Journey to Fate’s doorstep: The pact of the Celestial

Naismith opens is eyes to see all around him an infinite gray plane in all directions. Before him a celestial being cloaked in dark gray robes, silver hair and a death mask motions him to approach. Naismith knows exactly who this celestial being is, recalling the various descriptions he learned from Mordrock about his patron.

This is Kelemvor, the God of Death.

Naismith approaches and bows his head in respect as he watches Kelemvor tilt his head slightly in paused recognition of who bows before him. Naismith looks up as Kelemvor’s masked pupiless eyes stare into his soul to uncover why Naismith is here sooner than expected.

The god’s right hand motions Naismith to the path that appears before him leading to a peaceful soft light. Naismith walks towards the light and calls to his friend Jimjar along the way. The soft white light emanates from a portal he knows to be the entrance to Tymora’s realm in the Astral plane. Before the portal Naismith hears Jimjar’s voice as the deva appears next to him, taking Naismith’s hand and smiling. “Welcome home Naismith” says Jimjar. Naismith stops and turns to Jimjar, “I am ready friend except the mortal tug is beginning to pull me back again. My friends are not yet done with me and as you know, we are no where near the end of our journey with that wand.”

Naismith continues, “I’ve been thinking of ways to better serve Tymora and you. For the cost of giving up my song, would you become my patron and teach me your ways?”.

Jimjar stares beyond Naismith in thought; Naismith hears in his mind Jimjar’s voice, “flip a coin”. A coin appears in Naismith’s hand; he flips it, catches it and uncovers Tymora’s face. “Heads.” says Naismith. Jimjar stares down at the coin seeing Tymora’s face smiling back at him, then he laughs out loud. “Very well Naismith, I can be your patron but know this, I am not as powerful as a Solar or Ki-rin, I can only give you minimal power as a deva”. Naismith smiles, “That is all I need dear friend”.

Jimjar begins to speak in celestial and then reaches out and hugs Naismith, transferring a warm power into Naismith’s body. Jimjar pulls away from the hug and takes Naismith’s hands once more. Jimjar stares into Naismith’s eyes and says “now I ask of you this one thing to accept as part of our pact,” and begins telepathically communicating his wish as Naismith hears the words in his mind, but looks utterly confused on his face.

Jimjar then steps closer toward the portal and says, “return now friend, your comrades are calling for you” and vanishes into the portal. Naismith feels the tug getting stronger and the pressure to decide building up in his soul. “Yes, ok…I’m ready” as he gives into the tug.

Moments later Naismith feels the floor beneath him as he returns to the mortal world, hearing familiar voices all around him. He opens his eyes and sees his friends: Royce, Nong and Mordrock. Royce and Mordrock both smile and then at the same time, both tilt their head and look at Naismith a bit more focused.

“That’s odd” says Royce, “I don’t remember seeing a radiant glow around his aura before”.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Getting inside the Xanathar’s mansion

The party travels along the underground bedrock of the Heart district in the Ethereal plane, moving in the direction of the mage’s flight path. So far, they have remained undetected this far beneath the ground in the Ethereal plane; any closer to the surface and they risk being noticed by the mages or their invisible dogs. They locate a large structure up above them and guess it is the mansion. They float up hoping to move directly inside, by-passing the multiple guard patrols walking around outside the structure.

Their heads hit the structure on the Ethereal plane and they cannot penetrate through it. They glide around the foundation, trying to push inside but something will not let them in. “This is very odd and never seen before” says Royce. The party agrees to move away from the structure and return to the bedrock. Nong and Naismith stealth up toward the surface near the mansion and poke their heads up. Naismith sees two guards in black plate mail, one riding a strange beast mount to the side of another dragging a female leather clad human in chains behind him; Naismith notices she’s wearing a Harper pin on her lapel. Nong fails to notice he popped up right behind a patrol when he suddenly hears a familiar barking behind him; he quickly turns to see two mages with glowing eyes, their dogs and the mask wearing assassins running towards them.

The Drow’s Bane exit the Ethereal plane to fight.

A long battle ensues between the Drow’s Bane, the guards and the patrol. A third mounted guard joins the fight as soon as the party frees the human female from her captor but not from her bindings; she still manages to do a good job of disappearing from the scene. The party sees two black dogs manifest from the shadows and attack; they also endure the masked assassins’ cube of darkness ability that explodes right next to a party member causing significant damage; the mounted guards charge the party and use smite attacks with reach.

The mages are the first to fall, followed by their dogs then the guards and finally the assassins. The human female emerges from the shadows and introduces herself as Cat Swain – a Harper agent on the same assignment as the Drow’s Bane. She joins the party to look for a way inside the mansion.

When they use the key found on the guards to open the front door, they do not notice the Sleep spell trap upon entering. Naismith in bat form falls to the ground and so does Cat Swain, sound asleep. Inside the entrance is thick with heavy gray fog preventing sight beyond two feet in front of you. An awakened Naismith uses his echolocation but cannot make sense of what he hears – as if each echolocation call produces a different room layout each time. Walking into the gray fog causes the party to get confused as they try to make their way around in the obfuscation; the only clear path is back toward the main entrance. Eventually the party dispels the magic in the foyer to gain sight and walks in; they are surprised to hear loud laughing within the foyer. They turn around and see a large mouth positioned on the wall behind them making the noise. “So much for sneaking in”, Cat says sarcastically.

The foyer is a small room that opens up to two doorways South bound, both filled with the same gray fog. Royce’s locate creature spell is pulling him in the direction of both doorways. “I’m sensing the beholder is through the doorways. Now let’s pick one and go.”, says Royce. Naismith flies into the doorway on the left and this time his echolocation makes out the shape of a long hallway that opens up into a large room; the room contains tables and chairs. The party forms a chain and follows Naismith into the gray fog. They stumble about but sense their direction does not change as they move deeper into the fog this time; the room eventually leads to a doorway East bound.

Naismith flies through the door way into a dark hallway that contains no gray fog. He transform back into himself and can see at the end of the hallway another doorway that leads into a room filled with humanoids. He calls out to the party while he notices the dark figures ahead move towards him. Seconds later one of the humanoids is dead on the ground with a Naismith dagger stuck into his neck.

Naismith begins to feel a magical tug pulling his body away from the party towards the doorway. Nong enters the hallway from the fog to see a great sword connect with Naismith, taking him down.

Nong’s eyes move from Naismith’s body to the Gith walking out of the room on the opposite side of the hallway dragging his great sword on the ground until it crosses over Naismith’s unconscious body. Royce and Mordrock peer into the hallway from the gray fog but it is completely dark; only Mordrock sees the Gith by way of his dark vision. Nong notices this Gith is wearing plate mail and wielding a great sword which is a different style from the Githzerai he met awhile ago.

The Gith speaks to the party, “Why do you attack us? What is your purpose here?”, but only Nong can understand the Gith language. The Gith continues “We are next in line to see the Xanathar, not you!” as he stabs his sword into Naismith’s body in anger. Nong responds trying to calm the tense situation as he sees behind this Gith, eight more Gith forming a semi-circle near the doorway. Nong replies, “We come as friends and mean no aggression. We have fought alongside the Gith known as Sithka and her army helping to defeat an Elder Brain”. The Gith takes a moment to register the name Sithka, and then Nong sees a new anger wash over the Gith’s face. “Sithka! you helped the Githzerai Sithka!! You are no friend of the Githyanki you traitor!!!” screams the Githyanki knight as he stabs Naismith’s body one last time.

And Naismith’s body goes limp.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: The Bolts and Bows

A disguised Naismith and Nong climb their way up to the Trade Lanes district avoiding the bridge patrols below. They peer over the top curious how the Trade Lanes look since yesterday’s leveling. 4 man patrols are everywhere up and down the streets; the patrols are composed of 2 mages (and invisible dogs) and 2 assassins who wear non-Thieves Guild attire along with laughing masks covering their faces. The guard towers across the Trade Lanes now include mages who periodically fly out over the district using Truesite along their route. “This feels definitely like high alert.” says Nong.

The two quietly make their way to the familiar shack they inhabited previously. “No rug rats today” says Naismith looking around. They duck for cover as passing patrols along the front and back streets of the shack, walk past. “We need too quickly and quietly make our way to the Northeast section of the district to find the Bolts and Bows” says Naismith. As they dart in and out of shadows heading Northeast, another small invisible orb appears 10 feet behind Naismith who senses its presence along with Nong who sees it clearly. “It’s Lulach again!” says Naismith, who turns and stares in the orb’s direction. The two linger for 10 minutes waiting out the duration the orb can exist; after 10 minutes the orb disappears and the two continue Northeast.

Near the Northeast guard post, they find the Bolts and Bows, an abandoned shack with no windows and a single entry door. They time the mages flight patrol just right to run to the door which appears to be locked. Naismith looks it over, picks the lock and moves inside with Nong.

Inside is a cross between someone’s bedroom and a bar. The place is filthy but they look around. They eventually pull up the straw floor mat to reveal a 10 foot hole in the ground. Nong and Naismith descend, climbing 30 feet down to the bottom where it opens up to a 50 foot hole North bound; a perfectly carved circular tunnel through the stone. “Definitely a beholder’s work.” says Nong. They stealth forward but fail to notice the pressure plate in front of them; lightning lights up the tunnel washing over both of them as they sizzle from the impact. They catch their breadth after the stinging sensation wears off, look at each other and proceed forward; this time Naismith checks for traps along the way.

The end of the tunnel opens to a circular tunnel leading straight up 40 feet. Nong walks up the tunnel walls, while Naismith uses his cloak to fly up. Together they reach the top where the tunnel opens up West bound 10 feet and beyond, a perfectly carved out cavern. They stealth inside and notice: a chest 30 feet away, manacles bound to the opposite wall dangling on the floor surrounding a pool of dried blood and piles of bones and carcass remains. “It stinks in hear” says Naismith as he approaches the chest. “Beholder stench” comments Nong.

The chest is ornately decorated with gold at the corners and trim; it is locked but an easy pick for Naismith. As he opens the chest, he notices on the hinge inside a tiny purple symbol light up. Seconds later, the purple symbol explodes spraying necrotic energy all through the cavern and down the tunnel. Naismith and Nong are caught in the blast and suffer significant damage. What remains of the chest’s contents are a few platinum pieces strewn about the decayed floor. “There goes all of the clues” a frustrated Naismith says to Nong. The two move back to the tunnel entrance and listen for intruders, but hear nothing.

Nong hears Mordrock’s voice over a Sending spell and responds describing where he and Naismith are, and how best to get here while avoiding the mage patrols. Twenty minutes later, Royce and Mordrock appear from the Ethereal plane rising up from underground. Together they sit in the cavern where Nong and Naismith learn how Mordrock and Royce appeared in the Heart district rising up from underground and immediately discovered by a passing patrol. Before escaping back underground, Royce noticed one of the mages leap up and fly towards a large mansion. “I think he flew towards the Xanathar’s mansion and we should head there soon.”, says Royce.

Nong and Naismith nod in agreement, then sit back and tend to their wounds.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: The second attempt

“So why does your neck tattoo look just like the tattoo on Amhaergo’s neck, Naismith?” asks Nong. Naismith feeling a bit uncomfortable sighs and explains to the party about his past association with the Xanathar Thieves Guild and his escape from it; he also reveals that his brother Lulach, is the one who has been watching him. “Lulach is still in the guild and I believe he has discovered magic along his journey; he was not able to scry when he and I were partners in the guild” says Naismith.

The party back at Catchbreeze discuss options and strategies to return to Skullport to complete their mission knowing it will be harder to go unnoticed now. Naismith attunes to the Cloak of the Bat, giving Nong the Robe of Eyes. The party journey’s back to Skullport and enters the Ethereal plane where they drift through the Port district; except for Nong who stays on the Material plane. The party approaches the bridge to the Trade Lanes District and notices in addition to patrolling guards, there are now mages on the bridge patrolling with strange glowing eyes; the party remembers the silver dragon they fought and the angels they have encountered having similar glowing eyes. Nong wearing the Robe of Eyes also sees at the side of each mage, an invisible dog.

Royce, Mordrock and Naismith approach within 100 feet of the bridge and are surprised to see the mage look up and see them in the Ethereal plane! Nong 100 feet away happens to notice the invisible dog with the mage, is barking in the direction of the party too. The mage raises the alarm and points toward the direction of the party. He casts a spell, lifts off the ground and flies in the direction of the Trade Lanes. The party quickly moves under ground and away from the bridge escaping to Skull Island for cover. “That mage had truesite which is how she saw us” says Royce. “The Ethereal plane is no longer safe for us now” admits Mordrock.

Nong finds the party in Skull Island and lucky for them, the same intensity of guard and mage patrols is non-existent. Except for a few Skulls lurking around, this district seems minimally impacted by what went down in the Trades Lane yesterday. Nong explains that each mage has an invisible dog companion who can see into the Ethereal plane too.

The party contemplates their next move.

Through magic means, they locate Cephalux who appears to be in the Port district. The party makes their way to his location paying mind to the guard patrols and find his location inside the “Tunnels and Trolls” tavern. This run down shack is two stories tall, a bar is on the first floor with clientele mostly composed of orcs, bugbears, slavers and drow. Still in the Ethereal plane, they ascend to the second story to find a long hallway with small rooms on either side. They can see the rooms are used by escorts and clients and in one of these rooms, a naked Cephalux enjoys a lap dance from a naked female drow.

The Drow’s Bane descends on the couple, blinking out of the Ethereal plan and into the room. The female drow screams in surprise as Cephalux in carnal ecstasy, jumps up in shock when noticing the party. The escort grabs her robe and runs out of the room where she encounters Nong at the door. Nong calms her down and pays her for her room key; he makes his way into the room and locks the door. The party threatens the naked Cephalux back into the chair and refuses him access to his clothes until he spills the truth.

They learn from Cephalux telepathically, the beholder who surprised them at Cephalux’s manor was from the Thieves Guild; it hired mercenaries for the surprise and showed up minutes before their arrival, forcing Cephalux to acquiesce. Where it learned of the party’s rendezvous with Cephalux is a mystery, even to the mindflayer. Cephalux tells the party the location of the beholder’s hideout, “The Bolts and Bows”, in the Trade Lanes. They also learn that Xanathar’s hideout is somewhere in the Heart district but Cephalux has never been there.

WHACK!! Cephalux’s naked body falls to the floor, knocked out cold. “That will be a nasty bruise when he wakes up” says Naismith before noticing on the body a copper scourge tattoo, just like the one found on Gart. “Let’s move on. We have enough information now to find the Bolts and Bows.” says Royce. As they exit the room, Nong looks back and says, “I never imagined a mind flayer would be anatomically correct” as he closes and locks the door behind him.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Finding Madame Carmen Cobb

A disguised Naismith peers out of a run down shack on the fringes of the Trade Lanes district checking for patrols passing by. The shack is dirty and smells of piss and mold and was home to a few rug rats before they took the gold and ran. The Drow’s Bane are assessing their travel options now that the Thieves Guild has been informed of a party who took down Ahmaergo earlier today. Moving up the mountain in the Ethereal plane or hiking up it seems like the best alternative routes given the bridge from the Port to the Trade Lanes is now on alert.

A small invisible orb pops into view ten feet away from Naismith’s back; he notices it behind him, thanks to the Robe of Eyes he wears. He’s unsure of what it is but just turns around and stares right at it, as if letting it know it is not hidden from his eyesight. A voice wills itself to speak to Naismith however under the protection of the ring of mind shielding, Naismith can choose to allow or ignore such things; this time, Naismith allows it.

“I told you never to return and here you are” the voice says. “Your plan has been foiled Naismith, you will be destroyed if you continue forward” the voice concludes. Naismith recognizes the Sending spell used and the voice of his brother, Lulach. Naismith considers his 25 word response carefully and makes sure to conclude with the words “I loved you brother”.

Naismith gives the others in the Ethereal plane close by, the update that he’s being watched by the Thieves Guild. A disguised Naismith then makes his way to the one place in the Trade Lanes he is familiar with – the Enchanted Shadows.

The Enchanted Shadows is a magic item store run by a half-elf sorcerer.

“Do you have my goggles yet?” Naismith says to the shopkeeper. The half-elf replies “Let me see in the back one moment. A few things came in this week. I don’t recognize your face though, who did you say you were?”. Naismith replies, “I’m here for a pickup for master Naismith, a human who placed an order with you, for some goggles several weeks ago”. The sorcerer disappears and then returns several minutes later with a package. “Goggles of Night have arrived for sir Naismith. The cost is 1000 gold pieces please.”

Moments later Naismith exits the Enchanted Shadows having spent 850 gold pieces and directions to the Vial Brews.

The northern street where the Vials Brews is located is filled with patrols. Two guards are stationed outside of the apothecary when Naismith walks by; he glances further down the street and notices several conspicuous people hanging about in the street and on the roofs. Royce, Nong and Mordrock in the Ethereal plane enter the Vials Brews. They notice a short old human woman behind the counter slowly moving around; behind her is a door. They move through the door and see several guards waiting in the dark room. “This place is a trap. They are definitely onto us.” says Royce. The party moves back outside to see where Naismith is.

Naismith walks past the Vial Brews and down the street. He notices 3 individuals slowly move into the street and follow him; he looks again, and notices two of them in sight now. He moves quickly to the end of the street where it continues south; in front of him is a fish monger shack. He quickly moves in hoping to escape through the back when he realizes there is only the front entrance. He turns around to notice the two individuals dressed in Thieves Guild assassin gear ready to attack him. Naismith is fast enough to move past them outside as both take a swipe at him. The two connect with Naismith and stab him a few times while an arrow from the shadows hits him too. People walking about, including Thieves Guild guards, take notice of the skirmish and begin to react.

Mordrock, Royce and Nong appear on the street from the Ethereal plane. Nong moves in front of the Vial Brews, holds up the wand of Orcus, and casts Cloudkill. The spell’s poisonous yellow-green fog erupts into the street causing people everywhere to begin coughing and collapsing from inhaling the poison. Nong sprints down the street to help Naismith.

Mordrock moves down the street towards the skirmish, noticing Thieves Guild guards and mages running toward this direction from all side streets. Royce notices this too and casts Earthquake in response. The ground 100 feet in all directions begins to tremble and fissures open up, causing people and buildings to collapse into them. The Vial Brews, like the rest of the buildings caught in the earthquake, is now a pile of rubble.

Between the poisonous gas and the earthquake this area of the Trades Wards is destroyed. A few Skulls took notice and responded with Fireball spells but they did not last long under the attacks of the Drow’s Bane. Once the assassins were down and no one else was standing, the party searched the Vial Brews rubble but did not uncover the body of Madam Carmen Cobb.

The party now confused and out of ideas on what to do next, returns to Catchbreeze, by way of Royce. They realize their cover is blown in a big way and making their assignment that much harder to achieve.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Finding Ahmaergo

The party enters the Lazy Bugbear, a dilapidated building that is barely standing. Inside the tavern room is busy this afternoon with patrons of drow, deep gnome, human and orc. Royce can see over the crowd toward the bar where he notices a bugbear pouring drinks, a human female barmaid taking orders and a dwarf patron at the bar with a mohawk, tattoos and piercings. When the dwarf sees the Drow’s Bane enter the establishment, he steps away from the bar, moves to the staircase and heads up to the second floor.

The party makes their way through the crowd to the bar where they greet the barmaid ‘Holly’. They make small talk with her and with Ben the Bugbear, the owner of the establishment. Royce relays to the party about the dwarf he saw moving upstairs. One of the party members happens to suggest the dwarf went upstairs with a lady friend when all of sudden they hear Holly’s voice, “What! He did what! That bastard! I need to speak with him now”. The party looks back to see Holly’s hand rubbing her stomach; she angrily moves from behind the bar towards the staircase and ascends. The Drow’s Bane, a little surprised of what’s taking place, follow Holly up the stairs.

The Drow’s Bane ascend to the second floor as they see Holly down the hallway, looking out the window. “There here is!”, she climbs outside the window, makes her way to the catwalk on the roof and begins chasing the dwarf. The party moves quickly to the window, jumps out one-by-one, and climbs up the rope ladder. Naismith can see the dwarf 100 feet away running along the catwalk while Holly behind, shouting at him to come back and talk.

Naismith and Nong are first to catch up to the dwarf where Nong successfully stuns him. Holly and Mordrock catch up to the group shortly after. “Oh my god, what have you done to my Johnny!!” as tears roll down her eyes as Holly takes the stunned dwarf into her arms. Naismith, Nong and Mordrock look at each other in shock. “Did we just stun the wrong dwarf?”, Mordrock says. Nong turns to Holly, “do you know a dwarf named Ahmaergo?”. Between tears, Holly looks up with a frown, “this is Ahmaergo…Johnny Ahmaergo you asshole!”.

A sigh of relief washes over their faces.

Johnny Ahmaergo shakes off the stun in Holly’s arms. “What’s going on Holly?” says Johnny as he looks up at the 3 strangers who he remembers trying to avoid at the bar. “We need to get you to safety now, it’s not safe here”. Johnny grabs Holly and escorts her to the nearby roof window of another tavern where the catwalk ends. He helps her through the window when all of a sudden, she vanishes into thin air. “Aaaghh, Holly!”, he turns around to see Mordrock’s arms raised as if completing a spell. “What the hell did you do with her!!!” Johnny screams at Mordrock. “I banished her until we have a chance to speak with you Ahmaergo”.

Johnny looses his shit, draws his two handed sword and swings at Mordrock in a mad rage. Mordrock cannot dodge fast enough and takes the multiple hits from Johnny’s great sword but manages to stay focused on keeping Holly banished to a demiplane. Johnny is not strong enough to take on Naismith, Nong and Mordrock together and eventually collapses on the catwalk; Nong then kicks Johnny’s body off the catwalk where it falls 40 feet and crashes onto the ground…broken.

Royce ascends onto the catwalk from the Lazy Bugbear taking in the encounter 100 feet away. What he doesn’t notice are the two assassins hiding in the shadows next to him. Royce doesn’t see them coming and endures the multiple surprise attacks from both assassins, however those attacks are not enough to take him down. Royce manages to kill one assassin but the other escapes, jumping off of the catwalk to the ground below. Naismith now on the ground next to the broken body, sees the encounter with Royce and the fleeing assassin, and starts running after the assassin in hopes to catch him. Nong pays no attention to the assassins and searches the broken body; he finds a key and a tattoo on the dead dwarf’s neck, similar to the one Naismith has on his neck.

Naismith in pursuit manages to wound the fleeing assassin but not enough to slow him down. The assassin is too fast and Naismith eventually lets him go. He watches as the assassin flees in the direction of the Thieves Guild guards on patrol at the bridge between the Port and Trade districts. “This won’t be good for us”, Naismith thinks to himself.

Back at the broken body, Naismith says to Royce, Nong and Mordrock, “We need to move now. That assassin was obviously Thieves Guild. They all watch each other, especially someone like Ahmaergo”. The party escapes into the Ethereal plane just as Mordrock releases Holly back into Skullport.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Skullport

It feels like hours of sloshing, inhaling the stench of sewers and climbing down before the Drow’s Bane exit through a tunnel that lets them onto the edge of the Port district, Skullport. Naismith leads them forward as the party takes in the scene – a large cavern, dim light from bio luminescent fungi clustered across the cavern walls along with a few torches farther towards the shanty town of taverns and inns that make up the Port district. High above the dilapidated buildings, roped catwalks spread out across the roofs connecting one tavern to another.

Which makes sense given the ground below is littered with filth and pock-marked with large gaping holes making it difficult to travel by foot. Just shy of where the party entered, they notice a horrific shrine filled with sacrificed body parts, blood everywhere and a rams skull. “A recent shrine to Orcus it seems” says Royce shaking his head in disgust. “Looks like the cults are also using the sewers to travel between Skullport and Waterdeep” says Naismith.

The party begins to move forward en route to Skull Island from the Port district when they notice they are not alone. Several individuals peeking out of rundown buildings notice the Drow’s Bane and move to intercept. “Orcs” says Nong. The encounter does not last long as every orc except one is taken down; the remaining orc, roughed up and naked is let go as a warning. “Just another Skullport gang looking for trouble” says Naismith, “Several gangs exist here and vie for territory and dominance”.

“Where’s Mordrock?” says Royce. “I’m here. Was checking out the shrine while you handled the orc gang.” After searching the orc bodies, the party continues forward and eventually arrives at the gate to Skull Island. Naismith changes his appearance and flashes a circular tattoo on his neck; it looks like a sun with a dark circle in the middle. The guards at the gate are complete assholes and demand 25 gold from each person. Even the fast-talk Naismith is having with them does not seem to persuade them to lighten the toll. Mordrock walks up to the guards, pulls out a bloodied sack and opens it revealing body parts collected from the shrine, “lets us pass or you’re next!”. “Aaaagh! What the fuck man is that!!” the guards jump back in horror and look at Mordrock in fear. The guards quickly motion the party through the gate and then regain their composure. Royce, Nong and Naismith stare in awe at Mordrock as they walk through the gate into Skull Island.

The party takes some time to get the lay of the land as Naismith is not familiar with this district. They manage to locate the prison and very close to it an Iron Ring establishment with several chained slave groups being lead into a 3-story stone building. These slaves look young ranging from adolescents to minors; one group is composed of surface races while a second group are from the Underdark. Naismith explains the Iron Ring is the slaver organization who do the dirty work for the Thieves Guild in terms of acquiring and selling slaves in exchange for protection. Acquiring kids seems very odd to Naismith and only highlights the drive to gain enough supply to fulfill the demonic cult’s demand.

They scout out the prison and count the number of watchtowers surrounding it as well as a large barracks near to it. All of the guards appear to be dressed similar to the guards at the gate. “These guys belong to the Thieve’s Guild. You can tell by their uniforms” says Naismith. What also catches Naismith’s attention further inland on the island is a floating skull bouncing around, watching others pass by. Naismith turns to the group and says, “There are several Skulls that patrol Skullport” as he points in the direction of the floating skull. “If any fight breaks out and a Skull is near, it will attack non-Skulkers and then call for backup; it’s goal is to restore the peace at any cost. It’s best we don’t get their attention”.

“I don’t think we can take this prison by force after looking at all of the watch towers and guards patrolling the prison grounds” says Nong. The party thinks they can bargain their way into the prison as a better approach. Naismith still in disguise, along with Nong, walk up to the prison gates. Two guards stand behind the gate and stare at Naismith and Nong as they approach. Naismith persuades the guards enough to learn that Gart is within but the guards will not fetch the prisoner for fear of their captain’s wrath.

With enough persuasion and many pieces of platinum, the two guards acquiesce and sneak away to fetch Gart. They return with a beaten up middle-aged duergar that’s barely alive; they throw him at Naismith and Nong and tell them to disappear. The party regroups nearby in an abandoned shack to revive Gart. They learn Gart used to work for the Thieve’s Guild before prison; he’s now looking to start a new life outside of crime with his new freedom. As a reward, Gart shares the names of the Xanathar’s two lieutenants who each possess a key – a shield dwarf named Ahmaergo who hangs out at the Lazy Bugbear inn and an old crone named Madame Cobb who runs the Vial Brews apothecary. Royce and Naismith notice on Gart’s arm a tattoo of a copper scourge, the symbol of Glasya, lord of the sixth hell.

The Drows’ Bane locate Bloodthorn Manor and walk up to the double doors. Royce intimidates the guards who attempt to hold their ground against him but eventually tap the doors twice. Moments later the door opens and a goblin appears from within. “These guys are looking for Cephalux but don’t have an appointment” the guard says to the goblin. “Please let them pass. I’ll escort them to Cephalux. We have been waiting for them” the goblin smiles. The Drow’s Bane are escorted down a long hallway that opens up to a large room with a long table down the middle. As they approach the entryway they see 12 females dressed in leather armor seated at the table and a mind flayer seated at the opposite end of the table from the entryway. Cephalux says in a raised voice, “I’m so sorry…it looks like they got to me first” as a large beholder drops from darkness above and attacks!

The Drow’s Bane notice this beholder seems quite old, with many scars and with two eye patches covering two of its eye stalks. The females dressed in leather also react by drawing swords and standing up from their seats. During the fight, Cephalux escapes out the front door and heads towards the nearest barracks for cover.

The beholder and the females are no match for the Drow’s Bane who wear them down. When the beholder falls, the remaining females stop fighting, disengage and run out the front door. Naismith notices their uniforms are not of the Thieves Guild and thinks they are sell swords for hire, which explains their retreat once the beholder was dead.

The party lets the females go and explores the manor. They find a bedroom where they camp for a long rest. They exit Bloodthorn manor, refreshed after their rest and decide to visit the Lazy Bugbear inn as their next stop.

Forts & Frontiers: 5E in 17th Century North America

I came across Campaign GamesForts & Frontiers quickstart “The Feast of the Dead” browsing the box of options for Free RPG Day this year, but ended up going home with something else and somewhat regretted it— Forts & Frontiers was something new and different over the familiar skeleton of 5E, so I was excited when they announced they were putting it up for free at DriveThroughRPG and followed up with a kickstarter campaign that kicked off this last week.

My initial thoughts are pretty much based on a first read at the airport and a few brief interactions on with them on Twitter, so when I finally get a chance to try this at a table, I’ll be sure to follow up here as well.

The PDF and booklet both have an old-school RPG feel, the cover format evoking old TSR modules like “The Keep on the Borderlands”, and the original artwork throughout is fantastic and expressive— I especially love the Wendigo encounter. The featured image above is from the quickstart— it and the rest of the illustrations are by Stephen W. Gurtowski.

The RPG drops us into 17th/18th century North America built on the D&D 5E SRD, with European settlers expanding through and exploring the new world, and the existing nations they encounter along the way. This quickstart is set in 17th century Wendake (present-day Ontario).

Since it’s designed on top of 5E, on-boarding is quick and easy, with a couple pages of history/background and a page or so of new content and rules adjustments before we dive into the adventure.

The rules adjustments are lightweight— Firearms take an an extra action to load, black powder an additional action on top of that. Archery ammunition is also more limited, and takes a survival check (with degrees of success) to recover. I am definitely all-in on the choice to use the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s realistic rest times— 8 hour for a short rest, 7 days for a long rest. D&D’s fantasy magic does not exist per say, but some kind of magic/faith/medicine is used by the Jesuts and some of the Wendat. Three of the PCs have minor spell casting abilities (“prayers/rituals” using a couple of D&D’s cleric spells), with no spell slots, but recovered on a short/long rest.

The pre-generated characters are (almost) all part of the same Wendat tribe, and the module suggests which of the six could/should be run as NPCs if you play with four or five of the six possible PCs.

One new mechanic introduced is a character’s Belief, which reads (in part),

When an extraordinary event occurs, for example a European priest heals someone by laying on hands or a creature of North Ameri- can legend is encountered in the wilderness, players must make a Wisdom saving throw with the DC set by the magnitude of the event. On failure, their characters gain a point of belief. The more belief points characters have, the more disposed they are toward the influencing civilization.

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I’m onboard with the concept of it, but it’s not immediately clear how mechanical use of it works as it increases, it just is. If a failed wisdom save increases one’s belief, it would seem the higher-wisdom characters would be less accepting/“believing” than others? It’s only in the context of the adventure (in fact, the second-to-last page), that it’s explained belief points are a pool to be spent— In this adventure, they can be added to a persuasion role trying to convince a shaman to allow Anatole Berger, the Jesuit priest, to assist in helping a sick man, but they also have the possibility to hinder rolls— We’ll get to that below.

The Adventure

The Portage & The Hunt

Sunset on the water in Bowron Provincial Park, BC.
I couldn’t find any of my photos from canoeing in Ontario, so here’s sunset at Bowron Lake Provincial Park, BC five years ago.

I don’t love kicking off the adventure with “Roll of Exhaustion”. I’ve encountered this with a couple Adventurer’s League modules before, and it can make the session rather frustrating. This story starts with two back-to-back, one for the journey “up to this point” (they’ve been traveling for about six weeks), and another as the party attempts a portage around rapids— the first task of the game. Spending the entire rest of the adventure rolling all your checks at disadvantage is no fun, exhaustion is an unforgiving mechanic even in full-flavor D&D, and with limited healing/recovery (and seven-day long rests!), I can’t imagine it’s going to be any less debilitating in 17th-century North America. I would definitely drop one, and maybe drop both of the exhaustion checks at the top of the session. I’ll have to think on what other consequences (if any) to use instead.

The check for this portage is also a bit vague. It notes the DC depends on how many people are helping with each boat, but it’s unclear the cost of either choice— they are a party of two boats for six people (originally four, but the original trading party has picked up two more, Anatole, the Jesuit, and Yahounk, another Wendat), why would two of the party not be helping? As GM I’d try to offer up alternative options for what two of the party might do instead of carrying— are they scouting (thereby giving advantage to everyone else making their rolls for the portage)? Getting a head-start on hunting/foraging (which is the next encounter, and oh look, another chance for exhaustion!).

Downtime and Storytelling!

I love campfire downtime and the chance to spur on conversation and roleplaying between party members. The module includes a short Wendat creation myth, and suggest giving the handout to one of the players to share the story with everyone else (and most importantly, their Catholic companion).

A couple days of camp time to rest and prep food from hunting/foraging also lets us see the belief mechanic in action, although once again, it’s there, but it’s unclear how to use it until later.

A Monster, More Travel, More Exhaustion

The Wendigo encounter should be fun, dialing up the creepy factor with a player character who thinks he hears his family’s voices. More travel rolls on the part of the guide means more possibilities for Exhaustion CON saves, putting us at the fourth or fifth check for some of these characters and (if their not rolling well) getting into the truly debilitating stuff. There is a note to roll for random encounters in the event they need to repair a canoe at one point, but I didn’t see any kind of encounter table to use.

Finale & Using Belief Points

We get to the last act of the encounter and get to see these belief points in use, but I’m still a little fuzzy on it all. The points can be pooled to help in persuading a shaman to allow Fr. Berger to help a sick man (and specifically call out “points gained through interaction with Anatole Berger”), but also, in the event the shaman tries to stop Berger, belief points Berger gained from interacting with the Wendat are subtracted from Berger’s roll.

Wrapping up with a strong social encounter (with the possibility of combat) gives us a satisfying ending, and one of my favorite parts of running a one-shot/quickstart— There are no personal stakes for the player and their PC, so they can be just as satisfied with drastic action, death, and/or any other failure. They’re likely never going to play this character again, and they may have become emotionally invested in the last couple hours of gameplay, but killing, banishing, or capturing a PC carries none of the baggage that it might in an ongoing campaign. Instead you and each player can give a quick one or two sentence epilogue— ask them what is is that happens, and just like that, it does.

Final thoughts, quick notes and open questions

  • Belief— My initial understanding was Belief was something that would grow over time/encounters and build, but once I got into the adventure understood it to be more of a pool to spend and regain again. I find myself trying to draw half-baked parallels to the Sanity and Mythos skills in Call of Cthulhu, but it’s not quite right. As noted above, it seems to sometimes help, sometimes hinder. Does one want belief in all cases? I would think the increase in cross-cultural belief and understanding should be a good thing, if it denotes a grown in one’s knowledge and acceptance of the “other’s” culture, but it also gets in the way of Fr. Anatole’s ability to heal someone.
  • Degrees of Success. After picking up Expanse AGE I’ve tried to work on ways to incorporate degrees of success and “failing forward” in my 5E games (something Call of Cthulhu also handles well with its “pushed” rolls). Most/all of the checks described in the scenario include details on what to do with a critical success/failure, a failure of five or more, or multiple DCs (for example, recovering one spent arrow after a fight is a DC11 survival check, recovering all of them DC16).
  • The adventure does a great job of checking the quickstart boxes (this is an exploration heavy game! Here’s an example of combat! Oh look, the supernatural is at least a little bit real! Here’s a social encounter, see our new belief mechanic in action!), but does expect an understanding of 5E’s basic rules and mechanics, with little hand-holding beyond pointing to the SRD or Player’s Handbook).
  • Be careful with that exhaustion! I could be being overcautious about how this would actually play out (and indeed, having travelled by canoe in Canada for two weeks, I can imagine traveling by canoe for two months would be rather exhausting), but I’m a little afraid of how a number of failed CON saves will stack up— With a long rest unlikely in the course of the adventure, the party could be only a few unlucky rolls away from To Build a Fire.

I have a feeling much of vagueness or questions I encountered will be addressed by the fleshed-out version coming from the Kickstarter, and I’m interested to see how the nationality-based “race” replacement will work for character creation, as well as more details on how the classes are defined— Between the six PCs, we have two flavors of cleric (priest), and one fighter (warbearer). Check out the kickstarter for the rest of the month, and I hope to followup with a reflection on actual play before the end of the summer.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Lady Silverhand’s important meeting

The Drow’s Bane arrive at Castle Waterdeep and are greeted by the door guards. Minutes later Seneschal Talonfeather greets the party and escorts them inside. “Thank you for your promptness”, says Talonfeather. “The masked Lords of Waterdeep, Lady Silverhand and the Lord’s Alliance are about to begin session.” The party is not familiar with the corridor they are being led down; most of the time they are taken through to Lady Silverhand’s personal chamber which is on the opposite side of the castle. This corridor leads to two double doors with gold trim and fine detail; a guard stands on each side of the doors. When the guards see Talonfeather approach they salute him and open the doors. The large chamber inside is noisy with people moving about, situating themselves in chairs and around tables. The room is displayed with a large chair near the center surrounded by several chairs on both sides behind a bannister. Two other seating areas of benches and tables, are on either side of the room. Together the entire seating area forms a semi-circle with Lady Silverhand seated in the middle.

This is the first time the Drow’s Bane encounters the full entourage of the masked Lords of Waterdeep. Every one of them is dressed in fine robes and wearing a gold mask to hide their identity. On the benches appear to be representatives from the Lord’s Alliance – Neverwinter, Baldur’s Gate and Silverymoon.

Lady Silverhand calls the chamber into session at the same time she acknowledges the Drow’s Bane and motions them to come forward to the middle of the room. “Thank you everyone for making arrangements to be present at this meeting in such short time. Our goal for today is to decide on the path forward to dealing with the recent outbreak of demonic cult activity across the Sword Coast and within each of our cities.” She scans the room and stares right at Nong for a brief moment before continuing. “The demonic cult activity is spreading as we see trails of sacrifices in our alleys, abandoned warehouses and in our sewers. None of my agents have been able to deduce why now, why here, however we have learned something interesting. The demonic cult outbreak in Waterdeep is in high demand of slaves to sacrifice. They are pursuing the crime lords in hopes to receive a constant supply of slaves for their evil intentions. They have been in contact with the Xanathar Thieve’s Guild who has stepped up to provide more slaves to meet the demand. Their slave trading partners, the Iron Ring, have begun to hunt down more innocents from the Underdark and surface in response.”

Lady Silverhand pauses to let the room take in the information and then continues. “My relationship with the Xanathar Thieve’s Guild has always been something of a hushed tolerance so long as they minimized the impact of their business on Waterdhavians. In return, we have used their sources for intelligence and information that have thwarted several criminal activities for years. Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Her facial expression turns grim as she says, “Rumor has it that a new Xanathar has taken over the Thieve’s Guild in recent months; this new leader is hellbent on undermining everything we have established prior; it is intent on meeting the slave demand of the demonic cults over keeping the political balance with Waterdeep. After several failed attempts to parley with the Thieve’s Guild, we cannot wait any longer and must choose a new path to take to protect our people and our interests.”

“Given the circumstances, the Lord’s of Waterdeep supported by the Lord’s Alliance and to a degree the Harpers too, have decided to terminate the Xanathar as the most viable option on the table. The removal of this leader will hopefully instill temporary chaos in the Thieve’s Guild buying us time to eradicate the demonic cults here at home.” Next, Lady Silverhand looks at the Drow’s Bane. “I have invited the Drow’s Bane to this meeting as I feel no other party has demonstrated themselves to me, who is capable enough to fulfill a mission like this. Royce, Nong, Naismith and Mordorck…will you take on this assignment to covertly enter Skullport, find the Xanathar and assassinate him?” All eyes look towards the party as Royce, Nong, Naismith and Mordrock look to each other. For a brief moment, Naimsith looks uneasy about this, but quickly changes character. Royce responds, “Yes, Lady Silverhand, we accept this assignment for the Lord’s of Waterdeep and the Lord’s Alliance”. A sigh of relief fills the room as Lady Silverhand displays the briefest of smiles before she closes the meeting and adjourns the audience.

She calls to the Drow’s Bane to approach her. “Thank you. I knew I could trust you to help. We have learned of two accomplices willing to help the Lord’s Alliance in Skullport with information on the whereabouts of the Xanathar. The first named Cephalux, a mind flayer, who has a manor in Skull Island. Meet him at his manor and learn from him what he knows. The second is a duergar prisoner named Gart; he is unfortunately in the Skullport prison also on Skull Island.” They discuss the plan to arrive into Skullport via the river. Naismith comments that travel by water is unnecessary as they will use the sewer route he is familiar with. “Oh, I didn’t realize that way to Skullport was still accessible. Very well as you see fit.” replies Lady Silverhand.

She then reaches out to each of the four and says “may the gods protect you and godspeed home with a successful mission”.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: To Candlekeep and back

The Drow’s Bane teleport to Catchbreeze after saying farewell to the Githzerai. They report back to Lady Silverhand and inform her of everything that was discovered in Ice Reach and how they thwarted the unleashing of an enthralled Kraken and Tarrasque onto the Sword Coast by an elder brain.

The Drow’s Bane also come clean with Lady Silverhand and tell her about the wand of Orcus and how it came into their possession. They ask her for help and she recommends they seek wisdom at Candlekeep, the greatest collection of writings in all of Faerun.

Days after, they set out for Candlekeep by securing room and board on the ‘Fancy Lady’, a keelboat docked in the Dock Ward; it appears money is no object with the Drow’s Bane as they secure the entire ship just for themselves. The trip to Baldur’s Gate takes about ten days by sea which goes uneventful. Nong along with the wand of Orcus, stays in the cockpit the entire time because the distance is greater than 300 feet from the others and the ship’s supplies; anything within 300 feet of the Wand will spoil and prevent anyone from taking a short or long rest.

They arrive and dock in Baldur’s Gate and set out across the city. They soon overhear people talking about Demonic Cults on the rise in the area. They decide not to stick around but quickly find a horse stable, rent horses and make their way south to Candlekeep. The travel on horseback takes days but the trip is uneventful. Except for Nong staying 301 feet away from the party, waking up to find the tree he’s climbed up was alive the night before and now is dead; there’s also a party of rat swarms hanging out just below him attracted to the Wand’s aura.

They arrive at Candlekeep, a towering castle-like-fortress with many spires walled off by 20 feet high stone walls surrounding the entire compound. Candelkeep sits on a crag that overlooks the Sea of Swords; the entrance is via a bridge from the main road that crosses over to the crag and leads up to two large metal doors. As the party approaches they see several monks standing in front of the open metal doors, welcoming people into Candlekeep. They greet the monks, who inform the Drow’s Bane that to gain entrance requires an ‘entrance gift’ – a tome not already found in the library that is worthy of significant historical importance, rarity or immense value.

You can hear a pin drop as the party looks at each other unsure of what to do next; none of them inquired beforehand on the requirements to enter Candlekeep. Nong gets a little cocky with the monks and wields the Wand of Orcus in their faces proclaiming the importance of this trip for the Drow’s Bane and the danger he holds in his hand. The monks smile back and simply restate the entrance gift requirement or no admittance. Moments later, the monks shut the main doors to avoid further discussion with Nong and signal for help. Nong then runs up the wall and stands on top looking out over the courtyard. Several monks look up and demand he remove himself from the wall. High above in one of the spires, an old monk with golden eyes looks out, sees Nong, and makes his way down the stairs and out to the courtyard as fast as he can.

Naismith convinces Nong to get down and to head back over the bridge to come up with a plan. As they move back across the bridge together, Naimsith hears the door behind him open up slightly. He turns back over his shoulder to see an old monk slowly walking out, using a cane for support; the monk has golden eyes, wrinkled skin, grey hair and is hunched over. Naismith stops suddenly as an image of an ancient gold dragon appears in his mind. The monk with the golden eyes projected his true self to Naismith in a split second. Naismith turns around and walks up to the monk and greets him. The monk and Naismith talk for a moment about the situation at hand, and the monk convinces Naismith to write his story and present it to the gate for entrance. Naismith returns to the party and with the help of Mordrock, begins to write down the tale of the Drow’s Bane, as best as a bard can tell it.

The next morning, the story is ready and they present it at the main entrance. The monks look it over and discuss; minutes later the party is granted entrance into Candlekeep.

The main courtyard is cobblestoned and opens up to several buildings along the walls. At the far opposite side of the courtyard sits a tower with a green door that behind it are the research study halls. The party is escorted by a monk to the bath house where every ‘Seeker’ must first bathe and put on simple robes. They are next escorted to the inn where each member of the party is assigned simple living quarters. Their escort, brother Tim, will stay at their side until they depart Candlekeep, at most ten days from now. After they get settled into their rooms, brother Tim, escorts the party to the Hearth, the grand eating hall for a meal. Nong decides to leave the wand in his room to prevent any problems.

After the meal the party is escorted into a private study hall to begin research. Brother Tim listens to their requests with no judgement, leaves for awhile and returns with tomes and scrolls. The first subject is all about Orcus and his wand. The party reads through tomes of various legends of the demon prince and how he acquired the wand and how to destroy it. Some legends say one thing like to destroy the wand you must bathe it in Tiamat’s blood, while other legends say something completely different like you must take the wand to the Positive plane and bathe it there. What is clear is that there is no one solution across the legends. Further research that day uncovers details about the Abyss, Tiamat and her lair in Avernus, and her subjects.

At the end of day 1, the Drow’s Bane are escorted back to their rooms to go to sleep. The next day, a similar routine occurs where they are escorted to a meal followed by an escort into the study hall. During the middle of the second day, the party is paid a visit by an imp, who appears out of thin air. Naismith and Royce happen to glance up from their tomes when they see this imp signal to them to get rid of brother Tim. Nong calls out to brother Tim, requesting he needs to return to his room for something and Nong and the monk leave the study hall.

The imp says to Royce, Mordrock and Naismith, “Do not believe everything you read; not all legends speak the truth about how to destroy the wand”. The imp smirks and then continues, “I was sent here by my Lady, who has taken an interest in your journey. She wants to help, but you must prove yourselves worthy first.” The party begins to ask the imp questions but the imp only replies with, “In time all will be revealed if you prove yourselves.” and then blinks out of existence.

This encounter sets the party off into a new direction of research! Brother Tim returns with Nong and is sent off to find details on imps, the Hells and who rules each layer. Hours later reading through tome after tome, the party maps out the female lords of Hell: Zariel, Tiamat, Glasya and Fierna.

That night Royce and Mordrock make a plan to prepare spells for the next day, to contact their deities and planar allies, looking for any help as to who this Lady might be. Royce also receives a message from Lady Silverhand, requesting the Drow’s Bane to be at Castle Waterdeep in one week for a very important meeting.

The next day Mordrock and Royce get to work. Mordrock contacts Tiamat, given his previous encounter with the dragon goddess. A black Abishai appears in the circle representing the voice of Tiamat. The party quickly abandons this idea once they learn the cost for answers from the Abishai is one of their souls. Next, Royce succeeds in contacting Tempus. Royce learns from Tempus ‘the Lady’ is in fact Glasya, the lord of the 6th hell, Malbolge.

With that information, the party returns to the study hall to begin research on Glasya, her hate for the wand of Orcus and travel to the Hells. Unfortunately, brother Tim does not return with much information on these topics. Little does the party know, the monks have cut them off from further research of non-mundane things, given Nong’s little stunt outside the keep.

Back at the Hearth for the evening meal, Nong is requested by brother Tim to step outside. Apparently, the neighbors on both sides of Nong’s room have complained that something foul is emanating from Nong’s room and is turning water and liquids rancid. The monks perform a test by placing a jug of water outside of Nong’s room and confirmed within a few hours the jug of water was rancid too. Nong is immediately asked to gather his belongings and is escorted out of Candlekeep. Nong does manage to inform the party of this on his way out the door.

Royce, Naismith and Mordrock realize the situation and decide now is a good time to leave Candlekeep. They are frustrated too with today’s lack of research results and seriously question the value of this research facility being the greatest in Faerun. They gather their belongings and leave Candlekeep.

The four travel back to Baldur’s Gate to return the horses. Royce then recalls the Drow’s Bane back to Catchbreeze with a few days to spare from Lady Silverhand’s very important meeting.