Latest session of Post Tenebras Lux last night. I was scrambling during the afternoon to prep, because I discovered that my updated adventure notes were on a computer that I did not have access to at that time – I had forgotten to e-mail them to myself. That meant I had to try and rebuild the information from memory in a couple of hours.
Now, the encounters weren’t too difficult to pull together, but I had notes on things that could happen in each little village the party passed through on their journey down to the Thornwaste to check out the rumours of the returned Ghostlord. I also had extensive notes on the nomad tribes of the Thornwaste, with political factions and character notes for important nomads and, I dunno, names and stuff, most of which I just couldn’t recall off the top of my head.
I was able to pull together a few things, though. The characters decided not to go directly to the Thornwaste, but to detour up to Vraath Keep to speak to the original Heroes of Brindol who destroyed the Ghostlord a dozen years previously. This gave one of the new players a chance to bring some of her background into play, as she had written up that she was the daughter of one of the Heroes of Brindol and had been trained by another. We had a bit of nice roleplaying there, with some insight into Jaks’s character and history, as well as getting details of the destruction of the Ghostlord.
When they headed down to the Thornwaste after that, they made some History and Insight rolls to see if they knew anything about the tribes in the area. As is becoming usual with this group, they aced the knowledge rolls, and learned about the three main nomad tribes:
- The Grass Dragons, a tribe of human nomads who breed and raise drakes.
- The Blood Hawks, a tribe of halflings who train birds to aid them in hunting, scouting, and combat.
- The Stone Swimmers, a tribe of goliaths who have domesticated a number of land sharks.
The also got an idea of the territories each tribe claimed, and some insight into the nomad culture – somewhat isolationist and xenophobic, with a strong warrior culture, given to raiding each other and nearby farms, but also willing to trade from time to time. With this information, the group decided to speak with the Grass Dragons, the nearest tribe, to try and get more information.
Now, I had been going back and forth on how to do this – the skill challenge rules certainly work well for this sort of thing, but when I use them explicitly in my games, it always seems kind of jarring, like a move away from roleplaying to a very gamist system. I wanted the discussions with the tribes to be more fluid and natural for the players, so I decided not to use my normal method for skill challenges.
What I did was play the chieftain of the Grass Dragons as an older man, a traditionalist, a strong leader, but very resistant to change. Also, given that the situation involved a newly-arrived tribe of gnolls camping around the Ghostlord’s tower and stealing the children of the tribes for conversion into undead slaves, I decided that he felt helpless and angry, ready to lash out at anyone who stepped wrong.
And then I just ran it as a roleplaying encounter. Well, mostly. Secretly, it was a skill challenge, but I never told anyone that. For the most part, I just let the party talk, and replied as the chieftain would. When one of the party members said or did something that had the potential of winning some support from the tribe, I asked them to make a roll on whatever persuasive skill seemed most appropriate at the time and kept track of successes, describing the reaction of the tribe.
They got off to a bit of a rough start, what with the chieftain being especially prickly, and not very receptive to these outsiders coming into his lands and telling him that he needed to abandon the traditional ways of his people to unite with the other nomad tribes if they wanted to be able to drive out the Dog Ghost tribe – what they called the gnolls. A couple of missteps got interpreted as being threatening or insulting, and only backpedaling and apologizing, along with the intervention of the tribes shaman, got things settled down enough for the chieftain to agree to meet with the other tribal chiefs if they could be persuaded.
The information the party gained was that hundreds of gnolls were camped around the Ghostlord’s tower, and that they were sending out raiding and culling parties against all the tribes. No one tribe was strong enough to stand up to them, and the nomads were faced with the choice of leaving the area again or being killed off.
The party decided to go have a look at the Dog Ghost territory on their way down to the Stone Swimmer tribe, both to see what sort of force they were up against, and to try and get some trophies to lend weight to their words when they spoke to the other tribes. To oblige them and start showing some of the complications that await their investigation, I gave them a combat encounter with a Dog Ghost culling party.
In addition to the two gnoll huntmasters and four gnoll minions, I threw in two witherlings from the MM2, describing them as mummified children with dog skulls where their heads should be, in order to show the type of nastiness the gnolls were getting up to. Leading them all was an oni devourer disguised as a gnoll, which came as a bit of a shock to the players, and I think has a couple of them asking questions about what’s actually going on here. The whole encounter came to 1,250 xp, which is a level 5 encounter for 6 players.
So, now the party has the following information:
- Lights have been seen in the Ghostlord’s tower.
- The nomad tribes have been raiding farther afield. Some of this might be the action of the gnolls.
- A large army of gnolls has encamped around the Ghostlord’s tower.
- When the Heroes of Brindol destroyed the Ghostlord and his power sources, they split the Pool of Rebirth before breaking it’s connection to the Heart of the Lion, causing the enchanted waters to spill into the ground of the Thornwaste before rendering it powerless.
- The gnolls are creating undead servants.
- There was at least one oni involved, leading a party of gnolls.
This has got them thinking and making guesses about what’s actually going on. It’s also getting them a little worried.
Which I like.
All in all, despite the fact that I didn’t have my complete notes for the session, the game went pretty well, and everyone seemed to have fun. I’m looking forward to the next session.