These two sessions have been some of the most gratifying I have had as a Referee in a very long time. The campaign seems to have turned a corner — I feel like the world that my players and I have been playing with has come alive and into focus in a way that it hasn't before. And all of this because of a few rolls on some random tables (a wilderness encounter and available scrolls and potions).
After spending several days in Trisagia shopping and spending money on a variety of items that are unavailable in Headwaters and making arrangements with a traveling carnival to come and give the citizens of Headwaters a number of hard earned days of fun, the party headed back north to their home base. This journey requires crossing the very wide and deep Dark River. This was never much of an issue, because a sturdy stone bridge that has spanned the waterway since the first days of the colonies has always been part of the journey. However, this time, the party found the bridge destroyed by several large boulders. In the place of the bridge there now was a ferryman and his boat demanding a toll.
The characters also noticed that flying patrol above the bridge were some mounted giant eagles and that there was an unnatural cloud formation some distance away. Hamlen tried to insist that the ferryman was trespassing on his road, but found that conversation with it was limited to whether or not he was going to pay the toll. A quick Detect Evil spell suggested that the thing wasn't human. Reluctantly, the party chose to pay the toll rather than endangering the carnival caravan they had in tow.
Once well past the river, Hamlen personally payed the carnival to guarantee that they would stay an extra week (so that he could enjoy the festivities himself). The party then set off to rid "Hamlen's Road" of this new menace.
The subsequent battle was quite harrowing because it was the first time that party was subject to an organized mass charge by an opponent. Had it not been for Kavella (the NPC magic user) and her Wand of Fear, the battle might have gone much worse. The riders (as well as the ferryman) ended up being undead, similar to those employed by the Yellow Lady. This added a sense of urgency to find the source of these creatures.
Using their spyglass, they determined that the unnatural cloud formation was actually some kind of castle in the sky. Using one of their newly purchased potions, they flew up to the castle to investigate. What they found was the lair of a cloud giant in disrepair and neglect. Creatively using a variety of magic items, scrolls and spells they managed to figure out that the resident cloud giant had been possessed. After freeing him and his children, the party set off to hunt down the evil magic user responsible.
The battle itself was brief. Hamlen had in his possession an Arrow of Magic-User Slaying which he managed to hit the evil magic user with. She proceeded to explode, leaving nothing behind but her golden mask. This moment was the only downer of these two sessions for me — I felt guilty for not killing off Hamlen, believe it or not, and thus cheapening the victory. The initiative resulted in simultaneous actions and the magic-user had time to get off one last spell. I knew that she could fry Hamlen with a Lightning Bolt and most probably end his days (he was sitting with 15hp at that point in time); however, the party was spread out over two rooms (a nasty magical trap forced half the party to hold back, lest the trap kill them) and she couldn't target more than one character. Had she known she was going to die, she would have done so, but she didn't. Thus, her last gasp was merely a Web spell.
The players then proceeded to befriend the cloud giant who rewarded them with items from his treasury. He also gave them a ride back to Headwaters and the characters became the highlight of the carnival with a grand entrance on the back of giant eagles from a floating castle. The sessions ended on this high note.
The reason I was so gratified by these two sessions was for a number of reasons. The random cloud giant encounter became a catalyst for several seeds that I have randomly thrown about to come to fruition — a fruition that would not have happened without the party making something more out of what I had planted.
- "Hamlen's Road": Hamlen's player has taken interest in making sure the trade route between Headeaters and Trisagia remain open and safe. He has lead to party to patrol the road on several occasions and has cleared to road of dangers more than once. This is the first time, however, that he has claimed this territory as his own. The end-game of D&D is coming into focus.
- Hornet: What began as a simple +1 short sword has developed into an entire backstory that Ahkmed's player is now eager to clarify. In order to make the item unique, I gave it a bit of a curse — save vs. spells in order to refrain from killing goblins that happen to be within sight. Then Ahkmed "gave himself over to the sword" and suddenly the thing had a personality. Then Ahkmed failed to rid himself of the sword (a series of failed saving throws while in Trisagia), and the sword, sensing that if it didn't act, it would end up being merely a +1 sword again acted. Ahkmed has had visions of an elfin maid ("Hornet" in Elfish) who has offered to him help in his various quests. He now has limited access to elvish abilities and is done trying to get rid of the sword. We now have established that elvish swords somehow are imbued with the soul? spirit? essence? of an elf. More to come…
- The Cloud Giant: His treasure trove had several elvish items (randomly determined), thus indicating some type of relationship with the elves, who "come from the south."
- Golden Masks: After encountering a number of evil magic users wearing golden masks, the party is now determined to find out exactly who they are. One of the items they found hidden among the magic users stash was a book written in an ancient tongue, with more than a passing similarity to the tattoos that cover the magic user's bodies. Getting the thing translated is high on their priority list.
- Fame and Fortune: With the grand entrance at the carnival, the party has solidified their status among the peoples of Headwaters. NPCs that have attached themselves to the party have been treated extraordinarily well (if they survive) and this has established the reason for the attraction of followers during the end game. Headwaters is becoming famous, a place to do trade and is prospering because of the direct action of the party.
- Dwarven Reproduction: The party is still interested in "making a dwarf." Although inspired by James Maliszewski's Dwarves, Ahkmed's player has taken the concept in his own unique direction (Dwarves are neuters, for example). Again, more to come...
When I started this campaign, all I really had was a couple of maps and a sketchy idea as to what the world was like. The interactive creativity of our group has produced something I never would have come up with on my own — and certainly nothing this satisfying.