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Monday, June 27, 2016

Planescape - The Mercykillers

This awesome image of the Lady of Pain is by Paolo Giandoso, a concept artist who has done work for a number of Marvel movies.

The plan for tonight's session was to let the group return to their home in the city of Sigil and go through a few mini-scenarios. Then, I was going to let them cut loose and try to expand their festhall business or whatever else they wanted to do.

But what ended up happening is that they took me completely by surprise and left me scrambling. If I hadn't read though Faction War, an adventure I am planning on running about 15 sessions from now, I think I might have been in big trouble.

The Politics of Sigil: When I was preparing for this session, I had a hard time figuring out how the Sigil government worked. Google kept telling me about the "Sigil Advisory Council." I eventually realized that the Advisory Council doesn't exist until after the events of Faction War.

For now, the ruling body of Sigil is a council made up of the factols (leaders) of each faction. They vote on most things, though certain factions have specific political powers.

The factol of the Sensates has the most power, because other allied factions vote with her. Her biggest political rival is Duke Rowan Darkwood, factol of The Fated.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Half-Dabus/Half-Elf Wizard
* NPCs - Fall From Grace (Succubus Paladin), Selinza ("Litorian" Wizard, level 7)

Each character has powers linked to the Lady of Pain
  • Theran can create buildings in Sigil and he can banish people to extra-dimensional mazes.
  • Bidam can look at people and cause cuts to appear on their body.
When they use one of these powers, they gain level four exhaustion. The only way to remove the exhaustion is to spend days pursuing their beliefs (belief is a big deal in Planescape).

The Summons

The Hall of Speakers
The group returned from their big adventure in the Argent Palace. They passed out in their rooms. Fall From Grace had been turned into a man by a trapped archway. She went to a temple and had greater restoration cast on her, turning her back to normal.

The next day, the heroes got their freed slaves situated. They saw that the unicorns they rescued were under the care of Prince Buttongleam, the unicorn man who lives by the unicorn code. He told the heroes that "unicorns always lend a helping hand!"

A message was delivered to Theran disguised with an illusory script spell. It was a summons. He was told to attend a hearing at the Hall of Speakers. Failure to appear could lead to imprisonment and seizure of property.

My idea here was that the Council of Speakers had heard about Theran's ability to create buildings and they are worried that he might have the power to warp Sigil or destroy the city's economy. At the very least, this power needs to be regulated. At worst, he might need to be banished from the city.

The group went to the Hall of Speakers and Theran had to sign a bunch of consent forms. A Harmonium mage cast Detect Magic, Detect Thoughts and Know Faction on him. They had to make sure he wasn't dangerous and that he wasn't going to try something when he went before the council.

All of the group's weapons were in a bag of holding held by their NPC buddy Selinza. She had to wait outside the building.

The Hearing

Factol Nilesia of the Mercykillers
The group was ushered into the main hall. The council was flipping out about new punishment rules that the Mercykillers enacted. From this day forward, when someone was found guilty of a crime, there were only three punishment options:
  1. 10 years in prison.
  2. 10 years hard labor in the lower planes.
  3. Death.
This is stuff right out of Faction War. I figured I'd put it in place now just to sort of set the stage for that adventure. I did not realize that this would completely turn the session upside down.

Then Theran went before the council. I described some of the Factols to the players, as some of them are important for Faction War and I wanted to start getting the group familiar with them.
  • (Sensates) Erin Montgomery Darkflame: Fall From Grace, a Factor, was sitting with her
  • (Fated) Duke Rowan Darkwood: Old guy with a white mustache.
  • (Harmonium) Factol Sarin: A lawful good paladin.
  • (Bleak Cabal) Factol Lahr: An unhinged, depressed half-orc.
  • (Mercykillers) Factol Nilesia: A 19 year old woman who was giddy with having established the new punishment laws.
  • (Fraternity of Order) Factol Hashkar: An old dwarf sage who is really into rules and laws.
Theran went before the speaker. He was informed of why he was there. He was asked a number of questions and wow George did not react at all like I thought he would.

Theran's Laws

Factol Hashkar of the Fraternity of Order
Factol Hashkar unfurled a 10 foot long scroll. It was proposed legislation known as "Theran's Laws."
  1. Theran had to apply for approval to create or repair a building.
  2. Theran cannot create a building/make repairs without approval of the Fraternity of Order.
  3. Theran needed to have a Fraternity of Order representative monitor the building process.
Duke Rowan wanted to tack on a provision that his faction get a new building, and the council erupted into chaos as others condemned his greed and/or demanded a building of their own.

Violation of these laws meant a minimum of 10 years in prison. Factol Nilesia pointed out, "Or maybe even death!" Punishments were partly her decision, and she was clearly pretty nuts.

The Council asked Theran a series of questions:
  • How did you get these powers? He refused to answer. The council got upset and warned him. He still refused.
  • Do you have the power to create portals? Theran said he didn't think so.
  • Are these powers the result of a spell you learned, or some sort of innate ability? Again, he refused to answer. Someone murmured "unacceptable!" Factol Nilesia gleefully warned him he may have to go to prison for contempt.
Fall From Grace stood up and used her awesome charisma to give a big speech, pointing out that Theran saved the multiverse from Orcus, saved the city of Heart's Faith from the rogue modron march and he stopped fell the fallen dabus from using the Staff of Aoskar from creating portals to wreak havoc in the city.

Before the council voted on Theran's Laws, they asked him if he had anything to say.

He said, "Go ahead and take me to prison."

I did not expect that! He was doing this in protest. I asked him a few questions to make sure I understood and he wasn't confused about something. He wasn't!

The council and onlookers watched, in shock, as he was cuffed by Harmonium guards. Factol Nilesia gleefully called out "ten years in prison!"

The vote was cast. Theran's Laws were put in place.

Theran Gets Arrested

The Gatehouse of the Bleak Cabal
So then I was scrambling. Thankfully, I'd read some of Faction War and knew there was this major NPC named Gifad. He'd been in the Gatehouse for 500 years, and he made prophetic remarks that were incredibly accurate.

I had the Harmonium take Theran to the Gatehouse (an insane asylum run by the Bleak Cabal) to make sure he wasn't crazy. He'd be there for a few days for a psychiatric evaluation and then he'd be sent to the prison (run by the Mercykillers).

Suddenly, the group was split. Most of the rest of the session involved me jumping from one character to the other.

The Mysterious Gifad

Theran was put right in a cell right next to Gifad, just so I could have them interact. I had actually been quietly debating whether I should let the group meet Gifad for weeks.

By introducing the characters to him, I am taking the risk that the group will do something to Gifad and completely ruin the written plot for Faction War. But I decided that no matter what they do, I can modify Faction War and probably salvage most of it.

Over the course of a few days, Theran talked to Gifad and he tore right through my clues and hints. He realized that Gifad was a time traveler. "Oh crap," I thought. George was in rare form tonight.

Theran spent his days reading and recovering from his exhaustion.

Bidam was back in Deadbook Square going through all of the material that I cooked up.

The Sensates gave Bidam an apartment in the Civic Festhall. This is right out of Planescape: Torment.

Bidam was also asked to teach a class in swordplay. This would help Bidam rise in the ranks and perhaps one day became a Factor like Fall From Grace had done.

I had prepared some goofy NPC students, including a sort of 'internet fan' of Bidam's sensory stones. His name was Mulky.

To recover from exhaustion, Bidam needed to live by his beliefs for four days. That means he had to seduce a number of ladies:
  • A shy woman in a sauna.
  • His dragonborn maid.
  • An editor for the Sigil Scroll.
  • One of his students in his swordplay class.
Bidam bought a floating, rotating bed and put his puma skin on it. The group killed and skinned a spell-casting puma way back during the Great Modron March.

Theran Escapes

Harmonium Soldier
After 4 days or so, the observation period had ended. The Harmonium came to get Theran. They had to march him to the Prison to begin his sentence.

If you remember, Theran has two forms that he can shift between. He normally appears as a half-elf/half-dabus (blue skin, white hair, horns). He can also shift into full dabus form. He can hover in either form.

As a dabus, he can see all of these secret dabus portals through the city. Nobody else can see or use them. They lead to the dabus warrens in Undersigil.

So Theran shifted into dabus form and made an intimidate roll in an attempt to shock the Harmonium into letting go of him. He rolled high! They gasped and released him. Theran was able to hover/speed his way to a dabus portal. From the perspective of the Harmonium, he just flew into a wall and vanished.

In the dabus warrens, the dabus known as "Ffazablur" used the magic sword of the same name to slice Theran's cuffs off.

Theran was free, but he was a fugitive! Again, I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, which is a pretty fun feeling in D&D.

He ditched his asylum garb and put on dabus robes. Now he looked exactly like every other dabus in Sigil. Pretty good disguise, at least for the moment.

To his dismay, he realized that his robe of eyes, amulet of flowing flame and his special spellbook all had been confiscated by the Harmonium.

Theran reunited with Bidam in Deadbook Square and mulled over their options. They wanted to steal his stuff back, but they didn't know what to do to clear his name. They felt the best option was to "remove" Factol Nilesia from the Doomguard with extreme prejudice.

Nilesia is a huge part of Faction War. Huge!

Greatest Thief in Sigil

Ash Vodiran's Hideout
We shifted gears a bit. The cranium rat allies told the heroes that they'd been spying on their enemy, Ash Vodiran - The Greatest Thief in Sigil. The group used cranium rat charms to link up to the cranium rat hive mind. They saw a sort of video montage of what the rats observed:
  • Selinza (Theran's apprentice) was asking a merchant about Raja Khan, her mortal foe who lurked somewhere in the city.
  • Ash tried to hit on her.
  • He was rejected thoroughly and threatened.
  • Ash left, met some other lady and brought her back to his place.
  • His place was accessed by a special portal. The portal key: A bone. The portal led to a circular room that had shelves lined with skulls.
  • This is Lothar's lair from Planescape: Torment. Four of the skulls on the shelves can talk.
  • The group watched as Ash badmouthed them. Ash wanted to get revenge on the group, but in a way that would make Selinza like him.
I wanted to give the group Ash on a silver platter. Now they knew where he lived, how to get in there, and what his plans were. In Azzagrat, I had a merchant sell them ghost-grinding dust, which would nullify Ash's ability to become insubstantial.

The group disconnected from the hive mind. Ash sent Selinza a note via Kylie, the tout. Ash wanted to meet her at a bar. He said he could help her find and defeat Raja Khan!

I thought this would lead to a fun thing where the group could plan out how to jump Ash in the bar. I had a "twist" in that battle ready, too.

But guess what? The group decided to ignore the note! They had bigger fish to fry.

That's where we had to stop.

Now that I have had some time to think, I have a lot of exciting ideas for next session. The group is going to have to find a way to clear Theran's name. He'll have the support of the Sensates, the Mercykillers, and the Revolutionary League.

But the Mercykillers will be scouring the city looking for him. People saw him turn into a dabus. That means that the Mercykillers will be harassing the dabuses - which could lead to all sorts of fun things.

They'll also be harassing the Free League, Theran's faction.

This was a fun session. I wasn't as sharp as I would have liked. George really threw me for a loop. But I'm really happy that the players did what they wanted to do instead of "following the script."

I'm so glad I read and prepared a portion of Faction War. It really saved my butt tonight.

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