Friday, December 18, 2015

Gloomlight Session 10: The Warchild and the Pueblo

-When the party returned from their discussion with the guard D'Jasper Probincrux III, they found three slender, pale, and blind salamander people waiting for them. One of their number stepped forward and proclaimed "We seek The Warchild." Warbaby assumed she meant him, so he asked what these people wanted. The female introduced herself as Gluprash, daughter of the Great Matriarch of the city of Blupduprash, the last great stronghold of the Olm in this region of the Underdark. She said the Trilobyte Knight (who the Gloomlight prisoners dubbed "Klack") returned to the people of Blupduprash with the news that he had tracked down and killed the Meazel which had been preying on their kind. He did this with the help of the new residents of Gloomlight, and the Olm were very interested to learn that one of their number referred to himself as "Warbaby".

The Olm: Like this, but people.

-Gluprash had many questions for Warbaby--was he a hewer of wood in the world above, lowered here on a vast chain? Is it true he fell in combat with a champion of law but still bested him after the fact? Warbaby carefully considered these questions but answered in affirmative to them all, as he was a woodcutter before his internment in Eberhardt's prison camp, he was lowered into Gloomlight on a miles-long chain, and during his combat test with Klack actually tripped and fell, but then got up and defeated the mighty warrior with a lucky blow. 

-The Olm spoke amongst themselves briefly in their native click-language, but then kneeled before Warbaby. They told him that his coming was foretold for many years, and that he was come to deliver them from their enemies. Gluprash told him many things very quickly, but it seemed they now expected him to first defeat a tribe of beings known as The Savage Ones and then don ceremonial armor and lead them in battle against their ancient enemy, a being known as Old Scar. The details were hazy due to Gluprash's excitement, but once the Savage Ones and Old Scar were defeated the Olm could rebuild settlements above the water and increase their presence once more in Gloomlight. The residents of Gloomlight asked what they stood to gain by assisting them, which confused Gluprash and her companions, but she stated that along with the Svirfneblin, the Olm were likely the only race who would willingly ally themselves with the Gloomlight prisoners instead of trying to eat or enslave them, and that the more power the Olm gained, the more access they would have to food, resources and protection. 

-The party discussed this matter and agreed that it would be good to offer their assistance, even though Warbaby voiced concerns he was in over his head. They offered to return with the Olm to Blupduprash, but Gluprash explained that preparations would need to be made, and since their city was beneath a vast lake whose shores were stalked by the Savage Ones and other dangerous beings, it would be better for the party to remain at Gloomlight until the Olm could return for them. When Warbaby asked how long it would be, the Olm struggled to explain their sense of time was innately different than that of the surface dwellers, which made it almost impossible to express. They settled on "soon" and swam away to the south via the river behind the ruined mill. 

-With time to kill, the party decided to head up the cliff to explore the abandoned pueblo. While passing under the window of the fortress, Mother called down to them to ask where they were going. When they told him they were bound for the pueblo, he laughed and said there was nothing up there for them and that he had taken anything worth taking years ago. Still, they were determined to at least look around.

-Before they left, Mother inquired about Lowtrade's changed form. Due to his now fungal nature, the strange man assumed Lowtrade with the prisoners' slave. Impressed with Lowtrade's ability to fly, he offered to trade the party his own myconid slaves, Channi and Asashi, since they couldn't fly. Recalling the myconids' plea to free them, they contemplated going along with it to pull a fast one on the strange man, but ultimately decided a rescue should involve more planning.

-Traveling East of the fortress, the party saw the pueblo village built above them on a series of steppes to the North. On the level where they stood were two large buildings--a storehouse containing mostly foodstuffs and other provisions gone to dust, but did find 100' of usable rope, 200' of strong, thin, and remarkably unrusted chain, a few shovels, and a stack of dusty but well-preserved lumber under a crumbling tarp. Judging by the foul, greasy smell in the back room of the storehouse, they also found a den possibly used by the pale tigers littered with skeletal remains of shitpigs.
The Pueblo: Like this, but in a dark cave.

-Lowtrade decided his thin tentacles wouldn't be much help sorting through the salvageable items in the storehouse, so he floated to the other building on the first level to investigate. Outside he found a forge, anvil, a bin of coal and a set of blacksmith tools that might be useful again with a little cleaning. Inside, he found several crates of carefully oiled and stored weapons and armor.

-As he floated across the open area between buildings, he heard a scuttling noise from above and saw a medium-sized heat signature move just out of the periphery of his vision. He quickly returned to the storehouse to tell his companions about the armory as well as the potential visitor on the level above.

-The group quickly went to the armory to examine the weapons and armor, especially since there could be need of them in their immediate future. They found four suits of leather armor, a spear, a long bow, as well as a suit of plate mail emblazoned with the crest of House Eberhardt. After crawling through countless cramped, wet caves in their time below, they knew this heavy armor would court danger instead of shielding its wearer from it, but it could have value as a trade with Eberhardt.

-They decided to go investigate the next level, as well as seek out the creature Lowtrade saw to determine if it was a threat or something they could potentially eat. Climbing a ladder, they found four medium-sized buildings and a small one. They also saw a large web spun between two of the builidngs, and in the web a hideous creature that hissed in the torchlight. It was the size of a large dog, and moved on eight arachnid legs which sprouted from a body resembling the head of a moray eel. Its tiny eyes glinted before it rushed at them, attempting a hit and run attack before scrambling back up to its web. The party decided to set the web on fire, which went up quickly. The eel-spider scuttled off into the darkness above.
Eel-Spiders: Like this, but with spider legs, thus even more terrifying.
-The group then ducked into a nearby building. Inside they found a cask of lamp oil as well another (or perhaps the same) eel-spider. Rushing it, they managed to put it down in short order without any serious injuries. At the back of the building they found an opening near the ceiling just the size of the eel spider. They thought they heard more scuttling outside. The party braced themselves for another attack and waited...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Galaktacus Episode 22: I Am Nintendo

My buddies over at the Galaktacus podcast honored me by inviting me on for their latest episode to discuss the fine art and frustrations of dungeon mastering! If you're reading this blog you know the topic could fill an entire series of podcasts, but it was a great discussion. Galaktacus is a killer podcast dedicated to general nerdery run by some very smart and funny dudes and is highly recommended! (Also Kettner is the guy who got me back into D&D in my adult life, so he deserves extra accolades for that one!)

Check it out here!

Tears of Vummor Session 59: So, You're Into Hair Now?

-The party investigated the discarded halfling skin further; without the occluding bandages, they found ragged, open holes on its wrists, eaten as if by acid. They decided it would be best to continue on, so they left the skin behind on the side of the road.

-Since the Somberlain is almost always twilit (save encountering the open tombs and the night creepers), the party had no sense of when to make camp. They decided to sleep when a consensus was reached that they needed to do so. They set up watch and laid down for a period of fitful sleep. Each watch thought they heard something out in the fog at various points, but in the unrelenting silence it was hard to discern what was real and what was imagined.

-During the fourth watch Nimy woke up to something whispering her name. When she opened her eyes she found a black furred creature with a segmented body and eerily human eyes next to her. It smiled and then scampered off like a four-legged insect. She alerted the rest of the party, who stared out into the emptiness around them for the next hour as Ymanie memorized her spells and Ingrid and Roderick sat in their daily prayers. Just as they were about to break camp and set back out, Ymanie began rifling through her belongings. She was clearly panicked, didn't stop searching through her bags long enough to respond. She was frantic, but took a deep breath and regained her composure. She told them that one of the two Somberlain stones they used to gain access to the spectral road was missing. And without two stones, they had no hope of getting off the Somberlain. To quell their fears she let them know that it was not impossible to find more stones along the way. In her previous travels she had discovered several, and with a less than confident smile told them she was sure another would turn up.

-As the party continued their journey, they formulated a plan to enact when they next camped. Ingrid would cast a hold person spell through a glyph of warding. Nimy would sleep inside this protected area with the remaining Somberlain stone, which the rest of the party could access through a secret password (a password so secret they wouldn't even share it with their dungeon master.)

-After what they reckoned to be five or six hours of travel, the party stopped when they heard the unmistakable sounds of battle in the fog ahead of them. Dorcas untied herself from the safety line and crept ahead in silence, Zarn at her side. They crept close enough to witness four men, clearly adventurers, clashing with a group of four 8' tall white crab/beetle creatures. The creatures seemed to be protecting one of their own, and the men weren't committed to full combat, but seemed to be testing the creatures with the occasional probing attack.

-Dorcas relayed this scene to the party, and they agreed to move foreward as a force to both make their presence known and possibly lend a hand if there was trouble. The men--a cloaked magic user, a thief, a blond haired, blue eyed fighter, and a stern cleric wearing the spiked mace symbol of an unknown god--looked on warily as the party emerged from the fog behind them. The fighter and the thief stayed close to the crab beings, occasionally making feints, but the cleric addressed the party. He introduced his own group as The Way, and the party noticed they all bore the sigil of four arrows, emerging from one point, aimed forward in a singular direction. This cleric, who didn't give his name, said his party were traveling along and came across these creatures, which seemed hostile. This claim seemed dubious, as the creatures didn't seem to be the aggressors in this situation. Noticing that the creatures bore bagged cargo strapped to their sides (suggesting they were possibly intelligent), the Sparagmos-Fweedom Collective suggested that the Way back off to see if there was a chance to parlay with the creatures instead of fighting with them. The Way scoffed at this, and the fighter and thief fully engaged with one of the creatures, slashing at its outstretched claws. The cleric told the party that if they helped, The Way would gladly split any loot they pulled from the creatures' corpses.
Like this, but whiter and crabbier.
-This was enough for the party. Just as the thief struck the killing blow on the first creature, they began their attack on The Way. They targeted the cloaked magic user first, as he was clearly in the process of casting a spell. A blow to his head ripped his hood free and revealed he was some form of frog-man.

-The battle was difficult, despite Sparagmos' superior numbers. The Way were clearly hardened adventurers, with great skill in combat and several powerful magic items at their disposal. During the clash the creatures focused solely on The Way--further evidence that the party chose the correct side.

-First the frog wizard fell, then the thief (backstabbed by Dorcas), then the cleric, but the fighter would not go down. His blows always seemed to strike true, and any damage dealt to him also reflected back on the attacker. His insistence that the party fight him in close combat tipped them off to his weakness. Shepard kept him engaged, but the rest of the party attacked from a distance until he fell.

-One of the creatures approached the party after The Way's fighter was killed. It bowed foward, tipping its head to the ground, and then its back opened. A small,
Krak'nal Leader
crab-like humanoid creature emerged, clad in a strange uniform. It gestured to the party speaking in an unknown language. After some confusion, it pulled an small ampule from its belt and broke it. The party backed up as small bubbles floated around them, popping, and the creature began speaking again. They now understood what it was saying.

-The creature identified itself as the leader of a most sacred pilgrimage. His race, the Krak'nal, inhabited a dying world, the conditions of which no longer allowed them to spawn. As it was in the millenia before, the Krak'nal knew they must move to another world, leaving behind their civilization and starting anew. This group carried the future of their race tied in those sacks at their sides--hundreds of thousands of carefully preserved eggs, which the group were to bring to a world chosen by their sages. Their leader gave thanks to the party, telling them that their names would be forever sung by future generations of the Krak'nal, as it was they alone who snatched their race from the jaws of extinction. It offered them a small handful of gems, wishing it could do more for them. The party suggested that they could perhaps do more, and asked if they had any spare Somberlain stones. The Krak'nal pilgrims gladly offered them several spare stones, thanked them, and then were on their way.

-Shepard, running low on the rotting humanoid meat that sustained her, cut several selections from the corpses of The Way. She also took several locks of hair, which led the party to think she might be into eating that now, too.

-Ingrid stacked the corpses and said a blessing over them, commanding in Astarael's name that their trip to the Other Side remain one way.

-The party set off and walked for several hours. Through the fog, they caught occasional glimpses of a diminutive black creature keeping pace with them, but due to its speed and the danger they would face if they left the Somberlain, they could do nothing about it.

The Way wasn't based on these lads in any, err..way.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Session 9 - "Eberhardt's Always Been Good To Us" (9/13/15)

-After the strange events in the tower and the sudden loss of young Lowtrade the party stumbled through the darkness in a partial state of shock. At the blockhouse the news of the deaths of Preacher and the boy were met with a subdued lament and then a quiet stoicism amongst the other Gloomlight prisoners; this was yet another reminder that death lurked everywhere so far beneath the surface.

-The party rested for almost a full day. Time passed strangely in the darkness and few words were spoken. Until, that is, someone--or something--called to them from outside.

-In a high voice without inflection, something outside called for help. It demanded the prisoners let it in, and when questioned of its identity it claimed to be Lowtrade.

-The Cheat ran up to the second floor to get a better look at whatever was outside. The thing heard him, though, and floated up to the window. The Cheat saw the black eyespots of brain-like creature looking back at him, with its tentacles wrapped around the bars. 

Lowtrade 2.0
-The party questioned the creature for some time, but every answer it gave confirmed that either this was the boy they watched fall into the yawning cleft below the Broken Span or something that had access to everything he knew. When the creature produced a ring featuring the crest of the boy's noble family they were convinced that somehow this was Lowtrade. They let him in. (And thus Allen's next new character was introduced. Or reintroduced?)

-Lowtrade told them he remembered swinging across the chasm and then waking up feeling confused and very strange. His belongings were scattered about, so he picked them up. Only then did he realized somehow his form was different; he no longer had hands, but tentacles, and when he moved found he merely floated a few inches above the floor. He could now see a slight difference in the darkness between the stone walls of the cleft and the air around it, and with this newfound ability navigated his way back to the blockhouse.

-The party suggested traveling up into the cleft to see if they could tell what happened.

-After a treacherous climb into the cleft (with the exception of Lowtrade, who simply touched the wall with his tentacles and floated up), the party pushed on. They traveled for a little while, slowed down by the uneven terrain. Within time they found the spot where Lowtrade woke up. They found some discarded clothing and a pile of reeking, unrecognizable decomposed material, but nothing else.

-They explored further until they found a cave near the back wall of the cleft. The air inside was damp and cool. They moved inside further, the stone wet and slick beneath their feet. Hundreds of small holes lined the walls and floor, many dripping with water. As they rounded a curve, they saw several cave fish flopping around and gasping in the air. These were not the fish they fought previously, which were adapted to travel on land for short periods of time; these were standard fish, pale and blind, and for some reason they were on the floor of the cave.

-After rounding another curve and finding more fish and extremely wet rock, they started to piece together what was going on in the cave. Of course, the thing they were speculating about actually happened and the cave rapidly filled with water. The party was fortunate, though, and managed to swim back to the entrance.

-They stood outside and shivered as the cave completely filled and then emptied once more after twenty or so minutes. Realizing he wasn’t actually breathing, Lowtrade volunteered to enter the cave once more to see where it led while the other members hung back and gathered fish to bring back to the blockhouse.

-Lowtrade went past the second curve, encountered standing water, and swam downward. The cave funneled into a narrow tube. Lowtrade realized he could fit into this tube, but even without the water it would be a treacherous crawl for the rest of the party. He was just about to head back when he saw something wedged in the mouth of the tube. He swam down further and found something metallic. He pried it loose just as a jet of water issued forth. It slammed him into the wall at the closest bend, but he was able to maneuver in the rushing water and eventually make it back to the entrance.

-The party took a look at Lowtrade’s find; it was a black, metallic thing not unlike a spider. There was a metal ring on the underside of the thing, and they figured it was some kind of grappling hook, although the limbs were curled to tight to be used in most situations. In more light they saw a small retractable needle in the thing’s mouth. Ever curious, The Cheat pricked his skin with the needle. The needle began draining some of his blood and the legs of the grappling hook uncurled, moving slightly of their own accord. The Cheat tied a rope to the ring and threw it up as high as he could. The spider clung tenaciously to the sheer face of the cleft wall, and easily took his weight. By merely thinking of it, the spider let go and fell back to the ground.

-Glad their trip wasn’t completely in vain, the party decided to head back. Upon climbing out of the cleft they found Gloomlight lit up with a column of light—miles above, the sun was directly over the shaft that led to Lord Eberhardt’s estate. However, there was something in this column of light. A vast chain, just like they one they were lowered down on days before. They crept forward to investigate.

-On the Quay stood one of Eberhard’s guards. He wore the customary scale mail of the guard and bore one of the same hooks the prisoners used to hold onto the chain and only a short sword at his waist.

–The party called out to the guard under cover of darkness. He replied that he was sent here by Lord Eberhardt to check in on them. Sensing their reticence, the guard assured them that while he wore the guard uniform he was more sympathetic to their plight than it would seem. He asked them to come out so he could see them.

-Warbaby volunteered to speak with the man. They remained suspicious; Lowtrade floated just out of sight close to Warbaby,  The Cheat snuck through the dark to the south, and Lightfoot ducked into the arcades beneath the Quay.

-When Warbaby showed himself, the guard introduced himself as D’Jasper Probincrux III. He said he fell into ill favor with Lord Eberhardt after expressing concerns about the welfare of the prisoners of Gloomlight; he was summarily sent down below to check how they were doing with Eberhardt’s orders (reopen the mines as well as find magic items through either adventure or trading with the denizens of the beneath.) Probincrux looked genuinely upset when Warbaby told him only ten of the original thirty prisoners were still alive, but asked if they had found anything of value he could show to Eberhardt. He claimed any proof would result in a fresh delivery of supplies.

-Reluctant to let go of anything valuable where resources were so scarce, Warbaby asked how he could trust the guard’s words. Probincrux pointed out that they had almost no leverage to bargain—he was convinced his Lord would let them starve in the dark if he suspected they weren’t doing his bidding. However, he tried to reassure them that not all who served Eberhardt supported him. Many were merely biding their time as moves were made in secret to depose the cruel lord. Probincrux urged them to cooperate for now for he was confident that in time they would be rescued.

-From beneath the Quay, Lightfoot began shouting abuse at the guard. He questioned the truth of any of his statements and took personal offense at the notion that they needed to be rescued. Certainly his calling as a cleric of That Which Carves the Aeons clouded his judgement, and his companions were quick to point out to Probincrux that they would like to escape.

-In time Lowtrade revealed himself to the guard, which startled him a great deal. The group (save Lightfoot, who was still making negative comments from his hiding place beneath them) decided to give him something to take back to Eberhardt. After spending some time thinking it over, they realized the best item they could send up was their newfound spidery grappling hook. With a sigh, The Cheat handed it over.

-Probincrux told them he only had an hour before the chain went back up, so he wanted to wait by the quay. He told the group to stay safe and to expect something within the next few days.

-The party headed back to the blockhouse, where they encountered a startling sight. Standing by the entrance were three pale, spindly humanoids resembling eyeless cave salamanders. When the party got close enough the beings turned to them and one stepped forward. It said, in a distinctly feminine voice, “We seek the Warchild.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tears of Vummor Session 58: Milon in the Middle (8/9/15)

-Loaded with supplies for their escape from the Keep, the party returned to their apartment to collect the rest of the party. Oso, the priestess of Astarael, told them she would stay behind, since she thinks her god sent her to the Keep because followers of Kyuss were amongst the invading army outside. The party was not happy that in the short time they were gone Oso had set her weird crystals out all over the apartment. 

-The party headed into the dungeon below the chapel, where they met Milon, the iron golem constructed a thousand years ago to guard the Tears of Vummor. Once they spoke the words to make him stand down, he greeted them in his sullen manner. Realizing he was magically bound to guard the Tears, they asked him if it would be possible for him to leave the dungeon and join them. He was uncertain, as his orders specifically cited both protecting the Tears from evil and staying in the dungeon. Roderick, who belongs to a secret order within the church of Heironeous dedicated to guarding the Tears of Vummor, remembered a way to do so after some thought. He spoke the words and Milon seemed relieved. The party promised Milon that on their journey they would find a way to replace the arm and hand he lost in the battle against the minotaur; he remained skeptical, but mentioned that it would be nice leaving the dungeon after a thousand years.

-After collecting the Tears and needing a few minutes to recollect after the profound grief awakened by contact with the artifact, the party decided to leave behind something just in case the Bloodface did breach the Keep. After locating the corpses of their previous battle with the kobold zombies, they returned with a severed hand and placed it on the pedestal, middle finger extended. 

-Before summoning the gate, Ymanie gave a quick safety primer on the Somberlain: don't leave the road, try to stay in sight of one another as best as possible through the heavy fog, and if darkness falls everyone should form up and be prepared for an attack from the night creepers. Despite the danger of transporting a powerful artifact through a potentially risky otherworld, she seemed pretty excited. A marching order was determined, and it was decided that since visibility was between 10 and 15 feet, a length of rope, looped about everyone's waist, should extend from the front of the party all the way to the back. Since Milon was the least likely to feel the depressive effects of the Tears, he would walk by himself at the center of the order, keeping his distance from those in front of and behind him.

-Ymanie opened the gate and the party ventured through, consisting of seven people, one bugbear, one donkey lady, one animated rag doll, a dog, a warrior cat, an iron golem, and a goat:
-Nimy (with her mastiff, Oardale)
-Shepard (with her goat, Shelly)

-Once everyone else was on the Somberlain, Ymanie came through and picked up the first stone in order to close the portal. However, the spiky-haired halfling with the bandaged forearms--Nimy's stalker--came barreling through, knocking Ymanie over before she could reach the second stone. Knowing there was a good chance the stone could disappear with the portal, she yelled for those closest to grab the stone instead of giving chase to the halfling, who was already hidden in the fog of the Somberlain.

-Zarn offered to follow the halfling, but the party decided it was best to just stay in formation and begin their journey; the halfling was likely the least of their dangers here.
Night Creeper - Beksinski

-The party headed off down the path, hemmed in by all sides on the dense fog, irregularly-spaced black tombs and the occasional massively warped dead tree. Their footfalls were deadened by the oppressive silence that reigned on the Somberlain. After several hours of marching the party decided to stop; partially to rest, but also for a respite from the eeriness. Zarn seemed particularly affected by their travel, so they encouraged him to tell them about New Ulthar, his order, and his thoughts on cats having nine lives. He opened up and relaxed, talking about the sunny streets of his home. He told them that if it wasn't for his abduction at the hands of the witch, Dunna, he would now be assigned the prestigious duty of regular patrols on the moon (as the warrior cats had a means to travel there and visit its cities.) He told Shepard about his cousin Raknir, who was hairless, and he also explained that cats do in a way have nine lives; they do not keep track, but the warrior cats in particular intentionally put themselves at risk because on their ninth life they are called to serve Bast on a very heroic quest. 

-Rested, the party set off again. Not an hour later they encountered six open tombs and darkness fell around them. Ymanie shouted for everyone to form up and prepare for an attack! First they heard wet sucking sounds of no discernible source in the fog around them, but then a night creeper appeared atop one of the open tombs--humanoid in shape, with leathery arms and legs, a dark, hazy body, and a head wrapped in
Logjammin' on the Somberlain.
bloody bandages. More appeared, and they began their assault. Sheila was paralyzed in the battle, and the creepers concentrated their efforts on distracting the party while one attempted to carry her off into one of the tombs. They were thwarted, however, and the final creeper was killed, it's body curling up like a dead spider as it began leaking a vile black liquid. The sky returned to its twilit gloom once again, and the party had to stop Ymanie from going into one of the still-open tombs "just to have a little look-see".

-The party quickly resumed their travel, eager to put some distance between themselves and the open tombs. They stopped ahead, however, after encountering something strange lying in the road ahead of them. Shepard and Ymanie went forward to investigate; they found the skin of the strange halfling lying alongside its discarded clothing. Its stomach bore an 'H' shaped incision, once stitched together but now burst. The interior of the skin was pocked with thousands of tiny holes.

Gloomlight Session 8: "Keep the Underdark Weird" (8/9/15)

-The party looked on in stunned silence as they watched Preacher's bloated corpse float behind the strange boy like a grisly balloon. Discussion of a rescue attempt led to nowhere, as the nature of the portal--and its connection to the surface tension of the black fluid in which it manifested--was unknown. They watched as the boy trudged along the gray-lit wasteland just as he did when they first saw him, but this time with a second companion.

-With a hello from the stairwell, another of their fellow prisoner compatriots, the ten year old noble nicknamed Lowtrade, appeared from the darkness. The party were surprised to hear the boy traveled from the relative safety of the blockhouse to the tower alone, but readily accepted him in their midst. (And thus Allen's new character was introduced!)

-The Cheat, upset by the loss of Preacher and still intensely curious about the strange liquid, fired another arrow into the portal. The boy stopped and the ghastly floating corpse that was once Preacher approached the portal. His enlarged head rose from the surface, and when the party realized they would be outmatched against the spectre, broke the surface. When the portal stabilized they saw Preacher's corpse floating, missing half his head. They boy continued walking, and the party decided to leave this portal alone.

-The party randomly selected another portal to investigate. They walked across the room and peered in at the one closest the north wall. Below they saw a man rowing a boat surrounded by absolute darkness. Lanterns casting a sickly fungal glow held back the blackness. Barely. At the front of the boat was what appeared to be a shrouded corpse. The rower sobbed without breaking his rhythm. Just at the edge of the light floated 30' tall spectral figures. It was hard to determine if these beings were accompanying the man or waiting for his lanterns to go out.

-The party moved to the closest southern portal. It showed a daylit scene of a shaggy giant figure, with a rack of antlers that spread easily 40' across, climbing a high hill. Its huge nostrils flared as it took in vast amounts of air at a time. Nearby a terrified man did his best to remain motionless behind a large rock. When the giant got near the man, the party fired an arrow into the pool. When the scene reappeared, the man was gone and the giant loped off in the background, presumably in pursuit of his prey.

John Kenn Mortensen

Monday, September 7, 2015

On Ritual Magic for Non-Magic Users

No one is playing a magic user in either of my two campaigns. Since magic is cool (and a unique tool for problem-solving in D&D), I'm trying to figure out ways for non-wizards to take a crack at casting a spell without stepping on the toes of any potential magic users that should join the campaign down the line. 

 In my Tears of Vummor campaign the character Shepard was cursed by the demon princess Yeenoghu for drinking from a consecrated chalice meant only for use by the gnoll goddess's followers. In a rare moment where I actually a) remembered and b) observed D&D canon, I recalled Yeenoghu was connected to ghouls somehow, so now Shepard is slowly turning into the newest incarnation of Yeenoghu's ghoul-avatar, Shoosuva. Shepard and the rest of the Sparagmos-Fweedom Collective don't want this to happen (naturally), so they tracked down a way to contact Yeenoghu to see what they can do to reverse this curse. Since Yeenoghu is a disgusting demon princess of Hell, this calls for a ritual involving elements arcane and bizarre, all of which I made up on the spot:

Contact Yeenoghu

-those seeking communication with Yeenoghu must first prepare milk of the crone (a mixture of goat's milk and a broth made from boiling for six hours a witch's tent of at least fifty years old).

-next you must obtain the tongue of someone you killed with your bare hands in single combat.

-in the light of the full moon, place the tongue in your mouth and drink the milk of the crone. Recite the necessary incantation in gnollish; this will be hard to do, but if successful the final syllable will echo like a thunderclap and the air will fill with the stench of carrion.

-Yeenoghu will not appear herself, but will speak through the individual who spoke the words. What you then do once you've got her attention is your own business.

Securing some of these ingredients spontaneously created a few fun side quests, like raiding the hill of Dunna the witch under the influence of various fey mushrooms, chasing the disgruntled Kool Aid Man cauldron brought to life when the party boiled the tent (and Ingrid's cosmic insight after getting some of the liquid in her mouth, where I gave her player Jenny a thirty-second glimpse at all of my campaign notes), Shepard's burgeoning goat-milk business in the wake of purchasing Shelley the goat, and attempting to take a few prisoners from the Keep's dungeon to sacrifice (which they immediately regretted when they found out the criminals were just trying to earn money to heal their sick daughter.)

Tracking down these elements got me to thinking. I've never played in a game where magic users actually kept track of spell components. Even when it was a part of the rules it was just hand-waved. While I like the concept a lot, inventory management on that granular a level just doesn't seem like a fun thing to me. However, tracking down items to cast a big one-off spell, or even cast an actual magic-user spell the party don't have access to, strikes me as fun and an adventure generator in and of itself. The components themselves also serve as a way to keep players from exploiting this spellcasting ability--non-magic users can still cast them, but not without preparation

I read Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies last spring and came away from it with a few D&D-able ideas--namely, common folk using magic rituals to cast spells. Reading how many would-be magic users attempted to harness these spells in search of hidden treasure definitely helped me draw some parallels to D&D. Here's a little system I've come up with:

Start with a spell. Something potentially useful to your non-magical party, or just something that could add an interesting element. Pick a spell, reskin it to make it better suit its particular use, or just make one up yourself (you'll need to decide on a level, though, which I'll discuss in a moment.) While INT is the default ability for magic users, eyeball the spell and determine if there isn't another ability it should be tied to. Get creative here, since the idea is to allow non-magical folks to access spells.

Decide on the ritual components. The things the party will need to cast the spell. Ideally this should represent a fair amount of adventuring, not just things the party can buy at the village market. Here are some ideas of the top of my head:

Sacrifices, relevant to the spell or perhaps just a certain amount of HD worth of creatures. 
Valuables, including money, gems, and rarities.
Riddle objects, common items with misleading descriptions: "a spool of silver thread", for example, could just be a spider's web wrapped around a twig, or "a golden comb" could just be a honeycomb.
What's up, fellow Over the Garden Wall fans?
Vestments, because you of course need to wear some weird shit.
Drugs, because players seem to really enjoy getting their characters high.
Amulets and symbols, found in grimoires, on the shells of certain insects that emerge from the ground once every 20 years, or known only be the blind monks who live waaaay up at the top of that demon-haunted mountain in the distance.
Weapons, that are unique or are made up of a few special components themselves.
People, because the more powerful the spell the more people you'll need to pull it off; plus, persuading/hiring NPCs to assist sounds like fun to me.

Performing the ritual. Assemble the components and gather your participants to conduct the ritual.
-The participants each make a d20 roll, adding the appropriate attribute modifier. The target number is 10 plus the spell level, minus the highest ability modifier appropriate to the spell.
-For the ritual to succeed, the participants must roll a number of successes equal to the spell level.

Here's an example ritual, partially inspired by a spell mentioned in Grimoires- let's say this one comes from a grimoire called The Stygian Aura, and this spell in particular summons a "Treasure-man" to help you find occult valuables.

Summon Treasure-Man

Spell Level: 4
Components: monkey, goat, large lizard or extra large toad/2 platinum coins/100 gold coins/dagger made of 7 Xorn teeth and wood from the heart of a tree at least 500 years old--this dagger must have spilled the blood of a wealthy person since the last full moon
Spell Target Number: 14 - highest CHA modifier of participants
Instructions: Place platinum coins in a fire until red hot. Arrange the gold coins in a circle at a crossroads on the first night of the new moon; the participant with the highest CHA score must carry the sacrifice into the center of the circle, recite the necessary words, and cut its throat with the Xorn dagger. The platinum coins are then burned into the eye sockets of the sacrifice while chanting. At this point, the participants make their rolls. If successful, the sacrifice's limbs twist and crack into a roughly humanoid shape. It will then eat each of the golden coins, widdershins, and then ask the leader what treasure they seek. The twisted homunculus known as the Treasure-man will then lead the party to the treasure, no matter how far. It will not warn them of any dangers along the way and it will not stop to wait for them. Upon finding the treasure, the platinum will melt from its eyes and it will collapse into a putrid heap, as though it had been dead for weeks. The coins in its belly are now cursed, and will only cause misfortune to those who spend them; it is thought best to bury them at the closest crossroads.

And here's a reskinned version of the Imprisonment spell from the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion. This is a spell the party finds on a scroll in the lap of the dead warrior-king Nox, who fell valiantly battling the hideous entity known at the Pale Prince while his subjects performed the ritual nearby. Somehow, the Pale Prince got free, and it's up to the party to put him down again!

Imprison Pale Prince
Spell Level: 9
Components: 8 silver bowls containing the tears of parents whose children the Pale Prince stole/a caul-born champion armed with only an enchanted weapon made of "that which the poor have, the rich need, and which kills those who eat it"/the single syllable whispered by each of the eight victims the Pale Prince killed the last time he was freed, uttered exactly
The Caul-born Champion battles the Pale Prince
one-hundred years after their respective deaths/powdered hag's sorrow, a luminescent fungus that grows only on the belly of the fabled Bloatwitch of Dunwater Swamp.
Spell Target Number: 19-CON modifier of champion
Instructions: The Pale Prince must be allowed to chase his eight marked victim into a circle with the silver bowls are placed at each point of the compass. The caul-born champion must smoke the powdered hag's sorrow, which gives her 10d6 extra hp for one turn and allows her to hit the Pale Prince for 3d6 damage empty-handed (however, the hag's sorrow reduces the champion to 0 hp when it wears off). While the champion fights the Pale Prince, the participants remain outside of the circle chanting the eight syllables, attempting a successful spell check each round. If the participants can successfully make the necessary spell checks in a single round before the champion dies, the Pale Prince will shrink into a childlike form lie down. Before dawn of the next day a willow tree will sit on the spot, and any who dare dig out the willow's roots will find the dormant form of the Pale Prince asleep among its tangles.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Gloomlight Session 7: The Tower and the Corpse Balloon (7/19/15)

The prisoners of Gloomlight finally bridge the broken span and find, once again, that most mysteries are ultimately just trying to kill them. Also, Preacher, the dwarven miner, undergoes a terrible transformation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gloomlight Campaign Background

Since the beginning of my Tears of Vummor campaign I haven't been able to stop sneaking in Underdark stuff. That game isn't really about the Underdark in any way, and initially I only added it because I love the idea of the place and thought mentions would lend a little verisimilitude. Besides, my take on the Underdark is very grim, where resources are scarse and life is very cheap. I handwave a lot of the resource management in my Tears campaign because it doesn't matter much to the story and it slows things down too much. Bucking down and forcing my players into that for more than a session or two after they've become accustomed to not doing so would be harsh and probably a little unfun.

Last winter I came across two very inspirational sources : Gus L's Underdark company game ideas from the Dungeon of Signs blog and Patrick Stuart's Veins of the Earth material* from his False Machine blog. Both sources fit nicely with what I appreciated about the Underdark, elegantly conjuring images of beings struggling for survival in an eternal, haunted darkness, living and dying wretched existences unknown to the light-loving world above. I couldn't stop thinking about the stuff Gus and Patrick wrote (seriously, check it out, it's great stuff!), and wound up reading several books about caves and caving. My partner went away to visit her dad for the holidays, leaving me a few weeks to dig in deep and get really weird thinking about caves and all the weird adventures (and nightmares) to be had below New Solinheim. 

After a discussion with some greatly-missed old friends back east, and in lieu finding somebody else's campaign to just play in, I decided to say fuck it and run a second game. Despite work, being a full-time student and already running a bi-weekly campaign, I knew I needed to do this.

I cobbled something together by adapting some of the rules, creatures and setting Patrick posted (as well as taking a bit of the mood and he set in that material) and morphing Gus' setting with surface-world troubles I've already established in my Tears campaign. 

My goal with this game was to abandon the "Epic Quest" motivator of my other campaign and make this one about survival and exploration. I came up with a few surrounding points of interest in the main cave, cooked up a bit of history, and wrote out a few loose ideas for nearby factions, individuals and creatures, all with the intent of keeping the scope of this game very tight with a focus on living long enough to see what weird stuff was down there. Between work and school I typically only have off one day a week. I didn't have the time or energy to sit down and figure everything out, so I tried experimenting with mostly improvising as much as possible. I've gotten pretty decent at paying attention to the players in my Tears campaign and changing on the fly based on their reactions, so I asked myself if I could sustain a full campaign based around the concept of just making 90% of it up as I go along. The players are not only some of my favorite humans, but all people I've been gaming with for years, and all of them were involved in some absolute favorite gaming moments dating back to high school. With a crew like that, I knew they'd keep me supplied with plenty of crazy stuff. After the first session, when some of them immediately started killing wounded NPCs to butcher for food I knew this campaign was going to be awesome, and seven sessions it truly is. I run this game about once a month via Google Hangouts, and each session I swear it's like I'm sitting at the table once again with these maniacs. So much fun, and running this game is challenging and intensely rewarding.

The Gloomlight Prisoners:

Preacher (played by Allen) - A dwarven miner from the Korthal Hills, Preacher spent a great deal of time trapped underground years ago in a cave-in and resorted to unsavory means to ensure his survival. Preacher carries a glass eye in his mouth, which he claims allows him to see the future. Preacher recently was turned into a floating ghost-like creature by a strange little boy after jumping into a portal showing a vast, bleak plain, thinking it was a way out of the Underdark. He is presumed dead. Or undead. Or whatever that floaty ghost state is called.

Lightfoot (played by Jim) - Lightfoot was a dwarven apothecary above, but has found a new calling in the darkness underground as a cleric of That Which Carves the Aeons. By following the path of this powerful, if slow-moving, deity, he is quickly adapting to his new home.

The Cheat (played by Sal) - The Cheat was a squire for a knight in the court of Wayheath, but found himself on the wrong side of Lord Eberhardt's attention. Sneaking through the caves surrounding Gloomlight has help him find his calling as a thief; his excitement at making a candle out of the Meazel the party killed has really help establish him as a creepy guy.

Warbaby (played by Denis) - Warbaby was a simple woodcutter before his imprisonment in Gloomlight. He has used his strength and speed impressively in fighting the terrors of the dark below, but his bad luck may yet be his undoing.

Background - 

Wayheath has remained a very important trade destination for years; its central location marks it as a waypoint for goods and resources gathered in the Korthal Hills, Tanglewood Forest, the White Hell Desert, and from the ports along Bloodrum Bay. The prominence of the city led the rulers of the barony, the Eberhardts, to accumulate great power over generations. The Eberhardts ruled with kindness for years, but the power ultimately led to corruption 50 years ago with Lord Greinas Eberhardt. Lord Greinas became greedy and spiteful, and was known for making his opponents and enemies disappear. Stories spread that he was sending his prisoners into the subterranean labyrinth of the Underdark. An uprising, led by the prominent leaders of the Thieves Guild, struggled to remove Lord Greinas from power. His kind and intelligent son Sigmar worked with the cutpurses of the guild to overthrow his evil father to great success; it was said Greinas Eberhardt was lowered into the Underdark alone as punishment for his crimes against his people. Sigmar ruled for many years in peace, bringing a new prosperity to the barony of Genevieve.

However, the evil merely skipped a generation. Despite his best efforts to raise him as an intelligent and principled person, Lord Sigmar’s Son, Donar, grew into a man much more like his grandfather than his father. Donar kept his evil secret, revealing it only after the death of his Sigmar. When he became lord, he began taxing the people of the barony heavily, employing thugs from the Storm Plains to enforce his new policies. Those who spoke
openly against him were disappeared. Many were executed, their headless and handless corpses fished out of Lake Genevieve. No one dared point the finger at Lord Donar, but all knew he was responsible. Lord Donar blamed the deaths on gnolls in the Korthal Hills and used it as an excuse to further bolster the number of mercenary troops on the streets of Wayheath.

Many captives, however, are hidden in prison camps at the site of Lord Greinas’ former estate on the outskirts of Wayheath. The prisoners do not know why they are being held, but the general sense is that Lord Donar is waiting for something. The prisoners live in dread of what that may be, as some of the old-timers spread rumors that like his grandfather before him, Lord Donar may have plans to send his prisoners into the endless night of the Underdark.

These rumors are true, and in the final week of The Moon, 7,614, Lord Greinas lowered about 30 prisoners miles below the surface on a massive chain. Half of that number were lost in the descent or to the horrible things waiting below in the darkness, but the survivors found a giant cavern nearly two miles wide. In this cavern, known as Gloomlight, were the remains of an ancient fortress, complete with a pueblo city set in the high walls behind it. The prisoners were instructed to make a home in this city for themselves, reopening the mines and bartering with any non-hostile denizens they found below. Anything they uncovered of
Map by Gus L
value was to be sent up in trade for food and supplies. As veterans of Eberhardt's prison camp above, they knew what manner of treatment to expect and naturally distrusted this arrangement. The party began exploring, hoping to find some other way to the surface, but their number dwindles as they mostly find things trying to kill and eat them, such as the wrinkled tiger-like creatures, the crow-headed men screaming "DOOOOM!", the bizarre winged head things whispering madness in the darkness, the meazel that stalked them and took one of their own, and many others. They have encountered a mad old man named Mother, who resides in the fortress with his myconid slaves Asashi and Channi, but have only found a single ally in the trilobite knight Klack. At present the group is attempting to find a safe place to use as a base of operations from which to explore the massive network of caves around them, hoping that one day the bright light of the sun will help drive away the nightmares they encounter daily in the deep below. 

*which will eventually be published as a Lamentations of the Flame Princess supplement and I CAN'T WAIT!