With Upper City closing its gates to non-residents at 3 bells, the PCs decided to help merchants from Lower City and Outer City skirt the system by travelling through Underceller to bypass the gates. It took considerable effort and a battle with some skeletons, but the PCs found a safe passage and began escorting merchants.
This week at Harry Tarantula North in Toronto we ran three tables, all using the D&D Next play test rules. The other two DMs both had six players at their tables. I started with three players at my table and got two more after about 30 minutes bringing my total up to five. The party consisted of a Half-Elf Paladin (Carl), Halfling Rogue, Dwarf Druid, Human Monk, and Elf Wizard.
None of the PCs from last weeks session were present this week so we said they continued to escort merchants through Underceller as other events played out in Baldur’s Gate this week.
I challenge you to a duel!
We began this week as we have the past few; the Flaming Fist sergeant calls all active members to the daily briefing and hands out assignments. He told those present that the Parliament was going to be announcing another new law today. Considering how poorly the previous few laws were received he cautioned the Fist members to be diligent in their duties and keep the peace.
It didn’t take long for the PCs to hear news of the new law from town criers and upset locals. Dueling was now legal in Baldur’s Gate. None of the PCs were sure what that meant exactly so they kept their eyes and ears open.
Less than an hour after the law was announced the PCs stumbled upon a duel starting up in Lower City. An officer of the city Watch was verbally berating a teenaged lamplighter, something about the lamplighter corrupting the officer’s sister by bringing her to unsavory places in town. The teenager denied any wrongdoing and apologized as he tried to explain what happened. The officer was unreceptive and challenged the lamplighter to a duel.
The officer was dressed in full plate armor, carried a shield and brandished a heavy long sword. He towered a good 6 inches over the lamplighter and outweighed him by at least 75 pounds. The lamplighter was unarmored and carried only a dull knife. This was clearly a lopsided contest.
By this point a considerable sized crowd drew near, surrounding the combatants and anxious to see their first duel. Carl the Paladin, self-proclaimed candidate for Duke, stepped forward. This drew many gasps and cheers from the crowd.
Carl suggested the officer rescind his challenge and back down. He refused and asserted his legal right to carry on with this duel. Carl refused to step aside. The officers confirmed verbally that Carl was willingly violating the legal rules of dueling by interfering. Carl confirmed he was; he refused to let the officer duel the teenager.
The officer smiled, turned to his companions who were in the crowd and declared that Carl’s violation allowed him to call upon his allies to assist, as was the dueling protocol. Now it was seven against two (if we count the teenager). The Druid refused to let Carl battle these men alone so he joined in the fight.
Dueling in the Streets
None of the players or their PCs knew the rules of dueling (I let them make checks and they failed horribly). According to the adventure, anyone could challenge an opponent to a duel. The first combatant to draw blood was the winner. If the bleeding combatant did not concede victory to the attacker the duel continued, now to the death. If a third party joins the fight the challenger can call upon his allies (as many as he deems necessary) to assist him.
There are no rules that prohibit weapons, armor, magic items, or the like. The combatants are not required to have equal arms or armor; they duel with what they have on them. What this means is that anyone with superior equipment or combat training was at a huge advantage. Traditionally it was believed that a deity would bless the duelist destined to win and therefore he didn’t need any other protection.
From a D&D mechanics point of view I decided that the first PCs to inflict damage was the winner. This gave the PC/NPC with a higher initiative a big advantage. To level the playing field a bit I decided that during a duel all participants had to roll a defense check rather than have a flat, unchanging AC. This gave unarmored opponents a better chance to avoid taking a blow. Their fate was now in their own hands.
In order to make an active defense check the PC/NPC subtracts 10 from their normal AC and adds the remaining number to their d20 roll. For example, a Watch officer with an 18 AC would roll a d20+8 to get his defense score. The attacker and defender would roll simultaneously and if the attacker’s total matched or beat the defender’s check it was a hit.
I’ve used active defenses during public play before. I’ve also tried it on and off during home games. It lets everyone roll more dice which helped me keep younger players engaged during public play. It does mean that combat takes longer because everyone is rolling more dice. However, if players get into it and describe their actions it can make for very vivid and exciting combat encounters. (See Let the Players Roll More Dice: Using Active Defenses.)
Carl the Paladin won the initiative but failed to connect on his first strike. A Watch officer went next and hit the Paladin. The officer waited for Carl to acknowledge he’d been beat. When no proclamation was uttered the next officer attacked. The Druid managed to draw first blood on an officer who hadn’t acted yet. The wounded officer immediately tapped out. When the Druid was hit by another officer a second later, the PCs was given a brief opportunity to surrender. I gave the PCs a chance to understand this nuance by making a Wisdom check, which he made easily. He chose to keep dueling.
The Duel took about 10 minutes of real time and was very exciting. The players got into it and described their offensive and defensive actions. I likewise described the officers’ actions. In the end the PCs knocked out the instigator and five of his six friends. When the other officer surrendered early he quickly sneaked away.
The crowd was ecstatic at seeing Carl the Paladin defeat the Watch officers. Carl used two divine spells during the fight to bless and heal himself. Those in the crowd who knew the dueling protocols saw this as a divine sign he would win, and he did. The lamplighter thanked the heroes and then ran off. The unconscious Watch officers were stripped of their belongings, strung up on a lamppost Spider-man style, and left with the message “No Dueling” written on their bodies. The Lower City crowd loved this more than the fight.
Beware of a Flaming Fist Tribunal
The PCs returned to Wyrm’s Rock and rested overnight. The next day Ravengard himself gathered all Flaming Fist members together and announced that he was implementing a new law in Baldur’s Gate. The city is falling into chaos and needs order. It needs the strong hand of the Flaming Fist to guide it. Only through swift and firm justice can the town get back on the right path.
Effective immediately Ravengard empowered Flaming Fist patrols of five or more lead by an officer of Flame rank or higher to convene on-the-spot tribunals. When presented with a crime the tribunal can hear evidence and pass judgment. Most Flaming Fist members expressed their approval, but about 1 in 10 seemed hesitant and clearly felt this might not be a good idea. However, loyalty for Ravengard trumped any doubts.
During the day the PCs heard of the many successes of the tribunals and the locals of Lower City seemed to think it was a good idea. The heroes presided over a case of petty theft in which Carl (of Flame rank) passed judgment, found the accused guilty based on testimony, and gave him a choice of paying a fine or working for the shop keeper for a week for free. The man took the job.
The next day the PCs heard more about the tribunals, however, the accounts became more serious and more brutal. A man who broke a verbal agreement was found guilty and his tongue was cut out. This got the PCs thinking that the tribunals might not be as good as they originally seemed. They decided to talk to Ravengard about it the following day after their patrol was over.
Later that evening the PCs were nearby when they heard the cried of fire. As the got closer they saw four warehouses ablaze. The locals wasted no time helping to combat the fire. The Monk and Paladin decided to go inside a nearby burning building to search for survivors.
Once inside they realized the building was mostly empty. The objects inside were carefully positioned to burn quickly and engulf the structural supports. They also noticed trails of an accelerant on the floor. Clearly someone set this deliberately. Seeing no bodies or people who needed help inside, they tried to leave. Unfortunately some heavy derris now blocked their way. Both were burned as they tried to get through the smoldering rubble (due to very poor checks).
Outside, the Wizard use ice magic to combat the fire while the rest of the PCs joined the line of people carrying buckets of water to the fire. After about an hour the fires were contained and eventually doused.
As the PCs left the scene they were approached by Coran. He applauded their efforts to help and congratulated the Paladin and Druid on their dueling prowess form the previous day. He asked the PCs how they felt about all these new laws but they didn’t really have strong opinions about any of them.
Coran seemed upset that the tribunals were becoming so unnecessarily brutal and violent. He shared a tale of a fisherman who sold his goods to a local restaurateur. When the man got the fish to his shop he realized many were rotting. He returned to the fisherman and demanded a tribunal from a nearby Flaming Fist patrol. They found the fisherman guilty, gut him like a fish, and impaled his body on a large fish hook as a warning to other vendors to be honest in their dealings.
The PCs were shocked at the story and agreed to talk to Ravengard the next day about rescinding the new law. Coran commented that he was unaware Ravengard had the authority to enact such a law in the fist place. He then bid the PCs good night.
The PCs returned to Wyrm’s Rock for a night’s rest. However, the Rogue decided to return to the scene of the fire and investigate further at fist light. When she returned she saw that the damage was extensive. She secretly went inside a few buildings and found more evidence that the fires were set deliberately.
Outside she saw Flaming Fist patrols keeping order, owners and merchants cleaning up, locals trying to get a good look at what happened, and an unusual number of street kids mulling about. She flashed some Thieves’ Cant and one of the kids replied.
The Rogue approached the young girl who, upon seeing her Flaming Fist badge, asked if she was Othial. The Rogue said she was Othial’s friend. The girl said Othial was supposed to meet her here and pay her and the other kids for completing the job. The Rogue explained she didn’t have their payment and that they’d have to wait for Othial. They decided not to and said they’d come back later before running off. The Rogue returned to Wyrm’s Rock to share this new finding with the rest of the party.
I really enjoyed the dueling this week. Using the active defenses really made it more exciting and the players loved it. Unfortunately for the rest of the session we felt like we were just going through the motions as we tried to hit all the required story points. In retrospect I think I should have trusted my gut and just told the PCs there was a fire while they slept. It seemed like a pretty fortunate coincidence they were close enough to help when it began.
We continued to play up Carl the Paladin’s reputation as man of the people and savior of the downtrodden. The heroes realized that the stories were growing out of proportion but at this pint they’re still hearing nothing but good things so they’re ok with that. Eventually some of the power players will see Carl as a real threat and have him dealt with.
The adventure is written in a way that it’s supposed to allow the PCs to help or hinder each of the three factions every week. However, it’s been challenging trying to work in opportunities for the PCs to help the other two factions. By this point in the story they really don’t have any good reason to help any of the others, and I suspect they’ll dump their allegiance with the Flaming Fist soon enough.
Which events did your PCs participate in this week? Did anyone get into a duel? Did anyone administer swift justice as part of a tribunal? What was your role in the warehouse fire? Do any players see their party switching allegiance between Silvershield, Ravengard or the Guild in the coming weeks?
Recounting Encounters Podcast
Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record with fellow Toronto DM, Craig Sutherland, and Marc Talbot (Alton) from 20ft Radius in which we recount that week’s experiences with D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective FLGS and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.
Actual Play Podcasts
We continue to record our D&D Encounters sessions and make them available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone. Some language may be inappropriate for all ages, although we try to keep it as family-friendly as possible.
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