Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Terrinoth #35 - A Lucky Morning or The Hangover

Confronting Nubb at the Canvas Market

Campaign Diary

Entana awoke with a parched mouth and a splitting headache to find himself in a prison cell, along with Strigoi and Percy. Gio was nowhere to be seen.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Strigoi and Percy woke up soon afterwards. From the small window high up on the wall of the cell they could tell it was day, but none of our heroes had any memory of what transpired the night before, nor why they were in the cell. Rather alarmingly, both Entana's and Percy's runebound shards were missing.

Before the party could figure out what to do next, two guards arrived outside the cells and started taunting them: they had been accused and found guilty for the murder of seven people in the Bronze Unicorn Tavern the night before, and were scheduled to be hanged at the Canvas Market at noon. When asked what evidence of their guilt there was, the guards replied that our heroes were the only ones found alive (albeit intoxicated) at the crime scene, that there were signs magic was used in the murder of the victims, and that once they found runebound shards on Entana and Percy - clear evidence that they were wizards - that was all it was needed for their guilt to be established. Leaving our bewildered heroes, the guards then went about their business.

As they wracked their brains trying to recall what happened, our heroes each found a piece of clue in their pockets:

Entana found a ransom note that read: Bring my 1000 Gros to the city graveyard at ten o'clock, or we bury your gnome friend there.

Strigoi found a tin gambling token with a 1 Gros face value, with the name 'Brega's House of Fun' embossed upon it.

Percy found a small jar of ointment labelled 'Gafford Tattoos', with an accompanying instruction to apply twice daily to the tattooed area. She started to examine herself for any tattoo, but could not find any; meanwhile, Entana and Strigoi noted the fresh tattoo of a grinning snake on the small of her back, but kept quiet about it...

Not long afterwards Bram, bodyguard to Entana's father, arrived. He informed them that he and the elder Venier had been informed this morning that the party had been arrested and imprisoned in the city watch-house, found guilty of mass murder, and that their rooms at the inn had been sealed by the watch. The elder Venier had gone to the Terrinoth consulate in Gafford (the whole company had arrived in Gafford the day before, aboard the Gnomeward Bound) with his remaining silver, hoping to find help to stay the execution.

Bram was able to tell our heroes that they had left the Golden Griffon Inn the afternoon before, bound for the Copper Centaur Tavern, on the recommendation of the first mate of the Gnomeward Bound (one Tripp Edveiser), to sample the local craft beers, and did not return all night. It was now 8 o'clock in the morning, and there was only four hours till their scheduled hanging.

Our heroes realised that they needed to break out of jail and find the real murderer so they could prove their innocence. They asked Bram for the layout of the watch-house, and learned that the holding cells and the evidence room were near the back of the building, and that to get here he had to pass through the front hall where most of the watchmen were. Entana asked Bram to find the location of the graveyard, the gambling house, and the tattoo parlour, and to recover their gear and silver for the ransom money from the inn, and the party set about planning how to break out of their cell.

On his way back to the Golden Griffon, Bram passed by the Canvas Market, and noticed that a stage had been set up in the square, and gallows were being erected. A small crowd had started to gather, and the food vendors were already setting up their stalls...

Without his runebound shards, Entana was unable to cast any spells. Calling upon the power of Kellos, Percy passed through the bars of their cell, sneaked into the evidence room, knocked out the watchman inside, broke into the evidence lockers with his keys, and recovered their runebound shards. On a whim, she took with her a glass bottle of blue crystals that was also on the evidence shelf.

Returning to the cell, she unlocked the door and let Strigoi and Entana out. Now armed with his runebound shards, Entana on a hunch used his spell to spike the drinking water of the watchmen with the blue crystals, and put on the uniform of the watchman that Percy had knocked out.

Not long afterwards, they heard a commotion coming from the front hall - it seemed the blue crystal was having an effect on the minds of the watchmen. Peering through the door, they could see the watchmen arguing in a drunken fashion with each other. Acting like he was a watchman escorting Strigoi and Percy to their execution, Entana tried to walk through the hall with them, but was discovered. The party dashed out of the watch-house and ducked into a side alley before they could be caught, and stole clothing off clotheslines they passed to disguise themselves.

Returning to the Golden Griffon Inn, they found Bram limping towards them: he had tried to climb into the party's room on the third floor of the inn from the window of his room (which was adjacent to theirs), but had slipped and fallen down. Percy decided to make the attempt herself, and managed to climb into the room, but when she attempted to sneak out through the door she was noticed by the watchmen. Running back into the room, she leapt out of the window, and once more called upon Kellos to let her reach the ground safely. The watchmen ran down the stairs to chase after Percy, leaving Strigoi free to walk into his room and retrieve his sword!

The party, now comprising of Entana, Strigoi, Percy, and Bram, rendezvoused at the city graveyard, which appeared abandoned. Walking further into the graveyard, they found themselves confronted by a man dressed in a merchant's robes and a dozen armed thugs. One of the thugs held a gnome with a hood over his head.

The man, who called himself Mr. Quill, accused of the party of cheating him of a thousand Gros at cards at 'Brega's House of Fun' the night before, and demanded the sum to be returned for the release of their gnome friend. Wary of trickery, the party demanded that the gnome's hood be removed.

Quill ordered the hood removed, and underneath it was a face the party recognised: Til Terraghast, the alchemist-wizard whom the party had thwarted and then spared in Orris!

Til revealed that he ran into the party the afternoon before, and had invited them for drinks, and that they had afterwards gone gambling at Brega's House of Fun, where they won some money.

When asked where Gio was, Til initially said he did not know, but when Percy threatened to leave without paying the ransom, he claimed knowledge. Unsure whether to trust the gnome, but unwilling to take the risk, our heroes pretended to make the exchange, but at the last moment attacked the thugs holding Til, and escaped with him, as Entana summoned a magical fog to prevent the thugs from pursuing them.

Once they were safe from Quill and his men, the party interrogated Til, who admitted that he had spiked their drinks with a drug he had concocted so they would feel more dis-inhibited and friendly towards him. Once the drug had taken effect and everyone "loosened up", they went to Brega's gambling den, where Til persuaded Entana to lend him the Mind runebound shard he had given Entana as his ransom back in Orris, and then used it to cheat at cards, winning a thousand Gros off Quill.

Afterwards they were joined by two of Til's old friends and adventuring partners, Griffo the gnome and Gorrik the Orc, and the party went to the Bronze Unicorn, an upscale tavern, to celebrate their win. Unfortunately, it seemed the drug had the side-effect of causing amnesia, and the last thing Til remembered was leaving the inn to go to the outhouse - when he came to, he was in Quill's custody.

Now pursued by both the city watch and Quill, the party asked Til if he had a place they could hide out. Til led them through the streets of Gafford to a tavern. As they saw the sign of the tavern, Gio and Strigoi realised that it bore the picture of a grinning snake... Later, they would find out that Til and his old adventuring group called themselves The Grinning Viper, and each member had a grinning snake tattooed on their person as a symbol of their camaraderie. When they retired from adventuring several years ago, Til went into the alchemy business, Griffo and Gorrik spent the money they had gathered living it up, and Dann the fourth member had opened a tavern bearing the group's name. It seemed that some time during the night before, Percy, inspired by the story, had gotten the same tattoo for herself too...

Pushing open the unlocked door to the tavern, Til immediately gave out a cry. Lying on the floor of the tavern was Dann's dead body. Examining the body, Entana found no wound or injuries, and Percy sensed that the killer was some form of undead that had taken Dann's soul.

The talkative Til now became sombre. When a search of the inn showed that Griffo and Gorrik were not there, he began to fear the worse. The party suggested they returned to the Bronze Unicorn to see if they could find out if Griffo and Gorrik were among those murdered.

Wearing the watchman's uniform, Bram managed to enter the crime scene, and found chalk outlines of the victims in the hall of the tavern: five human-sized, and one gnome-sized and one orc-sized. There was also signs of a fireball spell being cast onto the door of the tavern, but curiously all the chalk outlines were outside the burned area.

The news made Til even more worried, and the party suggested they went to the city morgue to find out if Griffo and Gorrik were indeed among those killed. Arriving at the morgue, they found that the morgue workers had closed the morgue to go watch the scheduled execution. Breaking in, they entered the basement of the building to where the bodies were kept, and found the bodies of a gnome and an orc, each bearing the tattoo of a grinning snake, along with five other bodies.

Convinced that the murderer was targeting Til and his adventuring group, the party asked if they had made enemies or robbed tombs during their career, to which he replied they had done plenty of both. Then Percy asked if there had be anyone his party had wronged or left behind, and Til froze, and his eyes widened.

'It must be Nudd!' he said.

Nudd, he explained, was a wizard who joined the party not long before they retired. Nudd was a quiet fellow who never really fit in the party, but they had kept him as they needed his skills. Then one day, while robbing a tomb, they were attacked by an incorporeal undead which their weapons and spells could not harm; Nudd fell, and the party fled with the treasures they looted, but without Nudd, leaving him for dead. Now convinced that Nudd was back for revenge, Til offered himself as bait to lure Nudd out, so that the party could take him down to avenge his party, and exonerate themselves at the same time.

Strigoi suggested that Til showed himself at the Canvas Market, where everyone would be gathered for the execution, and Til agreed, and despite Percy's best efforts would not change his mind.

Now the Canvas Market was the largest market in Gafford, and was called that on account of the long canvas awnings that stretched between the buildings surrounding the market square, providing shade to the stalls below. When the party arrived, the market was already filled with hundreds of townsfolk who had gathered the see the execution. Bram, Entana, and Percy took up positions on the buildings surround the square, while Strigoi followed Til as he walked amongst the crowd, hoping to spot Nudd or be spotted by him.

They were not disappointed, for Percy soon noticed a thin man heading towards Til. Taking a black, teardrop-shaped bottle from his belt, the man unstoppered it, and out of the mouth of the bottle an inky mist emerged, formed into the ghostly humanoid shape, and charged at Til.

Strigoi rushed towards Til, but was unable to stop the wraith from striking Til, whose face turned pale at the touch. Bram leapt onto the canvas, and from there to the ground, and pulled Til away to safety.

Percy called upon the power of Kellos and hurled bolts of force onto Nudd, who then called forth more shadowy forms from the bottle, which formed a whirling ring around him. For the far side of the square Entana hurled bolts of fire at Nudd, but only succeeded in setting the canvas awning on fire.

The crowd began to panic, and realising that he had been lured into a trap, Nudd started to flee the market. Seeing this, Bram barreled through the crowd to reach Nudd, and as he passed though the ring of shadowy forms around Nudd, he felt his life force being sucked out of him; summoning the last reserves of his strength, he swung his sword at Nudd, and severed his hand at the wrist; Nudd let out a cry as his hand and the bottle dropped to the ground. At the same time, Strigoi struck once more at the wraith with his sword, and the undead dissipated.

The party was soon surrounded by the city watch, and once more arrested and brought back to the watch-house. Nudd was interrogated and revealed that he had not died in the tomb the Grinning Vipers left him at, but had found the bottle with which he could trap and command the wraith. He tracked down his former companions, intent on exacting revenge on them for their betrayal. Last nigh, he finally put his plans into action, releasing the wraith and ordering it to kill all those inside the Bronze Unicorn, unaware that Til had left to go to the outhouse. The wraith slew Griffo, Gorrik, the tavern-keeper his son, and three other innocent bystanders, but was driven off by our heroes.

With Til's testimony, Nudd's confession, and a little pressure from the Terrinoth consulate, the party were quickly exonerated and released. But they still did not know where Gio was.

As they were leaving the watch-house, Til announced that he had to go to the outhouse, whereupon Strigoi offered to accompany him so he would not get into further trouble. At that remark Til once more froze, and his eyes once more widened: he knew where Gio was!

Til now recalled that he had accompanied Gio to the outhouse at the Bronze Unicorn the night before, and Gio had in his drunken state fallen into the cesspit - Til was on the way back to get help when he was kidnapped by Quill's men.

Sure enough, the party found Gio at the bottom of the cesspit at the Bronze Unicorn, still passed out. What is more: he had the thousand Gros they had won from Quill on him!

As the party prepared to leave Gafford, Til asked to join them on their journey to Terrinoth. After exacting a promise from him to do no more mischief, the party agreed.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was based on the module A Lucky Morning by Run Amok Games and of course the movie The Hangover.

After the scenario set in Orris I had wanted to let the party go to Torrue Albes, so that the players could experience the land, and so I could bring back either Captain Hurst or Til Terraghast.

I initially planned on using Murder at the Vulgar Unicorn, but that module was too long and complex for the time we had. I then came across A Lucky Morning, which had the same theme of a murder mystery, except that the PCs were not really implicated.

I decided to mix the premise of the two modules, and run a scenario where the PCs would start the session in jail, and without their equipment. Somewhere along the line I had to idea to turn the whole thing into The Hangover, and have the PCs start the session in jail, without their equipment, AND without any memory of what brought them there.

To stay close to the plot of The Hangover, I decided to have Gio go missing, so that I could recreate the scene from the movie when the party ransom the wrong Doug. This also prevented the players from deciding to just skip town once they have escaped their cell, and forced them to investigate the mystery. As I planned the details of the game, I realised this actually made things more challenging, as Gio's skills as a rogue would have made the scenario much easier for the players.

Now I knew from all the advice given in the various forums that player buy-in was very important when running a scenario where their agency would be taken away from them. In this case I was doing three things: taking away their stuff, locking them up, making them do things that they didn't want to. Any one of these could piss players off, and doing three was really pushing it; but I have gamed with these players for many months, and there was trust between us. I made sure to let them know early that I would be running such a game, and separately I asked the player playing Gio if he was ok with not playing Gio for one session. At the start of the session I told them that this would be a it of a "Halloween Special" session, so they would find certain anachronism in this game, like evidence lockers and chalk outlines.

Between the premise of A Lucky Morning and the plot of The Hangover, it wasn't difficult to come up with an account of what happened. What remained to be done once I have decided what happened was to decide what clues to give to the players. Here I took the advice of giving the players at least three clues to work with: the ransom note, the casino chip, and the tattoo - in fact, I handed them real props: a handwritten note, an actual casino chip, and a tube of ointment with a handwritten label.

The three clues gave them several options to take their investigation, which made this a very open game. The only 'fixed' part of the adventure was the need to break out from their cell, and I had no definite idea of how they would achieve this; the blue crystals on the evidence shelf was something I improvised when Percy asked what else was in the room, and I randomly decided that it would be the same stuff that Til spiked their drinks with.

Once they escaped their cell, there were several ways they could continue. To prepare for this, I had several locations ready: the inn, the three taverns (the crime scene, the place where Gil spiked their drinks, and the Grinning Viper), the casino, the tattoo parlour, the graveyard, the morgue, and the Canvas Market. As it turned out, they visited almost all of these sites. The plan was to give the players a few more clues at each location, or if they were stuck, tell them that they came upon a building with the sign of the tavern/tattoo parlour/casino.

While I had all the locations prepared, I did not have a set order I needed them to visit the locations in. For example, I had planned for them to be attacked by the wraith at the Canvas Market as one of the encounters during their investigation, and not as the final encounter, which I assumed would happen at the Grinning Viper. The idea was to keep the tension going, make sure the investigation progress with each encounter, and throw attackers/pursuers at them when things are slowing down.

I was glad I brought Til back, because once again he triggered a visceral reaction from Percy's player. The fact that he was up to the same shenanigans after promising not to do so after their last encounter frustrated them. However, the tone of the game took a turn when I role-played Til's reaction to his friends' death, and I think the players truly felt sorry for him then.

The other high point of the game for me was when I had to find a way to reveal Gio's location. I made Til say out loud that he needed to use the toilet, and sure enough Strigoi offered to go with him - this was exactly the response I needed for Til to suddenly remember what happened to Gio, and gave me a way to make the reveal in a 'natural' manner.

All in all we enjoyed the session, and with Til following the party back to Terrinoth, there is a chance he can become their resident alchemist in the next arc of the campaign, when we will transition into a 'domain' game. I am also now thinking of running a "Halloween Special" session near the end of each future campaign arc, perhaps even another The Hangover game.

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