Pawns of Destiny, Episode 14: Atop the Crystal Tower

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“In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by the great log fires, and they tell a tale…” – Noggin the Nog

They tell how a band of heroes looted the Earthenware Pyramid of Gilaska, and thereby offended Etu the Crocodile Goddess. They tell how those heroes rescued a fair maiden from savages in the Borderlands, and how they burned part of the Great Library of Syranthia to destroy a greater evil. They tell of the Spider Queen, and the Serpent Priestess, and how the heroes killed them both, and thus made amends with Etu. They tell how the heroes met an Amazon pirate captain, and helped her steal the Eye of the Night from its fiendish winged guardians. They tell of the Shadows over Ekul, and how the heroes destroyed the Black Monastery, reunited lovers torn apart, and sparked a feud between the Valk and a city-state of southern Ekul that smoulders yet.

I have told you how those heroes traveled north to Jalizar, City of Thieves, and rescued the wife of Lord Crumbal from a fiendish wolf-man, whose lair they battled past giant spiders to despoil. I have told you how they ventured into the Sewers of Jalizar, and what they found there, and how they slew Vetranis the Apothecary and entered the service of the snake sorceress, Jazarah.

Alas, Vetranis was under the protection of the Thieves’ Guild, and it was then that Jutarkos Six-Fingers, Master of the Thieves’ Guild, ordered them to hunt down and slay whoever had killed Vetranis without his permission…

Sending a Message

The Pawns dealt with the initial problem quickly, arranging for small valuables from Vetranis’ house to appear in pawnshops known to be used by the Jan Tong. Ash explained to Jutarkos Six-Fingers that probably neither the body nor proof would ever be found, but it looked like the work of the Tong. While the Guild ordered reprisals against the Tong, Jutarkos had a special mission for the Pawns; they must steal a relic from the Church of the Universal Eye, without the Church realising there had been a theft.

The Church of the Eye

As there was no apparent deadline, the Pawns invested heavily in reconnaissance; the session lasted five hours, and they spent three of those gathering information and making (and discarding) plans; posing as worshippers to case the joint, breaking in after dark to scope the place out, talking with their ally the snake sorceress and so on.

My favourite plan was the one which involved throwing live tortoises from ground level into the Church through a trapdoor on the roof, aiming them precisely so that they would strike ropes inside the building and alert the guards. I wasn’t clear what they thought would happen after that, but full marks for lateral thinking. Sadly, this plan was voted down, and at length they selected a more pedestrian plan, with contingencies, which seemed quite promising; it involved sugar sand, shards of broken glass, using the puppet power on a guard and barrier on the relic in a complex conjuring trick which would spirit the relic out of the building while making it look as if the actual relic had fallen, caught fire, and then shattered as a punishment from the gods for… well, something, the priests probably knew what they’d done wrong even if the party didn’t.

I have never seen so many critical failures in one session; all of their cunning contingency plans failed one after the other due to the caprice of the dice, and in the end they gave up and abseiled into the church from the roof by night, slaughtered the priests while they slept, and made off with the loot, arguing that since all the priests were dead, none of them realised their relic was missing and they had fulfilled the letter of the contract.

That was when the relic’s supernatural guardians activated, chasing the party through the alleys and over the rooftops of Jalizar. I was especially pleased with the way the players interacted with the battlemat to make the chase more interesting; there was a lot of parkour going on, coupled with push attacks to knock their pursuers off roofs. I really ought to use the actual chase rules at some point, but this is a group which works better with concrete ideas such as figures and battlemats than with the abstract concepts of a Savage Worlds chase. Nothing wrong with that.

Disposing of the relic earned them three cryptic visions relating to the overall story arc – yes, there is one of those now, they wanted one – and when they took the relic to the agreed dead letter box and hid to see who turned up, their luck did not improve; the fellow sent to retrieve the relic for the anonymous patron rolled a 25 on Notice and spotted all six of them, shooing five away before engaging the sage in a protracted conversation which is not going to do anybody any good.

And there the session closed.

GM Notes

I had plans for future campaigns, involving The Dracula Dossier and The Pirates of Drinax; but what most of my remaining players actually want to play is Beasts & Barbarians, and frankly there are worse ways to spend a weekend afternoon.

This was one of the short scenarios from Lankhmar – Savage Tales of the Thieves’ Guild, to ease us back into the setting and the rules after an 18 month hiatus, and modified to make it a little harder for the Pawns (who are now mostly Legendary rank) and feed them some clues about the overall story arc. As this group is especially resistant to being railroaded, I offered them a choice of three scenarios and went with the one they picked. Here you see the trick to dealing with Legendary characters; give them a problem which challenges the players’ skills, not the characters’. I also used an unrelated picaresque scenario to nudge them gently towards the main arc, by adding a couple of visions and reskinning some of the NPCs; this gives the illusion that it’s all part of some larger plot that I worked out in advance, but actually what’s going on is I give them a clue in each session, and as they piece them together they will work out what they’re supposed to do.

Of course, they will almost certainly do something different at that point, but so long as we’re all having fun, that doesn’t matter.

Action cards don’t work well for this particular table, so we used the WFRP3 initiative mechanic of agility checks to generate slots which can be freely traded from round to round; that didn’t really work, but the combat was a chase in which it made more sense for the lead character (the one with the loot) to go first and then everyone else to react to him. It’s promising enough to try again, but I can see this group discarding initiative altogether sometime soon.

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