Thursday, December 10, 2020

Part 11: The Devil Finds God, and the Priest Serves the Devil


Before setting off into the city again to find Duke Ravengard, the party asked around the camp for ideas of where he could possibly be, with most people suggesting that he was last located in the Grand Cemetery, not far from the High Hall. A cemetery. In Hell. Naturally, this was something the party wasn't exactly thrilled about, but considering they offered to do what they could to help the city, off they went.

Carefully sneaking their way through the ruined city, dodging raiding groups of fiends, the group slowly pushed towards Grand Cemetery. However, on the way there following the directions that they were given, they heard some pounding coming from inside a door of a building. Like, people trapped inside but couldn't get out.

At least, that's what we were supposed to think, but thank goodness we'd learned from the previous experience with shut doors, because Faust opted to quickly Detect Magic, getting a reading of a ton of necromancy behind the door. Which made sense. The door wasn't locked or blocked as far as we could see, and the building certainly wasn't on fire. It was probably just a bunch of zombies that were trying to get out to where the food was but too stupid to figure out how to use the door.

"Let's...just ignore it and continue on," Seliph suggested.

Faust, instinctively rubbing his chest that had been torn open in a similar encounter previously, nodded in agreement.

"The two of you are uncharacteristically cautious here," Rylee observed.

"Bad previous experience," Seliph replied. "We'd rather not talk about it."

Rylee's player was legitimately curious here so she asked out of character what had happened, and we took the time to explain for her benefit (since Rylee wasn't with us at the time) that the last time Seliph thought, "Ah, this won't be too bad, we can take 'em!" and conducted the usual strategy of Seliph kicking in the door and blocking the doorway while the rest of the party pelted the undead within with magic, Seliph was knocked out and Faust died. Now sure, the party had grown quite a bit in strength since then (new dedicated support cleric, as well as Sissy turning herself into a miniature hurricane with the amount of destruction she was capable of causing), zombies in 5e are really irritating to deal with. While most monsters have the courtesy to die when running out of HP, zombies have a chance to just kinda shrug off any mortal damage and keep attacking.

Anyway, the decision to just bypass the encounter was the right call, as the DM informed us afterwards that there were twelve zombies piled against the door waiting for something to open it for them. As a reminder, last time it was six, and they were positioned in a way that Seliph was able to block the doorway for a while, whereas I have my doubts he would have been able to contain the avalanche of zombies behind the door of the building in Elturel.

So the party left the building, continuing along their suggested path until they reached the cemetery, where they saw the expected. Graves, wandering undead creatures, and fiends galore. As they wandered the cemetery the group found a small chapel, and Kalista suggested that Ravengard might be hiding inside. She snuck closer to the building to get a closer look through one of the windows, with Faust sending his familiar Stitches as backup. However, while Kalista is (obviously) an expert in stealth, Stitches is...not. So although Kalista effortlessly slid up to the window to get a glimpse inside, Stitches made a lot of noise, not realising what he was supposed to be doing.

This started to draw some attention, including that of what was inside the window, which could be somewhat made out despite the cover of magical darkness within. She had to squint a bit, but when she was able to identify what was inside, her eyes widened in fear.

Faust, seeing through Stitches' eyes, also was able to recognize what was inside the chapel, three minotaur skeletons. The group began shouting for Kalista to quickly get away once Faust let them know what he saw. I guess their attention spans were really short, though, because we expected them to let themselves out of the chapel and into the cemetery proper, but that didn't happen for some reason. Faust, Kalista, and Rylee got the idea to use a mirror to reflect light from Rylee's light spell into the window to see if they could either get a better look at the minotaur skeletons or get their attention, but neither ended up happening either.

Yeah, I'm paraphrasing a lot, but we had some really mediocre rolls this session. It's just kinda what happens, sometimes. You get ideas, you try things, and the dice just kinda say no. Totally natural. Happens to everyone. Actually when the dice dictate the story it's pretty likely.

So the party decided that the front door might not be the best way into the chapel, wondering instead if there was a possible back entrance. Well, there was, along with a large crater behind the building, which Sissy tripped and fell into having failed the stealth check we were asked to make.

Not that the rest of us did any better, so in the end you had Kalista walking somewhat quietly to the back of the building while everyone else completely failed, between Seliph's and Rylee's armor and Sissy falling into the crater.

Anyway, shock of all shocks that because we were making so much noise, a man came out the back door of the chapel shouting at us.

"Who are you people, and why are you making so much of a racket? I am trying to accomplish something in here!"

The party quickly looked the man up and down.

Faust opened his mouth first. "You...wouldn't happen to be Grand Duke Ravengard, would you?"

The man furrowed his brow. "Never heard of him. I'm Gideon Lightward, a priest of Lathander, and there's a bit of a problem with demons inside the chapel. There's a portal in the basement from the Abyss that they're coming out of, and it needs to be closed, so unless you're going to help me, get out of here."

"Maybe the person we're looking for has holed up inside," Kalista offered. "Anyway, demons are a problem, we'd be happy to help!"

"Excellent, come in, come in." He beckoned them into the small room at the back of the chapel. "Feel free to make yourselves ready for battle in here, say a prayer if you feel like you could benefit. The paladin in particular looks like a particularly spiritual man. I'm going to go take care of the minotaur skeletons in the next room."

Between that statement, the DM's voice acting as this man, and, well...the picture (specifically the long nails and red eyes) we as the players didn't trust this guy at all, but unfortunately the poor rolls continued, so our characters weren't able to latch onto anything in particular he was saying that was sketchy, and when pressed on his being a priest of Lathander (whose nickname is The Morninglord, so a god of light and life, something wasn't adding up), he got defensive, but stated that he was cast out because he was corrupted, but he still had a desire to serve Lathander. Specifically, he said that there was a weapon blessed by Lathander somewhere in the chapel.

Seliph wasn't so certain about that and declined the suggestion to pray, but Kalista of all people decided to give it a try, and whaddaya know, her "faith" was rewarded with a nat 20 and a glowing weapon appearing in her hands, specifically a +2 Shortsword.

Surprised that there was a positive response at all, Kalista shouted, "Thank you, God! My mom was wrong about you my whole life!"

"Excellent," uttered Gideon. "That should help us handle the demon problem. Wait here while I take care of the minotaur skeletons, and I'll open the door when its safe."

Indeed, the door was opened not long after, with the darkness dispelled and the minotaur skeletons just gone. Gideon gestured towards the other end of the room, from which the sound of battle were slowly growing louder. At the top of a stairway stood two mezzoloths, fighting against a giant scorpion and five dretches.

Some context, yes, again, devils and demons both exist in the D&D universe. Just roll with it. The two factions/races/whatever are from different locations (devils from the Nine Hells, demons from the Abyss) both have different goals, and as such, both groups are bitter enemies. Hence the fighting at the top of the stairs and the fiends/devils not wanting them to get out into Avernus proper.

Interestingly, Gideon was focusing on killing the demons, but not bothering with the fiends. Again, seems kinda sketchy.

Another sketchy thing is the fact that during the battle, he was severely injured by an attack that Lulu used. You see, she has an attack called Trumpet of Sparkles, essentially a magical girl sparkle attack that does a ton of radiant damage, with one specific caveat: evil creatures have disadvantage on their save (meaning the attack is more likely to be super painful for them) and good creatures aren't hurt at all from it.

This isn't the first time Seliph bunched a group of enemies together, just for Lulu to sparkle them to death (though it's the first time I've mentioned it because remembering details is something I struggle with when writing these things).

So anyway, sparkles. Completely bypassed Seliph and severely hurt all the enemies. And Gideon.

No, the guy with red eyes might be a bad guy? Who knew?

Naturally the party had some questions for him after the fight. After all, he seemed to be throwing his lot in with the devils and he got hurt really badly from an attack that shouldn't have done anything to a priest in service to Lathander, or as Kalista kept referring to him, the Nice Treasure God.

I guess the constant badgering touched his last nerve though, as he then said, "For the last time, Lord Lathander is not a god of treasure. I'd hoped to get you lot to help me with the portal before killing you and taking the devil girl's sword, but even my patience isn't endless." He then snapped his fingers, and the minotaur skeletons reformed.

Kalista then shouted, "Wait! Let's close the portal before you fight us!"

And that' the session ended. I mean, I'm sure him turning on us was supposed to be a big twist, but was less subtle than this.

So next time we've gotta fight this guy and his minotaur skeleton friends. Oh, and he started healing when the fight was over, so y'know, that's annoying.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Part 10: A Hell of a Time in Elturel

We're going to be adapting a few sessions here, since once the party arrived in Avernus, it was essentially fight after fight after fight.

So...two hours after the party left their meeting with Sylvira, Faust slowly made his way out of the library, not having finished his research into getting out of warlock pacts, but he was able to formulate a strategy for getting Rylee off his trail and getting the shield into Avernus. After all, the party had a twenty mile ride ahead of them. Sure, Sylvira was experienced and powerful enough to use the Plane Shift spell to send the party to Avernus themselves, but because of the wards placed upon the city of Candlekeep, it wouldn't work, so there would be no point. Instead, she was sending them to a tower belonging to a wizard named Traxigor, who would send them there as well as send them with a friend of Sylvira's who had some history fighting with the forces of Avernus. So, easy in, but still, twenty miles.. It was going to take a while by horse.

Well, it would have, except as the party was getting their horses ready for travel, Sylvira dashed into the stables, insisting that she had an idea to make things go a bit more smoothly for the party. She had a few griffons (or griffins or gryphons depending on your chosen spelling, D&D uses griffon) the party could use to fly to the tower they were being sent to, as time was of the essence. She'd watch the horses and take care of them all on her own dime in exchange for the party getting a freaking move on.

Faust thought of a few curse words, realizing that he had far less time to plant the seeds than he had planned. As seemed to be his lot in life, he was going to have to call an audible.

So, the party took off and Faust slowly positioned himself close to Kalista to "get to know her better". Specifically, to get her talking about her past to open her up to trusting him. Well, kind of. You see while she was talking for the duration of the flight, Faust spoke telepathically with the devil in the shield, suggesting that an easy way to get him into Avernus past Rylee's ever-watchful eye (and as a way to get said watchful eye off Faust).

After a little bit of arguing back and forth with the devil, the devil finally groaned in agreement. Meanwhile, Faust realized that he'd completely tuned Kalista's rambling out and quickly snapped back to attention to find literally anything he could put in his back pocket later in case of questioning, and as fortune would have it, Kalista's ramblings made their way to her long dead lover, something Faust zeroed in on. It couldn't have gone more according to plan.

Naturally, the devil in the shield reached out to Kalista to ask if she knew anything about her parents, mainly to find an easy way to segue into an, "I am your father" moment, which she gave him with almost no challenge (although her ramblings and the dawning realization that she was going to want to do daddy daughter stuff caused him to reach back out to Faust, cursing him for talking him into this insanity). Anyway, the promise was made that at some point when they landed at Traxigor's tower, she would try to smuggle the shield into the tower, and by extension, Avernus, with them.

Anyway, the party landed at the tower to...absolutely zero fanfare. They were expected...right? Sylvira must have sent word ahead of them somehow, right?

Anyway, the party looked at each other awkwardly, before Faust knocked on the door, which was opened by...nothing? Or so it seemed before...

"Ahem, down here!" The party looked down at the direction of the voice to see...

I couldn't find official artwork of this guy, so enjoy this picture I found on Google instead.

The party glanced at each other awkwardly before Faust asked, "Excuse me, are you Traxigor?"

"Yes, of course!"

Kalista then added, "But you' otter...?"

"Why yes of course. I suppose that nobody filled you in?"

They had not.

"So..." Seliph began awkwardly, "you're the one who is going to help us get to Avernus?"

"Yes, yes, you will be going along with my associate Lulu here," Traxigor said, gesturing further into the foyer of the building, where, well... this thing was.

"Hello everyone! My name is Lulu! I'm going to be your guide in Avernus so we can go save Zariel!"

A look of concern crossed everyone's faces. After all, this...thing...surely knew that Zariel was the bad guy in this situation, right?

Actually let's talk about that for a bit. I don't remember if I mentioned it before and I don't particularly feel like combing through past entries to confirm it, but Zariel is actually a fallen angel who became obsessed with ending the eternal Blood War between the devils and the demons (and yes, there is a difference in D&D), with her nature becoming corrupted the longer she spent in the Nine Hells until eventually she found herself trapped and abandoned there. In response, she allied herself with Asmodeus, ruler of all devils, and was eventually placed in control of Avernus.

Which brings us back to Lulu. Traxigor, now quietly nestled in Rylee's arms, having allowed her to pick him up and pet him, explained all of this to the party, adding that at some point Lulu's memories were corrupted, leaving behind a sort of childlike hope that in spite of everything she had done, Zariel could be redeemed, being her "best friend" and all.

Traxigor cleared his throat. "All of this means nothing unless we can find my tuning fork. It' here somewhere, but..."

Yeah, Traxigor's place was a mess.

Kalista tilted her head quizzically. "Why do we need that fork in particular? Can we use any other forks?"

Traxigor furrowed his brow. "Do you mean to tell me you think a normal dinner fork can send you to Hell?"

Seliph, who had rolled a natural 20 on his investigation, had already started digging around the place, asking, "A tuning fork is one of those things you use for music, right? I think I found one."

Indeed, he had found, and Traxigor set about trying to activate the fork, right as Rylee noticed that Kalista was carrying the shield. Some quick back and forth arguing ensued, but Traxigor, blissfully unable to read the room, finished casting the spell, and the party just sort of ended up in the square of a very much on fire city. A quick "good luck" message from Traxigor, and the party plus Lulu were left trying to figure out what to do next.

Cue some quiet frustration coming from the shield, as the arrival in Avernus had done absolutely nothing to release the devil inside.

It specifically requested to not be thrown into the River Styx, which would mess it up something fierce. So...

Nah, just kidding, they're still not sure what to do about it.

Anyway, as a means of establishing the fact that things had literally gone to Hell, as a group of citizens were being chased down by three bearded devils. Kalista, Faust, and Sissy moved to hide from the bearded devils, but Rylee dashed off to use her magic to protect the citizens. Seliph shot a quick apologetic look at the hiding party members, saying, "Duty calls," and dashed off to help.

Bearded devils are kind of nasty, but Seliph happened to have a new spell to handle the problem of resistance to non-magical attacks. That's not the important bit, though. You see, I haven't given enough credit to Sissy in these posts, as she's been steadily turning into a pint-sized nuke. Her damage output is insane. To the point that she would probably be the most dangerous if she were to turn against the party.

Anyway, the party finished off the three devils and talked with the civilians, finding out that the city was split in two, and that a lot of people were holed up in the High Hall. There, the family believed that they would be safe under the watchful eye of High Overseer Thavius Kreeg. A dream that was quickly shattered by Kalista and Faust, who despite Rylee and Seliph's attempts to stop them, quickly filled the family in that Kreeg had abandoned them.

Regardless, the party now had a small group of innocent people that they had to guide to safety, so they made their way into the city, specifically to the bridges between the two sections of the city. A group of fiends was standing guard on one of the bridges, but while the party was hiding and planning their approach, they noticed some runes etched into the stonework on the bridge. Despite not being religious or even being proficient in religion checks, Kalista was the one who figured out that the runes were a prayer to the god Torm.

Quickly putting together what would happen, the party considered uttering the prayer. However, Kalista wasn't interested, Faust already had two sugar daddies that were fighting over him, Rylee didn't want to cheat on her own deity Eldath, and...well, Sissy didn't say anything. Seliph offered to do it, not trying to hide what he was doing, he locked eyes with one of the creatures on the bridge before placing his hand on the bridge and uttering the prayer, to the shocked reaction of the fiends.

Their reaction was shocked because the bridge started dealing an enormous amount of radiant damage every turn, and the party was able to quickly mop up the fiends on the bridge.

The party battled their way into the cathedral of the High Hall, eventually coming to a room with a bunch of corrupted religious paraphernalia that was originally to other gods before being...well...corrupted into being tributes to Zariel. One thing that hadn't been changed was a large altar in the shape of a gauntleted hand, an altar to Torm. The party was able to figure out that by touching it or making offerings to it, they would be healed, none too soon because another group of monsters attempted to ambush the party.

This fight went a little more poorly as basically everybody but Seliph was pretty severely injured. Magic exhausted, Rylee wasn't able to do much to help everyone, but Seliph quickly used what was left of his paladin abilities to heal the rest of the party. However, Kalista got an idea for something to take back to Sylvira. Could it be some of the defaced religious paraphernalia? Nope. Weaponry from the fiends the party had slain so far? Nada.

No, she tried to cut the face off of the lead fiend the party fought in this most recent bout.

Okay, let me back up a little bit. We fought one of these guys.

So, this is kind of understandable. It looks like its made of brass, especially the facial area, which was something Kalista thought was a mask. Until it wouldn't come off. And then she kept trying to pull it off.

And then she used her knife to try to carve the face off.


Naturally, Rylee and Seliph protested this, whereas Faust and Sissy were (mostly) just uncomfortable by the whole showing. But I think Kalista was far enough in and invested enough time that it was less of a "I want this to impress my senpai" thing and more of a pride thing. Which is understandable. I mean, you guys have watched Home Alone, right? I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that the Wet Bandits would have been better off just...leaving. But pride makes people do strange, unreasonable, even stupid things.

What were we talking about again?

Oh yeah, while investigating the cathedral, Kalista had actually discovered a trap door leading somewhere, but we got distracted by monster attack, as you do. Anyway, monsters slain and Kalista working on carving up her present for her celebrity crush, the party was approached by a druid named Seltern Obranch, whose enthusiasm for the party's presence slowly gave way to horror as he realized what Kalista was doing.

"Oh, ignore me," she cheerfully said, continuing to carve up her prey, "the others are more normal."

Anyway, Seltern had gotten lost trying to find his way into a secret area in the cathedral when fiends had attacked, and because he was separated from the rest of his group, he found himself just hiding until someone came along that could possibly help, which the party assured him they could... soon as they figured out how to get back.

Yeah, the path into the inner sanctum might have been a little awkward, as Orbranch was certainly not planning on turning away the new help, but the question of just how much help they would be was definitely up in the air, and Kalista's new mask (that she thankfully had just stowed in her pack instead of wearing it) wasn't helping things.

We ended the session by meeting up with Orbranch's group, who offered to put us up for long enough for a rest (which we desperately needed). Kalista continued her discussion with the shield about all her plans once he got freed, but by this point it had been a decent amount of time before his patience finally disintegrated and he let the cat out of the bag. He's not Kalista's father and was only using that connection to get into Avernus, hoping that once he arrived there he would be able to escape from the shield, but alas that didn't happen. Once the party had a chance to rest up, they were sent off to find the missing Duke Ulder Ravengard, and once again, I am caught up. This was three sessions, and once we got to Avernus it's been fight after fight after fight. Apparently Hell is a scary place. Who knew?

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Part 9: So Long, Baldur's Gate!


As planned, the next morning, the party reconvened at the office of Captain Zodge after the evening the party spent split up. Everybody was surprised that Rylee came back. However, the thing that would be more surprising if they had any idea about it would be the fact that Faust did not sleep a wink the night before while studying the puzzle box. Indeed, through his pacts as a warlock, he no longer needs sleep at all, and cannot be forced to sleep by any means. You might think this is the top of the slippery slope to insanity. His player would disagree, saying this is the key to ultimate power, and to his credit he makes a good point. There's a lot you can do in that extra eight hours if you don't need to sleep.

Anyway, Reya declined to join the party at the meeting, for understandable reasons. The remaining Hellriders were being hunted down, and considering she avoided arrest not a day before, she was very disinclined to meet with any other members of the Fist. Again, understandable. So instead she opted to just lay low in Seliph's house until they got back.

Zodge, sitting at his desk working on some paperwork, quickly welcomed the party in. "Please, sit down, what information do you have for me? It's been...a few days. I'd worried that you all split on us."

"Things are a bit complicated," Faust offered.

"To start," Seliph continued, "Do you know this man that we brought to you?" Seliph pointed towards Thavius.

"I...can't say that I do."

"This is Thavius Kreeg."

"As in, High Overseer of Elturel, Thavius Kreeg?"

"Correct," Faust confirmed.

"Yes...that's...certainly me," Kreeg offered.

Zodge paused, and then said, softly, "Where is Ulder Ravengard?"

"Excuse me?" Kreeg asked, feigning being hard of hearing.

"I said, WHERE IS ULDER RAVENGARD?" he said again, now shouting.

"I don't know! I'm innocent! I was being held captive by Lady Vanthampur before these guys rescued me!"

Faust reached out again to Kreeg via telepathy, saying, It would be best for you to end this line of deceit. It will only get worse for you if you don't.

Kreeg Faust's eye that assured him that he was absolutely not joking, that, somehow, in his mere 35 years, he had seen far more and suffered far more than he could possibly imagine. This look told Kreeg that there was absolutely no way he was going to worm his way out of this one, and as such, he started blubbering different things, to Zodge's frustration.

"Wait, what about Lady Vanthampur?" Zodge asked, before continuing, "I can see this is gonna get complicated. Let's start over. Chronologically, this time."

The party did as requested, recounting the events of the last few days. The bathhouse. The Low Lantern. The Vanthampurs being the ones bankrolling the cultists. The facility beneath Vanthampur manor. Kreeg being the one behind Elturel's disappearance (a fact he vehemently denied, but Zodge was going to put the screws to him until he got the information he wanted).

As the party was explaining things, the door to Zodge's office burst open, and two figures walked in: Amrik Vanthampur and a woman that Seliph recognized as Liara Portyr, commander of the Flaming Fist.

Faust immediately reached out to Amrik telepathically to...curse him out, something Amrik responded to with a simple wink before turning to Commander Portyr and saying, "Yes Ma'am, these are the ones who saved the city from my mother."

Commander Portyer looked the party over and then said, "Excellent. They are to be commended. Zodge. Make sure they're well paid. Whatever it is that you promised them at the outset and then some for their exemplary service to the city."

Zodge snorted, then reached into his desk, pulling out separate bags of gold. Realizing that one more person was in the office than had been hired at the beginning, Zodge looked at Rylee and said, "Who even are you? Your services weren't contracted, and you certainly didn't owe us anything."

Seliph quickly suggested, "Oh, her services were subcontracted. We needed a healer, and she fit the bill."

"Whatever. I'll pay her a share as well. Afterwards, get out of my office."

"Actually," the commander said, "The five of you have proven quite useful to us so I have a personal favor to ask of you."

The party quickly cast eyes one to another, before Faust finally offered, "Yes?"

"Based on some of the information that Mr.Vanthampur here gave to me, it sounds like you've managed to procure some items from the Vanthampur manor of a fiendish or devilish nature. Specifically a puzzle box. I would like you to take it to Candlekeep for inspection by Sylvira Savikas, a tiefling researcher who is the leading researcher in all things Hell."

Kalista's ears perked up at this. A well-known, well-respected tiefling researcher? Kalista had to meet her.

Indeed, the party had procured the puzzle box from Thurstwell in the last session, but like the genius I am I completely forgot to mention that Faust snatched it from Thurstwell's desk before we continued into the dungeon.

Anyway, Seliph turned to Faust slowly and said, "We've got that, right?"

Faust quickly responded, "Yes, we do. It would be our pleasure to go to Candlekeep on this errand." If someone was paying attention, they would have seen a hint of childlike excitement in Faust's eyes, Candlekeep being the place to be for scholars and wizards looking to increase their knowledge, a place he had been wanting to visit for most of his life, though had been up to this point unable to access.

"Excellent," the commander replied, smiling. "Well, we shall leave you to it. In the meantime, I believe Zodge, myself, Master Vanthampur, and the High Overseer have much to discuss."

"Yes, you all go on, now," Zodge added.

"Gladly," Seliph said, though what he was thinking...well...involved words he was trying to remove from his everyday vocabulary. And gestures.

Yeah, Seliph's a Redemption Paladin and all, but his grudge against Zodge is a difficult thing to let go of.

Anyway, after leaving the office, the group took a moment to discuss the new assignment thrust upon them. Seliph took the lead, saying, "I suppose you guys will all have some things you'll want to take care of before we head out."

Rylee then said, "Well, I suppose this would be goodbye. I wish you safe travels on your journey."

Faust then smirked, "I don't suppose you'd like to continue healing us for money."

"It was never about the money," Rylee said defensively. "I just stepped in to help you as expected from my oaths."

Kalista jumped in, "We could certainly use the extra help."

"I...will have to consult with my god in prayer."

"No pressure," offered Seliph. "We'll leave from my house around midday. If you're in, I suppose we'll see you there, if not, long and safe travels."

And this is where the party split up to do some shopping. Seliph purchased a new set of splint mail armor. Kalista and Faust visited a local apothecary to purchase some potions. Faust actually used a small fortune to purchase a bunch of spell components as well as other preparatory items, unsure of what he would need and not wanting to be caught lacking in an awkward situation. He also purchased a horse and a mule to carry his things.

Rylee returned to her room in her inn, greeted her dog as well as providing him food and water, and knelt in prayer for guidance. And there she sat for quite a while before being jolted back to reality by her dog nuzzling her arm. She looked down at the dog in confusion. The food and water bowls were full. What could it want now?

The dog, seeing it had her attention, pointed towards the water bowl with its nose.

Rylee stepped over to the bowl to investigate it. After all the bowl was full. What else could possibly be stopping the dog from lapping it up?

Peering into the water bowl, Rylee was assaulted with visions of battle, bloodshed, and other such terrifying things, with the party in the center of it. She surmised that if she wasn't there to keep the party from getting themselves killed, the world could be at risk.

So she had her own suiting-up montage. She bought some new armor and took up a shield, deciding within herself that, though she would not break her oaths of nonviolence, she would be doing everything she could to keep herself and the other would-be heroes alive.

So, cut to Seliph, Kalista, and Sissy sitting on Seliph's porch waiting for the rest of the party, when the parade began, starting with a random dog that seemed vaguely familiar that padded up to Seliph. Seliph, being the goodest of boys, gave the dog a nice scratch as Rylee greeted the party, decked out in her armor. Following behind her was Faust, driving his horse and mule covered in his various amounts of overpreparedness.

The presence of the pack animals suggested something else to the party: how were they going to travel? They were looking at a five day journey, so any method of making the travel easier on the group was something worth taking into consideration. After discussing this for a bit, the party decided to purchase a wagon that would be driven by Seliph while Rylee and Kalista rode inside the wagon for reasons of cheapness or something (Kalista's player confirmed cheapness, Rylee's another question), and Sissy decided to purchase her own horse. I'm sure Reya had her own means of travel as well. This kinda makes me feel good about myself because a common problem I have in my games is that I keep forgetting about NPCs that travel with the players, so I'm glad to see that our current DM is carrying on that tradition.

And thus we set off on the five-day journey to Candlekeep. Five days of possible danger, roughing it in the wilderness, and more than likely bad camp food, right?

I dunno. We did a travel montage because the DM wants to get us to Candlekeep, and later Avernus as quickly as possible so we didn't roll on the random encounter table. Which is fine. I'm not sure what's on the encounter table for this area, but considering how finicky random encounter tables can be, there's something that scares me about us getting jumped by dragons on our five day camping trip, and as the Runesmith said in his random encounter video (language warning), "Nobody should die to two dragons outside of story parameters."

Anyway, it's probably for the best that Faust had his own horse and wasn't in the wagon, because chances are five days of, "Are we there yet?" would cause Rylee to rethink her oaths. Indeed, as said before, it really is difficult to express the high amount of childlike wonder and excitement Faust had at the prospect of finally, finally getting into Candlekeep. And indeed, once he had donated the book he was carrying as the means of entrance into the fortress (as seen in the image at the top of the page) and the party was allowed inside, he wasted absolutely no time getting into the library, Rylee hot on his heels to see what he was up to.

I've spent the last paragraph making fun of Faust's excitement at the prospect of getting into Candlekeep, but I should also note Kalista's...disturbing excitement at meeting Sylvira. I'm serious, once the party made it into Candlekeep, she was adamant about going to see Sylvira, to the point that the only reason she didn't burst into a meeting Sylvira was having was the fact that Sylvira's assistant was very persuasive at helping Kalista set a proper appointment for the party at third bell the next day. And thus commenced Kalista's misunderstanding of what third bell was, thinking that she'd be meeting them at 3 AM before the assistant explained that the bells started at 6 AM and would ring on the hour.

Somewhat dejected from the mild rejection she just received but excited nonetheless to meet up with Sylvira the next morning, Kalista rejoined Seliph and Sissy at the tavern, soon to be joined by Rylee, who had come away from spying on Faust with no real information she deemed helpful.

Faust, on the other hand, was scribbling notes as quickly as he could on what little paper he was able to use, when a library aide approached him, saying, "Sir, just to inform you, the library will soon be closing its doors for the night and the scholars in the building will be returning to their quarters."

Faust's lack of fatigue continued to surprise him considering he had been like this for nearly a week. I'm pretty sure most of the party was expecting him to meekly agree to turn in, but to all of our surprise, Faust pulled rank as a travelling scholar, a professor, no less.

Well, it worked! The poor associate stammered out an apology (though let's be fair, Faust wasn't exactly mean to the poor kid) stated that if he wanted to leave at any point before the doors opened again, just to lock the door when he left.

Anyway, the next morning, Kalista realized that Faust never came to his room in the inn. Figuring he was still in the library, she made her way there to find him and let him know about their appointment before he was late. Though he wasn't exactly happy to be torn from his studies before he'd found the breakthrough he was hoping for, he wrote down which page of which volume he was working from and followed Kalista to Sylvira's chamber.

Paraphrasing a bunch, Sylvira quickly pointed out that the shield Faust was carrying was just a devil, no angel. It had been bound in the shield millennia ago. She also informed the party of her own request for them: go to Avernus to gather information and/or items, with the possibility of saving the citizens of Elturel. She requested that the party hurry, people were dying after all, but Faust requested an extra two hours to finish what he was working on (as well as to quickly formulate a plan to get the shield to Avernus anyway, something Rylee was...very vocally opposed to.)

And thus the session ended much like it began. Waiting for everyone to finish up last-minute sidequests.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Part 8: Rich People and Their Weird Basement Parties

On the way to the Vanthampur manor, the party, in the midst of continuing their discussion, Kalista stopped dead in her tracks, having seen a bunch of pirates, the very same ones from a couple days before, walking in the direction of the Low Lantern at a very...intent...pace. As in, word of the scuffle at the Low Lantern had somehow reached their ears and they were out for revenge against the party for completely screwing up their hit at the Elfsong Tavern.

Before she could ask what happened, Seliph put his hands on Rylee's shoulders with Kalista doing the same for Sissy, pushing them further away from the pirates.

"What-what are you doing? Get your hands off me!" Rylee shouted. "What was that about?"

"So, do you remember how we got banned from the Elfsong Tavern a few days ago?" Seliph reminded Rylee.

"Those gentlemen were the ones responsible," Faust finished.

Insert eye-rolling from Rylee, before Mortlock urged the party to continue on, anxious to get this out of the way so he and Vendetta could begin their travels elsewhere. Understandable. The DM also wanted us to get a move on (we're on part 8, almost session 10 of this campaign and we're still in Baldur's Gate when the adventure takes us to Hell, yeah, I can see why he wants us to get a move on)

Anyway, the Vanthampur manor was in the upper part of the city, in a location not easily accessible to the common folk of the lower city (y'know, that classic fantasy city trope), and having read that section of the module, there are a few ways the party could get up there through the security checkpoint. Just so happens our solution was Mortlock showing off his childhood home to a group of friends. Helps that the person who let them through was a guard that either didn't know that Mortlock was at this point supposed to be a dead man or didn't care. Either way, he wished them luck going through, and soon the party found themselves on the Vanthampur property. After a few knocks, the door was opened by Fendrick Gray, a seventy-year-old butler.

"Ahh, Master Mortlock, to what do we owe the sudden call?" the butler asked.

"I just was hoping to introduce some friends to the family, Fendrick. Would you let us in?"

"Why yes of course, Master Mortlock."

As the butler led the party through the entrance hall, making small talk, Kalista quietly made fun of his uppity mannerisms, ending with a quiet, "Rich people, am I right?"

Seliph tried (and failed) to keep a straight face, snorting as a means of stifling laughter, which was met both with a sharp elbow to the ribs by Rylee and the butler rolling his eyes at Mortlock's continuous fraternizing with "the filth from the lower city."

The butler left the party in a gallery filled with multiple intricate art pieces depicting the Vanthampur family, in particular a 6-foot-tall wax statue of the Duke herself, Thalamra Vanthampur cradling this...thing. Faust spent quite a long time looking at the creature, and something within his mind clicked. That thing being...his player decided he wanted the creature as his character's familiar, because it's a winged cat. And that's adorable.

*insert "badass mother" joke here*

I'm not kidding, by the way, this lady's Strength score is the same as Seliph's, with better ability scores across the board, and she has magic. This pic and this news making one of our group jokingly reference this clip (language warning). Can't wait to fight her.

After the party took some time to soak in the house's atmosphere (as well as remembering their own lack of cash), Mortlock cleared his throat and gestured to follow him, saying that if anyone knew what his mother was up to, it would be his brother. Who was likely holed up in his room working on something.

Mortlock led the party upstairs to the bedroom of his younger brother Thurstwell, a sickly, slender, weaselly man. Basically everything Mortlock wasn't, his brother Thurstwell was. Where Mortlock was a strong, beastly man with average intelligence and a hair-trigger temper, Thurstwell was...well...

Anyway, the party burst into the room, seeing the form of the man above working on...well...the puzzle box he was holding, as is seen in the image. At the sudden burst into the room, he shouted, "Mother! I told you to KNOCK!" He quickly shoved the box into his desk and turned to see the party striding in.

"Oh, hi, big bro...nice to see you...hehehe....GET 'EM!" he shouted at something in the direction of the fireplace and dove onto the floor beside his bed, hiding from the party hoping his invisible pet could take care of the party.

He did not, however, plan for Kalista being faster than anyone else in the party. Before anyone else could act, she was already on top of him, sword drawn, growling, "Call off whatever you're siccing on us."

"Yeah, of course, don't hurt me please!"

Seliph grinned, "We're not gonna hurt you. We know what your mom's up to and we're here to stop her. No promises about him though," he finished, glancing at Mortlock. "I can only promise to stop him from killing you."

Mortlock waved him off and stalked over to his brother, knelt down, and flicked him on the nose. "I just wanna know where mom's doing whatever it is she's doing. After that, I'm outta here. I'd suggest you do the same if you don't wanna die."

Thurstwell grimaced. "All right, fine, there's a secret facility under the house. You know all those secret projects mom had going while working on the water ways? That's it. You can get in through the cellar. Could you please have your devil friend get off of me?"

Paraphrasing a bit because he also said some derogatory stuff about Kalista's mom and how she made a tiefling baby, Kalista demanded to know how he could know about who her dad was, some choice words were thrown back and forth, and we played off of Kalista's running gag of asking every devilish creature if they're her dad (either in a literal or in a metaphysical sense considering tiefling genetics...not really the case considering her mother was a warlock in service of devilish forces (y'know, since we're breaking that D&D stereotype)).

Speeding us right along, Mortlock left the party at the cellar, the party went in, fought some imps, wandered through a few rooms and fought some patrolling cultists, argued with one who directed them to a chapel in the center before killing himself (after all, he'd just end up in Hell serving his master anyway so death was preferable to capture).

The something else. From the book...

Two rows of tall wrought-iron candlesticks light this vaulted chamber, each one bearing nine flickering candles. A seven-foot-tall statue of an angel with white glowing eyes and a longsword stands atop a dais to the south. A six-foot-tall fiend bristling with spines stands west of the statue, glaring at four black-robed cultists who kneel and chant in the middle of the room, their faces hidden behind golden devil masks. Nine tapestries depicting the layers of the Nine Hells adorn the walls.

So yeah, the fiend realized that the party was trying to sneak in, and the battle began. The cultists weren't all that impressive but the big guy was quite scary. We're talking multiple attacks per turn, claws, fangs, tail swipes, summoning fire, the whole nine yards. I mean, somehow we managed to avoid having anyone go down during the fight, but one thing that happened quite a bit in this dungeon were some awkwardly bad rolls from everyone, DM included. So because of that Seliph actually made a pretty good wall while the rest of the party (sans Rylee, who was hiding behind Seliph) hammered the fiend.

With the fiend dead, the party shut the door and set about trying to relax a bit so they could regroup and conquer the rest of the dungeon. Faust took a moment to examine the statue a bit more closely, realizing that something about it was magical, specifically the space behind the eyes.

"Perhaps if we were to...break the statue to see what's inside..." Faust suggested.

"That might be a good idea," Seliph replied, thinking maybe it could be connected somewhere else in the dungeon.

Kalista tried to push the statue, but her strength isn't...that great, so Seliph, Sissy, and Faust joined in while Rylee began loudly protesting the destruction of a statue of an angel.

"I don't want to take part in such blasphemy!" she said.

Faust responded, "I don't believe it's as blasphemous as you think."

Indeed, while investigating the statue, the party realized it was a statue of Zariel, a fallen angel, lord of Avernus. Basically the D&D version of Lucifer, but a female, if that makes sense. Like a Valkyrie Lucifer. Because of this, nobody else seemed to mind destroying a statue.

Seliph continued. "You said yourself, it's a lord of Hell. If anything, the existence of a statue to her is the blasphemy." He left out the part regarding his own curiosity behind what was in the statue.

We probably should've thought through the consequences of smashing a large stone statue.

Anyway, out of the head and neck area of the statue spilled a mace that Faust quickly identified as the source of the magical energy in the statue. In order to determine specifically what the statue was, he began a ritual to cast the Identify spell, which would allow him to specifically figure out what the mace was or what it could do.

While Faust was doing this, the rest of the party was resting a bit, since the ritual was set to take a little over ten minutes. However, while his eyes were wandering along the wall, he noticed a rather large gap in the bricks quickly slam shut.

The DM kept asking if the party was going to investigate the wall, but, really, Seliph had already decided that whatever was happening, he didn't want to rush into anything. The enemies would have to come to the party, rather than the other way around. So because of this, Seliph drew his blade and suggested the rest of the party steel themselves, and surprise surprise, from the main door of the chapel spilled in eight cultists led by a large woman the party quickly identified as Lady Vanthampur.

Spells began flying back and forth, but because the party realized they were handily outnumbered, Sissy decided to cast Darkness, dropping a shroud of...well...darkness around the party, giving the party some room to strategize. Kalista and Rylee dashed for the wall that turned out to be an entrance into a hidden room. Faust quickly abandoned his ritual to grab the mace and do the same, leaving Seliph and Sissy alone in the room.

Seliph, thinking on his feet, shouted to Sissy, "Just focus on keeping the spell up!" and dashed for the wall, scooping Sissy into his arms (Seliph is a strong boi and Sissy is a tiny 14 year old girl, this is easily something Seliph could do) in a quick motion to pull her to safety as well. The party quickly shut themselves in the hidden room and barred the false wall. Again, from the book...

This room is lit by a pair of tall wrought-iron candlesticks in the northeast and southeast corners. Nine candles burn atop each one, casting flickering light across a claw-footed altar carved from a single block of obsidian, and which has a small angel-shaped flame erupting from its top. A gray-haired woman kneels before the altar.

So this room is a small chapel that Lady Vanthampur was praying in in preparation for the ritual. A prayer that was interrupted by us destroying the statue to Zariel in the next room.


So the room had a door opposite where the party entered that spilled into another hallway which led into the sewers. Naturally the party decided to just continue into the sewers, but not before Faust quickly experimented with the flaming altar. If the flame was extinguished, it would quickly reignite. However, because the rest of the party had quickly left the room before Faust could formulate a plan, he quickly cast an illusion spell to make it appear that Seliph and Sissy were hiding behind the statue.

Dashing down a hall in a sewer, the party quickly came to a door, behind which a voice carried into the sewers, "Wait, who's out there? Hello?"

This wasn't what Kalista wanted to hear and started to bolt further into the hall before Reya muttered, "Wait, that voice..." and dashed into the room. "I KNEW IT!"

The "it" that Reya "knew" was that the voice belonged to Thavius Kreeg, the former high overseer of Elturel.

Seliph quickly caught Kalista by the shoulders and said, "Whatever, let's duck in here, he can explain things."

The room was a vault with a few tables and different amounts of treasure on a few tables as well as a large golden shield hanging on the back wall.

"Of course," Faust muttered through gritted teeth.

Thavius began asking questions. "Who are you people, and what are you doing here? Don't tell me you're imprisoned down here too?"

"Imprisoned?" Seliph asked. "No, we're here to take you into custody. We represent the Flaming Fist and you'll be safer with us than here."

At the name "Flaming Fist" Thavius grimaced, something that was not lost on Rylee, who exclaimed, "Stop throwing the name of the Fist around!"

Seliph furrowed his eyebrow. "That's...literally the first time I've invoked their name so far."

"Well he clearly doesn't feel comfortable with it. People don't like the Fist!"

This touched a nerve in Seliph. "You think I don't know that? You think I like having to work with them again?! Gods, there's a reason I left the Fist."

The room got...kind of awkwardly quiet, as Rylee rolled her eyes and looked elsewhere in the room... see Faust staring intently at the Shield.

For you see, while Seliph and the others were talking to Kreeg, the shield was calling to Faust. Like, literally, a voice reached into his mind, saying, "Hey, hey you! You're magical, you can help me, right buddy?"

The shield explained that it was actually the soul of an angel trapped inside the cursed item, and that it needed to return to Avernus to the one who cursed it to get out. Seems kinda fishy, but whatever, it's part of Faust's sidequest so we're doing it regardless.

Anyway, during this exposition dump, Rylee cast Detect Thoughts on Faust, became privy to the conversation, and a very, very tense game of mental Cat and Mouse began as Rylee kept trying to catch Faust in a lie, to which Faust would respond by coming up with another lie to cover his previous one. His player has been planning this kind of thing because he knows eventually he's going to be exposed, but come hell or high water, he's going to keep a death grip on his secret until it happens.

Eventually the shield reached out to everyone, letting that cat out of the bag and causing Seliph to quickly cast Divine Sense, which would allow him to detect all good and evil throughout the room, and hoo boy, did that reveal a lot.

The shield had good and evil coming from it, Thavius was evil, the only unambiguously good party member was Rylee, and there were a bunch of evil people trying to smash their way into the door. Upon closer examination, Seliph noticed that Thavius' shadow did not match his own form, instead being that of a pudgy, horned fiend.

Naturally Seliph began shouting, cluing everyone into the things that had been revealed to him. The shield quickly set about explaining that, yes, he's an angel trapped in a cursed shield, Thavius had no excuse that he could adequately explain before the door got knocked down, and they could discuss it if they got out alive.

The shield, however, had a suggestion.

Faust told the party to stand clear of the door and wait for it to open, after which he would signal the shield to go ahead with what it was going to do. That being...

A Fireball. Launched right in the middle of all the people trying to smash their way into the room. Completely vaporizing all eight of the cultists with Lady Vanthampur coming out like a roasted cartoon character, but still in relatively good health.

Though she didn't survive the next turn of...well...

Anyway, with that taken care of, Faust turned to Thavius, who had slowly been drawing a dagger to try to backstab his way to safety, and said firmly, "As I was saying, we're taking you into custody. And to make sure you don't do anything funny, well...I see that you and Reya have some history, so we're going to let her keep an eye on you."

The dagger clattered to the ground.

"Ah...yes, of course."

The party quickly left (but not before Kalista grabbed a bunch of treasure), made their way into the city, and decided to call it a night before they took Kreeg to Zodge of the Fist. Faust got a private inn room to continue his studies, Rylee returned to her room, desperately trying to figure out how to get out of this mess, and Seliph, Kalista, and Sissy took turns helping Reya keep an eye on Kreeg.

And now we're finally caught up. We're not in Hell yet, but we're dang close.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Part 7: Mortlock Vanthampur's Precious Little Life

Rylee rushed down the stairs behind Mortlock, grumbling again about getting dragged into another fight. Most of the bystanders in the room made themselves scarce as Amrik jumped up and drew his dagger, although one large man joined the fray to balance the numbers somewhat as Mortlock shoved his way to his brother to...well...

Okay it took a bit more than that, but being the unfavorite and suffering abuse at the hands of his brothers and mother, Mortlock was itching for a smackdown.

There are only so many ways you can describe a fight (something I'm already not very good at), but one thing that happened was getting the Spined Devil to kill itself. As a redemption paladin, one of Seliph's abilities is called Channel Divinity: Rebuke the Violent (all paladins can use Channel Divinity but the different subclasses have different uses of it), which, when used, would cause an attacker to have to take a Wisdom save and suffer radiant damage equal to the damage their attack just did. It had fired a spine at Sissy and done some damage, and the way I imagine that was Seliph looking at the Spined Devil, shouting, "Hey! Knock that off!" and the Spined Devil just falling off the wall it was on, dead from...shame? I guess?

Between the Spined Devil's cessation of existence and the thug being taken down, Amrik soon found himself in the midst of...well...

Man I love using wrestling gifs

At almost the same instance, Seliph and Rylee realized that Amrik would be of more use to the party alive than dead and separately made plans to try to put him down without doing any further damage. However, because Seliph's Dexterity is at a whopping 8 and because my rolls have been absolute garbage, I was dead last in the turn order, so Rylee's plan went into effect, using the Command spell to...umm... command Amrik to grovel at the feet of the party, a spell he failed his save against and, against his will, began begging for mercy.

With the sudden awkward shift in the mood of the combat situation, Seliph decided to cast the Sleep spell anyway, under the hopes that he was weakened enough to be captured in a Pokeball fall asleep without further resistance. He was not. So the party tied him up instead.

During the ensuing interrogation, the party was able to get some more information out of him. Specifically, that Amrik's mother was working with a man named Thavius Kreeg, the ruler of the since yeeted to Hell (DM's Amrik's words) city of Elturel. She and Kreeg had orchestrated the disappearance of the current ruler of Baldur's Gate, and her goal was to repeat in Baldur's Gate what happened to Elturel, offering it as a possible exchange for power from the lord of Avernus.

Naturally, this is a problem.

The party resolved to quickly make their way to the Vanthampur manor to capture Amrik's mother and Thavius Kreeg in the hopes of stopping this plan before it got too far ahead, but this first left the problem of how to deal with Amrik. He had pointed out that taking him to the city guard would be fruitless without physical evidence. Seliph and Rylee didn't want to kill him if that could be avoided.

Faust suggested tying him up and locking him in his office, though Rylee was against that as well. As a means of expediting the process, Amrik himself offered the party a one hour head start. For one hour, he would sit in his office and do nothing towards trying to capture the party, after which no promises.

Now, I know you, as the reader, are thinking, "There's no way the party would be stupid enough to agree to that!"

And the truth is, Seliph thought about it for quite a bit, weighing the options in his mind. The man was clearly unrepentant. He would never be repentant. Ending him for the safety of others was certainly option. But he was also tied up and defenseless.

On the other hand, even if he went against his word, they'd already beaten him and his buddies once. Plus, from the sounds of things, something far more troublesome was in the works. If the party was unable to stop his mother from conducting the ritual, whatever Amrik did before he skipped town wouldn't mean anything anyway.

I'm really underselling it with these paragraphs, we went over this problem for quite a while.

But at the end, we concluded that though he was probably safer dead than alive, the party opted to leave him alive, honoring his word.

As the party left the Low Lantern, the cloaked woman before pulled them aside again.

"Sorry, I didn't get a chance to introduce myself earlier. My name is Reya. I was wondering if you could fill me in on that information you got in the tavern."

Seliph and Faust quickly filled Reya in, Reya listening intently until they came to the subject of Thavius Kreeg.

"Excuse me, Thavius is the one responsible for what happened in Elturel?! Thavius, the one in charge of protecting the city?! I'm coming with you. I am going to murder that little bastard!"

And while that's not how the session ended, the next two sessions really had the content of a single session for a few reasons outside of the group's control, so I'm going to go ahead and combine those two sessions into one entry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

That Weird Hunting Village Sidequest in Yakuza 5

Yakuza is a weird series. I don't think that's something that can quite be overstated. It's like a Russian nesting doll of insanity that starts off seeming like GTA but in JAPAN to the uninitiated, while each layer deeper reveals something stranger and stranger, with each quest and each game one-upping the last. This is a series that involves themes of government corruption as well as Japan's struggles with international and domestic crime, taking those themes very seriously in the main plots, but then has side stories of your character entering a slot car racing championship that plays out almost beat for beat like your standard shonen anime series. What I'm saying is, this is a series whose tone is all over the place, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

So let's talk about the hunting village sidequest in Yakuza 5. Spoilers for the Taiga Saejima section for anyone who cares.

The thing about Yakuza 5 was the fact that, along with having the most playable characters in one game up to that point in the series, each character had large substories that weren't related to the main plot. As substories, they're entirely optional, but provide more content for players to sink their teeth into while giving each character something to do as a means of breaking up the main plot (whether or not that was a good idea is still kind of up in the air with fans), so it's not like Saejima's time in the hunting village is completely out of nowhere, but still.

After escaping from prison during an assassination attempt, Saejima finds himself at the mercy of a huge bear, which he proceeds to fight off with his bare (heh) hands (did I mention this series is nuts?). However, badly hurt and exhausted from the escape (as well as woefully unprepared to deal with North Japan's brutal winter cold), he passes out, accepting that he and the person he escaped from prison with aren't likely to survive the night.

Of course, that's not what happens, as Saejima awakens in a ramshackle old shack, having been rescued by an old hunter who resides in a small village in the mountains whose main livelihood is professional hunting (which I was surprised to find is actually legal in Japan, considering how strict their firearm laws are). They largely subsist on what they're able to gather from the mountains, selling or trading surplus goods to a travelling merchant who acts as a go-between...between the village and the nearby (well, relatively speaking, considering it's a remote mountain village) city of Sapporo.

Anyway, what follows is a small chain of quests, both mandatory and optional, where Saejima returns to the mountain to save the man he escaped with from the bear he fought, now identified as the Yama-Oroshi, named after the creature from Japanese folklore. Over the course of the storyline Saejima gains the trust of the villagers and uncovers some secrets from nine years before (as of course, no small town can exist in fiction without some sinister things hidden under the rug).

And it hits a point where it stops being mandatory. Saejima and his friend Baba can just opt to head for the city once the road clears and never look back, but the game leaves quite a bit of content for any curious players to chew on, complete with new gameplay mechanics around hunting animals, using hunting firearms and traps, and exploring and rebuilding huts up the mountainside as a means of helping the village.

I won't give the rest of the story away as it really did take up quite a chunk of my Yakuza 5 playthrough, but like...I've heard Yakuza be called a "Japan simulator" before, but I didn't realize the lengths the series would go to just to explore weird, obscure facts about Japan. I mean, obviously the story is a work of fiction and I'm sure some things are embellished for the sake of drama, but like...a very Japanese video game that takes place in Japan and deals with very Japanese themes and issues...also found the time to go into hunting in Japan, and while it didn't really seem to be making any arguments for or against it or Japan's notoriously strict gun control laws, it also didn't shy away from portraying hunting in all of its aspects, positive and negative.

Like, it gets into the ethics of trophy hunting and sport hunting where people don't use the game they've killed, the complex issue of pest control (something that actually is a bit of a problem in North Japan due to fewer people getting hunting licenses, boars and bears are a real danger for people travelling that part of the country), and others. It would be so easy for the game to lecture you on these subjects with a narrow worldview, but it doesn't. It just shows the subjects at play and lets you make your own conclusions based on the information given.

I'm not really sure where I was going with this. Yakuza is a weird series, and I love it.

Part 6: Baldur's Gate Sucks

SO! Rylee left to go back to her room at a local inn. Which one? She didn't say. So...though I said "You make the call" as to what happened next, your call was probably wrong. Instead, once Rylee was out of the house and everyone situated properly, Seliph collapsed to the floor, asleep almost instantly. Sissy may have spent some time combing Kalista's hair based on a comment she made the next day, but...did it really happen? YOU MAKE THE CALL.

Anyway, Rylee returned to Seliph's house the next morning to formally introduce herself and check up on how the rest of the party was doing, though she was surprised to see them even conscious considering the beating they had taken the night before. Happy to see that everything was fine, she awkwardly suggested that if they ever stood in need of a healer in the future, that they could look her up at the Elfsong Tavern. Naturally...

"Umm...about that..." Seliph stammered.

Faust continued, "We were actually banned from the Elfsong Tavern a couple days ago following an...incident...with the bouncer."

"I...see...wait, are you the ones who got in that fight with the pirates and bribed the bouncer to help you?" Rylee asked, putting the pieces together.

"I mean...we're not...not...the ones who got in a fight there," Kalista offered.

Before Rylee got much of a chance to rethink her decision to help out this ragtag bunch, Kalista continued, "Actually since you're offering, tonight we're going to be meeting with the people we saved last night, and we might need some backup."

"That...kind of puts me in an awkward position as a cleric in service to Eldath. I've sworn to never hurt another being."

"Eldath..." Seliph repeated, "That explains a lot since you didn't actually do anything to hurt the people we fought last night. That's fine, I'm not anticipating a fight, but having a cleric accompany us could help keep us out of trouble. If something happens, you don't need to fight, but if you could keep us alive, we'd be very grateful."

Naturally, Rylee wasn't sure how to process this, but considering she is a player character and the alternative means making a new character lest time that would be best spent on the main plot be wasted, along with us she came.

On the way to the Low Lantern, the party (well, mainly Sissy) noticed two members of the Fist hassling a cloaked woman in the street. Being the only one who even noticed it happening (because the rest of us rolled really badly on the perception check), she asked us to stop and maybe go see what was wrong. Naturally, Seliph wasted no time pushing his way to the Fist members, demanding to know what was going on.

"This woman's one o' those Hellriders! Y'know, the ones that made Elturel into a crater!" the guard explained.

In the midst of the struggle, the woman's cloak was torn back, revealing armor with an insignia that the the party didn't recognize.

"I just told you that wasn't us!" the woman exclaimed in return.

Seliph looked from the woman to the guardsman, and then said, "Okay, you say they're responsible, she says they're not. Do we even really know what happened to Elturel?"

"Are you stupid or something? The city is in a bloody crater. As in, it's gone. Sure, we don't know what in particular did it, but considerin' the Hellriders were supposed to be protectin' the city, seems suspicious, don't it? Until we know for sure we're roundin' up all the Hellriders and putting 'em in jail where they can't do any more harm." the guard spat back.

"Holding them indefinitely without a proper trial? That's madness!" Rylee shouted, having followed Seliph to the argument at some point.

"What do you people know about madness? Elturel is a crater and I'll be damned straight to Hell itself before I let it happen to Baldur's Gate!" the more senior guard shouted, losing patience with this argument. "Stop bothering us before I take you lot in as well!"

"I have information about what happened to the city! Please, just let me meet with whoever is in charge here!" the woman begged.

"Shut up!" the second guard shouted, slapping her across the face.

At this point, something...awoke in Seliph. That something being the Fallen Aasimar level 3 ability Necrotic Shroud. His eyes turned into dark pools, a sickly white light began to radiate out from him, his voice got really distorted, and two skeletal wings sprouted from his back (if this sounds like something that belongs on a metal album, I agree, it does).

The less senior guard, seeing this fresh Hell, collapsed backwards in fear as the beratement began.

"SIR! The woman has stated that she didn't do anything, and that she had information. That was NOT a capital offense, and you WILL apologize!"

The senior guard...well...someone needs to give that guy a raise because he's got ba-spine- of cold, hard steel, as he drew his previously stowed sword, stepped forward, and said, "All right, I don't know what in the nine hells is going on but you're coming with me!"

After some spells cast in preparation for a brawl, as well as a brief staredown, the senior guard looked at his junior, then back at Seliph, and said, "Okay, I know when I can and can't win, so..." he pushed back and started shouting for backup.

Seliph, not wanting to make a bigger scene than had already happened, cast the Sleep spell on the two guards in the hopes that their HP was low enough they were rattled enough that they'd fall unconscious without any further resistance, and uncharacteristically for this campaign it succeeded. The party quickly moved them out of the main thoroughfare, just in time to noticed the eyes of several passersby on them.

Seliph, quickly realizing that some of those eyes were on him, looked at himself, seeing the sickly glow, saying, "Oh gods, what happened to me? How do I make it stop?"" After a few seconds of panic, he somehow found the Off Switch in his mind, and he was able to return to his more human form.

Faust, thinking quickly, pulled out his coin purse and scattered some money throughout the street, shouting, "OH DEAR, IT' IS CERTAINLY TOO BAD NOBODY SAW WHAT HAPPENED HERE!"

The rest of the party quickly ducked into an alleyway to talk with the woman they just rescued. Basically, she said she had more information for the party once they finished up what they were doing and would be trying to hide. As the party was heading into the Low Lantern, the woman stopped Rylee and mentioned that she'd seen what Seliph had just done somewhere before. Namely, her master in the Hellriders could do it as well. Considering Rylee was one of the only ones in the party who actually knew what Seliph did, this probably raised some concerns, but we'll come back to it later, since there's no way it would be set up here and just forgotten about, right?

Proceeding into the Low Lantern, an old ship converted into a ratty old tavern, the party found Mortlock and Vendetta seated at a table, waiting for the party. Rising to talk with the party, he said that he would show them where his brother Amrik was, give them an opportunity to talk, "say his piece" and then he and Vendetta were skipping town.

If it seems like I'm rushing, I am. There was a lot of talking in this session, and I'm already a week late in posting this.

So the party was directed to a doorway that led to a stairway into a basement area. Faust and Seliph decided to go first and try to talk to Amrik, with Sissy and Kalista following behind at a distance in case something went wrong. Rylee, hoping to stay out of any fighting, stayed at the top of the stairs with Mortlock and Vendetta.

Faust reached out with the Detect Thoughts spell as a means of detecting people's surface level thoughts, first learning that Rylee...didn't like Faust much in particular for some reason. Shrugging that off, he and Seliph descended into the chamber, where Faust was greeted with a peculiar response.

"Oh, Faust, no need to be shy. Come on down. It's time we were formally introduced."

Faust managed to hide his shock as the two of them proceeded into the chamber, where a man sat with a Spined Devil lying across the back of the couch he was seated at. I'm going to be paraphrasing this a bit since I don't remember the exact way the conversation went (so much talking...), but here we go.

"Faustie, Faustie, welcome to you and your friends! Allow me to introduce myself! My name is Amrik Vanthampur," the man announced. "You don't know me yet, but I am the one who contracted you to acquire the book, so we were bound to meet eventually. I suppose you're here to discuss that?"

Faust, confronted with this development, stammered a bit. "Yes, about that. Things kind of went awry."

"Clearly. You missed the drop, and now you're palling around with some paladin. Care to explain yourself?"

Seliph responded, "That has nothing to do with why we're here. We have some questions for you."

"Yes," Faust continued, "We had some questions regarding certain people pining after their lost gods."

Amrik furrowed his brow. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."

"Interesting," Seliph said, "Because they seemed pretty certain that your family was financing them."

This touched a nerve, as he hadn't expected them to be so loose-lipped about the whole operation. "I see...well, it must have something to do with my mother. She's the one who is into all of that. I'm just a simple money lender."

"Your name came up specifically."

Amrik, looking more frustrated than before, replied, "Okay, I'll play along. Where are you going with this?"

Seliph and Faust looked at each other, surprised they made it this far without him siccing the Spined Devil on them. May as well fully commit to this course of action, as they were likely to have to fight their way out anyway.

"I just want to know why. Why throw in with people who worship literal gods of murder, people who clearly do not want what's best for this city or its people?"

By this point Amrik was most likely trying to make Seliph and Faust burst into flames with his mind, before he smiled quite smugly. "Get out. I'm not doing this. You have no evidence on me or my family, and the Fist won't do anything because my family is more powerful than you realize, and the Fist don't care about justice, only money. I'm giving you the chance to leave. Say nothing to the Fist and leave town, and I might not send people after you."

"You won't get away with this," Seliph muttered, before Faust put a hand on his shoulders, gesturing to stand up.

As the two of them made their way to the staircase, Faust looked up, saw Mortlock, smiled, and turned back.

"By the way, we weren't completely honest about how we got our information on you. Your brother sends his loving regards."

With that, Mortlock came barreling down the stairs, and that's where we called the session. Hopefully I don't take a week and a half to write up the next one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Part 5: Cleric Ex Clerica

Our heroes found themselves exploring the secret door that was discovered by Sissy in the last chapter. As they proceeded into the dungeon, sounds of battle rang through the halls. Faust tapped Seliph on the shoulder, suggesting, "Let's not just rush into this one, ja?"

Okay, before I continue, I want to point out, Faust has been speaking with a German accent. I'm trying to find a way to convey that through text without making him super stereotypical. Naturally, a better writer might be able to pull that off, but the truth is, I'm feeling lazy, so...there it is.

Anyway, the hallway had a small doorway that branched off to the side, which Faust used as an excuse to avoid wading into an unnecessary conflict, at least while the combatants were at their full strength. Which wouldn't be a terrible idea, except the chamber the door led into was another flooded room with skeletons floating in the water. Faust used Detect Magic to see what was in the room, sensing Necromancy coming out of the water. Seliph...well...

Yeah, Seliph pushed everyone out of the flooded chamber and shut the door behind him. Faust, well aware of how their last encounter with the undead went, did not offer any resistance. Instead, the party continued toward the sound of the struggle, where they were met with...well...quite a scene.

In another flooded chamber stood a beast of a man squaring off against a cultists, surrounded by the corpses of a few other cultists. The cultist, literal faceless man, appeared to be at his full strength, while the large man looked quite tired out. Not that that stopped him from swinging around a greatclub with seemingly no effort against the smaller, dagger-wielding foe.

Kalista tried to sneak closer to get the drop on the faceless man, scoring a rather nice attack on him. However, in retaliation the faceless man struck Kalista hard in the face, knocking her unconscious (though thankfully not killing her outright, considering this guy had the same aura of murder that the old woman from the last session had).

The cultist, realizing that he was outnumbered, broke away from the fight against the large man and escaped into another room, locking the door and preparing an ambush for the party. Seliph moved to chase after the cultist, but he was stopped by the large man resting a hand on his shoulder.

"Leave him."

Seliph tensed at the hand on his shoulder, but relaxed and sheathed his sword.

The large man continued, "Now this is quite a ragtag bunch. Why are you down here?"

Kalista quickly responded, "We're killing these cultists for hurting tieflings!"

Seliph quickly shot a glance at Kalista, "You realize tieflings aren't the only victims of racial prejudice, right?" to which Kalista rolled her eyes, before Seliph continued, "I've got this Kalista." He returned his gaze to the large man. "We're here under orders from the Fist. My personal primary objective here is saving the hostages, but we have also been ordered to deal with the cultists in the way we see most appropriate."

The large man smirked. "That would explain all the corpses. How long have you been down here?"

Faust answered, "Oh, a day or so."

"Well, regardless," the man continued, "the cult's as good as gone anyway. He's the last one, and the room he holed up in has none of the treasure, which is in that room over there," he said, indicating one of the few doors in this particular chamber.

Kalista piped up, "Treasure? Why didn't you say so?"

Seliph stroked his chin, "True, they can't do much without their funding. Okay, sounds good. By the way, we've introduced ourselves, who are you, and why are you down here?"

"My name is Mortlock Vanthampur, and I'm here because I was betrayed. These assassins conspired with my brothers to kill me. If you hadn’t come along, I’d be dead. I owe you my life.”

"Go on..." Seliph invited.

“My family is paying the Dead Three cultists to murder people in the city. Our goal is to prove that the Flaming Fist can’t do its job. Once the city stops paying them, the Flaming Fist will have less of a reason to stay in Baldur’s Gate. With them gone, no one can stand in the way of my mother becoming the city’s next grand duke. If she gets her way, Baldur’s Gate will share Elturel’s fate and get dragged down into the Nine Hells. The Dead Three cultists receive regular payments from my brother, Amrik, who runs his own moneylending business out of a tavern called the Low Lantern. My mother doesn’t expect much of me, but she thinks the world of Amrik. He’s always been her favorite.”

Faust stroked his goatee. "Well, it seems we may have a pretty good witness against the cult and those backing it."

Mortlock grimaced. "No offense, but I don't really want anything to do with the Fist either. You see, my mother is one of the three remaining members of the Council of Four, which governs Baldur’s Gate. She was instrumental in convincing Ulder Ravengard to travel to Elturel and meet with its high overseer, Thavius Kreeg. With Ravengard gone, the Flaming Fist is leaderless and vulnerable.”

Faust responded, "All the more reason you should come forward against your family. If it will truly be as bad as you say, you must do what you can to stop them."

Mortlock's frown deepened. "Well, I suppose if you're going to keep pushing like this, I can at least help you deal with my brother in some way. But afterwards, I'm out of here, and I ain't coming back."

"Deal," Seliph agreed. "Let's get that treasure and get out of here."

Faust continued, "I don't suppose you can help us in guarding Miss Vendetta here?"

"Of course," Mortlock responded.

All told the party made off with quite a bit of cash and treasure, though Seliph ended up having to be the one to carry it out in one of the large chests (though not before Kalista pocketed a bronze crown and a porcelain dragon mask.

The party emerged from the bathhouse well past nightfall as well as closing time for the bathhouse. However, once in the courtyard, they were accosted by five figures jumping down from the top of the courtyard wall. One of them stepped forward, stating, "Seems like there are some stragglers left behind in the bathhouse tonight! Well, if they'd be so kind as to return to us the treasure we are owed, we might be willing to ignore this infraction."

Kalista shouted back, "What are you talking about?"

He pointed, "That belongs to us!"

Kalista blinked. "Oh, the mask? Here, I'll just give it back."

"Not just the mask. All of it. You'd be wise to stay out of our way."

Seliph stepped forward. "Okay, if this is yours, I suppose I have no choice but to give it back."

The leader smiled. "Thank you. Tiamat thanks you for your compliance."

Seliph frowned. "Tiamat, huh...well, I guess that answers that moral dilemma." With that, he threw the box as hard as he could at the cultist. Now, this box ended up weighing over 200 pounds all told, so if it had hit the assassin, it would have done quite a bit of damage.

Too bad it missed.

The cloaked figure smiled. "Have it your way then." He turned to his companions. "Kill them."

In the ensuing brawl, Kalista and Sissy were immediately knocked unconscious while Seliph and Faust tried to do what damage they could. With his last spell slot in particular, Seliph used Thunderous Smite again, hoping to at least knock the group prone, granting a few extra seconds of time to strategize, but the head assassin stood firm.

One of the assassins attempted to land a killing blow on Sissy, when suddenly his weapon paused in midair, almost like he himself was incapable of bringing the weapon down. Shortly thereafter, Sissy somehow regained consciousness long enough to fire off a spell. Kalista gained her footing shortly after. Something, or someone had decided to help them.

Seliph quickly glanced around the fray, unsure of where the aid was coming from. Mortlock had pulled Vendetta back into the bathhouse. He himself didn't appear to be a spellcaster.

Another glance until he saw behind the assassins...a young woman, making her way towards the rest of the party.

With their sudden aid, the party was finally able reduce the five figures to two, even killing their leader, while they themselves severely wounded with only Seliph, Sissy, and their rescuer on their feet. The two remaining assassins glanced to each other, then back to Seliph, then back to each other, and then dropped their weapons, saying, "Okay that's it, we surrender!"

One even continued, "I think I'm done with Tiamat. Please don't kill us!"

Seliph calmly stepped forward, locking eyes with the scared young man. "Do yourself a favor. Starting tonight, go straight. Don't even go into taverns. That's how straight you're going. Got it?"

Somehow, some backbone must have resurfaced in the man, who responded, "Are you crazy? This is Baldur's Gate! Ain't nobody goin' that straight here!"

"Then go somewhere else!" Seliph exclaimed, clearly not up for any sort of debate.

"I....yeah, okay." The two former assassins quickly sprinted off into the night, where I'm sure they'll never bother anyone again.

Seliph shook his head, cleaning and sheathing his sword, forgetting about the young woman who jumped in to join them, until she said, "Umm, excuse me, sir, what brings a lot such as you out this late at night?"

Seliph jumped at the sudden breaking of his trance. "Oh, sorry,'s....ah...a bit of a rescue mission." He then looked at his unconscious companions, whom the young woman had already taken the liberty of stabilizing. "I guess it kind out of hand."

"Clearly..." she said.

"Oh, my name is Seliph Lyesyn. We were contracted by the Flaming Fist to deal with some cultists and save some hostages. It's...been a rough few days." He intentionally left out the part about the heist. Not really important at the moment. "These guys we just fought are completely unrelated. Just the cherry on top of the crap sundae that has become my life since I got back into town, I suppose. But...why are you out so late? Baldur's Gate isn't exactly friendly to anybody past dark, let alone a woman travelling by herself."

"Oh but I'm not alone." She pointed down the street a bit to a dog sitting dutifully, waiting for any command from its master. "My dog wanted to go out for a walk, and I heard a commotion."

Seliph scratched the back of his head. "Lucky you showed up when you did. By the way, what's your name?"

"Me? My name is Rylee Godsong, a cleric of Eldath. Naturally, I couldn't just pass by when someone clearly needed my help. Speaking of...what are you planning to do about...well, all this?"

"My home is nearby. I'll just take them there until they recover."

"Oh, allow me to help then," she said, already hoisting Kalista onto her shoulders.

"No please, I  wouldn't want to impose."

"It is no trouble. If I help, they get to safety more quickly."

Seliph opened his mouth to argue further, but relented. "Yeah, okay...Sissy, are you good dragging the chest if I carry Faust?"

"Huh? I mean, I guess, though..." Sissy has a strength of 9, so dragging is about all she's going to be able to do. We even joked about how she'd be better off dragging Faust or Kalista, though Seliph really wanted to avoid having to explain any unexplained head injuries the next morning. You know, potholes and the sort.

By this point, Rylee's player, who had joined us earlier in the week, had to disconnect from the call so we never did get around to resolving how she got home, but I'd imagine either Seliph walked her home or she felt comfortable walking alone with her dog. You make the call. For you see, what happened next is something much more important. Something I'd been waiting for since the beginning of the campaign.

Faust awoke in the same featureless void he was in the night before.

Ah, I must be dead again. Advocati is going to be upset.

However, instead, he was greeted by a different voice. One that, well...the DM himself said that he was basing this particular character (well, interpretation) off of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors (the 80's version with Rick Moranis)... so... (unfortunately this exchange was not done in song, but hey, you can imagine it if you wish)

"Faustie, Faustie, so good to hear from you again!"

"Oh, yes, Hadar, I wasn't sure if we would still be on speaking terms."

"You think I care about you making other deals? That means nothin' to me, especially when it's with someone as insignificant as Avocado or whatever his name is. I don't care about any of that. I just want you to keep killing for me. I want you to feeeeeeeeeed me, Faustie!"

Apparently the DM had been waiting until Faust actually killed someone before introducing us to his interpretation of Hadar, and Faust had managed to not kill anybody until after Advocati had restored him to life.

"Although, if you wanna stay on my good side, I am gonna need you to feed Avocado to me. Roast him up real good with the Eldritch Blast, just the way I like it. Until then, just keep feeding me, Faustie, and you'll get the things you want!"

With that, Faust slowly regained consciousness, sorely regretting not being able to get an inn for himself, to avoid imposing on Seliph as well as to continue his studies/pondering of how to get himself out of the increasingly complicated situation he'd landed himself in.