WotBS Tolamaker's Burning Sky

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 27

The group decides that they want to go to the play. Though they are in the middle of an investigation, they feel like there are too many moving pieces to make a move yet. Aripos says that if Paradim is at the play, he’ll slip away to investigate his hut.

At the play, Gruz goes aside to the beach, where a tearful Diashan explains why she was in the Fire Forest. She explains that her units attempts to convince the Taranesti of the forest to join Shahalesti were futile, and her commander brought them orders to disguise themselves as orcs, and set a fire to the north of the forest. She says the goblins were mercenaries, and she doesn’t know why they ate the seeds. She says the rest of her company fled to the north, while she ran south to warn the villagers, but the fire grew too quickly. Gruz offers support, and Diashan smiles weakly. She thanks Gruz for his help, and says that it convinced her to tell Laurabec whyshe had devoted herself to her. She says the Laurabec was “frustratingly forgiving.” After her outpouring, Diashan doesn’t feel like going to the play, and gives Gruz a rose to give to Tiljann.

Going into the theater, the group sees that they are seated near the back, by Katrina, who warns that she likes to talk during plays. True to her word, she scoffs and grunts at the political allegories and other tropes that appear in The Spectacular Trial of Toteth Topec. The play tells the myth of Toteth, an orc geomancer who seeks to save the world. At the end of the second act, Aripos notices Giorgio leaving near the back. When he and Mechanicles follow him, Aripos finds the body of a Wayfarer, and sees Giorgio and two others breaking into the captain’s quarters. Before he can investigate further, he is jumped by a halfing rogue named Nira, and Mechanicles narrowly escapes being eviscerated to warn the rest of the party.

As battle engages, Brothers Setales and Brutus work together to keep the party away from Giorgio, who is concentrating on a ritual of some sort that causes flashes of fire, and a map of Seaquen to appear in the air. Mishka kills Brutus, and begins taunting Setales, enraging him. Giorgio joins the fight as it goes south for his side, and yells at everyone to “light the barrels and jump overboard.” Nira runs up to light several, and Orwin spears her through with an acid arrow.

The mutineers now outnumbered, Giorgio casts Shatter, causing a chain reaction among the barrels, hitting everyone with shrapnel, and setting the deck alight with alchemist’s fire. Gruz goes down, and the party deeply weakened. We find out how it turns out next week!

Post-Session Thoughts
I didn't prep very much, because I knew I was going to be reading a lot of boxed text, but I forgot that I always rewrite boxed text in my own voice... So I called a break after the first act, literally just to rewrite the second act. I didn't even change the details, its just easier for me to read if I've written it down in the language I like to use. Part of me feels now that I should have stuck with the text as written, to give the feeling of being immersed in the play, but ah well.

When revealing Giorgio slipping out, I only said that he had dark liquid on his hand, not blood. I have no idea why I didn't even say it was red, but that lead to a more interesting encounter, I believe. I don't think it would have been the end of the world if everyone came storming up at the same time, but it would have been a much quicker fight. Also, Aripos' player has a tendency to run off on his own, so maybe this will curb that impulse somewhat. The one issue is that due to me limiting the details, it almost led to the players ignoring it, and I didn't want to have Katrina give the game away, for both plot reasons, and I-don't-want-to-run-NPCs reasons.

The battle has been going much better than I expected. I kind of expected the saboteurs to be outclassed, but a combination of Aripos being ambushed and the barrels on board evened up the fight.

When I ran Curse of Strahd with most of this group the last couple of years, I felt like every fight after 5th-level became a narratively interesting cakewalk (until Strahd). I've been incredibly happy with the fights in WotBS, so kudos to @Tormyr. I'm looking forward to the higher levels.

Changes to the module
Really, I changed how the barrels worked because I forgot about them at the beginning of the fight, and then decided to blow them all up at the end to let Giorgio escape. Though the book says one barrel is unlikely to cause a chain reaction, the reaction of the players being told that the entire ship was catching on fire was great. Each barrel is supposed to deal 2d6 piercing, 1d6 fire damage, so I simplified it to each character being hit by two barrels. Somehow, with 6d6 damage being thrown at everyone, they all made their saves, so it didn't go near as bad. Gruz took a beating, with the shatter itself knocking him down and making him use his Relentless feature, and then the barrels knocked him down again. Good Stuff.
 

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Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 28: Evacuation
Orwin heals Gruz, who cuts down Giorgio, raising his spirit as a specter. Mishka kills Setales, and sends him to his brother. Eluriah comes running up, and cuts the boat with elf bodies loose. The party searches the bodies, searing themselves in alchemist’s fire, and helps evacuate the Wayfarer Theater with the help of the Feather Token boats they received in the Fire Forest. Each of the saboteurs has a potion of waterbreathing, and a Tidereaver’s Tear on them. The Wayfarers scuttle the ship to save, it, sending it to the bottom of the ocean to put the fires out. On the shore, the party finds that the “elves” have been biomantically altered, and they surmise that it is the missing refugees. Speaking with Sheena Larkin, they learn that Giorgio was in the midst of teleporting the Theater. With the Tidereaver’s Tears in hand, they are able to withstand the winds as the storm worsens into an actual hurricane.

They rush to the Biomancer’s home and confront him, but he seems as shocked as them. He asks for details, and says that the signs of vitiligo they found is the sign of a beginner biomancer. The only other person he knows who uses biomancy is Lee Sidoneth, the harbormaster. Paradim says that he has taught the basics to Lee, and delivering biomantic fluid to Lee’s home every week for the past two months.

Eluriah goes to the Lyceum to warn them of Lee’s betrayal, but Shayam doesn’t believe her. The others break into Lee’s home, and don’t find him, or anything incriminating besides a small alchemical set. When they return to the Lyceum, Simeon asks them to submit to a zone of truth from Ogoth, the divine instructor. When their story rings true, Shayam looks upset, and still refuses to accept Lee’s involvement. Simeon says that after a short while, he can divine the center of the hurricane, and the party are the only ones who will be able to go there. Gruz commands Giorgio’s specter to answer if it was in league with Lee, and it nods.

Post-Session Thoughts:
This was a good session, but I felt like a third wheel. It was a lot of piecing together everything they knew, and figuring things out. I was happy they remembered their boats, because I had told myself to plan a skill challenge, and then totally didn't. So they saved me!

Changes to the Module
I've already discussed the change where Paradim wasn't directly involved. I also axed the Seaquen attack on the Shahalesti, because I wanted to emphasize how bad the storm is. Maybe I will pay for when the aftermath comes, but I'll figure it out.

Next week, on to the Pyromancer's Tomb!
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
What happens to the Shahalesti Blockade? I know the storm is meant to deal with them, but obviously Shalosha returns later. Assuming the players stop Seaquen from attacking the fleet. Do they stay around, menacing Seaquen and asking for control? Or doe they limp back to Shahalesti?
 

emeraldbeacon

Adventurer
Without a drastic change in leadership or new orders, I imagine that Shahlesti would continue to harass Seaquen, though perhaps not in so draconian a manner. Maybe they would be sated if someone found proof that a plot existed to frame Shahalesti for the attack on the Wayfarer's Theater? Paradim Dogwood (a non-villain in your version) might uncover more half-baked attempts to create passable high elf corpses (which would have been discovered in the wreckage of the ship, hinting at a non-existent Shahalesti Plot). Uncovering that hoax, and proving that the perpetrator has been brought to justice, might serve to ease some tensions.

Alternately (or concurrently?), perhaps Laurabec's corpse can be recovered by the Shahalesti, who recognized her efforts to save not just Seaquen residents and refugees from the storm, but also the elf navy; they have therefore eased their zeal in attempting to effectively annex Seaquen. Shalosha uses her authority as her nation's #2 to override her generals' orders, and directes the ships into a loose defensive posture (rather than a full blockade). For story reasons, Shahalesti efforts to revive Laurabec were in vain, and nobody in Seaquen is currently equipped to cast high-level resurrection magic, so she stays dead (perhaps she's now viewed as a saint or martyr on behalf of the new pantheistic temple?).
 
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Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 29: Into the Pyromancer's Realm
The party receives help from Ogoth, who gives them all potions of healing. While waiting for Simeon to divine the center of the storm, they ask Giorgio’s specter some questions. They determine that he was working for the Ragesians for money, and that he doesn’t know how many other Ragesians are in the town, though he is aware of them. He also says that the Ragesians are responsible for the storm. Eluriah wonders if the Shahalesti are pulling a double false flag operation.

Simeon tells them where to go with a Find the Path scrool, and they make their way to the location in the ruins to the east. The area is hidden by what appears to be natural rock and turns out to be the remains of a great tower. All that is left is a courtyard, and stairs leading down.

In the ruins, Aripos finds a lever, that activates a trap, preemptively setting it off. Orwin sees a chest, and as he inspects it for magical runes, it takes a nasty bite out of him. The party finishes the mimic off, and loots him for all 2 gold worth of silver and copper it had in it.

They delve deeper to find a prison, filled with skeletons of prisoner’s past. The skeletons come to life, and the crew batters them back down. Moving further in, they are able to sneak up on four Sahuagin, and eviscerate them before any of them have a chance to act.

Post-Session Thoughts
This was a pretty straightforward session of dungeon delving, but the recap doesn't include the 10-ish minutes of Roll20 shitting the bed and screwing up dynamic lighting. There was some bug were lines would extend beyond where they ended, so there were weird intersecting lines that made it impossible to see anything too far. I had to revert back to the old way where I manually revealed each room. Not the end of the world, but incredibly annoying when you set up the lighting yourself. It also just ground the session to a halt.

Some lighter-hearted moments: Orwin getting crit for 31 damage by the mimic (the first I've ever run). It really woke everyone up. Because of the water everywhere, I gave disadvantage to stealth checks, and they all rolled like crazy for the sahuagin ambush. They did so well that when it came to Giorgio's specter, Gruz just used him to float through adjacent rooms to make sure no one else would be coming to help.

Changes to the module
I removed the young chuul from the beginning because of how rough the Wayfarer fight had gone for them, but I regret it now because of how well they dealt with everything else. I haven't decided if that means I'll buff up the lower levels, or the final fight. We'll see.

Don't know how well dungeon-delving does for reading, but hopefully next session will bring to light some interesting details!
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 30: Rivers of Fire
The party delves deeper, searching the bodies of the sahuagin, but not finding anything of worth. In a room that might have been full of provisions, they find a hole in the floor with a pulley erected around it. There is a warm glow emanating from the shaft, but before Mishka can begin to lower them down, Eluriah stops her, noticing a small silver thread intertwined with the pulley. Orwin is able to ensure it won’t break, and when they lower themselves down, find a thunderstone that would have gone off if they had not disabled the warning.

They find themselves in a steamy cavern, as the water running down flows into a river of magma that comes from a large runed portal, which Orwin surmises to be the Plane of Fire. Gruz considers flying into it, but reconsiders. Instead, the group sidles up to the next door, and listen in on a group of people talking in a mix of Common and Orcish. They burst in, and catch Ragesian soldiers at rest, and are able to slaughter half of them without warning. The remainder manage to raise up their shields and offer more resistance as one of them runs off to grab Inquisitor Damius. The party finds the soldiers difficult to catch, so Gruz attempts to flank them by taking an alternate route. As he enters a room with tanks full of biomantic fluid, the sheer amount of the fluid triggers his memory, as he remembers that same transmutational ozone smell from that terrible night on the Ostalin border where he lost his company. As he rounds the corner, he sees the Inquisitor Damius, an imperious man who launches a fireball into the main room, dissipating Giorgio’s specter. Gruz attempts to counterspell, but Damius counters in turn, laughing in Gruz’s face. “I’m an Inquisitor of Ragesia, boy!”

As the party chips away at the rest of the soldiers, slowly cutting down their numbers, Gruz faces off against Inquisitor Damius, attempting to give his compatriots time to join him. However, Damius is able to throw up a wall of fire, blocking off the rest of the party. Mishka rushes through to get into Damius’ face. Damius throws a panicked Shatter spell out, killing one of his own men. Mishka gets the last blow, bringing Damius to his knees, but allows Gruz the honor of decapitating him. With all of her company dead, the final solider surrenders, blabbering about how she wasn’t responsible for any of the kidnappings. Eluriah and Mishka are disgusted at the cowardice of the Ragesian attempting to avoid responsibility.

They question the soldier, discovering that Lee Sidoneth left hours before, to “oversee the storm.” They begin searching the area, when Gruz notices that there are still bodies in the tanks. He begins breaking people out, halfway through the stages of being turned into elves. Orwin checks to see if this is dangerous, letting them out before the transformation is complete, but thankfully the changes are entirely cosmetic. In a well-furnished room, they discover a black orb, with silver waves etched into its surface, held aloft by the gods Suijin and Gruumsh. Orwin is able to determine that while the orb is part of controlling the storm, there is another component, which Lee likely has. Eluriah suggests throwing the orb into the lava, but Orwin warns that most magical artifacts are quite hardy, and they can’t be sure to retrieve it if the lava doesn’t destroy it. The party begins to discuss whether to go out and look for Lee, or to delve deeper into the dungeon.

Post-Session Thoughts
This session went fairly well, with combat taking a majority of the time. I was a little hesitant to give them another surprise round, but it made sense, and t still turned into a tight combat. The lack of a lot of AoE spells on our side means that even a bunch of low CR mooks can make things fairly interesting. Running Damius went far smoother than my last inquisitor, and I enjoyed playing him as a taunter. THe back and forth of counterspelling could have been boring, but he was such a bastard that it still had a lot of weight, making Gruz's player decide whether or not it was worth it to try and counterspell. Mishka was also forced to use her last rage to withstand the wall of fire, so that will be interesting as we move on.

Eluriah has a passive Investigation of 16, and a passive Perception of 22. At first glance it made me wary, but in practice it honestly just makes my life easier to look at the sheet, see what she would notice, and mention to the player. While it might have led to a more interesting fight above the river, the players obviously like avoiding traps. I look forward to the later levels when those passives aren't enough, and it bites them in the ass.

Changes to the Module
I added the detail of the people still in the tanks. I don't think it makes complete sense, but it added some interesting flavor, and also made evil of their kidnappings more immediately obvious. Also some dead weight for the party to make some decisions about!

Next week: The end of the dungeon?
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 31: Eye of the Storm

The party takes a rest, and explores the rest of the caverns. They find a room with a body, transformed into an elf, and the unsuccessful remaking of the H'andreas' hut and Tidereaver manufacture. Eluriah dumps the cauldron, disgusted witht he actos committed in the room. Further south, Gruz and Mishka find cages, with an opalescent white pillar in one. Gruz feels a strange attraction as he nears it. In another cell, a Lyceum mage by the name of Tamara tells them that she was attempting to try out some fire mitigation to allow for teleportation, but she and the Wayfarer that were testing it were instead transported here. From what she heard from the soldiers that fed her, the pillar was responsible for redirecting teleporters. Mishka decides she can carry the pillar out, despite Eluriah's desire to throw it in the lava. When the party once again disagrees, Eluriah takes out her frustration on the Inquisitor, letting the magma swallow his body up.

As they begin to exit the prison, they realize they overlooked a dragon statue in the room the Ragesian soldiers had set up. Investigating the mouth, they realize there is a Darkness spell obscuring what lies behind. Gruz and Orwin investigate, finding a small room with a door with faint glowing Ignan script around it. Despite being unable to read it, Orwin recognizes the sequence as similar to a Glyph of Warding, and is able to smudge out certain runes to disable the trap. The door is still locked however, though Aripos is able to easily pick it. Inside that room, is a sarcophagus. Eluriah's elven eyes pick out another Ignan script, smaller and fainter, and Orwin is able once again to disable the runes. With Mishka's help, they lift the lid, and discover the body of the Pyromancer, dessicated from the dry heat of the lava. They take a jagged gold ring from his finger, and his conical hat.

The party makes their way up and out, to a roaring sea. As they exit the prison, a lightning bolt pierces down, scattering them. Above, a hooded Lee Sidoneth angrily calls down on them, telling them he will wipe out the weakness in them. Mishka, Orwin, and Aripos run up the side, while Eluriah climbs the side of the prison. Gruz starts to follow, but a giant squid appears, attempting to strangle him.

Lee calls down lightning bolt after lightning bolt, seriously injuring Aripos and Orwin. Mishka is headed off by two gargoyles. In a fierce sea battle, Gruz slays the squid, and helps the others to focus fire onto Lee to end his lightning. Mishka knocks Lee out, and Eluriah grabs his wand, and the others are able to finish off the gargoyles. As the battle subsides, Eluriah feels a tug at her robe, and looks down to see Lee's panicked face beg "Master, let your winds destroy them!"

A cyclone rips Lee's body apart, and the party rushes down to the prison again to escape the tearing winds. As the cyclone grows, it leaves behind calm water in its wake, and when they step outside, they see the eye of the storm widening, and the orange glow of the sun rising. The storm is over.

Post-Session Thoughts:
This was a mixed bag for me, to be honest. I think if I were to do it over again, I would fundamentally change something about the dungeon. As it is, the structure of exploring it feels like a disappointment, and then a random twist ending. There was a definite point where everyone in the group wondered if they had explored everything in the dungeon, and I had to reassure them that they had. There was a definite lull between uncovering the pillar and tomb, and the fight above ground.

The final fight was also strange for me. It's probably the closest I've felt to playing rocket-tag (or a glass cannon) in D&D. Lee unleashed hell on the group due to his surprise attack, and then when everyone realized what a danger he was, they all focused fire and dealt with him in two rounds. Now, part of this was due to a lackluster Lula (zero hits even with hidden advantage) and the gargoyles getting low initiative and being unable to really react in time, but it still felt strange. I don't think this was the worst combat of the module, but it definitely felt like it wasn't the right way to end it.

One thing I will say is that I didn't do much prep for Lee, so I didn't really come up with a plan. The H'andrea fight went really well because I understood their roles as control casters. The fight at the bottom of the dungeon went well because there were a lot of combatants to hold the players off from the Inquisitor, AND I was determined to remember how to run an Inquisitor as the counterspelling bastards that they are. I didn't have that firm a grasp on Lee as a character or a character sheet, and I think that's about what it boils down to. I tried to do some naughty word-talking during the fight, but my heart wasn't really in it.

Changes to the Module:
I changed out the prisoners in the dungeon. Because the Ragesians were trying to implicate the Shahalesti, it didn't make sense to me that they would keep a real one around just for shits and giggles. I made Tamara (formerly Teymour) a Lyceum faculty trying to help the Wayfarers on a whim, but I like it, so she'll probably show up again.

I forgot that Lee was supposed to implode, so I quickly retconned that. In time I think, but it still was funny. Oops, let me let this guy you knocked out just pop back up. They still have that Ragesian soldier, so they're not empty handed.

Next week is some clean-up and a level up! I've enjoyed this chapter, but I'm glad to be moving on almost 20(!) sessions later. I'm going to have a Session 0.5 to discuss how everyone's feeling, and likely make changes to the modules based on that.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 0.5

With Chapter 3 wrapping up, and a few players having some scheduling issues, I decided to set up today's session as a check-in on how everyone is feeling, and how to keep the game fun.

Things I brought up:
Wanting to remove myself further from helping people with their characters:
Basically, I want my rogue to know when they have sneak attack, and my spellcasters to be able to tell me what their spell does, without me looking it up because they didn't read the entire ability. I had seen on reddit that someone had their table announce each action, bonus action, movement, and end of turn, and I think we'll try that as well. This will hopefully mean I can focus more on the NPCs (spellcasters especially), and players will hopefully get a better picture of how to use their characters. I can definitely be an eager beaver when it comes to knowing all the answer, so it will also get me to cool down a bit. Hopefully.

Downtime feels slow: While I like downtime in general, I can't lie when I say that it is also a big reason this chapter took 20 sessions to get through. We talked about the fun we had while traveling from Gate Pass to Seaquen, and brainstormed how to make that come to life in Downtime. The solution we're going to try is to have me simply announce how many weeks of downtime, resolve that, and then have the players come up with "what's going on in town this week." Again, this gives me some time to rest my brain, and lets the players flesh out the world a bit. We'll see how it goes. We won't have a lot of downtime for a little while, so it might have to wait.

Players brought up:
NPCs feel like their here one moment, and then discarded:
Specifically, they mentioned Torrent and Katrina, which is totally fair. I had mentioned my distaste for running so many NPCs toward the end of the trek to Seaquen, and scattered Tiljann, Torrent, and Diashan pretty quick. However it wasn't my intent for the players to never interact with them. We talked, and I said while I still wasn't going to bring in a random NPC unless the module calls for it, they are more than welcome to go and visit them, or ask around for them at events and such. Basically, if they want to see an NPC again, I want them to tell me that. This was largely a lack of communication on our part, so hopefully this goes smoothly.

There were likely other things brought up, but the conversation kind of meandered, and I can't remember everything. I double-checked to make sure I was doing good on maintaining tone and avoiding our lines and veils, and got the OK. For a bunch of people who met each other online, this is the best group I've played with.

The actual gameplay (20 minutes worth)

The party makes their way back to Seaquen with the rescued refugees and their single prisoner (and Mishka's pillar). As they travel, Eluriah sees Takasi flying along the coast, crying out hoarsely. She also sees a single Shahalesti ship, listing with a broken mast. When the get to Seaquen, they see that there are a few collapsed buildings, but most are still standing. They help with the clearing of rubble, and treating of wounds. A tear-stained Diashan arrives and tells them that Laurabec and Takasi were caught in a wave while rescuing refugees who were night-fishing. Eluriah wild-shapes into a giant seahorse to help Takasi, but is unable to find Laurabec. When Takasi finally tires and lands, he drops Laurabec's ranseur, broken now. Eluriah comforts him as Takasi laments that he lost her.

Next week, debrief with Simeon, and then some downtime before we begin Banquet!
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Post Module Thoughts

I forgot to do this last session, so here we go!

I’d say the highlights were the sheer amount of options for sidequests in the module. Even though I cut basically all of them out, it provided me with a sense of Seaquen that really helped me flesh it out for the players. Similarly, running downtime, though it also started to drag, was great for players to stretch their legs out a bit. I really enjoy how languid the module feels, taking place over the course of several weeks, ending in this mad dash of ambush and dungeon delving. Best combat for me was by far the witches H'andrea.

The lowlights for me are fairly minor. Even though it’s possible my opinion was soured by how long the entire module was taking, I still think the final conflict with Lee is anticlimactic. The fight itself, I’m willing to say could have turned out any way, but I still can’t get over the weirdness of finishing a dungeon, and the boss waiting back up at the beginning again. I think if I were to redo it, I would add a chamber beyond the cages where Lee and Lula were in some sort of grotto, with the orb on top of a pedestal or something. Set up an interesting room, some sign of the outside world so they can see the storm, and then run everything mostly the same.

I really enjoyed this module, even if I felt like I complained about it more than the others. Really, the biggest problem with it for me is how long it was. I can’t remember where, but I think @Tormyr said they ran their campaign at about 8ish sessions per module? I was roughly on track for that with both the first two, and then this module was a whopping 20 sessions. Add in Christmas break and the winter COVID spike on top of the normal scheduling issues that crop up, I was kind of sick of the module by the end. Not a fault of the module, but still, glad to see it in the rear view. Because of that, as we look onto Banquet, I'm thinking of how I can trim things down so that we finish this campaign before the next presidential term.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
Book 3 has more prompts for scenes rather than actively describing scenes in detail. This lets the RP flow more organically, but it means there is a lot more to do if your group wants to do everything. We took 3 years to finish, averaging 3 months per book, but some were definitely longer or shorter than average. Book 11 in particular is quite short. We did a "What If?" scenario after finishing book 11 where we saw what happened if the party had lost the Macguffin at the beginning of the book, and that made Book 11 take a little longer for us (and let me playtest the optional chapter).
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 32: After the Storm

In Simeon's office, the group tells him all that happened, Simeon sighs, and nods along as they speak, only occasionally asking a clarifying question. When they're done, he thanks them for their service to Seaquen, and offers them help. "We may be in disarray, but we are a mage's college, are we not? We'll see what we can craft that might be of aid."

The party then went to find Torrent, to tell her of Lee's fate. She has already spoken with Shayam, and seems angry, but as the group talks with her, she reveals that Le had been odd, always busy, and their first day in Seaquen was the only time she was able to talk with him at any length. She angry, angry at him, and corrupting her good memories of time spent learning under him. After a day and a half caring for wounded during and after the hurricane, she's too exhausted to cry as Mishka and Aripos hug her.

Over the next two weeks, the party helps rebuild Seaquen, as the weather begins to return to its natural state, and the temperature drops. It is winter, after all. They also hear news from Gate Pass. Word is that the Ragesians have taken several of the gates, though the number is disputed. The Shahalesti and Gate Pass Resistance are apparently on more even terms now, and even if they aren't officially allied, they aren't getting in each other's way at the moment. The Shahalest in Seaquen however, slowly begin to disappear. Criers go about applauding Mayor Votberd for negotiating their leave with the Princess Shalosha. Land-locked sailors suddenly find themselves free to move, and the Auyang family spurs them on, seeking to regain lost profits.

Mishka continues learning to embroider with the Ragesian women, trying to make a satchel for Torrent. Aripos begins learning to brew alcohol for real, and learn more Infernal from Orwin. Eluriah finishes her lessons with Tiljann, and can now speak Sylvan without the aid of the necklace found in Innenotdar. Then, she spends the rest of her time meditating to produce primal essence for a magical staff she wishes to create. Orwin finishes his apprenticeship under Tenga, learning all that she has to know about tattooing magical inks, and his thesis is to tattoo a spider climb spell tattoo on Aripos. Aripos asks for a small spider, to go along with his dancing Fern tattoo.

During their break, the party goes out for a night on the town. They get drunk arm wrestle Mishka when none of the other patrons will. Orwin convinces Eluriah to make a salad from the petals of the dream poppy they have, and they all eat it. Mishka is the only one able to withstand the effects, and everyone else has a strange effect where they are seeing double. They aren't cross-eyed; the petals are making them see about three seconds into the future. Overlayed with what they are actually seeing, they have a grand old confusing time. As they unleash themselves on Seaquen, Eluriah starts shouting about elves and dowries.

In the morning, they are woken by a student who requests them to come and speak with Simeon. They all awake nursing headaches, but Eluriah wakes to find that she has married an orcish refugee named Lurog. They don't remember the ceremony at all, which Mishka gleefully fills them in on.

Post-Session thoughts
So, this was mostly an inbetweener session to get on to the next module, and it was fun. Not outlined above was the time spent tallying up loot, and discovering how powerful the ring of the pyromancer is (Ring of Fire Elemental Command). Also, rolling to see what was in Madame Xendros' brokerage this month now that ships are free to sail again. The whole session was pretty laid back.

After the first try, I am heavily in favor of this new downtime strategy. It didn't really speed things along, but it was far more natural in how the roleplay came about, and it lead to every DMs dream: sitting back and letting the players do all the talking.

Changes to the module

I made the wait two weeks, instead of one. Controversial, but I felt like it was worth it. I don't know why, but I stand by it.

For the Future
I mentioned in my last post trying to cut things down, and I haven't quite done that, but here's a rough guideline for myself in my goal to finish Module 4 in a reasonable amount of time (and slightly avoiding spoilers).

1. In Between Session, and receive mission from Simeon (already behind, but I'll try to catch up.)
2. Travel
3. Court
4.Travel
5. The Pass
6. The Lesser Court
7. Prepare
8. Conflict
9. Probably more Conflict
10. Travel and Fair
11. Finish Module

I already know I'm being optimistic. If I was going to cut anything, I would cut either the Pass or the Lesser Court, letting a group of NPCs do the other job.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 33: Northward Travels

The party collects themselves, and goes to the Lyceum to meet with Simeon. There, they find Kiernan, Katrina, Simeon, and a halfling man that is introduced as Balan Bastrom, a diplomat. Simeon explains that Balan helped negotiate Seaquen’s independence from Dassen decades ago, and will hopefully be of some help with a new trouble: The Ragesians are entreating King Steppengard of Dassen for permission to march through Dassen in order to crush Seaquen. Simeon and Balan hope to be able to convince Steppengard that Ragesia can’t be trusted. Simeon also hopes they may be able to find an ally in Steppengard.

Mishka, unsure of the intricacies of Dasseni politics, asks if Steppengard is a wise ruler. Balan says that Steppengard won his throne through military might, so he is a fine leader, but he also has a head for politics, as he married the sister of one of his greatest rivals. However, Queen Izabella recently died. Details are fuzzy, but the royals seemed to truly love one another, so Balan isn’t sure that Steppengard will in be in the best state of mind. Gruz is saddened at the news of the loss of his queen, and also immediately suspicious. “With all of the subterfuge that has been going on, I don’t think we can rule out assassination,” he says.

When Mishka asks about the route the Ragesians would take, Balan believes they would come through the Alydi Gap, through Duke Gallo’s land. Gruz remembers the Alydi Gap as the naughty word detail every grunt in the Nasham military had to take.

Mishka asks, “What role are we supposed to play in this expedition?”

“You have had the most first-hand knowledge of Ragesia’s willness to deal with devils and the like to conduct their… foreign policy,” Simeon says. “Even if Steppengard will not take up the cause with us, it might at least give him pause to allow an army through his lands.”

Balan nods. “The best time to leave was yesterday. However, I know you may all have preparations to make, so let’s leave at first light tomorrow. We’ll meet at the gate of the Lyceum.”

As they begin to leave, Simeon reveals that the Lyceum’s gift is ready for them. Kiernan reveals an intricately woven bag, depicting the skyline of Seaquen, with a hurricane swirling above. When he lifts the cover, it reveals a clear sky. It is a bag of holding. “I remember what it was like to be an adventurer,” Simeon says, smiling. “I’m sure you’ll make use of it.”



That day, everyone makes ready for travel. Eluriah meets with her new spouse, and they agree to stay together for now. Eluriah promises to write, and lets Lurog stay in the tree house she has been shaping. Gruz goes to make sure they’ll have warm clothing, as he knows how cold Dasseni winters can get. Mishka hocks the treasure that they’ve won over the past few weeks, and stocks up on health potions. Aripos pickpockets a few passersby. Orwin visits his parents, and says goodbye.

The next morning, they make their way to the gate. There, they meet Balan, a silent hobgoblin warrior named Touka, and Jineer, Balan’s apprentice. Crystin is talking with him, and Jineer looks distressed. Crystin comes up to the group, and says “I had a dream, and in it, Jineer’s dad was caged by madness.” She shakes her head. “I wish I could explain more, but that’s all I know.”

Balan waves of the warning, and they set off. With the help of Mishka’s pathfinding skills, they are able to leave the marshes and reach Vidor in a single day. There, they purchase a sleigh, pulled by Clydesdales, and begin sledding up alongside the Nasham River. Balan marvels at the speed, as the horses are spurred on by Mishka’s Elk totem.

While they pass several groups of refugees, Gruz notices one that is beginning to cross the river in haste. They are chased by a Bukavac, a large woody looking frog. Leaping out, the party unleashes spells and weapons, blasting into the creature as it slashes and bites into refugees. Gruz commands the beast through spells, first frightening it into submission with visions of creatures eating tadpoles, and then by polymorphing it into a true frog. The party surrounds the poor amphibian, and attack the creature with a fervor, killing it in a shared blow. As it dies, the body reverts back to its original size, and knocks them back. They search within, but unfortunately, those caught in the stomach have already been chewed and killed.

Post Session Thoughts
This session went well! We got through what I wanted to, so we're still only half a session behind. Good job me! This session was fun, I really enjoy the chances players get to interrogate the NPCs and have actual answers for them. It really is a strength of the module and campaign as a whole. Even if I change things, there's so much stuff to work off of. I made up the Bag of Holding design on the spot, and I still feel really good about that one.

The fight was a bit of a pushover for two reasons, but I was fine with it. The first was no legendary resistances (which I'm conflicted about), and two, I remembered that as I got farther in my Curse of Strahd game, I had to bump HP up if I wanted fights to last any amount of time. I'll feel it out, but my CoS memories say I should always give solo enemies their max possible HP. I was wanting to wrap up the session, and it let the new level 7s stretch their legs out. It was also the first fight where I didn't jump in to answer every little question! I definitely had to stop myself several times, but overall, I liked it, and it kept combat moving. We'll see how it goes with more complicated fights.

Changes to the module
I changed the rhemorhaz to a Bukavac from Tome of Foes, because I had jokingly promised my players that their first fight wouldn't have fire resistance or immunity. Later, I checked, and oops! Rhemorhaz have fire resistance. I had been wanting to use this book since I bought it in 2019, and this was the first time I got to really break it out. I added the swallow ability from the Rhemorhaz statblock, and it looked like a really fun creature! I also changed its Croak ability, because Kobold Press really likes creatures giving permanent conditions (deafened in this case). And then it got beat down so fast, it didn't matter. Ah well.

I made Balan a halfling because I've made Ostalin more of a halfling country than a half-elf country. Then I made him from Dassen on a whim, so I don't even know anymore. Sometimes I spend days going back and forth on changes I make, and others happen just because it feels right at the time. I gave him a silent hobgoblin bodyguard, because that seemed cool. Then I realized I hadn't introduced Jineer and the Jinis plot, so I made him an apprentice, and he'll be around. I think I like this, because it will make Jinis' fate more personal when his young kid is freaking out about it.

Changes to the recaps
I'm trying to make the recap a little more novelly, novel-like, you know? It's hard to get out of the very report-like voice I've been giving, but I think it will make it more readable. It also takes longer to write. We'll see if it sticks.

Next week, Police Brutality!
 
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Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 34: The End of the Steppengard Line

The party helps the refugees on their way, with Mishka giving them 10 rations to continue their journey. Travel remains swift, and Balan gives them a crash course on Dasseni politics.

“We’re on good terms with Lady Timor, because we train her mages. Lord Dashgoban has an eye for artifacts, and Simeon has maintained a healthy trading program revolving around such items.

Things are complicated with Iztorun, as he has voiced sentiments for Seaquen before, but he is Steppengard’s brother-in-law. Lady Dene used to be friendly, but the refugees moving through her land have stressed that somewhat. We have had next to no dealings with Duke Gallo, so I can’t say one way or another our relationship.

Finally, there is Lord Rego, who currently blames Seaquen for his many troubles, Lady Magda wants us out of what she claims as her fishing territory, and Lady Namin wishes to redirect the magical trade to her ports.”

He also explains the Book of the Eight Lands, a magical artifact that protects Dassen's nobility, as well as providing a clear line of succession for the throne. "Though," Balan notes, "Steppengard was still able to take it by force. It is not a perfect thing."

The day they are to arrive in Bresk, they come across a contingent of soldiers in Steppengard’s livery ransacking a caravan of halflings, searching for something. As they near, a woman is pulled out of a secret compartment, and the soldiers move to execute her. The party intervenes, asking her crime, and the leader, Commander Falk, says that she was seen in the company of an accused assassin.

The woman pleads her innocence, but Capain Falk spits. “The innocent do not run.” Mishka steps in and says, “Wouldn’t it be best to return her to Bresk, and question her? She may be able to provide information.”

Falk looks as if he has no desire to bring the woman back alive, but one of the soldiers clears his throat, and reminds the commander that “the king’s advisor said she would question the suspects.” With a sour face, Commander Falk chops off the woman’s hand, and leads her back to Bresk.

On their way back, Falk asks after Gruz’s old unit. “I served with Brenhanna during the wars. She was tough.” Gruz says he’s the only one who survived, as far as he knows.

“You said she was seen with an assassin? So Queen Izabella was assassinated then?” Gruz asks.

Falk frowns, a dark shadow crosses over his face. “I’m afraid your information is a bit late. In the days since the Queen’s death, the five eldest were killed in a gathering after her funeral, and the young were poisoned, along with their caretakers. The king was emptying his coffers for the priests to bring them back, but all of their hearts were burned. The same with her majesty.”

When Mishka pries for more information, Falk doesn’t offer any. Balan looks like he could throw up.

The walled city of Bresk rises above the hills around it, with the castle perched on a rocky protrusion called the Great Hill. It overlooks the wide river and the Toraest Steppes to the east. The twin statues of Snorri and Rollo, the founders of Dassen, stand guard over the main gates. Guards walk up and down the entrance, checking bags and eyeing foreigners with distrust. Papers from Balan allow the party through with ease however.

Separating from the soldiers, Balan leads them to the Golden Griffon, a very fine establishment, where he drops a bag of gold and leads them to a grand suite, with its own common room, and six bedrooms adjoining. There, he immediately begins pacing, thinking out loud to himself how terrible this is. “There’s no saying how this will affect our standing. I must speak go about and learn information.” He leaves with his bodyguard Touka, and tells the party to eat to their fill, “with moderation.”

The party descends downstairs, and eats from a wide variety of meats, cheeses, breads, and greens. Orwin grills Jineer about his intentions with Crystin. The inn is somber, and the innkeeper asks the bard to play something upbeat. The bard says the best he can do is bittersweet, and sings a song of the heroes who saved Barovia. Mishka tips him a gold.

They go out onto the streets, where there seem to be guards everywhere. Gruz introduces them to wurstbrats, a Dasseni sausage that is quite hearty. Walking the streets, they attempt to learn more of the assassinations, but only learn that while the Queen’s funeral was a great procession, the children’s funerals have been held in the castle, privately. As they walk back to the inn, they discover a shop that looks suspiciously like Madame Xendros’, and when they step inside, they discover that the tiefling is here as well. They are unable to determine how she got to Dassen before them, but buy a few items anyway: a Periapt of Health, and a Broom of Flying.

They return to the inn, and fall asleep, waiting for Balan to return with news.

Post-Session Thoughts
Another fun session, with lots of questions and learning about the world. Gruz as a PC is one of the more grounded ones, so it's fun to feed the player info that isn't in the Player's Handbook, and let him explain his homeland. Mishka's player, once again asked a lot of good questions. At one point, in the meandering politics conversation, she asked about the line of succession. Balan assured her that Steppengard had too many children for that to be an issue. The suprise in the player's voices when I revealed their deaths 20 minutes later was great.

Another fun roleplay in the inn and in Bresk as well. I can already tell the players are getting more comfortable getting into the storyteller chair and taking over for a bit to flesh out the world. The wurstbrats were about 10 minutes of everyone just having fun.

Changes to the module
The book seems to treat the police brutality situation as though the players should obviously fight. With Gruz, a former Dasseni soldier, in the group, I wanted to play it more as a RP situation, and it worked out well. The group was actually torn on whether or not to stick their necks out for the woman, with Gruz and Orwin wanting to stay out of it ("She was hiding in a secret compartment," Gruz said), and Eluriah and Mishka wanting to help. In the end, she lived, but lost a hand, and will be in the dungeons for who knows how long.

With the Elk Totem from Mishka speeding them along, I wondered how I could "reward" that, and I think it's going to be that they have time to meet with a lot of the proxies before going to the court. Technically, this is reverting a change I made in my notes to be more like the module, but it still is a change. They'll have a couple of days to schmooze around, make connections, and then when Steppengard is "done grieving," he will hold court. I foresee this taking all of next session. I'll be surprised if we even finish up in court at this rate.

It's looking more and more likely that I will cut down the various quests later on, to try and keep up a decent pace. I think I can be a little too focused on the timeline of the campaign. I can't help but extrapolate how long its taken to get here, and think "We'll probably be playing this same campaign two years from now." I think this would be less of an issue if I had another game going on, or another system after being in 5e for five solid years now. I love the group, I'm really enjoying the modules, but I'm a bit restless. One of our players just

Next week, wining and dining!
 

Fuzzybear

Explorer
Sort of off topic but I figure asking here is easier than making a whole separate thread. What was the purpose of cutting out the hearts of the Steppengard kids? Is this a remnant from a previous version as 5e doesn't care how much of the body is left for resurrection?
 

Resurrection requires a 13th level cleric. There aren't any in Dassen. Even Ragesia only has a few, and they've risen to that power level by a lot of violence on behalf of Leska.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Resurrection (7th level) restores missing body parts, but Raise Dead (5th level) does not. The way I see it, Dassen is a fairly low magic agricultural and trading power, with most of its magic being concentrated on the nobility, with the military and the Book of the Eight Lands being the main areas of power. Clerics are around, but not necessarily powerful. Even Kelkin Thravanvost, Steppengard's "chief wizard of war" can only cast up to 5th level spells. Pristina Whitehair, one of the professors at Seaquen the same. I don't know about Simeon, but he's not a cleric. I think it's fair to say that 5th-level spells are about the peak of the Dassen-area power level.

Technically, Reincarnation is also 5th level, but we haven't really seen any druids around. If a druid player wanted to do it (I have one in my group, but she doesn't tend to choose healing spells), honestly, I would either make up a reason why it didn't work (Madness is trapping the souls).

Edit: Realized that players won't be high enough level for 5th level spells.
 



Fuzzybear

Explorer
I completely forgot Raise Dead was a thing. My mind goes from Revivify to Resurrection. It still thinks Raise Dead is create zombie for some reason. Thanks both of you!
 

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