Finally ascending from the mine of fire, stone, and mephits, the adventurers headed north towards the Imperial Shelter. They camped along the road, slept without incident, and made their way back to the river they had originally followed from the coast. The road crossed the river further inland, in an area they had not yet been in before. And as they prepared to cross a flooded causeway to continue on their way, they spotted a giant metal beast, drinking from the river. This bull didn’t eat grass…it was a Gorgon, which subsisted on ground up stones from its petrified prey. It saw the adventurers, and got ready to charge.
Elliot moved quickly, though, and literally grabbed the bull by the horns. The bull responded with its petrifying breath, and while Elliot could feel his joints hardening, he resisted. He then wrestled the beast to the ground, and held it still with help from Ander. Fortunately, he had a trick up his sleeve, in the form of a cantrip. He began speaking to the beast, and it calmed down. The Gorgon experimentally wiggled its rear hooves, which Ander was holding. Ander let go. The Gorgon did not kick. Elliot slowly let go, and let the beast stand back up. As everything had gone well so far, he vaulted astride the beast and tried to ride. This did not go well. He was bucked off quickly, and the Gorgon gave him long, narrow eye contact, as if to say “don’t push it”. The beast strode off down the riverbed, and that was that.
The Imperial Shelter was only a short distance down the road, and the adventurers made good time. There were a brace of soldiers outside the gate, of varying ages and degrees of polish. The most ‘together’ soldier came up and demanded an explanation. Hugh, chosen as the diplomatic face of the party, showed the soldier the signet ring and explained they had cleared the city of Glebhavern of undead. The soldier looked at him, stone faced, and excused himself through the door. After a few minutes of waiting, the party was invited inside.
The guards escorted the party towards the hearth in the back of a stone house, one of two larger buildings within the fort’s perimeter. At the hearth were three women, two middle-aged halflings and an elderly human. The halflings were Sybil, head of household for the emperor, and Mara, the empress’s maidservant, and the human was Helga, governess for the emperor’s children. In addition to being the senior most household staff, these three women were also the regents. Hugh explained what had happened in Glebhavern, and gave Sybil the documents they had recovered when asked. Sybil explained that the emperor had gone down to Dihlstrad, the city that is now Third City, and never returned. Symond, his eldest son, followed him once he was old enough to take the crown, and the two younger children, fraternal twins Folke and Rosa, disappeared a few years after that. Symond left a note explaining he was going to find his father, but the twins disappeared without a trace. The empress, meanwhile, was upstairs, but losing her husband and children had left her mentally infirm.
After some back and forth, the adventurers had developed a plan. They would return Sybil to Glebhavern and begin the process of inviting people back to settle there. After that had started, they would venture down to Third City and figure out what happened to Symond and the Emperor. The first potential settlers that the group thought of were the pirates they had encountered, led by Wilson the ‘Pirate King’ and Salty the sea captain. After a night of much-needed dining and drinking, the party, bolstered by Sybil’s retinue, headed to the river delta where the pirates had dropped them off. Thanks to some hustle and Salty’s unique brew called “Signal Flare”, the pirates began heading towards Glebhavern by the end of the day.
Before heading to Third City, the party took stock of Glebhavern, and its relative safety. The crypt, while still inhabited, was stable, and had been home to undead long before the city was abandoned. The Wizarding College, Glebgabral, was another story. The party headed onto the college’s grounds, finding most buildings abandoned and ransacked, even though the campus seemed to be protected by some sort of ward. The arcane spellcasters could feel the ward making them fearful, but were still able to progress towards the Provost’s office. In the ornate office was a pedestal, containing both the source for the ward as well as a teleportation crystal. Not ever saying no to adventure and danger, the party counted to three together and touched the crystal.
Like other teleportation devices, this one left the adventurers in a strange room with one door, leading to a split corridor. Heading north, the party found a room where large carrion crawlers had entered through holes in the walls. Carrion crawlers can be dangerous, but aren’t abnormal features in long abandoned basements. The next room, however, contained hellhounds. Using the door as a way to block their fire breath, the party dispatched the beasts one by one, relieved that their death didn’t cause explosions like the mephits did. The mere presence of hell hounds, though, did indicate that whatever the College kept in the basement was deemed worth protecting…
Much hay has been made about “high-prep” and “low-prep” GMs, and often there’s a nod towards improv skills as making for “better” GMs. Let me deconstruct and dispel this right now. There is a very good reason that a lot of GM advice focuses on improv skills over the writing skills which are required to prepare and administer a vibrant and internally consistent world: fewer people out there have improv skills. Writing skills, even those for worldbuilding and fiction, are taught in public schools…improv is not, even if you’re a theater nerd. Once you are out running your game, though, you need both. And this session shows that a typical game session is going to key into both carefully written plotlines and background as well as improvised total nonsense.
Has your party ever had a player who wants to turn near-as-dammit everything into a mount? Elliot’s player, already having a grappling build, was enchanted by the idea of wrestling an exotic creature to the ground and making it his mount. So, when they met the gorgon (which, remember, is an armored bull in D&D), he decided he was going to grapple it down and break it. Then he rolled beautifully. Of course, as evidenced by the end result, his luck ran out, or rather, the gorgon started rolling well too. Always say yes as a GM…but don’t make it easy. Another note here, as I’ve said before…that gorgon encounter was worth full XP. Reward creativity and ingenuity.
The rest of the session was a bit of an infodump, but one I was looking forward to. The Imperial family line is the backbone of my worldbuilding, and it keys into most other locations and events I’ve written, at least indirectly. And for the most part, that writing has had the intended effect. As has been seen a little bit so far, the players have been intrigued by the idea of rebuilding the city of Glebhavern, and getting in touch with the Imperial family and starting the resettling in earnest was a big motivator for them. As they will soon see, though, there is still civilization among all the ruins…the sessions in Third City will open up a new area and some intriguing new plot threads befitting the now mid-level characters. But as we will soon see, the Wizard’s College has some interesting secrets to share, as well as some insights on dungeon design that hold it in contrast to some of the previous dungeons that have shown up during the campaign. Both the Third City and the Wizarding College will show up in later editions of this D&D Adventure Log!