Red runs the first session of her D&D campaign, introducing characters to her story and her main quest-giver, Dracholt Court Mage Alpharius Marcon.
I figure it bears repeating, but I am going to be writing in a bit less of the flowery, episodic short-story fashion that I was before since I am now the DM and have a lot of campaign work to get through as well. I am not sure if this is a mistake or not, but I guess we will just have to find out.
Cast of Characters
Goliath Paladin – Red’s Husband
Lawful Neutral Paladin of Devotion tied strongly to Goliaths’ tendencies for meritocracy. Thinks magic is cheating and has a personality loosely based on Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation.
Human (Silver Draconic) Sorcerer –Anndelle
Human Life-Domain Cleric of Isis – Anndelle’s sister
Cleric that left the temples of a highly magic-based culture – or what remains of it – after getting bored with her basic duties and recieving a vision from her goddess about a different way to serve and then assuming the flyer was what Isis had intended.
Nick “Pyro” / “Gandra Nox”
Human (Gold Draconic) Sorcerer – Tyrone (older teen girl)
Vigilante-type that masquerades as a Dragonborn-esque creature “Gandra Nox” in order to keep himself safe.
Kobold Warlock – Mort/Blackwold (new DM candidate)
Peddler of fallacies and miracle cures that found a dragon’s scale while helping dig out sewers under Dracholt. Now proclaims the wisdom of the Blood Dragons in loud, Born-again Evangelical style.
Tabashi Rogue – lady with a baby
Dwarven Fighter – Hazudra (Mau’s husband)
Half-Elf Rogue – new player Red’s friends knew
Dracholt, the center of commerce on the continent of Iugair, is a city magnificent and ramshackle all at once. Great towers of black marble, unlike anything worked or mined for eons, rise far above the landscape; however, these parapets are riddled with subpar patchwork – a thatched roof here, badly warped planks there. The best repairs, only peeking from the largest center monoliths, are carefully placed and mortared stoneworks, although the grey of the rock stands out harshly against what may as well be black glass.
Beneath the shadow of these towers, the city is bustling with all manner of folk. A Tiefling merchant surrounded by cages full of bizarre and magnificent creatures touts their wondrous properties and abilities as pets and familiars alike. A human woman herds five boisterous children away from the fruit merchants, the baskets of vegetables and breads in her arms keeping her just enough off-kilter to allow the little ones to run amok. An old gnomish man in robes shouts from atop his cart full of odds and ends about the benefits of healing potions, curing poultices, and protection charms.
Still, beneath the hustle and bustle, there are whispers that the king’s court mage has finally gone off the deep end. The peasants say he has been talking about some miraculous way to bring “True Magic” back into the world – whatever that may be – and that doing so will somehow improve everyone’s lives dramatically. Yet the whispers say he has found this information in some strange book from eons past, in a barely decipherable language from a long dead culture. Nothing from a source so alien could possibly be so helpful the whispers imply, but the court mage is so sure of his findings that he sent out flyers to every corner of the continent. There has to be something behind his ideas for him to put that much stock into it – much more to offer such a large reward.
Players all arrive in Dracholt, the largest and most diverse city on the continent. They are following flyers that came to their homes and were spread all across the continent at the behest of Court Mage Alpharius Marcon, who serves the king of Dracholt. As they enter the city, they are met by the sight of a number of strange people. A kobold selling miracle cures shouts from one street corner. A cleric from an island almost no one knows about bickers with said kobold once he begins spouting “the great wisdom of the ancient blood dragons.” A sullen Goliath growls at the bizarre number of mages that he – for some reason – finds himself surrounded by.
Magic-users are few and far between, and those that do exist perform glorified parlor tricks at best. Thus, he is convinced that magic is cheating; it is an unfair advantage that a few use to circumvent the hard work they would have needed to get as far as they had.
Amusingly, the group did little in the way of introducing themselves to each other and instead argued their way up the streets to the central keep in which the court mage resided. After asking one of the busy servants and being told to go find the “crazy person with all the books,” they wander to the one open door along the hall, the small room inside full of masses of handwritten paper notes, ancient manuscripts, and shelving. There is barely enough space for the tiny bed in the corner, and the young, 20-something mage inside is a whirlwind of research and note taking, sifting through the piles of paper to cross-reference the book he appears to be translating.
Caught off guard when the party asks about his flyers, Alpharius originally is reserved, certain they are there to just make fun of him like the rest of the people that have come before, but he quickly is overjoyed that they actually want to help. He tells them that a few years ago someone brought him this old manuscript, and he has been working on translating it ever since. It tells of an ancient ceremony that separated True Magic from the world, and that, if the seven artifacts used to perform the ceremony could be found, he could reverse it. He shows the party a picture of a strange orb covered in runes that he states is made of the same strange black glass-marble the city is made of and says that they can heighten magical abilities extremely and that, only two months prior, there was a sign that someone had found one of these artifacts.
A great bolt of blood red lightning came from the earth somewhere to the north of Dracholt – he does not know where exactly since he has never been more than ten minutes outside the city walls – and he wants the party to go investigate. Since the stuff he is talking about is a bit vague and what he found is clearly based on what are assumably myths and legends, the party interrogates him about his intentions and what he knows.
He speaks of the necropolis beneath the city – Crux, having helped dig some of the city’s sewers confirms that this place exists although it is considered to be incredibly dangerous – and how there seven ley lines intersect. Each of the seven spherical artifacts has a receptor there, and there are written accounts of the artifacts from other sources, clearly confirming that they do actually exist. However, the party is uncertain if they can trust the mage. He does his best to assure them that he really does want to make the world better, but eventually gets flustered and decides to show them his real motivation.
Bundling up a basket of food, Alpharius sets off back down the main road of the city, leading the party all the way back past the market they entered through and into the low-town slums. Here, he picks out a very specific house, ramshackle and leaning to one side. He tells them that he grew up here and that his mother – who is out working – still lives here. In truth, Alpharius could care less about the people up in the beautiful keep of Dracholt because they have no idea how hard it is. They have so many things gifted to them, and they have never had to suffer. He is determined to make the lives of the common people better – because he used to be one. He was lucky that he had the talent and drive to become the Court Mage; anyone else dealt the same cards would have not had such a great life. Still, the “True Magic” that was cut off from the world is not just magic – it is life energy, it is the spirit world. Without it, the spirits grow ever angrier and the lands wilt and die. The people that have enough might not notice, but those barely able to get by are being slowly consumed by the harsh reality.
Most of the party agrees to take up the quest; the few that are really only there for the money agree after asking if he has any way to pay them. Alpharius asserts that he gets a monthly allowance from the king, but since he spends a lot of it caring for his mother, that he has already gone through what money he had this month.
On the way out of town, the party hears screaming and, upon ivestigation, finds swarms of insects chasing a hobo out of the sewers. They easily dispatch the bugs, and the hobo, very thankful to be alive, hugs Nefertiri. Aldin finds a bag of a little money and some food that got dropped by someone running away. A few ask the hobo if he has travelled very far in the sewers, and he asserts that he would never dare to. He only just gets under the overhang to keep the rain off, and if swarms of insects that could kill him are lurking just a few feet in, he wants nothing to do with the horrors that might be farther in.
Resuming their travels, the party makes it about three miles out of town before the sun begins to set and they must make camp. They choose a copse of trees, and McFadin volunteers to take first watch. Unfortunately, he seems to be dozing off at the most important moment, and four bandits sneak into camp to rummage through the party’s things. One of the bandits, though, makes a little too much noise near Crux and wakes him, the kobold lashing out with a powerful spell that sends the bandit sprawling.
The noise from the exchange wakes up the rest of the group, prompting the bandit leader to fire his prepared crossbow into McFadin. In the commotion, Mau startled one of the bandits into running away after dropping the coin purse he had scrounged, Crux finished off the one he had sent sprawling, and the rest of the party did enough damage to the third to prompt him to run off. The leader, meanwhile, got tackled by Paladin Aldin, who demanded to know exactly why they were there stealing things. The bandit leader asserted the party looked like they had some money, so the Paladin decided to punish him according to typical medieval justice – thieves lose a hand.
As Aldin heated up his dagger in preparation, the rest of the party asserts that he should not. Crux attempts to convince the bandit to repent and see the true guiding light of the ancient dragons, reducing the poor peasant to a blubbering mess. Although a bit annoyed, Aldin concedes to not cutting off the bandit’s hand. Still, he asserts that the thief must be physically marked, so he removes the crossbow bolt McFadin had shot at the leader and cauterizes the wound left in the bandit’s shoulder. After that, he lets the poor sod run off.
McFadin, returning to his post on watch, falls down into a little rotten hollow in a tree as he goes to sit up against it. A poke at his back turns out to be a cache of some coin, some food, a few bottles of wine, and two gallons of ale.
Although how new most of my players are shows through every once in a while, I am looking forward to running this story with them. It is refreshing to finally have a party that seems to actually want to follow my quest hooks instead of actively subverting them with metagame knowledge. They have even already proven that they are willing to go along with circumstances even if they as players are relatively certain it is a trap.
Amusingly, most everyone seemed wary of Alpharius, and although I have done my best to portray him as one of the kindest and most trustworthy people in any of my games, he appears to really not come across that way. I am not sure if this will be remedied by more time spent with him, or if I just have to accept that players will naturally assume every quest-giver is out to get them.