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Quest against the Darkmaster (PbP)

[OCC so that will put both to level 2, I suggest Gwenhild trails 5XP behind more or less.  See below.].

Waking the morrow well-rested, the fellowship accepts the offer of escort. "Hopefully he wasn't too much trouble and I doubt he was too talkative," Leofred says to the elf returning Olwen to them.  Before parting company, Gyantwaka asks, "Could some dark magic have spread the mad-blood fever more quickly, do you have the ability to detect use of such among you - or a source of a curse spreading it in the Wildwood?"

[OCC, development -

Gyantwaka

1 armour advancement actually helps eliminate  penalty to several skills so pays off nicely.

3 combat go 2 into ranged (most than can) and 1 into blunt.

4 Adventuring go 1 @ into Athletics, Hunting, Nature, Wandering

5 Roguery go 1 Acrobatics, 2 Stealth and 2 Perception

1 Lore goes into Healing

1 Body brings Hit Points to 65

Leofred

2 armour advancement reduces penalty some skills (less ones used so not as nice as G’s benefit even though more points)

3 combat go 2 Blades and 1 Blunt

3 adventuring to 2 Athletics and 1 Ride

1 Lore goes into Charisma

2 Body brings hit points to 75

2 more magic points (for 4 total)

3 Spell Lore goes 1 healing and 1 weapon mastery (bringing healing lore to 4 and weapon mastery to 2, though he’s never really casting spells unless he has time take off armour or build up the 4 round bonus for those that can use it etc.) and one into new lore of Chanting (upping healing more takes it into spells he hasn’t MP’s to cast) if we can say that hearing the elves funereal chants and/or studying he already undertook.  Otherwise it will be 1 more into Weapon Mastery.  Both paths have uses so I'm not at all fussed if it's the latter.

PS, I did create a Star Elf Wizard, one specializing in illusions, to see how one works out and noted that "interestingly" his unimpressive (compared to the other three) hit point total is sort of in the range of Olwen's....

I don't know if you use the comparison to PC CMB+DEF for encounters as suggested by Max, if so

Gyantwaka (ranged) 105 (70 +35)

Leofred 105 (80+25)

Gwenhild 115 (80 + 35)

Yeah, Max's method for balancing encounters is definitely great shorthand. But I don't balance encounters. If I ever force your PCs into something, that's a good benchmark to keep in mind though.

I think it totally makes sense for Leofred to learn Chanting among the Elves. This is perfect timing.

About your Star Elf Wizard underperforming, WAY back during the play test I argued with the designers that Wizard characters were essentially "taxed" at level advancement because there was no way that a player was not going to put DPs into HP. The designers disagreed with me. They said, in their experience, Wizard players were pretty okay with whatever HP they started with (or got it to, which was a "tax" only for a few levels).

Okay thanks.  Are we on to the elven court?

Oh and I think without having played wizard etc., I may be okay with the idea.  After all back in DnD when I started, wizards were d4 hps and Fighters d10s' (admittedly I mostly played rogues).

 

Yep, onto the Elven Court. I have absolutely nothing in mind at the moment, so build to your heart's content, if you have the inclination. Otherwise, I'll get into the writing zone sometime tomorrow. I'm psyching up for a Conan game right now.

Okay here we go then,

On the way to the court (likely a half-day from the border),

Gyantwaka finds a moment to speak with Ambrosius.  He suggests that the Great Enemy apparently has ears in various places and that may include the elven court.  Any conclusions shared by Ambrosius with the fellowship should not be widely announced but conveyed only to the elven leaders or their most trusted advisors.  As Olwen was the instigator of his research about the comet, Olwen must be prevented from passing on more about that information than he may have already passed on.  Lastly, and most vitally, we must find out whatever it is that Olwen may already have passed on concerning “the hammer comet”.

At Elven Court, arriving around noon on the 4th day of the 3rd Moon of Summer.

The fellowship asks Meingovad to ensure Olwen is held by guards outside the hall where the King and Queen hold court – again not to hear or witness anything till that is chosen.

In the court, Leofred introduces Ambrosius and the woman-at-arms Gwenhild. He makes clear that Olwen is a prisoner whose appearance belies his danger despite his condition, as follows,

“Your majesties, per your charge, Gyantwaka and I return with the Sage Ambrosius. It was fortuitous of you to have sent for him, as can be related. I thank Meingovad for meeting us at the border of your land and escorting us here.  I also introduce Gwenhild, a woman at arms of my order whose courage was vital to the success of our mission and securing the safety of Ambrosius.

We bring as prisoner a man of Andorast named Olwen, who awaits outside with your guards as it is not wise for him to overhear any of your counsel nor be left unattended as he may have knowledge of the Dark Arts.  At your pleasure I will relate why he is a prisoner but of course my accusations against him are charges – which in Andorast if proven would likely merit execution – which he should be permitted to answer before any judgements made.

Master Ambrosius wished to seek your counsel about Olwen’s fate so he was spared facing justice in Andorast. Master Ambrosius can speak to his belief (post 261) was that Olwen has likely been in communication with the Darkmaster and may have information that would be precious. His counsel was to bring him to Elvendale, where he believed your folk have more effective and humane ways of treating with malefactors.

There are other matters to relate to you when you have time to hear them.  I thank you for entrusting us with this task. My comrade may wish to add to my report.

[Other matters being strange stationary clouds over the moors, possibly associated with the death of Glafiner]

Gyantwaka,

It appears from the attempt on Master Ambrosius' life of which Olwen was apparently part that the Great Enemy either anticipates or is aware of your actions and uses any delay to act.

I suggest you may wish not to announce Master Ambrosius’ findings or even give the impression he has not reached conclusion yet, to mislead our enemy.

Of Olwen I say my people’s wise ones say the enemy can sense those who work dark magics and I wonder if Olwen may betray us merely by his presence.

[Hmmm, Conan game, would a "serpent coin" image be useful?]

[In terms of what's next we have the "Quest for the Site of the Hammer's Fall/Race to get there first" - whether literally that or "first we need xxxx (e.g., some astrolabe in a ruin in the fallen kingdom of High Men)", we have "avenging Glafiner/Cloud assassins/befriending eagles unless elves have some friends of such, and we have "the madness of Wildwood" (though a dire bear inhabited region is "out of our paygrade" would be the fellowship's uniform view).]

[Of course, things could be woven together as in "well the necessary astronomical equipment, the ancient giants were wise beyond those of today and great watchers of the stars and so .... actually that cloud is where we must go to find out where the hammer will come down, oh and I guess that will mean having to deal with Glafiner's death...., now if we could just get something Gyantwakaish woven in - ultimately the hammer comet connects to his people's stolen sacred objects so he's interested in that, shorter term hmmm, if the giant halls were in fact originally a sacred place to the spirits - now violated - that would offend him too.  Did the giants float their castles by the grace of sky spirits that they then honoured of course and ultimately was their fall when they failed to keep honouring them - the last sacred place not violated was protected by a Giant shaman who remained loyal to the sky spirits..]

[Of course, 'pay grade' and 'why these characters give that task' is a potential issue, it makes more sense they go off to old high men ruins than be given task of avenging a royal nephew, if they did the latter it would be coincidence].

coin

https://www.dropbox.com/s/dybfa7sbgz1dnjx/Snake%20Coin.png?dl=0

 

You’re a pro at this!

I definitely had been thinking that this had set up “The Quest for Hammerfall.” Ambrosius has charted its likely fall. I think I had noted at least three possible fall sites, and that’s probably why Ambrosius still lived: the Darkmaster hoped that Ambrosius would determine the precise, single fall. At Elvendale, Ambrosius, with the aid of Oberon and fine elven astrolabes, is able to become most certain of one of those locations. It is likely that Olwen has communicated those locations to the Darkmaster, so the fellowship can be assured that the Darkmaster will have a presence at all locations, hopefully spread thin — so it will be imperative not to let this new information get into the mind of the Darkmaster.

All roads will be watched, so it will be a quest of moving in small numbers, in secrecy, into a region that is either occupied or closely watched by the forces of the Darkmaster. I think we need to get together a world map, with (as the book recommends, I believe) at least three to five interesting regions/adventure locations between the fellowship and Hammerfall. I’m of course open to anything that you would find fun, exciting, and involving of the PCs’ Passions.

After much elven counsel, Olwen begins to open up. “When I was coming of age, my father began to visit me — from beyond the grave — at night. He said that he had been betrayed by Ethelred, that all men were betrayed by their kings, and said that I should seek out power against them so that a similar fate would not happen to me. He said that I was much quicker witted than he had been, so a soldier’s life need not be necessary for me, that I should study and become an apprentice to Ambrosius.

”As apprentice to Ambrosius, my dead father continued to appear to me, and he encouraged me to seek out Ambrosius’s secret books. There I learned about the Darkmaster, and spells for summoning him, and this my father willed me to do: to plight troth with the Darkmaster, in exchange for power, power over the kings of the earth.

”I did this, using flame, blood, and iron, and the Darkmaster taught me another way means of communication, the Master Rune of the Gnomes, whom he is using, through these methods, to serve as emissaries among his forces underground. I used the Master Rune to communicate to the Darkmaster everything that Master Ambrosius learned about Hammerfall, a task I set for him myself. I kept him in my power through applications of poison salts, and I isolated him by claiming that an attempt had been made on his life.

”I have directly contacted the Darkmaster only two times, the second on the night that the Gnome attacked my captors. The Darkmaster sent the Gnome, since my captors had taken my own gnome stones.

”I am unclear now if the ghost of my father had merely been a sending of the Darkmaster or my father in truth, in death committed to or manipulated by the Darkmaster in his service.”

[That snake image is great. I use the symbol of Set, from the movie, for my Doom tokens in Foundry vtt.]

[OOC thanks, it's sort of like taking objectives/backstories of different players' PCs and weaving them together.  Thanks re image, the snake is from gamesicons net and the rest was in Affinity Designer, as with the heraldry symbols.]

Hopefully this tale of Olwen's is told before a limited circle ~ all of whom are making Perception checks to judge his truthfulness (assuming no magic is being used to help out). [OCC - perhaps a difficulty level higher for non-humans (cross-species/cultural reading of someone being difficult)].  In case called, the PC's checks are: Gyantwaka 101, Leofred 68, Gwenhild (negative something, she was obviously distracted in wonderment looking at elves).  Olwen is still under wound effects so any Deception skill rolls he makes are at a penalty.

The 'allegedly corrupt king' Ethelred would be the same who has dispensed with Master Ambrosius' service as a counsellor I assume?

Immediate questions focus on fleshing out what was going on in Andorast -

  • What role did the burn on your arm play in the Darkmaster sending the Gnome?
  • This Master Rune, is it something you know how to make or a particular 'gnome stone'? (assuming that the term's meaning is not already clear)
  • Do you mean the Darkmaster himself sent the Gnome or that a sorcerer in his service sent it [OCC, if the Darkmaster can pop Gnomes up anywhere or even just around his servants like Olwen that's something to know!]?
  • How did the Darkmaster contact you the first of the two times?
  • So there was no person alleged to have first poisoned Master Ambrosius at the inn - it was all you?

Discussion after Olwen is removed:

  • What do Ambrosius and the elves think of his story and this talk of ghosts?
  • How learned in magic must Olwen be to make use of this Master Rune and use spells to contact the Darkmaster? [I know the answer to 2nd part of question, do the elves and Ambrosius?  If Leofred did he would again be thinking back on that first encounter when Olwen raised his arms, was he about to cast "Agony", because if he can cast a 3rd level Sorcery spell..., I was thinking the Gnomes were a variant of the 5th level spell]
  • Gyantwaka shows the assembly the 'gnome stones' he confiscated and volunteers they can be turned over to anyone for study.  Leofred wonders if there is some way to contact the gnomes and find out if they are willing servants of the Darkmaster or bound by some means that can be undone.  He also wants to know if they have any use other than compelling gnomes.
  • Is the Elven Court able to ascertain if Olwen is a Servant of the Darkmaster [OCC - If the elven court has access to wizards and any of them have the Detections spell lore (3rd Level Detect Darkness) they can readily tell if Olwen is a direct servant of the Darkmaster.  Now I admit in a campaign I ran that spell probably wouldn’t exist or would be modified (at a minimum, the detect servant of Darkmaster function would have a Save perhaps and recasting would not yield different results, and save improved if no darkmagics worked lately etc).  I like mysteries in games and I don’t like spells that are “instant solution, as in reveal the traitor” as logically that means anyone with sufficient resources in the form of a handy wizard can’t have such traitors in their retinue etc. or else counter-items start being distributed like candy.  Figuring out if someone is a Gollum or  Wormtongue shouldn't be as easy as casting a spell.]

Leofred is not prepared to accept accusations of treachery against his king by ghosts or apparitions in league with the Darkmaster and finds it likely the entire business is a trick by the Darkmaster or a sorcerer in his service.

  • If he knows anything about the battle(s) in question he would know if anything seemed off about them, units ordered to the wrong places, enemy knew plans etc. - who the enemy was could be something to establish, was this a 'civil war' with a obstreperous baron or a war with the horselords or some third party - the quest may have to cross such lands.  That's probably a Songs and Tales if a check is needed it's 94 (if there's a famous mishap in the battle like a Charge of Light Brigade he likely won't need a check).

Accepting Olwen's words at face value, he is guilty of poisoning but not attempted murder, but he is guilty of sorcery and consorting with the forces of darkness (or however being "team Darkmaster" is phrased) so he is still lucky not to be in Andorast (doubly so with that particular story).  As Gyantwaka has said, this likely makes him a "marker" whose location the Darkmaster can follow.

Unless there is a cultural background about ghosts coming back like Hamlet's father etc., Leofred's reaction is, "If his story is true, the man is a victim but also a criminal. Everyone must know better than to trust every apparition that counsels treachery and service to the Darkmaster, whatever guise it adopts."

  • Of course this could all be setting up Olwen to be a PC/NPC with "Dark Past" background.

In terms of plans, it is again suggested that elven parties be sent to false destinations - intended expressly both as "misleading information" if watched and as traps (e.g., perhaps each party is shadowed by some stealthy rangers so that if the obvious group is attacked it has allies), and then the "non-elf" party be sent to the true destination.  If "Olwen is a marker" theory is correct, he should actually be sent with a group doubly-prepared for an attack.

[OCC, I will ponder re above and use Mythic GM a bit, creating 3 - 5 'regions' with differing VsD classifications among travel status, hazard determination, resonance risk and camping rolls, using the "time to cross them" as first factor (then figuring out what terrain/distance creates that time, with at least one 'choice of paths' (Gap of Rohan or Moria).  Do you have a particular "timeline" in mind as in "if this is late summer, the site should be reachable by .....?]

[OCC after finding hammer is it to return to Elvendale or be taken elsewhere?]

What I have so far, take/leave/revise particularly as it moves further afield and beyond PC's knowledge.

The region of Hammerfall lies north-west, beyond the Starry Mountains.

An entirely different route would be to go north-east to the Gray Deep and a normal pass through the mountains there, then travel west.  Longer as crow-flies but much more regular travel with no trackless forests and mountains without known passes to go over.  In a sense this direct route below could be seen as "less likely".  Sort of like how going through the Gap of Rohan was easier travel but more likely to draw attention.

The regions to traverse to reach it, the 5th being where it lies, are suggested as:

Area 1 - The Wilderness west of Elvendale crossed to reach Area 2 (one could return to Southwatch and take the road to Area #2 instead).

This land is forested and increasingly hilly as one goes west, it is 50 km to reach Area 2.

The woods here ‘classical woods’ – what you would expect and doesn't really have a name "the western woods" to the elves and "the eastern woods" to the hill dwarves of Area 2

The region is Rough for travel, Wilderness for Hazards, Wilderness for Resonance, Normal for Camping.

Area 2 - the Hill Dwarf Clan holds, the Baran Tralor

The hill dwarves live in fortified hilltop clan holds and collectively call themselves the Baran Tralor. They are farmers and herd sheep.  They trade with Andorast.  The road from Southwatch going northwest leads to their lands - this is a route Order of the Eveningstar guards though usually not a more dangerous one and there is no Chapterhouse along it.

Though these are not the dwarves of legends with mines and smithworks, they are proud and quick to anger at any insult.

To cross, the region is 25 km of Rough for travel (hills, there are tracks among the clan holds but they don’t lead across the territory except by very roundabout paths), Populated for Hazards, Free Lands for Resonance, Normal for Camping.

This is the last known area to obtain provisions etc. before Areas 3 and 4.

Area 3 - The Trackless Wilderness before the Starry Mountains

North of the hill dwarf territory lies an ancient wilderness that stretches 90 km.

It is Arduous for travel (thick forests), Wilderness for Hazards, Wilderness for Resonance, it is Normal for Camping.

This is indeed a true wilderness, though forested there is always a sense of ‘enormity’ in it and it can be confusing at times as even animal paths seem to move (thus it's literal name is the Trackless Forest) – why is not clear (spirits at work?) but there is a deep magic in these ancient woods and many circles of mushrooms.  However, a recent disaster has struck them [nature TBD].

  • This wilderness could be pure and pristine, a vast cathedral to Gyantwaka and any threat to it or request for help from its spirits would be answered by him.

Area 4 - The Starry Mountains

This is the region of the mountains in which the Giant Eagles dwell [Mythic roll about what element reincorporated].  There is no ready pass through these mountains so the going is slow if one does not know a path - as one then has to be turning back and looking for another way ahead constantly, so it’s twice as far to travel as it seems or is if one knows a path.

The range is 40 km across at this point, the domain of the Giant Eagles runs 10 km wide along its centre and is 15 km from either side of the mountains.

  • Befriending the Eagles has obvious benefits and could connect as well to an assault on the cloud lair of Glafiner’s killer (Leofred motivation).

Arduous for travel (mountains), Wilderness for Hazards, Wilderness for Resonance, Camping varies Normal (nice valleys) to Exposed (night falls with nothing but mountainside)

Area 5 The Land of the Last Tower

(where the comet fell) - the domain beyond the Starry Mountains, said to be the last kingdom of High Men, which seeks no contact with outsiders. They are locked in a constant struggle with [something] and may be on the verge of losing it but are definitely in a siege mentality.

  • Struggle could be the restless dead awakened by Darkmaster or simply an “independent Necromancer” – undead thralls etc..  This could be an 'independent evil', one that thinks it is but has been inspired like a pawn the DM to stir up trouble in this area in case it is Hammerfall and/or because the DM has a grudge against the High Men.
  • The Five Champions who founded the Order of the Evening Star could be remembered here and that connection important. Originally this outpost was founded as a “secret support” to resist the Darkmaster, founded by one of the Five who did not perish as history records.  That creates a Leofred link.
  • Effectively this was a Safe Haven but it is no longer Safe.

This region is Normal for travel, Populated for Hazards and Borderlands for Resonance. Dangerous for Camping (outside settlements due to roving undead).

PS - I'm a bit unclear about how long ago the comet fell as at one point I thought it was "coming" and at others it sounds as if "it already landed", is it one or the other?  A comet coming down could be a bit of a disaster whenever it happened.  If in the past, the comet/hammer might be in a hall or shrine, or in the tomb of someone etc. - or in the ruins of the original castle which it destroyed and which are now haunted/forbidden, if in the present this could turn into a disaster movie "ah, I know this is the best place to defend against the undead hordes but it's also going to be ground zero, so perhaps evacuate but trick the horde to come in at just the right time..."

PPS - For this expedition, I would still like to add some healing or spell-casting PC or NPC such as an Leshak Shaman or Star Elf Wizard.