Played August 26th, 2016
Not long after setting out from the shadow of Dragonspear Castle, a glorious golden stag with horns of platinum is sighted. Arvensis recalls a legend about this creature, and it’s said that if you catch it, it will grant you a wish, but no one has ever been able to catch it. What’s not explained by the legend is how anyone ever knew about the wish granting powers if it’s never been caught. In any case, Lai Agnesstun, the dwarf merchant, Oyn Evermoor, one of the cult wagon leaders, and Samardag the Hoper decide to chase after it. Evermoor plans to wish for the dawning of a new age (he’s vague on the details), Samardag isn’t sure what he’s wishing for but by golly wouldn’t it be spectacular, and Agnesstun doesn’t believe in any of this wishing nonsense, but that pelt sure would fetch a good price in Waterdeep. Ront and Thaemin join their employer Samardag. The stag, not keen on being hunted, bolts into the Misty Forest.
Oyn Evermoor is left behind almost immediately, and Ront and Lai Angesstun eventually lose the beast in the trees. Only Thaemin and Samardag manage to follow the stag as far as its home in the barely-there ruins of an ancient elven castle. The castle is very thoroughly ruined, with the only evidence that ever there was something here being a few bricks laid atop one another in the remnant of a wall here and there, and the occasional remains of a foundation the forest has not yet reclaimed. The stag disappears beneath the branches of a willow tree. Thaemin and Samardag follow inside to find a thin elven man with antlers growing from his forehead, clothed only in a ragged piece of cloth (probably some tapestry or tarp).
He speaks in Sylvan at first, but then in an antiquated form of Elven, which Thaemin understands, and explains that he’s been cursed by a fairy since ancient times. He was an elven prince who frittered away his kingdom’s wealth on banquets and balls, and when famine struck, he had no wealth with which to import food. His kingdom fell into ruin, and a fairy queen cursed him for his foolishness to live as a stag with a coat of gold and antlers of platinum whenever he left his throne room. All the powerful wizards and sages had left his kingdom long ago, and he was pursued wherever he went by those who were desperate for the wealth he had always taken for granted. Surely, he says, in one of the great kingdoms of this age, there must be someone who could cure him. Thaemin tells him to wait here, and he will find someone in Waterdeep who can cure him, and tell them where to find the prince.
The idea given in the adventure was to accompany the stag to Waterdeep despite the other caravaneers desire to hunt it, but seeing as we’re in the relatively safe parts of the trip already, there isn’t any particularly strong reason not to just give a powerful Wizard or Cleric directions.
The prince expresses his gratitude, and leads Thaemin (returning to stag form upon leaving the shelter of the willow) to a hidden cache. The wood of the trapdoor is still perfectly preserved. Back before the rest of the floor rotted away to nothing, it would have blended in perfectly with it. Inside the trapdoor is a magic bow, preserved even after all these years. Thaemin thanks the stag prince for the gift. He has a friend who will appreciate it.
Everyone returns to the caravan, and Samardag and Thaemin claim to have lost the stag in the woods. Everyone commiserates about how the dumb wish legend was probably fake anyway, and a shiny pelt that isn’t even real gold probably wouldn’t have been worth that much. A few days later, a bump in Oyn Evermoor’s wagon causes a chest full of treasure to spill open. Edhelri, the elf who employed Ront as a bodyguard until he left to save the stranded merchant found in the Fields of the Dead from hobgoblins, sees not only gold, but many gems and other valuables in the chest. She asks why Evermoor is transporting that. Is he some kind of gold merchant, taking treasure from where it’s cheap to where it’s dear? How would that work exactly? Evermoor tells her it’s their strongbox where they keep their profits. Edhelri asks why he’s converted his profits into a gold chalice, when coins spend and store much more easily and are worth the exact same pound-for-pound. Evermoor tells her to mind her own business.
The next morning, Edhelri and her lawyer passenger are found dead. Thaemin examines the bodies and determines it was poison. Suspicion falls on Evermoor immediately as he had an argument with Edhelri just the day before (Verther, the cultist wagon leader who Robyn is working for as part of her infiltration scheme, is clearly facepalming internally that Evermoor would solve the problem so bluntly). Agnesstun’s wagon was in charge of preparing dinner the night before, though, and as is agreed in advance, any merchant who dies along the way has their wagon goods distributed amongst the others. This is normally due to raiders, not murder, but the agreement still holds, and Agnesstun certainly stands to profit. Few people would kill a fellow traveler, especially not after close to two months journeying together, just for some stacks of Chult Jungle wood, but Agnesstun is certainly the greediest of the bunch. And then there’s those twins, still following the caravan around, sticking their noses where they don’t belong.
My brother is not a fool. He knew the twins were suspicious from the second he found them all alone in the middle of the wilderness along a road so dangerous that merchants regularly group up into large caravans to stay safe. I was never really able to find a moment for them to spring their doppleganger ambush because of this.
Ultimately, the caravan comes to the conclusion that there’s no determining who was responsible for the murder, so everyone will just have to keep their guard up, keep moving, and hopefully reach Waterdeep before the killer, whoever they are and whyever they struck, attacks again.
The caravan moves on for several days until they come across a man buried up to his neck in the middle of the road with the word “oathbreaker” written across his forehead. Some of the caravaneers are cautious, but Thaemin and Ront waste no time at all digging him up, and Samardag is entirely willing to condone giving this guy a chance to explain himself. Thaemin revives him with some water after he’s dug up, and the man introduces himself as Carlon Amoffel. He explains that he had agreed to marry a girl, but then learned that her father and brothers were bandits and that he would be expected to join the family business. He backed out of the engagement, and this was their revenge.
There is a strange tattoo on the inside of his upper arm, normally concealed from sight, which Carlon explains is that of a small but growing group of caravan guards mainly in Waterdeep who are hoping to band together for better representation in caravan groups where decision-making is often left to wagon owners with guards at risk of losing their job if they break ranks. No one on the caravan has heard of this group, but Carlon advises all the guards present to try and seek them out when they reach Waterdeep, a matter complicated by the fact that they have no formal meeting place. The whole thing doesn’t seem to be terribly well thought through, and appears to have been more the optimistic and possibly drunken vision of a couple of disgruntled guards who didn’t really do any planning so much as daydreaming.
As the group wends past the Misty Forest, a band of adventurers, a warrior, rogue, mage, and cleric, come to the caravan and ask if they’ve seen any undead lately. The caravan says no, they have not. The adventurers explain that the necromancer of Dragonspear Castle has been getting more and more active lately, sending skeletons in large numbers to ambush caravans and bring their wealth to Dragonspear, for what purpose, no one knows. The leader of the team dumps out a dozen-odd skulls from a bag. These, he says, are trophies taken from the captains of each of the patrols they’ve encountered in the last month alone. They say the attacks are particularly frequent near the Misty Forest and Daggerford, where travelers typically think of themselves as relatively safe. They’ve thinned the skeleton hordes out quite a bit, but they suspect there are still plenty of patrols left. Archreny is so taken by their story that he hires them on at 12 gold a week each to protect his caravan, and explains to Arvensis, Cyanwrath, Orvustia, and Eldkin that they are all fired. Arvensis mostly takes this in stride, and even express interest in investigating Dragonspear Castle when they get the time, suspecting they may be allied with the cult (why else would a necromancer need gold or trade goods?). Orvustia and Eldkin are rather a lot more sour about it. Cyanwrath’s pride is somewhat wounded, but he has a bigger vendetta to pursue right now, so he puts a good face on it.
A small group of elven bandits from the Misty Forest (outlaws not in the least condoned by the king) ambush the caravan soon after, targeting Archreny’s caravan first, trying to hit it hard and get away with the goods before the whole caravan can be brought to bear. An arrow sinks into the leg of the fighter, piercing his chainmail like paper and immediately sending him collapsing to the ground in shock. The cleric panics, the wizard tries to whack a bandit with his staff as they close in to get the goods and is shanked, the thief runs away into the forest. The bandits are swiftly dispatched, a few survivors fleeing into the woods, when Cyanwrath and the other old guards return. Archreny sheepishly offers to pay them the same 12 gold a week he’d offered the others if they’ll return to the wagon.
The part when the fake adventurers went down like chumps after being talked up like they were a few levels ahead of the party actually made my brother laugh out loud. Hats off to Kobold Press for this one, it was really well done.
At Daggerford, not far from Waterdeep, the party picks up a new passenger, Jamna Gleamsilver, a gnome wearing a not-at-all suspicious red and black getup.
Robyn notices Jamna spying on the cult, and also on the party, and also that she’s noticed Robyn noticing her, and that she’s also probably noticed Robyn noticing Jamna noticing Robyn noticing the party. Robyn discreetly informs the others that night when the wagons are circled, and the next day Cyanwrath confronts Jamna and the two speak in private away from the wagon. He asks if she has any enmity with the cult – Cyanwrath certainly does. Jamna explains that the people she works for and the people Cyanwrath’s elf friend works for aren’t the same people, but they’re definitely on the same side. The cult is trying to destroy the world and that’s where Jamna keeps her stuff, so she’d rather they didn’t. Cyanwrath can sympathize. The two compare notes, and although Jamna has little new information to offer, she offers to help examine Azbara Jos’ wagon, the only wagon the party hasn’t been able to get into so far. Cyanwrath agrees to help distract him. Cyanwrath attempts to strike up a conversation with him, pretending to be a bit tipsy, but Azbara Jos soon recognizes him from the camp. Cyanwrath shrugs. “Well, it was worth a shot,” he says, “stranger.”
There’s little the cult can do immediately with the information that Cyanwrath has betrayed them, and meanwhile Jamna has successfully gotten into Azbara Jos’ wagon. He’s transporting dragon eggs in addition to treasure.
The party’s just a few days out from Waterdeep and the whole caravan is on edge. This is usually the safest part of the trip but with all the inter-caravan strife and the mysterious deaths, it’s feeling more like the most dangerous. So matters are not helped at all when, two days out from Waterdeep, one of the cult guards on Oyn Evermoor’s wagon is found dead. The other cult guard on the wagon insists that Cyanwrath is responsible. He has a history with the victim, she says, but when asked why, she refuses to give a straight answer. Suspicion is cast on Oyn Evermoor, Lai Agnesstun, and the twins again, each of them prime suspects in the last murder. Arvensis harbors a hunch that Samardag is responsible, largely because he finds his optimism to be suspicious.
Being a hair’s breadth from Waterdeep, and at exactly as much an impasse as with the last murder, the caravan hightails it to safety rather than engage in a witch hunt for the culprit.
While an impromptu game of mafia would’ve been fun, it ran the risk of killing off enough of the caravan to put the cult in a position to attack the PCs directly. Azbara Jos is a fairly tough cookie and there’s a small swarm of cultists to keep melee PCs off his back while he detonates fireballs on their faces. It wouldn’t be hard to keep his allies out of the area of effect in a wide open field.
On an unrelated note, I thought I should bring something up regarding AL rules. I discovered this only a little bit after writing my last bit on it, but I didn’t want to shove it in the blog immediately because I didn’t want this let’s play to be bogged down by constant discussion of rules minutia. See, in addition to the Adventurer’s League player rules and DM rules, there’s also a few other rules sources which are binding. Maybe. It’s actually not clear. The FAQ, for example, is listed in the Adventurer’s League pdfs as an “additional resource,” but is it actually binding rules or just suggested answers to common questions? The very first answer in the FAQ can be interpreted as saying that a DM can interpret all rules basically any way he likes and recommends that DMs consult the community to see how other DMs ruled things when it’s unclear.
So is the FAQ supposed to be binding? Or is it just a list of suggestions to questions that don’t have definite answers? Certainly only very few FAQ questions ever migrated their way into the actual rules pdfs for new seasons, even in seasons when they were happy to see these pdfs balloon outwards to 30+ pages in order to exhaustively document the rules for how to create a character in compliance with previous seasons’ story origins (a system that was ultimately cut due to not meeting its purpose, according to the season 5 update notes, and indeed I am not sure from having read the rules what that system’s purpose was even meant to be).
One of the FAQ answers states that players can only play one character at a time. Except it actually says “it’s one character per player” which is contradicted elsewhere in the rules where players are clearly allowed to create new characters without retiring old ones. It seems like what’s meant is that it’s one character per player at any given time. So my brother’s characters are all totally legal, because he only plays one character at a time, he just changes which character that is dozens or hundreds of times per session. That is a shameless lawyering of the rules, but the rule we’re lawyering comes from an online supplement linked from a PDF for a rules expansion, which kind of gets us to the heart of the matter, which is that to even learn about this rule I had to care more about the rules than any volunteer DM should ever be required to. We’ve reached a level of rules obscurity where I just don’t careanymore. I’m still going to try to keep to the general spirit of the League rules, but the more keeping track of all the rules feels like legal discovery, the less I can bring myself to care about them, so I’m going to worry a lot less about actually following the League rules as written. They’re just too spread out across too many sources to be reasonably kept up with.