The Worst Adventure Ever: Tantras, chapter five

5/6 of the way through the story, we finally get to Tantras.The old saying from Spaceballs is that evil will always triumph because good is dumb. In the Forgotten Realms, it’s the other way around – evil is so very, very stupid. To illustrate that point, Chapter 5 opens up with the following off-screen event:

“Cyric arrives in Scardale, leading a Zhentilar force. To test this rising star in his ranks, Bane has sent him (along with Durrock, the assassin who led the assault on the PCs) to Tantras, to kill Kelemvor for his treachery and to capture Midnight. Bane is worried that the PCs are getting close to the Tablet of Fate.”

You would think that Bane curing Kelemvor of his panther-itis would have come with a price, but it didn’t. Bane gave Kelemvor everything he needed on good faith that the warrior would betray his friends. Moreover, he’s worried that the PCs are getting close to the Tablet of Fate…didn’t he just capture them last chapter? It’s a case of, “Why don’t you just kill them?” He knows that Midnight is the one of value, and she was sitting bound and drugged in a cell when either Adon or the PCs saved her. Had Bane just killed the helper characters, he wouldn’t have had to make his idiot bargain with Kelemvor in the first place. Not that I’m advocating that the PCs should have been killed off, but it would have been nice to see a villain show some competence. Bane supposedly got his divinity by tricking the old god of death, Jergal, into relinquishing his power. Did Jergal have the intelligence of a tree stump, or has Bane just become really stupid in his later years?

Before the events begin, the PCs finally arrive in Tantras. A guardsman calls out to them as they dock:

“Ho, the ship!” bellows one, from a raised stone deck ahead of you. “Lose way – you’re too fast in, by far! Fend you off from these” – he waves at three gigantic, seagull-covered spires, rising dark and glistening from the water – “and turn in here. That beyond’s for larger boats. Turn in, I say!”

Around the officer, as he speaks, a dozen archers come to look down at you, and ready shafts to their bows.

Wait…what?

This is going a bit far…the designer is begging to give the PCs an excuse to get killed here. The docking could have gone nice and smooth, but instead the PCs’ first impression of Tantras is thirty archers aiming bows at them for what amounts to illegal parking. If the PCs ignore the warning, they become perforated. If they have common sense, they dock and everything goes smoothly. An adventure is perilous enough as is…is it really necessary for a module to contain the possibility of the PCs getting killed by overzealous traffic cops?

Event 1: All Through Life We Seek…
“The PCs find lodging in the Lazy Moon (innkeeper: Faress, human male: group rate: 2 gp per day, all meals included but drinkables extra). Kelemvor crisply directs everyone to get a bath and sleep, and then meet in the taproom for “a jaw wagging” and a full meal after he awakens them.

“The other NPCs should agree. Any PCs who are not tired will be curtly told to study spells or ready their gear, but not to go anywhere on their own.”

Good to see that Kelemvor is joining the rest of the NPCs in bossing the PCs around and generally being pissy toward them.

Midnight then gives the plot reminder that the group is in Tantras because Elminster told them to find the first Tablet of Fate here. The party breaks up into smaller groups, giving the PCs a chance to wander around Tantras and collect rumors. The first day of searching goes fruitlessly, however…it’s not like you can just walk up to the local barkeeper and say, “So…I hear you’ve got a Tablet of Fate around here, eh? Eh?”

The group meets again as a whole at the Lazy Moon, where they discuss strategy to continue their search…

“The DM should allow the discussion to continue, using the NPCs to direct the flow of conversation, until the PCs agree to or are persuaded to make another effort tomorrow. Again, Kelemvor warns PCs against independent action, and any PCs who try to set off on their own will find him waiting for them, watchful and unsurprised.

“On the morrow, Adon insists on going off on his own. (If any PCs protest or question this – since they haven’t been allowed to do the same thing – Kelemvor will growl something like, ‘Let him go. He’s too sullen to suit me anyway. Maybe being by himself for a time will put him in a better mood.’)”

I love that the module writer seems to realize that the NPCs are being dicks to the PCs, but instead of correcting that behavior, his solution is to embrace it fully.

Adon wanders off, so you know he’ll pop up at some important plot point in the near future. The rest of the group continues on their way. And then the worst thing possible happens.

Someone is singing nearby. “My nose may be old/My nose may be cold/But it can smell right well/Still, sir! And it do smell/Adventurers bold, laden with gold/ Adventurers bought, adventurers sold…”

The singer is an enigmatic, smiling young man in homespuns, with a lute on his back. He grins at you merrily, blue-grey eyes dancing. “And here you are!” he cries. “Adventurers, just as my nose thought! All swords and grim missions, and out-of-my-way-boy, I’m-saving-theworld-today-boy! Well met!”

The minstrel is the newest conductor on the plot railroad. He doesn’t seem so bad…yet…

The rest of the event is a long block of flavor text in which Minstrel (yes, he insists that his name is really Minstrel) shows how witty and clever he is by charming Midnight and making fun of Kelemvor. All I can say is that if an NPC is going to use an anagram for his name, he should make it more difficult to figure out. Minstrel then shows the PCs around town a bit, but Kelemvor walks off in a huff because he doesn’t like being made fun of. I guess now he knows what the PCs must feel like.

Event 2: The Temple of Town
“To understand Tantras these days, you must see the Temple of Torm first. ’Tis a grand thing to see, and I’ll be proud to take you there!”

Minstrel takes the PCs to the temple of Torm, which is bursting at the seams with magic. The reason for all the magic is that Torm himself, the god of duty and righteousness, has set up shop in Tantras.

Meanwhile, off-stage, Cyric and an assassin attack Kelemvor. Kelemvor defeats the assassin and notices Cyric as he runs off. He’s not dead. What a surprise.

Event 3: The Bell on the Hill
“One thing, friends: the soldiers have their barracks hereabouts. Common folk are not supposed to venture south of the fountain without approved business, these days. But I’ve noticed that if one avoids the fountain itself, around highnoon, few folk seem to be around to watch. So, come you down this alley, and around here, and…”

Minstrel brings the PCs to a shrine of Mystra, which garners Midnight’s attention immediately. She wanders away from the group and straight to the church’s bell:

Midnight touches the bell and gasps. A faint blue glow arises around her hands, and then seems to flicker around her. She stands taller and straighter as it fades away. She turns toward you, smiling, seems to exhale her held breath, and looks around.

Suddenly she frowns. “Where’s Minstrel?”

Oh, that clever little Minstrel. He led the PCs to a place where Midnight could become even more powerful, then just disappeared. If anyone was watching him specifically, they saw him just disappear into thin air. Hm…must be a mage or something…a mage named Minstrel…

Midnight, though, doesn’t get it.

“Friends,” Midnight says deliberately, frowning in her uncertainty, “I wish I knew who or what Minstrel was. He seems so damnably familiar.”

The text seems to assume that the PCs haven’t figured the mystery out, either. Had the module been playtested, I imagine the test group might have been shouting at Midnight for not piecing things together by now.

Anyway, Midnight has become even more powerful and is now able to sense magic. She knows that the Tablet of Fate is in Torm’s temple, which raises the question of why Torm hasn’t brought it back to Ao and solved this whole mess yet. Maybe he likes being a mortal…who knows?

The party then regroups. Kelemvor tells everyone that Cyric has become evil…um, eviler. And Adon returns with a “surprise.”

At that moment, Minstrel comes into the taproom, arm in arm with Adon. The cleric is laughing. “You had us fooled indeed, old friend,” he says, and Minstrel grins at him in reply before turning his head to wink at all of you.

Midnight’s eyes narrow and then suddenly become very bright. “Elminster!” she breathes. “Elminster!”

Minstrel grins. “Aye, lady. Well met, as they say. Now thy journey really begins.”

Eh? Eh? Get it? Minstrel…Elminster? What a clever guy!

Okay, I’m done picking on Elminster for now. There’s much more griping to be done soon.

Event 4: Reunion and Disunion
“Still in his minstrel garb, but letting fall his illusory youthful looks, Elminster plays upon a small hand-harp as he sits down with the PCs, puts his feet up on an adjacent empty chair, and talks. As he plays on, others in the taproom slowly drift away, shuffling home or up to bed or off to do other tasks about the place, until Elminster and the adventurers are quite alone (due to the subtle magic of his harping).”

You know, magical chaos is still supposed to be in effect. I think it would be hilarious if Elminster’s spell backfired on him and instead of telling the PCs the next step in the plot, he got all befuddled and tired and decided to go off to bed.

“The DM can use Elminster to explain anything the PCs don’t understand about the events that have befallen them, except that he will not talk about the recent events involving Cyric.

“If PCs avoid asking Elminster things, have the NPCs put questions to him.”

No! Don’t get him talking! He’ll never shut up!

Elminster keeps talking for the next two and a half pages. Seriously. This coming on the heels of the previous event, which finished with a full page of flavor text. So that’s three full pages of boxed text to be read aloud to the PCs. That’s about 3,000 words, which is longer than many book chapters. This isn’t role-playing. This is read-aloud time.

Long story short: one of the two Tablets of Fate is nearby. The other one is far away in Waterdeep. Elminster has done the PCs a solid and told the folks in Shadowdale that he isn’t dead, which I hope makes them all feel like dicks for nearly executing innocent men without having a corpse on hand to prove murder.

Elminster also shows the PCs a vision through a crystal ball in which Bane and Myrkul work a powerful death spell to kill all assassins in the Realms. It totally works, neatly removing the assassin class from the game (since that class didn’t make the cut between 1st and 2nd edition). If any of the PCs were assassins, they are screwed. Note that “assassins” refers to the assassin class, not a person who performs an assassination. How Bane and Myrkul make that distinction is beyond me.

When all the discussion is over, and after Midnight has mercifully called Elminster out for being a gigantic douche, someone rushes into the inn calling for aid at the temple of Torm. Time for the PCs to go out and be heroes. Or at least watch Midnight as she does it for them. Again.

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