Thursday, September 05, 2019

Terrinoth #40 - Blood & Gold, continued

Ambushed by the Two-Blade Gang
Campaign Diary

After two weeks of travel, Giso, Therion, and Whisper arrived back at Tamalir in the company of three Justicars (battle priests of Kellos). Their first stop was at the Church of Kellos, where they reunited with Tom Kellosson, when Giso explained his sudden and long absence (click here for PC profiles).

Tom, in the meanwhile, informed them that the number of Red Mist victims which the church have collected from the streets had increased in the past month, something which they attributed to a sudden loss in the supply of the drug. Whisper questioned a victim at the hospital, who confirmed their suspicion, and also informed them that he had last obtained his supply from the Pasha, which was familiar to our heroes.

The party decided to pay another visit to the Pasha, and stopped by at Therion's shop, which was close to the brothel. To his dismay, he saw that the shop was closed. After some frantic knocking on the door, his assistant opened the door. She explained to her employer that on the day after Therion had left without notice, a sum of 200 Gros had been delivered to the shop by someone, and that same day a suspicious character had come to spy around the shop on the pretext of buying something. She also noticed that the shop seemed to be watched, and had decided to close the place until Therion returned.

The party continued to the Pasha, leaving the Justicars to keep an eye on the shop. A quick conversation with the madam of the place confirmed the fact that Red Mist did come back into circulation for a short while after the party's first errand for Lazar, but had quickly disappeared a little after their business with Weiss. The party surmised that there were in fact two, rival, parties selling the drug - Lazar's party selling the more expensive version or the drug, and Weiss' party selling the cheaper version - and that they had unknowingly been involved in disruption of both businesses.

As the madam was mum about the supplier of their Red Mist, the party left the brothel to plan their next move. They struck up a conversation with the bouncers outside, and learned from them that one of the characters that they had seen loitering around Therion's shop was a gnome nicknamed 'Ratbone', whom they believed to be with the Two-Blade Gang, a small-time gang that operated on the south, poorer side of Tamalir.

Therion came up with the idea of equipping everyone in the party with two daggers, prominently displayed on their belts, and Whisper, who lived on the south side, led them into the territory of the Two-Blade Gang. They were soon able to find Ratbane (not Ratbone!), but quickly lost him in the crowd. Instead, they spotted the assassin that had wounded Weiss at The Golden Lion!

As Tom had not encountered the assassin previously, the party decided to split up, with Tom following her, while Giso and Therion kept a distance behind him, while Whisper followed him from the rooftop.

But alas! Tom was lured into an alley, and ambushed by Ratbane and several members of the Two-Blade Gang. Fortunately, the others were not too far behind. As the other heroes joined in the melee, more and more gang members, each wielding two bladed weapons, entered the fray. For a while things looked grim, until Giso summoned up a flaming sphere that barreled through the ranks of the gangsters, setting their clothes on fire and forcing several of them to jump into a nearby canal. The assassin was killed by Tom, and Ratbane, now alone and outnumbered, tried to flee but was cornered.

Ratbane confessed to working for Lazar, guarding the stock of Red Mist which Lazar would periodically send to the storeroom there, by boat or through the sewers. However, apart from instructions to keep watch over Therion's shop, the gang had had no contact with their paymaster for several weeks. He then led them back to the sewer hideout, which they had evacuated since the storeroom was torched by Weiss, but which they were supposed to man in the event Lazar needed to contact them. Searching the storeroom, Therion came across a broken glass vial which held Red Mist, and remarked that the material seemed to be of higher quality compared to that used in Weiss' version - Tom recalled where he had seem a similar material: in the glass wine bottles in the Pasha!

A little enquiry revealed that the wine was imported from Trast, from the vineyards that lined the southern slope of the Flametail river valley. The wine would be shipped up the river in giant tuns, along with the glass bottles, and the bottling would take place in a bottling plant in Tamalir. The vineyards and the bottling plant belonged to the Count of Pfalzenstein, and it is believed that the family possessed certain alchemical tricks which they employed to make the wine last longer.

The Counts of Pfalzenstein, the party also learned, hailed from an ancient line, and previously were the Dukes of Tamalir. In the aftermath of the Second Darkness, the Duke was unable to pay for the support of Tamalir, and was forced by the Barons to relinquish the city, which was granted Free City status. In exchange, the House of Pfalzenstein was given a permanent seat on the city council, granted a monopoly on the import of wine (the family owned vineyards in Trast), and they kept their hereditary seat at Castle Pfalzenstein, a small castle on a small island in the Flametail river, about half a day's journey east. The current count of Pfalzenstein kept a townhouse in Tamalir, but the day-to-day business was attended to by his steward.

The party made their way to the townhouse, hoping to lean more about the supplier of the glass vials from the steward, but when they arrived Whisper saw a carriage outside the place - it resembled the one used by Lazar. Not long afterwards the steward exited the townhouse and entered the carriage. Our heroes' request for an interview was rebuffed, and the carriage drove towards the north gate of the city.

That evening, Whisper sneaked into the townhouse and rifled through the contents of the steward's office. The papers there showed that the glass vials were indeed imported along with the wine bottles, but the quantities were so small that, given the selling price of Red Mist, the profit derived therefrom was dwarfed by that of the selling of the wine. There were also invoices for certain alchemical components, which Tom recalled were also seen on the invoices they had recovered from the rival faction for Lazar.

With more evidence pointing to the count's involvement (or at least someone within his household) in the Red Mist trade, the party decided to pay him a visit at his castle. The next morning, they packed their gear (with Therion cutting up an expensive bog oak chair in his inventory to fashion stakes and arrowheads for use against vampires), sat themselves on Therion's mule cart, left instructions for the Justicars to come for them if they had not returned in a week, and made their way out of the city.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session is not based on any particular module, but evolved out of the background of the story so far.

I knew the arc would end with a confrontation between the party and one of the bosses behind the Red Mist trade - the players were quite clear that they wanted to go after Lazar's gang first, so I prepped with this in mind.

I needed to lay a trail of clues for them to follow, so I started to imagine how the count operated his business. It soon became clear to me that his business model did not make sense at all if profit was a motive, which led me into thinking why he had decided to start the whole operation to begin with. The answer, of course, is that 'some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.'.

I decided to link the Red Mist trade to the wine import, on account of the glass, which led to me deciding about the history of the House of Pfalzenstein. The fact that medieval wine was hard to keep fresh allowed me to bring in the element of alchemy, which we will later learn has something to do with the manufacture of Red Mist.

I placed clues in the form of the wine sold at the Pasha, an empty glass vial in the sewer hideout, and the Two-Blade Gang as a source for combat and clues. I had expected the players to visit the bottling plant, which was another possible combat encounter, but they decided to investigate the Two-Blade Gang first, and then skip to the steward's house.

To me the whole chain was pretty clear: glass vial links to glass bottle, glass bottle to wine, wine to bottling plant and vineyard, bottling plant and vineyard to a count residing in a castle outside the city... how much more obvious can it be?

Unfortunately for me, for once my players were reluctant to jump to a conclusion. They spent a bit of time discussing their investigation, with Therion's player proposing that they went to Trast to investigate the make of the glass vials. Fortunately, the other players were able to convince him that they should follow the trail downstream instead of upstream.

In retrospect I realise I could have planned things better, but it is always difficult to strike a balance between making the evidence so clear that the players would be able to go to the city watch or church and just asked them to handle the business, and making the connection so tenuous they are afraid to make the move.

I had actually set aside up to six sessions for this arc of the campaign, but as it turned out we will only play four sessions. This prevented me from developing some of the plot points into longer adventures or encounters - I was planning to have a session where the players would play the roles of the three Justicars, who are sent on a side-quest with Erkiss the kobold to obtain bog oak, and when this could not materialise, I had to improvise and decide that Therion would conceivably have something made of bog oak in his luxury store.

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