Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The Favorites of Selune campaign - Level 1 - Session 4

The players ended the last session by having a night's rest in Winterhaven, where they are investigating the mysterious death and subsequent zombification of the mage Arris. Getting up the next morning they are greeted by a scene of busy village life. It is the day before the Blessing of the Seeds procession, and most villagers are busy preparing for the festival: The elder villagers are sweeping the streets, although they seem to be busier talking than sweeping. Some boys are playing noisily, doing all sorts of pranks, and Father Matthias has caught one naughty boy and is spanking him. The girls of the village are busy preparing garlands, and the innkeeper is stretching cords from house to house to hang them up.

The players decide not to interact with the villagers at this point, except for one dwarf getting a second breakfast from the innkeeper. Then, following clues that villagers have disappeared in the woods, they decide to put up a trap: One of them disguises as a villager, hacking wood in a clearing, with the rest of the group hidden out of sight. [DM's note: There is a good DM rule to try and say "yes" to everything the players try, but that doesn't mean that you need every plan of them succeed.] After having spent the whole day that way without success, the players return to the village.

Suddenly one of them remembers that they were previously worried about the chalice in the church getting stolen, so three of the players go there. The chalice is still safe and sound, although Father Matthias tells them that the boy he was spanking this morning had tried to steal it, and got paralyzed by a glyph. The players don't follow that up, but spend the night in the church guarding the chalice, until they are awoken the next morning by Father Matthias coming to prepare for the Blessing of the Seeds. The mage asks him whether he could examine the chalice, and with an arcane check finds that the pentagonal chalice has a symbol on each side representing different planes: Prime Material Plane, the Shadowfell, Feywild, Celestia in the Astral Sea, and the Abyss in the Elemental Chaos. He suspects that the chalice is good for planar travel, but can't activate it without a command word.

Now one of the big classic issues of DMing an adventure arises: The players decide to do nothing, while waiting for the Blessing of the Seeds procession. D&D is designed to be an interactive story-telling experience, between the DM who has all the information about the world and what is going on, and the players who have limited information and are trying to find out what is going on. The DM gives the the players hints and descriptions what they see, and the players are supposed to follow those up. Only sometimes they don't. Either the way to go isn't obvious, or, as I suspect in this case, it is *too* obvious. The dead mage having been found with a ring of depetrification on his finger next to a circle of standing stones with one outer and the central stone missing should have encouraged the players to depetrify another stone, but they suspected that to be a trap releasing even more problems upon the village. I've seen adventures get stuck like that, so the trick to not let that happen is to have a plan B and know how the NPCs and villains will drive the story forward if the players don't.

The procession of the Blessing of the Seeds festival begins at noon, with Father Matthias coming from the church holding the chalice and moving towards the village gate and the farms outside, where he will fill the chalice with holy water and bless the seeds to guarantee a good harvest. The villagers form up in a procession behind him, children first, then the adults. The players decide to stand guard and distribute themselves strategically around the procession. With the detect undead ability of the priest's mace they are thus well prepared when three juju zombies attack.

What they aren't prepared for, having not followed up a lot of available information, is when in the middle of the fight one of the children next to Father Matthias polymorphs back into his natural form: An ancient vrock demon named Jaazzpaa. Jaazzpaa grabs the chalice from the priest, and apparently tries to use it for planar travel, looking somewhat surprised when that doesn't appear to be working. In spite of the player's attempts to stop him (somewhat divided due to the zombie attack), Jaazzpaa then flies away with the chalice. The players kill the zombies and discover that one of them is not a villager; instead it is a man in a loin-cloth with blue painted symbols on his torso, a bone through his nose, a feather hat on his head, and armed just with a dagger made out of flintstone.

Now the players find out what happened. They depetrify another stone of the stone circle, liberating another stone-age shaman in similar attire. With a comprehend languages ritual they learn from the shaman that 5,000 years ago 10 shamans of the surrounding villages sacrificed themselves in a ritual which transformed them and "The Beast" permanently into stone. The Beast (Jaazzpaa) had used his chalice to teleport into the villages from his home in the Abyss, eat a villager or two, and go back home. The shamans' sacrifice was the only way to stop him. When the mage Arris, misled by stories saying that the stones were farmers petrified by a basilisk, depetrified one of the shamans, he inadvertedly broke the ritual spell and freed the demon. The demon killed both the depetrified shaman and Arris with a spore attack that made them come back as zombies two days later, under the control of the demon. Jaazzpaa then tried to get this chalice back, polymorphing into a village boy. As he couldn't enter the church's holy ground, he charmed another boy to steal the chalice for him, but didn't succeed. So he had to wait for the chalice to leave the churce during the Blessing of the Seeds, using the shaman zombie and two villagers he had caught in the woods and zombified as distraction.

While Lord Padraig would like the players to go after the demon, and the players are interested too, they don't know where to start looking for Jaazzpaa now. Valthrun, counsellor to Lord Padraig thinks he can find out something about the demon's whereabouts, using his library of books and network of informants. But that will take some time, and he advises the players to spend that time gaining a bit more experience before tackling a powerful demon. The players thus return to Fallcrest, fulfil their initial quest of bringing the ring of depetrification back to the temple of Selune, and reaching level 2 with the quest xp.

This ends the group's level 1 adventure. Much of it was taken from an adventure published in Dungeon Magazine #25: The Standing Stones of Sundown. The plan is to do another adventure now before coming back at a slightly higher level to chase Jaazzpaa the Ancient Vrock.

Since I haven't played D&D in quite some years I have little to comment on the matter, but I still wanted to say that I very much enjoy reading your reports of the adventure, they painfully highlight what I did wrong years ago (and give me some ideas for the future).
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