Wow. I’m falling behind on the posts. Sorry, folks. I’ll try and catch up before Christmas.
We opened this last session of Storm Point with our heroes brainstorming what they wanted to do about Channah, the gang boss who thought it was a good idea to demand protection money from the party. There were some suggestions, but the group was really lacking information about how things worked in Belys. In the end, they decided to spend some time trying to figure out how the Belysian underworld was organized.
Full disclosure time. One of the proposals on the table was that the group find an enemy gang and get them to pay the group to wipe out Channah and turn his territory over to the other gang. I didn’t like that idea for one simple reason: it turns the heroes of Storm Point into petty thugs and enforcers in the big city. Now, part of what I want to do with this phase of the game ((The early Paragon Tier, that is. Maybe levels 11-13.)) is to show the characters as being in a much bigger pond than they’re used to – they are the heroes of a little fishing town out in the middle of nowhere, and now they’re in the big city, playing with the big boys. But I didn’t want to completely invalidate their hard-won heroic status, and turn them into villains ((Arguments can be made about anti-heroes and shades of grey and how most of the group is Unaligned and yadda-yadda-yadda. Y’know what? Don’t care. If you get one gang boss to pay you to kill another one and give him the dead boss’s territory, you’re not heroes. You’re assassins. And that’s not what I want this game to be.)).
Given that desire on my part, I structured the underworld ((On the fly, as part of a skill challenge to gather information.)) in such a way that getting one gang leader to pay to kill another was not going to happen. I had already decided that the city was ruled by a cabal of genasi noble families ((Just a quick note for those of you who read this post. While the first part of what I wrote about Belys there is accurate, the secret I list is not. What, you think I’m stupid enough to put a secret from an ongoing campaign where my players might see it? Don’t answer.)), each of whom controlled a different section of the city. Within their own city ward, the noble family has pretty much absolute power, and is fiercely territorial. Thus, any incursion from another city ward – even by unsanctioned criminals – would be met with devastating force. No crime boss wants to risk attracting that kind of animosity.
I didn’t want to just close off avenues of action, though. I wanted to let the players know that, as long as they kept things fairly quiet and didn’t harm any civilians or attract official attention, the powers-that-be would turn a blind eye to them. After all, the nobles don’t much care if someone kills a gang leader, as long as no one is trying to usurp the noble prerogative.
So, in the end, the group decided to wait for the next visit from one of Channah’s men, and try and get a meeting with Channah himself, whereupon they would proceed with their standard negotiation tactics ((“Get ’em!”)). They didn’t expect the bag man ((Bag half-orc, in this case.)) to agree, so they posted the ranger and the monk on the rooftops to follow him back to the hideout that the group had so far been unable to locate.
It almost went the way they wanted. The bag man had an escort of ogres and a troll, and didn’t seem impressed with the threats the group made, nor with their demands. After all, they were in his city now, and were just country bumpkins from some no-name fishing village over the mountains. So, when they refused to give him the money, and demanded to meet with Channah, he refused. He gave them one last chance to pay, then nodded sadly, and dropped something in the kitchen well and walked out.
I cheated a bit here, and one of the players almost called me on it, but restrained himself ((Thanks, Erik! I appreciate the trust.)). What I wanted to do was completely wrong-foot the group to show them they weren’t dealing with Jemmy Fish and his halfling pickpockets back in Storm Point. So, I didn’t give anyone a chance to react to the guy dropping his little surprise and sauntering out. Unfair? Yeah, it is. But it was a dramatic choice meant to drive home the fact that these people are playing for keeps, and are good at what they do. Channah is smart, resourceful, and ruthless, and he has some good people working for him. That’s all information the group needs.
And thus the kitchen filled with a vapour of elemental water that started drowning everyone in the room ((I handled it like a poison in mechanical effect. +5 vs. Fort, 2d6 damage, and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends) each round on everyone in the room.)). They got the kitchen staff out of there, and the swordmage used his fire-based abilities to purge the elemental water before anyone died. And then they were out in the street, chasing the bag man.
Up on the roofs, the monk and the ranger kept pace with the bad guys, following them through the winding streets. They spotted when the bag man ducked out of the middle of his guards and vanished down an alleyway, and flagged down the other characters when they caught up on the ground.
Then it was down into the sewers, where they found themselves led into what was meant to be an ambush ((Channah is smart, remember? He plans ahead.)). It turned out not to be a very good one, and our heroes got the drop on the bad guys. It was a fairly long fight, but the heroes were never really threatened. Their opponents were a few trolls, a couple shambling mounds, a basilisk, and a bog hag – none of them were up to the characters’ level, and the majority were brutes. When the hit the characters, it hurt a lot, but the hits were few and far-between. But man, could they soak up damage.
At the end of the fight, we wrapped for the evening. We actually got a fair bit done ((For us, at least.)), and I’ve been gratified that the last several sessions – and it looks like the next one this Sunday – have had a full roster of players.
We’ll see where they go from here.