We started a new adventure last night, Kingdom of Ghouls, part of the Orcus series of adventures. I know, I know, we’re a couple of years late. I love the fresh new feeling we get whenever we move from one adventure to the next. I lovingly stow away my last adventure, and get busy prepping for the new one. The players have a new look at their characters (I allow a complete retrain between adventures) or even start up a whole new PC. Steve took that opportunity this time, saying goodbye to Xantos the shadar kai swordmage, and bringing in Oracle the human paladin of the Raven Queen. That’s the third defender he’s tried now. I think he loves the hit points.
Dan’s character Raelthos had spent his time shopping in the 7 Pillared Hall, and come back with all new full finger jewellery (of destruction). Claire and Julio had kept it simple and just levelled up, still content with their characters. (and why wouldn’t they be? 24th level wizard and rogue respectively, full of awesome)
This adventure gave us all our first taste of Sigil, the City of Doors. The opening session is usually pretty roleplay heavy, and this was no exception. I had plenty of plots, hooks and locations ready to roll, but I wanted the players input on the whole experience. To facilitate that I opened up the narration to the guys. First up I checked in with Stevie to see how his character had been introduced to the group. He had a cool backstory about his character being an acolyte of the Raven Queen, a Raven Knight well on the way to becoming a fully fledged Sorrowsworn. His old character had taken a lot of punishment in the previous adventure (Death’s Reach) so was sitting this one out in the hospice. Ace.
We picked up where we’d left off; the Ashen Covenant, led by Elder Aranthum the lich warlord, had escaped Death’s Reach with the remains of Timesius the Blackstar, an ancient and potent primordial. Their goal was to get this fella back to their boss, Orcus, to further his scheme to usurp the Raven Queen as the God of Death. You can tell by the amount of Capital letters I’m using how much of the D&D world we’ve been exposed to recently. Raelthos had been following some leads on Vecna’s plans and they’d pretty much come up blank, so the party needed somewhere to start. The Raven Queen suggested Sigil, and the party took her up on her offer of a linked portal to that very place.
I’d prepped some images and got the flavour working straight away. I concentrated on all the senses, not just what they could see on arrival. Before too long they found themselves in the Night Markets of the Grand Bazarre. I played on the sheer number of goods for offer and the exotic nature of the market’s patrons
A group streetwise check got us underway. The party decided to head for the local shrine to the RQ to see what they could learn, and so I improvised the Lane of 1001 Deities and Demigods for them to peruse. I then handed the narration over to Steve, saying “What does the shrine look like? You tell me?”
He was up to the challenge and told us all about how 3 was the holy number of the RQ and so the shrine had 3 entrances, capped by three skulls, and three fingerbones beneath each. Awesome. I then cracked open my deck of Friends and Foes, a set of 52 cards showing head portraits of various fantasy characters. I asked Steve to take three at random, and explain who they were as they would be in the shrine at that moment.
We got a female tiefling-like devil, a young female armoured cleric, and a smiling blonde girl. Ok. The devil and the acolyte would be in a heated discussion, and the girl would in fact be a pixie delivering a package. I didn’t yet know what was in it.
Steve’s character faced up to the devil girl and told her to get lost in no uncertain terms. One successful intimidate roll and she vanished in a puff of brimstone. Meanwhile Kallista was busy signing for the pixie’d package. The package was a long shallow box wrapped in a black ribbon, stamped with an eagle. It also had a small black envelope containing a card (yet to be revealed). Raelthos noticed the approach of a trio of Dabus, and hurried Kallista along.
Oracle consulted with the acolyte who was happy to lead him to the rear of the shrine to a curtained off area that led to what looked like a magician’s cabinet. She told the party to hurry as time was of the essence. Before the Dabus could attend to the party they leapt behind the curtain and experienced the nature of Sigil’s portals first hand.
Kallista found herself stepping out of a confessional booth in a silent and empty cathedral made of white marble. At the top of a dais she saw a golden statue, of herself. Tapestries arrayed around the walls told the story of the goddess Kallista and her adventures as a mortal. Glass cases contained relics of her life, all her wands and journals kept for posterity. As she realised she had visited her own far future an angel appeared and pledged it’s allegiance to her. Kallista’s future self had sent an ally to her past self to protect her in her darkest hour. Cool.
Meanwhile the rest of the party had arrived through the doors of an old fire damaged warehouse. I gave rough dimensions to the guys and handed over my set of city tiles. They built the battlemat for the encounter to their own improvised design. I placed Elder Aranthum, his cultists and his summoned Balor on the table and we rolled initiative. Battle commenced!
What I really like about this session was the way we all bought into the narrative. Where I could I offered the party the chance to colour in the details. When the pace slowed, I made up some stuff to give them decision points. At every step we were all engaged with our characters and our shared world. Exploring, and inventing, as we went along. That’s what we play for.