This session took the elvish boys, agents of the Judiciary of Parsantium, to an outlying village known as Stone Forest. The town was named after the large cemetery there, and most of the businesses serviced that trade: stone cutters, undertakers, cabinet makers and so on. Rumours had reached the central court that a restless spirit was haunting the graveyard and had scared a couple of people to death.
For this session I used many pieces of advice from Sly Flourish’s great set of tools. I highly recommend his Lazy Dungeon master for some good tips on not over-planning. First I identified the starting scene: in the taverna called the Future Child in the village of Stone Forest, where the agents could start their investigation. This start cut out potentially tedious time in describing the case back at base and making the trip there. It was only an hour or so out of the city and so travel would have only introduced a whole bunch of red herrings. Next I identified three locations: the graveyard itself, the funeral parlour of Nicolaos Dimitrios, and the manse of a mysterious local named Behrooz Abbas.
At this stage I tied in some personal clues from the character’s own contacts. Cassius was advised that a certain powerful individual by the name of Behrooz Abbas was short on his payments to the criminal gang he worked for in secret. Storm was advised that suspicious chemicals had been purchased by someone in Stone Forest, possibly indicating that someone was conducting magical experimentation without guild authorisation.
Then I sketched out on single index cards three allies and three enemies. And with that I had all the preparation material for the entire session. This marks a huge difference in how I have been running sessions. In the past I have over-prepared in the hope of satisfying the players’ need to detail and tied up loose ends, not really with much success. By loosening the reins a little I wanted to test if a more satisfying result could be achieved.
How the game ran in brief:
- Interrogation at the bar revealed two widowers, both of whom appeared to have gifted the same locket to their wives before their deaths. Timing indicated that the locket had been retrieved from the corpse of one and then resold. Was this a simple case of grave robbing, or was the locket itself responsible for the deaths?
- Both of the deceased had been prepared for burial by the same funeral parlour
- At the funeral parlour the lads found everything to be pretty much as expected, and they tried to figure out some way to provoke matters so they could short cut polite interrogation methods…
- Meanwhile, Cassius had sneaked around the back of the compound, made entrance and discovered a second workroom. In this work room he found a slumbering Flesh Golem. Naturally he beat a hasty retreat to inform the others
- Time passed. Later, they returned and forcefully entered the quiet building. On entering the secret workroom they found the golem and all the gruesome implements used to manufacture him. It lumbered to its feet and attacked, but the lads managed to trip, stab and burn the beast. Only Cassius got a bash in the side of his head for his troubles
- Just as the monster was going down the funeral director, Nicolaos, arrived, and tried to comfort the monster. The lads thumped him unconscious. Satisfied that they’d uncovered illegal activity they bundled him up and took him back to town. On the way they discovered that he was not a skilled magic user at all. He’d just been following directions from a book that a Mr Abbas had given him
- Next day they returned to Stone Forest with a mission to confront this mysterious Behrooz Abbas. The butler advised them that the master was away in town for the day. Not to be deterred they used the authority of their office to enter the premises. Finding a locked door that the butler was terrified to open they picked it, and headed downstairs. The wooden steps were unsteady and they managed to deduce that a misstep would displace pots that had wires attached: a trap! They saw a chest in an alcove and stayed far away, much to Cassius’ disappointment, and at last reached the bottom. A locked door with a rune carved on in blocked their way. It seemed unlikely that all of them could have avoided looking at the rune, and the Glyph of Warding duly went off, blasting them with some pretty severe damage
- Singed and frightened, they decided to go for a short rest…
And so the night of play wrapped up.
From the DM perspective this session was more satisfying than previous. Play style for this group is to treat the game as a puzzle to solve. In attempting to satisfy that in the past I’d attempted to detail the encounters and places so that everything held together. But of course these optimisers found ways to circumvent these detailed plans, leaving me disappointed that I had not provided enough ‘challenge’. The trick to short circuiting this, I think I’ve learned, is not more planning, but less. Since they will dismantle any designed sequence, having fewer but stronger core elements makes its far easier to pivot to new circumstances. It worked for me. Hopefully it worked for them as well.