up on their lives.

Simone serves in Sadar's guest house. A visitor has come to House Sadar from the distant lands of Kem with a host of eunuchs to serve him. Not only does she have to deal with the temper of Sayem Nadir, Speaker to the Spears of Aartuat, but she also has to contend with the eunuchs who do not want anyone but themselves to take care of their master. Between her duties to House Sadar and the jeaulousy of the Speaker's servants, she really has to dodge her way through the morning.

Henny's morning is much more casual. She is working as a low-ranking assistant to the City Courts. She has to prepare the paperwork of some imperial officials for the day, attend to the needs of this or that judge, but this isn't so much a bother. She remains busy, earns enough wages to pay for her appartment without the help of her family: that's all that counts.

Beket doesn't have to do much in the morning besides her daily meditations and the Observatory of the Watcher of the Skies.

All in all, the morning goes by pretty quick. After just a few hours of work, the adventurers are free to meet at Delver's Square. They were speaking of checking out the Temple of the Ebon Hand, just to see if the Cult would have anything to do with the laboratories they managed to escape the previous day. Who knows? In any case, they would also visit the Zar'at where Zalathar was last known to reside, according to his identification papers. There has to be some way to find out what he was up to!

XP Breakdown
Characters are all level 1.
- Role-playing bonus per player-character: 50 XP
XP per PC: 50 XP.
Total XP earned in the campaign per PC: 950 XP.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Session 1 - Escape from Zalathar's Lair

Saturday, September 30, 2006 from 4:00 to 9:15 PM

Before playing the game, we gather and have a meal together. The gathering of different flavors and dishes is a real treat for the eyes and chops. Beef Bourguignon, mashed potatoes, vegetable soup, home-made burritos, double-chocolate almond bark, cinnamon and banana bread puddings - this is a food fest.

After this succession of gourmet delights, we are finishing the players' characters (PCs) generation. The players choose feats, spells, equipment and roll the base wealth of their characters. Skill total bonuses are calculated. The end results:

- Beket Per Aau-Nu, female human monk worshipping the Old Man, acolyte of the Watcher of the Skies. She knows Helmut Itlestein for being a regular at the Observatory of the Watcher of the Skies in the Temple District. She originally comes from Kem, and has some Celestial Ancestry.
Monk level 1.
Feats: Celestial Ancestry, Lightning Reflexes, Iron Will, Improved Unarmed Strike.

- Heinrietta "Henny" Nagel, female human sorcerer worshipping the Elder Gods, admirer of the Knights of the Golden Cross. She currently lives in Old Town and wants to make it on her own, without the financial support of her House.
Sorcerer level 1.
Feats: Noble Birth (House Nagel), Heighten Spell, Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Firearms).

- Simone Ahrenameer, female shoal elf worshipping Tardeshou, Goddess of Truth, and her brother Navashtrom, God of Strength and Harmony. Simone is a servant to House Sadar, to the great disappointment of her parents living on Emerald Hill. She secretly intends to spy on the House and wants to find out what its schemes and criminal dealings are to better avert them. She does not have access to the most secure parts of the Sadar Mansion yet.
Rogue level 1.
Feats: Weapon Finesse (Short sword), Investigator.

From left to right: Henny, Beket and Simone.

Once the characters are generated, we immediately start playing the game.

Session 1 - Escape from Zalathar's Lair

1st of Rain

Some time ago, Henny and Simone both purchased a membership to the Delver's Guild. They decided to collaborate with a monk, Beket, to start their careers as professional delvers. For their first delve, they decided to hunt for ratmen, since the Church of Lothian is offering bounties on rat tails brought back to the surface.

None of them really remembers what happened. They were exploring some parts of the sewers below the city and had some success during their hunt, until they were ambushed by unknown adversaries. All they truly remember is a bright flash of light. The rest is a succession of images and impressions that could have been more dreams than memories. Their minds drift for a while...

Beket feels like she's falling. She doesn't really feel any pain, but she soon comes in contact with something hard. The ground, probably. She hears a bubbling sound beside her and some sort of rattle in the distance. She opens her eyes and realizes she is soaked in some sort of oily, thick amiotic fluid. She turns and sees her partners floating in glass jars, with breathing masks and tubes plugged to their skins. It looks like they all have been taken prisoners by people eager to practice on them.

Beket doesn't waste any time. She helps her friends to break free from their strange prisons. All pods were they were kept prisoners are wired to a machine nearby that seems to be breaking down, judging by the puffs of smoke and rattling sounds coming out of it.

The adventurers assess their situation. They are now standing on an island, surrounded by stone representations of people dressed with genuine clothing and equipment. It looks like whoever decorated this place has a taste for creepy museums. They notice that they were all dressed up and equipped while floating in the amniotic fluids. This seems strange, since one would expect to be completely undressed while being subject to whatever experiments the people working here subjected them to.

Beket is the first to stop thinking and start acting. She crosses the stream of water surrounding their island of fortune, but as soon as she steps in the water, she is attacked by a predator swimming under the surface! Her companions help her out, shooting at the creature each time one part or the other of the creature's bloated body is exposed to the air in their struggle. After almost drowning from it, Beket manages to break free from the creatures clutches. Soon, it is too badly wounded to keep on fighting. Whatever this was, the adventurers are now warned: wherever they are, the seemingly peaceful cave still harbours unseens threats they will have to avoid if they want to make it out alive.

Each of the adventurers then proceeds with a methodical search of the natural cave and its statues' clothing. They find a few gold imperials, potions and decent weapons. It's as if the sculpted men and women around were "dressed up" for the occasion and provided with all the items they would normally carry, were they truly alive.

The group discovers a strange crystal that seems to have fused with the surrounding rocks. Just as they investigate further, they see the crystal suddenly morph into the rock, revealing an opening before them!

Someone on the other side steps in the cave the adventurers stand in and bumpts into Beket, much to her surprise: this is a bugbear who seems more astonished than she is. He runs away screaming at the top of his lungs - "They escaped! They ESCAPED!"

The adventurers run after the bugbear and meet with his companion, an elf who is grabbing some sheets of paper in haste on a desk nearby and summoning a flame to quite visibly burn them before anyone has a chance to examine their contents. Beket, Henny and Simone spring into action. The bugbear knocks Beket unconscious, but her attacks give the opening Henny and Simone needed to extinguish the elf's flame and defeat him before he has the time to do anything! The bugbear is tougher, but both adventurers manage get rid of him. When the creature finally succumbs to its wounds, it drops a healing potion. Henny uses it on poor Beket who regains her consciousness.

The group searches the elf and bugbear's living quarters. They discover a stack of notes, a spellbook, and enough supplies for them to survive in this cavern for weeks if need be, but they'd rather not have to. The group decides to rest for a while.

2nd of Rain

As soon as the adventurers wake up, they skim through the notes and spellbook of the elf. It soon becomes apparent to Henny that there is a way out. Not far from the elf's desk, there is a ritual circle carved in the stone. Using some of the elf's spell components, Henny manages to activate the circle, effectively a portal to another location. Wherever this portal leads to, this is the key to the adventurers' freedom, and they know it.

They all step in the circle and Henny performs the activation ritual.

Their surroundings fade... and the adventurers now stand in a small circular chamber. The walls here are more regular than those of the caves they come from. In front of them, they see a blue steel door. They suddenly realize where they must be: somewhere under Ptolus, in some area of Ghul's Labyrinth.

They know blue steel doors cannot be forced open. They have no lock or any opening mechanism, for that matter. They have to find the command word that will open this door. They discuss a moment, try a few words, Simone attempts some basic expressions in some infernal dialect. She finally gives up, and shouts an "OPEN!" in frustration. The door then slides open, to the adventurers' amazement.

Beyond the door, the adventurers see a vast room that was used as living quarters for the people operating the labs below. But these quarters have been attacked: the place is completely trashed, and graffitis cover all the walls with depictions each more obscene than the others. Among the depictions, the adventurers notice a black hand's print has been placed in several key positions. Could the Cult of the Ebon Hand have something to do with the assault on this section of Ghul's labyrinth?

Laboratories Living Quarters
1- Teleportation Circle
2- Trashed Laboratory/Living Quarter
3- Group of Kobolds around the fire
3a- Kobold wastes
3b- Kobold pet chained to the wall (wardog)
4- Kobold Chief's quarters (previously storage space)
5- Arcane locked bedroom
6- Not-so-friendly kobold pet in pit (Dire wolf)
7- Trashed laboratory
8- Storage Space
9- Lizardman sentinel
10- Hamrick and the Treasure room behind
12- Sewers
13- Sewer shaft up to the main sewer system

As they step outside the room, trying their best to hide in the shadows, Simone and Henny notice the place is inhabited by a clan of kobolds having dinner around a fire nearby. With Beket, they sneak past them and reach another vandalized part of the complex. There, a lizardman guards an opening to ... the sewers, at last!

The adventurers immobilize the lizardman and question him. It soon seems obvious this mercenary knows something he's not telling. Simone manages to make him talk. The lizardman knows the kobolds have a treasure room somewhere. They use him to guide them through the corridors, but soon a trap is activated, and the lizardman takes several poisoned arrows in the chest. His body shaken by violent convulsions, he dies almost instantly.

Ahead stands the treasure room. A long time ago, this was a guards' room, back when the Ghulwar was still tearing the land apart. The door to the treasure room stands atop a flight of stairs. Before the door, a halfling stands guard and bids them a falsely warm welcome.

The cocky halfling, Hamrick, explains he's been hired by the kobolds. He is very bored and annoyed at "the obnoxious little midgets", however. If the adventurers want to, Hamrick could join them and together they could take the treasure back to the surface. The group considers Hamrick's proposition for a moment, and convince him to have a look at the treasure before taking any decision. While opening the chest and showing its contents to the adventurers, it seems obvious Hamrick has been concealing some of the items to the others' sight and hiding them under his cloak.

Beket seizes the halfling by the ankles and shakes him vigorously: indeed, several items of value crash to the floor. With Hamrick kicking and screaming, they leave the area and use the halfling to guide them through the sewers and back to the surface. Once there, they just release the halfling, advising him to keep out of trouble for the next while. Of course, the halfling doesn't seem to care, preferring to curse at them as they walk down the streets of the Guildsman District.

Whatever the case, Beket, Henny and Simone have more pressing matters to care about. Who were the people operating the labs, and for what purpose? Why did the Ebon Hand, if it had anything to do with it, decide to attack these laboratories? What about their original ratmen's hunt? The lizardman also talked to them about the kobolds who, he said, were originally fleeing the orcs from the Halls of Cordaris. What is really going on in this place? All of these questions, they think, would receive some answers soon enough...

XP Breakdown
The PCs are all Level 1.
Encounter Levels (EL) may be modified from theory to reflect the specific circumstances in which the encounter occured.
- Defeating the creature in the Lake (Grick) - EL 3
- Facing Zalathar and his bugbear bodyguard - EL 2
- Activating the Teleportation Circle - EL 1
- Avoiding the Kobolds - EL 1
- Escaping the Area up to the Guildmans District - EL1
- Gaining access to the Treasure Room while not murdering Hamrick - EL1
Total XP earned: 2,700. XP per PC: 900.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Tools and Resources

Here is a list of the books, tools and resources actually used during and between sessions of this Ptolus campaign. It does not cover all the resources available to us but those used to design and run the game. This list will be updated as the game evolves.

Ptolus miniatures (Paizo Publishing)
D&D Miniatures (Wizards of the Coast)
Warlord and Dark Heaven Miniatures (Reaper Miniatures)
Confrontation and Rag'narok Miniatures (Rackham)

e-Adventure Tiles and Ptolus Adventure Tiles (Skeleton Key Games)
Various Dwarven Forge sets
(Dwarven Forge)
Tact-Tiles (BC Products)
Flip-Mat (Steel Sqwire)
3D Map Folio (Wizards of the Coast)
Cadwallon Gaming Tiles (Rackham)
Dungeon Tiles (Wizards of the Coast)

Gaming Aids
Area of Effects Templates (Steel Sqwire)
Combat Pad (Open Mind Games)
D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Screen (Paizo Publishing)
Game Mastery Item Packs (Paizo Publishing)
Ptolus Deluxe Vinyl City Map (48"x70") (Fiery Dragon Productions)
Ptolus Sketchbooks vol. 1-4 (The Forge Studios)
Ptolus Map Packs (Skeleton Key Games)

Gaming Books
Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire (Malhavoc Press)
A Player's Guide to Ptolus (Malhavoc Press)
The Night of Dissolution (Malhavoc Press)
The Complete Book of Eldritch Might (Malhavoc Press)
The Book of Hallowed Might, vol 1. and 2. (Malhavoc Press)
The Book of Roguish Luck (Malhavoc Press)
Beyond Countless Doorways (Malhavoc Press)
Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved (Malhavoc Press)
Monte Cook Presents: Iron Heroes (Malhavoc Press)
Beyond the Veil (Atlas Games)
D&D Player's Handbook (Wizards of the Coast)
D&D Dungeon Master's Guide (Wizards of the Coast)
D&D Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast)
D&D Player's Handbook 2 (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Adventurer (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Arcane (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Divine (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Warrior
(Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Mage (Wizards of the Coast)
Spell Compendium (Wizards of the Coast)
Unearthed Arcana (Wizards of the Coast)
Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords (Wizards of the Coast)
Magic Item Compendium (Wizards of the Coast)
Dragon Compendium (Paizo Publishing)
Tome of Horrors (Necromancer Games)
Rappan Athuk Reloaded (Necromancer Games)
Gary Gygax's Necropolis (Necromancer Games)

Miscellaneous Inpirations
Baldur's Gate II, Shadows of Amn (video game, Bioware Corp)

Thursday, September 28, 2006


This Ptolus campaign uses a few houserules I will explain here. Some are merely details, others are rather important modifications of the uses of the core Dungeons & Dragons rules.

The core ruleset used for this campaign is contained within the D&D Player's Handbook (PHB), Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) and Monster Manual (MM), Edition 3.5, published by Wizards of the Coast. Additional d20/OGC rules are also used. A list of all the resources used in the game will be soon posted as well.

Main houserules:
  • (1) The Armor Class (AC) is not a fixed value of 10 + armor/shield modifiers + Dex modifier + misc. modifiers. Instead, the base AC and Touch AC are rolled using d20 + armor/shield modifiers + Dex modifier + misc. modifiers. Only the Flat-footed AC remains unrolled. To touch a target, an opponent's attack roll must be equal or above the defender's AC roll. The only exception is when the opponent's die result indicates a possible critical hit, in which case a confirmation roll is call for. If the critical hit is confirmed, it deals normal damage, not multiplied.
  • (2) Maneuvers similar in nature to Stunts and Challenges of Iron Heroes are adjudicated on the spot by the DM. A player describes an action, the DM applies the relevant penalties and benefits or rolls to the action described.
  • (3) There are no favored classes or XP penalties based on classes selected for a particular character.
  • (4) All characters get one extra feat at first level.
  • (5) Initiative is determined by rolling 1d10+modifiers instead of the standard 1d20+modifiers.
  • (6) The Monk's unarmed damage chart is modified. It is 1d6 at level 1, then becomes 1d8 at level 2, 1d10 at level 5, 2d6 at level 8, 2d8 at level 11, 2d10 at level 14, 3d8 at level 17, 4d8 at level 20 (modified by the character size appropriately, as indicated in the PHB).
  • (7) Characters get the maximum result on their hit die at level 1, 3 and each third level thereafter.
Rolling AC as per Houserule (1) basically makes combat more dynamic, particularly when results are translated and described by DM and players. On a balance level, random elements of the game generally empower the player (as opposed to flat numbers which play in favor of the obstacles encountered). When using this houserule, one should consider the potential fumbles and critical results of die rolls on an AC check.

At our game table, a result of '1' on the d20 of an AC roll triggers a possible critical hit from the attacking opponent. He rolls for confirmation, provided his attack roll is still above the total result of the AC roll.

A '20' on the d20 of an AC roll just blocks the attack, even if it is a critical hit (no confirmation roll).

Confirmation rolls in case of a possible critical hit use the fixed value of the opponent's AC, i.e. flat-footed AC, as the target DC to confirm said critical hit.

Last updated on Monday, April 18, 2007.

Campaign Aims: Living, Breathing Characters

Usually, when I start a role-playing campaign and I am its game master (or Dungeon Master/DM, in D&D's jargon), I have some specific ideas on the types of moods, ambiance and themes I want to explore, just as if me and my friends were starting to write a novel together.

I've been doing this for a long while, but for this Ptolus campaign, I have decided to discard that kind of background design to rather concentrate on the actual game and the tastes of its players.

The reason I am avoiding any underlaying "theme" for this campaign is to avoid the trappings of a novelist's approach to role-playing games. I don't want to "tell a story" or "build a story" with this game. I want us to actually "live" the events of the game. To achieve this, I want to increase to the maximum my reactivity to the players' actions. If I was having any previous idea of what the campaign ought to be, or what type of "story" it would have to tell, I sure would be at odds with the actions of the players' characters at some point, since the players do not know what I may have prepared for the game in advance.

This doesn't mean I won't prepare for the game, won't have any idea of where the events of the game may lead its main characters, but I won't try to enforce a precise succession of events on the players. Instead, I intend to react to whatever they think characters do next. This will make the game's believability increase tenfold, I think.

If there is any goal I have before starting this campaign, it is to have a great time playing D&D, and have me and the players of the game enjoy Ptolus to the fullest extent we can manage.

What I have prepared is the base situation in which the players' characters (or PCs for short) would start the game, with the various motivations of specific NPCs involved with this base situation and events that occured in Ptolus prior to this situation. I also obviously thought of some possible, likely developments based on the players' tastes and inclinations, but that doesn't mean anything would "have to occur" the way I'd want it to.

Some the best RPG sessions I ever played were using Vampire The Masquerade and my home made "Paris by Night" setting. Often, we would just meet on week-ends to play the game and we would just start to role-play events occuring in the game without me having anything prepared. We were just knowing where we would have left the game and were going on with the natural consequences of the previous session's events. It went on like this for quite a while, years actually, and after some time this felt like the place was truly breathing and living without us thinking twice about this or that action's "impact" on an overall theoretical "storyline" we would have had in mind. There was no such storyline. No "impact" beyond the events as they occured "live" in the game.

That's what I intend to do with Ptolus.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Why such a love for Ptolus?

Before getting into any specifics of the Ptolus campaign we are presently starting me and my friends of Bella Bella, British Columbia, I have to explain a few things about my own relationship with the City by the Spires.

To understand what Ptolus is, you can visit its official website. Let's just say that Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire is one of the best developed gaming product ever designed. It's a book of nearly 700 pages describing a fantasy city which embraces the style and feel of Dungeons & Dragons.

What does that means? It means this is a city where magic can be found at every corner, where the most unusual people, like minotaurs and lizardmen, dwarves and elves, walk the streets, where the adventure can be found above and below the city level.

But beyond the sheer greatness of the Ptolus book and its amazing production, it is a campaign which was run by Monte Cook, designer emeritus of D&D's Dungeon Master's Guide, since before the Third Edition of the game was born. To make a long story short, Praemal, the world at large, and Ptolus, its adventuring focus point, evolved through the playtests of D&D's Third Edition, and later grew up with it.

For me, running Ptolus, it's like playing with a bit of gaming history, using the works of a good friend of mine, and using the most incredible role-playing city book available at this point. Running Ptolus is nothing short of a privilege and a real treat for my imagination.

When I look at the contents, Ptolus for me has it all: conspirations, exotism, dungeons, dragons, the whole package, really. It's sort of a challenge too, when I see the amazing possibilities the setting provides. At nearly each page I turn, I find new ideas I could use to run a campaign or write a story.

I just referred to Monte Cook as a friend, and he is. I have been involved with other friends on Monte's forums one can reach through his website. This community of gamers is one of the most amazing I have had the chance to meet. This too is important regarding the Ptolus campaign we are about to play, since the community is a constant source of inspiration, excitement and advice regarding this game.

Running Ptolus in this context becomes even more of a privilege, since I am running a special campaign and have the chance to share my enthusiasms with like-minded people who share the same tastes and influences as I do. Together, we have been excited about Ptolus for years, reading Monte and his friends talking about what fun they had using this setting, and when the actual book was announced more than a year before it became available, the amount of raving anticipation had reached a breaking point. We all wanted to run Ptolus, we all were ready for it.

This explains this very opinionated, very hyped post I am writing here. If you ever get the chance to get Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire, by all means buy it, read it, and enjoy every minute of your ride. You won't be the same gamer afterwards.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Characters Creation

Today, we create the characters for our Ptolus campaign. One of the players drops out for RL reasons, and we are now at three players and one DM (me).

This is more a boon than a curse, to tell you the truth.

Our Seven Spires campaign had 6 players last year, and even though the game went wonderfully and we were all quite satisfied by it, I knew that for the players, a lot of time had been spent watching other people do stuff during combat situations. I particularly disliked situations where a player wouldn't know what to do, or would have talked out-of-character waiting for his or her turn, and would then declare than s/he didn't know what to do. That would make everyone wait for no benefit whatsoever.

With three players remaining from our original group, there is a chance to get things moving harder and faster. That's cool for the game and I think the remaining players feel the same way as I do.

I distributed the Ptolus Player's Guides last week, and in one player's case, two days before the actual characters' creation.

The first thing that surprises me when we gather: all the players have actually read the entirety of their Guides. And they are all liking it very much.

Nobody has a clear idea as to what they want to play. We spend some time discussing, and I propose to narrow the amount of game mechanics used for PCs, at least for the beginning of the game.

For the Seven Spires, we created some characters using a wide variety of sources. Arcana Evolved, D&D's Player's Handbook, "Complete" series, Complete Book of Eldritch Might, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual... you name it. It was time to come back to the basics and simplify the game, and creating new characters provides us with the opportunity we needed.

Then, we discuss what would be the ideal starting level for the characters. I am thinking about level 1 or level 3, like we did for our Seven Spires characters. Everyone seems excited to start with level 1 PCs and work their way up the ladder. This is agreed upon and we move on.

We discuss about group dynamics, the types of roles that would be useful in an adventuring group. I tell them that we could go for classic archetypal roles or have a specialized group. During a moment, they almost decide to all play sorcerers and wizards but the decision shifts in about 20 minutes of conversation to a more classic set of characters. Both ways would have been fine by me.

The second thing that surprises me: the players use the information of the Player's Guides right from the start. Instead of creating iconic D&D characters in a vaccuum, they instantly think about previous employments, relations to this or that Ptolus faction. Awesome.

The results. Three characters, two natives from Ptolus, one from Kem.

- Female human monk from Kem (NG) basing her spirituality on a connection between the stars and the body, one reflecting the other. Adept of the Old Man and a frequent visitor to the Temple of the Watcher in the Skies.

- Female Shoal elf rogue (CG) servant to House Sadar. Her parents live on Emerald Hill and do not approve of her service. She in fact wants to "spy" on House Sadar, but she hasn't seen much to date (she's a minor servant as of now and has no access to private quarters and the like).

- Female human sorcerer (LG) from House Nagel (actually from the family. She spent feats on this background and I will make it work out) who lives in Old Town. She has a deep admiration for the Knights of the Golden Cross.

We generate ability scores using 4d6-drop-lowest, then generate skills, saves, weapons and leave the remaining components (mainly feats and miscalleneous equipment) for the beginning of the next session.

I ended up shuffling through the big book for a long while after we parted. There is a lot of stuff I will be able to use in relation to their choices in character concepts!