Sunday, 7 November 2021

Ravenloft getaway 1: How They Derailed My Entire Plot in Round ONE

 My group's regular Belswick campaign (medieval D&D, 5e) is on hold for a couple of months so we can play in a couple of other systems and settings. Previously: Kraken Corpse Delve and WerewolfVikings.

For our next trick, we started a Ravenloft campaign in Pathfinder that I'm very stoked about. I'm a bit iffy on Pathfinder (way more detailed than the 5e that I normally run). Big plans, big storyline, and of course my chaos player upended all of it in round one. ROUND ONE. 

 I'm so proud!

 

THE PLAN FOR SESSION ONE

Start players out as bounty hunters. They're looking for Narvicus One-Leg (possibly a wizard) who has stolen the dangerous Box of Nightmares from the Church of the Authority. The players also each have a secret mission for a different patron.

Players then to follow Narvicus to his home town of Port Harrowdale, tangle a bit with local underworld / guards (no big difference really), gather info, confront wizard and his gang at his burned out lighthouse, have nice climactic fight, see Narvicus try to escape by boat, railroad this into shipwreck and have the disaster suck everyone into Ravenloft at the end of the session.

Easy, no? What could go wrong with a nice little railroad like that?

 

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

I describe how group rolls up to the outer gate of Harrowdale, how they spent weeks in the saddle tracking Narvicus here, then immediately cut to the mission outline three weeks earlier with Cardinal Zorn of the Church. They chat, ask questions, and the group walks out of the study...

...for the cackling half-orc witch PC Zenogh to go "three weeks in the saddle? fuck no, we're going there NOW!" and whipping out teleport as their player decides the DM has had enough time to set the scene. 

"But you've never been there!", I try.

"No problem - some port on the northern coast, right? Hold each others' hands and hold on to your pants, motherfuckers!"

Teleport, in Pathfinder, is a good and wholesome spell with huge odds for failure and dice rolling if you don't have very accurate info about where you're going, which (I guess) is what attracted Zenogh's player to it. We'll talk more about this love of chaos down-post.

SPECTACULARLY, the dice gods are kind and Zemogh actually ends up in Harrowdale...with only half the party in tow, because weight limits. Nae problemo: teleport back, pick up the second batch, teleport to Harrowdale.

"How are you casting three teleports in a row at level nine?"
"Oh, I managed to get Intelligence 32. There's more where that came from!"

Why oh why did I let them talk me into playing Pathfinder again? But I have to admit, it's way more spectacularly derailing than a same-level party in 5e could have managed! In their first bit of agency in this mini-campaign, the party has shaved three weeks off of their journey and are now ahead of Narvicus. AWESOME.

It takes a bit of work to get the Ogre Cleric down from the very eye-catching new monastery / lighthouse where the second teleport casting ended up, but all's well as he makes friends with the local acolytes on the way down.

I should stress that Oblala Pul is played by one of my nastier players, whose characters almost always have an angle, deal or secret. This one is an absolute innocent for a change and says things like "you should all drop your weapons because I'm not sure I can bring all of you back from the dead when these guys cut you down".

Oblala, cleric of Saeranrae of the Dawn, isn't as scary as crossbow-mad Inquisitor Albrecht von Gottberg, as flamboyantly nuts as Zordlon, Monk For Hire with the business cards and snake-skin sleeveless vest, as stoic as dwarven fighter Bjorn Olafson or as immediately pegged as pyromaniac, fire-scared troublemaker Arod Dolgun, but his 10ft cassocked frame, carrying an actual temple door on his back, definitely stands out in a crowd. An utter pacifist, he'll focus on healing and healing a lot.

The absolute cake in terms of sheer fuck-your-plans madness in this party, however, will be taken by our group's resident master of chaos and back-up characters, the half-orc witch Zenogh Chaja Wiki.

The business cards that my wife (Zordlon the Monk) put together are pretty awesome. Each one has a new slogan on the back:

  • Zordlon, Fists of Flurry
  • Monk Around and Find Out
  • The Monk with the Funk
  • Redecorates Things
  • Unorthodox Solutions, Fast
  • Stunning Results
  • High Fiving Your Enemies in the Face
 
...any many more customised in the moment. The idea is that Zordlon has such a cussing problem that he tries to keep under wraps with a vow of sort-of-silence, using either business cards or a Book with All the Answers. Surprisingly useful. And hilarious.


HOW I TRY TO SALVAGE MY STORY

The party spends their first day asking around for info about Narvicus and learn that he's a former pirate captain called Narvik who had a very unfortunate encounter with a demon whale. Washed up somewhere on the nearby shore, he swore never to take to sea again and suddenly displayed an aptitude for strange illusions, mind-bending and stone-phasing.

The people he ensorcels forever have a subtle hour-glass shape to their pupils, I let drop.

The party nods, I think some of them even took notes, and then they described how they were going to find a good pub to spend a couple of weeks waiting for their quarry in style. Albrecht von Gottberg takes rooms in multiple inns because he's NOT sleeping where everyone has seen him enter.

Paranoid or smart? Turns out, we'll never find out because other things happen.

How Narvik lost his leg (yeah, he's already got a prostetic leg here - deal with it)


HOW IT GOT EVEN BETTER: DECK OF MANY THINGS

Remember how I said the party each have a secret mission that the other players don't know about? I let each choose from a list and gave them a strong magic item linked to each mission. Zenogh chose the Deck of Many Things

If you for some reason don't know this minor artifact: it's got a lot of potential to derail a campaign, mess up plans, characters and inflict severe damage to the environment. Good fun! This player has been lovingly talking about that for years, so I couldn't resist, as kind Cardinal Zorn, sliding an actual box with the Deck inside across the table and saying "do as you will, my child".

True to character, Zenogh made another player roll d12+1 and proceded to open the box.

It's about at this time that the rest of the table catch on that Zenogh has not, like they all have, gotten a +2 whatever cloak or boots of the whatchamacallit as a gift from their patron. Some are silent with intense anticipation, others...

"THE DECK OF MANY THINGS? YOU GAVE HIM THE DECK OF MANY THINGS?!"

"How many cards can you draw? What do you mean that's what you made me roll d12+1 for?! SEVEN?"

"Woohoo, seven cards from the deck it is!"

As pulled on day one (yes, there will be more) of this increasingly amazing mini-campaign:

  • Comet (defeat the next hostile you encounter to gain a level)
  • Flames (gain the enmity of a powerful outsider)
  • Knight (gain the service of a 4th-level warrior)
  • Balance (flip alignment - in this case to Lawful Neutral. Yeah, that one hurt my little chaos lover)
  • Moon (gain two wishes, to be used in a couple of minutes)
  • Vizier (gain one clear answer on a question, dilemma etc, to be used w/i a year)
  • Euryale (gain -1 penalty on all saving throws)

Not bad! As the light show of moons, comets and flames around Zenogh's table flares on, Harald the Flailer walks up to her and pledges his loyalty. Soon after, she slips into the alley behind the inn.

It's sinking in, at this point, that I've just given someone two wishes. Could be a short campaign! But Z's player is a team player and what's more, he has written out a solid backstory: his half-orc was treated awfully by his two parents and only survived because he was adopted by a goblin clan.


Wish one: to have my mother and father here before me, NOW.

  • human father (deceased) and orc mother appear, who sees her daughter, draws a knife and hisses. LIGHTNING BOLT TO THE FACE, MOM!
  • Albrecht the Inquisitor, absent-mindedly: "does this count as defeating the next hostile?"
  • I chuckle as Zenogh gains a level

 

Wish two: to put a blessing on the goblin clan who raised me.

  • Z's soul is temporarily ripped from her body and shot at blazing speeds to the hill tunnels where she was raised, and she sees streamers of invisible luck attach themselves to all of the goblins. They and their offspring will forever be Blessed.

 

SOOOO, THE WIZARD AND THE RELIC THEY STOLE?

Back in the inn, the rest of the party are absorbing everything that's happened. Ghostly viziers, moons and comets in the rafters, a brooding warrior walking out of the shadows...all that, Bjorn Olafson observes, after about his eighth beer of the evening, is very nice but does not bring them closer to finding their quarry Narvicus One-Leg. The rest agree, and are about to go into Planning Mode.

This, I can only assume, sounds way too boring for Bjorn. He walks over to a nearby table, wipes it clear and jumps up, bellowing:

WHO KNOWS ABOUT NARVIK THE ONE-LEGGED THEN?
 

This is of course awesomely helpful. I can now insert two of Narvik's gang members into the crowd, have the rest of the patrons look very worried, and we're back on track. 

Noticing the dodgy looks from two guys at a nearby table, Albrecht saunters over and introduces himself. At first the two gang bangers act tough, but Albrecht comes across very intimidating and almost seems able to read their minds...which of course he can, because Detect Thoughts spell.

A quick scuffle, and one bandit lies dead in the alley, absolutely pummeled to death by Zordlon, while another is repenting his sins down in the mud. It'll be a minute until this guy can give us answers, says Albrecht. Too slow? Up saunters Oblala Sul, who reaches out to the bit of tenderized meat next to Zordlon and simply says "wake up". One fiery display of the Lady of Dawn later, the second bandit draws breath. 

This is a short campaign, so I make it quite easy to find info and unravel plots: our new friends explain all about how they're holed up at the old, burned-out lighthouse a couple of hours out of town. At this Darkhouse, the band waits for Narvik's return with a treasure from the south...

...how about we assault the place and lie in wait for him there, goes the party? Zordlon, especially, is in favor - this player spent all their gold on cool gear and is thus absolutely penniless. Begging for food and shelter gets boring fast, so a temporary place to stay sounds great!

 

PICK A CARD

First though, the next morning, Zenogh just cannot resist the temptation. I've 'limited' the Deck to one use per day (up to 13 cards in one session, one session per day), although I might change that.

Rolling d12+1 again, Zenogh decides to draw NINE cards today:

  • Knight (out of the card crawls the warrior Lydia, looking sterner and more dependable than Harold)
  • Flames (ANOTHER evil outsider now hates Zenogh with a passion)
  • Comet (I'll need to make sure the next opponent is a bit more of a challenge!)
  • Jester (removed from the Deck and allows Zenogh to either gain 10,000 XP or draw up to 2 extra cards - naturally, she elects to draw extra cards)
  • THE VOID - in a rush, Zenogh's consciousness is drawn from her body and across the Planes, down, down to a gem in an iron tower!

 ...and that ends the drawing session prematurely. Zenogh now sits comatose at her table, Lydia and Harald decide to get the help of the party, and through divine magic, Oblala learns how Zenogh's soul is now bound in a gem in the Nine Hells, in the Iron Tower of Dis on the layer of Dis.

Well that's a nice wrench in the works! It's also one of the famous risks of drawing from the Deck. Luckily, Zenogh's player just got two warrior servants from their previous draws. Lydia, being more dependable (because she has Zenogh's new alignment of Lawful Neutral), will take care of their master's comatose body; Harald, of Zenogh's original, more...flexible alignment, will stick witht he party.


 

FIGHTY TIMES

Finally, we turn our attention to the big pile of Dwarven Forge terrain that's been sitting on the table since the start of the session!

The Darkhouse is a burned-out lighthouse - partly because most of this stuff came in just a few days before and I didn't get around to painting it yet. Sets used: Erinthor Cliffs & Elevation (for the rocky base), water terrain trays for the sea, Brambles for a bit of greenery and hazardous terrain, two Rowboat packs to create wrecks and boats, assorted Tavern, Alchemy Lab and Trap accesories, and a combo of Tudor Ruins and Stone Buildings to make up the buildings.

There's no easy access to the main lighthouse, except for the ensorceled rowboat that will rise into the air if you insert the right token (which of course the group got from the two dudes in the inn). More dangerous though, are the orc, ogre and human bandits in the tower! With a druid casting lightning bolts, ogres smacking people around, tower-archers taking pot shots and orcs getting in licks, it's an interesting fight and it's useful to see what the party can handle or dish out.


Zordlon's doing monk shit and wrecks people, Bjorn charges around happily, Harald turns out to be a beast at tanking, and Albrecht is picking off people with his crossbow. The group is getting bloodied, and wonders why their healer is holding back, only to hear he can't really heal less than ~17hp per spell. Bit of a waste to spend a cure light wounds on less than that, now?

Once the 'gate house' is cleared, Arod Fireballs the top of the actual tower to speed things up.

I ask, do the players see the two barrels in the window? The ones filled with flammable oil that I'd have loved to drop on players ascending in the ensorceled rowboat / elevator? Of course those ignite and blow up as well! Exit druid, archers and a couple of rogues, although one is still looking healthy thanks to the miracle of Evasion. His luck is about to run out though, as Zordlon swarms up the wall and wrestles himself inside.

The fight, in fact, is going very well, when Arod, now up via flight spell, spots a well-veiled rowboat departing from the back of the tower. 

Did I just cheat and have Narvik appear on-site weeks early? Did I in fact put him in a cloaked rowboat to leave his men to die as he escapes out to sea, which he vowed never to sail upon again after being mangled by the devil whale that took his leg?

Why, yes, of course! The session is coming to an end and I have nasty, railroady plans so I need to wrap this part up!


 

Arod wastes no time or expense and blasts the boat to smithereens (the "reward him for his choice" part of my DM brain goes "now have him retrieve the relic from the bottom of the sea").

Wreckage on the waves, Narvik sinking below...as the sea starts to boil and a booming voice welcomes Narvik to the depths again. An enormous whale breeches, waves crash upon the shore and the spray starts to envelop everything, reducing visibility zero. White-out, howlings winds, cold stinging water that turns to...gritty sand? The party find themselves drenched in sea water in what looks like a sandstone antechamber half-buried in fine yellow sand. Footsteps - a boot and a peg-leg - stretch off into the distance, where a huge pyramid sits on the horizon.

Where did that magic whale dump the party? And where's that bloody wizard with their relic? Welcome to Ravenloft, motherfuckers! Next session, let's see how you navigate this little desert domain I've cooked up :)

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