Monday, September 1, 2014

"The Return of Meek!" Chapter 4 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

This week, the party catches up to the wizard Glasstaff, then we switch to some action in the real world as the group becomes involved in a true crime story that involves Russian crooks, a late-night car chase, the intervention of the police, and the return of a stolen vehicle!

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

Our party consists of:

Varis, a Sylvan Shaman (Level 2 Wood Elf Druid)
Fitong, a Tribal Warrior of half-Human/half-Orcine parentage (Level 2 Half-Orc Barbarian)

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 1 Half-Elf Wizard)
Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 2 Halfling Ranger)

Into the Night
Last week, the party explored the cellar beneath the ruins of the ancient manor house of the Archon of Flinch, looking for the wizard Glasstaff, leader of the ruffians known as the Red Cloaks. They found him and chased him out of the manor and into the night. Aline stayed behind to search the wizard's room.

The party tracked the escaping wizard by smell, following him down the hill and into the dark forest. They soon found a small cave, like a bear den, on the side of the hill. They slowly and cautiously entered, fearing a trap or an ambush. They found a long passage that led back under the manor ruins, opening into the cavern of the strange one-eyed creature. 

The party followed the muddy prints into the nearby passage and behind a door. At this point, Varis resumed his elfin form and Fitong burst through the door. 

The Wizard Glasstaff!
Within they found a 15'x25' room with Glasstaff the wizard commanding three large hairy humanoids, more bugbears like the one they fought previously. Palock the goblin (how'd HE get here?) froze in panic and fainted.

Glasstaff the wizard wore a mysterious porcelain mask that concealed his identity and carried a crystal staff. The wizard shouted, "Now, do your job! Protect me! Kill them!" 

The bugbears put up an excellent fight! Varis turned back into a bear and he and Fitong battled the brutes while Braxton supported them at range with arrows. Glasstaff found himself cornered with no escape. He begged for mercy, offering information. But to hedge his bets, he tried to cast a charm upon Fitong. Braxton, unmoved by the wizard's duplicitous plea, took aim and put an arrow through the wizard's skull, pinning him to the wall!
Glasstaff is killed!

The bugbears were eventually defeated, but not until after Fitong was seriously injured. The party took a short rest to recuperate. They removed the mask of the wizard revealing... no one they knew. Although, they did not recognize him, they assumed the wizard Glasstaff was actually Iarno, the wizard sought by Sildar. They removed the wizard's head to return to Flinch for easier identification.

Braxton took the mask and inspected it. The party concluded that the mask was somehow magical and that it turned good people evil and evil people good. They assumed that Iarno donned the mask and was corrupted by its magic. Braxton put the mask in his pouch for later.

Finally, they interrogated Palok, who was capable of communication only through gesture and the word "Meek!" They promised him safety if he helped them. He agreed.

The Black Spider
After their rest, they returned to the wizard's room to catch up with Aline. She had finished gathering together and cataloging all the wizard's belongings, including an illuminating letter from "the Black Spider"! The letter mentioned Cragmaw Castle, and at its mention Palok leapt about. They asked if Palok could lead them to the castle and he nodded affirmative, but gestured that only bugbears were to be killed, no goblins! The party agreed.

They packed up what they could and returned to Flinch with Palok. It was late at night and the gate was  open and unguarded. They entered the Auld Dunn Inn weary and exhausted. 

Sildar was still awake, waiting for them. He had arranged rooms earlier that day and had ensured that Tobey the innkeeper had kept some food warm for them. He asked to where had they disappeared, and they told their story. When they showed Sildar the head of Glasstaff, the warrior leaped up and drew his sword.

"You have slain Iarno! He is my friend and the object of my quest! Explain yourselves!"

At this, they showed Sildar the letter and the mask and explained that Iarno was Glasstaff, leader of the Red Cloaks. It was too much for Sildar to absorb, he left the inn in stunned silence. The party finished their meal and went to bed.

Harra Thorntooth and the Order of the Rahasya
The next morning, the party rose and strode forth into Flinch. Their first stop was the Miner's Hall to collect the bounty on the head of Glasstaff from the gnome Harra Thorntooth. The Miner's Hall was closed, with instructions to come back in an hour. Fitong noticed that the curtains were drawn in every window of the Worker's House. He investigated and heard voices inside. The front door was locked so he burst in!

Within he saw half-a-dozen Red Cloaks sitting around a table listening to the words of Harra Thorntooth, pacing back and forth on the table and giving a rousing speech. The Red Cloaks sprung to attention but Harra told them to stand down.

Fitong and Varis demanded to know what was going on. Harra told the Red Cloaks to take a break in the next room and that she would talk to them later. They obliged.

Once alone, Harra asked to see the head of Glasstaff. When shown, she produced a bag of one hundred gold coins and threw it on the table. "Very good. You earned it, boys!"

The party was wary but took the money. Harra continued, "You did a good job up there. You show promise. I have an offer for you. I represent an organization known as the Rahasya. The Rahasya is a secret society of powerful individuals who have banded together for mutual assistance and support. We were formed in Kalmath but we are seeking to extend our reach into the Xanthus River Valley."

Varis challenged, "You mean you are bandits? Smugglers?"

"By no means! Granted, we often see the laws of the political establishment as an impediment to our goals, but we are no common thieves' guild. We simply use secrecy and obfuscation to conceal our activities from our enemies."

Varis asked, "So now the Red Cloaks work for you?"

"Yes. Glasstaff was the only thing standing in my way from taking over. And you took care of him for me. I warned those loyal to me to stay away from the manor house last night, and they escaped your wrath."

"Why shouldn't we kill you all now?" asked Fitong.

"Because I have done nothing to provoke you. I have broken no law, and none of these boys have done anything to threaten you."

Varis interjected, "What makes you any better than Glasstaff?"

"Under my leadership, there will be no more petty thuggery in Flinch. I promise you this. The people of this village having nothing to fear from me and my boys. I have a more... productive use for these boys. My plans require circumspection and secrecy. Which is where you come in. I would like to offer you membership in the Rahasya. Your actions last night more than pass any kind of initiation. If you agree, I would be willing to induct you into our organization."

Varis took no time to answer, "No. We do not traffic in lies and secrets. We work in the light of day for the good of everyone."

Fitong and Braxton nodded in agreement. 

Harra continued, "Then all I ask is that you keep our little talk to yourselves. I don't want to hear later that you've been going around telling people about me or the Rahasya. It would be very bad for you. Do I make myself clear?"

Before they turned to leave, Braxton offered Harra a gift, "Here. We took this off of Glasstaff. It's the mask he wore. It must be some kind of symbol of leadership or something." Harra took the mask with thanks. Braxton smirked at the possible implications should she don the mask.

The party turned and left in non-committal silence.

Where do we go from here?
From there, the party walked over to the blacksmith. Braxton inquired about armor for Fitong. Yurgh the young blacksmith sheepishly explained that it would take weeks for him to make armor and would cost over seven hundred gold pieces worth of metal. Braxton's eyes boggled and Fitong explained that he wears no armor because he fights better without armor, and that the only armor that would benefit him would be exorbitantly priced. 

At this moment, Sildar came running up with a companion, "There you are!"

Sildar offered to pay the party the reward he was going of offer them to defeat Glasstaff and the Red Cloaks. He apologized for his reaction the previous night. Iarno was a good friend and he was sad that he became corrupt. He then brought the party up to speed on the search for the dwarfish miner who had been kidnapped by the goblins. Palok jumped up and down, reminding them about Cragmaw Castle. 

Varis declined the money. He told Sildar to use it to hire some real guards for Flinch, and to keep the town safe.

Sildar then introduced his companion, "This is Gravy. He's a priest of Thumina from Swallow. He has agreed to accompany you on your quest. 

It was at this point, I had to end the game. It was only 10:30 pm and we normally game until midnight. However, the driver showed up with my sister-in-law's RV. The driver demanded more money and drove off when she refused to pay. Trevor and I jumped in our vehicles and gave chase, dialing 911 to report a stolen vehicle!


What was this about a car chase???

Okay, let me back up. 

What follows is an account of true crime adventure that actually happened Friday night.

The Driver
My wife's sister left her entire life behind in Lost Angeles, CA, and moved up here to the Portland, OR, area two weeks ago. She's been staying at our place while her stuff is being shipped up here and until she arranged some place to live. She had packed all of her belongings into her RV.

She hired a broker to contract a driver to pick up her RV in California and have it shipped, not driven, to our house. She did her research and hired what she thought was a reputable broker. However, the broker chose not to hire a reputable driver.

The driver picked up her RV. When the driver was in Stockton, he called her and said he would abandon the RV in Stockton unless she wired $400 to his personal account. She notified the police in Stockton but they could not find the RV. She reluctantly paid the ransom.

The driver agreed to deliver the RV and said he would arrive Friday night. He also told my sister-in-law that she would need to pay him an additional $1000 if she wanted her RV back! She called the police and was otherwise freaking out. The police fraud prevention officer told her to not pay and that if the driver drove off, he was committing vehicle theft and to call the cops immediately.

Ludum Interruptus
So, it's Friday night, 10:30 PM. We're playing D&D in my garage. It's a warm night and the door is open. We see the RV drive past, being DRIVEN mind you, with a white Escalade as the driver's ride. They park down the street.

The driver comes up. My sister-in-law comes out. The driver demands money. My sister-in-law refuses and demands her keys. He says, "Let me talk with my partner," or something and moseys back. He then gets into the RV and drives off. My wife called the cops.

That's when we set our plan in motion. I abruptly got up from the table in the middle of the game and told my group, "Shit, I gotta go!"

The Chase
My buddy Trevor and I agreed that if the driver left with the RV, we would follow them to let the police know where they went. So we did. 

Almost immediately, the Escalade and the RV went down a cul-de-sac and had to turn around. I could have blocked him in, and really thought about it, but I didn't want to provoke a response or escalate the situation, so I let them out. 

Trevor and I followed them out of my neighborhood. I had my phone out and dialed 911 on the speaker-phone, letting them know I was following a stolen vehicle that belonged to my sister-in-law. I gave them a play-by-play. "I'm headed west-bound on NE 18th Street. We're passing 138th."  

At one point the dispatcher asked for the license plate. I said, "Shit! I'm too far away. Hold on." I pulled up behind the RV and read off the plate. The driver asked for the make and model, I said, "I don't know. It's... it's... square!" The dispatcher replied, "Square? Is that the make?", I said "No! It's a big boxy piece of shit!"

I should point out that at NO point did any of us exceed the speed limit. We were following them only. This was NOT a high-speed pursuit. 

A police car coming east-bound passed the RV and immediately turned around and pulled it over. I pulled up about a hundred feet behind and stopped, just like the 911 dispatcher suggested. It was now about 11:30 PM.

I sat there for about thirty minutes while the police took the driver out of the RV and questioned him. Trevor called me and said the white Escalade had pulled over about a block up the road and was waiting. He was hanging out watching. 

A few more police cars drove up and stopped. One of the officers came over to question me and I gave him the full scoop. He asked me to call my sister-in-law and have her come pick up the RV.

Ultimately, my sister-in-law got her RV with both sets of keys. The driver was released. He walked up to the Escalade waiting for him.

The police officer told us to not park the RV near our house tonight in case these guys came back to vandalize it or steal it. So my wife accompanied my sister-in-law to a nearby Wal-Mart to park it in their lot. Trevor made sure the Escalade didn't follow us.

At one point, Trevor called me and said the Escalade was driving back towards my house. I broke off following my wife and the RV and went home immediately.

The other guys in my game group were still hanging out in my garage, waiting for me to return. I apologized and told them they had to leave now. Get your shit and go. That these guys might be coming back to start something and I didn't want any of them to get hurt or anything. So they packed up their stuff and left in a hurry. 

Team Fortress
I then parked my truck a few blocks away. When I got home, I made sure all the outside lights were on, all the downstairs windows and doors and gates were closed and locked, and all the downstairs lights were off. 

Trevor arrived and said they stopped in some church parking lot and were just sitting there. I thanked him for his help. He helped me clean up the garage and then he went home.

Eventually, wife wife and sister-in-law came home. We were all still really freaked out about the events of the evening. It was now about 1:30 AM. 

A Early Morning Encounter
We all slept with one eye open that night, let me tell you. I got maybe two hours of sleep.

At 5:00 AM, my wife and I hear a car pull up outside. There was some kind of SUV parked in front of our house. Not the Escalade mind you. The driver inside was checking his phone, like looking at directions, then called someone, then looked around. I began to wonder, was this a repo-man or something? After ten minutes, he drove away and we went back to sleep.

Then, thirty minutes later, we hear a car pull up into our driveway! We look and it's that SUV again, turning around and parking in front again! Someone is getting out of the passenger side! HOLY SHIT! My wife told me to call 911. I had my phone in my hand and hesitated.  

The guy went around back of the SUV, opened the door, rearranged something, and went back to the passenger side saying "I didn't want my luggage falling down." or something. They drove away.

My wife and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. Someone was taking a friend to the airport! It was the perfect time of day for that kind of thing. It made sense. 

By this time, it was pre-dawn. I concluded that if the driver and his buddy were going to do anything, it wouldn't be after dawn, so we were finally able to relax and get some real sleep.

That was my thrilling story of True Crime. My sister-in-law is out $400 more than the contract stipulated, but we're not going to pursue this. It's done. She's got her RV back with all her belongings and that's good enough for us.