It was an odd night and I might’ve not managed the spotlight as well as I might’ve. Lots of talking.
New Bingo board is up,
Hegna the Red was born and raised in Innistrad, a born vampire who now is a hunter who serves the Hive District’s Outlands Expedition Team. She gave some Innistrad background, dropped lots of lore I grabbed from online from places like this and this. The Moonsilver Key, Sigarda, Heronblade Elite, Olivia Voldaren and her upcoming wedding, uniting powerful vampire clans.
They learned that a unique bounty hunter might be looking for them – a Demi-lich whose skull resides in an Iron Golem because their lair was destroyed. Aboraz, the Striding Skull – a bounty hunter, trying to get together enough coin to build another lair so they can return to their dream-travels through the Far Realms.
Failed Soldier went to see Mavetta, the little girl who was Chosen by the Raven Queen. He was told that he could learn more of the Corpsefleas in the Deep Ethereal, in the Radiant Citadel. The Raven Queen was eager for Floldier to become her priest. It was creepy, as a little girl becoming possessed by a goddess of death, ravens and winter should be.
Role-played my first Dabus and while it was charming at first, I won’t push my luck with the Civil Servants of Sigil who speak only in iconography. The Dabus led Kuru, who wanted to know if anyone in Sigil could offer further insight into their enemies through some kind of a spy network. He spoke to Rhoqul, a lich in an oubliette in the Maze, that was held open for Kuru by the Lady of Pain, who spoke to the lich from a balcony. He offered some ideas as to who Orcus’ lieutenants might be, carving their names into his broken staff, and suggested Demogorgon and Grazz’t as possible allies against Orcus (or any Devil). Told Kuru that Kiaransalee had killed Orcus in the past (he came back).
“Tell the Lady of Pain that I helped you and that I know something is down here, something powerful. I am more dangerous stuck here than I am in the Prime Material! Tell her!”
When told of this, Bugwump realized that this old lich knows of the Primordial trapped in the Lady of Pain’s Maze. Kuru gave the Lady of Pain a fresh muffin.
Kuru’s player asked if there was a magic item that could cast Daylight. I had rules for this; they’re pretty good. I read those rules.
“In the Barrow of the Sun Paladins, they have gems in their shields that were said to throw daylight onto Vampires in olden days…”
DM’s Notes: Just an odd tweener of a night. That is okay.
Our last session ended with the group figuring out that the Gnomish cleric there to guide them was in fact Garl Glittergold. Some genius thought to ask him about the Lady of Pain and Garl spilled.
The God of the Gnomes hemmed and hawed. Was that me role-playing or me stalling for time? I’m honestly not sure. I’ve been daydreaming a bit about the Lady of Pain but I wasn’t sure if I had enough to satisfying this crew.
Garl told them that whatever secrets she had, he bet that she had them buried in the Maze, her inter-dimensional prison/labyrinth where the majority of the Sigil 6 wandered for 15 years. “And what’s more, I think she wants people to know her secret. She wants someone to find out. I think she puts people there who she thinks have a shot at figuring it out.”
Jusko asked if they had seen anything, something that might hint at what is hidden there. I asked him to tell me more about what kind of things he’s looking for and he gave me enough. They realized that an area of the Maze they had avoided had a cyclopean beast of some kind imprisoned. Then Bugwump dropped this amazing line, “Of course whatever is down there is something that can diminish her. Isn’t that obvious? We keep it imprisoned by keeping balance in the planes.”
I asked the player to roll Arcana (knowing Bugwump has ZANY bonuses to that skill), “Wait, does Bugwump know what is down there? It kinda sounds like he does.” He did; it is the last of the living Primordials, thrown down there by the Gods during the First War, held in place by the spinning of the Planes. Now they know.
“There is a half-dead world where the gods are dead and they worship elementals. Magic is cursed and blights the land; it is a shithole. That place might have clues about this Primordial. I’m warning you. This place makes Ravenloft look like a vacation.”
Garl suggested that if they wanted to learn deep lore, they should talk to Callarduran Smoothhands, emissary to the Deep Gnomes. “He knows secrets.”
Failed Soldier Legend Lore’d the Golden Acorns and realized they would grow to become Angelic Treants and their roots would hold off an apocalypse for a while when they landed and sunk their roots into a dying world.
They brokered a deal between the Druids and Garl, despite Garl trying his damnedest to get them to slaughter them all. The druids, as it turned out, are in an recently found order created by a Tree God from the party’s past, when they stopped a god feud but left the dead world’s Tree God alive. That Tree God is vengeful and its druids go into dying worlds and save whatever they can – people, art, magic, ideas, etc.
Garl will get first pick of treasure on any world where the angelic treants grown from his golden acorns are helpful. It is a pretty damned good deal and makes the world more complicated and interesting. LOVE it.
Did Kuru steal an acorn? Yes, he did. Rolled to see if Garl noticed. 2. Nope, he did not notice.
Garl warned them that the Innistrad Vampires offered him a lost knife of his, lost during an ancient war with the kobolds, if he would use his illusions to send the Sigil 6 into a trap. “They want you bad, bad enough to contact and try to bribe a god.”
DM’s Notes: Gaming with these folks is just fun, dammit.
Next Game: Next week we’ll either do another Imbalance or head over to Gloomwrought.
We took a week off and then I couldn’t game last week, so it was just lovely to see everyone’s faces tonight. Laughing on Thursday night with these friends is something I definitely look forward to in my week.
We decided to do some good ole fashioned planar balancing, look the good ole days. The Sigil 6 was tasked with dealing with a situation in Bytopia (try to say Bytopia for hours to your friends without laughing; I dare you. Damned silly name) in which a druidic cult of some kind is stealing acorns from Garl Glittergold’s personal grove of angelic trees in the Golden Hills. They had a gate right to Tradergate the portal town that leads to Bytopia, Gnomish Heaven.
When they asked their old Gnome friend, Dosk, about Garl Glittergold, I read Luke’s tweet as if she was remembering some bit of Gnomish scripture.
Thank goodness for the Fantasy Name Generator, helping me come up with Gnomish names all night. Divast Snanjot, a Gnomish cleric leading a trusty goat-mount welcomed them at the entrance to Tradertown. The players didn’t come out with their realization that Divast was in fact, Garl Glittergold in illusory disguise until the last minutes of the game. When Helewynn offered him half a muffin, he called it, “an offering,” a slip that Jusko noticed. Failed Soldier had a piece of Gnome-tech from Dosk, allowing him to see the spirits of the dead. During one of Divast’s many (many) temper tantrums, he seemed to be talking to a spirit of the dead and throwing them away. Why would he be doing that?
Failed Soldier has this cool habit, where he asks NPC’s what happens when they die. Divast said, “When I die, Garl Glittergold will come and ask me if I know the secret to the illusion of life and if I do not know, he will laugh and throw me into the Prime Material Planes, where I will haunt those lands forevermore. If I know, he will welcome me into the Golden Hills,” because I’ve been rewatching Conan the Barbarian scenes on youtube.
Mental note: Kuru adored the goat steeds and there was talk of Kuru retiring as a shepherd of war-goat-steeds.
There was a nice moment where they were setting up camp and I mentioned that this was not only a beautiful sunset over the Golden Hills but was also the first sunset they had seen in a long time. Trundle beckoning everyone to sit still for a moment and enjoy this moment was cool. Also cool, Divast giving respect to the Sigil 6 and to its most famous member, Helewynn, Slayer of Strahd.
They tracked the druids to a battle-site, where they turned from a herd of local elk into a mammoth, bears and snakes. They killed Gaerdal Ironhand XXIII, son of Gaerdal Ironhand, Gnomish deity and general of the Gnomish armies.
Failed Soldier’s Speak with Dead allowed them to talk to young Gaerdal XXIII, who asked if any knew what the secret of life’s illusion. Bugwump off-handedly said, “The illusion of life is that we can end suffering.”
Holy shit, is that true? I asked Bugwump’s player to roll and he rolled well. Religion or Arcana? Could’ve been either one, we decided. The roll suggested to me that this answer was damned good but not the complete answer…perhaps, it is good enough?
Bugwump and their Gnome escort did not get along. When Kuru asked what they were expected to do, the Cleric known as Divast Snanjot but was truly Garl Glittergold in illusory disguise, got snotty. “Well, isn’t that what the Sigil 6 are famous for? Won’t you bring us balance? Won’t you offer some of your famous outside-the-box thinking?” Bugwump lost his shit at him; it was cool to see Bugwump lose his temper but I checked in. Yeah, Garl Glittergold is an asshole and I played him as such but I don’t want the game to be an exhausting piece of an already exhausting world. I checked in and made sure everyone know they could tap out and ask me to scale this shit back.
We ended with Jusko attempting to disbelieve Garl Glittergold’s illusion and failing to do so but Bugwump did it and the illusion faded. I half-regret asking for a roll to disbelieve. As soon as you get to that point and pick up on those little clues, maybe you should just disbelieve. Something to think on.
What experience has your character had interacting with gnomes?
What rumors have you heard of the Blood War, in which Devils and Demons make war upon one another throughout the planes?
Gnomes are a particular delicacy on the Outer Planes. It is gnome, etc., known.
Gnomes also have an irritating propensity to resist conquest, as Bugwump discovered in his past life.
In fact, when Bugwump was first in the Labyrinth, he tried to ally with a gnome assassin in partial penance for his terrible treatment of the species. Sadly, the gnome remembered Bugwump all too well and tried to kill him for several months. Reluctantly, Bugwump eventually retailated and, with great regret, slew the gnome and then, with great relish, ate him.
Bugwump knows the Blood Wars well, having tried to exploit them at one point in his grand plan to conquer the multiverse. Sadly, it just turned both factions against him.
“Dziencujya, barkeep. Will have turnip stew and carrots. Feeling Gnomish today after feast last night.” Jusko thinks Gnomes and Halflings are the same, it’s just Gnomes have gone vegetarian. As soon as a Gnome eats bacon – poof – hairy feet. Magic is weird.
“Blood war? Seems big name for thing that always is. Devils and demons exist to maim torture and violence-make, da? Don’t know why need big fancy name. Like waterfall called The Wettening. Bah!”
Before Kuru joined the Sigil Six, even before he was in the labyrinth, Kuru stole the name ring of a demon lord on a job from a devil. He was paid by having his name removed from the Ledger of Acknowledgement.
Gnomes have been largely extinct for as long as we can remember. There was a great war amongst the dwarves and the gnomes over territory long long ago and the dwarves won. Why the dwarves continue to bear grudges against a people they vanquished long ago is a mystery. It is rumored that certain races thought gnomes a great delicacy and helped the rate of their extinction.
The Blood wars are just the machinations and playthings of great gods for their amusement. Kuru has heard rumors that the devils and demons are actually one and the same and are constantly being reborn to fight these endless pointless wars.
Rumor has it that the devils have created a sword that can kill the demon lord and are just waiting to strike. Dimensional raids have been increasing and it said that the devils have been searching for a long lost gate. The God roads are filling with raiding parties and refugees.
Rumor has it that a large, unidentified army is forcing the demons out of their homes. The demons are waging a desperate war to conquer the devils and try to settle there to escape.
Another rumor is that a wedding is to take place between devils and demons to cement an alliance. The purpose is to unite them to attack Sigil where they will control the nexus of planes and replace the Lady of Pain as the true power. (DM’s Note: This one mentioned a few ideas I’ve had but in a totally different context, just a touch sideways from my own ideas. Fascinating!)
Gnomes? I lived in a gnome some time ago. Lots of head space, despite the smaller body. The other gnomes were polite, but I could tell they were more uncomfortable than most with my living situation. They have a certain respect for their comrades bodies that I was completely ignorant of until the elder lady got the courage to broach the subject. I shall avoid occupying a Gnome body in the future if at all possible.
The Gnome, Dosk, on the other hand showed me that there is considerable tolerance for my kind. She knew what I was from the start, seeing my essence through her clever lenses. Even knowing my nature she jumped right to helping with that unique Gnomish curiosity and vigor.
I have only the vaguest memories of my first homes, yet some remain clear. One of them that still creeps into my thoughts is when I took my current name. In a world torn apart by claw, hoof, and fire, my essence drifting from corpse to corpse, unable to enter the husks left behind by fallen fiends, I was nearly lost, dissipated to the void. Pushing with the last of my will over the edge of a cliff, I fell into the deepest and widest of pits, filled to overflowing with the last fallen soldiers of this dying world. Those who swore allegiance to one side of the Blood Wars or the other in grim hope of saving their homes, only to be slain to the final man, woman, and child by the fiends to feed their infernal energy. I took a body with only a moment to spare.
Next Game: We’ll begin as they will ambush the druids at the portal from Bytopia to Tradertown with the Gnomish god’s illusion supporting their efforts.
Kuru was mind-controlled by an aboleth, The Dweller in the Lightless Abyss. The Halfling Arcane Trickster failed EVERY roll to escape the control. He told the ancient cthonic beast that his friends had killed Strahd, so the Dweller sent him back, still mind-controlled, “Tell them you broke free and I will send instructions soon.”
Meanwhile the rest of the Sigil 6 cut a deal with the Drow Inquisitor, which is to say, she’d walk them out of the city and they wouldn’t kill her. They found Kuru and got to getting the Shadowfell-stranded villagers through the Old Githyanki Gate to Sigil.
They quickly realized something was up with Kuru. Trundle wrestled his Luck Blade away from him, so the aboleth wouldn’t have the Wish. Kuru went all Gollum on them and ran away. Trundle used the wish to free his friend. The Luck Blade is now just a blade but they are going to keep it as a trophy.
When Kuru got free of the mind-control, his player described him falling over in relief. He had a brief, strange interaction with the Lady of Pain, who I always narrate without words, just gestures that communicate plenty.
The team journeyed with the villagers to Jusko’s abandoned ancestral home and handed it off to them, “You will owe me rent after 20 years but if I die, the land goes to all of you.” Bugwump sent the apprentices he was teaching the Fire Bolt cantrip to Wizard College on his own dime. Fun.
Post adventure community tribunals are a fun way to go over the adventure. Killing Strahd was a big one and so, rather than meet in a plaza, they gathered in a public amphitheater. Bugwump lost his composure, raising his voice and turning an aggressive shade of purple when folks tried out some moral relativism concerning, “Was it right to kill Strahd?” The wizard is now on a committee to help discern when exactly someone is a monster.
It was fun to get everyone’s take on the past months of gaming. It felt like returning after a long mission away. Jusko took Tefnek, their ranger-friend from Chult and Quarace, their Drider city-agent, aside and offered them coin, letting them know that their efforts saved the lives of the Sigil 6 and they were members of the group now. After Jusko’s disdain for their previous agent it is an interesting change of pace.
For the record, Helewynn spent her time in Sigil eating delicious food, which we had decided was tasteless in the Shadowfell. We all agree Sigil cuisine would be exquisite. Helewynn’s player is going away on an exciting trip for a time, so we’re going to take on a different mission before heading to Gloomwrought to deal with Rahadin.
DM’s Notes: Felt like we put lots of threads to rest in satisfying ways. In a way this was the session when Curse of Strahd really felt over.
From the start this kind of felt like a Blades in the Dark job. Jusko’s player made it feel even moreso by suggesting that they lure the target Matron Mother they had to kill to a poker game. What? Love it.
We bought in and pivoted. The players at the table were an Aboleth in a containment tank (yes, inspired by the Guild-fish from Lynch’s Dune) named the Dweller in the Lightless Abyss. I quickly looked up Lich names and saw with Harthoon, Ambassador to Orcus. Decided the local Drow Inquisitor was a gambler too and so Jaelryn, High Inquisitor of Embrae was born. And of course the target, Matron Mother Hloima of House DeVir and her consort, Guldor (all from this page of Drow names).
We talked about the game we’d play for a while and came up with Doors of Fate, a tiles game where each tile was a door and the palaces those doors were in were like the suits. Rules changed if you had actually been to the palace in question.
The Dweller in the Lightless Abyss was the only one who noticed Kuru was cheating, trying to give more hands to the Matron to cause a fight at the table. After some telepathic banter, Kuru tried to explain fun and having a good time through a game to the ancient and cthonic psionic beast. It did not understand, so it mind controlled Kuru. They tried to break the psionic grip but couldn’t do it.
When the fight eventually broke out, it was the lich, throwing a Disintegrate spell at the Matron’s consort, which he dodged with a Nat 20. After that, shit got real. The Lich threw a Cloudkill in the room. The Matron tried to open a gate but Bugwump dispelled it. I described the gate starting to open, the Matron’s soldiers and assassins ready to jump through when Bugwump cast the Dispell, lashing the gate with their tongue and swallowing it.
The Dweller in the Lightless Abyss mind-controlled the Matron’s consort, who opened a Dimension Door for the Aboleth to escape through. Kuru went with them through the door, trying to stay and finish the mission with his friends but failing another Wisdom save. The Lich had Dimension Door’ed out, calling the whole lot of these living folk dicks and saying the game had sucked (I used the Rich Lich from the Monsters of the City supplement).
After a brutal amount of damage, the Matron went down and the demonic spider-tank she had summoned was Banished, against by Bugwump (MVP of the game).
In the end, it was only the Inquisitor and the group, looking through the sickly green Cloudkill gas at one another. Kuru had gone through a Dimension Door with the Dweller in the Lightless Abyss, under the creature’s mind control.
“Let’s talk,” Bugwump said.
DM’s Notes: The Drow Matron Mother from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is one bad mamba-jamba. Dag.
Running lots of high level NPC’s is rough but not impossible, having good book examples and DnD Beyond open for quick spell look-ups.
I like that the game we made up was called Doors of Fate and so much of this fight was the opening and closing of dimensional and arcane doors. Will All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought? Will they even go to Gloomwrought at all?
Next Game: A tough conversation with the High Inquisitor of Embrae after assassinating a Matron Mother right in front of her.
Quick game tonight, had to cut it short to get a few professional things done but still, a fun session.
Kuru’s player was missing last week so he came in and found out about the team getting involved in assassinating a Drow Matron’s rival Matron. He decided he wanted to know more about the political landscape and everyone goes through the kitchen. One failed Charisma roll later (drawing inspiration from Burning Wheel’s Circles roll) and he had a shadow-sword to his throat, having found a Shadowblade Assassin undercover in the gate-fort’s kitchen.
Trundle caught the assassin trying to get through the gate back into the Drow city of Eambra. He prayed to the God of Gates and I asked for a Wisdom check. 20. Okay, but let’s make it a low-key miracle. The assassin ran into a group of courtiers just on the other side of the gate, giving Trundle a shot at him. He grappled the Shadowblade and held him down until Failed Soldier could drag them both through the gate, back into the Shadowfell. The assassin Shadow Stepped away but the gate-fort’s guards caught him just outside the walls.
Had fun with the Drow thinking Kuru was a child and not a Hobbit/Halfling/whatever. As the Matron said, “My grandmother always said it was good luck to have a Halfling in the kitchen. I thought she was being superstitious but I guess she was right.”
We’re figuring out how the group wants to jump on this assassination. I’m looking at a Blades in the Dark technique, where we start in the midst of the job, roll some dice to see how it is going and get after it, rather than sit for hours of planning. We’ll get to it next week.
They knew there was a gate up north due to Trundle’s scouting; also, it threw a blue light on the dark Shadowfell horizon. Keeping low so their flying steed’s wouldn’t show their silhouettes. Bugwump could tell that the gate had been created by Githyanki but had been abandoned (Githyanki frighten Bugwump!) and used by many different folk over time. Now it is owned by House Vandree, an innovative Drow house that owns a port city of the Underdark called Eämbar.
Failed Soldier made a roll to see if any previous Outlands Expedition Teams had left any signs carved into a tree. Perception roll was solid and so yes, someone had a symbol carved into a tree that let them know something was buried under the tree. They found a small chest with a scroll written nearly a century ago by Doro, a blue Dragonblood Outlands Expedition Teamster, “You probably want to get out of this dark shit-hole. There is a gate nearby; carve the keystone like so and it will take you to Sigil.”
They approached on foot, sending their friends back with the flying steeds and quickly ran into a Drow scouts led by a ranger on a giant spider. Language problems abounded, making things awkward until they got to the castle where the Captain Firin Falquan spoke common from her experience as a surface raider. She sent a message spell to the House Matron who was away.
Jusko played his noble background up and presented himself as a Prince of House Hajek. His family had claimed a young world that Hajek had written his family name on in a previous adventure. They are known as a cross-planar power. I rolled to see if the Matron knew of them and she did. Jusko gave Caita, a wizard courtier, a piece of wax with Strahd’s signet ring.
This was all kind of awkward and slow-going. The House Matron Melectix wanted to meet them beyond the gate in her citadel but the party wasn’t having it. Once Strahd’s signet was tossed out, the Matron met them. Failed Soldier (Passive Perception 28!) noticed that someone was near her who was invisible.
We went back and forth a bit. Jusko tried to ask for reparations if the Devil bounty hunter had come through the gate and tried to harm them. Veiled threats were made concerning the werewolves and Bugwump’s half-trained wizards. Eventually, the Matron offered a deal: Kill a rival Matron who is a guest in her city and she will allow them to use the gate, changing the keystone for a time. “She is evil and you are all renowned monster slayers. You’d be doing the worlds a favor.”
When offers like this are made we have to step out of game and have interesting conversations. Are the players interested in this job? Does it sound fun? Are the characters interested in this job? We talked it over and folks were interested.
I made it clear that I hadn’t planned this and if they decided not to do it, my intricate Lego Drow City wouldn’t become useless after hundreds of hours of work. “There is no Lego Drow City,” I made clear. Talking it over, we decided to do it and that’ll be the next session. The Sigil 6 will kill one Drow Matron for another Drow Matron in order to get the villagers to safety faster.
Question of the Week
Most weeks I put up a question in the Thursday Night Gamer’s Facebook Group.
As we approach the northern gate that is lighting up the Shadowfell’s sky with unearthly blue light…
Dark Elves, the Starless Elves, the Drow.
What has your character heard about the elves of the Underdark who worship the Demon-Queen of Spiders, Lloth?
It need not be true.
They lay spider eggs in the bodies of sacrifices to their Queen
There are hybrids of elves and spiders that live in the deep. Since tunnels take effort, they are not centaur-large, but rather scorpion-sleek pit spiders.
The are the sad detritus of a once-fashionable demonic transformation craze.
Failed Soldier’s Player
Their Demon-Queen claims their souls, out of greed or for some useful purpose, who knows? This seems counter to the typical elven patterns. There are rumors of a faction that seeks to free the Drow from this fate.
“Listen, I have had three mugs of Invisible Sasha’s Barking Vodka, it has made me devilishly handsome and a sage of all things, I will tell you vhat you need to know about Drow. First, they are all from space. No, I mean it, they live in the lands between the stars. The only difference between Sha..Che? Shoodoo Kai elfies.. yes yes Kuru.. the ones at the bridge, and ‘Drow’, is that Shoobie Dars Elves stayed in space. Space hermits. Worse than mountain hermits, if vou ask me. Air pressure thing.”
Another mug later..
“Leezen, ven Elfs get angry they become Drow. They get angry, they cook in hate’s oven, they go to space, they became Space Elves that ride giant fukking crows, and zen they come back here and are Drow. And then they fuck spiders. No it IZ true, Hellewyn. You come from the moon, how vould you even know?”
A few mugs and a sitar raga for bar fights later..
“Leeeezen, Trundle, this iz impotent. HA! I am drunk. This is IMPORTANT! Drow cheat at cards. They uze spiders to sneak a look at vhat you have and zen they cheat. My Uncle Vors Lost THREE boats in this way. I AM holding up three fingers, you can’t count in Common. Everybody know – dwarves only count in dwarfish. Vors! Smart uncle, mebbe second smartest uncle. He would only play cardz vit Drow on very sunny days because spiderz have terrible eyes in bright light, like the old or fascists. ASK ME HOW I KNOW, Kuru! I know thingz! I had a life before the Maze. Big important life.”
Closing time, his jacket missing for hours, a smear of lipstick on one cheek and drying barf on the other, and Wheatonesque levels of bed head already setting in. His breath is keeping him away from candles.
“You not body me after I die tonight Flo-dor. Am certain to die, yes. NO, no it is not drunk. Speaked of space elves before that misunderstanding with the Aboleth at the bar. She heard EVERYTHING, will tell all her friends. It -is- Anoleth. Barkeep called her Sheila – classic Aboleth name, and Aboleth and Drow? Forever friends. 4 evah. Word already spread, contract sign, assasins outside already likely. Pine box for us, at last. Any things that keen on many arms? They have club. Guarantee. Big door handles, need five hands torque meenimum. And secret knock! Have to knock more times than we can because many arms! Foolproof security. No way to mimic that. Genius. GRELL. Not Aboleth, Grell. Sheila classic Grell name, stupid Grell, need better cover story than ‘celebrate birthday alone and then cry’ NICE TRY SHEILA NO ONE HERE BUYING THAT SHIT. Not sad, bad lie! Grell can’t lie, everybody know that. Indecision loop – mostly brtain, bad design, basically floating neurosis with stupid beak. Fucking Sheila. Bad as cheating spidersexed space elves. Why is room spinning? DROWCURSED! My savings throw, it does nothing. OW The floor BIT ME. I will hold it, you go get city watch, this floor is under CITIZEN ARREST.”
Helewynn regards a drooling and snoring Jusko. She watches him for the span of 10 breaths, and then lets her gaze travel across the sleeping forms of the rest of the party.
She sighs heavily and whispers to the night sky, “Nonsense. All nonsense.”
Helewynn smiles, a secretive expression meant to be seen only by the stars burning silently overhead. “The dark cousins, they cannot turn to the left.”
While Helewynn, Kuru and Failed Soldier took flight to scout out the mob, Trundle, Bugwump and Brinne forded a river. I asked for a DC 10 Survival check and Trundle failed the roll. I decided that meant Trundle didn’t see zombies under the river’s mud lying in ambush. It was less of a failure and more of a complication due to a failed roll. Trundle and Bugwump made quick work of the zombies before they could ever attack. Bugwump’s spell seemed to create some kind of localized black hole (what was that spell?).
Trundle is nearly 10th level at this point. Maybe having him roll to ford the river was a mistake. I didn’t want him to fail to ford the river. In this case, I was using the skill roll to tell me if the greater power controlling the zombie mob (Orcus) had set up a trap beneath the river. If Trundle’s skill roll was good enough, he’d get the carriages ove the river without a problem. The roll becomes less, is Trundle a skilled enough Ranger to get carriages across a river and more of a, Hey, I’m not sure how thoroughly the villain has riddled this area with undead in the Shadowfell. Let’s let this roll tell me what I don’t know.
Even without 7-9 results from pbta, rolls don’t have to be telling you simply, “Is this character skilled enough to pull this off? YES OR NO?” The rolls can unveil things in the setting that you didn’t know were there. Now the table knows that Orcus is an ancient and fell power who leaves cache’s of undead to use centuries later. Cool, cool, cool, cool. Good to know.
As the DM, I don’t have to know everything. Sometimes the dice surprise me and tell me something cool and Trundle’s mystique is untarnished. Yeah, crossing a river is easy but crossing a river in the Shadowfell while the Demon-Prince of the Undead’s gaze is upon you after you and your friends killed Strahd and then announced it to the worlds is not.
Trundle, Dwarf Ranger and Kuru, Halfling Arcane Trickster, made their rolls. Trundle came from a dwarven holdfast that was under siege from Devils. I asked him how one could tell when Devils were about to attack – he said that you could always smell the sulfur coming from the stones. Kuru said that he often has a sixth sense before an ambush; I said that for some reason it reminded him of the law coming down on his crew after a heist.
Perception rolls are failed by everyone at the table but 2 characters. Cool! I ask them why they know a Devil attack is about to occur. Even better because Trundle’s character’s back-story is that he came from a dwarven holdfast, Underhome, that was under constant siege from Devils. I’ve been wanting to use that for ages and ask Trundle’s player to flesh it out for me.
Kuru’s criminal background seems perfect for sniffing out an ambush, especially when he is usually the Ambusher and not the Ambushee.
It took two minutes and got added background I can use later if I want to tell those characters something, even without a roll if a failed result isn’t interesting to me or if the would-be-ambushers flub their roll or aren’t good at their trade. Or if I just want to put them in a spot.
“Kuru, you are getting that pre-ambush feeling; it is like a dagger in your skull.”
“Trundle, you know this prince is a Devil under a guise. You can smell it. What do you do?”
Back-story isn’t a process that ends after Session 0. It continues as the players learn about their characters. The stress-testing of adventuring will teach them things about these creations that they didn’t know and asking them questions will help everyone learn more about the cool shit they’ve made up (including the player, who might not have considered the question).
For me, good gaming has blank spaces, filling those spaces in with our friends is what it is about – whether those blanks are filled through the rolling of the dice or asking questions, as happened in the above examples.
If you have any moments where the dice told you something interesting that you did not know or where asking the players questions was rewarding, please share them in the comments if you’d like.
The town is camped with the merchant caravan, to the east runs the Salt Road, to the north, somewhere in the forest, a portal bathes the dark horizon in blue light.
The party was looking over magic items, deciding if anything was worth purchasing with the gold they grabbed from Castle Ravenloft. I asked everyone to make a Perception check before the oncoming ambush. Trundle, Dwarf Ranger and Kuru, Halfling Arcane Trickster, made their rolls. Trundle came from a dwarven holdfast that was under siege from Devils. I asked him how one could tell when Devils were about to attack – he said that you could always smell the sulfur coming from the stones. Kuru said that he often has a sixth sense before an ambush; I said that for some reason it reminded him of the law coming down on his crew after a heist.
The crossbow bolt hit one of Bugwump’s Firebolt Apprentices in the chest. Kuru and Jusko failed their saves and were unable to see for a round. Then Bugwump was hit with a crossbow bolt/lightning bolt that paralyzed him for a minute. It was a rough opening salvo. Things were looking grim.
Three things happened that turned the tide of the battle – Failed Soldier hit Bugwump with a Lesser Restoration and Helewynn Misty Stepped to the tree-line where Failed Soldier had noted the bolts were coming from. Helewynn lit up her firey blade, a beacon for the rest of the group. Trundle tracked down on the invisible Devil bounty hunter who had gone invisible.
Turned out it was an Orthon (bounty hunter to Archdukes of Hell), a Deathlock Mastermind (undead warlock) and Shadar Kai Shadow Dancer (stealthy elf with chains). The party turned the tide, killed the Deathlock and hunted down the Orthon; the Shadar Kair surrendered.
Orthons usually will themselves to explode when they are close to death but Bugwump knew this with a 28 Arcana check and hit the Orthon with a psychic attack that left it reeling. Then Jusko beheaded it with his vorpal blade, leaving the Devil’s Brass Crossbow and Infernal Knife.
The surrendered Shadar Kai’s name is Halda of Gloomwrought, where she had been hired by the Devil. Turns out, the Red Court of Innistrad has a bounty out on Helewynn’s head. The dead apprentice’s family sought Bugwump’s guidance in how to deal with Halda. In the end she was given to the Squires’ custody to see if she could earn her keep on the roads to Gloomwrought.
The fact that the merchant caravan’s guard captain is a vampire has not escaped the Sigil 6’s notice.
DM’s Notes: I tried using my Context, Cool Shit and Consequences note sheet and it was alright. I’ll post the sheet when I’ve used all of the material there. Honestly, what works for me when trying to come up with ideas is the ole, looking through the Monster Manual, or in this case, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.
This week the Facebook Group question was:
The goat-head the zombie was holding told you all the eyes of Orcus are upon you and after defeating the latest zombie mob, you can feel this more than ever.
What has your character seen or felt that makes them think that Orcus is watching them with intense interest?
Usually when you look out into the darkness and see the reflections from the eyes of animals in the darkness they shine back a bright white…when Orcus is using the creatures to spy on them, the reflected light is a blood red.
You’re not supposed to be able to read in dreams. Scribbles, or blurred entries, or even books of blank paper betraying their gold bound leather clad covers are the rule. Jusko, a not-uneducated man, knows this and takes some comfort in it: No matter how dark his dreams descend he never again has to suffer the pages under the withering glare of House tutors. There is that, at least.
Until the f’ing Shadowfell.
Now, his boyhood tutors return – Dame Magda the Sword of Crones, and cataracted Uncle Aram the eyeless overseer of the lectern devils – grin too wide in maniacal glee when once-again young Jusko opens his primers and words appear for him to memorize and sing back in plainsong.
And as if this wasn’t torment enough, the words themselves are nightmares:
I am Orcus, and I will rut with your ancient ghosts as you tread my lands with your insipid toed feet. Their minds break under my weight. Your dead will never know you again.
I am Orcus, and have laid my hand upon your organs, your get will be birthed with my mark forevermore. This is repayment for the foul droppings and excretions you leave dotted across my domain.
I am Orcus, and I will break the thundering drums you name as Hearts and Lungs and Blood. It is deafening and obscene to me, and I will put those instruments inside out. My domain shall be one of silence eternal, a law writ in your entrails for all to see.
I am Orcus, and your words to Soth are meaningless wind.
I am Orcus, and I know the sound the boy made when your knife opened his liver to the air.
I am Orcus, and your lifelong lies are poetry.
I am Orcus, and I see you clearly, like no lover nor mother ever has.
I am Orcus. And I am coming.
The books cannot be closed, and the Hajek boy cannot wake up. The Library grows, the threats double in number and putrescence, then triple, then factorial into time bowl-warped by the ineffable collapsing star that the thing Orcus orbits. It will not let Jusko awake, It will not let his sleep be restful, It can be heard laughing as thunder, Its fingers spread closer like shadows – formless, massless, but present and unavoidable, all is hopeless all is -*
Failed Soldier’s Player
Failed Soldier does not sleep. They have learned to lie still for several hours to help others feel a bit less creeped out…maybe. During the times of quiet reflection, they feel a probing, prodding, and tugging at their essence, as if something is trying to find a way in. Since the latest zombie horde encounter, this has become more pronounced. To try to learn more, Failed Soldier put all thought into that point of light or force or whatever it is that is their self. This returned a vision. Their essence a shiny orb, being gnawed on by a goats head. Watching over this with dispassion are a raven and the eyes of the angel who made Failed Soldiers current body.
Next Game: The portal to the north is in need of some exploring.
It was a slow start tonight. Jusko’s player missed last game and I had said he had a common Shadow Flu, in which one’s shadow tries to kill them. It was quickly deemed the Shadow Shits, a nickname for the sickness, turning it into a shadowy poop joke. 😛
Jusko’s shadow asked him to go into the Mists and take over Barovia and Jusko was having NONE of it. With a few Shadar Kai War Corvid riders, they met back up with the rest of the Sigil 6. Kuru started a conversation with the Shadar Kai riders about their strategies in fighting a dragon.
“But what would you do if you saw us getting attacked?”
“We’d help those who were running.”
Kuru is now discussing turning a cart into a mobile ballista platform.
They found a magical Cudgel of St. Cuthbert, a girdle dedicated to Kord, god of Storms and Strength and a mirror with a cityscape across the border. Kuru quickly used the mirror to scry on a thief ally from Sigil and watched him play a tile game with the thief’s grandmother. Trundle took up the cudgel (+2) and the Girdle of Kord (21 Strength). I need a way to make up magic items and treasures on the fly. I got inspiration for these on this table:
Failed Soldier had the 3 Who Are 1’s skull, the 3 skulls of the cursed paladins, fused into one undead abomination skull. He used his shiny new spell, Legend Lore and learned that the 3 siblings gained the attention of the Shadow-God Triumvirate that made the Demi-Plane of Dread. They put a bounty on their heads and Vecna, at something called a Lich-Moot, took it up, cursing them for their hubris in hoping to bring light to the Shadowfell. The 1 skull will become 3 again if it is blessed by three angels.
I asked Helewynn how she was getting her werewolves together. She described taking the out for a run a bit ahead of the caravan and I rolled to see what there was to see and there was a merchant caravan getting attacked by a Zombie Mob.
Helewynn described the werewolves putting pressure on the zombies to give the almost-overwhelmed caravan guards some breathing room. I wasn’t sure what to roll for that. Drew described how he uses the D&D skills and so we asked Helewynn what her approach was and we decided Survival was the skill to use for her approach.
The battle with the mob started off rough but Trundle shielded Failed Soldier from a rough crit, Kuru let loose with his wand of lightning bolts and Jusko came across with an attack from the back of his pterodactyl, Stupid Dragon, using a Fighter power that got the zombies’ attention and got them to concentrate their attack on him.
Failed Soldier looked among the caravan for undead and they quickly discovered that the guard captain was a vampire. Captain Simon was Gloomwrought-born; the caravan is heading to a Shadar-Kai citadel to the south.
I rolled on a table in the DMG that I wasn’t wild about and got a Wand of Magic Missiles, a Ring of Water Walking, a Staff of the Adder and Pipes of Haunting. The group is deciding if they want to purchase any of their arcane stash.
DM’s Notes: This week I posted the following in the Facebook Group: “Things in the Shadowfell are strange. What has your character noticed in this land of undead, darkness and shadow? Strange dreams? Shadows behaving strangely? Sad thoughts of home?” The players responded with the following awesome and inspirational stuff:
I think Shadowfell trees bloom in black – fragile purple-black flowers, inkwet black leaves in summer, autumnal leaves blowing in the wind like scattering fibers of scorched mummy wraps – both particulate and weave somehow.
Player of Jusko
I think the autumnal imagery is a constant; despite a cycle of “growth,” the season always seems like late fall, when things are dying. But there is no winter to prepare the world for spring. Bugwump has started to notice the sameness of things: temperature, “sunlight,” the unmoving shadows with sharp edges. In fact, his own shadow has started to unnerve him, because every day it seems more separate from him.
Player of Bugwump
Failed Soldier’s Dreams, or the equivalent for those who do not sleep, are full of ravens cawing and looking intently at them as if to convey some truth that lies just out of reach.
Like Bugwump, they have noticed something odd about their shadow. The bright spot in the shadow that can often be seen by those who notice things, a common telltale of a corpse flea is shifting. For Failed Soldier, this has always shown in the head of the sleeve’s shadow. They have not seen it move, but notice it from time to time in the chest, the hand, sometimes nearby, but separate from the sleeve, as if it does not know where to nest.
The cycle of decay and rebirth is strange here in the Shadowfell. Like the town, many things are not complete. Nothing seems new, yet nothing really decays completely either.
Player of Failed Soldier
The Shadowfell food is bland. No matter how many spices are added to it everything ends up tasting…grey. Like shadows. Helewynn has started to eat less and less, and started to sleep a little more. Because her dreams are colored brilliant shades of red, and filled with the tastes of raw meat and iron rich blood. In the morning she turns away from whatever breakfast is offered with a wistful sigh born of half remembered phantom feasts of flesh.
Player of Helewynn
I need to use this good shit in game.
Next Game: Deeper into the Shadowfell – I need to spruce up the random encounter table. I also get to lore-drop some shit that is happening in Gloomwrought that is a direct result of their actions and I can’t wait…
More Actual Play posts about the Thursday Night Delving Club’s shenanigans? Links Below: