A little backstory to start off this Throwback Thursday feature. Like many gamers, some of the best gaming of my entire life occurred when I was in middle school and high school. Long overnighters spent huddled around pizza boxes, Top Pop dollar store soda, and greasy polyhedrals. Although I live in the Western Pennsylvania, I am originally from Levittown, about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia. After finishing college at Penn State I settled down with my wife in suburban Pittsburgh and had to find a whole new cadre of gamers. Although I would've loved to play with my old friends from back on the eastern side of the state, the technology in the early 2000's just wasn't adequate enough to facilitate a real gaming experience. We tried WebRPG and OpenRPG, but the idea of typing all the dialogue was brutal.
In 2009 technology finally caught up with us. I had recently joined Facebook and reconnected with friends who I hadn't talked to in years, many of which spent time in my AD&D 2nd Edition campaigns. My brother Tom, and good friends Cone, Randy, and Joe-Pat all agreed to join an online Ravenloft campaign using the D&D 3.5 ruleset. We found Skype for VOIP, but were still a bit hazy on what kind of virtual tabletop to run. Although we would eventually find Maptool, we started our campaign with a virtual whiteboard called "Twiddla". So without further ado, here is the session report from our very first endeavor…
The First Test
- Rahotep, Human Cleric played by Tom
- Garrett Jax, Gnome Rogue/Wizard played by Cone
- Nathaniel, Half-Elf Ranger played by Joe-Pat
- Barth, Caliban (Half-Orc) Barbarian played by Randy
The characters quickly discovered that they were near a road leading south to a large city, and that night was falling. As they set upon the trail to the south, Garrett careful to follow just beyond the tree line, the group saw a large horse coming upon them from the north. The rider on the horse, a woodsman and hunter named Maximillian Franc, feared at first that the characters were refugees from Falkovnia to the north, a land that he described as bitter and brutal, full of great oppression. The characters explained otherwise, and asked what land they were in. Max explained that the characters were in the land of Richemulot, and that the city to the south was Pont-a-Museau. He offered to meet the characters later at a tavern called the Uninvited Wench on the eastern shore of town.
Before the characters entered the great city that spanned two banks, they saw a small wagon and encampment outside of town. Approaching the wagon, a lovely Vistani woman called out to them, saying that she knew who was looking for them. As all of the characters had been approached by a gentleman knight wearing the symbol of an Akiri god, the fact that she described this very same man was somewhat reassuring that they were going in the right direction. Miss Zhora offered to tell the fortunes of the characters.
Rahotep was immediately disturbed by this prospect. Fortune telling was evil, wicked, and not of Ra. Although he offered at first to preach the goodness of the sun deity, he was not given adequate opportunity, as Barth and Nathaniel were kicking around the idea of having their fortunes told. Although the caliban backed out (fearing the potential magicks that this woman could produce with her cards), Nathaniel could not resist. He pulled the "Begger" card. Quickly Miss Zhora asked the half-elf if he was rich. When he stated that he was, she let out a soft groan. The beggar card, she explained, foretold of a quick change in economic condition. It was not necessarily an evil card, but it was not a fortunate one either.
While the fortune telling was going on, Garrett could not suppress his inner need to steal from the gypsy woman. Let it be recorded that I, Jim, the Dungeon Master, have been DMing Ravenloft for about 15 years total. Never, in recorded game time have I ever witnessed a character steal from the Vistani.
This was an epic first... and an epic fail.
Garrett climbed onto the front of the cart, where Zhora could not see. He slowly reached his hand past the curtained window, and felt some beads. But before he could pull them into his purse, he was caught by the Vistani seer! Quickly she cursed him, telling him that she would not live her life fearful and paranoid of others, but that he would instead. Cursed now with rampant paranoia, Garrett walked away empty handed from the cart. The party took this as a good sign to enter town.
The city of Pont-a-Museau is a river city, full of canals, island districts, and boats offering access to both sides of town. The characters decided to search out the Uninvited Wench first after entering town. It did not take long to find, and soon the characters were sitting in the warm comfort of a local tavern. Maximillian was inside, and offered drink to Garrett, Nathaniel, and Rahotep (who pretended to sip the ale, but refrained from actual consumption lest his deity strike him down with holy rays of death). Looking for the "good stuff", Barth bellied up to the bar and asked for the strongest drink that they had. As he swallowed he realized that he had not a coin on himself. And so would begin the greatest standoff that ever occurred in the bar. The barkeep wanted his money but was far too afraid to ask the caliban to pay up.
During the party's interaction with Max the name "Luminaire" came up, the group that was trying to recruit the party. Max hadn't heard of this group, but the party caught on that a halfling in the bar was listening in on their conversation. Barth was getting a panic attack. Knowing that he had to pay up, he faked passing out and collapsed onto the floor. All eyes in the room turned to the caliban, who did not let up on his ruse. When the halfling finally left, after the characters tried to convince him to pay for Barth's tab, Garrett followed him quietly, and Rahotep followed him not so quietly. Barth was getting a panic attack. Knowing that he had to pay up, he faked passing out and collapsed onto the floor.
Eventually the party convinced Maximillian to pay for the drink, which he did hesitantly, somewhat sad that his new friends just wanted money. Barth immediately rose from the dead, and thought it best to get out of the bar (not before rethinking having another beverage). Outside of the tavern Barth promised the woodsman that he would pay him back in service immediately. Max thought it over and decided that Barth could give him services as a weaponsmith. It was at that time that Rahotep appeared. Apparently Garrett had followed the halfling back to Raimond's butcher shop. Now with a lead to this strange fellow that was all too interested in the party's business, the group decided to assist Garrett in the investigation of the butcher's shop. Barth turned to Maximillian, and like a real jerk told the woodsman that his immediate assistance would have to come at a future time. Typical, the woodsman thought.
Inside the butcher's shop, which was in the middle of closing, Garrett was able to hear the halfling tell the butcher that "they were here" (obviously the characters). Stalking the back of the townhouse row, Garrett figured out where the rear of the butcher's shop was. Now with the rest of the party, the group's stealth masters Nathaniel and Garrett were able to listen in on some conversations from the second story window. There were now three individuals interested in what the characters were doing. Unfortunately, no one was listening to the door downstairs, as the butcher decided that it was a good time to go out into the alley and clean off his trays in the street.
Now facing a somewhat confused butcher, was a half-elf, a gnome, a caliban with three mismatched horns, and an egyptian lookin' guy. The party decided that the only course of action (for a good aligned party) was to mug the butcher. Quickly Nathaniel tried to tackle him, while Barth and Garrett laid into him with fists of fury. Pinned by the half-elf on the steps of the butcher's shop, Rahotep stepped in to heal the man, but not before Barth put the absolute fear of the gods in the man with the most terrifying intimidation ever. Before the characters could get anything useful out of him, however, a large man with a sword appeared at the top of the stairs. "Come with me..."
The party, convinced that something bad was going to happen, followed the large armed man back to another townhouse a few blocks away. Inside was Brandt, the noble knight who had first recruited the characters. Brandt explained that the party's ability to enter town without equipment or money, and find his society called Luminaire was the first test of three required for entrance into the most secret of societies. Although Brandt was somewhat dissapointed that the characters were not 100% quiet about their investigating, he was happy that they only took a few hours to find him.
Brandt moved on to explain that Luminaire was an elite society of monster hunters, and that the party was recruited for both their current talents, but more importantly their future potential. The first test passed, Brandt told the characters to get some rest before the second test. The next morning Brandt brought the characters into a room with four coffins. Brandt explained that for this second test, the characters would be locked into the coffins and taken to a place of darkness, where they would have to survive the night and return to the city the next morning. One by one the characters entered the enveloping darkness of a pine box.