Sunday, October 25, 2009

White Mountain, Black River Session Three

White Mountain, Black River
Wushu Campaign Session Report Three

The next day in Rooted Serenity, the group took advantage of some time to begin looking into the situation with the recent strange murders in the city. Eliminations, scoring and qualifications in the contest continued but their own schedules remained free. Li Jong and Fei Lang headed off to see what they could find from the guards and the temples, respectively.

As the other two, Zhen Ai and Wu Long prepared for their own investigations, they were approached by the master of the inn where they were staying. It seemed person had arrived who'd asked for them by name. The innkeeper seemed hesitant to bring the person to them, understandable given his somewhat shabby appearance. Wu Long went down to greet him and met the final assigned Provincial Magistrate, Tong Ho also known by his Daoist name, Brass Monkey. A former courier and dispatch messenger in the Imperial service, Tong Ho carried himself with youthful exuberance and something of a disregard for convention. The three sat down to discuss recent happenings and decided to set out together to see what they could uncover.

After some hunting around and conversations with the general populace, the three discovered that two deaths had occurred in the city lately. One before the contest had begun and another just a day or two before. The bodies had been found in the city, one with a blow to the head and the other with a broken neck. In both cases, death had been ascribed to accident, but rumors had leaked out that both had an oily black marking near the wound-- something their exorcist colleague Fei Lang said could be the sign of a malign force having been involved. They also discovered that these were not the only similar deaths which had taken place. At least three had occurred during the time of the previous contest and one had happened in the seasons between. They also discovered that while rumors had leaked out, the city guard had been trying to keep the matter quiet for fear of inciting the populace.

The group went to visit the household of Mr. Huang, the latest victim and formerly a modest merchant. To Hong opted to disguise himself as a Daoist priest and produced religious beads he'd “borrowed” from Fei Lang to complete his disguise. Li Jong and Zhen Ai presented themselves as simple former customers come to pay their respects. They spoke with Mr. Huang's son, currently presiding over the funeral vigil in the shop. Hong To distracted both the son and the real priest present allowing the other two to examine the body and confirm the marks upon it. After some drama as Hong To took his role to heart they discovered that the family had been apparently bought off by local officials to keep the matter from becoming too overly talked about. The Minster of Licenses and Practices, Zhuge Chow, had paid for the elaborate ceremony and burial to help make this go smoothly and not disrupt the events of the contest.

With this information in hand, the group returned to their inn and happened upon the fighter Sedate Rao whom Zhen Ai had defeated in the tournament the day previous. He complimented their skills and in turn the group asked him to join them for dinner. He gratefully accepted, perhaps having hoped such an invitation might be forthcoming. At the banquet hall the group noted that the local contest favorite Golden Blaze had set himself up in the largest banquet room with a group of hangers on. Strangely they noted he seemed to be relatively uninjured from the grievous wound he'd seemingly taken in the fight the day before. The group blended with the crowd, attempting to ascertain his condition.

Golden Blaze proclaimed his luck in only receiving a superficial wound the day before. He boasted and bought drinks. Wu Long complimented him on his skill and withdrew. Zhen Ai noticed one of Golden Blaze's party, seemingly a mentor-companion frowning at his carrying on, but she was unable to corner him to speak with him. Hong To, undaunted, engaged Golden Blaze in an “accidental” and impromptu wrestling match, confirming for himself that Golden Blaze seemed to have little injury. Later he spoke with one of the courtesans who had dallied with Golden Blaze and found that the arrogant young warrior had only a minor scar to show for his wound. The also discovered that Golden Blaze's father was in fact the Minster of Licenses and Affairs, Zhuge Chow, whose name they heard earlier in the day.

With some time to spare before a few minor contests in the afternoon, the group returned to their hunt-- this time checking up again with Mr. Huang's family and with that of the other victims. Two common features eventually came out after some investigation. First, each victim had been strongly superstitious, often engaging with a local oracle. In at least two cases, including that own Mr. Huang, their own oracle had been indisposed or shut down and happened upon a traveling seer who cast their fortune for them at a cheap rate. While they had a description of this wandering oracle, they had no name. Second, in each case, the generous Zhuge Chow had paid for the funeral of the victim and had taken care of all of the arrangements. This didn't seem unusual at the time since the wealthy often undertook such projects to aid the less fortunate, but Minister Chow's recurring name made them suspicious.

Wu Long, Zhen Ai and Hong To followed back the trail, eventually finding that all of the victim's bodies had been sent for burial to an obscure and rarely used graveyard outside the city. They traveled there and searched about. In a building at the far end of the graveyard they discovered a semi-collapsed shrine building, inside the found the marking and tools of black magics. They decided to return to town to gather their companions, Li Jong and especially the scholar Fei Lang, to aid them in determining the nature of the problem.

However as they attempted to exit, they found themselves cut off by eight brigands, including two competitors eliminated from the contest in the first found. They rushed forward and attacked the party, only to find themselves seriously outclassed. Hong To demonstrated his elusive fighting style that combined screaming cowardly retreats with quick hidden strikes. In a few moments, the bandits found themselves scattered and unconscious. Zhen Ai woke one up and set to questioning him. He confessed that they'd been hired a few hours earlier, clearly by someone with money and the seal of one of the ministers of the city...

GM Notes:

Dusty and Scott out this session, but we had Gene joining us for the first time. I had some fun investigation and character interaction, but I wanted to make sure I threw in a fight there at the end. I was a good chance to see them take on a large number of players. I changed a couple of the combat rules which forced some change ups in how people conducted attack and defense actions which seemed to work well. Plus with a smaller group of players people seemed more comfortable in the combat.