Category Archives: Seekers of the Ashen Crown

Weekly recaps of Seekers of the Ashen Crown

Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 40: Trading Places

While Thom left the safehouse to meet a contact who could help identify the enchantments on Tik’s sword, chain shirt, and jewelry, Ivello spoke a message to Roscoe the rat and sent him scurrying off to find Razu with instructions for hiring reinforcements. He then turned his attention to Jak, who was determined to mine Tik for more information, and wanted Ivello’s help.  The former raincaller summoned a peaceful wind around his friend’s head, blocking out distractions and helping him focus.  He then motioned to the others to leave the room and shut the door behind them, leaving Jak to his own devices.

The young agent sat back in his chair and took a long, calculating look at his unconscious captive…and then slapped him sharply across the face.  Tik, having already been wounded before taking his knockout blow back at the Traveler’s Rest, didn’t so much as moan in response.  Jak frowned and tried again, a little harder – still nothing.  Frustrated and feeling the time ticking away, Jak pressed his hand into the ugly gash across Tik’s bare chest.  That got the traitor’s attention.  As Tik’s eyes flew open and he screamed in pain, Jak leaned back in his chair and grinned.  “Feeling better?”

Having the upper hand at last, and reveling in it, Jak presented his nemesis with a very short list of options: he could answer Jak’s questions…or they would let Demise know he’d failed her.  Tik sneered and questioned how being turned over to the Citadel’s custody would go any better for him than facing Demise, and Jak replied that it would be the difference between a quick death and a long one.  Arrogant as ever, Tik scoffed and continued in his familiar pattern of goading Jak, harping on the younger man’s past failures and accusing him of naive ignorance in an attempt to throw him off his game.  Unimpressed and enjoying the unfamiliar sensation of being in a position of power, Jak easily fell back on his training and began his interrogation in earnest.  The follower who’d managed to escape the Traveler’s Rest when the tide had started to turn against Tik – who was she?  What was her name?  Tik rolled his eyes.  Yes, she was a member of the Emerald Claw, but why would he care beyond that?  She was of no importance.  Jak continued to rattle off questions.  What was Demise expecting from Tik upon his return to the Dragon’s Forge?  And just what did an Undying Aereni elf want with an ancient symbol of Dhakaani rule, anyway?  Tik grudgingly replied that all Demise was expecting from him was the safe delivery of Zaraani’s Solitaire – the one piece of the Ashen Crown the party had managed to keep hidden from her – and that any of them who he brought to his Lady would be turned into one of her undead followers, a fate he’d been eagerly anticipating for Jak.  As for the Crown, it had been an elven artifact before it was claimed by Dhakaan, and it was said to have some sort of power over the dead.  With that, he fell back into taunting Jak, still believing that he somehow held power over his situation.

Jak had had enough.  Screwing his thumb deep into Tik’s wound, he leaned in close and in a cold, hard voice – and wearing a perfect copy of Tik’s face – informed the traitor that he was going to take his place in the Dragon’s Forge, and Tik was going to tell Jak everything he needed to know in order to pull it off.  Wracked with pain, Tik began to babble. Caught up in the heat of the moment, Jak found that he was enjoying inflicting pain on the one who had caused so much pain to him, and as he pressed his thumb in harder, Tik screamed and his facade broke.  Unable to hold his human form any longer, he found himself looking up at Jak with his true face as he began to spill his guts.  His only job had been to deliver the Solitaire to Demise, or else interrogate Jak to learn its location in the event that they’d stashed it somewhere.  Demise had no personal interest in Jak and his friends – having conveniently stumbled across Ashtura’s tomb what felt like a lifetime ago, they were simply a means to an end.  In the same vein, Demise was merely a means to an end for Tik himself, having promised him immortality in exchange for his assistance in retrieving the pieces of the Ashen Crown.  Even so, having been undercover with the Kech Volaar for over a year, he’d had little contact with her, though he did have a sending stone she’d given him to stay in touch.  His return to Sharn this past week had been only his second time meeting her face-to-face.  He had planned to bring any survivors of the Traveler’s Rest to Demise, not only to gloat, but to eliminate any witnesses – he believed it would be better if the Citadel never found them, if they simply disappeared, and he had not accounted for Jak’s arrest in Graywall.  As for what they would face in the Dragon’s Forge, the entrance to it was guarded, and beyond that, Demise had already begun the ritual to re-forge the Ashen Crown, but it could be interrupted.  

Satisfied that he’d learned everything he wanted to know, Jak leaned back in his chair again, smiled, and thanked Tik for his cooperation.  He promised that, as a show of his gratitude, he’d be in Wroat to watch Tik hang – after all, he’d always wanted to visit the capital.

Shortly thereafter, both Thom and Roscoe the rat returned to the safehouse.  As Roscoe scurried up to the safety of Ivello’s pocket, Thom gave the rundown of the enchantments on Tik’s gear and then dumped an assortment of potions out of his satchel.  He’d gotten everyone something to help protect them from the searing heat of the Cogs, as well as some healing potions just in case.  Jak frowned and asked Thom how he’d been able to afford all that; he’d always been broke.  Thom smiled and reminded his friend that he was still a Citadel agent in good standing.  In case Jak had forgotten, there were certain perks that came with the job.  

While the party divided up their spoils, with Ivello claiming Yeraa’s sword as Jak set it aside in order to strap on Tik’s trademark rapier and complete his disguise, Razu returned with the Deathsgate mercenaries she’d hired on the party’s behalf.  Ivello’s message had urged her to spare no expense, and she had delivered. Sizing up their new allies, Aruget declared that there would be an extra twenty galifars for the one with the highest kill count as he did a quick roll call.  There was Malcanus the Wry, a Talenta halfling maskweaver whose eyes lit up at the promise of extra gold in exchange for a challenge, and Minyu the shifter, an imposing figure who also perked up at this promise.  Accompanying them were two very different warforged: Scorn, a sleek, tactical model who spoke in the third person as they rested their hands on the swords on each hip, and Watcher, who lived up to their name, silently observing the room from under the hood of their flowing robes while radiating an aura of protection.  Pleased with Razu’s decisions, but still eager to fight at his sister’s side, Aruget asked if she still had the time and will to join them.  Smiling, she replied that she’d already told her Deneith captain that she had a personal matter to attend to, and would be glad to accompany him. 

Over in the corner, with the importance of their task (and no small concern for his friend) weighing on him, Thom admonished Jak not to fail.  Overwhelmed with emotions and struggling to find the right words, Jak began to tell his friend goodbye, in case things went south.  Putting a hand on the younger man’s shoulder and looking him in the eye, Thom cut him off, and insisted that nothing more needed to be said – he just needed Jak to get the job done, come back alive, and clear his name.  Awkwardly throwing his arms around Thom in a quick hug, Jak stepped back, holding him at arm’s length, and transformed into Tik again.  This time, he completed his disguise by matching the other man’s body language and arrogant smirk, and Thom smiled – it was an impressive performance, sure to fool the Emerald Claw.  Promising to keep an eye on Tik until the party’s safe return, Thom shooed them out the door, and they began making their way into the heart of the Cogs.

Making regular stops to consult Yeraa’s journal for directions, the party worked their way through a series of oppressively hot, stuffy tunnels.  As they approached the entrance of a large cavern filled with light, they spotted several figures ahead – surely, this was the guard post Tik had spoken of.  Pausing just outside the chamber, Aruget and Ivello called on their respective magics to help improve their chances.  As Ivello summoned his focusing wind again, this time wrapping it around everybody, Aruget began to pray to Dol Arrah while Kayde and Jak remained on high alert.  Jak took note of three women in Emerald Claw livery – one of whom stood out as a leader – and Kayde’s eagle eyes spotted some kruthik skittering about…who appeared to have been killed and raised back to life.

As Jak confidently strode up to the woman he assumed was the Emerald Claw captain, with the mercenaries behind him leading his friends as their “prisoners”, she turned to him with a dark glare.  “Tikulti”, she snapped, “where have you been?  You’re long overdue.”  Calling on his memories of Tik’s unmatched arrogance, Jak produced his most insulting smirk and replied that that was between him and his Lady.  Scowling, the captain demanded to know who his prisoners were, and he told her that they were the ones who had found the Ashen Crown for him – and that their reward would be a second life joining the legions of Demise’s undead.  As Kayde and Ivello helped sell the ruse by shouting at “Tik” that he wouldn’t get away with it, the captain grumbled and made her feelings known.  He thought he was so special, didn’t he?  Always figured himself better than her.  But he wasn’t one of them, really; he wasn’t a true follower.  Jak continued to smirk at the woman in silence, and she grudgingly stepped aside, pointing out the entrance to the Dragon’s Forge.  Waving the others forward, he assured her that her loyalty would be rewarded.

Making their way through, the party continued deeper and deeper down under the Cogs as the heat increased, and they could hear the sounds of smoldering lava flowing around the tunnel’s walls.  Before long, they found themselves in yet another large chamber, this one featuring a small outcropping of land that jutted into the middle of a humongous, molten pool.  In the middle of the island, on an unnatural, circular platform, there stood a cluster of Khyber dragonshards stretching fifteen feet tall, and several figures milled around a table beneath it.  Having spent many hours poring over Yeraa’s journal, Ivello believed that they’d reached their ultimate destination – a belief which was confirmed when a familiar face turned around to confront those who dared interrupt her.  After weeks of hardship, peril, and loss, all for seemingly very little reward, the party had caught up with Demise at last.  It was time.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
  • Ivello flavours most his powers as some form of calling up wind. In this session, the wind he called up to calm and focus Jak and then the party at large was Boost Trait, which he used to increase everyone’s Performance skill by one die size.
  • Assuming our encounter with Demise devolves into a fight before long, we will be enjoying the assistance of six allied Extras under our command: the four new Deathsgate mercenaries, plus the one captured alongside Tik last session, as well as Aruget’s sister Razu. Is it a really bad idea to bring six potential corpses into a necromancer’s lair? Maybe! We’re nothing if not confident. 😀
  • Oh, how the tables have turned. Tik spent a bennie attempting to resist Jak’s interrogation…and he wound up fishing for a crit fail just like the rest of us. Turns out I didn’t need to spend my own bennie fishing for a raise to set the target number!
  • Speaking of Jak’s interrogation…things got kind of dark there. As a professional intelligence operative of a nation known for embodying the philosophy that the ends justify the means, I believe Jak’s always had the capacity to go morally questionable places – and it’s certainly something Ivello and Aruget have called him on in the past, and Ivello will most likely call him on it again when the opportunity arises. That being said, roleplaying a rather nasty interrogation and then (if I don’t say so myself) doing a pretty good job of sliding into Tik’s particularly mean brand of arrogance to sell Jak’s disguise was a little intense. From a storytelling perspective, it made a ton of sense for Jak to take out his anger on Tik and make good on the threat he delivered from his jail cell in Graywall, and I imagine that this kind of thing would have been part of his Dark Lanterns training as well. From a player perspective, I kind of felt like I needed a shower afterwards. Was Aruget right all along when he accused Jak and Tik of being two sides of the same coin? Have all of Ivello’s attempts to save Jak from himself come to naught?
  • Due to an IRL combination of work and play, the Seekers of the Ashen Crown are taking a two-week hiatus…but that doesn’t mean this space needs to be quiet during that time! If there’s a subject you’d like me to tackle as a Table Talk article, go ahead and suggest it below, and I’ll see what I can do. It could be a mechanics/gameplay question, something to do with our current campaign, etc. Topics already covered include bennies, hindrances, and cinematic combat. Otherwise, I’ll see you on July 7!

seekers of the ashen crown week 39: revenge, reconciliation, and reckonings

As Jak ran Yeraa’s sword through the henchman in front of him and surveyed the common room-turned-battlefield, he wondered if Thom had really come to the Traveler’s Rest with no one to back him up but Tik – surely, if he had intended to turn Jak in, he hadn’t been so foolish as to bring no one but one agent he knew only by reputation?  Kicking the dead goon off his blade, he ran up to flank the one facing Thom as the two of them easily ducked under the wide swing of the man’s axe.  In spite of Thom’s betrayal, old habits died hard, and he and Jak fought in sync just like old times.

Still up on the table, but much more limited in his options after being sliced open, Kayde clutched at his wound and traded his spear for theatrics.  He implored the henchman who had dealt him this near-mortal blow that surely he hadn’t been paid enough to protect Tik – surely, it wasn’t worth dying over.  As the man hesitated, Kayde looked over his shoulder and, seeing Tik start moving to the door, called out to Ivello not to let him escape.  At the bottom of a bottleneck created by still more of Tik’s men, Aruget’s axe cleaved one of them through the chest, killing him instantly.  As he kicked the body out of his way, the blademark heard a rush of footsteps approaching the tavern…and saw a familiar and very welcome sight as a unit of House Deneith blackblades shoved their way past him to join the fray.  Razu grinned at her brother and explained that, having caught wind that he was in trouble prior to his return to Sharn, it had behooved her to come to their meeting prepared.  The blackblades sprang into action, surrounding the henchman in front of Razu and easily dispatching him before turning their attention to the real prize: Tik, who had tried to make a break for it only to find himself in the thick of the party’s new allies.

Shoving his way through the blackblades to come toe-to-toe with Tik, lightning erupted from Ivello’s fingers and engulfed the traitor, dropping him to one knee as the smell of burnt flesh filled his nostrils.  Feinting with his sword at the mercenaries surrounding him and brushing off a follow-up blow from Ivello’s quarterstaff, Tik stumbled to his feet and made a break for the back door.

Still trapped in the doorway – now, because he was cut off from the tavern by a crowd of friendly blackblades – Aruget was jostled out of the way again as a furious changeling muscled his way into the building, with a large group of equally rough-looking men hot on his heels.  The changeling raised his hand and pointed straight at Tik.  That was the one who had kicked him out of his own bar!  It was time to take it back!  Not sure what was happening, but anxious to not let Tik get away or fall into this angry mob’s hands, Aruget sprinted after him.  Summoning one final burst of strength, he circled the crowd, caught up to Tik, and tackled him into a headlock as one of the new arrivals punched him square in the nose, spraying the traitor’s blood into Aruget’s face.  Thirsty for his own revenge, Ivello joined the fray, leaping off the small stage in the center of the room and slamming his quarterstaff into Tik’s head.  He yelled at the now unconscious man that immortality wouldn’t be such a great idea if he angered an entire city getting there, earning him a strange look from Aruget.

With the henchman fighting Kayde having taken the performer’s advice and fled, Jak smirked at Tik’s remaining goon that he’d clearly picked the wrong side.  The terrified man threw down his sword and yielded, insisting that he didn’t have anything to do with Tik’s schemes, and Jak declared that he’d be confessing everything he knew in exchange for his life.  Straining his neck to make out any familiar faces in the crowd surrounding Aruget (and still wailing on Tik), he spotted the regular bartender of the Traveler’s Rest – the changeling at the head of the mob.  Jak shouted at him to not kill Tik, that he was Jak’s to deal with, and together with Ivello managed to calm the mob as Aruget bound Tik’s arms.  Moving over to check on Kayde’s injuries, Jak paled a little at the extent of them and called Aruget over to work his magic.  Though the paladin was able to channel some of Dol Arrah’s healing power, he was spent from the fight, and unable to heal Kayde completely.  As Jak stitched up the remainder of his friend’s wounds – working through a steady stream of complaints about how his methods hurt quite a bit more than Aruget’s – Thom piped up that he could get the party to a safehouse to deal with the aftermath and question Tik.  With everything seemingly under control for the moment, Razu congratulated her brother on the fight as he in turn observed that she was always two steps ahead of him.  She reminded Aruget that she would always be there for him, and to send a courier to the Deneith enclave if he needed anything more, and the two parted ways again.

As Thom led the party down to Blackbones in the Cogs, the awkward silence was palpable.  Walking beside Jak, he hung his head and apologized to his friend, stressing once again that he hadn’t known about Tik’s treachery.  Jak retorted that it didn’t matter that he hadn’t known Tik was a traitor, but that he had believed Jak was.  As Kayde snapped at Thom to make things right, Jak shouted at him to stay out of it and again asked Thom why he hadn’t believed him.  Thom, struggling to defend himself, replied that as a good agent, Jak should know he couldn’t have come to their meeting alone, to which Jak asked again why he’d brought Tik – a man he’d never met before and knew only by reputation – instead of one of their friends.  Thom tried to explain himself.  With his reports of the Ashen Crown missing and the Kech Volaar murdered, Tik had the Citadel riled up like Thom had never seen before.  This was no longer an in-house matter: it was of grave concern to Breland, and things had escalated to the point where Captain Kalaes’ superiors were coming to Sharn to deal with it.  Jak’s face went dark as he shot back that it seemed not even his best friend believed Jak the screw-up over Tik the golden boy, suggesting that this was to be his fate going forward if he couldn’t even get Thom on his side, and the remainder of their trip reverted to awkward silence once again.

At the run-down safehouse, Aruget sat the still unconscious Tik down in a chair while Thom tried to make it clear to Jak that he meant to help him and atone for his betrayal.  He advised his friend that the Citadel would look differently on his attempt to clear his name if he turned up with the intact Crown, versus without.  Kayde questioned this tactic, feeling it would make them look more guilty to turn up with all the artifacts they’d been accused of stealing, but Thom insisted that he knew better how the Citadel worked, and how they would treat the matter.  Hesitant, Jak suggested that they could just return in their current state and have the Citadel question Tik, but Thom felt that was too much of a gamble.  A highly trained double-agent such as this could most likely resist interrogation longer than it took for Demise to skip town for one of the other ritual sites mentioned in Yeraa’s journal.  Piping up that they could use a scroll of mind-reading to learn more, Ivello caught himself as he spoke and looked at Thom warily, seemingly hesitant to say more in his presence.  Filled with conflicting feelings, Jak couldn’t ignore their history in spite of everything.  Reminding Ivello of the story he’d relayed to them on the Kordenga, of being trapped under the Cogs, drug-addled, and pursued by their enemies, he revealed that Thom was the one who had been with him that day, and who had saved his life and stood by his side.  They were brothers, and if Jak could get a second chance, so could Thom.  For all the disagreements they’d had, Ivello conceded that if Jak trusted Thom, so could he, and mused that Thom at the very least must have a good sense of self-preservation: he was complicit in attacking and capturing Tik, and things might not go well for him in the current climate if word got back to Kalaes.  Thom narrowed his eyes and asked Ivelllo to explain himself – this sounded like a threat – and Ivello replied that their fates were now intertwined.  Thom nodded and replied that he was okay with this.  He owed it to Jak to make things right.

Getting down to business, Ivello explained what he’d meant by his comment at the Traveler’s Rest regarding Tik’s immortality.  He told the others that, while Razu and Aruget protected him, he’d used one of the scrolls of mind-reading during the fight to learn that Lady Demise had promised to bring Tik into the ranks of the Undying.  Jak questioned what the far-fetched promise of immortality had to do with anything, and Thom pointed out that it must be Tik’s underlying motive for his treachery.  As Ivello further explained that each scroll was good for one question, so they should be careful with the remaining two, Aruget relieved Tik of his items and weapons as the faint but distinct aura of magic emanated from the still unconscious man.  Jak helped himself to the traitor’s chain shirt, wriggling into it and noting that it was much lighter than he’d expected, and turned his attention to the henchman they’d captured.  The terrified fellow – whose name was Treykin – insisted that he was just a blade for hire, working out of the Deathsgate adventurer’s guild and paid up front, and Jak informed him that he was now working for the party.

Meanwhile, Ivello continued to focus on the matter at hand.  Speaking the words off the scroll, he probed Tik’s mind to answer the question of how and where he planned to meet with Demise: she was expecting him to arrive, with the Solitaire, at the Dragon’s Forge deep within the Cogs.  As the party considered what their final question for the remaining scroll might be, Aruget – still not convinced of Thom’s good intentions – suggested that they should perhaps use the scroll on him. Did Jak really trust him?  The young agent struggled to find the right words.  He admitted that if it were just him and Thom, he would say yes unequivocally, but now he had his other friends to look out for…and he didn’t want to speak for them.  Ivello repeated that he trusted Thom’s sense of self-preservation, and Aruget turned his questions to the man directly.  Thom once again insisted that he recognized his mistake, and that he owed it to Jak to make things right, and Aruget decided that he was satisfied to take Thom at his word.  They could go ahead and use the final scroll on Tik as planned.

Debating what the final question should be, Jak urged Ivello to ask Tik what they’d be facing in the Dragon’s Forge.  Did Demise have an army with her?  What sort of resources were at her disposal?  Taking his third and final trip into Tik’s mind, Ivello learned that Demise was a powerful necromancer who often had the dead at her beck and call.  Tik believed she’d gone into the forge with an entourage for four ghouls and four zombies, not to mention a host of personal magical items, including a powerful lightning wand that he’d seen in action.  Jak suggested to Aruget that they’d need Razu’s help again, but the blademark questioned the wisdom of bringing extra people into a necromancer’s lair in the event that they could be used against the party.  Ivello pondered if they could somehow draw Demise out of the forge, or otherwise catch her off-guard, to which Aruget pointed out that they had their own changeling at their disposal – along with Tik’s clothing, jewelry, and trademark sword.  Kayde jumped on the chance to put on a performance, challenging Jak’s ability to pull it off, and Jak pointed out two things in his favour.  First, that his disguise was more foolproof than Kayde’s, and not subject to any sort of magical scrying…and second, that Tik was a colossal jerk.  Giving Kayde a cocky smile and Thom a much sadder one, Jak mused that he wouldn’t have much trouble selling such a role.

Taking stock of everything they’d learned, the party concluded that Demise was expecting Tik to return to her relatively soon.  The longer they waited, the more questions there would be.  Jak proposed that “Tik” capture the party and make his triumphant return to Demise, having slain his upstart scapegoat Jak and gotten the others dead to rights, and successfully retrieved the Solitaire to boot.  They decided to hire some more mercenaries, who could wait until the time was right to descend on the forge, a proposition made easier now that they found themselves in possession of the full pair of speaking stones.  Aruget asked the captured mercenary, Treykin, what he was being paid, and the man replied that Tik had given him the going rate.  The blademark grinned and informed Treykin that it was his lucky day – he’d be getting some hazard pay.  As Jak donned Tik’s clothes and carefully inspected the face he’d be taking on, Thom and the others put the finishing touches on their plan.  After everything they’d been through, it was finally time for the party to finish the job – and they intended to leave nothing to chance.  

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: What is your favourite solo hobby?  What do you most like to do when you are hanging out by yourself?
  • OH BOY. This session started off with a bang! First off: the joy that is adventure cards. Our house rule for adventure cards is that everyone rolls a d100, and the two highest rolls get a card. While this happened as usual, it was my birthday, and the GM offered me my choice of gift: an extra bennie to start the session with, or an assortment of three adventure cards, from which I could choose one to play. I took the cards. While I’d been hoping for Hot Iron and Whiskey (to heal Kayde mid-fight) or the card that heals/revives all allied Extras (just in case things went south for Thom), it turned out that was a failure of imagination, because what I got was ten times better: Call the Cavalry, which spawned Razu’s blackblades. And things just kept looking up from there…
  • To keep the good times rolling, both Aruget and Jak drew jokers on the very first round of initiative. I seized on the opportunity to take my turn first and play my card immediately for maximum effectiveness…and then Aruget played his card: Angry Mob. Angry Mob is a double-edged sword, because it leaves it up to the GMs discretion whether or not the mob is for or against the PCs. In this instance, I made a case for a friendly mob, seeing as how the Dragoneyes district and the Traveler’s Rest in particular is Jak’s home turf – and the GM agreed. Happy birthday to me, indeed! Tik’s last mistake was underestimating the raw power of a bunch of angry, displaced barflies.
  • For the record, by the time both the blackblades and the barflies made it on to the scene, them plus us plus Tik and his remaining henchmen totaled twenty-three actors crammed into one average-sized tavern. To say nothing of all the corpses on the ground. It was our biggest, wildest brawl yet, and it was glorious.

seekers of the ashen crown week 38: reunions

After spending the night at a nearby flophouse, the party split up in the morning for their respective meetings.  Kayde went with Jak to keep an eye on his meeting with his old friend (and current Dark Lantern) Thom, while Ivello joined Aruget in meeting his sister Razu, a decorated House Deneith blademark.  Before parting ways, Ivello – always on the lookout for trouble – caught a small rat off the street and prepared it to take a message from Jak in case things went sideways. Jak slipped the rat inside his coat and made his way back to a familiar place: the Traveler’s Rest.

The Traveler’s Rest had, in its lifetime, been both a warehouse and a theater, and its decor leaned more towards the latter.  Old masks and costumes lined the walls, along with shelves full of props and other knick-knacks.  It hadn’t changed since Jak was a child living in the small, run-down apartments above, and its familiarity was both comforting and unsettling given everything that had transpired since his last visit and everything that lay ahead.  Scanning the common room and seeing no sign of his friend, he took a seat in one of the cramped private rooms lining the tavern’s wall, ordered two beers, and waited.  As the greasy-looking bartender brought his drinks, a familiar shape appeared in the doorway, and Jak’s heart caught in his throat.  Thom had come to him.

As Thom drew the room’s curtain shut and in a low, stunned voice asked Jak what he’d done, Jak cut him off.  He was grateful to see him, but given the events of the past week, needed to know that he was who he seemed to be.  Back when they’d first met, Thom had only said four words to him all night: what were they?  “‘You talk too much’,” Thom replied.  He frowned.  “And it seems nothing’s changed.  Jak, what did you do?” Slumping down into his chair, Jak insisted that he’d done his job – and Tik had screwed him over.

Across the street at the Drunken Rabbit, a tavern and gambling hall full of riotous colours and mismatched furniture, Aruget immediately spotted his sister at the bar trying her best to not look like the highly placed blademark she was.  Awkwardly running over to give her a hug, he hesitated as she stood up and caught him in a quick embrace herself.  While Ivello made himself scarce with a glass of juice at a nearby table, Aruget struggled to find the right words to sum up everything that had happened in the last few weeks.  He asked Razu if she’d heard about them being wanted by the Citadel, and she replied that she had indeed heard about him and his friends – she could only see Ivello with him, had the others been lost?  Waving Ivello over to join them, he told her the story of Tik’s betrayal, to which she shook her head and asked why he’d returned to the hornet’s nest.  He wanted to clear their names – but he’d need Razu’s help, fearing that they would soon wind up in a situation where they found themselves outnumbered.  She scowled, considering the logistics and her position in House Deneith, but agreed that she could probably cash in some favours.  What would they be needed for, and when?  Aruget replied that he couldn’t say exactly, but hoped she could have backup ready to go.  Relieved for her help, and overcome with emotion at seeing his sister again, Aruget lamented that it felt like months since he’d been back in Sharn, and he had so much to tell her – he’d been back to Graywall, and gotten more information regarding the strange circumstances of the death of their brother, Dabrak.  He intended to follow that lead, hopefully with Razu’s help, but first, he had to finish this job and help his friends.  

Back in the cramped room at the Traveler’s Rest, Jak relayed to Thom the whole story of their adventure – the trek to Droaam, their run-in with the Emerald Claw, their triumph under Six Kings, and the murder of the Kech Volaar, culminating in Jak’s arrest.  Feeling quite overwhelmed and struggling to stay present, Jak noticed that while Thom was listening to him, he seemed distracted and kept staring at the curtain.  Turning back to Jak, he shook his head and told him that he didn’t know what to say.  “You believe me, right?” Jak asked, anxiety rising in his gut.  He insisted that he didn’t hate the Citadel, and that all he wanted was to come home.  Thom grimly replied that he didn’t know what to believe, and that he was sorry.  Jak pleaded with him, reminding Thom of how he’d bailed him out once before, and that he needed his help again – he was the only one Jak could trust.  Thom looked down at Jak again, crestfallen, and simply repeated that he didn’t know what to believe.  And that he was sorry. 

With that, the curtain opened to reveal a human man dressed in dark leathers, with a smirk on his face…and a familiar sword with a ruby pommel on his hip.  Tik grinned and congratulated Jak on being so predictable.  He made Tik’s job so easy.  As Jak stared at Thom in horror, barely able to speak, Kayde revealed himself.  He jumped out of his seat, demanding to know what Tik wanted, and what he’d done with the stolen pieces of the Ashen Crown.  Tik nonchalantly turned his attention to Kayde and replied that he was playing the long game.  He’d been at it for a long time, ingratiating himself to that Khyber-damned Kech Volaar to manipulate them into doing everything he’d wanted, just like he was doing with Kayde and his friends.  He knew they’d come to him – like Jak, they were nothing if not predictable.  He continued to gloat, glancing back over his shoulder and telling Jak he was surprised the young agent had made it as far in the Citadel as he had.  As for the whereabouts of the artifacts, Tik ignored Kayde’s question and demanded which one of them had Zaraani’s Solitaire.  “The other artifacts, you dimwit” Kayde snapped. Tik scowled and replied that they were safely in the hands of Lady Demise.  Jak looked over at Thom again.  His face typically gave little away, but his jaw was clenched and his eyes had narrowed as he listened to Tik’s gloating and admission of working for the enemy.  Jak implored Thom to listen to him – Tik was obviously out to get him.  As Kayde pulled his byeshk spear off his back, deciding that the talk had run its course, Tik scoffed that he was just as much an amateur as Jak.  Did he really think he’d come alone?  With that, the patrons of the Traveler’s Rest got to their feet, drawing their weapons and advancing on him.  Jak quietly asked Thom if they were the Citadel’s people, to which he replied no – and repeated that he was sorry, though this time, it sounded like he was genuinely sorry for not having believed his friend.  Jak steeled himself.  As he spoke a code phrase to Ivello’s rat, which jumped out of his coat and scurried away, he turned back to Thom with a determined look on his face.  “Just like the Terminus job”, he declared.  Thom nodded, and they sprang into action.  

Pulling the magical lion’s tooth he’d bought in Graywall from his pocket, Jak threw it to the ground behind Tik and spoke the command word, praying that he hadn’t been swindled.  As the tooth disintegrated in a cloud of smoke, the form of a lion emerged from it, snapping at Tik’s leg as Jak shoved him backwards into his new ally.  Caught off-guard but catching his balance just in time to avoid the lion’s jaws, Tik jerked in a different direction as Kayde’s spear lanced just past his head, wiping the smirk off his face at last.  Backpedaling away, the lion caught his cloak as he stumbled back and pulled out his rapier. Feinting up at Kayde, who had jumped onto the table for a better vantage point, he called out to his men to take them dead or alive.  With Jak’s exhortation to get out of this mess and sort things out later ringing in his ears, Thom flung his dagger at Tik, who once again managed to dodge at the last second.  Convinced he had the upper hand, the traitor was nothing if not persistent.

Having received and understood Jak’s message, Aruget bolted out of the Drunken Rabbit and called on Dol Arrah to protect him as Razu ran past him into the doorway of the Traveler’s Rest and flung her own dagger at the nearest Emerald Claw agent.  Following hot on their heels, Ivello pushed past Razu and summoned a freezing wind which blew open the tavern’s shuttered windows, enveloping Tik and sapping his strength.  As Kayde made quick work of one of the goons flanking him, the one rushing Jak buried her mace in the wall beside him while Ivello and Razu traded blows with three more.

Seeing the mess in the doorway, Aruget roared as he raised his shield and rushed the enemy closest to his sister, slamming him and the one behind him down to the ground.  As the closer one fell, Aruget sent the Tiger’s Blade flying, slicing the man’s head clean off.  Further inside, Tik finally got a good swing at Kayde, knocking him down and moving towards the door – which was still blocked by Ivello, Aruget, and Razu, as well as the bodies of several of his men.  Thirsty for information even in the heat of battle, Ivello saw an opportunity.  Reaching into his pouch, he found one of the scrolls of mind-reading looted from his assassin’s cabin back on the Kordenga.  Prying deep into Tik’s thoughts as the scroll disintegrated in his hands, Ivello sought to uncover Demise’s ultimate plan for the Ashen Crown.

Back in the heat of battle, Jak stepped between Thom and his foe, drawing Yeraa’s sword and plunging it into the man’s chest.  Raising the bloodied blade above his head to show Tik, his lion jumped on the man who’d come up behind him, dragging him to the ground.  The man’s blood-curdling screams filled the room as he was mauled, and Jak commanded the lion to go after Tik next.  As it rushed the traitor, Tik angled his rapier just right, using the lion’s momentum against it and driving his blade through its eye.  

As Thom swung around to flank Kayde’s attackers, the performer was putting on a show to be remembered.  Running another enemy through and dealing a nasty blow to a second, his luck finally ran out as yet another Emerald Claw agent advanced on his position.  Finding just the right opening, her sword tore into Kayde’s gut.  Staggering back as blood gushed from his side, two more enemies closed in on Thom.  The party had dealt a nasty blow to Tik and his men…but the fight wasn’t over yet, and it seemed like the tide might have turned against them.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: do you have any personal long-term goals or aspirations?
  • It was great to see Aruget’s sister finally make an appearance. We had hoped for Aruget to be able to pursue more of the lead into his brother’s death while we were in Graywall but…uh…stuff happened. Perhaps it will make for an excellent epilogue.
  • Hey, remember that time when Jak and Aruget were in jail, and Aruget was trying to do some tricky stuff but was out of bennies, but luckily had a card that would replenish his bennies for a price? And how Lestok and I egged him on out-of-character to play that card because I, at least, thought things couldn’t get any worse? Haha, yeah, about that. The name of that card was “Betrayed!” and the description of it reads that a trusted ally will turn against the party…and it finally came home to roost. If Thom survives this (please survive this), that’s going to make for an interesting conversation. This is a big deal for Jak. Him and Thom have always been as close as brothers, so…yeah. At least he’s not working for the Emerald Claw and was also deceived by Tik, right?
  • However, Kayde had his own ace up his sleeve this time: one of our favourite adventure cards, “Spill the Beans.” Playing it on Tik is what got him to reveal his affiliations and plans in front of Thom…and what convinced Thom that he’d been tricked, and should be on our side. I don’t think anything will top the time Ivello played that card on an inanimate object, but I’m pretty glad that this play had the added bonus of Thom believing Jak’s story at last!
  • The lion’s noble sacrifice was how we all learned that Tik has the First Strike edge, which grants him a free attack on anyone who moves into his reach. Kayde’s spear has First Strike on it as an enchantment, which has served him very well in this fight, but now it seems the tables have turned against us! Rest in peace, lion. You did good.
  • A neat mechanic in Savage Worlds that we have not had the opportunity to use until last night is that of players having allied Extras under their command. Thom and Razu each had their own initiative, but myself and Aruget respectively controlled them. The lion, being a magical item, was a special case that moved and acted on Jak’s initiative, but the same principle applied of being responsible for its decisions. It definitely added a new dimension to the encounter.
  • Between having the Bad Luck hindrance (which starts him off every session with one less bennie than everyone else) and not being shy about spending them, Kayde – as usual – ended the session with none to spare. Which was very unfortunate when the final attack of the night dealt him three wounds he couldn’t soak. One more hit will incapacitate him and have him making a Vigor roll for his life. So that is our cliffhanger for the week: will Kayde live to fight another day?

seekers of the ashen crown week 37: the voyage home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes

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

Seekers of the ashen crown week 36: Departures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes

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

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

As Tik – unimpressed by hearing Lestok’s voice over the speaking stone – demanded to speak with Jak again, the old gnome deftly avoided Jak’s anxious efforts to snatch the stone out of his hands and made Tik an offer.  He agreed that Tik held all the cards in this scenario, and opined that there was nothing left for him back in Sharn.  He didn’t want to share in his companions fate, and would accept ten thousand galifars to betray the party and start a new life!  Tik laughed and replied that he misunderstood the situation – that he seemed to think Tik wanted to bargain.  Lestok, discouraged, pressed the stone up to Jak’s hand as Tik called out for his fellow agent  yet again.  Yet more taunts, 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.

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!

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 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!