Session Recap week 13: Red Line Overload

As the Storm Reaver gave chase to the ship that had emerged from the other side of the island they were moored off of, Trucco clambered up into the crow’s nest to see what they were up against.  His keen eyes picked out the three-masted vessel flying the flags of the Direshark Principality…and Breland.  Outfitted like a cargo ship and sitting low in the water to suggest that it was laden with goods, the Majestic Gryphon seemed like quite a prize.  Turning to Conchobar in the rigging beside him, Trucco asked the foppish gnome if he was as good with a sword as he was with a deck of cards, and Conchobar’s eyes gleamed as he rubbed his hands together and declared that the Gryphon was in for a surprise.

While the ship continued to bear down on its prey, Mika Rockface summoned Fishguts to the quarterdeck, and the cook returned to Daina with orders to butcher a pig.  She stared at him with angry disbelief.  She had bigger problems than the captain’s dinner, and Fishguts laughed at that.  The pig wasn’t for eating — it was for baiting sharks to deal with anyone who fell overboard during the attack.  Fisghuts seemed fairly alert and active, a far cry from his inebriated state just a few hours earlier.  Unable to contain herself as her unreliable companion made an easy target for the stress and anxiety over Torlan’s fate that had reached a boiling point, the care and pity she had for Fishguts turned to anger as she snapped at him.  No matter what the pig was for, she still had bigger problems than the Captain’s whims, and more importantly, he hadn’t been there when she needed him, when she’d come to the galley seeking his help in the wake of the slaughter in the bilge only to find his incoherently drunk again.  He shrugged it off.  The promise of taking a prize seemed to have sparked life in him for the first time in their acquaintance, and he seemed undeterred by her harsh words.

The large siege staff mounted in the Storm Reaver’s bow went off as they closed with the Majestic Gryphon, shaking the ship as its shot went wide.  Drawing closer, they fired again, finding a target as its shot ripped into the Gryphon, taking down some of its sails.  From his perch, Trucco could see his fellow crewmates jumping to action as they began to push ballistas into place, and as Daina and Fishguts appeared on deck with buckets of chum, the ship’s gunner Master Crines called her, Trucco, and Rus onto the quarterdeck.  Sneering at Torlan in his cage, Crines informed the prisoner that if he joined the boarding party and survived the fight, the Captain would show him some leniency.  Torlan grinned and replied that this was the easiest deal he’d ever taken, and that he didn’t know Mika Rockface was so soft — she must be sweet on him.  Letting a toothy smile slip in spite of his best efforts, Crines unlocked the cage and Torlan crawled out.  Unable to contain herself, Daina quickly grabbed him to herself in a fierce hug as Crines watched, and the gunner gave his orders: the four of them were to storm the Majestic Gryphon’s pilothouse, take the wheel, and ensure that no one escaped in the longboats.  A grim smile came over Daina’s face as she promised Crines that she would take the wheel and stay there.  Her thoughts began to percolate as she wondered what kind of opportunity had just dropped into her lap.

The cannon continued its volley as the Storm Reaver took down more and more of the Gryphon’s rigging, systematically crippling its escape.  They were closing in fast.  With little time left before the boarding began, Trucco hurried down to his locker to retrieve the jar of Alchemist’s Fire he’d looted from the quartermaster while Torlan joined him to take up his halberd.  Daina wondered if that was another opportunity — what if they used that jar of fire on the Storm Reaver instead of the Majestic Gryphon?  Crines wanted them to take the pilothouse, and if they could prevent the Reaver from following them, that could be their ticket to escape at last, but the sabotage would need to be quite severe in order for that plan to succeed.  Trucco was excited by the prospect, but wondered what would happen to the people they’d befriended if the ship was damaged that badly.  Daina agreed that they should keep an eye out, and their attention turned to the boarding action as the entire crew amassed on deck and the captain announced that there would be an extra share of the prize for the first person to make it across.

The sun was low on the horizon as the Storm Reaver drew up alongside the Majestic Gryphon, and crossbow bolts began flying across the deck in an attempt to repel the boarders as Torlan began to sing.  As his voice rose above the fray, his friends felt their resolve grow, and new strength flowed through them.  All of a sudden, a huge cloud of fog began to billow out from the center of the Gryphon’s deck, and the fight was on.  The horrible but familiar sound of wood wrenching and groaning under stress rose from the hull as the ships collided.  

With a well-placed throw of a grappling hook to secure a line to the Gryphon’s sterncastle, Daina ordered anyone within earshot to pull as a shout came back across the gap to cut the same line.  As two sailors advanced on it, cutlasses drawn, Rus pulled his own weapon from the holster under his coat.  Aiming his wand across the gap and speaking a command word, six prismatic darts flew out towards the sailors as tendrils of electricity began to pop and swirl around his head and shoulders.  The first one he caught square in the chest, and she dropped to the deck, smoke rising from her corpse.  The second sailor caught a couple of darts himself, but managed to stay on his feet as it seemed the bulk of the devastation had been unleashed on his comrade.

More concerned with meeting Prince Mika’s challenge to be the first one across, Trucco easily scrambled into Storm Reaver’s rigging and swung into what was left of the Gryphon’s as his hair and claws began to grow.  Torlan moved up behind Daina and took hold of the rope, urging her to knock out as many of the Gryphon’s crew as she could instead of putting them down and promising that he would do the same as a ball of lightning came flying over his shoulder and smoke and lightning erupted in the middle of the Gyphon’s main deck. As his added strength to the grappling line helped Daina pull them in close enough to the sterncastle to lay down a plank he could run across, Torlan led the charge straight to where Trucco was alone in the thick of things.  Clearing his path with the flat of his blade, he sent the nearest sailor flying over the rail and into a longboat.  The rogue, meanwhile, sent one of his knives straight into the back of the pilot’s skull, killing him instantly.

Still on the Storm Reaver next to Daina, the arcing electricity surrounding his head and shoulders beginning to dissipate, Rus exchanged a nod as she called to him to cross over to the Gryphon — once he was safely over there with Torlan and Trucco, she’d be right behind him.  Holstering his wand, he drew his tago knife from his sheath.  His knife shared some similarities to hers, but was distinctly different for the foot-and-a-half long chain hanging off its pommel.  Clipping the chain to a ring on the wrist of his glove, he took up the knife in a practiced motion and held it at the ready.  As Daina raised her eyebrow at the sight of Rus taking his tago knife into battle, the skyknight ran across the plank Torlan had used and lashed out at the sailor who met him on the other side.  Easily ducking under a wild swing, the man dropped his crossbow and drew his cutlass.  Rus’ attack had left him open, and his opponent raised his sword to bear down on him, grinning as he had Rus dead to rights.

True to her word, Daina was right behind him.

Running across the thin plank to the Majestic Gryphon at full tilt, she made it to Rus’ side just as his opponent began to swing, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to bring her own sword up in time to block the blow.  Throwing her other arm out across Rus’ chest in a protective stance, all of the stress, desperation, and rage that had been building in her these past three weeks and this day in particular boiled to the surface.  She held no ill will towards the crew of the Majestic Gryphon, and she didn’t want to kill this sailor for being as much a victim of Mika Rockface as she was — but she was damned if she was going to let him cut Rus down right in front of her.  Not him, not after all they’d been through in their short time together, the kindness he’s shown her, and everything she now knew they’d been through together in the war, all those years before.  

“Back DOWN!!!”

As Daina screamed in the man’s face, Rus saw the air around her begin to distort and turn blue, dancing like sparks coming off a fire.  As her arm pressed defensively against his chest, he felt the sensation of something wrapping around his own body, not uncomfortable, but secure.  The sailor continued his attack, bringing his sword down to catch Rus square across the chest, and his eyes widened in confusion as his blade glanced off to the side.  Looking down at his own body, Rus could see the blue glow that had come off of Daina now sparking and dancing around himself.

Daina manifests a Mark of Sentinel
Daina manifests a Mark of Sentinel while taking the quarter deck of the Majestic Gryphon.

A short distance down the deck, Torlan heard Daina’s scream of rage and he turned to find her in the fray.  Their eyes met, and his widened a little as caught sight of the blue tendrils that now wrapped around her left eye and extended back across her temple.  It was the unmistakable imprint of a dragonmark.

There was no time to think about it.  A break appeared in the fog cloud covering the center of the deck, and Trucco could clearly see Mika Rockface run a sailor through with her sword.  As she turned to follow Master Crines down into the Gryphon’s hold, another one of her foes appeared from the fog, charging with a spear as her back was turned.  After a brief moment of hesitation, Trucco swung out of his perch and across the deck, landing in the rigging behind Prince Mika’s assailant.  Driving his claws into the sail, he rode it down to the deck and threw a knife square into the man’s chest.  Spun around by the force of the blow, the man dropped his spear, sending it tumbling across the deck to land at Mika’s feet.  She looked at the corpse, looked up to see Trucco, made a small gesture with her chin, and continued down into the hold as if nothing had happened.

Rus took no time to think about it either.  Dialed into combat mode, his instincts and training took over, and the only thing on his mind was finishing the fight.  Brushing shoulders with Daina, he sidestepped to wordlessly indicate a position switch as he delivered a swift blow to their opponents kidneys, stunning the man and juggling him towards Daina.  She immediately picked up what Rus was doing and moved into the opening he had created for her, bringing her sword up and bashing its pommel across their opponent’s jaw.  He dropped to the ground, and didn’t get back up.

As one of Torlan’s opponents sliced her blade across the dwarfs arm, Torlan felt his blood rage began to rise but quickly tamped it down as he remembered his declaration and promise to not kill any of the Majestic Gryphon’s crew.  He slammed the blunt end of his halberd into the sailors chest, sending her slumping against the gunwales.  With his immediate problem solved, Rus looked up to see three more sailors emerge from belowdecks and make a break for a longboat.  Remembering Master Crines orders to let no one escape, he leveled his wand and called out words he hadn’t spoken since that day five years ago in Karrnath, when he and his squadron had rescued Daina’s unit from certain death.

“Kídù, Éste, Fôh”

A wall of fire erupted around the longboat, hugging around it and cutting off the escape.  Memories clawed at Daina as the flames appeared, but she pushed them down for another time.  Back in his perch, Trucco watched over the melee happening in full force in the center of the deck, and through the fog he caught sight of his prize — Master Scourge had joined the fray.  The rogue had been chafing against unwelcome and uncharacteristic patience while he plotted his revenge on the Storm Reaver’s sadistic taskmaster, and as he swung in closer, he pulled the flask of Alchemist’s Fire off his belt and threw it down into the fog.  He could hear Scourge yelling below, but it didn’t sound like he’d been hit, and Trucco high-tailed it back up to the mast.

Eager to finish the fight, Torlan shifted his halberd into one hand as another sailor bore down on him, cutlass in hand.  As the man closed in, Torlan was faster, and a swift uppercut claimed yet another victim as he heard Daina call out that she and Rus had taken the pilothouse.  Claiming her place at the wheel, Daina yelled down to the sailors who had been cut off by Rus’ fire.  She declared that it was over,that there was no need for them to die, and she ordered them to stand down.  They obeyed her command.  Moving to where Daina stood at the wheel with Rus still on alert beside her, the sailors threw down their weapons and dropped to their knees, surrendering.  As some sounds of battle continued through the fog, Daina rested one hand on the wheel and brought the other up to rub at her face.  The skin around her eye had been burning ever since she’d joined the fight, and she wondered if she’d been hit without realizing it.  She frowned.  She couldn’t feel a wound, and saw no blood or ash on her fingers, and yet the sensation wasn’t going away.  It was concerning, but like the memories, it would have to wait for later.  For now, Torlan was free, Rus was safe, and she was at the helm of a ship — a ship that could mean freedom for all of them.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: which country was in the greatest wrong during the Last War? You can bet we all had a different answer for this one, but in case you were wondering, the correct answer is Karrnath.
  • Torlan sung us into battle with four raises on his Serenade to bump up the entire party’s Fighting die by two sizes, and spent extra power points to extend that buff to Sandar, Owlbear, and Rosie.  Michael had perhaps his best night ever in terms of good rolls — he didn’t roll lower than a 15 on damage for the entire session.
  •  Kevin is a big believer in slow burns, and waiting for the right moment to present itself.  This session provided the opportunity he’s been waiting thirteen weeks for to unleash Rus’ power at last, and the dice rewarded his patience — he rolled an 11 to hit on his first shot, granting a success with a raise…and followed it up with 29 on the damage roll.  I don’t know the exact stats in play, but most Extras like the ones we encountered here typically enjoy 4-6 Parry and similar toughness.  There’s no kill like overkill!
  • Unfortunately, it may be a while before you see him cast a wall of fire again, because he does not actually have access to that power yet — but he did have the Arcane Spike adventure card, which granted him the one-time use of any available power regardless of rank!  It wasn’t only the luck of the dice that rewarded his patience, but the luck of the cards as well.  He’s been waiting thirteen weeks to go big, and when the time finally came he went big and it was fantastic.
  • Ernesto is a hardcore joker fisher.  He regularly spends a bennie or two on a new card over the course of any given combat, but this one took the cake.  On the fourth round of the encounter, on a nearly fresh deck after Daina and Torlan drew both jokers at the start of round two, he had Scourge in his sights and wanted a joker badly.  He spent all his remaining bennies coming up empty, but he had an adventure card to play as well: Betrayed!  Previously used by Ernesto for amazing narrative impact in Seekers of the Ashen Crown, playing this card causes a trusted ally to turn against the party — but the carrot that comes with the stick is that playing it refreshes your bennies to the starting maximum of three.  This happened at the end of the session, and last time this card was playing it took six weeks for the payoff and reveal, so who knows when this particular chicken will come home to roost, and which knife Phil will decide to twist…and Ernesto still didn’t get his joker.
  • Speaking of waiting for the right moment for your character to shine, my favourite panel at PAX Unplugged this year was the one hosted by Twogether Studios exploring how to make the most of drama in your tabletop games.  The remarks that stuck with me the most from that panel were when B. Dave Walters spoke about how, as much as it is the DMs responsibility to create memorable moments for their players to shine, it’s also the players responsibility to create those moments for each other.  Now, I am fairly certain that Kevin would have found a moment for Rus to unleash his powers in this session no matter what, but the way we both inadvertently created a moment for each other in that regard was extremely satisfying.  Neither of us knew that the immediate result of Daina attaching a line to the Majestic Gryphon would be two sailors moving to cut it — but Rus was next in initiative and had her back, and that was the moment he chose.  And neither of us could have planned the situation in which Kevin spent four bennies trying and failing to attack the enemy that then, as Phil narrated it for my benefit, had Rus dead to rights — and since Trucco was up in the rigging, and Torlan’s luck was overflowing, that was more than likely the only opportunity I’d have had in this session to manifest Daina’s dragonmark, and it made a lot of narrative sense to take it.  Her casting Deflection on Rus then, again unplanned, set him up for another moment he’d been looking for, that being falling into old patterns of fighting side by side with a fellow soldier and bouncing off each other in perfect harmony.  A fantastic roll on Rus’ Fighting test allowed Daina to down the enemy who had caused all this drama in the first place, and it was a wonderful sequence of events to play out.
  • Kevin also took advantage of an often overlooked game mechanic to create another moment for himself! Players can spend bennies to influence the story at the GMs discretion, and Kevin spent one of his to say that there were several sailors making a break for the longboat. The gave him a good narrative opening to use his adventure card to cast a spell which Rus, in terms of backstory, has made much use of in the past, but mechanically is unable to access at our current character rank.
  • If you’ve listened to our most recent Gold Dragon Fireside, you may remember that my original character concept for Daina was to blatantly rip off Singe from Don Bassingthwaite’s Dragon Below trilogy and build an unmarked Deneith spellsword with a blade in one hand and a fireball in the other.  However, something the table voted on during character creation meant that I couldn’t squeeze everything I wanted for such a build into my planned advances in a satisfying way — Savage Worlds maxes out at twenty advances, and that may sound like a big number but it can actually involve a lot of hard decisions.  I didn’t want to play another purely martial character two campaigns in a row, but I didn’t want to play a full caster either, and was struggling to find a build to match the story I had formulated. I can’t remember if it was myself or Phil who first proposed a Fighter with a dragonmark as an alternative, but we spent several weeks in July and August going back and forth over which one I might take, what it would look like mechanically, and how it could best serve the story.  I settled on the Mark of the Sentinel as being the most logical for telling Daina’s story and fulfilling the role I wanted for her in this campaign, and have been waiting for a situation in which it could manifest ever since.  
  • Let’s talk about dragonmarks!  Dragonmarks are an unescapable part of life in Eberron. The twelve Houses comprised of bloodlines in which these magical “tattoos” of sorts naturally occur form the backbone of industry on the continent of Khorvaire by virtue of the powers granted by dragonmarks allowing them to hold a monopoly over things like manufacturing, animal husbandry, healthcare, agriculture, and military subcontracting. Their power lies in not just scope, but consistency — products and services provided by dragonmarked Houses and the indivduals who work for them guarantee a standard of quality that you won’t get from Farvath’s Discount Tinkering down the street for half the cost. In Eberron’s canon lore, dragonmarks manifest under situations of extreme stress.  99% of the time, this happens when Dragonmarked Houses put their adolescent children through what’s called the “Test of Siberys,” and the exact nature of the test varies depending on the mark trying to be forced to appear, but all of them involve deliberately putting the child in a situation that creates stress, fear, desperation, etc. until their mark manifests or they need to be pulled out after it becomes abundantly clear that they have failed the test.  However, dragonmarks have also been known to manifest later in life on individuals who are not part of a House and have not undergone such a test, which is what happened to Daina.  These people are referred to by the Houses as “foundlings,” and while they cannot (legally) be forced into the service of a House, things can get complicated if they capture the House’s attention.  Out here in the Lhazaar Principalities, that might not be too big of a concern for Daina…but on the other hand, she has a dragonmark on her face now. 
  • Let’s talk about Daina’s dragonmark in particular!  There was some discussion behind the scenes about what would provoke hers, and I really liked the opportunity that presented itself in this session.  Her mark manifesting in defense of Torlan would have been too cliched of a narrative choice in my opinion.  But her stress levels and desire to protect her friends being as high as they were because of Torlan’s recent actions made a wonderful set-up for her to let loose.  Phillip was also curious to know beforehand where I wanted Daina’s mark to manifest, because they can appear literally anywhere on the body.  I originally intended for Daina’s to appear on the inside of her left forearm.  She’s a lefty like me and, narratively, I liked the idea that she could casually roll up her sleeves to display the mark during a conversation as needed in order to make a point, and I also liked the idea of the Mark of the Sentinel being on her sword arm, and thus any melee opponents would get a front row view of having picked the wrong fight.  Then, just a few days prior to this session, Phillip mentioned how he’d always wanted to see one of his players have their dragonmark on their face where it couldn’t be hidden, and all the roleplaying opportunities that could provide. And he made a compelling argument, but I’m not a particularly bold player and love being in control of situations as much as possible, and a permanently visible dragonmark would throw all that out the window.  But the bug was in my ear.  I thought about it, and ultimately decided that I would decide in the moment.  The catchphrase we’ve come to associate with Kevin at the table is “let’s be bold”…and hey, it’s a pretty good one as far as catchphrases go.  So now Daina has a dragonmark that both brings a decent amount of personal baggage with it, and is also on her face.  This is going to be fun!
  • This week’s episode title comes courtesy of the Danger Zone. Rus burned hot, Daina went into overdrive, and there’s no putting the lid back on this box!

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