Seekers of the Ashen Crown Week 43: The Dawn Will Come

With Demise gone, the wraith that had fled from Aruget’s holy light did not return, and Ivello made a happy discovery: while his trusty quarterstaff had indeed been lost in the attack that killed Scorn, he spotted a glint of metal among some rocks and went over to investigate.  Yeraa’s sword had been blown aside and not into the lava pool as he’d initially believed, and he gathered it up in silence.  One way or another, he would use it to honour the murdered duur’kala’s memory.

Looking back down the tunnel where Demise had fled, Ivello considered using his telepathic connection with Malcanus’ bats to scout ahead, lamenting that he still didn’t know what Demise had wanted the Ashen Crown for as Jak murmured that sometimes, you had to live without getting the answers you were hoping for.  Remembering that Yeraa’s journal contained detailed instructions on how to perform the Rite of Arkantaash that would reforge the Crown, the party began to debate the safety and wisdom of doing so.  Ivello argued against it, and Jak agreed – there were too many red flags, they didn’t know what unforeseen consequences might emerge from performing the ritual (or, worse, trying and failing), and perhaps it wasn’t even right for them to do as chaat’oor.  The Kech Volaar could very well be offended if a bunch of outsiders completed such a ritual on their behalf.  Kayde agreed that they should get the Crown back to the Citadel as tasked, and not do Demise’s work for her.  The lone voice of dissent, Aruget wanted to conduct the ritual in order to honour Yeraa’s wishes, but was eventually convinced by Jak and Kayde that this wasn’t the time and place to do so.  Ivello pushed back at Kayde’s insistence at returning to the Citadel – he’d been profoundly suspicious of them and their motives from the beginning, and saw no reason to start trusting them now, especially after all they’d been through.  However, Kayde’s silver tongue convinced Ivello to carry through with their plan.

As they gathered the surviving Deathsgate mercenaries and prepared to leave the tunnels, Aruget made good on his promises.  Awarding Minyu the shifter a hefty bonus for having racked up the most kills, he distributed additional hazard pay to the others as well and together, the party and the mercenaries made their way back to the surface.

The return trip was blessedly uneventful.  Emerging from the tunnels to the dark, stuffy, but relatively safe and familiar surface of the Cogs, Jak called out to a passing labourer to ask what time it was, having lost all sense of it down in the lava pools.  The man replied that it was late afternoon, and they continued back to Thom’s safehouse in Blackbones.  There, they found him keeping watch over an unconscious Tik.  Having been awake when they’d left him a couple of hours earlier, Ivello questioned what had happened, with Thom’s only reply being a shifty smile.  Jak smirked at his friend in return, and then asked him to send a message to Captain Kalaes to warn him of their imminent arrival, and let him know that the situation had changed – he didn’t want to find himself in the Citadel’s courtyard with a blade at his throat and a sniper in the window.

After Thom received a curt reply to “bring them in, with the evidence”, they made their way up to the Citadel’s headquarters in Middle Central with the Deathsgate mercenaries still in tow, having been paid for a full day’s work and their presence making Ivello more comfortable.  Stopping a short distance away, Malcanus sent a bird to scout ahead, and relayed that there were some Brelish soldiers hiding in the shadows.  Ivello passed the information along to Jak, asking the younger man how he wanted to proceed – they were back on his home turf, after all.  Jak, sensing Ivello’s suspicions and hesitancy, replied that if Ivello didn’t want to go inside, he would understand and respect that, but in that case to give him all the pieces of the Crown and he’d take care of things.  Ivello declined, declaring that he wasn’t about to let Jak fuck things up without him this time.  Letting out a short, sharp laugh, Jak smiled sadly and acknowledged that Ivello had been a good friend to him.  Pulling a scroll of Sanctuary out of his pouch, Ivello cast it on Jak, and walked forward with him towards the Citadel’s front steps.

From the left and right, six soldiers emerged from the shadows to flank them.  Silently walking the party up to the doors, the man who appeared to be their commander turned around and ordered Jak and his friends to hand over all their weapons and magic.  Pointing at the dragonmark on his neck, Kayde sarcastically replied that they surely didn’t expect him to flay his skin off, and under the commander’s glaring eye he opened his coat to reveal the large assortment of throwing knives hidden within and began dropping them one by one.  Encouraged by Kayde’s boldness, Ivello handed one of the soldiers his feather token and told him to go jump off a bridge, while Kayde took malicious compliance to a new level by stripping down to his underwear and handing another soldier his suit of shiftweave.  The commander turned and nodded at someone in the doorway to wave a wand over the party, then ordered Ivello to remove his boots.  Still feeling bold, and with no love lost between him and the Citadel, Ivello snidely asked if they had something else for him to wear on his feet.  The commander’s eyes narrowed and his face grew dark; he’d had enough.  He asked Ivello how much more difficult he wanted to make this, threatening to shackle him, and perhaps worse.  Alarmed, Jak whispered to his friend that if he didn’t want Jak to fuck things up, then he shouldn’t fuck things up himself before they even began.  Ivello grudgingly removed his boots, and they were led inside to a small, austere, windowless room containing nothing but a solid wood table and a handful of chairs.  The door closed behind them, and they could hear the sound of it being locked from the outside.  Ivello asked Jak if the kind of welcome they’d had – being surrounded by soldiers and stripped of their belongings – was normal.  Jak replied that, considering what they’d been accused of, they’d gotten the friendly welcome.

After a tense fourty-five minutes, the door opened and Captain Kalaes strode in along with a few guards and his gnomish secretary, Bronal Tuck.  No one spoke.  Taking a seat on the opposite side of the table from Jak and his friends, Kalaes gave them a once-over, crossed his arms, and finally broke the silence, saying “will someone tell me what the hell is going on?”  Jak replied that he’d love to.  As Jak started from the beginning of their journey, leaving nothing out, Kalaes listened with no interruptions and then demanded to see the pieces of the Ashen Crown.  They’d been removed from the party at the door and given to Thom for safekeeping, and he arranged them on the table as ordered.  Kalaes stared at the relics, shook his head, looked over at a still-unconscious Tik, and ordered the guards to put him in a cell to be questioned later – and there was no need to be gentle.

Alone with the party, Kalaes asked them if they were sure that these pieces of the Crown were, in fact, the genuine articles.  Jak replied that they knew at least three of them worked as they’d been told they would, at which Kalaes grimly informed him that shortly after their departure from Sharn, Professor Gydd Nephret – the Morgrave scholar who had originally identified the significance of Ashtura’s blade, earning the party the Citadel’s attention in the first place – had turned up dead, and they no longer had an expert in Sharn who could confirm the relics’ authenticity.  As the party processed this news, Kalaes turned to Bronal and ordered him to take note that Demise was a high-value target and enemy of Breland who should be apprehended…and that the party’s names were cleared.  However, their mission wasn’t quite complete.  Did they have a means of contacting the Kordenga?  Did Yeraa’s journal list any contacts in Darguun?  Jak replied that she had indeed named someone she was to return the Crown to – a seer named Huugan – and Kalaes announced that the matter was settled.  The party would go to Darguun and finish the job.  Ivello pushed Kalaes for more information, particularly in regards to what he had learned about Demise, to which the captain replied that that was Citadel business.  Seizing onto that cue, Jak agreed that Ivello wasn’t a Citadel agent – but what about him?  Was he going to Darguun in a more official capacity now?  Frowning, Kalaes reminded Jak that under no circumstances were the Dhakaani to know of Breland’s involvement in retrieving the Ashen Crown; there was nothing “official” about it.  Jak shook his head.  The captain had misunderstood him.  Gathering his courage, he bluntly spoke the only question that mattered to him: was he being officially reinstated into the Dark Lanterns?

Kalaes gave the young agent a long, calculating look, and answered his question with a question.  Had Jak been in jail?  Frowning, Jak replied that he had, but only under false charges.  Kalaes pressed him again: had he been arrested by the Citadel?  With ice starting to clench at his guts, Jak cautiously replied that yes, he had been.  As his face continued to give nothing away, Kalaes informed the anxious young man that the fact that Jak was sitting in front of the him, as a free man, meant that yes, he had his job back.  He’d helped root out and capture a deep double-agent, and now it was time for him to clean up Tik’s mess as a full and proper member of the Dark Lanterns once again.

Jak sat in his chair stunned, his face blank, unable to speak.  It was over.  He’d done it.  He was home.  

As Jak quietly tried to process what had just happened, Ivello pushed Kalaes for information once again.  He questioned if it was normal to send agents out into the field with so little intel, to which the captain replied that he’d told them what he needed to know.  Ivello continued to push – surely the Citadel had gained more information about Demise in the weeks the party had been travelling.  Though Kalaes was generally quite stoic, he was starting to become annoyed with Ivello, and retorted that Demise hadn’t played her hand until Tik did, and he’d fooled them all.  If Ivello didn’t want to finish the mission, that was his prerogative.  Ivello replied that now Kalaes was the one making assumptions, and he excused himself to wait outside.

Shrugging at the outburst, Kayde told Kalaes not to mind Ivello, and the captain rumbled that Ivello had a chip on his shoulder regarding institutional authority, which was understandable given his past, but not Kalaes’ problem.  Snapping out of his daze, Jak reiterated what had been asked of them – to travel to Darguun and deliver the Ashen Crown to Yeraa’s advisor, Huugan – and questioned what more there was to know.  They knew what they needed to do.  From his vantage point leaning against the back wall, Aruget – who had observed the entire scene in silence thus far – spoke up, asking Kalaes how long Tik had worked for the Citadel.  Kalaes replied that he’d been with them a long time, and had there been any suspicion of his treachery, he would never have been assigned to pursue the Ashen Crown.  Aruget nodded, and commented that Tik had been very hungry for power, to which Kalaes simply replied that he’d been a good spy, and that he and the Citadel had plans to spend a long time questioning Tik.  Continuing to think out loud, Aruget mused that the Citadel seemed to attract people who worked for personal gain, and that he hoped such treachery never happened again.  Kalaes agreed that he did not want to see it happen again either, and that it had been more embarrassing than he cared to admit.  Aruget remarked that it was certainly something Kalaes would like to keep out of the newspapers, and that it would have been quite a problem if Jak hadn’t played his part in taking Tik down, and that that might be worth more than simply giving him his job back.  Leaning back in his chair, Jak silently raised an eyebrow at Aruget and wondered where he was going with this.  Kalaes replied that, as he’d said, he had taken note of all this, and as the captain looked back over at Jak, Aruget noticed that the normally hard and unreadable man’s face seemed to soften. 

With their business concluded, Kalaes waved the guards back in to return everyone’s equipment, and told them that he looked forward to the successful completion of their mission.  Jak replied that he wished for the same, and asked the captain for a quiet word.  Closing the door behind the party as they saw to the business of dressing and re-arming themselves, Jak steeled himself and looked Kalaes in the eye.  He had no idea what Aruget had intended Kalaes do for him, but he did have one more request: when he returned from Darguun, he wanted to be free of his old captain’s command, and work for Kalaes instead.  Kalaes nodded and replied that he’d see what he could do about that, and that he and Jak would talk more upon his return.  As he turned to leave, it occurred to Jak to ask for one last favour: he wanted to be notified when it came time to transport Tik to Wroat for his execution, because he wanted to be there.  Kalaes darkly replied that they’d see if Tik lasted that long.  Jak nodded, thanked the captain again, and returned to join the others in contacting the Kordenga…and settling down for a well-deserved meal together.

Five days later, the Kordenga moored at the Orien enclave in Darguun’s capital, Rhukaan Draal.  Quickly finding himself overwhelmed by the city’s crowded riot of poor shacks and mismatched architecture, Kayde elected to hang back at the enclave and try to suss out if Demise or any of her cronies had made use of Orien’s teleportation services in the time since her defeat in the Dragon’s Forge.  Taking his time to enjoy the enclave’s comfortable pleasures of clean, plush seats and friendly faces, Kayde greased a few palms for information, but no one could recall if there had been a teleportation conducted recently.  Asking to be notified at his expense if anyone did make use of those services, he hung around a while longer before making his way back into the city.

While Kayde did his thing, Ivello decided to give Aruget a small tour of Rhukaan Draal.  It was the hobgoblin paladin’s first time in Darguun, and he was quite excited by all the new sights…and the unfamiliar but very appealing smells of food wafting out from assorted storefronts made his stomach start to rumble.  Ivello knew of a few places, and wound up leading his friend to the Warrior’s Respite.  Aruget happily pushed through the door, commenting that it seemed welcoming enough as several goblinoid patrons looked up from their drinks to stare at Ivello…but many more seemed to stare at Aruget, and the prominent symbol of Dol Arrah etched on his shield.  Blissfully unaware of any ill will, Aruget leaned forward on the bar and wished the bartender a good evening, declaring that Ivello had told him this was a good place to fill his belly.  Looking pointedly at the holy symbol tattooed on Aruget’s forearm, the bartender grunted that he wasn’t from around here.  Aruget loudly and happily declared that no he wasn’t!  He was here with his friend Ivello, who was returning to their beautiful city after many years away!  

At that, chairs screeched back across the floor and toppled backwards as the bar’s patrons rose to their feet, led by a familiar face – a bugbear who had beaten Ivello to within an inch of his life during the anti-foreigner riots that had accompanied the news of the Mourning reaching Rhukaan Draal four years earlier.  Vegdok One-Eye strode up to Ivello, shoving him back and growling that he remembered him, and he’d told him to leave Rhukaan Draal once already.  Frowning, Aruget asked Vegdok what he was talking about, and he snarled that Aruget had no business flaunting symbols of the Sovereign Host in a place that worshipped the Dark Six, and it was time for them to leave.  As Ivello quipped that it didn’t seem the Dark Six had smiled on Vegdok lately, the bugbear responded by cocking his fist, ready to throw a punch…until Ivello caught him with a stiff low blow, putting him down for the count.  With that, someone else smashed a chair over Aruget’s head, and all hell broke loose.  Though surrounded, the paladin was able to hold his own, emerging with nothing worse than a broken nose as Ivello swiped some meat for his friend on their way out. Just another day in Rhukaan Draal.

Content to leave Kayde to his intelligence-gathering at House Orien, and uninterested in partaking in a meal that didn’t smell nearly as good to Jak as it did to Aruget, the newly reinstated Dark Lantern had excused himself before Ivello and Aruget went to the Warrior’s Respite and found himself wandering the streets of Rhukaan Draal trying to get a lay of the land.  His feet eventually led him to the Bloody Market, the city’s trade district.  Crammed with tents, colourful awnings, and a smell Jak couldn’t identify and found hard to stomach even for someone who’d spent most of his life in Lower Tavicks, Jak had a hard time moving through the crowd as aggressive merchants grabbed at his clothing, shouting at him none too kindly to visit their stalls.  Brushing them off as quickly as they appeared, he observed that it wasn’t just the merchants who were aggressive: most of the negotiations taking place seemed to be on the verge of violence.  As he continued pushing his way through the mass of people, he caught a small movement out of the corner of his eye.  Sneaking up behind a merchant and customer engaged in a shouting match, a small, raggedly-dressed hobgoblin child reached their hand up to the table and made something disappear into their tunic.  Jak remembered his own childhood on the streets, and smiled sadly, quietly wishing the child good luck and a better life.  As the child began to make their getaway, the customer who had been arguing with the owner of that stall backed up, ready to throw a punch…and stumbled up against the child as they tried to sneak away.  Whipping around, the angry man saw the child fall to the ground as their ill-gotten goods spilled out of their tunic.  Turning his ire from the merchant to the urchin, he raised his arm to deliver the child a beating…and Jak’s hand wrapped around his fist, stopping his punch in mid-air as the smaller man stepped forward to block the blow.  Furious at being interrupted, he shoved at Jak, sending him tripping over the child and knocking the wind out of him as he hit the ground hard.  As more merchants joined the scene to shout at Jak, he got to his feet and managed to talk his way out of the situation as the child disappeared into the crowd.  Jak quickly scanned the area, trying to catch sight of them, but the market was crowded, and the child was small.  He murmured a small prayer to the Traveler to watch over them, and decided that was his cue to leave the market.

As the party regrouped, taking note of Jak favouring his bruised ribs and Aruget wearing his bloody nose with pride (and a huge grin on his face), Ivello led them to their ultimate destination: an imposing, palatial building made of red stone, rising high above the center of the city.  Khaar Mbar’ost, the Red House, built by House Cannith at Lhesh Haruuc’s orders to serve as his seat of power and a symbol of Darguun’s place in the future of Khorvaire.  Moving up to walk beside Ivello, Jak asked if the former diplomat had left Haruuc on good terms, to which Ivello replied that he liked to imagine they’d had a working relationship at least.  Jak asked if Haruuc respected him, and Ivello could not answer that with certainty.  He’d had little direct involvement with the Lhesh prior to sending the letter implicating Enzo working against him, and had gone into hiding immediately after.  Haruuc had always treated Ivello cordially, but it was hard to say how much of that deference was directed to him as an individual versus being directed to him as a representative of a dragonmarked House that the Lhesh sought a good relationship with.  As they began to discuss the best way to find and approach Huugan, the Kech Volaar advisor that Yeraa had intended to deliver the Ashen Crown to, Jak questioned why they needed a new cover story: after all, they were just simple Morgrave researchers who had stumbled across Yeraa’s party and fallen in with her.  Jak noted that he’d kept Kalaes apprised of their progress as much as he was able over the course of their journey, and that it seemed reasonable to assume that Yeraa had done the same with Huugan – he might very well know of them already.  Ivello expressed his concern that he would likely be recognized in Khaar Mbar’ost, and that avoiding Haruuc might not be a decision entirely left up to the party.  Jak insisted that, if that happened, all Ivello had to do was tell Haruuc the truth: he’d fallen out with House Lyrandar after blowing the whistle on Enzo, and had been forced to start over in a new career.  After all, Jak noted, the best lies were those that contained the most truth.

With Ivello still a bit nervous, but prepared to take the lead in finding and talking with Huugan, The party made their way up the steps of Khaar Mbar’ost, eager to finish their mission and lay Yeraa’s spirit to rest at last.  It had been a long, hard road, but Jak was hopeful that everything would work out in the end.     

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: what item or possession do you have the most sentimental connection to, and what does that item mean to you?
  • Sometimes, the dice smile on us when we’re not looking. At the start of the session, the GM announced that he’d decided to roll to see where Ivello’s equipment wound up after the poltergeists sent it scattering…and the only roll to keep any of it was the one associated with Yeraa’s sword. Pretty cool, right?
  • From his first session with us, Aruget’s taken his self-imposed role as the party’s protector very seriously. He spent all four of his starting bennies on the persuasion roll to ask Kalaes to give Jak some added privileges or accolades within the Citadel, and after finally succeeding with a raise, I’m curious to see how that pans out once Jak returns to Sharn. Arguet’s got some pretty serious party big brother energy, and I’m here for it.
  • We could have walked straight into Khaar Mbar’ost right off the bat and finished the main story and rolled straight into epilogues next week…but we were given the offer to do Interludes in the city, and we’re kind of weak for Interludes, so that’s where the entire back half of the session went after arriving in Rhukaan Draal. I don’t think anyone minded. 🙂
  • There’s a lot for me to unpack after this session, and I’m still in a bit of a daze about it. When I built Jak, I gave him the Shamed hindrance to reflect his personal feelings and sense of self after getting himself indefinitely suspended due to not just addiction, but botching a job and endangering another agent because of it…and I also wanted it to guide his continued interactions with the Citadel and his place in the world. And I had no idea what a big role it would wind up playing. While I initially put it down as a minor hindrance, about halfway through the campaign, I realized that both I and the GM had been playing it as a major one, so we decided to make it official and everything that entails. And that’s when things got real. Ever since the party landed in Graywall in late April, we’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of this hindrance, both for Jak’s personal story and the overarching one.

That being said, my goal from the beginning has been to see Jak redeem himself and return to the Dark Lanterns. That’s how I’ve been playing him, and that goal has led to a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns. At the end of last week’s session, the GM announced that we were getting another advance, and with Demise’s plans foiled and Tik and the Ashen Crown in hand, I couldn’t imagine any more appropriate use of that advance than to get rid of Shamed.

You heard that right. Get rid of my old friend Shamed. A use of an advance that I don’t hear talked about much is the opportunity to remove a hindrance and its associated penalties. There are a couple of caveats to this; for one thing, it has to make sense for your character. You don’t get to just say “yeah I’m tired of having that hindrance” willy-nilly. And ultimately, it remains up to the GMs discretion to allow it, and in this case there was an added layer wherein Shamed has influenced not so much how Jak reacts to certain NPCs as it has influenced how certain NPCs react to Jak. So when it came to playing this hindrance, there was quite a bit about it that wasn’t up to me – it had a larger impact on the game world than Jak’s personal feelings and behaviour. When I originally approached my GM about getting rid of it, he refused, because at that time we hadn’t returned to the Citadel yet. I didn’t know what was in store for me, and he didn’t want me to take an advance of this magnitude based on what might happen. Which I think was entirely reasonable. The day of the session, he messaged me again to say I could go ahead with it. As it happened, with not everyone having a firm plan in place for their own advances, the goalposts shifted a little and we wound up taking that advance at the session’s halfway mark…which perfectly coincided with Jak’s reinstatement. That was one heck of a moment.

As a player, this is turning out to be very bittersweet. It is exactly the outcome I’ve been hoping for Jak for these last eleven months. I created him specifically with the goal of him being able to overcome this obstacle. And I guess that’s where the bittersweet comes from – unless I’m able to pick him up again in a future campaign (a proposition that is on the table, but our plans for the next campaign involve new characters), this very clearly marks the beginning of the end for Jak. He’s done what he came to do.

Jak’s important to me. I’ve never had the opportunity to play out a complex character arc to fruition like this before, he’s been a part of my life for almost a year, and him being redeemed at last and able to move forward with his life just drives home how much I’m going to miss him. He doesn’t need me anymore. 🙂

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 42: In The Depth A Light Will Grow

Quickly moving away from the ledge that had claimed his fellow Deathsgate adventurer, the Talentan maskweaver Malcanus reached into his pouch and pulled out a handful of small bones.  Scattering them across the ground, he began to summon a spirit of nature to his aid, and as mist rose from the bones, it took the form of a swarm of bats. At Malcanus’ command, they flew up into the air, surrounding Demise’s head as her arms remained bound by Jak’s grappling hook far above the lava pool.

Having had the presence of mind to secure the pieces of the Ashen Crown, Ivello recalled that one of the relics – Murkoorak’s Orb – wielded some sort of destructive power, and he attempted to turn it against Demise.  Tendrils of green energy unlike anything he’d ever seen flew out of the orb and surrounded the necromancer, singeing the ends of her hair.  Tangled in a rope, surrounded by bats, and now feeling a taste of her own medicine, Demise let out a frustrated shriek that Kayde took as his cue.  Reaching into his robes, he produced a knife and flung it at the necromancer, but the friendly swarm of bats proved to be a hindrance as the knife lost its velocity cutting through them and fell into the lava without finding its target.  A few feet from Kayde, with his back to the ledge, Aruget took a swing at the nearest zombie and threw it off-balance before following up with a good shove that sent it to its death.  With the immediate threat of zombies cleared from the altar and the bridge, Aruget saw that Demise was still in the air and took cover behind a large outcropping of rock as he considered his next move.

On the opposite side of the bridge and staring down a massive horde of zombies alone, the shifter barbarian Minyu weighed her own options and retreated to bring herself back to back with Razu, taking up a defensive stance as she moved to avoid the zombie’s frantic claws.  Having felt his strength start to drain as a result of one of Demise’s foul spells, Jak handed the rope binding her off to Razu and took aim with his trusty crossbow.  Well-practiced and familiar with the motions, he loaded a bolt, cocked it, and pulled the trigger…and watched the bolt shatter as it was released from the string. While the warforged monk Watcher joined the defensive huddle with Razu, Minyu, and Jak to keep the zombies from crossing the bridge, Razu braced the rope around her forearm and shouted to anyone who could hear her that she would hold the line – just kill the witch!  Inspired by Razu’s bravery, the unwitting hireling Drakan – who had originally been employed by Tik, and strong-armed into the party’s service when the former was captured – ran forward to join her, throwing his axe at the lone zombie who hadn’t yet joined the horde and splitting its skull open. 

Still holding herself magically aloft over the lava, though tangled up in Jak’s grappling hook and surrounded by bats, Demise began to propel herself wildly through the air, zig-zagging across the pool in an attempt to break free. The rope began to whip off of Razu’s arm, burning her as it went, but she managed to free herself and release it before she could be pulled to her death. Now with her full range of motion and no distractions, she turned around and laid into the zombies surrounding Jak and Watcher, chopping one to pieces and staggering another.

From his position near the altar, as vestigial crackles of energy faded around Murkoorak’s Orb, Ivello felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and he turned around to see a black, wispy spirit with glowing red eyes emerge from the ground and begin to take the form of a hobgoblin.  He immediately identified it as a wraith: a creature born of evil and darkness.  He suspected that it had been here in the Forge for a very long time, and knew that if he was caught by its touch, it would drain his life from him – and if it killed him, he would himself rise as one of those creatures.  He also recalled that wraiths were weak to sunlight, but what good was that knowledge when he was trapped deep below the Cogs?  As the wraith lunged at him and he took a quick step back, a second one emerged from the ground on the other side of the altar behind Aruget.

While Watcher continued slamming his massive metal fists into the zombie horde, pushing back the first line of attackers, Jak cut down two more and turned around to face Demise.  Transforming back into his own face and jeering about how her minions were no match for him, and neither was she, his taunts quickly trailed off as he realized that Demise didn’t seem to be able to hear him at a distance and over the bubbling roar of the lava pool…or perhaps she just didn’t care.  Freed from her bonds at last and out for blood, she flew towards Ivello and spoke some unintelligible words as a black energy that looked like a corruption of Ivello’s lightning tendrils flew from her fingers.  Unable to duck out of the way, Ivello staggered backwards as the bolts slammed into and around him…and suddenly, his world went dark.  He couldn’t see.  Hearing his friend cry out, Aruget sprung into action.  The holy symbol tattooed on his forearm began to glow as he called forth Dol Arrah’s light on the wraiths flanking him and Ivello.  The wraiths hissed and recoiled, but held their ground.  Still blinded, but able to reorient himself in the direction Demise’s attack had come from, Ivello fought fire with fire and unleashed his own lightning at the necromancer.  As it crackled around her, seeming to be absorbed by some kind of magical force, Ivello blinked hard and gave his head a shake as he found his vision beginning to clear.  As Dol Arrah’s light continued to fill the air surrounding him and Aruget, the wraiths could no longer bear it and began to flee, but the paladin wasn’t prepared to let them leave so easily.  Though one of them evaded his axe, he caught the other one square across its incorporeal body.  Feeling a strange, muddy sort of resistance as he dragged his axe through the wraith, it shrieked and dissipated, falling to his attack.

Back in the huddle on the other side of the cavern, Razu continued her assault on the zombies, slicing through the only one who’d survived going toe to toe with Watcher.  Engraged, Minyu tore through two more as Drakan scored another good hit, cleaning up after her.  Keeping a safe distance, Malcanus reached into his pouch and pulled out a flash pellet, tossing it into the remaining horde where it exploded in a blinding light.  Driven into a frenzy and unable to see, one of the zombies charged at Razu from the back of the pack, but met a quick death before it could reach her as Watcher’s fist punched straight through its chest.  The rest of the horde continued to swarm them, but their blind swings were easily avoided.  Cutting down two more undead, Jak was confident that the Deathsgate adventures could hold their own against those that remained, and he extracted himself from the melee and moved back towards the bridge to take another go at Demise with his crossbow – but not before he saw Watcher shear a zombie’s head clear off with a powerful uppercut.  

A few steps ahead of Jak, Kayde plucked one of the gems off his necklace of firebolts, but throwing such an insubstantial little stone so far proved difficult, and it fell into the lava without finding its mark.  Undeterred, Kayde continued moving across the bridge to join Aruget, and in stark contrast to Dol Arrah’s light the dragonmark on his neck began to emit a dark, swirling energy as he raised his arm and pointed at Demise.  Shadows flowed out of his mark, down his shoulder, along his outstretched arm, and straight for the airborne necromancer.  Though Kayde was more powerful than he sometimes appeared, Demise’s power was stronger, and she sneered at his attempts as she shrugged off the shadow’s ill effects.  Emboldened, she quickly swung around to face another blast from Murkoorak’s Orb, catching the impact on one of her bracers.  Veering off to the side and flying down to become level with Ivello, she extended her hands, and shadows began to emerge from the ground around him.  Caught between some large rocks and the ledge, Ivello was unable to escape the shadows’ grabbing, scraping claws, and they dug deep into his flesh.

As Demise gained some height and flew back out over the lava once again, Aruget was determined to finish things.  The Tiger’s Blade flew from his hand, slashing deep across her body and returning to him before a second pass with it came up short.  Clasping her hands across the wound, her face contorted into surprise that was quickly replaced by rage.  “Damn you all to Khyber” she shouted, as she flew across the lava and disappeared into a tunnel.  Unable to prevent Demise from fleeing, but eager to pursue her, Malcanus summoned another bat and sent it on a chase.  Through the bat’s eyes, he saw her enter the tunnels that led back to the antechamber and – eventually – the surface, but she quickly outpaced the bat, and it soon lost sight of her.

As the final zombies fell to the hands of the Deathsgate adventurers, the party stared at the tunnel in stunned silence.  They had faced Demise on her own turf, suffered only minor casualties, and had all the pieces of the Ashen Crown in their possession at last.  Jak’s thoughts swirled within him.  He’d done it.  He’d done what the Dark Lanterns had asked of him.  All he had to do was return to the surface, retrieve Tik and Thom, make his way back to the Citadel with the Crown and traitor in hand, and then – at long last – he could be whole again. 

Though cautious of their victory since Demise remained at large, Jak found himself claiming permission to feel something that he had kept carefully locked down ever since Tik’s betrayal in Graywall.  For the first time in what felt like too long, he began to hope.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: What was your worst or hardest romantic breakup? You can get your bottom dollar that there were immediate and unsolicited remarks about Korbus (who is in fact nowhere close to being on this scale, since her and Jak were never technically a couple, and thus have never technically broken up. 😀 ).
  • Malcanus drew a joker to kick off the session…and drew the bottom initiative on the final round, thus ending the session as well. A very fun bookend that I’ve never seen before, either with PCs or NPCS.
  • Jak’s crossbow bolt shattering was the first and, amazingly, only crit fail of the night. Really surprising considering how many actors were on the field, and how many actions they all had on top of that between a large collection of regular rerolls, free rerolls, multi-actions, and Frenzy attacks.
  • Ivello: “Are those zombies still alive?” Kayde: “That’s a philosophical question.”
  • We almost had her. Kayde almost had an insta-kill on Demise. I’m not 100% sure what the official power was underneath the trappings of his Mark of Shadow, but having rolled two raises on it would have caused Demise to be Stunned, which would have caused her to become abruptly unable to fly, which would have sent her to a swift and fiery death. Unfortunately, it was an opposed roll, and the GM spent all five of his bennies in order to beat it on the last try. The villain managing to escape when they no longer think they can win the fight is a very classic pulp trope, and we are playing a very pulp game, so it’s not out of line, but it’s still a bit of a bummer – I want to see her go down! Also, I can guarantee you that Kayde would have had an epic one-liner to drop as she fell and burnt, and Ivello tells me he was sitting on one as well. Alas, those epic one-liners are lost, like tears in the rain. Time to (not) die.
  • Wow. We did it. We faced down Demise at last, retrieved all the pieces of the Ashen Crown, and the entire party survived. And yeah, there’s the spectre (pun intended) of her return looming over our heads, but for now, I’m feeling pretty darn good and extremely anxious to get Jak back to the Citadel and see what happens next! The next few weeks are probably going to feature some pretty intense roleplaying, and I’m here for it.

Seekers of the Ashen Crown Week 41: Bringing the Heat

As Jak (disguised as Tik) led the party further into the Dragon’s Forge, they found themselves coming up on a shambling mass of zombies.  The outcropping with the massive Khyber shard – and Lady Demise – loomed about sixty feet in front of them across a narrow bridge, with Ivello’s eagle eyes picking out an altar that was presumably at the heart of the ritual.  Though the party was protected by the potions Thom had given them as a parting gift, the Deathsgate mercenaries they had hired were feeling the effects of the heat coming off the roiling lava a mere fifteen feet below the ledge of the series of small islands they now found themselves on.

Moving forward, a large group of zombies shuffled forward to block the party’s way.  Not ready to blow their cover, Jak called out to Demise that he had brought her prize – if she called off her dogs, he would deliver her the Solitaire.  A few moments passed, and then she turned to look at Jak, waved a hand, and the zombies parted.  Ahead of him were even more zombies, and a pair of Emerald Claw knights guarding the natural bridge that separated the ritual site from the rest of the Forge.  Looking up from her work again, Demise took a few steps forward and gave “Tik” a piercing glare.  “You and your…prisoners” she sneered, “seem to be enchanted.  What is that about?”  Jak smirked and replied that it was merely their protection from the heat – he didn’t want them to keel over and die before his Lady got her hands on them.  Helping to sell the ruse, Aruget leaned forward and began shouting at “Tik” for killing Jak, and demanded to know what sort of other enchantment he might have put on them, while Ivello – feeling cocky – snidely remarked that Demise looked much more fashionable in undeath, but a little makeup wouldn’t hurt.

Under her mask, Demise’s eyes seemed to relax, but she waved her hand and retorted that the party’s lives were nothing to her – did “Tik” have the Solitaire?  Jak replied that he most certainly did, for did she really think he’d be stupid enough to return without it?  While Demise digested this new sass, Ivello fell back into his old habit of gathering information at every opportunity.  Taking a closer look at Demise’s robes and mask, he noted that there was something about them that felt off as a simple representation of the Undying Court – in fact, based on some reading he’d done, they suggested a connection to the infamous House Vol.

With no reply from Demise forthcoming, “Tik” summoned all his bluster and declared that before he handed over the Solitaire, he had some business to attend to: Demise had promised to make him Undying as his reward.  She curtly replied that the Crown would make it so.  He questioned how – after all it was only a thing, and a goblin thing at that.  Staring him down with renewed disgust, she sneered that his youth and ignorance were showing.  As she started to explain the history of the Crown, she caught herself, and her eyes narrowed menacingly.  Why was he stalling? 

Grabbing the front of Ivello’s shirt, Jak pulled him forward and replied that he would gladly hand over the Solitaire, but he wanted to see his prisoners join the ranks of the undying as well…as mindless zombies.  Demise snapped at him again to stop stalling; they would do that later.  From the back of the crowd, Kayde had an idea, and called out to Demise to let him serve her.  “Tik” looked over his shoulder and retorted that of course he wanted to serve Demise – he’d heard his friend Jak beg for his life, and didn’t want to share in his fate.  Growing impatient and sensing something wasn’t right, Demise took a few steps forward on the bridge and snarled that she didn’t care about Kayde; his time would come.  She again insisted that “Tik” hand over the Solitaire.  As Jak moved forward onto the bridge, continuing to drag Ivello behind him, Demise demanded to know what game he was playing.  Stopping about ten feet in front of her, Jak held out the Solitaire and replied that he didn’t play games – he could see which way the wind was blowing.  That was Ivello’s cue.

Drawing on the power of his dragonmark, Ivello called up a sharp burst of wind, sending Demise flying off the bridge.  He called out to the mercenary Malcanus to throw him Yeraa’s sword, which landed at his feet.  Grabbing his byeshk spear from the warforged monk Watcher, Kayde struck at the nearest Emerald Claw knight, finding a gap in her armour and killing her instantly.  Moving with him, Watcher laid into the second knight with their fists, splitting his jaw and skull with a massive uppercut.

Back on the bridge, as Demise flew backwards pushed by Ivello’s wind, Jak saw her catch the ledge with her fingers…and then she flew up and began moving through the air.  Pushing his way past Jak, Arguet pulled out the Rod of Negation he’d looted from Tik and ran up to the ledge beneath Demise.  At that distance, he realized that she was surrounded by magic – energy emanated from her staff, a ring on each hand, her bracers, her cloak, and he could sense more coming from her pockets and pouches.  Knowing that the rod’s uses were limited, Aruget took a gamble and targeted Demise’s staff.  Black, crackling energy flew out of the rod and wrapped around the staff, which appeared to dull and fade.  Back on the main island, Minyu the shifter mercenary called on her rage and her inner beast, charging the nearest zombie and throwing it into the lava as she found herself and her fellow mercenaries surrounded by a shambling horde.

Hovering above the fray, Demise reached out her hand as her mask split open, revealing a horrible, contorted visage that she turned towards Aruget.  The paladin was well protected by his unshakable faith in Dol Arrah, and stared back at her fearlessly.  Back on the big island, his sister Razu joined Minyu, cutting through the zombie closest to her and swinging around to drop two more.  On the bridge, thinking on his feet, Jak whipped a grappling hook off his back and sent it flying at Demise.  It was a well-calculated throw, and it wrapped completely around the necromancer, binding her arms to her sides.  Behind him, the warforged mercenary Scorn pulled out his swords and proceeded to make short work of another group of zombies while Jak found himself surrounded by two more who had run over from the altar.  While he was able to dodge their gnashing teeth and grasping hands, he was unable to fight back due to his firm grip on the grappling hook’s rope, and he was starting to be driven closer and closer to the lava.

Seeing Jak’s plight, Drakan – the mercenary originally hired by the real Tik – ran up and ineffectually swung his axe at the zombie in front of Jak as Aruget pulled out his Tiger’s Blade and casually finished the job for him.  However, there were still more zombies crowding them, and one of them shoved into Jak, nearly knocking him over the edge.  Running up to the altar, Ivello quickly scooped up the pieces of the Crown and tried to throw Ashtura’s Blade to Aruget, but it bounced off a rock and fell at Drakan’s feet.  Picking it up, the mercenary swung the blade at the zombies who just kept coming, but couldn’t slow them down.  Dashing forward from the main island, Malcanus threw his boomerang at Demise, but it curved around her before returning to his hand.  As Kayde skewered another one of the zombies surrounding Jak and Aruget, Jak took a defensive stance and began moving away from the ledge to a safer position, pulling Demise along with him.  Seeing an opportunity, Scorn ran forward and traded his swords for the bow on his back, grazing Demise with an arrow as Aruget continued to dance with the zombies surrounding him, dodging one’s attack and taking its head clean off.

Still floating above the lava, wrapped up in the rope of Jak’s grappling hook, Demise began to chant and a swirl of spectral figures emerged from the ground surrounding Jak, Scorn, and Malcanus.  With a burst of dark energy, they sent Malcanus flying backwards, almost taking him off the opposite ledge, but Jak held firm.  Scorn was not so lucky.  Caught off-balance, the warforged fighter was shot out far over the lava, where he fell to his death in the molten pool.  Encouraged by her success, Demise sent forth a stream of black energy that enveloped Jak, and he felt himself losing his strength.  Seeing Jak start to struggle with the rope tethering Demise, Razu moved forward to help him, and then they heard a shout from the back of the cavern.  It was Minyu, alerting them to a fresh horde of zombies that had appeared and were bearing down on her. Though the party and the mercenaries had managed to hold their own thus far, it seemed the battle was far from over.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week:  Did you follow your family profession or did you strike out in a different direction?  What drove that decision?
  • Oh boy. There is a lot to unpack here. Let’s break it down from the top:

– At the end of the previous session, Aruget used Gladiator’s Call to temporarily grant each party member the combat edge of his choice. He got a great roll and chose Improved Level Headed, which gives each of us three cards when drawing initiative, allowing us to choose the one we want. That’s twelve cards drawn per round by the party alone. While the chaos was somewhat mitigated by having the Extras we controlled move on our turns, as well as grouped initiative for the zombies, that’s still (if my count is accurate; I can’t recall if the zombies were in two groups or not) at least fourteen cards drawn per round once you factor in Demise. Although we only played through two rounds of initiative last night, three jokers were drawn (two for us, one for the zombies). On round two, Aruget’s highest card was a Queen, and he decided to go joker fishing anyways and got one on his first try.

– For those of you keeping score, the field at the start of the session consisted of four PCs, six Extras, one boss, and to be honest I lost count of the zombies after the first ten or so. See: we only made it through two rounds of initiative.

– A large part of the reason our Extras managed to clear out so many zombies so quickly was because they had The Drop (+4 to attack and damage) on the shambling ones on the big island. Which was a huge help, since we’re not allowed to reroll for our Extras, and they haven’t always had the best luck.

– There was some post-game discussion over how to play out Jak wrapping Demise up in a grappling hook, and what the consequences should be. For a narratively simple-but-cool action, it wasn’t all that simple from a rules and reason perspective. With two raises on the opposed roll to grapple her in the first place, the GM initially ruled that she was Bound and Entangled, but RAW, she shouldn’t have been able to cast at all after that as part of the Bound condition – something neither of us realized at the time. But there was also a conversation after the fact about how certain parts of Bound – such as the victim being unable to move at all – don’t make sense in the case of someone who is magically flying, and I agree that it also doesn’t make a heap of sense in this particular scenario for it to affect verbal spellcasting. So moving forward, she’s dropping down to just being Entangled, and we’re calling the results of this session even. While I’m pretty bummed about losing Scorn (he was a beast), I think the ruling is fair, and having done some GMing myself (though never for Savage Worlds) I can 100% sympathize with the complications of adjudicating creative actions. You gotta just run with it in the moment and sort out the details later. And as much as I would personally enjoy solving a boss fight with the power of a bright idea and a good roll, that’s not usually a reasonable outcome. 🙂

  • As usual, Adventure Cards sowed chaos and good times. We normally limit the amount of Adventure Cards in play and only get two at the start of each session, going to the players who roll highest on a d100. So of course, Kayde got a card that gives everyone a the cost of a powerful enemy showing up later (this is where the twelve bonus zombies at the end of the session came from). From playing that card, Kayde got a card that gave the entire party a bonus to all trait rolls for one round, and I got a card that gives me an extra d6 for all attacks made against Demise for the remainder of the scene, which will be great if we can ever get her to stop flying. 😀 Aruget got his trusty Angry Mob card – one he has received and played a surprising amount over the course of this campaign – but decided to hold off this time. It’s probably for the best.
  • When Scorn got sent into the lava, so did Yeraa’s sword. Malcanus had been carrying it for Ivello, and in the chaos it was left on the ground in exactly the wrong spot, so it’s gone. Which isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of the narrative, but is something I am personally sad about.