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Aphonion Tales: Ravenskrag and the Shadowline, a preteen D&D game (unedited notes, updates Thursdays, updated 5/6/21)

CPaladin

Explorer
This is the storyhour for a children's D&D game. It's set in the same world as the Archducal Council storyhour and the Spice Lands storyhour, but both of those take place on the continent of Drucien, while this game is set on the continent of Zestqua. This is in the same general area as the old Journals of a Licensed Diabolist storyhour, if anyone remembers that. The players in this game are all pre-teen children, so it doesn't have any adult content or themes, unlike some of the Archducal Council and Journal of a Licensed Diabolist entries. These are basically unedited notes that I take as the game goes along--I provide some organizational support to the DM and play a sort of party NPC.

Session 1 (3/28/20)
(Mostly an organizational session 0 type of thing)

28 Skard

This group started in Ravenskrag on Zestqua. Ravenskrag is a heavily fortified city in a pass through the mountains between the border kingdoms (Tarkenia, etc.) to the east and the merchant cities and freeholds to the West. Trade passes through Ravenskrag regularly as does whatever tribute can be extracted from the merchant cities to fund the continuous war effort by the border kingdoms to restrain the avarice of the demon worshipers in the Shadowlands. Ravenskrag is not only heavily fortified, but very rowdy. There is constant intrigue - and agents of the enemy are deeply insinuated into the city structure.

Possible hooks might be: Contracted agents for the Holy Inquisition of Paranswarm: Lord of Orderly Darkness, such agents are used to ferret out enemies of the Temple and are considered expendable, but paid well; caravan guards guarding a caravan traveling either West to the merchant cities (safer) or east to the border (less safe); or private agents hired by a particular cabal or noble house (such as they are in Ravenskrag - closer to the Cosa Nostra or the Borgias) to investigate any of a myriad of local difficulties, humanoids, and monsters. Note: Ravenskrag does not really have an established faith - both major human temples have bishops here. Other temples are tolerated. Further everyone knows there are demon worshipers here as well, and other than the Temple of Paranswarm, no one seems to care unless they get in the way of something... so.... Oh and the Doge of the City State has also been in flux for several years now, with no single house able to hold onto control for longer than a few months - so there is also that.

Our heroes are Ulgorio, a rakasta bard; Runor, a dwarf cleric of Glordiadel, the Lord of Light; and Bartix, a half-orc ranger. They hear the opportunities, and decide that they want to sign on as caravan guards. The caravans heading towards the Shadowline pay much better than the safer caravan runs to the merchant cities, so they promptly sign up with a small caravan heading towards Tarkenia, one of the Border Kingdoms along the Shadowline. They head out, and make camp after an uneventful day of travel across the desert.

End Session 1
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
Since the first post was so short, here's an extra long one to compensate.

Session 2 (4/11/2020)

One day out from Ravenskrag, camped over night. 5 more days to Tarkenia.

Skard 29

Next day travel is uneventful.

The following night, it sounds like a human child yowling, maybe 300 meters out in the desert. Bartix is on watch, and he reports the sound to one of the older mercenaries. He says it might be a child, in which case you’d want to bring it in. Or it might be a mountain lion, trying to draw attention. And three of you could handle a great cat together. Bartix wakes the others and they head out towards it.

Ulgorio sees blinky eyes watching them out of some low scrub. It’s not where the howling is—it’s off to the right, while the howling is still ahead of them.

They find, laid on the ground, not very well kept, a baby. It’s kinda marked up, with a little scratching—it definitely didn’t make it here on its own.

Two humanoids, about 4’ tall, covered in patchy fur, charge at them with spears.

Runor makes a violent gesture at them with his mace. They jump back, stopping 10 feet back. Bartix swings his sword at them. And hacks one of them to pieces. The other one throws down his spear and flings himself down on his belly.

Runor interrogates the survivor.

“We crossed the border and found the baby to bait you. We did not know you were such mighty warriors. How can we serve, great lord?” He looks over at his buddy. “How can I serve?”

“Can you show a route that you never threaten?”

“We were scouting. We crossed over in an attack. We don’t know much about this land, except that there is much food here.” This sounds crazy in the desert. Runor scares it off.

The senior mercenary is surprised to here of eum this far from the border, but is glad that it was handled.

The next day goes uneventfully. There are some farms in the desert, irrigating from springs or oases.

The night passes peacefully as well.

The following day and night pass peacefully until the third watch. There’s grit in the wind. The more experienced mercenary tells them that it’s a sandstorm. They collapse the tents, put headdresses around the animals, and weighted blankets over the tents and people. The horses struggle—they really don’t like it, but the handlers prevent them from running off. It lasts 2-3 hours. In the morning, they dig themselves out. None of the drovers die. Everyone is apparently okay. It takes several hours to get the caravan on its way, but they succeed.

The next day and night are peaceful.

The next day, they start passing through more villages, doing some strange farming—trying to enrich the soil, perhaps. At the edge of their vision, they can see a tall walled city. Runor spots the fellow that they scared off about a quarter of a mile or third of a mile away, tracking the caravan. Runor casts sacred flame—not reaching him, but enough to scare him off. And he runs away.

They arrive in Tarkenia. The whole city is like a military fortification. The walls are pristine, 40 feet tall and thick as three carts wide; the gates are steel, but banded in a strange black metal. And the guards are careful and well disciplined, physically fit. They review the papers of the caravan carefully, before a priest of Glordiadel stamps them with a sun seal, and they give crisp salutes. It’s dramatically different from Ravenscrag. The caravan master thanks them, pays them the promised silver (8 sp/day * 6 days=48 silver each), and mentions that they had a difficult crossing a couple weeks ago, fighting a large band of eums. Offers them a place when they head back in a week or so, but no hard feelings if they don’t take it.

Several of them head to an inn; the Gryphon’s Golden Hind is the biggest, the Bespoke Dragon less so, and then there are some dives. They go straight to the Gryphon’s Golden Hind, looking for a medium priced inn. There is a stuffed Gryphon’s head on the wall, with a plaque that says in memory of my arm. They get a comfortable room with three beds and a private bath, for 3 sp/night.

Bartix hears offers of several types of work: caravan missions going west, paying 5 silver per day; caravan missions through the border kingdoms; guarding a colony against the border; hunting missions working for the Viceroy, paying 9 silver per day (hunting creatures that have crossed the border); there is mention of cross-border missions, but they are viewed as not ready for it.

Initially, they’re evenly divided—one wants guard duty, one wants caravan duty, and one wants hunting shadow creatures. Runor persuades the others by saying that pays the best. In the morning, they go to the viceroy’s office.

“It’s a fairly simple situation. The territory nearest the border, we use a reclaiming technique to restore the soil as best as we can. This was not always desert—the Shadowwar has made it what it is. Some Shadow creatures cross the border, and hunt the settlers. It’s not as dangerous as in Caldefor, but still always an issue. We pay 10 silver a day, plus a bonus of 5 silver per head for any of red or above among the eum, or any goblyn shamans. You can collect the bounty at any border fortress, and the daily fee after a tour of at least 10 days.”

They buy some mounts in the market—one horse, two camels. They exit through the eastern gate, having entered through the west. Both gates are equally well fortified and defended. Outside the east gate, there are merchants in tents offering large water skins, animal feed, and the like. They buy some emergency water skins, planning on mostly using Runor’s ability to create water.

They get a little ways from the city gates, beyond the merchants, and pass a group of beggars. One of them gives them a silver—very generous.

The next night, there’s a long, drawn out hoot—definitely not normal for the desert. It ululates again, staying out of the fire light. Bartix heads out of the camp towards the noise, as the other two wake up. Runor casts a light spell. It illuminates Bartix, but also a not terribly large creature, that looks like a small, feathered bear. It’s been injured. Something took a hunk out of its right flank—possibly a bite. Bartix leads it back to camp. Runor heals the wound as Ulgorio casts Speak with Animals and talks with it. That means that somewhere near here is the thing that killed its mother. It said “they were large and trying to eat it and its mother, with big bellies.”

Pet baby owlbear
Small, 1d8+5 hps, Beak attack 1d6, claws 1d4 each, Str 10, Dex 15, Con 12, Feats: Multiattack. It will be a baby for a long time, 10 years to grow up.
[End Session 2]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 3 (4/25/20)

4 Tar-Skard

They have entered the lands of House Vilra. Two additional adventurers join their patrol-Ashaltir, a wood elf paladin of the First Daughter (one of the major elven deities), and Merreep, an elven ranger. [I think Merreep is also a wood elf, but I'm not sure off-hand.]

The present Sultan is Barash Abin, of House Jard.

Day passes uneventfully. During the middle of the night, Ulgorio is on watch and there’s a howling. It sounds kinda like people howling, in a varied pitch going up and down the scale. They’re getting closer.

Ulgorio wakes the rest. The horses and camels are also uncomfortable. There are 4 distinct tones, so probably 4 people.

Runor casts light, and cresting a dune about 25 feet away, they see 4 thin, emaciated looking people, dirty, howling, and spinning.

Runor zaps one lightly with a sacred flame, while Ulgorio and Bartix both run.

Ashaltir stabs one with a longsword, while Merreep shoots one in the back with a bow.

The one in the back hurls a handful of ichorous, green-looking substance at Marreep, missing entirely, and it sizzles as it hits the ground.

Ashaltir attacks again, taking down one.

Ulgorio hides, while the owlbear keeps attacking and bites down another one.

Bartix shoots one with a long bow.

Merreep drops the second to last one, and then Runor strikes the last one with a sacred flame, and it collapses, burning slightly.

Runor examines the bodies. It is very obvious that they have not been eating properly for at least weeks. The one who threw the handful of green stuff has a pouch at his side with at least 3 more handfuls. All of them look like commons, but all have something twisted about them, and the one who threw the handful has a strange symbol. Runor recognizes it as a hand-made symbol of Orlodu, the Worm that Bores Beneath, one of the minion deities of Borsh’tro. They get a grand total of 12 sp from the 4 bodies, and 4 shoddy longswords.

The rest of the night passes uneventfully.

They travel on southwards towards Circle Perilous, in their second full day out. They reach the Circle uneventfully. There’s a 60’ tower, made out of some form of glittering crystal, and its top glows. A thin line of energy extends out in either direction from the Circle. And on the far side is the Shadowlands, where there is no sunlight, and it’s a depressing gray everywhere.

A handful of soldiers in glittering silver and crystal armor supervise regular humans, and there is a full legion of troops there.

Runor walks up and hails the soldiers.

“There have been more small border crossings. We can certainly use aid in taking care of the detritus that crosses. We have reports of goblyns, and also of some undead being raised this side of the line, towards House Nin. The viceroy made the standard offer, 10 silver per day for 10 days, plus a bonus for any appropriate skulls you bring back. Take care if you see any eums—we’ve heard no reports of eums on this side of the border, but you’re a little green to take on eums.”

They offer them rations and clean water to supply for the patrol.

He updates their papers to indicate that two more have joined the group.

They overnighted at the Circle.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 3 [cont'd]

They head towards House Nin’s lands, looking for goblyns, undead, or other things. There are more humans watching from the other side of the Shadowline. They make no efforts to cross, but they are following their progress.

They travel most of a day out from the Circle on the 6th of Tar-Skard, walking together in a clump.

Bartix spots tracks in the sand, heading away from the border. They’re not animal tracks, but not exactly human.

They follow the tracks, staying together in a clump. The tracks are new, no more than a day old, and approximately 5 humanoid figures with 4 toed feet. The rangers suspect that these are goblyn tracks.

The goblyn watcher sees them coming.

All of a sudden, the tracks stop. They must be concealing their tracks—they know that they’re being followed.

Bartix keeps following the concealed tracks—it’s hard, but they can still manage it. As night is falling, they crest a dune and see a cold camp in the hollow beneath them. There are short humanoids, with bulging bellies, light armor, clubs and spears, and a sheep—probably stolen. They do not seem to have noticed our heroes cresting the dunes.

Ashaltir detects evil—one is distinctly evil, the rest are not.

Runor tries to sneak down the dune, planning on attacking the evil one, and he trips over his own feet and rolls down the dune, around 21 feet to the edge of the camp.

Ashaltir charges past him on her horse, and smites the evil one hard, but doesn’t drop him. Merreep shoots one.

Bartix charges another and cuts him down.

Ulgorio misses with his rapier.

The chieftain, who also is a shaman, touches Ashaltir and inflicts light wounds.

One of the goblyn tries to club Runor with his club, and hits him for 3.

The last uninjured one, grabs the sheep, tucks it under his arm, and runs off.

Merreep shoots her target again, dropping it.

Ashaltir gallops up to the goblyn carrying the sheep, and cuts him down.

Bartix finishes off the chieftain with his bow.

Ulgorio stabs one with his rapier, and Runor finishes him off with a sacred flame, dropping the last one.

Runor heals himself and Ashaltir fully.

They get the goblyn shaman as a trophy (which will get a bonus); 2 sp; a skin of very potent alcohol; and a sheep.

[End session 3]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 4 (5/9/20)
Nightfall on Tar-Skard 6

In the middle of the night, an unnatural chill settles on them. (Rolled encounter, then a 20 on the table…) The owlbear and sheep are acting skittish, and they begin to feel chilled even by the fire. They begin to hear whispers, saying “Come away from the fire, come out into the Night…”

Runor casts light, and triggers a shriek from a dark outline of a shape, with no person visible. There is a hissing noise, and it retreats from the light. Runor advances after it, hearing it saying, “Accursed cleric!” and muttering about getting him when he’s not ready. Runor returns to the light after it retreated. They’re pretty sure it’s a shadow or a wraith of some kind, but it doesn’t approach the light, and the noise stops entirely when the dawn comes.

The next day (Tar-Skard 7) they head on. They see scraggly farms and little villages as they travel. The farmers and villagers are supportive and respectful, bringing them drinks of water and the like and thanking them and bowing to them.

Both rangers notice that they’re being paralleled. On one side is the border, and while they’re being watched from that side, at a distance of perhaps an eighth of a mile in the other direction, into the desert, they’re also being paralleled. They can see the rising of the dust. It’s probably not a large group, but they feel scouted. When they stop, it stops. When they move, it moves.

The group travels to confront them, and they see a group with three individuals—two on camelback, and a third on foot.

One of the camel riders fires a bow at them, and misses widely. The other rider raises up his hand and two globules of energy fly from his hand, wounding the owlbear. The third figure charges on foot at the owlbear. It looks similar to the dirty creatures they saw previously, but whereas those had yellow fur, this one has patchy red fur.

Bartix charges to intercept the creature on foot, and hits it with a short sword.

Ulgorio heals the owlbear with a cure spell.

Ashaltir detects evil, and they are all evil.

Runor casts Blindness on the mage, but it does not succeed.

The owlbear unleashes a claw/claw/bite routine at the figure with a spear, hitting with one claw.

The red furred creature with the spear stabs the owlbear, hurting it badly. The archer fires and misses entirely. The mage stands in his stirrups, “Great Lord Gothatha of the Quenching Flame, strike down my enemy!” And he shoots two magic missiles at Runor, doing 5 damage.

Mareep shoots at the mage, hitting for 9 points of damage. The mage looks very unhappy.

Bartix heals the owlbear fully.

Ashaltir charges on horseback to smite evil. She smacks the red-furred creature. It looks startled for a moment and then collapses.

Runor runs up to the archer, Inflicts Wounds, and does 25 hp of damage. Right on top of the red eum being slaughtered, the archer gets instant gangrene and pitches off the camel.

The owlbear charges and attacks the mage. It misses with both claws but hits with the bite. The mage reels in his saddle, and tries to race away.

Mareep pegs him with an arrow, and the mage pitches off the camel.

They now have a dead red eum, two dead humans—an archer and a mage--, and two camels. The eum obviously has nothing on it. The humans weren’t starving, and that suggests they were from this side of the border.

Mareep searches one and Bartix finds the other; they have 10 sp total.

Ulgorio checks out the camels. They’re both healthy now, but their hooves are poorly cared for. They need proper care, because otherwise they won’t remain healthy.

They take the camels with them.

The mage was also carrying a small symbol—a carving of a flame with eyes, and a short scroll, not in a language they speak, but very brief—probably orders. Runor recognizes it as a symbol of Golthatha, one of the Council of “demigods”, really demon lords, that serve Borsh’tro. They know that there are cults of the demonlords on this side of the border. That means that, since he was a mage, he must be a member of a cult—so there’s a priest somewhere.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 4 cont'd]
They travel for the rest of the day. They could travel into the night to reach Circle Constance, or they could camp and then finish the trip the next morning.

They rest for the night. And they have another encounter (a 19) almost as soon as they’ve gone to sleep.

Mareep begins to feel that same chilling effect that there was last night. The same whispering voice sets in—“come out. Come away from the fire…” Mareep wakes up her companions and lets them know.

They build the fire up and chase it away with a burning torch. It hisses and pulls away—not as quickly as it responded to the light spell, but enough to drive it away. It continues muttering, but it doesn’t close with them again that night. It’s obviously following them. They hear mutterings all night, but as long as they keep the fire built up, it doesn’t approach.

Dawn breaks (Tar-Skard 8), and they enter the lands of Circle Constance. The desert gives way to a little greenery.

The circle is militarized, like the previous one. The extra camels draw some attention, because they assume that’s missing riders. But they come out, check the papers, and then admit them. They thank them for coming—“we’ve had some problems. Not as bad as before Caldefor restored itself, but still some problems.”

It’s more developed than the other circle—perhaps older, or more successfully established.

They turn in the skull of the shaman, and Ulgorio sells the spare camel. They dicker over it, and settle on 11 silver as a price for it. They also shoe the camel that they’re keeping.

They turn in the skull and show the holy symbol of Golthotha. “Oh, I don’t understand why anyone would follow those… I suppose that’s less bad than some of the others. And earlier a follower of Urlodo? We have to increase our scrutiny of those areas.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Runor sees a figure gliding by the conversation. He turns to look, and it’s a slender woman, elven, with an elaborate hairdo and a long silver robe, floating along towards them. The villagers either drop to one knee or bow. Runor follows suit and drops to one knee, as does the officer. She nods in their general direction, and then floats up to the tower.

“Well, it’s not often that a visitor so new in our service gets to catch a vision of a Hastur going about their duties.” The officer gives them a dozen silver. “Please, continue your service. I think the thing speaking to you from outside your camp is a shadow. Someone is raising undead. But the Hastur are busy with the Shadow, and they do not have the time to find the necromancer on this side.”
[End session 4]

[A question for readers: I've realized that posting the sessions in roughly half a section chunks, one per week, means that we're generating new material nearly as quickly as the old material is getting posted, remaining about a year behind. That seems undesirable to me, since it seems like more fun for everyone to catch up to the current state of the game. So I have a question: Would you prefer me to post updates more often (probably adding a Sunday posting day to this thread and a Saturday to the Spice Lands thread) or would you prefer that I post longer updates with each post (roughly a whole session at a time)? Longer updates per post is slightly easier for me, but not so much so that I care much.]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 5 (5/30/20)
Tar-Skard 9:

They wake up from their rest in the area around Circle Constance.

They decide they want to hunt the necromancer raising undead on this side of the line.

They decide that they’ll try to find the necromancer by doing patrols in concentric semi-circles around the area guarded by Circle Constance. The lands of House Nin are much less heavily patrolled than the area around the Circle. There are reclaiming villages, where there are some houses, some fields, and every type of fertilizer imaginable. There are a handful of ruined buildings—probably the result of the border moving back and forth as they fight the war.

There is a thundering of hooves, and a cloud of sand off to their right. It’s at least 3-4 times the size of the cloud of sand that they produce when they gallop. Mreep gallops over to take a closer look. She sees a large herd of wild camels, clearly spooked. They are fleeing like mad, towards their group, as a lion chases after their hindmost. The lion misses one of the camels, pouncing on empty sand.

Mreep calls back that there’s a herd of wild camels coming, chased by a lion. Runor immediately starts plotting to tame the lion, and get another dangerous pet. The camels rush past them pell-mell. The lion stops running, having lost the chance. It looks over the group, and turns to slink away among the dunes. Ashaltir rides out towards it as it’s trying to slink away.

They cast animal friendship on the lion, and it walks over, growling softly in the base of its throat.

They feed it some dried meat and befriend it. They now have a young male lion as part of their menagerie. It’s not ready to fight for them yet, but it will travel with them.

The night passes peacefully. The shadow(?) does not appear.

The next day they travel on. There are more small villages, more ruined buildings, and small packs of hyenas that avoid them assiduously.

They have an encounter the next day.

One building is particularly large. It’s not in good shape—at all—but it’s still standing, and it has a huge tower, 8 or 9 stories tall. It’s clear that it’s been beaten and battered. There is a large symbol on the stone disk blocking the path to the building. It was a forbidden symbol, but has been broken in half—clearly deliberately.

This seems like an ideal place for a necromancer. There could be magical energy here, because both sides have valued it, and the frequent battles give a steady supply of bones. They decide to approach.

They enter a broken bailey. The exterior walls are breached but the tower still stands. They hear a grinding noise from an inverted stone bowl which rises out of the ground, and then two steel bolts slammed into Ashaltir’s armor. It sinks back into the ground, and the grinding noise starts again. The group all charges up and attacks the stone bowl.

Mreep tries to shoot her bow into the slots on the stone bowl. She shoots into the bowl, doing 8 points of damage as it pings inside. They shot more arrows and fire into it, and an imp crewing it came out. The imp talks to them and complained. It told them where they could find the necromancer, because it wants to get unbound. Runor wanted to kill it, but the rest of the group wouldn’t hear of it because it was cute. They found that this is the tower of the Great Bartholomex, and Bartholomex is three stories down. They went in, and headed downwards to try to find the necromancer.

They come down stairs, into a 30’ square room, with corridors opening north and south from the room.

After initially considering splitting up, Runor persuades them that they shouldn’t split up, and they decide to head north as a group. They follow a passage east, and while they don’t hear a voice, they feel the same cold feeling as they felt outside when the voice (the shadow?) spoke to them.

Humanoid figures made out of bones scrabble out of the weak light. They seem to be drawing bows. The cold is still there, and a voice begins to be heard, whispering to the skeletons.

Mreep charges into the darkness with her sword.

Ashaltir gets a critical hit against a skeleton and shatters it.

Runor zaps one with a sacred flame.

They keep hacking down the skeletons.

The shadow is still there, but it hasn’t done anything.

The Shadow says “Master, they are coming. The imp has betrayed you.”

They find 13 sp in the skeleton room.

[End Session 5]
 

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