The latest law in Baldur’s Gate allowed dueling in the streets. In response, Ravengard enacted a law empowering the Flaming Fist soldiers to hold tribunals on the spot to better uphold the law, enact justice, and keep the city safe. Add to the mess a fire deliberately set in the warehouse district near the docks in Lower City and you get a pretty good idea of how things are spiraling out of control in Baldur’s Gate.
This week at Harry Tarantula North in Toronto we had 19 players and three DMs. I ran a table of six, all of whom had played with me during this season. However, one of the players decided to scrap his pre-gen and create his own character. The party ended up with the following PCs: Half-Elf Paladin (Carl McClure, candidate for Duke), Dwarf Fighter, Human Cleric, Elf Wizard, Human Monk, and Warforged Fighter.
Ravengard called the PCs together and asked them to take on a special mission. Reliable sources informed Ravengard that the Guild was planning some kind of big demonstration of power. Apparently the Guild leaders were using the newspaper, a one-sheet called Baldur’s Mouth, to send secret messages to other members of the Guild.
Ravengard felt the best course of action was to shut the paper down. This would cripple the Guild’s communication network and force their leaders to speak directly to their members. Ravengard intended to catch the leaders when they came out of hiding to give orders, and arrest them.
There was no evidence that anyone at the paper had any knowledge of these messages, and therefore Ravengard had no legal reason to shut them down. He enlisted the PCs to do it on his behalf citing “the greater good.” The PCs reluctantly accepted the assignment.
The PCs had no trouble finding the building where the papers were printed. They met with the editor-in-chief but he couldn’t tell them anything useful. The Dwarf Fighter inferred that the coded messages might be in the advertisements so they talked to the person in charge of ads. He didn’t have anything useful to share either, but he did explain how anyone could book ad space. The PCs decided to run a campaign ad for Carl. They were told to come back the following day at sunrise to provide final copy and pay. Apparently all advertisers had to do this if they wanted to run an ad.
Assuming that some Guild members may stop by the paper, Carl the Paladin and the Dwarf Fighter stayed nearby and watched the building. After a full day of observation they saw nothing suspicious and returned to Wyrm’s Rock.
The next morning the Paladin and Dwarf Fighter got up early to go back to the paper. Before they left Wyrm’s Rock they saw an urgent notice. There had been two kidnappings in Baldur’s Gate. Descriptions of the two missing people were provided and all Flaming Fist members were instructed to keep their eyes open for signs of them.
When they got to the paper five other people were ahead of them in line. They chatted with them and decided that none of them were affiliated with the Guild. The heroes paid for Carl’s ads (“Hi, I’m Carl and I want to be Duke. You might remember me form such heroic encounters as…” hence the last name McClure) and deemed this avenue of investigation a bust.
On their way back they saw a Flaming Fist unit cording off a crime scene. When they asked what was going on an officer explained that they’d found a body. It was one of the kidnapping victims. He’d been brutally killed. The PCs were asked to deliver this news to Ravengard as quickly as possible and to be discrete.
Normally the PCs had no trouble getting an audience with Ravengard, but today they were told he was unavailable. When they said it was related to the kidnappings they were admitted. Ravengard was alone with a middle-aged couple; clearly both had been crying. He stepped away from the couple and asked the PCs for their report. They relayed what they knew and Ravengard looked noticeably distraught. He requested that they get the rest of the party together and return immediately.
Once the party gathered Ravengard explained that there was a third kidnapping in Baldur’s Gate yesterday, a teenager named Omdarsh Nyach. These were his parents. Ravengard was a close personal friend and has known them all for more than 10 years. The parents got a ransom demand of 800 gp which they decided to pay. Ravengard asked the PCs to deliver the ransom.
The boy’s safe return was the most important task, but capturing the kidnappers alive and securing the ransom were a close second and third. They were to bring the money to Blind Darcaryn’s corner and drop two platinum pieces in the blind beggar’s cup.
Some of the PCs were suspicious of the parents and wanted to grill them. Other PCs wanted to get Ravengard to divulged more about his relationship to the family and possible motives for the kidnapping. After some very inappropriate and poorly timed questions Mrs. Nyach began screaming at the party to find her son. Ravengard made it clear that they should go now or there would be consequences.
Paying the Ransom
Before the PCs got to the beggar there was some discussion of keeping the money, but Carl quashed that talk immediately. When they got to the blind man they decided not to waste two pp and instead dropped 2 cp into his cup. When he didn’t react the PCs began accosting him and accusing him of being in league with the kidnappers. It was obvious the blind man knew nothing.
When they finally paid the two pp the beggar produced a note. “You’re the pigeons now. Let’s see who’s faster, the real pigeon or the volunteer pigeons. Bring the ransom to the roost. Don’t be late.” As the PC read the note the beggar released a pigeon from a nearby basket. It circled overhead a few times and then flew away towards Upper City.
The heroes realized that they needed to follow the bird (despite the Wizard’s strong desire to shoot it down). The two Fighters and the Paladin climbed up to nearby rooftops to see where the bird was going. They shouted down directions and the rest of the party ran towards the gates to Upper City.
The Watch guards at the gate refused to let the PCs cut the line and storm through without paying the toll. They tried to explain what they were doing and why they needed to pass through quickly. However, very poor Charisma checks (none above 5) didn’t help.
A few rounds later the PCs from the roof joined the PC at the gate. The Warforged didn’t stop. He charged through the guards, knocking one over and kept on going through the checkpoint. The rest of the party decided to push their way through. The chase was on.
The PCs needed to make checks to keep up their speed on the unfamiliar streets, avoiding obstacles and pedestrians, all while keeping their eye on the pigeon and avoiding the Watch patrol now in hot pursuit. At first the PCs made great checks, but as the chase continued they needed to make additional check, each time getting more difficult.
As some PCs failed their checks I randomly picked one of those PCs to be tackled and caught by the Watch, thereby giving the other PCs a chance to gain some ground. After two PCs, the Monk and Wizard, were both caught, the rest of the PCs finally lost the Watch and found the location where the pigeon was flying.
They needed to head down a flight of stairs and then bypass the locked door. The charging Warforged Fighter barreled full speed down the stairs and into the door. He rolled a natural 20 on his Strength check. The wood shattered.
The party quickly entered the room where they saw four Halflings, a Human in a Flaming Fist guard uniform, and in the centre of the room a teenage boy tied to a chair. The Fist guard quickly grabbed one of the Halflings. “I’ve captured one of the kidnappers!” he cried out. “Round them up before they get away.”
The PCs didn’t buy it for a second. They knew he was in on it. The Warforged Fighter kept running right at the Fist soldier. With a second natural 20 in a row, he wrapped his arms around the Human holding the Halfling and crushed both into the far wall knocking them unconscious. (We described the Warforged like Juggernaut in third X-men movie.)
Carl the Paladin used Lay on Hands to heal the wounded boy while the Cleric and Dwarf Fighter tried to stop the fleeing Halflings. The Fighter hit one with his throwing hammer, but the others got away.
In order to keep things moving since we still had more to do this session I waved my DM magic wand and said that the PCs returned the boy and the captives to Wyrm’s Rock. The parents were so happy that their son was safe they gave the four PCs half of the ransom as a reward (100 gp each). They agreed to use their political pull to get the other two captured PCs out of jail and the charges dropped.
Ravengard thanked the PCs for their help and asked that if they shared the story of what happened that they omit the part about a Flaming Fist guard being involved. They agreed. The PCs then escorted the family home and before heading to Upper City to retrieve their imprisoned comrades.
Massacre at the Gates
After freeing their allies the PCs headed back towards Lower City. They began hearing the sounds of a huge gathering. As they approached the gates they noticed that hundreds of men were on the wall, all armed with crossbows and pointed into Lower City. Based on the noise, there had to be hundreds, if not thousands gathered on the other side.
They heard chanting and people calling out. It seemed as if everyone in Outer and Lower City had united. They wanted to be heard. They wanted to meet with the Council of Four and the Parliament. They wanted recognition for Outer City. They wanted a greater voice in city politics.
The PCs used their influence to get closer. They were given the option of going through the gate into Lower City or going on top of the wall. They opted for the wall. When they reached the top they saw over 2,000 people assembled.
Ravengard and 300 Flaming Fist soldiers were all that stood between the crowd and the gate. Ravengard addressed the crowd. He told them to disperse and that their gathering was unlawful. They didn’t listen. He continued to try and reason with the crowd but it was having no effect.
The heroes noticed on the far side of the wall, Imbralym Skoond, Duke Silvershield’s right hand man, having a heated discussion with some of the militia leaders. Unfortunately they were so far away they couldn’t hear anything or intervene.
As Ravengard kept trying to use diplomacy to disperse the crowd some of the archers opened fire. At least a dozen innocent protesters were killed in the volley. The PCs were sure that the archers who fired first were the same ones arguing with Skoond.
The events played out in front of the PCs while they were helpless to stop it. The crowd panicked and began to flee in all directions. People pushed and trampled one another. The Flaming Fist soldiers defended themselves.
Meanwhile the archers lost all cohesion and most dropped their weapons and tried to get off the wall as fast as possible. The PCs were unable to keep track of the instigators in the chaos.
Within five minutes it was over. The final count had 183 dead in front of the gate and another 36 found in the streets nearby. Many more were likely injured. The PCs did their part to heal the wounded and try to help in the aftermath. They did notice that some of the fallen had signs of being hit with clubs or flats of blades, standard treatment in these circumstances for Flaming Fist soldiers. However, many bodies had additional stab wounds. It was as if the Fist subdued the people and then someone else finished them off.
The only causality to the archers was the man the PCs identified as the one who fired the first shot and ordered those under his command to do the same. Based on the angle of the arrow it was obvious that he was not killed by a protester shooting from below but from close range and behind.
Most weeks there are one or two pages of content for the DM. This week there was over four pages. It was a lot. And it took a long time to get through it. I thought my players would figure out the newspaper story and they could stop the kidnappings. But once they gave up on that avenue I had to proceed with it, thereby drawing things out. It was fun, but it took a long time.
By the time we got to the events at the gate (called “Massacre” in the adventure) the players were tired. They felt frustrated as they watch, unable to really have any meaningful impact on the events playing out in front of them. Unfortunately that’s how it’s written. The PCs are supposed to witness the horror and feel helpless. It’s important to the story and the character development. Yet I can completely understand why some of the players were angry that they couldn’t do more in game.
The massacre was a brutal and dark event for any D&D campaign. I thought it was borderline inappropriate for a public-play session. After all, you never know who could be playing and how this kind of scene affects them personally. For example I had two very young players at my table and I don’t know if they simply accepted this as part of the make believe game or if they genuinely felt sympathy for the downtrodden masses.
I suspect that for some this week’s scenario that has protesters gunned down because of shady political maneuvering and masses being attacked by police as chaos insures, hit a little too close to home and mirror reality a bit too closely for a fantasy game. As one of my players recently said, he plays fantasy role-playing games to embrace the fantasy. This season there’s been plenty of role-playing but very little fantasy.
I’ll be writing more about this in a separate blog post next week as I think there is a great discussion to be had on this topic.
How did your table handle things this week? Did they rescue the kidnapped teenager? How did they interact with the Massacre at the gates? Were they able to calm the situation at all or stop the chaos and killing? Did any other DMs feel that this scenario was inappropriate for a public-play game?
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