Friday, July 22, 2011

The Last Fleet: Murders & Manhandling (Session Four)

Continuing the series of session reports for the Last Fleet campaign; previous entry here.

Return to the Fleet

Having escaped from the island of the Necromancer, the group returns to the fleet. They report in to Admiral Greybattle expressing concern about pursuit. The Admiral gives orders and shifts the fleet to put the storm between them,selves and the island. Noting the extensive injuries, the Admiral orders everyone except Dweena to get medical attention. Dweena comments on her good fortune, which may itself be unlucky to do. The group splits the treasures they recovered and decide to hand the larger part off to others. In the infirmary, they find many people struck down with a recent sickness. The group has to wait because of the numbers. The exception is Marreg, who finds himself well-treated by Rainmouse, the orcish physiker.

Settling Back In
Marreg speaks with Rainmouse for a time, trying to give her a clear picture of his adventures. Marreg conveys the general course of the tale, but lacks something of the spark. Rainmouse explains the illness which has gripped the fleet. Many have fallen sick- beginning with exhaustion, then fever and in the worst cases, nightmares. Marreg learns that the insect people of the Artikhane are the only ones with immunity. Mages who could be spared and physikers have been desperately working to find a solution or treatment for the illness, but lacked resource and expertise. No one has died yet, but many fear it will happen. Rumors have begun to fly: a curse from Sunforge; it came from this or that ship; magics used to transit the fleet into the In Between caused it; and so on.

Meanwhile, Ashpala Deathvoyage visits Chain. She'd been along on the previous session's adventure. She apologizes for not being more helpful. Ashpala had overheard Lira complaining about Ashpala not carrying her weight. Chain tries to make his fellow Scalebound feel better and suggests she take up additional training with his own master. They speak on other topics, with Chain's own relentless optimism wearing away some of Ashpala's uncertainty. At the same time, aboard the Nocturne Consortium ship, the new Captain summons Dweena. Reaga Sandalen, a pirate queen coerced into taking command, demands better supplies and resources befitting a captain. Dweena nods, reminds the new captain that they still had a brig on the ship and leaves the former pirate with less than she had to begin. Dweena plans to eventually open her stores and offer her some amenities, but on her terms.

Whet returns to the White Elf ship, only to find its infirmary also filled. As he returns to his quarters he spots his superior, Tytessa Chillstealer on deck in the rain. He speaks with her, only to reveal the extent of his injuries. She listens to his story of the necromancer but then orders Whet to return to his rooms to rest and recover. He objects but her word is final. Lira takes advantage of the storm to do some rough weather flight practice. She wants to make sure she knows all of the patterns between the fleet vessels. The air gets choppy, sending her skyship veering. As it does, Lira hears a tumbling from the back of the ship. She jerks the ship back and forth a bit before landing. Safely down, she rushes to the back to confront the stowaway. There she finds Polny Peargather, a young Namir. She begs Lira for the chance to apprentice under her guidance. Lira prods her with questions and then offers her a chance. Polny must break into the stores of the dread and terrible Dweena Squint to steal some of her "special cream..."

Time Aboard
Over the next few days, Marreg spends time bonding with his new hunting crew. At the end of a shift, he's confronted by Emghalid Rink, the Spellarcher. Rink asks why Marreg is so standoffish with him and the other newcomers. Marreg claims he's not and somehow finds himself roped into going drinking with the men. Marreg's people pride themselves on their drinking, but this has always been the hunter's weak point. In the makeshift tavern, he finds himself forced into a contest with Rink. Luckily both botch their resistance to the heady brew. Looking on, the other new hunter, Ataso of the Artikhane, develops a healthy fear regarding the power of Orcish ale.

Chain also works to bond with his men. He sets up a new contest for them- dice games to create competition and community between the watchmen. The prize for each round will be a magic item the group discovered in the lost temple. It renders the bearer's clothing waterproof. Casting Fate, one of the Aeolotoi, elemental refugees from the reign of Lord Stormforge, interrupts Chain's work. She asks to see the Corpse Tree fruit recovered from the necromancer. Casting senses no inherent darkness in it, but advises caution and skepticism. In conversation, Chain discovers that Casting's unusual wings were made to replace those torn off of her by Lord Sunforge. Casting awkwardly tries to joke with Chain for a bit before leaving.

Zedozu Sotinin, the Fleet's Preservationist and Recorder, drops in on Dweena. They discuss the illness affecting the fleet. Sotinin mentions that his records indicate that there might be a doctor and researcher on the fleet who could help. However, this Dr. Dreamrat, was supposed to be on the refugee ark, but no one will account for his current whereabouts. Sotinin suggests that Dweena and some of her number might look into the matter. Dweena listens and agrees- at the same time catching the young Polny in the midsts of her attempts to raid the stores. Dweena allows the young Namir access to the cream, and pretends not to notice the theft.

Recovered, Whet returns to his post as head of the Vigil. He finds a major situation brewing. Two Orcs have died and one has gone missing across three ships. One was found knifed. The pattern suggests a vendetta against Orcs of all kinds, since they came from different Orc nations. Whet tracks down his comrade Marreg and asks for his assistance with the investigation. Meanwhile Polny returns with her success to Lira. She congratulates her but informs Polny that this is only the first test. Lira, with her ward in tow, return to Dweena. The Goblin tells Lira of the missing doctor and suggests they grab up Chain to aid them in an investigation. They set Polny to a new task before departing.

Finding Dr. Dreamrat

The team heads over to the Rescue Ark, "The Heart's Refuge." The overpacked and badly controlled ship has become a badside for the fleet as a whole. They dive into the wretched hive of scum and villainy...undercover. Lira provides disguises for the three of them, with Chain looking less gender specific and Dweena resembling a steampunk, cross-dressing, midget Lincoln. Each canvasses among various groups and contacts. They meet only modest success, until Lira observes Dweena's questions stir up some agitation. Lira follows a bugbear who slips away and down into the bowels of the ship. He returns with a human lieutenant and a gang of bugbears. That gang conceals themselves in preparation for an ambush, while the lieutenant tracks down Dweena and introduces himself as Lacan.

Lacan promises that he knows where Dr. Dreamrat is. The doctor has been busy treating the less fortunate in the worst sections of the ship. Lacan offers to take them to him, at which point Lira intervenes and Dweena applies the pressure. They force Lacan to take them down to Dreamrat, avoiding the possible ambush. Using Lacan, they make their way into what appears to be some kind of criminal hideout in the lowest part of the ship. However, once in Lacan tries to make a move and Lira accidentally overreacts, killing him. Chain creates a distraction- loudly joining the dice game in progress. Dweena puts her years of experience to work, concealing the body in a nearby crate.

With her shadow stealth, Lira moves and searches- eventually locating a set of cells and the doctor. She breaks in and use the cutting line they found in the previous session to remove his manacles. Chain and Dweena work to keep the attention of the thugs in the main room. Lira sneaks back and activates a magical distraction. In the chaos, Lira hustles Dreamrat through. To makes things even better, Dweena scatters money which sends the criminals into a frenzy across the floor. Chain uses that to draw off the door guards with the promise of loose cash. The path open, they move the good doctor up the many decks and to their waiting boat.

To Kill An Orc!
Marreg joins Whet on their investigation of the murders. They check on the background of the murder victims and patterns. At this point, the only common thread they see is the Orcish nature of the victims. They decide to set up a sting operation. Marreg will act bait on the main ship. The killer has not struck there yet. They wait. Marreg spends the night acting as a lone Orcish laborer on deck. The tedium sets in and no one approaches. Seeing a moment's respite, Marreg relieves himself overboard-- and is caught in mid-action by the Ebon Elf Signals Officer Kal'aso Garwayne. She reprimands him and heads on.

With that tactic a bust, Whet and Marreg pursue other avenues of investigation. They hunt through the duty rosters for any overlap of personnel working on the ships. Most people work on their home vessel, but some move between. However, they don't find any duplicates assigned to work at those times and ships. Moving on, they check the background of each Orc, but find no connection. Next, they hunt down and speak with all of the carrier drivers who go between the ships. These drivers move the freight sloops and passenger skyboats. Mareg becomes a little worried as he watches Whet exhaust himself- an elf hunting down someone killing Orcs. The two discover a measure of new respect for one another. '

With fears of another killing rising, they go over every detail. They catch a break with the flight and landing manifests for the three vessels. Most of these had been covered in their interrogations of the hauler pilots. However, many officers of the fleet have their own, smaller modes of transport (small skiffs, magical flying devices, flying creatures)- as the group does. Those comings are goings are also recorded by the Master of Flight for each vessel. Whet and Mareg discover that the Signals Officer Garwayne has been present on each ship when the killings occurred. They think back to the night when she interrupted Marreg- perhaps he had just avoided being her next victim. The pair speak with the admiral. He listens, but tells them they need hard evidence.

With some hesitation, they decide to set up another sting. Marreg calls on the overly-enthusiastic Grisnar to act as a decoy. The check on Officer Garwayne's schedule and get ahead of her.. Marreg sets up Grishnar moving boxes by himself and watches over him. Whet, meanwhile, waits and watches for Garwayne's arrival. Her small boat arrives and her pilot ties them off. Garwayne heads down the ship and Whet follows. However he soon loses her and rushes to try to find where she went. With his hunter's instincts, Marreg spots a darkened figure sneaking up on Grishnar. Throwing caution to the wind, Marreg leaps out to intervene. The figure launches a poisoned dagger, coated with a potent paralytic. Marreg crashes to the deck, followed soon after by Grishnar. Whet finally catches up with Garwayne but hears a commotion back from Marreg's position- he puts two and two together- the killer is not Garwayne, but her boat pilot. He rushes back.

The assassin leans in close over Marreg, gloating. He'll have two victims tonight. Marreg fights against the poison but exhausts himself. As the blade comes close, Whet races onto the scene. There's a standoff, with a blade against the Orc's throat. Whet takes a desperate trick shot and manages to blast the assassin's knife arm. He staggers back to the edge of the railing and tumbles over into the abyss. Whet will have none of that and launches himself after. Marreg manages to move- just as his comrade falls to his certain death. Then he sees Whet's Wyvern, called by his unique psychic link, swoop in and catch them both. Marreg and Whet have caught the killer alive, with no additional death.

GM Notes
One of my goals is to switch between off-fleet and on-ship adventures. Some of the players have built more for one direction than the other, so I want to keep that balance. We'd had a dungeon crawl last time, so this would be an "urban adventure." The Fleet essentially functions as a good sized city, since the players can move easily between the ships (neighborhoods). I did what our group calls "Once Arounds" to start things. Essentially I go around the table, and each player has a chance to do something (visit a place, talk to an NPC, pursue a clue, etc). If they don't have anything, I try to have a list of a few things I can throw at them. I use those to give players a chance to build their community and to set up the other plots. In this case we did two Once Arounds and then we got to the meat of the session. Its a technique that works with this group because they are interested in each others scenes and stories. I've had some groups where this works less well- especially where one or two players are more self-driven, selfish, rude or plot obsessed.

The second act was switching between the two groups as each followed up on their particular mystery. The players were nice enough to let me split them in this way. Though above the Dreamrat and the Orc Murder threads are written independently, we flipped between them at the table, which kept some additional suspense. Marreg had some terrible results at the end, but kept up his end of the drama!