Monday, April 21, 2014

Archon's Mail and the Unswerving Path

This adventure was really complicated as I successfully pulled off an adventure inside an adventure. It also is rather long though it only took two sessions.

The party was sitting around Plane-atary Express talking to Balial when a beautiful trumpet archon walked in gracefully. She introduced her self as Zithere and wanted to hire Plane-atary Express to perform a series of simple deliveries for her with the utmost of speed, offering to pay them handsomely in return. Her and her friends were performing an item swap, primarily in Mount Celestia, and they needed a third party to help speed the process along.

After agreeing to perform the deliveries, Zithere produced a cracked and ancient lantern and explained that it once belonged to a legendary archon who used it to light the way up the Mountain. They party was to deliver this lantern to a man named Gandol in Excelsior, gate town to Mount Celestia. He would be found, most likely, at Pilgrim's Rest. She also pointed them in the direction to a portal to Excelsior and told them that when they return to please meet her at the Whole Note Inn in the Clerk's Ward.

The town of Excelsior shines bright with the color gold (A Player's Primer to the Outlands). The cobblestones and buildings are flecked in it, and the sun shines a bright golden hue across the entire town. Walking the streets are veritable droves of paladins, priests, aasimar, and other such good and/or lawful folk. Floating above the city are the Keeps of the Lord Protectors move back and forth with a constant vigil over the town.

The players quickly found Pilgrim's Rest after quickly asking one of the passing paladin's for directions. While most of the party was having quite a bit of trouble dealing with the various inhabitants of Excelsior, Xanros' lawful nature was providing invaluable in getting help about town.

The Pilgrim's Rest was rather quiet when the players entered with a hound archon standing behind the bar, two clerics arguing over the relative importance of law versus good, and a group of four pilgrims at a table. Approaching the bar the players asked the barkeep, Gyn, if he knew of Gandol. Replying in a hilariously nasally voice to the complete surprise of the party, he told them that it was one of the clerics they were looking for. After this there was brief verbal dispute with Xanros which ended in him being kicked out of the bar.

The rest of the party then approached Gandol, the cleric arguing the importance of good, and explained their business. Gandol happily accepted lantern and then presented the party with an old, cracked, and blackened trumpet. He explained that it belonged to a famed trumpet archon who carried it into battle with minions of the Lower Planes for millenia until he was finally struck down by a baatezu ambush. The trumpet was to be delivered to an old lammasu named Florain in Heart's Faith, the town on the other side of the gate to Mount Celestia.

Outside the bar, Xanros was met by the four pilgrims who used to be around a table in the bar earlier. They asked him about what he was doing in Excelsior, if he was preparing for a journey up the Mountain, and generally how he was doing. It was an odd encounter with Xanros confusing the pilgrims about what he worshiped and how he was doing. Great encounter.

While ascending the stair case inside the tower to the gate, the party was ambushed by the very same pilgrims from earlier. Turned out they were members of the Holy Shadow, a group of thieves and assassins who work to keep the law and goodness within Excelsior and diminish the ill effect of other forces. Obviously the non-good and non-law elements that pervaded the party has offended them to some degree. The fight was quick and each of the members of the Holy Shadow were dispatched.

Stepping through the gate, the players instantly fell into the vast Silver Sea of holy water. Carefully, they were all transported by the gentle zoveri which are large whale-like creatures and were deposited just up shore from Heart's Faith. They were on the layer of Lunia, the first layer of Mount Celestia, which is bathed in a perpetually calm night where stars twinkle above and a full moon illuminates the hills and Mountain side with a gentle glow.

The party entered Heart's Faith via the Petioner's Gate and asked the guards posted there where they could find Florain. The players learned that she lives in Citizen's Rest, just off the main path after the Archon's Gate (Planes of Law). The players also found out that she is the mother of the town's leader, Lebes, who is away on business.

Florain's house is rather modest though sized for a being of her size. Two levels, each about one and a half stories, rise up from the perfectly cobbled streets. The facade is reminiscent of the tudor-style, and the white paint between the tan wood is perfectly placed with no bit of out peeling. After knocking the door, large enough for a lammasu to pass through easily, opened for the PCs where they stepped into a large open common room with Florain lounging casually on a beautiful plush rug that was slightly worn with age. Stretching every so slightly, she politely asked the players business in her home.

The players presented Florain with the trumpet and explain they are a delivery service tasked with delivering the various packages from person to person. Florain nods with agreement, took the horn and placed it on her mantle, and grabbed for the players an old fishing net with shells, pearls and other small objects fixed in every knot. She explained to the players that this was the Twilight Net and it was to be delivered to Pethos, a dwarven blacksmith on the town of Nemmiron. Before departing, Nearin asked the lammasu if she might touch her paw. Amused at the Sensate's desire, she gladly lifted up her paw and held it up against Nearin's hand.

The journey to Nemmiron was mostly uneventful. Most of the characters had quite a bit of trouble finding their way around due their unfamiliarity with both good and law. Every short cut ended with their journey taking even longer. With Xanros' understanding of the great order of things, however, they were able to find a suitable path

Nemmiron is a small fishing town populated by humans, halflings, and dwarves. The chimney of the blacksmith shop lets off a small plume of grey-black smoke up into the twilight sky. Inside the shop the players found two dwarves working the forge with the walls of the shop covered in all manner of beautiful works, from religious symbols to dinner wear and beyond. After waiting for the dwarf to finish, he cheerfully approaches then and asks them their business. When presented with the net, his smile grows even wider and happily takes it saying that it will greatly help the town sustain itself. Whipping a grimy hand across his forehead, he scurried into the back room of the shop and delivers to the players a small black figurine of a beautiful throne archon. Saying it is stronger than they can imagine, he tossed it to them and asked them to deliver it to the Lampligher in Omyriel. Nearin commissioned from the dwarf a necklace depicting the Sensate symbol that would glow a different color with each new major emotion she felt. The dwarf agreed to this but stated it would take some time, but he would be happy to have it delivered to their home in Sigil. Mount Celestia is probably one of the few places in the Planes where such a promise would be fulfilled.

The PC's stayed the night in Nemmiron and then headed out to Omyriel. Along the way up the side of the Mountain, the players' journey was interrupted by a lantern archon bobbing up and down near their path asking them if they would follow it as one of it's superiors desires to speak to them. After a little bit of cajoling, the players eventually decide to follow the little bobbing light along a previously unseen path through the verdant hills. Bobby was frustrated with this decision as it distracted from the task at hand.

After following the lantern archon for a bit, the PCs found themselves standing before a silver terrace over looking the Sea. Standing on the terrace looking out at the coast stood a majestic sword archon clad in beautiful plate. Turning towards the players as they approached, the sword archon stated that she was Alziel and that she was hoping the players might help her save the town of Heart's Faith from the destruction Modron March. The modrons, though they represent pure law, seemed to be tainted with chaos given that they were marching out of sync. Because of this, the powers that be had requested that no archons make contact with the March. Alziel needed the players help to either divert the March or save the people of Heart's Faith from being crushed. Pointing to the shore, she indicated the path of the March and said it would reach the town in less than 10 hours. She also promised that the PCs would be rewarded 5000 gold pieces for their work if they wished.

The players deliberated for a long time and seemed to be split between helping the town or saying it wasn't their business and just keep delivering the various packages. Bobby was particularity against saving the town as it would distract them from their actual task and it made no sense to do anything else but keep going. In the end it came down to a vote and saving the town won, with Xanros being the tie breaking vote.

This ended the first session.

The next session picked up with the PCs splitting up, with half the party going to the March to see if they could divert it's path and the other half rushing to Heart's Faith to warn their townsfolk of the incoming destruction. However, Xanros' player wasn't in attendance, so both parties had a very difficult time traveling across the fields given their chaotic nature.

Eventually, the group heading to the March was able to catch up and follow along. The outer rim of the modrons was all monodrones, followed by duodrones, tridrones, and so on. Weaving their way in they were able to encounter a pentadrone who interrogates them about their business, asking all sorts of random and prying questions as to the histories and purposes of each of them. Eventually, the PCs got a turn to ask questions of the pentadrone after convincing it that they weren't completely barmy. However, all their efforts to sway the path of the pentadone were met with resistance. The pentadrone, with a strange insistence, refused to accept that the path the modrons were taking was anything but perfect. It was the agreed upon route and those must be followed exactly. Any changes to the layout of Heart's Faith was obviously an act of chaos and not in accord with the agreement regarding the modrons path. Realizing they were getting no where, the PCs decided to speed off to rejoin the group in Heart's Faith.

The other group arrived at the gates of Heart's Faith and desperately tried to hunt down whatever leader might be in place. Given that Lebes was away with his lammasu guard, the duty of town leader was bestowed temporarily on the aasimar Cauldronborn. Approaching him, the PCs were able to convince him of the incoming danger that could only be a matter of hours away. He then led them to the main entrance to Heart's Faith and gathered his troops. Under the guidance of the PCs, troops were dispatched through out the city to evacuate the populace, specifically to areas the March would avoid. They also asked that the troops might construct barricades or other structures that might slow the progression of the March. After a bit of time deliberating and planning a defense, the PCs who had gone to the March rejoined the group. The March just behind them.

Standing before the March, Cauldronborn demands that they halt. Confused by this, the monodrones and duodrones pause and await commands from above. Slowly, the sound of chatter goes back through the March and a quinton steps foward. It harshly questioned Cauldronborn as to the meaning of this interruption and questions the towns agreement with regards to the path of the March. Cauldronborn refuses to yield as the quinton raised its arms to smash him, declaring him a barrier to their progress. As none of the PCs reacted to help save him, the quinton slammed its arms down upon Cauldronborn, nearly killing him. In the confusion, the March continued on its way through Heart's Faith by breaking up into smaller bands each with it's own path.

The barriers helped slow the March and most of the populace had been evacuated, but there were still a few remaining locations that needed help: The Old Philosopher's Inn, the guards at a temple in center of town, people screaming from an apartment building in Citizen's Rest, the Library, and an Orphanage. The players decided to split up between the Inn, the apartment building, the library, and the orphanage.

At the Inn, an old man has stopped a group of modrons by saying that there is an ancient treaty which states that the Inn cannot be destroyed by the March. This confuses the modrons briefly, who relay this information back to their superior. Signaled with a wink, Nearin helped all the old men and women still inside the Inn escape and get to safety as the modrons deliberated over the existence of such a treaty. Eventually when a pentadrone stepped forward declaring such a treaty false, none of the townsfolk were there as they had all slipped away to safety.

Kale ran as fast as his goat legs would take him to the apartment building in an effort to save the people inside. As the March neared, Kale ran up the stairs and helped the people out of the now burning building. With the kids on his back, he made a few key jumps and was able to find a safe route out of the three story building just as the modrons ploughed into the side of it. As the dust settled, he sped off to see what else he could do to help.

Norbys ran to the library where a librarian was standing out front wailing to the modrons that they should avoid to the library because of how much knowledge would be lost. This was a very compelling argument for the modrons, who paused. With Norbys' help, an agreement was eventually reached and the modrons marched in neat, orderly lines through the various walk ways and between the book cases. Without destroying a single object, the modrons appeared out the other end of the library and continued on their way.

Bobby McAction Pants was in charge of the orphanage, where a number of the kids were trapped, scared, on the second floor. One of the collapsed building was leaning against the orphanage and it was threatening to collapse at any moment. Bobby, with the greatest of care, fashioned a rope ladder out one of the windows and carried some of the younger ones down and helped the older ones down some stairs by holding their hands. The entire orphanage was emptied just as Kale met up with her. Getting the kids to safety, they hurried off to the temple to see what they could do to help.

At the temple, a few guards were holding spears against the March and refused to let them trample the site of worship for one of their greatest heroes. Norbys and Nearin met with with Kale and Bobby and tried to convince the guards to stand down. After promising to rebuild the temple, the guards stepped to the side and the March continued on its way to the docks.

At the docks, the modrons proceeded to dismantle a number of ships and the docks themselves in order to build a massive bridge off into the middle of the air where it would meet with the Gate to Excelsior.

With the March's passing, the town rejoiced that there were no casualties. The town could be rebuild, but lives lost would have been a true tragedy. The PCs were lauded as heroes and told they were always welcome in Heart's Faith. Cauldronborn, barely regaining conciousness from the quiton's blows, thanked the PCs personally for their heroism and selflessness in the face of danger. At this, the sword archon appeared and thanked the PCs for their work and presented them with their rewards. She then directed them along the fastest route to Omyriel, where they had a package to deliver.

The journey to Omryiel was extremely fast, and they arrived their in the evening. They were able to quickly locate Lamplighter, a warden archon, and present him with the small, black figurine. Sighing heavily, he took the item from the PCs and took out from his stachel a small box. Opening the box, he showed the PCs a single, golden, glowing, perfect shard. A literal piece of the Positive Energy Plane. Anyone who looks into it witnesses a beautiful image of their heart's desire. The shard was to be delivered to Zithere, who had initially hired the PCs.

I had each of the PCs look into the Shard and describe their perfect moment. I can't recall what every one said, but hopefully I can have them remind me of them.

Observing that Lamplighter was sad to loose the Shard, the PCs offered to stay one night in Omyriel so he could spend one more day with it. Over joyed at this, Lamplighter showed the PCs to their lavish rooms, promising to reward their generosity.

The next morning, while handing the players the Shard, Lamplighter also presented each of the PCs with a simple trinket as a token of his happiness. He also directed them to the portal in the nearby Katsudarma that would take them back to the Clerk's Ward. I let each of the PCs decide what their trinket would do, stating that it only had to be a small but potentially useful magic item. For example, Kale chose to have his be jewelry for his horns that allowed them to change color.

The PCs made their way back to Sigil and met the archon at the Whole Note Inn to deliver her the Shard. Over joyed with their success, she gave each of the PCs a magic item which they might find useful for future jobs.

This was a really complicated adventure to run as it was truly an adventure inside of another adventure. I wrote the wrapper adventure, Archon's Mail, which seemed to work out really well. The "side-quest" was Chapter 2 of The Great Modron March titled "The Unswerving Path." The PCs seemed to really love this adventure and my fishing went over really well. Each player took a really long time deciding on their trinkets and then presented them to the rest of the group at the next session. This was also an example a group splitting the party (multiple times!) and it working out in the end. The inter-party conflict stuff over whether to help the sword archon with the modrons was very fun and provided a great opportunity for the players to really explore how their characters would react to that kind of a scenario. This would come up more and more with each subsequent adventure.

Sadly, this also represented Xanros' last adventure, declaring that "he needed to find himself." He is still remembered to this day as an extremely important member of Plane-atary Express.