Friday, April 4, 2014

The Ballad of Baldric Brimstone Part Two: Why You Never Give Your Party The One Ring

So, this epic trilogy has been all wrapped up. If you want all three chapters for easy reading, here they are!

Chapter One: Don't Ever Field a One-Eyed Dragon
Chapter Two: Why You Never Give Your Party The One Ring
Chapter Three: Big Gay Half-Orcs and Utterly Destroying Plot

All caught up? Great!

Chapter Two: Why You Should Sometimes Trust Your Players To Do The Right Thing

So after Baldric's introduction to the party, where he promptly blinds and nearly kills a red dragon at level 8, we're left with a big cave, a hoard that fell into a hole in the ground, and a mysterious young boy who doesn't remember who he is. The party has barely wiped the soot off their faces when a mysterious NPC who looks like Frankenstein's graduate project and reeks of necromancy comes and steals our young boy. The hint is dropped that we're going to a place called the Citadel. Baldric, cavalier and brazen as always, shrugs and sets off to the Northeast to follow the trail.

Some background on this home brew world. There are three major countries; a northern nation that looks suspiciously like Russia, a southern nation that's China in all but name, and the middle, smaller nation which is a traditional, Western Europe sort of place. The Citadel is a massive city in the sky run by mysterious wizards and sorcerers, and it is a place of in-depth arcane study. It's like Oz, if it was run by mystical madmen, and is generally accorded neutral ground.

Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan!
Plot Hook!

As a party we return to base and report the dragon is taken care of, along with the discovery of a strange boy. His equally strange and mysterious sister seeks us out, and drops hints that if he's allowed to remain captive then fell deeds performed by shadowy magic users will befall us and the world at large. Our group's psionic warrior, a woman from the nation of Not-Russia, had to leave her own brother behind. Between her feels for the separated siblings, and a letter she receives from her own brother that tells her he'd been taken to the Citadel and that she should stay away, we've got enough hints. Conveniently we're given the task of guarding a diplomat on his way to the floating city in the sky. Inconveniently he's assassinated, and our bard takes over diplomat duties long enough to get us all into the city and poke around and see what's happening.

The Plot Thickens...

We manage to get in past the gates, and at that point the party scatters to the four winds. The bard is filching papers and stealing secrets, the psionic is wandering the streets and putting out the word that she's looking for her brother or our mysterious boy, Baldric is kicking around back alleys and side streets, and the rest of the party is pretty much sitting at the pub awaiting developments. After some sundry arrests and generally annoying the powers-that-be in the city, our psionic is granted a meeting with her brother. He's escorted secretly to the house the party is staying at, and in the midst of telling his sister she shouldn't have come he's shot in the head by a sniper at long range.

Chekhov's D20 doesn't fuck about.

The party scrambles. Baldric is up on the rooftops chasing the gunman, our healers are looking at the dead boy, his sister is weeping, and the others are fortifying the doors. The chase ends with the killer getting away, and the party regroups for a tense, nervous night of looking over their shoulders and staying away from windows.

We Find a Plot Device...

The next morning officials are investigating what happened. The party is poking around looking for clues, when they find an insignificant-looking black ring. The bard doesn't roll high enough on a knowledge check, so he assumes it's just a magical trinket. Without being able to identify it, he hands it off to Baldric. After a high roll he can ascertain that it's quite magical, but the DM says he can't be entirely sure what it does or doesn't-

So, what happens when I slip this bad boy on?
As soon as he puts it on, Baldric realizes he doesn't feel hungry or thirsty. A ring that duplicates the effects of a ring of sustenance but which attunes itself instantly is pretty shiny. It also makes our adventuresome alchemist all the more curious. I'm busy roleplaying, turning the ring left and right, as the DM tells me there's no way I could possibly activate any of the other effects unless I roll a natural-

... And The Plot Gets Flipped the Bird

Baldric rolls a natural 20 on a use magic device check, a skill that he has maxed out. Our DM, flabbergasted, asks the question that every player loves to hear. "Do you want a useful effect, or powerful one?" Having already rolled the dice, I opted for powerful. His next words were, "you are aware you have just cast Wsh." From a magic ring. At 9th level. A ring which seems to be able to re-charge over time to do this ad-infinitum.

That is the sound shit makes when introduced to a fan.
The whole table is goggling, with half of them demanding what the hell the storyteller was thinking giving us an item with that kind of potential, and the other half wishing they'd rolled the dice and taken the risk. I converse with Baldric for 30 seconds or so, take a gander at his motives and his personal desire to be a hero. I look up at the DM, and smile. Baldric says, "I wish that this woman's brother was restored to her, alive and in full possession of his mental and physical abilities." Moments later there's a knock at the door, and a shadowy shape appears bearing the trembling figure of our psionic's sibling. He's scared and confused, but otherwise whole.

Yes, I used an extremely rare, 9th-level spell granted to me on a pure fluke that I could have unbalanced the game with to instead resurrect an NPC which wasn't even part of my character's plot. Because that is how one remains true to the character. Oh, and I forgot to mention that resurrection magic doesn't exist in this little home brew world. Dead, is dead, is dead, or so they all thought.

The Aftermath

Moments after the boy has been restored the party is taking turns demanding to know what I did, and how the hell it's even possible. Then alarm bells ring throughout the whole city. Squads of elite guards are running hither and yon, and madness is everywhere. We're pushed toward an escape hatch by a frazzled NPC, who also gives us the boy we found in the dragon cave as a compensation prize. We manage to escape after only a few days of attending meetings and fruitlessly searching for an answer.

It turns out that our murdered sibling was never actually dead in the first place. A clone had been made of him, and that clone murdered so that his sister and her friends would stop trying to find the boy. The actual baby brother was being kept in a warded, secure room no one would ever be able to find, and which would have been the center piece of a very hard to crack nut that might have lasted weeks, if not months out of game. Then Baldric applied his typical strategy of "fuck it, what's the worst that could happen?" while holding an artifact we weren't supposed to figure out much less attempt to use for several levels to come.

The lesson of chapter two is this: never give your party something you don't expect them to use. Whether it's a mysteriously locked trunk, an unidentifiable magic item, or just a substance they can't make sense of, at least one player is going to mess with it. Also, sooner or later that player is going to roll a 20.

Do you have a story of your own to share? Well let us know! Simply contact Improved Initiative and send us your story and we'll be happy to give you the spotlight. As always, thanks for stopping by Table Talk, and to make sure you get all of our updates be sure to follow Neal F. Litherland on both Tumblr and Facebook.


  1. Amazing. I'm stealing Baldric's personality for my new Paladin.

  2. This is truly wonderful, I'm so glad I found your blog!

    My own story has a similar lesson.

    Wizard found a book at level 5. Could only read 1 page with Read Magic Spell and a Knowledge per Day (8 hours of study). I was not told how many pages were in the book.

    Around level 14, after over 2,000 pages read, I unlocked the secrets of the tome - free metamagic levels applied to Evocation (my school) equal to my INT modifier.