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.