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D&D Debrief: “Manor Mysteries” Session

The planning for this session started with a single question: what would it be like to live in someone else’s fantasy world? The extended D&D world is one filled with all manner of magical constructs and forces. Some, like the Wish Spell, have the ability to fundamentally change reality. What if, I started to muse, someone had changed reality? How would the players know? Would other people know? And, if they did know somehow — like maybe through the use of an Antimagic Field –, would they act to change the world back?

My thinking took me back to the History Monks, the organization behind Discworld‘s time management. Reading up on Vecna — who is currently important to the upcoming Tomb of Annihilation story and in both Dice, Camera Action! and Critical Role –, I thought it was rather obvious that it be followers of him. Looking specifically at the Keepers of the Forbidden Lore from 4e, who seek out “information they deem to be too dangerous for the world at large and keep it secret in the name of Vecna,” I finally decided they would be the main antagonists in the story (Vecna, 2017). However, in thinking through the reality-changing effects, I started to think of the party as an accidental force in the actions of the monks to “restore” reality back to what it was supposed to be. The players would not be the “heroes” restoring reality, but foils to the monks who, although “evil,” would be acting in good intentions despite them.

Planning for (and Delighting in) “Unplanned” Role-playing

I really liked how Chris Perkins opened the PAX East 2017 game of Acquisitions Incorporated Live: “I would like each of you to tell me what your morning routine is as you wake up out of bed.” It instantly gets players making choices about their characters.

Knowing that the party would be back in Oakhurst at the Bronze Arrow Inn (from the previous session), I knew I wanted to start there and have them slowly realize that the world had been changed in a number of ways, starting with the name of the inn itself.

Wanting them to get invited to the Winter Ball (as a very subtle switch from the Festival of Twilight from the previous session), I decided that they would all get personal invitations that also included a password to get into the ball itself. (Thinking through medieval — or early modern, depending on your view — encryption proved an interesting challenge. Each party member would need to present the note and then speak the password, I decided.)

However, in enacting the invitations and presentations to the ball itself to the players, I forgot something very important: people like to dress up for events. The early part of the session became, after getting and reading the invitations, a discussion around how much gowns, gloves, and caps would cost in the world. All really good questions, and an opportunity for world-building (even if was a reality that would probably collapse by the end of it), but not something I had even thought about before the game itself.

The Slow Reveal (i.e. “Cultists be crazy”)

Knowing I needed to get the party to the Winter Ball, which I had decided would be hosted by Richard Greylion, the most paladin-like name I could come up with, I was also faced with a problem: when would the start of the reveal happen? The idea of being ambushed on the road was an obvious choice, and something I knew the players would ignore. But then I thought of a solution to that: what if some monks couldn’t get into the ball without help? While there would be a stand-off in the mansion between Richard and the monks who had infiltrated the events, I thought it would be funny to have what amount to incompetent monks who would attempt to rob the party for their notes and passwords.

Knowing that the monks would be aware that reality had been changed and would be attempting to re-write it, I thought it would naturally make sense for them to have, as one player put it during the session, “a magical suicide pill.” Thinking in lines with Doctor Who‘s more recent “Extemis” where people commit suicide after learning the “truth” about the world, I had each monk carry a pendant that would deliver 5D4 fire damage to them and anyone within five feet of them — effectively a suicide bomb attack. This would make the monks even more dangerous when they got low on health: as a last attack, they could deal up to 20 damage and outright kill nearly all characters at 2nd level.

Finally, I wanted the monks to shout something memorable. After trying a few different things, I thought “Darkness to darkness!” would be thematically effective. As followers of Vecna and possibly visitors to the Shadowfell, they would be seeking to make Vecna a god and usher in a time of “darkness.” They would also, in knowing that reality had been changed and thus their lives would be changed as a result of undoing things, be returned to a darkness of sorts.

Original Notes

Part 1: The Morning and Invitation

{How do you wake up in the morning?}

Upon reaching the common room of the Stuttering Goat Inn in the town of Wintermarch, a messenger makes her way over to you and presents you each with see a rolled piece of velium closed with a waxen royal seal.

(History/Insight of 15 or more will be able to relay that the stamp shows signs of heraldry — of a bear with two shields and three circling stoat (weasel) — two neighboring kingdoms showing a more-recent unification of them. Once a year over the last decade, the mayor holds a ball for the merchant families.)

The note reads:

“[Name], you are cordially invited to attend the Winter Ball. Attendance requires this note and to speak the password ‘frost jubilee’.”

You know that the mayor’s manor is up on the hill overlooking the town and about an hour walk outside town. It is a grand estate with a central, rectangle area with two wings, one on each side. You have never been inside the manor before, but well-maintained gardens can be seen in the front.

The MAYOR is a former adventurer named Richard Greylion, a Paladin of some renown and generally thought to be a good, if often absent-minded, leader.

Part 2: On the Road to Ruins

On your way to the manor, you hear a man named Leland shouting for help. “Help me! Help! Please, someone!”

He appears to be standing next to a wagon turned on its side just outside town. Upon investigation, the man is killed and hidden forces attack the party and try to steal their notes. (Three WARLOCKS.) If any of them gets low on health or thinks the battle is unwinnable, they grab a pendant around their necks and instantly catch fire. (Each pendent deals 5D4 damage to its wearer upon activation.)

The monks will shout “The world is a lie! Darkness to darkness!” as they die.

Part 3: Entry and Encounter

In front of the manor, you see three guards in front of the house talking to groups as they approach. There is a delay each time as a person approaches a guard, they speak, and then the people are allowed to proceed.

(If the party lost any invitations, they must somehow convince the guards to let them into the manor. CHARM. SUGGESTION. A Charisma 16 check.)

(A Perception check of 15 will show a set of shadows on the roof disappearing into a second-floor window. If the party cannot convince the guards, this may help.)

Upon entry of the manor, the party can see banquet tables, nicely-dressed merchant families and the sounds of a band playing in the far corner of a room. The MAYOR and his wife can be seen talking to a group towards the back of the room.

{What do you do?}

Notable People

Whitehorses
(Fishing and Trade): Humans

Darkforges
(Weapons) :Tieflings

Greylions
(Mayor’s family): Humans

Gloomglares
(Alchemy
and Potions:
Caustic Catalysts): Dwarfs

John Whitehorse: Father

Edith
Whitehorse:
Mother

Evelyn
Whitehorse: Daughter
(engaged to Noelle Darkforge)

Simon
Darkforge:
Brother 

Noelle
Darkforge:
Sister

Richard
Greylion
(MAYOR) 

Catherine
Greylion
(Wife)

Azure
Gloomglare 

Emerald
Gloomglare

In 5D6 minutes, a woman’s scream can be heard in another area of the manor. It is quickly followed by people yelling and the band stops playing.

A supernaturally-loud yell can be heard of “Darkness to darkness!” as six warlocks reveal themselves as two run to the walls and turn the pendants on their necks. The room will catch on fire. Four will attempt to attack the mayor. People go running out the front door and into back rooms as the house seems to clear out.

RICHARD GREYLION (Mayor) will fend off the attackers as well as he can.

(The room has 36 health and will lose 1D6 health per turn unless both fires are put out.)

(There is a 1D10 chance of a person running into the room from the back. The warlocks will attack the person as soon as they enter with at least one trying to attack the MAYOR at all times.)

After three turns, or if RICHARD GREYLION’s (MAYOR) health drops below half, one of the warlocks will started a dialogue:

WARLOCK: The gifts of the dark lord do not come freely! The sacrifice must be made! Warlock Reynard, you must follow the faith!

RICHARD: Never! The world changed! The promise is invalid!

CATHERINE: Richard, darling, what are they talking about? What promise did you make to them?

WARLOCK: The sacrifice will not speak! Her death has been anointed! The Dark Lord demands her death!

(With an Insight of 15 or greater, the party can figure out that that RICHARD has a previous relationship with these warlocks.)

(An Arcana check of 15 or higher will reveal that RICHARD’s presence is a magical anomaly with strings of magic connecting him to his wife and manor.)

After five turns, the WARLOCKS will speak:

WARLOCK: The tear cannot continue. The material plane is at risk. The sacrifice must die! There is an imbalance!

If a WARLOCK kills RICHARD, all remaining WARLOCKS will declare “Darkness to darkness!”, will attempt to kill CATHERINE (HP: 10, and AC of 8) immediately afterward.

If, at any time, CATHERINE dies, the room shimmers. If RICHARD is still alive, he shouts out “My wish! I wished for love and wealth! I deserved her! You cannot do this –” as the room blurs and the party finds themselves back in the tavern at the very beginning of the quest but now named The Bronze Arrow. The town returns to a village and to its original name of Oakhurst.

No one but them remember there being a mayor named RICHARD.

(An Arcana check of 15 of higher will reveal that the party experienced the world being changed through the use of a Wish Spell being undone. For some reason they do not yet understand, they have retained their memories after the effect.)

In the confusion, a woman enters the inn with the name CATHERINE GREYLION. She says she doesn’t remember how she got into the middle of this village and has been asking people for help with getting back to her town of Wintermarch.

(The session ends there.)