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!

1 comment: