Graylands Season 2 Finale: The Fate of Aphenaeus

The main campaign has taken us through some incredible twists and turns.  My players have done things that I was in no way prepared for and spun a conclusion to the story of Mr. Aphenaeus.  If you have been following along, you know Mr. Aphenaeus is our first quest giver.  He allowed the PCs to create the adventuring guild that would act as a home for the Main Party and some side characters.  He has helped them in their time of need and required them for his purposes.  His story, along with this season, has come to an end.  I think this season finale requires us to tell the tale of Aphenaeus from the beginning to the end and then take a look at what his life will have on the future. Much of this information has not even been revealed in its entirety to my players.  The picture here is what I thought Mr. Aphenaeus ought to look like.

The Story of Mr. Aphenaeus:

Jacob Aphenaeus was born into the prestigious family of Aphenaeus, a wealthy noble family whose ancestral home is in the Gold District in Phaidecia.  At a young age, he bore witness to his father sexually assaulting a young servant.  He became aware that this was his father's common practice, indeed, this is what most of the lords of the high houses of Phaidecia do with most of their servants, even bragging about it at their parties.  He allowed this to go on until his father tried his hand at Stacey.  Stacey is from a long line of bodyguards that have been assigned to the sons of House Aphenaeus since time immemorial.  She was assigned to protect Jacob, but it was Jacob that protected her when the time came.  Stacey is beautiful and for a servant, this is more often a blessing than a curse.  When Jacob's Aphenaeus' father cornered Stacey, he killed the rapist with a knife to the back.  From that day on, Stacey was bound to Mr. Aphenaeus with cords stronger than duty.  She loved him with a kind of love that was not romantic or sisterly or even motherly.  She fell in love with what he stood for: respect for the humanity of all people.

After that, Aphenaeus could no longer associate himself with the corrupt houses of the Gold District.  He sold his family's ancient home and took up residence in the Silver District.  He would have simply spent his days attempting to lobby for the rights of the downtrodden before the Court of Coins and continuing his education as a wizard if he had not met Thenifus.  Thenifus, at this time, was a wealthy merchant and the secret head of the Cult of the Fingercounter.  Thenifus convinced him of the radical ideals of the Cult and brought him in as a leading member.  Thenifus told Aphenaeus that Law was inherently oppressive.  The Civilized world only oppresses the poor and the Chaotic.  True equality will only be reached once Law has been extinguished.

It was not too much later that Thenifus gave up his sanity for power from the Fingercounter.  His sacrifice opened up a passage through which enough of the Fingercounter's power could enter the mortal realm to make the finger bone charms that allow cultists to communicate over long distances and travel through mirrors.  After Thenifus became too unstable for the role, Aphenaeus took up the mantle of leadership.  The sharp mind of this wizard allowed the cult to grow and pull off the killings of several nobles.

It was around this time that Aphenaeus decided that he would need muscle to truly enact his revolution.  He knew adventurers made useful tools, retrieving magical items and becoming fearsome warriors.  He also had heard of an artifact called the Black Candle that was kept on the Forbidden Island in the middle of the Saint's Blood lake.  He believed that this Candle would allow him to blur the lines between the worlds enough to give full passage of the Fingercounter into the mortal realm.  He hired some people he likely thought would not survive but just might pull off a miracle and find a way to win the day.  Then he hired some more.  And then he hired some more.  And then he settled on a group consisting of a dwarf that complained about his wife a lot, an idiotic farmboy with a demonic sheep, and a strangely buff bard that was looking for adventure.  They managed to conquer the island but not to free the Candle.  Thinking that this new company of adventurers would still be very useful if he could turn them to his cause, he consented to turn the Forbidden Island of the party's base.

Some time later, Aphenaeus heard word of a group of mad scientists who had been kidnapping many of the homeless, including one of his comrades.  He took some of the new adventurers from the Forbidden Isle base to save his friend and put an end to the work of these mad men.  He was unfortunately too late to save his comrade from being horribly mutated.  He ended up putting down his friend and drawing on so much power that he ended up corrupting himself and disfiguring half of his face.

Meanwhile, at the Cathedral of Steel, word had been circulating of the Cult's actions, prompting the Lord High Inquisitor to dispatch a group of Inquisitors into the area, led by the infamous Inquisitor Ezekiel Blackthorn who had burned Old Amadecia to annihilate the widespread heresy there.  He would be distracted, though, by the coming of the Legion of the Raven to Thrandhelm.

The Legion's crusade against Thrandhelm became an opportunity for Aphenaeus.  He left the Forbidden Isle base to find an artifact: a mask holding the soul of the demon, Karamak.  With this mask, he was able to become the leader of the Legion of the Raven.  Karamak also promised Aphenaeus the knowledge of how to free the Black Cadle from its magical containment if he were to succeed at conquering Thrandhelm in the name of Chaos.

Around this time, the founding party of the guild decided to see what was happening there.  They met Aphenaeus and he told them about another artifact that he intended to use to take the city.  The party decided to take up the quest even though they were not all sold on what Aphenaeus wanted to do with this artifact, however, while they were away the defenders of Thrandhelm gained the upper hand and overwhelmed the Legion.  Aphenaeus fled from there back to the Forbidden Isle where he wrested the information of how to break the Black Candle from Karamak in a battle of wills.

He was prepared to finish his ritual, sacrificing his own life to free the Candle, out of madness, the control of Karamak, or our of his own devotion to his radical ideology.  It is hard to say whether Aphenaeus was in control of his actions at the end, so the party decided to stop him from completing his ritual.  They managed to trick the Inquisitor that was chasing Aphenaeus so they could keep Aphenaeus prisoner.  During their interrogation of Aphenaeus, Dimitri asked what he would be willing to give up for his goal.

Aphenaeus said, "Anything.  Equality is worth anything."

Dimitri asked, "Would you sacrifice Stacey?"

Aphenaeus, for all his fervor, could not answer.

Dimitri repeated his question.

Aphenaeus reluctantly breathed, "Yes."

Stacey was standing right there and she pulled out her sword. "You are not the man I knew."

She stabbed him in the chest, ending Aphenaeus right then and there.  For the purposes of their deception, they left his body where the Inquisitor could find it.  Ezekiel Blackthorn is not so easily evaded.  The Inquisitor brought him down to the dungeons beneath the Clocktower Cathedral telling the priests to bring him back.  The last thing we heard as we faded out was a single gasping breath.

Lessons and Thoughts:

I had wanted to reveal Mr. Aphenaeus as a dangerous ideologue a long time ago.  I had thought that the players would want to explore his story more sooner but other things took up center stage.  I think this extension actually made this story more interesting.  They trusted Aphenaeus.  They actually liked him from time to time.  He felt like my character within the story.  The revelation of his dark intent was all the more impactful as a consequence.  This is a great example of why letting characters do what they want and allow the to impact the world and feel the consequences is the best way to go.
Another lesson is that simplicity can be better than complexity.  We had one fight in the finale and it was a fun fight that didn't provide too much challenge but gave plenty of opportunities for comedy.  The contrast with the serious story that this provided gave the events of the story more gravity.

I have enjoyed this season tremendously and I hope that you. dear reader, have enjoyed reading about it.


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