Solo Skald |||

Diving right back into the narrative from where I left off after the rules discussion in the previous post. And as you’ll see, nothing goes as planned…

Giving the devil her due

Cethegus, Melisanda, and Bertram flee the tomb after an ancient vampire kills their friend Ataulf. Back in the monastery, they encounter Crocon once more, the devil who offered them a bargain previously.

How does she react to seeing them now? Of course she wishes to take advantage of their plight. Now the group has learned a bit more about the connection between Lilituans and warlocks, so she’ll offer them knowledge in exchange for a dark deed: locations of several other tombs and hints of how to navigate them.

But she will ask them to do something in return, something small: she needs a tome from the restricted archives of the Church of Saintly Blood in Chancel. Should they fail to do so, their souls will be forfeit.

The group huddles for a moment to discuss. Is the information worthwhile? They saw hints of incredible things below, and they don’t wish for Ataulf to have died in vain. With what they’ve learned, and the information from the library of the monastery, they may be able to triumph against a vampire in the future. After all, the Dredgers’ purpose is precisely to find the knowledge underneath that the Church wishes to keep hidden.

They agree to Crocon’s terms. Why should the Church be allowed to keep that information hidden? She cackles and thunder rolls outside on a cloudless day.

Trekking back

The nearest bit of civilization is the fishing village of Glismoda. It’s a day away, so they’ll camp at least once on their way. I’ll roll for an event in their travel, but none occurs.

Now that they’ve reached the village, we can consider them to have completed an expedition. Bertram is now a professional and gets his second hit die. However, his iron fulmination didn’t make it back; he might be able to put something else together in the future but that will require time and resources, including access to a Guild workshop which certainly doesn’t exist in this humble village.

They’re not going back to Miseford; too much risk of running into the Knights of Lilith. In fact, they’ll want to leave this area quickly in general, after their run-in with Ser Grisselda and the Grey Wanderer. They could either go through Hemlock and the forest that surrounds it - which implies a lot more travel time and danger - or they could try the river, but making sure to avoid Miseford in some way.

They decide to split the difference somewhat and follow the river on its east bank. When they draw near Miseford, perhaps they’ll be able to scout out whether the Knights have arrived in force (requiring them to take a stealthy approach) or whether they can just go around it normally. There will certainly be some other village further downriver towards Loch Riven.

I decide that will require two checks (for features and random events) rather than just one. Additionally, this is fairly sparsely-inhabited land, so I’ll expand the range on dice rolls for features.

Bandit raid

On the first check, there’s a random event: bandits are attacking a small farmstead. The group can see an elderly couple being threatened. There are 3 of them. Our group are explorers, not fighters or vigilantes, but this is unconscionable. Already, they can see a couple of burned out buildings and rounded-up livestock. Cethegus mutters darkly and tells the others to follow him.

Is a stealthy approach possible (even)? Yes. They’ll try to sneak up and kill the leader; perhaps his two thugs will flee at that. Cethegus’s profession is Ruffian” so I imagine he’s remembering former times in his own life.

He’ll get to use his HD on the skill roll for the approach. On a failure, they see him and any chance of surprise is lost. That’s exactly what happens, too. The two groups are d10 * 10 = 20 yards apart when he’s seen.

  • Bandit Leader (Adventurer): HD 4 (13 HP), AC 11, MV 9, Rapier 1d6, Pistol 1d6, #AT 1, Morale 9
  • Bandits (2x Mercenary): HD 1 (1, 2 HP), AC 11, MV 9, Dagger 1d4, Pistol 1d6 #AT 1, Morale 7

Initiative: Bertram 31, Bandit Leader 29, Bandits 27, Cethegus 21, Melisanda 16 (d20+MV for each)

Nobody’s surprised, so Bertram just opens up with his pistol. He’s a bit far away for that, so he’ll shoot at disadvantage and miss. The bandit leader rushes up to Cethegus with his rapier, but that takes twice his movement and thus he’ll not get to act. The bandit minions each take a shot at Bertram and Melisanda (at disadvantage due to range), but also miss. Cethegus heaves his halberd into the fight, swinging with abandon at the bandit leader, and strikes him for 1 damage only. Melisanda joins that fray with her rapier, hitting for another 2 points as the bandit leader now faces two opponents.

Bertram advances slowly; is there cover available (likely)? Yes, a few hedges, which will give him +1 to AC as he tries to shoot one of the minions and in fact drops one. The bandits will need to make a morale check, and both pass. They’ll continue to fight. The bandit leader tries to strike Cethegus with his own rapier, hitting for 2 damage. The remaining minion fires back at Bertram, missing wildly. Cethegus brings his halberd down on the bandit leader, who then steps out of the way nimbly. At that, though, Melisanda draws her pistol and shoots the bandit leader, striking him for 3 damage. He’s still standing, but he’s looking pretty rough.

The inventor keeps sneaking along the hedge, trying to get an angle on the bandit leader, but for now he’s shooting at the minion: he hits, but the shot just grazes off the leather armor. Snarling, the leader pulls his pistol and fires at nearly point blank at Cethegus, but misses as Cethegus dives and comes up rolling. The minion fires at Bertram in frustration, hitting the inventor for 4 damage. Cethegus performs a leaping strike on his opponent, but his mighty blow finds only earth. Melisanda turns and fires on the minion, killing him. This is your chance to lay down your weapons,” she tells the remaining bandit. He spits.

Bertram finally has an angle and no one firing on him to keep his head down, so he shoots and hits the bandit leader for 4 damage. That’s a total of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10 damage, meaning he’s still up (remember, we’re interpreting HP as the capacity to escape or stand hits”). Therefore, the bandit also dives for cover and fires at Bertram from the same side of the hedge, taking him to exactly 0 HP. We’ll come back to Bertram at the end of the combat to see his status. Cethegus screams in anger and charges but he’s too slow and misses. Melisanda angles around as well, killing the bandit with a shot to the head.

Now Bertram must succeed on a save to not die. He rolls a 12; while he’s not dead, he’s grievously injured. Cethegus attends to him, stanching the bleeding and applying a poultice. Melisanda runs to the elderly farmers and unbinds them. They’re grateful, but they’re also in shock. She escorts them back into the farmhouse; after a few minutes, Cethegus and Bertram join them. They’ll all rest here for the night.

Further down the river

In the morning, the trio bid farewell. In gratitude, the farmers have given them a small donkey and cart to transport Bertram. It’s not much, but they appreciate that he nearly died while saving them.

The next check yields neither feature nor event. Late in the evening, they come within sight of Miseford. I need to roll separately for whether the Knights are there or not, and if they are, whether the explorers see them. Are they present (likely)? No, surprisingly, or at least not in force. (Ser Katya might be around someplace.) The explorers still give it a wide berth, though they’re not moving as slowly and cautiously as they would if they’d seen some sort of Lamashtu garrison.

In the morning, they try to flag down a passing barge headed downriver. Do they find one (likely)? Yes, but Harm / Technical,” which I interpret as a barge that’s in need of repair - it’s shoddy and leaking. The explorers, seeing the condition of the boat, decide to risk it anyway. They pay the captain to take them as far as Creedhall, which means crossing Loch Riven.

The journey to the loch passes uneventfully, fortunately. No one is interested in crossing that cursed water at night, so they pull over to the river bank and make camp, crew and passengers both. During the night, Deceive / Mystical” involving A Faction / Social” occurs. I’ll roll whether this is about the Incendiary Guild or the Labyrinth Dredgers: it’s the Guild.

They hear a voice calling out for Bertram from the lake shore. He sticks his head out and sees a figure walking towards them out of the mists: someone Mystic / Technical,” someone Bertram thinks he recognizes. I draw for this figure’s goal and get Harm / Social.” This is a ghost, of course, and as she approaches, he can see that she’s weeping behind a veil, her form mist-shrouded. Unsettling whispers echo across and she reaches out. Bertram screams for help and the ghost pauses as others come out of their tents.

Why did you abandon me, so close to finishing my research?” Her translucent form looks vaguely familiar; didn’t Bertram know her once? How can she be banished? Revelation. Convince the Ghost that it is actually dead.” Bertram tries to reason with her and I’ll roll a check, but his profession as an inventor does not help him here. He fails.

I also roll for a special ghost ability: Nerve Terror. Cannot inflict physical harm. Damage feels and appears real, but only for 10 minutes. Still temporarily reduces HP. A person reduced to 0 HP by false damage must Save or die and become a Ghost.” She reaches out with a chill touch, dealing 2 damage to him. He shudders and feels his life force draining from him, but he makes his save and doesn’t lose any additional bits of himself.

Melisanda comes up now and speaks quietly, explaining to the ghost what this situation is. She reasons quietly and empathetically, drawing on her knowledge of the dead. But the ghost does not listen to her.

What about the crew? Do they flee in terror (likely)? Yes, sailors are a superstitious sort. Cethegus realizes he has no way to fight this impermanent foe, not having any weapons that can hurt the mist. He tries to reason with her, and finally she listens. They can all hear her weep as the mists dissipate and she fades away.

The explorers must each make an Insight roll for this experience: Cethegus and Bertram each increase by 1. Once they get back to home and can rest fully for several days, returning to something like a normal life, they can decrease by 1. If Cethegus increases any more, he may turn on the forbidden knowledge he’s accumulated and try to destroy it in some way. The human mind was not made to contain such things.

Loch Riven

The barge leaves the explorers behind, having slipped away before dawn. They’ll follow the lake shore themselves to Creedhall. Again I’ll roll twice instead of once for random encounters. On the first check, we get both a feature and an event. The feature is a notable structure, Unsavory / Technical (mental, operation)”. This means some sort of research location, maybe another scientist’s home. I’ll combine this with the event, Protect / Social” involving Future Plans / Social”. With the combination of these things, I can assume that the explorers have come upon a member of the Incendiary Guild who lives in a lakeside manor.

Eileen Donan Castle in Scotland Photo by Nicholas Beel on Unsplash

The group stops by, as Bertram recognizes the place and convinces everyone this is a place to take shelter and perhaps find an ally. What’s the scientist like? She is looking to Learn / Mystical,” so it’s more than just engineering that interests her. I’ll call her Doctor Philomena; she wears an overcoat and is pursuing a vendetta against some religious figure (though that’s not known to the explorers yet).

Bertram explains the purpose of the expedition they’re returning from and their future goals. She agrees to let them stay the evening, and over dinner she makes a proposal to the group: she needs help restoring something broken, she’s opposed by a recurring villain, and in return she can lend them significant support in their future endeavors from the Guild itself.

The item she seeks is a New / Mystical” object that Seeks / Technical.” Something the Church of Saintly Blood recently created or acquired has major implications for the Guild, who ultimately seek to overthrow them and their petty superstitions. Dr Philomena wants them to raid a Church archive for suppressed scientific research; this is part of her vendetta against Sister Artemisia, spymaster for the Church. She’ll provide them with a map to the archive, as well as a description of the specific information they’re looking for.

On to Creedhall

In the morning, they depart for Creedhall. This is where Bertram keeps his residence, in fact. The journey into the city, through fetid swamps where the River Krev feeds into Loch Riven, is uneventful. As they travel through the city, they pass Creedhall University, a place of weathered neoclassical architecture, domed buildings and Grecian columns.

Here, they’ll have some downtime while they discuss what to do next. There is a lodge hall for the Labyrinth Dredgers here as well, and so Melisanda and Cethegus have the sad duty of informing them of the death of Ataulf. Cethegus turns in the scepter of command to the quartermaster, who is grateful to have it in the Dredger’s vaults. Melisanda and Cethegus each requisition something that can do magical damage, as they’ve brought back several items lately and in fact the lack of such capability led directly to the death of Ataulf.

How much of this sort of thing does the lodge have available? They’re surprisingly lacking. He can direct them to a nearby vendor who might be able to help them, however. Hopefully the prices will be reasonable!

I’m going to take a minute and review what the group is trying to do:

  • Acquire weaponry that can be effective against the undead (ghosts, vampires, etc.)
  • Steal a book from the Church of Saintly Blood for Crocon
  • Recover the lost research of Dr Philomena (Incendiary Guild)
  • Raid a Grail Tomb for the Labyrinth Dredgers

Recovering the lost research is likely to open up more options with Dr Philomena’s backing, as she can likely provide needed specialized equipment for the group. In other words, the third option could enable the first one.

Church Archives Infiltration

Before the group heads there, they discuss their preferred approach.

Planning

Cethegus wants to go in swinging, but Melisanda and Bertram have better discretion. They can pretend to be scholars with a forged letter of introduction from a Church official. Melisanda should be best at this, but in a pinch Bertram can do it as well.

What’s Cethegus’s role? He can be their assistant and even a sort of bodyguard, as the archives are perhaps out in a lonely area.

The procedure will be a little different here. Assuming they can get in the front door, they can have someone show them to the stacks. From there, they can poke around and try to find the restricted section. There’s no real danger until they try to get into that area; once they do, the stakes go up dramatically and they’ll need to evade notice until they return to the stacks.

Should the initial entry fail, or should they be detected, they’ll either need to find some alternate means of ingress or egress, or fight. I don’t see this as a dungeon we’ll need to map out as we go, like with Perilous Wilds, but I do have a map in advance: the Grand Library of Coruvon by Dyson Logos. The restricted section is the basement; one individual (likely Melisanda) will need to spend two full dungeon turns in there to get what they need.

The staff will consist of 6 archivist priests, each with AC 11, MV 9, a 1d6 stave, and 2 HD. They are librarians, not warriors. But ostensibly the Dredgers and the Church are allies after a fashion, so Melisanda would really rather not kill them or even be detected in the first place. (Where’s Blades in the Dark when you need it?)

Execution

Everything rides on this first roll. Melisanda and Bertram, in scholarly attire, present letters of introduction from Brother Thomas, a non-existent Church official. Does it work? Melisanda stands there awkwardly while an elderly priest looks over the papers for several minutes, before finally shaking his head. I’m sorry, this is quite out of the ordinary. We’ve never entertained visitors here, particularly those who do not have a priestly escort. No, I’m afraid you may not enter.”

Cethegus starts to rush forward, but Bertram puts a hand on his shoulder. Melisanda gives a sad smile to the priest and claims she’ll go back and ask Brother Thomas to accompany them. The priest harrumphs and closes the door.

Outside, the group discusses their backup plan. They’ll try to enter through a window or side entrance at night. There’s a window in a back room, although it’s barred. They’ll need to pry it off without drawing attention to themselves, then get Melisanda in there and into the basement (which will itself be secured).

Well after dark, and in fact past midnight, they begin. Cethegus uses his crowbar to pry the window open; is he detected? Yes, just barely. A priest on night watch duty comes into the back room, shining a lantern around. But the group drops down out of sight behind the library itself. The priest goes back to his post; if they get his attention again, surely he’ll call for aid.

Melisanda slips inside, and Cethegus follows. Bertram will keep watch outside and perform any distractions as needed. Cethegus will try to open the basement door, then keep any priests busy while Melisanda is inside.

Cethegus and Melisanda quietly approach the door, then freeze when a lantern light shines on them from across the room. Who are you?!” a priest demands. What are you doing here?”

Cethegus and Melisanda pretend to be star-crossed lovers looking for a rendezvous, albeit a slightly blasphemous one. This mollifies the priest just enough to show them to the front door without calling for help. While he does so, Bertram thinks quickly and jumps inside. Can he make it through the door without expertise? No, the dice hate this whole group. Before the priest can make it back, he gives up and jumps out the back window again.

What’s Plan C? Fight a priest, that’s what. Cethegus and Bertram will try to subdue him quickly before he can call for help. That means no pistols, just blunt weapons. Cethegus will try to wrestle him to submission quickly while the others bind and gag him. The three of them wait until the priest makes his rounds, then enter and try to ambush him. They succeed in surprising him! But Cethegus will need to silence him quickly before he calls for help, so he’ll make an attack roll with advantage due to the ambush: That succeeds as well. Bertram keeps a weapon trained on him while the other two gag him and tie him up to a chair. Cethegus then opens the door for Melisanda.

While she’s in there, I roll twice for an unexpected event (1-in-3 both times). As soon as she’s in there, though, immediately something happens! Communicate / Mystical” involving Rumors / Mystical”. The priests of the Church may not be warriors, but they are well-versed in protecting the archives. As soon as she enters, magical wards activate. What does it do? Harm / Physical”; that’s pretty clear. I don’t think it tries to kill her so much as completely incapacitate her. She’ll have a save against it: pass. She’s fine; however are more Church staff on the way (likely)? Yes, but Move / Technical” means Bertram and Cethegus can hold them off a bit by barricading the entrance.

Outside, several angry priests are shouting and waving torches. One kneels and begins to pray, invoking some sort of holy magic. Finally, Melisanda bursts out. She has the files! What about these priests? Can Cethegus throw something heavy before the priest’s prayer completes? No, the prayer finishes just as a table comes flying out of the door. What did the prayer do? Seek / Mystical,” which means that all three of them are marked in some way. They’ll likely have the Church of Saintly Blood on their trail now.

In the meantime, however, they flee the library premises. They’ll need to get back to Dr Philomena’s manor house as quickly as possible, then figure out what to do next.

Return to Dr Philomena

I decide this requires two overland event checks, and one in fact does occur. That’s Assist / Mystical” involving Unsavory / Social”. I think that means the Church will send a couple of local thugs after them, ugly hoods who are willing to do anything their priests ask of them except actually follow any sort of social kindnesses.

The Monster Overhaul has a table for situations for an encounter, plus Where They Find You (Out of Doors)”. The first is General Brawl”, and I choose Road, blocked by an uprooted tree” for the second. There’s no surprise here; it’s not an ambush. The thugs are armed with clubs and knives, and even though they promise to let the group go if they’ll just hand things back over, nobody’s naive enough to believe that. They’ll fight.

  • Mercenary (d6 = 5 appearing), HD 1 = 3 HP each, AC 11, MV 9, 1d6 swords and clubs

I’ll use side initiative this time, and the explorers go first. Cethegus rushes them with his halberd, swinging wide, and scores a critical hit. Two of the thugs go down immediately. The others need to make a morale check, and they succeed. Bertram and Melisanda each fire at the remaining thugs, killing two of them. The remaining thug throws down his club and runs away.

While the group got through this with no injuries, this is a demonstration of how serious the Church will take this. Once the group gets back to Dr Philomena, they’ll need to go into hiding and stay on the run for a bit.

Wrap-up

This counts for another expedition each. One more, and Cethegus and Melisanda will reach Expert status. I don’t know if the Church will have them killed first, though!

Mechanically, this was the smoothest session yet, other than the checks and saves failing over and over and over during the library heist. I have a pretty good idea of what to do when they finally get to a large Grail Tomb, but for now they need to get equipped with whatever their new sponsor can give them and then get a move on before a real bounty hunter or inquisitor catches up with them.

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