After last week’s encounter with a rampaging horde of….mushrooms…the party and it’s caravan moved northward on their way to Waterdeep.
They must have hit a time-pothole because the days just flew by, and before they knew it, a tenday had passed without incident. But since this is a game and not a calendar simulator, that meant something had to go down this session.
Thankfully, it wasn’t anything too bizarre. Just a herd of deer on a nearby hill. But because it’s a fantasy game and not, like, Monopoly, there had to be something weird about this herd: a single, majestic stag with a pelt like gold, and antlers like shiny, tax-bracket-busting platinum. This glorious beast caused the caravan to grind to a halt as everyone had to rubberneck, but several members of the column decided that driving rickety carts up and down the coast in shitty conditions was, well, shit, when they could retire in a castle purchased through the sale of that sweet, sweet deerskin.
Several of the other caravan members, however, warned these would-be Schwarzeneggers that such a creature was not for humans to possess. Surely this was a creature of legend, possibly the house pet of a powerful god or goddess, and you know how they can get when you piss them off. And if you didn’t know how they could get, killing their favored animal would be one way to find out. This seemed to make sense for most of the hunters, but there are always those few assholes who just can’t see past the dollar-signs floating in front of their eyes, and so three of them ignored the pleas and set off towards the hill.
The party seemed a bit torn. At first, they were unconcerned, siding with the sandwich-board-wearing crowd that this kind of animal was not one to be trifled with, and those hunters would certainly get what they deserved. But in the interest of stopping those jerks from bringing celestial ruin to their caravan, sprinkled with a sense that “if this is happening, then the DM probably wants us to do something with it”, they opted to tail the hunters into the forest to see if they couldn’t throw them off the trail of the stag.
Turns out “caravan member” doesn’t come with a Mensa membership, because the hunters quickly lost track of the stag, and the three of them thought it wise to split up to cover more ground. Not wanting to split the party, Our Heroes started their own sleuthing using their Wisdom (Survival) skills to track the creature through the thick woods. After getting lost just one time (man, we really need to start with the dice shaming, because the elven tracker rolled a 1 at this point), the trail lead the party to an ivy-covered ruin in the middle of the woods.
With the shafts of sunlight falling down through the trees, leaves swaying gently in the wind overhead, the players ID’d the ruins as belonging to an elven goddess of nature. Like, duh. Miraculously, everyone made their stealth rolls except for the bard (as the monk put it, “because you never stop talking”). No matter: her monologues didn’t seem to cause any undue alert as they rounded the corner of the crumbling wall to find the stag standing there, bathed in sunlight, all majestic as fuck.
“Klkh89uklnblkberiusysoppwjew,” it said. There was probably an Emoji in there somewhere, but no one in the party could understand what the stag was saying, and holy crap the stag was talking! probably threw them off as well. With an air of ungulate exasperation, the stag changed languages to Elven, which everyone but the bard understood (how’s that for irony!). Unfortunately, the creature seemed to be babbling, talking about how the party was on the right path, they should follow the river of gold, and that the road ahead was filled with sorrow and bloodshed. All was not lost in translation, however, because before their eyes appeared an intricately carved longbow, strung with silver string. As the party drooled, the stag pranced away with one parting shot: “Not all will survive…”
Back at the caravan, the party found the three hunters had returned, empty handed but not without totally bullshit stories about how they were this close to nabbing that stag. As if.
Cult of Personality
The party rolled on in silence (again, another time-pothole) for a few more days, straight into a standing rainstorm that made the road muddy and treacherous. Beneath the darkened sky, the party heard the sharp snap of a wagon axle breaking, and saw the shadow of a cart tumble off the road and into a shallow ditch, it’s Crates & Barrels ™ spilling across the ground.
As some members of the caravan moved to help, they were rebuffed by the cart owners. “We got this,” they said, suspiciously turning help away. The party looked ahead and instantly understood: it was one of the cult’s carts that had tumbled into the ravine. The cultists weren’t actually well regarded into the column. They didn’t interact with anyone, kept a guarded buffer around their carts, and never ate or camped near anyone else in the caravan. Those who offered to help were actually kind of glad that they were denied, because fuck those guys, but they were also pissed because this was delaying the entire group’s progress. And it was raining.
The original party was wary about getting close to the cult wagons because since they had recognized one of the cult members as being from the camp outside of Greenest, they were concerned that they themselves would be recognized. They enlisted their new pal the warlock to head up to the front of the column to see if there was anything he could see. Being the perceptive type, the warlock spotted a small parcel that had spilled out of the crates. This parcel, wrapped in an oiled rag, shone in the meager light, and looked like solid gold jewelry.
Using his powers of Charisma (Persuasion), the warlock convinced the cultists that they really should enlist some help because they’re pissing off the entire column, and they all need to get moving again. They begrudgingly agreed, and positioned the warlock at the back of the cart to help push it up the slippery incline. Now, being a native of Waterdeep, the warlock knew a thing or two about a thing or two, and one of those two things was Dexterity (Sleight of Hand). Covering his actions as a slip of the hand on the rain-slick cart, he thrust his hand under the tarp and pulled back a small, silken pouch which he dropped into a secret pocket in his voluminous sleeves.
After getting the cart back on the road and leaving the cultists to fix their axle, the warlock examined his purloined treasure: four decent sized onyx stones, valued at around 50g each. He wasn’t sure what their game was, but these yahoos weren’t just run-of-the-mill cart jockeys hauling sweatshop jeans to Waterdeep-Mart. He brought these items to the attention of the party, and the ranger took him and the cleric aside to give them the rundown: those people in the cart he had just helped were Dragon Cultists, and they (the party) had been hired to track them, find out who they were delivering to, and what they were going to do with the cargo. The end result was that the warlock and the cleric were officially absorbed into the party and taught the secret handshake, and given the secret decoder ring.
The cultists, never the popular crowd, was even less popular now, having delayed the caravan by several hours, refusing help that would have sped up the recovery, and for being dicks in general.
* * *
There’s a wealth of potential options to pad the time while the party travels to Waterdeep. Not all of the options are required, or even suggested. The trip is supposed to take two months of carting, and I guess the balance for me is to make the trip feel like it’s taking time, but not to send the players running away out of boredom.
I picked the stag hunt option for this week because it awarded a magic weapon (a +1 longbow, for the ranger who might be reading this). Actual item rewards have been very hard to come by in this module, which I personally think is OK. After decades of MMOs dropping loot like clouds drop rain, making items — and magic items specifically — more of a rare occurrence sounds like a more believable scenario than if they’re just hanging from trees like fruit.
Of course we had to do the cult in distress suggestion from the module because reasons that will become apparent later on. I do like how the module is offering these different scenario options, but isn’t making direct connections between the possible elements, but which can be connected into a coherent side-story with a little creative arrangement. As always, I feel that I’m struggling to keep the game engaging, and I’m finding that making stuff up on the fly is difficult for me (the official stuff sounds good, but when I have to ad-lib, it sounds like a third grader is making shit up). Having these “heeeyyy…that fits well with what happened last chapter!” revelations helps me pre-plan the direction that these one-off encounters take. The question is: is the party taking notes, and will the remember the cause to the upcoming effects to make this kind of planning worthwhile?