Sunday, May 19, 2019

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #13

Two entries in one day because bad DM didn't do the first one when he should have. 

The City of Tomorrow

(Note: this recap will be a spoiler for the adventure The City of Tomorrow, available at DriveThruRpg).

The Bard steps outside to answer a call of nature, only to be ambushed by a harpy that snatches him up and carries him away. It's not a total loss, as the harpy drops its previous victim, preferring the handsome bard to the scrawny Wizard it had snatched off the streets of Varsoulou in the middle of the night. He doesn't remember a thing, having been dazed by the harpy's song through the long flight. The party is thrilled to welcome him back, heroically overlooking the sheer unlikeliness of the event and also the fact that their friend is now trapped in the untracked wilderness just like they are. (This was my clever DM trick to bring the Wizard back in and take the Bard out, as their respective players had missed the previous and current sessions.)

The party sets out to rescue their mate and are immediately jumped by hungry owlbears (yay for random encounter tables!). Once again they retreat behind library doors, the warriors bravely taking up a front battle line with the casters far behind. This works wonderfully for about twelve seconds. Then one of the owlbears gets a claw into the Ranger, pulls him into its deadly embrace, and flays him like a fish fillet.

The Wizard had been futilely casting spells, running up against the twin problems of magic being all-or-nothing (known as save-or-die, as in the target either shrugs off your spell with no effect or is wholly incapacitated by it) and infinitely finicky (i.e., he was targeting the owlbear's Fortitude saves, which is a poor choice against twelve-hundred pound beasties). Now he gets creative; he casts Grease on the Ranger, giving the poor man a fighting chance against the owlbear's deadly embrace. A spot late, however, as the Ranger is already unconscious and bleeding out by the end of the round.

The Ranger slips from the owlbear's grasp and it steps over him to attack the Cleric. Meanwhile the Druid bravely ducks in and heals the Ranger. Only the smallest of spells, but enough to bring him back to the waking world. The Ranger, apparently channeling the Barbarian, draws his dagger and stabs the owlbear standing above him, despite the near-certain knowledge that it could stomp him to death without even trying. As it happens he finds a vein and the beast collapses in a howl of dying agony (i.e. he delivered the killing blow - a trivial amount of damage and yet just enough to finish off the monster. This is the same way the wolf got the credit for the ogre kills and one of the more amusing quirks of the rules). He's till in danger of smothering under the corpse, so the Druid pulls him free. While being dragged to safety the Ranger throws his dagger at the other owlbear, still battling the Barbarian, and pierces its brain right through an eye-socket, killing it instantly. (Again with the last point of damage - a joke that never gets old.)

After cleaning off and healing up a bit they go to the owlbear's lair, but can make nothing out of the old stone dais the creatures had been circling. Traveling slowly and stealthily they make their way to the far end of the city to examine what turns out to be a graveyard. As it's night they choose to camp here rather than returning to the stinky library. The weather changes unpredictably as the temperature drops to freezing. Of course, this turns out to be the effect of a ghost haunting. Natch!

The Barbarian is on watch when the ghost arrives, and he chooses to wake the Wizard. They let everyone else sleep, on account of they want a fresh set of spells the next day. Apparently the Wizard has a calming effect on the Barbarian, because he doesn't try to attack the ghost. Instead they listen to its complaint and debate what they can do to help it.

In the morning they fill everyone in on the ghost's quest. They recite its monologue from memory (and the Wizard decides that from now on his character will be writing things down, since the wicked DM made him actually recite the monologue from memory). They dig up its grave, looking for a body, but that is long lost to dust. The Cleric assures them a handful of grave-soil will serve well enough, and they set off to the north to deliver the remains to the Hall of Refuge, thus releasing the ghost from its unfinished task.

The Hall of Refuge starts out as a small tunnel in a cliff face which leads to a marble and iron grate, long since broken open. Behind it is a vast cavern the size of a large football stadium, shrouded in darkness. Upon the ground are row after row of empty stone circles, each about three feet across. A huge iron pot and a load of firewood clearly don't belong here, but there they are, right behind the gate. A path leads back into the darkness; after finding the two sides of the cavern hundreds of feet to either side, they follow the path.

The last quarter or so of the cave reveals a change; now the stone circles are occupied by statues of men on one side and women on the other. At the very end of the path is a statue in the middle; a regal  man with the scepter of a king. While the party debates what this all means, lizardfolk begin coming in through the gate.

At this point they are half a mile from the entrance, so they extinguish their lights and hide. The lizardfolk seem to be having an argument; after a while several dozen of them come walking down the path. Eventually they reach the kingly statue. The lizard chief rolls his eyes and assures his fellow tribesmen that all men taste the same, but they are adamant. They want a special treat for dinner tonight. The chieftain lifts a silver censer that hangs around his neck, mutters a mysterious word, and suddenly the statue is a living and breathing man again.

Before the king can speak the lizard warriors leap on him and bind and gag him. The party is understandably distraught and ready to intervene. However, they are scattered in the darkness, heavily outnumbered, and concerned that the lizards might just retreat and seal them in the cave; the confusion (and a little nudging from the DM to make sure his cut-scene went off as planned) result in the lizards reaching the entrance, where they leave the helpless man in the hands of a group of lizard women clearly preparing to cook dinner. Listening to the squirming man, one says, "There, there, it'll all be over in a few minutes," while another one observes, "As long as he's been standing up, you'd think he'd appreciate a bit of a lie-down."

Now that the enemy is reduced to scullions and kitchen drudges, our party feels confident enough to attack. A quick spell and few slit throats later they release the man. His first question - "Does Theronius the Doge still rule?" When the answer is confusion - the party has never heard of such a person, and in any case the ruins outside are ruled by no one, the man relaxes.

He introduces himself as Rialto, a noble of a long dead civilization. Having come to an impasse with the rulers of his day, he and his followers chose retreat rather than civil war. Specifically, they retreated to the cavern, turned themselves to stone, and set a timer for a thousand years. They would then come forth into a world which had never heard of their foes, let alone bowed to their rule. With the equipment they had set by they would issue forth and build a new kingdom.

Unfortunately, at some point the lizardfolk chieftain had discovered them and figured out how to activate the magic item that restored them to flesh. He and his tribe had consequently been eating a few people a day for the last several decades. Rialto is beside himself with rage and the need to save what remains of his people. The party quickly convinces him that they can be trusted to help. He opens a secret door and arms them with potions of Healing and rods of Scorching Ray.

Issuing forth from the tunnel, they find the lizards on their way to dinner. A huge battle ensues, or tries to ensue; most of the lizardfolk get trapped by the Druid's Entangle spell (still the most OP first level spell ever) and are slowly consumed by various swarms of vicious vermin, as the Wizard has now joined the Druid in inflicting the most horrifying death imaginable.

Several squads of lizardfolk do break free and give the Barbarian and Ranger a tough time. Turns out these guys are no mooks; they are hard to hurt and hit like pros (though still not as hard as ogres or owlbears). Another Entangle from the Ranger (who has graduated to real magic now) and a couple of spells from Rialto (who is apparently a high-level wizard), plus some blasts from the rods, finishes them off. But reinforcements are spotted in the distance.

And finally, the unintended consequences of magic: they can't harvest the souls of most of the fallen, because they're still trapped inside the writhing grasses of the Entangle spell, which would trap the party as effectively as it did their foes. Frustrated, they loot what they can, and flee the oncoming horde which looks to be even stronger than the one they just defeated.

Retreating to the library for lack of a better fortification, with the druid covering their tracks, they buy a night of relief. Rialto gives them a bit of history, revealing their actual location on the map of the continent they gained several months ago. In the middle of the night they receive a knock on what remains of the library doors (mostly destroyed by several battles). An attractive and refined young woman, by all appearances unarmed and harmless, wants to make an alliance against the lizardfolk. She desires the Censor of Animation, the item that turns stone to flesh, and is willing to let them have all the rest of the treasure in exchange for their help in destroying the chieftain. Much to everyone's surprise it is the Ranger who coldly rebuffs her in favor of helping Rialto. (By the way, this is perfect Chaotic Good behavior - the Ranger is fair and just with people he has a personal relationship with. Selling out random Edersarrian nobles doesn't bother him because he doesn't consider them part of his peer group. But Rialto is a brother-in-arms, the closest personal relationship a professional murder can form.) The Wizard stalls, asking her to come back the next day after they've had a chance to discuss things. She is dubious, but leaves with a warning that she doubts they can deal with the lizards on their own - it appears she has mistaken Rialto for merely one more of their merry band, rather than the kingly figure (and dispenser of powerful magic items) that he is.

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