[3.5] The Raven's Gate



The Raven's Gate​

It started with a players wanted ad. Old-school style.

"Okay, here's the idea. This is a tough campaign, hex crawl, dice fall where they may. But the characters are tough cookies: seventh-level gestalt, generous ability array, double GP, no prestige classes or magic items to start, but otherwise anything you want."

We suspected nothing.

"I've got a gazetteer here, but pitch some ideas and I can help you fit them in. I also definitely recommend at least one spell-casting class in the gestalt... and Survival skill and Constitution will be vital. Also, if you look unusual, community is life in the desert — make sure you have some Charisma and Diplomacy."

The DM maintained a strong emphasis on survival: death was a real possibility.

"There are also some optional and house rules: custom UA flaws you might want to consider, races, teamwork training, etc."

But it looked like a good time.

"Everyone finished? Great! Okay... You took a shortcut across a bit of the desert borderlands, and are a day's hike south of the fortress town Kayubat. It's almost dawn, and time to break camp and finish the grueling trek..."

We had no idea.

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Session 0: Desert Arrival​

Alisonelf (embergold)LA 2/rogue 5wizard 7
Amandahumanfighter 2/monk 5druid 7 (Hekata)
Banchehuman (winged)LA 2/monk 5cleric 7 (Ashtoreth)
Emilcatfolk (desert sandcat)LA 1/bard 6sorcerer 7
Ireneplane-touched (tiefling)LA 2/factotum 5psion 7
Rossdwarf (waste)LA 2/rogue 5beguiler 7

A moment of utter darkness, cold and sharp, a sensation like falling feathers... and the new-minted party find themselves sheltered against a concave rock face in the side of a hill. Seated in a circle around the dim coals of a fire, with tents braced against the wall.

The sky is dominated by chunks of a shattered, dark green moon. In the distance, floating rock formations (the gazetteer mentioned gnomes mines to construct sky ships), and rocky hills.

The party looks around at each other, in a moment of shocked silence.

"Oh hell," someone says. Someone else laughs, a touch hysterical. The humanoid cat pinches some dirt from the ground and rubs it between his fingers, "I don't think I'm hallucinating?"

The elf, "Names? I'm Alison."

Names are passed around. Emil, a touch more resilient than the others, chuckles, "Is it okay to say our new DM is a jerk?"

Loaded camels and sledges yield a light load. Kayubat is 30 miles away.
Hike at normal speed 8 hours, forced march + hustle for hour 9. Banche
takes 4 nonlethal damage, everyone else 1 point, for the last hour, and
everyone is fatigued as they arrive at Kayubat. Heat is not an issue:
desert clothing, parasols, heat adaptation, and cloak of shade spells
protect against even the 150°+F peak. No random encounters. Amanda
also casts pass without trace for the last part of the journey. Kayubat
is a small town.
Amanda and Banche trade glances, then Banche smiles, "Okay, radical world view shift, and no time to deal with it. We should break camp and head to town. We can figure everything out when we're safe behind city walls."

Their new bodies have skills. Packing is fast, efficient, almost natural. Alison briefly experiments with a one-handed hand-stand and shakes her head. With the sun still below the horizon, Amanda points the direction to Kayubat — knowledge of the stars rising from the back of her mind — and off they go.

Knowing the town was close, the party pushes, and arrive around mid-afternoon, where they are greeted with friendly waves by guards (including one obsidian troll) standing in the shaded towers. It's clear that obviously wealthy travelers (clothing quality, camels, and gear) with a few humans do not cause overmuch concern.

The guards do take their names and intent down, and ask them to stow their weapons in their packs, but otherwise there is no issue.

Emil talks briefly with the guards, and finds a recommendation to Mistfern Tavern, which has a few rentable rooms upstairs with more privacy than the Rested Journey Inn. The town as a whole has two long streets down its length, and a few dozen side streets, so it is easy enough to find Mistfern Tavern despite being off the beaten path.

Mistfern Tavern is a dimly lit hole in the wall run by a dark mountain elf named Phoebe Mistfern. The scent of strange spices, tempered by a few bright notes of paprika and undercurrent of baking bread, fills the space, and the party changes their trajectory from asking about rooms to ordering food. After eating and resting, Emil gets a suite from Phoebe and pays in advance for three days and extra privacy, then everyone troops upstairs.

Alison. "Uhm, so, I know folks are probably wanting to go home. And, and, I'm the wizard who can probably do the research and planar stuff. But, uhm... well. Look. I wasn't... physically super healthy. And I was alone and doing a boring job. So I'll help! I will! But I'm already planning to stay."

Irene. "Naw, I'm good."

Amanda. "Go back to what? A crumbling human habitat and collapsing governments? I've been too depressed to do anything but show up at work."

Banche. "Would you look at these wings? And I'm gorgeous and androgynous. You couldn't pay me to go back."

Emil. "Ah.. it's a little embarassing, but this is a literal dream come true. I mean, I think if even one person wants to go back, we should do the work to help them, but me? Hell no. Catboy life for life!"

Ross. "I was wearing a wig. Lung cancer, chemo, and bad odds. I'm in. Let's make the most of this new life. Plus, let's be honest: none of us looked as good, were as healthy, or could do the kinds of things we can do now. We could actually help fight evil here. I'm going to cry if I wake up or something."

Amanda. "Well, that's settled, then."

Irene. "So what do we want to do?"

Banche. "I mean, like, everything? But yeah. We've got the skills of hardened adventurers. But we're also, like, rich. We could settle down, buy a business in town, live out lives. But I kind of got a hot rod bod here, I want to test drive it, you know?"

Ross. "And I'd like to make a difference. But I think there are other choices, too. Hang on, let me..."

Ross weaves his fingers into a knot, then slowly pulls them apart, whispering nonsense syllables, and a white surface appears between them, before words and symbols begin appearing on them.

Alison laughs, "Holy crap, is that a silent image white board?"

The party spitballs ideas, discusses them, votes on them. Until finally.

Banche. "All right, so we're agreed. Treasure hunting, good deeds when we can, level our asses up, and learn enough about the world to start doing good at a larger scale. Big damned heroes, us!"
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Session 1: Kayubat​

After a long night's sleep, everyone wakes refreshed. Downstairs they have Phoebe's breakfast offering, then return to the suite to discuss.

Ross. "Okay, so I thought about this a lot while I should have been sleeping last night..."

Emil, laughing. "Yeah, me too!"

Ross. "Anyway, I think we should take stock of our abilities today. I'm pretty familiar with the rules I created my character with, but I don't know, 100 percent, that those rules are how the abilities actually work. And I didn't describe the white board yesterday, I had to really visualize it. Practice would be good."

Alison. "I honestly have no idea what spell-casting is going to be like. I completely forgot to try casting yesterday... or preparing my spells."

Ross. "Oof, yeah, we should definitely make sure everyone who needs to, prepares spells, also."

Alison prepares her spells, and tests unseen servant, setting it to tidying up the suite and making everyone's beds; then feels out what her tumbling and balance skills can really do.

Amanda checks on the stabled camels first, then meditates on Hekata, and... has an experience. A vision of a gold-colored frog surrounded by a green lily, a bright halo above its forehead, greets her. We welcome you to this world, child, and we see that you do care for the natural places. Would that more humans did! Now, shall we plan for the day?

Banche meditates on Ashtoreth, and... has an experience. Bubbling joy, dark wrath, a sense of wrongs omnipresent in the outer world, a violent wrenching of attention, then sudden inner quiet. A whispered voice in the mind, Your faith is weak, and your mind is split asunder. We can recognize the authority granted you by the greater powers, but we will not tolerate faithlessness. Will you pledge yourself to our service?

Emil observes the others.

Irene meditates and reads through one of the scrolls from her pack.

Ross makes notes, asks the others questions about some of their abilities, prompting them to check how things work, and determines that he can, in fact, walk in increments of less than five feet.

Both Amanda and Banche mention that the celestial forces they draw on seem to know about the party's... otherworldly nature. But seem okay with it.

Kayubat. 1,100 adult NPC classes (567 children, 138 adventure classes,
highest PC 9th level). Founded on an oasis spring. Walled trade town
(waypoint between gnomish floatstone miners and sky ship construction

After a rousing lunch (Phoebe is happy with her new guests' spending habits, to be sure), they split up to explore the town.

Alison and Irene stick together: they didn't spot any other tieflings on the way in, so Alison plays social bodyguard. They mainly discover that there are no real centers of learning in Kayubat, but they also gather information on travel options to larger urban centers.

Banche goes to find the local shrine for Ashtoreth, and spends some time talking with the priestess there.

Ross wanders about town, chatting up locals and getting a feel for the area. He finds out about some bandits preying on caravans north, a local sphinx who interacts with the goat herders, and some amusing waste dwarf jokes the local gnomes are only too happy to share.

And Amanda and Emil visit the town's oasis spring and its sheltered grove, the druidic nemeton, to speak with colleagues and pay their respects to the guardian nymph of the spring. Emil gets an opportunity to join in choral singing, and Amanda gets a lot of information on the proper ways of ensuring floatstone mining don't harm the environment that the miners' guild is supposed to follow.

The party meets back at the Mistfern Tavern for supper, and everyone compares notes, then retreats to the team suite to discuss. A few concerns, in particular, consume the better part of two hours.

Killing people. It's abundantly clear at this point that everyone is having a bit of an amalgam situation. Memories and mental abilities that didn't exist back on Earth, even emotional skills, and the occasional personality quirk. But fundamentally, everyone still feels like themselves... including a reluctance to go and straight up murder humanoids because they're tagged as bandits.

The suite is paid for, there's no immediacy, but everyone agrees to spend some time processing it and discuss again in the morning.

ECL. Gestalt improves each person's effectiveness (but not their action economy), the boosted ability scores are also an effective power boost, but no one has any magic items. How much does that reduce their effectiveness? It's hard to say, especially since it's clear that most people in the desert are not gestalt but they do often have minor magic items. Ross, in particular, urges caution in adjudicating risk.

Speaking of risks. No one wants to stay in a backwater trade town, but the bandits are apparently a real risk. Although everyone agrees that, at least ethically, if the bandits attack, self-defense is a lot easier to justify than tracking them down to their lair.

As sun sets, everyone trails off to their beds. Alison puts an alarm spell down, mostly for the practice.

A string of camels is 36 camels, two animal handlers, two scouts, four
laborers, and a healer; this caravan has three strings and one ranger
leader. 12 camels in each string carry food and water. In addition, a
squad of eight hardened mercenaries (L2 to L3, with an L5 leader
bearing a magic sword) accompanies the caravan.

The next day is spent optimizing supplies, checking on and walking the camels, and finding the next caravan to join. Over lunch, the consensus is that self-defense against bandits will be handled if it's needed, but no one's comfortable just hunting people down.

Ross comments, "This is going to make getting XP difficult, but getting leveled up is secondary to making an impact."

A small handful of potions are reluctantly bought out of the team purse: they're one-use only, making it not the best investment, but with no other magic items available, it may be the difference between alive and dead.

And then it's evening, final night of rest, and before dawn they sign out of Mistfern Tavern, tearfully say goodbye to Phoebe's artisanal cooking, and meet up with the caravan.

Bandit Leader: fighter-2/ranger-5, war camel companion
2× squads: each has 7 L2 fighters, 1 L4 fighter, all on war camels
Initial encounter distance 100 feet:
DC 23 Spot (hide 8 (worst), +10 distance, +5 passive, +4 circumstance)

Near the end of the second day, Amanda and Irene spot one of the bandits peeking around a rock to check on them, Amanda whistles a warning and points. The bandits were waiting with shortbows for closer range, so combat begins before anyone intended.

Emil immediately roars, weaving subtle magic threads into the vocalization to bolster the courage of his allies. Irene, not far behind, focuses her psychokinetic powers to shield herself, and steps out into the open, miming the actions of casting a fireball.

The rest of the party hesitates, and waits to see what the bandits and other caravan mercenaries do.

Despite their shock at being spotted, the bandits act first, standing up from their prone hiding spots and letting loose with arrows. About half of them target Irene as the obvious danger — she's clearly casting something awful. At this range, two of them hit... and do nothing against her inertial barrier. Of the other half, three hit mercenaries, but no one falls.

And then sweet, polite Alison steps behind Irene and flings an actual fireball, chucking it under her left arm and using sleight of hand to make it look good. But she also aims it a bit off, lining up the sphere to almost reach the bandits, but not quite.

The bandits flee: they are not prepared for invulnerable wizards, and there are easier caravans.

Everyone is more alert, and camp is set with a double watch by the caravan leader, but the bandits do not return.
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And that's as far as we got! The players spent a lot of time in town, getting a feel for their characters, arguing about the impact of magic items on ECL, and asking for more details about Phoebe.

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