I am not certain whether or not Pangold and Olwe shared their ideas about methodically usurping power in Kharschum and eventually taking over the city, but the rest of the party seems to be of the same mind. Last night, Bathcat, the brutal and much-feared leader of the Severed Hand was overthrown by a gnome, a dwarf, a half-elf ranger, a northman, a druid, and a sorceress, who call themselves "The Eight" spared Bathcat, on the condition that he furnish them with a 5,000 gps upfront payment and half of his earnings, which average 6,000 gps per week. It would be an understatement to say that the campaign has taken a very interesting turn.
The evening began with the party casting about for opportunities. The characters first discovered that a young woman named Granya, daughter of a wealthy merchant and slave trader named Jochi, had ventured into the Eastern City the night before and gone missing. Jochi was offering a 12,000 gps award for his daughter's safe return, and city guardsmen, in their signature chainmail shirts and hooded, brown tunics, were combing the area around the Red Light District for clues. Several other girls had also disappeared, but they were poor girls of the Eastern City, and the guard cared little about them. The characters were only mildly interested in mounting an investigation and rescue, so they went to Garrad's Tavern, which fronts the Rogues' Guild, to see if the guild had heard of any opportunities. Garrad did not let them down. He told Kyr that Bathcat and three of his henchmen had visited the Gossamer Veil, the most exclusive brothel in the city, the night before. Bathcat only visits that brothel after a big score, so it was likely, Garrad explained, that Bathcat was sitting on a substantial sum of money. After some discussion, the party decided to investigate Bathcat's stronghold, which they learned was north of the Shantytown in a place called the Dockyard Slum.
After finding their way through the shanty town's labyrinth of shanties and filthy alleyways, the characters arrived at the Dockyard Slum, a neighborhood comprised of decrepit boats permanently anchored in a stagnant backwater of the river, interconnected by crooked, uneven docks. The party headed toward a source of light and noise, which turned out to be Grick's Place, a tavern improvised from two two boats lashed together, and run by none other than Grick, a surprisingly affable, full-blooded orc. Alayna and Kyr disguised themselves and spent some time at Gricks, where they learned that Grick, along with every other business owner on the northern fringe of the city, pays "protection" to Bathcat each week. The party decided to offer Grick their protection for half price, and Grick tentatively agreed. Bathcat's captain would be at Grick's Place at noon the following day to collect his weekly payment, Grick explained, and helpfully pointed out an abandoned boat in which the party could spend the night.
Bathcat's captain arrived on schedule, accompanied by two thugs. The party easily took the captain and one of the thugs down and captured the third. Kyr Tuttlewynde, with the help of Alayna's Greater Invisibility spell, was especially deadly with his sneak attack, and once again highlighted the effectiveness of pairing stealth with magic. After beating the thug nearly senseless, the characters sent a note to Bathcat, instructing him to meet them in front of Silks and Sundries that evening.
Bathcat arrived on time, with a veritable army of thugs, but the party had chosen its terrain carefully, and the narrow streets and limited access to Silks and Sundries essentially negated Bathcat's advantage in numbers. Erth's Spike Growth spell and Alayna's Ray of Enfeeblement crippled the Severed Hand further, and bathcat soon fell, alive but sorely wounded. The party presented its conditions and he accepted, thus beginning a strange new chapter in the campaign.
After the battle with the severed Hand, the party followed up on the disappearance of Granya. They were given a tip that a rogue named Nizar had been seen near the site of one of the abductions The party found Nizar in his apartment, which he shared with a dozen or so other people, and a Suggestion spell persuaded him to reveal that he had been paid to kidnap girls for Shivani, who led a cult of some kind. Nizar directed the party to the cult's lair, which he said was camouflaged by an illusion. The party went where he directed, but could see only an empty, ruined building. They returned the next day and saw, with the help of Hrolff's True Seeing spell, that the ruined building was instead an intact compound, with bricked up windows and a set of imposing wooden doors. Unsure of how to proceed, the party paused, and the players decided to call it a night.
Thank you for yet another great night of gaming. I loved the curve balls that you threw at me, and enjoyed improvising and adapting as we went along. It was a lot of fun. I apologize for my f*#k up with Bathcat's vorpal sword. Ulfgar's head and neck are intact, and he does not lose a level, because there was no need to resurrect him. I'm sorry my mistake knocked him out of combat.
After defeating Bathcat and his crew, Inakai and Kier decided to join forces more diligently with the Rogue's Guild. They will act as scouts for the guild, and will report any possible business ventures to the guild, and their own adventuring party. They will, of course, save the more worthwhile propositions for "The 8", but may not accompany the party on such ventures. "Range on, and we will catch up with you on the distant morrow."
I'm sooo looking forward to gaming this Saturday night. I'm not sure if we selected a place, though. Our house is always available, but we may have the kids stay at Matt's mom's, which means we could travel. Does anyone have a preference?
The sun rises over the eastern horizon, bathing the ramshackle waddle buildings and wooden tenements of eastern Kharschum in a soft golden light. From atop the tower of Ogodie, his new home, Hrolff surveys the scene spread out beneath him. Far below, the city comes to life, and Hrolff’s ears catch the sound of early morning traffic and commerce. The beggars are taking up their stations by favored corners. Merchants and vendors open their stalls and lay out their wares. To the north, a slave ship rides the early tide from the harbor to the delta, its sails shining in the sunrise like the wings of some mighty seabird.
Hrolff has come up here to pray, to make his morning homage to Thor.
As his habit when performing this morning ritual, he completely removes his clothes, neatly folds them, and stands naked in the morning air, still tinged as it is with night’s chill. He flexes his muscles and stretches, wincing a bit. Though it has been several days since he was laid low by Ogodei’s horrid ice magic, he can still feel its lingering after-effects deep in his bones and joints. The cold had been awful, even to one such as him in whose veins thrums the blood of Frost Giants. It was like being seized in a fist of knives that squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. He winces remembering the terror of it, the sickening weakness of his body slumping, the crackling sound as ice rimed across his flesh, the desperation of his lungs filling with hoarfrost, the side of his face striking and freezing to the stone floor. Blackness had rolled over him, a wave of black ice.
The next thing he remembers is waking to see Erth kneeling over him, making gestures of healing magic in the air. His companions told him that he had been unconscious for more than a day. Hrolff knew nothing of what had happened in the empty space, though he woke with vague, half-formed memories, dreams of Thor’s Great Hall, Bilskimir. A great roaring fire blazed, flanked by dozens of warriors clad in bright ring mail and polished byrnies that gleamed in the reddish light. They had turned and hailed him, raising spear, axe, and flagon. Hrolff had grinned, knowing he had fallen in battle, trying to aid his comrades. There is no better way to die.
One enormous warrior stepped apart from the rest. His helm bore rams horns that curved backward in a majestic sweep. His gleaming ring mail coat hung to his knees. In one hand he carried a greatsword of black steel, it edges faintly flickering and warping the air with unseen power. In the other, he held an axe that bore sacred runes of authority. At his feet knelt a blonde serving wench, large breasted, achingly curvaceous, and naked but for a wisp of silk twisted about her hips. The warrior’s face was mostly shadow beneath his helm, but his eyes blazed darkly in the ruddy light. The figure had raised his weapons overhead and spoke in a voice, deep and cold as the roots of mountains:
“Hail Hrolff born in the folk-lands of Northgaard Hail with dagger, longsword and byrnie long Hail with ring-decked helmet and sharp hewing sword Hail with horses well broken in this hallowed land. Welcome Hrolff. Welcome home.”
Inakai, the daughter of the deep, had pulled him back, or so he had been told. He has no idea what art she used to unthaw him, but Hrolff is grateful. He is glad to be back. To join ranks of the valorous is an honor to be sure, but he feels there is still much to be done in this current reality. Aye, he owes a deep debt of gratitude to the sea elf. She is a good comrade to have at ones side. He knew that for certain the night that the two of them had done battle alone with the renegade Frost Giant in the ruins of the Cathedral on Tigalda Island. She had stood her ground even as their foe had hurled boulders about her skull. The brute had laughed, thinking her an easy foe, but her twanging bow had sung songs of death that night, while the snow fell softly around them.
Hrolff breaths deeply of the morning air, pleasantly fresh at this early hour and, at this height, pleasantly free of the stink of the street. It was a good idea to take possession of this tower and use it as a base. Great evil has been committed here, but Hrolff is not overly superstitious. As long as no witching charms or death magicks remain in effect, they should have little to fear.
He stands naked in the morning sun, the honey colored light flowing across his muscles and the network of scars that lace his body. He spreads his arms wide, closes his eyes, and tilts his head back, savoring the moment. It is not a bad morning to pray, though stormy weather is better. The breeze stirs his hair. Its coolness feels good on his body and genitals, and the sensation turns his thoughts toward carnal matters. Thus Hrolff stands naked at the precipice, high above the street far below, reveling in the deliciousness of his growing tumescence.
His mighty erection stands rampant, rising above the city like a new tower taking its rightful place among the handy-works of man, like the sword of some fierce and avenging angel, like an exclamation point to future deeds yet to be accomplished.
Ah yes, he is glad to still be alive. Perhaps when the sun is higher, he will head into the red light district and buy the services of a whore. Maybe two. But first he has the morning prayers to attend to.
The evening began where we left off last session: on the third level of Ogodei's tower, in the room where you had fought and vanquished two mohrgs. After taking stock of your resources, you ascended to the fourth level of the tower, and found yourself in a room similar to the one below, but with three sets of spiral stairs, one red one black, and one white, each ending at a locked door on the next floor. When the locks did not yield to Kyr's pick, Pangold broke down the door at the top of the white stair, triggering a chain lightning trap which arced down the stairs and wounded most of the characters. The door opened onto a stone wall. Left with little recourse except to risk another trap, Ulfgar broke down the door at the top of the red stairs, which fortunately opened into a library, where you found a create undead scroll and a chalice on a table.
You proceeded to the next level, which was hung with a massive tapestry depicting a gruesome battle scene, and accented with the corpse of a woman who was hung from the ceiling in an angel-like pose. Two suits of full plate armor flanked the stairs to the next level. Each suit of armor was a swordwraith, and as you entered the room, they attacked, initiating what turned out to be one of the most memorable, and easily the most desperate, battle that has ever been fought in the Drowned World.
As the party engaged the swordwraiths, Ogodei, who had cast a Greater Invisibility spell on himself, began to hammer the party with offensive spells from his perch on the stairs. When both Inakai and Hrolff went down, the party decided to retreat to the level below, but Ogodei cast a Wall of Ice spell which trapped Olwe in the room with the two unconscious characters and the one remaining swordwraith. With the help of Erth and Ulfgar, Olwe managed to chop a hole through the wall and flee, but the icy cold that lingered took his few remaining hit points and he fell to the floor, unconscious.
As Ogodei's spells continued to rain down, the party reentered the room, and as Erth healed Hrolff, who in turn healed Inakai and several others, Ulfgar charged up the stairway, in hopes of finding the invisible wizard, but was grievously wounded by two of Ogodei's Scorching Rays seconds after brushing past him. Erth conjured a cloud of fog to provide cover for the party, and Alayna, who had cast Greater Invisibility on herself, managed to wound the necromancer, who had moved down into the room, with her fiery, draconic breath. Ogodei retaliated with a Cone of Cold spell that took down both Erth and Hrolff, who had only just regained consciousness and would have died had Inakai not stabilized him on her first attempt.
With the necromancer somewhere in the room, the party moved up the stairs into what appeared to be a bedchamber. Ogodei pursued, but the party suddenly switched tactics and Alayna, speaking on behalf of the party, offered to stand down and join him. Ogodei seemed to buy the bluff, because he became visible and began questioning the party. Pangold took advantage of this, and mercilessly cut the wizard down, ending what may have been the longest 63 seconds I have ever known.
You rested in the tower until everyone was back to full strength, and then ventured out to seek information on the Mirror of Life Trapping you had found beneath Ogodei's bed. You met with Amira again, and led her to believe that you had not yet procured the mirror in order to get some additional information out of her. Because of her reticence and the DM's somewhat groggy state of mind, you learned little, so you headed to the Magic District, where you hoped to research the mirror at the Library of Oyugun. It turned out that the Magic District is a demi-plane that is reached through a crooked lintel beneath the Coliseum Bridge. You passed through the portal and found yourselves on a narrow, tidy street lined with shops. You easily found the library, and with the help of the librarians, you learned a great deal of technical information about the mirror, as well as some interesting history that I did not disclose last night. The mirror belonged to the Kipchaks, who used it against their enemies. It disappeared when the keep fell, and had not resurfaced at the time the book was written. The book speculates that the mirror may imprison an ancient warrior named Dochin the Bloody, who was a lieutenant of a warlord named Bataar the Heartless, who is best known for the brutal, scorched earth campaigns he carried out against the dwarves in nearby Kha'atia.
I would like to make a minor adjustment to the experience point totals I gave you last evening. because I generated Ogodei using the heroic array for ability scores, he was actually a CR 11 rather than a CR 10. Therefore, 8th level characters should add 300 XP, and 7th level characters should add 263 XP. The new totals, in case you haven't added them yet, are 2,888 XP for 7th level PCs and 2,300 XP for 8th level PCs.
[The following is general information about Kharschum that your characters would be able to glean from casual conversations with NPCs during your first few days in the city.]
Kharschum is, in many ways, two distinct cities, each of which has its own identity and power structure. The Western City, with its tidy shops and elegant villas, is where most of the wealth and power in Kharschum resides. The Eastern City, with its narrow, filthy streets and sprawling shantytowns, is where most of the humanity of Kharschum resides. Though the residents of the Western City sometimes pretend that the Eastern City does not exist, they are nonetheless willing to take advantage of whatever opportunities it might offer. Likewise, though few denizens of the Eastern City can ever hope to afford even the most modest home on the western side of the river, many scheme endlessly to accomplish just that.
Kharschum is ruled by an administrative body known as the Council of Three, which exercises tight control over the Western City and occasionally projects its power into the Eastern City, though for the most part, the Council seems content to leave the Eastern City to its own devices. The Council's three members are known and feared throughout Kharschum: Chiledu, Khan of the fearsome Khatagin Clan, who enriched himself through hundreds of military victories across the war-ravaged countryside; Irina, governess of the Slavers' Guild and scion of one of Kharschum's most prominent families; and Bataar, an elegant, middle-aged man about whom little is known. Chiledu commands the City Guard, many of whom are his clansmen, and most of whom are said to be less concerned with maintaining order than with fattening their purses. The Slavers' Guild maintains its own guard, easily distinguished by its scarlet tunic, which Irina exercises control over. Bataar's power base is unknown, though there is much speculation.
Though the Council of Three holds much of the city's political power, the various guilds enjoy a great deal of economic power, with which they subtly influence the city's affairs. Not surprisingly, the Slavers' Guild is most prominent, though the Merchants' Guild, the Sailors' Guild, and the Mercenaries' Guild have considerable influence, as they play pivotal roles in the city's commerce and defense. The remaining guilds, of which there are dozens, have little political or economic influence, and mainly serve to advance the interests of their members.
The Eastern City is controlled by three gangs which impose a crude, exploitative order on their territories, whenever they are not warring openly with each other. The Severed Hand, named for its favorite method of persuasion, is led by a notorious thug named Bathcat, and controls the shantytowns and dockyard slum on the city's southern fringe. The Red Nails, led by the reclusive Ophidia, controls most of the old city south of the Coliseum District, while Roknar's Fist maintains a precarious balance of power with the Mercenaries' Guild in the Coliseum and Theatre Districts.
Religion plays an important, if secondary, role in the city's affairs. The Church of Wee Jas is ascendant, though recently a rift has opened among the goddess' worshippers. The dominant sect, the Church of the Ruby Goddess, emphasizes law and domination, and claims most of Kharschum's influential citizens as its members. However, a new sect, the Disciples of the Quietus, which emphasizes magic and death, has recently begun to gain influence. Its clerics rail against the politically entrenched Church of the Ruby Goddess, and claim to follow the pure aspect Wee Jas. The Church of the Ruby Goddess ruthlessly suppresses the Disciples of the Quietus, but the new movement has gained so many followers that it threatens to gain dominance and upset the precarious power structure of the city.
Temples to other deities are scattered throughout the city, though none are nearly as influential as the Church of the Ruby Goddess or the Disciples of the Quietus. Of these, the Temple of Olidamarra is famous for its bacchanalian revels, while the Iron Tower of Vecna is infamous for what is rumored to happen within its rusted, monolithic walls. Many of the fighters and mercenaries who frequent the Coliseum District worship at the Temple of Kord, located near the Coliseum Market, while the city's goblinoid residents worship at the Temple of Maglubiyet in the Hobgoblin Ghetto.
There are other organizations in Kharschum which people seem to know little about, or fear to speak of openly. An organization known only as the Unseen Eye operates in the Western City, though few people seem to know whether it is an individual, a criminal organization of some sort, or something far more sinister. There is an Assassins' Guild somewhere in the city, but only those with both money and an unspeakable need ever seek it out. An underground organization called the Shadow of Pelor operates throughout the city, spiriting slaves to freedom.
You will certainly come into contact with some of these figures and organizations as you seek your fortunes in Kharschum. Know these things well, and tread carefully.
Knowing that we'll be playing on Friday makes this week seem so much brighter than the last few. I almost feel as if I've emerged from the Windswept Depths of Pandemonium onto the Plains of Elysium. Heather and I are happy to host on Friday, unless someone else either needs or wants to do so. We'll get a few pizzas for dinner.