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And so, the hunt begins again...
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ExistentialOcto

Artist | Student | Literature
United Kingdom


[Currently studying Creative Writing BA degree at the University of Gloucestershire - Third Year]

"Alucard is a furry and a feminist." - Me, 2018

I write stories of all sorts, yet not including sorts I don't write. I find those boring.
I mostly write flash fiction, but I do have a couple of more long-running works that update semi-frequently, along with the odd fan-fiction when I'm in the mood for it. I mostly write for my own amusement but you're all welcome to have a read if you like. Only if you want to. It's your life. I can't force you to do anything. It's a free world. Sort of.

I also upload journals of my various D&D campaigns that I DM. I play roughly once a week and upload a detailed account pretty much as soon as I'm done. I also occasionally upload journals of sessions where I'm a player, but that's only when it's part of a campaign that I also DM for. People who participate in sessions that I DM are not allowed to read the journals because I usually take the opportunity to talk about things that are coming up i.e. things I would consider spoilers for them.

I have done some art but I don't claim to be a very good artist. I got a C in GCSE Art, if that helps you prepare for the horror. If I draw something and it looks like it was drawn by someone older than six, I might upload it. UPDATE: For the past year (pretty much all of 2018) I've been practising my drawing skills and I think I've improved. The chance of me uploading something has gone up, I'll say that much.

I will also be uploading some truly terrible poetry now and again. Trust me, it will be godawful and/or far too cryptic for anyone but me to understand. And that's not even a statement about my intelligence, it's just that the poetry will be completely incoherent and unreadable. But it might be good. Maybe.
UPDATE (9/12/2018): Fuck poetry.

On the rare occasion I receive some insight on a game/book/film, I might write a review or an analysis on it. These will probably go into my journal instead of being submitted as deviations.

In any case, I hope you enjoy the content I put out here. I'm sure those of you who like things like Bloodborne and pretentious "La Moustache" stuff will find something enjoyable. Not that I'll ever write anything that isn't incredibly edgy, of course.

Thanks \o/

Links:

YouTube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCstOH…

Wattpad: www.wattpad.com/user/Existenti…

Twitter: twitter.com/ooccttoo

The Bible: katfeete.net/writing/suestart.…

Sausages: www.thebest404pageever.com/swf…
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Innistraddraft3 by ExistentialOcto
My first attempt at a map of Innistrad using Wonderdraft. You can see Stensia and Corsovia in the bottom-left, which is where the party are currently.

Today was a fairly chilled-out session. Mostly we were wrapping up Corsovia-related stuff and getting the characters to know each other.

Joining us we had:
  • Nadine of the Flame, a holy warrior of a self-proclaimed purpose - Daria's Aasimar (Ashen Beast Lycanthrope) Paladin 8 (Oath of Vengeance)
  • Nevaeh, the scion of a prestigious family of archmages with a deadly secret in her blood - Alice's Human Cleric 3 (Knowledge Domain)/Slayer 5 (Demonheart)
  • Isolde, a wild woman with a criminal past who fights the forces of darkness for cash - James' Fighter 3 (Champion)/Revised Ranger 5 (Hunter) 
  • Blaine, a retired soldier bearing a curse and searching for redemption - Bailey's Stensian Human, Blood Hunter 7 (Order of the Lycan)
  • Damia, a young lady with fiendish essence in her veins, a smile in her heart and a dark past - Nel's Tiefling Sorcerer 8 (Shadow Magic)

We started in Caspar's house, waiting for night to fall so we could smuggle Mr and Mrs Miller out of town. It was still about midday, so we had plenty of time to do w/e. While we were still getting warmed up role-play wise, Gordon gave Blaine a funny look.

Blaine: *hungover* "Yeah?"

Gordon: "You are Blaine, aren't you?"

Blaine: "...Yeah?"

Gordon: "I thought you were dead."

You then recognise this man. He used to be part of the Lamas guard with you, but due to an embarrassing incident where he insulted the Lords Lavoi (the ones who run Lamas) his career was obstructed from progressing. 

Blaine: "What are you doing here?"

Gordon: "Wasn't much point staying in Lamas, so I thought I'd come here and make something of myself. It worked out, I'm a lieutenant now. But what are you doing here? I guess this means you really did abandon your post after all. What're you doing now, banditry or...?"

Blaine: *angry* "The way things were, I had to leave. There was nothing for me in Lamas anymore."

Levi: *to Gordon, pensive* "You better not poke your nose into things you know nothing about."

Gordon: "Alright, fine, fine..."

Gordon also questioned what Damia was (she wasn't hiding her tiefling features (gold eyes, small horns, purple hair, gold arm veins) at this point, so they just showed them the letter she has and Gordon was like "eh, whatever then, I don't wanna get involved". 

Following this, Nadine decided to go get a bath in the tavern (Red Dead 2 style).

Levi: "Mind if I come with you? This might be the last time we get to talk to each other."

Nadine: *realising that he's right, hiding that she's deeply upset by the idea of never seeing him again* "Of course."

Blaine: "You're going to get in the bath together, right?"

Nadine/Levi: *death glare*

Blaine: :3

Along the way, Levi and Nadine talked about their situation.

Levi: "Would you like me to put your parents up in Perren and X-05's house?"

Nadine: "No, I think it'd be better for them to live with me when I get back. Why Perren and X-05's?"

Levi: "No reason in particular, I just know that you like your privacy."

Nadine: "Thank you for doing this."

Levi: "It's the least I can do. You helped save Shadowgrange. It might not be the grandest, greatest place in the world but it's my home and it means everything to me. The least I can do is help you save your hometown."

Nadine: *OOC* "Aw, bitch..."

So they got to the tavern and got baths. The rest of the group egged them on to get a bath together OOC, but Daria and I knew that neither Levi or Nadine would initiate that. They still thought of each other while they were bathing though ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Meanwhile, Isolde went to get the half-plate she looted tailored to fit her (it was too big) but the smith (a large lad/daddy bear-looking grump called Harrison) was too busy to do it unless she paid extra (100gp total). Isolde didn't have enough, having already spent most of her money on something. I have no recollection what it was, but she had already spent it nearly all of it.

This led to James asking me if there was anything he could do in town to raise some money, so I told him that there was a fight club in town (something I had planned to use when the players first came to Corsovia if they looked in the right place). This led to the whole party indepently deciding to go to the fight club that evening to blow off steam/make money.

Nadine: "Hey, you ever been to the fight club around here? Wanna go watch it with me?"

Levi: "Uh... sure, maybe. I'm not sure how entertaining it would be unless someone I knew was in it-"

At that exact moment, Isolde and Damia walk into the tavern excitedly talking about joining the fight club.

Levi: "Welp... sure then, why not."

At the fight club, which was held outside the tavern round the back, they saw the other contestants: 3 commoners and 2 knights of the red (all men). The knights, after taking their armour off, were pretty ripped. At this point, we had a discussion of what modifiers mean what, and this is what we came up with:

+0: average

+1: strong, if not not visibly so

+2: toned

+3: ripped (the two knights, Levi, Isolde)

+4: JACKED (Nadine and Blaine)

+5: Herculean/Joestar

Getting ready for the tournament, Blaine took his shirt off and threw it at Nadine, making a snarky comment. In response, she did the same. Daria specified that Nadine wore a bandage-like binder thing, so there was no tiddy action. At this time, everyone could see the jagged scar Quince's horn left in her left shoulder but there was obviously no way to tell that it was a lycanthropy scar. Getting into the fighting, I used the rules found in Xanathar's Guide to Everything on pit fighting. I had the PCs who were competing (Nadine, Blaine, Isolde and Damia) to make an Athletics check, an Acrobatics check and an attack roll with one of their weapons. Here's how they did:
            Athletics        Acrobatics        Attack
Blaine:   Success         Failure           Failure    =   Was able to out-wrestle one of the commoners pretty easily, got taken down by Nadine

Nadine:  Success         Failure           Success  =   Beat one of the knights in a boxing match, beat Blaine in an brass-knuckle fight but was beaten by the other                                                                                knight.

Isolde:   Failure           Failure           Success   =  Beat a handaxe-wielding commoner in an axe fight, but was beaten in the following round by the same knight who                                                                          took Nadine down.

Damia:   Failure          Success          Failure     = Was able to beat one of the commoners by out-pacing him and getting him too tired to continue, but was taken out                                                                         in the next round.

As a result, none of the party won the tournament but they did win a little money from it. Iirc, Nadine won 80gp and the others all won 40gp (although Damia gave her money to Isolde who she knew was low on funds at the time). 

After this, they all headed to the stables to grab their horses. Isolde and Nevaeh took Ace and Perren's horses (respectively), so now everyone in the party as a horse of their own. Nadine also helped Levi pay for a wagon to put the Millers in and they all rode up to Caspar's house. There, Nadine said her goodbyes to her parents. As they helped Nora down the stairs, Jonah tried to make up to his daughter.

Jonah: "I wanted to apologise for what I said last night. I know I can't make everything between us alright, but with what you're going to be doing soon this might be my last chance. I don't want you last memory of me to be me as a bitter old man."

Nadine: *OOC* "Aw, bitch..."

As you head out the door, Nora seems to have a short flash of awareness. She takes your hand and squeezes it. She says "stay safe, dear", just like she's saying goodbye to you as you leave to go to school.

Daria: *emotional* "Awwww my god, that's so sweet..."

Nadine, Isolde and Damia also said their goodbyes to Caspar, who cheerfully told the latter of whom to "catch 'em all" in regards to ecclesiastical signatures.

Nadine: "Thank you for everything, Caspar. You're a man of great honour and kindness."

Caspar: *taking her hand, smiling* "Thank you, Nadine. I hope I get to see you again one day."

Isolde: *to Len* "Take it easy."

Len: *bork*

Yeah, he's going to take it as easy.

The party then rode out in a convoy of riders, following Levi's wagon through town. 

You head through town in silence, people turning to look. There's a sense of unease, a feeling like something big is about to happen. There's acoustic guitar music playing in the background that's quite ominous but has a slight note of hope to it.
___________________

After this, they rode for a few miles through the farmlands (seeing some siege engines like trebuchets being built) and came to a road block when the road got narrower and more mountainous, with Castle Falkenrath looming overhead. At the road block, two knights were at the wooden gate and one was looking overhead. The players (nervous) saw that one of the ground bois was Matthew (good) and the other was a woman they'd never seen before (yike) and the one up top was Gordon (seemingly in charge). The unnamed knight questioned each of them in turn as to who they were, asking for identification and verification. There was a tense moment when she asked Levi what was in the wagon, but he nat20'd a deception check to tell her it was empty, having dropped off a few crates of weaponry as a gift from Shadowgrange. Gordon gave a thumbs up, and the wagon was not searched. Damia hid her features and showed her letter, so she was let through as well. 

After a little more riding, the road diverged and Levi took a dirt path towards Shadowgrange.

Levi: *saluting the group* "Farewell, friends! Good luck, and keep my brother out of trouble."

Blaine: *laughs* "Fuck you, man." *salute*

Levi: *laughs as well, smiles somewhat sadly at the group* "You better come back to Shadowgrange one day, you hear?"

As he rode away, Nadine made to carry on but couldn't help ride after him. She called out and got him to stop, then went beside him. She put her hands around the back of his neck and pressed her forehead against his, the only real intimate gesture she knew. "I will be back." She then rode away before he could say anything. It was very cute, I'm pretty happy with how Levi and Nadine's relationship is going. 

After a failed attempt at conversation with the cagey Nevaeh, Damia asked Blaine "so, you like drinking, huh?"

Blaine: "Sure, I do. Want some?"

Damia: "Sure! ^_^"

Blaine: *checks his pockets, realises that Nadine took his hard liquor* "Hmmm... hey Nadine, if you and Levi get married, that'll technically make you my sister. So you can keep that flask as an early wedding present-"

Nadine: *iNSTANTLY throws the flask at him and rides faster, the air around her a degree or two hotter*

After Damia got a little tipsy off the liquor, the group set up camp in a copse of trees a little way away from the road. Nadine used a herbalism kit to gather berries for dinner and went on a hunting trip with Blaine. Isolde cut down a tree using her lumberjack powers and Damia set it on fire with her devil powers. 

On that hunting trip, Nadine and Blaine used their Keen Senses to track down a doe. I described how being able to smell the doe from a distance and track it just with that was a strange experience for Nadine, it was like her awareness had expanded beyond herself. It was thrilling and unsettling in equal measure. They sneaked up on the doe and both fired their crossbows at it (Nadine used Oathbearer to do it, meaning the doe's soul was absorbed by it). They started to head back to the camp, Nadine carrying the doe.

Blaine: "Hey Nadine?"

Nadine: *shifting the doe so she could listen better* "Yeah?"

Blaine: "What did you mean when you said to Siessa that you'd lost your humanity?"

Nadine: *exhale*

Nadine then told Blaine about her being an Ashen Beast and how her scar on her shoulder is from being stabbed by the beast's horn. Blaine, in turn, asked if she had a plan for the forthcoming new moon. When she gave only a vague answer, he said he could help her. When she asked how, his eyes flashed golden and he showed a bite scar on his hip, revealing that he was a lycan (as opposed to a lycanthrope). He basically divulged his whole backstory, including how he came to be posted at Lamas, how his daughter became a wererat, how he became a lycan to protect others from her and how he had to kill her on her first full moon. He knew of a secret, heretical ritual that was supposed to calm the beast within by embracing it.

Nadine: "Are you sure that would work for me?"

Blaine: "There are three outcomes. It works, and you don't go crazy. Two, it doesn't and I restrain you. Three, I can't restrain you and I have to kill you. That, too, is part of my duty."

Daria: *OOC* "He can try..."

Also, through this whole exposition dump Blaine and Nadine were super uncomfortable. They're like bros (and kind of like Shepard and Vega) who bond over being jacked but can't talk about feelings at all. 

After this, Isolde used her Primeval Awareness to make sure they were alone and then they settled down to sleep (everyone slept in a bedroll aside from Nevaeh who had a tent).

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So yeah, chill session. The first time the whole group has been at a session since the summer, I think. I'm very glad we got an opportunity to get all the PCs to know each other a little bit and have some downtime to just be themselves before the horrors I have lined up for them come to get them. Next time we'll be heading to Jessa and possibly passing through Lamas. I'm almost certain we'll be seeing Nadine's first transformation, which will finally allow me to show off the art I got made for her. 

Another thing to note is that Daria said that she wants to "play this campaign for the rest of her life" which is really sweet and a wonderful thing for me to hear. Sadly, I'm not sure how much longer I can keep running it and I don't know how it'll end. I hope we get some sort of satisfying conclusion, but we might also just TPK. I think the best thing we can hope for as things are now is that we can finish it in some sort of satisfactory way before the end of this academic year. Assessments are getting me down at the moment, so I won't be running anything until at the latest December the 10th. I may be doing a DnD module for my dissertation, but I'm not sure yet. I'll probably talk about that at some point.

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I've been nervous about this session for a long while. In fact, I cancelled it last week because I felt like it wasn't up to snuff. Turns out that the parts I was most worried about were non-issues because the players didn't even see them, and the parts I felt they'd be bored by they were apparently thrilled by. So... I guess we can chalk that up to me being overly nervous before every session again.

Joining us we had:
  • Nadine of the Flame, a holy warrior of a self-proclaimed purpose - Daria's Aasimar (Ashen Beast Lycanthrope) Paladin 7 (Oath of Vengeance)
  • Nevaeh, the scion of a prestigious family of archmages with a deadly secret in her blood - Alice's Human Cleric 3 (Knowledge Domain)/Slayer 5 (Demonheart (basically Dragonheart but re-flavoured, whaddya gonna do, sue me?))
  • Isolde, a wild woman with a criminal past who fights the forces of darkness for cash - James' Fighter 3 (Champion)/Revised Ranger 5 (Hunter) 
We started pretty much where we left off, with the characters I mentioned above + a very hungover Blaine (Bailey was at a Halloween party), Damia (Nel was going to their dad's for their birthday) and Caspar. Levi came in a few minutes later.

It was pretty funny and awkward at first, because 2/3rds of the party were complete strangers to Nadine and the others, meaning that the conversation didn't really get flowing all that quickly. I was also feeling a bit nervous and meh, but pretty quickly we got talking about the group's next move. Nadine wanted to go back into the catacombs to investigate further, which Isolde was quite happy to do if it meant payment for fighting monsters. I do love her one-track mind, as you'll see as we go on she'll try to get paid for everything. Nevaeh talked a little about Tesh, saying that it had become infested with some sort of demonic plague and that helping the people there would make them ally with them rather than Katrina (potentially). Nadine agreed that it'd be a good idea (and Isolde thought it sounded like a paid thing, so she liked it too). In Nevaeh's own words:

Nevaeh: "If you want to take down a monarchy, first you have to cut off their allies and cut off their captain's heads."

Isolde: "Or we could just cut off Katrina's head, that might be faster."

After discussion had closed, the group went with Levi to the catacombs. Along the way, Nadine and Levi had a conversation about Mr and Mrs Miller. Nadine requested that Levi help them leave Corsovia to go somewhere safe, and Levi replied saying he was actually going to suggest he help smuggle them out back to Shadowgrange. 

Levi: "It's the least I can do."

Heading back into the catacombs, Nadine cast light on her shield and led the way back to the ceremonial tomb of Evelyn Lowe. Along the way they came to a four-way intersection that they'd passed the last time they were there. This time, they heard something moving through the ankle-deep water down one of the corridors. Nadine yelled "who goes there?" and whatever it was ran away. They then proceeded to the tomb. The riddle door had reappeared and didn't open when Nadine smeared her blood on it, as the answer to the riddle is to smear pure human blood on it. Nadine's a lycanthrope, so there you go. Levi opened the door and gave her a look to tell her to be more careful. She replied that she's too tired to think this shit through. "Fair," he replied.

Inside the tomb, Isolde straight-up looted the half plate armour from the fake corpse and broke its arm off.

Isolde: "Oh heck yeah, half plate."

Nadine, Levi and Nevaeh: *shaking head in disbelief* "This is a sacred site, you can't just take whatever you want."

They examined the walls and deciphered that most of the writings in celestial were specialised wards that confuse the unholy. They also saw an image of Evelyn Lowe being followed by a handful of historical figures within the church. One of them, who they realised was holding the legendary sun sabre, was someone none of them recognised. It was actually X-05's master, Janobi, but since X-05 is gone now I might not have Janobi be holding onto the sword right now. We'll see. 

Following this, the group heard footfalls in the water. Nadine went out to make it seem like she was alone and saw one knight of the red, Kopes the Bodak and one of Kopes' ghouls. Weirdly, they were all shambling along like zombies with slightly glowing green eyes, and when they spoke, they spoke as one. 

???: "Give back what you stole."

Nadine: "Uh... you mean from the tomb? Because we kind of assumed the place was already desecrated so-"

???: *pointing at Oathbearer* "That weapon stole something from our master, and he wants it back. Hand it over or die."

After a little conversation, Daria figured that Oathbearer had had some weird effect when she used it to kill the glowy green boi last time

Nadine: *cockily swinging Oathbearer (morning star form) around* "Suurrrre, I'd love to give it to him personally."

???: *eye narrow* "Don't try anything."

When the knight stepped forward he saw Levi and so Levi had to blag that he was the only one with Nadine. The three weirded-up servants of green boi (he'll get a name in a minute) took Levi and Nadine to a room a corridor away. Nevaeh and Isolde successfully sneaked behind them.

Reaching an antechamber, Nadine recognises this place as where the richest and most respected people in Corsovia were buried. Along one wall is a series of impressive sarcophagi with personalised epitaphs and portraits carved in made of polished marble or steel. At the end of the chamber is a pile of bones arranged in a vaguely throne-like shape. Upon it, sits the glowing green demon from before. Only now, it looks different: its glowing green heart within its stolen skeleton is now only green around the edges, the core being sickly yellow. It seems to fidget, uncomfortable.

Demon: "Come closer, so I can see them... ah yes, the paladin. What did you do to me? That weapon, it took a small piece of me when it struck me down. Give it to me, now!"

Nadine: "I'd be happy to." *activates her Radiant Soul, her angelic wings appear*

Roll for initiative!

At first, the servants of the demon didn't do much. Nadine's AC was just too much for the ghoul and Kopes didn't get to do much. The knight (who got a couple opportunity attacks from backing up) missed a few times with his musket and hit both Kopes and Nevaeh by accident. Isolde charged in on her turn and cast a spell to tie the head demon up in brambles. Nevaeh, being the brainbox she is, knew what the head demon was. And when it revealed its name was "Zoglan", Nadine realised something about it as well.

Banassas are minor demons that are known as the “pilot fish” of Orcus. If you meet one, it means that a cult of Orcus or a major demon created by him is nearby.

They are often found in sites of great bloodshed such as in the aftermath of wars. Otherwise, they often appear in human burial sites. In these places they create small bands of undead that serve as their bodyguards and hunt down anyone or anything that enters its domain. It can charm hostiles to praise it and can possess the corpses it animates to prolong its life. Because its soul is so used to moving from body to body, it is difficult to trap its soul using magic such as a phylactery or soul cage.

Because of their greedy and egotistical nature, many of them do not achieve their wild ambitions of being lords of the dead and end up settling for bullying a small pack of mindless undead.

The name "Zoglan" is just a generic demon name, meaning that this guy is probably a nobody in terms of demonkind as a whole.

Daria: "So we can tell this guy's just a bitch then right?"

Yeah, he- *laughs, Venom voice* "Where I come from, I'm a bit of a loooser."

The fight continued, with the group making steady progress. However, there were a few developments that happened in quick succession which threatened their advantage.

  1. Kopes started to fight more ferociously, punching Nevaeh with an attack that did 4d8+3 necrotic twice. In the book it's 1d4 + 3 bludgeoning + 2d8 necrotic, but I figured Kopes would be dead soon anyway so I may as well make his time upon the stage worthy of applause.
  2. The knight ran out of bullets and charged Isolde with a sabre at the ready. He struck once with the sabre and then he somehow attacked with his claws, even though he seemed to not have any. The players were horrified and confused, as there was no indication that this guy was undead or anything other than human. And it was a crit, AND it paralysed Isolde. And when he went for his third attack ("WTF HE HAS THREE ATTACKS???") which was a bite that critted again. Isolde had a big ol' chunk of her shoulder torn and her armour damaged by that one. She saw no fangs, and yet he was able to bite down on her with the force of a fully grown werewolf (by way of crude example).
  3. Nadine chased Zoglan down as he tried to run and smote him once again. When she did so, his soul jumped to Kopes (turning from yellow to red in the process, implying it was a "three strikes and you're out" deal). But before it did, a small part of the soul was absorbed by Oathbearer and a strange tingling was felt from it. I told Nadine that she felt like she'd felt this feeling before when killing enemies with this weapon, but she'd never been fully conscious of it. Daria was very intrigued, but couldn't figure out what it meant.
With Kopes being taken over by Zoglan's will, the party converged on him to finish him off. His aura was causing them damage every round, and those of them without resistance to necrotic damage had reason to fear his touch. There was a scary moment where it seemed like Levi was taking rather a lot of damage and a moment where I said:

Levi sees his opening when Koplan lunges at Nevaeh and attempts to ram his longsword into Koplan's body.

*short pause*

Nadine: *OOC* "God I wish that were me."

Gdi.

Anyway, in a round or two Nadine swooped in and laid down the final blow from above, crushing Koplan's face in with Oathbearer. The soul inside him lurched towards the knight, but was then subsumed by Oathbearer. It flashed with a strange light and Nadine felt a presence from it that was neither holy or unholy, divine or demonic.

Daria: "What the hell is going on...?

Also, Oathbearer is a +2 weapon now.

Daria: "WHAT!?!!" *big confuse* "Why did that shopkeeper sell me this thing for 50gp...?"

It's almost like an omniscient god has plans :3 

Daria: "HMM."

The knight, upon his "master's" death, fainted. Nadine slung him over her shoulder with the intention of bringing him back to Caspar's for questioning. Before they could leave the room, however, the knight actually woke up. He struggled away from Nadine's grip and demanded to know what was going on. His name was Matthew, and Nadine vaguely recognised him from 10 years ago. They tried to question him, but he knew nothing of the time he was possessed and chalked the claws and biting thing to the demon's magic. He said he'd come down with another knight and his superior officer, Sir Algernon Falkenrath. Isolde asked if she could get a reward for saving them and Matthew said he'd write her a cheque. They then looked around and found the other knight, a middle-aged man called Gordon. He was also free from possession and had killed off Kopes' other ghoul. Gordon and Matthew had a murmured conversation which Nadine used her lycanthropic hearing to listen in on.

"What are they doing here?" "They came in through the graveyard." "We didn't even know that was possible anymore. Get rid of them, quickly."

Matthew then attempted to usher them out.

Matthew: "So, we thank you for your help thus far, but we'd really appreciate it if you left the area, this situation is under the control of the Knights of the Red. We shouldn't need any help going forward, we're just going to have a quick look around the area to make sure it's secure and then head back to base."

Nadine and Isolde: *curious, thinks they're hiding something* "Are you suuurrre you wouldn't like help?"

Matthew: "Please, that won't be necessary." *pulls out a pad of paper from pocket* "Here, I'll write you a cheque for your help. What would be good compensation for warriors like you? 50gp each?"

As he says the word "warriors", something appears in the gloom. A figure, perhaps, a thing made of roiling smoke with red eyes appears behind Matthew. And it reaches out to him with a low "hissss". And that's where we'll end it, it's getting late.

It then turned out that everyone wanted to keep playing, so didn't end it there. Instead, we continued until about 1:30am.

What looks like a small hole like a mouth appears on the creature's face and a low howl issues from it. It seems almost quiet at first, but then it reverberates through each of your skulls impossibly loudly. Make a Wisdom saving throw.

Daria: "My rolls are garbage tonight. Nat1."

James: "I got 7?"

Oke, so Isolde, Nevaeh and Levi all grip their heads in agony as this bizarre sound echoes around their skulls. It seems almost to be a voice, but so distorted it doesn't make sense. Nadine, however...

Daria: "Oh god..."

Nadine sees a vision. She sees what seems to be a circle of people wearing regal clothes and blindfolds around a fire pit in a fairly small room. She recognises them as her vampire brethren. She then sees her hand reach up and pull off her own blindfold. All the other vampires look at her in shock, some yelling "wait!" or "what the hell are you doing?!" Then she looks down into the flames and sees a terrible vision within the vision. A vision not dissimilar to what she saw when she died plays before her in the flames. And then it ends. Also you take 22 psychic damage.

James: "Do I take damage?"

Uh, sure, if you want. *rolls* Take 13 psychic damage.

James: "Nice."

Daria was pretty shook, wondering what the hell it all meant. The party demanded to help chase the creature when it then fled, but Matthew said he and Gordon would deal with the demon alone. Nevaeh, with a good Religion check, pointed out it was probably an undead spirit, not a demon and the party convinced him to let them help. They chased after the creature, Nadine getting the best Athletics to chase. Again, we rolled for initiative. Note the varigouilles I forgot to use.

The fight went pretty quick, the only important parts being Nadine using misty step to flank the spirit and finish it off fairly quickly, Isolde healing Levi when the thing howled again and Nevaeh using spiritual weapon to attack from above. The creature (an allip) used its howl again and Nadine nat1'ed again, which gave me the perfect opportunity to drop the rest of the vision on her. Also, I had the allip deal 1d8 psychic to anyone who hit it just to make it scarier, plus anyone who failed the save against the howl (i.e. Nadine) would see more vision.

You see what you already saw again, and then the vision continues. You reel back from the vision in the flames and your mind and body disintegrate. You become as roiling smoke, giggling madly. You fly through the corridors of the castle you find yourself in, with vampires and knights chasing, yelling "don't let it escape!" You fly through a window and down to a courtyard where you see a well. 

Nadine started to realise what this thing was, and when she destroyed it she saw the last few seconds of the vision: You swoop into the well, flying through darkened tunnels and corridors, until you hear a voice and see light shining through. You approach a group of humanoids and hear the words "-be good compensation for warriors like you? 50gp each?" The vision ends.

Daria/Nadine obviously understood what the vision was, as I'm sure you do too. Nadine then attacked the two knights in a rage, demanding answers. The party knocked Matt out and Gordon fled, although Nadine found him in a sarcophagus. Gordon tried to shoot her, but she batted the gun aside and pinned him on the wall. She then turned Oathbearer into brass knuckles and punched him into submission. Soon Gordon realised there was no escape and surrendered. He figured she was possessed somehow by the allip. The party took the two guards back to Caspar's house for interrogation. 
________________


Once there, Caspar had a little breakdown in fear over being executed for being involved with the party who were apparently in the business of assaulting the queen's knights. The party had a conversation with Gordon and Matthew and tried to convince them that Katrina was evil and had sinister ends in mind. Matthew tried to reason that even if Katrina was using dark powers she was still fighting the demons. Nadine, having seen that vision, was unconvinced. 

Nadine actually went upstairs and brought her parents down as proof. Jonah gave his side of the story after a short but emotional convo with Nadine.

Jonah wipes his eyes, showing emotional vulnerability for the first time since you reunited. "I just want this nightmare to be over. I just want Nora to be safe." 

Nadine was convinced that the sight that had shattered her mother's mind was the same that created the allip (or some variation). The two knights were conflicted, as they'd been told the allip was a demon and Mr and Mrs Miller were criminals. Gordon decided he'd rather just let this whole incident go and pretend he'd never seen anything. He also agreed to help Levi smuggle Mr and Mrs Miller out of Corsovia, as he thought they seemed pretty innocent. Matthew was a little harder to convince, as he was hoping to claim the 150gp price on the Millers' heads. 

Isolde: *threatening* "I wouldn't try to extort money from us. I know some people. Some people from my past that y'don't just forget."

Matthew: "Uh-"

Isolde: "Criminal people. Specifically."

Nadine: *sigh* "Listen, just take the money." *gives 100gp*

Matthew: "The bounty was 150."

Nadine: "Yeah, no."

Matthew: "Fine..."

Nadine even used Ceremony to make them both swear an oath to "protect the living", which is pretty fun. We ended the session with the group deciding to rest until nightfall, at which point Levi would smuggle the Millers out of town. Following that, they plan to go to Tesh and liberate it from the unholy menace that plagues it.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So yeah, good sesh. I was pretty worried but I think all the players had a good time. Daria especially, although we are in her hometown doing her thing so it makes sense that she's the most relevant PC here. Her getting the vision was all luck though. There's not much else to say except there's a big storm comin'.

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I don't usually record games that I don't run or that are unrelated to a campaign I've DMed for, but I just need to record this little one-shot that Nel just ran. They lost their notes for the other campaign they run so they just cobbled something together and told us to make as wacky characters as we liked. We arrived with:
  • Jack Marrow, a fancy skeleton with no memories aside from bone-based puns - Alice's Skeleton Fighter 3 (Battlemaster)
  • Varis Bog, a Firbolg who died in a bog and was petrified for 200 years after running away from home and was later resurrected. He's basically a big swampy boi now. - Daria's Firbolg Barbarian 3 (Totem Warrior)
  • Guy Fieri - James' fallen Aasimar Sorcerer 3 (Pizzamancer) 
  • Grim and Whimsical Tales of the Other Side by Alexander Wick, or simply Grimwick. A "scriptorri" (living book-person) who is comprised of tales and songs of the fey. His creator was cursed and enchanted to commit suicide by the fey who were angry that he recorded and "stole" their culture, and Grimwick is the living defiance to that law. - My Scriptorii Bard 3 (College of Glamour)
So yeah, pretty wacky party. We expected this to be a silly, light-hearted romp much like "DDnD: Whiskey Business" that I ran way back when.

OH IT WAS NOT.

We started (after listening to the Gravity Falls theme) with a vision of a stage and some hospital beds, then we 4 characters appeared in a small trophy room with lots of weird trophies in it (longest tentacle, best race won when I was in a wheeled bed and the other guy was in a mushroom and I won, etc). Then a guy appeared who welcomed us to a wacky town who spoke real weird but if you asked him for help he'd be all robotic and shafdaufhaHL it was spooky. After crossing a beach ("who's been LITTERING" says Varis, picking up some trash) we met Mr Who, Mr What, Mr When and Mr Why. We were told to choose one each, and they then gave us questions with their chosen name. Varis got "what is the voice of the person you love the most" which led to a giant homonculus having his father's voice when we got dropped down a hole.

big bat boi: "Kill meeeee..."

Varis: "Father...?"

bat boi: "Disappointment... :3"

Varis: *screm*

Grimwick: *strumming the lute* "You're just an apparition, a trickster archetype, go to sleep!" *casts Sleep*

Even weirder, when we tied it up and tried to talk to it it just told us to kill it. We did and then had to fight a flumph, a bullwug, and lastly a sahuagin. Each one corresponded to questions we were asked by the Misters and had traits relating to our answers. 

Sahuagin: *raspy* "Why are you here...?"

Grimwick: "I'm glad you asked." *pulls out lute* 

I then got to perform my backstory, which was fantastic. 

Grimwick: "...and that's why they call me Grim and Whimsical Tales of the Other Side by Alexander Wick."

Sahuagin: "No, I mean... why are you here?"

So we killed that guy and then the Mrs showed up again. They assigned themselves to us and we were plunged into a weird diner in the middle of nowhere with a Rolls Royce parked outside and a jukebox playing What's New Pussycat? May I say that we were extremely spooked by all this? It was just so disorientating and strange! It really got to us, especially since we were already really getting into our ridiculous characters. 

Moving on, we had a bit of a scuffle with Varis trying to destroy the jukebox while Jack Marrow tried to keep it fixed. Things escalated when we got put up against a doppelganger that took Varis' form and hid a bottle of Guy's hot sauce ("the one thing he desired the most") in its body. We needed to use these weird scrolls to keep ourselves healed, but even that wasn't enough to stop the hellhound that appeared next from wiping the floor with us. Guy died to the doppelgander and I, being made of paper, died to the hellhound's fire breath. But neither of us stayed dead. Similarly to how the creatures we fought would sometimes "glitch out", we glitched and t-posed our way back to life upon death, gaining the ability to see golden threads that tied us to those who had not died yet. 

Grimwick: *crying, covered in hot sauce and milk* "What do you want with us? Is this some sort of sick game to you?"

That's when I remembered the question I was asked, and when the next monster (a mummy) appeared, I yelled: "It's because we're in a DnD game!"

The mummy disappeared and was replaced with the Mrs, all of whom seemed confused and got our names wrong. Getting delirious with panic and fear, Grimwick shook the men and Varis tried to grapple them, but to no avail. They asked us "red, blue, yellow or green?" and Varis answered (in a panic) red. We were then transported to a balcony on a huge office skyscraper (the office workers not paying attention to us) and found more scrolls in a box. They read:

Where will the final battle take place? - Grimwick's answer: "The Threshold of Safety."

What weapon will lay the killing blow? - Varis' answer: "Love."

Who will be chosen? - Guy's answer: "Alton Brown, star of cutthroat kitchen and my biggest rival."

Why do all of these questions seem to be leading to a final boss battle? - Jack's answer: "Because all the answers of our questions are building a hero, or our final challenge."

We were then transported to a black void with a distant white door (out of reach) and then, from nowhere:

Alton Brown: *appears, chuckles* "Looks like we are to battle, then."

Roll for initiative.

All: *losing our shit*

Me: "WAIT. WAIT. Can you put on Metal Gear Rising: Senator Armstrong?"

Needless to say, it was amazing. It was incredibly anime as we flavoured our attacks to be love-based to get double damage. I used Vicious Mockery while imploring Alton to see that we had to kill him to set us all free from the existential nightmare while Guy pleaded that he'd admit that the Food Network was big enough for the two of them. We whittled him down, but his fire-based attacks wrecked us. Jack died (but was brought back) and then something odd happened. Varis lost the ability to see us, making him think he was all alone. Crying over his father who he abandoned, he charged at Alton with desperate fury. 

Me: "WAIT. Nel, put on You Say Run."

*You Say Run starts*

Grimwick: "Varis! I don't know if you can hear me, or if you even know I'm here, but I believe in you! You may have lost your father, but you still have us, you still have me. Together we can beat this guy and escape this nightmare. You don't have to be afraid!"

Me: "I cast Heroism."

*You Say Run kicks into full gear*

Guy: "You can do this!" *casts Mage Armour on Varis and shoves a slice of healing pizza into his mouth*

Jack: "End this nightmare!" *uses Martial Aid to heal Varis' wounds*

Alton Brown: "N-nani?! You were on death's door a second ago! How can this be!?"

Varis: *transformed from bog monster to his final form, spaghetti monster* "aaaaaaaaaaAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

Once again, we all lost our shit. We all gave Varis our power of friendship  and it was incredibly emotional and very anime. Varis defeated Alton, who froze and glitched out. Throwing down his axe, Varis drew Alton's fiery form into a hug.

Varis: "Father... I'm so sorry..."

The form of Alton disappears and the door rushes towards Varis. The others fall back into the void. *plays a crowd cheering sound* Suddenly, you're all sitting on the hospital beds and you're on a stage. A guy who looks suspiciously like me says "give it up for Daria, this year's winner!"

All: "Oh, my, god..."

"And a big hand for our runner's up, Gabe, Alice and James!"

*crowd going wild*

Me: "W-wait... where's Grimwick?"

And that's where we'll end it.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Not going to lie, I cried after that game. In a good way.

The game was so long and emotional and weirdly gruelling, it made me care so, so much about Varis and Grimwick (not so much Jack or Guy, who had minimal backstory). I really loved them both and really enjoyed playing as/alongside them. Varis' struggle with his abandoning his father and Grimwick's loving nature (coupled with his low-key trauma and need for revenge) really struck a chord with me. But after the game I realised that they weren't even real in their own universe, they were just the PCs of the fictionalised versions of ourselves. I wept for them, for all that heartache had been rendered false. It really hit me where I'm weak, reality-bending or false-memory stuff always gets to me. 

I really expected this game to be silly and fun, instead it was a Black Mirror-style existential nightmare. It was a great experience, but not one I want to have again anytime soon. So yeah, well done Nel you maniac. 

BONUS CONTENT - MY TIPS ON RUNNING THIS ADVENTURE (mostly for Reapertheguardian's use)
  1. Read this journal all the way through for a view on how this adventure might go down.
  2. Give your players as few expectations as possible before the game. Just tell them you're doing a one shot and that they're allowed to make as wild and wacky characters as they like.
  3. Have none of the player characters know each other before the game so that the reveal at the end makes sense.
  4. Small groups work best for this game, since each player needs to have some input on the final battle's design and the Misters' questions.
  5. The final battle's customisation are simply cosmetic, not necessarily mechanical. 
  6. Let your players interpret the plot/purpose of the game however you like.
  7. Drop as many hints as you like about the big reveal.
  8. If you stick with the 1 enemy per encounter design, disallow flanking rules.
  9. Either that or make the encounters have more enemies.
  10. You might also want to make each encounter a 1v1 with the player character whose monster this is i.e. the monster whose personage reflects the answer to a question.
  11. This game is based on a show called The Hollow, so you might want to check that out.

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A lot happened in this session (appropriate for the 1-year anniversary of this campaign!). Weirdly, I wasn't nervous about it beforehand at all. I think that may have been because I'd run a short one-on-one via text with Alice to set up her new character so I was feeling warmed up. Either that or I knew the players would be doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of role-playing.

Joining us we had:
  • Daria playing Nadine of the Flame, a holy warrior of a self-proclaimed purpose - Aasimar (Ashen Beast Lycanthrope), Paladin 7 (Oath of Vengeance)
  • James playing X-05, the Chosen of Saint Traft, a wayward robot now training his first apprentice: the young Rowan of Silburn - dead Warforged, Monk 7 (Way of Shadow)
  • Nel (previously known as Helen) playing Levi, the town guard captain of Shadowgrange - Human (Stensian), Fighter 5 (not actually sure of his archetype), a familiar character we haven't seen in a little while and later a new character who will be revealed in due time.
  • Alice playing a character who will also soon be revealed.
Yeah, technically we started with just 1 living PC, although  was running Levi and both Alice and James were in the room waiting for a character to play.

We began with Nadine (controlled by Daria, as usual), Levi (controlled for the time by Nel), Caspar, Blaine (run by me at this time, since Bailey was on a weekend trip) Rowan, Jonah and Nora (Nadine's parents) and the dead body of X-05 in the shrine to Gunther the Hindsighted at the entrance of the catacombs. Caspar said he'd be able to resurrect X-05, but he'd need some special materials. He bid them wait and went into the church. While he was gone, Nadine noticed her mother acting odd, like she was absent. Jonah seemed cagey about the situation and wouldn't say anything when Nadine tried to get information out of him. Caspar returned with a reliquary and asked them to come with him to his home where they could be more private. They headed over, finding a small house on a hill. Caspar warned the party he had gotten a dog in recent years, a dobermann called Len. As per the logic of this post, Len is a guard dog that defends his master from humanoids and undead. After Len reacted with aggression to smelling the lycanthropy on Nadine and Blaine (not that the others could tell that was why), they all went inside and laid X-05 down on Caspar's table. Nora and Jonah went upstairs to rest and get clean clothes and Caspar lit a fire in the fireplace. Caspar opened the reliquary, taking out a handful of holy objects: a necklace of saints' fingerbones, an amulet of a long dead paladin and two scrolls. He opened one out and began to explain. 

He said that he was not actually powerful enough to raise the dead by himself. He needed the scroll to do it, an object of ancient magic from hundreds of years ago. The scroll itself was a poem composed by a paladin on the subject of the war, exploring the theme of humanity's ability to persevere in the face of endless adversity. He'd also need people that X-05 had been close with to help with the resurrection, offering prayers or gifts to entreat the deceased spirit to return. 

Caspar: "Usually I would not expend this magic, but this is a special case. This man is twice-blessed and chosen by Saint Traft, and he gave his life for his companions. It would be cruel not to give him a second chance."

Meanwhile, James asked me if his backup character could come and steal the body so he could play as them instead. Welp...

The party crowded around X-05's body. He was laid with his moonsliver spear in his grasp and the flickering fire shining on his chrome head.

And so, the resurrection challenge began.

Nadine (Religion check): "X-05, I know you may believe your time in this mortal realm has come to an end, that you have fulfilled your duty, fought and died in life so that you may rest in death, but that could not be further from the truth. What we’ve done, what we promised the people of Stensia, if you give up now it will all be in vain. Demons march on the capital and it is only good hearts like you and me that stand between them and their destruction. You did not give up on me when my heart stilled, and I will not give up o you now. I ask, beg, no--order you to come back to me, fight by my side, as a comrade, hero, and as a friend."

Nice, have advantage.

[11] against DC10. Success. Final DC lowered to 7.

Levi (Religion check): *praying to the spirits of the dead* "I knew this man. When I met him first he was a vagabond who came to my town with that boisterous elf Perren and caused all sorts of mayhem. I was ready to kick him out of my town. But when we did exile him, and then Siegfried's army came knocking, he came back without hesitation and fought for a people who hated him and nearly died for a cause that was not his own. I have seen this man's growth, and you need only look upon his history to see that he deserves a second chance."

[13] against DC12. Success. Final DC lowered to 4.

Blaine sees there's a spot that needs filling and he awkwardly steps forward to fill it.

"Master," Rowan says, cutting in front of Blaine and causing him no shortage of relief, "you were the first person to show confidence in me, you were the first person to actually make me feel like I was worth something. I've seen you do some incredible things, and I think you're an incredible person. Please, do something incredible again and come back to us."

All: "Awwww...."

[nat1] against DC13. Failure. Final DC increased to 5.

All: "ROWAN!!!!!!! NOOOOO!!!"

Daria: *desperate* "Uhhh advantage?"

Well, I think the speech was quite good so...

[re-roll, nat20] against DC13. Success. Final DC decreased to 1.

All: "YEAAAAAAA ROWAN!!!!"

I then rolled the final check, needing to beat only a 1 to succeed. Although I only had a 5% chance of failing, the tension was palpable.

[14] against DC1. Success.

X-05 shudders and his screen-face flicks on, bearing a single "!". He then makes the AoL dial-up noise for a few minutes as the text "shadow.exe has stopped installing" scrolls across the screen. Rowan gives X-05 a big hug and Nadine beams at him.

Rowan: *quietly as he hugs X-05* "I was really ready to go home..."

Nadine: "I'm so glad to have you back, my friend."

X-05: "Uh, yeah. Me too."

God I love X-05. He's such a treasure.

At that moment, Nel (right on cue) knocked on the table to signify someone was knocking on the door.

Blaine: "Someone gonna get that?"

Nadine: *having a moment with X-05* "You can get it."

Blaine: "Fine, fine." 

Blaine goes to get the door. Opening it, he reacts to the visitor: "Oh, Siessa. Nice new outfit."

Siessa: "Thanks."

Daria: *on edge* "Nadine goes to look. What does Siessa look like?"

Pink and lavender regal attire, paler skin, younger-looking-

Daria: "Divine Sense."

Yep, you detect one undead. 

Nadine: *drawing Oathbearer in longsword form, advancing towards Siessa* "Explain. Now."

Siessa: *backing up into the rain* "Listen, it's not as bad as you think."

Nadine: "Where's Ace?"

Siessa: "He... didn't make it."

Nadine: "And how did that happen, exactly?"

Siessa: "He had that book on him, right? Well, he couldn't prove to Katrina that he wasn't a cultist. He made the wrong choice."

Nadine: "So she killed him."

Siessa: "Yes. She offered us both a deal, not to become-" *gestures to herself* "but to work for her, to fight against the demons. Ace clearly cared more about his patron than that."

Nadine: "Then why did you become a vampire?"

Siessa: "She offered it and I accepted. I knew that this was the best form for me to take, this is the strongest I can be when I go up against the demons-"

Nadine: *angry* "You just threw your humanity away for power? Just like that? I would kill to get my humanity back! And you just threw it away!"

Siessa: "Nadine, I thought you'd understand. I need this power to win, we all need to be the best we can be to win this fight. Have you heard of Andros the Grey?"

Nadine: [religion check: 12] "Yes."

Andros the Grey, a legendary paladin who served in the early throes of the Blood War. A close friend of Evelyn Lowe, but a man with a dark legacy. He threw away humanity to gain an advantage over the demons and was successful in starting humankind's push into new territory. Many say he made deals with demons, others that he was just a mad dog of war who achieved nothing. His exact history is still hotly debated.

Nadine: *laughs a bitter laugh* "You'd throw away humanity on a simple legend? You're more of a fool than I thought."

Siessa: "Don't you see we're on the same side? It doesn't matter if the legend is exactly true, what I know is that it worked: I'm stronger now, stronger than you."

Nadine: "Maybe we should test that."

Quickly, Nadine realised she would be a hypocrite to attack Siessa. Nadine was a lycanthrope, a monster just like her. So why attack, unless out of pure prejudice?

Nadine: "Fine. I'll work with you."

Siessa: "How so?"

Nadine: "I'm trying to say I'm allowing you to live."

Siessa: *scoffs* "You're not 'allowing' me to do anything. I'm not threatened by you."

For the record, I think Siessa would win. A flying bear that's constantly regenerating wins against the paladin.

____________________

The party then took a long rest, wanting to digest the events of the day. Blaine headed to the tavern with Levi; Nadine, Caspar, Nora and Jonah slept upstairs; and X-05, Rowan and Len slept downstairs. Siessa soon left as well, realising she wasn't welcome. She turned into a brown bear, had Rodor (who had just turned up, having caught Siessa's scent and run to her) climb on her back and flew back to Castle Falkenrath.

Daria: "Wait, she can fly?"

She can do lots of things.

In the morning, the party was 8th level and Nadine was Tired™. After a tense breakfast (porridge made by Caspar), Nadine noticed her mother was really out of it and dazed-looking like she'd never seen her. Insight and Medicine checks did not reveal the source of her ailment. Jonah still refused to speak on the subject, but relented once breakfast was done and went upstairs with Nadine where he sat her down and started from the beginning. All this time I'd been dropping hints he was hiding his emotions, and now they were coming out.

Looking closer, you can see scars from bite marks on their arms and necks.

Jonah: *sitting next to Nora, who seems to be drifting off again* "Let me be frank. We were prisoners of the Falkenraths for 8 years."

Daria: "Oof..."

Jonah: "We spent 8 years in that place, and while we were there we were nothing but meals for them. There were many others there who couldn't cope with it, some broke down and withdrew into their minds while others became deranged and obsessed with the vampires. Your mother and I were special because we had each other to lean on, so I think it's possible we might have been one of the ones who couldn't cope if we didn't."

Nadine: "I see... so is that why mother's like that?"

Jonah: "Not exactly. I'll say that no one was happier to see Katrina kill that bastard Uta and his sister, but the whole "Old Falkenrath"/"New Falkenrath" thing is bullshit: she's every bit as evil as he is. When she killed Uta, she promised to liberate us. Many of the other prisoners left fairly soon, but we had to stick around to recover. While we were waiting, your mother stumbled upon something, but she couldn't say what. What I do now is that her current condition isn't due to those 8 years, it was because of what she saw."

Daria: "Oh my god..."

Nora: *mumbling* "All the insides on the outside... all the insides on the outside..."

Jonah: "Sometimes she's more aware and can talk about it. I know small details. There were two men in the room, one of them had mutton chops and a bald head. Dressed like a wizard or necro-alchemist, she thinks."

Nadine: "Necro-alchemy, huh? Just like Siegfried."

Jonah: "Who?"

Nadine: "He was Katrina's lover. I killed him when he tried to murder a town of innocent people."

Jonah: "Katrina's lover...? I've been in the same room as Katrina a few times, and she mentioned a lover. But the way she talked about them, it sounded like they were around, somewhere in the castle."

Daria: "Oh god... what does that meaaaaaannn"

Nadine: *getting angry* "Why the hell did you take her down to the catacombs in her condition?"

Jonah: "She can read Celestial, I can't."

Nadine: "Still, you shouldn't have put her through that."

Jonah: "I always look after her, I have done since forever. It's more than you've done in the last ten years. Why did you leave us?"

Nadine: "I've... always felt different. I couldn't stand to stay, I knew I had to chase my own path. I left to become who I am now. I realised I had to sacrifice the good things in my life to protect others."

You see that this is the last thing he wanted to hear, but it's what he expected.

Jonah: "So we were just something you sacrificed? Is that how little we meant to you?"

Nadine: "You were the hardest thing to give up!"

Jonah: "But you did it anyway. You could have stayed, you could have studied to join the clergy. Maybe you could've made us safe from the Falkenraths. Maybe things would be different."

Nadine: "I had to leave. Otherwise, I couldn't have done any of the things I've been able to do recently."

Jonah: "That wasn't your choice to make! You're my daughter, and you abandoned us. I can't just sit here and pretend that everything's back to the way it was, because it's not."

Nadine: "...well, I guess that just means you don't know me anymore, and I don't know you."

As you leave, you see him move as if to speak, but the breath catches in his throat.

_______________
Then came the time for X-05 to leave. Because Len had barked the night before, and Nadine listened in, she already knew the gist: X-05 was conflicted after hearing his old students ask for further training, and realised that it'd be easier to train Rowan and the others if he could stay in one place doing it. He was grateful for the adventure, but he needed to go his own way for a while. After a stoic goodbye with Nadine (who had just disowned her father and was probably not ready to lose one of her oldest friends), he headed off with Rowan, who he bought a new horse (who he named in the Nadine style "Temperance"). His 7 other students hadn't left yet, and he saw them getting ready with their 4 new horses and 7 blessed silver sickles. They rode into the woods, towards Ach-To Island for the tutalage of...

James: "Wait, did we decide who the head monk was?"

Yeah, don't you remember?

James: "I feel like it was something terrible."

It was Juke Jaywalker.

James: *laughing* "Oh yeaaah... let's change it."

What to?

James: "Uuhhh... Janobi."

Fantastic.

After brooding for a little while on what to do next (after basically learning that Katrina's doing something so awful it traumatised her mother), Nadine heard a voice call out from outside.

???: *Nel speaking* "Nadine? Hello?"

Daria: *excited* "Is it Perren??? Oh god Nadine needs someone she can depend on right now."

Nel: "Uhm..." *changes the voice slightly* "Nadine? Helloooo?"

Daria: "Oke, not Perren..."

Nadine then headed outside to see a young lady approaching with a big, beaming smile, purple hair and small horns. 

Daria: "Oh for fuck's sake..." *laughing* "Is this your new PC? A tiefling??? Did you design her to really get on Nadine's nerves?"

Nel: "Heheheh..."

???: "Hi, are you Nadine?"

Nadine: *holding Oathbearer in longsword form* "Maybe... who are you?"

???: "Oh, uh..." 

The strange girl (who had solid gold-coloured eyes) placed a scrolled-up and wax-sealed letter on the ground, somewhat timid at the rather apathetic and hostile Nadine. I'll add exactly what it says when Nel comes up with it properly, but the basic thing was that it was a letter from a fairly high up priest saying that this tiefling (Damia) was a trustworthy acolyte of the Church of Avacyn. She was even wearing the classic priest dog-collar.

Nadine: "Ugh... fine, I guess." *sheathes Oathbearer* "What do you want?"

Damia: "I was hoping to travel with you..."

Nel and Daria OOC decided that Damia is basically Nadine's daughter, so that's fun. Tired Palamum and her freaky kid.

AT THAT VERY MOMENT...!

Another woman started walking up the hill, this one covered in furs, 5'3" and very stocky. Probably a human.

???: *James speaking* "Heyy I'm lookin' for Nadine?"

Nadine: "Yes???"

???: "The names Isolde, I was in Kessig a few years ago and I talked to a fella called X-05, saved him from a werewolf, now the guy's famous round here. I ain't famous, what's up with that?"

Nadine: "And what do you want me for?

Isolde: "I just wanna fight monsters, I need the money."

Nadine: "Fantastic." *yelling down the hill* "Anyone else looking for me??"

???: *Alice speaking* "Hello there, I'm looking for a 'Nadine'?"

Nadine: "FOR THE LOVE OF-!"

The new woman was tall, with ornate armour emblazoned with the symbol of Avacyn. She was also dragging a hungover Blaine.

???: "My name is Nevaeh Montgomery, I was told you were someone upon whom I could place my trust."

Nadine: *extremely Tired™, riddled with abandonment issues* "I mean, sure...?"

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

So yeah, a great session with lots of great role-playing from everyone! I'm still intrigued to see what a fight between Siessa and the party would look like, but now that Daria has said that Nadine will consider Siessa an enemy next time she sees her, I guess we'll find out.

The conversation between Jonah and Nadine was hard to play out for me, but it paid off. Daria thought it made perfect sense and was a cool ass moment. We both agree that Nadine needs a win desperately right now, so she and Levi might bang next session. 

I'm looking forward to seeing all the new characters in action. Nadine is the only original member of the team left now, and she feels like a real mentor figure for the others. 

Also of note, I ran a one-on-one shot via text with Alice before the game to set up her backstory. Basically she's a cleric whose family are secretly Orcus worshippers. She was infused with demon powers at a young age, but rejected them and fled. The part we played out is when she investigated the coastal town of Tesh (one of the "something weird is happening here" towns that Perren visited). She nearly got killed by a mob and the guard captain bowman, but survived with just a few hit points to spare with a 31 Investigation check to know the layout of and escape the town. Having evidence of demon worship, she got a tip from a priestess of Lamas that Nadine, X-05 and Perren might be people who could save Tesh, or at least save Stensia from whatever was brewing there. A small excerpt:

The church is quite rich for Stensia, almost rivalling what a smaller town in Gavony might have. You tell her about Tesh, and she is clearly upset but not surprised. She says she knows that Tesh have turned away from the light of Avacyn and are worshipping something else, but she doesn't not know what. She explains that usually she'd send for an inquisition from Thraben, but thanks to the demon invasion that's not possible. Because a guild of thieves have taken over the town, she also can't send Lamas' paladins to do anything either. Thus she and the lord of Lamas have agreed with Queen Katrina Falkenrath that they will accept her help in return for their support in the coming war.

She seems distraught that she has to depend on Katrina, as she is very scared of what such an active vampire lord might do after the war is done.

Nevaeh: "I understand, those of the undead cults are not... the best to trust."

Priestess: "We have no other choice. Unless someone else were to deal with Tesh, they will undoubtedly spread their blasphemies north."

Nevaeh: "I wish i could be of better help, alas, my by myself can not do much."

Priestess: "You are right. Despite the wounds being healed, I can see how badly you were injured from the blood and tears on your clothes." She pauses. "Wait... I may know of someone. I have heard tell of a group that saved Shadowgrange from a host of undead. Last I heard, they were headed to Corsovia. Have you heard of Nadine of the Flame? She's a paladin, not affiliated with any company in particular. If not her, maybe you've heard the names Perren Galanodel or X-05? The former played a concert here about a month or so ago. Maybe if you told them about the danger, they could aid us."

Nevaeh: "Ah- I believe I have, yes. They would be great- though I do not know where to find them."

Priestess: "I believe they were on their way to Corsovia, maybe if you head there you might catch them. That is where the Knights of the Red are based, along with Katrina Falkenrath."

Nevaeh: "I will at once- though I might rest for one night, if not for me, then for my poor horse Autumn."

Priestess: "Of course! A fellow woman of the cloth is always welcome here."

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This was the first session we had with our new set-up. Since everyone but Bailey is currently in England, we've decided to carry on using Roll20, but Bailey uses Discord and a speaker to simulate her presence. The audio quality is... well it's shit, but it's the best we've got right now. We might figure something better out later, especially considering that Bailey often had trouble following what was happening this episode.

We had joining us: 
  • Nadine of the Flame, a holy warrior of a self-proclaimed purpose - Daria's Aasimar (Ashen Beast Lycanthrope), Paladin 7 (Oath of Vengeance)
  • X-05, the Chosen of Saint Traft, a wayward robot now training his first apprentice: the young Rowan of Silburn - James' Warforged, Monk 7 (Way of Shadow)
  • Blaine, a retired soldier bearing a curse and searching for redemption - Bailey's Stensian Human, Blood Hunter 7 (Order of the Lycan)
We began by taking a look at what each character was up to in Corsovia (having left off last time from part 23).  James went first. X-05, out of curiosity, went to the back of the line leading into the church where the volunteers were signing up to be enrolled with the Knights of the Red. The thing that prompted this was X-05, Levi and Blaine watching the process of the enrollment. It seemed like the taller, stronger, tougher-looking people were being injected with something (I dropped the word "vaccination" but they all failed Int checks to have heard of the cutting-edge medicine) and the weedier looking ones were being turned away altogether (Daria: "They're Nazi vampires!"). Curious as to what was being injected, X-05 joined the back of the line to get a taste of it himself. At the back of the line, he saw some familiar faces: a handful of trainees that he was teaching the ways of the monk to back in Shadowgrange.

Trainee #1: "Hey, it's X-05! Over here, master!"

X-05: "What are you guys doing here..?"

Trainee #2: "We came because we wanted to join the Knights of the Red and receive training from them. We wanna take on the demons that assaulting Gavony, plus we're going to get paid really well. It's a win-win."

X-05: *irritated* "Did I do all that training with you so you could serve vampires?"

Trainee #2: "Uh... these guys are the new Falkenraths, they're good guys. They want to fight the demons, like we do."

X-05: "I didn't train you so you could join an army. Monks should lead secluded lives, not join armies and get rich doing it."

Trainee #3: "Aren't you rich?"

X-05: *remembers he is stinking rich rn* "Uhhh... maybe, but I only spend that money on monk stuff."

The trainees were a little annoyed by X-05's lack of enthusiasm.

Trainee #4: "Well, what are we meant to do instead? You abandoned us, so we can't really learn more until we get training. I know Katrina's not an ideal master, but she's the only one who can have us right now."

X-05: *draws on their map* "Nope, you have someone better: the people who trained me."

Trainee #3: "In Kessig? With all the lycanthropes in the way? No way am I going there!"

Trainee #1: "Yeah, we don't even have silvered weapons or horses, how can we-"

X-05: *gives them 100 platinum pieces*

Trainees: "Welp, Kessig it is then. Thank you master, for your counsel and the money!"

Then we went to Levi and Blaine (who were also in the presence of Oglor and Rowan).

Levi: "Crazy how that guy Ace was holding onto an evil artefact like that book. Do you think he was really a cultist?"

Blaine: "Who knows? All I know is that there was something haunting in his eyes."

Levi: "You would know, huh?"

Blaine: "It takes one to know one."

Levi: "That's exactly what I was thinking."

Levi and Blaine: *conspiratorial chuckle*

Daria: *laughs* "Well that's not suspicious..."

Rowan: *plucking up the courage* "Hey guys, what're we talking about?"

Blaine: "Just that Ace guy. What do you think of him?"

Rowan: "Well... to be honest I don't trust him. He did lots of shitty things back in Silburn."

Blaine: "Like what?"

Rowan: "I don't understand the ins and outs of it, but basically there was this troll and there was an argument about if we should kill it or not. Ace and the other woman, Siessa, really wanted to kill it but Nadine and X-05 didn't. It came to blows, lots of magic flying around, Siessa turned into a bear, it was bananas. Not that I know what a banana is."

Blaine: "...noted."

We then went to Nadine, who had just gotten the bombshell that her parents were still alive. Standing over their "graves", Caspar said that he'd tell her the full story once they made sure no one was listening in.

Daria: "Can I use my Keen Senses to sniff out any spies?"

Caspar explained that Nadine's parents had indeed been abducted by the Falkenrath vampires 8 years ago (so 2 years after Nadine left on her initial pilgrimage), and they didn't turn up alive when Katrina first came to power a few months ago. But they did turn up alive on Caspar's doorstep a week ago, exhausted and terrified. They were both in a terrible state, raving about how Katrina was up to something awful. Then, 2 days ago, they left Caspar a note saying that they were going down to the catacombs beneath Corsovia. They were going to Evelyn Lowe's (the first paladin of Avacyn, super super legendary figure) tomb to search for holy artefacts. Caspar thought them slightly unhinged by their experiences in Castle Falkenrath, for they should have known that the tomb was only ceremonial. Nadine and Caspar spoke of this in hushed tones, concerned that spies might be nearby. Nadine tried using her Divine Sense and detected a seriously powerful evil aura from the entrance to the catacombs (a small shrine/tomb to Gunther the Hind-Sighted, an angel with a controversial philosophy), like the entire area underground had been desecrated. A strong contrast to the light scent of holy water among the graves. Caspar explained that he'd been sensing an evil power growing for a while, and that he had been too afraid to investigate it himself. Now Nora and Jonah Miller had gone down, he was only brave enough if he had a friend to back him up. He was getting old, after all. 
________________

Nadine wanted to go down, save her parents if they weren't already dead. After discussing a way to get the whole party to come to the graveyard without it looking suspicious, Nadine came back to the others and asked them to "come outside and pay respects to [her] dead parents." A guard started watching them, so she made a Performance check to appear bereaved. 

You passionately talk about what you'd like all your friends to do and say for your parents, and it almost feels like you're doing it for real. The reality of your parents being dead was what you were used to for a long time, so the funeral ideas come easily. You go on about it, detailing what it means to you that your friends are there for a small service and the guard gets bored enough to turn his head away.

Blaine: "Pay respects? I mean, do I want to do that..."

Levi:  *elbows him* "Yes, Blaine, you would love to pay respects to Nadine's dead parents."

Blaine: "Alright, ok..." *to Nadine* "Sorry for your loss." *offers Nadine a swig from his flask*

Daria: "Heheh, Nadine thinks about it and then shrugs and takes a small swig."

I love that Blaine is as socially awkward as someone who's been through what he's been through would be.

They then went out to the graveyard and explained the true situation, asking all the others for help.

Levi: "Of course, I will always be there to support you."

Blaine: "You helped me in the tavern, so sure. You have my sword."

X-05: *distracted by praying* "Oh, right, sure. Let's go."

Rowan: *determined, checks his crossbow is ready to go*

We all then looked to James to see if he'd allow Rowan to go, both amused and a little scared by how confident Rowan was being.

James: "Well... he wants to come so..."

Daria: "Nooo! He'll die!"

It'll be great experience.

Levi: "Hey Nadine, I was meaning to ask: have you gotten much use out of my scimitar?"

Nadine: *smiling, showing that she still has it* "Sure have."

Roll deception.

Daria: "What, why?"

You have literally never used it. 

Daria: *laughing* "I guess, it's just that Oathbearer is so much cooler."

James put X-05 in the back rank behind Rowan to make sure his pupil was protected. Nadine insisted Caspar stay behind, which the latter readily agreed to do. They both knew he was getting old, and might not survive whatever was down there. They then entered the shrine, which was a 10x10ft building lined with sarcophagi containing the founding members of the Corsovian town council. Under a small shrine to Gunther the Hind-Sighted, an angel infamous for making prophecies after the fact (which could be considered insightful if looked at with a wise eye), there was a small metal door that led to the catacombs. Squeezing in, the party descended through a pitch-black tunnel. Upon Nadine casting light, the party saw walls covered in mould and smelled a damp, decaying scent. They heard voices, seemingly moaning in pain from far away, as well as light splooshes in the ankle-deep water from their every footfall thanks to the rain above ground. 

First thing they got to was a 3-way intersection, but Caspar had advised them to just stick to the left if they wanted to get to Evelyn's tomb. They could hear (and Divine Sense) undead and fiends straight ahead in a large room, so they just went left. Nadine leading, she saw a black, amorphous shape at the other end of the corridor. Her light spell fell in rays upon it, but this figure seemed to block it completely. After rolling intiative, Nadine was rather creeped out and cast Compelled Duel, which failed and elicited only a creepy head tilt. Thoroughly creeped, Nadine rushed up at it and attacked with Tenacity for the first time.

You draw Tenacity and it gets a Smash-like intro card, like "TENACITY JOINS THE FIGHT".

Nadine and Blaine finished off that shadow quickly, but then the real meat of the battle began: two more shadows came barrelling at Nadine and Blaine, while another two plus four zombies plus some weird, glowing green, deformed skeleton attacked from the other end of the bottleneck. This encounter was super deadly, as the enemies involved could kill in weird ways and waste PC actions. Blaine and Nadine finished the shadows at the far end quickly enough, but the situation got really bad for X-05 pretty quickly. He used a few turns to cast darkvision and whittle away at this opponents, but being the one shield for the party and the one taking all the hits was pretty bad. The shadows drained points from his Strength score, making them deadly. He only had 10 to begin with, so he was pretty likely to drop to or go near 0. And if he had 0 strength, he'd die. I narrated how he felt his limbs grow extremely heavy and his internal batteries start to chug and give out as his strength was reduced to 3 in just one turn as Rowan looked on in horror, powerless to save his master. Nadine and Blaine were still busy at this point, and Levi was being crept up on by a shadow. Rowan got a cool moment at this point, as he saw the shadow go for Levi had dropped the torch and dagger he was holding and drew his crossbow in one swift motion, ending the shadow's unlife with a well-placed bolt to the head. 

Levi: "Huh, nice shot, kid!"

Rowan: "Th-thank you, Levi-senpai!"

A round or two later, the skeletons were still piling onto X-05 and the shadows weren't letting up. Nadine then used misty step to get in on the action, furiously attacking and drawing all the fire she could. She did some damage, destroying a few skeletons. X-05 killed one of the shadows, but the other got him with a Strength Drain. I told my players that if I rolled a 3 or a 4 on the d4 that determines how many points of strength X-05 loses that he would die. With held breath, I rolled in front of my players. 4. X-05 died.

X-05, you feel your optics fail as the glowing green skeleton's spell works its magic on you. You go blind, and, groping around for a stable wall to lean on to catch your bearings, you feel a familiar feeling pulling at your chest. You see lines of code and error messages. [WARNING: POWER RESERVES CRITICALLY LOW, POWER RESERVES- POWER RESERRREVESSSSSSsssss] You crumple to the floor with a "clang"! Rowan sees you going limp and turns white with shock. "M-master! No! Oh, my god!" Rowan starts to panic, breathing extremely heavily. He rushes over to X-05's body and shakes him. He looks up at the wall of undead monsters and hears the green one giggling to itself. "You son of a bitch!" In a rage, Rowan aims his crossbow, flinches as if he just heard something spoken in his mind and and yells "I'd never worship you!" and lands a bolt right in the glowing skeleton's eye socket.


Nadine went right for the green guy (clearly the leader by his giving orders and cryptic babbling about wanting to be "worshipped") and failed to kill him. Well, she destroyed his body with extreme force (hacking away until it crumbled to dust) but then the green glow transferred to one of the skeletons and it reformed just as before.

Greenie: "Heheheh! Missed me! Now, worship your new god!"

Nadine goes for another attack, but stops mid-way. She drops her weapons and falls prostrate. "M-my new god! I worship thee!" she wails, tears of grief still running down her face.

See, I used the stat block of a Nilbog (VGTM) for this guy, and one of his things is that you have to make a DC12 Charisma save anytime you want to attack it, otherwise you have to waste your turn worshipping it. I liked it as an idea for a narcissist demon, so I went for it.

The battle ended soon after with Blaine delivering a one-liner in Abyssal to the green skele ("You guys are starting to be a real pain the ass") and finishing both the last normal skeleton with a scimitar attack and the last shadow with hellish rebuke, which Bailey described in some detail and raised some eyebrows here in England. No one knows what Blaine's class is, but suffice to say they think he's a warlock.

The green skeleton then fled, and no one followed for fear of dying to more beasties in the catacombs. 

Rowan held his master's body, tears flowing from sheer shock. "H-hey, you guys have healing powers, don't you? You can heal him, right?"

Daria: "Can I make a Medicine check to see if he's really dead?"

Sure. [19] In your infinite wisdom and knowledge of X-05's strange, mechanical body, you reckon the bright red words "[CRITICAL ERROR]" that have popped up on X-05's face-screen mean he's dead. These words slowly fade as the last ounce of his energy trickles away.

Nadine, still angrily crying, punched X-05's chest. "Dammit! We wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for me! X-05 would be alive if it wasn't for me. Fuck! Fuck!"

Levi then came over and took her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. By the look in his eyes, he was not Levi Hughes right now but instead Captain Levi ordering a soldier to keep fighting. "Nadine. X-05 might be gone but we've still got an objective. We came here to rescue your parents, and that hasn't changed. You need to focus on the objective right now." No doubt he had said words much like these dozens of times over the course of his military career. 

Nadine wiped away her tears. Levi was right, there was always the objective. 

Quick aside about this situation, I had an interesting conversation with Daria after the game about the moment of X-05's death. First off, Nadine has a sneaking thought that, had she stayed dead back in Silburn, X-05 wouldn't have died. In that sense, she blames herself and doubts her journey. Second, Levi being the guy to re-focus on the mission was exactly what she wanted to/ thought would happen, so I'm really glad we're on the same page about that. Levi's been in the military for all of his adult life, there's no way he'd break down during a mission over a death. Unlesss it was Blaine, in which case the roles would have been reversed and Nadine would be the one re-focusing him. They have a neat chemistry where they always make up for the other's shortcomings. 

Another thing that's interesting is how much this episode was defined by X-05 and Rowan (at least at this point). Not only did Rowan get some cool moments, X-05 made some character realisations. His old students calling him out on some minor hypocrisies forced him to follow through on his convictions, and in a way he couldn't refuse Rowan wanting to come down to the catacombs. He knew that he couldn't just keep students around if he wasn't going to teach them or let them grow. Equally, he proved he truly cared by giving his life to keep Rowan and the others safe. A true robo-Jesus if I ever saw one.
_________

Rowan was instructed to take X-05's body back to Caspar while Blaine, Levi and Nadine carried on the mission. As Rowan picked X-05 up, Oglor tumbled out of the dead monk's bag, tendrils flailing. His master dead, Oglor needed a new one. Off-handedly, Rowan said "come on, Oglor, hurry." There was a click from Oglor, and he rose up from the floor and began to follow Rowan, his new bonded master.

Levi, Blaine and Nadine carried on, heading to the left as Caspar told them. Then they came to a three-way junction. Seeing a door straight ahead, they went there instead of left. I'm not sure why. Then Daria started complaining that this situation was too difficult to figure out so we took a quick break and came back to it. The party was worried that they wouldn't be able to reach the end of the dungeon with just the three of them based on how hard the last encounter had been. Nadine peeked through the door and nosed the air with her Keen Senses. Down to the right, she heard voices muttering and smelled the poisonous bile of one or more Varigouilles, the kind of demon that cursed Perren (Daria: "oh, fuck no."). To the left, she sensed nothing but knew there was a corridor. Cursing both in-character and out, Nadine decided to turn down to the right and face whatever was making the sound. At the other end of the corridor was a pair of tall, lean, pale ghouls flanking a squatter, wrinkled humanoid with a cloak. Nadine recognised the ghouls for what they were but the one in the middle, although clearly undead, was not something she necessarily recognised. 

(the one in the middle): "What? Who's there? Paladin?"

After a little talking, the wrinkled one introduced himself as Kopes (Kop-ez), and alluded to being chased by the Falkenrath vampires. However, Nadine realised with a Religion check that some sort of blessing on the catacombs had enchanted him, causing him to wander the catacombs aimlessly and unable to find the way out. Kopes was insistent that Nadine help him escape or he'd kill her, but when Levi and Blaine showed themselves and Kopes reckoned he was probably dealing with three paladins, he agreed to make a deal with them. FYI, Kopes is an Orcus worshipper who wanted to join the Falkenrath vampires but was immediately rejected for not conforming to the public image they wanted to present. He then tried to steal arcane texts from their library and was chased into the catacombs where he has been wandering for over a week. Nadine told Kopes that she'd help him escape the catacombs if he helped her find "two humans who were lost in [there]". Kopes had seen some humans, a man and a woman who were hiding in Evelyn Lowe's tomb.

Kopes: "Pretty easy to find it, ya just need to stick to the left."

Daria: *laughs* "Ah, fuck off!"

So Kopes led them over there and they found the entrance to the tomb, which, to Daria's intense annoyance, was a stone wall with a riddle on it: "Only those who prove their humanity can enter the paragon's tomb". My intended solution was to have them touch the wall with a piece of blessed silver (as a non-human would be burned by holding such a thing, proving their lack of humanity) but Helen (who had just come back from a lecture and was playing as Levi) suggested smearing a small amount of fresh human blood on it would work. So Levi cut his hand with a broken blade (a war trophy from the Battle of Shadowgrange) and smeared some on the door which lit up red and then disappeared. Inside, a small tomb with an open sarcophagus sat waiting. At their arrival, a pair of voices whispered in a panic.

??? 1: "Shit, they found us!"

??? 2: "I'm not going back, they can't take us back, I'd rather die!"

A small, quick figure lunges from behind the sarcophagus with a dagger towards Nadine.

Daria: "Can I catch the person's hand?"

Sure. Nadine catches the small person's hand and they struggle for a moment, until they look up at you and their eyes widen.

Nora Miller: "...Nadine? Is that really you?"

Nadine: "Yeah, it's me."

Nora: *pulls Nadine into an embrace* "My daughter...! I can't believe you're here!"

Jonah: *comes out from behind the sarcophagus* "My baby girl is home!"

They were introduced to Levi and Blaine (the former of whom they were very impressed by and the latter of whom presented himself somewhat neutrally) and Jonah confessed it had been his ill-conceived idea to search for Evelyn Lowe's "Sun Sabre" in the memorial tomb. Since getting back from the castle, their minds had been scattered and they had been prone to rashness. They were also getting old. But they were proud of their daughter achieving her ambition to become a paladin. Going outside, they had a brief tense moment when Nadine's parents panicked slightly at the sight of Kopes and his ghoulish guards, but as they were leaving:

(voice from elsewhere in the catacomb): "Hey! There he is!"

Kopes: "SHIT, RUN!" *flees with his entourage*

The party then also fled, convinced that it was the Falkenrath vampires who Kopes had mentioned were hunting him. They carried Nora and let Jonah run all the way back along the way they came. As you can tell, there was quite a lot that they haven't yet explored. After the session Daria said that Nadine would like to head back down there to investigate the cause of the overwhelming evil energy and the undead and stuff.

You all rush towards the exit of the tomb, Nadine's intimidating yell of "I SWEAR TO AVACYN I'LL GUT THE NEXT THING I SEE" slowing your pursuers and her sensitive nose finding the path to fresh air. You all pile through the small metal door and emerge in the Shrine of The Hind-Sighted. Leaning against the archway is Caspar, looking pensive and tapping his foot. On the other side, Rowan is holding X-05's dead body. He looks up and asks, "did it go well...?"

We ended the session there.
______________________________________________________________________________________

So yeah, good sesh, good sesh. Another death, the third in this in-game day and the third in two sessions. I read some advice somewhere that dungeons (in the gameplay sense) should be really hard and always leave the players extremely glad to have escaped with their lives if they are to be memorable. I think I did that, all without any monsters with a CR less than 1. Shadows, man. They're fucking scary.

I think X-05 would have survived if Nadine and Blaine had stuck with the others or gotten a Religion check to see what the shadows were so that they knew that they were the main source of danger. Then they could have focused on the shadows and the rest of the encounter would have been a cakewalk. If they'd brought Caspar, he could have used Revivify or Turn Undead. Fun thing, Caspar isn't high enough level to cast Raise Dead on his own. Although I would think he'd have a diamond and a scroll of Raise Dead as part of the set of holy items the Church would use in their rituals, so he can perform a single resurrection if needed. If it'll be successful, I have no idea.

Next time, Nadine's parents will relate their chilling tale, the party will attempt to reboot X-05 and they will probably brave the Corsovian Catacombs once again.

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A day of firsts and lasts indeed.

Joining us we had:
  • Ace, a haunted young man who seeks the destruction of a shadowy cult - Alice's Half-Elf, Warlock 7 (The Ashen Wolf)
  • Siessa, a druid following a vision on a path to destroy evil and bring about balance to the world - Helen's Kessiger Human, Druid 4 (Circle of the Moon)/Ranger 3 (Beastmaster)
Yep, just two today. The session started with me making a disclaimer that the session might not be very long or even fun. I didn't say it out loud, but I knew there was a strong chance they'd die. Or something just as bad.

We picked up right where we left off, with Siessa and Ace falling through the mirror after Katrina.

You both feel like you’re falling through an icy vortex, swathed in darkness. Only far away there is a pinprick of light, now eclipsed by the silhouette of Katrina Falkenrath. From this angle, it is almost like the three of you are falling into an abyss.

Very suddenly, the light is pulled forward and you step out into what seems like a dimly candle-lit corridor with a red carpet and high walls that vanish up to the ceiling. Ace, you step through still holding Katrina’s hand, shivering a little from the cold. Siessa, you stumble forward and almost fall next to him, icy flakes clinging to your clothing. Half a second later, Captain Tanya also steps more purposefully out and grabs Siessa’s shoulder. She seems like she’s about to speak in anger, but Katrina raises a hand that says “it matters not.” And then, a small curling of the finger says “bring them both.”

Katrina then lets go of Ace’s hand and hovers just a few inches off the ground. From there, she levitates backwards quickly and smoothly into the corridor, into the darkness far at the other end.

Helen: "Well, that's ominous."

The two of them then went down the corridor, with Tanya telling them briefly how they should behave in front of Katrina (basically, treat her like a monarch and don't piss her off). Ace grumbled a little that Siessa had come against his wishes, while Siessa just felt curious as to what would happen next. Both Helen and Alice where freaking out with the Roll20 map just showing the corridor in a big black space.

The corridor turns a corner to the right and then ends with a pair of very rich-looking wooden doors with the Falkenrath’s old coat of arms engraved in it, that of a crow perched atop a mountain. The new one shines from a badge on Tanya’s lapel, depicting an eagle perched atop what looks to be the whole of Innistrad. While the crow seems to look down from but also slightly cower behind the mountain, the eagle stands proudly and watchfully over the landmass at its feet.

After Tanya opens the doors, you are lead into what seems to be an opulent bedroom, about 20ft on each side. The shadows hang somewhat thick, as Stensia’s trademark purple gloom that it calls sunlight drifts in through the windows to your right. The first thing that catches your attention is a large four poster bed draped in royal purple and lavender cloth. The room has similarly expensive-looking furniture in a gothic style.

[PP13 – a thin green pipe is in the corner of the room, and it sounds like it’s quietly and constantly sucking air from the room. It doesn’t seem to be doing it fast enough to drain the room of air, but if you put a small object like a coin near the spout, it would get sucked up. The pipe leads into the floor.]

Katrina is seemingly quite busy, as she is sitting at a desk facing the window. There, she is writing with a feather quill on a sheet of parchment.

“Forgive me for my distraction, I am quite busy. Tanya, your report please.”

   

Tanya walks over and starts telling Katrina the details of your arrest in a low, quiet voice. She also places the Tome of Demonology on the desk. This takes one minute, do you do anything?

To my memory, Siessa stood respectfully waiting and Ace stood on tippy toes to look out of the window while Tanya gave her report. The players were shocked and a little intimidated I think by the sheer number of soldiers outside being trained. 

Katrina, busily scribbling says "I'm short on time. Tell me why I shouldn't just have you two executed."

Alice and Helen: "Uhm...." 

We talked a lot this session, so forgive me for not getting all of it down and accurate. The conversation led to Katrina questioning Ace (especially, being owner of the book that started this mess) how he could prove he wasn't an enemy. Quite soon, he said he'd do something for her, like kill someone or fetch something. Y'know, adventurer stuff. She liked the sound of that, and said that such a thing would be sufficient. Siessa spoke a little more with Katrina, trying to get more of an idea of what Katrina wanted from them. 

It came to pass that Katrina said that all she wanted was the power to defeat the demonic threat in the north, and becoming a vampire was simply a means to an end.

Katrina: "The other vampire families, including the old Falkenraths, were content to sit on their hoards of wealth and do nothing about anything. I hope to be different. By raising an army, I can defend humankind."

Siessa: *forgetting who she's talking to for a second, being a little impertinent* "Yeah, but there's still the whole thing of having to kill and eat humans right?"

Tanya: *DEATH GLARE*

Katrina: "Yes, you're half right."

She then made a small motion that caused Tanya to pull her sleeve up. On her bare arm was a bunch of puncture marks.

Katrina: "Unlike the others, my family and I are not gluttons. We do not eat more than we need to stay strong and healthy. And we don't kill for sport like they do. We only take what blood is given to us. Many of the Knights of the Red donate blood to keep the few vampires I have created going."

Siessa: "So if we joined you, would you require us to become vampires?"

Katrina: "Not at all. But... the offer is there. Trust me, it may seem like an intimidating prospect but the results are worth it if you can hold onto a sliver of humanity. That is something only I and my family have ever been able to do since the first vampires. It's amazing what the human soul is capable of."

Siessa: "I see... may I ask, what's your family motto?"

Katrina: "Hmm, you know, I've been so busy I haven't thought of one yet. Well, when I... well, when I was alive, I always liked the tale of Father Alexandros the Grey. ‘To slay all opponents of god, we throw away our righteousness.’ I always found that story inspiring. Just how far humans can go in service to the greater good. So I suppose it'd be something like 'To slay all foes of humankind, we throw away our righteousness'."

Siessa, at this point, was really warming to Katrina. Helen was convinced it was all bullshit, but that was OOC. Siessa's flaw (which I wasn't really aware of) was "I am dogmatic in my thoughts and ways". To Helen, that meant that any enemy of demonkind was a friend of Siessa's, no grey area. Helen even said that Siessa was very up for becoming a vampire at this point.

Katrina: "And you, Ace? Perhaps I could convince you to help me with the cult situation in Kessig."

Ace: "Yes, I actually would quite like to take a particular one down called "The Black Cat Cult"."

Katrina: "I know them. Well, you could certainly. I'll reunite you with your friends and you can head there as a small strike force, perfect for disrupting their operations."

It all seemed to be going swimmingly, until...

Katrina: "Of course, swearing loyalty to me means giving up your pact. I need to know you're dedicated to me, not some demon."

Ace: *nervous* "But then, I'd lose all my magic, and I need it to defeat the cult."

Katrina: "Forgive me if I'm wrong, but a pact is a two-way agreement. In my research, all pacts have to be consensual and mutual to exist. you've already been taught the Ashen Wolf's magic. You would retain that after the pact was done."

Ace: "But I need to get stronger than I am now."

Katrina: "You could get stronger, with my help. I could have you tutored by the best wizards in the land."

Sooty: *whining*

Ace: "But... I'd lose my friend."

Katrina: *shocked* "You'd refuse me, risk execution... for a pet?"

Ace: "He's not a pet, he's my friend!"

Siessa: *eyes that say "Ace wtf are you doing this woman is our ally don't do something you'll regret"*

Katrina slowly began to realise.

Katrina: "I see, so that familiar is the soul of a departed friend? And your patron is keeping them hostage to blackmail you into remaining a warlock? Ace, you're clearly being taken advantage of. I know it seems like you're gaining a benefit, but this is not the sort of master you want to have. Join me, I can give you everything you need and more. As for the familiar... I gave up my humanity, possibly dooming myself to Hell for the sake of humankind. It might hurt, but you need to sacrifice something too."

Ace: *distraught* "But I made a promise... I'd never leave his side-"

Katrina: *snaps at him* "I told you I'm busy, and I don't have much more time for this conversation. Who are you siding with, your patron or humankind? You said you wanted to destroy the Black Cat Cult, but you're happy to help a different patron. I sense you're only acting on a personal grudge, not any moral compulsion."

Alice: "Gabe, can I tell how big this castle is?"

Not from here, maybe if you got to the balcony. If you're trying to cast you-know-what, 500ft in the right direction might do ya.

Alice: "I do that."

Ace gets near Sooty and utters the incantation for Dimension Door, waving his hands in a magical sigil and.... nothing happens.

Alice: "Well... it was worth a try."

Katrina laughs a little. "Do you really think my predecessors would have survived 600 years with an entire religion practically devoted to hunting them down... if one could just teleport in and out of their house? Now, I really am out of time and I need an answer."

We took a quick break. I got water and Alice cried. She was distraught to be on the verge of losing her favourite and longest-running PC. Siessa was against Ace, and he had run out of options. 

___________
Ace made up his mind. In his own words: "I am neither elf, nor human. neither religious nor cultist. I'm not embersworn and I'm tired of your bullshit. I'm me and I choose my friend over humanity."

Katrina looked at him with disappointment. "Tanya, arrest this man."

As Ace was taken out the door, Sooty sadly following, he turned to Siessa and said "Enjoy your mistake."

"My mistake? Those are just the crazy words of a dying fool."

As he was led out, Katrina smiled seductively at Siessa. "So... that offer still stands."

Siessa nodded. "And I accept it."

As Siessa allowed Katrina to drink her blood, and she in turn drank from her new sire, she saw out of the corner of her eye: Ace being led to the far end of the training grounds, with three soldiers aiming their muskets at him. 

"May those who do not stick to their morals burn in the fires of hell!"

Crack, crack, crack!

The last thing Siessa's human eyes saw before she blacked out was Ace's body slumping forward, and Sooty letting out one last plainative howl as he turned to dust.

And we'll end the session there.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Soooo... I've never killed two PCs in one game before. So that's a first. I still haven't lost any PCs, all my DMs are too soft.

Alice was pretty upset, understandably. On the bright side, she made some great memes from the tragedy. 

I'm gonna add more to the breakdown later, me tired.

The very next morning...

Ok, so Ace actually had a few routes of escape. I know it's heartbreaking to think of, but it was there. The Private Sanctum spell that was preventing his teleporting out actually had a blind spot to allow people to use the mirror they came in with. Therefore, if he'd run down the corridor and cast Dimension Door, he'd have escaped. Of course, the only spot he would have been able to 'port to would be the lair of the Crimson Sisters (currently consisting of Auntie Foxwood, Enyaba Foxwood and Olga Mudwallow) so he'd have to blag or fight his way through them as well. He also could have sworn loyalty and later defected, but there would have been no guarantee he'd be able to re-instate the pact. So yeah, Siessa and Ace made their bed, now they're lying in it. I'm really happy that the players are not really angry at this turn of events. I know a lot of players would get really angry at the DM if something like this happened. But I think we all know that these events would not have happened if: A) Ace hadn't kept the book and B) Siessa hadn't jumped into the mirror.

Speaking of, Siessa's character development has been extremely interesting. The tiny detail about Siessa having a grudge against demons and being "dogmatic" in her ways led to a crazy outcome that I never expected. Siessa will rest a while, being tutored in how to use her new powers by Katrina's other spawn. Ace, meanwhile, has be subsumed into the Ashen Wolf. As a martyr for the AW's cause, he will be bound for eternal servitude as a reward. I was thinking of doing something super fucked up like merging Sooty (Alfwin) and Ace together into a two-headed emberborn. From the AW's perspective, this is a great reward: Ace gets to carry on serving the AW with greater strength than before and gets to stay with his best friend forever. Of course, the non-human perspective on what a reward is makes the situation a little disturbing. Maybe I'll take away Ace's free will, or maybe he'll immediately defect.

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FuCK

Joining us we had:
  • Aisa, the first cleric of Ariadne seeking her fate - Charlotte's Eladrin Cleric 7 (Trickery Domain) /Rogue 1
  • Mordecai, an unpredictable thief chasing excitement - Robert's Half-Elf Rogue 8 (Assassin)
  • Blair, a headstrong warrior yearning for purpose - my Human Slayer 8 (Dragonheart)
  • Ovid, exhibitionist and the Master of Ravens, a man searching for adventure and an enlightenment of his own choosing - Ruairi's Werebear-Ancestry Shifter Monk 8 (Way of the Elements)
  • Kel Ecclesiad, a paladin who fights to protect her friends - Ellie's Blue Dragonborn Paladin 8 (Oath of Ancients)

We began with us in the room with the unconscious Salthazar. We talked a bit about what to do and examined the scroll he had in his treasure chest. It said that he had made 2 scrolls that might be able to somehow prevent Garish's plague, one of which was being held by Garish and another being held by "a single red eye". We looked at the orbs, especially the one with Mord's name on it. Blair figured out using Occult Studies that the orbs held the souls Salthazar used in his experiments, and that if they smashed the orbs they'd try to return to their bodies. That would also mean that the Mord we were travelling with was a soulless husk, which I of course knew because I came up with that plot point when the party met him in Skyhold Tower. Rob, assumedly just curious to see what would happen, bit into the orb and allowed his soul to re-enter his body. Hilariously, after Jack explained that he had now lost all his memories from after his first death, Mord (after throwing up for ten straight minutes) was... pretty much the same guy. It ended up being less of a philosophical conundrum and more of a comedic demonstration of Salthazar's MO. I do love Rob's approach to role-playing, which is essentially just to stick to his own weird script at all times. A loose cannon to be sure, but one that's very entertaining to watch.

Blair: "Hello? Do you remember us?"

Mord: "Uh... all I remember is a bookshop?"

Ovid: "Wait, are we still married then?"

Mord: "What?! I've only known you for a day, I wouldn't marry you! Hairy guys with big, veiny muscles are not my thing."

Ovid: ಥ⌣ಥ "Oke..."

Bundro and Hudu came back after we went downstairs (with Aisa looking for stuff of Garish's and Salthazar's to Scry them later and Blair/Mord taking Salthazar's artificial leg) but we told them to wait outside while we questioned Salthazar. 

Blair: *taking Mord and Kel aside* "Right, let me teach you two a trick I learnt in my lawyering days, I've seen it a million times: it's called 'Good Guard, Bad Guard'." 

Mord: "I'll be Good Guard."

Blair: "Wh-"

Kel: "I need a change of pace, I'll be Bad Guard!"

Blair: "...alright, you two have fun."

Aisa: "I'll stay here to give them Guidance."

Blair: "Sounds good, we'll leave you three to it."

Ovid: "We should visit Dwayne while we're here!"

Blair: "Sure, let's."

Blair and Ovid then had an awkward conversation with Dwayne about Tobi's health while Kel and Mord tried to grill Salthazar for answers. They mixed up their roles and goals a lot, Mord spitting in Salthazar's mouth despite being the "Good Guard" and Kel promising to protect Salthazar's life despite being the "Bad Guard".

Salthazar: "How on earth am I supposed to trust you? First you betray me for Bundro and now you're seemingly betraying Bundro for me! Whose side are you on?"

Kel: "The greater good."

Salthazar: "Ah, I see..."

Perhaps, at that moment, Salthazar sensed the party and he had something in common.

It was a lot of fun to watch, but I sensed it dragging on so I whispered for them to question him about the scrolls. Apparently he had created two scrolls using the souls of his victims ("filthy, disgusting degenerate thieves, yes that means you too Mord") that could be bound to the wrist and then used to cast a spell called "Complete Restoration" that could return anything to its earlier state: a ruin could be turned back into a castle, a dead body back into a living person or a Garish/meteor could be cleansed of its magical plague.

"All my work was for the greater good, of course."

We then told Bundro all about the plague and Garish and explained that we needed Salthazar alive in case his amnesia (he seemed to be having trouble remembering his own research, weirdly) cleared up. Thanks to Kel getting assistance from Blair in explaining, Bundro agreed to keep Salthazar locked up in the Brass Keep of Brasskeep (a bit of a redundant name but hey, in for a penny and all that). So we headed back to Brasskeep, this time forgoing playing a full game of Go Merrow for time's sake. 

Back at the city (after a short moment of the city welcoming us back as heroes) we hoped to go back to the bookshop (Ruairi and Rob were very adamant irl both ironically and unironically, which was pretty funny to watch. Like, for every question we had they'd say "aha! The bookshop will have the answer!") and get our reward from Bundro. Blair collected the bounty (500pp, not 5000 like Jack almost gave us by accident. I almost just let him believe it was 5000pp because tbh I really want to craft some dragonscale armour and an oathbow someday, but I decided against it because honestly it would've been a really scummy move) and shared it amongst the party. 

Mord: "Nah, you can have mine."

Blair: "...what?"

Mord: *throws the coin pouch back* "I said you can have it back, I don't want it."

Blair: "Who are you? I swear to the gods you're a total enigma."

Mord: *le shrug*

So Blair split it 4 ways with the others (33pp for them, 1pp for her). In hindsight, we should probably give that share to Ky'ri when he turns up again. 

We then went to the bookshop run by the kindly halfling lady. After a confusing rant about saving her from bandits (???) by Mord, Ovid and Mord procured a book called "A Single Red Eye", the title of which Hudu said he recognised from Salthazar's note. The book was a fantasy tale about a black, fire-breathing dragon called Niddhog and a band of paladins that plucked out its eye and bound it to its mountainous home to save the land. Reading through it, we realised that the story would probably tell us how to get to the real Nidhogg, who was probably the one guarding one of the scrolls. Could it be an ally or minion of Garish? Most likely. We already knew that Garish had once owned the other eye, which Blair later used to make Winter's Bane. Hoping to finally get to use Winter's Bane against an actual dragon, we made to leave when Jack asked for a perception check (should probably have been Passive Perception, but most DMs forget that exists so hey ho). We all failed apparently, and saw the halfing start getting a black nosebleed and fall from the ladder she was climbing.

Knowing that the black blood was a hallmark sign of the scourge and seeing something moving under her clothes, we all realised A) she was somehow too far gone to cure with Remove Curse and B) we better yeet before we get infected too. We grabbed the books and ran, barricading the door as best we could behind us in a panic. There was an explosion and millions of black spores poured from the building onto us (except Mord, who had just run away). Aside from Kel, we all took six tallies of infection, which I think was almost "Game Over" level infection. Thankfully, Aisa had enough spell slots to quickly cast Remove Curse on all of us with one left over. Blair flew up to a rooftop and saw that the same thing was happening all over the city: puffs of black spores were going up all over. The whole city was descending into sudden chaos. Blair and Kel alerted the guards, getting them to organise the populace into infected and uninfected groups that would evacuate separately. They also found Bundro's guards stopping the populace from fleeing into the keep, and gave them a harsh admonishment for prioritising the keep over the city. They all agreed and joined the evacuation effort while the 6 royal guards refused to leave Bundro behind.

After we'd evacuated all the citizens, Blair suddenly realised her brother and father would have been in the city. Looking around, she found Hamish in the crowd of uninfected. She approached, asking if he was ok and where their father was. Gaunt, he replied that their father had been one of the ones who had exploded into the spores. Blair stopped short and embraced him, overcome with a feeling of emptiness at her father's passing and unable to speak to console her brother.

Meanwhile, Aisa had made a small friend of an orc child called Oleg, curing her of the sickness and giving her over to her big sister. The others helped in the relief effort, but there were complications. The crowd of infected was large, penned in by guards with spears. Furthermore, Shelia Coppertree (although fine herself) had also lost her beloved when a "black silouette of a man flew by and pointed at her". We convinced her to lend her boat to ferry the people away from Flavia, for the country had been singled out by Garish for his revenge against the gods.

Processing the grief a little, Blair got up in a high place and addressed the crowd, furiously calling for action. "We know who did this, and me and my friends are fighting to stop him. His name is Garish, and he's an evil magic-user of terrible power, someone who wishes to spread this vile plague across the land. My own father was killed in this attack. We were searching for a squire to aid us in our quest, but in the wake of this attack we will accept anyone who can help us, directly or indirectly. The Flavian people need to evacuate to more hidden places, spreading out so that Garish can't target us. Anything you can do to help us fight back is needed." She got good feedback from the crowd, and we expect to recruit someone next session. I don't think Blair has gotten anywhere near to processing her grief yet, but she is saving her mourning for after she's killed Garish. Oh yeah, it's no question of if she'll try kill him or get him a therapist now, now she's out for blood.

We also got called back to the Brass Keep were Lord Protecter Bundro was throwing a hissy fit over Laurence and Julius appearing in his throne room.

Bundro: *frothing at the mouth, waving an axe around* "Filthy witches! It was these two who unleashed this plague upon my people, who else could have done it!?"

Kel: "...Garish."

Bundro: "Oh. Of course."

They had used Teleport to whizz over and tell us the results of their research on the infected death dog. They were horrified by what they found: apparently the infected all act under a single hivemind, and by probing its thoughts Julius was able to discover Garish's endgame plan: summon a tarrasque and infect it with the plague, then allowing it to rampage across all of creation. This earned an "...oh!" from me, horrified gasps from Ellie and Charlotte (experienced enough players to know what a tarrasque is) and "oh no!... what is that?" from Rob and Ruairi. While I'm not a huge fan of the tarrasque's stat block I think it has a lot of potential to be interesting if you give it lots of cool lore (like where it came from, why it exists, why it isn't rampaging right now etc) and a Godzilla-style hyper beam. It really needs both to not just be a beefy dinosaur imo. I'm sure Jack's version will have tentacles anyway, so I don't think I need to worry about it being boring.

I believe we ended the session there, with the crowd of uninfected going to evacuate via boat. 

(also Jack announced it was time for us to level up to 9th level, giving me that sweet sweet Counterspell)

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Once again, a really fun session! I'm very happy to see the apocalypse finally begin, and I think you did a good job of hitting us where we felt safest after a long period of us feeling rather invincible doing side-quests. 

I have a few thoughts about how the climax could have been even more effective than it was, if you want to hear such a thing: first is that it was a little too easy. Organising a city-wide evacuation at the drop of a hat in response to a sudden terrorist attack is near impossible, so I feel like this was a missed opportunity to have us really fight to save people. A few small "encounters" where we would have to make tough decisions like "do we rush in to save someone who's trapped inside a disease cloud and risk getting infected" or "someone wants to save a family member who is trapped in a cloud, do we stop them" could have made the event even more memorable than it was. Overall it felt a little cutscene-like. Blair and I still got to be cool so I'm satisfied, but I think you could have really milked the event for drama and tough character choices ("true character is revealed with the choices we make under great pressure") if you'd wanted to.

I also feel like killing off Sebastian and Shelia's lover was a bit of a missed opportunity. While Blair is now a lot more motivated to kill Garish, I think it might have been a bit more dramatic if Hamish and/or Sebastian were simply infected rather than killed. If they'd been infected a little too much to be cured the adventure as a whole would have gained a "ticking clock" element to it to save them, which might have been neat. I also feel like we weren't super attached to either character (not even having met one of them) so while Blair is angry and the party is sad and that's cool, I don't think any of us really "feel" the loss. It was still impactful, I just think it could have been more impactful with some tweaks. 
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Next time, we acquire a squire, Kel gets god-married (takes a level in warlock in a pact to Selune) and the party heads south to (finally) slay a real dragon!

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Today's session was a really fun one, probably because we were all there (except for Marcos and Santi lol) and we were all in a really good joking mood. I really love this campaign, it's always so fun and wholesome.

Joining us we had:
  • Aisa, the first cleric of Ariadne seeking her fate - Charlotte's Eladrin Cleric (Trickery Domain) 7/Rogue 1
  • Mordecai, an unpredictable thief chasing excitement - Robert's Half-Elf Rogue 8 (Assassin)
  • Blair, a headstrong warrior yearning for purpose - my Human Slayer 8 (Dragonheart)
  • Ky'ri, a tall elf boy who thinks he's a goliath trying to keep his home safe - Mitch's Snow Elf Ranger 5 (Horizon Walker)/Rogue 3 (Scout)
  • Ovid, exhibitionist and the Master of Ravens, a man searching for adventure and enlightenment of his own choosing - Ruairi's Werebear-Ancestry Shifter Monk 8 (Way of the Elements)
  • Kel, a paladin who fights to protect her friends - Ellie's Blue Dragonborn Paladin 8 (Oath of Ancients)

Before the session, Jack asked us what we wanted to do in-character. This was a really good move because it makes us feel like we control the narrative. You'll see what everyone wanted to do as we go along. We began by returning to Oghma's Eye to speak to Oghma's avatar. Along the way, we bumped into Kel to put her back in the team.

Kel: "Did you take the kids on a field trip without me?"

Blair: "They were restless, and you weren't around. Besides, a god ordered it."

Kel: "Fair. At least tell me you didn't give them sugar."

Blair: "I didn't, but Mord was a very naughty boy and broke into the cupcake factory."

Aisa: *bubbly* "We had fun! We fought a t-rex and I turned Blair into one!"

Blair: "It was pretty cool. I also got some drake scales."

Mord: "I killed the drake! And a fox!"

Kel: *laughs* "I'm glad you all had fun."

We also found Ovid in Oghma's Eye.

Blair: *looking at a row of beggars on the side of the road* "Ugh, it's awful that such a rich city has so many homeless... wait, is that Ovid?"

Ovid: *chipper* "Hey guys!"

Blair: "Why are you sitting with the homeless? You're literally rich."

Ovid: "I wanted to see what it was like."

Mord: "How much did you make?"

Blair/Ovid: "Why would he/I beg, he's/I am rich."

Following that, we went up to Laurence's throne room to speak with Oghma's avatar. Only, Mord had other plans. After a small rant about the constant choir music, he asked one of the nearby guards where Laurence was.

Guard: "He's not seeing anyone right now."

Mord: "Can I see him?"

Guard: "...who are you?"

Mord: "I'm a close associate." deception roll: 19

Guard: "I think I remember you... sure, go up those stairs if it's urgent."

After ascending a spiral staircase, he found a lush gothic-styled bedroom, but no Laurence in sight. Then he noticed the sound of running water from a nearby room, and steam coming through the cracks. We were all cracking up already to what I can only assume was a hilarious improvisation on Jack's part. Going and finding Laurence showering his twinkling (both a portmanteau of tiefling and twink and literally meaning twinkling, zing!) body, he approached stealthily.

Laurence: *hearing a sound* "W-what? Who's there? I can hear you!"

Mord: *practically jumping into the shower* "Hi there I was wondering if you could answer some questions?"

Laurence: *covers his nips, screams*

Meanwhile...

Blair: "...wait. WHERE'S MORD???"

Kel: "I thought you were watching him!"

Blair: "I thought you were!"

Aisa and Ky'ri: *already fled to break into the cupcake factory*

Blair: "You deal with Mord, I'll deal with those two!"

Kel then went upstairs and found a dressed but slightly wet Laurence looking for Mord who had hidden in his room. Mord was soon found by the two of them hiding using his Cloak of Elvenkind.

Laurence: *annoyed* "What do you want"

Mord: "Do you know that you're being ruled by someone lower than you?"

Laurence: "Huh...?"

Mord: "Yeah, your jester is sitting on your throne taking the piss out of you, while you're the vicar and you take orders from him."

Me: *OOC* "Careful Mord, he's probably a 17th level cleric..."

Laurence: "But he's my god."

Mord: "But he's a jester."

Laurence: "You don't get it, he's literally my god. Now leave!" *casts Command*

Meanwhile, Blair lost Ky'ri and Aisa as they broke into the upstairs of the tea shop. Blair hopped from building to building using her limited flight searching for them, until she eventually saw Ky'ri gobbling cupcakes through a window. Jumping and bursting through the window, she slapped the cupcakes out of their hands, grabbed both of them and chucked 5 platinum pieces for the damages at a very confused shop owner.
______
Finally getting down to business, we had a short conversation with Oghma's avatar where he congratulated us on obtaining the plague-ridden death dog and gave an insincere apology about his vagueness. We replied that it made the mystery more entertaining. 

After we left, Aisa bought all the supplies in a craft shop and constructed a pyre offering to her god, Ariadne the Goddess of Fate. She asked in her prayer if Salthazar should be killed for his evil experiments with the mortal soul and if the elemental rift was too dangerous to the fabric of fate to re-open. Ariadne replied rather quickly, saying that the elemental rift was acceptably low-impact on the tapestry of fate, but should never be opened any wider than it was already. She also said something very mysterious regarding Salthazar. Something to the effect of: "You should try to apprehend him, but when he gets desperate, you have to leave. You have to leave the room and wait until the dust settles. Don't tell your friends of this." For the first time, there was no chatter at the table. We were spook'd.

Following this, we made our way to Brasskeep. Over the few days it took to get there (Jack didn't specify if it was 3 or 4, so I assume was 3) we were recognised by a few people as famous heroes, even the usual bandits who would rob us decided not to mess with our being 8th level and all. At Brasskeep, we went to the keep itself, which Jack had given a makeover. Rather than being a vague building in the city, it was a huge dwarven stronghold carved into the side of a nearby mountain, which honestly is way cooler than what I imagined. Blair inquired at the gate about the bounty office, as she had info on "Althazar-Say". At this, the guard she was speaking to (I think probably a dwarf, I don't remember) led her, Kel, Aisa and Ky'ri all the way to the throne room of Lord Protector Bundro Rockfucker. Before I get on to that, I'll cover what Ovid and Mord did instead. While talking to Oghma, Ovid was advised to go to Brasskeep and seek the knowledge he wanted about Garish there. To this end, the happy couple (I keep forgetting that Mord and Ovid were married by Aisa...) went on their honeymoon to the local library. Only, there was no library. So they went looking for a bookshop and found one tiny place run by an old halfling woman called Mia. They asked if she had any books of knowledge, but she sorrowfully replied that Bundro had outlawed all books of knowledge because of the war with Oghma's Eye. The only thing they were legally allowed to sell was fantasy books and poetry. Ovid was disgusted, and said that it just wasn't right that Bundro should hoard knowledge for himself and not the people (as Mia told them that it was apparent that Bundro's court wizard, Hudu Hoblin the Magic Goblin, had access to as much literature as he wanted). I think this could be something Blair could get in on after the party have defeated Garish. We could build a stronghold, raise an army and then lead a revolution against both the church and Bundro. Both equally hoard knowledge and wealth to keep it out of the hands of the common person, so both are evil in Blair's eyes (and apparently Ovid's, so that's neat). With the Strongholds and Followers book by Matt Colville that's coming out soon, that could be very feasible to run!

Anyway, the description of the throne room was also very cool. Instead of a grand hall, it was a metal suspended walkway with a throne and six elite dwarf guards. Below was a huge hole that revealed a giant mining operation and piles upon piles of gold and precious gemstones. Far, far below was a wink of bright yellow that was probably lava. So, very radical.

Bundro greeted us warmly, saying that he'd been meaning to thank us for our services to the city but had never been able to catch up with us because we moved around so much. He promised us a huge reward from his personal stash (which his annoying court wizard Hudu objected against) and joked around, even throwing Hudu's advisor cloak on Blair and ordering her to kill him for insubordination (in jest, of course). He wanted to come with us personally to apprehend Salthazar, and he'd give us a 5000gp reward for him alive (or 2500gp for him dead). We travelled to the tower where we'd told Salthazar to wait for us on Bundro's war mammoth, a big boi called Rumblo Boulderblower (I think). Along the way, Jack had a very unique role-playing exercise for us to try out: we were to play IRL cards while staying in-character, specifically Go Fish. I think we were all taken by surprise both by the mere suggestion of playing Go Fish during a game of D&D and how fun it actually turned out to be. We found out first-hand how much of a racist, liar and cheat Bundro was, plus we all did a good job of staying in-character the whole time (especially Mitch, who played up Ky'ri's illiteracy brilliantly). Mord cheated a lot and also won, which feels very in character. I think Jack got a little anxious about halfway through because he wasn't sure if we were enjoying it or if it was dragging on, but I think we all enjoyed the exercise more than we expected. I feel very attached to the characters now that they've been in such a mundane situation together and we've gotten to see a little more of what they're like just as people.
____________

Finally reaching near the tower, Blair asked Bundro and Hudu to wait behind, to give the party the best chance of a surprise attack. However, Jack called for a Perception check (probably should have been Passive Perception, but then again I also know how weirdly hard it is to keep those numbers handy) and Ky'ri noticed a bird watching us. Crap, he had a familiar. Welp, we thought, we may as well go up there anyway to see if he's arrogant enough to take us on 6 against 1.

First thing that happened was we saw that the portrait of Frander had been taken down, and when we entered the living quarters, we saw the table move on its own. Blair threw a book at it and the knives on the table sprang to life to destroy it. Initiative was rolled as the furniture attacked, but we won fairly easily with a few AoE spells (specifically Spirit Guardians from Aisa and Dragon's Breath from Blair). We heard Salthazar shout from upstairs, angry that we had betrayed him.

Salthazar: "You fools! How dare you betray me? After I saved Mordecai's life and agreed to help you! And to think of replacing me with Hudu, that green wannabe!"

Blair: *cheeky* "Well, we weren't actually considering that but you make a good suggestion. He might be a bit of a twat but he's probably not a monster like you."

Salthazar: "Nay, it shall not pass! I shall take your tower and re-activate it! If need be, I'll take the souls of all the people of Flavia to power my experiments. My work cannot end here."

Mord: "Too bad, your bounty's due."

Salthazar: "Shut it, corpse!"

Enraged that Salthazar would leverage such a thing, Mord rushed upstairs in a blind rage too quick for Kel to pick him up like usual. We all ran upstairs to the study and burst in. Blair used her limited flight to jump out of a window and would smash through a window on the opposite side of the room that Salthazar was in to flank him. Mord was first through the door, with the others clustered around Kel and Aisa who projected an Aura of Protection (resistance to spell damage and a +4 to all saves) and Spirit Guardians (ragdolls with scissors that dealt 3d6 radiant damage per turn on a failed WIS save). We were prepared, to say the least. First thing that happened was that Salthazar cast Fireball (3rd level). Thanks to all our special effects like Aura of Protection and Evasion, it did pretty pitiful damage although I'd imagine it probably did some serious damage to the walls, doorway and surrounding furniture. Next, Ky'ri fired off a few arrows and Aisa attacked with her guardians. On Salthazar's first turn, he cast Polymorph on Blair and turned her into a chicken, which made me panic for a second as I felt my limited flight become no flight at all. Thankfully, I succeeded on a Dex save to grab onto the ledge, but without a way to smash the window I was out of the fight. Salthazar then used his bonus action to cast Ray of Frost on Mord, the very same cantrip he used the first time Mord ever saw the mad alchemist use magic. Mord was frozen in place, slowed for a time. But Kel charged ahead and unleashed a devasting pair of critical attacks on Salthazar: one Binding Smite and one Divine Smite, dealing something like 60 damage. Salthazar couldn't cope, as his body was in fact undead and he took double damage from radiant sources. Broken, he crumpled to the floor, alive only because Bundro paid more for him alive than dead. We celebrated joyously, Blair turning back into a human in Kel's arms and giving her a loving embrace. We were stoked, but...

Jack was clearly shattered. He literally looked like someone had just told him his dog had been run over in a fatal accident. He looked like he'd heard the news that Kentaro Miura had died without finishing Berserk. He looked like he was having a flashback to the Vietnam War. When we tried to ask him things like "what's in those chests in the room?" he didn't even respond at first he was so spaced out. In short, he was clearly deeply troubled by our quick win against Salthazar. I soon realised that he was probably planning something he thought would be really amazing, probably to do with Ariadne's warning and/or him asking us to number ourselves 1 to 6. We all thanked him profusely for a really fun session and hugged him, but it was obvious that he was really disappointed. 

Looking in the chests, we found a pile of crystal balls with labels with names on them as well as a scroll. Opening it, it was a note by Salthazar stating that his research had been on manipulating (or maybe curing?) the plague. His research had borne three special magic scrolls, but "that damn clown" had stolen two. One was apparently on Garish's possession, while the other was guarded by a "red eye". Salthazar knew not of what this eye was, but guessed it could be a beholder that Garish could have enslaved. And there we ended the session.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Jack! That was great! Don't beat yourself up! I think it's easy to forget that you're new to this, and I can see that a lot of the things that went "wrong" my first time round are happening again to you. But that's fine! Even though you feel like you "messed up", we all still had a great time. Trust me, you'll soon learn that no session goes exactly to plan and not every session needs to. 

If you want advice to help avoid the classic "lone enemy spellcaster gets rekt by the whole party" scenario, I have some advice that I've picked up from sources like Matt Colville, r/DnD and my own experience. If my advice is not what you want, then feel free to ignore me now. Before I start I'll say that there was nothing wrong with the encounter because it was a fun experience for all of us! We all got some moment of coolness, with varying degrees of badass-ery. Ovid and Mord dodging all the damage of the notorious Fireball spell was cool. Kel anhilating Salthazar was cool. Aisa discovering Salthazar's weakness was cool. Blair turning into a chicken, even, was cool. But if you want to have the climax of a session/adventure be a truly epic fight against a lone spellcaster, here are some tips:
  1. The side with the most actions wins, almost all the time. Even if Salthazar could cast Power Word Kill at will, he would never have won that battle by overpowering the party as he tried to do. If he did, he'd be able to kill maybe one or two of us before we took him down. He didn't have legendary actions, or lair actions to even things out. I once used a Night Hag straight from the monster manual with the addition of a few legendary actions and a healing potion and it nearly wiped my party (and succeeded in killing the paladin). Challenge rating goes out the window unless the solo monster can keep up in terms of actions.
  2. Speaking of that potion, bad guys are always prepared! And, importantly, they want to win! Their lives are usually on the line, after all. Salthazar had a familiar to spy for him and some animated furniture to guard his abode. Cool, but once we'd gotten past that he was basically trapped. I don't think he even cast Mage Armour he was seemingly so confident he could defeat 6 heavily-armed adventurers with a wealth of abilities. With not a whole lot of hit points and limited actions, he really needed some traps or some minions to even things out. It would have made sense, for example, if he cast something like Animate Objects before we got up the stairs. Or with his ample prep time before we got there, he could have believably turned all the furniture in the tower into animated guards. I would have believed it. Likewise, he could have brewed a few potions of healing or gaseous form or giant's strength. A magic item or two in his possession would have made sense, like say a broom of flying so he could have pelted us with fireballs. 
  3. Speaking of fireballs, I assume he had spell slots higher than 3rd level? If so, he probably would have hit the party with his strongest one when he had them all clustered together like that. If I were him, I'd capitalise on the opportunity to  deal some damage early in the fight.
  4. So Salthazar went down pretty quick. We did 100 damage to him, but I'm guessing he probably only had about 60 or 70 hit points, right? And with the vulnerability to radiant damage (something that 2/6 of our party can use to great effect) his "effective" hit points were probably only about 40. Against 6 8th level warriors, 40 hit points is nothing. I also learned this when my party fought the final villain of an adventure, the mad wraith Artemis Grimm. He had about... 90 hit points(?) when I designed him. But my party put the pressure on him early with a spell called Compelled Duel. Within maybe 2 rounds he was already "dead". So I just pretended he wasn't. I upped his hit points to 150 on the spot, and when they burned through that I upped it to 200. I did this because I knew that I wanted the fight to be somewhat gruelling, like they had to work really hard to force this poor, demented ghost back to his grave. I think it worked out, although an unforeseen side effect was that the paladin became a lycanthrope. But the party really cheered when they beat Grimm, and felt liberated from his evil presence. Although it felt a bit icky at the time, upping his hit points on the spot was really needed against these 5 7th level players. Even with a few damage resistances and immunities, Artemis needed a lot to hold his own. I probably won't have my players fight big bags of hit points in the future, I'd rather use minions or environmental hazards to up the stakes.
  5. Anyway, my last point: our characters can take a lot of punishment now. We're 8th level. The threats we face usually seem to be balanced more towards a 5th or even 4th level party. Damage vulnerability rarely makes an appearance in the MM beyond CR1 creatures, for example, because it makes things far too weak. Matt Colville said (and I agree) that it is usually far better to throw wildly unbalanced encounters at the players just to see how they fight their way out. Once he had a portcullis cut the party's tanks off from the spellcasters in a tunnel and had gnolls pour in through both ends. He never "expected" them to win, he just knew that the encounter would be a son of a bitch. But the players quickly came up with a solution that Matt didn't see coming. They used a portable hole (basically a piece of cloth that you can hide in like a big bag of holding) and the fighters jumped in. Then the wizard pulled the portable hole through the holes in the portcullis and suddenly the party was whole again. The encounter was still tough because the enemies had spears and were in an enclosed space where half of them could stab through the portcullis without being hurt, but the players were able to win by never getting forced onto the back foot. What I'm saying is: give us a challenge. Even better, give us a creative challenge, like the portcullis/gnoll situation.

Anyway, next session we'll be getting our reward, hunting down the scrolls and figuring out why one of the crystal balls has Mord's name on it...

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:iconesgallagh:
EsGallagh Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much for the fave! And may the good blood guide your way!
Huntress portrait by EsGallagh  
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:iconexistentialocto:
ExistentialOcto Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2017  Student Writer
no problem, my dude
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:iconmetalshadowinsanity:
metalshadowinsanity Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2016
Happy Holidays!
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:iconexistentialocto:
ExistentialOcto Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2016  Student Writer
Thanks, it looks great!
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:iconribsjr:
RibsJr Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2016  Professional Writer
Thanks for the fave!
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:icontyrannuss555:
Tyrannuss555 Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
There's this guy on YouTube he's called VaatiVidya he does great lore videos on Bloodborne and dark souls.
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:iconexistentialocto:
ExistentialOcto Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2016  Student Writer
You mean that guy who's the most subscribed Soulsborne Youtuber and partially responsible for the widespread popularity of lorehunting in Soulsborne games to begin with?
I'll have to check him out :D
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:icontyrannuss555:
Tyrannuss555 Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Yes. His theories do make you wonder
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