Session Date: January 20th, 2020
Dale Reckoning: 1523 (Year of the Brownie’s Delight), 20 Hammer (20th of Deepwinter)
A. The Illusionist
You’ve officially graduated from the Shining Blade Training Academy, and you’ve become full Agents. Your next step is to be officially assigned to your team, where you will collaborate on choosing and fulfilling missions. But instead of being assigned to one of the more well-known squads (such as Dragon, Unicorn, or even the famed Chimera), you receive orders to report to the team leader of a “Pigeon Squad”–newly formed and unrenowned.
Rather than being led to an office, as you had initially expected, your group is instead directed to a small lectern, where a few rows of wooden chairs regard a quarter-circle wooden stage. There is no one else present, but a table has been set up on the platform, with only an over-sized silk top hat resting atop the tablecloth.
Once you’ve been seated and the door closed, the largest globe of light above your head abruptly winks out, leaving only dim bulbs along the wall. A lively drum roll is accompanied by invisible trumpets, and a booming voice rings throughout the room:
“Ladies and gentlemen! Prepare to be encaptivated, astounded, amazed! Feast your eyes upon sights never before witnessed! Wonder at marvels physically improbable! For before you walks no mere charlatan and cheap conjurer of tricks! Instead, give a well-earned round of applause for the one, the only, Felkar the Flummoxer!”
Four roving points of different-colored light duck out from behind the violet curtains and spiral through the air, dancing and weaving about each other. Eventually they meet together on the stage, forming a vaguely humanoid shape. Out from the fading glow steps a small gnome, immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit, with coat tails that nearly touch the floor. The lenses of his spectacles glint in the dim light, and the tips of his mustache positively quiver in excitement.
Rather than speaking, the figure instead puts a finger to his pursed lips. An upbeat violin melody wafts through the air as he approaches the top hat. He picks it up and examines it from all sides, demonstrating to the audience that it is indeed an empty and mundane piece of clothing. Finally, he places it on his own head with a flourish.
A puzzled frown creases his brow. He lifts the hat to reveal a dwarf white rabbit, perched atop his head. With one hand, he carefully removes the creature and sets it upon the nearby table. Then, eye on the rabbit, he replaces his hat…only to find a pigeon upon his temple the next.
In no time at all, it seems the table is filled with an additional mouse, a hedgehog, a frog, a yellow chick, a badger, and a flopping goldfish. In a moment of apparent frustration, the gnome dives at the animals, knocking the table over and frightening the creatures into a panic. They bolt into the audience, leaping with tiny paws across your laps, weaving furry tails about your legs, or buffeting your faces with their feathers.
Vexed by the commotion, the magician seems to have a sudden inspiration. He takes the troublesome hat and places it top-down on the stage. After depositing the struggling fish into its depths, he gives a whistle. In response, the other animals meekly gather to the stage and, one-by-one, return to the dark interior of the hat. Once the last creature has disappeared, the gnome nods in satisfaction, then demonstrates the hat’s empty interior to the audience.
Finally satisfied that the matter was resolved, the gnome conjurist places the hat atop his head and gives it one final tap. In response, the top hat plummets straight to the floor, landing in the spot where the illusionist once stood–and leaving no sign that he had ever been there.
In the sudden silence, a slow, loud clapping can be heard from the door behind you. In its frame stands a familiar gnome figure, currently hatless. “And that’s what happens when your reputation precedes you,” he snarks. “Sometimes it spoils the whole show before you’ve even arrived.”
B. Character Introductions: Gorodash, Rock-in-Water, “Asura”
Quick introductions were made. Felkar (the gnome illusionist/arcane trickster) congratulated those present on being newly-commissioned Agents. He also welcomed them to “Pigeon Squad,” a new team he’d had the pleasure of naming himself. When questioned why he’d picked such a non-assuming animal as a mascot, he replied that it was precisely because they were so ubiquitous. Pigeons were small, could come and go where they willed, and no one would bat an eye. This, combined with the fact they were surprisingly intelligent, made them perfect spies.
And much like pigeons, all the members of their team were new to the Order, and relatively unknown. Felkar felt they could play a similar role, working where other, more well-known teams would only attract attention.
- Pigeons are incredibly complex and intelligent animals. They are one of only a small number of species to pass the ‘mirror test’ – a test of self recognition.
- They can also recognise each letter of the human alphabet, differentiate between photographs, and even distinguish different humans within a photograph.
- Pigeons are renowned for their outstanding navigational abilities. They use a range of skills, such as using the sun as a guide and an internal ‘magnetic compass’.
- Studies have found that they will also use landmarks as signposts and will travel along man-made roads, even changing direction at junctions.
- Pigeons have excellent hearing abilities. They can detect sounds at far lower frequencies than humans are able to, and can thus hear distant storms and volcanoes.
- Pigeons can fly at altitudes up to and beyond 6000 feet, and at an average speed of 77.6 mph. The fastest recorded speed is 92.5 mph.
- Pigeons are EVERYWHERE. No one will give them a second look.
The three agents present also introduced themselves. Gorodash was a gray orc from the land of Damara (a few hundred miles north of Impiltur), where orc tribes were numerous and generally well-accepted by neighboring humans. Gorodash, like many of his tribe, followed the god orc Gruumsh, but the cruelty of the orcs’ traditional patron god had become an issue for Gorodash and many of his family. (Indeed, the worship of Gruumsh was more from tradition for the gray orcs.) Gorodash was a somewhat high-ranking adolescent in his tribe when he became arranged to be married to a noble human girl from the Duchy of Arcata. He had reservations about the arrangement, to say the least.
While en route to the rendezvous point, his tribe was attacked by human bandits. His father and brother were slain, and the arrangement no longer seemed pertinent. After avenging his family, Gorodash attempted to head home on his own. Unfortunately, he was attacked a second time by a few bandits that had continued to trail him; only being rescued in time by a Cleric of Torm (one Jerebeth Orision) and several monks. Gorodash fell unconscious from exhaustion and was taken to their temple to heal.
Gorodash never returned to his tribe, deciding it better for them to believe he died with the rest of his family. He made his home in the temple and continued to better himself, pursuing martial studies and dedicating himself to Torm, the god he credited with his survival.
Eventually Gorodash headed out into the world in search of good deeds to be done and adventures to be had. He encountered Rock in Water, his tabaxi friend, and they began traveling together. When they defeated the witch at Bayn o’Boon, they received an invitation to join Torm’s Shining Blade. Gorodash saw this as divine providence and didn’t think twice.
Why had he joined the Order specifically? “Everybody needs a purpose,” he declared. “I’m not the sort to sit and kneel at a temple. I need to get out and do something physical.”
Rock-in-Water‘s beginnings had been a little less dangerous. So-named because her first attempts at swimming had not gone well, Rock grew up in the vast forests of Cormanthor, somewhat to the west of Impiltur. Her family had been merchant class, bartering and trading to gain valuable artifacts and relics. They dabbled in map-making as they traveled, keeping merchant maps for trade routes.
However, Rock had been a poor fit to be a merchant. Her interests changed constantly, and she had dabbled in many different pursuits, from being a mercenary for hire, to mending or tinkering, to being a healer, to even poetry and song. She picked up a few basic skills at a monastery, but her inability to focus for long periods sent her on her way again.
Eventually a druid saw potential in her limitless curiosity and interest in the things about her, and they trained her to focus that energy into becoming a druid of her own. They also personally suggested she seek out the Shining Blade as an outlet for her curiosity, love of exploration, and need for scrapping.
Why had she joined the Order specifically? She hoped she could find some great relic, a tome of history, something spectacularly shiny…and make a name and a story of herself to take back to her tabaxi clan someday with pride. In the meantime, if the quests came along with lots of curiosities, shiny things–and perhaps, some fish or milk at the end of the day–well, what tabaxi wouldn’t be happy with such an outcome?
Alyusha “Asura” Maxim had actually grown up in Lyrabar itself, though in the sprawling slums that had taken particular hold during the Spellplague of last century. His first name translated to “he who teaches,” which he claimed was ironic, considering his background.
“Honor among thieves” had been an important notion to his friends and family as he had grown, but this changed when he was about ten years of age. His social leaders grew greedy, and brothers fought and killed each other. In fact, he entered a quarrel with his best friend over a coin purse, one Jack Kermx. It ending in a knife fight that left his friend dead and Alyusha mortally wounded.
Alyusha stumbled to a nearby temple of Lathander, where a priest nursed him back to health. Having nothing meaningful to return to, he offered to stay and help at the temple. There he learned the ways of a cleric. He only left to find his fortune when, as an adult, the priest he owed his life to passed on.
Alyusha then sought out the Order of the Shining Blade, as he had many things about the work they did in the world. Though a cleric of Lathander, he never studied much the world of gods or devils; instead, his religion was doing good to other people.
Felkar nodded as those present introduced themselves, welcoming each in turn to the team. Then, he drew out three folders for them to peruse. “Well, we have an opportunity as a new team to make a name for ourselves, within the Order. And we do that by first choosing a mission that we feel best suits our skill sets.
“I’ve have these three dossiers come across my desk recently. Take a look and let me know which ones interest you the most. (Keep in mind that some of these may be time-sensitive; that is, accepting one may mean another is unavailable later.)”
The team members studied the contents of each folder:
1. Of Flesh and Favors
That key you’ve turned up has no residual magic left after this many years, meaning it’s a cold trail for our diviners. There is an information broker living as an “urban druid” in New Sarshel that could probably help, but she’s…ah…a bit eccentric. She’s every bit as skilled as our agents here in the Order, but she’s always preferred working alone.
If anyone could point you in the right direction in Impiltur, it’s she. I’m aware that she has interest in the residents of a nearby town that you might be able to assist her with, in return for her aid. But I must warn you. Any agreement made with a hag must ultimately be paid in flesh or favors.
Needed skill sets: Diplomacy, Performance, Investigation
2. A Murder Most Foul
One of our undercover operatives has been murdered in the nearby state of Filur. We’d like to investigate the incident without endangering her ongoing mission or her fellow operatives. Unfortunately, this means that we cannot send any of our more well-known agents, and that all work done must be undercover.
This is where you come in. We’ll present you as distant relatives, come to collect the body and prepare it for transport home. Investigate what and where you can, but remember; no one must discover your connection to the Order!
Needed skill sets: Investigation, Divination, Combat
3. The Heist
The Tome of Elabahn is finally on the move again! As it’s been housed in the private library of an elven mage for eighty years, we’ve never been able to see it with our own eyes. If the rumors are true, however, it is a book of limitless potential, for each day an invisible hand writes a new treatise on some obscure fact of the cosmos. Naturally, such a object could be used as easily for good as ill, but both political and magical machinations have prevented our acquisition.
That is, until now. The tome’s previous owner has finally passed on (some say driven mad). The tome is being physically carried to the home of his prodigy, in a neighboring Impiltur state. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to “acquire” the book before it reaches its destination, without bloodshed. You will need to spend time studying both the magical defenses and the guards set up to protect it, then bypass them to abscond with the item. It is preferable that you leave no one the wiser about your mission, but we have political gambits in place to cover you if your plans go south.
Needed skill sets: Stealth, Combat, Persuasion
Despite Asura’s misgivings as a cleric of goodness, the team decided to ultimately accept the first of the missions, and prepared to deal with a hag. Felkar reassured that the Order had successfully negotiated with her before for useful information, though what precisely they had had to offer her was kept in closed files.
Under the Hood: Team Missions
C. No Good Deed
As soon as they were finished, there came the quietest of knocks at the door.
“Oh!” remarked Felkar. “I’d almost forgot. There’s someone here you should meet.”
He opened the door and led in a young girl, dressed in an obviously-new blue spring dress. She stared uneasily at the floor and gave the clumsiest of curtsies, greeting the “lords and ladies” present.
“You may not recognize her immediately,” Felkar commented. “This is Julia. She was a little less…alive when you escorted her down the mountain from Coventry.” This was, in fact, the child that the group had rescued from the jaws of Krampus himself. Thanks to their quick thinking (and their donation to pay for a Raise Dead spell), the girl was still among the living.
The three agents leaped to their feet to welcome her. Rock turned into a ginger cat that coiled around the girl’s legs, Asura changed the colors of nearby flames with Thaumaturgy, and Gorodash summoned a giant playful hound.
However, the perceptive orc soon noted that the girl only shied further and further away with each new spectacle. Indeed, as he considered Julia’s perspective, he realized that she was a child cut adrift in a strange and foreign world. Her most recent memories were of seeing her parents perish, dying in Krampus’s hand, then awakening in a foreign city where stranger adults stuffed her into uncomfortable dresses, made her practice “please” and “thank you’s,” and reminded her that she should be grateful she was even still alive.
“Let’s back up a bit here,” Asura agreed. “The most important thing, right now, is for Julia to feel safe and welcomed.”
Still, there came the question of what was to be done with the girl. The Shining Blade was not a monastery that could accept students of any age, and Julia was far too young to enroll in the College. A few options were thrown about: finding her a home in a temple, seeking out a family that needed a child, investigating the local orphanages, or even teaching her the rudiments of magic.
Despite the support of a Heroism spell, Julia was unable to suggest any personal preferences. After all, her previous world had just come crashing down, and she was still too adrift to know what she wanted out of her new one.
After a quick, hushed conference, the three agents decided to take the day off from official business. Instead, they’d spend time helping Julia feel at home and deciding a future for her.
D. On the Town
After borrowing 25 gold pieces in liquid assets from the team coffers, the heroes headed out into Lyrabar proper for a day on the town. They spent time along streets of old, one-room shops, looking for ways to lighten Julia’s spirits and gauge what things caught her eye.
They couldn’t help but notice when the girl spent ten silent minutes watching a tailor work his loom in a woven knickknacks shop. Her parents had been tailors, it seemed, and she had helped her mother spin yarn and tie off ends in pieces they’d sell to passing travelers. This shop was a connection to her of a world that no longer existed–a last island of the familiar.
After purchasing a somewhat-ugly handwoven teddy bear for Julia, Asura (and Rock as a talking cat) took her to the food square for some fried doughnuts and street performers. Alyusha even told her the story of how he’d earned his nickname “Asura”. When young, his brother Salim had gotten him drunk and then set up a fight between him and a larger boy. What Salim hadn’t told Alyusha is that he’d had bet against him. When Alyusha had (surprisingly) won, Salim then gave him the nickname of “Asura” (a reference to a god of violence) to stay his anger. The nickname had stuck.
Meanwhile, Gorodash (using directions given by the loomer) visited another store nearby to buy a child-sized lap loom and some balls of yarn. He deposited the present (along with a misspelled note) on the girl’s bed back at the Order. All together, the day had cost them less than 4 gold.
Accustomed to pursuing objectives until they were completed, the three agents often needed to remind themselves to slow down. Julia was still only a young, dazed child still learning how to deal with the death of her family and former life. They decided to call it an early night and spent some time reading stories to her before bed.
E. What’s Best for the Girl
Dale Reckoning: 21 Hammer (21st of Deepwinter)
The next day was spent running errands. Each of the three agents split up to tackle a different avenue of finding a home for the child.
First, Gorodash set up appointments to view two different established orphanages in Lyrabar. In the morning, he visited Ilmater’s Home for Dispossessed Children, set in a more well-to-do area of the middle-class section. He was met at the gate by a “Mistress Claudia.” While at first surprised (and a little taken aback) at inviting an orc into her school, she seemed reassured by his agent badge. The reputation of the Order went far in many circles.
What he saw in the orphanage was reassuring, if a little solemn. Having been established even before the Spellplague, Ilmater’s Home was made possible by grants and donations from rich philanthropists. As such, results were tantamount; the children may as well have been in a small-scale boarding school. Uniforms were worn, classes were attended, and even play time was strictly managed. Gorodash was impressed by the level of organization, but he also didn’t catch a smile among those present.
In the afternoon, Gorodash visited Wings of Mercy Homestead, a fully publicly-funded institution. The contrast was apparent. Subsisting on only government funding, the orphanage was unable to hold anything but the most rudimentary of classes, and the employees seemed stretched thin. Toys and equipment were dirty and patched. On the other hand, the children spent their time freely playing in the yard and chasing each other through the halls.
Impressed by the cheerful attitude of the children here, Gorodash discussed special arrangements with the headmaster, including perhaps paying for a private tutor to visit Julia during the day…something the agents would be able to fund easily.
Rock-in-Water took a more unorthodox approach of visiting parishes in churches. The clergy, after all, would be familiar with recent funeral arrangements for children or grief counseling (and consequently, parents with a place in their home to fill). Additionally, the clergy might be aware of those in their congregation looking to adopt from someplace other than the orphanages in town. There were reasons why a needy family might not be able to adopt through official channels–being new residents, not meeting certain government requirements, or a general desire for privacy.
The priests she visited were surprised (and a little uneasy at first) by a tabaxi asking such unusual requests, but they wrote down pertinent information about Julia and promised to stay in touch.
Asura too followed an unusual manner of investigation. Returning to his roots, he stopped by bars and taverns in the poorer sections of town near the institutions Gorodash was visiting. There, he dropped a word here or there about the orphanages, seeing what information presented itself.
Fortunately, he uncovered nothing suggesting either orphanage was being used as a front for child labor, or anything more insidious. What he did learn basically confirmed Gorodash’s research: namely, that Ilmater’s House was considered something of a “rich orphan’s” institution, where graduates were set up well for internships in established businesses. Wings of Mercy, on the other hand, lent itself to happy memories, but those who aged-out were forced to find their own way in the world beyond.
(In fact, as luck would have it, Finn the human barkeep had grown up in Wings of Mercy Homestead himself. He remembered nothing too troubling from his time there, at least nothing that couldn’t be explained by hyperactive boys and unfounded rumors. On the other hand, he’d soon ended up in a tavern after leaving, and had to work his way up to barkeep over the years.)
At the end of the day, the three agents shared what they’d learned. As a group, they gravitated towards enrolling Julia in the Wings of Mercy Homestead, but paying for a private tutor to ensure her future success.