You know it’s been a good night when one of your players says: “Well, I can’t wait to see how you write this one up!” Beginning a new phase of a campaign is always a challenge – akin in some ways to a the shift between seasons in a show, rather than just a new chapter.
I’d allowed two weeks of in-character downtime to simulate time needed for training, re-equipping and setting up their new base of operations – the Red Serpent Inn, and I had quite a few conversations with players this week setting up various things that they wanted to do between session – so the gentle start to the session mainly contained debate about what supplies they wanted to procure.
So far, so normal, but then the call to arms came in the form of a House Orien courier with a package for the adventurers. With a handful of coins in it and mention of those coins having many friends that would like to meet them, they were invited to a nondescript tower in an average residential area with instructions to present the letter to the guard. After a couple of false starts, and realising that the beggar in a small alcove near the deserted staircase was more than he seemed, they found themselves in a luxurious greenhouse filled with exotic plants from far-off lands.
An elderly nobleman identifying himself as Viorr Maelak was there, and after very brief introductions were made he confirmed that he did have a job for them – but had an audition for them first, to check that they were up to the job. He informed them that a wild ape was loose in his greenhouse, and their job would be to defeat it without killing it.
There was indeed a large carnivorous ape loose in the greenhouse. A horrid ape, to be precise, hiding up in the trees. Rather than jump in mob-handed though, the druids stepped forward into the undergrowth while the rest of the adventurers waited and watched.
Using a combination of animal handling techniques, they managed to calm the Horrid Ape to a more ambivalent state before offering it food. This highly unusual technique might have worked if they hadn’t offered it trail rations – essentially biltong and a granola bar.
The now deeply irritated ape lashed out and the druids resorted to a Hold Animal charm to stop it in its tracks. (I know technically they should have used a Hold Monster charm, but I gave them some leeway for having the balls to try the approach in the first place). All would have been well and good there, except that Ruin then proceeded to strike to subdue the monkey into unconsciousness – which prompted a round of jokes around the table about the warforged druid’s new-found love of spanking the monkey.
Having proved that the party could subdue a tricky foe, Viorr introduced himself as a captain in the Dark Lanterns (an intelligence group working for the Brelish throne) – and that he needed the adventurers to retrieve a rogue agent who had broken into a secure facility the night before and stolen a powerful enchanted weapon. The soul blade was originally of Karrnathi origins, and had been captured during the Last War. Demonstrating abilities that the rogue agent had not been known to possess, he had shrugged off attacks by guards, walked down the side of a tower and convinced an otherwise loyal guard to opening the vault. Viorr called their target Lucan and showed them a picture both of him and of the covered carriage that he had used to flee the city by the East gate.
The party has been charged with returning Lucan to the Dark Lanterns alive, with bonuses for the sword intact for further study. Lucan had worked as a counterintelligence agent for the Dark Lanterns for years, identifying, turning and destroying the agents of other nations, Houses and similar power groups. Viorr wanted to work out just how badly compromised his own network now was, hence the use of the adventurers as outside agents. He warned that there were other people out there who would want to see Lucan dead or turned to work for them. He offered them magebred horses and within the hour, the Magnificent Seven were on the road once more.
There was much debate about whether other forms of transport would be better, but none that were readily available or suitable for changing destinations discretely if necessary, so they pushed their mounts hard to try and make up the eight or so hours head start their target had. As one of my players said in a whisperchat: “How British is this? We’re actually hunting down Lord Lucan after spanking another Lord’s monkey in a greenhouse?”
On their second day, their journey was interrupted when they came onto the scene of a recent fight. Several travellers on the road had been petrified among signs of a fight. The group stopped briefly to check that none of the victims was Lucan, and that point the cockatrice leapt out of the bushes to attack. A snapshot by Kurtis badly wounded it, but then Koff, veteran chicken worrier and consumer of several bottles of cider by this point, rushed to meet it, intent on grappling and eating the aberrant crossbreed of lizard and chicken.
There was a tense moment when the cockatrice managed to bite him, prompting a save against its power of petrification and then the grappling began. It was too much for the group to take – with Quilynn asking if we really were just going to stand there while he choked the chicken in the middle of the road. It was almost a mercy when the rest of the party chipped in to end the unnatural creature’s existence. The jokes flew fast and furious at this point, with Lady M appearing at one point to wonder why I had tears streaming down my face. Comments were made about wondering if we were about to meet a bishop in need of beating and I swear someone was trying to quote from Tyrion’s Moongate trial speech at one point.
We called it a night – I suspect this road trip has plenty more surprises in store…