Category Archives: Seekers of the Ashen Crown

Weekly recaps of Seekers of the Ashen Crown

Seekers of the Ashen Crown Week 45: Epilogue

The end…for now.

After the Ashen Crown was returned to the Kech Volaar under the party’s watchful eye, Ivello chose not to return to Sharn with the rest.  He spent the next several weeks in Rhukaan Draal, building up his relationship with the envoys of the Kech Volaar in the hope of convincing their leaders to grant his request to visit the kech in earnest.

While he waited, he stayed at the Lyrandar enclave and assisted Arend d’Lyrandar in putting together the necessary paperwork required for the House to properly deal with Enzo’s treachery.  He had never told anyone his whole side of the story that had led to Enzo’s removal from Rhuukan Draal.  Though Lhesh Haruuc had done his own investigation after the fact and refused to work with Enzo going forward, precipitating his exile to Lhazaar, Ivello’s subsequent disappearance and the only complaint against Enzo coming directly from Haruuc had given House Lyrandar little reason to punish Enzo further.  Relaying to Arend the full story of the attempt on his life on board the Kordenga at the hands of a Thuranni assassin, Ivello began to think that Enzo was not the only loose end that needed to be dealt with.  While he didn’t believe he’d ever be able to find the assassin Jalros again, assuming he was well-protected by his own House, Ivello sent word to Lyrandar representatives in various border towns to keep their ears open just in case.  Aruget had stayed in Rhuukan Draal with his friend, glad to spend more time in a place that continued to be both comforting and new.  Jak, of course, had been ordered by Captain Kalaes to return to Sharn with a report as soon as possible, and he had been more than happy to do so, and Kayde was eager to return to the luxury of the Five Nations.

In time, Ivello received the news he’d been hoping for: an invitation to enter the halls of the Kech Volaar along with his friends.  He sent a message to Jak and Kayde in Sharn, asking them to rejoin him and Aruget, and Kalaes gladly released Jak back to Darguun for this unprecedented chance to gather more information on their reclusive allies.

Deep underground, surrounded by awe-inspiring craftsmanship and deeply aware that he and his friends were likely the first outsiders to ever set foot in the kech, Ivello intended to make the most of his time and immediately requested access to their library.  The books he was permitted to see referenced little more than basic cultural information, as well as regular references to finding more information in “the archives” which lay even deeper below, and where he suspected the Ashen Crown and other relics now sat to wait for the restoration of Dhakaan.  Undeterred, his interest turned to the stories of the fall of the empire, the warlords for whom the pieces of the Crown were named, and as much as he was permitted to learn about the daelkyr and their creations whom he and his friends had encountered beneath the Six Kings.  

Aruget, for his part, was impressed by the Kech Volaar’s military precision and skill.  Their weapons and armour were like nothing he’d ever seen, but so were their dirgesingers.  He asked Senan, the one who had come to Darguun to claim the Ashen Crown on her kech’s behalf, to show him around, and they shared their stories of their fallen ally Yeraa.  As Senan spoke to Aruget of the other keches, she told him that what had ultimately convinced the Daughters of the Dirge to allow outsiders into their midst had been the account in Yeraa’s journal of Aruget defeating a leader of the Kech Sharaat honourably, in single combat.  Over the course of his stay, several warriors sought to challenge or train with Aruget for their own honour, and he offered Senan the Tiger’s Blade that had served him so well on his journey.  It was, after all, a relic of Dhakaan, and he did not want to keep it from them.  Senan refused, reaffirming that Aruget had earned the weapon honourably, but asked that he entrust someone to return it to the Kech Volaar in the event of his death.

Kayde, as expected, settled into swapping stories with the dirgesingers, and anyone else who would listen.  As he recorded their songs, and put some new ones of his own to paper, he set aside his own ego for a time in order to pay his respects to Yeraa’s memory.  One night, he found himself in front of a captive audience as he told the tale of her honour and bravery in their short time together, and her fellow dirgesingers seemed moved by the great respect shown by an outsider to one of their own.

Jak spent his time with the Kech Volaar doing what he’d been entrusted to do: observe and report.  He spent his time talking with as many scholars and warriors as were willing, but for the most part simply kept his eyes and ears open, committing everything to memory.  After a week, he, Kayde, and Aruget returned to the surface and made their way back to Sharn, but Ivello elected to remain behind as long as the Dhakaani would allow.  His new research led him to wonder if there was something more to be gained from a proper exploration of the ruins beneath Graywall, especially the sections Yeraa’s party hadn’t entered.  He was also determined to solve the mysteries of the Six Kings, particularly in relation to the tunnel to Khyber the party had encountered, as well as the unanswered question of what the ilithid at the Moon Pool had been up to.  Satisfied that he’d learned as much as he could, he spent the next few weeks trying to convince the Dhakaani to come with him on an artifact hunt, and offered his services as a guide.

Back in Sharn, a couple of months passed, and Jak was back in his element.  Partnered with Thom again and slowly beginning to build up the network of assets he hoped to oversee one day, the Dark Lanterns had more pressing problems for him to worry about.  The Swords of Liberty were starting to quietly become more active in the city, and Jak and Thom had been tasked with infiltrating their underground meetings.  After a particularly long night in Middle Dura, they returned to the Citadel in the early hours of the morning to make their report.

As usual, Citadel headquarters never slept.  No matter the hour, the halls held a steady stream of agents, clerks, and adjutants going about their business.  However, things were not entirely as Jak had remembered them before his exile.  Ever since the depths of Tik’s betrayal had come to light, there was a noticeable tension among his former colleagues between those who were confident that Tik was an anomaly, and those who had become paranoid at the prospect of traitors in every corner.  Kalaes had confided in Jak that there would be no public execution – the Lanterns would keep Tik alive until they were confident that he could be of no more use to them, at which point he would disappear for good.

Talking and laughing as he and Thom made their way through the halls, Jak had also begun to notice a distinct change in the way he was treated by his colleagues.  While there were some who sought to work their way into his good graces now that he had distinguished himself – and had Kalaes’ ear – there were others who resented his newfound success, and were eager to see him fail again.  He listened to the former with an aloof deference, revealing nothing and making no promises, and presented little more than a smirk to the latter, though their attitude stung more than he cared to admit.  

Turning a corner, his words died in his throat and his smile froze as he found himself face to face at last with someone whose opinion did matter to him, even after everything that had happened: him and Thom’s former captain, Kendra Torval.  A tall, severe-looking Khorovar woman with a perpetual scowl, Jak could not begin to guess whether she agreed that he had redeemed himself and regretted cutting him off completely, or whether she agreed that his success had been little more than a fluke.  When Kalaes honoured Jak’s request to take him under his command after his initial return from Darguun, he had heavily implied that it was not only because he considered it a coup to personally take on an agent who had helped take down the greatest traitor the Dark Lanterns had ever known, but also out of spite for Kendra, who was well-respected by her peers but largely unloved due to her unpleasant nature.  In spite of reaching out, he had not seen or heard from her since his misdeeds had come to light half a year ago, but he steeled himself and kept his head high as they passed each other.

She did not break her stride, and said nothing.  But she did look over at Jak with her trademark glare…and gave him a quiet, perhaps even respectful nod.  Jak considered her acknowledgement a sufficient victory.

Kayde, for his part, was in no rush to get back to work.  Riding high on his recent success, he returned to the Phiarlan enclave in Sharn with as much swagger as he could muster, which was considerable.  However, he only returned long enough to deliver his report, and then informed his handlers that he had some personal business to attend to.  This personal business largely involved schmoozing, partying, and continuing to climb Sharn’s social ladder, though he was also careful to continue building up his connections within House Phiarlan as he went.  Agreeing to some odd, low-stakes espionnage jobs here and there to keep his pockets lined, Kayde spent the next few months enjoying the finer things Sharn had to offer before his Phiarlan handlers made it clear in no uncertain terms that it was time to step up once again.

Meanwhile, Aruget had his own business in Sharn.  Finally able to reconnect in earnest with his sister Razu, he explained his plan to return to Graywall to get answers about their brother Dabrak’s death once and for all.  However, he’d need her help first, to get out of his contract with House Deneith.  Between the revelations that he’d learned from Dabrak after speaking with him through Zaraani’s Solitaire, and having gotten a taste of the wider goblinoid world from his time in Darguun and the Kech Volaar, he felt that it was time to move on from the Blademarks and forge a path that was more true to himself.  Razu walked him through the paperwork, helped him buy out the remainder of his contract, and wished him well as he began the long journey overland back to Graywall.  Aruget had never been comfortable with airship travel, and now free to be his own man, he happily made the considerably longer trip with solid ground under his feet.  

Unfortunately, his investigation into the war troll Kalak – whom Dabrak had worked for in the time leading to his death, and was now even more untouchable as the captain of the Mayor of Graywall’s personal guard – did not go as planned.  After hitting a solid string of dead ends, and getting into a bit of trouble with Kalak directly, Aruget remembered Jak’s exhortation to call on him if he ever needed a favour and sent a message to Sharn asking his friend to come to Graywall to do what he did best: navigate the seedy side of the city, gather information, and put his networking skills to Aruget’s use.  Calling in a favour of his own with Captain Kalaes to take some personal time, Jak boarded an airship to Graywall and arrived a few days later.  He quickly got down to business, finding a few leads Aruget had missed, but he had some personal matters of his own to attend to while he was there.

Begging Aruget’s indulgence for a few hours, Jak made his way to Brelish Ceramics, where the local Dark Lantern Thrandi kept his cover as a potter, and where the old man had called in House Tharashk to arrest Jak for treason.  Pushing open the old but sturdy door, Jak found Thrandi behind the counter with his apprentice.  Quickly sending the young man away, Thrandi steeled himself.  He wondered if Jak had returned to take revenge on him, and quickly tried to deflect any hard feelings now that their positions were reversed and Jak was held in high standing – after all, he’d only been doing his job and following orders.  Jak calmed the old man’s fears.  He hadn’t come to hurt him, or to further harm his own position in the Lanterns, but did give him some trouble about having been so cruel to Jak even prior to his arrest.  Caught between defending himself and apologizing, Thrandi uncharacteristically stumbled over his words before Jak stopped him.  As he’d said, he hadn’t come back to do him harm (though perhaps he had come back to gloat a little).  What he really wanted was what he’d wanted from the moment they’d met: to hear Thrandi’s story, and learn how he’d wound up stuck in Graywall.  Though he’d long since drunk the bottle Jak had brought him as a peace offering all those months ago, Thrandi agreed to the younger agent’s request at last, and they talked long into the afternoon.

His next port of call was the Tharashk enclave.  Though Jak knew he couldn’t give Korbus everything she wanted, he had long prided himself on being a man of his word, and he hadn’t forgotten his promise to join her for dinner once he’d cleared his name.  He identified himself at the gate, asked for Korbus, and was given a funny look in return and told to go inside and speak with the clerk.  The same surly half-orc who had processed Jak’s arrest was behind the desk, and his face betrayed no emotion as he informed Jak that he couldn’t see Korbus, for she was no longer in Graywall.  Although her superiors had been unable to acquire any concrete proof of her involvement in freeing Jak and Aruget and enabling the party to escape the city, there had been too many holes in her story, and too much suspicion surrounding her.  While they had no grounds to punish her severely, they still considered her to have actively worked against her House, and she had been reassigned to a dragonshard prospecting expedition in Q’barra for the foreseeable future. 

Jak felt a twinge of guilt, but also one of relief.  He hadn’t been looking forward to formally letting her down.  She had been a good ally, but when it came to matters of the heart, he’d had someone else on his mind for a long time.  It hadn’t been in the cards at the time, as he firmly refused to mix business with pleasure, and he hadn’t contacted her since his abrupt disappearance from High Walls and subsequent suspension, but he’d never forgotten her.  He had never wanted her to get mixed up in his troubles, but now that his fortunes had changed, he wondered if there was a place for her in his life, and he in hers…but that is a story for another time.

Greatest Hits: The Table’s Favourite Moments

Ivello fondly remembers the time he and Lestok decided to try to produce a forgery in the most complicated way imaginable: by fooling Morgrave’s alchemy department into believing they had a flea infestation, posing as fumigators, and breaking into Lestok’s arch-nemesis Lenard’s office to steal his official documents seal. You can revisit those shenanigans here.

Aruget will never forget the time Kayde tried to short-change a minotaur, with disastrous results. The fallout of that decision is recorded here. He also particularly enjoyed the time he found himself responsible for getting a rather fatalistic Jak out of jail, and the final showdown with Demise and her horde of undead in the Dragon’s Forge.

The GM really enjoyed playing Tik, and how things played out with Tik. Aruget and I very much agreed that he was a fantastic nemesis. The GM’s acting was top-notch, making Tik the perfect villain we loved to hate.

I have a laundry list of memorable moments from this campaign. From Aruget’s very first action with this group – having joined in media res in the back half of a fight – being to save Jak’s life, to the absolute delicious run of events that began with Jak’s arrest in Graywall and carried straight through to the end, and the time in-between when Jak told the party about his greatest triumph only for it to be turned into a 20-minute lecture on the questionable state of his moral compass, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This has been a campaign I’ll never forget.

Some moments were universally memorable to the group and GM alike. Those included Aruget challenging a leader of the Kech Sharaat to single combat, the attempt on Ivello’s life, and Thom’s unintentional betrayal – and a series of incredibly well-timed Adventure Cards – that allowed our epic showdown with Tik at the Traveler’s Rest to end with capturing him alive after Aruget’s sister called in reinforcements to deal with his goons…and an angry mob of displaced barflies took care of the man himself.

We’ll be back in two weeks time (barring any unforeseen technical difficulties as the GM completely resets our game world in Foundry) with a new cast of characters, a new player, and a new story to tell. In the meantime, if any of you have your own favourite moments from Seekers of the Ashen Crown, be sure to leave a comment!

Seekers of the Ashen Crown Finale: To Everything There Is A Season

As Jak, Ivello, Aruget, and Kayde made their way up the massive steps of Khaar M’barost, a group of equally imposing bugbears dressed in elaborate armour stood guard, halberds at the ready.  Approaching the entrance, no one stood in the party’s way – the guards clearly felt secure in their power. If the party proved troublesome, it would be no effort to deal with them.

While Kayde complained about the unfamiliar smells, earning a dismissive rebuke from Aruget about his overly sensitive nose, the party entered a courtyard which brought them inside the gates of the fortress proper.  Before the main gate to the building’s entrance, a huge statue of a hobgoblin warrior stood watch, illuminated by everbright lanterns as assorted hobgoblins and bugbears milled about the yard attending to their duties.  Taking in the sights and sounds, but ever on guard, Jak stopped Ivello in his tracks with a gentle hand on his shoulder.  Noting that Ivello had given him an edge in the past, using his magic to enhance Jak’s senses, he suggested that it was perhaps time for Ivello to grant such a boon to himself.  Ivello nodded, centering himself as he called on his powers to flow through him, restoring and enhancing old memories of the intricacies of Dhakaani culture and tradition and his own time as a diplomat in Lhesh Haruuc’s court a lifetime ago.  Gathering his bearings, he informed the group that the envoys of other nations and the dragonmarked Houses would be gathered in the gallery above the throne room, and proposed that would be a good place to look for the seer Huugan, the man to whom Yeraa had intended to deliver the Ashen Crown.

At the main gate that granted access to the halls of Khaar M’barost, a hobgoblin guard held out his hand to stop the party with a gesture and demanded to know their business.  Cautious about rival factions within the Dhakaani and unwilling to reveal the party’s true purpose, Ivello replied that he was looking for the Lyrandar envoy, and asked the guard if he would be so kind as to bring him to them.  The guard questioned Ivello’s need to see the envoy immediately, as court was in session, to which the clever scholar replied that there had been a scuffle in the city which had caught him off-guard – in fact, Aruget had fended off some of the troublemakers on the way.  Grinning through his bloodied and crooked nose, Aruget piped up that he was really enjoying Rhukaan Draal’s taverns, but confirmed Ivello’s story that they had indeed run into trouble on their way to court.  Sizing up Aruget, the guard brusquely ordered Ivello to wait, calling a runner over and whispering some instructions.  As the runner disappeared inside the gates, Aruget wrenched his nose back into place as Dol Arrah’s light flowed from his fingers, mending the bone and stopping the bleeding while Jak quipped that it wasn’t going to improve his looks.

Undeterred by Jak’s teasing and happy to be in such a marvelous place of goblinoid power and might, Aruget peeled off from the group and strode up to one of the bugbear guards.  With a sly grin, he asked if the guard’s armour was real or just for show, earning him a scowl and an observation that he wasn’t from Darguun – was he a chaat’oor?  Letting the insult slide, Aruget shrugged and replied that he’d already held his own in a fight in town, and turned the tables to question what the guard had done to deserve his place at court.  After some more posturing back and forth, the two quickly developed a mutual admiration for the other’s strength, and compared scars and war stories until Aruget asked if he could take a swing at the guard to see just how much his fancy armour could take.  The man enthusiastically agreed, and Aruget got down to business as the rest of the party watched in bemusement.

Twenty minutes later, the runner returned.  The hobgoblin who had stopped the party at the gate informed Ivello that the Lyrandar envoy wasn’t expecting anybody.  Revealing his dragonmark and old signet ring, Ivello stared the guard down and repeated that he needed to see them.  Resigning himself to the whims of the Houses, the guard shook his head in defeat and pointed to another one to lead the party to Arend d’Lyrandar – and to escort them back out if there was any trouble.

As the party followed their escort through Khaar M’barost’s halls, they climbed a large stairwell and emerged onto the gallery two stories above the throne room.  The lighting below created deep, dramatic shadows, carefully placed to accentuate the statues of goblinoid warriors lining the way to the throne.  With guards standing at regular intervals, and the gallery occupied by an assortment of races from the Five Nations, Aruget began to feel a little out of place – but all eyes were on the lhesh.  On a dais at the head of the grand hall, Lhesh Haruuc sat on his throne.  Large even for a hobgoblin, decked out in full plate armour adorned with spikes, with a sword built to match his size leaning against his throne as the light reflected off the blood-red tint on its bare blade, the lhesh was clearly no one to be trifled with.  Focused on his goal and scanning the room for any sign of Arend d’Lyrandar – a man Ivello had never met, and couldn’t identify on sight – Ivello whispered to his friends that the assorted keches weren’t necessarily aligned with the lhesh’s goals, and to be careful of what they said.  Recalling their defeat of the Kech Sharaat on the road to Graywall, Ivello worried that they might be recognized and confronted.  Jak shrugged and replied that they’d cross that bridge when they came to it – he was more concerned about what kind of welcome Arend might have for Ivello.

Making his way through the gallery, their bugbear escort led the party to a small group of Khorovar, addressing one of them directly and pointing to Ivello.  A middle-aged man with long blond hair and a calm expression turned to look at Ivello and wondered who he was.  As Ivello introduced himself to Arend, one of the envoy’s companions looked on silently with an eyebrow raised in surprise, and Ivello recognized the man as one he and the disgraced envoy Enzo had worked with.  Summoning his confidence, Ivello established the relationship between himself, Enzo, and Arend – who was Enzo’s successor – and asked what had become of his former superior, curious to hear the official story.  Arend replied that Enzo had been summarily dismissed to the Lhazaar Principalities some time ago, and that he’d heard Ivello might have had a hand in that.  Why had he returned to Darguun?  Ivello declared that he had come on his own business, and hoped that Arend might do him a small favour by pointing out Huugan.

While Ivello and Arend talked, Aruget leaned on the gallery rail and looked down into the throne room, taking in an intense debate between the representatives of two rival clans as they made their cases to Lhesh Haruuc.  While Haruuc was hearing their grievances and seemed to be doing his best to mediate, he looked tired by their pettiness.  As Arend considered Ivello’s request, he decided that he’d be willing to help…but would want to hear Ivello’s story in exchange.  He found it very interesting that a wayward son of House Lyrandar had returned after all this time, and after disappearing under questionable circumstances.  Ivello agreed to the deal, but insisted that it was a story that would take time to tell, and that his own time was of the essence.  Arend nodded and pointed down towards the great hall, to a hobgoblin dressed in elaborate robes and standing on the dais behind Lhesh Haruuc as he asked Ivello to join him for dinner at the Lyrandar enclave later that evening.  Suspicious of Arend’s motives after all he had been through with Tik and the Citadel, Jak wondered if the man was leading Ivello into a trap, but ultimately decided that as curious and overeager as Arend was, he posed no threat to his friend.

Returning to the group, Ivello filled them in, and suggested that their best bet was to catch Huugan on his way out after the lhesh dismissed the court.  Scrawling a quick note, he called a runner over to deliver it.  As they waited for a reply, Jak took note of a few groups of hobgoblins on the opposite gallery – an unexpected sight in an area typically reserved for representatives of the Five Nations.  Able to identify their dress as Dhakaani, but unable to identify who belonged to which kech in the dim light, Ivello enlisted Aruget to take a seat among them and see if he could overhear anything useful.  Gambling on which group to spy on, Aruget chose one, and their conversation proved interesting if not particularly fruitful.  Uninterested in the proceedings in the throne room, the Dhakaani were discussing the vagaries of training tiger cavalry, and Aruget listened in eagerly before returning to the others.

Meanwhile, Kayde caught sight of a small group of elves down in the hall.  Making his way down to them, he established that they were fellow members of House Phiarlan, and Kayde always liked to hedge his bets.  Although Ivello was still waiting on the runner he’d sent to Huugan, Kayde parlayed his status as a House Scion into the Phiarlan envoy’s additional assistance in gaining an audience with the seer.  Hanging back on the balcony with Ivello, Jak scanned the hall to try to determine which exit Huugan might take after court ended, and together they came up with a plan to head him off.

Fourty-five minutes later, the wait was over as Lhesh Haruuc dismissed his court.  Regrouping, the party made their way down a back passage, which they followed quite far until they were eventually stopped by a guard – who stood between them and Huugan, who was deep in conversation with Lhesh Haruuc himself as they made their way down the hall.  As the seer and the lhesh passed by, Ivello made sure Yeraa’s sword on his hip was visible.  Pausing and speaking a quick word to Haruuc, Huugan excused himself and approached Ivello, asking him to identify himself.  He commented that Ivello had been quite insistent to see him, to which the scholar replied that it was a matter of some import.  Huugan questioned whether his business was good or ill, seeing as how Ivello was wearing Yeraa’s sword and the dirgesinger was nowhere in sight.  Stepping forward, Aruget broke the news that Yeraa had died pursuing her goal, and that he and his friends had been working towards that goal alongside her, and had come to Rhuukan Draal to honour her memory and return her possessions to Huugan.  Leaning against the wall, trying to look casual, Jak interjected that it would not be wise to return all of Yeraa’s possessions in a public place – was there somewhere private they could talk?  

Leading the party a short way down the passage into a sparse, functional room, Huugan gestured at them to sit and explain themselves.  Kayde immediately fell into his element as a storyteller.  He explained how the party (as a group of perfectly innocent Morgrave researchers) had come across Yeraa and decided to join forces with her, and how she had been betrayed by one of her own – who had in fact been working for an enemy group that had been pursuing her the whole time.  He told Huugan that he and his friends wanted the Ashen Crown to be in the hands of those who could use it for good, and even revealed that they knew the location of the shrine needed to perform the re-forging ritual.  Huugan listened intently, occasionally interjecting with questions, and asked to see Yeraa’s journal.  As Ivello handed over the book, Aruget began placing the pieces of the Crown on the table.  Huugan’s eyes went wide as he compared the artifacts to Yeraa’s drawings, and he bluntly wondered why the party had returned them.  Jak replied that the Ashen Crown belonged to the people Huugan represented…to which Huugan replied that he represented Lhesh Haruuc.

The party sat in stunned silence, trying to process this new information.  Had they been deliberately misled?  The Citadel had wanted the Crown to go to the Kech Volaar, not Haruuc.  Huugan grinned at their discomfort and chuckled that Yeraa had apparently “forgotten” to mention a few details.  He explained that he had been the delegate of the Kech Volaar in Rhuukan Draal for a long time, and had determined that it was in their mutual interest to ally with Haruuc, who would take the Crown in order to give it to the Kech Volaar himself in order to establish trust and respect between his people and the kech.  Still rattled, Kayde questioned Haruuc’s intent to give the Crown away and not keep it for himself, and Huugan swore by his atcha that he would make sure it made its way into the right hands.  Though satisfied with Huugan’s honesty, Jak questioned what Haruuc would gain from giving his crown to the Kech Volaar.  Huugan replied that the lhesh had his own crown already, and that this one would unite the keches for the good of all dar.  Turning to the others, Ivello affirmed his own confidence in Lhesh Haruuc as Aruget noted that they had come to Darguun for one reason, and that it seemed they had fulfilled their purpose.  He asked to be present when the Crown was delivered to the Kech Volaar, while Ivello asked if he could meet with their delegate and Jak quietly but firmly insisted that where his friends went, he went.  Huugan scowled and replied that that would take some work, as the Kech Volaar had their own prejudices regarding outsiders, but he would try to grant their request.  Satisfied with the seer’s promises, the party took leave of Khaar M’barost.

That evening, Ivello went to the Lyrandar enclave for dinner with Arend as promised.  While Kayde joined him, Jak and Aruget elected to stay outside and keep watch in case Jak’s gut had failed him regarding Arend’s intentions.  Inside, over the best meal Ivello had enjoyed in months, Arend listened to his story intently.  As Ivello spoke, he watched the reactions of Arend’s companions, and it soon became clear that they hadn’t held Enzo in high regard even before his disgrace and resented having to clean up his mess. He also soon got the impression that Arend seemed eager to bring Ivello back into House Lyrandar, a move that would likely boost his own status for having returned a wayward heir.  

Ivello indulged all of Arend’s questions, but as the evening came to a close, he asked for a word in private and revealed the attempt Enzo had made on his life by hiring a Thuranni assassin – evidence that, even in exile, Enzo continued to have significant resources at his disposal.  Receiving the news with a grim look on his face, Arend asked Ivello to make his deposition to a Sivis scribe in the morning, as evidence for House Lyrandar to deal with.  Ivello agreed, but declined Arend’s offer of accommodations for the night, feeling that everything was happening too soon and still unsure of his future in the House.

Two days later, the party was summoned to an audience in Lhesh Haruuc’s private chambers.  They arrived to find Huugan with him, who told them that this was the meeting the Lhesh had called with the Kech Volaar in order to hand over the Ashen Crown.  Having sat in silence while Huugan spoke with the party, to everyone’s surprise Haruuc rose from his seat and walked over to greet Ivello.  He remembered the starstruck Lyrandar from his time at court – in his twenty years of service, he’d made an impression.  Composing himself, Ivello thanked the lhesh for following through on the information he’d given him regarding Enzo’s treachery, and Haruuc returned to his seat to prepare for the ceremony.

The chamber doors opened.  A tall hobgoblin woman entered, announcing herself in an otherworldly, captivating voice – she was a duur’kala, a dirgesinger, as Yeraa had been.  Two guards followed her, along with a small goblin dressed in black clothing over light leather armour.  Both Huugan and Lhesh Haruuc showed her great deference as they made their introductions.  With a gesture from the lhesh, a door opened behind him and five servants entered the chamber, each bearing a pillow on which sat a small chest that held a piece of the Ashen Crown.  As the dirgesinger Senan and Haruuc made their formalities and conveyed their mutual respect for each other, the solemn but functional ceremony was quickly completed.  The Ashen Crown had been returned to the Kech Volaar as the party had promised Yeraa it would be, and as Huugan had promised them in turn.

Exiting the lhesh’s chambers, Senan confronted Ivello about Yeraa’s sword.  He replied that he’d intended to return it to someone who would see her memory carried on, and Senan replied in turn that as a daughter of the dirge, Yeraa’s song would be carried on forever.  As Aruget and Jak conveyed their own respect for Yeraa’s memory, Senan asked Ivello to give her the sword.  He complied, and she declared that the party had muut and atcha – the highest compliment an outsider could receive.  

Before they parted ways, Ivello had one last question for Senan – now that the Kech Volaar had revealed themselves to the world at large, even coming as envoys to foreign courts, would they consider accepting an outsider among them to see and behold all the Kech Volaar was?  

Senan paused for a long time, looking deep into Ivello’s eyes, and repeated that he had honour.  She would take his request back to her people.  He might be welcome in time, but they would have to discuss it, as it had never happened before – and the invitation might not extend to his friends, but that was for the High Daughter of the dirge to decide.

Shortly thereafter, the party boarded the Kordenga and returned to Sharn.  Returning to the Citadel with his head held high, his skills and loyalty respected once again, Jak delivered his final report on the Ashen Crown to Captain Kalaes.  As the four unlikely friends found themselves no longer bound together by their quest, they considered their next steps in journeys that a few short weeks had changed forever.  Some sought to return to their old lives, some sought to begin new ones, but one thing they knew for sure…

Raat shan gath’kal dor.  The story stops, but never ends.

Join me next week for epilogues, a retrospective of the campaign’s most memorable moments, and a sneak peak at the next campaign to come! Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. It’s been a heck of a ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes

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

Seekers of the Ashen Crown Week 41: Bringing the Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character art: Big Trouble in Lower Tavicks

Jak aka Jack Fenton by Julio Azevedo

If you’re reading this, this guy probably needs no introduction – but I’ll give him one anyways. This rather perfect likeness of Jak – you know, the character I’ve been playing in Seekers of the Ashen Crown – comes to you courtesy of the immensely talented Julio Azevedo. After some unforeseen delays, Jak is here just in time for our final showdown with Lady Demise when the Seekers reconvene in two weeks! If you’re one of those TTRPG players who has superstitions regarding a correlation between character art and the subject’s untimely doom, I don’t want to hear about it. 😀

As I mentioned at the end of the last recap, if there’s anything you’d like to see tackled in a Table Talk article while we’re on hiatus, drop it in the comments! Maybe you have some unanswered questions about Savage Worlds. Maybe you have some unanswered questions about the assorted twists, turns, and conflicts of this campaign. Maybe you want to know what Arguet’s favourite cheese is. Go ahead and suggest a topic, and I’ll do my best to answer it. Otherwise, I’ll see you with what is sure to be one doozy of a recap on July 7.

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 reforge 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 but Tik as backup – 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 his foe, 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 began to run 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 than Kayde 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.  Interjecting 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. Ivello calmly replied that their fates were now intertwined.  Thom nodded and replied that he was okay with that.  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 Drakan – 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, Drakan, what he was being paid, and the man replied that Tik had given him the going rate.  The blademark grinned and informed Drakan 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 also 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 the traitor 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, he glanced behind him to see two more enemies close 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 at a familiar tavern in Dragoneyes in two days time, and instructed the Sivis courier to under no circumstances deliver the letter to Thom while he was at the Citadel.  Aruget, seeing the wisdom in warning their few remaining allies that they were coming, did not want to wait on a courier – he had been sitting on no small amount of gold, and decided that the time was right to funnel it into an expensive Sending to his sister Razu, a highly decorated Deneith blademark.  Her reply was immediate, and the clerk quickly transcribed it and handed a folded note to Aruget.  

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Scenes

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