A new day, a new luxurious ride. With new passengers! Most of whom the party just chose not to pay attention to because they were just exhausted and were more concerned with stowing away a corpse in a case.
During the safari, Goodwyne takes the time to bond with the Griento family and developed a respect for their role in finding a place in the ever changing society of Ber. Mikkel took to the safari and used it as opportunity to put the moves on Bree, much to her annoyance.
Orithea is where things get exciting. Mikkel and Dr Basch hit the town in search for hints and clues to where the nearest person who can Raise Dead is. Goodwyne and Dr Teko decide to follow Luc & Crew. Threm and Cysgod are certain that weird oily naked weirdo from Cherage is sure to be here too so set out a stakeout by the hotel for him.
How'd it go for the team who loves to separate as much as possible as often as possible? Let's divide it up.
Golem Stakeout: The ninja and swashbuckler find the highest vantage point, and start Batman-ing the enclave. After a scream and a chase, they follow the strange figure to Elanor's room.
I wasn't too sure what the actual type of character of Mr Mapple/Andrei was.... so I went with a big sweeping dramatic sort. The kind fueled by the concepts of love, romance, and all those lofty ambitions that give life meaning. As the pair of investigators watched Andrei taking his bath in the hotel room, he gave a speech about his crusade to save his love from the clutches of vile wickedness, "for what is life about... if not to overcome adversity with all the strength our passions provide, as long as we struggle for love... we empower the hearts that beat in our chest."
They took a very serious liking to Andrei, asked him to stop breaking into stuff and in return they'll help rescue Isobel however they can. By having him be just a little bit over the top, they'll get the feeling something is amiss when they find him acting differently in later seasons.
Follow that Carriage: The investigator and alchemist are somehow super crazy good at not being detected as they follow their quarries down to the lighthouse... where they inexplicably decide to split off, steal a rowboat, and try to scale the cliff up to better eavesdrop in on any conversations. A rather time consuming endeavor, and as neither is particularly athletic the climbing had them stuck halfway up to their area, they were in a difficult situation when the sea caught fire underneath them. Consuming many potions, they held in there and came out a little scalded but absolutely convinced that the conspiracy is developing a superweapon capable of massive fires.
Raise the Dead: After lots of bribes in the Night Market and a great deal of interrogations and intimidations, a lead indicated that a mysterious fallen priest named Father Nemo operating just outside of the city's safe limits who may do so, but no results are guaranteed. With that, Mikkel asked Dr. Basch for a 5000gp loan to get this done. In the middle of the night, they go out to the lonely tent where back alley miracles are sold, open the triceratops case... and pay the masked figure for their abilities.
So, magic acts weird here. I got thinking... my wife is pretty weird, and enjoys watching. I asked her to draft a list of 20 possible Raise Dead complications. Five must be positive for the players, but the rest can be whatever she wants.
"No refunds" cackles Nemo under his porcelain mask, extends hands and invokes the magic through some dead language. A green mist rises, covering the deceased Finona Duvall, and a thick energy fills the air.
Mikkel's player rolls the d20, my wife consults the table.
The mists dissipate, and Finona is now a potted ficus plant. The pot looks to have the same colouring as the clothes she wore.
Dr. Basch: "I walk the f*** out, slam the door behind me, I don't even want to look at Mikkel for the rest of the night. Its time to seriously drink."
The party reconvenes, update each other on what happened... and head back to the hotel for the night. Mikkel is dedicated to protecting this plant for the rest of the journey.
The group gathers once more upon the train, and discreetly meet somewhere after Mikkel offers generous monetary gifts to train staff to ensure the Ficus Duvall is taken highly care of.
"So the Obscurati are working on some kind of doomsday lantern explosive device" concludes Det. Goodwyne after what he saw. "They turned it on and all the water turned to fire, it has to be a weapon of war."
The others are shocked and start to wonder about what they can do to, and if they this job needs to become an assassination.
Before they can though, there's a train robbery and oh my word the party is just way too excited for this. At long last of all this undercover nonsense, they decide to just let loose.
Mikkel is up on the roof of the train with a rifle in each hand burning as much grit as possible to shoot at the Screaming Malice and draw its attention away from the passengers.
Cysgod and Threm go full ninja, and smokebombs and swashbuckling abounds and they are more than a match for any person or spawn that stands up to them. The daring pair laugh aloud at their victories all the while.
Det. Goodwyne starts using some odd alchemies to mutate his body a bit and help him fight off some bandits.
Dr. Basch and Dr. Teko both head to the locomotive to get the train going again. Dr. Teko decides to drink some of his alchemies as well, but as they were made during a pocket of wild magic earlier in the trip... its another wild magic table roll courtesy of my wife, and his clothes go sentient, and after a few moments of recognizing their own consciousness his garments begin arguing against each other whether the Great Wearer is deserving of worship because he brought life to them, or is he a false god because he depends more on them for protection only to cast them away when they are too unclean for his liking.
Dr Teko decides that between the archaeologist in the brain and this religious schism in his clothes, this is just too many voices for him and sits down rocking back and forth for the remainder of the encounter.
The train slowly rolls into Trekholm, and the party convenes once again in private.
"That felt good and all... but, that wasn't good for our cover identities, right?" asked Threm.
Cysgod reassured him, "Its fine, it was all kind of crazy. No one could have paid attention to all that. Our identities are secure just fine."
The train limps into Trekholm, and boy does everyone plans. None of which involves the Obscurati at all.
Det. Goodwyne aka Hank Prospane is approached by Damata Griento, who asks him to attend a speaking of Vlendam Heid. Afterwards, explains of his troubles with The Family but surely a man of such bold character can help out. Anyone that stood up to malice beasts and bandits can help him in a scrape, and will be surely rewarded? Moved by his touching story, Goodwyne agrees that even if he can't get the others to aid him... he will be there.
Cysgod and Threm were so captivated by Andrei's impassioned speeches about saving love from the grips of tragedy that they exert all their efforts on following Elanor and Isobel. Through careful eavesdropping and clever impromptu disguises, the pair just barely manage to catch her communications regarding an upcoming auction. They swear themselves to Andrei that they'll rescue her! Because love is what's important. Governments rise and fall, but what hasn't changed is the indomitable spirit of greater emotions.
In getting off the train, Dr. Basch decides to do some random mind-reading and successfully gets into Cardiff's head. Finding out about his secret rendezvous to sell government secrets... he works up Mikkel and Dr. Teko into a frenzy that he needs to be stopped for this nefarious transaction can take place. Due to poor stealth rolls, a massive shootout begins. The party manages to escape with an unconscious Cardiff Hengehill through copious use of the Confusion spell, diving into Dr. Teko's Top Hat of Holding (bag of holding, except occupies a head slot usually reserved for his alchemy tables) and the tiefling flying off awkwardly on his new wings (Alchemists are weird anytime they level up). Hiding away for a while, Dr. Teko and Mikkel grow alarmed by the crazy mind control powers that Dr. Basch exerted and how it caused half their pursuers to turn on each other... or themselves.
The trio make their way to the docks knowing that there's a supply ship ready for them. Only instead of resupplying ,they decide to drop off the turncoat spy to one of their superior contacts. Giving them an update as to what happened, they ask for advice on what to do further now that their main plan went terribly.
"How new to you are this? Always have a plan C. Plans A and B never work. Did you actually take this mission with no regard for contingencies?"
Heads are lowered in shame.
The party returns to the train by morning feeling pretty triumphant... until they remember that they were supposed to keep an eye on the Obscurati agents, who may as well have been doing whatever they wanted. Then there's a bit of facepalming. Then they justify it to themselves.
"Well... we're supposed to follow them to the end of the line, right? Which means no matter what they do, they'll be back on this train where we can keep an eye on them. So we have lots of time to investigate them still."
I simply didn't have the mean spirit to convince them otherwise.
First priority they had was doing something about Elanor and Isobel, and in doing so... Det. Goodwyne disguised himself to get out of his promise to Damata Griento. The captured Andrei caused such outrage in the party that they felt they had to intervene and do something.
Rather than involve themselves directly (because they're trying to remain undercover), they decide to divide up and help behind the scenes. Some cause a distraction to the stadium guards, and the others sneak into where the captives are kept... and convince Andrei that the best way to get out will be to be victorious, at least until whatever he's being charged with can be dropped. In time, Andrei is convinced to let the party stuff him full of explosive powders and performance enhancing alchemy to allow him to win.
They return to their seats, observe carefully... see the impassioned speech... and a fight with a pyrecat. Given that they just stuffed this living construct full of explosives before a fight with a fire creature, they shouldn't have been as surprised as everyone else when everything went boom. The pyrecat died, Andrei lived, the crowd cheered at the results... and the party quickly left the arena to think things over.
Dr Basch: "Yeah, yeah we should have figured that would happen. I hope he's not mad."
Mikkel: "Okay, so I need another loan from you guys. This is a magic city right? And they love money? Then let's buy our friend the best lawyer the city has so that he has some defense while he recovers."
Goodwyne: "I... uh... need to check on something."
Det. Goodwyne seperated from the party to check in on Damata Griento, and after some investigative measures he found the body. Stoically, he nods and says "Well.... a shame, but that's what happens when you fall in with criminals."
Back at the train, this caused quite the scene between Mikkel and Goodwyne.
Mikkel the gunslinger, being a Neutral Good man of the people began shouting at the team leader about how "You gave him your word! He was a good man in a bad position, and he asked you for help and you gave him false hope!" Goodwyne, being very strictly Lawful Neutral, in return countered with "We have a mission above all else. We already gone beyond what we should be doing and risked everything. Our mission is national security and I will not have us getting wrapped up in the affairs of others again. It's unfortunate, but vital."
Train sets off again, session ended.
This... was a complicated one because time had to be taken out of game to make sure that the two players in the argument at the end were okay with each other. It did start to get borderline personal, but friendships were maintained and we continued on another day.
I imagine that the both of you could be surprised by that. I kind of was as well in a few ways, but the party alignment division and their approach can illuminate that.
We all enjoy the 3x3 alignment spread, because alignment isn't a character restriction to us but a trait to build the roleplaying decisions off of. It can help the immersion in realizing your character and how they look at the fantasy world they occupy. I'll often check in every couple of levels to ask players about their character development and if they feel that alignment still fits how they've grown.
At that moment in time, three characters in the team are Neutral Good, and the other half are Lawful Neutral. If this was a group formed of primarily good aligned spies and detectives, odds are all the midnight oil would have been burned to aid the people around them. But with this kind of division? The ethics of what's the "correct" thing to do often becomes a very heatedly debated topic in this group.
Especially with an assignment like this, in which its clear that there's the main mission and other events that come up. The lawful neutral characters (Goodwyne, Dr. Basch, Threm) stick to the argument of "Our mission is clear, to spy on the Obscurati. That's the most important thing, because big things are happening and as distasteful as it is to ignore people in need... our country and the people in it depends us right now, the rest is a distraction we can't afford". The neutral good characters (Mikkel, Dr. Brinolt, Cysgod) refute that with "We got into law enforcement so we could have the ability to help those in need, and these are people in need. We have moral obligation to at least try and accomplish both the mission, and help people."
Some of the roleplaying on this has been just great. Can get intense, but sometimes gold can come out of it. We always check after and between game to make sure no one out of game gets offended, as we have players who are Christian, atheist, conservative, liberal, brony, etc, and from all kinds of out of game beliefs and backgrounds that can easily become arguments out of game let alone also managing in game beliefs.
Actually its kind of funny that despite all our mixed ideologies and spiritual inclinations, we can all agree on dice related superstitions as objective truths... like how d20s obviously start the day with a limited number of 20s that can be rolled, so don't use them all up or something like that. Or green rolls better. Weird.
Anyway, as for how this relates to the side missions... it's a tricky matter and one that still resonates to the current day. By the time the party reached Nalaam, they were exhausted, often wounded, being spread in several directions trying to handle several tasks, most of them unrelated to their main assignment.
Det. Goodwyne's player explained to me after that while his character originally pledged himself to help Damata, the rapidly escalating amount of crazy on this voyage needs his focus. He considered in his mind whether helping this unfortunate man get out of a bind to a criminal syndicate (a syndicate he recently learned has also been talking to one of his team) is as important as the Obscurati and these "lanterns of mass destruction" agenda. In the end, he saw that there really wasn't an obvious "right" choice to make, so he made one and stuck with it. Needs of the many and all that.
As for the rest of the party and how they handled the Elanor/Isobel situation... the original plan was to go to the Nalaam authorities to have her prosecuted for slave trading. However, as they learned that everything in this city has a kind of monetary value to it... they quickly became uncertain and lost confidence that it would work, because slavery may be a totally legal thing there and thus she may not have technically committed any crimes. Once they were able to identify the bidders at the arena, they became certain about how no charge would stick to her. So one of them made the suggestion about possibly killing her. That in itself prompted a discussion about how much that would fix, and how much attention it would bring onto them if something goes wrong. The concern was especially on the worst case scenario that if any of them were caught and revealed, it could spark an international incident that would take away their upper hand.
With the clock ticking and too many uncertainties for them to make the stab at it, they reluctantly abstained from direct involvement. Mainly in hiring legal protection for Andrei, because he doesn't seem like someone who would let explosions and pyrecats stop him from his dramatic cause. If they can't save Isobel themselves, they're sure he can.
This was a session of heavy choices and everyone brought their best to the table, digging into all the events up to now and how they shaped their character influenced by the lens of alignement. They really enjoyed exploring some of the complexities of their characters and the world, and even accepting their own limitations. They aren't gods, they aren't the heroes of legends from fairy tales, and they certainly aren't perfect. They're just people with badges and skills trying to make what difference they can with whats available to them.
So when Det. Goodwyne tells them "We should really get back to the train, we have a job to do"... everyone was more than able to agree.
It occurs to me that being a musician, I have like... so much recording equipment in my home studio. If the players consent unanimously, I should put up a couple microphones to hopefully catch them when they're about to start one of these debates of ethics, alignment, and duty. It could make for something worthwhile to look back on or share.
Okay, so.... I don't actually remember a whole lot about what happened at the start of this game, wherein a trap was set for the lantern on the train to go off. I was quite ill and riding a whackload of medication, it took a bit to become coherent and somehow I continued to run game and not a person noticed. Except my wife, who called me names after.
What I do remember of this session was the arrival in Sid Minos and following Ottavia to the Isle of Odiem. After recent events, the party was battered and exhausted and now just ready to do something about it. No more distractions, no more lack of focus. This time they're going to get professional and trail some suspects and if anything weird happens they're just going to arrest them all and pat each other on the back.
"You know, they probably know that we're on their trail. Way too much has happened that they can't just ignore us. So, the mission says they're meeting someone at Vendricce. But what if that's misdirection? They're going to change plans. I think they're going to get off at this stop and leave us behind on the train like suckers."
And with that, the task force set out to sneakily trail the party, hastily bribing someone for use of their boat to sail out to the island. One of them struggling to carry a large ficus plant with them.
Half the group decides to stay with the boat at shore, while the other half follows their quarry to the lighthouse tower.
The dead rising was something they had a feeling would happen, but the scene was intense enough to keep them in a constant state of panic of what to do while the other half finally saw through the trap Ottavia set, and they beat her up pretty handily but did not kill her. They figured that someone like this would have a lot of knowledge and would be worth keeping around.
The Crypta was intense and they were certainly not prepared for a sudden dungeon crawl for survival, however they were a hundred percent engaged with the lore. Except maybe a bit for Goodwyne, who often said "Of course its cursed. Ancient places like these are always cursed, and if we don't hurry we're going to get cursed right with it."
Belcamp and Giovanni and their rivalry was a blast, and ultimately as distasteful as they found Giovanni, they were inclined to give him the upper hand against the clearly-pathetic Belcamp. Of more interest was Adolini, and the nature of his imprisonment. Mikkel, who up to this point had been a regular Clergy respecting church goer, just got worn down from the vile nature of this tomb and all the stuff its imprisonment. His outrage began manifesting in moralizing lectures about how corrupt the church is and that a new revolution is needed to tear down the hypocrites hiding behind masks of sanctity.
Also, the main chamber fight with the golden doppelgangers was absolutely nuts. Rather than thwart Gene and his use of them, the party immediately chose to have doppelgangers of their own.
Now, I've seen this PCs act in a variety ways since the start. Happily trusting the wrong people, or being belligerent to the right people... but I never seen them actually show apprehension and terror like in the face of Ashima-Shimtu. Feeling hard pressed for options, they agreed to her deal and dove into the well... remembering the Finona-ficus but having left behind Ottavia.
The sensation of washing ashore was disorienting for the group, but they felt they didn't have time to rest. AT this point... they were severely battled and chose not to rest or go looking for ways to heal. After all, there was a meeting to crash.
Donning new disguises and costumes to look like common rail workers, they coordinated and intercepted the meeting. The reveal of Lya's presence surprised absolutely no one, but they were more concerned about what they were going to do with the lantern... and as they lit it to reveal the people hiding on the other side of reality... Goodwyne said "Get them!" and kicked down the door.
It wasn't a very coordinated affair from there as the only two who ran in to engage with the conspiracy was Det. Goodwyne himself and Dr. Teko... who in the second round was cut down by Lya Jierre. The party realized they may have bitten off more than they can chew, and scrambled to stuff Dr Teko's body into his own Hat of Holding and beat a hasty retreat... on foot.... the long way to their rendezvous with the ship, dodging patrols of guards in a desperate attempt to get away.
It was a solemn trip back, and the party began to bicker. Goodwyne was dismayed that when he called to apprehend the conspiracy... only him and Dr Teko made the first advance. Mikkel challenged his authority saying that it was a bad plan because the mission said to observe only. A growing schism is developing between those two... but maybe some time spent back in Flint would alleviate tensions.
Solemn funeral was held for Dr. Teko in and out of character.
"He was a madman, but he was our madman" said the player of Cysgod as we followed the traditions of our games and burned the character sheet in the Kiln of the Fallen.
It sounds like they are having fun but could maybe use being organised to some degree. The LeRoy Jenkins charge scene does not look good for an elite organisation. The lack of derailed trains makes me sad
@RangerWickett You're right about that. Their abject refusal to really get some good rest or even stock up on healing does give them a certain John McClane level of ruggedness as every confrontation becomes a high stakes struggle for the underdog party.
The writing on the lady of the forked tongue was top notch though. The style of her speech was a big selling point on her creep factor, driving home just how alien a demon can be.
@Andrew Moreton Organization is a difficult thing for some reason. Do you ever have that in the games you're part of? Because in the past 20 years of GMing, every single group of different people have the common trait of "no one wants to be the leader, one person says that they'll do it, and the others will just not listen". Like a true anarchic state.
Also yes, the train is right there for epic crashing... and it just never came up due to blind panic.
Interesting, most of my groups cooperate fairly well , sometimes there is a clear leader either in character or as a player but even when there is not they normally cooperate well at resolving objectives. I have had groups who are worse at it than others and differences in strategic long term planning are more common than failure to coordinate on a tactical level.
I think we have crashed two subway trains and the transcontinental from book 4 and if I don't get a train wreck next week I'll be shocked. Sadly that may be the last good chance to crash a train
Just to get everyone in the zone before starting Cauldron Born, I asked everyone for a take on their character development and what they'd be doing in the few months that pass.
Threm - the Swashbuckler of the group is out for now. He's got life stuff happening.
Det. Goodwyne - We as a group are coming together to the aid of the player. He's been sitting back for the past while and feeling disconnected from the game. In part, it's because the Pathfinder Investigator class is really trick, and by 7th level and above the math of the system goes all weird. So, the results of the train job went pretty poorly. He as a player isn't feeling like much as a leader, and we're doing what we can to help out in both making sense of his character, or helping him be more of a leader, or reassuring its okay not to be a leader if he doesn't want to play as one. However, it also has come up that of all the characters... his is the least fleshed out. No history, no ambitions, no hobbies, nothing, and he has no idea if he even wants to fill that in. It's an ongoing project to work with him what it is he wants to do.
Dr. Basch - The mentalist submitted a short story in which his character left Risur for a bit to visit his family-in-exile. Working together with the player, we put together an intellectual family that was a little too outspoken... his father basically a Voltaire-type figure who lost a duel with someone important and accepted exile. Dr. Grigori Basch is only the name he's working under. Player said he wanted to leave his visiting family vague, to leave it as foreshadowing for any future season in which they may visit Ber.
The player also mentioned that his alignment is likely shifting to Neutral from Lawful Neutral. As an intellectual person, his character never bought into the idea of basic good/evil morality and that there's only people and whatever selfish intentions they justify their actions with. However the past year having been with him in a position working with a law enforcing agency... he's grown accustomed to not only his own powers, but that he can do what he feels he must to enforce those laws. He places a high value on society and how the psychology of people influences what that society is, and that laws are absolutely vital to keeping order. Just that those laws apply to him much less than it used to.
Cysgod Awyr - So, the ninja has grown incredibly distrustful of the government he works for. Having seen the expanse of the conspiracy and how it has infected every single country, the ninja spent his downtimes in disguise and head to Torfield Palace to take up role as a floor scrubber in order to listen for rumors or potentially eavesdrop on secrets. He learned about the daily events that go on there, and heard that there's secret passages there for those clever enough to find them.
Mikkel Oren - The gunslinger has felt that the government has failed the people. While he still wishes to work hard with what authority and agency he has to make a change, he doesn't feel like the Clergy or the Risuri Government are equipped to do something about it. To make his statement, he wrote out some Millerism principles and nailed it to a local church. Then he went about trying to establish a workers union for the poor people abused by local industry conditions.
The player decided that if he goes much further, he's going to change his alignment to Chaotic Good. He's a believer in the laws and that proper government is a good thing for everyone... but this one is just rotten to the core and will need drastic action to be fixed. He's not "Chaotic" in the sense that he hates all governments, but "Chaotic" in the sense that he just hasn't seen a government that works for the benefit of the people and the people may have to do something about it.
Interestingly, where the players have come together in the meanwhile was to take care of the loose ends of Dr. Teko.
Dr. Teko had moved in to the watertower of Viktor St. Demain from a few seasons ago, and adopted a young ward to teach alchemy and robotics to so that he can get twice the work done. When the smashed golem was found in Season 3, the party pulled favours to have the golem moved to the watertower for the party golem expert to work on repairing. With him dead... they decided to check in on young Sparky (named so because an errant spark caused some hand damage, that was fixed with a gear based prosthetic).
The party took the time to make sure that Sparky would be taken care of... but it seems Sparky may have begun to make contact with whatever mind rests within the golem that was brought to them. This has the team on alert... but willing to keep their hands off, as it seems Sparky found a new brass mentor.
"Yeah, that kid is totally going to go all Sotha Sil on us. Twenty dollars says he's going to be the end boss of the next campaign."
Probably not. But it does seem like a decent way to start the 5th season.
Det. Goodwyne, Con. Oren and Dr Basch stop by headquarters to pick up the new recruit, Constable Reginold Dixion (Lawful Neutral Swashbuckler). A promising candidate for the task force, veteran of the last Yerasol War, recently back from a series of undercover assignments against the West Breland Market Consortium smuggling ring... this patriot was welcomed into the carriage and given the briefing of everything so far.
That's when the carriage is ambushed and a street shootout occurs! Goodwyne spends the entire combat just trying to rescue the carriage driver.
Eventually they make it to the hotel for briefing, told they need to dismantle the Kell Guild and get at the Obscurati, all within the week. They were suspiciously silent when Asrabey showed up and added to the workpile with the rogue Ekossigan. So that also needs to be taken done. Turns out the players were careful and quiet around him because they're convinced he's pure fey lord and making promises will bind their soul through weird fey magic.
I chose against using the mini-game for taking down the guild because Pathfinder 1e is already so full of tedious mechanics that adding to it wasn't an appeal, plus they're all 7th level and should have enough creativity to come up with some wild scheme.
That scheme seems to be taking on a bunch of disguises as everyday joes, then abducting Kell's lawyer and taking him to a black site to make him cooperate (results pending).
Swap to the B-Team.
Work done a while ago on Det. Phil and his gang of unlikely recruits are on the case to meet with mediator Brakken. Players are thrilled for the return of Det. Phil & Co and roleplay the unease and wonder in meeting with this impressive thoughtful minotaur.
And then... explosions.
Doing an overland map made it easier to track flow of where everyone was during the chaos.
That's around when we left things.
Half the party is dealing with a hostile lawyer they kidnapped, the other half investigating the Cloudwood District after hearing about weird occurances, and Task Force: Phil is protecting their charge among total pandemonium.
Next session will be January. Players are getting excited to get back to it.
Fun fact! This game is in fact still going. Who knew?!
The main team went hard to work trying to figure out how to take on Ekossigan, and figured that with all of his fancy titles... odds are there were clues in their wording that would be hints as to what to do. Hours were spent in strategy about how to both save the kids, and agreeing to do a quick strike on Gale to knock her out. The roleplaying was so intense, I felt I didn't have to do anything.
Diagram A: "Okay, now kiss" aka "What a GM is really doing behind the DM screen."
Back to the action! The plan went well until Ekossigan went full on winter and we had a mind-bending time with 3 dimensional combat. Thankfully my wife's Christmas gift to me was flight tiers.
Diagram B: Flying combat
Kids were saved, Gale was bludgeoned into submission through gratuitous sneak attack, and Ekossigan was slain. Victory all around! Until they heard a terrible explosion elsewhere in the city.
Cut scene to Task Force: Phil
The players had a blast acting out their second characters on the trail of crazy radical bombers.
I tweaked some of the story slightly here to match player motivations. The player of Mikkel Oren (Docker) had been pushing hard for the entire campaign to have a workers union in direct opposition to Benedict Pemberton's big industry and all their abuses. By this time of the story, it made sense that there was protests and strikes and Governor Stanfield was meeting with both parties to work out some kind of mutual deal.
So Zubov's crazy dwarves weren't specifically just a complication to the impending peace summit, but influenced by Pemberton through shady backdoor deals to come to Flint and blow up the union talks even though the Governor was there. Wasn't a major change, but it made the player feel like his efforts were really paying off.
After some hard detective work, it all ended with a daring showdown on a runaway subrail train as the players tried to dismantle a cryptex bomb using dwarven runes as the code.
Diagram C: Bombs on a train
Also, I made a cryptex. Would it have been easier to do it as a skill challenge? Probably. But drunk-me becomes an inspired-me.
Diagrams D and E: By the way, it's not easy to make these. Players loved it though.
Ultimately, it was not quite enough and Task Force: Phil met their end. Scene went back to the main characters, who rushed hard to try and dig through the rubble to find the bodies of their fallen friends. Game ended on a bittersweet note. They shook their fists and blamed the Obscurati who surely had to be behind this. Or that damned Benedict Pemberton.
Hopefully next update doesn't take so long to get around too. Hope you are all holding up well in these weird times.
Yeah, losing PCs or even well liked NPCs if done wrong can feel pretty rough. But they felt it was at least a death that meant something. Phil & Co were considered heroes. Actually, I scripted for Constable Phil Olem to be a minor character to be killed off in Season 1 as part of a side investigation. Having him last this long and become his own thing only added to the drama. They saw him rise from minor requisition clerk, to personally training him on combat skills, promoted eventually to leader of his own team, and in the end they died like heroes.
"He knew the risks when he put on the uniform, but this is how he would have wanted to die. Like a hero."
We did manage to finish season 5 before the world went screwy. The current agenda is to get everyone converted/uploaded to Fantasy Grounds and continue on that way. Been sitting on a copy of that for a couple years, probably bought during a Steam sale. It'll be a hard transition because we're all crotchety old gamers terrified of newfangled technology.
Good luck to you as well though. Hopefully you find a solution to the lack of RPGs going on. At least this is happening during an age of unparalleled connection, and not in the 90s.
With some of the distractions out of the way, it became time to take down Lorcan Kell.
I opted not to use the minigame for the same reason as the others. Plus, at this point in time the PCs are 8th level, with lots of connections around the city. We left it to a sandbox kind of situation where they leveraged the past few years of contacts into some dastardly scheme.
Mr. Cippiano did reach out to Mikkel with an offer of aid, in exchange for certain favours. Mikkel and the team discussed this among themselves. All were in agreement that it was a terrible idea, and they "don't negotiate with criminal scum"... but were divided on whether or not they should accept his offer with the intent of arresting him too.
Ultimately their plan came down to the following steps.
1. Strike a deal with the lawyer they still had captured in a basement. Information on Kell's most frequented places of operation, in exchange for a paid teleportation out of the city.
2. Disguise as fellow guild members and spread disinformation about guild operations, while also spreading the idea "maybe we should get a legit job, my cousin works with the new union... if the feds are coming for Kell, no reason we need to go down with him" to reduce numbers.
Slowly they picked away at the guild. At Kell's hideout, there was some stealthy infiltration to sabotage parts of the estate, and leaving threatening messages that nowhere is safe for him. They wanted to add psychological pressure to Kell until it erupted in one defiant last stand in which Kell was killed resisting arrest. The group felt it was a shame that they couldn't take him alive, but he also didn't seem like the cooperative sort so they didn't particularly mourn the loss of someone that sadistic.
Mission was firmly accomplished, and so they are invited to a fancy dinner with the top brass between two nations. What could go wrong? Everyone made their preparations... and Mikkel Oren continued crafting a Vendetta Bullet for his planned assassination of Lya Jierre, whom he ferociously blames for the demise of Dr. Brinolt last season.
Being invited to dinner directly put everyone in a highly uncomfortable place. The past week had seen a high octane series of events with crime guilds, explosions, renegade fey schemes, so having to go to a fancy dinner with the top brass of two nations with the explicit instructions to be diplomatic was quite a bit of tone whiplash, but they were relieved they had time to clean up after what felt like an entire week of being in a Die Hard movie.
Throughout the dinner, the party tried their best to keep quiet and mind their manners. In their minds, they were still street level officers, and the fact that lately they've been involved with more international events hasn't quite sank in. I've read versions of this campaign ran by other people who enjoyed the idea that their protagonists start off as involved in international events making them a pretty big deal. In talking with my players, they never felt that at all, instead roleplaying as street level operators who are in over their heads.
So, much of the dinner passed with only some minor roleplaying and renewing connections. They enjoyed it, but from an in character perspective there was the permeating feeling of "Oh man what are we even doing here".
It came as a massive relief when things escalated and now they had to raid Cauldron Hill's secret facility ASAP. Having readied for this moment for quite a while, the party made sure to pay for Gale's healing after the vicious cudgelling she received, went to retrieve the mechanical Grappa, and convinced Asrabey to be of aid.
I did however, change one thing. Namely that Tinker Oddcog had been already missing from the Cauldron Hill facility for some time. His loyalty was contingent that he gets to build this enormous masterwork machine, and the geas spell put on him was just to ensure silence. However, working conditions worsened after Grappa's messy departure. Kasvarina was out of commission, and Leone is probably one of those bosses that'll micromanage everything. Oddcog's paranoia got the better of him sooner than later and if someone like that wanted to leave, he had more than enough ways to do so. Didn't change much of the course of events other than meaning Oddcog landed in Ber a while ago.
I won't get into the details of how the epic battle went, because combats to me are some of the least memorable parts of gaming. But, here's some highlights.
Diagram A: A handy prop donated by a friend who manages a suit store.
The Borne reveal was pretty fantastic. The current working party theory about the Obscurati's plans was "building a giant warship, with this lantern acting as some kind of planar rail run cannon thing".
The petty bickering and finger pointing between Leone and Grappa gave relief to the party that for sure the Obscurati is less of a cult with a singular goal like they thought, but instead like a massive corporation where information is constantly withheld from other departments, and that meant instigating office politics and blame-games would be a viable tactic in the future
The party offered some level of leniency to most of the non-combatant workers of the facility, since misinformation meant they did not know the true nature of the project and why
Asrabey running off in search of Kasvarina brought a round of "of course he did that" groans. After Borne's escape, the players liked the reversal of events. When they first met Asrabey, he was a terrifying force to witnesses and the party felt like they had to delicately plead and make strange eldritch pacts with him on Axis Island. However over the course of the adventure, a lot of that mystique faded and they saw him as a concerned husband acting desperately, and he's the one asking them for the favour to help if he needs them in restoring her. The party walked away from that with a similar feeling to Rock Rackus, in that these are like characters with their own series happening, and storylines just happened to intersect.
I also chose not to run the naval battle, in order to keep events focused on the players and what they would know and see for themselves. Leaving Cauldron Hill and seeing the state of Flint and the devastation that occurred... the first thing half the party did was break from the group to check on their families. They heard rumours of the colossus suddenly vanishing, but that was it until the next briefing.
There was always talks about the king's "powers" and what they could do... but to have heard it in action only made him more terrifying, although the party speculation about an impending war between Risur, Danor, and now the Dreaming feels just so certain.
Here's how the players/characters are at the end of Act 1 of this enormous drama.
1. Constable Reginold Dixion: With the demise of his last character, Dr. Brinolt, the player decided that the party needed a bit more combat skill. He was under the impression this campaign would see a lot less combat than it has been, but feels he can fix that now. To him, he's playing everything from a rookie perspective. Not new to the RHC specifically, but peering behind the veil and seeing these international machinations that is being covered up, he felt he'd want to play a character that just feels constantly out of their depths.
2. Det. Goodwyne: The player is also in the camp of "didn't expect there to be so much combat", but after some discussion we realized that part of his dissatisfaction comes from two points. First, Pathfinder at 8th/9th level gets confusing if you're playing classes that drown you in tricks and options (such as Investigator), so he feels he's understanding less and less of the game mechanics. Two of the other players have offered to help him condense his character options into a shorter list of preferences he can rely on. The other issue is one of Leadership, as by this time so many other characters have their own motivations they aren't likely to take instructions from him. Which made the player feel kind of shut out a bit. By expressing this, the other players have agreed to support him as party leader more and ask for his opinion/insight on things.
3. Cysgold Awyr: At the opposite end of the spectrum, this player feels there could stand to be a bit more combat as he designed a really specialized sneak-attack ninja machine and wants opportunities to show off his massive dice pool. As far as his character goes, his time in "that heretical crypt place" still haunts his mind, and he wants to start digging up more on his own aasimar heritage, in addition to maybe keeping closer to Governor Stanfield who himself is something of a racial anomaly.
4. Mikkel Oren: Also in the camp of "could stand to be more combat", since he is enjoying the heck out of gunslinger rules. In the wake of a colossus rampage, Mikkel spends his time making sure that the union he helped organized is okay, ensuring his family made it out alright and maybe moving them to another city for protection. His planned vengeance against Lya Jierre is all the more complicated that her reaction at the banquet indicates that she herself is just a pawn in the Ob's schemes... which terrifies him just that bit more.
5. Dr. Basch: The player feels that the campaign is doing just fine so don't go messing with the combat amounts, and if the party isn't designed to be The Expendables, the GM should recognize that they aren't all musclebound combat machines and adjust the story accordingly. The character himself felt like he needed a vacation, so is going to visit his family in Ber. At the start of season 6, I'm going to use his character in Ber as the lead that Oddcog is there instead of getting told so, since it's too good of an opportunity not to use.
Out of game, it's been a couple of months since we had a session. My school course load went all weird, and now we are all trying to adapt to moving to online gaming. The last time I had done so was during my Cretaceous period of playing in the text based java chats of New Bremen/Rookhausen/Fangsfall on the White Wolf sites. It'll be a weird transition for everyone, but if the options are this or no gaming at all.... we'll definitely move our butts online and cram new knowledge into our elderly brains.