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May 21st, 2012

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09:07 pm - Exile Empire - Calm Before the Storm
Three weeks after the last session, we got back together for a new session of our 4th ed D&D game. Seriously, that's almost exactly like a regular timetable! It can't last, I know, but we took advantage of the alignment of the stars to reshuffle the plot hooks, work out some plans and foreshadow like a motherfucker.

Come, join us behind the cut.

Most of the adventurers regrouping at the Tharashk Refinery after the Emerald Claw's attack. Kaddik tells the House leaders all he can about the events in Zantashk and the makeshift treaty he developed with the drow, before heading to the Harbour to get information and pick up some tools sequestered by Marik. Spark communes with Shinra and obtains some alchemical weapons and supplies. Caleb hides a magical scrying sensor in the Viceroy's office (but not very well), leaving an unconscious administrator behind him. And Rufus goes shopping for an impressive new waistcoat.

Meanwhile, Ash and Slaine make their way through the marketplace, where terrified citizens scurry from place to place, certain that another Storm Hammer terror attack is coming. Ash explains that he is a follower of the Blood of Vol who overheard a plot to attack the adventurers at the dock, and came to their aid because it was the right thing to do. His demonic appearance nonetheless terrifies the locals, and when they reach the Golden Wing Inn, Slaine's genasi ally Janda-Shen nearly attacks him, believing him to be a servant of the infernal City of Brass that she recently escaped. As they talk things over, Slaine checks on her ailing master; a wound he suffered in the Mournland now leaks a dead-grey mist, possibly connected to the fell taint creatures tamed by the Storm Hammers. Hoping for divine aid, she and Ash go to the local temple of the Sovereign Host, but are disappointed to find them a money-hungry sect that will do nothing for her without an impossibly large payment.

During the night, a pair of villains meet in an underground lair - the White Raven, commander of the Emerald Claw, and the necromancer Whisper, leader of an assassin cult called the Shrouds. Speaking over the stolen and preserved body of Alarich, stolen weeks before by the Claw, the Raven tells Whisper that his forces have been decimated by the adventurers that seek to find the missing corpse - which must be prevented so that it can be reanimated as the Impure Prince, leader of the armies of evil, as according to prophecy. Whisper proposes that her Shrouds steal an ancient helm from Von Ruthvek's Emporium, which can be used to trap Alarich's soul and prevent him from being raised back to mortal life. At the same time, the Emerald Claw will raid the Keep of the Silver Flame to obtain enough sacred incense for the reanimation ritual.

Come the morning, all of the adventurers reconvene at the Refinery to meet with Marik and Kurn. Before they begin, Ash explains his background, and Caleb claims that he got drunk after the battle and accidentally punched out the aide (rather than admit that he planted a sensor on behalf of Jaris Cantar and the Aurum). Kurn cedes the floor to Steeljack, leader of the Iron Watch, and the warforged commander fills them in on the events of the past two weeks while questioning them on their previous battles with the Storm Hammers. The gang has turned into a terrorist cadre armed with foul magic and fouler beasts, intent on unleashing chaos without purpose and bringing the Mourning to Stormreach; their tactics are everything from and killing sprees to convincing a throng of citizens in the markets to commit mass suicide. Marik explains that the fell taint creatures they use are knots of Mournland energy that have gained an alien sentience; they feed upon the thoughts of the living to grow stronger and spawn. Their nature leaves them vulnerable to psychic attack, though, and since several of the adventurers command psychic magic, they can do more than the Iron Watch. Steeljack attempts to learn more, but the meeting is interrupted by a burst of mental static from Shinra - and from the similar docent in Steeljack's chest. Before the two ancient items can push their bearers into conflict, the warforged quickly leaves, but warns Spark that he will return.

In the aftermath of that incident, Rufus leads the adventurers to the refinery's cells to interrogate their captive, the leader of the Claw war party. The warrior refuses to answer questions, but Rufus manages to provoke him into blurting out important details - the coming of the Impure Prince, the prophecy that marks his coming and the ritual that will be enacted in five days' time. Knowing that prophecy is involved, the adventurers decide to go ask experts on the topic. Caleb, Spark and Rufus go to ask Valexa Von Ruthvek, antiquities dealer, while Kaddik, Ash and Slaine go to ask the sages of the Silver Flame.

Just as was foretold...

Yes, it's another session with no combat but lots of plot and a modicum of character development. I wanted some downtime to help ease Ash into the PC mix, put together all the Storm Hammer info that I'd been promising, set up the Emerald Claw as the next threat on the horizon and generally give the players a chance to bounce off each other. It went pretty well, on the whole.

I kicked things off with the Whisper/White Raven meeting; this was a cutscene acted out by fengshuiguy andbarrington, improvising from loose notes I gave them. It was a really fun scene and they did a great job! Afterwards, I said to the players that by the end of the session their characters needed to be at either the Silver Flame Keep or Von Ruthvek's Emporium, but that it was up to them to come up with reasons. That's a technique innocent_man talked about on his journal recently and I thought it might work here - and lo and behold, it did. Pretty happy with that.

Something else I had in mind for the session was giving the players a chance to spend some of their cash on useful magic items, and I went so far as to print up a 5-page list of possible options. Pretty much the only thing they bought? Healing potions. A couple of them bought a few other alchemical aids, but no-one wanted to drop 4-500 on a magic item. That tells me a few things, one of which is that most 4th ed magic items are kind of boring; another is that the players maybe don't feel like taking the helm on the choice of items and tools. That's fine; I'll try putting more items and less cash into the rewards mix and see if that works out. 

Finally, I can't help noticing that the campaign has drifted significantly from the 'player-driven urban toybox' idea I started with. Now, with the multiple subplots, bad guy groups, foreshadowing, remarkable coincidences and action coming to the PCs, it's a lot more like Claremont-era X-Men comics - or, more precisely, the 20-odd years of superhero RPGs and campaigns that have been solidly embedded in that style of plot development. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, since the players still seem to be having a good time; it's just interesting to see how my GM instincts have won out over my intentions. (And it's amusing that it happens after dipping my toe into the new Marvel Heroic RPG, which deliberately eschews that Claremontian style to focus on self-contained linear events, ala modern Marvel comics.)

Next time - parallel action scenes! Uncertain exposition! The return of Mister Sinister!

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