Once everyone had settled on and filled out their characters, I then ended the party by having Lord Avlamin take them aside. In an effort to make this yet more complicated I tried to stress to them Lord Avlamin's proud bearing and his insistence that as this expedition was in large part funded by him, he would be in large part the owner of anything they were to find. During this little meeting I allowed the players to make spot checks, the highest two rolls, assuming they were impressive enough, would be allowed to spot what appeared to be a tattoo under the sleeves of Lord Avlamins tunic. In truth, I knew from the outset that Lord Avlamin was a silver dragon. The extravagance, the proud bearing, the ownership, could of course come from any proud lord, but I really wanted to stress just how extravagant this lord was by the fact that he was funding the VAST MAJORITY of the expedition, that his ownership extended to the whole of the expedition, not just what they found. I don't know how well I pulled that off.
That said, anyone who is familiar with Eberron may notice a little error: I included with Lord Avlamin the suggestion of a dragon mark. Dragon marks are not true tattoo's, they are more like mystical birthmarks that resemble tattoo's. They are inherent to certain blood lines, mortal blood lines, dragons can't have such marks. That little detail was the dragon's efforts to throw off any idea concerning his true identity, he wanted the expedition to notice his "dragonmark."
The idea I had with the dragon was the he was fully aware of the journal and the artifact my players would find, and he wanted it for himself. The dragon knew exactly what the journal and the artifact were because he was there to witness their creation, though exactly what his motives were I'm still not sure even to this day.
With that done we loaded up the expedition onto a chartered airship bound for Zarash'ak, where the party would get permits to allow them escort in the Demon Wastes where the expedition site was located. I had already talked to Tyson about his characters blackmail letter, so to shake things up since I wanted the Emerald Claw to be the visible threat, I offered the characters the chance to spot a zombie porter in a Karrnathi uniform. I tried to play to the spot scores that were rolled rewarding the three highest rolls. Of those three, the lowest noticed a Karrnathi soldier standing with some luggage. The middle person noticed that their was something odd about the Karrnathi soldier, while the highest score noticed that the soldier was in fact a zombie. In all cases, when they turned back to take a second look, the zombie would be lost in the crowd. It could be coincidence, but hopefully this would play to their paranoia. It did, so very well, and that's how I left the first session.
It was between the first and second sessions that I got a hold of Paul and Sean to see if they'd be willing to play the parts I offered, and my plan was to pass notes between sessions. The idea was that this would allow a real-time delay between what the spies found and their masters orders. Given Paul and Sean's agreement and original requests for information, when I started out the second session I was then able to relay to Cass and Eric their specific requests.
Now this was my first time GMing in a while, and it was also my first time GMing a D&D campaign, so I was still trying to get my head around the balance of the game. In order to do this I threw together an encounter to happen on the airship while on rout to Zarash'ak. Basically, a time honored bar fight. The Karrnathi Zombie was one of a handful that was being transported, over seen by two live officers and their commander. To instigate the officers would come down to the on ship bar and spend their time getting drunk. I had already warned the players that they had noticed Karrnathi uniforms on board, and that two of the officers were rather boisterous. I also asked them who would spend their time in the bar. From there I constructed the fight, with the officers getting rowdy and finally pushing someone around. I had general stats for a number of people on board along with the officers and the characters and I felt this would allow me to get a feel for what people might be able to handle.
So the officers get rowdy and bump into another passenger who pushes back. Someone overturns a table and I tell everyone to roll initiative. In what will not be my last train wreck Tys rolls highest (of course) and uses his initiative to cast sleep over the instigators. In rolling saving throws for those affected I roll low (of course) for both officers and one other. That's it, fight ended before it even gets started. ** edit: Tys reminds me that he actually rolled lowest initiative, just that everyone used their initiative to draw weapons and prepare for a fight. When it came to his turn no one had yet actually attacked. * For future reference Tys, feel free to simply leave a comment ;P **
In most games its the fights that really take time, and I had prepped this fight thinking it would take the majority of our session, now I was caught somewhat with my pants down. Learning experience number N + 1 where N is still low but slowly growing.
So I diverted, and my players fell beautifully into doing what I wanted them to do. Travis was playing Whystler, and he took my Indiana Jones pulp fiction reference to heart. I mentioned that with the Karrnathi on board the Professor was making it point to stay in her room. Tys responded by saying he would probably stay with her most of the time and would avoid going on as much as he could. Travis started asking questions.
By the end of the session Travis had a bead on Tys's multiple motives, though how much he figured I couldn't be sure.
Over the next few sessions we did a lot of story telling involving landing in Zarash'ak, where they left behind the Karrnathi soldiers and got the papers they needed to go on to Blood Crescent. At Blood Crescent they left behind what caravan they had and the expedition set out alone for the first time. Well, almost alone, Blood Crescent scouts led them to the site where an exposed worked stone was found. I made the players aware that there were barbarians in the area, along with other dangers, and we did some more exploratory fights where I gauged what the players might be able to handle. But during this time the players spent much of their effort guiding the porters and hands in uncovering what they were to find was almost an entire city.
During character creation I had stressed that I wanted this to be a skill heavy game, and to that end I wanted the players to offer professions that could be taken advantage of given the purposes of excavating an archeological dig. I don't remember exactly what everyone's jobs ended up being, and nicely enough Travis took the lead and started assigning everyone their jobs. By this point he was well aware that Tys was being blackmailed and had his assigned to work closely with the professor so that he could protect her while still giving information. Eric had geography as a skill so he was given the job of mapping the site, and to this end he copied his maps and used those copies to offer the request for intelligence that he had been given. Cass was doing a lot of odd jobs, and to that end she allowed herself to make copies of various things that she also sent off to fulfill her own requests for intelligence.
Given their various jobs I was able to take each of them aside and describe to them was they would find and the like. Eventually I was able to get to a large almost obelisk of a temple that at the time I called something that wasn't quite right. We actually spent a good deal of time just going over what I was thinking of and what I was saying and how the two didn't quite mesh. At some point I was able to offer an actual dungeon crawl as the players finally opened the temple and went in exploring.
This did take place over multiple sessions, during which I was able to pass the information proffered by Cass and Eric to their puppet masters Paul and Sean respectively. Paul had a lot on going on so its understandable that he simply accepted the information, he offered a bit of a cash reward, and I think that was about it. Sean though, he really took off with the mission I had given him. As reward he offered an amulet that I think had a +1 AC bonus. However the amulet was not all it seemed, a further enchantment was used to disguise just how powerful the amulet actually was, making it appear as simply a +1 magical item, when in fact it also held an enchantment that made it easier for him to scry, and the illusion that would disguise said enchantment.
This amulet stuck with the party for a very long time, and when the players finally realized what they had they looked back on when they got it with much amazement. That was pretty slick there Sean.
So Eric gets this trinket in the mail, and what does he do? He puts it on! A simple spot check and a few of the party members noticed that Eric is wearing a shiny new amulet. By this point I've got Travis's paranoia running full time, cause I've been having him make spot checks against Eric and Cass. Somehow he has managed to not notice exactly what they're doing, but he's already aware that something is going on.
I'm going to have to leave off here, I'm hoping this weekend I'll be able to spend some time writing this up.