Leylines

Division of Danton I
Damsels in Distress

After a brief break during my move we finally had another session of Leylines, and our campaign marches steadily onwards. We resumed back in the room allocated to our PCs, where they are joined by their new ally Ricky. Awakened by a knock at the door they found Lieutenant Llewyn calling on them to visit with Captain Trenton, which Ricky took as his cue to exit the building, he and Llewyn expressing a mutual dislike for one another as they passed. Sed also left on his own, trying to find Bremen – Torval’s agent – again before the man can flee the city.

On the way to the Guardhouse, Llewyn quickly went over the full scope of the previous night’s events. While the PCs had charged into Parliament to protect city government, the other Militia troops in the area were busy elsewhere. To divert the guard’s attention and cause further damage, the civilian army had set fire to all the city’s food storage center’s, and they’ve since calculated a total loss of about 90% of the city’s reserve rations.

Worse, news of both that and the sudden coup were leaked to the public, likely by the very perpetrators, and now the merchants and citizens alike are fleeing the city for more stable ground. The guards are stopping merchant vessels and caravans out of necessity, to use their food supplies to bolster the city proper. But they lost a lot before the threat was detected, and with the high rate of decay after the loss of preservation runes, the supply of food within the city will quickly become dangerously low despite their efforts.

They reach the Guardhouse, where Ephraim and Eli gave their report to Captain Trenton. He then brought out Jun Xi, who had a report of his own. During the previous session he went to scout the approaching army in the mountains, and discovered who they are; they’re Queensguard, the personal guard and military force of the royal family of neighboring Selenne, and roughly 700 in number. This caused Trenton to level with Ephraim, who was a member of that nation’s embassy in town; if this is a declaration of war on Ganaval, and it comes down to a siege, would he return to his people? Ephraim truthfully answered he would, and the Captain was forced to take back the red eagle of Danton, the badge that labeled him a deputized member of the militia, although Trenton still hoped he would continue to support them until things came to that.

The Captain then gave them their task; with the militia stretched thin, he needed every hand to handle something, and he wants them to manage a separate investigation into the attack the night before. They need to drag down the leaders and end that threat before it invites total anarchy in the city. He directs them to a prisoner from the fighting the night before, and gives them leave to interrogate him. A quick good-cop bad-cop routine between Ephraim and Eli quickly got some information from him; the location of the last meeting his cabal had.

On their way out, Lieutenant Llewyn asked them to look into Evard’s Dogs during their investigation; the criminal organization had been strangely quiet for days now, and he’s worried about what that might mean. But before they can do so a young girl, no older than thirteen, emerged from the crowd, calling them by names and titles. Introducing herself with a curtsy as Alice, she grilled them about their deeds and reputations before allowing them on their way, skimming over any questions about her reasons by saying she’s “considering a contract”.

Snow reappeared at this point as the group talked about how long it’d been since they’d all been together. Jun Xi showed a lot of hesitation in letting Snow come, still underestimating her because of her gender, and still seemed put off at the thought of the young girl they’d met before getting involved in any of the danger they were currently facing. Eli, on the other hand, was just happy she’d used his title of “Rail Tracer”, while Ephraim didn’t think much of it one way or the other.

The group then chose to investigate the site of the cabal’s last meeting rather than contacting Ricky, and quickly found several clues. Ephraim took a new red-eagle badge from a dead undercover militia officer they found there before they continued their investigation with the warehouse owner, Dorin Fernand. Dorin was very cooperative, giving them the name and address of his warehouse manager, the only man who had the keys to that building, and thanked them for looking into the matter of the murder on his premises.

This led them to the manager’s house, where they found him cowering behind barricades with a few friends. Eli quickly intimidated them into dropping their weapons, and the man, Kyle, was able to give them the location of the next meeting in exchange for his freedom, promising that all he wanted was to leave town and wash his hands of all of it.

They tried to follow this lead, but unfortunately an interruption struck along the way. A black-garbed assassin, second-cousin to Snow, slipped and fell into the street before them, sending the two assassins accompanying him into motion along the rooftops. Ephraim caught that they were headed for a target behind them, and quickly spotted Alice, who had been quietly following them since the Guardhouse. The girl was trying desperately to pull something out of her riding skirts as the assassins advanced, and the group quickly burst into action to help her. Jun Xi and Eli were intent on protecting the girl while Ephraim and Snow sought vengeance on the assassins. One assassin in particular, whose name wouldn’t come to Snow’s mind, came very close to striking at Alice, but Eli and Ephraim combined efforts managed to trap him in an alley in the end. The other assassins fled, although Jun Xi gave short, unsuccessful chase.

Alice, filled with a melancholic rage, angrily fires the crossbow she has only now freed from her skirts into a nearby wall in anger, letting loose a maddened scream. She seems close to tears, but rebuffs Eli’s attempts to console her, showing a hardness that belies her age. Snow begins interrogating their prisoner then, who she managed to get the felling blow on when he tried to escape to the rooftops. Still unwilling to really hurt her family, just as they had been unwilling to harm her, she ended up leaving his fate to the others after a brief conversation made it clear the assassin felt no responsibility for his attempt on the child’s life, and had no information on the contractor . . . or at least none he would give. Noticing that time was running short to make it to that next meeting of the rebel faction, Eli let the man free.

Alice stepped forward then, although Snow testily told her to shut up when the girl took too much of a commanding tone. Alice then questioned what exactly their plan was, going into the meeting half-cocked, and suggested that if Snow thinks she’s so useless than she’ll infiltrate the meeting herself. Eli decided that it was too dangerous for the girl, and elected Snow to go instead. Alice reluctantly agreed, upset at failing to be of use, and told the group they could consider themselves hired, and they would receive compensation for their efforts in protecting her. She’s up front about it; the attacks wont cease, but she knows who wants her dead, although she wishes to keep that fact to herself for now. And when the time is right, she’ll need their help with one vital task. . . and after that she’ll give them full access to her family’s wealth.

They then began going over their options, Eli and Ephraim wondering if hiring Snow’s family would be an option. They eventually decided against it, on the grounds that Captain Trenton would never stand for working with a family of assassins; he wouldn’t even accept Snow, who had washed her hands of them. They gathered themselves as the sun began to set, and elsewhere the first arrivals began trickling in for the rebel meeting as they set out to their destination, Alice in tow. The plan: let Snow infiltrate, while Jun Xi, Ephraim and Eli wait outside for signs of trouble, avoiding contact and only gathering information unless the matter is pressed.

We had to break there for the night, but all in all the session went well. Alice is a very important NPC who, unless she gets killed or something, will be around for the next ten or so levels, and the party really formed strong opinions about her. Jun Xi’s player went as far as to sketch an image of her from my description at their first meeting, which proved helpful. The players were also a lot more active; there was a lot of roleplay, especially from normally quiet players like Eli’s. The intra-party conversations were also great, as they developed the relationships between them. Ephraim in particularly is kind of an odd man out now, as his loyalty no longer lies in the same place as the rest of the group.

It should be interesting to see what happens from here, especially when the Queensguard arrive. . . which while not next session, should be the following day in game-time. I have high hopes for all my players, and can’t wait to see how they handle the meeting, which is a double whammy of an rp and action climax for this adventure. And as for the following day. . . well, that’s when things will really go to shit, as if they weren’t bad enough already. Multiple factions in play, martial law failing, and the PCs will have to decide which threats they want to deal with. I can’t wait to get there, as shortly after that is when I plan to finally return their powers to them, after probably 7 sessions or more now of none of 4th Edition’s usual trappings.

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Descent into Chaos V
As the City Burns and Crumbles

We had our follow-up session today, although our newest player was unable to make it leaving us short one Ephraim. It went well enough, with a few details of the big Heroic→Epic tier plot being introduced, and several PC-specific encounters.

Following the group’s scuffle with the Dula brothers from the previous session, Ephraim immediately ran out ahead of them to track down the source of the smoke and fire coming from the Government District while Eli, Snow and Sed discussed their game plan. After a quick re-interrogation of their prisoner, the impersonator of Sed’s old friend and recent enemy Torval, they set out after Ephraim to investigate the source of the trouble.

They arrived to find the Government District aflame, most of the damage stemming from a blaze in the Parliamentary Hall. Out front, a handful of armed civilians, all carrying rather expensive, well-crafted weapons, were shouting threats and cutting down anyone who refused to obey and stepped too close to the Hall’s entrance. With bodies already scattered at their feet, the PCs still tried to talk them down. . . without much success. They fought their way through the entrance and lobby, where they found and rescued a wounded Ephraim before continuing onward.

By the time they reached the Parliament, the sprawling chamber looked like a portrait of some personal hell. The flames racing up walls and dancing in the beams of the ceiling, smoke clouding vision and filling lungs, and corpses scattered across the seats and stairs of the chamber cast a grim scene, and as they entered they found two more men threatening the last two survivors. Alex Iroe, governor of Danton, was just barely managing to defend himself with a dueling cane from the spear-thrusts of his black-clad attacker as another politician hid behind him, and as the PCs charged onto the scene they quickly recognized his assailant: Joseph, Snow’s cousin.

Leaving the two surviving politicians to cower in the corner, Joseph re-introduced himself with his trademark flourish, warning his cousin to leave him to the family’s business and not to get involved. He’d divulged the information on Torval earlier as a mercy, to keep them away, but apparently that hadn’t distracted them for long enough. Snow took umbrage at this, condemning Joseph for his actions, but still seemed reluctant to actually fight a member of the family.

Instead Sed took the lead, charging down the steps and right into a net thrown by Joseph. The assassin showed no sign of following his attack up, however, giving repeated warnings even as Eli charge down the stairs to engage him. They danced round each other for a moment, Joseph displaying the skills he’d developed in a lifetime spent training for precisely this purpose, until another assassin emerged from amongst the armed civilians working with him and struck Eli from behind.

With an archer killing the wounded politician and injuring the governor in the back of the room, and the fires getting worse, Snow and Sed quickly decided to sound a retreat, much to Alex Iroe’s dismay; he’d been the one to deputize Sed and Eli, after all, and now they were going to abandon him. Joseph acquiesced, and when the other non-family assassin decided to ignore his orders and continue the assault, Joseph killed him with one of his nets before turning to stab the archer in the back. He described it as “removing the witnesses”. Distraught at what happened, and secretly hoping that Snow and Sed would come back and stand with him, Eli stayed to see the result of the decision they’d made, and watch as Joseph finally struck down the fleeing governor of Danton.

As they retreated, leaving Joseph alone in the hall, an earthquake rocked the city. The building, already weakened by fire, collapsed inward, and Joseph disappeared in the rubble and dust as the party fled into the street. By now the fighting seemed to have calmed down, although the militia and citizens were still fighting the flames and reacting to the sudden quake. Seeing a cloud of dust originating from the North side of the city, Eli went to investigate as Sed and Snow took Ephraim back to their lodgings to recover.

Sed and Snow ended up running into Ricky, who they briefly conversed with about the quake. He seemed split on the issue; it seemed localized, like something someone with a Talent might be able to do, but the scale of it was way off; even if the Talents were still around, no one could pull of something that devastating. They also asked about the mysterious Wildman imprisoned in the Gaol, whose foreign powers Sed had shown some interest in before. Unfortunately, Ricky didn’t know much, other than that the man’s door hasn’t been opened but once since the disappearance, and that his powers are most certainly still in effect as he was able to crush a guard’s skull by casually grabbing his face and squeezing.

Eli meanwhile investigated the dust cloud, and the epicenter of the quake. He found the destruction there on a whole other level; an entire city block completely leveled, with no stone left standing within the area. Cracks as far down as the sewer system bisected the streets, and cowering and grieving families were clustered around the wreckage. A brief investigation led him to a rumor about a green-cloaked man, bearing the symbol of the architect’s guild, who had placed a hand on a building in the center of the destroyed district and seemingly caused the massive quake. Little other information was available.

Eli met back with the others, and together they went to investigate the Wildman. They went to the Gaol, using Eli and Sed’s positions as guards to get in, and were taken to the Wildman’s room and allowed to speak through the food slit while under guard. At first, the dangerous man the guards described as nearly mute seemed uninterested in conversation, making so little noise as to make the room seem empty, but when Eli approached his voice rose. “Heartslayer”, he called him, causing Eli to flash back to the strange boy he’d slain in the mountains and who he was convinced had somehow led to him causing the Disappearance of the Leylines. He quickly convinced the guards and party members to step back and allow him privacy, and the Wildman suddenly seemed quick to talk.

He said Eli, or “Heartslayer”, had freed “Worldbreaker” from the “Worldprison”, and that only “Lifebringer” could cage him again. When Eli mentioned the boy, the Wildman called him the “Key”, and said that its destruction had caused the five strands of Lifebringer’s power to shatter. He said that even now, Eli’s kind were using Lifebringer’s power to destroy themselves, oblivious to the threat that was coming, and that the Wildmen would soon be crush the southern peoples underfoot in order to prevent disaster. He then acknowledged Eli’s oblivious nature in all of this, and gave him the mercy of commanding him to flee into the seas, where Worldbreaker and the Wildmen can’t find him. For they would all be looking, himself included, and for his sins he would be killed in a most spectacular manner.

Eli kept most of this to himself, telling the group as little as possible as he kept the secret of his “sins” to himself. They went back to their lodgings, where Ricky is now also staying, to rest, and that’s where the session ended.

All in all, things are going well so far. Eli’s player seems to be trying to really keep a friendship between his PC and the NPC Llewyn, while Sed’s player wants to keep Ricky around as an unofficial member of the party. I think my nasally Brooklyn accent won him over or something. The climax between Snow and Joseph went off beautifully, although Snow’s refusal to fight him, even at the cost of the entire city government, will come back to haunt her me thinks. It probably would’ve gone so much differently if Jun Xi were there though. Ever notice how every time Jun Xi is absent, the party causes or allows something awful to happen?

Two weeks from now, we’ll be meeting again, and hopefully Jun Xi and Ephraim will both be back. Gandrake seems permanently out of the equation though, and I’m unsure about our other player, the one who originally ran Tyranis back at the beginning of all this. More to come, as always; our bi-weekly schedule on this game seems fairly solid now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Cheers!

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Descent Into Chaos IV
Shades of the Past

Last Saturday marked the triumphant return of Leylines, and DnD for that matter, to the lives of my friends and I. Unfortunately, the timing has robbed us of a few players; two to family gatherings, and one to WoW: Cataclysm. We’ve filled the gap with a new player who’s brand new to DnD, with only the short zombie one-shot I ran a couple weeks ago under his belt. He seems to have taken to it pretty strongly though, and had a lot of fun. He played the role of Ephraim, whose name still sadly reminds me of the Family Guy joke “Efram the Retarded Rabbit”.

This time around, I did a time skip a few days in the future. Martial law has been declared, and Jun Xi, Sed and Eli have all been deputized. Things in the city are still tense, but stable for the moment. Having the militia actively patrolling the streets and enforcing curfew has stemmed violent dissent and sent local crime organizations scurrying underground, although people aren’t happy about it. Meanwhile, the failure of the runes is causing widespread damage, the worst of which comes from the city’s restaurants and larders. Without runes to preserve them most of the city’s food is beginning to spoil. What’s worse, in the wake of the declaration of martial law most of the merchants are preparing to take their wares North to another city and try their luck elsewhere, which would cripple the city’s food supply. The only good news has been of the army spotted to the West; they’ve camped in the mountains, and have shown no signs of moving on from there.

The scene opened with a quick cutscene where an unnamed man pulled himself up from the refuse pile he’d been left in, cradling his broken arm. With a resolute mind seething with anger, he sought out the only people vicious and dedicated enough to carry out his revenge; Gandrake and Sed.

We then segued to the luxury barracks that Alex Iroe, the governor of Danton, supplied our heroes. Lieutenant Llewyn, the pro-vigilante member of the militia that helped Eli surprise and murder Petran Dula, is introducing the group to their new member; Ephraim. A member of the Queensguard who had been dispatched to the embassy as a representative of the Queen’s interests, he is now the only member of the embassy’s guard that hasn’t fled back home in the wake of this magical apocalypse. Unwilling to stand by, he offered his help, and Captain Trenton was quick to accept and assign him to this newly formed freelance branch of the militia.

A brief set of introductions went around the room, but before long they were interrupted by a knock at the door and found former information broker Ricky cradling his broken arm outside. When last they saw him he’d lured Gandrake into a trap, and told Sed he might have information on the Highborn man he was looking for. . . and now he’s following up on the latter of those issues. Apparently the Highborn, Torval, had beaten Ricky for information, then left him for dead in one of the fresh midden heaps that have started piling up around the city since the running water stopped. He told them Torval has been throwing a lot of money around the slums, seeking out disreputable types for something, and Ricky gave the group a list of contacts to speak with before going to get his arm checked.

I split it up after that into 10 locations across a map of the district. Each location had different NPCs, with different information, and the three taverns also had unrelated rumors that correlated to other events in the city. I gave them six hours to search, and since they stayed in a group, this allowed them to thoroughly search six locations. Ephraim quickly proved himself the group’s conscience in Jun Xi’s absence, talking them out of taking extreme action and even getting Sed to open up when their questions about this “Torval” threatened to boil over.

The story is that when he was younger, Sed and Torval were part of an adventuring group in the faraway country of Eldin, along with two others. One of those two was Sed’s fiance, but when they discovered an artifact and Torval got to it first, he killed the other two and wounded Sed before fleeing with it into the night. Sed spent the next few years of his life chasing him across the continent, and that chase has led him here.

Meanwhile, Eli and Snow proved very temperamental, often being held back by Ephraim from being too violent with those they spoke with. Eli seems changed after the torture inflicted on him by Petran Dula, thoughts of redemption drowned out by alcohol and regret. Snow, on the other hand, is just kind of a bitch.

After six hours, they’d found out several things. A man named Frederick Gramm was rousing a following among the dissenting populace, local syndicate Evard’s Dogs seems to be biding its time for something, and Torval, the man they were chasing, had been trying to hire mercenaries for protection and assassins to go after Sed. They still didn’t know where he was, though, and on their way to a seventh location they were attacked by the Redarms once again. Their leader, in his trademark Brooklyn accent, provoked the group, pressuring them into taking up a defensive position in an alley However then he got unceremoniously critted and knocked unconscious by an attack of opportunity by Eli. His crew fled, and they started interrogating him. . . only to find that he really is what he seems. A useless street punk with a chip on his shoulder, trying to prove that he’s their equal. And he doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job.

Joseph, Snow’s cousin, then came down from the rooftop where he’d been watching the fight. He introduced himself with another flourish, complimenting his cousin in flowery language as he gave them the information on Torval, and a warning that the family had been hired to take his case. Although “other business” will keep them from enacting the contract immediately, the threat remains, so before leaving to see to “urgent business” he implored them to hurry to stop the contract from coming to fruition.

The PC’s went to Torval’s apartment, and Eli set off the makeshift alarm the paranoid highborn had placed on his door. This started off a frantic skill challenge chase across the city. Ephraim quickly got all his failures by trying, and failing, to look for a bike for several turns. Meanwhile, Snow fell behind after falling from a zipline, while Sed and Eli doggedly gave pursuit. They managed to eventually corner Torval when he tried to barricade a door, inciting Sed to smash the door off its hinges with a natural 20 and trap the man beneath it. Only one problem. The man wasn’t Torval at all.

A quick interrogation later, the PCs found that the man here was named Bremen; his conflicting nature and a few hints of that name sprinkled liberally earlier on had all foreshadowed it beforehand during the rumor gathering phase. Torval had hired him, giving him a large sum of money and his own clothing after commanding him to lead Sed across the country. He was supposed to have caught a boat home, received his final payment and left the mess on Torval’s hands back in Eldin, but when he got to town no one was sailing because of the Disappearance. So instead he tried using what money he had left to kill Sed before Sed could kill him; he’d been told the opposite of Sed’s story, that Torval was the victim and Sed the monster, and was notably fearful when they interrogated him.

This revelation had little time to settle in before another distraction struck the group. Three men dressed in expensive suits strutted into their midst, announcing themselves as the Dula brothers, lieutenants in Evard’s Dogs; Tony, the eldest, Gio, the youngest and smallest, and Byron, a hulking brute of a man. “Rail Tracer” Eli had killed their brother, and although they were under orders not to cause a scene now, meaning no bodies, they want to take out a bit of their anger. Rushing forward, the trio engaged our heroes in a skill challenge fight, using Acrobatics, Athletics and Endurance checks as fuel for attacks.

Eli got battered unconscious with a quick pair of defensive failures as Byron drove him into the ground and head-butted him unconscious. Tony meanwhile strode forward, holding off Ephraim, Sed and Snow while Gio flitted back and forth, weakening the party. In the end, Snow proved the most fit of the group as she fought Tony to a standstill after taking an early wound, until she retreated to an alley and the Dulas decides not to give chase. Claiming they couldn’t afford to be seen and connected with what was happening that night, Tony drew his brothers back and left, the fight between him and Snow undecided.

And behind them, as they disappeared into a side alley, plumes of smoke rose above the government district. . .

All in all, a good session. Although I’d planned for the full adventure to take them to the climax at the Parliamentary Hall, we just ended up having to end early after spending a lot of time rping during the investigation parts. Not that I’m complaining. Our schedule is delayed by the holiday, but I’m hoping to get them together sometime next week to finish the adventure and get them ready for Jun Xi and Gandrake’s returns. Honestly though, I just really want to play through this next part. It’ll see the grudging familial relationship I’ve nurtured between Joseph and Snow reach a deadly climax, and mark the next step in the city’s collapse. . . although the PCs have a chance of preventing that depending on how fast they act. We’ll see how well they manage next time.

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Descent Into Chaos III
Rumors and Riots

Before our depression-break, the entire structure of the coastal metropolis of Danton had collapsed; everything magical had stopped functioning in a city that relied upon it to approach something close to the comforts of our own modern age. It was a catastrophic equivalent to all technology permanently failing across the width and breadth of our own world. Things got tense, and the PCs took this time to split up and investigate exactly what was happening in the city.

Jun Xi and Snow went to market to purchase supplies, and encountered the new character of the returning player of Tyranis, a monk by the name of. . . well, honestly, I can’t remember any more. This new character brought news of a foreign army approaching through the mountains, however, and joined with Jun Xi and Snow when they were accosted by a street gang known as the Redarms in an attempted mugging.

Meanwhile Eli, Sed and Gandrake went in search of Ricky, the slimy informant that had tried to sell Gandrake out to the syndicate and had been less than forthcoming with Sed. They both had things to do in town, old grudges to settle, and they needed information. Unfortunately they failed, although they did pick up quite a few rumors during their long search. A man in a tattered green robes still wielding magic, a wildman of immense strength being held in a local prison, and rumors of the mystical “rail tracer” that had scattered the remains of Evard’s Dogs boss Petran Dula across a mile of earthcarriage track. . . the last being a Baccano! reference that developed into a nickname for Eli, who’d done the deed in the previous session.

The two groups reunited outside the militia’s headquarters for a meeting with Captain Trenton, but found their approach blocked by the seething masses of worried citizenry. As they waited, a man brought himself above the crowd and began delivering a speech most definitely intended to start a riot. At first the two groups, still not united, ignored the danger, scoring four of five automatic failures on the skill challenge. At the last moment, Eli stood above the crowd and started a debate. Things quickly got heated, as one by one new complications entered the challenge.

First Snow was identified, and her ties to her family were used to discredit them; every round she failed to hide would give a large penalty on checks. Then the guards tried to get involved, their presence putting the people on edge and giving penalties on checks if members of the party couldn’t talk them into leaving. They blew through their action points, scored 9 successes in a row, and finally came upon that final roll. Snow failed to hide. Sed failed to dissuade the guards. And the rest of the party failed “Aid Another” rolls. It literally came down to Eli’s Diplomacy bonus alone versus the entire list of penalties accrued against them, and the table fell silent as his player let that d20 fall. . .

He rolled a 2.

The group was immediately swarmed by the mob, the most dangerous enemy they’ve faced to date. Double damage makes a swarm attack very, very deadly, but that’s just what a mob should be. With characters falling unconscious all over the place, several NPC guards dying, and a very near total defeat, the PCs finally managed to disperse two of the three mobs, and fled to lick their wounds while the guards finished the third. As for the man who’d started it all. . . well, his podium stood empty, and of him there was no sign. And the session ended there.

Reflecting back, the skill challenge at the end made a great climax. It was easily my best work yet in that field; every 3 successes, I threw in a new challenge that would require extra actions from the PCs, robbing them of Aid Another bonuses and adding the potential for higher DCs from penalties on these side checks. Snow’s flight, the guard’s entrance, and the activity of hidden agents seeding the crowd ended up splintering the group through the challenge, and what was a breeze on the first check became a real trial by the end. The PCs all fondly remember how the tension built, although in the end they only failed because they entered the challenge so late. Of course that was with the use of all their action points, which I let them use to re-roll checks or take actions in both the main roll and side event. That certainly hurt them when it came to the big throw-down at the end.

To avoid becoming too verbose, I’ll end this post here. Our most recent session picked up a few days after the riot, after Captain Trenton and his militia had declared martial law with permission of the city parliament. In conjunction with Alex Iroe, the governor of Danton, Jun Xi, Eli and Sed were deputized by the militia and given both wages and lodging. Snow and Gandrake’s position was less official, although they were given a share as well. And I’ll continue with that some time tomorrow.

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Descent Into Chaos II
Going off the rails on a crazy train.

So we resumed our session yesterday, and ended up having another game that was broken up with a lot of PCs in a lot of different locations.

Gandrake and Snow were apprehended by the Militia, while Jun Xi and Sed waited for them to finish interrogating the captives to discuss the details on rewards and such. Captain Trenton tried to flip Snow and get her to stand as a witness against her family’s assassinations, but she proved uncooperative. In fact she seemed outright offended that they assumed that a blood relation meant she must be involved in their business as well. Nearby, Gandrake was let off with a simple warning; the Captain was just worried that the trouble he’s been stirring up may hurt more than just him if it blows up in his face.

Meanwhile, that was exactly what was happening. Eli had gone back to the inn to change into his new clothes, but after boarding one of the earthcarriages for transport back he was ambushed by Petran Dula, the man they’d fought with that morning. Dula, once again, tried to spar hand to hand before calling his thugs in, but Eli changed the game by pulling free his spear. Dula responded in kind by drawing a rapier, and handily beat Eli into submission in a skill challenge before knocking him unconscious.

Jun Xi is the one who got the message; Petran paid a pair of orhpans to hurl Eli’s spear at the Militia’s headquarters, which put it right inside the lobby where Jun Xi and Sed were waiting. The attached note told them to bring no more than three people, and “someone to trade”, to the Old Town earthcarriage platform at dusk. They brought the matter to Captain Trenton’s attention, and he agreed to help. He’d station his men around the station while the meeting was taking place, and since Gandrake wanted to get back at Petran, he agreed to be their bargaining chip. That still only filled 3 of their 4 available slots, however, so they requested the Captain to send one of his men as well. Lieutenant Llewyn was only too happy to oblige.

As the others got ready, Eli was brutally tortured by Petran Dula for information on Gandrake that he just didn’t have. Not that Eli was willing to talk anyway, and ended up causing himself more harm by keeping up a resistant attitude through the process. Using a whip, a hot iron poker and good old fashioned beating, Petran left him with scars that will be with him for life . . . but got no information out of him.

Just before the appointed meeting time, Joseph stopped by to check on Snow again. Since she was unable to talk her way out of her cell, he provided a key for her, and disguised as a guard, helped her escape her confinement. She thanked him, even if she still doesn’t trust him, and left to sneak into the meeting with the others.

Everyone but Snow, who hid on the caboose without anyone’s knowledge, boarded the appointed earthcarriage at dusk. The carriage left the station and Petran seemed to be holding up his end of the bargain, but part way through the trade Gandrake stopped all pretenses by breaking his false bonds. This started off a frantic combat that nearly killed Gandrake right off the bat. Petran had four men in the cabin with him firing crossbows into Gandrake’s midsection, and two more with spears on the roof who were thrusting through the ceiling at the party. While the melee went on below, with people flipping over seats for cover and to block movement, Sed climbed up onto the roof after noticing that someone up there. It turned out to be Snow, who was trying to knock their spear-wielding assailants off the train, but he only had a second to take that in before failing several rolls and nearly falling to his death.

The group killed four of Petran’s six men before trouble hit. All the light runes, weapon runes and other magical items started malfunctioning. . . and the earthcarriage did right along with it. The boy Petran had at its helm ran into the cabin, shouting that the carriage was out of control and about to crash into the station. It was also continuing to pick up speed, and the fight was quickly postponed as everyone realized they had to work together to manually activate the brakes and get what runes were still functioning into position on essential controls. Unfortunately for the last spear wielder, he lost his balance and fell off the carriage right when everyone decided to be friends, but the group did fairly well in either case. Petran and Sed reconfigured the runes in the control cabin without difficulty, while Snow bonded with the remaining thug as they activated the brakes for the second cabin. The others failed to force the other mechanisms into place quickly enough, but on the last round of the time limit, they ended up succeeding on detaching the control cabin, which was still accelerating, and getting the passenger cars to a complete stop. . . although even as that was happening, Lieutenant Llewyn and Eli betrayed Petran, kicking him under the carriage’s wheels and nearly doing the same to the crossbowmen before Snow convinced them to take him prisoner.

All was not well, however. The control cabin went flying off its tracks at the last turn into the station, tearing through seats, structures and finally splintering into hundreds of pieces in a deafening impact with another earthcarriage. As clouds of dust billowed out over the area, all the runes across the city ceased to function as all across Danton the lights went out. Apparently, whatever was started days ago with Eli killing Hector in the Ironcrag Mountains wasn’t over yet, as now not only is magic not working, but the pre-existing magic items have failed. The entire world’s culture just came to a grinding, inescapable halt, and things will only get worse from here. . .

I decided to make the skill challenge to stop the earthcarriage the game’s finale, and it worked pretty well. Petran is dead though, even though I hoped to keep him alive for next time. Ah well. He wasn’t crucial, I just wanted to milk the whole anger of Eli’s torture thing a bit longer. My players are continuing to develop their characters as well; Eli is slowly changing from the simple idiot he was to start with, and Jun Xi is gaining some pretty entertaining quirks. He refused to try to convince Captain Trenton to let him bring Snow with them to the meeting, and when asked why, he simply said, “Because she’s a woman” as if that explained everything. XD

Gandrake’s player, on the other hand, may be trouble. . . he’s trying to model himself after Mugen from Samurai Champloo, but mainly he spends a lot of time trolling the world. When he decided to swap weapons, he decided to do it by robbing an aging smith of his final masterpiece and leaving 100 gold behind for the old man, for instance. I don’t mind him doing that overly much, because at this point he’s still got to deal with the law as well, but I’m afraid it may become disruptive later in the game. We’ll see how I end up dealing with that.

Next time: riots, angry citizens displeased with their government, and bad news from the scouts sent to investigate the Leylines. Go go magical apocalypse, phase 2!

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Descent Into Chaos I
New Arrivals, New Alliances, New Enemies

Eli and Jun Xi entered the city, speaking briefly with a guard before seeing Anne and Susie to the other survivor of Araval. They then saw Mully’s corpse to a funeral home before settling in for the night.

At the same time, new character Gandrake met with a contact he’d made after a few weeks of harassing low ranking members of local crime organizations. He’d wanted information on the bandits that had attacked his home, and hoped that this “Ricky” could provide it to him. Unfortunately, it was a trap; he’d become enough of a nuisance to have a contract made on his life, and midway through the meeting a shadow with emerald eyes erupted from the alley, trapping him in a thick, weighted net.

Another figure emerged before the assassin could finish the job, however. Another new character by the name of Snow, her own emerald eyes mirroring that of the killer before her, confronted the assassin who seemed reluctant to take on another member of the “family”. She seemed ready for a fight as she made several threats that the other man, who identified himself as “Joseph”, seemed to take very lightly. Shrugging the whole matter off, he decided instead to leave the way he’d come with a promise that their family would cancel this contract on her behalf. After freeing Gandrake, Snow and he agreed to meet the next day to consider their next move.

The following morning Eli and Jun Xi roused themselves from their slumber, choosing to head to the market before checking back with the guard they’d spoken to previously. The area was nearly deserted though; the disappearance of the Leylines had a major effect on the industrial cities, where people used their Talents for everything from modern conveniences to their very professions. Most people seem to be staying indoors, waiting for their governments to make things right or for something worse to befall them, but the pair of PCs did manage to at least gather a few supplies from those vendors that had bothered to set up shop. There was also an awkward section about oiling up Jeung Xi’s muscles and a shameless lamp oil salesman, but that’s beside the point.

They continued to the Guardhouse, where a secretary saw them up to the Captain’s office on the third floor via an earthlift. They were greeted by both Lt. Lleywn, who was the guard from the previous day, and Captain Trenton, the head of the local militia, and they all spoke briefly about the state of the city and what had happened back in the mountains. However Eli kept the bit of information that he may have had something to do with the Disappearance of the Leylines to himself. Near the end of their discussion an urgent alert came up from the secretary; both a member of a family of highly trained assassins and a high ranking lieutenant in a local criminal organization had exposed themselves on the North end of town in a street brawl, of all things. With plenty of witnesses and a public venue, the Captain, with everyone else in tow, headed out to make the necessary arrests.

Meanwhile, Snow awoke to find a visitor in her room; Joseph, her cousin, introduced himself with a flourish and a smile before trying to idly chat about trivial matters. Snow wouldn’t have any of it, and had to threaten him to get him to the point. His message was clear; the family was still waiting for her to come back to them, and had no intention of moving against her during this “rebellious phase”. As a show of good faith, he even passed on a bit of useful information. Evard’s Dogs, the group that had tried to have Gandrake killed the previous night, had sent a Lieutenant from the Dula family knocking on his door that morning. If she hurried, she might even get there in time to help. . . taking this as a threat, Snow attacked her cousin, who was forced to flee out the window and use his whip to rappel and swing ten stories down to the street below. Hurriedly, she darted down after him and headed to Gandrake’s lodgings . . .

Gandrake’s awakening was less pleasant; a mocking comment woke him from slumber, and a sharp kick to his ribs brought him to his senses. A man stood before him, cocky and headstrong, who tossed his weapon out of the room’s nearby window before challenging him to a fight. I ran this as a skill challenge with a rock-paper-scissors element. I’d randomly choose the action of the NPC, while Gandrake could choose between Athletics, Acrobatics or Endurance. Each skill countered another, and the fight was largely based on the description of attacks rather than the simple skill used to pick it. At the end of the fight, Gandrake delivered a swift kicked to the man’s head, knocking free a tooth and sending him stumbling backwards. The stranger, no longer as confident, chose that time to call in six of his armed friends, forcing the PC to flee out the window before things got a little less fair.

Recovering his weapon, Gandrake began another quick skill challenge to escape, delivering the best laugh of the night.

Gandrake:
“Okay, so as I dart through the mouth of the alley, there’s this large dog there in the middle of the path, growling at me. I jump forward, and ducking low, bring my fist up right under its chin!” * rolls a natural 20 *

Me:
“Um, okay. . . you deliver a quick and brutal blow, sending the dog flying off its feet and slamming into the wall behind it. It hits the ground hard, and lies still. I’ll count that as a success.”

Gandrake:
“Okay, so then I dart out of the alley and into the street, barreling through the crowd of people there to throw off my pursuit!” * rolls ridiculously high again *

Me:
“Okay, you only see a family of four walking leisurely along the road, and you crash into them, sending the mother and two children falling down to the ground.”

Gandrake:
“And as I run off I shout back, ‘I just killed your dog!’”

Meanwhile, the Highborn Sed was also in town, looking for information; he wanted to find his wife’s killer, and this “Ricky” seemed to be the man for the job. Shortly after the start of his meeting, however, he found it interrupted as a stranger knocked his contact over after dashing around the corner. It turned out to be Gandrake, and as Gandrake’s violent reunion with Ricky, the object of much of his aggression, went on, a big mess of an encounter built up as literally everyone appeared on the scene. Eli and Jun Xi came with the Militia, Petran Dula with his thugs, even Snow snuck around from behind. And with no one knowing who any of the others really were, the fight began.

In the end, Ricky escaped Sed and Gandrake, Petran Dula and most of his thugs escaped pretty much everyone else, Snow was nearly killed when her ambush turned sour and Eli managed to take a single captive alive. But Captain Trenton arrested not just the thug but Snow as well, and eventually took Gandrake in for questioning too when he introduced himself to the local authorities by saying, “Hi, I’m the guy that’s been causing trouble around town for the past week! * smile *”. We broke there for the night, with everyone reconvening with the Militia when we pick up the game again next.

Overall, things went pretty well, although we had to jump around a lot more than usual with so many scattered segments of the as-of-yet unformed party to address. Now everything’s been drawn into a single storyline though, thankfully, so the next few sessions should go pretty well. I really think I’m going make combat a rarity though, in the upcoming sessions. My players have been saying lately how much they love skill challenges, and frankly, I have to agree; with the core rules tweaked just a bit, skill challenges give more gratification in less time than combat.

Meanwhile, my new combat rules seem to be working as well. Half hp for human enemies and doubling all damage those enemies do makes for fast and dangerous combat, even without powers to help out. It’s working, even if it was just an experiment.

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Without a Trace Epilogue
The Long Journey Home

So we’ve finally resumed a decent schedule over the past couple weeks, and played out the first adventure in the next section of our campaign. Felt good to get going on this again, I have to say, and all my players seem really interested in exploring different aspects of my campaign setting with their character ideas.

We started the first session by resuming where we left off; everyone had passed out as intense pain drove their Bondings, Talents and Powers from their minds after their killing of the possessed boy Hector. Jun Xi awoke first, and after soothing the mother and child that had been traveling with him, went back to check on the others after sounds of a heated argument drifted up to his ears.

He found Warrik and Tarm facing off against Eli and Mully. Warrik, unwilling to accept that the Council would order this, has begun to believe he destroyed the Leylines at the whims of a traitor to his nation. The web of lies they’d snared him in was slowly falling apart. It’s a sensitive issue for him, as his loyalty is fueled by guilt over the murder of his brother. He was forced to slay his sibling after he led a small uprising and then fled the country; if he believes the Council can make mistakes, he loses his justification for that action. Thus, Eli must not have been what he claimed.

Tarm on the other hand was just enraged at his powerlessness, as his family back home was reliant upon him to provide for them. His mother, with her husband’s permission, had seduced a Highborn lord in order to birth a child that would be given access to the Leylines. With the position he’s only managed to hold due to the nature of his birth and the Talent he had bestowed upon him, he was the only one in his family that could earn enough to provide for them.

The pair of conjoined skill challenges surrounding this situation had the PCs making separate checks for each of the NPCs; they got 1 check per round, and could choose who to direct it to. So they had to be careful who they focused on with Aid Another, as anyone they didn’t address in a turn accrued an automatic failure. Using Insight, they uncovered Tarm’s worries and drew them out into the argument, but they failed on Warrik’s skill challenge and were forced to flee as the young squire held Warrik back long enough for them to escape.

The group fled to the surface, and then headed back to Danton to escort Anne and Susie, the mother and daughter, to the only other survivor of the ruined town of Araval. As they camped the first night, the emaciated wolves Eli and Mully had faced before attacked. Without powers, and now that everything deals double damage to them without their talents, they still managed to put forth a strong front against the Elite Minions(2-hits). Stunts became huge for acrobatic/athletic characters, while the weaker Mully used their campfire to their advantage as he began to prey upon the wolves’ fear of the flame.

The following day, they found a discarded campsite and a corpse that indicated he had suffered the same Bonding disruption as they; only when he’d fallen unconscious, he fell into his campfire. They finally found the Merchant’s Way, the main road to Danton, after that. They followed it into the Sentinel’s Forest, but quickly found an overturned carriage with a dead guard pinned beneath. Accurately gauging the danger, Mully recognized it as the work of an Ankheg, which without Bondings they were in no position to fight. Jun Xi located where it hid beneath the earth, and the party tried to skirt around it. . . but came 5 feet too close and it sensed their footsteps.

Eli and Jun Xi held it for for a moment while Mully fled with Anne and Susie, both becoming bloodied in a single hit due to the increased damage everything has. They fled after bloodying the beast, realizing they couldn’t win a prolonged fight, and in another skill challenge managed to lose it in the woods before catching up to Mully and the women.

That night, Mully told a bit about his life story, explaining to Eli that he’d been a close friend of his grandparents during the war. After Eli’s parents had been killed by bandits, Mully had entrusted him to another who could feed and care for him before leaving. He came back and bonded him to the Leyline illegally because he knew it was what his grandparents would have wanted.

The next morning, Mully didn’t awake. He’d been using his Talent to keep himself alive into his old age, and now without it his body is failing him. I constructed a near-impossible skill challenge to develop tension as Jun Xi and Eli tried to get help for him; they needed 12 successes before Mully got 3 Endurance failures, and Mully sucked at Endurance. They could remove Mully’s failures with successively harder Heal checks, but they had to stop to do so, and Mully still had to make Endurance checks during those turns. The progressively harder difficulties eventually tipped the challenge into failure after several tense rounds.

As the player intended, Mully passed away in Eli’s arms with his final words telling the younger man to remain strong. Wanting to give his body a proper burial, Jun Xi and Eli morbidly set out again with Anne and Susie, the city of Danton now just a few hours away. . .

All in all, it was pretty cool working with one of my players to create a strong death scene for his character. He had wanted to try someone new, but wanted to have Mully leave the group in a meaningful way. So we did this! It worked really well, and now that they’ve reached Danton, we can finally start including our new players and characters. . . alongside Jun Xi and Eli, we’ll now have four others. “Snowfox” the Rogue, who left behind her family despite all her training due to her dislike of their business of assassination. Gandrake the Warden, a wanderer in search of his family’s killers. Sed, a Highborn of Eldin and former devout religious man who left his homeland in search a former friend who took from him everything he’d ever loved. And. . . Shadowfax, who has a name but no backstory as of yet. Haven’t gotten a chance to talk to the player about it yet.

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Without a Trace IV
"Heartslayer"

After catching up with the woman and child next session the party seemed to want the NPCs to deal with them, and Jeung Shi, whose player was absent, ended up escorting the pair up to the surface while the others continued on. Entering the room beyond, the group was overcome by a sense of unease as they found the rumored Hector. Supposedly the source of the aberrations, the young teenager was huddled in a ball on the floor of a massive, perfectly crafted square antechamber. Random furniture and knick-knacks from the village were scattered around him in large piles, providing elevation, cover and difficult terrain, but he seemed too busy muttering to himself about “Karos”(a religious figure) and “the voice” to pay them much mind.

Unsure if this boy was actually an enemy or not the group closed in cautiously, although a misplaced jump by Eli ended up causing him to fall into one of the debris piles when he failed the DC 10 Acrobatics check he needed to land. Warrik stayed in the rear, hoping to use his NPC Leader abilities to indirectly assist the party while he is too wounded to fill the role of a Defender. As they continued to creep closer to Hector, none of them seemed willing to be the first one to step close, and eventually Hector’s muttering began to include them as well. Saying, “I don’t want them to hurt you, Daddy. . .”, he suddenly stood erect and was overwhelmed by a whirling heat haze, which obscured his features and gave the double-image of both him, and a monstrous, fleshy monstrosity more fearsome than any of the others that had come before.

Hector was a Solo monster, or technically an Elite with a Template, that was based off the Kenku Assassin and fought alone through the early moments of the fight. As the party rapidly knocked him near to his bloodied value with their encounter powers, he changed his tactics, using his “attack and shift 4 squares” ability to hit, retreat and hide behind the piles of rubbish every round. At this point he also summoned a Fell Taint Warpwender to help out, whose daze and “swap places with target on a failed save” effects, combined with Hector’s own “slow” effects, kept the party off-balance through the majority of the fight. Once their tag-team had sufficiently separated the party, Hector himself closed back into direct melee combat, critically wounding Cletus, and bringing the surge-less Mully down to 1 hp. Ray of Enfeeblement saved his ass right there, because he would’ve been down for the count if not for the weakened status.

They Bloodied him, and brought his hp down quite a bit, forcing him to retreat once again, as the Warpwender knocked Cletus unconscious. Warrik heroically took one of Mully’s Healing Potions and charged into the center of the battle to deliver it to the unconscious Bard, who was teleported to the far side of the battle shortly afterward. As Hector did his hit-and-run hide strategy, the party refocused their attacks on the Warpwender, quickly killing it before turning back to the fleeing boy. With Tarm and a slowed Eli in hot pursuit, Eli ended up striking a final blow, going for a kill as he drove his spear through Hector’s chest.

Hector’s final words were, “No, no, Karos! He’s . . . he’s coming!”, and that proved to be a bad thing. Pain immediately blossomed along the base of everyone’s skulls, and as darkness closed in on their vision, they realized what the cause was. The Leyline, the source of strength and power they’d relied upon for their magic and abilities, was gone; they could no longer sense it. And what ramifications this might have on the world at large, the reason it came into being, and what they intend to do about it will have to wait until next time; we broke the session early as the adventure concluded.

I had the players take a vote on whether they’d prefer to jump ahead to a point where they’d have an immediate opportunity to regain their powers, or to continue through the next several sessions without their Talent skill or Class powers, forcing them to use the environment, tactics, stunts and general ingenuity in the place of their usual routine as they watched first-hand what the world would go through as a result of what just happened. Interested in the rp possibilities, they chose the second option, and so things will be quite a bit different next time around. I think we’ll mostly be running into skill challenges, but when fights do come up I’ll have to ensure there’s interesting terrain, roleplaying options such as turning one enemy against the others, and other such things. I’ll probably also skew the hp and damage of enemies, halving the former and doubling the latter, to reaffirm the sense of powerlessness everyone is going through. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes, and I’ll report it as soon as I know.

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Without a Trace III
In which great beasts are killed, and gravity itself defies our heroes.

Did I mention that Mully was also short for “Sir Mullitus Longinus”, and he sports a gray hairstyle to match? It’s, um, yeah. XD I worked it out with him that I’ll roll a d100 at random occasions, and if I hit a 3% threshold, he’ll fall asleep. Other than that, he’s free to use it for comic effect as much as he wants. Or just whenever he wants to avoid dangerous questions, such as how he keeps letting slip “It’s a good thing you’re so useful, now we wont have to kill you!” to Warrik, the guy they lied to to convince to help them. I’m thinking their temporary alliance wont last long. . . but I really hope the teabagging joke lasts until then. Details later.


Well, we wrapped up the first adventure yesterday. Everyone seems pretty happy with the current state of the game, although the two total newbies seem anxious to try out different character builds if they can get the chance to. Being new to the system and all, they seem to want to try out all of their options at present time.

As for the sessions themselves, we picked up where we left off, and the group charged onwards as the creature’s tentacles continued breaking through the walls in pursuit of them. Pushing forward, they managed to flush out the core, which was a large, worm-like head that split open to reveal hundreds of small, tongue-like tentacles within its maw. It was a solo creature, but it was also entirely alone and an equal level challenge, so they managed to blast through it without too much trouble with the help of a couple dailies. By the fight’s end though, Mully and Warrik were both low and health and out of healing surges, but without really knowing what it was, they managed to use some of the Creation magic that spawned the aberrant to restore lost healing surges and help themselves back up a bit.

As they helped Warrik up, Mully, who seems to enjoy constantly bantering with the NPCs, mentioned that they were just about to teabag him. Warrik, being somewhat oblivious to slang, asked what teabagging was, and Mully quickly tried to cover by explaining that teabagging was something friends did back in his homeland. With a big smile on his face, Warrik clasped his hand and said, “When all this is over, we’ll have to teabag together then, friend!” Much laughter ensued. XD

Jeung Shi, who had managed to tunnel his way out of the cave-in with his war pick, reconnected with them at this point after a bit of trepidation and confusion that Cletus took far too long to step forward and reconcile. Next was a prolonged roleplaying section that served to introduce the resident Korean Warden to the new party members, as well as the NPCs. Jeung Shi took a particular interest in young Tarm, the squire, as he tried to convince the boy that he should stay back out of danger and leave the fighting to his elders. This drew out a bit of the squire’s backstory, as he hotly countered that he can’t afford to. His mother willingly slept with a lord in order to have him, a bastard son, to help support the family with the rights and privileges only such children born to a peasant can get. He has to do what he’s doing now, because his mother and Lowborn siblings are relying on him. Still unhappy with having the boy fight, but not seeing an alternative, Jeung Shi let the matter drop.

Of Tyranis, there was still no sign; Jeung Shi’s last sight of him had been of him trying to protect himself with a dome of ice as the rocks fell down from overhead. So they pressed onwards, and eventually found a rather unnatural room waiting for them. A 100 foot long, 30 foot diameter perfect cylinder, it had small, blue tentacles writhing against its walls. Within, a child sat crying at the far side, and a woman floated weightlessly as she was batted back and forth by several aberrant monstrosities.

The encounter was pretty interesting. There was no gravity in the room once they stepped off the platform, and it required a DC 10 Acrobatics check to allow you to move as you wished in three dimensions. Failure allowed a saving throw, and failure on that caused you to fly a random number of squares in a random direction. Contact with a wall dealt 1d6 psychic damage to both PCs and enemies alike, and all attacks had “Push 1” added onto them on a hit.

After a few bad rolls, Warrik and Jeung Shi took the worst of it by slamming themselves into walls on failed checks, but they also managed to halve the time of the encounter by pressing their enemies into them as well. Remembering the discarded dolls from the first session, Jeung Shi bought the woman time to flee to her child, which the woman then took into the next room as she fled the area. We broke for the day with Warrik at 9 hp and out of surges, Mully at 15 hp and out of surges, and the rest of the party low on resources but at full hp.

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Without a Trace I
The Happening in The Village of The Lady in the Water

Well, I’ve well and truly managed to get my DnD game off the ground, and have two sessions of the new campaign under my belt. I ended up using my “Leylines” campaign setting; a semi-modern world in which people are bonded to physical channels of arcane power and given a measure of magical ability. A lot of modern concepts, from indoor plumbing to mass transit, are available, but not for long; the entire campaign idea is based off the fact that early into the campaign the Leylines will lose their power, causing a governmental collapse in the country they’re located in. From there on, the campaign will be about what they decide to do with their strength after recovering their powers, as well as unraveling the mystery surrounding this world-changing event.

Overall, we have a group of six; five players and myself as the DM. Two of the players have played 4th Edition with me before, but neither are very familiar with the rules. The other three are all new to the 4th Edition rule set, two of them being new to pen-and-paper roleplaying games altogether. In the two sessions we’ve played, however, I’ve only managed to get four of us together at any one time; we need to work on confirming a schedule further in advance for now on in order to ensure we don’t have to break up the party any more than necessary.

As for the sessions themselves, our first one began with one character in particular, Tyranis, a musclebound traveler of mysterious origin who, seeking favor with local government, ended up accepting a task from the local militia. A small mountain village, isolated from surrounding territories and with a total population of under 100, hasn’t been heard from in over two weeks, despite their reliance on trade with the surrounding territories to support themselves. Men had already been dispatched, but as of yet none had returned, and they needed someone to go and check up on them. I had taken a somewhat firmer role than usual in getting the story started this way, which I’m generally not a fan of, but since so many of our players were new I wanted a scenario that would give them time to establish their characters and grow used to the system before I really gave them total control over their character’s role in the world.

Tyranis gathered supplies for the trip, and as he exited the city, he ran into the next PC at the town gate. A disheveled hillbilly sporting a weaponized banjo, Cletus is a naturally intelligent man who has been held back by his heritage; he failed at an attempt to become a knight in his home country of Selenne, and then became a vagabond much like Tyranis himself. He didn’t inform Tyranis of any of this, however, as he was far too busy being physically thrown out of the town by the militia; he traveled East in order to see the ocean, as he’d never been able to try swimming before, and ended up diving into a local water reservoir, which the guards didn’t care for terrible much. As they shared the road, Tyranis and Cletus talked briefly about who they were and what their destinations were, before Cletus offered his assistance in the task at hand.

Despite all the worry, the pair actually managed to reach the village proper without trouble, but found the streets deserted and another stranger at its gate. Jeung-Shi, a knight of Selenne much like Cletus had once hoped to be, had set out in order to try and bring peace and justice to other areas of the world when he had left his home country. Hearing rumors of the village, he’d come here to investigate, but a sense of unease had overwhelmed him at the town gate, halting his progress as he began trying to puzzle out why no one was walking the village streets. Tyranis and Cletus introduced themselves, but the real conversation started when Tyranis and Jeung-Shi, who were played by a pair of best friends, began developing an inside joke about their amazingly impressive muscles. It would later grow out of proportion as they began describing missed attacks against them as them flexing the attacks away, much like Tomitake himself, but Cletus snapped them from their interlude with an awkwardly improvised song sung by the actual player.

The trio then entered the village, finding a lot of evidence of violence but no actual corpses or people to speak of. They ended up investigating and exploring a lot more than I’d expected, but as I created scenarios of what had happened in each individual house and presented the evidence of it to them on the fly, it made for a great build-up of what was to come later. Tyranis suggested zombies may have been the problem, and after finding a second story window that had been broken inwards, instead changed his hypothesis to zombie ninjas. Seeing the sun beginning to set, however, they began to grow worried and ended up holing up in one of the abandoned houses that looked as if its occupants had managed to flee from when whatever happened had started. Tyranis and Cletus revealed their unique Talents, the magical ability granted to them by the Leylines, as being cryomancy and hydro manipulation respectively, as they teamed up to freeze the doors shut and create layers of ice outside that might crack and alert them to anyone approaching the building.

Jeung-Shi was especially troubled by a discarded pile of children’s dolls in the corner of the room as they settled down to rest, and eventually it was decided that Tyranis would take the first 4-hour watch. It only took two hours for signs of trouble to appear, however, as a light tapping began on the window of their room. Tyranis cautiously woke the others from their slumber, and they began rapidly discussing a plan for finding out what was out there. . . but they deliberated too long, and soon the tapping ceased, only to start up again on the window of the room next door. Jeung-Shi cut a hole in a dresser they’d blocked the window with to peek through, but as they continued deliberating on what to do the window next door broke with a crash and the table they’d rested against it was thrown to the floor. The tapping, and after, a heavy slamming began hitting the door to their room then, but their fortifications proved enough to keep whatever was outside at bay. Tyranis briefly wondered why they never heard the glass cracking outside, but his answer went unanswered when eventually all noise ceased. A little scared and hesitant to leave the safety of their room, they eventually decided just to continue with their original plan and act in the morning. Unfortunately, whatever was outside their door had other plans, as human cries for help from the village’s center plaza drew their attention to the North.

Jeung-Shi, still thinking about the girl’s discarded dolls, rushed forward without pause, ruining any hope for surprise they may have had. Charging into the clearing at the village’s center, they found an overweight, middle-aged man apparently strapped to the posts of the village well. . . no, not strapped, but held, and held by a floating aberrant creature that existed as little more than a mass of writhing tentacles. Around it lay the corpses of ten other villagers, and noticing an actual threat, it dropped the man into the well and turned its attention to the party. Jeung-Shi charged forward, striking it with his war pick as he realized that the monster was only halfway in their plane of reality. A maddening cry erupted from it as he did so, and the corpses around him rose as if pulled up on a marionette’s strings, lumbering toward the party in a loping gait. The beast them immobilized Jeung-Shi with a touch and swung around to get closer to the other members of the party as the zombies surrounded the hapless Warden. Cletus and Tyranis became too busy defending themselves to aid their Defender, but he proved more capable than they had imagined as he ended up striking seven of the creatures down with a single stroke. The player actually included herself in a blast, hit every last minion enemy, and rolled a natural one when she attacked herself.

Breathing gouts of fire, Tyranis incinerated the rest of the undead creatures along with their puppetmaster, thanks to the psychic assaults Cletus’ music had inflicted upon the aberration. They then retrieved the man from the well, who introduced himself as Edmund and invited them back to his house. He explained to them that he’d been hiding in his pantry for the last couple weeks, living off his food stores until he ran out that morning. He’d tried to flee under the cover of darkness, but the creature had noticed him then, and caught him as he was running across the town. Tyranis and Jeung-Shi shared their rations with him, as Cletus asked and took one of the man’s hammers, before they took the time to ask what had happened to the rest of the town. Visibly perturbed by the memory, Edmund shakily explained that it had been Hector, a local boy who never had been any problem before then, who had brought them to the village. He’d disappeared into the mountains for a day, and when he returned, dozens of those tentacle creatures had been clutching to him like kittens on a curtain. They had spread throughout the village, seemingly much to Hector’s dismay, and had killed or captured just about everyone in sight before Edmund had locked himself in his pantry in order to avoid ending up with the same fate. When pressed for information about Hector’s current location, all he could say was that he had disappeared in a series of underground caverns South of the village before he’d come back with those things. The group then stayed the night with him before leading him to the road at first light, and sending him with some gold on his way to the city for shelter.

The trio arrived at the caves and made an attempt at stealth. They were all fairly successful, and even spotted a pair of humanoids hiding in the darkness as they entered, but Tyranis blew their cover when he attacked the hanging stalactites above in order to try and clear them out, in fear that they might fall on them if they entered the room. It was metagaming, I later realized, in response to an earlier campaign when I’d had a building collapse around them, but that wasn’t the case here; the stalactites were actually meant to be a hard-to-predict hazard that the PCs could use to their advantage. In either case, when they noticed they were spotted the humanoids emerged from the shadows to reveal themselves as mutated monstrosities; villagers who had tentacled creatures attached to their heads and whose arms had changed into thing, fleshy tentacles tipped with bone-barbs. The villagers were still alive, and pleased with them for the release of death as their bodies were moved into combat position against their will. Above, another pair of monstrosities emerged, these ones small, agile tentacle masses with beak-like mouths hidden within.

Mechanically, they were fight modified Wererats and Stirges, but with the way I adapted them to psychic weaknesses and such it gave them the same feel as the other creatures. The mutants tore into the party, one of them jumping a small chasm to corner Tyranis in the back while the other worked with the “mindflayers” to pin down Cletus and Jeung-Shi up ahead. They fought in an unorganized manner, and Cletus’ player kept trying to hit things with his banjo rather than use psychic attacks that the creatures were weak to, and things got even worse when that same player tried to use the stalactites to his advantage. He aimed directly above one mutant’s head, and because I was randomly determining the size of each collapse, he ended up bringing down a huge chunk of the ceiling on everything but Tyranis and his mutant, dealing massive damage to the party. They got their act together after that, with Cletus using slides to break the “mindflayers” grapples while he focus-fired with Jeung-Shi to down the enemies around them. Tyranis killed his own mutant at around that time, and the trio were eventually able to team up and destroy the last remaining creature, a mutant who whispered thanks to them as Cletus killed it with one last surge of song.

The session ended there, as it was beginning to get late and everyone’s energy levels were dropping as the clock switched into the a.m. Overall, it went better than I expected. The improv investigation section before combat began was a lot of fun for everyone, as was the tension that it had created in the following encounters. Jeung-Shi is determined to find the little girl and bring her back alive, or punish whatever took the child’s life, while Tyranis seems to have evolved into the party’s natural leader. Cletus’ player seems to finally be getting the swing of things in the 4th Edition system as well, and had a lot of fun doing his Southern accent, playing banjo music via Youtube, and improving his bardic songs at the table. Unfortunately, of those three, only Cletus’ player would be able to make the next session along with our two missing players, but I’ll get into that later. This post is long enough already, am I right?

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