Thursday, March 3, 2011

D&D: Savage Tide Review - Prelude and initial impressions

I’ve never tried the ”Campaign Journal”-thing, mostly due to the fact that I tend to either forget or skip out on it eventually. And because I more or less would be confined into writing this whole damn thing in English once I consider how many people would actually give a crap should it ever be written in my natural tongue. In this case; Danish.

That being said, I’ve been giving the idea a considerable amount of thought as I walked home from session the past two weeks and finally decided to give it a go. My English is not superb in any way, neither are my journal-skills, so I’ll have to ask you just to take it in as you go. I am sure progress is will occur along the way. There will be errors. I don’t have the time to both write and read this thoroughly. If that bothers you I suggest you don’t read it. : )
So what is the purpose of this blog?
The subject for this journal would be the more or less known campaign-setting “Savage Tide”, originally published as an installment in former “Dungeon Magazine” (Paizo Publishing). The more enthusiastic individuals out there will likely be aware that this places the campaign alongside other great installments such as “Age of Worms” and the much appreciated “Shackled City”.

I’m not really going into details about getting my group together. M
y three-year-old homebrewed campaign came to an end as too many players lost interest in D&D. I therefore made a social experiment and gathered four people who didn’t know each other.

The system was D&D 3.5. The original party (which hasn’t changed at this time of writing) consisted of a War-Blade (‘Book of Nine Sword’), a Battle-Sorceror, A cleric (later to be Mystic Theurge) and a Bard (Seeker of the Song).

Savage Tide, the setting
In its original form, ST takes place in Greyhawk, but can easily be adapted to the setting of your choice. It really depends on how anal you want to be about it. Our group simply decided it to play out in the Shining South by simply adding the original city to the world-map. Official guidelines exist from Paizo on how to address this issue in full.

The first part takes place within the coastal, exotic city of Sasserine. A city best described as the fantasy version of Venice to which a tropic touch has been added. The campaign comes with a nice, short and manageable player’s guide (so there’s even something for that guy who hates reading too much) describing its lush trade and several noble families. Sticking to conventions much of the city has been aptly split up into small quarters. 
It’s a tempting assumption, judging from the guide, that the players are going to spend a great deal of time in Sasserine. You will find plenty of opportunities for side-quests, and given the big (and beautiful) map of the city it’s hard not to get just a little inspired.
If you're all about the main plot you might be in for a severe disappointment though, as the campaign keeps you in the city for the first chapter, throws you out of it in the second, and asks you to leave it for good in the third. In that case it might seem like a bad idea to grow too attached to it.

On the other hand, if you’re a GM who shares my approach you will find plenty of opportunities to create side-quests like you were paid for it. Apart from the families the guide offers a range of factions which the players have the opportunity to join. Though these are optional there seems to be something for every taste, ranging all the way from the inquisitive Church of the Whirling Fury for your average demon-basher, to the arcane Witchwardens. The basic idea is, of course, to implement some sort of reputation-system which the players can later use to reap benefits. This can work out very well for your campaign as the players have plenty of opportunities during the 12 installments (ranging all to level 20 by the end) to gain prestige with their chosen faction. Otherwise it might seem kind of trivial and for an extended amount of time your players won’t even be able to reach their factions. This is a sad drawback as the huge gap between chapter two and the Teleport-spell really manages to obsolete this feature.

This being said, Sasserine can easily serve as a great base for your players once they start getting stronger means of travel. So there is really no reason not to read up on it and its history. I’ve seen many people complain about ST taking place in a jungle-milieu which can be hard to include in a campaign setting. But frankly it’s not defining for the plot. You can basically put it in any city with a harbor and still retain the main-story.
Sasserine totals a population of 15,650 the majority being human (as dictated by fantasy-tradition) and mainly houses the religions Wee Jas (Kelemvor in my campaign), St Cuthbert (Helm) Kord (Tempus) and Fharlanghan (Shaundakul).  Lots of various races and professions visit the city sooner or later so it’s not hard to fit most combinations into the setting. Not compared to i.e. Shackled City, in which rangers and druids always felt a little bit out of place to me.

Prelude: A little Get-Together
I have this plot, call it a side-quest, which a fellow-GM of mine originally introduced me to. I liked it a lot. It seemed both intuitive and interesting while placing a good amount of choice in the hands of the players. Much of it takes place in various places of the city, acting as a lesser tour-guide. I'm not really sure whether he borrowed something (and in that case; how much) from other adventures, so if you recognise something that might be why.

The only character originally from the city was the War-Blade, who had his origins in the low-noble family of The Rødmols. His mother dead, the young man Marcus was now living with his relatively rich father, practicing martial arts. Much to his old man’s dismay, who’d rather see him married to a fine woman than to a fine blade. Marcus, however, always knew he was destined for something greater, once chance came.
(Adding to that, I’ve always preferred my players to be foreigners to the stage of the campaign. Mostly because I like them to be more or less on the same level of knowledge as myself and facts aren’t as established.)

On their way was a travelling troupe. Consisting of the sorceror Devon, who’d recently escaped Thay, Bridget - the Cleric of Shaundakul, and Leopold the Minstrel. 

Whereas Bridget and Devron both had kind of classical background stories (“We’ve found the road to adventure!”) the bard suffered from a disaster when his former wife was effectively evaporated by a powerful Djinn. The result of a messed up wish from his side and now he searches the world in order to bring her back. With a heart made of gold and a past made of emo, this was you average Sir. Save-the-day.

The intro quest starts as the players save the merchant Aubridge from an ambush on the way to Sasserine. As he thanks them wholeheartedly,  they notice how he clutches a chest in his hands. Aubridge asks them to accompany him to Sasserine. He tells them that he is making a delivery to a wedding that is about to take place in a week, namely between the two families Ambersmead and Fortescue. He tells them that he is to deliver the wedding dress, and it's timely arrival is crucial.
The young Marcus is a personal friend of the Ambersmeads, the family of the bride, who are now eagerly awaiting their recently bought possession. It was no surprise that he was invited to their home shortly before Aubridge arrived with his new bodyguards.
The Ambersmeads is a wealthy family but not high on social prestige. Whereas the Fortescues have it the other way around making the marriage between their children a smart match.

It wasn’t long though till the power of plot caught up with them. During the afternoon tea at the Ambersmeads, an angry Beatrix Fortescue marches in with her son Gerard. Gerard has dire accusations as he claims to have seen the young bride to be; Rosalina Ambersmead, on her way to the “Busty Mermaid” on the previous night. A place of ill reputation. Rosalina herself denies everything.

Claim versus claim results in the players being hired by Aubridge to see if they can somehow resolve this conflict.
It really did seem as if Rosalinda left her room the day before and was spotted on the Busty Mermaid. At this point the players decided to follow her footsteps the former night. Asking around at the Mermaid they learned that she left early to watch the late night theater in the opera-house of Sasserine. However, having interviewed the staff at the theater, it seemed as if she had gone backstage with a troupe of players not to be seen again. Tracking her trail, the players realized that the struggling girl had been dragged from behind the stage through a secret door and out into the streets. Luckily, on their way they found a spool of thread from a certain tailor in the city (it’s old-fashioned, but hey).
This led to a nightly assault on the store. It was soon after revealed that the travelling troupe of actors were in secret a minor criminal gang who wished to replace the original Rosalina with a doppelganger. Had they succeeded there was much financial gain to be had. The players rescued the real Rosalina after a savage battle in the basement of the shop, and brought her with them for a final confrontation. During this they also learned that the troupe of criminals seemed to be separatist from an organization known as The Lotus Dragons.

The PC’s had so much sense of drama that they chose to wake up the entire family with an “a-HA!” once they brought in the real bride-to-be. This, needless to say, caused to doppelganger to make a run for it and once it failed that it tore apart the butler of the house (they never really liked him anyway). A couple of crits and magic missiles later, peace settled over the house.

The players decided to side with Rosalina, who had indeed left the house to have some fun.  To her horror, she realized that gang were likely aided by her friend Aria (who had now fled the city). The players decided to keep her secret safe and spread the lie that Rosalina was kidnapped from her room that night. This managed to spread enough doubt among both families that they decided to go through with the wedding and only a few days later everything was joy and happiness once more. The players were told that both Rosalina and her husband were set to live a long and caring life for years to come, though her husband never seemed to notice the nights she in secret snug out the window…
The players were glad, though. After all; no wedding, no pay.

It was only a day after the wedding that they were contacted by a female halfling presenting herself as the representative of Miss Lavinia Vanderboren. She said that her Lady had an interesting job opportunity for heroes such as them.

To be continued in “Chapter 1 – There is No Honor”

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