Monday, March 5, 2018

Monday Recap: New Hire Orientation

Medieval Melodies: the "Jon needed a break" edition

Hey all! Guest Dungeon Master Will here writing up this week’s Monday Recap. While a player in many of Jon’s games (like these for example), I have also been DM’ing for quite some time now and recently started a new campaign that I am calling “Agents of the Queen.” So, as Jon is a player this time, he asked me to write a recap of the first session.

A little backstory. For this campaign I started everyone at 1st Level, but I asked that they write their backstories as if they were in the 15-20th Level range. So Epic Level backstories in Non-Epic Level characters from Jon’s custom world of Ahneria, specifically the continent of Eiselon. Immediately this raised some questions among the players as to how such powerful, almighty heroes have been reduced to such a sorry state, and right away there was a nice air of mystery surrounding the setting. This was intentional, I wanted the setup to catch people by surprise, and although I think the players were on to me right from the get-go, the setting really seemed to resonate with everyone. What was this setting you ask?

Let's find out!

This story is part 1 of a series. The campaign is ongoing.
| Part 1 | Part 2 |

Agents of the Queen: New Hire Orientation

Cast of Characters
Will: Dungeon Master
Jon: Skalus, the Unyielding Mountain. Human Druid and Protector of the Fractured Mountains, 800 years young, doesn’t/can’t talk much, follows a very...minimalist dress code.
Michelle: Nimble Snow of The Ethereal Wilds Clan. Tabaxi Mystic of the Order of the Nomad, known as “The Snow Angel of Khoomes”, puts her tail in her mouth when bored.
Matt: Vinci Ironshell. Super old and forgetful Tortle Barbarian, endowed with unnaturally long life, has been fighting in legendary battles for centuries, doesn’t know how to use a phone but still tries.
Patrick: Terrinevander “Gidge” Gidge. A Halfling Artificer that blew most of his limbs off in a horrible accident and replaced said limbs with advanced prosthetics, has a Thunder Cannon for an arm, saved a kingdom with giant robots.
Kelly: Hollilynn Goodbody. Evangelical Tiefling Cleric of Pelor, technically seven feet tall (with horns), lifelong enemy of the undead and slayer of Vampire Lords, has bright blue hair.

Our story began in a dark void. Floating in this formless aether, our heroes were robbed of their senses. Until, a bright, door-like light came in to vision and a friendly voice called out, beckoning them forth. Individually (but really at the same time, because sitting down one-on-one with each player would’ve taken waaaay too long) each of them walked into the light. On the other side, they found themselves in a very pristine and orderly “office” of sorts, and were asked to take a seat by a well-dressed and very pale-skinned Elven man sitting opposite of them. Deciding to forego delicacies, the man informed our heroes that they were, in fact... dead.

They couldn’t remember dying, or even any events that might have led to their death, and after inquiring as to why this was, the man informed them that this part of their memories had been erased as any memory of their death could result in further unpleasantness. Surprisingly, everyone seemed to take both bits of news remarkably well. Skalus and Vinici’s unnaturally long lifespan had staved off death for seemingly long enough, Nimble Snow seemed excited at the prospect of actually being an angel now, Hollilynn seemed more upset that she wasn’t basking in Pelor’s light, and Gidge was just wondering where his prosthetics had gone. After providing Gidge with a set of temporary and poorly sized spectral limbs, the man, who eventually identified himself as a Pureblood Shadar-Kai named Vaughn, casually informed everyone that they were in the cold wastes of The Shadowfell. Specifically, in a region called Letherna inside the Black Citadel of The Raven Queen, Goddess of Death, Fate, and Winter. Though understandably confused and full of questions, Vaughn only provided a limited amount of information to our heroes before encouraging them to take part in “the tour”, where they would get most of the answers they were seeking.

Our heroes tentatively agreed and were led outside of Vaughn’s office toward the main area of The Black Citadel. In life, The Shadowfell had been frequently described as a horrible, morose place of perpetual winter and death. But now as they were treated to a quiet and serene landscape of snow and ice, the chromatic brilliance of the Astral Sea shining above them, and a swirling vortex of bright shining souls that all filtered into the top of The Black Citadel’s main was actually quite beautiful. Eventually, they reached the main entrance. Vaughn pulled out a sinister looking dagger and placed it in the lock of the door, it wailed with the voices of a hundred tortured souls, and eventually unlocked. “Everything you think you knew about the Shadowfell, is about to change.” Vaughn said, as he opened the door.

Less like...this

More like this. The Shadowfell really needs a better PR person
Not sure what to expect, our heroes prepared themselves. But they were met with what could only be described as, “corporate synergy”. People of all types walked hither and yon with stacks of paper in their hands, many casually greeting Vaughn as they walked by. The massive left wall was lined with cabinets filled with what was possibly millions of pieces of parchment. A gigantic map of Ahneria dotted with dozens of points of light adorned the wall on the right. And at the far end of the hall was a room labeled “Conference Room”.

“Welcome to The Queen’s Agency.” said Vaughn as he lead our heroes further in.

Long story short, it seems that a few thousand years ago, The Raven Queen, who now calls herself “The Director”, was displeased with how her and her domain of influence was being represented in the Prime Material Plane. So she decided to “rebrand” herself and her realm of influence to be more, “public facing”. The Raven Queen’s mission, to eradicate the taint of Undeath and uphold the natural balance of Life and Death, had taken new form in this Agency. And the employees of The Agency, were steadfast in their commitment to this mission. Vaughn then informed our heroes, that they were to become members of The Agency as well. One-by-one, our heroes grappled with this revelation. Skalus, still completely devoid of clothing, seemed fairly convinced this was all a dream of some sort and continually tested the physical limits of The Agency’s architecture, Gidge was still having difficulty with his spectral limbs, and Hollilynn, and in fact everyone else, kept arriving back to the same question. “Why us?”

Vaughn then informed them that each of them, and in fact every member of the Agency, was referred to it in some shape or form by an otherworldly entity for their exceptionalism in life, and now their usefulness in death. Skalus and Vinci’s blessing of long-life had been approved by The Director herself, and now she was “cashing in” so-to-speak. Another high-ranking member of The Agency, a celestial named Zophiel, had personally watched over the lives of Nimble Snow and Gidge. And Hollilynn, who had devoted her life to fighting the Undead and spreading the light of creation, naturally aligned with The Agency’s goals and came personally recommended by Pelor himself. Vaughn then produced a sheet of paper with Pelor’s signature on it and showed it to Hollilynn. She then in turn responded by breaking down into joyful tears.

Eventually, our heroes finally met one another and were given The Agency’s “Employee Handbook”. In it outlined the various policies and procedures that The Agency operated under. More importantly, it outlined our heroes’ new role within it. They were to become “Ravens”, administers of The Director’s justice upon those who had upset the natural balance of life and death. In addition to the sense of accomplishment that would be achieved in bringing evil to a swift end, the position offered “Sparks of Divinity” as compensation for a job well done. Being that death is quite the ordeal to go through, our heroes had been drained of most of the strength they had in life. These Sparks of Divinity promised to restore that strength...and then some. But in order to become full-fledged Ravens, Vaughn informed them that they would have to undergo an initiation assignment.

Wrapping up in the conference room, Vaughn then led them to “Conspiracy Hall”, a staging area for The Agency’s Ravens to plan their assignments and outfit themselves. In it, hundreds of other Ravens were already hard at work on their respective missions. As they walked past, many of them began to recognize a few legendary heroes that were known to Ahneria’s history, and had long since passed from the world. Suddenly, a Dwarf with fiery red hair that looked as if he was carved from solid iron actually recognized Skalus. This was Grimnir Mountainbreaker, a legendary Dwarven hero who’s axe was said to have fractured many of The Fractured Mountains. After properly introducing himself, a smile beamed across Grimnir’s face and he then presented his hand. Saklus presented his as well, and the very ground beneath them quaked and split as they shook each other’s hand in mutual respect.

Kind of like this. Only if Armstrong was very naked.
Soon after, our heroes arrived at their own “bullpen”, where they met their new “Handler”, Kalara. In life, Kalara was a Cleric of The Raven Queen, a founding member of the famous Garlancian adventuring team C.H.A.O.S., and was missing her left arm although it was now replaced by a spectral one. A fact that her and Gidge almost immediately bonded over. She greeted the rest of them, Vaughn dismissed himself, and she went over their first assignment.

They were to travel back to the Prime Material Plane, specifically the Garton Forest in Garlancia, and eliminate a necromancer that called himself Raxxar the Reanimator (real name: Eustace Greenberry). Raxxar had gained a small group of followers and had convinced them that he would lead them to an “eternal paradise”, when in fact he was really just killing them and reanimating their corpses for his own nefarious use. Before embarking, Kalara gave the group their standard issue Raven equipment. The first item, a Talisman of Requisition that they could use to contact Kalara and be sent any mundane item that they needed (for game purposes this was any Weapon, Armor, or piece of Adventuring Gear in the PHB. The players were also restricted to “Requisition Slots” equal to half of their Strength ability score, just so that they couldn’t infinitely carry any and all items). The second, an Amulet of Anonymity that would disguise themselves and allow them to automatically blend in with the local population. And finally, the Black Feather Brand, a small Raven’s feather made of black steel that would mark a soul for total annihilation upon death. This last item was meant for Raxxar, and Raxxar only. After equipping themselves, Skalus finally covering himself with some armor, and Gidge getting his old prosthetics back (including his beloved Thunder Cannon that also happened to be his right arm), Kalara opened a portal to Garlanica and our heroes entered.

Pictured: Kalara. Not actually there: Kalara's left arm
They were teleported just beyond the edge of the forest, but the ruin that Raxxar had holed himself up in was still in view and lit by torches. Carefully, they crept up on the entrance of the ruin and spotted two armed guards standing out front. Hollilynn began to form a plan with Vinci and Gidge, but as she did Skalus, who as all too happy to have actual dirt beneath his feet again, decided to burrow underground with Nimble Snow in tow. Suddenly, two Zombies who had been standing silent nearby lurched toward Hollilynn and Vinci, but their attacks were rendered useless in the face of Hollilynn’s armor and Vinci’s nigh-impenetrable shell. This commotion set off the two guards standing watch, but before they could react, Skalus unleashed a devastating Thunderwave from beneath them and sent them both flying. Capitalizing on this, Nimble Snow used her impressive agility to climb out of the hole and fire a psychically infused arrow at one of the downed guards, which quickly felled him. Back with the Zombies, Gidge warmed up his old Thunder Cannon and took one of their heads clean off, while Hollilynn and Vinci teamed up to dispatch the other one. The the final guard managed to rise to his feet and get a small hit in on Skalus, a mere scratch from his perspective, and was quickly dispatched with the proper application of the Shillelagh spell. The entrance now clear, the group pressed on.

Upon entering the ruin, the group was “treated” to an amateurish relief sculpture of a very rotund man, presumably Raxxar, leading a congregation of downtrodden individuals to glory. Skalus thought this to be an offense and used Mold Earth to deface the sculpture before going through a nearby door. Immediately on the other side he felt his foot sink slightly into the floor as he realized he had triggered a trap! The the far wall opened up to reveal a crossbow that fired a bolt at him. Luckily, Skalus was swift enough to dive out of the way and although the bolt passed dangerously close to Nimble Snow who was standing behind him, it embedded itself harmlessly into the back wall. The trap now inactive, the group was faced with two doors. Gidge decided to take the one to the right, but quickly discovered it was locked. In need of a set of Thieves’ Tools, Vinci contacted Kalara on his Talisman of Requisition...or at least he tried as the workings of the Talisman somewhat eluded him. Eventually he figured it out and successfully ordered a set of lockpicks that Gidge promptly broke upon attempting to unlock the door. Forgetting to actually hang up, Kalara’s muffled voice was heard from inside Vinci’s apron and she sent them another one, this time Gidge successfully unlocked the door and hung up the Talisman for Vinci.

Traveling down the next hallway, Hollilynn decided it would be good idea to avoid any future trap-related unpleasantness and suggested checking the room. Sure enough, they pulled back a rug and uncovered yet another pressure plate. Not wanting to find out what it did, the group pressed on. They entered a room with a giant pit of dead bodies in it, around the lip of the pit was a magic circle of some sort. Also standing around the pit were two horrible Ghouls that snarled and lunged at the party. They hadn’t actually stepped out of the doorway yet though, and Vinci’s massive form blocked most of the Ghouls’ attacks. A few deft strikes later and another salvo from Gidge’s Thunder Cannon and the Ghouls were no more. Gidge used his Detect Magic skills to sense a combination of both Conjuration and Necromancy coming from both the magic circle around the pit, and the room beyond a door on the back wall. Unfortunately, this door was also locked tight. Much to Gidge’s dismay, Vinci once again struggled to contact Kalara for another set of Thieves’ Tools. This lock proved to be more challenging for Gidge, and after several failed attempts Vinci grew impatient and leveraged his Warhammer against the door. Almost simultaneously, Gidge finally jimmied the lock, Vinci’s hammer splintered the wood around it, and the door swung open. The two had a brief disagreement as to who actually opened the door as Hollilynn, Skalus, and Nimble Snow rolled their eyes and entered the next room.

An approximation of Vinci trying to use a Talisman of Requisition
This room sported a very ornate throne and a rather large pile of treasures. Seated on this throne was a very large man who was going to town on a roasted chicken. His meal was interrupted as he noticed that the party had come to challenge him. He boisterously identified himself as none other than Raxxar the Reanimator and taunted the group. Also standing on either side of him were two…”well put together” zombies that he identified as Chad and Chastity, his personal servants. And after Vinci mentioned Raxxar’s real name to him, he attacked the party. Skalus and Nimble Snow lept into action as they both got some solid hits in on Raxxar, but Raxxar then opened by using Inflict Wounds on Skalus, his black hand racking Skalus’s body with pain and necrotic energy. Skalus felt life drain from him, but remembered Kalara mentioning that because he and the party were technically already dead, they really couldn’t die again. Instead he stumbled backward into a severely weakened state. He had not been defeated, but he also could barely lift his weapon. Witnessing his companion take this devastating hit, Vinci flew into a monstrous rage. The once old and forgetful Tortle transformed into a focused and terrifying warrior right before Raxxar’s eyes. With a mighty roar, Vinci barreled into the vile necromancer and sent him reeling backwards. He then produced the Black Feather Brand and spoke a righteous indictment.

“Eustace Greenberry, you have violated the balance of Life and Death! Your soul is now forfeit!”

He then drove the brand into Raxxar’s forehead. It didn’t leave a wound as it entered, but it no less embedded itself into Raxxar’s mind. Dazed, Raxxar attempted to use Inflict Wounds on Vinci as well, but this pathetic attempt was effortlessly slapped away by the enraged Tortle. Gidge then climbed on Vinci’s back, took aim with his Thunder Cannon, and relieved the necromancer of his head. On the other side of the room, Nimble Snow and Hollilynn were making short work of Chastity, but Chad refused to go down easily. It eventually took the combined efforts of the entire party to finally lay Chad’s defiled body to rest. The threat dispatched, the party combed over the room in search of any useful items. Gidge and Nimble Snow seemed particularly interested in the giant pile of treasure, but as Hollilynn correctly pointed out, material goods meant very little to anyone now that they were no longer among the living. More interestingly than the treasure however, our heroes found a sinister looking amulet on Raxxar’s body, one that was made out of a small carved ram’s skull with rubies embedded in its eye sockets. Hollilynn used her wealth of religious knowledge correctly identify this amulet as a symbol of Orcus, the Demon Lord of Undeath and eternal nemesis of The Director. It quickly seemed clear as to why Raxxar was marked to receive the Black Feather Brand.

This guy sucks
Their primary objective complete, the party got Skalus back on his feet and did a clean sweep of the remainder of the ruin by vanquishing any undead they came across. They also came across a number of Raxxar’s followers, and although Hollilynn tried her best to evangelize the good word of Pelor to them, they ultimately ran away in fear and confusion as soon as they witnessed the terrifying presence of Vinci and the loud report of Gidge’s Thunder Cannon. Which thanks to their Amulets of Anonymity, looked like nothing more than a bunch of humans (or possibly woodland animals, we didn’t really decide) of various sizes yelling and firing explosives around them. The ruin now devoid of life and unlife, Vinci, now back to his old and withered state, tried to call Kalara. But Gidge snatched the Talisman from Vinci and successfully ordered a trip back to Letherna. They then vanished once more from the Material Plane in a swathe of black mist.

Back at The Agency, our heroes were greeted with cheers and congratulations from the other Ravens, as well as Vaughn who had returned. Before meeting back up with Vaughn and reporting their success, Kalara stopped the group and inquired as to the presence of a magical item she detected coming back through the portal. Hollilynn then produced the amulet they found on Raxxar’s body. Kalara’s inquisitive expression turned to one of dread as she snatched the amulet and thanked Hollilynn for finding it. Vaughn also seemed to take a concerned interest in this amulet as Kalara showed it to him as well. The two had a short but tense conversation out of earshot of the group, Vaughn pocketed the amulet, and then nodded at Kalara who then ran off. Straightening his tie and offering his own admiration of their success, Vaughn proceeded to lead the party to a room called “The Temple”, the only interior part of The Black Citadel not changed by The Director’s rebranding. Here Vaughn produced the party’s first Sparks of Divinity, and although they were dead, they felt a rush of life enter them as the Sparks embedded themselves in each of their chests. All that remained was for them to take the Raven’s oath and officially join The Queen’s Agency. They did so, and it was a beautiful ceremony and not at all made a mockery of, and officially became Ravens of The Agency. Vaughn proudly congratulated them, shook their hands, and then showed them how to use the company microwave.

It was not beautiful. It was mocked by everyone.
I felt that this was a great Session Zero for this campaign. While admittedly really heavy on the “world building” front, everyone really got into their characters and seemed to embrace the setting. I look forward to future sessions and seeing how these characters come together to form an unstoppable force of justice from the beyond the grave.

Thanks for reading!

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