WotBS Tolamaker's Burning Sky

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 35: Dasseni Diplomacy

The next morning, Balan gathers the party in the common room, and lays out what he knows. “I’ve found where the proxies for each of the duchies are staying, but time is even shorter than I anticipated. Apparently, King Steppengard intends to open court tomorrow, and we only have a short while to meet with him while his forces gather information regarding the assassination. He’s already not held court for a week, so we should meet with him as soon as possible. That means, we need to decide which proxies to meet with, and which matter to prioritize.”

The party agrees that while it would be nice to gain allies, the most important thing is to ensure Seauen’s survival, and halt the Ragesian’s attempt to march through Dassen. As they’re deciding who each person will meet, Balan sends Jineer down to gather some food. When Jineer’s footsteps have disappeared, he turns to the others. “There is one other thing. None of us will be meeting with Duke Gallo’s proxy, as I have learned that Jinis is one of the supposed assassins. He was riding with the Queen when she died, and he has been placed in the dungeon. I have not told Jineer yet, as I do not want to worry the boy. But something must be done.”

Eluriah muses that she could sneak into the dungeon to speak with the proxy, but Balan begs her to not jeopardize the diplomatic mission. Jineer returns, and the party goes out to get dressed for diplomatic duty. While they’re out, they discuss strategy with Jineer, and plan for their meetings. Balan also explains that while in Bresk, proxies are referred to as their lords’ name, without honorifics. They set up their meetings, leaving out Namin as a lost cause, especially after Balan metnions that Namin arrived here as soon as news of Queen Izabella’s death was known.

Eluriah purchases a flowing robe and laurel wreath for her head. She meats with Magda, the proxy immediately dissuades her of the notion, and insists on being called Uzala. Uzala is a tattooed dwarf woman, with a short stubbly beard. Eluriah wanted to meet somewhere the proxy would be comfortable, so they meet in a bar. During their talk, Eluriah emphasizes the work she’s done to build up Seaquens agriculture, and mentions that it will lessen their reliance on the fishing grounds of Gradis Reef. Uzala is very brusque, and the evening ends with no headway.

Mishka purchases a military uniform in the style of Gate Pass, and meets with Dashgoban in a museum. Mishka strikes upa conversation in dwarvish, and butters up the proxy with talk of the Pyromancer’s tomb. She is able to gain favor in the Ragesian pact, but Dashgoban says that it is not an opportune time to announce an alliance.

Aripose wears a sleek gown, and meets Iztorun in a bar. The proxy appears to be ex-military, clean cut, but comfortable in a bar. Aripose plies him with alcohol all night, and soon the two are fast friends. “Ragesia’s naughty word,” the dwarf shouts as he pledges to stop their advance, as well as fight for an alliance with Seaquen. He cuts his hand on a broken glass, and offers to become blood brothers with Aripose, who gladly accepts.

Gruz dresses in a Dasseni cavalry uniform, and meets with Rego. He invites Rego’s proxy to the old quarters of the Moonlit Blades. There, he stonewalls Rego, ignoring his forays for some time, and then begins to intimidate him with stories of Ragesia’s crimes, and attempts to explain that Seaquen is Churnett’s only hope. He successfully convinces Rego of the foolishness of a pact with Ragesia, but is unable to secure an alliance.

Orwin wears a mage’s scholar’s robes, and sews a patch from Gabal’s school into it. He meets with Timor in a restaurant, and they hold a ver reserved conversation as Orwin carefully lays out his case for why Ragesia’s entry into Dassen would be a disaster. Timor agrees, but once again, does not find it prudent at this time to ally with Seaquen.

The party meets back at the Golden Griffon to tell how the meetings went. Aripose enters with Dashgoban, who immediately falls asleep on a couch. Balan relays his meeting with Dene’s proxy, where he also was able to convince them to not let Ragesia enter. “With the support we’ve gathered today, we should be able to present a strong case to the king.”

Post-Session Thoughts:
This session was a lot of fun, with a kind of half-baked plan for how it would work. The way I ran it, basically the players had free rein to lay out the meeting with their proxy as they saw fit. They each got to pick the meeting place, and the different tacks they would take. Besides the basic information I had given to Gruz's player about each land, they didn't get the full scoop on what each land wanted. That meant I let the players really just talk about whatever they wanted, with whatever strategy they wanted, with a final persuasion check to decide how it went. And it worked really well? It was a solid 40 some minutes of each player essentially just playing DM, with me popping in to describe the proxy's responses and reactions to the rolls. The shopping was also fun, and our Discord is now full of fashion inspiration. Its funny, I would say the vibe of this session was similar to the lore-heavy sessions before, but it was with pretty minimal input from me, and instead the players were building things up.

Changes to the Module:
The book lays out the DCs for speaking with proxies to gain favor, but I'll admit I was a little confused as to if it meant convincing people completely to be helpful, or if it just moved them up one level (neutral to friendly, hostile to neutral). So I kind of changed things up. I didn't want to spend the entire session having the players talk to Balan to get the inside scoop on the absolutely best avenue to take with each proxy, so I let each of them make a single skill check of their choice to give themselves an edge (a -2 to the persuasion DCs). As long as they could explain how the skill applied to the diplomacy, it would work. Mishka rolled Survival to explain the ecological devastation of trespassing army. Aripose used Deception to get Iztorun drunker than planned. Gruz Intimidated his proxy, Eluriah used perception to learn about Magda, and Orwin used History to build up his case of closeness between Seaquen and Timor.

Then, they each got to make two Persuasion checks, one for the Ragesian pact, and another for an alliance with Seaquen. Whichever they made second was at disadvantage, to represent which deal was more important. Everyone chose stopping Ragesia, and almost everyone succeeded at that. The most surprising was Aripose rolling 20+ even at disadvantage.

I think the way this will work out involves spoilers for later
Because Steppengard is completely unreasonable due to the death of his family, "Stopping the Ragesians" instead will apply to how soon he can leave, and the alliance will give a bonus at Gallo's Fend. I haven't decided how. Honestly, this session here might replace one of the later ones in terms of shoring up defenses, or one of the Tipping the Scales scenarios. We'll see how it plays out.

Next session: an Audience with the king!
 
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Tolamaker

Explorer
Also, in the aftermath of the session, while chatting, I came up with this abomination.

Balan.png
 



Fuzzybear

Explorer
I meant to mention when I saw your AP post. I noticed our "Balan" and also Mishka's player is using the Half-Orc woman portrait as well!
Amazing. Well, we just got drawings done, so we're in the process of changing them for the new videos. They are really nice pictures!

E: The previous pictures.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 36: To Speak with a King

The party awakes the next day, and make their way to the castle. The castle is filled with a jumble of diplomats, farmers, and merchants, all here to have audience with the king after his time grieving. Balan goes off to get their petition in, and the party explores the castle to see what there is to see. Gruz is interested in seeing the Book of the Eight Lands, as he has never seen it in person. Eluriah stays behind to listen in on the scuttlebutt.

In the library, there are copies of the bok out on display. A variety of clerks help Dasseni citizens find their family’s place in the line of succession. First, Gruz goes to see who is now next in line after King Steppengard. The first name after the queen and children who have been marked off, is Duke Gallo. Gruz is put off by this, but doesn’t believe Duke Gallo would assassinate the family of the man who gave him his lordship. Gruz then goes off to find his own family, and finds that he is 523,561st in line for the throne. Aripose also finds that there are Sisgetedes in Dassen, who are very far down the line.

While waiting in the halls, Eluriah overhears two Talon guardsman speaking quietly about “meeting the Inquisitor’s needs,” and the noise he has been making in the dungeon. She goes off to find the others and tell them, but Jineer finds them at the same time, and says the court is opening.

They are ushered into the throne room, where a trial of sorts is taking place. King Steppengard looks haggard, but alert, as Nina Glemmer, his advisor, draws a Zone of Truth around a man in chains. “That’s my father’s scribe, Relder!” Jineer says, a bit too loudly.

Nina Glemmer pulls forth a scroll and begins to read from it. “Relder of Nasham, you have been brought before your king to answer for your actions, and that of your master. Tell us what you and your associates were doing the day of Queen Izabella’s death.

Relder looks like he is struggling to answer, leading to more murmurs. When he opens his mouth, he says “We… we were lying in wait. We had hired a… trapper, to upset her horse… NO!” Suddenly he is more erratic, struggling against his chains. “We have done nothing! I am a loyal subject, as is my lord Jinis!”

“And what of Gallo, man?” Glemmer says, cutting him off. “What role does he have to play in this? He has the most to gain from such a rise in station.”

The man’s eyes widen. “Duke Gallo is my king’s most fervent defender, his great shield to the north, he-“ his voice catches, and he laughs wildly. “haha! He made sure to finish them off! 'Even the youngest?' we asked, and he said yes, even the baby! He found a witch who would do such a thing, he promised her their hearts!”

The crowd’s murmurs rise to a roar, and Glemmer returns to the kings side, to whisper to him. He does not take his eyes from the man, who is still raving.

King Steppengard rises slowly, and the people in the court quiet. He is silent for a moment, and then sighs. I would like nothing more than to execute this man for his part in… my family’s murder. However, it can plainly be seen that his mind has been tampered with, and I must serve justice, not my heart.” He turns to the audience, giving notice to the proxies. “Sentencing shall be stayed, until it can be determined if this is a ploy to escape justice, or if this man is merely a pawn in Gallo’s grander scheme. Nina Glemmer shall see to untangling his mind.” He looks to the proxies and waits. None speak, and the man is taken away by guards.

King Steppengard sighs again. “We will now hold audiences.”

Farmers and Merchants begin to make their way to the king, offering condolences before airing their grievances or pleas. As they await their turn, Eluriah and Aripose notice the Ragesian diplomat and his inquisitor, standing to the side. Aripose sneaks by them, and overhears them speaking of Jinis, and the Inquisitor says that he has not “given us any information of value.”

Eventually, Gruz and the rest are called forward. Gruz introduces himself, and pleads the case of Seaquen, begging the king to not allow a foreign army to march through Dassen. The crowd murmurs in assent, seeing the wisdom of his words, but King Steppengard is stone-faced, listening to both Gruz, and Nina Glemmer in his ear. Eluriah can read lips, and can see that Glemmer is reminding him all the great things the Ragesians have promised, and the thorn that Seaquen has been.

When Gruz is done, Steppengard is silent for a while. “I must ask you a question, Gruz Greatsword. Several weeks ago, a merchant by the name of Hedrik came to our court, bearing an writ that guaranteed him a payment no less than 1000 Dasseni gold in return for “Services rendered unto the king.” I, of course, was required to tell him that he had been swindled, and that no money would be forthcoming. However, my wife, hearing his plea, took her earrings off,and gave them to the captain, and begged for his forgiveness.” He chokes, and is unable to speak for a moment. “She was your queen, and she paid your debt.” His eyes are hard. “My question then is why should I not clap you in irons right now?”

As the king speaks, the hearts of the party sinks into their stomachs. Gruz falls to his knees, and bows to the floor, begging forgiveness. When King Steppengard speaks, it is loud and clear. “It is only because of your record that I do not leave you to rot in the dungeon. You shall repay me 1000 gold, alongside a further fine of 500 gold. Your record is also stricken from the annals of Dassen, and you have no right to wear that cape about your shoulders. You will give it to the Talon as you are escorted from my castle.”

Talon guards emerge from the crowd, and begin to move the party off. Commander Falk returns, and carefully counts the money they remove from their bag of holding. They are then further escorted back to the Golden Griffon. But as they arrive, the Talon do not leave. Instead, more and more of them begin to gather. When Orwin goes to grab a wurstbrat, a bard bumps into him, and hisses “You’re in danger! They mean to arrest you all!” Orwin rushes back to warn the others, as a member of the Talon steps forth and shouts up to the suite that they are under arrest “For conspiracy in the assassination of Queen Izabella and the heirs to the throne.”

Warning the others, the party is split. On the one hand, they are innocent, and have no desire to go to prison. However, some of them believe that perhaps by turning themselves in, they can clear their names. Orwin does say that though the king is sad, he appears to be of sound mind, and honorable.

In the end, the party splits. Gruz, Aripose, Mishka, and Eluriah cause a distraction by turning themselves in, though Gruz and Mishka are beaten senseless as they fight back. Orwin, Balan, Touka, and Jineer escape out the back, racing down the streets of Bresk on their sleigh.

Post-Session Thoughts
Hoo boy, this did not go like I planned. Or rather, it went exactly as I planned up until the guards arrived. I moved up the night raid because the party seemed to be acting like they would have more time to do things in Dassen, and I wanted to dissuade them of the notion. However, the second one of them (Gruz, I think) floated the idea of turning themselves in, things very quickly began to change. I ended up stopping the session about 20 minutes early, and was honest with them that this was in no way what I thought would happen, so I needed to take a week to plan some things out. I know that there is info on the dungeons, but I hadn't really read up on them lately.

Honestly, even with the curveball ending, the session was great. Everything before meeting with Steppengard was fun as they all tried to guess what was going on in the minds of the proxies, and get information from the Ragesians. The reactions over Discord as Steppengard revealed that Hedrik had been there before, was delicious. They were groaning and everything, but I just talked right over them as he handed down his judgement. Tons of fun.

Finally, Orwin's Flaw is a deathly fear of the Inquisitors, so his player decided that Orwin would not turn himself in to the grasp of an Inquisitor. So we'll get a new character in the dungeon! Not sure if he'll stick around or not, but we'll find out!

Changes to the Module:
In the book, King Steppengard throws them out because his mind has been poisoned against Seaquen, and he laments that no one else knows his sorrow. I changed that to make him a little more sympathetic, as well as pay the players back for getting one over on me earlier in the campaign. One fun tidbit: during the mid-session break, I came back to them talking about the captain, and joking that he would be at the court. I had thought about doing that, but couldn't think of a way to do it without it deflating the seriousness of the situation. So, Steppengard got to tell a beautiful but sad story about his wife. I'm afraid I made him a little too sympathetic.

I changed Glibglammer to Glemmer to give her less of a tricksy name, but I feel like it actually meant people paid less attention to her. Maybe she'll come visit the dungeon to gloat.

Next session, it's Prison Time!
 


emeraldbeacon

Adventurer
(to the tune of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues")

We came to Dassen's kingdom, to get help fightin' Lesk';
And now we're in a jail cell, in the lovely town of Bresk.
Now we just have to convince this... political machine,
That we had nothing to do with... the murder of the queen.

We'd spoken to the proxies, and tried our best to sway;
Holding back Ragesia? It seemed the only way,
But it seems our cries for help... wouldn't get too far,
As they fell upon the deaf ears... of King Steppengard.

It seems that Dassen's king, was once a righteous man;
Establishin' his bloodline, in the Book of Eight Lands.
But his heart was cold and hardened... after this tragedy.
And it seems, to sate his anguish... he'll take it out on me.

And now it seems the nation's on the brink of civil war,
Returnin' to the conflicts that rattled it before.
This descent straight into madness... seems like it's just the start,
As the nation we call Dassen... begins to fall apart.
 
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Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 37: Steppengard Prison Blues

The party is thrown in prison below Castle Steppengard. All of the mages, including Gruz, are shackled with fused gauntlets, and gagged with a bit that disrupts their tongue. Gruz and Mishka were knocked out and thrown in a cell together. Eluriah and Aripose are thrown in a cell with a man who looks like he was handsome once, but is now gaunt and nervous. Aripose strikes up a conversation, and learns that the man is Jinis, Duke Gallo’s proxy, and Jineer’s father. He assures Jinis that his son got away, and tries to learn the diplomat’s story. Jinis tries to explain what happened the day the queen died, but he says it is like trying to remember a dream. He tells several versions, some where she simply falls and dies, one in which he breaks her neck, and one in which she is attacked by a strange shadowy monster.

After a while, Gruz and Mishka wake up, and realize they share a cell with Hethal, the woman who they met on the road, who had her hand chopped off by a Talon guard. She reveals the man she was sleeping with was Jinis. The party ask her if he was any good, and she laughs harshly. “He’s a diplomat. He knows how to use his tongue.”

Two guards come to Gruz and Mishka’s cell, and drop off an unconscious half-elf who smells of burnt hair and clothes. They then take Hethal with them, and Jinis shouts words of encouragement to her. He tells the others that the guards are taking her to the inquisitor for questioning. “And torture,” he says, shivering. Eventually, the half-elf wakes up, and the others recognize him as Corban, the bard who sang of the Dawnbringers of Barovia. He wonders why they didn’t run when he gave warning, and they explain that they were hoping to clear their names. Jinis laughs, and says that there is no justice in this prison.

Out of curiosity, the party begins to ask Jinis for information on the monster in one of his memories. His description sets off Eluriah’s memory, and she reminds the party of her sighting of a smoky tendril in Innenotdar, and the black tentacles within Indomitability. When Mishka remembers the name “Trillith,” Jinis’ eyes widen, and says that the inquisitor asked him if he had any knowledge of trillith.

As they are talking, a shuffling sound echoes down the hall, and Jinis warns them all to get away form the bars. On the opposite side, Relder is not quick enough, and a decaying man rushes forward and takes a bite out of his shoulder. The undead man turns around, and the party is able to see intestines hanging out of his body. The man shuffles further along, muttering to himself about food. Gruz recognizes the creature as a ghast, turned undead due to cannibalism in life. Jinis says that the man is Jutras, a former prince of Dassen who killed much of his family. “The guards figured out they can use him to keep the prisoners in check, so they don’t keep a night watch.”

Making sure to keep Jutras far away, Aripose is able to squeeze through the bars, and uses a pair of shivs that Jinis made to pick his way out of the dungeon. He makes his way past sleeping guards, and finds the party’s gear in a storage room. After making sure Fern is okay, Aripose gets his real lockpick set, a rope, and a few daggers, and smuggles them back into the cells. Together, the group decides to stay in prison for a little while, to find out what is going on, but to be ready for trouble at any time. After hiding the items in the straw and loose stones, they get a fitful night of sleep. IN the morning, the guards lure Jutras back into his cell, and return Hethal, who is unconscious, but has no wounds. They then pull Gruz out, and begin taking him to the inquisitor.

Post Session Thoughts
This was a fun session, which I felt a little unprepared for. I kept telling myself that I was going to expand the dungeon, but I never did, even with an extra week. But in the end, it turns out, all I had to do was mostly present the book as is, and let the players figure out what they wanted to do. I didn't want to push "escape from the prison" just because it would put them closer on track with the module, but I did make it clear that they weren't about to get a fair trial down here. Honestly, not preparing anything is simultaneously scary and freeing. I want to get better at just freewheeling as a DM, but as I've mentioned before, its very hard for me to let go of the reins.

Corban is Orwin's replacement. The player had really wanted to try out the Cirqueliste bard subclass, but was torn between that and an artificer. We'll see if he sticks around. He's all burnt up because he was teleporting constantly to run away. It also sticks with the player's naming convention of "or-ih" sounds (Orwin, Norwell[ish], Corban, Norrick [previous campaign]).

Changes to the module
I am consolidating the Alydi Gap encounter into the prison, to cut down on time, but we haven't really reached that yet. I figure it will pull double duty for providing evidence to allies later on. For now, all I've really "changed" is set up a dividing line for when guards are out, and when Jutras is out. I also decided the provided map was a little small, and wanted the dungeons to be a bit more sprawling, but that's mostly coming out of description. I'm really only using the map for reference for myself, and running the dungeon as theater of the mind until combat breaks out.

Next time, Tea Time with Torrax.
 

Fuzzybear

Explorer
I was really looking forward to your next reports. Because of us needing to take a few weeks off due to schedule conflicts, you are now reporting the session that we are just about to play! It is really helpful to see someone else's notes to compare against what went well and what didn't!

E: Now that I actually read it, the "he knows how to use his tongue" is absolute gold.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
I was really looking forward to your next reports. Because of us needing to take a few weeks off due to schedule conflicts, you are now reporting the session that we are just about to play! It is really helpful to see someone else's notes to compare against what went well and what didn't!
I'm glad! I started doing this because I found other peoples' recaps on here useful, so I figured I would give it a shot.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Alright, I have a question to get ready for before my session today.

Namely, what is the relationship between Ragesia and the Trillith at this stage? I know that they are in league, but only from a few notes, and I can't remember exactly the nature of their alliance. Do the Ragesians know the trillith's true nature, or do they only see them as powerful allies?

I'm mostly asking because it might add a few questions I have when interrogating the PCs
 

emeraldbeacon

Adventurer
By my understanding:
The Ragesians favor the power that the Trillith offer. They're eager to use them as pawns (as they do to Agony in Scourge Prison), but probably don't understand their true nature. I'd be willing to believe that Coaltongue might have once understood them to a degree, thanks to his posession of The Torch, which contains an echo of Trilla's Soul... but for the rest, I doubt they know much beyond "really powerful creatures of a truly mysterious origin." To that end, I'd imagine any questioning would center around three questions...
  1. "Do you even know that something called a Trillith exists?" If the party can convince the interrogator that they don't understand the question, they may not want to push further... the less an enemy knows, the better.
  2. "Do you know what they are? What their nature is, and how they manifest?" If the party does express any knowledge, it would be important to gather how much they know... and possibly, glean any new details from them.
  3. "What Trillith do you know of, and what are their capabilities... and allegiances?" The most important issue is to identify as many Trillith as possible, to decide how important it may be to enlist or subdue them.
Meanwhile, I think that most Trillith don't really understand the full ramifications of their overall cause. The earliest escapees, like Foresight, Indomitability, and Balance, wanted to simply exist. Freedom, though, made sure to craft the tasks of her other children more carefully, ensuring that Deception, Madness, Desire, and Victory all follow her plan to sow discord and chaos, preventing anyone (ally or enemy) from stopping the birth of the ultimate trillith.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 38: Breakout

As Gruz is pulled away, the others try and see what was done to Hethal, but can’t discover anything. They brainstorm several plans to escape, but eventually decide to wait until Gruz returns. Aripose also sneaks out again to follow the sound of dripping water, and finds himself outside of Jutras’ cell. He manages to sneak a look inside, and sees that the prison’s sewage all leads here, and drips down a metal grate. Jutras’ screams alert a guard, but Aripose is able to escape.

Gruz is taken to a room with many implements of torture, and is tied to a table with a lifted end, so Gruz can look down at his body. An inquisitor with a gentle voice explains to him that “my methods are slightly different from my brethren,” and the man waves a hand, and Gruz goes numb, unable to feel anything. The inquisitor, Torrax, proceeds to ask Gruz about Seaquens defenses, about when his party came to Bresk, and about their knowledge of Trillith, keeping note of Gruz’s answers. After the first time through, a knock comes at the door, and Nina Glemmer, the king’s advisor, comes in. She looks nervous, as if she doesn’t like what she sees, and hands the inquisitor a vial. After she leaves, the inquisitor dumps the contents on Gruz’s head, and his mind spins. As he begins the questioning again, the inquisitor begins to tell different stories of the heirs’ deaths, from Gruz killing them in revenge for the loss of his comrades, to helping the secretly alive queen escape a loveless marriage. As he does so, the inquisitor begins to dissect Gruz, who feels nothing, but can only watch in horror.

When all is done, Gruz is returned, and he cannot remember his time well. When the other’s question him, he has trouble remembering, and now seems to believe he was involved in the assassinations. The group is able to calm him down enough to cooperate, though he is still suspicious.

When night falls, Aripose sneaks out as he did the night before, and shoves everyone’s gear into the bag of holding. Back in the cells, he breaks the mages out of their binds, and they all barely sneak past Jutras, and into his cell. Gruz and Mishka break the grate, and they all make they’re way down. Corban is unable to properly secure the grate back in place. Making their way down the tunnel, they pass zombies frozen in the icy sewage. When they finally get out of the sewer, it is still night, and they are on the edge of the mountain. Before they can make their way down, Eluriah is just barely able to make out a hidden watchtower carved into the cliff face. With extra care, they are able to sneak down the mountain. Once they are far enough away, they decide the best escape route is to take Jinis to Duke Gallo aboard a dragon’s back, and activate one of the scales they were gifted in Innenotdar. With Eluriah wildshaped into a sloth, and Gruz riding alongside on his Broom of Flying, their just able to fly at half speed with everyone aboard. As they take off, they skim low to avoid griffon riders. However, at the dropoff before the Nasham River, they get a glimpse of hundreds of torches surrounding Bresk. Gruz has been part of the Dasseni military, but he has never seen a full army prepare for war.

Post Session Thoughts
I didn't do a lot of prep, and on the one hand, I think it went well, but as always, I think of how it could have gone better. It was good, because it was almost entirely player driven, listening to escape plans and chiming in when they had a question about what their character would know. That went great, as did the torture scene, which was fade-to-black. But then as things go on, I felt like I dropped the dramatic ball in favor of getting things "back on track" with the module. I had planned on having Jutras be this antagonizing force, but I pretty much relegated him to this creepy dragging sound, as they spent all of their inspiration on rerolling stealth checks. I think I could have done more to have him say creepy things about them, or lick his lips, or something, but he was more of a background character. I think I'll bring him back for the battle, just so I can use his intestine ability.

I let Gruz's player decide if he spilled the beans, and he chose not to. I made a point at the beginning of the campaign to explain why I wouldn't play out torture scenes, and so it faded to black after I gave the general idea, and then pulled Gruz aside to ask him what the end result was. Maybe not the best way to do it, but I think it went well. Also, Gruz kind of can't remember if he spilled the beans, so the other players are a bit worried as well.

One last mistake was that I completely meant to have them level up after the breakout, and I forgot until some players had already dropped out of the call. Ah well. Its still always exciting, and at level 8 they're choosing between feats and ASIs. Level 7 had a grand total of 1 fight scene, and honestly, I'm kind of fine with it. This was a more political/RP chapter, and there were a lot of fun moments. Plus, Gallo's Fend will have plenty of combat.

Changes to the module
Remember all the changes I said were coming up? They were all in that watchtower that they managed to sneak by. I had rearranged the encounter int he Alydi gap to a secret watchtower on the side of Bresk. I was going to change up some of the Ragesian Infiltrators for Dasseni Turncoats (same stats of course, because laziness), and have a fun fight with Dractyl and Inquisitor Crona. But, due to a combination of good rolls, and me kind of wanting to end the session, I let them bypass it. Frankly, alongside their proxy meetings, and what they already know of Steppengard, I think that's enough for them to jump straight to traveling to gather aid for Gallo.

Next session, Some respite at Gallo's Fend! But for how long?
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 39: To Stop a War

Flying north, the party flies over Dassen, into the duchy of Nasham. As they approach Gallo’s Fend, they are escorted in by griffon knights, and led to the entrance of the city. There, they are met by Michael Gallo, the handsome son of Duke Gallo. With him is Garret, Gruz’s brother, and they hug for the first time in years. Michael leads them into Gallo’s Fend, and they are able to see the militaristic nature of this Dasseni border-town. Almost everyone is armed, and the windows are as thin as arrow-slits.

In Castle Gallo, they are fed and place din a room, where they meet Duke Gallo. Duke Gallo is a clean, yet gruff man, with a plow in the shape of a chevron as his personal coat of arms. He also rushes to hug Jinis, and thanks the party for returning his friend. He then sits, and asks them to tell him what is going on. When the party tells their story, and end with the news of Steppengard’s forces preparing for war, the Duke hangs his head. “I had hoped such news was not true. I had hoped…”

The party discusses options of convincing Steppengard, but with an unknown amount of time to prepare, Gallo doesn’t believe that there is time to prove that he had nothing to do with the assassinations. And while Gallo’s fend can weather a siege from Steppengard, the third Ragesian legion is just beyond the Alydi Gap, “and I’m not going to cripple Dassen’s fighting force with the wolves at our back. This fight must be decisive.” Gallo explains his plan to fight in the open, in order to force a peace process sooner. “I’m sorry to ask this of you so soon, my friend, but I ask that you travel to Dashgoban and plead that he help defend us. Perhaps a larger army can deter our king from sparking another civil war.”

When the party asks what they can do to help, he mentions That another close ally of his is Lady Timor, though the Glaskeel Cliffs stand in the way of any quick travel, and messenger birds have been unreliable, likely due to Ragesian interference. Mishka then asks if they can break up the ice of the Nasham River, to stop Steppengard’s armies from having a smooth travel north. Gallo’s eyes light up in thought. “There is the Pitchwood Forest. They supply much of the pitch and tar for the nation, and even export some. It lies between Nasham and Otdar. If we can get their winter supply of pitch, and burn the ice, we may be able to delay him in time for reinforcements to arrive.”

In their time to rest, Mishka gets truly clean of the sewers, and goes about asking for news of Pine Owls, in search of information about her half-sister. Aripose explores the castle, discovering the deep food stores in case of a siege. Eluriah tests her flame magic against the icy river, and determines that her magic would take too long to make a dent. Gruz walks with his brother, talking of family, and also goes to a chaplain to have his leg healed. They also ask after Balan and Jineer, but no one has word of them.

The next day, they are supplied with horses, and set off for the Pitchwood with Jinis, hoping to do what they can to stop a war.

Post-Session Thoughts

This was a bit of a break, and also feeling out what the party wanted to do to help with. They immediately took to Gallo, stage-whispering if they could make him king. Yes... Yesssss..... I was going to skip the Pitchwood quest, but as soon as Mishka's player mentioned breaking the ice, I knew I had to use it. This is why I like very detailed campaigns. Even if I decide to cut something, I have it in my back pocket to grab when I need it.
Otherwise, this was a pretty laid-back session, with most of the overarching elements put on hold until the big showdown.

Changes to the Module
As I mentioned earlier, I decided to move the Alydi Gap encounter. Because they avoided where I put it, I could have reintroduced it, but honestly, I don't think there's much doubt that there is Ragesian interference going on. So instead, the players are going to be involved directly in the negotiations with the allied duchies, and it will just be a little bit more in the air.

I'm nominally tracking the days for the Steppengard invasion, but we'll see how that goes. With Gallo's super horses, and Mishka's Elk totem doubling their speed, it will likely not be an issue.

Next session, the party deals with a sticky situation.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Sessions 40 & 41

I missed a session recap, and then went on vacation, and then helped my brother move halfway across the country. So this recap is going to be a little basic!

The party arrives at the Pitchwood, and speaks with the mayor of Pitchburg. They discover that pitchlings, fae creatures of pitch, are holding the largest supply of pitch hostage. Eluriah is able to bargain with the pitchlings in sport and food, and resolves the situation peacefully.

They reach Dashgoban's castle the same day, and are able to confirm his support for Gallo. With the speed they have been traveling thanks to Mishka's Elk totem, Jinis suggests they ride around the Toraest Steppes to beg favor from Lady Timor. The party rides around the mountains, and are ambushed in Lord Rego's lands. As they cross a bridge, a troll comes over the edge, and and three Talon soldiers cut off their retreat. After Eluriah determines that the troll is there of his own free will, battle begins. And then it ends after Gruz Polymorphs the troll into a rat, and sets it down the river. Mishka slaughters two of the soldiers, as the final one surrenders.

In Lady Timor's land, diplomacy does not work as well, as she is not happy that they ended her northeastern protection of the Fire Forest. However, after telling them the story of Indomitability and the trillith, Lady Timor promises her support for Gallo if the party gives her the body of one of these Trillith the next time they come across one. "To be able to sustain a blaze for forty years shows that they have great ower. I should like to learn if we can harness that power." When the party says they're not sure how many trillith there are, Lady Timor theorizes that there are three, as in "tri"lith. She draws a henge, with two stone pillars and a third placed atop, as an example.

With Lady Timor's support given, they ride for the Glaskeel Cliffs, where a Timor war mage leads them down safely. Riding back to Gallo's Fend, they find a land ready for war, with earthenworks and trenches built up around the castle. Duke Gallo requests that as Steppengard's forces arrive, that they stay close to his son, and keep him safe. The party agrees, acknowledging that Steppengard may seek revenge for his own children's losses.

Before the battle begins, Gallo and the other nobles ride out with a white flag. Aripose joins them, as he was able to gain the support of Iztorun's proxy. In the parley tent, Steppengard looks like a man possessed, and he unblinkingly stares at Gallo as Fieldmarshal Malkan reads out instructions for Gallo's arrest. soldiers reach for their swords, but Iztorun stands up and scolds them. "You promised us this was in good faith, brother-in-law!" He shouts at Steppengard. The dwarf turns to Aripose, and says "It is not a common man who is able to pierce the heart of one of my men. While I cannot join you, we will not fight today." He gives a signal, and a horn blasts out. Those troops in Iztorun's colors peel away, and begin traveling back down the frozen Nasham River.

As the nobles are leaving, Gallo points out a dwarf in a silver cap to Aripose. "You are an assassin, yes? Then tonight, before the battle proper. I would like you to take out Kelkin Thravanvost."

Post Sessions Thoughts
These sessions were fun, with a lot of roleplay, but I didn't prep for the second session, after two weeks off in a row, and I felt tired to the bone. I remember back when I started DMing, I would get exhausted from the mental work. I thought I was over that, but it apparently because I got better at prep, not on-the-spot improv. I was also doing a little bit of stalling, as I didn't have any of the big battles prepped yet. Overall, fun sessions.

One thing that we tried during the two weeks off was play by post just to keep things moving. It seemed like a good idea, because it would be mostly RP, but then it turned out we had to change our entire playstyle to keep things moving. Overall, I'll probably just trim what I have planned, instead of dripfeeding D&D over two weeks when it could have been roughly 10-20 minutes of gametime.

Changes to the Modules
I made Lady Timor a bit more troublesome, and also used her to throw in a bit of a red herring. Not much of one, but I'll be interested to see if anyone assumes she's right because she's a learned NPC. I also added the treaty tent on a whim, and I feel like I kind of squandered it. Ah well.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 42

The party scouts out the area where Thravanvost is keeping his tent. After ascertaining his guards and sphinx, they come up with a plan for Gruz and Corban to act like drunk soldiers who are fighting, and for Mishka, Eluriah, and Aripose to sneak into the tent from the back. The drunken duo pull off their act perfectly, drawing the guards and even the sphinx over to send them on their way. When the others sneak into the back of the tent, they find that the interior is entirely filled with a silvery dome. They can't get in, and can't dig their way under.

Outside, worried that the sphinx will hear the others, Gruz and Corban taunt the sphinx, calling her a kitty. She get's a dangerous smile on her face, and offers them a riddle.

"I am always near, but never far.
I am always around, but never seen.
Often avoided, but always catching up.
I come with laughter, love, or even hate.
I am everyone's final fate."

Inside the tent, the sneakers decide to rip down the tent, hoping that will dispel whatever magic is causing the dome. They pull down a corner, and the dome disappears to reveal a dwarf putting on the last of his armor. "The answer to the riddle is death," Thravonvost says, and battle begins.

Nashara the sphinx tears into the group, and rushes towards Thravanvost, pulling him into the air. Gruz follows on his broom. On the ground, Eluriah and Corban pull crowd control with a Burning Sphere and Slow spell respectively. In the main Steppengard camp, torches and cries alight, rushing to see what the commotion is...

Post-Session Thoughts

Hoo boy, this was an interesting one. I think the party spent a good 40 minutes planning out their approach, and that was only after I kind of forced them to pick an approach. They are very good at coming up with a hundred plans, and not very good at picking one of them. Internally, I cringed when the two people capable of casting dispel magic were chosen as the distractions, but I think it didn't change much. The funniest part for me was thinking of Thravanvost watching the three adventurers tap the sphere and generally not know what to do. A bit slow of a session (we only got through two rounds of combat) but it was fun. I will be very surprised if they are able to capture or kill Thravanvost, but we will see. I gave them a 10 round clock for reinforcements arriving.

Changes to the adventure

I did not change a single thing about this encounter (I even accidentally made up the 10 round clock, but that's in the book too!), though I did cut out the catapult option. I could have presented it as a choice between one and the other, but I really wanted to test out two spellcasters again. Nashara and Thravanvost don't quite gel like some of the other spellcasters have, but we'll see how it turns out. I did end the session with Thravanvost charging a fireball with his War Mage Artillery ability, so that will be fun to see.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 43: The Sphinx Flies the Coop

The party continues to battle, as Thravanvost rises into the air aboard Nashara's back. As battle goes on below, Aripos bloodies Thravanvost, who lets loose an empowered fireball. However, just as he casts it, Gruz counterspells him, leaving him fizzled. Nashara is also bloodied, and they begin to fly towards the main Steppengard camp. Gruz gives chase, but Nashara Suggests that he "go and tell Duke Gallo that you have failed. Gruz's eyes cloud over, and he rushes back to Gallo's camp.

On the ground, Mishka and Orwin take care of the last of the guards, and attempt to bring down Nashara. However, without more ranged weapons, and for fear of killing Dassen's strongest mage, they cease, and make their way back to camp as well. Gruz is the first to deliver the news, and then realizes he's been tricked. As he's coming back, he meets with the group, and they retell the bad news to Duke Gallo. Gallo shuffles his troops around on the board in front of him, and shakes his head. "We'll have a hell of a fight tomorrow."

The party makes their way to Michael's camp, and hole up for the night. Eluriah writes another letter to her husband, and they think on the battle ahead.

Post Session Thoughts
This recap is short for three reasons. First, This session happened two weeks ago, so I probably forgot some details. Second, The fight began to drag, and there wasn't a lot of post-fight happenings because Third, I completely misread the battle at Gallo's Fend, and ended the session early because I was flustered.

As I mentioned, this battle kind of dragged on a bit longer than I cared for, almost entirely due to crap rolls on the players side, and Gruz playing effective spell-control on Thravanvost. This meant there weren't any big swings or anything, just a very slow chipping away at HP until the reinforcements were too close to be sure they could actually retrieve Thravanvost.

My final thought at the end of this session is that I need a break from D&D. I've already mentioned it to the group, but I need like a good step away from this campaign to get my breath back. I felt like absolute garbage at the end of this session, and it wasn't even that bad. Two weeks later, I feel better about today's upcoming session at Otharil Vale, but that's almost entirely because I took a mini break for a wedding last week (and properly prepped). The last time I took a break was between our Curse of Strahd game, and this Burning Sky campaign. All it took was 4-5 weeks off (playing Fate) and when I returned to D&D, it was fantastic. I felt like I had when I first started, but with the experience I've gained over the years. Here's hoping that happens again, because I would love to finish the campaign, and I love playing with my group.

Changes to the module
I made the reinforcements more hefty, to really emphasize the urgency of running in and getting Thravanvost as fast as possible. Other than that, I don't believe I changed anything. I look forward to seeing how his fireballs will change the fight on the Vale in the morrow.
 

Sometimes you don't realize how much a few hours of free time will help your mental health. When a cancelled game feels like a godsend, for me it's a sign I've been filling my plate with too much and need to give my brain time to just chill.

Good luck with getting refreshed and recovered.
 

Tolamaker

Explorer
Session 44: The First Clash

The morning of the battle, Gallo's forces take up a line along the north west of the Otharil Vale. Alongside Michael's forces, their portion of the line is manned by four squads of soldiers, two troops of archers, a troop of Dashgoban knights, two chaplains from Gallo, and two war mages from Timor. The line arranges itself with the infantry at the front, with cavalry behind as support, followed by two cheval de frise(s?) where the archers and mages prepare to unleash missiles. The mages also bring with them a strange barrel carved with runes. "In case we need any help," they say. "Lady Timor has an agreement with an elemental."

The white valley of the Otharil Vale looks like a flooding river receding as Steppengards forces push forward to close the gap. Occasionally, a griffon will peel forward from the sea of banners, teasing out a few half-hearted arrows. One teases too far, and a shaft of ash through the neck sends it crashing down into the snow. Steppengards forces push on, steadily marching towards Gallo’s line.

Michael paces his horses back. “Gods I didn’t know it would be like this.” He grips his sword in its scabbard, his knuckles white. “Just come here already and be done with it!” Eventually, Steppengard’s forces seem to obey, as half of the oncoming line begins to double march. An older Dashgoban knight lifts her helmet to spit on the ground. “They’re going to crash into us twice. That’s how he broke Iztorun back in the day.”

Catapults stop about 1000 feet out, and begin loading their stones in place, sending testing flings towards Gallo's line. One boulder crashes into the knights, crushing dwarves and horses. The archers take up their arrows, and manage to drop two squads of infantry before they crash into the line. Griffons rise above the soldiers, flying straight towards the mages behind the line, and Gruz flies up on his broom to meet them. Eluriah and Aripose's arrows pepper an enormous minotaur among the forces.

As battle commences, Eluriah throws out a Wall of Fire, incinerating the minotaur, splitting the infantry, and slowing several troops' advance. A Steppengard commander maneuvers his troops effectively, wiping out a squad of Gallo soldiers before Michael's cavalry crashes into the line, disrupting them. The right flank is at a standstill until Dashgoban's knight's catch one of the squads off-guard, allowing Mishka to jump forward and finish off the survivors.

Once the soldiers are past her wall, Eluriah drops it, and raises a storm cloud above the battlefield, crashing lightning bolts on the right flank, targeting a prelate who attempted to Calm Emotions on the Gallo forces. In the air, Gruz fights sword and claw with a griffon, while Corban shoots fireballs at another until they fly away. On the left flank, Michael's cavalry are almost overwhelmed until the war mages slam Flame Spheres into the Steppengard infantry. With no one to support them, the Steppengard commander and prelate surrender. In four rounds of combat, the line begins to reorganize to face the second wave.

Post-Session Thoughts
Whoo boy, this was a fun one. I took a good 20-30 minutes explaining how the battle would work, doing math on how quickly people would arrive dashing 60 ft. a turn and how many arrow volleys would be allowed, and figuring out the ranges that PCs could start firing. After that long setup, the battle itself was actually very straightforward. The infantry squads really shredded each other, and the cavalry made a real difference. The mages were poorly placed, as it took several turns for their real spells to reach the fight. I think the archers did the most real damage.

The players really liked it. There were some real backs and forths as the armies ground against each other, with several crits on both sides, and its only by the sheer luck of the dice that only one squad of Gallo soldiers were lost, though several more were bloodied. The cavalry also took a beating. Similar to last session, the next will begin with a fireball from Thravanvost, because I forgot to do it during those four rounds.

The catapult was a bit of mess, for two reasons. One, I'm pretty sure I got the rules wrong. The book says you can skip the aiming step if they are aiming where it last landed, thus cutting down the number of rounds it took to launch, but I still made an aiming roll. That made it miss its next attack very badly, pushing back the firing time again. I plan on having it move forward to 400 feet the next wave, so that it doesn't have disadvantage, (and so that players can potentially counter attack)

Changes to the Module
So, I made a few changes, both to the stat blocks of the army, as well as the makeup of the battle itself. For stat blocks, I changed squads' resistances from slashing/bludgeoning/piercing to "all single points of damage". This was to make it so that squad on squad violence would go as normal, but the effects of a fire bolt or a swinging axe would be lessened. This is largely what contributed to the swingy nature of the fight, as it was not uncommon for 30-ish damage to happen, and the rolls from the infantry were quite good, considering they each had to hit either 18 or 19 AC. I also gave the Dashgoban Knights an ability that if they charged their whole movement, they dealt half damage even on a miss.

Half because I forgot, and half because I wanted the clerics to be useful, I also allowed healing, even single point healing like cure wounds. I don't think this made a huge difference, but I did like how it made the players change their target strategy.

For the makeup of the forces, instead of swapping all of the infantry for knights, I let the players decide what composition they wanted, with 2 squads of soldiers equalling one squad of knights. I also didn't bring in Granule the Rust Monster, because I made Michael and his cavalry a squad.

On Steppengard's side, I don't believe I changed anything, other than how far back the catapult is. In the book, the catapult has a range of up to 2,000 feet, which made it weird in my head to think that it would place itself at 600 feet, right at longbow range, but still outside of normal intelligence checks. (I got this wrong. Somehow I conflated the first wave beginning to charge with the catapult's location. It's supposed to hold back at 1900 feet.) So I pushed it back a bit, forward to 1000 feet, and it was largely useless due to disadvantaged rolls making me only roll over 10 once.

Next session, a fireball, the thunder of hooves, and the howls of trolls!
 

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