Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Terrinoth #23 - The Haunted City II

Climax of the campaign arc - Percy confronts Markos, Strigoi faces the Undead Ironbound while Entana attempts to disable it, and Gio finishes off the last of the skeletons
Campaign Diary

Our heroes pursued Karpel into the winding alleys, and when they were close to catching him an assassin leapt from a rooftop and landed in front of him. Percy stepped forward to shield Karpel, but could not prevent him from being cut by the assassin's blade.

As Gio, Strigoi, and Entana moved in to protect Karpel, two more assassins appeared. In the ensuing chaos Karpel was stabbed twice more, two of the assassins laid dead on the ground, and the city watch was closing in even as the last assassin fled the scene. Percy stemmed Karpels bleeding with magic, but found that he was still weak from the poison on the assassins' blades. Carrying the ex-gravedigger between them as if he was drunk, the party managed to slip away and bring Karpel back to his home.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Once the effects of the poison had been neutralised, Karpel began hurriedly packing his bag, intent on fleeing the city. He revealed that he had previously smuggled bodies to Markos, but once their illicit trade was revealed the latter had not contacted him since parting with a stern warning to not speak to anyone about their business. He had little more to tell, except that he suspected that the recent disappearance of two Ironbound may be the work of Markos. The party escorted Karpel to the city gates, perhaps as much out of a desire to ensure his safety as out of the hope that an attacker would appear who would lead them to Markos, but Karpel left the city unmolested.

Using a letter of introduction obtained from Blasius, our heroes managed to meet with Kontesta, Master Engineer at the Iron Tower, hoping to learn more about the missing Ironbound. Despite their efforts, the tight-lipped engineer would not reveal anything of importance. But as the party left the office, Gio pocketed some papers left on the desk.

Once out of the Iron Tower, the party read the papers: they were a report filed by the city watch on the disappearance of two Ironbound three weeks ago, and the files of one Ducat, an engineer fired two months ago for poor performance. The party decided to pay a visit to Ducat at the address on his file.

When knocking on Ducat's front door did not produce a response, Percy and Strigoi went to the back door, only to see two assassins crash through the rear windows of the house. At the same moment the front door open, and Ducat emerged, looking panicked.

"Who are you?" he asked Entana.

"The man who is going to keep you alive," the wizard replied.

Ducat grabbed on to Entana's sleeve, and together with Gio the three raced towards the main street. The two assassins followed. Percy leapt through a broken window while Strigoi crashed through the rear door, and gave chase.

Entana summoned up a fog cloud to provide cover from their pursuers, and pulled Ducat into an alley, while Gio and Percy sowed confusion by misdirecting the two assassins. With their trickery, the party succeeded in bringing Ducat back to the Moonshade Inn without bloodshed or drawing the attention of the city watch.

There, Ducat revealed that his gambling addiction had cost him his employment at the Iron Tower, and Markos had sought him out after his dismissal, and had offered him money to pay off his debts for information related to the Ironbound. At first the information he required were innocuous, but when Markos asked how an Ironbound could be disabled, Ducat (or so he claimed) would not tell him, until Markos threatened him with harm. Thus, with Ducat's assistance, Markos and his accomplices were able to disable two Ironbound, and transport them to a hidden laboratory in the catacombs of the city.

Ducat drew a map of the way to the laboratory, and warned them that Markos had undead minions in his lair; and in exchange for escort to the city gates, Ducat told the party how an Ironbound could be disabled: the Ironbound are each powered by a runebound shard within their armoured chests, and the way to access this shard was via a hatch on its back. Armed with their newfound information, our heroes prepared to venture into the catacombs.

Entering the sewers beneath Nerekhall, the party followed Ducat's map to an ancient archway that led deeper into the catacombs of the city. Our heroes passed through the archway, and descended a long flight of stairs, until they came upon a set of heavy oaken doors.

The party pushed open the doors to find a hall guarded by six skeletal warriors. With the use of a well aimed flask of oil and torch, followed by cold steel, our heroes made short work of the guardians, and pressed on.

Finally, they came before another set of double doors, beyond which, according to Ducat, lay the laboratory of the Mad Mage Kovac. But even before they could open the doors, they heard Markos' voice from behind them:

"Leave? In the moment of my triumph? I think you rather overestimate my old classmate!"

Gio pushed open the doors: beyond them was a long colonnaded hall, lined with racks and operating tables, upon which were decomposed bodies. Rusty chains ran through steel rings on the columns and walls, as though they were iron webs spun by a giant spider. In the far end of the hall a short flight of steps led to a domed circular room; arcane runes were scratched into the walls of the room, and on its floor mystical circles, carved into the stone, glowed with blue light. In the centre of the room laid an armoured skeleton. On one side stood Markos. A cloaked and armoured figure was leaving the room via a door on the side even as our heroes entered - as he turned to look at them, our heroes saw that his face was a fleshless skull, and he wore an iron crowned helm.

From the shadows behind the columns four skeletal warriors stepped forth. Markos taunted our heroes, challenging them to come closer to him. As they charged towards the evil necromancer, he made arcane gestures with his hands, and a thick green mist formed in the centre of the hall, its acrid stench choking our heroes. At the same time, the armoured skeleton within the magical circles rose, and its skeletal head was wreathed in flames; it started walking towards the hall, a greataxe in one hand...

The cloud thickened and soon blinded our heroes. Percy stumbled about, and managed to find the wall, which led her to the edge of the cloud, where she could see Markos. The necromancer case bolts of green ray at her, causing strength to drain from her limbs - it was only with the power of Kellos that she managed to stay conscious.

Entana likewise stumbled about, until he came upon one of the wooden operating tables. As he tried to orientate himself, he felt a whoosh beside his ear, followed by a loud thud - he turned to see the flaming skull of the skeletal warrior, clad in the unmistakable armour of an Ironbound, just a foot behind him. The Undead Ironbound raised his axe, and swung... and once more missed!

Entana summoned up a gust of wind, and while it failed to push the Undead Ironbound back, it blew a clear corridor in the cloud, which allowed Strigoi to see him and come to his aid. The orc warrior fell upon the undead, and although he rained blow after blow on the armoured body, the Undead Ironbound would not fall. It turned its attention onto Strigoi, and slowly pushed him back, until the orc's back was against one of the columns. The fight turned against Strigoi - his body was covered in many great wounds, but he too clinged on and would not go down.

This was the distraction Entana needed - using the thieves' tools he found on one thugs who attacked them at The Hollow Way Inn, he managed to pry open the hatch on the Undead Ironbound's back - inside it he saw the purple glow of the Death runebound shard, but he could not reach it.

In the far end of the hall Percy gathered up her courage, and charged Markos. Her attacked caused the necromancer to dispel the noxious cloud and instead turn his magic on her.

Gio, who had up to this point been incapacitated by the cloud, could now see clearly. He despatched the last of the skeletal warriors, and ran to Entana's aid - and not a moment too soon, for Strigoi had finally succumbed to the Undead Ironbound's relentless attack.

Leaping onto the back of the Undead Ironbound, Gio sank his shortsword into the hatch, and the runebound shard sprang out. The flame about the skull of the Ironbound extinguished, and its armoured form collapsed to the floor.

Now Markos was alone. But he would not flee. Even as Percy and Gio attacked him, he focused his fury on Entana, casting bolt after bolt of life-draining green light on his former classmate, until at last Gio's sword ended his life.

Percy healed Strigoi's wounds, and Entana retrieved the Death runebound shard. They searched the hall and found the lost diaries of the Mad Mage Kovac, but ominously, there was no sign of a second Ironbound. Remembering their order to seal the lab, they decided to use the chains on the columns to pull them down, causing the roof to come down, burying the Undead Ironbound.

They then dragged Markos' body to the sewers, burnt it, and for good measure kept some of the ashes, and threw some into the sewerage. When they finally emerged from the sewers it was already dark.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session marks the end of the first campaign arc, which we started some six months ago.

The plot was a continuation from the previous session, and was again a rather straightforward investigation scenario.

The chase scene in the middle of the scenario was played using the Skills Challenge rules mechanics, which I learned from watching a Matt Colville video. It took a little longer than I hoped for as both the players and I were new to the concept, but narratively I think we did OK.

The finale fight took around an hour. I plotted out Markos' spells weeks ago, and had even made a template for the Stinking Cloud spell from a green transparency sheet I had left over from a terrain project. The spell was a little too effective, as it left Gio incapacitated for several turns, which of course was no fun for the player; I was aware that the spell could have such an effect, but had decided to take the risk anyway. To make the spell even more effective, I ruled that when inside the cloud, a PC may not always move in the direction he *thinks* he is moving, but had them roll a die to decide where he moved to. The result was that only one of the PCs actually moved out of the spell area.

The dice-rolls during the fight was memorable. The first two rolls I made for the Undead Ironbound were literally a 1 followed by a 2. Had even a single blow landed, Entana would have been taken out of the fight and the game would have ended very differently. I could not roll above a 6 for the next few rounds, until Strigoi joined the fight. Then followed an impressive exchange of axe-swings as Strigoi's player rolled a few crits, scoring more than a hundred points of damage in 3 or 4 turns. However, my rolls got better too, and Strigoi actually went down twice - the first time only negated by the orcish tenacity rule.

Tactically, it was a challenging fight for the players. Percy, being the only one who could reach Markos, had to decide between fighting him alone and preventing him from using his spells on the other PCs, or supporting them in their fight with the Undead Ironbound. Entana had to decide whether to try to disable the Undead Ironbound "manually", something which he is exactly good at, or to use his magic - as it turned out he made the right decision: I gave the Undead Ironbound a Helmed Horror's stat block, and made him immune to the three spells that Entana had most often employed against Mondock and his thugs.

With this arc concluded, I asked the players which part of Terrinoth they wished to explore instead. The vote was two for Al-Kalim and one for Lorimor, and one "anything". I made the call to let them go to Al-Kalim, but then I realised that they would have to stop at Lorimor on their way there, so everyone will get what they want after all.

I still have several weeks to prep a full arc based in Al-Kalim; for now they must return to Greyhaven, spend the winter there, then tie up some loose ends at Nornholt on their way back south. This will give me some time to think of some adventures for them to go on in Lorimor, and for the plastic Arab figures I ordered immediately after the game to arrive and be painted.

For now I am thinking of repackaging some Al-Qadim modules for their Al-Kalim arc, but if you have any suggestion on other Arabian-themed modules, I would be happy to hear them.

Thank you.

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