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Curse of the Black Pearls: The Second Privateers Court

Returning to Dungeons and Dragons today, I needed to deal with one of the players formally leaving the game for other reasons: The cleric Narvarie. When players leave a game, it always presents a challenge and unfortunately I’ve had a few players drop out of this game over the time it’s been going. After some thought, there was actually a really good idea that came to mind: Have the player character not “leave” entirely, but instead step up into a permanent position on the privateers court. This of course might require a bit of engineering but has some logical consequences.

The first is it gives me a justified way to have someone who gives the other players a good idea how each member of the council “feels” about them. Narvarie on the council would have plenty of time to interact with the other members, then report back on how they generally feel about the players decisions at each council. This provides more direct feedback and feels like a tangible way to introduce the political mechanic, in this case saying “These guys hate or like you X amount” in a reasonable way in world. Especially because I was originally going to leave this up to the players general judgement, but with the council somewhat expanding in size and scope this felt like a fairer way to do it.

The trick was how to do it without this decision feeling entirely forced on the players?

When the session began I had one thing in mind: Give the players some levity in terms of tone. After the frantic run through the rain soaked streets of Regalport to regain the pearl from last session and then the dreamlike confrontation with Talitha, with the various implications of genocide and refugees being left to die at sea, I wanted this to open with more “levity”. Tone is actually something that’s really important to note in a game, with a relentless horrifying tone being something that can actually significantly bring a game down. Even in a horror game like my Trail of Cthulhu campaign, lighter moments and periods where the tone isn’t entirely grim are essential (more so in a horror game).

As a result I began this session by allowing the players to roll on the carousing table from the DMG, which can have some unpredictable and occasionally hilarious results. Most of them actually managed to get their money back at least, but a couple did pretty well at gambling and I also allowed the party to do some random performances or similar at a local tavern. In essence, I let them do things that would give their characters a genuine break after the various horrors they’ve been experiencing. One interesting result of this was one of the players deciding she would like to find a flying carpet. My initial thought was to say “No”, as generally speaking I’m not keen on having most magical items for sale readily or easily.

Then I paused and had a think about things, because maybe I could make this interesting in some way? Once I had a think about it, some inspiration hit me and naturally Rowan was able to find a suitably shady character who had such a carpet. Dressed in a long flowing purple robe with gold sequins, the strange man with a dark clawed hand was more than happy to sell Rowan one. For only 1,500 Galifars (general term for currency in Eberron, means “Gold Piece) at that, which the players negotiated down to 1,250 Galifars. I think due to this interaction the players were actually surprised when the carpet worked as advertised, but let me assure you that there will be some interesting consequences coming from this in future….

Of course, there was an interesting bit of a contradiction on my part here because another player wanted to find a magical shield – but this time I said that there was none to be found. While it is true that in 5E especially, what items may or may not be for sale is largely DM fiat, there was actually quite a lot of thought behind why I allowed them to find a magic carpet but not a +1 Shield. Mostly because the magic carpet adds a lot of potential utility to the entire party and I decided to add an interesting story element to it as well. Generally speaking, I don’t want anything and everything being available but I do want to present interesting choices. Something that is as purely mechanical as a +1 item – especially with the maths in 5E being so flat – I think I might continue to limit.

Noting that magically speaking, Eberron is a big place and the commoditization of magical items was something that happened (even before the last war). This is somewhat at odds with 5Es core balancing mechanics of magical items supposedly being rare or hard to find, which is codewords for “This is up to your DM to decide if you can have”. In any event, I’m actually going to discuss this again in a future post and the precise logic behind the decision, so there is no need to belabor this point further for now.

Once this was done, it was time to pay attention to the Privateers Court once again. Because it’s been a long time since the players were here originally and there are several new members, I reminded the players who everyone was. Especially because there are about 9 of them now, with the additions of representatives from the Silver Flame, the Dragonborn in Q’Barra (who the players helped) and a mysterious woman from an unknown party (they have still not made their particular influence or faction known). Here the players were able to debate what to do about the pearl, with some of the members saying it had to be used against their enemies and others appealing for its destruction.

Grossly outnumbered on this vote, the PCs were at best able to stalemate it from a clear majority and ensure that there was no core decision. One of the council members noted that an ancient Lich in Xen’Drik might be able to provide an idea of how to destroy the pearl. Or alternatively try to murder the party and take the pearl for itself, but you’ve got to try! Actually I made sure to emphasize just how risky and dangerous it is to attempt to destroy a magical artifact of the Pearls nature. Wyrran suggested that destroying a Pearl may seem like a logical idea, only to do something else or perhaps break the prison of something else instead. There had to be a reason the opponents of the demon lord in the past didn’t just destroy the things then and there.

Next of course was the decision as to where to keep the pearl, leaving it at Regalport under protection or keeping it with the PCs. Perhaps cannily on their part, most of the council voted to actually keep it with the PCs. This was because many of them figure that the best way of getting the weapon used by their enemies was to keep it in the hands of the PCs on the “front line” as it were. It’s worth noting that these votes have influence with each member and depending on who the PCs support (or just as importantly, don’t support) has a degree of influence on how each faction views them. This will become ever more important as the war in the seas of Eberron begins to increasingly heat up.

In any event, the PCs unexpectedly supported the Wind Whisperers appeal for forces to make a buffer against their potential threat from House Lyrandar. This greatly improved their deposition towards the party and paved the way for some cooperation later in the council: Notably when 9-Fingers wanted to implement a form of pirate based conscription involving capturing civilian ships and press-ganging their crews into combat stances against Talitha’s fleet. The Wind Whisperers immediately voted against the measure with the PCs in response for their previous support and easily shot the measure down as a result.

At this point I decided to really escalate the pirate game here and had the representative of the Wind Whisperers decide to nominate a new Lord of the Council. This was met with some interested gasps from the players and initially they seemed to be supporting Rygar. Here of course my dilemma from the very first part of this post was solved: The players decided to put Narvarie forward for the council position. This was well met and drew an interested response from the other council members, but it became clear that Narvarie wouldn’t have the numbers pretty shortly so they withdrew the nomination.

Especially when the PCs decided to stab Rygar (the current Lord) in the back and go with the Wind Whisperers representative instead (who in fairness, was presented as a high competent and able military commander, who had the faith of many other members of the council, they are not happy with Rygar…). This was met with a lot of consternation from Rygar and he became so enraged, he just up and left the chamber entirely. That will certainly have an impact on the PCs standing at this point….

After this the Wind Whisperer’s representative, Nasala, proposed adding Narvarie to the council and with a straight vote of “Yes” added the PCs formally as their own faction: The Pearl Raiders. This gives them increased influence on the council and more overall knowledge about how the other members feel about events. It also means that I have a story justification for why they don’t need to rush back after every adventure or so to deal with what the council wants, as Narvarie can technically look after most day to day things. It removes the extra player character from the game, gives them an interesting story role and means I don’t have to kill anyone off! A great combination of things basically.

With this sorted, now the players had an entire world and some vague hints as to where some of the pearls were located. It was time to sail to wherever they wanted and hope that Talitha wasn’t already beating them to the pearls…