Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Exposition" Chapter 6 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

In this week's chapter, the adventurers ask the questions: If it's a necromancer, is it really murder? Was killing Glasstaff the right thing to do? Should we fight a green dragon? Are Banshees inherently evil? The answer to all of the above is "Hopefully Not!"

Spoiler Warning! This is a prosaic retelling of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Starter Set.

The party:

Fitong, a Tribal Warrior of half-Human/half-Orcine parentage (Level 3 Half-Orc Barbarian)

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 3 Half-Elf Wizard) 
Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 3 Halfling Ranger)

Ser Valerius, Errant Armiger, Executor of Justicia (Level 3 Human Paladin)

Back in Flinch

It was a nine mile hike through the mountains from the goblin fortress to the East Gate of the Defile of Castragon, followed by a three-mile ride on a ferry-raft across the lake to the jetty at Flinch, a journey of eight hours. On the way, Garl Gembeard read and translated the map of his kinsman, Rungren Rockseeker.

The words in were in Daro script and read:
\

HOREK

FLINCH

BALK

WELL

WYVERN

FACE

WAVES


Varis Leaves the Group

Before arriving in Flinch, Varis informed the party that he had to take his leave. He needed to return to the wilderness to participate in the lunar rendezvous at the stone circle on the other side of Nightflame Mountain.

As the remaining party members entered the gates of Flinch, they encountered two Red Cloaks, now serving as guards. One of the guards rushed off into the village, no doubt to inform Harra Thorntooth. A gnome met them at the gate and informed them of the new entrance fee of two copper coins levied against all strangers. The fee was common in other villages throughout the Xanthus river valley but new to Flinch, so they paid.

It was late afternoon. The air was chilly with the approaching autumn. With no immediate plans, Braxton, Aline, and Fitong went straight to the notice board to catch up. There they met a young man clad in scale mail, carrying a shield bearing the symbol of the Executors of Justicia, Goddess of Justice. The man introduced himself as Ser Valerius, a land-owning armiger of Wince. 

Ser Valerius explained that he was a peregrine executor of Justicia, travelling the land, enforcing the decisions of the Justicars. He was currently without assignment and seeking to provide aid and protection to those who were worthy. The party said that they lived a life of danger and adventure and that they were generally law-abiding, and suggested that they needed protection and had encountered many people in their travels who needed help. Not to mention an official executor would lend legitimacy to their activities. Valerius decided to travel with them.

While they were talking, an acolyte was nailing a new notice to the board. The acolyte said that Sister Gareale needed someone adventurous to undertake a perilous mission. The party walked over to the ruins of the temple and met Sister Gareale, a devotee of Draven Windshard, the demi-god of bards, poets, history, and lore. Sister Gareale wore a broach shaped like a silver harp.

Sister Gareale asked the group to take a gift to a banshee named Agatha. The gift was a jeweled comb in a lacquered box. When the gift is presented, the presenter must ask Agatha the following question: What do you know about a spellbook belonging to a legendary mage named Bowgentle? In exchange for returning with the answer to that question, Sister Gareale would provide the party with three healing potions as payment. The party accepted the quest and took the comb.

After chatting with Sister Gareale, Fitong retired early to the Auld Dunn Inn.  The rest inquired Daran Edermath about another job on the notice board. Daran was a turnip farmer, another recent settler who came at the behest of Feisty, one of the nine survivors of the Red Orc ambush of several months ago. 

Daran invited them into his house, a modest home with an old gauntlet hung over the door. Daran's wife made them tea and they chatted about current events, noting that Feisty, the presumed elected Elder of Flinch, will take umbrage at the usurpation of her authority by Harra Thorntooth while she was away recruiting settlers. The party also learned that Daran was a retired adventurer and fortune-seeker who had retired to become a turnip farmer here in Flinch.

After the chit-chat, Daran explained the problem. He said that zombies were chasing prospectors away from the Old Owl Well, an ancient fresh-water well about ten miles up on the slopes of Mount Zinnober. Prospectors returning from the mountain often stop there for water and rest. The last prospector to visit there reported that it looked like someone was living in the ruins of the old tower next to the well. He'd like the party to go check it out. The party agreed to take on the mission.

After talking with Edermath, it had become dark so the party retired to the inn for dinner and relaxation. There they met up with Fitong who found himself being ignored by the innkeeper, a bantami named Tobey. Braxton took care of things and had a talk with Tobey, bantam to bantam. Tobey apologized and they were served immediately.

They spent time talking with the barmaid of the Auld Dunn Inn, a human female named Exposition. Exposition was also one of the nine survivors of the massacre. Exposition, as befitting her unusual name, was a font of information. She went on at length about the politics of the town, the recent troubles with Glasstaff and the Red Cloaks, the anticipated row between Feisty and Thorntooth, and so on. 

When asked about the history of Flinch, she exclaimed that history was a passion of hers! She had red several books on the subject before the massacre. She learned that the town of Flinch was founded by a dwarf named Elder Flinch who discovered a mine somewhere up on Mount Zinnober. The mine was productive and was the source of magical elements used to make enchanted weapons and armor. She told of how the location of the mine was lost after the war with the Red Orcs eighty years ago. 

After a while of exhausting conversation with Exposition, the party decided to talk instead with another patron, an old prospector named Lanar. Lanar told how he was recently chased away from the Old Owl Well by zombies! After providing what information he could, the party thanked the old man and went to bed.

Old Owl Well
The next morning, the party set forth, following Edermath's directions to the Old Owl Well. On the way, about five miles out of town, they came across the abandoned ruins of an old village. They got a bad feeling about the town and went around it.

Old Owl Well
By noon, they reached the ruins of the Old Owl Well. The well was within a rectangular enclosure of a ruined wall, little more than straight piles of loose weathered stones. Next to the well was the ruins of an old tower dating back hundreds of years. A small square structure, also in ruins, was attached to the base of the tower. It appeared as if someone had patched up the roof of the adjacent structure and was living within.

The party approached cautiously, calling out their presence. Zombies began shambling out of the tower. The adventurers sprung into action! Braxton began firing arrows at zombies. Valerius took a defensive position. Fitong ran blindly into the attached structure and attacked an unsuspecting bald wizard who cowered under the onslaught of Fitong's blade. Aline followed up with a witch bolt that killed the wizard before he can even speak or raise a hand in self-defense.

The battle continued outside the structure with half of the zombies going after Valerius and Fitong. The other half went around a breach in wall to attack Aline and Braxton. Aline and Braxton frantically ran around the wall and took shelter in structure while Valerius and Fitong defended against the clawing zombie horde. The battle was long and difficult but eventually zombies were defeated.

Going through the possessions of dead wizard, they learned that he was using zombies to excavate under tower in search of treasure. His belongings included a tiny jeweled box with a magic ring from the days of the ancient Nedula Madhya empire, a scroll, a potion, and assorted coinage. The wizard's notes indicated that his expedition had been harassed by a tribe Red Orcs from Wyvern Tor.

The party briefly questioned whether killing the wizard in such a way was murder and was, perhaps, unwarranted. They concluded that he was obviously a necromancer and up to no good. He probably deserved what came to him.

Searching the tower, the party found the basement excavated. They also found an arrow drawn in chalk on the wall, indicating a direction further up mount Zinnober, no doubt left by Rungren to point the way to the hidden mine. Who drew the arrow? Did someone else know the way? Concerned about these unanswered questions, they erased the arrow.

On the way back, they noticed a sign warning of danger and proscribing entry into Balk, a sign they did not see before. Curious, they entered the town. The town consisted of several small structures in various states of overgrown disrepair and ruination. A tower loomed atop a hill overgrown with twisted trees, thorny bushes, and especially evil-looking shrubbery. One house in town, however, was well kept with a sign in Druidic. They approached the house and knocked.

Fairuza of Balk

An old man dressed like a druid opened the door. He introduced himself as Fairuza. Fairusa was a laconic man. He offered them tea and goodberries and told them of the dangers that lurked within the town. He said that until recently, this town was simply abandoned, but that a few months ago a green dragon took up residence within the tower. After that, the presence of the green dragon began having an evil effect on the town. Twig blights appeared. Giant spiders occupied one of the buildings. Zombies and skeletons began to animate from the remains of the dead. He's even seen robed humans lurking among the ruins. Valerius guessed that they were probably dragon cultists. 

Fairuza said that he has been keeping an eye on the dragon and the other inhabitants of the town, but that he would be going to the lunar rendezvous soon. At that time, he will leave. The party weighed their chances and decided to leave the dragon alone for now, but to be wary of attacks on people or livestock. They left Balk and returned to Flinch in time for evening.

In Flinch, they informed Edermarth of the success of their mission and the nearby presence of the dragon. Edermarth rewarded them by telling them of the Order of the Gauntlet, and that should they ever need assistance, they should look for the gauntlet above the door, knock, and say the password, "Chevall". 

Go Ask Agatha

The next day the party borrowed two canoes and crossed the lake, following the directions given to them by Sister Gareale to the hidden lair of Agatha the Banshee on the slopes of Mount Pachuat.

They followed a small rocky stream up a steep valley. Mount Pachuat towered above them.As they neared their destination, the forest became darker, colder. The sky became grey despite the lack of clouds and the light lost all its color, becoming bluish-grey. They came across a kind of domed structure made of thick overgrown vines, thicket, and trees. A curtain of moss and leaves hung over a doorway.

Braxton announced their arrival but no one answered. He looked inside but saw no one. He cautiously entered the dwelling and a glowing form, the angry spirit of a female elf, materialized before him. It was Agatha the Banshee!

The spirit demanded, "What brings you here, mortal? You are in grave danger!"

Braxton carefully replied, "We come to ask a question for Sister Garaele."

Agatha became suddenly malevolent and frightening, "You insult me with your ill manners, halfling!"

Braxton courageously presented the gift of the comb, "We offer you a gift!" The banshee looked upon it and calmed.

"I know this thing. It once belonged to me, in another life. Thank you for returning it to me. By the pact that binds me to this place, I must answer you one question. What is your question?"

Braxton asked, "What became of the spellbook of Bowgentle?"

Agatha answered, calmly and thoughfully, "I have not heard that name in centuries. I traded the book to a necromancer named Tsernoth over a hundred years ago. I know not what became of the book afterward."

Afterwards, she looked upon them, "Do you have any other gifts?"
Fitong thought about trading something in in exchange for asking about how to become the Archon of Flinch. He thought about it hard, but ultimately decided to hold his tongue.

"Then I have fulfilled the pact. You are no longer safe here, nor are you welcome. You should leave this place!"

They left.

Green Orcs of Mount Pachuat
Orc Ambush!
On the way back down the valley, they crossed a rocky ford in the stream between two tall rocks. Braxton stopped the party. He sensed an ambush. Green Orcs from the forests of Mount Pachuat laid in wait atop the rocks. The party approached cautiously. Braxton notched an arrow and took aim at the rocks while Fitong began climbing. The Green Orcs leaped to their feet and  up and began throwing javelins. Braxton fired an arrow as Fitong engaged in battle atop one of the rocks. Aline targeted Witchfire at the others atop while Valerius engaged in hand-to-hand battle with an orc in the stream-bed.

Fitong was seriously wounded and fell from the rock, unconscious. Valerius revived him and the pair fought with the orc in the stream. Soon, all of the orcs were killed and the party continued back to Flinch.
Ambush!

Once they had returned to Flinch, they reported to Sister Garaele. She thanked them and gave them the potions she promised. She also offered them membership in the Harpers, a secret brotherhood devoted to fighting tyranny in the name of Draven Windshard. They politely declined.

After resting for the evening, they packed up their things on the following morning and headed downriver to Swallow to do some shopping.

TO BE CONTINUED!

Next week, the party return to Flinch to re-join Garl Gembeard and follow the directions to the Wave Echo Cave mine!

After Thoughts

The group intentionally followed through on some side-quests this week because Jeffy, the guy playing Garl Gembeard, was going to be out of town this week and asked us to wait for him to return before we headed into the mine, so we obliged.

I decided to re-do the map so that it was a list of way points that had to be reached in order. No one knew exactly where the next point was, but if you got there an arrow would point you in the right direction. If I had the time, I would come up with devilish location-based puzzled ala the DaVinci Code, but who has the time for that???

Here's a revised and expanded map of the area around Flinch including the locations of this week's encounters.
The areas around Flinch
I gotta say, I feel bad for Kost the necromancer. There he is, minding his own business, not bothering anyone, when a half-orc rushes in out of nowhere and attacks him with a sword! He's murdered before anyone even bothered to ask "What are you doing here?"

I thought about making some kind of lesson-teaching point by having there be repercussions to the slaying, but it's better to just let the players have fun and not introduce too many ethical problems. It's just an elf-game.

We joked that the necromancer wrote the following in his journal:

"I have managed to keep the zombies at bay for 6 days now. However, the spell that repels them also keeps me trapped here. I'm running low on food and I'm not sure what I'm going to do. If I lower the spell, the zombies will surely devour me!

"However, I have a good feeling about today. I get the sense I will have visitors, someone who can help me escape this imprisonment. I certainly hope they are friendly!"

Really though, I know why. It's because I built the scene using minis and terrain. That immediately told the players "Battle! And kill everything before it kills you!" I should have role-played it first, allowed the wizard to come outside first, maybe even be a dick, but show that he was a real person, even though he was a necromancer.

Is practicing necromancy a capital offense? Yes. But I think Ser Valerius should have called for a fair trial by Priest of Justica first BEFORE carrying out the sentence, and he might remind Fitong of that. 

Or I could ret-con it in their favor and say Ser Valerius had standing orders to execute the necromancer Kost on sight, thus justifying their actions. It's kind of a cop-out, but it's more fun that way, and I want my game to be fun and not angst-filled drama-ramas.