Author Topic: Of Conspiracies and Contracts  (Read 211 times)

Cain

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Of Conspiracies and Contracts
« on: May 12, 2020, 07:29:50 am »
So, since I've enjoyed reading about Cram's varied settings, I thought I'd put up a post here about the stuff I'm DMing as well, for your enjoyment and reading pleasure.

We're essentially playing a looser version of the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Tabletop RPG, which is in and of itself a loose adoption of 5E rules to the Elder Scrolls universe (and, in my personal opinion, keeps too much D&D baggage that makes absolutely no sense in TES, such as alignment).

The Setting

Setting wise, it's six years after the Planemeld, 588 of the 2nd Era. The Three Banner War still rages, with the Daggerfall Covenant, Aldmeri Dominion and Ebonheart Pact all vying for the Ruby Throne, to seize control of the Imperial City and Cyrodiil at large and name themselves Emperor. Abnur Tharn, Grand Chancellor, Imperial Battlemage and de jure leader of the Cyrodiilic Empire, is missing in action after the events of Dragonhold. What remains of the independent Elder Council attempt to rule in his stead while managing a steadily deteriorating war situation everywhere outside of the Gold Coast. There, the cities Anvil and Kvatch, defended by Varen's Wall on land and a ragtag collection of privateers who call themselves the Imperial Navy by sea, maintain a precarious independence under the rule of the "Wolf of Kvatch" Count Carolus Aquilarios, nephew to the deceased Emperor Varen.

The story

Our story, interestingly enough, starts with a previous group I joined as a player. In this we operated as a diverse group of morally flexible mercenaries based in High Rock, dealing with the deadly interplay of Breton noble politics, money and people with absurdly large private armies. A DM badly handled the rejection of their attempted railroading of the group, which ultimately led to the dissolution of that group on the part of the DM. Ironically, I think most of us had less problem with the railroading than the subsequent response which, instead of giving players other better reasons to go wandering the deserts of the Alik'r, was to derail the entire storyline altogether. Some of the players wanted to continue with the theme however, and their characters and thus our new group was born:

Things started off bad for our mercenaries. The end of the company came at the hands of the Evermore City Guard, taking our former leader into custody on charges of murder, treason and tax avoidance, and seizing the company's estate and resources. Since there was no evidence of any crimes on our part, though many suspicions (and rightly so), the guard let us gather our things and depart in peace. We reconvened at the nearest bar in the city to discuss our plan of action, if there was to be one. There was little love lost for our leader: she played High Rock's game of influence, she played badly and she lost. There was nothing to be salvaged by clearing her name and she was likely guilty anyway, so we didn't try.

Instead, we picked up odd jobs around the city, calling upon our old comrades when we needed an extra hand. My own character, a member of the Fighter's Guild in dubious standing, needed help breaking up a smuggling ring operating on the docks. The company's archaeologist was able to get us hired out as guards for excavations on the Ayleid, Direnni and Orcish ruins that dotted the Bangkorai countryside. We provided security for local taverns. One even got us a job tracking down a flesh sculptor for a wealthy noble client's daughter.

Time to get a real job

However, things came to a head when a very unusual series of events happened in the City. Firstly, the Resolutes of Stendarr, hunters of daedra and those who practice the forbidden arts of necromancy, were routed in some kind of incident at the city gate, bringing their wounded back to the city rather than pursue their quarry. Then, when they tried to speak with the Fighters Guild and contract them to assist, the city guard intervened to threaten the Guild's charter if they took on the job. Seeing an opportunity, my character, a former Imperial Legion scout turned mercenary/occasional assassin/definitely not a spy for the Elder Council, made arrangements to meet with the Resolutes and handle the matter outside of official channels.

The Resolutes told a strange and disturbing story. Several years past, a necromancer and murderer had been put to death by the Crown in Evermore. However, they received reports that a man matching his description had been seen around the city, very recently. When they confirmed the reports themselves, they mustered the members of their order to detain him and discover how he had supposedly cheated death, as well what he was doing in the city now. The risk was deemed minimal - the necromancer, though notorious was most certainly not a master of the dark arts - but he somehow caused a significant magical explosion when cornered by the north gate of the city, and escaped in the subsequent confusion. The contract was to not only bring the necromancer in, dead or alive, but also to discover why the city guard was apparently intervening to protect him.

The party investigated several leads, including a smuggler at the docks who had been paid to provide the necromancer with certain supplies, the Resolutes own source (a lieutenant in the City Guard) and the Captain of the Guard, who had ordered the Resolutes to stand down. Unsurprisingly, the smuggler had provided him with the supplies he needed. The stuff he was asking for could be sourced from the local Mage's Guild or the existing apothecaries in town, but obviously the necromancer was cautious about being recognised. The guard lieutenant gave a story about how the captain had been making several odd decisions lately, which was why he bypassed him in going to the Resolutes with his information. And the captain's office, searched quietly while an official complaint from the Fighter's Guild was delivered by yours truly, showed he had been looking into missing people's reports, as well executions carried out by the Crown over the past five years.

The clues from the smuggler and in the Guard Captain's office both pointed to a single location, an old Ayleid ruin by the name of Bisnensel, located on the lake north-west of town.

However, they missed several important clues, which is why what happened next surprised them so.

"I think you just stumbled backwards into a Ring of Daggers covert operation."

When they arrived at the ruin on the lake, there were already several undead walking around. On one particular piece of the shoreline, the Guard Captain was being held captive by the necromancer's undead minions. The necromancer was raving, about assassins being sent after him, about not wanting to "do this" anymore, and so on. When he saw our party, he of course attacked right away, suspecting them of being the assassins sent to kill him. The undead were not too difficult, and the necromancer was subdued. As the party, and the Guard Captain, went to interrogate him, a crossbow bolt from behind the party (ie; from the direction they had just come from) took the necromancer in the throat, killing him.

The guard lieutenant was there, along with a number of anonymous looking but clearly very well-equipped and trained fighters, who moved and fought as a unit. Having killed the necromancer, they sought to now kill the party and the captain. After some tense and, in some cases, especially disgusting fighting (the Dunmer spellsword's lightning bolt ripped off half of one guy's face, but he kept fighting to the bitter end) they were left with precisely one survivor who, under pain of being shipped back to Ebonheart in a box as a slave for House Dres, finally started talking.

The necromancer had "gone rogue". He was supposed to deliver and attune a Sigil Stone for them, but instead he never made the delivery. So to track him down, they decided to use the Resolutes as their cats paw, hoping that their man in the City Guard would be able to retrieve the Sigil Stone as evidence. That explosion, at the gate? The necromancer tried to bring something through, some daedric summoning, but he fucked it up because he wasn't a very good necromancer. Still, different realms have different properties, including air pressure, airborne chemicals and weather patterns. Rip a hole in one, and it might just cause those two realities to explode a little on contact.

Meanwhile, the guard captain intervened because he was getting suspicious that someone was running parallel operations out of his guard house without his knowledge, and he wanted to get to the bottom of things without having the Fighters Guild, the Resolutes, or anyone else running around and confusing the matter even further. He'd also heard the reports about the necromancer, from his own sources, and found there were missing records in the jail and courts relating to the necromancer, hence his investigation.

The unit that had just attacked them? They'd fought together in the war. Not as part of the Lion Guard though, not as an official part of the Covenant military. No, they'd been a black ops team, part of a covert operation during the Covenant invasion of the Stonefalls region of the Pact. An invasion that saw significant use of necromancy, especially in the siege of Fort Virak. And that was how the necromancer had cheated death, he'd never died in the first place. His execution had been mocked up, and he'd been moved into this covert unit, with a number of other criminals who were being repurposed into death squads and sent to the nastiest fights in the Three Banner War, supervised by handpicked soldiers...such as this team. A dirty little Covenant military secret that could certainly cause scandal, should it ever be proven.

Before the prisoner could be questioned further about things like why this unit was operating on Covenant territory and what they needed an attuned sigil stone for, she killed herself with one of our party's weapons. The guard captain said he would take care of this mess on the island and that the party had, of course, assisted him in his inquiries so there would be no problems on that front. But you can't just have people running around with weapons and calling themselves mercenaries, it doesn't work like that. If the party wanted to continue to operate in the city, it would have to be by the book, and they would have to be officially registered as such. He would of course vouch for the party despite their...checkered past, and be in touch in due course regarding this incident.

Cramulus

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Re: Of Conspiracies and Contracts
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2020, 01:10:03 pm »
That sounds like a lot of fun! Good premise--now the PCs are connected to the city, I'm sure that'll lead to some fun missions.

Its pretty cool to play in a setting where not only can you visualize exactly what it looks like, but you can also open up a video game and walk around there.

Are there homebrew monsters for the Daedra, etc?

Skimming through the rules, it looks like they re-skinned and modded stuff for Elder Scrolls (like using Magica instead of Spell Points). What are the big mechanical differences between this and core D&D 5e?

Cain

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Re: Of Conspiracies and Contracts
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2020, 02:54:44 pm »
Yeah, it helps a lot with the visualisation, as well as the maps. Of course, in true Elder Scrolls fashion, my maps are significantly larger than the actual ones seen, but the cities and so on are good points of reference (until I started off going on my own into areas not yet mapped out).

For daedra and so on, yes they're mostly reskinned creatures from the Monster Handbooks and so on. Though I did my own run over them and adjusted them slightly, especially for defences, based on Morrowind's ruleset, Morrowind being, in my opinion, a good baseline mix between a tabletop game and in-game lore. So for them and undead, silver or better/enchanted weapons are needed, and I've buffed their elemental and overall magic resistances some too. Same for Dwemer.

Another reason behind that is I envisage a power curve lower than would exist in 5E or the games, where the Nerevarine/Vestige/Dragonborn especially are on a power level beyond the ability of most PCs to ever attain. A vampire, especially an intelligent one that isn't newly turned or a mindless bloodfiend, should feel like a significant threat. A single werewolf should be able to tear through a company of normal soldiers, and so threaten even our hardened mercenaries. A Dwemer automaton should be like fighting a robot - it's tough, resistant to most forms and damage and won't give up until you physically disable it.

As you note, the overall differences are very minor, it is very much a reskin of 5E rules. I've altered things slightly to make magical and alchemical healing somewhat less prevalent and effective, but that Alteration magic can be used to more effectively mitigate damage in combat through shield and ward spells. That's partly a power curve thing, but it's also more in line with the lore for the period, which notes Restoration magic was still fairly new at the time and not as advanced or precise as in the Third or Fourth Era. I've also instituted some house rules to simplify ranked combat, though this is against less inspiring foes, such as Goblins, where numbers are more of an issue than individual skill. In that case it's a simple roll for defence versus attack, bigger number wins, I let the PCs describe the invariably gruesome things they do if they win or the invariably gruesome things that happen to them if they lose.

Also, as mentioned, alignment is completely out of the airlock, so that changes some skills and spells, though I know 5E toned that down significantly anyway. I'm also more relaxed on how classes work and changed some questionable things from a lore angle such as sorcerors do not have a magical focus based on their bloodline, for example, they simply happened to be born under The Atronach sign. Nightblade skills are more thematically retooled towards Illusion, as Shadow Magic is incredibly rare and powerful in TES. And some changes were made to Crusaders to both imply their abilities are the result of training and not divine blessing, but also to make it more thematically open to Dunmer and Khajiit especially (and what are Ordinators, if not Crusaders for the Temple?) That said, Thuum-based monks are also not allowed, as High Hrothgar is cut off and those monks shouldn't be questing anyway, as it violates their oaths to Kyne.

Cramulus

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Re: Of Conspiracies and Contracts
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2020, 03:18:31 pm »
that sounds real cool. What kind of characters are in the party?

Cain

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Re: Of Conspiracies and Contracts
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2020, 04:15:04 pm »
Well, I'll start with myself. I'm playing a Nibenese Imperial, a former member of the 7th Legion turned mercenary, which is essentially a Ranger/Rogue multiclass. She is the company captain, and a jerk. Everyone also seems to assume she's a member of the Dark Brotherhood, but she's not, though she could be mistaken for one for complex reasons relating to a series of jobs around Anvil in her past. She's also an Akaviriboo (like a weaboo, only worse), but as she might have some Tsaesci blood in her it's partly justified.

Then we have the Dunmer slaver. A noble of House Dres, they were exiled for politically convenient reasons, namely continuing the slave trade in Tear despite the conditions of the Ebonheart Pact. Sending them to High Rock was a good way to prevent them from being charged and causing political difficulties with Dres' continued presence within the Pact alliance. They're the aforementioned spellsword, and our company's resident racist.

Then we have our resident Breton knight. As a Knight of Iron, one of Zenithar's order of warriors, he acts as our company blacksmith as well as giving us inroads into Breton high society through his knightly status. He's also the old man of the company, nearing retirement age but not quite ready to hang up his sword and armour just yet.

We have another Breton soldier, she serves as our company healer. With previous experience in the Lion Guard, she serves as a frontline combat medic, inevitably patching myself or the Bosmer up.

Speaking of which, we have a very taciturn, very "Green Pact" focused Bosmer scout. They're not very impressed with Breton cities. a sentiment my character shares if for entirely different reasons, and has a good track record of getting beaten up by virtually everything going, including most recently a Dwemer spider trying to do an Alien chestburster scene in reverse (burrowing into the chest, rather than popping out).

We also have a Colovian Imperial battlemage, an archaeologist and former sailor/ship protection who specialises in Alteration and Destruction magic. And is the resident company drunk. In addition to that we have an Argonian who is definitely not a necromancer, haha, no, he is simply a shaman who communicates with spirits in the traditional way of his people.

Cain

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Re: Of Conspiracies and Contracts
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2020, 11:34:18 pm »
The Bosmer ate someone again tonight.

Cain

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Re: Of Conspiracies and Contracts
« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2020, 09:37:32 am »
So, to expand on that. The company has been called to Wayrest, the capital city of the Daggerfall Covenant and one of the major ports and trading powers in western Tamriel even before the Covenant had been formed. Officially they're there on contract for a merchant partner of theirs, who wants them to investigate suspicious goings-on in his company. Unofficially, they're also there to raise the profile of the company by pursuing whatever additional contracts can be found in the city.

Just to make things interesting, our other DM (we have two now) decided to kickstart their main storyline as we entered the city as well. Their story is just as intrigue-driven as my own, and it involves the formation of a cartel among the mercenary companies of High Rock, who are putting the squeeze on smaller companies and trying to get them to abandon their contracts. This has been bubbling in the background of some of our recent adventures, but came to a head when our arrival in the city saw us being "invited" almost immediately to a meeting with the ringleader of this cartel.

We had a delightful discussion, traded veiled insults, he offered me thirty men to command in his own company, I impugned the fighting ability of Bretons, he called my Dunmer lieutenant a racist (they are), I pointed out Bretons had no grounds to call anyone else racist (they don't, see: Orcs), he suggested our company would be too small to weather the coming storm and I countered that precisely because we kept our overheads low we were better positioned than he was, with all his outgoing costs. I then offered to give him tips on how to more effficiently structure his company to cut the dead wood from the ranks, and suggested he was only forming this cartel because he couldn't cut it in a free and competitive market (and as a Nibenese Imperial, my people know trade in a way that some jumped up Breton noble could only hope to understand).

It was all very bracing and apparently I should watch my back, as other members of the cartel are in the area and are apparently quite upset that I've been undercutting their prices and getting results.

Anyway, with that confrontation over, I'm finally moving people back onto my own main questline after a series of side contracts. The suspicious going-on at the company in question, a trade consortium looking to expand overland trading routes to West Skyrim (what with the Icereach coven attacking shipping off the coast of Solitude...tying in the good old ESO storyline for Greymoor into this) has funds being siphoned off into....unusual areas, if not disappearing entirely. The merchant who contacted us was able to narrow down the suspicious activity to three partners, but because the consortium is an association of businessmen, each with their own independent businesses and places of work, he's unable to carry out a full investigation into them. Beyond that, involving the city guard would undoubtedly spook investors, so they're not to be involved and probably wouldn't understand the complexities of the crimes anyway. So as trusted, independent outsiders, we've been bought in to investigate and report back to him on events.

Our first suspect was a Redguard merchant. A quick break-in of his office, which was aided by the Bosmer freeing the city animals from their shackles of servitude as a distraction, saw that he kept two ledgers, and that he was definitely withdrawing company funds for some other project. Tracking him down across the city revealed that he had gambling debts...a lot of them. And not to some legitimate gambling venue either, but they kind of people who break your legs if you can't pay up. Problem was, he had already paid his debts but now they were charging him interest. He wanted to pay back what he owed to the consortium, but with the added interest being piled on it wasn't possible. If someone were to take care of the gambling syndicate however, or take their own ledger from them, it could provide leverage against them instead.

It took some convincing, as the company were not inclined to assist a debtor, but given the promise of an additional payday on taking on the syndicate, they finally agreed to assault the location where the ledger was kept and where the money count was made. They were warned that a former Breton soldier headed up the count, but the rest were simply thugs - seasoned thugs no doubt, but probably not a match for what the company could throw at them. There would be two, maybe three others at maximum.

Hey, guess what? Turns out the guy who keeps losing money at gambling is really bad at counting. Of course the money count was better defended then that. Some were intimidated into leaving before the fight began, but the rest weren't happy at having their place broken into. In particular, an Argonian spellsword was absolutely enraged by our Dunmer spellsword's threats, which included selling people into slavery and so targeted them specifically. Our Bosmer and healer took down their two thugs with no particular trouble, though the Bosmer was trying to do nonviolently she was backed into a corner and given very little choice. I took down the Breton soldier, because I brought heavy armour along to this fight and I could trade a few blows before putting him down.

Then the party looted the place and the Bosmer, since she had killed someone, had to cut a slice from the Imperial woman she killed and consume it, as per the Meat Mandate. This didn't bother my character much at all, Nibenese religious pluralism plus having served alongside some hardcore Green Pact Bosmer in the Legion (former Blacksap rebels who joined the Empire, rather than the Dominion) meaning she knew the deal. Everyone else, however, was of course appalled at the religiously mandated cannibalism on display, and then we burned down the abandoned farmhouse they were using as a base.

However, with the gambling ledger safe in hand (and copied before being returned to the Redguard merchant), the safe looted of cash and valuables being put in it and proof of some embezzlement going on in the company, the client is pleased with the outcome so far. He did report, however, that this only accounted for some of the missing funds, and that he would be in touch regarding information on the other two shortly. And that's when things will get interesting, as this was really only a taster event to get me back into the swing of things before some real stuff starts going down...