Death in the Streets: Symptom of Corruption or Disease itself?
by Perry Tsarpsil
Sharn is a hard place, and harder still if you're nothing more than a 4-foot spit of a human kid with no name, no house, and no schooling. Salis Tremfinnigan was just that sort of spit, so when a wealthy merchant tells him to get to the market for the kind of gold that'll win a poor homeless punk a warm bath, a meal, and a night or two with a roof over his head he jumped at the chance, and, evidence indicated, off a ledge.
Salis wound up dead on the street four hours after picking up a mysterious ledger that now has no bearing on who may have hired him. The only way this reporter can even bring you this sort of intringue is simple gumption and a long history with the urchins that call our more dilapidated streets home. These sources - and they can be thought to be as reliable as any story your hair, scale, or horn dresser weaves during your visit to the cosmetician - provided this newspaper with information that indicates Salis had been caught thieving from a market, but, instead of thumping him all the way to Watch the way the best merchants will or taking a digit in payment the way the worst are likely to, Salis was offered a chance at a simple job to recoup his err and make a nice penny on the side: Go to another store, make a purchase, and come back with the goods intact. Simple money. Easy-street money. A chance to get back on the right foot. The stuff dreams that die in Sharn are made of.
Four hours later, every bone in Salis' body was broken, and the blood stretched for a good four yards in every impossible direction in the uptown square where he landed. Good luck finding it out from the authorities, but sources in the Watch tell me a dragonmark that no House would admit to having ever seen was burned across his back.
As of this publishing, Watch investigators are stumped and considering it a case of Aberrant Forces or an Act of Gods.
To this reporter? It's another example of a fella in Sharn who dreamed of big city lights, gleaming towers of hope and promise, and found out the hard way that it's a Long Way Down from the Noble Houses.
[Continued on Page E4:Intrigue]
The detective folded the pamphlet and tossed it onto the desk, narrowing one eye thoughtfully and glancing out the window at the scenic view of Sharn's gleaming upper city towers. If Tsarpsil bothered to talk about it, there was more to this death than simple random arcana discharge: but that wasn't the Detective's business. Lost property and persons, found. Patrons and politicians, escorted. Murders were the Watch's job, and to the nine hells with 'em.
The office burned with the collected heat of the day, and the Detective wasn't getting any cooler. Donning hat and coat, the inquisitive stumbled down the three flights of stairs and into the warm glow of Sharn at dusk, heat rising off the cobblestone streets of the lower city, giving the air a shimmer that could give even a sober man the idea that the world just always wobbled, and, if the world was set to wobbling, it was as good a time as any to be drunk. The Detective couldn't help but agree. Holding up two fingers and whistling, the Detective waved down an elementaxi, flicking a silver piece through the front window before even setting his hand to the door handle and muttering a simple command. "Booze."
The detective didn't manage much more than that before a blood-curdling scream broke the comparative stillness of night settling in on Sharn. Impressive as that would be in a regular town, in a place that thrummed with the efforts of energy-eaters and arcana-twisters till all hours in the morning, it was worth the detective and the dwarven cabby tilting their heads ever so cautiously skyward, catching the vague outline of an airship on its way toward the posh Skyway districts.
And the source of the scream. The detective, gripping hat and armaments fiercely, dodged out of the way as the cabby scrambled away from his vehicle like a lobster caught in the pot. A sudden crash rang out and a flash of fire as the elemental spirit trapped in the taxi exploded, and then silence.
The detective eyed the scene carefully, the clockwork brain of an investigator working its way to the surface like a 12th-round fighter with no clue he's lost. A dead man - not a kid, not by a long shot. Bones at awkward, unnatural angles. Blood sprayed in a non-uniform but not wholly random pattern that could not have been possible from simple impact: crushed into the ground by an unseen force, elemental magic and gore sprayed about the street and wavering in the stuffy, punctuated air of a Sharn night like sparks from a forge smith's hammer ringing off hot iron.
Aberrant Forces? An Act of Gods?
Either way, it must have been quite a long way down, indeed.
"What in all the...Come on!" The cabby shouts, throwing his arms out and glaring skyward. He looks imploringly at the detective as the investigator approaches the wreck of the taxi. "I'm in 4,000 gold and gaining interest every day to Kundarak for that thing! And it was their collateral! Son of a bitch!" He runs over and boots the studded wheel of the cart, swearing deeply and raging alternatively at his bad luck and his latest customer's apparently worse luck. Checking the man's remaining pockets, the detective finds identifying papers: Baldrin Remstrin. No House affiliation, but a known name nonetheless. Outspoken. Political. Democratic, and, by any account of the Noble Houses, dangerous. But also wealthy. Stashed with the papers was something else:
A ledger of some sort. Simple piece of paper, likely a receipt, baring no marking of the merchant it originated with, but an incomplete list of a recent shopping trip. 3 Folding Knives. 5 Ink Bottles, Blue, Adamantine Edition. 2 Boxes Rat Poison: 5 pounds each arsenic, distilled. Residuu- (which the detective assumes to be Residuum), but no quantity or description. The bizarre shopping list continues, but the next entry only gets so far as "Tri-" before fate, Aberrant Forces, an Act of Gods, or some other horseshit tore the receipt, likely destroying evidence...or planting it.
"Call the Watch," the detective mutters, pocketing the list and wandering off into the night.
"Hey! Hey!" The dwarf calls. "You can't leave the scene! They're gonna ask me questions. I need to tell them your name, your business. I need a card or papers or something - mah insurance with Kundarak requires me to -- Oy! You even listenin'?!"
The detective, of course, was not listening. There were bigger questions to answer and, in spite of all experience shouting to avoid even asking those sort of questions - because they've never won you a damn sight anything more than trouble - the detective was determined to find the answers.
We'll be playing a noir game in a setting that's as close to Eberron as I feel like sticking. We'll use talking points from Eberron (dragonmarks, Noble Houses, cities, cold-war-era paranoia, that sort of thing), but I'm not afraid about branching out and looking into other things. I have a couple of particulars to address before we get started.
Eberron is not a happy or simple place. I know why it's not in the campaign guide or any of the handbooks, but it seems timely enough given the current (07/31/2010) story arch going down with our generous hosts' comic (Automata), so I'll just say it plain and simple: Nobody in my concept of Eberron trusts warforged. They are repressed, oppressed, and generally frowned upon. They're dangerous, magically-animated clockwork men that were originally built for war and destruction. No one knows precisely how they have "free will" or anything like that, so most people in Sharn distrust them and are openly xenophobic about construct-based lifeforms. To most folks, a warforged isn't anything more impressively alive or significant than their elemental land cart (which I'm just going to call "arcanamobiles") or lightning rail. So, warfroged racism exists.
Next up: Primal and Psionic magics. Eberron is a world literally powered by arcane magic and deeply connected to Divine magic. More on the latter in a second, but I like to think of the different nations in Eberron as vying for greater control over magic, and Primal and Psionics are just the sort of thing they're after. In the concept for our game, primal and psionic magic users are thought to be scary and unknowable, mystics and heretics from the distant lands with strange power that seems to defy the carefully crafted sciences of the nations from Khorvaire. Shadow users are even worse, because no one can begin to guess where in every hell they got their power from.
Divine magic: D&D traditionally presents a template where gods, demons, and devils directly and corporeally affect the world as we know it. This is fine. I don't like it, personally. I like the idea that whatever power source a Divine class draws on seems to be without solid direction. It's undeniable that it's there, but it's confusing because two worshipers of Avandra can slap each other around while calling the other a heretic. How does that jive? If Avandra's really out there, wouldn't she just favor her true champion and call it quits on the other one?
So, rather than straight "Gods exist, are real, and you can use their powers," gods in our modified Eberron are more unknowable. People choose to see signs of their power everywhere, and often differ and dither on what god is connected to what. It's more like if I could shoot someone with a ray of pure white light and burn their face off in the real world. Some people would say that I have a gift from god. Others would say I'm a demon or that I'm possessed. No one would be able to know for sure, least of all me.
I'm not saying that there aren't gods in my D&D world, but I'm also not saying there are. Divine power exists and is accessible to those who study it, but I'm sure there's debate over whether it's just not arcane magic in a different guise or whether there's any intelligence behind those powers. I'm saying that belief is important. Too many characters and creatures in D&D simply know their gods have their backs, and so don't have cause to truly believe in them, which makes them less scary. If a being is committed to a belief whole-heartedly, they can do terrible or great things in the name of something they believe in.
Was accepting submissions for 1 Level 5 Detective + 5 Level 5 characters, max two submissions per player. Special rules were as follows:
- 22-point buy-in. Any class is acceptable. Any race is fine with three exceptions: Revenant, Wilden, and Shardmind. If you want to do one of those three, expect to have to sell me on the concept. You can do this openly, so as to enable discussion with everyone, or via private message. The reason for the first two is pretty apparent - they're extra weird. What would a Wilden be doing in a city? And Revenant aren't extant in my little world here. Shardminds may be an easier sell, but you'd have to fudge the history pretty aggressively away from what's proposed in PHB3.
- Be considerate of the Divine, Primal, and Psionic stuff I've talked about. If you can sell me on how your character is connected to the world in relation to that, I'll be super into it. Monks, Barbarians, and Avengers are easy Psionic, Primal, and Divine sells respectively because they're not as magic focused.
- One 7th-level item, one 6th-level item, 1,000gp shopping spree. That's pretty generous, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth too badly.
- Most people give you Versatile Expertise for free; I say pick any bonus feat you want. Make sure it's otherwise legal for your character though (i.e. Avengers can't go taking Ranger feats, though why you would, I can't imagine, and don't use Versatile Expertise to give yourself a houseruled class feature.)
- As an addendum and exception to the rules above, I love Hybrid characters. If you can sell me on an awesome concept for a hybrid-class character, I'll probably let you get away with awesome stuff, but I need to know that you're accepting a downside somewhere else.
- There is a lead role, The Detective. You should specify if you're applying to be our detective in your post. Also, I'd recommend the Mark of Finding or the Mark of Detection for the Detective to be your free feat. Just a recommendation, though, not a requirement. The detective's gender was purposefully left unknown.
- When making your characters, think outside of simple class and race choices and tell me about their professions and how they relate to the detective. Are they cops? Aspiring Journalists? Femme Fatales? Thieves? There are a lot of Noir Tropes that work really well in these settings. If submitted characters are well tied-in, it makes for a more interesting group that can move the story.
- Feel free to submit a Token. I'm going to be using MapTools to set up our maps and track things like initiative, ongoing damage, states, and all that stuff. Makes my life easier.
- Dwight Hartigan - The Detective (Rogue, Striker)
- Mos Nassam - The Foreigner (Psion, Controller)
- Sterling - The Lady Killer (Swordmage, Defender) [also, humorous wordplay]
- Madam Rievakari - The Mystic (Sorcerer, Striker)
- Clank - The Machine (Fighter, Defender)
- Vered "Mr. Kaboom" Tavar - The Merchant of Death (Artificer, Leader)
Crimson, Wassermole, interrobang, Dark080matter, hotran, and The Ender, respectively.
Crimson, Wassermole, interrobang, Dark080matter, hotran, and The Ender, congratulations.
For the rest:
If your character is still in the "Past Submission" box, I'm sorry. I have my reasons for my choices, and I hope nobody feels too slighted to the point where they just want to take their ball and go home. If I were a touch more ambitious and insane, I would suggest that I can run two of these at once and collect those left out into another group with another storyline running parallel and occasionally overlapping.
Which is my way of proposing this crazy-ass idea:
If there's continued interest in the concept with the Away Team, I would like someone to step up to run and do the posting on a parallel but separate storyline occurring in the same world. I would write the encounters, handle the gear wishlists (I operate on wishlists, btw. I hate loot parcels), and collaboratively write the interstitial stuff with Alter DM, but Alter DM would do the posting, make the maps, and actually run the monsters for the Away Team, freeing me up to concentrate on the stuff I like about running a game, x2. Alter DM would probably have to have access to D&D Insider to make the most of their alternate role. If this interest exists, whether as Away Team players or as Alter DM, please send me a PM indicating that.
I think it helps to clear this up right now. I've been watching God Is Dead
, and I like how those cats are rolling, so I'm going to ape their style (imitation is the highest form of flattery, hippofant). Throw your sheets up on Orokos. If you don't have access to the Character Builder, you can throw your decisions my way via PM and I'll generate the character for you. Yeah, I'm that nice (for now. Mua, ha, ha). Do your in-character writing and narration in standard white, but feel free to get spiffy with the formatting dialog (so that it's easier to differentiate).
Hide your actions in a Spoiler block.
Post status of everyone in combat in a Spoiler block
Give us an indication of who's up next
like that. You can make it red or orange if it's bad guys, I don't care, but it should be the last thing in your post.
OOC stuff relevant to the game once we kick off should be Dim Gray. I don't know about an OOC thread yet, but we'll see how we do.
I should hope that everyone can try to post daily. If you can't manage it, please let us know in advance and, if it's going to be a lengthy absence, delegate someone to stand in for you so the group doesn't need to sit here picking our noses.
A note about my style:
I have never run a Play-By-Post game before, so this is new territory. I'm somewhat experienced in DMing both digitally through MapTools and E-mails, but my forte has always been table-based play, so bear with me if I try stuff that doesn't work all that well in PbP.
I'm new-school to the bones in many ways, but I am, as they say, an adversarial GM. My monsters' goals are normally fairly transparent in combat: don't let the heroes kill you (except in some cases). To that effect, I don't pull punches, and I have a tendency to make hard encounters. This is balanced slightly by the fact that you guys get to be a tiny bit OP for free if you can sell me on it for story conditions. I've never aimed for a TPK, but it has happened in my lifetime (I'll try to avoid that here).
I'm also not a purely combat-focused DM. I like RP and skill challenges, and I often use them to set adventures up so that they have "win" conditions and "lose" conditions other than "We win! We killed all the bad guys" or "The bad guys killed us all. Poop. We lost." I like to use time limits to keep you from just sleeping your wounds away all the time, because urgency adds tension in my view. I have no qualms about stunned or dominated conditions, though they don't show up very often in my fights.
Feel free to run away from a fight - I won't think less of you. Sometimes it's important enough that you get a piece of information than Kill All Monsters (TM). Feel free to pull your punches and intimidate characters into surrender - you might learn a lot more from the living than from the dead. Also, bodies attract attention. You're investigators in a hardboiled crime fantasy noir, so there will be violence and darkness. It comes with the territory. I hope there will also be humor and elation to balance it out.
Once we have the characters selected (deadline will be Wednesday, August 4, 2010 [4 August, 2010 if it's your preference]), I'll introduce a tiny bit of interstitial story to get us to where we're heading. The assumption is that, the inquisitive nature of the detective overpowering common sense, the investigation begins with the detective gathering his usual suspects when it comes to a case of building a small team. Unfortunately, there's no paid gig yet, so there may be some light deception (depending on the type of detective we have) as to the nature of the job...but maybe a paying gig will rear its head. Maybe we'll have two cases at once that are seemingly unconnected, or three. Who knows?
I do. But you'll find out soon.
P.S. This was inspired by and owes its genesis to Scribe's remarkably neat idea The Unfortunate Wizard of Sharn
, but it never got off the ground. I'm stepping in to fulfill an opportunity for fantasy noir roleplaying using D&D 4E's game system. I'm not trying to rip Scribe off. I want to transparently acknowledge, however, that his game (which apparently and sadly became defunct before even launching) directly inspired my own proposition.
P.P.S. If you feel the need to address me via forum name, "boyce" does the trick 'cause it catches my eye. It's easiest for me to notice when reading. Sometimes I miss "sirboyce" or "srboy" or stuff like that. Just sayin'.
P.P.P.S. Submissions officially close 3am ET 08/05, 12:00am PT 08/05. If you get it in before then, you'll be considered for the final cast. If you missed out on submissions and are sour about it, your submitted character wasn't chosen, or you just like what we're doing here, stick around and read the thread. Actually some decent character-building discussion and cool ideas given the setting, plus maybe all hope is not lost.