The players actually made it easy on me by dividing themselves into only two factions: The Companions and the College of Winterhold. This saved on some of the “getting to know you” stuff early in the game as the members of each group already worked out backstories as to how they know their fellow group members.
Grog: Nord Fighter, follower of Sanguine so constantly in a drunken state. Suffers from amnesia due to an event that happened years ago. Usually a happy drunk, but certain triggers set him off and he can get belligerent at the most inappropriate of times. Also tends to buy things when he is drunk but doesn’t remember having them, so occasionally pulls something out of his backpack that he didn’t know he had.
Bob: Nord Thief. Identifies himself as Grog’s brother and looks out for him, since Grog has trouble looking after himself. Has a strong “kill first, so they don’t ask questions later” approach to dealing with problems, which puts him at odds with the paladin.
Sampson: Nord Paladin of the Eight Divines (though actually a Paladin to Talos).With the worship of Talos forbidden in the Empire, he works with the Companions to build a name for himself. A bit conflicted over whether to support the Stormcloaks (who will return to worship of Talos to Skyrim) or the Empire (which was founded by Talos and represents his greatest achievement).
College of Winterhold
Meridin: Dunmer Druid. Family escaped Morrowind when Red Mountain exploded and ended up in Windhelm. Though his parents accepted their lot and try to make a living in the city’s Gray Quarter, Meridin couldn’t stand living under Ulfric’s thumb and decided to explore the land. Eventually ended up at the College of Winterhold because it was the one place in Skyrim where he felt accepted.
Alicia: Breton Cleric of Mara. Disappointed her politically driven parents when she chose to become a cleric instead of training to become a Court Wizard. Devoted to the healing arts and spreading Mara’s love across Skyrim. Decided to train at the College of Winterhold to get away from the drama of the Imperial court.
Celeste: Altmer Wizard. Her family remained loyal to the Empire during the war, and we slaughtered for it. She escaped to Skyrim and started a new life for herself at the College of Winterhold, where her fellow mages don’t ask too many questions about her past.
Session One: Introductions
GM Note: This is actually from last week’s introductory session. I’ll get this week’s session up for Friday!
After sitting through one of Tolfdir’s lectures on the Eye of Magnus and the dangers of uncontrolled magic (Celeste was captivated, while Meridin and Alicia had trouble staying awake), the trio of apprentices went back to their dorm rooms to relax. While deciding what they wanted to do, Brelyna, Onmund, and J’Zargo can be heard arguing as they enter the dorm area.
“What does it matter, J’Zargo?” complains Breylna. “You only scored one point higher than me on the final test!”
“Ah, but see, J’Zargo scored a 100, while you scored a 99. This means J’Zargo is perfect, and you are less so.”
It seems the other students had passed their final trials and test and were now officially adepts of the College. What starts as polite congratulations turns into an argument between J’Zargo and Celeste after J’Zargo says “Now that J’Zargo is no longer an apprentice, maybe J’Zargo will let you me his apprentice and will teach you.” Their verbal spat is interrupted by a courier who is looking for Celeste, Alicia, and Meridin.
Each of them is given a letter asking them to come to Whiterun and meet a certain individual at the Bannered Mare. This person, who only identifies himself by the name of Arvanell, has already arranged for the cost of a carriage to transport them to Whiterun, and there will be rooms waiting for them when they arrive. He promises that the journey will be worth their while, and that there is the potential to become very wealthy.
After some discussion as to who the strange benefactor might be (as well as Celeste throwing the invitation in J’Zargo’s face since he didn’t get one), the trio pack their things, say their goodbyes, and go down to the stables to catch a carriage to Whiterun.
Meanwhile, it’s a typical day at Jorvasskr, with Grog and Torvar engaged in a drinking contest that quickly escalates into a drunken wrestling match due to the goading of the other Companions. A courier comes into Jorvasskr to deliver letters for Grog, Bob, and Sampson. They are invited to a private dinner at the Bannered Mare the next evening, with the promise of work and wealth. Bob and Sampson are suspicious and try to ask around town if anyone knows anything about a man named Arvanell. The barkeep at the Bannered Mare knows only that someone by that name reserved a room for dinner the following night and booked some rooms for guests. Paid in gold up front through a proxy. Grog is indifferent about the meeting until Bob tells him that there will be free ale. Grog is suddenly very interested in attending the meeting.
The trio of spellcasters arrive in Whiterun and make their way to the Bannered Mare after getting directions. They settle into their rooms and then make their way downstairs for the dinner meeting, not knowing what to expect. A lavish feast is already prepared on the table, but no sign of their host. Soon the trio from Jorvasskr come into the room for dinner, and Bob is immediately suspicious of the presence of the Altmer and asks her point blank if she is working with the Thalmor. Samspon calms the situation down before it turns hostile and suggests everyone just wait until their hosts arrives to get some answers. Grog helps himself to the wine on the table and starts to drunkenly flirt with the mage and cleric.
A robed figure walks into the room with the hood of his cloak pulled up over his head. He’s wearing some sort of armor under the robes, but the only parts visible are the boots and gauntlets, which appear to be made out of some cream-color material and have red accents. He introduces himself as Arvanell, and speaks in a deliberate, somewhat archaic version of common. He refuses to pull back his hood or reveal his face. “I realize that I ask much. For you to trust me even as I seem to distrust you. But I have much more to lose than you do. So I hope you will forgive me this matter.”
Arvanell will finance the exploration of various locations. His interest is only in items related to the First and Second Eras and the specific items or tomes he requests. Any other treasure found is the property of the players. He dodges when asked the purpose of his research. “You cannot be made to tell that which you do not know.” Under pressure, he elaborates some. The smuggling of Dwemer relics is a longstanding crime in the Empire. Though the Nords themselves often ignore that, they do get aggrieved when people enter the ancient Nord burial tombs. Finally, Arvanell does not wish for the Thalmor to learn of his research, as they too have shown interest in his area of research and he would prefer to avoid them as their goals are mutually exclusive.
When asked why he specifically requested each of them, his reply is that his contacts have informed him that each of them possess the suitable collection of skills necessary to perform the tasks, but none of them are known enough in Skyrim for anyone to pay much attention to their movements. And he needs people who can travel throughout Skyrim without attracting too much suspicion from the authorities on all sides: The Empire, the Stormcloaks, and the Thalmor.
Sampson casts Detect Evil, but Arvanell appears to be genuine. The spellcasters find the notion of researching First and Second era history exciting. Bob likes the promise of being made rich. Sampson is still suspicious, but sees an opportunity to build a name for himself. Grog just wants to know if he will be kept in ale. Arvanell orders a keg for him. Grog is happy.
Once everyone agrees to the task, Arvanell gives them their first assignment: Bleak Falls Barrow. Arvanell says that the Barrow should be relatively safe, as the Dragonborn went through it years ago to retrieve the Dragonstone during the Alduin Crisis. But his preliminary research indicates that there should be a second tablet in the main burial chamber, which would have been overlooked by the Dragonborn at the time. Go to the barrow and retrieve that tablet, then bring it back to Arvanell. He does tell them to prepare for bandits, as he has heard rumors that a group of bandits have set up shop in the upper levels.
He also explains the Nordic Puzzle Door at the bottom of the barrow blocking the Burial chamber. Such doors required unique keys to open. Fortunately, the location of the key, a golden claw, is already known. It is in the possession of the owners of the Riverwood Traders. He tells them that he doesn’t particularly care how they acquire the key: buy it, steal it, borrow it. But they won’t be able to access the main chamber without it.
They make their way to Riverwood and start asking around town for information on the Barrow, getting conflicting information from different sources.
Alvor the smith tells the party that after the Dragonborn destroyed the Draugr in the Barrow, some adventurers would periodically go up there to look for treasure but only ever really found old weapons and armor. Alvor buys any old Nord weapons and armor made of metal, as he can refurbish them and sell them. But nobody has come by for a few months, so he assumes the barrow finally has been fully emptied of anything of value.
Alvor’s apprentice, Ryland, went up to the Barrow himself last week to see if he could find anything. He never returned. The lad was a bit of a hothead and may have just left, but Alvor worries that if something happened to him nobody would know. He’s too old himself and has too many obligations to go off into the Barrow, and the local guards can’t be bothered chasing after a grown man that may have just quit. But if they are going up there anyway, perhaps they could be on the lookout for Ryland just to make sure he isn’t injured or dead.
Orgnar at the Sleeping Giant Inn huffs something about “More mages” and seems annoyed about questions regarding the Barrow. A pair of mages came through a few weeks asking questions about the Barrow. They were both Dunmer, and had a shifty look about them. Hopefully the Draugr reanimated and dealt with them. If asked about his animosity toward the Dunmer. “Everyone knows Morrowind always ignored Imperial law when it came to necromancy.”
Sven, the bard, will mention that a few hunters reported seeing some movement up at the Barrow, but didn’t investigate. He speculates that it is possible the Draugr have reanimated. As far as everyone knows, the Dragonborn didn’t actually destroy the bodies when she was there. Who knows what the ancient magics are capable of?
Hilde, Sven’s mother, says she was harvesting snowberries south of the Barrow when she claims she saw a dragon! She volunteers this information, loudly. Sven insists there is no dragon in the area, to which she retorts “Yeah, well, that’s what you said LAST TIME and look what happened!” She claims this dragon was different than the others she had seen because it didn’t have wings. “But maybe they got cut off,” she says with a shrug. Sven suggests more likely it was a large bear, as his mother’s sight isn’t very good.
Bob offers to just steal the claw, but Sampson says they can see if they can just borrow it and return it. Lucan, however, won’t hear any of it. The claw was stolen before and he won’t let it out of his sight again. He also refuses an offer to buy it. Meridin suggests they could borrow it if they leave something of comparable value behind as collateral. Lucan says he’ll take their horses as collateral, and if they don’t return the claw, he’ll sell them for glue! Camilla insists that she would allow her brother to do no such thing and is horrified that he would even threaten such. Meridin and Sampson agree to leave their horses behind as collateral, with Camilla insisting that the horses will be just fine.
So it’s up to the Barrow. Bob sneaks ahead and notices that there is a small group of bandits outside the entrance, but is sure that the party can take them out easily enough. Sampson wants to ask about Ryland, first, and being a paladin wants to give them a chance to be peaceful. He decides to simply walk up there and talk to them. Alicia decides to follow Sampson, in the event things turn hostile. Bob and Meridin hide in the shadows. Celeste and Grog stay at the bottom of the steps out of site, with Grog hitting on Celeste the entire time.
Surprisingly, the bandits do NOT immediately attack, but seem to be expecting someone. Sampson says he is looking for Ryland, and the bandits responds in astonishment “So Ulfric did send the ransom?” Sampson responds with a non-committal “I need to see Ryland first.” The bandits start to give Sampson a hard time, but the one female bandit in the group (who makes it clear she finds Sampson attractive) says to let them in to talk to the boss. Sampson signals for Bob to come out of hiding, but the rest of the group remains hidden (as the bandits think they are from Ulfric, the sight of a dunmer and altmer would ruin the plan).
They go inside and meet the bandit leader and the rest of the bandits. Ryland is in a cage (and he seems just as surprised as everyone else that Ulfric send a ransom for him).
“Let me see the money!” demands the leader.
“Release Ryland, first,” says Sampson.
“Why should I trust you?”
“I’m a paladin. You’re a kidnapper and bandit. Which of us is more trustworthy?”
“He has a point,” says the smitten female bandit.
The bandit unlocks the cage, but won’t let Ryland leave until he gets the 500 gold he demanded. Sampson asks for a moment and huddles with his party. Bob says they can just take the bandits. Sampson wants to get Ryland out in one piece first. They pool their money to come up with 500 gold and pay the bandit. The bandit allows Ryland and the party to leave.
Outside, Sampson immediately starts to question Ryland as to why the bandits thought Ulfric would pay a ransom for him. Upon seeing the elves, Ryland at first clams up and refuses to speak. After a brief interrogation, he admits to being a Stormcloak spy. Jarl Balgruuf claims Whiterun is neutral, but Ulfric doesn’t believe that. So Ryland has been working at the smith’s to spy on Imperial movements and report the information back to the Stormcloaks. He only admitted to the bandits who he was to save his hide. He didn’t expect Ulfric would actually ransom him, but at least it bought him some time to figure out how to escape.
The female bandit comes out and is heading down to Riverwood. She pays no mind to the rest of the party and asks Sampson if they will be leaving immediately. (GM Note: At this point, I named her Lizette, as she needed a name). Sampson says they have some unfinished business in the area first so they aren’t leaving immediately. She says that she is going down to the town to get a room at the inn and spend some of her share before leaving the area. Sampson milks information out of her while flirting back. The bandits will be leaving the area soon to find a better spot. Nope, what he saw was all of them. No, she hadn’t seen any dragon, duegar, or mages.
After Lizette is out of sight, they tie Ryland to a pillar until they decide what to do with him. He is a Stormcloak spy, after all, and the Jarl will want to know. Much to Bob’s delight, Sampson says they should clear out those bandits for good before they can move on to another area. They walk back up to the entrance, where the bandits are packing up.
“You forget something?” asks the bandit leader.
“Yes,” says Sampson. “I’ll give you one chance to surrender.”
They beat down the bandits and the leader surrenders. They lock him in the cage and discuss whether or not to bring Ryland back in and put him in the cage. Thinking they may end up killing each other (or working together to escape) they decide to leave Ryland outside for now.
Down in the lower levels, they come across a bunch of frostbite spiders, and they fight their way through the spiders until they finally reach the Nordic puzzle door. They find the corpses of the two dead mages and a destroyed duegar. Apparently they tried to reanimate it and ended up getting killed in the process.
They open the door and enter the chamber. And here they stand before history, as they see the enormous Dragonwall at the far end of the chamber. Everyone but Grog takes a moment to appreciate the wall before looking for the tablet. Grog actually starts to get a little testy and goes back upstairs to drink any ale the bandits left behind. They find the tablet and go back upstairs.
They loot the remainder of the bandit’s gear and take the bandit leader with them. When they get outside, they find Ryland’s corpse still tied to the pillar, but his midsection looks like something large took a bite out of him.
Then the dragon comes out from behind rubble and makes a B-Line straight for Bob! [Used the brown dragon wyrmling from the Monsters of Faerun book because it was the best option for the CR]).
After an intense combat, the dragon falls. Meridin realizes that this is a wyrmling, which means a mating pair must be in the area. Before much more investigation can occur, however, the corpse starts to glow with a strange light and spontaneously combust into magical fire! The dragon’s soul leaves the body and…enters Bob.
The session ends with the rest of the party staring blankly at Bob. He has some explaining to do.