The Astral Scroll 1: False Leads and New Companions

Posted on May 8, 2024 in Tales from the Table.
Part of a series called The Astral Scroll.

Zession Zero

Rules, character creation and a soft start.

Date: May 4, 2024

Characters present:

Character level: 3

Back in the DM Seat

Alright! After the unexpected ending of Veil of Whispers, it was finally time to get cracking on the campaign idea I’d had floating around in my scattered brain since October last year. A short, experimental campaign where the characters are all driven by one motivation: finding a Wish scroll, named The Astral Scroll for lore reasons, and fulfilling their greatest desire. Only one of them could get it, but they’d have to work together to have any chance of getting their hands on it at all.

I took inspiration from classics such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and the Soviet sci-fi art film Stalker—ah, who am I kidding? I ripped it all from Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. No one seemed to notice. Anyway, with the not-so-collaborative premise, I decided to keep it short and be upfront that not everyone could win.

I don’t want to write about all the background stuff again, so I’ll just quote the campaign guide I sent the players:

Kenelm Marlin is dead. So it goes. One of the greatest wizards of the current age, he lived a solitary life in his tower, of which only a select few know the precise location. With his passing, the tower lies vacant. It sits there, far out in the wastelands, waiting for someone to claim the riches within. Gold, glory, and magic await those brave enough to venture into the wilds in search of Marlin’s wealth. Most importantly, Marlin is said to have been in possession of the only remaining Astral Scroll, capable of fulfilling all your deepest desires.

But you are not the only one in search of the scroll, and you will certainly not make it to the tower all on your own. You will need to form an unsteady alliance with a group of fellow adventurers and race against thieves, hoodlums, and anyone else foolish or brave enough to seek the tower’s fortune.

This adventure takes place on a continent known as Lumindar. Though nowadays a vast swathe of mountainous, arid wasteland, it once thrived with life. Canyons can be found where water once flowed, ruins of ancient civilizations lie scattered in the plains, and great riches await those who dare brave the wilds.

The further you venture from the safety of the thriving coastal cities, the fewer settlements you’ll encounter, and soon enough you’ll find yourself in the company of nothing but hungry wildlife. Lumindar is a place for risk takers, and for a select lucky few, the rewards might just be worth the risk. It’s every man for themselves, and you can never truly know whom to trust.

The inhabitants of Lumindar primarily hail from two kingdoms: Alboryn and Ladora. Alboryn is a northern realm full of evergreen forests and snowy mountains, while Ladora has more of a Mediterranean climate.

Atop a large cliff on the coast of Lumindar lies the city of Casteria; a place of opportunities and new beginnings. The city bustles with trade and the markets overflow with exotic seafood. At night, the streets come alive with music and cheer, and you never need to look far to find a party. Just make sure to hold on to your coin pouch, as thieving hands are no unusual sight in the Pearl of the West.

Okay, that’s enough lore.

The Characters

First off was Anton Texil: a tabaxi grave cleric1. He was an all-black cat-man in brown leather armor. Altruistic and good-natured, he would heal the sick and injured with no expectation of payment. His goal was to destroy the scroll to prevent it from being used for evil.

Next up was Eiraketolbib2 “Bib” Goodread. Bib was a halfling with Coke bottle glasses and massive curly brown hair. She wore traditional halfling clothing, including suspenders, and a jacket with more pockets than one can count. She also wore a fedora3. Her class was rogue. A librarian, she wanted the scroll so she could keep it safe in her library with all the other literature she’d stolen.

Lazarus, last name as of yet unknown, was a drow, or a dark elf. He had a towering stature and enormous muscles. His player was brand new to the game and asked if a drow would fit into the campaign. We all said “Yeah, sure, no problem,” because we all forgot about their sunlight sensitivity. Anyway, Lazarus was a soldier who wanted the scroll to bring back a loved one from the dead. He was also socially awkward but looking for friends. His clothes were plain and his class was barbarian. Bear totem, as they often are.

Last but not least was Gustav’s character: Paz McGee4. He was the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lumindar. He wore green velvet robes and a hat of undecided design. His wish was to make everyone know that he’d found the Astral Scroll, hoping it would improve the sales of his book. His class was bard.

I’d told them all to come up with a “high concept” for their character, in the form of “I’m an X Y who Zs”, and challenging them to not use the names of their class or race. The results are at the top of the post. I think it worked super well for giving them more… well, character. And with that, the story can begin.

A False Lead

The characters were after the Astral Scroll for different reasons, but they’d all independently discovered the same lead: a strange man from Casteria’s criminal underworld who claimed to know where Marlin’s tower was located. He’d told them to meet away from prying eyes, down in a storm drain at midnight. It wasn’t exactly a trustworthy lead, but for something as important as this, they couldn’t afford not to pick it up.

Paz was the first to arrive, a few minutes early. He entered what looked like a cylindrical phone booth with a ladder leading down to the drain. It was a long tunnel carved from the cliff’s rock, with alcoves dotting the path. Rainwater flowed next to the walkway, nearly overflowing from the night’s rain. The moon provided the only light through a grate above them. Bib showed up shortly after, recognizing the kitschy velvet-green robes worn only by the kind of person who thinks incredibly highly of themselves.

Bib and Paz knew each other and were not on friendly terms. The library Bib worked at had refused to stock Paz’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lumindar on account of it being a literary trainwreck. Paz had responded by sneaking countless copies of his book onto the shelves.

His presence didn’t seem right to Bib; “You can’t be the one I’m supposed to meet!”

“You can’t be the one I’m supposed to meet,” Paz responded. It would seem that the mysterious contact had agreed to meet with both of them. At the same time, even. And not just them—a few minutes past midnight, they were joined by an ink-black cat and the tallest, most muscular drow they’d ever seen. All equally confused.

They heard footsteps coming from down the tunnel. Four men in hooded robes approached them. Something wasn’t right. “Why have you brought us all here?” Bib asked.

“Because the four of you,” one of the men began speaking, stepping into the moonlight and revealing a rugged face with a scar across one eye, “are incredibly gullible.” The four men drew scimitars from their belts. A previously unseen fifth had snuck up behind them, sending a crossbow bolt right at Paz and hitting his leather armor. He then ducked into an alcove to reload.

Paz mocked the attackers viciously, which did little to help the situation. Lazarus grabbed his greatsword, rushed up to one of the four men in front of him, and split him right down the middle. Anton the cat-man put the fear of death in the rest of them with his holy magic. Bib hid behind Paz, who rushed towards the attacking men, leaving Bib in the open. She fired a crossbow bolt at the man in the alcove as he leaned out to fire, hitting him in his crossbow hand. Then Paz cast a wind spell at the other men, attempting to push them into the water. When they stood their ground, he dropkicked the closest one. Just as he did, the man hidden in the alcove fired another bolt at him—this time with his left hand—knocking Paz unconscious in mid-air. The bandits happened to be standing single file along with Lazarus, and were all knocked into the water.

The party quickly dispatched the wet bandits, causing the one in the alcove to flee. Lazarus, stepping out of the water, sent a javelin in his direction, piercing him right through the ribcage. He dropped to the ground. The fight was over as quickly as it had begun. Anton spoke a word of healing, bringing Paz back to his feet. Paz thanklessly remarked that his clothes needed to be washed now that they were covered in blood. Breathing out, the party took a closer look at the men they’d fought. Their robes all carried the symbol of a ghost. They had been the Midnight Shadows, a bottom-tier criminal gang making a living snatching purses from grandmothers. Good riddance.

And so, having shown great synergy in battle, the group formed a temporary alliance lasting until they would lay eyes upon the scroll. Knowing none of them could do it alone, they would make the journey to Marlin’s tower together. Of course, they’d have to find it first.

A few days later, the party gathered in the evening at a tavern called The Jackalope. This particular tavern was known for having little complimentary chocolates wrapped in paper with a jackalope printed on it. Neither Alboryn nor Ladora had such delicacies to offer. The owner and bartender was one Lucrezia de Rossi. A human woman in her thirties, she had dark hair and sharp facial features and looked strong enough to physically throw out anyone foolish enough to cause trouble in her tavern. Aside from her, the place was mostly empty.

At the bar sat an elderly man with a long, grey beard with a face covered in bruises, nursing an ale with a gloomy look on his face. At a table sat a large party of halflings, apparently celebrating a birthday. They were full of cheer and drinking plenty, and had to sit on tall stools to reach the table.

The adventurers were enjoying some cheese and bread while discussing the leads they had gathered over the past few days. Paz noted that his drinking friend, an elf by the name of Balthasar, was absent, which was uncommon for him at this time of day. Paz was concerned, having heard rumors of elves going missing over the past few weeks. He’d need to follow up on that.

The group had found out that despite being something of a recluse, Marlin had had one friend in Casteria: Chauncey Templeton, archmage. He lived in a small cottage at the edge of town. If anyone in the city knew where Marlin’s tower was, it would be him. Bib also had a friend in the criminal underworld who claimed to know more. A more trustworthy friend than the last one who claimed to know anything, at least.

Bib asked the partying party of halflings if they knew anything about the astral scroll. Of course, they had no more information than what she already knew. She asked Lucretia the barkeep if she’d met Chauncey Templeton, which she said she hadn’t. She was lying.

Finally, Bib convinced Anton to heal the old man’s bruises in exchange for any information he might have. Anton did as instructed, and he was very direct: “Tell me everything you know about the Astral Scroll.” The man scoffed.

“All I know is that those who used such magic in the past never truly got what they wanted.” He furrowed his brow, looking like he’d said too much but knew far more still: “It’s best to stay away from that sort of thing, really.” Meanwhile, Bib checked his pockets for anything suspicious and found that he had pocketed numerous complimentary chocolates.

Anton didn’t pry any further. The group set off toward Chauncey Templeton’s cabin, even though it was dusk. They had asked everyone in the tavern if they knew anything, but nobody did. Sometimes NPCs are just NPCs, and not quest givers or exposition dumpers.

But sometimes, the NPC is Chauncey Templeton, sitting in a tavern and having a drink, hoping nobody recognizes him.

  1. Yup, this is the guy who played Sander the cleric in Veil of Whispers. And Findus the tabaxi in the same campaign. And Traz the cleric in The World Rune. And Maven the tabaxi in The Hare and the Hag. And Doc the cleric in Christmas in Hell↩︎

  2. Librarian backwards in Swedish. ↩︎

  3. Despite what the internet says, this is not the Neckbeard Hat®. That’s the trilby. A fedora is what Indiana Jones wears. ↩︎

  4. He keeps making references to Paxton McGee, an NPC I created for a campaign long ago. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have put McGee as one of the suggested names for the Alborynian heritage. ↩︎