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ZEITGEIST Tizbiz Zeitgeist Campaign

Lylandra

Adventurer
The price of freedom

Shortly after we break through the door the legionnaires kept shut, we understand why they'd done so as we're immediately being attacked by a pack of rabid hell hounds. We order Giovanni and the gang to stay in a safe distance. Then Auryn uses her Fey magic and her traditional dance to empower Carlyle, who then slays three of the dogs with a whirlwind of blades. The next dog then falls to a pistol shot of Margit and a precise jab with Auryn's rapier.

The air grows quiet for a moment, but the the blood of the hounds merges with the dust on the ground which causes the dust to form seven skeletons ready to attack any trespassers. Fortunately, we do remember Enis Adolini's spell which turns the skeletons into loyal followers in an instant.

We believe in the power of holy binding, so we let the group of skeletons follow us through the Crypta. This turns out to be quite the good decision as we come across a grotesque, inverted giant in the next vault. This one seems less friendly despite our attempt to greet him and turn him with the architect's spell, so we at first defend ourselves from the creature's attacks. Unfortunately, the unholy giant's wounds regenerate even faster than Andrei's do and it also doesn't react to fire, so it seems as if we're lacking options here.

Then Auryn remembers that certain kinds of undead can only be harmed by holy or life energy, so Margit takes control of the situation by channeling the life-giving power of the Old Faith to really hurt the giant. Auryn joins forces by using healing magic while the holy skeletons keep the giant occupied and join in the use of holy powers.

This way, we disintegrate the unholy giant until he's reduced to dust. Then, we're finally able to take a closer look into this room. To our surprise, we find a small, blood-encrusted ring on a pedestal in the middle of said room. We examine it carefully and understand that this simple ring must be one of Triegenes' rings that he wore during his time as a mortal. During our examination, we also learn that there is an elaborate spell woven around the ring which blocks any attempts to use divination spells and abilities from this place. So this must be the thing that's causing Ashima-Shimtu so much trouble. So we call out to the demoness and try to make a small bargain with her: We'll remove the ring and restore her sight to the outside world and she owes us a favor in return.

“Don't try to trick me!”, Ashima-Shimtu shouts to us with an unusually booming voice, “I know that this ring is why you came here. You don't do this to do me a favor at all. Trying to deceive me isn't the best of ideas. Just take it, I don't mind. A favor for you, a favor for me.”

But it seems like Carlyle isn't going to have it with the demoness' shenanigans this time.

“Well, if that is the case, then I'm sure that you won't mind if I put it back here after we used it for a little while, will you?”

“Just try it, cocky mortal”, she replies, hinting that the ring on itself wouldn't do much.

“Very well then. I'm not a man who's all talk and no action” says Carlyle, before using another vision to receive the information about what Testamenta did with the ring. He then recites her ritual step by step and Ashima-Shimtu cries out in protest.

“And this is what sets you apart from your dreaded Clergy?! I'd have expected more from you!”

“And I'd thought you were a little more cooperative. All we wish to know is what Miller and Kasvarina were doing in this Crypta 500 years ago.”

“No, no. It isn't supposed to go that way. This is a tale for another time”

“Alternatively, you can tell us about your vision of doom.”, Auryn adds.

“You're too clever for your own good. I promise that we'll talk about that the next time we meet. This and... the tale of your beloved Kasvarina.”

“So you're just being lonely and bored. You actually enjoy our company and want to make sure that we return to you”

The demoness returns this assumption of Auryn with a deep grumble, but we feel that we hit a certain nerve here. Ashima-Shimtu then confesses that she foresaw that we'll cross paths multiple times in the future and that we will definitely be the ones who are responsible for freeing her. Carlyle grins broadly at that confession as he claims that this must be either another lie or make her even more dependent on us, thus warranting an even bigger favor on our side. She seems rather piqued on this clever remark and falls all silent.

(Basically Tiz' way of telling us that we'll return eventually to get to know more about this whole story. Thus making Ashima-Shimtu the most meta creature we've ever encountered.)


So we decide that we'd not enter her vault this time as we just got what we came for. Even if she doesn't want to talk. A closer look at the Ring of Triegenes reveals that this object might just be sympatheticum enough to cancel out the magic holding Enis Adolini, so we head back to the architect's vault and free him. Then we collect the entourage of Giovanni and the painter himself, complete the ritual of the Pious Mount seven times and return to the surface.

As soon as Enis Adolini is able to see the light of the sun once again, the magic of the Crypt that's been keeping him alive over the centuries wears off and he, too, turns to fine dust. But at least he vanishes with a smile on his face.

“I'm so sorry, I don't know what to say. I... just wish that he could have had a few more years in the sun.” Auryn says with heavy regret. Then she realizes that all of her pleas to free Adolini even at the risk of freeing a devil along with him had been for naught and she sinks down to one knee.

“Don't grieve, Auryn. His soul is free at last. That much we could give to him. And I'm glad that you argued for Signor Adolini's freedom.”


Carlyle touches Auryn's shoulder with one hand, turns to the sky and raises his hand as a last goodbye to the departing spirit of the vault's architect. Giovanni starts sketching at the scene he just witnessed, but Carlyle asks him to maybe allow for more piety. We then contact Flint and ask for a transfer via teleport as Carlyle's magic is still weakened.

(Again, the themes of Carlyle and Auryn are pretty clear: Where she does everything in her power to ensure that everyone has a chance to live, he focuses on souls, spirits and their affairs. And where death is a tragedy for Auryn, Carlyle regards it as the final form of freedom)

This way, we bring all of the Crypt's survivors to Flint where we educate them on the “new world” they are about to enter. Most of them appear to be in a happy mood and ask for a place to celebrate and have fun, which is why we believe that they'll have an easy time adapting to the Docker lifestyle. We also teach them about the registration process where they can apply for citizenship if they'd like to do so.

(A lillend and some crazy party people? Sounds like the ideal crowd for Rock Rackus if you'd ask me)


We take some time to talk to Giovanni who seems a bit annoyed that he'd have to continue working for a living again. For now, he explains, he'll resort to sleeping inside his painting which means that he'd just need one well-meaning individual or a forsaken building to hang said art object in. In response, Carlyle turns to him and offers him a sweet head start for his new career in Flint: He would love to commission a painting of Srasama for his home. Of course, he'll pay a decent sum for it and no, it doesn't have to be animated or visitable. Giovanni seems a bit surprised and hesitant at this very specific commission.

“So what scenery do you imagine? The goddess' flaming march into Alais Primos? Maybe with a twist to make her victorious instead?”

Carlyle shakes his head immediately.

“Nothing too martial or provocative. I wish for an image of the trinity. And I'd like to place it in the entrance of my home”

He then takes a quick look at Auryn and nods to Giovanni to signal him that he believes in the painter's craft. And it appears that Giovanni accepts the order before he leaves to find his new home.
 

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Lylandra

Adventurer
The Lich in the Iceberg

We then rest one day and return to Knütpara to meet the nameless Lich once more. We show him the Ring of Triegenes and explain that it will suffice to get him free from the divine ward and his icy prison. But we also insist that the Lich teaches us the soul swapping magic and performs it on a few individuals before we do so. Especially Dr. Xambria Meredith seems to be interested as this procedure might just provide her with a body of her own, so she's giving the Lich all of her attention. First, we say, we'd need the information of Leone, thus we'd need Grappa to be able to use Leone's body freely. No problem, says the Lich, just bring the guy to him, press him to the ice and he'll use his magic to expel the creature known as Leone Quintal.

We agree that this will mean the end of Leone, but he already died anyway and forfeited his second chance, so no need to grieve for him.

“But wait a minute.” Auryn injects “Just expelling him won't be enough. We need him, no, his soul, imprisoned. They resurrected him once, who says that they won't do it a second time?”

Carlyle bites his lip at this statement but doesn't say a word. We then pull Leone out of the Absurdist's web and wake him up to prepare him for what's about to happen. For a moment, Leone is his over-confident self, but then he realizes that he is not in the RHC cell anymore, but in some sort of icy surrounding. And that seems to disturb him.

We then tell him the facts straight to his face: Carlyle and Testamenta both granted him a second chance for another life after he got stuck in the Witchoil, but he refused to take it. Instead, he followed the Obs once again, killed Grappa and mocked us for our kindness. Usually, this would be enough to imprison him for a prolonged time in the RHC, but seeing that Testamenta pulled every string to retrieve an ancient divine artifact from a forbidden vault full of demonic relics, we have to assume that she'll just try again and again to return him to her side. Also, as the arguments he presented when he was locked up in the RHC cell were quite convincing, we don't think that he were trying to play games regarding his intent to harm us. Which is why we got no other choice to make sure that no one will be ever able to revive him again, even if that means that we have to resort to really dark and ancient magic ourselves. And this we'll do by separating his soul from his body and locking his soul away for good.

Leone listens carefully to our statements and then starts to panic more and more. Especially when he finally spots the ancient Lich imprisoned in the icy wall.

“No, please! You cannot do this to me! You are civilized people, aren't you. I am a gentleman! Let me go!”

Carlyle then remorselessly picks the chained man up and presses him to the wall where the nameless Lich is imprisoned. Leone struggles against his grip, but fails to get free. We then pull out a gem and the Lich uses his magic to slowly extract Leone's soul against his final resistance and imprison it inside the gem. Seeing this procedure, Dr. Meredith/Flying Spark appear very much shocked by the visible struggle of the victim. However, Carlyle remains stoic as he lets go of the seemingly lifeless body of Leone. He then looks at the gem in his palm and shakes his head in disbelief.

“I... really don't like the thought of keeping his soul imprisoned for an indefinite period of time. Just having this thing in my grasp makes me sick. It is the opposite of what I'm trying to achieve normally.”

This time it is Auryn who's trying to comfort Carlyle's conflicted emotions.

“I understand you. But we really got no other choice. And I promise you that we'll release his soul once all of this Obscurati madness is over.”

We then let the Lich teach us his technique with the twist that we may implant our own souls into other people's bodies without having to basically kill them. We realize that the result might just be the very same effect that Nicodemus uses to possess other people and guess that the two kinds of magic might somehow be related, but the Lich tells us that he doesn't know anybody with this name, so it might be just a coincidence.

Then Grappa slowly opens his eyes in the body of Leone and, for the first time, he appears to be all alone. It takes a while to fully control this new version of his and he guesses that it might take even longer for him to really learn Leone's metalbending tricks. Still he can tell us several details about Leone's most recent plans:

His old host bought his private wagons to collect a group of Obscurati agents and bring them to the ObsCon. He remembers some details about the people he's supposed to collect, which is why he'd just continue where Leone left. He then tells us what he knows and we discuss whom of them might be the best candidates for us to take over. We also remind Dr. Meredith that she'd have to take one life to regain a body of her own, so she and we better choose carefully as we're not really comfortable with killing an “innocent”, even if said person is an Obs officer.

Xambria Meredith thinks about the issue for a while and then decides that she would want to inhabit a female body again, with ethnicity being not so much an issue. So we read through Leone's list and find two female candidates with the Risuri Livia Hatsfield and the Crisillyiri Ines Shilubi.

We ask Grappa a bit about the two and he explains that Leone knows Livia to be a spy in Torfield Palace while Ines appears to be a bounty hunter who got quite the reknown for hunting both fey and eladrin rebels for the Clergy. And while we agree that both women are criminals, each in their own way (from treason to murder), Ines is the one with the really wicked deeds. Auryn then asks to take on Livia as she'd be less comfortable with a human or dwarf man.

“Alright then, I'll take one of the guys” says Margit with a short sigh and decides to inhabit the Clergyman known as Ken Don.

(Dare I say that we were all a bit surprised to see that there was only a single female officer among the standard roster of Obs to inhabit? That, and 5/7 being humans as well. Tiz didn't want poor Dr. Meredith to be stuck in a male body forever and he surely didn't want us to kill Livia without knowing better, so he chose one really disposable officer from the expanded list of whom he was sure that we'd hate her enough by description alone.

So if you're ever going to re-polish Zeitgeist... bring in the diversity among the playable Obs!

Oh and regarding Auryn choosing Livia... she was the most relatable for her being an elven woman. She has no trouble playing a man in her own body as seen in her Aubron of Thessaries persona, but being in a foreign body is unnerving her a lot)


Grappa then turns to the Lich to explain that we'd need one more person permanently extracted and that we'll need a bit more time to bring her here. The Lich grows a bit uneasy, but we agree to swear an ancient vow to release him as soon as we got her with us and after a bit of haggling, he finally agrees.

So we dress up as Leone's bodyguards and accompany the metalbender on his trip to get all the Obs for the conference. This way, we got enough time to study all of their mannerisms and quirks, as well as get a feeling for their personality. It doesn't change our decisions though and Carlyle finally decides to take the Drakran dwarven tower researcher, Kiov Hetman, as his host body.

(mainly because the whole tower affair seemed the most interesting background for our own information gathering)

We travel along the Avery Coast Railroad and collect them all one by one until we reach Vendricce where Ines joins the small group. As soon as the party is full, we take the next opportunity during a stay at a railway enclave to abduct our targets with the Absurdist's Web. We bring them all to Knütpara where we ask Dr. Meredith one last time regarding her decision to kill Ines. But as the woman appears to be quite the boastful murderer we expected her to be, she stands with her decision.

So we take the bounty hunter out of the Web and present her to the Lich. The ancient undead repeats the same process he did with Leone, and it takes him much effort to remove the powerful soul from her body. This time however, we let her soul slip into a splinter of ice which we melt to free her soul immediately. Carlyle then uses his experience with Dr. Meredith's soul and his powers as a spirit medium to transfer her soul from Flying Spark to Ines' body.

When she awakes in her new form, the archaeologist first moves on four limbs as she has gotten used to the faerie dragon anatomy. But then, bit by bit she remembers her time as a human, stands on her legs and realizes that this body is so much stronger than the one she used to have. She thanks all of us (not the Lich of course) with a powerful group hug and declares that she'd love to join our mission in this body. And maybe work as archaeological expert for the RHC afterwards.

Then it is finally time to release the nameless Lich. So we use the Ring of Triegenes to shatter the divine ward and break the remaining magical barrier. The Lich seems happy to be free from his prison once and for all, takes one step out of the ice and... shatters into pieces. We take quite the time to process what just happened and can only guess that someone or something must have destroyed the Lich's phylactery. Which is quite fortunate for us as we didn't have to fight him this way.

(well played! Totally subverted our expectations with this one)

Before we use our new knowledge to possess the other Ob officers, Auryn takes Carlyle aside for a private talk. When he asks her what this is about, she explains that the Obscurati conference might be a rather long event, spanning multiple days. Days in which the two of them won't be able to be close to one another as sharing intimacies as Livia Hatsfield and Kiov Hetman would be inappropriate in more than one way. Carlyle looks at her in surprise as he hadn't thought about that fact until now, but he understands that this whole situation is uncomfortable for both of them. Auryn then embraces him tightly and shares one last, passionate kiss with Carlyle before they return to Margit, Flying Spark and Dr. Meredith.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
My players were pleasently suprised that the Lich had already been sabotaged and by the Ob no less. They had been worried about him.
I hadn't considered the gender mix of the Ob identities I suspect I would have done had I had more than one female player or pc. As it was they available npc's worked out ok
 

I hadn't considered the gender mix of the Ob identities I suspect I would have done had I had more than one female player or pc. As it was they available npc's worked out ok
It was I think 2013 when we wrote this adventure, and I recall at the time thinking about this and assuming that most gaming groups didn't have many women, so I chose only to have one woman, since I didn't want to 'make people uncomfortable.'

My sensibilities have changed, certainly.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
I think the highest number of women I have had in a gaming group was 3 women and either 3 or 4 men depending on the campaign , that was back in the 90's . Now my regular group is 4 Men and 1 Women
It's impossibel to guess what any group of gamers is going to consist of and even more impossible to predict what their characters will be,
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
And this from the same guy who wrote a lesbian love triangle murder mystery back in 2007 :ROFLMAO: (A damn good one I'd add!)

But from my perspective, the US playerbase then and now is still hard to grasp. My 2000's DSA/TBA groups always had at least two girls and don't get me started on our online "before" FF7 RPG group. The estrogene level was quite intense.

(As for my current D&D group? 3 guys, 3 gals from all over the globe who happened to come & live here for their studies)
 


Lylandra

Adventurer
(caution: long post ahead)

Thinking inside the chimney (Or: Obscon, Part1)

One by one, we retrieve the other unconscious Obscurati agents from the Absurdist's Web and let Grappa perform the ritual of possession. During this process, we learn that Kiov Hetman worked for an ancient ghost called Vicemi Terio, and that Kiov is terribly afraid of said spirit. The name Joe Pena floats in his mind as well and Carlyle understands that the guy who tried to mess up our mission in Ber could have been this very same Vicemi Terio. So we all agree that this guy is someone we should be cautious about.

Regarding Livia, we're surprised to find out that she harbors second thoughts regarding her affiliation with the Obs and that she's kind of secretly acting as a double agent. Being originally aligned with Ethelyn and skeptical about technology, she gathered information about King Aodhan and his royal powers as Monarch of the Masses, but had second thoughts about selling all of this to an unknown group of people. So she left a note for Harkover Lee detailing what she has learned and done should she not return from this convocation.

Auryn is very much intrigued about Livia's motives, but no matter how hard she tries, she fails to gain a link to the subconscious Livia sleeping inside her mind. So we decide to postpone the questioning of this interesting woman and harbor the quiet hopes that she may act as a mole in the Obs after the convocation is over.

Ken Don appears to be an overall nice guy, a librarian from the Jenevah Library who's fed up with the Clergy machine and its rules and preaching of water to the masses while drinking wine in their fancy offices. When Margit tells us about the man and his contact to Beregeron and Ottavia, we understand that Ken might be an honorable member of the Obs who truly believe that what he's doing might be best for the world.

She then complains a bit that this body feels a bit weak compared to her own and blames Ken's bookishness and lack of exercise.

“And now excuse me...” she adds “I have to learn how to relieve myself with this new... appendage. Or else I'll be instantly suspicious.”

Meanwhile, we carefully store our own bodies in the Absurdist's Web. Being slightly disturbed by this last look at our fragile selves, we hope that this convocation may be over soon so we might return to who we're used to be.

(Regarding the ritual's mechanics... we understood it but thought that there simply was too much math, RNG and numbers involved for what it was worth. Would have been easier if the game just assumed that Grappa cast the spell and then the PC has to make a saving throw depending on who they are currently possessing. I understand that the mechanics are meant to discourage players from possessing giant strength creatures, but making it inaccessible to low/mid-level players would have worked as well

Oh and we totally skipped over Oscan Ligurio... he just didn't seem interesting enough even if we knew that the Familia would have really been interested in the knowledge of this spy among their ranks.

Also, I remember someone discussing that the Mortal Possession might be abused by clever players who'd love to have more powerful physical stats. While this is surely a possibility, I highly doubt that there will be more than one player who'd leave their character's body on a regular basis. At least not as long as these are “characters” and not mere “toons” with cool numbers and abilities. I can see some character who might be upset with their own body failing them – someone very old, maimed or frail – be tempted to use the ritual for a new body, but this would be totally okay, especially as it does have moral implications. One of the reasons why I'd say that ZEIT is an AP for mentally mature players)


We then discuss where to store our bodies during the convocation. First, we talk about having them in the RHC as we might use that as a quick way of escape should things go south. But then we guess that this convention might very well take place in the Bleak Gate and Grappa is not really sure whether the soul transfer would be able to cross planar thresholds and we really don't want our souls to become stuck in the Bleak Gate. So we'd just carry them with us in the Absurdist's Web which should be fine as long as no one knows that they are inside it.

Regarding equipment, we go the safe route of storing the too powerful stuff like the Matriarch's crown or the Godmind Urn with our original bodies and go for regular weapons. Kiov hides two mundane kukris inside a dwarvish battlestaff, but he feels really clumsy using them.

(this is a short nod to his original idea of using a double sword hidden inside a walking cane. Unfortunately, double weapons, while really cool, are rarely worth all of the feats)

As soon as we feel relatively comfortable in our new bodies, we return to the inn where the other Obs officers are still sleeping. The next morning, we all board a ship near Sid Minos and travel to the island of Mutravir. There, we're brought to a run-down mansion via carriage and meet up with other Obscurati officers before being greeted by someone we really didn't expect to be here: Han Jierre. It appears as if he studied the names of all of the new arrivals beforehand as he greets every one of them individually and then explains that we'll have to cross the threshold to the Bleak Gate via iron amulet.

Then Han's assistant lights up a lantern which emits a faint glow and enables us to travel to a Bleak gate pocket, revealing an intact and very much polished mansion. The sky, however, is pitch black and the only illumination is provided by small lamps. Then Han Jierre proceeds with his security check and we do our best to appear as relaxed as we can. Everyone makes a small gasp as a shadowlisk comes close to our group and places its magic destroying gaze upon us. And to all our surprise, one of the other Obs changes in what appears to be a Godhand. The very moment this deception becomes clear, the shadowlisk appears to burn the man into a black shadow on the wall with another, radiant gaze.

(“Just a shadow on the wall...”)

Some of the Obs start to panic and we're very much disturbed by the creature and its abilities. It appears that the former-clergy-former-Godhand or his shadow are somehow still alive though and Xavier Sangria, one of our fellow Obs, immediately demands to know why they'd keep and use such a monster here as this is the opposite of what he came for.

His demands are immediately answered as a group of ghosts appear. One of them, a tattered vile looking one that Kiov recognizes as Vicemi Terio, explains that this man was a Clergy spy and that they'll surely get their answers once they'll peel himself out of his shadow. We got nothing to fear from these beasts though. He is quickly joined by another figure we know – no one else but the ghost of the deceased Mayor Macbannin who jokes that he'd expected even more spies.

Macbannin then pulls the Godhand out of his shadow and drags him off to the dungeons. We take a few moments as we finally understand why the seal of Macbannin on Cauldron Hill was weakened so much as its central component, the Mayor himself, was missing. Then we're asked to enter the mansion, but Kiov takes a few more seconds to comment on that really beautiful lighthouse right behind the mansion and talks quietly about just having to visit that one in his leisure time.

We're then being led inside and upstairs by a few servants while Margit/Ken and another Clergyman are being questioned about the spy. We don't want to look suspicious, so we leave the group and believe that she'll do just fine. We're then being assigned to rooms, and both Livia ask for one room with a lighthouse view. She, because she thinks it'd be romantic and him because, y'know, he just loves lighthouses. So we end up in the constellation we wanted to: with rooms directly next to each other.

After getting rid of our luggage, we take some time to wander through the upper floor of the mansion and come to a cozy communal room with a beautiful fireplace and stained glass windows. There, we see a person smoking leaf of Nicodemus and as we're coming closer, we're both shocked for a brief moment, as this person appears to be none else but our missing Andrei.

(Wow, this was harsh. And yep, Tiz didn't use this scene in the teaser as he wanted to play on the Andrei is missing in action mystery a bit more. Definitely made the tension level rise 100%)

Fortunately, who appears to be Andrei on the first glance notices us just a mere moment later so he doesn't catch our faces go blank for a split second. He raises his glass of wine to greet us and gestures over to the other leather chairs. With a smile, the guy introduces himself as Nicodemus, the one who summoned all of us here and asks us to sit down and talk.

Thankfully, Nicodemus is nothing alike Andrei and appears to be the same, charming and thoughtful persona when we first met him under the guise of Doro. So we can split our images of Nicodemus and Andrei quite well and manage to keep up our appearances and thank him for this invitation and opportunity to know more about our organization's true goals. Even though we deep down know that our Andrei must be trapped somewhere inside his own body, probably just as unconscious as our own hosts.

Nicodemus appears to be glad to hear that and he hints that all will be revealed with the upcoming presentations during the conference. Kiov politely asks Nicodemus whether he'd be able to visit the lighthouse during his stay. Nicodemus rubs his goatee for a moment and then promises that he'll tell the security officers to arrange a visit for the drakran expert.

“You probably should think about inviting Herrn Zoltan too, I strongly believe that he'd not want to miss this opportunity either”, Nicodemus adds.

He then excuses himself as he got more guests to attend to, but asks us to make ourselves comfortable and just ask the servants should we need anything.

(All in all this scene was pure gold. Nicodemus can appear to be that likable and charming person while at the same time you're being constantly reminded that, right now, he's abducted and possessed one of your dearest friends. Which created such a strong cognitive dissonance that you really had to think hard about how your character would act and react and think about this whole situation. It's just... wow. And it turns much harder later on)

Shortly after, Leone/Grappa joins us and mentions that he's going to enjoy the brief time he has left before his preparations to chill and drink fine wine at the fireplace. This is when we suddenly hear a loud, female voice calling out Leone's name in surprise. Unlike us, Cardinal Testamenta managed to find a servant to carry her luggage for her and now she's reacting almost gleefully once she spots dear Leone near the fireplace.

“There you are, my dearest. I'm so glad that we got the opportunity to be together again so shortly after our reunion in Vendricce.”

She then picks up a chair and places it next to the very surprised looking Leone, grabs his hand and caresses her own cheek with it. And while we still look at each other in bewilderment, it seems as if Testamenta is on the brink of making out with Leone in front of us. Leone puts up his most perfect pokerface and tries to play along, but we almost physically feel his discomfort when she kisses the poor guy and drags him off.

(Yeah, poor Grappa. Not like Testamenta is unattractive, but I don't see him as someone who'd be interested in physical relationships, lest not with a total stranger.

And now that I think about it, I'd rather paint him to be asexual with his love of making artificial children... a bit like Gepetto I guess)


So after a while, we decide that it is time to join the new arrivals downstairs to get a feeling for the other Obscurati members and find out more about their work and agenda. As we're about to move down, we suddenly see the familiar silhouettes of Luc and Ottavia on the middle level of the now illuminated lighthouse...

Downstairs, we meet up with Ken Don again who's chatting with a Pater Hevnir. The Pater thanks him for giving him access to secret information. Ken acts as shy as his persona requires and mumbles that he's just living up to the Teachings, Verse 103 where sharing is divine as long as it doesn't apply to your favorite fishing hook. He then recites a poem about hooks and the Pater moves along. Ines Shilubi catches up with the Pater as she recognizes him as an archaeologist who she accompanied to an ancient elfaivaran ruin once.

Guiscan, the bariton singer in our group, has apparently found a dragonborn fangirl who's begging him for a duet, but he doesn't seem to be so keen on performing right now. Then, we both hear a rather familiar voice as Director Zoltan hails his dear colleague Kiov Hetman. The two dwarves share a quick chat, but then Zoltan kind of forces Kiov to tell everyone a cruel anecdote about the police chief of Trekholm and his and Zoltan's dogs. Carlyle manages to remember said story from Kiov's memories, but the whole thing leaves him utterly disgusted at the thought that someone might find delight in this sort of cruelty.

Meanwhile, Livia comes across another person we know and she's very much surprised and alarmed to see none else but Catherine Romana, accompanied by her cat familiar. The two women greet each other and it seems that even Livia didn't know about the fact that Romana appears to be an Obscurati officer. Now these are dangerous news indeed.

After a while, Kiov manages to leave Zoltan and his merry dwarves and he takes some time to gather information about the other attending officers. He spots one halfling Eschatologist who appears to be taking notes on several people. He pokes the man who panics briefly and then explains the halfling that he isn't really keen on being on some godsdamned list as this kind of defeats the purpose of the Obscurati in the first place.

When the halfling doesn't see any fault in his notes, Kiov calls for the security and demands that this man should be stopped from whatever he's doing right now as he might just be another spy. As Kiov is very much insisting, the security staff summons Macbannin to clear things up. Kiov makes his point once again and Macbannin demands to see the notebook himself and orders the man to stop taking notes on other Obs. During this process, Kiov is able to get a peek into the notebook and finds that most of it is wavey, snake-like lines anyway.

Livia mingles with the other guests and gets the impression that many Ob officers use this convocation as some kind of support group regarding their shady dealings. She gathers some stories here and there which are filled with lots of unscrupulous deeds, up to making fun of murder to cover up Ob activities. Both Auryn and her Livia personality are appalled by this lack of decency, so she just moves to the background to listen.

Doing so, she bumps into Kiov again, who just started a conversation with another dwarf by the name of Erskine Haffkrüger. The dwarf talks a bit about his job as botanist doing research about the planar influence on plants, but we basically have to drag every word from his nose as if he's really not in the most talkative mood. On top of that, he appears to be quite the loner anyway.

After a while, Auryn, being a botanist herself, realizes that this guy's knowledge about plants isn't as profound as it should be. Also, the dwarf seems to be much stronger that the average dwarf, especially if one considers his presumed occupation. A few moments later, Carlyle gets used to his new, dwarf nose and smells something that seems strangely familiar, but yet not dwarven at all. He then suddenly raises his eyebrows as he realizes that this is the faint smell of both Fordren and Gradiax.

Then, it is Haffkrüger's turn to be surprised as he hears a mental note: “Didn't expect you to be here. Trying to find out more about the Obscurati?”

“Ah, the constables. Of course you are here. All of you, I guess.”

When Kiov nods briefly to Haffkrüger, then to Livia and hints that he may continue with his mental conversation, it seems as if Gradiax had just been waiting for this invitation. He quickly falls into a draconic rant about the fact that he found this dwarf among his employees who had been working for the Obscurati whilst being paid by him. So thanks for the tip. Of course he was enraged when he found out, so he squeezed every little bit of information from the dwarf before turning his brain to pudding. He then took the guise of Erskine Haffkrüger to gain personal insight into the Obs and here he is now.

All of this makes Gradiax pretty angry again, so Haffkrüger excuses himself as the long and unfamiliar trip by boat still pays a heavy toll on him.

“Just remember this, Mr. Carlyle: I WILL put an end to their organization one way or the other. So don't stand in my way when the time comes.”

Then he stomps off.

“What a strange man...” Livia says in confusion as she didn't understand how or why the botanist would suddenly become so upset.

(Not really sure how Gradiax would have managed to sneak into the convocation. As this version of him agreed to destroy the duplicant technology, he went there morphed into yet another humanoid form. I do guess that Tiz changed the way draconic polymorph works to an extraordinary ability, otherwise people like Harkover Lee would have drawn too much attention with their strong transmutation aura. Still the shadowlisk would have been able to see through this and probably the duplicant tech as well. Just dragon stuff I guess. Or a well placed mind blank.)

She doesn't have too much time to think about the dwarf though as they are soon joined by a jovial tiefling ghost by the name of Amielle Latimer. We instantly remember the name as one of the heroes who helped King Lorcan defeat the witches on Cauldron Hill over a century ago.

“It is an honor and a surprise to have such a legend among us today”, Livia says to Amielle as the real Livia should probably remember all of the stories about the risuri kings.

Amielle appears to be happy that someone finally remembers her name, so she offers us cigars and stays for a little chat. We learn that she joint the society named “the ghost council” after her death 80 years ago when Nicodemus returned her as a ghost. She doesn't know too much about this group's origins though and briefly mentions that Terio is their most senior member.

She then floats off and we're called to the grand banquet room where dinner is served. Nicodemus appears briefly and welcomes us all to the grand convocation. He teases that there will be a big reveal in the keynote speech tomorrow morning, so better not get too wasted. After all, the organization needs all of our mental agility in the upcoming day. He and the senior officers (Leone, Han Jierre, Amielle and an unknown half-elf clad in elfaivaran garments) leave dinner very quickly and it appears as if they got stuff to prepare for tomorrow. To our surprise, Lya Jierre, her brother Luc and Ottavia are missing out this night.

We return to our rooms a bit earlier than most of the other officers. Luckily, we find out that Kiov and Livia share one chimney between their rooms, so hushed conversation appears to be possible between the two rooms. We take the opportunity to recap this day's events, starting with what would be the most disturbing reveal about Andrei's fate.

We both agree that rescuing our dear friend from Nicodemus' possession would be among our top priorities, even if we cannot be sure whether regular methods of exorcism would work on such an unusual spirit like Nicodemus. Carlyle just sees one of his worst nightmares come true: That Andrei's super strength and stamina could fall out of control, even though he wouldn't have envisioned it to turn out that way. Still, we cannot risk to blow our cover yet as we need to know what the Obs are planning. Neither of us seems really content with this solution, but we understand that we need to be patient in this one.

Then we talk about our experiences with the other Obscurati and both come to the conclusion that most of these people are fishy at least and downward immoral at worst. We don't really get why they'd even join a society that would try to improve the world if they literally walk over dead bodies to complete what must be only a tiny piece of one big puzzle. Also, how blind must Ottavia and Luc have been to not see what kind of people they'd associate themselves with.

Next is the issue of Han Jierre. We wouldn't have dreamed about the possibility that the sovereign of Danor could be a member of the Obscurati, even if we know Lya to be among their ranks. We agree that this complicates matters between Risur and Danor a lot and we don't know how King Aodhan would react to this revelation. But now that we know that sovereign, nephews and niece are part of the secret society, we guess that it might be likely that being an Ob could be a Jierre family tradition.

(Ah, how perfectly spot on they were...)

Regarding Macbannin, we are not really sure about his role in this ghost council. Both Carlyle and Auryn are quite sure that he's only convincingly playing a role as the charming-but-cruel ghost we saw earlier, so we should maybe try to contact him somewhen to see whether out gut feeling is right. Still this has to be postponed until we're either more sure or can more easily risk our identities.

Last, Carlyle mentions Erskine Haffkrüger who might just be a strange ally, even though he is quite sure that this guy will cause a lot of chaos some time during the convention. When Auryn responds in confusion as she just thought him to be a not really bright botanist who might be hiding something, Carlyle drops the ball and reveals that this dwarf is just “Fordren in disguise”.

When Auryn reacts extremely surprised by this revelation and asks him how he'd know about this fact, Carlyle explains that he just had a mental exchange with the man after he smelled a faint sniff of Fordren on the dwarf. Which leaves Auryn speechless for a moment.

“So... you were the one who contacted him? How?” she asks, still in confusion.

“I talked to him telepathically.”

“You... what?! Then tell me, why are we talking through a chimney again?”

“Umm... maybe because it is romantic?”

“Maybe it is. But even then... why didn't you tell me about this ability? We're on a secret undercover mission and this would be a very handy thing to use. Also, does he know about me and my identity?”

Realizing that Auryn is hiding some sour tone right now, Carlyle promises that he'll be available for telepathic communication from now on, so she'd just need to give him a hint that she needs to talk. He also confirm that Fordren/Gradiax will most likely know who she is right now and that we'll have to see how things will turn out. He'd keep an eye on Erskine for any kind of trouble, that much he promises.

“Well, that's a start. But I have to sleep now. Good night.”

(Ouch. This one really hurt her a lot and it came on top of everything that happened that day – Andrei, the Jierres and Macbannin. Basically, Carlyle hat pulled a Delft on her despite that fact that there were lovers and shared everything. Remember that one time where Carlyle forgot to tell Delft that he could teleport and both of them ended up in the Duke of Slaughter's assassination attempt? Delft was furious, but Delft was merely his boss.

This time, Carlyle had not only not told Auryn that he could talk telepathically – we used this perk of the 4e version of the Spirit Medium – but he also used this ability to contact Fordren of all people without telling her beforehand. And waited the whole evening to tell her about his presence at the convocation. Oh and yes, knowing about it would have come in handy when we prepared our secret identity mission. So having one royally pissed Auryn as the result is kind of understandable. And this is just where the rift of adventure 7 starts to crack...

Regarding Gradiax, she wasn't really sure whether he would keep his promise to Risur should the Obscurati plan turn out to be valuable enough for him to hijack. Auryn hoped that this wouldn't happen, but she didn't rule out the possibility that her old enemy would make a face-heel-turn and try become leader of the Obs...

Oh and for the post's title: )
 
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Man, thank you so much for all this detail of the narrative. I love seeing how the setup actually plays out, and how it affected the players.
 



Lylandra

Adventurer
And thank you for writing such fantastic adventure paths with realistic and fleshed out recurring NPC :)

Yeah, we once got told that our playstyle is rather slow and dialogue-focused. But that's one benefit of having a really low number of players and it really isn't for everyone. And the way the later adventures turned out to be laid out fitted both our characters and their development jst nicely. Sometimes it just felt like a full circle. Oh man, I wish I'd have the time to polish the story a bit more and novelize it properly...

For the detail: I write down short notes for each session, then write my recap within a week so the memory is still fresh. Which then enables me to remember it vividly one year later.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
Session 44
Murder on Mutravir Island


The next morning, we're among the first people to leave bed – just as we expected. We use this spare time to chat a bit with the guards who also act like servants and whatever the guests of this manor desire.

(okay, this sounds a bit wrong. But I don't know if „Jack of all trades“ would fit the „Mädchen für alles“ - girl for everything – saying in German)

Carlyle is of course a bit duped inside by the fact that the Obs seems to lack proper personnel, so he makes a snide mental remark to Auryn who mentally giggles back. All of the guards seem to wear a pin of an open book and we guess that this might just be a symbol for the Obscurati. Kiov tries to make some ghost and undead related puns, but it seems as if they already know them all.

(Another language related thing. You can make lots and lots of “lich” puns in German as many adjectives end with a lich. Actually, there are both the words endlich and unendlich. Examples of these jokes are like... “how do you call a scary undead? Unheim-lich”. Also, there is the verb “herumgeistern” for lurking (“ghosting”) around. And don't get me started on the town of Lich and the Licher Pilsner)

We then move to the dining room to have breakfast where we're being served plenty of really good breakfast food from all over Lanjyr. With us sits an Orc named Gragh Nobble who's apparently not a linguistic genius as he calls himself the embarassor for the wilder tribes in Ber.

(He called himself “Boshafter” in German which means “wicked one” instead of “Botschafter” - ambassador)

He also does love his greatsword, so we brush his grammatical and spelling mistakes off and keep to ourselves. We are then being joined by one of Kiov's acquaintances, a human war wizard from Drakr called Dengar Kriegshaff who calls himself an archmage and also a cannon architect. We vaguely remember his name from the newspaper and Kiov simply returns that lighthouses are better than cannons. Which appears to be an inside joke between the two men. Kriegshaff also tells us about his secret hope that the Obs will somehow enable him to gain godlike magical powers, however this might be possible. But besides this casual megalomania he appears to be a pretty nice guy.

Next is Von Hastenschrieft Williamarkanova, a dwarvish philosopher and politician from Drakr who also happens to know both Ramos Zoltan and Kiov Hetman. She makes one short but passionate speech about how religions limit our mortal ability to progress and hopes that this convocation will help her get some clarity on how the Obs may help her reach the goal of a godless nation.

(And this is where I just realize that this woman is the very same Obscurati officer who became president of Drakr in adventure 13... well played indeed. Wish we made the connection in adventure 13 :D

Also, have you tried moving to Danor, girl? This would be just the perfect place for you and your nietzschean atheism)


They are soon joined by the druid Zartan Arkel who talks about needing more time to think about all the things and do all the stuff he likes to and asks Kiov whether he may abandon his love for lighthouses for a more realistic love for life.

This is where Livia decides that she had enough Drakr for one morning and focuses more on her tea. The Drakrans don't seem to notice her discomfort though and they keep on their friendly debate until someone realizes that Ramos Zoltan hasn't joined their merry crew yet. Finally, Kiov volunteers to go looking for his missing comrade (he guesses that the good guy might just have had one too many vodkas last night) and so he moves to the guest room wing upstairs where he knocks on Zoltan's door. Again and again. And when Kiov/Carlyle is certain that Zoltan is either not present or unable to answer for unknown reasons, he risks picking the door and enters the room.

The moment he enters, Carlyle immediately spots a lifeless Ramos Zoltan sitting in a comfy armchair. Coming closer, he cannot hear either breath or heartbeat, so he carefully examines the dwarf and finds that someone thrust a dagger right through his rib-cage and pierced his heart. What is disturbing is the fact that dead Zoltan has a white serpent figurine sitting on his lap, and that this figurine just looks like an icon of the Voice of Rot.

But Carlyle wouldn't be Carlyle if he'd just take the scene as it was laying in front of him. So he takes a closer look and finds that while the dwarf was drinking some whisky, he also has remains of milk in his beard. Nothing that would usually happen with Ramos Zoltan. Also, there's a small cut on the man's ear and faint traces of tranquilizing magic on both the dwarf and a small wooden box.

He then tries to focus his connection to the spirits to conjure the soul of the dead dwarf and moves back a few steps in surprise as this one is clearly missing a conjurable soul. A magical examination of the box offers no results either and he guesses that the culprit in this case must be one of the oh-so-many Obscurati officers protected by the divination shield. What he can find out is that whoever prepared the box used a round magical laboratory. After a while, Carlyle also senses traces of a fading necromantic aura that doesn't stem from a spell.

Adding all of this together, and including the fact that the presumed dagger is missing room was locked, Carlyle guesses that there might be an undead involved in this as the ghosts would have an easy time moving through walls.

He then returns to the breakfast hall and tells Kiov's buddys that Zoltan didn't answer to his knock, even when he really tried his best wake-up-knock. The group discusses the matter for a while and finally decides to talk to the ghostly guards that Zoltan won't open his door.

Meanwhile, Carlyle establishes a mental connection to Auryn and tells her of his findings. Being more of an expert in fey and occult magic, she immediately recognizes the clues as witchcraft. She remembers the ingredients as part of the bonds of forced faith ritual that Nevard used to bind his life-force to hers. So whoever is involved is this murder must be someone who knows about the magic of the Cauldron Hill witches. Which kind of reduces the number of suspects to two: Amielle, who could have witnessed this magic firsthand and Macbannin, who studied and used the magic during his time as Mayor of the Nettles.

Our gut feeling tells us that Macbannin might be more likely the murderer as his demeanor seemed off every time we saw him in this manor. Still, we have to be extra sure, so we decide to test Amielle for her innocence. So Kiov ignores the fact that his acquaintances must have told the guards about missing Zoltan by now and looks out for her. He then tells Amielle that he's worried about his dear friend Ramos Zoltan who has gone missing and asks her whether she could use her ghostly form to slip into his room and take a closer look.

Amielle declines as she is forbidden to just enter a stranger's room, but she does alert the staff and makes them open the door to Zoltan's room. When the guards return to her to tell her that they found the dead body of Ramos Zoltan in his chair, Amielle acts genuinely surprised, so both Carlyle and Auryn are pretty sure that she had no hand in his demise. She the tells us to keep quiet about what we just heard as she doesn't wish to cause a panic and that she has to inform Nicodemus about what happened.

So we take a seat in the communal room and wait. After a while, we hear rumors spreading about a certain incident as more and more officers gather in the room and gossip. Then, the news about the murder of Ramos Zoltan are officially announced which is why all attendants of the convocation are gathered so the organizers may make a statement on the matter. Of course, this is just another excuse to let the guards check if anyone else has gone missing and to keep a close eye on everyone as for now everyone is a suspect in the eyes of the Obs.

So while we're waiting in fainted nervousness, the half-elf wearing elfaivaran signs joins our small group and introduces herself as Cula Ravjahani. She seems quite self-confident and instantly realizes that Livia appears to be quite frightful (at least that's how Auryn thinks she would react) after the news of Zoltan's demise spread. Cula tries to comfort her elven sister and promises that she'll be safe here and that Nicodemus will make sure that no other Obscurati will be harmed in his domain.

“Should have upped his security level before someone was able to murder my Comrade. This wouldn't have happened on drakran soil with a drakran host...” Kiov mumbles into his beard, thus provoking Cula who mocks the dwarf that keeping a tower and some cannons safe is much easier than managing a convocation full of people from different nations.

Livia adds that she shouldn't really be surprised to have an actual murder happen at this event as several people literally bragged about murder and mayhem the evening before which makes her wonder if Nicodemus might have placed his bet on the wrong people. Cula claims that Nicodemus and her teacher have chosen their allies quite wisely and that everything will turn out well in the end.

She then places her hand on Livia's cheek to comfort her, only to look at her in surprise as she feels the presence of a fellow Vekeshi.

“They have chosen wisely indeed, sister. I am glad to see another of our order representing the voice of the pursued.” she whispers as it comes clear to Cula that there's more to Livia than meets the eye. When she leaves us again, we exchange a few mental words and guess that this “teacher” of hers might very well be Kasvarina, which may in turn mean that some Vekeshi are Obscurati as well.

As we're still waiting for Nicodemus to make a statement, we meet an undersea-boat captain named Glaze who stems from Danor. She talks a bit about her mission of patrolling the Beaumont region which means that she might just be the one who chased down our ship when we were on our trip around the world honeymoon. Glaze explains that Danor just uses some experimental ships while the Obscurati got the good ships for themselves.

Oh and she's also interested in conflict and war to keep the progress going. A point of view that Livia questions vehemently as she states that all of the Yerasol wars, while leading to some technological progress, caused a lot of suffering on both sides, so why not just work in collaboration towards a common goal? At least this is what her King Aodhan and minister Lya are trying to aim for at the moment. She then questions the thought of progress for progress' sake as this also heard about some problems in industrial Flint where workers were treated like slaves – which is forbidden in Risur for a reason. Glaze just shrugs it off as losing a few weak ones every now and then isn't too bad.

Fortunately, Nicodemus appears before the Auryn soul inside Livia's body gets incited enough to get into an intense verbal fight with the woman...
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
The conference talks, day one

He stands a midst the crowd and states that he is charged with the sad task to inform us about the premature demise of Ramos Zoltan, who had been murdered by what must be an agent trying to sabotage the grand convocation. Still, he's quite sure that the culprit will be found soon, so there's no reason to let this incident overshadow the progress of bringing the grand plan of the Obscurati to reality. Security measures have been increased as well, so we're very much in safe hands right now.

Nicodemus makes a dramatic pause and it seems as if the doom, gloom and sense of fear is vanishing bit by bit. He then asks us all to come to the grand foyer and take a seat at one of the man tables so he may make his opening statement.

When we're all seated, he then enters the podium and begins to speak with a strong, warm and welcoming voice. All of us who know Andrei get the uncanny feeling as if Nicodemus found more mastery of our dear friend's vocal cords in the few weeks that he's been in his body than Andrei ever displayed which feels troublesome indeed.

Nic also carries a lantern with him when he starts talking about our world that is very much flawed in his eyes. He talks about the state we're all living in, being overall mere playthings for the rich and powerful, corrupt clergymen, unjust rulers and warmongers. He points out that most of “us” joined the Obscurati to improve this world where the suffering of the many seems so acceptable to the few. That they had to work from the shadows as they'd otherwise been targets for those who profit from this system of abuse. And then he points out that all of this progress have been mere baby steps, hindered by the one thing that's most flawed of all: Our world itself.

But fortunately, this flaw is not a given constant, but something that can be changed and improved. The Obscurati's research has revealed that everything the Skyseers tell is true: The spheres floating around our world hold great power over our fates, but these eight spheres are no natural occurrence, they've been installed there by the Ancients.

He makes another pause there and people are gasping in surprise, including us. We try to process what Nicodemus just said and also try to guess where he's going from there, but are then caught again by his voice.

He then continues to say that these eight are but a handful of a myriad of possible spheres that could surround and influence our planet. To exemplify this influence, he uses the plane of air, Avilona. He calls it a calm but weak, damaged and thin plane. Then Nicodemus asks the audience to imagine that we could have a very different sky instead: Maybe one with stronger, more controllable winds capable of lifting greater birds or hot air balloons to the sky. Or maybe one that makes everyone filled with joy and a more positive outlook. Because everything, even our very thoughts are influenced by the planar spheres and the state we're in right now is not how it has to be forever.

Nicodemus then says that he doesn't condemn the Ancients for the planes they chose for they surely meant the best for our world. But they lacked the knowledge and technology the Obs have right now when they crafted their planar seal ritual. And now everyone here has the opportunity to correct the flaws their ancestors left in the system. And this is why he, the one who started all of this, called all of his loyal Obscurati officers to Mutravir: To vote on the direction of the organization's Grand Design, on the plan to create a better world with new stars.

He then lights his Lantern and we cannot ignore the feeling that this, and not the lantern test of Luc Jierre, is just what Nevard saw in one of his last visions. The audience stays silent for another while, and then everyone stars clapping and cheering for none of the attendants could have guessed that the Obscurati were very literally about changing the way the world works.


(And of course, we as players, were also very much surprised by this revelation. First, because the project seems genuinely well-meaning and because Nic just spoke about so many truths that our characters had been discussing over the past few adventures.

Can I just say a big THANK YOU that this campaign is bold enough to put a world-changing event in its center and explore every little detail while putting the PCs in the very middle of its chaotic vortex? I know that most other AP are limited by the fact that they are set in an existing setting and therefore bound to an established set of what can happen and what cannot and are especially dominated by a cast of powerful NPC or even gods who would be far more suited to play a role in these events. But still, this is the kind of shit I love to see in the campaigns I'm playing. So. Cool.)


Then Han Jierre enters the stage and explains that the Obscurati researchers put a lot of time and effort into making a few working suggestions on how a new planar configuration could look like. He invites all of us to partake in the detailed presentations of each “faction” where we can ask as many questions as we'd like about their idea. Also, there are pocket dimension examples of each of the factions and many more that we can visit in the portal gallery.

The crowd then scatters and we take a few moments to wrap our heads around what we just heard. First, we are of course pretty shocked to hear that the world we were born in and we inhabited for several centuries (in Carlyle's case) is simply the result of an Ancient ritual. Also, we're very much anxious about what the Obscurati might want to do with this knowledge. Even if Nicodemus himself spoke a lot of truths and we can agree with him to a very large degree. Especially as we know that there are a few genuinely good people within the Obscurati. Auryn goes that far to say that what Nicodemus spoke about isn't on paper that much different from what the Vekeshi are trying to do, even if they got a better mechanism of control.

We agree that we have to gather both information about the Ancient ritual and the Obscurati suggestions before we can make any judgment, so we meet up with Ken Don, Erskine and Ines to visit the presentations.

We first head to the presentation of the Arboretum, hosted by none else but the ghost of Macbannin. The talk takes place in the garden of the manor, which we find very fitting for a faction called “Arboretum”. And of course Macbannin makes a small pun about that fact. He then explains that nature has always been the biggest chance and obstacle on the road to progress, and cites the many famines and droughts that have caused big suffering in the past. Also, a lot of wars, including the Yerasol Wars, had been fought over scarce natural resources. Which is why the idea of the Arboretum centers around the idea to make nature more controllable and tame.

Macbannin then explains that their planar configuration could make both nature and weather as controllable as a well-oiled machinery. In order to do so, they would need to replace Av as the aspect of life with another plane that has an aspect of craftsmanship. The only drawbacks are that nature would need constant “gardening” and the weather constant “tending” or else harvests would yield weaker results or there might be cases of desertification. Also, The Dreaming and the Bleak Gate would likely be destroyed, which means less unnerving fey and horrible spirits. As for ghost councilors like himself, they could simply bind themselves to objects to remain on this world.

Needless to say that we are very much appalled by this plan. And when Macbannin calls for question, Livia instantly raises her hand.

“Pardon me, ex-mayor Macbannin? I don't mean to be disrespectful, but are you serious about this? Do you understand what destroying the Dreaming might mean for fey-touched lands like your homeland of Risur? Also, what about indigenous tribes who don't know about the 'new nature and weather system'? Are you content to let these people suffer? And what about the planar barrier? This would leave the door open for demonic invaders and cause another demonocracy...”

Macbannin raises his eyebrows at so many questions and objections, then smirks a bit and respond that this is merely a suggestion and not necessarily his own opinion or even preferred plan. He'd like to point out that Herr Haffkrüger is already working on malleable plant life and animal species that might be able to strive on their own. Haffkrüger clears his throat and straightens his back at the mention of his name, but prefers to not comment.

Auryn and Carlyle then exchange a few mental thoughts about the Arboretum and they both agree that while this may be superficially a neat idea, it has far too many fatal flaws to be even close to implementable: First, removing Av is a no-go as this would possibly kill thousands of fey and cause an end to the eladrin Enclaves. Also, removing the planar barrier of our world would be non-negotiable as well as we very much know about the Gidim and the Golden Legion which might be the cause of the demonocracy that dominated our world for centuries.

Regarding the control of nature, as Auryn pointed out, this sounds good on paper, but it would only lead to suffering in the “more primitive” areas of the world and having a change that leads to less prosperity for people that are already not on the top of the food chain would be no progress at all.

When Gradiax/Haffkrüger realizes that Livia and Kiov must be in some kind of mental conversation, he tries to talk to Carlyle as well and asks him to combine their presences to enable us to have a three-way-communication. Carlyle agrees and the moment the connection is established, Gradiax expresses his frustration with the short-lived beings who are nothing but short-sighted. He seems a bit impressed that someone just figured out why his flight wouldn't work anymore 200 years ago, but leaves it with that and we cannot shake off the dread that Gradiax might very well change his opinion on the Obscurati should he see the opportunity to regain his full potential once again.

But neither of us gets any kind of suspicious vibes from the dwarf, so we continue to the next presentation.

Our next stop is the presentation of the Colossus faction, led by Catherine Romana. When hearing this name at first, and seeing that Catherine is a Risuri noble, we first fear that this might be somewhat related to the creation of Borne, but learn quickly that this has nothing to do with the giant child roaming the Dreaming.

Catherine lays out a plan where chosen individuals are empowered with special abilities. Abilities that rival the powers of gods. To achieve this, she'd use the power of a true named plane with a cyclical aspect and the power to sense problems the moment they arrive. Of course she wouldn't just empower random people, but chosen Obscurati members who have proven themselves to be enlightened and trustworthy. The cyclicality of the powers granted would ensure that every “hero” has a time when they are weak and vulnerable, so they'd stay down to earth and controllable.

She does explain that this has slight drawbacks as the world would grow colder, the seas wold grow shallower, the storms would be stronger and the planar barrier would fall. Still, the new heroes would surely be able to deal with any kind of planar threat. Also, she'd have to sacrifice Av as well.

(So... she's basically suggesting to introduce real super heroes with a spider sense? I mean, it wouldn't be too far off after seeing our X-men team, but it still gave us a good laugh to have the very meta suggestion to switch systems)

As Macbannin before, Catherine Romana calls for questions and comments and we're not shy to raise our hands. First, Livia says that this suggestion doesn't have much in common with making the whole world better for everyone. Instead, it only caters to the power fantasy of a chosen few Obscurati members. Surely, great minds and integer persons are capable of using their powers to protect the world and fight for justice, but there is still the risk that certain “heroes” would form cartels or clubs to circumvent their period of waning powers. Which is especially troubling as many of the Obscurati she has met last day didn't make the impression of being exceptionally humanistic. Oh and removing Av would be off the table, especially for a Risuri. Again.

(Did she just advocate against the adventurer's way? :D

Also, what's up with Risuri being fine of destroying their way of life and committing possibly genocide?)


Catherine, too, stresses out that this is merely a suggestion that doesn't have to reflect her personal ideas and we nod to that statement. She doesn't really fight against Livia's concerns, but could totally live with losing Av and the Bleak Gate as there's always someone getting axed when progress is to be made. Shudder.

We move on and Carlyle and Auryn instantly agree that this Colossus thing would be worse than the Arboretum. We then cautiously look to Erskine who's infuriated again that some puny mortal would so desperately try to reach his grandeur. Which is when we understand that he probably won't try to hijack this plan to gain even more power for himself. Which seems a bit unlike him, but maybe he truly fears that powerful mortals might find and kill him for good.

Next, we move to the Panarchist talk of Han Jierre. Who appears to employ a very similar idea to Romana's. Contrasting her suggestion, the Panarchists would give exceptional powers to everyone, including the ability to teleport wherever they like. Jierre explains that this would eliminate the “might makes right” tradition and also abolish the need for governments and armies as everyone would be able to fend for themselves.

(So essentially living a libertarian's wet dream?)

To keep people in contact with one another, they'd make contracts more binding by requiring the investment of one's own soul. He then confesses that the drawback of his plan would eliminate the planar barrier as well, but he's pretty sure that the empowered population would be able to defend itself from possible invaders.

This time, Kiov takes his hand up first. He asks bluntly what the Panarchists would to to prevent castes or conglomerates from forming as there'd still be power in the powerful masses who could then oppress the less numbered. Alos, he heard about these planar threats and fears that without a proper organization no one would be able to fight against these guys effectively.

Then Livia utters a quick laugh as she does find it pretty ironic that the Sovereign of Danor of all people would be the one to represent the faction who advocates for anarchy. After all, he's talking against the power he holds right now. She adds that her perspective might be compromised as she's a Risuri, but she does find it pretty ironic that the very same Sovereign who's head of a state that oppresses even the slightest protest is also head of a faction that's an antithesis of his reign while she was told to keep the benevolent King of Risur in the dark about the Obs' plans.

Han Jierre is surprised by so much backlash but he regains his posture very quickly. He explains that while he'd love for things to change in Danor, progress is usually a slow and steady path. And his nation is dominated by the rich and powerful, so he'd either face a lot of resistance or had to plunge his nation into chaos by striking against the system that's been established over centuries.

“Fair enough. I believe I now understand your motives, Sovereign Jierre.”

Mentally though, she adds the snide remark that the oppressive system of Danor might just have been enabled over centuries because it might be a Jierre tradition to be cowardly and afraid of changing anything. Or maybe because they trusted so much in the Obs' plans that they wouldn't even try to change anything.

(If we wanted to be ironic, if Han Jierrre was totally honest here, he basically wishes for an outside force like the Obs and their ritual to force change upon Danor and then claim that “a wizard did it”. Way to deflect responsibilities.)

Regarding King Aodhan, Han Jierre adds that he does think that the current monarch of Risur is a wise and just man, but that's certainly not true for all of Risur's royalty. And as “we know” - with that he points to Livia - the monarch of Risur has a special connection to land and people that makes him extraordinarily powerful. Which is why illuminating the monarch about the Obs' plans would be a major risk should they not be content with it.

Livia then would like to make a more personal remark about Lya Jierre, Han's niece. She says that she had the honor of meeting that impressive woman in person and that she hopes that she'll continue her quest for peace between their two nations. Han thanks her for that and adds that sadly she couldn't make it to the conference due to other important missions.
 
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Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
Very similar reaction to my group, they were impressed with the chance to change the world and the theoretical altruism and boldness of the Ob's plans. They were also not terribly impressed with the plans so far in detail but they were more charitable to poor Han thinking him a frustrated idealist and concluding he wanted a genuinely better world. Of course Lya was missing because they had killed her. The sticking points for them were planar protection and Av.

I was also impressed as GM by the boldness of having the options to completely change the world , and I look forward to in 2-3 weeks listening to my players fight over how they will build a better world. Interestingly today they considered dropping the Planar protections in favour of a United Federation of Planets able to fight off any intruding extraplanar forces
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
Oh, the madness hasn't even started. Tiz warned us that we wouldn't have too much of a chance to make a change here, but we... umm... ignored it and tried anyway? I mean, why do you make socially apt and influential characters after all? And yep, planar protection and Av were our main foci as well.

I don't know why he didn't include Lya.. maybe because she wasn't written in with the original adventure. He only gave Luc and Ottavia a brief cameo for probably the same reason.


The conference talks, day one (conclusion)

Next on our list is the Watchmaker's presentation, a faction represented by friendly neighborhood ghost Amielle Latimer. But as soon as she starts talking about this plan, we surely hope that this isn't her personal opinion as she came across as quite the likable, quirky individualist before.

She explains that if the past has told us anything, then that individuals are selfish and violent. To truly make people change, she says, would require generations of re-education. So she proposes that the Obs should eradicate free will for a thousand years to make everyone follow a scripted reality of peace and cooperation. She injects that we shouldn't fear these times as her scientists and calculations integrated every possible catastrophe in their plan and it is indeed fail-proof. After these thousand years, Amielle explains, people will regain their free will once again, but now they'll only remember eras of peace and peak morality and won't be able to act violently or selfishly again.

We... don't know where we should start to dissect Amielle's plan, so we start right in the middle as we'd been watching her exposition in a state of shock and disbelief. Carlyle/Kiov starts with the fact that simply defining “good” and “evil” behaviors that are commonly accepted throughout Lanjyr would be futile as people already have differing opinions about such an easy question like the morality of slavery. So who is she to dare and provide an answer to this question drakran philosophers had been arguing about for generations?

Also, he adds, why would 1000 years be necessary as most people only live for a couple of hundred years. This Amielle has an answer to, as she explains that Eladrin do have a really long lifespan.

“Alright then, but what about ye ghosties? You'd remember everything, right? And I know one ghost who I don't believe will ever pass your 'goodness' test”

Amielle nods to this objection, and adds that her predictions indeed result in a next-to 100% likelihood that even the ghost councilors will be reformed after the process. Next is Auryn/Livia who states that no model will ever be able to correctly model the true unpredictability which is existence, especially if one counts in the fact that fate ceases to exist if one replaces Reida. So what if something does go wrong and there's no one left to correct the plan? She does sound weirdly surprised about her own words though. Then, she continues, there is the fact that sacrificing generations of people for such a project is nothing short but cruel and how can goodness ever be the result of cruelty? Oh and removing Av should be off the table.

All in all we agree that this plan is totally ludicrous and most dangerous and we quickly move on to the next panel. This time it is Cula Ravjahani who is tasked with the honor of presenting the Miller's Pyre faction. As we move there, we realize that this is the last “big” talk for the conference and we're beginning to guess that all entries up to this point might have been big disappointments on purpose, leading up to the one “true choice” of a good plan. At least that's what we hope for.

So Cula starts by explaining that this plan, Miller's Pyre, was originally established by her mentor, Kasvarina, who is sadly absent for now. Still she served as Kasvarina's right hand for long, which is why she is certain that she'll be able to explain her idea convincingly. Kasvarina, she explains, is an Eladrin and one of the conspiracy's founders, so she hopes that we'll trust the wisdom of hers.

Then she starts with the plan's basis: The teachings of the philosopher Miller and the story of his untimely demise at the hands of ignorant Clergymen. This, she says, is one of too many cases where violence and conflict arose because people were unable to understand each other, or simply too ignorant to try and open up to one another. If only there was more empathy in this world, she laments. And then proposes that fortunately, the Obs have found a plane of air that's capable of giving everyone the power of heightened empathy, the innate ability to understand each other's perspective no matter the ignorance.

She then adds that in remembrance of Miller's logic, she'd add in an aspect of logic that would make people be more easily swayed by logical arguments to prevent those with the most powerful emotions and convictions overpowering those with subtler but more rational minds. Also, she's open for cooperation and new ideas as her plan is currently having an open space for a new moon, so keep the suggestions flowing.

This is the first plan that Livia openly applauds and even Kiov nods approvingly. When it is time to raise questions, we do lament the lack of a planar barrier, but add that Cula might work this one out as she still has a spot free for a moon, so this might just suffice. Livia then states that she'd have loved to meet this inspiring mentor of Cula's and asks why Kasvarina couldn't make it today. Cula replies that she's busy somewhere else, but Auryn senses that she doesn't know what happened to Kasvarina, so she leaves the subject.

We then ask her if there might be a list of our current planar alignments and the other spheres the Obs have found and Cula leads us to a wall plastered with different planar icons where everything is lain out in detail, including a planar configuration and explanation for each of the major plans. This way, we learn that there are more, likely already abandoned plans of the Obs. Also, we finally understand what Nicodemus meant when he stated that our current plane of air could be responsible for the limitation on flight powers and learn that it is merely a planar trait that makes gold block teleportation. Oh and regarding fate, prophecy and Reida, this is actually a strong, planar influence as well.

(Big thank you to @arkwright for providing the planar configurations! I know that Tiz would have been in major trouble at this point as we all knew that our characters wouldn't be content with being just presented with these plans, but rather would want to understand it at that point. And if the Obs were able to understand our own configuration and make that many different plans then they'd need to have a big list of different planes and a rough idea on what each and every one of them would do.

Also, I for once had a blast during this conference talk part. Because I've been to scientific conferences a couple of times and know what to expect from a keynote talk or a proposal. And I'm always among those raising questions to the researcher. Most times I'm really just interested and tame, so this was my one chance of asking really mean questions ;)

Carlyle's player fortunately joined in and I guess we floored Tiz with our dissections.)


Our small group discusses the various planar effects and guess that someone might have changed the planar configuration 200 years ago when the dragons lost their flight. Of course, this doesn't cause amusement in Gradiax who sees himself robbed of his birthright. This rage is short-lived however, and it seems as if he' able to brush it off as “it happened and life goes on”.

(Ok... didn't expect that to be honest)

We go look for some planar experts and ask them whether changing planar configurations could have dire consequences for creatures like the Titans of Risur who coexist in both Dreaming and our world and are usually sleeping. Livia states that she fears they might wake up if the world and their existence is changed so much and she asks them to make an educated guess on what might happen.

Of course, this is only one side of the coin as she mentally states that she's also concerned that one part of the Obs plan might still be to get rid of the Titans for good. The experts are not really well-read in risuri folklore, so they mare some quick assumptions based on what they know and what Livia tells them and come to the conclusion that these creatures will most likely not even sense that anything happened.

These guys are still happy that finally someone is keen on listening to their expertise, so they explain that back in ancient days there was no planar configuration at all. Some Ancients must then have designed this huge ritual to limit the numbers of planar influences to eight. Prior to this, our world would have been subject to many more, possibly infinite planar influences.

We thank the experts for sharing their knowledge and mentally discuss that maybe the Ancients wanted to create a planar barrier to shut off external invaders like the Gidim or whatever diabolic force this Golden Legion of Egal the Shimmering might be. And yes, we are really grateful that they warded them off for good.

Then, we take a bit more time to discuss the Obs' proposals in detail. We quickly agree that the first four proposals are nothing we could agree to join in. Even if we can see a few good intentions in some, while others are nothing but lunacy. We again guess that this setup is intentional, leading up to the sole agreeable proposal that is Miller's Pyre, but fear that some Obs might be crazy enough to feel drawn to the Colossus or Panarchist factions.

Both Auryn and Carlyle feel that Miller's Pyre is a genuinely well-intentioned and thought out plan, even if it needs to be modified to include a planar barrier. Even though Carlyle feels very much uncomfortable with the thought of being able to feel someone else's emotions. He asks to think more deeply about the Pyre for a while as he cannot wrap his head around the fact that this plan sounds so good on paper while something is still uncannily unsettling for him.

“I get it now... as unfortunate as this is.”, he states. “Miller's Pyre is about emotional manipulation and that is what I cannot approve. If you take the prevalence of logic and the gravitas of a logical argument and mix it with empathy, then you'll have a system where two things could easily happen: First, strong logic might lead to a system where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. And the few are more ready to agree because they feel empathetic towards the needs of the many. Second, this system would put cognitively disadvantaged people who are less capable of logic at a disadvantage, meaning that those who are gifted or can afford good schools will hold greater influence in this new world.”

(Someone knows their Vulcans ;) And yes, these are very valid points)

Auryn lets these arguments sink in for a while before defending what sounds like a better world in her eyes.

“I understand what you fear. But think about it that way: Even those who are gifted and who got the good arguments are still made emphatic. So this wouldn't be that 'cold logic' dominating everything but rather a good means of preventing fanaticism to spread like wildfire. Still I understand your fear by having logical arguments be stronger. So why not propose a change that eliminates this aspect but keeps the empathy? This way it would simply enable a new sense for everyone.”

He then shakes his head slowly, explaining that even this change will simply lead to someone with very powerful emotions holding control over others, thus yet another form of manipulation. Something our world is free of for now.

Auryn in return argues that this isn't really much different on paper that the current state where those with the greatest power – financial or political – can hold control over anyone else. And we all know which situation this has lead to: People in power who don't care about anyone but themselves, completely void of empathy, who do everything to gain more influence or impose their will upon others. Or fanatics who see others who are not like them as the enemy and who won't feel remorse if they eradicate whole civilizations. Following the general idea of Miller's Pyre, Auryn states, might even ensure Elfaivar's survival on the long run should colonists, and even Clergymen be able to understand the struggles of the surviving Eladrin.

“But what if empathy causes an unforeseen backlash? Who knows how many matriarchs simply follow their duty today, and are forced to act coldly despite their true feelings? And what if a charismatic King was able to sway the hearts of the Eladrin? Your whole society could be turned upside-down with a streak of bad luck...”

“We've already had centuries of bad luck it seems. Also, as someone who is actually able to feel empathy towards the downtrodden despite being born into a seemingly high status, let me ensure you that being empathetic doesn't work that way.”

“It is still very risky. Even for your people. That's all I want to say.”

Auryn nods quietly, but then raises her head in stubborn pride.

“I understand what you wish to say. And still I am convinced that people might be better off if they were more like me. After all, Cula is a student of Kasvarina, and this is Kasvarina's plan. Her plan for a better world, developed over centuries of research. And who am I but the Matriarch's heir?”

This very last statement is mentally loud enough that even seemingly distracted Erskine Haffkrüger all of a sudden looks at “Livia Hatsfield” in surprise.

“Excuse me, but you sound a bit too presumptuous right now compared to the Auryn I know. You have a grand and strong heart, that I know, but you are not flawless. And I doubt you truly mean that the world would be a perfect place if everyone was just like you. And even if Miller's Pyre sounds like a good, even better world, then I doubt that King Aodhan would agree on it. Simply because it isn't tried and tested. This is all that should matter for us.”

He pauses for a while and then, when he's sure that no one would notice, places a hand on her shoulder.

“Besides... I know that you are not the one for quick and easy solutions. You are very well able to walk the long and rocky path to reach your stars. And you would not just pull a lever to change the world without effort.”

Auryn takes a deep breath and finally agrees with a heavy nod.

“So this is the path I will tread. Even though I cannot be sure whether Crisillyir will ever let my people have their peace. Or understand our way of life.”

(She's really diving in head first... from her own perspective, it suddenly all made sense: Kasvarina's seeming darkness, her distance, all sacrifices she made for Elfaivar and for a better world. And wouldn't it be wrong to not follow the path your ancestor could have lain out for you? Carlyle pulled her back that moment, but this thought hasn't vanished for now.

Regarding Carlyle, I think she is walking on thin ice in his opinion. Terribly close to displaying the same hubris she accused the Obs, even though with the genuinely best intentions. And he really doesn't want to see her succumb to the Ob's thoughts or, worse, defect from her duty as an RHC agent out of love for Elfaivar and her people.

And for Gradiax, I am still no expert on his psychology, but I guess for a moment, he saw his own reflection in Auryn. Don't want to spoiler too much on his heritage, but Tiz upgraded him to be a Time Dragon instead of a Red.)
 
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