Saturday, September 11, 2021

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #29

The Irryrian Invasion

The party returns to court and presents its present of incense. Vicar Neve is thrilled to the heavens; Queen Rian, however, plays her cards close to her chest.

Warfare in a feudal society is less a matter of state policy than of personal choices. The queen gives the party licence to recruit for their attack on the goblins, but refrains from making her own commitment until they have raised a sizable private force.

This is the Bard’s territory, and the party follows him on a whirlwind tour of the kingdom. They discover a wide range of attitudes. County Eicoarraecae is decimated, its count destroyed in the party’s last goblin adventure. However, soldiers must eat, and they like successful leaders: after all, the party returned from that foray intact. The party raises a company of yeomen and a troop of ranked marksmen as permanent household guards for only a signing bonus of 2,500 gp, the promise of 5,000 gp a year in salary and upkeep, and a standard share of the booty. Added to the sailors they already employ, the party has now crossed the threshold: they are no longer a free company, but a political entity.

However, both the free companies of the county are hard ”No’s”. Baronet Hubert, of the armored Iron Company that accompanied the late Count on that fatal venture, does not care to face the dragon again. Baronet Gabriel of the Lance Company tells them to their face that they underestimate the power of the dragon and that their mission is suicidal. But why would they listen to some small-time adventurer from distant lands with a reputation for defeating strange and powerful beasts? They shrug off his warning and move on.

Count Garth of Hoolliolae is keen; he, his personal retinue, and his company of cataphracti are all available for merely their share of the spoils. The party funds the temporary formation of another free company from the local gentry for 1,750 gp, bringing another troop of marksmen on-board complete with their own cleric.

Oorlournearsio, the swamp county they keep passing through on their way to the goblins, is regretfully unable to contribute at the moment. The Curate Siagny is struggling to hold her misfit county together as it is.

Lady Irwen, the sometimes erratic ruler of Ameappaoqua, is ambiguous. She wants to see what the queen commits before she commits her own forces, and even then she is asking for cash to get involved. The party extracts a compromise: the lady, half her retinue, and her cataphracti company will accompany them for only 1,500 gp if the queen sends at least an entire regiment. The party, concerned about raising enough force, decide to meet the Arrow Company’s signing fee of 2,000 gp, and add another free company to their coalition.

Flodaighoast gives them the cold shoulder. Curate Anna faces too many raids from the human kingdom to her west to worry about goblins. Only a substantial inducement of 2,000 gp convinces the resident free company, the Company of the Long Shaft, to join them.

With these lists of names in their hands they return to the capital. The Order of the Stag, the most powerful non-governmental body in the kingdom, meets their invitation with nothing but frowns. They cannot be swayed, and the party settles for buying the much smaller Order of the Hound for another 2,000 gp. Still worried about impressing the queen, they hand over another 4,500 gp to organize three temporary troops of ranked marksmen from the free gentry of the town, each of which comes with its own Troubadour. Lady Alys the Jongleur is waiting only for an invitation, and gladly jumps to be of service to the realm.

Now they approach the throne with only slight trepidation. Neve greets them warmly; the queen is still reserved. Yet she will not send her sister unprotected into danger. She grants them a regiment, a third of her entire army. Four companies of yeomen, one company of dragoons, and two troops of marksmen.

However, she extracts a promise: after the goblins are reduced, the party will undertake to retrieve the Helm of Brilliance for her realm. The party is uncertain as to how this can be accomplished, but they want her troops too much to say no.

She also makes it clear that the party is to return with Neve, or not at all.

The party has now invested a vast sum into making this happen, for which they get only their fair share of the spoils. Still, they have traded gold for the chance of tael, and that is the engine which drives the lives of the ranked. They set forth with banners flying, as a substantial portion of the power of the realm falls in behind them.

The march south is uneventful; the way is well-known and the goblin patrols have already been smashed once. On the morning of battle, when the next advance will bring the army to close with the goblin city, the dragon appears in the sky, glowing more golden than the sunrise.

Neve stands in the saddle, refulgent with the power of the incense, and chants with the confidence of conviction. The dragon draws close; the party is granted their first proper look at the creature. And that look shakes them to their bones. In a flash of inspiration the Cleric realizes that Neve is completely insane; her paltry rank cannot possibly compel a monster of this power. (I made the Cleric look up the rules for turning while the Bard made a roll to determine the dragon’s CR. The party immediately began casting every spell they could think of to boost her chances, but even that was not enough).

The party looks left and right, but there is nowhere to hide. Flight is not possible from the flying freight train bearing down on them. Neve chants louder, still unconcerned; the army holds its collective breath; and then… the dragon turns away.

As it flies south, out of sight, the army leaps to its feet. Divine providence has blessed their cause and they press on with bloodlust heightened to a burning edge. Only the party looks at each other, wondering what has just transpired; only they seem aware that the dragon chose to withdraw for reasons unknown but undoubtedly nefarious.

The ensuing battle is somewhat anticlimactic. The party has brought overwhelming force against the depleted goblins, including two land-holders whose retinues include healers and are therefore nigh-indestructible. The army’s advance is contested but never truly in doubt. Even the trolls cannot inflict much damage before the Barbarian knocks them down.

At the gates of the city the goblins mount a desperate defense. The Barbarian, eager as always, scrambles over the walls and attempts to engage an entire company of spearmen single-handedly. This appears to be the limit of his abilities, as they stab him to the ground with a hundred thrusts. Fortunately Count Garth is unwilling to cede all the glory, and his troop smashes through the gates and captures the city. The party finds the Barbarian, unconscious but fortunately not in danger of bleeding out, lying in the rubble.

The common troops rampage through the city, killing everything that breathes. Even the goblin’s horses are destroyed, as they are unmanageable by human hands. The high lords gather in the goblin keep and oversee the collection of treasure.

The other lords look to the party for guidance, as this is their operation. The party decides to occupy the city for at least nine more days while the yeoman hunt hobgoblins in the forest, yielding sizeable portions of tael. After that their food will run out, and they are not willing to chance goblin fodder. The retreat home, like the march here, will require no rations, as the army is almost entirely composed of huntsmen who can forage with ease in the wild; but the goblins have long since hunted their own lands into depletion.

 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Why Politico is the worst: Reason #395

 Today Politico says:

Senior U.S. lawmakers are stressing out about mounting government debt as they resist President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan to boost the economy

How is this not journalistic malpractice? How is this not pure propaganda? The only people freaking out about the debt are Republicans.

Politico deliberately and intentionally smeared all lawmakers with the fringe beliefs of Republicans so as to normalize those beliefs (the rest of the article is about how economic experts including debt investors themselves also support Joe Biden's plan).

This is how fascism wins: one lie at a time.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #28

Weekend at Phorcys

(This recap will be a spoiler for the adventure Weekend at Phorcys, available on DriveThruRPG for free).

After diligent investigation, involving drinking in many different taverns, the bard has uncovered two different paths to striking back at the goblins.

The Path of Night

The rogue Esyllt knows a secret entrance into a goblin keep; not the one they’ve just returned from, but its neighbor. If they can get to the city walls, she will lead them past all the common soldiers and into the keep itself, where they can face principals directly with only their personal guards. Though it won’t be as profitable as sacking the whole town but it will yield tael and magic items. Esyllt will provide guidance and invisibility potions in exchange for 1/3 of the treasure.

The Path of War

The bard Alys has heard rumors of an ancient and evil underwater temple not too far to the east. They may possess a sacred spice that, when burned while praying, causes a cleric's spells to operate at the fullest possible effect. If the Vicar Neve had this item, she believes she could actually turn the dragon and force it to flee (as a priestess of Earth, she can turn or destroy creatures of Air). With this protection, the queen would surely authorize a military mission to destroy the already weakened goblin district. The local heroes have not investigated this temple, as they are all archers and fighting underwater is not ideal for them. Alys will provide water-breathing options at normal price, but otherwise the party is on its own.

 

The party chooses war, apparently because they are just that keen on burning down an entire goblin city.

So it’s back up river to their boat, where they roust their sailors from seedy taverns and inns and set sail back to the east. There is some trepidation when they realize it’s the same area they saw the siren sunning on a rock, but they find the beach described by Alys (who got her information from a ship-wrecked fisherman). They did not like the price tag on her potions, instead choosing to rely on their own spells. The druid casts water-breathing on everyone and turns himself into an octopus, and they trudge under the sea, looking for a glimpse of lights that cannot be seen from the surface.

What they find astounds them: an entire Greek-style temple lit by torches and occupied by handsome young men and women in green togas lies at the bottom of the ocean. Seeing their friendly faces the bard dashes forward and begs for aid, as he can tell his water-breathing spell is about to expire.

A handsome man in a gold and pearl crown parts the crowed and says, “Come,” striding into the temple. The bard follows him into a small room with a font and a stone button. Pressing the button releases a fragrant green gas that suffuses through the water, and suddenly the bard can breathe again. The rest of the party follows (the druid turning human again now that there is air on offer) and the master of the house belatedly makes introductions.

“I am Phorcys, a minor demigod of the sea. You are welcome in my domain as long as your intentions are peaceful.”

He explains that the gas will only last for three hours, and shows them how to activate it when they need a refresher. Then lunch is served, sea plants and sushi. Afterwards everyone retires to the main room to dance.

The cleric declines a dance partner and engages Phorcys in conversation, mentioning that their gratitude for his hospitality and asking if there is anything they can do in return. As it turns out, a hideous monster has laired in a cave that overlooks a certain sea-flower that the temple denizens like. If the party could dispatch the beast, Phorcys would be happy to supply them with some of his special spice.

The lair is a long walk away, so Phorcys summons up some sea-bass outfitted with harnesses. The party tops up on green gas and sets off, riding their underwater mounts and traveling at great speed. They reach the lair in an hour and twenty minutes, leaving them a good twenty minutes of fighting time with still enough air to get back to the temple.

But the entrance of the cave is guarded by two huge sharks. The party attempts to advance through them without trouble but the creatures dive in for a bite. The druid gets stuck in a shark’s mouth and takes a terrible beating until in desperation he turns himself invisible to animals. The creature lets him go, confused, and turns to bite the cleric before eventually succumbing to the combined efforts of the party. The other shark, meanwhile, has been long-speared by the barbarian, who is making good use of his portable armory (fighting underwater imposes penalties on slashing and bludgeoning damage).

At some point in the fight they try to distract the sharks, only succeeding in driving one into their herd of sea-bass mounts which immediately scatter. The party doesn’t take much notice of this detail and head into the cave to find the true monster.

Once there the wizard immediately spots the hidden treasure, proving his high Appraise skill was definitely an in-character choice. Before they can evaluate it, however, the bard is snatched up by the octopus hidden on the ground and dragged deeper into the cave.

A pretty epic battle occurs, with the bard actually winning a grapple check to escape before the octopus can constrict him to death and the mass of tentacles applying a serious beat-down to the barbarian. Eventually, though, the creature has to think of defence, and it emits a cloud of ink.

The barbarian has been so badly mauled that even after being healed he is reluctant to wade into the darkness and finish the creature off. The ranger is shooting blindly into the ink cloud under the delusion he can actually hit something he can’t even see, until the bard convinces the barbarian to charge by charging in first. They find the beast and attack it with gusto, unaware that a stray arrow from the ranger actually found its mark several rounds ago.

The treasure turns out to be a pouch from a long-dead adventurer, with some gold, a few jewels, and a much-appreciated potion of water-breathing. Between that and the rest of the cleric’s third-rank spells they have just enough air to make the long march home, now that their sea-bass mounts have deserted them.

The people of the temple greet them warmly, though without any obvious concern over their longer-than-expected absence. In general the inhabitants of the temple seem oblivious to the hurly-burly of the outside world. And their age is problematic, as they have clearly been here a long time. Long enough to be eager to offer companionship to new-comers when the sun begins to sink. The wizard accepts a companion, though for inexplicable reasons he chooses to sleep in a storage closet instead of a sleeping chamber; the bard, keeping in form, accepts three companions, and everyone retires for the night – or rather, for the two hours our heroes need now that they are all wearing Rings of Sustenance.

Yet their sleep is troubled by a terrible nightmare, in which the temple decays into ruin and their beautiful companions rot into foul creatures of undeath. In horror they snap awake, realizing the dream has become reality!

Both the wizard and the bard win their initiative checks, allowing them to escape the clutches of the ghastly monsters next to them. (This would have gone quite poorly for the bard, outnumbered three-to-one as he was, but as usual dumb luck lets him skate out of the consequences of his ill-advised romantic decisions). They race for the main hall, shouting through the water for their fellows. The barbarian and bard get stuck in hallway, fighting a ghast; the ranger holds the entrance-way against three more. The druid, thinking ahead, runs to the small chamber where the air supply is, only to discover it now emits a foul stench.

Phorcys’ bronze throne begins to glimmer in fascinating colors, but as usual the party simply shrugs off the enemy spell. The cleric begins chanting holy words against the undead creatures, sending five running, followed by two more, and finally dusting another two. Meanwhile the bard and barbarian are still in the hallway, their battle against a lone ghast complicated by a huge shark that keeps making swim-by attacks from overhead. The temple is in fact in ruins, all of the roofs caved in and many of the walls shattered.

Phorcys appears, cursing and taunting the party. The druid, still in bear form, comes back into the hall and immediately falls prey to the hypnotic effect of the throne. This does not last, however, as the ghast that was chasing the wizard comes up behind him and attacks, breaking the spell.

The bard and barbarian defeat their ghast and decide to ignore the shark, which has so far proven unable to hit anything. They enter the main hall, shrugging off the disco lights from the throne, and now the party is all together and thinking they can probably take the remaining ghasts. Just in time for four huge tentacles to burst up through the floor.

These things hit like a ton of bricks. The ranger and wizard in particular are knocked into negatives. Only the cleric seems immune to the tentacles, which never land a sucker on him. His spells put his fallen comrades back into battle, which is good, because the handful of remaining ghasts are prowling around looking for easy prey. The wizard gets off a Magic Missile at Phorcys but then has to summon sharks to hold the ghasts off. The bear-druid tears two tentacles off and lays into Phorcys himself, only to finally realize the man is merely a projected image.

Then a cloud of ink covers the entire room, blinding the ranger, bard, and wizard. As usual the barbarian makes his save vs spell (he really is quite lucky that way) and chops off the last two tentacles.

Now things come to a bit of stand-still. Phorcys is out of tentacles, ghasts, and tricks, but the party is low on hit-points, spells, and air. A negotiation ensues. Phorcys offers to pay a ransom and to tell them where the promised incense is hidden if they agree to leave. The bard counters with a demand for his crown. After a brief bit of resistance, Phorcys agrees to take his crown off and hand it to the bard as part of the deal. Still, the party is unsure of whether to take this bargain or press on, until the druid resumes human form and tells them that the air supply is broken.

Phorcys offers to give them one more hit of the green gas, and that seals the deal. They file into the small chamber. This time the gas is foul and sickening, but it does allow them to breathe water. They search the storage room and find the incense. As they are trudging out the front door, the bard demands the crown. Phorcys rolls his eyes, takes off his crown, and hands it over – whereupon it immediately disappears, because of course it was illusion just like his body.

The party marches for two hours back to the shore, only slightly disconsolate that they received very little profit. Phorcys’ ransom is significant, but they are used to huge sums these days, and the only real treasure is the incense which they are planning on handing over to someone else. At the edge of the water they receive one more nasty surprise – they have forgotten how to breathe air!

The wizard is convinced that the effect will disappear at the same time the effect of the gas wears off. Despite a less-than-authorative spellcraft roll he convinces the rest of the party to simply wait, perhaps because they don’t really have any other options – the temple is two hours away and in any case they can’t expect to find respite there. In the end he is proved right, and they stand up in the cold dark, coughing out salty water and terrifying their poor sailors who temporarily mistook them for sea monsters.

Now they are keen to return to the Queen and make a present of the incense as the opening bid in negotiating a role in the war to come. The gravity of the situation has become clear: the human and goblin kingdoms have experienced a Pax Draconis, a peace compelled by the dragon’s tendency to eat armies. If Vicar Neve can compel it to retreat, then open war may engulf the entire domain, instead of merely low-scale raids and skirmishes. The party views this outcome with satisfaction. A blood-thirsty view, to be sure, but one no doubt shared by the human and goblin kingdoms themselves.