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, 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 un-phased – 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 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 was Kayde going 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 this prediction had come true.  

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 safest 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, he relied on his training yet again, and 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 open his safe box which, to his relief, did contain a letter.  Making his way to the Sivis station, he found another letter waiting for him as well, and started making his way back to the Kordenga to read and share them with the others.

Jak, meanwhile, entered the city with 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, knocking 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 into the streets of Bloodstone, a bird from Ivello landed on Kayde’s shoulder with a message: 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 – Kayde’s illusion was still in effect.  Before he could panic too much, Kayde showed him the necklace that proved his identity 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 going 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 (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, with the party 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 Tik had said 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 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.  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 doing 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 stuck out at Ivello as a solid lead, though he did note that there was mention of some trusted members of the Kech Volaar who they might be able to receive refuge and counsel from.  Meanwhile, Aruget focused on the notes about the Rite of Arkantaash needed to form the Ashen Crown.  While it could be completed at a number of different holy 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 Kayde 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 proposed to 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!

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 33: In The Name of Love

Turning to Thrandi as the guards started to lead him away, Jak spat out, “you think you know me, old man?  You think getting me arrested on false charges is what’s going to get you back to Breland?  I hope you rot here.”  Thrandi shrugged off the harsh words, still completely convinced of Jak’s guilt, and reminded him that the orders for the arrest had come from Captain Kalaes – to which Jak retorted, “but who reported me?”  As the Tharashk guards herded Jak and Aruget out the shop’s front door, with Aruget also manacled now for having interfered with Jak’s arrest, Kayde slipped into the shadows to follow as Lestok counted on his short stature to make himself overlooked.  However, the already on-edge Tharashk sergeant did see him, and told him he could visit his friends after they’d been jailed, but not to follow them or interfere with the law.  Lestok retorted that he was the one making a scene, and cheekily reported a “public disturbance.”  As the guard got more and more agitated, seeming very on edge and trigger-happy, the stubborn gnome who was no stranger to tangles with the law showed no signs of backing down.  However, before things could escalate too badly, he decided to stop following them and use the new magical boots he’d looted from Lt. Sesko of the Emerald Claw to try and beat the patrol to the Tharashk enclave, gesturing at Kayde in the shadows to follow him.

Meanwhile, the whole time, Ivello had been listening at the shop’s back door.  Entering, he was met by Thrandi coming up the stairs, who sharply ordered him out and to the front of the shop as Ivello told him they had something to discuss.  He’d overheard him talking to Jak and the guards, and didn’t know who he was, but wanted to know how he was mixed up in this whole awful affair.  As Thrandi shouted at him again to get out,  Ivello told him to turn around and go back downstairs and they would talk, which sounded quite threatening to the seasoned agent.  Eyes narrowing, he warned Ivello to leave this instant…and then hopped back as Ivello’s quarterstaff came sweeping towards his legs.  Taking a wand out of his pocket, he warned Ivello again that if he didn’t leave now, he wouldn’t leave of his own power.  Ivello begged again to know who Thrandi was to Jak, and then promptly slumped against the wall as a ball of acid streaked out of Thrandi’s wand, hitting him square in the chest as the old man disappeared down into the cellar and locked the door behind him.  Frantically brushing the acid off his clothes to save himself from a nasty burn, Ivello still wasn’t ready to give up.  He pulled a scroll out of his stachel and used it to conjure himself a set of lockpicks, but not being a skilled thief or infiltrator, he was unable to do much with them.  Failing to pick the lock, he banged on the door, yelling at Thrandi that he wouldn’t get away with this.

Over at the Thrashk enclave, Lestok and Kayde had indeed beaten the patrol to the punch…and the gnome had an idea.  He made his way into the main building and declared to the half-orc clerk that he had come to file a complaint for the arrest of an innocent companion – a very important contractor of Morgrave University!  As he began to fill out the form under the half-orc’s surly eye, the patrol returned with Jak and Aruget.  Making their way past the desk, the two were stripped of their belongings before being placed in two small cells with a stone wall separating them.  As the female orc who had taken the speaking stone from Lestok began filling out paperwork of her own, Jak noticed that she wasn’t doing it very quickly, because she kept taking sidelong glances at him.  Aruget called to her to ask how long they’d be held, to which she replied that his sentence would be up to the Captain for obstructing House business, but that Jak would be there a while.  Then she reached into her desk and pulled something out, speaking in a low voice as her eyes narrowed.  She looked directly at Jak this time, came to the cell bars, and held out the speaking stone.  Jak promptly accused her of entrapment, to which she said that someone on the other end wanted to speak with him, and that the gnome wanted him to have it.  Correctly identifying it as a touch-activated speaking stone, she kept a firm grip on it while Jak cautiously slid his hand through the bars of the door and heard an all too familiar voice.

“Jak?” Tik called out. As he taunted his captured foe, he told Jak he knew he didn’t have the solitaire, and that Thrandi had been ordered to arrest the whole party, but for some reason hadn’t passed that message along to Tharashk.  He noted that he’d delivered the report to Kalaes in person, which got Jak’s attention – where was Tik getting his resources?  The Emerald Claw?  Refusing to answer and reminding Jak that it was the word of one disgraced agent against Tik, who was well trusted, he taunted Jak again and told him he would hang for his “betrayal.”  As Jak laid into him, telling him that he would put his skills to good use hunting Tik down, he was met with the sound of laughter and told that he’d never be believed.  Looking up at the orc, Jak replied, “we’ll see about that, did you hear all that?”…to no response from Tik.

The orc looked at Jak, eyes wide.  “You’re really innocent, aren’t you?”  As Jak took a quick read of her, he sensed that her interest might be more than professional, and debated how to use that information in his already swirling thoughts.  She confirmed that she’d heard Tik, and Jak begged her to get Aruget free.  She scowled and repeated that that would be difficult, as he’d resisted arrest, but mentioned that she only had orders to capture Jak…and that Citadel agents were on the way to take him back to Breland themselves, to take Jak to the capital to be hung. Jak said he had nothing to bargain, but begged her to get Aruget out.  The equally stubborn blademark reminded Jak that he had orders to protect the whole party, and that he wasn’t leaving him.  As Jak slumped to the floor and buried his head in his hands, the orc promised to get Aruget released by morning, and told him that his friends had arrived at the enclave.  Jak insisted they weren’t with him, and not to bring them in, which Aruget protested.

Back in the receiving area, Lestok continued to verbally and psychologically spar with the increasingly agitated clerk as Kayde told him to hold down the fort while he ran a mysterious errand that might help them.  On his way out, he ran into Ivello who had just arrived, and who found Lestok inside, determined to buy Jak time by burying his captors under a mountain of paperwork.  Ivello asked if the guards wouldn’t let them see Jak and Aruget, and suggested to Lestok that they find a rat to send them a message instead.  Lestok slapped his newest completed form down in front of the clerk and promised they’d be back with more, and they left the enclave.

Quickly finding and catching a rat, Ivello whispered to it that he’d overheard Thrandi was working for Kalaes, demanding to know what was going on and why Jak had been burnt, and reminding him that the party was on his side and they’d get him out.  From his cell, Jak replied that he was being taken to Wroat to be hung, that Ivello shouldn’t get tangled up in it, and that he was grateful for his friendship and sorry for the bad blood between them.  As Ivello relayed this fatalistic message to Lestok, the gnome immediately proposed a jailbreak.  When Kayde returned from his errand, Ivello conveyed to him and Lestok that something about this didn’t add up, and they had to figure out what – to which Lestok replied that finding Tik was the key to everything.  He’d be looking for the Solitaire, which meant he’d be looking for them.  He proposed extracting Jak when the Citadel agents came for him, but said he had a plan to free Aruget sooner.

Back in the jail, the female orc returned after a changing of the guard, looking very concerned.  She whispered to Jak that Aruget would not be released as promised, as the Captain had received new orders from the Brelish government to apprehend the whole party, because they were looking for something the group had – which Jak assumed to be the rest of the Ashen Crown.  He replied that they didn’t have it, Tik did, and begged her to find his friends and get them out of the city.  He was paying for his past, but they didn’t deserve to.  She asked him what word he’d like passed on , and Jak repeated not to come for him.  As she turned to leave, Jak pointed out Aruget’s House Deneith connection in the hope that might help him, and warned her to not tell anyone she’d ever helped him.

Out on the street corner, Kayde suggested to Ivello and Lestok that he could get in and out of the jail unseen and spring Jak and Aruget while he was at it, revealing for the first time that he could impart his powers of magical disguise on others.  The problem would be what happened next.  As they floated ideas on how to get out of the city, Lestok saw the female orc guard who had been part of Jak’s arresting patrol walking right towards them.  Telling them to get off the street because Tharashk would be looking for them soon, she led them down a series of back alleys as Lestok and Ivello whispered fears that they couldn’t trust her – worse, what if she were actually Tik?  As she pointed them down another alley, Ivello saw her sleeve pull back from her wrist to reveal the patterning of a dragonmark, recalled that changelings couldn’t easily replicate those, and suspected that a true Mark of Finding would be how she found them so easily and directly.  As they walked, she warned that there were already patrols looking for them on charges of treason and theft, and pulled out the speaking stone, saying that someone named Tik had spoken with Jak, and that it was clear he was framing them.  Ivello questioned her helpful motives, eliciting a blush, while Kayde asked if the cells were warded against magic, to which she replied that they were.  

Pausing the group in a small cul de sac, she said Jak had asked her to get Aruget out alone, but for practical purposes, springing one or both of them would be the same, and she felt she could create an opening for them to escape.  It would be messy, but an opportunity, to which Kayde replied that once they got past the wards, he would take care of the rest.  She asked if they had a quick way out of the city, and warned them that Tharashk might prevent the Kordenga from leaving Graywall until the party was apprehended, but that they might be able to reach it before that happened.  Asking the orc’s name – Korbus – Kayde said he would work with her on the jailbreak.  As Kayde disguised himself as a Tharashk half-orc, Korbus warned them to keep moving as Lestok and Ivello snuck off in the hopes of approaching the Kordenga unseen. 

Back in the jail, Aruget leaned against the cell wall and whispered to Jak that he was hoping to get out of this mess – was Jak?  Jak confided in Aruget his deepest secret: that he was a Dark Lantern who had screwed up for the Citadel in the past, and was now paying the price.  As he tried to whisper the story of his downfall to Aruget, he began to sob, which the guard found very interesting, and he came over to listen in.  As the guard tried to join the conversation, Aruget snapped at him to shut up, and asked Jak what he hoped to achieve, to which the downtrodden young man simply replied that he just wanted to go home.  At that, the door opened, and Korbus told the curious guard that the Captain wanted to speak with him.  Unlocking the cells, she handed the keys at Aruget and told him where to find Kayde, and asked her to knock him out.  Aruget complied, dropping her to the ground.  But Jak had other plans.

Again refusing to leave his captivity, the young man’s entire body shook in agitation as Aruget entered his cell, draping his arm over Jak’s shoulders.  He told him that when he was a gladiator, he had craved attention and validation, and that craving had gotten his brother killed.  He accused Jak of only caring about himself.  Jak held firm and again told him to run, and that Aruget would be better off if they’d never met.  Aruget nodded, removed his arm from Jak’s shoulder, and turned to leave…and then whipped around and, not knowing his own strength, sucker-punched Jak in the head.  As Jak crumpled to the floor, blood streaming from his ears and nose, Aruget scooped him up over one shoulder, hauled their gear over his other, and booked it as the changing of the guard started winding down.

Outside at a safe distance, the hobgoblin blademark quickly found Kayde.  Telling him to trust him, Kayde reached out and disguised both Aruget and the unconscious changeling on his shoulder.  With that, he declared that it was time to make their way to the Kordenga

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week:  If the Last War went the way you wanted it to, what would Khorvaire look like today?
  • As a reminder, Korbus’ willingness to help Jak and co. is the result of having played the “Love Interest” adventure card at the end of last session…but during this session, at the urging of two little Jak and Lestok devils on his shoulder, Aruget played the “Betrayed!” action card, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Is Korbus going to turn on us?  I can’t imagine who else is left on our side at this point… 😀
  • Next session, we are going to see what happens after Lestok and Ivello both failed their stealth rolls to get to the Kordenga unseen.  Our resident scientist calculated the odds of both of them coming up snake eyes one after the other to be 1 in 864.  Incidentally, the very next roll in the queue was Jak whispering to Arguet, and I crit failed that stealth roll, and apparently the odds of three people all rolling snake eyes on after the other based on our trait dice was 1 in 31104.
  • The “best” roll of the evening?  Aruget’s massive dice explosion to knock Jak out.  Six raises.  Oh boy!
  • Oh boy.  This session was a tough one.  Jak carries five hindrances, and three of them were very relevant to this session: Shamed, Loyal, and Stubborn.  Jak’s first loyalty, because apparently he’s a sucker for punishment, is to the Citadel.  He is blindly, desperately loyal to them, even after everything that’s happened, and is so downtrodden by his past that he’s willing to submit to a false punishment that he in a twisted way sees fair.  I can’t wait to see his reaction when he wakes up and realizes he’s not in jail anymore.
  • Aruget is now the only character who knows Jak’s deep dark secret! Everyone knows out of character, but I wonder what Aruget will do with this information.
  • All that being said, I did get to bust out the Jak version of Liam Neeson’s iconic “I have a particular set of skills” speech from Taken on Tik.  So no matter what happens next, I’m winning.

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 32: In your heart shall burn

As the dust settled, and the party took stock of their situation, Kayde suspected that continued lack of patrols meant a changing of the guard while Ivello feared that the witnesses might note that he fired on “Demise” first.  As the mysterious light flowed through Aruget’s hands once more to heal Kayde’s leg, the performer suggested they leave the tent burning as a distraction.  Aruget, not wanting the fire to spread, tried to put it out but wound up fanning burning ash to a second tent instead. As Lestok searched the bodies for the missing pieces of the Ashen Crown, and Yeraa’s speaking stone – hoping one of the two would lead them to Tik – Ivello searched “Demise” and found the most remarkable thing about the changeling’s body was a lack of anything that could identify them.  Keeping watch, Jak saw people starting to mill about, and heard shouts to the north, signaling that it was time to go as Aruget quickly closed Yeraa’s eyes and murmured a prayer over her.  Then, the sky began to explode as the fire Aruget started found a crate of fireworks, distracting the guards and causing more panic amongst the already wary onlookers.  As the party ran, Lestok asked Jak where Tik might go if he were injured, and Jak replied he could go anywhere from the shifter healer in Bloodstone, to Hahlo’s house of healing, to back to the Kordenga

Making their way back to the Gold Dragon Inn, Jak and Kayde disguised themselves as a hobgoblin couple to case the inside for danger, while the others cased the outside.  With no sign of Tharashk guards – or Tik – they returned to their rooms, with Jak requesting Zaraani’s Solitaire from Lestok.  As the gnome offered it with a flourish, Aruget tried to contact Tik through his speaking stone once again to no success.  Jak, pale and uncomfortable at the thought of speaking with Dolurrh, sat on the bed and called Yeraa’s name three times.  “Who slit your throat?” he asked the ghostly figure.  “I don’t know”, she replied.  “What happened to you in the tunnels?” he asked.  She replied that they had found Lurtaan’s Cord and were heading out when some sort of gas or mist enveloped them, and then she felt her spirit leaving her body.  Still not having the answers he was hoping for, Jak tried his last question: “was Tikulti with you the whole time?”  “Yes,” she replied, and dissolved back into the gem.

As Jak proposed they get some sleep before going to warn his Dark Lantern contact Thrandi of Tik’s apparent treachery, Ivello wanted to first find a crow to send a message to his Emerald Claw mole and Jak went with him, declaring that no one should be alone at this time.  Ivello whispered his message to the crow and sent it on its way, and then told Jak something startling: that he would never work with a changeling again for lack of trust, at least not if they didn’t show him their natural form first.  Taken aback, Jak reminded him that not all changelings were as open as he was, and that personas were not lies, but Ivello remained firm.  Aruget joined the conversation in an attempt to help Jak see Ivello’s side, which did not go over well, and the three went to bed without resolving anything.  Meanwhile, Kayde and Lestok searched Tik and Yeraa’s room and came up empty, but the inventive gnome rigged a noisemaker on the door so that he would know if anyone returned to it.  Eschewing even a few hours of sleep, he elected to keep watch, sustained by his Burning Harpy spice.

A couple of hours later, the rest of the party were awake, feeling a little rough but none the worse for wear.  They all decided to go to Thrandi’s shop with Jak, who insisted that none of them should enter the shop for fear that they would spook the old agent whose true identity as a Dark Lantern he had not revealed to them.  Back in the market, that early in the morning it was fairly empty, and Aruget noticed there was still a distinct lack of Tharashk patrols.  As Jak went through the open door of Brelish Ceramics, he found the shop empty.  Worried, he made his way down to the cellar, calling for Thrandi, and found the old man down there.  Afraid that he might have found Tik instead, Jak asked Thrandi about the gift he’d brought him the day before, and he answered correctly, but looked nervous.  Jak asked if another agent had come to see him this week, and he replied they hadn’t.  Before he could warn Thrandi that he was in danger, the old agent cut him off, saying that he was surprised Jak would come back after what he’d done as House Tharashk guards called out from the top of the stairs and entered the cellar…declaring that they were arresting Jak on charges of betraying the King’s Citadel!  

As Jak began shouting that it was all a mistake, that it wasn’t him, it was Tik, Aruget heard his cries and barreled into the shop to find a crossbow pointed at him with a command to halt.  When he said he was with Jak, the guard promptly told him to disarm and submit himself to arrest, but the blademark whipped out his shield to defend himself instead as a crossbow bolt slammed into the wall behind him.  Making his way for the guards at the stairs, Jak screamed for Aruget to stop as the patrol sergeant manacled him, which he was too shocked to resist.  Jak futilely tried to get everyone to stand down as Thrandi informed him that he was arrested on Captain Kalaes’ orders and that he would go back to the Citadel to face justice.  As Aruget made his way down the stairs, he identified himself as a blademark sworn to protect Jak, and said they wouldn’t take Jak without him as a crossbow bolt grazed his armour and he bull-rushed the guards at the bottom with his shield.  At the top of the stairs, he heard Kayde yell out that he demanded answers as a scion of House Phiarlan, to which the sergeant holding onto Jak yelled back that his house held no sway in the Calabas, and to stand down or be arrested himself.  Jak again begged his friends not to make this worse as Aruget lowered his shield.  As Jak pleaded with another guard to believe him, Thrandi told the young agent he was disgusted with him, and that he would pay for his crimes.  Jak replied that he would welcome being put under a compulsion to tell the truth, as that would prove his innocence.  

As Lestok weaved his way through the guards, saying Tik was on the speaking stone and wanted to talk to Jak, Kayde made an impassioned plea that he be allowed to do so, and a guard waved Lestok forward to hand her the stone as Jak feared what the traitor might say…

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: Tell a story of you and your best friend. If you don’t have one, what happened or why not?
  • The conversation about changelings and trust was actually all done in-character when the three of us returned from our mid-session break early. That was pretty cool, it just kind of happened. Turned out the GM who wasn’t at his seat was listening in the whole time, and we all got a bennie for our efforts.
  • Aruget accidentally spreading the fire was the result of a crit fail to put it out, followed up by Lestok spending a bennie to influence the story and put fireworks in the newly burning tent for one epic distraction. Amazing.
  • You may or may not remember Captain Kalaes from like…week six? He is the Dark Lantern captain who recruited the party to this mission, though as far as everyone but Jak knows, he is just plain ol’ Citadel.
  • So, uh, the thing that caused the one guard to be willing to give Jak the speaking stone was the desperate play of the “Love Interest” adventure card on my part. Jak is a professional spy, he is not above flirting with an asset to try to get out of trouble. I’m sure that having a lovesick orc on my tail will never, ever come back to bite me. If nothing else, the timely play of that particular card had the entire table in stitches, so it was worth it.
  • I love, love, love how the GM tailors the game to our characters! First, there was the assassination attempt as a result of Ivello having “Secret” as a major hindrance. And now Jak is in chains, branded as a traitor by an organization he is desperately, blindly loyal to. I can’t wait to see how this plays out next week. 🙂
  • I also love how the entire party is eagerly coming to Jak’s defense, because frankly, he’s a bit of an asshole and hasn’t gone out of his way to make any friends on this trip. It warms my little Grinch heart.
  • This week’s post title is part of a poem from the video game series Dragon Age. It is meant to reflect Jak’s blind loyalty to the Citadel and desperation to get back in its good graces even though everything’s gone to hell, and is also the name of a quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition in which the hero loses everything: “In your heart shall burn / an unquenchable flame / all consuming, and never satisfied.”

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 31: Tricked, backstabbed, bamboozled

As Aruget shrugged off his arm wound and swung around to dispatch the bandit trying to take down Lestok, Ivello on the other side of the market laid into Demise with his quarterstaff.  Through his still clouded vision, Kayde saw Demise look back towards Sesko and company and shout something in a screeching language that sounded an awful lot like the monkey as she gasped in terror and darted forward.  Not wanting to take any chances, Kayde blindly unleashed the effects of his potion of Fernian breath, almost catching Jak and Lestok in the conflagration as Demise lept aside into a tent, and the monkey and tiny shadow creature shrieked and burnt.  As they died, Demise yelled out and seemed caught in a daze

Meanwhile, Sesko wasn’t having any of Aruget’s victories over his people.  He cut deep into the hobgoblin’s chest with his axe, but Jak was right by his friend’s side and paid Sesko back in kind by putting a war pick through his eye, dropping the troublesome dwarf once and for all while Lestok unleashed the power of the Fumigator 9000 to take out Sesko’s goons.  As Kayde held his spear to Demise’s throat and called for the others, she brought up her wand, forcing Kayde’s hand as he shoved the spear into her and she crumpled to the ground…and changed.  As she died, her skin, eyes, and hair transformed and turned a shade of cloudy, pale white.  “Demise” was a changeling.

As Lestok patted down his pockets, discovering that Zaraani’s Solitaire was missing, he frantically began digging through an overturned apple cart and found the relic in the debris, singed but none the worse for wear.  Aruget collapsed to the ground as Jak rushed to his side, calling out to the Kech Volaar on his khybershard speaking stone, but there was no reply.  Disturbed – and badly injured – he clutched at the wound in his chest as Jak began to dig out a healing kit…and suddenly, the paladin’s hand began to glow.  Light flowed out of it and into his wound, stopping the flow of blood and knitting his flesh back together. As Jak watched, stunned, Aruget concluded that Dol Arrah was smiling on him, and that she had granted him some new power. 

Back on the other side of the market, Ivello inspected “Demise”s body, finding a ring that whispered of magic to him, and got the sense that something about the body wasn’t quite right – he was unsure that she even was a changeling.  Someone who had been transformed by sinister magics, perhaps?  Lestok, meanwhile, was convinced that it was a modified warforged of some impressive and terrifying new construction.  As Jak came over to see if the dead changeling was anyone familiar, Ivello noticed that not all of the merchants had fled, and he bribed them to be on their way and stay silent as Kayde and Aruget heard scratching noises coming from the tent they had set up earlier that evening…

Kayde went to take a quick peek inside the tent and saw the goblins of the Kech Volaar begin to emerge from the tunnel, spotting the hobgoblin mage Marduuk – but something was off about the way he was moving.  As he moved into the light, Kayde saw that the mage’s throat was slit, and blood soaked his chest, as he made a guttural sound and took a swing at Kayde.  As Akitani – once the Kech Volaar’s toughest warrior – and Yeraa also emerged from the tent, the same fate had befallen them: their throats were freshly slit from ear to ear.  The duur’kala began her song, her voice hoarse and cracked, and for a second Aruget’s thoughts grew muddled but he shook it off.  Confused, he tried to take a closer look at her as Jak’s crossbow bolt whizzed over Akitani’s head and past him, catching the little berserker’s attention as Kayde backed up and let loose his fire breath once again, catching Marduuk and the tent in the conflagration.  Ivello took that as his opportunity to go in blazing, unleashing lightning that dropped Akitani and Yeraa to the ground, while another warrior lunged at him with his bare hands and got a face full of Lestok’s Zom-B-Gone.  As he evaded the hobgoblin’s grasp and ran over to Yeraa’s body to search for the other pieces of the Ashen Crown, Aruget came behind the burning tent and finished off the warrior engaged with Lestok, throwing his Tiger’s Blade deep into the man’s skull. 

With that, the fight was over, leaving the party in different states of confusion.  What had happened to the Kech Volaar?  And where was the changeling Citadel agent Tikulti?  There had been no changelings amongst the undead horde, but there was one lying dead on the ground not too far away.  Was it him?  Had they been betrayed?  These questions and more were at the front of their minds as they stood back to take stock of the situation…

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: What haunts you the most from the Last War?
  • I feel like I say this every other week, but we set another new record for total session crit fails. Lucky for us, three or four of those were on the GM’s side!
  • What’s up with Aruget’s glowing, healing hand? He took the healing power in his last advance, and this was his first opportunity to use it, and he roleplayed it as receiving a miraculous boon from Dol Arrah and it was awesome. His player is so good with flavour.
  • How can Lestok speak monkey language? Through the mighty power of the “Epiphany” adventure card (gain a d6 in any skill for the remainder of the session) and a GM willing to roll with it, that’s how. He really is the best GM.
  • I told them Tik/Yeraa fans it would end in tears! I told them! And you can quote me on that!

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 30: Old “friends”, familiar faces

Our heroes and the Kech Volaar arrived at the market early in the evening and had no problem claiming the spot they needed to dig down to the shrine from.  As the party finished setting up their pavilion, they could hear the goblins already starting to pry up cobblestones.

Getting down to business, Lestok immediately began hawking his burlap and dirt toys, casting an illusion on them to speak, and quickly drew a crowd of mothers and their curious children.  Aruget began warming up for an acrobatics display, testing his balance and playing with his shield, while Jak capitalized on Lestok’s crowd by selling some of Thrandi’s pottery to the adults.  Ivello decided to use some of the dirt coming up in the tent to form training dummies for contests of strength, which drew the attention of a passing Tharashk patrol, who he was able to successfully distract, while Kayde played the part of a salesman to perfection.

As Aruget began his shield dance across the front of the tent, the party switched gears from merchants to performers.  Jak accompanied him, singing a local song he’d heard at the Gold Dragon.  Lestok – surprisingly nimble – began juggling daggers, while Ivello got the crowd worked up in anticipation of Kayde taking the “stage”, brashly declaring he’d do an heirloom performance.  Meanwhile, the sounds of the excavation grew quieter and more distant, the only evidence of it being the dirt occasionally making its way to the surface.   

As Jak got on the bandwagon to hype up Kayde’s show, further muddying the elf’s waters by declaring his heirloom performance would be the soliloquy from “Lenore and the Dragon”, a small monkey across the way began screaming and throwing grapes at him.  Unphased, he stared the monkey down, picked up a grape and ate it, and continued with his task.  Kayde, meanwhile, was still rattled by Ivello’s declaration of an heirloom performance, a proud Phiarlan institution he didn’t have any rights to.  Fearful that word of it would get back his House, he rallied himself anyways and put on a good show.  While Lestok continued to juggle, now accompanied by dancing torchlight courtesy of Ivello, Aruget began drumming on his shield to accompany both the juggling and Kayde’s performance.  As the rise and fall of his drumming roused the crowd’s emotions, they seemed more taken by it than the soliloquy, much to Kayde’s dismay.  As Lestok cast one final illusion for the crowd, he declared that the first person to hit the monkey would win a toy, and it scurried back into the market and disappeared.

By this point, they had spent several hours in the market, and the crowds began to thin as vendors began packing up…and Aruget’s khyber shard speaking stone crackled to life, jerking him out of his drumming.  As he whispered to Jak that they were done, Lestok noticed the monkey screeching at a familiar face: their old nemesis, Lady Demise of the Emerald Claw, while Jak turned his head to spot their other old friend, Lt. Sesko.  He also noticed that the Tharashk patrols, unusually quiet, hadn’t passed through in a while…

Jak sprung into action, grazing one of Sesko’s goons with a crossbow bolt, while Kayde melted into the shadows and Demise began walking forward as Lestok saw a tiny shadow dart off to her left.  Aiming her wand at Lestok, a black, wispy energy shot towards him and he could feel his energy draining and his mind clouding as she stepped back into the alley.  Aruget called out to Jak that they had to hold the line to defend the Kech Volaar’s only exit, and he began his battle dance.  As Lestok split off to give Demise a faceful of G.R.O.S.S., it slid right off her as if bouncing off some sort of magical shield.  Sesko and his group began closing in while Ivello launched lightning at the gnolls flanking Demise, charring them into oblivion, and she retaliated with a skeletal hand flying out of her wand to shake him.  Lestok, joining Jak and Aruget in the battle with Sesko, pumped up his Fumigator 9000 and gave the bandits a good rattling with its crowd of green mist, but they remained on their feet as Sesko called out that the party wouldn’t best him this time.  From his place in the shadows, Kayde noticed a tiny, humanoid shadow dart across the street to the other side of the tent, but elected to chase after Demise, but not before downing his elixir of Fernian breath.  Ivello cast a burst of strength into his quarterstaff and followed him.  As the remaining vendors fled to the safety of their tents, Kayde closed in with Demise and struck out with his byeshk spear as she turned to spot him.  She twisted out of the way, startled, and more black energy flew out of her wand, hitting Kayde in the face and darkening his vision.  “I live in the dark”, he retorted, striking out at her again as she tried to run.  

As Jak joined Aruget and Lestok to hold their position against Sesko’s squad, Lestok felt little hands grabbing at him, and saw the monkey and the shadow grabbing at his pockets.  After deftly managing to apply some G.I.N.S.U. to Aruget’s axe, he wrenched his can of G.R.O.S.S. away from the monkey and sprayed it all over the tiny fiends – and the Emerald Claw. As Aruget called the Tiger’s Blade back to his hand, Sesko came rushing into the fray, attacking wildly and slicing his axe across the hobgoblin’s arm.  Things were starting to look grim…

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: What story were you told growing up that you remember the most?
  • The scene of running the tent was done as a Dramatic Task. The assorted complications – the patrol, the monkey, Kayde’s hesitation at getting caught doing an unsanctioned heirloom performance – were all part of the mechanic of drawing clubs cards on initiative, which imposes a -2 on the roll and can end the whole task on a crit fail. I drew clubs three out of four rounds, and on the third finally decided to stop burning my bennies on new cards.
  • We needed a whopping 30 successes in 4 rounds…and we didn’t need to finish round 4. And that’s where we used up all our luck for the night, because we definitely didn’t carry it into the fight. 😀

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 29: Taking care of business

Working his way through the market, Ivello met a vendor named Aaspar Riis who turned out to be a good contact for sourcing Dhakaani artifacts he could sell to Morgrave, or use in his own research.  As the group returned to the Gold Dragon Inn for the night, Kayde continued to watch for a tail, but saw no one.

The next morning, Tikulti waved them over to meet in Yeraa’s room, along with the hobgoblin mage Marduk.  While Yeraa explained that the shrine containing Murkoorak’s Orb appeared to be completely buried over, Marduk proposed that they party set up a tent in the Roar to provide a distraction while the Kech Volaar dug.  They continued to be firm in their belief that only those of goblin blood could enter the shrine safely, for fear of death.  Kayde became very excited at the prospect of putting on a performance, while Ivello was more interested in the excavating process, and was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to finish the job in one night.  Marduk reiterated that that was why they needed a good distraction, and was more concerned about concealing their tracks after the fact.

As the party spitballed ideas for their market stall cover, Lestok suggested selling pet rocks, while Aruget proposed demonstrating his agility through contests or dancing.  Jak let on that he had a contact in the market they could call on, but initially thought of him as a last resort, the memory of Thrandi’s scolding still fresh in his mind.  Marduk added that it was important that the party looked like they belonged, and that he was eager to get his hands on the orb as soon as possible.

Before the party went their separate ways for the day, Ivello pulled everyone aside, claiming he had something important from the night market to show them in his room.  Ushering everyone in, making sure the door was shut and not one was listening on the other side, he expressed his concern: how would Tikulti be able to go into the shrine, being a changeling?  Would his cover be blown by this, and how could we help him?  Lestok suggested making him ill at the last minute, but Aruget thought that might make Tik look bad in Yeraa’s eyes, and he might not want that.  Jak agreed, revealing to the group that Tik and Yeraa were a couple, and Aruget became angry and concerned about Tik’s intentions and honesty while the others expressed varying degrees of concern and interest about that situation in terms of Tik being an agent of the Citadel.  They went back and forth for quite some time, with Jak expressing in no uncertain terms that Tik was going too far with Yeraa, but ultimately saying that he’d talk to him about the problem of the shrine.

Separating for the day, Kayde went to the Twilight Palace, a beautiful hotel and theater under the joint control of Houses Ghallanda and Phiarlan.  The clean, opulent surroundings immediately made him feel at home.  Minstrels played in the dining area, and after enjoying a drink, he was introduced to an older elf who was so prim and proper that he put Kayde on a good day to shame – Nadine Samare d’Phiarlan.  After some back and forth about the nature of Kayde’s next “performance”, Nadine provided Kayde with a tent, some costuming, and the suggestion to talk to the chef if he was interested in selling foodstuffs at the market.  Kayde then asked one last favour: the identification of Jalros’ Siberys shard necklace.  Nadine sent him into the Roar to Talos, a tiefling artificer who identified the item as Kayde had suspected: it was attuned to the Mark of Shadow.

Ivello and Lestok were also in the Roar, which looked different during the day, but was no less busy.  Lestok bought some materials for making trinkets and suggested they keep an eye out for any vermin tunnels leading under the market, while Ivello kept an eye out for any buildings that might be abandoned that they could use that night.  As they wandered, all the shops appeared to be in business, and Lestok divided his attention by beginning to whittle trinkets.  Absorbed in his work, the old gnome tripped, spilling his bag everywhere and earning a splinter in his thumb that consumed all his attention for the next little while.

Meanwhile, Aruget attended to his prayers, then went to the arena looking for broken swords or statue pieces he could sell as souvenirs.  He easily found the old goblin in charge of cleaning up debris after the fights, and was excited to see him, convinced that he knew him from his time as a gladiator.  The old goblin was convinced that they most certainly did *not* know each other, became very irritated, and eventually told Aruget to check out the pile of debris in the Pit and leave him alone.  Aruget spent the next while picking through it, and came away with an armload of interesting bits and pieces.

Back at the inn, Jak pulled Tik aside to express his concerns about the shrine.  Tik claimed, much to Jak’s skepticism, that he had a magical artifact that would protect him, and that in fact already had.  Jak decided to trust his fellow agent, and left him to go to see Thrandi at Brelish Ceramics.  Pulling out his bottle from the night market, he grinned and told the old man he’d promised he’d be back to hear his story….and Thrandi laid into him, saying that he couldn’t be heard of casually associating with Jak if he ever wanted to get out of this backwater.  Taken aback but quickly reverting to business mode, Jak asked for help with the market stall, and Thrandi offered up a couple of cases of his own ceramics, which Jak happily accepted.  Jak told him to keep the bottle, prompting Thrandi to apologize for his outburst – he reiterated that he’d been a faithful servant of Breland for many years, and just wanted to go home.  Jak took his leave with one of the crates, and Murdak came back from the inn to help with the rest.

By early evening, everyone had reconvened at the inn with their spoils from the day, and the party regrouped and prepared to put on the most important show of their lives…

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: what is one of the craziest things you have ever done in your life?
  • The discussion over Tik and Yeraa’s relationship was actually quite long and involved, an possible the most intraparty roleplaying we’ve ever done in a session. The GM described it as, and I quote, “f*cking awesome*, and gave us all a bennie for it.
  • Lestok seems plagued by crit fails on notice rolls in Graywall, but the standout crit fail of the night was Aurget’s check to see if he remembered the goblin at the arena, leading to a wonderful exchange of “hey, you’re that guy, I know it” “I am NOT! You’re crazy!” and so on. Also, I’ve come to the realization that our GM really likes doing goblin voices, and I’m here for it.
  • As Jak’s “Shamed – Major” hindrance comes for the forefront in his interactions with Thrandi, that’s been an interesting time for me as a player, because the GM knows how to play mean. And it’s cool, we’re all friends here, but it’s definitely been flexing my roleplaying muscles to keep Jak stubborn in the face of it. And you know what? I’m also here for that. These are the things that make a campaign great.

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 28: Men about town

Kayde and Ivello made their way through the Calabas to Hahlo’s house, both badly in need of the halfling’s healing services.  They found him finishing up with a goblin patient, and showed off their wounds, Kayde getting scolded for letting his fester.  The fee for his service, however, caught Kayve and Ivello by surprise, and Kayde’s natural instinct to haggle kicked in.  Unfortunately, he went too low, insulting Hahlo, but him and Ivello persisted.  The healer became more and more agitated until the two finally gave up and paid him.  Mixing up assorted unguents and poultices as his dragonmark flared to life, it took Hahlo the better part of an hour to tend to their wounds – but even Kayde’s infection and Ivello’s arm were not beyond his skill, and he set them both right.

Ivello apologized for the haggling, and he and Kayde took their leave.  He wondered aloud that they might not be the only people in the city looking for Murkoorak’s Orb, and suggested again that they find disguises.  Kayde agreed, and split off to go to the bank, agreeing to meet back up at the Gold Dragon Inn afterwards.  Walking alone through the Calabas, Ivello saw lots of orcs, half-orcs, and even trolls walking around in House Tharashk livery, and stopped to listen to a town crier.  The crier’s news included warning that foreigners who wanted to enter the challenge ring would not be protected by Tharashk, and that there had been some muggings and other crimes against foreigners outside the Calabas, but the district itself seemed safe enough.  He also spoke of the body of a goblin found in a back alley, believed to have been murdered by a human man with black hair and a scar on his chin cutting through a beard, who was still at large.  Most interestingly, he heard about the nightly goblin market in the Roar, where local vendors sold all sorts of goods uncommon in the Five Nations, and was reminded of his time in Darguun.

After stopping by a general trader, Jak made his way to the Gold Dragon Inn to set up accommodations and wait for the courier he’d hired to bring a reply from his Sendings to Captain Kalaes and Thom.  As he chatted with the clerk, Holiwell, he noticed a fun sight in the corner: a basket containing a blink dog, whose pups were running all over the place, popping in and out of sight.  He paid for the night’s rooms and went back to the dining room to get a drink and wait.

Meanwhile, Aruget told Lestok that he wasn’t planning to go meet the others at Hahlo’s, and didn’t recommend that Lestok follow him.  Trying to get Lestok to not do something like that quickly proved futile, and he conceded that they’d been stranger places together.  As they left the walls of the Calabas, the whole feel of the city changed, its Five Nations vibe replaced by a mish-mash of mud huts and larger structures made for the likes of ogres and trolls.  They passed by two ogres in challenge rings, being taunted by the crowd, and as Aruget took in the sights and smells, he was glad to be home, and told Lestok he’d get him some real food, not that tourist stuff from the Calabas.  

His destination, the Broken Sword, was a tavern that catered to Five Nations exiles, mercenaries, and other such characters.  As the warforged bartender, Maul, waved them to a table, Aruget took a moment to size up the room and see if he spotted anyone likely to tell him more about Kalak, the troll his brother Dabrak had been working for when he died.  After buying everyone a round to loosen tongues, he heard that Kalak had since become a lieutenant in Xor’chylic’s personal guard, and while he occasionally came into Bloodstone to watch the fights, he spent most of his time in the Throne district, where foreigners were definitely not welcome.  Aruget asked Maul if the name Martigan rang any bells, and Maul replied that he came by frequently, but hadn’t been seen in a few days.  Aruget paid Maul to tell Martigan that Aruget was looking for him, and took Lestok to the arena for old time’s sake.

They came to the arena to find the more prestigious gladiators training and engaged in practice fights.  Lestok pointed out a wall of statues that Aruget identified as victims of Six Stones, and Aruget expressed his disappointment that there were no fights that day, but invited Lestok to explore other districts if he wanted to.  Lestok, however, was feeling a sense of urgency.  He was worried that the Kech Sharaat may be following them, and also was fearful of how many days they had in Graywall before Jalros caught up to them again.  With that, Aruget agreed to return to meet the others at the Gold Dragon Inn.  

By dinnertime, the party had regrouped in the dining room, as some of their hobgoblin friends began filing in, minus Yeraa and Tik.  Jak filled his friends in on the information he’d gotten from his contact, Thrandi, about Demise being in town.  They made some more plans about how to disguise Ivello, who bought a round for them and the hobgoblins, when Yeraa and Tik returned…and Jak noticed the duur’kala quickly pull her hand out of the changeling agent’s as they appeared in the door.  The two of them joined the group, and Tik said they hadn’t found the Orb yet, but they knew it was in the north end of the district.  Kayde replied that they were now in a race with the Emerald Claw, leading Tik to press him and Jak for more information about them. He suggested to Yeraa that they continue the search that night.  Kayde suggested that he could use his shadow form to plunge into the ground and retrieve it, but Yeraa replied that her seers had determined that only those of goblinoid blood could enter the chamber.  While Ivello pondered what use the party would be if they couldn’t enter the ruins, Tik and Yeraa got up to make their way to the Roar to continue their search.  Before leaving, Jak pulled Tik aside and warned him to be careful with Yeraa; she was a job, after all.  Tik replied that he knew what he was doing: his duty.  Jak couldn’t shake the memory of Tik telling him he’d grown very fond of his companions, and an older memory of his own time undercover, meeting a woman…

The night market was dimly lit and crowded with tents, bull of kobolds, goblinds, bugbears, gnolls, and orcs all hawking their wares.  As the party browsed around, trying to look inconspicuous, Yeraa reappeared and told Jak they’d found the Orb.  She took the party to a spot between two tents and declared it was there…hiding two hundred feet below the surface with no entrance in sight!

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: Name someone in your life that you have had a contentious relationship with, how that came about, and how it has affected you.
  • You know, I kind of enjoy these downtime sessions. It’s nice to have a break from the madness.
  • Ivello is totally into Tik+Yeraa. Jak, on the other hand, doesn’t like it one bit and thinks it’s going to end poorly. Place your bets now!
  • In-between this session and next, Jak did some shopping. He bought, amongst other things, a bottle to share with the surly old Dark Lantern, Thrandi, as promised – and what a shady vendor claimed was a lion’s tooth that would transform into an actual lion when thrown on the ground, which would fight for its master.