Hearts of Stone, Episode 1: Inn Trouble

Posted: 21 September 2016 in Hearts of Stone
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It’s the evening before the Caravan of Two Lanterns departs Old Town bound for Concord, and the PCs are gathered in The Cauldron, a caravanserai inn on the outskirts of Old Town which is one of the few with ceilings high enough for humans – Old Town is dominated by halflings. As is natural over ale and food, those who will be companions for a few days exchange the usual questions; who are you, why are you going to Concord, that kind of thing.

The Fox is a well-dressed human, clearly of some breeding, and carrying two rapiers. He explains that he is an agent of the Archmage, travelling on Imperial business. He further states that Ssh’ta, the wood elf archer, asked him to tell “Dave” that he isn’t dead, he’s just fed up of high elves and wants some time to himself.

Soreth says, “I’m a dragonborn. What are YOU gonna do about it?” She orders a raw steak, and shortly begins berating the waiters. “How long does it take to cook a raw steak, eh?”

Kowalski mumbles that he is a dwarf, wanted by dwarven police due to a misunderstanding over the ownership of some axes, and he finds it convenient to travel for a while.

“Dave”, who is actually a female dark elf, identifies herself cheerfully and says she is travelling with her companion, Casila. Casila says nothing, but looks withdrawn, brooding and somewhat the worse for wear, shrinking away from “Dave” a little but nonetheless sitting with her.

Hayes, who wandered into the kitchen for a while and returns munching on something, says that he doesn’t know who he is, who they are, where he is or what he’s doing there, or why he has a ticket to Concord. By his tone and mannerisms he clearly has a lot of repressed anger. X7-09 introduces itself as a construct following Hayes, who it has tentatively designated its new master. “Master repairs X7-09,” it states, although Hayes shows no sign of remembering this.

The innkeeper informs them that there are three others booked on the caravan, but he has been told not to expect them tonight. He confirms the Fox’s information on Ssh’ta, and goes on to say that Boris has been arrested – he doesn’t know the details – and a very good-looking lady bard, whose name he doesn’t know, is trying to persuade the sheriff and the plaintiffs to drop the charges.

At this point, screams are heard from outside, and the party grabs its weapons and charges out, “Dave” telling Casila to stay put. Emerging into the late afternoon, they find themselves facing the stables and a squad of drow spider cavalry who are on the stable roof and charge down into the courtyard, leaving three of their number on the roof. The party shakes out into a rough skirmish line and prepares to receive the charge.

A short, furious melee erupts. Ordinary drow cavalrymen in leather with spears are, it turns out, no match for tooled-up adventurers, even when riding giant spiders. Initially, Hayes shield-bashes a charging spider, forcing its rider to fall forward across its head. X7-09 seems hesitant at first, but hacks doughtily away, and follows Hayes when he breaks contact and moves around the drow’s right flank. “Dave” moves up the stairs outside the inn to get a better line of sight, calling something in drow – the assailants ignore her – and shooting her bow at the rooftop officers. Soreth is bitten by a spider, but shrugs off the poison, and hits it so hard that chitin and ichor splatter all over Kowalski, killing it outright. Kowalski fails to hit the spider in front of him, which is not being at all co-operative. The Fox, meanwhile, taunts the spearman who missed him: “My grandmother can handle a spear better than that!”

Hayes lines up on the rearmost drow and charges to shield-bash that one too; it staggers backwards, trips over a dead spider, and hurtles towards Kowalski, who barely manages to dodge this unusal incoming missile. Hayes then orders X7-09 up onto the roof to seize one of the drow officers and bring her to him; it obeys, runs to the stable wall, and scrambles up it. The Fox runs his opponent through with a devastating thrust. “Dave” moves up adjacent to that duel on the inn roof, and fires down into the drow’s spider, skewering it; unfortunately it is flattened to the ground, and Soreth’s mighty sweep misses it as a result. The stable-roof drow gang up on X7-09, but fail to inflict any damage on it.

“Is that a longsword?” Hayes wonders aloud, glancing at the fight on the roof. “They’re worth a bit, they are.”

By this point only one drow, and no spiders, are left alive in the courtyard; one of the three officers on the roof barks an order, and they start to fall back. As the survivor in the courtyard turns to run, he is hacked down by Kowalski and Soreth, despite cries from Hayes to take him alive for interrogation. X7-09 manages to push one of the withdrawing officers off the stable roof; she rolls with the impact with the parapet, but is severely injured and winded by the fall; things only get worse when Hayes runs up and jumps on her in a vertical shield bash. He quickly disarms her and hands the weapons to X7-09, then ties her up. “Dave” considers a called shot to the drow’s head, but instead opts to run down the stairs and charge her, screaming something in drow. The Fox tries to trip her and misses, Kowalski tries a rugby tackle and misses, but X7-09 steps forward and grabs her, hoisting the struggling drow off the ground while Hayes berates and threatens her.

Taking advantage of the confusion, their prisoner – bound hand and foot and much the worse for wear – crawls off into the stables, looking for something to cut herself free with, and planning to escape up the ladder to the roof and away. Unfortunately Hayes notices and follows her into the stables. No-one can see what happens next, but the sound is much like a very large bar of soap in a sock hitting flesh.

The party gazes around them, panting in the setting sun. They have possession of the field of battle, a dozen or so mixed drow and giant spider corpses, and an unconscious drow prisoner. Someone says, “Shouldn’t we check on Casila?” – and all eyes turn towards the inn door.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

This was an unusual session for me because my usual groups are happy to share info on their character sheets, and these players prefer to keep that to themselves. Since at least one occasionally reads the blog, I am limiting the report to what all PCs would know – there was a lot of secret in-game chat, or “whispering” as Roll20 calls it.

You may recognise Casila, and if so you probably know what major villain I’m building the story arc around; no spoilers in the comments please!

I raided my hard drive for counters and maps, and set those up in advance; that paid off handsomely. Actually, I spent so much time preparing Roll20 during the week (including changing the starting adventure at the last minute to fit in with the PCs’ icon relationships and uniques) that a few minutes before the session start I realised I’d forgotten to prepare the caravan. No matter, a quick rummage through the hard drive later the Caravan of Two Lanterns emerges from my Beasts & Barbarians stash. A caravan is a caravan, right? After some thought of how to introduce the party to each other and explain why they’re travelling together, I challenged the players to do it: Your character is in Old Town and travelling to Concord – why? You’ve seen their answers above.

LESSONS LEARNED

Roll20 works very well indeed, especially with a tech-savvy group. This looks likely to be a regular weekly session, which will be great but will mean that reviews and solo games move onto the back burner for a while.

I spent some time trying to add various NPCs and monsters into Roll20’s Journal, until I realised that isn’t necessary because their statblocks are so simple; this session I ran just with the basic die roller and tokens, and next time I will have a dummy PC called “GM” with token macros for rolls that have a wild die; I considered setting up macros for damage dice as well, but really, how hard is it to type “/r 2d6!”? For some reason the giant spiders weren’t very giant, next time I will create one, resize by hand, and clone it. It’s tempting to go nuts adding handouts, NPCs and monsters, but let’s see how far we get without first; less is more.

As usual, I forgot to award several bennies when they were deserved, and I also spent too much time looking up PC stats – a short cheat sheet is needed, which experience tells me needs their Charisma modifier, Parry, Toughness, and Hindrances.

Giant spiders aren’t something I’ve used much in the past, so I don’t think I played them very well tactically. No matter, plenty more where they came from…

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Comments
  1. Charles F. Blakely says:

    For caravan adventures there is always the GURPS (the generic universal roleplaying rules precursor to Savage Worlds) Caravan to Ein Arris, found in most of the versions of the GURPS rules, as well as on Warehouse 23.

    Drow and Giant Spiders? Sounds very D&D to me! Regardless, it sounds like a rousing adventure. Sometimes a completely different group helps to infuse the gamemaster with ideas and motivation. Enjoy!

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