Friday, January 11, 2019

Terrinoth #22 - The Haunted City

Guests of The Hollow Way Inn are besieged!

Campaign Diary

Entana, Gio, and Percy made their way south to Nornholt, where they ran into Strigoi at an inn - the orc fighter had heard of the tale of Gio the Gnomish Hero from bards in Tamalir, and had journeyed to the town in hope of picking up their trail.

(Click here for PC profiles)

In the months he was apart from the group Strigoi had tracked Shaglot down and vanquished him in combat. The party brought Strigoi up to date on their quest, but conveniently left out the rewards promised to them.

Now one stronger, our heroes made their way westwards to Nerekhall, where they hoped to find the hidden laboratory of the Mad Mage Kovac. Three days after leaving Nornholt, they arrived at the Hollow Way Inn, a roadside establishment a day's travel from Nerekhall. Despite it being in the middle of winter, the small inn had a few other guests: Louj and Lerj, gnomish merchants on their way to Nerekhall, Elvahn, aspiring elven opera composer, also traveling to Nerekhall to apply for a place in the Academy, and Khertral, a steel merchant from Forge on his way home.

Louj and Lerj recognised Gio from the bards' tales, and became quite excited. As they asked Gio for more tales of his adventures, Elvahn became inspired, and decided to compose an opera based on them. While Gio regaled his fans with stories, the rest of the party learned from Khertral that the magistrates of the city had put in an urgent order for high quality steel, but were unable to determine the reason for the urgency.

The guests retired to the upper floor of the inn after a night of drinking and singing. Late at night Percy was awakened by the smell of smoke. Looking out of the windows, she saw the orange flow of flames - the inn was on fire! She quickly roused the rest of the party and the guests.

Someone had put a cart each against the front and back door of the inn, piled them with firewood, and set the whole on fire - the guests were all trapped inside the building. When they tried to exit through the windows, they found that the inn had been surrounded by a dozen archers, who stood ready to shoot those who tried to exit. Strigoi spied a floating, glowing skull watching them from across a stream outside the inn: Mondock has returned!

The party donned their gear, and herded the other guests to the ground floor. Seizing a chair as his shield, Strigoi burst through one of the windows, followed by Percy. The pair was immediately set on by the archers who were outside. Mondock closed in, shooting beams of sickly green light from his eyes at Strigoi, which caused him to feel ill and weak. Strigoi tried to push the burning cart to block the bridge across the stream to prevent more attackers from joining the fight, but in his weakened state he failed to do so.

Entana and Gio leapt through the window and joined the fight even as more attackers closed in. Entana was struck by Mondock's green beams too, which made him feel faint. The undead necromancer and his minions surrounded the party and slowly closed in on them. Things looked bleak for our heroes.

Then Gio called on Fortuna's help and caused Mondock to be seized by an irresistible urge to laugh. Seeing the attackers all close together, Percy called upon Kellos to strike them with a thunderclap, which caused several to fall to the ground.

Strigoi summoned his reserve strength and set about with his great axe, and a few more enemies fell.  Seeing the tide of the battle turn against him, Mondock decided to flee, but was struck by spells from Percy and Entana, and destroyed. However, his minions would not surrender, and fought to the last man.

With their foes vanquished, the party, with the help of the other guests and the inn staff put out the fire. Afterwards, they gathered the pieces of Mondock's skull and ground them to dust, and for good measure split the dust between them, and threw part of it into the stream. When they were done it was dawn, and the party continued their way to Nerekhall.

The city of Nerekhall was small compared to the likes of Tamalir, and it had a brooding air about it. As they passed through the city gates, their names and purpose of visit were logged by a clerk. On the corners of the streets stood Ironbound, silent sentinels. The party lodged at the Moonshade Inn, recommended by Khertral the dwarf, and there they planned their next move.

The next morning they went to the Blasius Trading House, where they learned that the person who had paid for the letter of credit (see here) had a description that matched Markos of Nerekhall, and that he was a student at the faculty of Medicine at the Academy.

Not wanting to alert Markos to their presence, our heroes decided against enquiring at the Academy, and chose instead to visit the black market to see if they could learn if anyone was buying contraband magical items - something which they suspected Markos would have been doing. Unfortunately for them, it was obvious to the locals that they were from out of town, and they learned nothing of value. Just then, they saw the sign to "Arnan's Rare Bookstore", which they decided to visit. Inside, they found the proprietor Arnan the dwarf, but no rare books. They did learn from the talkative dwarf that Markos had previously visited the bookstore and bought volumes on anatomy and (strangely) metallurgy. He also revealed that Markos frequented The Green Dragon, a tavern popular with students of the Academy.

As our heroes made their way across the town square to the Green Dragon, they saw a procession of the cult of Kellos. As Percy looked upon the worshipers, one of the priests turned towards her and she was stunned to see that his eyes glowed with a bright light. Leaving the rest to go to tavern she joined the worshipers as they entered the church, but once inside she could not find the priest.

At The Green Dragon, Entana managed to find a couple of students from the Academy, who revealed with much schadenfreude that Markos had been expelled a few months ago for obtaining cadavers illicitly from a grave-digger. With this lead, our heroes proceeded to the undertaker's guild and learned that the grave-digger in league with Markos, one Karpel, had also been expelled from the guild and now spent most of the day drunk at the The Brown Bottle, a tavern in the poorer part of town. With the sun setting soon, our heroes hurried there, only to find many drunks matching the description of Karpel in the taproom.

Strigoi called out: Karpel!

Several drunks lifted their heads to look at the new arrivals... and then one stood up and bolted for the backdoor!

Our heroes chased the man down the winding alleys. Karpel tried his best to shake his pursuers, but soon they closed in one him... but just as they were about to reach him, a dark form jumped from the surrounding rooftops and landed before him. In the dim light of the alleys our heroes spotted the glint of metal...


Prepping and Running the Game

This was the first game of the year and I was looking forward to having Strigoi's player rejoin the group.

This session was loosely based on The Haunted City, the official FFG Realms of Terrinoth scenario available on their website. I had taken the name of the inn and its guests (as well as their motivations), and the module also contained a lot of description of Nerekhall which I used in my game.

The mentions of Gio's fame is by now a bit of an in-joke for the party - Gio's long term goal is to become a household name in Terrinoth, and for a while now Gio's player had him asking those whom he had helped to remember his name; I thought it would be nice to show that his efforts have borne fruits. Of course, to a GM, a PC's fame can be a double-edged sword that can be turned against him and his party...

The only fight of the game took place early in the game, and nearly resulted in a TPK. The bad guys were a formidable force, with a boss with powerful ranged attack that imposed a 'poisoned' condition on those he attacked, and the large number of minions demonstrated the effect of the 'action economy'. The players responded well to the challenge, focusing on first disabling Mondock before he could do more harm, and then using area-of-effect spells against the weaker minions.

They also acted in a suitably paranoid fashion when they decided to grind Mondock's skull to dust, which is as well - left alone he would have regenerated after an hour. I was hoping to save Mondock for the boss fight in the next session, and so made him flee when he was at 80% hp level - but the players were relentless, and I did not want to cheat them of their well-earned victory.

From the plot point-of-view, killing Mondock and his minions give the PCs a huge advantage as Markos now has no certain knowledge of their arrival in Nerekhall.

The second half of the game was an investigation. I decided to keep things loose and have more than one way for the PCs to track Markos down. To do this I began by thinking about what Markos had been doing after he trapped Wilfred in his tower. I decided that he would need a supply of corpses, and perhaps even a 'deactivated' Ironbound. This meant that someone would have had to obtain these for him, and so I knew I needed a grave-digger NPC, and an engineer/mechanic.

The grave-digger and the illegal body-snatching would be the perfect reason for Markos to be expelled from The Academy (and go literally underground), and the theft of an Ironbound would of course put Nerekhall's ruling body in a bit of a panic, which resulted in the urgent order of steel for the manufacture of more Ironbound and arms/armour.

Although I had the University faculty demand that their quest be executed in utmost secrecy, I was fully prepared for them to blow their cover and march right into The Academy or The Iron Tower (Nerekhall's government building) and spill the beans and ask for help. There were too many options available to them for me to prepare for every possible encounter, so I just made short notes of a few places of interest in Nerekhall, and left the rest to them. Other than those mentioned in the module, I also added a few locations from the Streets of Zobeck supplement by Kobold Press, and was rewarded when the players decided to visit the Rare Bookstore - the fact that there were no rare books in the store was supposed to be a joke: the 'rare' part referred to a bookstore owned by a dwarf.

This session was notable to me in a couple ways: I had to RP more NPCs than I usually do, including a dozen named NPCs, and the session did not end with a fight.

I realised a few days before the session that almost all of my games ended in a big fight, followed by a quick denouement. This is of course a rather classic structure for RPGs, and was reinforced during my Space Opera campaign, which almost always had three fights per session. The B Team games are all self-contained and thus also follow a similar structure, but with the continuous narrative of A Team's play, I can afford to change things up a little, and end a session on a cliff-hanger.

The next session will be in two weeks, when the PCs will finally come face-to-face with Markos, and the "Necromancer" arc of the campaign will end. I plan afterwards to tie up some loose ends, and then let the players pick which region of Mennaras they wish to visit in the next arc - hopefully they choose somewhere 'exotic', like Al-Kalim or Isheim.

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