Talis the White had cut a deal with the players. She figured that they had scaled the Sword Coast on the heels of her chief rival, Rezmir, in a bid to discover and stop whatever the Dragon Cult was up to with their regional thievery. As a member of the Cult who had recently…been passed over for a promotion, let’s say…Talis was more than happy to stick it to Rezmir in an effort to undermine her credibility in the organization. Although she warned the party that they would be unable to stop the plans already in motion, taking out Rezmir would certainly make them feel better about trying, and would give Talis no small measure of satisfaction.
Rezmir’s current end-of-the-line destination was the village of Parnast, a half-day’s journey from the hunting lodge, and literally over the river and through the woods (and around a small mountain). Parnast has an agreement with a giant, of all creatures, to park his flying ice castle (!) nearby, and if this wasn’t Dungeons & Dragons that phrase would would be the either the worst or the best Ewe Boll movie plot ever. Talis had informed the party that Rezmir had made a deal of her own with this giant, but she didn’t say what the deal was. The end result, however, was that the giant Blunderbuss (or something to that effect; Talis kind of mumbled a lot) would allow Rezimr to charter his flying fortress to move her treasure hoard to its next location.
Parnast was a very unusual town. Made up of maybe two dozen buildings, it had no commercial value and featured only a stable, an old temple, a wheelwright’s shop, and a tavern, in addition to the small houses and farms that surrounded a cliche “well in the town square” (which is really more of an oblong parallelogram, but these are not educated people, and none of them did well in geometry class). A thin vapor covered the ground during the day, and the atmosphere was clammy despite the seasonal temperatures of the region, a condition attributed to the massive, giant-proportioned ice fortress that loomed over the valley.
The people of Parnast weren’t excited to see travelers; they weren’t sad either. More like a pervasive sense of paranoia that the party picked up on as they approached the edge of the town. Seeing that this was a town in need of a rave, the bard wasted no time striding down the main thoroughfare towards the town square, forcing the rest of the party to make haste to keep up (with a gnome! Oh, the elven indignity that ensued!). This was despite the fact that the well was ringed by five guards who were keeping stern watch over the sullen townsfolk as they went about their townsfolkery business.
The guards barked an order for the party to stop, and then strongly suggested they turn around and leave Parnast; there were no amenities for travelers, and it would be in their best interest to just keep on walking. Undeterred, the bard played the latest version of “The Sacking of Greenest”, which amazingly hadn’t quite reached this part of the Sword Coast yet. It wasn’t long before one of the guards slipped away and returned with the Captain of the militia, Captain OfTheTownGuards (his ID card had a smudge over his name, and that’s what it looked like). Captain OTTG reiterated his minion’s admonishment to leave, but in even stronger tones. The spiked flail that he carried cleared up his accent and made his point easier to understand. The party flirted with the idea of starting a bladed ruckus in the town square-slash-oblong-parallelogram, but instead decided to allow themselves to be herded out through the other side of town. The villagers watched in closely guarded fear, with one exception: the wheelwright, who lounged lazily against one of his carts and observed with detached concern.
After about a half hour of close escort, the town guards put their metaphorical boots to the party’s metaphorical backsides, but continued to watch the party recede in the distance. Their exit was cut short by a ground-shaking rumble that signaled the liftoff of the flying ice castle. Sensing that their duties were suitably discharged, the guards left the party to find their own way down the road and turned back to the village. The party, sensing that their bus was leaving the station but understanding that they’d be unable to reach it in time (it was, after all, flying), had to concoct an alternate plan that involved sneaking back into town after dusk to talk to that strangely concerned wheelwright.
The wheelwright wasn’t home, but had left a message that he was “out drinking”, so the party made a detour to the “Golden Tankard”, the appropriately named tavern and Parnast’s only center of non-livestock-based entertainment. The common room was fairly packed (since the livestock were sleeping), and like their first entrance into this sleepy burg, the party’s entrance was not unnoticed. The ranger, monk, and bard bellied up to the table where the wheelwright was sitting alone, while the fighter and rogue took advantageous positions at the bar.
As soon as he realized that he was being joined by three strangers who had earlier been unceremoniously escorted out of town by the local militia, the wheelwright loudly proclaimed that his business was closed for the night, they’d have to come back in the morning, and concluded his comically boisterous assertion by downing his ale and slamming the mug on the table before practically running out of the tavern before the party could even introduce themselves. Coincidentally, the ranger noticed that one of the other patrons got up and left the building as well. This left the party confused and at the mercy of the only peppy person in the village, the Tankard’s barmaid. She rattled off the menu, asked about their individual lineages, went on at length about how her feet were killing her at the end of her shift, and generally convince the party that they were purposefully being delayed for what they could only assume were nefarious purposes.
The ranger opted to excuse himself to the little elves room in a bid to follow that suspicious patron who left after the wheelwright. The man was moving at speed: not a run, but certainly with a purpose, and he seemed to be heading for the stables from which the Captain Wassisface had emerged earlier. Being light on his feet, the ranger was able to quickly catch up to the man, subdue him, and question him. Turns out the guy was really drunk, was headed home, and really had to pee. He smelled a good story, so the ranger let him go and watched him pass the stables and enter a house on the other side of the building. The ranger wasn’t quite content with this, so he sidled up to this small shanty in time to see the drunkard attempting to exit the rear of the house through a window. One quick arrow-shot later, the ranger discovered that this alcohol-sodden corpse was carrying a Dragon Cult insignia. Plot confirmed! Parnast was a village under a silent siege.
Back in the tavern, the rest of the party was under assault from the staff who were obviously trying to delay their departure. Never one to care about public opinion, the party got up and left their (questionably) fresh meal untasted in order to exit the tavern and meet up with the ranger. They agreed that they still needed to talk to the wheelwright, so the ranger stood guard in an alcove outside the tavern while the rest of the party stealthed their…wait, while most of the party stealthed their way across the dusty road to the wheelwright’s shop. The fighter was unable to silence the shink-shink-shink of her chain-mail as she walked, so when the barkeep poked his head out the door, he immediately swiveled towards the sound, noting the party’s progress before ducking back into the tavern.
The bard knocked on the wheelwright’s door, and the door flew open to reveal the proprietor standing ready with a heavy crossbow — leveled at human height. Upon noticing that the person at his door was a gnome, he adjusted his aim accordingly before realizing that he was being an ungracious host. The party was ushered inside, and the door was quickly barred.
The wheelwright wasted no time with pleasantries. He recognized trouble when he saw it: first when the Dragon Cult forcibly took over Parnast, and then again when the party rolled into town. He gathered that the two events were in opposition, so while he couldn’t say where Blunderbuss’ castle was flying off to, he did reiterate Talis’ assertion that the giant was accommodating the wishes of the Dragon Cult for reasons he did not know. But time was short; he was sure that the barkeep had sent a runner to Captain Whoosiewhatsis to tell him that the party had returned to town, and now that the Inner Circle of the Cult had literally flown the coop, the town militia would be unshackled from any pretense of decorum. Still, the wheelwright knew a way for the party to escape and catch up with the castle: the shuttered stables were maintaining two captive wyvern that the cult frequently harnessed and used to fly to the castle once it had taken off should Parnast need to send a message or delivery personnel. If the players could get the militia out of the stable, and then get in to the stable, they might be able to saddle up and chase after the Cult…assuming the wyverns didn’t shred them in the process.
+ + +
The last chapter of HotDQ is this module’s culmination of the first half of the Dragon Cult’s plans, and it’s fitting that it should be final-act worthy.
The idea of strolling into town like they owned the place belonged entirely to the bard, and the rest of the party followed suit because she was half-way there before they realized she was gone. All in all, the results would have been the same regardless of how the party approached it. By the wheelwright’s admission, half the villagers were cultists, half the remaining villagers were cult patsies, and the remainder of the people just kept their heads down and hoped that the next time the castle took off, it would take all the cultists and would never return. Had the party skulked around the periphery and reached the tavern, the spies in the tavern would have called for the guards and the party would have been escorted out of the village anyway.
Fantasy Grounds failed us, though, because the character sheets were a bit messed, up, and because the player maps are included at a scale to allow for tactical token use, they’re supermassive in scale. That means that any players with smaller or single monitors are going to be severely pressed for real-estate. It seemed that everyone was having trouble seeing the entire map because of this, which I think lead to a misunderstanding of the scenario options available. The drawbridge to the castle is visible on the map, but is down in the lower left corner which I suspect some people could not see. Had they been able to view the whole map, their plan might have been limited to “let’s stealth through the back yards and head for the castle”, and that would have been that.
Still, the presentation of the village was taken as a sign that it was important for something, or else why would it be included? In all honesty, players gained a little more backstory by passing through the village, but because the castle’s departure is on a timer (per the module), the village provides the exciting means for the players to catch up, in the form of the wyverns in the stable. The problem is, once the castle leaves, the authority figures are out of the picture and the Captain is free to run the place as he sees fit. That includes tracking down the players in the name of the Dragon Cult.
So now it’s a race between the angry search for the party, and the party’s attempts to break into the stables, subdue and harness the wyverns, and escape Parnast in pursuit of the giant’s flying fortress. It only gets messier from here on in.