Ptolus - The Campaign Setup
I am currently running a campaign set in Ptolus. This is a city based setting, devised by Monte Cooke, albeit with vast dungeons belowground and a looming tower that casts a shadow over the city of Ptolus.
Given a choice of five campaign options, varying from WotC adventures to sandbox settings, my players plumped for Ptolus. I had backed this in the Kickstarter and was thrilled the group picked this setting as I was keen to run it. While it is expensive, I would recommend picking it up if you have the means.
This is a city-based setting, with the majority of the action therefore taking place in, above and below the streets. The players each had a player guide to read and to help frame their character’s backstory. I started the adventure using some suggested introductory adventures in the Ptolus guide. They were short and sweet, and provided some good introduction to the setting.
On this page I will detail or summarise the events of this campaign from the adventurers perspective intertwined with some thoughts on my approach as DM in interpreting their antics and its effects on the setting.
This is an LGBT group, intended as a gentle space within which to roleplay and play a game of D&D. In our session zero, the group worked through the Digital RPG Consent Checklist and the Same Page Tool.
Meet the PC’s
First up was a litorian (the settings self-styled ‘cat people’) called Petrichor, an Artificer(-come-culinary-artisan) who works at Ramoros’ bakery in Midtown. Petri was saved from near death by another artificer, Dr Octavian Feegus, who fashioned him an artificial hand and found him work in Ptolus. Petri owes Feegus a debt of gratitude, but he also wants to earn enough money to open his own bakery – he believes he can develop the tips and tricks Feegus showed him and turn his *ahem* hand to adventuring.
Secondly there came along an elf, Eolas, an Arcana Cleric in the Temple of Phoeboul. From a DM perspective, I recommended this deity from the source material as it resonated with the subclass and could set up future plot hooks. Eolas is old enough to have witnessed first-hand the second Edict of Deviltry, and lost an eye in the process. She has no love for Lothian (the settings main deity and the equivalent of the medieval catholic church). Eolas had arrived in Ptolus from the Moonsilver city of Soerith to the north only a month prior and in pursuit of her missing sister, Teine, who was last seen in Ptolus. Eolas, frustrated in her inability to get into the Noble’s quarter and follow up on a lead, took to throwing her lot in with a group of adventurers to pay her way into citizenship.
Third, came the assarai, Seursha, a Fey Patron Warlock. Like many of Ptolus’ lizard-folk denizens, Seursha had been laid-back, but their curiosity with the Spire led them to become more involved in city life, or at least it’s underbelly. It wasn’t long before Seursha heard of and wanted to try the drug ‘Nightsong’, however, Seursha stole the wrong powder. Indeed, the one they imbibed was a magical dust, posing as a drug, developed by a fey Witch Queen to mind control residents. This was done in an effort to search for one of her coven who had betrayed and stolen her Moonsilver Horn. The drug wasn’t mean for Assarai however, and their strange physiology had unintended consequences - the Witch Queen’s consciousness was trapped within Seursha’s.
Finally we have Erik, the human Barbarian. Erik was born in the Warrens, the shitty, ramshackle slums of Ptolus. Erik lost his family to plague very early in his life, and after falling in with the wrong crowd for a while decided to leave city life behind. He joined the crew on one of the many vessels passing through the docks of Ptolus on their way trading around the Whitewind Sea. In time Erik fell in with Nallish Whalers and picked up many of their traditions, learnt to wrestle, and accepted a pair of magical bracers honouring Nallish ocean totems. When back in the port of Ptolus one day, Erik learned he had sired a daughter, Lilly, on one of his many drunken evenings back in port, but who was living the same impoverished life he had faced in Ptolus. This gave Erik a new focus, and he wanted to get Lilly out of the slums, without resorting to criminality.
Every single bloody one of them was over 6’2.
-Their First Adventures –
A YOWL AND HOWL AND A WHINE
Like many adventurers, the group met in a decent pub – The Ghostly Minstrel – after answering a noticeboard advert posted by Eolas. She was seeking a group of adventurers to assist her on a job she herself had stumbled upon. It seemed simple – rid The Old Greyson house in Caterwaul Street of its spooky goings on.
On their way to the job, they came to the rescue of a young lady set upon by street thugs. Erik managed to subdue one, Ortry, while the other escaped. This turned out to be no ordinary street mugging, but a premeditated attempted murder. The thug, recognised by Erik as a member of the Pale Dogs street gang, had been hired to carry out the deed and was due to pick up his money the next day. A curious Petri sniffed the woman, Phon, unconscious in his arms (I know right, but hey it was one of the players first rolls, he has advantage on smell-based perception checks, and he rolled a natch!) his nose tingling with the hormonal (pheromonal?) tell-tale of someone at the onset of pregnancy. Thinking the thug shaken enough, they let Ortry run off into the night.
With Phon safe, the group turned back to the haunting - which turned out to be mischievous goblins who had been rattling chains and creaking floorboards in a surprisingly successful attempt to secure themselves a home. The group had some issues keeping the nosey neighbours out of the action, however, and Erik awkwardly pushed one fella down some stairs, inadvertently breaking his leg. It was perhaps appropriate that, shortly after, Erik himself whiling climbing down some rotten ladders, broke the rungs, and plunged into a cellar full of waiting goblins. The group eventually managed to clear the house of this menace, although not without the near loss of life, Petri dragging an unconscious Erik away from danger, leaving the others to finish off the remaining goblins. in doing so, the group had uncovered a secret passage in the cellar, and had resolved to come back the next day and investigate.
By the time the group arrived in the morning, The Watch alarm bells were ringing at the end of Caterwaul Street. Alas, despite their warnings to not go back into the house, another curious neighbour, Jakob, had decided to poke about in the old Greyson house overnight. The players found Jakob in a pool of his own intestines, his cadaver being feasted upon by some very old and very desiccated zombies. It turned out the uncovered passage was linked to an old section of ‘The Labyrinth’, from which the creatures had stumbled out from. When the watch finally arrived and discovered what was going on, they sent a runner to seek aid from the Keepers of the Veil. At this point the group, frustrated, decided to cut their losses, get their reward money, and leave – promising to catch up with each other in the pub the next day after hearing that a local priest wished to speak to them.
FABITOR, PHON, HOME
The next day, upon the request of this local priest, Fabitor Thisk, to look into the attempted murder of his parishioner, Phon, the group scoped out the Red Warehouse in Able Row. A note found on Ortry suggested that this is where their shadey employer planned on handing them their reward money for the murder of Phon. The group attempted a little reccy during the day, posing as folk coming to pick up some stored goods. They eventually spoke to the foreman, but found out little about any possible night meeting.
Later that evening then, Eolas and Seursha snuck around to the back door and in, while Petri and Erik kept watch at various points down the street. Distracted, the spotters failed to notice two humans and their large mastiff approaching the warehouse doors - until the very last moment when they unlocked and entered by the front. Seursha and Eolas were still inside and caught unawares! The new arrivals did not expect an elf and an assarai, and fearing a trap, launched into a fight. While the group were engaged, Ortry and his fellow murderer arrived, but the group made mincemeat of Ortry and one of the newer arrivals. Ortry's co-conspirator escaped but the group captured one of the first to arrive, Laucio, who could not make good his escape. An interrogation of this suspect revealed nothing. Looking around the warehouse, with its three dead bodies, significant arcane damage, the group feared being dragged into any follow up investigation and set about making it look like they had stumbled across a robbery and intervened. Eolas then turned Laucio over to the local Watchhouse, learning in the process that Laucio was a known associate of a petty crime boss called Toridan Cran.
The group decided to pursue their own interests the next day: Petri had a shift at the bakery, Eolas got in trouble with Avalia at the temple for neglecting her duties, and Erik visited his newly found family, while Seursha went to investigate an organisation he had heard about called the Delvers Guild. He immediately joined on the premise of being given a lead on a Ratling nest in the sewers which the group could clear and claim the reward money.
SEURSHA NEARLY DIES
While they had not yet fully understood each other’s motives, making money seemed to be a common desire, and so the next day the group decided that Seursha's suggestion of clearing out a ratling's nest would be their easiest means of doing so. They followed their lead below the city to an area of the sewer they hoped to find a nest, before they had uncovered an entrance however they were ambushed by a huge translucent alligator which emerged unseen from the sewer channel, it almost killed Petri, but quick thinking and strength allowed Erik to grapple the beast and keep it held down under water long enough for the others to batter it with arcane magics while it tried unsuccessfully to wrest free.
Unperturbed, the group ventured on and found a section of the sewer where the walls had collapsed revealing a passageway beyond. Seursha, sensing a moment to impress the group with their eldritch abilities, leapt across the sewer, but stumbled badly on the other side and then slipped again down a wet mossy rubble slope.. straight into the middle of a pack of ratlings. Before his companions had time to react they set upon him, slashing and cutting until he fell amongst them.
.. You feel the intense pain of a serrated cut from the Ratling's rusted blades as you fall unconscious on the wet, trash laden floor of the cavern.
.. Light and shadow flickers behind your eyes briefly before they open again .. but you are not in the sewer .. You are running through smoothly carved tunnels, chasing after something just ahead… and then out into brilliant moonlight, where you stand beneath the summit of a mountain on a grand platform cut into the rockface.. Above you the mountain crest, angular and sharp edged, sparkles magically in a moonlight the light from which pierces an eerily calm, silvery fog..
.. You feel yourself call out "STOP! VESRIK! WHAT MADNESS IS THIS, WHY DO YOU STEAL FROM YOUR SISTERS?!" and though you feel the air exhale from your lungs, it is not your voice.
.. In front of you a grotesquely misshapen giantess stops and turns to face you, her body encrusted with rocky and crystalline extrusions, adorned with lichen, moss, and dead branches. "BECAUSE THEY SHOULD BOW TO US, OH SO-CALLED QUEEN!" she screeches the final word "FOR MILLENIA WE STOOD BY WHILE THEY PICKED AT OUR BONES, DESECRATED OUR SANCTUARIES, WORSHIPPED GODS LONG GONE. IT IS TIME THEY LEARNT WITH WHOM THEY SHARE THIS WORLD AND HOW CRUEL THEIR EXISTENCE TRULY IS".
.. You feel yourself shouting back.. "THIS IS MADNESS SISTER, YOU WILL PUT ALL OUR LIVES IN DANGER, DON'T MAKE ME DO THIS" as you lift a thick silver ring, wide as the neck of the giantess before you, but the grim creature has already drawn a majestically carved iridescent horn to her lips and begins blowing. In a silvery flash six grey humanoids clad in dark tattered cloaks and well-worn armour erupt from beneath you, unfurling iridescent, mothlike wings as they do. In their hands are wielded halberds tipped with cold light. They swarm you; their black lidless eyes filled with envy and sorrow…
.. And suddenly, with a lurch, you are back in the sewer, Petri stands above you, an empty bottle in his hand, a viscous, revitalising liquid slides down your gullet. The air in your lungs feels real.
The group pull through this early ambush, and decide to push on a little deeper into a maze of low hung passages, filled with wet rotting trash. They come across a giant, pony-sized rat with its handlers - which they dispatch with ease, but as Erik steps out around a corner and into a larger chamber, a most unexpected sound thunders in the sewers as the loud crack of gunfire resonates throughout the caverns and half a dozen ratlings rush at Erik in the passageway.. the group fall back and manage to scramble out through a hidden door, back into the sewers. The snap and pop of further gunfire on their heels continues, one bullet grazing Erik, as swarms of rats and multiple ratlings give chase. Other ratlings almost manage to circle round the group as they retrace their way out and away from the nest. A close escape. They leave the sewer, bloody, bruised and covered in the thick putrid grime of Ptolus’ shit. Erik and Petri begin to feel sickened from being submerged in the sewer ‘water’. “Rats with guns?!” Petri exclaims – “no one told us they had guns!”.
Heads low, the group trudge to the Temple of Phoeboul, where Amarial, a fellow acolyte, has a spell on hand to cure Petri of the sewer disease. Feeling somewhat refreshed but still stinking, they decide to properly clean up in the Bath House. Here Erik overhears a Nallish song in a private stall, and enquires through the door in Nallish as to the singer – Karl Mitoren, he answers “meet me at my stall in the North Market, on the corner of Upper God Way and Market Street”.
As they bid their farewells to each other outside the bath house, Seursha spots a hooded figure, with a noticeably bulbous, pocked-marked nose and tuft of red hair watching the entrance, but who ducks and vanishes suddenly when he is noticed by the group.
DO SLEEPING CLERICS DREAM OF VOICES IN THE DEEP
Eolas and Petri decide to return to their own quarters for the evening, feeling safer in familiar surroundings. A more cautious Erik, however, insists Seursha stays with him at the Ghostly Minstrel, where he lines up bottles next to windows and doors to alert him to any attempted break in. For Petri, Erik and Seursha the night passes without disturbance. At the Temple of Phoeboul, Eolas' is required in the central alter, to dream lucidly in service to her god. During these dreams, Phoeboul enters Eolas' dreams and bids her to re-live an older dream, one of her sisters. Teine.
In this dream Eolas, through Teine's eye, walks through dark tunnels, feeling a claustrophobic pressure suggestive of being deep, deep underground. After walking and stumbling, a light ahead of her growing, she walks out on a precipitous ledge overlooking a vast and illuminated underground cavern. Below her an indescribably beautiful elven city, bathed in the light of a transparent dome of crackling etheric energy. In her state of remotely viewing her sisters dream, Eolas understands that this is the city see herself dreamt of over a hundred years ago, the dream which signalled her admittance to the dor-na-dhaideloth 'The Vault of Heavens', outside Soerith. Teine is greeted by a figure clad head to toe in exquisite sylvan ilthilnaur plate who guides her through the etheric dome. Before the dream can conclude and Phoebouls message can be understood, Eolas feels the presence of another entity within her mind. The dream begins to twist and distort as Eolas' mind is painfully assaulted by thousands of screaming voices before a hideous laughter reaches an echoeing crescendo and a snarling voice proclaims "too late for Dreata, too late for Ptolus, too late for all mortal lives." With those final words Eolas wakes to hear her own shriek and those of her fellow acolytes in the temple. All of the priests and acolytes in the temple had shared similarly painful visitations. Avalia, The High Priestess, takes Eolas to one side and finally shares what she knows of Eolas' sister and the sleeping city, Dreta Phantas, suggesting she speaks to Doriedean Mythlord to learn more.
The group meet up again that morning, fully rested for the most part and decided that they should all register with the Delver's Guild, under a group sobriquet, they chose 'The High and Mighty'. The group then visited Fabitor to hand in those rat tails they ad managed to salvage before escaping the den, and claim their reward from the Church. From the description of the man who had been spying on the group outside the bathhouse, Fabitor recognised him as one of Toridan Cran's associates, Guun. Fabitor therefore urged the group to find some means of resolution with Toridan, fearing still for Phon but also now realising the group had also caught his attention.
After finding out where they could find him, The High and Mighty decided to walk to Toridan's hideout, on Nar Street, and decide how they would approach him on the way. Still undecided by the time they got to Nar Street, the group wandered up to the front door and asked to speak to Toridan. The stunned guards, knowing that Toridan was looking for folk that matched this groups description, let them in, where the High and Mighty came face to face with the half-orc petty crime boss, Toridan Cran.
Toridan was amused at first that a small band of unknown delvers would dare risk knocking on his door and simply ask the crime boss to 'cease and desist' from his efforts. Erik, rattled by the crime bosses arrogance, began taunting Toridan himself, until Toridan's amusement turned to anger and he drew his battleaxe. Let slip the half-orcs of war!
Managing to deflect the first of Toridan's blows, Erik took a deep cut from his second before the one-eyed cleric Eolas stepped in front of his compatriot and reaching out with his divine power inflicted a grievous necrotic wound that wracked the half-orcs body who fell to one knee under the divine barrage. In the corner of the room, a short, nervous looking man who had been twitching anxiously the whole time, raised his hands and in a giggling fit of manic excitement released a burst of flames into the small room, enveloping the group but also Toridan, who fell dead, burning in agony. It was not just the crime boss lit up, the tables and chairs caught too, and with an untidy room full of flammable debris it wouldn't be long until the house took too. The pyromanic mage jumped and smashed through the window, while the others chased down and slew the remaining criminals. Guun taking an axe in the back, thrown by Erik, as he ran out the back alley.
Half of the front room of the house on Nar Street was now on fire, and spreading rapidly, threatening the neighbourhood. The group had a choice, they could stay and try and douse the flames, or make a run for it. They chose to, but before the Ptolus fire brigade could arrive, Petri grabbed a ledger from a burning bookcase in the nick of time, Eolas was overwhelmed and had to be dragged out of the burning building and Seursha managed to find a locked box in one of the rooms and dragged it to an alleyway, leaving it unhidden. The group had managed to stop the fire spreading rapidly. however, to the gratitude of the fire brigade and together they put the remains out. Before the party could collect themselves however, the Midtown Watch arrived, led by Constable Aline Dayton.
BAILED BY THE BALACAZARS
It soon transpired that the Watch had been tipped off and descriptions of the High and Mighty, matching those from reports into a Warehouse incident, and a general lack of citizenship papers were enough for Aline to ask the group to join her at the local Watchhouse for questioning. Leaving the group alone to sweat it out in the cell for some time, the High and Mighty ironed out their story just in time for Petrichor (the only citizen to be brought to Aline for questioning). Under tough questioning Petri calmly (and in the main truthfully) explained the events that had led up to the fracas on Nar Street, and was beginning to win Aline around before the questioning was interrupted. Leaving for five minutes, Petri overheard a heated discussion from the next door, which ended abruptly. Aline stormed back in and angrily informed Petri they were free to go, noting that they appeared to keep interesting company, but she would be keeping the Ledger.
Outside the Watchhouse, the group were met by a hooded half orc who introduced herself as Ireve, and led them into the centre of Delver's Square. She expressed her gratitude for ridding midtown of the upstart Toridan Cran, but that there was still the matter of the debt they owe her organisation for 'bailing' them out. It soon transpired that the group had landed themselves in the lap of the Balacazar Crime Family. Ireve explained that she would be in touch, 'to see the favour returned'.
While glad to have both survived the confrontation with Toridan and to now be free, a somewhat downtrodden group retired to the Delver's Guild messhall to eat and discuss the days events. While resting they asked Gorti if she had any newly posted jobs. Gorti explained that she hadn't heard back from a group calling themselves 'The Quills' who had taken a mapping job in the Deepbriar and that they could look into that. The group accepted and made there way to the Deepbriar, mission in hand.