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ZEITGEIST The chronicles of Team Big-hearted And Determined (B.A.D.)

Echolocation

Explorer
This recap will be quite long. Session 67 and 68 were a side adventure. If you're only interested in the content of the Zeitgeist Adventure Path, feel free to skip to Session 69, I won't be offended ;)


Session 67

For this session, players controlled one of Captain Dale's specialists. Each specialist has been equipped with a unique magical item from the Royal Vault. Also, following the sage advice of our main author, I designed this side-quest with an overarching group goal and side goals for each specialist. So, let me introduce you to what the players dubbed Team G.O.O.D.: Guardians Of Ominous Dimensions.

For the mechanically minded, each specialist was level 4 and heavily influenced by the iconic characters. That excludes the oracle, who was instead heavily influenced by my desire for jank.

Filtorn Wildheart (Slayer)

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Despite being raised by druids, Filtorn never found his calling in the wilds of Risur. He lacked the capacity for magic and the patience for learning druidic language. However, he carries his hunting lessons close to his heart.

Driven by a desire to defeat exotic beasts, Filtorn served in the Malice Lands. When news broke out of strange beasts emerging from the Bleak Gate in his homeland, he returned to the shores of Risur. Though excited to travel to the Bleak Gate, Filtorn never kills needlessly. He respects his prey, even after death.

Goal: Harvest a souvenir from an exotic beast of the Bleak Gate. If you can, do some from a beast where you struck the killing blow.

Gift from the Vault: Gaze of the Meek (neck slot). This silky eye of an undead beast sits nestled in cast iron steel. Reflected upon the orb are your opponent's vulnerability. When you damage a foe with a slashing weapon, you reduce each of their damage reduction and resistances by a value of 1. This penalty lasts until the beginning of your next turn.

Fel Featherson (Paladin)

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Fel was born to a family of poor immigrants who travelled to Flint in the early industrial expansion, hopeful for work and money. These dreams never eventuated, leaving Fel to grow disgruntled with the state of the world. Often left to their own devices by his working parents, they found entertainment and comfort in the songs of dockers.

Now in their mid-twenties, Fel has joined the millitary for stable work to support his aging family. Fel follows his own path, entrenched in the self-taught ideology of William Miller, a philosopher popular with dockers. Somehow, their patience and moral approach to life has imbued them with divine power. Just as Miller taught to admit when you are uncertain of your old beliefs, Fel has the capacity to heal others when one's mistakes has lead to their wounds.

Goal: You will not let the darkness of the Bleak Gate swallow your hope. Try to rescue survivors and use reason, rather than violence, where possible.

Gift from the Vault: Reflection of the Eternal Sun (shield). This Heavy Wooden Shield acts as a focus for excess positive energy. When the user of this shield uses Lay on Hands or Channel Energy, this shield emits a glowing light. As a free action, the user may angle the shield to shine the light upon one foe. On every attack made by that foe, they must roll twice and take the lower result. This effect lasts for one round, after which the energy captured within the shield dissipates. The hand equipping this item is capable of using lay on hands and providing somatic components to spells as if it were a free hand.

Stefan Gosselin (Sorcerer)
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Born of a Risuri war veteran father and a Danoran minor noble mother, Stefan has the best of both worlds. He lives with his family in the North Shore of Flint, he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle supplement by private tutors in both arcane and technology. Though, in early adulthood, Stefan was pressured by his father to join The Battalion, in hopes to expose him to the harsh realities of the world. Surprisingly, Stefan rather enjoyed blending magic and martial schools of thought to combat exotic creatures. Naturally, he fell into Captain Dale's supervision. He has not yet graduated, still searching for that one idea to inspire his thesis.

Goal: During your journey in the Bleak Gate, find an inspiration and title for your thesis. In front of every good martial thesis is an even better title.

Gift from the Vault: Interplanar translator (neck slot). The interplanar translator is a magical wooden box etched with arcane runes and wards. Atop the box sits a large brass cone that captures and funnels sound waves into the box. A leather trap allows the wearer to hang this item around their neck. Dials on the translator allow sound to be amplified and transformed into useful frequencies for both in and out of combat.
Out of combat, the translator can translate any language spoken nearby to Primordial, as per Comprehend Languages. The translation is outputted from the device and may be heard by anyone with 60 feet.
In combat, as a standard action, the device may be used to track an opponent. Effectively, this lowers the opponents AC by 2 for 1 round, as the device emits subtle frequencies that help subconsciously guide human hands.

Rachael Cipith (Oracle)
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For the first two decades of her life, Rachael's identity was destablised, resulting in an existential anxiety that tore apart her life in both The Dreaming and The Waking. Even her vision has deteriorated. Unable to distinguish realities, Rachael fell into a circle of conspiracy theorists. There, she met Abiera Stackhouse of Eschatologists of Flint United, a fringe end-times group. And there, she found her calling. The inevitable end of the world provided the stability and grounding she needed to reform her identity. In part due to her time in The Dreaming, her belief in a doomed world imbued her with divine magics capable of bringing that belief to life. Now, she speaks with a profound calmness, even when she is attacked from enemies beyond her sight.
Drawn to the darkness of Cauldron Hill, Rachael provides powerful offensive tools to twist the life forces of both the living and the dead. Captain Dale keeps an eye on the Cipith, weary she will be tempted by the dark forces seeping into this world.

Goal: Ask Angharad Cipith out on a date. What? A crazed doomsaying gal can have dreams too.
Gift from the Vault: Death's Grasp (weapon). These glorified nail extensions allows the user to clutch death itself. When the user grapples with this item, they receive a +2 to the roll and may grapple incorporeal and corporeal creatures.

Gatecrashing
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Team GOOD arrived in a small room, lit only by a cracked sunrod. Before them was a weakened woman, Jo, one of the soldiers that accompanied Team BAD on their initial expedition into the Bleak Gate. (Bazza, Emma, Jo and Sage were the specialists that originally accompanied Team BAD.) The unstable portal that separated us from Team BAD and brought us here quickly vanished.

Jo warned us to whisper, for fear of drawing “the mirror men”. Bazza’s on the upper floor of the facility with some Ob engineers. After months of research they determined there was a portal in a locked workshop. Potions of Gaseous Form were used to get inside. Mirror men constructs inside activated, attacked and forced them to retreat. Jo and her team was to find the keys required to open the large, vault-like door to the rest of the facility, and escort the remaining Ob engineers and Risuri military to The Waking.

Jo was too weak to fight, so instead asked Team GOOD to find three keys, each belonging to a head of department of R&D in the Ob's facility:
  • The Chief Arcanotechnological Engineer Volton Mertakov.
  • The Chief Bioengineer Francis Lockheart.
  • The Chief Skyseer Somay Sloam.
Jo expects them to be long perished, as she will turn out to be mostly correct.

DM Aside. In the book, the Ob workshops are quite small. There is one dedicated to biological discoveries and one dedicated to technology, though obviously the two often cross their discoveries. I included a third department, tasked with reading the skies of the Bleak Gate. The Ob hopes to unveil alternative planes that may not be easily viewed or discovered from The Waking, as well as explore how the nature of prophecy could change when the prophecy is dreamed of in the Bleak Gate instead. This department was smaller than the others. Somay joined in hope to bring new knowledge and revitalise Risuri to embrace skyseers once again into their national identity.

Team GOOD proceeded into the next room to find a study stuffed with notes and an orrery slowly swinging.
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Graffitied onto the orrery were various phrases. Phrases such as "False Prophets", "Liars", and "Skythrone Pretenders" were etched onto the planets, whereas phrases such as "Devourer", "Voidmaw" were etched onto the gears. In similar writing, one of Somay's final journey entries was found, reading: "The skythrone only seeks to deceive, to subvert fate. I have heard the others, the true gods. And they are coming."

DM Aside. In Somay's studies, he managed to glimpse a vision of The Gyre and the fate that awaits The Waking. His vision forecasts the ascension of the Voice of Rot and the destruction of all things. He understood the current planar arrangement to be one of intruders, and therefore, his order cannot currently predict the doom that awaits the world. His hopelessness and grief devoured him, and as if churned by the cosmic gears themselves, he now exists only as a mass of starstuff, a mere echo of his former being. Somay has graffitied the orrery to convey his prophecy, but it will fall on deaf/sane ears. Maybe the party will look back on this moment in Adventure Twelve, maybe they won't.

Team GOOD pushed onwards. Listening to the double doors at one end of the room, they heard pages rustling, as if a book were being flicked through, and a sinister voice comment: "“I will find you, vessel. You cannot hide in the pages much longer. I will have what is owed to me." In heroic fashion, the doors were kicked down to find a pale Sage, with jet-black eyes and arcane wires pierced into her head, wrists, and ankles: “Come closer, I can’t taste you from here.”

Naturally, a fight ensued. A snippet of dialogue, courtesy of a player's notes:
Fel: “Try to incapacitate her. She’s not in her right mind.”
Sage: (eyes turned pale) “I’m looking for a woman, Jo. Have you seen her?”
Fel: “Why are you looking for her?”
Sage: She’s a colleague, a friend! She was injured when we fell back together.”
Fel: “And what happened to you?”
Sage: “I- I was… attacked by… mirror men. No… something else before that.” Her eyes went dark again. “You think you can simply venture into this land of death with no consequences? With impunity? With no spilt blood?” She stepped forward, warhammer raised, and an incredible pressure gripped the nearby Fel and Filtorn’s heads. Fel shrugged it off but Filtorn was stunned.

DM Aside. So what the hell is going on? Whilst infiltrating the workshop, Sage fell victim to a possessor. These aberrations are a critical part of the Bleak Gate ecology, feasting upon sentience: creatures who enter the land of the dead or restless spirits who refuse to move on. In this case, the possessor was slowly eating Sage's mind from the inside-out, devouring her memories. Shortly thereafter, Sage, Jo, and Emma encountered 'mirror men'. The mirror men were not hostile, until the possessor within Sage realised it could use the mirror men to harm Sage's colleagues, making them easier prey. A possessed Sage initiated hostilities. Sage's group managed to severely wound the mirror men, but had to retreat. Sage was captured for an experimental witchoil device and Emma was captured for bio-engineering testing. Only Jo, the woman Team GOOD encountered at the beginning of the session, made it to relative safety.

The party reluctantly defeated Sage, and then defeated the black inky aberration that seeped out of her. Team GOOD pushed forward through malfunctioning spark-gap lighting before entering a technological workshop. The players missed an Ob report that described the fate of Team BAD's former sneaky bluejay companion.

Date: 32nd of Autumn, 500 A.O.V.
Location of Incident: Point of Entry #3
Filed by Personel #83. Personel #83 and #16 reported strange yet subtle monologing outside of Cauldron Hill. Experiment #1072 was sent to scout the location and identified a translucent bird-like figure observing the entrance to the facility. The spirit, likely a recently deceased blue jay, was apprehended in witchoil for further observation. Its disposition to monologue and mastery of the Common language indicates a capacity for intelligence. Given its desperation to observe our facility, even in the afterlife, suggests it was once a companion of a powerful wizard or druid which opposes our interest.
Ammendment by Chief Arcanotechnological Engineer Volton Mertakov: I recommend allocating a medium to interrogate the spirit for its worldly allegiances. I suspect the drive of the incorporeal deathform is strong, and thereby exclude it from entering the feed into the experimental witchoil centrifuge. Following interrogation, the spirit will be archived until further notice.

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Specimens of biological parts from humanoids and creatures decorate jars among this room. The two beds of this room are connected to several control panels and witchoil reservoirs. One device is an elaborate construction of fine glass tubes that circulate witchoil. Unlike the other tanks, this witchoil is extremely saturated with souls via the aid of a centrifuge. DM Aside: This experimental device attempts to skim the souls within the witchoil for their most valuable knowledge. Theoretically, the device should impart magnificent insight to anyone who can listen to all the souls within, but all who have interfaced with it have died or gone mad. This is due to an arcano-immune response from the arcane wires, though the Ob never quite figured that out. 'Sage' was the final test subject of the device.

Team GOOD encounter mirror men, constructs with mirrors sitting where a head should be. The constructs are connected to a 'cloud' of Ob archives and can communicate with each other telepathically. But since their combat with Jo, Emma, and Sage, both the archives and constructs have been damaged.

Filtorn: “Are you sure we’re intruders?”
“An abnormal number of intruders have been identified lately. Identify yourself.”
Filtorn: “Wildheart.”
“There are no Wildhearts in the Obscurati records.”
Filtorn: “Maybe it was just misplaced.”
“Impossible. Mertakov’s system is perfect.”
Filtorn laid out a very elaborate and made-up explanation of how Mertakov’s system might not be
“This is outside of my purview. Establishing contact with Mertakov.”
A new voice issued from the construct. “Hmm, this is unusual, but perhaps these are the new employees. Stow your weapons and proceed to my office.”

Before entry, each member of the party stated their name and supposed occupation within the Ob. This turned out to be the highlight of this side mission, the player's had great fun trying to come up with niche roles the Ob required. The tension of the mirror men turning onto the party combined with the sense of trickery kept things tense but fun. One player claimed they were Rock Rackus, which the mirror men commented on as being unusual, as previous Rackus was rejected for further employment by the Ob.

Inside Merkatov's office, Team GOOD found the ghost of a dwarf. The only material object on him was a key hung around his neck from a fine chain. “Please, please. Come in. Let us talk about your employment status.”

He recently received word that an elite squad of constables backed by the military would be infiltrating the facility soon. It’s very concerning. He’s glad we’re here. Maintaining secrecy is important. He floated around the room handing out ghostly papers to us that floated through our hands.

Stefan noticed a tiny sliver of flickering light between two bookshelves behind the dwarf. There’s a mirrored orb on the desk and scattered papers across the desk. The party got some information about the role of each department within the Ob. Mertakov seemed pleased with Team GOOD's inquisitiveness and seeming dedication to protecting the Ob facility. The dwarf commented that the facility has been turbulent, with many staff missing and endless piles of hazard paperwork. After a thorough discussion, his fretfulness faded - along with his ghostly form. It seemed his spirit was finally at rest, with someone new here to help protect the facility. As he vanished, the key hanging around his neck fell to the floor.

Simultaneously, there was the sound of constructs clattering to the floor in the other room - seemingly having only been powered by some psychic connection to Mertakov. Stefan investigated the bookshelves to find a secret door. Inside, was Mertakov’s body- clearly long-dead, with a scarf wrapped tight around his neck (death by dark fey) - along with several mementoes carefully laid out around the room. Lying by the dwarf’s body was an experimental rifle that seemed to have failed the dwarf in his final moments. The players was sad, and then annoyed, as they realised I made them feel bad for the death of an Ob officer.

Filtorn examined the beds in the room we’d initially met the constructs in and found scraps of arcane wire and relatively fresh bloodstains. Likely where Sage got her “additions”. Uncertain if at all related to the Possessor that took over her. Filtorn also determined that this room was used (fairly unsuccessfully) to try to listen to the souls within the witchoil in the complicated device by the beds.

Fel explored a side room filled with biological specimens. This room contained documentation on brain anatomy, not yet fully understood by the Ob. This anatomy was integrated into Borne's design.

Stefan found a dead woman in a side room, mouth filled with mushrooms and neck gashed (death by a different dark fey). She wielded an earpiece with wire that extends into her cardigan. Additionally, shield wields a bandolier filled with vials. Most are empty, but one contains witchoil and a single white mote. The woman sat, slumped, facing a bunsen burner mounted under a scorched vial. Next to the bunsen burner sits a mug half-filled with mouldy coffee. The mug reads "World's Best Mum." DM Aside. The woman used the earpiece to interrogate souls captured within witchoil. The bunsen burner helps threaten souls that otherwise cannot be threatened materially. Some souls were archived, some were destroyed, and some were used for the experimental witchoil decive.

As Team GOOD regrouped, Stefan approached the witchoil device, and noticed his Interplanar Translator started making static noises. He fiddled with the dials and the static faded to something akin to standing in a busy street: many voices but everyone was talking about something different. Fish, apple pies, equations… random mundane topics in thousands of voices. As we all listened to the broadcast voices, our awareness of time faded as we became enthralled. Each character became lost in the mundane wisdom of the masses, which unlocked hidden wisdom within themselves (+2 bonus to any one attribute).

And that's where we called the session. In the haunting workshop, where failing spark-gaps light the malfunctioned mirror men and bloodstained beds.
 

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Damn, the moodiness here! That's a cool dungeon delve.

Also, I love the idea of researching how to extract knowledge from souls in witch oil. I will have to work that into some future ZEITGEIST adventure.

I always love when players outwit a fight.

So yeah, I really enjoyed this one.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
I was playing Control around the same time that I planned this dungeon, so I drew heavily from the supernatural horror crossed with mundane office vibes.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Session 68
Courtesy of Ella's player

Having become separated from Team B.A.D. on their entry to the Bleak Gate, Dale’s ever-stylish Team G.O.O.D. (AKA the Guardians of Ominous Dimensions) found themselves deep in the Ob facility, with a mission from missing operative Jo to retrieve three keys and rescue the rest of Bazza’s lost team. The first key had proved easy enough to collect, and with the mirror men and their leader accidentally neutralised, we found ourselves with several options for where to go.

Careful investigation found a promising lead: the words “Spare bodies” written on a wall in blood near Tinker Oddcog’s old desk. We followed the bloody lines down a corridor full of cells to a room with a gnome: Chief Bioengineer Francis Lockheart. He seemed delighted to see us and our fresh body parts! But negotiations quickly broke down when he sent a legless woman to collect them from us.

This was nothing Team G.O.O.D. couldn’t handle though, as Filtorn crit the woman into oblivion and Fel smited the gnome. Rachael grappled him and Stefan scorched the chief bioengineer to a charred husk - although not before he drained Filtorn and Rachael’s bodies, leaving the two noticeably weakened. That didn’t deter us from continuing the mission though, and with the second key collected we continued exploring

Unlocking some of the cells in the previous corridor led to a crudely dug escape tunnel, and a very suspicious and exhausted Emily - one of Dale’s missing specialists. We reunited her with Jo and the two decided to come with us and wait near the door we were collecting keys for. Having thus cleared the lower level, we headed upstairs.

The next level, it seemed, had likewise been cleared. By Team B.A.D. The constables had already neutralised one of the sources of extraplanar fluctuations and were in the midst of creating a ritual to open a portal back to the Waking. We informed them of Bazza’s team’s predicament and the third key we were in search of, and Constable Ella dutifully inspected the door before regretfully informing us that she didn’t have a way to open it. With the possibility of Bazza’s team being stuck here forever hanging over our heads, we agreed to help with the ritual. Taking up positions in a nearby observatory, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves under attack by creatures seeking to stop the ritual.

Incorporeal smoke shades attacked Team G.O.O.D while Team B.A.D. held off hordes of extraplanar creatures from the ritual site. Team G.O.O.D. struggled with the shades’ incorporeal forms and resistance to magic, and had only destroyed one before a second threat appeared: a humanoid figure made of starry darkness. It introduced itself as Chief Skyseer Somay Sloam, the self-proclaimed harbinger of the end times. The former skyseer’s plans of self-fulfilling doom were foiled though when Rachael negated his invisibility and Filtorn started hunting him down.

Fel and Stefan finished off the smoke shades and rushed to back up their allies - with Filtorn now badly injured and dazed by a magical effect. Fel was the one who landed the killing blow, praying for the former skyseer’s peace as they disembowelled him. The shadowy figure dissipated as the sounds of combat from the other room faded, leaving a single key lying on the floor. We picked it up and rejoined Team B.A.D. The portal to the Waking was open, the extraplanar fluctuations had been stabilised, and we now had all the keys necessary to free Bazza’s team. With victory so close, Rachael took the time to ask Constable Angharad a very important question.

The answer would have to wait though, as constables and operatives dashed off to free Bazza and his team and several Obscurati engineers, and to liberate as much experimental tech from the facility as possible. In all the rush, John found Kasvarina’s old room in the facility: a tapestried chamber with a single ring lying on the floor, made of dark stone. It was inscribed with the words: “Obligation Binds I”.

The shortest third word we’ve ever seen on an Obscurati ring: comprised of just a single letter. And it belonged to Asrabey’s wife… As we dived through the portal back to the Waking world, the question on everyone’s mind was:

Who, exactly, is Kasvarina Varal?
What has she been hiding all this time?
And what will the highest ranking Obscurati member we’ve ever encountered do if she’s reunited with her “son”, Borne?

Find out the answers to absolutely none of these questions this week! On Zeitgeist!

DM Note. The players have been spinning tossing up two main theories: (1) Kasvarina leads the Ob and faked her memory loss to safely leave Flint, and (2) Kasvarina is a decoy for the true leader. I think after all of the Ob's convoluted antics, the idea that the mastermind behind the Ob could simply succumb to a memory wipe seems absurd. I will also add that the players still don't fully grasp Grappa wiped Kasvarina's and Borne's mind. Barring the restrictions through his geas, Grappa constantly tries to tell the party what happened. Grappa apologised to Asrabey. Steelshaper accused Grappa of traitorous intent. The party just don't seem to get it. It's funny how some things players grasp with very little clues, and other times they fail to join tens of dots. I hope for their own sanity, they return to Flint with the arc of Rieda.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Oh, and the party struggled with the incorporeal beasts because the oracle was a little too busy to apply ghost touch to anyone's weapons. That, and Team GOOD saw an armory and decided to walk away. Who needs cool ghost touch weapons and metamagic rods in the Bleak Gate anyways? I adjusted the encounter on the fly, but left the incorporeal subtype on the creatures.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Session 69

In the darkness of the night, Team BAD set sail to Alais Primos, the Steelshaper’s last known location. En route, Ella and John practiced their transmutations whilst Angharad and Lisandra sparred. Ribbles timidly warned the constables that in the sacred capital, technology was forbidden, leading Ella to disguise herself, including her beloved clockwork leg. A few days later, the Principal Minister made a surprise visit. He recommended Lisandra visit the Archmissionary Cornelius Eboracum, located at the Jenevah Grand Librarium. Harkover believes the Archmissionary, a long and trusted friend, to be best equipped to strategise against Father Balthazar. But was it all an elaborate hoax by the Principal Minister to merely catch a glimpse of his beloved Dame Ellanora? Well, only time can tell. Harkover wished Team BAD success before teleporting away. Now, all that was left to do was to make landfall in one of the oldest superpowers of Lanjyr.

When Team BAD docked at the port of Alais Primos, their papers were checked by a racist man of faith and one gondola ride later, the constables found themselves in a merchant district. Team BAD made their way to Joe Hobner’s residence. The retired constable greeted them with a smile. Once it became clear who Team BAD were, Joe’s expression remained comical but carried undertones of seriousness, asking everyone to close the doors and curtains. Of course, you can’t make good spy plans without a classy drink. In a consensus, Team BAD requested coffee. Whilst brewing it, Joe bantered with the constables in which John claimed he liked fight in his drink. “Don’t let it kill ya” Joe smiled, as he served John and the others their beverages. The starchy coffee was unimpressive, but the constables had other things on their mind. After getting a lay of the land, Joe tried to excuse himself for his washroom, claiming the coffee was running right through him. Team BAD sensed something was amiss. And amiss it was. Lisandra had detected moving entities descending the stairs and approaching the shop. Both Joe’s and Ella’s throats began to seize. Ella quickly collected her colleagues to dimension door out. An inquisitor unlocked the door flanked by two robed figures. The inquisitor gestured, and the robed figures reached for their hoods with skeletal hands, revealing not a head…but a kobold perched where a skull could be. One kobold threw a rope end to the other, and both lunged for the inquisitor and choking him out. Meanwhile, the entities descending the stairs make their appearance. Clad in black, they each activated a cylindrical device that extended into a longer rod, sparking with electricity. Then, the device seemingly malfunctioned, as electricity travelled through the dark figures, who then fell to the floor. Joe pulled a knife on Ella but he was quickly swarmed by a horde of kobolds who smashed through the windows. Ella clutched her companions and teleported as far as she can…

…and into a carriage carrying a single kobold. He asked if anyone is injured, and when Ella confirmed, a swift knock on the carriage side lurched it into action. Team BAD were taken to a nearby temple, where Ella was cured of her hemlock affliction. Then, they meet their mysterious benefactor, El Extraño, who sat atop a pile of books, reading and smoking. The kobold spymaster explained that Joe had long succumbed to an assassin, and whilst he could not save Joe, he did manage to save Team BAD. He offered to lend his kobolds to the constables’ cause, then tossed the party a book on the value of little people. In a puff of smoke, he and his stack of books disappeared, leaving his reading glasses (Spectacles of Annihilation) behind.

Team BAD exited the temple, to find their carriage long gone. After such a chaotic morning, one thing is clear. It’s time for a drink. Ideally without the hemlock.
 







Echolocation

Explorer
Pick your Poison - A mid-session interlude by Ella's player

Ella clutched at the carriage seat with numbing fingers, feeling the paralysis take hold. A coolly detached part of her brain tracked the toxin's progress with curiosity: it was rare to find a firsthand account of acute hemlock poisoning - usually the victim died too quickly, unable to communicate through their stiffening muscles. Most reports of its effects therefore relied on external observations. Perhaps her own notes could help? Not that she’d get a chance to write them, if the frantic conversation between John and Lisandra was anything to go by… None of them had come prepared for poison it seemed.

How utterly idiotic of her; it wasn’t difficult to pack toxin-slowing alchemicals. What was the RHC paying her for? Ella watched her fingers twitch and curl with morbid fascination, wondering whether John or Lisandra would be willing to write her notes for her. She didn't think she could hold a pen at this point - especially in a moving carriage. A quick glance at the controlled panic on their faces dissuaded her from the idea. The medical world would have to do without her minor footnotes.

Titans, what a stupid way to die: poisoned coffee. People might just assume she’d finally put too much sugar in it and given herself a heart attack. Why hadn’t she accepted the alcohol instead? At least she’d have gone out with a buzz.

What was that saying? I wish to arrive at my death late, drunk and in love? She hadn’t even managed one of those things. Bee would be so disappointed…

Recriminations and regret span in pointless circles, ticking down the last minutes of her life.

Think. What did she know?

As best she could tell, she'd ingested Conium maculatum: poison hemlock. Highly toxic. Sometimes mistaken for wild carrot. No known antidote. Commonly deadly. Her mother had once treated a goat that ate some growing wild and the poor creature died within the hour: trembling uncoordination giving way to collapse and then death. That had only been a small dose. Hers would have been concentrated and she was smaller than a goat.

Given the elapsed time since the coffee, she likely had three to five minutes before total respiratory paralysis. A fate she had no way to prevent or delay because she'd failed to pack some basic supplies.

Sweet brieberries, all this mental rambling really wasn't as distracting as she'd hoped…

A stuttering, unsteady beat of Ella's heart sent an abrupt wave of icy dread through her. Had it reached her lungs? Was she dying?

...No, just panicking. Her fingers felt stiff but they could still move: curling into anxious fists. The sharp prick of claws on palms seemed duller than usual. Skeet bounced fretfully at the end of her numbing leg. By the woods, she didn’t want him to experience this: bad enough she’d felt Millie’s death and was now experiencing her own, Skeet shouldn’t have to suffer alongside her. He was barely three seasons old. Where would he even find another gnome in need of a left leg?

Breathe.

There was still time. Maybe not for all the things she’d wanted to do with her life, but John and Lisandra were safe at least so she could tick ‘protect her friends’ off the list. Assuming the kobold in the carriage didn’t kill them; not that he seemed inclined to do anything now other than watch as the carriage bumped its way toward their unknown destination. Were they actually traveling to a healer? No way to know, and if not then she probably wouldn’t survive the trip to find out.

Gods, what a stupid mess. Drinking the first thing someone offered her without even checking it? They were on a mission, not a holiday! Now the famed Dame Eleanora might be felled by a hot beverage. How moronic. She hoped they didn't write a newspaper article about it - bad enough she'd had to leave her family with nothing but a hastily written note; reading about her witless demise would break their hearts. Aunt Maya might try to scold her ghost.

That was assuming Lisandra didn't use the scroll of raise dead they’d bought. Odds were good she'd survive to try it - the kobolds didn't seem hostile. They were improbably helpful, in fact. How had they known where to park the carriage? Or when to assault the shop? She had too many questions and not enough time.

Titans, she didn't want to waste the scroll on a mistake like this! Resurrection wasn't guaranteed and they’d barely set foot in Crisillyir! She didn’t want to die - not even for a little while. Admittedly it wasn't the worst way to go: relatively quick and painless, all things considered, but the complete helplessness of it was galling. Entire minutes in which to act and she couldn't do anything! Just sit here in this carriage and hope.

Fear battered against her ribcage like a second heart.

Pescálo help me. She'd never been on close terms with the divine but maybe prayer would help.

The true neutral Beran god of Lost Causes, Perseverance, and Deep Breaths.

...Was her heart rate slowing? She could use her pocket watch to time it but her fingers really didn't want to function anymore. Besides, if they left the carriage and anyone saw it she might be arrested before she could even be healed.

All things considered, Alais Primos really was turning out to be a terrible city. Banning technology simply because they hated tieflings was infuriatingly petty and obstinate - and she didn’t just think that because she had horns. The refusal to admit that anything good or useful might come from something they disliked was close-minded at best and actively harmful to their populace at worst.

Ugh.

If she survived, she'd need a Sydney patting session - and a drink. And maybe to write a letter to that obnoxious transmuter whose spellbook she'd borrowed. Imagine accusing her of scratching the pages! As if she hadn't handled it with utmost care. How impossibly embarrassing to have to defend her claws to the Principal Minister. Those without inbuilt hole-punchers on their hands couldn't possibly understand just how delicately she had to handle each and every document. The nerve of that mage…

In the last downtime, Ella requisitioned a spellbook from a Risuri mage to learn a few things. After handing it back, the mage complained about scratch-marks from Ella's tiefling claws. In truth, the mage is talking naughty word and is bitterly jealous of the recognition Ella is receiving. Harkover mentioned the incident to Ella, handwaving it as something the second-most powerful mage in Risur should expect to receive from petty competition. It really got to Ella, as she has a great degree of respect and maybe even a little crush on the principal minister.

The superficial outrage proved a welcome distraction: emotion better than overthinking. It helped her ignore the anxious glances of her fellow constables, the mingled fear and frustration emanating from Skeet, and the increasing shallowness to her breathing. It carried her all the way to the church - and if it couldn't literally carry her inside (Lisandra and John did that), then it had at least done its job.

Now it was time for her to do hers. Because she'd be damned if a little poison stopped her from finding the man who'd murdered her mother.
 



Echolocation

Explorer
Session 70
Courtesy of Lisandra's player

Last session began in the wake of El Extraño's unexpected rescue, leaving our knighted adventurers regrouping outside the temple with Ella recovering from her near brush with death and in possession of some interesting and new magic items.

The Kobold driver of the carriage that had brought them there remained, a thermos in hand to offer the team a cup of real coffee. Bravely, Ella tried to stomach it, but the very recent poisoning caused her to pass the drink off to John, who was happy to double caffeinated.

With the help of their apparent new allies, the Underground League of Totally Unimpressive Ordinary Kobolds, the team had found both a guide and a convenient safe house for their time spent in the Capital.

The Team examined their leads and decided with the rest of the day they would seek out what information they could on the Cold Vessel, the ship Steelshaper arrived on, and visit the Grand Librarium to see if the Archmissionary would be able to offer further assistance with Lisandra’s little liability issue.

With time spent gathering information to find which dock and harbour master to approach. Lisandra name-dropped the Family to gain some extra sway and left the harbour master's post with a list of names of the dock workers associated with the vessel.

The sun set on their first day in Alais Primos and the team made their way to the Cathedral District in hope that the Archmissionary would still be available. As beautiful as the structure was, Lisandra felt a sense of disease fall upon her as they approached. Trying to reach her awareness out, she received a sense that the building was very crowded, and that mass of presence settled on her uneasily. Brushing off Ella’s show of concern, she insisted they move ahead.

The building was stunning, the grand architecture towered above them, featuring a beautiful mosaic of a key on the lobby floor lit with magical lanterns. Lisandra quickly enquired about the Archmissionary’s availability and it wasn’t long before Cornelius himself entered the Lobby to greet them. Lisandra refrained from introducing her fellows, but chose to use her own name in the introductions, instead of her cover. The Archmissionary’s face showed an immediate recognition and he invited them to his office to discuss further.

On the way there, they witnessed floating books moving about and shelves restocking themselves. As Ella started spinning several arcane hypotheses, Lisandra sight could see the reason; spirits. Hundreds of spirits packed into this place to serve the librarium. Cornelius apologized for her discomfort and explained that the spirits were of priests, sages and scholars who pledged themselves to the Library--in life and in death.

It wasn’t hard to miss Ella’s fascination and the medium assured her that she could go browse if she wished. With some reassurance, Ella dashed over to the shelves, but not without a warning from the Archmissionary that the spirits could see through her gnomish exterior and may still hold some prejudice to her kind. After some hesitation, she used a spell to infuse her physical form into a Deva instead, hoping to set the spirits at ease.

Once again she bounded off toward the books. John took his leave to keep an eye on her and Anghard joined Lisandra in the Archmissionary’s quarters. They discussed a device that Cornelius could construct that would focus a soul gem’s power. If a gem filled with a soul consumed by rage, the emotions amplified could be enough to disrupt a Psychic Lich’s power. He advised that a recently departed soul would be the most affected, as Lisandra would know, the spirit fades from the waking realm, and with it their human ties.

Lisandra told Cornelius that her father carried a weapon that could change it’s shape and housed the soul of her mother. While the Arch Missionary had not heard of a specific weapon of that description, he did note the part of destroying a Psychic Lich involved destroying the Nemian shadow and the sliver of soul contained inside once the Lich’s body is destroyed. If not, the Lich is able to eventually regenerate. To destroy the shadow, you need a soul betrayed by the lich before his undeath and a soul betrayed by the lich following his undeath.

As is inevitable with so much exposition, this player recap misconstrues what was said. To dismiss Balthazar's plot armor, the players require a headband required must contain a soul gem imbued with anger (likely Steelshaper's soul). The gem itself must be doused with the blood of someone betrayed Balthazaar in life. The only living betrayer is the one Balthazar does not know about---the priest who refused to throw baby Lisandra into Enzyo Mons (instead, he sent her to his cousin in Flint). Once the arc of Reida is recovered, the players will be drawn to Enzyo Mons whilst travelling with Kasvarina, and there, history will repeat itself.

After the lich is defeated, his blade and the headband are required to destroy his Nemian shadow, to prevent regeneration.

Angharad asked if there were any known local Fey factions, hoping his contacts may be able to help with such a dubious item but was informed there were certainly none within the city, and possibly no closer than Nalaam.

Lisandra requested the Archmissionary begin constructing the headband, and in the interim they would deliberate on the issue of the soul gem itself. Before leaving to find their companions, Angharad offered his ashen hand to Cornelius, using it to gauge the Archmissionary’s character. He was hit with an overwhelming lawful scent that hit him like a snort of hot pepper, causing him to sneeze profusely.

He's a dragon. A powerful one too, causing Angharad to become stunned after detecting law. A few centuries ago, the Archmissionary made a deal with the king of Risur. Much like Harkover, the Archmissionary has long forsaken his draconic heritage to pursue a more moral life. Cornelius keeps in contact with Harkover, discussing matters of magic and the soul. Though, unlike the principal minister, the Archmissionary has pledged himself to the religion of humans. After all, if a dragon genetically destined for evil can improve themselves, who can't? Unfortunately for Cornelius, the planar tinkering of the Ob will eventually unravel his draconic disguise in the middle of Alias Primos. Unable to tap his innate magical powers in a changed universe, the Archmissionary will be defenseless against the church he once served. He will perish, and his blood will be used to trial the gods.

The pair found Ella and John amongst the stacks, with the disguised tiefling being followed very insistently by a spirit pushing a stack of books in her direction. They collected themselves and left for the safe house to prepare for another day of work.

When the sun rode, the kobold of the house greeted Team BAD with coffee, which Ella quietly avoided. They drove the team out to Enzyo Mons and the Cathedral of Tiegenes. The head priest of the Cathedral, Father Antonio Aneenya was a name Lisandra knew well. The family name of her adoptive father, Otis Aneenya. She approached him carefully, under the guise of her cover identity as they spoke. Lisandra inquired about someone she was looking for on Leon’s description, and with a hefty donation into the caldera from Angharad’s purse, the priest was more than happy to share what he remembered. Leon had traveled here, Spring 28 by the records he kept, but not for long. He stood out, because he brought a metal head with him to cast into the caldera and left in a wagon with a man Father Aneenya couldn’t see clearly.

Growing bored of work, and highly enthusiastic about his volcanic surroundings, Angharad became distracted with theorizing potential ways to use magic to steal a volcano, insisting this place should definitely come back to Flint. Ella attempted to curb his intentions with logic and reason. He decided that if a volcano was too much, then maybe some magma would have to do and proceed to let Gariad out to play. Confusion and concern slowly began to spread among the Clergy as Lisandra finished her conversation with Antonio, urging him to write back home sometime and cast off his regrets.

Heading back into the Capital, the team returned to rest for the evening. They were welcomed back with nachos for supper--extra burnt for Angharad eating pleasure.

The third day was spent following up on the list of dockworkers, who most notably remembered Leon asking for recommendations on where to buy some new clothes. Naturally the following day was spent investigating those storefronts, though with Ella’s caffeine withdrawal causing her to be… disagreeable, the investigation was slower than they’d have liked. Lisandra eventually learned that Leon had also asked directions to a premium wine shop.

So the next day they tracked down the shop in question, though none seemed to remember a man of Leon’s description. However, a rental property across the street was advertising, and interviewing the landlord revealed that he had in fact stayed there for a short while.

With just the Quital family vineyard the only lead to explore, the team returned to the lodging to rest and begin planning how to approach their final lead.

Will they find Steelshaper hiding out in his daddy’s basement? What new twists and spanners can be thrown at our constables today? Well, the only way to find out is to jump in. So get ready, for today’s predictably unpredictable Adventures of Team BAD.
 


Echolocation

Explorer
Session 71
Courtesy of Ella's player

As you may - or may not - recall (depending on how hard you’ve been hitting the drinks at the railway enclave’s bar during downtime), we ended last session having successfully tracked Steelshaper to Trekhom! A place where he bought two train cars, had them refitted, and proceeded to have them shuttled all over the country at random. Whether Steelshaper himself is on these train cars… we have no idea. It sure would be nice if Grappa had dated his letter so we knew whether he sent it before or after Steelshaper started his train shenanigans...

In any case, that might be where we ended the session but it certainly wasn’t the start! No, that was back in Alais Primos: having just discovered that Steelshaper had been seen travelling in a cart marked with Quital Vineyards during his last known day in Alais Primos.

Following that lead, we hit the streets - or rather the paperwork - looking for more information on Leone’s family vineyard and whether they had any Drakrans on staff. The answer to that was no, but they did have a close association with a neighbouring business: Cejakreig Vineyard.

A second day of investigating and looking up various acquaintances revealed that while the Quital family might not have any Family with a capital F connections, John certainly had some family with a lower case f ones. Those being some rather influential people who’d be more than happy to call in a Clergy inquisition on Quital Vineyards should the esteemed Sir John of Flint, son of Viscount Inspector Nigel Price-Hill, require it!

Angharad also flexed his Vekeshi contacts to find out that Steelshaper had been spotted in Nalaam on the 48th of Spring, but with the vineyard and the prospect of tormenting Steelshaper’s family so close by, we decided to delay the Nalaam lead for now.

The day of the potential inquisition dawned bright and lovely: an unfortunate juxtaposition for the storm about to descend on Quital Vineyards… John took the lead: striding into the establishment and bluntly demanding information from the Steelshaper-esque figure who greeted us. The man’s initial terrible lies turned to fear as soon as an inquisition and certain names were mentioned, and he turned out to be Steelshaper’s second cousin. It seemed the rest of Leone’s family didn’t know much about the so-called “Watch-wrestler”. He’d rarely contacted them and never spoke about his work, although apparently he’d once been an aspiring politician - a “charismatic” man whose description as such made Ella’s blood boil.

On an interesting tangent, Lisandra’s questions revealed that Steelshaper had always had his steel-shaping powers, even before he left Crisillyir 15 years ago. He’d returned to his family vineyard this spring on the 35th, and stayed for 12 days until the 47th, when a dark rider on an undead horse arrived. They spoke together, and the next morning Steelshaper was on a train to Nalaam.

Having confirmed our next lead, we thanked Leone’s cousin for his time and assured him that there’d almost certainly not be an inquisition - leaving before Ella could ask Angharad to burn the entire place down. Destroyed buildings were still on the agenda though! As we bedded down for the night in an abandoned house. Lisandra’s brief chat with it revealed that it really hated turtles, druids who could turn into turtles, and anyone who occupied it. The Urban Empath reassured it that it could “return to its regularly scheduled hollowness” come morning and fell asleep to the building’s disgruntled groaning.

The promised dawn proved to be the building’s last though, as Angharad and Simon the kobold disaster-chef indulged in some ill-planned pyromania. The kineticist rescued the kobold from the inferno - much to the other kobolds’ disappointment - and we continued on our way. Straight to the Avery Coast railway station! Where we confirmed that Steelshaper had indeed bought a ticket to Nalaam and bought some of our own. The dozen or so kobolds accompanying us didn't bother though, simply cramming into the luggage carriage like a backwards clown car.

Our arrival at the Nalaam station was met with snipers and assassins, who were quickly dispatched - and in one case decapitated - before the local police arrived. Angharad managed to use an unexpected Vekeshi connection to reduce our legal fine from “the price of a man’s life” to absolutely nothing. Because if there’s one thing the Vekeshi are good at, it’s getting away with murder…

We left our assailants to the authorities and continued our investigation: discovering that Leone had recruited a dozen Drakran guards and met with a number of foreigners and Obscurati members before leaving by train for Trekhom. Thus confident in our next lead, we bedded down for the night in a magically created shelter that had Ella muttering in Gnomish for at least half an hour. The arrival of a message in the wall only underscored her own inability to manipulate the structure at all.

The magical message was from Lord Kulp, master wizard and secret Vekeshi, assuring Angharad that the situation at the train station had been dealt with and wishing us well with our stay. A very short stay apparently, as the next morning we were already on a train to Trekhom. The Drakran city was much as we remembered... and thankfully free of assassin welcoming parties.

I think it makes sense that Lord Kulp grows his political power over Nalaam throughout the course of the adventure. This justifies his appearance at the conference in Book 10. Kulp has been working his Vekesh connections well, with the city is cementing itself as a haven for the mystic cult. Kulp made it his personal goal to follow up with the assassins that ambushed the party. He disposed of the satyr that divined Team BAD's location, but not before warning the Ob the assassins failed. With both Roland and the satyr warning the Ob, Steelshaper will be expecting Team BAD at his doorstep. He has requested the Ob compile a document on every known combat ability of the PCs, and ordered unique bullets that will sabotage the party's ability to concentrate on their spellcasting.

Splitting up, Ella and Lisandra found some rail workers who revealed that Steelshaper had bought two train cars and had them refitted, while Angharad and John philosophized with some bureaucrats to learn the exact specifications of said alterations. Apparently each of the carriages were reinforced to support more weight, and several windows on the left side were covered over with steel.

An interesting observation, since we knew from Grappa’s letter that Steelshaper was staying in a windowless room… and if the trains the carriages were attached to stopped moving at night and Grappa only “woke up” when Steelshaper went to sleep, then it’s possible the former construct might not realise he was on a train… Still, even if Steelshaper is hiding in his fancy carriages, it doesn’t help us if we have no idea where they are.

Careful questioning revealed that the carriages were spotted travelling through the Trekhom station every week or two, with rail workers under special orders to transfer the trains they were attached to between a particular set of tracks. It seemed the carriages were travelling all around Drakr, constantly changing the engines and other carriages they were attached to. With such a wide area to search over, the kobolds volunteered their services as lookouts: offering to keep watch at stations throughout Drakr and keep track of where the carriages were spotted. We gratefully accepted and, finding ourselves with surprisingly little to do, holed up in the local rail enclave hotel.

Lisandra and Angharad honed their swashbuckler skills by jumping all over the furniture, while Ella and John casually stepped through a pot plant back to Flint - as you do. There John took a relaxing breather from civilisation while Ella gladly embraced the chaotic madness of her family home. For three days nothing bad happened and no one died or brutally murdered anyone (looking at you, Angharad). On the evening of the third day though, duty called: in the form of a kobold snout emerging from the wood of the hotel table and speaking in the familiar voice of El Extraño.

What does the mysterious kobold master spy have to tell us? Did the other kobolds finally get rid of Simon? Find out this week: on Zeitgeist!
 


Echolocation

Explorer
Session 72
Courtesy of Angharad's player

Met El Extrano at the needle factory. So many kobold guards We talked about the train activity, and how they had worked out Steelshaper's next spot to be either Mirsk or Pretba, and had sabotaged the lines to Pretba. So, Mirsk it was. El Extrano left via the eye of the needle, sucking himself through it. Stylish as heck teleport.

Team BAD quickly traveled to Mirsk. Lisandra and Ella scoped out the station at Mirsk, John, and Angharad talking to workers to find out more information. Leading for the group to find out which train carriages were Steelshaper's and they fact they had been reinforced. Team BAD staked out overnight, but it wasn't until the next morning when Steelshaper's carriages began to move. They were attached to the engine, and then ~ 20 other carriages were attached after.

The team ready for the fight, quickly encanted some spells, teleporting onto the train, Angharad doing it himself and not telling Ella how. Ella would start to detach the non-essential train cars from Steelshaper's, Lisandra dropping down to stop the inside minions, Angharad throwing himself at Steelshaper and John putting bullets into things.

Witchoil golems would come to the roof to interfere in combat with Sydney, while Steelshaper flung around carriage roof at the party outside, ripping them up.

While Sydney was distracting the golems, John gets a wonderful round of bullets into Steelshaper. Lisandra dealing with one of the dwarves inside, but the others were still fighting her.

Angharad got tied up in metal after having a sheet of metal wrapped around him, while Steelshaper, mad at everyone interference, rips the train off the tracks, sending it flying everywhere. The witchoil golems and Ob minions destroyed from the impact.

And that my friends is how we come to this session. Lisandra 100 feet high in the sky inside a carriage, Angharad held down by the metal wrapped around him, Ella, John, and Sydney with a carriage between them and Steelshaper.

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DM Notes

With a nifty trick, our combat had a moving train. It's speed increases once Ella disconnected the other carriages.

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Here is the complete map. It's a little shifty at the ends, because the map contentiously loops over, so the left and right hand side needed to be relatively similar:

mirsk-pursuit.PNG


I've attached a higher resolution of the map (webp file), for those who wish to use it.
 

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