Friday, October 22, 2021

Ptolus Session 1: Meet the Rats

We return for our first full (though in practice second) session of Ptolus: In The Shadow of the Spire. After establishing themselves in the city and building a few connections, the party gets down to the business of making hard cash and figuring out how to bring the fight to the Balacazars.

The Party

, human druid. Seeking out the famed druid Andach and the answer to the last riddle posed by his cousin
Jaiden Daham/Cunningham, aasimar paladin. spent most of his young life in the back of the ironworkers' guildhall, seeking vengeance on the Balacazars for the debt in which they old his family
Miranir/Meep, half-elf warlock, an orphan raised by the Sages' guild, almost died when their headquarters suffered a fire, was rescued by his patron's intervention. Nicknamed for his first word
Lucien Chenier, half-elf bard, has earned the ire of various nobles thanks to his irreverent and abrasive performances, now laying low.

Notable Deeds

Lost membership in the Ironworkers' Guild
Found a hidden Longfingers Guild dead drop
Made contact with a Longfingers Guild member
Found a ratman nest in the sewers and slew many of them

The Broadsheets

The Courier, 8th of Wind 721


After his arrest two days past for treasonous speech outside the Oldtown Admin, D-R leader Helmut Itlestein is released in order to ‘not impede his duties to his congregants.’ Meanwhile, HI’s little helpers rot in jail. So much for a man of the people! Watch out for the city’s most heretical high priest, and stay safe Ptolus.

The Midtown Partisan, 8 Wind 721


Balacazar head gave a speech declaring the KCL’s recent attack against him shows how bad crime is. He’s taking to the streets to ‘keep people safe’ from them. We’re sure Lord B. knows more about Ptolus’ crime than we do, and wish him the best in his holy crusade.

The Noble Record, Wind 721



Who is Lady Erthuo’s most recent beau, and why is she hiding them? The NR’s secret sources have the whole sordid tale, and this is one for the books. 

The Guilder, Wednesday 8 of Wind 721



The Silver Guildmaster sat down to dinner with the head of the Masons. Is this a friendly chat, or muscle deal for his fight against the goldsmiths? Find out!

The Market Voice, Wed 8th of Wind 721

The allure of the far east can be yours, with Faraway Scents! Just off Horseweed St

Your posters and flyers, printed at Blackstock! Intersection of Iron St and Carriage Row

Hunting ratmen? Get Bith’s best! Calabis St

The Game
  • The party woke in the Ghostly Minstrel on the 8th of Wind, 721, their third day in the city of Ptolus. Their gnomish partner Anageo Quigg has made his way home last night. They dug into some cheese, oats and cold fish as they read the broadsheets. 
  • Their breakfast was interrupted by an eight-year old courier carrying a message for 'Jaiden Cunningham.' It was a note from the Ironworkers' Guild, reprimanding him for failing to do his guild job, and giving him another task: going to the Darkbirth Madhouse and getting a guild member, Spyncer Coil, out. The courier energetically demanded a silver shield from Jaiden until Lucien pointed out that couriers in Ptolus get paid up front. The courier left in a huff, his con unsuccessful.
Darkbirth Madhouse
  • The party discussed their next move, and settled on checking out the Madhouse. However, once at the site and learning about its history, they decided that signing out a patient would be someone else's problem. Jaiden took the guild note and scribbled 'Unsubscribe all' on the backside, and handed a silver coin to a passing courier to get it over to the Ironworker's Guild. 
  • With Jaiden soon to be an ex-member of one of the city's most powerful guilds, the party returned to Delver's Square and geared up for another shot at the dungeon. They settled on following the trail of chalk marks they found in the northern sewers in their last delve, and at the end, found a loose brick with a note hidden behind it. They read it, copied it, and then replaced it as best they could. 
Alley off 83 Yarrow St. Wait at least half an hour
Codeword, Rutabaga 
This symbol was also on the note
  • As they were doing this, Lucien heard a voice speaking in his head, alternating between pleas for help and food. A slimy tentacle snuck out from the sewer muck, but the party sprang away. The voice declared it only wanted to shake their hands. Miranir stepped forward and offered his hand in friendship. He barely avoided being grappled and dragged into the muck, as a great, bulky mass swelled out. They struck at it and ran away, the telepathic voice cursing them.
  • The party resolved to follow the clue on the note, and traveled up to Oldtown. There they found a dead-end alley right where the note said, and after some searching, found the same symbol on the note carved into a brick, which was not loose. They waited at the mouth of the alley for some time, and then a voice came from behind Dmitree. 
"Whaddaya want?"
  • The voice had no obvious source. Dmitree gave the password, and the voice cackled. It complained that this job had been unusually difficult, but it had discovered that two days earlier, Malkeen Balacazar had entered the city with a rusted iron box, which in fact contained a Dwarvenhearth key. Lucien and Miranir knew stories about the ancient dwarven city below Ptolus, untouched by surface dwellers for many centuries at least. A key into Dwarvenhearth could be immensely valuable.
  • The party thanked the voice for the information, and informed it that another person would be coming by later for the same report. They observed that across from the alley was Menasa's, a boarding house, and after considering waiting on the roof, decided to rent a room there for the night and stake out the alley to see who else came by.
  • Soon after getting the (remarkably cheap) room, conveniently endowed with a balcony, they settled in to watch the place. Lucien checked out some of the neighboring rooms to ensure they were secure, and barged in on a couple in the throes of passion. Meanwhile, Dmitree remembered he was still on Quigg's payroll as an advertiser, and decided to grow out the nearby plants and fashion the vines into a banner. With several hours' work, during which nobody went to stand at the mouth of the alley, Dmitree, hung a net of vines which advertised Wondrous Tattoos in North Market. 
  • Several interested customers came into the boarding house to ask about the banner, and Dmitree, who unconvincingly gave his name as 'Mossy Silverthorn' got a stern talking to from Menasa for failing to pay her for use of her façade, and Lucien had to advocate on his behalf and take down the banner himself. 
  • Some hours later, well after sunset, an elven woman with silvery hair stops at the mouth of the alley and leans against the marked brick. With the exception of Lucien, she notices the whole group watching her from the balcony. She stealthily performs a magic spell, and shortly afterwards subtly beckons to the group. 
  • They descend to meet her, and Miranir brazenly asks if she's a member of the Longfingers Guild. Lucien has to work hard to salvage the situation, but does eventually convince this woman, Chelsean Featherhair, that his companion meant no offense by it. Chelsean casts a sound-muffling spell around them and questions the party. The party make their services available to the Longfingers in any operation which would harm the Balacazars or Killravens. 
  • She tells the party she'll send word once she has a job for them, confirms the intel on Malkeen Balacazar, and excuses herself. The party decides the night is young, and that since it's always dark in the dungeon, there's no wrong time to delve. This time, they went looking for ratmen, since they'd heard the bounty per tail got raised from 2 to 3 gold pieces each. 
  • That night they located and fell upon a heavily infested ratman nest in the sewers, slaying many, but receiving heavy wounds of their own in turn. When they realized the nest extended far beyond their expectations, and heard the rumbling of many rats further in the tunnels, they turned tail and ran for the surface. They stayed in Menasa's boarding house that night, the couple in the other room making sleep difficult. 
  • The next morning, they waited with no reward for a message from Chelsean and the Longfingers, and returned to the sewers for more rat tails, this time encountering a patrol of rat-men, including one armed with a rusty pistol. The party made short work of even this foe and returned to the Ghostly Minstrel to count their hard-earned coin.


The end of the session was dominated by combat in the sewers vs ratmen, and I felt that it was insufficiently engaging or dynamic. I can do much better. I also gave some very heavy-handed hints to the players at various times, letting them know that I was perfectly willing to throw challenges that their 1st-level asses couldn't handle, namely the otyugh and the swarm of ratmen. Have you seen the roster on that dungeon?! That's a lot of ratmen. 

Speaking of which, as much as the format of Ptolus is excellent for the city sections, it really falls apart for me in the dungeons. Large blocks of text with the relevant contents buried inside. Unlike the standalone locations of the city, individual dungeon rooms are much, much less sticky, and it's harder for me to get a good handle on them. I think I'll wind up making a bulleted roster for the dungeons, especially so that I can organize enemy responses to incursions, especially for these large ones with many rooms and many, many enemies. These are no lair dungeons.

I expect to make broadsheet cards for my players each session, though perhaps not for every paper each time. This time, for example, there wasn't anything from the Ptolus Herald, since their headquarters had just been raided by the guard. Giving them a fuller complement this time served to introduce the different papers, their subjects and biases. 

With the Longfingers cache, I was sort of running by the seat of my pants. I'd figured it would leads them to Shim's meeting point in Skulk Alley, but I wasn't sure what Shim would have for them. I let the encounter play for a little while before the party convinced him to give the report, by which time I'd settled on the Dwarvenhearth key lead. 

Regarding Miranir's blunt approach of Chelsean, I'm not sure how much of that was him playing his character and how much was a mismatch in expectations between player and GM. I try to play NPCs are more or less realistic people, and just going up to someone and asking them if they're a member of a criminal organization is not likely to be a good approach. In this scenario, the Longfingers now consider the party a disposable asset to be burned as soon as is convenient, whereas if they'd done a better job, Chelsean may have seen them as more reliable agents. 

Not sure what Jaiden's player was going for with dissing the Ironworkers' Guild. it's going to come back and bite him in the ass not too long from now, though. Nobody disses the Guild.


Thanks for reading! If you're keeping up with the campaign then comment below, be sure to follow the blog and share it with others. until next time, have an excellent week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Ptolus Session 0: The First Steps

Why the lengthy silence? Well, besides my return to class, I've started a new campaign. It took a couple weeks, what with getting college students to agree to a schedule being like herding cats, but I managed. Just a few hours ago we had our first session of Ptolus: In The Shadow of the Spire

Clearly I was inspired by the Alexandrian's campaign set in the same city, and then recent release of the book in 5th edition (by far the easiest game for people to agree on) was a godsend. It's huge, but planes offer plenty of reading time. I'll write up my process for starting the campaign later, but now I want to put finger to board and actually record the events of the game, like I did back the olden days of the Xyntillan campaign (which ended not even a year ago. This is weird). 

The Party

Dmitree, human druid. Seeking out the famed druid Andach and the answer to the last riddle posed by his cousin
Jaiden Daham/Cunningham, aasimar paladin. spent most of his young life in the back of the ironworkers' guildhall, seeking vengeance on the Balacazars for the debt in which they old his family
Miranir/Meep, half-elf warlock, an orphan raised by the Sages' guild, almost died when their headquarters suffered a fire, was rescued by his patron's intervention. Nicknamed for his first word
Lucien Chenier, half-elf bard, has earned the ire of various nobles thanks to his irreverent and abrasive performances, now laying low.

Notable Deeds

Investigated Shilukar's bounty
Entered the dungeon for the first time
Recovered a Runihan signet
Aided Anageo Quigg

The Game
  • While Miranir and Lucien had prior acquaintance, the group as a whole met in the spring of 721, when they all sat outside the South Gate to enter the city, most returning from an errand or travel, Dmitree coming for the first time. 
  • The Commissar's Men interrogated the crowd and searched them for contraband. It came out that Jaiden had no citizenship papers, but his letter of recommendation from the Shuul and a sympathetic guard sufficed to get the young man through the gate.
  • A young woman, Tellith Herdsman, was in the same cluster as the party, and she recognized 'Meep.' He stayed at the inn she works at, the Ghostly Minstrel, for a while after the fire. She recommended everyone stay there, and handed out coupons for the Shadow Theater (a copper penny off!)
  • While they were waiting to get in, a hooded man with a black sun tattooed over one eye and his crew rode up to the gate. They were allowed passage without any questioning. This was Malkeen Balacazar, scion and presumed heir of the Balacazar crime family. 
  • Some time after the eight bell, the party was allowed into the city, and took their morning meal at the Welcome Inn. Their mutual interrogation quickly forged bonds. It came out that Dmitree knew nothing of city life and Jaiden knew much less than he should, while Miranir and Lucien knew the city well. They became fascinated by a poster seeking the capture or death of a dark-elf thief named Shilukar, and resolved to visit the noble House Abanar to inquire after the 1000gp bounty.
  • Then they saw a man at the bar, wearing the sigil of the Balacazar family, stabbed in the back. The party did nothing to interfere as the assassin finished the job, announced 'nobody gets away from Korben Trollone!' and ran. The proprietor shaking and crying, the party snuck out the back. They gathered afterwards that the killer must have been an agent of the Killraven Crime League, a new crime empire taking on the entrenched Balacazars; the turf war is escalating.
  • They head over to the Guildhouse of Iron, where Jaiden became an official member and got directions to get citizenship papers in Oldtown. He was also given a list of errands and deliveries to make in the area, which he promptly discarded.
  • At the Administration Building, they witnessed a gathering of the democratic-republican movement, with the priest Helmut Itlestein presiding and preaching radical social transformation. The small crowd was soon dispersed and Itlestein was gently led away by the guard. 
Party: Silly priest, democracy will never work!
  • After even more bureaucracy, Jaiden finally had his papers. With that, they went over to Oldtown and, after further grilling by the officers at the Dalenguard fortress, were permitted to enter the Nobles' Quarter. They made haste to the Abanar estate, where a  high-falutin' footman at the gate filled them in on the bounty, and the fact that nobody had any leads. The party resolved to search for this elusive figure, theorizing that he was robbing noble houses on the behalf of the Killraven Crime League.
  • They knew dark elves live underground, and there's one organization which knows more than any other about the tunnels beneath Ptolus; the Delver's Guild. They high-tailed it to Delver's Square and down the stairs below the statue of the hero Abesh Runihan into the Undercity Market.  
  • There they asked about and were shown to the Maproom. The guild librarian, Shad Livbovic, attended to them. He persuaded them to enroll as associate guildsmen and gave them a simple job to get them started, instead of letting them go chasing through the dungeons beneath North Market.
  • So the party went down into the dungeon with a pile of crates to restock the safe rooms underneath Midtown.  On their way back, they came across a ghoul and two zombies feeding on the corpses of fallen delvers. They slew the undead monstrosities, with Miranir taking a few zombie fists to the face, and determined that these delvers had been fleeing from the deep dungeons and got ambushed by the undead. 
  • They took up the bodies and returned them to the guild along with their equipment, and found one of the dead clutching a silver swallow signet. After asking around, they identified the signet as the symbol of Abesh Runihan, a trinket that may be worth a pretty penny to a collector.
  • They returned to the surface and decided to take up residence in the Ghostly Minstrel, just a few steps away from the entrance. Tellith showed them to their rooms and they took dinner in the taproom. They were surrounded by well-known delvers and adventurers, including the wyvern-rider Daersidian Ringsire, Inverted Pyramid representative Jevicca Nor, and paladin Steron Vsool
  • The next morning they woke to the bells of St Gustav's and returned to the Delver's Guid. Shad gave them another assignment in the direction of North Market, restocking and refining the maps where the dungeon meets the sewers. While down there, the party encountered a pair of rough-looking humans climbing up out of the sewers onto the street. They hailed them, got rebuffed, but passed in peace. 
  • They climbed up to an alley in southeast North Market, and got a noseful of a smell much worse than the sewer from a passerby covered from head to toe. They trailed him to a shop named 'Wondrous Tattoos' and snuck around to the back entrance. They heard an argument between a deep, raspy voice and a gnome about the gnome's debt. They realized they had trailed a creature named Durant, a local Killraven crimeboss known as 'the Stink Man.'
  • Dmitree went back through the front door and declared he was looking for a job. He saw Durant wasn't human, but a scaly, lizard-like humanoid. The gnome grew increasingly tense and Meep followed Dmitree, posing as a customer. Durant the Stink Man twigged to the situation and left the gnome, Anageo Quigg, to his 'customers.'
Anageo Quigg and Durant the Stink Man
  • The party all came in and learned of Anageo's woe, deep in debt to Killraven and with almost no customers to support his expensive shop. His trade was not just in tattoos, but in very expensive magical tattoos, well outside the party's price range. With further discussion, the party realized Quigg had neglected to advertise his shop in the least, and was surprised to learn the nature of his wares was not apparent from his sign. 
  • Dmitree got himself hired for a silver piece a day as Quigg's marketing agent, while Miranir got a tattoo of a crossed bow and arrow on the back of his neck. They also invited the lonely gnome to go out drinking with them in the Minstrel. That night, after returning to Shad for their pay and putting up signs and posters in the guildhall, they got Anageo to loosen up. They also met one of Ptolus' more unusual residents the ogre mage Urlenius, who swapped heavily embellished stories of his own heroics and seemed sincerely impressed by the party's own, more meager tales. 
Anageo: Mr Urlenius, sir, would you like a magic tattoo?
Urlenius, the Star of Navashtrom: WOULD I LIKE A MAGIC TATTOO!?
  •  The party turned in for the night, knowing they had done some good today. 


With the exception of introducing a few family members to roleplaying in a brief,  haphazard session this summer, this is my first time running a game in-person for ... almost two years. I've gotten a lot better since then. 

The room we commandeer for our sessions is spacious, with a great long table, so I have space to get up and walk around. In the first scene where the players were getting harangued by guards, I went up to each player and got in their faces, grabbing their 'papers' (character sheets) and generally adding a lot of physicality to the roleplay on my end. It's a whole new dimension I've not been able to put to use, and I'm making up for last time. Also, in the few months I got into the habit of pacing about during online games, and it's stuck, such that I only sit down when I need to check my notes. When improvising or roleplaying I'm on my feet.

Also a part of being in-person for the first time in a while, I have access to physical props. While I'm not a crafty person, I make extensive use of flashcards with the names, locations and descriptions of NPCs which I hand out like business cards. They're very good for players, especially with the spellings of fantasy names, and their status as physical objects and reminders make the NPCs who get them stand out more. 

This being our session 0, they just made characters and jumped right in. Consequently, the backstories and their integrations into the world don't make perfect sense, such as how Jaiden spent his whole life in the Ironworkers' Guild, yet needed a letter of introduction from the Shuul to become a member. This stuff just happens. 

I used this first session to not only set up characters and factions, but also set up themes. One of the biggest is that Ptolus, though it can be dark, is not grimdark. Evil exists alongside good, and the players are agents with the ability to do both. Very often, problems aren't solved best, or solved at all, with combat, as with Quigg's tattoo parlor; the party is rewarded, monetarily and emotionally, by engaging in creative, interpersonal problem solving through roleplay. 

I wasn't expecting to play a decently long session, and so didn't have all that much prepared. I was able to keep things running with some improvisation and by inserting some encounters/events I had in the back of my head, but I feel the game suffered for a lack of some ready detail; I didn't give a good sense of the Undercity Market, for example, and I don't think Shad Livbovic is supposed to be there. 


That's all for this week. I'll be writing up some of my notes and prep later, and I think I'll keep up with thorough notes for the campaign. If you enjoy reading these and keeping up, be sure to comment below, follow the blog and share these posts. 

Until next time, have an excellent week!