Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Belswick session 3: tomb work and tortured pasts

Last Friday's game started out chaotic! No strong start à la Sly Flourish, because I wanted to give the PCs freedom to decide where to go. I've a lot of backstories to weave into the campaign, so used the time in town to flesh out relations with mentors and contacts.

We spend the first half of the session on housekeeping [1], negotiating taxes [2], crashing the economy [3], negotiating with a spirit-ridden swanling [4], mentor-apprentice-relations [5] and raising an impressionable young goblin [6]. That all done, the group decided to have a look at the harder areas in Tomb of the Serpent Kings [7].

Be a Swanling, they said. Wonderful voice, elegant demeanor. Cursed to the last feather. From.

A thought: being family to an adventurer is dangerous business - Mike, Lomin, Guy and Tilbørd lose parents, loved ones, siblings or even their entire clan to their (self written) backstories. I can only hope that Aju's family will remain hale and hearty. Perhaps the group read too much into this post on the dangers of people knowing your truename?


The village of Crossroads, Barony Walden, Duchy Belswick, Kingdom of Pembroke was attacked by goblins and an owlbear; tracking these down, the PCs found the entrance to the Tomb of the Serpent Kings near the curiously sparse herb garden of Annabelle the potion maker. A dungeon, right on the border between two fiefs? Loot first, worry about taxes later! All that here.

If you know TotSK: the players have discovered the deeper tombs and explored most of it. But by random choices, they haven't yet discovered the two NPCs lurking on the lower level. Or, to be more honest, the sounds of eery singing in the dark and clacking from a hallway filled with alchemical smells and weird lights wasn't too appealing to them.

And I seriously don't get why they wouldn't want to meet the friendly old potion maker down there!

Maybe it's a cute and friendly Moleling! Mole folk? Mole person. HOLY HELL THESE DRAWINGS ROCK.
Then again, my players know me better than hoping for a Mole. Topplegeist by Seb McKinnon, via Coins & Scrolls.


I started out the campaign by asking for people's quick responses to a raid, not the usual "what's your character look like?" - so we do that now, outside a goblin-infested Du'van stronghold.

Let me include VERY brief summaries (highlight to read as usual) of the 4-5 page backgrounds my players sent me. I could run the campaign on those backstories alone and I just might.

MIKE - a human fighter and midwife (and trainee druid) hailing from the north of the kingdom of Pembroke. Belswick is in the south and all they know is that up north, there's lots of kilts and angry men in woad. They're not wrong, although Mike is a relaxed specimen. Cares a lot about animals, less about people.
Tortured past: entire clan drugged and sacrificed to cult that summoned a ghostly, life sucking tentacle from the clan's sacred pool with a chant to THE MESSENGER. Only survivor - the tentacle shivered and broke, killing cultists and clan alike and leaving part of itself in Mike's head. Which is why I gave him minor psionic powers.GUY - human wizard from Arrayne, member of the Lodge of Augurs and Diviners. Works for local lord Sir Haine Kerjules as a thief finder and smuggling inspector. We roll for Guy's college debt to the Lodge: max damage for a 50.000 gp debt, of which 1500 gp already paid. Monthly payment of 100 gp taken care of 50-50 by Sir Kerjules and his mentor Fergus the Augur.
Tortured past: formerly a baron's son in Arrayne who suffered terrible nightmares and freak accidents of magic. Such as accidentally burning down half the castle. Parents killed, sent to the Lodge for training, relocated to Belswick, met and helped roll up a warlock cult who kept referring to him as THE MESSENGER. Gave him minor psionic powers just like Mike.

TILBØRD - human priest and cleric of the Authority and part of the order of knowledge. Hails from the frozen Væring isles in the far north, moved to Belswick with his parents when he was young.
Tortured past: Tilbørd saw his parents - a pack of career criminals - killed by very professional people hunting for an amulet of an eye they stole. Wearing it caused him to learn all languages and stopped his sister's heart. Now a charlatan and blackmailer in a habit. NOT the healer.

LOMIN "Mr. Mor to you" MOR - elf gambler and rogue. Famously (well, around here) helped the neighbouring Lady Olga with a problem and got in her good graces - to get kicked out over a misunderstanding.
Tortured past: formerly a noble son in an Arraynian Duke's family of seven, saw his love murdered by his elder brother because Lomin overheard his brother stealing taxes. Fled, joined thieves' guild, met Lady Olga and helped her get rid of annoying suitors, assumed her identity after she passed away.

AJU - a fishling and barbarian who's not overly fond of large groups of people, but warms to individuals. Has taken a liking to local potion brewer Annabelle and even became her apprentice. Maybe if he works real hard she'll tell him where her most potent potions ACTUALLY come from. For now, she's warned him not to dig too deep into the Tomb of the Serpent Kings.
Tortured past: nothing yet, although Aju's player is dropping hints of not having been a fishling at birth!

Tortured past pending. From.


[1] housekeeping: the group leaves the Tomb of the Serpent Kings around noon. Lomin Mor heads for the nearby fief of Culfield, the rest go back to Crossroads. From the balmy weather, later dusk and flowering plants they find that weeks have past in the three days they spent exploring the tomb.

Tilbørd takes minor confessions because Father Eustace is tired and unwell. The old priest on his one leg has been traveling to an old friend - Tilbørd offers to help out, but is told that this is a duty to the Church that cannot be delegated.

Not wanting to waste an opportunity, Tilbørd hears and absolves -for a price- the confession of Millicent the store keeper, who has been sleeping around on her husband with Orbat the innkeeper. Information filed away for future use.

[2] Taxes. Because you owe everything to your Lord. Lady Olga is indisposed - sick these past weeks - explains her manservant Manual to Lomin Mor. The two arrange a 40% tax on the very interesting baubles that Lomin has taken from the Tomb.

Meanwhile, Sir Kerjules rewards the group for slaying that pesky Owlbear and recovering both Little Guy (the servant of swanling merchant Dinadan) and Dinadan's wares from the goblins.

Kerjules is prepared to go to 25% taxation IF the group is willing to clear the goblins once and for all so that the excellent stonework can be quarried. Kerjules is smelling a stronger castle and guard towers! The huge basilisk in the tomb is considered, boggles the mind (normally the beasties are the size of a dog, this one's body is as big as a wagon). Kerjules is only beginning to see the military applications. A barony or even higher for him if he tames this beast for Duke Belswick?

+100 gp reward for bringing back Little Guy, Dinadan's merchandise and the owlbear's head. Will not be taxed. Brought back home, so worth XP.

[3] Crashing the economy: Mike gives his neighbours a princely sum of 15 gp (retirement!) for taking care of his animals while he was gone. The group spends a couple of days shopping and recovering, and talks to the people of Crossroads. Lomin Mor and Manuel discuss the unpleasant surprise of a possible rival to the fief popping up: a Sir Drake, lodging with Sir Kerjules and waiting for Sherrif Corrick to make his case for fief Culfield.

[4] The merchant's chest. Dinadan is drenched in cold sweat. He looks terrified when Tilbørd corners him in his room at the inn to talk about recovering the mysterious triple-locked chest that the swanling was smuggling. Is it still down in the tomb?! Even at night, the merchant is ready to storm out - he's badly scared and needs that chest. Tilbørd notices that the swanling acts like someone dangerous is watching and asks to speak to his master directly.

Down in the common room, Mike and Guy perk up as they sense something bad upstairs. Where a ghostly voice comes from Dinadan's mouth to explain that "this one is just a carrier". The apparition riding the swanling explains how it serves someone called Harkness, who transports high-value information and goods. Cleric of the Authority Tilbørd immediately strikes a bargain: he'll give back the chest in return for future collaboration. A ghostly arm detaches from Dinadan's and etches a stylized H on Tilbørd's left arm. No pigment or hair will ever grow again where the specter touched him.

Mike and Guy burst in too late to see the spectacle, but are informed by Tilbørd that all is under control. And I put back the beautifully prepared contents of the locked chest for later use.

+50 gp for recovering the merchant's chest. Not taxed (and advisable to keep the source a secret). Brought back home, so worth XP.
100 gp not earned (yet?) - the group decides not to leak Annabelle's secret link to the Tomb of the Serpent Kings to Orbat the innkeeper. I'm sure they just forgot...

[5] Mentor-apprentice relations take some time to resolve. Tilbørd's superior Father Eustace looks exhausted; he's going out on his donkey 2-3 times a week to visit a sick member of the order nearby. A secret for a later time. Tilbørd asks his master to be careful and to take care of himself - surprising me, I thought he was going to be all hardass, all the time.

Guy's mentor Fergus stops by - he is escorting Young Lady Liselle to her fiancee Peter, the son of Baron Walden. Bandits harrassed them in Witmarrow marsh to the east, but Fergus' magic provided ample warning and deterrent.

In an aside, Mike is able to heal the horses' wounds from the bandit ambush with remembered druid magic - he took a druid level after leveling up. The group finally has a healer!

After escorting Liselle to Walden, Fergus will settle nearby. Both Eustace and Fergus are very pleased with the find of a tomb full of Du'van relics nearby. The Order and Lodge are looking forward to learning everything they can!

[6] What do young goblins eat, especially ones that grow from a fungus bed in a dark crypt? Pretty much anything, discovers Tilbørd. He's raising the thing to be a knowledgeable manservant and aide. Gustav, as the unfortunate thing is named, soon learns to walk and speak both Dark Fey and Du'van. He is convinced he is a superior goblin to "those at home", and starts thinking he might even be High Fae. (He's not and that's a stupidly dangerous claim to make, hence very Goblin.)

[7] Tomb-ward! All the housekeeping and gossiping done with, I ask the group what their plans are. Bandit hunting in Witmarrow Marsh? Look into the claimant Sir Drake to the fief of Culfield? Track down Goblin raiders pestering nearby farms?

We could do that, says the group. Or, now that all players are together for the first time, we could turn that firepower onto the dangerous rooms in the Tomb that we've avoided so far!

Perfectly fine by me, and the group ends up breaking off a silver ring from a terracotta statue (poison gas incapacitates Guy's otherworldly raven familiar), fighting skeletons in the fake burial chamber of the Du'van King, and triggering a lightning trap when they lift a spellbook from the skeletal hands of the mage Sparamuntar in the Lower Tomb. Everyone survives, because Tilbørd uses an inspiration token to boost Mike's saving throw.

+10 gp magical silver ring (taxes pending)
+40 gp silver and gold grave goods in the upper, false tomb
+500 gp spellbook (taxes pending; can for instance be copied, then sent to the Lodge)


The group now has two spellbooks:

Sarah Vennis, nun of the Silent Order of St. Gustav

Level 1
bless (for instance to clean unholy items)
cure wounds
detect magic (ritual)
detect poison and disease (ritual)
guiding bolt

Level 2
augury (ritual)
enhance ability

Sparamuntar, snakeman wizard of the Du'van

Blade Ward
Poison Spray
Shocking Grasp

Level 1
Fog Cloud
Charm Person

Level 2
Mind Spike 

Level 3
Lightning Bolt


+100 gp reward for bringing back Little Guy, Dinadan's merchandise and the owlbear's head. Will not be taxed.
+50 gp for recovering the merchant's chest. Not taxed (and advisable to keep the source a secret ;)

--> Both received at the characters' home base, so worth 150 XP = 30 XP per player.
(We decide to divide XP equally so that no players are left behind when schedules conflict; even if the loot that earns the XP may be divided unequally.)

+10 gp magical silver ring (taxes pending)
+40 gp silver and gold grave goods in the upper, false tomb
+500 gp spellbook (taxes pending; can for instance be copied, then sent to the Lodge)

--> All to be taxed and not worth XP yet; need to bring it back home safe!

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