Tales from the Table: Savage Eberron’s Best of 2021

The best stories are the ones that go where we least expect them, but still come to a satisfying conclusion. With that in mind, I asked my friends to share their favourite campaign moments of the past year…and it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who found my top picks to be the most memorable moments of the year.

Kevin (who plays Ruskel in Mourners of Lhazaar) joined the table in August 2021.  He might be the new kid on the block, but he’s already made his mark on the story, and his favourite moments include the use of the Ace! adventure card (an automatic success with a raise on any trait “roll”) to impersonate a vengeful priest of His Watery Deepness The Devourer, and leading the charge into the sea during a daring rescue that was going perfectly fine…until Rus decided to take matters into his own hands, dive off a spar, and suffer a critical failure all at the same time (and acting on a joker, no less).  That set off a cascading series of events that led to the entire party except Trucco following him into the water, and it was the kind of glorious madness that can only occur when players are willing to build off of each others decisions, roll with them, and support the story they are telling together.  

A little white lie takes on a life of its own as Rus puts the fear of the Devourer into Cutthroat Grok

The GM is as much a part of the story as any of the players, and one of Phillip’s favourite things about running our table is the ways in which we surprise him as much as we surprise ourselves. His most memorable moments from Seekers of the Ashen Crown mirror my own, and they both involve trouble caused by my character, Jak. After the turning point in that story where everything went wrong, Jak found his major hindrance — “Shamed” — come home to roost when his attempt to warn a fellow Dark Lantern about the treachery of one of their own resulted in himself being framed and arrested for the murder and treason his new archnemesis had committed right under the party’s nose. Now, there is a general GM wisdom to never, ever arrest your PCs. It often ends in players either upset at being stripped of their agency, or going on a town guard killing spree, causing collateral damage, and any sort of other really bad situation. However, two things occurred here: first, Phillip firmly believes that major hindrances should make an appearance in the story at some point, and this wound up being the perfect opportunity for Jak’s. Second, Phillip later revealed that he fully expected me to resist arrest, and Aruget was leading the charge on that (literally) until he agreed to Jak’s pleas to stand down and not make matters worse so that…Jak could submit to the arrest peacefully. Initially, Jak was convinced that he would be able to prove his innocence as long as he went quietly, but he was young, and he was frightened. Turning to look up at one of the orc guards towering over him, he met her eyes and in a small, desperate voice pleaded “you believe me…right? Please, you have to believe me!” And then I played my adventure card:

The table exploded with laugher. I’d never provoked a reaction like that from them before, and I haven’t provoked one like it since. But in that moment, in the last minutes of the session, with everything hitting the fan, I thought to myself “well, Jak’s a spy, surely he’s taken advantage of lovers as assets before, and what do I have to lose?” The guard, Korbus, did indeed end up being Jak’s ticket out of jail, but not before every last one of his Hindrances coagulated into a soup of self-loathing and despair that forced Aruget to knock him out cold and drag him to freedom.  Korbus quickly became not just a fan favourite, but a table favourite.  To this day they tease me about “breaking Korbus’ heart” every chance they get. In fact, if I say that they teased me about it just last week, no matter when you read this post that will probably be true.

Phillip’s other most notable moment of that campaign, and my no.1, actually came about as a direct result of Jak’s arrest and subsequent escape. During the session that Jak was in jail, Aruget found himself in desperate need of succeeding on some Perusasion checks — but he was completely out of bennies. Out of character, Ernesto began to hesitate, and polled the table for our opinion. He was sitting on the Betrayed! adventure card, which does exactly what it says on the tin: a trusted ally or friend turns against the party. The carrot offered with that stick? Three new bennies, right there on the spot. I was actually (albeit in a slightly stressed-out way) kind of enjoying running with the extraordinary mess we were in, so I just laughed and said, who is possibly left at this point to betray us besides Korbus? Play the card. Do it. Let’s see where the chips fall. Things can’t get any worse. Well, you don’t go around issuing that kind of challenge to your GM without expecting something juicy in return. Phillip is very happy to let stories burn low and slow until the time is right to boil, and this one simmered in the background for six weeks after that card was played.

The party clandestinely returned to Sharn in the hopes of ending things and clearing their names, and Jak had sent a message ahead asking his best friend and fellow Dark Lantern to meet him privately. He wanted to tell his side of the story, and he wanted Thom’s help. Jak had done Thom wrong in the past, in fact, he’d nearly taken Thom down with him when he was kicked out of the Lanterns. But they’d since reunited, Thom had forgiven him, and they were brothers once more…right? Well, they met at the appointed place and time, Jak spilled his guts, and as Thom repeatedly apologized for not knowing what to believe, the traitor appeared at the door, taunting Jak with his trademark arrogant sneer. Thom had given him up. The real traitor was very well-regarded within the Dark Lanterns, Jak was on the outs and not considered trustworthy even before this new accusation (again playing off his major Shamed hindrance), and while Thom didn’t necessarily want to believe that his friend would commit murder and treason, Jak had lied to Thom for the better part of a year…and if he was willing to do that, and go too far in other ways, well, Thom genuinely didn’t know who to believe. He believed that he was doing the best he could with the information he had. That betrayal not stemming from a cliched place of malice or hatred was an absolute tour de force of storytelling that twisted the knife that much deeper…but an adventure card saved the day again! Kayde, who’d come into the tavern with Jak to keep an eye out, pulled back his hood, jumped up on a table, and forced the traitor to monologue about all his dastardly plans right in front of Thom as the rest of the patrons rose to their feet and attacked us on his command. That fight was the most extraordinary, most fun chaos I’ve ever partaken in as far as TTRPG combat goes. Before it was over, there were twenty-three characters crammed into one very average-sized tavern, not counting the bottleneck of corpses that quickly overtook the front door. It was spectacular. And the story that got us there? That’s one I won’t forget.

There were so many other great moments this year, far too many to recount in detail here. From the time we schemed for about 45 minutes of real time in order to end up throwing every last plan out the window in favour of an impulsive hare-brained scheme Kayde actually managed to pull off to the assassination attempt on an airship immediately dubbed “our most Eberron session ever!” to more recent events involving an unplanned sacrifice to the Devourer, the guys rallying around Daina during a session I wasn’t even able to attend, and a small incident in the bilge, the stories keep flowing and, with them, the memories. It’s always been my opinion that the best stories we can tell are the ones shared with the people we love, and as we keep the story going in 2022 — as the guys have heard me say on more than one occasion — I’m here for it.

Do you have a favourite moment from Seekers of the Ashen Crown or Mourners of Lhazaar this year? Tell us about it in the comments or on Twitter!

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