Illyria Game Two picked up back in the waterside city of Fraus, on the northwest of Lake Laconic. The players met Nicodemus, the thieves' guild master, at the Flying Trout on the waterfront, and gave over the relics they recovered and claimed their share. They had also recovered an Olympian shortsword (bronze, magic +1) and gave it to their sword-and-board fighter, Tiberius.
The relics recovered from the Tomb of Gymnos included an Olympian spear and a heroic shield; the buyer was a captain of the grand army of Durus, Nikos, an ambassador to Fraus and collector. The captain was impressed by the group and told them he could use a party of irregulars to travel south, to Fort Quintus, where an incursion of goblin and dark fey of Arcadia had appeared across the river from the fort. "The army is occupied with other priorities, while we mobilize for our king's upcoming campaign against those who doubt his right to rule all of Illyria."
The guildmaster was also impressed with the characters, and said he needed someone with a bit of backbone, "unconcerned with getting rough and dirty hands", to go to Castra Lapis and take care of some deadbeats. "Castra Lapis is a profitable little mining village, off the road to Durus, and I've had a few men there looking out for guild interests, running a gambling den and black market, that kind of stuff. The guild's share has dried up, so I'm beginning to think they've gone into business for themselves, and need to be reminded who they work for. But there's also been disturbing news from Castra Lapis. I've heard of a few families that have recently moved away because folks have gone strange or missing. So who knows?"
Meanwhile, an intriguing hand-written post had started to appear nailed outside the taverns frequented by mercenaries and adventurers; it read like this:
Men wanted, for hazardous exploration, small wages, terrible foes, long periods of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor, recognition, and wealth in case of success. Report to the Adventurer's Guild Hall of Lunda to apply.
I wanted to feed the players at least three adventurous opportunities right off the bat and give them something to talk about - a good way to kick off a sandbox. If they wanted the game to be more political and involve favors with kings and generals, they could pursue the Fort Quintus opportunity. If they liked their friendship with the guildmaster of thieves and liked being hired muscle, they could go to Castra Lapis. If they wanted to embark on some epic dungeon crawling, there was Lunda. (Bonus points if any readers know where I cribbed the call to Lunda, it's really classic).
They chose the Castra Lapis idea and agreed to work for the guildmaster, figuring that Lunda would still be there, and the army story line wasn't interesting to them.
For the readers, I'll point out that I've built Illyria to be fairly generic, where I could dump my favorite adventures and hooks while learning the in's and out's of the 5E system. Player characters are way overpowered in 5E compared to the games I usually run, and I have to recallibrate my sensitivities to figure out the best way to create adventures and encounters. It's exacerbated by having a large group (since all of the stock advice and encounter building "advice" in the DMG is targeted at a 4-5 player party, and party size is a major variable).
The plot hook for Fort Quintus was 'Guido's Fort' from Horror on the Hill, and Castra Lapis is the site of the Cult of the Reptile God from the adventure of the same name. (Lunda has hooks for my homebrew megadungeon, Death Mountain, and also a 3E favorite, The Sunless Citadel).
The road to Castra Lapis took them past fields where slaves toiled on farms under the gaze of mounted overseers; the Celtic war bands north of Illyria sell their defeated enemies to the slavers of Fraus to toil in Illyria's 'bread basket', the vale of Durus. They had another unsettling encounter on the way to Castra Lapis; an old man walking on the road with a mad gleam to his eyes. "My daughter has come back! She visited me last night, and told me to meet her in the city". As he waved by and walked up the road, he called back, "It destroyed me when she died last year, but now she's back - she just needs to find the right kind of body in the city!" The players have now encountered two situations where shades have apparently returned from the vaults of Pluto and the underworld.
Since a few players had to miss this game, the group had the missing characters establish a camp outside of town so they'd have an avenue for players to drop in, drop out. The ones that attended approached town, where they were rebuffed by the constable and his flunkies. "You've missed the main road to Durus", he pointed out. "Surely a gang of heavily armed mercenaries have no business in quiet little Castra Lapis?" Queue some obligatory roleplaying, persuasion, and intimidation attempts. (Intimidation is the kid's 'go to' skill choice, they love to make bruiser characters and trash talk at the bad guys).
They got information from the constable - the guys they were after worked out of the Golden Grain Inn, and did indeed host gambling and similar activities for the miners. "Don't cause trouble, as we'll be just up the road and we're not afraid to call out the militia."
After doing their "I'm Batman, Where are They" voices on a few miners at the inn, the players were directed to Decimus (the thieves' guild contact) in an upstairs room. "Snigrot is my partner, he's not back yet", drawled Decimus. "Let's meet in an hour, at dinner, and we'll talk all about the missing payments and what's been going on here..." Decimus was presented as a dangerous scarred loner in a saloon (Clint Eastwood with knives).
A couple of players scouted the village in the meantime while the rest waited for the meeting. When the time came, drinks were served, and Snigrot and Decimus joined at one end of the table. None of the players realized the drinks had slow acting sleep poisons in them. Trash talking started, threats were made, and Mort (the group's reckless hot headed death cleric) ran across the table swinging his maul at Decimus. Mort's legs got wobbly from the sleep poison, but he made his save. At this point all the players realized it was a set up!
Furthermore, everyone in the inn was part of the ambush. The dozen or so miners grabbed clubs, knives, or bottles. A miner barred the front door so no one could get out. The bartender swung a bat from behind the bar, clubbing the half orc barbarian. (It just made the barbarian angry). The only player that completely missed his poison save was Shae the Gnome Sorceror, so he took a nap. Mort dueled Decimus, and eventually connected with Inflict Wounds (a hideous damage spell). Brax cast thunderwave at a bunch of the miners, rocking the inn and shattering glasses and windows. Rasp dueled with Snigrot.
The miners were basically mooks, easy to take out by player characters, so the fight ended quickly once Decimus and Snigrot fell. The thunderwave alerted the constable, who was calling for the militia out in the streets. Baruch, the bartender, was taken prisoner and gagged by the players, while a few characters quickly looted Decimus's room upstairs for ill-gotten gains. They escaped out the back of the inn before the constable returned, using their druid's skills to cover their tracks and guide them to camp.