This past Sunday was the first proper session of the new campaign. And like any good campaign, already my PCs have done something I was not expecting.
Before I get into what happened, though, I should probably introduce the PCs.
Edborth is the leader of the party and the captain of the ship. Edborth is a half-orc Savant (a third-party combat class based around intelligence) and he fights with a pair of whips. Somewhat ironically for someone so skilled with the whip as a weapon, he does not allow corporal punishment on his ship. He’s trained in navigation and cartography.
Guillermo is the already-infamous “swarm of crickets” PC that I brought up during our discussion with Sarah in episode 162. Created through an unexpected magical effect of another bard’s music, Guillermo is a bard as well. The swarm goes disguised most of the time and appears to be a nondescript human in most cases.
Snow is a dreamlands cat (sapient housecat) that is obsessed with flan and is also bonded to Edborth. A formidable sorcerer and as sneaky as cats usually are, he stays out of the fray and buffs Edborth most of the time in combat and puts his feline senses and stealth to good use the rest of the time.
Faysal is a high-elf warlock and also a complete goofball. His player has already come up with a wonderful, distinctive voice for him, and his goofy, overconfident, and reckless antics have already produced significant entertainment for the rest of the group. Despite his buffoonery, he’s a formidable individual in a fight, as you’d expect from a hexblade.
Meshe is a human Feywalker, another third-party melee class. We haven’t seen too much of him so far due to life stuff on the part of his player, but he’s a good-hearted ex-con who has been assigned to Edborth’s ship as an alternative sentence for some crimes he committed back on the mainland.
Praxithar isn’t a PC, exactly, but he stood in for one. Praxithar is dragonborn Preserver – an immortal statue-person who serves an ancient, extradimensional fortress dedicated to protection and preservation. He’s a super-tanky fighter and was just the thing to hand to Meshe’s character as a substitute PC. Due to the events of the first session, he may be with the PCs for a bit longer than I expected, though.
The First Mission
The PCs started the session by meeting their new boss, Admiram Zarim, a human in his early seventies and the commander of the explorer-privateers in the Shengalvan archipelago and his granddaughter Amaya, a late-twenties imperial agent, boxer, and paladin. Between the two of them, they explained that a recent addition to the empire, the island of Zarq, had reported an ancient stone obelisk having suddenly lit up one night, and the locals wanted it investigated. Faysal made a comically-ineffective attempt at flirting with Amaya on the way out, and they headed for their first mission.
What their superiors had neglected to mention to them was that the island of Zarq was primarily populated by goblins whose primary cultural trait seemed to be “happy exuberance.” The goblins plied them with baked goods, curiously prodded Praxithar, and excitedly lead the party through their vibrantly-colored town to a hill outside where the obelisk sat. The party made some truly spectacular knowledge rolls and I actually had to make up more information about the obelisk than I’d given myself in my notes, just so I felt like I wasn’t cheating them. The obelisk was part of a set of nine that acted as a multipart “lock” on an ancient prison for something called “the lord of fire and thorns.” It also was scribed in draconic, had an effect that kept trees from growing within 20′ of it, and provided a map to the other sites.
Having determined that the obelisk was not in and of itself a threat, but also realizing that it pointed to something that likely was one, they elected to chase the lead rather than heading back to base and reporting in. However, they also decided to resupply where they were and when Faysal discovered pastries made with extremely sour, bioluminescent green berries, it touched off a bunch of fun in the moment and set up some running gags.
On the way to the central island, they sailed past an island with another of the obelisks, but this one was pulsing instead of glowing steadily. They took a detour to investigate and quickly discovered that the pulsing was essentially a “this site is unsafe” warning when they were ambushed by a rot troll. After slaying the troll, the pulsing stopped and they discovered the partial remains of a Vanorax scouting and expeditionary force that had also run into the troll, but had not fared as well.
At this point, I tried again to signpost that it might be a good idea to head back to base and report their findings, mentioning that they didn’t have charts for this area. The reason for this was there was a piece of information that I wanted them to have that they didn’t – namely that the island was inhabited by people who had repeatedly rejected the Stelavorn empire’s offer of membership and policy required that their neutrality be respected.
They elected to forge ahead anyway, and Edborth’s player continued to roll high, so instead of having a superior tell them that they were to maintain a low profile, neutralize the threat, and get out, I just had Praxithar notify Edborth that the island had maintained its neutrality pretty adamantly and let him decide from there.
That opened the adventure up to additional possibilities that I hadn’t planned for, though I didn’t realize to what extent at the time.
The PCs started sailing around the island, looking for a place to enter the island itself and discovered a small Vanorax ship anchored off the coast, with a rowboat sitting on the shore. The slipped back around a corner and sent their own party ashore.
And that was when my prep went out the window.
Guillermo and Snow decided to scout ahead, being the two stealthiest characters in the party, and Snow picked up the natives by smell. Rather than giving the native a wide berth like I expected them to, they posed as being shipwrecked and approached the natives, then described two more party members (Praxithar and Faysal) accurately. So now two of the PCs are cooling their heels in the native city, and the remaining four are in the jungle, unaware that native scouts are going to be looking for them. And, oh yeah, the Vanorax away party is still out there somewhere.
I’ve got my prep work cut out for me, but I love these unexpected turns, even if they do stump me in the moment.
Next week is going to be interesting, to say the least.