As Silas continued to ransack Sora Harrowcrown’s wizardly laboratory, he became more and more frustrated. He was absolutely certain the arrogant tiefling was the traitor! He just had to find some incriminating evidence to prove his hunch. Moving quickly around the dark and cluttered space, Silas suddenly tripped over a small cauldron and fell against a worktable. As the eladrin vampire tried to catch himself, he shoved the table up against the wall where it knocked over several shelves of cowbells. As the cowbells clattered to the floor, making a godawful racket, Boojum looked out the window and saw the suspicious town guard turn around and start to march back toward Sora’s house.
You Really Hate Orcus, Don’t You?
As you’ll recall, dear reader, the battered and bloodied party of heroes ended our last game session in the crypts somewhere below the Citadel. After battling their way through two chambers of hungry flesh-eating zombies and angry skeletons, the party came upon a third room. In that third chamber, they discovered a makeshift altar to Orcus guarded by another undead monster, a Battle Wight (Level 7 Soldier).
DM Tip: For two of the three rooms down in the crypts, I used dungeon tiles from the new Shadowghast Manor set. This set of tiles is actually a bit light in haunted manor house tiles but— for some reason— it has quite a few tiles with crypt-like spaces that are well-appointed with boatloads of coffins everywhere you look. Having said that, Shadowghast Manor is still a pretty darn cool product and one I highly recommend for all you DMs out there.
This past Thursday night’s session opened with Silas attempting to sneak past the wight and get to the spiral staircase. Just as Silas reached the staircase and started to ascend it, the wight finally came to life (so to speak) and rushed across the chamber to attack the vampire’s companions. As the undead monster laid about with its soul-draining longsword, Silas sighed in exasperation and started back down the stairs. Before actually going over and helping his friends, the vampire decided to stop and take a closer look at the gory altar. As he stepped up to the altar, the two bloody human corpses lying next to it suddenly twitched and spasmed and lurched to their feet.
Fortunately for the party, the two zombies were “just” minions, so they were easily taken care of. Then, as his comrades attempted to maneuver past the wight and reach the stairs, Silas decided he had had quite enough of all this nonsense with chamber after chamber of nasty Ocus-loving undead. The vampire invoked two of his shrouds, unleashed a vicious attack on the wight, and rolled a nat 20! And then when he rolled the two d6 for his magic weapon, he rolled max damage, so he ended up doing a whopping 72 damage to the poor monster. As pieces of wight flew in all directions, a very impressed Boojum turned to Silas and said, “Wow! You really hate Orcus, don’t you?”
Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go.
At the top of the spiral staircase, the party found a trap door above them. After cautiously opening it a bit, they could see that there was some kind of dark, open space with a few torches burning in the distance. Stumbling up and out of the trap door (they failed a group Stealth check), they heard a blast from a horn come from somewhere above them and a voice yelled, “Halt! You in the square! Halt!” Our heroes suddenly realized they had come up in the Citadel’s Fountain Square through a cleverly camouflaged trap door. Several guards on the wall above had crossbows trained on them, and the sound of running footsteps converging on them from every direction brought more guards. One group of guards was led by Fallek. He ran up to the party, yelling, “Drop your weapons! Do it now!”
As their equipment was taken from them and they were being bound, Fallek asked the party about the stairs below the trap door. When Boojum started to explain how the party had died and about the Raven Queen, Fallek interrupted the pixie’s tale and angrily asked how the party had got into the Citadel. At that point, Silas decided to pop a ’tude, which Fallek didn’t appreciate. Fallek hit Silas upside the head with a wooden truncheon, knocking the eladrin vampire to his knees. As Fallek sent a group of guards down the stairs, the party noticed that one of the guards saluted him and said, “Yes, sergeant!” This puzzled the party because they knew that Garrick Blackoak was the Sergeant of the Guard, while Fallek was his corporal. After being led over to the inner gatehouse, Fallek told the remaining guards to hold the prisoners there while he went to inform Lord Bothwell of the party’s unexpected appearance. One of the guards saluted and also addressed Fallek as “sergeant.” After Fallek’s departure, our heroes asked their guards a few questions and learned some interesting things. Fallek was indeed now Sergeant of the Guard, after Garrick Blackoak had been found gruesomely slain. There had been a sundown to sunrise curfew in the Citadel since Blackoak’s murder ten days before. Ten days! The party wasn’t sure they had heard correctly, since they believed they’d only been gone four days… but the guards said it had actually been three weeks since they’d left the Citadel for the Grey Hills. The party realized the Raven Queen had obviously taken her sweet time in raising them from the dead after the TPK in the swamp.
The party soon saw several young pages dash out of the inner fortress and run into the Citadel. It was not long before the pages returned, escorting the three members of the Privy Council. As they all went hurrying past the prisoners, Sora Harrowcrown gave the stewing Silas a smug, victorious smirk. A short time after Sora, Beren Kell, and Halix Breland went into the inner fortress, one of the guards who had gone down into the crypts also went hurrying past the party. He cast a frightened glance toward our heroes, while giving them a very wide berth. The party then had to wait quite a while before Sgt. Fallek came back out and they were escorted into the Great Hall where they faced Lord Bothwell and the Privy Council. That’s when things really started to go downhill.
When Bothwell, who looked ill and had a hacking cough, started to rake the party over the coals, they tried to explain all that had happened and how they came to be in the crypts below the Citadel. But Silas again lost his cool, threatening to kill Sora and Sgt. Fallek. At the vampire’s outburst, an indignant Sora turned to Lord Bothwell and said, “Falkirk, I can’t believe we have to stand here and listen to this nonsense. Their very actions condemn them! They have been nothing but trouble since they arrived here.” Lord Bothwell agreed with her. He shouted, “Yes! (cough) How I rue the day I invited you villains here. You have been nothing but trouble since the day you arrived. (cough) Take them away! (cough)” And that, dear reader, is how our innocent, virtuous heroes came to find themselves unjustly thrown into three dirty, smelly jail cells in the Bailiff’s Tower.
Just after being placed in their cells, the adventurers were visited by Syradon. Lord Bothwell’s mute nephew communicated with Silas by writing messages in his ever-present notebook. He wrote that he suspected his uncle was being dominated and that Garrick Blackoak had been murdered because the tough sergeant would’ve been the first to suspect what was happening. Everyone thought Bothwell was simply fighting a cold, but Syradin wrote that he suspected the traitor was one of the members of the Privy Council. The two guards left in the cell block with the prisoners had started to play cards, but they soon grew suspicious of Syradin’s behavior and let him know that it was time to leave. Before he left, Syradin wrote that if the party could somehow escape from their cells, perhaps they could search the Privy Council’s private quarters for incriminating evidence, since the council members would undoubtedly be in session with Lord Bothwell in the great hall for quite some time.
I let the players brainstorm for quite a while about plans to escape their jail cells. Silas, of course, tried to insult the guards and goad them into coming over where he might teleport out of his cell and attack them, but the guards just replied, “Shut your mouth, Orcus-lover.” The party finally decided that Boojum would use Prestidigitation to make coin sounds in he and Gaultis’ cell, thereby drawing the greedy guards over to investigate. The pixie would then use Instant Friends (Wizard Utility 2) to get one of the guards to open the cell door. The guard in question had to roll a saving throw with a -5 penalty (because he was a lower level than the pixie) against Boojum’s magic. For such an important roll, I didn’t keep the die behind the DM screen, but instead rolled it out where everyone could see it. And I rolled a nat 20! Woo hoo! Er, I mean… Aw, too bad, Boojum.
After Boojum’s failure, the players went back to brainstorming escape plans. This was kind of fun to listen to since each plan was more desperate and harebrained than the last. But that didn’t go on for very long before I had Syradin come back into the cell block. The party couldn’t see what Syradin was doing around the corner with the guards, but after a few moments he came over to Silas’ cell door and made a “wait-just-a-moment” motion. In just a few minutes, the guards’ laughter and joking suddenly stopped and all was silent. Syradin went back around the corner, then reappeared with the keys and unlocked all of the cells. After exiting their cells, our heroes could see that the guards were asleep with their heads on the table. Amidst the scattered cards was a flask of wine that Syradin had brought in with him, obviously laced with some sort of sleeping potion. After stripping the unconscious guards of their uniforms and weapons, the party placed them in two cells and locked the doors. Blake and Silas put on the two uniforms. Syradin wrote that he needed to get back to the council meeting, but that he wished the heroes luck.
I Need More Cowbell!
Now that the players’ creative juices were flowing after trying to come up with ways to escape the jail, I wanted to encourage the roleplaying to continue, so I told them that their searches of the Privy Council’s private quarters would be a skill challenge. I reminded them of the rules for our skill challenges.
DM Tip: For skill challenges, I use “Rodrigo’s Rules” from the Critical Hit D&D podcast over at Major Spoilers. You can use any skill— as long as using it makes sense in the situation and also moves the party closer to their goal… but you can’t use the same skill two times in a row, and you can’t use the same skill as the player immediately preceding you.
I told my players this would be a skill challenge because I wanted them to be creative as they roleplayed through this section of the adventure, but— just between you and me, dear reader— I didn’t actually keep track of the number of successes and failures. I simply used their actions to help me advance the story and when one of their rolls was a “failure” (according to the appropriate DC), I narrated the story so that they came just a little bit closer to discovery. I had a lot of fun moving the story through this section of the adventure, and I think the players also enjoyed roleplaying their way through it. For this section of the adventure, the players chose to split the party. Blake, Dagon, and Gaultis remained in the Bailiff’s Tower to comb through the documents in the Citadel’s “administrative offices” and to search Beren Kell’s private quarters. Meanwhile, Silas (wearing a guard’s uniform) put Boojum in a pocket and casually strolled over to Sora Harrowcrown’s residence.
Gaultis, Dagon, and Blake thoroughly searched the Bailiff’s Tower (including Syradin’s room), but didn’t find anything incriminating. As the search there was winding down, Blake (in his guard’s uniform) decided to make his way over to the Chapel of Avandra. He successfully reached the chapel and made his way upstairs to Halix Breland’s private quarters.
After Silas and Boojum reached Sora’s and went inside (she had forgotten to set the magical protective wards as she rushed out), Silas pretty much tore the place apart. The scene you read at the top of the post was enacted as he grew more and more frantic in search. After Silas tipped the cowbells over, the suspicious guard approached, but Boojum made a desperate, spur-of-the-moment Bluff check. He yelled, “Stop! Go get my master, Sora Harrowcrown, right now! Tell her she’s needed here!” And with a successful roll on the check, the guard started to hurry away! Meanwhile, in the wizardly laboratory in the next room, Silas, hearing Boojum order the guard to get Sora, wondered what the heck was going on. Boojum explained that the bluff was all he could think of in the heat of the moment. Silas quickly moved to search the rest of the laboratory, but he once again failed at his roll! And so the rest of the cowbells came crashing down, making another godawful racket. Peering outside, Boojum could see the suspicious guard yell toward the inner gatehouse, asking for help. In a few moments, four guards were marching toward Sora’s house.
While that was going on, Blake was just across the street, vainly searching Halix’s quarters. Dagon and Gaultis had decided to try and join the shifter at the chapel, so they left the Bailiff’s Tower and attempted to get over to the stables. Gaultis made it, but just barely, so a couple of the guards thought they saw something moving in the shadows. When Dagon made his move, the alerted guards spotted him right away and shot their crossbows at him. Hit twice, Dagon managed to get into the stables. Gaultis had stampeded some horses out of the stables and down the street, where the frightened horses bowled over the four guards heading for Sora’s house. With the alarm starting to sound throughout the Citadel, Gaultis tried to hide himself in an empty stall (keep in mind he’s a big honkin’ goliath), just as the Dagon came stumbling through the stable door. Several guards were hot on the wounded genasi’s heels and, after bashing down the stable door, they captured him and also quickly discovered Gaultis’ hiding place.
Out in the street, the four guards who had been knocked down by the stampeding horses, picked themselves up and continued toward Sora’s house. Silas made a last desperate attempt to Intimidate them, but it was too late for such theatrics and the guards captured the vampire and Boojum.
In the Chapel of Avandra, Blake watched from a darkened window as his twice-captured friends were taken away toward the inner fortress. The shifter decided that he’d try to search the sanctuary itself, so he carefully examined the large room. Not finding anything unusual, he was at his wit’s end, but then he tried to push the altar… and was surprised when it swung aside and he discovered a hidden compartment underneath it! Reaching into the space, he pulled out a collection of leather-bound notebooks and some sheets of loose parchment. Studying his find, he realized he couldn’t read the odd language in which the pages were written. Performing a Religion check, though, the shifter had the distinct impression that the notebooks and papers were evil, Evil, EVIL! Realizing that he now possessed the evidence which would prove Halix Breland was the traitor, Blake stealthily made his way up to the roof of the chapel. The shifter snuck over the wall and into the inner courtyard. Then, trusting that his disguise (the guard uniform) would allow him to reach the inner fortress unchallenged, the shifter strolled across the courtyard. Entering the fortress and nonchalantly making his way to the great hall, Blake quietly entered the back of the room. Lord Bothwell was berating the shifter’s bound companions. After listening for a few moments, Blake stepped forward and yelled, “Fallek! Protect Lord Bothwell! These papers prove that Halix Breland is the traitor!” Then, realizing that Halix might try to snatch the chaos stones and ritual books that Sora held in her hands, he also warned the wizard to beware of the false priest. While Blake spoke, all eyes in the hall turned toward him and jaws dropped open in surprise at his words.
As the shifter’s stunning accusation hung in the air… as five players waited with bated breath to see what would happen next… I smiled and said we’d end the session right there and pick up the action again next Thursday night.