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WotBS Fuzzybear's Burning Sky


Blatant title theft.

Since we are releasing remastered versions of our episodes now on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and Youtube, and I was going to listen to them all over again anyway, I thought this might be the time to jump on the train of session comments and summary. These will be more retrospectives due to them having been recorded more than a year ago now (our live sessions are episode 43), but I hope the distance and time has made my impressions better not worse.

Episode 1 - A Very Warm Greeting​

The title comes from our bard Jack's catchphrase that he had planned prior to knowing anything about the setting or path. It does however happen to fit very well. Very fortuitous in my opinion. He is also the one who names the episodes, so I hope you enjoy his puns.

While it is a cliché opening, I actually found it to be really well drafted. It has just enough happening to not feel like the info dump that it is. Torrent is meant to pull the group together and set the stage for the opening section of the story, but I liked being able to play it out more naturally so it doesn't just feel like bullet points.

I did do a session 0 with them together to give them a general idea of the themes, tone, and other expectations, as well as individual session 0.5s that gave the characters a bit of backing in their individual situations in the city. Bryn had some interactions with her family as well as some moon and stars reading that foretold vaguely about what was to come. She also was thrown into the mission unexpectedly when a member of the Resistance had to pass along his job to her. Jack comes from the Eralore Hall, expanded in our game to be an alternative school for more subtle magic users, and did some assisting with a Resistance group. He was given the task to join this mission by the president of the Hall and just so happened that his bodyguard, Myetharia, a much more official member of the Resistance, was looking to take up the same mission. Rayland was told to wait for "a torrent" after being sent by Lyceum after learning of news from far away lands, while Winry's caravan of performers were setting up a show until the army news put a damper on all expectations. She was also kicked out due to a small miscommunication on the definition of ownership.

The fight itself was perfectly frantic despite being probably too slow, but learning new characters and wanting to show off is always a thing early on so this isn't a surprise at all. I really appreciated how the scene was chaotic and felt dangerous to the players while being very in control for me. They were never in danger, but it allowed for them to be creative and feel as though everything was happening all at once.

I didn't have to change much of anything in this session, which is nice being the very first one, though I did introduce some character relationships and prior knowledge as it became relevant.

Next session, a sprint to the tower!

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Episode 2 - Deception in the Depository​

The flight to the depository tower was really fun. I wanted to keep it high energy and feel a bit frantic, so I tried not to allow them much time to breathe as events were occurring fast and furious. I think they really landed well, even the wyvern was noticed due to the extended dark vision from the shadow cleric Bryn. All of the players agreed afterwards that it was scary, some of the details were terrifying, and they were feeling the panic of the city as they went. I did something of a mix between the narrated journey and individual events, trying to make them really quick hitting.

I gave out a few names to NPCs because I knew my players would search for them and want to hear them. It also helps to be able to bring them back up again in the future when we return to Gate Pass! I can see the wounded that Bryn stopped to heal as well as the woman saved from the burning building both making a comeback then.

I mentioned this in another thread but I totally forgot to bring back Kiki the giant weasel. The party was interested initially, though not enough to stay around, and I completely forgot to bring it back up at the safe house! This was a sad miss for me because I thought it was really funny.

At the tower I had probably the biggest change to the adventure as written - I had to rename Rivereye Badgerface. We use WorldAnvil for our world building and note taking and I made the mistake of posting a page for Rivereye before the first session. I made it private, but the way that our pages were set up then, everyone could see the secrets that I wrote. Oops. So, I hastily changed the name (Funzbar Biteknee) and made the best of it. In the moment, none of them realized it was the same character as they had already forgotten the majority of what it said weeks later, but I wonder if it helped Jack pierce the veil quicker or not.

Regardless, Jack (though really everyone) was the quickest to notice that Funzbar called the party the wrong names and seemed to not understand what was going on well enough, and while he wasn't quite right in how it was being done, he was right enough to set off the panic from Lairon and begin the escape portion. We play on Roll20 and the dynamic lighting for this section was both great and awful. It worked really well for keeping people isolated and in the dark of what was going on, but it led to me having to repeat instructions and directions multiple times in the combat. It was still really memorable and again had very little threat to the party, which is a bonus for the first couple of sessions of a new game.

One of my players, Rayland, has a real love for improvisation at the table. As such, he wanted to play a thief that was constantly looking to grab things from people. This is one of my favorite things for this adventure path so far - I don't have to come up with random stuff! All the major players have inventories that can be looked at and taken. It really feels rewarding for him to be able to deny spell casters some of their spells, nick a potion from Lairon in this event, or something similar without me having to feel overwhelmed all the time trying to make it interesting. Kudos there for sure.

In the end, Lairon escaped with his potion of fly, Rayland having stolen the spider climb one instead, so the chase continues into the streets and towards the school. Overall, I enjoyed this episode a lot and I think it does a great job of setting the tone for the opening of the campaign.

Next episode, some fiery butt kicking.



Episode 3 - Mercy and Fireballs​

Oh boy, this was quite the learning episode for my party.

The episode started with the group heading on to Gabal's school chasing Larion. The first thing they come across is the wyvern rider holding the family hostage. They deal with this quite well through a combination of aggressive diplomacy and combat, getting the man to believe he was safe before being knocked out and tied up. There was a bit of a moral dilemma about what to do with a prisoner of war, Jack being relatively passivist while Myetharia and Rayland are much more on the practical and unforgiving end of the spectrum. In the end, they left the man tied up in the street for guards to find. This comes up again briefly later on as an aside mention in a later episode what happened.

Then they arrived at the school and had a lesson to learn for sure. They talked with Diogenes but only briefly. They seemed to think him more an obstacle than a place to learn, so once they got past him and into the compound to continue their chase, it seems they mostly ignored him. They also had the bad fortune of pretending to be on Shealis' side which did put his back up a bit. I tried a couple of times to get them to realize he had information but they were determined to get to the root of their problem and after spiting out the most necessary information (she's a well qualified blaster mage) to try to get them to be careful, he left them to it.

It didn't go very well for them. Rayland did steal her component pouch, which did slow her down a bit but didn't get rid of all of her threats at all, but they were overmatched with Larion there as well. His sneak attack nearly downed one, Shealis' Fire Orb damaged everyone as they came in, and in the end she threatened them with a massive fireball. When they continued to press the attack, she dropped it, downing multiple members and very nearly ending the battle right there. The next turn, after Larion was killed which nearly set her into a rage of vengeance, she readied another and gave her ultimatum - let her go now or they all die. Jack gave in and the party lived to see another day but not without a truly chastening experience.

I'll give a little explanation for my party here. We had most recently finished a 4e adventure path (Scales of War) which was okay but needed a lot of help to make it more than a series of dungeon dives. I say this because they were used to a certain pattern of play, get obstacle, overcome obstacle, kill baddies. So when this came up, they resorted to their previous norm even though I had warned them may get them in trouble in this campaign - they say a baddie who had something they wanted, so they took the path to get to them, overcame the obstacles to get there, and fought. This was probably the most dangerous option they could have come up with, but it was a great experience for them to get my point across.

They took this session to heart as we will see going forward. Even the next episode they were much more circumspect and considering with their actions. While this was a nasty session and a tough spot to leave things for the week, I think it was a necessary reminder that we were not playing the same campaign anymore and that things have changed. I'm really proud of my players for not being too salty about it in session 3 nearly getting TPKed by a stacked force. I felt bad about it and gave them some of my thoughts on what happened in post-game. In the long run this was a really great experience for them, but I could see this breaking players and groups apart in a new game.

Next episode, securing the case.



Episode 4 - Rats, Badgers, and Imps​

I think this may be our best episode of the first adventure. I mentioned this in the last episode heavily, but I think this episode really shows the growth and progress of my players to the differences in this adventure path from our previous one. They did a great job in this session of viewing options, weighing pros and cons, and making informed decisions. I am quite proud of them and how quickly they took that message to heart.

This section does a lot of things very well, but perhaps what it does best is plays off expectations and reverses them. This is especially true in juxtaposition with what just occurred to my party in nearly getting burnt to a crisp by Shealis. They came in expecting danger and trouble this time, but the dangers in this section only come up if they didn't trust themselves. The door puzzle is not too hard (especially with some help defining what the creatures and plans were), the role play convincing not too difficult (as the elves don't expect them), and Kurychek is more comedy than actual threat to a prepared party. But they all come at a time of intense suspicion and threat that they are taken seriously and enjoyed. It made each of them really land well and reward the players for good decision making.

Now I don't think this episode is always entertaining, perhaps too simple for a group that didn't struggle with Shealis for instance, but in the wake of what happened in the previous one it was a well deserved breather from a difficulty standpoint without being too much a breather in the tension.

The other thing that this episode really landed well is the changed mindset for some of my players that morality is not binary. Being good doesn't mean people are helpful to the heroes just as much as being evil means they are obstacles. Loyalty and morality are complicated, like an evil imp who is not really out to get you but instead chaffing at the rules of his deal or a divine archon attempting to sear the party to allow its companion to escape. It also helps to see that the enemies are not perfect. The pact was not perfect, it could be exploited. It gives much more credence this way when the party slips through and outsmarts enemies if all other aspects are not unexploitable. While it feels good to outsmart something and find the one path to success, it feels better (in my opinion) for the enemies to be real and make mistakes so you do not have to force the group to find the one path you allow them to take.

In terms of plot, this episode consists of the group heading into the elven ghetto, ignoring Kurychek and getting into the woodshop, tricking the elves to giving them the case, avoiding Shealis in the streets, taking Kurychek hostage, and then making a deal with the imp to delay the inquisitors from their trail. Very little combat was in this episode, but that does not mean it wasn't successful. It was one of the favorites of my players as well (at least until Winry's ice breaker party games!) and I would say that their excitement shines through in the audio as well.

Next session, time has come to escape Gate Pass!


Oh, it wasn't in the playlist! I will have it added tonight. In the meantime, here is the direct link if you'd like -
Thanks for letting me know!

E: It is added to the playlist now!
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Episode 5 - Leaving Town​

While the title was a bit presumptuous, the party set the ground work for leaving town in this episode. A fair amount of this episode is devoted to following up on backstory characters and items. It was actually quite useful for me though as it allowed me to sprinkle in the various options for escaping Gate Pass without having them feel forced.

Jack's backstory was with Eralore Hall, which we built up to be a more Hogwarts-style secret academy for mages less blaster inclined. We gave it a front of a bar with illusory patrons that would actually serve patrons if they came in. Behind the bar was a staircase that leads down into the true academy. While we didn't get much into the rest of the academy due to not needing to, we did get to meet a more with it Gratanus Helicomb. I tried to model him a bit more after Dumbledore than perhaps the text would have been inclined towards, so he was secretive and a bit strange, but also strangely gregarious and likeable. While he seemed to have a lot of strings to pull and knowledge you wouldn't expect, you felt almost as though you could trust him anyway.

We also got a bit of a glimpse into Myetharia's pre-game session with Krach and Petra. This fleshed out the One-To-Go Tavern as a bit less seedy, still rundown though, and more as a haven for the Resistance and Thieves' Guild. Krach was Myetharia's contact, Petra a co-worker, so there was some pre-existing trust there. They were able to discuss options, going to the mage guilds for distraction or charm help, making a stealth escape attempt, or talking to a councilmember for help. In the end, the group chose Councilman Menash, perhaps because I found him fun, but also because it felt the least committed to start.

Meeting with Menash and Helicomb briefly, we got to have some fun showing off some ridiculous wares. Winry loves this sort of knick-knack, both the player and the character, so I didn't have much doubt that it would land with the players. I struggled a bit in the moment to come up with more ideas than the 3 or 4 that I had pre-written, a bit of a disappointment to not have more variety, but I think they enjoyed the mix of technically useful but crazy that his goods were. Beyond that, Winry got her paws on a thieves' tool kit that she so desperately wanted after attempting to break into the lockers in the Depository tower.

Leaving with a couple of letters to meet with Captain Herreman, the group finds themselves being followed. While they tried to get away, I really wanted to have the encounter happen and Rantle to be introduced here. Rayland gave it a solid effort to elude pursuit (humorously this just happened again live some 40 episodes later), but the group was drawn into combat.

Next session, a back alley brawl!



Episode 6 - Magic, Money, and Mages​

The back alley fight took up a large portion of this episode, as well as a bit of a makeshift interrogation of a member of the Black Horse Head gang. While the majority of the conflict was straightforward, as the ruffians are rather simplistic to run, there were a couple of really bright moments that brightened things up.

First, I had the grunts intelligent enough to recognize a healer, and caster, when they saw one happen in front of them, so they all dogpiled on top of Bryn as soon as she was revealed. This was thematically interested, as they are interested in hunting out casters for the reward, as well as being different from most other conflicts where the front lines can end up more defined. Things were a mess quickly and the healer being struck hard. At low levels though, Shadow cleric's aura of temporary hit points is pretty brutal to try to get through without ganging up. They did their best, but they only ended up leaving a couple of scratches. It wasn't meant to be overly taxing though, more a point to show off fun things happening in town, so no worries from me here.

Second, I got to mess around with Rantle a bit. I am fully admitting that aggressively smarmy and charismatic is not the most comfortable in my acting portfolio, but I did get to have some fun with him even if it was more eyerolling than truly charming. I wasn't sure how it was supposed to be written, but I likened him to Westley from the Princess Bride in terms of being over the top and obvious. I know that Winry, who is played by my wife, found it insane, but I liked that Myetharia and Bryn both were willing to play along a bit. It was a running gag in our last campaign that I had to play the NPC part of relationships with both of our male players, so this was a bit of a joke within the party as well.

This is not the first time it has shown up, but it is something that came up again this episode. Jack's player in the previous campaign took a more leadership role despite not being the face. He listens to a lot of D&D, as well as a lot of 'How to be a better player/DM' Youtube videos. As such, he has a pretty large voice for the party in terms of what or how to do things. He also likes to spend time jumping in to have character introspections and conversations. I say this not to be demeaning, but to try to understand a bit more what is happening. In this episode we have a second time where Jack is very fine taking a prisoner, but unwilling to take any action to clean their tracks afterwards. While this is not uncommon as a trope for a character, he is quite aggressive about it trying to force everyone to go along with his no killing mentality at this point in time. This is something to watch as the episodes play out as I believe this is something he wanted to explore with the character - the loss of innocence and becoming numb to the horrors of war. I don't think it was intentional, but I think it really does fit well with the campaign's themes. We shall see how he reacts later on the campaign as the stakes continue to get higher and the costs of similar actions are greater.

Either way, after learning very little beyond story and fluff about the state of things in Gate Pass, the party returned to collect up Torrent and start heading out of town.

Next session, a game and a gauntlet!

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