Saturday, 7 May 2016

I.2: Thaliost

Eyre 20, 997 YK

After the first session, DungeonWorld encourages the GM to build Fronts as a way to establish longer story arcs in a campaign. So I want to create one or more fronts representing threats building on things established so far. A front in DungeonWorld consists of dangers, grim portents leading to those dangers, and stakes questions.

In the setting, the religion of the Blood of Vol is fairly reasonable: anti-theistic with some superstitious power-within-us beliefs about blood. But the organised part of the Blood is secretly controlled by sentient undead—an inner cabal with their own agenda. The setting suggests what they are aiming for, which I need not follow, but it is definitely evil. Since Anaya is good, it makes most sense if the opposition is an evil plot.

Few in the setting know this; the Church of the Silver Flame probably does not. The most anyone would know (excepting those in the cabal itself) is that small Blood groups are sometimes uncovered that answer to an undead leader.

Vampires are sentient undead, so perhaps the vampires at the Blood meeting house were in charge there. Perhaps they were not a group, it was actually two heads of different underground cells meeting.

I think the immediate adventure front is the Blood of Vol within Thaliost. The Blood is banned here, so to thrive, they will have to overthrow the current government; that can be the impending doom here. They want to spread the religion of the Blood to increase their own influence here, and to incite a revolt in the wider population.

Of course—Think dangerously—the Silver Flame worshippers in the city are going to be massacred if that happens. And the Blood has the advantage that the population hates the government here.

DungeonWorld defines some types of fronts and moves for them to use. The Blood in Thaliost is a Cult (impulse: to infest from within), which has moves:

  • Attack someone by stealthy means (kidnapping, etc.)
  • Attack someone directly (with a gang or single assailant)
  • Absorb or buy out someone important (an ally, perhaps)
  • Influence a powerful institution (change a law, manipulate doctrine)
  • Establish a new rule (within the organization)
  • Claim territory or resources
  • Negotiate a deal
  • Observe a potential foe in great detail

The main question for this front is, what is their specific plan for toppling the government? The moves above also suggest allies or deals; who might they be working with? Neither seems like a true DungeonWorld stakes question though.

And we have a vague campaign front as well—some secret cabal within the Blood of Vol that is driving things. A cabal (impulse: to absorb those in power, to grow) is also an ambitious organization, like a Cult, so their list of moves is the same as above. So far, we really only have questions: how do they stand to gain from a change of government in Thaliost? What’s their real agenda?

The fronts do not need to be fully defined. We have enough to drive the action for a few sessions here, probably.

I also want to add another character to the adventuring party. It seems like the next step is to investigate the house, and a cleric and fighter are hardly the right people for CSI: Eberron. Let’s get them to someone who can help.

This session ended up being fairly light on gameplay; I’m still working out the balance between the writing and the game stuff here. I wanted to establish the adventuring party and the city here.

Make Camp(party): Heal

Commander Stamos’ office was a stone cell overlooking the barracks square. The Commander himself was a large man in his fifties, wearing the same chainmail and tabard as his soldiers; his shield hung on one wall. He sat behind a large wooden desk, and his expression was serious as he addressed Anaya; there were chairs provided for visitors, but she remained standing.

“I spoke with Sykes at first light,” Stamos said. “You slew one of the vampires?”

“Yes, thanks to Esthana. The creature would have killed me, but for her actions.”

“I am not surprised that you took the worst of it. Vampires are fearsome and captivating, few soldiers will stand against one; and it is the soldiers that stand and fight that take the injuries. You did well.”

“We paid a high price—two dead.”

“They are one with the Flame now, may they burn brightly,” he said, speaking the rote phrase solemnly.

I found a map of Thaliost in one of the books about Eberron, and a major feature of the city is a tower from which Thrane’s officials rule the city. Blur the line between magic and technology: I’m imagining it as a skyscraper, except stone buttressed with magic where we would have prestressed steel and concrete.

Does Anaya know much about the type of magic used to support the Tower?

Spout Lore(Anaya): 2D6(4 2) +1 = 7 Partial success.
Interesting but incomplete / not useful

Anaya turned to the window. The barracks were quiet, as morning patrols had already departed. Beyond the barracks square, she could see the Tower of Judgement, the seat of the Archbishop that ruled Thaliost; the stone tower, rising over 400ft straight up from the middle of the Garrison, dominated the skyline of the city and was a stern symbol of Thrane’s control. On the side of the tower hung banners of Thrane, the Silver Flame symbol on a white background; there were also planar runes of Syrania, the Azure Sky, inscribed into the stone at intervals.

Okay, let’s work out what the our adventurers are doing next. Does Anaya think that the vampire is still in the city?

Spout Lore(Anaya): 2D6(2 4) +1 = 7 Partial success.
Interesting but not useful

She asked “Do you think the other vampire is still in the city? Even with gates guarded and closed, it could probably escape if it chose.”

“That seems likely. It was your mission last night, and so the investigation is also yours. Our resources are at your disposal; but you may find that you get more cooperation if you do not take soldiers with you. Perhaps you are keen to track this vampire, but do remember that we still welcome any more information leading to cultists of Vol, or any other proscribed practice.”

Discern Realities(Anaya): 2D6(5 5) +2 = 12 Success!
What here is not what it appears to be?

Anaya did not need to turn to look at Stamos to understand his thinking. He thought the vampire long gone, and hunting it a waste of time; cults in the city were something where there would be more tangible results.

“Of course, the cult of Vol is dangerous, as last night shows clearly. Harbouring creatures that prey on the innocent within the city walls is a heinous act. If I learn of more, I will act on it or bring the information to you.”

“Much appreciated, Templar. This is a serious escalation in the cult’s activities. As such, I do want to provide concrete assistance. There is an inquisitive, a member of House Phiarlan, who is sometimes useful to us when unearthing criminal activities in the city. He is not Purified, which gives him some advantages here.”

Spout Lore(Anaya): 2D6(2 1) +1 = 4 Failure!
Reveal an unwelcome truth

Anaya turned. “Surely the Flame’s followers are more reliable?”

“Most in this city still think of themselves as Aundairian. Thrane’s conquest eighty years ago is still resented by many and, as the Silver Flame is our state religion, church officials and even prominent civilians of the faith are sometimes seem as occupiers—even those not from Thrane.

“An investigator who lacks our faith can access some circles that faithful informers cannot. Seek out Vaalyun d’Phiarlan—he lives beyond the Three Corners Bazaar, just past the Two Dragons. We will meet his expenses.”

Properly introduce Esthana.

What are they talking about in the barracks today?

Discern Realities(Anaya): 2D6(5 5) +2 = 12 Success!
What happened here recently?

Anaya found Esthana in the mess hall on the other side of the barracks. There was a crowd of soldiers seated at the table around the half-elf, and some animated conversation which grew quiet as Anaya approached. The vampire fight would be the talk of the barracks, Anaya realised.

“Esthana, I came to thank you for saving my life yesterday.”

Esthana stood up quickly and saluted. “I am glad that I was of service, Templar.”

Esthana was still young, probably not yet thirty. Her face looked human enough, and she was only a little shorter than the human average, about the same height as Anaya. But, without her helmet on, the slightly pointed ears marked her clearly as a half-elf. She was solidly built; whether through her own habit or from the military life, she clearly trained hard. She looked like she would be quick on her feet too—a striker, not a slugger.

For the benefit of the others, Anaya added “We would not have killed the vampire without your brave work. The Flame was well served by your actions.”

Esthana flushed a little at the praise, and bowed her head. “I am honoured, Templar.” The other soldiers had remained seated and some affected not to listen, but they were clearly impressed.

“If you would care to join me, I could use your assistance for the next few days. The Commander has authorized it; but if you prefer to remain with your unit, I can find another.”

Esthana was surprised, but said “Of course. I would be honoured to assist you.”

DungeonWorld uses a system of Bonds to tie the characters together; generally these are added at character creation. They affect the game by making it easier for bonded characters to aid each other in taking actions.

They are both followers of the same faith, and indeed since Anaya is a cleric of the Flame, she is a priest that actually touches—albeit in a way that does not really provide communication—Esthana’s deity. So they have good reasons to work together.

For Anaya, I’m starting with (both of these are standard DungeonWorld bonds):

  • Esthana is a good and faithful person; I trust her implicitly.
  • Esthana saved my life.

For Esthana, I wrote something custom:

  • Anaya is a cleric of my faith. I will follow her through any danger.

Blur the line between magic and technology: What’s the city like?

The templar and soldier left the garrison district and entered the busy public streets of Thaliost. The city before them was nothing to complare to Sharn or even Flamekeep; the only tall building, the Tower of Judgement, was behind them. The more important municipal buildings, like the Garrison, were made of grey stone, but most dwellings were made of wood. They passed one horse-drawn wagon carrying food up to the garrison, but there were few merchant’s wagons here; more distant goods arrived via the lightning rail station on the east side of the city, or by ship.

Past conflict, present intrigue: We know the populace wants nothing to do with our heroes.

There were other soldiers on the streets; all the main thoroughfares were regularly patrolled during the day. The rest of the population stayed out of the path of any soldiers; no-one wanted to cross the authorities, at least openly. And they stayed out of Anaya’s way as well, drawing no distinction between soldier and templar.

Esthana had been quiet, but now decided to speak. “I am surprised that the commander gave orders for me to join you. I have never attracted attention outside of my own unit before.”

“He put any resources I need at my disposal,” said Anaya. “I selected you to accompany me. If we should encounter another vampire, I will need a sword arm at my side that can stand their ground against one.”

“But you are not an officer.”

I’m making lots of rolls for things that don’t have consequences for the story, which is probably not in keeping with DungeonWorld ; characters don’t roll for each other’s backstories. But I feel like rolling them here.

Discern Realities(Anaya): 2D6(3 6) +2 = 11 Success!
What here is hidden?

The Eberron supplement for DungeonWorld has a move called “Show the devastation of the Last War”, which fits my principle Past conflict, present intrigue; normally GM moves would not apply to character backstory, but since I control the characters too, it seems reasonable to apply the same principles to them also.

“No, I am not in the army. You are not from Thrane, are you—where are you from?”

“I was from Eston,” said Esthana.

A city in Cyre, obliterated in the Mourning. She was a refugee. “I am sorry. All Eberron mourns with you.”

We said Esthana is a follower of the Silver Flame. To be accepted into the army of a rival nation in less than two years after her home nation was destroyed—well a good reason for that to happen is if your new country is a theocracy and you follow that faith. I like the idea of her being from outside Thrane originally because I’m probably going to want to take her out of the army anyway, and this makes it easier.

Spout Lore(Esthana): 2D6(2 6) +0 = 8 Partial success.
Vague indication

“I am glad the Silver Flame is given such official support in Thrane, but it is still strange to me how the state and Church work together.”

“The army is one branch of the state, the Church is another, and the Templars are a branch of the church. So we are not part of the army. But Templars are granted implicit status as officers by the army and we work together inside Thrane.”

They passed into the Three Corners Bazaar, where the crowded streets bustled with traders and townsfolk. Most of the inhabitants of Thaliost were human, but there were half-elves, dwarves and a few elves to be seen in the crowd as well. Like any large market, there were stalls selling food, clothes, and magewrights selling everbright lamps and enchanted tools; but there were also a few merchants selling more exotic goods, including freshwater fish all the way from Lake Galifar and gems from the Blackcaps.

Esthana took the lead here as she knew the way, and the crowd gave way easily to them. Soon they turned into another street and Anaya saw the sign of the Two Dragons over the crowd. They found the building they were looking for just beyond, a narrow wooden building with two overhanging upper storeys, squeezed in between the Two Dragons and a trade hall; and a sign, by the narrow stairs leading to the first floor, bearing the five-headed hydra symbol of House Phiarlan, accompanied by the text “Organizers of Fashionable Entertainments. Bards and Troubadours apply within.”

House Phiarlan is an elven entertainers guild, with a sideline in espionage. Almost everyone in the setting has spies, but House Phiarlan are one of the small number of groups that offer those services to others.

Let’s say the hierarchy of the Church of the Silver Flame is too rigidly Lawful to support spies. So, hypocritically, they contract out.

They ascended to the first floor, to a bright wood-panelled room with high ceilings, from which hung colourful banners of red, blue and gold. A plainly-dressed elf got up from behind a desk in one corner and bowed to them. Without waiting for them to speak, he said “I am Ryfon. I will see if my master can see you,” and immediately left them.

There were a few other chairs in the room, pushed back against the walls but available for guests to use, but Anaya and Esthana remained standing. The noise of the street could be heard from outside, but they were out of the bustle and the noise was muted—Anaya found it a pleasant respite.

The elf returned. “Vaalyun d’Phiarlan can see you now.”

He led them up a flight of stairs and ushered them into the office on the second floor. This room was more private, with a lower ceiling and smaller windows, rich carpet on the floor and paintings on the walls. A smartly-dressed elven man stood waiting for them, and greeted them.

“Greetings. I do not think I have ever had a Templar ask for entertainment. Thank you, Ryfon, you may go.” The other elf bowed and left, closing the door behind him. “I am Vaalyun d’Phiarlan. Who sent you to me?”

A dragonmark is a character trait from the Eberron setting; it is essentially a hereditary birthmark granting limited magical ability in a specific domain. House Phiarlan carries the Mark of Shadow; marks are not common in the setting, and even within a House only some have a mark, but adventurers should be exceptional so Vaalyun gets one. That gives me a character class for him:

Vaalyun - Dragonmarked. Damage d4, hit points 17.
Str Dex Con Int Wis Cha
8 -1 13 +1 9 +0 16 +2 12 +0 15 +1

Alignment: Neutral: Use your house’s reputation to help yourself

Race: Elf, Dragonmark of Shadows: Shadows and Darkness

Moves: Favoured in House, All in the Family, By Hospitality Sustained, Hireling: Loyalty +1, Beautiful, Group, Stealthy, Athletic

Equipment: Concealed dagger, Tailored leather armour, Magic trinkets TBD

Getting a hireling at level 1 is fairly powerful, though I guess it needs to be since the Dragonmarked class (from the Eberron supplement) has lousy combat damage and very limited magic abilities.

Since House Phiarlan are entertainers, I think his hirelings are a troupe of street jugglers—eyes and ears around the city, hiding in plain sight (note that the definition of the Beautiful tag in the Perilous Wilds supplement is “they make an impression, drawing admiration and attention”). Past conflict, present intrigue.

Vaalyun was only slightly shorter than Anaya, but clearly elven—the narrow face, pointed ears and sallow skin could never be mistaken for human. He looked young for an elf, perhaps fifty years old, though it was hard to judge. He was formally dressed: his long green robe was finely embroidered with hydra’s heads in blue and red thread, and he wore several rings bearing gems on his left hand.

“Commander Stamos said that you might be able to assist me,” said Anaya. “I am Anaya, a cleric of the Flame.”

Blur the line between magic and technology: A secret agent in Eberron probably has a bunch of magical spy trinkets. I scanned briefly down the list of common magical items for Eberron, and picked an Image Projector—for enlarging maps, perhaps, perhaps doubling to verify the authenticity of artwork being traded by the House. Anaya won’t know what it is, but she would recognise the dragonshard powering it.

“I have been able to find information of use to the Commander, from time to time.” He moved back to sit by a wooden desk; on the desk were various papers, and an optical device of some kind containing a blue crystal fragment—Anaya recognised it as a Siberys dragonshard—in a metal frame. He gestured to another seat.

Anaya sat down, and Esthana stood behind her. “Your sign implies that you are an entertainer,” Anaya said.

“I organize entertainments for the wealthy of the city.”

“But you also investigate criminal activities.”

“I deal in information. It is for the authorities to decide what is criminal. What information do you seek?”

The Commander had recommended this elf; Anaya saw no reason to be evasive. “We raided a house in the west district last night, and found Blood of Vol worshippers sheltering two vampires. We need to track down and deal with any others in the city.”

“I heard that. Naturally the garrison has put that story about, hoping that the city’s population will be more sympathetic to guards barging into citizen’s homes. Vampires are a useful scare story. I don’t know whether the population will believe it, though.”

“I hope that citizens will report any prohibited cults practicing within the city.”

“I hope so too.” Vaalyun smiled wryly; evidently he thought it unlikely.

“You will be paid for your assistance,” Anaya said, a little more forcefully, “and rewarded if it leads to results.” She found the cynical edge to the elf’s conversation distasteful.

“One of the advantages of a church backed by the state—it is a very reliable customer. Yes, I will look into this for you. Did you capture any of the cultists?”

“No; several fled while we were distracted with the vampires.”

“But you saw them?” asked Vaalyun. “You could describe them?” Anaya nodded. “Then that is where we will start. I will arrange an artist to sit with you and draw a likeness from your description. I have eyes around the city and we may spot them together.”

Vaalyun intents to use his agents to try to spot these cultists around the city. The rolls will come when he is trying to use them.

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