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Chapter Seven Curveball - PCs Throw a Party?!?

Shackled City Adventure Path

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

So, my group has managed to pass the Test of the Smoking Eye with flying colors, and has just returned to Cauldron after cleaning up a few loose ends on Occipitus. When they returned, I allowed them a little time to explore the city to catch up with what had occurred during their month in the Abyss.

The party was surprised to discover that Lord Mayor Severn Navalant had vanished, and the two main authority figures in the city, Lord Vhalantru and Captain Terseon Skellerang, were locked in a standoff against one another, each accusing the other of perpetrating some foul deed against the Lord Mayor. One of my characters is playing as the nephew of Captain Skellerang, so I have been portraying the Captain in a generally more positive and tragic light than is suggested in the Adventure Path. The party suspects that Vhalantru is crooked, and even suspect that he may be either Master Orbius himself or in league with the beholder, but they have no concrete evidence.

The group has decided to do two things. First, they are investigating the dissappearance of the Lord Mayor, which is good. The second thing has thrown me for a bit of a loop - they have decided to do all they can to reduce tensions in the city, even going so far as to mend fences with the Stormblades in the hopes that their influence in the nobility can calm things down. That in and of itself isn't a bad thing - it's a pretty sensible thing to do, given the circumstances.

However, the party's low-wisdom Rogue has hit upon the idea of hosting a party to bring Vhalantru and Skellerang together along with some of their respective forces in the hopes of ending the standoff once and for all. In character, the idea seems to be that the half-orc mercenaries (supporting Vhalantru) and the Town Guard (supporting Skellerang) will have a few drinks, realize that they have a lot in common, and stop polarizing the situation so the mystery can be solved without violence. Out of character, the player who suggested the idea has acknowledged that he is sure the plan will go hilariously awry.

The guest list they've come up with looks something like this:

Captain Skellerang
Lord Vhalantru
The Stormblades
The PCs
Jenya and Rufus from the Temple of St. Cuthbert
Asfelkir from the Church of Kord
Kristof from the Shrine of Pelor
Ike Iverson from the Cathedral of Wee Jas
About 40 each members of the Town Guard and the Half-Orc mercenaries, focusing on officers and high-ranked members of each.

I personally think this sounds like a very interesting encounter, and it promises to have a good chance of devolving into a nasty brawl that spills out into the streets and only makes matters worse. I'm not sure of how I want to handle a few things, however, and I'd love some feedback/suggestions from other DMs.

1) I'm not sure whether all of the people invited should accept the invitation. I'll definately have the invited mercs and guardsmen show up, but a few of the named NPCs (Skellerang, Vhalantru, and Ike Iverson, especially) give me pause. Who do you think should come, and who should decline?

2) Behind the scenes, Orbius has ordered Ike Iverson to assassinate the PCs. This party seemed at first to be a perfect opportunity to carry out the assassination attempt detailed in Chapter 7. However, when they decided to invite so many important named NPCs and high-level guards and soldiers, it seemed to rule out that possibility. I am trying to decide whether I want to run the attempt before or after the party. I'm leaning towards after, as the party and the resulting brawl will give the NoGoodniks a chance to get a good idea of what the PCs are currently capable of. What do all of you think? Should I try to include the assassination attempt (maybe after the guards and mercs are too drunk to participate), or not, and if not, when should the attempt occur instead?

3) I'd like to make the party fun for my players while giving them a chance to try to advance their agenda and keep things under control before all hell breaks loose thanks to a combination of frayed nerves and plentiful alcohol. I've got an idea or two bouncing around in my head for possible events, but I'd love to hear some suggestions as well. Please be as detailed or as general as you'd like.

Thanks a lot for your consideration.

Eric "Critic of the Dawn"

This is a great example of what high-level parties (with influence in a major city) are capable of. This brings a lot of great possibilities. First off, I would suggest running the assassination attempt afterward. There are 2 reasons for this:

1) Raining on your players' plans would be unfortunate and look like a railroad. Avoid doing this if possible.
2) How much information have the party given about what happened in Occipitus to Vhalantru and Iverson? They might be interested in poking the info out of them, which this gathering gives them a chance to do. By finding out new information, Vhalantru has more than enough reason to order the assassination.

As to who would attend and who wouldn't, some background may be required on how the group is viewed by the Town Council and the groups in the city. Their character level notwithstanding, how much respect do they hold within the city? Are they personally arranging and inviting everyone, or are they working through a Council member? These are all factors that will delineate how successful they are at pulling together a mediation session.

There is something that is not clear to me. Vhalantru has these mercenaries, and Skellerang has the Town Guard. With the Mayor gone, are both trying to become Mayor? If not, Skellerang is Captain of the Guard and should be working for the Town Council (of which Vhalantru is a part). Therefore, Skellerang must obey Vhalantru, or be removed from his position as Captain of the Guard. How is this a standoff? (Or am I missing something that is specific to your campaign?)

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

You raise some pretty good points here.

Ike Iverson and Vhalantru know that the party was on Occipitus due to a pair of encounters between the party and Jaasians that both ended peacefully, but don't have too many details about why they were there and what happened. That said, the groupmember who got the Smoking Eye template hasn't exactly gone out of his way to be subtle about it, so there are some rumors going around town. I kind of like the idea of Vhalantru and/or Iverson playing a game of cat and mouse trying to find more information about what happened.

I'd be more than happy to provide a little background, although I must warn you that it's fairly detailed.

In my campaign, the city is run by the Lord Mayor, who is selected by the nobility and who holds complete legislative and executive authority. He is assisted by the Small Council (Skellerang, Vhalantru, Lord Taskerhill, and Lord Aslaxin), which he appoints to aid him in an advisory manner and to deal with many day-to-day decisions. The extent to which they actually wield real power is directly controlled by the Lord Mayor, who can override their decisions, replace them, or even try ruling without a Small Council if he's either a gifted administrator or exceptionally foolish. If the nobility is unsatisfied with the Lord Mayor's performance, they can vote him out of office and choose a new Lord Mayor to replace him.

Thus, Captain Skellerang, as a member of the Small Council himself, is subordinate to the Lord Mayor, but not to the Small Council, because the Small Council has no real executive power. Shortly after the Lord Mayor dissappeared, Lord Vhalantru met with several members of the nobility and accused Captain Skellerang of assassinating him in a coup attempt. With the support of several of the nobles (including Lord Aslaxin in the Small Council), he called in a favor from his "old war buddy" Commander Zarn Kyass and apparently took control of the mercenaries away from Captain Skellerang. Thus, Vhalantru's supporters believe he is heroically struggling to prevent the Captain of the Town Guard (who has admittedly been acting fairly autocratic in response to the troubles of the past year) from overthrowing the government.

Several other nobles (including Lord Taskerhill of the Small Council) were not convinced by Vhalantru's claims, and instead chose to back Captain Skellerang, who publically denied any involvement in the Lord Mayor's dissappearance. Instead, he announced that he was launching an investigation of his own, and heavily implied that the only one with anything to gain from the Lord Mayor's dissappearance was Vhalantru, who has suddenly gained his own private army and was positioning himself to sieze control of the city.

Skellerang is outnumbered both in troops (there are about 100 town guards vs. about 500 mercenaries) and in support among the nobility and commoners (Vhalantru is a much more charismatic leader than Skellerang), but neither side has been able to convince enough people that they are in the right that an outright move against the other will be seen as justified by the city as a whole. Skellerang is feverishly investigating every lead he can find, while Vhalantru is planting ever more seeds of doubt about the Captain's motives.

Neither man is openly seeking to become Lord Mayor - instead they are publically trying to prevent the other from siezing power. With all the chaos and confusion caused by the standoff, and the fact that no body has been found, the nobility hasn't yet voted to end Lord Mayor Navalant's reign. This puts everyone in a kind of shadowy position with no real clear authority to act... which is just how Vhalantru wants it. If Vhalantru has his way, he will discredit, subdue, and capture Captain Skellerang, find him guilty in a massive show trial, and ride his popularity from that triumph to be elected Lord Mayor himself.

With regards to the PCs relationship with the various invitees, it is as follows:

Captain Skellerang is the uncle of the character who passed the Test of the Smoking Eye, and they are very close.

Lord Vhalantru has publically praised and supported the party several times, but is viewed with suspicion by the group because of his growing power. He sees them as a rapidly strengthening threat to his plans that must be dealt with as soon as possible.

The Stormblades are old rivals of the PCs, but the group has gone out of their way to mend fences since returning to Cauldron because they need the Stormblades' access to the nobility.

The churches of St. Cuthbert and Kord are both friendly to the PCs, and one of the members is a Cleric of Pelor, so they're also very close with the Pelorites.

The party deeply mistrusts the Wee Jas worshippers, and the Cleric of Pelor in the party believes (correctly, in fact - Ike Iverson did the deed himself) that they murdered his father, who was the former High Priest of Pelor. Ike Iverson is arrogant and a little overconfident, and holds nothing but disdain for the PCs. He believes that he could easily deal with them himself if necessary.

Eric "Critic of the Dawn"

Thanks for the detailed background. The details in how the Town Council is set up makes quite a difference from campaign to campaign.

With the nephew of Skellerang and a Pelorite in the group, I cannot see how Ike or Vhalantru would think they have any chance of winning over the party. So we need to analyze Vhalantru's motives. If he wants to win over support of the townspeople, he may attend so as not to look bad. If his motives are instead to encourage chaos to keep people busy so they are not investigating the Cagewright plans, then tension and delay are good things. These motives will also color how the mercs act at the gathering (i.e. if Vhalantru wants to look good to the townspeople, a brawl is not in his best interests).

Does Vhalantru have contacts with the Last Laugh? You could have Vhalantru arrange for them to attack him disguised as Town Guard after the gathering, except this time have him in the presence of the Stormblades when he is attacked. Vhalantru will benefit from having them on his side (and the Stormblades may support Vhalantru as he is charismatic). Whether the Stormblades are unknowing proxies or in on the plan is entirely up to you.

Another way to handle things is for Skellerang to die without any leads back to Vhalantru. Jil of the Last Laugh is possible. Or have the assassins attack the group when they can get Skellerang too. If Ike and Vhalantru are not obviously working together, this may be the way for Ike to overstep himself.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

No, thank you for your perspective on this. It's definately giving me some great ideas and helping to organize my thoughts!

As I said before, I really like the idea of Vhalantru and/or Ike Iverson attending to gather intelligence on the party. For Vhalantru especially, this gives him a public forum to weaken Captain Skellerang's support among his own followers, plus he can subtly cast doubt on the PCs by loudly speculating about exactly why Skellerang's nephew's eye is suddenly burning with the unholy power of the Abyss, and what that says about their motivations.

Vhalantru does indeed have the ear of the Last Laugh, although he doesn't control it directly. It occurs to me that while it isn't in Vhalantru's best interest to have a fight break out if his side is seen to start it, it may be useful to have a few "town guards" (actually Last Laugh plants) start something. After a brief brawl, the offending "guards" will likely be kicked out of the event. They can then shout something along the lines of "You're dead Vhalantru, you hear me? DEAD!" as they storm out. When the party leaves, they can come upon those same "guards" having savagely beaten, wounded, and begun to lynch Vhalantru, spouting something along the lines of "The boss says you've gotta die tonight!" as they do so.

This serves the dual purpose of possibly instilling a little doubt in the PCs about who is really the guilty party, and it will also further turn the populace against Skellerang.

With regards to sending the assassins against Skellerang and the PCs together after the party, I actually don't think that's the best idea. Under the above scenario, Vhalantru has a chance to observe the party in combat up close, which gives him more to work with when he and Ike Iverson later set up the assassination attempt. Besides that, I have plans for the last stand of Captain Skellerang.

In short, while the party is investigating the Soul Pillars connection in Kuran Kural, Skellerang will find the evidence he is looking for. However, before he can make the information public, a Vhalantru sympathizer in the Town Guard leaks what has happened to Vhalantru, and Skellerang is assaulted by mercenaries in the street. He manages to slay several before being subdued. Knowing that the PCs are likely to return any time now and worried by the fact that they have by this point eliminated Ike Iverson, Vhalantru panics a bit and immediately has Skellerang publically executed, thus siezing control of the city with rather less grace than he had intended. This sets up the PCs as the likely core of a resistance movement against Vhalantru leading into Chapter 8.

But I'm digressing a bit here. I've got some really good ideas from this so far for what should happen at the party.

1) PCs get to advance their agenda of peaceful coexistence and an end to the standoff.
2) Vhalantru seems amenable, but takes the opportunity to try to sway support away from Skellerang and cast doubt on the PCs.
3) Last Laugh moles in the Town Guard start a brief brawl, but are subdued and ejected from the party.
4-6) Not sure about this yet - I'd like to have more happen before the end of the party.
End) The PCs rescue Vhalantru from the "town guard" supposedly trying to assassinate him.

Does anyone have any ideas for other events that might occur at the party?

Eric "Critic of the Dawn"

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