Ancient Labyrinth, Ephemeral Flame

Game Master Iadel

(An experiment: playtesting a method for playtesting)

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The previous dream blurs and reshapes into a windswept, stony landscape beneath dark clouds. Two figures stand nearby. They are wearing featureless silver masks and black hooded cloaks. Several different voices speak in unison, from somewhere above or perhaps all around. “You must find each other before others find you, or you will be trapped by ancient unjust laws. You will soon receive an invitation that may trouble you. Accept it if you hope for a destiny of freedom instead of slavery.” The two figures begin to raise their gloved hands, but the dream fades before they can remove their masks.

A plot twist card for each PC:

Deck: 1d2 ⇒ 1
Card: 1d51 ⇒ 8
Plot twist card for Karalisel: Tipping Point

Deck: 1d2 ⇒ 2
Card: 1d51 ⇒ 14
Plot twist card for Ivaia: Embarrassment

Deck: 1d2 ⇒ 2
Card: 1d51 ⇒ 6
Plot twist card for Farenthar: Buried Secret

Chapter One

Amid the chaos of the preparations for the masque, the director of the theatre company turns to Farenthar. “Your costume is one of the easiest. Why don’t you pay a visit to the kitchens and bring back food for us? You surely won’t have any difficulty charming one of the cooks into giving us something.”


Farenthar shrugs. “I’ll see what I can do. But they’re going to be even busier than we are. Maybe they won’t listen to a word from me. Maybe they won’t even let me in.” Farenthar turns away from the director and makes his way through the large room that's crowded with actors, props and pieces of scenery. He wants to argue, but there really isn’t any point. The director’s right about the costumes - most of the cast is already at least partly dressed in elaborate, awkward, garish constructions of fabric and wire, while Farenthar will just need to add a short cloak before the performance starts. He’s the obvious choice. But Farenthar wishes that the director hadn’t talked about “charming”. Why not suggest simple courtesy?

Farenthar tries to put this mild annoyance out of his mind as he lets the aroma of roasting meat lead him through the Palace corridors.

Farenthar quickly finds the kitchen, which is a vast, high-ceilinged room with ovens and open cooking fires against the opposite wall and long benches filling the rest of the space. It’s crowded with staff and nearly everyone looks rushed and anxious. The exception is a short, red-haired young woman working in a corner by herself, using a brush to decorate pastries with a glaze. She seems strikingly calm amid all the bustle and shouting.


Will Farenthar approach the red-haired woman to speak with her? (60% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 67


Farenthar is about to step forward into the kitchen, but he hesitates in the doorway, remembering all the worries he had when the director first told the company about the request from the Palace. Despite the high fee on offer, Farenthar nearly refused to join the group of volunteers for the unexpected performance, and the frantic day-long rehearsals were not the reason. He did not want to act in any house belonging to aristocrats. He did not want to attract their attention.

Someone less cautious may assume that a young kitchen maid is harmless, but who knows what connections she has? Perhaps she looks so calm because she knows she has an influential protector.

No one in the company will collapse from starvation in the next few hours, and there will surely be plenty of left-overs at the end of the feast. Farenthar steps back into the corridor.

Stealth to avoid attention as he moves back: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (12) + 5 = 17
Bluff to pretend that he is simply lost and never wanted to visit the kitchen in the first place: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (20) + 8 = 28


Karalisel happens to look up from her work and glances towards the main doorway into the kitchn.

Perception: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (18) + 8 = 26
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (7) + 8 = 15


She notices the unusually handsome young man just before he steps out of sight. His shadow in the doorway must have been what attracted her attention. She wonders who he could be. Perhaps a skilled foreign swordsman newly hired by the Duke? That would explain why he looks lost. He certainly doesn’t seem like anyone who would have anything to do with kitchens.

She yawns and picks up the pastry brush again.

Perception check for Farenthar: 1d20 + 2 ⇒ (11) + 2 = 13

Just in time, Farenthar notices that he is about to step backwards into someone walking along the corridor behind him. It’s a woman with long, loosely braided pale hair. Her forest-green gown went out of fashion at least a century and a half ago. In the firelight from the kitchen, her face looks eerily beautiful.


Farenthar turns around. “Please, forgive me,” he says, and bows to the woman. It’s a very practiced gesture - he’s lost count of the number of courtiers, lovers and supplicants he’s played on stage. “May I be of assistance? Do you require a guide to the hall? Or elsewhere?” She surely isn’t one of the Duke’s guests, not dressed like that. Tonight’s gathering isn’t a costume ball.

Sense Motive: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (4) + 6 = 10


Hearing the young man’s voice from the corridor, Karalisel turns around again and sees the strangely dressed woman he is speaking to.

Sense Motive: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (6) + 8 = 14

A roll:
Bluff check for the Caller: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (16) + 6 = 22

The woman smiles graciously. “Thank you, sir, but I have no need of a guide. I simply wanted to walk for a while and get some fresh air before my performance.”


“Performance? At the banquet tonight?”

The woman nods. “I’m a singer and lutenist. Will I see you in the audience?”


Farenthar laughs softly and shakes his head. “Nearby, perhaps. But not in the audience.”


Will Karalisel try to join this conversation? (60% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 23


Since her work is almost complete, Karalisel puts down her pastry brush again and walks to the doorway. It’s the mention of music that has lured her. She so rarely has a chance to hear skilled performers. “I hope you’ll forgive my interruption,” she says to the woman in the green dress. “But I was wondering… When you are finished singing for the guests, would you consider a song or two for some of the servants here? We can only pay wages in food and drink, but it’s the best food and drink in the city. If you ask the best-informed people, anyway.” She smiles, trying to imply that her boasts on behalf of the Palace kitchen are not entirely serious.

The woman does not reply at once. She seems to be considering the question. “I would be delighted to sing for the staff, if I have time. Later, of course. I must return now - I do not wish to be late.” She turns away from Farenthar and Karalisel, and walks along the corridor.


Farenthar frowns as he watches the woman leave. “The steward should have told us,” he mutters.


Karalisel looks at the young man. She’s not sure exactly what he’s talking about. “It seems that some of the arrangements for tonight were made rather hastily…” she says, hoping to encourage him to explain his complaint.


“Our masque will have songs in it. We should have been given a chance to talk to this woman and make sure none of her music is too similar to ours. This is definitely not an audience we want to bore with repetition.”


Not a swordsman, then. Probably. She smiles at her earlier guess, then nods. “Just as we need to plan the banquet courses carefully.”


“You said…” Farenthar begins, then hesitates. Will she think I'm prying? He tries to sound as if he’s making conversation merely to be polite. “You said that the arrangements seem hasty. Are you part of the Palace staff, or have you been hired specially for tonight? If you don’t mind my asking.”


Even the question makes her yawn. “Sorry,” she says. “No, I was hired to help the staff tonight. I usually work at my family’s bakery. And I’m not usually awake this late.”


Should I tell her about the dream?

No, of course not. Where did that idea even come from? I’ll sound crazed.

The possibility still tempts him, although he doesn’t understand why.

Will he mention the dream? (25% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 71


“I should return as well,” he says. “Perhaps if the singer keeps her appointment with you and your colleagues, I’ll see you again, in her audience.” He bows in his practiced courtly style to the hired kitchen hand and then hurries away along the corridor. What sort of impression have I made? He realises that he didn’t think to ask the baker what her name was. And he’s also left the kitchen empty-handed. He can only hope that the director will be too busy to wonder why Farenthar took so long and failed to bring back even a spare loaf of bread.


She looks at the actor as he leaves, and keeps watching until he has walked out of sight around a corner. There’s something about him that seems… odd? Unusual? Significant? She can’t work out why he has attracted her attention. For no obvious reason, she remembers those voices from her dream.

…find each other before others find you…

Eventually, she shrugs and goes back into the kitchen. It’s time to finish glazing that batch of pastries, finally. By now, it seems much more likely that her mind was playing tricks on her. Dreams are just dreams. And any sense of significance was probably just an unconscious excuse to talk to a man whose handsome features were presumably what attracted her attention. She shakes her head and smiles again, amused at herself.

Meanwhile, the Haldizi family’s carriage arrives at the Palace. Rodairos doesn’t wait for the coachman to step down - he opens the door himself and climbs out. He stands by the carriage door, holding out one hand.

If Rodairos is making any attempt to hide how nervous he is, it’s failed completely.


He is nervous? Ivaia thinks as she tries to organise the folds of her skirt into a temporarily manageable arrangement before stepping down from the carriage. She takes Rodairos’s hand to help her keep her balance. No one’s life depends on his actions tonight.

Once she is standing on the cobblestones, she checks that her dress still seems to be in one piece. Then she looks up at the Palace. “We’re still early, aren’t we?” she asks Rodairos.

The Palace is a grand, symmetric structure. All the front windows are lit from within, making an extravagant display.

“I believe so,” says Rodairos. “Should we wait? Go back to the carriage?”


“No, let’s go in. Unless they’re not willing to open the doors yet. People who arrive late to an event like this are those who want to draw attention to themselves.”

Rodairos nods emphatically.

Two of the footmen at the entrance of the Palace lead Ivaia and Rodairos inside. It’s a short walk along wide hallways to a very large room that’s been set up for the banquet. There are long tables arranged to form three sides of a square. Four other guests have already arrived and are sitting quietly. The footmen direct Ivaia to a chair near one end of the central table, while Rodairos is shown to the middle of one of the side tables.


Not wanting to meet anyone’s gaze, Ivaia sits down and stares towards the opposite wall. She’s acutely aware of her uncomfortably tight dress, and once again she remembers what her aunt had said to her about this banquet.

“The Duke’s invitation was specifically for a young lady of our house, accompanied by a suitable dance partner. Now that your cousin Zhulina has fallen ill, you are the only one who can attend. Your wardrobe contains nothing appropriate. We’ll need to adjust Zhulina’s new gown for you…”

“…No, we cannot decline. We must not. This invitation… I think it is like the Duke raising a flag of parley. By accepting, we raise our own flag. The negotiations will begin later, I assume. But if no one from our family attends, that will be taken as a refusal to negotiate. Your parents will remain in exile. And my husband will stay in prison, if he is fortunate…”

“…Now you’re being foolish. It’s just a dinner. Be polite, make innocuous conversation about nothing. Have we wasted all the money that we paid to your tutors? The Duke won’t be demanding that you plead for anyone’s pardon. All you need to do is behave like a civilised guest.”

Ivaia’s view of the opposite wall is interrupted when two men bring in a flat painted wooden tree, which they set down at the back of the open space in front of the dining tables.


All I need to do…

Ivaia notices the wooden tree. Scenery, presumably. Her aunt didn’t mention anything about a performance tonight.

Let there be many performances, Ivaia thinks. Old-fashioned plays full of incomprehensible speeches. Repetitive music. Recitals of epic poetry written by one of the Duke’s relations. Anything. While she’s supposed to be listening, no one will expect her to speak.


Once the tree is in place, Farenthar glances around the banquet hall and realises, to his annoyance, that the director was right - they should have done this earlier. Some of the guests have already arrived.

Only six, admittedly, and they’re probably the most minor of minor nobility. Or perhaps not noble at all. A few favoured merchants or guild leaders may have been able to earn themselves an invitation if they pleased the Duke enough.

Farenthar’s attention is caught by the woman sitting at the central table. She’s almost certainly one of the privileged commoners, he thinks. With her looks, she could easily be mistaken for nobility if she wore the right clothes and jewellery. But that dress is surely borrowed. Pale pink does not suit her at all.

What is she thinking? How must she feel, sitting alone there, knowing that she’ll soon be surrounded by people who believe they’re better than her by birth?


Ivaia notices the young man who is looking at her. She turns her head away from him.

Bluff to hide her emotions and look utterly calm, perhaps even slightly bored: 1d20 + 0 ⇒ (9) + 0 = 9


Sense Motive: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (4) + 6 = 10


At first, he guesses that the young woman is bored or disdainful, but he notices a fleeting expression that hints at worry or even fear. I should talk to her. Just a word or two of reassurance.

Does he start walking towards her before something resembling sensible thought has a chance to intervene? (40% probability of Yes)
Decision: 1d100 ⇒ 66


Farenthar gets as far as starting to turn in the direction of the tables before he realises just how ridiculous his idea is. What could he possibly say to her? He can’t think of any sort of remark that couldn’t be seen as impertinent or suspicious.

The idea of talking to one of the Duke’s guests is especially foolish after he was so reluctant to speak to a kitchen maid. That woman in the pink dress could be anyone.

As Farenthar leaves the banquet hall, he feels he has had a fortunate escape. But… Sense and reason can be excuses for cowardice.

He’s looking forward to a chance to believe he’s someone else for an hour or so.

Gradually, more guests arrive. Some don’t sit down immediately - instead, they gather in the open space in front of the tables to talk. There are many brightly coloured fabrics and sparkling jewels on display.

Occasionally, people glance towards Ivaia and exchange whispers.


And those are just the ones whose whispering is unsubtle enough for me to notice…

Eventually, all the guests take their places at the table. A man in livery strides into the room and speaks in a loud, ringing voice. “His Grace the Duke of Tuarensi. His Lordship Alledain Volcharoth.” The guests rise from their chairs as two well-dressed men walk into the hall.

The Duke is slender and slightly below average height. Ivaia knows that he’s thirty-four, but his heavily grey-streaked hair and lined forehead make him look perhaps a decade older. His narrow features are unremarkable, and there would be little about him to attract attention if it weren’t for his bearing - even while he’s standing completely still, he gives the impression of strong-willed authority.

The Duke’s younger half-brother is a much more striking person - he’s tall and elegantly dressed in a bright blue jacket. He would probably be considered conventionally handsome by most people if it weren’t for the vivid scar that starts beneath his chin, runs up past his mouth and ends just below his right eye. The way the scar healed has pulled the corner of his mouth down slightly, giving his face a lopsided appearance.

Standing half a pace behind the Duke’s shoulder, Alledain looks awkward and nervous.


Ivaia forces herself to look away from Alledain’s face, so that no one will notice her staring. She remembers how someone once described the attack:

The assassin tried to cut Alledain’s throat, but a palace maid intervened somehow and Alledain was able to get free.

No one ever told her that Alledain was wounded and permanently marked by the assassin’s blade while escaping - Ivaia just has to assume that was the cause of the scar. The sight of the old injury makes the story of the attempt seem forcefully more real. Irrational, Ivaia tells herself. I’ve never doubted the truth of what was witnessed that day… Have I?

She recalls that Alledain was only eighteen years old at the time, and her invitation to this banquet now seems inexplicable. How can the Duke and his brother even stand my presence under their roof?

The Duke gestures for his guests to sit, and he begins a speech thanking everyone for attending this celebration of his half-brother’s twenty-first birthday. The Duke then praises Alledain’s qualities and virtues. It’s a traditional list - courage, sense of duty, intelligence, truthfulness, courtesy - and the Duke’s voice is monotonous and emotionless. If he feels any genuine affection for his half-brother, it’s well-concealed.

Alledain spends most of this speech gazing at the floor. When the Duke stops talking and the guests applaud, Alledain looks up. His smile is very brief - it’s twisted by that scar - and his words are barely audible. “Thank you.”

One of the footmen then walks to where Rodairos is sitting and whispers to him. Rodairos nods and stands up.


Ivaia takes a deep breath - or, at least, as deep as she can within the confines of the too-tight dress - and tries to steady her nerves. She waits for Rodairos to walk around to her before she stands up.

Rodairos rarely visits the city, but he has met the Duke once before, and so he is considered an appropriate person to introduce Ivaia to the Duke. This is all quite ordinary, Ivaia says to herself as she takes Rodairos’s hand. Just standard pre-arranged formalities. She is not convinced by these thoughts.

As she and Rodairos walk together past the tables to meet the Duke and his brother, Ivaia tries not to look at any of the other guests. Nevertheless, she’s sure they’re all staring at her.

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