Vastlands ep.13 – Cathedral Rescue

This was a great session. I was surprised at how a “reroll mechanic” (fortune) really added to the tension. It seemed counter intuitive, but there you go. This session really pulled on the player’s experiences with “Blades in the Dark” and heists in general. Loved it!

This session was also interesting as our Witch player was travelling – so Prue’s activities faded into the background, and no one (including the player!) wanted the blabbermouth Knight to try creeping into the Cathedral and so we hired on a new Thief to become a 1st level player character.

Cathedral interior – David Noren

In Game

PCs present: Alette (Hunter 3), Solvang (Magic-User 3) , Hogrid (Thief 1)
NPCs: Estmund (Dolmenwood-Knight 3), Prudence (Sorcerer 3), Fluff-Tail (Grimalkin 1), ). John Clay (Gunslinger 1)

The party collected in the breakfast rooms of The Chateau. The reality of the situation finally sunk in. They were about to defy the Order of St Faxis and the Royal commandments in a manner that would result in very public repercussions. “Are we going to start a civil war?” asked Estmund. Solvang and Alette agreed that both Prue and Estmund could not afford to even be seen during the rescue, as both of them would put a lot of people at risk. They also realised that there was some kind of politics going on between the Bishop, the Duke, and the Order of St Faxis that they knew nothing about and needed to stay out of as much as possible.
What really terrified everyone was that Estmund had revealed way to much before they knew about the magical students. The Order knew about Laird Spinnewith in Drigbolton, they knew the rumours about Lady Harrowmoor and were already planning a visit, they even knew Estmund was from Mistmill! They put their heads together and came up with a plan which Esmund would leave and let the unknowns work their magic.

Estmund went to the sunday service in the cathedral and waiting around after to meet with Sir Augustus. they said farewells to each other and shared hopes of meeting again. Estmund expressed interest in meeting more of the Order once “matters at home” were taken care of. Sir Augustus shared their travel plans for the next month (up to Prigwort, then Ft Vulgar and hopefully on to Drigbolton) and bid farewell. Estmund made a show of loading his horse and mule and heading out of town, accompanied by a fat cat riding on the mule (Fluff-tail in moggy form). Once out of sight he turned back and made camp at the Fairy-gate near the King’s Barrow. He hoped he would see his friends soon.

Prue and Solvang went back to pay a visit to One-eyed Gil and her “discouraged folk”. They agreed to Gil’s overpriced deal, which Gil took very well. She took them to a back room and introduced the team. Hogrid Lank was going to be their “lock-man” who would accompany them. Also introduced “The Sisters”, a pair of cat-burglars who would put on a show of stealing from the Alchemist’s Guild to attract the attention of the Duke’s Guards. Then she presented the “Goat-Bashers” who were a small band of rowdies who would be running around town and distracting any roaming patrols who got too close to the Cathedral. Gil all but guaranteed that there would be no interference from the Duke’s guard.

Alette spent the day wandering along the back alleys of Brakenwald high-town. Committing to memory the safest routes to take between the Chateau, the Cathedral, and the Silent Gate (which led out of High-town)

That evening they gathered at The Chateau and went over the plan again. Mr Lank was introduced and everyone prepared as much as they could. In the morning Prue, and Clay joined up with the castle servants in the rush to prepare for the feast day of St Moribund. Alette, Hogrid, and Solvang waited until nightfall and the celebrations in the streets grew loud before making their way towards the cathedral.

In the dark of night, the Cathedral had already been cleared from the day’s celebrations. They spotted a few late workers carrying some leftover materials back home. The trio crept around the side to the small graveyard and the side doorway. Hogrid was unimpressed at the primitive lock and had the door open before the others even got close. He broke out a small hooded lantern and they walked into the darkened halls. Solvang was looking around in fear from the stories of the spirit that Prue had told him. Nothing was moving, and they moved very carefully to stop their footsteps from echoing on the marble floor.

At the back of the Cathedral they found the stairs down to the Crypts. There was a small stool with a half eaten sandwich and extinguished candle next to the gate. “Guards… Not here right now”. Everyone was nervous about when the guard might return, but Hogrid was very nervous about the padlock on the gate. “This is from the capital. Good workmanship.” Alette held the lantern while Hogrid sat on the stool and calmly laid out his tools. Time moved very slowly in the dark. Solvang kept startling at any sound he heard – hairs prickling at the feeling of being watched. Alette bit her tounge to stop telling Hogrid to hurry, but eventually they heard the click as the padlock opened. The trio went through in a hurry, and Hogrid finished the sandwich and pocketed the padlock.

With the directions from Estmund burned in their memories, the trio crept down the stairs past the “fancy crypt” of the saints and revered priests and down into the newer excavations for a catacomb. A dim light in the archway made Hogrid close his lamp and peek into the dirt and stone room. A single Witch-Hunter was sitting at a table near the chained prisoners. A candle at his side and reading aloud from a book about saints. Using only hand signs in the dim light, Alette slowly entered the room and hugged the wall. She managed to get right behind the armoured witch-hunter before the fearful glance of one of the students warned the Witch-Hunter. Alette grabbed him in a choke hold and managed to hold on until the man fell unconscious.

The others leapt into action. Alette and Solvang used a crowbar to wrench the chains open, releasing the students and staff of the College. Hogrid used the Witch-hunter’s belt and the gags of the prisoners to tie up the Witch-Hunter, ensuring that he would be able to breath while not getting free. The manacles couldn’t be broken though, so the assembled magicians carefully muffled the chains and everyone made their escape.

The trip through the quiet town was nerve-wracking. Pausing in shadows to avoid being seen by anyone. Alette nearly shot an arrow when a drunken couple threw a bottle at them from a top story window. The face of the man didn’t seem to show any recognition at seeing the creeping figures in the dark, so the moved on once he returned to shouting. They met with the wagons in the lee of the Silent Gate. Cook Mira was heavily flirting with the Gate Guards while everyone hid themselves between empty sacks and barrels being taken away from the castle. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as they headed away from Brakenwald in the dim moonlight.

The magicians were fed with the party’s rations when they sat around the cave which led to the fairy-path. Hogrid, Solvang, and Alette headed back to town to wake up a Blacksmith for assistance. Alette & Solvang knew they would be on the run a while, and checked out the early morning markets. They found a butcher setting up with some live animals. They agreed to buy a whole sheep which was butchered and wrapped for them to take away. Hogrid knew one rough smith who helped the Discouraged Folk from time to time. They were charged 10 crowns for “an emergency horse-shooing” where he came out and broke the manacles. He thanked them for the work and good iron which he would melt into new tools.

They talked about the repercussions. The Order of St Faxis would see this as a direct attack on their authority, and Professor Edwynne was sure they would use this as an excuse to launch a full on Inquisition against magicians in the Kingdom. The only safe place for them would be out of the country. He pointed out that a young Witch and Necromancer would be safest out of the way as well. The students and teachers of the College were not prepared for a long overland journey. Crossing the north mountains would probably be fatal. Fluff-Tail suggested they try to escape through Fairy. The stories of the Goblin King said he was under a geas to always accept a trade, if they could manage to reach him in his castle. Or they could travel through the Sidhe-Gardens, where magical doorways could be opened to anywhere you wanted to go.

At the Table

This turned out to be a learning experience. Most of my players in this session had participated in some Blades sessions before, and everyone was familiar with the structure of a Heist. The players quickly realised that there were a lot of differences between D&D and Blades in the Dark, so tried to go over a real planning phase before diving in. They noticed how they came up short skills wise (a decent lock would stop stymie them immediately) and they believed there was some political pissing match going on, and that could have set off some major problems. I had read “Kidnap the Archpriest” by Skerples as a bit of prep – so I tried guiding the players a little bit – but they had things mostly under control.

The 600 crowns (gp) offer from the thieves guild had been a backup in an earlier session, and the players decided to take it – so they got some value for money – not needing to worry about the Duke’s guard in town, and any patrols and guards were led astray. But I kept the encounters for priests/acolytes in the Cathedral (but the players got some really lucky encounter rolls). The Thief class is actually pretty crap at picking locks at 1st level, so the fortune mechanic from Beyond the Wall came into play – this is a limited number of rerolls that can be called, and its refreshed every time the characters get to have some serious rest & relaxation (so extended downtime). I wanted to be a bit lenient as they players had hired a thief especially for the job, who had been told about the target and had time to prepare. They had brought the appropriate tools and had time – so I decided to at least pull the “advantage” idea back to OSE. But still, 10% chance is a hard roll.

Somehow, being able to re-roll just upped the tension. The first pair of rolls were a failure (w/advantage due to taking 2 turns!) and they knew that if they failed they would face another encounter roll which might cut them off. Fortune came into play and they rolled w/ advantage again.. 1st percentile failed – I could hear everyone urging on the thief – 1nd one got the exact 10% result.. Everyone cheered!

And they were only into the catacombs.

Having one of the St Faxis knights watching the prisoners was a bit nerve wracking. The players didn’t want to leavy any dead bodies which would anger everyone, but they didn’t want to be seen either. There was a lot of quiet discussion about how to do this – and Alette’s player asking if they could just sneak up and choke out the Knight. We used the Hunter “Suprise Attack” feature of a 3-in-6 chance to sneak up and get a free attack on someone. Which worked a charm, and Alette then managed to put the knight in a choke hold (strong girl!)

The escape was another case of “use some fortune rolls”. I just stated that they would get an encounter in the night streets every few minutes, with higher rolls meaning more challenging. Expended another fortune to keep a low roll (which ended up being some arguing drunks). But the tension of “expending a resource for a reroll” made the 2nd roll all that more exciting for the players – everyone seemed more invested, and the cheers at a roll of 1 were rather loud!

Sadly for me, the XP payoff was again very low RAW. Very few enemies encountered and very little treasure (some coins and gems from the Witch-hunter). I really need to do something about this as getting around 100xp for a tense rescue which was carried out perfectly seems very anti-climactic.

Any suggestions?

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