Monday, May 15, 2023

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #45

The Celebration of the Red Moon, part II

As the party rouses from its power-nap they are greeted by an unexpected companion. The Wizard has arrived! His trip was uneventful, as he spent all of invisible. When asked what drew him away from the safety of his study room in their Keep back in Edersarr, he says, “I felt a great disturbance in the ether, as if thousands of books had suddenly been erased.”

The Druid hides behind a table while the Ranger fills the Wizard in. Next is the inevitable kidnapping of a Redshirt for questioning. Much effort is spent in determining who, exactly, is in charge of the whole situation. The sad truth turns out that it is apparently the demons running the show. How low Varsoulou has fallen; it is not even a nation now, just a ranch for extra-planar monsters.

Happier news is that the ceremony has been scaled back, implying it will be summoning a smaller demon than previously anticipated, presumably to replace the Vrock the party slew. Some discussion is had over whether or not to let the ceremony complete, so as to bag another demon and its tael; but as that path requires that hundreds of commoners be sacrificed it is eventually discarded.

They have to choose between three approaches to get into the ceremony, the better to disrupt it:

  • Dress as peasants
  • Impersonate officers of the Red Shirts
  • Arrive early and hide
As the first requires surrendering their armor, and the third requires some modicum of discretion, they opt for the second. One Prestidigitation spell later their chain-mail and plate are bright red.

They swagger up to the gate two hours before midnight and simply assert authority. Given the dysfunctional state of the Redshirt’s organization, this works splendidly. When the Bard loudly announces that the celebration has been moved to another night, the Redshirts simply walk off the job and head for a tavern. The Druid begins ushering peasants out while the rest of the party heads for the main Keep.

As they approach the building, a Redshirt comes out and demands to know what’s going on.

“Moved to another day,” repeats the Bard.

“Who told you that?” the Redshirt says. “I literally just talked to a Boss and he didn’t say anything about it.”

“Well, it’s what we were told. And our armor is better than yours, so clearly, we outrank you.”

This argument is hard to refute. “Come inside and let’s sort this out,” the Redshirt says, and goes back into the building. Most of the party follows, with only the Wizard balking at the doorway and staying outside (and the Druid, who is busy setting fire to the wooden altar in the middle of the courtyard).

Once again the Wizard’s intelligence is rewarded, when he is the only one not viciously clawed by hidden demons popping out of the shadows. The Bard is immediately rendered unconscious, though the other party members are a bit luckier. General combat ensues and it is discovered that the Ranger’s bow has been awakened to its true nature, mysteriously transforming into a +2 Holy bow overnight (probably as a consequence of fighting so many demons in such a selfless manner with no thought to profit or personal gain). The change is dramatic, as the Ranger rapidly decimates the Babau with a flurry of arrows, actually exceeding the Barbarian for damage output for the first time ever.

A group of Redshirts appears at the bottom of the stairwell and unleash a volley of debilitating rays of weakness, to no effect whatsoever. They are immediately obliterated by the Wizard’s fireball, as he steps into the room to protect the party’s marital prowess. The Cleric manages to heal the Bard just in time for the ceiling above the Bard to collapse and drop a Vrock on his head.

The Vriock screeches, stunningly loud, but the Druid-bear has now joined the battle and easily shrugs off the effect. The Barbarian slips out of the monster’s telekinetic grasp, the Ranger eliminates its image protections, and so its next action is to simply fly back up through the ceiling. The party chases it up the tottering stairs, sans Druid-bear, who knows the flaming wood can’t support his weight. He is rewarded when the demon swoops down again, evading the party, and flies out the front door.

The Druid-bear gives chase, but stops at the doorway when he realizes it is flanked by more Babau. They engage in combat and two more Babau run up from the field to help. The rest of the party looks out over the field of battle from balconies on the second floor.

The Ranger, Cleric, and Wizard have effective ranged attacks to reach the demon in the courtyard, especially when the Wizard blinds the creature and robs it of its own ranged attack. In response, the Babau leave off fighting long enough to magically aid their master, while the Ranger suddenly flies high up into the air above the building in the telekinetic grasp of a second demon! But the Wizard counters this new threat by casting Feather Fall on the Ranger, who continues to use his bow to good effect.

Despite multiple magical defenses, the demons are no match for the party. The Babau on the ground are quickly dispatched by the Druid-bear and the Barbarian, while the flying Vrocks are smashed by Spiritual Hammers, Magic Missiles, and holy arrows.

The aftermath is profitable; the amount of tael the creatures had saved in anticipation of luring over a bigger demon is staggering. In addition, the party has gained the broken remnants of an entire country, which turns out to be a prize they didn’t actually want. They have no desire to live in the desert and rule over a (technically) evil society; the number of Varsouloueans who could successfully emigrate and assimilate to Edersarr is low; and the party cannot in good conscience simply murder the common folk for the tael in their heads.

But neither can they walk away and abandon those commoners – and their tael – to whatever wandering monster happens by next. In addition to the moral lapse of duty, this would result in just another super-powered foe they would have to defeat when it inevitably turned its hungry gaze on their own kingdom.

Reluctantly they agree to a remarkable plan: the party will, from its own purse, promote a pair of clerics from the Varsoulouen population to the fifth rank, on the proviso that men or women of good (i.e. Blue) character can be found. This gives the community a chance to survive, as this rank of cleric can both cure plagues and provide the blessings that are necessary to make the desert bloom. Actually, one cleric could do this; the second is to revive the cinnamon fields. The party will draw a share of the profits only from the spice trade; in addition, they undertake to protect the fledgling nation until it can protect itself (i.e., until it can promote one of those clerics to the 9th rank). Now they cast their gaze eastward, wondering what threats slumber out there, waiting only for the news of the collapse of organized defense before swooping in to feed on a helpless populace.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #44

The Celebration of the Red Moon, part I

The party adopts a new disguise for this expedition– a traveling apothecary. They buy a pair of mules and a clap-board wagon, paint it in festive colors, and stock it with empty potion bottles. The Barbarian is security, the Druid is the drayer, the Bard is advertising, the Cleric pretends to make potions, and the Ranger is their wilderness guide. Although they are still obviously adventurers, they look like a low-level merchant party instead of the near-royalty they actually are.

After ambling across the familiar plains between Edersarr and Varsoulou their first stop is Count Wraythus’ town. They find the place much changed; the population is halved, and worse, all signs of authority have been replaced by red leather-clad goons that stroll the streets, abusing the townspeople with petty harassment.

These are not the strapping musclemen of a legitimate ruler, or even the hardened mercenary thugs of a bandit chieftain. Instead, they are the dregs of society, the crude, cruel, simple-minded failures that would normally be found sweeping the streets or breaking rocks. The source of their authority seems to be their bronze daggers and flashy leathers. When the party asks a pair of them for directions to the castle, the goons don’t even have the good sense to realize the danger they are in.

“Who wants to know?” one sneers, while the other leaves off berating a tradesman who takes the redirection of attention as an excuse to vamoose.

Needless to say, the party does not take well to this insolence. Still, the Bard puts on a charming response. The goon, thinking he’s clever, tells the Bard about the upcoming Celebration of the Red Moon, a huge midnight festival to which only 1,024 special individuals will be invited.

“If you can get ten other people invited, they’ll make you one of us,” the goon promises. The Bard can easily tell he’s lying about that, but not about the celebration or its very peculiar constraint on the guest list.

“What’s in the wagon?” the other one asks. The Barbarian, whose tolerance for insolence is exceedingly low, invites the fellow around back to see for himself. We can assume the goon did not expect the answer to be “a hungry dire bear,” but as soon as the door is opened, that’s what he finds. The second goon starts to balk, gets pummelled into unconsciousness by the Barbarian, and tossed in anyway. The only clue to their fate are the crunching sounds and the blood leaking through the wagon’s floorboards.

The Ranger decides to drive on to the castle. This seems to be counter-productive, in that the Count is likely to be one of the few people in Varsoulou that can identify them by sight; but when they arrive at the castle gates they realize this might not matter anymore. The gates are open and unguarded, a clear marker of anarchy. The party disembarks and enters, leading the Druid-bear on a chain like a pet (despite the fact that normally, pet bears are not almost as large as wagons).

Inside they find a half-dozen red suits arguing over a meal, and the Count sitting silently on his throne. The Count greets them with some familiarity, but when they assert their identity as mere merchants, he shrugs and plays along. The red suits attempt to exert authority, but pretty much everyone ignores them.

The Bard can tell there is something wrong with Wraythfus: he favors his left shoulder, and he seems preoccupied. They have a discussion that is not entirely informative, although the Bard does find out that the Queen is dead and Wraythus claims to be King. And that he’s not invited to the Celebration of the Dawn of the Red Moon, which seems quite suspicious.

The Ranger suggests that the party has a barrel of wine in their wagon and offers to donate it to the ongoing party. Wraythus objects to this quite strenuously, suggesting instead that they should find some rooms in the castle for the night. The red suits line up, clearly expecting something to happen. And then the Ranger is flayed from behind, a pair of demons appearing out of the shadows and raking him with their claws (and their sweet, sweet sneak attack damage).

The bear is also flanked and flayed, and then the fight is in earnest. The Barbarian charges Wraythfus, assuming the Count will be a suitable foe for his blade. The Count laughably misses his first attack, almost as if he didn’t even want to fight. The Ranger is dismayed to discover that his weapons are almost useless against the demons, while the Druid is pleased to note that his claws cut right through their protection. The Bard attacks the flunkies, and the Cleric heals the Ranger.

The red suits respond with rays of weakness, reducing the Barbarian to merely mortal instead of superhuman. However, they are only first rank, and when the Ranger abandons the demons to fight against the humans, their line collapses. The Bard makes use of his Pipes of Panic and sends the survivors fleeing deeper into the castle.

The demons, however, prove more durable. After the Barbarian quickly dispatches the hapless Count, he and the Druid-bear struggle to put down the monsters. The Bard attempts to intimidate them by summoning an image of what they fear the most: a Vrock (the demon the party fought in Edersarr). But instead of being frightened by the image, the demons seem heartened and fight harder – at least until they are destroyed.

Sounds from the hallway harken the return of the cultists. The Druid, out of hit points, resumes human form and spike-traps the hallway, eliciting screams of agony. And then a large figure swoops out of the hallway and lands on the throne. This is a real Vrock, and through telepathic communication it informs the party of a pressing truth:

“That doesn’t look anything like me.”

And then it summons its own images, and now there are four Vrocks to contend against. Its stunning shriek leaves the Barbarian and Cleric helpless while its thorny spores once again infect the Barbarian.

The Ranger dispatches all of the images with arrows, the Barbarian recovers and hacks into the demon, and bear returns and joins the fight. In short order the demon is reduced to ashes, less of a threat apparently than its minions.

The party cleans up the mess – who are we kidding, they drain the heads and move on. Entering the capital a few days later they debate where to go next. Noting that the cathedral has been overtaken by red-suited thugs, they decide that Golden Library might still contain elements of resistance.

This hope is dashed when a red-suited thug greets them at the door. Nonetheless, they play along, pretending to merely be library patrons. The thug invites them upstairs, where they are ambushed by a squad of reds, which they demolish in such exuberant fashion – at one point the Bard terrifes several men into leaping to their deaths - that the Vrock and its lone Babau immediately retreat.

While looting the library they discover that the books appear to be all blank. This could be a fraud perpetuated by the reds, or some kind of magical protection on the library. The Druid convinces the party to deny the enemy a base of operations and sets fire to the building. Although the tower is stone, the interior floors are made of wood, and the building is filled with paper (some percentage of which have Explosive Runes cast on them). The building goes up like a torch, illuminating the night far brighter than its illusionary runes ever did.

This is an act of global significance: the destruction of the only known magical library on the entire Western coast. One wonders if it will have repercussions.

His arsonic lust still not satisfied, the Druid performs a drive-by fire-bombing of the cathedral, rattling his wagon down the cobblestone streets as the Barbarian hurtles pints of Greek Fire. A mass of reds come out of the building to fight the fire, only to find themselves fighting the party. Again the party makes such short work of them that the resident demon flees.

The party heads towards its old inn of respite for a few hours of rest before dawn. The innkeeper is too traumatized and too desperate for coin to ask questions. Now the party seems out of options: the next battle will likely be at the Celebration of the Red Moon.