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WotBS Bill T's Second War of the Burning Sky: Shelter from the Storm [more spoilers than you can shake a stick adorned with ribbons and kerchiefs at!]

Bill T.

Hi, @spinmd, and thanks for your response to my session notes. The most recent session went a lot better (I'm still tying up notes) and the heroes have now committed to finding Naizelasa's egg. I've been thinking that Nathan owes Cernaban money and that he's now in a position of trying to sell the egg off quick to pay his debts, maybe parking the egg with Cernaban as collateral. Could you share details about your thoughts on Cernaban's enterprise?

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Bill T.

Dramatis Personae
  • Basel, an Innenotdaran (aka grey) elf evoker who has been attending Gabal's school and previously made his living as a baker.
  • Dämmek, a human swordswoman with keen senses and the Living Blade.
  • Gusle, a seela bard who recently escaped captivity from a circus. This player has been through the first few chapters already, so she's aware of the seela and can fill Torrent's role as guide.
  • Jesús Tillamook, a half-elf cloistered cleric of the Stormbringer Phoenix, a sect of the Stormchaser Eagle that is dedicated to finding the Aquiline Heart so that they can reincarnate the Eagle.
The heroes set off for the Milsoven. It's a long enough trip that they have to sleep on the trail overnight. In the middle of the night they here a strange, low-pitched screeching and the booming of rocks slamming into each other in the direction of the Dragonspire, a tall rock formation that they saw in the distance that afternoon -- and incidentally noticed a dragon flying near at the time.

I again followed @Ragnar_Deerslayer's suggestion back in 2011 to draw Naizelasa up as a lawful neutral. Rather than just a superficial change, I made her a sapphire dragon rather than a green dragon. Sapphire dragons are earth creatures, so instead of a deep lake, she lives on the Dragonspire, a tall, narrow stone formation on the south shore several miles from Seaquen.

As they get near the Milsoven, Drimma spots an attercop in the trees. Closer inspection reveals more, waiting to pounce. After some preparatory spells, Dämmek takes a shot at one, bringing the whole pack down on them. Several heroes get knocked down in the inital wave, but Drimma manages to turn the tables on one and knocks the attercop attacking her down. The heroes manage to resist the effects of the attercop poison, except for Jesús, whose collapse inspires the last attercop hiding in the trees to attack the party, which quickly and very briefly regrets its impetuous decision.

They carefully make their way onto the Milsoven and work their way into the room the attercops were held in. A brief fight ensues as Dämmek and Jesús kill the remaining attercops.

I happened to have to put together a ship out of Legos in preparation for fighting aboard the Wayfarer's Theatre, so I pulled it out and used it as the Milsoven. I think that lead the players to feel like an attercop might spring on them at any moment, so they were carefully working their way into the ship, which was fun. Alas, putting the attercops in their room below decks wasn't such a good idea, as it turned the encounter into a conga line. I was lucky to be able to get two heroes into the room. It did give Dämmek her first opportunity to dungeoncrash, however.

Drimma, disappointingly, turns out to be the most skilled healer in the party, so she takes courage in hand and tries to remove the attercop eggs from one of the other crewmen. It turns into a disaster, and Drimma manages to kill him, despite the help from Jesús and Gusle. Drimma, distraught by what she did, refuses to take part in any further attempts to heal the remaining crew. Jesús makes a valiant attempt, again with Gusle's assistance, but realizes that he will be hard pressed to help the crewmen under the circumstances.

Drimma got a 1 on the die for her heal check, so that was that. When Jesús took his turn, he got something like an 18 on the die, which still wasn't good enough, so he decided he was as likely to kill another crewman as save one.

So, they decide they're going to have to take the crew back to Seaquen using the Milsoven's longboat, but they decide they should check on the ship's cargo first. Basel quickly realizes that the Pegasus is an intelligent creature and everyone wants to set it free -- although Basel's a little reticent to simply release its shackles without first having some sort of plan. Gusle manages to get Basel to go get some food for the Pegasus so that she can unshackle it without his interference -- he finds the captain's remains along with the body of the last attercop. They feed and water the Pegasus, and then are confronted with the challenge of getting a winged horse up the narrow gangway providing the only way below decks. Eventually they realize that Jesús can fly with another creature, so the two of them go straight up onto the main deck. The Pegasus nuzzles Gusle before flying off into the sunset.

Amusingly, West Wind Style has no limit on the size of the creature that can be made to fly.

The other monsters don't get nearly as much attention, although they do give them all a quick feeding and decide to take a few of the caged stirges with them, and plan to come back to recover the rest of the critters later.

After giving the captain and the crewman killed by Drimma's attempt at surgery a proper burial at sea, the heroes row toward Seaquen, hugging the coast. They're rather perturbed when they sight an elven warship further offshore but proceed on until the warship fires a flaming flameball across their bow. Some elves fly out and demand they turn back, but Gusle politely explains (in Elven) that they have injured people on board in urgent need of medical assistance. The elves then order the heroes to take their longboat toward the ship and are met by a cleric who heals the three crewmen.

They are then taken aboard the warship. They have a friendly conversation, wherein Gusle mentions that the were in the council meeting that Princess Shalosha attended. The ship's captain decides, after a meticulous and pedantic review of his orders that, since the heroes are from Seaquen, they are not allowed to leave Seaquen, but the three crewmen are not from Seaquen and must not be allowed to enter. So, the crewmen take their longboat back to their ship while the warship takes the heroes (and Drimma) directly to the island they took over when Lee fled. The heroes get a tour of the ship on the way, as the captain does his best to impress on them the futility of attempting to run the blockade.

The heroes decide their first order of business is to get rid of the stirges. Gusle starts by...appraising them!

Wait, what? How much is a stirge worth? Oddly enough, the monster description doesn't mention that!

That done, they talk to Professor Vett and make an offer that, while larger than what he originally offered, still gives him the opportunity to make a substantial profit.

...thereby still getting in the professor's good graces.

The next morning the heroes head back into the swamp, even less eagerly than last time. The trip passes uneventfully, but the heroes are surprised to discover that the foremast has been ripped from the ship. The crew eventually realizes the heroes are looking for them and, peeking out the door from the captain's cabin, quietly tell them to hurry in with them. The crew explains that a sparkly blue dragon threatened to start shredding ships if her egg was not promptly returned.

The heroes had many questions -- what color dragon? Where do we take the egg? What's its name? They realize that the best way to get their questions answered is to simply go talk to the dragon. They decide to put down the larger monsters aboard the Milsoven and haul the remaining stirges with them. They then let the crew head off on their own while they make their way towards the Dragonspire.

As they approached the Dragonspire, one of the first things they caught sight of was the towers and walls of a Neuschwanstein-style castle. They got closer and found it abutted directly against a dwarven-style fortress and that there were remains of other buildings lying around. Then the dragon flew overhead! Basel and Dämmek were shaken but not stirred. In any event, the dragon introduced herself as Naizelasa, answered their questions, and gave them some good information: Naizelasa said thief smells "just like her!" (Dämmek) and also got a whiff of travel magic. They tried to negotiate with the dragon to get more time to hunt down the thief, but she was non-committal.

Dämmek is spineless! She always fails her saves against fear.
The "travel magic" was spider climb and/or longstrider (I'd already chosen the latter as one of the kidnapper's spells) -- sapphire dragons have a "sense psychportation" ability that provided an unexpected clue.

The heroes made up a list of people to talk to in their Quest to hunt down the egg and are headed back to Seaquen. The next session is schedule for the 22nd of June.


Fishy DM
Another entertaining summary, Bill.

For Cernaban (called Cinnabon by the PCs), a lot of what I used was drawn from the 4E version. In the 4E version, Cernaban and his White Wyrms were secretly being funded by the Ragesians to create more unrest in Seaquen and keep the town guards focused on all the stuff that the White Wyrms were doing and not discover what the Ragesians were doing. The Ragesians didn't want Seaquen united with the refugees so they get the White Wyrms to kill and/or kidnap people and bomb some buildings to keep the political situation unstable. Cernaban and Makung are even stoking Pickens mistrust of the Lyceum Academy by feeding him lies.

How I integrated this into the 5E version is when the PCs reached Seaquen, they met up with Salty, an old smuggler acquaintance (one of the PCs has the Criminal background). Salty considers himself an honorable smuggler because smuggling is his only illegal activity and he doesn't smuggle drugs or people. He tells the PCs that with the influx of refugees, there are some new players in town that are responsible for some missing people, and other "bad for business" crimes and he asks the PCs if they could find out who is responsible.

Because this hook most likely will lead to combat, the PCs jump at it and start asking people if they know anything about some missing people. The PCs get a bit of info here and there and start to see that Seaquen is a powder keg with dwindling resources, increasing crime, and unrest among the citizens and the refugees. Eventually all their questioning puts the PCs on the White Wyrms radar and soon enough the White Wyrms approach the PCs disguised as guards, lead them into an alley, and tell them that the White Wyms send their regards. The encounter was some Thugs with a Bandit Captain reskinned as a Thug Leader and the PCs made short work of them. One of the Thugs was interrogated and the PCs discovered that White Wyrms spent leisure time at a brothel on the south shore bluff. (in the 4E version, Cernaban owns a brothel).

The PCs head to the brothel and demand to speak to the person in charge. They speak with a manager (not Cernaban) but the conversation goes nowhere and the PCs eventually leave.

This plot string idles for a day while the PCs do other things, but eventually a young kid brings a letter to the PCs, which requests a meeting at the brothel after town curfew. The PCs get to the brothel and are met by a halfling who introduces himself as Cernaban (it was a decoy but the PCs did not know that). He offers them the opportunity to work for the White Wyrms and a generous cut of profits for any jobs they do which is flatly turned down. Insults are traded and then combat erupts (more Thugs and a Dark Whisperer from the Monster Manual Expanded book). The PCs make quick work of them and before they can even clean their blades, they hear a voice from the upstairs balcony saying if you want a job done right, you got to do it yourself. It is the real Cernaban (Master Thief), with his lieutenant Makung (Swashbuckler), and more thugs. This fight lasts a little longer, but the PCs prevail. I thought this would tax the PCs more than it did, but everyone was having fun so I call it a win.

After the White Wyrms are destroyed, the PCs take over the brothel. Salty helps them with forged transfer of ownership papers (as the Sindairese ambassador Cranston Snord was asking about Cernaban's disappearance), and they convert the brothel to a tavern. Salty agrees to run the tavern while the PCs are away as the building's basement leads to some caves that reach the shore at the bottom of the bluff so is great for smuggling.

Probably more info than you need, but hope it inspires some ideas for how to use Cernaban.

Bill T.

Dramatis Personae
  • Basel, an Innenotdaran (aka grey) elf evoker who has been attending Gabal's school and previously made his living as a baker.
  • Dämmek, a human swordswoman with keen senses and the Living Blade.
  • Gusle, a seela bard who recently escaped captivity from a circus. This player has been through the first few chapters already, so she's aware of the seela and can fill Torrent's role as guide.
  • Jesús Tillamook, a half-elf cloistered cleric of the Stormbringer Phoenix, a sect of the Stormchaser Eagle that is dedicated to finding the Aquiline Heart so that they can reincarnate the Eagle.
The heroes continue on their way to Seaquen. Dämmek easily avoids an unexpected bit of quicksand, but soon thereafter, she and Jesús have a disagreement on which direction to head to get to Seaquen.

They got into an extended in-character argument about which way to go, making up directions and landmarks as they argued. It was surprisingly entertaining.

Eventually, they decide to trust Jesús's assessment of the growth patterns of the local bryophytes and head in the actual direction of Seaquen. Soon, they encounter the backs of a pair of green-tinted gnomes peering through the shrubbery in the direction they are headed. They step back and, after some discussion, decide to approach the gnomes in pairs. One gnome eventually glances back and jumps out of his skin when he sees people coming at him from behind.

Jesús realizes these are forest gnomes, and the gnomes explain to the heroes that the Shahalesti started blockading Seaquen a few days ago and are now extending that blockade across the peninsula with ground forces -- in particular, the gnomes see a large group of elves, including several wizards, setting up a base. The gnomes think their best bet is to head north and try to cut around the elves.

After a brief discussion, Gusle suggests they simply walk up and talk their way through like they did when they were taking the longboat from the Milsoven to Seaquen.

Aaargh! Here I am putting together a violent encounter to slow the party down (and entertain the younger players) so that word can spread of their heroic deeds, and of course Gusle reaches for the diplomatic option! Clueless of me not to expect that.

Basel disagrees, puts on his elvish high dudgeon, and asserts that these elves are looking for trouble, and the gnomes' proposal is their best bet. Eventually, Gusle is won over with the argument that they can always try diplomacy later.

So, the heroes and gnomes proceed north, but soon notice that there a hawk that keeps soaring nearby. "That's wrong." says Jesús. "Hawk's don't soar in drizzle!" They quickly realize that the hawk is keeping pace with them and surmise it's a familiar.

Eventually, as the terrain gets swampier, the heroes decide that the gnomes should duck into hiding while they lead the hawk further north, thereby giving them an opportunity, with any luck, to slip into Seaquen. The gnomes eagerly agree.

Fifteen minutes later, the swamp has gotten too swampy for them to be willing to proceed, so they first wander around a bit to give the impression of being lost -- which does nothing to shake their airborne tail -- and eventually decide to proceed east. They see three Shahalesti elves blocking their path.

"Hi, we're from Seaquen, and you have to let us back in because you're not allowed to let people from Seaquen leave the city," says Gusle.

One of the Shahalesti, Thalan, waves one foot a bit off the ground and replies, "Here, pull the other one!"

Gusle continues her argument, and eventually brings up the fact that they met Princess Shalosha. "Ah, there's the other one!" taunts Thalan.

Evenutally, the heroes decide that the conversation is pointless and proceed toward the Shahalesti patrol. In response, one elf casts entangle as another orders them again to turn back.

"But wait," says Gusle. "How can we turn back when you have the plants trying to keep us from moving? Dismiss the spell and we'll turn back."

Basel, Dämmek, and Gusle do begrudgingly start working their way back (which is also the fastest way out of the entangle), but Jesús has had enough. Once he's managed to escape the plants' grasp, he leaps upward and charges through the air at one of the Shahalesti. So much for diplomacy! Jesús's attack is successful, bringing down the one, but another of the Shahalesti releases a storm of arrows at Jesús, bringing him down into a heap. Fortunately, Jesús had already managed to cast a slow-acting healing spell on himself. He nonetheless spent the rest of the battle unconscious.

Unfortunate, that. While I definitely wanted someone to stir up trouble, I also wanted him to take a big part in the action. On the other hand, he conceded that he should have spent more effort preparing himself for battle before flying off the handle and intends to do better next time.

So, the heroes -- at least those that are conscious -- start working their way around the entangling plants, using trees for cover when convenient and taking shots with their bows as the opportunity arises, quickly bringing down another in the patrol. The one remaining standing then ducks down, crawls over to his ally, and stuffs a healing potion down his throat.

Now back into the action, Thalan returns to his plan. He's already cast haste and now proceeds to cast flame arrow as his ally heals the one Jesús brought down. He then uses one of the flaming arrows as a target for a smokey pyrotechnics spell, engulfing both Basel and Gusle in a thick, choking smoke.

My original plan had been to use either the torchstaff or the flaming stump hook as the pyrotechnics target, but both of those were with Jesús.

The heroes continue trying to reach their downed comrade. Gusle and Basel manage to hide themselves behind a small tree to avoid the arrows. Alas, that set them up for the next trick up Thalan's sleeve -- he unleashes a lightning bolt, frying Basel, singeing Gusle, and destroying the tree.

At this point, Basel has enough. In a flash of wizardly insight he realizes that Jesús benefits from Indomitability's boon. Trusting that the boon hasn't been activated yet today, he flings a fireball at the four. That ends the encounter, and Jesús is only moderately annoyed that he was forced to pre-enact the rebirth of the Phoenix.

The heroes quickly search the bodies of the fallen and recover many scrolls and potions, a few wands, and a spellbook, along with three magical cloaks. They push on to Seaquen, arriving late at night, get to their residence, and promptly pass out.

The next day, the heroes go to breakfast and are startled to discover that they're famous heroes, thanks to word spreading about their rescuing the crew of the Milsoven. Gusle really wants to sing an intricate improv of their darings-do, but Basel manages to pull her away by promising her to let her sing all about it at lunch.

Simeon isn't at the Lyceum when the heroes arrive, so they talk to Professor Vett instead. Vett is impressed by the profit opportunities a dragon egg would present, but has little information to offer the heroes other than the name of the broker he used to sell off his stirges.

They then manage to talk to Professor Steckart. He's grateful that the heroes are eager to help deal with Naizelasa, and promises that someone at the Lyceum will negotiate with the Shahalesti to permit them to return to the Dragonspire.

They have a brief conversation with Marlena, the broker Vett mentioned. Their story of an angry dragon outside of town inspires her to start preparing to leave the city, and she is only partially reassured when they say the dragon only threatened to attack ships. She doesn't have any good leads on where to find someone broking a dragon egg but promised to let Vett know if she comes up with anything.

Their last hope is Paradim. They make their way to Majestic Creations and talk with him about dragon eggs. Paradim thinks buying a dragon egg is a terrible idea, as his creations are much easier to train. However, once they explain why they're interested in dragons' eggs for sale, he tells them that Nira, his contact with the people providing his store's security goons, mentioned that someone hanging out at the Battle Royale was looking to sell an egg.

Cernaban seemed like the logical place for Giorgio to hire a halfling assassin -- through an intermediary, no doubt -- and gave me an excuse to introduce another of the NPCs.

So, the heroes decide to have lunch at the Royale, but only after first dropping by the Lyceum again to tell Simeon about everything.

The heroes have lunch and then go for a low-key approach to finding whoever might be selling the egg. Not low-key enough, though -- soon a young woman with her hair tied back in a pony table and bristling with weapons parks herself at their table and introduces herself as Natalie. Gusle talks in generalities and vaguely suggests that whoever might be have stolen a dragon's egg should be worried about the dragon's wrath, among other things. Natalie manages to come up with an excuse to head up to the more exclusive parts of the Royale, but invites Jesús to join her. She then manages to leave Jesús to his own devices as she heads up to the even more-exclusive parts.

Jesús, seeing little to be gained from hanging out on the middle floor, rejoins his compatriots.

I turned Nathan Lowduke into Natalie Dubas to throw off the player who had been through this adventure originally.
I was surprised that they -- well, Gusle, really -- was so coy with Natalie. With everything else, they launched into a frightening exposition about the dragon threatening to torch ships, but they didn't make any attempt to play to Natalie's morality and instead hyped up the threat to her in particular. While that makes sense, it did complicate things slightly, as I was assuming that all the NPCs involved with the egg would be working with the same information, which is no longer the case.
Anyhow, for reasons no longer entirely clear to me, Natalie decided that things have gotten too hot for her to remain in Seaquen. When she ditched Jesús, she went upstairs, downed her last spider climb potion, and climbed down the outside of the Royale. When Jesús went back downstairs, he briefly entertained the idea of flying up to see what interesting there was on the top floor, which would have allowed him to catch Natalie running off, but unfortunately didn't follow through on the idea.

Feeling at a loss for leads, they heroes return to the south shore and ask Paradim how they might find Nira. He sends them to a building sized for halflings, to their discomfort. Nira, after hearing what the heroes are on about, pass them on to Cernaban. Cernaban listens with interest to what they have to say about the dragon and the egg and assures them that he will let them know anything he learns. In the meantime, he is able to tell them that Natalie works at a brothel called Roger's Jollies, easily identified by the rather obscene Jolly Roger hanging above the door.

When they get in sight of Roger's Jollies, a woman with a canine muzzle, tail, and fur excitedly strikes up a conversation with Gusle, impressed that she was so clever as to get dragonfly wings from Paradim rather than the obvious butterfly wings. They chat a bit, and learn that the foxy woman, Jacklyn, works as Roger's Jollies as well, and is able to explain that Natalie provides security at the brothel and has a bed in a storage room on the second floor. Jacklyn in turn learns that Gusle's wings are original equipment, much to her surprise.

Jacklyn brings the heroes into Roger's Jollies, where they learn that Natalie had stopped by her room recently and left again. They manage to arrange to visit Natalie's room anyhow, on the pretense that Jesús wants to leave Natalie flowers and "girly" note with glitter on the outside and stalker overtones on the inside.

No, I don't know what a "girly" note is either, but he was adamant that the note be so described. And what self-respecting whorehouse wouldn't have some glitter handy in a store room?

Their leads exhausted for the time being, the heroes decide to stop for dinner. The inn they visit already has entertainment: Pickens Frankhart is holding court, going on about how Seaquen is trying to keep people down, etc., etc. Gusle attempts to convince him otherwise, but he twists all her points into "evidence" for his conspiracy theory. Eventually, she gives up and instead starts singing, quietly at first, to pull people away from Pickens.

I'm not sure how I want to deal with the Shahalesti letting them past the blockade. I had been thinking that they should go by sea just because the fleet is probably a bit less angry about their attack on Thalan than the land forces are. Then again, I can also see them being total jerks and letting them out but not letting them in -- or ambushing them on their way back, or.... Choices, choices!

Our next session is planned for the sixth of July.

Bill T.

Dramatis Personae
  • Basel, an Innenotdaran (aka grey) elf evoker who has been attending Gabal's school and previously made his living as a baker.
  • Dämmek, a human swordswoman with keen senses and the Living Blade.
  • Gusle, a seela bard who recently escaped captivity from a circus. This player has been through the first few chapters already, so she's aware of the seela and can fill Torrent's role as guide.
  • Jesús Tillamook, a half-elf cloistered cleric of the Stormbringer Phoenix, a sect of the Stormchaser Eagle that is dedicated to finding the Aquiline Heart so that they can reincarnate the Eagle.
After a good night's sleep, the heroes discuss where to look for Natalie. They decide to head to the Battle Royale. She's not there, so after some more discussion they head to Roger's Jollies. They decide to send Jesús in alone to see what impact the lover letter had. It turns out Natalie really appreciated it, and eventually the two engage in some NSFW behavior (despite the fact that Natalie was, technically speaking, at work). In the ensuing pillow talk, Natalie explains that she's in hoc to Cernaban and that he is holding the egg until she finds a buyer. She tells him that she's asking 4,000 gp for the egg, 3,500 of which would go to paying off her debt.

This was a mistake -- having Natalie simply spill the beans made it way too easy, especially since Cernaban had dominated her after he found out the heroes were onto her and was compelling her to spend all her time protecting Roger's Jollies. The note was supposed to be like something a stalker would write, anyhow, so I should have played her much more guarded. Oh well, everyone had fun in the encounter, anyhow.

So, the heroes go talk to Cernaban. After a short discussion, Ceraban happily and convincingly explains that Natalie is a well-known liar and that he doesn't have it. In fact, Nira searched Roger's Jollies last night and found the egg in a small cellar. Problem solved!

I wrote up Cernaban as a tenth-level beguiler. Being convincing is easy when you can cast glibness with no verbal or somatic components!

Nira shows the heroes where she found (and left) the egg. Natalie is shocked and insists she had no idea it was there. The heroes agree that they find Natalie's explanation more credible.

With the egg safely tucked away, the heroes head to the Lyceum to see if there has been any progress on getting them past the blockade. Gilver Fern, head of student affairs at the Lyceum, has taken responsibility for negotiating with the Shahalesti. He starts with handing them a Shahalesti military report on what happened to Thalan's team.

I'll try to remember to post the report, but what I really found funny is how the players all objected to how slanted the Shahalesti report was. I wasn't trying to slant at all, just write up a factual description as perceived by Thalan's familiar and what an investigator would see at the scene after the heroes had left Thalan's body to rot in the cold rain like a...ahem, sorry, I may have gotten distracted.

In any case, Gilver provided the heroes with instructions on how they were going to get past the blockade -- in short, they were to use silent image to create a big glowing and rotating sign above their boat that says "sub-elven" (in Elvish, of course) and sail to the beach the Shahalesti had kindly marked ("you'll know it when you see it"). After a quick discussion, Gusle realized that she was going to be stuck concentrating on a rotating sign for hours as her landlubber allies attempted to sail. They leave the egg with Professor Steckart overnight so that he could prevent others from divinging its location.

The next morning, the heroes obtain the egg after getting a last nondetection on it and then proceed to the south shore. They are surprised to see a sailboat sitting in the bay with a sign declaring "sub-elven" above it! It turns out that Katrina had kindly lent Judson to them, since he'd learned to sail when he stowed away and ended up in Seaquen.

I noticed while preparing for last session that Judson Stowe is listed as a playtester of the campaign saga. Played a trustworthy bard, right? Besides Lydia Dene, who gets a role as Lady Dene in the next adventure, any other contributors who appear as NPCs? :)

They sail along the shore without incident and eventually see a beach in a small cove with a big hemisphere of darkness on it. Ah, that must be the beach! The heroes beach their ship on the beach and use one of the dragon scale tokens they got from Nelle to warn Naizelasa that they're on the way. Then they go to sleep for the night.

Sadly, the messenger never made it, and the heroes never thought to ask. No matter, they just wanted to avoid startling Naizelasa, but she wasn't worried.

They walk up the gorge at the back of the cove and eventually get near the Dragonspire. The area looks different now -- there is more rubble, and what had been a gaudy castle has been replace by what looks like a Shahalesti fort. In any event, Naizelasa promptly arrives. She's carrying a lyre (which Basel recognizes as a lyre of building). She's thrilled that her egg has been returned, takes it from the heroes, and flies off to put them safely away. She then returns and quizzes the heroes all about the war, starting with the Shahalesti fleet. She's a bit puzzled that they seem to have arrived on a Shahalesti sailboat when the Shahalesti are blockading Seaquen. Say what?

The players' theories got a little...well, strange at this point -- something about someone replacing the sails, or casting an illusion on the boat, or.... I don't recall if they ever reached the simple explanation (their boat was gone and a different boat arrived).

Naizelasa is eventually satisfied that she is not going to learn much about the war, so she lets the heroes go. Concerned that there might have been Shahalesti on that Shahalesti boat, Dämmek scouts ahead of the party a fair distance. As she works her way down the gorge to the cove, she notices three armed Shahalesti women hanging out on some rocks. She carefully approaches, trying to better hear what they're discussing (not much) when a hawk -- a hawk she recognizes! -- suddenly joins the Shahalesti. They briefly play charades, and then the hawk suddenly flies directly at Dämmek! She manages to use her bow to get the hawk to veer off and gets away in the ensuing chaos.

Dämmek got pretty lucky. This is the first time she's been scouting, and she made the mistake of closing on the enemy rather than reporting back at first opportunity, which gave the Thalan's hawk familiar time to report on the arrival of the other heroes. If the Shahalesti had been a little more on the ball, they could have prevented her from providing any information to the other heroes.

Dämmek rejoins her fellow heroes and tells them what she saw. They head cautiously forward and are surprised to discover that the way to the beach is now occupied by a big hemisphere of darkness. They cautiously and separately approach (Gusle becomes invisible and makes her way past the darkness along the stream), while looking for someone or something to react from the darkness. Gusle manages to sneak up on an 8-foot long rattlesnake hiding between the rocks and very carefully moves away.

Eventually, they get close enough to provoke at least some of the Shahalesti to attack from within the darkness, swearing to avenge Thalan all the while. Gusle manages to get caught between a rock and a hard place, which inspires the snake and the Shahalesti rogue to attack her from opposite sides. She looks to be in big trouble, but Jesús does come to realize that he can help her fly, so the two of them escape onto the top of a large rock. The snake, undeterred, continues to pursue Gusle.

Meanwhile arrows are fired, blows are struck, and fireballs are flung. Jesús is frustrated that the Shahelesti are completely unaffected by the torchstaff. Everyone else is annoyed at how very resilient the Shahalesti are in general, considering that two of the three are apparently wizards. The wizards, for their part, manage to do their part to make things difficult for the heroes -- both Basel and, worse yet, Gusle get hit with a touch of idiocy delivered via spectral hand, and are further shocked when the hand touches them again. Dämmek is injured enough at one point to be knocked unconscious, but Jesús again saves the day with a wand of healing and the heroes finally are victorious -- the two wizards, the snake, and the hawk are all brought down (the hawk was killed shortly after it attacked while Basel was casting a spell), and the backstabber surrenders.

This encounter was much more challenging than the one with Thalan. The Shahelesti had prepared with mage armor, false life, and resist fire -- the latter because they knew that's how Thalan had died -- which made the heroes' attacks much less effective to start with. While the fire resistance was chosen because of they didn't want to die in a fireball, the biggest consequence was that it rendered the torchstaff completely ineffective.

The Shahalestis' remains are heroically looted. They also manage to find the stone that the darkness had been cast on and take the snake's body as well, and head to the beach to camp for the night.

We play again on the 27th -- it should have been the 20th, but someone came down with "the flu". Hopefully that's all it is!
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Bill T.

After-Action Report

Mission Summary

A group of six (6) individuals was observed in the vicinity of Mishala's unit assigned to patrol the southern sector of the Seaquen's land connection to Dassen. Based on the available reconnaissance, Mishala ordered Thalan and a pair of scouts to track and, if necessary, interdict the individuals. Thalan's detachment tracked the individuals in a northerly direction. Two (2) of the individuals, both gnomes, evaded observation during the tracking phase of the mission.

Thalan subsequently confronted the remaining four (4) individuals when they turned east. The detachment attempted to deter the individuals from continuing to Seaquen using non-lethal magics but were assaulted shortly thereafter. Liza reports that, despite early successes at turning the tide of battle against the assailants, their desperate firefight ended abruptly shortly after the initial attack.

Summary of Hostile Individuals

Based on Liza's observations and data from ELFINT sources within the city of Seaquen, the following individuals have been identified:
  • Basel, elven wizard, origin uncertain (certainty: high)
  • Dämmek, human swordfighter, origin unknown (certainty: low)
  • Gusle, fey bard, origin unknown (certainty: very high)
  • Jesús, half-elven priest of the Stormbringer Phoenix, an extremist sect associated with the Stormseeker Eagle (certainty: very high)
These four (4) individuals are linked to the Lyceum.

No information is available regarding the two (2) gnomes.

Analysis of Firefight Scene

All three (3) Shahalesti scouts suffered third-degree burns that autopsies identify as the cause of death (certainty: moderate). The circular area of burning surrounding their remains are consistent with a minimal-power fireball effect having been detonated near or among the scouts. An unburned area adjacent to the scouts' remains suggests a fourth unidentified victim.

A second set of burn marks in the area are consistent with a minimal-power lightning bolt having been evoked.

All the remains were looted. The looters preferred high-value items, especially magical possessions, of the deceased, but left behind weaponry and non-magical protective gear.

Bill T.

Dramatis Personae
  • Basel, an Innenotdaran (aka grey) elf evoker who has been attending Gabal's school and previously made his living as a baker.
  • Dämmek, a human swordswoman with keen senses and the Living Blade.
  • Gusle, a seela bard who recently escaped captivity from a circus. This player has been through the first few chapters already, so she's aware of the seela and can fill Torrent's role as guide.
  • Jesús Tillamook, a half-elf cloistered cleric of the Stormbringer Phoenix, a sect of the Stormchaser Eagle that is dedicated to finding the Aquiline Heart so that they can reincarnate the Eagle.
On the beach, the heroes discover that the sailboat they had arrived in is gone, and a Shahalesti dinghy sits on the shore instead. There's no sign of Judson. They sleep peacefully enough, and in the morning they get Shalathana, the Shahalesti who survived attacking them, to sail them to Seaquen in return for being handed over to the Shahalesti ambassador to the city when they get there.

There's an ambassador?
Anyhow, this proposal seemed good enough to me. Shalathana had been considering putting the dinghy in irons when they got near a Shahalesti warship, but getting handed over seemed about the best she could hope for. Unbeknownst to the heroes, the attack on them was completely unauthorized and so she's apt to be in a fair amount of trouble when she returns to her ship.

When the heroes arrive in Seaquen, they immediately run into a group of Shahelesti on shore leave. The Shahalesti are confrontational, but Basel manages to convince Shalathana that she doesn't want to watch the heroes mow down more of her fellows.

They then run into a group of Ostaliner cavalry beating up on a couple of Ragesian orcs. Jesús inexplicably and transparently makes an excuse to flee the scene. The remaining heroes confront the Ostaliners, and Gusle threatens to make the situation ugly, and so everyone else backs away, leaving the Ostaliners with no one to pick on.

This is the first hint of the sectarian strife in the refugee camps, although the heroes were a bit confused about what the Ostaliners were saying.

The heroes make their way once again to the Lyceum, where they drop off Shalathana and meet up again with Jesús. They quiz him about why he ran off but don't get any particularly enlightening responses. They also learn from Simeon that they should talk to Ogoth in the morning about the lingering damage from the snake's poison Gusle is still suffering from.

After a long day of travelling, the heroes are looking forward to getting back to Lee's island and collapsing. Alas, Drimma is looking for them. She explains that the rat infestation has taken a dire turn: A few people wanted to try to capture the rats for food rather than poisoning them, and set for on a fiendishly clever plan to capture them. Alas, the plan apparently went awry: One of them fled, another one lies in the brewery basement being gnawed on by rats, and the third turned herself into a large rose bush. Everyone agrees that tree shape is unlikely to last the night, so they work on a rescue plan. After several blind alleys involving spells not prepared today, they eventually decide that a combination of wind wall and glitterdust should do the trick.

So, they head into the basement. Jesús steps in and sets up a wind wall and Gusle dusts the rats with glitter. Alas, the glitter is insufficient and the wind wall irrelevant, and the rats swarm Jesús. The rose bush, on the other hand, realizing that a safe escape is at hand, turns into a goblin and flees up the stairs.

Basel realizes there's precious little in the way of flammable materials in the basement, so shoves his way down the steps and chucks a fireball into the far corner. The rats flee into the various cracks in the basement walls...except for one, who sits down and stares with interest at Gusle. The goblin, who the heroes decided to call Rosie, casts Speak with Animals and discerns that the rat thinks Gusle is a friend but knows that he can't touch her. They eventually come to agree that the rat can climb up her armor onto her shoulder without fear, and so he does so. Everyone throws out names for the rat, but Rosie's suggestion, Sparky, wins the day. Drimma starts helping the brewers patch up the walls of the brewery basement to keep the rats from returning.

Mission accomplished -- but just barely. After dragging them by the ear to fight the rat swarm, it's still up to the NPCs to deal with the bigger problem. And they had to track down the swarm to begin with! I'll give them credit for fighting the (double-size) swarm, but I don't feel I can give them credit for eliminating the threat of fires.
On the other hand, I'm gratified that they named the rat Sparky. It seemed like the logical choice to me, and I used it the last time I ran the adventure, although some of the other names thrown out were good, too. The whole point of this side quest, from my perspective, was to get Gusle a rat to take as a familiar when she gets to sixth level.

There's still a bit of clean-up that needs doing besides patching up the basement: Rosie wants help burying her friend, and the heroes want to donate the charred rats to the hungry refugees. In the process, Dämmek learns that goblins' perform a simple sky burial on their dead, and the others learn that orcs enjoy eating rats -- and how to skin them if you want to eat them after they've been fireballed. Finally, the heroes return home and sleep soundly.

The next morning, they heroes decide to head to the south shore. As they make their way between the city and the refugee camps, Laurabec intercepts them. She hems and haws a bit, but eventually comes around to asking for their help. She explains that the refugees are at each other's throats, and that she thinks that pantheistic temple would help unite the refugees and reduce tensions.

Laurabec is uncomfortable about talking to Jesús. From her perspective as a Knight of the Aquiline Cross, the Stormbringer Phoenix cult largely consists of people looking for vengeance.

"Hey, then, let's invite them all to dinner and make a pitch!" say the heroes.

"Uhm, wouldn't it be a good idea to learn a little about them before you go talk to them?" asks Laurabec.

"Hey, yeah, let's go invite them each separately to dinner!"

"Uhm, wouldn't it be a good idea to learn a little about them before you go talk to them?" asks Laurabec.

"Hey, yeah, let's go talk...."


I had a really hard time staying in character in this conversation, as the players didn't seem to get that they ought to learn about who they're going to negotiate with before they speak to them. I suppose I should have let them blunder in with at least one negotiation and then used it as a Teaching Opportunity. It'll be interesting to see if this lessen sticks when they reach Bresk.

Once Laurabec gives a brief summary of the figures involved, the heroes spend the next several days learning about the sects and their leaders. Jesús puts himself in charge and starts inquiring about the leaders they think are most amenable to being swayed, with the hospitaliers being at the top of the list, but eventually inquiring about all of them (but avoiding the Ostaliners until they've exhausted all the other lines of inquiry). They also ask around about some mysterious monks that have apparently segregated themselves from the refugees and that have a single among them who speaks to others. They get only limited information about the monks, but gather reasonably complete and detailed information about the eight sects who Laurabec thinks should participate in the temple. Basel, in particular, is surprisingly effective at digging up information. Jesús also spends a little time inquiring about "himself" (to everyone's confusion), and is surprised to learn that he's much more likely to be welcomed rather than arrested. On the other hand, his inquiries regarding his own sect are largely inconclusive.

I was surprised and thrilled by how much everyone enjoyed the "gathering information" game in general and how Jesús took the lead and moved everything forward, setting goals, choosing targets, and digging for information outside of the mini-game. I was worried that he'd be marginally engaged, but he really enjoyed it.
I don't understand why the dice decided Basel is so good at gathering information. This is not the kind of thing wizards are good at!

Having decided he has learned everything he can about the parties involved, Jesús starts to write up a plan. Some of the heroes think that they should split the difference on the temple's location, locating it both in a central, defensive position, as the Ostaliners want, and at the shore as the people of Seaquen would prefer -- and connect the two with a mini-pilgrimage to entice the druids. Jesús is not impressed by this idea.

Eventually, Basel realizes that he'd been confused about how a lyre of building works and that it would be a good way to build the temple. Confronted with how they might get to Naizelasa to ask about the lyre and the choice of going by land or sea, Basel suggests they choose "None of the above": He thinks that Laurabec should fly Gusle out to talk to Naizelasa, avoiding both the fleet and the Shahalesti patrols. After all, this is Laurabec's bright idea!

We plan to play on the 17th next.

Bill T.

The idea of bureaucratic Shahalesti certainly fits the Nazi German vibe I'd had in mind for them.
Funny, I hadn't tuned into that vibe myself, but someone compared some (all?) the Shahalesti to the gestapo during our last session. Synchronicity in action!
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Bill T.

Dramatis Personae
  • Basel, an Innenotdaran (aka grey) elf evoker from Gabal's school who previously made his living as a baker.
  • Dämmek, a brainy and brawny human swordswoman with keen senses and the Living Blade.
  • Gusle, a seela bard who recently escaped captivity from a circus. This player has been through the first few chapters already, so she was able to fill Torrent's role as guide.
  • Jesús Tillamook, a half-elf cloistered cleric of the Stormbringer Phoenix, a sect of the Stormchaser Eagle that is dedicated to finding the Aquiline Heart so that they can reincarnate the Eagle.
After reviewing the initial part of Jesús plan to persuade the local priests to build a pantheistic temple, the heroes seek out Vennet, the woman to whom worshippers of Quenna usually defer. They want to get the local religion's blessing before speaking to the other priests. They assure her that any temple they build will be on the south shore, and want to seek her input on the temple's reconstruction, so Vennet enthusiastically agrees to participate in the temple.

Jesús then leads the party to the mysterious monks from the northern reaches of Shahalesti that have isolated themselves in a forest clearing. The are greeted by a smiling monk who goes by the name Three Weeping Ravens. After the heroes explain what they are trying to accomplish, he continues to smile and replies that his sect does not prosteletize and has no interest in the temple, although he blesses their efforts to promote peace among the refugees.

The heroes, however, are insistent, saying that the monks should send a representative to the temple occasionally in order to avoid misunderstandings. They persist and manage to convince the monks to have Three Weeping Ravens visit the temple to talk to people every now and then.

Well, that was an interesting twist. I only dangled the Order of Echoed Souls because they were so intent on learning everything they could learn about anyone. The Order was the only group where they failed to gather substantial information, which likely only further whetted their appetite to learn more.
Amusingly, they have convinced themselves that Three Weeping Ravens leads the Order.

Before going to visit Hurn, the halfling druid who leads the pilgrims' sect, the heroes swing by the docks looking for a stray cat, eventually coming upon a small tuxedo-patterned cat who is quite attracted to Basel and the fish guts on his hands. Basel decides to name the cat Simon and take him, along with a bottle of wine, to hear Hurn's tales of his travels. Hurn also agrees to participate in the temple.

The next morning, the heroes track down Estrid, hospitalier-in-chief, as she goes about her morning healing and helping as best they can. Estrid explains that she's been encountering a lot of disease among the refugees because of the lack of shelter and the poor living conditions. In any case, they persuade Estrid that the hospitaliers should participate in the temple. Conversely, Basel is persuaded that they should use the lyre to build housing as well.

Jesús then suggests the heroes talk to Laurabec to persuade her to join the temple, but everyone else finds that unnecessary; after all, the temple is Laurabec's idea. Instead, they proceed to talk to Bernard Pascal, the leader of the Wee Jas worshippers exiled from Sindaire. They easily convince him to join the temple as well -- no bear required.

Wee Jas may seem like an odd choice, but was appropriate the last time I ran this campaign and I didn't see any need to change it.

Gusle amazes the dwarven leaders' when she recites her heritage, ending by pointing to the Living Blade as the remaining portion of the ancestor of all seela. Their gift of incense suitable for casting augury is also appreciated, so the dwarves gladly accept the invitation to join the temple on their ancestors' behalf.

On the other hand, Jesús chooses not to reveal his heritage to Arick, but instead plays up the fact that they hope to persuade Naizalasa to help defend Seaquen. Eventually,Jesús challenges Arick to non-lethal combat, and they agree to meet at dawn. Arick, of course, is happy to accept.

Jesús gets mage armor from Basel before the fight commences, and Jesús casts shield of faith himself, but Arick casts aid and divine favor on himself. Jesús tries some radical maneuvers, including making flying attacks, and Arick manages to fling his staff across the hilltop at one point, but it's all for naught, and Arick is only slightly injured by the time he knocks Jesús unconcious. Arick agrees that the Ostaliner mercenaries should participate in the temple nonetheless.

The fight scene didn't go very well. I over-optimized Arick (can't help myself!) and new-player syndrome resulted in Jesús attempting a bunch of combat actions (bull rushes, grapples, and trips) that he wasn't good at. In retrospect, we probably should have had Dämmek fight Arick just to give her some time in the spotlight.

Convincing Levitch and the other followers of Boccob takes the heroes a bit more preparation. They do manage to scrounge up some theatre tickets from Tiljann and track down a copy of Levitch's favorite philosophical treatise in the Lycueum's library, but Gusle, rather than having someone take the effort to understand the text, decides to spend an afternoon cramming on its comments and then see if asking a few leading questions of Levitch will let him get on his good side. With some difficulty, the heroes manage to convince him that the Boccobists should participate in the temple as well.

This was a near miss. Unfortunately, no one thought to have Basel and Dämmek study the book while Gusle and Jesús plied other priests, so they barely made the diplomacy check.

Finally, they go visit Sappho, the loud leader of the kratocratic barbarians. As soon as they explain to her that all the other sects have agreed to participate, she proudly agrees to participate as well.

I learned "kratocratic" from the prep work they did before going a-perusading.
Mission accomplished, with honors -- they managed to convince nine of the eight sects to participate!

Now all the heroes need to do is build a temple. They spend a bit of time putting together a strategy as to how to convince Naizelasa to lend them the lyre and then go strong-arm Laurabec into flying Gusle out to negotiate. Laurabec is a bit taken aback, but Basel suggests that they fly very high before crossing over the border patrol the Shahalesti have so kindly provided Seaquen, convincing Takasi to go along with this plan. Gusle manages to get Naizelasa to veer off rather than eating Takasi in mid-air, but Gusle's wings are terribly sore from the constant drag they produce at the speeds Takasi flies at. After a bit of small talk (in which Gusle learn's that Naizelasa's daughter, Jewel, has hatched), Naizelasa listens to Gusle's proposal and asks for time to think about it. She says she'll fly to Seaquen with her response, but only after she receives word that she can enter Seaquen without being attacked by the Lyceum's spellcasters.

The heroes use a feather token to send the word, and Naizelasa land's at Lee's Isle the following afternoon. She says she is willing to let the heroes use the lyre, but under the following conditions:
  1. She be recognized by Seaquen's leaders as the Defender of Seaquen.
  2. The fort west of Seaquen be named Fort Naizelasa in perpetuity, and that the name of the fort be painted above its main door in blue letters.
  3. The armies of Seaquen have her visage painted on their armor, facing to the wearer's left, representing her role as defending the people of Seaquen.
  4. Her likeness be carved as the bowsprit of Seaquen's flagship.
  5. She be invited to all the Lyceum's war council meetings.
  6. The first structure they build contain a shrine, facing west, in honor of all sapphire dragons.
  7. She have authority over the design of any barracks they construct.

Hat tip to @Ragnar_Deerslayer for his suggestion on having Naizelasa get carried away with her demands.

The heroes explain that they will have to consult with those who will be making the agreement and that they will send her another messenger when they've finished negotiating on her behalf.

The heroes first approach Simeon. Simeon manages not to roll his eyes at the first demand, and seems quite relieved when they reach the end of the list. As far as he's concerned, inviting Naizelasa to war council meeting strikes him as quite reasonable, and he's willing to start work on a bowsprit should Seaquen actually come up with a flagship.

They then approach Mayor Votberd, who is also agreeable. Commander Foebane is interested to learn he is now in command of Fort Naizelasa. He's also agreeable if a little blue paint gets him some barracks. He then invites the heroes to a game of Conquest, which Jesús eagerly accepts.

The simulation of a game that is the Conquest rules never did excite me, but he had a total blast. I went full foreshadowing on him and let used the results of the die rolls to predict various events along the adventure path. I mentioned a cleric (guess which one!) who makes a heroic sacrifice, and the ultimate defeat of Leska in her lair.

So, the heroes request Naizelasa's presence once again, and Gusle spends an entire day strumming away at the lyre, first building the pantheon and then a huge barracks facility, including family housing, rec centers, etc., etc. Gusle's fingers are worn to the nubbins by the end of the day.

Naizelasa makes one additional demand of the heroes: She wants to be taken to the cell Natalie is being held in so she can confront her. Basel, erm, extemporizes, but Naizelasa doesn't seem fully convinced and gives the heroes until tomorrow to organize the meeting.

Our next session is on the 31st. Everyone will level up to start with, and then they'll be off to round up Natalie before going to the theater!
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