Thursday, June 4, 2020

Part 10: Yikes. Just Yikes.

It feels like in every campaign there's at least one session where, in spite of the party's generally great planning and out-of-the-box thinking, the dice just aren't having it, and this last session is definitely one of those times. People could argue that I'm far too lenient of a DM, but the truth is I like to see my party succeed, and when they don't, I really feel for them. But alas, sometimes the dice just aren't interested in the wants of mere mortals such as ourselves, and again, this is one of those times.

So it turns out Somen's player's ship-out date was postponed, so he's still with us for the time-being, and the party spent some time considering how to go through with their plan of finding and recruiting Yesmae's old teacher Don Chen to their cause, after giving Tylhana instructions to try to recruit as many people as she could from the palace staff and noble families throughout the city.

Eventually it was determined that, since the party had recently come into ownership of a fancy new company, they were going to, essentially, use their rights as "merchants" to pass into the Western Confederation territory as a way of reestablishing contact with and introducing themselves to possible trade avenues. Yesmae remembered that Don Chen was originally from the Shenzhou region of the Western Confederation, so it would have to be through there that they would center their search.

So, after raiding the company's petty cash fund as a way of ensuring they had enough cash to make things work as well as possible, the party set off through relatively quiet, calm skies, sailing for a few days before coming upon a large fleet of Western Confederation ships (the water variety) off the coast of Wakoku (basically the not-Japan in my not-Asia). The party stopped to discuss what the fleet could possibly be doing and if there was a proper way to deal with it. For once, Somen did not just cast Clairvoyance to spy on the fleet. Instead, the party decided the best course of action would be to just change course, try to find a gap or an end to the fleet, and just go around.

I'll confess as the DM this provided an unintentional world-building moment, as I was pretty sure that, since they carried official documents and could even claim to be seeking asylum from a hostile government as political refugees, they'd allow themselves to be taken in by the fleet and once everything cleared up, they could proceed on their merry way.

Instead, yeah, they found a gap in the fleet and just proceeded west like nothing was wrong, landing in the first major port they came across on the Shenzhou mainland to resupply and gather information from the townsfolk as best they could. Well, that's what Yesmae and Savin decided, anyway. Bubbles was going to wander into the seedy part of town to score some...shall we say...spice.

We'll start with Savin. During his brief run to secure provisions, he was able to suss out the local hangout spots for sailors and listen for some gossip. One particular merchant was able to explain that the heavy fleet presence is something that happens every few months as a show of force against possible hostilities from the Empire. "So, they're posturing?" Which, yeah. Kind of. I'm basing it off real military drills that are conducted regularly as a sort of flex against would-be hostiles. You can probably guess what contemporary event I'm using as inspiration. Basically every few months, the regional capital city of Wakoku is impossible to enter for merchants and travelers via the port due to these drills.

Is this something the party is likely to make use of in the future? Eh, probably not, but as much as I can I want the world to feel like it exists independently from the party, something I've struggled with in previous campaigns I've DMed. While it's true that the party's actions should make a difference in the way the world functions in a high fantasy, broad scope campaign, too often through a combination of dice rolls and lack of prep on my part, the party is the only group of people in the entire setting with an ounce of competence to their names.

Anyway, while Savin was learning about the recent political and militaristic issues the land had been dealing with, Yesmae opted to hit the local pubs and see what rumors she could eavesdrop on. Because if there's a group of people you want to learn about politics from, it's drunk people, right?

As expected, she was met with a glut of information to sift through and determine what was meaningful versus what was just the ramblings of drunken sailors and other townsfolk. The Empire's coming. No it's not. They're already here. No, you're crazy. Lizardfolk run the government. Maybe we should cut you off. Maybe we should cut YOU off.

Okay I'm exaggerating a bit, but the bottom line is the fact that people aren't exactly fond of the Empire at the moment, and, as would be expected, this is a recent problem. As in, the smallfolk of other nations feel betrayed by the sudden change in political climate and their allies' sudden heel-turn.

Bubbles, as it turns out, played his search for illicit materials extremely cool, saying nothing unnecessary to anyone and, despite being a Kenku, a rare find in these parts, managed to avoid attracting too much attention as he found a very literal spice trader. Plopping 50 gold pieces on the table, he requested as much as he would be able to buy with that amount, which was a lot (look, I don't know anything about drug dealing, okay? I mean I've watched Breaking Bad but that's it.) Pleased with his score, he quickly slid his stash into his Bag of Holding, along with the remainder of his money.

And in an alternate timeline, a young girl of about 14 attempts to lift some cash off of Bubbles, which Bubbles answers by gunning the poor girl down in the street, and the rest of the session plays out in a relatively boring manner (that or Bubbles spends the next hour in real time on the run from the law). But because the cash was in a Bag of Holding, I had to call an audible.

Though considering how things played out, this timeline might have been better for the party in the long run.

Anyway, back in the real version of this made-up fantasy land, elsewhere in town, Yesmae feels a small bump and sees out of the corner of her eye, a young girl sprinting away from her. Quickly putting two and two together, Yesmae sprinted after the would-be thief, chopping her in the back of the neck to disable her so she could get her stolen goods back and figure out what was happening.

Anyway, the freshly face-planted thief shouted, "Why'd you try to fracture my skull?! It's just a little cash!"

"Why did you try to steal from me?" Yesmae demanded, picking the girl up and looking her in the eyes, expecting to see a look of defiance matching the shouting, rather than the face of a desperate, young girl on the verge of tears. Taken aback by this reaction, Yesmae continued, "Wait, what's wrong? You can tell me."

"My parents owe this gang of bandits a debt and they're sick and can't pay up and the bandits demanded settlement now and if we can't they're gonna kill Minho and-" she stammered.

Author's note, yes I know Minho is a Korean name. My idea is that the alliance among the three large nations allowed for greater cultural movement within the alliance rather than the more homogeneous cultures we currently have in the real world, and while I'm well aware of the fairly stark language differences between the Korean and Japanese languages and the varies Chinese dialects (believe me, I've put in my study time between my mission, college, and just as a personal hobby) it's a fantasy world, don't think about it too much.

Yesmae took the girl in her arms, calmly saying, "It's all right, it's gonna be fine. Who is Minho? He's important to you, yes?"

"Yes," she continued to sob. "My best friend."

"Lover," the players muttered.

Gathering everyone on the airship, Yesmae quickly summarized all the information she'd been able to glean from the girl. In the real world, the other players were laughing about how pure and sincere Yesmae's player is considering how she trusted the poor girl without really digging deeper, but I allowed them to make insight checks to see if their characters could detect anything off. They couldn't, she was being sincere.

That being said, Somen wasn't convinced, opting in addition to cast a Detect Thoughts spell to read her mind and see if she was hiding anything significant. Which she was. Specifically that Minho was not this girl's lover, or even a person at all, but a small dog. This is something I revealed to Somen's player through a personal message since we've been playing over Discord, and his reaction was priceless.

I'll give him credit, though. Despite his rather large reaction, he kept quiet about this detail until the twist was guessed correctly by Savin's player via a snide quip, "I'll bet money we're saving this poor girl's pet dog or something."

Not like I didn't have to reveal that info shortly afterward anyway, as the party's plan would not have worked if they didn't know what they were about to be rescuing. And I gotta give credit. This is the fastest I've seen this group organize a heist in tabletop RPGs. Trust me. I've experienced Shadowrun sessions that lasted for hours before a single bullet was fired, as it took us that long to figure out how to pull off the mission in the most efficient way possible. Though considering my well-documented memory problems, maybe this doesn't reflect that well on me.

Yesmae and Jangle opted to try to sneak into the bandits' compound and scout out as much information as they could. Failing that, Savin would attempt to talk with them and try to negotiate with them. Failing that, Bubbles, Grula, and Somen would destroy the place.

And this is where the bad rolling really got out of hand. And when I say that, I mean what follows is a Rube Goldberg machine of misery.

Yesmae rolled a natural 1 on her Stealth check, providing a decent distraction for Jangle to wander into the compound to get up to his usual mischief, but unable to get by undetected herself. Upon being spotted, Savin revealed himself and attempted to clear up the situation by offering payment to settle up the girl's debts. The bandit leader pondered this, and stated that he'd go grab the dog.

He came back instead with three Bulettes, and the battle began. In short order, Savin winked at the rest of the party, casting Dimension Door to warp himself into the largest building in the compound, assuming that that would be where any captured beasts would be kept. Somen cast a Fireball, incinerating the bandit leader and damaging the three beasts, though one managed to dodge out of the way, mauling Yesmae in the process.

The other two Bulettes separated, one focusing attacks on Somen, the other chasing the girl. Bubbles, in an attempt to save the girl, started casting spells at the Bulette.

As the party continued to battle with the monsters, Savin quickly took stock of where he ended up, a large barn-like structure filled with caged animals and various creatures (that I totally didn't just make up on the fly to justify this gambling ring that gets away with stealing animals for ransom). Quickly formulating a plan, he quickly set about trying to find a way to open the cages, quickly finding a mechanism that would open all the doors (the session was running a little long and I had to be up early for work the next day so I didn't want to spend a turn on each cage once I saw where this was going).

I'll give credit to the party for not metagaming, because while Savin was trying to open the cages to create more havoc, Yesmae was trying to goad the Bulettes back into the cages to stop the mayhem by throwing a path of food rations in that direction. Which, to her credit, worked, as one of the Bulettes happily started eating the ration and found its way out of the fight. The other two were eventually wounded badly enough to want to get out of combat as well.

As this was going on, Jangle let himself into what appeared to be the quarters of the head bandit and set about to stealing everything, leading with the excuse that he was looking for a manifest of which animals belonged to whom (which he did find).

Finally, with the barn door open, Savin used the mechanism to open all the cages. Considering the immediate source of food, however, I suggested that they'd be eager enough to escape captivity that Savin would need to make an Acrobatics or Athletics check (player preference) to climb to safety in the equivalent to the hay loft.

He rolled a 1. I'm sure you can figure out what happens next.

Oh don't worry, he survived. Barely. Actually because of how the party split and the high Challenge Rating of the monsters, everybody got pretty beat up in this session. A fact that was about to get a lot worse as the animals were stampeding in the direction of the rest of the party.

Thinking quickly, Somen used one last spell slot to cast another Fireball spell. We all thought he was nuts at the suggestion, but he clarified that he wasn't aiming the spell at the animals, but to the side to redirect their energy elsewhere. If they had to destroy anything, let it be the camp itself.

The party quickly reconvened and escaped, Minho in tow, resolving that they were done picking up odd jobs for the time-being as this one was too dangerous with very little payoff besides what Jangle had to steal. Savin left an anonymous tip with the local militia, and Yesmae tried to find a nearby ASPCA representative, and that particular adventure came to an end.

Hopefully with their reputation built a bit in the area, the party would have less trouble looking for Don Chen.

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