# Dramatis Personae
The Black Phoenix Gang
- Walter Black – Oathborn Soldier
- Vice Black – Slothborn Soldier
- Kheign Black – Fearborn Head of Security
- Archie Black – Oathborn President of Gang
- Flinch Black – Shadowborn Dealer
- (Not Present) Violet Black – Warborn Poisoner
- Nick The Pig (Mr. Nicholas) – Boss of St. Jabber’s Mound
- Relgok – The Pig’s Chief of Security
- Sweaty Freddie with the Rusty Machete – Barkeep at the Choked Goat
- Tophin – Self-styled King of the Orphans in St. Jabber’s Mound
- Chopper – A talking feral dog (now deceased)
- Brickhouse – Dealer for the Black Phoenix Gang
- Tinpot – Archer. Friend of Brickhouse. Guard for Brickhouse.
- Dr. Lump – Pimp
- Tommy Tightlips – Pimp
- Brock – Blockrunner for Nick the Pig
- Ella – Negotiator for the 15th Street Killers
- Ghost – A pit bull
A bit of an update on the date system. I finally found my calendar for Drexlor, so I’ve changed back to my weird 16 month annual system. Its not important, but just know that Grumbles is the first spring of the year, and the campaign started on the 6th Grumbles (a Fishday) and nine days have passed.
Long break since the last session – 4 weeks instead of 3, so I had a lot of time to ruminate on the current situation. The party was doing ok, mostly. They murdered a talking dog and displayed his head for all to see, and covertly (and blatantly in 2 more incidents) killed some rival Murderboys in the area. Their businesses, fledgling as they are, are at least working as intended, and Mr. Nicholas hasn’t summoned them to chew them out for at least a day.
I had a think about ol’ Chopper, our magical mutt. Who was he? Where was he from? I pulled out one of my many maps of Galron and had a look at the district of Crud itself, and the surrounds. Abutting this district is Dogshit, a smaller and even more poverty-stricken slums, only this one had a culture – they were dog lovers. In all senses of the word, ya dig? The people who lived there call themselves Running Fang, or the Wolfpack, sometimes, and they all owned dogs, an ancient breeding pool of the meanest and the touched-by-Jumble. They were feared, and rightly so, because all who wronged them were subject to the Wild Hunt – when massive packs of hundreds of dogs were set loose in the streets.
Their Jumble-touched were called The Moon, and they all spoke, being awakened to their canine identities. They formed the backbone of a covert network of Moon spies who lived among the Fang’s enemies and lived as dumb dogs. Some were found out, of course, and became tools of those who held power, much like our old friend Chop Chop.
So that’s my play. The blatant murder and grotesque display of one of the Moon would not, could not go unpunished, or unremarked. That’s how I would open. With the neighborhood dogs all howling in unison, mournful and would go on for many minutes. Then, the next morning, a whole slew of dogs would be sitting, quietly, outside the HQ door, in the street. They would just stare at the party, not interacting, and then a pitbull would give its only warning, by speaking – “Running Fang”, and then the whole lot would peel off leaving the street empty again.
I had one other piece I needed to extrapolate, and that was, what happens when Nick the Pig (as agent of Jimmy the Jake) makes a mistake. I like to have my villains make mistakes, mostly because its more interesting than the omnipotent ones we always seem to meet in D&D.
The Jake’s hubris wouldn’t allow him to turn away a tribute from a rival power, and I had been thinking about the moving engines all around the party’s tiny little world (as they see it), and the collective known as the 15th Street Killers, once a ruthless street gang (and still operates one), now a full fledged city power, wanted the Jake’s territory, according to a tiny engine I built to move the drama around.
So a diplomat would be sent with a gift, something known to be too valuable to say no to, to throw the Jake off the real play, which was to cut off one of the Jake’s many “cut outs” – false bosses that keep him insulated from real danger. The 15K knew about the Pig’s true purpose, a result of some arcane meddlings in the Dream Realms. They planned to use another gang – a bunch of technofreak rogue engineers who called themselves The Banghammer – to attack the diplomat and “try” to steal the gift, while also leaving a gift of their own, as an apology to the Pig for bringing violence to his territory. This new gift would be a bomb, a fucking big one.
So my question to myself was, “Would Nick fall for this?” and I didn’t know. I wouldn’t know until it played out in the game and I made the decision, as Nick. You feel me? I gotta do it that way or I feel like I’m cheating. If I decide beforehand what Nick would do or not do, then that’s a railroad – at least how I define it. Anyways. Enough set up. Let’s get to it!
Slowday – 15th Grumbles
Started with the last session’s recap
Oh, I should mention the party is Level 3, and everyone took the Thief archetype until we can homebrew some tweaks onto them to suit their character roles.
After a long and weary few days, the party is just glad to be home, the doors are locked, the shutters are closed and barred, and they leave Flinch awake to stand guard while the rest sleep. Flinch takes to the roof and tries to stay awake.
Oh. Violet is not with us again this session. She’s just a figment of their imaginations, yes?
All of a sudden all over the neighborhood, dogs begin to howl. Flinch says “Oh fuck” and listens for the many minutes it takes for this to end. He’s fully freaked and descends to the main floor and wakes everyone up. The rest are up and talking – and they immediately think of what Walter did to poor Chopper, I didn’t have to say anything, they immediately came to that conclusion, and were deciding what to do, when Archie opened the front door and saw the Assemblage of Doggos. About 100 of them, all breeds and sizes. A crowd had built up on both sides, unwilling to walk through them, and as Archie and the others walk out, some of the crowd starts to abuse them – “This is YOUR fault!” and “What have you done?!”
As they walk out among the dogs, the animals give way, moving fluidly away every time anyone tries to get near any of them. Archie tries to feed them, to no avail. Now everyone is starting to get tweaky, and as the tension builds as they talk about WHAT THE FUCK, I wait until they are about to bolt and then I peel the pack off, leaving only a single pit bull directly across from the open front door, just staring at them. Archie is about to speak and I cut him off with, “Running Fang” and then the dog runs off. Walter stands in the middle of the street and shouts, “What the HELL does THAT MEAN?!”
The crowd is furious now, some of them throwing stones and shouting “You are supposed to protect us!” and “You stupid, stupid assholes!” and none of the party have any idea what is happening but they are in full-flight mode now. They flee to Pig Manor, being shunned and harassed by the locals along the way. Once they arrive, they have a bit of banter with Relgok, the Pig’s Blockchief, and then are admitted to a sitting room on the ground floor.
One of Nick’s bodyguards, Mr. T. (the other being Mr. K.) is waiting for them and asks in a weary voice, “What is the crisis this time?”. This does not go over well. There is some shouting and such, and he fucks off and Mr. Nicholas comes in a few minutes later and they tell him the tale. He’s not too fuckin happy, and berates them for bringing him “bags of shit to hold” (thanks, Al). He explains who Running Fang are and what this all means, explaining the Wild Hunt and telling the party they have two choices, and they aren’t negotiable. He looks Archie right in the eye when he says this. The party laughed. I laughed too. Cause I was serious. Mr. Nicholas said, “You can either get the fuck out of my patch or you can do a job for me after I hide you.”
He gave them time to talk amongst themselves, and we took a break, being an hour in already.
They decided to do the job. Mr. Nicholas looked a bit pained, sighed and said, “Be ready in an hour. I will send a man.” They said, “Ok” and they split.
Back through the streets, the locals are giving them the cold shoulder, with only one or two of the bravest shouting insults. They ignored it and got home and disarmed the trapdoor trap – with Flinch nearly getting shot. They dig up their narcotics and gather what meager possessions they have, and wait for The Man. They talk awhile, about the situation and their businesses, not knowing how long this whole ordeal was going to take. Vice says he’s gonna go to the Choked Goat and talk to the gang’s dealer, Brickhouse, and he’s gonna participate in The Feast of Desires, a festival of Shakendul, his deity of Lust, Indulgence and Gluttony while he’s gone. The party tries to talk him out of it, but says it will be fine, and wanders out into the streets.
I normally don’t mind party splits. They tend to happen organically and make sense within the context of the situation. I’m comfortable running splits for up to an hour. After that I get tired and if I haven’t been able to steer the party member back to the group by then in subtle ways, I’ll just flat out ask them if they are going back. I didn’t have to in this instance, but it was a near thing lol.
Slow and Sloppy
Vice takes a leisurely stroll to the Goat, ignoring the snide looks from the locals, and when he arrives he sees Brickhouse getting hassled by some dreamshit addicts (‘shitheads), and they are getting violent. Vice jumps in and they turn on him and its short bloody work, but Vice leaves them steaming in the street, taking some coin from them to boot. Brickhouse complains that he’s been getting a lot like that today and its getting worse, and wants to know when he’s gonna be resupplied. Vice explains that its all part of the new business strategy, and not to worry, and on that note, “Where’s Tinpot, your backup?”. Tinpot is Brick’s on-again-off-again ‘shithead buddy who’s great with a bow, when he’s sober. They turn to look at where he’s usually positioned on the rooftops, and he’s not there. Brick makes some vague noises to his whereabouts, being genuinely unaware, and Vice goes to have a looksee.
I jump back to the rest of the gang, and they don’t have much more to say to one another, so I have The Man show up. His name is Brock and says to follow. He asks where Vice is and when they tell him, he loses his shit. Orders two of his men to go find him and bring him back, and threatens the party with torture if his boys can’t find their brother. Was a tense walk.
They walk South on Crooked Jack Lane and cross over the main road into unmapped (hostile) territory, to a basement safehouse, through a few doors and a few guards. They are locked in a windowless apartment with enough food, water, and fuel for 3 days. They groan. Not even a pack of cards between them.
I jump back to Vice. He’s up on the rooftop now and the only sign of Tinpot is his broken-in-half bow and a few scattered arrows. Where is he? (The DM does not know at this time)
He goes back and says to Brick to hang tight for a few days, there won’t be any resupply, and Brick is distraught, needing work, but is reassured that he’ll soon have all the work he can handle. The big man seems appeased and Vice leaves, searching for his people, the Slothborn. He stills his mind and lets some internal guide lead him on a meandering path until he hears the sound of revelry.
A large group of Slothborn is celebrating the Feast with a street orgy-slash-drug-extravaganza. Vice has not taken any substances and refuses to be fed any by the succession of men and women who come to welcome him. Instead, he tries to sell them dreamshit! I had explained before the campaign had begun that Slothborn don’t really “do” commerce, but all I can say is, he must have forgotten? He tries several times and my NPCs were “totally not into that kind of relationship” with Vice, and he said fuck it and as he was leaving, he was mugged, but the mugger was not a good one, and Vice leaves him bleeding out in the street. After the man died, there was an act of carnal lust which I will not detail here, by Vice and another Slothborn, but that’s the kind of game we agreed upon and nothing was taboo. Anyway. We faded to black after Vice said what was up (ba-dum-tish), and afterwards he went back towards the HQ.
He’s eventually met by Brock’s men and escorted to the safehouse, where he’s locked in with the others. They joke about boredom and cannibalism. They talk a bit. I tell them they sleep twice, and Archie freaks out because Titheday is almost here and he’s got to advance his vendetta against the Pig. 2 days have passed.
The guards open the doors and they ask what happened. They say the Wild Hunt tore through the district, some say it was 300 dogs or more. Almost 100 people were torn apart. Tophin and some orphans were among the seriously wounded. The party swears violently for a minute or so. The guards tell them to wait for Brock, who shows up shortly after to tell them the Job.
Nothing Up My Sleeve
Brock says the gang is to go to the Malbog Temple and find a woman wearing a purple dress, and then escort her, and a case she is carrying, to Pig Manor, unharmed.
They said they needed to stop at their HQ first, and off they went. When they got there, they saw the place had been trashed and vandalized, with the same graffito painted over and over inside and out – “MBKAB”. They didn’t know what to make of it, but they said it was probably time for a new home.
This is my escalation with the Murderboys. They found no one home, and left a tag – “MurderBoys Kill All Bastards”. Be fun to see where this goes.
After a few questions, which Brock did not answer, they were off. They decided to catch a jitney the long way ’round as to avoid scrutiny and they met a grumpy driver with Remade mounts pulling an enclosed carriage. (The “Remade” are a worldbuilding idea from the Bas-Lag novels of China Mieville and are vivisectioned creatures (and people sometimes)). The mounts were horses with ostrich legs and they negotiated passage while bantering with the driver, whom they seemed to like. I gave him a cool voice and for once I feel like I nailed the roleplay.
They set off and once near the Temple, they asked the driver to wait, and he said he would for 1 hour, no more. They made their way inside and found the woman, no problem. She was wearing ostentatious jewelry and a finely crafted purple dress. Her hair was long and braided and her two front teeth were gold. She was carrying a large case (I said it was the size of a bass guitar case, as I like to use real-world analogues instead of giving precise dimensions). She asked if they were from Mr. Nicholas, they assented, and she said her name was Ella, and off they went.
Two events occurred as they were leaving, and the party was aware of both. First, Kheign noticed that the pit bull was in the temple, peeking at them from behind a pillar, watching. Second, Flinch noticed a temple priest start to follow them.
They got really freaked out and started to run. The dog and the priest both followed, at a distance. Once back at the carriage, they skedaddled and I said the dog and the cleric were no longer in sight. Yes, these will both come back into play later. Archie rode on top of the carriage, against the protests of the driver, whom he ignored.
The driver took them as close as he dared toward Pig Manor, his carriage not suited for secondary streets (too narrow and too many things underfoot of his mounts), and as they were stopping they were suddenly blocked by three people in the street, and then they were attacked from the rooftops as small incendiaries streaked towards the carriage and there was a big explosion. (I’m pretty sure I yelled, “RPG!”)
The carriage was knocked over, and Archie was tumbled to the street. The driver was killed. Archie saw three in the street and two more on flanking rooftops.
This was the Banghammer. Part of the plot I described in the intro. These guys were rogue scientists and craved technology, which is mostly illegal in the city. The three in the street each had different armaments.
- One had a vibro-sword, made of stone, the party thinks, and was wearing a chest plate with a small glass half-dome in the center of it.
- One had a vibro-hammer, same material, and wearing strange metallic boots.
- One had a metallic mesh net and a weird helmet.
- The two on the rooftops had metallic bows with tubes welded to them.
The battle was on. Vice took one building and began to scale it, while the rest deal with the street attackers. Flinch grabbed Ella and took off towards the Manor. The chase was on as the Hammer fighter gave chase, turning on his magic boots (“Mama always told me I had magic shoes”) which gave him increased speed.
The fight took awhile, so I’ll paraphrase what happened.
- Vice dumps the sniper off the rooftop and spends 8 rounds failing his Use Magic Device skill (something I gave them last session? or two sessions ago), and unable to activate the item. He does take it, however.
- Archie spends the entire time missing trying to stab the sniper who fell, but eventually kills him.
- Kheign and Walter clean house, killing Sword and Net, but taking some damage in the process.
- Hammer and Flinch are in a running battle, each trading heavy blows to one another, and I thought maybe Flinch was going down, it was that close. The case had been taken and re-taken twice during this fight. The last time it was taken, Hammer pulls a box/chest from his back and lays it in the street saying its “A gift for the Pig, for violating the Treaty”, and is left there during the rest of the fight.
- The corpses of Sword and Net explode 2 rounds after they die. My way of showing their commitment to the cause. The net and helmet are destroyed, but the sword and chestplate were looted before the body exploded.
- The second sniper disappears and is not found by the party.
- Flinch finally overcomes and takes down Hammer. The boots and hammer are both looted.
The party, illegal loot in hand, books it with Ella and her case to Pig Manor, and everyone is bloody and exhausted. Flinch took the Banghammer “tribute” and gave it to Relgok outside the Manor. He tells them to wait and yells at one of his men to “fetch the twins”.
The party is told to go inside, and as they do, they pass The Twins, two huge dudes with their heads on backwards and headpieces with two angled mirrors on struts sticking out from it, allowing them to see as they walk, to their perception, backwards. They have specialized tools in their hands, and the party is duly freaked. Walter wanted to stay and watch what they were doing as they neared the Tribute, but were told to hurry inside.
Mr. Nicholas meets the party in his office and Ella, upon seeing him, bows to the man and says “The 15th Street Killers wish you good fortune and long life, Sire”.
Sire. Should have seen the looks on the party’s faces.
She says “As promised, we bring our gift to you” and she puts the case on the Pig’s desk. As he opened it, all smiles and sweet words, the party leaned forward in their chairs and someone said and laughed that they expected to just see glints of gold light bouncing off the Pig’s face, a la “Pulp Fiction”.
But no. This was no plot device. This was real. The Pig pulled an object out of the case and closed it. It was a large hilt of a sword, carved in bas-relief of leaves and vines with strange fey creatures leering from between the foliage. I said there was an outline, a hint, a mere inkling of a blade, where the blade should be.
Mr. Nicholas grinned. “A Ghostblade! I can’t believe it!”
The party all peppered me with questions, but I told them jack squat. The party told the Pig about the Tribute, which he said he already knew about. He told them to get lost and poured he and Ella a drink.
The party left and asked Relgok what happened to the Tribute, since the Twins and the box were nowhere to be seen. He said they took it inside and to fuck off.
Yes. In his hubris, I decided the Pig would take the Tribute into his inner sanctum. Delicious.
Its late and the party is heading back to the HQ, when someone notices the pit bull. Its up on a roof this time, watching them. Walter flips his shit. “What do you want!?!” and the pit bull says, “Justice”.
The party is silent for a minute and then Walter blows all our minds.
He steps forward, his hands empty, arms in the air, and says, “Ok. I’ll go with you. I’m ready.”
The party explodes, and everyone is like “nononono, what are you doing?” Walter explains that he has to pay for what he did. It was quite a touching scene. He and the pit bull go back and forth for a bit and the dog says that Walter must be judged by the Pack and his sacrifice will pay the blood debt for the murder of Chopper.
Well. This doesn’t go down well with anyone but Walter, and I’m thinking, fuck me, how am I gonna get out of this? They party can’t die, as part of the campaign conceit, and I was at a loss as to how I could have the Man in the White Coat redirect this bit of narrative, and part of me didn’t want to, because it was so heavy and good.
The party gave me an out and I had a brainstorm. They were talking about fighting, about trying to kill all the dogs (which was laughable), and I said, as the pit bull, “There is another way that justice can be served.”
They jumped at that.
“You must run the Gauntlet and survive.” I explained that to do this, they would be dropped somewhere in Galron itself and have to get home. If they did that, the stain would be expunged and the Running Fang would become an ally of the Black Phoenix. They thought that was pretty cool, and someone actually said they didn’t think it could be that hard!
They agreed to the Gauntlet. I tried really hard not to rub my hands and cackle like an old-school villain but my eyes were definitely gleaming.
I also needed to decide where exactly they were going to have to get back from. Another thing I heard them mention is not coming back at all. Which isn’t a terrible idea, since they didn’t have anything to really go home to, seeing as they had no home, no allies, and lots of enemies.
As we were wrapping up, I said that there was a massive explosion that rocked them on their feet. It was coming from the direction of Pig Manor.
We wrapped there and I grinned and shut my goddamn mouth as they started chattering amongst themselves.