seekers of the ashen crown week 37: the voyage home

With Captain Delan’s blessing fresh in their minds, the party watched the Kordenga fly away to lead the Citadel on a wild goose chase and made their way into Moonwatch.  A large walled town on the western hilt of the Dagger River, Moonwatch was well-populated by the common races of the Five Nations, and both the people and the architecture were a welcome, comfortable sight after hard times in a foreign land.

While Kayde wandered off to see yet again to his mysterious personal business, Aruget sought out the familiarity of a temple where he could pray to Dol Arrah as Jak and Ivello made their way to the docks to suss out quiet passage to Sharn.  Ivello suggested they look out for people who were down on their luck and less likely to ask questions, and Jak made his way down the pier, chatting with the local dockhands and beggars and greasing more than a few palms.  By the time Aruget caught up with them, they had a lead: a halfling smuggler named Hannval Dain, who could be found at the Sailor’s Duchess.  Aruget entered the tavern ahead of Jak and Ivello to take a quiet table in the corner where he could keep an eye on their negotiations if anything went amiss, and a few minutes later, his friends followed.

Jak procured a bottle of wine and three glasses, and the bartender pointed him towards a slouched, weathered, middle-aged halfling sitting alone.  The man carried none of the contentment that his fellow halflings typically did, and Jak seized on this as an opportunity.  Pulling up a chair and pouring wine for Hannval, Ivello, and himself, Jak entertained a quick joke about the sailor’s gossip that had brought him here and got straight down to business: they needed passage to Sharn, four warm bodies, no questions asked.  Hannval responded with the air of someone who was an old hand at such activities, and after some brief haggling and half payment up front, told Jak and Ivello to meet him at the docks at nine o’clock that night.  The journey across the river’s hilt would take two days, and that timing ensured they would reach Sharn under cover of darkness.  They shook hands and parted ways until nightfall.

Anxious to prepare for his return to Sharn as best he could, Jak led the party to the local House Sivis sending station.  He quickly dictated a letter to his best friend and former Dark Lanterns partner Thom, who Jak was desperate to reunite with, and counting on for help yet again.  Stressing his innocence, he asked Thom to meet him at a familiar tavern in Dragoneyes in two days time, and instructed the Sivis courier to under no circumstances deliver the letter to Thom while he was at the Citadel.  Aruget, seeing the wisdom in warning their few remaining allies that they were coming, did not want to wait on a courier – he had been sitting on no small amount of gold, and decided that the time was right to funnel it into an expensive Sending to his sister Razu, a highly decorated Deneith blademark.  Her reply was immediate, and the clerk quickly transcribed it and handed a folded note to Aruget.  

As the party began to leave the station, Jak hesitated, turned back, and shot off another quick letter to someone he hadn’t spoken with in an even longer time than Thom: his estranged brother, Vil.  Worried that the Citadel may have sent agents to question him, Jak once again proclaimed his innocence while telling Vil something he never had before: that he wished things had been better between them.  Feeling something vaguely resembling closure, he joined the others in leaving the station behind them.  The remainder of the day saw Ivello parlaying his well-honed negotiating skills into the fast but fairly profitable sale of the assorted treasures and trinkets the party had accumulated during their time in Droaam.  One thing they did not part with as they took stock of everything was an otherwise unmarked Kundarak key that they’d taken off of a dead enemy during their first run-in with the Emerald Claw.  Jak mused that it seemed odd for a low-level lackey to have such a thing, and Ivello wondered if his friend had any informants in Sharn who could help them access the box without arousing suspicion.  Jak replied that he did, although it would take some time and money.

Nine o’clock rolled around, and the party made their way aboard the Maiden’s Siren and set sail for Sharn at last.  As they traveled, old habits stirred in Ivello and he offered Hannval his help in managing the sails while striking up a casual conversation.  After an hour or two, they sailed into the middle of the river’s hilt, and a wondrous sight caught Ivello’s eye.  He called the others over to the rail to inspect a large school of vibrant, rainbow-coloured fish that had appeared alongside the boat.  As they enjoyed this peaceful interlude, Hannval mentioned that the meat of these fish had hallucinogenic properties, and that some smugglers had run into problems after unwittingly using them for food.  While Ivello wondered what unconventional use Lestok would have found for such fish, Hannval piped up that he’d made that mistake early in his career, blown off course and desperate for food, and didn’t make it back to Moonwatch for four days while under the influence.  

Still at the rail, watching the fish, Jak’s fingers dug into the wood as he remembered his days as a dreamlily addict and he fought to stop wondering what this particular drug might feel like.  Eager to change the subject, he got some distance from Hannval and waved the others over to join him.  His relationship with the Dark Lanterns, he told them, had not always been so fraught.  He reminisced about his greatest success: foiling an assassination plot against Kor ir’Wynarn, Lord Commander of the King’s Citadel for all of Breland.  Kor had been in Sharn on an inspection tour, and the Lanterns had received a credible threat connected to the city’s most powerful anti-monarchist, Hass ir’Tain.  Though Hass was smart enough to always keep himself ten steps removed from any criminal wrongdoing, the Lanterns knew they couldn’t ignore this threat, and sent Jak to gather more details at one of Hass’ famous parties.  The evening was going well until Jak underestimated the potency of his host’s exotic, top-shelf liquor, and his time came to an abrupt end after throwing up on a guest.  Profoundly ashamed and angry with himself, Jak vowed that he would get the job done no matter what. The next morning, he returned to the manor wearing a different face than the night before.  Finding a pretty maid at the back door, Jak seduced her into giving up Hass’ collaborators and returned to the Citadel with all the information they needed in order to avoid the planned ambush and keep Kor safe.

Ivello had only one question: had Jak made things right with the maid?  Jak insisted that she knew as well as he had that they were making a trade, to which Ivello retorted that Korbus hadn’t.  He pushed his young friend about his history of using people, to which Jak could only reply that it might make him a bad person, but a good spy.  Aruget, remembering Tik’s manipulation of Yeraa, mused that Jak might not be so different.  Jak stared him down, shaking with rage, and declared that if he ever compared him to Tik again, he would not be responsible for his actions.  Ever the peacemaker, Ivello suggested that Aruget didn’t mean it, to which Aruget – after taking a second to regroup – replied that he had.  The situation with Korbus, the story he’d just shared – Jak’s job involved a lot of manipulation, and he questioned if the young agent knew right from wrong.  Ivello exhorted Jak to not lose sight of the trees for the forest as his old alter-ego Quentin had, always justifying his actions for the sake of the greater good.  He was concerned for Jak’s well-being, and didn’t want him to compromise his morals.  Jak snapped that he did what he did to protect people like Aruget and Ivello, regular citizens who had no idea what went on behind the scenes, and that if he didn’t know right from wrong, he’d never have felt the guilt that had begun the downward spiral which ended with him becoming a homeless, jobless dreamlily addict.  Ivello insisted that he believed Jak had done a good job on the road, and that there was a better person inside him, while Aruget told him that he still owed Korbus.  Jak rebutted that it wasn’t all on him – she’d made her own choice to help, and deserved respect for putting herself in a difficult situation.  Aruget wondered if Jak was now grateful that he’d been rescued from jail, and he replied that he had no ill will towards Aruget for taking action – he’d done what he thought was right, what he believed he had to do, and Jak could understand that.

The next night, they sailed into Sharn under the cover of darkness as Hannval had promised.  While Dockside wasn’t as busy as it was during the day, the city never slept, and it was still bustling with activity.  As the smuggler made his bribes to the local watchmen and the party quietly slipped away, Jak was in his element once again.  He easily led the party down back streets, alleys, and less-frequented lifts down to the lower city and the all too familiar sights and smells of Dragoneyes.  Finding a flophouse he’d made use of in the past, Jak directed the party to what passed for beds, and fell into a deep sleep.  He was anxious about what tomorrow would bring, but even that couldn’t dampen the fact that he was home at last.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week:  What is your greatest fear?  Or worst recurring nightmare? The GM sincerely regrets not doing this one sooner in the campaign. Turns out someone is mortally afraid of owlbears.
  • Kayde had to work last night, which is why he was so mysterious this session.
  • Out of character, we learned things about Aruget from his private Sending to his sister. Namely, that his nickname is…Tippy-Toes. I am pretty disappointed that Jak was not party to this and will not be able to capitalize on it in-game. We also learned that his blademark unit, at least, snidely refers to the bounty hunters of House Tharashk as “Trash House.” Spicy. There’s gotta be a good story behind that. Is it a friendly rivalry? Something darker? Inquiring minds want to know.
  • A question that Savage Worlds answers very well is the age-old problem of how to make travel interesting in a TTRPG. It satisfies this by means of a mechanic called Interludes. Players draw cards just like they would for initiative, but in this case, each suit comes with its own set of prompts to effectively sit in the DM’s seat for a few minutes and narrate different ways of passing downtime, a story about the PCs past, or an encounter or obstacle the party faced on their journey. The school of fish was Ivello’s “journey” interlude, and Jak’s tale of his greatest success as a Dark Lantern was in response to the prompt to recount a “great victory or personal triumph.” I did not expect it to lead to a deep probing of Jak’s moral compass, but that is just one more reason why I love this group.
  • I referred a few times to the “hilt” of the river. If you search for a map of Khorvaire and look down in the south central-ish part, you’ll see the Dagger River. It looks like…a dagger. It has a “handle”, a “hilt”, and a “blade”, and Moonwatch is on the western end of the hilt while Sharn is on the eastern end. So if you’ve been wondering what the heck I am talking about regarding a river having a hilt, that’s what’s up.

Seekers of the ashen crown week 36: Departures

After an hour at the Cracked Keg with no sign of Korbus, Jak felt that sitting around Graywall any longer would be pushing his luck.  With his disguise carrying him unnoticed past the increasingly large and active Tharashk patrols, he made his way out of the foreign quarter and was halfway through Bloodstone when a voice rang out in his head – Korbus had engaged House Sivis’ famous Sending services, something Jak had experienced only a handful of times in his life.  Her news wasn’t good.  Facing increasing pressure and scrutiny from her House Tharashk superiors regarding her role in the jailbreak, and her “failure” to track down the rest of the party, she found herself unable to leave the city.  She implored Jak to do whatever he needed to do to clear his name, and hoped that they could share a meal together when everything was back to normal.  Though the loss of Korbus’ testimony against Tik was a serious blow, Jak understood very well what it was like to be on your organization’s bad side.  Relaying this back to Korbus and telling her to stay safe, he continued his trek through Bloodstone and left Graywall behind again.

A half hour’s walk later, he spotted Kayde waiting for him at a trailhead when one of Ivello’s birds landed on his shoulder, asking after Korbus.  Jak tersely replied that she wasn’t coming, and sent the bird on its way.  Regrouping with Kayde, he shared his lack of success, while Kayde revealed what his business in the city had been: he had sent correspondences after Jak’s arrest to both his handlers in House Phiarlan and Captain Kalaes, and had received answers.  The good news was that House Phiarlan continued to support Kayde, but also directed him to retrieve the rest of the Crown for the Citadel as he’d been hired to do, finish the job, and put this mess to rest.  Having previously confessed that he’d told Kalaes they had evidence against Tik, he told Jak that Kalaes was demanding they return to the Citadel with that evidence at once.  Something about those orders didn’t sit right with the young agent.  Knowing how the Citadel operated, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Kalaes telling them to come back to prove their innocence – without rescinding the arrest warrant on their heads – was likely a trap, and he told Kayde as much.  Even without that slant on things, Kayde was determined to carry out his house’s orders, and the two of them continued weighing their options as they made their way back to the others.

Aboard the Kordenga, anxiously awaiting Jak and Kayde’s safe return, Ivello found himself wandering the ship when he realized that things were quiet – a little too quiet.  Having become accustomed to hearing Lestok’s idle stream-of-consciousness conversation, or listening to him having spirited interactions with the crew, he began to worry a little.  Going belowdecks to check the small cabin they shared, he found no sign of Lestok – and a note in his place.

“These “Lanterns” scare me beyond reason.  I’m leaving.  Don’t try to follow me!”

Not quite knowing what to think, Ivello headed back up on deck where he showed the note to Aruget and questioned the sailor on watch about the last time he’d seen Lestok.  The man replied that he’d seen him leave about half an hour after Jak and Kayde, and that he had looked unusually nervous for a gnome. Aruget insisted that they had to find him, to which Ivello reluctantly replied he was not sure that they could.  They had a responsibility to Jak and Kayde to stay put at the agreed upon rendezvous.  Aruget, still in shock, could find nothing more to say other than that he hoped Lestok would find his way to safety, and that they would be able to clear his name along with the rest of theirs.  Ivello laid a hand on his shoulder and replied that Lestok had enough courage for both of them.  He’d be okay.

When Jak and Kayde rejoined the Kordenga, they came aboard to find Aruget pacing the deck, which they had come to recognize as a sign that their friend was agitated.  Jak broke the news about Korbus, Kayde revealed the information he’d received from his House…and Ivello told them that Lestok was gone, handing Jak the note and not knowing what else to say.  Jak read it and cursed loudly.  What did that crazy old gnome think he was going to do, wandering a strange country hunted and alone?  It occurred to him that perhaps Lestok giving Jak his favourite coin, and Kayde, his prized whistle, might have been more than pragmatism.  He wondered if it had been his way of saying goodbye, and a wave of guilt washed over him as he read the note again.  It appeared that his revelation of the Dark Lanterns’ existence and purpose had been what pushed the already paranoid gnome over the edge.  Ivello, who had found an unconventional and unexpected kindred spirit in Lestok and perhaps knew him the best, insisted that he must have a plan. Many of his craziest ones had been successful, and Ivello chose to hope that this one would be no different.

With too many thoughts clamoring for his attention, Ivello’s mind turned to his concern for Korbus, and he pressed Jak for more of an explanation.  Kayde reminded him that the Houses were not beholden to the Five Nations, and if Tharashk chose to prevent her from testifying there was nothing they could do, while Jak reiterated that he didn’t want Korbus to get into any more trouble than she already was.  Ivello told Jak that he knew Korbus meant something to him, and that a Sending was very expensive, which showed that she obviously cared about him and felt it was important to say goodbye.  

With his head back in the party’s current predicament, Aruget wondered if Yeraa’s journal contained anything that would exonerate them, but Ivello – having spent several hours with the book – told him that was wishful thinking.  All it would prove was that Tik had done his job, and that Yeraa had admired him.   After going back and forth pondering returning to Sharn, and questioning why Tik hadn’t tried to blackmail or otherwise incentivize them to come to him, Jak tried to assure the others that it would be easy to travel the lower wards unnoticed, and that he had at least one friend left at the Citadel who might be able to help them turn the tables and set a trap for Tik.  Finding Captain Delan and asking him to bring them back to Sharn, the captain suggested that the safest thing to do would be to put them to ground at the village of Moonwatch, where they might be able to hire a smuggler to take them up the Dagger River.  Jak let out a deep breath.  After what had felt like an eternity, he was going home.

Ivello, meanwhile, was always thirsty for whatever information he could glean to help their situation.  His attention turned to Zaraani’s Solitaire, and he proposed using it to contact Lt. Sesko of the Emerald Claw, who Jak had killed in the market.  Knowing that spirits contacted by the Solitaire were not obligated to tell the truth, he suggested that he conceal his true identity from Sesko, and Kayde immediately seized upon this as an opportunity to put on a performance.  Transforming his face and taking the gem from Ivello, he held it up in front of him and summoned Sesko’s spirit.  As mist emerged from the Solitaire and coalesced into a ghostly face, Kayde demanded to know if the dwarf had completed his mission in Graywall.  As he finished his sentence, a sudden patch of turbulence rocked the Kordenga, causing him to break character and yell out “what the hell was that?”  The spirit replied that he didn’t know. Kayde cleared his throat and regained his composure, asking Sesko if he knew anything about the changeling in their ranks, who had stolen the Crown.  The spirit responded that the changeling’s name was Til, and that his orders had been to return the Crown to Demise.  At Ivello’s behest, Kayde asked his third and final question: when was the last time Sesko had seen his young scout Jeffin?  The spirit replied that Jeffin had run from a fight, and not been seen since.  As Sesko melted back into the Solitaire, Kayde suggested that Jak reveal to Tik that he knew him by this other name, which Jak felt would be unwise.  Them having the upper hand depended on Tik thinking he had the upper hand, and they should take advantage of the fact he considered them fools.  Kayde mused that he’d remembered hearing that if you said a changeling’s true name three times, they belonged to you, to which Jak sarcastically replied that it was true, and they also stole babies from their cradles.  Kayde, never passing up an opportunity to tease his friend, declared that he’d known it all along!

As they prepared themselves to return to Sharn, the party took stock of who in the city they could seek help from.  Kayde asked Aruget about the possibility of hiring more blademarks, and he was skeptical of the wisdom of entangling themselves with House Deneith, but suggested that they might be able to at least enlist the help of one blademark: his sister, Razu.  Jak mused that maybe, between Kayde’s house, Arguet’s sister, and his best friend and fellow Dark Lantern Thom, they might not be so bad off in Sharn after all.  As they spoke, Jak walked over to where the party’s gear was stashed and lifted Yeraa’s sword in the air, swearing that he would use it to bring Tik to justice.  Aruget pressed him to also take the ring of fire resistance they’d looted from “Demise”, joking that Korbus clearly thought he was “smoldering hot” while more seriously expressing his concern that Tik had it out for Jak more than any of them, and that any extra protection he could have wouldn’t go amiss.

A day and a half later, the Kordenga was in sight of Moonwatch, and it was time to part ways.  Jak thanked Captain Delan for all he’d done for them, and promised him that he would avenge the Kech Volaar.  Ivello made his goodbyes to Othello, giving him a big hug and something to remember him by: one of the little burlap toys Lestok had made for their ruse in the night market.  Telling Ivello to contact him through House Sivis if he needed anything, Othello asked if he wanted the Kordenga to go anywhere in particular to throw off the Citadel’s scent.  Kayde, impressed, asked Othello if he wasn’t secretly a Phiarlan, to which Othello winked and replied that no, he was a sailor.  Knowing Kayde a little too well, and warning him that his family was off-limits as objects of flirtation, Ivello asked Othello to sail the ship in the direction of Darguun, and Othello promised they would make sure to get spotted along the way.  Kayde boldly declared that he would write a play in Othello’s name, prompting Jak to reiterate Ivello’s warning.  With that, they left the Kordenga behind and began making the rest of the way to Moonwatch on foot, hoping that Jak’s experience with the less savoury elements of society would be enough to get them discreet passage into the city. 

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week:  How has your upbringing affected your worldview?
  • Lestok (both the character and the player) has left the campaign, which is why we did not search for him even though it would have been more in character to do so.
  • Sorry, Team Korbus. I know you were rooting for her, but fate had other plans. Don’t shoot the messenger.
  • Regarding Kayde encountering turbulence during his performance: remember how I said in my post about bennies that, where other tables use them to fish for raises, we joke that with our luck we are using them to fish for crit fails? Yeah, about that. Kayde actually rolled an initial success on his Performance check to deceive Sesko’s spirit, but decided to fish for a raise…and got snake eyes on his first try.
  • Poor Ivello. He’s been determined for a long time that it was in the cards to use, help, and/or redeem Jeffin ever since we put the fear of the Sovereigns into him back on the road to Six Kings. Ivello has tried numerous times to contact Jeffin with one of his messenger birds to no avail, but if what Sesko’s spirit said was true, this really is the end of that road.
  • Til. Who the heck is Til? Is that Tik’s real name? Is it the identity he’s created for working with the Emerald Claw? Are they a different changeling altogether, perhaps the one who was impersonating Demise? Was Sesko just really unobservant and always called Tik by the wrong name? Our characters are pretty well convinced that Tik is Til and Til is Tik, but really, they could be anybody! This is why my mother always told me to never trust a ghost.

Seekers of the ashen crown week 35: there and back again

As Tik – unimpressed by hearing Lestok’s voice over the speaking stone – demanded to speak with Jak again, the old gnome deftly avoided Jak’s anxious efforts to snatch the stone out of his hands and made Tik an offer.  He agreed that Tik held all the cards in this scenario, and opined that there was nothing left for him back in Sharn.  He didn’t want to share in his companions fate, and would accept ten thousand galifars to betray the party and start a new life.  Tik laughed and replied that he misunderstood the situation – that he seemed to think Tik wanted to bargain.  Lestok, discouraged, pressed the stone up to Jak’s hand as Tik called out for his fellow agent  yet again.  Yet more taunts flew, and Jak snapped at him to cut to the chase.  What did he want?  Tik gave him an ultimatum: come back to Sharn, or have the whole weight of the Brelish crown pursuing him.  Jak was unphased – the Brelish crown was already after him; what did he have left to lose?  Tik laughed again.  He told Jak that he didn’t need to bargain, just to wait, to which Jak retorted that he’d be waiting a long time.  The traitor told Jak to be in contact if he changed his mind, and wished him “luck” with proving his innocence.  

Regrouping and sharing the information that only Lestok and Jak had been able to hear, Ivello worried that the Citadel might go after their friends back in Sharn if the party didn’t return soon.  It was then that Jak realized he did have something to lose, worrying about his best friend and fellow agent Thom, and what the Citadel might be doing to him because of their association.  Kayde said that he still had cards left to play, but had to get to a bank or a Sivis station, and refused to go into any more detail. Ivello was unimpressed to learn that he was still keeping important secrets from them.  Conceding that Darguun was still an option as there was indeed a bank and station in Rukhaan Draal – as well as a notable Brelish presence – he declared that the time for keeping secrets was over, especially if those secrets might impact or harm the others.  And Jak decided it was time to come clean about why their situation was as bad as it was.

Spilling his guts to the party, Jak revealed everything: the existence of the Dark Lanterns, the fact that Kalaes, Tik, and himself were all among their numbers, and the fact that he had previously fallen into disgrace in the organization, though he stopped short at confessing exactly what he had done.  He revealed his concern for what they might do to Thom, who had already paid the price once for Jak’s failure, and was convinced that the reason things had gone as poorly as they did was because Tik was in good standing and he was not.  Kayde scoffed that he’d just known Jak had that kind of secret, and pushed again to go to Rukhaan Draal for his own mysterious purposes.  Ivello pressed him again to come clean, especially since Jak had, but Kayde held firm, which frustrated Jak as well – what did Kayde hope to accomplish under all this secrecy?

Lestok, always listening, questioned how the Dark Lanterns wouldn’t know that Tik was a double agent.  Didn’t they know everything?  Jak shrugged; what could he say?  Tik was very good at what he did.  Always looking for solutions, Lestok proposed that they do something radical: turn themselves in.  They did after all have three scrolls of mind-reading that would surely exonerate them!  Jak knew that the Lanterns only occasionally used mind-reading magics to interrogate prisoners, and could often go to more extreme methods that he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of.  Latching on to Lestok’s idea, Ivello said that what they needed was a witness, and they had one: Korbus.  “Who?” Jak asked.  Lestok told Jak he was an ass, and the confused changeling got more and more agitated as the group pressed him: how could he not know who Korbus was?  Then, Jak had an epiphany: the guard in his holding cell had heard Tik confess!  After laying into Jak some more for his ignorance, the others finally made it clear that Korbus was the guard’s name, and they were talking about the same person.  Kayde confessed that, after Jak’s arrest, he’d sent a message to Kalaes telling him he had evidence that would clear their name – when he’d had no such thing at the time – and was relieved that gamble that paid off.  

Still determined to get to a bank and sending station, the party debated the safest place to land for such an endeavour, and eventually settled on the least safe place: Graywall.  Kayde would be able to get his messages there quicker than having to get them forwarded to another city, and with any luck, Jak would be able to convince Korbus to come with them on the Kordenga.  Ivello mused that the authorities were unlikely to predict them to return to Graywall, and by 9 p.m., they had made their decision to turn the ship around.  Jak and Kayde would sneak into the city for their respective business, while the others would remain on the ship, moored about an hour’s walk outside the city limits.  While Ivello sent a messenger bird ahead to inform Korbus of their plan and asking her to meet Jak at the Cracked Keg, Lestok gave Kayde his prized whistle to use as a signal in case of trouble, and sewed his coin with a hole in the middle onto Jak’s sleeve for Korbus to identify him with.  Jak promised the old gnome he’d get his coin back, to which Lestok replied that he would hate to lose it.

As they prepared to leave the ship around 7 a.m. the next morning, Ivello thanked Jak for trusting him with his secret, but said he wasn’t surprised.  Jak questioned which part didn’t surprise him: being a spy, or being a screw-up. Ivello smiled and reassured him that it was the former, and wished him luck with his task.

Splitting up at the city gates to avoid suspicion, Kayde relied on his natural talents to get past the guards, easily slipping into the morning crowd.  As he neared the gatehouse to the Calabas, he called on the powers of his dragonmark to disguise himself.  Unfortunately, finding that his mind and body were both exhausted and stressed from the events of the last couple of days, his magic rebelled, sending a jolt through his body and sapping his strength.  Undeterred, his training served him well, and he made it to the bank without incident.  The dwarf at the desk showed no signs of being on the lookout for Kayde, and he was taken back to his safe box which, to his relief, did contain a letter.  Continuing to the Sivis station, he found a letter waiting for him there as well, and started making his way back to the Kordenga to read and share them with the others.

Jak, meanwhile, entered the city wearing the face of a random half-orc.  As he approached the main gates, he felt a little finch land on his shoulder – it was Ivello, with Korbus’ reply.  She was indisposed and taking heat for Jak and Aruget’s escape, but would try to send another message, to which Jak replied that he would wait for her at the Cracked Keg as long as he could. Making his way through the Calabas, noting that the Tharashk patrols had gotten larger, he easily found the tavern and holed up in a dark corner with his ale to wait.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week:  Have you ever been conned or robbed?  What happened?
  • Remember when I said that our table spends bennies on what matters the most to us, and that Lestok in particular will happily spend all of his trying to make his latest plan come true?  He did indeed spend all four of his starting bennies on the opposed athletics roll to prevent Jak from snatching the speaking stone away so that he could “betray” us to Tik, beating Jak’s roll by 1 on his final try.
  • The guys had an absolute field day hassling Jak over never having learned Korbus’ name and being largely indifferent to her outside of making a useful asset.  Ivello won the night as far as they were concerned by scolding Jak that if he was going to get Korbus’ help, “you’re going to have to fake giving a shit about her.”  They are on Team Korbus all the way and I’m not convinced that, based on Jak’s situation and personality, this is actually in Korbus’ best interests.  I think they just like watching me squirm. 😀
  • You may have noticed a conspicuous lack of Aruget; that’s because he was unable to make the session.  Our standing rule with five players is one person down, we play; two people down, we cancel.
  • Kayde’s backlash from the critical fail on using his dragonmark to disguise himself was perhaps the luckiest crit fail he could have gotten during his infiltration – all it did was give him a level of fatigue, which all things considered, was the best possible outcome.

Table Talk: All About the Bennies

One more tool in the storytelling box.

Something I’ve mentioned quite a few times now in the Behind the Scenes portion of my weekly recaps is the use of bennies.  What I haven’t explained is what they are, what they’re good for, and how they keep the story and action flowing.  In this article, I take a look at just one more mechanic that makes Savage Worlds great.

Bennies (short for “benefits”) are, esoterically speaking, intended to represent a PC’s luck.  Taking the physical form of tokens such as large glass beads or poker chips, three bennies are awarded to each player at the start of a session, with the promise of more to be earned over the course of play.  There’s little sense in hoarding bennies; they should flow freely, and they don’t carry over between sessions anyways.  Bennies can be spent at any time to:

  • Reroll any trait roll that was not a critical failure.  You can choose which result you want between a bennie reroll and your original roll (sometimes, the bennie roll comes out lower!), but if that bennie earns you a crit fail, you’re stuck with it.  With my party’s luck, where other players might declare they are using a bennie to fish for a raise, we regularly joke that we’re using it to fish for snake eyes.
  • Fight stronger and harder.  In combat, you can spend bennies to reroll damage, recover from being Shaken, soak wounds, change your initiative order, or regain power points (D&D players: think spell slots), though our table is currently using a variant setting rule that eliminates power points, so that last use is moot for us.  
  • Allow the players to influence the story.  At the GM’s discretion, you can trade a bennie for something to happen in a particular scene, in or out of combat. At our table, the first time I saw one used in this way was fairly early on in the campaign when our old friend Lady Demise ejected Lestok – while on fire – from a third-story window.  He survived the trip (and the fire), and then offered the GM a bennie to add a trellis to the side of the building so that he could easily climb back into the fray.  More recently, Aruget spent a bennie to buy more time during the changing of the guard for his and Jak’s jailbreak, and in our last session Ivello exchanged one for a scaffolding that he promptly brought down on his opponents heads, controlling the flow of the fight and allowing him and Lestok to make a quick getaway.  Of course, declaring you want to spend a bennie in this way does not bind the GM into agreeing to it – they absolutely have the right to refuse if your request is too ridiculous or overpowered.  But at a table where everyone understands the limits of the story being told, chances are good that if you want a chandelier to materialize so that you can use it to swing across the room to safety, you’re getting that chandelier.

At our table, bennies are most likely to be spent on the things we most want to see happen.  Kayde, feeling suspicious or paranoid, might go through his bennies trying to get a good Notice roll.  Ivello, the curious scholar, might burn all of his on a Common Knowledge check.  Lestok will gladly spend his bennies trying to bring whatever his most recent plan is to fruition while Aruget, ever the party’s protector, recently ran himself out while fishing for as many raises as he could get on healing Jak’s head trauma.  For myself, I have definitely followed this pattern in spending bennies on the outcomes that matter the most to Jak – the first time I ran myself out, I was trying to convince a very obstinate secretary to let Jak talk to his old captain at the Citadel. I also tend to be a more defensive player who likes to save them for soaking in combat-heavy sessions. Bennies, even when not explicitly used to influence the story, still do influence the story by changing the outcome of a roll or preventing a killing blow.

So, how exactly does one recover bennies now that we’ve spent them all making our deepest desires come true?  The hard and fast way of recovering bennies during combat is if someone draws a joker – that awards a bennie to every player in the initiative order. Outside of combat, there are a few different ways to recover bennies, with the responsibility for keeping them flowing falling largely on the GM. The guidelines state that they should be awarded at the GM’s discretion for things like good roleplaying, acts of heroism, and playing to your Hindrances (which is probably where most of mine come from).  At our table, we also receive one for answering the backstory question of the week.  A good one-liner or making the table break out in laughter is also a reliable source of bennies, and we’re not shy to point out when we think a fellow player deserves one.

Now, you may be thinking, “but Elly, I’m just not that quick on my feet.”  That’s okay, neither am I – Lestok is our resident wit.  I regularly think up witty comebacks and cool quips an hour after the session ends, but don’t have much difficulty earning bennies over the course of play through some of the other means described.  Knowing your character is, in my opinion, key to earning bennies, and I know Jak inside-out.  I’ll reiterate: bennies, even when spent in combat, are a storytelling device.  If you can be a part of your table’s story, you can be rewarded for it.  Tell a story, get a bennie, use that bennie to tell a story, and the cycle continues. 

One last note about bennies: they aren’t just for the players amusement.  The GM starts the session with a pool of bennies equal to the number of players, but to keep things fair, the only way for them to regain bennies is by drawing a joker in combat.  The GM can use their bennies for all the same things players can – rerolls, soaking, un-shaking.  There are few things that strike fear into my heart like when the GM rolls damage on a PC and then casually says “I’m going to bennie that” – it definitely keeps us on our toes.

As a player, I absolutely love bennies.  The story is always my favourite part of any TTRPG, so anything that helps me better tell or participate in that story is a winner.  I like being able to spend them, it feels great to get them, and I’m always fascinated by how my fellow players choose to use them.  They’re a fun, endlessly versatile mechanic that makes me feel powerful as a character and capable as a storyteller.  They’re a really cool way of making you feel like you can take your fate into your own hands, all while remaining at the mercy of the dice.  And as an integral part of Savage Worlds, they are just one more reason why I love this system.

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 34: Fly, You Fools!

As Ivello and Lestok approached the Kordenga, convinced of their cleverness in moving unseen, they stepped out of an alley near the Orien enclave and turned the corner straight into five Tharashk guards.  “Halt!” one of them yelled, as two more ran at them.  Ducking under his much larger opponent’s legs, Lestok boldly declared that they’d never take him alive, and threw a can of G.R.O.S.S. down to the ground…where it rolled along sadly, doing absolutely nothing.  Tangled up in the other guard’s grasp, Ivello managed to free his hands enough to unleash lightning at the enclave wall, sending scaffolding careening down on top of the remaining guards and pinning them to the ground.  All the while, he shouted at his captor to unhand him, it was all a mistake!

While Lestok ducked through the other guard’s legs again, Ivello and his opponent continued to ineffectually scuffle with each other, neither wanting to hurt the other seriously, though Ivello was unable to break the guard’s grasp on the front of his shirt.  As they continued to exchange blows that the other kept squirming out of the way of, Lestok unleashed a fresh can of G.R.O.S.S. on his own opponent and then took matters into his own hands, swinging the spray rod of his trusty Fumigator 9000 at the guard latched onto Ivello, yelling at him to let go as he cracked the orc over the head and knocked him out cold.  The guards who were still pinned under the scaffolding feebly yelled at them to halt in the name of House Tharashk, but Lestok and Ivello had other plans.  They bolted the rest of the way to the Kordenga where the agitated crew was waiting, with Othello hurrying them on board as the ship took flight.

Back outside the Tharashk enclave, Aruget and Kayde looked up to see the Kordenga take flight, heading off to the north.  With eagle eyes spotting Ivello on the deck, Aruget proposed that they make their way out of the Calabas district and into Bloodstone to avoid more patrols.  Confident in his magical disguises, but old habits being what they are, Kayde easily snuck past the checkpoint while Aruget relied on his old skills as a performer to feign drunkenness as he hauled Jak on his shoulders past the guards and out.  As they made their way through the streets of Bloodstone, a bird landed on Kayde’s shoulder with a message from Ivello: we made it to the Kordenga.  Meet us at the agreed location.  Everything go according to plan?  Kayde replied that everyone was present and accounted for, and they were making their way out of the city while Aruget’s attention turned to Jak’s bloodied state and ragged breathing – his head injury was nasty.  Ducking into an alley, he set Jak down and put a hand on his head, murmuring a prayer of healing to Dol Arrah as Jak, still in pain, slowly opened his eyes to see two unfamiliar hobgoblins crouched over him.  Before he could panic too much, Kayde showed him the necklace that proved his identity through his disguise as Jak cursed him out.  Reaching for a healer’s kit to take the rest of the edge of his wounds off, Jak caught sight of his own disguised goblin body and asked again what they’d done, chastising Aruget for the jailbreak while Kayde chastised him in turn for being an ass.  After being filled in on the current plan of returning to the Kordenga, Jak questioned where they could go.  Their options seemed limited.  

Onboard the airship, Captain Delan grilled Ivello and Lestok to explain the message they’d sent earlier regarding the death of the Kech Volaar.  Ivello started at the beginning, explaining Yeraa’s plan and Tikulti’s betrayal.  While Lestok opined that a curse may have turned the agent against them, Ivello revealed to Delan that Tikulti was a changeling, and asked if the crew had been on and off the ship, to which the captain replied that some had indeed gone back and forth into the Calabas.  Relaying that Tik presumably had four of the five pieces of the Ashen Crown, and was likely to come looking for Zaraani’s Solitaire (which was still, as far as they knew, safely in Kayde’s pocket), Ivello suggested that Tik was on the ship already.  While he knew the captain trusted his crew, he reminded Delan that one of his crew had been an assassin.  Delan glowered and called Othello over, asking Ivello to question him about a story from their childhood that only he would know the answer to, a test Othello passed with flying colours.  He then ordered Othello to discreetly ask the crew questions to determine that everyone was who they said they were.  Confused but obedient, Othello nodded, and left to take care of his task.

About half an hour later, Kayde, Aruget, and Jak finally made their way to the Kordenga, and the party was reunited once again after a very eventful twelve hours.  As the others made their greetings, Jak remained silent, fidgeting his foot along the deck.  Ivello told Jak that it was a good thing he was free, to which Jak replied that he was now a dead man more than ever, with no chances left to prove his innocence.  Ivello told him he could still live on the run, which Jak retorted that Ivello would know something about as Delan came up and relayed that the Orien enclave had been buzzing with news of yet another rare teleportation circle used that morning, going from Graywall to Sharn.  Lestok pressed Jak for news of what he’d learned over the speaking stone, and Jak shared the news of Tik having reported to Kalaes in person.  As the party debated their next move, Ivello suggested that they come clean with Delan about their true mission, and pressed Jak for the truth of who Thrandi was and why he’d burnt him.  As Jak fumbled for a way to explain, Delan came wandering back again and asked them where they wanted to go.  Kayde plugged for returning to Sharn, which Jak was skeptical about…and then Delan very intently asked if they’d found any notes belonging to Yeraa, which immediately put Jak on edge.  Was this Tik?  He demanded that Delan show him his dragonmark, knowing that changelings couldn’t mimic those well, and the captain grudgingly rolled up his sleeve while Ivello pulled down his own shirt to compare the veracity of their marks and set Jak at ease.

Ivello, always the one with the questions, asked Delan where they might find others of the Kech Volaar, but the captain had no knowledge of that – Yeraa’s group had always remained separate from other Dhakaani in the time he’d known them.  He then mulled over the wisdom of trying to contact the Kech Sharaat, musing that the enemy of our enemy is our friend.  Lestok asked if Delan could take them to Yeraa’s base of operations, while Jak reminded him that Tik would likely go back to Sharn to keep his cover.  As the debate over where to fly to went in circles, Ivello declared that they should table the conversation until he’d done a thorough reading of Yeraa’s notes and letters.  While he, Lestok, and Aruget pored over the documents, Jak and Kayde decided to help Othello search the crew for any sign of Tik.  They came away confident that everyone was indeed who they appeared to be, and that there were no stowaways either. They also learned, in regards to the teleportation that morning, that the person who traveled had been a human…with a rapier with a red jewel in its pommel on his belt.  He had left at six in the morning, which would have cost extra being outside of Orien’s normal hours, and Jak and Kayde quickly recognized both the sword and the timing as being a clear sign that the “human” had in fact been Tik.

Hunkering down with Yeraa’s notes, nothing jumped out at Ivello as a solid lead, though he did note that there were several mentions of some trusted members of the Kech Volaar who they might be able to receive refuge and counsel from.  Meanwhile, Aruget focused on Yeraa’s notes about the Rite of Arkantaash needed to form the Ashen Crown.  While it could be completed at a number of different sites, it seemed that Tik had been pushing Yeraa to one in Sharn above all other possible locations.  As Ivello reverted back to his scholarly ways and became consumed with all the historical information in Yeraa’s journal, Kayde and Jak returned, with Kayde on edge and snapping at Ivello to focus on the problems in front of them.  Aruget quickly mollified the agitated elf by sharing a fantastic discovery he’d made: Yeraa had written a poem about Kayde’s exploits in the ilithid’s cavern.  As Kayde basked in the glory of a Dhakaani dirgesinger writing a poem about him, Lestok revealed to the group the plan he’d been working on: he would betray all of them to Tik.  He would tell Tik that he needed a thousand galifars to start a new life, and would deliver him the Solitaire, but wanted to witness the Crown being assembled.  The other suggested that would sound much too easy, especially for the paltry sum of a thousand galifars, but Jak mulled that Tik did indeed seem to think they were stupid.  Kayde suggested that, in the meantime, they use the Solitaire to try to contact “Demise” (and prove if the dead changeling was the real Demise), while Aruget proposed using it to question Lt. Sesko for information.

Kayde repeated his position that they should return to Sharn, as they had many ways to prove their innocence. Jak questioned what those ways were, saying that he wasn’t welcome at the Citadel.  Ivello commented that it seemed none of them were welcome at the Citadel anymore, to which Jak replied that it was different for him, asking Ivello why Thrandi had been so keen on arresting only Jak.  Ready to come clean at last, Jak opened his mouth to speak as the speaking stone he carried flared to life, with Tik calling out in a mocking voice “Oh, Jaaak!   Jak!”  Jak reached for the stone, once again fearing what he might hear on the other end…

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: Name one of your enemies, and if so, how did you come by that enemy?
  • At the end of last week’s session, Ivello and Lestok simultaneously crit failed their stealth rolls to approach the Kordenga unseen.  That played out at the beginning of this session as them being Surprised, and Tharashk having The Drop – and then the guards pulled the joker on the very first round of initiative.  In spite of that, they were comically ineffectual for a while – well, everyone was, until…
  • After a few rounds, Kayde from the sidelines played an adventure card we hadn’t seen before: “Let’s Settle This.”  It prevents all combatants from soaking wounds until a joker is drawn.  Happily, with the bulk of the guards trapped under that collapsed scaffold, that worked in our hero’s favour as Lestok immediately rolled a 24 on damage, instantly incapacitating the guard clinging to Ivello and allowing them to book it.
  • Ivello earned himself a couple of bennies this session in fun ways by rubbing the crew’s “trustworthiness” in Delan’s face, and then having what was narrated as more or less a flexing contest while comparing dragonmarks.  Lestok in particular likes to comment in character about what a different person Ivello is from his old alter-ego Quentin, and Ivello’s player has indeed been leaning into a bolder space. It’s so nice watching how characters have evolved over the months.
  • I did not like the tone of Tik’s voice when he called out to Jak.  It was too mocking, too smug, and too self-satisfied.  It seems Tik wants the pieces of the crown to be in Sharn, and Jak had never left Sharn before the events of this campaign – the city is ripe with backstory knives to be twisted.  I know exactly what I would do in my GM’s shoes. 😀  Why do I have to wait one more week to find out?  The suspense, it burns!

Table Talk: Hindrances and You

In which I explore what they are, and why you want some.

In my last recap, I explained in Behind the Scenes that Jak has three Hindrances that made life particularly difficult for him and his friends during the events of that session. What I didn’t explain, for those of you less familiar with Savage Worlds, is what exactly a Hindrance is, and why they matter.

What is a Hindrance, anyways?

On the surface, a Hindrance is exactly what is sounds like: a flaw, a drawback, or something that makes life harder for the hero. In practice, they are largely roleplaying cues that help define and enrich your character. If you’re familiar with Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, it’s a similar mechanic to Flaws, with a few notable differences. For one thing, a Hindrance can be either physical (elderly, exceptionally large or small, missing an arm) or psychological (suspicious, curious, impulsive). For another thing, not all Hindrances are “bad.” A character with Code of Honor has sworn to act like a gentleman in all things – a noble goal that may make him well-liked by some, but might restrict his actions and behaviour in certain circumstances as he is always bound by his oath. A character who is Curious is not necessarily dangerously or foolishly curious, but they can be. A character whose Quirk is twirling the ends of her hair when she speaks might seem harmless, but perhaps you have flavoured that quirk as being a tell for when she is nervous, distracted, or lying. With a few dozen official Hindrances to choose from in the core rules, there’s something for everyone, and no shortage of stories to explore.

Who wants to be perfect?

Hindrances come in two flavours: Minor and Major. A Minor Hindrance is, typically speaking, purely for your own character enrichment. While the GM might give you a bennie for playing to it, it serves no larger function in the campaign. A Major Hindrance is meant to cause actual trouble for your hero over the course of the campaign, and affect or be present in the story in some way. Here are a few in-game examples:

My character, Jak, has a Quirk (Minor) and is also Shamed (Major). In a world where prejudice against changelings is entrenched, Jak cannot resist mischievously or threateningly revealing himself as a changeling at opportune (or inopportune) times, but for the most part, nothing of note has come of these antics. With Shamed being a Major Hindrance, however – well, that slowly started blowing up in his face in week 27, came to a head with him being discredited and arrested in week 32, and ended up with his friend being forced to punch him in the head for his own good at the end of our last session. A Major Hindrance (Secret) was also responsible for an assassin coming for Quentin/Ivello in week 25, and its inclusion in the campaign made for what perhaps remains our most exciting, Eberron-esque session yet.

It’s worth noting that both Shamed and Secret started out at Minor Hindrances, but were transitioned to Major during the course of the campaign due to how Ivello’s player and I were acting them out. Players, don’t be afraid to talk to your GM if you find your Hindrance evolving over time! It’s more fun that way.

While it is mechanically beneficial to players to take Hindrances – you can exchange them for up to two Edges (5e players: think Feats) at character creation, as well as use the points gained from them (one per Minor, two per Major, up to four total) to increase your attribute dice size, buy or increase skills, or double your starting funds – it’s also tons of fun to explore a hero who’s not perfect. I have always been of the opinion that putting guidelines on creative endeavours can be a really good thing, and having these built-in cues for how to encourage and guide roleplaying definitely falls into that category. I can’t imagine how bland Jak’s life would be if he weren’t Shamed, Loyal, and Stubborn. I can’t picture Lestok without the endearingly insatiable Curiosity his player acts out like a pro, or how dull that airship ride would have been without Ivello’s assassin coming out of the woodwork. Hindrances help us learn more about our characters, give us a solid framework for interacting with the game world, and gosh darn it, they just make things more interesting.

Do you have a favourite Hindrance? A great in-game moment that came about because of one? Drop it in the comments!