Friday, 10 June 2016

II.9: Khyber Stirring

Eyre 28, 997 YK

Quick recap: our heroes are in Flamekeep, the capital of Thrane and home of the Church of the Silver Flame. Esthana, newly anointed as a Templar, has been given a mission by the Flame to seek out a Cult of the Dragon Below which is working to release some evil in Khyber.

Let’s start on a DungeonWorld Front representing this. Much of this session is about working out what the opposition is here.

Campaign Front: Khyber
Cast: Overlords, Daelkyr, Cults of the Dragon Below

Danger: Release of an Overlord
Type: Demon Prince (impulse: to open the games of Hell)
Impending Doom: The Overlord is freed, and Khorvaire’s civilisation is overthrown.

I will work out the path to that doom later.

Cardinal Baerdren’s council chamber was only a little less austere than the rest of the Templars’ part of the Tower. White stone walls contrasted with blue banners, hanging down on both sides of the room. In the centre of the room was a large round wooden table, with a large silver inlay in the shape of an arrowhead.

At the table sat the Cardinal and his senechal, as well as Rentis and another Templar commander. It was the day after Esthana’s acceptance as a Templar; she and Anaya had been called to this meeting, and Vaalyun accompanied them. Vaalyun had not met any of these people before this visit to Flamekeep, but his service for House Phiarlan in Thrane meant that he knew them by reputation.

To Vaalyun, the gathering had a touch of the absurd. Men and women wearing chainmail and plate to a meeting, just to show their dedication to the Church, struck him as pious foolishness. The Cardinal’s seneshal, a handsome woman in her fifties with silver hair, was the only other person present not in armour; she wore a grey dress with a large silver arrowhead pendant to denote her station, and Vaalyun wondered if she agreed with him. And everything here was so old; this table had probably stood here for a hundred years, there was no image projector, no Sivis speaking stone—the everbright lantern above was the only concession to modernity.

Vaalyun wants in on this meeting; the Cardinal wants not to have House Phiarlan spreading false information about the assassination attempt earlier.

Parley(Vaalyun): 2D6(1 4) +2 = 7 Partial success.
Worse outcome

Vaalyun missteps by sounding threatening, but bites his tongue and it allowed to stay.

“I do not think that anyone has used the Mark of Shadow in the Cathedral of Light before,” said the Cardinal to Vaalyun.

“I understand that the Keeper is often the target of assassination attempts,” said Vaalyun, “but one coming from a Templar would be a first. Even the report of such a thing would be bad for your order, I think.”

“The assassin was not a Templar. And if you cast a shadow in the Cathedral again, I will kill you myself. Am I quite clear?” His tone left no doubt that the threat was serious.

“Quite.” Vaalyun bit back a retort; it was futile to argue with pious people.

“On this occasion, your intervention was useful,” the Cardinal said. “And Anaya believes that you may be of assistance here, so we will permit you to join this meeting.” Vaalyun bowed his head respectfully.

Let the lore spouting begin.

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

Okay. The Templars know few specifics about the Overlords. That’s a bad start.

Anaya said “The Flame told Lady Esthana that a Cult of the Dragon Below was working to release the great evil trapped in Khyber. What do we know of this? How can a mere cult hope to achieve such a thing?”

The Cardinal looked grave as he replied. “The legends are true, together with their implications. Millions of years ago, Khyber’s fiends—demons, rakshasa and worse—overran the surface of Eberron. Eventually, the dragons and couatls allied to fight the demons and drove them back. Many couatls sacrificed themselves to the Flame to bind the greatest of the fiends, the Overlords, in the depths of Khyber.

“And that is how things stand today. The Overlords are bound, but their prisons are beneath us in Khyber. Their prisons are not infallible. Bel Shalor nearly escaped in 229 YK, and Tira Miron was the first mortal to be joined with the Flame when she resealed it in its prison—here, in the Eternal Flame in Flamekeep. But there are other Overlords, we know not how many, and we do not even know where most of them are held.”

The other Templar Commander spoke next. Tassis, a handsome man in his twenties with bronze-coloured hair, was responsible for the Church’s work outside of the Five Nations. “We know that at least one is imprisoned under Argonessen, and is watched by the dragons. They claim that it is the daughter of Khyber, and is the most powerful of the Overlords. We can only trust that they keep a good watch.”

Spout Lore(Vaalyun): 2D6(6 5) +2 = 13 Success!
Valuable information

“Do not the rakshasa still rule in the Demon Wastes?” interjected Vaalyun. “I have heard that the corruption there is thought to be due to the presence of Overlords imprisoned below.”

“Yes,” said the Cardinal. “The war against the rakshasa was won but not completed.” He got up and retrieved a map from a bookshelf, unrolling it on the table. Rentis, Anaya and Esthana leaned forward with interest.

Blur the lines between magic and technology

Vaalyun resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Allow me, Cardinal.” He retrieved a pouch from his pocket, and brought out an image projector, its Siberys dragonshard glittering blue in the light of the everbright lamp above. In a moment, he had the image of Eberron projected in the air above the table.

“These gadgets get more elaborate every year,” the Cardinal grumbled, talking to no-one in particular. Then he continued, “They were merely driven out of most of Khorvaire and Xen’drik, pushed to the edges, but in the Demon Wastes their rule continues. There they still plot to release their Overlords, and it is thought that several are imprisoned under the Wastes.” He pointed to the Wastes, in the north-west of Khorvaire, as he did so.

“So our enemy is active, and has unrestricted access to the prisons of several of the Overlords?” said Esthana.

Reveal an Unwelcome Truth
Show the Devastation of the Last War

“Yes.” Senechal Ofejjaia spoke for the first time. “The Five Nations spent the last hundred years developing the best military technology that Eberron has ever seen, and wasting it on killing each other. Meanwhile, no Templar has been able to set foot in the Demon Wastes for a hundred years; in the days before the War we could at least move across Galifar, but now we cannot even move in numbers as far west as Aundair.” She glanced at Rentis.

“But the Flame spoke of the Cults of the Dragon Below?” said Esthana.

Cults are a religious thing, so Anaya is the most relevant person to roll for lore here.

Spout Lore(Anaya): 2D6(5 5) +1 = 11 Success!
Valuable information

“Yes,” said Rentis. “The Flame guides us, and sees the greatest danger coming from that quarter.”

“And that is strange,” said Tassis. “The Cults are a fragmented groups of fanatics; doomsday cults bound by stories about how some dark force will one day rule all. They are concentrated primarily in the Shadow Marches, where many orcs believe this heresy.”

Vaalyun wondered how wrong the cults were, if the Overlords were as real a threat as the Templars seemed to believe. But he kept the thought to himself.

“But the cults of the Shadow Marches worship the aberrations of Khyber, not the Overlords,” said Anaya.

I was expecting the party to follow the obvious lead, to the Shadow Marches, because that is where the Cults are strongest. It would have been a red herring, but it would have been an interesting part of the setting to explore. Anaya got a good roll and avoided that the mistake, however. Side-quest averted!

“Lady Anaya remembers her studies well,” said Rentis. “Cults claiming to serve an Overlord are rarer. I fear that we have no information to suggest a particular one to pursue. I think, Anaya, that you must seek the guidance of the Flame; its light must guide you.”

“My House has some connections with the other Houses,” said Vaalyun. “I have made some enquiries that I hope may give us a definite lead to follow.”

“Very well,” said the Cardinal. “Anaya, Esthana, you now answer to Commander Tassis, as the Overlords fall within his domain. I will have the Commanders supply you with any information that we have about active Cults of Khyber. May the Flame light the way for you.”

Make Camp(party): Heal
Level Up(Esthana): Increase Con by 1; gains move Seeing Red: takes +1 to Discern Realities during combat

Now, the party needs to figure out where to go.

All in the Family(Vaalyun): 2D6(1 3) +2 = 6 Failure!
Offer Aid from an Enemy, or Opposition from an Ally
Discern Realities(Aided)(Anaya): 2D6(5 2) +2+1 = 10 Success!
Hold 3
Aid(Vaalyun): 2D6(3 4) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Expose yourself to danger

Okay, so Vaalyun came up with a bad lead. He also helps Anaya find some good information amongst that which the Templars supplied; but he sways her to follow his (bad) lead first.

The next stop is  500 miles south, 2sp/mi. for the heroes, so that costs 300gp.

Two days later, they were on a train heading south. The lightning rail south from Flamekeep ran the length of Thrane and into Breland to the south. Since the end of the War, House Orien had resumed a daily service between the main cities of Khorvaire—at least, where the lines had not been destroyed in the conflict—and it remained the fastest way to travel between the major cities.

Esthana spent much of the journey looking out of the window, watching the lightning arcing off of the locomotive. It was an impressive sight, but one that Vaalyun had seen before, so he spent most of the journey meditating.

Anaya continued to read through the papers provided by the Templar Commanders. She and Vaalyun had already spent some time on the previous day examining them.

After a few hours, Vaalyun asked, “Have you found anything else of interest?”

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

“The Cults seem very uncoordinated. If we pursue one, they are unlikely to receive support from others—even though they follow a common creed.”

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

Time to give Anaya her useful lead, and that means deciding where I really want the party to go. Once again, I will roll for it; I came up with a quick list of places that might make sense for Cults to form.

  • Sharn, for dragonshards
  • Sharn, for artefacts
  • Wroat
  • Korranberg
  • Eldeen Reaches
  • Passage
  • Q’barra
  • Cyrean refugees in Breland
  • Come up with a new list

I rolled a 7. The party has a long journey ahead.

“I think the report from Q’barra is most interesting,” said Vaalyun. “The Templar’s report described the cult there as unusually secretive.”

“And revering demons,” added Anaya. “Most of these cults worship madness or aberrations in some form; but this report specifically mentions a demon claw as a sigil used by some of the cult.

I was not sure what third question to ask from the Discern Realities, so I rolled for it.

Spend hold(Anaya): What should I be on the lookout for?

“And it says also that some of the native lizardfolk of Q’barra are also worshippers of the Dragon Below. The cult might be connected to them.”

“We can get an airship to Newthrone from Korranberg,” said Vaalyun, “if my contact in Starilaskur does not give us a better lead to follow.”

Vaalyun will want passage to Q’barra. It would take most of his remaining money to get there in style; instead, he chooses to make a move.

Favoured in House(Vaalyun): Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask

This move has a long list of six potential consequences where the GM can choose up to 4. I decided to roll a d3 for each consequence, and on a 3 it would apply; I got only one 3 out of six dice rolled, for a simple precondition: “They need you to do/get something first”. I decided that the condition would be that he release Ievos and Imra, his hirelings, for other duties with his House; it is not clear that they will be useful to Vaalyun anyway in Q’barra, even if they were awesome in that jailbreak. We can always bring them back later.

Starilaskur was a smaller city that Thaliost or Flamekeep, and less grand, with more wooden buildings than stone ones. It seemed prosperous though: goods were being unloaded at the lightning rail station when they arrived, and re-loaded onto House Orien road wagons for distribution across eastern Breland.

It was dusk when they arrived, but the streets were well-lit with everbright lamps. The population here was more cosmopolitan than in Thrane; around half of the population was human, but there were warforged and ogre guards outside some of the warehouses near the station, and on the streets there were many gnomes, half-elves and elves.

Their destination was not too far from the station, and did not appear to be in the best part of town.

Introduce a new faction or type of creature: House Tharashk. Low-tech and brutal.

“House Tharashk mostly work as mercenaries,” explained Vaalyun. “Their Mark gives them an advantage as bounty hunters, so they are sometimes used to track down undesirables.”

The building they came to was a large hostel of some kind, a well-maintained wooden building in a district of labourers’ dwellings. There were two orcs, wearing leather armour and carrying scimitars, stationed at the entrance, and above them swung a painted wooden sign depicting a dragonne and a warhammer. Underneath was written “The Eyes of Eberron”. Vaalyun passed between the sentries and pushed open the front doors.

A dozen pairs of eyes turned to stare at them: half orcs, humans, orcs and a couple of gnolls, all well armed. The area looked like a barracks common room, with a large fire in the centre and long tables down either side. One of the humans got up and moved to meet them.

“I came to meet Haganur, by arrangement,” said Vaalyun. The human gestured to one of the seated mercenaries.

Haganur Aashtar was a half-orc, like many in House Tharashk. He was burly, but with an unusually small nose that made his face look almost human. Vaalyun judged that his leather armour, though it showed signs of wear, was of a high quality, and his bracers bore a silver inlay bearing the sigil of his House.

Vaalyun sat down on the bench opposite him. Anaya sat next to him, while Esthana stood behind. There was an orc sat beside Haganur, and some of the other humans and half-orcs were nearby; the conversation would not be a private one. “I am Vaalyun d’Phiarlan. I heard that you may have information that I can use,” he said.

Discern Realities(Vaalyun): 2D6(3 6) +0 = 9 Partial success.
What should I be on the lookout for?

“What do you seek?” said Haganur. He was watching Vaalyun closely, and Vaalyun immediately sensed that the conversation was in the wrong direction: the mercenary was trying to get information from him.

“Do you know of the activities of any Cults of the Dragon Below? One of your House said that you would have valuable information.”

“What do you know of the Dragon Below?”

“Not much, or I would not be asking you.” Sometimes you feign knowledge, and sometimes ignorance; ignorance seems the better plan here.

“And why do you seek these Cults.” The distaste as he used the word was meant to be heard, and the other mercenaries around them were openly watching for Vaalyun’s response. He heard Esthana shift behind him, no doubt readying to draw her sword if this went badly.

Defy Danger(CHA)(Vaalyun): 2D6(5 6) +2 = 13 Success!

The Tharashk group don’t want to murder a group of well-connected people like the party anyway, so really all Vaalyun has to do is not put his foot in it here. He’s doing much better than that.

Every faction in Eberron contains sub-groups with their own agenda. Past Conflict, Present Intrigue Use a threat from an existing faction or type of creature

“My Templar friends here are interested in demon worshippers in Thrane,” Vaalyun lied. “Such cults are banned there. I have a contract to help weed them out.”

“Demons, elf?” said Haganur. “Are you sure?”

“Demons are dead. They are nothing compared to the Lord of Eyes!” exclaimed the orc next to him; his Common was clear enough, if accented.

“He is watching! Watching you now!” cried one of the gnolls, from further down the table, pointing at Vaalyun excitedly.

“Who in Khyber is the Lord of Eyes?” asked Esthana.

Vaalyun had no idea, and made no attempt to conceal it. But he noted that the orc beside Haganur had tatoos of eyes on the sides of his neck and shoulders.

There was a pause. Haganur looked at one of the mercenaries behind Vaalyun, sneering. That one broke into a chuckle, and in a few moment all the mercenaries except Haganur were laughing.

“Some Xoriat... entity, I suppose,” said Anaya, leaning close to Vaalyun, talking under the laughter.

“Doesn’t know of the Lord of Eyes!” cried the same gnoll, in broken Common. Apparently that was the best joke the barracks had heard all day.

Vaalyun calmly waited for the laughter to die down. As it did, Haganur leaned forward. “Be certain, elf. If you hunt the followers of the all-seeing, it will go badly for you.”

Rujat Auga” snarled the orc beside him, leaning forwards threateningly.

“I have no interested in your Lord of Eyes,” said Vaalyun.

“If you ever develop such an interest, keep a close watch, elf. Because I will hunt you through all Eberron.”

Coming from an heir of the House with the Mark of Finding, that was no idle threat. “Your warning is heard. And if you make false offers of information to House Phiarlan again, there will be consequences, Haganur. It would be unwise to make enemies of us.” Vaalyun rose to leave.

The mercenaries glared, but no-one made a move, and Vaalyun, Esthana and Anaya were soon back outside.

“What was that all about?” asked Esthana. “I thought they were going to attack us.”

Spout Lore(Anaya): 2D6(3 5) +1 = 9 Partial success.
Vague information

“Xoriat madness,” said Anaya. “I suppose it is a cult that worships a beholder—or some similar aberration. The orcs and half-orcs follow the faiths of the Shadow Marches, I assume.”

“Yes,” said Vaalyun. In retrospect, he might have guessed that Tharashk would have information coming from that quarter. “There was little real danger; they wanted to warn us off, and would only have killed us if they thought we were really a threat.”

Amusingly, the Lord of Eyes is quite real. But that’s another story.

End of Session(party): Vaalyun fulfilled his alignment goal, Use your house’s reputation to help yourself, so +1 XP; we learned something important about the world, +1 XP for everyone.

XP: Anaya: 1 failure; at 4XP.
Esthana: 0 failures; now at 1XP.
Vaalyun: 1 failure, alignment goal; at 11XP.

Make Camp(party): Heal
Level Up(Vaalyun): +1 Dex; Life of the Party: roll Carouse with +CHA

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