Sunday, July 5, 2015

Way of the Wicked pt. 2: Bad boys, bad boys...

The last time we left the villains, they were in Brandenscar Prison, nicely tucked away in their cell. What looked like a dead end for them, suddenly took a change, as they had a visit from the lovely and mysterious woman, Tiadora. She told them her contact was eager to meet them, and all they needed to do was break out of prison, cross the marshes and find the old mansion at the edge of the swamp.

Before she left, she handed them her handkerchief, which turned out to be a veil of useful items. Now, things weren't looking so gloomy anymore...

Prison Break!
From the very beginning, Way of the Wicked shows off one of its cardinal traits: freedom. Freedom to chose and do as you please, not really railroading you into a certain plan or way of doing things. While it can certainly be argued, that the main plot as a whole is set in stone, there are so many ways to handle things as things move along.

As a GM, you'll have a lot of information on your hand regarding how you run Brandenscar Prison. There is a small handful of viable ways for the villains to escape, and they'll likely come up with some info on their own. I recommend having a journal of some kind, in which you note down the names of the prison staff and where they are at different times of the day. It looks massive, initially, but when you break it all down, there really aren't that many guards left in the prison. So basically, you'll boil it down to the warden, the sergeant Blackerly, the three servants and the various no-named guards. Compared to the later upcoming town of Aldencross, this is a breeze.

And remember, this is supposed to be somewhat easy for the villains. They're supposed to get out with high spirits, so reward creativity. Don't be a dick; you'll have plenty of time to play it rough later on, I guarantee.

The villains decided to wait it out for now and hid the veil in their cell, before they went out to work on the following day. There, they had the chance to see the prison in daylight, as they worked away in the gardens and listened to rumors and noticed the comings and goings of various persons. They were introduced to the servants, heard more talk from the guards about the nightly gamblings and came to realize that Brandenscar was indeed in a poor state.
As they tended the gardens, they were able to snatch some poisonous herbs as well.

They arrived back at their cell at night and after some time, the drow rogue extracted a lockpick from the veil and made his way out to scout the complex. He noticed some nearby stairs and the sound from the guard room and then unlocked the door to the massive ogre, who introduced himself as 'Grumblejack'.

The remaining villains started making a riot from their cell, with the rogue hiding in the unlocked ogre-cell. As soon as the guards entered, their heads were smashed in by a pair of massive ogre-fists, a dagger in the chest and unholy magic by touch. They splattered, needless to say.

The villains made short introduction with the ogre, who was furious for letting himself be captured by the little ones. He swore he'd aid the 'good little ones' in their quest, and that he could easily be just as stealthy. After all, he once yelled at a peasant that he had seen nothing, after he'd eaten one of his sheep. The peasant had pissed himself and cried out he'd seen nothing indeed, therefore Grumblejack was indeed quite stealthy!

(Again, I strongly advise you to get your hands on the seventh book, Tales of Talingarde, before you start running Grumblejack. It has a lot of scripted events, such as this one, when GJ has to be stealthy for the first time. You can make him a truly memorable character if you play him right.)

Don't go out tonight...
From there, it was pretty much a march of death out of the prison. The troupe of death made their way downstairs, where they met little resistance except a few drunken guards who were quickly dispatched with a dagger and some good stealth rolls.

They even managed to wake up a group sleeping in the barracks, and butcher them before any of them made it outside to yell for alarm. Knowing they would need some supplies for their escape, the group made it into the kitchen, where a servant maid was busy working, while and older man enjoyed a late night snack. Swiftly, they were turned into snacks themselves.
The villains made some rations out of the food, whereas Grumblejack eyed them with curiosity and then chopped up the servants and put the parts into a little basket he brought along. “See,” he said, “Now Grumblejack is ready for travel, just like little ones!”

Time to break out of this shit-hole.... Player-character style!
 They managed to find Blackerly's personal brewery inside his quarters and true to the old notion; whenever you're in doubt, put something on fire, that's how it rolled. (Again, this part is all about putting on the heavy rock music in my eyes and let them have a go. Being extreme and watching the world burn is good right now. There are some nice little details you should absolutely try to include, such as the guards having various things in their lockers. My players found a wedding ring a dead soldier was about to bring home to his girlfriend. Another had a healing potion with a nice message from his mum and so on.).

With the main building suddenly on fire, the villains crept out of the backdoor and waited for the prison staff to enter in panic. Then they ran for the gate, used the portable hole from the veil and made a sprint for it down the road outside. The guards on the way were butchered and soon after, they were heading deep into the swamp and into the darkness.

Yes, my master...
The journey through the swamp was uneventful (as written, the villains are supposed to clash with a giant toad out in the swamp. Since we use progression-based leveling, and I loathe encounters just for encounters' sake, I skipped this).

They soon found the old manor, which lay discretely on the shore of the swamp, with a small lantern burning from the top window. Grumblejack admitted he had a bad feeling about this, but during the travel he'd heard much about this 'Asmodeus' person and how he was clearly showing them his favor. The ogre admitted he wanted to hear more about this dark denizen later.

Tiadora greeted them with barely a gaze, as she opened the door and asked them to enter. All they saw was a long hallway with doors, and enthralled servants with zombie-looks, ready to take care of all their needs. The white maiden told them their common master would meet them in an hour in the library; till then, the villains were to be cleaned up and attended to. Besides from that, they could do whatever they wanted to with the servants.

(This is the part where the players have their gear and whatever else you decide will apply. It's a good psychological entry to the Cardinal, especially if you allow them to just pick among the common items from the Player's Handbook. Don't worry if they go for the Full Plate, it matters little in the tasks they are about to undertake, and it makes the Cardinal seem like a really nice guy).

They were brought to the library where a dark being greeted them in a pleasant voice. He introduced himself as Cardinal Thorne, the last highpriest of Asmodeus in Talingarde; a man who'd had a close interest in them for quite some time. He told them that he had an offer for such talented people such as them.

Thorne told the villains, that a new order was rising in the lands, and he, along with them, were to bring it to its fullest, and the realm to its knees. For this purpose, he had designed nine groups; 'Knots', reflecting the layers of Hell, who all had a unique purpose in this grand plan. They, the villains, were supposed to be the ninth knot and undertake a mission of central importance for the Cardinal.

(This is a crucial stage of the adventure; the players are pretty much supposed to say yes. If they don't, they're torn to shreds by Tiadora and everything ends here. Some have a huge issue with this, but if you're offended/put off by that, you likely shouldn't be playing D&D / Pathfinder published adventures in the first place...

It's important that you try and make the cardinal come across as a nice guy, but also truly frightening. To me, he was heavily inspired by Constantine from the old game 'Thief'. Watch the cinematic below to see how I tried to play him.) 

The villains agreed and the Cardinal happily asked them to sign an infernal contract that would bind their infernal work. (At this time of writing, I've only read the first couple of books, but from I see, this contract is basically just a “I promise not to be a fucking douche bag towards the other people in the group, even though I'm finally allowed to play an evil alignment and fulfill my deep fantasy of being an asshole towards everyone around me”-promise. It certainly has a place in many groups, I'm sadly sure. Luckily, in my group we had a solid talk about this beforehand so it was more a fluff-thing for us).

They signed the contract and all received the unholy mark on their head; written in blood they all had a blessing from the infernal lord, and a gift. Each had a silver bracelet that allowed them to change their identity and looks, as they would head out into the hideously good world of Talingarde. (Basically, they're allowed to spam Change Self spells as they please; in D&D Next terms, it doesn't change that much, except that I ruled it didn't take concentration to keep the spell going and the bracelet didn't require attunement. The adventure doesn't mention anything about whether it shields them from detection from evil-spells and so on, which I ruled it didn't do.)

Once done, the villains were told to return to their chambers and prepare themselves for a little test. Not long after, they were told to enter the basement of the mansion and fetch an emerald idol for the master, before 24 hours had passed...

Inspired by Thief, this is the picture I always use for Cardinal Thorne

The Cellar Adventure
(I'm not going too much into details about this one, because there is very little to say. Basically, this was the passage that seemed slightly odd to me, but now, later on, it makes sense. The heroes go through a series of rooms in which they're greeted by a cryptic, and yet kind of obvious, message about what to do. Mostly they're blatantly simple, such as “Don't follow the masses, make your own road!” and you're supposed not to take the door to which all the footprints go. Derp.
Again, there are a couple of encounters here that I didn't bother with, such as the dark room. Instead, the villains met up with a lost squire, who yelled and begged for his life, telling them he was abducted from the north. I rewrote this a bit, letting him be the former squire of Sir. Thomas Havelyn, as the test was about showing mercy for the right one. Needless to say, my players just killed him.

Later on comes the juicy part; the villains meet up with the notorious witch hunter who put most of them behind bars; Sir Balin. This is a small gift from Cardinal Thorne, and it just so happens that his holy symbol is the item they seek. This is the time for revenge, and letting your players be creative about it. In my case...they killed him. Sort of, just like that. Ah well.)

They returned to the hall in which a rather bored Tiadora greeted them and told them to keep the prize. “Come,” she said lazily, “your real task begins now...”

Tiadora - Still a mystery

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