Tuesday, 2 June 2009

4ed Campaign -- Session 25 -- 31st May 2009

In which Berend finds interest from an unexpected quarter, duergar schemes are brewing in the cellar, and trust doesn't come easy in the company of heroes...

(Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord

With nothing to do but wait for Orontor's return, the party decides to explore the Hall and follow up on some of the things they've already learned. Finial, Azurami, and Xavier wish to pay a visit to the Temple of Hidden Light, the Hall's only chapel, while Jonas, Berend, and Elumai decide that the Grimmerzhul Trading Post may be a better bet.

At the Temple, the adventurers find a simple and austere chapel chiseled out of the western face of the cavern. Within, stone benches face an altar, on which is displayed a contraption of arresting complexity. Gears, pulleys, and chains, powered by a slender column of water running from a finger of metal pipe punched into the ceiling, keep a sequence of metal balls rolling in perfect, perpetual synchronicity up and down the length of the machine. Xavier is immediately struck by the device, and engages the resident priest, Phaledra, in conversation.

The simply-dressed young woman is a worshiper of Erathis, goddess of law and civilization. She commissioned the device from a dwarven family far to the south, she reveals, to represent, most obviously, the action of numerous pieces working to the advantage of the greater whole... although what it does for her own personal spiritual betterment is knowledge for her alone. She invites all three of the company who have come to visit her to look into the machine and take whatever lessons or education from it while they can, before she is required to move on. The Temple's portfolio, she informs them, changes regularly at the behest of the mages, and none of the priests who have served here have been allowed to stay for more than a few weeks, a month or two at most. Xavier diligently maps the workings of the device, and leaves a sizable donation behind as well, before they all move on.

The others make their way to the trading post. It's a single-story building constructed of large, uniform blocks; surrounded also by a shallow, crenelated stone wall like a rampart, the feeling is of a little fortress within the Seven-Pillared Hall. Three duergar, armed and ready for a fight, lounge about the place, but do not impede the party as they pass through an open iron gate towards the shop itself. Jonas slips around the outside, darting between mounds of refuse piled haphazardly against the inner side of the wall.

Inside the shop, neat arrangements of bottles, vials, jars and jugs of all kinds are on display, and the proprietor, a duergar woman names Kedhira, greets her new visitors with polite nobility, inviting them to look around while entertaining questions on her inventory from Elumai. Things take a sudden turn for the strange, however, when out of the blue she asks Elumai how much she would be prepared to take... for Berend! She claims to have buyers lined up who would pay good money for a dwarf in his condition, but Elumai, after due consideration, reluctantly declines the transaction. Berend himself is ignored during this discussion, but seems more amused than insulted.

Outside, Jonas spies two entrances into rear of the premises: a hatch probably used to load supplies into the cellar, and a separate staircase leading down to a sturdy-looking door. Avoiding the patrolling guard, he slips into the cellar, there to find a treasure-trove of alchemical goods and material, as well as a sophisticated looking assemblage of jars, stills, pipes and condensers. Another door opens onto a room in which three duergar appear to be at work bottling various malefic-looking substances, with another dark stairwell leading down into the depths, but Jonas leaves them well-enough alone... that is until an uncharacteristically clumsy exit rouses them from their work. He is forced to fight his way out but eventually escapes into the Seven-Pillared Hall, where, clambering up to the high vantage of Krand's chambers, he lays low until he can make contact with the others.

Finally, before the meeting with Orontor, Xavier decides on one last course of action. Leaving the others, he walks alone to the Trading Post and confronts Kedhira directly, quickly dropping all pretense and offering her above-market value for the Kingsblade slaves that he knows the duergar have bought. Kedhira remains coy, never admitting to the truth, but seems open to Xavier's offer, nonetheless. She considers it for a few moments, but in the end, whether it's the company kept by the dragonborn, the likelihood of betrayal, or the possibility that these particular slaves have a value not measured in mere currency, she turns him down. Xavier, hinting that this is a decision she will live to regret, leaves peacefully, but unbeknownst to him, his visit to the duergar has taken place under the watchful and suspicious eye of Jonas far above.

Later, as the trade bell tolls its command across the Hall, the company meets with Orontor. He is no less nervous and bemused by what he is about to do than before, but nevertheless, after accepting a copy of the receipts and accounts salvaged from the Chamber of Eyes (edited by Elumai to remove any mention of the Necrotech Coffin), he leads them out of the inn and to their scheduled meeting with Paldemar, leader of the Mages of Saruun...


Wedge said...

This was something of a filler session but gave everyone a chance to stick their noses into various corners of the Seven-Pillared Hall and also set the stage for some fun inter-party strife, which I'll talk about in the next journal.

I enjoyed this session not in small part due to the fact that the Hall itself hadn't been much of a character in the proceedings so far, and the players gave me an opportunity to inject a little texture into the place by interacting with some of its other inhabitants.

I also felt (and I could be wrong!) that I'd succeeded in making Paldemar, and the Mages as a whole, something of an enigma until this point. They had been talked about (obviously), everyone knew who they were, but apart from Orontor, who is the very antithesis of a powerful authoritarian wizard, they had yet to be seen. This was All Part of the Plan, naturally, but unlike many of my plans which are intended to augment the pure narrative texture of the game, this one seems to have worked. I like to think that the players (and PC's) were looking forward to finally getting a handle on these distant dictators, and it was cool to end the session where we did.

Wedge said...

And another thing...

It was also during this session that I was finally able to tick the 4th level characters over into 5th, and dispense with individual XP in the campaign.

Player turnaround, lost sessions, inevitable character death, and also the simple possibility that one or more of my guys might want to simply try something else, makes individual XP a problem that I've run out of patience with. Not only that, but I don't really approve of individual XP rewards for roleplaying, good ideas, cinematic stunts, or any of that malarkey anymore. I used to use them as an incentive, but I have a group now that doesn't *need* incentivising to roleplay, so it's a bit superfluous in that role. Plus, I want to avoid the inevitable possibility of accidental favouritism, especially in a group where my wife is running one of the PC's!

Having said that I don't want to run an XP-less game and declare to everyone when they level up, which is the way some others do it, because XP is still an iconic reward and there's nothing like seeing that number clocking up towards the next level. So, to simplify things, everyone will from now on always be on the same XP value... in other words, every action carried out by one PC is an action carried out for the good of the party.

In all other respects, XP awards will continue to be by the book (and there are already murmurings that the by-the-book advancement in this campaign feels a little slow, something I'll be watching closely over the course of this level).