I did it – I finally did it! I got a full session of actual roleplaying out of my players! There was hardly any combat! And it was okay and everyone enjoyed themselves! It was a good day. And I finally got to make use of some of the “faction” content – because this incarnation of D&D unified play makes use of factions (or maybe it’s a 5th ed thing? Not sure), and most players belong to one of five: the Order of the Gauntlet, the Harpers, the Emerald Enclave, the Lords’ Alliance, or the Zhentarim. I am usually bored by the factions and find them hugely unnecessary, so it was nice to get to make something of it.
Gauntlgrym, great dwarven city, seat of King Bruenor Battlehammer
The Forgotten Realms
The Story So Far:
The session opened with our party being welcomed to a feast in a palace, filled with very influential, powerful, or just straight-up rich people. Certainly not the usual scene for the adventurers, who after three months on the surface still felt more used to dank caverns and fungus-filled tunnels. At least the table was full of familiar and comforting food – and plenty of it – which they could make the most of.
They recognized a few familiar faces – representatives of their factions, higher in rank than they were. Markel greeted Sir Lanniver Strayl, of the Order of the Gauntlet; Aspen met with Morista Malkin, of the Emerald Enclave; and Necalli… did his best to avoid Davra Jassur, of the Zhentarim. He knew of her reputation as an extremely deadly assassin and thought it best to avoid her. She acknowledged him from across the room, but made no effort to come over to him. Markel and Aspen made polite small-talk with Lanniver and Morista, while Necalli tried to discreetly leave the feast. Well, not just the feast – he was attempting to make a run out of not just the palace, but the city of Gauntlgrym itself. He had a feeling that Bruenor was going to send them back into the Underdark, and Necalli wanted no part of it.
As he evaded a pair of guards, he turned back around to find Davra herself materializing in front of him, as if by magic. She asked him some polite questions about his time in the Underdark, and asked him if he was interested in some potential opportunities for advancement within the Zhentarim. Using the telepathic link established by Stool’s rapport spores, he begged his party members for help while trying to evade that line of questioning. Aspen made his excuses to Morista, and came to find Necalli in the hall outside, looking awkward and uncomfortable with Davra.
Davra, seeing great potential in Aspen, was quickly distracted from Necalli, who resumed his attempts to escape. Davra was quite persistent in trying to recruit Aspen to the Zhentarim, but in the end, he chose to remain true to the Emerald Enclave. Necalli actually managed to make it outside the palace itself, but he found the grounds crawling with guards between him and the gates into the city itself. He ate a couple of pygmywort mushrooms, shrinking down as small as he could be, hoping he could escape their notice that way.
Unfortunately for him, even a small blue dragonborn barbarian is still a blue dragonborn barbarian in a city full of dwarves, making him rather noticeable to the guards. They spotted him and surrounded him, asking if he’d gotten lost on his way to the feast – these were dwarves after all; they were used to other races being unexpectedly knocked flat by their strong dwarven ale. Necalli finally admitted that he would not be able to escape from this fate, and returned to the feast. Davra politely acted as if she had not noticed that he had suspiciously vanished.
As the feast wrapped up, Bruenor did in fact come to speak to the adventurers, informing them of his wish that they had made a good impression on the faction leaders. After all, they would need any assistance their factions could give them in order to do what Bruenor was asking of them. He told them that the Zhentarim maintained an outpost in the Underdark, in the trading post known as Mantol-Derith. From there, he instructed them, they were to find their way to Gravenhollow, reputed to be the repository of all knowledge in the realms. There, he hoped, they would be able to find out more about what exactly was going on in the Underdark, and if it did in fact threaten the surface world as he suspected.
The party, being who they were, asked him what exactly they’d get in return for succeeding at this mission. Markel asked only that his adopted son, Stool, be provided for, and cared for in case of his death. Of the things that King Bruenor offered, Aspen asked for a title and lands – a small duchy to the east. And Necalli asked for a great statue to stand in front of Bruenor’s palace, as well as his face to be printed on the currency of the realm. Ignoring the fact that the King’s opinion of the latter two fell somewhat – haggling over the fate of the world is a little gauche, you guys – the party came to an agreement and began their own preparations for the journey.
This began with returning to their faction representatives and asking for their assistance. Markel went to meet with Sir Lanniver Strayl, who was playing chess with one of his assistants. He shooed the assistant off and gestured for Markel to take his place at the chess board. They spoke over a challenging game of chess, while Markel assured the knight that he did his best to keep his party’s misdeeds in line, hoping to bring them to the side of good with time. Admiring Markel’s dedication to his adopted son and enjoying their rigorous game of strategy, Lanniver pledged several Veterans of the Gauntlet to their mission, knowing the repercussions this could have for the world as a whole.
Aspen met with Morista Malkin, asking her for her assistance. In exchange, he offered to bring back specimens of various plants and fungus he found in the Underdark, as well as his observations on the natural phenomena he observed there. He appealed to her scientific and curious nature, hoping that she would view the currently unspoiled nature of the Underdark as equally as important as the unspoiled nature of the surface world. Indeed, she offered some of her scouts, picked by hand and trained by her right here in Gauntlgrym. She also showed him their giant riding lizards, which would no doubt prove helpful in the Underdark, and offered one to each of the adventurers as well.
Aspen went with Necalli to the chambers of Davra Jassur, hoping that they could convince her to help them by persuading her that maybe Aspen would join the Zhentarim after all. This bait did indeed tempt Davra – bringing in strong new recruits always looks good to the higher-ups, and besides, they’d be answering to her. She asked why she should help Necalli, however, who had displayed nothing but cowardice since they’d first met. At this, Necalli was spurred to tell her in more detail of their escape from the drow and everything that came since – the faction leaders had only heard the barest outline of the story up until now. Her attention was caught at the moments he described some of the vast riches they encountered underground, and she made an offer – she’d send a group of her people with them, and ensure their safe passage to Mantol-Derith, if they’d give her an equal share of whatever treasure they brought back from the Underdark. Knowing what riches awaited them from King Bruenor if they succeeded, they agreed.
The next day, Bruenor equipped and supplied them for the trip, and wished them well on the journey. After all, the fate of the world very well may rest upon their shoulders. He made a grand speech before all the faction representatives and his own circle of advisors, comparing this party to a group of adventurers he had once known, many lives ago (thanks for making me explain the history of Drizz’t to an 11-yr-old, Wizards).
The party was guided to a distant entrance to the Underdark, and from there they traveled to Mantol-Derith. One of the Zhentarim thugs explained that outsiders to the Zhentarim were not entrusted with the fastest route to the trading post; that was a well-guarded secret. But they made it to Mantol-Derith without incident, as the groups got to know each other and the party tried to become comfortable with their roles as commanders now. A secret door barred their path – one of the thugs stepped forward and said a word that he explained to be the svirfneblin word for darkness. They were immediately directed across the rest of Mantol-Derith to the Zhentarim quarter of the settlement, past svirfneblin and duergar areas.
They were brought to a tent to wait for Ghazrim Duloc, their contact who could get them to Gravenhollow. Also waiting there was a group of drow who politely requested to meet with him first, as they had been waiting for quite some time. Aspen decided to transform into a rat to discreetly see if he could find Ghazrim on his own. After a few minutes of exploring – the Zhentarim outpost was not especially large – he found him. In fact, he found him accompanied by a beholder of all things, in friendly conversation with him. He quickly rushed back to his party and warned them, “Beholder incoming!”
And I thought that was a nice cliffhanger to end the session on (and also time constraints, you know)!