Big Damn Antiheroes
We had the character creation and prologue session of my new Pathfinder campaign set in Eberron last night.
Unfortunately, two players were absent from the session, which threw something of a monkeywrench into my plans for the whole “shared origin” thing, but we decided to roll with it anyway with just the players at hand, since gaming opportunities are so few and far between for us these days. If I’d had time I would have rescaled the scenario a bit, but the group managed to get through it with only one character ever in actual danger of biting the bullet– it just ran longer than I’d planned for with the reduced firepower.
The background of the campaign is that during the Last War, the characters were mercenaries in the same unit fighting for Breland, engaged in a skirmish action near the edge of the Breland/Cyre border, brought back together four years later by fate or circumstance as they become embroiled in a new set of plots and intrigues. With the reduced group, this changes the background a little– the rest of the group will have to be integrated in at the beginning of the next session– but it still provides a shared background for three of the PCs, anyway.
The makeup of this group is interesting so far, in that instead of being the usual mix of heroes and professional adventurers, it’s a sort of ramshackle collection of ne’er-do-wells, most of whom have little business being out of prison, much less doing that whole “hero” thing:
- Yamashi (Josh): A kitsune alchemist, kicked out of Sharn’s Order of Magewrights and Artifice after she blew up most (if not all) of a guild laboratory. “She left the alchemist’s guild in a hurry– through a third story window. She managed to get behind a table before the explosion, and it went out through the window with her. The guild asked for the return of the table.”
- Cirano, a.k.a. “The Stick” (Jamie): A human rogue/barbarian, thumb-breaking brute for one of Sharn’s thieves’ guilds and a guy you wouldn’t want to meet in an alley generally. Signed up as a mercenary when Sharn got too hot for a while, came back and resumed his life of skullduggery when the war was over.
- Nienna Sindinarie (Laurie): A half-elf rogue of House Medani, whose Dragonmark of Detection and natural keen senses make her an excellent lookout, but whose chaotic nature leads her to wander from job to job.
The adventure itself is a modified version of “Mark of Prophecy” from the 4e Eberron Campaign Guide, and began with a flashback to the group’s activities as a mercenary unit during the war. (SPOILERS FOR “MARK OF PROPHECY” BELOW.) As the adventure was written for 4e but I’m running in Pathfinder, there were several statblock alterations and such; I also changed the identities of one or two NPCs to characters who will have an important role in later campaign events, but the basic thrust of the adventure remained the same.
On the border between Cyre and Breland, the two nations have been fighting a rather meaningless skirmish over a bridge on the Saerun road– the Brelish forces wanted to pass through to get to Darguun, and the Cyric forces would not let them pass the border. And so, even though theoretically allies, the two sides fought about it, stuck in a stalemate for six weeks.
When the Brelish forces called in reinforcements, the Cyric forces performed a daring commando raid, kidnapping the Brelish commander (Lord Major Bren ir’Gadden and his aide Aric Blacktree). A catastrophic day of battle convinced the pro tempore leader of the Brelish forces that she didn’t have the tactical acumen without ir’Gadden to run the show, so she dispatched the mercenary units with the mission of finding him.
This is where the PCs came in. The last survivors of a group of twelve, they had infiltrated far behind enemy lines to get the location where ir’Gadden was behind held prisoner, a tower on a high ridge far removed from the battlefield. The session opened with them approaching the tower at dawn.
As the PCs approached to make their assault, they noticed that the tower itself was subtly vibrating with the effect of some kind of arcane power; not being able to tell what if anything this signified, they continued their mission. In the tower were six Cyrite men-at-arms, led by Second Battlemage Lethran, a minor officer in the Cyre Army Arcanist Division. The PCs attacked, the alarm was raised, and a challenging battle ensued, but by the end of it, the PCs were ultimately victorious.
(I completely altered this battle and the forces guarding Lord-Major ir’Gadden from the scenario as written, which for no discernible reason had kruthiks and dolgrims in the tower instead of Cyrite forces, and a bunch of nonsense about trying to sneak in through kruthik tunnels under a pile of rubble.)
Inside the tower, they found ir’Gadden and his aide manacled to the wall. ir’Gadden’s aide, Aric Blacktree, had been chained within the effect of a manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy– essentially a glowing rune of arcane power ten feet across– and he was all but comatose except for the occasional pained twitch. The PCs attempted various means to pull Blacktree out of the Dragonmark manifestation, but its energy disrupted other spells cast into it (including Yamashi’s unseen servant).
Eventually, Yamashi just bit the bullet and reached in– and was instantly given a vision of draconic runes “climbing” all over the walls of the tower and Blacktree’s body, as well as “climbing” up her arm where she interacted with the Mark, and she heard voices whispering over and over, “Five at the brink of destruction, stand as one against the tempest’s roar!”
Once Blacktree was out of the Mark’s influence, the PCs raided the Cyrites’ stash of battle potions (with Cirano taking his “cut” before distributing the potions as ordered), gave a quick look to Second Battlemage Lethran’s notes on the Mark and its effects on Blacktree, and went to leave the tower.
Two distressing things greeted them on exiting the tower: first, the weather was taking a turn for the strange– flashes of fiery orange lightning played across the sky and an unseasonably hot wind tugged at their clothes. Second, a necromancer of the Karrnathi army, two Emerald Claw soldiers, and a field full of zombies (including reanimated corpses of the Cyrite soliders the PCs had slain) were waiting to ambush them. The necromancer seemed surprised to be greeted by mercenaries of Breland, but ultimately didn’t care: she was there to retrieve Lord-Major ir’Gadden and his aide, and was just as happy to do it over the dead bodies of the PCs as she would have been to do it over the dead bodies of the Cyrites.
Another short-but-intense fight naturally ensued, but this one was of a very different character than the first. As the zombies lurched forward and the Karrnathi witch cast her spells, the skies over Cyre seemed to burst into flames, and a huge wall of gray swirling fog spread out across the land in a matter of moments, engulfing even the Battle of Saerun Road taking place below the ridge. The characters didn’t know it at the time, but they were witnessing The Mourning firsthand as it obliterated Cyre. Everyone caught in the gray mist, including every participant in the battle below, died a strange but clearly horrible death. Aric Blacktree managed to gain consciousness long enough to shout “Five at the brink of destruction!” and then pass out completely.
The Karrnathi necromancer, upon seeing the catastrophe taking place around her, and her zombies quickly being cut down, abandoned her Emerald Claw lieutenants and fled– “Death comes to all, boys, but it’s coming for you today!” The Emerald Claw lieutenants, as one might expect, did not take this well, with shouts of “Demise! You traitor!” and “Demise! I’ll get you for this!” With potions of fly and invisibility respectively, Demise easily made her escape. The Emerald Claw lieutenants, not so much.
Once the Emerald Claw lieutenants and the zombies were all dispatched, the characters took stock of their situation. The gray fog hung silently over Cyre, filling their vision from horizon to horizon, its expansion having stopped only a hundred feet or so from where they had been fighting– it was only by the sheer luck of being “just outside the border of Cyre” that they had not been engulfed by it as well. Both armies, the Cyrites defending the bridge, and the Brelanders who’d wanted to pass, were utterly wiped out, including the Breland princess who’d sent them on their mission. The only survivors of the Battle of Saerun Road were the PCs, Lord-Major ir’Gadden, Aric Blacktree, and presumably the mysterious “Demise.”
The session ended there; the campaign proper begins at the start of the next session.