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Duke Stefan Karameikos´ Birthday

by Stefan Beate

I took the time to gather my ideas about the Dukes birthday, which is on 28th of Sviftmont (late October).

Way before the date, the nobles of the realm would declare if they attend or send a proxy, in most cases a family member. As traveling is getting worse after the celebration, some choose not to attend personally, especially the older ones. Not attending neither sending a proxy would be seen as an insult to the Duke. So far, only Ludwig van Hendricks was so bold to deny his cousin any attendance – much to the relief of many people, the Duchess first among them.

The nobles usually travel with a sizable retinue towards Specularum, including servants, guards and minor noble members of their household, if there are any. Along the way, the inns are forewarned about the nobles and their planned time of arrival. So, the roads of the realm are quite busy in Sviftmont, with messengers, soldiers scouting for dangers, and farmers making deliveries towards the wayside inns. The traveling nobles are relatively slow, as their retinues are numerous and contain anything the noble in question considers necessary.

Most nobles try to arrive two days before the birthday at latest, with those living close to Specularum arriving just one day prior. Some of them have some housing inside the city, most likely on the Hill or Bricktop areas. If time permits, they will pay a short visit to the duke the day before the birthday or earlier, to announce that they are there and will attend. This also serves to allow the servants to make any last-minute changes if necessary.

The whole city is in a festive mood the whole week before the birthday, with colorful ornaments, harvest celebration decorations and generally a busy, hectic but happy mood. A tournament area is erected just outside the inner farmers gate to the southwest, between the Old and the Dukes Wall.

In the wee hours of the birthday itself, the castle, the Bricktop and the Hill are busy like a beehive. All relevant persons – ambassadors, nobles and other important personages – gather in the castle courtyard with a few servants and retainers. As a result, the castle is overrun with people and horses, trying to sort out the order of courtesy according to rank, with the help of several heralds.

When the sun finally rises, the Duke and his family leave their palace, mount their horses and lead the parade leaving the castle grounds (of course, well-guarded, with the commander of the Elven Guard leading), with stablehands leading the horses. This is necessary, because a crowd has gathered along the way. The way leads through the Grand Market towards the harbour, where every ship flies a ducal banner, and soldiers try their utmost to hold back the masses.

The Duke leads the way towards the Church of Karameikos in the walled-off section south of the harbor, where he is welcomed by Patriarch Jowett and led into the church. Members of the Order of the Griffon are present as honor guard. A service is then held, rather short, as the schedule is quite tight. After the service, some of the clergy and the Order join the parade, which now makes its way through the Old Quarter to stop at the Church of Traladara in the heart of the Old Quarter, to recieve a blessing from Patriarch Nikelnevich at the doors of that church (and to symbolize that the Duke accepts this faith).

The parade returns to the stronghold briefly, to enable some changes, and then turns toward the tournament area, where at around noon the tournament is then started by the Duke. It includes a joust, archery contests, and a melee. All this is rather short, as the daylight is scarce, and around dusk, the tournament is over already.

After the tournament, the Duke and all important personages retire to the ducal palace for a feast, which starts at around 6 and lasts at least until 9 p.m. Afterwards, a ball is held in the Dukes honor, and usually goes on well into the morning.

The next morning sees the city in some disarray, with people everywhere trying to return to a norma state. Much the same goes for all the people attending the ducal ball.

This is the normal course of events. Of course, this rarely goes exactly as planned.

The nobles on their way to Specularum might meet all kinds of troubles, from a lame horse to a wagon breaking a wheel, bad weather delaying the journey – to say nothing of any hostile creatures. Most humanoids won´t attack such a large group, but you never know. The wayside inns might have some troubles as well.

Who is attending anyway? The biggest question is always if Ludwig van Hendricks will attend – and he knows this, and plays on it. He never announces if he comes, he sends a proxy or will not show up at all. If he does, he will make sure everyone notices.

Once they reach Specularum, the busy city with its strange laws regarding weapons (for the common folk) poses its own challenges. The noble town houses have limited space, so any folks with them might be forced to look for lodging elsewhere. Not an easy or cheap task at that time. The city itself is tempting, but chaotic.

The courtesy visits to the Duke are a time for first impressions – easily bungled with all the exitement.

The birthday itself has a ton of opportunities to make it exciting. Arriving at the castle in time could be the first problem. The narrow and crowded streets are a nightmate for anybody concerned with security. Maybe a bold, radical youth throws rotten eggs at the Duke – what happens then? Maybe the Cult of Halav offers their adulations to the duke, prostrating themselves right in front of his guards. Pushing them aside by force surely gives bad press....

The Black Eagle might choose to appear right at the moment when the Duke passes the harbor, so everyone is forced to wait for him to get into his position – which he takes an inordinate amount of time to do. Or he might send Bargle as his proxy, who tries to intimidate and mock everyone.

The way through the Old Quarter is probably the most tricky, as many of the Traladarans there are not exactly best friends with the Duke, and the streets are narrow. The Cult of Halav might choose this area for their appearance, as retaliating with force here would cause severe political damage. The Black Eagle will, if present, make a show of his disdain for all things Traladaran, and would not hesitate to kill a protester on the spot, if it comes to that.

The tournament has all kinds of occasions for accidents and plots, and here as well as in the city, pickpockets will have a field day.

The feast and the ball are occasions for social games, and could make life hell for characters not comfortable in those circumstances. The Black Eagle will use his position to make the evening uncomfortable to any females, stopping short of the Ducal family. But even then, he will have a dance with Duchess Olivia and Lady Adriana, and won´t take no as an answer. If Bargle is attending, he will likewise do his utmost to ruin the mood.

So, I will use this in my campaign, obviously. In my game, the group has just reached 4th level (5e game, with me giving a level-up when appropriate). They traveled with Baron Kelvin, Kaerin Penhaligon, Alerena Kelvin, Aleena Halaran and the Antonics, who joined the trek on the way, and arrived about a week before the Duke´s birthday - plenty of time to have some adventure (they played through my take on the "Discovery of Lavv" beforehand).

I was thinking about using the "Missing Rose" adventure seed from the GAZ as well, with perhaps both Lucia and Marianna Vorloi being kidnapped in that week. Maybe the kidnappers want to keep the Vorlois from attending the dukes birthday, which would be quite an affront, especially if Baron Vorloi has announced his attendance before that, and reduce his standing with the duke. Vorloi knows that he has no chance of solving this via the official ways, especially not so shortly before the birthday, and he does not want to bother the guard in the first place, as this would undermine his standing to be able to solve problems. (I think the last bit comes from B6). So, the PCs are ideal for him - new to the city, already proven competent. His distant cousin Halia Antonic is the lead to the group, as they traveled together a few days already. I am thinking about using some ideas from B6 as well - and of course using the details from Threshold 21. In fact, I think I will use the tunnels from B6, which are thankfully already placed in the Bricktop (thanks to AllanP and Agathokles for their great work there!) The House of Fortunato and Lucia Vorloi would be B15 on that map, and maybe I´ll even use the Widow Thanatos as a lead if the players don´t have any ideas.

So, Baron Vorloi and Marianna arrive at their house (B29) a few days before the birthday, given that their domain is nearby (probably traveling by ship). The next night, Marianna visits her cousin Lucia right in the next house, but does not return. As Fortunato is away, activity in his house is minimal anyway. The first mystery is to find out what has happened - the house is locked, the servants do not answer knocking. Maybe they need to break into the house - hopefully, nobody sees them... The servants living within the house have been knocked out and locked away, they are in a sorry state if not freed soon. The two young women are nowhere to be found. They mystery is the secret access from the cellar of the house, leading into the tunnels. The thugs have dragged them up to Turanos guest house, and then into the old quarter and the nest.

Has anybody develop that adventure idea further? I did not find anything in that regard. Any ideas for this story?

My current take is that the kidnapping happens in the night from the 26th to the 27th Sviftmont, to make any organized action by Baron Vorloi unlikely before the dukes birthday, but leaving enough time to put some pressure on him. He notices the next day, the day right before the Dukes birthday, and asks his cousin Halia Antonic for help. She is somewhat reluctant to do this on their own, as well as being well-known, of course. So, the PCs are involved the evening right before the Dukes Birthday.

I´m thinking about making the two women more than just the cliched "Damsels in Distress", and having them give their kidnappers quite some trouble, maybe even hurting one of them seriously, so he has to stay at Turanos longer than planned. The kidnappers will be the Veiled Society, hoping to gain some pressure points towards Vorloi. They will leave the tunnels and drag their victims in the dead of the night towards the Nest, having a hideout deep inside that quarter. The Thugs will leave a Torenescu signet ring at the Vorloi house, probably sending the PCs on a wild goose chase, and causing them to lose time (as per B6).

Their actions are still noticed, however, by beggars and the Kingdom of Thieves (I think those would form an uneasy, case-by-case alliance at best, as I think that the Kingdom won´t be too keen on getting too close to any of the three "big" Families, of which Dmitrios is a part). Neither the beggars nor the Kingdom are too keen to get into trouble with the Society, but would love to see them thwarted, so they give the PCs some directions if they ask (and pay for it). I think they might be led toward Alya, who in her role as fortune-teller probably is the center of the Kingdoms information network, with most members being totally unaware that she is Flameflicker.

Being pointed towards that Society hideout, the Kingdom monitors what happens, but won´t get involved (except, say, knocking a thug out who is about to sneak upon the PCs). The Society hides inside a tavern, and has a number of thugs inside and nearby. As soon as a fight breaks out, a few of the thugs take the hostages and flee through yet another tunnel towards the merchants quarter, trying to get to the mead hall from B6, and the hideout there. They plan on taking at least Marianna there anyway, as they want to present her to Baron Vorloi as he passes the mead hall, with a dagger at her back to ensure her cooperation. If the PCs attack them, they try to take both women with them.

But the Society has been infiltrated by some Iron Ring operatives, who just happen to know that Baron von Hendriks will arrive in the early morning hours by ship, having more Iron Ring members among the crew (unbeknownst to the Baron). These leave the ship as soon as it lands, a few hours before the birthday parade starts, and head towards the mead hall, to await the other Thugs arriving from the nest. They overwhelm them and take the women to the ship, to put some pressure on the Society (and ensure their cooperation in further dealings), and having a pressure point against another noble.

If everything goes according to plan, the Society will try to get onto the ship in the evening and free the women. For that, they will use every guard they have in their pockets to look the other way, and will try to get close to the ship with smaller boats. The outcome of this operation is open.

If the PCs try to raise a hue and cry about that while the parade is in progress, they are probably dragged away by the guards first, to be released hours later. Baron Vorloi would deny having anything to do with them, if it looks like he would lose his face in doing so.

It played out as follows:
Halia Antonic contacted the PCs and led them towards Baron Vorloi, who told them that his daughter was missing, along with her cousin Lucia. The two young women were in Lucias house (her parents being away). The baron even handed them a key to the house. After searching for clues (and finding a Torenescu signet ring in Lucias room, along with a long and bloody hairpin), they found two bound and gagged servants in the cellar, who could not tell very much, as they were surprised and mugged before seeing much. With that, they returned to Vorloi, discussing their finds. It turned out that one Torenescu wooed Lucia, but she wanted nothing of it. Still, the women were gone.

My players needed quite some time to find the secret tunnel below the Vorlois house, but followed it quickly (I left out the whole side tunnels with zombies and stuff - did not feel right to me). In Turanos guesthouse, they found a severely wounded and dying man (having a hairpin driven into your body can be deadly), who could not tell them much. At that point, the bard in the party used her crystal ball (found in a previous adventure) to locate Marianna, and saw her in a cellar, alongside Lucia, both with bags over their heads. The druid had some luck following the tracks - in fall, the alleys in the old quarter and the nest get quite muddy, and dragging along two unwilling subjects leaves quite some tracks. This lead them deep into the nest, towards an old tavern used as a hideout for the Veiled Society. A number of thugs did not care for people snooping around and attacked the party, leading to quite an exiting fight (the "Thug" from the 5e MM can be a serious opponent, with two melee attacks and pack tactics, especially if supported by archers, and in greater number). After that, they investigated the tavern, only to find it empty via another hidden tunnel.

Instead of following the tracks, they used the crystal ball and saw the two women being dragged along through alleys, with the thugs bullying their way if needed. The ten minute duration was sufficient to see the end of this, when the thugs went in to the back entrance of the Blue Water Mead Hall from B6. The party then hastened there (and noticed some observers along the way). They noticed the black ship of Baron Ludwig van Hendriks in the harbor. In the Mead hall, they found the secret door into the hideout. To their surprise, they overheard some kind of argument between two groups of thugs - the Iron Ring had arrived to claim the women. It even came to blows, but a wizard stopped that with a hold person spell. The party retreated and freed the women, but then, the thugs and the wizard came towards the cell! The only place to hide was the "Sirenflower passage". The wizard was furious when he noticed the open cell door, and things will probably escalate soon. Currently, the party is moving deeper into the passage - when I decided to call it a night.

Now, I´m unsure if I will have this passage leading anywhere (general direction is the harbor), or if it is a "dead end", possibly in more ways than one. And maybe I will use the siren flower to make matters worse....

I´m thinking about having that passage ending either in the harbour, or even under the Hightower. Maybe it will end right beside the black ship of Baron van Hendricks, who might just be about to leave his ship and participate in the birthday parade.

Meanwhile, my party went into the underground, fought a vampire spawn, escaped from there and ended up in the cellar of the High Tower at the harbour. From there, they managed to follow the birthday parade just in time. Baron von Hendricks presented himself as the classical arrogant noble villain throughout. Next session, the evening ball/event will be central. My group is anything but social, consisting of a Traladaran rogue, a Vyalia bard, a gnomish druid, a thyatian-descended priest and a dwarfish fighter, with a Vyalia monk floating around the edges (not attending regularly, and might have dropped out by now). How do you make an event like this interesting, even for a socially-inclined group? I don´t want to parade an endless seeming number of NPCs, that would be boring.