Monday, April 21, 2014

Return To Ravenloft: Act One Synopsis

Hello There, Stranger...

So it's been a really, really, really long time since I gave an update on my D&D campaign Return to Ravenloft. Like forever ago. But I am happy to report that the campaign is still running quite steadily with weekly sessions and a consistent core of dedicated players to keep things moving. That being said, some things have changed since the last update and the lack of updates here means that there is no real record of what has happened, beyond the notes that the players have been taking.

So let's recap, shall we? I'm going to do a number of synopsis posts to get everybody here up-to-date with what's been happening. After we get to the current date in-game, I'll try to stay on top of it a bit more, but let's focus on the tangible for the time being, shall we?

"Bid The Players Make Haste"

First, a quick roll call of our cast when the story began:

Marcus Kotar, Hospitaler Acolyte (Human Paladin of Bahamut 1) - Played by Kurtis
Elarial of Dorthonion, Monster Hunter (Elf Ranger 1) - Played by Kait
Murwen, The Nightingale (Elf Rogue 1) - Played by Kristi
Paelias, The Seer (Eladrin Wizard 1) - Played by Dallas
Redemption, Retired Officer (Tiefling Warlord 1) - Played by Nick

And the hook:
Marcus, an acolyte of Bahamut, was given the quest to venture forth to protect a village far to the north, Holmont Cove. This village was under constant attack from goblins and had been calling for aid for the last few months. Word finally reached the temple where Marcus was taught and he set off to gather a party to accompany him north. Marcus quickly recruited Elarial and Paelias, a hunter and fortune teller from the nearby town of Greenford, and the three made their way to the coast.
At the same time, Murwen convinced Redemption to come out of retirement to pull one last heist. They set off from Aelaria, the capital city, to the coast to catch a boat north towards the prize. On the way, the two parties encountered each other and discovered they were all on their way to Holmont Cove. The five of them decided to join forces -- safety in numbers -- and chartered a vessel to take them north.
And The Story Begins Anew

(Session One and Session Two were documented fairly well in some previous blog posts but I'll give a synopsis of the entirety of Act One, just for simplicity's sake.)

As the party arrived in Holmont Cove, aboard the sailing vessel Montula, they found the streets mostly deserted and all the shops empty. Another ship was moored in the harbour, a large vessel named The Fiery Dawn, but even it's crew was nowhere in sight. The only sight of life they found was in the smithy where the blacksmith informed them the town's guard was out in the woods raiding a goblin camp. Inquiring at the barracks and offering their services to help protect the town, the party were given cots to sleep on until the captain of the guard returned to judge their worth.

The next morning, the town guard returned in retreat, having been bested in the woods by the goblin menace. Introducing themselves to the town council, the party met the captain of the guard (Edgar Polyan), the head priestess (Lady Thera), the burgomaster (Thomas Ludensky) and his mute assistant (Katya). The party inquired as to the state of the goblins and exactly what aid the town needed; the town council gave them little bits of information but nothing truly concrete -- beyond that the population of the town was almost entirely left, having either relocated to somewhere safer or having died at the hands of the goblins.

Deciding to investigate a bit further, the party discovered strange rumours about the goblins and decided it would be best to head out into the woods to find their camp. They were also told by the blacksmith that her brother, Wilhelm, had gone missing out in the woods and were asked to find his fate.

The forest is alive with death.
Striking out into the woods, the party discovered the scene of the ambush that befell the guards and tracked it back to a nearby ruin. Searching inside, the party discovered a cave system under the ruined building and inadvertently disturbed a colony of rats. Fighting for their life, the party managed to best the hordes of rats only to discover a disturbing scene -- someone had made their home in the heart of the cave with the rats. Exploring the makeshift camp, they discovered it to be the quarters of the blacksmith's brother who had gone quite mad. When they turned to leave, Wilhelm stood before them, but had befallen a terrible fate and had contracted lycanthropy, turning him into some form of wererat.

The party convinced him to return to town under the care of Lady Thera, the head priestess of the town, until a cure could be found. Wilhelm relented and, in doing so, shared some information he had gleaned having lived out in the woods -- the goblins were unnaturally strong and did not cease, even after mortal wounds. Further, the brother had witnessed a red cloaked figure resurrect a fallen guard with magic, only to have it become a mindless zombie that wandered into the woods. Evidently, the party was dealing with some sort of necromancer, which helped explain the unnatural strength and resilience of the goblins.

Returning to town with the brother, they made a beeline to the temple and left him in the safekeeping of Lady Thera, then set into the town to further investigate. The party already had an inkling that the burgomaster and his assistant were not to be trusted and, upon return, they discovered that the assistant always wore a red cloak much like the one Wilhelm described in his tale. Being unable to gain any real proof of their involvement, the party instead focused on investigating other parts of the town -- namely, the harbour.

Having had some interaction with Captain Aillard of The Fiery Dawn earlier the day previous, the party discovered the burgomaster owned a private warehouse at the harbour, and learned that the burgomaster was receiving shipments of some kind from the nearby capital. The party decided to break into the warehouse to discover what the burgomaster was hiding. They sent Elarial and Murwen, the two nimble females, to sneak inside but Murwen failed to jump on top of the warehouse and the rest of the party was forced to make a distraction to cover her tracks.

Warehouse interior. Beware of corpses.
Inside, Elarial discovered crates upon crates filled with corpses; a spell on the crates masked the smell but, upon opening the boxes, the contents spilled forth. Hastily making a retreat, Elarial inadvertently activated a magical ward of some kind before beating a hasty retreat. Paelias, being part of the distraction on the dock, noticed the red-cloaked assistant Katya appear almost out of nothing and make a beeline to the warehouse. He observed as she went inside then returned, scanning the dock for something (or someone) before returning inside the warehouse.

Upon reconvening, Elarial shared the information with the rest of the party who decided that the burgomaster -- or, at the very least, his assistant -- was behind the evil this town had encountered. Needing proof before making any accusations, however, the party decided to track the goblins back to their source in the woods and so headed back into the Svalich Woods once again.

Tracking the goblins back to another ruined building -- this one much larger than the last -- the party first dispatched some live goblins outside the building before entering the ruin. Inside, they found grisly evidence of a terrible attack from the interior of the ruin, and a hasty retreat outside marked by the barricades on the exterior of the doorways. An interior temple held a grisly vignette of decapitated bodies laid at the feet of a statue of a god, while the heads were tossed to the side in a pile.

Inside the ruin proper, the party found further evidence of a great battle having raged in the basement. Following the trail of blood and gore, they eventually came to a room the goblins must have used as sleeping quarters only to find a horde of goblin zombies shambling about. A great battle broke out and the party managed to dispatch the zombies, but the discovery was unnerving to say the least.

The party found a single surviving goblin locked away in the very rear of the ruin; he told them in broken Common about a red-cloaked woman who gave their leader an amulet of great power. Shortly after the amulet came into his possession, he randomly attacked one of his followers, who then became infected and attacked another and so forth. The entire thing escalated until more than half the goblins had been slaughtered or eaten and the rest retreated out of the ruin into the wilderness and away. The party was able to confirm this story by finding the amulet on one of the dead goblins in the nearby sleeping quarters.

Goblins are annoying, but undead goblins? That's just unfair.
Whilst searching this ruin, the party also found a magically sealed room that once served as an office to some sort of priest. Inside, they found a book of rituals and another amulet, this one bearing the symbol of a raven. They were also attacked by living suits of armour but the raven amulet allowed Marcus to bend the constructs to his will. The book they discovered detailed rituals that pertained to a legendary order of knights known as the Ravenkind.

Returning to Holmont Cove, now with evidence, the party made a beeline for the town barracks. They explained their suspicions to the captain of the guard who agreed to accompany them as they investigated. The party went straight for the dock and entered the burgomaster's warehouse and showed Captain Polyan the dead bodies in the crates. That was plenty of evidence for the captain, who agreed to apprehend the burgomaster for questioning.

Upon leaving the warehouse, however, the party was accosted by the crew of The Fiery Dawn, all of whom were evidently in the employ of the burgomaster. A big fight broke out on the dock as the sailors, led by Captain Aillard, and it fell to the paladin Marcus to hold them back while Captain Polyan went to retrieve his troops.

The rest of the party escaped the harbour and set off to apprehend the burgomaster Ludensky and his assistant but, arriving in the town square, they watched as Lady Thera was blasted through a second-story window and fell to the cobbles below. Katya, the red-cloaked assistant, floated through the window and started blasting the party from above with beams of dark energy.

A huge battle broke out in the square: Redemption rushed to the side of the fallen Lady Thera and got her back on her feet; Murwen scaled a building only to leap off and grab the flying sorceress; Elarial skirmished around the square firing arrows into the sky; and Paelias used his magical abilities to control the battlefield. Eventually Redemption attached a rope to a crossbow bolt and fired it into Katya's leg above and, together with the party, dragged her back to earth.

Katya in all her crazed glory.
A short melee later and Katya was dispatched but began to mock the party for being "too late". She made
mention to a figure named Strahd and then started conjuring a spell under her breath. Paelias plunged his longsword into Katya's neck, silencing her for good, but with her dying breath released her stored magic in a powerful pulse of dark energy that shot off toward the dock.

Chasing the pulse as quickly as possible, the party watched from a vantage point over the harbour as the energy passed into the burgomaster's warehouse -- suddenly, Paelias detected a huge spike of necromantic energy from inside the warehouse, and the party knew that the corpses within were being resurrected en masse.

From this vantage point, the party could see the carnage that remained of the sailors, Marcus standing amidst their fallen bodies and covered in gore. It was evident that Marcus was injured but he too detected the necromantic energy from the warehouse. Sharing a knowing look with the party above the harbour, the paladin rushed headlong towards the warehouse.

Running down to the harbour proper, the party made it almost to the warehouse when divine light began to shine forth from within. Energy rushed out and stopped the party in their tracks; a split second later, the warehouse exploded with divine magic and the party was thrown about from the blast. When the dust cleared, the warehouse, the corpses and Marcus were no more. The only thing remaining in the crater was the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, sitting completely devoid of any damage whatsoever. Redemption pocketed the symbol and the party took a moment to mourn for Marcus before returning to the town square.

They reconvened with Captain Polyan and Lady Thera and went to confront the burgomaster. Instead, when they reached his office, they found only a letter and a hidden compartment that housed the remains of the burgomaster in an advanced state of decomposition. The letter they discovered detailed an agreement between Ludensky and a figure who identified themselves as "Count Strahd von Zarovich, Count of Barovia", and also seemed to suggest that the Ludensky the party had met was some kind of impostor.

Assuming the impostor was in the wind, the party decided to split up: two of the party set off to search for clues in different places while the others set off in search of the legendary nation of Barovia.

This, Too, Shall Pass

And that was the end of Act One! I skimmed over most of the details but everything from showing Captain Polyan the warehouse to the end was in the finale session for Act One. The sessions were somewhat lacklustre through the middle of the act -- some sessions dragged while others were just plain boring -- but it ended on a very high note that everybody really enjoyed, so I'd call that a win! Or, well, mostly a win. Sorta.

Sadly, because of the way the campaign ebbed and flowed, three of our group decided they weren't interested in continuing. Kurtis (who played Marcus) decided to bow out before the end of Act One, which actually inspired me to use him as the heroic sacrifice to save Holmont Cove from an undead infestation. Kait and Kristi (Elarial and Murwen, respectively) managed to stick it out until the end of Act One, wanting to see that story come to a close, but called it quits after that.

It was sad to see more than half the party bow out basically all at once and, frankly, was a bit disheartening. But it had a few good side effects: firstly, it made me much more aware of the pacing of each session and helped me gauge how quickly things should progress. In retrospect, I perhaps was a bit ambitious with the scope of this campaign and included a lot of erroneous content, at least for players new to D&D, and I definitely intend to scale back on that in the future.

The other good thing that happened is that it gave me the opportunity to bring some new, more experienced, players into the campaign. I really enjoyed playing with the three K's in my life (Kurtis, Kristi and my fianceé Kait) but there's something about having experienced players in a campaign that really helps make it come alive. Regardless, the campaign continues and things only get crazier from here!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, or had something you'd like to say, let me know with a comment below! And stay tuned for the synopsis of Act Two which should be coming in the next few days!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blog Updatitude: The Lateness

Hey everybody! Long time no blog! Hope everybody is doing well and that the "spring" has been treating them well. I use quotations because thus far spring has yet to fully arrive in Edmonton. We've gotten spits and starts of warmer weather but it has snowed the last two days here and, frankly, I'm beginning to think Mother Nature might have skipped the rest of the year altogether and just gone straight back to winter.

I apologize for the lack of updates on the blog; YouTube has devoured the time I usually spent thinking about here and, though I won't complain about how things have been going over there, it has meant that the blog has fallen by the wayside. Which is too bad, because print has a versatility that even video can't reach. But you should definitely check out my channel because it's doing awesome!

Regardless, I'm planning a few blog updates over the next week or so. I need to get back to tracking our Ravenloft campaign, because that is still going strong (though things have changed dramatically since the last update), and I should really be linking each of my YouTube videos here as well, if only for some cross-platform promotion. I've also been toying with the idea of doing some board game reviews -- if you actually read this and think it might be interesting, leave a comment to tell me so and I might take it a bit more seriously!

There's also another idea that I've been toying around with: I spend quite a deal of time world building and have a veritable plethora of worlds that I like to use for my tabletop games. Fantasy, sci-fi, and everything in between; there's a lot of stuff there and a lot of content inside each world. The one that I've grown most fond of over the years, though, is a setting I created for a Mutants & Masterminds campaign: a floating metropolis known as Eden City. I've fleshed out quite a lot of the setting, including detailed NPCs, villains, technology, politics, economy and everything else you can imagine. Because of the work I've put into it, and the positive feedback I've gotten from various players over the years, I've been thinking about developing an official sourcebook for the material. It would be a compendium of everything about Eden City, including plot hooks with various villains, and maybe even a brief outline of some campaign arcs you could run. For those of you who are into tabletop RPGs, is that something you would be interested in? Would it be worth the effort to actually put down on paper and make available to the public? Let me know if you have thoughts on the matter!

I'm happy to say that the first month of my foray into YouTube has gone quite well thus far! I am up to eight subscribers in eighteen videos (half of which are playing Sir, You Are Being Hunted) and am trying to make connections with other burgeoning YouTubers. I've talked to Mike Weem from the Weemcast, who is already quite successful (over 8,000 subscribers!). He's a really nice guy who offered me a little bit of advice, which was helpful! I have also recently found a few smaller channels: one called TheDynamicGamer87 who is run by a lady named Morgan -- she seems really nice as well and primarily seems to play Mass Effect, so what's not to like there? There's also another channel by the name of ProphetsAwaken who I found by looking for stuff about the upcoming horror game SOMA and he's a really cool guy too.

I've been struggling with ideas on how to promote my own channel thus far but I think just getting your name out there and talking with other YouTubers is the way to get it done! One thing I have definitely been struggling with is creating artwork to help brand the channel. My lovely lady Kait has been helping me on the front, designing me a new avatar/icon/thing but I need to think up an idea for my channel art (the banner above your videos on YouTube, which could double as the banner for the blog; any artists out there who might be interested in helping me with this, hit me up!), and eventually I would like to have a splash screen before my videos. But that's something quite beyond me and isn't strictly necessary. We'll see how things go, I suppose!

Anyway, I've rambled a bit too long, I'm afraid. Let's wrap this up by saying thanks to everyone for all the support they've given me. I was in kind of a bad spot, creatively, but things have picked back up and I'm happy to say that I'm doing much better now! I'll endeavour to get some more updates to the blog over the next week or two so keep an eye out for that! Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let's Play: Sir, You Are Being Hunted - Episode 1

So who remembers the last time I talked about Sir, You Are Being Hunted? Don't feel bad if you don't remember, it was a long time ago. I only mention it because, in that particular article, I told my dear readers (all... what, five of them?) that I was planning on doing a Let's Play series of me playing through Sir, You Are Being Hunted. But that article came out in July of 2013 and really showcases how lazy I have been in regards to this whole YouTube thing.

But no more! You will all be happy to know that I am finally fulfilling my promise and have released the first episode of my Let's Play for what I affectionately call SYABH. I'll include the video below:

I'm excited to continue this series; I think this game has a lot of potential for longevity. Mostly because I am absolutely atrocious at it, but also because it's a lot of fun! I already have the next two episodes lined up, with more content to come very soon.

One issue that I've come across that is not readily apparent when you first get started with recording for YouTube is what sort of style you want to convey in your videos. This mostly pertains to editing: do you want to be someone who uses lots of raw footage and tries to make it as entertaining as possible through commentary or do you add flairs of editing and chop up the video to create the most engaging videos? It was something that I had considered quite a bit leading into this endeavour but it really struck home last night as I was editing the second episode of this Let's Play.

Talking it over with my fiancé and some friends, they leaned towards the editing side of things, but I always reference back to the videos that I usually watch and most of them are actually raw footage. That being said, there are a few that are edited quite heavily and, usually, those are the ones that stick in my head for long periods of time. It's a tough balance to strike, for sure.

If you have any thoughts on that, please leave a comment below and let me know. It's still early days so I'll be toying around with a lot of things in my videos, but I'm excited to continue this journey. Thanks to all who are supporting me in this journey, and I look forward to the next time we meet. Cheers!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Loading the Next Checkpoint: Digital Version

Well, I finally did it. After years of desire and ambition and more than a bit of laziness, I've finally put a video on YouTube. How crazy is that? It's pretty damn crazy, that's how crazy.

That's it up there. It's not great -- hell, let's face it: the video is downright boring. I spend the entire time rambling on about who I am and what I'd like to do in the future, all the while fanboying about Bioware and games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. It's the equivalent of a wall of text without the academic value. But, content aside, it's what it represents that matters to me.

I've been wanting to record gameplay footage and put it on YouTube for what seems like years. Ask Kait and she'll probably tell you that I've been talking about doing this, in some fashion, since she met me. I've talked about it for so long that, more than once, I've had people physically express their incredulity that I would ever record something and upload it for public viewing. And they were right: I was lazy about it. I'm lazy about a lot of things. And it never got done. And when I actually started to try, I kept double-guessing myself and didn't get any usable material. Oh, sure, there were excuses: the commentary was lame and I stuttered a bunch; the world I generated wasn't cool enough; after a recording session, beginning to end, I discover that the footage didn't actually record. (Okay, that last one might be a bit more legitimate than the rest.)

But in the last week I buckled down and decided, to hell with it: if I really want to do this then I just need to do it. I don't need to worry about it being perfect! I just need to show everyone, including myself, that this was something I was going to do. And last week, after announcing I had usable material to put on YouTube, I got an outpouring of support from all of my friends, new and old. They all told me that, if it was something I felt strongly about, I should pursue it as much as possible.

And so we have the video above. As I say more than once in the video, I don't want to give this whole thing too much sentimentality but, honestly, I feel like it marks a big accomplishment for me, almost a turning point. I'm excited to see where this journey will lead me and I'm eager to get more footage out there. I already have some new footage of another game lined up -- this one has actual editing, I swear! -- and I'm excited to get my hands on Titanfall which is actually released tonight.

There's lots of exciting things on the horizon and I'm eager to share them with you all. Thanks again to all of my friends for all of their support into the beginning of this journey. It's been a rough start but I think things will only get better from here. (And, I promise: for as boring as the video above seems to be, the stuff on the horizon will be infinitely more entertaining.)

Cheers, everyone!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Return to Ravenloft: Interlude the Second

(This is an interlude between sessions for my gaming group who is currently playing through a Ravenloft-themed D&D campaign entitled Return to Ravenloft. Check the previous session recap to get some context!)

The Scholar sits at his desk, lamp burning low as his quill scratches furiously over the parchment before him.
Darkness has fallen on the other side of the nearby window and he knows he does not have much time left.

Finishing his letter, he folds it quickly and stuffs it into an envelope, creasing it at odd angles to fit inside. His hands tremble as he pours hot wax onto the back of the envelope, leaving spots of red spattered all across it. He presses the stamp of the Scholar into the wax, adorning the document with the seal of his persona, before standing from his desk. The book he was reading, still open to his page, falls to the ground and rests on the ornate carpet under the desk, the title of Exploring Chaos inscribed along the spine.

Grabbing his heavy robe, staff and haversack, he hides the envelope on his person and exits his study, crossing his modest home and exiting into the night. The cool air is bracing and the clouded sky above gives the Scholar no comfort as he rushes through the gates of his estate and into the city streets beyond. Forrington is a busy city at all hours, rain or shine, but even the guttersnipes and prostitutes seem to be in hiding. There is something unnatural about the chill in the air, a sense of dread that is colder than any of the breezes that come off the water past the harbour.

The Scholar rushes to the dock, hoping against hope that he can reach it in time, that his message can get through before the Seer and his newfound companions leave Holmont Cove. The notes he had taken while in that godsforsaken port town were inconclusive -- it had taken discussion with the Priestess to realize exactly what it was that was transpiring within Holmont Cove and further research through the Scholar's own books to put it all together with a horrifying clap of realization. He was late getting the warning out, he knew, but the question was whether he was too late.

He hoped he wasn't.

The Illusionist was to be waiting for him at the dock, his ship ready to carry the Scholar's message on speedy waves to Holmont Cove. Indeed, when he reaches the edge of the harbour, he sees a small swift-looking ship rocking gently in the waves and a lantern-bearing figure standing on the pier next to it. So focused is he on his task that the Scholar does not notice the distinct lack of sailors and dockworkers anywhere near this particular pier, a place that is almost always bustling with activity, night or day.

Rushing forward, his staff helping him along, the Scholar takes a moment to reflect on this momentous occasion. None of their circle have met face-to-face before; always their interactions have been through correspondence, whether mundane or magical, and titles replace all names in these messages. He knows the Illusionist by his field of expertise and his letters only, the parchment always full of small magical effects that give the page colour and imagery it would not usually have. The Illusionist was an eccentric fellow, by all accounts, but was knowledgeable and both had agreed that word must be sent post-haste in order to avert possible disaster to their compatriot the Seer.

Coming up to the Illusionist, the Scholar realizes that the mage is a fair bit smaller than he expected; from his stature, the Scholar would guess a halfling or a gnome. From his messages, he had always figured the Illusionist to be a human, like himself, but the school of illusions is one that the smaller folk seem to master more easily than the others. Approaching the figure, the Scholar waves a greeting and hurries forward. "Greetings, Illusionist. Thank you for meeting me here." His voice is hushed but urgent.

"Of course," the Illusionist replies, voice nasal and somewhat lilting, almost pleased. "Word must reach the Seer before time is too late. Do you have the letter?" His cowl hides his eyes, pulled tightly down over his head, and the black robe he wears hugs his form revealing a gaunt figure underneath.

The Scholar nods, digging through his haversack and producing it. He hesitates a moment as he begins to hand it to the Illusionist, whose hand is extended in anticipation. The Scholar looks around, at the ship and the pier itself. "Where is the crew for your ship? You can't sail this by yourself, can you?"

The Illusionist smiles, only the bottom half of his mouth illuminated by his lantern, a perfect row of teeth glistening in the firelight. "Magic is a wonderful aid, my friend. Now, please, the letter. We haven't much time."

The Scholar balks, glancing from the ship to the Illusionist and back. And, with each glance, the ship seems a little less material and a little more translucent until, finally, the Scholar realizes the illusion and the ship blinks out of perception. With a shocked expression, the robed man stares straight at the Illusionist and watches as the façade falls away. The smile becomes a grin and is immediately soured by gaps in his teeth and a rotting lip. Strips of skin seem to hang loose off his chin and even his extended hand appears gaunt, and is obviously covered in a thin layer of some form of slime. A foul stench rises off of the diminutive figure and the Scholar feels his stomach turn as he realizes the deception before him.

"Y-y-y-y-you work for von Zarovich, don't you?" the Scholar stammers out, letter still extended as he stumbles backwards. He fights the urge to turn and run, falsely knowing in his heart that only by keeping his eyes on the Illusionist will he survive.

"Well, not 'for'," the Illusionist replies, matching the Scholar step for step. "I work with Strahd, that much is true. But not 'for'. 'For' implies that he is my boss and, as much as he would like to think that is the case, I am only in it for the power I can gain from him. But I digress: come now, Master Winterburn, give me the letter and let's put this behind us."

Shocked at the use of his true identity and the reality of the situation, the Scholar turns to flee, all reason gone from his mind at the horror before him. As he turns, however, he finds himself face to face with the Illusionist again and, as a blinding ball of force smashes into his chest, a fleeting thought of admiration crosses his mind. He really is a master of illusions.

Collapsing to the pier, all breath knocked from his lungs, the Scholar gasps for breath as the Illusionist strides over and collects the letter. Stuffing the envelope into a fold of his robe, the figure kneels over the Scholar laying a hand on his chest as he turns back his hood.

Beneath is a decomposing and obviously dead yet mobile gnome, rotting skin hanging from his yellowed bones. His eyes remain intact but cloudy, with only the palest of pupils visible. Still, they seem to glow with an unnerving light and, beyond everything, the slime that seems to seep from the gnomes very pores makes for a very disturbing image. Still, the corpse speaks very amiably to the prone figure below him. "Sorry for this, old chap. But the count and I have worked very hard to get where we are and we can't let anything stand in our way. I'm sure you understand."

He moves his other slimy hand to the Scholar's brow, closes his eyes for a moment, then releases a pulse of energy into the face of the prone man. Immediately, the Scholar screams the briefest of screams before seizing, his body going rigid and his face contorting into a disturbing rictus of terror. His pulse ceases as his heart gives out, his body frozen in the pose of death from fright.

Sufficiently pleased by his work, the gnome stands to his feet and rolls the Scholar to the edge of the pier before pitching him off the end. He watches the corpse sink, the body frozen solid as stone and as heavy from the magic, and sighs heavily. "He was my favourite," he comments idly, pulling gloves over his skeletal hands and pulling up his hood once again. He turns and begins to walk away down the pier before disappearing into the darkness.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Return to Ravenloft: Act One, Session Two

The Forest is Alive...
We had our second session of Return to Ravenloft last week. It went a bit longer than the session previous -- we got closer to the expected four hours, I believe -- and we finally got into our first combat! Unfortunately, one of our players had to leave before the fight got started and the combat itself lasted a really, too-long amount of time. And not everyone did their homework and read the interlude flavour! But it was good times nonetheless.

Our Cast:
Marcus Kotar, Hospitaler Acolyte (Human Paladin of Bahamut 1) - Played by Kurtis
Elarial of Dorthonion, Monster Hunter (Elf Ranger 1) - Played by Kait
Murwen, The Nightingale (Elf Rogue 1) - Played by Kristi
Paelias, The Seer (Eladrin Wizard 1) - Played by Dallas
Redemption, Retired Officer (Tiefling Warlord 1) - Played by Nick

Session Two:
Having lunch inside the Broken Highwayman, the local tavern/inn in Holmont Cove, the party shares the information they discovered the session previous. Within the tavern, they notice the captain of the Montula, the passenger vessel that brought the party here the night previous, sitting in a corner with a number of his crew members. Rafiq Al'amit, the captain in question, seems a jovial fellow and actually comes over to the party and wishes them well.

Through conversation, Redemption discovers that Rafiq had been approached by Burgomaster Ludensky to discuss contracting the Montula to help evacuate the population of Holmont Cove. Rafiq intended to skip the meeting and depart as quickly as possible but Redemption made it very clear that the captain would perhaps regret not attending the meeting. Intimidated a bit by the older tiefling, Rafiq agrees to attend the meeting and then buys the party a round of drinks to assuage any hurt feelings.

It's at this point that the party notices another group of sailors, all of which appear to be in fine matching uniforms of blue. The man obviously in charge wears a large blue overcoat with gold inlays and a large hat with a plume sticking out of it. Rafiq identifies the man as captain Aillard Garland, the captain of the Fiery Dawn, the other large vessel in the harbour at present.

Captain Garland was once a member of the Aelarian navy, operating out of the duchy of Trent to the east, but at the end of the war with the Horn -- an island nation to the west -- the captain bought his ship from Aelar and now works for contract, whether as a mercenary or as a transport vessel. Captain Garland has a reputation of being a man of little moral standing who will take any job as long as the money is good, and Rafiq does his best not to mingle with the man.

Elarial had already discovered that the Fiery Dawn was bringing shipments to Holmont Cove from Forrington to the east and, thus, believed that Captain Garland should be investigated. Murwen agrees and goes over to speak to Captain Garland to see what he knows. Around this time, Paelias and Marcus leave the tavern to head to the church -- Paelias had asked to speak to the priestess Lady Thera earlier in the day and wanted to follow up with her.

I imagine Melora to be depicted very similar to above; riding the shell
of her icon out of the ocean.
Paelias and Marcus arrive at the church discovering a large statue to Melora, obviously the god of choice here in Holmont Cove. Speaking with Lady Thera in her office, Paelias confirms that she had felt the surge of dark power about two months prior. The power emanated to the north-east, from the direction of the forest, but she has not felt much since then. Lady Thera did make mention that the goblins being fought are much more fierce than they should be, almost relentless in their attacks. It is very disconcerting to the priestess who is busy treating diseased and wounded soldiers from the town. She blesses both Marcus and Paelias under the name of Melora and lets them on their way. On the way back to the tavern, the two men encounter the captain of the guard who asks why their party was in possession of a severed goblin arm. The three of them head back to the tavern to discuss things with the whole party.

While that conversation occurred, Murwen injected herself into a conversation with Captain Garland who began to regale her with tales of his voyages. His spiel is interrupted by Elarial spilling a drink over the captain; under the guise of helping clean, Murwen wipes at his coat with a cloth and manages to swipe a leather letter case from inside his jacket. The captain storms out in a huff, nearly colliding with Marcus as the paladin returns. The two of them have an altercation just outside the tavern that culminates with the captain slapping Marcus across the face with a glove before storming off towards the harbour.

The group reconvenes, this time with the captain of the guard at the table, who begins asking the party questions. "What's this about a severed goblin arm, and why are you asking about Wilhelm Ridskaya?" The captain relays that Wilhelm was a guard who worked under him -- a good lad, short on ability but eager to impress -- who went missing during a raid gone wrong several weeks ago. The militia was ambushed by giant rats and Wilhelm went missing, presumed dead. The captain relays the location of the ruin where the rats were encountered.

Murwen steals outside for privacy to read the letters within the case stolen from Captain Garland. Inside are manifests of cargo as well as a number of letters from the burgomaster of Holmont Cove; the letters speak of personal shipments and the most recent letter asks the captain to "place the cargo in the same warehouse as usual and speak to no one about it". Murwen puts the letter back, reenters the tavern and throws the letter case under the chair where the captain was seated.

The party discusses their next move. Elarial and Murwen seem to want to go off on their own to investigate the harbour but the rest of the party want to head into the woods to investigate these ruins and the disappearance of Wilhelm Ridskaya. The females concede and the party heads into the woods with the afternoon sun already starting to fall.

A small amount of travel later, the party discovers the clearing with the ruins and explores the surrounding area. A small lockbox is discovered in the ruin; within is a necklace of arcane power. The party debates whether they should wear it, not knowing it's power, but Redemption puts it on and immediately feels rejuvenated. Elarial tries it on next and opts to keep it, enjoying the feeling of power. Murwen remains skeptical and keeps an eye on Elarial, fearing a transformation of some kind.

Entering the ruin, the party discovers that most of the building has collapsed but a underground portion remains open. Descending into the dark, the party finds a hole from the basement into a cave system beyond. Entering the cavern, they hear a skittering sound in the distance; rats! Using magic and light, they draw the rats forth and brace for combat!

The combat raged for quite some time, the rats overwhelming many of the party members as everyone jockeys for position. Redemption takes the brunt of the attacks, unfortunately, though Marcus and Paelias also take some severe licks of their own. Hordes of rats swarm over the tiefling and the wizard, while Marcus faces off against the larger of the rats; meanwhile, Elarial and Murwen stay on the outskirts, plugging the enemies with their damage abilities as ferociously as possible.

Eventually, all of the rats are defeated, but not before Paelias is nearly knocked out, and both Redemption and Murwen are poisoned from the filth of the rats. Redemption manages to stabilize the poison but Murwen fails to resist and is brought ill from the bite she withstood. Opting to return to town to heal up before continuing further, the party consolidates and retreats from the cave system back to the safety of town. They arrive just before nightfall and take up spots in the barracks for the night.

As I mentioned above, this session held the first combat of the campaign thus far! There were a number of failings with the session, of course, but a number of successes as well:

  • Unfortunately, Kurtis (the player of Marcus, the paladin) needed to leave early -- just before the combat began, in fact! For the rest of the evening, I controlled his character, wanting to ensure the party size wasn't diminished. Luckily, I didn't need to roleplay his character as we finished that first combat and then called it a night, but that brings us to the second failing...
  • The combat went on for far too long. This will speed up as we progress, I'm sure -- most of the players at the table have never played D&D before, never mind 4E, so there was some explanation of rules and some debate as to when to use powers and so forth. But the combat went on for a long time -- so much so that we decided to end the session on that note in order to ensure not going later than we already were. This was disappointing because there was more of the cave to explore and more enemies to fight within. (I suppose I will have to scale things back moving forward and gradually increase the intensity of the combat -- even more than I would normally!)
  • I skipped over a lot of basic info that I should have shared with the newer players (like what a minion is, and so forth). I'll touch on that next session.
  • We finally had a combat! Everyone seemed to catch on fairly quickly, with a lot of the new players really appreciating the power cards I printed for them. I tried to make everything as streamlined and simple as possible and it really did work out well for how the combat turned out.
  • More intrigue! The party discovered some good portions of the mystery, has found more hooks for discovering evidence, and is well on their way to breaking it wide open!
  • More roleplaying! Marcus had a good scene where he was accosted by Captain Garland and had a moment where he was debating the merits of a Holy Strike but decided against it. He did determine that Garland was not a "good" aligned person, however, so who knows what might happen next time?
In addition to all of this, the group sans Kurtis discussed the frequency of our games and we all agreed that it would be great to do a weekly game (as opposed to our current biweekly). Our next game session is still set for the 24th of October but, at that session, we will revisit the topic and will most likely have weekly games from that point on. Which is exciting! If we are stuck with slightly shorter sessions, getting together more frequently will keep the pace going, and will also help people remember what happened previously. I'm not sure if Kurtis will be able to make weekly sessions but we will revist this next time!

All in all, a good session! Here's looking forward to the next!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Return to Ravenloft: Interlude the First

(This is an interlude between sessions for my gaming group who is currently playing through a Ravenloft-themed D&D campaign entitled Return to Ravenloft. Check the previous session recap to get some context!)

Deep in the Svalich Woods outside Holmont Cove, a hooded figure makes their way through the forest. From their movements, it seems very obvious that the figure is familiar with the area and has likely traversed it on many occasions. They seem to know exactly where they are going and how to get there, a truly impressive feat in a forest that is increasingly dense and confusing the deeper you go.

The figure comes to the edge of a clearing covered in blood and gore. Obvious signs of battle litter the clearing and the surrounding areas, with discarded and broken weapons in numerous places and the pools of blood that could only be resting places of slain bodies in more than one spot. Of most note, however, is the only remaining body: the dismembered and brutalized human lying in the middle of the clearing.

The figure picks its way gingerly through the clearing, watching not to step in any blood or on any piece of debris from the battle. At first glance, anyway, it appears as such; on closer examination, an observer would notice that the figure's feet never touch the ground. Instead, the figure seems to glide through the air, their feet hanging beneath them as they drift towards the center of the clearing.

Landing carefully next to the slain human, the figure makes a clucking noise with their tongue before leaning down to further examine the damage. The face and chest have been brutalized, scratched beyond recognition, but more concerning to the figure seems to be the right arm, completely ripped from the corpse, and the missing left foot.

After some deliberation, the figure produces a wand from within their robes and gathers some dirt and rocks from the surrounding area. Placing the dirt next to the leg, the figure points the wand at the debris and mutters an incantation; immediately, energy sparks from the wand into the dirt and it begins to change shape. Within moments, the soil and stones have formed a foot and adhered to the corpse on the ground.

Drawing next a pendant from within their robes, the figure slips it within the tattered pocket of the corpse before turning and gliding away from the clearing and back into the woods, all the while humming a lilting tune as dusk begins to fall.