Now that we’ve covered the party and the world, now it’s time for the part that you’ve all been waiting for, i.e, where the hell is all of this going? Well for once, it’s not all starting with six random adventurers in a tavern. I shouldn’t say ‘for once’ like I’m some big genius. Many DM’s have pointed out in other blogs and Youtube series that starting your campaign in a tavern is cliche, but by the time I was writing the opening to this campaign I had not yet absorbed those pearls of wisdom and was very proud of myself for circumnavigating that particular plot device. Instead, I told each member of my party in a forum post on Roll20 that they were in the city of Northspire and to tell me the reason. About half of them responded. They have lives, it’s fine, I roll with the punches.
So what I did was develop a starting mission and examine each character individually to decide how they got on the mission. Essentially, though I’m loath to admit it, it worked out pretty much the same as ‘you random 6 adventurers meet in a tavern for a job.’ What the hell, you gotta respect the classics.
[Note: I am taking some license with the characters and internal monologues, adding some detail where there wasn’t much before as this was our first session]
[Other Note: This ended up longer than I intended, so I’ll be doing a Part 3.5 to this entry wrapping up the beginning of the campaign. Having a lot of fun with this though, so keep reading to justify my vanity project!]
So, we open our entire campaign, from here unto whatever comes afterward, with Beleg. The scene opens on a Beleg who’s powers are still new to him and not fully understood. All he knows is he is troubled, he wakes screaming in the middle of the nights after dreams of a thousand whispering unseen things and a great unknowable darkness. During the day he tries to make ends meet off the radar, too paranoid to return to his previous live as a notable archaeologist. He tries to keep his new powers a secret, knowing well the anti-magic sentiment that’s spreading in Northspire of all places, but it is on the streets of that city that he’s making a living as a small-time grifter and some-time petty thief. This is just money though, because of all the things he doesn’t understand, he understands one thing: He was given these powers for a reason, and until he finds out what it is he is going to use it to try and stamp out evil in the world. So with permanent dark circles around his haunted eyes, he searches for leads about a nest of vampires rumored to make their homes within the city.
Times are hard for our poor Beleg, however, and he needs work. He has a reputation as a weird one, and a thief with a reputation is about as useful as a fish with a bicycle. Desperation is maybe too harsh a word. Maybe. He needs work. Somewhere, whatever eldritch abominations might be listening in on his prayers, someone hears him in the dark and smiles. That next day he’s approached by one of his contacts speaking about work that none of the other gang are touching. “It’s posh. Some say too posh,” says the grimy crime-broker, a fixer upper for those seeking to do crime with those paying for crime to be done. “Nobody wants to truck with the nobility and well, the contact says there could be some weirdness. I heard that and thought it right up your alley.” He speaks slowly, picking the right words. You never know with this guy. Beleg mumbles unintelligibly an assent and his contact gives him the location, and he’s right, it is posh. He’s to meet the employer in Lord Smythwick’s manor at 11 in the evening to await further instructions. Does he sense that there’s more to this than meets the eye? No, he feels that about everything these days. He really just needs the money.
Elsewhere in the city’s seedy underbelly, a cloaked figure walks purposefully down the street, her mark before her as clear as day. The crowded market street is the perfect place for someone of her disposition to go unnoticed, and money is practically hanging out of the pockets of passers-by. It would be a crime not to take advantage. And besides, Maghana has debts to pay… She strides ever closer, extending her hand towards the coin-purse of the tourist when she hears a sharp cry. “Mags! Mags!” She turns, recognizing the affectionate nickname of hers from a network of street urchin children she was on speaking terms with. They were a rarity in that particular regard. Unfortunately, her mark turns around as well at the call. She ducks back into the crowd and the man is left scratching his head in confusion, no trace of the hooded figure to whom he’d almost fallen victim. Maghana rolls her eyes and decides she’d better hear what the children have to say. They see and hear everything in this city because they can go anywhere unseen. Not in any forbidden mystical sense, but more because wherever they went, people put a lot of effort into not seeing them. “What’ve I told you about shouting?” Maghana chides them, gently. Some of the faces go flush with embarrassment and they push their de facto leader, a skinny girl of about 8 or 9 with bright red hair and wide unblinking eyes, to the head of their cluster. “You’ll wanna hear this Mags!” She speaks in a breathy stage-whisper. “We’s heard about a job in the up-top!” Maghana forgets about the coin-purse then. She had been beginning to think that Northspire was small-potatoes, and she needed big ones for what she had in mind. It wouldn’t be enough, she told herself, but it would be a start. Lowering her hood and revealing large, curled horns above her gleaming red eyes, she smiles a devilish grin at the urchins. “You did good, sweeties.” She flips them a silver and melts back into the crowd as they scuffle over it. It looks like her luck might be about to change.
“What would Bill say?” The voice addresses the man at the bar in the worn green travelling garb, a relic of past service with the patches inexpertly removed. His face is unshaven and his eyes are misted over with the allure of drink. He downs another ale without answering the question. Gods, did I talk about Bill? He thinks to himself, not remembering much of the past night. No wait… I know this man. He was in the 12th, we met once… He tries to remember, but finds he’d rather not. The bartender doesn’t let up though. He feels he owes something to the man who clearly wants nothing to do with his debt. The man who’d been in his pub nearly every night this week spending what money he’d made selling furs or meat, or in light mercenary work. “Listen,” The bartender says, grabbing Eogred by the wrist till he’s forced to look him in the eye, “I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to do something with yourself. I don’t want you to end up dead on my floor, or dying in one of my stools.” Eogred grunts something to the effect of ‘what would you rather I do?’ The barkeep debates internally. “Listen, this isn’t strictly legal, but the pay is supposed to be good. Don’t ask me how I know about this, I just hear things y’know. There’s this job, help you get back on your feet…”
Meanwhile Magnys finishes scratching his head. He’d had the feeling someone had been breathing down his neck, but then the crowds here always had him feeling that way. Seldom did he see people in these amounts. People of all shapes, sizes, shapes, and sizes, he thought again for emphasis, glancing appreciatively at a line of lady-folk wandering by. A healthy libido in an old man was a sign of longevity, someone had probably once told him (or he might have said), and well he was one hundred and eight years old and carried a wooden dildo around with him wherever he went, so you do the math. Magnys is, perhaps briefly, out of his element. He’s adaptable though. In the swamp, one needs to be adaptable in order to survive, and Magnys quickly recognizes the ecosystem of the swamp in this place of stone and high towers. There are the decomposers feeding off of the refuse of society, there are the opportunists eking out a living where nobody else will, there are the birds nesting in dead trees, ignoring the waste and disease beneath them– see? This could all be familiar. Regardless, he was not a familiar fixture in it. He was dirtier perhaps than anyone else alive in the city today, and nobody could do much about it since he held the protection of gold in his coin-purse. The gold was courtesy of the Circle of Circles, the druidic league to which Magnys was a middling member. Ancient and mystical though the Circle may be, none of the elders would deign to descend from their lofty mountains into the realm of civilization, even in the face of the rapidly-spreading rumors of anti-magical sentiment echoing throughout the nation. So they sent Magnys, of the Circle of the Swamp, to investigate, because they could not spare anyone more important. I really don’t know what they expected to happen. However, he’s not a man without reason. He’s savvy, and after a day in Northspire, he knows that there’s one place to be if you want to get see where the standing of magic lies in the capital. He doesn’t have to be there until 11pm. Magnys is doing just fine.
Rhai on the other hand, doesn’t know what to do with her day. It was announced in the morning that all of the kitchen staff in Smythwick Manor would not be needed this evening. This was unprecedented and presented a break in her routine. Her routine was very important, she found, in acclimatizing to the strange organism of the city. Other people went to and fro around her with such purpose while she mused aimlessly about her recipes, and her fuzzy-yet-fond memories of Blorf, her childhood dog. She only stayed anywhere as long as it suited her, but everyone around her seemed to be in such a hurry to get where they weren’t. Nothing seemed easy for anyone, but everything seemed simple to her. Was she doing something wrong? She shrugged, deciding that she would stay in the kitchen anyways. Who was this man to tell her when and when not to be in the kitchen? Her supervisor?? Well, yes. But still. Rhai busies herself with baked goods, experimenting briefly with corn and wheat flour in different sweetbreads, relishing watching the butter melt on the surface of a perfect slice before taking a well-deserved bite. They were really lucky to have her. She felt she’d earned a walk around the grounds. But lo, not all is as it should be in the Manor grounds, as Rhai is quick to notice. One of the butlers, an excitable gnome by the name of Damon, is pacing by a bush, his knees weak, his palms sweaty, the state of his mom’s spaghetti indeterminate. Unaccustomed to the nuance of conversation, Rhai addresses Damon; “What’s wrong? You look awful.” Damon looks Rhai up and down. Perhaps deciding that he could trust someone he could see relatively eye-to-eye with (an uncommon occurrence for any of the gnomes and halflings of Northspire), he decides relative honesty is the best policy. “Listen, Rhai is it? Right? What would you do if you knew something you shouldn’t? Something about someone more important than you? Someone who did something…wrong?” Now, gentle reader, our Rhai is coming out of 15 years complete solitude in the woods. Conversation is hit or miss, but hypothetical moral situations are unfamiliar territory. She says nothing. “Listen,” Damon continues, “just don’t be hear later tonight. You really shouldn’t be here.” What Damon doesn’t understand (but Rhai’s parents could speak volumes of) is that she is at heart an headstrong contrarian. Now she knows what she is doing later tonight…
Elessana though, doesn’t need to speak to any of the city’s lower element. Or any of it’s higher element. When she steps foot onto Northspire’s dock, she knows where she’s going and what she’s after. All she needs is passage to the next port, then the one after that, and the one after that. For one with legs so short, she has distance to cover, and cover it she means to. Lucky for her, she knows of a nobleman in the city who owes her a favor. Luckier for her, Lord Smythwick himself is in some fairly dire need.
Just how dire, Elessana couldn’t have guessed until she made it to the parlor of his manor house and seen the kind of company he seemed to be keeping. On the sofa there seemed to be a kind of perverse competition going on to see who could be the dirtiest, which the fat old man seemed to be winning. Thinking maybe she should call at a later time, the least dirty of the two men, a half-elf, gets up off the sofa and addresses her. “Well hello!” He said, more brightly than normal people speak ever. He seems like someone trying to remember what a smile looks like, but boy does he have a poor memory. Elessana says nothing, and the man turns away and seems now to be addressing one of the curtains. “And who might you be?” The windows rattle in response, and she sees two coal-red points glower at him from the corner and only now does she realize there is a tiefling looming next to the curtain, regarding the room coolly. This is a waiting room she realizes. I wonder what they could possibly be waiting for. Another wanderer files in, tall– even for a human, with an air of general unkemptness, though thankfully not to the extent of those on the sofa. He carries a bow and a spear strung across his back. At least he looks like he means business, she thinks, her hand resting on the handle of her rapier. Finally, an appalled-looking butler ushers them from the parlor to the study, where she sees Lord Smythwick himself waiting for them. Elessana is half aware that another halfling has joined their weird ranks in the interim between the two rooms, Rhai having attached herself to the group out of curiosity. She had a feeling this is the place to be.
“Ah, excellent. Excellent.” Lord Smythwick exclaims. “I gather you’re all here about the job? I’ll get right to it then. Magic, some of you may have noticed, has fallen into disfavor. Those most ancient practices, which my family in particular has always made a special study, are being pushed by the wayside more with each passing day. It’s been all I could do to publicly distance myself from my family’s reputation as magical…enthusiasts. I fear though, that the eyes of suspicion are still never far from this house.” He gets up from his desk and pats a crate in the middle of the room in front of a roaring fireplace. “The contents of this container would be very incriminating should I face another investigation, but I find myself in the awkward position of not wanting to outright destroy such pearls of wisdom as these tomes may contain. Thus, I am faced with one choice. I must smuggle them from the city. It is for this reason that I’ve hired you. I can pay handsomely in jewels for the safe delivery of these books to the waterfront, where I’ve arranged…” At this, the smaller of the two halflings speaks up.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure the guards already know about that.” Rhai say matter-of-factly.
“Your butler seemed fairly uneasy, in any case.” Eogred says. Lord Smythwick’s face goes pale. He looks from one face to the other and they confirm that some of them noticed some irregularities around his house that point to some of the staff knowing something about the Lord’s plans. There’s no way of knowing which of them were loyalists to the crown through and through, but even those who aren’t have been taught an appropriate fear of magic. Either way, all evidence points to the conclusion that his activities have already been reported to the guards.
“There’s no time then.” Lord Smythwick says, activating a runic lever next to the fireplace, dimming the once-roaring flames. He manipulates the control once more and the back of the fireplace lowers revealing his secret escape passage (a not uncommon architectural feature among nobles in any society). “Quick, go, you must take to books and go! Try for the docks if you can! Godspeed!”
As soon as they’re out from under the Lord’s watchful eye, Beleg does what he’s been itching to from the moment he saw the crate and tears into it. Something is calling to him, something powerful, something he needs. He rifles through the books as they wheel the crate down the passage until he finds what he’s looking for. A book with a black cover and all black pages, as if its author had so much to write that the ink covered the entire surface. It emitted a chilling aura that nobody but Beleg felt at ease with. Neither did Beleg either, though again, that was most things for him now. Unease was the new familiar, and in that sense, the book was familiar to him. He pockets it.
“We should be nearly at the end.” Eogred guesses, seeing the passage darken before them. He’s right, a door lies ahead. On the other side of it, however, is a less welcome sight.
The captain of the Northspire Guard himself, Brand, awaits the party with a look not unlike hatred in his eye. The party looks around aghast. There is no ready explanation for his presence here, or for the fact that he seems to be waiting for them. All they have time to register is that his blade is drawn, and the hulking human figure before them is exacting some personal vendetta against them. Clearly, he knows what’s in the crate.
Maghana and Eogred react quickly with their bows drawn and arrows loosed at their assailant. They bounce off his armor, but they look like they’d left some nasty bruises beneath it. Emitting only a grunt, and a grimace, Brand is on Eogred, who he very nearly bisects. Next he tosses a net at the middle of the group to restrain them and Rhai deftly tumbles out of its way, fists bared and a frying pan flashing to her hand, looking like it means business. A sickened look stretches across Beleg’s face and, extending a hand, an oily-looking blue energy blast is expelled from it in Brand’s direction. Brand’s attention is diverted by the magic, and his next sword-strike falls true, slashing across Beleg’s chest. Magnys does his best to heal this wound, but it’s all he can do to stem the flow of blood before he sees Eogred taken down, then Elessana as she steps quickly, thrusting with her sword and cracking her whip around Brand’s face before she is also thrown aside by his massive bulk, thudding against a wall and falling to the floor. One by one they’re felled, unconscious. When they come to, they’re already cuffed in a prison wagon, their weapons and the strange book Beleg obtained are gone.
To be continued…