Saturday, September 26, 2020

Part 4: A Faust-ian Bargain

Our heroes continued the exploration of the tunnels beneath the bathhouse by checking the various hallways they hadn't gone down yet. Thankfully IRL the pacing of this search went a little faster for this session because IRL we were having trouble getting Fantasy Grounds working, and since we'd already explored most of the section of the dungeon we were already in, the rest was just mopping up any remaining possible treasure rooms loose ends before moving on.

The first hall they went into led into a small alcove with a large tapestry as well as a hallway heading into a large open chamber. We examined the tapestry first, and I really wish we hadn't. The tapestry depicted a ritualistic killing of one person by four others, with the victim screaming in pain as it was ripped apart. Nice. Evil. Sure. Glad to be here.

Faust did as Faust does and used the Detect Magic spell to examine the tapestry for any unseen trickery, of which he found none. However, Seliph wondered if there would be anything behind the tapestry and attempted to move it. Well, he certainly found something behind the tapestry, as what awaited him as he folded the tapestry over was a rather large colony of yellow mold.

"Gah! Disgusting! Someone really should clean this stuff up!"

Faust recognized the mold, suggesting that it could be burned, to which Seliph replied, "Okay, Mr. Magic Man, do your stuff."

"Unfortunately I do not possess any fire magic. I'm more of a ritual spellcaster than a conjurer."

Seliph opened his mouth to say something (after all a magic user who can't use fire magic? Nonsense!), then closed his mouth again, before muttering, "There wasn't anything there anyway..."

The party continued into the chamber, and there really wasn't much in there besides...well...more dead stuff. I don't want to go through the details because there really wasn't anything in there besides death and depression, no treasure or anything.

Now that the party had explored that entire section of the dungeon, they made their way to the eastern half, which had yet to be fully explored, and this expedition started with a hall had three separate chambers off the main path before continuing into another room. Naturally, the party decided to check the rooms one-by-one.

In the first room was nothing, as the chamber had long since collapsed. In the second one was an old mummified corpse resting on an altar with two moonstones jammed in its eye-sockets. Faust, again, sensing a trap, used Detect Magic and found something that put off the essence of Evocation or Conjuration Magic (the magic of making stuff happen or appear, the book wasn't clear on it) coming from the chest cavity of the corpse. Naturally, since this wasn't Necromancy, it was probably safe to cut the bandage and see what was putting off the magical energy. This thing happened to be a bag of ten magical beans. In character, Faust was the only one who could recognize the potential for bad stuff happening with these, suggesting that Seliph be careful with them, to which Seliph recommended having someone not regularly in danger hold onto them. This role naturally fell to Sissy, whom at this point had taken the least amount of damage so far.

This was probably a good idea in hindsight.

At the final chamber in the hallway, some slight moaning could be heard from the other side of the door. No, not that kinda moaning, get your mind out of the gutter! Seliph, thinking that someone was in trouble, kicked the door open, breaking the handle in the process.

This was a bad idea, because the source of the moaning was not an injured person, but rather a gaggle of six zombies. Okay, horde, gaggle, murder, I dunno what a plurality of zombies would be called, especially when it's six and not, like, the kinda thing you'd see in a George Romero movie.

Sissy was at the top of the initiative order, but she didn't respond right away, leading me to make a dumb joke about Sissy throwing the bag of beans into the room and having us dash away, which...well, okay, here's how the beans work. When the beans touch the ground, they explode. However, if they're planted, that's where the crazy happens. At a random number between 1 and 100, something like this happens.

01 — 5d4 toadstools sprout. If a creature eats a toadstool, roll any die. On an odd roll, the eater must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take Sd6 poison damage and become Poisoned for 1 hour. On an even roll, the eater gains 5d6 Temporary Hit Points for 1 hour.

2-10 — A geyser erupts and spouts water, beer, berry juice, tea, vinegar, wine, or oil (DM's choice) 30 feet into the air for 1d12 rounds.

11-20 — A Treant sprouts (see the Monster Manual for statistics). There's a 50 percent chance that the Treant is chaotic evil and attacks.

21-30 — An animate, immobile stone statue in your likeness rises. It makes verbal threats against you. If you leave it and others come near, it describes you as the most heinous of villains and directs the newcomers to find and Attack you. If you are on the same plane of existence as the statue, it knows where you are. The statue becomes inanimate after 24 hours.

31-40 — A campfire with blue flames springs forth and burns for 24 hours (or until it is extinguished).

41-50 — 1d6 + 6 shriekers sprout (see the Monster Manual for statistics).

51-60 — 1d4 + 8 bright pink toads crawl forth. Whenever a toad is Touched, it transforms into a Large or smaller monster of the DM's choice. The monster remains for 1 minute, then disappears in a puff of bright pink smoke.

61-70 — A hungry Bulette (see the Monster Manual for statistics) burrows up and attacks.

71-80 A fruit tree grows. It has 1d10+20 fruit, 1d8 of which act as randomly determined magic potions, while one acts as an ingested poison of the DM's choice. The tree vanishes after 1 hour. Picked fruit remains, retaining any magic for 30 days.

81-90 — A nest of 1d4 + 3 eggs springs up. Any creature that eats an egg must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw. On a successful save, a creature permanently increases its lowest ability score by 1, randomly choosing among equally low scores. On a failed save, the creature takes 10d6 force damage from an internal magical explosion.

91-99 — A pyramid with a 60-foot-square base bursts upward. Inside is a sarcophagus containing a Mummy Lord (see the Monster Manual for statistics). The pyramid is treated as the mummy lord's lair, and its sarcophagus contains Treasure of the DM's choice.

100 — A giant beanstalk sprouts, growing to a height of the DM's choice. The top leads where the DM chooses, such as to a great view, a cloud giant's castle, or a different plane of existence.

So throwing the bag in there like a grenade would be a terrible idea no matter what happened, explosion or random magical mishap.

Anyway, zombies in 5e have an AC of 8, which means they're pathetically easy to hit, and are a CR of 1/4, which means that they're a decent challenge for parties of level 1-2 in a group that size (Challenge Rating is based on what a party of four healthy adventurers should be able to handle). So Seliph did what Seliph does and planted himself in the doorway. Nothing was going to get into the hallway except through Seliph, who began hacking at the zombie closest to him.

We weren't expecting them to start pushing into the hallway as a group.

After a round of trying to damage the zombies as much as possible, Faust suggested trying to spread the damage out as much as possible, being aware of another problem with zombies that the rest of the party was unaware of. Basically, being undead and not caring about pain, they're actually pretty hardy for their CR, having a chance of not dying when they run out of HP.

Anyway, because of that, things got even worse.

Starting with some poor strength rolls, the party was shoved out of the chamber into the hallway by the zombies. As they were being pushed back, Seliph got an idea. "Let's spread up and try to corral them between us! Faust seems to have an idea!" With that, Kalista and Sissy ended up behind Seliph with a door behind them, while Faust ended up on the opposite side of the horde from the rest of the party.

Faust's idea, of course, was a spell he had been keeping in his back pocket, worried that using it might expose him as a warlock, Arms of Hadar, this charming fella, to whom Faust pledged his service in exchange for magical energy.

Anyway, things started to look up, as the party slowly thinned out the zombies before Seliph started taking some really bad hits. Faust wasn't doing much better, lacking Seliph's heavier armor and beefier HP. Seliph then shouted at Faust, "You're welcome to give us a miracle whenever, Faust!"

Faust deftly slide in between the two remaining zombies and cast the spell, to disappointing effect. By this point, Seliph's last reserves had dried out and he was knocked unconscious, with Faust falling not long after. Kalista and Sissy were eventually able to beat the zombies away from Seliph long enough to stabilize him (and with perfect timing considering he was one failed death save away from...well...death), but unfortunately Faust wasn't so lucky.

By the time Kalista finished off the final zombie, the damage was done. Faust was on the ground, his chest torn open, his breathing had stopped, and his pulse was gone. J. Anton Faust was dead.

After sitting in silence for quite some time, Kalista then asked nobody in particular, "Well, what now?"

Sissy looked the aftermath of the battle over. "Well...I don't know. I don't think we can handle the rest of the dungeon by ourselves..."

Kalista rubbed her chin. "Maybe we could just leave. Find new work. Forget all about this place."

Sissy frowned. "That's true, but...I don't wanna just leave Seliph behind."

Kalista looked at Seliph. "I guess you're right. He'll probably die without us. All right, let's try to drag him into one of those rooms and set up watch until he wakes up. We'll be fine. We're strong women!"

Strong women they may have been, I guess dragging Seliph plus all 120 pounds of his equipment was a two person job that was still pretty difficult for them. Moving Faust's body into the other non-collapsed chamber was a much easier job.

Once the door was locked, Sissy and Kalista allowed themselves to drift off to sleep, hoping that things would be better once Seliph woke up.


Faust woke up in an endless, featureless void.

Ah yes. I am dead. It won't be long before he comes around to devour my soul.

Faust resolved to just sit and think for a while before he felt something grab him by the shoulders. A voice behind him startled him.

"You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?"

Wait. That is not the voice of Hadar. What is this?

Faust quickly turned behind him to see...well...a well-dressed man with horns. So uh...Faust's name doubled down on the literary references here.

"Who are you?" Faust asked.

"I am a friend. I see that you've found yourself in quite a predicament. Since you're dead, here soon, made a contract with will be here, and you'll cease to exist. However, before that...thing...shows up, I wanted to run something by you."

"And what is that?"

"Why, I want you to do a favor for me. I will restore you to life, and you will procure something for me. Well, two things."

"And what are those?"

"I want the book that you got from that...thing...that you got your previous contract from, and I want you to find a shield called the Shield of the Hidden Lord and bring it to Avernus, the first layer of Hell."

Faust took a moment to process this request. "And I assume there is a catch of some kind?"

"But of course! I am a devil after all! I restore you to life and get you out of your current pact, but in return, I get your soul instead of Hadar."

Faust considered the devil's words a little more closely, while out of character the players were all in agreement that this was a terrible idea. However, Faust, using a degree of logic and wisdom heretofore unknown to us regular mortals, saw an opportunity to get out of his pact with Hadar. He'd worry about getting out of this one later.


"Oh, I appreciate the enthusiasm but I need it in writing. Your full name, here, please." As he spoke, a comically long contract materialized in the devil's hands. He indicated the specific spots where Faust's signature was required.

And thus it was signed Jarrod Anton Faust, though not before we joked about him using a false name to get out of the contract, such as Jerald Anthony Foster. Of course Faust did not do this, as he wanted to avoid making some poor innocent's afterlife experience worse.

"By the way, what do I call you, sir?"

"Oh, if you need a name to call me by, you can call me Advocati." He then snapped his fingers.

As Faust's senses started to return to the physical world, he was left with one more thought in the back of his mind as he woke up.

This is what it looks like. Try not to die, now!


Faust awoke alone in the next room over, now completely aware of the insane amount of pain he was in. In a combination of fear, panic, confusion, and pain, Faust could do nothing besides scream. After a few seconds of screaming he heard rapid footsteps from down the hall, and as he was screaming he realized that where there should have been a gaping wound in his chest was the remains of a large burn. Faust quickly covered the burn with his jacket before Kalista dashed in, surprised to see Faust somehow alive after what happened the night before.

"Faust! You're alive! How?"

"Oh, hello Kalista. I...made contingencies in case something happened to me."

Kalista took a moment to think about this. "Oh, that's a good idea! Good use of magic! Maybe we should all try to do that."

"Oh yes, that would be a wonderful idea. However, this one took me a few weeks to do, and I will need more time to prepare another, so let us try not to die again, ja?"

Kalista and Faust returned to the other chamber as Seliph was finally beginning to stir.

"Faust?" Sissy excitedly exclaimed. "You were the source of all that screaming next door?"

"Hey Faust," Seliph let out. "Glad to see you made it."

"Are you able to move, Seliph?"

"Yeah, everything hurts but I feel like I can finish the rest of this dungeon."

And thus the party continued on into the dungeon, they walked into a chamber with some bodies suspended from the ceiling, specifically a female tiefling and a male human. Kalista let out a scream of rage seeing a dead tiefling, before Sissy pointed out that she was still breathing.

They pulled her down from where she was hanging, unconscious, but very much alive, and Seliph tapped into his celestial powers to heal her. As she awakened, she screamed, seeing the ragtag group of people surrounding her.

"Please, please don't hurt me anymore!"

"No no no no, it's okay, you're safe with us, sister tiefling," said Kalista.

"Yes, there is nothing to fear from us, we are here to rescue you," added Faust.

The tiefling relaxed a bit. "Oh, thank goodness, I can't take any more of the torture."

"What are they doing here?" Kalista asked, hoping to get some more information on the cult.

"What's it look like they're doing? They're abducting innocent people and sacrificing them!"

"Yes, we have gathered that," Faust responded. "Do you know why they're doing this?"

"No, besides just trying to revive their dead gods."

"Well, we're going to stop them. You should be able to get out the same way the other guy did," offered Kalista.

"I'd prefer to just stay with you. I don't feel comfortable travelling through here alone."

The party deliberated a bit, before agreeing to let her join. "What's your name?"

"Vendetta. My name is Vendetta."

Weird name, but okay, sure.

The party continued onward into the dungeon until they saw a solitary cultist standing guard in an unassuming hallway. After an extremely long period of awkwardly staring at one another, the cultist shouted, "Intruders! Intruders have come in here!" and started running.

The party looked back and forth amongst themselves before Sissy dashed off after the cultist, and what followed was basically that scene from Star Wars: A New Hope where Han Solo runs around the corner screaming before seeing a hallway full of Stormtroopers. Complete with Sissy firing off an Eldritch Blast, severely wounding one of the cultists before running back to where the rest of the party was, quickly warning them of the group of cultists behind her.

This fight went significantly better for the party. Better rolls. Faust actually hit someone with his boomerang (opting to avoid casting spells in case his Eldritch Blast happened to have a new affinity befitting his new patron, it would be awkward having to explain why he suddenly can shoot fire, for instance).

One cultist was left, and he opted to try to escape into a hallway that split into three more chambers. Specifically he dashed into the middle of the three chambers, locking the door behind him and whimpering in fear.

Naturally, we had to examine the three separate areas again, and the first one from the north end of the room contained, like most of these chambers before it, a sarcophagus. However, unlike the previous chambers, the sarcophagus was filled with blood, and a lone, old woman.

"Oh, dear me, you're here to rescue me, yes?"

Unlike the previous hostages, this one, and after some insight examinations and some detection of evil from Seliph, yeah, our fears were confirmed.

The lady was trying to lead us into a trap in a secret section of the dungeon that we'd discovered shortly before, but her fa├žade quickly melted away as she began complaining about people trying to stop her from worshipping as she felt was her right.

"Your right to your religion ends with the sacrifice of tieflings!" shouted Kalista, who dashed forward and began attacking the old woman. Who happened to be extremely skilled with a dagger. Uh oh.

This fight was a little rougher, as she kept turning invisible after attacking, and with her special ability Aura of Murder (yes, that's what it's called), she and any of her companions would do double damage on attacks (good thing we kept her isolated from her buddies).

Anyway, soon she knocked Kalista out and tried to escape, but the party eventually managed to finish her off after she tried attacking Sissy, who had used the Armor of Agathys spell previously, which gave her extra temporary HP and did damage to anyone who landed an attack on her.

Seliph quickly healed Kalista to keep her from dying, and this is where we ended up calling the session. It was stupidly stressful, and we all agreed we needed a break. I didn't mention it during the recap, but we were all severely sad and terrified when Faust died. Gimmicks aside that was the first actual death I've experienced in a 5e campaign, and it was sudden as it was brutal. The knowledge that a devil is waiting in the wings to try to tempt us into working for him in exchange for salvation from death did not do much to make us feel better, though I think it's safe to say if Seliph comes to this choice, he's probably just going to say no.

So...I was wrong. We're not quite done with the dungeon yet. Hopefully next week we will be.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Part 3: Oops, Found A Boss

So...this entry might be a little short because significantly less story happened, focusing more on exploring more of the dungeon and beating up cultists to save captives.

We rejoin our heroes recoiling (well, okay, Faust was recoiling) from the sudden ambush from the Animated Gauntlets. Now that they had taken some time to reorient themselves (and we the players got a better map instead of this....thing below), things should be looking up.

You try drawing a decent map in MS Paint while trying to pay attention and RP

The party decided to spend some time combing the different bits of the current floor, no real objective besides finding any of the other hostages or cultists. However, the fun thing about some D&D dungeons is the fact that you could just randomly wander into a chamber where a boss is currently conducting a ritual to raise a freshly dead corpse to send after you.

Which is exactly what happened.

So...this session involved some really bad rolls. On both sides. As in, Seliph rolled a 1 on his initiative, meaning that he was dead last in the combat order, the swarm of skeletal rats the boss was commanding only landed one attack out of I lost count of how many, lots of misses and low damage all around, both warlocks misfiring on their spells and hitting (or almost hitting) their teammates (Seliph took 14 damage from a misfired spell, which I'm pretty sure is the only damage he's taken so far in this campaign, and out of a maximum of 20 it's freaking scary).

Heck, during the fight, the boss managed to get Faust and Sissy, two already-wounded characters, into a perfect position to cast Burning Hands on them, and the only reason that they survived was that the damage rolled from the spell (3d6, so a maximum of 18 possible damage against 17 and 15 HP players) was...well...8. Which is still pretty scary for the two of them, but they both managed to not be taken down by the attack.

Slightly before that, however, was what I might consider to be the funniest moment, where Faust, trying to conserve his magic use as much as possible, decided to attack the boss with a dagger and a cane he carried. He hit dead on with the cane, but because of his low strength (a modifier of -1) and because he rolled a 1 for damage, the attack did nothing. It was...amazing.

Anywho, there's only so much I can say about the party trading blows with an enemy that we didn't even get a chance to speak to before she attacked us, so eventually, after a long battle that brought us pretty low, we won, and we decided it might be wise to take a short rest before continuing on in the dungeon, allowing our spellcasters to get some magic back and for everyone to heal up a bit.

During the hour or so the party was taking a rest, Faust looked around the room to see what he could find, happening upon the cultist's spellbook. Something that would have been really nice if he or Sissy were wizards, but alas, they are not, so Faust decided to take it to see if he could sell it.

However, this piqued Kalista's curiosity, and she began asking Faust about magic, where he studied it, if it's hard to learn, what types of magic one could learn, to which Faust tried his best to explain while avoiding shedding light on his own underhanded means of gaining magical prowess.

Kalista folded her arms. "Huh, I guess I didn't realize that learning magic would take so much effort."

Seliph then pointed out, "Well, it's not always in that case. Like, there are also clerics and paladins."

"But don't you have to be super devout to a god to get that?"

"Not necessarily," Seliph replied. "I mean, at least not for paladins. I'm not particularly devoted to a specific god or religion, but my power comes from my devotion to my oath."


"Yeah, specific causes you devote yourself to. In my case I took the Oath of Redemption, basically the idea that, no matter where you are in your life, you're not stuck with the path you're on. There's always a chance to change your ways. It...makes things a little complicated in cases like this, where we've already killed several people in this dungeon, but it is my hope that those people will be able to find some form of redemption in the hereafter. I'm still...working out how best to deal with people who won't change without killing them."

"That...sounds like quite a dilemma," Faust said.

"Well, I suppose after working with the Fist, I needed to believe something like that. If that makes sense."

After the party finished resting, they continued exploring the dungeon, specifically opting to explore some of the hallways they bypassed earlier, starting with one cavern that led to a sarcophagus filled with a sludge of some kind. Faust, sensing a trap as well as some treasure the trap could be protecting, opted to try to have an Unseen Servant reach into the sludge to find what could be hidden. Naturally, this sprang a trap, as a spectral axe appeared in the air above the Unseen Servant, dropping on it, instantly dispelling it.

The party then quickly discussed what to try next. Now that they knew how the trap worked, Seliph offered to try to reach in. He would try to dodge the axe as it dropped, or, worst comes to worst, he could probably handle the damage. However, nothing happened, and as he reached into the sludge, all he was able to find is the rusted, broken head of the spectral axe that had appeared above the Unseen Servant. What a wonderful use of time that was.

Something I neglected to mention in my last post. Specifically, there were a few doors that were labelled with symbols of the Dead Three (which I attempted to label on my terrible map at the top of this entry). There was one hallway in particular that they had not gone down. In the chamber the door led into lay three robed figures in a triangle formation around a candle. Faust could immediately tell that they were not dead, instead trying to spring a trap on the party. Faust used his Awakened Mind feature to telepathically communicate with the cultists that he knew what they were doing and if they were wise, they'd make themselves scarce.

They did not.

However, unlike the boss we already fought, these guys were...pathetic, and very easily dispatched.

Once things quieted down a bit, the party got another chance to briefly chat while Faust discovered two more spell books, and Seliph mentioned wanting to spend an hour soaking in a bath after this.

I don't remember exactly how we moved to the subject, but Kalista mentioned something about being human, to which Seliph responded, "But I'm not human."

"You're not?"

"No, I'm an aasimar. Hence the gray skin."

"Oh, I thought you were just really old!"

"How old do you think I am?"

"I dunno, you seem pretty old, probably mid-forties?"

"I'm 24!"

" you're pretty similar to me then."

"Why did you think I was so old?!"

"I told you, your skin just makes you look old!"

Meanwhile, Faust stood off to the side like this, reminded that he was the oldest person in the group.

And this is where we had to call it. Hopefully by this point in the next session we'll be done with this dungeon and pushing the plot along. I'm glad Ammon is running this though, because running a multi-session, keeping track of all this, and mapping things out is stuff that I feel like I struggle with. Though since we're experimenting with the Fantasy Grounds program, keeping track of that stuff is a lot easier. Even the character tokens keep getting stuck on the walls.

We're learning. See you in ten years when we figure out how to podcast our campaigns.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Part 2: Finally, Some Dungeons In My Dungeons & Dragons

We rejoin our heroes the next morning in Seliph's house, after they stole a quick evening to rest from the fight earlier that day. As Seliph said, the house wasn't much, as there wasn't much sleeping space besides the bed and a basic chair, so Seliph opted to sleep on a blanket on the floor so his guests had the most comfortable accommodations, with Faust in the chair and Kalista and Narcissa doing their best to share the bed.

This didn't stop Kalista from trying to pull "pranks" on Seliph, including swapping out the salt and pepper shakers, knowing Seliph was going to be cooking breakfast the next day.

So Seliph, not paying attention to ingredient amounts while frying up an omelet added way too much pepper.

"Oh no, that's not good. When did you find the time to do this?" he asked Kalista.

"Do what?" Kalista responded, grinning.

Seliph glared at Kalista for just long enough that Faust looked up from his book, worried that Seliph would either burn the omelet or throw it at Kalista. He raised a finger, ultimately lowering it again when he saw Seliph shake his head, muttering, "Eh, I can fix it."

The party quickly ate their breakfast before heading out in the direction of the bathhouse, with Faust taking Narcissa aside to ask her some questions, worried that the presence of another magic user in the party could prove disastrous for him keeping his warlock pact under wraps, completely unaware of her own pact.

"So where did you study your magic? You're very talented for your age."

Sissy quietly chuckled. "What do you mean study?"

"Ah, so you must be a sorcerer or something like that?"

"Yeeeeeeeeeah..." she responded, "Something like that."

Her desire to stop the conversation seemed to fly right over Faust's head, but he was relieved that she wasn't a trained wizard. At least this way he wouldn't be exposed as the fraud he was so desperate to not appear to be. However, just where this strange girl's magical prowess came from was another question entirely.

Once the group arrived at the bathhouse, they were met with the next problem. They didn't actually have a plan for how to proceed, where the entrance to the dungeon could possibly be, or how they'd manage to get in without arousing too much suspicion, as nobody in the party had actually been there.

Upon entering into the main lobby of the open-spaced bathhouse (in full view of several bathing areas), they were approached by an employee. "Uh, welcome to our establishment! What services shall we provide to you today?" When asked what services were provided, the employee offered, "Obviously, we offer standard bathing packages, though the baths are not gender-segregated, if the child among you has an issue with that." The party exchanged anxious glances. "In addition, we offer massages in private rooms, and we have an outdoor courtyard if you would prefer to wait outside."

Kalista asked as a follow-up, "Where would we put our things? Are there lockers?"

The employee pointed to a shelf in the corner of the room. "There are cubbies throughout the building that you could place your things in."

Kalista smiled. "Perfect. I think I'm going to go take a look around. Get an idea of what things look like before I settle in on what I want to do."

As the party awkwardly made small-talk with the receptionist, Kalista wandered over to the cubbies, trying to find something worth stealing. However, because she assumed that her victim would be more focused on enjoying his bath than watching his things, she was interrupted by a man shouting, "What the hell are you doing?! That's mine!" She turned to see a large human man standing out of the water, naked as the day he was born (gracing the rest of the party with a similarly undesirable view from behind).

She blushed and scratched the back of her head, "Sorry, I thought it was mine! My mistake!"

The man fumed. "But you're fully dressed! Stop tryin' to pull one over on me!"

"It was an honest mistake!" It wasn't. "I'm not trying to pull anything over on you!" She was.

She walked back to the party, ignoring the flustered employee, and said, "Let's go out to the courtyard for a bit to talk this over."

She didn't say that in-game. What actually happened is the fact that I panicked and called for a group huddle, but that would have looked far more ridiculous. Either way, the party gathered together to discuss how they could possibly find anything suspicious without looking as suspicious themselves.

Faust pointed out, "The courtyard is quite large. I'd like to look around it for a while, if someone would be willing to serve as a distraction for me."

Kalista then said, "I've already drawn enough attention to myself. I want a massage. Who knows, maybe I'll find something in the massage room."

Seliph and Narcissa awkwardly glanced at each other. "I guess we could...pretend to talk about something?" Seliph said, uncertainly. Surrounded by naked people and talking to an equally uncomfortable young girl? Sure, no way that looks suspicious.

Anyway, once the party agreed on their course of action, Kalista made her way to the massage rooms. After she was gone, Klaus then said, "Okay. I am going to cast Detect Magic to see if anything suspicious appears. Keep the attention away from me, ja?"

As he scanned the courtyard, he could sense something vaguely magical for a split-second before it disappeared. Unable to identify it, Faust let the party know what he found, suggesting that they could look through the rest of facility, eventually moving in the direction of the massage rooms under the excuse of picking Kalista up. Even if walking back into the main building involved Seliph and Sissy trying as hard as they could to avoid looking at all the naked people.

People who know me may be wondering why Seliph in particular is so awkward in this situation. Sissy's answer is obvious: she's not from the Forgotten Realms, instead hailing from our world, and not in a part of the world where public bathing was really a cultural thing. Seliph, though, is a little different. Not only is he played by me, someone who has been to a (though admittedly gender-segregated) bathhouse, but as a lifelong resident of Baldur's Gate, he obviously will have been to one of these places, right? Especially if he were formerly a member of the Fist?

Well, yeah, of course. But as a fallen aasimar, with the sort of connotation surrounding his race (meaning as an angel who fell from grace), even if said connotation is inaccurate in his case, he was always self-conscious of his skin color and what others thought when they saw him.

But with a high charisma, you'd he should be super confident, right? Hah, yeah, sure, if I was playing it that way.

Anyway, because of this, even in terms of recreational bathing, Seliph always preferred to bathe alone.

Either way, bottom line, Seliph is extremely uncomfortable in a place where that's not really characteristic of lifelong residents of Baldur's Gate. We're caught up.

Anyway, while all this was going on, Kalista was brought into a private room for her massage, where the masseuse told her that she would step out for a bit so Kalista could undress to her comfort and take her position on the massage table. While she was alone Kalista took a quick glance around the room but didn't do so hot on her perception check so she wasn't able to find anything of note before the masseuse came back.

Darn, Kalista thought. I'd hoped I wouldn't have to try to talk her into giving me any info, but maybe I'll see what I can trick her into saying.

I don't remember exactly what she said, but she tried several questions that involved weeping for a dead god, finding some sort of fellowship in the city, to flat out asking if the masseuse knew of any cults or other seedy religious groups that Kalista could join. Naturally, this scared the ever-loving crap out of the poor lady giving Kalista the massage, and she vehemently denied knowing anything. However, Kalista noticed out of the corner of her eye that the masseuse cast her eyes in the direction of a panel on the north wall of the room. Kalista noted this, and once the massage was over and she was left to dress herself, she walked to the panel and pushed against it, revealing a hidden door.

Kalista quickly dressed herself and made for the common area to tell the rest of the party about the door. I only put in that detail because, though assumed that yes, Kalista did dress herself before meeting the others, the group chat joked about her running out into the common area naked, something Kalista would probably have the least reservations about in the party.

However, once Kalista left the massage room, the masseuse returned to the room, waiting for her next client. Naturally, it wouldn't do so well for the party to just waltz in and open the door with her in there, so the party quickly started passing ideas around, eventually landing on having Sissy cast the Friends spell on the masseuse, making her easier to manipulate more willing to help the party.

Basically, the way the party played it off was the fact that Sissy, Seliph's younger sister (who looks nothing like her, missing the gray skin for instance) was really interested in getting a massage but was too shy to ask and wanted her friends and family there to support her. The masseuse was a little weirded out by this, naturally, but obliged, leaving the room briefly so she could make herself comfortable. No sooner had the door shut before Kalista opened the secret door to the basement area and the party all went in, with Seliph stopping to block the door with a spear he had been carrying just in case, as once the spell wore off, the masseuse was likely to be upset, and who knows who would be following the party into the dungeon.

So...this dungeon was supposed to be super dark (as in, lacking in light) which could cause problems for some parties depending on whether they have low light vision or dark vision. All of our party can see in the dark. So one potential problem of dungeon delving is already sort of taken care of, though the dungeons winding, confusing nature could still prove to be a challenge to navigate, something we discovered was likely intentional as we entered into a chamber to see a hooded man and woman torturing another man who was chained up with a bag over his head, clearly not here by choice.

Faust, quickly taking stock of the fact that the chamber was lit by a handful of torches, used the Prestidigitation spell to extinguish the torches, leaving the two to flail about in darkness and confusion before being (relatively) quickly dispatched by the party, who sustained only minor injury throughout the fight (well, I suppose it was serious enough that Seliph depleted his only spell slots (yay Paladin spellcasting...))

Speaking of, during the fight, for the first of (probably) many times, Seliph used a Smite spell, casting Thunderous Smite to deal extra damage to the hooded man. This was probably a bad idea in hindsight. Enclosed underground chamber. Not much sound dampening material. And what is essentially a close range burst of thunder. A more realistic setting would have ruptured the eardrums of everyone in the room.

Thankfully this did not, in fact, bring the entire bathhouse down on top of the party, but it did draw the attention of...something. Someone in the party swore they saw a skeletal rat spying on the party before scampering away.

Anyway, back to the heavily injured captive who was now complaining about his ears ringing and the splitting headache that definitely couldn't have been avoided.

Seliph and Kalista quickly set about trying to release the man from his shackles, with Kalista effortlessly picking the lock with her Thieves' Tools. Just in time for Faust to discover the key to the shackles on the dead hooded man. Whoops.

The man, naturally, had no idea why he was there, specifically why he in particular was chosen for the sacrifice, but he said that there were other captives within the dungeon who likely could help fill in some of the blanks as to what the cult was doing. However, rather than continue through the dungeon with the party, the man decided that, armed with a torch, he would take the party's directions back to the entrance at the bathhouse and try to get the attention of the guards.

Once the man had left, the party continued examining this room and another nearby chamber. Faust, always keen to use his Detective Vision Detect Magic spell, quickly set about trying to find anything suspicious in the room, which he did. Specifically, he found a pair of enchanted gauntlets attached to an old suit of armor, and, being the genius he always claims to be, quickly tried to grab them and stuff them into his bag.

And thus the gauntlets started moving and punched him square in the face, leading to another quick battle.

I mean, it wasn't that spectacular, but at the end, Faust recoiled in embarrassment at what had happened, and Seliph mourned the loss of some sweet looking gloves that he could have used. And that's where, IRL, we decided to call it, as it was getting late. Don't worry, there's still a lot of dungeon left and some more hostages to save.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Part 1: The Pirates Who At Least Do Some Things

Not long after Seliph found himself dragged into the thieves' problem, the four of them were summoned to meet with Captain Darmin Zodge of the Flaming Fist, currently in the midst of handling a riot consisting of refugees trying to force their way out of the currently closed city. And when I say handling, I mean literally, the guy, a large, powerful, eyepatched man was in the center of the fray throwing punches before we pulled him aside.

"Well ain't this the most sorry ragtag group o'-wait a minute, izzat you, Seliph?! What are you doing here?!"

Seliph, who had not been looking forward to this moment after previously leaving the Fist, tried to seem as professional as possible. "Hello, Captain. Seems not a lot's changed around here has it?"

"It never changes. We've got refugees tryin' to bust down the gates to get in, refugees tryin' to bust down the gates to get out, and here I am, stuck dealin' with both sides of this stupidity." He was referring to the refugee crisis Baldur's Gate was currently facing, with the destruction of the nearby city of Elturel, in which the commander of the Flaming Fist disappeared. "All the while we have this other mess to deal with that I just don't have the time or the manpower for, which is why I summoned you lot. Take care of this, and whatever thievery problem you got yourself caught up in is as good as taken care of."

Seliph raised an eyebrow, knowing that whatever was likely to pass from Zodge's mouth wouldn't be pleasant. "Right, what is it?"

"There's a cult that needs dealin' with called the Dead Three Cult. Ever heard of 'em?" Without waiting for a response, he continued, "Right, they're worshippers of three gods of death, Bane, Bhall, and Myrkul. We thought we'd dealt with 'em already but apparently some have gotten away and are continuin' their foolhardy attempt to resurrect the Dead Three. So you see, this is a problem, but it's not a problem I'm equipped to deal with right now. I want you four to investigate the cult and handle them."

"Yes, that does seem like a problem of public safety. Okay, we'll do it," Seliph replied, not aware that he was speaking directly for the others. Not like it would matter. If they refused, they were going to prison, and Seliph had little desire to go to prison or work with Zodge again. The faster this cult was taken care of, the sooner Seliph could be free from this deplorable man.

Kalista, however, realized that going off with no information would be a terrible idea. "Where are they located?" she asked.

"That we don't know, but there's an information broker we'll have you contact who might be able to suss out their location. This is the only lead we have, but we also have these." He passed a badge with the emblem of the Flaming Fist to each of the party members. "These should afford you the same privileges as regular Fist members. Please. Do not. Do anything stupid." Each pause added emphasis.

"So...who is this info broker?" Kalista asked.

"Her name is Tarina. She can be found in the Elfsong Tavern."

The party thanked Zodge and set off for the tavern. On the path to the tavern, Seliph took Kalista aside.

"What do you want?" she grumbled, wanting nothing to do with this former guard who had gotten her caught.

"'s a little awkward know I used to be a member of the Fist? Well...a lot of criminals hang out in the Elfsong Tavern. People I've probably hassled or arrested in the past. They're not gonna want to talk to me. And that's the best case scenario. I guess what I'm saying is... these are your people, so could you take the lead?"

Ammon, the DM, started laughing, saying, "Man that's super racist."

Naturally I got a little defensive. "I'm not being racist! I'm being classist! Her being a tiefling has nothing to do with this, it's about her being a thief!"

Yes, there's quite a bit of irony here considering that Seliph was born into poverty as well.

Regardless, Kalista wasn't impressed at the sudden profiling. "You could have worded that better, but I've got you big boy."

And thus was born the nickname big boy. Which is funny because I imagined Seliph as more of a beanpole. Like, he's got an athletic build, sure, but he's like 6'4. Built less like a pro wrestler and more like a pro basketball player. Well, minus being like 10 feet tall.

Entering the tavern, the party was accosted by a half-ogre bouncer. "You not cause trouble. I no help you if you do."


"Don't mind Skoona," a voice called from behind the bar. "This is exactly what I pay her for."

"Right..." the party said in unison, stepping further into the tavern, until Kalista was distracted by an empty suit of armor sitting at a table. Across the armor's chest piece was written the name Klank.

"I'm gonna knock on the chestplate!" Karin said out of character, to a chorus of, "No wait!"

A hollow clank (or klank) sound rang throughout the armor. I personally imagined the sound from the aluminum Christmas trees in A Charlie Brown Christmas special. Anyway, a voice rang out from the armor.

"Why would you do that? Why does everyone think it's appropriate to just bang on my chest like that?"

"Sorry, I didn't think anyone was in there," she said, sorry that she'd got caught.

"I'm just doing my job...what's your problem?"

"You don't see me sitting around with a weird word painted on my chest!"

"That's my name...I don't like you," the armor whined.

"I don't like you either!" Kalista shouted and stomped off.

Seliph...well...had this reaction.

Kalista muttered something under hear breath, and Seliph rolled his eyes. Kalista walked up to the bar and asked what was available.

"Normal stuff you'd expect at a tavern, I suppose," the half-elf barkeep replied.

"Give me the absolute cheapest thing you have!" Kalista said.

" mean the stuff we give to beggars to get them to leave us alone? You know we have normal ales, right?"

"Your cheapest stuff would probably say a lot about the quality of your ale overall."

The barkeep was unconvinced, but Seliph then said, "I think she's onto something. Anyone can point to a tavern or restaurant's best food and make a generalization about the place, but what about the worst?"

"But why would you willfully order the worst stuff we have to offer?"

Kalista and the barkeep went back and forth for quite a while before Seliph finally took advantage of Kalista getting distracted and said, "Just give us two of the regulars. I'll pay, keep the change as an apology for the...hassling."

He took the rest of the party's orders, surprised that Sissy refused anything alcoholic.

"You realize we don't have any of those laws here, right? You see what kinda city this is right? We could give you ale and you'd be fine."

"No, water is fine, thank you," she replied, not wanting to continue the conversation.

After some mildly awkward silence, Professor Faust asked, "By the way, we're here to meet someone. Could you perhaps let us know where Tarina is, mister...?"

"Ah, yes, you can call me Alan. Tarina can be found upstairs playing Baldur's Bones." This got Seliph's attention, as he enjoyed games of chance and strategy.

"Thank you, sir," Faust said, nodding and joining the rest of the party in walking up the stairs. In a common area on the second floor were a few tables consisting of people eating, drinking, talking, and partaking in...hands (?) of Baldur's Bones. Not sure what to call it. The way the rules are explained in-game should you wish to play it in real life, it's basically blackjack, but with dice instead of a standard deck of playing cards.

Each player rolls three six-sided dice as their first roll, then the players take turns in a clockwise motion starting from the person next to the "dealer" deciding to hit, meaning they roll an extra D6, taking as many rolls as necessary to get as close to 21 without going over.

So...I suppose you, the reader, will have to make up your mind what individual games of this would be called.

Anyway, back to the story. The party looked around the room until they saw a table with a single human woman playing Baldur's Bones against an orc and a dwarf. "That must be her," Kalista noted, and the group walked over to the table.

The woman looked up from the table. "Excellent, more people to give me their money! Come, join us for a few rounds!"

Kalista and Seliph both sat at the table, Seliph shrugging at Kalista's confused sideways glance. The oath said nothing about gambling. However, before the first roll was made, Kalista asked, "So, you're Tarina, right? The captain said we could find you here."

The table went completely silent, until Tarina muttered a curse under her breath about the captain. "Guys, would you mind giving us a few minutes? Business call, I guess. The dwarf and the orc nodded and stood up, grumbling as they walked to another table. "Okay, what do you want?"

Seliph, anxious about any possible eavesdroppers upon hearing about the captain, quickly offered, "Sorry, we thought she'd play it more cool. Captain One-Eyed D-excuse me, almost reverted to my old vocabulary. Captain Zodge is having us investigate a cult and he said you'd have some information on their hideout."

"Honey, you're gonna need to be more specific. Do you know how many cults there are in this hellhole of a city?"

"I'm sorry, to be specific it's the Dead Three Cult. I should have said the cult."

"Ah," she said, understanding. "That particular cult. Yeah, I could tell you where they are, but I'm not gonna give it up for free. I've got a bit of a favor to ask."

Ah, of course, more chores. Always more chores with these people.

"At the very least, the sooner this gets taken care of, the sooner we can actually stop whatever nonsense this cult is trying to pull," Seliph said. "Okay, what do you need?"

Tarina began explaining how she used to be a pirate for a rather famous crew. She spent many years looting before finally deciding to quit the business, but not before she stole a lot of treasure from her own crew and made herself scarce. She'd managed to stay safe and incognito in a city like Baldur's Gate for quite a long time, until recently when she'd received word that her old crew was in town, and they wanted their stuff back.

"So it's protection that you want?" Faust asked. "How long will you be needing our services?"

"Just for today. I want you to either kill 'em or scare 'em off. Don't care which. Afterwards I plan to skip town. But first of course, I'll give you the information you want." She winked.

I'm pretty sure we all thought she was going to bail on us during the fight without giving us our information, but anyway, back to the story. The party quickly formulated a plan, or at the very least they decided that they would remain in the second floor of the tavern and wait for the pirates, who more than likely would just come in through the front door rather than trying anything that might invoke the wrath of the barkeep such as property damage.

Satisfied with the fact that, worst case scenario, she had four people to serve as meatshields in case the party couldn't handle the pirates, Tarina nodded in agreement to the plan. "Since we've got a while until they show up, why don't we play a few rounds?"

Seliph and Kalista agreed, while Sissy decided to sit and watch. Faust, however, wanted to avoid spending money on gambling as much as possible and opted to head downstairs to possibly subcontract some assistance in dealing with the pirates. Specifically, he went straight to Skoona by the door.

"Excuse me Skoona but am I right to assume you like punching people?"

"Of course. Punching people is best."

"What if I paid you to punch someone who is coming to hurt Tarina?'

"No help patrons. Only help Alan."

Faust pulled a gold coin out of his pocket. "What if I gave you this?"

Skoona paused to think for a moment. "How much stew can that buy?"

"Oh, very much. Probably more than whatever Alan is currently paying you."

Skoona paused again, then shouted, "ALAN! HOW MUCH YOU PAY ME?"

Alan, surprised at the sudden outburst, quickly shouted back. "I PAY YOU ENOUGH! YOUR WAGE IS PRETTY COMPETITIVE FOR YOUR JOB!"

This is where I made a joke about tipped minimum wage. That's it.

Faust discreetly handed her the coin. "You'll know them when you see them." He then walked over to the tavern to shoot the breeze with Alan while waiting for the pirates to arrive.

As they talked, suddenly, a ghostly melody sung in Elvish floated through the tavern, saying,

O sing a song of Elturel
Of water, woods, and hill
The sun dawns on her ruddy cliffs
And fields green and still.
This land of long-abiding joy
Home of the strong and brave
Renowned by all, across the realms,
And never once a slave.

O sing a song of Elturel
When foes are at her door
Her fields torn by cloven feet
From some infernal shore.
Arise the mighty Hellriders
Take up your swift, keen swords
Then charge into the hellish fray
And scatter devil hordes.

O sing a song of Elturel
And when the night does fall
Sleep safe beneath Companion’s light
Until the dawn does call.
We’re bound by mortal covenant
That only ends with death
And so we’ll sing of Elturel
Until our final breath.

"You understood it, right?" Alan asked Faust, who responded by tugging at his own elvish features (specifically his ears).

"Yes, I am only a half-elf, but I understood the words just fine, just not what it was talking about. What was it?"

"It is an elf spirit that has haunted this tavern for a very long time. Normally it sings about its long lost lover, but this is the first time I've ever heard it sing for Elturel. Definitely the first time I've heard it talk about Hellriders."

Faust thanked Alan for the explanation, and then said, "Well, perhaps I should return upstairs to ensure that everything is okay." And with that, he returned upstairs, seating himself at a couch behind the staircase landing to get a good view of anyone sneaking up the stairs, to the annoyance of two people who were already there.

Not that he needed the tactical advantage, as before long a voice called from downstairs, "TARINA! WE KNOW YOU'RE 'ERE! BE A GOOD LI'L LASS AND COME ON OUT!"

The party drew their weapons and Seliph ran to the top of the staircase to stop them, saying, "I'm offering you a warning right now. Leave and forget about this, and things don't have to get messy."

Naturally, because these people are pirates, they responded by drawing their weapons and trying to force their way past Seliph. However, due to limited footing on the staircase it ended up turning into a one-on-one match between Seliph and the head brute, trading blow for blow while Kalista, Sissy, and Faust tried to pick off the stragglers.

However, the head brute had an advantage in strength on Seliph, getting in a few good hits by sheer brute force over Seliph's more calculated sword swings and shield blocks. Including a critical hit, in which the pirate knocked Seliph's shield aside and quickly followed up with a stab, biting deep into Seliph's shoulder through his chainmail.

Things were looking bad for the party, as Seliph was the sole line of defense and the rest of the patrons didn't look like they were helping. That is until the tide was turned by Skoona brutalizing the pirate at the bottom of the stairs. I'll spare you the details but she was much more focused on keeping the one guy down rather than knocking all the pirates out, smashing him with her fists long after he perished.

As this was going on, the party gained a tactical advantage on the pirates as Kalista finally managed to pick the one in the middle off with her shortbow. After this, Faust decided to try to trick the pirates by using the spell Prestidigitation to make some magical energy dance throughout his hand, saying, "You should leave now before it gets worse."

Naturally, it worked, and the pirates started dropping their weapons and trying to escape past Skoona, jumping over the railing of the stairs.

The brute muttered a curse about his cowardly co-conspirators and tried the same maneuver on Seliph, though this time, expecting Seliph to be tired out from the last attack, his thrust was done with much less force or finesse.

What he failed to notice, however, was that Seliph had smacked himself on the chest, using his paladin skill Lay on Hands to heal himself, and while this didn't bring him back to full strength, it reinvigorated him enough to quickly catch the first and second attacks on his shield, knocking the pirate's scimitar out of his hands and catching it as it fell in his off-hand (which probably looked ridiculous as he held it in a hand that also had a shield attached to it, but whatever, the guy rolled a 1). He then said, "Last warning. Here's your chance. Get out of here."

The brute paused for a second and then said, "All right, I'm sorry, but you tell Tarina we'll be back!" Though considering he was also running as this happened it was more of a "Team Rocket is blasting off again" moment rather than anything remotely intimidating. Though I'm more than sure he'll be back.

Once the party took some time to catch their breath, they turned to talk to Tarina, who to everyone's surprise actually stuck around. "I gave you my word. I'll tell you where the cult can be found. Several blocks northwest of here is a public bathhouse with a walled garden and frolicking nymphs carved into its front gates. Followers of the Dead Three have been seen coming and going from the bathhouse, and I’m told there’s a secret door inside that leads to a dungeon. That’s where the killers are hiding."

Seliph opened his mouth to ask another question but was interrupted by Alan stomping up the stairs. "YOU FOUR! HOW DARE YOU UNDERMINE ME BY BRIBING MY GUARD?! DO YOU KNOW WHAT MANNER OF FOOL YOU'VE MADE ME LOOK LIKE?! GET OUT OF HERE AND NEVER COME BACK!"

Tarina laughed, following the party outside. "Looks like this is my cue. I doubt we'll ever see each other again, but hopefully our paths will cross at some point. Try not to die before then!" And with that she was off, leaving the party standing awkwardly in front of a tavern they had just gotten banned from (a first in any of my campaigns!)

" much for that..." Seliph awkwardly offered, before asking, "By the way, do you guys have a place to stay in town? We should probably rest up before heading into that dungeon." The party all shook their heads, considering their previous hideout was currently under surveillance by the Fist. "I've got a place in town, you guys are more than welcome to camp there. It's not much, but it's better than the street, and I'm a better cook than most of the people who offer food to beggars."

And that's where we've left our heroes so far. Seliph with three new roommates, and all sorts of adventures to follow.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Descent Into Avernus Character Introductions and Prologue

The Se'Kai campaign has come and gone and we've since started our next campaign, which will be in the Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus prewritten module. As in, that Baldur's Gate. I like this for a couple reasons. I like prewritten modules because it does a lot of the heavy lifting for worldbuilding and scenario planning, leaving the DM with session-by-session planning and trying to make sure the players don't completely break the game. I also like this because I'm not going to be the DM. While I enjoy being the DM, I like being a player more. It's worlds less stressful, as my main responsibility is my own character, and not being obnoxious to the other players. Well, within reason. Instead, DM responsibility is being passed to Ammon, Bubbles' player. I like the fact that we can pass DM responsibilities around the group. It gives everyone a chance to play and run games that they are interested in, and everyone has such different DM'ing styles that the change of pace is quite refreshing.

Anyway, with a new campaign comes new characters and a new scenario, and we actually had what is called a Session 0 as a way of settling how the party ended up together and what's going to be happening for the first few sessions.

We'll start with my character, Seliph Lyesryn, an Aasimar paladin, which is super exciting because I've never played a paladin before. Following that will be the backstories of the other characters as written by their players.

Played by Me

Seliph was born to a single woman by the name of Elaine Lyesryn in the slums of Baldur's Gate. His father, a Nephilim by the name of Sariel, was nowhere to be found, be he alive or dead. Though Seliph had few if any memories of his father, his mother Elaine swore that he was never a bad person.

Elaine's family was not well off by any stretch, her parents having passed away years ago. She was able to support herself and her son by cooking at a local tavern. The family made do with what little they had, but one day when Seliph was a teenager, his mother fell ill. In need of a higher income to support his mother, Seliph enlisted in the Flaming Fist, an organization dedicated to law enforcement within the city. However, during his tenure with the Fist, Seliph found him strung along on grunt assignment after grunt assignment, acting as little more than a thug, forever chasing a promotion that would never come, while any pay raises he got were minimal.

However, in the hopes that things would eventually get better, Seliph pressed on without complaint, until eventually his mother's condition deteriorated and she passed away. Overcome with grief, Seliph resigned from the Fist not long after, to the chagrin of his friends, who quickly made themselves scarce, not wanting to be associated with a quitter. With no other real attachment to the city of Baldur's Gate, Seliph left.

He spent the next several years drifting as a mercenary, until by chance, he encountered a Paladin in his travels. The older man, a human by the name of Calvin Kent, took a keen interest in the young man, who he could see was weighed down by far more than someone of his age should carry. He promised that, no matter how dark things got, there was always a chance things could improve.

Seliph questioned the man further, and the man said that his oath as a paladin was the Oath of Redemption, which vested in him the responsibility to see that every life he touched was changed for the better, that evil could be redeemed, and that good would always triumph.

Seliph eventually returned to Baldur's Gate, doing various odd jobs, until a chance encounter at a bank set him on an adventure that would take him to Hell and beyond.

Played by my wife Karin

The Night They Met

Kalista was slinging one drink after another at the bar. She had had a bad day until she happened upon some easy money, which had practically fallen off the belt of a wealthy merchant as he trotted his horse down the busy city street. Now she could treat herself to her favorite medicine. The only annoying thing was a set of eyes across the room that wouldn’t go away.

Kallista was used to the stares, the whispers, “devil’s child... don’t get too close.” There weren’t many like her in this city. The humans have feared tieflings for longer than she can remember, and treated them like criminals. Is it any wonder she became a thief?

With a sigh, Kalista slammed down her current glass, and locked eyes with the man who was staring at her. He was seated at a table against the back wall, with parchment scattered around him as if he’d been working. He did not shy away from Kalista’s gaze.

Slowly, she unfurled a long pointed tongue from her lips. Her brow furrowed down to her nose. She revealed her sharp canine teeth, and let out a “HISS!”

The color drained from the man’s face and he gasped. Perfect! Just what she wanted. Kalista picked up her glass again to finish her drink.

No sooner had the ale slid into her mouth before it came spewing back out. The man was still staring! A trembling hand hovered over his heart now.

Kalista slammed the glass back down, shattering it this time, and lunged from her seat. In a drunken rage, she stumbled toward the man. Her claws hit the table while her long tail whipped his papers away.

“And what the HELL are you starin’ at!?” she spat.

He blinked and stammered for a moment. “I-I’m sorry! It’s just. You’re… you’re beautiful.”
Weeks Later

Raoul brushed Kalista’s long dark hair with his fingers. “So beautiful,” he whispered in her ear. Kalista smiled. She rested her head on a straw-filled pillow, designed to protect the bed from the stab of her ram’s horns.  “I never thought anyone would say that about me,” she admitted.

“And I never thought I’d be so lucky in love.” Raoul grinned as he pulled his lover closer. Her blood red skin seemed to shimmer like a flame in the candle light. Kalista never had a need for candles, as she could always seem to make her way in the dark. But for Raoul’s delicate blue eyes, she lit several in her room. She wanted him to see her. She wanted to hear how beautiful she was, every night since that day they met.

“Do you really mean it? That you love me?” Kalista whispered.

“Of course, my darling.” His slender fingers began to trail a delicate line down her side.

“Then I can tell my mother about us? And we can go to your home next time?”

Raoul paused. He removed his hand long enough to scratch the stubble on his chin. “I need to take care of a few things before that can happen.”

“What things?” Kalista’s golden eyes narrowed slightly.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“But Raoul. I still know hardly anything about-“

“Kalista.” He stroked her cheek softly. “I love you. We will be together every night, I promise you.”

“Raoul-.” She was interrupted when his lips met hers.
The Next Night

Kalista stayed up until sunset as had become usual. She wished her mother good night, and listened for the sound of snoring from beyond the door, then crossed the hallway to light the candles in her own room. After waiting a while, she opened up a small chest from under her bed, and looked through a collection of “scavenged” treasures. Perhaps tonight she could dazzle Raoul with a jeweled necklace across her bosom, or some crystal earrings. It was difficult to know which he would prefer. Should she wear both? Or is that trying too hard? 

She decided on none of the jewelry, considering Raoul showered her with praises of her beauty no matter what she was in. She replaced the chest under her bed, and snuck quietly outside to continue waiting. The moon and stars were out in full brightness. Raoul was usually here by now. What could be keeping him?

Panic started to creep into Kalista’s mind. Had she done something wrong? “It’s because I asked about going to his house, isn’t it? Where is his house?” She assumed it was somewhere in the same quadrant of the outer-city where she lived, considering they seemed to frequent the same bar.
Suddenly, she heard it. Screaming. Not too far away. Kalista took off running in the direction of the sound. The train of her silk night robe fluttered in the wind behind her. As she rushed down the streets, she saw movement in the distance. A large shape was moving away from the scene like a shadow. Was a mob? The screaming was coming from an old woman nearby.

“Ma’am! What’s happened?” As Kalista moved toward her, she rounded a corner where a blaze of light took over her vision. A wooden hut was in flames.

“Not the children!” The old woman wailed. “Not the children!”

Kalista froze. “There are children in there?”

 “Yes!” She sobbed. “The children shouldn’t have to die for their father’s crime!” The woman flinched suddenly, and stared at Kalista, her own eyes seeming to adjust through the tears and fiery light. “He took a whore, a demon like you!” she shouted, pointing at Kalista. Then she hurriedly hobbled away, crying all the while. “Not those poor, poor children.”

A shaky breath escaped Kalista. “No,” she told herself frantically. “No, it can’t be him. Not Raoul. No!”
The next moments happened in a blur. Her claws, breaking down the heaps barricading the door. The heat, smoke, and flames that engulfed her as she busted through the entrance. The bodies. Four of them. Huddled together there in the center of the floor, motionless. A man, woman, and two small children. Kalista grasped at the man, lifting his face from where it was nestled against the others. She saw it for only a second, before the flesh began to bubble.  Black patches singed and took over his cheeks. 

Raoul’s blue eyes and stubbly chin rolled out of her grip lifelessly as she screamed an unearthly howl.
She dragged each body out into the street, though it was far too late to save them. She fell to her knees and held the skeletal form of Raoul, which continued to burn, as the wooden hut completely collapsed behind them.

Kalista did not hear the voices of villagers in the surrounding homes, opening their windows to shout in response to her cries. She didn’t see them coming out with weapons, or feel the debris being thrown at her. Only when the tines of a pitch fork collided with her arm, did she look up to see an angry man yelling, “Demons be gone!”

It was then she saw, she was becoming surrounded. The villagers, they were blaming her. They wanted to kill her. Kalista got up, she wiped away her tears. She bore her teeth, and claws, and she fought her way out, and she ran for her life.

“I don’t know how this happened,” she thought. “But I will never let it happen again.”

Played by Joshua Johnson

Jerrod Anton Faust had always dreamed of magic. As a young boy, he saw a magical performance when a circus passed through his city. Awe and wonder filled him as he watched the magic user's display.

His father was a reasonably-wealthy merchant in town. After a great deal of pleading, Jerrod convinced his father to help fund his pursuits. While they couldn't afford private tutelage, they had enough to enroll Jerrod in a scholarly cloister. He spent much of his teenage years as a page. In between his duties, he would spend his time learning. While his focus was always on magic, he also tried to be well-rounded, studying many other disciplines and fields.

As his age and knowledge increased, so did his standing within the cloister. He began to go by 'Anton,' feeling that it better reflected his knowledge and desires. He gained many valuable insights from mentors and colleagues. And his own insights came to be valued as well.

But magic eluded him.

His studies on the mechanics of spellcasting were exhaustive. He studied every school and tradition. He sought out tutelage from wizards within the cloister. But after years of effort, his greatest magical achievement was being able to cast Prestidigitation - a string of mere parlor-tricks. His magical mentors could only conclude that Anton simply lacked 'the gift.'

But Anton refused to accept it. He delved deeper into the libraries. He experimented and researched. 

Eventually, he began a deep study of ritual magic. Its functionality with almost-no requirement of the user seemed promising. Perhaps he could overcome whatever deficiency lay within himself by relying on outside forces. And it was these studies that led him to the Tome.

Within a nearly forgotten section of the library, Anton found a book. It had no title, no entry in the catalogs, and was written in an alien tongue. A few illustrations in the pages were the only hint that it even belonged among its fellow books on rituals. But, Anton felt undeniably drawn to the Tome. Maybe this was the final secret to unravel...

His initial inquiries brought about concern and unwelcome questions from his colleagues. So Anton kept his work secret - learning the language of the Tome (deepspeech) and decoding the rituals he found within. And after several years of work, he was ready to perform the ceremony that would change everything.

Anton doesn't entirely remember everything that happened that night. Whenever he tries to remember details it feels as though his mind is on fire. But what he clearly remembers, and can never forget is that he made a deal. That night he made contact with something beyond mortal comprehension. He glimpsed behind the curtain, and something else met his gaze - Something basking in the un-light of blackened stars, feasting with insatiable hunger on the gasping final breaths of dying gods...

Anton woke in his bed the next morning. Fearing what may have happened, he removed the Tome from its hiding place in his chamber. But it had changed. It no longer contained the rituals he had studied and performed. It contained secrets within its changing texts - secrets and power. Anton could cast spells.

His powers were initially very limited. But his colleagues in the cloister were impressed. Impressed enough to grant him the title of Professor. Impressed enough to ask questions. 

Questions that Anton knew he couldn't answer - What's, Why's and How's that would expose the awful truth.

So he lied.

"It's something I'm still looking into." "The results currently contain too much unaccounted variance. I'll get back to you when I've refined the data further." "I've sent my research to colleagues in another city. I'd hate to spread my procedure before it can be independently verified."

Lies grew. Justifications withered. Other researchers were unable to replicate his results. As the tangled web of deception strained ever closer to the breaking point, Anton knew he couldn't keep it intact. So, Professor J. Anton Faust ran away.

He was supposedly seeking out "sites with appropriate properties" to "properly and definitively corroborate or disprove his findings." But it was just another lie - a desperate bid to buy time. Trapped between a truth he couldn't face and a lie he couldn't maintain, Prof. Faust wandered from place to place. He would try to set up a new life, but always moved on when his crumbling lies seemed about to catch up. And always he felt the Thing's eyes on him, and read its words and demands in his Tome.

Professor J. Anton Faust has been running for several years now. In service to himself, he has told more lies than he can number. 

In service to this alien entity, he has done many things that he regrets. But he's also seen what disobedience brings.

He knows that he is a fraud. But, he presses forward with determination. Perhaps someday, he will find a way to undo his desperate deal. Perhaps someday, he will uncover the secret that lets him take back his life. Perhaps someday, his magic will be his own.

Perhaps someday, he won't have to lie anymore.

Until then, Faust continues to study. He searches for information in the great libraries of the world. And he scours the Tome for secrets that his eldritch master may have left unhidden. His may be a desperate effort - the longest of shots. But Professor J. Anton Faust never gave up before. And he will not do so now.

Narcissa "Sissy" Delacroix, played by Brianne Anderson, is a 14-year-old girl from our world who was pulled into the Forgotten Realms by her patron as a means of escaping an abusive household. Once she found herself in the city of Baldur's Gate she eventually ended up joining with Kalista and Faust as they planned their heist to steal a certain important book from the vault in the bank of Baldur's Gate, which Faust intended to use as a bargaining chip to get into the library of Candlekeep. I'll edit this post as I get more info on Sissy, but at the moment she finds herself incredibly busy taking care of two children, so we'll take what we can get.

The plan went off almost without a hitch, until Kalista shouted something along the lines of, "That's what you get for always trying to keep tieflings down!" as they escaped from the bank, guards hot on their tails (no pun intended for Kalista's sake).

Seliph, who just happened to be passing by at the moment, thought to himself, "Something's up, maybe I should help...nah, it's the bank, the Fist has them covered, this ain't my problem anymore," as Kalista and Sissy dashed past him.

As the rest of the guards continued chasing after the two thieves, the head guard broke off to start shouting at Seliph. "What's the matter with you, you let 'em go! Look at you, you could've stopped them with one hand tied behind your back!"

Seliph glowered. "I'm just a normal citizen. If you need this taken care of, call a professional. The Fist are always looking for people to beat up. Just leave me out of it." The amount of disdain Seliph had in the one word could have poisoned a dragon.

The head guard stalked off in a huff, cursing about how "normal citizens" don't care about the hardworking people anymore, now he's got a bunch of paperwork to file and he has to talk to Captain Zodge, blah blah blah.

At the name Zodge, Seliph took a moment to reconsider his stance. If Zodge was the one who was in charge of the Flaming Fist now, that could spell trouble for anyone who got caught up in this mess. Of all the memories Seliph had of Zodge, none of them were pleasant. All of them were of a petty, power hungry brute of a man who put on a good public face but would resort to all manner of underhanded tactics to accomplish his goals.

"Maybe I better track those thieves down and talk to them. That paladin was right. Everyone deserves a second chance, and hopefully making good use of that second chance will keep as many people possible in this situation still alive."

It didn't take long to track the thieves to their hideout (one only had to follow the shouting). Seliph didn't even bother knocking, instead opting to just open the door and let himself in. What he let himself into was a panic.

Long story short, the book had disappeared, and Seliph found himself the thing that put a sudden stop to a shouting match about where it went. And, because in D&D nothing bad can happen without something worse following, a group of Flaming Fist guards had been tailing Seliph, who was now being treated as part of the heist despite having nothing to do with it. The four of them were to be taken before Captain Zodge to face judgment for this crime. And so our story begins...

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

On DM'ing and Being a Writer

It's been a few days since the last session of the Se'Kai campaign, and I've had some time to think about my experience running this campaign and how it reflects my skills as a writer and as a DM, the things I do well with, the things I don't do as well with, and what previous experiences I had as a writer.

Something not a lot of people know about me is the fact that I was actually an English major for around a year in college. I always enjoyed writing, and of all the various forms of art it's the one I always felt decently competent at, and as I've said (or at least implied) elsewhere in my posts here, I really enjoy analyzing stories and trying to find what the author might have been trying to say and how it could apply to the world of the present day.

Ah, but you're noticing that I said was, so...what happened? 

Like anything else, the answer is a bit complicated.

The main reason I swapped majors to International Studies is the fact that I was completely unsure of what I wanted to even do after college. A problem I'm still working on figuring out to be frank, but as an English major I was super unsure of what I could do with it as a career, assuming I didn't want to be an English teacher and wasn't sure if I could make it as a writer or editor.

I know that sounds rich considering how many people constantly ask me about what I'm going to do with an International Studies degree, but I get the feeling that no matter what I chose I'd have people badgering me about it in one way or another.

Another reason I quit the major is a bit more on the petty side, and in hindsight I think it was severe, untreated depression rearing its ugly head. I'd just gone through a bad breakup and was going through a bit of an identity crisis as I'd spent so much time doing things that other people asked me to or wanted me to that I didn't really feel like I was my own person, a feeling that was really exacerbated by the relationship I'd just broken up from (for clarity, she broke up with me, though to be honest it was probably going to happen eventually).

The fun thing about a depression-fueled identity crisis is the fact that it really opens you up to questioning your own talents. In my case, I started really buying into the feeling that previous teachers only passed me because they didn't want to deal with me anymore. This is something that was made worse by feeling like I just couldn't keep up with my classmates as a writer. I was failing a class taught by the head of the department, and it wasn't looking like I'd enjoy any of her other classes.

These are the kind of doubts I deal with as a writer and more recently as a DM. I've finished a handful of homebrew campaigns and one prewritten campaign, and in all of them I've felt like I've struggled with the same problems, but I feel like, for better or worse and in varying degrees, I've recognized them and started figuring out ways of dealing with them.

As I mentioned in the final part, because I tend to write things as I go, I feel like I struggle keeping focus and writing endings, and I'm not really sure how to address that. On the one hand, having a decent idea of where you want the story to go can help you plan and keep things focused throughout which minimizes filler time, but it could also sacrifice worldbuilding, or you could get what happened with Game of Thrones where the plot outpaces the logic of the story, or as a more family-friendly comparison, How I Met Your Mother where the ending feels unnatural given plot developments that were written after the ending was already filmed.

This was a problem I had with my Curse of Strahd campaign as well as the Se'Kai campaign to a lesser extent, where I feel like my swap from mid-story worldbuilding to endgame wasn't the most graceful, though in both cases I noticed that the story tended to work out better if I took a more reactive role to the storytelling and let my players do the heavy lifting (what, you thought it would occur to me that they'd spare most of the imperial fleet and use the admiral as a Trojan Horse? Foolish reader).

I guess that's the primary difference that I didn't seem to grasp in the other campaigns I've run (which could have been troublesome in this campaign as well). As the DM, it's everyone else's story just as much as it is your own. You may be more or less omnipotent, but that doesn't deprive your players of agency, which has positives and negatives. It can be difficult to predict what ridiculous stuff the party will pull out of thin air, but at the same time, you don't have to make their decisions for them. Even if the multiple choices you give them lead to a similar outcome, they'll still probably come up with something you didn't (or couldn't) expect.

I've rambled quite a bit here, so what's my main takeaway. I feel like I could structure my campaigns better. Some improv is necessary, but expecting to BS each session could become troublesome quickly (though considering Doncaster became so important when it was just a throwaway city for a sidequest, I got lucky).

I didn't talk about this before but I want to be better with individual characters. I introduced a lot of characters in Se'Kai but I feel like they just kind of came and went without really serving much purpose besides having people in the background. For the life of me I couldn't tell you what a lot of characters' personality traits were (heck, I wouldn't even have names for half of them if Karin didn't ask their name so often).

Hopefully nailing down character traits is something I can do in the next campaign while I'm not a DM. Stay tuned for A Paladin and 3 Criminals' Descent into Madness, otherwise known as our version of Descent into Avernus. Prologue/character profile post comin' down the pipe.