The Blackgate Chronicles (Updated 11/15/21)

Hjorimir

Adventurer
Introduction

Hi, my name is Clay and I go by the handle of Hjorimir (YOR-ih-meer) on the interwebs (@Hjorimir on the Twitters where I post often if you care to follow along). I started playing D&D at the wee age of 8 when I cried long and loud to my dad, so he’d force my brother to let me play. Naturally, I was handed the cleric and thus began of 40 years of me being a TTRPG hobbyist.

This is what I hope is the first of many story hour posts for a new campaign of mine, called The Blackgate Chronicles. It takes place in a setting I call The Eld Earth, which has a strong Sword & Sorcery vibe. Think of it as my love letter to Conan, Elric, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, etc. Stories I grew up on, essentially.

Something I want to address up front are the more troubling aspects of these old stories. Namely exploitation of women and such things as slavery. The setting is a harsh world. Yes, there are all manner of atrocities that serve as a form of tension within the world. While these things will sometimes be spoken to, they will not be celebrated. The PCs themselves are – by rule (and by choice of the players) – anti-slavery, etc. When describing such atrocities, I will attempt to do so with a light hand and instead focus my efforts on the emerging story that comes out of play with my friends.

For the mechanically curious, this is a HEAVILY houseruled 5e campaign. If people are curious after reading, I’m happy to discuss the odd rules, how they work, and why I put them into place.

My mode of DMing is one that leans heavily upon player agency. While there are stories within the setting that I hope the players will cling to, I believe that the true story to be told is that of the campaign (i.e., the story that follows the exploits of the PCs themselves). The camera follows them, not me. I’m lucky that I have a wonderful table of people I love dearly to play with. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Lastly, a disclaimer. I’ve never taken a creative writing course in my life. While I’ve been inspired by many of the great story hours here (Sepulchrave, Piratecat, etc.), I don’t have a practiced hand at writing these story hour posts. I’ll do my best to make them fun, entertaining, and informative for those curious about my DMing style. Please be merciful!

Onward!
 

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Hjorimir

Adventurer
Dramatis Personae

When the campaign starts the characters are 2nd level, which means that other than the cleric and wizard, we don’t have subclasses yet. It will be interesting to see their choices at 3rd.

Antoine Lemarc, Le Dague des Corbeaux (aka The Magpie)
human rogue 2 (criminal – thief)
STR 16, DEX 16, CON 16, INT 15, WIS 12, CHA 7
Acrobatics, Athletics, Card Tricks, Deception, Sleight of Hand*, Stealth*, Thieves’ Tools
Dagger (+5, 1d4+3 piercing)

Halloran
human tempest cleric 2 (acolyte)
STR 18, DEX 9, CON 15, INT 10, WIS 16, CHA 13
History, Insight, Persuasion, Religion
Warhammer (+6, 1d8+4 bludgeoning)

Rhynn
half-elf evoker wizard 2 (hermit)
STR 11, DEX 10, CON 13, INT 18, WIS 12, CHA 14
Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, History, Medicine, Religion
Dagger (+2, 1d4 piercing)

Shepherd Thawn
human ranger 2 (hermit)
STR 18, DEX 17, CON 15, INT 9, WIS 15, CHA 13
Athletics, Herbalism Kit, Medicine, Nature, Survival
Quarterstaff (+5/+5, 1d6+4 bludgeoning) – I allow him to “dual wield” the staff

T’bidi Kitwana
human fighter 2 (acolyte)
STR 16, DEX 16, CON 16, INT 15, WIS 15, CHA 12
Athletics, Insight, Perception, Religion
Spear (+5, 1d8+3 piercing)
 

Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 1, Part 1 – Under the Knife
Oathday, 5th Gozran, 817


The World of Blackgate (4k).jpg


Rhynn struggled with the red-shrouded men as they bound each of her wrists in heavy rope. Is this it? Is this how it ends for me? I had only just started this life of mine!

As the wizard was being bound, a woman, also draped in red robes stepped forward. “Your blood will feed the Cardinal Mooooon!”

Rhynn sighed. The chief crazy amongst the crazies.

The priestess smiled and caressed Rhynn’s hair. “Cardinal, like the mooooon… Such delicate features. I do believe you’ve the touch of the fey in your blood. Delicious!” She licked her lips.

“You’re insane!” Rhynn spat.

The woman smiled and nodded once as she raised a curved dagger overhead. She began to chant as Rhynn was forced backward and splayed across the top of a large tree stump in the woods. Rhynn gasped as she looked upon the night sky. There hung a red moon. A moon that she had never once seen before. A moon that did not exist.

“Impossible!”

~

Shepherd Thawn stopped his run to take a brief respite against a tree. Sweat dripped from his grey hair upon his weathered face. At this pace, his lungs burned. Indua preserve! He looked upon his shaking hands. Surely my companions suffer more. They’re not used to moving this fast through the wilds…in the dead of night no less!

Bushes cracked as the Northman stumbled through, torch in hand. His face was beet-red, his breath ragged.

“Halloran, take a moment,” Thawn said, his own breath slowing.

Halloran nodded once as he leaned and fell to one knee, his heavy chainmail chimed with the thud. He looked close to vomiting. “Rhynn…” was all he could say. His head hung low, as he steadied himself upon his warhammer.

The ranger nodded. “We’re not far now. These tracks are fresh. We’ll make it, but you’ll need your breath in you when we catch them.” He’s strong, but he carries a lot of weight with that armor.

The warrior, T’bidi, arrived next. “Why have we stopped?!” she asked as she balanced herself upon her spear. She was also clad in heavy chain armor, but she kept to her feet despite heavy breath and sweat drenching her dark skin.

Thawn saw the trembling in her legs, but the look in her eyes was one of determination. “Just a moment, so we’ll be ready to fight.” He looked about. “Where is Lemarc? All of this started with him.”

“I am here,” the voice came from the shadows.

Thawn flinched. How does he do that?

“We don’t know why these cultists hound us…or why they do anything for that matter,” the thief continued as he slid out of the shadows into the light of Halloran’s torch. “We only know they’ve abducted our wizard.” He mopped sweat from his curly black hair with the back of his arm and looked about.

“This map better be worth it!” Halloran challenged.

“Let us hope,” Lemarc said as he nodded. “Shall we?” He gestured forward.

Halloran climbed to his feet and shouldered roughly past him.

“It would seem so.”

~

Rhynn fought back tears. I am a child of the Spark. Will I join with it in the afterlife? It? Him? Her? So many questions left unanswered. Where are they?!

Each of Rynn’s wrists has been tightly bound in heavy rope. At the end of each, a cultist leaned and pulled. Her shoulders screamed in pain. The priestess – still standing over her with that ceremonial dagger brandished high – droned on, but her voice seemed distant, so lost was the wizard in her own mind as she stared past the red moon into the depths of space beyond. From ebon maw spat ‘cross the cold, hither did come the hates of old…

A distant shout brought the priestess up short. No, not a shout, but a dying scream. Rhynn found herself smiling.

“See to the interlopers!” the priestess screeched. “The ceremony is not yet complete!”

~

From Lemarc’s point of view, it appeared that the cleric’s warhammer had found its way to grey pudding as Halloran bellowed and dropped a thunderous blow upon the face of a cultist. “Röth!” he bellowed. For what he lacks in grace he makes up for in fury.

The thief moved forward, sliding through the deep shadows provided by the canopy of leaves overhead. He saw the dark silhouettes of the cultists coming in from multiple directions as they descended upon Halloran, T’bidi, and Thawn who was far out ahead, charging deeper into the woods.

While the Northman wailed upon a trio of cultists to his right, T’bidi was completely surrounded in a sea of red robes to his left. He heard the shepherd call Rhynn’s name once from beyond. Choices, choices.

A cultist ran past the thief in the dark. Lemarc’s arm snapped out, dagger in hand, and he proceeded to do a cutter’s work upon one of the man’s kidneys. The cultist was already silent as he hit the ground and slid to a halt in the dark leaves.

Beyond, the din of steel could be heard as the red-robed men surged upon T’bidi. Though she was set upon on all sides, her shield and spear – as well as her heavy chain armor – turned all of their blows away. I’m pretty good in a scrap, but that one’s a fighter!

A thrust of her spear caught one under the chin and out through the side of his head before she pulled it out to leave him gurgling on the ground. She slid back out of their circle, leapt over a fallen tree, and braced her spear in anticipation. One of the cultists charged as he screamed to the moon, scimitar swinging in a wide arc over his head only to run himself up the length of her spear along the way. T’bidi booted him off and faced the others, the point of her spear poised like a serpent ready to strike.

~

The three cultists surrounded Halloran as they cut at him with their curved blades. “Röth take you!” the cleric shouted as he stepped through their number, turned, and released a thunderwave. The rupture left two of them reeling. The body of the third shuddered and distorted unnaturally as the surge of power liquified his innards. He dropped to the ground as a slop of flesh.

The two remaining cultists pressed forward again. One of their swings found a gap in Halloran’s hauberk and blood started to flow. The bear of a man spat blood from his thick, flaxen beard. “Time to die, Looooonatics!” he said, mimicking their ridiculous speech.

Halloran swung up…and then down upon one of their heads, reducing the man’s height by half a hand’s width. The cultist slumped lifelessly to the ground. His next swing came up and caught the remaining one in the midsection, forcing the man to topple forward. Looking across to where T’bidi was once again becoming surrounded, he shouted, “Save some for me!”

~

Thawn saw Rhynn being held upon her back. Over her, shrouded in ruddy light, a red-robed woman held aloft a dagger and chanted toward the night sky, her voice reaching ever higher. “Rhynn, hold on!” he called to his friend.

A cultist pounced upon Thawn out of the dark as he charged forward. A swipe of a scimitar drew blood from the ranger’s thigh. Thawn grimaced as he retaliated with his staff. A sudden jab to the cultist’s solar plexus left the man gasping for air at his feet.

The priestess was now staring at Thawn. She brought down one hand in a sweeping motion and a spire of red fire descended. Thawn leapt to his right, evading the magic of her spell, causing her to hiss in frustration.

He continued forward and again she called her magic upon him. “Be held!” she demanded. Red moonlight shone upon him from nowhere. Thawn quickly touched the smear of red clay that the length of his nose – a mark of his devotion to Indua as her priest – in a warding gesture. The magic of the spell rolled through and past him as he shook it off. “Stop him!” she cried. “The ceremony must be completed!”

With the priestess distracted, Rhynn acted. Now’s my time! She kicked out…feebly. In response, the two men holding the ropes that bound her arms leaned further back causing her to groan in pain.

“Settle down you!” one of her captives said. “We’re going to feed you soon.”

Huh?

“…to the moooon,” he continued.

Thawn arrived, swinging his staff upon the taunting cultist, but the man ducked under his swing. “Priestess, save me!”

“He shall be finished!” she replied. The athame in her hand began to glow with red light as she cast inflict wounds. When the tip of the dagger entered Thawn’s shoulder, dark tendrils raced from the wound and began to eat from his flesh. The ranger gasped and began to falter, his eyes wide in pain.

Holding his staff level in two hands, Thawn swung twice. The first strike sent one of the cultists holding Rhynn’s bindings to the ground. The second cracked into the shoulder of the priestess causing her to wince in pain.

With one hand free, Rhynn rolled from atop the stump…and somehow managed to completely entangle herself in the dangling ropes as she now stood restrained in front of her second captor. Are you kidding me?!

Her captor smiled and began to draw his blade, a wicked gleam in his eye. Rhynn arched an eyebrow at him before uttering a word of power. A word that brought with it three purple darts that whirled through the chill air in circles before two of them pierced through the man causing him to drop to the ground as smoke billowed forth from the holes. The third struck the priestess who now stood shakily, her strength waning before a final crack of Thawn’s staff sent her to the ground.

The remaining cultists were dealt with in short order…
 



Azkorra

Explorer
I've not yet read the actual story but, whoa, does that map look brilliant! Intriguing geography, evocative names and descriptions! Great stuff!
 


Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 1, Part 2 – The Offering
Fireday, 6th Gozran, 817


Halloran poked at the fire with a stick, sending a small spattering of embers into the chill, morning air. A light rain had begun during the early hours of the morning and the sky overhead looked like it wouldn’t be letting up any time soon. The cleric approved. Storms were the province of Röth, his god, and the showers brought the Northman comfort. His companions, however, didn’t seem to share his sentiments as they huddled close to the hissing flames, seeking its warmth.

“Lemarc, are you sure that this Cult of the Cardinal Moon aren’t connected to this map we’re looking for?” Thawn started, breaking the morning silence.

The thief shrugged. “I don’t see how really. I purchased from a reputable informant through my contact in Skarn,” Lemarc explained.

“Reputable.” T’bidi let the word hang in the air.

Halloran snorted.

“Okay, maybe reputable is a bit of a stretch,” Lemarc admitted. “Still, the lead should be good. I can’t explain how this might have drawn the interest from our red-robed friends. What I do know is that there’s a man called Bushar in the village of Black Hollow and he bears a map that is said to lead to a great treasure. We still like treasure, right?”

Thawn looked at him flatly.

“All I’m saying is that we’ve come this far, so let’s see where it takes us.”

“It takes us east,” Thawn said as he stood up. “Let’s be on about it.”

~

It was past noon when they came across the tracks. The ranger squatted to get a closer look while the others waited a few paces back so as to not foul the trail.

“What do you see, Thawn?” Rhynn asked.

Thawn held up a hand and continued to walk a slow circle as he considered what he was seeing. He looked up and shook his head. The rain isn’t helping.

Lemarc started to say something snide, but T’bidi held up a hand, cutting him off. “Thawn?”

“Well, as best I can tell, we’ve got three people who are being pursued by a group of five,” he explained.

“Not a fair fight,” Halloran added.

“Not sure it’s a fight at all,” Thawn replied. “The three fleeing were wearing soft boots. A poor person’s boot. These five, however, these are heavy of heel. A soldier’s trapping.”

“All are warriors in the north,” the cleric added.

“We’re not in the north,” Rhynn said still thinking about her own encounter with being chased – and captured – just the day prior.

The Northman lowered his eyes in understanding. “Then we follow.”

The others nodded.

~

It was late in the day and the sky still cried. The group stood before a large tree from which hung two men. Farmers by the look of them. Each was hanging upside down and had been opened from navel to neck, allowing their innards to spill out upon the ground.

T’bidi waved some flies from her face and advanced for a closer look. “Can you tell how long they’ve been dead?”

The shepherd frowned. “Let me take a look,” he replied and started a careful examination.

T’bidi considered the ranger. This isn’t a tracker’s task, but that of a physician. He seems almost comfortable with the gore. Her dark eyes fell to the empty scabbard that Thawn always wore. There’s a story there…but perhaps one for a different time.

Thawn shook his head and pointed. “They stirred the entrails. Almost like some kind of ceremony.”

“They were being read,” Rhynn said. “A divination.”

Halloran spat. “That’s what goats are for. Not men.”

“But there are only two here,” Lemarc said. “I thought there were three.”

“I’ll look,” Thawn replied.

“Wait,” Halloran commanded as he walked up to the ranger and placed a large, calloused palm upon the old man’s forehead. “Röth guide this hunter. Let his trail be true.” A distant peel of thunder was heard.

Thawn found the trail in short order. “Here!” he said pointing. “One escaped. From the look of these other tracks, the five then spread out looking for him.”

“We may save one yet,” Rhynn added.

“Maybe,” T’bidi said as she laid her hand upon the wizard’s shoulder and gave a small squeeze. “Maybe.”

~

Night was coming fast, and the ranger had paused to look at something.

“What is it?” Lemarc asked.

“The tracks…” Thawn said darkly. “No longer a run, but a staggering limp. One way or another, we’re close.” Without further explanation, the ranger continued following at a jog through the cold rain.

~

Shortly thereafter, they found him. The old man lay face down in the mud and grass. Shepherd Thawn turned him over carefully. The old man lived, but it would not be for much longer. His breath was ragged, his fingers gnarled, and his eyes rolled upward.

“Please,” he begged. “Do not sacrifice me!”

“Rest, friend,” Thawn said. “We are not your enemies. Who are you?”

“Mercy of the gods!” the dying man answered before coughing a spot of blood.

Lemarc kneeled and propped the old man up upon one of his knees to settle him as the others gathered around.

“My name is Pran,” the old man said. “Please, help my family! They are near! Save them before they are found. To the east is a creek, follow it left and you’ll find their camp.”

“Halloran, can you help him?” Rhynn asked.

The cleric looked down upon the man and shook his sadly. “Röth’s blessing heals the wounds of battle. This one is spent. He will sing with his ancestors soon.”

Lemarc tried to give Pran a snort of whisky, “Here, to ease your way,” but the old man pushed the flask aside.

“Take these things. I offer them to you. Save my family!” he begged. The old man fumbled at his belt. A belt that held a sturdy handaxe and small pouch. “Please…” he began, but fell into a fit of coughing, his mouth filled with blood.

Pran passed with a lingering sigh.

Thawn closed Pran’s lifeless eyes that stared up into the rain and placed a coin upon each. “For the boatman.”

After a moment of silence, Lemarc spoke up. “This is no poor man’s axe. It’s of sturdy make,” he said offering it up to the cleric. *

“Better than anything I carry,” Halloran said taking the axe to turn it over in his hands.

“It should go to his family,” T’bidi stated.

The Northman nodded. “Yes, but after it tastes the blood of those who wronged him.”

“Look here,” the thief added. “A jet of some value and a key…and no simple key at that. This is intricate and made of steel.”

“Who was this man?” T’bidi asked. “These are not the trappings of a simple farmer.”

“He was somebody’s son. He was somebody’s husband. He was somebody’s father. He was somebody’s grandfather,” Halloran said. The creak of leather could be heard under his white knuckles as he grasped the axe tightly.

T’bidi stepped to the side and used the butt of her spear to draw a stylized likeness of Pran in the mud. She then lit a small fire near it. “To keep him warm in the cold embrace of death,” she explained.

The others turned and watched her ceremony in silence as she continued by pouring some water from her skin and laying out some of her rations upon the image. She then placed his belongings, the axe at his hip, the jet in his hand, and the key upon his heart. She then stood and spoke words in her native language before cutting the palm of her hand with the tip of her spear and let her blood run into the drawing. I know not who you were in life but know that the spirit of a living warrior will protect you in death. She then walked away and began to gather her belongings.

Lemarc waited a moment before bending down to recover the belongings. Halloran raised an eye as the thief stuffed the axe into his belt. “I’ll make sure it drinks its fill,” he said to the cleric. **

~

It was well into night by the time the party found the eastern creek that Pran had told them about.

“We turn left to find the camp,” Rhynn said eagerly.

Thawn nodded as he looked about as his companions. In the light of his torch, he could see that each breathed heavily. “We need rest,” he said.

Lemarc nodded, “Agreed.”

“No, we should press on to the camp!” Rhynn said. “We need to save Pran’s family!”

“There’s time enough to rest after battle,” Halloran added as he stepped up beside the wizard.

The four of them looked to T’bidi in unison.

“T’bidi,” Rhynn said, “You’re the deciding vote.” The plea in her voice obvious.

T’bidi frowned as she looked between the two groups of her companions. She slowly shook her head and let loose a long sigh. “I say we rest.”

A tear slipped from Rhynn’s eye…lost in the rain.
 



Hjorimir

Adventurer
For you DMs who play on a VTT, I'll be sharing the battlemaps I've created for game after I've used them over on Twitter (@Hjorimir). I dropped the first one this morning, which you can find at the link below. I won't normally be posting here when I do. So, if you're interested in the free assets, check Twitter from time-to-time or give me a follow over there. Happy gaming.

Forest Path Battlemap
 

Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 2, Part 1 – Consequences of Sleep
Starday, 7th Gozran, 817


Lemarc and Thawn hunched down in the tall grass at the base of a tree. Nearby, Halloran, Rhynn, and T’bidi waited, weapons at the ready.

With two fingers, the ranger pointed at a distant man busily emptying his bladder in the morning rain. He was draped in leather armor, scimitar at his side, and a crossbow he had laid against a nearby tree. The thief nodded and then gestured to the distant bush-line that would provide fuller cover closer to Pran’s family encampment. There was a small risk crossing the open grasses to get there, but the drone of the rain and burbling water in the creek would help mask the sound of their feet. Besides, the sentry was what one might describe as “occupied”. *

Lemarc skittered in a hunched posture for the bushes with Thawn close behind. No alarm, good. He turned and waved forward the other three, who also quickly crossed the open stretch of grasses successfully. They could hear shouting at this distance but couldn’t make out the words.

The thief addressed his companions, his voice soft. “Hold here. I want to hear what they’re saying. We may learn something.” T’bidi nodded once firmly, and she slid forward into a protective position before the other three. Something of a mother hen, that one, Lemarc noted.

Lemarc peered out past the bushes, considered the creek, and another group of bushes closer to the camp. Another similarly clad man could be seen now, but he too was looking away. He quietly left the cover of the bushes, slinked down to the creek’s edge, hopped across a few large rocks, and was up the distant bank and into the next set of bushes. There now, what are they arguing about?

The thief slowly moved forward within the bushes to peer out the other side. A third man in leather, this one with a spear was shouting. Nearby two other men stood. One wearing chain armor and a broadsword on his hip. The third, was dressed in leathers, dark robes, and some kind of ceremonial mask that concealed his visage.

But Lemarc didn’t care one wit about the three men. He didn’t even care about the pile of dead bodies, their blood splattered everywhere. No, what he really cared about was the 11-foot-tall, boar-headed demon.

The man with the spear prodded the great horror with the pointy end. “You are bound to us, demon! Where is the key?!”

The demon regarded the man…and smiled. “The key is here,” the demon responded. “And I am not bound to you, mortal worm.” Then the demon lashed out, palmed the man’s head, and picked him up. The man instantly dropped his spear as his hands feebly plied at the great creature’s fingers while he screamed. The demon opened its great, boar-like jaws and began to stuff the man into it…sideways and folded the man like one might fold a piece of bread with meat inside of it. The demon continued to stuff and stuff…and stuff. Bones splintered, tearing through the man in a great gout of blood…and then he was gone. Armor, boots, and all.

Don’t vomit! Don’t vomit! Lemarc focused on just that.

Once he felt stable, Lemarc slipped back out the way he came and started to sneak back to the group.

“There!” one of the sentries called out.

“Oh hell,” Lemarc said and started to run. “Flee! There’s a demon!” he called out to his companions.

A crossbow bolt whizzed past the thief’s ear as he dove into the bushes.

Thawn had moved out to the side to get a better view of the situation. Yup, that’s a demon alright. He watched as man with the mask went up to it and heard the man say, “Destroy our enemies, fiend!”

“I am not bound to such a task,” the demon explained.

“Then I release you from your bond!” the masked man replied.

Again, the demon smiled. “Thank you. Enjoy your deaths!” and with that, the creature winked out of existence in a shower of chromatic colors.

“We don’t have the strength to fight a demon!” Halloran declared as he stood. He reached to the sky above, pointed at a cloud, and said, “Röth, conceal us!” channeling the power of his god. Suddenly, a cloud of fog rolled out, concealing the group as bolts continued to cut through the air.

“They released the demon,” the ranger’s voice called out. “We need to run!”

And run they did. The party retreated from the fog, fleeing. Men, many with crossbows, were coming in at different angles. One bolt stuck Halloran’s backpack, tearing it and causing dried beans to spill out. **

A bolt cut across Rhynn’s shoulder, making her bleed. T’bidi looked at her in alarm, but the wizard shook her head. “I’m alright, keep going,” she said pausing long enough to release a fire bolt in the direction of one of the men with a crossbow. The spell went wide, sizzling with the rain before winking out of existence.

Three more men came running out of the bushes from their left on an intercept course, scimitars in hand only to be stopped short as vines and long grasses grasped at their limbs. the work of Shepherd Thawn’s entangle spell. “Don't stop!” he called.

The party made a full run for it.

~

Thawn led them deeper into the woods as they tried to evade the men looking for them. They had been running for two hours and the party was starting to slow down.

“I don’t think the demon is with them anymore,” Thawn said as he considered the endurance of the others. Everybody was breathing heavily. “Rest here, let me check behind us,” he said and then jogged off.

“Yes,” replied Rhynn as she leaned heavily against a tree. “You said they released it.”

“What does that mean?” Lemarc asked.

“It means the fools summoned it, bound it to a task and then foolishly released it to its own free will in a panic,” she answered.

“Good, so we don’t have to fight it,” the thief said.

“No. Very much not good,” Rhynn continued. “This horror is now loose upon the world to do as it will and we’re at least partially responsible.”

“What can we do about it?” Lemarc asked.

“Nothing…at least not yet,” the wizard replied. “Halloran is correct, we don’t have the strength necessary to contend with such a fiend.”

Thawn returned. “They’re close and they’ll run us down if we keep on like this. Come, we’ll set an ambush for them and have it settled one way or another.” ***

~

The group waited in the bushes. To one side, T’bidi, Lemarc, and Rhynn. On the other, Thawn and Halloran.

The men came through exactly as the ranger had planned. Lemarc was the first to let an arrow fly, catching one of the mask-wearing men in the eye. T’bidi released her bolt, which lodged itself deep in one man’s midsection, causing him to crumple to the ground in quick succession. Thawn released another entangle spell, trapping the four remaining men.

Rhynn stepped forward out of the bushes, reached into her bag and withdrew a pinch of sand. As she let it go the sand floated upon a wind that didn’t exist towards the struggling men. Three of them fell into a sleep.

T’bidi, who stood close to the wizard, could just make out the words of the spell. Is that the voice of my mother? It’s as if she was telling me a bedtime story from my youth.

In quick succession, two more were killed by arrow and bolt. Leaving but two remaining alive. One man was rendered unconscious with the rap of Thawn’s staff. The other continued to struggle in the entangling vines of the ranger’s magic. T’bidi started forward with her spear but was held up by the thief as she did so. “Here,” he said, offering her Pran’s handaxe.

She nodded in understanding, dropped her spear, and took up the weapon. She then walked over, looked the struggling man in the eyes and said, “For Pran.” Then she raised the axe and hacked at the man’s neck and shoulder a few times. Each swing drew forth an arc of rich blood that swept through the air, sending the man to the world beyond.

“The oath is fulfilled,” the cleric said approvingly.

T’bidi nodded, returned the axe to the thief, and recovered her spear.

The last man Thawn tied to a nearby tree for questioning. A toss of water woke him up, causing the man to cough up some blood. Halloran kneeled down next to him, removed his mask while the man settled himself.

“Hrmph!” The cleric snorted as he tossed the mask aside and pulled out some dried meat. “Hungry?” he said, offering some up to the prisoner.

The man sneered and spat. “I know what you’re trying to do!” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do to me! My reward is assured! I will serve in the Night Queen’s Court!” he declared.

“The Night Queen?” Lemarc asked, looking at Rhynn who was already exchanging hushed words with Shepherd Thawn at the name drop. She shook her head, “We don’t know the name.”

The thief looked down at the man. “What’s your worship situation like?” he asked. “Is this the kind of thing where you give over all of your worldly belongings? If so, where are all of those treasures stored? Some kind of temple, hmm?” [We were dying at this line of questioning from Curtis.]

Thawn waved Lemarc off. “What is your queen’s name? Where might we find her?”

“You will find her either when you die by her sword or kneel before her throne!” the man answered. “All are her subjects! None shall evade her majesty!”

“Throne?” Lemarc started again. “Please, tell me more about this throne. Is it made of gold?”

T’bidi rolled her eyes.

“I am one of the Night Queen’s Covenant!” the man said proudly. “My place at her side is assured!”

Halloran sighed. “We’ll learn nothing more from this one. I’ve seen the type. Zealots.”

Thawn started to untie him.

“Leave him,” T’bidi said.

“But I paid good money for this rope,” Thawn replied as he continued to untie the man. [This was just one of those nights full of laughter from comments like this.]

The man got to his feet and started to leave only to have T’bidi grab him by the collar and sink his face into a nearby pool of water. There was no sneer of hate on her while she did it. It was almost mechanical. Flat. She took no pleasure in the throttling of the man but didn’t shy away from it either.

The man struggled for all he was worth, his fingers clawed at the mud, but T’bidi’s grip was far too strong for him to break. Finally, he jerked twice and then was still.

“Let us return to the campsite then,” Thawn said. “See what we may yet learn.”

As the party turned to leave, Lemarc flipped a gold piece into the pool next to the corpse. “Here’s all the reward you’ll be getting,” he said as he turned and followed.

A minute later, the thief returned and gathered up his coin. “Sorry, I just can’t.”


DM Commentary

* I have a lot of thoughts about how Stealth will work in this game, which I’ve discussed with the player group. I’ll follow up with a post and some screenshots on how we’re handling this.

** You might think that this is just me adding extra fluff here, but that’s exactly how one of the players narrated it in the moment.

*** Evading in the wilderness is a scenario that I resolve by contested Wisdom (Survival) checks. In this case, because the party was slower (some where hindered due to encumbrance), I forced Thawn’s roll at disadvantage. He rolled a 19 and so did the NPCs. My interpretation is tied results mean no change, the chase goes on, but I warned them that we’d be adding saving throws for exhaustion into the mix. Faced with that, they opted to lay an ambush instead. This was resolved by a group stealth check, which they succeeded on.

I like this idea of promoting the usage of Survival past just tracking and foraging for food. I feel like the ranger has lost some of its pizzaz in 5e, so I like to lean into their ability to navigate the wilds whenever I can.
 

Hjorimir

Adventurer
I think it's fair to say that stealth is something of an elusive beast in 5e. It's one area of the rules where things are not 100% clear. So, here's how we're handling stealth in the Blackgate Chronicles.

The first two things you should know is that we play using the Fantasy Grounds VTT. The second is that we are using facing as a houserule in the game. This opens up the stealth game to the idea that, despite any form of cover, one could sneak up or by somebody because of their facing.

Here's a snapshot of the facing indicator (the yellow arrow) on each token. In this example, nothing prohibits Lemarc (apparently played by Rufus Sewell in the yet to be announced movie) from sneaking by, which isn't normally the case in 5e (again, due to the lack of cover).

Stealth - Facing.png


Fantasy Grounds also supports a type of LOS that is calls terrain. The way this basically works, when outside of the terrain, you can see into it, but not past it. However, when you enter terrain, you can see out of it. Our basic ruling on hiding in bushes is that you may sneak up to bushes just fine, but entering them requires another check. Furthermore, unless you're a ranger a druid with land's stride, that check is made at disadvantage (due to the obvious rustling of leaves). I like that this is another example of a nudge in the ranger's favor. Some snips to demonstrate all of this...

The first image is from Lemarc's view. He can see into the bushes (and therefore Thawn within), but not beyond. The second, Thawn's view, shows him the NPC beyond. Note that the bush is still considered cover and, given a successful Stealth check, Thawn can be remain hidden from the NPC.

Stealth - Outside Terrain.png
Stealth - Inside Terrain.png


Lastly, is how we're handling light and shadows. When in the dark, one can sneak as if they have concealment, which should be pretty obvious. When it comes to being in light, if the character is in the dim aura of the light, they can still sneak, but at disadvantage. Sneaking through bright light is impossible as long as the observer is facing you (as above). Darkvision is treated as dim light, which means you can sneak up on somebody with darkvision through the dark, but at disadvantage.

Again, some shots.
Image #1: Lemarc is in the dark of the room, can sneak without penalty despite the guard's facing.
Image #2: Lemarc is now in the dim part of the guard's light. His stealth is at disadvantage.
Image #3: Full light, in the guards facing. No stealth possible.
Image #4: If the guard had darkvision, despite being beyond the source of light, Lemarc's stealth check is at disadvantage.

Stealth - In the dark.png
Stealth - In dim light.png
Stealth - In light.png
Stealth - Darkvision.png


So, all of this together creates kind of a fun playground for the players where they consider the sources of light, terrain, and the facing of anybody they're trying to sneak past/upon. It provides a visceral stealth minigame within the game, if you will.
 


Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 2, Part 2 – Mud, Merchants, and Mysteries
Starday, 7th Gozran, 817


The party looked upon the heap of corpses that were strewn about the bloody rock that the demon had stood before. The sun hung low in the sky by the time they had made their way back to Pran’s campsite. Flies swarmed the bodies of his dead kin.

“I don’t understand,” T’bidi said. “How can these men have commanded such a creature?”

“Command isn’t the word I’d use,” Rhynn answered. “These men – the Night Queen’s Covenant – didn’t simply summon this demon with a spell. People were sacrificed to make that happen. An old, and foolish, ritual.”

“These people here?” T’bidi asked.

Rhynn looked upon the bodies and frowned. “Unfortunately, I think it would have taken more lives than just these to summon such a creature. I can’t be sure as I didn’t even see it.” She shook her head. “No, I suspect that these people were sacrificed to the demon, the Night Queen, or both merely for the sake of sacrifice.”

Halloran spat. “Evil.” He said no more as no more needed to be said.

“Look here,” T’bidi said pointing. “A symbol scratched on the rock.”

Thawn moved close and examined it. “A stylized crown. This must be the Night Queen’s sigil.”

Halloran noticed that Lemarc was being unusually quiet as the thief stood apart from the others, a troubled look upon his face. The Northman walked over and placed a large, meaty hand upon his shoulder. “Lemarc?”

“Oh, hrmm,” Lemarc replied slowly. “I think…”

Everybody was now staring at the curly-haired rogue.

“I think we have a problem,” he said at last. “I heard the one man, the one who was…well, you know.” Lemarc made a stuffing gesture at his mouth. “Anyway, I heard him say that the demon was bound to show them to the key.”

“And?” T’bidi offered.

“I think it was this key,” Lemarc replied. “The one Pran gave us. I mean, I think the demon knew we’d be here.”

Nobody said anything…

~

The next morning, the party worked together to bury Pran’s family, taking them away from the bloodstained rock and finding a nicer area that would get a bit of sunlight overlooking the nearby creek. Then, they headed back for the road that would take them to the village of Black Hollow.

~

The rain had let up by midday, but hours later, as the sun hung low in the western sky, the ground was still laden with puddles and muddy. Each huddled within their cloaks as they walked, hiding from the chill air.

Thawn was starting to look for a good place to camp when they happened upon a man who seemed to be chasing a draft horse through a muddy field. The man saw the party and came to a stop. His shoulders hung low and with a defeated voice he said, “If you’ve come to rob and murder me, please be on about it. I’m quite tired!”

Lemarc took a small step forward, “Don’t mind if I do.”

T’bidi looked at the thief. He must be joking. She frowned. He’s joking, right?

Thawn held up an open hand, stopping Lemarc, and said, “Indua's blessing be upon you, traveler.”

“Well then,” the man replied smiling, “are any of you good with horses? This one is giving me no end of trouble.”

Halloran nodded and strode out into the muddied field where he and the man were able to quickly wrangle the horse working together.

“I cannot thank you enough, friend,” the man said as he slopped through the mud towing the giant horse behind him. “There, my camp,” he continued as he gestured towards a wagon laden with goods near the side of the road. “Please, join me by my fire and let me feed you all. It’s the least I can do.”

The Northman nodded and waved at the others to also make their way to the wagon. A fire had already been started and, after taking care to secure his horse, the man directed all to make themselves comfortable. “Please, please, sit! Let me get you some spirits to push the chill from your bones while I make us a stew.”

He then fetched a bottle from his wagon and offered it around. “Brandy,” he said. “I am Rulgur, a traveling merchant.” The party took the time to introduce themselves in turn, each name drawing a smile and a nod from the heavyset merchant. He then turned and started working on dinner.

Later, as the stew burbled over the fire, he sat back and lit a pipe, looked once at his horse, and with a wink in his eye began to laugh.

“Rulgur,” Thawn said, “have you any news of the road ahead? Any dangers we should be aware of?”

Rulgur considered a moment as he stroked his mustache. “No, nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, there’s always danger of bandits, but nothing such as yourselves shouldn’t be able to handle or simple scare off.”

“Bandits,” T’bidi said. “And you travel alone?”

Rulgur sighed. “I do now, yes. I once had a good woman, but she left me…joined a cult.” Then his eyes perked up as he looked upon the party. “Say, you don’t happen to be in a cult or maybe are considering starting one, are you?”

Rhynn looked shocked. “A cult? What do you take us for?”

“Oh, I mean no offense,” Rulgur answered. “It’s just that cults are my best customers. Truth be told, I’m something of a cult merchant. I sell robes – I have all kinds and colors – as well as some of the most ornate masks you can find in bulk!”

The party was confused.

“I shouldn’t be surprised,” he continued. “You look far too reasonable to be in a cult, but I had to ask you understand. One can’t throw a rock without hitting a cult member in these parts lately. You got your sun-worshipping cults, your star-worshipping cults, your sea-worshipping cults – even in cities far from the ocean. I’ve seen it all.”

Lemarc chuckled.

“Heck,” Rulgur was just streaming words at this point. “I even seen me a cult that worshipped a bumpy rock, which I’m pretty sure was petrified cow dung. Imagine that, worshipping a rocky piece of crap!”

Halloran was nodding and laughing now, tears in his eyes.

Rulgur bellowed. “You can find a tree stump and start a cult for it. Good money in it too. Everybody hands over everything, you give them a robe and maybe a mask and you’re in business.”

Thawn frowned.

“Mind you, it was never my goal,” Rulgur explained to the ranger, seeing his reaction. “I wanted to sell costumes to the theaters of the world. I do so love the theatre. But the theater business has slowed over the years and what is a costume merchant to do?”

“Sell costumes to cultists?” the thief suggested.

“Exactly that!” Rulgur replied. “So, alas, I’m now in the cult supply business.”

Lemarc’s eyes perked up. “Hey, any interest in buying some used scimitars? Took them off some cultists a few days ago.”

“Show me what you have, friend,” Rulgur said. “And we’ll figure out how to strike a fair deal.”

The two conducted their business before everybody ate dinner. The party promised to look Rulgur up if they changed their minds about staring a cult of their own and continued on with the final leg of their journey to Black Hollow the following morning.

~

Black Hollow.jpg


The next day, the party finally arrived at the village of Black Hollow. It wasn’t a large settlement by any stretch of the imagination. Besides an inn on the west edge of town and what looked to be the local lord’s longhouse to the east, the town was a collection of smallish, round huts. The more interesting aspect of the town was that it was built in something of a circle around a great depression in the ground that led down to what appeared to be a large, dark cave.

“Well,” Lemarc started, “I think we can guess where they got the name.”

T’bidi nodded and gestured towards the inn with her spear and set out in that direction with the others in tow.

A group of people were gathered at the front of the inn, mostly standing around a merchant’s wagon. Lemarc could hear the man atop the wagon hawking his wares which he had brought all the way from the city of Skarn, which happened to be the closest, major city.

Thawn sidled up besides one of the men, a stern looking man with blond hair and said, “Hullo there,” which elicited a suspicious stare from the stranger.

Lemarc noted that as the merchant was haggling over the price on a small cask of pickles the man’s eyes lingered overly long upon himself.

Just as things were starting to feel slightly awkward, a man broke from the crowd and addressed the party. “Hoi, travelers!” he said cheerfully with a smile. He bore a bandage wrapped about his head to cover his right eye showing that he had been recently injured.

“I am Dricus and I am both proprietor and innkeeper of the Hollow’s Hole,” he explained with a slight bow and a sweep of the hand towards the inn’s front door. “You travelers look cold. Please, my fire is warm, my ale spiced, and soup bubbling. Won’t you come inside?”

T'bidi nodded and replied, “Yes, show us the way.”

With that the man scurried ahead of the party to make them welcome. As the party entered the Hollow’s Hole, Dricus was busily arranging chairs and benches near the common room’s hearth, where a warm fire crackled. He waved all of them over, tossed another log upon the fire, and pushed it with a poker to get it into place and stir the fire hotter.

As Rhynn stat down, he all but touched her feet and then gestured to the hearth. “Please, warm your feet by my fire. I’m sure you’re all chilled to the bone with the rains we’ve had. Make yourselves comfortable.”

“Thank you,” Rhynn said. She didn’t place her feet upon the heart, but she did scoot her chair a touch closer and leaned in trying to warm her nose which felt like ice.

“So, about that food and drink,” Dricus let the half-formed question hang in the air as the party settled themselves.

“Yes,” T’bidi said.

“Excellent!” he replied and quickly made his way into the kitchen excitedly.

“Business must be slow,” Halloran said while the man was gone.

“There was a foul mood in the crowd,” Thawn noted.

T’bidi nodded. “I saw it too. Why was that man staring at you like that?”

The ranger shrugged.

The door from the kitchen swung open as Dricus reappeared with a platter of mugs which he promptly distributed to the party. “Here you go!”

Lemarc dropped a few gold coins upon the platter and grabbed a mug, bringing a smile from the man.

“Dricus, who was that blond man outside?” the thief said. “The one with all of the…personality.

“Ah,” Dricus said, looking a touch uncomfortable. “Umm, I think you may be referring to Dengan.”

“Yes, Dengan,” Lemarc continued. “Who is he?”

Dricus looked uncomfortably at the windows and their open shudders at the front of the Hole. “I need to check on your soup. Please excuse me,” he said as he gave a quick bow and once again retreated to the kitchen.

“Something is going on,” Rhynn said. The others nodded.

Soon after, Dricus returned. This time his platter had a stack of bowls and large, clay pot, and a loaf of bread. He carried all of this to the hearth and placed the pot near the fire and proceeded to ladle soup into each of the bowls that he doled out to the party. He then tore off large chunks of crusty bread and distributed to each of them with a smile.

“We have two rooms,” he said. “Perhaps one for the womenfolk and one for the men?”

T’bidi replied, “How much?”

“Two gold,” he said with a waning smile. “I mean, that’s two gold each. So, four gold?”

“Are you asking us what the price should be?” T’bidi asked.

“No, no. That will be four gold for both of the rooms tonight.”

“So, about that man,” T’bidi said as she pulled the coins from her pouch and handed them over. “You were saying…”

Dricus snatched up the coins happily and again gave a nervous glance to the open windows. “Was I saying?”

Rhynn stood up and declared, “I’m cold.” She then walked to the front of the inn and closed the shudders to each of the front windows before picking up her chair and placing it firmly in front of the door to block it. She then sat down.

Dricus raised a hand to his bloodied bandage that covered his right eye. “Please, don’t hurt me.”

Thawn raised a calming hand. “Be at peace, friend,” he said. “We’re just new in town and have a few questions.”

“Oh!” the innkeeper looked relieved. “Surely about the dungeon then.”

“Dungeon?” Lemarc said.

Dricus looked confused. “I’m sorry, but you appear to be the adventuring sort.”

“Oh, we are.”

“Right, of course,” he continued. “You’ll likely want to talk with Enarion ‘cross the way. He sells keys you can try on the dungeon’s door.”

“Keys?” Lemarc asked.

Dricus nodded. “Yes, of course. Many have heard of the dungeon and have come to plunder its depths, but nobody has been able to enter…at least not in my lifetime.”

Lemarc swooned at the idea of riches that must lie within. He was practically drooling.

Thawn shook his head at the thief and turned his attention back to their host. “Please tell us about this Dengan.”

Dricus brought a hand up to his bandage briefly.

“Did he hurt you?” the ranger asked.

Dricus was staring now at the blood upon his fingertips. “Umm, it was just a slight misunderstanding. It will sort itself out.”

“Bring me a bowl of clean water and a towel,” Halloran said.

“Of course,” and Dricus again retreated to the kitchen briefly and returned with the requested items.

The cleric took the bowl and towel and said, “Sit.”

“Umm,” he started to reply.

Halloran put a hand on the man’s shoulder and gently – yet firmly – guided him into a nearby chair. “Let me help you.” He removed the bandage and examined the wound. He may well lose this eye. This is no small wound.

Halloran then held up a hand to the wound, muttered a quiet prayer to Röth under his breath, and warmth filled the wound and closed it. He then wrapped it in a new, clean bandage. “You may yet save that eye but keep it clean.”

Dricus nodded. “Thank you! Thank you!”

“Now, tell us about your troubles,” the Northman said sternly.

“Well,” Dricus quickly glanced at the front of the inn once more to ensure they were alone. “You see, Dengan is something of…well, it’s hard to explain. He’s kind of like the eyes and ears for some men around here. Rough men.”

“Rough men?” T’bidi asked.

“You know, if you’re looking for work and such, you really should speak with the thegn.” He nodded earnestly to drive the point quietly.

“The thegn?” Rhynn asked.

“Yes. You’ll find his longhouse on the east side of the village,” he replied, still nodding earnestly.

Lemarc touched his nose and nodded. We understand, friend.

“Are you warm now?” Dricus asked Rhynn, gesturing at the closed shudders.

“Yes, thank you,” she replied and returned her chair to sit near the fire.

Dricus busied himself with reopening the shudders at the front. As he was doing so, Thawn looked quickly at an open window at the rear of the inn. “We were overheard,” he said in a hushed hiss.

Lemarc darted to the window in a rush. Peering out, he saw a ragged looking man hurrying away in a quick walk. He scrambled out the window in pursuit, which sent the man into a shuffling run. He hurried after the fleeing man who leapt into a large bush.

Lemarc stopped short of the bushes where the man was feebly attempting to hide. “You know I see you, right?” he said.

The man reached to his belt and produced a sharp…fork?

“You’re not going to hurt anybody with that,” Lemarc said and tossed the man one of his daggers.

The man quickly dropped his fork, scooped up the dagger, looked upon his fallen fork in horror, scooped that up too and returned it to his belt. “I…I know how to use this!” he threatened. “Pointy end in the other fella,” he explained.

“Well, you’re not wrong there,” the thief countered. This isn’t going anywhere fast.

Lemarc shrugged, stepped forward, struck the man once on the top of his head with the pommel of his remaining dagger. Going to need help moving him.

“Can I get some help out here?” the thief called back to the window…and out came Rhynn.

Lemarc furrowed his eyebrows. Rhynn? Yep, here she comes.

[This is where the hijinks of D&D and poor rolls just take a story to a weird place. It’s one of the reasons I love the game so much. Thanks for the Deception check of 4, Kristen.]

Rhynn was walking towards where Lemarc stood near the downed man when she noticed a couple locals were watching her suspiciously. Oh no! Think, Rhynn, think! I got it!

The wizard snapped her fingers pleased with her plan. She then walked in a wide, awkward circle, proclaimed loudly, “I’m a botanist!” and came to stop by a tree to feel up its bark. “Oooo, nice bark!” she added.

One of the watching villagers snorted.

“Go back,” Lemarc hissed at her. “Send somebody better at this!”

Rhynn nodded slyly once before turning around and walking in an even more awkward, serpentine path so anybody nearby could see her before she returned to the front of the inn.

“Lemarc wants somebody better,” she said.



DM Commentary

Not a lot to offer on the rules front for this post. The second half of the session was what the table lovingly calls “JJing,” which means to drink Jamba Juice and just talk. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but there’s a story there. I’m sure many tables have such stories to tell.

Anyway, lots of JJing and lots of laughter. We ended a touch abruptly here as one of my players had a hard cutoff at 9 that night.
 



Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 3, Part 1 – We are agreed…
Starday, 7th of Gozran, 817


Lemarc was waiting for ‘somebody better’ to arrive as he stood vigil over the now unconscious man when he spied something through the far side of the bush. Near a tree there was a propped-up shelter of some kind. A rough tent, in the loosest of terms. I think this poor fella was just running for his home. Oops!

Lemarc looked around to make sure it was clear before he shouldered the man and carried him to his home. He lay the man down comfortably and checked his pulse to make sure he’d survive. Satisfied, he snuck back past the bush line and made his way back towards the Hollow’s Hole inn. A few people stared at him in the distance with scrutinizing looks on their faces. Lemarc did the only thing he could do in that situation…

“Oh, yes, botany!” he exclaimed as he strode by Rhynn’s tree of choice, felt up the bark, nodded to himself in satisfaction and then proceeded to return to the inn.

“Well,” the rogue said to his friends, “that could have gone better! But rest assured, the man lives and is sleeping like a baby in his home, such as it is. Rhynn, thank you for your botany help!”

“Should we be concerned about this man?” T’bidi asked. “He heard everything we said.”

The innkeeper shook his head. “I care for this man. Feed him and give him drink when I can. I’ll take care of it. Please, do not harm him further. Just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time I can assure you.”

“In my defense, he did try to stab me,” Lemarc said defensively, omitting the fact that the man was armed only with an old dinner fork.

With that, the group departed the inn and made their way eastward in town to seek out the Thegn’s great house.

Along the way, seeing the unconscious man in his ramshackle home, T’bidi walked over and placed a single gold coin in the palm of his hand. “Rest now,” she said. “We mean you no further harm.”

~

Rhynn noted that the great house was something of a mix between local architecture and the longhouses found further north. This village was probably settled by the Northmen long ago…or conquered.

A trio of sullen looking warriors lingered nearby. They watched the party as they approached, but none moved to challenge them. Beyond, sitting in a high-backed chair upon the porch, loomed Thegn Kestos of Black Hollow. He was a muscle-bound man of dark hair and long beard. His eyes were tired, yet still held a spark of pride within. His right hand gently rested upon a fine spear that leaned against his chair.

Shepherd Thawn remained quiet as the thegn took his time to look upon them. He’s evaluating us. Why do his eyes linger so upon Rhynn? Lust? No, but there’s something there.

“See?” he said to his men. “The river woman was right.” One of the men nodded but said nothing.

“You were expecting us?” T’bidi said.

The thegn waved her question off. “Why have you come travelers? I suspect to take a stab at our famous dungeon, but I’ll have your telling of it. Give me your tale.”

Thawn shook his head and looked at Lemarc. “Tell him why we have come.”

The thief nodded and perked up. “Ah yes, actually no. We’ve come looking for a man called Bushar. An associate of mine told me of a map the man possesses. We wish to buy it from him and be on our way.”

Rhynn noted a slight bemused look in the thegn’s eyes at Lemarc’s words.

Kestos stood. “Come inside and we can discuss such things,” he said before turning his back upon the party and ducking past the large, open doors.

Within, the great house of the thegn was something of a mess. It looked large enough to house a good many men and probably did at one time. The long tables were dirty, and dishes were piled here and there. Kestos pushed a pile around, fished up a drinking horn, and filled it with mead from a small cask. He gestured toward the cask, inviting the party to have some, and then sat down in a large chair at the end of room. His ‘throne’ presumably.

“So, Bushar?” Lemarc said breaking the silence.

The thegn nodded and was quiet a moment as he composed his thoughts. “Bushar lives here, it is true,” he started. “But his home now lies empty.”

“Do you know where’s run off to?” the rogue asked.

Kestos nodded. “I know where he is, more or less,” he answered. “And I’d be willing to tell you, but in exchange for a service you shall do for me.”

“What service?” Halloran asked.

“I need you to bring me two heads,” the thegn explained.

“I do not do murder,” Thawn said.

“And if it isn’t murder? If it’s justice?” T’bidi asked the ranger before arching an eyebrow at Kestos hoping for an explanation.

The thegn nodded. “The first head I need belongs to Cormac, who was once my húskarl before he betrayed me and the people of Black Hollow.”

“And the other?” T’bidi pressed.

“Naragei,” Kestos stopped to spit. “The she-devil who ensorcelled Cormac and is taking my people to serve in her Night Queen’s Covenant. Put them both in the dirt and bring me their heads so that I may put them on poles!”

“Would you not prefer to do this yourself?” Rhynn asked. “For your honor?”

Kestos was nodding at the wizard’s words. “Yes, of course, I would slake my thirst for vengeance upon them if I could…” the words lingered off as the man struggled with his desire for violence. “But” he said at last, “a good thegn thinks first of his people before his own desires. I have lost many of my men already to this growing cult and I have few left to protect my people.”

He stood up and held forth his fine spear. “Do this for me and I will give unto you my spear. It is enchanted, which I suspect adventurers such as yourself would find useful. Also, the man you seek, Bushar, is with this cult. He was taken. I know not his fate, but it’s where you want to go anyway.”

“I am not worthy of such a gift, thegn,” T’bidi said looking at the spear.

“It is not a gift,” Kestos said. “It is payment. Payment for services. Rid me of this cursed cult!”

“We are familiar with this cult,” Rhynn said. “We came upon a man of your village named Pran, who they killed.”

Kestos spat. “Then they have taken his key.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” T’bidi replied. “As it happens, we came into Pran’s possessions.”

The thegn’s disposition brightened at this news. “If rumor is true, it’s mate lies with Naragei. Bring me her head and the key is yours.” He turned to the thief. “Surely, your lust for treasure must be satisfied. Think of what may be for the taking in caves below.”

“Why is that dungeon so important?” T’bidi asked.

“It is said that an ancient treasure lies within,” Kestos said. “A thing from the World that Came Before. For all of my life people have tried to open its door. No shovel or pickaxe can penetrate its walls. It is said that the magic of the lost sorcerer-kings protects it.”

“Well, whatever it is, we cannot let the covenant take it,” T’bidi said eliciting nods from her companions.

“So it is agreed?” Kestos pressed. “Bring me my heads and you will have my spear, the key, your map.”

“How many?” Rhynn asked. “How many men does Naragei command?”

The thegn sighed as he sat back down. “I cannot say with any confidence. Who can say how many have chosen service over sacrifice?”

“If there are those who can be saved, they will be saved,” T’bidi replied.

“Your wayward sheep will be returned to you,” Thawn promised.

“One last thing,” Kestos said. “I cannot support you publicly. The risk to my people is too great for me to make a move against Naragei and fail.”

T’bidi locked eyes with the thegn and nodded firmly. “We are agreed.”

“Yes,” Rhynn answered. “I kind of want to kill things now.”

The thegn then directed them towards Pran’s abandoned home and that of the village river woman if they wanted to investigate anything for themselves in town. He explained that there was a trail beyond Pran’s house that led into the woods and made its way northeast to a cave where the covenant had been excavating for some time.

~

Lemarc stood at an open window – largely because its shudders had been torn off – at the back of Pran’s house. The front door didn’t fare any better. Two things were quickly obvious to the thief. One, some serious ransacking of the house had taken place. Two, people died inside. The telltale sign of wet work was seen in the sprays of blood, now dark brown stains, about the place. He sighed and clambered through the window. The thegn said we could look after all.

Inside, he saw that furniture had pulled apart piece by piece. “Looking for the key no doubt,” Lemarc said quietly to himself. In a back room he found a small, overturned bed and large stain of blood. Nearby, scratched into the wood of one of the humble room’s posts, the mark of the dark crown. The covenant’s calling card as it were.

Symbol - The Dark Crown.jpg


“Thawn,” Lemarc called to his companions outside. The ranger appeared in the doorway soon after. “What do you make of this.”

The shepherd sighed and shook his head before stepping into the room and squatting down to get a better look. He frowned as he said, “This death…meant to last. It was done to cause as much pain as possible.”

The two exchanged a grim look before Lemarc nodded in understanding.

Outside, the others waited. T’bidi spotted an old woman and young girl to the west. They stuck out because the girl was looking directly at the dark-skinned fighter and pointing down, towards the entrance of Black Hollows infamous dungeon.

Thawn and Lemarc reappeared. “There’s time left in the day to find the trail,” the ranger said.

“A moment please,” T’bidi replied and walked off towards the pair of villagers. The others followed.

As T’bidi approached, the young girl stepped forward. The old woman with her moved to pull her back but stopped short as the girl spoke. “You must pass through the light to find what you seek,” the young girl offered mysteriously.

Then, the old woman did pull her back and the pair retreated into the humble home. It was only once they were gone that the party realized the girl’s eyes were a milky white.

Is she blind? T’bidi wondered.

~

It had taken Thawn a bit longer than he had originally anticipated to find the trail that Kestos had spoken of. The party followed the trail through the waning hours of the day. The ranger noted the rut of cart and wagon wheels that had transformed what was once a meager game trail into something much wider. This must be the path the covenant is using. The thegn mentioned that they were excavating out here.

The sun was low and the shadows of the trees long when Thawn started looking for a place to camp. He ended up finding a perfect spot, away from the trail, hidden by a rise, but with a nearby spot to keep watch on the road throughout the night. [Go-go natural 20 on the Survival check.]

As the others set-up camp, Thawn retreated to the woods for a spell before returning with a large hare, which he tossed to Halloran who made busy with the cleaning and preparing of the evening’s dinner.

Near the center of the camp, where the party huddled about the fire thinking grim thoughts about the covenant and the bloody path they’ve left in their wake, Rhynn was busying herself with a ritual casting. From her component satchel, she produced a small bell, something a child might play with and a short wrapping of silver wire. She then hung the bell from the wire and tied it to a low overhanging branch as she softly spoke repeated words of power. After a short while she smiled satisfied. “There, the alarm is set.”

The night passed quietly.

~

Sunday, 8th of Gozran, 817

The group was breaking their fast around the morning fire, each lost in their thoughts when T’bidi spoke up.

“Rhynn,” she said, “can you explain what we might face? I mean, the demon…” she stopped short, the words hanging heavy in the air.

The wizard sniffled a bit, her nose a touch runny in the cold. “It’s something they shouldn’t know how to do. Nobody should really. I’m sorry that I know as much about it as I do.”

“Could you summon such a thing?” Lemarc asked.

“No,” the wizard said then wrinkled her forehead. “Well, maybe. But it would be at great cost.”

“Cost?” T’bidi prodded.

Rhynn nodded. “I don’t have the raw power myself to summon something so powerful and I suspect neither do they. They’ve undoubtedly paid for the missing power with lives sacrificed. It’s an old ritual from the World that Came Before,” she explained.

Rhynn looked up and saw the others hanging on her every word. So, she continued. “It is said that there once was a great wizard, Prezhor of Oqinn…”

“Oqinn?” Thawn said. “I’ve never heard of such a place.”

“Lost in antiquity,” Rhynn explained. “Anyway, Prezhor and his wife, Rhamari, were great practitioners of wizardry.”

“Wizardry? Sorcery? Is there a difference?” T’bidi asked.

Rhynn nodded. “Yes. That difference is understanding. Sorcerers inherit their power, but wizards study it.”

“So, wizards are more powerful because they know more,” Lemarc offered.

Rhynn wrinkled her nose. “Yes and no. Wizards know much, of course, but magic comes freely to sorcerers and that allows them to do things wizards cannot. So, anyway, it is said that Rhamari attempted to summon something from the World Beyond, but something went wrong, and she was taken. For many long years Prezhor studied her work, her notes, her study and attempted to bring her back.”

“I’m guessing it worked,” the thief said.

“No,” the wizard replied shaking her head. “All he managed was to bring forth the demon that had taken Rhamari. The demon, said to be a man with a skin as black as coal and wielding a sword shaped like flame, told Prezhor that he would spare the foolish wizard and return his wife. In exchange, he need only share his knowledge of the summoning ritual with any who would ask.”

“So…” T’bidi stared.

“Yes, quite so,” Rhynn replied. “His wife was returned, but news of his summoning ritual spread…and here we are today still paying for it.”

Rhynn could see the dread on the faces of her companions.

“The good news, I think, is that they probably used up most of their available offerings to summon the demon to look for the Pran’s…Lemarc’s key.”

The thief paled a touch.

“Which means that we probably won’t see such with them any time soon.”

Lemarc gave a weak smile. “That’s good,” he said, trying to convince himself of his safety.

Halloran tossed the last of his drink on the fire and stood up. “Let’s be to it then.”

They continued on their way.
 


Hjorimir

Adventurer
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 3, Part 2 – Call it in the air…Heads!
Sunday, 8th of Gozran, 817


It was already late in the afternoon when the party spotted a group of men at the end of the trail standing guard in front of a wide cave. Lemarc quickly dashed over and jumped in a bush.

T’bidi chuckled quietly at the thief’s predictability.

The rest of the party walked up slowly with Thawn in the front, hands wide, looking for parlay. The men at the cave spread out some in response, but one of their number strode forward to meet the ranger. He was a large, blond man notable for his scars and the great, bearded axe he carried. The two of them stopped a short distance from each other. They were close enough to talk easily, but out of arm’s reach. The blond man leaned slightly upon his axe and smiled.

“What brings you here?” he asked of the party.

“We have come to look upon the people of Black Hollow,” Thawn started. “I am bound to minister to those who have lost their way.”

The blond man looked upon the shepherd. If he noted Thawn’s facial marks as a priest of Indua he didn’t say. “A noble endeavor, but none here are lost. We have found our rightful place…at the side of the queen who will come in the night.”

Rhynn rolled her eyes.

“Your thegn is sorrowful at your betrayal,” Thawn replied. “Your neighbors…your families…they weep for what they have lost. How fare those who’ve taken to the call of the Night Queen?”

The man’s smile widened. “Of course, She provides for all who have bent the knee. The thegn should not mourn for he may yet bend the knee as well…as may you.” With that, the man hefted the axe up and across his right shoulder.

Is he flexing? Yes, he’s actually flexing. T’bidi noticed.

“I have no desire to harm you today,” Thawn said earnestly. “Please, reconsider what you are saying. Let us break bread together and speak of this Night Queen.”

The man frowned. “Cormac does not break bread with those about to die!”

Excellent! Lemarc thought from the safety of the bushes. Our first head!

Everybody tensed. One of the covenant guards, a man back to Cormac’s right was ready and let a crossbow bolt fly first. The bolt buried itself through the thick, meaty part of Thawn’s left thigh, the head protruding out the back of his leg. [I opened with a crit, to which Curtis shouted, “Coming in hot!” Good times.]

Thawn grimaced in pain but shook it off in the face of the fight. He glanced at the crossbowman and another man, also raising a crossbow in his direction nearby. He then brought up his hand, palm upward, his fingers and thumb pointing towards the sky and said a word of power as he cast entangle on the pair. Unfortunately, each man avoided the grasp of the grasses. [HAW!]

More bolts flew across the battlefield. None found purchase, though one managed to scrape off of T’bidi’s quickly risen shield. She had thrust the tip of her spear into the earth long enough to retrieve a pinch of fragrant powder from her belt pouch before tossing it into the air between her and húskarl. She then spit on the ground, recovered her spear, and moved forward to challenge the towering man as she set her weapon in anticipation of his attack. [As I mentioned at the start of this thread, this is a heavily houseruled game. One of those rules is that a spear can be set to attack with a reaction when an opponent enters its reach. If you hit, you deal twice weapon damage. T’bidi’s player, Valerie, does this often and to great effect.]

Rhynn tossed a ray of frost at the man before he could charge her friend, missed, and did her best impersonation of Lemarc by jumping into a nearby bush.

Cormac lunged forward, disdainful of T’bidi’s spear and was stabbed through the side for his arrogance. He sneered, knocked the spear aside, and thundered down upon her shield with his axe.

T’bidi winced under the attack noting its strength but was otherwise unharmed. [I’m not sure I’ve hit T’bidi once throughout our three sessions at this point.]

Lemarc, guarding the party’s right flank from his hidden position, sniped another of the cultists, his arrow passing clean through the man before ending its flight in the trunk of a distant tree. The man fell silently. Lemarc settled back into the brush, convinced he remained unseen. Then, another of the guards started charging in his direction. Surely, it’s a coincidence that he is coming this way!

The thief shrugged and darted out of the bushes back towards the sanctity offered by his friends, turned and let loose another arrow that caught his pursuer in the sternum, sending the man to his knees before pitching forward, driving the length of the shaft through and out his back.

Lemarc looked around quickly to take measure of the fight. “Hi, Rhynn,” he said to the wizard in the bushes.

“Shhh! I’m hiding!” Rhynn hissed.

“Yes, that’s why I saw you instantly.”

Meanwhile, the two men the ranger had attempted to entangle were out of the summoned thicket and pressing the ranger in melee. One struck him with a small cut to his shoulder before a thrust of the ranger’s staff drilled him in the forehead and sent him do the ground in a crumple.

As T’bidi and Cormac squared off against one another, Halloran slid up to Cormac’s back, swung, and cracked the back of the man’s skull. Torn skin and blood ran down the húskarl’s back, but he didn’t go down. [We use facing in this game and attacking somebody from the rear grants advantage on the attack roll. Cormac could have turned to face him or at least put Halloran in his flank, but as he was attacking T’bidi recklessly already the advantage was assured.]

Rhynn rose out from her place of (not) hiding, her robes aflutter. With a wave of her hand, she unleashed a trio of purple, swirling magic missiles at one guard who remained on his post at the front of the cave. He dropped like a rock. She remained standing in the center of the bush wrinkling her nose. Maybe I should spread those missiles out. [Again, houserules making their presence known here. HPs are halved – for the vast majority of creatures, including the PCs – which makes a spell like magic missile all the more powerful.]

T'bidi was not one to lose control of her emotions in a fight and looked oddly calm as she thrust her spear at Cormac again. The attack caught the man just under the left side of his clavicle, drawing forth a spurt of blood as she pulled her weapon back. The húskarl was shaking now, but remained on his feet, propped up by nothing more than adrenaline.

In response, Cormac again let loose with a might swing…and continued to drum upon T’bidi’s upraised shield. [Can’t touch this.]

Seeing the continuing struggle between her friends and the massive, axe-wielding berserker, Rhynn left the (non) safety of the bushes up to the man’s flank where she stretched her hands out before her, thumbs touching, like a fan and released a wave of fire from her burning hands. Umber red, yellow, and black flames spilt forth and ran down the Cormac’s body as he screamed in agony. Then he was dead and smoldering at the feet of the wizard. [Ode de Cormac!]

“Oh, hell,” Rhynn said as she looked upon the corpse. “We need his head!”

The rest of the cave’s guards were dispatched, save one who managed to escape to the south. [I like that my players don’t always feel the need to run every last opponent they find and kill them. Sure, that may come back to bite them at times, but they have a healthy attitude about it.]

T’bidi knelt down over Cormac’s burnt husk and pulled a vial containing oil from her pouch. She tipped out some of the oil upon her thumb and drew two lines down his face.

Rhynn, nearby, could hear her friend talking to the corpse in a hushed whisper. Most of the words she couldn’t make out, but it ended with “Niara Bakari.” She then watched as the fighter methodically removed the man’s head and rolled it into a burlap sack, which she then tied off in a knot.

The party took time to leave some of their possessions at the entrance of the cave. Notably, Halloran’s heavy pack and the bag containing the first of two heads that they needed.
 

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