Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Death in Darkness: Session VI of the Isle of the Earthshaker Campaign

We had out first character death last Friday and, in the finest traditions of D&D gaming, it was death by poison. Read on.

Character Roster:

Exploring the Caves (players present):
Ailil Shadowdancer: Elf Male Assassin/Illusionist 2/1. Played by Ridh
Alexis: Human (Mycenean) Male Fighter 1. Played by Larraitz
Andros: Human (Mycenean) Female Fighter 2. Played by Aimee
Boagris: Human (Mycenean) Male Fighter 2. Played by Silv.
Euthalia: Human (Mycenean) Female Cleric 1. Played by Caroline
Glykeria: Human (Mycenean) Female Illusionist 1. Played by Elle
Ki Oman: Human (Zaman) male Dual Class Assassin 1/Bard 1. Played by Ali
Thera: Human(Mycenean) Female Paladin 1. Played by Niall
Thot: Half-Elf Male Magic User/Cleric 1/1. Played by Rob
Xenos: Human (Mycenean) Fighter/magic User 1/1. Played by Leoni.

Guarding the Camp (absent player and NPCs):
Thanatos: Human (Mycenean) Male Assassin 2. Played by Fiona
Surly: Troglodyte Guide. NPC.
Friendly: Troglodyte Guide. NPC.

Temple of Meerax, Garrison (absent players and NPCs):
Antipater: Human (Mycenean) Ship's Master. NPC.
Kallisto: Human (Mycenean) Female Fighter 1. Played by Jackie
Minerva: Human (Mycenean) Female 0 level Priestess of Heastia. NPC
Peliakos: Human (Mycenean) Male Fighter 1. Played by Coakley
Sparios: Human (Mycenean) Male Fighter 1. Spare Character.
Plus 15 other assorted, unnamed survivors of the wreck (the replacement PC pool) all presently recovering from injuries.

Their expedition having uncovered a considerable amount of information, and slain some powerful foes, the six scouts return to the camp that night, share their findings with the rest of the group and quickly descend into sleep. Meanwhile, the rest of the expedition keep watch.

Shortly after dawn, Alexis, who left the Temple several hours later than the main body, arrives complaining of a cold camp in the company of the friendliest of the two younger troglodytes from the first  conference with the Trog Elder. Alexis reports that the old Trog seems somewhat put out that Ki Oman neglected to leave his bag of human teeth behind -and is quick to add that he had not been too pleased himself either. Fortunately, Alexis had managed to avoid the field expedient of giving up one of his own pearly whites for the Trog's potion in favour of knocking the teeth out of a dead sailor's skull instead.

Alexis goes on to explain her presence. TheTrogs had brought word that the Grey Demons (as the party took to calling them after encountering one in the temple kitchens) have been active in the area around the Temple. The Trogs need the party to re-double their efforts in clearing the caves. Leaving the two Trogs and Thanatos behind to guard the camp-site, the characters return to the dungeon early that morning.

On this occasion their explorations are slowed somewhat by the notable absence of the fungus ropes at the first waterfall -proof positive that something intelligent is aware of their previous intrusions. At the second waterfall Ki Oman is so concerned about the possibility of the chute being trapped that he chucks a rock down it. The loud clatter of stone-on-stones echoes loudly for a few moments, just audible under the dull roar of the small waterfall. A few tense moments pass while the rest of the party alternates between glaring at the Bard and listening intently for sounds of approaching guards. After a good few minutes of careful listening they proceed on  their way.

[Later, Shadowdancer hit-the-nail-on-the-head when they wondered if all that fungus, moss and algae coating the floor and walls ininsulated the noise]

The party's first-destination is the Blue-Goop room. Various spear-shafts, daggers, poles and even shields are dipped into the strange liquid in order to preserve the groups limited supply of torches (the goop from previous expeditions having ceased to glow sometime during the night). They return to the partially explored corridor with the narrow, twisting side-tunnel leading to the treasure horde. Here, Shadowdancer and Ki Oman declare their intention to ensure that nothing has moved into the cavern since their last visit. Glykeria, having had a dream during the night about the three darts fired by the stone chest trap (due to her daily use of her "Oracle" professional skill), insists on coming along.

Again, it takes the three explorers about ten minutes to twist, contort and squeeze themselves through the confining tunnel. Upon reaching their destination, Ki Oman and Shadowdancer are satisfied that nothing has changed in their absence. Glykeria reaches immediately for the three darts.
"Stop!" Shadowdancer and Ki (once again) shout a warning in unison at a companion. "Don't touch those" Ki continues," don't you see the poison?"
Glykeria scoffs, "Don't be stupid. I'm going to hold them by the shaft. Who'd poison the shaft."
Again the two proven trap-detectors try to stop her, but eventually they wash their hands of the whole matter.
"Be my guest then." Says Ki Oman.
"Fine you fool. If you want to die, who am I to stop you." Snaps Shadowdancer.
"AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH" shrieks Glykeria,
who, having touched the tip of a single finger to the shaft of a dart, howls her agony as first her finger, then her whole hand, begins to blacken and slough off from the bone.
Ki and Shadowdancer act quickly, one fabricates a improvised tourniquet and tyes it tight around the Oracle's arm. The other cuts deep along the length of the forearm with a dagger, hoping that the poison will spurt out of her blood stream. But what spurts forth from the wound is decidedly NOT what either of them expected. A host of bloated, swollen maggots, each the size of a diseased and malnourished grape, spill forth from the open wound, wriggling onto the floor where they dissolve into an oily goop. Seeing this the horro pouring forth from her veins, the doomed Oracle screams all the harder.
Ki Oman, shouting: Euthalia! Hurry! We Need you!"

At the other end of the twisting corridor, Euthali is already moving, shrugging off her pack with the help of Thera. But it will take valuable time for the priestess to reach them, even moving swiftly enough (as she does) to risk injury, cuts, and scrapes while she forces herself through the narrow passage.

Inside the treasure cavern, Shadowdancer desperately tries to hold the struggling prophetess down while Ki Oman unsuccessfully tries to saw through her arm at the elbow. Alas, he is too slow and the corruption moves up past the elbow. In desperation, he prepares to lop the girls arm off at the shoulder. Shadowdancer, in what his companions might consider a surprising display of compassion, dispassionately casts colour-spray on the screaming girl. "There! Cut now before she wakes!"

Ki Oman's second surgical attempt is more successful. With the girl no-longer writhing beneath his blade he is able to saw through the arm before the corruption spreads to her torso and neck. Yet now she lies, unconscious and unmoving, on the sodden, mossy floor. Bleeding out.

"EUTHALIA!" Shadowdancer shouts.

But the priestess of Haera is forcing her way down the passage as best she can. Her fine garments, already soiled from her experiences since the shipwreck, are torn to pieces. Her fingernails and smooth, unbleamished skin torn ragged and bloody from clawing at the rough stone. While Ki Oman and Shadowdancer desperately strive to control the bleeding, Euthalia is fighting a battle no less noble -and ultimately, no less futile- of her own.

The priestess pulls herself from the narrow entrance, collapsing beside the prophetess. The healing magic of her calling already emanating from her hands in a deep, warm glow. Yet the light rebounds from the lifeless corpse, Glykeria's lungs giving up their death rattle even as the cleric places her hands upon the oracle's chest. It's too late. The girl is dead.

[It normally takes a turn for a PC to crawl from the main corridor to this treasure area, due to the many twists and turns of the passage. I allowed Euthalia to move twice as fast if she was willing to take damage in the process. The player agreed without hesitation and plunged in. That meant she could make it to Glykeria's side in five rounds. This was significant, because, after being taking damage twice from Ki Omans surgery, Glykeria was on -5 hit points. It would all come down to the initiative roll. In my games, cure light wounds has a casting time of 0. Glykeria rolled a 3. Euthalia rolled a 2. And so we had our first PC death of the campaign. Glykeria's dream had been a warning, not an instruction]

The three PC's in the treasure room each cope with the loss in their own unique way. Euthalia prays for Glykeria's shade. Ki Oman mutters a (brief) prayer and then suggests that "Euthalia should head back and tell the others."

Shadowdancer seethingly gazes at the corpse, muttering "idiot" under his breath and shrugging carelessly while he waits for Euthalia to depart. He then cheerfully joins  Ki Oman to loot the body. The two assassins turn their consideration to the matter of the poison itself. Luckily, both men, though spattered by Glykeria's tainted blood, have been wearing gloves, though Shadowdancer himself been careful not to touch the wounds or the blood. They experiment with wiping the poisonous blood off Ki Oman's knife, using the ubiquitous moss and fungal growths coating the walls as a sponge. To their horror (and delight) everything living thing the poisoned blade touches suffers the same horrific corruption as Glykeria herself. Even trying to scrape the stuff off the blade and onto the stone chest itself does not clean the blade. Though the un-living stone is not harmed by this magical substance, the residue that remains after a thorough scrapping continues to prove horrifyingly toxic. Ki Oman and Shadowdancer grin widley as they contemplate the myriad uses for such a toxin.

Then they consider the the obvious question: How do they intend to transport the stuff? After all, the only vessels the party are carrying are either leather waterskins or are improvised from clay or copper pots sealed with cork. Wisely, the two assassins concede that this little toxin is not worth the risk of transporting. They methodically -and carefully- strip off their gloves, check themselves over for any traces left on their clothing and set about finding somewhere safe to keep the knife and the clay pot they scrape the remaining poison from the darts into.

[Safe being a relative term in the context of a fragile clay pot and a sharp, poison coated object hidden under a thin layer of rubbish. As I later commented, my  players had just invented Edarnia's first landmine].

Aware they cannot manouvre Glykeria's corpse down that twisting passage, they proceed to burn the body as best they could in the damp air and with the poor materials to hand.
[Alas, proper materials were not available and they botched the job. The party also failed to specify if they placed a coin into Glykeria's mouth to pay the Ferryman. Since Euthalia presided over the last rites, I'll presume that they did. So there's only a very small chance of something bad happening with the corpse.]

Returning to the others, the three dejected explorers break the news to the rest of the party. Thera pales visibly memory of the previous days events in that same chmaber still fresh in her mind. Had Shadowdancer and Ki Oman not warned her about touching anything.... the Paladin, immune to fear as she was, still feels a shudder pass along her spine. She very openly, and publicly, apologises to Shadowdancer and thanks the two scouts for saving her life. Shadowdancer nods, accepts the apology and then forcefully proclaims that if any of the party want to leave the island alive they had best start listening to his advice.

In the meantime, Thoht offers preyers for his departed colleague in the faith and, seeing Ki and Shadowdancer burdened by Glykeria's goods, solemnly request custody of her more personal possessions.

Continuing down the corridor, the party become aware of a strange clattering noise ahead. A wooden box with a strange funnel atop it, a syphon leading out and with a drain on the bottom leading to a pool of water sits astride the stream of water flowing downwards in the cave. After some examination, the party become dubious about putting anything in the funnel, suspecting the device to be some form of sausage maker powered by water. It is quickly deduced that the noise could be caused by something trapped in the mechanism. While Thoht and Alexis puzzle and argue over how to open the box, Alexis simply pries the nails off one side and opens the box to reveal a gem caught in the mechanism, along with a number of rotten fish parts which were thrown out of the box by centrifugal force to splatter all over her. While the rest of the party ponder how to safely remove the gem from the whirring mechanism, Shadowdancer simply rolls his eyes, moves over to the irrigation channel feeding water into the mechanism and moves it to one side. While Thoht and Alexis continue to argue over how to retrieve the gem, Shadowdancer is already reaching into the box to retrieve the gem from the now stationary grinder.

The party's back-slapping lasts only a few moments however. Shadowdancer observes out that the grinder is now no longer making that loud clacking noise. Perhaps they had just been tricked into giving away their location.

[If only I was that devious. Still, that's an excellent suggestion to take on board for future dungeons. I tell you, player paranoia is my best resource when it comes to trap ideas].

They follow the passageway south, and come upon a strange chamber. Four cages made of ropey, green fungus hang from the ceiling. All are suspended from vines hanging from what appears to be a very large pod, similar to those encountered earlier, save for it's increased dimensions. A much larger water-powered grinding machine, this one large enough to cram a man down the funnel, dominates the centre of the room.  Three of the cages appear to be occupied. One lies empty. Thoht and Shadowdancer examine the room with their elf-vision from just outside the entrance, noting as they did so another corridor to the east and one on just of to their right (on the same wall as their own entrance) where they can just glimpse some activity. However, it is the inhabitants of the cages that they focus their gazes upon.

The closest cage holds the lithe shape of a perfectly proportioned female human, lying in a sleeping posture with her head against the bars. Due to the strange glow permeating the room, they are unable to make out more than the basic outline  of her body-heat back-lit against the colder texture of the fungal cage. The second holds a dwarf-shaped creature, the only one of the three evidently awake. Yet there is something distinctly odd about this dwarf. It's body temperature is painfully hot to the eyes. Neither elf-blood (though, no true blooded once-Shidhe like Shadowdancer would ever admit kinship with a half-human) like the way it bounces up and down, monkey-like in the cage. Reaching out to them, yet saying nothing. The third cage lies empty. In the fourth they can just make out the shape and body-heat of a large human- perhaps one as big as the mighty Boagris-  hunched in slumber.

The two elves report their observations to their companions. Immediately, a loud argument ensues regarding whether to rescue these prisoners or simply press on. Fortunately, Ki Oman has the presence of mind to peek round the corner to observe events in the "activity"what was happening up the other corridor. The one in which Thoht and Shadowdancer had reported seeing activity. With alarm, the Bard signals back that the corridor in questions ends in another pod-chamber, full of pods! And the pod-men inside who were already awake are opening up the other pods to rouse their fellows!

Just in time, the party arranges itself in four ranks to meet the charge, with every party member in the first two ranks armed with a spear, regardless of proficiency. Soundly winning initiative against the slow moving pods, every single spear-man with the exception of Andros and Thera are able to set to receive a charge. In a masterful display of phalanx tactics, Shadowdancer calls the timings for held actions and Ki Oman strategically chucks flaming oil. The party systematically mows down at least a rank of charging pod-men every round, before falling back to re-set spears and do the same thing all over again. It is a display to warm a Zaman Phalanxors stony-heart. The party of (mostly) first level characters and (mostly) novice player take down a dozen 3 hit dice creatures in just five rounds of combat without taking a single hit. In a near-perfect display of party tactics as well as the value of team-work and sound leadership, they completely destroy the foe in what was supposed to be a very difficult encounter.

[As a DM, it was a very proud moment. This was proper old-school gaming. Player skill kicking the ass of much tougher monsters than the PC's themselves.]

Yet they do not pause to congratulate themselves. Displaying yet more common sense, the party simply ignores the plaintive cries of the (now awakened and seemingly desperate) human-sized prisoners and the frantic jumping and hooting of the dwarf. Instead, they set a guard  upon the passage they came down, another on the passage heading east, and send some scouts into the Pod Room to check for any foes still sleeping in pods.

Back in the cage-chamber, a detect magic spell from Xenos reveals that while the cages radiate strong abjuration magic, there occupants radiate no magic at all. A few of the groups weapons and items also radiate enchantment magic, but there are no surprises there. The creature in the ceiling pod and the dwarf however, both radiate strong transmutation magic -and this has the party understandably worried. Finally, the pod itself radiates necromantic magic. Odd, considering that the pods in the next room glow with transformation energies.  Thera also opens up her senses, extending her ability to detect evil as far out into the caverns as possible. It's no surprise to her given the party's suspicions on the matter, that the dwarf radiates evil -something that, on Edarnia- suggests the dwarf might be a demon at the very least. He also sense something else. A presence just skittering on the edge of his detection range. The Paladin reveals both pieces of crucial information to the party.

Only then do they decide to talk to the prisoners, heading towards the least threatening one first. A sixteen or seventeen year old human female, a young woman of dazzling beauty, raven-dark hair, and a lithesome figure in perfect proportions calls out for their attention. Ki Oman quickly begins to dazzle her with his charms, carrying on the true Bardic tradition of putting his claim in before anyone else. The girl introduces herself as "Merethena, daughter of Merethena, daughter of Semet. Grand-Niece to the Bull Headed King of Thyatis. may he roar his rage forever." She less dramatically introduces the other human prisoner as Bombatta, her bodyguard.

Menethena, when pressed, confirms that this Thyatis she speaks of is a city on this very Island. She adds that the city itself lies not far to the east. Putting aside their many questions about the island for the moment, Ki Oman and the other questioners focus on trying to find out as much about the caverns themselves as possible.

They learn that the two Thayatians had been imprisoned in the caverns for some time. The dwarf has been here even longer -and has not spoken or attempted to communicate with either human, save to throw excrement- since their arrival. They have marked time by the visits of the "mushroom creature", who has appeared seven times to lower the pod in the ceiling and feed whatever lies within. Hence they estimate they have been here a week. The occupant of the third cage, a second bodyguard, wounded and weak, has already been fed into the grinder. His liquified remains fed to the pod above. They had feared they were to be next.

After some experimentation, the party finds that only obsidian objects will cut the cage bars. All other substances simply bounce off. [Thoht, by chance, had made a point of acquiring some sharp pieces of obsidian during the trip to the caves in session IV and cannily discovers that cut through the bars]. However, as soon as the blade passes through, the fungal bars flex and glue themselves together once again, [rather like the magical slave chain in Star Dust, only  with considerably less pleasant visuals]. Eventually, they hit upon the idea of using obsidian plugs to prevent regrowth of the bars. While it is a  long process, working in two teams they eventually free first the girl, then Bombatta.

Upon being released from her cage, the scantily dressed girl (wearing little more leather straps, a scandalous appearance for any Mycenean woman, let alone a girl of noble or even royal birth) leaps straight into the arms of a somewhat smug Ki Oman. Hardly surprising really, given that of all her rescuers, he is not only the hunkiest - having not only decent physical stats, but dashing good looks, a rakish eyepatch, good breeding, education and a charisma that tops the Paladins- but also the one who did the most talking.

It is clear from Bombatta's, low, throaty growl that the bodyguard does not approve of this behaviour -and lays the blame firmly at the feet of Ki Oman. Upon stepping from his cage, the bodyguard nods respectfully to Boagris, but fails to conceal a superior sneer when he turns his gaze upon the other warriors present. Bombatta makes a point of  introducing himself to Ki Oman. Even taking Ki Oman's wrist in a bone-crushing warriors clasp, before wrenching the Bard painfully into an embrace and whispering, "Touch her fool, and I'll tear out your balls and feed them to the Trogs". When he releases the bard from this bear hug, he is all smiles and good cheer. But his eyes -when directed upon Ki Oman- tell a different tale.

The party intriduces themselve, and while both the former prisoners try to hide it, a brief look of alarm passes between them when Euthalia intriduces herself as a cleric of Haestia. Thera, perhaps wisely, fails to mention that she is a paladin of Meerax, due to their brief reaction.

As for the dwarf, he is left to hop around in his cage for the time being. For once, the party are all in agreement. There's something not right about that dwarf. And it could mean trouble.

[We ended the session there, with the assumption that the group returned to camp to clean themselves up and glean more intelligence about the island- and the Trog Caves themselves- in relative safety. At least two of the players -more familiar with my home-brew campaign setting than the others- have their theories about the identity of these two characters. Or, at least, their cultural background. A few have also noticed details about their appearance and behaviour that the other PC's have not. Will they be able to put 2 and 2 together? Who knows? But I for one am very much looking forward to tomorrow nights session and the party's little chat with the prisoners.]

Thus ends day 7 of the Isle of the Earthshaker Campaign.


Dangerous Brian said...

Seems that this article managed to post itself while I was in the process of editing it. If anyone was unfortunate enough to have taken the time to read the (truly awful) first draft you might want to take a second look.

The Angry Lurker said...

Damn good tale again and a little nod to the Conan movie saga.

Hendrid said...

Great write up again Brian. Always nice when the party gets it right, (nice idea with the phalanx). Look forward to the next exciting episode.....

Dangerous Brian said...

Very glad your both enjoying these. I don't think I'll go into every character death with as much detail. As this was the first one of the campaign I thought it deserved a little more attention.

As to the nod to Conan, the guys name was suppossed to be Nodius or Odereon or something like that. Thing is, I had Bombatta in mind when creating him. I tried to call him by the original name, but I keep forgetting it so I've simply gone for the easy option and re-named him.

We're gaming again tonight, so hopefully I'll have a chance to write (and post) the session report while it's still fresh in my mind.

Rob said...

WOW ! wildly innaccurate notes here. Sorry but i think this particular fiction story needs to be pulled and re-written Bri.
Maybe just too many players ALL Talking over evreyone else to get anything of what was actually happening written down though :(

Loved the pics and the added details the DM was trying to say during the session (couldn't hear most of it over the general chatter) . And i might sound harsh, but the critisism is not personal.

Dangerous Brian said...

Then Rob, with all due respect, perhaps you should stop initiating the arguments that create all the noise in the first place.

Unfortunately, it's just not possible to record 100% accurate notes during the session while running a game for eleven players.

Tell me what the inaccuracies are and, as usual, I'll update the notes. I can't imagine that any of the ones that sneaked thrugh are too major though. Rhidh, El, Caroline, Silv and Aimee are all quick enough at correcting them. Usually, the facebook chatter starts before I've even finished flexing my fingers.

Dangerous Brian said...

Just informed by Elle, one of the other players, that Bombatta actually said he'd feed Ki's balls to the goats.
Meh, nit-picker! :P

Silv S. said...

Absolutly amazing notes! I've been blessed to be joining such a great campaign being still quite inexperienced compared to some players. Seing the notes up makes me feel amazing that im somehow part of this great story.
Awesome work again from an awesome DM.

Dangerous Brian said...

I paid Silv a fiver to say that by the way. Money well spent.

Seriously dude, thanks for your kind words. it wouldn't be the same without big ol' dumb Boagris to help the monsters.

Rob said...

If you wish to blame me for the noise of OOC chatter by noobs and lack of control by the GM in the game feel free, but i neither started nor had any arguments. And in fact actually helped you with minor details that you forgot throught the night, by quietly suggesting them to you.

But suit yourself.

Dangerous Brian said...

Rob, while I value your reminders about the small details I occasionally over-look, let me remind you that the term "noob" is not acceptable at my table.

The novice players in our group have contributed to this game every bit as much as the rest of us. They've earned our respect AND their place at our table. I'll assume you didn't mean anything by your comment and simply let it go.

Silv S. said...

Fiver ? LOl where is it than man didnt get any lol :) anyhow looking forward to the next gaming even though i wont be there im looking forward to Write my gameplay :) hehe thats going to be fun :)
Boagris happy to help :)))) haha Boagris , Boagris (aka Hodor Game of thrones )