Gears of Revolution: Notes on my campaign

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I deviated from the module's script a little by putting menacing shapes in the water behind the PCs when they came across Burton pinned in the sea tunnel, but the added pressure worked wonders. The players seemed genuinely torn between their desire to save Burton and their duty to head into the cave as quickly as possible

Ooooh, I like that. Mind if I borrow that for my group? I just got them through Act I; and we're doing the infiltration of Axis Island in two weeks.


First Post
Session 5

Session Summary:

After subduing the Danoran mine foreman, Tok and Erik set about learning what he knew while Cassi guarded the passage and Thornt and Wilheim moved the injured Burton to higher ground.

The Danoran explained that he had been hiding in the mine since the Duchess' forces invaded and had fired on RT3 because he heard them whispering in Risuri. Erik called him on that lie (he and Tok hadn't spoken as they entered the sea cave) and the Danoran reluctantly revealed two large gold coins on a thong around his neck. He explained that one of them allowed him to see in the dark, and surrendered the coins to RT3.

Having hauled Burton carefully up the ladders to the mine landing itself, Thornt and Wilheim joined the conversation. When asked whether he had seen anything before the tunnel collapsed, the goblin rogue replied that he had seen everything. For a moment he had imagined himself in a strange swamp, under a blue sun, surrounded yellow frogs. Then the ceiling collapsed, killing Seven Foot Dan, Talya and Letmas.

While the investigators recovered their breath, Tok examined the Danoran's coins and another coin standing on a nearby stone pillar. Each one was covered with images, and Tok identified them as representative of Nem (the plane of shadow), Urim (the plane of earth) and Avilona (the plane of air). Tok slung the icon of Nem around his neck, and by consensus Cassi took the icon of Urim and Wilheim took the icon of Avilona. Then RT3 left Burton to guard the trussed up mine foreman. The goblin wished them well, and passed on knowledge of a weak spot in the fortress wall.

Emerging from the mine on the side of a mountain range, they journey north up and over the peaks, from which they could see Axis fortress in the distance. While travelling down the northern face, they encountered a spontaneous blast of flame that seemed to have no cause or impact point. Pressing on, they crossed paths with a huge, headless, iron golem leaking a strange oil. The construct seemed to sense Cassi and Tok in their hiding spots, but then ambled past them. After it had passed, Tok, used Thornt's empty potion vial to collect a sample of the oil. Strange white motes of light floated within it.

Finally reaching the road, RT3 made good time toward the fortress, only to suddenly find themselves in a swamp, surrounded by yellow frogs and under a setting blue sun. As quickly as it appeared, the swamp was gone and RT3 were back on the road; the only proof of what had happened being Erik's still-wet shoes.

Sneaking to the wall, Tok read aloud the inscription from the first passwall scroll. The stones opened up, revealing a small passageway, but it was not long enough to breach the fortress wall. Aware that they only had one more chance, Erik, Thornt and Wilheim moved closer and loaned Tok their (untrained) aid. This time around - attempting the ritual a second time and with his companions assisting - the changeling performed the ritual flawlessly. The wall opened before them and RT3 were in the Axis fortress.

They moved as stealthily as possible around the town within. They soon came across a guarded warehouse, but chose not to risk discovery by investigating it before their mission was complete.

Pressing on to the lighthouse next to the sea gate, Tok and Erik attempted to bluff their way past the guards stationed there. The first patrolmen let them past, but as they approached the second, a voice called out from an upper window. "He's leaving wet footprints, you idiots! Intruders!"

Tok, Cassi, Thornt and Erik moved forward against the lighthouse's defenders, and as they moved Cassi invoked the power of the Icon of Urim to summon a wall of stone behind them, blocking the path of the defenders' dockside reinforcements. At the same time, Wilheim invoked the power of the Icon of Avilona and swept into the air. Bursting through the second floor window, the deva confronted the rebel wizard there. The surprised man crumpled under a flurry of blows and kicks (one-hit kill with Wilheim's Masterful Spiral daily!), even as his pet Fey Drake disappeared from view.

As Cassi's summoned wall faded, Erik rushed into the now-undefended lighthouse building and located the Sea Gate controls. Below him, the remaining dockside defenders rushed up the ramp, eager to join the fray.

The Good:

My players are really taken with the mystery and strange happenings on Axis Island. First the fate that befell the Slate infiltrators, then the odd pillars and Icons in the sea cave. Then they encountered the mysterious gout of flame, headless golem and reality shift on their way to the fortress. All of which put together seems to have driven home the message that Axis Island is a really weird place. It's very well-done atmosphere.

If I had wanted to drive home to them how dangerous the reality fluctuations could be (or if they were too healthy), I would have had the flame burst appear around them rather than 100 feet away :devil:

I was also quite surprised that they chose not to engage the headless golem. Given how they played in our previous campaign, I was sure that at least one of them would charge it the minute it appeared. Perhaps fortunately, he's now playing an infinitely squishier monk - so maybe discretion will prove the better part of valour in future.

They really surprised me a couple of times during the adventure:

  1. Using the empty potion flask to take a sample of the gloom oil. It's good thinking and shows that they're interracting with the world as a world rather than just as a series of encounters. Now I just need to figure out what to tell them when they ask about it back in Flint (glances at calendar and calculates the days until Dying Skyseer is released).
  2. When their first Passwall ritual failed, they proposed moving to the end of the created passageway and casting the second ritual from that point (ie. extending the existing tunnel rather than creating a new one). That's pretty cool thinking IMO, and it was spoiled only by the fact that Passwall takes 10 minutes to cast but only lasts for 1. As it was, some applications of Aid Another carried the day.
  3. Cassi using the Golden Icon of Urim to throw a wall up behind them, effectively neutering the Rebel Soldier and a Patrolman for most of 2 turns. It was a quick and completely unexpected use of a new item, although not as quick and unexpected as:
  4. Wilheim using the Golden Icon of Avilona to fly up to the second level of the lighthouse and assault the Rebel wizard there. I probably would have been within my rights to ask for a bull rush to force the wizard back from the window, but it was just such a cool and reckless move that I gave it the green light. I didn't expect the ensuing daily power to one-hit kill the wizard and bloody the Fey Drake. Cripes!
The Bad:

The Docks map (like the Sea Cave map) is dominated by a very narrow chokepoint; in this case the narrow corner where the sea wall meets the lighthouse.

Fortunately, the ground floor-defenders consisted only of a few minions that were swept away with steel, fusil and spell, so it didn't prove to be an issue this session. When the combat continues next session, though, I fully expect the PCs to turtle behind Cassi in that area...

The Ugly:

When Tok studied the Golden Icons after the Dupiers interrogation, I cut and pasted the item text from the PDF into Maptool chat, including the bit that says "or if the Axis Seal is opened" I didn't realise what I'd done until Tok asked Dupiers if there were any seals or portals in the mine. *Groan*

Remind me to never again DM immediately after watching the Wallabies get drubbed by the All Blacks. I've just managed to give away an exceedingly early hint to the maguffin at the centre of the whole AP!

I'm hoping that duplicity or memory can save the day. Duplicity because I said I'd make some macros for the Icons and I plan to leave that text off. Memory because I'm hoping that by the time the Axis Seal is specifically mentioned in the campaign they will have forgotten all about my little boo boo.

Next session is probably next week. It could be the last session if they avoid the Hedge Maze encounter, but more probably they'll face Ghilli Du and then Asrabey the session after.
Last edited:


Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I've just managed to give away an exceedingly early hint to the maguffin at the centre of the whole AP!

Don't beat yourself up, it's an easy mistake to have made. To be honest (mild, very mild criticism here) I think it might have been best to leave that piece of information off the items entirely, and make a note in text intended only for the DM.

I scribbled an annotation in the margin reminding me not to print the items out, just in case I forgot, having noticed the mention of the Seal when reading through the adventure first time round.

By the way, your reports are excellent Colmarr. I keep meaning to write up my own, but never seem to get the time.


Wilheim using the Golden Icon of Avilona to fly up to the second level of the lighthouse and assault the Rebel wizard there. I probably would have been within my rights to ask for a bull rush to force the wizard back from the window, but it was just such a cool and reckless move that I gave it the green light. I didn't expect the ensuing daily power to one-hit kill the wizard and bloody the Fey Drake. Cripes!

Awesome. :D


First Post
Session 6: Invasion

Session Summary:

In the lighthouse, the rebel wizard’s trained fey drake disappeared from view, only to reappear and drive poisoned fangs into Wilheim’s shoulder. Sorely wounded, and with toxin coursing through his veins, the monk leapt back out the window and landed lightly beside Erik on the steps of the tower.

Downstairs, Erik prodded and pulled at the sea gate controls until he heard gears begin to grind in the lighthouse walls. The sea gate began to slowly swing open.

Tok moved back onto the sea wall to stop a fleeing patrolman, only to be blindsided by the rebel investigator moving up the ramp from the docked ship. The rebel’s fey magic blinded the changeling. Even afflicted, Tok’s trickery emerged as he feigned a misstep. The fleeing rebel saw a non-existent opening, abandoned his run for reinforcements and turned and fired.

Erik emerged from the lighthouse to see a rebel soldier laying into Thornt with his glaive. He grunted “oh no you don’t”, levelled his pistol and fired. The solder spasmed once, then collapsed lifeless.

With the soldier down, the investigator turned and fled. His patrolmen allies soon followed. In the silence that followed, ST3 could see lights moving on the outer fort walls and hear cries from the guards there. Obviously the rebels knew the sea gate was opening. A large group of soldiers began to mass at the end of the sea wall and move toward the lighthouse. Erik seized his chance and set of the pyrotechnics scroll to alert the Risuri fleet while Cassi layed into the control panel with her hammer.

Willheim, Cassi and Tok hastily erected a daunting barricade inside the lighthouse while Thornt and Erik moved around outside setting traps for the advancing rebels.

As the first wave approached, Tok slipped out of the lighthouse to circle around them. As Erik and Thornt attacked them from above, the bard sprung from his position of concealment and blasted two attackers with his magical song.

As the second wave rushed the tower, Erik, Thornt and Tok slid from the lighthouse window on ropes to repair their barricades and traps. Again Tok’s magic proved beneficial, subduing three of the soldiers before they could advance. But then the Risuri investigators were caught by the attackers, trading blows and spell with them until the last of the attackers fell.

The third wave, larger than the others, almost breached the lighthouse itself. Only Wilheim’s and Cassi’s sterling work shifting furniture to make impromptu barricades prevented the rebels reaching the sea gate mechanism. Wilheim again leapt from the lighthouse window, smashing first one attacker and then another to the ground. Lightning and arrows rained from Thornt and Tok in the lighthouse.

Just as the last of the attackers fell, a last wave moved onto the sea wall. Simultaneously, the first of the Risuri warships sailed into Axis harbour. I’s first broadside shattered the ship docked against the sea wall. Shrapnel and cannonballs sliced through the new attackers. Another ship soon followed. The rebels retreated to the outer fort walls to prepare for the Risuri attack.

In the lighthouse, the near-exhausted members of ST3 caught their breath. Of the 5, only Cassi was still in good condition. Despite his injuries, Tok urged his companions to press on; to find Nathan Jierre. Erik disagreed, maintaining that their mission was not yet complete. Although the sea gate was open, ST3 were to stay put until relieved, and then help with the interrogation of prisoners and the duchess. Cassi nodded, ever-respectful of her sergeant. Then Thornt and Wilheim agreed, and the matter was settled.

Or so ST3 thought. While the others slumped down to rest or investigated the now-empty lighthouse, Tok slipped out the door into the now fire-lit night.

[Good, Bad and Ugly to come later - for now I'm off to bed!]


On Call GM
Keep up the awesome updates Colmarr!

I'm actually in the process of getting my own Zeitgeist campaign started later this week, so reading things like this gives me plenty of inspiration and information for my own campaign!

Looking forward to seeing the Good/Bad/Ugly for this last update! :)


First Post
Session 6 (cont).

The Good

The rebel and investigator and rebel soldier both significantly outperformed their deceased wizard compatriot. The investigator landed a few good hits on Tok and the soldier landed a very good one indeed (11 points) on Thornt. Of course, he then got almost-one shotted by Erik*.

I'm not sure whether thieves are meant to be that good, but Erik's average hit is doing something like 20-25 points of damage, which is insane at level 1.

The other highpoint of the session for me was Wilheim repeating from the invisible fey drake in the tower. Despite knowing it was close to death (we play with visible hp bars), he knew that he himself was on 3 hp and taking 5 ongoing poison damage. If he failed to kill the drake and/or failed his save, then he was a long way from his companions on the ground. He chose to jump back out the window.

I was then left with the odd choice of what do with an invisible creature with 5 hp. It first ran down the stairs to the lower level expecting the PCs to open one of the doors. When no one did, I surmised that the fey drake was not able to open doors. So it returned upstairs, used its climb speed to clamber down the side of the tower, and attacked an unsuspecting Wilheim. I hit, but Tok had healed him in the meantime. The fey drake fell very shortly after :)

The Bad

Two of my players didn't quite get the abstractness of the lighthouse defence encounter, depsite me going out-of-character to explicitly explain it. They kept thinking about whether close powers would kill more enemies than melee attacks (no, I specifically said at-wills kill 1, encounters kill 2, etc) or that it would be cool to sneak around and ambush the attackers from behind (except they get a chance to act before they die and you're standing out in the open with them).

The other lowlight was that the group's defender spent almost the entire session sheltering behind walls or in the lighthouse. I think she made one attack the entire session, and spent the whole defence scenario building barricades. As a result, she was entirely ineffective in her role and absorbed no damage whatsoever. Now she is on 7 surges. Thornt is on 4. Tok is on 1 and Erik and William have 0.

The main problem appears to be that the player controlling the defender is much less aggressive than the players controlling everyone else.

I'm not sure how they're going to handle the rest of the module when so low on health. Hopefully they'll be able to circumvent Ghillie Dhu by questioning the prisoners in the brig, but they're in no condition to take on Asrabey (even the level 2 version that I've decided to use).

In a sense, that might be classified as a "Good" thing. As I mentioned earlier in the thread, Erik's wife is pregnant, and I've been thinking of throwing him a curveball: that she promised the Unseen Court their firstborn in exchange for Erik's safe return from the Fourth Yerasol War. Asrabey, as a senior operative for the Court, knows that, and I intend to use it as a negotiating position during the confrontation in the keep.

If Erik and the others allow Asrabey to escape, they will have the Duchess' and/or Nathan's blood on their hands, they will have saved Erik's child, but they will have firmly entered the grey territory that Dying Skyseer makes so much of. If Nathan dies, Lya Jierre suddenly has a personal reason for joining the Obscurati, and if word of their involvement gets back to her then she has a reason to dislike the PCs.

If they refuse to let Asrabey leave (and survive the confrontation!), then Erik will need to put measures in place to protect his wife and unborn child from the impressive abilities of the Unseen Court.

Either way, the AP certainly heats up.

The Ugly

As Erik's player pointed out, the structure of the lighthouse defence encounter prejudices Essentials characters because they generally don't have encounter or daily powers.

I told him that Essentials builds generally swap nova ability for consistent long-term damage, and that the encounter as built is no worse in that regard than a normal encounter would have been.

He does have a point though, and if a similar encounter is planned later in the AP, some thought might need to be given to how (or whether) to provide for classes that don't have encounter or daily powers.

Next session is 13 November 2011, and gee if it isn't going to be a knife-edge.

*He was 5 hp from full before the hit landed.

Thanks for the commentary. I thought all the Essentials martial classes did at least have encounter powers in the form of Power Strike or Disrupting Shot or whatever. But it's a fair point, and I'll keep it in mind for future adventures.

I just recalled WotBS adventure 9, where the PCs are supposed to hold a gate against a marching column of soldiers, spellcasters on elephants, ogres, and their wyvern air support. I was trying to find a more elegant way to present such a scenario than grinding through HP for hours. Any suggestions on how to make it more engaging and easily-understood for players would help a lot.


First Post
You are right, and it's something we soon realised; that things like Power Strike are technically encounter powers.

If anything, my only real criticism of the lighthouse defence encounter would be the simultaneous action resolution and the strict rules laid down for the attackers.

Simultaneous action resolution, while simulationist, also make it extremely difficult for the PCs to do anything 'cool' without then getting poleaxed by the enemies they have just moved out to meet. For example, when Tok early in the encounter moved out to ambush the attackers from behind, the written rules suggested 1 of 2 things should have happened: either all 5 of the attackers he was sharing "outside the lighthouse" with should have turned and attacked him, inflicting 30 damage and instantly rendering him dying, or they should all have ignored him and worked on the barricade.

Another example came with the third wave, when Erik and Tok took some long range shots at the attackers from the lighthouse windows. The written rules demanded that the 12 attackers ignore them completely and continue moving forward to dismantle barricades.

Of course, I'm not such an automaton that I followed the rules slavishly in either case, but they're good examples of the issues I'm referring to. I think a better way of presenting the encounter would have been to maintain initiative order and then give the attackers certain types of actions - "attack or "dismantle" being the obvious two with each including the option to move 1 or 2 areas on the map before or after the action.

I'm also curious how the encounter could play out if structured as a skill challenge, but I acknowledge the "Not everyone like them" logic behind not going down that route.


First Post
Session 6b: Tok's Reconnaissance

At the end of session 6, there was some heated debate between Tok's player and Erik's player about whether the PCs should press on in search of Nathan. Erik's player maintained that their mission was to keep the lighthouse until the fort was secured. Tok's player wanted to push on and fulfil their promise to Lya.

The other players ultimately sided with Erik (we had long-sinced established that Erik was RT3's sergeant), but Tok's player - never one to accept someone else's decision ;) - decided his PC would sneak off.

This is the result, which we played out via play-by-post over the last fortnight (warning, it's in full narrative so it's long):

The sea wall connecting the lighthouse to the outer fort is deserted, the rebels having retreated to the outer fort. As Tok moves, cannon emplacements on the wall exchange fire with the Risuri naval ships breaching the harbour. The night fills with smoke and fire and thunder, and no one notices the sole figure moving along the wall.

When Tok reaches the far end of the wall however, he encounters an obstacle. The iron portcullis connecting the outer fort wall to the sea wall causeway has been lowered, and three wary-looking rebel soldiers stand just beyond it, craning their necks to watch the incoming ships.

From his position in the darkness on the sea wall, Tok can see that the main gates to the Fort have likewise been closed. The rebels are battening down for the coming storm.

The wall rises 15 feet above the walkway upon which Tok stands, tilted slightly backward to strengthen it against cannon fire. A faint aura lingers on the wall, and Tok can sense that it has been ensorcelled with a faint repulsion effect to make climbing difficult.
A battered Risuri rebel limps up to the portcullis. He also looks out to the sea, and spits in disgust at the distant warships. "Let me back in. Those iron-lovers have almost killed me twice tonight and failed. Might as well get patched up and try for a lucky third.".

Seeing the wary looks from his fellows inside, the Risuri glances back up the sea-wall. "No, they're not behind me. Must be hiding in the gate tower - I hope it falls on the pack of them!". He spits again, this time back up the sea-wall.
One of the rebels hastily moves to the nearby winch and raises the portcullis just enough to allow Tok to scramble under. The other two cover the causeway with crossbows lest the infiltrators in the lighthouse come back.

"Anyone else still out there?", one asks grimly and the portcullis drops back into place with an echoing clang when Tok shakes his head.

The nearest rebel, wearing the markings of a sergeant, points toward the inner fort. "You better report in and let them know what you learned out there". Then the three of them turn their attention back toward the Risuri naval ships in the harbour, allowing Tok to slip away.

The streets of the outer fort are empty but for the occasional passage of troops of soldiers rushing to emplacements on the walls or pushing wagons of supplies towards the inner fort. No one spares a thought for the bedraggled soldier moving through the streets, and Tok soon finds himself back in the ruined building opposite the warehouse.

At first, it appears that the two guards previously stationed on the front door are gone, but then they come into view around the side of the building. A few minutes' observation reveals that they are patrolling the perimeter of the building, appearing and disappearing every few minutes. The warehouse behind them is dark.
Tok watches for a short while, trying to figure out whether anything is happening inside. Eventually, he decides the only way to find out is to look. When the guards are out of sight on their rounds, he approaches the front door and attempts to open it.
Tok is surprised to find the door unlocked, and quickly pushes it open and slips inside. He carefully swings the door shut behind him.

The warehouse is cluttered with crates and pallets, stacked in haphazard piles throughout the single large room. Some are open, revealing weapons, armour and preserved supplies, but by far the majority are firmly nailed shut.

In the middle of the darkened room, visible only by virtue of Tok's Icon-augmented vision, stands a jumbled mass of metal. Only by moving closer does Tok make out what it is; more than fifty swords, arrows and spikes of rough metal occupying a space less than ten feet across. Some stand blade-upright on a low wide dais, their hilts secured in gaps in the stone floor. Others rest on nearby crates, their points dangerously overreaching the edges. Some even hang from the rafters above, positioned at head and neck height.

Intrigued, Tok carefully moves closer, and it is only then that he realises that each of the items is inlaid with gold. Underneath the jumble, inscribed into the stone of the dais, lies an intricate pattern of inlaid residuum, gold and silver - a teleportation circle.
Finding a secure nook, Tok sits down to gaze at the circle. He sniffs the air, and tries some minor incantations, trying to discern the answers to the two questions in the forefront of his mind: "How long has this been here?" and "Has it been recently used?".
The stone around and within the teleportation circle is smooth, worn down by the passage of feet over the years. Cleary the circle has been there for some time. The blades, on the other hand, appear new. None of them are rusted or bear the patina of use, and the ropes suspending them from the ceiling are fresh. He recognises the blades as Risuri in origin. Then he notices that there is no path through them large enough to permit a humanoid passage, and that they all point inward toward the centre of the circle. Clearly the Duchess' troops have trapped the teleportation circle to wound or kill inbound travellers.

As near as Tok can tell, the runic inscription creating the circle is complete. It should be glowing with power and the air should be humming with energy. Instead the circle is dull and almost-lifeless, and the air in the warehouse is still.
Tok is growing impatient. He expected Nathan to be imprisoned here, but instead has found a quite different mystery. He scans the room, looking for any more mundane signs of recent activity.

Tok turns to search the rest of the room. The torches resting in sconces on the wall are blackened from use, but they are not warm to the touch. The lids of some of the opened crates lie haphazardly nearby, as though thrown aside in a hurry, but there is little to conclusively indicate whether the warehouse has seen recent use.

Abandoning his search, Tok returns to the teleportation circle. He freezes for a few minutes when the voices of the patrolling rebels pause outside the door to the warehouse, but then they move on. Taking the Icon of Nem from around his neck, Tok carefully reaches through the tangle of blades and touches the golden coin to the circle. Nothing happens. Frowning, Tok withdraws his hand and touches the Icon instead to one of the inlaid blades. Again, nothing happens. Tok touches the Icon to a few more blades, just to be sure, but the result is the same. There doesn't seem to be a connection between the Icon and either the circle or the blades.
Figuring there's not a lot more to be gleaned from here and not having access to a travelling circle ritual, Tok decides to leave. But first, he quickly un-fortifies the circle, and for good measure sets up a hasty trap facing the door. It's not much, but anyone entering in a hurry who does not swing their shield and step just so must either pause and pick their way carefully or get jabbed.

After listening for the guards, Tok then lets himself back out and hurries away. He can hear the sounds of invasion proceeding apace, but still wonders what became of Nathan. Disguising himself as a very green rebel soldier - almost too young to be in a battle - he approaches a pair of busy looking soldiers. Hastily but hesitantly, the youth confesses that he is under orders to reinforce the guard on the prisoners but in the confusion and dark has lost his way.

A grizzled veteran laughs companionably. "You're clear on the wrong side of town boy. The stables is on the other side of the inner fort, over to the east." Then he and his men move off toward the outer wall.

Tok hurriedly makes his way across town, careful to avoid coming with sight of the inner fort walls. Tok can easily make out guards patrolling it, and no doubt they were be curious about the lone figure moving across town rather than towards the invaders.

Eventually, he finds the stables to which the veteran had referred. The shutters on the windows have been nailed and reinforced to form a makeshift prison. Even under siege, the building is guarded by 10 rebels, stationed at the main door and doing patrols of surrounding streets.
Tok swears under his breath. "Too many!", he mutters, "Don't they know there's a battle going on?".

Tok is about to use a direct approach, when he remembers the amulet. Swiftly, he makes his way around to the rear of the stables. Waiting for a break in the guards' patrols, Tok triggers the amulet, crosses the lane, and passes through the wall. He shivers as he walks through the rear wall of the stable, his mind struggling to process the fact that his body is passing effortlessly through a wall he knows should be solid. Then he emerges inside the stable and the feeling passes.

The changeling finds himself in what was obviously once a horse stall, although iron bars have been installed in the entrance to create an impromptu cell, which Tok now shares with at least 10 other people. Stone and mortar walls form either side of the stall. Tok can see another similar stall directly opposite, and other stalls either side of that one. Each is full of captives; mostly human.

The inhabitants of Tok's stall are alert and staring toward the wall closest to the harbour. The sounds of battle are clearly audible over the nervous braying of animals elsewhere in the building. As Tok emerges, a human woman says excitedly to a tiefling companion, "Rescue! Our people come for us!" The tiefling smiles hopefully and nods, then turns with a start as she catches sight of Tok at the rear of the cell. Her mouth forms a stunned 'O'.
Having only a few seconds left to respond, Tok's insubstantial form dashes through the small crowd and into the main hall of the stable, just making it through the bars before the magic fades. Looking hurriedly up and down the aisle between the stalls, Tok is relieved to note that there don't appear to be any guards inside the building. He dashes away from the door in search of a hiding place, leaving the surprised captives in his wake murmuring in surprise. At the far end of the aisle, he finds an open stall occupied by a number of sheep and a horse. The stall is crowded, and it is lit by a nearby lantern, but it is out of sight of the cells and the door. Tok slips inside.

The horse looks at the young risuri soldier that has suddenly appeared in its stall and snorts disdainfully. The sheep crowd into the far corner, bleating plaintively. Tok extends a hand to placate them, which only increases their volume. Fortunately, the sound of cannon, musket and spell coming from the harbour seems to drown their cries. No one comes to investigate, and after Tok spends a minute anxiously expecting to be discovered at any moment, the cowardly creatures cease their bleating.

In the new silence, Tok hears a voice speaking in Danoran from a nearby cell. "Who are you?"
Tok responds in kind, calmly and quietly, but just loud enough to carry to the nearby speaker: "At this moment, I am an agent of Lya. I'm also armed, and quite possibly dangerous. Whether that is to your advantage or not depends on who you are, what you want to do, and whether you have the sense to talk quietly. Raise a fuss, and it will be as if I were never here."
The figure in the next cell laughs. "Tough talk from someone foolish enough to sneak into a prison."
"Who is this Lya you are supposedly an agent of, and why should I care?"
"I'm tasked to find Nathan. If you've a mind to help me, you might gain your freedom at the same time. If I'm wasting my time, I'll just leave now."
"A fine promise, indeed," the figure replies. "Alright, I'll help... once you tell me who in the Bleak Gate you're talking about. Are you magically prevented from using surnames or something?"
"Jierre. Nathan Jierre."
"The rich kid? Not sure why you'd bother. All he ever does is look through his telescope. He once ran through town hollering about some yellow frog. A frog!"

The figure falls silent for a second. "He's not here, but if you get me and my people out safely, I'll tell you where to find him".
Tok surveys the room, then turns to the spokesman, "Any warriors in here?" Several Danorans look to one of their number, but there is no further response. He turns again to the spokesman, "Well, I'll get your cells open, but there are about a dozen soldiers out there. If we do this the hard way, not everyone is going to make it. On the up side, this town will be overrun by legitimate Risuri guardsman within a couple of hours, at which point you'll hopefully be free to go."

Tok looks around the room again. "To get you out sooner, we'll need a distraction; a big one". He moves out of the stall and begins to survey the tools at his disposal.
The man in the next cell has the face and build of a soldier, but the ugly bandage wound around his head and over one eye tells Tok that he was on the losing end of the Duchess' invasion.
"You plan to sneak one hundred of us past the guards? You are mad", he says. "Give me a weapon and unlock these doors, then get out of here and bring your forces to free us." He pauses. "I have no idea why one lot of Risuri wishes to battle another, but I guess I choose to prefer dirt-worshippers who will free us to those who won't".
Tok unlocks the makeshift gates, then tosses the Danoran a pair of daggers. "All that I have to spare." He glances around the room, "though you might find some decent cudgels scattered about".

Tok clambers up the stalls and after about 5 minutes of work manages to dislodge a small patch of roof sufficiently to squeeze out. On a quiet night the noise may have carried, but there's more than enough racket outside to cover a few creaks and pops. "Stay safe; I'll see who I can find", and with that Tok scrambles up and finds himself on the stable roof, with the sounds and smells of battle wafting toward him on the night air. He watches for a little while until the guards are not watching, then nimbly jumps down and saunters away into the streets, keeping a wary eye out as he makes his way back towards the gates guarding the eastern sea-wall.

It's all Good

Tok's little escapade has proven extremely useful, revealing the teleportation circle (and clearing the trap away so Asrabey doesn't have to) and getting the Danoran prisoners on side. Depending on their choices during the invasion, that may allow the PCs to avoid meeting Ghillie Dhu. They can't really afford to fight both the fey and Asrabey in their current state, so the events of the play-by-post could prove crucial.

The Axis Icons have proven extremely useful so far, and I will be absolutely astounded if the players don't requisition them back as soon as they have enough stipend to do so (which won't be until toward the end of Dying Skyseer I believe).
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Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I wish my players had found the teleportation circle. It's a lovely idea. I told them all about it in a report from other Risuri soldiers, but it didn't have the same impact as if they'd seen it with their own eyes.

My players are also notoriously bad at responding to emails, so whenever we try to deal with something off-table it tends to come a cropper. (It took me five weeks to get all of them to generate their own contacts for adventure #2!. Fortunately, thanks to the delayed release date, that's how much time we had!)


First Post
The players in our game are looking to their backgrounds and the city outline at character creation, although only one is done and has his contacts.

Maybe you're setting it out poorly. Try telling them that they are permitted no more than two contacts, in two boroughs. If they really, really want more, perhaps you might consider letting them spend skill points to be permitted more than the rules-legal number of contacts.

Seriously, none of the players' characters know anyone they don't meet in the module? No parents, siblings, friends, more distant family, former co-workers, staff at shops they frequent, romantic interests, neighbours, no one? The Military Scientist knows no instructors or classmates, the gizmo freak knows no other tech freaks, the gunsmith knows no other gunsmiths and the Yerasol Veteran knows no other veterans? The Skyseer, spirit speaker and elf magic type didn't learn those skills from anyone? No one involved in their class, feat or skill training still exists? Maybe they should be getting investigated in respect of the trail of death they leave in their wakes! And what sad, miserable, lonely lives they must lead - no contact with any other living beings!

Maybe next time you might suggest your players build CHARACTERS rather than stat blocks.

Perhaps prior experience with adversarial GM's has taught them that connections to the game world are tools for the GM to screw their characters over with, so they need some coaching with a GM who uses such NPC's and connections to enrich the game world, and perhaps even benefit the PC's on occasion as consideration for helping populate the game world and even providing the occasional plot hook?
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First Post
Maybe you're setting it out poorly.

...Maybe they should be getting investigated in respect of the trail of death they leave in their wakes! And what sad, miserable, lonely lives they must lead - no contact with any other living beings!

Maybe next time you might suggest your players build CHARACTERS rather than stat blocks.

I find myself a little offended by the (perhaps unintended) tone of your post, both as it relates to me and as it relates to my players.

I have one player who has provided his contacts. Another who has recently provided his two (who are unfortunately exceedingly similar), and nothing from the other two. One of them will no doubt do it. The other will require significant prodding - just like he does about everything, including levelling up.

In their defence:
  1. There's nothing wrong with not really being interested in the setting or the roleplay. Door-kickers are perfectly viable in every campaign, even Zeitgeist. It's not my preference (I'm heavily interested in the story-telling aspect like many DMs) but it's a viable and acceptable way to play the game; and
  2. For many players, interractive narration - particularly when it comes to world building, is very unfamiliar territory.
Gideonpepys is blessed with players who will not only tell those stories, but will do so in intriguing ways. He's blessed in my opinion. If even he has to badger, I'll content myself with pushing and prodding and seeing what happens.


First Post
Session 7

Session Summary:

As the battle for the harbour continued, RT3 held their position in the lighthouse. Eventually, a longboat containing Captain Smith and a squad of Risuri marines came ashore. Captain Smith handed the investigators cigars, and enquired as to their activities. Erik used his good-standing as a veteran of the Fourth Yerasol War to convince the marines to accompany them.

Smith was followed later by a crew of medics, including a half-elven druid named Denin. The Risuri healers managed to restore some of RT3’s vitality, but they were still sorely pressed by the exertions of the day.

The attacking marines quickly established siege engines at the edge of the harbour and advanced. Just as they began to assault the walls, a fireball erupted in the harbour. One of the Risuri ships exploded into flame, and Wilheim spied a figure aboard wielding a weapon that seemed to change between a blade and a whip. The fire-and-smoke-wreathed figure jumped thirty feet to the sea wall on the other side of the harbour. The lanterns there went dark and the figure disappeared – only to reappear moments later at the base of a siege tower. It disappeared inside, visible only as flashes of flame, then re-emerged at the top only to slay both rebels and loyalists alike. With the wall clear, the figure jumped down into the outer fort.

RT3 decided to investigate, and moved off toward fort. Just as they neared the gate at the end of the seawall, a note of power rang out, sending the few defenders there to the ground. Tok emerged from the darkness and waved his companions through. Erik spared a few disapproving words for the changeling, and Tok studiously ignored them.

Moving to the spot where the flaming figure disappeared, Thornt’s keen nose picked up a blood trial, which RT3 followed to the warehouse Tok had discovered earlier. The obstacle he had left behind had been cleared away, but there was no sign of the fire creature, and no indication of what it had done there.

A marine runner summoned the investigators to the other side of town, where a makeshift prison filled with Danorans had been discovered. When they made their way there, the prisoners responded extremely well to Tok’s presence. Hessar Marseine, the Danoran lieutenant who led the captives, pointed RT3 to a maid who could explain how the Duchess’ forces had taken the fort – she had used the teleportation circle. Marseine maintained that the circle key was secret, and that the Duchess must have had inside help. When asked by Tok, he advised that Nathan Jierre would likely be found within the inner fort.

A flash lit up the sky, and footsteps sounded on the roof of the brig. Rushing outside, RT3 caught sight of the fire creature. Using powerful magic, it supplanted the street with a steaming jungle. The inner fort wall, caught in the effect, simply disappeared, and the figure charged forward into the inner fort.

RT3 made to follow, only for one of the Danorans to call “There is another way!”
The man, one of the architects of the fort, drew them a map of the sewers leading to the castle, and the route proved smelly and dirty but accurate. RT3 emerged in the basement of the inner fort. Moving up through the building, they noticed a tangle of hedge outside the ground floor windows. Upstairs, they discovered a collection of bodies; all marked with cauterised wounds.

Sneaking upstairs, they overheard voices from beyond a door and paused to listen. Inside, they could hear three figures (who turned out to be the Duchess, Nathan Jierre and the fire creature – an eladrin warrior named Asrabey Varal) discussing the Danoran activities on the island. Nathan mentioned a name – Kasvarina Varal – but most interestingly, the Duchess maintained that she had discovered something that threatened both Risur and the Unseen Court.

When Asrabey came to the door to check his escape route, he discovered RT3 crouched outside. Immediately his whip blade struck out at Wilheim, and then the fight was on in earnest. Tok attempted to call for parley, but Cassi continued her attacks and the eladrin returned her blows in kind.

Asrabey retreated to stand above the barely conscious duchess, who was slumped against a platform. Thornt pressed his attack, unleashing a cloud of stinging insects that filled the area. The Duchess cried out, then was still. Tok’s subsequent attempt to magically revive her failed. She was dead.

When Asrabey fey stepped into the party’s midst and unleashed a whirling blow, Wilheim’s luck and stamina ran out. The deva fell to the floor. Asrabey then made for Nathan Jierre, but RT3 were pressing too closely. Under assault from Erik and Cassi, the eladrin abandoned the tiefling. He teleported to the tip of the telescope that dominated the room, and from there jumped onto the roof. Cassi raced after him up the stairs, but Asrabey was gone.

In the aftermath of the battle, RT3 took Nathan Jierre into custody. The tiefling explained that he used Axis Island as a place to study the planets, and how they affected the world. Looking through his telescope, Tok discovered it was pointed directly at a distant blue sun similar to the one RT3 had experienced during earlier plane shifts. A dissected yellow frog was pinned down in a nearby cabinet. Jierre explained that Kasvarina Varal was an eladrin female and had toured the island a few months earlier and created the teleportation circle. When he explained that he had naively provided the Duchess the key to the fort’s teleportation circle, Tok pointed out to the teenager that he had betrayed Danor. In response, the tiefling begged them to grant him asylum in Risur. RT3 took him with them when they left the fort, unsure whether they had the authority to answer his request.

When more Risuri marines came through the sewers to assault the inner fort defenders from the rear, they found themselves ambushed by a fey entity lurking in the hedge maze surrounding the inner keep. Eventually though, the creature was routed and destroyed.

With Axis fort subdued, RT3 returned to the Risuri ships docked at the harbour. The captains advised them to allow Nathan Jierre passage to Risur because the tiefling could be a valuable source of information on Danor. The investigators put the thankful tiefling on a vessel, which soon departed.

As the light faded, and after most of the Risuri vessels had left the harbour, a Danoran warship named the Lux Prefectusque steamed into the harbour. Lya Jierre came down the gangplank accompanied by two bodyguards; a muscled half-elf named Rush and an unnamed half-orc who wore a strange padded helmet. Lya asked for her island back. Shown a letter of authority from King Aodhan himself, Erik signed a deed on behalf of Risur that released all claim to the island and handed it back to Danor.

Lya thanked RT3 for their efforts, and expressed the wish to meet with them again during the much-publicised peace conference to be held in a year’s time; or even at the wedding. When she – and later her half-orc bodyguard – enquired after Nathan, RT3 lied and said he was being treated in a nearby building. Then they boarded the Impossible and sailed away from Axis Island.

The Good

Asrabey's initial appearance in the harbour created an appropriate amount of awe in the party.

Likewise, they sat seemingly intrigued when I described the Immurement event. When they later asked Hessar Marsaine whethere he had ever seen anything like it, he emphatically declared he hadn't. That reinforced the threat level they were dealing with.

I didn't get to drop the plot hammer on Erik's player about his wife's unborn child, but I did have Asrabey stare in surprise and exclaim "You!" when he came face to face with Erik late in the encounter. Hopefully that's planted some fruit-bearing seeds in the players' minds that I'll be able to nurture later.

The Bad

Unfortunately, when given a moment to think about Asrabey after his initial appearance, my players then did what new-school D&D players everywhere have a tendency to do - chase the obviously overpowered enemy down to see what's going on. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but for a moment there I truly believed the display in the harbour had been sufficient to dissuade them from following.

I initially compounded the problem by inventing a blood trail that led from the outer wall to the warehouse containing the teleportation circle. By doing so, I ensured that Asrabey would not have enough time to prepare his ritual before he was forced to abandon the buildlng. Fortunately, it turned out that he was able to escape his later confrontation with the party at the inner fort and no one thought to (or thought they had the health to) check the warehouse to see if he had gone there.

It all worked out in the end and I'm pleased to say that Asrabey will live to fight again another day (unlike most other Asrabeys I've read about).

The Ugly

I used the level 2 Asrabey and I'm torn about whether I wish I had used the level 20 version. In one sense I'm glad I didn't because all of the automatic damage from the Allied Soldiers the PCs had with him would have knocked him down much too easily.

But on the other hand, the level 2 version didn't really seem to have enough oomph. He struggled to hit Cassi (he needed to roll a 13 to hit her AC, and when he did hit someone, he didn't really do enough damage to make the PCs sit up and take notice. He did drop Wilheim and Erik during the course of the combat, but overally I never really felt there was a real chance of him winning the encounter. It was more a question of when he would be beaten. Given what I said last session about feeling the PCs were in trouble, I found the reality slightly depressing.

For those about to run the level 2 Asrabey, my advice is to be aggressive. Acknowledge that all 5 of your PCs will be able to attack him every round no matter what you do. In those circumstance, your best option is to fey step into the party's midst and unleash the close burst 2 Fire Sweep. Then use an action point and do it again. When Asrabey drops to 110hp (which will happen soon), teleport to the most advantageous position and do it all again.

I made the mistake of leaving Asrabey in the telescope room, with the result that his Fire Sweep attacks were hitting 2 or 3 targets instead of 5. If I'd been more aggressive earlier then the fight may have gone very differently.

On that note, at one stage I was due to make a close burse attack on Willheim, who was at the time on approximately -40% hp. I chose to make an exception and not roll the attack. I'm now rethinking that approach. If I want to engender a sense of caution in the players, I need to make them aware of the risk attached to combat. The easiest way to do that is to kill a PC and in this particular case I get the impression that Wilheim's player isn't really wedded to his PC. I might have killed two birds with one stone.

Oh well, I've put the PCs on notice that I plan to be a little less merciful in future, so we'll see whether that makes them a little more cautious.
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First Post
I find myself a little offended by the (perhaps unintended) tone of your post, both as it relates to me and as it relates to my players.

Certainly unintended, and I apologize for any offense. I also intend my response more to thread readers in general who are having this problem than to you specifically.

My experience, however, is that players come at problems and issues with historical experience, so if there's something I'd like to see them do in-game, I ask myself why they won't do it. In this case, possibilities include:

- a history with one or more games where any hook the character has is exploited to the character's detriment. They need to be persuaded that this is not such a game.

- the requirement is presented like work (which, I think, it is to some extent in the players' guide - "your 'homework' for Session 2 is to read this section of the Guide and write an essay on two persons, in two districts, whom you know" ) rather than as character building to make the character more effective and the game more fun ( "each character may have two player-defined contacts in the city, in different districts, who will be available to help in his investigations").

- some may have written backgrounds for their characters that were just ignored in prior games, so they can't be bothered any more. I would hope these contacts don't just vanish, never to be seen again, after the scenario in question.

- some characters may have an easier time than others. Our gunslinger is born and raised in Flint and just setting off outside the family home for the first time. His contacts are his industrialist parents and a school buddy who's now in the navy, stationed on Capt. Rutger's ship. This is all pre-GM approval, and done in writing the character up. A wanderer only recently arrived in Flint may be more difficult to assess contacts for.

A discussion with GM and player might also stimulate some ideas, as the GM is likely more familiar with Flint (and especially with his own vision of Flint) and may be able to bring some ideas consistent with the character's backstory and/or personality to the table. That wanderer has to eat somewhere - maybe one of his contacts is a restaurant employee or owner.

I have one player who has provided his contacts. Another who has recently provided his two (who are unfortunately exceedingly similar), and nothing from the other two. One of them will no doubt do it. The other will require significant prodding - just like he does about everything, including levelling up.

If they're too similar, maybe some discussion of other possibilities is in order. But what's "too similar". In my example, two restaurants would not seem out of the question (and maybe establishes the character as a bit of a gourmet, adding some non-adventuring personality), and the two contacts could still be very different, whether by player design or by GM role playing.

In their defence:
  1. There's nothing wrong with not really being interested in the setting or the roleplay. Door-kickers are perfectly viable in every campaign, even Zeitgeist. It's not my preference (I'm heavily interested in the story-telling aspect like many DMs) but it's a viable and acceptable way to play the game; and
  2. For many players, interractive narration - particularly when it comes to world building, is very unfamiliar territory.
While I don't disagree per se, I find those door-kickers aren't too happy in extensive investigation and NPC interaction scenarios. Best case, they nod off to sleep. Worst case, they become disruptive. Presumably, you're dealing with best case for any door kickers, or you wouldn't pick an adventure that's heavy in these elements. Or you simply downplay the aspects the group is less interested in, as we all customize scenarios to fit our, and our group's, preferences. Of course, then there is a risk that a player who does put thought and creativity in his contacts feels ripped off that they were glossed over.

One answer may well be to make it non-mandatory. A character with no contacts can still investigate, whether on his own or with teammates, and seeing the personal stake other players have in the setting from designing these contacts might stimulate him to be more involved in similar areas in the future. I don't see any point forcing a player to "do his homework".

As for levelling up, we normally have next level's character sheet ready to roll some time after the character attains this level, so we don't have an extended break to level up. Nothing's written in stone, but a portion of the process is fixed, and a lot of us have an idea where our characters are going (so we may now how skill points will be spent, but still waffle on that next Feat, for example).

One of the PCs killed the Duchess? Oh that's fun.

Rationally, a level 2 solo is not an overwhelming threat against a 1st level party. I designed him to be a decent challenge, with the assumption that the party would be low on resources by that point of the adventure.

In the original playtest I ran, 20th level Asrabey killed all the minion soldiers in a single attack, then took down one or two PCs per round before falling to a trio of magic missiles and a power that did half damage on a miss. The level 2 version was added later, and didn't get a full combat playtest.

I think I'll give him a whirl, if I can wrangle my players.

Hm. Have any of the groups posting so far mentioned just letting Asrabey go?

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

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