From the DM’s Chair: Session 18: Where the Heart is

Antagonists are interesting forces in stories because they exist as a counter-point to our heroes, looking at the world in a different way to our heroes or even standing as a contradiction to all that a hero believes. A big issue with this, though, is that you can rarely have any discussions between heroes and villains. After all, if either party is in a room together, they’d probably try to kill each other first and not bother asking questions. However, it is the individuals in stories who function in a grey area of morality, those who straddle the position between friend and enemy than can truly meet with the characters on an equal level and speak to them, whilst also acting as an element of conflict. These types of characters are rivals to our main hero: an individual in a competitive relationship with the hero, bridging the themes of conflict and camaraderie, and something I think we need more DM’s using at the table. Welcome to From the DM’s Chair, I’m Shadowonthewall and today, we’ll be talking about the eighteenth session of my D&D campaign: Dorvine, and the lessons I’ve learned whilst running it. This week, we’ll be taking a look at making rival NPCs for your players and how to handle crafting, such as blacksmiths, for your PCs. My group of paladin murdering players are as follows: 44038396_455827161609500_6563617211280261120_nDion is Kassadin Lightfade, the Chaotic Good Tiefling Fighter.

44117039_565209960614454_8331074722636759040_nJoey is Nikita Tomasovna Nikinova, the Chaotic Neutral Tabaxi Rogue. 44128984_272268043399681_3687550906213072896_nLukas is Teoku Skia, the Chaotic Neutral Shadar-kai Warlock.

44070685_183445492532292_3774492675055550464_nBeth is Lady Elizabeth Grey, the Chaotic Good Human Barbarian.

44423750_296819354487271_4283961584037920768_nJacob is Doctor Eddard Von Keppler, the Chaotic Good Human Cleric. EurlisseAimee is Erulissë Durfain, the Chaotic Neutral Drow Rogue.

All character art drawn by Dion Russell, whose other work you can check out here:

Last time, the group picked up a new member, Erulissë, defeated a group of Black Rose and decided to head off towards the nearby town of Hearthome, in the hope of gaining more influence in the local province, but also to allow for Kassadin to acquire a set of dragon scale armour with the shards of the Dragon Embrys, who the group felled a few days prior. On the way to the town, the group met with a group of bandits robbing a group of farmers, only for the farmers to be saved by a mysterious new ally: Ulrico Sylvestra, a Knight of the Black Rose.

The Fellow Vagabonds remain distant from the newcomer, uncertain despite Eddard’s warm welcoming of the man. Apparently a member of the Hearthome community for some years, Ulrico is friendly to Keppler, even complimenting his sermons by saying he missed them. The rest of the party though are wary of the crest on his armour. The purple rose shines at them, winking in the sunlight. Kassadin opens his mouth to comment, only for Eddard to grab his shoulder and pull him forward. “Kassadin, come meet my new friend!” “Oh, I’d really rather…um…” Kassadin reluctantly steps forwards. He meets Ulrico’s eye. The knight’s face is unreadable, though he offers a gauntlet in greeting. “Ulrico,” he announces. “K-Kassadin,” the tiefling fighter splutters, reaching out a hand to meet his. The shake is a firm one, the tight grip a mix between a show of respect between warriors and something more malevolent. Luckily for Kassadin, he isn’t left to dwell on things for long as Eddard begins dragging Ulrico around the rest of the party. “Und this is Teoku und Ouksarr und Nikita und I’m sure Erulissë was here a second ago…but this is…” “Lady Elizabeth Grey,” Ulrico finishes, grabbing her hand in a firm shake, “it is…an honour.” “It is?” Elizabeth asks through gritted teeth. “I’ve heard so much about you.” “You have?” Elizabeth grunts. Ulrico backs up, smiling in blissful ignorance. “Of course!” he continues, beaming, “your brother mentioned you quite a lot.” “My…brother?” Elizabeth checks, “you’ve spoken with Ceylon?” “At great length, my lady,” Ulrico explains, “he was placed under my supervision for a time when he first joined our order.” Elizabeth’s face pales. “W-what?” “Yes,” Ulrico continues, “he joined our order shortly after you left Solace I believe.” Elizabeth groans, nursing a growing headache by massaging her brow with a pair of fingers. “I…we need to stop by in Solace sometime and sort that.” “Perhaps, my lady, now would be a bad time to do such a thing,” Ulrico butts in, “what with the current allegations floating around you…” “Allegations?” Elizabeth wonders aloud. “Why yes,” Ulrico responds, “your brother and sister confessed to the Black Rose that you were involved into some rather…untoward activity. Your father spoke at great length with the Blackguard and paid a heavy commission to our church to convince them of your honour, but the order in Solace still remains unconvinced.” “That,” Elizabeth growls, “is…I didn’t know they’d done that…” She looks to Ulrico, gripping her umbrella tighter. The paladin seems undeterred. “Don’t worry, my lady, I believe that there’s simply been some misunderstanding on the part of your family and the order. You seem like a most pleasant lady.” “Yeah…I…sure…” Elizabeth replies, breathing deeply. Ulrico ignores her discomfort, turning to the others and giving them a wide smile. “So then,” he says with pride, “where are you lot off to then?” “Hearthome,” Eddard replies eagerly, “ve vere hoping to visit ze old stomping grounds.” “Wonderful,” Ulrico agrees, “then it would be my honour to accompany you all.” Eddard is ecstatic. “Of course Ulrico.” Kassadin quickly steps in, planting a hand on the priest’s shoulder. “Keppler, a word?” “Yes, of course.” “In private,” Kassadin insists. Keppler frowns, the expression driving deep wrinkles into his forehead. “Vhat? Surely anything you need to say can be said here, in front of Ulrico.” Kassadin bites his lip. “Never…mind…” he growls, turning to track over beside Yuvari, who is wisely keeping her distance from the group. “So, Keppler,” Ulrico calls, “you must tell me how you’ve been.” “But of course! You see…” As Eddard starts the cart moving again, Ulrico and the travelling farmers falling into step besides, Elizabeth takes a moment to break from the group. Teoku glances from his place on the back of the cart to see her walking off into the distance, trees falling down as she goes. “Um, Ouskarr,” he mutters, “is that normal for her?” Ouskarr says nothing in reply, just staring at the floor muttering a brief prayer to any God who can hear.

The province of Cinder’s Grove, where the party are currently located. The land controlled by the new Thane Symon is in red, land the Vagabonds won on his behalf. Map created in Inkarnate Pro.

A few hours later, the group finally touch down late afternoon in Hearthome. Lady Grey rejoins the group from her destructive walk and, having let off steam, is more than ready to engage with the day ahead. She arrives at a good time as well, catching the perfect glimpse of Hearthome in the afternoon sun. Streets of cobbled stone and large houses with fine tiled roofs stand opposite dirt tracks, wooden shacks and a more rural backdrop of fields and farms. “Hearthome,” Eddard calls to the group, “equal parts worship und farming town.” “And birthplace of the first king of Dorvine,” Nikita comments from the cart, flipping through a dusty book. Ulrico offers her a smile. “You’re certainty quite knowledgeable little cat.” Nikita dismisses him with a simple ‘tsk’. Kassadin scans the area, taking a bag of dragon scales off the back. “So…Keppler, where’s the local smithy?” “Should be one the vay to the church,” Eddard points out, gesturing to the large steeple in the distance, rising beside a castle upon a large hill. “A bit of the beaten path though,” Ulrico observes, “if you like, I could show you where it is.” “Ah yes, vhat a brilliant idea Ulrico!” Eddard compliments, turning to Kassadin with his same enthused smile. Kassadin swallows hard, glancing between Eddard and Ulrico, great smile juxtaposed with absent emotion. He sighs. “S-sure…why not?” “Wunderbar,” Eddard replies, “I suppose we’ll split here and see you shortly then.” Ulrico nods and gestures for Kassadin to follow. Casting an uncertain look back to an equally anxious party (bar the ever-grinning Eddard), Kassadin follows in Ulrico’s wake, tracking along the dirt road towards the cobbled area of town. When the pair have walked for a short amount of time, and Eddard’s cart finally turns off from sight, Ulrico finally speaks: “I don’t know what you’ve done to Keppler, but I will find out.” “Oh for Bahamut’s sake,” Kassadin growls, “you’re just like all the others.” “Shut your foul mouth,” Ulirco spits, “what kind of spell have you put him under?” “I know it’s awfully hard for you to believe,” Kassadin growls, “but I haven’t done anything to him.” Ulrico glares, his face tightening into a look of anger. Ward, the Greatsword on Kassadin’s back, throbs with anticipation. “Kassadin, one hostile pending.” “I’ve noticed,” Kassadin whispers. Ulrico takes a step forwards. For a moment, Kassadin considers reaching for his blade, only for Ulrico to lightly tap Kassadin’s chest with his finger. “I will be watching you,” Ulrico mutters, “even a single step out of line and I will not hesitate to strike you down and send you back into hell.” “You really don’t know have tieflings work, do you?” Kassadin grunts. “And,” Ulrico continues, “that promise goes double for the other one of your kind.” Kassadin’s eyes flare. The fire of his ember knight rises to the surface in his gaze, his fist clenching. “What…what did you say?” “The little fiend girl,” Ulrico continues, “if you do anything that would hurt Keppler or Lady Grey, I will not hesitate to put you and that little monster you walk around with, do you…” “No, forget that,” Kassadin interrupts, “you need to understand. I haven’t done anything but help people since I got here. I’m not fooling Keppler and I’m not a bad person…but if you even threaten Yuvari again, if you even try to go near her, you will die. Right then and there. I promise you that.” Ulrico locks Kassadin with another hard stare. For a moment, sparks of anger fly between the two. Hands twitch for blades and the air grows cold in anticipation of the first strike. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, abomination,” Ulrico finally replies, turning on his heel and trekking off back towards the church. Kassadin breathes a sigh of relief, his stomach lurching at the break in tension. “I really hate that guy,” Kass growls, before stepping into the forge.

The Church of Kelemvor is an old structure and simple in nature. The stonework aged and the path well-trodden, Eddard has no issue pulling the cart up nearby and quickly climbs the steps to knock upon the door. “Hugo!” he calls, “Hugo, it’s me! You better not be eating zose damned carrots again!” “Master!” a hoarse cry comes from the other side of the door. There’s a rush of clicking and shuffling from behind the door, before finally it opens to reveal an old Dwarf with a deep grey beard and a terrible deformed face, part of his head sticking out and pushing his two eyes apart. The space in-between was bridged with a fat potato of a nose. “Hello Hugo,” Eddard replies, “have you kept ze pews clean?” Hugo’s joyful expression fades. “Um…” Eddard takes a deep breath. “That’s alright Hugo…did you at least set out the sermons?” “Um…” Eddard groans, his hands rising to his head. “That’s…ALRIGHT Hugo. At…least…you’ve been holding service every weekend.” “Um…” Eddard almost screams into his hands, smoothing back his black hair to look at the old dwarf. “Please, give me some good news, ya?” “Um…” Hugo murmurs once more, “the…the mistress is here?” Keppler’s frustration evaporates from his face. “Louise?” he tests, unable to hide his joy, “she’s here?” “Yes master, she…” Eddard does not wait for the dwarf to finish, pushing past him and racing up towards his father’s study. The Vagabonds linger in the doorway for a moment, before Hugo shows them in. The poor dwarf appears to be short of a few mental faculties but he’s friendly and polite, aggressively thanking Nikita whenever she puts money into the church’s donation box, which she starts doing solely to get a reaction out of him. It’s not long after that that Ulrico returns from his travels. Wisely, he refuses to interact with the other members of the party, lingering against a wall and considering. Elizabeth and Erulissë are painfully aware of his presence, watching carefully for any action. Teoku, however, finds it hard to focus on the paladin. His head has been pounding all day and now, it feels like it’s hitting hard again. Ouskarr gives him a worried look. “Are you okay Teoku?” “Fine,” the Shadar kai mumbles back, “I…just gotta…I’m gonna lie down for a bit.” Ouskarr nods, finding him a comfortable space in a pew and draping a blanket over his form. Teoku murmurs a quick thank you, squeezing the half-orc’s hand, before turning away to rest his head. He’s asleep before he hits the pew, a strange exhaustion seeping through his body as his skin prickles hot and cold all at once. With a shaky breath, Teoku rests, leaving the rest of the group to worry on his tiredness, whilst also keeping a watch on the silent sentinel of Ulrico in the corner.  

The Khan forge is filled with hot stuffy air and the sound of loud hammering against steel. As Kassadin wades in through the thick air, he’s met by three people. A man and a woman hammer away near the forge, whilst a dark skinned woman watches and coaches them on their performance, even taking over to briefly demonstrate before catching Kassadin out of the corner of her eye. She dismisses her two assistants, leaving them to continue their work and approaches Kass. “Welcome to the Khan Forge,” she says, “my name’s Joriah, and those two are my assistants: my husband, Ventuk, and my sister, Elia. How can we help you, mister…?” “Kassadin,” Kass introduces himself, “and I’ve got a very ambitious project in mind. First though, I wanna ask a bit about the town.” He flashes the emblem given to him by Symon, instantly winning the smith over. “Leader of the battalion in town is General Hux,” Joriah explains, “he’s a good guy, stern soldier, but he’s probably not gonna be able to go join the thane right now.” “Why?” Kassadin asks. Joriah lowers her head, giving a forlorn sigh. “People disappearing into the swamp, mostly young woman as of late. Someone’s vanishing every week. Hux is on the case, trying to investigate, but between that and the Hellfire bandits, he’s a little short on support.” “Hellfire bandits,” Kassadin mutters, “met a few of them on the road in.” “They’re bad news,” Joriah continues, “don’t know who they are or who they work for. Enough about that though, you mentioned a project that might be a lot more interesting than that. Kassadin grins. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard about the dragon that was spotted near Restway.” “News reached us,” Joriah replies, “but what does that have to do with me?” “Well,” Kassadin replies, beaming with pride, “it’s not messing about anymore thanks to me and my crew.” Joriah looks doubtful only until Kassadin drops the bag of scales on her desk, the contents spilling out to pile across her paperwork. “Holy hell,” she curses, checking through the small pile, “you…fair enough. Wow, I didn’t think that…” “Wasn’t an easy win,” Kassadin cuts in, “my old gear is a bit shredded, so I’m gonna need a new look.” Joriah glances down, her eyes scanning the red scales on her desk. They’re still warm to the touch. “You…want me to…” “Make me a suit of armour,” Kassadin finishes, “dragon scale plate mail.” Joriah gapes at him, her jaw trembling. “I…that’s a tall order.” “But one you can do right?” Joriah steadies herself with a breath and nods. “I am the best smith you’re probably going to find on this island,” she explains, “the issue is just how you want it.” “How I want it?” Kassadin asks, “well, I’d like it made…” Joriah sighs. “Expected of a fighter boy. You’ve never actually forged anything in your life, have you?” Kassadin groans, doing his best to fight off embarrassment. “I…nothing dragon related.” “Then you should know something like this can best be shown in a pyramid,” Joriah explains, signing with her hands, “everything comes down to one of three things: time, quality and money. I can give you a dragon suit for cheap of good make, but it’ll take a while. If you want something now, and you want it good, I hope you have the cash to back it up.” Kassadin considers. “I…I’ve got a few hundred and I need it quick.” “With that kind of time-frame, a few thousand would work better.” Kassadin’s mouth flaps open. “A…few…” “You brought the supplies, so that’s a lot off the cost, but if you want something like this made well and quickly, I’ll need to call in a few favours from some other local smithy for a big group project. I’ve not got the manpower to construct something like that so quickly. That’s gonna mean more people, which means they need to be paid more…” “Which means more money,” Kassadin finishes, “alright, how much are we talking?” Joriah considers. “If you give me…a week to do it, six days. That’ll be…four thousand gold overall.” “F-four t-thousand?” Kassadin gasps, “I…er…” “And if you want me to start working on it now, I’m going to need a down payment.” Kassadin goes so pale he almost feels human again for a moment. “I…look, I want this armour. I’ve got my old wrecked gear and a few hundred gold but I’m going to need some time to build up the money you want, okay? But trust me, I’m good for it. I did take down a dragon after all.” Kassadin plants the small sack of coins and his old gear on the table, gesturing to them hopefully. To his surprise, Joriah nods in agreement. “You seem like a good guy…and you do have dragon scales. Sure, get me the money in the next six days and you can it as soon as its done. If not, well, I’m going to have to do what I can in order to get my money back.” “No, don’t worry, that’s great,” Kassadin insists, “thank you. I’ve got to go now, but I’ll back with the rest of the scales later tonight, I promise.” “You better,” Joriah replies, waving him off. Kassadin leaves the smithy with the smallest of springs in his step. Despite the overwhelming weight of debt now lingering over his shoulders, he can’t hide his smile. Dragon scale armour. Just like he’d always wanted as a kid. It was nice when the universe decided to let him have a happy moment for once.

Eddard steadies himself as he approaches the door to his father’s study. Beyond, he can hear the shuffling of papers and the adjustment of heavy tomes. Louise was clearly making herself at home, as usual. Eddard gives a gentle wrap of his knuckles on the door. “One second, one second,” a gentle voice calls back, accompanied by more rustling. Eddard’s usual smile extends even further, a chuckle forcing its way from his lips. “Don’t keep me waiting too long,” Eddard says. The movement from behind the room stops. Then, the door clatters open and a pair of arms wrap around Eddard’s immense frame. Eddard wraps his arms round in greeting. The two try their best to engulf in a strong bear hug, though the whole affair eventually turns into just a solid embrace between two lost friends. Eventually, the two release each other and Louise steps back. Eddard notes she hasn’t changed much since he last saw her years ago. Her wispy blonde hair is still bound back in a small bun, as it ever was, but her bright smile and the glint of her blue eyes behind round spectacles gives Eddard a sense of nostalgia and a pleasant tingle down his spine. “Eddard. It is so good to see you again,” Louise says. “Ya, und you too Louise,” Eddard replies, stepping into the room, “I didn’t expect to find you here.” “I vas at a dead-end,” Louise replies, “no trail of the scale to follow, so I’m looking at things from a different view.” Louise shifts through the papers and gestures Eddard over. The cleric shakes his head, running a hand through his thick hair. “Father vas always horrible with his filing,” Eddard puts in. “Which is making it infinitely more difficult to pinpoint how someone could have learned ze scales vere here,” Louise explains, gesturing to the work, “someone had to know it vas here, how else would they have found it? So finding out how they learned of its location…” “Should give us a clue of how zey found,” Eddard finishes. “Exactly,” Louise replies, “it’s been a poor search so far…I might need to try a new approach. I’ve been considering visiting the Black Rose in Urest, trying to get a look at their archives.” “Sounds like a good idea,” Eddard replies, “you know Ulrico is in town.” “Ulrico?” Louise asks, “here? He was always so pleasant.” “Ya, he’s great,” Eddard agrees, “I vas thinking of having a big group meal tonight in town.” “Wunderbar,” Louise comments, “sounds wonderful…perhaps a bath should be in order first though. You do smell quite bad.” “I vill have you know I bathed last night,” Eddard replies, “und you do smell a little yourself.” “Then I suppose I had best prepare myself before we meet our guest.” “Guests,” Eddard corrects, “I have found a party to travel with.” Louise raises an eyebrow. “Really? Vell, I can’t wait to meet them.” As she treks out of the room, Louise spares a glance back at her old friend, a smile playing on her lips. “I missed you Eddard.” “And I you,” Eddard replies, matching her smile with one of his own.

An old friend of Eddard Von Keppler, Louise Hassalvander was raised beside him as a cleric of Kelemvor and together, the two seek the scales of their God and an end to the blight of the undead. Artwork by Dion Russell, whose other works you can find here:

Kassadin returns from his shopping trip, just in time to be invited out on a second one with Eddard, Ulrico, Elizabeth and Nikita. Louise and Hugo are staying behind to prepare a room for their new guests, whilst Ouskarr wishes to remain behind to look after Teoku. Yuvari offers to help, though it’s clear the main reason is to keep her distance from Ulrico. Erulissë sticks to the shadows, ignoring the group’s plans. “Ve’ll prepare a big meal tonight,” Eddard explains as he leads his growing group out, “und an enjoyable time for all.” Kassadin isn’t too certain and remember Ulrico’s hostile nature, suggests they split up to pursue separate goals. He heads off with the cart to take the supplies to the blacksmith, Elizabeth and Nikita split off to look around and explore, whilst Ulrico and Keppler grab supplies for a night’s meal. “Und no carrots,” Keppler warns, “no matter what Hugo has tried to tell you, no carrots.” Nikita’s ear twitches at the advice, but she remains silent as the group splits, slinking off along her own path. After allowing Kassadin to drop off the scales at the blacksmith, the group makes for the centre of the town, eventually splitting to explore. A bustling market spreads out around the inner quarter of the town, the cobble-streets full of individuals tracking to and fro. As she walks around, Lady Grey bathes in the sights and sounds of the place, listening out for any talk on her family. As she wanders, a set of familiar voices meet her ears. “P-please, no, there must be some mistake.” “I’m sorry pal. If you want the store, I need to see the money up front and you’re short fifty gold.” “B-but what’s fifty gold between friends?” “Enough,” a Dwarf gives a gruff reply, “no gold, no store.” Elizabeth shoulders her way through the ground to be met with two merchants: Pip the Halfling and Peres the High-Elf. Recognising the two from their encounter outside Cinder’s Grove, Elizabeth approaches. “Lady Grey!” Peres calls in feigned excitement, “perhaps you could help us. My compatriot and I are short on a little coin and this dwarf is refusing to allow us to purchase this property. We need only fifty gold coins to complete the transaction…” “Perhaps Lady Grey can join us as owners of the shop!” Pip suggests. Peres immediately doubles back, trying to change his friend’s mind, only for Lady Grey to relish at the new opportunity. “Of course. I need do need a method of selling my healing tea, after all.” “Stupendous,” Peres groans through gritted teeth. The dwarf is amiable enough, accepting Elizabeth’s money and quickly adding her name to the register. Though Peres is reluctant to engage with Elizabeth as a potential business partner, Pip is far more open and promises to keep a small supply of coins separate from their profits. Satisfied with this foot in the door in the world of trade, Elizabeth heads to the centre of the markets, eager to regroup with her allies.

Kassadin drags Nikita to the first merchant they see, a energetic water genasi carting goods from a far-off land. “How much would you pay for dragon’s blood?” Kassadin calls over the vendor’s frantic ravings. His gaze instantly snaps to the tiefling and he shifts over from what he was doing. “Well, that’s very rare friend,” the genasi replies, “depends how much you got.” “Two waterskins full,” he explains, offering his and Ouskarr’s skins up for appraisal, “let’s say…two thousand gold?” The genasi descends into laughter. “That is a bit overpriced even for me,” he snaps back, “how do I know that’s even dragon’s blood?” Kassadin reluctantly drips out a small portion onto his finger and shows it to the genasi. “Hmmm, could have just murdered some poor hobo and milked him dry,” the genasi observes. “It was dragon,” Nikita calls, “though that makes it no less disgusting.” The genasi takes the droplet on his finger, examines it and seems to finally decide. “I’ll take em both for 500.” “500 each?” “500 total,” the genasi corrects. “What?” Kassadin grunts, “come on man, this is real dragon blood. Should be worth more than that.” “Real dragon blood kept in a leather skin for about three days and smelling of death. 500 gold.” Kassadin shakes his head. It’s clearly not enough and the tiefling isn’t willing to get played, especially not when he’s waiting on a horde of gold to help pay for his new plate armour. “I’ll find someone else,” he insists. “Good luck with that,” the genasi calls after. As Kassadin turns from the merchant, he spots Elizabeth weaving through the crowd. She waves in greeting. Kass waves back, a disappointed smile on his face. Sure he’s copped out, but there are plenty more merchants in the area. Maybe Lady Grey will know just who to talk to… “Kassadin, three hostiles.” Kassadin’s eyes widen. “What?” “120ft away and closing.” Kassadin tenses. His eyes scan the crowd, checking every face. Then, he sees them. Three figures, cloaked in black and walking very quickly. Straight in front of their path and blissfully aware of their approach is Elizabeth. “Damn it.”

Eddard and Ulrico’s quest to find food for the group meal is going about as well as expected. The pair do get along well together, despite Ulrico’s insistence on using vegetables and Eddard’s keen love for all things meaty. As they flit from stand to stand, collecting fresh fruit and lean pork cuts, Ulrico speaks up. “Eddard, I think it’s time we talked about one of your new friends…” “Look, I know Teoku’s been sleeping most of today, but I swear, he’s really a nice guy…” “It’s not Teoku,” Ulrico says, “it’s Kassadin.” Eddard’s giant shoulders slump. “Oh?” “It’s just…I hope you’re being careful with him. Taking the correct precautions.” Eddard sighs, massaging the bridge of his nose. “Ulrico,” he groans. “I’m sorry Eddard, I don’t mean to upset you,” Ulrico explains, “but I’m worried about you travelling around with fiend blood.” “Ulrico, I’ve been with Kassadin for just under a veek now,” Eddard replies, “and it’s been enough time to see that he’s a good person.” “Keppler, I know you try to see the best in people,” Ulrico presses, “and I try not to judge a book by its cover…” “Yeah, und he looks like a devil,” Keppler snaps, “seriously, cut ze guy a break.” Ulrico recoils in surprise, but lowers his head and nods in agreement. “Alright then,” he concludes, “if you vouch for him Eddard. I will try my best to be more…civil.” For a moment, Eddard allows himself a blissful sigh. Then, the pleasant feeling of accomplishment fades as a series of loud bangs echo out through the market square. Ulrico immediately snaps to attention. Eddard spares him a quick glance and nods, before dashing towards the source of the noise.

Elizabeth pushes her way through the swelling crowd, weaving her way towards Kassadin. The next thing she knows, there’s the sound of pushing, shoving and shouting coming from behind her. Glancing back, she comes face to face with the three assailants in hoods. The group step through the crowd, now finding a straight path between towards her. They reach into their pockets. Each withdraws a small metal instrument: a long barrel with a trigger at the hilt and a curved handle so it rests in the palm. It’s like nothing Elizabeth has ever seen. As one, they lift them forwards, pointed to her. “The Albatross wishes to return Lord Grey’s regards,” the leader shouts. He pulls the trigger and a loud bang shatters through the market-square. At first, Elizabeth feels a numbness in her shoulder. Then, searing pain as it explodes into a stream of blood. She stumbles back, the hot white agony of her arm blazing through her senses. Then, she feels more heat. More blood, this time on her face. She reaches to it to wipe it away, staggering back and retreating. It’s only when she moves that she realises it isn’t her blood at all. It’s his. Kassadin lies crumbled over before her, clutching his bleeding stomach. A trail of bright red stains his already scarlet skin, blood dribbling down from his lips. Kassadin stands, pushing Elizabeth back as he goes. “Gotta…get out of here,” he splutters, coughing, “what…the hell…was that?” “Whatever it was,” Elizabeth growls back, invoking her rage, “they’re all dead.” Kassadin reaches forwards but he can do nothing to stop Elizabeth’s charge forwards. She brings down her axe, cleaving it into the side of one of the shooters. He howls in agony, his leather armour barely able to shield him from Lady Grey’s fierce might. The shooters swarm, firing a barrage of bullets into Lady Grey in an effort to bring her down. Her rage powers through the initial blows, but her body begins to buckle as she notices the strange purple puss leaking from her wounds. “P-poison,” Elizabeth growls. Another of the gun-men manoeuvres around the stalls, following a crawling Kassadin to his cover. “Say hi to Mr Big for me,” the man threatens, pulling the trigger. Kassadin jerks as the bullet enters through his chest, ripping through his chest and sending him sprawling to the floor. He breathes deep shallow breaths. His vision passes into a haze, the blur of his attackers retreating out of sight. Death creeps quickly around him, a choking cold filling his body where once his heat had staved it off. Slowly, Kassadin slips deeper into the hold of the reaper. “Spare ze dying!” Only to suddenly bolt full up, panting and groaning in agony. “Stay down,” Eddard commands, “you’re not in a good spot to fight right now Kassadin.” He flexes his hand, summoning a spiritual weapon in a bright holy glow. With a push of his hand, it floats out and smacks against the member of the group engaging with Elizabeth. “What….what are we going to do then?” Kassadin grunts. “You,” Eddard explains, “are going to get some rest. I and Ulrico will sort this.” And indeed, Ulrico does. The knight wanders forward brazenly. He flexes his hands, channelling the magic into his form. His armour begins to swell, his body growing in size until he towers above the square. “Surrender now,” he commands, “I do not want to hurt you. But I shall if I must.” The shooters ignore him and focus on their prime target. Elizabeth acts quick, slicing at one of their wrists and parting one of the marksman from his weapons. She knows it isn’t enough though and braces herself against another hail of bullets. Even her guardian spirit, Chaga, cannot keep her defended for long. In a matter of moments, she buckles and falls to her knees, her parasol clattering to the ground. The shooters share a nod and begin their retreat. Sadly, it’s all too late. Nikita is already working her magic. Vaulting around, Nikita slips around a merchant stall and gets the drop on one of the assassins. Following the brief scuffle, she wrestles the gun away for her own use. Quickly taking to the compact design of the weapon, Nikita proves a deadly marksman, rendering a precise head-shot to her target. The two remaining assassins slips into a blind panic and attempt to run. It is then Ulrico makes his move, launching a volley of energy blasts and teleporting through a shimmer of mist behind one of the assassins. He drives his great-sword down into the ground one of the assailants, the sheer force knocking the man out on impact. He shrinks to normal size, grabs the gunman and then casts another spell, flying himself and the assailant straight upwards to interrogate him. The scuffle seems to end as quickly as it began. Keppler advances, providing a basic patch up for Lady Grey, Kassadin and stabilising the other townsfolk who got caught in the crossfire. For once, he’s not smiling. These assassins, whoever they are, have brought danger to his home. They will soon regret that they did. The remaining marksman, the one who had lost his hand, reaches for his pocket and pulls out a purple pill, swallowing on it whole. As expected, he begins to choke, a poison taking hold. “Spare ze dying,” Eddard shouts. At his words, the poisoned froth rising to the man’s lips disperses, the assailant beginning to give a spluttered cough in agony. He keels over, spewing the contents of his stomach, Keppler nursing him. “There,” he says, “now, we’d like to ask you some questions.” Elizabeth, back on her feet and more than a little annoyed, grapples the man from behind and begins to march him off back towards the church. “It’s best we head back,” Keppler explains, “interrogate him away from prying eyes.” As Eddard’s kind words meet Kassadin’s ear, so too does the echoing splat of Ulrico’s prisoner smashing to the floor. Ulrico descends, spitting on the broken corpse of his enemy, before marching off after Elizabeth. To Kassadin’s surprise, he appears sullen, disappointed with his kill. It’s enough to give Kassadin pause for thought before he too prepares to leave, stopping only to confirm a price for his dragon’s blood. “960 gold for the both of them,” the genasi relents, “you earned it.” Kassadin still feels he’s being ripped off but he accepts the payment. “You got anything else?” the genasi inquires, planting the waterskins into a cold chest. Kassadin roots in his pockets and pulls out the first thing he sees. His head is still slightly out of it, his ears ringing and his vision swimming from the earlier attack. “Huh,” the genasi mumbles, “insignia of the Lightforge’s. Don’t know where you got that from, but I’ll take it for…” Kassadin’s hand tightens around the crest, pulling it back to his chest. He looks down at the small silver pendant in his hand. The crest of his family stares back up at him, glinting in the sunset. “Forget it,” Kassadin says, “it’s…it’s not for sale.” The vendor pesters but Kassadin is already walking away, pocketing the insignia as he falls in step behind Eddard.

A map of Hearthome, Keppler’s hometown and the current location of the Fellow Vagabonds. Map created in Inkarnate Pro.

As the rest of the group prepare to leave and tend to the wounded, Nikita begins her looting. Her haul is almost impressive: three pistols with a series of bullets and poisoned bullets among them, balls of poison clearly intended to stop them from being interrogated and, finally, a small set of coins to add to her ever-growing horde. Everything’s going so well. It feels almost too good to be true. “Ah, Kittita, I see you are busy digging in dirt, yes?” Nikita freezes. Of course. It was too good to be true. Standing beside her, towering over her at heights only Keppler could reach, is a large tabaxi male, his fur decorating him in the colours of a large snow leopard. “Alexei,” she growls. “Dah,” the tabaxi replies, “you remember. I trust you know of Warren as well.” The large cat-folk man gestures to a human with a clean shaven head by his side, who bows. “Miss Nikita,” Warren greets in an emotionless tone. Nikita disregards him and looks back to Alexei. “Leave, right now,” she orders, “you’re not welcome here.” “It is a free country Kittita,” Alexei teases, “I have simply come to see the sights.” “No, no sights here,” Nikita spits, “my sights, not yours.” Alexei chuckles in a way that makes Nikita shiver. “Afraid I’ll steal something of yours again?” Alexei asks, stepping closer to bridge the gap between them. Nikita follows his eyes, realising they’re staring at her lip. She swallows, leaning towards him, as if to nuzzle him. The instant Alexei lets his guard down and moves in closer still, she stomps on his foot. “It’s the only way you’ve ever been able to get anything in your life, Lex,” Nikita snaps, “by piggybacking on other people’s successes.” Alexei laughs, his broad chest swelling at his joy. Nikita looks away, disgusted with him and by herself for humouring him. “Well,” Alexei continues, “I will enjoy proving you wrong Kittita. There are some noteworthy ruins around Dorvine that I wish to investigate.” “No!” Nikita growls back, “you will not touch even a single artefact of my excavations, dah?” Alexei chuckles. “Why Kittita, I didn’t know they were *your* excavations. Finders keepers, after all.” “And losers weepers,” Nikita grumbles, turning on her heel and leaving Lex to stroke his ego further, muttering comments to Warren about how he and Nikita have a lot of intimate catching up to do. It makes her feel sick.  

After a brief stop with Nikita to the blacksmith forge, Kassadin soldiers on back to the Church of Kelemvor to find Eddard converting one of the crypts into a new interrogation room. Ouskarr, concerned for Lady Grey, joins the group in order to oversee things. “What happened?” “Assassin attempt,” Elizabeth spits back. “Clear Skies,” Kassadin adds. Ouskarr gives his friend an uncertain look. “You sure?” “Albatross, Mister Big, pieces all fit together,” Kassadins explains, “they tried to kill Grey, must have wanted to get back at her old man.” Ouskarr reaches for Elizabeth, but she steps out of reach. “I’m fine, alright,” she yells, “I just want some good old fashioned revenge.” Eddard seems to have the same idea in mind. Giving into some darker urges, the cleric produces an empty coffin from the undercroft, and begins threatening to lock up the would-be assassin inside. Terrified of the cramped space, the bandit lashes out, but is easily overwhelmed and encased by Eddard. Kassadin notices the fear on the assassin’s face and a pang of sympathy fills his heart. “Keppler, isn’t this a bit much?” “He shot you,” Elizabeth interrupts. “He tried to shoot Elizabeth,” Eddard adds. “Thank you for that, by the way,” Elizabeth puts in. Despite her regal attire, the rage is still quite clear across her face, all of it levelled towards the only living assassin left to stand in her way. “Still,” Kassadin argues, “this is…a bit much.” “We’ll interrogate him tomorrow,” Eddard assures the group, cutting a breathing hole for the man, “he’ll just have to spend ze night inside…” “Please, Gods, no, please. I’ll tell you everything.” “Exactly,” Eddard continues, “tomorrow. For now, coffin.” “Please, Gods, no, I’ll tell you anything, everything you want to know, right now.” Kassadin gestures to the coffin. “See, he’s willing.” “Und, I am tired,” Eddard counters, “und I can’t be bothered with watching him so…” Keppler pulls out a set of nails and hammers and begins beating them into the coffin, locking the contents inside. “Wait, wait wait,” the voice calls inside. Then, “Atticus! His name is Atticus!” Kassadin audibly gasps, reaching for Eddard’s arm to stop the hammering. “What?” “The albatross,” the man shouts back, “his name is Atticus.” Kassadin and Elizabeth spare a glance at one another, followed by one to Keppler. The cleric is still exhausted but at least seems more willing to listen, considering the assassin’s broken will. “Alright,” Eddard says, leaning in towards the coffin, “every good answer, we take a nail out.” “Every bad answer,” Kassadin finishes, “another nail.” Whimpering and sobbing call from the other side. Eddard hammers in another nail. “Okay! Okay!” “Who’s Atticus?” Elizabeth takes point, “and what does he want with me and my father?” “Atticus is the Albatross,” the assassin responds, “he…he’s a lord, Atticus Trizane. He owns a shipping industry, I think it’s called ‘Harmony’ or ‘Sympathy’ or something like that.” “Serenity,” Elizabeth corrects. “Yeah, that,” the assassin replies, “that’s it and…oh god, he’s going to kill me. You should all just kill me…” “There vill be no killing,” Eddard int erupts, “but we vill leave you here if you do not answer our questions.” The assassin sniffles, on the edge of a full breakdown. Eddard sighs, regaining his composure. “What is your name?” “J-Jareda,” the assassin replies. “Jareda,” Eddard continues, “you are not a very good assassin, are you?” “No sir.” “Vhy are you a part of this zen?” Eddard presses. “Because…well…I always wanted to be something…and…” “I’m really asking about vhere you’re from and how you joined Clear Skies,” Eddard explains. “Oh,” Jareda mutters, “erm…well…Blackbridge, up near the north. All the young orphans are recruited, trained as pickpockets. The old gnarled guy in charge up there calls himself ‘The Vulture’.” “What appropriate naming,” Kassadin grunts. “And my father,” Elizabeth butts in, “what does any of this have to do with him?” “Lord Grey was a big shaker in the Underworld on the continent,” Jareda explains, “Atticus was afraid he’d get involved over here and wanted to shut him down, or at least intimidate him into stepping down. Considering he hasn’t done, he’s entered into a partnership with Grey, keeping an eye on him. I think he’s going to find a way to break him down from the inside.” “Atticus is with my father?” Elizabeth groans, slamming her fist into the wall. News of her family today keeps slipping from bad to worse. “Then,” she continues, “I have to go there. Now. Where are they?” “Wreath,” Jareda explains. “Grey,” Kassadin begins, “we might not be able to…” Elizabeth disregards him completely. Her family is in danger and the surging anger within her is willing her into action. She spares moment enough to rip Jareda free of the coffin. “You can live,” she mutters, “but there’s no way in hell you get to leave town.” “You might as well kill me,” Jareda groans, “if he finds out what I’ve told you, I’m already dead.” “Ya, we’re not doing that,” Keppler finishes, “besides, I have an idea.” His gaze moves to the stump of Jareda’s arm, then to the coffin and finally, to Lady Grey. “Vhat if you did die trying to kill Lady Grey?” Eddard offers, “and vhat if we knew of a way to make you disappear?” Eddard grins, nodding knowingly. Lady Grey studies Eddard, then Jareda. All at once, everything clicks. “That’s…” “A plan, ya?” Eddard replies with a bright beam of a smile, “das good. So, tonight, Jareda, we’ll get Yuvari to watch you. Tomorrow, we’ll get to work on the plan…” Keppler stands, leaving the room, swiftly followed by Lady Grey. Kassadin remains behind, confused. “What did I just miss?” he mumbles.

As the party settle down for a final meal of the night, Ulrico sits perched on the edge of the church’s steps, looking out into the night around. The cold rips at him. He’s already buckling, confusion and questions swirling in his mind. Then, the source of his agony comes to join him. “You’re not like the others,” Kassadin observes, “they talk a lot and spew all that rubbish. You though, I sense some honour in you.” Ulrico ignores him, smoking his pipe, watching the wisps float into the sky. Kassadin realises he isn’t going to get a response so easily, but he sits down, none the less. Reaching into his pack, he pulls out the insignia of his rank as part of the Platinum Garrison. “You may hate me,” Kassadin starts, “no, you definitely hate me. On the outside, yeah I have horns and I’m red, but on the inside… He turns and finally, Ulrico meets his eye. “I will always be human on the inside” A moment passes between the two. Silent, unspoken, almost tender. Then, Ulrico looks to the insignia. The words kick in. His eyes widen as he looks at Kassadin again. Suddenly, everything makes sense. And it’s all the worse for it. “That’s it,” Ulrico snaps, “I’m done.” He stands, prepares his horse and mounts it, ready to ride. Eddard emerges from the church just in time to see Ulrico readying for setting off. He glances to Kassadin, still sitting on the steps and now scowling, before turning back to Ulrico. “Your horse,” Eddard notes, “why are you…” “I’m sorry, Eddard,” Ulrico cuts in, “I respect you greatly, but I cannot stand here and sit beside a man who has sold his very soul for…this. The fact that I respect you is the only reason he still breathes.” Eddard opens his mouth, but deflates in disappointment, simply nodding. “Safe travels,” he manages. “And to you Keppler,” Ulrico replies, before turning back to face the tiefling, “I will give you one warning Kassadin. I am letting you go today. If I ever see you again and you dare cross my path, I will face you in battle. Beware of my colleagues. They will not show my courtesy.” And with that, Ulrico turns and rides off into the dark. Eddard watches him go, his shoulders slumped. A cold sigh leaves his lips, a sign of a last farewell to an old friend. He glances back to reassure Kassadin, only to find someone else standing beside them. “Zat…seemed tense,” Louise observes. Keppler nods, cleaning his glasses. “Why, yes. I suppose it was.” Louise nods. She reaches out and tenderly grabs his hand, “Would you like to go on a walk?” Eddard glances back to Kassadin, who nods and gestures to the road. “I would love to.” Together, Eddard and Louise began their descent into the village, a casual wander through the fields in the dusk. Kassadin, meanwhile, remained where he sat, staring out into the night and after the retreating horse of Ulrico Sylvestra, a man who might in another life have been his friend, now standing as a new foe.

And thus concludes the eighteenth session of the Dorvine campaign. A lot happened this session, as one could guess, but despite the action packed set-piece of the shoot-out in the market place, I found the main focus of the entire session to be more on character interaction and NPCs, which is actually the perfect segway towards our first topic.

The key rival NPCs of this session: Ulrico Sylvestra, Knight of the Black Rose, and Alexei ‘Lex’ Mikhailovich. Artwork by Dion Russell, whose other works you can find here:

Use rivals in your D&D campaign. They’re great for inspiring and challenging your players. Louise. Alexei. Ulrico. These three NPCs are different variations of rival characters in a Dungeons and Dragons setting and show a full range of what you can accomplish by using them. Louise was a childhood friend for Keppler invented by Jacob, her rivalry with Eddard only extending to their joint goal of reclaiming the scales of Kelemvor, playfully racing each other to locate them. In her role, Louise stands as an ally but the competition to find the scales helps push Eddard and herself onwards, meaning they work together to help better each other. Alexei is on the more hostile side, primarily in his teasing of Nikita and his looking down on her. Much like Louise, Joey invented Alexei, but put the character forward as a primary rival and antagonist for Nikita to overcome: a symbol of sexist ways and raw brute strength. Despite their bickering, however, the two are at least able to stay in the same room together, less than full on enemies. Alexei, as a rival, is designed to invoke challenge: to aim for a goal that another player seeks in an effect to deny them. Situations for this are great for doing drama, and excellent for bringing a love of challenge out from your players. Players hate being denied by NPCs. Plus, great tip for new DMs with rivals: have someone pick the rogue’s pockets. If they succeed, that rogue will not rest until they have proven their superiority. Ulrico is the final case of a rival character I use in my game: that of a recurring direct antagonist whose motivations run contrary to the players. Not necessarily an enemy, but certainly not a friend, Ulrico stands as a symbol of another faction, though is much more morally ambiguous to allow for friction without open assault. His strange respect for Kassadin’s warrior spirit conflicting with his beliefs as a paladin help make for a powerful dynamic between him and the other characters. As a rival, Ulrico represents not only a powerful organisation in the world for the party, but a barrier that Kassadin and the group must overcome to reach a new level. From all of these examples, I hope you can see how useful rival NPCs can be for a character. They can give your players something to aspire to, someone to interact with and make them feel more invested in your game through their relationship with their rival, no matter how complicated it can get.

When approaching crafting systems in D&D, consider a fusion of game mechanics and your own DMing style. Crafting is one of those fiddly little things in D&D. We all want to give our players freedom to do whatever they want and they do have a habit of pilfering bits from defeating monsters or wanting to build their own items. Hell, my players looted the corpse of a Manticore for parts intending to use them in something before sadly forgetting about them. Implementing rules for crafting can be quite difficult, especially since the rules in the actual book are sketchy at best and there are so many homebrew systems available that its easy to have your perfect system drowned out in the noise. The downtime segment of the DMG specifies some vague rules for crafting, involving weeks and gold spent but the ultimate answer for crafting systems I encourage is just something that fits with your game and DMing style. Is your campaign a more light-hearted fun romp? Perhaps for only a decent amount of gold and a day’s work, your player might be able to forge a piece of armour all their own. Is your campaign more realistic? Do some research, as I did, and try to figure out a way of building an item to this scale. For my game, I used a bit of both. Realistically, Kassadin’s dragon armour would take over a year to fully construct as a solo job and the gold amount was fairly intense. However, marrying this realistic approach with the more fantasy elements, I reasoned the blacksmith could bring in assistants and since Kassadin brought the dragon scales himself, I could lower the price somewhat. The ultimate price was large enough for Dion to have to put some work in, but still possible at the level of pay. For some people, trying to make up rules on the fly can be hard, and for those people, I’d advise looking at the crafting rules detailed in Xanathar’s or to download some house-rules from the DM’s Guild, maybe even make your own set. No matter your approach, however, I find confidence is the most important thing about pricing. If you sound certain of the price of an object, your players will most likely believe you. If you are worried it’s too expensive, allow the PC’s to haggle. Afraid it’s too cheap? Raise the price. When running shopkeeps, the first thing to keep in mind is that these NPCs are business oriented before friends. They need this money for their livelihood and any adventurers who disrespect that can very quickly fall victim to a visit from the local guards.

Always try to focus your attention evenly through the players. The key difference between roleplaying games and other stories is that there is not one main character, nor is it the same as most ensemble casts where one character is still clearly the central figure. In Dungeons and Dragons, every player deserves to feel important and crucial and you should do your best to balance your stories around your players. Before the visit to Hearthome and whilst writing back these blogs, the main thing I noticed was the lack of opportunity I had given other players to get involved. Dion had a great roster of characters to interact with as Kassadin, Jacob was thrust into the limelight on multiple occasions as Vedrir and Joey, being his amazing self, found ways to springboard into the plot in dramatic and interesting ways. Sadly, I realised in hindsight I’d really left Beth and Lukas behind quite a bit. Lukas had his panther, Baggy (who I keep forgetting exists) and a burgeoning romance for his character and an evil ex in the wings, but had little other focus in the way of plot otherwise. Beth was even worse off in my mind, having a great introduction before then having her character pushed off on new adventures with little chance to engage and few opportunities provided. I really worried about this and felt bad for failing in this regard. The good thing about making mistakes though, is that you can learn from them. The dramatic revelation with Teoku and the Raven Queen a few sessions ago and now the return of Clear Skies into Elizabeth’s life catapulted Beth and Lukas forward into the plot in new and interesting ways and really gave them a chance to stay in the spotlight for once. Giving Elizabeth a new mission to save her father from a treacherous ally and allowing Lukas to explore aspects of a new patron has so far proven a good move, and I can only hope I can keep both of them engaged in the plot and mix around the focus on each character to give everyone an appropriate amount of time in the spotlight.

That’s going to be it from this segment of From the DM’s Chair. Next week, we’re going to be trying to mix things up a little bit. As good as I’ve tried to make the recaps, I’ve realised that writing around 10,000 words every week is probably not good when other focuses of my life have been pushed to the wayside, so the campaign portion of next week should hopefully be more concise and have a lot better signal to noise ratio for DM’s and readers to enjoy. In addition, Dion’s proposed a new drawing strategy: basically drawing more pictures with less colour, which I agree should hopefully help with the overall quality of the blog and both our schedules. With all that said, please join us next time as the Vagabonds begin to learn of the secrets of Hearthome and we’ll talk about why critical failures can actually be amazing for your campaign. Until then, thank you everyone for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s segment of From the DM’s Chair. Please leave a comment. Constructive criticism is welcome.

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