Trigger Warnings: Spoilers, lack of combat, going through two chapters back to back, and excessive stuttering.
I expected this particular session to be as important as it is combat free, and it didn’t disappoint. The party made their way to the Gravenhollow library of the underdark. I figured out that the group wasn’t the kind that would go through much roleplaying. (Some groups don’t mind the interacting, while others prefer to just have some action, and my Encounters group is the latter.) I took them through most fo the visions in Chapter 11 including a couple that refers to my other campaigns, Living Parnast, and the upcoming Curse of Strahd. The way I take it is different from the traditional mists transporting the party. I took advantage of the Sundering bringing realms from different locations into my Realms, and replace the Sunset Mountains (between Baldur’s Gate and Cormyr) with an in-realms Barovia and Ravenloft; in effect bringing the module to the party instead. Whatever or not Barovia remains in the Realms, however, is another tale. It depends on what kind of motivation Strahd has in mind.
And whatever or not he’s actually a bona fide villain. For all we know, he could be my answer to Dexter Morgan.
I still have some time left in my session, so I ad-libbed my way through the Araj chapter as well. The party met Vizeran and decided to join him in his efforts of driving back the Demon Lords and ruining Lolth’s day in the process. Yes, true believers, Lolth did it again. I had her shenanigans with Eberron cause the Sundering in the first place, and it’s obvious she is incapable of learning. Almost like a college student these days, more interested in narratives and feelings than a decent education. He gave the party his shopping list (page 165, column 1 in the module) and the party decided to work on them from the top down. Which means that Wormwrithings is next. I think I can get a good two months of material in the last five chapters, which is where things really are getting good.
On to Living Parnast though.
My design on Liberation from the Dragon Queen is running along nicely, especially when I have several people willing to playtest it. Nothing like having expecting players to keep me motivated to finish this module.
But first, I have to tell you a bit more about the campaign world. This is not going to be part of my Forgotten Realms. It’ll have some results of how I played Hoard of the Dragon Queen, such as the involvement of two former Cultists, one being “The Black Dragon” and the other Talis the White. Also, they’ll be some techonological advancements as well—WotC can’t have IP copyrights to the steam engine—and the main NPCs are indeed futurists who make inventions meant to change the Realms into something like Æthercoil (an OSR version of a Steampunk setting, instead of the more traditional Victorian era). However, Living Parnast will take place in its own universe, an alternate Forgotten Realms, which can get plugged into any campaign world, or another DM’s own Forgotten Realms. I had to do this for the sake of the Dungeon Master’s Guild.
You can see the different version of the realms used by the different version of the NPCs involved. Most of them are more familiar NPCs in my campaigns, set in my personalized Realms. I just gave them some tweaks to make them different from the ‘cannon’ version.
Take Justin Mercurial, for example. He’s the patron NPC in Living Parnast. He’s the one who hires the party—and in the case of younger characters becomes the party’s mentor—and takes them to Parnast to rescue the village from the Cult of the Dragon. In Living Parnast, technology is not as prevalent as it is in my ‘cannon’ Realms; guns are pretty much in their infancy with only the half dozen flintlock rifles floating about and handguns more associated with pirates in the open seas than anywhere else. (They call them ‘hand cannons.’ Cute.) Instead of a wire-based telegraph, there is a Clack system a la Diskworld using a set of panels stationed every 30-40 miles, and there’s no railroad.
In this setting, Justin is quite a visionary and futurist in his inventions. He modified the Clack system, which sends characters in a set of shutters (think of Lord Murray’s model) to send more characters at once, accelerating the travel of the message. He also helped some gnome with gun technology to create the first bolt-action sniper rifle that uses cartridge-based rounds (That contain the flint, powder, and projectile in one item) with which he was able to take down a dragon. From a mile away. With a headshot. And in the early parts of the module, he had a steam engine built by Dwarven Labor from Gauntlgrym (Union Label and everything!) which will get the party over to the Graypeak Mountains in a little over two tendays.
However, there is the clear need for me to keep Justin from going into Mary Sue territory, not to mention keep him from becoming a medieval Tony Stark, and I thought of an excellent flaw for him: Justin Mercurial has a stutter. A very pronounced stutter. The kind of stutter who would make people go “All right, enough fun and games, where the fuck’s the real Lord of Graypeak?” He had this stutter since he was a child, found in the river overlooking Daggerford. And while he had a pretty decent upbringing by the followers of Lathander there, whatever unspoken Lemony Snicket style crap he got before there effected his self-esteem enough for that stutter to be pretty much permanent. Even a blessing from the God of the Morning, which lead to his connection to the Weave, was not enough to cure his speech impediment. In the end, his stutter is similar in nature to the bum leg of his mentor, Sir Isteval. It’s there to keep him from hubris.
It also keeps him from being taken seriously at times, especially with nobles from some southern cities. While he’s more than proven himself with the Lord’s Alliance, and will be very depended on as the Lord of Graypeak. There will be some that will just plain reject him outright, up to and including laughing at and talking down on him because of his lack of articulation. Even call the leaders of the Alliance out for claiming that “this unintelligent vagrant” has the distance record for a dragon kill, or allowing that emergency message to go from Baldur’s Gate to Neverwinter in just over four hours. Some would right out refuse to acknowledge Justin Mercurial’s accomplishments or even his existence.
Not just the village of Parnast, the party will have to assist their patron in his goals of pushing his technological advancements to the Realms, and facing those who put a stigma on those with such a handicap will become a regular source of an encounter or two.
I get the feeling that Living Parnast will end up resonating with some youth.