Session 4 of our Eberron Campaign, The Mark of Mercy, went a lot better than session 3. This was fun for me, I think it was fun for the players too. We left session 3 on kind of a down note. The PCs had rescued Princess Wrey ir’Wynarn, the Queen’s youngest sister, but they didn’t defeat The Dragon which was bellowing and angry that the Elf Warlock, Venarcia, had been killed. Apparently they were close. The party was also split. Two PCs and the Princess were hiding in a rope trick, the other 3 PCs and the rest of the NPCs were down the narrow staircase where the dragon could not follow.
I probably went through at least six different ideas on where to go with that situation. I even sent it in as question to Total Party Thrill and they read it on Episode 100 (46 minutes In). Those guys are great. They said that the PCs fail forward. How is the situation changed and what’s the PC’s objective here? They liked the idea that maybe the Dragon presses the PCs into service. So the first and most important thing to note is that The PCs did achieve their objective. They rescued the princess they were hired to rescue along with some of the other hostages. But the complication is that this Dragon is still out there, waiting for them. The other thing to note here is that I really wanted Session 4 to get back to The A-Plot of the campaign where they are trying to find this escaped Dark Power from Ravenloft so I didn’t want them working for this Dragon (if they chose that route) to distract from that, at least not in this session.
Here’s what I decided happened. I knew that the local druids, the Wardens of the Wood, had been skirmishing with this dragon and the Order of the Emerald Claw for a few weeks. It seemed logical that the Druids would find the PCs duking it out, especially with Moonbeams going off to advertise their presence. The Druids had flying mounts, as I established in Session 2 when there were no flying mounts available for purchase in Varna, the city the PCs passed through earlier. So the Druids rolled up on their Hippogriffs and started peppering the dragon with arrows. While not enough to kill him, this pissed him off and The Dragon chased after them enabling two druids wild shaped as rats to slip into the cave complex unnoticed.
The two Druids (Rowan and Holly) came in to help the PCs get back to Aundair. I didn’t really want the PCs to need another month to trek through the woods so I was planning on this, I just moved it up when the PCs declined to work for the bellowing dragon. The Druids offer the PCs a scroll of Transport Between Plants which the Druid PC is powerful enough to cast. The Scroll is a gift from the Archdruid Oalian and it will take them to the Eldeen Reaches embassy in Fairhaven, where the queen is. But, one of the Druids points out, it could also take the PCs to Greenheart, where Oalian is. This isn’t really how scrolls or Transport Between Plants works but I wanted the PCs to have a choice about what to do next. The PCs politely declined the offer and decided to go to Fairhaven. I also dropped some world lore on the PCs which I’ll discuss later when I talk about how the session ended.
The PCs reunited. They also found that some of the giant guards in the cave they’d seen earlier had kind of melted. Again this was something I’d planned but it was also a convenient way of avoiding some meaningless combat. The Emerald Claw NPC who wanted to come with them said that “Their potion had run out” but didn’t really know what potion and the PCs didn’t really ask. The PCs split up to recover the last few hostages who were with the Dragon’s somewhat meager hoard. One PC wandered off and found the Daelkyr Seal. I envisioned that above ground the Druids built this prison for this horrible abomination (in Eberron they’re called Daelkyr) into a tree, but below ground in the roots of the tree was literally dripping with aberrant magic. He got jumped but made it back to the PCs and they Transported to Fairhaven.
Fairhaven is the capital city of Aundair, the nation where the campaign’s been set so far. The character of the city is sort of that it’s been rebuilt many times within its walls as the nobles sort of sweep aside the past to make room for the new. That’s the sort of sentence you need to read to understand Aundair and what they’re about. They’re big into arcane magic, very French inspired, and they’re kind of arrogant jerks. But when the Last War came, they definitely came in 4th Place among the Five Nations of Galifar. And the governing officials realize this and they’re not happy about it.
So the PCs are on Embassy Row in Fairhaven. The Eldeen Reaches embassy I reasoned would be small and poor to highlight not only the poverty of the Eldeen Reaches but also the lousy relations between Aundair and the Reaches. Their ambassador I ripped off from somewhere online is an Awakened Giant Owl. He sort of greets the PCs warmly and sends them off to Fairhold, the Royal Castle. The PCs get an escort to the court of Queen Aurala ir’Wynarn of Aundair. Aurala is an interesting character that people like to talk about online but I don’t want to give my PCs an in-depth psychological profile when we’ve still got campaign to do. The Publicly Known information about Aurala is that she is pragmatic, a master diplomat, but also hard as a coffin nail. The word on the street is that she essentially talked her way out of the Last War.
Queen Aurala is not at the court long, she sort of looks on the arriving PCs and leaves which irritates them as they were anticipating the Royal Thanks. But there are two other people at court who do talk with the PCs. One is Adal ir’Wynarn, First Warlord, Minister of Magic, and the queen’s younger brother. The other, Darro ir’Lain, Second Warlord and Lord Commander of the Knights Arcane. These are important NPCs in Aundair. Aurala is the Queen but she very much needs Adal and Darro to run the country effectively. This is still a feudal monarchy and the bannermen of Aundair are loyal to at least one of these lords but not necessarily all three.
Prince/Warlord/Minister Adal I thought would be sullen. He’s a proud guy, think he would be a better monarch than his sister. The Conjure Mighty Heroes ritual that brought the PCs to Eberron is one of his pet projects for Aundair to achieve supremacy over its rivals and what happened? The spell summoned five competent but by no means invincible free-willed adventurers and Arcanix, the center of Aundair’s strength gets attacked at the very moment the ritual is complete. And their younger sister is kidnapped by foreign terrorists. Needless to say, Adal is somewhat in the doghouse. Things are going bad and while it isn’t necessarily his fault it’s his problem.
Lord Darro I portrayed as more jovial. His rivals, the Queen and her brother, are eating some crow right now. Darro commands the Knights Arcane which are sort of the elite Aundairian warriors that are mage/fighter hybrid gish type people. The Arcane Congress commanded by Adal and the Knights Arcane commanded by Darro are the one two punch of Aundair’s military that keep it at parity with the other nations of Eberron. The Party’s own Eldritch Knight was very intrigued to learn more about the Knights Arcane.
This scene ended with Darro giving the PCs a reward for their efforts and inviting them to a feast in honor of Princess Wrey’s return. Logically speaking, I don’t think Queen Aurala would actually throw a gala for this. I can’t see a president throwing a party because the Pentagon got attacked and that’s sort of the equivalent to this situation. But I wanted to do it anyways. First and foremost, I wanted the PCs to feel more relaxed after last sessions very tactical combat focused nature. Second, I wanted the PCs to hobnob with these Noble NPCs to feel out what kinds of adventures they might be interested in having. Third, I really wanted to provide a situation that would showcase how Eberron is a setting that features Everyday Magic. The canapes and drinks at the party float around with Unseen Servants. The lighting is all magical. The dance floor is illusory gold.
It was also a chance to throw exposition out. The Band playing the party are elves from House Phiarlan which carries the Dragonmark of Shadow. When they see the same Dragonmark on the party Warlock, they strike up a conversation. When they ask if she’s with House Phiarlan or House Thuranni and she says House Thuranni, they get unfriendly. The Party Rogue decided to do some sex work for supplement his income and goes home with the richest widow at the party. The Eldritch Knight wants to talk to Lord Darro. The Druid wants to people watch and gets roped into managing the drunk Sorcerer. Eventually they start talking to the Professors of Divination and Conjuration from the magic school.
The Professor of Conjuration knows that the Sorcerer carries the Dragonmark of Death, which was thought to be gone by anyone who knows about such things. He confirms for them some lore that the druids gave them earlier in the session, that there is a prophecy written in the stars over the mountaintop where they fought the dragon. The prophecy makes mention of an Apparatus of Binding which would be useful to a group of druids trying to imprison extraplanar aberrations or an adventurer hunting down some rogue dark power. There are also three star constellations visible about the mountain that ought not to be visible in that part of the world. The Grinner is a skull, Aureon’s Staff is a line similar to Orion’s Belt, and the Tears of Siberys is a persistent meteor shower that is either illusory or magic in nature since it isn’t actually occurring there, it’s just visible.
This brings us to the moment I’ve been looking forward to for a few months. The party can build the apparatus but they don’t really know what to do. That’s when the Divination Professor pulls out a deck of cards. At the table, I had borrowed a player’s tarokka deck from Curse of Strahd and at this point put it on the table. This kind of disturbed the players who immediately began looking carefully at this professor. Her olive skin and colorful garb immediately marked her as one of the Vistani from Ravenloft. Now, this character has no idea what Ravenloft is but the Vistani are noted for traveling among the planes. And so she began to draw cards.
Unlike Curse of Strahd where you draw 2 cards from the high deck and 3 cards from the common deck, I elected to draw 3 and 3 if only to give the players a better idea of where their destiny awaited. From the High Deck we drew the Artifact, the Mists, and the Darklord. This one I cheated on. I wanted to telegraph that this artifact exists and that there is some great evil within the mists. This isn’t really meant to be a mystery, more like a prophecy or a hard push in a specific direction when they’re ready for it.
For the actual randomness, I wrote down several NPCs and decided that they would correspond to specific cards. These weren’t all different, some of them like The Bishop and The Priest corresponded to the same NPCs. For the Grinner, I drew the Bishop, and the seer saw a grinning skull wreathed in silver flame. For Aureon’s Staff, I drew the Rogue, and the seer saw a small man surrounded by towers, yet still stood above them. And for the Tears of Siberys I drew The Torturer, and the seer saw a woman with black skin whipping someone raw.
If you’re familiar with Eberron some of those things might sound familiar. My players were not but its common knowledge that the nation of Thrane is ruled by the Church of the Silver Flame, Sharn is the city of towers, and black skinned white haired elves, whatever they’re called, are found in Xen’Drik. On the advice of the NPCs they decided to head to the former Aundairian city of Thaliost.
All in all I was really happy with how this all fit together. I got back to the main plot while sowing some seeds for future adventures, that Dragon’s still out there, but most importantly the PCs have a direct and immediate goal. They got somewhere to go, something to do. They might feel like they lack all the information but they’re in a position to learn more. Also, putting that deck of cards on the table got the table back to the horror theme that the campaign is all about. This is still a Curse of Strahd sequel. Fairhaven is certainly a sunnier, happier place than Barovia but the prologue is over. The darkness is quite literally out there (Latin joke) and it’s not waiting patiently for the PCs to show up.