I was the first non-resident to arrive at gamer central. I fired up the digital mapping system, chose a nice big high res image of Baldur’s Gate and made ready. Brokk brought roast beast for sandwiches – delicious.
We began by rolling back the clock a few seconds. At the end of last session, the party had gathered at the bachelor-pad houseboat of Habakuk “The Great.” The bestubbled wizard had just offered 10,000 gold for the black dragon egg when we stopped play abruptly. Our cleric, Tan Meng, well in his cups, decided to drop a zone of truth on the wizard right there in his very own galley. On reconsidering their options, after two week’s reflection and now cold sober, the party decided they would really rather see the egg destroyed even if it meant selling for less. After many thanks and “we’ll consider your offer” they departed into the wet crowded streets of Baldur’s Gate. Habakuk warned our heroes that others might be interested in the egg – a dragon egg, after all, is the definition of a growing concern.
On the way back to the Dagger and Hook, the party noticed they were being shadowed by a scruffy looking boy. The child was no match for the speed and iron grip of Himo the monk. After some questioning, facilitated by Tan Meng’s zone of truth, it came to light that the boy, Fikk, worked for some sort of thieves guild. Fikk promised he’d have his boss, Mr. Gibbs, speak to the group about acquiring their egg. Terredon the elf druid made it clear to the urchin that he wasn’t welcome near the group ever again.
Meanwhile, back at The Dagger and Hook, Valeriya (female human paladin), Raynard the Mild (male human warlock), and Garr (dwarven fighter), were keeping an eye on the eggs. The two blue eggs had spoiled badly on the journey to Baldur’s Gate, but the black one was still in prime shape. The eggs were stored in a shed out behind the inn and our heroes hung out there passing the morning and watching their investment.
Soon, the sounds of men in armor approached. A knock at the shed door. “Hello in the shed?” “Who’s there?” asked Valeriya. “Lieutenant Khald of the Flaming Fist, may I speak with you?” It turned out the Lieutenant was making something of a courtesy call. He first warned that no sale of any such eggs could occur in the lower city without the appropriate mercantile license. Further, the importation of any such goods into Baldur’s Gate for sale would, of course, be charged the appropriate import and transfer tariffs. Further, Lt. Khald informed our heroes that The Wide was the only place our hero’s could legally sell their cargo. Lastly, Lt. Khald warned that others in BG might be interested in their wares and some would likely be interested in obtaining it through less than legal means.
Valeriya asked if Khald might detail some members of The Flaming Fist to lend a watchful eye toward them and The Dagger and Hook. Khald introduced two of his “top men” named Belfor and Lash. The two looked unenthused, as though they’d drawn the short straw yet again. They settled in to mingling outside the inn. The rest of the party showed up about now, just as Khald was leaving. They shared their mutual discoveries and arrived at a consensus. They needed to speak with Shoulhoris, the Alchemist. Shoulhoris was willing to buy the egg and piece it and its contents up into its various constituent components.
Just then, speak of the devil, Shoulhoris, a tall, bald, rapier of a man in long gray robes walked through the outer courtyard doorway. After inspecting the goods, and some fierce haggling, a price of 2400 gold was agreed upon – with the provision that our heroes would follow to Sorcerous Sundries and watch the egg destroyed. The sale was to occur in The Wide in half an hour. All agreed.
Himo had the idea of hiring some additional muscle. He went to the Hissing Stones Bathhouse near the root of The Seatower’s peninsula, and slightly awkwardly but effectively asked a few of the old guard Flaming Fist mercenaries for their assistance. The doughy sweaty men laughed a bit, but threw out the high price of 5 gold each for guarding the transport to The Wide. Himo mentioned that they’d be guarding a dragon egg. The men suddenly grew more serious. Sweat formed in beads on the tips of their close cropped gray hair. Ten gold each. Done. Himo and his five mercenaries were soon huffing their way back uphill to The Dagger and Hook. By the time they arrived, all were gathered outside the inn. The eggs were carried between litter poles and the entourage made their way to Baldur’s Gate (the actual gate to the Upper City).
About this time we were shocked when one of our members, Raynard The Mild suddenly appeared to join the evening. It was his RLwife’s birthday and we had written him off. All were energized by his appearance! And, through all of these conversations and while one deal after another was made, Raynard telepathically reached out to the growing consciousness within the black egg. Raynard definitely made a connection, but the consciousness consisted mostly of bottomless hunger.
At Baldur’s Gate, there was a bit of an altercation over taxes and searching the crates, but one of the mercenaries knew one of the gate guards and the proverbial skids were greased with a few coins. The Wide lay before them. There was a flash of concern over how they might find Shoulhoris. Fortunately, the 20 heavily armed soldiers standing around the tall narrow alchemist eagerly waving were hard to miss.
Everyone closed. The eggs were brought into the center and suddenly, somehow, Habakuk also appeared near the center. Shoulhoris looked panicked and went white as a sheet. “15,000 gold,” Habakuk grumbled. Our heroes rehashed the decision once more. A bit of arguing, a bit of debating. “18,000 gold,” said wizard. Final offer. Still more discussion but less at this point. There was one last vote. Thank you, but no. Final word. Habakuk shook his head and disappeared into the crowd. Shoulhoris handed over a small chest full of coins and our heroes let members of Shoulhoris’ troop take up the eggs.
Out of The Wide and off through the narrow crowded streets they struck. The streets were so narrow and crowded that only three could go abreast, or one on each side of an egg-crate. Himo and Terredon and a couple others noticed that they were being shadowed by some scroungy looking figures moving along the rooftops. Everyone checked their weapons and got ready for something, anything to happen.
Terredon noticed an old crone who moved from one crate to the next, and she was smelling. Just at this point of realization, the bent old hag came to a stop beside the middle crate, the one containing the black dragon egg. The old woman’s facial features looked a lot like Habakuk’s long lost sibling. “Hello, Habakuk,” said Terredon. “Hello,” he grumbled and shifted form back to his own. “20,000 gold pieces,” he said. Tan Meng began to cast bless on Garr, Brokk, and Valeriya. “NO!” shouted Habakuk, and clapped his hands in an angry spasm – in that moment and with some arcane power behind the clap, Habakuk counterspelled the bless. Tan Meng was stunned in disbelief. All stood silent for a moment, hands on weapons. Three scruffy figures peered down from the rooftops.
Tan Meng: “I cast bless again.” The blessings of Chauntea bolstered our heroes. There was a chuckle all around as if to say, so much for that, old man. Habakuk’s grimaced in a flash of anger. Uttering an arcane word, he reached out, touched the crate, and along with it, disappeared.
All stood stunned again. (There were a few shouts of disbelief and a few rule books were consulted) Terredon noticed Fikk standing a short ways off, ahead and down the street with his mouth open. He looked at Terredon, eyes wide, and shook his head as if to say, “it wasn’t me!”
Shoulhoris cursed as if in agony and held his head in rage. Finally, after some discussion, the two remaining crates were taken to Sorcerous Sundries where the group witnessed the dismemberment of the (now mostly rotten) embryonic reptiles of old.
As yet, there were several days to pass before dragon cultists and loot were likely to arrive from Greenest. Happy to have secured their 2400 gold for the three eggs, our heroes set about some shopping and a bit of information gathering. Valeriya, and Garr traded in their much torn chain mail for some brand new and well tailored splint mail. All looked polished and sharp. With the remainder of the gold burning a hole in their purses, the team sought for some enhanced weapons. Entharl Danthelon, dwarven merchant, was rumored to have a few exceptional pieces in his eclectic shop. Deciding between an enchanted hammer, a crossbow of exceptional range, and an enchanted great axe from the far away jungle Chul – our heroes decided to put their money on the axe, now carried lovingly by Brokk.
Tan Meng, Valeriya, and others worked out a relationship with some employees of Fikk’s boss, Mr. Gibbs (a thick set 15 year old) to keep an eye out for cultist caravans approaching from the south. Brokk (barbarian) and Terredon (druid) enlisted some aerial animal assistance in the same task.
Valeriya was invited to speak with Blaze Ulder Ravenguard, second in command of The Flaming Fist by Lieutenant Khald. The audience went well, a meeting between two like minds. Ravenguard informed Valeriya that there was an incident a few days earlier at The Red Hen, a shabby pub in the Lower City. It was rumored to be a dragon cult safe house and meeting place. The Flaming Fist served notice regarding minor bureaucratic infractions and a melee ensued. Half a dozen cult members were killed and the place was gutted with fire. Ravenguard also advised Valeria that all may not be as it seems between Shoulhoris and Habakuk. “The two are old friends, and older enemies.” Welcome to Baldur’s Gate.
Meanwhile, Himo sought someplace to make himself useful. He found a temporary home at the humble Shrine of Ilmater, also known as the Shrine of the Suffering. There, Brother Hodges, and his two children, Hansen and Sissa, toil ceaselessly in service of Baldur’s Gate’s less fortunate. Himo lent his time and service as well – as did Raynard (all that suffering, no doubt curious and oddly captivating). They found work repairing leaking roofs and helping the less capable with menial tasks. Tan Meng and Brokk inquired as well, but the pathetic nature of those Brother Hodges serves was ultimately draining. Tan Meng spent some time in service at the Temple of Chauntea instead.
Valeriya spent a bit of time in the libraries of High Hall, finding a fragment of information in an old book on the religions and cults of the Sword Coast.
Each also spent some time in the shops of Onthar Frume’s contact, Ackyn Selebon, equipper, wagon, and coach master. In case the dragon cult was only passing through Baldur’s Gate, all wanted to be prepared to believably join the northbound caravan. With a few days training, all learned the basics of the teamster trade.
It wasn’t long before word came that the cultists were coming. They were first spotted by the falcon enlisted by Brokk. Soon, a litter passed through Baldur’s Gate and arrangements were made at Selebon’s for five heavy wagons to depart as soon as possible for Waterdeep. Some unseen master named Rezmir payed for all arrangements.
Valeriya spoke with Ravenguard one last time. She suggested The Flaming Fist might raid the cult outside the black gate and before their departure. Ravenguard explained that he had been directed to make sure the cult passed through Baldur’s Gate unhindered if that be their aim.
Tom Haverford decided he’d stay in Baldur’s Gate as agent and representative of our heroes. He agreed to find a place to rent in the Lower City and to prepare to conduct trade and business on their behalf. The little fellow couldn’t be more pleased. With a few gold pieces start up funds, he set about creating a home base in the great city.
It grew late. A few members of our team drifted away from the table, toward home and dreams. The remaining few secured a variety of positions of employment on the soon-to-depart caravan. When next we return, we have few remaining hours in Baldur’s Gate. Ahead, north, lies the long Trade Way. Merchants, scholars, mercenaries, pilgrims, explorers, and thieves all mingle on the lonely dangerous road. Waterdeep is more than 750 miles away. A smooth passage is considered to be any completed under two months with minimal casualties. The most dangerous portion is widely known to be near the beginning. A few days north the road twists and wanders through hills dotted with ancient battlefields, dolmens, and barrow mounds. Common wisdom holds that it’s a very bad idea to light a fire on a hilltop at night in this region. Within a couple of nights, if Chauntea wills it, you’ll be passing through the Fields of the Dead.
Where are the cultists really going and what are they up to? How will you make the two month journey in their evil company? What unknown dangers lurk on the lonely path? Friday, we’ll begin to find some answers.
(Many thanks to Courtney C. Campbell for his excellent supplemental works for the HotDQ campaign. I usually borrow material rapaciously when I run a game, but Courtney’s contributions over at Hack & Slash helped to elevate HotDQ toward being one of the best games I’ve ever run.)