Saturday, 7 May 2016

I.3: The Inquisitive

Eyre 20, 997 YK

Vaalyun finished giving instructions to Ryfon, and dismissed him. The elf bowed respectfully, and closed the door to the office on his way out. He had been in Vaalyun’s service here for nearly ten years, dealing with both Vaalyun’s routine business and his covert activities in the city.

The House dealt primarily in entertainments, from plays to exhibitions, and this was enough to make it wealthier than most noble houses in Eberron. But to secure its place as one of the Twelve, the great dragonmarked houses of Eberron, House Phiarlan also dealt in both state and industrial espionage. While there were many agents of the House that operated entirely in the shadows, Vaalyun was one that operated under the cover of the entertainment business.

He had sent the templar and the soldier downstairs already, where they were talking to an artist who was drawing a likeness of the Blood followers that they had seen the previous night. Ryfon was to take the sketch to Ievos and Imra, Vaalyun’s eyes about the city, with instructions for them to report back any sightings.

Vaalyun changed from his formal House Phiarlan robes into his travelling gear, to be less conspicuous for the day’s work. The House could afford to equip its agents well, and he was soon attired in finely tailored leather armour, concealed under another fine green embroidered jacket. Sheathing his only weapon, a concealed dagger, under his jacket, Vaalyun donned a dark cloak and headed downstairs.

The artist—a narrow-faced male gnome called Linarv, who did work of this kind for Vaalyun from time to time—was just finishing the sketches as Vaalyun entered. Anaya was standing by, checking the likeness. The soldier, Esthana, was standing by the window, looking bored.

“It is time”, said Vaalyun, “to go and see this house, Templar. Perhaps we can learn something from what these people left behind them.”

“Yes,” said Anaya. Esthana had turned when he started speaking; she said nothing, but seemed glad that something was happening.

“Ryfon will pass these likenesses to my observers around the city. Hopefully the Blood followers will regroup in a public place at some point, now that their meeting house is not available to them. In the meantime, let us go to the west district.”

As they left the building, Vaalyun drew up his hood. His companions would draw some attention, and he did not wish to be associated too strongly with them in anyone’s memory. They were, after all, only one client.

The door of the house still swung loose on its hinges, the lock smashed. As they entered the building, passing between the two soldiers stationed at the door, Vaalyun saw the splintered and broken balustrade of the stairs: testimony to the night’s violence.

Discern Realities(Vaalyun): 2D6(1 5) +0 = 6 Failure!
GM move(hard): Reveal an unwelcome truth

Well, there goes CSI: Eberron. There’s nothing here.

Vaalyun looked around, going from room to room; the others followed him. The rooms had only minimal furnishings—just a few tables and chairs, and everbright lanterns. Several windows in the back rooms were smashed from last night. There were pitchers of water in one of the front rooms. But it did not look like anyone actually lived here.

“This does not seem lived in,” Vaalyun observed. “It is a convenient meeting place for worshippers, nothing more.”

“Cultists,” said Anaya.

Vaalyun shrugged; the Blood of Vol was widespread enough that the worshippers would not consider themselves a cult. “And which are you hunting—the cultists, or the vampires?”

“Both are dangerous. Last night I expected to round up a few cultists; the vampires make the matter more serious.”

They were in the back room, and the symbol of Vol was hanging on the wall still. Without the malignant aura that had been cast upon it last night, it was just a religious symbol—sinister due to what it stood for to those present now, but possessed of no other power. Vaalyun looked at it thoughtfully.

Spout Lore(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 6) +2 = 10 Success!
Useful information

Spout Lore is essentially a way for the player characters to interrogate the setting information that the GM or the group is creating, or in this case the established setting that I am using.

“It is not widely known amongst followers of the Blood, but sometimes intelligent undead hold positions as Seekers within the church of Vol.”

Anaya turned to him sharply. “How is that possible? The cult of Vol is heretical, and does not denounce necromancy—but even in such a cult, the followers could not be so foolish as to willingly follow the undead.”

“As I say, it is not widely known even within the cult. Most worshippers do not know of it. And vampires possess great charm; they can pass for mortal.”

Discern Realities(Esthana): 2D6(4 5) +0 = 9 Partial success.
What happened here recently?

“These cultists knew it,” said Esthana. “The vampires made no attempt to disguise their presence.”

“Perhaps these ‘cultists’are more than just ordinary worshippers, then. They may have been trusted in some way.”

“But if this was just an empty house that they made use of,” said Anaya, “then finding them again will be difficult.”

“Yes.” Vaalyun put his hands together, steepling his fingers. “I have people checking taverns in this part of town; if we are lucky they will spot a group fitting the description that you gave. We will see what comes of that in the next few days.”

“The vampire will surely be gone by then,” said Anaya.

I am adding a custom player move here: an Investigate move which is something like discern realities but based on Int. The problem I have is that normally the players would be trying to figure out ideas for what to do next, or how to piece together the things they learned so far. But I don’t have players and I know a bit of what the opposition is doing (just what I have included in my fronts so far). Espionage matters in the Eberron setting and I need a way to decide whether the characters do or do not figure things out.

I think Investigate is like Spout Lore except it accesses information about the current mystery or adventure in front of the party, instead of setting information. It’s about making inferences based on things that the party already knows and coming up with ways to proceed.

I was wondering how to recover from the failure of CSI: Eberron. I have a thought.

Investigate(Vaalyun): 2D6(4 2) +2 = 8 Partial success.
Offer an opportunity, with or without cost

“Perhaps; we cannot guess at its purpose here. I wonder though,” Vaalyun said, glancing at Anaya, “might they be observing the house right now?”

“Why would they risk coming back?” said Esthana.

“Perhaps, as we want to know about them, they want to know about us. They may want to know how our investigation is going.”

The group moved back to one of the front rooms, and Anaya and Vaalyun glanced carefully out of a front window. There were townsfolk going to and fro, as when they had entered, and a patrol of Thranish soldiers walking up the street, back towards the garrison quarter. As the patrol passed, a figure in a traveller’s cloak on the far side of the street turned to face the house again, as if they had turned away while the patrol went past.

Vaalyun and Anaya are working together here.

Aid(Vaalyun): 2D6(4 2) +0 = 6 Failure!
Reveal an unwelcome truth
Discern Realities(Anaya): 2D6(4 5) +2 = 11 Success!
What should I be on the lookout for? What here is not what it appears to be? Hold 1
Offer an opportunity, with or without cost Front: Observe a potential foe in great detail

Cults like to spy—Past conflict, present intrigue . The player party succeeded their check, so let’s say they are right and the cult is watching them.

“That one across the street,” said Anaya. “He was there when we entered. And he seems to be waiting and watching the house.” Vaalyun had not noticed him, but Anaya seemed certain.

Vaalyun frowned. “Then he saw me enter with you, unfortunately. They know that you have help from outside the garrison.”

“He did not leave to report our arrival; perhaps he will go to report on our departure.”

“What guards are left here? Any elves or half-elves amongst them?”

Spend hold(Anaya): What here is useful or valuable to me?

Sure, they made that Discern check, I’ll say what they want is here.

Both Anaya and Esthana looked questioningly at him. “Imbyran is stationed at the back,” Anaya said.

“I had my hood up when I entered. Hopefully our friend out there did not get too good a look at me. Your guard can shed their chainmail, wear my cloak, and leave with you—if the watcher did not get a glimpse of my face, they will think it is the same party leaving that arrived. I will slip out the back, circle around and follow this watcher to see where he goes. I suggest,” Vaalyun added, “that you make a show of it. Tell the guards out front loudly that you will leave in ten minutes; that there is nothing further to do here. Perhaps that will put them at ease.”

Anaya frowned, so Vaalyun added “It’s true enough, templar—we learned nothing and can learn nothing more here. It’s an empty house.”

“Very well,” said Anaya.

Does the watcher believe Anaya loudly telling guards “we’re all leaving”? She has +1 forward from acting on the result of her Discern.

Defy Danger(CHA)(Anaya): 2D6(2 3) +1+1 = 7 Partial success.
Worse outcome

Yes, but the watcher will not be entirely focused on the house, as Vaalyun had hoped.

The plan was put into motion. Vaalyun did not like going without his cloak; he was more recognisable without it. But the watcher had seen a cloaked figure of elven height enter, and if he did not see one leave then he would be alert for being followed by one. So he handed his cloak to the guardsman, and bowed his leave.

Show a downside to their class, race, or equipment

You can’t tail someone stealthily with a cleric or a squad of soldiers.

“I cannot send guards with you,” said Anaya, “so go carefully, and with the Flame’s blessing. I will expect to hear from you soon.”

Vaalyun just nodded and left via the back door, after checking that there did not seem to be a watch on this side of the house. Circling back around through the neighbouring streets, he was soon in a position to observe the watcher outside the house. He positioned himself in the shadows on the north side of the street, at a junction so he could easily slip around the corner if the watcher came this way.

Vaalyun was nervous and excited. Whatever group the Templar had crossed paths with, it was clearly more than a simple gathering of Vol worshippers. This investigation was now a matter of personal interest as well; House Phiarlan dealt in information, and it was possible that this group was unknown to the House. There would be some reward or favour within the House for him if he uncovered a new political or criminal force in the city.

Defy Danger(CHA)(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 5) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: he will recognise you if he sees you again and will know that you’re following him if he sees you looking his way

The watcher was still there, watching the house, but he looked around occasionally as well. He glanced down the street in Vaalyun’s direction; Vaalyun looked away, but felt that he had been seen and so walked across the junction into the next street. Once past the corner, he shook himself, breathing heavily. He waited a few seconds before peering back around the corner, eyes on the watcher again.

GM move(soft): Put someone in a spot

Anaya and the soldiers exited the house, turning south; as agreed, one of the guards was wearing his cloak. The watcher glanced at them as they moved away, evidently trying not to draw attention. And then he began walking north, towards the junction where Vaalyun was standing.

Vaalyun has to walk away, and cannot look back without being spotted. As GM I said he couldn’t be seen looking towards the target, so as player, let’s work around that...

Vaalyun immediately began walking away down the side street, counting as he went—one, two. Thinking furiously; three, four. It was about twenty paces from where the watcher had been to the junction; seven, eight. Vaalyun could not turn to look to see which way he went at the junction; if the watcher saw him looking back, it would be too obvious. Ten, eleven. There was a woman walking the other way down the street; he must not excite suspicious in her either, as that could give him away. Thirteen, fourteen. He withdrew a small mirror from his jacket pocket, pretending to check his own appearance while really looking back at the junction behind him. Seventeen, eighteen—the watcher came into view, crossing the junction heading north.

Picking up the pace, Vaalyun jogged to the next street and turned north as well, moving parallel to the mark. Observing from shadows at the next junction, he saw the watcher cross, continuing north. Now Vaalyun jogged down to the junction behind him, relieved that he could now tail the watcher.

Dragonmark(Vaalyun): 2D6(1 4) +1 = 6 Failure!
Front: Negotiate a deal

Vaalyun wants to use his shadow powers to change the colour of his jacket, so he is less likely to be recognised, but he doesn’t have it in him right now. But he is not in sight of the watcher at this moment, so there isn’t an obvious direct response. Instead—Think offscreen—I’ll advance my adventure front by giving a move to the Blood in Thaliost: they have cut a deal with the local rebels. I’ll figure out the details later.

He was still regretting not having his cloak; his clothes were hardly gaudy, but darker would have been better for this work. House Phiarlan agents generally worked by hiding in plain sight, but Vaalyun had already been seen loitering once by this target, so there was a risk of being spotted. Vaalyun closed his eyes as he walked, and he felt a burning in the birthmark on his left side, his Dragonmark, as he tried to draw on the power of shadow. But he was too nervous in the middle of the chase to control the effect, so he gave up and focused on the pursuit itself.

Defy Danger(DEX)(Vaalyun): 2D6(1 6) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: Turn into another street and lose the target, or be seen but remain on the target’s tail.

He turned into the street after the watcher, easily spotting him in the street ahead. Vaalyun stayed on the west side of the street, in the shadows of the buildings there, and began to walk quicker to close the distance. But the watcher was nervous and looked around again. Vaalyun decided not to turn off into a side street, for fear of losing his target. The watcher had seen him now, but hopefully would not assume that he was being followed.

Discern Realities(Vaalyun): 2D6(1 6) +1 = 8 Partial success.
What here is not what it appears to be?

After turning into another street, the watcher then entered a tavern—“Olladra’s Hat”, a quiet local tavern in this respectable part of town. Vaalyun thought that the watcher was probably trying to throw him off; he would wait for Vaalyun to pass or be gone.

Instead, Vaalyun stood in the entrance to an alley beside the tavern. From his pocket, he withdrew a small black pebble, and began to channel the energy of his dragonmark into it.

Dragonmark(Vaalyun): 2D6(4 5) +1 = 10 Success!
Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities

Vaalyun has a scrystone, I decided. DungeonWorld encourages undetermined equipment to be decided on the spot; it’s normal for a DungeonWorld character to have “an adventurer’s pack“ that lets them pull out 5 items of equipment of their choice; they are using up a valuable resource when they do so, of course. I had not determined Vaalyun’s magic items from his class, so he gets to choose one here.

Also, a scrystone is the only magic item in the Eberron supplement atuned to his dragonmark, so this completely makes sense. Blue the lines between magic and technology: it’s a good spy gadget. The scrystone lets him communicate with someone at a distance, and/or watch someone covertly.

“Ryfon, are you there?” he said quietly.

“Yes.” Ryfon’s image appeared, a few inches tall, as a shadow flickering over the stone.

“Come to me at Olladra’s Hat. I’m following a person of interest, but I was spotted. I need you to take over from me. Bring Ievos and Imra if they are nearby.”

“I believe they are. We will be there soon.”

Vaalyun would have sent his hirelings to the part of town near the cultist house, so we know they are not too far away. He just needed a break in the chase so that he could call them.

Vaalyun reattuned the stone to the inside of the tavern; he could see the watcher was at the bar. He had bought a drink, and was looking around from time to time.

Ryfon showed up within ten minutes. Vaalyun showed him the image of the watcher through the scrying stone, and then left him to watch the entrance of the tavern.

The other two elves were waiting in the next street. Ievos and Imra were both jugglers, dressed in colourful garb. Vaalyun gave them a description of the watcher as well, and they then moved off to the end of the street where the tavern was, ready to move on Ryfon’s signal. It was a setup that they had used many times before.

Followers, Do Their Thing(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 1) +1 = 4 Failure!
GM move(hard): Reveal an unwelcome truth

Maybe the tavern is a meeting place for a resistance group within Thaliost, and they have a secret exit. That could be the Blood, but more likely a secular resistance group that opposes Thrane’s rule, which we established (by GM move earlier) has a deal with the Blood here.

But the watcher never emerged from the tavern. After half an hour, Ryfon went inside to see what he was up to. The watcher was nowhere to be seen.

The elves regrouped in a nearby alley. “There must be a back exit,” said Vaalyun. “Or he had friends in the tavern that were able to disguise his exit.” It was frustrating that they had come so close, and then lost their target.

“Move to the area north of where we are now—where this human was walking towards before he saw me,” said Vaalyun. “Spread out, and report to Ryfon if you see him, or any individuals matching the descriptions given by the templar. We will cast our net over this area, and hopefully find where these individuals meet. ”

“As you command,” said Ryfon.

It is going badly for the party. Net result of the whole game so far is that I have got to make GM moves and fronts establishing:

  • The population of this city hates the Thranish soldiers controlling it.
  • The Blood of Vol has a covert presence in the city despite being prohibited.
  • A secret group within that, perhaps led by a vampire, is working to overthrow the government.
  • And has a deal with the rebels organizing within the local population.

And the party only has a tenuous lead in return: one of that secret group was heading to this part of town, and they have descriptions of a few other members of the group. A bloody revolution in Thaliost might be coming.

End of session stuff:

Anaya: 1 failure, taking her to 8 XP total. Enough to level up.
Vaalyun: 4 failures already; now 4 XP.
Esthana: still 2 XP.

The characters have time to rest as well here.

Make Camp(party): Heal
Level Up(Anaya): Increase Dexterity by 1; gains move Serenity: negates first -1 penalty from ongoing spells
Commune(Anaya): Takes spells: Bless, Cure Light Wounds, Detect Alignment

No comments:

Post a Comment