***SPOILER WARNING FOR RIME OF THE FROSTMAIDEN ***
In this second campaign diary we’ll be continuing on from where we left our adventurers in part 1: celebrating their victory over the monster in the lake of Bremen. As per last time, I’ll put the narrative in story description in block quotes in the text, with my DM notes inter-spaced between the paragraphs. Feel free to read only one or the other if that’s all that interests you. This diary corresponds to session 2 of our Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign. So, without further ado: when last we left our heroes…
Ciryl and Kaldall listened carefully to Hlin as she told them of the three gruesome murders that have happened over the past month, while their companions continued to drink and celebrate their newfound status in the village. The old bounty hunter told them of her suspicions: that someone in Torrga’s caravan has been killing in the name of the Frostmaiden as they travel from town to town. She thinks that it’s probably Sephek, and it has some link to the human sacrifices that have been happening as certain villages grow increasingly desperate to appease Auril and end the winter. The adventurers agree to look into it, and if they can find proof to put an end to the murders, despite the inactivity of the Council of Speakers. They sealed the deal with a handshake, and settled down to sleep alongside their now already comatose companions. After a decent nights sleep, the party left the tavern, with a cheery wave from its innkeeper, in the hopes that the chill of the air will help clear the hangovers that they were suffering from. They were however barely out of the door when Tali came running through the light snow that was falling to meet them. They tried desperately to catch their breath as they explained their predicament to the adventurers, a strange lantern dangling from one hand.
“If you’re leaving the town then I thought that maybe, erm, you would be able to help me. I’ve been looking for some local nature spirits, Chwingas, that apparently play around in Ten-Towns but I can’t go traipsing around the entire dale when I have so much work to do! I was hoping you could help me since you’re leaving anyway. I can give you this lantern that should glow when you get close to one and maybe you could bring one back for me to study? They’re meant to be really friendly too!” In a cheerful disposition the adventurers readily agreed to help Tali with their research, before heading off down the road to Targos, their first stop on the way to Good Mead, where they had last heard that Torrga’s caravan might be.
This happened at the end of session 1, but for narrative reasons I’ve put it in this campaign diary. I gave the party both of the starting quests provided in Rime, to try and drill in early that they’re going to have plenty of choices of things to do, and not just one linear storyline to follow. This would also make it more likely that they would finish one of these quests, since the Chwinga quest is partly random, and the murder mystery quest requires travelling to other towns, that they might not end up doing if they get distracted on other quests. I’ve tried to modify “Cold Open” to make it so that they have to investigate slightly more than just taking Hlin’s word that it was Sephek, and I’ve also changed to locations of the towns that practice human sacrifice, so that it isn’t the biggest cities but those lead by more morally dubious leaders. My players also briefly enquired about getting transport, either sled dogs or axebeaks, but when I gave them the prices for them they decided that it would have to be for a later date, or maybe they could steal some later on. Yeah, they’re not the most chivalrous of parties.
“Well, we’re probably not going to want to go back there too soon”, muttered Ciryl as they left Targos. It hadn’t been the friendliest of visits. It had started pretty well, he thought, on reflection the clerk was probably the friendliest person they’d met, even if it was because he’d been trying to line his pockets. They’d learnt from him that the shipbuilder that had been murdered a month ago had paid the clerk so as to be left off the list of candidates for the monthly sacrifice lottery. Growing increasingly desperate to put an end to the winter, the town Speaker had apparently listened to some local druids and decided to start up human sacrifice to appease Auril. Someone was randomly selected amongst the townsfolk to walk out into the night and be claimed by the cold, unless of course they paid a little into the city coffers. Apparently these “upstanding citizens” who just wanted to help buy food and fuel for the winter were seen as too valuable to risk sacrificing. Bullshit of course, but it was hardly the first time any of them had seen someone profiting from misery to make some money. Hell, they were adventurers, it was practically how they got by too, he though, though he didn’t point this out to the others, who were still in a foul mood. They had at least got a lead though, some blue eyed bloke had come in wanting to know who had paid to get out of the lottery the morning of the murder. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing.
After Maeis had examined the murder scene, nothing of course, it had been a month ago, they had made their way to The Luskan Arms to meet the Speaker. An arrogant prick if ever Ciryl had seen one, and Ciryl had spent his time in aristocratic society so he’d seen plenty. He’d have to try and calm the tempers of Jean and Kaldrall if they were going to survive the week without being arrested. You can’t just go threatening the leader of a town to get your own way. He’d been of no help too, clearly didn’t care about the murder, and he’d known about the clerk taking bribes too even if he hadn’t said so. Greasy arsehole. Still, Kaldrall had managed to grab a piece of paper off his desk in the confusion, they’d have to examine that later once they were out of the weather, didn’t want it getting damaged. That Speaker was up to something, they all knew it, even if they didn’t know what. We’ll get him in the end, thought Ciryl, still bristling that he’d been escorted out of a pub, the shame. Mind you that wasn’t nearly as humiliating as their time in the Three Flags Sailing. It had been a good plan too, tell the sheriff that they were working for the Speaker, get him to give them all the info he had on the murder. It had pretty much worked too, the bloke had given them everything he knew about the murder, of course he did since they didn’t know sod all and didn’t care. How were they to know that he was the damn Speaker’s right hand and would know full well that he hadn’t sent them to help investigate. Gods, they had looked like fools. Still, they had got what they needed and got out of the gates as quick as possible afterwards, as per the sheriff’s advice. Lets hope Bryn Shander is nicer, he muttered to himself, at least they don’t randomly decided to sacrifice people there, it couldn’t be worse.
The party’s adventure in Targos was, I think we can safely say, a series of unfortunate roleplaying events. They looked for information on the murder, and got everything they needed to know. That the victim had paid a bribe to get out of the lottery, and that a blue eyed person had known who had managed to get out of the lottery. After that however, things went slightly downhill when they bit of slightly more than they could chew by trying to intimidate and bully the town Speaker into giving them more information. This generally gave them some background info, about the druids that had advised him on the human sacrifice mainly, and the fact that he’s an evil git, but didn’t really do much to advance their quest. They stopped short of having a fight with the local militia however, deciding that killing random people trying to do their jobs wasn’t going to win them any favours, and were happy to just leave the Speaker alone for now, though I’m pretty sure that if they get the opportunity later on they will make sure to make his life as difficult as possible. Their conversation with the Sheriff went better, and a good persuasion roll meant that I decided that he was more amused by them looking into things than threatened, and was willing to talk to them and pretend that he believed that the Speaker had sent them, though didn’t hesitate to tell them to leave and not come back for a while once he was tired of them. The lantern also failed to reveal any Chwingas, as it failed to do so when they got to Bryn Shander too.
It was at this point that I noted that I was going to have to have a bit of a meta discussion with the players at the beginning of the next session about religion in D&D, and why these sort of sacrifices might actually make some sense to someone in the D&D world, and religion isn’t just a sham to convince people but that gods actually exist. Otherwise I think they’re going to go down a rabbit hole that doesn’t really exist, and that’s on me as a DM.
Finally, this is a nice pub, thought Ciryl as they walked into The Northlook to the sound of people laughing and the reassuringly familiar smell of ale mixed with sawdust. Not like the practically falling down bar in Bremen or the gloomy dens that they’d been to in Targos. The party happily took off their winter clothing, settling down at a table and happy for a place to sleep tonight, before they set off he next morning to Good Mead to try and catch Torrga’s Caravan. It was when Ciryl went to get his round in that he heard the news, when the barkeep asked him if he’d spoken with the other dwarves that had arrived that morning. When said dwarves turned up an hour later looking for a room for the night, the party had their next adventure: to find and return the iron ore that they had lost after a yeti attack.
And so rather than continuing on to Good Mead as they had intended, they decided to follow up on this side quest, as it seemed more exciting and immediately interesting that following up on the murder mystery that they could deal with later. They figured that they would find the caravan eventually, the could afford to spend a day helping out some dwarves. Now it was slightly before our usual ending time by this point as I proposed that they follow up on the quest next time, but they wanted to push on to actually get, what one of my players called, “the fun stuff” of an actual fight rather than a whole session about social interactions, and so we prolonged session 2 longer than usual so include the hunt for the iron ore.
Maeis raised his hand to call them to a stop on the top of a ridge. He pointed out into the distance, where the others could just about make out the shape of the sled. A blizzard had been blowing hard for the past 30 minutes, and they had almost lost the trail, but they had managed to catch up before the snows finally claimed the tracks. They approached carefully, until they were able to make out the two polar bears pulling the cart and the goblins surrounding it. Maeis was able to spot that two more goblins ridding on top of the cart, one of whom had the biggest hat among them and therefore had to be the chief. They didn’t know how the goblins had come into possession of the cart after the yeti attack that had chased off the original dwarven owners, but it was of little consequence. They had to get it back, no matter who had claimed it in the meantime. The blizzard provided them with cover enough to move in close, Jean and Ciryl moving slightly further forward as Kaldrall and Maeis took up positions behind the slay ready to open fire. The first volley took the goblins entirely by surprise, an arrow felling one goblin on the left as one on the right took a fireblast to the back, causing severe burns which weren’t enough to take him down, which was of little consolation when Jean’s axe came down upon him from nowhere. A shout came from on top of the wagon and the leader jumped down scimitar swinging which was quickly blocked by Ciryl’s shield. Arrows flew around them as the goblin’s opened fire trying to fight them off and the sled shook as the bears at the front strained against their harnesses, the smell of blood sending their senses wild, their empty stomachs being the only thing on their mind. Jean and Ciryl kept three of the goblins tied up in a savage melee as Kaldall and Maeis took care of the other goblins trying to encircle them. With a loud snapping noise the sled shuddered and the harnesses snapped. Ciryl’s eyes widdened as he saw one of the bears charging at them, a large paw swiping away the goblin he was fighting before charging the dwarf himself. A bloody fight ensued as Jean and Ciryl fought off the goblin chief from one side and the bear from the other, Jean’s axe swinging one way and the other in his blind rage as he struck at anything that approached, while Ciryl moved carefully around the goliath, using his shield to keep the giant from harm. The chief fell quickly under the axe and the bear followed shortly after with a sharp crack from Ciryls hammer finally felling the beast. The pair finally looked up to see the devastation around them, where Kaldrall and Maeis had dealt with any goblin that had tried to approach the fight and were now taking parting shots at the last remaining goblin, who fled into the cover of the blizzard before Maeis was able to get a clear shot. Kaldrall left Maeis to his remaining shots and approached the sled to make sure that it was what they were looking for, and looked out into the distance trying to see if the other polar bear had fled completely or was coming back. Seeing no sign of the beast, he returned to checking the load and was happy to be able to report that it was what they were looking for. Maeis caught up with them, in a foul mood, his last few shots having been lost to the wind. “One of them got away” he complained. The others shrugged. One goblin couldn’t do much harm, and they’d be long away before any reinforcements got here.
We ended the session there, after having fought off the goblins and reclaiming the cargo, but before they took a long rest or returned to the town, as by now it was getting late so we left the rewards for next time. The fight was I think pretty enjoyable. The blizzard provided a feeling of making the environment actually matter, without it being overly important, as it provided cover bonuses and ensured that fleeing enemies could get away. Plus the few rounds spent describing the sled groaning as the bears pulled against it made for a nice addition of suspense, as the players tried to deal with the goblins quickly before the bears broke free. I used strength checks to see when they would escape, and then a quickly improvised wisdom check to see if they would fight or flee, which I think worked well overall and made them feel more like living beings rather than just tokens to fight. One thing that it reminded me was that my players like combat, and a session without it will probably feel a bit lacklustre, even if they enjoy it. So, going forward I’m going to have to keep a better eye on pacing and being clear with NPCs so that they don’t get locked down in the sort of loop that they got in with the Targos Speaker as he’d given them what they needed, but they weren’t sure, so it just kept escalating and took up probably more time than it should have (even if it does mean that I’ve now got a nice villain for them in the future if I need it, because they now hate this guy). Of course, this is a sandbox campaign, so I don’t have much control over what happens, but I think my pacing needs work so that I can ensure that my players are getting what they want out of the campaign.
Until next time, TTFN, be more kind,