Sunday, May 11, 2014

Return to Mar Tesaro: The Lion and the Unicorn

As the players prepare to leave Dockhouse to further their adventure, their host, Colton, gives them a warning. As a man privy to rumors, he's heard talk of a traitor within the Family, prepared to sell them all out to the Queen. Although rumors like this circulate frequently, the threat of a crushed rebellion certainly raises the stakes. Colton tells them to keep an eye out for things in Sar Diga and bids them farewell.

In Hillstead, the players quick meeting with Glabrous and their next Brotherhood contact, and the players are off and on their way to Fol Thron, capital of Alessia's empire.
Fol Thron would later be fleshed out a bit more, but at this point it was just a generically large city with a few interesting land marks. This is one of the challenges of using your own setting. You usually have the time to flesh out one location really well, or you can design a broader setting, but any given location is by necessity less interesting. Of course, that's assuming you need every street named and every building assigned. I've found it to be most useful to give the important details and let imaginations fill in the rest. 
The players have to figure out what happened to the spy, with only half a letter and a hastily scribbled riddle. It turned out to be a lot less complicated than you'd imagine.

(Read the rest below the fold)

If you've never been to Colonial Williamsburg, it's an interesting place, assuming you enjoy historical attractions. One of the activities they offer during the year is called "RevQuest," wherein patrons of the park pretend to be a part of the American Revolution and interact with park workers throughout the day to solve a puzzle of some sort. My wife and I enjoyed it, at least.

Anyhow, shortly before this game came together, we played in the RevQuest called, "The Lion and the Unicorn." Suffice it to say that I "borrowed" most of the pertinent details of this quest from that one. The riddle the players were to follow:

Enemy gates
Horn leads on 
House of knowledge
Annals in Song

There were a few possible gates they could investigate, but the spy had infiltrated the Queen's citadel as a member of the guard. They knew the citadel had a large set of gates just beyond its entrance, so they figured that was the best place to start.

It turns out they chose correctly. The gates of the citadel were carved with various beasts. One of which, the unicorn, had a very prominent horn. The horn pointed across a large grassy park and towards the Archive, the largest library on the island.

Inside the Archive, they found one of the libary's young workers, Jonas, and asked the boy if he'd seen anyone matching the spy's description. He had; in fact, he'd seen the spy rush out of the Archive days earlier in a dreadful rush. Unfortunately, the man had also taken a copy of a bardic tome from the library of songs and poems in the basement. They thanked him and moved on.

In the basement, they hunted through the section of songs and poems until they found a book completely out of place. Someone had shoved a historical tome into this section. Opening it up, they find the other half of the letter. Putting the pieces together, the spy has discovered a potentially useful bit of information about the Queen, but fears his cover has been compromised. Worse, he has learned of a secret prison facility on the other side of Lake Emlin where prisoners go to disappear.

The players are prepared to head out in search of this facility, but are ambushed by some thugs. Cornered in a narrow row and faced with the prospect of tumbling bookshelves . . .

Oh, this is gonna be good.
 . . . They put all their resources into hightailing it out of the basement. For good measure, they get a couple of bookcases to block the door from opening inward.
*Sigh*. I'd rather hoped to have a crazy fight here. Pushing bookcases over, fireballs leading to burning books everywhere, people leaping from shelf to shelf. This is actually the smart move on their part, but not nearly as exciting. These sorts of things can be frustrating at the time, but it's always better for the game to roll with it.  I could have had more thugs come down the stairs to box them in, but that wouldn't have made for a better game. Player choice has to matter.
The thugs were just some local hired goons. The Queen's forces also tracked the spy to the Archive, but decided to hire some muscle to stake the place out on the chance that someone friendly to the spy would return to the scene. These guys will eventually report back to the Queen that they found some suspicious characters, but that's a lot better than dead thugs. 
On their way out, the players grab Jonas and "helpfully" suggest that he get out of town. He was seen giving them aid, so his future would be brighter if he went into hiding. The boy is aghast about how his life has turned upside down in the blink of an eye, but he mumbles something about Archive excavations in the north he could join. They shove some supplies in his hands and send him on his way.

As for the players, they hurry to the other side of the lake where they find the facility. The prison is surrounded by a significant amount of foliage; travelers would have to actively circle the lake to find this place, and even then guard patrols would turn them away. A dock by the lake indicates travel to and from this facility only happens by water.

The players "sneak" into the facility.
Stealth is a weird tool in D&D. If you're traveling as a group, and most D&D players are, the group's stealth is only as good as the least stealthy character's. I figured each of the characters would have tools for doing fast, silent take downs without alerting the other soldiers, but reality is a harsh mistress. The fighter in full plate armor and the living golem were not made for stealth.
Someday I'd really like to run a game for a group of stealthy characters, if only to see if it's feasible.
An accurate representation of the priest's stealth skills.
They make rather swift work of the guards patrolling the grounds. After a bit of exploring, they find the bulk of the facility is below ground. Working their way down, they find only one set of cells filled with prisoners, including their spy. They also find the facility's interrogator and torturer, a psychomancer named Tranan Forgedawn.

The players dispatch of him, although not without difficulty. Freeing the captured spy, they learn the secret that was worth endangering the rebellion: In one week's time, the Queen would present her heir at the opening of the autumnal Harvest Festival.

This was an odd bit of information. The Queen had never been seen with a husband or consort, nor had she had a child in her many years of reign. Still, this was a secret too closely guarded to be benign. The spy had been chased from the citadel for overhearing talk of it. The heir apparent hadn't even been seen; her room seemed to be locked away in the lowest part of the citadel, beneath even the dungeon. Something is extremely unusual here, and the Brotherhood could gain incredible leverage by kidnapping or assassinating this heir.

The players decide this information needs to move up the chain of command. Knowing that there is also a spy within the ranks, they decide that heading to Sar Diga is their next priority.

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