Do you like apples?

This Sunday just been, June 9th, I wrecked my voice running D&D for strangers and friends at Cherry Moon in Bolton.

They set up a Dungeons and Dragons day, and I was one of the four idiots who volunteered to run a session.

I got a mixed experience group of five players, who rolled up a stealth and skirmish group with zero (nil) healers. They were all really lucky though…

The party was made up of…

A Human Rogue Criminal,
A Wood Elf Rogue Criminal,
A Fallen Aasimar Warlock Pirate,
A Half-Orc Barbarian,
A Tabaxi Monk

I gave the players a choice of using the standard point spread from the PHB, or rolling, and said that if their rolls we really shit, they could use the standard spread.

They all rolled. The two Rogues rolled really well, and the Warlock did pretty well. The Barbarian and Monk didn’t do well at all, and both defaulted to the standard spread.

Of the lot, the Aasimar could do one (1) point of healing. That’s enough to stop someone dying, and that’s it.

Annoyingly, no one came near dying…
I had three ideas for an introductory scenario:

1. Cult Extraction. Save brainwashed villagers from an evil cult and their encampment.

2. Raise the alarm. Get to the beacon and light it before the raiders do, and warn the neighbouring towns

3. Heist! That building holds a bottle of whisky that’s 200 years old and worth 20x that in gold. Steal it, and we all get paid

After knocking the ideas around with friends, I went with Raise the Alarm, as it’s the most straightforward. There was some concern about Murderhobos and capture the flag simplicity.

I might do Heist for the next one, as the arguments for that one were pretty compelling too (opens up a variety of skill uses, lots of options for players, forces them to participate, and not just kill things as they’re presented).

But anyways, I wrote a scenario based on Raise the Alarm: Beacon Hill.

We had to skip two encounters due to time considerations, but here’s the full text…

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Beacon Hill

The party are travelling with a trade caravan, and are being given free passage, food, and 30gp each to protect the caravan, it’s goods, livestock, hands and other passengers.
It is travelling North to Daggerfall.

The caravan leader is a Dwarf called Ulfgar Brawnanvil

It’s the late afternoon. Caravan plans to spend the night at Stoutbarrel Farm, a Halfling owned orchard and brewery.
The passengers may have heard of Stoutbarrel Cider.
Ulfgar has a deal with the Stoutbarrel’s – Room & board when passing through in exchange for cheap transport of cider barrels. The caravan hands are looking forward to the rest stop, and are starting to sing bawdy songs about apples.

The road to the farm runs through the orchard, and rows upon rows of apple trees stretch out all round the caravan. The smell of apple blossom hangs in the air. Fat bumble bees buzz happily in the branches. A light column of smoke wafts above the trees in the distance.

Check everyone’s Passive Perception. On a 14+ they notice…
A sheep carcass lies between the trees, off to the side.

The caravan rounds a bend, and the farm comes into view.
An apple cart lays on its side on the track. The bodies of a pony and two Halflings are being fed on by a pack of Hyenas.
One Hyena for each party member.
(combat)
50 XP Five Hyena

A pack of Hyena

(Actual play note: this was a nice intro combat. We used ranges (they were 120′ apart, movement and disadvantage. The Monk was pretty effective, using darts at their maximum range with disadvantage).

Check everyone’s Passive Perception. On a 12+ they see….
Beyond the Hyenas, the farm buildings have been toppled and burnt. In the distance between the party and the building, a lone Hyena stops feeding on fallen prey, and starts convulsing. It explodes in a shower of gore, leaving a full grown Gnoll stood there.
Note: Gnoll does not have any weapons or a shield, and only has its Bite Attack.
(combat)
100 XP One Gnoll

The Gnoll Ronseal Promise – Is what it says in the caption

(I used this encounter to illustrate what a Gnoll is, and why they’re bad. They killed it from range, but were suitably grossed out by its ‘birth’.
One of the Rogues, Badger, insisted on searching its corpse, so he found an embedded apple. The Warlock used Prestidigitation to clean it up, and suddenly they’re talking about it as though it’s an actual edible apple…)

Exploration of the farm
Investigation / Survival: Multiple Gnoll tracks. Over two dozen, hard to tell. They swept through the farm, killing and eating and burning, followed by packs of Hyena. No one survived. The tracks lead off in different directions. Some tracks appear to be skeletal.

Looting: If someone loots, roll lowest most basic table. Ulgar objects strongly to anyone looting “These were good people. My friends! You’ll afford them some dignity!”

(Yes, they wanted to loot the Halflings. No, Ulfgar didn’t let them. He doesn’t abide Murderhobos)

Ulfgar declares that the farm is not safe “There’s no shelter, no provisions, no defence. We move on to Smithy Barn. We can be there by nightfall, Gond willing.”

Smithy Barn is a nearby village, down the valley and across the river.

[Short Rest opportunity, if anyone needs minor healing or partial recharges]

(They didn’t at this stage, having ganked the hyenas and Gnoll at range)

It is surrounded by a low wooden wall, maybe 6’ high, with North and a South gate. Fields surround it.
The central structure is a large wooden barn, its doors open revealing a smith’s furnace and workshop. The villagers sit around it, drinking weak ale.
Alongside the barn is a wooden tower, 20’ high, with a large torch atop it.
Another 10 smaller buildings are scattered around the barn.

Villagers:
Blacksmith – Randall Hammerson
Blacksmith’s wife – Lureene Hammerson
Crofter – Glar Marsk
Farmer – Darvin Dundragon
Hunter – Shandri Buckman

The caravan files into the village, carts, horses, cattle and all, and the hands start closing the gates.
The activity disturbs the villagers
“Hoi! You can’t bring all of that in ‘ear! There’s no room, tether ‘em up outside!”
“There’s Gnolls out there, boy! We’ll tether the horses in here, or you’re waiting outside with them instead, you hear me”

The villagers mobilise in short order, bringing in livestock from outside, setting watches, locking the gates, and then lighting the beacon atop the tower. The beacon invokes The Lord’s Alliance, and summons help from nearby allied towns and Alliance Agents.

A bright yellow flame flares up as the tinder catches, and the beacon burns brightly within a minute, casting light across the small village.

The villagers look expectantly towards the nearby hill. After a few minutes they grow restless and disturbed.
“What’s keeping them?”
“Can’t they see it?”

A howl rises from the woods, followed by other howls, which then descend into yaps and barks. The sound seems to surround the village.

“No one’s coming.”
“We’re dead…”

“We need someone to go light the beacon, top of Beacon Hill..”

Eyes turn to the party.

Ulfgar immediately offers up their services – “They work for me, and I want to get out of here alive. Lads and lasses, you’re going up that hill and lighting that fire, or you don’t get paid, and we all die.”

Arguments – The party may not want to do it, in which case Ulfgar will steadfastly refuse to pay them, as they’re in breach of contract.
They may argue that they’d be better served defending the caravan and the village here, and maybe some of the locals would be best going – they know the land better, they know the way. If they try this, they need to persuade both Ulfgar and the villagers.
Ulfgar that they’d be able to protect him better than the villagers and to persuade two or more of the villagers that they should go instead. Obvious candidates are the Hunter and the Crofter. They will need convincing separately.

(The party tried to argue that this was above and beyond their contract, but Ulfgar argued them down. They then asserted that protecting the village was outside their remit. The villagers quickly had a whip round and rustled up 50gp, 5 goats and a bottle of alleged fine wine. The blacksmith offered to fix up some weapons and armour for them as well, if they wanted. This was enough for the party, who agreed to do the right thing)

Main path – assume that party will travel to Beacon Hill.

The Hunter will lay out the route they need to take
Take the North gate, follow the road to the bridge and cross the river (if you can’t get across the bridge, the only other crossing for two miles is the old rope bridge)
Once over the river, leave the road and cut through the woods to the hill. The road will be too open
The hill is steep and littered with rocks. You can follow main path up, but again it’s open and exposed. The rocks on the west side are an easy climb, and will offer you some cover
At the top, the beacon can be easily lit with a tinder kit or similar. You’ll have to climb the tower though…

The Bridge
The river runs fast along a narrow channel carved out of the bedrock. A slim stone bridge, wide enough to take a single cart, provides the sole crossing within sight.
A pack of Gnolls (at least 10, mixed types) have cornered a herd of cattle by the bridge, and are slaughtering and feasting on them.
Party could try to sneak past (difficult, especially if any are in metal armour)
Party could try to fight them (Deadly+ encounter. These Gnolls are fully equipped and in full health)
Take a different route

The Rope Bridge
Two miles upstream, an old rope bridge sways in the wind. The crossing is some 50’ wide here, with rapid waters 20’ below. Wet wooden boards
Moving at half speed across the bridge, one at a time, the passage is safe.
Moving any faster, or if two or more people are one the bridge at a time, and it will sway alarmingly, and everyone on the bridge must make an Acrobatics test, DC 10. On a fail, they fall prone must make a Dexterity save DC 10 to not fall off into the river below. Combat on the bridge has the same requirement.
Falling into the river inflicts 1d6+1 damage, and the character must swim to safety (DC 12 Athletics or take 1d6 damage from rocks and swallowing water).
20 XP each for crossing the bridge

Whilst the party are crossing, they are attacked by a Gnoll Hunter and two Gnoll Witherlings. Hard/Deadly encounter.
Gnoll Hunter 100xp
Gnoll Witherlings 50xp each
200 XP

A Gnoll Witherling, or a wet horse

(Kevin the Half Orc Barbarian took a beating in this encounter, taking an arrow, and falling off the bridge. Bran the Rogue and The Iron Paw (Tabaxi Monk) also took damage from the more traditional route of a Gnoll Witherling skeleton hitting them with a club)

Woods
As described, the road to Beacon Hill is an easy walk, but in the open and exposed. Anyone at the top of the hill will spot them coming, as would anyone in the bordering fields and woods.
The woods stretch from the road to the base of the hill, and offer some cover.

As they travel through the woods, the party pass rabbit snares, both full and empty.

Net Trap: Xanathar’s Guide pg 114
100 XP

Gnoll + pack of Hyenas. One Gnoll leading by default a pack of Hyena. Hyena do not follow its orders, instead will harry anything it engages. This is fine by the Gnoll.
150 XP

Climbing Beacon Hill
Ascending the steep rocky incline requires an Athletics DC 14 check. If anyone is struggling, a party member can climb ahead, and lower a rope to help pull up other characters.
Stealth
As the characters near the top of the hill, their route takes them within earshot of more Gnolls: A Gnoll Hunter patrols the area. They must stealth past it, or stealth kill it.
100 XP

Lighting the Beacon
At the top of the film, the party find the partially eaten bodies of the beacon watchers – guards charged with lighting the beacon should any others flare up.
Should anyone search the bodies and nearby packs, they will find 7gp and a Potion of Healing
The village of Smithy’s Barn and its lit beacon are clearly visible from the top.
When the characters get to the top, one must climb the beacon and light it. This is easy enough, and can be accomplished with a DC10 Athletics / Acrobatics roll, or a firebolt, or a flaming arrow.
The beacon catches quickly, and within two minutes is blazing brightly, shedding light across the hilltop.

(Bran, Kevin and The Iron Paw all argued the toss as to who needed the healing potion more. The Iron Paw had only 3hp, and kept insisting that someone else drank it. In the end I enforced the last encounter, and she finally drank it)
(The final encounter was a CR2 Gnoll Pack Leader, who rolled really badly, and was taken down by the party whaling on him. He finally fell when Badger the Rogue stabbed him through the heart)
(So we ended it with the beacon burning and the horns of the Lord’s Alliance sounding in the distance)

Once the beacon is lit
Once the beacon is lit, a few things happen.
The party can see the beacon in Smithy’s Barn, which is still blazing. A villager stands aside it, waving a lit torch, signalling you back.
A beacon on a neighboring hill lights, and another in the distance. Help should follow.
All Gnolls within sight of the beacon are aware it’s lit
The party must make a decision:
Defend the beacon against successive waves of Gnoll attacks
Return to Smithy’s Barn and assist their defence
Do something clever, like drive the Gnolls into the river
Run off

Gnoll Waves
200xp Two Gnolls
200 xp One Gnoll, One Gnoll Hunter
300xp One Gnoll, One Gnoll Flesh Gnawer
200 xp One Gnoll Hunter, Two Gnoll Witherlings
200 xp Four Gnoll Witherlings

A Gnoll Flesh Gnawer – not appearing in this film

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Dungeons and Dragons: The Opposite of Fire two session catch up bonanza

It’s been [counts] many much time since I wrote about D&D. March. This year. So not a year yet. Some many much weeks. Multiple months. 5 months. Not even half a year. No time at all. Virtually yesterday, or so it seems.
What’s the rush?
Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

Since I last wrote about The Opposite of Fire, we’ve had two whole sessions. They were great fun. You should have been there. Brilliant. Wondrous.

I think we left the last session with two separate groups of Cormyrian War Wizards teleporting into the ruins of Sember, as hordes of Kobolds poured out to surround our ‘heroes’.

I set up a fairly exciting* battle map using my trusty old Pathfinder dry wipe grid, some wooden building blocks, dry erase pens, a cut out grid map of a boat and some miscellaneous bits of scenery, hopefully depicting the lake shore, and the remains of a pathway leading into a ruined temple, with scattered remains of monuments and statues, shallow pools formed in the foundations of toppled monoliths, and a jetty built from the remains of a toppled monolith.

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Plenty of cover, plenty of height advantages, mixed terrain, lines of sight, and goals.
You may note two groups of three figures on the map. These are the War Wizards teleported in towards the end of the previous session. The group closest to the center, in the path of pillars leading to the temple, are the Wizards summoned when Jov (the Rogue) interfered with a magic ring he found in a pot of water suspended above a shrine. The second group, off to the side, are the group summoned when he activated Marlowe’s ring (which he stole in the previous session).
Whilst they are both Cormyrian War Wizards, the two groups have conflicting orders – The first group are responding to a standard distress call from Colonel Karlsson, and may also want to drag him in for being AWOL; the second group are Black Ops and are responding to a summon from Marlowe’s ring. They are fully aware of Marlowe’s mission to gank Karlsson.

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With all the Kobolds attacking, the players had a reasonable expectation that the heavily armed NPC wizards would make everything better again with some fireball driven deus ex machina.
Instead the Wizards spotted each other, and quickly secured a small section of the battlefield before debriefing each other and then debating union rules.
Who has authority? What are your orders? I am not at liberty to discuss my orders. What is your security clearance? Who is your CO? etc etc etc
Leaving the rest of the juicy battle to the players.

Because I’d had so much fun with the Kobold Inventor the previous session, I threw another one in, as well as a selection of Kobold Dragonshields, Kobold Sorcerers, Winged Kobolds, and regular Kobolds. The regular Kobolds died fairly quickly, as did the Winged Kobolds. The Sorcerers lasted a little longer, but were kind of boring. The Dragonshield put up a good fight against our Fighter, Regina of Fairfield, before falling.
But the real star of the show was the Kobold Inventor, who used cover to his advantage, and threw a sack of wasps at the party (they jokingly guessed ‘bees’, then howled in delight and horror when it was revealed to be wasps instead). When he finally died, a lone skunk escaped from the wreckage and ran off into the woods to great rejoicing from the party.
We also noted how fucking hard Tomgrir the Dwarven Cleric of the Forge is. Ant, his player, rolled really really well at character creation, so he’s rocking Str 19, Wis 20, Stm 18, stuff like that. With his warhammer and his +1 enchantment from the Forge, he’s dishing out more damage in hand to hand melee than the Fighter, is much harder to hit, has significantly more HP, and is more likely to hit as well. He’s a literal tank, with healing.
I will be upping the CR of any encounters he takes part in.

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After the battle, the players interacted with the War Wizards, who were primarily interested in:

  • Where is Colonel Karlsson?
  • Where is Captain Marlowe?
  • What happened to the crew of the Cerberus?
  • Who are you people and what are you doing in a war zone?

The War Wizards then spent some time trying to comprehend the answers they were being given…
“You’re transporting a corpse, through a war zone, down a river that stops about halfway to your destination, at a nearly impassable mountain range, and you just happened to hitch a ride with one of Cormyr’s best assassins, and you think this is plausible?”

By this time people had started asking about Marlowe, and where he was. The party last saw him trapped in a bamboo cage hung from the ruins’ ceiling, and were quite happy to leave him there.
Marlowe is no longer in the cage.
After a search, he is found, emerging from Karlsson’s quarters, machete in hand, in a state of visible shock.

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Marlowe, being iconic and batshit insane

The assembled War Wizards, primarily of the second contingent, surround Marlowe and take him into custody.
The party rush into Karlsson’s quarters to survey the damage, and find him dead on the floor. Their reaction: investigate (loot) Karlsson’s quarters.

The Horror

Karlsson, being dead, yet still maddeningly inspirational

I roll on the loot table, and roll well. They get 4 Art Objects, each worth 50gp, and some magic snacky items: A Dagger or Warning, an Amulet of Proof Against Detection, and a Cloak of Protection.
Somehow the party democratically decide that Jov is the most appropriate person to have the Dagger and Amulet, and Dio gets the Cloak (because he’s basically topless, and it stacks with his Dragon Scale AC).

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I am always gladdened by the fact that Giant Goat’s exist in D&D

We ended the session with the Party, Greynora, Matrice and the late Devon Harding catching a lift back to Cormyr with the first group of War Wizards.

For the next session, I took a different planning approach – I plotted out the session in a Google Doc, printed it out, and ran it from that.

Here’s the intended session. I’ve added notes in bold italics on how it actually played out.
It is worth noting that Jov’s player, Ken, couldn’t make it this session, so Jov snuck off into the city at the earliest possible opportunity. I intend to run Ken through the Downtime activities section in Xanathar’s Guide, specifically the Crime ones, next session.

Structure: Roleplay / Backstory / Plot foreshadowing > Funeral > Roleplay > Undead > Roleplay This bit makes no sense, yet seems like it should…

Party are assigned a member of the War Wizards, an overly enthusiastic 13yo apprentice wizard called Edgar Tenser (I didn’t want to be a Wizard, I wanted to be a Bard, but it’s the family business, and after Great Grandpapa invented the Disc…), to supervise and guide them whilst enjoying military hospitality. Edgar will be a doomed love interest for a recurring NPC**

I also need to introduce the current Queen, Raedra Obarskyr, and the possibility of plots against her. I did this somehow, yet cannot quite remember how…

Debrief: There’s some confusion as to who the party are and who they work for. Some assume that they were with Marlowe, others that they were with Karlsson, others that they are agents of the opposing faction of War Wizards. The explanation that they were trying to transport a body to Suzail is met with blank incomprehension.

There is also confusion as to what Dio and Tomgrir are doing. Are they deserters? Are they permanently assigned to the Harding party? Are the Hardings part of the Purple Dragon Knights?

Party are given basic quarters in a keep on the East wall of Suzail, although they are expected to find their own lodgings in short order. This presents a challenge, as the Hardings are effectively broke.

They are assigned a Liason – Edgar Tenser, an apprentice Wizard. Edgar is training to be a War Wizard, but at the moment is running errands and escorting possibly dangerous dissidents. Gosh. Edgar’s portrayal went from ‘Angus McDonald‘ to ‘frustrated adult surrogate’ within the first interaction. 

Shopping opportunity! Sell the art objects they looted from Karlsson’s quarters, and buy some cool shit…

Matrice has three objectives now that they’re in Suzail

  1. Inter Devon Harding in the Obarskyr Mausoleum (situated within the Grand Necropolis, outside Suzail), with some pomp and circumstance
  2. Arrange a suitable suitor for Greynora
  3. Arrange a suitable suitor for herself

Matrice employs Dio and Tomgrir to assist in Goal 1, and Regina and Vash to assist in Goals 2 and 3.

Dio & Tomgrir are asked to speak to the High Priest of the Necropolis and arrange the funeral: The High Priest, Talling Lowspire, is sympathetic, but it cannot be done. The Necropolis is still being rebuilt after suffering extensive damage during the war, and his schedule is absolutely chock full. His deputy, Franklin, is busy overseeing the restoration of the catacombs. After some persuasion, he acquisces to releasing a trainee Acolyte, Gallows, to conduct the ceremony. “After all, Lord Harding was hardly Royalty…”

Regina and Vash are asked to deliver letters to noble households across Suzail: They need to register as Adventurers to carry weapons and armour through Cormyr. They will be challenged by guard patrols and must produce documentation or face fine and/or arrest. Adventurers must apply for registration at the Royal bureaucracy.
The letters being delivered are letters of introduction, announcing Greynora and Matrice’s presence, eligibility and availability within Suzail.

So what actually went down? Reggie and Vash, both being blue-blooded nobles, instantly assumed that they had the right to carry weapons in Suzail, irregardless of the Adventurers Licence requirements. Guards tried to stop them. They blinked in incomprehension at these outlandish requirements. “But we’re Nobility – surely these ‘rules’ do not apply to us?” Edgar had to guarantee their passage and take responsibility for them before they were arrested, and thrown out of the city. No one challenged Dio and Tomgrir, because they’re obviously members of the Purple Dragon Knights, therefore legit. This aggrieved Reggie and Vash even more. 

The Funeral: a simple ceremony. No eulogies are read. Matrice lays a simple red rose on Devon’s coffin as it is sealed in the tomb. Greynora cries.

Reggie did deliver a eulogy, because she felt that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t very good (Gemma rolled poorly on the Performance check), which was in fact perfect. 

As they walk out of the mausoleum, Matrice tells Greynora “Good news. Salor Bleth has invited us to dine with him and his son, Jasper, at the end week. They are both highly eligible, so this is a wonderful opportunity for us both. I would like you to practice to oration and dancing before then…”

Greynora pauses for a moment, and runs off into the Necropolis.

The Catacombs: Greynora runs into the ruins; a section of the Necropolis partially burnt and demolished by the recent war. Scaffolding and canvas sheets cover buildings and monuments as they undergo repairs.

Greynora’s tracks lead into a collapsed and down to the catacombs beneath.

The catacombs here are much older than the Mausoleum the party were just in.

The party moved through the catacombs, following Greynora’s tracks in the dust. They found murdered workers and craftsmen, and evidence of more people entering the deeper depths. They fought a Ghoul, a Shadow, and a couple of Crawling Claws, then found a room with Skeletons, Zombies, Cultists, and a Cult Fanatic. Greynora was hiding in the room, watching them. As the Cult Fanatic became aware of the party’s presence, he ordered his minions to attack whilst he fled in to a further room. Greynora followed him, with Vash in tow.
We ended the session there.

  • Shadow. MM 269. CR 0.5 (100xp)
  • Skeletons. MM 272. CR 0.25 (50xp)
  • Crawling Claw(s). MM 44. CR 0 (10xp)
  • Ghoul. MM 148. CR 1 (200xp)
  • Zombies. MM 316. CR 0.25 (50xp)
  • Cultists. MM 345. CR 0.125 (25xp)
  • Cult Fanatic. MM 345. CR 2 (450xp)
  • [REDACTED]. CR 5 (1,800xp)
  1. Encounter 1: Ghoul, Shadow, 2 Crawling Claws (320xp)
  2. Encounter 2: 5 Cultists, 2 Skeletons, 2 Zombies (325xp)
  3. Encounter 3: Cult Fanatic, Crawling Claw (460xp)
  4. Encounter 4: [REDACTED] (1,800xp)

2,905xp total
726xp each
Plus roleplay awards

The combat encounters within the catacombs went well, from my perspective. Vash rolled badly, and was reduced to 1 HP (again). Everyone else took some hits and handed out some damage. My only gripe would be that the combat was not that dynamic – the party formed a line and held it, the undead dutifully attacked the line. No one used movement or special abilities. It was OK.

The next session will pick up with the rest of the party following Greynora and Vash into the final chamber, and confronting the Cult Fanatic and [REDACTED].
We’ll then (hopefully) cut to Jov and establish what he’s been doing for the last week or so. Hijinks will no doubt ensue, as well as some uncomfortable anti-halfling racism.

That… that’s not a very good strapline to end on…

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*I think
**Ssssshhh the players do not know this yet…

Mage Session 9: Prizefighter

Starting Point: Donnal, a teenaged apprentice Mage, has been challenged to a Duel Arcane by Miranda Peacock, an experienced and influential Mage, member of the Consilium Council and the powerful Cabal The Golden Trinity. If Donnal wins, all charges against him are dropped. If he loses, he loses his master, and will be reassigned to someone else if the Council’s choosing. It probably won’t be someone he likes…

Events

Donar immediately volunteered to be Donnal’s champion, mistakenly believing that a Duel Arcane might involve actual combat.

He quickly learnt that, no, it’s a match of magical power. Participating Mage’s choose two Arcana, one for attack, one for defense, and attempt to overwhelm the other, reducing their Willpower.

John Kelly stepped up, as the most magically proficient in the Cabal (Gnosis 3, Space 3, Fate 2).

As Hopper squared the circle (prepared the magical dueling area), John Kelly prepared himself… Cheating – using abilities, items and outside influences to improve your dueling capabilities – is strictly forbidden. However, it’s very hard to prove some interventions. John cast a good luck charm on himself using Fate 2, giving him the ‘9 Again’ benefit on a certain number of rolls. Normally in Mage, a single die showing ’10’ is counted as a success and rerolled: 10 Again. 9 Again allows a reroll on a 9 and a 10, increasing your chances of additional successes.

Bolstering in this manner is hard to detect and hard to prove.

John was also stocked to the gills on Mana, a magical resource that can be spent to add dice to magical dice pools, or to enhance magical effects.

What we’re saying here is that John went into the fight with lead shot in his gloves.

The first stage of any Duel Arcane is shit talking. Both combatants reel of magical lineages and accomplishments, and mock their opponents. The most cutting remarks win a bonus during the battle itself.

John won the shit talk stage, and then rolled badly, hardly denting Miranda, his opponent. In return, Miranda hit back with a solid blow.

It did not look good for John.

Then he decided to spend a point of Willpower (risky, because that’s the resource that your opponent depletes. The first to 0 Willpower loses), and rolls well.

Stupidly well.

With his Willpower expenditure and 9 Again enhancement, John scores 7 successes against Miranda, which instantly floors her. John wins. No one expects this.

I did not expect this.

As Storyteller, I’d tried to set this up as a close fight, but ultimately one they’d lose.

I let John’s player, Dave, load up on effects because I wanted him to have a chance, for the battle to last long enough, and for defeat to be close fought.

But no. Two rounds and he trounced her.

Oh well.

Still, this left me with a challenge.

The fight was supposed to demonstrate the inherent injustice in Mage society, and how the Golden Trinity cabal had corrupted the justice system to serve their own ends.

And their current goal was to usurp Granny and remove her from her, albeit unused, position of authority in the Consilium.

What I’d planned was a close battle, and defeat of the players, then the Golden Trinity pressing the letter of the law to strip Granny of all authority and magical assets. The players had already enforced a similar edict, so should be aware of how little of a shit the Consilium gave for ‘fairness’ in such matters.

But, my goals are The Golden Trinity’s goals are my goals. The Trinity want to antagonise Granny and goad her into an illegal act of aggression. It’s still possible, just a little harder.

Tall Les is still at large, so Angela, the defacto leader of the Trinity, issues a warrant for Tall Les’s arrest. Dead or alive, it’s all the same to me.

End Position: Granny rises to the bait, and squares off with Angela. Tall Les was her student, and she’ll throw everything else away before she sees him convicted of a crime be didn’t commit. Probably.

As the session ends, Granny has withdrawn from the Consilium and revoked her position within it. She exits the gathering warning all and sundry that any attempt to enforce Consilium law on her land or her people will be met with force.

Wait – That’s not how it ended… We had about 30 minutes of playtime left. I expected the Cabal to return home, regroup, discuss tactics and then attend to Granny.
Noooo.
They went straight to Tall Les’s instead. They were worried about him.

Arriving at Tall Les’s house in Tadcaster, they discovered signs of a struggle – They piece together that Les was packing in a hurry, and then was set upon. Some of the damage to the kitchen and hallway is horrific.
Then, in the bath, they find a dead body.
Outside the bathroom, they find a raven.

Winston Blue uses Mind to converse with the Raven, and they learn that Les used to feed it, and occasionally ride it. It tells them some details of the fight, and how Les fled to the other side.

Eels song: Prizefighter

Mage: the Awakening session 7 report – Things the Grandchildren Should Know

Starting position: the Cabal have beaten up Ch’ord Upperhill, and forced their way into his shop. They are looking for a 5 volume arcane book (books? Whatever, it’s a set), and are happy to break shit until they get it.

Main events: the players did break shit. They broke my plot.

They had two options

  1. Take the books from Ch’ord, give them to Barnaby Woodhouse, because he’s the legal owner of the books, and set Plot Ball A rolling
  2. Let Ch’ord keep the books, because he’s the moral owner, and set Plot Ball B rolling

So, the thing about Mage, is that you can choose to magically create a second trolley, and achieve both results.

Yes, the results in this case is ‘through the players conscious choice, they have caused 6 innocent people to die, rather than 1 or 5’. This was not lost on the players. They delighted in it.

After whaling on Ch’ord, they started talking to him, and out of the blue decided to use magic to create a second, identical set. They even provided raw materials, 5 pawns of Tass to make them permanent, and the Arcanum that Ch’ord lacked, Mind, so that he could perform a ritual to create identical copies.

Ch’ord took them to his secret sanctum; a locked storage unit in a converted industrial estate. Behind the standard yellow corrugated iron door, Ch’ord keeps what looks like a small pocket dimension. It has a TARDIS effect, and was much larger inside than it appeared to be on the outside. At this point all the nerds in my game shouted “yes, we know what a TARDIS is, thank you…”

Ch’ord also keeps a pet zombie, called Lennie. Lennie was supposed to be a combat encounter, as he guards the sanctum, but the Cabal had effectively negged Ch’ord by this point and he called Lennie off.

Lennie is an enhanced, permanent zombie, and as such probably worth quite a bit. Ch’ord claims to have stolen him from a morgue.

The sanctum also featured an angry portrait of a stern looking woman (I know what I said) that the Cabal were advised not to touch.

So Barnaby Woodhouse got the originals, and is very happy. Plot Ball A is rolling.

Ch’ord Upperhill also got the copies, and is happy. He gets to continue his Master’s work, as well as having 5 large handwritten books (in Sumerian, you should have heard Lionel read Sumerian poetry) to remember his departed father figure. Plot Ball B is rolling.

So both balls are going to try to roll down the same track, bounce off each other, and probably kill more than 6 innocent bystanders.

End point: Ch’ord is now their BFF. He owes them 5 Tass and a solid. They are Facebook friends (of a sort)…

Barnaby is acting like a doting uncle. He’s promised to pull some strings on behalf of Donnal, although he’s incredulous that he’d need help if Granny is his Master’s Master. He’s also made promises of future employment.

Session Title: Things the Grandchildren Should Know – Eels

Mage: the Awakening e6 Report: Estate Sale

Starting Position:

The Mages have been hired by Barnaby Woodhouse to reclaim items stolen from the estate of Lionel Davidson by Davidson’s apprentice, Ch’ord Upperhill.

Woodhouse is named as beneficiary in Davidson’s Last Will and Testament, however it is over ten years old, and written prior to Woodhouse and Davidson splitting up and never speaking again.

Upperhill has taken certain magical items and arcane texts, claiming that Davidson wanted him to have them. Sleeper law and the local Mage Consilium support Woodhouse’s claim.

Our Cabal of Mages are empowered to recover the items of Davidson’s estate from Upperhill.

Notable/Key Events:

The Cabal opted to take the direct approach, and confront Upperhill at his Sanctum: a Taxidermist in Wetherby (Upperhill Restorations). They found him vaping in the alley at the side of his shop.

Upperhill is in his late 20s, wears a black shirt, drainpipe black jeans, winklepicker boots, and a trenchcoat. He is doing vape tricks when they find him. His vape smells of strawberry shortcake.

The Mages cut straight to the chase: “we’re here for the items you took from Davidson’s estate.”

Upperhill firmly states his position: Davidson wanted him to have his works, Woodhouse has no claim, the Cabal can get bent. Whilst he’s talking, John Kelly notices that Upperhill is using the thick white vape cloud to hide the fact that he’s been manifesting Ectoplasm and weaving it into a functional shield and weapon.

Kelly acts first, and opens a portal behind Upperhill, with the intention of seizing the shield or weapon from his hands.

We fall into combat time, and Upperhill rolls really, really badly on initiative. Upperhill has been statted as a real combat threat, but that’s basically all negated if literally all the players get to act before he does.

The combat is short. Upperhill is cursed with Fate magic by Kelly, confused with Mind magic by Winston, whacked with a telekinetic blast and then electromagnetically disrupted by Hopper, intimidated by Donar and persued by Jon-Anthony and Sebastian the shadow pony familiar.

Upperhill flees into his taxidermy shop, with the cabal giving chase. Kelly opens a portal through the locked door, and Hopper and Donar rush in. They are confronted by a bizarre menagerie of posed animals.

An antique stuffed chimpanzee with cymbals and a fez animated and started laughing and clapping whilst following their movements with intelligent eyes, so Donar blasted it with a lightening bolt from his wand, leaving the chimp ablaze and partially melted. Hopper found Upperhill crouched in the middle of the floor, and booted him as hard as she could, knocking any remaining fight out of him.

End Position:

The cabal have a defeated Upperhill in the foetal position on the floor, and full access to his shop. They still do not have the volumes of work they’ve been employed to retrieve, or know their location.

Session title: Eels – Estate Sale

Mage: the Awakening session five report; Last Stop: This Town

Starting Point

The Mages are in their still undefined and undescribed sanctum.

Jon-Anthony is still unconscious from the previous session.

The characters are still concerned by the Donnal case they’ve been asked to investigate, and by the unprovoked attack they suffered last session.

Key Events

The last session ended with an opportunity to spend XP, so there’s a brief activity montage as the characters pump iron, read books, shave etc.

Jon-Anthony begins to regain consciousness, and is offered a cup of tea. He slips back into unconsciousness briefly, so Donar, Hopper and Winston discuss tea consent.

“He’s unconscious, so we can’t make him drink the tea…”

“But we don’t want to waste the tea, and he indicated that he would like some tea before falling unconscious again…”

“No. Just no.”

After Jon-Anthony is reliably conscious again, and has drunk his tea of his own free will, everyone else berates him for randomly summoning a ghost. This leads to discussion of the haunted storm lantern that Jon-Anthony bought in the first session, and how they suspect that it could have been a lure used by witch hunters. After some debate, the Mages decide that they have no immediate plans to blow the lantern up, and instead put it to one side.

Winston receives a call from Barnaby Woodhouse, a retired professor of History and Ancient Languages at York University. Barnaby introduces himself as an ‘old friend’ of Millicent Bulstrode, the Consilium Provost overseeing Donnal’s investigation. He asks if he can meet the Mages in two days, at a local pub, and they agree.

At this stage I expected the players to montage their XP expenditure. Instead they opted to revisit the scene of the crime and see if they can detect any more tell tale magical resonance.

They travel back to the now empty racecourse and attempt to sense the magical resonance of the area. Through recapping their existing knowledge, reading the fading magical resonance of the site, and through calling Tall Les, they confirm the following:

  • They think that Lucy was possessed or urged by a Goetic Evocation – a spirit created and commanded by a Hubristic Mage. The spirit is shaped by the Mage’s driving Vice, and appears as a platonic ideal of that Vice and the Mage that summoned it
  • They agree that a Mastigos Mage is the most likely to summon a Goetic Demon, given the Arcanum involved. A Thyrsus is least likely, as they would struggle to master the Mind magics required. However, it is possible it could be any sufficiently skilled Mage
  • They recall that Amanda Peacock, a member of the Golden Trinity cabal, and Consilium Counsellor, is a Mastigos
  • Tall Les can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to frame him or Donnal. “I mean, ok, there was that one time I compelled a flock of earth element birds to crap on her car…” “Was the car expensive?” “I think it was in a Bond film once…”
  • There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing towards different actors, but no actual evidence
  • They agree that they have a solid argument that Donnal did not commit the crime, but one only presentable within magical circles. As far as Sleeper society and law is concerned, Donnal is guilty as sin.

After further discussion, they agree to head to the arranged meeting with Barnaby Woodhouse.

They meet Woodhouse on The Swan and Talbot, a pub in the middle of Wetherby. Woodhouse is a round faced man in his late 60s, wearing a Tweed suit and sporting a hearing aid and an ornate, antique walking stick. The stick instantly pings as magical on their Unseen Sense.

Woodhouse lays out his problem: his partner of 20 years, Lionel Davidson, recently passed. Lionel was a genius, a research historian like Woodhouse, but he was into something. Something big, fundamental… revolutionary. He recorded all of his work in five volumes The Truth of Reality; Stripping Away the Great Lie, and it’s these volumes that Woodhouse is interested in.

However, Lionel’s apprentice has taken these volumes, plus a number of other magical items and books, and is refusing to return them. Woodhouse shares the Last Will and Testament and probate documents showing that he is the beneficiary of Lionel’s estate, as well as letters from the Consilium stating that they support his claim.

The Mages, in conversation with Barnaby, uncover a couple of incongruities in his story. Barnaby and Lionel were together for 20 years, but Barnaby has never met Lionel’s apprentice. The restaurants that Barnaby suggested as a meeting place all closed years ago. The Will he presented was dated over 10 years ago…

They challenge him, and Barnaby’s mood visibly changes. He appears smaller, and saddened. He expresses his love for Lionel, and his regret at words that were said and will now never be taken back. He leaves what details he has regarding Lionel’s apprentice, and again requests their assistance.

“He’s called ‘Chord Upperhill’.”

“Chord?”

“It’s a common word in the English language…”

“No, wait. It’s pronounced ‘Ch’ord’. Here, I’ll write it down.”

Barnaby offers to ‘grease the wheels of the political machine in your favour’ in return for assistance. He also states that he is only interested in the volumes, anything else they find, they can keep. He may be able to help them out in return, in the future.

End Position

The Mages have agreed to help Barnaby Woodhouse regain some assets from the estate of Lionel Davidson, in addition to their other concerns. They have yet to make contact with Ch’ord Upperhill.

Session title: Eels – Last Stop: This Town

Mage: The Awakening session four report – Friendly Ghost

Starting position

Travelling back home from Harrogate Infirmary, the four Mages – Donar, Hopper, Jon-Anthony and Winston Blue – are intercepted by a four armed men.

The fight very quickly falls on the favour of the Mages. Jon-Anthony uses Death magic to destroy a machete, Donar shields himself with Forces and doubles his defence, Hopper uses Forces to lower the temperature of a crowbar by 50 degrees Celsius, almost taking the wielders fingers off, and Winston uses Mind magic to confuse the assailants.

The tide is slowly turning towards the Mages – Donar and Hopper are the only active participants – and Jon-Anthony decides to summon a ghost.

Key events

A blast of chill air and pure terror washes over the combatants. The assailants are overcome with fear, and run. Jon-Anthony, who’s player couldn’t make it the session, presumably fails the Willpower test, and falls unconscious.

Donar chases one of the assailants down and starts punching him in the face… And doesn’t stop. He keeps going until he hears a ‘pop’ when he hits him and the guy falls limp. He drags the unconscious body back to the cars.

Hopper and Winston have another assailant trapped in a car. Winston uses Mind magic to convince the man he is on fire, and he dives out the car and drops and rolls on the road.

The Mages interrogate him, mostly using intimidation (aided by the blood dripping from Donar’s hands), and learn that the four armed men were hired to ‘test’ them. He has no idea what this means, but he can describe the people that hired them; a middle aged couple that sound suspiciously like the couple that Jon-Anthony recently bought a magical storm lantern from.

Hopper examines the area to determine what caused the wave of cold terror, and finds a strong Death resonance lingering around the boot of their car and Jon-Anthony’s new storm lantern.

The Mages release the man, magnanimously allowing him to drive his unconscious friend to a hospital, and return to their shared Sanctum.

There they examine Jon-Anthony’s storm lantern; it’s not magical, as they first thought. Instead, it’s haunted. They put it on a shelf until they decide what to do with it, and turn their attention to the four men who just attacked them, and why they were paid to do so.

They decide that it’s probably not related to their recent run in with another cabal of Mages and the local Provost, instead it’s most likely related to the storm lantern.

Jon-Anthony bought it because he could sense that it was somehow magical. They all could – it pinged on their Unseen Sense like a buzzing mosquito or a change in air pressure. The people he bought it from were clearly Sleepers, and the lantern was mixed in with a range of other mundane car boot sale junk.

They decide that the lantern was most likely a trap – it would only be of interest to Mages, so anyone buying it could then be observed and ‘tested’. They were put into danger, and used magic to get themselves out of it.

End position

“Shit, we really walked into that one, didn’t we…”

Session title: Eels – Friendly Ghost