We left the party on the upper floor of the Wheelhouse Prison, after climbing in a window, knocking out the warden, and murdering everybody else who tried to stop them – with the exception of an elven mage who made her escape via some kind of teleportation magic.
Gathering at the top of the stairs, the party made short work of the guards trying to gain access to the prison via the main doors – trapped inside the caged walkway from the main door to the first portcullis, and with no way of opening said portcullis, the guards were sitting ducks for the party.
With the guards dead, the group took some time to assess what had just happened – and the rest and recuperate. Their attempted infiltration had turned into outright murder. They debated leaving, climbing back out of the window and simply fleeing, but they knew that if they didn’t now go on to free Bronson the likelihood was that Rendle would identify them and they would find themselves on the run for good. If they freed Bronson, Rendle might hopefully keep his mouth shut.
After picking over the mage’s study and taking anything that looked interesting – including an odd gem that Ha’an identified as an elemental gem that would summon an earth elemental to fight for them, and a strange book made entirely from sheets of thin metal bound with chains, and carved with runes that none of the group recognised – they made their way to the holding cell. As they passed through the intervening rooms, they came to the entrance to the prison proper – a small square room with a heavy trapdoor in the floor. From below they heard the sounds of men shouting and a bell ringing an alarm. They knew that if they didn’t find Bronson in the holding cell, they were going to have to deal with that situation next.
After fiddling with the levers that controlled the portcullises and doors, Ha’an managed to get the holding cell open. But they didn’t find Bronson inside. Instead, they found the other inmates waiting to be processed cowering in a corner, and one enormous, hairy human sitting cross-legged on the floor, calmly watching the door.
Introducing Captain Manbearpig
If you’ve been with this site since the beginning, you might remember me mentioning Manbearpig previously. He was a character in my old campaign – the one that fell apart – and his player happens to be a very good friend of mine. When he learned we were playing again he asked if he could join in, but he really didn’t want to roll a new character when he hadn’t had much of a chance to play Manbearpig. The last campaign was his first experience with D&D, and he’d become very attached to his first character (as I imagine most of us do).
Luckily for us, that game fell apart when the group were only at Level 3, and that’s exactly where the current group are at. So we worked out a way for him to have ended up at the Wheelhouse, and away we went.
An enormous beast of a man, Captain Manbearpig marched out of the wilderness one day with a will to make his mark on the world. Clothed in the pelt of a manbearpig – half man, half bear, half pig, all nasty – that he killed, and accompanied by a large white wolf called Nanook, Manbearpig is a Battle Master Fighter who is used to being able to use his size to get his own way.
In case anybody is keeping track, we now have a 7’ tall dragonborn, a 6’2” half-orc, and a 6’8” human, along with a wolf, a Halfling that resembles a walking pustule, and a male dwarf in a dress. This group stick out like a sore thumb everywhere they go.
We also have two barbarians and a fighter, with only Ha’an capable of minor healing. That could prove to be interesting.
Manbearpig told the group that he had spoken to Bronson in the holding cell before he was taken downstairs, and that he knew what the man looked like – something the party realised they had never established. He would happily go with them and help them get through the rest of the guards to free him – but they would have to help him find something, too, and they would have to let him escape with them.
The things Manbearpig wanted to find seemed straightforward enough. His belongings had been taken from him – his weapons, his armour, his pelt – and his wolf was somewhere in the building. He made it very clear that he wouldn’t be going anywhere without Nanook.
Without knowing exactly where to look for Manbearpig’s equipment, the part returned to the rooms upstairs and began searching. It didn’t take long for them to find a large wall safe in the warden’s office – at which point they realised that nobody had checked on the warden after the battle, and that he was now missing. As Manbearpig took his armour from the safe and began donning it, Ha’an peered out of the window to look for a sign of the warden – and saw archers in deep red armour lining up on the far side of the river. The Flame Guard had arrived.
Not fancying their chances against what might as well be an army, the party – now with added Manbearpig – made their way to the trapdoor. After some debate, they opened it – only to find darkness, and silence.
Before they could plan an attack, the howl of a wolf sounded up from below, and Manbearpig recognised Nanook’s call. Without a second thought he dropped through the trapdoor to the room below.
As soon as he landed, the rest of the group heard the release of a multitude of crossbows, and Manbearpig was peppered with bolts. The rest of the party dropped down to help him while the bowmen reloaded.
Downstairs they found that they had jumped into a fairly obvious ambush. The room blow the trapdoor was barely large enough to fit them all in, and one wall was nothing but thick iron bars separating them from the men with the crossbows in the adjoining corridor.
As the party got peppered with bolts and stabbed with polearms, Wartsnall desperately tried to pick the lock on the door in the bars. But in the heat of the moment he struggled to focus, breaking two picks before he could finally get the door open.
With their cage opened, though, the party soon turned the tide of battle. The guards fell one by one, and things seemed to be going well – until more guards appeared from around a corner, with a pack of dogs and a chained displacer beast in tow.
With the howling of Nanook and the hollering and yelling of the prisoners inside the large communal cells filling their ears, the party fought for their lives. Thorak fell under the beast’s onslaught, and the combat only ended when Wartsnall remembered they still had the Javelin of Leaves – and once again critted with it.
While Manbearpig rushed off deeper into the prison to find Nanook, the rest of the party took a minute to secure the trapdoor and relock the cage so that the Flame Guard would struggle to find a way downstairs. Then they set about hunting for Bronson.
Manbearpig made his way past the rest of the communal cells, ignoring the cries of the inmates who had heard the battle but had no idea what was actually going on. There were no more guards to be found, and even if there had been, he was determined that nothing was going to stand in his way. He passed through what was obviously an execution chamber, and on the other side of it he found the kennels. More dogs were chained up here, practically choking themselves in their attempts to get at Manbearpig, but he had eyes only for Nanook.
Meanwhile, the party had gained access to a small guardroom that contained two cells for solitary confinement. In one they found an oddly civilised gnoll who called herself Sureshank. She described herself as somebody who knew how to get things – and one of those things, she said, was freedom.
When quizzed, Sureshank explained that she had been in the prison for years, and that she could leave at any time she wanted – but she had carved out a niche here, smuggling contraband into the prison and making herself as comfortable as she had ever been. She could show them the way out, but it would cost them.
The other cell contained Bronson. He wasn’t at all what they expected; he was small, nervous, shy, and had been beaten to within an inch of his life. He also appeared to be mute, though he managed to communicate that he understood the party were there to help him.
Manbearpig returned, and the group began trying to barter with Sureshank. They offered money, but she said she had no need of that. What she wanted was something that would be useful to her.
Manbearpig rifled through his bag and produced an everburning torch that he had obtained in a previous adventure. Upon offering it to Sureshank she seemed delighted, and with little ado she led them to her secret exit.
Her secret exit was located on the back wall of the large communal cell. The party stepped over ragged, malnourished prisoners who had clearly spent quite some time living in their own excrement. As a final gift to the Flame Guard – who could now be heard trying to force the trap door open – Thorak went back to the guard room, found a set of keys, and opened every cell. He hoped that the confusion once the Flame Guard managed to breach the prison would be enough to disguise the fact that one of the inmates was now missing.
With the party ready to leave, Sureshank fiddled with the masonry in the wall and a section of it slid open, revealing a small chamber packed to the rafters with food, water, bedding, cleaning supplies – anything that a prisoner might want enough to bargain for.
A narrow crack in the rear wall opened onto a tight passage that dipped down into the earth. Sureshank explained that it ran for a few days before coming to an underground trading post on the very edge of the Underdark. She had contacts there who smuggled supplies into the prison for her and occasionally smuggled people out, and if the party went there they would be able to find a way to the surface far to the north of Tarnswood, where nobody would know them or be looking for them.
The party had an inkling that Sureshank couldn’t quite be trusted, but they also saw that they didn’t have many other options. So with that, they settled on a marching order, and set off into the darkness with Bronson in tow, leaving the Wheelhouse behind and hoping never to return.
I’m fairly sure that this will prove to be a pivotal moment in the campaign. The group – and I’m talking about the players here, not the characters – have all mentioned this moment to me multiple times. They realised quite quickly that breaking into this prison and killing everybody inside for no reason, before aiding a prisoner in escaping, is something that they’re going to have to deal with in the future. This actually makes me really happy, because it means I’ve done my job – my players know that their actions will have consequences in the game, and that the world is going to react to them in predictable ways. That’s excellent – it means they’re invested in the game, and it means that when these things do come back to bite them in the ass they won’t feel that they’re being treated unfairly by me.
Alignment has never played a huge role in my games – even back in 2nd edition, we very quickly did away with the requirements that druids be True Neutral and Paladins be Lawful Good. Unless a player is playing a character for whom religion is fairly important, I usually have my players choose between Good and Neutral (unless we’re playing an all-Evil campaign I don’t tend to allow Evil characters), and we leave the Law-Chaos distinction until we’ve played a few sessions. I would rather my players roleplay their characters in a way that simply makes sense and is consistent with the way they have previously acted, and I don’t think they need a strict alignment to tell them how that should be. With that said, had any of the characters been of Good alignment, they would have shifted to neutral as a result of this (and there wouldn’t be any Lawful characters left in the party, either – but there were none to begin with). I haven’t shifted any to Evil, because so far this is a one-off – but they know that that might happen if they carry on in this manner.
And honestly? I would be fine with that. I don’t generally run Evil campaigns simply because it often turns into a senseless murder-fest for no good reason when you allow players to begin as Evil characters. But if in the course of the adventure the group slip further and further, until they realise they’re walking an Evil path? I’m fine with that. That makes for really good stories, and it faces the players with a real, and sometimes difficult, choice – do we try to redeem ourselves, or do we embrace who we are?
I don’t think it will go that way, based purely on how often this has been brought up to me by the players out of game, but I’m very excited to see how this develops.
This week’s maps are here.