Last night was finally the first gaming session of the Return to Ravenloft campaign that I have been planning for the better part of two years. Our group had gotten together two weeks previous to do a character generation session: everybody created the stats for their characters and I spent the time between sessions crafting backstories for each character. I wove their histories around each other and gave everybody reason to trust certain folks more than others. I also gave each of them a hook for their characters to get into the adventure and explained how they all came together.
This is something that I did when I ran the Expedition to Castle Ravenloft back in the day and it worked quite well. It was fairly well-received last night as well -- with a group where half of the players have never played D&D before, and most have played very few RPGs at all, I think it was an easy way to get everyone involved in the story from the get-go.
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
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.
Of course, each character has their own motivation for heading north. But that would be giving things away, now wouldn't it?
The following morning, there was a loud commotion from outside the barracks. Going outside, the party saw that the militia had returned from their raid but all the worse for wear. A great congregation of people were gathered outside the town hall, all of them clamoring for attention as they called after their loved ones. A quick survey of the crowd put the numbers at roughly 150, while the town looked large enough to hold around 600 people. It was obviously a very small crowd. The burgomaster did what he could to calm them down but the captain of the guard put everyone in their place and bade them to go back to their daily duties until he could debrief with the burgomaster. The crowd dispersed and the town leaders went inside the town hall; the party followed them inside.
The town council consists of: Captain Polyan, captain of the guard; Thomas Ludensky, burgomaster; and Lady Thera Woodsoul, priestess to Melora. With them was Nadya, Ludensky's assistant. The party approached this group and offered their assistance in ridding them of their goblin problem; Captain Polyan thanked them for their offer but told them, in no uncertain terms, that he judged this to be a lost cause. Already more than half the town had been killed or moved elsewhere, and the town council was already planning on refitting some of the fishing vessels in the harbour to be used as passenger vessels so they could start evacuating the rest of the population.
The raid the night previous was a disaster; the militia was ambushed in the woods en route to the goblin encampment and, though the militia managed to kill quite a number of goblins, the ferocity and endurance the little monsters showed was unusual. In the words of Captain Polyan: "It took far heavier blows to strike down any of the goblins than it should have. There was something... unnatural about it."
The party asked when the attacks started and if anything unusual coincided with the beginning of the attacks. The burgomaster noted that there was a strange scholarly man who arrived in town a few months ago; he arrived by ship, walked out to the edge of town and stared at the woods for a long time, taking notes. He rented a bed at the tavern and then left by the same ship he arrived on the following day. Lady Thera also made a comment about feeling a pulse of dark energy coming from the north-east (towards the forest) at roughly the same time, but it was fleeting and so she thought nothing of it. The party also inquired about The Fiery Dawn; the burgomaster told them that it had arrived with some personal cargo and was planning on being off again the following day to pick up more supplies for the village.
The party agreed that investigating the attacks would be of help and set off to do just that. The party split momentarily and investigated different things:
Marcus and Paelias examined the scene where the previous goblin raid was stopped, a small battlefield just outside the village itself. Paelias was able to read the scene easily, knowing that the goblins were repelled fairly easily but not without loss of life on the side of the villagers. When both the paladin and wizard attuned themselves to the ether, however, both felt a powerful and malevolent force coming from the forest. While Marcus could only identify it as evil, Paelias detected a small hint of necromantic energy seeping from the forest.
Elarial spoke to the innkeeper about the scholar; the innkeeper told her that the man paid for his room in full, gave a hefty tip, and kept to himself. He even made the bed before he left. Checking the ledger, the man signed in as Joseph Smith. Heading to the harbourmaster, Elarial discovered that Joseph Smith arrived on the ship Sun God which hailed from the large city of Forrington far to the south. The Sun God also brought a shipment labelled only "Ludensky". On that voyage was also a man by the name of Wilhelm Ridskaya; while Joseph Smith left the next day, Wilhelm's name was not anywhere else in the ledger.
Reconvening near the town hall, everyone shared their findings. On overhearing the name "Ridskaya", a nearby guard told them that the blacksmith in town was one Elsa Ridskaya. (He was also taken aback by Murwen wandering around with a severed goblin arm.) Deciding that Ludensky may have something to do with what is going on, the party split again: Elarial and Redemption went to discuss things with Elsa, Paelias and Marcus decided to (politely) interrogate the burgomaster and investigate what cargo he is having imported, and Murwen tailed Nadya (the burgomaster's assistant) to the house of the burgomaster to see if there's anything of note inside.
Elarial and Redemption found that Wilhelm Ridskaya was the brother of the blacksmith. He had gone to Forrington to request aid at the request of the town council and returned empty-handed. Shortly thereafter, during a raid into the forest, Wilhelm went missing. Elsa asked if the party could keep an eye out for him if they go into the forest; Elarial agreed, and Redemption took a small locket with a picture of Wilhelm inside for reference.
Murwen tailed Nadya back to the burgomaster's house and cased the joint. She believed she found a possible entrance through a window into the kitchen. Murwen watched Nadya leave, however, and tried to steal the key to the house from her but was unsuccessful. Nadya, who proved to be a mute, led Murwen back to the town hall and they parted ways.
Marcus and Paelias spoke to the burgomaster in his office in town hall. Very little new was gleaned from the conversation but Paelias detected strong arcane magic coming from a bookcase in the corner, and Marcus detected strong malevolent divine magic coming off of Ludensky himself.
The party reconvened once again and shared their findings before heading to the tavern for a meal as they talked.
This session went pretty well if only because we were able to set up a lot of exposition and so forth. Unfortunately, I had planned for roughly a four-hour session and, with eating beforehand and character set-up, we only played for about three hours. The timeframe wasn't helped by the party splitting so much but, as the adage goes: "No plan survives first contact with the players."
The party is well entrenched in the mystery surrounding Holmont Cove and the goblins, however, and I was really impressed with how all the characters took to the story and got involved. Kait (as Elarial) was really involved and led a lot of the roleplaying, which was awesome as she's normally fairly withdrawn when we play RPGs.
I also tried to pimp Kurtis a bunch -- he normally plays a really direct and in-your-face character who has a mean/evil streak but, this time, he agreed to play a Lawful Good paladin. It was well outside his comfort zone, I think, and he is more embracing the zealot side of things; on more than one occasion, he suggested they burn down the forest simply because of the evil sensation he got. Good times, for sure, but I hope he can embrace the character. After all, defending Holmont Cove is his quest, the main reason why at least half the party is there. We'll work on that more next time.
Next session, I want to give more attention to Nick and Kristi; the two of them had some interesting stuff in the first half of the session but the latter half was fairly mundane for both of them. Next time, I'll endeavour to get them involved more center-stage.
Last negative about the session: we didn't have any combat. As I mentioned, I had planned for things to go a bit more quickly and to have the party enter the woods and engage some enemies but they opted to investigate stuff instead. Not going to complain about that -- I'm all for chasing after clues and investigating mysteries! -- but I think it did make the session drag a bit, especially towards the end. Next time, we'll have combat one way or another, I swear!
Also, big thanks to David Guyll over at Points of Light; I am basing Holmont Cove off a map that he used for one of his adventures, The Shadows over Greyshore. It's a great map for a coastal village and I found it really helpful. So thanks for that, David!