Bassianus, Zardoz, and Markul save some people from giant ants, talk to a wizard-professor about the magical paintings, and track down the painter: Fucking Varkonius.
Steven, playing Bassianus.
Marc, playing Zardoz, a half-elven bard who plays the accordion and seems to be a pathological liar. He grew up as an orphan and was exploited by an organized crime group who used him as a distraction while they did bad things. Zardoz is earning money to save the orphanage that raised him.
Steppen, playing Markul, a human bard—a flute and drum player—who seems to have a troubled history. One day, while exploring the deeper levels of Caldera, he spied on a twisted and dark arcane ritual. Worse, he recognized some of the arcanists as teachers at his magical college. And worst, one of them spotted him. Now Markul lives in fear that an evil cult will track him down and kill him. Markul and Zardoz play together at the Golden Beam in the Gloaming.
As many other good things do, this story starts in a tavern—the Golden Beam, of course. Basso chatted with his bard friends Zardoz and Markul over some pints, and they discussed how the Gloaming is going to shit lately.
The group of three went back into the abandoned attic level below Mama Lusia’s basement. Someone had broken through the boarded up hole leading out into the third city level. Basso and Markul used some ropes to climb down and get their bearings. They talked to the owner of a bail bonds shop across from the alley where the ants had climbed the buildings, and the bondsman was able to verify that he’d seen giant ants crawling around there.
Meanwhile Zardoz boarded the holes back up and spent some quality time looking at family pictures with Mama Lucia, who rewarded him with a basket of frosted cupcakes.
Brief role-playing. Successful Diplomacy check won her over.
Sounds of screaming drew him out to the streets where giant ants were climbing a building. A child was trapped on a balcony and Zardoz ran to his rescue. He used cupcakes to lure the ants away from the kid but tripped down the stairs and ended up in a death struggle with a couple very large ants. Markul and Basso soon joined Zardoz, and the three finished off the monsters.
4 hive worker (level 1 minion), 2 hive warrior (level 2 skirmisher)
The two bards wanted to see the weird painting that Konton found. They headed over to Konton’s apartment and inspected the painting. It had a weird magical aura that the bards could see, and also a stylized signature. Ants (the regular kind) were crawling around on the back of the canvas.
The three decided to take the painting to the walled Arcane Sciences Academy. This entailed getting past two bored wizardry students. Zardoz used a little intimidation and diplomacy to gain them passage (Basso stood around and burped unceremoniously, as he was drunk). Markul, however, stayed well back and did not go into the Academy, as he feared being spotted by a cultist. He did tell Zardoz and Basso whom to visit: his old professor.
Diplomacy and Intimidation checks. DC 18. Steven rolled a 3 for Intimidation, though, and was no help.
The middle-aged professor was quite a character. His office was full of junk and looked like a cross between an antique shop and a flea market. When Zardoz spun a wild tale, the old wizard farted out a plume of blue smoke and accused Zardoz of blowing smoke up his ass.
The prof knew who made the painting: “Fucking Varkonius!” Turns out a student humiliated the professor a few years back and got kicked out of the Academy. The painting was enchanted to summon ants (and not create them or enlarge them, as the party theorized). At the professor’s suggestion, they shredded the canvas to break the spell.
Role-playing. Maybe a Diplomacy check or two.
There was brief interlude at the Golden Beam where the two bards humiliated another flute player who was performing there. They seeded whispered ideas that the flute player wasn’t very good and that his songs were outdated. He got booed off stage between songs. Mariquus, the tavern’s proprietor, asked the bards if they could play something to fill the hole in the entertainment schedule, and of course they stepped up to the challenge. They performed a brief operetta using new lyrics to popular songs that people were likely to know. The crowd loved it.
Role-playing. Diplomacy checks for the whisper campaign. A makeshift “Perform” check (+5 skill bonus as if trained).
While the bards played, Basso put the moves on the hot little singer he’d seen there. She was pretty enthralled with the performing bards, but Basso was very persuasive and ended up making out with her later.
Role-playing. Diplomacy check at DC 20, and Steven (with a +0 Diplomacy) rolled a 20.
Later, they spotted another ant on top of the balconied building where they’d fought before. They quickly climbed to the roof and fought another soldier ant on slippery clay roof tiles. A giant flying ant started strafe-attacking them, too. Basso had much luck grabbing the drone by its legs so that he could stab it with his sword while the bards blasted it with magic.
1 hive soldier (level 3 soldier), 1 winged drone (level 4 skirmisher)
Hidden on the roof was another of those awful, ugly, obviously enchanted “picnic” paintings. They destroyed it. Now they wanted to go find “Fucking Varkonius.” With little more than a name and description, this was a difficult task in a city of millions of people. They started canvassing the city level by level. They learned a bit about the wizard, who people characterized as a “douchebag.” It took a couple weeks, and they had to be careful to avoid entanglements with mean gangs in the lower levels, but eventually they found Varkonius’ “Fine Art Shop” deep in the fifth level and posed as art dealers to get into the shop.
Finding Varkonius was an Obsidian skill challenge, DC 18. They barely pulled it off, and so they had to face a locked door and a paranoid wizard. Getting in was a pair of Diplomacy checks, I think.
They talked to the wizard in his shop. A few of the paintings—obviously his work—were not landscapes depicting picnics but rather showed grim scenes of dark graveyards and tormented monsters. They questioned him about those, but made him nervous, and all hell is about to break loose.