Session 2. First Blood
After Swiftstream recovered he spoke to the chosen ones. All four agreed to pursue the quest that had seemingly been laid out for them. They would collect the sacred keys of their peoples and investigate this strange island.
Now came the bad news. This was still a bureaucracy. Tomorrow there would be another committee meeting, with such items on the agenda as: what should this party of heroes be called? What will be their stated objectives? What will be their agreed code of conduct? Should there be a uniform? What is their diplomatic status, and what level of access will they have to each race’s capital?
Further points of discussion had been added by the various ambassadors. The Phae Touched wanted to enforce a minimum number of good deeds on the way and include a ban on any further forest destruction. The Basites wanted to make Goldrock the leader of this party and give them all an instruction to kill all faeries on site (the fact that the ambiguity of the term faeries would also include the Phae Touched was surely a simple oversight). The Kasheetans wanted to add a statement condemning Ohmryn expansionism in the Strait of Muldrasa. And the Ohmryn wanted the heroes to travel in a party boat with a full entourage.
All this was to look forward to tomorrow. For today each hero still had other meetings and preparations to attend to.
Fleet returned to his office to find a vast queue of visitors. This was something he had gotten used to over the years. His assistant Leafthorn also provided him with a big pile of paperwork and complained about having to always stay late due to Fleet’s many visitors. Fleet decided he had time to see three visitors but no more . The first visitor was desperately ill, having contracted Dutch Elm disease due to his severe beetle infestation. Fleet was not able to heal him personally but recommended the services of Fieldshadow, a local healer/varnisher. The second visitor was Knick-Knack, a ‘businessman’ of dubious honesty who offered to cut Fleet into various get rich quick schemes. The third visitor was a concerned mother whose son had fallen in with a bad crowd and had been arrested for various misdemeanours; she asked Fleet to look into his case and see if there was anything he could do to help him out. Just as Leafthorn was about to send everyone away a fourth visitor stepped forward. It was Bethran Highhill, his old Wildren comrade. Bethran explained that he would very much like to meet the seer and see the standing stones before he died. Fleet passed this request on to Swiftstream who agreed to make this exception to protocol as a personal favour.
Sharl had a meeting with Ambassador Makrun and other political advisors. In the light of Sharl’s recent ‘indiscretion’ with the Kasheetans, they had decided to give him some much-needed diversity training so as to avoid upsetting the other races any further. After a brief period of relaxation, including the smoking of a large amount of sea weed, various scenarios and strategies were explored. Sharl seemed thoroughly bored by the whole endeavour, but the politicians would not give up. Sharl left several hours later feeling none the wiser, only to bump into one of Sanctuary Island’s guards – in this case, a Kasheetan. The guard seemed to recognise him and launched into a tirade of abuse, saying he had Kasheetan blood on his hands and was not fit to even step foot on Sanctuary Island. Sharl tried to remain cool but as soon as the Kasheetan started making threats and shoving him, he lost it. He went into a berserk shark fury and blacked out.
Zhel’darax was to greet the Sorcerer-Poet of Kratos Dai, the new Kasheetan apprentice to the seer of Sanctuary Island. They filtered smoke and then conducted a ritual of sacrifice ; the Sorcerer-Poet surprised Zhel-darax by asking him to take over this important ritual, but Zhel-darax proved more than up to this task and impressed his visitor with his insight. A poetry duel conducted afterwards only cemented this relationship. The Sorcerer-Poet has the ear of the Grand Matriarch so this was an important connection to have. During the period of meditation afterwards, however, Zhel’darax once again had his recurring dream. A younger-looking Grand Matriarch approaches a simple Kasheetan hut with two of her guards. Inside there is a female Kasheetan lying on the bed. The child she has just given birth to bears the sacred rune of fire as a birthmark. A Kasheetan man stands in the corner. The guards draw their weapons. And then the dream ends, as it always does, with no other clues as to what it’s about.
Goldrock attended a guild meeting in the Basite temple in the east wing, where there was a small circle of standing stones. In union the Basites present performed the holy ritual of veneration and then announced the time of grudges, where Basites could present their grievances and seek restitution from one another. One of Goldrock’s main customers, Stalag, complained that one of the runehammers that had been sold to him had broken and must have been substandard. Goldrock’s whole reputation as a craftsman was on the line, not to mention his pride. Stalag demanded a full apology and 17 free replacements! An attempt at negotiation failed so the matter was escalated to a full duel of honour before the sacred ancestor stones. At first it seemed that Goldrock was on the back foot, if only because he was holding back so as not to risk seriously injuring or killing one of his best customers. But then Stalag made a particularly cutting jibe about Goldrock’s martial prowess and the gloves were off. Within seconds Stalag was lying on the floor with a sore head and Goldrock stood victorious. The pair shook hands and agreed to resume their working relationship in full.
Sharl woke up in the corridor. His knuckles were bloodied and bruised. The Kasheetan guard lay on the floor next to him, beaten to death. In panic, Sharl picked up the body and threw it into the nearest room. He could not remember the fight but did not want to be accused of a crime he may not have committed.
Fleet flew over to the sacred chamber to see how Swiftstream and Bethran were getting on. Along the way he passed a pair of Basite guards, but then when he went round the corner he passed another pair of Basite guards who looked just like them. He had the briefest feeling of deja vu and then carried on his way.
Just then shouts were heard coming from the inner sanctum. The elderly Phae Touched who had carried the talking stone around during the council meeting came flying down the corridor raising the alarm. ‘Help! Help! Swiftstream has been murdered!’ she said. People started coming out of their rooms to see what all the fuss is about. All four heroes ran towards the chamber and opened the door. Inside they found a circle of magical energy crackling around the stones. Within the circle lay the bodies of both Swiftstream and Bethan; both had been stabbed multiple times. A chaos moth was in the process of emerging from the astral plane, attracted by the wild energies of Swiftstream’s now-fizzled ritual of seeing; anyone inside the circle who was still alive would not stay so for long.
Fleet threw his javelin through at the chaotic creature but missed. Goldrock ran in but the giant moth unleashed a storm of electricity, trapping him in a cage of pure lightning and fusing the hinges of his nightsteel armour. Zhel’darax threw his bolas but the dread creature used its telekinesis to bat the weapon straight back at him. In the end it was Sharl who saved the day, barrelling towards the creature and running it though with his ancient relic spear Haon-Sri-Hu. 
By this time there was a crowd outside. The heroes worked together again to take control of the fizzled ritual and drain away the wild magical energies that were surging through the room. On examination it was clear that Swiftstream was dead; he had been stabbed multiple times, and judging by the burn marks the assailant had used some kind of nightsteel weapon to do it. Bethran was gravely injured but still just about holding on. Zhel’darax tried to heal him with his Breath of Life but all that could be done was to make his last moments more comfortable. Fleet was beside himself with grief.
To try to shed more light on what had happened, Fleet used his power to Sift Through Memory and Borrow Senses to replay Bethran’s memories. He saw two figures come into the room – a Basite and an Ohmryn. The Ohmryn was none other than the supposed hero Sharl! It seems Sharl had approached the seer, pulled out a nightsteel dagger, and leaped on him in a frenzy. The unknown Basite did the same thing to Bethan and then both assailants left. At this time Bethan began to drift away, and Fleet had to move quickly to avoid being left inside his mind at the terrifying moment of death itself. Bethan died. 
Outside the Sorcerer-Poet and members of the guards were busy organising a full lock-down of the building in case the perpetrators had not already escaped. Goldrock joined the search. Soon enough the bodies of two Basite guards were found in a small closet, with a weird pile of skin flakes on the floor next to them. Skinchanger assassins! Those rare snakelike creatures can alter their appearance at will, and they are as deadly as they are fanatical. They could be anyone, or anywhere. From the success of their infiltration they must also have a set of keys.
The Sorcerer-Poet explained to the heroes that although skinchangers may well have been involved, they still had to investigate every lead no matter how unlikely. Some reports had also come in of Sharl being seen throwing a body into a deserted room, in which the body of a dead Kasheetan guard was subsequently found. This was clear evidence against Sharl so he and his quarters needed to be searched. Sharl refused, bristling with pride and fury at being suspected of such a crime . The other heroes offered to be searched as well, and for their quarters to be examined, but this turned up no additional clues. Next stop: Sharl’s quarters.
 Fleet’s visitors were roleplayed by the other players (that’s why there are three). I gave each player a one-sentence brief and let them improv the rest. It was quite a fun little diversion.
, ,  Prologue abilities driving the fiction!
 This is the fight scene I should really have run in session one.
So, our fantasy campaign is in full swing now. I thought I would post the ongoing journal of what’s happened but also add in some notes about the game mechanics side or any other bits of play advice I learned from the experience.
On the world of Amar there are four great races, each drawing their power from one of the four elements. The Basites embody the element of earth; they are dwarves with bodies made of raw stone, known for their love of mining and solitary, stubborn disposition. The Kasheeta are scaly grey-green lizardmen who embody the element of fire; they are deeply religious and consider volcanos to be the most sacred places in the world. The Ohmryn are great blue seafaring ogres who embody the element of water; they are honourable traders famous for their laid back attitudes, but can be stormy if wronged. The Phae-Touched are small and insect-like faeries who embody the element of air; they all share a direct connection to the Hive Prime and live in an alliance with the Wildren beastmen.
The current Age of Twilight has lasted for thousands of years. The whole world is dark and gloomy and full daylight is considered a faerie tale of the olden days. Relations between the four races are fractious at best; disputes are handled in the Great Council chambers in the neutral ground of Sanctuary Island. The most common source of trouble are the unseelie, who raid the free peoples of Amar every winter solstice and cause untold amounts of pain and suffering.
Goldrock of the Basites is a Runesmith Guilder with all the elemental powers of a Stormforger Runesmith. His key abilities include Beacon to the Unseelie, Build the Ultimate WMD, Call Lightning, Feared, Granite Skin, Nightsteel Armour, Reduced Senses, Rune Lore, See Through Illusions, and Tremor Sense.
Zhel’darax of the Kasheetans is Captain of their noble order of Fire Guardians. He was raised on sacred Mount Hilipha is an Acolyte of Cyratha (a dreamseer). His key abilities include Apprenticed by the Oracle, Burn Infidel, Cold Blooded, Filter Smoke, Impart Wisdom, Lonely Widower, Read Object, and Step Between Moments.
Sharl of the Ohmryn is a hunter with a spiritual connection to a berserker shark spirit named Ghar. His key abilities include Avoid Unnecessary Violence, Blackouts and Memory Loss, Dislikes Dishonesty, Treated with Suspicion, Uneasy When Away From the Sea, and Wielder of the Relic Spear Haon-Sri-Hu.
Fleet of the Phae-Touched is a Way Warden of En Jaides who was promoted to the status of Greysmith Mediator. His key abilities include Connected to the Web of Life, Fascinated by Mortals, Hero of Mherun Vale, Insectoid Wings, Saddened by Violence, Treestep, Vulnerable to Night Steel, andWindshard Staff of Office.
The four heroes were summoned to the Partitioned City on Sanctuary Island. 
Fleet was the first to arrive. He had spent the last few years travelling the world, mediating in disputes with both the Wildren and the Basites. He flew in from the Wychlight Forest on a giant dragonfly, landing by the great termite mounds in one of the Phae-Touched quarter’s many parks.
Sharl came next. He had recently been helping to block Kasheetan hunting expeditions in the contested waters of the Alamin Channel when an argument escalated into violence and he killed several Kasheetans. This had led to increased tensions between the two races and Sharl knew that things could easily tip over into all-out war if he was not careful. He arrived at the bustling docks of Sanctuary Island’s Ohmryn quarter by boat, heading inland through the canals and passing its famously colourful stilted wooden houses on the way.
Zhel’darax had been busy meditating at home near Mount Hilipha in preparation for being entered into the Order of Siratha next year. He had also been helping train his daughter Lyzara train so she can attempt the gruelling initiation rites of the illustrious Fire Guardians, an order he is himself a Captain of. He arrived at the island by boat and immediately sought out one of the round stone temples in the Kasheetan quarter so he could filter holy smoke and clear his mind.
Goldrock came last. He had been very busy in his homeland chopping down woodlands and strip mining (‘landscaping’) the lands near the border with the Phae-Touched, in order to provide enough fuel for the creation of some new war machines. No fan of boats, Goldrock had arrived by simply walking along the sea bed. He emerged in the polluted workshops and narrow gothic streets of the Basite quarter looking sodden and exhausted.
All four characters then made their way to the Sanctuary Temple itself to meet with their respective race’s ambassadors and discuss recent events. The temple was essentially a large dome built over the sacred circle of standing stones that provides much of the island’s natural arcane power. Powerful runes of warding protect this holy site from potential attack. Soon enough the heroes and their advisors were summoned to a council meeting in the adjoining chamber.
The seer of Sanctuary Island, a venerable Phae-Touched called Swiftstream, laid out the reason for the summons. With the winter solstice fast approaching all four races had begun to suffer from raids by the Unseelie on outlying villages. But this year was different. This year was the year of prophecy, the year of the Grand Convergence when the moon aligns perfectly with the sun. As had been foretold over a thousand years ago, this was the time when the Unseelie would launch their biggest attacks yet, when they would make their great play for the control – or destruction – of the world. Would the current Age of Twilight be replaced by a glorious new Age of the Sun – or a terrible new Age of Darkness?
Our four heroes were the chosen ones, a fact signified by the birthmarks they bore carrying the rune of their people’s sacred element. What could they do to help save their peoples? Swiftstream read out the Scroll of the Prophet:
When the sky turns red with blood
And the darkness surrounds us all
Four heroes will emerge
Bearing the hearts of their people
And the keys of their fathers
And step forward to claim their destinies
Last night the sky had indeed turned red as blood, so there could be no doubt that this was the signified time. Scholars had debated endlessly over the full meaning of the ancient scroll, but the ‘keys of their fathers’ line was a clear reference to each race’s sacred elemental key – the Firestone Amulet of the Kasheetans, the Gate Key of the Phae Touched, the Unbreakable Pickaxe of the Basites, and the Echo Shell of the Ohmyrn. These keys would have to be collected from their appointed guarding places and given to the heroes for use in the battles to come. The line about the ‘hearts of their people’ had been taken to mean that if any of the chosen ones fell, or if any of the sacred keys were captured by the enemy, the race in question would face a rapid and terrible decline (not to say destruction) regardless of the outcome of the larger war.
The full council meeting began. As per tradition, only the individual bearing the speaking stone, a heavy piece of basalt carried by a frail and diminutive looking Phae-Touched clerk, would be allowed to speak . The clerk fluttered around the room, passing the stone round to those that signalled for it. But many other issues were raised before this most important of crises could be addressed. Ambassador Snowfall for the Phae Touched rose to complain about Basite pollution and tree felling, calling on the council to sanction them for their actions. The Basite ambassador in turn rose to defend the merits of Basite industry and tried to portray the Phae Touched as enemies of progress. The Kasheetan ambassador rose to condemn Ohmryn acts of aggression in the contested waters of the Strait of Muldrasa, while the Ohmryn condemned the Kasheetan’s repeated hunting parties into the same waters (which they call the Alamin Channel) and threatened a repeat of such blockades in the future. Discussion turned into debate and debate turned into all-out argument.
In the end Goldrock had had enough. He rose to his feet and slammed his mighty hammer down onto the table. ‘Order, order!’ he cried. ‘We must discuss the seer’s prophecies while there is still time to do something about them!’. 
Swiftstream asked the council for permission to use the sacred stone of seeing, to understand more about the threat they faced. There was also the question of how long they should look into the stone – the more time they spent, the bigger the risk that some kind of magical backlash would take place. After a vote the assembled council agreed to use the stone on full power, regardless of the risk, and so all parties reconvened in the great stone circle itself.
Swiftstream looked into the stone. ‘I see a vision of an island emerging from the depths of the ocean’, he said. ‘It is shielded, somehow. It lies to the north west, beyond the mists. It is a place of great magical energy. It beckons us, we must go to it and find out what is there’. Pushing harder, he said ‘I can see some sort of structure on it, made of black stone. There is a terrible stench of death there.’
‘The worldbound unseelie stir in the darkness. Four dark princes watch from beyond the realm. A black-armoured figure riding a two-headed pterodactyl. A towering figure of orange rock with six spider-like legs. A black-sailed ship covered in severed heads on spikes. A flaming man on a great chariot, pulled by giant steel bulls. A great needle-like tower stands over a dark and twisted city.’
‘I see Kasheetan soldiers marshalling for war, clad in strange armour and bearing strange and powerful weapons. I see a squid-faced unseelie striding through the Phae-Touched capital, leaving puddles of dark water in his wake. I see a great fleet of Ohmryn setting sail, their prospects uncertain. I see the Basite capital fall totally silent, the emissions from its chimneys guttering and dying. I see this city, this island, our most sacred of places, on fire.’
‘There will be much slaughter and torment. A great flood, a terrible fire. A city will fall. A great battle where one of you will die. One race in civil war, another race swearing a terrible oath. The seas will run red with blood, the sky will turn black with smoke. It will be a time of great darkness, but also of great hope. There will be heroes, and victories. But one of you is not what he seems.’
‘Do not awaken the sleeping goddess! She slumbers beneath the earth. If she were to awake, all would be lost. Let her be!’
And with that final exclamation Swiftstream collapsed to the ground, the spell broken. Arcane energies crackled through the air, as though something on the other side was trying to break out. It could be a chaos moth, an elemental backlash, or something much, much, worse. The four heroes stepped forward, working together to wrestle the magical energies back under control. With grim determination they were successful and the room was silent once more .
 This whole section came about because the characters and world were pretty weird. So to help set the tone I asked every player to describe what their character had been doing when they got the summons, how they got to the island, and what their race’s quarter of the partitioned city was like.
 I actually did this. The person whose house we were playing at had some kind of rock/mineral thing that we literally passed round during the scene.
 Using his prologue ability of Slams Down His Hammer and Calls for Order. There was a lot of exposition to get through in this session, so most of the other prologue abilities didn’t really get used until session two.
 This was a big mistake on my part. Having the chaos moth come through the barrier would have been a great way of ending the session and would have let the players show off how their new characters behave in a fight. Instead I framed some bullshit conflict about controlling the ritual with success stakes that ultimately boiled down to ‘nothing happens’. That’s a lesson I’ve tried to bear in mind since – ‘roll to prevent cool shit from happening’ is usually just bad play.