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 They find the place much changed; the population is halved, and worse, all signs of authority have been replaced by red leather-clad goons that stroll the streets, abusing the townspeople with petty harassment.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.

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