With the mast successfully returned to the pirates, the adventurers began preparing for their trip inland to the Imperial Shelter. When the ship was crewed and outfitted, Salty, the piratical second-in-command had a surprise for the outgoing party. A shabby looking kobold was almost thrown at the adventurers. He was small, even for kobolds, and his ragged clothing was covered in singe marks. Apparently the pirates had picked him up at some point, and wanted him gone.
“I am Weekbadd! Help me prepare for when the First Lizard ends the world in holy fire!”
This was going to be interesting.
The sailing journey was mostly uneventful, up until land was sighted over the horizon. A small beast was spotted flying, and it circled the ship until finally perching on the side of the deck. Now close enough to be clearly seen, the creature was a pseudodragon, and it explained to the party that it had come from its former master’s home in the lighthouse north of Port O’Rock. This explained a little bit about the lighthouse, though the little creature didn’t have much in the way of description or answers about its master. Spotting two arcane casters in the party, the pseudodragon sidled up to the kobold (Jethro already had a companion in the form of Grandpappy) and introduced itself as X, a shortening of a monstrous six-syllable draconic name.
The party, now up a pseudodragon, landed near the river delta as described on the map, and began walking along the river’s banks. Not long into the journey they came to a bridge and a small abandoned village. This fishing village was likely abandoned when Port O’Rock closed its doors to outsiders, and the huts were all in severe disrepair. The group took a look around, and found obvious signs of recent occupation in one of the huts. Then, Hugh heard someone coming. The group scattered.
Five bandits came down from the road, and spotted Ander and Hrive. Ander made no attempt to hide, while Hrive only thought he did. The bandit leader tried to shake Ander down…and then the arrows started. Ander and the captain fought, the rest of the group showed themselves, and Weekbadd made good on his introduction by putting two of the bandits to sleep. After the captain fell, one bandit ran and the other was dispatched. This left two sleeping on the ground.
The two sleeping bandits awoke, tied together and facing a very angry Ander. Without their leader, the bandits quickly crumbled under mild interrogation, revealing two gems in the captain’s belt and a stash of coin sewed into a shoe. The adventurers still had no idea what to do with the bandits, not wanting to let them starve but not trusting them to be hirelings either. Jethro wanted to execute them. Ander wanted to cut off their hands. No one else desired this level of cruelty but none of them had better ideas either. Finally, one of the bandits called out:
“The Refuge of the Faithful!” The Refuge of the Faithful was a shrine in the mountains, which accepted supplicants. The bandit claimed that he and his surviving partner would help the party navigate and give up their worldly possessions if they be allowed to become monks and give up their past lives. The party was going north anyway, and Ander was intrigued by hearing about another order. The destination was changed, the Imperial Shelter could wait.
The bandits made good on their promise and showed the party which bridge they were crossing on the river, a point of ambiguity on their map that could have gotten them lost. They made it to the foothills by dark, and stayed with a cadre of monks who were watching the pass to the shrine. The next day they ascended, reaching the shrine and handing the bandits over to the abbot. They also saw two very familiar faces at the shrine…
None other than Alstern and Renard, the smugglers who had left the party to wash up on a beach and absconded with their supplies and money, were praying at the shrine. The party surrounded them, but no one would raise a blade in a holy place. The two smugglers explained that the money was spent, on a house in a village to the south. This village was apparently near the lair of a self-important marid, a water djinn. With no liquid capital, Alstern and Renard had planned to go meet adventurers at Montral’s Mine, a complex that ran deep into the mountain and was the site of holy labor back when the shrine was still a temple to Montral, god of the Earth. While there was anger directed at the smugglers (Jethro had some opinions about teaching them a lesson), there was no way to steal back a house, and Montral’s Mine had some potential to it. The adventurers followed Alstern and Renard back down the mountain and up another winding pass to the mine. There they found a single adventurer had already made camp, regaling his attendants and one other person with tales of his adventurers. Sir Pierre was (or imagined himself) a knight in shining armor, hiking up from the Third City with plans to conquer Montral’s Mine. The one other person already sitting around the fire with this retinue was a bard, who introduced himself as Fallon. Fallon had come up from the south, and was on his way north to meet up with a friend and fellow bard who normally played at taverns around Talnar lands. Fallon was adept at playing for an audience, making over-the-top facial expressions and rolling his eyes at all of Sir Pierre’s stories…and yet never being caught doing so. This continued through the night, as Sir Pierre flaunted his wealth by offering food and the “privilege of sleeping on my hallowed floor”.
The next morning, Pierre awoke, hungover but determined to conquer the mine. After he charged in, alone, the adventurers watched him descend and decided what to do. Fallon was a more cautious soul than his host, and was about to leave. He left Jethro and Ander with a promise, though. “If you ever bring living souls back into the dead city of Glebhavern, I will darken the door of any tavern you wish and play my songs.” Given the party’s previous experiences, this was a tempting offer.
The adventurers descended into the mine, and encountered Pierre, who had just had his bell rung by a flail trap. Intentionally or not, Jethro severely antagonized Pierre by pointing out the large and not particularly well hidden pressure plate on the floor. Pierre stormed further down the mine in a huff…walking right into another trap, spraying acid on his shining armor. After standing there awkwardly trying to wipe the acid off with his gauntlets, Pierre was interrupted by Hugh: “you might want to take that off before it burns right through.” Pierre hurriedly tried to remove the armor, proving awfully clumsy at it until Hrive gave him a hand. Dressed in nothing but his underclothes, Pierre hissed “you will not speak a word of this” and fled to the entrance. The adventurers, meanwhile, walked around the pressure plate and further down into the mine. Before long they came into a chamber with a metal grate in the floor. Using a cantrip, Hugh moved all the earth around the grate off, revealing a heavy piece that could be lifted. Ander heaved it off, and Hugh used a piece of Pierre’s corroded armor as a makeshift piton on which to secure a rope. The adventurers descended into a room resembling pipeworks or a boiler room, and vents spat gouts of steam at them. The gouts of steam were not ordinary steam, but rather a flock of steam mephits. After being hit with several scalding steam blasts, the party moved out of their cluster under the rope and began hitting the hazardous but unprotected creatures. After what seemed like an eternity, the last mephit exploded in a cloud of steam. The party was now in some sort of complex, significantly more intentionally built than the mine and, from the look of their first encounter, significantly more dangerous…
If there’s one GMing question that comes up over and over, it’s “How do I write interesting NPCs?” It comes up so often I’ve already written an article about it, but this session was a fairly good example. Both Fallon and Sir Pierre had very distinct personalities, which worked well as they played off of each other. It also wasn’t clear at their introduction whether or not these were important NPCs or flavor characters, though by the end Sir Pierre’s embarrassing retreat may indicate that he was more of a flavor character. That said, he’s still alive, and there’s no reason he couldn’t return some day.
Fallon and Sir Pierre’s interplay made them interesting, and Sir Pierre stood out, with the party remembering that he’s pompous, arrogant, and not particularly likeable. These elements make him memorable, but also gave a platform to make the more subtle Fallon distinctive, simply by giving him the very bard-like trait of mocking the powerful around him. Though neither of these characters were onstage very long, one distinctive trait each was enough to color the encounters and help the players remember who they are.
The bandits from earlier in the session may not have been as distinctive, but the flow of that encounter showed that NPCs should have clear motivations. While many combat encounters in D&D are against monsters who do not necessarily have complex motivations (or in the case of some, like constructs and undead, a will to live), there are still many who would not logically fight to the death. The bandits begging for their lives (and limbs) is realistic behavior, as is the other bandits fleeing for their lives. The PCs showing mercy by letting one bandit run and not killing the other two when under the influence of the sleep spell was rewarded with a new questline and some treasure, both from the bandits and indirectly from the mine they’d later come to. And in case it isn’t clear, give full XP for encounters like this even if not everyone is killed. It’s a strong way to show that you as a GM reward both creativity and mercy.