When we last left off, I was setting up a too-long introduction to our adventures that typically never got to the adventure itself. Time to fix that.
If it wasn’t apparent from before, I’ve never actually played any kind of tabletop RPG with more than one person across from me. It’s an experience I’m looking forward to having, but I’m not there yet. Particularly with this being my first time playing in twenty-something years, I wanted to minimize my embarrassment potential (which is SO high) and get my feet wet in the safety of my own living room with only my husband – who could be easily bribed into silence – bearing witness. While I have no doubt that playing with a full party and focusing on only one character would be an exciting (and likely easier) time than trying to roleplay four distinct and newly-developing personalities all at once, I must confess I enjoyed the rush of flying solo. I had to think fast and in four different, sometimes opposed ways, and the writer in me latched onto the challenge like a hungry, hungry baby. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend it. There’s something satisfying and a little bit insane about giving voice to an argument between two characters that are ultimately both you.
Before getting into the what, allow me a moment to introduce the who.
The party leader is human fighter Miranda Verchain. She was a court soldier up north and wholly devoted to her lord before she began to suspect that the actions she was ordered to take and enforce weren’t in the interest of the people she believed they were supposed to protect. Bringing her concerns to the attention of her superiors was met with dismissal followed by threats when she refused to let the matter drop. Eventually she deserted the lord, now deeply cynical and mistrusting of so-called “nobility” and looking to do good and help people on her own. I created her before learning that the adventure path we would be running was called “Kingmaker”, so I’m pretty interested to see how that’s going to play out.
Next up is Faerindir of the Web, a female half-elven ranger. Fae is something of a misanthrope, finding people of any and all species to be selfish, boorish and deceitful. The forests were far more welcoming to her, since animals and wild creatures are pretty open about their intentions. She’s an expert on vermin, particularly spiders, having near-encyclopedic knowledge. What the others don’t know – and Fae will never confess – is that she’s actually terrified of spiders. Her knowledge is born from wanting to kill them and kill them quickly, preferably before they can even think about touching her with their many spindly, hairy legs.
Kuldyk Stonelore was created next, a male dwarven rogue. I traditionally never ever like dwarves (though couldn’t exactly tell you why), so Kuldyk was my attempt to play around with something I normally never touch. And I’m glad I did, as he’s one of my favourites to roleplay, though how much of that is because he’s a dwarf and how much of that is because he’s a rogue, I’m not yet sure. Kuldyk is an interesting blend of traditional dwarven sentiment – lust for battle, love of treasure – but with an inherent laziness about him. He sees little sense in the “honour” of meeting an enemy head-on when you could kill it in seconds if it never sees you coming (and the end result is a dead enemy, so what difference does it make?) Why work hard and save up to buy something pretty when you can just take it right now? Kuldyk didn’t exactly fit in with his kinsmen so he happily left them for the more exciting world topside – once he’d taken everything he wanted from his neighbors, of course. He insists on still using a battleaxe in combat however, and apparently has a Scottish brogue, which I didn’t realize until I had to keep talking as him. This always adds a thin veneer of humiliation to every interaction because my Scottish accent is really pretty atrocious. He and Fae don’t entirely get along – Kuldyk seeming to embody absolutely everything about people she hates – which can lead to some interesting side-chatter, particularly after a battle that didn’t go smoothly for one or the other.
Rounding out the group is female human sorcerer Winith Rahn. Winith is extremely young at only 16 years old, and being the youngest child of a big family has yet to really gain anything resembling maturity yet. She likes pretty clothes, changes her hair colour with alarming regularity, and has an exacting, if totally naive, black-and-white view of the world where good guys always win and bad guys are easily identified by their black hats and moustache twirling. Part of this comes from the “destined” bloodline that gave her the magic, as she has absolute certainty that she (and thus in her mind her friends as well) are fated for greatness. She’s still a child though, so the big scary things are still really bloody big and scary, which somehow always seems to come as a great surprise to her.
So this group was assembled by the rulers of a nearby major city to explore, map, and clear out a large section of terrain. Lots of bandits, lots of nasties, people dying, all that fun stuff. For assorted reasons I won’t bore you (more) with, each of our characters decided to accept the mission and set out. I also won’t bore you too much with all the details along the way; remember that Mike and I were playing this for like two months, so there would be a lot of details. Suffice it to say that we come to learn that the Big Bad of this area is an unsavoury bloke by the name of The Stag Lord, and it’s pretty clear that eventually we’re going to have a confrontation with him and it’s unlikely be pleasant.
So it was that around 10pm this past Saturday, exploring the final hex we had to map out, we came upon a gigantic fort. It could not have more obviously been the Stag Lord’s place if it had a blinking neon sign out front reading “Eat at Stag Lord’s”. We waited until nightfall when Miranda sent Kuldyk and Faerindir off to scout the perimeter and report back. They were easily the best choice for the job; Miranda had just picked up a very nice suit of scalemail but it had the consequence of making her clank around like someone had tied a string of soda cans to her and painted “Just Married” on her back. As for Winith, she has all the stealth and grace of a blind one-legged howler monkey so best to leave her far, far, far away from enemy ears.
The scouting was without incident and they returned with information about the front gate, the guards they could see, watchtowers, all that fun stuff. We had as much information as we were going to get. Time to make a plan to bring the Stag Lord’s tyranny to a swift, bloody end.
That sounds nice and demonstrative but the truth is I had NO idea what to do. This here is the major downfall of only playing with one person: while I can take different tacts with characters or play out entire conversations, at the end of it all, they’re limited to me. There’s a reason nobody has a brainstorming session of one. The story was four different people with four different perspectives and four different thought processes offering up ideas and suggestions, but the reality was just me sitting there saying “Oh fuck what do I do?” with nobody else there to act as a sounding board to tell me if my ideas were crazy and going to get us all killed.
Which I was pretty damned sure was about to happen.
But there was only me, and after what was likely a good 30 minutes to an hour of deliberation (seriously – I didn’t time it, but I wouldn’t be surprised), I had my plan.
“Plan”, shall we say.
Fae was to circle around to the eastern side of the fort. The wall was scalable and there were fewer guards stationed there and watching that side. Kuldyk snuck close to the gate, as close as he felt he could get without being spotted. Miranda was going to wait far back on the path to the gate, again out of spotting range. This only leaves Winith. What was she to do?
My entire plan hinged on what was really just a flavour tendency/ability that I gave to her: disguises. She loves to dress up, she loves to look different, she loves to pretend. I built this into her character via the bluff and disguise skills, never actually thinking she’d use them. But when it came crunchtime, the single best idea I had was to send Winith walking up to the front gate plain as could be and try to bluff her way inside, claiming to have been part of a bandit group that were attacked by adventurers (us, basically) while they slept.
“Let me see if I understand this plan,” Mike said incredulously before we started to put it into action. “You’re going to send your physically weakest, completely unarmoured, squishiest party member right up to the front gate, in plain view of the archers who could cut her down in an instant.”
“……fuck it, yeah. I’ve got nothing better.”
To his credit he didn’t shake his head or start humming the death march, though I think he really wanted to. And then before I could change my mind, Winith was on the move.
Amazingly, she was not riddled with arrows on sight. Amazingly, she was able to come up with semi-plausible answers to a hostile barrage of questions. Amazingly, she got them to open the gate and let her inside.
It was at this point I realized that I hadn’t ever expected this to work because I had literally no idea what to do next. Winith’s only a level 3 sorcerer and Magic Missile, while great and all, is not even close to enough.
Lying again, Winith managed to convince them to keep the gate open (I have no idea how this happened; they must have had some terrible rolls), then used Ghost Sounds to project Miranda’s voice outside the camp, yelling that she was coming in too. I have little doubt this surprised the shit out of Miranda, who had somehow managed to functionally leave herself entirely out of anything useful in this plan (really who came up with this shit? Oh, right.), but she got the hint and also rushed into the fortress, ALSO managing to fake them out. I have to think this happened by way of her yelling forcibly because Miranda is a terrible fucking liar.
Or those bandits had one foot on the special bus.
Or my husband was thoroughly entertained and seriously fudging some rolls behind his Giant Screen o’ Doom.
The gate slammed shut behind Miranda, so Kuldyk circled around near Fae and the two of them scaled the wall, landing safely – and undetected – on the other side. The entire party is now ready to Eat at Stag Lord’s.
But remember the whole part where I didn’t expect this to work, thus took it no further? Yeah, that’s still a problem.
Miranda grills the guy who seems to be in charge. There are eight bandits, three lieutenants, and the Stag Lord himself, who is drunk and passed out in his room so there’s that. But there’s little other progress I can think to make that doesn’t involve my sword in someone’s neck, so under the guise of pretending I need to show him something, I begin to approach the bandit doing all the talking, up in his tower.
Before I can take more than a few steps, things begin to look even worse. One of the lieutenants, by the name of Akiros, has been alerted to all the fuss and is now all up in Miranda’s face. Before rushing into the fortress she put on one of these stag necklaces we’ve been finding on the many bandits we’ve killed previously, thinking it would give her story legitimacy. Except Akiros doesn’t seem fooled.
“I don’t recognize you.”
“I only joined a short while ago. One or two months.”
“Where did you say you were when you were attacked?”
oh shit oh shit
“A few miles west of the bandi– the old camp.” Mike laughs at my slip and quick cover. Akiros does not laugh.
“Come with me.”
My mind now totally racing, I see little choice but to play along. I very nearly just attack him first before what I’m certain is about to be a very thorough ass-kicking, but I hold off. Akiros leads Miranda into a private room.
Fae and Kuldyk are still waiting ever-so patiently in the shadows. Winith meanwhile decides to try and be a little proactive, casting Sleep on the only two guards conscious in the common room. It fails on both. Dammit, Winith.
Safely out of earshot, Akiros turns to Miranda. “I know you’re lying. Who are you?”
“Who I said. One of the members of the squad that was attacked.” If I attacked him now, would it be a surprise round?
“Those necklaces have to be earned. You wouldn’t get one in just a few months. Just tell me the truth: Who are you?”
Miranda doesn’t miss a beat. “I went back and took it from one of our fallen comrades. Since I was new I wasn’t sure if anybody here would recognize me and the necklace would help make sure you listened.” When all else fails, stick to your lie.
With a heavy sigh – whether that sigh was from the character or Mike I’m uncertain – Akiros confesses that he’s looking to move against the Stag Lord and offers to help us. Miranda doesn’t entirely trust him, but a Sense Motive check helps settle her and she explains who they are. Turns out Akiros wants to leave this life behind and perhaps cause a little mayhem on his way out. Suits me.
The first target is one of the other lieutenants, a brutal thug of a man named Auchs. He’s sleeping alone and is prone to fits of violence; the others won’t notice if he cries out and starts throwing shit. Miranda manages to pass a message to Winith to ignore any sounds of battle and then sneaks into Auchs’ room with Akiros.
Winith – pretty happy to actually have a task rather than keep standing there alone letting her imagination run wild, makes her way to a somewhat secluded area where Kuldyk is supposed to be keeping watch. She uses Message to pass along Miranda’s instruction, and leaves Kuldyk to similarly get it to Fae, which he does.
It really wasn’t that big a deal, as it turns out, since Miranda and Akiros easily cut Auchs down, very literally within seconds. They emerge from his room as unobtrusively as they entered, though in my mind Miranda was whistling a little bit happily to herself. Unfortunately that was about as far as we could take the stealthy approach. There were lots of bodies left that needed killin’, and it was going to be hard to get that many without SOMEONE noticing. It was time to begin the fight. But first, Miranda directed Winith to try to put those two guards to sleep one more time.
Unfortunately the guards were a little on edge from the feelings of the last sleep spell, and they noticed Winith’s motions as she tried to cast it again.
“INTRUDERS!” one cried out as his partner fell victim to the spell. He charged.
“OKAY NOW’S GOOD!” Miranda called out as she rushed to meet the bandit. Faerindir and Kuldyk let loose their arrows. The battle was on.
The fighting itself, not as interesting, at least not when you’re not the one doing the rolling. It was sufficiently epic, very difficult in places, but eventually we’d whittled the ten-person bandit army down to four. Things were looking up.
When the Stag Lord appeared.
Now we’d been assured that the Stag Lord was “[passed] out for the night”, so I hadn’t given him much thought, particularly once the swords started slashing and the people started dying.
Miranda finished off the guy she was fighting. There the Stag Lord was, in a doorway, looking very large, very mean, and very very more leveled than me. He took a shot at her, only barely missing with what would’ve been a near-crippling hit (which I know because at first it nailed her before I reminded Mike about my new armour). Miranda ran and grabbed cover, calling out for everyone else to do the same.
But Winith had another idea.
For the most part, I don’t play spellcasters. I prefer to either think in sneaky “path of least resistance” ways or with the glorious simplicity of a melee class. Sometimes that works against me, but sometimes it helps in that I don’t have a set method to play spellcasters. Since I’m never really comfortable with them and can’t remember what they can do half the time, it’s a lot easier to think outside the box and consider all possible options. So it was that I searched among the various scrolls she’d found throughout the adventure, including a scroll of Grease. Puts a big patch of grease on the ground where the caster wants it. Makes anybody who steps on it have a chance to slip and slide and fall. But Winith had another thought.
“Kuldyk!” she cried, pointing at the large patch that had appeared under the Stag Lord’s feet. “Burn!”
“Aye lass!” Kuldyk replied in a terrible thick brogue, and he ran toward the Stag Lord with a vial of alchemist’s fire already in-hand. He threw it with unerring accuracy.
The grease burst into flames instantly. And the Stag Lord, already woozy and hung-over, promptly fell flat on his back. And burned.
Fae snickered to herself as she shot an arrow into his arm. “Dumbass.”
The Stag Lord bellowed and screamed and got to his feet, his clothes still on fire.
Then he slipped and hit the burning ground face-first.
On his third attempt he was able to take step. And fell again.
Two months of playing this adventure, two months of exploring, battling and foreshadowing a’plenty had led to this moment, this final climactic battle with the fearsome deadly Stag Lord.
In one spontaneous, coordinated action, we had turned the Stag Lord into the Shockmaster.
Things played out a bit more normally from that point forward and eventually the good guys triumphed as Winith always knew they would. But I gotta tell you guys, I will forever keep the mental image of the pillaging ruthless man-killer that is the Stag Lord on fire, busting his ass repeatedly as he tries to scrabble out of a tiny patch of hell that opened under his feet.
Now that was a battle worth waiting twenty years for.