Thursday, 8 August 2019

Belswick 5 & 6: early domain play

In a double whammy, we find time for a double session with all players present! A rarity amongst Gen X gamers with busy lives. Last session there were only three, but they did manage to clear out the goblin infestation in the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. The gang kept really busy - I'll write down the highlights first, then detail side events below.

Note that these characters are 2nd level, and they're already dealing with domain play, building a stronghold and conspiring to replace noble rulers. What really helps is having a good handle on the local feudal lords and their feuds and obligations. Setting here, Skerples-inspired way to generate your own feudal domain here.

My posts on buying land and positions are already seeing use! To date, the group have dealt with ghouls, the Winter Court of faeries and with two warlock patrons. One has made a pact with the Radiant Maiden.

Your characters don't need megastats to change the world, just a lever and motivation. In this case all that motivation came from the group themselves, I just set out the situation. Wonderful to see that happen at my table!

Overview map: Duchy Belswick. Play has been in the barony Walden, right above the Stone Principality


Aju - fishling barbarian who (having just finished his backstory) is actually a shark turned half-human by the crab wizard Oktal and tasked to find a green-bronzed amulet with an eye on it. He went to land with his Walrusling mentor Niboje and their Turtleling wizard friend Nunawe but got separated.

Lomin "Mr Mor" Mor - on-the-run-from-his-murderous-noble-brother Elf rogue who became good friends with Lady Olga of the neighbouring fief Culfield. Lady Olga having died a year ago, Lomin now masquerades as her with the help of her manservent Manuel.

Guy - human wizard whose whose burgeoning magic caused walking nightmares and a fire that burned down the family keep and most everyone in it. Taken in by Fergus the Augur of the Lodge and Lord Kerjules of Crossroads. Has since dispatched a cult that wanted to exalt/sacrifice him to something called The Messenger, and discovered he has strange mind powers of hallucination and tentacly doom.

Michael "Mike" - human fighter/druid whose clan was ensorceled and sacrificed by a cult of The Messenger to a life-sucking horror from the lake. Has since dedicated himself to taking exceptional care of animals and wants to buy land to start a sanctuary. Residual psionic powers rather like Guy's.

Tilbørd - human cleric of the Authority's Order of the Scroll. Wants to know everything. Makes deals easily and constantly; up til now, has dealed with a ghoul, a ghost riding people that he forces to smuggle packages, a faerie Court and a Warlock Patron. More to come I'm sure.

Barony Walden is an out of the way corner of Duchy Belswick. Play has concentrated in the eastern side of the Barony.


The Goblin Prince: after he recived an over-enthousiastic axe to the forehead last session, the party decides to save the life of Litvars, prince of the Winter Court of the faeries. It takes a visit of the three ladies Sorya, Kata and Illyria of the Winter Court (appearing after being called thrice) and the sacrifice of Litvars' last fungal goblin copy to properly revive him.

I have to applaud how the players handled the fact that their characters were at cross purposes over the goblin's life. None of the stupid drama we had in our twenties. I guess age does mellow. A bit ;)

Tearful scene where young Gustav the library-goblin decides to offer his own life to merge his soul fragment back with the prince. Old Illyria produces a wicked flint knife and the deed is done. Litvars awakes and thanks his saviours in confusion. Life boons are given in the form of silver leaf broaches. Those will turn out to be very useful at the end of the session.

The three ladies and their prince leave by opening an endless hallway full of cold wind and icy-blue torches from a cupboard in Mike's cottage. The door closes and hasn't been inspected since. Snow covers the landscape. It's mid summer. Want to bet the Summer fae have an opinion on this outburst of Winter in their season?

It turns out yet again that I'm a "show, don't tell" kind of DM. I've hinted that Litvars is a prince of the winter court by way of his signet ring and thorny armor, but I don't spell out what "saving a Winter noble" (or killing him!) means in terms of consequences.

Luckily, Tilbørd's player is happy to explain to the group that we're now dealing with great, powerful beings that only look like common sprites and goblins. Two lessons: 1) should've explained that better; 2) I have awesome players who immediately know that my frame of reference is Queen Mab's court from the Dresden Files. Haughty, honour-driven and without a shred of mercy. Be on your best possible behaviour or risk their ceaseless cruelty.

The three fiefs in four hexes that we've explored so far.

Lady Liselle's tour of the barony: in a few weeks, Baron Walden's son Peter the Hedgehog will marry Lady Liselle of Hartford, a deerling noble out of barony Ballumbie. The lady could have married her toadling baron but her father chose to honour her love to Peter, a baron's son from another barony.

As part of the engagement, Liselle is now touring her new barony Walden to meet all its banner lords. Her escort is Fergus the Augur, the master of Guy the diviner. Bandits operating out of the Witmarrow marsh have twice prevented the pair from reaching Vennax, and after chasing the bandits into the marsh, Fergus fought and had to flee from a powerful wizard. Liselle needs to visit Vennax before she can marry.

Guy hits on an idea: can Fergus hire the party as backup for the task? Fergus gladly agrees. He will stay behind to recuperate will the group travels to Vennax with Lady Liselle. Along on the ride is Aju's vast Walrusling mentor, a barbarian named Niboje who rolled into town on the groaning cart of Dinadan the swanling merchant.

The group soon smells the wet rot of Witmarrow marsh. Stories go that the deeper you head into the swamp, the weirder the place becomes; there's supposed to be a witch there, and bandits on flatboats, but also hidden treasure and a strange water snake in a half-sunken temple.

I've taken the Depth mechanic from Emmy Allen's Gardens of Ynn and Stygian Library and used it to power a marsh crawl. Will post in a bit when the players have had a chance to explore.

Sure enough, a couple of miles down the road Mike, trailing the party, and Guy using his crow familiar, spot a pair of bandit scouts hidden in the bushes. One trails the party while another races ahead - Mike makes short work of the stay-behind. Minutes later, a felled tree blocks the road. A bear of a man called Elias steps out to claim he is a local toll gatherer. He asks for 10 gold pieces from each traveler.

The party is unconvinced, even by clicking crossbows around them, and rush Elias - to find themselves ensnared by grasping vines at the man's command! When Elias turns into a bear and crossbows sing, the party decides to unload. Sleep spells, magic missile barrages, thundering explosive spells, singing arrows and above all the brutal axe of the sharkling Aju make short work of the bandits.

Two surviving crossbowmen sketch the location of the various bandit camps; you need to keep a good eye on the markers, because the pathways in Witmarrow march shift constantly. Tarn and Nigel confess that their former leader Elias put the band together at the behest of a Waldic wizard called Vedric von Vermis.

Yes, Goblin Punch readers, you know that name: it's the Boswich Bathhouse after this!

20 bandits and two lieutenants still survive; Sonnette is a mistress of the dagger, while Merril is an ace bowman. Niboje escorts Tarn and Nigel back to Crossroads, where, Tilbørd informs them, they will do chores for father Eustace or else. He performs a perfunctory ceremony to bless the dead bandits and prevent them from rising as undead.

Finds: a healing potion (used immediately) and a Red Bottle Imp worth 50 gp, 1/2 inventory slot that will allow one rumor to travel through town or insert itself into a manuscript when liberated. Confiscated by Tilbørd. Also found: seven leather armors, light crossbows and short swords/scimitars. Armory value 350 gp, 21 inventory slots, taken back by Niboje.

A cold welcome in Vennax
It is odd, remarks the party, that grouchy old sir Vennax allows bandits to operate from the marsh on his fief. It's even more remarkable that they only raid into neighbouring Culfield and Crossroads. Perhaps there's nothing of value in Vennax - a theory soon supported by fact as the group comes into the decrepit village. There is no trade road here, because a land-shuffle rewarded southern Lady Olga with the toll road for her mighty deeds in the war against Arrayne two decades ago. People are poor, and starving.

I think I feel the distaste for Sir Vennax starting to simmer, so I ham it up even more than my notes say.

Hungry, hopeless looks follow the party. The local priest needs to work a farm to make ends meet. At the manor, Lady Liselle is kept waiting for half an hour, then shown into an audience room. She's cautioned her escorts to ignore all barbs and give no cause for offense. They are shown into the kitchen and given porridge, then told by master servant Bardolph they will attend a dinner that evening. The kitchen staff are scared stiff of their lord, afraid any gossiping will get them fired.

"It would be a right shame if this fief would find itself without a ruler", says the party. "Not by killing him. He needs to be replaced by the baron. DM, what would that cost us?"

The dinner is as cold and inhospitable like the host; Sir Vennax a bitter old man who spends his days bemoaning the unfair treatment he receives while extracting every last bit of tax from his people. His son is drinking at court in Walden town to the west. His guests are a rich lawyer and merchant calling himself "...Walter, out of Waldau" (with a thick germanic accent), who smells of alchemic compounds. Walter denies being a wizard when asked by Guy, and laughs when Vennax remarks that Liselle should've stayed in Ballumbie if her guards couldn't handle some roadside attention.

Regime change
Dawn breaks, the formal visit is over, and Lady Liselle and her escort prepare to head back for Crossroads. They discuss what to do about Vennax.

I honestly hadn't prepped Liselle's personality beyond "doe-eyed lady, actually thrilled by the adventure", but there's a good click with the party and I can feel some steel in the deerling. The party is making an ally at court here.

The group is quietly furious over the treatment they got in Vennax, but even more about the treatment these villagers are getting. As a stop gap, they leave behind some money to support the poor with both head servant Bardolph and with a trusted villager that Mike knows. At the same time they know money only patches things up - they need to make structural changes to improve life here.

"It would be good if this place had another ruler. DM, how hard is it to get someone appointed again?"

Donating wealth is a form of carousing: +5 XP for Tilbørd; +10 XP for Mike. Outright buy/bribing the baron to replace Vennax could run up to 4000 gp for a direct replacement, but that's without any incriminating evidence as to banditry, poor leadership and so on that might swing the baron's decision.

On the way back, Mike spots a lean woman spying on the party; she creeps off and then races ahead through the swamp in what appears to be a canoe. Running up to the party and then ahead, Mike finds a hillock with a poorly hidden lookout that doesn't know he's spotted, and sees a beautiful crossfire from across a deeper pond between the road and dry land.

Soon after, the party walks up and a lone man appears in the road. Vedric von Vermis, because who else could lord Vennax' Waldic merchant friend have been, demands Lady Liselle is handed over. Twelve crossbowmen and a bowman rise up as the wizard blocks the way with an Ice Storm spell.

The offer to hand over the lady is denied.

I'm going over this scene in my head. Why did the party stand their ground? My guess is a big fat hatred for this wizard and his asshole master.

The party sure didn't feel invincible (although 5e characters can take a lot of punishment) and they knew they were heavily outclassed when the Ice Storm popped into existence - as a warning, not an attack, no less.

Two players had to leave after dinner, so both the rogue and wizard were out of commission, hanging around in the background as our usual MO. We agreed to include them in a defensive role to guard Liselle.

Combat highlights
Aju jumps into the pond and, being a sharkling, smells blood trickling from a scratch on a hidden bowman's leg.

Aju's player seems a bit surprised that I basically give him license to move and strike unseen without rolling a single die. For me, it makes perfect sense that a raging shark-man in the water spells doom for the bandits.

Jaws style, Aju leaps out of the water and grapples Merril the bowman (who drops a beautiful bow) and proceeds to drown him in the deepest part of the little lake. One Heimlich manoeuvre later, the last air leaves the bandit's lungs and the barbarian is off to harrass more crossbowmen.


The crossbowmen hit Liselle's horse and drive it off (with Aju's shield and handaxe!); there goes the cover for the dismounted lady, rogue and wizard. The pair encircle their ward, hoping that Vedric won't break out the artillery because he wants Liselle alive. Crossbow bolts fly and hit left and right, but the party is still fit to fight.

Vedric tries subtlety, but a Suggestion spell by the wizard for Liselle to come to him is ignored completely. Natural 20 on the save exactly when she needed it. The wizard does manage to Counterspell Guy's Magic Missile. Guy decides to focus his spells on the bandits but is dropped by a crossbow bolt.

As a Mage, Vedric is a level 9 wizard and can unleash up to level 5 spells - but he needs Liselle alive so he's stuck picking off attackers that leave her bubble of safety.

Mike is ambushed from the long grass by the dagger throwing Sonnette, but strikes back and leaves her in the dirt. He then unleashes culty mind powers and propels himself dozens of yards through the air to land in front of the wizard!

Tilbørd unleashes the power of the Radiant Maiden to speed wounded enemies to their death (Toll the Dead cantrip, Xanathar's Guide to Everything). I make all initiate casters except Warlocks pay spell slots for their Cantrips until a rite at level 3. After four sessions of two to three spells per day, Tilbørd feels like an angel of death unleashing the cantrip again and again for d6 or d12 damage. This goes well against bandits, but Vedric is still standing...

Vedric wants to get away from furious Mike and decides to cast Misty Step. Who, walking to a better spot to rain arrows on the bandits, spots the wizard behind some trees right as he casts Invisibility. Lomin and Guy are KO, Aju is hunting the last couple of bandits. Liselle, Mike and Tilbørd are still standing.

I could've ended the combat here, but there was still a chance for Vedric to win the day. The Monsters Know What They're Doing says a Mage should bolt in round 4, but Vedric thinks he has an angle, and he really needs to kidnap that deerling Liselle...

Vedric casts Suggestion to try and make Mike drop and stay out of the fight, but Mike rolls a beautiful save and counterstrikes with a Thunderwave hammer blow.

It's way past closing time in and out of game. Wrap up.

Vedric stops playing nice and unleashes a Cone of Cold directly in Mike's face. Who saves for half damage and is left standing with one hit point left. Meanwhile Tilbørd is running up to help. A vicious burst of spectral tentacles from Mike brings Vedric to 2 hit points.

I go over this in my head. Seems Vedric' next action is clear: nuke them. Vedric has two 3rd level spell slots left, and has Fly and Fireball prepared; he can cast one this round. Fly leaves him vulnerable while he flees; but the two guardians are on their last legs... The wizard casts Fireball, and Mike and Tilbørd's world erupts in fire. Out of range of anyone else, the wizard casts Fly and bolts.

I leave the action hanging there and we end the session on a downer - but proud to have driven off that bastard wizard. All are resigned to two characters dying - fairly rolled and very well done against such an overpowering force.

A few hours later, Whatsapp is pinging furiously with ideas to last-ditch save the pair. We're against ignoring a fair death, but both characters are owed a life boon from the Winter Court and the goblins hate being cheated out of a way to repay their debt.

Find out what happens next session!


In addition to the main story above, we covered dozens of smaller meetings and side jobs. Here's a summary.

Quiet potion time: Aju, on returning to Crossroads, spends time with Annabelle to learn the craft of potionmaking. I've zero rules in place for this, so will have to make stuff up in an upcoming post! Aju is also training with his Walrusling mentor Niboje and learning how to unleash the power of sea storms.

Lomin's pirate friend: Lomin chats up with his retired "merchant sailor" friend Burrich Lacrosse, a pirate and contact in the Violet Cloud thieving/mage guild. Burrich is sometimes taking on small jobs for old times' sake - nothing too illegal - and has agreed to train the elf in the finer points of roguery.

5e characters get to choose an archetype as part of their class. To get actual class abilities from these archetypes, my players have to find a mentor and work with them.

Father Eustace's troubles: At the Crossroads church, Father Eustace is dead tired for lack of sleep. He confesses to Tilbørd that he's taking care of a weakening Sleeping Priest; someone who stays asleep for years to trap a wild godling. This Heironeous sleeps under nearby Old Crossroads as goalor for a spirit of roads and hearth - one reason that there's always something happening in Crossroads. Soon, Eustace will have to take over the dreaming task.

While his master was away, Tilbørd's goblin ward Gustav has been keeping busy reorganizing the library and turning master's bed into a book stand. The goblin woke up a couple of nights ago sporting a killer headache and a skin blemish shaped like a thorn branch - right when Aju buried his axe in the head of prince Litvars, of whom Gustav is a copy through a Du'van magic cloning box.

A tower in the south: lord Kerjules is overjoyed to hear that the goblin menace has been dealt with and gives the party permission to build a watch tower with the dressed stone from the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. He agrees to lend workers to the effort. The players need to organize this. They manage to wriggle out of the cost of construction by making a deal with Guy's master Fergus, who was already looking for a good place to settle.

"We should definitely warn him about the titan basilisk down there."
"And the stone golem."
"And the skeleton jellies that won't die. And the singing from the dark."
"He's a master wizard, if he isn't used to this crap he should be."

A package for Copperstone: Ever-cursed merchant Dinadan the Swanling is back in tone, this time with a broken arm. He needs to get a package to the Copperstone mine in the foothills of Mt. Gale unseen, but the road is rarely traveled - can local rogue Lomin Mor arrange something? Or Tilbørd, in the know about the Harkness smuggling band that Dinadan has been roped into, has a better idea: he will give Dinadan the task to get a quarryman from Copperstone who can then inspect the stonework in the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. That'll give Dinadan a good reason to travel to Copperstone.

Dinadan's smuggling is a plot hook baited in session 0, but not seriously engaged with yet. The party knows that the swanling smuggeled something deeply magical traveling from Copperstone - and more importantly, Mt. Gale where Dread Sir Ulric has lived since his third death at the hands of Saint Cascarrion. Doesn't matter, I'm having a lot of fun writing and sending letters from one NPC to another.

Warlockry!: Two characters have made contact -and in one case, a bona fide pact- with a Warlock Patron. Out of spells, Tilbørd's prayer for Litvars' life is answered not by the Authority, but by a young lady he's heard of in connection to a healing sect within the Church. Our rogueish cleric now now has a minor pact with the Radiant Maiden, is forbidden to save people hovering at death's door, and knows magic to kill the wounded painlessly. I'll stat up the Maiden for 5e.

Meanwhile, Aju the barbarian has caught the attention of a redheaded boy named Sable who claims to be the blacksmith's apprentice. Actually the Scorched Blacksmith. Said redhead is deeply impressed by Aju's rage and use of fire against goblins (which he's told no-one in the village about).

"Sable" explains how he needs to produce a masterpiece to graduate as an apprentice and asks to build a fiery weapon for Aju. The payment? Why, it's simple - never put out a fire, and maim the horse of a bastard noble (Sir Drake Selbern, see "Lady Olga's Troubles" below), who rode the Blacksmith down on the road. Aju isn't convinced he wants to get into this deal.

I'm not sure Aju's player got who or what he was chatting with. Other players definitely got it, but stayed mum. You glorious bastards :)

Troubled fief Culfield: The Witmarrow bandits have been raiding into fief Culfield to the south-east of Crossroads as well, and Lady Olga of Culfield has been too bedridden to organize a response.

Lomin Mor has been disguising himself as the lady since she passed away a year ago. Estate manager Manuel is in on it, but with Lomin gone for weeks during this crisis, he's at wit's end and has spread the rumor that Olga is too sick to hold an audience.

Manuel is falling to pieces: "Olga" is unavailable right when there's a contestant for the fief. Sir Drake Selbern, a cousin twice removed of Olga's deceased husband pushes his claim with the baron's sherrif Sir Corrick. Lomin hatches a plan: they will either marry off 70-year old Lady Olga (well, Lomin in a dress) to Crossroads' lord-in-waiting Silas Kerjules, or outright bribe Baron Walden to appoint Silas as Olga's heir when Olga should die.

Luckily I've written a post on what it costs to buy someone a position! Olga is a rank 4 noble, which normally would cost 8000 gp in bribes and services to obtain. However, we're paying for the position of heir (half price), and Lord Kerjules is willing to stand collatoral for half the amount - it's his own son that will substantially benefit from this move.

Lomin is now debating whether to save 2000 gp and buy an NPC a lordship, or put on a dress and try to pull off a marriage ceremony with the barony watching.

I love it.


Google Sheets overview of rewards, loot and XP

Fergus the Augur pays 300 gp for rubbings from the Tomb of the Serpent Kings, and double value (500 -> 1000 gp) for an intact spellbook of a Du'van wizard. "This will settle your college debt for the year - and it's a good step towards an appointment as adept!"

Tilbørd has spent 100 gp on a perfect pearl which powers his Identify spell. He can determine that a ring pried off a statue will turn the wearer's finger dagger-sharp, but also risks poisoning and the finger turning into a snake. Ring is not worn. Can be sold for 10 gp to someone who knows what it does, or 50 gp to someone who think's they're getting an invisible dagger.

For escorting Lady Liselle, the characters are rewarded 100 gp each. For routing the Witmarrow bandits, they receive a 200 gp reward each - and tax free at that!

First ambush: 7 leather armors, 7 short swords, 7 light crossbows: value 350 gp, 21 inventory slots taken back to Crossroads by Niboje on Mike's cart.
Second ambush: 10 of the above, for 500 gp and 30 inventory slots, still lying in the mud.

In addition, two of the bandits carried magical weapons, which will carry a 25% tax if declared:
  • two matched daggers, 500 gp total - the red and gold parrying dagger allows the user to use their reaction and add their proficiency to their AC when hit by a melee attack; the charcoal bladed edge of subtlety gives a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls for one single attack per round that is launched either from stealth or as a sneak attack.
  • a magical longbow +1 worth 1000 gp made of oak and decorated with silver inlay
  • Elias carried a red bottle imp (can inject/spread a rumor in a city or document; worth 50 gp)

For donations to the poor, 10 XP for Mike, and +5 XP for Tilbørd.

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