Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Terrinoth #7 - Dues for the Dead

The Tarasque de Noves

Campaign Diary

Having rested and re-equipped, our party once again set out from Tamalir, this time heading south to the Smokeblue Hills, rumoured to be "gathering place for sorcerous cults, dragon-worshippers, and other servants of darkness".

(Click here for PC profiles)

Travel to the foothills was uneventful along the Royal Road, and after a week our party arrived at the village of Narmen, where they were mistaken by the villagers to be sent by the baron to their aid. Our heroes learned that about ten days prior a party of four strangers had arrived, leading a mule loaded with mining tools. The men spoke with a Northern Terrinoth accent, and were looking for labourers to hire. One of the men wore a rich purple robe, and looked to be the leader. Four villagers took up their offer to venture into the hills with them, but had failed to return after a week as expected. Then two days ago, a shepherd who led his flock to the hills saw a skeletal figure in one of the many gullies, and fled back to town. The hills were known to be the site of ancient tombs, and the village vogt, fearing the worst, sent to the baron at Skydown Castle for aid.

The party offered to go into the hills to find the missing villagers, and with a view to arriving there during the daylight hours, departed the village two hours past midnight, with the shepherd as their guide. As dawn broke over the hills, the party were led to their quarry by the trail of mule dung and finally the whinny of the animal.

The party followed the sound into a gully, where Gio the Gnome, scouting ahead of the party, found the mule and two of the men with a Northern Terrinoth accent. A short distance away, the gully led to a doorway carved into hillside, and on each side was a skeletal warrior.

Our heroes decided that a strategy to divide and conquer would be appropriate, and Gio crept back into the gully again to lead the mule away from the men. When the two men came after the mule, Strigoi and Orglath were ready for them with their weapons. The two men were quickly overpowered and tied up, but yielded nothing apart from "Waiqar will have you!" when interrogated.

The party left the prisoners in the bushes, and walked towards the skeletal figures standing by the doorway, which became animated and charged at them when they got near. The rusty weapons of the skeletons had little impact on the heroes, as they made short work of the undead.

Passing beyond the doorway, the party found themselves in a long hall, carved into living rock. Hundreds of niches, each about a foot wide and a foot tall, were cut into the walls, and placed in each niche was a delicate urn, with a lid that was in the shape of the head of a man or a woman. Strigoi opened one of the urns, and found it to contain ashes - the hall was a columbarium.

The corridor at the end of the hall led to another similar hall as it descended deeper into the hill, and then to a fork. Taking the passage to the left, our party entered a larger, grander hall, decorated to resemble the living space within a home. Carved into the walls were berths that resembled beds, and upon the berths there were partially cremated bones and rusted grave goods.

So far our heroes had found no sign of the missing villagers, but now they could hear noise coming from the corridor at the other end of the hall. As they exited the hall, they found themselves in a passageway that had a more natural form. The winding passage led them deeper into the earth, and the noise grew louder: it was the sound of people digging.

Eventually they came to a bend in the passage, when they could see the shadows of two men cast against the wall of the passage - they were close to their quarry. Pressing his body close to the wall, Gio once again inched his way forward to get a view of what lay beyond.

Round the bend in the passage was a large cavern, lit by several candles. Two men were digging the ground with shovels - their clothes revealed them to be two of the missing villagers; their faces were pallid, their eyes were glazed over, and they uttered no sound, nor did they pant, or indeed breath - they were undead. In the far end of the cavern sat a man in purple robes, and beside him his companion, armed with a sword. On the ground of the cavern several pits had already been excavated: in each was a full set of skeleton.

Withdrawing to a safe distance, our heroes took stock of the situation and planned their entry: Strigoi and Orglath would charge in and attempt to strike the leader down, while Entana would stay in the rear and use his magic.

The suddenness of their attack caught their opponent off guard. The two zombies and the swordsman hastily formed a line of defence, while the man in purple starting speaking incantations that Entana recognised to be the arcane language wizardry.

Orglath flew into a barbaric rage and laid the swordsman and a zombie low, and in doing so drew the attention of the wizard, who struck him down with a beam of arcane energy. Entana in turn cast attack spells at the wizard, and having cut down the second zombie, Strigor charged forward and decapitated the enemy with a swing of his axe. Searching the remains of the wizard, they party found a silver pendant and a dagger. The pendant had a purple runebound shard set in it and a hollow body that contained a coarse white powder. The dagger also had a runebound shard set in its hilt, which Entana recognised as a Force rune - the find elated Gio, who claimed it with no opposition.

The excitement of battle over, the party realised that there were still two villagers unaccounted for. Retracing their steps, they took the other fork from the main corridor, and found the two remaining villagers, both still alive, in a round chamber dominated by the statue of a strange beast, guarded by four skeletal warriors. The party made short work of the undead, and learned from the two villagers what had transpired:

The four villagers had initially thought that the strangers had hired them to do some grave-robbing, but when it became clear that they were more interested in unearthing skeletons than treasure, they became suspicious and tried to leave. A fight ensued and two of the villagers were killed. The wizard, whose name was Mondock, then scattered the powder from inside his pendant on the corpses and some of the unearthed skeletons, and they rose as undead. The villagers were made to unearth more skeletons, and kept under guard by the skeletons so they could not escape.

Our heroes loaded the remains of the two villagers onto the mule, tied the two surviving minions to the mule, and took the severed heads of Mondock and his other minion along for good measure, and the ragtag band limped its way back to the village of Narmen.


Prepping and Running the Game

The basis for this session was another DMs Guild module, "Due for the Dead".

I was a little reluctant to run another "ancient tomb with undead" scenario so soon after the first one, but I needed to introduce the first campaign arc, which features necromancers from the Mistlands.

Once again, I tried to base the look of tomb complex on one that is historical, and as the one in the module had a more man-made layout, I looked for something in the Iron Age. The elaborate Etruscan tombs came to my mind first, but as there isn't an Italy-equivalent in Mennara, I could not quite account for the style, until I came across the La Tene culture, which had trade ties with the Mediterranean civilisations. I was so impressed by the artwork from the era that I decided to hand-wave things and put what was essentially an Etruscan tomb with La Tene artifacts in Terrinoth - when the PCs entered the round chamber in the tomb, I handed the players a picture of the Tarasque de Noves, which you can see at the top of the post. The statue had no in-game effect, but its alien and fearsome appearance was enough to give the players pause.

The loot dropped during the session were plot-driven.

Gio had leveled up, and his player had wanted to take the Arcane Trickster archetype. While this was "automatic" going by "rules as written", I wanted to stick to the fluff regarding the runebound shards. The player was willing to trust me to weave this into the narrative, essentially forfeiting his new skills for a whole session. The Force runebound shard on the dagger was the result.

The other piece of loot, the pendant, ties to the plot arc. The identity of the purple runebound shard will need to be established at the University in Greyhaven, which means the PCs will have a reason to travel there and I can plan for an urban-based scenario.

One piece of loot that I hadn't planned for was the mule. I had included the mule as it seemed more realistic that a well-funded necromancer and his minions will be able to afford a beast of burden. I had not expected the players to want to "confiscate" it. I guess the lesson here is: don't put anything in the game that you don't want to players to steal.

One thing that I plan to work into future sessions is the severed head of the necromancer. The players had decided to decapitate the villains and bring their heads back to use it as some sort of identifier - rather reasonable in a setting without photo ID and when they had other bodies they needed to transport. This gave me the idea of using the head as a returned villain, in the guise of a Flaming Skull. This will be seeded in the next session, when the PCs will be informed that the head had gone missing.

Over all I found my performance this session to be a little lacklustre. I misjudged the combats, which resulted in them being under-challenging and the whole session ending earlier than usual. Going forward I need to either learn how calculate my own version of Challenge Rating, or play looser with monster stat blocks.

The players asked for a spot of monster hunting the next session, and I have a monster model which I have painted just waiting for this. Stay tuned!


peter holland said...

Good story. The head could be sprinkled with the powder and made to reveal its secrets.

captain arjun said...

That will be something, wouldn't it? I hope the players make that connection...

Stephen Holmes said...

I'm developing a mild addiction to this storyline.
Like waiting for next week's thrilling installment of a favourite TV serial.

Great adventures, well written.
The designers footnote adds a lot of interest - like the "making of ..." shows that are often tagged after the screening of classic adventure movies.