Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Terrinoth #16 - Moonspike Tower Part II

Dalkon holds Therion hostage
Campaign Diary

In the month of Hailag, at a time when most sensible folks would not venture into the wilderness on account of the cold, we find our party wading through the frigid waters of Blackwing Swamp.

Having learned about the long-forgotten causeway through the swamp, Therion Lakemane, entrepreneur and adventurer, had put together a crew to explore and claim the use of the causeway for himself. Joining him on the expedition were Whisper Blackmane and Risver Tellir, elven adventurers, and Tom Kelloson and Giso Meyer, priests of Kellos who had come along on the prospect of setting up a shrine long the route. They had need for haste, as soon snow would arrive and render all travel impossible.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Following the marks left by Whisper on their last foray into the swamp, the party arrived at the causeway just as the sun began to set. From here they planned to strike out northwards to the ruined keep where they battled goblins and a wyvern, and then to the northern end of the causeway, to see where it ended, before turning south again to find the other end.

Arriving at the ruined keep the next day, they found the wyvern still roosted at the top of the tower, warming its wings in the morning sun. The party waited until the wyvern had flown off to hunt before they entered the keep. There were no signs of the goblins - their carcasses had presumably fed the wyvern over the past weeks. Whisper laid a bear trap in the wyvern's bed of branches and anchored it to the floor below, and disguised the scent of the party using swamp mud. Our adventurers laid in wait inside the tower, hoping to take down the creature once it was caught.

Eventually the sound of flapping wings announced the wyvern's return. On the floor below, our heroes waited with bated breath. They heard a sniffing sound, followed by shriek as the wyvern took off into the air again - it had detected the trap! The party scrambled to the rooftop, eager to catch the creature before it can flee again. The wyvern defended its nest fiercely, but this time it faced more foes, and it was felled by an arrow as it tried to escape once more.

Therion had the wyvern skinned for its leather, hoping to recover part of the cost for the expedition by selling it off later. Exhausted from the fight, the party spent the night inside the relative comfort of the tower.

The next day they followed the course of the causeway northwards. As the afternoon wore on they found the ground now drier and the tree cover more sparse. Here, towards the edge of the swamp, the water gave way to boglands covered by moss and ferns. As the sun began to set, they saw the remnants of a tower by the side of the causeway, this one without a curtain wall, and in worse state of disrepair - only the first storey of the tower remained, and someone had laid a thatched roof over it, and smoke emerged from one corner of it. As the party observed the ruined tower from a distance, the form of an old woman emerged - it seemed that she had made a dwelling out of the tower.

Therion strode to the dwelling and introduced himself to the old woman, and asked permission for the party to be admitted to her home. The old woman introduced herself as Mama Peat ('on account of my using the peat for cooking and smoking lampreys, you see'), a 'wise woman' who had been living at the tower for years, living on smoked lampreys, moss and other plants, as well as other food and items which folks from the nearby villages would bring to exchange for potions which she would brew.

The party were given lamprey stew for dinner as Therion tried to interest Mama Peat in his business, but she replied that she had little use for money but had an interest in magical items, and asked if our heroes had any they were willing to trade for her help. Tom offered his throwing knife, but it was turned down. As the evening wore on Tom fell into a deep slumber. Talk continued to revolve around the subject of magic. Mama Peat began to tell our heroes of a tale of an evil witch who lived in the swamp and claimed the lives of babies born before the full moon... and revealed herself to be the sister of the witch whom our heroes have slain several weeks before! She demanded that the gem that Whisper plucked from the body of her sister to be returned to her, and in return she would leave their business with the causeway alone. Before Whisper could give a reply, Therion drew his rapier and attacked the witch, but instead of staying and fighting, she stepped into the fireplace and vanished in a blaze.

Our heroes searched the rest of the dwelling and found little else besides smoked lampreys and dried herbs and moss. They set watch and spent a fitful night in the dwelling.

The next day they found the northern end of the causeway a short distance away from the dwelling, and turned south to find the other end.

On the fifth day of their expedition dark clouds rolled in from the north. Late in the afternoon they came upon the remains of yet another tower by the causeway, this one so worn that only the foundations of the tower remained. As they approached the tower they saw that its floor had given way and now opened to a basement some ten feet below. They heard the jingling of chains, followed by voices crying for help.

Whisper crept close to the edge and saw that two men and a woman were imprisoned inside there, each chained by their ankles to an alcove in one of the four corners of the basement floor. Tom leapt onto the floor below and started to question them.

The three gave their names as Dalkon, Feck, and Tilsa, and claimed to be residents of Tamalir who woke up about a week ago to find themselves chained there. They had no knowledge of how they came to be there, nor who had brought them there or for what purpose, and they begged our heroes to free them from the chains.

Whisper cast a rope down and climbed down, followed by the others. As Giso examined the chains around Tilsa's ankles he noticed them to be of good quality steel, and that the manacles were not locked but forge-welded shut. Setting the chain against a rock, he set to work with his hammer, and after some effort broke one of them.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party grew more and more suspicious of the circumstances the prisoners were in: despite not having a source of food or water, the trio had remained alive for a week in the middle of winter, and indeed there were no signs of waste or excrement there. Whisper sensed magic on the three prisoners, but could not make out its nature.

Tension began to rise as our heroes pressed the prisoners for answers, and were met only with protestations of ignorance and increasingly desperate pleas to be freed. Eventually patience wore thin and Risver drew his knife and approached Dalkon, thinking to cut him and see if he bled. As he came within reach Dalkon struck out at him, throwing Risver several yards back. Enraged, Giso charged at Dalkon with his hammer. Therion stepped before Dalkon, shielding him from Giso's attack... and felt Dalkon's hand close around his neck in a vice-like grip.

Release him and the other two, he demanded, or he would kill Therion.

But the party was in no bargaining mood - they attacked Dalkon, even as he shielded himself with Therion. Unable to break himself free from the strangle, the bard passed out, only to be revived by Whisper chanting a healing word. Seeing this Dalkon cast Therion aside and seized Whisper by her neck instead. In the confusion that followed Whisper was struck by Giso and passed out, but her companions were able to wrest her from the grasp of Dalkon. As the three prisoners strained against their bonds to try to grab at our heroes, they one by one climbed out of the basement, and from the safety of their vantage point above called down holy fire against the now-defenceless trio.

When the prisoners were vanquished the party recovered the chains, noting the maker's mark upon them - they might solve this mystery yet!

Leaving the ruined tower behind, the party trekked on southwards, until they came to the end  of the causeway. Their journey had come to an end.


Having returned to Tamalir, Whisper recovered her gem from the vault of a merchant house where she had deposited it. Holding it in her hand, she called out silently to Mama Peat, but received no reply.

Then one night she awoke in her room at the Leaky Tap, and found the witch standing by her window. The witch repeated her offered to leave the dwelling in the swamp and not interfere with the party's business in exchange for the gem. Whisper in return told her that now that she has learned of the nature of the gem, she did not want it in her possession. She handed the gem to the witch, who stepped back into the shadow... and vanished once more.

Prepping and Running the Game

I apologise in advance if I blow my own trumpet too much in this post, but I feel the session was a good example of how an 'improv' style of GMing can work with experienced and engaged players.

This session was the first in the Terrinoth campaign that I did not base off a specific module, but rather the elements of the scenario came from loose threads left over from three previous session. There was very little to prep for in the specifics - I prepared the monster stats, a couple of terrain mats, and did some reading on peat, lampreys, and smoking lampreys with peat.

To begin with the whole reason for this expedition was based on an idea supplied by the players themselves. As the GM all I needed to do was to make up some reasonable challenges to provide more information on the causeway and its history (indirectly).

The first part of the session was to me the most straight-forward, so I was a little surprised when the players took a long time trying to decide how to tackle the wyvern. Eventually I decided to make it fly off to hunt for food so they could get close to it without being detected.

The second encounter was a follow-up to the session where they encountered and killed an evil hag. I had wanted to introduce the idea that the hag was once one of three hags in a coven, and when I needed to populate another location for this session, I decided to make use of this thread, I left the encounter very much unscripted, hoping to react to how the PCs acted instead. I had actually a model of a purple worm (painted in flesh colour) on my table to use as a giant lamprey ally for the hag if a fight broke out, but it didn't seem to fit the feel in the room at the moment, and I decided not to use it.

I had imagined that Whisper and the two priests of Kellos would want to attack the hag once they learned her true nature, and that Therion would rather strike a bargain with her, so I was rather surprised when it was the other way round.

The third encounter was my favourite. The mysterious nature of the prisoners and their reluctance to provide answers, and their physical prowess displayed later really puzzled the players. I will not spoil the story here, but this location is tied to the Blood & Gold scenario. One of the players even asked if his character knew if this was in anyway linked to the Cult of Nordros - as a GM it is always gratifying to have bits of lore you told the players thrown back at you in a later game.

I could feel the tension and the frustration (a good kind, I thought) at the table rise as the players and PCs started to disagree on what to do and then each went ahead and did what he or she felt was right - it was a little like the scene in The Avengers when they started to turn on each other. But as in the movie, once the enemy showed himself, the team acted together and defeated their foes.

When Therion's player placed his figure in front of Dalkon to shield him from Giso, I saw the perfect opportunity to raise the stakes and took it, actually physically moving to behind the player and passing my hand in front of his neck (which unfortunately meant I could not see the look on his face when that happened). The player was so traumatised by the event that after the game he told me that Therion's alignment had shifted from Neutral Good to True Neutral after this.

Despite the fight being fought on a fixed location on account of Dalkon being chained, it was actually one of the more tactical fights in the campaign as the PCs tried to rescue their comrades without hurting them, trying instead to pry them loose from Dalkon's grasp. I thought I did rather well too when I made Dalkon take the risk of letting go of a hostage and grabbing the healer instead.

Once the PCs were all out of reach of the prisoners, it was basically shooting fish in a barrel as they had ranged-attack cantrips. It was however fitting for the prisoners to not have any ranged attacks, so I allowed them their victory.

Once again the players were experienced enough to bounce off elements I had included in the scenario without much thought, in this case looking for a maker's mark on the chains, which I had described as well-made. This will allow them to trace the buyer of the chains (presumably the person who imprisoned the trio there), but in fact it will be the other way round: allowing the person to find those who have killed his prisoners!

All in all this was a very enjoyable session, and it has given me more confidence in running a less prepped game.

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